27 September 2016
Archimandrite Emanuel Youkhana serves as the head of CAPNI, an organization dedicated to keeping hope alive for Christians in Iraq and Syria. (photo: European Parliament News)
More than two years ago, word reached us about the threat of ISIS to the northern Iraqi city of Mosul. Long the center of Iraq’s ancient Christian community, Mosul had seen a constant bleeding of its Christians since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. Once, Mosul sheltered more than 60,000 Christians, but only a few thousand remained by July 2014. But by the end of the month, the city’s remaining Christians had fled, as ISIS stormed the city and gave its Christian citizens the choice to pay an extortion tax, convert, flee or die. ISIS was less generous to Mosul’s Shiite and Yazidi minorities.
Through our regional director in Amman, we received up-to-date accounts from an archimandrite of the Church of the East, Abuna Emanuel Youkhana, who described the terror that followed, the fate of the city’s ancient churches and monasteries, and the unknown that awaited the Christians of all of northern Iraq. In one report, dated 23 July, Abuna Emanuel writes of the actions of ISIS:
“This reflects how deep the sectarian conflict is and how long it will take to recover — if any recovery is to come. ... The current situation reflects how the Iraqi structure was a fragile one. Is there really a common Iraqi people feeling that they are one people and one country?
“The situation is clearly a deep social and political crisis. ... The question and challenge is how to convince Christians that they have a future in Iraq. The nice words and sympathy statements are not enough. There should be deeds and practices.”
Last week, Abuna Emanuel traveled from Dohuk, Iraqi Kurdistan, to New York, where he addressed the United Nations about the plight of all minorities in Iraq and the Middle East. Before his historic visit to the august body, he visited with CNEWA’s president, Msgr. John Kozar for Archimandrite Emanuel is not just a bystander recording the travails of his people, but the head of CAPNI, an organization dedicated to keeping “the hope alive” for Assyro-Chaldean Christians, and now one of CNEWA’s primary partners in Iraqi Kurdistan. There, in Dohuk, next to the city’s parish of the Church of the East, CNEWA established a clinic with a committee of representatives of the area’s churches, serving some 500 patients a week.
CNEWA president Msgr. John E. Kozar, left, meets with Archimandrite Emanuel Youkhana, right, in New York on 23 September. (photo: CNEWA)
Asked about the strong bonds of friendship and cooperation among the committee’s different churches and their representatives, Abuna Emanuel laughed when asked to comment about such ecumenism in action.
“We don’t have the luxury to discuss this, and its theological implications. We do this practically, building bridges of hope, so as to survive.”
In addition to assisting with the management of the dispensary, which includes a laboratory and two operating rooms, the archimandrite has been interviewing displaced families, ascertaining information about their prospects and hopes as forces gather to take back the Nineveh Plain and the city of Mosul.
“Certain conditions, certain guarantees, have to be met to prevent this from happening again,” the priest said of those families considering returning to their homes should ISIS be pushed out and defeated.
“How do we restore coexistence and mutual trust?” he asked, adding that the post-Saddam Hussein Iraqi government had failed to bind the diverse nation together, ignoring the existence of Iraq’s considerable non-Islamic minorities even in children’s text books.
“The sense of loss is profound,” he said, noting that, overnight, Christian communities founded by the apostles on the soil stained with the blood of martyrs lost their shrines, their relics and their patrimony. Families were uprooted, perhaps forever.
“We share in the liturgy and in the sacraments,” he said of what binds all Iraqi Christians together, “we share all, as seeds of hope.”
27 September 2016
In this photograph from 2014, Pope Francis greets Skender Brucaj, head of Albania’s Muslim community, during a meeting with leaders of other religions in Tirana, Albania. Last Friday, CNEWA took part in a full-day program which, among other things, explored the pope’s thoughts on religious freedom and the common good. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
For 90 years, CNEWA has been engaged in regions where conflict and war have aggravated poverty and destroyed basic human rights — including and often especially religious freedom — of people living in the regions. Painfully aware of the relationship between peace, justice and development and freedom of religion, CNEWA works to bring about the integral human development which Pope Francis sees as making people the “dignified agents of their own destiny.”
Last week, CNEWA was invited to share some insights on all this at New York’s Fordham University. “Pope Francis’ Call for Escaping Poverty: Practical Examples and New Proposals” was the topic of a full-day program sponsored by CAPP-USA and Fordham University. CAPP, which stands for Centesimus Annus Pro Pontifice, is a lay-led papal organization composed of Catholic business, academic and professional leaders whose purpose is to promote the social teachings of the Catholic Church.
The conference was attended by leading economists, financiers and bankers who dealt with practical ways to respond to Pope Francis’ call to help the poor. Presentations were made to the gathering by Cardinals Pietro Parolin, the Vatican Secretary of State (who had to withdraw on short notice and had a priest present his paper), and Theodore McCarrick, as well as by Archbishop Bernardito Auza, the Apostolic Nuncio to the UN. Many CAPP members from Italy and Germany were present as participants and presenters.
As would be expected, a great deal of emphasis was placed on how one measures poverty, deals with alleviating it and then measures the effectiveness of programs. Scholars and economists spoke of the different metrics used in dealing with poverty and various ways to alleviate poverty. Both the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the UN as well as Fordham University’s sevenfold Pope Francis Global Poverty Index were compared, contrasted and studied at length.
I was invited to speak on religious freedom as one of Pope Francis’ indicators. Pulling together two rather broad topics, I indicated that Pope Francis’ understanding of religious freedom, based as it is on Dignitatis Humanae, Vatican II’s Declaration on Religious Freedom, is not “denominationally limited.” Rather, Pope Francis sees religious freedom as “a fundamental human right” of all people and that questions intrinsic to one’s intimate essence...are questions of religions and...require religious freedom.”
Combining both realism and practicality, Pope Francis sees religious freedom as intimately related to the need for a peaceful society and for the achievement of the common good. Religious freedom, therefore, is characterized by two attitudes. The first is universal — one regards every man and woman, even those of different religious traditions “not as rivals, less still enemies, but rather as brothers and sisters.” The second attitude is practical — religious freedom also impels believers (and non-believers) to “work done in the service of the common good” with “concern for the whole of society without making distinctions....”
I noted that Pope Francis’ universal and practical understanding of religious freedom helps to bridge the sometimes differently understood concepts of “the common good,” used by the Catholic Church and “the universal destination of goods,” used by the UN. The two expressions/concepts, while not identical, are not contradictory and can, in fact, complement each other.
You can read the full text of my talk here.
27 September 2016
The Ethiopian Catholic bishop of Emdibir celebrates the Divine Liturgy at St. Anthony of Padua Cathedral. The Autumn 2016 edition of ONE turns a spotlight on the Eastern churches, celebrating their rich history and diversity. To learn more about the Church of Alexandria and its flourishing faith in Africa, check out this profile. (photo: John E. Kozar)
27 September 2016
Staffan de Mistura, U.N. Special Envoy for Syria, addresses the Security Council
on 25 September. (photo: U.N./Kim Haughton)
‘If we lose this generation, we lose Syria’ (Al Jazeera) Millions of displaced Syrian children have been forced to quit school amid a protracted civil war that has left the country in ruins. In Turkey, which has grappled with a massive refugee influx over the past five years, more than half of Syrian refugee children are not receiving a formal education, according to Human Rights Watch. Finding few alternatives, many of these children have taken jobs in factories or turned to the streets, selling tissues or gum to earn a meager income...
U.N. briefing: ‘Chilling days for Syria’ (UN.org) The past week has been one of the worst ones in Syria during the near six years of this devastating conflict. Earlier in the week I had to deeply regret the fact that the meeting of the International Syria Support Group did not yield the results we were hoping...
Crisis in Ethiopia: Drought persists, nutrition suffers (Aleteia) Spring brought rain, and some relief, but in some places too much rain led to severe flooding, which displaced 190,000 people. “The majority of Ethiopian farmers are dependent on rain-fed agriculture. Rain failure is a disaster for farmers,” said Argaw Fantu, regional director in Ethiopia for the Catholic Near East Welfare Association. “Some areas are also naturally disadvantaged areas as the rainfall is so erratic, [and because of the] rocky and mountainous nature of the area...”
Vatican releases details of pope’s upcoming visit to Georgia and Azerbaijan (Vatican Radio) At a briefing for journalists at the Holy See press office on Monday, Vatican spokesman Greg Burke gave details of Pope Francis’ forthcoming three day visit to the republics of Georgia and Azerbaijan. It’ll be his 16th pastoral visit outside Italy and it’ll be focused on the themes of peace and brotherhood, following on from the message of peace that he took with him to the neighboring republic of Armenia last June...
New program helps refugees in Canada develop job skills (The Catholic Register) Refugee youth in Calgary are learning essential job skills through a new program run by the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society (CCIS). On 6 September, CCIS announced the launch of the program that will benefit young refugees in the Archdiocese of Calgary. The Enhancing Refugee Youth Employment Outcomes project will help 48 young refugee, ages 15 to 30, develop job skills and gain work experience...
26 September 2016
Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk has led the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church since 2011.
(photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
In the Autumn 2016 edition of ONE, writer Mark Raczkiewycz profiles Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, leader of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church — and below, offers some additional reflections on their conversation.
After spending a little over 30 minutes interviewing his beatitude, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk — head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church — I was reminded of the strong historic continuity which clergymen bring to spiritual service.
Immediately acknowledging that the church’s roots stem from Constantinople, more than a half century before the Great Schism of 1054, Archbishop Sviatoslav carefully chose his words throughout the interview, as if to reinforce the institutional memory that his position embodies.
He didn’t convey his main points in a philosophical or lofty manner.
Archbishop Sviatoslav spoke with an upbeat and excited tone, a sign that he is at ease with his role of serving more than eight million faithful worldwide.
That assuredness keeps him grounded.
Speaking of being raised in an underground Catholic household in Soviet western Ukraine, where he also attended a secret seminary, he said: “I never thought that I would become a priest for the public service. I never thought that one day I would go abroad to study somewhere else outside the limits of the former Soviet Union. I never thought that I would become a bishop and the possibility to become a bishop for the Ukrainians in Argentina. This is an idea from another world.”
Along the way he got a doctorate in moral theology in Rome. He also learned to speak seven languages — our interview was in English, although I am fluent in Ukrainian — and, according to priests in Chicago, where Archbishop Sviatoslav visited earlier this year, the major archbishop is an avid violin player and even sings as a cantor when needed.
Although the majority of the faithful live in western Ukraine, the church in 2005 moved its headquarters from Lviv back to what he called its historic birthplace in Kiev. The Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow protested—and objected again in 2013, when the newly built Patriarchal Cathedral of the Resurrection of Our Lord was consecrated in Ukraine’s capital, close to the eastern bank of the mighty Dnipro River.
Referring to the war that Russia has waged against Ukraine for three years now, the major archbishop said, “we have to do everything to prevent further escalation of that aggression...We have to stop bloodshed between our nations.” Archbishop Sviatoslav said the church holds weekly prayers on Tuesdays for “our enemies...a prayer for the aggressors and for those who consider us their enemies.”
He said he would be eager to meet with Patriarch Kirill of Moscow to share a “message of reconciliation.”
Speaking of the other families of the Eastern churches, he spoke repeatedly about “political correctness,” and conveyed the idea that clergymen have the duty to share with others, their flock and with other people of the cloth, the truth of what is happening in their countries.
Archbishop Sviatoslav certainly does that every chance he gets.
Read more about the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and other Churches of the East in the Autumn edition of ONE.
26 September 2016
Bassem Hazboun, a Catholic Palestinian chef from Bethlehem in the West Bank, center, is pictured in an undated photo. Hazboun says food is part of his identity and he loves sharing cuisine from the Holy Land with those who are not familiar with it.
(photo: CNS/courtesy Bright Stars of Bethlehem)
When he was a child, Bassem Hazboun loved helping his mother prepare French delicacies in their Bethlehem kitchen. But it was his father who kept trying to steer him to study engineering as he reached his teens.
“You don’t need this,” his father said when Hazboun told him he wanted to take a cooking course. But the passion he found while cooking by this mother’s side never left.
“My food is my identity,” said Hazboun, a Catholic Palestinian who traveled in September from his native Bethlehem in the West Bank to showcase food from his homeland to various U.S. cities, including Washington and Connecticut, part of the “Room for Hope” festival. The festival aims to raise money for scholarships to help youth in the Holy Land study music, dance, cooking and other arts.
Chef Hazboun, 39, studied at Bethlehem University, a Catholic university in the Holy Land, and is the head of the culinary arts program at Dar al-Kalima University’s College of Arts and Culture in Bethlehem, which helps youth in the Holy Land hone skills in arts and culture.
Hazboun said food from the Holy Land is in a way unique for Christians because some of it hails from biblical times. Sometimes he prepares biblical menus, he said, for those who arrive in the Holy Land for religious pilgrimages. This may mean a menu that includes a lentil soup, a dish of lamb and yogurt, too. Food from the Holy Land also features lots of olives, which are abundant in the region, he said, and spices you won’t find elsewhere.
“All the foods are special,” he told Catholic News Service.
It’s important for him, he said, to help his students develop a love for the food of their region and to see something positive about their identity as Palestinians through the craft. It’s a love that many of them can share with others and can also allow them to stay in the Holy Land, where work for Palestinians is scarce. Luckily, with tourism, many of them are able to find jobs at restaurants in Bethlehem, he said.
“Sometimes I visit the restaurant and they feed me good,” said Hazboun.
Beth Nelson Chase, executive director of Bright Stars Bethlehem in the U.S., the nonprofit that sponsored the festival, said programs such as the ones chef Hazboun teaches in Bethlehem help students learn skills that are useful for the economy of their homelands, where coming across a job can sometimes prove difficult.
“It gives people hope,” Chase said.
The Rev. Mitri Raheb, a Lutheran pastor and president of Bright Stars of Bethlehem, said in a statement that the events focusing on the arts and food of the Holy Land were part of the mission of building cultural bridges “important for both the U.S. and Palestine.”
“We are excited to expose our friends in the U.S. to Palestinian culture and art,” he said.
26 September 2016
A picture taken on 25 September 2016, shows trucks carrying humanitarian aid, parked on a road in Idlib after entering Syria through a border crossing with Turkey.
(photo: Stringer/AFP/Getty Images)
Syria: aid reaches Madaya and other besieged towns (BBC) Aid has been delivered to four besieged towns in Syria for the first time in almost six months, the International Committee of the Red Cross says. Seventy-one lorries reached rebel-held Madaya and Zabadani, near Damascus, and government-controlled Foah and Kefraya, in Idlib province, on Sunday. They brought food, medical supplies and hygiene kits for 60,000 people. Last week, the UN suspended aid deliveries across Syria for 48 hours after a deadly attack on a convoy.
Activist: India’s anti-Christian massacre carefully planned (Vatican Radio) The untold atrocities that Christians in eastern India’s Odisha state were subjected to in 2008, are the result of careful planning by Hindu nationalist groups of the “Sangh Parivar” network at the highest level, an Indian journalist and rights activist told the media on Thursday, alleging illiterate masses of militants were manipulated by propaganda and incited to kill. Thanks to the investigation carried out by Anto Akkara, “one can rewrite the history of Kandhamal,” the district in Odisha where the atrocities were concentrated...
Keeping Jordan’s balance amid crisis (CBS News) The bombs in New York and New Jersey last week brought the specter of terror home, again. It seems no country is safe, but there is one that is beating fearsome odds. ISIS burned through Syria and Iraq until it hit a firewall, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. The king, Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein, is holding the front and sheltering millions of refugees despite his struggling economy, no oil wealth and precious little water. If the king can keep his balance, Jordan may prove that an Arab state can remain peaceful, tolerant, and modern...
‘Couples for Christ’ movement thriving in India (Vatican Radio) Evangelization, renewal of families and care of the poor are part of the mission of a Filipino lay group called Couples for Christ (CFC) that visited Odisha, eastern India, from 13 to 18 September. The Vatican-approved CFC lay movement began their unit in Odisha’s main Cuttack-Bhubaneswar Archdiocese in 2013...
Relics of Russian Orthodox saint to be sent into space (Radio Free Europe) After spending nearly nine decades forgotten in a Moscow storeroom during the Soviet era, some relics of Russian Orthodox St. Serafim of Sarov should soon be circling the globe aboard the International Space Station (ISS)
23 September 2016
Sami El-Yousef visits the the Lighthouse School the Zeitun neighborhood of Gaza City. (photo: CNEWA)
Yesterday, in its Vatican Insider section, the Italian daily newspaper La Stampa published an interview with Sami El-Yousef, CNEWA’s regional director for Palestine and Israel. The discussion focused chiefly on the many challenges facing Gaza, and efforts of the Pontifical Mission for Palestine — CNEWA’s operating agency in the region — to provide support for its people through parishes and church institutions:
You were just a few days ago in Gaza. How is the situation there and what is PMP doing to support the population, in particular concerning the creation of job positions?
Indeed I am a frequent visitor to Gaza as I make approximately six visits per year consistently since I joined the Mission in 2009. Our work is concentrated in Gaza through providing services to the community at large with no distinction to religion, color, race, or gender. Such work is done through a number of partners in Gaza including the Latin Parish and its institutions including the Holy Family School, the Latin Patriarchate School, and other operations of the Sisters of the Incarnate Word. Additionally our partners include the Ahli Arab Hospital being the only Christian hospital in Gaza; the Near East Council of Churches clinics and vocational training centers; the Rosary Sisters School; and the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), among others. The variety of support included humanitarian support during wars, renovation of premises, equipment and furniture grants, programmatic support where needed such as malnourishment programs and psycho-social support, scholarship support, youth sector support, pastoral programs, and capacity building and job creation. A star project will be launched soon that will provide 16 unemployed Christian youth with employment for 12 months in one of our partner institutions. This will undoubtedly help our Christian youth building their experience and at the same time bring some much-needed income. It is noteworthy to mention that the unemployment rate of Gaza is about 45%, the highest in the world.
Read the rest at La Stampa.
To accompany the people of Gaza as they endure through one of the most afflicted economic, political and social climates in the world, click here.
23 September 2016
Tags: CNEWA Gaza Strip/West Bank CNEWA Pontifical Mission Pontifical Mission for Palestine
Parishioners light votive candles at St. Hripsime Church, built in the year 618 in Vagharshapat, Armenia — the city also known as Etchmiadzin, the seat of the Armenian Apostolic Church. The Armenians, whose ancient homeland now encompasses parts of Asia Minor, the Caucasus and northwestern Iran, have endured for more than 3,000 years, outlasting more powerful neighbors in Asia and Europe who have repeatedly and relentlessly sought to subjugate and even obliterate them. Learn more about the Church of Armenia in the pages of the Autumn 2016 special edition of ONE. (photo: Armineh Johannes)
23 September 2016
Tags: Armenia Eastern Christianity Eastern Churches ONE magazine Etchmiadzin
Cardinal Pietro Parolin, secretary of state of the Holy See addresses the 71st session of the United Nations General Assembly at the U.N. headquarters in New York on 22 September. (photo: Dominick Reuters/AFP/Getty Images)
Vatican ratifies U.N. Convention against Corruption (Vatican Radio) The Holy See has deposited the instrument of ratification of the United Nations Convention against Corruption at United Nations headquarters in New York. Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican Secretary of State, made the formal deposition on 19 September 2016, both for the Holy See, and on behalf of the Vatican City State…
Catholic-Orthodox commission approves statement on authority (CNS) Catholics and Orthodox need to explore ways authority can be understood and exercised so that is not an obstacle to unity, a group of top-level theologians said. Members of the official Joint International Commission for the Theological Dialogue Between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church met near Chieti, Italy, 16 to 21 September and approved a document reflecting a mutual understanding of primacy and synodality. “Primacy” refers to the authority of the lead bishop or pope, and “synodality” refers to the authority exercised collegially by the College of Bishops in the West or a synod of bishops in the Eastern churches. While Orthodox patriarchs are recognized spiritual leaders and exercise authority over some areas of church life, they do not have the kind of jurisdiction the pope has over the Catholic Church and especially over its Latin-rite dioceses…
Iraqi Catholic church in U.S. torn by immigration efforts (Wall Street Journal) The backyard gathering was part Catholic liturgy, part rebellion. The priest, an Iraqi immigrant, had been kicked out of the local church. Parishioners had been warned by local church leaders not to worship with him. Yet 50 people sat in makeshift pews behind a home east of San Diego in a show of opposition to church officials urging Christians to stay in Iraq, where their numbers are dwindling. “There is no future for Christians in Iraq,” said Bahaa Gandor, a 31-year-old who fled the country in 2010. “We have to bring them here…”
‘A massacre is inevitable’: Siege drags on for two Shiite villages in Syria (Los Angeles Times) A punishing siege imposed by Islamist rebels has cut off the two sister towns of Fua and Kefraya in northwest Syria for the last 18 months, leaving them at the mercy of truck bombs, mortar barrages, and the terrifying staccato of sniper fire. The two towns lie in Idlib province, a predominantly Sunni Muslim region southwest of Aleppo. In March 2015, the entire province was overrun by a powerful jihadist coalition known as the Army of Conquest. The exception was Fua and Kefraya, two Shiite villages whose roughly 17,000 residents have remained, even under a devastating blockade, loyal to the government. For most, there has seemed to be little choice: Shiite Muslims are seen as apostates by Islamist hard-liners, and the Army of Conquest has threatened to wipe them out…
Protecting cultural heritage from combatants promotes human rights and universal values (U.N. News Center) Safeguarding cultural property that combatants aim to damage encompasses part of larger endeavors to defend human rights and universal values, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today, calling on the international community to intensify efforts to protect such treasures and end their illicit trafficking…
Tags: Syria Iraqi Christians United States United Nations Catholic-Orthodox relations