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!
29 March 2017
Tags: Lebanon Refugees CNEWA Catholic Reflections/Inspirational
A young Mosul civilian, injured during the ongoing conflict between government forces and ISIS, receives treatment at a field hospital. (photo: Ahmad Gharabli/AFP/Getty Images)
Engulfed in battle, Mosul civilians run for their lives (New York Times) Around a half-million people are still thought to be trapped in an ever-shrinking area of Mosul, along with an estimated 2,000 remaining Islamic State fighters. There, they are caught in a frightening crossfire. As Iraqi forces have advanced, American airstrikes have at times leveled entire blocks — including the one in Mosul Jidideh this month that residents said left as many as 200 civilians dead. At the same time, the Islamic State fighters have used masses of civilians as human shields, and have been indiscriminate about sniper and mortar fire…
As ISIS is driven out, Iraqi Assyro-Chaldeans dream of returning home (AINA) The cost of rebuilding Christian villages destroyed by ISIS in northern Iraq could exceed $200 million, according to a survey carried out by a Catholic charity. But, with some Christians already going back to the Nineveh Plain, the report revealed a growing appetite among the displaced communities to go home…
Pope Francis renews appeal for prayers for Iraqi people (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has asked for prayers for the people of Iraq, also appealing for all in Mosul to “engage fully with the civil protection forces, as an imperative and urgent obligation…”
Coptic pope attempts to reassure Egyptians after attacks (AINA) Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II attempted on Monday to reassure Egyptians after the recent attacks on Copts in North Sinai, stressing that the Coptic families that have fled the governorate out of fear of terrorist violence will return to the city “when the time is right…”
Palestinians get ‘right to return’ — to Jerusalem (Al Monitor) The Israeli High Court of Justice ruled that Palestinian residents of Jerusalem cannot be permanently stripped of their residency rights after having lived elsewhere…
Ancient church discovered in Georgia (Pravoslavie) The ruins of an ancient one-nave church have been discovered in Ilto’s Gorge in the village of Chartali of the Akhmeta municipality, in the Kaheti region, northeast of Tbilisi. The municipal cultural center also reports that traces of a settlement have been observed in the surrounding area, reports Blagovest-Info. According to cultural center head Kakha Mamulashvili, Ilto’s Gorge is practically unstudied from a cultural heritage point of view…
28 March 2017
Tags: Iraq Palestine Iraqi Christians Jerusalem Georgia
The sun sets over Beirut. (photo: Philip Eubanks)
At dusk, the tired sun slips behind the Mediterranean seeking rest, and as she goes, she leaves her imprint on the beige buildings of Beirut due East. The orange hues she paints are a way of welcoming in the night: the coming darkness isn't so ominous if, at day’s end, it’s ushered in with such ease.
Flying in to this ‘Paris of the Middle East,’ you can make out from the air already what’s below: a world of achingly beautiful, painful contradiction. The way the sun-kissed buildings are etched into the high hills above sea level make you feel as though the concrete structures grew up from the ground like trees. Though planned, there’s a seeming randomness to their presence. Imagine San Francisco with streets too narrow for a trolley. And there is, of course, a sharp shift from the flat blue of the Mediterranean to the sudden, green incline leading to Mount Lebanon.
The faster we descend toward the tarmac, the more those square buildings look like steps for a giant to make his way up and over the mountains all the way to Syria.
Before landing, you already feel welcome to Lebanon. The country’s Special Olympics team is also on our flight and these students chatter in excited Arabic, their medals clanking. An elderly gentleman wearing a blue cardigan sits next to me and offers his blueberry cake. We don’t share a common language, but that doesn’t prevent us from breaking bread together with a nod and a smile. The pushing and shoving to get off the plane doesn’t carry with it any animosity: it’s just what you do to get off the plane here. And as soon as you step off, you are greeted by the warm Mediterranean breeze.
On the ground, we drive through the city center, which is a collection of quiet, pristine apartments and government buildings — a post-war ghost town of sorts. There is one, clear road in Lebanon; it runs south to north and back again, and we’re on it all the way to Jal El Dib, where we settle into our hotel with a busy week ahead.
St. Elie Church was built as a labor of love in the late 1800’s. (photo: Philip Eubanks)
The first day on the ground, in many ways, depicts the diversity of this land. We celebrate Mass in the morning at St. Elie Church. The stone structure was cut by monks who built this sanctuary out of a labor of love in the late 1800’s. The inside of this Maronite parish is inviting in a powerful way, and as the pews gradually fill with Filipinos, Ethiopians, Eritreans, and a few Lebanese, this is the making of an unexpected family. They are nearly all migrant workers.
I am struck even now that when we tend to talk about our work in Lebanon and talk about accompanying the poor of the Eastern churches, the nature of the trending news means we generally think first of those displaced by the violence of war-torn regions, of refugees fleeing harm’s way. With so many refugees having done so, however, there are many migrants who have been pushed even further to the margins of society: they are, perhaps, the forgotten family, and to be with them is a sacred experience for me.
As the parish family sings loudly a Taize song that echoes off the stone walls and reverberates through your skin, I am moved by their faithfulness, their resilience. “Sing glory, honor, and praise,” the chorus goes, and something about it feels genuine and warm. These are a people who know precisely what these words mean, what it is to cherish the fragility of life and be grateful for what you have.
At the end of Mass, crowds rush to greet CNEWA’s president Msgr. John E. Kozar, to hug him with gratitude, and we are met with smiles. I can think of no better way to have been welcomed to this beautiful country.
In the coming week, I can only hope to show and share that same spirit, a spirit of prayerful gratitude for everyone I encounter.
28 March 2017
A young resident participates in Evening Prayer at Grace Home in Trichur, India. To learn about the saintly man who founded the home — and who left behind an enduring legacy of compassionate care — read Remembering India’s ‘Father of the Poor’ in the Spring 2014 edition of ONE. (photo: Peter Lemieux)
28 March 2017
A member of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), made up of an alliance of Arab and Kurdish fighters, inspects the Tabqa dam on 27 March 2017. A Russian general has accused the U.S. of targeting Syria’s infrastructure, including this dam.
(photo: Delil Souleiman/AFP/Getty Images)
Russian general claims U.S. targeting dam in Syria (AP) A senior Russian general on Tuesday criticized the U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State militants for allegedly targeting Syria’s infrastructure — including a key dam — in territory held by the Sunni extremist group. Col. Gen. Sergei Rudskoi of the military’s General Staff accused the coalition of trying to “completely destroy critical infrastructure in Syria and complicate post-war reconstruction as much as possible...”
Report: ‘alarming pattern’ in U.S.-led strikes in Mosul (AP) A recent spike in civilian casualties in Mosul suggests the U.S.-led coalition is not taking adequate precautions to prevent civilian deaths as it battles Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants alongside Iraqi ground forces, Amnesty International said on Tuesday...
Syrian refugees selling sex to survive in Lebanon (BBC) Lebanon has long been known as a sex tourism capital in the Middle East, but it’s an industry which is exploiting Syrian refugees. Benjamin Zand meets those who say prostitution is their only way to survive, and finds out how Eastern European women in “super night clubs” are being locked up, by law, every day...
Christian graves vandalized in India (AsiaNews) Crosses taken down; tombstones smashed: at least ten Christian tombs were vandalized in the Rajapur Allahabad cemetery (Uttar Pradesh), as shown in a video published and provided by the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC). Its president, Sajan K. George, told AsiaNews: “The violence against Christian tombs deeply hurt our religious feelings and show contempt for our ancestors. “This is done with the culture of impunity, and with intent to cause insecurity and fear in the minds of the minisucule Christian community. As can be seen, crosses have been broken, and epitaphs of nearly a dozen graves have been smashed...”
27 March 2017
Some of the young students — Iraqi Christians who have found refuge in Lebanon — greet visitors at the Angels of Peace School in Nabaa, Lebanon. (photo: Chris Kennedy)
Today, we paid a visit to the Angels of Peace School in Nabaa, established in 2013 by the Syriac Catholic Patriarchate and run by the Rev. Youssef Yaacoub.
Nearly 500 children, Iraqi Christians, receive math, science, Arabic and English instruction, and thanks to CNEWA, computer instruction in a new lab. This is part of our outreach to the at least 1,500 Syriac Catholic families living in and around Nabaa, on the outskirts of Beirut, near the Armenian Quarter.
We had an exceptional visit, and were greeted very warmly in all the classrooms we visited. Some even sang songs for us!
A few things stood out: the joy and positivity of the students, who were all smiles despite the suffering their families have had to endure for their safety. They were so joyful to be able to learn. Grades and classrooms were of mixed ages — the highest having ages 16-20 — and many students had clearly been practicing their English. Father Youssef’s personal story, of course, was inspiring and deeply moving — especially considering that he had been ordained just a few months before being held under house arrest by ISIS.
Lynn Constantin, from CNEWA’s Beirut office, says that with CNEWA’s help, the school hired a psychologist to help the children. Initially, she told me, Father Youssef wasn’t sure of the value of this, but after seeing the results he’s certain of its importance. It’s this kind of guidance, I think, that makes CNEWA’s work so valuable in this troubled corner of the world.
We also met the staff of the Beirut office this morning, many of whom have been working there over 20 years. Their rich experience in a variety of fields, and their diverse backgrounds (including civil engineering, finance, and journalism) ensures that the right questions are being asked and good advice is being given.
CNEWA development associate Chris Kennedy, Father Youssef Yaacoub and CNEWA president Msgr. John E. Kozar. (photo: CNEWA)