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Spring, 2017
Volume 43, Number 1
25 April 2013
Carl Hétu

Jasmine and sisters in their apartment in Amman, Jordan. (photo: CNEWA)

This past March marked the tenth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. When the dust from the invasion appeared to have settled, an insurgency more powerful than the invasion whipped through Iraq, its turbulence destroying what remained. Anarchy reigned and those powerless to defend themselves were its victims. Everything changed for Iraq’s Christians. Today, fewer than 300,000 Christians remain, but they live in the north after fleeing their homes in Baghdad. This past Easter, many of the faithful attended liturgies in churches protected by armed guards.

But those are the ones who stayed. About 700,000 Christians (or 70 percent of the prewar number of Christians in Iraq) were forced to leave their homeland. Among them was a young Christian woman named Jasmine. Her story reflects the stories of thousands of Christians who are now living in limbo and need a sign of hope.

I met Jasmine last year. She had been living in Jordanian capital of Amman with her mother and two sisters after fleeing Iraq in October of 2011.

Extremists demanded she convert to Islam. They laughed at her for being Christian. They harassed her sisters, who are mentally challenged. Jasmine’s father died five years ago. The family is poor and her mother is sick — but Jasmine eventually saved enough money to move them to safety in Jordan.

Now Jasmine and her family are scraping by in a poor slum. The family dreams of moving one day to North America. As with so many other refugees, she is awaiting resettlement for a new life. But the process has been prolonged and even put on hold due to the war in Syria.

It is a harsh life, but she still has hope, thanks to CNEWA, which provides families such as Jasmine’s with food, shelter, medicine and pastoral care — enabling her family and many others to live in dignity in such tough conditions.

This can only be done with your generous support.

Many more families need help. Your prayers and sacrifices are very much needed.

Click here to learn how you can help.

25 April 2013
Aleena Gichie

Some of the women of CNEWA’s world are these sisters from the Society of Nirmala Dasi (“Servants of God”) in India. In this 2007 photograph, they share a light moment over a meal at Anugraha Sadan (“House of Blessings”) in Trichur. (photo: Sister Christian Molidor,  R.S.M.)

Aleena Gichie is a charitable giving advisor for CNEWA in New York.

“In the church and in the journey of faith, women … have a special role in opening the doors to the Lord.” So observed our new Holy Father, Pope Francis. And it sure is true here at the Catholic Near East Welfare Association! Women make CNEWA work. So I want to take a moment to share my appreciation for the women of CNEWA.

First are the sisters who do God’s work in the places we serve. For example, Sister Belaynesh in Ethiopia. She runs a Catholic school that serves the poorest of the poor. But her children receive a quality education and free meals to sustain them, thanks to her careful stewardship. I marvel at how she stretches every penny into a nickel and every nickel into a dime for the sake of her children. Sister Belaynesh doesn’t have much, but she is creative. Some of her classrooms are built from old shipping containers.

There are also the women who work in the nine CNEWA offices around the world. Perhaps the best known was Sister Christian Molidor, R.S.M., who has been a part of our family for many years. You probably saw her photos and stories in ONE magazine or read the emails she used to send. Sister Christian is now retired, but not without blessing us with her gifts — both on paper and in person. My prayers and gratitude are forever with her.

Eileen Fay is another wonderful woman of CNEWA. You may have had the pleasure of speaking with Eileen if you have ever called our New York office. She is a donor relations representative who has worked with us for more than 50 years. Eileen recently retired. Yet she didn’t leave us — she continues to support the mission of CNEWA by very generously volunteering three days a week.

Last but not least are the women who are reading this blog post — our donors! You deserve a special “thank you,” for you are the ones who make possible our great work. With your help, CNEWA and our partners, like Sister Belaynesh, are able to do far more good. God bless you and all of the women in our family. You are making it a better world for all!

To learn about some of the other great women working with CNEWA, check out this video. And to find out how you can help keep their work going, visit this giving page.

Tags: CNEWA Sisters Education Donors Women

25 April 2013
Greg Kandra

In this photo from February, a Syrian refugee woman who asked not to be identified is pictured in the room where she lives in the Syriac Center of St. Gabriel Syriac Orthodox Church in Ajaltoun, Lebanon. When violence escalated in her hometown of Qamishli, she fled, carrying with her a statue of Mary, which she keeps in her room. (photo: CNS/Dalia Khamissy)

Syrian government faces intensifying religiously-motivated attacks (Fides) The recent destruction of the minaret of the Umayyad mosque in Aleppo and the kidnapping of two Orthodox bishops symbolize “crossing a red line” in the Syrian conflict…

Plea for unity of Christians in Middle East (Vatican Radio) An urgent appeal for an end to the violence in Syria has been made by the Global Christian Forum, a broad ecumenical network of Christian churches, communities and movements which met earlier this month in Amman, Jordan...

Russian official begins visit to Lebanon (The Daily Star) Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov will begin a three-day visit to Lebanon Thursday with developments in Syria high on the agenda. Bogdanov will hold talks with Lebanese officials including President Michel Sleiman, Speaker Nabih Berri, interim Prime Minister Najib Mikati and Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam, the source added. The Russian envoy will also hold meetings with Lebanese political and spiritual leaders…

Holy See’s permanent observer to UN issues call to eradicate poverty (Vatican Radio) Archbishop Francis A. Chullikatt places “the integral development of the human person at the center of all efforts to eradicate poverty” in a statement to the United Nation’s Ad Hoc Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals…

Ukrainian Christian honored for saving ruined synagogue (Jewish Times) A Ukrainian Christian who saved a dilapidated rural synagogue was honored at an interfaith forum in Kiev. Boris Slobodnyuk of Satanov received the forum’s 2013 Crystal Noah Tolerance Award on Tuesday at the Kiev Interfaith Forum for guarding the 500-year-old Stanovskaya synagogue in western Ukraine and initiating renovation work there…

Tags: Ukraine Refugees Middle East Christians Syrian Civil War United Nations

24 April 2013
Greg Kandra

Catechism and Bible study are priorities for Indian-American Christian communities. (photo: Maria Bastone)

Indian Christians can be a rare sight in the United States — and several years ago, we looked at the ways many struggle to fit in:

Ask an Indian Christian how Americans react to this particular combination of nationality and religion and almost everyone has a story. Most stories are benign, some even comical with Americans’ inquiries ranging from curious to clueless.

“Many people want to know when I converted,” said Father Saji George, a 35-year-old Syro-Malankara Catholic priest in Hempstead, New York, explaining that most Indian Christians, particularly those from the southern state of Kerala, were born into the faith.

Susamma Seeley, a 29-year-old Syro-Malankara Catholic from Elmont, New York, is always a little shocked and amused when “people ask what tribe I’m from.”

Because most of India’s one billion people are Hindu, the country is internationally regarded as such. As a result, an Indian man named Samuel Abraham or an Indian woman dressed in a colorful sari carrying a Bible may elicit surprise among Americans.

Like other immigrants, Indian Christians have to work at establishing new homes for their faith and culture — much as Italian-Americans created Little Italy, observed patronal feasts and danced the tarantella at weddings.

Read more about the New World Children of St. Thomas in the May-June 2003 issue of our magazine.

Tags: Cultural Identity United States Indian Christians Syro-Malankara Catholic Church Immigration

24 April 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro

A member of a Free Syrian Army walks past destroyed buildings and debris in Deraa on 17 April. Pope Francis is offering “intense prayers” for the safety and liberation of two Orthodox archbishops kidnapped in Syria, for effective responses to the humanitarian crisis created by the civil war and for peace in the nation, the Vatican spokesman said. (photo: CNS/Thaer Abdallah, Reuters)

Fate of clerics held in Syria is disputed (New York Times) A Christian advocacy group, L’Oeuvre d’Orient, which assists Middle Eastern Christians, posted a statement on its Web site that the two kidnapping victims — Syriac Orthodox Metropolitan Gregorios Yohanna of Aleppo and Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Paul of Aleppo — had been freed early Tuesday afternoon. The group, based in Paris, said the archbishops were staying in a Greek Orthodox church in Aleppo, the northern city that has been a combat zone since last summer. Despite the reports that the archbishops had been freed, there was no confirmation, and as the day progressed contradictory accounts emerged. Abdel-Ahad Steifo, a Syriac Orthodox member of the National Coalition of Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, the main political opposition group, said in an interview on Al Jazeera that the archbishops were still being held by the kidnappers…

Pope offers prayers for Orthodox archbishops kidnapped in Syria (CNS) Acknowledging “conflicting reports” about two Orthodox archbishops kidnapped in Syria, Pope Francis prayed for them and for an end to the war in their country. At his audience, Pope Francis said the kidnappings were “another sign of the tragic situation the dear Syrian nation is living through with violence and weapons continuing to sow death and suffering.” The pope said: “While I keep the two bishops in my prayers so that they would return quickly to their communities, I ask God to enlighten hearts”…

Syria’s Christians threatened by ideology, geography (Al Monitor) Throughout the two-year-old Syrian civil war, the world powers as well as the Syrian parties involved have said that the country’s minorities, especially its Christians, face an existential threat. The tragedy of Syria’s Christians is linked to not only fundamentalist and ideological motives but also to geostrategic calculations. Wadi al Ouyoun and Wadi al Nasra, which have a million Christians and are the largest continuous Christian settlements in the Middle East, sit on the banks of the Orontes River. This region separates the Syrian Desert from Syria’s “green areas.” Military experts assert that whoever controls the area of the valleys would be able to split Syria in two, cut the road to Aleppo at either Homs or Hama and cut the Latakia-Tartus road on the coast. To put it even more simply, the experts say that whoever controls the Christian areas can control the war in Syria…

Iraqi violence sparks fears of a Sunni revolt (L.A. Times) Security forces for the Shiite-led Iraqi government raided a Sunni protest camp in northern Iraq on Tuesday, igniting violence around the country that left at least 36 people dead. The unrest led two Sunni officials to resign from the government and risked pushing the country’s Sunni provinces into an open revolt against Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, a Shiite. The situation looked to be the gravest moment for Iraq since the last United States combat troops left in December 2011…

Iraqi refugees finally beat the odds (The Catholic Register) The Meera family have endured two wars, ethnic cleansing, religious persecution and a lot of bureaucracy, but with the help of a Catholic parish in Brampton, Ontario, the six Iraqi Christian refugees have fought their way into Canada. The Meeras arrived at Pearson International Airport April 8 after seven years living as refugees in the poor Jermannya neighbourhood in Damascus, Syria. The big surprise waiting for them at the airport was a noisy, excited welcoming delegation from St. Anthony of Padua parish, the Meera’s sponsors. “We never thought there would be that love, that support,” said the Meera patriarch, 57-year-old Habeeb Meera. The Meeras beat the odds over and over on their way to Canada…

Romanian U.S. eparchy expands to include Canada (Eparchy of St. George) The Holy See announced on 23 April that it has extended the jurisdiction of the Romanian Catholic Eparchy of St. George the Martyr in Canton, Ohio, to include Romanian Catholics in all of Canada. The Romanian Greek Catholic Church is one of the Eastern Christian churches in full communion with the Pope, which in 1948 was abolished by communists in Romania but continued to exist underground in Romania and in diaspora. Currently, the Romanian Catholic Eparchy of St. George in Canton is the only Diocese for the Romanian Greek Catholics outside of Romania, encompassing 21 parishes and missions as well as two monastic communities in the United States and Canada. To learn more about this church's history, see our profile of The Romanian Church United with Rome from the May 2006 issue of ONE

Tags: Iraq Syrian Civil War Violence against Christians Iraqi Christians Romanian Catholic Church

23 April 2013
Greg Kandra

This icon of St. George, from a 14th century Constantinople workshop, is exhibited in the Byzantine and Christian Museum in Athens. (photo: Wikipedia)

At the Vatican today, Pope Francis celebrated Mass for the Feast of St. George, for whom he was named. The saint is a figure honored not only by Catholics and Anglicans — he’s the patron of England — but also by the Orthodox and even some Muslims. Little is known about St. George beyond the fact that he was a Greek who lived in Palestine shortly before the time of Constantine and that he was martyred for being a Christian.

In his homily, the pope spoke of suffering and persecution in the early days of the Church:

And so the Church goes forward, as one saint says — I do not remember which one, here — “amid the persecutions of the world and the consolations of the Lord.” And thus is the life of the Church. If we want to travel a little along the road of worldliness, negotiating with the world — as did the Maccabees, who were tempted, at that time — we will never have the consolation of the Lord. And if we seek only consolation, it will be a superficial consolation, not that of the Lord: a human consolation. The Church’s journey always takes place between the Cross and the Resurrection, amid the persecutions and the consolations of the Lord. And this is the path: those who go down this road are not mistaken.

You can read the full text of the pope’s homily today at this link.

Tags: Pope Francis Orthodox Byzantium

23 April 2013
Greg Kandra

In the video above from October 2012, one of the two hierarchs kidnapped by gunmen yesterday — the Syriac Orthodox archbishop of Aleppo, Yohanna Ibrahim — says religion can play a positive role in Syria. (video: Huffington Post)

Pope Francis offers prayers for kidnapped Syrian bishops (Vatican Radio) The Director of the Vatican Press Office on Tuesday released a statement on the kidnapping of the Orthodox bishops in Syria...

Prayers requested for kidnapped Syrian hierarchs ( In a portion of a letter dated 22 April 2013 and signed by His Grace, Bishop Basil, Secretary of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North and Central America to all member hierarchs, prayers were requested for two Syrian hierarchs who had been abducted earlier that day...

Israel: Syria used chemical weapons against its own people (CNN) The Syrian government is using chemical weapons against rebel forces, the head of the Israel Defense Forces’ intelligence research departments said Tuesday. “In all likelihood they used sarin gas,” Brig. Gen. Itai Brun said Tuesday in a speech at a conference in Tel Aviv. This comes as a civil war between the government and rebels rages across Syria — which borders Israel. Analysts believe the Syrian government may have one of the largest stockpiles of chemical weapons in the world...

Egypt’s street children, victims of political instability (Middle East Voices) Egypt’s street children had a lot to gain from the country’s revolution. However, change has come slowly if at all, and in many ways, their cause has been pushed off course. Increasing poverty, a growing shadow economy, and continued political instability, have proven challenges to the safety of these children...

On his feast, remembering St. George in Turkey (Catholic Herald) In fact George is not just Catholic, but also catholic in the widest sense: he is also revered by the Orthodox. He is even honored by some Muslims...

Tags: Syria Egypt Turkey Orthodox

22 April 2013
Michael J.L. La Civita

In this image from last November, a statue stands outside a destroyed church in Homs, Syria, Activists said the church had been bombed by forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar Assad.
(photo: CNS /Yazan Homsy, Reuters)

Reports from Syria and its Christian minority indicate that the situation in Syria is continuing to deteriorate. Today, sources in Syria report that the Greek Orthodox archbishop of Aleppo, Paul Yazigi, and the Syriac Orthodox archbishop of Aleppo, Yohanna Ibrahim, were seized by “a terrorist group” as they were “carrying out humanitarian work.”

Reuters reports that “a Syriac member of the opposition Syrian National Coalition, Abdulahad Steifo, said the two men had been captured when Ibrahim went to collect Yazigi after he crossed into rebel-held northern Syria from Turkey.”

CNEWA works closely with the Greek and Syriac Orthodox churches in Syria, partnering with its priests and religious to deliver aid to the families impacted by Syria’s ongoing civil war. Please pray for the safety of these shepherds and of their flock. Click here to learn how you can help.

Tags: Syria Georgian Orthodox Church Syriac Orthodox Church

22 April 2013
Greg Kandra

A protester opposed to Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi holds up a crucifix and the Quran as demonstrators chant slogans against the political leader near Cairo’s Tahrir Square on 19 April. Many Coptic Christians have left the unrest in Egypt and sought refuge in the United States.
(photo: CNS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany, Reuters)

Activists report record number of bodies found in Syria (CNN) The bodies of at least 566 people who were killed over a six-day period across Syria were found Sunday, according to Local Coordination Committees in Syria, an opposition group based in the country. That is the highest number of victims discovered in a single day since the war began in March 2011, LCC spokeswoman Rafif Jouejati said. At least 450 bodies were found in the Damascus suburb of Jadidat al-Fadel, LCC activist Abu Aasy said Sunday...

In Jordan, tensions rise between Syrian refugees and host community (Washington Post) More than 500,000 Syrians have fled to Jordan since the onset of the conflict in their country more than two years ago, according to the Amman government and the United Nations — a figure equal to nearly one-tenth of Jordan’s population. While 160,000 are housed in refu gee camps, the vast majority have been living in cities, where their presence is stoking tensions with an increasingly resentful host community and posing what Jordanian officials call one of the greatest crises the country has faced in decades...

Chaldean patriarch expresses hope during Iraqi voting (Vatican Radio) Iraqis went to the polls Saturday in their first provincial elections since the United States withdrew its military presence. Despite weeks of violence and bloodshed leading up to the elections, voting in 12 of Iraq’s 18 provinces took place in a state of relative stability and amid tight security. Reports of scattered violence during the first several hours of voting did not prove deadly and seemed not to dissuade voters. The Chaldean Patriarch of Babylon, Archbishop Louis Raphael of Baghdad, said interest among Iraqi citizens in exercising their right to vote was good. “I think the situation is much better today because of the security, and the police and the army are controlling the city of Baghdad in which we are living,” he said...

Chechnya casts long shadow over bombings in Boston (The Telegraph) The publication of the images of suspects by the US authorities, followed by a shoot-out, man-hunt and the lockdown of parts of Boston during Friday were accompanied by revelations that the two suspected bombers — the brothers Jokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev — were of Chechen origin. Attention quickly turned to the restive Southern Russian republic of Chechnya, and the Islamist regional insurgency led by veteran fighter, Doku Umarov, in an attempt find motives for the marathon bombing. But what motivated two young men who had spent most of their lives in the US to attack a marathon in Boston? Did the bombers really have any direct connections to Chechnya, why did they decide to launch such a deadly attack, and how were they radicalized?...

In New York, finding refuge from the unrest in Egypt (New York Times) Ever since the 2011 revolution that toppled President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and ushered in the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood, Copts — Egypt’s Orthodox Christian minority — have been flooding out of the country and into the United States. The New York area has been a major gateway for these new arrivals, and churches in Brooklyn, Queens and Jersey City have had their rosters swell accordingly. Within a few months of the revolution, so many people had arrived from Egypt that the membership of St. Mary and St. Antonios had doubled, to about 1,000 families, and the church has not been quite the same since...

Indian bishops speak out against abuse of children (Fides) “What is the value of human life? What meaning does it have?” From this question one must start to seek answers to the sad phenomenon of violence and sexual abuse on minors, which in India reached a record of 48,338 cases in the last decade. This was stated to Fides Agency by the spokesman for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, commenting on the latest case of a 5-year-old girl in Delhi, kidnapped and raped repeatedly for 48 hours by two torturers, who were arrested by the police...

Tags: Syria Iraq India Egypt Copts

19 April 2013
Annie Grunow

A Kisti girl dances a Chechen dance during an exhibition of Chechen-Kisti culture. Kists are ethnic Chechens who have lived in Georgia for several hundred years and inhabit the valley of Pankisi Gorge near the Chechen border. War in Chechnya brought thousands of refugees into the region. (photo: Justyna Mielkikiewicz)

Early reports indicate that the two suspects in the Boston marathon bombing have roots in Chechnya.

Several years ago, we profiled some of the cultures that make up the region:

The Caucasus is a place of imprecise boundaries and identities. The borders dividing its land and its people vary from indiscernible to impenetrable. Diaspora and migration further complicate matters. Its strategic location and valuable resources have made the Caucasus the object of desire for several empires. Accordingly, its many ethnic and linguistic groups have developed strong identities by adapting to change while adhering to tradition.

Broadly speaking, the Caucasus is the size of Spain. Anchored by the Caucasus mountain range, it lies between the Black and Caspian seas, with Russia to the north and Turkey and Iran to the south. Its mountains feature Mount Elbrus, which is located on the Russian side of the Georgian border. It was there that, according to Greek mythology, the gods exiled and chained Prometheus as a punishment for stealing fire. On that mountain, he was tortured every night by an eagle that pecked at his liver. Indigenous Georgian mythology features a similar tale. Mount Ararat, sacred to the Armenians but located across the border in Turkey, lies in the far south of the Caucasus. According to tradition, Noah’s ark rested on its slopes after the great flood. These myths and traditions have helped perpetuate the allure and significance of the Caucasus.

Geographers often divide the region by north and south. Today, the North Caucasus usually refers to the republics of the Russian Federation. These include Adygea, Chechnya, Dagestan, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, Kalmykia, Karachay-Cherkessia, Krasnodar Krai and North Ossetia. The independent nations of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia are often referred to as the South Caucasus. Distinctions between east and west persist, too. There is a more Persian flavor in the east than the Turkish-influenced west. …

Militant Islam is also an ingredient in current conflicts, notably in Chechnya, where the struggle for independence from Russia has attracted radical Muslim fighters from throughout the world. For the United States and its allies, the geographic proximity of the Caucasus to Afghanistan, Iraq and the Persian Gulf commands attention. …

Most Chechens are Sunni Muslims. There is a large Sufi minority. Chechens have been seeking independence from Russia since the 19th century. A significant diaspora fuels the ongoing conflict. Chechens also share cultural, ethnic and linguistic ties to the predominantly Sufi Kist in Georgia and Ingush in Ingushetia (a Russian republic bordering Chechnya). …

The almost incomprehensible diversity of the Caucasus contributes to its persistent allure and mystery. Historically, the location of the Caucasus at the nexus of Asia and Europe has generated imaginative mythology and romantic exoticism. The struggle of its people to define their distinct identities reveals the complex syncretism that continues to shape these populations and this region.

You can find the full story, Where Europe Meets Asia, in the November 2009 issue of ONE.

Tags: Cultural Identity Russia Georgia Caucasus

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