3 April 2017
Syrian refugees Ramy and Suhila and their children, Khodus, Rashid and Abdul Mejid, relax in Rome in 2016 after Pope Francis brought them with him from a refugee camp in Lesbos, Greece. The original three families that came with Pope Francis have moved to housing outside the Vatican, and three new Syrian refugee families have taken their place. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
The first three refugee families from Syria welcomed by the Vatican left their temporary homes to start their new lives in Italy, and three new families took their places in Vatican apartments.
The papal Almoner’s Office, which helps coordinate Pope Francis’ acts of charity, announced on 2 April that two Christian families and one Muslim family moved the apartments that housed the first refugee families welcomed by the Vatican in late 2015 and early 2016.
The two Christian families, the papal almoner’s office said, arrived in March after “suffering kidnapping and discrimination” because of their faith.
“The first family is composed of a mother with two adolescent children, a grandmother, an aunt and another Syrian woman who lives with them,” the office said.
The second family is a young couple, who had their first child — a daughter named Stella — shortly after moving into the Vatican apartment, the Almoner’s Office said.
“The mother had been kidnapped for several months by ISIS and now, in Italy, has regained serenity.”
The third family — a mother, father and two children — arrived in Italy in February 2016, the office said. The children have been attending elementary school in Italy while the mother has been attending graduate courses and currently has an internship.
The Vatican welcomed the refugee families after an appeal made by Pope Francis on 6 September 2015, in which he called on every parish, religious community, monastery and shrine in Europe to take in a family of refugees, given the ongoing crisis of people fleeing from war and poverty.
Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, the papal almoner, said that aside from providing a home for the three families, the office also continues to provide financial support to the three Syrian families whom Pope Francis brought to Italy after his visit last year to the Greek island of Lesbos and for the nine additional refugees who arrived later.
3 April 2017
In this image from 2015, a young Syrian mother who was displaced by violence holds her 2-year-old child outside their tent at an informal settlement in Deir al Ahmar, in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. Lebanon’s prime minister is warning this his country is close to the “breaking point” because of the strain of caring for refugees. (photo: CNS/Sam Tarling, CRS)
Lebanon ‘at breaking point’ due to refugees (Al Jazeera) Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri has warned that his country is close to “breaking point” due to strains of hosting more than one million Syrian refugees, fearing that unrest could escalate due to tensions between refugees and local communities...
Priest visits Iraqi church destroyed by ISIS (CNA) The desolation of a burned Iraqi church left Argentine-born missionary Father Luis Montes with the firm conviction that Satan is at the root of the attacks, and Christians must pray for the conversion of ISIS...
Evidence of ISIS using human shields in Iraq (BBC) The BBC has seen evidence that so-called Islamic State (IS) has been using children as human shields as they fight to keep control of the Iraqi city of Mosul. BBC Persian correspondent Nafiseh Kohnavard and producer Joe Inwood had exclusive access to helicopter missions of the Iraqi military and witnessed the battle from above...
A journey into Syria’s secret torture wards (The Washington Post) In interviews across Lebanon, Turkey and Europe, more than a dozen survivors and army defectors described horrors in Syrian military hospitals across the country for which war crimes lawyers say they have struggled to find a modern parallel...
Kerala bishop issues pastoral letter for parents on modesty in church (Times of India) In the pastoral letter published in Idukki diocese bulletin, Idukki bishop urged girls to avoid wearing outfits shorter than knee-length while inside the church or on dais to read out the Holy Bible. He also asked women churchgoers who keep special clothes to be worn for prayers and rituals...
In Ethiopia, a search for the lost ark (Houstonia) Ethiopians claim that the ark was never lost, as is believed by most historians, but has been in their country for centuries. Whether that’s true or not is a matter of great speculation. According to legend and many historical records, the Queen of Sheba journeyed from Ethiopia to Jerusalem where she met King Solomon. One thing led to another and after Sheba returned to her country, their son Menelik I was born...
31 March 2017
We’re pleased to announce that the new edition of ONE is now available online —and headed to a mailbox near you.
Among other things, the March edition features a Letter from Ethiopia, written by Abune Tesfaselassie Medhin, the bishop for the Ethiopian Catholic Eparchy of Adigrat; a poignant glimpse at efforts at Breaking the Cycle of addiction and abuse, to help children in Kerala; and a dramatic report on The Displaced of Ukraine, struggling to start over after a devastating war.
For more, check out the video below, from CNEWA president Msgr. John E. Kozar, who offers a preview of what’s in ONE.
You can find the whole March 2017 edition online at this link.
31 March 2017
The sun sets over the Mediterranean. (photo: Chris Kennedy)
Yesterday, our last and most time-intensive day here in Lebanon, began as all of our days have, in the traffic-choked Beirut rush hour. But this morning, we were in for a dramatic change of scenery as we headed east over the mountains and into the Bekaa Valley. The fertile, flat landscape is where the majority of Lebanon’s 1.5 million Syrian refugees reside and where, in some villages, they outnumber the native population. From deep in the valley, you can see the last mountain of Lebanon and see a guard post where Syria begins.
Accompanied by our Beirut regional director, Michel Constantin, and programs manager, Kamal Abdel Nour, our first stop was the Community Center of the Good Shepherd Sisters in Deir-al-Ahmar, run by Sister Amira Tabel. Over Lebanese coffee (which has become a standard of all of our program visits) she explained the center’s multifaceted, holistic approach to the Christian and Muslim Syrian refugee population it serves.
Sister Amira explains the Lebanese curriculum. (photo: Chris Kennedy)
“If a child asks what a nun is,” she told us, “I explain that a nun is someone who loves and serves everyone and doesn’t distinguish between their nationality or religion or anything else.” In addition to education following the Lebanese curriculum, the center also offers vocational training to young men and women and psycho-social training to parents and children. She has also worked to build a culture of peace and understanding, ensuring that the teachers are trained by social workers to utilize positive reinforcement to encourage every student.
Hearing Sister Amira describe her efforts was awe-inspiring. To ensure that children weren’t exploited by local farmers, she added classes to keep the kids at the school for longer hours. In another instance, Sister used cultural opportunities — such as how to remove henna — as a health lesson on how to wash hands. And when a student stopped coming to class for several days after a bad grade on a quiz, Sister invited the mother to sewing classes to encourage the family to remain involved in the school.
A student takes a break during his studies at the Good Shepherd social center.
(photo: Chris Kennedy)
We were able to visit a few classes and saw firsthand how Sister Amira’s ideals have been put into action. Students of all ages warmly greeted us in English, Arabic and French — all of which are taught in the Lebanese curriculum. Their commitment to their education is a commitment to the future of Lebanon. It’s no surprise that the Fratelli Association we visited on our first day modeled their work in southern Lebanon after the Good Shepherd Sisters.
After a delicious lunch with Bishop Hanna Rahme of the Maronite Catholic Eparchy of Baalbek-Deir El Ahmar, and with much more to see in the region, we ventured south to the city of Zahle, the economic center of the valley. There, we visited a Syrian refugee camp supported by CNEWA through the local Melkite eparchy. Over the last year, we’ve provided heating supplies and hygiene kits to over 1,200 refugee families, both Muslim and Christian. The warm welcome we received was overwhelming. The residents, who have been there since 2012, were quick to show us their tents, with makeshift kitchens and sleeping quarters. Children, most of whom have never known any other lifestyle, joyfully ran among the alleys — while oblivious to the omnipresent tripping hazards. Women and girls gathered scallions from a nearby garden. A few men sat sipping cups of afternoon tea before resuming work on a concrete walkway, a vast improvement over the gravel that quickly turns muddy in the rain. With the help of the local church, families have adjusted to their new normal. While we’ve encountered joyful people throughout the week, here we saw the most resilient.
A young girl stands in a Syrian refugee camp. (photo: Chris Kennedy)
Saying several goodbyes to new friends of all ages, we drove up narrow lanes and steep hills to a diminutive apartment shared by two Catholic families from Homs, Syria. They clutched the rosaries around their necks as they explained that they had left behind everything amid the destruction of the city. The fathers are desperately seeking employment, and one explained that his wife is expecting a child. Through the work of the archdiocese, these families cannot be left behind.
After a long day, we climbed the mountain again in time to see the sun setting over the Mediterranean. We pray in a special way for the families we met, hoping that each day dawns brighter than the last.
Given the good work we’ve seen today, we know it will.
31 March 2017
Sister Anahid, a Dominican sister of St. Catherine of Siena, administers a primary school in Dohuk. (photo: Paul Jeffrey)
The new edition of ONE features a web exclusive: a story by photojournalist Paul Jeffrey describing the efforts to keep hope alive among Iraq’s displaced Christians:
Ahlam Ibrahim, a displaced Chaldean Catholic, fled from Tesqopa in 2014. Although ISIS was driven from her home late last year, she continues to rent a small apartment in Sharafiya.
“If the mobile clinic didn’t come here, we wouldn’t have medicines, because none of us can afford to buy them from a pharmacy,” Ms. Ibrahim says. “We are far from the fields where we can earn our living, and most of what we have goes into paying the rent every month.
“There’s little for us here, but we’re not ready to go back yet, either. I can rebuild my house, but I can’t do it without some sense of security that ISIS won’t return.”
The mobile clinic, a lifeline to many, is one of many initiatives of the Christian Aid Program Nohadra-Iraq (CAPNI), an organization based in Dohuk. Since 2014, CAPNI — which CNEWA helps suppport with funds — has focused on responding to the humanitarian crisis generated by ISIS.
The Rev. Emanuel Youkhana is an archimandrite of the Church of the East and the executive director of CAPNI. He previously served congregations in the Dohuk area destroyed by the government of President Saddam Hussein in the 1980’s — including many displaced members. When Kurds of the region rose against the government in 1991, Abuna Emanuel became a spokesperson for the local Christian population, helping journalists and church leaders from abroad to understand the plight of religious minorities. As a result, President Hussein blacklisted him, and in 1994 a grenade was thrown into his family’s home. No one was injured, but Abuna Emanuel responded by moving his family to Germany.
For most of the year, however, he remains in Iraq.
“God wants me here,” he says. “I am a priest, so I must be present in order to be a voice for the voiceless, and a bridge between the persecuted church here and the sister church in Europe and beyond.”
Read the whole story and see more pictures here.
31 March 2017
Iraqis fleeing their homes in Mosul’s old city carry their belongings as they leave the fighting area on 30 March 2017. (photo: Ahmad Gharabli/AFP/Getty Images)
U.N.: Palestinian population declines in Syria (AP) The U.N.’s Palestinian relief agency says Syria’s Palestinian refugee population has fallen by one-fifth since the start of the Syrian conflict in 2011. UNRWA Director Pierre Krahenbuhl said Friday there are 440,000 refugees in Syria, compared to 560,000 in the country before the war...
Families trapped on the front line in Mosul (The Guardian) Those who made it out were the lucky ones. More than 2,000 civilians have been seriously injured in the battle, which began on 17 October with a push on the east side of the Tigris river and has now switched to the western bank, a densely packed maze of suburbs in which an embedded and ruthless enemy is giving no quarter...
Vatican launches interfaith charter promoting care for the elderly (Vatican Radio) An inter-faithCharter promoting palliative care for the elderly across the world has been launched at the Vatican. Religious leaders, patients and medics attended a conference to discuss future challenges of a rising elderly population and an increasing demand for social care...
Egypt’s Coptic Christians making pilgrimages to Jerusalem in record numbers (Fox News) After decades of pressure to not make pilgrimages to Jerusalem, Egypt’s Coptic Christian population is now making such trips to Jerusalem at a record pace. The number of Egyptian tourists to Israel has nearly doubled to 7,450 from 4,428 between 2014 and 2016, according to Religion News Service...
All signals point to another war in Gaza (Bloomberg News) The next war in Gaza is coming. In over five years as U.S. Ambassador to Israel, I found no issue more impervious to solutions than Gaza. We were constantly preventing, managing or responding to crises — trying to head off terror attacks by Hamas and others, supporting Israel’s right to defend itself, negotiating ceasefires and working to alleviate human suffering...
The rise of the Russian Orthodox Church (CNN) In the nearly 26 years since the Soviet Union’s collapse, the role of the once-persecuted Russian Orthodox Church has transformed dramatically. The church has now become a defining characteristic of Russian identity actively promoted by the Kremlin. “With the collapse of communist society, there was a great void,” said Alexander Dugin, chief editor of Tsargrad TV, a Russian Orthodox channel. “The only way to fill this void was to return to the pre-communist values. And pre-communist values were Christian Orthodox...”
30 March 2017
A boy rolls clay in an art class at Father Robert’s Institute in Roumieh, Lebanon. (photo: Chris Kennedy)
Our ears pop as we climb up the mountain in the car on our way to another site visit — this one near Roumieh, Lebanon. Out the window are herders and their sheep, olive and pine trees, and a view worth writing home about. From this height, we see that there are even higher mountains due East, and the next range over is topped with snow. A light sea breeze on this sunny day guides us along. On a day like this, you could enjoy swimming in the Mediterranean and then drive an hour to ski — a testament to the geography’s diversity. Everything here is diverse: the land, the food, the people, the church.
While much of CNEWA’s work in Lebanon and beyond is centered around some very basic humanitarian needs — schools, hospitals and refugee camps, for example — our specific mandate from the Holy Father to accompany the Eastern churches means that all our humanitarian work carries with it a crucial spiritual component. That is, the work that we do is an extension of the hands of Christ, and while we offer support to all — regardless of creed or background — our love for all comes from our pastoral roots.
Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter meets with Msgr. John E. Kozar, CNEWA’s president, left; Michel Constantin, CNEWA regional director for Lebanon, Syria and Egypt, center right; and Chris Kennedy, development associate, right. (photo: Philip W. Eubanks)
That has been especially evident in today’s pastoral visit as we continue to accompany Msgr. Kozar in meeting the papal nuncio, Archbishop Gabriele Caccia; Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter of Antioch, the head of the largest church in Lebanon; and finally Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregory III. Not only was it an honor to meet them, but it was also touching to hear of their genuine, profound concern for Christians and all people throughout the Middle East.
Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregory III chats with Msgr. Kozar outside of Roumieh. (photo: Philip W. Eubanks)
Their pastoral perspective was enlightening, as were the views of the Basilian Chouerite Sisters, a Melkite order, who kindly fed us a traditional Lebanese lunch. These sisters run Father Robert’s Institute, which serves over 100 students with hearing impairment, autism, cerebral palsy or other special needs, offering each an education and vocational training in a way that equips these students to confront a world that may not understand the challenges they face.
Father Robert’s has seen students go on to university and gainful employment. One recent graduate is, in fact, currently tutoring students at his university. We observed several classes: an auditory training where students were practicing on percussion instruments, a physical therapy class where students no older than 7 made their way through an obstacle course, and one-on-one special education for a young girl with autism. In each class, the enthusiasm and care of the instructors was palpable and contagious.
A girl attends an auditory training session at Father Robert’s Institute. (photo: Chris Kennedy)
Our final visit of the day was to St. Ann’s Greek Catholic Seminary where 17 young men from Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine and Syria are preparing to serve the church as priests. It’s one of hundreds of seminaries CNEWA supports throughout the areas we serve. We asked how their vocation applied especially to caring for people who are suffering, and their answers were deeply moving. They explained that, on a practical level, the focus of their dioceses was to continue to provide educational programs — but above and beyond that, the seminarians all desired to ensure that the faith of their ancestors was passed down to youth in their community, even amidst ongoing turmoil.
One seminarian spoke of returning to his hometown of 500 people — a town that once held 65,000. Another seminarian, a deacon, acknowledged the real and present danger that his community might resort to violence as an answer to violence. For him, his hope was to offer a third way: that, through education and example, they can instead build a culture of forgiveness, understanding and, someday, peace. At the end of our meeting, they sang an ancient Melkite chant in Arabic, “God Is With Us.” We could hear the faith and resilience as their voices filled the hall, and it moved us to tears.
Seminarians from Jordan and Syria chat with visitors at St. Ann’s Greek Catholic Seminary. (photo: Chris Kennedy)
Back down the mountain, we prepare for our final day in Lebanon — a trip to the Bekaa Valley. We’ll be carrying some of the courage and hope the resilient people we’ve met have shared with us.
30 March 2017
Tags: Lebanon Children Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter Seminarians Melkite Patriarch Gregory III of Antioch
An Ethiopian Orthodox worshiper with traditional nikisat tattoos visits St. George Ethiopian Orthodox Cathedral in Bahir Dar. Learn more about Ethiopia’s sacramental Christian communities in Ethiopia’s Sleeping Giant, featured in the Winter 2016 edition of ONE. (photo: James Jeffrey)
30 March 2017
Tags: Ethiopia Cultural Identity Ethiopian Orthodox Church Ethiopian Christianity
Syrian refugees play in the Zaatari camp in Jordan, which shelters some 80,000 Syrian refugees. (photo: Thomas Coex/AFP/Getty Images)
Resettlements proceeding as Syrian refugee total tops five million (UNHCR) As the number of men, women and children fleeing six years of war in Syria passes the five million mark, the international community needs to do more to help them, the U.N. refugee chief said today. “We still have a long road to travel in expanding resettlement and the number and range of complementary pathways available for refugees,” said Filippo Grandi, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees…
Lenten charity in violence-hit Kashmir (UCAN-India) Catholics in India’s Jammu and Kashmir state have decided to use money saved by their Lenten sacrifices to help people affected by recent violence in the Muslim-majority region. “Our family doesn’t eat much during this period; we abandon buying expensive things and whatever is saved out of this exercise we give to the poor,” said Peter Soney, a Catholic parishioner in Kashmir, a troubled region bordering Pakistan…
Pope to interreligious Iraqi group: ‘Abraham our common father’ (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Wednesday greeted the members of a delegation from the Iraqi Supervisory Boards and the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. “Your visit is a true, fraternal richness, and is, therefore, a path towards peace among all, peace in the heart, in the family, in your country, and in the world,” the pope told the group in a private audience. The Iraqi Supervisory Boards are made up of Shiites and Sunnis, as well as Christians, Yazidis and Mandaeans, and are part of a Permanent Committee for interreligious dialogue…
Ethiopia extends state of emergency by four months (Al Jazeera) The Ethiopian parliament has extended by four months a state of emergency it declared six months ago after almost a year of anti-government demonstrations. The widely expected extension comes amid reports of continued violence and anti-government activities in some rural areas. At least 500 people were killed by security forces during the year of protests…
Will Christians soon be enrolling at Egypt’s Al Azhar? (Al Monitor) On 6 March, parliament member Mohamed Abu Hamed announced his intention to submit to parliament a proposal amending the law that regulates Al Azhar affairs. The proposal is designed to affiliate nonreligious faculties at Al Azhar University — such as the faculties of medicine, engineering, media and communications — with the Ministry of Higher Education instead of Al Azhar institution, which would subsequently allow Christian students to enroll in these faculties…
U.N. refugee agency urges search missions after latest shipwreck in Europe (U.N. News Center) With nearly 150 people dead or missing in another shipwreck off the Mediterranean coast, the United Nations refugee agency today stressed the importance of saving lives at sea. “This latest tragedy comes as a stark reminder of the vital importance of robust search and rescue capacities,” said Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Volker Türk of UNHCR…
29 March 2017
Tags: Syria India Egypt Refugees Ethiopia
The view from atop the Shrine of Our Lady of Mantara presents a stunning vista of the cathedral, village and surrounding countryside. (photo: Philip W. Eubanks)
Something about being in a place so different from the one you call home can, at first, overwhelm your senses. It’s the smells of the manakeesh, a Lebanese pizza of sorts. It’s the church bells mingled with the call to prayer. It’s the green mountains against the calm sea — a much different sight than the stone-cold steel and concrete of New York City. And of course, it’s the laughter and joy of refugee children — smiles born out of hope they found as they were accompanied by the love and support of CNEWA.
All of it can be a lot to take in, so on our third day of reviewing CNEWA-sponsored programs, we sat over a simple but delicious meal of Lebanese mezze (various small snack dishes) in Beirut to jot out a few thoughts and process a little more of our trip together. We’ve visited four institutions thus far: Monday brought us to the St. Antoine Dispensary run by the Good Shepherd Sisters, and the Angels of Peace School run by the Syrian Catholic Patriarchate. Tuesday’s visits included the Fratelli School for Syrian refugees run by the Marist and Lasallian Brothers, as well as a visit to the Joint Christian Committee School for Syrian refugees of Palestinian origin.
A student enjoys a snack at the Fratelli School. (photo: Chris Kennedy)
We both agreed, immediately, that the programs exude overwhelmingly beautiful warmth of spirit. Despite each person we met having endured unimaginable suffering in his or her own way, their joy was contagious.
At the St. Antoine Dispensary, judiciously overseen by Sister Antoinette Assaf, Iraqi refugees who have settled in the neighborhood, along with poor Lebanese, receive much more than medical care. There is a strong focus on education and awareness, especially because many of the refugees were unaware of the hygienic challenges of living in a dense urban setting. New waves of refugees, from different parts of the country, have brought new challenges, and Sister Antoinette, with help from CNEWA, has responded quickly. Currently, the clinic offers services in ophthalmology, dermatology, dental services and gynecology, which, thanks to our support, are available for just $12 for each patient — a cost the clinic sometimes covers when the poorest of the poor cannot.
The Angels of Peace School, which Chris wrote about yesterday, hosts almost 500 Iraqi Christian refugees. With the support of our Beirut office, the Rev. Youssef Yaacoub has rented out a private school that his students and teachers can use each afternoon. Every student had a smile for us.
And, of course, visiting the Fratelli School, near Saida, was a real treat. Run jointly by the Marist and Lasallian Brothers at the request of Pope Francis for congregations to join together to tackle the challenges facing refugees, this institution hosts 270 Syrian students, both Muslim and Christian. We met the dynamic Brother Andres Gutierrez, who oversees the school along with Brother Miquel Cubeles, a Marist from Barcelona. When we arrived, the students were at lunch and recess, and eagerly approached us on the colorful playground. Many even offered us their food, an act of charity that moved us deeply.
The spirit of generosity is evident in the Fratelli School. (photo: Philip W. Eubanks)
Brother Andre explained that he had rebuilt the school when he arrived, as the structure had sat abandoned for over 25 years prior to his arrival. The school has been open for just a year, and in that time they’ve completed several classrooms, a kitchen, a residence for the brothers and a computer lab. As it focuses on acclimating refugee students to the Lebanese curriculum, which is taught in French and English as opposed to the Arabic Syrian students are used to, the school will function as a remedial program of sorts, easing students into the Lebanese school system to improve their likelihood of success.
A Fratelli School student greets visitors. (photo: Chris Kennedy)
We also visited a nearby high school in Saida for 213 Syrian students of mostly Palestinian origin. It focuses on training students who aim to take the Syrian national examinations, which are recognized worldwide and required for students before they can go to college. We dropped by a few classes, where young men and women were busy studying and taking practice tests. Someday, we pray, they will return to Syria to help rebuild their country.
A view from the entrance of Our Lady of Mantara Melkite Greek Catholic Cathedral. (photo: Philip W. Eubanks)
On the way back to Beirut after a full day, we stopped at the impressive Shrine of Our Lady of Mantara in the Melkite village of Maghdouche. According to tradition, Mary waited in a cave here while Jesus was preaching in Tyre and Sidon, known today as Saida. The spot is marked by an ornate Melkite Greek Catholic church and a tower offering beautiful views of Saida and the Mediterranean. We were struck by how many refugees have been “waiting,” perhaps wondering where their lives might lead. So many are in limbo, but with CNEWA’s support, there is a path forward. As Msgr. Kozar told students we visited, “There is a bright future” awaiting these students who prepare now for the hard road ahead. It won’t be easy, but hope is always a light in the dark.
Msgr. Kozar addresses a classroom in the Joint Christian Committee School. (photo: Chris Kennedy)
As we cross the halfway point in our journey, we’re constantly reminded of the light CNEWA brings to many. Hope is in the face of everyone we’ve met. The mission is alive — we’ve seen it!
Tags: Lebanon Refugees CNEWA Catholic Reflections/Inspirational