17 April 2015
Young residents sit down for a meal at the Mother Mary Home for Girls, an orphanage run by Syro-Malabar Catholic Missionary Sisters of Mary Immaculate in Kerala. (photo: Sean Sprague)
The Economic Times recently reported that fewer and fewer women in Kerala are choosing to become religious sisters:
Shrinking family sizes and expanding career opportunities for women are posing a problem for the church. In Kerala … fewer women are now taking vows to renounce worldly pursuits and devote themselves fully to religious life. … Social activists say greater empowerment and the fact that churches are still male bastions are also making women look away from the cloistered life of convents. One of the problems this could pose to the church is in the running of institutions such as hospitals, schools and charity organizations that are managed by priests and nuns. …
In Kerala, “there is a 70-75 percent drop in the number of women who were joining convents to be nuns,” says Sebastian Adayanthrath, the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church’s auxiliary bishop for Ernakulum-Angamaly.
The peak was in the mid-1960’s, when there were as many as two dozen newly admitted nuns every year in each province. It lasted for about a decade, and then, started to decline to about 20 by 1985 and 10 in the past decade, he says. …
Interestingly, there is no decline in the number of men who come forward to become priests. Church spokesmen say this may be because the priest’s job is more visible. He has a social standing because of the functions that he has to do, they said.
Apart from Kerala, the states that have historically sent large number of women to become nuns are Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh.
Though Kerala still sends more women than any other state to convents, the northern states are catching up.
In early 2010, we shined a spotlight on Kerala’s decline in vocations:
In this fast-changing southeastern Indian state, literacy is nearly universal; education reigns king. Not long ago, conversation among villagers centered on crop rotation and seasonal rains. Today, rural and urban Keralites are preoccupied by which colleges their children will attend and which professions offer lucrative careers. No longer confined to rearing children and managing the household, women set their sights on horizons filled with diverse possibilities. …
This shift in the social landscape has impacted the Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara Catholic churches, especially their ability to recruit men and women to serve as priests and religious, respectively. Observers sense an imminent decline in the ranks of vocations among these churches, which are centered in the state.
They point out that today’s candidates no longer come from wealthy or upper middle-class backgrounds, nor do they represent the highest performing students. Many lack the emotional maturity of their predecessors. …
For the first time in centuries, Kerala’s Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara churches are thinking twice about the recruitment and formation processes of their priests and religious as the culture around them changes.
Read more about Keeping Up With the Times in India, in the January 2010 issue of ONE.
17 April 2015
Tags: India Sisters Kerala Catholic Vocations (religious)
A Syrian child eats a piece of bread at the Idlib’s Free Syrian Army-controlled Atmeh refugee camp. (photo: Cem Genco/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
U.N. calls on Western nations to shelter Syrian refugees (New York Times) With Syria’s neighbors increasingly shutting their borders to refugees and thousands trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea in search of safety, the war in Syria is creating the worst global refugee crisis in decades, putting new pressure on the United States and other Western countries to open their doors — and in turn, prompting domestic political backlash…
U.N. agency seeks unhindered access to Yarmouk camp (U.N. News Center) While ramping up assistance to Palestinian refugees and Syrian civilians that have fled a besieged camp on the southern edge of Damascus, the United Nations agency tasked with aiding Palestinians throughout the region said today that it is still seeking unhindered access to Yarmouk camp itself, where thousands remain trapped by fighting among armed groups…
Aleppo’s rebels brace for ISIS assault (Al Monitor) Syria’s rebels are currently building up their troops in the northern countryside of Aleppo, as there have been talks about a possible imminent attack by ISIS. On 7 April, the group carried out two suicide attacks targeting two locations of the Sham Front — a unification of former forces including the Jaish al Mujahideen and the Islamic Front among others — in northern Aleppo…
Car bomb explodes outside U.S. consulate in Iraq (NBC News) A car bomb exploded on Friday outside the U.S. Consulate in the Iraqi city of Erbil, a State Department official told NBC News. There were no immediate reports of injuries to consulate personnel or local guards, the State Department official said. A Kurdish media outlet reported that three people were killed and five injured…
Migrants thrown overboard, Italy police say (Al Jazeera) A dozen African migrants have died after being thrown overboard by fellow passengers, Italian police say, and another 41 boat migrants are feared to have drowned in a separate incident…
Egypt strikes Islamic texts from schools, angering Salafists (Al Monitor) The decision of Egypt’s Ministry of Education to remove some content from primary and secondary school curricula has sparked wide controversy in the country. While the state views the decision — which will omit some religious texts and passages on historical Islamic figures — as a way to counter radical ideologies and fight extremism, the Salafist movements have deemed it a war on Islam…
Death toll of Ukraine fighting now above 6,100 (Daily Star Lebanon) The United Nations says the number of people killed in a year of fighting in Ukraine has now passed 6,100, and says it’s increasingly worried that breaches in a cease-fire will further worsen the human rights situation in parts of the country’s east…
16 April 2015
Tags: Syria Egypt Ukraine Refugees Migrants
Mayor Akel Biltaji of Amman speaks with the group of pilgrims. (photo: Greg Kandra)
If you were looking for a figure representing the diversity and religious harmony of Jordan, you couldn’t do much better than a man who was born in Gaza, was raised a Quaker, married a Muslim, and now serves as the mayor of the capital city of Amman.
Meet Mayor Akel Biltaji.
I did Monday night — along with the other religious bloggers and writers who are touring Jordan this week at the invitation of the Jordan Tourism Board. The mayor agreed to give us some time to talk about issues facing his city and his country. So a little after 6 p.m., we boarded our bus and made our way to Amman’s imposing city hall.
(photo: Greg Kandra)
We were ushered in through security and up a winding stairway to a large conference room.
(photo: Greg Kandra)
And there we suddenly saw the mayor: an elegant figure with a shock of white hair and a trim moustache, greeting each of us at the entrance to the room, shaking our hands, making chit-chat and asking us where we were from. We took our places around a large square conference table. The mayor’s communications staff also joined us.
Dapper, warm, talkative, effusive, the 64-year-old mayor is the very model of modern major politico. He’s also a born diplomat. When one of our bloggers asked him which cities in America he liked the most, he slyly worked his way around the room and extolled the virtues of every home town of every writer at the table.
(photo: Greg Kandra)
He has an instinct for people. And his background in management is impressive. From his official biography:
Raised and educated in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, he obtained his High School Diploma and the London General Certificate Examination at the American Friends Schools (Quaker) in 1959. Mr. Biltaji graduated in the summer of 1962 with a degree in education and joined the Arabian American Oil Company (ARAMCO) the same year. In the summer of 1969, Mr. Biltaji returned to Jordan to join the National Carrier ALIA, the Royal Jordanian Airlines as a senior management officer. In his 28-year distinguished airline career, Mr. Biltaji served in different capacities, the last of which was senior vice president.
His Majesty the Late King Hussein appointed him in March 1997 as the country’s minister of Tourism and Antiquities, where he continued to serve in this portfolio under His Majesty King Abdullah II until June, 2001, when he was appointed by King Abdullah II as chief commissioner to the newly declared Region of the Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority
In February, 2004, His Majesty King Abdullah II appointed Minister Biltaji as His Majesty’s advisor on Tourism Promotion, Foreign Direct Investment and Country Branding. In November 2005, he was also appointed as a member of the House of Senate, where he served as chairman of the Tourism and Heritage House Committee, and member of the Foreign Relations and Education Committees.
You would think the mayor of a major world capital would have better things to do than chat with writers after business hours on a Monday night. But for over an hour, Mayor Biltaji — in between extolling the virtues of his city and selling it to all those in the room — entertained questions on a number of topics.
On Jordan’s significance to the world: “This is the land of the sunrise of faith. … Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The mix is here. The heritage, the antiquities, it’s all around. This is the source of a spirit of compassion. When we count the apostles and the prophets that have touched this land, we are blessed. It means they left something and it stayed, and we hope to be the custodians to these relics and antiquities.”
On the importance of religious acceptance: “What is so unique about us here is acceptance. It’s not tolerance. Tolerance is a bit condescending, you know? That’s not coexistence. What matters is acceptance. Once you accept, you find yourself falling into taking the other in and being taken in, too, by the other. Once you surrender to that, that’s how things should be. “
On how Jordan is coping with refugees: “We’re managing. We are sharing with them whatever we can and making them feel at home. Just imagine if one-third of the U.S. just crossed the Mexican borders into the U.S. We have one-third the population, 30 percent of people living here have come from other places and are sharing very scarce resources. But this is part of our idea of acceptance. This is what is unique about Jordan. To have [been] born in Gaza, brought up in Jaffa, become a Jordanian — now I’m the mayor of four million people. Where else in the world can you do that? Lebanon? You can’t. They have kept the refugees in something like a ghetto. Here, certain refugees who came here years ago and made a life here have insisted on staying in camps as a symbol of the right to return. Some are members of parliament, members of city council, but they are Jordanians living in the camp. The identity is there. Refugees are included here in the political life of the country. Lebanon is different. It’s very sectarian. But here? We have 1.6 million Syrians — 20 percent of our schools in the north are full of Syrian refugees. But this, again is a sign of resilience, of compassion.”
At the conclusion, he wished us well and thanked us for coming to his country — and for helping to tell its story. He acknowledged that many people misunderstand Jordan and don’t realize that in a corner of the world rife with turmoil and terror, the Hashemite Kingdom remains stable, modern and secure. Again and again he attributed that to the leadership of the king, and what the mayor called a sense of “acceptance” of many cultures and faiths.
I think we all left the meeting wishing nothing but the best for the mayor and the land he so clearly loves. In comparison to the storms raging around it, Jordan is a sea of tranquility. Let’s pray it stays that way. The Middle East needs more Jordans — and more cheerleaders for the region like Akel Biltaji.
(photo: Greg Kandra)
16 April 2015
Tags: Middle East Holy Land Jordan Amman
At the Mar Shemmon Bar Sabbae Chaldean Catholic Church in Tbilisi, 18-year-old Keti works to master the ancient art of cloisonné enamel (or minankari in Georgian). To learn about the revival of this age-old technique, and how it is improving the lives of Georgian youth, read Crafting a Future from the Winter 2014 issue of ONE. (photo: Molly Corso)
16 April 2015
Tags: Education Cultural Identity Georgia Art Youth
In Antelias, Lebanon, on 7 April, workers set up a flame burner outside a chapel honoring the memory of Armenian victims of the Ottoman government. (photo: Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images)
Turkey’s Century of Denial About an Armenian Genocide (New York Times) A hundred years ago, amid the upheaval of World War I, countless villages across eastern Anatolia became killing fields as the desperate leadership of the Ottoman Empire, having lost the Balkans and facing the prospect of losing its Arab territories as well, saw a threat closer to home. Worried that the Christian Armenian population was planning to align with Russia, a primary enemy of the Ottoman Turks, officials embarked on what historians have called the first genocide of the 20th century: Nearly 1.5 million Armenians were killed, others in forced marches to the Syrian desert that left them starved to death. The genocide was the greatest atrocity of the Great War. It also remains that conflict’s most bitterly contested legacy, having been met by the Turkish authorities with 100 years of silence and denial. For surviving Armenians and their descendants, the genocide became a central marker of their identity, the psychic wounds passed through generations…
Coptic pope to commemorate centenary of the Armenian Genocide (Fides) Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II will travel to Yerevan on 20 April to take part in the most significant events planned to commemorate the centenary of the Armenian Genocide…
ISIS’s ‘war crimes’ against Yazidi women documented (Washington Post) Yazidi women, released by ISIS group militants, hug as they arrive in Kirkuk, 180 miles north of Baghdad on 8 April. ISIS released more than 200 Yazidis on Wednesday after holding them for eight months, an Iraqi Kurdish security official said, the latest mass release of captives by the extremists…
‘Lost generation’ of 15 million children out of school in Middle East (Al Jazeera) Nearly 1 in 4 children in the Middle East and North Africa is either out of school or at risk of dropping out, the United Nations said Wednesday in a report highlighting the disruptive impact of war on a region where education rates had been steadily improving for years…
St. Petersburg Smolny Cathedral restored to Russian Orthodox Church (AsiaNews) Smolny Cathedral in St. Petersburg, one of the symbols of the city of the Tsars and now owned by the state, will be returned to the Russian Orthodox Church. This was announced on 14 April by Nikolai Burov, director of the museum of the four cathedrals which also includes that of Smolny…
As ISIS pushes on Iraq’s Ramadi, 2000 families flee (Daily Star Lebanon) Clashes between Iraqi forces and ISIS militants pressing their offensive for Ramadi, the capital of western Anbar province, has forced more than 2,000 families to flee from their homes in the area, an Iraqi official said Thursday…
15 April 2015
Tags: Lebanon Children Middle East Armenia Russia
Girls tend to plants at San Joe Puram in the Faridabad district of the northern Indian state of Haryana. To learn more about the important work of this Syro-Malabar Catholic Church institution, read A Place of Promise — and Providence in the Winter edition of ONE. (photo: John Mathew)
15 April 2015
Tags: India Children Education Syro-Malabar Catholic Church Disabilities
A woman receives food in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk on 9 April. The year-long conflict in east Ukraine has affected people’s everyday life in many ways including their economic and social life. (photo: Sefa Karacan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
In rebel territory of Ukraine, relief for illness and pain is blocked (New York Times) In a cramped cardiologist’s office in southeast Ukraine, Tatyana Ivanovna, 76, begged for sedatives. Andrey Polyakov, her doctor, took time to listen, though he knew there was nothing he could do. In the past half-hour, he had turned down requests for antibiotics, hypertension pills and several other routine medicines that have all but disappeared from this separatist-held part of Ukraine. Even before the war, it was tough here in the Donetsk coal basin to navigate the aches and pains of old age on a meager pension. Now, it is a battle for survival, and looking grimmer by the day as fighting intensifies despite a shaky cease-fire…
Hope dwindling for Ukraine’s displaced (Al Jazeera) The otherworldly chant of the monks rose from the onion-domed chapel and seemed to emanate from the very cliffs themselves, drifting through the narrow apertures of the complex of caves that Orthodox monks had dug by hand here at the Sviatohirsk Monastery some 500 years ago to escape the temptations — and horrors — of the world. This peaceful scene stood in sharp contrast to the horrors the miner witnessed just two months ago. As mortars, shells and rockets screamed through the air early this February, Gontsov, his wife and his sons hid in their cellar in Chornukhinye, a tiny village on the front line of fighting between Ukrainian and pro-Russian rebel forces in Debaltseve, a strategic rail hub town just a short walk down the road from their house…
More migrant deaths: J.R.S. calls on E.U. to take action (Vatican Radio) 400 migrants are feared dead after a boat capsized off Libya on Sunday. Hundreds of thousands of people have made the perilous crossing in recent years, fleeing conflict, persecution and poverty. Echoing the Jesuit Refugee Service that has repeatedly called on E.U. leaders to put into action new policies, the U.N. refugee agency and other aid organizations say not enough is being done to save the lives of the rising number of refugees and migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe…
Churches call for an end to violence in Aleppo (Vatican Radio) The Council of Christian Confessions in Aleppo have released a statement calling for an end to the international arms dealing in Syria which has caused immeasurable damage and loss of life to civilians…
ISIS withdraws from Yarmouk camp, Nusra remains (Daily Star Lebanon) ISIS fighters have largely withdrawn from a Palestinian refugee camp on the outskirts of Damascus after expelling their main rival, several residents and a Palestinian official said Wednesday. This exit leaves the Al Qaeda-linked Al Nusra Front as the main group inside the camp…
Fierce clashes in Iraq as ISIS seizes villages near Ramadi (Daily Star Lebanon) ISIS launched an offensive in Iraq’s western Anbar province Wednesday, capturing three villages near the provincial capital of Ramadi and forcing villagers to flee from their homes as fierce clashes were underway between the extremists and government troops, residents said…
14 April 2015
Tags: Syria Iraq Ukraine Refugees Migrants
The president of CNEWA, Msgr. John E. Kozar, has authorized the immediate release of $686,000 to assist the Christian community in the Middle East as part of CNEWA’s ongoing commitment to the region’s churches and their humanitarian and pastoral initiatives.
The aid targets those most in need, he stated, and will be administered by CNEWA’s partners on the ground. The funds represent a portion of CNEWA’s allocation from the voluntary collection taken up last autumn in dioceses across the United States. Support includes:
$100,000 to renovate and furnish church structures damaged during anti-Christian riots in Egypt in August 2013.
$15,000 to help the Daughters of the Sacred Heart in Dohuk, Iraqi Kurdistan, run a home for the care of elderly and disabled women, many of them displaced by ISIS.
$3,000 to support the Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena for the formation of novices. The sisters have lost their mother house in Mosul and many convents in northern Iraq. From their exile in Erbil, they are CNEWA’s primary partners in caring for the displaced.
$150,000 to assist parishes in Jordan hosting Iraqi Christian refugee families. Living in parish community centers, families delineate space with temporary dividers, and receive bedding, clothing, food and a caring ear from the parish community.
$50,000 to support the Mother of Mercy Clinic in Zerqa, Jordan. Staffed by the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, the sisters serve impoverished refugee expectant mothers, Muslim and Christian, an increasing number of whom are Iraqi and Syrian.
$50,000 to help the Pontifical Mission Community Center in Amman, Jordan, provide counseling, tutorial services, catechesis and English classes to marginalized populations, especially Syrian and Iraqi Christian families. The center is administered by the Teresians, an international Catholic lay association.
$50,000 to provide additional support to the Italian Hospital in Amman for its treatment of refugees and the poor. The hospital is administered by the Dominican Sisters of the Presentation of Mary, an Iraqi religious community.
$75,000 to assist religious sisters in Lebanon with their outreach to poor Lebanese nationals. The influx of more than a million Syrian and Iraqi refugees has devastated the poor of Lebanon, who have grown poorer with the loss of income and housing. Funds provide food, medicines, counseling services and other forms of assistance.
$93,000 to help Holy Family Catholic Parish in Gaza renovate its community center, which provided families a refuge during the aerial bombing of Gaza last summer. The Latin parish is the only Catholic church in the Gaza Strip. It serves the entire community, sponsoring a school, hosting a home for children with special needs run by the Missionaries of Charity, and offering other social services, such as post-traumatic stress disorder counseling.
$100,000 to provide medical care for impoverished families in Syria through CNEWA’s partners on the ground — religious communities of men and women.
Samir and Nevine Deshto, Iraqi Christian refugees, stand with their newborn daughter in the Italian Hospital in Amman. (photo: Nader Daoud)
Msgr. Kozar noted that portions of this disbursement supplement the agency’s commitment of more than $6.8 million to the peoples and churches of the Middle East in 2015. CNEWA’s Middle East program includes an array of aid from emergency relief for displaced Iraqi Christian families and support for formation programs for seminarians in Egypt, Iraq and Lebanon to health care and schooling initiatives in Syria and Palestine.
An agency of the Holy See, CNEWA works throughout the Middle East, with offices in Amman, Beirut and Jerusalem. On behalf of the pope, CNEWA works for, through and with the Eastern churches. CNEWA is a registered charity in Canada and in the United States by the State of New York. All contributions are tax deductible and tax receipts are issued. In the United States, donations can be made online at www.cnewa.org; by phone at 800.442.6392; or by mail, CNEWA, 1011 First Avenue, New York, NY 10022-4195. In Canada, visit www.cnewa.ca; write a cheque to CNEWA Canada and send to 1247 Kilborn Place, Ottawa, Ontario K1H 6K9; or call toll-free at 1-866-322-4441.
14 April 2015
Tags: Middle East Christians CNEWA Middle East Relief Eastern Churches
Marseille, 13 years old and autistic, has made friends and grown more comfortable socializing since coming to school at the Good Samaritan Orphanage. It is not uncommon in Egypt for children with special needs to be hidden at home out of fear that the community will stigmatize the family. To learn more about the work of this institution, read Egypt’s Good Samaritans, in the Winter 2014 issue of ONE. (photo: Amal Morcos)
14 April 2015
Tags: Egypt Children Orphans/Orphanages ONE magazine
Syrian opposition forces fire a rocket at a government building during the clashes in Aleppo on 13 April. (photo: Salih Mahmud Leyla/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Syria rebels attack government intelligence center in Aleppo (New York Times) Syrian militants, including members of Al Qaeda’s local branch, attacked a government intelligence center in the northern city of Aleppo, damaging much of the building by blowing up a tunnel under it, activists said Tuesday…
Rebels attack Assyrian quarter in Aleppo, 40 killed (AINA) Syrian opposition forces launched a sustained attack on Aleppo beginning on Friday evening, 10 April, and ending on Saturday afternoon. The attack left massive destruction in eastern Aleppo, which is predominantly Assyrian and Armenian. Twenty people, mostly Assyrians, were killed. Opposition forces also used explosive drums at a popular market in central Maadi district in Aleppo, killing more than 20 civilians, including women and children…
Middle East Christians trapped by extremists forge alliances with former foes (Wall Street Journal) Throughout the Middle East, many Christians, under attack and without the protection of functioning states, face difficult choices amid the region’s roiling sectarian conflicts. Some are taking sides, others are taking up arms. In Iraq and Syria, for example, Christians fight alongside Kurds against Islamic State, even though some Christians accuse the Kurds of seeking to one day incorporate them and their land into Kurdish-controlled territories. Christians in Lebanon, meanwhile — long viewed as the region’s most empowered and assertive — “are 10 times weaker than they were in 1975,” said the Rev. Fadi Daou, a Lebanese Maronite Catholic priest…
I.O.C.C. assists Syrian families escaping bloodshed In Idlib (I.O.C.C.) As the security and humanitarian situation in Idlib, Syria, continues to deteriorate following escalated fighting this past weekend, International Orthodox Christian Charities, working in partnership with the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East, is providing emergency medical assistance, hygiene kits and personal care items to displaced Idlib families who have fled to the Syrian port city of Lattakia…
Fighting in Ukraine defies cease-fire (Al Jazeera) Fighting raged overnight and in the early hours on Tuesday on the outskirts of the rebel stronghold of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine despite an agreement reached by the Ukrainian and Russian foreign ministers a day earlier. Heavy shelling was heard in Donetsk late Monday evening and in the early hours on Tuesday…
Russian Orthodox Church supports creation of Palestinian state (Fides) The Russian Orthodox Church “expresses its support for the demands and aspirations of the Palestinians to create their own state, in implementation of U.N. resolutions,” said Patriarch Kirill in a statement…
Divorce in Gaza comes at steep price (Al Monitor) In Gazan courts, judges permit female-initiated divorces in several cases, including a husband’s imprisonment, abandonment and sexual impotency. Another way to end marriage is divorce by khula, whereby a wife financially compensates her husband…
Tags: Syria Ukraine Middle East Christians Palestine Patriarch Kirill