7 December 2016
In this image from November, men walk in rubble near St. Mary’s Catholic Church and St. Elias Orthodox Church after a bombing in Damascus, Syria. An interfaith panel in New York this week explored how Christians in the Middle East are facing threats from war, indifference and genocide.
(photo: CNS/Mohammed Badra, EPA)
Syrian rebels reportedly withdraw from old city (BBC) Syrian rebels have left the last areas they held in Aleppo’s old city, while calling for a five-day truce to allow the evacuation of civilians. Activist monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the pull-back in Syria’s second city came after days of heavy fighting...
Large Syrian refugee population in Lebanon sparks social tensions (Voice of America) The United Nations has launched a four-year crisis response plan for Lebanon it hopes will maintain stability and prevent an internal conflict from breaking out. It is appealing for $2.8 billion to get humanitarian and stabilization support programs underway in 2017. The United Nations does not believe Lebanon is on the brink of collapse but it warns there is a danger the country could implode if the Syrian refugee crisis is not well managed...
Panel: wars, indifference, genocide imperil Mideast Christians (CNS) Christians in the Middle East face extinction because of genocide, wars and international indifference to their plight, according to panelists at a 5 December interfaith forum in New York. A concerted multilateral effort to establish a safe haven for them while rebuilding their devastated homelands is preferable to massive permanent resettlement to other countries, including the United States, they said...
ISIS launches overnight attack against Iraqi troops in Mosul (AP) Iraq special forces captured a new neighborhood Wednesday from the Islamic State group in eastern Mosul, according to a senior commander — the latest gain in a massive military operation now its seventh week. The commander of a joint operations center that oversees the Mosul campaign, Lt. Gen. Abdul-Amir Yarellah, said in a statement that troops had “fully liberated” the al-Elam neighborhood and raised the Iraqi flag over its buildings. Yarellah added that IS militants “suffered losses” without elaborating...
Gaza doctors launch appeal to save children (Al Jazeera) With Gaza’s blackouts lasting 16 hours a day, hospitals have had to resort to using electrical generators. But fuel to operate the generators is increasingly scarce and expensive, posing an intractable challenge...
6 December 2016
Bishop Denis J. Madden served the CNEWA family from 1994 until 2005.
(photo: CNS/Tyler Osburn)
Joy is a true gift of God, and what a gift it is to those who share in it.
For more than a decade, the CNEWA family delighted in the joy of Denis J. Madden, who as Father Denis joined CNEWA as its regional director for Palestine and Israel in 1994. Two years after engineering a remarkable feat — the restoration of the great dome of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, involving the historically contentious custodians of Christendom’s holiest shrine — Msgr. Madden joined the New York office as CNEWA’s associate secretary general, where he coordinated the expansion of CNEWA’s work in northeast Africa, particularly in Eritrea and Ethiopia. In 2005, Pope Benedict XVI asked Denis to serve as an auxiliary bishop of a particular church, the Archdiocese of Baltimore, where he coordinated the many ministries of Baltimore’s inner city parishes.
It was a move that put to great use his skills as a clinical psychologist specializing in conflict resolution.
But the many editorial meeting battles waged between this author and the editorial board were perhaps the greatest challenges for this man endowed not only with joy, but a steely sense of justice and truth and unyielding compassion and love for the poor and the marginalized.
Bishop Madden is “a good friend, ideal collaborator and a perfect associate,” Msgr. Robert Stern said of the newly appointed bishop. He’s “a very pastoral priest, a man with great concern for the poor and needy. We will miss him.”
And we did.
Yesterday, Pope Francis accepted Denis’ resignation nearly a year after his submitted it according to the norms of canon law. No doubt the Holy Father saw in this man the same qualities that served the CNEWA family and the poor we are honored to serve: joy, selflessness and effectiveness.
Well done, Denis! “Onwards and upwards!”
6 December 2016
A gift from the Catholicos Patriarch llia II of the Orthodox Church of Georgia, this 18th-century Russian icon of St. Nicholas hangs in CNEWA’s New York offices.
Today, the universal church celebrates the feast of St. Nicholas. Several years ago, CNEWA’s Michael J.L. La Civita paid tribute to this beloved saint:
Nowhere is the universal nature of St. Nicholas’s popularity more apparent than in the southern Italian city of Bari. In early May I traveled to this bustling port, the capital of Puglia, an agricultural region hugging the Adriatic coast. While traveling through the region I observed bands of nomads, grasping decorated staffs and burdened with backpacks. When I mistook them for Albanian refugees, my traveling companion informed me that these travelers were making an annual pilgrimage to Bari. There, on 9 May, in an impressive medieval basilica that bears his name, the church celebrates the “translation” of the relics of St. Nicholas to Bari.
According to tradition, Nicholas was born in the mid-third century to a wealthy Christian couple in Patara, a town near the southern shores of Asia Minor (modern Turkey). After the premature death of his parents, Nicholas gave up his wealth and entered a monastery, later traveling to Egypt and the Holy Land. He returned to his monastery, hoping to live quietly as a hermit. However, against his will, he was elected as Bishop of Myra, a small town near Patara.
Although little else is known about Nicholas, his popularity rests on his compassion for the poor and his passion for the faith.
“The reason for this special veneration of this special bishop, who left neither theological works nor other writings,” writes Leonid Ouspensky, a noted Russian theologian, “is evidently that the church sees in him a personification of a shepherd, of its defender and intercessor.”
One of the most powerful stories reveals Nicholas’s compassion for the poor. There were three young girls whose father had lost his fortune and, consequently,
their dowries. Due to their poverty, the girls were ignored by all the eligible men. Moved by their plight, Nicholas, under the cover of darkness, went to the man’s home and dropped a bag of gold through an open window. Finding the gold the following morning, the man was overwhelmed and, thanking God, married off his eldest girl.
Several nights later, Nicholas secretly deposited a second bag of gold. Dumbfounded, the man used it for his second daughter’s dowry.
The man, however, was determined to identify his benefactor and waited for the unknown person’s appearance. Again, under the cover of darkness, Nicholas left yet another sum of gold. Hearing a thump, the man rose to his feet and caught up with his mysterious benefactor, whom he recognized immediately. Nicholas demanded silence, binding the man to an oath never to reveal his identity.
St. Nicholas’s generous spirit continues to inspire countless people around the world (where do you think we get the idea of Santa Claus?) and his compassion toward the poor and needy also animates our work here at CNEWA. May he continue to enliven our hearts during this special time of year — and always!
6 December 2016
The image above shows Prince Charles attending the consecration of the new St. Thomas Cathedral in London on 25 November. It is the first Syrian Orthodox cathedral in the U.K. Three archbishops from Syria and Iraq were denied visas to enter the U.K. for the dedication because authorities were concerned they would not leave the country. (photo: Catholic Herald)
Syria says it rejects Aleppo ceasefire if rebels remain (Reuters) Syria rejects any ceasefire negotiated by any party in rebel-held eastern Aleppo unless what it describes as terrorist groups there depart, its Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday in a statement carried by state media...
Nineveh Plain Protection Unit seeks to recruit Christians (Fides) The Nineveh Plain Protection Units, a paramilitary organization established in Iraq in 2014, consisting mainly of Assyrian Christians, Syrians and Chaldeans, has announced the opening of a recruitment campaign on a voluntary basis. It is particularly aimed at young men of the local Christian communities of Mosul and Nineveh Plain region willing to participate in military operations to reconquer and defend the towns of the land that had been occupied by the jihadists of ISIS...
Syrian and Iraqi archbishops denied visas to enter U.K. (Catholic Herald) Three archbishops from Iraq and Syria were refused entry into the UK despite being invited by the country’s Syriac Orthodox Church. Archbishop Nicodemus Daoud Sharaf of Mosul, Archbishop of St. Matthew’s Timothius Mousa Shamani and Archbishop Selwanos Boutros Alnemeh of Homs and Hama, were all refused UK visas which would have enabled them to attend the consecration of the UK’s first Syriac Orthodox Cathedral, last month...
Ukrainian Catholics in Canada collect $90,000 to help displaced in Ukraine (New Pathway) The pope called for a special collection to be carried out all over Europe in April 2016 for the needs of Ukrainian people. Many Ukrainian Catholic Eparchies in Canada decided to follow the pope’s call and they too ran collections in the Ukrainian Catholic parishes across the country in May. The Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA), an agency of the Holy See, founded by Pope Pius XI in 1926, was assigned with the task of sending the collections to Ukraine...
Canada vows to help Lebanon with refugee crisis (Middle East Monitor) Canada has vowed to help Lebanon to cope with the flow of refugees from Syria, Anadolu has reported. The offer of help was made by Minister of Foreign Affairs Stephane Dion at a joint press conference with his Lebanese counterpart, Gebran Bassil. “We hope that Canada’s support will help Lebanon and its host communities build resilience and cope with the ongoing crisis in the region,” said Dion. “Canada and Lebanon have a strong and deeply rooted relationship, and our two countries continue to work closely together to achieve peace, security and stability in the Middle East...”
Christians united by community in Mumbai (The Indian Express) In Kerala, they may have their differences, but when in Mumbai, they identify themselves as a homogenous group — the Malayalee Syrian Christians. Back home in ‘God’s own country’ they could be either Syrian Catholics, Jacobites, Marthomites or Orthodox, all different sects of Syrian Christians — a Christian community from Kerala tracing its origin to Thomas the Apostle. In Mumbai, differences are put aside as the yearning to meet a fellow Malayalee brings them together...
5 December 2016
A damaged statue of Mary is seen in a church in Qaraqosh, Iraq, on 25 November.
(photo: CNS/Goran Tomasevic, Reuters)
The Syriac Catholic patriarch said he was horrified to see widespread devastation and what he called “ghost towns” during a recent visit to northern Iraq.
Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan wrote in an email to Catholic News Service that there was little left in some of the communities that he toured 27-29 November and that “the emptiness of the streets except for military people ... the devastation and burned-out houses and churches” was shocking.
About 100,000 Christians — among them more than 60,000 Syriac Catholics — were expelled from the Ninevah Plain by the Islamic State group in the summer of 2014 as the militants campaigned to expand their reach into Iraq.
Patriarch Younan also called for understanding from the incoming administration of President-elect Donald Trump about the plight and ordeal of all minorities, including Christians affected by violence in the region.
The patriarch told CNS about “walking through the Christian towns of Qaraqosh, Bartella and Karamles and witnessing the extent of devastation as if we had entered ghost towns!”
Graffiti and inscriptions “expressing hatred toward Christian symbols and doctrine were seen everywhere” on walls near streets, outside and inside houses and churches, he wrote.
“Aside from the looting, destruction of and damage to buildings, we discovered that the terrorists, out of hatred to the Christian faith, set fire to most of the buildings, including churches, schools, kindergartens and hospitals,” the patriarch’s message said, noting that only Christian properties were targeted.
In Qaraqosh — once inhabited by more than 50,000 Christians — the patriarch celebrated the Eucharist 28 November “on an improvised small altar” in the incinerated sanctuary of the vandalized Church of the Immaculate Conception. That church, which had 2,200 seats before its desecration by Islamic State, was built by parishioners in the 1930’s.
Few people could attend the liturgy, among them a few clergy and some armed youth and media representatives, the patriarch said.
“In my short homily, I just wanted to strengthen their faith in the redeemer’s altar and cross, although both were half broken behind us. I reminded them that we Christians are the descendants of martyrs and confessors, with a long history dating back to the evangelization of the apostles,” he wrote.
“I had the intention after its restoration five years ago, and still have it, to ask the Holy Father, the pope, to name this church as a minor basilica,” the patriarch added.
Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan recently visited Christian villages in Iraq that were liberated from ISIS and described them as being like “ghost towns.”
(photo: CNS/Tyler Orsburn)
In addition to the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Qaraqosh, all of the churches the patriarch's delegation visited, including St. Behnam and St. Sarah Monastery, which dates to the fourth century, sustained significant damage or were destroyed.
In opening the trip 27 November in Erbil, which escaped being occupied by the militants, Patriarch Younan celebrated Mass for more than 800 displaced people at Our Lady of Peace Syriac Catholic Church. Located in the capital of the Kurdish region of Iraq, where many of those uprooted from the Ninevah Plain sought refuge, the church recently opened to serve refugees.
The patriarch also said he met with the faith community, religious leaders and nongovernmental organizations to discuss the future of Christianity in northern Iraq.
Based on “what happened in recent times,” the patriarch noted, “it was the overall opinion that none would dare to return, rebuild and stay in the homeland, unless a safe zone for the Christian communities in the Plain of Ninevah is guaranteed.”
He called for a “stable, law-abiding and strong government” to support the establishment of an eventual self-administrative province under the central government of Iraq.
“I therefore reiterate what I have been saying for years. We, Christians in Iraq and Syria, feel abandoned, even betrayed, by the Western politicians of recent times,” Patriarch Younan said.
“We have been sold out for oil and forgotten because of our small number compared to the ‘Islamic Ummah’ (Islamic nation) in which we have lived for centuries.”
The patriarch urged the “so-called ‘civilized world’ to uphold its principles and to seriously defend" the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which he described as “vital for our survival.”
“It is time to stand up and condemn those regimes that still discriminate against non-Muslim communities, with (their) excuses such as ... ‘our law, our education and governing system’ are based on our ‘particularities of culture, history and religion,’” the patriarch continued.
Patriarch Younan expressed his “strong hope” that the Trump administration “will understand our plight and the ordeal of all minorities, including Christians.”
“It is time that the United States be respected around the world,” and most particularly in the Middle East, as “a nation of hope and freedom and not a land of opportunism.”
5 December 2016
In this image from Sunday, Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill consecrates a prominent new church in Paris, Saint Trinity, on the banks of the Seine. The complex containing the church is owned by the Russian government and includes a cultural center and a school.
Read more and see more images here.
(photo: Dominique Boutin/TASS via Getty Images)
5 December 2016
In the video above, the Secretary of the Middle East Council of Churches discusses the struggle of Christians in the Middle East today, noting that Christians have always survived persecution and adding, “We have to have hope.” (video: Rome Reports)
A stall in the battle for Mosul: ‘We are fighting the devil himself’ (The Guardian) The startling progress of the first few weeks of the campaign to take Iraq’s second city, the terror group’s last urban stronghold in Iraq, has given way to a numbing reality: Isis will not surrender Mosul, and Iraq’s battered military will struggle to take it. Since Iraqi forces entered Gogali, a light industrial neighborhood, in mid-November, the advance has slowed. “When we started, we were talking weeks,” said Hussein. “Now, we hope it will be by early in the new year. But these guys are not cowards. They kill as easy as they breathe...”
Russian field hospital hit in Aleppo (AP) Rebel shelling of the Syrian government-held part of Aleppo killed a Russian nurse in a makeshift Russian hospital in the city on Monday while the Defense Ministry in Moscow said a Russian fighter jet crashed into the Mediterranean Sea after returning from a sortie over Syria. The developments were a blow to Russia, which has been one of the staunchest supporters of Syrian President Bashar Assad in his country’s bitter civil war, now in its sixth year...
Christian village attacked in Egypt (Assyrian International News Agency) Muslim radicals attacked a Coptic Christian village in Upper Egypt last week over rumors that a community center and a meeting hall is being converted into a church. A group of Muslims burned down the community center in Al-Nagameesh village in Sohag Governate and moved to the village to loot the houses and the businesses owned by the Copts, Morning Star News reported...
Orthodox patriarch: ‘Amoris Laetitia’ recalls the mercy of God (CNS) Knowing the debate surrounding Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on the family, Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople said the document “first and foremost recalls the mercy and compassion of God and not just moral norms and canonical rules...”
Patriarch Gregorios III visits parish in London (ByzCath.org) His Beatitude visited the Melkite parish in London, where he served the Divine Liturgy. Concelebrating were the parish priest, Father Shafiq Abouzayd, the assistant priest Father Robert Gibbons, together with Deacon Richard Downer. His Beatitude preached on the need to remain faithful to the Eastern Christian heritage, as light comes from the East. He also congratulated clergy of the Melkite Church and members of the congregation whose name day falls on this day or in succeeding days: so all those named for St. John of Damascus, St. Barbara and St. Nicholas...
2 December 2016
On 27 November, Bishop Lisane-Christos Matheos Semahun baptized 300 people in the Eparchy of Bhair Dar-Dessie, the newest jurisdiction in Ethiopia. (photo: Vatican Radio)
The bishop of the Ethiopian Catholic Eparchy of Bahir Dar-Dessie baptized 300 catechumens among the people of Gumuz, in Banshagul Gumuz Regional State, this week, on the Feast of the Miraculous Medal, 27 November. Many of the newly baptized converted from local traditional religions to Catholicism. Most of the catechumens are from a place known as Banush, a very remote area located 600 km (about 370 miles) from the capital, Addis Ababa.
At the the people’s request, Bishop Lisane-Christos Matheos Semahun, of the Eparch of Bahir Dar-Dessie, blessed and erected a cross and a bell on the future site of a church. Another cross was placed at the community’s cemetery as a sign of a new Christian community. The Bishop with the help of six priests then baptized the 300 new Christians who comprised old, young, men and women, as well as some infants.
In his homily, the bishop said that the day was a joyous one.
“God is Great, and God is a Father to all of us; we say the ‘Our Father’ prayer here and throughout the world and this proves that we are all children of one God, who created everyone equally and with the same human dignity. Today when you receive this great Sacrament of Baptism, you become sons and daughters of God, people of God and members of the Church. This brings great joy in heaven and great joy on earth for the entire Church,” said Bishop Lisane-Christos, congratulating the new followers of Christ.
The bishop also noted that the community was evangelized by a local young man named Takel. It was Takel who first brought the request of the village to the Church’s attention, asking the Church authorities to bring the light of Christ to his community in the remote area of Banush.
The Bishop stressed the importance of continued evangelization in the area saying there still many people who have not been as lucky as the Banush community.
“The testimony of one young believer and the diligent efforts of the pastoral agents of the Catholic Church have brought 300 more children of God home. However, there are still more of our brothers and sisters who have not yet received the Good News of the Lord, and with God’s grace we shall continue to shine the light of our Lord and spread the Good News,” the bishop said.
The newly baptized Christians celebrated by lighting candles as a sign of the light of Christ shining in them. They sang in the local language: “We know what we trust in.” The ceremony was attended by families of the baptized, the clergy, religious men and women, catechists and the faithful from different parishes of diocese.
The Eparch of Bahir Dar-Dessie is the youngest Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction of the Ethiopian Catholic Church. Currently, there are more than 500 catechumens in neighboring villages who are eagerly waiting to be baptized. The Catholic Church first went to the Gumuz people 15 years ago. Three Comboni sisters planted the first seed of faith: Sister Jamilety, Sister Tilda, and Sister Bertila. The sisters first arrived in Mandura district and begun the work of evangelization.
2 December 2016
In this image from May, Syrian children from Aleppo play in a shanty near Gaziantep, Turkey. Turkey’s foreign minister on 2 December called for an immediate ceasefire in Syria.
(photo: CNS/Sedat Suna, EPA)
Turkish foreign minister calls for ceasefire in Syria (Reuters) Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu called for an immediate ceasefire in Syria on Friday, describing the situation in Aleppo as critical and saying that President Bashar al-Assad was unfit to rule. Asked about Assad at a news conference in Beirut, Cavusoglu said it was undeniable that the Syrian leader was responsible for 600,000 deaths and that somebody with that record should not be running a country...
Report: Iraqi commanders examined strategy shift to avert Mosul war of attrition (Reuters) Facing brutal urban warfare in Mosul and with their push slowed by the presence of one million residents, Iraqi commanders examined changing strategy last week to help civilians leave to give the army a free hand to strike Islamic State fighters. The proposal, a sign of frustration at slow progress in the six-week campaign against Islamic State in Mosul, was ultimately dismissed by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and his generals, military sources told Reuters in interviews...
Germany pledges millions for Lebanon refugees (The Daily Star) German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier Friday pledged $10.65 (10 million euros) in aid to Lebanon to help it cope with the Syrian refugee crisis. “We are ready to offer Lebanon the required financial assistance to help it with the financial crisis caused by the Syrian refugees,” Steinmeier said during a news conference with caretaker FM Gebran Bassil...
Metropolitan Tikhon: Orthodoxy in United States attracting converts (Interfax) His Beatitude Metropolitan Tikhon, the Primate of the Orthodox Church in America, arrived in Russia to celebrate the 70th birthday of Patriarch Kirill and All Russia. Anyway, he found some time to meet with an Interfax-Religion correspondent and share his opinion about the recent presidential campaign in the United States, ongoing crisis in Ukraine and tell some interesting facts about Orthodoxy in America...
Pax Christi pushes for new Israeli-Palestinian peace process (CNS) Pax Christi International has called for a new peace process to end violence among Israelis and Palestinians and assure fundamental human rights as defined by international law...
Gaza teenager finds way to generate electricity from candles (RT.com) A teenage girl in Gaza has found a resourceful way of overcoming chronic power shortages, by constructing a device that can generate electricity from the heat of candles, New China TV reports. Faced with regular blackouts, Shahd Abu Lebda, 16, told New China TV that she “depends on the principle that ‘a person in need will find a way’ — which pushed me towards inventing a device that generates electric charges for smart mobile phones from the energy of heat that comes from candles...”
1 December 2016
Sister Lutgarda Camilleri cares for children who have been abandoned or even discarded
in Ethiopia. (photo: Petterik Wiggers)
For decades, Sister Lutgarda Camilleri, F.C.J. has been a tireless and devoted caretaker for children in Ethiopia — a true hero who has provided encouragement and love for those most in need at the Kidane Mehret Children’s Home in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
When Sister Christian Molidor visited the home in 2001, she described the daunting task facing the sister when she first took over the home:
Sister Lutgarda Camilleri of the Franciscan Sisters of the Heart of Jesus was asked if her community would assume responsibility for the orphanage. Sister Lutgarda was told the sisters had two options: “Take care of the children or throw them back on the streets.”
If Kidane Mehret did not exist, chances are many of the children would have been aborted or died from exposure. The Franciscan Sisters receive what the government considers “reject children.”
Besides caring for the children, the sisters also provide meals twice a week for more than 150 displaced persons from the surrounding area, mostly women and children. Many of the displaced women reciprocate, working in the kitchen, preparing food and serving.
How do the children come to Kidane Mehret? They are often illegitimate. In Ethiopia, the shame of bearing an illegitimate child remains strong. Many children are just left at the gate of the orphanage. Sister Lutgarda told me about a small, very ill boy who was thrown over the fence into the garden. When the gardener went to work the next morning, his first thought was to scold the children for throwing their clothes in the garden. Then the tiny boy started to cry. He was taken into the orphanage. After much difficulty, Sister Lutgarda received government certification for the boy — without such certification, he cannot be adopted.
Over a decade later, the home is still providing sanctuary — and hope. And Sister Lutgarda is continuing her mission. In 2013, journalist Don Duncan interviewed her for ONE:
ONE: How many children does the orphanage house currently?
SL: At the moment, we have the lowest number ever: 80. The government policy has changed. All abandoned children must go to government orphanages now, and no longer come directly to us. I think the policy change is due to child trafficking.
The government in Addis Ababa gives the older children to us, especially if they are sick. They come to the sisters because no one else wants them. It is not easy. Many of the older orphans have contracted H.I.V.
ONE: Is H.I.V. — the virus that causes AIDS — an issue for many of your children?
SL: The majority of our children lost their parents to AIDS-related infections. Some were lucky enough not to contract the virus themselves, but others were not so lucky.
Every month, the H.I.V.-positive children get a checkup. It is a government requirement. They have a blood count and according to their count they are prescribed medicine. Some do not have to take medicine yet, but they still have to go for the checkup. We have others that are full blown and are on full medication.
Here at the orphanage, I do not think the children lack anything that most children have, except one very important thing: family. We tell them that we are a big family, but we cannot give them the same individual attention that a mother and a father can give. We try to love them. We try to educate them. We care for them — but as you can see, there are many of them and few of us.
...I know the situation around us is not easy, but God is always helping us in other ways.
Surely, the world needs more heroes like Sister Lutgarda. CNEWA is proud to be supporting her in her mission. Visit this link to learn how you can support her, too.