9 April 2018
Sister Sana Samawi, left, hosts a group of women who meet regularly for study, prayer and discussion in Amman, Jordan. (photo: Nader Daoud)
After reporting on the inspiring work of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary in Jordan for the March 2018 edition of ONE, journalist Dale Gavlak here offers some additional impressions:
I was amazed to see how many Iraqi youth came out on a cold, dark night in the dead of winter to engage in worship and meaningful spiritual dialogue and teaching with two Lebanese religious sisters. One sister was perhaps just a few years older than the young people, yet greatly admired; the other was a now much-beloved mother figure.
They do this at least twice a month at the home of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary in the Jordanian capital, Amman.
There, they experience warm fellowship and the opportunity to express themselves freely as they grapple with the still-fresh wounds of being forced out of their ancestral home by ISIS militants.
They also have the opportunity to transform their pain and open their spirituality to God’s plan for their lives. They seek to grow by engaging in the spiritual formation and catechesis activities the Franciscans offer in a very natural atmosphere.
One of the young people, Ra’ed Omar says the program facilitated by the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary involves prayer, teaching, discussions, spiritual exercises, meditations and fun. At times, there may also be a Mass and a talk by a priest.
“They have influenced me a lot,” he says. “I’ve learned so much. It’s a great atmosphere. I was far away from the church in Iraq, but in Jordan I came closer to the church, to God and His people. It’s been a spiritual encounter providing an opportunity, too, to learn how to love others without expecting anything in return,” he says of this youth group’s outreach to Iraqi children, orphans and others in desperate situations.
That same conviviality is found among a group of young-to-middle-aged Jordanian women, many of whom are professionals, meeting every Tuesday at the sisters’ home for Bible study and a discussion of spiritual topics.
There, a Jordanian Franciscan religious sister oversees the activities while encouraging the women to engage actively in learning about God’s love and the tenets of the Christian faith that they hold so dear.
Sister Sana served with the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary in Syria’s trouble spots of Raqqa, Aleppo and Damascus before taking up her post in Amman last year.
“The goal for these women is to take responsibility for their discovery and learning along their spiritual walk. I want to see them following Jesus, enjoying a deep relationship with him in a profound way and understanding,” says Sister Sara. “This depth of spirituality will also impact and benefit the lives of their families and others they interact with and for whom they are responsible. At the end of the day, they should take hold of their spiritual growth because they, too, are the Church,” she says.
Read more about Inspiring the Faithful in Jordan in the March 2018 edition of ONE.
9 April 2018
Tags: Refugees Jordan Sisters
The Rev. Jaison Koonamplakkal leads the Mary Matha Major Seminary in India. Read about The New Priests in that country — and the challenges facing the seminaries — in the March 2018 edition of ONE. (photo: Meenakshi Soman)
9 April 2018
Tags: India Priests Indian Catholics
In this image from 2016, Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, greets people upon his arrival a vespers at the co-cathedral of the Latin Patriarchate in the Old City of Jerusalem. The archbishop has just created a “personal parish” for migrants and refugees in Jerusalem, which take effect canonically on 20 May. (photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)
Archbishop creates ‘personal parish’ for migrants and refugees in Jerusalem (Vatican News) A “personal parish” for migrants and refugees in Israel and an especially dedicated episcopal vicariate have been created by the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. The man behind the initiative is the Apostolic Administrator of Jerusalem, Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa who explained that in recent years a growing number of migrants and refugees have become an integral part of the community in Jerusalem and in other cities, highlighting the need for assistance and services that many traditional parishes are unable to offer…
Pope Francis appeals for peace in Syria (Vatican News) After praying the Regina Coeli with the faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square on Divine Mercy Sunday, Pope Francis made a special appeal on behalf of Syria. The Holy Father told those present that terrible news was arriving from Syria. Bombardments in Syria have claimed dozens of victims, many of them women and children, he said. In addition, there is news that the bombs contained chemical substances. “Let us pray for all the deceased, for the wounded, for the families who suffer,” Pope Francis said…
In Easter address, Russian Orthodox patriarch urges Christians to take a step toward Christ (TASS) The best way to spend the Easter holidays would be reading the Gospel, taking care of other people and making steps toward faith, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia said in his televised Easter address…
Grand imam visits Coptic pope to offer Easter greetings (Arab News) The grand imam of Egypt’s Al Azhar, the country’s top Islamic authority, offered greetings to Coptic Pope Tawadros II on the occasion of Easter. Imam Ahmad al Tayyeb met the pope on Sunday morning at the papal headquarters at the St. Mark Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Abbassiya, Cairo…
Ethiopian Orthodox mark Easter (Africa News) Thousands of Orthodox faithful across the East African country are celebrating Fasika, Orthodox Easter (8 April). It is the end of eight weeks of fasting from meat and dairy. On Easter Eve, Ethiopian Christians participated in an hours-long church service that ends around 3 a.m., after which they break their fast and celebrate the rising of Christ…
In new document, pope writes: ‘Do not be afraid of holiness’ (CNS) God calls all Christians to be saints — not plastic statues of saints, but real people who make time for prayer and who show loving care for others in the simplest gestures, Pope Francis said in his new document on holiness…
6 April 2018
Tags: Egypt Pope Francis Jerusalem Saints
Recent reports indicate the influx of refugees is having a dramatic impact on Lebanon. We’ve been exploring this phenomenon for several years, and in 2015 journalist Raed Rafei profiled Iraqi Christian refugees struggling to stay afloat while being In Limbo in Lebanon:
An estimated 1.5 million refugees, mainly from Syria, reside in Lebanon today, placing a tremendous strain on the country’s infrastructure, as well as its delicate social and political balances. A funding crisis among United Nations aid programs has led to a significant decrease in the level of assistance that refugees receive in the country. And recent popular unrest threatens to make living conditions even worse.
“It’s very hard for Iraqi refugees here,” says Michel Constantin, CNEWA’s regional director for Lebanon, Syria and Egypt. “Their options are very limited.”
Speaking from the organization’s Beirut office, Mr. Constantin says about 3,000 Iraqi Christian families, most from the Chaldean and Syriac communities, have come to Lebanon since August 2014. Most of these refugees now struggle with high costs of living, few opportunities and uncertain prospects.
Through these hardships, churches and church institutions have been a constant source of comfort and material aid, accompanying displaced families through the most difficult time of their lives.
For this Friday’s video, we offer you this dramatic glimpse at a handful of those thousands: an Iraqi Christian family trying to start over in Lebanon. Read the full story here.
6 April 2018
Tags: Iraq Lebanon Refugees Iraqi Christians
Two students take a break during class at St. Anne’s Secondary School in Boditi, Ethiopia. Discover more about their education — and the young religious sisters who are teaching them — in The Habit of Learning in the March 2018 edition of ONE. (photo: Don Duncan)
6 April 2018
Tags: Ethiopia Children Education
Medical staff treat a wounded Palestinian, injured during the 'Great March of Return' protest near the Israeli border, on 6 April. (photo: Abed Zagout/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Pope Francis meets with Armenian leaders (Vatican News) Pope Francis received Serzh Sargsyan, President of the Republic of Armenia in the Vatican on Thursday morning before meeting with the Catholicos of All Armenians Karekin II, and with Aram I, the Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia. Following the meetings, the Pope and the Armenian delegation participated in an inauguration ceremony and blessing of a statue of Saint Gregory of Narek in the Vatican gardens…
Gaza protests: Death toll rises to 22 (Washington Post) Palestinian protesters faced off against Israeli troops on Friday, creating a billowing smokescreen of burning tires on the Gaza side of the border with Israel in the latest show of anger a week after deadly confrontations along the heavily guarded dividing line. Israeli soldiers fired live ammunition and tear gas. The Gaza Health Ministry reported that at least two people were killed and scores were injured, five of them with critical injuries to the head and upper body. On Friday morning, a 30-year-old man was said to have died from injuries sustained during last Friday’s demonstration. The death of Thaer Rabaa, 30, brought the Palestinian death toll to 22 from last week’s clashes. The Gaza Health Ministry said more than 1,000 people were wounded by gunshots…
Assyrians in Syria celebrate traditions despite dangers (Christian Science Monitor) The Assyrian community, an ethnic minority in the Middle East, gathered to observe their New Year holiday and foster community pride. The group, whose numbers in the region are dwindling, have frequently been a target of ISIS…
Patriarch of Baghdad sees Chaldean martyrs as a source of peace and unity (AsiaNews) In a written statement commemorating the Day of the Chaldean Martyrs on 6 April, Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Raphael I refers to Iraqi martyrs as a “source of inspiration” embodying values of “hope, human dignity, tolerance and peace…”
Church in Goa, India, attacked with stones during Easter Vigil (Crux) An Easter vigil Mass was interrupted by people throwing stones in the Indian state of Goa. One woman was injured and two vehicles in the parking lot were damaged in the incident…
5 April 2018
Tags: India Middle East Christians Gaza Strip/West Bank
Pope Francis blesses the faithful with holy water on Palm Sunday in St. Peter’s Square. Water has powerful religious and spiritual meaning in both Judaism and Christianity.
(photo: CNS/Tony Gentile, Reuters)
Among Christians of all denominations, the end of Lent and the beginning of the Easter Season involves the blessing of water. We saw an example of this vividly last weekend when, in the Easter Vigil, Catholics throughout the world blessed water and celebrated the sacrament of baptism.
It served to remind us that water has great significance and importance in both Judaism and Christianity. Although water can and is seen as something dangerous and wild, that refers mostly to the waters of the sea, which the Hebrews held in some dread. In ancient Mesopotamia, the deity Tiamat, “the Deep,” was seen as an all devouring dragon. Water — fresh water — on the other hand was clearly a source of life. The Second Creation Account (Gen. 2:5-3:24) starts off in a dry and lifeless desert: “as yet there was no grass or shrubbery that has sprung up because God had not caused it to rain...” (Gen 2:5) Creation begins when God causes moisture (Hebrew: ’ēd) to rise from the earth.
With moisture — water — life begins.
It carries other connotations, as well. In the ancient Near East, water is often connected with the goddess of wisdom. Wisdom brings life and order. The desert is a frightening place, a “howling desert” (Deut 32:10), “a land of horror” (Isa 21:1), filled with strange and dangerous animals. There is neither city nor civilization in the desert. But with water, the wild chaos of the desert gives way to life, order and civilization — the gifts of Wisdom. We see this in scripture; in the book of Proverbs, wisdom is often connected with water (Prov 18:4; 20:5). In the New Testament, something similar can be found in the Gospel of John, which frequently connects Jesus with the Wisdom of the Hebrew Bible. Scholars have long noticed that the Prologue of John’s Gospel (1:1-18) sounds very much like the poem about Wisdom in the Book of Proverbs (8:22-31). Later in the Gospel, Jesus calls those who thirst to come to him and drink (John 7:37-39). Echoing the encounter of Jesus with the Samaritan woman at the well, the water which Jesus offers — his teaching — is spirit and springs up to eternal life.
The cleansing properties of water were, of course, not lost on the people of the Bible. Ritual purity was very important for the priests who served in the Temple. Purity was also important for all — priest and non-priest — who would worship at the Temple. There were many things which could render a person impure or unfit to worship in the Temple — everything from touching a dead body to coming into contact with pork. The impure person was purified by washing with water. Even today among some Jews there is the ritual of the miqveh. A miqveh is a pool connected with running (“living”) water that is used for purification. Converts to Judaism — as well as Jewish men and women who have incurred ritual impurity — are required to immerse themselves in the waters of the miqveh in order to become ritually pure once again. The Jewish community at Qumran, who were the copiers of the so-called “Dead Sea Scrolls,” left behind extensive ruins. A very visible part of the ruins are ritual baths or miqveh. So important is the miqveh that Jewish religious authorities hold that new Jewish communities should build a miqveh even before they build a synagogue.
Clearly Christianity has taken over a great deal of the symbolism of water found in the Hebrew Bible and incorporated it into our own faith and ritual. We observed this recently, when those symbols played a central role in the observances of Holy Week. The washing of the feet at the Holy Thursday liturgy underlines the cleansing power of water but also stresses that it is a requirement to be with Jesus (John 13:9). The symbols found in the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday reflect the destructive power of water in recalling the destruction of the Egyptians at the Sea. The waters of baptism are also a symbol of Christ’s death (Rom 6:3). However, the life-giving and cleansing powers of water are also stressed in the waters of baptism which bring newness of life.
Throughout the Bible, in both Testaments, the powerful symbolism of water is a common theme. For Christians, the recent observance of Holy Week provided a call to reflect on the powerful role of water in the faith of Christians and Jews — and a bond we share that stretches back through the centuries.
5 April 2018
Children line up to serve a First Communion Mass at the Melkite Greek Catholic Church of St. Gregory, Ader, Jordan. Check out the March 2018 edition of ONE to read how catechists and religious sisters are Inspiring the Faithful in Jordan. (photo: Nader Daoud)
5 April 2018
Palestinians take part in a protest near the border with Israel in the east Khan Yonis town southern Gaza Strip, on 4 April. (photo: Momen Faiz/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Palestinian killed by Israeli air strike on Gaza border: ministry (Daily Star Lebanon) A Palestinian was killed by an Israeli air strike on the Gaza border early Thursday, the health ministry in the Palestinian enclave said, as tensions increased ahead of new protests. This event comes after at least 17 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces last Friday when tens of thousands gathered along the border in a protest that led to clashes…
Egypt’s Catholic Coptic Church focusing on education, health and welfare (Vatican News) In a result that came as no surprise to Egyptians or to observers abroad, former army General Abdel Fattah al Sisi won the country’s presidential elections with 97 percent of the votes, securing another four-year term in office. Announcing the final results on Monday, Egypt’s election commission said there had been a 41.5 percent turnout at the polls. The only other opponent who ran against el-Sisi was little-known Mousa Mostafa Mousa, who entered the race hours before the deadline and whose party had previously endorsed Al Sisi. Father Rafic Greiche, spokesman for the Egyptian Coptic Catholic Church, said Coptic Catholic Patriarch Ibrahim Isaac Sidrak sent the president a congratulatory letter, highlighting the importance of taking care of the educational, health and welfare sectors over the next four years…
White House says U.S. presence in Syria coming to ‘rapid end’ (AINA) The White House said Wednesday that the U.S. military mission in Syria was coming to “a rapid end” but offered no firm timeline for a withdrawal, even as President Donald Trump has insisted it’s time for American troops to return home…
India’s Dalits protest as laws protecting them are rolled back (Christian Today) A ruling by India’s Supreme Court that threatens to reduce protection for its marginalized Dalit people could be overturned after the court agreed to hear an appeal. At least 10 people died in protests yesterday against the ruling when tens of thousands of Dalits — formerly known as “Untouchables” — took to the streets…
Gaza fishermen face gunfire, death plying their trade (Al Monitor) Under a truce agreement after their 2014 conflict, Israel restricts Palestinian fishing to within six miles of shore. Israel says it considers ships outside that zone suspect because they could be smuggling arms. However, according to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights in Gaza, Israeli attacks are taking place within the permitted area…
Attacks on Pakistani Christians after Easter kill four Catholics (Vatican News) Four members of a Catholic family were killed in a militant attack in the southwestern province of Balochistan on Easter Monday, and in another incident the following day, a group attacked worshippers in a Christian church in Punjab province, injuring many…
Ethiopia seeks return of looted treasures from London museum (Al Jazeera) Ethiopian artifacts looted by the British colonialists in the 19th century are on a display in London, but a top Ethiopian official says the treasures belong to Addis Ababa and they need to be returned to the rightful owner…
Armenians protest Turkish authorities’ intervention in patriarch selection (Fides) Within the Apostolic Turkish Armenian community protests and division continue regarding the results of the process of election of the new Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople, with see in Istanbul. Turkish-Armenian periodical Agos reports the appearance of anonymous posters criticizing Archbishop Aram Athesyan, former “locum tenens” of the patriarchate who in August was replaced by Archbishop Karekin Bekdjian. The latter has taken on a key role in the internal affairs of the patriarchate since the Turkish authorities cancelled the entire electoral process started in 2016 to choose a successor to Patriarch Mesrob II Mutafyan, affected in 2008 by a disabling neurological sickness…
4 April 2018
Tags: Syria Gaza Strip/West Bank Palestine Turkey Dalits
Eritrean Catholic refugees Abel Kflom, 27, and Musia Daniel, 30, look at olive branches 23 March at Our Lady Woman of Valor Tel Aviv Pastoral Center in Tel Aviv, Israel. (photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)
A refugee’s life is one of constant uncertainty and confusion.
Yet in their faith the refugees have found strength and refuge, said Father Rafic Nahra, priest of the St. James Vicariate, which ministers to the asylum seekers and migrant worker community in Israel.
Late 2 April, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suspended a U.N. deal that would have sent thousands of asylum seekers in Israel to Western countries rather than to Africa. The deal had been announced hours earlier, but its reversal did not surprise the refugees.
“The refugees are fearful but, unfortunately, they are used it,” Father Nahra said. “They have already left their country, crossed the Sinai, crossed a lot of dangers and faced a lot of problems. Uncertainty has become part of their life.”
Sitting in the courtyard of the Our Lady Woman of Valor Tel Aviv Pastoral Center in late March, two Catholic Eritrean refugees, Abel Kflom, 27, and Musia Daniel, 30, said they do not feel certain of their future.
“If our country was good, nobody would want to leave. But because it is a dictatorship, everybody wants to leave,” said Kflom, who has been in Israel for six years. “Of course, I am worried they might send me (to Rwanda).”
Both men fled during compulsory military service in Eritrea, which kept them away from their families for years. In the army, they said, people become like slaves to the commanders. Some men are forced to serve in the army until their 60s. There is no time limit to the service; people cannot decide when to leave.
Neither had intended to come to Israel. Kflom was kidnapped by members of the Rashaida Bedouin tribe, who took him and his friends from Sudan into the Sinai Desert, where he was brutally tortured for four months until his family was able to pay $19,000 in extortion money. He was released at the border with Israel.
During his captivity, his childhood prayers sustained him, he said.
Now, early every Saturday morning, Kflom walks with his wife and young son to the pastoral center for a traditional three-hour Eritrean Mass.
“I pray to God to help me,” he said. “Life is very difficult. You can’t look forward to your future. You don’t have permission to live here. You can't organize your life here. I am always under a lot of stress.”
Netanyahu has said he wants to deport 20,000 refugees — whom he maintains are mainly economic migrants — by the year 2020. If his original deportation plan is implemented, the deportation process will require single adult males to choose between a financial incentive for “voluntary deportation” to a third African country or indefinite incarceration.
Israel is not alone in struggling with a deportation policy. Countries such as Australia, Germany and Greece have implemented similar deportation policies, including financial incentives for refugees to leave or face incarceration. Following the October 2016 European Union declaration of “safe zones” in Afghanistan, other countries began to deport Afghan refugees. France will be debating a controversial migrant deportation bill in April.
“If you are married or not married, it won’t make a difference,” said Daniel, whose wife will give birth to their first child in mid-April. “They say they won’t deport someone who is married, but they are making a lot of pressure so you will go to another place.”
Without hesitating, Daniel and Kflom said they would choose incarceration over deportation to Africa.
“To sit in jail is nothing for me. I have been through worse,” said Daniel. “You do not know what an African country is. There is no democracy there, no one to look after us. Someone can take you and kill you and no one will know. It would be easier to return us to our country. So why are they sending us to Rwanda? It shows you that they know there is a problem with our country, and our lives are in danger if they send us back there.”
African refugees began reaching Israel via the Sinai Desert in 2005, and by 2013, there were 60,000 African refugees in Israel. As the numbers of refugees grew, the
government began taking measures to prevent or discourage them from reaching Israel. In 2013, Israel completed work on a border fence with Egypt and, since last year, the flow of refugees stopped.
Today an estimated 38,000 adult refugees remain in Israel, the large majority from Eritrea and about 20 percent from Sudan; smaller percentages come from other African countries.
According to the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, of the more than 13,700 applications for asylum submitted by Africans, only 10 people have been given refugee status in Israel. Some 200 Sudanese refugees from Darfur also have been granted humanitarian status.
Father Michael Gropse, director of the Tel Aviv pastoral center, said when the refugees come to weekly Mass, their prayers are in earnest.
“I can really feel their prayer of hope,” he said. “They are always asking for God’s guidance. But in their daily life, they are afraid, sometimes, to go out and be caught by the immigration police. But still their faith and hope is strong, and every Saturday I see it when they attend Mass.”
“In Eritrea, I grew up in the Catholic Church,” said Daniel, kicking around a soccer ball with a friend’s young son as he waited for an afternoon prayer study to begin at the pastoral center. “The moment I come here, I forget about everything until I leave, then reality hits me again.”