6 May 2016
Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York and chair of Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA), recently spent a week, 6-12 April 2016, in Iraqi Kurdistan on a pastoral visit to that region’s displaced Christian families. National Catholic Reporter’s Tom Gallagher was a part of this small delegation that included fellow CNEWA board member, Bishop William Murphy of the diocese of Rockville Centre, N.Y., and Msgr. Kevin Sullivan, head of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York.
Check out the interview below. And be sure to check out other reports on this journey, led by CNEWA’s President John E. Kozar, right here.
6 May 2016
A man attends a Catholic liturgy in a displaced-persons camp in Ainkawa, Iraq, last month.
(photo: CNS/Paul Jeffrey)
Paul Jeffrey was one of several journalists who accompanied CNEWA chair Cardinal Timothy Dolan on his pastoral visit to Iraq last month. On the CNS blog today, he offers this little slice of life inside a camp for displaced Iraqis:
When a colleague and I arrived at the Ashti camp for internally displaced families on the outskirts of Ainkawa last month, we asked for the “abouna,” the Arabic word for father, or priest. We were looking for Rogationist Father Jalal Yako, but he wasn’t in his small caravan, the modular container-like building that has become ubiquitous among the displaced in northern Iraq.
In response to my one-word query, people pointed down a crowded passageway. We headed that direction, occasionally querying, “Abouna?” Everyone kept pointing us on, all the way to the toilets. There stood the priest, with several construction workers, remodeling some troubled toilets.
I’m not sure whether Father Yako’s seminary education prepared him for this, but today he’s the de facto mayor of a village of 250 families, about a thousand people. Toilets are just one of his challenges.
When tens of thousands of people fled from the Islamic State’s sweep through Mosul and Qaraqosh in 2014, they came to Iraqi Kurdistan, where they found physical safety. But since they weren’t refugees (they had crossed no international border), they weren’t eligible for assistance from international agencies. Neither the government in far-off Baghdad nor authorities in the semi-autonomous Kurdistan offered much help. It was the church that walked with them as they fled from Islamic State, and the church that struggled to find them food and shelter in exile. Twenty-one months later, the church remains the principal manager of aid. Providing spiritual care goes hand in hand with providing water, sanitation and electricity.
In the blog post, Father Yako offers this assessment:
“As a community, we have survived because of their solidarity, the solidarity of churches, friends, and humanitarian organizations. They have contributed a lot, perhaps because they have felt part of our people’s journey. We have resolved many problems here thanks to their help. We have many friends.”
Read more and see additional pictures here.
6 May 2016
In the video above, a Russian orchestra performs for troops and journalists in an ancient Roman amphitheater in Palmyra, Syria. (video: CNN/YouTube)
Air strike on refugee camp could be a war crime (BBC) An air strike on a Syrian refugee camp that reportedly killed at least 28 people could amount to a war crime, a senior UN official has told the BBC. Stephen O’Brien, the UN humanitarian affairs chief, called for an inquiry into the attack on the Kamouna camp in the northern Idlib province. Syrian or Russian forces are suspected. Syria’s military denied involvement in the strike on a rebel-held area...
Russian symphony performs in Palmyra, Syria (The New York Times) Russia has made its mark on Syria with the crash of bombs and the thud of artillery. On Thursday the Russians added gentler sounds: live classical music echoing through an ancient stone theater and into the eerie, empty desert. Extending its soft power into the Syrian conflict, Russia deployed a symphony orchestra led by one of its best-known conductors, Valery Gergiev, and the cellist Sergei P. Roldugin, an old and — according to the Panama Papers documents leaked last month — very wealthy friend of President Vladimir V. Putin. Their performance space was Palmyra, the city of ruins left by Roman and other ancient civilizations and ruined further by the depredations of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL...
Israel bombs Hamas in worst violence since war in 2014 (The Telegraph) Israel carried out air strikes in the Gaza Strip on Friday during the most serious escalation of hostilities since the last war against Hamas in 2014. The target of the air raids was “Hamas terror infrastructure”, according to an Israeli military statement. The strikes appear to have taken place in Beit Lahia, a suburb of Gaza City, and the southern town of Khuzaa. Both areas suffered severe damage during the 50-day war in July-August 2014...
Jordan’s prince discusses recent meeting at Vatican (Vatican Radio) “Citizenship is a question of pluralism, a question of recognizing the identity of the other on the basis of respect:” That’s what Jordan’s Prince El Hassan bin Talal has told Vatican Radio following an interfaith meeting in the Vatican on the theme “Shared values in Social and Political Life”...
Facing an ugly truth about Christian persecution (Crux) According to watchdog groups, there are 200 million Christians today living under the threat of physical violence, arrest, torture, imprisonment and death. In light of that epidemic, there’s a burning need to raise consciousness about the threats Christians face. At the same time, it’s also important to be scrupulously honest about the nature of those threats, so that fair-minded people don’t come to see this as a PR effort, or an exercise in wedge politics, rather than a genuine human rights calamity. In that spirit of candor, here’s an ugly truth to confront: There are occasions when Christians meet the enemy, and it’s us...
Vatican council: Christians and Buddhists should work together for the environment (Vatican Radio) The Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue has sent a message to the Buddhists of the world to mark the Feast of Vesakh, which commemorates the his birth, enlightenment and death of Gautama Buddha...
4 May 2016
Russia has a long and venerable tradition when it comes to Orthodox bell ringing. It’s a tradition that fell silent during the Soviet era, but has now jubilantly returned.
Returning with it: an increased demand for bell ringers.
The video below, from National Geographic, gives us a sample, along with a little background.
4 May 2016
A mother brings her child to the Daughters of St. Anne’s clinic in Ethiopia for a checkup. The country is facing its most severe drought into decades, and children in particular are suffering. Read more in “When Rain Fails,” in the Spring 2016 edition of ONE. (photo: Petterik Wiggers)
4 May 2016
In this image from 2015, the Patriarch of the Chaldean Church, Louis Raphael Sako takes part in the Easter liturgy in Baghdad. This week, he called on Iraqi leaders to end the deterioration in his country. (photo: Safin Hamed/AFP/Getty Images)
Patriarch calls for reconciliation in Iraq (CNS) Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Sako of Baghdad urged Iraq’s leaders to put an end to the “institutional, economic and security deterioration” in the country. “We call upon you, with a saddened heart and sorrow because of what is happening in Iraq and because the people are suffering from violence, poverty and misery,” Sako said in a statement...
The sad reality of Syria at war (The New York Times) Declan Walsh recently visited Damascus, the war-weary Syrian capital, and the government-controlled part of the divided city of Aleppo. Here, he answers selected readers’ questions about his reporting trip to Syria, life in devastated parts of the country, and how Syrians view their prospects...
Indian Supreme Court: person can change religion, but not caste (TheCSF.org) In a significant decision, the Supreme Court has ruled that a person can change religion and faith but not the caste to which they belong. The Supreme Court has said that caste has linkage to birth and person changing religion can’t change his caste. The Judgment came in the case of Mohammed Sadique, who had contested election from a constituency reserved for Scheduled Castes in Punjab...
Report: religious freedom deteriorating around the world (RNS) Religious freedom remains under “serious and sustained assault” around the globe, according to a new annual report from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. “At best, in most of the countries we cover, religious freedom conditions have failed to improve,” commission chairman Robert P. George said Monday. “At worst, they have spiraled further downward...”
Negotiations continue for release of kidnapped priest (Vatican Radio) Two months after the massacre perpetrated by a terrorist commando in the nursing home in Aden, where four Missionaries of Charity were killed along with 12 other people, there is still no certain news about father Tom Uzhunnalil. In the absence of verified information, rumors continue to circulate on the current negotiations to secure his release...
Azerbaijan says Armenia repeatedly violates cease fire (TASS) The Armenian armed forces have violated the ceasefire 120 times on various sections of the frontline over the past 24 hours using, in particular, 60mm mortars, Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry said on Wednesday...
Pope greets participants in interfaith meeting (Vatican Radio) Ahead of his General Audience on Wednesday, Pope Francis met with participants of a meeting between the Royal Institute for Interfaith Studies of Amman and the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. The Fourth meeting between the two institutions had for its main topic the theme: “Shared values in social and political life: citizens and believers...”
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.