19 January 2017
Msgr. Richard Lopez helped raise awareness about the plight of Syrian Christians among high school students in Atlanta. (photo: Michael Alexander)
One of CNEWA’s dedicated supporters is a priest in Atlanta, Georgia, Msgr. Richard Lopez. We first met him in 2014, when he was teaching theology at an Atlanta high school and helping raise awareness about the plight of Christians in the Middle East:
Students at St. Pius X Catholic High School in Atlanta, Georgia, were stunned to hear about the plight of their brothers and sisters in the thick of the Arab Spring during a presentation given by Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA).
“I honestly had no idea what was going on,” St. Pius X senior Abby Barnett, 17, says. “Once we had the presentation, though, we started talking more about it in class. It was really eye-opening.”
News of church burnings, homeless children and abducted church officials concerned the school.
So they decided to do something about it.
St. Pius X’s student-led, anti-genocide group, STAND, enlisted the help of students at Marist School in Atlanta to host an ice skate-a-thon for Syrian students in need.
Nearly 50 students enjoyed the Marietta Ice Center last November, and raised about $400 to donate to CNEWA for Syrian children. The money raised helped about 10 Syrian children receive backpacks, shoes, coats and other school supplies.
...Msgr. Richard Lopez, professor of theology at St. Pius X High School, says he is proud of his students for representing the “essence of our religion — to help those in need.”
“Adolescents will embrace a cause,” Msgr. Lopez says. “Give them a reason to stand up against evil, they will.”
Since then, Msgr. Lopez has retired, but he continues to support the work of CNEWA in whatever ways he can. We asked him what motivates him. He responded in an email that was both poignant and powerful:
I guess the first reason for my motivation would be that anything that happens to the Body of Christ happens to us. It remains a mystery to me how Christians in the West who live in such comfortable security should not be outraged about the abuse of other Christians in the Middle East. That outrage should lead to active charity and active political involvement. I think the fact that over the years I had Iraqi, Syrian and Egyptian Christian students and often heard first hand accounts of their relatives suffering motivated me to do something for those being persecuted.
I believe as Christians we have to honor the pain, the suffering, and the death of our brothers and sisters in Christ in the Middle East by active involvement in their recovery and restoration. They are literally the “roots” of our religion. Their shrines, their churches, their monasteries, indeed in some cases their language, belong to the earliest days of our faith. How can we stand by and let that glorious patrimony be destroyed? They have endured and kept the faith under periodic persecution and discrimination for 1400 years and kept that faith under pressures we have been spared. God have mercy on us if we do nothing to save and honor them.
We remain grateful to people such as Msgr. Lopez who continue to spread the word about our work — especially among the young — and who remember our suffering brothers and sisters in the Middle East who are so often forgotten.
19 January 2017
Children welcome a visitor in the village of Garora, on the outskirts of Dehli. CNEWA’s president Msgr. John E. Kozar visited India recently. See more of his images and read his impressions here.
(photo: John E. Kozar)
19 January 2017
Members of the Saint Elias Cathedral committee inspect the damage inside east Aleppo’s crumbling church, in the Old City, on 21 December 2016. The apostolic nuncio in Syria will be visiting Aleppo this week. (photo: Youssef Karwashan/AFP/Getty Images)
Cardinal to visit Aleppo (Fides) Cardinal Mario Zenari, Apostolic Nuncio in Syria, is expected to arrive in Aleppo in the early afternoon today, Thursday, 19 January, for a visit full of commitments and meetings that will continue until next Monday...
Syria’s Assad hopes for ‘reconciliation’ (Reuters) Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said he believed peace talks in Kazakhstan would lead to local “reconciliation” deals with rebels, a sign of his confidence in a process launched by his Russian allies after the opposition’s defeat in Aleppo...
Will Gaza’s electricity crisis escalate tension? (Al Monitor) The fear barrier surrounding the Hamas regime has broken. For the first time, thousands of demonstrators took to the streets 12 January over the electricity crisis in the Gaza Strip. The protesters were not afraid of Hamas’ security forces and were willing to confront them. Ever since Hamas took control over the Gaza Strip in a military coup almost a decade ago, many residents in the Strip have suffered from extreme poverty. As far as many of them are concerned, they no longer have anything to lose...
Young people engage in ecumenism in Toronto (Catholic Register) Younger generations, who have not seen a time before the ecumenism movement, are taking up the torch with great enthusiasm. One more indication of that is this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, where the Student Christian Movement (SCM) joins the Archdiocese of Toronto’s celebrations for the first time...
Ethiopians celebrate Epiphany (Andolu Agency) Tens of thousands of Ethiopian Christians gather in open spaces and around fountains Thursday in celebration of the Epiphany to commemorate the baptism of Jesus Christ...
18 January 2017
Tags: Syria Ethiopia Gaza Strip/West Bank
Sister Sumitha Puthenchakkalackal, from the Sisters of the Destitute, visits some of the people she serves in one ofthe poorest corners of India. (photo: John Mathew)
Writer Jose Kavi chronicles the inspiring work of the Sisters of the Destitute in the Winter edition of ONE. Here, he describes one surprising aspect of the people they serve: their joy.
The visit to Nat Gali (Dancers’ Lane) last fall was like a scene out of the movie “Slumdog Millionaire.”
The hamlet is part of Deendayalpuri, a resettlement enclave with more than 8,000 families, just 10 miles east of the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh border. What strike a visitor first are children and flies swarming the place.
A child slept peacefully on a stringed cot outside a hut that sits the edge of a narrow lane with sewage water running on the sides. Flies buzzing around did not bother the baby, nor did the sniffing dogs. His mother was busy ticking lice with a group of women at one end of the lane while its father chatted with a bunch of men at the other end.
Some other women in tattered saris and heads covered cooked on an earthen oven using dried cowdung cakes as fodder outside their tiny huts. Men played cards or watched games on cellphones in street corners.
It presented a perfect picture of the life that India’s poor are destined to live.
Despite its proximity to the national capital, no vestige of city life has touched the people, who eke out a living from a plethora of activities: dancing at weddings and other functions, begging at places of worship and prostitution.
The enclave burst into shouts as soon as John Mathew, the photographer, Joshy Mon, a friend, and I entered the enclave with Sister Sumitha Puthenchakkalackal, a member of the Sisters of Destitute congregation. The nuns have been working in the area for more than 15 years.
As soon as John Mathew took out his camera, children crowded around him and took over the direction. They insisted he take pictures of their friends and siblings. They needed no prompting to pose for photographs. They also insisted previewing the photos and approving them.
Puddles of stagnant water on the tiny lanes and open drains that run along the lane gave out a foul smell. But hardly anyone seemed to bother about it. Filth and squalor have become part of their lives.
Laughter of children and shouts of elders filled the air and elders and youngsters greeted us with folded hands.
There were hardly any gloomy faces in those lanes.
How do people find happiness in such dreary existence? I asked myself. They seem to fit very well with the beatific life that Jesus preached: “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?”
They have no social security, no healthcare schemes. But they lead what appears to be a perfect, blissful life. God has protected them so far — and they are certain he will continue to protect them and their children in future.
Maybe they are, indeed, “Slumdog Millionaires” — with priceless riches we can’t see.
Read more and discover why ‘My Great Hope is the Sisters’ in the Winter 2016 edition of ONE.
18 January 2017
Georgian children study English at a Caritas youth center in Tbilisi. Read about one woman’s commitment to her people in A Letter from Georgia in the Winter 2016 edition of ONE.
(photo: Antonio di Vico)
18 January 2017
Bishop Declan Lang of Clifton, England, right, shakes hands with Palestinian Christian Daoud Nassar at the Tent of Nations 16 January in the West Bank, near Bethlehem.
(photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)
Pope: We look with hope to unity (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis said on Wednesday that Christian Unity and reconciliation are possible. He was speaking during his weekly General Audience in the Paul the VI hall where he also continued his catechesis on Christian hope...
In Holy Land visit, bishops encourage peaceful resistance to Israeli settlements (CNS) Thirteen bishops from North America and Europe visited the Tent of Nations as part of the Holy Land Coordination, which meets every January to focus on prayer, pilgrimage and solidarity with the Christian communities in the Holy Land. When the bishops arrived at the farm 16 January, they were greed by brothers Daoud and Daher Nasser. Embroiled in a legal battle to protect their property from confiscation by the Israeli government for 25 years, the Nasser family has made their farm — the last Palestinian controlled hilltop in the area — a symbol of nonviolent resistance...
Iraq military says it’s gained ‘full control’ of eastern Mosul (AP) U.S.-backed Iraqi government troops announced Wednesday they were in “full control” of eastern Mosul, after routing Islamic State militants from that part of the northern city almost exactly three months since the major operation started. The achievement was a “big victory,” said Iraqi Army Lt. Gen. Talib Shaghati, who commands the counter-terrorism forces, describing the success of the Iraqi forces as “unprecedented...”
Inside rebel-held Syria, where children beg to die (CNN) A massive white Islamic flag signals our entry into rebel-held northern Syria on a cold, cloudy winter day. The road is dotted with signs: “Smoking is a sin,” and “Look only at what Allah wants you to see” — this second one urging people not to leer at women or watch Hollywood movies. As we make our way through the hills of Idlib province, west of Aleppo, our driver Abdullah (not his real name) tells us jets have just bombed Maarrat Misreen, a 15 or 20-minute drive away. “They say there is a ceasefire,” he sighs. “Maybe in Aleppo. But there is still bombing in other parts of the country...”
Catholic youth meet in India to promote leadership (Vatican Radio) National Youth Convention of Catholic youth leaders is being held from 18-22 January at St Joseph’s Engineering College, Mangaluru, India. Bishop Henry D’Souza of Bellary, chairman of Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) Youth Council, said the convention will focus on promoting leadership among the youth...
17 January 2017
Tags: Syria India Iraq Israel ISIS
Sister Katharina Fuchs belongs to the the Daughters of Charity and serves the handicapped and poor at Maison du Sacre Coeur in Haifa, Israel. (photo: John E. Kozar)
Some of the most dedicated people in CNEWA’s world are those who work with the handicapped — and one heroic figure we’ve come to know over the years is Sister Katharina Fuchs, of the Daughters of Charity.
We first profiled her in our magazine 20 years ago:
“We try to give good care to the children,” explains Sister Katharina Fuch, D.C. “We try to assure good health and good food. We try to make life as agreeable for them as we can. We try to find what each child likes — music, play, laughter, television, radio, video. We want these children to feel good.”
The children are some 60 severely mentally and physically handicapped boys and girls, aged from newborn to 16 years. The place is the Maison du Sacre Coeur — the House of the Sacred Heart — in the Israeli port city of Haifa. The care-givers are Sister Katharina, three other sisters, a number of local specialists and other staff.
Sister Katharina is the Austrian-born superior of the House of the Sacred Heart, established by the Daughters of Charity, the religious community founded in France by St. Vincent de Paul.
In addition to caring for the resident children, the sisters also maintain a day-care center with 240 children, assuring working mothers that their children are well cared for during the workday.
A few years ago, CNEWA’s president, Msgr. John E. Kozar, paid a visit to Maison du Sacre Coeur:
This is a cherished Catholic institution that serves the needs of specially challenged children of all ages — even up to their early 20’s... I was particularly moved while watching the level of care with which some physical therapists worked, massaging the muscles of these special needs kids. Through a delicate series of respiratory heaves and hos, they were able to extract from them the desired cough that would help to clear their lungs.
I asked one what this hard work meant to him, and his reply was: “I know each one of these children and their needs. I know when they are sick and when they are happy. I love them as I love my family.” I know where they get that loving family feeling — from the sisters.
The sisters have also opened a kindergarten for almost 200 children. This has endeared the sisters ever more to the community, as they welcome children from Christian, Jewish and Muslim homes. Love is the common bond here and these youngsters have a real head start in learning how love can conquer many ills — even war and social injustices.
Recently, we asked Sister Katharina what she found most rewarding about her work. She replied:
To serve the poor, the sick, and vulnerable and those who need help in any way. The handicapped are on the top of this long list, nevertheless from whichever society, social background or political ideology they come from.
Moreover, to work in the Holy Land gives us the opportunity to be in contact with all kinds of people living here. Jews, Muslims, Druze, Christians etc. can live and work together for the same goal: to provide good care and quality of life for all. Here, we can give testimony of the love of God for the poor, and to engage in interfaith dialogue.
It is a testimony she never tires of giving:
“I think our house is necessary,” Sister Katharina explains, “as this care doesn’t exist in many other places in Israel. In other places mentally and physically handicapped children just sit in chairs all day. These children need love and affection.”
“Maybe they’ll never get better, but as long as they live it’s important that they are as happy as they can be.”
17 January 2017
Pope Francis talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during a private audience at the Vatican on 14 January. (photo: CNS/Maria Grazia Picciarella, pool)
17 January 2017
In the video above, a Christian Syrian refugee who has fled to Lebanon says faith has sustained many refugees. (video: Rome Reports)
Pope appeals for special care for migrant children (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis appealed for better treatment of child-migrants on Sunday. Speaking to pilgrims and tourists gathered in St. Peter’s Square to pray the Angelus with him, the Holy Father renewed his call for prayerful and concrete solidarity with minors forced to flee their homelands — especially for the children and adolescents forced to flee on their own, without the company of parents or older relatives...
Pope Francis meets with Palestinian president (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis met Saturday morning with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas at the Vatican...
U.N.: nearly 150,000 people displaced in Iraq since mid-October (AP) Iraqi forces have captured the site of the Mosque of the Prophet Younis after driving Islamic State group militants from a new neighborhood in eastern Mosul, a spokesman said on Tuesday. The progress comes as the U.N. warned that nearly 150,000 people have been displaced since the Mosul operation started in mid-October. The mosque was among dozens of historical and heritage sites destroyed by IS militants after their June 2014 onslaught...
Europe’s Catholic, Orthodox leaders say they will stand against terrorism (CNS) Catholic and Orthodox leaders have pledged to stand together against fundamentalism and terrorism, as well as resisting forces working to erode and destroy religious belief in Europe. “Terrorist violence against people considered unbelievers or infidels is the extreme degree of religious intolerance — we unreservedly condemn it and deplore that such acts have developed in the soil of a misguided religious culture,” the church representatives said in a joint message on 13 January...
U.S. increases airdrops to forces battling ISIS in Syria (USA Today) The U.S. Air Force is increasing airdrops of weapons, ammunition and other equipment to a growing number of opposition forces closing in on Raqqa, the Islamic State’s de facto capital in Syria. “Our expanded precision airdrop capability is helping ground forces take the offensive to (the Islamic State) and efforts to retake Raqqa,” said Gen. Carlton Everhart, commander of the Air Mobility Command, which is headquartered here. The Air Force conducted 16 airdrop missions in Syria last year, including six in December...
Deputy cites Armenian genocide in Turkish parliament (Fides) The Armenian deputy of the Turkish Parliament Garo Paylan, representative of the Peoples Democratic Party on 13 January was suspended for three parliamentary sessions after referring to the Armenian Genocide, during the plenary debate on the subject of the new Turkish Constitution...
Russian Orthodox Church will help restore Syrian shrines (Interfax) Head of the Synodal Department for External Church Relations Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk has assured the Russian Orthodox Church will help restore destroyed churches in Syria. “Certainly, we will take part in restoring churches, but first of all, we should restore peace in the country. It is difficult to get down to restoration, when the power in the territory is changing hands every now and then,” he said at his meeting with Moscow State Linguistic University students on Tuesday in Moscow...
13 January 2017
Tags: Syria Iraq Lebanon Turkey Russian Orthodox
A woman prays during Christmas Mass at a church in Bashiqa, Iraq.
(photo: CNS/Khalid al Mousily, Reuters)
A wide variety of issues, both domestic and foreign, have been raised during the presidential transition. One that hasn’t received much notice is the situation of the beleaguered Christian community in the Middle East.
Given the interest in, and media coverage of, those other issues, it’s an open question as to just what the United States would do for the Middle East’s Christian minorities under the presidential administration of Donald J. Trump.
Rep. Chris Smith, R-New Jersey, said he would reintroduce a bill he first introduced in September that would ensure U.S. aid specifically reaches Christian refugees and internally displaced people in the region.
Another feature would be to allow genocide victims — “at least the persecuted Christians,” Smith said — to apply as a family and get asylum in the United States.
“It gives him the ability to get the interviews. It doesn’t guarantee that they will become an asylee in the United States, but it gives them the opportunity.”
Smith said he gave a copy of the bill on 4 January to Vice President-elect Mike Pence. “I told him that everything in this bill you could do administratively,” he added.
Stephen M. Colecchi, director of the Office of International Justice and Peace at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, was leaving for a mid-January fact-finding mission in the region, with the first stop being Erbil, Iraq, a Kurdish-controlled zone in the northern part of the country where many Iraqi Christians have fled.
Two of Colecchi’s traveling companions will be Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on International Justice and Peace, and Bill O’Keefe, vice president for government relations and advocacy at Catholic Relief Services.
“I imagine we will meet with a fair number of internally displaced Iraqi Christians. We will also be meeting with some Syrians who have fled to the Kurdish region because of the violence there,” Colecchi told Catholic News Service. Also on the itinerary are visits to CRS projects that assist all groups, including Yezidis and Shiite Muslims, “who have been affected by the terrible conflict,” he said.
The U.S. bishops’ stance on policy matters relies in large part on the experiences of the bishops in the affected region or country. “We look for situations where there is clear church teaching, guided by the local church,” Colecchi said. “We consult with the Holy See and make sure our positions are consistent with the Holy See. And we look for situations where the United States can make a difference. The United States is heavily involved in the region and needs to take leadership to help those who are suffering.”
“There’s lots of confusion” when it comes to consensus on solutions, said Michael La Civita, communications director for the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, a Vatican agency.
“There’s lots of folks advocating for their people to return to their native communities, the ones that have been freed or liberated. The problem is that 80 percent of these places have been destroyed. There’s a lot of rubble. In order for people to return to their villages and their towns, they need proper housing, and they need infrastructure and they need security — and guarantees that they’re not going to be exposed as they were a few years ago.”
“No one knows what the future will hold,” La Civita added. “Should we have safe havens? Christians are saying no,” he said. “‘How can we be Christian witnesses to the Gospel if we live in the Christians-only zones?’ Others are calling for the swift emigration of Christians out of the Middle East.
“Washington will talk and talk and talk, as Washington often does, but I can stay this: Unilateral action by the United States in that part of the world typically has had consequences for the vulnerable communities, often for the communities these unilateral actions are intended to help.”
The Department of State’s declaration of the Islamic State’s murderous sprees since 2014 as genocide “allowed the international community to come full circle and really realize the gravity of the situation. Communities were being wiped off the face of the earth. They were going extinct, basically,” said Philippe Nassif, executive director of In Defense of Christians.
Nassif said the fate of Christians will improve in some places, but likely not in others, citing “fundamentalism” in Egypt directed against the nation’s Coptic Christians.
In Defense of Christians has the creation of a Christian autonomous region in the Ninevah Plain of Iraq as one of its legislative priorities. Another is to have Congress recognize the genocide with aid money to relieve its effect. A third is to support the security and stability of Lebanon, which Nassif noted has “the most populous and stable Christian population" and which could serve as a model for political cooperation between Christians and the majority Muslim populations elsewhere in the region.
“To be honest, I find that politicians from both parties and the Congress seem to be very concerned about the crisis in the region,” Colecchi said. “I know there have been dramatic increases in U.S. assistance.” However, Smith complained to CNS about U.S. funds being sent to U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees camps, where very few Christians have gone.
Colecchi added, “What I’m fearful of is that political commitment will come up against fiscal challenges. It’s in our best interest that the fabric of those communities be re-knit. It will be interesting to see. Most Americans, if you ask them, are quite supportive of federal aid, and they think it’s about 20 percent of the federal budget.
When you ask them how much it should be, they think, not that much, about 10 percent.
When you tell them that it’s less than 1 percent of the budget, they’re shocked.”
CNEWA’s La Civita is grateful for the more than $9 million generated from a special collection in fall 2014 to help Middle East Christians. CNEWA received 25 percent of that, and CRS the other 75 percent. But absent stability, cash infusions are not a cure-all.
Regardless of whether the Christians are in Iraq, Syria or the Palestinian territories, he said, “If the prospects for peace and economic and political stability are grim, then so is their future.”
Tags: Syria Iraq Egypt Lebanon Middle East