6 September 2013
People walk near destroyed buildings and debris in Deir al-Zor, Syria, on 4 September.
(photo: CNS/Khalil Ashawi, Reuters)
U.S. orders diplomats out of Lebanon (AP) The State Department on Friday ordered nonessential U.S. diplomats to leave Lebanon due to security concerns as the Obama administration and Congress debate military strikes on neighboring Syria. In a new travel warning for Lebanon, the department said it had instructed nonessential staffers to leave Beirut and urged private American citizens to depart Lebanon. The step had been under consideration since last week when President Barack Obama said he was contemplating military action against the Syrian government for its alleged chemical weapons attack last month that the administration said killed more than 1,400 people near Damascus. “The potential in Lebanon for a spontaneous upsurge in violence remains,” the department said...
Divisons remain over Syria at G20 summit (Vatican Radio) World leaders are continuing their discussions on the final day of the G20 Summit in St Petersburg, Russia. Divisions still remain on what sort of action to take on Syria. President Barack Obama told G20 leaders the United States has high confidence that Syrian forces used chemical weapons and underlined the need to uphold an international ban on the use of such weapons.But Russia, China and the EU are still opposed to a military solution...
Vatican’s Foreign Secretary meets with diplomats to discuss Syria (Vatican Radio) The Vatican’s Secretary for Foreign Relations Archbishop Dominque Mamberti has met with world ambassadors accredited to the Holy See to discuss Pope Francis’ initiative calling for a day of prayer and fasting for peace in Syria on Saturday 7 September. In a briefing for journalists about Thursday’s meeting, Director of the Vatican Press Office, Fr. Federico Lombardi, denied “in the most complete manner” that Pope Francis had telephoned Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. Fr. Lombardi was responding to reports in Italian media which he described as “devoid of foundation”...
Cardinal McCarrick: no strikes in Syria; don’t repeat mistakes of Iraq (CNS) Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, retired archbishop of Washington, said he opposed U.S. military intervention in Syria, adding that he was “not in favor of going to war to make peace.” “We made the mistake in Iraq. I hope we don’t make the mistake again in Syria,” he told Catholic News Service 5 September after visiting some of the nearly half-million refugees who had fled to Jordan, Syria’s southern neighbor. When asked what was worst, either allow Syria to use chemical weapons and do nothing or go in with limited military strikes, he quickly responded: “Neither is the proper answer”...
Archbishop Pendergast heartened by aid projects in Ethiopia (Catholic Register) Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast returned from a recent visit to Ethiopia pleased with how money is being spent in projects being funded by Canadian Catholics. The Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace had launched campaigns to raise funds to avert food crises in both the Sahel Region and the Horn of Africa in recent years. Prendergast was part of the delegation formed so Canadian Catholics can see what is being done with their money. “Ethiopia was considered the safest option and, though (D&P) has had involvement there for many years, no one had visited,” he said...
5 September 2013
In this image from last fall, rubble is seen near the altar inside a church damaged during shelling in Homs, Syria. (photo: CNS/Shaam News Network, handout via Reuters)
Once again there is talk of the United States being involved in military action in another Middle Eastern country. Having worked with Middle East issues for decades and now doing the same at Catholic Near East Welfare Association, I know people will ask my opinion about what is going on and the possibility of military action.
I have asked myself, “How many times have you found yourself in this situation?” I thought of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the so-called First Gulf War to remove Saddam Hussein from Kuwait, the bombing of Libya. It got me wondering about how often the United States has been involved in military action in a foreign country. I was born in 1944. Franklin D. Roosevelt was president. A very unscientific run through the “archives” of my brain have led me to realize that — with the exception of Jimmy Carter — every U.S. president in my 69 years of life has been involved in military action in a foreign country. If, as I fear, engaging in this kind of military action can be addictive, this is a very disturbing thing.
I have visited Syria. I have dear friends there. I know Syrians who have personally lived through the horrors of the bombing of Aleppo. A relative of people I know took her two grade-school children and left their home in a Damascus suburb the day before the poison gas attack.
Christians and Muslims have lived together in peace in Syria for a long time. A Muslim colleague pointed out to me proudly that one of the minarets of the ancient Umayyad Mosque was called “Our Lord Jesus.” In the past two years, however, the situation of Christians has gotten increasingly more precarious. They have been driven out of villages where they have lived for centuries. Two archbishops have been kidnapped and their whereabouts unknown. Christians have been killed, churches destroyed and it seems as if life will never again return to normal.
Yet, Christian voices from Syria are almost unanimous in stating that outside military intervention — be it in the form of bombing or the sale of weapons — will not only not help, but will make their situation worse. The Melkite Greek Catholic patriarch in Damascus and the Chaldean patriarch in Baghdad have spoken out against a U.S. attack on Syria. Pope Francis has repeatedly called for a non-violent political solution to the carnage in Syria. Everyone condemns the use of poison gas. It is evil, a crime against humanity that cries out to God. However, over 100,000 Syrians have died already through conventional warfare. Is this means of killing any less evil?
Pope Francis has declared a period of prayer and fasting for peace in Syria and the Middle East this Saturday, 7 September. Christians, Muslims and all people of good will need to give witness to the belief that violence begets violence and that the only peace that can hold is one based on non-violence and mutual respect.
To help displaced Syrian families, click here.
5 September 2013
Syrian refugees, fleeing the violence in their country, cross the border into the Kurdish region of northern Iraq on 4 September. (photo: CNS/Haider Ala, Reuters)
The USCCB president and chair of CNEWA Cardinal Timothy Dolan has written to President Obama on the worsening crisis in Syria.
His letter says, in part:
As our nation contemplates military action in Syria, we want to assure you and your Administration of our prayers. We know that the situation in Syria is complex and appreciate the patience and restraint that your Administration has exercised to date. We affirm your decision to invite public dialogue and Congressional review of any possible military action, and want to contribute to that discussion from our perspective as Catholic pastors and teachers.
We join you in your absolute condemnation of the use of chemical weapons in Syria. These indiscriminate weapons have no place in the arsenals of the family of nations. With you we mourn for the lives lost and grieve with the families of the deceased. At the same time, we remain profoundly concerned for the more than 100,000 Syrians who have lost their lives, the more than 2 million who have fled the country as refugees, and the more than 4 million within Syria who have been driven from their homes by the violence. Our focus is on the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in Syria and on saving lives by ending the conflict, not fueling it.
We have heard the urgent calls of the Successor of Saint Peter, Pope Francis, and our suffering brother bishops of the venerable and ancient Christian communities of the Middle East. As one, they beg the international community not to resort to military intervention in Syria. They have made it clear that a military attack will be counterproductive, will exacerbate an already deadly situation, and will have unintended negative consequences. Their concerns find a strong resonance in American public opinion that questions the wisdom of intervention and in the lack of international consensus.
We make our own the appeal of Pope Francis: “I exhort the international community to make every effort to promote clear proposals for peace in that country without further delay, a peace based on dialogue and negotiation, for the good of the entire Syrian people. May no effort be spared in guaranteeing humanitarian assistance to those wounded by this terrible conflict, in particular those forced to flee and the many refugees in nearby countries.”
Read the entire text at the USCCB website.
5 September 2013
Pope Francis exchanges a gift with Catholicos Baselios Mar Thoma Paulose II, head of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, during a private audience at the Vatican on 5 September.
(photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)
5 September 2013
In this image from last March, U.S. Cardinal Edwin F. O’Brien, grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, arrives for a prayer service with eucharistic adoration in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Cardinal O’Brien calls for prayers for Syria (CNS) As threats of military intervention against Syria escalate and the country’s future remains uncertain, a U.S. cardinal said that, no matter what transpires, prayer is urgently needed. Cardinal Edwin F. O’Brien, grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre, said that “whatever happens, if there is going to be peace in Syria and anywhere, prayer has to be a part of it.” The cardinal spoke on 5 September during a Vatican news conference presenting the chivalric order’s consultative meeting that will see a revision of its statutes and its upcoming pilgrimage to Rome as part of the Year of Faith. The order, which has members in 35 countries, particularly in North America and Western Europe, supports the pastoral and educational work of the church in the Holy Land...
Pope seeks Putin’s support in stopping Syrian air strikes (Catholic Register) In an open letter to Vladimir Putin, Pope Francis has appealed to the Russian President and world leaders gathering in St. Petersburg for a G-20 Summit to find a non-military solution to the crisis in Syria. “To the leaders present, I make a heartfelt appeal for them to help find ways to overcome the conflicting positions and to lay aside the futile pursuit of a military solution,” the Pope wrote. “Rather, let there be a renewed commitment to seek, with courage and determination, a peaceful solution through dialogue and negotiation of the parties, unanimously supported by the international community.” The Pope’s letter came as world leaders arrived for a two-day summit that was intended to focus on the world economy but now will be dominated by the looming threat of U.S. intervention in Syria. Congress will vote early next week on whether to support President Barack Obama’s call for air strikes on military targets in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack allegedly directed by the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad that killed 1,429 people, including hundreds of children...
Syrian Christians say Western attack would make matters worse (NCR) Although President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron are consulting their own legislatures before using force in Syria, there’s a constituency with far more at stake they might also poll that would likely deliver a resounding no: Syria’s Christians. Those Christians may be no fans of the regime of President Bashar Assad, but they generally prefer it to what they see as the likely alternative — rising Islamic fundamentalism and Iraq-style chaos, in which religious minorities such as themselves would be among the primary victims. “We heard a lot about democracy and freedom from the U.S. in Iraq, and we see now the results — how the country came to be destroyed,” said Chaldean Catholic Bishop Antoine Audo of Aleppo in a recent interview. “The first to lose were the Christians of Iraq.” “We must say that, what the U.S. did in Iraq, we don’t want repeated in Syria,” Audo said...
Christian, Muslim leaders examine challenges of Arab Christians (CNS) For decades, Arab Christians have been fleeing the Holy Land and the rest of the Middle East in droves, mainly because of violence. Within the past two-and-a-half years, some 450,000 Christians are believed to be among the 2 million people who have fled the civil war in Syria, an ancient land of historic churches, the country where St. Paul encountered Christ on the road to Damascus. Some 70 high-ranking Arab church leaders, together with their Western counterparts, and Muslim clerics gathered in Amman for a meeting on 3-4 September aimed at tackling “the challenges of Arab Christians.” The Christian and Muslims leaders aimed to find a way to end the sectarian strife threatening their people and countries. “We must confront extremist trends,” Archbishop Fouad Twal, Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, told the gathering. He said it was the duty of religious leaders and their communities to work jointly “to get the new generation to accept ‘the other,’” in order to “isolate these trends”...
4 September 2013
In this image from 2008, many buildings in Maaloula, Syria wear washes of blue paint in honor of the Virgin Mary. (photo: Mitchell Prothero)
The news from Syria is increasingly grim. From the Associated Press today:
Al-Qaida-linked rebels launched an assault on a regime-held Christian mountain village in the densely populated west of Syria and new clashes erupted near the capital, Damascus, on Wednesday — part of a brutal battle of attrition each side believes it can win despite more than two years of deadlock.
In the attack on the village of Maaloula, rebels commandeered a mountaintop hotel and nearby caves and shelled the community below, said a nun, speaking by phone from a convent in the village. She spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.
With the world focused on possible U.S. military action against Syria, there were new signs of fragmentation in rebel ranks, with a small group of jihadis from Russia announcing it has broken away from an umbrella group known as Jabhat al-Nusra.
The Syria conflict, which began with a popular uprising in March 2011, has been stalemated, and it's not clear if U.S. military strikes over the regime's alleged chemical weapons use would change that. President Barack Obama has said he seeks limited pinpoint action to deter future chemical attacks, not regime change.
Tragically, it’s not the Maaloula we remember. In 2008 we profiled the village, a place rich in religious history that we described as notable for “martyrdom and miracles”:
The sleepy Syrian town of Maaloula once seemed decades from the bustling city of Damascus, which lies some 30 miles away. Since the first century, when Christianity penetrated the barren mountains that shield Maaloula, its residents have commemorated the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and his martyred followers. Generations observed fasts and feasts, clung to traditions, passed on superstitions and developed new customs. And as the world around them changed — Muslim Arabs conquered Christian Syria in 634, making Damascus their capital in 661 — Maaloula’s sons and daughters remained steadfast in their Christian faith, maintaining even their distinctive language, Aramaic, which they shared with Jesus.
But Maaloula slumbers no more. Its churches and shrines, less than 45 minutes by car from the Syrian capital, host tens of thousands of tourists and pilgrims each year, swelling the small town of 2,000 residents.
Maaloula is synonymous with martyrdom and miracles. Scaling the cliffs that tightly contain it, Maaloula’s sacred and secular architectural wonders rise several stories, usually wearing a wash of blue distemper. Were it not for the vineyards and olive and apricot orchards that carpet the surrounding valley, a casual visitor might ponder how the townspeople have survived the mountains’ sun-dried, barren landscape for millennia.
Maaloula’s most distinctive feature, however, is the language its residents speak, the same dialect of Aramaic spoken by Jesus of Nazareth. Predating Arabic — the most widely used language in the region for more than a millennium — Aramaic originated more than 900 years before Christ and, in its many forms, was the Middle East’s lingua franca from around B.C. 1200 to A.D. 700.
4 September 2013
Jewish worshippers pray at the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest site, in Jerusalem’s Old City, ahead of the Jewish new year, which begins tonight. (photo: CNS/Baz Ratner, Reuters)
4 September 2013
Syrian refugees carry their belongings as they enter the Turkish Cilvegozu border gate on 4 September. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said there had been a near tenfold increase over the past 12 months in the number of refugees crossing Syria’s borders into Turkey, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon — to a daily average of nearly 5,000 people.
(photo: CNS/Umit Bektas, Reuters)
Pope Francis renews his appeal for peace (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis renewed his appeal for peace in Syria and throughout the world on Wednesday, once again inviting Christians of every denomination, believers of every religious tradition and all people of good will to take part in the worldwide fast and vigil of prayer and penance for peace, which he has called for 7 September, the vigil of the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lady, whom we venerate as Queen of Peace. Many local Churches have already organized their own initiatives to mark the day...
Syrians face psychological trauma (Vatican Radio) Syrians caught up in the civil war face lasting psychological trauma, as well as violence and deprivation. Caritas Internationalis talked about the situation in Syria, and about the situation of Syrian refugees in neighboring countries, in its annual report published last July. It also issued a statement last Friday calling for dialogue as the only possible solution to the Syrian crisis, and warning against military intervention...
Islam’s Grand Mufti of Syria welcomes pope’s call for prayer (Fides) In St. Peter’s Square or in the great Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, the Grand Mufti of Syria, Ahmad Badreddin Hassou, spiritual leader of Sunni Islam, welcomes the Pope’s appeal and will be there praying and fasting for peace in his country. The Mufti sent, through the Apostolic Nunciature in Damascus, an official letter to Pope Francis and is preparing to participate in the special pro-Syria day on 7 September, proposing to the Holy See to organize an interfaith meeting...
Rosh Hashana begins (Los Angeles Daily News) Sundown Wednesday signals the start of Rosh Hashana, the two-day holiday marking the Jewish New Year. Services ushering in the year 5774 on the Hebrew calendar will feature the blowing of the shofar, a ram’s horn. Rosh Hashana is a festive time when Jews gather with family members to reflect on the past year and the new one that is beginning. Celebrants also eat festive meals featuring apples dipped in honey, symbolic of the wishes for a sweet year. Rosh Hashana begins a 10-day period of penitence and contemplation leading to Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, Judaism’s most solemn and somber day. Jewish tradition holds that God records the fate of humankind in the Book of Life during the High Holy Days...
3 September 2013
Roman’s Girls, a Catholic initiative in Addis Ababa, assists about 20 girls with school. Read more about it in An Uphill Battle from the May 2009 issue of ONE. (photo: Peter Lemieux)
3 September 2013
In the video above from Sunday, Pope Francis asks during the Angelus for the international community to use all efforts to achieve peace in Syria. (video: Rome Reports)
Pope Francis calls for a day of fasting, prayer for Syria (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has called for a day of fasting and prayer for peace in Syria, in the entire Mideast region, and throughout the whole world to be held this coming Saturday, 7 September, 2013. Speaking ahead of the traditional Angelus prayer with pilgrims gathered in St Peter’s Square this Sunday, Pope Francis said, “On [Saturday] the 7th of September, here [in St Peter’s Square], from 7 PM until midnight, we will gather together in prayer, in a spirit of penitence, to ask from God this great gift [of peace] for the beloved Syrian nation and for all the situations of conflict and violence in the world.” The Holy Father also invited non-Catholic Christians and non-Christian believers to participate in ways they feel are appropriate...
Israel and U.S. carry out joint missile test (BBC) Israel has carried out a joint missile test with the U.S. in the Mediterranean, amid heightened tension over possible Western military strikes on Syria. The test came as the U.S. Congress prepared for its first public hearing on a possible military response to alleged chemical weapons use by Syria. Earlier, the UN confirmed that more than two million Syrians were now refugees from the 30-month conflict. More Syrians were now displaced than any other nationality, it said...
Pope names veteran diplomat as new Secretary of State (CNS) Although Pope Francis has not hesitated to break with convention during his brief pontificate, in appointing a seasoned member of the diplomatic corps as the top Vatican official, he resumed a long-standing tradition. The pope appointed Archbishop Pietro Parolin, 58, a longtime official in the Vatican secretariat of state and nuncio to Venezuela since 2009, to be his secretary of state. On 15 October, Archbishop Parolin will succeed Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, 78, who came to the post in 2006 after serving as archbishop of Genoa, Italy. The secretary of state is the pope’s highest-ranking collaborator, coordinating the work of the entire Roman Curia, overseeing the operation of the Vatican press office and newspaper, coordinating the preparation and publication of papal documents, and supervising the work of Vatican nuncios, in their relations with Catholic communities in individual countries and with national governments...
Orthodox synod calls for prayers for Egypt (OCA.org) On 30 August 2013, His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon and the members of the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America, issued a statement calling for prayers for all who are suffering in the crisis currently gripping Egypt, and especially that nation’s minority Christian community...
Pope Francis meets with Jewish leaders, wishes them a happy new year (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Monday wished Jews around the world a sweet and peaceful year 5774, called for increased dialogue among the world’s religious communities and opposed fundamentalism in any faith. During his first private audience with an international Jewish leader since being elected Catholic pontiff in March, Francis asked World Jewish Congress (WJC) President Ronald S. Lauder to convey his New Year message to Jewish communities world-wide and said he also needed a sweet year because of the important decisions lying ahead. Using the Hebrew words for ‘Happy New Year,’ Pope Francis wished a “Shana Tova” and asked the WJC to share that message with the Jewish people worldwide. Lauder presented the pope with a Kiddush cup and a honey cake.
Buddhists, Muslims, Christians attend ecumenical gathering in Ethiopia (Independent Catholic News) On Sunday 25 August, in Adigrat, in the northern region of Tigray, Ethiopia, 174 people — among them Buddhists, Muslims and Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant Christians, gathered in the main hall of Bruh Tesfa Youth Development Centre, a youth centre run by the Missionaries of Africa, as they do once a year, to break “injera” in an ecumenical ambiance to celebrate the numerous successes of the centre together. At the gathering in Tigray, some of the attendees were members of staff, students who had successfully completed their end of year exams, nine university graduates that Bruh Tesfa has supported in their studies, and a couple of missionaries of Africa. But the vast majority were Christian Orthodox priests and deacons; and on the high table an Imam, a representative of the Orthodox bishop, the Orthodox dean of the Nihibi-Dibla area of Adigrat and the Catholic bishop of the Diocese of Adigrat sat next to each other...