3 May 2016
Sister Micheline Lattouff stands in her office in Deir el Ahmar, Lebanon. “I believe that even if a person is in a very bad situation,” she says, “my mission is to show him the spark and light it.”
(photo: Tamara Abdul Hadi)
In a corner of the world facing increasing desolation and despair, Sister Micheline Lattouff is a true hero. She has devoted her life to helping provide healing and hope to Syrian refugees in Lebanon:
“There is an ancient saying, ‘The candle that is just smoking, not lighted, still has a life in it, still has hope in it,’” says Sister Micheline. “I have no right to turn it off. I believe that even if a person is in a very bad situation, my mission is to show him the spark and light it.”
She began this journey at the age of 17. While on a high school retreat, she met a Lebanese sister of the Good Shepherd who had lived in Sudan and worked with women prisoners.
“These women were in bad shape — no toilets, no sanitary napkins — losing their dignity with no one to help them,” she says. “I was inspired that these were not nuns who just prayed; they were nuns who helped the poor. That is when I decided to become a Good Shepherd sister,” she says. “The mission of the Good Shepherd Sisters is to defend the rights of women, children and families — to help them regain their dignity.”
...She arrived in the Bekaa Valley in 2004, seven years before the war in Syria began, and soon began teaching in nearby Deir el Ahmar.
“I felt this region needed support, like sheep without a shepherd,” says the 44-year-old sister, citing concerns such as high rates of illiteracy.
According a 2009 study by the United Nations Development Program, some 16.8 percent of adults in the Bekaa region cannot read — the highest rate in Lebanon. Many students drop out, drifting away from school to focus on farm work. Worse still, many become embroiled in the drug trade, which thrives in the region due to the cultivation of cannabis crops.
“The children were watering the hashish,” she says. “So, I started thinking: ‘What can I do for the children in this area?’ ”
Wasting no time, the nun sought resources — faculty volunteers, a public space and basic materials — and in late 2005 started an after-school program. It opened for just two hours each afternoon, but those two hours allowed for healthy socializing, study and play. It gave students another choice in how to spend their time, and provided an incentive to stay in school.
Read the rest of her story. She summed this up beautifully and reflected on her vocation in a 2015 interview:
ONE: What have been some of your more rewarding moments?
ML: The best moment for me is when I see the children happy, successful in their studies and their life, when I see them able to pass through the difficulties and continue to achieve.
ONE: What have been some of your more difficult moments?
ML: The more difficult moments are when I have nothing to give the refugees. It is so difficult for me.
ONE: What thoughts sustain you during difficult times?
ML: I believe in human beings and God. I believe that God is capable of changing a person, when I see people improving from work, when I see success of people and developing.
3 May 2016
An image of Our Lady of Sinj is decorated at St. Jerome Croatian Catholic Church in Chicago. In Catholic tradition, May is the month devoted to Mary. Learn more about the traditions of Balkan emigrants living in Chicago in “Sharing Space in an Adopted Home” from the May 2004
edition of ONE. (photo: Hryhoriy Prystay)
3 May 2016
A child is seen in a hospital bed after being injured in a 10 March bombing near Damascus, Syria. The Syrian army has extended a “regime of calm” around Damascus after a recent resurgence of violence. (photo: CNS/Mohammed Badra, EPA)
Syria extends “regime of calm” (Vatican Radio) The Syrian army confirmed on Monday that a “regime of calm” has been extended for a further 48 hours around Damascus, the country’s capital. This cessation of hostilities in the capital comes after a resurgence of violence in the country’s northern Aleppo region, which has seen more than 250 people killed in the last 9 days, and threatens to destabilize the 9 week truce put in place by UN officials...
Metropolitan offers prayers after fire destroys Serbian cathedral (OCA.org) On Bright Monday, 2 May 2016, His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon, sent a letter to His Grace, Serbian Orthodox Bishop Mitrophan, offering prayers and concern in the wake of a four-alarm fire that engulfed Saint Sava Serbian Orthodox Cathedral near West 25th Street and Broadway in New York City...
Chaldean Patriarchate condemns destruction of church as an attack on Christian memory (Christian Today) The Chaldean Patriarchate has condemned the destruction of the historic Clock Church by the Islamic State (ISIS), saying it was undertaken “to erase Iraq’s Christian memory in favour of a state of strangers who commit terror in the name of Islam.” The iconic Clock Church, a Christian church known for its soaring clock tower which was built in the 1870s, is one of the best known remaining churches in Mosul, Iraq, which was named after its tower and funded by Empress Eugenie, the wife of the last French Emperor Napoleon III...
Syrian women gaining confidence in Turkish refugee camp (Al-Monitor) A Turkish teacher taught the group of 20 Syrian women stitching, embroidery and how to make blankets and mend clothes. The clothes and blankets are sold in shops and bazaars in the city of Gaziantep and inside the camp. Not only did Maysa, [one of the refugees,] earn some extra money, the sewing club gave her something much more valuable...
Ethiopian farmers fighting drought with land restoration (The Guardian) Although the recurrent famine that plagues Ethiopia is too complex to be explained by a single cause, environmental degradation has played a big role. Ethiopia has long been a victim of land degradation, driven by increased human use of land and unsustainable agricultural practices. Grazing of animals and collection of firewood haven’t helped — with less cover and protection against erosion, soil is more easily washed away. Now, Ethiopia is drawing on its business community and public sector to do something about it...
Tribal Christians flee Indian village following threat (UCANews.com) Six families of Gond tribal Christians have fled their village in the central Indian Chhattisgarh state after Hindu neighbors allegedly threatened to kill them if they didn’t convert, their pastor has said. Following a week of harassment and attacks, all 37 Christians fled Katodi village in Kanker district on April 29, Moses Annel told ucanews.com 2 May. They were “beaten up and their houses were destroyed" after they refused the majority Hindu tribal villagers’ “demand to give up their Christian faith,” Annel said...
Jesuits and Rotary partner to help refugees (Vatican Radio) What do millions of refugees — many of them children, adolescents and young adults — who have fled conflict or persecution need to start a new life in host countries? What do they need to be able to go home one day, form a new life and contribute to their communities and to their country? The answer is simple: quality education. Education provides skills, opens the doors to employment, promotes peace and stability...
2 May 2016
A health worker carries a girl, who has been rescued from the wreckage, after a barrel bomb attack on a medical center in Aleppo, Syria last week.
(photo: Ibrahim Ebu Leys/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Last week, CNEWA was able to talk over the phone with the Maronite priest, the Rev. Elias Adas, who is running a health facility in Aleppo, and he confirmed that at present only 35,000 Christians remain in Aleppo out of around 200,000-250,000 before 2011.
He added that the last six days, all Christian quarters were subject to heavy shelling by Islamic militants — namely Suleimanyyeh, Azizeh and Midane. The Christians, along with all inhabitants of Aleppo, are living in very difficult conditions, with no electricity (mostly one hour per day) and inflation causing soaring costs for food and basic needs . He added that due to lack of employment and with very low salaries, all inhabitants of Aleppo are in need for support to be able to survive.
He assured us that the dispensary which he is running is still operational and is providing services to all needy patients.
‘Christian Today’ reports that the Syrian Christian neighborhood of Sulaymaniyah in Aleppo was attacked and at least eight children were killed.
Nuri Kino, founder of Demand for Action (ADFA), a group working to protect minorities in the Middle East, said: “Turkish forces fighting together with the so-called opposition have been fighting the regime’s army for a couple of days now, heavy fighting. But what people could not see coming was the attacks against Christian neighborhoods...Kurdish neighborhoods have also been attacked. Both the Christians and the Kurdish are seen as the enemy, it’s a mess.”
Speaking to Asia News over the phone from Aleppo, Armenian Sevag Tashdjian said: “Islamic terrorist groups supported by Turkey,” who “cross Turkish-Syrian border trafficking arms, ammunition and stolen goods” are responsible for recent deaths. Tashdjian continues “We woke up under the bombs, it is Turkey’s gift.” He added, “Entire neighborhoods have caught fire and we went under the bombs to bring relief to sick and elderly trapped in their homes and take them to safety, to safer underground shelters.”
The few open shopkeepers closed their doors, and for the first time in five years of conflict, “anger has overcome fear.” It must be said that the Aleppo Armenians are the group who paid the highest price so far in the war, with the destruction of the ancient churches (including the Church of the 40 Martyrs, a 17th century architectural jewel). The churches were destroyed by explosives placed in underground tunnels carved from areas controlled by pro-Turkish Islamic terrorists.
Islamic terrorists have launched a series of heavy bomb attacks from areas not under government control on Armenian districts of Aleppo, in clear violation of the ceasefire. The bombs killed 17 Armenians including 3 children and a woman, and have sparked a series of fires that are still raging due to the lack of water, causing extensive destruction and damage to property.
Zarmig Boghigian, the editor of the local Armenian newspaper “Kantsasar,” said “The fighting is very close to the Armenian neighborhoods.” She added: “There are terrible clashes involving rocket fire. They are so close that the population here can see gas shells fired by [rebel] fighters.” Ms. Boghigian confirmed that rebel fire at the weekend seriously damaged a clinic run by an Armenian charity and an Armenian school in the predominantly Christian Nor Kyugh district.
Residents of the city’s Armenian district stated their belief that the attack was deliberately timed for the 101th anniversary of the start of the Armenian genocide — an anniversary that had been observed at churches in the neighborhood the previous day. The biggest indicator of this belief is that unexploded bombs were found with the message “Martyr Enver Pasha” written on them, which notes one of the leaders of the Young Turk movement who perpetrated the Armenian genocide.
Residents charge that Islamic forces in Aleppo are receiving assistance from Turkey, and blasted Syria’s President Assad for his failure to protect the Christian minority.
2 May 2016
Celebrating Easter yesterday, a boy looks at a huge traditional egg on 1 May 2016. Some 374 large eggs and 40,000 small ones decorated by Ukrainian artists are displayed at St. Sophia Square in Kiev. To learn more about the delicate art of egg decorating in Ukraine, read “The Colors of Easter” in the March 2012 edition of ONE. (photo: AFP/Getty Images)
2 May 2016
Syrian Greek Orthodox Christians hold candles during the Easter procession in the capital Damascus on 1 May 2016. (photo: Louai Beshara/AFP/Getty Images)
Pope sends Easter greetings to faithful of Eastern churches (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has sent his greetings to the faithful of the Eastern Churches who are celebrating Holy Easter on Sunday, 1 May according to the Julian calendar. Speaking to pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square for the Regina Coeli prayer he said: “May the Risen Lord bring to our brothers of the Eastern Churches all the gifts of His light and His peace. Christos anesti!”...
Pope appeals for peace in Syria (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Sunday reiterated his plea for peace in Syria appealing to all parties involved in the conflict to respect the cessation of hostilities and commit to dialogue...
Protestors leave Iraqi parliament building but vow to return (Voice of America) Baghdad is largely back to normal after it teetered on the edge of political chaos. Anti-government protesters who had taken over the Iraqi parliament building disbanded in a mostly peaceful fashion as loud speaker announcements urged them to leave...
World must respond to ISIS genocide, UN conference told (CNS) While religious freedom in much of the Middle East is under siege and the civil war in Syria seems to have no end in sight, Carl Anderson, CEO of the Knights of Columbus, and others called the United Nations to action...
Bishops of Aleppo: let us participate in the Passion of Christ (Fides) “We are children of the Resurrection, of hope, and we firmly believe that this suffering will not be in vain: following the footsteps of the saints and martyrs, we add them to the Passion of Christ, so they may become sanctified and sanctifying suffering, for peace in Syria and the salvation of our city.” This is what the Catholic bishops of Aleppo said in a message addressed primarily to the faithful, offering words of consolation and hope to the inhabitants of the martyred Syrian city...
Palestinian president: we have a duty to protect presence of Christians in Middle East (Fides) The protection of the Christian presence in Palestine and all the East “is for us a duty and a mission”: this is how Palestinian President Abu Mazen reiterated his commitment to do everything he can to honor this duty, for the common good of the entire Palestinian people. The Arab Head of State confirmed his commitment in the message addressed to Christians at Easter, celebrated yesterday by churches that follow the Julian calendar...
Russian Orthodox “Holy Fire” flown to Russia from Jerusalem (The Jewish Press) A special aircraft carrying a flame of “Holy Fire” from Jerusalem landed at Moscow’s Vnukovo airport Saturday, TASS reported. Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Apostle Andrew the First Called Foundation Vladimir Yakunin delivered a capsule containing the fire to a Moscow Cathedral for the Easter service officiated by Patriarch Kirill, the head of Russia’s Orthodox Church. The Holy Fire is described by Russian Orthodox Christians as a miracle that occurs every year at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem on Great Saturday, or Holy Saturday, the day preceding Russian Orthodox Easter...
Foundation to host major conference on refugees at the Vatican (Vatican Radio) The Centesimus annus — pro Pontifice Foundation has organized a major international conference to take place 12-14 May, to mark the 25th anniversary of Pope St. John Paul II’s watershed encyclical on politics, economics, and society one hundred years after his predecessor, Leo XIII’s seminal social encyclical, Rerum novarum...
Religious leaders call on faithful to sustain peaceful co-existence in Ethiopia (The Ethiopian Herald) Religious fathers of various denominations have conveyed messages in connection with the celebration of the Ethiopian Easter. In their message, they urge the faithful to support efforts of the government in helping drought affected citizens and ensuring peace, stability and good governance and fighting terrorism...
29 April 2016
An estimated 200 people gathered at the United Nations yesterday to hear presentations on the topic of “Defending Religious Freedom and Other Rights: Stopping Mass Atrocities Against Christians and Other Believers.” (photo: Philip W. Eubanks)
As I walked down First Avenue in New York City yesterday, I had my umbrella in tow; the clouds were threatening rain and none of the 193 flags of the United Nations were flapping. The skyscrapers nearby reflected the dreariness of the morning in their windows, and I wondered how the day’s story might shake out.
On occasion, my work with CNEWA takes me here to the UN building, where I’m able to encounter firsthand what’s happening in our world and how it affects those we serve.
The meeting this particular morning concerned the persecution of religious minorities, particularly Christians and Yazidis — the very population CNEWA serves in the Middle East and elsewhere. As is normal for a meeting of this nature, we were to hear from academics and “experts in the field,” but what I didn’t expect were those who came to share their very personal stories.
The elevator to the chamber where we were meeting was packed. A man standing next to me looked somber and was wearing a shiny silver lapel pin that said, “KAYLA.” A man standing next to him assumed that KAYLA was the name of a non-governmental agency and asked in good networking fashion, “What’s KAYLA exactly?” The gentleman sunk a little and said, “My daughter.”
Suddenly, everyone in the elevator knew exactly why this father was here. He was there to tell the story of Kayla Mueller — a story that needed to be told here and across the world.
In fact, both Carl and Marsha Mueller had come to speak about their daughter, Kayla, her work with Doctors Without Borders, and her Christian faith, which had been the foundation for her passion to serve the people of the Middle East. In the summer of 2013, Kayla was captured by terrorists in Aleppo, Syria and held captive for some 18 months.
At the meeting yesterday, her parents spoke of her uncompromising faith — how, her integrity would not allow her to convert from Christianity, even in the face of death. In fact, in the face of the notorious terrorist “Jihadi John,” who had assumed she’d converted, Kayla turned and calmly stated, “I need to correct you; I have not converted.”
In the spring of 2013, before her capture the Muellers had pleaded with Kayla to come home. “This isn’t your fight,” they told her, “These are not your people.” Kayla responded in a long letter that there should be no “my people/your people’ mentality in this world,” that God’s love made us one people obligated to care for one another in solidarity and empathy for all.
This was the spirit of Kayla. She spoke extensively of the importance of using our “hands as tools” to alleviate suffering of these people. She lived that out with her own hands and her own life. In a letter smuggled out just prior to her death, she wrote to her parents, “I have surrendered myself to my Creator... there is no one else,” and she signed the letter, “All my everything.”
Indeed, the Muellers spoke to the “everything” Kayla had given and that we as a world must give to care for those suffering at the hands of terrorism. “One thing we can do,” Kayla’s mother told us, “is call the world to act.”
When I left the meeting, I stood by the window and noticed the green lawn at the United Nations building — perhaps an odd sight among all the brown and grey, the steel and glass. In the Muellers I saw my mother and father. In Kayla I saw the raw, unconditional love for all God’s people, a love I aspire to and one that informs why I do this work.
But in solidarity with Kayla I had to ask, “Have I done enough?” Had I given all my everything yet?
The sun had come out peeking from behind the clouds of earlier and the flags were waving as I walked back uptown. There was a light breeze. Much work is yet to be done. We’ll go on doing it, giving each day a little more of everything we have to offer and hoping it answers that call to act — the same call that Kayla answered with her life, and that her parents have answered with their commitment to this cause.
29 April 2016
Today, 29 April, marks the feast of St. Catherine of Siena. In the picture above from 2015, Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena settle in to their makeshift convent in Erbil, Iraq, where they are serving displaced Iraqis fleeing ISIS. Read more about their heroic and selfless work here. (photo: Don Duncan)
29 April 2016
In the video above, a Syrian refugee carries the Olympic torch while passing through a refugee camp near Athens. The city of Aleppo, Syria has come under renewed attack recently, with medical facilities being bombed. (video: Rome Reports)
Aleppo rocked by fresh fighting (BBC) Deadly fighting has resumed in Syria’s divided second city of Aleppo, after a brief lull overnight. State media say rebels shelled a mosque in the government-held district of Bab al-Faraj, killing eight people. Rescue workers report that a clinic in rebel-held Marja was targeted in an air strike, the second medical facility to be hit in a week...
Lebanese cardinal calls for EU to help end Mideast conflicts (CNS) Lebanese Cardinal Bechara Rai urged the international community and the European Parliament to stop the wars in the Middle East through dialogue, and he called for a return of the displaced to their countries of origin. In a speech 27 April to the European Parliament in Brussels, the Maronite Catholic patriarch warned that the crisis in the region has direct consequences not only for Christians, but also for the Mediterranean Basin as well as Europe...
Russian Orthodox, Catholics launch joint project to rebuild Syrian churches (CNS) Russia’s Catholic Church has launched a joint project with Russian Orthodox leaders to rebuild churches and monasteries destroyed during the war in Syria. Msgr. Igor Kovalevsky, secretary-general of the Russian bishops’ conference, said the project should be viewed as the “first concrete outcome” of Pope Francis’s February meeting in Cuba with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill...
Indian bishop kidnapped, released (CNS) A Catholic bishop in southern India was kidnapped and assaulted by unknown attackers demanding money. Bishop Prasad Gallela of Cuddapah was blindfolded, handcuffed and forcibly taken away while he was traveling home after celebrating Mass at Karunagiri Shrine 25 April, reported ucanews.com. He said unidentified kidnappers came in two vehicles and took “me to an undisclosed location.&rdquo: “They hit me and punched me, resulting in injuries all over my body. I did not resist,” Bishop Gallela told ucanews.com. “Police are trying to find those behind the incident.”
Ethiopia “on the edge of a crisis” (The New Internationalist) Ethiopia’s most severe drought for 30 years is currently sweeping across the country. It has triggered prolonged dry spells, delaying the much sought-after rains that allow farmers to harvest their crops and leaving over 10 million people in immediate need of aid assistance. ‘We have to find a way to ration our animal feed during periods of drought,’ says Roba...
Indian Catholics respond to papal mandate on environment (Vatican Radio) Nearly a year after Pope Francis released his encyclical on the environment, dioceses and church agencies across India have launched several projects implementing the spirit of the papal document...
28 April 2016
Archbishop Benedict Mar Gregorios oversaw a period of explosive growth in the Syro-Malankara church in India — and was dubbed “India’s Renaissance Man” for his wide-ranging interests
and tastes. (photo: Sister Christian Molidor, R.S.M.)
A figure who had a profound effect on the people of India was Benedict Mar Gregorios, the Syro-Malankara Archbishop of Trivandrum. Profiling him in 1992, Sister Christian Molidor, R.S.M. wrote of “India’s Renaissance Man”:
Mar Gregorios is the major archbishop of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church, a community that achieved full communion with the Church of Rome in 1930. Ordained a bishop in 1955, his efforts to renew the Syriac liturgy within a truly Indian context has led to the Church’s tremendous growth. Today more than 300,000 people are baptized members. When the archbishop was ordained in 1955, the Syro-Malankara Church numbered just over 70,000 members.
Mar Gregorios has initiated programs with the Tamils in the south, and with the dispossessed — the so-called “untouchables” — in his own state of Kerala.
We met the archbishop on several of his visits to New York and were certainly familiar with his projects funded by the benefactors of Catholic Near East Welfare Association. Now we were seeing him for the first time on his own turf.
We came to see what we might do. We left feeling he had done much for us.
This simple priest/erudite scholar insists, “Our Lord didn’t come to save souls alone, but to save people! We must realize that the God who gave us a body and who himself assumed a body, cannot be thought of as indifferent to our material needs, for he made us to live in human dignity — dignity that presupposes a certain material well-being.”
After his death in 1994, our magazine noted:
An agricultural expert, the Archbishop started model farms and experimented with various plant forms to bolster the lives of his people, most of whom live on farms. Many of these small plots are supported by our Association.
As Archbishop, Mar Gregorios encouraged the renewal of the Syriac liturgy within a truly Indian context, enabling this small community, which numbered just 70,000 members in the 50s, to grow at a tremendous rate. Today the Syro-Malankara Catholic community numbers more than 300,000 people.
We mourn “the loss of this great and good man of God,” wrote Msgr. Robert L. Stern in a letter of condolence, “...the boldness of his vision and the strength of his trust in Almighty God will ever be an inspiration and a consolation to me.”
His extraordinary vision and outreach to the dispossessed helped transform India and spread the faith — and his legacy lives on to this day in schools and institutions. This is heroism in action. As Sister Christian wrote all those years ago:
It is this reservoir of respect and good will that enables Mar Gregorios, religious men and women, and the laity, to demonstrate their love and concern for the people — the power of Christian charity in action, not just words.