14 November 2016
The image above, from a 2015 BBC video, reportedly shows ISIS militants destroying some of the ruins of Nimrud in Iraq, near Mosul. Iraqi troops retook the town over the weekend.
Iraqi troops enter town where ancient ruins were destroyed (ABC News) Iraqi troops entered a town south of Mosul on Sunday where Islamic State militants destroyed artifacts at a nearby ancient Assyrian archaeological site, while special forces fended off suicide bombers during a cautious advance into the northern city. The push into Nimrud was the most significant gain in several days for government forces, potentially opening up the area for teams to assess the damage done to the famed ruins just outside the town...
Syrian rebels reportedly losing Aleppo battle (AP) Syrian government forces regained control Saturday of areas they lost over the past two weeks to a rebel offensive on the edge of the northern city of Aleppo, ending a major attempt by insurgents to break the siege on eastern parts of the city, an activist group and pro-government media said...
Joint initiative between Vatican and Al Azhar to begin in 2017 (Fides) A coordination committee linked to the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and the Center for Dialogue of the University of Al Azhar, the most authoritative academic and theological center of Sunni Islam, has started the first joint initiative between the two institutions after the resumption of direct dialogue: a seminar study on problems related to the presence of religious communities in the context of civil society...
Syrian refugees regret move to Gaza (AP) Like millions of Syrians, Wareef Hamedo fled the civil war in his homeland in search of safety and security. But in a decision he now regrets, he chose to go to Gaza. Hamedo’s family is among 12 Syrian households that found refuge in Gaza after the civil war erupted in 2011 and are now trapped in the war-battered territory, ineligible for most social services granted to Palestinians but also unable to travel abroad...
Identity crisis at an Indian Catholic church (NPR) It’s a familiar battle in any immigrant community: The older generation fears extinction, while the young people rebel against stagnation. But to this church, this faith, that fear of loss is twofold. The Syro-Malabar community is Indian and Catholic in equal measure. Parents worry that if their children lose their faith, they will also lose an intrinsic part of their culture...
10 November 2016
Mahinder Singh sits with neighbors on charpai (cots of woven ropes) in their tiny village in Gangapar, India. (photo: John Mathew)
We never cease to be humbled by those we serve who persevere in the face of difficulties and discrimination.
One of those people is Mahinder Singh:
Mahinder Singh’s life has been fraught with hardship. His troubles began in 1947, when Britain — which had occupied the Indian subcontinent for generations — divided its colony into India and Pakistan, causing a migration of people considered the most extensive in recorded history. Major riots flared among Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs. The ensuing violence killed roughly a million people, including Mr. Singh’s son and many of his relatives.
Born more than 90 years ago to a Sikh family of farmers in the Okara district of present-day Pakistan, Mr. Singh became one of the estimated 14.5 million people forced to abandon their ancestral homes and cross the new border after the partition. Complicating matters further, Mr. Singh is a Dalit.
A Sanskrit term, Dalit denotes the former “untouchable” groups in India’s multilayered caste system that segregates people on the basis of their birth. According to the 2011 national census, one in six Indians belong to this caste; in Uttar Pradesh, now home to Mahinder Singh, some 20 percent of the state’s nearly 200 million people belong to this group. And though Mahatma Gandhi called the Dalits “harijan” (children of God) and the Indian constitution bans caste discrimination, those once identified as such continue to lag behind, socially and economically.
The Indian government recognizes and protects Dalits, but Mr. Singh cannot claim any benefits; his community, Rai Sikh, is not listed as a scheduled caste in Uttar Pradesh. Nor may Mr. Singh appeal this status, as the special concessions for those of low-caste origin are restricted only to Dalits who identify as Hindus, Buddhists or Sikhs.
Mr. Singh is a Christian. “I have wandered all my life for happiness,” he says, “and finally found peace in the Lord.” But the challenges he faces are many:
Dalit Christians and Muslims are excluded from any concessions under the pretext that Christianity and Islam do not recognize the caste system. For the past 65 years, churches have been fighting to redress this injustice, saying it violates the Indian constitution’s prohibition of discrimination based on religion, caste or gender.
But Mr. Singh is not alone. He belongs to a community of hundreds of Syro-Malabar Dalits united within the Syro-Malabar Catholic Eparchy of Bijnor, which includes Uttarakhand state and the Bijnor district of Uttar Pradesh.
...Theirs is a story of both purpose and perseverance. Despite tremendous obstacles, the parish community has managed to thrive, buoyed by a fervent and unshakable faith.
You can read more about Mr. Singh’s witness in Caste Aside from the Summer 2014 edition of ONE magazine.
For decades, CNEWA has worked to improve the quality of life for Dalits throughout India.
Want to help us help them? Take a moment to visit this link.
10 November 2016
Young men play basketball at the Mai-Aini refugee camp in Ethiopia, home to more than 17,000 Eritrean refugees. To learn more about the camp, and the dreams of those who have settled there, read Starting Over from the Summer 2014 edition of ONE.
(photo: Petterik Wiggers/Panos Pictures)
10 November 2016
Internally displaced children sit in a pickup truck 25 October near Mosul, Iraq. Iraq forces are closing in toward Mosul’s airport. (photo: CNS/Goran Tomasevic, Reuters)
Iraqi forces prepare push into Mosul (Reuters) Iraqi security forces are preparing to advance toward Mosul airport on the city’s southern edge to increase pressure on Islamic State militants fighting troops who breached their eastern defenses, officers said on Thursday...
U.S. Says it has killed 119 civilians in Iraq and Syria (The New York Times) The United States has killed 119 civilians in Iraq and Syria since it began military operations against the Islamic State there in 2014, military officials said Wednesday. In each case, the American military followed the proper procedures and it did not violate laws of armed conflict, officials said...
Syria’s Assad is ‘ready’ to cooperate with Donald Trump (The Independent) Embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is “ready” to cooperate with the US President-elect Donald Trump, one of Mr Assad’s advisers has said. Speaking to National Public Radio on Thursday — just after Mr Trump’s seismic victory in the US general election — Bouthaina Shaaban said any collaboration on Syria’s almost six-year-long civil war will depend on “whether Mr. Trump’s policies meet expectations...”
Pope says the search for Christian unity is a top priority (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis revealed on Thursday that the search for Christian unity is one of his principle concerns, one that he prays may be shared by every baptized person. The Pope’s words came as he met in the Vatican with participants at a plenary session of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. The meeting, from 8 to 11 November is exploring the theme “What model of full communion?...”
Indian priest tries to preserve sacred music (New India Express) The Rev. Joseph Palackal is trying his best to preserve the memories and the melodies. He comes to Kerala every year to meet people who are able to capture the melodies of the Syriac songs. “But the time is running out,” he says. “Most of the stalwarts are losing their memory or passing away...”
Publishers participate in Coptic Book Fair (Fides) There are 37 publishing houses involved these days in “Coptic Book Fair,” underway until 22 November at the exhibition hall in St. Mark’s Cathedral in Cairo. The inauguration, which took place on Tuesday, 8 November, was attended by three Bishops of the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate, including Anba Musa, in charge of the pastoral and cultural initiatives for young people...
9 November 2016
Father Sunny Mathew delivers a homily in Most Holy Trinity Church in Yonkers, New York.
(photo: George Kurian)
For the Autumn 2016 edition of ONE, I sat down for an interview with the Rev. Sunny Mathew, a Syro-Malankara priest who pastors a small parish in suburban New York:
“The Malankara Catholic liturgy is basically the Antiochene liturgy,” he says, explaining that the Antiochene liturgy is among the oldest liturgies of the church, dating to the time of the apostle, St. James the Less, for whom the liturgy is named. “And we still keep the purity and originality of that liturgy.”
This heritage has buoyed his small parish for decades, as the faithful met in various schools around the metropolitan area while trying to find a permanent home.
In the spring of 2016, the search ended when the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York turned over to the Syro-Malankara Church a parish in Yonkers that had been closed. Father Mathew’s flock now has a real church to call home, reinforcing what the priest calls the Syro-Malankara sense of family.
“It is a small church,” the 43-year-old priest says of the worldwide Syro-Malankara community. “We still live like one family. We are almost 500,000 members now. And we all feel like we belong to one family, one church. Our major archbishop knows each priest by name. He knows almost everyone in every parish, where each priest works. This is the kind of family atmosphere we have in our church,” he says.
He pauses to measure his words. “‘Small’ has its own beauty,” he explains. “That is the blessedness we enjoy.”
Read on to learn more about his parish and this particular branch of the Catholic family tree. And check out the video below, in which we pay a visit to his parish and experience the liturgy.
9 November 2016
Raban Boutros Kassis, Syrian Orthodox Patriarchal Vicar of Aleppo, is recovering from gunshot wounds he received after being attacked in his car by a sniper. (photo: Fides)
Syrian Orthodox Patriarchal Vicar of Aleppo wounded (Malaysia Herald) Staring death in the face is an experience that can awaken the faith even in those who do not believe in God. For the Syrian Orthodox Patriarchal Vicar of Aleppo Raban Boutros Kassis, therefore, this sensation was all the more intense and today he says he feels a profound closeness to Christ. Two days ago, he miraculously escaped death after a sniper shot at him as he traveled by car from Homs to Aleppo...
Iraq reportedly suspends military operations near Mosul (Anadolu Agency) Iraq’s anti-terrorism agency has temporarily suspended military operations in the eastern part of the Daesh-held city of Mosul while stressing that Iraqi forces were not being withdrawn from the area, according to an Iraqi military source...
My Journey into Aleppo (The New York Times) I took these videos and photographs last week while on a bus tour of western Aleppo that was part of a government public relations offensive. There were 12 journalists, three Ministry of Information minders (government workers assigned to keep tabs on us and those we talked to) and maybe a dozen soldiers...
Lebanon’s new president receives Iran’s Foreign Minister (AP) Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Monday became the first foreign minister to visit newly appointed Lebanese President Michel Aoun, underscoring the ties between Iran and Aoun’s Hezbollah-backed presidency. The Shiite militant group and predominantly Shiite Iran are close allies. Speaking alongside his Lebanese counterpart, Zarif said recent political developments in Lebanon can be the key to breaking the deadlock in wars in Iraq, Syria and Yemen...
Lebanon boosts schooling to help refugee children (SBS.com) It’s estimated there are a quarter of a million Syrian refugee children in the country who currently don’t have access to school. With more than half a million Syrian children taking refuge in Lebanon, the country is looking to foster better educational opportunities for all young people. New research, aimed at developing ways to offer better access to schools, has been announced...
Ukraine hopes for continued support from U.S. under Trump (Reuters) Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said he hoped the United States would continue to support Ukraine in its stand-off with Russia following the victory of Donald Trump in the U.S. presidential election...
8 November 2016
The Good Shepherd Sisters in Egypt are heroically working to rebuild after Christian institutions were attacked during political uprisings in 2013. (photo: David Degner)
Last year, we met the heroic women of the Good Shepherd Sisters in Egypt, who have survived violence and persecution amid political upheaval, and are now patiently working to rebuild. One of the women we met is Sister Amal:
Sister Amal was drinking tea at the Good Shepherd Convent in the Egyptian port city of Suez when the first stone came through the window.
It had been a chaotic year. For months, massive protests against President Muhammad Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood had rocked the country. By late June the protests, which had gained the public support of Christian leaders, culminated in the military’s forced removal of the Islamist president. In the eyes of some Egyptians, especially those who supported Mr. Morsi, an alliance had been forged between the military and Egypt’s Coptic Christians. (Ethnic Egyptian Christians are known as Copts, derived from the Greek “Aigyptos,” meaning Egyptian.) This was affirmed further by the interim government’s subsequent brutal crackdown of Islamists throughout Egypt.
Picking up the shattered glass, Good Shepherd Sister Amal was unaware that earlier that same day, 14 August 2013, the interim government had used lethal force to end two massive sit-ins, resulting in more than 600 deaths. In retribution for the alleged alliance, supporters of the ousted president stormed churches and Christian institutions across the country.
A mob of possibly hundreds attacked the chapel near the convent. Sister Amal and her team rushed about, attempting to save as much as they could from both the sanctuary and the structure. Frantically, they turned off the gas and electricity, and eventually found a way to extinguish some of the flames. But as they worked, arsonists set fires elsewhere. Looters helped themselves to furniture, electronics and money.
The flames proved too much to fight. In the chaos, Sister Amal ushered the workers out a rear exit. The police and army were nowhere to be seen. The mob had already killed one soldier operating an armored personnel carrier outside the chapel. Another fled. No one else came to help.
But Sister Amal’s tenacity and faith speak to the courageous spirit that is helping Suez start over:
On the final Friday of November, Sister Amal dreamed she had asked for a candle, but instead a friend named Raheb, who had helped her put out the flames all night long after the August 2013 attack, brought her the Virgin Mary wrapped in blankets.
“At the end of the next day I told Sister Mariam the dream. She told me, ‘God willing, the Virgin will come in a flash, but I have to tell you some bad news.’ ” Sister Mariam told her the military had withdrawn from the area. They were once again without any protection. Protests were taking shape intermittently, and looters were still entering the chapel, which was open to the street. Anyone could walk in or out of the grounds.
“There was no one. The teachers had left and the workers had gone. There was nobody but us two.”
She turned to Sister Mariam and said, “Look, our Lord is who will protect us in the beginning and the end. Don’t worry.”
She was right. They have prevailed. Schools and churches are being rebuilt; the faithful will not be dissuaded or discouraged. And the heroic heroic sisters will not give up or give in:
The sisters did not wait for help and have not forgotten what they have been through. As Sister Amal tells her story, she drinks out of the same teacup she held when the first stone came in the window. And sitting in the chapel, next to a statue of the Virgin Mary, is that very first stone.
Read more about Sister Amal in Out of the Ashes in the Spring 2015 edition of ONE. And learn how you can help Egyptian Christians rebuild here.
8 November 2016
A little girl picks out a pumpkin in the village of Horpyn in Ukraine. Read about the ethnic and religious patchwork of the region in this article from the March 2009 issue of ONE.
(photo: Petro Didula)
8 November 2016
An Iraqi Christian soldier wearing a rosary stands inside the badly damaged Church of the Immaculate Conception on 2 November in Qaraqosh, near Mosul.
(photo: CNS/Alaa Al-Marjani, Reuters)
Christians struggle to survive amid wreckage left by ISIS (The Independent) The 28,000 people from Qaraqosh who stayed inside Iraq have understandable doubts about going home, even if Isis is fully defeated and loses Mosul. “There is no security while ISIS is still in Mosul,” says Yohanna Towara, a farmer, teacher and community leader in the town, but even when ISIS is gone the Christians will be vulnerable. He says that “the priority is for us to control our local affairs and to know who will rule the area in which we live.” He adds that the need for permanent security outweighs the need to repair the destruction wrought primarily by Isis but also by US-led air strikes...
Iraqi experts investigate mass grave near Mosul (BBC) Iraqi forensic experts are investigating a mass grave that was discovered by troops advancing towards the Islamic State-held city of Mosul. The Iraqi military has said the grave, in the grounds of an agricultural college in the town of Hamam al-Alil, contains about 100 decapitated bodies...
Syrian rebels battle near Aleppo (Reuters) The Syrian army said it had taken a strategic district of Aleppo on Tuesday, in what would be the most important advance in the divided city by Damascus and its allies in weeks, but rebels said the battle was not over. The 1070 Apartments district is located on the southwestern outskirts of Aleppo and lies alongside the government’s corridor into the parts of the city that it controls...
Egypt church construction law labeled ‘regressive’ (Daily News of Egypt) The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), an NGO concerned with human rights, discussed in a press conference Wednesday the downsides of the Church Construction Law, issued in August, arguing that the law is regressive for religious freedoms...
Refugee life in Lebanon empowers Syrian women (Ya Libnan) For some Syrian women living in Lebanon, the bitter realities of life as a refugee have nourished an unexpected side effect: empowerment. Difficult economic and legal circumstances have pushed women to take on more responsibilities within their families, including many that were once a man’s domain. Uprooted from some familiar social constraints and exposed to programs promoting women’s rights through contact with aid groups, some of them have obtained a degree of personal autonomy they never experienced in Syria...
7 November 2016
Franciscan Father Francesco Patton, the new custos of the Holy Land Franciscans, was interviewed in Washington last week. He says “We help everybody. We don’t ask what is your religion when we help someone because we recognize in every person a living image of God and of Jesus who’s asking to be welcomed.” (photo: CNS/Tyler Orsburn)
The responsibilities entrusted to him are great: caring for about 50 shrines, more than two dozen parishes, various schools and other services provided by more than 250 Franciscan friars stationed at some of the most embattled places in the Middle East.
But Franciscan Rev. Francesco Patton seems almost serene about the mission and his new post as the custos of the Franciscans of the Holy Land. In almost any other religious order, he’d be called a provincial or a superior, but because the founder of the Franciscans didn’t like terms that would denote superiority of one brother over another, he is called the custos, Latin for custodian, of the Holy Land Franciscans.
“This is Franciscan vocabulary,” he explained. “(St.) Francis said we are all equal in the Gospel. We are all brothers ... the custos is the (custodian) of the sheep and it is an important vocabulary because the sheep, they are not the property of the custos. We all are sheep of Jesus, but we have to take care of one another. It's pastoral vocabulary.”
Pastoral vocabulary is familiar and dear to Father Patton, whose father tended the fields of northern Italy. He said he feels comfortable and grounded in his farming community roots.
As custos, he said, his duty is to take care of the friars, and particularly to assume primary trust of places important to Christians in the Holy Land, including shrines in Galilee, Bethlehem, Emmaus and Jericho, as well holy places in Jordan and Syria.
It is a challenging post to be in, to be sure, especially because some of those places find themselves in political conflict, violence or outright war.
“In this moment, the land of conflict is Syria,” said Father Patton. “So, our shrines (in Syria) now are not visited by pilgrims. It’s impossible to organize a pilgrimage in Syria.”
Before the recent conflict broke out in 2001, Christian pilgrims would visit locales such as the Memorial of St. Paul, the place where he converted to Christianity, and the house were Ananias baptized him. Both places are in or near Damascus, Syria, and are under the care of the Holy Land Franciscans there.
“Now these are places in which local Christians are praying and asking for the end of this war,” Father Patton said.
Since the pilgrims are gone, they are places the friars use to provide shelter for those running from the daily conflict in other parts of the country. The guest house close to the memorial of St. Paul, where pilgrims used to stay, is now hosting refugees, he said. And the friars, even under danger, are providing food and any necessities to anyone who might need help.
Recently, the friars launched a campaign at myfranciscan.org/syria, which includes a video and social media component, using the hashtag #Syriafriars, asking for prayers as well as material help for the Franciscans trying to assist the local populations.
“We help everybody,” said Father Patton in an interview with Catholic News Service 3 November in Washington, where he was visiting in early November trying to call attention to the dire situation in Syria.
“We don’t ask what is your religion when we help someone because we recognize in every person a living image of God and of Jesus who’s asking to be welcomed,” he said.
Friars and nuns find themselves in desperate situations trying to help burgeoning populations such as Lattakiah, near the Mediterranean, where parish populations have doubled, as people run from conflict zones to areas of relative safety. The conflict has drained once Christian strongholds such as Aleppo.
Aleppo was once a very important city and known as the “second cradle” of Christianity, said Father Patton, who recalls it had a Christian population anywhere from 250,000 to 300,000. These days, estimates say it could be down to 40,000 or 30,000 Christians, he said. Most have fled in the past five years, but many also have died there.
“Now there are unfortunately many funerals, also of children,” he said.
For the Christians who remain there, he said, it’s important that other Christians know of their suffering.
“They feel often abandoned by the other Christians,” he said. “They feel that many Christians are not interested in their suffering or what they are doing to remain Christian there. Many of them have lost everything. The only thing they haven't lost is the faith.”
It’s important to know what’s happening to them, to pray for them but also to act, Father Patton said.
“Our Christian faith is that the word of God became flesh,” he said. “We are not part of an intellectualistic religion in which we think it is enough to think and to pray. We have to support concretely.”
The friars are helping the local communities with food, electricity, water, gas, diesel, restoring houses after bombardments.
“We need support,” he said.
Yet for all the abundance of misery, there also is abundance of hope, not just in Syria but also in the Holy Land, said Father Patton.
“I find hope in our schools, when I see children from different religions living together, becoming friends,” he said. “I find hope when I go to the shrine of Emmaus, in a small village in which there is only one Christian family and the others all are Muslims and when there is the feast of St. Cleophas, and a Muslim family pays the dinner for all the people present.”
There are countless stories in the region of collaborations among Jewish, Christians and Muslim teachers and students and their families, he said.
“I find hope when I have meetings with the religious leaders of Greek Orthodox and Armenians and we are able to find agreements, to do work together,” he said. “There are many, many signs of hope, but we need eyes to see the signs of hope. If we are blind, we cannot see signs of hope.”
And the Franciscans are involved in trying to build the bridges necessary to one day have lasting peace in the region, he said, and it starts with children.
“The first field is the first field of education,” he said, adding that Franciscan schools have a mix of Christians, Muslims and other religions. “It’s an important experience of living together and we notice that in these schools the prejudice is reduced.”
When children learn to live together and become friends with people who hold
different beliefs, their families, too, learn to hold different views, he said.
“If we do something to connect with the other people, if we do something to reduce the prejudice against Christians, we are working for peace,” Father Patton said. “When they have an experience of Christian charity, they can change their mind on Christians.”
Father Patton sees this type of peacebuilding as some of the most important type of work in the world. He talks about the recent visit of Pope Francis to Sweden and the example in peacebuilding that he is setting. The Franciscans, following his lead, also have been involved in interreligious dialogue and cooperation.
“In this moment, in every part of the world, it is important to have dialogue with people of other faiths,” he said. “It may be the most important field for the future.”
And it started with the Second Vatican Council, which said that “it is important that everyone can express his religious identity and it is important that everyone respects the religious identity of the others,” said Father Patton, adding that “in the Holy Land, this is a good season for ecumenical dialogue.”
Franciscan friars are involved in interreligious dialogue with Jews and Muslims and other similar initiatives involving youth in the area, he said.
“And so these are good news,” he said. “We know there are also fanatics, but the only possibility to reduce the number of fanatics, I think, is to work to increase the number of open-minded people.”