16 December 2016
A creche titled “Jesus the Global Refugee” is seen outside Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Church in Wyandanch, New York. The structure, designed as a refugee’s lean-to, was created to call public attention to the biblical mandate to welcome immigrants and give shelter to refugees.
(photo: CNS/Gregory A. Shemitz)
This Sunday is International Migrants Day. Every year on 18 December, the United Nations honors the contributions and struggles of immigrants and refugees.
International Migrants Day is a call to action to for us to welcome the migrants who live in our communities, and to work together as a global community to protect all migrants’ human rights.
There are 244 million migrants in the world today. This includes 20 million refugees who have fled their homelands in order to escape persecution, armed conflicts and natural disasters. Every day the news seems filled with heartbreaking stories of their plight. As Pope Francis has made vividly, unforgettably clear, at a moment when the broken bodies of drowned migrants are washing up on Italy’s shores, addressing their needs with mercy and compassion is one of the deepest moral challenges of our time.
But on this International Migrants Day it would be a mistake — a very regrettable mistake — to think of migration as something negative. Yes, sometimes the migrant’s story is a tragic one. Sometimes it can be difficult to welcome the stranger. Yet we must never forget the many wonderful gifts that generations of migrants have contributed to our society and to the Catholic Church. And migrants continue to make positive contributions today, as we explored in a Winter 2015 feature in ONE about refugees from war-torn Iraq who have found a new home in the United States:
Over the years, El Cajon, which lies east of San Diego, has taken on the shape of its growing community of Iraqi Christians. Signs in many of the city’s shops and restaurants are in Chaldean or Arabic, leading some to dub East Main Street, “Little Baghdad.” A stroll through the grounds of St. Peter Chaldean Cathedral is more reminiscent of the ancient city of Babylon, with sculptured lions of Ishtar guarding the entrance to the hall.
From this city, Bishop Sarhad Jammo, a native of Baghdad, leads the Chaldean Eparchy of St. Peter the Apostle, a jurisdiction spanning 19 states in the west of the country. Second only to Michigan — the cradle of the nation’s other Chaldean eparchy — California has grown into a major Chaldean hub, with ten parishes and two missions. El Cajon alone also boasts two convents, a monastery and a seminary alongside a catechetical program serving 1,000 children, who learn to pray and celebrate the Qurbana, the eucharistic liturgy of the Chaldean Church, in a modern form of the Aramaic language.
On a warm Friday morning in mid-August, a red-haired altar server sweeps the floor in the hall at St. Michael Chaldean Church, where some 70 or so parishioners had just finished a morning game of bingo. Born in Baghdad, Domunik Shamoun, 11, came to the United States in 2008 with his two older brothers and parents. He expresses pride in his heritage.
“I think it’s cool that Jesus spoke Chaldean when he was alive. I speak the same language,” he says during a pause from his work. At home he speaks Chaldean to his parents and English to his brothers.
You can read the rest here.
16 December 2016
Pilgrims light candles at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, West Bank, on 11 December.
(photo: CNS/Abed Al Hashlamoun, EPA)
16 December 2016
Deserted Christmas stalls are seen in Thiruvananthapuram, India on 11 December. The country’s vendors are facing an economic crisis since the prime minister ordered the withdrawal of a large percentage of rupees in circulation. (photo: CNS/Anto Akkara)
Syria evacuation grinds to a halt (BBC) The evacuation of east Aleppo has been halted, with Syrian rebels accused of failing to respect a deal to lift their own siege of two pro-government towns. At least 6,000 civilians and rebels are said to have left Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, since Thursday after the government recaptured most of the city. But the UN believes that some 50,000 people are still trapped there...
Limit on bank withdrawals dampens Christmas spirit in India (CNS) For vendor Elizabeth Antony, who ekes out a living selling fish on the roadside in the heart the capital of Kerala state, the Christmas season is not very festive. “This Christmas will be the worst in my memory,” said Antony, 63. “Fish sales have gone down to one third. Even if I stay back on the road till 11 p.m., the little fish I bring is not sold,” Antony told Catholic News Service, blaming Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the “worst misery” in her life. Modi shocked India on 8 November in an unprecedented and controversial move that saw the banking system withdraw high-valued 500-rupee ($7.30) and 1,000-rupee ($14.60) notes that account for 86 percent of the currency in circulation...
Cardinal issues Christmas Message, praying for peace in Syria (Vatican Radio) The President of Caritas Internationalis, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, has issued a Christmas Message discussing the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Syria. This war has been the bleakest winter for Syria, but we know that after winter comes spring,” — Cardinal Tagle writes — “With your support, Caritas around the world has been working towards peace in Syria...”
ISIS shows no sign of weakening in Mosul (Reuters) Islamic State fighters have stepped up counterattacks on Iraqi forces in Mosul amid bad weather as the U.S.-backed offensive to capture their last major city stronghold in Iraq enters its third month...
Catholic schools in Ethiopia asked to contribute to eradication of FGM (Vatican Radio) Catholic Schools in Ethiopia are asked to integrate the issue of reproductive health to their system. The Ethiopian Catholic Church Social and Development Commission (ECC SDCO) Education team in collaboration with Women and Family Affairs team organized a 3-day workshop for School Directors and teachers in Addis Ababa from 12-14 December on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and other harmful practices...
Start-ups develop technologies to help Syrian refugees in Lebanon (Financial Times) Local entrepreneurs are developing web services, smartphone apps and hardware for an “internet of things,” with its connected devices, to address the refugee crisis as it grinds through its sixth year...
15 December 2016
Pope Francis kisses the foot of a refugee during Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper at the Center for Asylum Seekers in Castelnuovo di Porto, about 15 miles north of Rome on 24 March 2016. The pope washed and kissed the feet of refugees, including Muslims, Hindus and Copts.
(photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano, handout)
Pope Francis celebrates his 80th birthday this Saturday, 17 December, and it seems a good opportunity to take note of his profound commitment to the poor and suffering of the world — a commitment that became clear from the moment he took the name Francis. He described his choice of that name in his first homily as pope in 2013:
During the election, I was seated next to the archbishop emeritus of São Paolo and prefect emeritus of the Congregation for the Clergy, Cardinal Claudio Hummes: a good friend, a good friend! When things were looking dangerous, he encouraged me. And when the votes reached two thirds, there was the usual applause, because the pope had been elected. And he gave me a hug and a kiss, and said: ‘Don’t forget the poor!’ And those words came to me: the poor, the poor. Then, right away, thinking of the poor, I thought of Francis of Assisi. Then I thought of all the wars, as the votes were still being counted, till the end. Francis is also the man of peace. That is how the name came into my heart: Francis of Assisi. For me, he is the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation; these days we do not have a very good relationship with creation, do we? He is the man who gives us this spirit of peace, the poor man. ... How I would like a church that is poor and for the poor!
It was a theme he elaborated on just a few days later:
The church in every corner of the globe has always tried to care for and look after those who suffer from want, and I think that in many of your countries you can attest to the generous activity of Christians who dedicate themselves to helping the sick, orphans, the homeless and all the marginalized, thus striving to make society more humane and more just.
His search for a “more humane and more just” society has taken him to some of the most troubled corners of the world — and inspired dramatic gestures that still resonate. In 2014, the pontiff made his first trip to the Holy Land, where he repeatedly urged peace and dialogue among different faiths. At one point, in a historic and controversial move, he stopped his motorcade so he could pray at the Separation Wall:
It is an image that will define Pope Francis’s first official visit to the Holy Land. Head bowed in prayer, the leader of the Catholic church pressed his palm against the graffiti-covered concrete of Israel’s imposing “separation wall,” a Palestinian girl holding a flag by his side. It was, as his aides conceded later, a silent statement against a symbol of division and conflict.
His concern for the marginalized and suffering has also inspired Francis to become a leading voice in the world — perhaps the leading voice — crying out on behalf of refugees and displaced persons. In 2013, he wrote:
Migrants and refugees are not pawns on the chessboard of humanity. They are children, women and men who leave or who are forced to leave their homes for various reasons, who share a legitimate desire for knowing and having, but above all for being more. The sheer number of people migrating from one continent to another, or shifting places within their own countries and geographical areas, is striking. Contemporary movements of migration represent the largest movement of individuals, if not of peoples, in history. As the Church accompanies migrants and refugees on their journey, she seeks to understand the causes of migration, but she also works to overcome its negative effects, and to maximize its positive influence on the communities of origin, transit and destination.
Again and again across the first years of his pontificate, Pope Francis has heroically championed the poor, the displaced, the forgotten. He serves as an example to all of us at CNEWA — and to the rest of the world — of what we are called to be as Christians.
As he put it during a general audience in March of 2013:
Following Jesus means learning to come out of ourselves ... to meet others, to go toward the outskirts of existence, to be the first to take a step toward our brothers and our sisters, especially those who are the most distant, those who are forgotten, those who are most in need of understanding, comfort and help.
There is such a great need to bring the living presence of Jesus, merciful and full of love!
Happy birthday, Pope Francis. Ad multos annos!
15 December 2016
An Egyptian girl wants a closer look at Verbo Encarnado Sister María de la Santa Faz. The sister and her congregation serve some of the poorest of the poor outside Alexandria, Egypt. To learn more, read Building a Brighter Future from the November 2004 edition of ONE.
(photo: Mohammed El-Dakhakhny)
15 December 2016
A man carries a child with an IV drip on 12 December as he flees deeper into the remaining rebel-held areas of Aleppo, Syria. (photo: CNS/Abdalrhman Ismail, Reuters)
Evacuation effort in Aleppo restarts (The New York Times) A new effort to evacuate thousands of civilians and opposition fighters from the remaining rebel-held districts of the Syrian city of Aleppo started on Thursday, one day after a previous attempt collapsed amid fresh violence. Hundreds of families, including children and wounded adults, gathered in the rebel enclave with bags and blankets, while lines of ambulances and green buses crossed from the city’s government-held side to pick them up. Later in the day, the first wave of evacuees had reached Aleppo’s government-held side...
Imam offers personal condolences to Coptic Patriarch Tawadros (Fides) Sheikh Ahmed al Tayyib, Grand Imam of al-Azhar, led the high-level delegation of the largest Sunni theological center, who yesterday paid a visit at the headquarters of the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate to bring his condolences to Patriarch Tawadros II and of the whole Coptic Church, after the massacre carried out last Sunday in the chapel in Boutroseya next to the Coptic Cathedral of St. Mark...
New violence against Christians in India raising concerns (Fides) New violence against Christians, carried out in view of Christmas, cause concern in the Indian Christian community. According to information gathered by Fides, on 14 December a group of about 30 Hindu militants attacked a group of Catholic faithful in Tikariya, a village just outside the city of Banswara, in Rajasthan State, hitting the Catholic priest Stefphan Rawat, women and other Christians...
More young refugee girls being forced into marriage (International Business Times) Every year, hundreds of Syrian girls living in refugee camps across Lebanon are kidnapped and forced into marriage. This is the fate facing 13-year-old Manal, who was kidnapped from a refugee camp in the Bekaa valley nearly two months ago. Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have fled to Lebanon to escape violence after their country plunged into civil war in 2011. At present, Lebanon is hosting more than one million Syrian refugees, who hope to return to their homeland one day, or build a better life free from war and persecution in their host country...
Thousands rally in Gaza to mark founding of Hamas (Al Jazeera) Tens of thousands of Palestinians, including hundreds of gunmen and children waving mock weapons, rallied in Gaza celebrating the 29th anniversary of the founding of the Islamic group Hamas that rules the territory...
14 December 2016
Fairuz Rassam, a long-time Chicago resident, sent for her Iraqi sisters, Firaz and Victoria, so they could escape the conflict in Iraq. They are seen at Mass on 4 December at St. Ephrem Chaldean Catholic Church in Chicago. (photo: CNS/Simone Orendain)
On a recent overcast Sunday morning in northwest Chicago, the pews of the small wood-paneled St. Ephrem Chaldean Catholic Church were filled to overflowing. Among the rows of Massgoers sat Firaz Rassam and her sisters.
After the Mass, Rassam and her sister, Victoria Rassam, said they “pray, pray that (Victoria’s) children would be able to get out (of northern Iraq) in time” before any major Islamic State attack or any other conflict reaches their neighborhood in Ain Kawa, a Christian hub in the Kurdish region. Firaz Rassam, who arrived in Chicago in September, said this year she would not be able to celebrate Christmas “with the type of happiness that (her family) normally would celebrate.”
Speaking through their nephew who interpreted from their native dialect, an Aramaic derivative, Firaz Rassam, 44, told Catholic News Service that she and her three children came ahead of her husband after her other sister, Fairuz Rassam, sent for her.
“The environment over there,” said Firaz Rassam, who used to be a librarian. “There’s no electricity. It’s dangerous. There’s no work. I want to have a better future for my kids.”
Victoria Rassam, 56, who migrated to Chicago two years ago, was still waiting for her family to come. She said all she could do was pray and that she was “really hoping” she would see her children again soon.
“This Christmas we will celebrate by going to midnight Mass and praying for them,” said Victoria Rassam.
Since the second Gulf War in 2003, oil-rich Iraq has been unstable with ethnic and religious conflicts that have given rise to various terror organizations, including the Islamic State group, which grew out of Saddam Hussein’s military, factions of al-Qaida and other groups. Many Christians migrated; others fled Islamic State and other terror organizations.
Deacon Hameed Shabila, a longtime Chicago resident who works at St. Ephrem, told CNS his siblings in the Baghdad area have not been able to attend midnight Mass for years because it is not safe. He said the churches are heavily guarded by armed forces after dark.
Deacon Shabila, who has asked that his siblings be allowed to come to the U.S., said it was also around Christmas time that one parishioner's adult son was killed in Iraq 10 years ago. Shabila served as interpreter for the parishioner, Maria Yonan.
Yonan said she fled Iraq with her daughter-in-law and two grandsons immediately after her son was killed when he was celebrating on New Year’s. The 77-year old widow was hesitant to speak with CNS and feared for her grandsons’ safety as she described how a group she called terrorists attacked her son and his friends.
Yonan and her daughter-in-law spent a couple of years as refugees in Syria, trying to get to Australia, where her daughter-in-law has family. But the wait was too long and they decided to come to the U.S., which was readily accepting refugees. Her daughter also came to the U.S. as a refugee and is living in California, but one other daughter stayed behind with her own family.
Yonan, who recently became a U.S. citizen and lives in low-income housing, said at Christmas she likes to go to midnight Mass at St. Ephrem, where she can be with people who speak her language. She has tried to keep up some of the same Christmas traditions that her family kept in Iraq.
Yonan said every Christmas her grandsons visit and she makes special Christmas candy called klecha, a treat that "makes people happy" and signifies a joyful time. But this year, Yonan said she was not planning to make the candies because she is in mourning after the 25 November death of her son-in-law, who suffered a heart attack in Baghdad.
Hazim Maryaqo and his family also will not be celebrating Christmas this year because of the death from illness of his brother in Baghdad. Maryaqo, 49, arrived in the Detroit area 4 October4 with his pregnant wife and three children, all younger than 8.
In a phone interview with CNS, he said through an interpreter that when the family was living as refugees in Turkey during the two years before coming to the U.S., “There was no (Christmas) celebration.”
“The three or four (Christian) families that were around us, they came to our house, we went to their house. That was as simple as we could do,” said Maryaqo, who was threatened with death at his family pastry shop in central Baghdad for selling certain cakes with liqueur in them.
Maryaqo said now that he is in Michigan, his family tries to go to Mass often, but sometimes trying to find transportation is tough. He said he is hoping to find work as a pastry chef so that the family can have some stability and get to church more regularly. But he also expressed anxiety about the safety of his elderly father and siblings left behind in Baghdad.
“I will never go back to Iraq, but I hope I can bring my family here,” he said.
Going to Christmas midnight Mass was something that Eevyan Hanoon said she longed for when she lived with her husband and toddler for three years at a refugee camp in Turkey. She told CNS by phone that she made klecha and tried to make the most of the season. But something was lacking.
“The difference at Christmastime was the Eucharist. I missed taking the Eucharist. I was with two church choirs in Mosul (Iraq),” said Hanoon, 28. “This is the most important thing in our life. We have not missed a single Sunday” since arriving in Michigan in September.
In Chicago, the Rassam sisters’ nephew, Rakan Kunda, said even if his own family has been living in the U.S. for two decades, they “always remember ... family back home” at Christmastime.
“We think about them,” said Kunda, 26. “We pray for them but there’s nothing we can do at this point. Until all this is over.”
14 December 2016
Members of the special police forces stand guard to secure the area around the Coptic Orthodox cathedral complex on 11 December after an explosion inside the complex in Cairo. ISIS has now claimed responsibility for the attack, which killed at least 24 people.
(photo: CNS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany, Reuters)
Fierce shelling halts Aleppo evacuation (BBC) A deal to evacuate rebel fighters and civilians from eastern Aleppo has stalled, with heavy shelling reported in the Syrian city. A ceasefire was declared in Aleppo on Tuesday and buses brought in to ferry people out of the devastated enclave. But fighting resumed on Wednesday. Syrian activists also say air strikes over rebel-held territory have resumed...
ISIS claims credit for bombing of Coptic cathedral in Egypt (The Wall Street Journal) Islamic State claimed responsibility for a bombing that killed 24 people at Cairo’s main Coptic Christian cathedral this weekend, in what would be the first militant attack on a Christian house of worship in Egypt since 2011. It is the deadliest attack on civilians claimed by the terror group in Egypt since the October 2015 crash of a Russian passenger jet shortly after takeoff from the Red Sea resort city Sharm El Sheikh that killed all 224 people aboard...
AP: Life inside Mosul (AP) The Associated Press interviewed more than two dozen residents who have left Mosul since Iraqi troops began retaking outlying districts last month. They gave a glimpse into life in a place that has been virtually sealed off from the outside under the rule of the Islamic State group...
Soldiers raid agricultural lands in Gaza (International Middle East Media Center) Israeli forces, on Tuesday morning, leveled lands in the northern Gaza Strip, while opening fire on agricultural lands in the southern region of the coastal enclave, according to witnesses. Witnesses told Ma’an News agency that four Israeli bulldozers entered the northeastern Gaza Strip, from the Zekim military base, and leveled lands...
Russia’s Communist Party turns toward the Orthodox Church (Al Jazeera) More than 25 years after the Soviet collapse, the party vocally appeals to Orthodox Christianity, Russia’s dominant creed. The party’s sole post-Soviet chairman Gennady Zyuganov called Jesus “the first Communist” more than once...
Indian bishops launch new policy toward Dalits (Fides) To build a truly inclusive community is an ethical imperative: motivated by this intent the Indian Bishops’ Conference has launched a new policy of inclusion, support and development of Dalits, the poorest and marginalized sectors of Indian society. A document presented by Cardinal Baselios Cleemi, President of the Conference and, among others, by Archbishop Kuriakose Bharanikulangara and by Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, secretary general of the Conference, explain that this policy aims to be a step forward, to “eradicate the practices of untouchability and caste discrimination at all levels, improving the living conditions of the Dalits and especially accompanying the Dalit Christians who seek constitutional protection and justice from the state...”
13 December 2016
Syro-Malankara Bishop Jacob Barnabas Aerath and Msgr. John E. Kozar, president of Catholic Near East Welfare Association, pose with village children during a visit to northeast India in late November. (photo: John E. Kozar)
CNEWA’s president Msgr. John E. Kozar recently completed a pastoral visit to northern India, and it’s attracted some attention in the Catholic press.
From Catholic News Service:
In remote northeastern India, where Christianity is largely unknown, members of two Eastern Catholic churches are taking people on a journey of faith simply by living with them.
Priests, nuns and laypeople are living in mud-and-dung huts among tribal Indians, “reaching the unreached,” said Msgr. John E. Kozar, president of Catholic Near East Welfare Association, which supports Eastern churches in India and other areas.
Msgr. Kozar spoke to Catholic News Service after returning from a recent trip to northeastern India. He described remote areas of jungle, forest, rolling hills and tea estates, where it is not unusual for people to have family members trampled to death by elephants.
Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara Catholics are “doing some wonderful evangelization work there” in a delicate situation, he said.
Msgr. Kozar asked not to specify the towns he visited. Although the Indian government says it accepts all religions, hardline Hindu nationalists have attacked Christians when they thought they were trying to convert people.
India’s most-Catholic state is Kerala, but Msgr. Kozar said the Eastern Catholics he visited are “breaking the Kerala model of building, building, building ... it’s living with the people; letting them come to know Jesus” by getting to know the missionaries who live with them.
“The sisters and the priests — the greatest witness that happens is they live” in the same conditions as the tribal people, inviting them “to get to know them, to get to know how they pray.”
He said there is no presumption that anything will happen, but there is an attitude of “we’re here, showing who we are.”
In these situations, people “draw closer to Jesus,” he told CNS. They are learning stories about the faith.
“This plays out in such a wholesome, beautiful way. ... You’re taking people who had no affiliation ... (but) they have this yearning to relate to a higher power,” he said, noting that some people who live with these missionaries are now preparing for baptism.
Ethnic Mishing children are seen in northeast India, where members of two Eastern Catholic churches are taking people on a journey of faith simply by living with them.
(photo: John E. Kozar)
The tribal languages are initially a barrier, Msgr. Kozar said. “There aren’t even textbooks to learn these languages.”
He noted that at one stop on his 20 November-2 December visit, he spoke in English, and translations included Bengali, Malayalam and the local language.
Religious are making portions of the Bible available in local languages and are beginning to train catechists, he said. This is especially challenging because many villages have no school, or people can only attend school for about five years, so they would not even have a middle-school education.
Despite all these obstacles, the missionaries are “trying to bring good news of Jesus where he has never been known.”
The churches “have to resist the temptation to build institutions,” he said. “This is about giving witness by living with the people.”
The Syro-Malabar Catholic Church traces its roots to St. Thomas the Apostle. The Syro-Malankara Church was formerly a faction of the Jacobite Church, an Orthodox group in India, but reunited with the Holy See in 1930. Both are among 22 Eastern Catholic churches that originated in Eastern Europe, Asia or Africa. India also has a Latin-rite Catholic Church.
The trip was rich in personal encounters, as Catholic News Agency noted:
Msgr. Kozar recalled that in several of the villages they visited, “we were very warmly” embraced and frequently welcomed with dances and songs, “signs of great love and respect.”
“In some instances I was probably the first person with white skin to ever visit them,” he said, noting that the terrain in the remote tribal areas they visited is rough enough that people are still at risk of attacks by wild animals.
As an example, Msgr. Kozar said that during their trip one woman was mauled to death by a wild tiger, while a man was trampled by a herd of elephants that “poured out of a tea estate and trampled a poor three-wheeled jitney driver.”
“This is a very common occurrence,” Kozar said, noting that he met several people who had lost loved ones in similar incidents. The landscape, he added, “varies from jungle, to forest, to rolling tea estates to plains cultivating rice in paddies.”
He pointed to the “impressive” catechetical work that lay people, both indigenous and from the Syro-Malankara Church, do in the tribal areas.
Since it’s still early on in their formation, courses deal largely with basic concepts of God, Jesus and Mary, teaching the people simple prayers and bible passages, as well as the concept of what it means to pray.
“The people are responding wonderfully and welcomed us with religious singing and even did a religious enactment of the Prodigal Son in their tribal language,” Kozar said, explaining that they are likely on a two-year program to be baptized.
He stressed that there’s no hurry, and it could even take up to a year of more after their baptism before the people are fully introduced to the Eucharist. In this sense, he said the Syro-Malankara Church “is doing the evangelization in a most responsible way and I think in a durable way.”
At one event 575 tribal people came together to participate in a religious ceremony and cornerstone laying for a new Church, he said, noting that they came from different villages and tribes in the area, some of whom traveled 7 hours by truck or jitney (a small bus), or walked several miles on foot simply to welcome the delegation and be present for the event.
During the celebration, “many tribes shared their cultures with each other by dressing in their native handmade woven skirts and performed their ritual dances, perhaps for the first time shared with other tribes.”
“This was in itself probably an historic event for them,” he said, noting that “it was the Church which brought them together.”
Read more at CNA’s website.
Sisters and tribal women walk in a small village in northeast India. (photo: John E. Kozar)
13 December 2016
Tags: India Catholic Indian Catholics Evangelization
Knox Thames, special adviser for religious minorities at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., gives the keynote address on 5 December at Villanova University’s conference on Christians and religious minorities in the Middle East.
(photo: Catholic Philly/Villanova University)
A recent gathering at Villanova University looked at the ongoing crisis in the Middle East — and found some compelling conclusions:
Consensus about the Middle East and its long-simmering tensions might seem hard to come by, but a dozen international scholars, government officials and leaders of nongovernmental organizations found a few points of agreement during a meeting at Villanova University.
The ancient Christian community in the Middle East is in danger of extinction, along with other religious minorities. The violent conflicts and social unrest in many countries of the region have been inflamed by the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. The prospects for peace and stability are bleak in the short term, and likely will not be resolved significantly for a generation at least.
That was the grim picture painted for 160 participants of the 5-6 December international conference examining the plight of Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East in the context of the current political, social and security struggles of the region.
Organized by Augustinian Father Kail Ellis of the university, the conference drew top diplomats, scholars from Lebanon and the United States, and policy advisers, along with leaders of NGOs such as the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, a Vatican-approved agency based in New York.
An official with the U.S. State Department, Knox Thames, said in his keynote address to open the conference that protecting religious freedom was “not only important because it’s a human right but because it also gives rise to peace, security and development. It is instrumentally important in forging a better world.”
He was followed by speakers who acknowledged the rich cultural and intellectual contributions to society by Christians in the region from the time of the early church up to the present.
They also acknowledged that a diaspora of Christians from the region is in full swing. Driven by persecution, discrimination and war in Iraq and Syria, many Christians are fleeing, despite pleas from religious leaders to remain in their homelands.
Statistics from CNEWA show that while Christian communities have been a minority for a long time, their share of the population has declined dramatically in recent years. In 2015 Christians accounted for only between 1 percent and 6 percent of the population in Iraq, Israel, Palestine, Syria and Jordan. Their numbers had been between 10 percent and 20 percent of the population 30 years ago.
Read more at this link.
CNEWA’s Sami El-Yousef, regional director for Palestine and Israel, helped provide additional context in his speech at the conference, concluding:
Christian contributions in education, health care, and social advancement are huge in comparison to the size of the Christian presence and constitute a disproportionate contribution to the building of the various societies. This institutional presence is the pride of the Christian witness as services are provided to all segments of society with no distinction to religion, ethnic group, gender or nationality. Further, Christian institutions constitute the backbone of the Christian presence in the various countries where they are present. Generation upon generation has been able to carry this tradition and keep these institutions open and thriving. However, with the changing face of the Middle East at large and the Holy Land in particular, will we be able to maintain the tradition, and keep this Christian witness alive? Will the living stones remain or will they emigrate leaving a Holy Land consisting of Churches and monument Holy sites manned by a few religious men and women. This is the challenge for all of us as we move forward.
You can read the full speech here.