Current Issue
Autumn, 2016
Volume 42, Number 3
27 May 2016
J.D. Conor Mauro

Syrians gather their belongings as they leave a refugee camp due to ISIS attacks in the Azaz district of Aleppo, on 27 May. (photo: Ali Demir/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

U.N. relief chief calls for more assistance for Syrians (U.N. News Center) Following a visit to Hatay in southern Turkey, the top United Nations humanitarian official has called for greater assistance for Syrians in need, both inside the country and across the region, warning that the humanitarian situation for millions of people remains “unrelentingly distressing and dire…”

Syria’s ruined cities will need decades, not years, to recover (AINA) While diplomats wrangle in Geneva over a nascent, faltering peace process kick-started by the United Nations, other organizations are scratching their heads over the huge challenge of reconstructing and rebuilding a country that has been torn apart. In 2014, a U.N. study suggested that it would take Syria at least three decades to recover. The World Bank is trying to come to grips with the nuts and bolts of the destruction. Using satellite imagery of six Syrian cities, the organization came up with assessments for the damage wrought on these urban centers. A conservative estimate on the losses in public infrastructure sits at $6 billion…

Civilians trapped in Iraqi city of Falluja are starving (Vatican Radio) Around 50,000 civilians trapped in the Iraqi city of Fallujah face starvation as government forces continue their assault to retake it from ISIS militants. The grim assessment came from the Norwegian Refugee Council, an NGO that has been delivering aid to those civilians who managed to escape from the outlying areas of Fallujah before the assault commenced…

Returning home to Iraq’s city of Ramadi means facing hidden dangers (Los Angeles Times) After more than a year away from the war-ravaged Iraqi city of Ramadi, Osama Ismail felt it was safe enough to return to check on the condition of his abandoned home. The government, after all, had declared the city “liberated” from Islamic State extremists. Ismail, a father of four, walked through the house last month surveying the damage, eventually reaching the bedroom he shared with his wife. They had left clothes and other items behind in their rush to leave the city and he was curious to see what remained. Then, an explosion. Family members said the blast threw the 42-year-old teacher against a wall and killed him instantly. The house, local officials said, had been booby-trapped with an improvised explosive device by Islamic State fighters…

‘Disaster in the making’: The many failures of the E.U.-Turkey refugee deal (Der Spiegel) The internment of Syrian refugees raises new doubts over the controversial refugee agreement between Europe and Turkey. Indeed, it appears that the deal is on the verge of falling apart, only two months after the program began…

Coptic Orthodox Church confirms mob attack on Christians in Minya village (Ahram Online) The Coptic Orthodox Coptic Church said in a statement on Wednesday that a mob attacked Christian homes in a village in Minya last Friday, and stripped an older Christian woman of her clothes during the assault…

Tags: Syria Iraq Egypt Turkey United Nations

26 May 2016
Greg Kandra

Brother Donald Mansir and Bishop Denis Madden stand outside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, circa 1997. (photo: Sister Christian Molidor, R.S.M.)

One of the many unsung heroes in CNEWA’s story is a man who helped give new life to one of Christianity’s holiest sites. Four years ago, learning of his passing, Michael La Civita paid tribute to Brother Donald Mansir, F.S.C.:

A brother of the De La Salle Brothers of the Christian Schools and a knight of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, Brother Donald joined CNEWA in 1989 as the field projects coordinator for the Pontifical Mission’s Jerusalem office. In 1990, he became its associate director, and later that year, he was named office director. As such, Brother Donald supervised the expansion of the agency’s programs and services in Palestine and Israel, earning respect for his balanced but strong advocacy for justice and peace issues throughout the Holy Land. In 1993, he succeeded Sister Maureen Grady, C.S.C., as chief operating officer and vice president of the Pontifical Mission.

Brother Donald was instrumental in the restoration of the dome of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. Working with CNEWA’s Msgr. Robert Stern and (then) Father Denis Madden, he brought together the shrine’s Armenian Apostolic, Greek Orthodox and Latin Catholic custodians with concerned donors in the United States anxious about the dome’s structural integrity. To learn more about this “Turning Point for Christendom,” read Brother Donald’s own account published in CNEWA’s magazine in 1996. A year later, Father Denis Madden (now an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Baltimore) reflected on this historic moment engineered by this agency of the Holy See.

In 1996, reflecting on the restoration of the dome, Brother Donald offered his simple hope:

As the scaffolding is disassembled and the luminous cloud appears on the great dome … may God’s grace penetrate to the core of [pilgrims’] hearts.

Tags: CNEWA Art Architecture Historical site/city

26 May 2016
J.D. Conor Mauro

Dr. Karam Nahal examines a 13-month-old while visiting Nafkandala, one of 22 villages in Iraqi Kurdistan served by a church-administered mobile clinic. To learn more about this CNEWA-supported clinic and its work, read Health on Wheels in the Spring 2016 edition of ONE. (photo: Raed Rafei)

Tags: Iraq Health Care Iraqi Refugees

26 May 2016
J.D. Conor Mauro

Muslims and Christians alike visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Lebanon in the village of Harissa, near Beirut. (photo: CNS/Dalia Khamissy)

In Lebanon, Muslims and Christians visit Marian shrine at Harissa (CNS) High on a summit overlooking the Mediterranean, Our Lady of Lebanon stands majestically with her arms outstretched, welcoming her children. Muslims and Christians alike come to the shrine, 16 miles north of Beirut. To Muslims, Mary is known in Arabic as “Seidatna Maryam,” Our Lady Mary. Even though Muslims do not believe that Jesus is the Son of God, in the Quran, a chapter is devoted to Maryam…

Egypt: Muslim crowd burns seven homes of Copts (ANSAmed) A crowd of some 300 Muslims attacked and set on fire seven homes of Coptic Christians in a village of central Egypt and forced a Christian woman to strip naked in public. The incident was reported in a statement by the Coptic church of the governorate of Minya, quoted by Egyptian media like Al Masry al Youm and occurred near Abu Qurqas on Friday night. The homes were “attacked, burned, ransacked and destroyed” at around 8 p.m., the statement said, reporting that police reached the location two hours later, arresting six people. The crowd of attackers was “chanting slogans” and the “deplorable incidents” followed “reports of a sentimental relationship between a Coptic Christian man and a Muslim woman…”

Lebanese leaders hope pope-imam meeting leads to new relationships (Catholic Philly) Lebanese leaders in Muslim-Christian dialogue said they hoped Pope Francis’ meeting with Ahmad el Tayeb, grand imam of Al Azhar University, would lead to new relationships. Maronite Father Fadi Daou, chairman of Adyan, a foundation for interfaith studies and spiritual solidarity based in Lebanon, told Catholic News Service that he hopes the meeting will be the forerunner to a “new dimension of interreligious relations.” Mohammad Sammak, secretary-general of Lebanon’s Christian-Muslim Committee for Dialogue, said the meeting likely would “open a new page of cooperation on the basis of building real citizenship — equal citizenship — between Christians and Muslims all over the Middle East…”

Msgr. Sullivan describes his experiences in Iraq (Catholic Charities) Catholic Charities Executive Director Msgr. Kevin Sullivan joined a small delegation in early April led by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, chair of Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA), to Iraqi Kurdistan. During this mission they visited families displaced after ISIS swept through Iraq in the summer of 2014. They spent time in displacement camps filled with Christians, Muslims and Yazidis who fled to these camps and looked at health clinics, schools and churches that sprung up to serve them. As part of the delegation, Msgr. Sullivan spoke one-on-one with those forced to flee their homes as well as with sisters, priests and bishops…

Dozens feared dead as migrant boat capsizes in Mediterranean (TheGuardian) Dozens of people are feared to have drowned in the second shipwreck in as many days in the southern Mediterranean, amid tentative signs that some Syrians may be trying once again to make for Europe from Libya…

Uproar over police brutality against Israeli Arab (Al Monitor) Israeli passersby documented border police officers beating an Israeli-Arab youth working in a Tel Aviv grocery store…

Tags: Iraq Egypt Lebanon Israel Migrants

25 May 2016
J.D. Conor Mauro

Campers from a Caritas Georgia center play at a resort in Nunisi, in central Georgia. Over the years, CNEWA has sponsored many summer recreation programs in the regions we serve — such as camps in the Caucasus that provide summer fun, and a whole lot more. Read about it in the November 2007 issue of ONE. (photo: Justyna Mielnikiewicz)

Tags: Children Georgia Caritas

25 May 2016
J.D. Conor Mauro

Internally displaced Iraqis leave a Catholic church after celebrating the liturgy in a camp in Ain Kawa, Iraq, in April. (photo: CNS/Paul Jeffrey)

Tom Gallagher: The desperate plight of Iraqi Christians (Greenwich Time) In mid-April 2016, as an act of solidarity with the suffering Christians and other religious minorities, New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan, as chairman of the Board of Directors of the 90-year old New York City-based papal agency, Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA), made a pastoral visit to Erbil and Dohuk, a town near the Turkish border. I went as a journalist for the National Catholic Reporter. Our small delegation visited multiple health clinics and displacement camps for Iraqi Christians and Yazidis. At each stop the displaced repeated the plea to be able to “just go home…”

Christian schools at risk as Israeli government reneges on promise (Fides) A few days before the end of a difficult school year, which started with a 27-day strike, 47 Christian schools operating in Israel are facing a financial emergency because the Ministry of education has not honored their commitment to transfer 50 million shekels to the Christian schools, a condition of the agreement that ended the strike in September. As of today, the government is more than 50 days past its deadline…

Iraqi priest: Violence, divisions have created a sense of brotherhood with Muslims (Herald Malaysia Online) The Rev. Samir Youssef, pastor in the Chaldean Eparchy of Amadiya, in Iraqi Kurdistan, has been taking care of 3,500 Christian, Muslim and Yazidi refugee families since 2014. Over this time, ISIS, violence, political divisions and partisan interests have created a new sense of brotherhood among them. In the past, people lived side by side, but today, refugees have a new desire of community, which is “expressed in what they do but also what they say,” not only among children and youths, but also among adults “who have overcome their initial distrust,” Father Youssef says. “When Muslim and Yazidi children call me ‘Abouna’ [“father” in Arabic], and come to visit me in church, this is God’s victory…”

Syrian bishop’s plea as blasts cause carnage (AINA) A bishop in Syria has described desperate efforts to tend to the injured and the dying following multiple ISIS attacks in Tartous and Jableh, which left more than 200 dead and nearly 650 injured. Bishop Antioine Chbeir stressed that Monday’s attacks in his diocese were the first of their kind in an area where displaced Syrians had gathered in their hundreds of thousands, believing it to be one of the last remaining safe areas of the country…

Christianity in India and the challenges of Hindu extremism (The Tablet) Christians and Muslims have been persecuted at the hands of Hindu nationalists associated with the ruling B.J.P. party, which espouses Hindutva, the ethno-religious political ideology that claims India as a “motherland” for Hindus and regards Islam and Christianity as alien elements in Indian society. The Syro-Malabar Church, with 4 million members, is the largest of southwest India’s churches, claiming descent from the mission efforts of the Apostle Thomas. It is one of the 23 Eastern Catholic churches in communion with Rome. Whether Thomas actually arrived in India in the year 52 is disputable, but it is clear that Christianity was established on the Malabar coast at least as early as the sixth century, and thereafter lived in cultural symbiosis with both Hinduism and Buddhism. So far, the level of interreligious violence has been low in Kerala compared with other states, but, warns Cardinal George Alencherry, “there is an undercurrent of communal tension here too…”

Tags: Syria Iraq India Israel Iraqi Christians

24 May 2016
Greg Kandra

CNEWA President Msgr. John E. Kozar meets Sister Diana Momeka on a visit to the convent of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena in Ain Kawa, in northern Iraq, last year. (photo: CNEWA)

Last year, a tiny powerhouse made headlines for her passionate witness on behalf of the suffering people of Iraq:

The first thing that struck me about the veiled woman in white standing in our reception area was: “She’s so little.” The petite Dominican sister with the piercing eyes and dark hair didn’t look like someone who would shake the world.

But I soon learned that her passion and her message are, in fact, earth shaking. Small wonder that this small wonder has made some of the most powerful people in world capitals sit up and take notice.

Sister Diana Momeka left Iraq a few weeks ago to visit the United States; one of her most important stops was Capitol Hill, where she spoke to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. Last night, she braved a thunderstorm to drive from Washington to New York, to visit with several of us this morning at the offices of CNEWA. Beyond a reunion between old friends and collaborators — CNEWA has sponsored the work of her congregation for many years — this meeting held a deeper and more poignant purpose. She wanted to share her message about the plight of thousands of Iraqi refugees — men, women and children, young and old, healthy and infirm — who fled their homes last year to escape ISIS, and settled in whatever housing they could find in the northern Iraqi city of Erbil.

It has been a harrowing time — and the Iraqi families aren’t the only ones suffering. Sister Diana and dozens of other Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena fled their convent and also settled in Erbil, where they are working tirelessly to help people who sometimes feel helpless.

“My main message,” she told those of us gathered in the board room, “is to get human dignity to people there, in Iraq.” Her words were measured and her focus, laser sharp.

“People,” she continued, “have been humiliated. They are living in slums. These people are human beings with great love, great faith. But when you lose your home, your heritage, your culture, you lose your dignity. When you live in a container, in a tent, you don’t have any privacy, this is not a real human life to live. My hope is to find a way to give dignity back.”

We chronicled the remarkable work she and her order have undertaken in the pages of our magazine:

“People came with fever, dehydration, diarrhea,” says Sister Diana. “They were sleeping on the ground with no tents in the beginning. After some days they got tents, but there was no clean water, and so no proper bathing. Diseases like scabies started to increase.” It became clear some sort of health service was essential, and thus was the Martha Schmouny Clinic born — first in tents donated by French charity SOS Chrétiens d’Orient, and later transformed into a cluster of three prefabricated containers donated by CNEWA.

As time has passed, and the reality of the Christians’ displacement has become more and more entrenched, the Martha Schmouny Clinic has continued to grow, its capacity and range of services expanding to provide a better safety net for the vulnerable community.

“We often talk about the role of the Holy Spirit in our work,” Sister Diana said as she made her way to the clinic early one recent morning. “We started the clinic like a small grain of yeast and now it has steadily increased like dough.”

Sister Diana remains a hero to those who fled their homes — and remains a great advocate for their cause. To learn how you can support suffering Christians in Iraq, visit this giving page.

Tags: Iraq Iraqi Christians Sisters

24 May 2016
CNEWA staff

A student at Ashabhavan (“House of Hope”) enjoys breakfast, provided daily by the school. To learn more about how this institution changes the lives of children with special needs, read Kerala’s House of Hope, appearing in the Winter 2015 edition of ONE. (photo: Jose Jacob)

Tags: India Children Education

24 May 2016
J.D. Conor Mauro

Solidarity groups protest behind a line of riot police during the forced evacuation of a makeshift camp close to the Greece-Macedonia border near the village of Idomeni on 24 May. (photo: Sakis Mitrolidis/AFP/Getty Images)

Greece begins to clear migrants from Idomeni camp (TIME) Greek authorities have started removing thousands of migrants and refugees from a makeshift camp near the Macedonian border, where they have been stranded since Macedonia closed its border in February…

Rabbis launch campaign against religious hatred, ‘price tag’ gangs (Fides) Israel-based Rabbis for Human Rights have announced that a new campaign will be launched in the Knesset this week. ‘Price tag’ attacks are hate crimes directed mainly at Palestinians and Christians by extremist right-wing Israeli Jews. These crimes often go unpunished…

Terra Santa middle school in Aleppo hit by a missile (Custodia Terrae Sanctae) On Saturday, 21 May, missiles fell on the Terra Santa Middle School in Aleppo, Syria. One person died and two were seriously injured, including elderly people who had sought refuge there. Until this event, the school, with its large park, was considered to be one of the city’s few safe places. A year ago, the friars opened up classrooms in order to accommodate about 20 elderly people after their homes were bombed. “The explosion was extremely violent, and it was strongly felt,” said Brother Firas Lutfi, O.F.M., the school principal, in a telephone interview. “There is a no longer one place in Aleppo that is 100 percent safe…”

Egypt Parliament to discuss easing restrictions on building churches (WorldWatch Monitor) The Egyptian Parliament is considering a proposal on the construction of churches that Christians hope will narrow the country’s religious inequality gap. The construction of each new church typically had to be authorized directly by the Egyptian president, although attempts have been made to grant church-building permits from governors and the security authorities…

Surge in eastern fighting kills seven Ukrainian soldiers (Reuters) Ukraine said on Tuesday seven of its servicemen had been killed in the past 24 hours as a result of increased attacks by pro-Russian rebels, the highest reported daily casualty figure since August…

Russian Orthodox Church and the Church of the East open talks (AINA) Official dialogue between the Church of the East and the Russian Orthodox Church opened in consideration of the full-scale persecution of Christians in the Middle East, suffered especially in Iraq and Syria, on 18 May. The Commission recognized the importance of the Russian Orthodox Church’s solidarity with the Church of the East and all persecuted peoples of the Middle East…

Tags: Syria Ukraine Israel Migrants Greece

23 May 2016
CNEWA staff

Pope Francis talks with Ahmad el Tayeb, grand imam of Egypt’s Al Azhar mosque and university, during a private meeting at the Vatican on 23 May. (photo: CNS/Max Rossi, Reuters)

Pope Francis met today with the grand imam of Al Azhar Mosque, one of the oldest and most revered Sunni institutions in the world. CNS reports:

After five years of tension and top-level silence, Pope Francis and the grand imam of one of the most important Sunni Muslim universities in the world embraced at the Vatican May 23.

“The meeting is the message,” the pope told Ahmad el-Tayeb, the grand imam of al-Azhar University, as the religious scholar approached him just inside the door of the papal library.

El-Tayeb’s spring visit was the first meeting between a pontiff and a grand imam since the Muslim university in Cairo suspended talks in 2011.

Established in 1998, the formal dialogue between al-Azhar and the Vatican started to fray in 2006, after now-retired Pope Benedict XVI gave a speech in Regensburg, Germany. Al-Azhar officials and millions of Muslims around the world said the speech linked Islam to violence.

Al-Azhar halted the talks altogether in 2011 after the former pope had said Christians in the Middle East were facing persecution. Al-Azhar claimed that Pope Benedict had offended Islam and Muslims once more by focusing only on the suffering of Christians when many Muslims were suffering as well.

In February, Bishop Miguel Ayuso Guixot, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, delivered a letter to el-Tayeb from Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, council president, inviting him to the Vatican to meet the pope.

Cardinal Tauran and Bishop Ayuso welcomed the imam to the Vatican May 23 and accompanied him to the papal meeting.

Pope Francis sat to the side of his desk facing the grand imam rather than behind his desk as he customarily does when meeting with a visiting head of state.

Read the rest at CNS.

Tags: Pope Francis Interreligious Islam Sunni

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