10 January 2014
A Syrian refugee carries boxes of aid at Zaatari refugee camp in Mafraq, Jordan, on 31 December. (photo: CNS/Muhammad Hamed, Reuters)
Israeli youths help Syrians fight winter chills (Christian Science Monitor) After an unusually severe winter storm moved through the Middle East last month, leading to the deaths of 27 Syrian children, Israeli youths decided to extend a hand. Teens from one of the country’s largest youth movements have mobilized in 650 communities to collect blankets, coats and sleeping bags for their shivering Syrian neighbors, despite the political tensions between the two countries. Gal Lusky of Israel Flying Aid, a veteran humanitarian worker who helped organize the campaign, says it’s the most inspiring effort in which she’s participated…
Israel plans 1,400 new settlements: A blow to peace talks? (Christian Science Monitor) Israel on Friday announced plans to build 1,400 new homes in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, days after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visited the region to push peace talks in which settlements represent a major hurdle. Although widely expected, the announcement angered some of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s own coalition partners and infuriated the Palestinians, who accused Israel of seeking to derail the peace negotiations…
U.S. considers resuming nonlethal aid to Syrian opposition (New York Times) The Obama administration is considering the resumption of nonlethal military aid to Syria’s moderate opposition, senior administration officials said on Thursday, even if some of it ends up going to the Islamist groups that are allied with the moderates. The United States suspended the shipments last month after warehouses of equipment were seized by the Islamic Front, a coalition of Islamist fighters that broke with the American-backed Free Syrian Army and has become an increasingly vital force in the nearly three-year-old uprising against President Bashar al Assad. But as a result of the rapidly shifting alliances within Syria’s fractured opposition, some of the Islamists fought alongside the Free Syrian Army in a battle against a major rebel group affiliated with Al Qaeda, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria…
Ayatollah al Sistani: Violence against Christians threatens the whole country (Fides) The spiritual leader of Iraqi Shiites has expressed full solidarity with Iraqi Christians, stating that violence against Christians in Iraq represents a loss for the entire country. The ayatollah insisted that it is essential to preserve the presence of the indigenous Christian communities in Iraq…
Syriac and Armenian recognized as official languages of Iraq (Fides) The Iraqi government has recognized Syriac and Armenian among the official languages of the country, along with the language spoken by the Turkmens. The House of Representatives passed the Official Languages Act on Tuesday, 7 January. It is the fruit of ten years’ effort, finally enshrined as a basic right guaranteed by the constitution. To date, the only official languages recognized were Arabic and Kurdish…
9 January 2014
Tags: Iraq Refugees Syrian Civil War Iraqi Christians Israeli-Palestinian conflict
Iraqi refugees celebrate the liturgy in Amman. (photo: Nader Daoud)
Some years back, we profiled the Chaldean Catholics of Iraq, fleeing the war and hoping to make a new start in Jordan. Like so many refugees we have encountered over the years, they found solace in their faith:
The refugees carry on with their lives as best as possible. Father Mousalli celebrates baptisms, eucharistic liturgies, marriages and eventually funerals for his refugee flock.
Churches in Amman and Beirut have organized informal schools for children to make up for time lost out of school. The church has also enrolled university students in English and computer courses.
But despite their great belief in God, Chaldean refugees are filled with despair. They did not want to leave their beloved homeland and nearly all want to return if the political situation changes.
Read more about what they endured in Waiting for the Future from the March-April 2003 issue of the magazine.
9 January 2014
Tags: Lebanon Refugees Iraqi Christians Chaldean Church Amman
Ukrainian demonstrators who favor joining the European Union receive hot food near Independence Square in Kiev on 27 December. Ukrainian opposition leaders urged supporters to stay in Kiev’s main square through the New Year, as street protests appeared to be losing momentum. (photo: CNS/Gleb Garanich, Reuters)
Battle of Orthodox patriarchs: Ukraine’s Filaret denounces Russia’s Kirill (Kiev Post) Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill has decried the Maidan Square demonstrations as a threat to the spiritual unity of Ukrainians and Russians. Patriarch Filaret of Kiev and all Rus-Ukraine disagrees. “If we take the idea that Kirill defends — Rusky Mir [“Russian World”] — it is not unity; it is empire wrapped in a nice package. In fact, it is about creating a new empire. The Customs Union is the beginning,” said Patriarch Filaret, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s revival of an economic and political union of former Soviet republics including Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus and Armenia. Putin also hopes to include Ukraine, the second-largest former Soviet republic, in the grouping. The patriarch added: “The truth is to practice the Orthodox faith, and each nation will have its own independent church, as required by the canons of the church…”
Sisi cheered at Coptic Christmas liturgy in Egypt (ANSAmed) Armed forces chief Abdel Fattah al Sisi scored a major victory at the Christmas liturgy in Cairo’s Abassaiya Orthodox Cathedral on Tuesday. Though absent for security reasons, the defense minister leading the country’s new phase received wild cheers after Pope Tawadros II mentioned his name among those who had sent messages of well wishes to Christians celebrating the festivity, Al Ahram online reported Tuesday…
In Egypt, many shrug as freedoms disappear (Washington Post) The charges are often vague. The evidence is elusive. Arrests occur swiftly, and the convictions follow. And there is little transparency in what analysts have called the harshest political crackdown in Egypt in decades. But many Egyptians say they are all right with that. There is a growing sense here in the Arab world’s largest country that the best path to stability — after three years of political turmoil — might be to do things the military’s way: crush the Islamists who made people angry enough to support a coup, silence dissent and ask very few questions…
Holy Land: in the footsteps of Paul VI (Vatican Radio) On Sunday, 5 January, Pope Francis specified how the main purpose of his forthcoming pilgrimage to the Holy Land from 24-26 May is to commemorate the historic meeting between Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I of Constantinople 50 years ago. Pope Paul VI, referred to as “pilgrim pope,” took many such steps to bring the papacy to the people — and, convinced that all roads no longer led to Rome, he became the first pope ever to board an airplane. Less than a year into his pontificate, Paul VI became the first pope to return to the Holy land after St. Peter himself…
Stretched thin, Syrian extremists are pressured (Washington Post) Just a week ago, Al Qaeda-linked rebels in Syria enjoyed an arc of dominance across the country’s north and east, ruling with brutality. But a series of stunning reversals in recent days has made clear that the militant group may be more vulnerable than it seemed, in part because its frequent kidnappings and attacks on fellow rebels have won it few allies. By Tuesday, the group, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, appeared increasingly desperate, with its fighters pushed out of some towns and turning to suicide bombings in a bid to hold on to pockets of Raqqa, the large north-central city that was its stronghold…
8 January 2014
Tags: Egypt Pope Francis Middle East Christians Syrian Civil War Ukrainian Orthodox Church
A mother holds her newborn in the maternity ward of the Tiramayr Narek Hospital. (photo: Justyna Mielnikiewicz)
While much of North America copes this week with a “polar vortex” of near-zero temperatures, we were reminded of the hard winter others face in different parts of the world.
In 2009, we focused on Armenia, visiting a hospital that can be difficult to reach during winter:
Natives of Shirak often refer to the area as the Armenian Siberia and consider themselves exiled from much of the country’s cultural and economic life, especially the prosperity many compatriots in Yerevan, the nation’s capital, have been enjoying in recent years. Indeed, the gap between the socioeconomic development in Yerevan and the lethargy of Armenia’s rural, impoverished north widens by the day. Whereas newly constructed supermarkets, boutiques and luxury high-rise buildings illuminate Yerevan’s streets, the only signs of modern life in Ashotzk are the occasional car and Tiramayr Narek Hospital.
Ashotzk rises some 6,600 feet above sea level and is covered in three to five feet of snow six months out of the year. During the winter months, temperatures often drop to 40 degrees below zero and many of the roads are closed.
One road, known as the “life road,” is kept accessible throughout the winter and is used only in the case of medical emergencies. It extends 17 miles from the village of Berdashen, the neighboring community closest to Armenia’s northern border, directly to the hospital. Before the hospital commissioned the construction of the “life road,” residents had no way of reaching medical care in the winter months. To this day, residents still try to plan their pregnancies so that mothers give birth between the months of April and October.
“Getting to the medical center in Gyumri was impossible in winter before there was the hospital,” said Mariam Simonian, a nurse who lives in Berdashen.
Read more about the Armenian Winter in the March 2009 issue of ONE.
8 January 2014
Tags: Children Health Care Armenia Poor/Poverty
A Roma family sit in the living room of their house in Hodász, Hungary. Many homes in this neighborhood have no running water, leaving their residents to transport water from public water sources. (photo: Balazs Gardi)
The plight of the Roma: Europe’s unwanted people (Der Spiegel) Some 10 to 12 million Roma live in Europe — more than the population of Austria — and the roots of this population stretch back over 1,000 years. The Roma have also been ostracized, persecuted and suppressed as gypsies for centuries, including the murder of hundreds of thousands of Roma at the hands of the Nazis. The Roma are Europe’s biggest minority, and remain the continent’s unwanted people. Now, tens of thousands of them are fleeing westwards from poverty and discrimination in the countries of southeastern Europe. But European Union member states are failing to help them…
Ethiopian migrants expelled by Saudis remain in limbo back home (New York Times) For decades, rich Arab countries in the Middle East have been a major destination for migrant workers from developing nations. Deportations had happened before, but the scale of the recent expulsions from Saudi Arabia is virtually unheard of, the labor organization said. About 150,000 Ethiopians have been forced out of the country. Their expulsion puts the Ethiopian government under strain because the remittances they sent had greatly contributed to the country, which has one of the world’s fastest-growing economies but is still very poor…
The Syria effect: Lebanese Sunnis begin to strap on bombs (Christian Science Monitor) Lebanon’s moderate Sunni community is radicalizing, as shown by last week’s suicide bombing in Beirut. When Qutaiba Satem, a 19-year-old engineering student, drove an explosives-laden car into a Shiite suburb of Beirut last week and blew himself up, he became the first Lebanese Sunni to commit an apparently sectarian-driven suicide bombing against Shiite civilians in Lebanon…
ISIL: An Al-Qaeda challenge in Syria and Iraq (Al Jazeera) The common link between the upsurge of fighting this week in the western Iraqi cities of Fallujah and Ramadi, and also in rebel-held parts of northern Syria, is the Al Qaeda affiliate known by the acronym ISIL (or often, ISIS) — the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. And in a sign of the complexity of the violent power struggles in both countries, ISIL is being confronted not only by its prime enemy in each country — the regime of President Bashar al Assad in Syria, and the government of Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki — but also by rival anti-Assad and anti-Maliki forces…
Egypt’s Copts celebrate Christmas amid political uncertainty (Al Jazeera) Last year’s Coptic Christmas saw the Muslim Brotherhood in power and its political party send envoys to wish Egypt’s long-embattled Christian minority well. This year’s Christmas, on Tuesday, found worshipers raucously cheering General Abdel Fattah al Sisi, the military leader who overthrew the Brotherhood-backed President Mohamed Morsi in July. The Brotherhood has been smashed and Morsi is behind bars, a wave of anti-Christian violence has at least temporarily abated, a new constitution is being drafted, and the Coptic community is breathing a tentative sigh of relief…
7 January 2014
Tags: Ethiopia Syrian Civil War Migrants Immigration Roma
A woman dressed as a character from a Nativity scene puts a lamb around the neck of Pope Francis as he arrives to visit the Church of St. Alfonso Maria dei Liguori in Rome on 6 January. Read more about the pope’s visit at this link. (photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)
7 January 2014
Tags: Pope Francis Catholic Rome
A boy in a live Nativity scene carries a dog as Pope Francis visits the display at the Church of St. Alfonso Maria dei Liguori in Rome on 6 January. Orthodox Christians who follow the Julian calendar are celebrating Christmas on 7 January. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Millions celebrate Orthodox Christmas (RT.com) Millions of Orthodox Christians across the globe are celebrating Christmas on Tuesday with one of the most revered Christian relics: the Gifts of the Wise Men, brought to Moscow after leaving Greece for the first time in more than 500 years. 7 January is Christmas Day for Russian Christians, the Jerusalem Orthodox Church, the Serbian Orthodox Church, the Georgian Orthodox Church, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, as well as for some Protestants who use the Julian calendar. According to the Julian calendar, the holidays come 13 days after the Christmas festivities in the Catholic Church. One of the most important Christian relics, the Gifts of the Wise Men to the newborn Jesus, were delivered from Thessaloniki to Moscow on the eve of the Orthodox Christmas. The holy Gifts have left the Agiou Pavlou (St. Paul’s) monastery on Mount Athos for the first time since the 15th Century. The sacred relics brought from Greece are to be displayed in the Russian capital until 13 January. At present they are drawing queues of five hours...
Latin Patriarch hopes pope’s visit will be a “cry for peace” (Catholic News Service) Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal of Jerusalem welcomed the announcement of Pope Francis’ May visit to the Holy Land and said he hopes the pilgrimage will be a “cry for peace,” particularly for Palestinians, Israelis, Syrians and others beset by conflict...
Russia ramps up security in Sochi (Vatican Radio) Russia says it has launched one of the biggest security operations in Olympic history, after two suicide attacks killed dozens of people. The announcement comes a month before the start of the Winter Olympic Games in the Black Sea resort of Sochi. Russian authorities say they are deploying more than 30,000 police and interior ministry troops and limiting access to the Black Sea resort of Sochi. Yet, protecting the expected thousands of athletes and spectators at a time of suicide bombings in the country has become a major challenge, officials acknowledged...
Syrian rebels battling for control of key city (Los Angeles Times) Syrian rebel groups battled one another Monday for control of a provincial capital, part of a vicious round of score settling targeting an Al Qaeda affiliate that gained stature fighting President Bashar Assad but alienated many by imposing strict Islamic law. Fighting for control of Raqqah followed several days of heavy clashes in rebel-held territory farther west in which disparate militias advanced against fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. In March, Raqqah was the first major Syrian city to fall completely to rebel forces, and it has been one of the main bases of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
Why Christians are crucial to the Middle East (National Catholic Register) Thomas Farr is the director of the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center and a visiting associate professor of religion and international affairs at Georgetown’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service. A former American diplomat, he is a leading authority on international religious freedom. In December, the Religious Freedom Project hosted a Rome-based conference titled “Christianity and Freedom: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives.” “From Cairo and Damascus to Tehran and Beijing, religious freedom is under siege. Ironically, it is Christianity — a faith that contributed decisively to the rise of religious liberty — that now finds itself increasingly persecuted around the world,” the conference organizers noted. On 30 December, Farr offered further reflections on the reasons for the sharp rise in anti-Christian violence in the Middle East and the West’s failure to intervene...
6 January 2014
Tags: Pope Francis Middle East Christians Syrian Civil War Russia Patriarch Fouad Twal
In this 1996 photo, Abune Paulos, patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, douses a crowd with holy water. Abune Paulos passed away in 2012. (photo: Asrat Habte Mariam)
Christians around the world are celebrating Epiphany today. Several years ago we explored how this feast is observed in Ethiopia:
Since time immemorial, Ethiopians have worshiped the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of Jesus, the Apostles and saints. According to an ancient tradition, Menelik, the son of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, carried the Ark of the Covenant off to Aksum, the ancient capital of Ethiopia. This same tradition holds that the Ark, which the Hebrews believed symbolized the presence of God among them, remains in Aksum, enshrined in the cathedral complex of St. Mary of Zion. Within the sanctuary of every Ethiopian Orthodox church, a tabot rests on the altar, a reminder of God’s revelation in word and sacrament.
As evening drew near, the city’s clergy, balancing the sacred tabots, slowly converged on Jan Meda, the “Field of the King.” In my youth Jan Meda was considered the preserve of the monarch. Situated on this majestic field is the Pool of Temqat. This pool, considered holy by believers, was to be blessed by the patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, Abune Paulos, after vespers and an all-night vigil.
Elaborately decorated tents, erected on the field for the occasion, housed the sacred tabots. Meanwhile, two rows of priests, deacons, monks and debteras were formed. Separated by a patch of earth, but facing one another, the clergy began to chant the psalms rhythmically, the pace set by a priest-drummer. Throughout the night, in the tents where the tabots rested, the clergy recited prayers and chanted the holy office while the laity kept vigil in the open air.
Early on the morning of the feast Abune Paulos arrived at Jan Meda. Dressed majestically in white, and surrounded by his retinue of bishops, the patriarch took the place of the emperor, the “King of Kings, Conquering Lion of Judah,” the central figure of these ceremonies when Ethiopia was considered a Christian realm.
The celebration began with a series of sermons, which contemplated the meaning of Jesus’ baptism and the significance of God’s words: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). Delivered by monks from the country’s remote monasteries, these often lengthy reflections were followed by prayers and hymns.
Finally the patriarch, encircled by his clergy, solemnly blessed the waters of the Pool of Temqat with a golden cross. The rite was simple: the patriarch plunged the cross into the waters while the assembly chanted hymns and antiphons. The crowd stirred when the patriarch sprinkled the dignitaries and faithful with the blessed water — with a hose!
Read more about this celebration in Temqat: Celebrating Epiphany in Ethiopia.
6 January 2014
Tags: Ethiopia Ethiopian Orthodox Church Ethiopian Christianity Ethiopian Orthodox Patriarch Abune Paulos Epiphany
Syrian refugees drink tea as they sit in front of their tents at Zaatari refugee camp in Mafraq, Jordan, on 31 December. Pope Francis will dine with Syrian refugees during his 24 May visit to Jordan on a trip that also will include Israel and the Palestinian territories. (photo: CNS/Muhammad Hamed, Reuters)
Pope to visit Middle East, meet Orthodox leader (Voice of America) Pope Francis is to visit biblical sites in Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Territories in May, his first trip to the Christian Holy Land as pontiff and only the fourth by a pope since biblical times. The 24-26 May trip to Amman, Jerusalem and Bethlehem will mark the 50th anniversary of a historic trip to the region by Pope Paul VI. Pope John Paul II visited in 2000 and Pope Benedict XVI went in 2009. Apart from its significance for Catholic relations with Jews and Muslims, Pope Francis’ trip will hold major importance for relations among Christians because it will include a meeting in Jerusalem with the spiritual head of the world’s Orthodox Christians, as well as Anglican and Protestant leaders…
Bishop William Shomali on pope’s visit to Holy Land (Vatican Radio) The auxiliary bishop of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, William Shomali, told Vatican Radio that expectations are high for the pope’s planned visit. “Christians, Jews and Muslims [in the Holy Land] are counting on this visit to intensify the ecumenical and the interreligious relationships,” he said. You can listen to a recording of the bishop’s remarks at the bottom of the article…
Thousands march for refugee rights in Israel (Al Jazeera) Tens of thousands of African asylum seekers and their supporters continued a three-day protest Monday on the streets of Tel Aviv demanding that the Israeli government recognize their refugee status and end the policy of detention without trial. “More than 30,000 demonstrators marched peacefully,” police spokeswoman Lubra Samri said when the protest began on Sunday, which would make the action the largest such rally by migrants in Israel’s history. The protest comes after a December mass walkout from a detention facility by hundreds of asylum seekers who are detained there during the night and barred from seeking work during the day. Those caught breaking the strict rules risk arrest and confinement in a closed prison…
Fire of extremism devours decades-old library in Lebanon (Middle East Online) A decades-old library owned by a Greek Orthodox priest in north Lebanon’s majority Sunni city of Tripoli was torched late Friday, a day after a sectarian scuffle, a security source said. “Unknown assailants torched the Saeh Library in Tripoli, destroying two-thirds of some 80,000 books and manuscripts housed there,” said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The attack came a day after “a pamphlet was discovered inside one of the books at the library that was insulting to Islam and the prophet Mohammad,” said the source…
Egypt’s interim president visits Coptic pope (Independent) On Sunday, Egypt’s interim president on Sunday made a rare visit to see the pontiff of the nation’s Orthodox Christians at St. Mark’s Cathedral, the papal seat in central Cairo, according to a brief statement by the church. The highly symbolic visit to Pope Tawadros II by President Adly Mansour was made ahead of Coptic Christmas, which falls on Tuesday, 7 January. On his part, Pope Tawadros had taken the unusual step of publicly criticizing the president, rejecting an Islamist-tilted constitution adopted in 2012 that, in his view, was discriminatory and compromised the human rights of Egyptians…
2 January 2014
Tags: Pope Francis Refugees Middle East Violence against Christians Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II
A Christian farmer works the fields near his home in northern Egypt. (photo: David Degner)
In the Winter issue of ONE, now online, writer Sarah Topol visits one family of farmers in northern Egypt and recounts the difficulties they face:
Muslim extremists vandalized some 70 Christian homes in Abu Qurqas in a week of clashes that began on 18 April. The struggles of this small Catholic farming community of 6,000 located about 160 miles south of Cairo mirror the events taking place in Coptic communities across the country (ethnic Egyptian Christians are known as Copts, which derives from the Greek, “Aigyptios,” meaning Egyptian Christian). And though the Labib’s situation is extreme, their story is representative of the perils facing many of Upper Egypt’s Coptic families in these turbulent times.
Since the January 2011 revolution that toppled Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak, sectarian attacks in the country’s south have mushroomed. These days, Egypt’s Copt minority, which makes up roughly 10 percent of the population, feels a sense of anxiety as never before. Amid the general atmosphere of instability, rising prices and chronic shortages, the threat of extremist Muslim groups — both in organized politics and on the streets — has triggered sectarian attacks, along with a fear that the next bout of violence is just around the corner.
“They worry about everything related to stability; they don’t feel secure,” says Father Haidar, the pastor of the church of the Virgin Mary in Abu Qurqas. “This is their own country — they were born here, but they don’t feel safe.
“It’s the situation of Christians in the whole country,” he adds, “not just the situation of this village.” …
Father Haidar says [a] lack of accountability and justice has led many to be even more fearful, staying home and engaging even less with the society around them.
“They have been through many challenges and struggles since the revolution,” he explains. “They have lost many things — material things, as well as spiritual and psychological things,” he says of his parish community. And this loss bleeds into their faith.
“It’s not only in their daily life, it’s also in their spiritual aspects — their beliefs. We need to convince them God is with them and going to help.”
Read more about Seeds of Survival in Egypt in the Winter 2014 issue of ONE.
Tags: Egypt Violence against Christians Farming/Agriculture Copts Egypt's Christians