1 February 2018
Cardinal Baselios Cleemis Thottunkal, major archbishop of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church, speaks during a 1 February news conference in Bangalore, India. Cardinal Thottunkal, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, called for upholding constitutional guarantees of freedom of religion in response to a government official’s push to separate people because of their faith. (photo: CNS/Anto Akkara)
The president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India called for upholding constitutional guarantees of freedom of religion in response to a government official’s push to separate people because of their faith.
“The country is facing different challenges, like making sure the constitution is really kept (observed) in the life of the citizens. Constitutional guarantees should not be blocked from any corner,” said Cardinal Baselios Cleemis Thottunkal, major archbishop of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church.
Speaking during a news conference on 1 February ahead of the biennial assembly of the bishops’ conference, Cardinal Thottunkal said Dalit Christians were being denied the same rights as Hindus and other Dalits.
“Religion should not be used to deny equal rights,” he added.
Dalit means “trampled upon” or “broken open” in Sanskrit and denotes people formerly known as untouchables in India’s multitiered caste system. The government introduced free education and a quota in government jobs for Hindu Dalits in 1956 to improve their social status. While the same statutory rights were later extended to Buddhist and Sikh Dalits, the demand for equal rights for Christian Dalits has been rejected by successive governments.
“People in responsible positions should not sideline the sacredness of the constitution,” Cardinal Thottunkal said when asked about a federal official who urged that the constitution be amended to have people identify by religion.
Cardinal Thottunkal also cited a pre-Christmas attack on Catholic carol singers in the Diocese of Satna and threats against a Catholic college in Vidisha in the Diocese of Sagar as examples of violations of the constitution's freedom of religion principles.
Similarly, he criticized earlier controversial decisions of the Modi government to observe Good Governance Day on Christmas and Digital India Day on Good Friday 2017.
“Any other date could have been fixed to launch such programs,” the cardinal said. “Why should you hurt the feelings of a community?”
1 February 2018
The Didos family of Lviv — displaced after shelling destroyed their neighborhood in the Donetsk region of Ukraine — share a moment of happiness on a cold Sunday on their way home from church. Read about the plight of The Displaced from Ukraine in the March 2017 edition of ONE.
(photo: Ivan Chernichkin)
1 February 2018
A Syrian child uses a stainless-steel pot to bale out water from her tent at a refugee camp on the outskirts of Zahle in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley on 26 January 2018.
(photo: Joseph Eid, AFP/Getty Images)
Winter’s tragic toll on Lebanon’s Syrian refugees (Voice of America) Following a few months of relatively mild weather, the recent storm came as a bitter reminder of how harsh winters can be in Lebanon’s highlands. And with some Syrians spending their seventh year in camps, it is proving ever-harder to cope with such conditions...
6900 Syrians win permission to stay in U.S. For now (The New York Times) Nearly 7,000 Syrians who were granted temporary permission to live and work in the United States as a civil war devoured their country will be allowed to stay for at least another 18 months, the Trump administration announced on Wednesday, in an acknowledgment that Syria continues to be rattled by conflict...
Gaza faces ‘unprecedented’ humanitarian crisis (Al Jazeera) Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have entered their 11th year under a crippling siege imposed by Israel and Egypt, and are in dire need of international aid. Gaza Palestinian economic experts are warning that even if help is given immediately, a humanitarian disaster might be unavoidable...
Human Rights Watch slams India’s treatment of minorities (UCANews.com) Civil society groups in India have backed a Human Rights Watch report that condemns the unabated violence that religious minorities suffer at the hands of right-wing Hindu groups. India’s federal government led by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has failed to contain rights violations on several fronts, according to the New York-based group’s 2018 World Report. “The government failed to promptly or credibly investigate the attacks, while many senior BJP leaders publicly promoted Hindu supremacy and ultra-nationalism, which encouraged further violence,” said the Human Rights Watch report...
Reject intolerance, teach respect for other religions, speakers say (CNS) A rigorous defense of religious freedom around the globe must be accompanied by the efforts of religious communities and governments to teach people to respect other faiths and to see diversity within a society as a value, not a threat, said a Vatican cardinal and a top British government official. “The struggle for the affirmation of religious liberty is far from being won,” Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, told an audience at Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University on 30 January...
Trip to Syria shows wars can be most dangerous when they’re coming to an end (The Independent) It’s easy to think the war is over. Until mortars from el-Ghouta swish over Damascus and explode in the old Christian area of Bab el-Roma with its grocery shops and restaurants. Six dead. Or when an army officer comes and says quite casually to you: “Remember Captain Walid? He was martyred four days ago.” I’ve always felt uneasy about the word “martyred” — about any soldier, or civilian, anywhere...
31 January 2018
The sisters, staff and a number of volunteers prepare a meal for the 29 residents and the 50 members of the day care center at the Antonian Charitable Society in Bethlehem. CNEWA provided a grant for improvements to the society’s building that helped save money and provide water to the residents. The kitchen equipment was also donated by CNEWA. (photo: CNEWA)
Editor’s note: We were delighted to receive this note from Joseph Hazboun, regional director for Palestine and Israel, describing how a grant from CNEWA is helping a group of religious sisters care for the elderly in Bethlehem.
At the Antonian Charitable Society, Sister Caterina, responsible for the kitchen and Sister Lizy, Mother Superior, were overwhelmed with joy when the society’s large old rainwater cistern was repaired and cleaned, and made ready for the winter rainy season.
The cistern stood neglected for years and the society relied solely on Bethlehem’s water network. That could be problematic. Piped water was often shut off (due to water shortages) or made prohibitively expensive, due to price increases because of a longstanding drought. Rainwater cisterns are common in Bethlehem and other urban areas and are in fact, an ancient method developed and perfected by the Nabataeans. They began to appear in Palestinian cities during the Assyrian period. Since then, the rainwater cistern was always a practical way for locals to have access to potable water, especially in the summer months. As technology advancement and urban growth became apparent in the past half century, many Bethlehem residents and institutions moved away from these ancient practices of channeling and collecting rainwater and utilized the water system as the main source of potable water.
In recent years however, a severe drought has decreased water reserves throughout Bethlehem. Last summer, Bethlehem had a water shortage that lasted more than a month, as reserves reached all-time lows and water tanker trucks became the only method of distributing potable water.
For the Sisters at the Antonian Charitable Society, that meant their water bills were soaring last summer — far higher than what they had budgeted for. As part of CNEWA’s efforts to care for the marginalized, a grant was provided to the Sisters of the Antonian Charitable Society in 2017 to provide photovoltaic solar panels. These could generate free solar electricity to operate medical equipment, lights and kitchen appliances at the society. That grant also eliminated the society’s reliance on piped water and water supplied by trucks through the rehabilitation of the society’s old rainwater cistern. The grant also enabled the installation of hydroponic units for the kitchen to grow organic vegetables. This is an alternative method that feeds 50 elderly members and 29 women residents daily, saving much money on groceries. There is also enough water left in the cistern for household cleaning and bathing.
The sisters have expressed their gratitude to CNEWA for helping to make these practical solutions a reality — and they are especially grateful that they can continue to provide services for the elderly in Bethlehem.
31 January 2018
Sister Simone Abdel Malek, who leads the Daughters of Charity in Alexandria, Egypt, takes a call while meeting with patients at her order’s dispensary. Learn more about the extraordinary work of these religious sisters in Charity’s Daughters in the current edition of ONE. (photo: Roger Anis)
31 January 2018
Syrian refugees arrive at Rome’s Fiumicino airport as part of a program sponsored by the Community of Sant’ Egidio. (photo: Vatican News/Facebook)
Syrian refugees arrive in Rome (Vatican News) A group of Syrian refugees were welcomed at Rome’s Fiumicino airport on Tuesday as part of a humanitarian corridors program. The initiative is being promoted by the Community of Sant’ Egidio and aided by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of the Interior...
Apostolic nuncio speaks on conditions in Ukraine (Vatican News) In the wake of Pope Francis’ visit to a Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church on Sunday, the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Claudio Gugerotti to Ukraine is speaking out about the situation in the eastern European nation...
Lebanon overwhelmed with lingering Syrian refugee crisis (National Catholic Register) As Lebanon enters its seventh year of hosting Syrian refugees, the country is slipping further into an economic and social crisis. About two-thirds the size of Connecticut, with a local population of about 4 million, Lebanon has the highest per capita refugee population in the world. Lebanon has absorbed more than 1 million refugees from neighboring Syria, a figure which refers only to those who are registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)...
Hamas leader dies in Gaza (Andalou Agency) Senior Hamas leader Imad al-Alami, who was injured by gunfire earlier this month, passed away in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, a Hamas leader said. In a Twitter post, Bassim Naim confirmed that al-Alami had died, giving no further details. Al-Alami was seriously injured three weeks ago when a bullet reportedly hit his head as he was checking his personal weapon at his home...
30 January 2018
Tags: Syria Lebanon Ukraine Refugees Gaza Strip/West Bank
Thanks to a project supported by CNEWA, Wagdi Attalah is healthier and working to get his high school diploma. (photo: CNEWA)
Editor’s note: CNEWA is privileged to support numerous initiatives and institutions that serve marginalized, poor and vulnerable populations in Egypt. One such establishment, called Good Samaritan, comprises two facilities that provide care for children in need. CNEWA helps Good Samaritan centers to shelter, feed and clothe children whose parents have died or are too poor to afford these necessities. We also help share the gift of education with underserved children in areas where schools are scarce or unaffordable. Michel Constantin — our regional director in Beirut, who oversees our work in Egypt — recently shared this story of one family benefiting from these on-the-ground services.
Wagdi Attallah is 17-years-old and suffers from asthma and lung problems. His family consists of his mother and himself. Before Magdi was born, while she was pregnant, she had health complications which affected Wagdi’s present condition and requires chronic medications. His mother now suffers from many problems with her eyesight.
Their main source of income was from selling buffalo milk, but after the buffalo died, they lost that revenue and became poorer and poorer. Their house was in extremely poor condition, with just two small rooms. There was no toilet or kitchen.
Related: Egypt’s Good Samaritans
Through a project supported by CNEWA, and in collaboration with the Good Samaritan Center, we were able to improve conditions for Wagdi and his sick mother. The house was rehabilitated. A bathroom and kitchen were built, along with concrete and tiling to repair the house. We installed doors and windows and painted the walls, and also did some electrical work on the building.
Wagdi’s condition has improved dramatically. He is now studying for his diploma. We are still there to help him as needed — supporting him with assistance in his health care and education.
Thanks to the generosity of CNEWA’s donors, his future now looks much brighter.
30 January 2018
The Rev. Ihor Hrishchenko celebrates the Divine Liturgy inside an abandoned facility once used to develop grain seeds. (photo: Ivan Chernichkin)
In the current edition of ONE, writer Mark Raczkiewycz takes us to Ukraine for a look at how the church there is seeking to grow — often under daunting circumstances:
Despite decades of official atheism, Christian symbolism is compellingly strong in central and eastern Ukraine, which is why many are cautious to enter dwellings where Greek Catholics worship: The buildings often lack the proper symbols and icons.
In the 700-strong village of Mala Vilshanka, the Rev. Ihor Hrishchenko...is blessed with two enormous rooms inside an abandoned, run-down Soviet-era facility once used to develop new grain seeds.
He celebrates the sacraments regularly with about a dozen parishioners — although as large a group as half the village comes out on Epiphany to bless water in January — yet the small community “wants something of its own,” he says.
“The parish and I want an appropriate religious atmosphere here,” Father Hrishchenko says. “You don’t want to go to a random café; you want something of your own. But we have no money to build one.”
Still, the parish has the luxury of a separate room for social events and gatherings crucial to building a parish community. Father Hrishchenko uses the space for screening films, putting on plays and inviting guest lecturers to speak on such topics as marriage, ethics and holidays.
“Even though there is the internet and people can instantly access information, it’s more useful to have a ‘human library,’ an expert to talk about the Holy Scripture and other topics,” he says.
The 35-year-old priest also leads another parish in neighboring Bila Tserkva, comprised of some 40 faithful who gather inside a dilapidated Soviet-era household goods store — a brick building with a crumbling façade.
For two years, when he had no car, Father Hrishchenko would take the bus to the village parish and then hitchhike back to the district center in every kind of weather.
Such concessions are necessary when resources are tight. The average Ukrainian monthly salary barely reaches $200, and diminishes as one moves farther away from urban centers.
“It would take 20 or 30 years’ worth of donations to build a church on what we get in our donation boxes, which hardly covers expenses for liturgy — bread, charcoal, candles and wine.”
Read more about how Catholics are Planting Seeds, Nurturing Faith in Ukraine in the December 2017 edition of ONE.
30 January 2018
In this image from 17 January, residents walk through the Burj al-Barajneh refugee camp. Many have expressed fears over their future after the U.S. cut aid to the U.N. agency that supports them.
(photo: Joseph Eid, AFP/Getty Images)
Fears in Syrian camp for Palestinian refugees (Reuters) In Burj al-Barajneh camp, Amira Nassar fears for the future after the United States cut aid to the U.N. agency that helps her and many others among the estimated 170,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. Sitting in an old people’s center, talk turns to the impact on their healthcare...
Big changes are reshaping Jerusalem (Bloomberg) The number of employed east Jerusalem Arabs is rising, salary gaps with the city’s Jewish population are narrowing, more are learning Hebrew — 6,000 currently study the language in classes — and registration at higher education institutions in the western sector is up. City Hall has established an employment center in east Jerusalem and plans a second one. There are even growing applications for citizenship, said Ben Avrahami, the mayor’s adviser for east Jerusalem affairs. This from a population of permanent residents that can file for social security benefits but doesn’t have the right to vote in national elections...
A journey into Iraqi Kurdistan (The New York Times) The Mar Mattai monastery clings to the side of a steep mountain, and on a clear day a visitor can stand against its fortresslike walls and discern far below the winsome farmlands of Upper Mesopotamia. Here, in the cradle of civilization, the building is one of the oldest Christian monasteries in the world. From this peaceful perch, it is difficult to imagine the horror...
Syrian carpenter rebuilds life in Homs (Xinhua) It wasn’t easy for the 43-year-old Rabea Sahloul to start his life from scratch alone in his shattered neighborhood in Homs city, as his neighbors and friends he grew up with are no longer there. People say that feeling lonely or as a stranger is not only when you lose a home, but when the loved ones are no longer there such as friends and neighbors, those who give life a taste and a meaning...
Man arrested for looting Byzantine-era coins from archaeological sites (The Jerusalem Post) A resident of the Negev’s Beduin village of Bir Hadaj was arrested Sunday for looting more than 150 Byzantine-era coins from numerous nearby archaeological sites, the Antiquities Authority said Monday. According to the Authority’s Robbery Prevention Unit, a call was received Sunday afternoon reporting that an unidentified suspect in his 50’s was walking around the ruins of the city Halutza with a metal detector...
29 January 2018
Bishop Felipe de Jesus Estevez of St. Augustine, Florida, holding cross, and Auxiliary Bishop Alberto Rojas of Chicago, right, watch a Palestinian worker make crosses made of olive wood on 27 January at the Holy Land Handicraft Cooperative Society in Beit Sahour, West Bank.
(photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)
Retired Bishop Placido Rodriguez of Lubbock, Texas, remembers the smell of woodworking and the feel of wood in his hands from when he was a child in his family furniture factory in Celaya, Mexico.
“Here they are working with olive wood; in Mexico we worked with cedar. We see the connection with our brothers here,” Bishop Rodriguez said as he walked through the small family-run Odeh Factory, which produces traditional olive wood statues and souvenirs to sell to pilgrims and tourists. “I see the effort that is needed, and the talent, (to do this work) as a way to support and feed their families. I can see this is the work of Christians. I don’t have to be told that, you can see it in their work.”
Bishop Rodriguez was among 10 bishops who participated in the 18-27 January USCCB Hispanic Bishops’ Pilgrimage for Peace in the Holy Land. They met with local Christians as well as with other Palestinians and Israelis to get a firsthand understanding of the situation and to advocate for “bridges not walls.” Many bishops said the pilgrimage gave them a better understanding of the Palestinian Christian reality in the Holy Land and gave them the opportunity to express their solidarity with the community, which makes up less than 2 percent of the Palestinian population.
On 27 January, Catholic Relief Services hosted the bishops in the traditionally Christian village of Beit Sahour, near Bethlehem, for a tour of the CRS Fair Trade Partner Holy Land Handicraft Cooperative Society, and a visit to one of the artisan workshops CRS recently helped renovate to improve working conditions.
“It has given me a special understanding of the reason why the number of Christians in the Holy Land is decreasing and the difficulty of living here because of the occupation,” said Bishop Felipe de Jesus Estevez of St. Augustine, Florida. “While I have felt a great sadness at their situation, I have also marveled at the resilience of the Holy Family Parish in Gaza.”
Bishop Nelson J. Perez of Cleveland described Gaza with its 2.3 million people as a “virtual human prison,” where residents cannot leave and others cannot enter. While there is a political aspect to the situation, the humanitarian side of it cannot be ignored, he said.
Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, touches a statue of Mary made out of olive wood at the Holy Land Handicraft Cooperative Society in Beit Sahour, West Bank.
(photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)
“People have the right to freedom of movement, right to life. I would hope that somehow, someday this will get resolved,” he said. “Both the Israelis and the Palestinians have their narrative, but (the situation must be dealt with) in a way which respects the dignity of the human person.”
He said although the students of Bethlehem University with whom they spoke gave him hope as they expressed desire for peace, their prospects for gainful employment were minimal, and many young Christian Palestinians emigrate because of lack of work.
“We can’t judge one side over the other but ... justice and peace must reign between these two communities living here,” said Auxiliary Bishop Alberto Rojas of Chicago. “This is possible only if each one recognizes the dignity of the other.”
“We have been exposed more to the reality of life here and have heard ... of the fear of Israelis near the Gaza border,” said Bishop Perez. “I could relate to the fear of being shot at. People have died. That was as disturbing as seeing the limitation of movement of people from Gaza.”
“There have been situations in the world where, in their moments, people felt there was no hope and there was nothing to be done,” he added. “But history has shown through God’s grace and intervention and goodness of people situations have changed.”