15 January 2016
A Syrian refugee holds her child in Deir el Ahmar, in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. (photo: John E. Kozar)
This Sunday marks the annual World Day of Migrants and Refugees. On this day, founded by Pope St. Pius X in 1914, the Catholic Church honors the families around the world who’ve made the difficult but courageous decision to migrate abroad in search of new opportunities and a better life. But we also remember in a special way the refugees who, like the Holy Family, have been forced to flee violence and persecution.
Sunday is a good day to reflect on how, in our lives as Christians, in our communities and in our church, we’re living up to the call of Jesus to welcome the strangers in our midst. And this year it’s an especially pressing question because, according to the United Nations, there are more refugees than ever. Nearly 60 million people across the globe are refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced persons. That’s the largest number of forced migrants in history.
The plight of refugees is deeply concerning to our Catholic Near East Welfare Association family, from our staff to our generous supporters and partners: the priests, bishops, sisters and lay people of the Eastern churches who live in service to others. As people reaching out to the poor on behalf of Pope Francis, we work in many places marred by conflict, where, tragically, human rights are violated daily. Helping refugees is a major part of what we do. Here are four ways that, together, we are assisting migrants and refugees during the coming year:
Health care. After ISIS captured control of the Christian heartland of Iraq in the summer of 2014, some 130,000 Iraqi Christians took refugee in the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq. We’ve helped open three medical clinics and two mobile clinics to care for the displaced Christians, Yazidis and other refugees who can’t return to their homes. In 2016, we anticipate the clinics will help about 4,000 people each week.
Food aid. Jordan has been a welcoming safe haven for refugees fleeing their homelands, but deep-rooted fear leads many vulnerable minority groups — including Christians — to avoid the refugee camps. This means they don’t get much-needed assistance from large international relief organizations. Instead, Christians often turn to churches for help.
In Jordan, CNEWA partners with the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary to provide food tickets to refugee families, who can use them to buy food at grocery stores. The beneficiaries include both Iraqi and Syrian families. The tickets ensure they receive safe, nutritious food, while also upholding their dignity by giving them the freedom to make their own purchasing choices. More than 2,000 children currently benefit from this modest but meaningful program.
Spiritual comfort. Nearly seven decades after the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, more than 5 million Palestinian refugees are still under the care of the international community. CNEWA helps Palestinians throughout the West Bank and Gaza, but we also do it in a rather unique place: a refugee camp in Lebanon that’s exclusively for Christian Palestinians. There, we support a small community of three Little Sisters of Nazareth, who are trusted friends, advisors and spiritual counselors to the 500 families of Dbayeh camp. They’re a visible and enduring sign of Christ’s presence to the poor.
Advocating at the United Nations. Officially registered at the United Nations, CNEWA participates in the NGO Committee on Migration, which exists to “encourage the promotion and protection of migrants and their human rights, in accordance with the United Nations charter.”
This year, we’re working with other Catholic and civil society organizations to call attention to the special needs of women with children in the exodus of refugees from war-torn Syria.
In a world with more forced migration than ever before, it’s vitally important for the Catholic Church to be a leader in efforts to relieve the suffering of refugee families.
Thanks to our supporters and collaborators, CNEWA is making a genuine contribution. On behalf of everyone here, I want to thank you for making it possible. But I also want to ask that, as you gather with friends and family this Sunday to celebrate Holy Mass, please offer a prayer for the world’s migrants and refugees.
15 January 2016
Tags: Refugees Relief Migrants
Father Androwas Bahus performs a wedding at Sts. Peter and Paul Church in the city of Shefa-‘Amr, Israel. For more, you can read about a day in the life of this Melkite Greek Catholic priest in Israel, or watch an interview with the photographer who shared this glimpse. (photo: Ilene Perlman)
15 January 2016
Tags: Israel Cultural Identity Melkite Greek Catholic Church Melkite Galilee
Mersen Chala shows a picture of his brother, Dinka Chala, who was killed by Ethiopian forces on 16 December for alleged participation in protests. (photo: Zacharias Abebeker/AFP/Getty Images)
Ethiopia confronts its worst ethnic violence in years (Washington Post) The cows are back in the valley near the village of Wenchi in Ethiopia’s highlands, after being driven out five years ago by the arrival of a Dutch agricultural company. They returned in the past few weeks, after villagers burned the warehouses filled with seed potatoes that were to be planted on communal grazing lands that authorities had turned over to the Solagrow PLC company. This attack is among dozens of demonstrations taking place for the past two months across Ethiopia’s Oromia region, which comprises a third of the country. Protesters from the Oromo ethnic group say the government is trying to take away their lands and use them for everything from industrial development to luxury housing projects. The response has been harsh; as many as 140 people have been killed by security forces using live rounds to quell the protests…
ISIS releases 16 Christian hostages of Khabur (Fides) Yesterday, ISIS released 16 more Assyrian Christians who were part of the large group of hostages that they captured and deported on 23 February, following an offensive against the predominantly Christian Assyrian villages scattered along the Khabur valley river of Hassake. Eight members of the group of released hostages were children. All appeared in decent condition. “This time,” said Syriac Catholic Archbishop Jacques Behnan Hindo of Hassake-Nisibis, “the hostages released were left near the city of Tel Tamar, and from there were able to reach their village of Tel Jazira…”
Mini-republics: A Syrian village seeks to survive amid carnage (Der Spiegel) Even as war continues to rage in Syria, normal people in the country are doing their best to survive in places like the village of Korin. It has transformed into a kind of mini-republic and has WiFi on the town square. But its population is slowly dwindling…
Russian military declares new objective: Humanitarian aid in Syria (Reuters) Russia’s defence ministry said on Friday a new objective of Russian forces in Syria was to provide humanitarian aid. Russian air force planes have delivered 24 tons of aid in the region around the eastern Syrian city of Deir Ezzor, a ministry official said in a televised briefing…
United Methodist Church blacklists five Israeli banks (United Methodist Church) A recent decision by the United Methodist Church’s pension fund to halt investments in five Israeli banks is in keeping with its plan to use a human rights guideline for investments, announced a year ago. The banks are Bank Hapoalim, Bank Leumi, First International Bank of Israel, Israel Discount Bank and Bank Mizrahi-Tefahot. In a recent press release, United Methodist Kairos Response, an advocacy group, said it was pleased with the pension agency’s action. The group called the move “the first time a major church pension fund has acted to preclude investment in Israeli banks that sustain Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian land…”
14 January 2016
Tags: Syria Ethiopia Israel ISIS
Sisters watch over some of the students playing basketball at the Ashabhaven School. Jijoman Mathai, center, was chosen to compete in the Special Olympics. (photo: Jose Jacob)
In the new edition of ONE, writer Jose Kavi visits a school for children with special needs in India — and comes away with some memorable impressions of the children and the exceptional women who care for them:
I would never forget my visit to Ashabhavan school in Nedumkandam, a remote village in Kerala, in southwestern India.
The car stopped in front of an L-shaped building and Jose Jacob, the photographer, and I got down to ask someone directions to the principal’s room. We had hardly spoken when we saw a nun in habit and veil rushing out of a room. She jumped over some rose plants on the side of a corridor and rushed to our car, opened its rear door and pulled out a little boy from inside.
Nobody had seen the boy getting into the car — not even the driver who was still at the wheel fiddling with his cellphone. The whole incident — the boy slipping inside the car and “the sister act” — happened in split seconds.
As we stood bewildered, the nun, barely five feet tall, came to us still holding the boy’s hand. “Hello! Good morning. I am Sister Elsa, the principal,” she said with a smile. Seeing our puzzled look, she pointed to the boy and said, “Oh, he is Shiyas Shamanas. He suffers from autism.”
We had telephoned her before coming, so she knew the purpose of our visit. “Come let us go to my room,” she said as she led to the corridor. This time she took the stairs.
The 49-year-old sister was still holding Shiyas’ hand as she took her seat behind a glass-topped table with a few neatly arranged books in a sparsely furnished room. The boy then saw Jose Jacob’s camera and freed his hand and rushed to him. Sister got up and dragged him back. This act continued several times during our hour-long interview.
Sister Elsa, the principal, said the school strives to teach the children self-reliance.
(photo: Jose Jacob)
The principal explained the boy was brought to boarding school only a day earlier and it would take some time to subdue his hyperactivity. “Until then, he needs special attention. He may even slip out of our compound,” she said.
As we were completing the interview, Sister Sneha Moorkkenthothathil, one of the four Sacred Heart sisters working in the school, came and took charge of Shiyas. Like other staff, she came to the school with a degree in teaching differently abled children.
During our visits to the school over a period of three days, we met half a dozen children who had to be attended by staff members individually.
“They need constant attention,” said Sister Sneha, whose first name means love.
Love for the weak and differently abled was evident everywhere in Ashahavan (Home of Hope) as the staff, including sisters, served meals for the children, arranged them for the school assembly and oversaw classes and games.
Mood swings are common among the children. “Oh, I have received many hits and punches,” Sister Sneha said. “But they are so loving. They notice even a slight change on our face and get worried. They are so innocent, unlike the normal people,” she added.
Over three days, we had also become close to those children. As we left the place, we promised to visit them again.
As we drove back to Kochi, some five hours west, Jose Jacob and I agreed: Ashabhavan would not be remembered as just another reporting assignment.
Read more about “Kerala’s House of Hope” in the Winter 2015 edition of ONE. And if you’d like to continue making schools like this thrive in India, visit this giving page.
14 January 2016
A refugee drinks tea in front of his tent in the refugee camp in the coastal town of Grande-Synthe near Dunkirk, France on 10 January. (photo: CNS/Stephanie Lecocq, EPA)
Care for refugees and displaced persons has been a consistent theme of Pope Francis, and CNS’s Cindy Wooden has some background:
“We are called to serve Christ the crucified through every marginalized person,” Pope Francis said in the new book, “The Name of God Is Mercy.”
“We touch the flesh of Christ in he who is outcast, hungry, thirsty, naked, imprisoned, ill, unemployed, persecuted, in search of refuge,” the pope continued. “That is where we find our God, that is where we touch our Lord.”
The U.N. Refugee Agency reported last June that at the end of 2014, the number of people forcibly displaced because of persecution, conflict and violence reached the highest number ever recorded; it had grown to “a staggering 59.5 million compared to 51.2 million a year earlier and 37.5 million a decade ago.” The U.N. estimated the number had surpassed 60 million by the end of 2015.
The chief cause of the increase was the conflict in Syria, a conflict that is ongoing and continues to send people fleeing.
In 2015, the U.N. reported, 244 million people, or 3.3 percent of the world’s population, lived outside their country of origin.
The plight of migrants and refugees has been at the heart of Pope Francis’ concern as pope. Soon after his election in 2013, he went to the Italian island of Lampedusa to pray for migrants who had drowned attempting to reach Europe and to meet those who made it safely and those who have welcomed them.
Meeting 11 January with ambassadors representing their nations at the Vatican, the pope made his concern for migrants and migration the key focus of his speech. While acknowledging the social and political challenges that come with welcoming migrants, Pope Francis insisted on the human and religious obligation to care for those forced to flee in search of safety or a dignified life.
The pope’s concern for refugees is not just talk.
In September, the Vatican’s St. Anne parish welcomed a family of four from Damascus, Syria, providing an apartment, food and other assistance because under Italian law, asylum seekers are not allowed to work for the first six months they are in the country. The parish of St. Peter’s Basilica is hosting Eritrean refugees. A woman, whose husband is missing, gave birth to her fifth child shortly after arriving in Rome. She, the newborn and two of her other children are living in a Vatican apartment; she hopes soon to embrace her other two children, who are now in a refugee camp in awaiting the completion of family reunification procedures. In the meantime, the woman is hosting another Eritrean woman and her child in the apartment.
14 January 2016
Every year thousands of Orthodox Christian pilgrims arrive at the holy mount of Grabarka, some walking many hundreds of kilometers. The pilgrims gather at Grabarka Hill to celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration on 19 August. The hill and church are the holiest location for Poland’s 1 percent Orthodox Christians. (photo: Guy Corbishley/Getty Images)
Though Poles and Russians stem from the same Slavic roots, the two peoples developed radically different — and at times polar opposite — orientations. Not unlike the saga of the Polish nation, the chronicles of the Orthodox Church in Poland reveal the struggles of a faith community squeezed between the Latin West and the Russian East.
World War I changed the map of Europe. The Austro-Hungarian, German and Russian empires collapsed, and from the carnage emerged nation states whose peoples longed for self-determination: Czechoslovakia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland.
Poland was created by the victorious Allies as a bulwark to a Russia embroiled in revolution and civil war. Its leaders attempted to emulate the ethnically diverse Polish-Lithuanian state that had once dominated Central Europe until its dismemberment by Austria, Prussia and Russia in the late 18th century.
Resurrected Poland absorbed huge tracts of land and included millions of ethnic Belarussians, Czechs, Germans, Jews, Roma, Russians, Rusyns, Slovaks and Ukrainians — a third of the new nation’s 30 million people. Up to five million of these new Polish citizens professed Orthodox Christianity, a faith long identified with Poland’s neighbor and foe, Russia.
By 1938, and not without its share of controversy, the Orthodox patriarchates of Constantinople and Moscow had the independence of a newly organized Orthodox Church of Poland. The state, too, recognized the church.
Wary of the rise of Hitler and the growing power of Stalin, Poland’s government grew increasingly insecure and nationalistic, suspecting the loyalties of Poland’s Orthodox citizens. Despite the protestations of respected church leaders such as the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Metropolitan of Lviv, Archbishop Andrei Sheptytsky, local governments shuttered Orthodox and Greek Catholic sanctuaries, turned some over to Latin Catholic authorities and razed others.
Hitler’s pact with Stalin in the autumn of 1939, which again erased Poland from the map, suspended these acts of hostility, as large numbers of Orthodox Christians were reintegrated with the Moscow Patriarchate.
Click here to read more.
14 January 2016
In the video above, officials describe efforts to bring humanitarian relief to the starving city of Madaya in Syria. (video: Rome Reports)
Aid begins arriving in besieged Syrian city of Madaya (CNN) A second aid convoy is on the way to the besieged Syrian city of Madaya, where numerous people are reportedly starving, according to a U.N. source in the convoy. The new convoy is made up of about 50 trucks carrying wheat flour, medicine, blankets and winter clothes, the source said early Thursday. The source said the convoy hopes to reach Madaya shortly...
Dramatic conditions of Iraqi and Syrian children (L’Osservatore Romano) Women and children are the primary victims of the horrors that accompany the conflicts in Iraq and Syria, which are mostly the work of the so-called Islamic State. British daily newspaper, Daily Mail, reports the testimony of several young people who have escaped the Jihadist group in northern Iraq. These witnesses stated that they were trained — brain-washed — to sacrifice themselves as suicide bombers...
Watchdog group: 2015 “worst year” for Christian persecution (RNS) With North Korea leading the way and Islamic extremism rapidly expanding, 2015 was the “worst year in modern history for Christian persecution,” according to a group tracking this issue. Iraq is in second place on Open Doors’ 2016 World Watch List, a ranking of the top 50 most dangerous places in the world to be a Christian. It’s the first of 35 countries on the list where Islamic extremism “has risen to a level akin to ethnic cleansing,” said the report, released Wednesday...
Update on refugee families being housed at Vatican parishes (Vatican Radio) Two refugee families are now being hosted by the two parishes of the Vatican, in response to the 6 September 2015, Angelus appeal of Pope Francis for every parish in Europe to welcome a family of refugees...
Meeting street children is like meeting Christ (Fides) Meeting, visiting, assisting street children means encountering Christ: this is what a group of young Catholics in Nagpur, a city in central India experienced when they went in search of street children. Pushpa Singh, one of the young people involved, told Fides: “At Epiphany, the Wise Men make their way to the Child Jesus. For us it was the same experience. We saw the Child Jesus in the poor, marginalized, abandoned children”...
Closed Catholic church in Pennsylvania reopens as Russian Orthodox (Wilkes Barre Times Leader) After being vacant for more than three years, the former St. Rocco’s Roman Catholic Church on the corner of Tompkins and West Oak streets has reopened its doors as St. Irene Russian Orthodox Outside Church of Russia. The church plans to open more doors in the community by purchasing homes in the Greater Pittston area for parishioners in need...
13 January 2016
Hundreds gather for one of the Masses at Church of the Presentation in Upper Saddle River, New Jersey. Members of our CNEWA development team visited there this past weekend to talk about our work in the Middle East. (photo: CNEWA)
“We welcome Deacon Greg Kandra from the Catholic Near East Welfare Association this weekend. As we hear about the situation of Catholics in the Near and Middle East, we are reminded of how blessed we are to live in a country that places such importance on religious liberty. As we stand in the shadow of the Epiphany and the visit of the three kings, we recognize the Christian qualities of hospitality and diversity. These foreigners were some of the first people to recognize the Messiah and they continue to teach us much about our faith.” —Father Bob Stagg, From the Pastor’s Desk,
10 January 2016
This past weekend, our CNEWA development team celebrated the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord with the people at the Church of the Presentation in Upper Saddle River, New Jersey.
For those unfamiliar, the church is located in the Archdiocese of Newark, about 20 miles northwest of Wall Street. Despite being so close to Newark and Manhattan, the church is situated in one of the most beautifully wooded and serene locations imaginable. Its proximity makes this a popular parish among a very diverse demographic.
Church of the Presentation in Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, has a thriving and diverse parish community. (photo: CNEWA)
The Rev. Bob Stagg, the pastor, and his parish social justice ministry group, led by Kay Furlani, welcomed us. The parish is already active in visits and aid to Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and other locations. Members have also visited the Holy Land. With so much happening in the world, the parish felt a weekend to address the plight of Christians in the Middle East would enhance the already strong faith and social justice awareness of this community.
CNEWA’s multimedia editor, Deacon Greg Kandra, center, was welcomed to the parish by the Rev. Bob Stagg, pastor (left) and the Rev. Ed Cuba (right). (photo: CNEWA)
Deacon Greg preached at all six Masses over the weekend, sharing stories that resonated with the parish. His homily helped bring attention to the many dire situations in the Middle East that both Christians and Muslims are struggling with right now.
Deacon Greg preached at six Masses over two days at the parish. (photo: CNEWA)
He described, in particular, the challenges facing sisters serving the people of Iraq, and told the story of how Sister Maria Hanna and the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena had to flee their convent when ISIS swept through the country in the summer of 2014. (You can read more about their remarkable and courageous story in the pages of ONE.)
For my part, I was there as a member of CNEWA’s development team to meet parishioners, pass out information about our work, and answer questions about how people can support our mission, particularly on behalf of Christians in the Middle East.
Deacon Greg met with parishioners after all the Masses. (photo: CNEWA)
There is still much more to learn and discuss. Abigail Metzger was one of the many dedicated parishioners we met in Upper Saddle River. She is coordinating a follow-up discussion session for the parish later this month that will include her own impressions from a recent trip to Bethlehem. You can visit the parish website or drop Abigail a line for additional details: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kay Furlani from the parish’s peace and social justice ministry, center, coordinated the visit of Deacon Greg and CNEWA’s Chris Kossowski. (photo: CNEWA)
We had a wonderful visit and both Kay Furlani and Father Bob made us feel like part of the parish family. We’re grateful for their generosity of spirit, their hospitality and their tremendous commitment to helping the people of the Middle East.
If you’d like CNEWA to visit your parish or church group, please email our Development Director Norma Intriago. We look forward to seeing you sometime soon!
13 January 2016
The Rev. Joaqim Unfal is the sole monk residing at Mar Evgin Monastery in Tur Abdin, Turkey. Learn more about Syriac Christians returning to their homeland in Coming Home in the
Winter 2015 edition of ONE. (photo: Don Duncan)
13 January 2016
Syrian children are rescued from the wreckage after Russian airstrike hit a school at Zibdiyye neighborhood in Aleppo, Syria. (photo: Andalou Agency/Getty Images)
U.N. relief official calls for immediate end to blockades in Syria (The New York Times) The head of the United Nations’ relief efforts for Syria pleaded with all warring parties on Tuesday to lift their sieges on key towns and let aid agencies deliver food and medical care to people stuck behind front lines. “The immediate thing to be done is to lift sieges everywhere,” the humanitarian coordinator for Syria, Yacoub El Hillo, told reporters by phone from Damascus, the Syrian capital, where he is based...
Eight children, teacher killed in Russian airstrike in Syria (Reuters) Eight children and their teacher were killed by a Russian airstrike that hit a school in the northern Syrian province of Aleppo on Monday, according to a leading human rights monitor. The U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that more than 20 people were also injured in the strike, all of whom were teachers and students at a school in the town of Anjara, located around nine miles north of the city of Aleppo. The death toll is expected to rise as the search for survivors in the rubble of the school building continues, Al Jazeera reports...
U.S.-led coalition destroys ISIS cash storehouse in Iraq (USA TODAY) Airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition blew up a warehouse in Iraq where the Islamic State had stored millions of dollars in cash, the U.S. military disclosed Tuesday. Coalition aircraft targeted a “cash distribution center” near Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, which is under control of the extremist group, the U.S military said in a daily report on details of airstrikes...
Pope prays for victims in Turkey (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis Wednesday remembered the victims of Tuesday’s suicide bomb attack in Istanbul which left ten people dead...
Archbishop advocates for Christian schools in Jordan (Fides) In the historical life of the Churches in the Middle East, there has always been a valuable role carried out by Christian schools especially in the present scenario ravaged by sectarian conflict. This was strongly advocated by Archbishop Maroun Lahham, Patriarchal Vicar for Jordan of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, during his intervention at the conference for the training of Catholic school head masters being held in Amman...
Dialogue between Vishnus and Christians in India (Fides) In India there is need to bear witness to the power of prayer combined with action to build a community of peace and harmony: this is the result of the recent session of dialogue between Christians and Vishnus, which was attended by the Office for Interreligious Dialogue and Ecumenism in the Bishops’ Conference of India...