31 October 2017
Samunder Singh, who stabbed and killed Sister Rani Maria, stands in prayer before a portrait kept in her former convent in Udainagar, a mission station in northern India. She will be beatified on Saturday. (photo: UCANews.com)
Beatification of Indian nun to inspire persecuted Christians (Malaysia Herald) The upcoming beatification of an Indian nun murdered over 20 years ago, will be an inspiration for India's persecuted Christians, say local church leaders. Indian Catholics are preparing for the 4 November beatification ceremony of Sister Rani Maria Vattalil who was killed in a knife attack on 25 February 1995 as she traveled on a bus near the city of Indore on her way to her home state Kerala for a vacation. Sister Rani Maria was a member of the indigenous Franciscan Clarist Congregation in Indore Diocese situated in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. She was 41 years of age when she was murdered...
Christians await compensation in India (UCANews) An ecumenical delegation has called on India’s Odisha state government to finally implement the Supreme Court’s directive to increase compensation payments to victims of anti-Christian violence. The Supreme Court issued the order more than a year ago...
Syrian refugees in Lebanon face mounting hostility (Haaretz) Heart-rending reports describe the difficulties of life in Lebanon, especially for children. Some of them, as young as 10 years old, have been forced to work. Their parents aren’t allowed to hold down jobs officially because the Lebanese government won’t give them work permits. The men who head households may find occasional employment, in construction or agriculture, but they are paid a pittance. Lebanese President Michel Aoun has explicitly clarified that Lebanon will not allow Syrian refugees to settle within its borders, and the establishment of so-called safe zones has become an excuse for the public to rally against the newcomers...
Patriarch Kirill appeals to shared faith in Romania (Christian Today) Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church is extending an arm of friendship to Orthodox Christians in Romania in the first visit by a head of the Russian Church since the fall of communism. Romania, a NATO and European Union member which now hosts part of the US anti-missile shield and NATO’s anti-ballistic defense system, has had cool relations with Russia since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, although the two countries share cultural and religious ties...
Salvaging bodies: a doctor’s everyday reality in Syria (Al Jazeera) Trauma surgeon Shazeer Majeed has worked for Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in Yemen, South Sudan and Iraq. He is now working in northern Syria, a region gripped by instability, and shares his day-to-day reality of trying to keep victims of war alive...
Lebanese cardinal blesses New York chapel to St. Charbel (CNS) Cardinal Bechara Rai, patriarch of Maronite Catholics, inaugurated a chapel to Lebanon’s St. Charbel in St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The chapel is the first of its kind outside Lebanon...
Pope names auxiliary Chaldean bishop in San Diego to head Toronto eparchy (CNS) Pope Francis has appointed Auxiliary Bishop Bawai Soro of the Chaldean Catholic Eparchy of St. Peter the Apostle in San Diego as bishop of the Chaldean Catholic Eparchy of Mar Addai of Toronto. Bishop Soro, 63, has been an auxiliary bishop of the San Diego-based eparchy since the the pope named him to the post in January 2014...
30 October 2017
New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, left center in red, looks on as Lebanese Cardinal Bechara Rai blesses a chapel to Lebanon’s St. Charbel in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City on 28 October. (photo: CNS/Mychel Akl for Maronite Catholic Patriarchate)
Cardinal Bechara Rai, patriarch of Maronite Catholics, inaugurated a chapel to Lebanon’s St. Charbel in St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The chapel is the first of its kind outside Lebanon.
“St. Charbel is a sign of hope for Christianity and for all the people of the Middle East who suffer in difficult circumstances,” Cardinal Rai said in his homily on 28 October at a Mass at the cathedral. New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan and Bishop Gregory J. Mansour of the Maronite Eparchy of St. Maron of Brooklyn concelebrated the Mass.
“We are here in New York and the United States to hear the voices that speak to us about the Middle East,” said Cardinal Dolan.
The artistic mosaic sanctuary depicts St. Charbel wrapped in a luminous halo in the Lebanese mountain, near the St. Maron monastery in Annaya, Lebanon, where his tomb is located. The saint is surrounded by flourishing cedars and crystalline waters of the Mediterranean, a symbol of spiritual life.
The 19th-century Lebanese Maronite monk had a strong devotion to the Eucharist. He was canonized by Blessed Paul VI in 1977.
St. Maron’s Monastery says it has approximately 26,000 documented miracles attributed to the intercession of St. Charbel, not just in Lebanon but worldwide. It says that, lately, at least 10 percent of recipients of miracles are nonbaptized individuals, including Muslims, Druze, Jews and atheists.
30 October 2017
In one Indian village, a volunteer explains how to stay healthy and battle encephalitis — one of the most serious health issues in Uttar Pradesh. (photo: CNEWA)
This morning, we received an email from M.L. Thomas, CNEWA’s regional director for India, describing efforts to combat encephalitis in the region — and how CNEWA is helping:
The Diocese of Gorakhpur took the initiative for major awareness and cleanliness activities essential to control an outbreak of encephalitis, implementing the project “JEEVAN,” through the financial support given by CNEWA. The support was very extensive — providing encouragement for the church’s volunteers in reaching out to the poor, especially when a large number of children succumb to the illness.
Encephalitis, or “killer brain fever,” is one of the most serious health issues of eastern Uttar Pradesh. It is categorized as Japanese Encephalitis (JE) and Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES). The villages in Gorakhpur district have a been the most affected. It is an epidemic — a silent witness to the innumerable deaths (mostly children under the age of 15, some of them infants). It destroys many with life-long mental or physical disabilities. Mosquitoes and contaminated water are the major known causes of the disease. Tragically, the season when the disease is most prevalent stretches too long, beginning with the advent of monsoons in July and lasting until December and winter every year.
As part of the project:
- The trained leaders share different themes associated with encephalitis — its symptoms, cause, prevention and cure in monthly meetings in 20 villages.
- They demonstrate the use of hand pump bleaching (purifying water through bleaching, helping to encourage cleanliness of of surroundings and the house).
- Leaders implement a community-level awareness campaign on safe drinking water, nutrition (intake of nutritious diet for decreased malnutrition in children) and sanitation.
- They organize street plays, puppet shows, and distributed pamphlets to raise the awareness of the disease.
- They host awareness sessions at schools, speaking about the importance of education, vaccination, hygiene and sanitation.
CNEWA is proud to be a part of this important initiative which — thanks to the generosity of our donors — is helping to save lives and foster hope among some of the most vulnerable people of India!
30 October 2017
The tomb of the Jewish prophet Nahum in northern Iraq, shown above, is threatened by tensions in the region. (photo: Wikipedia)
Ancient tomb of Jewish prophet in danger (The Jerusalem Post) The tomb of the Prophet Nahum, which overlooks the Nineveh plains in northern Iraq, is now near the forefront of tensions between the Iraqi federal government and Kurdistan Regional Government. Since last week Iraqi forces, including Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias, have been fighting with Peshmerga in an attempt by Baghdad to push Kurdish forces out of disputed areas and take oil fields and strategic border areas from the Kurds. Although a cease-fire took effect on Friday, tensions remain high...
‘October Light’ spirituality energizes Mumbai children (Vatican Radio) St. Anthony’s Church, Vakola, Mumbai holds a week-long event ‘October Light’ for Sunday School children and enhances the significance of light during Diwali vacation...
Three Coptic Christian churches closed in Egypt (AP) Egyptian religious officials say authorities have shuttered three Coptic Christian churches over fears of attacks by Islamic militants. The Minya Coptic Orthodox Diocese said authorities sealed off two churches in the southern province, citing harassment and attacks by fundamentalists. A third was closed due to fears of attacks. The statement was issued late on Saturday, 28 October...
Pope urges U.S. to welcome migrants (CNS) Pope Francis called on the people of the United States to welcome migrants and urged those who are welcomed to respect the laws of the country. “To all people (of the U.S.) I ask: take care of the migrant who is a promise of life for the future. To migrants: take care of the country that welcomes you; accept and respect its laws and walk together along that path of love,” the pope said 26 October during a live video conversation with teenagers from around the world...
27 October 2017
Yesterday, the Catholic Guild at John F. Kennedy International Airport honored Deacon Greg Kandra, CNEWA’s multimedia editor, with the title of Clergy of the Year. (photo: Christopher P. Kennedy)
Being on the development team at CNEWA means my colleagues and I take to the road frequently to visit donors, parishes and the areas we serve. While the joys are numerous — meeting new people, discovering new places and being able to share stories of our work — we also deal with the foibles of travel, not the least of which are New York’s three ubiquitous airports. But at Terminal 4 at J.F.K., there’s a special place that makes things a bit more bearable. Our Lady of the Skies Chapel, serving Catholics at the airport since 1955, is a welcome solace, a space for Mass or quiet prayer. Notably, I’ve discovered, it’s one of the few spots in the airport where one is not subjected to the constant din of announcements about the perils of leaving luggage unattended.
It’s also special to us at CNEWA as this year, the chapel along with J.F.K.’s Catholic Guild and their affable chaplain, the Rev. Chris Piasta, honored our own Deacon Greg Kandra, as their “Clergy of the Year.” Yesterday, I was privileged to attend the chapel’s Annual Luncheon with Deacon Greg, a frequent traveling companion of mine, along with his wife, Siobhain, and several parishioners from Our Lady Queen of Martyrs in Forest Hills, Queens, where Deacon Greg serves.
In his brief remarks at the luncheon, held at the Cradle of Aviation museum in Garden City, NY, Deacon Greg mentioned that he was the first deacon to be honored by the chapel, noting that next year marks the 50th anniversary of the restoration of the permanent diaconate. He also noted that his ministry and the chapel’s are quite similar — meeting people wherever they are in their journey of life. Quoting the hymn “The Servant Song,” he concluded: “We are pilgrims on a journey. We are travelers on the road. We are here to help each other — walk the mile and bear the load.”
The Rev. Antonin Kocurek, parochial vicar at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs; Siobhain Kandra; Bishop Nicholas DiMarzo of Brookyn; Deacon Greg Kandra; and the Rev. Francis Passenant, administrator of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs, stand outside the Our Lady of the Skies Chapel Annual Luncheon. (photo: Christopher P. Kennedy)
27 October 2017
Displaced Iraqi Christian girls play during a break at the summer school organized by the Syriac Catholic Church of Martha Shmouny in Ain Kawa, a suburb of Erbil in Kurdish Iraq. Read more about the status of Christians of the Nineveh Plain in Hard Choices, in the September 2017 edition of ONE. (photo: Raed Rafei)
27 October 2017
Tags: Iraq Iraqi Christians Iraqi
Indian flower farmer Kanubhai Patel shows “divine roses,” which have suffered this year due to the hot weather, at his farm in Badarkha village outside Ahmedabad on 18 October. (photo: Sam Panthaky/AFP/Getty Images)
The uninhabitable village (New York Times) Hotter temperatures are forcing families in southern India to decide: Try to survive here, or leave? Hundreds of thousands of Indian farmers have committed suicide in the past 30 years, and some climate researchers believe hotter weather has driven crop failure and made the problem worse…
ISIS shores up last stronghold on Syria-Iraq border (Daily Star Lebanon) ISIS is building up its defenses in a pocket of territory on the Syrian-Iraqi frontier, the U.S.-led coalition said Friday, in an anticipation of assaults by Syrian and Iraqi forces aiming to snuff out the extremists’ last stronghold…
Iraq’s Christians ponder future in wake of Kurdish independence vote (Al Monitor) Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael I, in a 16 October press interview, expressed his concern that the Kurdish crisis would risk Christians’ presence in Iraq. He said the current conflict in the disputed areas between Baghdad and Erbil would impede the Christians’ return to their areas, and prompt Christians to rush to leave their country for good. The leader appealed to Christians to unite their ranks and engage in dialogue to preserve the Christian component in Iraq. Nevertheless, the church’s calls for a dialogue that would have Iraq’s Christians discuss the future of “the Christian component” may not gain much traction because of the great divide among this religious grouping…
Iranian Christian official, Iraqi prime minister discuss safety of Assyrians (AINA) Mr. Yonathan Betkolia, the secretary general of the Assyrian Universal Alliance and the Assyrian representative in the Iranian Parliament, attended a special meeting between Iranian legislators and Iraqi Prime Minister Dr. Haider al Abadi. During the meeting Mr. Betkolia raised concerns about the safety and security of Assyrians in Iraq…
Vice President Pence says U.S. will help Middle East Christians directly (AINA) The vice president delivered a keynote address at the annual In Defense of Christians Solidarity Dinner. “America will support these people in their hour of need,” he said…
26 October 2017
Tags: India Iraq United States ISIS Assyrian Church
Palestinian Christians Najwa and George Saadeh pray in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Following the death of her daughter at the hands of soldiers, Najwa says she has drawn strength from her faith to pursue reconciliation. For more on families who have suffered tragedies working diligently to create a better world, read Love as a Healing Balm, in the September 2017 edition of ONE. (photo: Nadim Asfour)
26 October 2017
Tags: Palestine Israeli-Palestinian conflict Bethlehem
Fighters of the Syrian Democratic Forces coalition walk down a street in Raqqa past destroyed vehicles and heavily damaged buildings on 20 October, after a Kurdish-led force expelled ISIS. (photo: Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images)
ISIS ‘on the run,’ U.S. commander says (New York Times) The American commander of the international military campaign against ISIS said Wednesday that the militants were “on the run” and facing defeat as the American-led coalition made plans to kill or capture several thousand remaining insurgents…
Tensions on the Nineveh Plain: Iraqi bishops appeal for dialogue (Fides) In Tel Kaif, Christian militias allege aggression from Kurdish Peshmerga forces. Catholic bishops of Iraq have again expressed concern over these tensions, calling on national political leaders “to engage in peace through dialogue,” and urging that the cities on the Nineveh Plain do not become the object of division among opposing military forces…
Army shells Iraqi town, but Assyrian priest refuses to leave (AINA) A senior Iraqi priest refused to leave Tel Eskov, even after military forces gathered there for battle. Chaldean cleric Father Salar Kajo and nine church workers remained in the Christian-majority town on the Nineveh Plains, around 19 miles north of Mosul, despite Iraqi and Peshmerga armies amassing there over the last 48 hours. All other inhabitants left Tuesday, following mortar attacks that injured three children…
Christian Kandhamal victims deserve greater compensation, says bishop (AsiaNews) Christian leaders today handed the authorities a memorandum, in which they call on them to enforce the supreme court ruling that awarded compensation to victims of the 2008 anti-Christian pogrom in Kandhamal…
Breaking barriers, Arab-Israeli women join movement to ‘wage peace’ (Christian Science Monitor) Frustrated with the peace process, more Arab-Israeli women are joining the ranks of Women Wage Peace, rejecting pressure not to “normalize” relations with Israeli Jews. “We want, in our own way, to make peace,” says one member…
Lebanon looks to recreate Palestinian society in refugee camp (Al Monitor) A few streets away from Mohammad al Hajj Hussein’s home, a piece of graffiti scrawls across a wall. It reads, “typical neighborhood.” Compared to residential neighborhoods in Lebanon and elsewhere in the Arab world, the statement rings true. There are broad concrete streets punctuated by corner shops and modern, pastel-colored apartment blocks of multi-bedroom homes and breezy courtyards. Nahr al Bared, however, is not a typical neighborhood but a Palestinian refugee camp, places usually known in Lebanon for their overcrowded, ramshackle squalor. It is also atypical because it preserves social structures that can be traced back to villages uprooted in Palestine in 1948…
25 October 2017
Tags: Syria India Iraq Lebanon Women (rights/issues)
This image from last summer shows some of the thousands of Yazidis, a religious minority persecuted by ISIS, who live in Lalish, Iraq, near Kurdistan.
(photo: Diego Cupolo/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
With the chaos prevalent in the Middle East — and especially with the violence of ISIS against all those who are not allied with it — there is much talk about religious minorities in the Middle East. Now seems a good time to take stock of the challenges these minorities are facing — and what those challenges mean to the rest of the world, particularly the world that CNEWA serves.
In the West, the major portion of the discussion revolves around Christians and whether Christian communities which date back to apostolic times will survive in the places of their origin. The focus on the Christian minority in the Middle East is understandable. Numbering over 18 million in the region, Christians form the largest minority population in the Middle East. Christianity, including its nominal adherents, is the largest religious group in Europe and the Western Hemisphere.
However, Christians are not the only or even the oldest minority in the Middle East. The land mass going eastwards from the Mediterranean to India has been the birthplace of most of the great religions of the world. The western part was the birthplace of the three monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The Iranian-Indian subcontinent saw the birth of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Zoroastrianism.
From the most ancient times, explorers, adventurers and merchants risked the perils of the huge Eurasian continent, bringing with them trade goods, inventions, ideas and religions. Contacts between the two areas were relatively constant and a type of cross-pollination was inevitable. Many of the large religions saw groups break off and form traditions of their own, some of which were considered acceptable, most of which were considered “heretical.”
Although relatively well known to Christians in the Middle East and to the people of CNEWA who work with them, many of these smaller religions are, for all practical purposes, unknown in the West except to scholars. Some of these religions are very limited geographically and have very few adherents in comparison with the major religions of the world. While Christianity and its continuance in the Middle East are under severe stress — and its viability there is open to question — there is no question of Christianity disappearing from the face of the earth. But that is not the case with some of region’s other minority religions. Groups such as the Yazidis are not threatened with extinction in merely the Middle East; they are faced with total extinction from the planet.
In the next several weeks, we will be looking at some of these religious minorities. Some are related loosely to Islam, such as the Alawis and the Shabak; others are related to Christianity and Middle Eastern gnostic theosophy like the Mandaeans; still others like the Yazidis have roots that antedate the present religions in the region. While many of these religions are monotheistic, i.e. believing in one God, they are not all monotheistic in the way that Judaism and Islam are. Some of them are ahl ul-kitb, “People of the Book” in Muslim dominated countries. Thus Jews, Christians and Mandaeans in Muslim countries are “protected” and enjoy some rights. They are, however, second class “citizens.” Other groups such as Yazidis, however, which are not “People of the Book,” enjoy no such protection. As a result, they often seek out remote regions in the area where they are at best ignored by the dominant religions. Often, however, they are objects of violent persecution — as was the case with the Yazidis in Sinjar, an Iraqi mountain town, which was fiercely attacked by ISIS. ISIS gave Christians the choice: convert to Islam; pay the jizya or poll tax; go into exile; or face certain death. Yazidis were given a much harsher choice: convert or be killed.
In the past, I have compared the religious and cultural situation in the Middle East to an extraordinarily beautiful and complex carpet, for which the region is justifiably famous. The carpets are woven from many colors and involve incredibly complex patterns. It is precisely the variety of the colors and the complexity of the patterns that make the carpets “magical.” With that in mind, it seems to me that for centuries the people of the Middle East formed a type of oriental carpet. Although the relations between the religions were sometimes tense and at times even violent, the carpet held together. Now in the 21st century, that carpet is quickly becoming unraveled. A synthesis which existed in some shape or form for thousands of years is now coming undone.
What are we to make of this? In the days ahead, we will look at some of the non-Christian minority religious “colors and patterns” in this “carpet.” In particular, we will explore religious minorities mostly in the area of Syria and Iraq where, for a variety of reasons, their very existence is threatened.
It is our hope that this will help us realize a fundamental truth: the world will be poorer if these ancient traditions are lost. We need to treasure the many threads binding together the Middle East and, indeed, our planet.