18 November 2014
Rev. Paul Karam, president of Caritas Lebanon, discusses the crisis in his homeland as
Bishop Gregory Mansour listens. (photo: CNEWA)
With much of the media’s attention focused on the still-escalating crisis in Iraq and Syria, the president of Caritas Lebanon — a longtime collaborator with CNEWA — visited our New York offices this morning to remind the world that his homeland is also suffering.
And: it’s getting worse.
Rev. Paul Karam — accompanied by Bishop Gregory Mansour of the Eparchy of St. Maron from Brooklyn — spoke to a small gathering of journalists at CNEWA’s headquarters to underscore the difficulties many in his country are facing as a result of the dramatic surge of refugees from neighboring countries.
Father Karam said an estimated 1.6 million refugees have crowded into Lebanon — many fleeing conflicts in Iraq and Syria. This has upset the demographic balance in the country, he explained; the influx, along with hundreds of thousands of foreign workers, has cost many people jobs and put stress on the country’s resources, including electricity, water and food.
It’s also sparked an escalation in crime, including sex trafficking. All of this has had a profound impact on the country’s economy.
“Host and local communities are suffering,” Father Karam explained. “The Lebanese are getting more poor.” He told of a mall that opened 18 months ago. At the time, 76 percent of the employees were Lebanese. Now, it’s down to 22 percent. Local unemployment has skyrocketed. This, in turn, is creating more challenges for Caritas and other aid organizations, as the number of needy families — both refugees and Lebanese — continues to grow.
In spite of such dire numbers, Father Karam said he remains hopeful that the international community will support Lebanon, one of the most stable and welcoming democracies in the Middle East.
Both Father Karam and Bishop Mansour emphasized the importance of maintaining Christianity in the region where it began. And they asked us to help get out the word — and encourage ongoing prayers for the Lebanese people.
“The Christian presence in the Middle East is something that’s very dynamic in Lebanon,” said Bishop Mansour. “Caritas is a symbol of Christ’s presence amid the poor.”
18 November 2014
A boy sitting on the rubble of damaged buildings chats with other boys on 17 November in Aleppo, Syria. (photo: CNS/Hosam Katan, Reuters)
Map of regional and international influence in Aleppo (Al-Akhbar) Once again, the capital of the Syrian north finds itself the center of a proposal for an agreement among the parties to the conflict, despite the lack of any indications suggesting U.N. envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura’s proposal could become a viable agreement and put an end to suffering in the city of Aleppo. Al Akhbar sheds light on the armed groups present in the city, and the reality of their regional and international links, which will have a fundamental role in the success or failure of the international envoy’s proposals…
Latin patriarch decries attack against the synagogue in Jerusalem (Fides) “I extend my condolences to the relatives of the victims of the assault against the Synagogue of Jerusalem and all the violence that bloodies the Holy Land. In our churches, convents and monasteries, we will pray more than ever that the Lord helps us and helps political leaders to take the right steps so that there is peace and security for all, all, all,” said Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal of Jerusalem…
Jerusalem on edge as Israel vows ‘harsh response’ to synagogue attack (Al Jazeera) An attack on a synagogue in Jerusalem in which four worshippers were killed by Palestinian attackers — later shot dead by police — has ramped up tensions in the region, with Israel vowing a “harsh” response to the latest act of violence…
Israeli settlers stab a Palestinian in Jerusalem, attack school in West Bank (Al-Akhbar) A Palestinian man was stabbed by a group of Israeli settlers in north Jerusalem on Tuesday, relatives told Ma’an news agency, hours after settlers attacked a Palestinian school in the village of Urif in the occupied West Bank. The two incidents came just hours after two Palestinians were shot dead by Israeli Occupation Forces after attacking a Jerusalem synagogue and killing four Israelis, and two days after a Palestinian bus driver was found hanged inside his vehicle in Jerusalem…
Egypt will expand its security zone near the Gaza Strip (New York Times) Egypt’s military said on Monday that it intended to double the size of a secured buffer zone in a town bordering the Gaza Strip after discovering smuggling tunnels across the frontier that were longer than expected, according to state news media. Last month, with little warning, the military began destroying hundreds of houses and other dwellings in the border town, Rafah, displacing more than a thousand families in a security zone that stretched almost 1,650 feet, or 500 meters, from the border…
Iraq accuses ISIS of stealing a million tons of grain (Time) Iraq’s agriculture minister on Tuesday accused the extremist group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) of pilfering more than 1.1 million tons of grain from the country’s northern region and delivering it to militant-controlled cities in Syria…
18 November 2014
Tags: Syria Iraq Egypt Jerusalem Israeli-Palestinian conflict
Journalist Hanan Fekry holds a press conference at the Egyptian Journalists' Syndicate in Cairo.
(photo: David Degner)
In the Autumn edition of ONE, Sarah Topol reports on the “Coptic Renaissance” in Egypt. Below, she offers an additional perspective from covering the story.
When I reported the story on the influence of Copts on Egyptian history, it was a heady time for the Christian minority that makes up roughly 10 percent of the population. After a year of increasing sectarian attacks on rural Christian communities and a government run by Islamists, many Coptic Christians saw the leader of Egypt’s military coup as their savior. For decades, the minority has felt disenfranchised in their own country, and with the removal of political Islam from public life, many thought their position in Egypt would improve — no matter that the previous three military-bred presidents of Egypt had not improved their lot.
But that winter, the population was still afraid. It seemed most people I spoke with did not want to be identified strictly as Coptic. This was the most striking and puzzling part of reporting this story. On one hand, it made perfect sense to not want to be considered a token minority — it is understandable to want to be an Egyptian, no matter where or how one worships.
Being termed Coptic risks being seen as one-dimensional. “They were using me as a decoration, like a flower on a jacket lapel,” Hanan Fekry, a journalist who ran in the Journalist Syndicate Board election told me of her campaign, where many referred to her as the Coptic female candidate.
But what was unexplainable to me was how people who were campaigning for the rights of their minority did not want to be identified as that minority — even at a time of marked optimism for their future.
I spoke to quite a few people to put together this story — academics, cultural icons and public figures like Fekry; Youssef Sidhom, editor in chief of the Coptic weekly al-Watani newspaper; George Ishaq, a famous Coptic political activist who was a leader in the Kefeya movement, the first activist group to openly challenge Mubarak in the mid-2000s; Lotfy Labib, a famous Coptic actor; and Gerges Saber, a-33-year-old political activist. None of them wanted to be known as Copts. They felt it marginalized them, even though (as you’ll see in the story) Copts have been marginalized by pretty much everyone else in Egypt’s history. Why would they want to brush aside their identity? Is that not also marginalizing themselves?
The best answer I could get was from Ibrahim Ishak, the Christian researcher for the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights: it seemed to be, eh said, a vestige of the old fear. “In this part of the world, minority is a bad word,” Ishak said. “This is part of the culture here, minority means division, weakness. The Copts are speaking in this society, and the society doesn’t like this word [Coptic]. So if they use it, the society will dislike them more. It will look like you are trying to cut and divide the country.”
This, to me, was heartbreaking. Regardless of how you view the new Egyptian leadership, after so much turmoil since the 2011 revolution — and suddenly so much optimism — it felt like nothing was really all that different.
Read more on the “Coptic Renaissance” in the Autumn edition of ONE.
18 November 2014
Ultra-Orthodox Jewish women stand near the scene of an attack at a Jerusalem synagogue on 18 November. Two Palestinians are said to have killed four people with a meat cleaver and a knife in a Jerusalem synagogue on 18 November before being shot dead by police, the deadliest such incident in six years in the holy city. (photo: CNS/Finbarr O'Reilly, Reuters)
17 November 2014
Imran Khan spotlights the lives of citizens who live in the areas seized by ISIS. (video: Al Jazeera)
Syria refugees need help as winter looms (Daily Star Lebanon) Syrians forced by nearly four years of war to flee their homes are in desperate need of more aid as winter approaches, a humanitarian group warned Monday. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said the enormous numbers of Syrians displaced by the war faced plummeting temperatures and heavy rains…
Barred from entering Gaza, UN investigation begins in Jordan (Al Akhbar) The United Nations committee investigating possible war crimes by Israel during its summer assault on Gaza has spent the past week in Jordan listening to the testimonies of victims’ families and civil society organizations, Ma’an news agency reported on Sunday. The investigation committee, which was appointed by the U.N. Human Rights Council, was forced to meet with Palestinians in Jordan after it was denied entry to the West Bank and Gaza by Israel…
Conference explores the role of religion in Maidan (Vatican Radio) One year after the Euromaidan in Ukraine, one thing is clear: religion was at the heart of the movement, says a Ukrainian Catholic professor. “Unlike many western societies, where religion has been relegated to the margins of the public square, in Ukraine, it has been up front and center,” said the Rev. Peter Galadza, director of the Metropolitan Andrei Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies at St. Paul University in Ottawa…
Council for Christian Unity marks half century of ecumenism (Vatican Radio) On Tuesday the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity begins a four-day plenary session that will include an ecumenical celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council document ‘Unitatis Redintegratio.’ To celebrate the progress of the past half century, participants will attend ecumenical Vespers at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls on Thursday and a public commemorative session at the Pontifical Gregorian University on Friday morning…
17 November 2014
Tags: Syria Lebanon Ukraine Gaza Strip/West Bank Ecumenism
Refugee children gather in a shelter for displaced Iraqis in northern Iraq. CNEWA staff members recently visited the region to assess the needs of refugees. To learn how you can help, please visit this giving page. (photo: Ra’ed Bahou)
17 November 2014
Tags: Iraq Refugees CNEWA Children Iraqi Refugees
A doctor cares for a baby at CNEWA’s dispensary for refugees in northern Iraq.
CNEWA’s president, Msgr. John E. Kozar, has rushed an additional $382,011 in emergency funds to alleviate the suffering of desperate Iraqi and Syrian refugees in Iraqi Kurdistan, Jordan and Lebanon. In addition, funding partners in Germany have awarded CNEWA an initial grant of $124,522 to assist its work with displaced families in Iraqi Kurdistan.
“The situation for Iraq’s displaced families remains chaotic and fluid,” said CNEWA’s Michel Constantin, who, with colleague Ra’ed Bahou, has just returned from Iraqi Kurdistan. “Yet the coordination among our partners on the ground, led by the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, is excellent,” added Mr. Constantin, who heads CNEWA’s emergency response team from Beirut.
“Priests and people from the Armenian, Assyrian Church of the East, Chaldean and Syriac Catholic and Orthodox churches are enthusiastically working together,” Mr. Bahou added from Amman, Jordan, “and are eager to do more to make a difference. But they need more support.”
Msgr. Kozar has announced these funds will target those most in need served by our local church partners, who with our team have prioritized the needs as follows:
- $178,022 to the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena to provide 1,922 children in 13 displacement centers in Iraqi Kurdistan with milk and diapers for three months as well as winter clothes and shoes
- $95,000 to the Italian Hospital in Amman and the Mother of Mercy clinic in Zerqa to help cover medical costs due to the surge of Iraqi and Syrian refugees
- $62,261 for medicines and stipends for volunteer doctors and other health care providers, also displaced from their homes, serving the sick in Erbil
- $36,150 to help the Good Shepherd Sisters feed and clothe 155 refugee children in Lebanon for a three-month period
- $21,100 to help six parishes in Jordan accommodate Iraqi refugees over a three-month period, securing supplies such as refrigerators, stoves, washing machines, water tanks, solar water heaters and space heaters
- $20,000 to enable these six parishes in Jordan defray added electricity and fuel expenses through the end of the year
- $25,000 to provide these Iraqi refugee families with funds to secure clothes, blankets, mattresses and bedding as well as personal items
- $31,500 to allow 150 refugee families in Jordan to purchase food stuffs through the end of 2014
- $15,000 to the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary for catechism and formation programs, as well as counseling sessions for those suffering withpost-traumatic stress disorders
- $12,000 to provide 260 sickly Armenian Syrians living in Beirutwith medical care over a three-month period
- $10,500 to help the Little Sisters of Nazareth provide basic care to refugees living in the Dbayeh Refugee Camp northeast of Beirut.
Msgr. Kozar noted this latest distribution of funds supplements prior disbursements on behalf of Iraqi displaced families, including $267,500 since August for setting up clinics in the Kurdish cities of Erbil, Dohuk and Zahko; nursing formula and warm clothing for newborns and toddlers; food, mattresses and personal hygienic items for families displaced to Amman; and counseling for those impacted by post traumatic stress disorders. Since January, Msgr. Kozar noted, $598,109 has assisted more than 8,000 displaced Syrian families seeking refuge in Armenia and Lebanon, as well as those hiding in so-called safe zones within Syria.
“Many of the families we spoke to said they have very little rights and no access to public services within Kurdistan,” said Mr. Constantin, noting that as Arab speakers, they “feel they would have more rights and will be easier for them to cope in a strange country like in Jordan or Lebanon, rather than in Kurdistan.”
Returning to their villages seems more and more remote, he added. “Many families and religious sisters informed us that the experience of liberating Tel Eskof village following the air raids of the coalition against ISIS was a real disappointment. A few families decided to return back to that village to find their homes were seriously destroyed by the raids and those houses that escaped destruction were mined by the fanatic militants before their withdrawal.
“It is noteworthy to mention that a week ago a 16-year-old boy died when he tried to enter his house mined in Tel Eskof. This situation has made the return to their homes almost impossible.”
To learn how you can help, please visit this giving page.
14 November 2014
A Syrian refugee and her daughter walk to their makeshift home in Bechouat, Lebanon. The plight of Syrian refugees is the focus of the work of Sister Wardeh Kayrouz, who is profiled in the Autumn edition of ONE. Read the remarkable story of Sister Wardeh’s World.
(photo: Tamara Abdul Hadi)
14 November 2014
Sister Micheline (left) and CNEWA President Msgr. John E. Kozar visit a classroom in the elementary school opened by the sisters. 220 children, all Sunni, receive remedial education from qualified Syrian teachers. (photo: Michael La Civita)
Sisters risk lives to serve Syrian refugees (Catholic News Agency) Near the Lebanon-Syria border, two religious sisters are among the staff members at a refugee service center working to give relief — and hope — to thousands who have fled the armed conflict in Syria. “I keep my hope in prayer,” Sister Micheline Lattouff, a Good Shepherd Sister, told CNA at a 1 November meeting with journalists in Beirut. Sister Micheline is the director of the Social and Community Center of the Good Shepherd in Lebanon’s northern Bekaa Valley. The community center was originally established to run after-school programs and remedial classes for Lebanese children. The sisters have expanded their mission, helping educate refugee children and distribute food to Syrian families, while continuing to support a Christian tent settlement. The Catholic Near East Welfare Association and Catholic Relief Services support her efforts…
Syrian archbishop: U.S. attack on Syrian army would spell ‘second Libya’ (Fides) “If the U.S.-led intervention against the jihadists of the Islamic State eventually turns against the Syrian army, we could have a second Libya in Syria,” said Archbishop Jacques Behnan Hindo, titular of the Archeparchy of Hassaké-Nisibis. The archbishop describes the uncertainties and risks related to military intervention in Syria…
Pope’s visit to Turkey is a chance to bridge ancient divide (Al Monitor) As Ankara prepares to receive Pope Francis on 28-30 November, Turkish media have noted with raised eyebrows that Turkish affairs do not appear to be uppermost on the pope’s mind. His visit to the Turkish capital seems little more than an obligatory courtesy call on the host country of his real destination, the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. His visit likely has less to do with Turkey than the opportunity to work toward mending the schism with the Orthodox Church…
Jerusalem tension: Israel ends age limit on holy site access (BBC) The restrictions on Muslim male worshippers were imposed after tension and unrest in the city between Israel and the Palestinians. Extra police units were deployed in the city before Friday prayers, spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld said. Israel said the decision was linked to agreements reached during talks between Israel, the U.S. and Jordan in Amman…
13 November 2014
Tags: Syria Lebanon Refugees Sisters Ecumenism
Nesma al Haddad plays with her brother and friends in in her room in Gaza City. She could not sleep there during the war. (photo: Shareef Sarhan)
What is it like to be a child during wartime? The Autumn edition of ONE answers that question by visiting some children in Gaza:
Twelve-year-old Nesma al Haddad spent the summer in the safest part of her apartment building: the living area on the ground floor of a 12-story building. The main entrance was just a few steps away, and there were few windows. Her room upstairs, with her bed and her assortment of beautiful collectibles, went unoccupied.
With Israel and Hamas at war in Gaza, Nesma tried to carry on with her normal life, hiding her anxiety from her five siblings, despite the sounds of explosions and gunfire during the bombardment of the surrounding neighborhood.
More than once, Nesma and her family were forced to flee to a neighbor’s house; an apartment on the eighth floor was a target. She would leave behind her belongings, except for a suitcase, packed in advance with her favorite clothes and a toy.
“I did not fear anything,” Nesma says. “I worried about losing my favorite toy that I had bought during the last war, in 2012. But I was more worried about losing one of my family members.”
Hers is an all too common story in Gaza these days, and it reveals the invisible scars borne by so many children of war. When talking with these children, and hearing their experiences, one learns how deeply they have been affected by the violence around them — trauma that will take years to heal fully.
Read more about Nesma and other children of war in Shell-Shocked: Growing Up in Gaza in the Autumn edition of ONE.