28 August 2014
Palestinian civil defense officers in Beit Lahiya, Gaza Strip, inspect the rubble of a destroyed tower shortly after the cease-fire was announced on 26 August. (photo: CNS/Mohammed Saber, EPA)
Catholic aid organizations — including CNEWA — are hoping the latest cease-fire between Israel and Hamas will hold. CNS spoke with CNEWA’s regional director in the area:
“This is a window of opportunity,” said Sami El-Yousef, Catholic Near East Welfare Association’s regional director for Israel and the Palestinian territories. “[We hope] the unity government will take the lead. A lot of people here think the stage is set [for] a meaningful resumption of negotiations. Now it is up to leaders on both sides to make it happen, to move beyond [the same political hurdles.]
“Both leaderships must rise up to the occasion for us to move forward. Otherwise, the temporary cease-fire may last for a few months, then we will be back to the resumption of hostilities.”
The cease-fire that took effect 26 August calls for the easing of the Israeli-enforced embargo to allow humanitarian aid and construction material into Gaza under strict monitoring. Egyptians, who brokered the cease-fire, will open the Rafah crossing into the Gaza Strip. Terms also include enlarging the offshore zone for Palestinian fishermen to six miles.
The agreement was the latest of numerous attempts to end a seven-week conflict in which more than 2,100 largely civilian Palestinians and 70 Israelis, including 64 soldiers, were killed.
The organizations have coordinated their aid efforts, with Caritas Jerusalem focusing on food and cash assistance while Catholic Relief Services is distributing nonfood items and CNEWA is assisting with repairing damaged homes and institutions.
Father Raed Abusahlia, director of Caritas Jerusalem, said his agency’s long-term emergency appeal would last until Christmas. He said Caritas will provide food to 2,000 families as well as a cash distribution about $350 to all the Christian families in Gaza, with specific emphasis on those who lost all of their possessions and homes.
Caritas also will provide all the necessary school supplies for the students of the five Christian schools in Gaza, although it is not clear when school will begin.
“At the same time we have already sent three truckloads of food, diapers, milk and hygiene supplies last week,” he said, noting that the almost $84,000 worth of supplies came from local Catholic parishes as well as four Israeli groups.
El-Yousef said response to CNEWA’s earlier appeal for help from its donors has surpassed expectations, largely thanks to donations from European donors; he said donations would soon top $1 million. He added that the money will be largely used to help rebuild and rehabilitate Christian homes and institutions damaged during the conflict.
To learn how you can help Gaza’s traumatized families, please drop by our giving page.
28 August 2014
Tags: CNEWA Gaza Strip/West Bank Israeli-Palestinian conflict Relief Middle East Peace Process
Georgian Orthodox believers pray during a service on 28 August to mark the Day of the Virgin Mary, commemorating her Assumption, at the Sioni Cathedral of the Dormition in Tbilisi, Georgia. The Day of the Virgin Mary is observed by the Georgian Orthodox Church every year on 28 August. For more on life in Tbilisi, check out Caring for Georgia’s New Orphans in the Summer edition of ONE. (photo: CNS/Zurab Kurtsikidze, EPA)
28 August 2014
Tags: Georgia Eastern Churches Eastern Europe Georgian Orthodox Church
Mahinder Singh sits with neighbors in their tiny village in Gangapar. (photo: John Mathew)
In the Summer edition of ONE, writer Jose Kavi explores the life and times of “untouchable” Christian Dalits. Here, he offers further insight into what he saw while covering the story.
I was happy when I was asked to write an article Dalit Christians. The Indian Church has been demanding justice for its Dalit members for nearly 65 years.
An estimated 70 percent of Christians in India are of Dalit origin, mostly in the Latin Catholic Church and Protestant denominations that were introduced in India by Western missionaries.
The presence of Dalits among the Eastern churches, both Catholic and Orthodox, is around some 20 percent, concentrated mostly in Kerala, the church’s base in southern India. It is hard to identify these people of former low-caste origin, since they are well integrated into the mainstream churches.
So to write this story I turned to northern India, where the Syro-Malabar Church has several dioceses. Both Archbishop Kuriakose Bharanikulangara of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Eparchy of Faridabad and Bishop Aboon Mor Barnabas Yacob, the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church’s apostolic visitor to North India, said their churches are currently focusing mostly on their people, who have migrated to northern India from Kerala. However, they do support the church’s Dalit struggle.
Photographer John Mathew and I asked priests in the Bijnor Syro-Malabar diocese if they are doing anything for the Dalit people. They said they have a few local converts but were not sure if they belonged to any Dalit communities. The diocese covers Uttarakhand state and parts of neighboring Uttar Pradesh.
We decided to try our luck and set out to Gangapar-Birbhanwala, the diocese’s newest parish, in Uttar Pradesh. And it was a journey into new world. After traveling about five hours, we left the highways to enter a narrow dirt road. It took an hour to cover the 12 miles. We stopped at a bridge in Dhampur built over the Ramganga, one of the tributaries of the Ganges. Its blue and clean water gave us our first shock of the trip. The Ganges we have seen downstream at places such as Varanasi and Patna is no better than a sewage drain. The new government is planning to spend billions to clean up the river Hindus consider holy.
The Rev. M. J. Joseph, the young parish priest who came to the highway to guide us, said the river had changed its course only five years ago after a flood. The flood had washed away the road to Gangapar. We negotiated through farms and gutters and reached a tiny shed in the middle of an open field as the sizzling summer sun blazed above us.
“It is the parish church,” Father Joseph said with an apologetic smile. The tin-roofed shed has no cross, a normal sign of a church. There is no altar. The only Christian reminder is a painting of Jesus on the shed’s only wall. There was neither electricity nor running water. Our driver had to go to the nearby forest to answer nature’s call, as the place has no toilet.
Jarnail Singh, the church’s caretaker who lives in a room attached to the church shed with his wife and two children, asked his daughter Pinky to bring us water, which she did from the hand pump near the entrance.
Jarnail’s wife, Malkeet Kaur, readied the lunch by the time we finished exchanging pleasantries and conducting a few interviews. The special dish for the visitors was scrambled eggs.
After the lunch we set out for the villages. Most people live in thatched mud huts. Piles of cow dung cakes used as fuel and haystacks welcomed us at every entrance. Water buffaloes were tethered to poles near the huts. You could see charpai, the traditional cot that doubles up as sofa and bed, kept in the front yards.
Despite such dreary existence, everyone we met, including the aging Mahinder Singh, looked cheerful. He described his escape from Pakistan when the Indian subcontinent was divided. “I was so thirsty and went to drink from rivers, but they were filled with corpses. Then I went to wells, there also were dead bodies,” he recalled.
We asked him, “What makes you happy?”
“Prabhu Jisu” (“Lord Jesus”), he answered.
What more needed to be said?
Read more about Dalit Christians in Caste Aside from the Summer edition of ONE.
28 August 2014
Tags: India Indian Christians ONE magazine Indian Catholics Dalits
Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk says Russian troops are now on Ukrainian soil. (photo: Washington Post)
Russians invading, says Ukraine leader; tanks reported crossing border (Los Angeles Times) Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko called a snap meeting of his security council Thursday, declaring that Russian forces had invaded the country. Mr. Poroshenko dropped plans to attend the inauguration of Turkey’s newly elected President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and summoned the council as pro-Russia separatists tightened their grip on the town of Novoazovsk in southern Ukraine, opening a new front in the months-long battle with Ukrainian government troops…
Syria’s brutal war threatens international peace and security (U.N. News Center) Mass atrocities by government forces and armed groups continue to take place in Syria, causing immeasurable suffering to civilians and contributing to a spillover of violence affecting international peace and stability, a United Nations-appointed panel said today. The Commission’s latest report, based on 480 interviews and a wealth of documentary material, chronicles the human cost of the Syrian conflict that began in March 2011. The impact has been particularly grave for women and children, whose most basic rights are being violated every day…
Patriarchs meet ambassadors in Bkerke to save beleaguered Christians (AsiaNews) Patriarchs of the Eastern churches and ambassadors from diverse nations met at the Maronite Patriarchate in Bkerke, Lebanon. The summit is part of efforts by church leaders to preserve the role of Christians in Iraq, where the Islamic State is crushing minorities forcing hundreds of thousands of people to flee…
27 August 2014
Tags: CNEWA Ukraine Gaza Strip/West Bank United Nations Patriarchs
Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III, left, speaks to other Christian leaders during a visit to Iraqi refugees in Erbil, Iraq. Seen on the right is Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter. (photo: CNS/Mychel Akl, courtesy Maronite Patriarchate)
Returning from a visit to the Kurdish region of Iraq, Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III called the Islamic State invasion “pure and simple religious cleansing and attempted genocide.”
Catholic News Service reports:
“What we, the five patriarchs, saw in Ain Kawa, Erbil and other cities of Kurdistan, was something indescribable in terms of the violation of human rights and the threat of disappearing of various communities among the vulnerable minorities of Northern Iraq,” Patriarch Ignatius Joseph said. “It is a pure and simple religious cleansing and attempted genocide.
Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignatius Joseph and Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II stayed in Iraq for six days after arriving as part of a delegation of Catholic and Orthodox patriarchs who visited Erbil to give moral and spiritual support to the beleaguered Iraqis from the Ninevah Plain. The displaced minorities -- Christians, Yazidis, Shiite Muslims and Shabaks -- sought refuge there from their besieged towns and villages, which fell to Islamic State militants in early August after they were evicted for their religious affiliation.
Patriarch Ignatius Joseph spoke to Catholic News Service about the flood of displaced Iraqis they encountered.
In the Kurdistan region, “we saw hundreds of families still living on the streets, exposed to an unbearable heat wave, lacking the basic needs and primarily fearing for their future,” as winter approaches, the Catholic leader said. Temperatures in the Kurdish region currently climb above 105 degrees Fahrenheit, yet winters are harsh and freezing, often with torrential rain and snow.
Patriarch Ignatius Joseph said the most-asked question by many of the Christian refugees was, “Can we ever return?”
“At that question, the most feared answer was: No answer could be given,” he said.
The patriarch said that along with the little financial assistance they could offer the displaced, the patriarchs “prayed with them, consoling, encouraging and inspiring them with Christian ‘Hope against all hope,’ repeatedly reminding them of the promise of the Lord: ‘Do not be afraid, you little flock. … I will be with you until the end of time.’ ”
Read more about the patriarchs’ visit here.
27 August 2014
Tags: Iraq Violence against Christians Iraqi Christians Iraqi Refugees Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III Younan
The Iraqi army is only able to reach Amirli by air, as the Islamic State controls the territory below. (video: Al Jazeera)
Iraqi Christians weigh taking up arms against the Islamic State (National Geographic) Of all the many ancient peoples who once lived in the land between the Tigris and the Euphrates, Iraq’s Assyrian Christians pride themselves on having persisted in their traditional homeland for millennia, even as other civilizations thrived then disappeared, as languages and cultures died out, as ethnic groups melted into the ways and genetic pools of their conquerors. But today Iraq’s Assyrians, and its Christians in general, fear that their place in this multiethnic, multisectarian mosaic society is shrinking, under severe threat from the ultraconservative Islamist group the Islamic State…
Cease-fire between Israel and Hamas holding (Washington Post) An open-ended cease-fire between Hamas and Israel was holding Wednesday after seven weeks of warfare that killed more than 2,200 people. The Israeli military said early Wednesday that there had been no reports of violations since the cease-fire with Gaza went into effect Tuesday evening. The army later said it responded to fire from across the border with Syria after an officer was injured earlier in the day…
Syrian refugees in Gaza suffer second war (Al Monitor) The Gaza Strip was a haven for Palestinian refugees in Syria and for some Syrians — with around 1,000 refugees, including 260 families, 20 of whom are of Syrian origin — until the war made it an undesirable destination. Atef al Amawi, a Palestinian refugee from the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus, arrived in Gaza about two years ago with his family of ten, including his wife, three daughters, son and grandson. The family settled in two rented apartments in Beit Hanoun in northern Gaza. In an apartment that does not exceed 100 square meters (1,076 square feet), two other families of more than 18 members live with the Amawi family. Some of them left days ago for Syria due to the intensified bombing and poor living conditions…
Despite persecution Odisha Christians rooted in faith (Vatican Radio) As Christians in India’s eastern state of Odisha on Monday marked the 6th anniversary of the 2008 anti-Christian violence centered in Kandhamal District, a top Catholic leader of the state asserted that faith in the crucified Christ has never abandoned them. “Our people live in truth and love, and despite our suffering, vocations to the religious life have increased. Six years have passed from the terror carried out by Hindu extremists but the witness offered by the victims remain steadfast, and this has produced fertile seeds,” said Archbishop John Barwa Cuttack-Bhubaneshwar…
Kerala church gives bishops right to allow cremation of dead (The Indian Express) The Synod of Kerala-based Syro-Malabar Catholic Church has decided that from now on bishops of various dioceses can permit cremation of the dead, instead of the traditional burial. Although the church had allowed cremation under extraordinary situations, the right to permit that practice was till vested with the major archbishop, the head of the Syro-Malabar Church…
26 August 2014
Tags: India Iraq Iraqi Christians Gaza Strip/West Bank War
In this image from 2010, Sister Marie-Claude Naddaf arrives for the Synod of Bishops for the Middle East at the Vatican, accompanied by Msgr. Philippe Brizard, former director of the aid agency L’Oeuvre d’Orient. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Today, we received an email from Michel Constantin, CNEWA’s regional director in Beirut, with some important news on the work being undertaken to support our suffering brothers and sisters in Iraq.
Michel notes he will be visiting Iraqi Kurdistan in early September — to coordinate better our activities to expedite relief — and he’ll have some company:
The Union of the Superior Generals of women religious in Lebanon decided to participate in this visit, to show solidarity with other congregations and sisters working in Iraq. Sister Marie-Claude Naddaf (superior general of the Good Shepherd Sisters) will represent the union and accompany CNEWA in this visit.
The president of the union, Sister Judith Haroun, has asked all member congregations to contribute financially and to collect funds to help the following congregations at work in Iraq:
The Dominican Sisters of Saint Catherine of Siena
The Chaldean Sisters of Mary
The Sacred Heart Sisters
The Syrian Catholic Ephremite Sisters
The Franciscan Sisters
Michel also noted that CNEWA will be coordinating its work with Sister Marie-Claude to make sure funds will be distributed where they can do the most good and have the greatest impact.
At a time when so many in Iraq are feeling desperate, overwhelmed and forgotten, this visit from Sister Marie-Claude and others can be a powerful and consoling witness — and, God willing, a beacon of hope. CNEWA is proud to be able to lend our support and to stand alongside these sisters and so many others who are bringing the love of Christ to those who today are so desperately in need.
Won’t you join us? To help Iraqi Christians under seige, just visit this page — and you will stand with us as we stand with them.
26 August 2014
Tags: Iraq Iraqi Christians Sisters Iraqi Refugees Relief
Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko, his wife Maryna and son Mykhailo, light candles on 23 August as they attend a service in Kiev’s Hagia Sofia Cathedral after a ceremony commemorating Ukrainian Independence Day. Pope Francis also prayed for peace in Ukraine on 24 August during his weekly Angelus prayer in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican. (photo: CNS/Mikhail Palinchak, pool via EPA)
26 August 2014
A Palestinian woman inspects her damaged house in Gaza City on 11 August. A senior Catholic aid official said humanitarians are “trying to pick of the pieces” of Gaza’s badly destroyed infrastructure, hoping that the truce between Israel and the militant Hamas will hold. (photo: CNS/Mohammed Saber, EPA)
Gaza conflict: Hamas says long-term truce agreed with Israel (BBC) Egypt has brokered an agreement on a long-term ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza, senior Palestinian officials have said. Hamas negotiator Moussa Abu Marzouk said the deal to end seven weeks of fighting that has left more than 2,200 people dead would be announced shortly. The Palestinians said Israel had agreed to ease its blockade of Gaza to allow in aid supplies and building materials. There was no immediate comment from the Israeli government. The apparent breakthrough came as both sides continued to trade fire…
Syrian bishop calls for international peace force for Syria (Vatican Radio) An international peace force is needed to hold back the onslaught of so-called Islamic State militants who continue to make gains in Syria and Iraq, according to Chaldean Bishop Antoine Audo of Aleppo…
Forgotten in Iraq: Besieged city faces destruction by Islamic State (Der Spiegel) The world took notice when the Yazidis needed help. But since June, a Turkmen city in northern Iraq has been under siege by the Islamic State. The death toll continues to mount but, thus far, the people of Amirli have been left to fight the IS on their own…
Strikes by Ukrainian military destroy second Orthodox church in Donbass (ITAR-TASS) Shells fired by Ukrainian troops have destroyed a second Orthodox church in the war-torn Donetsk region, said Georgy Guliyev, press secretary of the Donetsk Diocese of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate. “There was a square hit at the church in the name of St John of Kronstadt, which is located in the western suburbs of Donetsk,” he said, adding that the subsequent fire caused further damage…
Egypt deports Palestinian Syrians back to conflict zones (Al Monitor) Palestinian-Syrian refugees in Egypt are being forced to choose between deportation to Gaza or Syria as human rights groups denounce the practice. Deportations by the Egyptian authorities can often go quietly, undocumented and unreported. As a result, there are no definitive figures available on how many Palestinians from Syria have been deported by Egypt since the Syrian conflict began…
25 August 2014
Tags: Iraq Ukraine Refugees Israeli-Palestinian conflict Middle East Peace Process
Five days a week, 40 senior citizens come to the Harmony Center to eat, browse and socialize in warmth and safety. (photo: Molly Corso)
Reporter and photographer Molly Corso chronicles the life of Georgia’s New Orphans in the Summer edition of ONE. Below, she offers some insight into the people she met.
Georgians love love, and the beginning and the end of love are tied up in the family. From a very young age, Georgians are taught by their own relations — as well as songs and movies — that first allegiances lie with the family, and a family takes care of its own.
For the 40 elderly clients of Caritas Georgia’s Harmony Center — and hundreds in Tbilisi who still need assistance — those expectations of love, respect and life long care, however, have fallen flat.
For many, there is no one at home waiting for them: sons, daughters, grandchildren are either dead, abroad or too tied up with their own problems to help.
The poverty they face — the effort to eke out an existence with less than $80 a month to buy food and pay for heat, not to mention fend off the terrifying list of doctors, medication and treatment they need — is just part of the battle.
In the hours I spent with the men and women who have found a haven at the Harmony Center, it is clear that, as much as they need medication and doctors, they desperately require a safe place to make friends, to be respected. They need someone to care.
And for many of these people, there is no one, except for Caritas. It is only at the Caritas Georgia day center someone cares, only there that someone takes the time to listen to their stories. And what a history they have to tell.
Behind every pair of glasses, donated sweater and free meal, there beats the heart of a man or woman who lived a full life, experienced the Soviet Union for all its brutality and benefit, saw war, lived through revolution and emerged as part of a free and sovereign Georgia — alive, but also alone.
There is Jenya, age 90. An architect who taught at the university, she still dresses to the nines and, in her carefully selected handbag, carries a portable CD player and earphones so she can listen to music after lunch.
And Leli, who will turn 92 this year. As nurse on the front lines during World War II, she saw the worst, and the best, of humanity in the fighting in Ukraine and Poland. Last year she was invited by a group of veterans from the war to travel to Ukraine and be honored for her role saving soldiers. She went, even though it meant flying on a plane. She was given a hero’s welcome.
There are scores of others: doctors, academics, housewives, all the people who helped build an empire. Their lives are a reflection of all the turmoil created by the Soviet Union — a childhood overshadowed by the war and the cult of Stalin, their youth spent working in good faith, and now, in what should be the twilight of their old age, the poverty and destitution that have become the hallmarks of transition countries such as Georgia.
Caritas Georgia’s day center provides them with a safe place to stay warm and get something to eat — a vitally important service for people who have nowhere else to turn and no one else to help them. But more than just providing heat and food when pensions are not enough to do either, Caritas Georgia also provides nourishment for their soul: the Harmony Center has created a community where these 40 people, cut off from the support their society should provide, make friends and feel important.
Once inside the center, for a few hours a day they are not defined by their poverty and isolation. They are no longer just one more poor, needy pensioner on the bus. Through Caritas, they have created a family of their own, a family where they are known and cherished for themselves, remembered for their accomplishments and honored for their efforts to help others.
As they say in Georgia, family is everything.
Read more about Caring for Georgia’s New Orphans in the Summer edition of ONE. And to support the needy elderly of Eastern Europe, visit our giving page.
Tags: Georgia Eastern Europe Economic hardships Caring for the Elderly Pensioners