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Spring, 2017
Volume 43, Number 1
28 December 2015
J.D. Conor Mauro

Iraqi security forces wave their flag on 28 December after recapturing the city of Ramadi, the capital of Iraq’s Anbar province, about 70 miles west of Baghdad. (photo: Ahmad al Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images)

Iraq declares Ramadi liberated from ISIS, sweeps for bombs (Daily Star Lebanon) Iraq declared the city of Ramadi liberated from ISIS Monday and raised the national flag over its government complex after clinching a landmark victory against the extremists…

ISIS bomb Assyrian homes, monastery in Iraq, vandalizes cemeteries (AINA) Two days ago ISIS bombed ten Assyrian homes and a monastery in the Assyrian village of Tel Kaif in north Iraq. The blasts injured several people. The monastery belonged to Assyrian sisters. According to residents, ISIS threatened to bomb Assyrian homes in other villages in the area…

Christmas in Syria (Sputnik) [Slideshow] Despite the tense and volatile situation in Syria, the Christian residents of Damascus celebrate Christmas with a festive flair…

Syrian journalist who exposed ISIS Aleppo atrocities assassinated in Turkey (RT) A prominent Syrian journalist and filmmaker, known for his anti-Islamic State documentaries, was gunned down by unknown assailants in broad daylight in Gaziantep, Turkey. This is the third assassination of a journalist in the country over the last three months…

Catholic bishops react to anti-Christian extremist rabbi (Fides) The Assembly of Catholic Ordinary Bishops of the Holy Land condemned “with dismay” recent anti-Christian statements disseminated by Rabbi Benzi Gopstein. In recent days, the rabbi, known for his extremist positions and leader of the far-right Jewish nationalist Lehava movement, published his proposal on a website to ban Christian holidays and expel Christians from Israel, “before these vampires,” wrote Gopstein, “drink our blood…”

Tags: Syria Iraq Israel ISIS

23 December 2015
CNEWA staff

Nabil Jelil Daud and his wife, Semira Ayup Miha, both from Qaraqosh, Iraq, now live in a camp for internally displaced people in Erbil. “It is very difficult to be happy on this Christmas because we are outside our homes,” Mr. Daud said. (photo: CNS/Oscar Durand)

The holiday season this year is dramatically different for many in Iraq. CNS’s Oscar Durand reports:

Habiba Daud remembers Christmas in Qaraqosh as beautiful. The festivities would start days before with the preparation of traditional food and desserts. Families celebrated around a large Christmas tree.

On Christmas her family and friends gathered to enjoy the food and spend time together, chatting and playing with the children.

This year will be the second Christmas Daud will spend away from her home, against her wishes. In August 2014, Islamic State fighters seized Qaraqosh, a city less than 20 miles southeast of Mosul.

The Islamic State attacks in northern Iraq displaced more than 120,000 Christians, as well as minority Muslims and Yezidis.

In the first weeks the displaced lived in tents and temporary shelters in parks and churches. Today in Ain Kawa, there are eight camps where refugees live in plastic trailers locals call “caravans.” Many rent apartments or live with friends and family in others parts of Iraq.

Read more.

The video below, co-sponsored by CNEWA and CNS, offers a vivid and poignant glimpse at how displaced Iraqi Christians are celebrating Christmas this year. Please keep them in your prayers this season. And to remember them in a special way, visit this link.

Tags: Iraq Iraqi Christians Iraqi Refugees

23 December 2015
CNEWA staff

The Christmas tree and Nativity scene decorate St. Peter’s Square during a lighting ceremony at the Vatican on 18 December. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)

Tags: Vatican Christian

23 December 2015
J.D. Conor Mauro

In this image from September, Jordanian King Abdullah II addresses the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York City. Yesterday, in a televised address, the king described Arab Christians as “an integral part” of his kingdom’s civilization. (photo: Sasha Mordovets/Getty Images)

King Abdullah: Arab Christians are an integral part of our civilization (Fides) Arab Christians “are an integral part of our past, present and future” and right from the beginning “have been an essential partner in building our culture and civilization and in defending Islam,” King Abdullah II of Jordan said in a televised speech on Jordan state television on Tuesday 22 December…

Iraq sends more troops to fight ISIS in Ramadi (The New York Times) Iraq sent battalions of reinforcements on Wednesday to secure neighborhoods in Ramadi recaptured from ISIS, as soldiers continued an offensive for a second day to try to take full control of the city…

Russian Orthodox Church slams seizure of churches in Ukraine (TASS) Deacon Feodor Shulga, member of the secretariat for inter-Orthodox relations of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations, says that by seizing cathedrals of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, Ukrainian authorities are attempting to draw the church into the political and civil conflict in the country…

Mumbai holds interreligious Christmas celebration (Vatican Radio) The much-anticipated annual interreligious celebration of Christmas, hosted by Cardinal Oswald Gracias, archbishop of Bombay, is a fitting introduction indeed to the season of Christmas with its message of good will to all. This year’s theme emphasizes that we are all brothers and sisters caring for each other and for creation, in keeping with Pope Francis’ encyclical…

Palestinian eviction case spotlights Jerusalem settler push (AP) Ahmad Sub-Laban’s family has lived for decades under threat of eviction from their home overlooking the gold-topped Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem’s Old City. The experience inspired the 37-year-old Palestinian father of two to become a researcher for groups fighting attempts by Jewish settlers to move into properties in the city’s central Arab areas. The Israeli Supreme Court is now poised to rule in the final legal battle over the apartment, and Mr. Sub-Laban has tapped into his network of contacts to try to halt the eviction by putting pressure on the Israeli government. Under a longstanding U.S. framework for a peace deal, Jerusalem would be divided into two capitals, with Jewish neighborhoods going to Israel and the Arab ones to Palestine. This complex arrangement becomes yet more challenging as more Jews move into Arab areas. Earlier this month, Jerusalem-based U.S. diplomat Dorothy Shea visited the Sub-Labans to express concern about their fate and the “pattern of evictions…”

Tags: Iraq Ukraine Jordan Interreligious

22 December 2015
Michael J.L. La Civita

In this image from 2008, some 20,000 Georgian Orthodox believers celebrate the 31st anniversary of Patriarch Ilia II’s installation as head of the church in Tbilisi.
(photo: Vano Shlamov/AFP/Getty Images)

High in the Caucasus Mountains, at the eastern end of the Black Sea, rests Georgia. Poised between the Arabic, Persian and Syriac cultures of Asia and the Greco-Roman world of the Mediterranean, Georgians have fashioned a unique civilization, integrating the some of the customs, ideas and traditions of these seemingly disparate societies with their own.

Christianity — which became the state religion in the eastern Georgian kingdom of Kartli by the fourth century — is as much responsible for the creation and survival of this distinctive nation as its unique language.

Strategically situated on this crossroads, tiny Georgia has repeatedly overcome far superior foes — Romans, Persians, Arabs, Mongols, Ottomans and Russians. And the Orthodox Church of Georgia, often described as the buttress of the nation, remains a formidable force in the lives of the country’s 4.7 million people, 84 percent of whom belong to the church.

A church choir performs a chant at Mama Davitis Church in Tbilisi. Chants play an integral role in Georgian Orthodox church liturgy. (photo: Molly Corso)

Byzantine and Coptic histories note that St. Matthias the Apostle first brought the Gospel to the Georgian kingdom of Kartli and died a martyr’s death there around the year A.D. 80. Other Christian sources credit the apostles Andrew, Bartholomew, Simon the Zealot and Thaddeus with forming Christians among Georgia’s Jewish communities in Kartli and Egrisi, the western Georgian kingdom known by the ancient Greeks as Colchis — the mythical land of Jason, Medea and the Golden Fleece.Modern archaeological evidence — the remains of second- and third-century Christian tombs as well as early fourth-century churches — indicates an early presence of the faith, particularly near the Black Sea coast. That Christianity was the official religion of Kartli by the year 337 is incontestable. Armenian, Byzantine, Georgian, Greek and Latin sources all indicate that, in circa 300, Nino, a woman from Cappadocia, left Jerusalem for Kartli in search of the robe from Christ’s crucifixion.

“Equal to the apostles,” as Georgians revere her today, St. Nino worked primarily among the kingdom’s Jews, who were her first disciples. Written about a century after her death, “The Life of St. Nino” records the close relationship that existed between Nino and the Jews of Mtskheta (the capital of Kartli) as well as between the churches of Georgia and Jerusalem. It also details the conversion of King Mirian III, his establishment of Christianity as the faith of the kingdom and the erection of a shrine in Mtskheta to house the robe of Christ, known as the cathedral of Svetitskhoveli, or the “life-giving pillar.”

The “life-giving pillar” still stands in the heart of the nation, the bells summoning the faithful from Georgia’s mountains and valleys. To read more, click here.

22 December 2015
CNEWA staff

We’re proud to announce that CNEWA has just received the coveted 4-star rating from Charity Navigator, America’s premier independent charity evaluator.

“CNEWA’s 4-star rating puts it in a very select group of high-performing charities,” said Michael Thatcher, President & CEO of Charity Navigator, in a statement. “Out of the thousands of nonprofits Charity Navigator evaluates, only one out of four earns 4 stars — a rating that demands rigor, responsibility and commitment to openness. CNEWA’s supporters should feel much more confident that their hard-earned dollars are being used efficiently and responsibly when it acquires such a high rating.”

CNEWA’s Director of Development Norma Intriago noted, “This is a clear endorsement of CNEWA’s sound fiscal management practices, commitment to accountability and transparency. We’re pleased to share this news with our donors — and grateful for all they are making possible for so many in need.”

You can learn more about Charity Navigator and its methodology at this website.

Meantime, if you’d like to share in the great work of a 4-star charity, check out our giving page. And thank you!

22 December 2015
Greg Kandra

In this image from 2004, four young carolers pose in their home-made costumes in front of Holy Trinity Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in Kosmach, Ukraine. To learn more about the seasonal traditions and history of Christians nestled in the Carpathian Mountains, read “Faith and Tradition” from the November 2004 edition of ONE. (photo: Petro Didula)

22 December 2015
Greg Kandra

Young displaced Iraqis try to dig a drainage trench after heavy rains in November at a camp
in Baghdad. (photo: CNS/Ahmed Jalil, EPA)

Patriarchs encourage hope amid suffering in Middle East (CNS) Catholic patriarchs from the Middle East encouraged their trouble people to find inner peace at Christmas and urged the world to remember them. “In Iraq, we will celebrate the birth of Christ who comes into our hearts in silence and tears,” said Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Sako of Baghdad. However, he said, “We remain sustained by (an) inner peace that perpetuates the joy of faith and hope that we will, despite the trials, work toward a fairer country and a better future...”

Two Christian villages bombarded by jihadists (Fides) At least two civilians were killed and another twenty injured by grenades on Monday 21 December by anti-regime jihadist fighters against the villages of Maharda and Sqelbyia, in the province of Hama. The two towns, currently controlled by the government army, are inhabited by Orthodox Christians...

Canada to double number of Syrian refugees in 2016 (Time) Canada announced it will double the amount of Syrian refugees it admits in 2016. The country had initially pledged to take in 25,000 refugees by the end of February, but John McCallum, the minister of immigration and citizenship, said that number would be upped to 50,000 by the end of 2016, the BBC reports...

Syriac Christians in Palestine keep hope alive (Middle East Eye) In an unassuming room off a quiet alleyway connecting the Armenian and Jewish quarters of Jerusalem’s Old City, the self-described mayor of this city’s tiny Syriac community holds court. A prominent local tailor, Sammy Barsoum has for decades campaigned for the recognition of the approximately 5,000 Syriac Christians that call Palestine home...

Report: Newly crowned “Miss Iraq” receives kidnapping threat from ISIS (Jerusalem Post) Iraq’s new beauty queen received a threatening phone call on Tuesday telling her to join the ranks of ISIS or she will be kidnapped, according to a report by the Kuwaiti daily al-Watan. Shayma Qassim, 20, won the first beauty pageant to be held in Iraq in 40 years on Saturday. According to the report, following her win, Qassim received a threatening phone call in which she was warned that if she refused to join the ranks of the Islamic State movement she would be kidnapped...

21 December 2015
Sami El-Yousef

Patriarch Fouad Twal greets the children of Gaza who held the first Christmas performance at the newly refurbished parish center funded by CNEWA–Pontifical Mission. (photo: CNEWA)

20 December 2015 will be one great day to remember.

It was the day of the Christmas celebration at the Holy Family Church in Gaza, celebrating with members of the heroic small Latin parish who call Gaza home.

Again I was fortunate to be one of the few people of my status, a Palestinian East Jerusalem “resident” of the State of Israel, to be granted a one day permit to go to Gaza, despite the ongoing ban. I accompanied the official delegation of his Beatitude Patriarch Fouad Twal, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem.

The St. Joseph scout troop was there to receive us upon arrival with traditional Palestinian and Christmas songs. The drums were louder than ever to announce the arrival of the delegation. Shortly after arrival, His Beatitude opened the Door of Mercy at the Latin Parish Church in Gaza before celebrating the Christmas Mass with the parish members and the clergy. He was assisted by Bishop Marcuzzo from Nazareth and some 10 priests from the Latin Patriarchate who all came specifically for the day. The Superior General of the Rosary Sisters accompanied the delegation as well as the Superior of the Order of the Fathers of the Incarnate Word, the President of the Christian Schools Commission in Palestine, the Rev. Faisal Hijazin, and the Rev. Raed Abu Sahlieh, Director of Caritas Jerusalem.

In his homily, the patriarch reflected on the Year of Mercy, as well as on his continued prayers for peace and justice in our region. He affirmed his continued support and that of the Catholic Church for the small Catholic community of Gaza. He stated that he continuously prays for them, especially for an end of the blockade of Gaza and for unity within the Palestinians so that the situation there will improve and they will live a better life in the near future. He asked the people to remain steadfast and reminded them that they are suffering on earth and truly living the life of our Lord Jesus Christ who did not have an easy life in this land. He assured them that their suffering will not go unnoticed and that their rewards will be in heaven.

As soon as Mass ended, the renovated areas of the Latin parish complex were visited and blessed by his Beatitude. This included the newly renovated and refurbished parish center which was completely funded by CNEWA–Pontifical Mission. The renovated center includes a new library fully stocked with a variety of Christian books for all ages, as well as a new gymnasium with state of the art equipment, a sitting area and a kitchen, renovated rest rooms, and a large parish hall. During our visit, the first formal performance took place: a Christmas play by the parish children. All the children perfected their roles, and the long hours of practice as part of the CNEWA–Pontifical Mission “Oratorio” program paid off.

Aside from the official celebrations, there was noticeable respect granted to the official delegation by both the Israeli authorities at the Erez Crossing, as well as by the Palestinian government officials in Gaza who came to visit with his Beatitude and bid him and the parish congratulations for Christmas. Also noticeable was the large number of local and international press representatives who all wanted to interview many people so that the voices of the Christian community of Gaza are heard both locally and internationally.

One of the important people in attendance was Elias Manneh, the former Chairman of the Board of our partners, the Near East Council of Churches (NECC) in Gaza, who is now in retirement. He reminded me of a conversation we had six years ago when I first met him and we were discussing the dwindling Christian presence in Gaza as emigration was on the rise.

He said then: “Despite our small number, we are a force to be reckoned with. We are respected by the government and the larger community. Quality and not quantity is what counts in Gaza.” Our wish for this small, but brave community is to enjoy the Christmas celebrations in Gaza, Many confided that although Israel issued permits for a full month (20 December 2015 through 20 January 2016) to hundreds of Christians from Gaza to enter the West Bank and Jerusalem (as was the case in previous years) it was rare that a complete family received the permits. The ban on youth aged 16-35 continues; none in this age group was granted a permit. The Rev. Mario da Silva, the parish priest at the Holy Family parish, will celebrate midnight Mass in his beautiful church. Undoubtedly the same prayers heard today will be repeated again for pace and jkustice for all in our Holy Land, especially for our suffering people in Gaza.

This was my shortest visit to Gaza. Despite the great joy of being able to be there for the day to show our solidarity with our brothers and sisters, I left with a heavy heart, knowing that most of them will not be able to join us in Bethlehem for the celebrations. Please keep the people of Gaza in your prayers and join me in wishing them a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

21 December 2015
Greg Kandra

As part of a pre-Christmas tradition, children bring figurines of the baby Jesus to be blessed in St. Peter’s Square as Pope Francis leads the Angelus on 20 December. (photo: Vatican Radio)

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