7 May 2014
Children play by the edge of the garbage dump near their refuge in Bechouat. (photo: Tamara Hadi)
Diane Handal visited Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley last fall and wrote about some of the work being done to help refugees there in the spring edition of ONE. Below, she offers some personal details from her visit.
On the drive to Bekaa, church steeples dotted the landscape and gold domes sparkled in the sun with matching minarets. Racy billboards of a scantily dressed woman wearing a hijab and fishnet stockings with high black boots advertised some French beauty product.
Lebanese soldiers stood guard at checkpoints holding AK-47’s every 10 miles or so — not bothering to check anyone, just waving cars on.
Passing the Sunni community, big posters of Rafic Hariri, former prime minister of Lebanon, appeared. Several miles later was a Shiite area. Hassan Nasrullah’s gray bearded face, wire glasses, and black turban boasted of Hezbollah’s presence to everyone passing. One poster had Nasrullah standing with the Syrian president, Bashar al Assad.
Posters of soldiers with machine guns and martyrs who had died in Syria draped the median, with Hezbollah flags on each side of the road.
Men walked with black and white checked keffiyehs (a kind of headdress) around their necks, a symbol of the revolution. Women were dressed from head to toe in black, a show of mourning.
They are getting ready for Ashura this week. It is the Shiite anniversary marking the martyrdom of Hussein, the grandson of the prophet.
The mountains shelter pretty little villages and farms, which extend outward to the roads. The Bekaa Valley is truly beautiful. But all is not as lovely and simple as it seems.
In Bekaa, photographer Tamara Hadi and I were the guests of Sister Giselle, Sister Micheline and Sister Rita at the convent in the vicinity of Deir el Ahmar. The area is filled with farms that grow hashish and the money made from this enterprise is enormous. The cartels come in from as far away as Colombia and a great deal of money changes hands. The mansions in this otherwise modest Christian area are self-explanatory.
I celebrated the Divine Liturgy at a Maronite church near Deir el Ahmar with Sisters Micheline and Rita. The villagers were elderly and dressed in dark grays and black. One woman wore an old-fashioned lace veil on her head. The liturgy was rich with song.
We stopped later — at my request — to find some milk for our tea and cocoa. Sister Micheline drove to the home of a family she knew had fresh cow’s milk. The family’s three children attend the nun’s school. Tobacco leaves hung in the garden, drying next to the clothes.
When we arrived back at the convent, Sister Giselle boiled the milk and it was delicious! The sisters were excited, as they never have real milk for their coffee — only powdered.
Sister Micheline is the founder and director of a fabulous school in the Deir el Ahmar area — and she’s one remarkable woman. At the present, there are over 200 Syrian refugee students attending school in the morning. The afternoon program is for the Lebanese children to do homework and, for some, remedial work. She was inspiring in her energy, her drive, her determination and her faith. She began with nothing and is now a legend in the region. People flock to her door daily and, sadly, she has to turn many away as the resources are limited.
But I had a sobering and very sad three days interviewing the Syrian refugees in Bekaa Valley.
Many had came over the border from Homs, Aleppo and other cities with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Now, they are living in tents, dependent on the kindness of strangers.
One mother with whom I spoke kept smiling as she told me that at night she feared the big rats that entered their two small rooms as the family slept on the floor.
I was truly shaken the first day. I had a hard time doing my job. It was all surreal and I felt nausea creeping over me.
But fortunately, for these refugees, Sister Micheline and CNEWA together are helping them as much as possible with blankets, food, mattresses and jackets for the winter season.
In the two videos below, Diane Handal discusses more of what she saw and experienced in Lebanon. You can read more about how Sister Micheline and others are changing lives in the Bekaa Valley, check out Syria, Shepherds and Sheep in the spring edition of ONE. And to support Syrian refugees in Lebanon, visit our Emergency: Syria page.
7 May 2014
Tags: Lebanon Syrian Civil War Refugees Sisters ONE magazine
Bishop Boris Gudziak speaks to a crowd braving the December chill on the Maidan.
(photo: Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Department of External Relations)
During a recent visit to Toronto, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of the Ukraininian Greek Catholic Church spoke of the Ukraine’s struggle for dignity and said, “We want everyone to know that God is with us.”
That sentiment is echoed in the spring edition of ONE, which features a dramatic personal account of the uprisings last winter. It was written by Bishop Boris Gudziak, of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Eparchy in Paris, who describes some of what he experienced in Kiev:
On 20 February, the terrible Thursday of sniper fire, clergy remained on the Maidan despite the mortal danger. They comforted the injured, absolved them of their sins and said prayers over the dying and the dead.
During these months, churches in Ukraine performed the service they had provided in previous ages — protecting people physically and offering refuge from armed attack.
The historic Orthodox Monastery of St. Michael the Archangel welcomed injured students fleeing riot police. Church bells warned of attacks. A small Greek Catholic monastery church and the Greek Catholic Cathedral of the Resurrection, commonly called the sobor, first sheltered as many as 1, 100 protesters at night. Later, the sobor became a hospital for the injured. Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Protestant churches also served as shelters and hospitals.
There have been many conversions on the Maidan and throughout Ukraine. Days on the Maidan continue to begin with an ecumenical prayer service. During the danger of the night, prayers and the singing of the national anthem are held on the hour, every hour. Faith has helped many people endure. Religious sisters distributed thousands of rosaries. Many people learned to pray. Some of those killed were buried with their newly acquired Maidan rosaries in hand.
Read more of his account of Prayer and Protest in the spring edition of ONE.
7 May 2014
In this image from May 2013, Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria, patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church, and Pope Francis shake hands after exchanging gifts during a private audience in the pontiff's library at the Vatican. (photo: CNS/Andreas Solaro, pool via Reuters)
Coptic pope to Pope Francis: Let us unify our Easter celebrations (Fides) Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II sent a letter to Pope Francis on the occasion of the first anniversary of their meeting at the Vatican. Among the topics discussed therein, Pope Tawadros invites the bishop of Rome to find a single date for the Easter celebration in all Christian churches. A papal representative in turn submitted to Pope Tawadros an invitation to send a representative of his church to the next assembly of the Synod of Catholic Bishops, to be held in October and dedicated to the theme of the family...
Separatists in Ukraine wage an information war (Washington Post) Since pro-Russian militants have taken control of several areas in eastern Ukraine, and as a referendum on independence from Ukraine looms, journalists say there has been a systematic campaign to shut down opposing voices and substitute pro-Russian propaganda...
Archbishop: Ukraine’s struggle is for dignity (Catholic Register) Amid the violence and turmoil plaguing Ukraine, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk said one must remember to love thy neighbour. “As I bring you greetings from a country and a people who are caught, of no fault of their own, in a life-and-death struggle for their own future I want to highlight the importance of a faith perspective amid the leadership class,” said Shevchuk, the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. “You should love your neighbour as you love yourself. There is no greater commandment than this.” Shevchuk spoke on 2 May at Toronto’s University of St. Michael’s College...
Lebanon’s migrant workers demand rights (AL Monitor) More than a quarter of a million migrant domestic workers are estimated to work in Lebanon. Most come from Ethiopia, the Philippines, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, among other African and Asian countries. Though there are difficulties for all migrant workers in Lebanon, it is the migrant domestic workers who are most vulnerable. The exclusion of migrant domestic workers under Lebanon’s labor law prevents them from benefiting from general protections afforded to workers in other sectors, such as annual and sick leave, a minimum wage, set working hours, the right to change employers and the ability to create associations, among other things...
Kerala celebrates Pooram (ANI News) Artisans in Kerala are burning midnight oil to weave colourful ornaments and parasols to adorn the tuskers for the last day of the Hindu festival of Pooram in Thrissur district. World famous annual seven-day Hindu temple festival Pooram started with traditional flag hoisting ceremony on 3 May and will conclude on 9 May. “People from all religious groups—the Hindus, the Christians, irrespective of caste and creed, everybody is cooperating. It was started by the famous Keralite ruler Sakthan Thampuran around 200 years back,” said an artisan, Prasar Murlidharan...
6 May 2014
After a study session in the Santa Lucia Home, students Enjy Yussef, left, and Nermeen Said stroll the halls to unwind before dinner. (photo: Holly Pickett)
In the spring 2014 edition of ONE, reporter Sarah Topol writes about the inspiring work being done for blind children at the Santa Lucia Home in Egypt. Here, she adds her own impressions of the facility.
The first thing that struck me about the Santa Lucia Home was the facility’s immaculate cleanliness. The red brick church and home are just a few blocks from the crashing shores of the Mediterranean and the smell of the sea wafts through the white-tiled hallways. The sisters took me on a tour through the living, studying, dining and kitchen areas. The operation was pristine.
Egypt is a country known for its poverty. Here, garbage lines the streets and public hospitals are unsanitary affairs. At the home, the clean and tidy desks and neatly ordered cabinets made me think the children themselves take pride in their surroundings — no small feat for 4-18 year olds, from what I remember of my own school desks.
I was surprised to learn just how many activities the home offers for the children, from playing soccer with a special ball that makes a sound when it’s moving, to swimming in the pool, playing instruments and performing plays. The children at the center seem to have a host of activities aimed at boosting their self-confidence.
The children were on extended holiday when we visited, so we were unable to meet them in person — though we spoke to some over the phone. The way the sisters and the students independently described the sense of community between the children was incredibly special. It was as if they had created their own family away from home. And that family enabled and encouraged them to grow and mature.
Sister Souda and Sister Hoda are the epitome of matronly figures. Their soft voices and calm shuffles made the place feel very much like a home. Their no-nonsense manner over the course of our interviews made me think the time the children are meant to spend doing their homework must actually be homework time!
The Sisters’ positivity radiated in our conversations. They refused to admit that the children were anything but normal and fit for productive and fulfilling lives in Egypt, to the point where I felt we were skirting some of the discrimination blind children and adults face in Egypt. Perhaps it was a product of years of repeating their positive mantra. But the challenges for blind children are very real. Seeing a center try to change the future for these children was heartening, but it was just as upsetting to realize that, as lucky as these children are, they still face a great many challenges in Egypt that they might not elsewhere.
The children still work on Braillers, which the sisters import from America, and which they have to send back to the U.S. for repair. The center has one computer that children share. To think of how many visually impaired students in the U.S. benefit from new technology — while children in Egypt continue to use typewriters — was difficult. Based on the stories we heard about them, and the dreams they themselves conveyed over the phone, these are creative and curious young people.
It made me wonder how they would fare if given even more of the opportunities enjoyed in the West.
Read more about efforts to bring young Egyptians Out of Darkness in the spring 2014 edition of ONE.
6 May 2014
Tags: Egypt Children Education Sisters Disabilities
As he began his visit to Jordan yesterday, Cardinal Timothy Dolan paused at a shrine dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The month of May is traditionally dedicated to the Blessed Mother. The cardinal, along with Bishop William Murphy and Msgr. John Kozar, is making a pastoral visit to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Follow their Journey to Jordan this week on our blog. (photo: John E. Kozar)
6 May 2014
Tags: Jordan Msgr. John E. Kozar Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan
Krak des Chevaliers, pictured here in 2010, has stood for nearly a millennium near the Syrian city of Homs. (photo: Sean Sprague)
Krak des Chevaliers: Priceless castle battered by Syria’s civil war (Christian Science Monitor) The Krak des Chevaliers once held off a siege by the Muslim warrior Saladin some 900 years ago, but today bears the wounds of modern warfare — heavy artillery damaged its walls, an airstrike punctured its roof, and shrapnel tore through its religious artifacts. From its towering hilltop perch in western Syria, the world’s best preserved medieval Crusader castle has fallen victim to the chaos of Syria’s civil war as rebels fight to topple President Bashar al Assad. The damage done to the majestic stone structure, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, shows that the warring sides will stop at nothing, including the destruction of the country’s rich heritage, to hold on to power or territory.
Syrian government says Maaloula’s sites sacked by rebels (Al Monitor) An official report issued by the Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums for the Rif Damascus governorate revealed the destruction inflicted upon the city of Maaloula and its historical Christian sites, weeks after the army regained control of the city. This report was issued after a visit made by a specialized mission of the Directorate to probe the level of losses incurred by the city. The “armed opposition” has damaged historical Christian sites in the city, destroyed sites and altars, painted over traditional icons and paintings, removed and burned crosses, searched for treasures under altars and in tombs, and searched among the remains of monks and nuns…
In Syria, activists in Raqqa try to confront militant Islamist group (Los Angeles Times) In the northern Syrian city of Raqqa, the main commercial street was busy. Shops were open, with customers strolling the aisles, and cars filled the streets. Only a few dozen stores were closed. It wasn’t what activists had hoped for when they called for a citywide strike among business owners on Saturday to protest a tax imposed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. ISIS has demanded payment in exchange for electricity, water, street cleaning and protection. Though shop owners chafed at the imposition of a “protection tax,” they feared retribution from the Al Qaeda offshoot group for any act of defiance…
Whose water is it anyways? Resentment pools on Israel-Lebanon border (Christian Science Monitor) The Israeli-Lebanese border has enjoyed a rare, eight-year spell of calm, but worsening water shortages threaten to spark tensions once again. A sealed well used for more than a century by residents of Blida, a small village in southern Lebanon, has found itself on the wrong side of the border as water shortages entice local farmers to tap it. A few miles east along the border, another territorial dispute looms at a Lebanese tourist site beside the Hasbani river, which flows into Israel…
Armenian Apostolic Catholicos Karekin II to visit Rome (VIS) His Holiness Karekin II, head of the of the Catholicate of Etchmiadzin of the Armenian Apostolic Church will visit Rome from 7 to 9 May to meet with Pope Francis. The Armenian Church consists of two catholicates and two patriarchates, and around six million faithful. The two catholicates — the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin in Armenia and the Great House Cilicia, in Antelias, Lebanon — are in full communion, but they are independent from an administrative point of view…
Mayor of Baghdad: No discrimination against Christians in housing initiative (Fides) The mayor of Baghdad, Abub Naim al Kaabi, has made known his intention to make available public land and housing for low-income Christians in the city. The initiative, according to sources close to the Chaldean Patriarchate, is politically sponsored by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, who said: “We will give the keys of prefabricated houses to the citizens without any discrimination…”
5 May 2014
Tags: Lebanon Iraq Syrian Civil War Israel Armenian Apostolic Church
Some high-profile visitors this week are getting a first-hand look at the work CNEWA is helping support in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.
The chairman of CNEWA’s board, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, and board member Bishop William Murphy are making a pastoral visit to Jordan with CNEWA president Msgr. John E. Kozar.
The team stopped by Mother of Mercy Clinic in Zerqa this morning, where they were welcomed by the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena.
After seeing some of the remarkable work being done by the sisters, they headed on to the Italian Hospital in Amman, where they received a tour of the facility operated by the Dominican Sisters of the Presentation and stopped by the ward caring for Jordan’s tiniest patients, newborn infants.
Both these facilities are dealing with some extraordinary challenges right now, as the tidal wave of refugees from the Syrian civil war threatens to overwhelm the country.
Last summer, writer Nicholas Seeley described the serious situation in Jordan in the pages of ONE magazine, in an article entitled Overwhelming Mercy:
Jordan is on the brink of a health care crisis. The tiny kingdom’s aging health infrastructure has long been in need of an overhaul, but recent events in the region have exacerbated an already-difficult situation. The economic boom that Jordan experienced after the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 has come to a grinding halt. Capital and investment have fled, and jobs are scarce. Economic stress tends to cause people to fall back on public health care services, but the government has been facing a budget crisis of massive proportions. Rounds of austerity measures have increased the price of fuel and basic goods, pounding hard an already weary population. Exacerbating matters, in the past decade Jordan has absorbed massive waves of new refugees — first from Iraq and now Syria.
Since early 2011, more than half a million Syrians have found refuge in a country with a population of barely more than six million. Hundreds of people arrive every day, many of whom come with severe injuries, long-term health issues or both. Many women arrive pregnant — some of whom, married at a young age, are barely more than children themselves.
And many find their way to institutions like the Mother of Mercy Clinic and Italian Hospital, supported by the generous benefactors and donors of CNEWA.
We’ll be hearing more from this Journey to Jordan over the next few days. Meantime, please keep these travelers — and the many good people they will be visiting — in your prayers!
5 May 2014
Fiorentina’s coach Vincenzo Montella, third from left, presents a gift to Pope Francis during a special audience with soccer teams Fiorentina and Napoli at the Vatican on 2 May.
(photo: CNS /L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)
5 May 2014
Orthodox Metropolitan Emmanuel of France is the coordinator of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew’s pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the meetings with Pope Francis on 25 May.
(photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Hopes rise that Pope, patriarch meeting renews efforts at unity (CNS) The Orthodox bishop who is co-ordinating the upcoming pilgrimage to Jerusalem by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople said he hopes the patriarch’s 25 May meeting with Pope Francis will give new impetus to efforts for Christian unity. But he also said the two leaders are likely to discuss a range of common concerns, including the predicament of Christians in the Middle East, conservation of the natural environment and defense of the traditional family. “We hope that this will not just be a meeting like others, but we hope that this will give a new horizon for the relations between our two sister Churches,” Orthodox Metropolitan Emmanuel of France told Catholic News Service in Rome. “In a divided world, we need unity...”
Pope issues appeal for Ukraine (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis appealed for peace in Ukraine on Sunday. Speaking to the faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square for the middayRegina coeli prayer (which replaces the Angelus at Eastertide), The Holy Father said, “I would like to invite you to entrust to Our Lady the situation in Ukraine, where tensions continue unabated.” The Holy Father went on to say, “I pray with you for the victims of recent days, asking that the Lord instill sentiments of peacemaking and brotherhood in the hearts of everyone...”
Report: tens of thousands flee Syrian province (Aljazeera) At least 60,000 people have fled towns in the Deir Ezzor province in eastern Syria which has been the scene of fierce clashes between rival rebel groups, opposition activists say. The al-Qaeda affiliated al-Nusra Front have been battling the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) for four days despite an order from al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri to stop fighting, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Sunday. “Residents of the towns of Busayra, home to 35,000 people, Abriha, home to 12,000 people, and al-Zir, home to 15,000 people, have nearly all been displaced by the fighting in the area,” the Observatory said...
Coptic patriarch: church does not take sides in elections (Fides) Coptic Orthodox Patriarch Tawadros II has explicitly excluded any choice of the Coptic Orthodox Church in favor of one of the two candidates in the Egyptian presidential elections to be held next 26 to 27 May. “I ask every citizen, Christian or Muslim”, said Pope Tawadros in an interview published on Sunday, 4 May in the Egyptian Catholic weekly Hamel el-Resale “to read the electoral program of each candidate and choose who you want as President”. In the same interview, the Coptic Orthodox patriarch wanted to reaffirm the “institutional” nature and not political of the explicit support expressed by the Coptic Church regarding the transition program that led to the removal of President Mohamed Morsi, the promulgation of the new constitution and presidential elections...
Vatican statistics report church growth steady (CNS) The number of Catholics in the world and the number of priests, permanent deacons and religious men all increased in 2012, while the number of women in religious orders continued to decline, according to Vatican statistics. The number of candidates for the priesthood also showed its first global downturn in recent years. The statistics come from a recently published Statistical Yearbook of the Church, which reported worldwide Church figures as of 31 December 2012...
2 May 2014
Alaa, a 7-year-old from Homs, Syria, holds up a drawing depicting events in his hometown. To read about efforts to help these children, check out Syria, Shepherds and Sheep in the Spring edition of ONE. Click on the image to read the story in the full magazine layout. (photo: Tamara Hadi)
Tags: Syria Lebanon Children Refugees Sisters