19 December 2016
Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, gestures during a news conference in September. Appointed in June, he spoke with journalists on Monday 19 December after releasing his first Christmas message.
(photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)
Except for specific incidents in Egypt and one in Libya, Christians in the Middle East are suffering the same fate as their fellow citizens, Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, told media in response to a journalist’s question at his first Christmas news conference.
Because of the political chaos and the destruction of parish records, there are no statistics of how many Christians have been killed in the conflicts, he said, but the numbers of Christians who have been killed because they are Christian is low.
Thousands of Christians have been killed as victims of war just like others in the region, he said.
Nevertheless, Christians have remained strong in their witness to their faith, Archbishop Pizzaballa added.
The archbishop, appointed in June, released his first Christmas message, followed by the news conference, on 19 December. In his message, he said Advent and Christmas are times to “prepare for God’s surprises” and to remember the “incredible gift” with which God surprised humanity.
“We need God’s surprises. With these surprises God opens up the horizon and brings the novelty that can change our world and our lives,” Archbishop Pizzaballa said.
He also blamed the Mideast violence on the arms trade, power interests and “relentless fundamentalism.”
“The situation of Christians in Syria, Iraq and Egypt is a complete tragedy. In these countries, (the) cradle of our civilization, the vicious cycle of violence which is at work seems hopeless and endless,” he said in the message. “Wars and the way of force have not been able to bring peace and justice; it only brought more violence, death and destruction.”
He told journalists at the news conference: “The images of Aleppo we see in front of our eyes are shocking. ...Those who are suffering the price of this abnormal tragedy are the people.”
While the Holy Land is not facing such an extreme situation as in the rest of the region, Christians have still had to confront several cases of vandalism of church property, the construction of the Israeli separation barrier in the Cremisan Valley on property belonging to dozens of Christian families and unresolved budgetary issues regarding Christian schools, said Archbishop Pizzaballa.
In response to a journalist’s question, Archbishop Pizzaballa noted that the tiny Christian community in Gaza, numbering 1,000 people, is also facing the same difficulties all Gazans face living inside the enclave as “one big prison.” In addition to the political and military role they play in Gaza, Hamas is also an Islamic religious movement, and its fundamentalist religious pressure is felt strongly by the Christian community, he said.
He also noted that, in Jordan, the patriarchate has welcomed thousands of refugees: With a population of 7 million, the country has taken in 3 million refugees, he said.
In addition, in Israel the patriarchate has also taken on the responsibility of administering to some of the needs of a smaller refugee community.
Commenting on an 18 December terrorist attack in the Jordanian city of Karak, where a police standoff with gunmen at a Crusader castle left 10 people dead, including a Canadian tourist, Archbishop Pizzaballa said he hopes this was an isolated incident and that he is “confident authorities in Jordan are doing their best to isolate all ideological movements.”
Throughout the region, the church and Christian charities have a presence, and one concrete way Christians can help is to financially support these groups in their work, Archbishop Pizzaballa said, adding that there do not seem to be any serious political attempts to resolve the conflicts.
“The circumstances are not always easy, and we know ... we have to talk of justice and mercy, but sometimes in front of these tragedies it seems like slogans, and people are tired of slogans with no change,” he added.
The archbishop also said education is essential to combating all cases of extremism.
“We have our part of responsibility in those devastating tragedies: We cannot continue to only speak about dialogue, justice and peace. Words are not enough. We must combat poverty and injustice, and give a continual testimony of mercy to reveal to the world the love and tenderness of our God,” he said in his message.
Despite all of the tragedies, Christians must have hope, he said in the message.
“This hope is the light that is continually guiding us among the darkness and confusion of this region and of the whole world. Our broken hearts should be ready for surprises. And Christmas is actually the time to renew our faith in the God of surprises as we go to Bethlehem to venerate an apparently powerless God: The child Jesus,” Archbishop Pizzaballa said. “In our prayers, we are and we will continually carry this wounded world.”
19 December 2016
In this image from December 2011, CNEWA’s president Msgr. John E. Kozar meets with children of Blessed Sacrament Orphanage in Ain Warka, Lebanon. You can read more about that memorable visit here. (photo: CNEWA)
19 December 2016
Civilians from the remaining rebel-held pockets of eastern Aleppo are evacuated from the embattled city by bus on 19 December 2016. (photo: George Ourfalian/AFP/Getty Images)
Evacuations from Aleppo resume (BBC) Thousands of people, including dozens of orphans, have left Aleppo in one of the besieged Syrian city’s biggest evacuations yet. More than 4,500 civilians have left rebel-held parts of eastern Aleppo so far on Monday...
Jordan attackers planned further assaults (Al Jazeera) Assailants who staged attacks in Jordan’s southern city of Karak on Sunday had suicide vests and other weapons, and were planning further attacks, Interior Minister Salamah Hamad has said. Hamad on Monday did not give details on the identity or nationality of the attackers, saying an investigation was still ongoing...
Church, state seeing eye to eye in Putin’s Russia (AP) The Russian Orthodox Church is expanding its influence in what was once an officially godless state — and President Vladimir Putin appears eager to harness that resurgent power of faith to promote his own agenda. Long consigned to society’s margins in the Soviet era of “scientific atheism,” religious activists in today’s Russia can get theater performances banned and exhibitions closed. Their next target is to end state funding for abortion in a land where nearly half of all pregnancies end in termination...
U.S. House passes religious freedom bill (CNS) The U.S. House 13 December passed the bipartisan Frank Wolf International Religious Freedom Act and sent it to President Barack Obama’s desk for his signature. The measure gives the Obama administration and the U.S. State Department new tools, resources and training to counter extremism and combat a worldwide escalation of persecution of religious minorities...
U.S. bishops form working group to monitor needs of migrants, refugees (CNS) The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is establishing a working group charged with developing spiritual, pastoral and policy advocacy support for immigrants and refugees...
Byzantine art on a grand scale in Winnipeg Ukrainian Catholic Church (Catholic Register) Nativity scenes are common during the Christmas season but few in Canada can match a stained glass window in a Winnipeg church for size and splendor. Created by prominent iconographer Sviatoslav Makarenko of Yonkers, N.Y., the window is a rare example of Byzantine iconography in the leaded stained-glass medium. It dazzles above the main entrance of St. Joseph’s Ukrainian Catholic Church...
16 December 2016
A creche titled “Jesus the Global Refugee” is seen outside Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Church in Wyandanch, New York. The structure, designed as a refugee’s lean-to, was created to call public attention to the biblical mandate to welcome immigrants and give shelter to refugees.
(photo: CNS/Gregory A. Shemitz)
This Sunday is International Migrants Day. Every year on 18 December, the United Nations honors the contributions and struggles of immigrants and refugees.
International Migrants Day is a call to action to for us to welcome the migrants who live in our communities, and to work together as a global community to protect all migrants’ human rights.
There are 244 million migrants in the world today. This includes 20 million refugees who have fled their homelands in order to escape persecution, armed conflicts and natural disasters. Every day the news seems filled with heartbreaking stories of their plight. As Pope Francis has made vividly, unforgettably clear, at a moment when the broken bodies of drowned migrants are washing up on Italy’s shores, addressing their needs with mercy and compassion is one of the deepest moral challenges of our time.
But on this International Migrants Day it would be a mistake — a very regrettable mistake — to think of migration as something negative. Yes, sometimes the migrant’s story is a tragic one. Sometimes it can be difficult to welcome the stranger. Yet we must never forget the many wonderful gifts that generations of migrants have contributed to our society and to the Catholic Church. And migrants continue to make positive contributions today, as we explored in a Winter 2015 feature in ONE about refugees from war-torn Iraq who have found a new home in the United States:
Over the years, El Cajon, which lies east of San Diego, has taken on the shape of its growing community of Iraqi Christians. Signs in many of the city’s shops and restaurants are in Chaldean or Arabic, leading some to dub East Main Street, “Little Baghdad.” A stroll through the grounds of St. Peter Chaldean Cathedral is more reminiscent of the ancient city of Babylon, with sculptured lions of Ishtar guarding the entrance to the hall.
From this city, Bishop Sarhad Jammo, a native of Baghdad, leads the Chaldean Eparchy of St. Peter the Apostle, a jurisdiction spanning 19 states in the west of the country. Second only to Michigan — the cradle of the nation’s other Chaldean eparchy — California has grown into a major Chaldean hub, with ten parishes and two missions. El Cajon alone also boasts two convents, a monastery and a seminary alongside a catechetical program serving 1,000 children, who learn to pray and celebrate the Qurbana, the eucharistic liturgy of the Chaldean Church, in a modern form of the Aramaic language.
On a warm Friday morning in mid-August, a red-haired altar server sweeps the floor in the hall at St. Michael Chaldean Church, where some 70 or so parishioners had just finished a morning game of bingo. Born in Baghdad, Domunik Shamoun, 11, came to the United States in 2008 with his two older brothers and parents. He expresses pride in his heritage.
“I think it’s cool that Jesus spoke Chaldean when he was alive. I speak the same language,” he says during a pause from his work. At home he speaks Chaldean to his parents and English to his brothers.
You can read the rest here.
16 December 2016
Pilgrims light candles at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, West Bank, on 11 December.
(photo: CNS/Abed Al Hashlamoun, EPA)
16 December 2016
Deserted Christmas stalls are seen in Thiruvananthapuram, India on 11 December. The country’s vendors are facing an economic crisis since the prime minister ordered the withdrawal of a large percentage of rupees in circulation. (photo: CNS/Anto Akkara)
Syria evacuation grinds to a halt (BBC) The evacuation of east Aleppo has been halted, with Syrian rebels accused of failing to respect a deal to lift their own siege of two pro-government towns. At least 6,000 civilians and rebels are said to have left Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, since Thursday after the government recaptured most of the city. But the UN believes that some 50,000 people are still trapped there...
Limit on bank withdrawals dampens Christmas spirit in India (CNS) For vendor Elizabeth Antony, who ekes out a living selling fish on the roadside in the heart the capital of Kerala state, the Christmas season is not very festive. “This Christmas will be the worst in my memory,” said Antony, 63. “Fish sales have gone down to one third. Even if I stay back on the road till 11 p.m., the little fish I bring is not sold,” Antony told Catholic News Service, blaming Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the “worst misery” in her life. Modi shocked India on 8 November in an unprecedented and controversial move that saw the banking system withdraw high-valued 500-rupee ($7.30) and 1,000-rupee ($14.60) notes that account for 86 percent of the currency in circulation...
Cardinal issues Christmas Message, praying for peace in Syria (Vatican Radio) The President of Caritas Internationalis, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, has issued a Christmas Message discussing the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Syria. This war has been the bleakest winter for Syria, but we know that after winter comes spring,” — Cardinal Tagle writes — “With your support, Caritas around the world has been working towards peace in Syria...”
ISIS shows no sign of weakening in Mosul (Reuters) Islamic State fighters have stepped up counterattacks on Iraqi forces in Mosul amid bad weather as the U.S.-backed offensive to capture their last major city stronghold in Iraq enters its third month...
Catholic schools in Ethiopia asked to contribute to eradication of FGM (Vatican Radio) Catholic Schools in Ethiopia are asked to integrate the issue of reproductive health to their system. The Ethiopian Catholic Church Social and Development Commission (ECC SDCO) Education team in collaboration with Women and Family Affairs team organized a 3-day workshop for School Directors and teachers in Addis Ababa from 12-14 December on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and other harmful practices...
Start-ups develop technologies to help Syrian refugees in Lebanon (Financial Times) Local entrepreneurs are developing web services, smartphone apps and hardware for an “internet of things,” with its connected devices, to address the refugee crisis as it grinds through its sixth year...
15 December 2016
Pope Francis kisses the foot of a refugee during Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper at the Center for Asylum Seekers in Castelnuovo di Porto, about 15 miles north of Rome on 24 March 2016. The pope washed and kissed the feet of refugees, including Muslims, Hindus and Copts.
(photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano, handout)
Pope Francis celebrates his 80th birthday this Saturday, 17 December, and it seems a good opportunity to take note of his profound commitment to the poor and suffering of the world — a commitment that became clear from the moment he took the name Francis. He described his choice of that name in his first homily as pope in 2013:
During the election, I was seated next to the archbishop emeritus of São Paolo and prefect emeritus of the Congregation for the Clergy, Cardinal Claudio Hummes: a good friend, a good friend! When things were looking dangerous, he encouraged me. And when the votes reached two thirds, there was the usual applause, because the pope had been elected. And he gave me a hug and a kiss, and said: ‘Don’t forget the poor!’ And those words came to me: the poor, the poor. Then, right away, thinking of the poor, I thought of Francis of Assisi. Then I thought of all the wars, as the votes were still being counted, till the end. Francis is also the man of peace. That is how the name came into my heart: Francis of Assisi. For me, he is the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation; these days we do not have a very good relationship with creation, do we? He is the man who gives us this spirit of peace, the poor man. ... How I would like a church that is poor and for the poor!
It was a theme he elaborated on just a few days later:
The church in every corner of the globe has always tried to care for and look after those who suffer from want, and I think that in many of your countries you can attest to the generous activity of Christians who dedicate themselves to helping the sick, orphans, the homeless and all the marginalized, thus striving to make society more humane and more just.
His search for a “more humane and more just” society has taken him to some of the most troubled corners of the world — and inspired dramatic gestures that still resonate. In 2014, the pontiff made his first trip to the Holy Land, where he repeatedly urged peace and dialogue among different faiths. At one point, in a historic and controversial move, he stopped his motorcade so he could pray at the Separation Wall:
It is an image that will define Pope Francis’s first official visit to the Holy Land. Head bowed in prayer, the leader of the Catholic church pressed his palm against the graffiti-covered concrete of Israel’s imposing “separation wall,” a Palestinian girl holding a flag by his side. It was, as his aides conceded later, a silent statement against a symbol of division and conflict.
His concern for the marginalized and suffering has also inspired Francis to become a leading voice in the world — perhaps the leading voice — crying out on behalf of refugees and displaced persons. In 2013, he wrote:
Migrants and refugees are not pawns on the chessboard of humanity. They are children, women and men who leave or who are forced to leave their homes for various reasons, who share a legitimate desire for knowing and having, but above all for being more. The sheer number of people migrating from one continent to another, or shifting places within their own countries and geographical areas, is striking. Contemporary movements of migration represent the largest movement of individuals, if not of peoples, in history. As the Church accompanies migrants and refugees on their journey, she seeks to understand the causes of migration, but she also works to overcome its negative effects, and to maximize its positive influence on the communities of origin, transit and destination.
Again and again across the first years of his pontificate, Pope Francis has heroically championed the poor, the displaced, the forgotten. He serves as an example to all of us at CNEWA — and to the rest of the world — of what we are called to be as Christians.
As he put it during a general audience in March of 2013:
Following Jesus means learning to come out of ourselves ... to meet others, to go toward the outskirts of existence, to be the first to take a step toward our brothers and our sisters, especially those who are the most distant, those who are forgotten, those who are most in need of understanding, comfort and help.
There is such a great need to bring the living presence of Jesus, merciful and full of love!
Happy birthday, Pope Francis. Ad multos annos!
15 December 2016
An Egyptian girl wants a closer look at Verbo Encarnado Sister María de la Santa Faz. The sister and her congregation serve some of the poorest of the poor outside Alexandria, Egypt. To learn more, read Building a Brighter Future from the November 2004 edition of ONE.
(photo: Mohammed El-Dakhakhny)
15 December 2016
A man carries a child with an IV drip on 12 December as he flees deeper into the remaining rebel-held areas of Aleppo, Syria. (photo: CNS/Abdalrhman Ismail, Reuters)
Evacuation effort in Aleppo restarts (The New York Times) A new effort to evacuate thousands of civilians and opposition fighters from the remaining rebel-held districts of the Syrian city of Aleppo started on Thursday, one day after a previous attempt collapsed amid fresh violence. Hundreds of families, including children and wounded adults, gathered in the rebel enclave with bags and blankets, while lines of ambulances and green buses crossed from the city’s government-held side to pick them up. Later in the day, the first wave of evacuees had reached Aleppo’s government-held side...
Imam offers personal condolences to Coptic Patriarch Tawadros (Fides) Sheikh Ahmed al Tayyib, Grand Imam of al-Azhar, led the high-level delegation of the largest Sunni theological center, who yesterday paid a visit at the headquarters of the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate to bring his condolences to Patriarch Tawadros II and of the whole Coptic Church, after the massacre carried out last Sunday in the chapel in Boutroseya next to the Coptic Cathedral of St. Mark...
New violence against Christians in India raising concerns (Fides) New violence against Christians, carried out in view of Christmas, cause concern in the Indian Christian community. According to information gathered by Fides, on 14 December a group of about 30 Hindu militants attacked a group of Catholic faithful in Tikariya, a village just outside the city of Banswara, in Rajasthan State, hitting the Catholic priest Stefphan Rawat, women and other Christians...
More young refugee girls being forced into marriage (International Business Times) Every year, hundreds of Syrian girls living in refugee camps across Lebanon are kidnapped and forced into marriage. This is the fate facing 13-year-old Manal, who was kidnapped from a refugee camp in the Bekaa valley nearly two months ago. Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have fled to Lebanon to escape violence after their country plunged into civil war in 2011. At present, Lebanon is hosting more than one million Syrian refugees, who hope to return to their homeland one day, or build a better life free from war and persecution in their host country...
Thousands rally in Gaza to mark founding of Hamas (Al Jazeera) Tens of thousands of Palestinians, including hundreds of gunmen and children waving mock weapons, rallied in Gaza celebrating the 29th anniversary of the founding of the Islamic group Hamas that rules the territory...
14 December 2016
Fairuz Rassam, a long-time Chicago resident, sent for her Iraqi sisters, Firaz and Victoria, so they could escape the conflict in Iraq. They are seen at Mass on 4 December at St. Ephrem Chaldean Catholic Church in Chicago. (photo: CNS/Simone Orendain)
On a recent overcast Sunday morning in northwest Chicago, the pews of the small wood-paneled St. Ephrem Chaldean Catholic Church were filled to overflowing. Among the rows of Massgoers sat Firaz Rassam and her sisters.
After the Mass, Rassam and her sister, Victoria Rassam, said they “pray, pray that (Victoria’s) children would be able to get out (of northern Iraq) in time” before any major Islamic State attack or any other conflict reaches their neighborhood in Ain Kawa, a Christian hub in the Kurdish region. Firaz Rassam, who arrived in Chicago in September, said this year she would not be able to celebrate Christmas “with the type of happiness that (her family) normally would celebrate.”
Speaking through their nephew who interpreted from their native dialect, an Aramaic derivative, Firaz Rassam, 44, told Catholic News Service that she and her three children came ahead of her husband after her other sister, Fairuz Rassam, sent for her.
“The environment over there,” said Firaz Rassam, who used to be a librarian. “There’s no electricity. It’s dangerous. There’s no work. I want to have a better future for my kids.”
Victoria Rassam, 56, who migrated to Chicago two years ago, was still waiting for her family to come. She said all she could do was pray and that she was “really hoping” she would see her children again soon.
“This Christmas we will celebrate by going to midnight Mass and praying for them,” said Victoria Rassam.
Since the second Gulf War in 2003, oil-rich Iraq has been unstable with ethnic and religious conflicts that have given rise to various terror organizations, including the Islamic State group, which grew out of Saddam Hussein’s military, factions of al-Qaida and other groups. Many Christians migrated; others fled Islamic State and other terror organizations.
Deacon Hameed Shabila, a longtime Chicago resident who works at St. Ephrem, told CNS his siblings in the Baghdad area have not been able to attend midnight Mass for years because it is not safe. He said the churches are heavily guarded by armed forces after dark.
Deacon Shabila, who has asked that his siblings be allowed to come to the U.S., said it was also around Christmas time that one parishioner's adult son was killed in Iraq 10 years ago. Shabila served as interpreter for the parishioner, Maria Yonan.
Yonan said she fled Iraq with her daughter-in-law and two grandsons immediately after her son was killed when he was celebrating on New Year’s. The 77-year old widow was hesitant to speak with CNS and feared for her grandsons’ safety as she described how a group she called terrorists attacked her son and his friends.
Yonan and her daughter-in-law spent a couple of years as refugees in Syria, trying to get to Australia, where her daughter-in-law has family. But the wait was too long and they decided to come to the U.S., which was readily accepting refugees. Her daughter also came to the U.S. as a refugee and is living in California, but one other daughter stayed behind with her own family.
Yonan, who recently became a U.S. citizen and lives in low-income housing, said at Christmas she likes to go to midnight Mass at St. Ephrem, where she can be with people who speak her language. She has tried to keep up some of the same Christmas traditions that her family kept in Iraq.
Yonan said every Christmas her grandsons visit and she makes special Christmas candy called klecha, a treat that "makes people happy" and signifies a joyful time. But this year, Yonan said she was not planning to make the candies because she is in mourning after the 25 November death of her son-in-law, who suffered a heart attack in Baghdad.
Hazim Maryaqo and his family also will not be celebrating Christmas this year because of the death from illness of his brother in Baghdad. Maryaqo, 49, arrived in the Detroit area 4 October4 with his pregnant wife and three children, all younger than 8.
In a phone interview with CNS, he said through an interpreter that when the family was living as refugees in Turkey during the two years before coming to the U.S., “There was no (Christmas) celebration.”
“The three or four (Christian) families that were around us, they came to our house, we went to their house. That was as simple as we could do,” said Maryaqo, who was threatened with death at his family pastry shop in central Baghdad for selling certain cakes with liqueur in them.
Maryaqo said now that he is in Michigan, his family tries to go to Mass often, but sometimes trying to find transportation is tough. He said he is hoping to find work as a pastry chef so that the family can have some stability and get to church more regularly. But he also expressed anxiety about the safety of his elderly father and siblings left behind in Baghdad.
“I will never go back to Iraq, but I hope I can bring my family here,” he said.
Going to Christmas midnight Mass was something that Eevyan Hanoon said she longed for when she lived with her husband and toddler for three years at a refugee camp in Turkey. She told CNS by phone that she made klecha and tried to make the most of the season. But something was lacking.
“The difference at Christmastime was the Eucharist. I missed taking the Eucharist. I was with two church choirs in Mosul (Iraq),” said Hanoon, 28. “This is the most important thing in our life. We have not missed a single Sunday” since arriving in Michigan in September.
In Chicago, the Rassam sisters’ nephew, Rakan Kunda, said even if his own family has been living in the U.S. for two decades, they “always remember ... family back home” at Christmastime.
“We think about them,” said Kunda, 26. “We pray for them but there’s nothing we can do at this point. Until all this is over.”