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Volume 43, Number 1
11 October 2016
Greg Kandra

Fadia Matti shows her family album, containing memories of life in Qaraqosh before ISIS forced her family to flee. (photo: Don Duncan)

Some of the most inspiring heroes we have met over the years are those who have remained devoted to their faith, in spite of almost unimaginable obstacles.

Most recently, that includes the men, women and children who have been displaced by ISIS in Iraq.

We profiled a number of them two years ago, including the Matti family:

Mother of four and wife to Saaed, Fadia Matti reaches often for a roll of toilet paper that sits next to her. She uses the roll for tissues for her coughing or crying. Since arriving in the basement of an unfinished building in Erbil, she has developed respiratory problems, and a broken heart.

“I don’t believe what has happened,” she says of her family’s displacement from Qaraqosh in northern Iraq. She sits on one of the foam mattresses of the family’s new shelter, a small quadrant defined by plastic sheeting. “I cry once I remember [our home in] Qaraqosh: the churches, Communion, having parties and how we would sit with our neighbors and wait for Christmas and Easter. I am sitting here, but my mind is in Qaraqosh.”

Around Fadia sit her children: her daughter Inas, the eldest; 16-year-old son Nibras; 13-year-old daughter Aras; and Diana, 10, the youngest. Her husband Saaed comes into the enclosure, removes his boots and sits next to her.

Around them lie the accouterments familiar to refugees and displaced people the world over: piles of foam mattresses, plastic containers, basic gas stoves, plastic sheeting and imperishable foodstuffs.

The Mattis have ended up in perhaps the worst living conditions that Erbil has to offer for the arriving Christians. While others are housed in tents in the grounds of St. Joseph’s Church or in temporary structures in social centers or on floors above where the Mattis now live, the Mattis’ own living space is in the poorly-lighted basement. The open sewer for the entire building is nearby. A constant smell of refuse and excrement lingers.

“My children get sick. I take them to the doctor. They get well. And then they get sick again,” says Fadia of the endless cycle of ill health that comes with living in such substandard conditions.

“I was comforting my kids, telling them that tomorrow would be better,” she says, “but now I am crying because I think of what we left behind: the churches especially, but also our memories, the childhoods of my children and everything we had.”

But her concluding comments speak poignantly of the deep and unwavering devotion these suffering Christians still carry in their hearts:

&lduqo;I love Qaraqosh. It’s my spirit. It’s my soul,” says Fadia. “We hope we will go back and that Christianity will remain in Iraq. My hope is in God and in Our Lady. It is impossible that Christianity will disappear.”

You can learn what has happened to Christians in Iraq since then by reading Grace in the Summer 2015 edition of ONE and United in Faith, Prayer and Love in the Summer 2016 edition, chronicling the pastoral visit of CNEWA’s chair, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, to Kurdistan.

The resilience of the Mattis and so many other heroic families continues to inspire the work we do around the world. If you’d like to learn how to help displaced families in Iraq, visit this page — and please, keep them in your prayers.

11 October 2016
Greg Kandra

In this image from last spring, children sing in a preschool for displaced children run by the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena in Ain Kawa, near Erbil, Iraq. To see more and learn more, read United in Faith, Prayer and Love in the Summer 2016 edition of ONE.
(photo: CNS/Paul Jeffrey)

11 October 2016
Greg Kandra

In the video above, Bishop Shlemon Warduni of Baghdad describes what he and other Christians have endured in Iraq. As the country prepares for the liberation of Mosul, Iraq, there have been disputes about who will control the territory. (video: Rome Reports)

Disputes over future control of Mosul (Fides) The preliminary phases to the military assault for the liberation of Mosul from jihadists of the Islamic State sees the increase of political, geopolitical and sectarian disputes about the future political and ethno-religious structure of the region among the various actors in the field, after the possible defeat of the Caliphate...

The rise of Syria’s White Helmets (The Economist) Operating across rebel-held parts of the country, Syria’s civil-defence team has grown from small, ragtag bands of untrained volunteers into a formidable search-and-rescue force. The group has rescued more than 60,000 people since 2014, when it began to keep count. Known as the White Helmets for the color of the hard hats they wear, the rescue workers were nominated for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize...

Turkey extends state of emergency following failed coup (NPR) In Turkey, the sweeping crackdown that began after the failed coup attempt in July isn’t slowing down. A three-month state of emergency billed as a temporary measure has just been extended for another three months...

Israel shuts down access to Gaza, West Bank for Yom Kippur (AFP) Israeli authorities have barred Palestinians from entering the country from the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip, ahead of the Jewish Yom Kippur holiday that begins on Tuesday evening, the army said. Such closures are often put in place for major Jewish holidays, but Israeli security forces are on especially high alert following an attack by a Palestinian gunman in Jerusalem on Sunday that killed two people...

Bees bring hope to Palestine (Vatican Radio) On the West Bank, near Ramallah, honey production has become one of the basic economic resources for a group of women...

7 October 2016
Greg Kandra

A woman pauses on her way home in an Armenian village. Caritas Armenia, a longtime partner of CNEWA, seeks to help that country’s elderly. You can read a firsthand account and learn more about the challenges facing the region’s elderly in Shaken by the Earthquake of Life, both published in recent issues of ONE magazine. (photo: courtesy Caritas Armenia)

Tags: Armenia Poor/Poverty Village life Caritas

7 October 2016
Greg Kandra

Syrian refugees arrive at a refugee camp in early May at the Jordan border with Syria. (photo: CNS/Jamal Nasrallah, EPA)

U.N. to make aid delivery to Syrian refugees on Jordan’s border (Reuters) United Nations aid agencies will make their first deliveries of relief in two months to thousands of Syrian refugees stranded on Jordan’s northeastern border with Syria, the world body said on Thursday. More than 75,000 people, mostly women and children, have been stuck for months in makeshift camps in a no-man’s land on the Syrian side of the border, after fleeing central and eastern Syria…

Maronite archbishop: Aleppo is divided like a new Berlin (Vatican Radio) Daily life in the fiercely contested Syrian city of Aleppo becomes worse by the day. In an interview with Vatican Radio, Maronite Archbishop Joseph Tobji of Aleppo said nowhere is safe in the Syrian city which he called a “new Berlin.” The archbishop described how the residents of Aleppo are living with death on a daily basis as a result of the frequent bombardments and shelling, saying they celebrate at least ten funerals every day for those killed by the fighting…

A million children in Syria sign appeal for peace (Vatican Radio) More than one million children in Syria have been signing a petition calling for peace as part of a fresh appeal to political leaders to end the Syrian civil war…

Kidnapped Christians released in Egypt (Christian Today) Four Coptic Christians, including a child, who were kidnapped on Monday in the Egyptian town of Manfalout in Assiut, have returned home safely after a ransom was paid, according to the independent Cairo newspaper Watani…

Evidence of ancient Assyrian church discovered in Kazakhstan (The Astana Times) The ancient city of Ilyn Balik is well known from pilgrims’ travels. Recent excavations in Usharal village have uncovered an ancient city and cemetery with eight Nestorian gravestones and the markers prove Christianity was present in Kazakhstan long before Western imperialism…

Tags: Syria Egypt Jordan

6 October 2016
Greg Kandra

Atsede Gebetsadik attended the Atse Tekle Ghiorgis School in Addis Ababa — a school serving the poorest of the poor in Ethiopia — and has now returned there to teach. (photo: Petterik Wiggers)

One of the institutions CNEWA has supported is the Atse Tekle Ghiorgis School in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa. As we reported in 2013:

The school, run by the Daughters of Charity and supported by CNEWA, is located in the middle of Kachene, the poorest neighborhood of Addis Ababa. It is the only school in the city targeting the poorest of the poor and one of the very few that is financially accessible to them.

Many of the students are orphans, or have lost one parent. A high proportion of people in the neighborhood are blind. Most of the adults get by on a precarious income earned through begging or occasional labor such as weaving baskets, selling grilled corn on the street or cleaning car windows. The daily worries of the children attending the Atse Tekle Ghiorgis School go beyond spelling tests and times tables.

“These children are exposed to many risks due to the poverty they live in,” says Assefa Teklewold Worka, the children’s physical education teacher. “They are exposed to tobacco, alcohol or sniffing petroleum from a very early age. They are also at risk from the various diseases that the slum they live in can bring — and, in some cases, from trafficking and coercion into sex work.”

Despite these dangers, many of the school’s students are trying to stay in the game — to get a better education and, they hope, a better life.

In fact, they are playing to win.

One of those who has won is a young woman named Atsede Gebretsadik — a graduate of the school who has returned there as a teacher. She is managing to give back some of what was given to her — and in an interview, she imparted this simple, beautiful message:

“Teaching is a really difficult profession because what you are doing is creating people’s minds,” she says. “It’s not just talk and chalk, it goes further — into the homes of these children. We realize that yes, we are poor, but we challenge this poverty with education.”

That kind of heroic spirit is continuing to make a difference in the lives of many of those CNEWA serves around the world — and Atsede Gebretsadik is a living reminder that it pays off.

To offer your support for young people like Atsede in Ethiopia — many of whom are battling not just poverty but also drought — visit this giving page.

Tags: Ethiopia Children Education

6 October 2016
Greg Kandra

Bells call Georgians to celebrate the Divine Liturgy in Tblisi, Georgia. To learn more about the ancient church of Constantinople, and how it is thriving today, read Out of Byzantium in the Autumn 2016 edition of ONE. (photo: Molly Corso)

Tags: Eastern Christianity Eastern Churches Georgia

6 October 2016
Greg Kandra

Children play in water from a burst pipe after an air strike in Aleppo, Syria, on 30 September. (photo: CNS/Abdalrhman Ismail, Reuters)

In Syria, Eastern Aleppo faces ‘total ruin’ in a matter of months (BBC) Rebel-held eastern Aleppo in northern Syria may face “total destruction” in two months, with thousands killed, the United Nations Syria envoy has said. Staffan de Mistura told reporters that he was prepared to personally accompany Al Qaeda-linked jihadists out of the city if it would stop the fighting…

Syrian forces seize half of rebel-held neighborhood in Aleppo (Reuters) Syrian government forces seized around half of a key opposition-held neighborhood in Aleppo on Thursday in a new advance against rebels, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said…

Holy See: World cannot ‘lose resolve’ in migration crisis (Vatican Radio) The permanent representative of the Holy See to the United Nations in Geneva, Archbishop Ivan Jurkovic, on Wednesday addressed the executive committee meeting of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees…

Russian Orthodox Church: Collaboration more important than ever (Asia News) Hieromonk Stefan Igumnov, secretary for relations between Christians from the Moscow Patriarchate, hopes cooperation between Orthodox and Catholics will result in “peacekeepers” and “moral reference points” in a world marked by armed conflicts, terrorism, persecution, consumerism, materialism. He also speaks of the difficulties among Orthodox churches. Pope Francis’ meeting with Patriarch Kirill in Cuba catalyzed the growth of fraternal relations between Moscow and Rome…

Israel halts yacht trying to break Gaza embargo (The New York Times) Their chances of reaching the shores of Gaza were never high: Thirteen women on a yacht hoping to breach the years-old sea blockade of the Hamas-run Palestinian coastal territory enforced by the Israeli Navy. Naval officers boarded the yacht, the Zaytouna-Oliva, at dusk on Wednesday in international waters, after it had spent eight days at sea. It was searched and redirected toward the southern Israeli port of Ashdod…

Sheptytsky Institute moving to new location (Catholic Register) Canada’s premier center for university-level studies of Ukrainian Catholic theology, tradition and liturgy is moving from Ottawa to Toronto’s University of St. Michael’s College. The Andrey Sheptytsky Institute will move from Saint Paul University, where it has operated since 1990, on 1 July 2017. Toronto classes will begin next September. It will offer master’s and Ph.D. programs in Eastern Christian spirituality and doctrine, liturgy, church history and ecumenism…

Tags: Syria Israel Eastern Christianity Christian Unity Migrants

5 October 2016
Don Duncan

Sami El-Yousef, left, surveys damage to a home in Gaza where a Christian woman was killed during the 2014 war. (photo: CNEWA)

In the Autumn 2016 edition of ONE, journalist Don Duncan profiles Sami El-Yousef, CNEWA’s regional director for Palestine and Israel, as part of our special look at the Catholic Eastern churches. Here, He offers some further reflections on what it means to be a Christian in Gaza.

I remember hearing a story from another journalist I knew when I was living in Beirut about a Christian woman in Gaza who had been dragged from her car by people loyal to Hamas who berated her for not wearing the headscarf in public.

There were several things that were shocking about the story: the fact that, in Gaza under Hamas, Palestinian and Muslim were now conflated with no room for other identities; the fact that women in Gaza were now being policed and confronted for their non-adherence to a conservative version of Islam; and the fact that when the woman in question protested yelling “I am Christian,” this made no dent on the men accosting her.

When I got to Jerusalem to do an interview for ONE with Sami El-Yousef, CNEWA’s regional director for Palestine and Israel, I met up with an old photographer friend. She had just left Gaza where she had been on assignment. It had been her first time there and she was quite affected by it. She has lived in the West Bank for periods in the past but that did not fully prepare her for Gaza. The hardship of life there, the lack of security and the inhumanity of the siege imposed on the strip by Israel got to her, but so too did the heavy-handed, centralized conservatism of Hamas. Being in Gaza as a woman, she said, reminded her of being in Saudi Arabia, where she had been many times on assignment.

When I finally met with Mr. El-Yousef in his office in the Old City of Jerusalem, Gaza featured prominently during the interview.

He gave me a much more nuanced insight into the unique position of Christians in Gaza, who now number only 1,200 out of the population of two million. Their welfare and the conditions of their day-to-day lives are very much dependent on Hamas but even more so on the geopolitics in the immediate region — especially the political tones in Egypt and Israel, with which the strip shares its borders.

As in many other countries in the Middle East, the Christian population in Gaza punches above its weight when it comes to its contributions to the non-governmental health and education sectors. But this doesn’t seem to matter so much, Mr. El-Yousef told me, when political tides turn in the region. For example, when the Egyptian Revolution happened and the Muslim Brotherhood finally came into power across the border, Hamas in Gaza found itself with a powerful natural ally and was soon at the height of its power. This was bad for Christians in Gaza who suddenly found more restrictions on their ability to live by their faith. Christmas symbols such as the Christmas tree were ordered to be taken down. Steps were taken to segregate schools by sex. Christian students at the Islamic University of Gaza were obliged to take courses in Islamic law, etc.

Then, when Hamas is at a low — as happened when Israel launched the military “Operation Protective Edge” on Gaza in 2014 — the pressure on Gazan Christians is released. Unfortunately, it is during times of conflict and crisis that Christian hospitals, clinics and schools can shine the most in how they offer non-discriminatory help of all those affected.

Since that last war in Gaza, says Sami el-Yousef, there has been a change in the attitude of the Hamas leadership towards the Christian presence in Gaza: something of a turnaround. Christmas trees were once again permitted behind churches. The project to segregate schools by gender stalled and Hamas representatives actually showed up at churches to wish them a happy Christmas.

The above pattern disturbs me and it is a pattern I have seen facing Christians in Iraq, in Lebanon, Egypt and now in Palestine. When trouble looms and there is a crisis, unity and solidarity prevails and Christians and the value they bring to society are welcomed and utilized. But when things are relatively stable, old distrust and bigotry seem to emerge. It’s a sad cycle and it appears to me to be repeating itself without variation.

I wonder then, why does violence and war have to be such a key ingredient to the embrace and valuing of Christians in the Middle East? Are there any alternatives? By what means could a “majority rules, minority rights” system be encouraged or developed?

Read more about Sami El-Yousef and the Church of Jerusalem in Where It All Began in the latest edition of ONE.

Tags: Gaza Strip/West Bank Palestine War Holy Land Christians

5 October 2016
Greg Kandra

A young student in Ethiopia offers a warm greeting as he begins another school day. CNEWA’s president Msgr. John E. Kozar paid a pastoral visit to the Horn of Africa earlier this year. See more images from his trip and learn more about the challenges this part of the world faces in this pictorial essay from the Summer 2016 edition of ONE. (photo: John E. Kozar)

Tags: Ethiopia Children Education Africa Horn of Africa

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