19 February 2014
Anti-government protesters walk amid debris and flames near the perimeter of Kiev’s Independence Square on 19 February 2014. (photo: Brendan Hoffman/Euromaiden via Twitter)
Clashes leave 25 dead in Kiev (The New York Times) Ukraine’s Health Ministry said on Wednesday that 25 people, including police officers, protesters and a journalist found dead on a side street near the square, had been killed after hundreds of riot police officers advanced on the anti-government demonstrators Tuesday and in subsequent fighting on streets in the government district of the Ukrainian capital. The Health Ministry said that 241 people had been injured and that nine of the dead were police officers...
Pope appeals for peace in Ukraine (Vatican Radio) At his weekly General Audience, Pope Francis called for peace in the Ukraine, saying “With a worried soul I have been following what is happening in Kyiv in these days.” The Holy Father assured the Ukrainian people of his closeness to them, and prayed for the victims of violence, for their families, and for the injured. The Pope called “on all parties to cease all violence and to seek harmony and peace in the country...”
Ukrainian Orthodox Church calls for halt to bloodshed (InterFax) The Ukrainian Orthodox Church has called for a halt of the bloodshed in Kiev and prevention of a civil war. “Since the beginning of the political crisis and in the course of the entire period of this conflict, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church has more than once called for a halt of violence and a peaceful solution to the conflict. To our great regret, the voice of the Church has not been heard,” the property management of Metropolitan of Borispol and Brovar Antony said in a statement...
Patriarch calls for “Chaldean League” in Iraq (ByzCath.org) The head of the Chaldean Catholic Church, an Eastern Catholic church in full communion with the Holy See, has called for the formation of a “Chaldean League” to unite Catholic laity in a fragmented Iraqi society. “Our presence in society is weak, fragmented in the field of politics, culture, social action,” Patriarch Louis Raphaël I Sako told the Fides news agency. “A ‘Chaldean League’ can help us give a more concrete and effective contribution to the civic life of our country...”
Lebanon feels impact of Syrian conflict (BBC) For the first two years of the Arab uprisings, Lebanon seemed a haven of calm. But no-one expected the uprising and the war in Syria to last this long. The spillover became inevitable and the more it drags on the harder it will become for Lebanon to withstand the shockwaves, and resist the descent into chaos...
Pope names members for the Congregation of the Oriental Churches (VIS) Pope Francis nominated and confirmed several members of the Congregation of the Oriental Churches, including numberous consultors from around the world. View the complete list here.
18 February 2014
Syrian Armenian Tamar Yeranossian, 26, and her brother Hagop, 15, sit in one of the rooms of their apartment in Bourj Hammoud. Fearing for the safety of their family back in Syria, they turned from the camera to hide their faces (photo: Dalia Khamissy)
Don Duncan visited Lebanon last year to report on the plight of Syrian Armenian refugees for the current issue of ONE. Here, he adds more context.
Eight months had passed since I had last been in Lebanon, in January 2013, to report a story for ONE about the fate of Christian Syrians fleeing Syria to Lebanon in search of refuge. Back then, the flow of refugees across the border was certainly an issue but on returning in August, it was clear that the situation had gotten much, much worse.
The burgeoning fears I heard among the Lebanese in January — that the Syrian conflict would trigger sectarian tensions and conflict in volatile Lebanon — was beginning to prove true by summer. On 9 July, 53 people were wounded in a busy shopping street in Dahiya, the southern suburb of Beirut, which is dominated by the pro-Assad Hezbollah Shia militia. Then, a few days after my arrival, another explosion in Dahiya, this time killing 21 people, and thought to be a reprisal for Hezbollah’s military support of the Assad regime in Syria. Next, on 23 August, two Sunni mosques were targeted in the northern city of Tripoli, killing 47 people — the deadliest bombing in Lebanon since the end of the civil war in 1991.
I lived in Lebanon for three years and I’m accustomed to ebbs and flows in the country’s security situation. I’ve also grown used to ignoring the Western media’s tendency to whip up panic or make a situation look more widespread than it is. But this time was different. It was different because of my Lebanese friends’ reactions. They were nervous. They spoke less. People were going out less. The streets, usually at their busiest in the high summer season, when Arab tourists flock to Beirut and much of Lebanon’s extensive diaspora return home on holiday, were very quiet. Lebanese people are used to handling insecurity and I have always been amazed by their ability to continue as normal when the security situation around them is not great. But this time was different. Some friends were already whispering about plans to leave the country, while others expressed approval that I was leaving the back to Europe. “It’s only going to get worse around here,” they said.
Sure enough, on the last two days of my trip, the Syrian and Lebanese crisis was raised a notch with moves by Western leaders to gain governmental approval for direct strikes on Syria. The announcement sent tremors across Lebanon — people feared not just national instability but indeed a regional war involving foes such as Israel, Iran and Syria, as well as Western superpowers.
While all this was going on, I couldn’t help but notice all the children: the masses of Syrian children who had arrived to Hamra street in West Beirut since my last visit in January. Most of them sold roses or a shoeshine along the street’s many café terraces. They were young, between the ages of six and ten, and were shadowed by their mothers, who sat at the street’s corners, often begging. Such scenes were unthinkable just a few years ago in Lebanon. But during my most recent visit, Hamra street was punctuated by the odd male Syrian who had bedded down for the evening in the doorway of a closed shop.
They made me sad, for both the Lebanese and the Syrians. These are people who are often quite different, who have a fraught political and military history with one another. Yet, as one of the Syrians I talked to said: “When it comes to war and conflict, it is always the people who suffer. War doesn’t step around religious or political conviction. It is the people who always suffer.”
18 February 2014
Father ‘Adil Mdanat lights a candle before an icon at the Orthodox church in Ader, a Christian village in Jordan. Read more about these Christians trying to preserve the faith in A Bridge to Modern Life in the May 2012 issue of ONE. (photo: Tanya Habjouqa)
18 February 2014
In this image from last October, Pope Francis poses with cardinal advisers during a meeting at the Vatican. The cardinals are meeting with him this week to discuss possible reforms. Pictured from left are: Chilean Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuriz Ossa, Italian Bishop Marcello Semeraro, secretary to the Council of Cardinals, Indian Cardinal Oswald Gracias, German Cardinal Reinhard Marx, Pope Francis, Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, Italian Cardinal Giuseppe Bertello, U.S. Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, Australian Cardinal George Pell and Congolese Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya. (photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)
Pope, cardinal advisers study Vatican financial, administrative reform (CNS) Pope Francis met for the third time in late February with his international Council of Cardinals, an eight-member group advising him on the reform of the Vatican bureaucracy and other issues. The meetings focused on financial and bureaucratic matters even as the council was rumored to be working on a draft of an apostolic constitution that would reorganize the church’s central administration, the Roman Curia...
Syria talks stall (The Wall Street Journal) The Obama administration, exasperated by stalled talks over Syria and seeking ways to pressure the regime and its Russian allies, plans to revisit options ranging from expanding efforts to train and equip moderate rebels to setting up no-fly zones, according to officials briefed on the deliberations. The move means the administration again will consider military, diplomatic and intelligence options that previously were presented to the White House but set aside in favor of pursuing international talks...
Mayhem grips Kiev (The New York Times) Mayhem gripped the center of the Ukrainian capital on Tuesday as riot police broke through barricades on the outer rim of a protest encampment and, pelted with rocks and fireworks, massed on the edge of Independence Square, the focal point of more than two months of protests against President Viktor F. Yanukovych. There were unconfirmed reports that three protesters had been killed...
Archbishop Chullikatt speaks of widespread persecution of Christians (Vatican Radio) Archbishop Francis A. Chullikatt, the Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, last week spoke to a United States Congressional hearing on largely underreported assaults on the religious freedoms of Christians around the globe. “Flagrant and widespread persecution of Christians rages in the Middle East even as we meet,” the Archbishop said. “No Christian is exempt, whether or not he or she is Arab. Arab Christians, a small but significant community, find themselves the target of constant harassment for no reason other than their religious faith. This tragedy is all the more egregious when one pauses to consider that these men and women of faith are loyal sons and daughters of the countries in which they are full citizens and in which they have been living at peace with their neighbors and fellow citizens for untold generations...”
Suicide bomber attacks pilgrims in Egypt (Reuters) The Islamist militant group Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis said on Tuesday the bombing of a tourist bus in Egypt’s Sinai that killed two South Koreans and the Egyptian driver on Sunday was a suicide attack carried out by one of its fighters, and threatened more strikes against economic targets. The attack on the bus, which was travelling to Israel from St. Catherine’s Monastery, a popular tourist destination in the south Sinai, was the first assault on tourists since President Mohamed Mursi's ouster spurred an Islamist insurgency...
A visit to “Ethiopia’s Lourdes" (CNN) rance has Lourdes, India has the Ganges. Ethiopia, meanwhile, has Gondar. Situated about 450 miles north of Addis Ababa, encapsulated by hills and tall trees, and dotted with 17th-century relics from the city’s glory days (when it was the country’s capital), Gondar today can seem somewhat remote. During the religious festival of “Timket,” however, the city is inundated with pilgrims who come to re-enact the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan, and take a dip in the holy waters at the historical Fasilides Bath...
14 February 2014
Pope Francis holds a rose and chocolates thrown by a person in the crowd as he arrives for an audience for engaged couples in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on 14 February, Valentine’s Day. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Pope Francis offered some words of advice to engaged couples today to mark Valentine’s Day:
Greeting thousands of engaged couples on the feast of St. Valentine, Pope Francis told them not to be afraid of building a permanent and loving relationship in a culture where everything is disposable and fleeting.
The secrets to a loving and lasting union, he said, include treating each other with respect, kindness and gratitude, and never letting daily struggles and squabbles sabotage making peace and saying, “I’m sorry.”
“The perfect family doesn’t exist, nor is there a perfect husband or a perfect wife, and let’s not talk about the perfect mother-in-law!” he said to laughter and applause.
“It’s just us sinners,” he said. But “if we learn to say we’re sorry and ask forgiveness, the marriage will last.”
14 February 2014
Pope Francis greets Stanley Bergman, president of the American Jewish Committee, during a meeting at the Vatican on 13 February. The pope said the modern relationship between Jews and Catholics has a “theological foundation” and is “not simply an expression of our desire for reciprocal respect and esteem.” (photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)
Maronite patriarch: negotiations for release of nuns have “stumbled” (ByzCath.org) The patriarch of the Maronite Catholic Church said that the release of a dozen kidnapped Syrian nuns appeared imminent until recently. In December, Syrian rebel forces abducted the nuns from the Greek Orthodox monastery of Mar Taqla in the historic Christian village of Ma’loula, whose residents still speak Aramaic...
UN urged to act on humanitarian aid to Syria (New York Times) The hard-won humanitarian cease-fire in the Syrian city of Homs — the sole success that occurred during the peace talks in Geneva — cannot be considered “progress,” the United Nations’ top official for emergency operations said Thursday evening as she urged the Security Council to ensure that aid reach those who need it and aid workers can do their work without getting shot...
Peace talks continue in Geneva over Syria (Reuters) Warning that “failure” was staring him in the face, the Syria peace talks mediator said on Thursday that the United States and Russia had promised renewed support to keep their rival Syrian allies talking. U.N. diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi met senior diplomats from Washington and Moscow in Geneva, hoping the co-sponsors of the three-week-old negotiating process could bury their own deep differences over Syria and prevail respectively on the opposition and government to move ahead and compromise...
Pope Francis meets with American Jewish leaders, asks for prayers ahead of trip to Holy Land (CNS) Pope Francis asked leaders of the American Jewish Committee to pray for his May trip to Jerusalem, “so that this pilgrimage may bring forth the fruits of communion, hope and peace.” The modern relationship between Jews and Catholics, he said on 13 February, has a “theological foundation” and is “not simply an expression of our desire for reciprocal respect and esteem.” Pope Francis noted that in 2015, the Catholic Church will mark the 50th anniversary of “Nostra Aetate,” the Second Vatican Council’s declaration on relations with other religions. The document, the pope said, is “the sure point of reference for relations with our ‘elder brothers.’”...
Alcoholism, crime on the rise in Kerala (ABC.net) The southern Indian state of Kerala, often referred to as God’s own country, has the best socio-economic indicators in the country. But its alarming alcohol addiction is earning the state a name for all the wrong reasons as the crime rate there also increases. The god of choice here is Bacchus, the Roman deity of wine. Alcoholism, among all age groups, is on the rise and it’s taking a toll on the state’s 33 million-strong population. In fact, Kerala has earned the tag of India’s “booziest state”, with the highest per capita consumption of liquor in the country...
Ethiopia’s church forests threatened (California Academy of Sciences) Northern Ethiopia is hardly known for its forests. Less than 5 percent of what once stood here remains, and what’s left is under constant threat. As in so many developing countries, much of Ethiopia’s natural landscape has been cleared for agriculture, and for harvesting timber and firewood. Fortunately, there are still hundreds of notable exceptions: bright green patches of forest surrounding the country’s churches. Protected as sacred sanctuaries, some of these forests are over fifteen hundred years old. They range in size from just five acres to more than 1,000. A direct result of the Orthodox Church’s mission to retain a green necklace around the place of worship — a veritable “home for all God’s creatures” — these forests have become the centerpiece in the struggle to conserve what remains of northern Ethiopia’s biodiversity...
12 February 2014
In this image from 2012, a mother and child in India who are Dalits, members of the so-called “untouchables,” look forward to moving into a new home being built through a combined effort of CNEWA, the Indian government and parish outreach. Read more about the Dalits in India’s Christian Untouchables from the November 2012 issue of ONE. And visit this page to learn more about supporting CNEWA’s work in India. (photo: John E. Kozar)
12 February 2014
Tags: India Indian Christians ONE magazine Homes/housing Dalits
In this image from September 2013, children sit along a damaged street filled with debris in the besieged area of Homs, Syria. (photo: CNS/Yazan Homsy, Reuters)
Witnessing Syria’s war through the eyes of its children (PBS) Nearly three years into the fighting, more than 10,000 children have been killed, 3 million have been displaced from their homes, and another 1.1 million now live as refugees, according to a recent United Nations report. Amid such turmoil, the notion of a normal childhood has all but disappeared for the young bystanders of war featured in last night’s FRONTLINE investigation, Children of Aleppo…
Patriach headed to Vatican for talks (iloubnan.info) Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter left Beirut on Tuesday morning, bound for the Vatican, where he will be staying for two weeks for talks with the Supreme Pontiff and to take part in the papal committees’ meetings. “I have one wish which I insist to express: If a cabinet were to be formed, it should not pave the way for a new crisis,” he said in a statement he had delivered prior to his departure…
Islamic extremists slaughter 15 soldiers in Northern Iraq (New York Times) Fighters from a Sunni extremist group attacked an army unit in a northern Iraqi city on Tuesday, killing 15 soldiers in a rampage of beheadings, shootings and a hanging, security officials said. The strike on the army unit in Mosul by members of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, showed how the group has moved beyond Anbar province, west of Baghdad, where it controls Falluja and parts of Ramadi, and extended its reach into territory throughout the country…
Governor of Basra vows to help Iraqi Christians return home (AsiaNews) Shiite leader Majid al Nasrawi, governor of Basra met with Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael I and vowed: “We will help Christians to return to the province, giving them a piece of land to cultivate and creating job opportunities and development for those who have fled in the past because of violence and insecurity…”
Russian church to be consecrated in Antarctica (Interfax) An expedition is traveling from Moscow to Antarctica to conduct a consecration of the southernmost Russian Orthodox church on earth…
11 February 2014
Tags: Syrian Civil War Children Russian Orthodox Church Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael I
A Christian farmer rides his donkey through Abu Qurqas, near Minya, Egypt. Click the photo to read the article in its full-color layout. (photo: David Degner)
Sarah Topol reports on the struggles of Coptic farmers in Upper Egypt for the Winter issue of ONE. Here, she adds some personal context.
When I visited Abu Qurqas, it was early summer and only the dawn provided respite from the sweltering heat. The small village in Upper Egypt, about 160 miles south of Cairo, is only a few miles from the banks of the Nile River, but inside the warren of dirt-packed alleys, there was no breeze. Frequent power cuts interrupted interviews and tours, but people were unfailingly hospitable.
In April 2011, 70 Christian homes in Abu Qurqas were vandalized in a week of sectarian riots. Dozens were injured and two Muslims were killed. Three days into the clashes, Upper Egypt’s military prosecutor arrested 12 Christians and 8 Muslims on charges of “murder, rioting, damaging public utilities and spreading panic among citizens,” according to local media. Three months later, a judge found all 12 Coptic Christians guilty and sentenced them to life in prison. The Muslims were acquitted.
While trying to find the family whose story I thought would be interesting to readers, I interviewed a cross section of Abu Qurqas’s residents and all of them expressed concern about what that verdict signified.
Atef Labib, the Christian farmer whom I eventually profiled for the story, was born and raised in Abu Qurqas. He lived in a predominantly Muslim part of town. During the riots, he found himself trapped on the roof of his house with his wife and 20-year-old daughter, fearful of the violence that raged below.
Mr. Labib described his concerns about their midnight flight to a safer part of the village: “The biggest ache wasn’t leaving the house; the worst pain would be if the women were attacked,” he said. “Even me, I couldn’t sustain that. I’m an old man with a weak body. I don’t know how to fight.”
As with residents of small towns everywhere, Atef Labib had known his neighbors for years. I found myself wondering what it would be like to live through a riot that eventually grew to include neighbors — people Labib saw every day and those on whom he thought he could depend. I couldn’t imagine the fear that they would attack you or the women in your family as you tried to flee. While Mr. Labib said many of his neighbors tried to help the family, the rest of his story was deeply unsettling. Eventually, he felt he had to move to a more Christian part of town.
Though I relied mostly on his experience in writing the story, he wasn’t alone. Christian residents in Abu Qurqas, as in many villages in Upper Egypt, were terrified of burgeoning sectarian attacks. Others also reported hiding on the roofs of their homes. Some said they had armed themselves with whatever they could find and waited, prepared to defend against a violent intrusion.
At the time, the Muslim Brotherhood was in control of the country. A military coup in July toppled Brotherhood president Muhammad Morsi. A subsequent crackdown on the group jailed the organization’s leadership and pushed members underground. Violence against the state has increased, allegedly perpetuated by Islamist extremists with no known affiliation to the Brotherhood. Today, I wonder if Atef Labib feels more or less secure under the country’s new regime.
I wonder whether he has placed his trust in the military-appointed government — or whether the dizzying increase of bombings and attacks on the military still has residents in Abu Qurqas wondering whether it is just a matter of time until it trickles down.
11 February 2014
Tags: Egypt Violence against Christians ONE magazine Farming/Agriculture Copts
It was one year ago today — 11 February 2013 — that Pope Benedict made history by announcing his resignation, which led to the election of a new bishop of Rome, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, who chose the name Francis. In this image from January, the new medallion of Pope Francis is seen next to one of Pope Benedict XVI on the upper wall of the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls in Rome. The basilica contains medallions depicting every pope. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Tags: Pope Francis Pope Benedict XVI Vatican Catholic Pope