5 April 2017
The Rev. Serhiy Kulbaka nearly died during 12 days of captivity. (photo: Ivan Chernichkin)
In the March 2017 edition of ONE, writer Mark Raczkiewycz reports on Ukrainians who have been displaced since the recent war. Below, he offers some additional reflections.
On this reporting trip for CNEWA, two observations left a deep impression on me.
One is the power of the human spirit. It was clear that the violence people saw before having to flee their homes indelibly stays in their memory and the daily stress they face complicates their lives. Yet, they persevere. It’s inspiring to see them fight for their survival without succumbing to self-pity or letting themselves fall into despair. They unite into outreach groups, form communities, and establish support networks. They’re not afraid to ask for help when they need it and try to move on with their lives not knowing what the future has in store for them.
It’s inspiring because it’s easy to get discouraged living in war-ravaged Ukraine, knowing that the country can do little to stop the fighting almost three years into the conflict. I think it’s abundantly clear who can stop the fighting at a moment’s notice.
The Rev. Andriy Nahirnyak, Caritas Ukraine vice president, told me, “people are fatigued, including priests — these are the negative consequences” of the protracted war.
It’s also easy to get discouraged when you see how the government implements evolutionary, and at times, incremental reforms designed to improve the lives of ordinary Ukrainians. For example, only in late January did the relatively new ministry of occupied territories and internally placed persons publish an action plan to more formulate policies in this crucial area to assist 1.7 million refugees.
The fact that average people haven’t benefited from what reforms have been made since February 2014 makes it frustrating. Widespread, top-down corruption is still the nation’s top internal national security threat. It foments cynicism and distrust of government. It erodes the tax base. It diminishes the quality and impact of government services and policies. It essentially is a form of enforced poverty because a few insiders — let’s call them oligarchs — have captured law and policy making through their proxies in parliament and government.
This is what makes Ukrainians stronger in a sense by becoming more self-reliant. Despite all the challenges and obstacles, they trudge forward, not asking much in return.
Another observation was the fallibility of the human spirit. In particular, among priests.
I have seen priests who, like all of us, are vulnerable to feelings of hate and a desire to kill. I’m referring to the Rev. Serhiy Kulbaka, who nearly died during 12 days of captivity and who wanted to shoot his captors upon being released. I’ve spoken to military chaplains who suffer from post-traumatic stress. I heard Father Andriy Naihrnayak say that men of the cloth are being constantly tested by people who turn to the church but who harbor pro-Russian (anti-Ukrainian) views who are also hostile towards the church. Psychologically, priests hear the troubles of refugees during retreats, confession, and during one-on-one meetings. That takes a toll on them.
Priests are the same as anybody else and they also fight temptations of giving up, of losing hope or faith, or in Father Kulbaka’s case, temporarily losing their humanity.
But one of the lessons of the displaced in Ukraine is that humanity often prevails, and the human spirit can and does triumph.
As I noted in my story:
At first [Father Kulbaka] couldn’t find the strength to even pray, let alone “love or bless” someone. He realized his emotions were eating away at him.
“It was a different form of imprisonment,” he says. “So I forced myself to pray.”
“...It was a miracle in a sense. My health started to vastly improve. When I reached this feeling of deliverance, of being in total serenity, my blood pressure and sugar level normalized.”
After recovering at a monastery for three weeks, he traveled to Lviv. Last year, he suffered a stroke, which further debilitated him. Now, having regained much of his strength, he serves a new flock, focusing on displaced families.
“I now harbor no negative emotions towards my captors — I would embrace them if I saw them. I pity them because I understand that their state of being wasn’t normal. I absolutely forgave them. God freed me from all this so I want to give back,” Father Kulbaka explains.
Read more about The Displaced from Ukraine in the current edition of ONE.
5 April 2017
New construction accommodates the growing parish in Izbet al Nakhl, Egypt. Read about why some Christians are experiencing Anxiety in Cairo in the March 2017 edition of ONE.
(photo: David Degner)
5 April 2017
In the video above, Pope Francis condemns chemical bombing in Syria and the terror attack in Russia during his weekly General Audience on 5 April. (video: Rome Reports)
Pope decries horror of Syria attacks (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis appealed to the consciences of local and international leaders to bring an end to the Syrian tragedy. Speaking during the weekly General Audience in St. Peter’s Square, the Pope said that it is “with horror” that we witness the events that have taken place in Syria...
Pope prays for victims and families of Russia bomb attack (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis is praying for the victims of a bomb attack in Russia and for all those affected by the tragedy. Addressing the crowds gathered in St. Peter’s Square for the General Audience, the Pope turned his attention to the “serious attack of the past days in the St. Petersburg subway,” which he said, caused victims and a sense of loss and confusion in the Russian population...
Franciscans launch initiative to combat violence against women in India (Fides) The Franciscans in India have launched a special nationwide campaign with this goal: to end violence against women through measures to prevent, stop and find remedies regarding its effects...
World’s first crowdfunded hospital to open in Aleppo (The London Economic) The World’s first crowdfunded hospital will open tomorrow in Aleppo. Hope Hospital, which was funded by 4,800 single donations from people all over the world, will open to treat the children of Aleppo sending a strong message of solidarity to the Syrian doctors (the Independent Doctors Association) who were rebuilding this children’s hospital for the seventh time after the six previous buildings had been bombed out of action...
4 April 2017
Youth pray at Holy Savior Cathedral in Adigrat, Ethiopia. The bishop of the Eparchy, Abune Tesfaselassie Medhin, shares some personal reflections on life in his country in A Letter from Ethiopia in the March 2017 edition of ONE. (photo: Petterik Wiggers)
4 April 2017
A Russian woman weeps as she lays flowers at a memorial 4 April in Moscow in memory of victims of a bomb blast the previous day in St. Petersburg. The metro attack, which killed at least 11 people and wounded dozens more, was carried out by a suicide bomber, said Russian officials.
(photo: CNS/Maxim Shipenkov, EPA)
Gas attack said to kill dozens in Syria (The New York Times) A toxic gas attack killed dozens of people in northern Syria on Tuesday morning, including women and children, and sickened scores more, according to medics, rescuers and witnesses in the rebel-held province of Idlib, who said the gas had been delivered by a government airstrike...
Russian Orthodox leader asks for prayers after St. Petersburg bombing (Premier.org) The leader of the Russian Orthodox Church has asked for prayers for those impacted by a bombing at a metro station in St Petersburg on Monday. Patriarch Kirill said in a statement that there was never any justification for such an “impudent” crime...>
Moscow archbishop laments ‘curse of terrorism’ after St. Petersburg bombing (CNA) Archbishop Paolo Pezzi of Moscow offered his prayers and condolences following a deadly explosion in the St. Petersburg metro on Monday afternoon. “With deep sorrow, I learned about the villainous terrorist act in St. Petersburg, which killed nine people and caused suffering and grief to many people,” the archbishop said in a 3 April statement. “Together with all faithful Catholics and believers of other faiths and religions, I turn to God with a burning prayer for deliverance of Russia and the world from the curse of terrorism,” he continued. At least 11 people were killed, according to 4 April estimates, and dozens more injured in an explosion on the St. Petersburg metro Monday afternoon...
Report: Israel blocking access to Gaza (AP) An international human rights group on Monday accused Israel of barring foreign researchers from entering the Gaza Strip to document abuses, saying the restrictions call into question Israel’s stated commitment to investigating possible rights violations. In a 47-page report, Human Rights Watch accused Israel of “systematically” preventing its researchers from visiting Gaza since 2008, only granting them one exceptional permit last year. The group also said that Egypt has prevented it and London-based Amnesty International from entering Gaza from its territory since 2012...
3 April 2017
Syrian refugees Ramy and Suhila and their children, Khodus, Rashid and Abdul Mejid, relax in Rome in 2016 after Pope Francis brought them with him from a refugee camp in Lesbos, Greece. The original three families that came with Pope Francis have moved to housing outside the Vatican, and three new Syrian refugee families have taken their place. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
The first three refugee families from Syria welcomed by the Vatican left their temporary homes to start their new lives in Italy, and three new families took their places in Vatican apartments.
The papal Almoner’s Office, which helps coordinate Pope Francis’ acts of charity, announced on 2 April that two Christian families and one Muslim family moved the apartments that housed the first refugee families welcomed by the Vatican in late 2015 and early 2016.
The two Christian families, the papal almoner’s office said, arrived in March after “suffering kidnapping and discrimination” because of their faith.
“The first family is composed of a mother with two adolescent children, a grandmother, an aunt and another Syrian woman who lives with them,” the office said.
The second family is a young couple, who had their first child — a daughter named Stella — shortly after moving into the Vatican apartment, the Almoner’s Office said.
“The mother had been kidnapped for several months by ISIS and now, in Italy, has regained serenity.”
The third family — a mother, father and two children — arrived in Italy in February 2016, the office said. The children have been attending elementary school in Italy while the mother has been attending graduate courses and currently has an internship.
The Vatican welcomed the refugee families after an appeal made by Pope Francis on 6 September 2015, in which he called on every parish, religious community, monastery and shrine in Europe to take in a family of refugees, given the ongoing crisis of people fleeing from war and poverty.
Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, the papal almoner, said that aside from providing a home for the three families, the office also continues to provide financial support to the three Syrian families whom Pope Francis brought to Italy after his visit last year to the Greek island of Lesbos and for the nine additional refugees who arrived later.
3 April 2017
In this image from 2015, a young Syrian mother who was displaced by violence holds her 2-year-old child outside their tent at an informal settlement in Deir al Ahmar, in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. Lebanon’s prime minister is warning this his country is close to the “breaking point” because of the strain of caring for refugees. (photo: CNS/Sam Tarling, CRS)
Lebanon ‘at breaking point’ due to refugees (Al Jazeera) Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri has warned that his country is close to “breaking point” due to strains of hosting more than one million Syrian refugees, fearing that unrest could escalate due to tensions between refugees and local communities...
Priest visits Iraqi church destroyed by ISIS (CNA) The desolation of a burned Iraqi church left Argentine-born missionary Father Luis Montes with the firm conviction that Satan is at the root of the attacks, and Christians must pray for the conversion of ISIS...
Evidence of ISIS using human shields in Iraq (BBC) The BBC has seen evidence that so-called Islamic State (IS) has been using children as human shields as they fight to keep control of the Iraqi city of Mosul. BBC Persian correspondent Nafiseh Kohnavard and producer Joe Inwood had exclusive access to helicopter missions of the Iraqi military and witnessed the battle from above...
A journey into Syria’s secret torture wards (The Washington Post) In interviews across Lebanon, Turkey and Europe, more than a dozen survivors and army defectors described horrors in Syrian military hospitals across the country for which war crimes lawyers say they have struggled to find a modern parallel...
Kerala bishop issues pastoral letter for parents on modesty in church (Times of India) In the pastoral letter published in Idukki diocese bulletin, Idukki bishop urged girls to avoid wearing outfits shorter than knee-length while inside the church or on dais to read out the Holy Bible. He also asked women churchgoers who keep special clothes to be worn for prayers and rituals...
In Ethiopia, a search for the lost ark (Houstonia) Ethiopians claim that the ark was never lost, as is believed by most historians, but has been in their country for centuries. Whether that’s true or not is a matter of great speculation. According to legend and many historical records, the Queen of Sheba journeyed from Ethiopia to Jerusalem where she met King Solomon. One thing led to another and after Sheba returned to her country, their son Menelik I was born...
31 March 2017
We’re pleased to announce that the new edition of ONE is now available online —and headed to a mailbox near you.
Among other things, the March edition features a Letter from Ethiopia, written by Abune Tesfaselassie Medhin, the bishop for the Ethiopian Catholic Eparchy of Adigrat; a poignant glimpse at efforts at Breaking the Cycle of addiction and abuse, to help children in Kerala; and a dramatic report on The Displaced of Ukraine, struggling to start over after a devastating war.
For more, check out the video below, from CNEWA president Msgr. John E. Kozar, who offers a preview of what’s in ONE.
You can find the whole March 2017 edition online at this link.
31 March 2017
The sun sets over the Mediterranean. (photo: Chris Kennedy)
Yesterday, our last and most time-intensive day here in Lebanon, began as all of our days have, in the traffic-choked Beirut rush hour. But this morning, we were in for a dramatic change of scenery as we headed east over the mountains and into the Bekaa Valley. The fertile, flat landscape is where the majority of Lebanon’s 1.5 million Syrian refugees reside and where, in some villages, they outnumber the native population. From deep in the valley, you can see the last mountain of Lebanon and see a guard post where Syria begins.
Accompanied by our Beirut regional director, Michel Constantin, and programs manager, Kamal Abdel Nour, our first stop was the Community Center of the Good Shepherd Sisters in Deir-al-Ahmar, run by Sister Amira Tabel. Over Lebanese coffee (which has become a standard of all of our program visits) she explained the center’s multifaceted, holistic approach to the Christian and Muslim Syrian refugee population it serves.
Sister Amira explains the Lebanese curriculum. (photo: Chris Kennedy)
“If a child asks what a nun is,” she told us, “I explain that a nun is someone who loves and serves everyone and doesn’t distinguish between their nationality or religion or anything else.” In addition to education following the Lebanese curriculum, the center also offers vocational training to young men and women and psycho-social training to parents and children. She has also worked to build a culture of peace and understanding, ensuring that the teachers are trained by social workers to utilize positive reinforcement to encourage every student.
Hearing Sister Amira describe her efforts was awe-inspiring. To ensure that children weren’t exploited by local farmers, she added classes to keep the kids at the school for longer hours. In another instance, Sister used cultural opportunities — such as how to remove henna — as a health lesson on how to wash hands. And when a student stopped coming to class for several days after a bad grade on a quiz, Sister invited the mother to sewing classes to encourage the family to remain involved in the school.
A student takes a break during his studies at the Good Shepherd social center.
(photo: Chris Kennedy)
We were able to visit a few classes and saw firsthand how Sister Amira’s ideals have been put into action. Students of all ages warmly greeted us in English, Arabic and French — all of which are taught in the Lebanese curriculum. Their commitment to their education is a commitment to the future of Lebanon. It’s no surprise that the Fratelli Association we visited on our first day modeled their work in southern Lebanon after the Good Shepherd Sisters.
After a delicious lunch with Bishop Hanna Rahme of the Maronite Catholic Eparchy of Baalbek-Deir El Ahmar, and with much more to see in the region, we ventured south to the city of Zahle, the economic center of the valley. There, we visited a Syrian refugee camp supported by CNEWA through the local Melkite eparchy. Over the last year, we’ve provided heating supplies and hygiene kits to over 1,200 refugee families, both Muslim and Christian. The warm welcome we received was overwhelming. The residents, who have been there since 2012, were quick to show us their tents, with makeshift kitchens and sleeping quarters. Children, most of whom have never known any other lifestyle, joyfully ran among the alleys — while oblivious to the omnipresent tripping hazards. Women and girls gathered scallions from a nearby garden. A few men sat sipping cups of afternoon tea before resuming work on a concrete walkway, a vast improvement over the gravel that quickly turns muddy in the rain. With the help of the local church, families have adjusted to their new normal. While we’ve encountered joyful people throughout the week, here we saw the most resilient.
A young girl stands in a Syrian refugee camp. (photo: Chris Kennedy)
Saying several goodbyes to new friends of all ages, we drove up narrow lanes and steep hills to a diminutive apartment shared by two Catholic families from Homs, Syria. They clutched the rosaries around their necks as they explained that they had left behind everything amid the destruction of the city. The fathers are desperately seeking employment, and one explained that his wife is expecting a child. Through the work of the archdiocese, these families cannot be left behind.
After a long day, we climbed the mountain again in time to see the sun setting over the Mediterranean. We pray in a special way for the families we met, hoping that each day dawns brighter than the last.
Given the good work we’ve seen today, we know it will.
31 March 2017
Sister Anahid, a Dominican sister of St. Catherine of Siena, administers a primary school in Dohuk. (photo: Paul Jeffrey)
The new edition of ONE features a web exclusive: a story by photojournalist Paul Jeffrey describing the efforts to keep hope alive among Iraq’s displaced Christians:
Ahlam Ibrahim, a displaced Chaldean Catholic, fled from Tesqopa in 2014. Although ISIS was driven from her home late last year, she continues to rent a small apartment in Sharafiya.
“If the mobile clinic didn’t come here, we wouldn’t have medicines, because none of us can afford to buy them from a pharmacy,” Ms. Ibrahim says. “We are far from the fields where we can earn our living, and most of what we have goes into paying the rent every month.
“There’s little for us here, but we’re not ready to go back yet, either. I can rebuild my house, but I can’t do it without some sense of security that ISIS won’t return.”
The mobile clinic, a lifeline to many, is one of many initiatives of the Christian Aid Program Nohadra-Iraq (CAPNI), an organization based in Dohuk. Since 2014, CAPNI — which CNEWA helps suppport with funds — has focused on responding to the humanitarian crisis generated by ISIS.
The Rev. Emanuel Youkhana is an archimandrite of the Church of the East and the executive director of CAPNI. He previously served congregations in the Dohuk area destroyed by the government of President Saddam Hussein in the 1980’s — including many displaced members. When Kurds of the region rose against the government in 1991, Abuna Emanuel became a spokesperson for the local Christian population, helping journalists and church leaders from abroad to understand the plight of religious minorities. As a result, President Hussein blacklisted him, and in 1994 a grenade was thrown into his family’s home. No one was injured, but Abuna Emanuel responded by moving his family to Germany.
For most of the year, however, he remains in Iraq.
“God wants me here,” he says. “I am a priest, so I must be present in order to be a voice for the voiceless, and a bridge between the persecuted church here and the sister church in Europe and beyond.”
Read the whole story and see more pictures here.