21 October 2013
Bob Pape is director of major gifts for CNEWA.
Last Thursday, I had the pleasure to visit with the Golden Lions of St. Pius X Catholic High School in Atlanta, Georgia, at the invitation of Msgr. Richard Lopez, a longtime friend of CNEWA. He had asked if I could speak to the students about the current situation faced by our brothers and sisters in Syria and CNEWA’s efforts to assist.
Entering the school, I had the feeling that I was in a very special place for students to learn and grow, to develop their unique talents and to strengthen their faith. Enthusiasm and positive attitudes abound not only among the students, but the faculty as well. The motto of the school is Domini Sumus — “We are the Lord’s.” I was reminded of this phrase throughout my visit.
I met with a large group of students in the auditorium. They were most welcoming, polite and respectful. I asked them if they had an opinion of Pope Francis and their response was overwhelmingly favorable. This reaction gave me a glimpse into just how well the Holy Father must have been received during World Youth Day in Brazil. I next gave a brief history of the Eastern churches. I simply tried to present the idea that Christianity has its original roots in the Middle East and the church of the Apostles.
I spoke about the current plight of the Christians in the Middle East in general — specifically, the suffering of the Christians in Syria. The students were very receptive. I tried to present the information in a way that would break down some of the misconceptions and stereotypes that seem to be ever present when the topic of Christians in the Middle East is discussed. For example: “Aren’t all Arabs Muslims?” — or, put another way, “Is there such a thing as an Arab Christian?”
When I reached the topic of the current state of the civil war in Syria, I realized how difficult it is to explain exactly who is fighting and why. I did the best I could. One point I was able to make clear, though, was the suffering endured by Syrian Christians who are caught in the middle of the conflict. When you start mentioning the number of Christians who have been killed, injured and displaced by the violence, you realize the magnitude of this crisis. I also wanted the students to be aware of the toll the violence has taken on the children of Syria in terms of physical injury, hunger, homelessness and lack of consistent education.
After I explained the work of CNEWA in assisting Christians in Syria, we got into a discussion of how students in Atlanta can help those suffering in Syria. Many good ideas were mentioned and the power of prayer was clearly mentioned as a way each of the students could help. This was very gratifying to hear.
I urged the students never to doubt that life can and will improve for our brothers and sisters in Syria, and even reminded them of Pope Francis’ direction: “Don’t let yourself be robbed of hope!” But I think I was the one who came away with the strongest feeling of hope. I was uplifted by the hope found in these young people who embrace their faith in their daily lives and who understand the need to get involved to help others. I was inspired by the hope that comes from knowing that the future of our faith is in good hands — such as those of the students of St. Pius X, who will grow up to be genuine witnesses to our faith throughout their lives. I thank the Golden Lions for giving me hope.
If you’d like someone from CNEWA to pay a visit to your church or school, drop me a line: firstname.lastname@example.org.
And if you want to help the suffering Christians of Syria, visit this link.
21 October 2013
Tags: Middle East Christians CNEWA Syrian Civil War Middle East Violence against Christians
Jordanian boys catch their breath during playtime at Our Lady of Peace Center in Jordan. (photo: Bill Lyons)
In 2004, we profiled a center in Amman seeking to help disabled youth:
Our Lady of Peace Center in Amman, Jordan, is more than just a rehabilitation center for the disabled; it is a meeting point for Christians and Muslims, caring adults and handicapped children, rich and poor. The center’s administration makes it so, ensuring that the facility is open to everyone regardless of ethnicity, religion or social background.
Inaugurated in April 2004 on behalf of Queen Rania by Prince Ra’d bin Zeid and his wife, Princess Majda, longtime advocates of Jordan’s handicapped, the center serves disabled children at no cost to their families.
The facility, whose funding took six years to secure, is the brainchild of Bishop Selim Sayegh, Latin Patriarchal Vicar for Jordan. He envisaged a comprehensive retreat and rehabilitation center offering academic classes, vocational training, physiotherapy, basic medical care, as well as community outreach programs.
“[The center] will be a source of consciousness raising, in order to teach and train the whole of Jordanian civil society to respect the basic rights of the physically or mentally challenged. It will guarantee equality of treatment both in their families and communities and in public institutions,” said the bishop.
Read more about how the center is Unlocking Talents from the September 2004 issue of ONE.
And to learn how to help the people of Jordan, visit this page.
21 October 2013
Tags: CNEWA Children Jordan Disabilities Amman
In this June photo, Syrian refugees families await treatment at a medical center at the Zaatari refugee camp in Mafraq, Jordan. (photo: CNS/Muhammad Hamed, Reuters)
Catholic medical student sees Syrian refugee crisis up close (Archdiocese of Miami) When he came to study medicine in Jordan’s capital through a scholarship program for Holy Land Christians, Tareq Nasrawi had expected to see heart disease, diabetes, breast cancer and other basic public health concerns. But the 21-year-old Latin Catholic and native of Jerusalem is also seeing the human suffering and medical crisis from a civil war raging unabated in neighboring Syria since 2011. While the majority of Syrian refugees are Muslim, the Christian refugees are fearful of reprisals against Christians and their perceived support of the Syrian dictatorship. They therefore have been reluctant to register for international aid, according to Michael La Civita, spokesman for the New York-based Catholic Near East Welfare Association…
Jordan’s rural poor chafe under the burden of hosting Syrian refugees (Al Jazeera) The cylindrical water trucks, their precious cargo sloshing inside, amble along the dusty road separating the small Jordanian village of Zaatari from the massive Syrian refugee camp that has taken its name. They do not stop at the village, which, like most of this desert state, is parched. Instead, they roll on to the camp that is now Jordan’s fourth-largest city. The refugee camp, the second largest in the world, houses at least 120,000 Syrians, a fraction of the almost 550,000 who have sought sanctuary in this country of 6 million since the outbreak of Syria’s civil war. But not all the refugees who have arrived in Zaatari want to live in the camp, with its common toilets and kitchens, disease and crowding. As a result, the sleepy village that is home to 12,000 Jordanians has been transformed by the arrival of several thousand refugees…
Egypt gunmen open fire on Coptic Christian wedding in Cairo (BBC) Three people, including a girl aged eight, died when gunmen on motorcycles opened fire on a wedding party outside a Coptic church in Cairo. At least nine others were wounded in the attack in Giza, officials said. Egypt’s Coptic Christian community has been targeted by some Islamists who accuse the church of backing the army’s overthrow of President Muhammad Morsi in July…
Chaldean seminary becomes a condo for needy families (Fides) The Chaldean Patriarchate has announced the upcoming distribution of the first set of 16 apartments thanks to the renovation of the former Patriarchal Seminary, intended for families in need. Another 32 housing units, nearing completion, will be delivered in coming months…
Palestinians in Nablus seeking better days (Washington Post) A decade ago, this ancient town was a crucible of terror and resistance — and produced more suicide bombers than any other city in the devastating second Palestinian intifada, or uprising, against Israel. Now, Nablus just wants desperately to get back to normal — back to work, back to the world. But it is not so easy. Interviews with business owners and their workers here in the northern West Bank, once the engine of Palestinian industry, reveal a city that has little hope for a peace deal with the Israelis, and considers its own leadership feeble and corrupt…
Kremlin ready to consider citizenship for Syrian Christians (World Bulletin) The Kremlin is ready to consider a Russian citizenship request from about 50,000 Syrian Christians when it receives it, a presidential spokesman said Friday. “We have not received any requests so far. These documents will be considered in line with the established procedures once we receive it,” Dmitry Peskov said. Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said the issue was up to Russia’s leadership to decide. Russian citizenship is granted by a presidential decree. Father Vsevolod Chaplin, who heads the Russian Orthodox Church’s press service, said Friday that the Russian authorities should show kindness to these people, who are “in real danger…”
17 October 2013
Tags: Refugees Violence against Christians Jordan Russia Refugee Camps
Pope Francis shakes hands with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during a private audience in the pontiff’s library at the Vatican, on 17 October. (photo: CNS/Maurizio Brambatti, pool via Reuters)
Pope Francis today offered a practical gift to a visitor from the Middle East, according to CNS:
Pope Francis gave Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas a fancy pen as a gift, and Abbas told the pope, “I hope to sign the peace agreement with Israel with this pen.”
Pope Francis responded with his hope that the agreement would be reached “soon, soon.”
The exchange took place 17 October in the papal library after the pope and Palestinian president had spent almost half an hour meeting privately.
Abbas had given the pope a Bible and a framed scene of Bethlehem, West Bank. The pope gave Abbas a framed scene of the Vatican along with the pen, “because you obviously have many things to sign,” which is when Abbas spoke about his hopes to sign a peace treaty.
A Vatican statement about Abbas’ meeting with the pope and a later meeting with the Vatican foreign minister, Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, said, “The reinstatement of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians” was a topic in both conversations.
“The parties expressed their hope that this process may bear fruit and enable a just and lasting solution to be found to the conflict,” it said. “Hope was expressed that the parties to the conflict will make courageous and determined decisions in order to promote peace” and that the international community would support their efforts. The U.S.-mediated talks began in July.
The Vatican statement did not mention Pope Francis’ possible trip to the Holy Land, although when Abbas greeted Archbishop Mamberti he told him that he had invited the pope to visit. Abbas’ delegation also included the mayor of Bethlehem, which likely would be on the itinerary of a papal trip.
In April, Israeli President Shimon Peres also invited the pope, and Israeli media have been reporting that a papal visit is expected in the spring. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office announced on 16 October that the prime minister would meet U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Rome on 23 October and meet the pope during the same trip.
The Vatican statement on Abbas’ meetings said the pope and Palestinian leader also discussed the ongoing war in Syria and expressed their hopes that “dialogue and reconciliation may supplant the logic of violence as soon as possible.”
The two also discussed the work underway on a Vatican-Palestinian agreement regulating “several essential aspects of the life and activity of the Catholic Church in Palestine,” as well as the situation of Christian communities in the Palestinian territories and the contributions Christians make to society throughout the Middle East.
17 October 2013
Tags: Pope Francis Middle East Christians Palestine Vatican Middle East Peace Process
In this April 2010 image, Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregory III celebrates the Divine Liturgy at the ancient Monastery of Mar Thomas in Sednaya, Syria. (photo: CNEWA)
Patriarch Gregory III: Christians do not need Assad to survive (BBC) Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregory III told the BBC that more than 450,000 Christians out of a total population of 1.75 million — more than one quarter — had been displaced or left the country. However, he was adamant that the Christian community will survive. Syria’s minority Christian community has faced growing violence, but he said it is not dependent for its survival on President Bashar al Assad’s secular government. In fact, Patriarch Gregory believes Christians can in fact help bring the warring sides together. “We have to have a new vision, and that is our work as Christians, especially the Christian Arabs have to play this role to change the vision…”
Scattered by war, Syrian family struggles to start over (New York Times) Watering the plants on her balcony back home in Syria this spring, Wedad Sarhan took delight in how they were stirring to life after the winter months. A rocket exploded on the balcony minutes later. Ms. Sarhan was standing inside. Two of her granddaughters were wounded. Their father, Hasan, quickly carried one girl to a nearby clinic, unaware that the other lay more grievously wounded under a pile of clothes. That evening, the Sarhans fled Dara’a, their hometown in southwestern Syria, and crossed into Jordan, three generations of refugees. Their large clan, already torn apart by the Syrian civil war, was now scattered across Jordan and Syria. “Our family story is just one of many,” said Noman Sarhan, Ms. Sarhan’s eldest son. “You can find Syrian families who have had an easier time than we’ve had, and others whose stories are more horrific. But almost all Syrian families have these in common: a relative who’s been killed or wounded, who is detained or wanted. Every family has suffered…”
The historic scale of Syria’s refugee crisis (New York Times) The Syrian refugee crisis has exploded from about 270,000 people a year ago to today’s tally of more than two million who have fled the country. The pace of the diaspora has been characterized by the United Nations as the worst since the Rwandan genocide in 1994. In addition, an estimated 4.25 million Syrians have been displaced within their country, bringing the total number forced into flight to more than six million. According to the United Nations, the flood of Syrian refugees is comparable to the crises caused by the war and sectarian violence in Iraq and by the conflicts that accompanied the breakup of Yugoslavia…
France to accept Syrian refugees amid surge in anti-immigration politics (Al Jazeera) France is set to welcome 500 Syrian refugees, reports say, at a time when what many call an anti-immigrant, far-right National Front Party is making strides in local elections and popularity polls — a sign Arab and Muslim community advocates say has grim portents for France’s immigrants. Philippe Leclerc, the French representative for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, told French newspaper Le Figaro Wednesday that President Francois Hollande agreed to accept the Syrian immigrants, after requests from the United Nations that European nations help alleviate the toll massive inflows of refugees have taken on Syria’s Middle Eastern neighbors…
Egypt detaining, deporting Syrian refugees, rights group says (Los Angeles Times) Saying that Egypt is “failing abysmally” to meet international obligations, Amnesty International called Thursday for the country’s military-backed government to stop detaining and deporting Syrian war refugees. About 300,000 Syrians have fled to Egypt, where they were once welcomed. But as their numbers have swelled, public sentiment has shifted sharply. Official media outlets routinely revile the refugees as partisans of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist movement that propelled now-deposed president Muhammad Morsi to power, and they are accused by authorities of representing a threat to public order…
Amid new attacks, Egypt’s Copts preserve heritage (Yahoo! News) Locked inside a 6th-century church in a desert monastery are some of the jewels of early Christianity — ancient murals in vivid pinks, greens and reds depicting saints, angels and the Virgin Mary with a baby Jesus, hidden for centuries under a blanket of black soot. Italian and Egyptian restorers are meticulously uncovering the paintings, some of the earliest surviving and most complete examples of early Coptic Christian art. But the work, in the final stages more than a decade after it started, is done quietly to avoid drawing attention — and there’s no plan to try to attract visitors, at least not now. “This is our heritage and we must protect it,” said Father Antonius, abbot of the Red Monastery where the Anba Bishay Church is located. He takes it as a personal mission to protect it. The church’s heavy wooden door has only two keys. He keeps one and a young monk he trusts keeps the other…
Chaldean patriarch visits Iraqi prime minister (Chaldean Patriarchate) On Wednesday afternoon, 9 October 2013, Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael I visited Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki to congratulate him on the occasion of Eid al Adha. Patriarch Louis Raphael discussed the plight of Christians in Iraq, outlining points to encourage them to stay in their country, which the prime minister received with interest…
16 October 2013
Tags: Refugees Syrian Civil War Violence against Christians Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael I Melkite Patriarch Gregory III of Antioch
Pope Francis wears a firefighter’s helmet as he arrives to lead his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on 16 October. (photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)
In his weekly general audience, Pope Francis today spoke of how the church is “apostolic”:
The church can describe itself as “apostolic” only if it shares the Gospel with the world, remaining faithful to the teaching of the apostles and living out Gospel values, Pope Francis said.
“A church closed in on itself and its past, a church concerned only with its little rules, customs and attitudes is a church that betrays its identity,” the pope told more than 70,000 people gathered in St. Peter’s Square on 16 October for his weekly general audience.
Continuing a series of audience talks about how the creed describes the church, Pope Francis said the adjective “apostolic” comes from the church’s connection to the 12 men Jesus chose as his closest companions and sent to share with the entire world what he had told and shown them.
The church, he said, has “the firm conviction of being sent,” and of having an obligation to “safeguard and transmit” the teaching of the apostles.
Pope Francis said he wanted to emphasize the connection between the church’s apostolic identity and its obligation to be missionary, “because Christ calls everyone to go out, to encounter others; he sends us, asks us to move in order to bring the joy of the Gospel.”
“Once again,” he said, “let’s ask ourselves: Are we missionaries with our words, but especially with our Christian lifestyles; are we witnesses? Or are we closed, both in our hearts and inside our churches? Are we ‘sacristy Christians,’ Christians in word only who live like pagans?”
The pope said he wasn’t trying to scold anyone. “I also ask myself: ‘How am I a Christian? With my witness?’ ”
Read the rest at CNS.
16 October 2013
Tags: Pope Francis Catholic Evangelization
Pope Francis speaks against the ‘scandal’ of hunger (Vatican Radio) October 16th is World Food Day and in a message to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization Pope Francis condemned the continuing scandal of hunger and malnutrition in today’s world and what he called a globalization of indifference towards it. In his message the pope criticized what he called “a growing tendency for us to close in on ourselves,” saying this leads to a certain indifference on “a personal, institutional and state level” towards hunger, as though “it were an inevitable fact…”
Archbishop Marayati: International community promotes Christian exodus (Fides) “There is a rumor that 17 countries have opened their doors to Syrian refugees. This news has reignited among Christians the impulse to leave Syria,” says Armenian Catholic Archbishop of Aleppo Boutros Marayati. He adds that the richest Christians have already left Syria, while for others “any attempt to leave the country remains dangerous and also very expensive. For now, this is not a mass exodus, but the phenomenon involves a growing number of families…”
Iraq war claimed half a million lives, study finds (Al Jazeera) The number of deaths caused by the Iraq war has been a source of intense controversy, as politics, inexact methodology and a clamor for public awareness have intersected in a heated debate of conflicting interests. The latest and perhaps most rigorous survey, released Tuesday, puts the figure at close to 500,000. The study included a survey of 2,000 Iraqi households in 100 geographic regions in Iraq…
Bedouin resist Israeli relocation plans (Al Monitor) Although not fierce in intensity, the struggle of the Bedouins has been protracted and tenacious. Their demand has become a slogan for the Negev region of southern Israel: recognition. Ever since the Palestinian exodus of 1948, Israel has not recognized the Bedouin villages of the Negev, and has only limited legal recognition of the towns that the government built and into which the population is being forcibly inserted. In 2003, however, the government made the unorthodox decision to recognize 13 villages. This has made little difference. Before, these villages were denied basic services such as water, electricity, medical clinics, schools, transportation, roads and sewers. The houses were continuously demolished and the land was confiscated. Those services are still denied today…
Security chief meets patriarch over kidnapped bishops (Daily Star Lebanon) General Abbas Ibrahim met Saturday with Greek Orthodox Patriarch Youhanna X of Antioch and discussed the ongoing efforts to secure the release of two Syrian bishops. According to the National News Agency, General Ibrahim informed the patriarch about recent developments in the case of the prelates, saying that the matter could be resolved in the near future…
15 October 2013
Tags: Iraq Pope Francis Middle East Christians Hunger Bedouin
A woman waits to board a boat as she returns to her village on 13 October after Cyclone Phailin hit the village of Sunapur in the eastern Indian state of Orissa. India had its biggest disaster relief operation in history, evacuating the region and successfully moving more than a million people out of harm’s way before Cyclone Phailin swept through Orissa and Andhra Pradesh, ravaging crops and infrastructure and flattening hundreds of thousands of houses. Learn more about CNEWA’s work in India at this link. (photo: CNS/Adnan Abidi, Reuters)
15 October 2013
Tags: India Refugees Relief Homes/housing
In this 2008 photo, a foreign aid volunteer helps to harvest olives in a valley east of Nablus, in the West Bank region. There were several reports of violent incidents when settlers residing in Jewish outposts overlooking the valley opposed the presence of Palestinian harvesters in the area. To learn more about life as a Palestinian olive farmer, read Olive Offerings, from the January 2009 issue of ONE. (photo: Ahikam Seri)
Palestinian olive season puts focus on Israeli settlements (Al Monitor) Members of various diplomatic missions to Palestine joined Palestinians in picking olives. The exercise was no simple picnic or act of volunteer work. Rather, it was another visible manifestation of the major problem of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict: the struggle for land. Olive trees have an important legal status. Since a large part of the West Bank is rural and often void of specific land deeds, authorities often rely on an old Ottoman ruling stating that any person who cultivates fruit-bearing trees can use this continuous relationship with the land to make claim for disputed lands. Palestinians complain that Israeli settlers cognizant of the social, legal and political importance of fruit-bearing trees have made destroying Palestinian olive trees their number one goal. Settler actions against Palestinian lands vary from cutting down olive trees, uprooting them or setting them ablaze…
Egyptians try to draft General Sisi for president (Washington Post) General Abdel Fatah al Sisi’s unofficial presidential campaign is hitting the streets with impressive momentum. Organizers claim that more than nine million people — over 10 percent of Egypt’s population — have already signed the petition calling for the man who orchestrated the July coup that overthrew Egypt’s first democratically elected leader to become this nation’s next elected president. For many Egyptians, the rise of a new military man is a comforting idea after nearly three years of political turmoil since the fall of President Hosni Mubarak. Already, Sisi mania has swept the nation in a pattern reminiscent of past strongmen — the general’s face has become ubiquitous in shop windows and even on cupcakes. He is celebrated in songs, poems and chants…
Egypt struggles for control of Sinai (Der Spiegel) The Sinai Peninsula is both a vacation paradise and a haven for jihadists and gangs of thugs. The military and the police are trying to regain control over the region. But a new class of haughty warlords and a resentful public mean the state’s chances are remote. Though the entire country has descended into violence since the military coup in July, nowhere in Egypt is the fight being waged as bitterly and violently as on the Sinai Peninsula, which is roughly the size of the Republic of Ireland…
A journey through Russia’s struggling heartland (New York Times) On the jarring, 12-hour drive from St. Petersburg to Moscow, another Russia comes into view — one where people struggle with problems that belong to past centuries…
Russia detains scores of migrants after riot (Al Jazeera) Russian police rounded up more than 1,600 immigrants in Moscow a day after rioting by nationalists over a fatal stabbing of a Russian that many residents blame on a man from the Caucasus region. Some 200 residents rallied in the Biryulyovo district on Monday to call for tougher policing of labor migrants. The riot on Sunday broke out with nationalist chants of “white power” and “Russia for Russians.” About 380 people were arrested after demonstrators smashed windows and set fire to shops…
11 October 2013
Tags: Egypt Palestine Israeli-Palestinian conflict Russia Farming/Agriculture
Clowns cheer as Pope Francis leads his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on 9 October. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
In his remarks at his weekly general audience Wednesday, Pope Francis spoke of what it means to be “catholic.” As CNS reports:
Professing that the church is “catholic” means accepting its teachings, accepting the gifts it offers to help one grow in holiness and accepting the fact that it is composed of different people with different gifts and opinions, Pope Francis said.
“Let’s ask ourselves: Do we live in harmony in our communities? Or do we fight among ourselves?” the pope asked 9 October as he focused his weekly general audience talk on the meaning of the creed’s profession that the church is “catholic.”
“Is there gossip” in the parish or movement, do people “accept each other, accept that there is a correct variety” or “do we tend to try to make everything uniform?” Pope Francis asked the estimated 60,000 visitors and pilgrims who braved the rain to join him. Many in the square had umbrellas, but Pope Francis spent almost 30 minutes in the rain, riding among the crowd in an open popemobile.
“We are not all the same and we shouldn’t all be the same,” he said. Each person has his or her own gifts, qualities and character, which “is one of the beauties of the church — everyone brings what God has given him or her to enrich the others.”
“When we try to impose uniformity, we kill the gifts of the Holy Spirit,” the pope said. He asked people at the audience to pray that the Spirit would make all church members more “catholic.”
Read the rest.
Tags: Pope Francis Unity Catholic