19 March 2019
In this image from 2018, a young Syrian refugee holds a watermelon at his shop in the Zaatari refugee camp near Mafraq, Jordan. "A lot of young men left Syria because they didn't want to fight in the conflict," Maha Yahya, director of the Carnegie Middle East Center, told Catholic News Service. (photo: CNS /Muhammad Hamed, Reuters)
As Syria’s civil war enters its ninth year, citizens in and outside the country find themselves in limbo. Catholic and other aid agencies are urging a swift resolution to the crisis.
Caritas Syria is campaigning for “an immediate end to the violence and suffering” and calling for “all sides of the conflict to come together to find a peaceful solution,” chiefly through reconciliation work.
“We are initiating reconciliation among the various communities to correct misconceptions in the minds of those living in Damascus, Ghouta, Aleppo and elsewhere about people outside their religious community,” said Sandra Awad, communications director for the Catholic aid agency Caritas Syria.
Caritas Syria is the country’s branch of Caritas Internationalis, the Catholic Church’s international network of charitable agencies.
Awad told Catholic News Service by telephone from Damascus that a meal involving Christians, Alawites and Muslims brought about a wonderful understanding and compassion for the suffering shared by all.
She said a Christian woman told her at the start of the lunch that she did not want to sit next to a woman wearing a headscarf because Muslims had kidnapped her son. Militants had entered her home and beat her son, resulting in psychological problems for him. They shot another son’s legs, leaving him paralyzed. The militants kidnapped the third son with his wife and child.
But Awad said she told her, “This woman with the headscarf lost her husband from mortar shelling, and her 15-year-old son lost his legs. She is taking care of her children by herself without any income.”
The Christian woman then responded: “Yes, all of us have suffered.”
“I could see her ideas begin to change,” Awad said. “The people spoke about the pain they experienced during the war. They began to feel that people have suffered as much as themselves and perhaps even more,” she said and, as a result, they got along together.
During a Caritas-sponsored visit to the Damascus suburb of Ghouta, a Muslim man questioned why militants were calling for people to be killed, rather than supported.
“Let them see who is helping us,” he said. “A Christian organization is helping us now.”
Caritas’ reconciliation efforts underline the practical support it provides to thousands of Syrians by distributing food baskets, clothes and blankets as well as medical assistance and psychosocial support.
Pope Francis has been closely engaged with the Syrian crisis, consistently calling for an end to the fighting. He has acknowledged the assistance Caritas gives to Syrians regardless of their ethnic or religious affiliation as the best way to contribute toward peace.
Syria’s war has killed more than 400,000 people and forced more than 6 million Syrians out of their homes inside Syria; 5.5 million have fled to neighboring countries since the outbreak of the conflict in 2011.
CAFOD, the Catholic international development charity in England and Wales, and Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops’ international aid and development agency, are part of the Caritas network.
In a statement provided to Catholic News Service, CAFOD said it “believes that until a political process addresses the underlying issues that led to the Syrian war, there will be no safe future in Syria for the millions of Syrians caught up in this conflict.
Syrian refugees sheltering in neighboring Jordan and Lebanon, many for longer than they ever imagined, have expressed concern for their future.
“My family believes that we cannot return to Syria because our home was destroyed, so there is nothing to go back to,” Um Mohamed, using her familial name in Arabic, told CNS in the northern Jordanian border town of Ramtha, which abuts Syria. “But we’re also finding it impossible to stay in Jordan because there is no work, my husband is sick, and our savings are running out.”
Another Syrian refugee at the large Zaatari camp, also near the border, said she is worried about her son left behind in Syria.
“He was living in an area controlled by the rebels, although he didn’t fight with them. But because of being in that place, he and other young Syrian men have turned themselves into the Syrian authorities in the hopes of getting a lesser jail term,” Um Sami told CNS, saying the Syrian government views them with suspicion.
“But the fear is that the government will forcibly conscript these men into the Syrian military and put them in frontline positions without any training. Or, what if my son is never seen again?” she said, her eyes welling with tears.
Other Syrian refugees are fearful that the regime considers them “traitors.”
“A lot of young men left Syria because they didn’t want to fight in the conflict,” Maha Yahya, director of the Carnegie Middle East Center, told CNS.
“A lot of refugees said to me, ‘I left so I don’t kill, and I don’t get killed.’ Even if they go back today, there is a new amnesty law, but there are no guarantees that they won’t be thrown into prison or sent to the frontline,” she explained.
Other refugees around Zahle, near the Syrian border in Lebanon, said they, too, fear a return, but for some there is no other choice.
A Christian aid worker told CNS about a Syrian widow who died unexpectedly in March. She left behind three young children who must go back to Syria to join relatives to care for them. But these family members live in the militant stronghold of Idlib in Syria’s north, making their fate uncertain.
Eight million Syrian children are now in need of assistance, including psychosocial support, according to the U.N. children’s agency, UNICEF.
“Every single Syrian child has been impacted by violence, loss, displacement, family separation and lack of access to basic services, including health and education. Grave violations of children’s rights -- recruitment, abductions, killing and maiming continue unabated,” UNICEF said on 6 March.
Syrians live without “peace or war,” Maronite Archbishop Samir Nassar of Damascus, told the Vatican news agency, Fides, on 11 March. “It’s an uncertain and difficult situation, which is becoming unsustainable for the weakest,” he said.
Archbishop Nassar warned that Syria’s historic Christian population has decreased in some areas by 77 percent, compared to the time before the conflict.
19 March 2019
Tags: Syria Jordan Caritas Relief
The battle to clear ISIS from Syria has entered a final critical phase, after weeks of intense fighting. (video: CBS News/YouTube)
ISIS camp captured (NPR) The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces are now in control of an ISIS encampment in Baghouz, after weeks of operations and attacks on the village. But isolated gun battles are continuing in the area, seen as ISIS’s last remaining redoubt. ”This is not a victory announcement, but a significant progress in the fight against Daesh,” said Mustafa Bali, the head of the SDF press office. In a tweet, he added, “Clashes are continuing as a group of ISIS terrorists who are confined into a tiny area still fight back…”
Hundreds of parishes join new Orthodox Church of Ukraine (UNIAN.info) Over 500 parishes have already taken the decision to move from the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine, formerly known as the Moscow Patriarchate, to the newly formed Orthodox Church of Ukraine. Volyn region remains Ukraine’s transition leader with a number of parishes that have switched to the OCU having already exceeded a hundred. The total number of registered religious communities of the former Moscow Patriarchate in the said region is one of the largest in Ukraine — more than 600, according to the Dukhovniy [Religious] Front online outlet…
New Zealand attack hits close to home for Canadian bishops (Canadian Catholic News) The horrific murder of 50 Muslims at prayer at two New Zealand mosques on 15 March hit close to home because of a similar attack in 2017 on Muslims at prayer at a Quebec City mosque…
Farmers concerned about crops, lives near border with Pakistan (UCANews.com) With the harvest season a month away, farmers near the India-Pakistan border are praying the nuclear-armed neighbors end their skirmishes over the disputed state of Kashmir without destroying their crops, their livelihoods, and their very lives. Last month, when fighter planes from both sides began hovering over Vijay Kumar’s single-story mud house, his biggest concern was the Basmati rice crop on his two-acre plot in the Ranbir Singh Pura area of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir…
18 March 2019
Tags: Syria Ukraine Muslim ISIS Orthodox
Members of the Chaldean Catholic community in Papatoetoe, New Zealand, placed flowers and a tribute outside Ayesha Mosque after the 15 March 2019, attacks on two mosques in Christchurch. The message reads in part: "Please accept our prayer and condolences in this terrible, painful time. God have mercy on the people and we pray for the injured ones. Your brothers, St. Addai Catholic Church, New Zealand." (photo: CNS/courtesy NZ Catholic)
The St. Addai Chaldean Catholic community in suburban Auckland felt the impact of the Christchurch mosque killings with a special poignancy, because many members have experienced the sufferings inflicted by terrorism.
“There is a lady in my community -- they beheaded her son in front of her,” the Rev. Douglas Al-Bazi, a Chaldean priest, told NZ Catholic. “Another man, they killed his parents in front of him.”
Father Al-Bazi, who was kidnapped for nine days by Islamic militants in 2006 in Iraq, suffering serious injuries -- including being shot in the leg by an assailant wielding an AK-47 -- said that when he heard of the events in Christchurch, he was “really angry.”
“There were thousands of questions in my head, and also for my people,” he said.
He said he told his parishioners that “we fully understand as Iraqi people, especially Christian, we really understand” the pain, “because we are survivors of genocide, systematic genocide.”
“I am still shocked, me and my people, how this could happen here in New Zealand,” he added.
Father Al-Bazi said people at his church have said they are scared in the wake of the events in Christchurch, fearful of revenge attacks.
“I told them, no, this is not the time to be scared. It is the time to be united. So, show your happiness, show we are brave, and we have to tell the people how to be calm. Because already, we have had that experience. So, we have to guide people to tell them.”
Parishioners placed a floral tribute with a message of support in Arabic outside a local mosque the day after the shootings.
Father Al-Bazi said most of his community came to New Zealand seeking a safe place, and the violence that happened in Christchurch is unacceptable.
“I don’t know what we can do for those survivors, for those relatives, the only thing we can do is pray for them and say, ‘This is not New Zealand.’“
At the end of Mass on 18 March, everyone at St. Addai Church sang the national anthem, “God Defend New Zealand” in Maori and in English.
Police were stationed outside the church and told Father Al-Bazi, “It is for your protection.” The priest said he asked the officers to park a little down the road, so as not to alarm Massgoers.
18 March 2019
Tags: Muslim Chaldean Church
A Dominican sister visits the Church of Sts. Behnam and Sarah in northern Iraq. (photo: Raed Rafei)
We want to share with you some news from our friends over at America Media, about an event CNEWA is proudly helping to present next month. The announcement is below:
WHEN: Wednesday, 10 April 2019 | 6 p.m.
WHERE: America Media - 1212 Avenue of the Americas 11th Fl. - New York, N.Y. 10036
Recent conflicts and shifting geopolitical dynamics have left Christian communities in the Middle East seeking refugee and decimated compared to pre-conflict numbers.
Drew Christiansen, S.J., Distinguished Professor of Ethics and Human Development in Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service, will deliver a lecture on the challenges and hopes for the Christian communities struggling to survive to in the homelands.
Father Christiansen, the former editor in chief of America magazine, is a senior research fellow at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs. His current areas of research include nuclear disarmament, nonviolence and just peacemaking, Catholic social teaching, and ecumenical public advocacy. He is a frequent consultant to the Holy See and a member of the steering committee of the Catholic Peacebuilding Network. He also served on the Atlantic Council’s Middle East Task Force and on the Holy See delegation that participated in the negotiation of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons during summer 2017.
This event is co-sponsored by the Eastern Lieutenancy of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre, and in partnership with the Catholic Near East Welfare Association and The Anglosphere Society.
RSVP (required) to: firstname.lastname@example.org
18 March 2019
Tags: Refugees CNEWA Middle East
Clergy gather for a Requiem Mass in Addis Ababa to pray for the victims of the Boeing 737 crash. (photo: Vatican Media)
Ethiopians offer Mass for crash victims (Vatican News) The Boeing 737 Max 8 plane bound for Nairobi, Kenya went down last Sunday morning near Bishoftu, southeast of Addis Ababa, killing all passengers and crew. Thursday’s Requiem Mass was held at the Holy Savior Parish in Addis Ababa and was organized by the Ethiopian Catholic Church and the international Catholic community in Addis Ababa…
Pope appeals for prayer and peace after New Zealand attacks (Vatican News) The Pope’s thoughts during the Angelus on Sunday were with the people of New Zealand following the horrific attacks that took place there during the week. Speaking to the faithful in St Peter’s Square the Pope said, “In these days, in addition to the pain of wars and conflicts that do not cease to afflict humanity, there have been the victims of the horrible attack against two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. I pray for the dead and injured and their families. I am close to our Muslim brothers and all that community. I renew my invitation for prayer and gestures of peace to combat hatred and violence…”
Syrian refugees who fled to Turkey face backlash (NBC News) In the conservative Fatih neighborhood where many refugees have settled, the streets are lined with stores selling Syrian perfume, jewelry, food and spices. The Arabic writing on signs normally signal that the owners are Syrian, and that you are in an area unlike most of Turkey, which uses the Latin alphabet. These signs are becoming increasingly common, to the unease of many…
Indian bishops seek to postpone voting on Holy Thursday (UCANews.com) Catholic bishops have urged authorities to change the 18 April date for parliamentary elections in India’s Karnataka and Tamil Nadu states as Holy Thursday falls on that day. The federal Election Commission has announced a seven-phase schedule for national elections running from 11 April to 19 May. While all 39 parliamentary constituencies of Tamil Nadu are scheduled to go to the polls on 18 April, voting in Karnataka is set for 18 and 23 April. The poll date falls in Holy Week and is one of the holiest and important days for Catholics as well as the Christian community, Archbishop Antony Pappusamy of Madurai, president of Tamil Nadu Bishops’ Council, told ucanews.com…
Report: Military leaders to have rare meeting in Damascus (Reuters) The military chiefs of staff of Syria, Iran and Iraq will hold a rare meeting in Damascus to discuss “ways to combat terrorism”, the pro-Syrian government al-Watan daily reported on Monday…
15 March 2019
Tags: Syria India Ethiopia Turkey Muslim
Nathalie Piraino, right, embraces Atli Moges, a financial technical adviser at Catholic Relief Services headquarters in Baltimore, following a 14 March 2019, memorial Mass honoring their four colleagues who died in the 10 March crash of Ethiopian Airlines flight 302. Moges spent three years working in Ethiopia, and knew the four. (photo: CNS/Kevin J. Parks, Catholic Review)
Approximately 480 men and women work at the Baltimore headquarters of Catholic Relief Services, the overseas aid and development agency of U.S. Catholics.
None were more affected than Yishak “Isaac” Affin and Atli Moges by the 10 March Ethiopian Airlines crash that took the lives of all 157 on board -- including four who were not just colleagues, but their fellow countrymen and women.
Affin and Moges were part of the standing-room-only gathering at the CRS chapel 14 March, when Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori offered a memorial Mass. His concelebrants included a majority of the 14 bishops who serve on the CRS board of directors, in town for meetings.
Like the four who perished, Moges and Affin are natives of Ethiopia, which has approximately 100 million residents. Almost half lack access to clean water.
Trying to better themselves so that they could better their country, the four CRS administrators were en route to a training session in Nairobi, Kenya, when their flight crashed minutes after takeoff from Addis Ababa, the capital of the east African nation that sits in a region wracked by famine.
“They do their work from their hearts,” Moges told the Catholic Review, Baltimore’s archdiocesan news outlet. “They were the kind of people who stayed in the office until midnight or worked Saturday if that was necessary.”
She speaks from experience.
A senior adviser for CRS in financial technical support, Moges came to Baltimore in 1988, but from August 2015 to March 2018 served in Ethiopia as the deputy country representative for operations.
Managing administration, finance, human resources and IT for a staff of approximately 200 during her time in Ethiopia, Moges said she worked with the four deceased staffers “very closely.”
They were typical of the 7,000 people employed by CRS, which prioritizes hiring and training local people in the nations it serves.
Moges said that Mulusew Alemu, a senior finance officer, was devoted to his Ethiopian Orthodox faith and “a delightful person, very respectful and hard-working.”
Despite his low-key demeanor, she said, Sintayehu Aymeku had “wonderful leadership skills.” A procurement manager who had lived for a time in the United States, Aymeku left behind a wife and three daughters.
“I had high hopes for him,” Moges said.
Sara Chalachew, who once spent three weeks in Baltimore on temporary duty, was promoted last December to senior project officer for grants. Moges said she was always smiling, and “got along with everyone on staff.”
Getnet Alemayehu was a senior procurement officer, known for being patient and persistent while navigating shipments.
Before Affin, a senior accountant, came to Baltimore in 2003, he worked as an auditor in Addis Ababa, where he knew Alemayehu as a driver, albeit one “studying at university.”
As Moges got emotional remembering the four after the Mass, Affin placed his right hand on her left shoulder.
The Mass included a choir comprised of CRS staff based in Baltimore.
Bishop Gregory J. Mansour of the Eparchy of St. Maron of Brooklyn, New York, who is chairman of the CRS board of directors, welcomed Archbishop Lori, who had made a short walk from the Catholic Center, headquarters of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, to CRS.
“Sorrow shared,” Bishop Mansour said, “is sorrow lessened.”
“Why were such good colleagues taken from us?” Archbishop Lori said in his homily. “A tragic moment such as this, and the season of Lent itself, tests and probes the depth of our faith,” he said.
“It highlights the kind of faith, hope and love -- coupled with courage -- that undergirds the many risks you and your colleagues take each day to advance the kingdom of justice, peace and love in this world.”
Archbishop Lori said the four employees “died in pursuit of their mission to bring a measure of food security to regions of the world that are habitually plagued by famine. They met the Lord as they were dedicating themselves and their lives to the golden rule.”
15 March 2019
An injured man is loaded into an ambulance following a shooting at the Al Noor Mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, 15 March 2019. New Zealand's Catholic bishops expressed their horror and distress at terrorist attacks on two mosques in Christchurch; at least 49 were people killed. (photo: CNS/Martin Hunter, Reuters)
New Zealand’s bishops tell Muslims ’We hold you in prayer’ after attack (CNS) New Zealand’s Catholic bishops have expressed their horror and distress at a terrorist attack in two mosques in Christchurch which saw at least 49 people killed. The shootings took place at or near the Al Noor Mosque, where 41 people were killed, and at the Linwood Mosque, where 7 were killed. One more person subsequently died at Christchurch Hospital. Muslims had gathered at the mosques for Friday prayers. Some of those killed were children, it has been reported…
Pope sends condolences to victims of New Zealand attack (Vatican News) His Holiness Pope Francis was deeply saddened to learn of the injury and loss of life caused by the senseless acts of violence at two Mosques in Christchurch, and he assures all New Zealanders, and in particular the Muslim community, of his heartfelt solidarity in the wake of these attacks…
Report: Kerala has more than 20,000 mothers under the age of 19 (India Today) Kerala, known for its high literacy rate, also has a large number of mothers aged below 19 years: 22,552. The shocking statistics reveal the prevalence of child marriage in the state…
Archbishop of Erbil: Iraq’s Christians need to thrive, not just survive (Rudaw.net) Speaking to Rudaw on Wednesday at the Cathedral of Mar Yousif, Ankawa, Archbishop Warda explained how the church has supported families like those living above Neshtiman Bazaar and what donors can do to help rehouse them…
Eight years of war in Syria (Vatican News) Eight years of war in Syria have led millions of Syrians into hunger and poverty. War has displaced and forced them to find shelter where possible. Many are now trying to return to their homes but find their homes uninhabitable…
14 March 2019
Tags: Syria India Iraqi Christians Kerala Muslim
Christians and Muslims of Dalit origin protesting in New Delhi on 12 March to demand the government provide them with the social welfare benefits enjoyed by their Hindu counterparts but denied to them. (photo: Bijay Kumar Minj/ucanews.com)
Hundreds of Dalit Christians and Muslims took to the streets yesterday in India's capital, demanding welfare benefits they say are being denied to them.
The story below comes from UCA News:
Some 500 Christians and Muslims who belong to former untouchable communities came together in New Delhi on 12 March, two days after the schedule for the April-May general elections were announced.
“The country is in election mood. We want to put across our demands to the government that they consider the rights of our Dalit Christian and Muslim brethren,” said Father Devasagaya Raj, secretary of the Indian bishops’ office for Dalit and socially disadvantaged people at the gathering.
Christians and Muslims of Dalit origin demand that they be given social welfare benefits meant for the uplift of Dalit people. Both communities have been denied these benefits since 1950 because the government says their religions do not follow the caste system.
“Six decades is not a small period [that] we have been suffering this injustice,” said Father Raj. “There is a limit for everything. We have decided that we will support a political party who will put our demands in their election manifesto.”
The 1950 presidential order said only Dalit people of the Hindu religion can enjoy constitutional benefits such as reservations in government jobs, education institutions and financial help with studies. The order was amended twice to include Sikhs in 1956 and Buddhists in 1990.
Both Buddhism and Sikhism also do not approve of the caste system, but they were included after the government accepted their argument that a mere change of religion does not change a person’s socio-economic situation.
But the same argument put forward by Dalit Christians and Muslims has not been successful in having another amendment applied. Christian leaders say political parties fear doing so because it could antagonize their majority Hindu voters.
“Most of the political parties have promised to consider our demand but no one has kept their word when they come to power. We want a firm promise now,” Father Raj said.
Delegates from most Indian states attended the rally which was organized by the National Council of Dalit Christians with support of Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India and the protestant National Council of Churches in India.
An estimated 30 percent of India’s 28 million Christians have a Dalit background. They are scatted across different Indian states, and speak different languages making coordination difficult, said leader like M. Mary John, founder member of National Council of Dalit Christians.
14 March 2019
Tags: India Dalits Mumbai
In this image from 2018, An Indian farmer sits on a dry field outside Chhatarpur. The Catholic Church agency Caritas has launched a campaign against malnutrition for Lent.
(photo: CNS/Harish Tyagi, EPA)
Caritas India launches campaign against malnutrition (Vatican News) Caritas India, the charitable arm of the Catholic Church of India, has launched a Lenten campaign against hunger by creating an awareness among people regarding solidarity, food security, medical care and a dignified life for all citizens. The theme of the Lenten campaign 2019, launched last month, is, “Nutrition: our right.” It aims at fighting the scourge of malnutrition, which it regards as a “painful and shameful for humanity”…
New Ukraine church endures inter-Orthodox feud, but offers Catholics hope (NCR) With Russian Orthodox leaders rejecting the new church and cold-shouldering the ecumenical patriarchate for approving its creation, the feud looks set to continue and intensify in the run-up to Ukraine’s crucial presidential elections on 31 March. Yet Catholics in Ukraine and Eastern Europe remain optimistic that the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, once up and running, could herald a turn for the better in ecumenical relations…
Deadly plane crash a setback for Ethiopia’s rise (AP) The crown jewel in Ethiopia’s transformation to a continental power in recent years has been its state-owned airline that calls itself “the new spirit of Africa.” Sunday’s crash of an Ethiopian Airlines jet that killed 157 people has set back those grand designs that were undertaken by a reformist new leader who has vowed to hold free and fair elections next year. Now, Africa is mourning not only the victims of the aviation disaster but also a symbol of the continent’s rise…
World ‘affirms commitment’ to Lebanon on refugees (The Daily Star) The international community voiced its commitment to helping Lebanon cope with the Syrian refugee crisis during a conference in Brussels, a member of the Lebanese delegation to the conference told The Daily Star. ”Everybody is still committed to helping Lebanon cope with the crisis through all programs that support Syrian refugees,” Social Affairs Minister Richard Kouyoumjian said over the phone from the Brussels conference, being held to discuss the future of Syria and the region…
13 March 2019
Tags: India Lebanon Ukraine Russian Orthodox Church
A Chinese man mourns a victim of the Ethiopian Airlines crash during a commemoration ceremony on 13 March 2019, near Bishoftu, Ethiopia. (photo: CNS/Baz Ratner, Reuters)