25 January 2018
This photograph from December shows Syrian refugees living in the Awde refugee camp in Lebanon’s eastern Bekaa province. Lebanon has grown increasingly hostile toward Syrian refugees and politicians have begun saying it’s time for them to leave. (photo: Getty Images)
ISIS fighters detained in camps still pose a threat (The New York Times) American-backed Kurdish militias in northern Syria are detaining hundreds of Islamic State fighters and family members in makeshift camps, raising fears among United States military officials of potentially creating a breeding ground for extremists — repeating a key security mistake of the Iraq war...
Will Lebanon force a million Syrian refugees to return to a war zone? (The Nation) As the crisis dragged on, the mood in the country shifted decisively against the refugees, and the already thin welcome mat began to fray. In January 2015, the Lebanese government introduced visa restrictions that prevented most Syrians fleeing the war from entering the country legally, and in May of that year it ordered the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to stop registering new cases, meaning that the UNHCR can no longer grant new arrivals status as refugees. Most ominous of all, Lebanese politicians have increasingly, and almost unanimously, begun saying that it’s time for Syrian refugees to go home...
Trump’s stance on Jerusalem spikes conflicts between Palestinian and Israeli soldiers (Reuters) Confrontations between young Palestinians and Israeli soldiers have taken on a life of their own since Palestinian leaders called for protests against Donald Trump’s decision to treat Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. While Hamas, Fatah and other groups call for a weekly show of strength on Fridays, dozens of stone-throwers turn out along the border between Gaza and Israel every day, even when, as last Friday, a protest is called off due to bad weather...
Indian’s state data debunks myth about Christian conversions (UCANews.com) People converting to Christianity remains nearly equal to the number of Christians leaving the religion in India’s western Maharashtra state, says government figures which negates claims that missioners attract thousands to Christianity...
The last beekeepers of Ethiopia’s Harenna Forest (BBC) In Ethiopia, honey trickles through centuries of culture and religion. It features in 4th-Century Christian frescoes and tapestries, where saints are seen clutching bereles, the traditional fat-bottomed flasks used for serving tej...
24 January 2018
Tags: Syria India Lebanon Ethiopia Jerusalem
A man from the Yazidi minority and young people pray at a shrine being rebuilt after it was destroyed in 2017 by Islamic State militants in Bashiqa, Iraq.
(photo: CNS/Khalid al Mousily, Reuters)
All people have a right to freely profess their own religious beliefs without fear of duress, Pope Francis said, calling on the world community to do more to protect the Yazidi minority.
“It is unacceptable that human beings are persecuted and killed because of their religion,” he told a group of Yazidis during a private audience at the Vatican on 24 January.
The Yazidis are a monotheistic religious minority, indigenous to areas in Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey. They have been especially persecuted by Islamic State militants, who — as they did with Christians — have forced them to convert or be killed.
He told the representatives, who were now living in Germany, that his encounter with them was also a sign of his solidarity and concern for all Yazidis, particularly those in Iraq and Syria.
His thoughts and prayers went to all “innocent victims of senseless and inhuman barbarity,” underlining that all people have the right “to freely and without duress profess and their own religious belief.”
The pope said the Yazidis’ rich spiritual and cultural history has been scarred by the “indescribable violations of fundamental human rights: kidnappings, slavery, torture, forced conversions and killings.”
“Your sanctuaries and places of prayer have been destroyed,” he said, and those lucky enough to have been able to flee have had to leave behind so much, including that which they held to be most holy and dear.
Aware of this tragedy, “the international community cannot remain a mute and inert spectator.”
He encouraged organizations and “people of goodwill” to help rebuild homes and places of worship that have been destroyed and to seek out concrete ways to create the right conditions for people to return to their homelands.
He also said he hoped everything possible would be done to help save those who were still in the hands of terrorists, locate those still missing and identify and properly bury those who have been murdered.
All over the world, he said, there are religious and ethnic minorities — including Christians — who are persecuted because of their faith.
“The Holy See will never tire of intervening by denouncing these situations, calling for the recognition, protection and respect” of minorities as well as calling for dialogue and reconciliation, he said.
“Once more I speak out in favor of the rights of the Yazidis, above all their right to exist as a religious community. No one can allocate oneself the power to eliminate a religious group because it is not among those (who are) ‘tolerated,’ ” he said.
Related: Religious Minorities in the Middle East: The Yazidis
24 January 2018
Officials in Armenia are hoping to have Yerevan’s historic Blue Mosque designated a
World Heritage Site. (photo: Wikipedia)
Report: U.S. strike on ISIS headquarters kills 150 militants (BBC) The US-led coalition against the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) says it has killed up to 150 militants in air strikes on a headquarters in Syria. A statement said the strikes took place on Saturday near al-Shafah, in the Middle Euphrates river valley in the south-eastern province of Deir al-sour. A combination of intelligence and continuous target observation ensured no civilians were harmed, it added...
Week of Prayer for Christian Unity underway (Vatican Radio) The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is underway this week and runs until the 25th January. This year’s theme is “Your Right Hand, O Lord, Glorious in Power” (Exodus 15:6) Apart from this theme, there are also different themes for each individual day...
Monitors warn of preparations for fresh fighting in Ukraine (The Irish Times) Government troops and Russian-led militia in eastern Ukraine appear to be preparing for an escalation in fighting, international monitors warned on Tuesday, amid Kremlin condemnation of Kiev’s new legal stance on the grinding conflict...
Christians mark ‘Kappalottam’ in India (The Hindu) The age-old ritual of ‘Kappalottam’ was held at St. Mary’s Forane Church at Kuravilangad, near here, was held with fanfare on Tuesday. The ritual begins with taking out of a wooden replica of a ship, nearly 40-ft in length, being carried by the crowd. The crowd rock the replica of the ship as if it were being tossed in the sea...
Pope issues message for World Communications Day, on countering ‘fake news’ (Vatican Radio) We need a kind of journalism that is less concentrated on “the mad rush for a scoop,” and more on seeking the truth and to “pointing out alternatives to the escalation of shouting matches and verbal violence.” In his Message for World Communications Day, Pope Francis urges communications professionals to return to the foundations of their calling, or rather, their “mission” to be, what he calls, “the protectors of news...”
Yerevan’s Blue Mosque to be considered for designation as World Heritage Site (Armenian Weekly) Armenia will officially submit Yerevan’s Blue Mosque for consideration for UNESCO’s (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) World Heritage Site List, according to Deputy Head of Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Handicraft, and Tourism Organization (ICHTO) Mohammad Hossein Talebian. The Blue Mosque (Kapuyt mzkit in Armenian, Masjed-e Kabud In Farsi) is an 18th century Shia mosque in downtown Yerevan. The mosque stopped services during the Soviet years and once housed the History Museum of Yerevan...
23 January 2018
Children prepare for the Christmas celebration at the Kidane Mehret Children’s Home in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. (photo: CNEWA)
Editor’s note: Argaw Fantu, our regional director in Ethiopia, passed along this note and some pictures from Sister Lutgarda Camilleri, coordinator of the Kidane Mehret Children’s Home in Addis Ababa. CNEWA helped provide funds for the children’s annual Christmas party this year.
Dear Friends and Benefactors:
Peaceful greetings to you all from Kidane Mehret Children’s Home!
How beautiful a day can be when kindness touches it! These are the words with which I would like to thank each one of you who have fundraised for our dear children’s Christmas party.
Decorations brightened the hall for the party. (photo: CNEWA)
The photos, I think, will explain the joy, happiness and festivities that the children felt and how they shared this feast with other children who left this home some years ago, who came to enjoy this Christmas party with us.
The children had a joyous time. (photo: CNEWA)
We have no words to thank you for your great generosity. Things like these will surely improve the lives of the children that, although they have no family, they are not forgotten, as the good Lord always remembers and cares for them.
Sister Lutgarda shared in the celebration with the kids. (photo: CNEWA)
Dears, be sure that we will include you in our daily prayers and we ask the good Lord to continue to shower his choicest blessings upon each one of you and on your families.
God bless you all!
Sister Lutgarda Camilleri
23 January 2018
Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army fighters are seen on 22 January near, Afrin, Syria. Churches in Afrin are calling on the world to stop the slaughter of civilians during the Turkish military assault.
(photo: CNS/Khalil Ashawi, Reuters)
Churches in Afrin, Syria, are calling on the world to stop the slaughter of civilians during the Turkish military assault.
“We ask you to pray for us and for our city which, before a couple of days ago, was full of life, but today is not,” said the Rev. Saeed Daoud, a Syrian clergyman whose name has been changed at his request due to fear of retribution.
“The brutal attack of the Turkish military with extremist Islamic groups has been carried out, without any warning,” he told Catholic News Service in an email, referring to Turkey’s relentless shelling and ground offensive since 20 January.
In an appeal for international help, another religious leader wrote: “We are asking for intervention and protection against the violent attacks which are being levied against us at this moment.
“Many lives are in mortal danger,” said the Rev. Hakim Ismael. “We are unable to protect ourselves or our families against these attacks, neither are we able to offer assistance or shelter to the innocents. Please help us.”
The city of Afrin, located in a Kurdish-controlled area of northwestern Syria, is approximately 30 miles from Aleppo.
Father Emanuel Youkhana, an archimandrite of the Assyrian Church of the East, told CNS: “With the military defeat of ISIS in Iraq and the final phase of its defeat in Syria, we prayed and hoped to move forward in a new phase of reconciliation and rebuilding the life toward a future where all people — Christians, Muslims, Yezidis, Kurds, Arab, Assyrians and all — may live in dignity and justice.
“We are shocked by another brutal and violent attack on the people in Afrin. Here again, the innocent civilians are paying the price for political interests under the pretext of fighting against the terrorist,” said Father Youkhana, who runs Christian Aid Program Northern Iraq, a Christian program for displaced Iraqis around the city of Dahuk.
“The Turkish military operations against Kurdish and Christian people of the Afrin region cannot be justified. The civilians cannot be attacked under any claim,” he said, calling for an immediate end to the military operations and immediate aid to the people.
“Attacking who fought ISIS is shocking and questionable action,” he said. “We pray for decision makers to work for peace. Battle cannot be a path to peace.”
Dutch human rights advocate Johannes de Jong told CNS: “The civilian population of Afrin is deliberately targeted and being killed off. This is also a specific threat to the Christian church in Afrin.
“The jihadist proxies used by Turkey to invade Afrin have themselves said that there is no room for Christians there,” added de Jong, who closely monitors events in Syria’s North.
“Will the Trump administration allow Afrin’s civilian population to be indiscriminately killed by the Turkish air force and permit jihadist proxies to invade Afrin and kill any Christian they can find?” he asked.
De Jong directs Sallux, formerly the Christian Political Foundation for Europe, based in The Netherlands. For the past several years, he has worked with minorities in Syria and Iraq, including Syriac Christians, Yezidis, Turkmen and Kurds.
The Kurdish-run city of Afrin has only four hospitals, now packed with “injured people and wounded innocent children,” Rev. Daoud said, adding that there are several reported cases of women who miscarried “due to shock and fear.”
Robar Refugee Camp, housing 600 displaced Syrians from the Aleppo countryside, was bombed with many injuries. Camp residents have appealed to the United Nations to intervene to stop the shelling.
In another instance, 11 members of the same family were killed when they tried to escape the bombardment by sheltering in a nearby village.
Turkish war planes began shelling Kurdish positions in Afrin shortly after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced the launch of the military operation named Olive Branch. Erdogan has branded the mainly Kurdish YPG militia in the area a terrorist group; however, much of the bombing appears to be hitting civilian areas.
The YPG denies any direct links with the Turkish Kurdistan Workers’ Party and is a crucial part of a U.S.-backed alliance effectively battling Islamic State and other jihadists in northern Syria.
“That’s Turkey’s excuse for these raids, but in fact they (YPG) are not terrorists,” Lauren Homer, Washington, D.C.-based international human rights lawyer, told CNS of Erdogan’s claims. “To the extent they have fired weapons at the Turks, it’s in response to constant Turkish shelling of this and other areas along the Turkey-Syria border. It is a humanitarian catastrophe.”
“The bombing is quite indiscriminate. The church there is calling for a no-fly zone,” she said.
Erdogan is scheduled to meet Pope Francis at the Vatican on 5 February.
23 January 2018
The video above shows some of the recent efforts to rebuild Aleppo, devastated after years of war
in Syria. (video: Syria Scope/YouTube)
Report: ISIS still has up to 10,000 loyalists in Syria, Iraq (NBC News) Hisham al-Hashimi, an adviser to the Iraqi government in its battle against ISIS, told NBC News that while the number of active fighters on the battlefield is probably in the range of 1,000 to 1,500, the actual number of ISIS-loyalists in Iraq and Syria is closer to 10,000...
UN aid group: U.S. won’t allow money to help refugees (Business Insider) United Nations aid group UNRWA alleges that US aid money pledged to the organization was specifically earmarked for refugee services in certain areas and could not be used for services in Syria and Lebanon. This marks the first time the US has specifically exempted their funds from being used in those countries, according to Elizabeth Campbell, Director at The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA)...
Al-Qaeda leader urges attacks on Jews, Americans over Trump’s Jerusalem recognition (AFP) A senior Al-Qaeda leader has called on Muslims “everywhere” to rise up and kill Jews and Americans in response to US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital...
At least five killed in Ethiopia during Epiphany celebration (BBC) At least five people have been killed in northern Ethiopia after security forces fired on a crowd at a religious festival who were reportedly shouting anti-government slogans. Many more were injured in the incident in the town of Waldiya. Angry protesters have blocked roads and businesses are closed. There have been nearly three years of opposition demonstrations in Ethiopia. On Wednesday, hundreds of activists were released from jail. The deaths happened during the second day of Epiphany, when Orthodox Christians commemorate the baptism of Jesus...
Aleppo’s bizarre struggles to rebuild (AP) Fighting has long died down in Syria’s largest city, but Aleppo’s centuries-old market has yet to come back to life, more than a year after government forces retook rebel-held neighborhoods around the Old City. Few shops have reopened in the once sprawling bazaar in the historic quarter, with UNESCO estimating that as much as 60 percent of the Old City was severely damaged and 30 percent destroyed...
UN aid group: U.S. won’t allow money to help refugee in Syria, Lebanon (Business Insider) United Nations aid group UNRWA alleges that US aid money pledged to the organization was specifically earmarked for refugee services in certain areas and could not be used for services in Syria and Lebanon. This marks the first time the US has specifically exempted their funds from being used in those countries, according to Elizabeth Campbell, Director at The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA)...
22 January 2018
Andru and his mother visited the CNEWA office in Amman recently. (photo: CNEWA)
Editor’s note: Last week, we received this touching note from our office in Amman, Jordan — a reminder of the tremendous difference CNEWA is making in the lives of so many, in ways large and small.
Andru’s family faced the same horrible situation of so many other Iraqi families: they were were forced to flee their cities and villages in Nineveh Plain and were displaced to Kurdistan for a couple years. Finally, they decided to try their luck and come to Jordan.
Andru is six years-old. He has one brother and two sisters who are in good health. But since he was born, he could not walk, due to looseness in the muscles of his feet and a small amount of brain damage. The doctor says it is something you can barely notice, and that he will grow up as a normal child. Indeed, he started to talk at the age of 10 months — but something happened in Erbil that silenced him.
Andru has difficulty standing, but it is hoped that with therapy he may be able to walk.
According to his mother, who recently visited our CNEWA office in Amman: “While staying in Erbil, Andru was with us outside the house and he was on a baby walker to strengthen his muscles. All of a sudden, a low-flying airplane passed overhead. Hearing the loud noise, Andru screamed and cried, because he was afraid. After this incident, we noticed that Andru could not hear voices or sounds. The doctor told us that Andru lost his hearing in both ears. While in Iraq, we installed two hearing aids, but there was no progress or improvement.”
This family arrived in Jordan one month ago, and they are staying with a brother-in-law, who is married with two children. Ten people are living in one apartment at the Al-Hashimi area in Amman, with two rooms only. Both families share the rent of US $211. In addition to the electricity and water bills, they also share the food.
The family heard about CNEWA from other Iraqis, and came to register with us and benefit from the multiple programs we offer: food tickets, a health program, kerosene and blankets, in addition to summer Bible camp. They received a kerosene heater, and were referred to the Italian Hospital to receive the necessary health services for Andru. They were also provided with the contact numbers for the deaf school in Salt and Our Lady of Peace Center for Physiotherapy — and left our office full of hope, confident that Andru will receive the care he needs from those Christian institutions.
When he saw this icon in our office, Andru wanted to kiss the image of the Virgin Mary.
22 January 2018
Palestinian Catholics pray during Mass on 21 January at St. Joseph Church in, Jifna, West Bank.
(photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)
Building walls, whether between Israel and the Palestinian territories or the United States and Mexico, can only serve to separate people and create more isolation, said Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio L. Elizondo of Seattle.
“Walls can’t bring any positive aspect to any country,” he said 21 January, during a visit to this West Bank village. “The image is very negative. ‘I am keeping you out of my life.’ ... It creates more resentment and isolation. It makes it impossible to see the other.”
Bishop Elizondo was among 10 Hispanic U.S. bishops visiting the Holy Land and meeting with Israelis and Palestinians to get a better understanding of the Holy Land situation and to advocate for “bridges not walls.”
The bishop said he had returned to the Holy Land for the first time in 30 years and had been disappointed by the feeling that the situation had gotten worse rather than better.
“It is a tragic feeling coming to the Holy Land,” a place which for centuries has not had peace, he said. “It is a long process. A very slow process. I praise and pray for people in that process, but you have to be ready for martyrdom all that time. We humans are very slow learners.”
While acknowledging that terrorist violence was one of the push factors for the creation of the Israeli separation barrier — which includes a series of 25-foot cement walls and fences and is expected to extend more than 400 miles — Auxiliary Bishop Arturo Cepeda of Detroit said the whole use of the concept of walls prevents people from “seeing the other as a human person.”
“If we are not able to see the other as a human person, we are missing the point of who we are. The message is that this is about people, it is a human crisis ... the challenge is what is the most effective way to communicate this,” he said. “This is a human crisis. In our USA, we are facing a very, very hard human crisis, which is our immigrants. It is a terrible crisis.”
The Rev. Firas Aridah, parish priest at St. Joseph Church, told the visiting bishops there are more than 140 Israeli settlements and 636 Israeli checkpoints within the West Bank.
“We need the recognition of the simple human principle: No people has the right to impose his occupation on another people. We are waiting for the day when our churches will ring their bells, celebrating freedom and justice for all, Palestinians and Israelis,” Father Aridah said.
Earlier, Bishops Elizondo and Cepeda concelebrated Mass at St. Joseph Parish. In his homily, Bishop Elizondo told parishioners that, without forgiveness, there can be no dialogue.
“Regardless of the nationality — whether it be Palestinian, Israeli, Mexican or American — we are all created by the same Father and all redeemed by the same savior, Jesus Christ,” he said. “Forgiveness is the best and the most difficult, but the most powerful thing we can ever offer anybody. Forgiveness is a gift from God. It is very tough.”
Bishop Cepeda reminded parishioners that it was God who gave them the courage to “cry out for peace, justice, dignity and freedom.”
“Let us never ever stop crying out for what we believe in as people of faith, as Christians, as people of this land,” he urged. “We belong here, we belong to God, and God will give us the courage.”
The same day, other members of the delegation visited Holy Family Parish in Gaza. They included Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace; Bishop Nelson J. Perez of Cleveland, chairman of the USCCB Subcommittee on Hispanic Affairs; Bishop Felipe de Jesus Estevez of St. Augustine, Florida; Auxiliary Bishop Octavio Cisneros of Brooklyn, New York; Bishop Armando X. Ochoa of Fresno, California; Auxiliary Bishop Alberto Rojas of Chicago; retired Bishop Placido Rodriguez of Lubbock, Texas; and retired Auxiliary Bishop Rutilio del Riego of San Bernardino, California.
22 January 2018
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence is greeted by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during an official welcome ceremony at the Prime Minister’s office. (photo:Getty Images/Israeli Press Office)
Vice President Pence: U.S. embassy will open in Jerusalem next year (The New York Times) Vice President Mike Pence said on Monday that a new United States Embassy to Israel would open in Jerusalem before the end of 2019. Mr. Pence’s statement, made to the Israeli Parliament during a trip to the Holy Land, follows President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital last month, a move that overturned decades of American policy and international consensus on the status of the holy city...
Jordan’s King: Jerusalem is the key to peace (The Jordan Times) His Majesty King Abdullah on Sunday held talks with US Vice President Mike Pence at Al Husseiniya Palace which focused on Jerusalem and the strategic partnership between Jordan and the US, according to a Royal Court statement. The meeting, which continued over a lunch banquet, was attended by Her Majesty Queen Rania, US second lady Karen Pence, and senior officials from both countries. The King voiced his appreciation of the US for its “historical friendship and support to Jordan throughout the years”...
Rebuilding Aleppo (BBC) Syrians now mend what they care about most, bit by bit. That’s how this painstaking and painful process of rebuilding a celebrated city goes. No one, including the government, has the eye-watering sums it will take to renovate old Aleppo’s storied heritage, and restore the basic services that make a modern city run. Estimates put the cost at tens of billions of dollars...
Syrian refugees found frozen to death in Lebanon (Andalou) The number of Syrian refugees who froze to death due to a snowstorm in eastern Lebanon rose to 17 in three days, according to the Lebanese Civil Defense source. Two more bodies were found late Sunday, the source said. Lebanese soldiers found the bodies, identified as a 30-year-old woman and a three-year-old child, on the mountainous area bordering Syria, it added...
Expert warns 97 percent of Gaza drinking water contaminated (Haaretz) Almost all of the drinking water in the Gaza Strip is importable because of sewage pollution or high salinity levels, according to data presented last week by a hydrologist who advises the Palestinian Water Authority. Ahmed al-Yaqoubi said most Gazans don’t drink the water from their taps because of its poor quality. Instead, they buy expensive water from private enterprises that operate small desalination plants...
Holy city of sterile streets (The New York Times) If there’s an endpoint to the terrible logic of an occupation driven in part by a fanatical settler movement abetted by the state of Israel, that place is the historic center of Hebron. Once home to the souk and jewelry market, a bustling maze of commerce, it is now a stretch of apocalyptic real estate. Wires trail down crumbling walls. Garbage accumulates. Mingling is obliterated. Security demands separation...
19 January 2018
Tags: Syria Lebanon Jerusalem Israel Jordan
Students at the Kidist Mariam Center in Meki, Ethiopia, take part in a traditional coffee ceremony. Learn how the center is helping the community — and helping young Ethiopians discover there’s No Place Like Home — in the December 2017 edition of ONE. (photo: Petterik Wiggers)