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Current Issue
Autumn, 2014
Volume 40, Number 3
imageofweek From the Archive
In this 1996 image, children attend a festival in New York celebrating Greek heritage. (photo: Karen Lagerquist)
  
5 November 2014
J.D. Conor Mauro




In this 11 October photo, a man waits in a tent for the opening of a center to help people displaced by fighting in eastern Ukraine. (photo: Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)

In pictures: Ukraine’s exposed war-displaced (Al Jazeera) With freezing temperatures creeping over eastern Ukraine, thousands of people in Donetsk find themselves struggling to survive what is expected to be a harsh winter in a time of war…

Chaldean patriarch: Iraqi Christians due more government support (AINA) The Iraq government has given Christian leaders a commitment that it will do more to protect their dwindling followers in strife-torn areas terrorized by the group calling itself the Islamic State…

Life in Raqqa under Islamic State (Al Monitor) Behind the walls of the de facto Islamic State, life in the northern Syrian city of Raqqa goes on. The city, once the summer capital of the Abbasid dynasty, has become a fundamentalist metropolis, where thousands of Islamic State fighters, families, immigrants and locals live under the sort of tailored circumstances that could only fit the society created by its self-appointed caliph, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi…

Coptic pope links extremist groups to West (Fides) Extremist groups upsetting the geopolitics of the Middle East are a product of strategies pursued in the West, according to Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II…



Tags: Syria Iraq Ukraine Iraqi Christians Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II

4 November 2014
Greg Kandra




Blankets line a fence where where Iraqi Christians are sheltered by Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena outside a youth sport center in Ainkawa, Iraq. An early wintery deluge drove out families, adding to the woes for those who recently fled from the brutal Islamic State takeover of Iraq's Christian heartland. (photo: CNS/Dale Gavlak)

CNS today reports on Iraqi refugees who will be facing especially hard times in the months ahead:

Sister Habiba’s kindly face is etched with sadness as she surveyed the muddy field where dozens of tents sheltering displaced Iraqi Christians once stood.

Cold, punishing rains and blustery wind swept through the encampment 20 October, earlier than expected for winter, crashing down the tents in the dead of night. Shoes, slippers and toys were strewn about, stuck in the muddy mess, signaling the mad dash for safety.

The recent wintery deluge drove out families, adding to the woes for those who recently ran for their lives from the brutal Islamic State militant takeover of Iraq’s historic Christian heartland.

“The tents quickly filled with water and collapsed. They were engulfed in mud. Some people had to be taken to the hospital. This happened at 3 a.m.,” said the nun, one of four Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena providing the displaced with shelter, food, hygiene and water.

They, along with a lone priest, serve about 1,500 displaced Catholics from Mosul, Qaraqosh and Bartella, Christian towns in northern Iraq overrun by the Islamist extremists in early August. All were forced to flee rather than convert to Islam, pay a protection tax or be killed.

...The sport center itself is bursting at the seams with the displaced. Mattresses cover the floors of the two-story building like scattered dominoes; tall piles of colorful blankets fill corners. Families camp out helter-skelter within the facility’s rooms, but there is no privacy because space is at a premium. What is left of their worldly possessions is contained in some small suitcases and plastic bags.

Babies cry as people talk loudly; silence is a rarity. A badly traumatized woman wanders from room to room, muttering. But at least these people are living inside a building, rather than exposed to the elements outdoors.

“Our bishop has managed to get about 60 trailers, which are more stable to shelter against rain and the snow we later expect to get in January,” said Syriac Catholic Father Bashar. The trailers can each hold seven family members and now house those whose tents were swept away.

“But we need far more trailers to house the many people coming for aid,” he said. “They have run out of money and there is no safe place for them elsewhere.”

Other displaced Christians have camped out in churches, unfinished buildings and parks scattered throughout the town. But the early onset of winter here has signaled yet another danger to those bereft of safe shelter.

Read more.

Please keep the people of Iraq in your prayers. The need remains great. To lend your support, visit this giving page.



4 November 2014
Greg Kandra




Syrian refugees rest while cooking a meal at an informal settlement in Bekaa, Lebanon,
on 16 October. (photo: CNS/Mohamed Azakir, Reuters)


Setback: U.S.-led rebels in Syria routed by fighters linked to Al-Qaeda (Washington Post) The Obama administration’s Syria strategy suffered a major setback Sunday after fighters linked to al-Qaeda routed U.S.-backed rebels from their main northern strongholds, capturing significant quantities of weaponry, triggering widespread defections and ending hopes that Washington will readily find Syrian partners in its war against the Islamic State. Moderate rebels who had been armed and trained by the United States either surrendered or defected to the extremists as the Jabhat al-Nusra group, affiliated with Al-Qaeda, swept through the towns and villages the moderates controlled in the northern province of Idlib, in what appeared to be a concerted push to vanquish the moderate Free Syrian Army, according to rebel commanders, activists and analysts...

UN: lack of stability in Gaza risks return to war (Reuters) There is still not an effective or united Palestinian government in place in Gaza and unless stability is achieved rapidly, another conflict will engulf the territory, a senior United Nations official said on Tuesday. Robert Turner, director of operations for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in Gaza, said the extent of damage and homelessness after the July-August war was worse than first thought. The latest estimates suggested reconstruction would take two to three years if all went well, he said...

Iraq plans counteroffensive against ISIS with U.S. help (TIME) Iraq is training 20,000 soldiers for a spring counter-offensive against the militant group that has taken over large swaths of the country, according to a new report, and working in close consultation with the United States to do it...

Clashes on Syrian border split Lebanese town (The New York Times) Waleed Fayyad coaxed his sport utility vehicle through a chilly rain, peering down dark streets in search of suspicious vehicles. Later that night, a few miles down the road, Lebanese soldiers and Hezbollah fighters would rush to thwart insurgents trying to descend the mountains from the Syrian border, but on Mr. Fayyad’s patrol through this remote Christian village, nothing moved. Mr. Fayyad, a municipal employee, is among many local men joining new security patrols to protect the village amid growing tensions along the border. Ras Baalbek is determined to stay out of the Syrian conflict, even as it is pushed toward deeper reliance on one of the combatants, Hezbollah, which is battling insurgents in Syria. Like Christians across Lebanon, the volunteers in Ras Baalbek are divided on Hezbollah, the powerful Shiite Muslim militia, which grew from its roots here in the Bekaa Valley into the country’s strongest political and military force...

Ukraine’s president holds security meeting (BBC) Ukraine’s Petro Poroshenko has held a meeting with his security chiefs, after a rebel-held vote that he said jeopardised “the entire peace process”. He again proposed scrapping a law, agreed under the 5 September truce deal, which gives special status to the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk areas. Under the truce, the regions were to hold Ukraine-run elections in December...

Dozens perish in shipwreck off Turkey (Vatican Radio) Mariners conducting rescue and recovery operations pulled 24 dead bodies from the sea at the mouth of Istanbul’s Bosphorus strait on Monday and saved seven people after a boat carrying a group of migrants foundered...

Invoking Romero in Lebanon (CNS) The Good Shepherd Sisters have been working in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley for 11 years. They opened an after-school care program to help the children of Deir-Al-Ahmar, near Baalbek. The area was under the control of Hezbollah and was known for production, and consumption of, hashish...

Canadian bishops mark 50th anniversary of decree on ecumenism (Catholic Register) Canada’s Catholic bishops examine the church’s connection with other Christian churches in a document marking the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council’s decree on ecumenism. Titled “A Church in Dialogue: Towards the Restoration of Unity among Christians,” the document reviews the work of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops with various ecumenical partners including the Orthodox, the Anglican Church of Canada, the United Church of Canada and others since the council...



Tags: Syria Iraq Ukraine Gaza Strip/West Bank Turkey

3 November 2014
Greg Kandra




A child receives polio vaccination at an informal settlement of Syrian refugees in Bekaa, Lebanon, on 16 October. Msgr. Giampietro Dal Toso, secretary of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, who just returned from a visit to Syria, said “the humanitarian situation is worse than I thought.”
(photo: CNS/Mohamed Azakir, Reuters)


A Vatican official who just returned from a visit to Syria said “the humanitarian situation is worse than I thought”:

Msgr. Giampietro Dal Toso, secretary of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, told U.S. journalists in Beirut on 1 November that he had seen “the concrete face of suffering” as a result of war.

He also said the humanitarian crisis in Iraq is tied to the crisis in Syria. “We should begin to look at this crisis as one crisis,” he said. “We have people crossing borders,” so humanitarian agencies must look at the bigger picture, he said. His remarks echoed those of Christian aid officials who work in the region.

Msgr. Dal Toso, the second-highest official at Cor Unum, which coordinates Vatican charitable agencies, said Syria’s middle class has disappeared, but noted, “The whole population is a victim of this war.”

Syria, which had a population of 22 million people before violence began in 2011, has at least 10 million people who are refugees or who are displaced within their own country, according to U.N statistics. The effect of such a shift in demographics has driven up the cost of living, including rent, medicine and even school fees, Msgr. Dal Toso said.

Other countries also are feeling the strain of accepting refugees from Syria and Iraq. For instance Lebanon, a country about 70 percent of the size of Connecticut, has a population of 4 million people, with an additional 1.5 million refugees living within its borders. The refugees are considered guests in Lebanon; they pay rent and work for lower wages than Lebanese. Catholic aid officials working in Lebanon say the government is, in essence, subsidizing the refugees’ garbage collection and utilities, such as electricity, because in many cases the refugees tap into existing utilities.

Msgr. Dal Toso, said “the first priority is to stop the violence,” then negotiate a solution and deal with the humanitarian situation.

Read more.

To help those now suffering in Syria, visit this link.



3 November 2014
Greg Kandra




Pope Francis leads the Angelus in St. Peter's Square Saturday and implores pilgrims to pray
for Jerusalem. (photo: CNS /Tony Gentile, Reuters)


Pope: pray for peace in Jerusalem (Vatican Radio) Marking the Feast of All Saints Saturday with the traditional recitation of the midday Angelus with pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis’ thoughts turned to the Holy City of Jerusalem which has witnessed a spike in tensions in recent days...

Report: ISIS conducts mass execution of Iraqi tribe (AP) Islamic State of Iraq and Syria extremists lined up and shot dead at least 50 Iraqi men, women and children from the same tribe on Sunday, officials said, in the latest targeting of the group by militants. The killings, all committed in public, raise the death toll suffered by the Sunni Al Bu Nimr tribe in recent days to some 150, suggesting Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighters now view them as a threat. Some Sunnis in the volatile province had previously supported the local expansion of ISIS and other militants in December...

Al-Quaeda militants mass near Turkey border (AP) Al-Qaeda militants massed Monday near a Syrian border town in what appeared to be an attempt to seize a vital crossing from Western-backed rebels, activists said, underscoring the weakness of the fighters America hopes could be a moderate force in the chaotic civil war.

Blast targets troops near Egypt-Gaza border (AP) An explosive device went off on Monday near Egyptian troops demolishing houses in a town on the border with the Gaza Strip where Egypt is clearing a buffer zone to halt weapons smuggling, military officials said. The strong blast in the border town of Rafah caused no casualties, the officials say, but prompted authorities to raise the security alert level...

EU condemns “illegal” elections in Ukraine (Vatican Radio) The European Union has condemned as “illegal” elections held by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine where mining electrician-turned-rebel leader Alexander Zakharchenko was quick to announce victory...



Tags: Syria Egypt Iraq Jerusalem Turkey

31 October 2014
Greg Kandra




Students perform a folklore dance at the Franciscan School in Abou Kir, Egypt. (photo: Sean Sprague)

In 2002, we took readers to northern Egypt, to a remarkable school run by the Franciscan Sisters of the Cross:

Abou Kir is a suburb of Alexandria, a stone’s throw from the Mediterranean. A fishing village that today numbers about 300,000 people, it has a mixed religious population — about 70 percent Muslim and 30 percent Christian, the latter mostly Coptic Orthodox. This proportion of Christians is relatively high for Egypt, where the average Christian presence is less than 10 percent. Abou Kir’s Catholic school welcomes children of all faiths; here peaceful coexistence is understood as being part of the curriculum — and also of life. Of the student population, 55 percent of the children are Muslim and 45 percent are Christian. Of the school’s 34 teachers, 10 are Muslim and 24 are Christian.

“The continuation of a Christian presence here is very important,” Sister Zeina says.

“We offer a service to the local community by teaching Christians and Muslims to love one another.”

In a land where sectarian violence and mutual suspicion between the two religions are, sadly, not unusual, Sister Zeina holds firm to the belief that Christian and Muslim children need to be educated and grow up in a climate that fosters mutual respect.

“It is my conviction that they must be raised together,” she says.

The hustle and bustle in the muddy streets outside, with their horse carts, piles of garbage and pollution-belching, thundering trucks, was in marked contrast to the cleanliness and order of the school. I stepped across its threshold into a bright sanctuary for learning.

A spotless playground was bounded on two sides by the gleaming new four-story building. A third side was occupied by the old building, which had recently received a fresh coat of paint. Apartments overlook the fourth side. On the day of my visit, some curious women sat on their balconies, enjoying a bird’s-eye view of the all-school assembly in the courtyard.

Some 495 freshly scrubbed children in immaculate uniforms — bright red pullovers for the primary school, navy blue for the kindergarten and preparatory ages — were lined up in perfect formation. They saluted the Egyptian flag and sang the national anthem. A favorite Franciscan hymn followed. Sister Zeina then took the microphone and sweetly crooned a couple of Arabic lullabies, accompanied by a teacher on the organ. Then it was time for folklore class, and 12 girls in native Egyptian costume strutted out to perform a dance.

Their school assembly and folklore class completed, the children then filed from the playground into their classrooms — all smiles, hand in hand.

Read more about how the Franciscans were bringing learning to life in the May-June 2002 issue of the magazine.



Tags: Egypt Children Education Christian-Muslim relations Catholic education

31 October 2014
Greg Kandra




Syrian Kurdish refugees stand at the back of a truck as they cross the Turkey-Syria border on 18 October. (photo: CNS/Kai Pfaffenbach, Reuters)

U.N.: Foreign militants ‘flocking’ to Iraq, Syria (The Guardian) The United Nations has warned that foreign jihadists are swarming into the twin conflicts in Iraq and Syria on “an unprecedented scale” and from countries that had not previously contributed combatants. A report by the United Nations Security Council, obtained by the Guardian, finds that 15,000 people have travelled to Syria and Iraq to fight alongside the Islamic State and similar extremist groups. They come from more than 80 countries, the report states, “including a tail of countries that have not previously faced challenges relating to Al Qaeda…”

The terrible danger facing Syria’s refugees (The Telegraph) Scores of refugees from the Syrian province of Hama were killed this week when barrel bombs dropped by the Assad regime fell on their refugee camp in neighboring Idlib. Such a massacre would once have been front-page news, but now the images of the war across the Middle East between the jihadists of Isil and the US-led coalition ranged against them have overshadowed the three-year plight of the Syrian people…

Egypt flattens neighborhoods to create buffer with Gaza (The New York Times) With bulldozers and dynamite, the Egyptian Army on Wednesday began demolishing hundreds of houses, displacing thousands of people, along the border with Gaza in a panicked effort to establish a buffer zone that officials hope will stop the influx of militants and weapons across the frontier…

Pope seeks ‘unity in diversity’ (Vatican Radio) On Friday, Pope Francis met with members of the Catholic Fraternity of Charismatic Covenant Communities and Fellowship. The group is in Rome for its Sixteenth International Conference, which has for its theme “Praise and charismatic worship for a New Evangelization.” The bishop of Rome touched on several themes in his address to the group, beginning with the idea of “unity in diversity.” “Unity does not imply uniformity,” the pope said…

Europe’s Eastern Catholic bishops emphasize ecumenism (ByzCath.org) Following a four-day meeting in Lviv, 45 Eastern Catholic bishops in Europe issued a joint statement on ecumenism, mission and the conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East. “We reaffirm with greater awareness our right and duty to the pastoral care of our faithful wherever they are, including the right to proclaim the Gospel to those who do not know it yet,” the prelates said…



Tags: Syria Iraq Pope Francis Gaza Strip/West Bank Eastern Catholics

30 October 2014
Greg Kandra




An Eritrean refugee and her daughter hold candles during a memorial gathering in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on 3 October, to mark the first anniversary of the Lampedusa migrant shipwreck that killed 366 migrants near the Italian coast. Catholic bishops and aid agencies have condemned a European Union plan to scale down the rescue of migrants and refugees in the Mediterranean Sea. (photo: CNS/Tiksa Negeri, Reuters)



Tags: Ethiopia Eritrea Migrants Italy

30 October 2014
J.D. Conor Mauro




Smoke rises over Syrian town of Kobane after an airstrike on 27 October near the Mursitpinar border crossing in Turkey. According to a Syrian activist group, the death toll has reached 815 during 40 days of fighting in and around the Syrian town. (photo: Kutluhan Cucel/Getty Images)

Syrian bishops: If the world wants to help us, stop sending us weapons! (Fides) At their autumn assembly, the Catholic bishops of Syria issued a statement to the international community, once again urging an end to the arms trade fueling the ongoing war. The meeting was held in Damascus on Tuesday and Wednesday, 28-29 October, and included Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregory III of Antioch; 11 Catholic bishops from 6 different churches; Archbishop Mario Zenari, apostolic nuncio; Msgr. Giovanni Pietro Dal Toso, secretary of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum…

Syria: Neighbors straining under refugee crisis (Vatican Radio) The director of the United Nations humanitarian operations is warning that some of Syria’s neighbors are at their “breaking point” — caught between a sense of duty to keep their borders open to refugees and a responsibility to their own citizens. The director of the Operational Division at the U.N. Office of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, John Ging, said Wednesday that Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan likely will have the refugees “for many years to come…”

Iraqi Kurdish forces enter besieged Kobane to battle Islamic State (Los Angeles Times) The first contingent of Iraqi Kurdish fighters crossed the Turkish border and arrived in the besieged Syrian city of Kobane on Thursday, aiming to help fellow Kurds fight off the militants of the Islamic State, Syrian activists said. Kobane, just yards from the Turkish frontier, has become an emblem of the West’s confrontation with the Islamic State, which has seized control of a large swath of Syria and Iraq…

Looters raid Jordanian crypts in search of gold, jewels and artifacts (Washington Post) In Jordan, there is a long tradition of “treasure hunting.” But the gold fever driving a surge in tomb-raiding in the Hashemite Kingdom is the worst in years. No one knows exactly how they started, but rumors have been flying from rough kebab shops to fancy dinner parties — of buried treasure, of Ottoman gold and Byzantine jewels, of jars heavy with Roman coins. It sounds nutty. But it is destroying Jordan’s rich cultural heritage, piece by piece, one looted Bronze-era funerary relic at a time…

Pope Tawadros II received by Patriarch Kirill (Coptic Orthodox Church UK) Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria, accompanied by a papal delegation, was received by Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia at the Russian Patriarchate on 29 October 2014. The visit, that included a formal meeting of delegations, followed by lunch, marks 26 years since the most recent visit of the last patriarch of Alexandria, the late Pope Shenouda III…



Tags: Syria Jordan Patriarch Kirill Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II Syrian Catholic

29 October 2014
J.D. Conor Mauro




Medical staff provide checkups for children brought by the Dominican Sisters to a
CNEWA-supported clinic in Ain Kawa, Iraqi Kurdistan. (photo: Don Duncan)


Over the weekend, Michel Constantin, CNEWA’s regional director for Lebanon, Syria and Egypt, submitted a brief report on the needs of refugee children in Iraq:

CNEWA has been in continuous contact with the local church in Erbil and with the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, showing solidarity and providing support to ease the suffering of the refugees and the displaced — including religious minorities such as Christians, Yazidis and Shiite Muslims.

In partnership with the sisters, CNEWA is equipping a new dispensary and a new center for people with special needs, and providing children with clothing, milk and diapers.

Presently, there are 120,000 Christian refugees in Erbil and other parts of Iraqi Kurdistan, living in schools, churches, monasteries and parks after being forced from their homes in Mosul and other cities of the Nineveh Plain by forces of the Islamic State.

As the needs continue to mount, the condition is continuing to deteriorate for these internally displaced people. Although food and other essential items are being provided through local and international charities, CNEWA is the only organization addressing the need for milk for infants and children and the provision of diapers for babies. Further, thousands of refugees will soon have to endure harsh winter conditions. The climate in Kurdistan is arid, with a temperature that reaches around 120 degrees in summer and falls below freezing in winter.

The 57 Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, who were displaced from Qaraqosh, have been very active in providing support and relief work to the displaced. They have identified 1,794 displaced Christian families in Ain Kawa as those most in need among the displaced.

Among these families, around 1,922 babies urgently need milk, diapers and winter clothing.

CNEWA staff will revisit northern Iraq in mid-November to accompany suffering children and respond to some of their needs. Despite of the efforts of many charity organizations to provide emergency aid, massive efforts are still needed.

To help provide these critical resources to those most in need, click here. Please keep the children of Iraq in your prayers.

(photo: Don Duncan)



Tags: Iraq Children Iraqi Christians Iraqi Refugees Relief





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