9 November 2016
Raban Boutros Kassis, Syrian Orthodox Patriarchal Vicar of Aleppo, is recovering from gunshot wounds he received after being attacked in his car by a sniper. (photo: Fides)
Syrian Orthodox Patriarchal Vicar of Aleppo wounded (Malaysia Herald) Staring death in the face is an experience that can awaken the faith even in those who do not believe in God. For the Syrian Orthodox Patriarchal Vicar of Aleppo Raban Boutros Kassis, therefore, this sensation was all the more intense and today he says he feels a profound closeness to Christ. Two days ago, he miraculously escaped death after a sniper shot at him as he traveled by car from Homs to Aleppo...
Iraq reportedly suspends military operations near Mosul (Anadolu Agency) Iraq’s anti-terrorism agency has temporarily suspended military operations in the eastern part of the Daesh-held city of Mosul while stressing that Iraqi forces were not being withdrawn from the area, according to an Iraqi military source...
My Journey into Aleppo (The New York Times) I took these videos and photographs last week while on a bus tour of western Aleppo that was part of a government public relations offensive. There were 12 journalists, three Ministry of Information minders (government workers assigned to keep tabs on us and those we talked to) and maybe a dozen soldiers...
Lebanon’s new president receives Iran’s Foreign Minister (AP) Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Monday became the first foreign minister to visit newly appointed Lebanese President Michel Aoun, underscoring the ties between Iran and Aoun’s Hezbollah-backed presidency. The Shiite militant group and predominantly Shiite Iran are close allies. Speaking alongside his Lebanese counterpart, Zarif said recent political developments in Lebanon can be the key to breaking the deadlock in wars in Iraq, Syria and Yemen...
Lebanon boosts schooling to help refugee children (SBS.com) It’s estimated there are a quarter of a million Syrian refugee children in the country who currently don’t have access to school. With more than half a million Syrian children taking refuge in Lebanon, the country is looking to foster better educational opportunities for all young people. New research, aimed at developing ways to offer better access to schools, has been announced...
Ukraine hopes for continued support from U.S. under Trump (Reuters) Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said he hoped the United States would continue to support Ukraine in its stand-off with Russia following the victory of Donald Trump in the U.S. presidential election...
8 November 2016
The Good Shepherd Sisters in Egypt are heroically working to rebuild after Christian institutions were attacked during political uprisings in 2013. (photo: David Degner)
Last year, we met the heroic women of the Good Shepherd Sisters in Egypt, who have survived violence and persecution amid political upheaval, and are now patiently working to rebuild. One of the women we met is Sister Amal:
Sister Amal was drinking tea at the Good Shepherd Convent in the Egyptian port city of Suez when the first stone came through the window.
It had been a chaotic year. For months, massive protests against President Muhammad Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood had rocked the country. By late June the protests, which had gained the public support of Christian leaders, culminated in the military’s forced removal of the Islamist president. In the eyes of some Egyptians, especially those who supported Mr. Morsi, an alliance had been forged between the military and Egypt’s Coptic Christians. (Ethnic Egyptian Christians are known as Copts, derived from the Greek “Aigyptos,” meaning Egyptian.) This was affirmed further by the interim government’s subsequent brutal crackdown of Islamists throughout Egypt.
Picking up the shattered glass, Good Shepherd Sister Amal was unaware that earlier that same day, 14 August 2013, the interim government had used lethal force to end two massive sit-ins, resulting in more than 600 deaths. In retribution for the alleged alliance, supporters of the ousted president stormed churches and Christian institutions across the country.
A mob of possibly hundreds attacked the chapel near the convent. Sister Amal and her team rushed about, attempting to save as much as they could from both the sanctuary and the structure. Frantically, they turned off the gas and electricity, and eventually found a way to extinguish some of the flames. But as they worked, arsonists set fires elsewhere. Looters helped themselves to furniture, electronics and money.
The flames proved too much to fight. In the chaos, Sister Amal ushered the workers out a rear exit. The police and army were nowhere to be seen. The mob had already killed one soldier operating an armored personnel carrier outside the chapel. Another fled. No one else came to help.
But Sister Amal’s tenacity and faith speak to the courageous spirit that is helping Suez start over:
On the final Friday of November, Sister Amal dreamed she had asked for a candle, but instead a friend named Raheb, who had helped her put out the flames all night long after the August 2013 attack, brought her the Virgin Mary wrapped in blankets.
“At the end of the next day I told Sister Mariam the dream. She told me, ‘God willing, the Virgin will come in a flash, but I have to tell you some bad news.’ ” Sister Mariam told her the military had withdrawn from the area. They were once again without any protection. Protests were taking shape intermittently, and looters were still entering the chapel, which was open to the street. Anyone could walk in or out of the grounds.
“There was no one. The teachers had left and the workers had gone. There was nobody but us two.”
She turned to Sister Mariam and said, “Look, our Lord is who will protect us in the beginning and the end. Don’t worry.”
She was right. They have prevailed. Schools and churches are being rebuilt; the faithful will not be dissuaded or discouraged. And the heroic heroic sisters will not give up or give in:
The sisters did not wait for help and have not forgotten what they have been through. As Sister Amal tells her story, she drinks out of the same teacup she held when the first stone came in the window. And sitting in the chapel, next to a statue of the Virgin Mary, is that very first stone.
Read more about Sister Amal in Out of the Ashes in the Spring 2015 edition of ONE. And learn how you can help Egyptian Christians rebuild here.
8 November 2016
A little girl picks out a pumpkin in the village of Horpyn in Ukraine. Read about the ethnic and religious patchwork of the region in this article from the March 2009 issue of ONE.
(photo: Petro Didula)
8 November 2016
An Iraqi Christian soldier wearing a rosary stands inside the badly damaged Church of the Immaculate Conception on 2 November in Qaraqosh, near Mosul.
(photo: CNS/Alaa Al-Marjani, Reuters)
Christians struggle to survive amid wreckage left by ISIS (The Independent) The 28,000 people from Qaraqosh who stayed inside Iraq have understandable doubts about going home, even if Isis is fully defeated and loses Mosul. “There is no security while ISIS is still in Mosul,” says Yohanna Towara, a farmer, teacher and community leader in the town, but even when ISIS is gone the Christians will be vulnerable. He says that “the priority is for us to control our local affairs and to know who will rule the area in which we live.” He adds that the need for permanent security outweighs the need to repair the destruction wrought primarily by Isis but also by US-led air strikes...
Iraqi experts investigate mass grave near Mosul (BBC) Iraqi forensic experts are investigating a mass grave that was discovered by troops advancing towards the Islamic State-held city of Mosul. The Iraqi military has said the grave, in the grounds of an agricultural college in the town of Hamam al-Alil, contains about 100 decapitated bodies...
Syrian rebels battle near Aleppo (Reuters) The Syrian army said it had taken a strategic district of Aleppo on Tuesday, in what would be the most important advance in the divided city by Damascus and its allies in weeks, but rebels said the battle was not over. The 1070 Apartments district is located on the southwestern outskirts of Aleppo and lies alongside the government’s corridor into the parts of the city that it controls...
Egypt church construction law labeled ‘regressive’ (Daily News of Egypt) The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), an NGO concerned with human rights, discussed in a press conference Wednesday the downsides of the Church Construction Law, issued in August, arguing that the law is regressive for religious freedoms...
Refugee life in Lebanon empowers Syrian women (Ya Libnan) For some Syrian women living in Lebanon, the bitter realities of life as a refugee have nourished an unexpected side effect: empowerment. Difficult economic and legal circumstances have pushed women to take on more responsibilities within their families, including many that were once a man’s domain. Uprooted from some familiar social constraints and exposed to programs promoting women’s rights through contact with aid groups, some of them have obtained a degree of personal autonomy they never experienced in Syria...
7 November 2016
Franciscan Father Francesco Patton, the new custos of the Holy Land Franciscans, was interviewed in Washington last week. He says “We help everybody. We don’t ask what is your religion when we help someone because we recognize in every person a living image of God and of Jesus who’s asking to be welcomed.” (photo: CNS/Tyler Orsburn)
The responsibilities entrusted to him are great: caring for about 50 shrines, more than two dozen parishes, various schools and other services provided by more than 250 Franciscan friars stationed at some of the most embattled places in the Middle East.
But Franciscan Rev. Francesco Patton seems almost serene about the mission and his new post as the custos of the Franciscans of the Holy Land. In almost any other religious order, he’d be called a provincial or a superior, but because the founder of the Franciscans didn’t like terms that would denote superiority of one brother over another, he is called the custos, Latin for custodian, of the Holy Land Franciscans.
“This is Franciscan vocabulary,” he explained. “(St.) Francis said we are all equal in the Gospel. We are all brothers ... the custos is the (custodian) of the sheep and it is an important vocabulary because the sheep, they are not the property of the custos. We all are sheep of Jesus, but we have to take care of one another. It's pastoral vocabulary.”
Pastoral vocabulary is familiar and dear to Father Patton, whose father tended the fields of northern Italy. He said he feels comfortable and grounded in his farming community roots.
As custos, he said, his duty is to take care of the friars, and particularly to assume primary trust of places important to Christians in the Holy Land, including shrines in Galilee, Bethlehem, Emmaus and Jericho, as well holy places in Jordan and Syria.
It is a challenging post to be in, to be sure, especially because some of those places find themselves in political conflict, violence or outright war.
“In this moment, the land of conflict is Syria,” said Father Patton. “So, our shrines (in Syria) now are not visited by pilgrims. It’s impossible to organize a pilgrimage in Syria.”
Before the recent conflict broke out in 2001, Christian pilgrims would visit locales such as the Memorial of St. Paul, the place where he converted to Christianity, and the house were Ananias baptized him. Both places are in or near Damascus, Syria, and are under the care of the Holy Land Franciscans there.
“Now these are places in which local Christians are praying and asking for the end of this war,” Father Patton said.
Since the pilgrims are gone, they are places the friars use to provide shelter for those running from the daily conflict in other parts of the country. The guest house close to the memorial of St. Paul, where pilgrims used to stay, is now hosting refugees, he said. And the friars, even under danger, are providing food and any necessities to anyone who might need help.
Recently, the friars launched a campaign at myfranciscan.org/syria, which includes a video and social media component, using the hashtag #Syriafriars, asking for prayers as well as material help for the Franciscans trying to assist the local populations.
“We help everybody,” said Father Patton in an interview with Catholic News Service 3 November in Washington, where he was visiting in early November trying to call attention to the dire situation in Syria.
“We don’t ask what is your religion when we help someone because we recognize in every person a living image of God and of Jesus who’s asking to be welcomed,” he said.
Friars and nuns find themselves in desperate situations trying to help burgeoning populations such as Lattakiah, near the Mediterranean, where parish populations have doubled, as people run from conflict zones to areas of relative safety. The conflict has drained once Christian strongholds such as Aleppo.
Aleppo was once a very important city and known as the “second cradle” of Christianity, said Father Patton, who recalls it had a Christian population anywhere from 250,000 to 300,000. These days, estimates say it could be down to 40,000 or 30,000 Christians, he said. Most have fled in the past five years, but many also have died there.
“Now there are unfortunately many funerals, also of children,” he said.
For the Christians who remain there, he said, it’s important that other Christians know of their suffering.
“They feel often abandoned by the other Christians,” he said. “They feel that many Christians are not interested in their suffering or what they are doing to remain Christian there. Many of them have lost everything. The only thing they haven't lost is the faith.”
It’s important to know what’s happening to them, to pray for them but also to act, Father Patton said.
“Our Christian faith is that the word of God became flesh,” he said. “We are not part of an intellectualistic religion in which we think it is enough to think and to pray. We have to support concretely.”
The friars are helping the local communities with food, electricity, water, gas, diesel, restoring houses after bombardments.
“We need support,” he said.
Yet for all the abundance of misery, there also is abundance of hope, not just in Syria but also in the Holy Land, said Father Patton.
“I find hope in our schools, when I see children from different religions living together, becoming friends,” he said. “I find hope when I go to the shrine of Emmaus, in a small village in which there is only one Christian family and the others all are Muslims and when there is the feast of St. Cleophas, and a Muslim family pays the dinner for all the people present.”
There are countless stories in the region of collaborations among Jewish, Christians and Muslim teachers and students and their families, he said.
“I find hope when I have meetings with the religious leaders of Greek Orthodox and Armenians and we are able to find agreements, to do work together,” he said. “There are many, many signs of hope, but we need eyes to see the signs of hope. If we are blind, we cannot see signs of hope.”
And the Franciscans are involved in trying to build the bridges necessary to one day have lasting peace in the region, he said, and it starts with children.
“The first field is the first field of education,” he said, adding that Franciscan schools have a mix of Christians, Muslims and other religions. “It’s an important experience of living together and we notice that in these schools the prejudice is reduced.”
When children learn to live together and become friends with people who hold
different beliefs, their families, too, learn to hold different views, he said.
“If we do something to connect with the other people, if we do something to reduce the prejudice against Christians, we are working for peace,” Father Patton said. “When they have an experience of Christian charity, they can change their mind on Christians.”
Father Patton sees this type of peacebuilding as some of the most important type of work in the world. He talks about the recent visit of Pope Francis to Sweden and the example in peacebuilding that he is setting. The Franciscans, following his lead, also have been involved in interreligious dialogue and cooperation.
“In this moment, in every part of the world, it is important to have dialogue with people of other faiths,” he said. “It may be the most important field for the future.”
And it started with the Second Vatican Council, which said that “it is important that everyone can express his religious identity and it is important that everyone respects the religious identity of the others,” said Father Patton, adding that “in the Holy Land, this is a good season for ecumenical dialogue.”
Franciscan friars are involved in interreligious dialogue with Jews and Muslims and other similar initiatives involving youth in the area, he said.
“And so these are good news,” he said. “We know there are also fanatics, but the only possibility to reduce the number of fanatics, I think, is to work to increase the number of open-minded people.”
7 November 2016
Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster, England, greets children after celebrating Mass on 6 November at Holy Family Church in Gaza City. The cardinal said his pastoral visit reinforced the importance of Christian hope, especially for those living in very insecure circumstances.
(photo: CNS/Mohammed Saber, EPA)
Battle for Mosul becomes urban combat (NBC News) As Iraqi forces struggle to secure the gains they made over the past week on Mosul’s eastern edge, the fight against ISIS has quickly morphed into close-quarters urban combat. With it, casualties among Iraq’s troops and civilians are spiking...
Displaced Syrians fear returning to their homeland (AP) Syria’s government says people who fled rebel zones that have since been retaken by the military are now welcome to return. But that’s not how it worked out for one refugee family that came to check out the state of their home: They found another family had moved in. That’s just one of many hurdles keeping away those displaced in Syria’s war...
Cardinal: faith reassures Christians in Gaza (CNS) English Cardinal Vincent Nichols said his pastoral visit to Holy Family Parish in Gaza reinforced the importance of Christian hope, especially for those living in very insecure circumstances. “It is very encouraging to witness the faith of the community of Christians living in that enclosed space and also in the midst of a huge Muslim community majority,” said Cardinal Nichols, Westminster archbishop and president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. “They live day by day, and their faith is a reassurance for them”...
Pope Francis raises awareness about scourge of human trafficking (Vatican Radio) On Monday, Pope Francis spoke out against human trafficking, in an address to members of RENATE: Religious in Europe Networking against trafficking and exploitation). The group is in Rome for their 2nd European Assembly, which took place on Sunday. The theme of this year’s assembly was “Ending Trafficking Begins with Us”...
Patriarch: do not delay in forming government in Lebanon (Fides) The economic and social emergencies that mark the present situation of Lebanon do not allow any delays or postponement in the formation of a government that would help the country. This is what was strongly emphasized by Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter Cardinal Rai, during his homily yesterday, Sunday, 6 November, six days after the election of former general Michel Aoun for the office of President of the Lebanese Republic, vacant for almost two years and a half...
Nobel laureates to meet in Delhi to discuss children’s issues (Vatican Radio) Nobel laureates and eminent leaders around the globe will meet in the Indian capital New Delhi next month to discuss why children suffer the most in conflicts though they don’t cause them, Nobel Peace Prize winner Kailash Satyarthi said on Thursday. “Children are never responsible for any wars, conflicts or violence, yet they are the worst sufferers in any such hideous situation. This is completely unacceptable,” he said while announcing a global initiative for children...
4 November 2016
Holy Angels Byzantine Catholic Church in San Diego hosted a visit from CNEWA last weekend.
(photo: Greg Kandra)
Having reached my six-month mark working at CNEWA, these past months have been a whirlwind of learning, emotions and blessings. As I delve deeper into CNEWA’s work across the globe, I am grateful for this God-given opportunity to, in some small way, help aid the poor and persecuted.
This past weekend culminated my six months of experiences beyond expectations. Deacon Greg Kandra and I were graciously invited and hosted by Father Brian Escobedo of Holy Angels Byzantine Catholic Church in San Diego to reach out to his parishioners. The kindness in Father Brian’s heart and soul is evident the first time you meet him. So it is no wonder he offered his Church to CNEWA after learning about our Parish Outreach program — a series of talks to raise awareness here in North America for our suffering brothers and sisters in the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Northeast Africa and India.
A large group gathered to hear our presentation in the parish social hall.
(photo: Debora Stonitsch)
Father Brian and his parish family, joined by Melkite Greek Catholic Father James Babcock and his parish community, made us feel at home as we shared stories of the challenges impacting the church and the selfless work of CNEWA’s partners, especially the sisters and priests who do so much to bring physical and spiritual healing to all who need them. The concern and engagement of those in attendance was evident from the onset.
The church’s interior is adorned by icons depicting scenes from scripture.
(photo: Greg Kandra)
My weekend was further enlightened by Father Brian’s celebration of the Divine Liturgy on Sunday morning. Having never before attended a Byzantine liturgy, I did not know what to expect. But parishioners were so welcoming, such as Michael, who provided me with a prayer book and helped guide me through the liturgy. I found myself immersed in friendship, beauty and deep-rooted tradition.
The icons on the walls and ceiling painstakingly created by Mila Mina, intricately and brilliantly told the stories of the Christian faith.
The cantor, Rebecca, chanted in acapella harmony that brought tears to my eyes and captivated the attention of the adorable young children in attendance — even though they were anxiously waiting to tell Father Brian which saints they were dressed as in celebration of All Saints Day.
Father Brian Escobedo greeted children from the parish dressed as saints. (photo: Greg Kandra)
The sounds, scents and sights together invoked feelings of gratitude and peace.
I am thankful to Father Brian, all his parishioners, especially Bob and Janet who so kindly helped with the preparations and weekend events. It was a collaborative and meaningful gathering of Byzantines, Melkites, Ukrainians and Latins, Catholics all, standing in solidarity for those so less fortunate. These experiences, along with our new friends, prove that when Christians are united, we are not just strong but in our unity, beautiful.
CNEWA’s multimedia editor, Deacon Greg Kandra, left, preached the homily at the Divine Liturgy celebrated by Father Brian. (photo: Debora Stonitsch)
If you’re interested in having CNEWA come to your parish, please contact me, Debora Stonitsch: email@example.com or contact our Development Director Norma Intriago: firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to visit and together further our mission for Christian unity and peace.
4 November 2016
For the last several months, the Vatican has produced monthly videos tied to the themes of the pope’s monthly prayer intentions. They are produced by The Apostleship of Prayer, which describes itself as “the pope’s worldwide prayer network.”
For the month of November, Pope Francis has the following intention:
“That the countries which take in a great number of displaced persons and refugees may find support for their efforts which show solidarity.”
That intention is dramatized in the brief video below, with additional comments from the pope. Take a look.
4 November 2016
Pope Francis greets religious leaders during a 3 November audience at the Vatican.
(photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano)
Authentic religions help people understand that they are, in fact, loved and can be forgiven and are called to love and forgive others, Pope Francis said.
“We thirst for mercy, and no technology can quench that thirst,” the pope told Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Sikh and other religious leaders.
“We seek a love that endures beyond momentary pleasures, a safe harbor where we can end our restless wanderings, an infinite embrace that forgives and reconciles,” the pope told the leaders on 3 November during an audience at the Vatican.
The leaders were in Rome for a conference on religions and mercy organized by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and the International Dialogue Center, which was founded in 2012 by Saudi Arabia, Austria and Spain with the support of the Holy See.
“Sadly,” the pope said, “not a day passes that we do not hear of acts of violence, conflict, kidnapping, terrorist attacks, killings and destruction. It is horrible that at times, to justify such barbarism, the name of a religion or the name of God himself is invoked.
“May there be clear condemnations of these iniquitous attitudes that profane the name of God and sully the religious quest of mankind,” he said.
Religions are called to bear “the merciful love of God to a wounded and needy humanity,” he said, and to be “doors of hope helping to penetrate the walls erected by pride and fear.”
Mercy, Pope Francis told the group, is the foundation of every authentic religion. It is the truest revelation of who God is, but also “the key to understanding the mystery of man, of that humanity which, today too, is in great need of forgiveness and peace.”
While many people seem to prefer living as if God does not exist, the pope said he believes that underneath human bravado, there is a “widespread fear that it is impossible to be forgiven, rehabilitated and redeemed from our weaknesses.”
The Catholic Church’s Year of Mercy, which will close 20 November, was meant to help people understand that God’s mercy and forgiveness are accessible to all and that, experiencing God’s mercy, they are called in turn to forgive and show mercy to others, he said.
Professing faith in God’s mercy, he said, means very little unless one backs up that profession with actions of love, service and sharing.
Engaging in interreligious dialogue and encouraging one’s faithful to meet and get to know their neighbors of other religions are part of preaching mercy, he said. Dialogue helps eliminate “closed-mindedness and disrespect, and drives out every form of violence and discrimination.”
Dialogue “is pleasing to God and constitutes an urgent task,” he said, because it responds to the need to make peace in societies and, “above all to the summons to love which is the soul of all authentic religion.”
“To bow down with compassionate love before the weak and needy is part of the authentic spirit of religion, which rejects the temptation to resort to force, refuses to barter human lives and sees others as brothers and sisters, and never mere statistics,” the pope said.
Pope Francis also insisted that the mercy believers are called to share also must be extended to the Earth, “which we are called to protect and preserve from unbridled and rapacious consumption.”
Religious leaders, he said, must educate their members in the religious obligation of respect for the world God created and encourage “a simpler and more orderly way of life in which the resources of creation are used with wisdom and moderation, with concern for humanity as a whole and for coming generations, not simply the interests of our particular group and the benefits of the present moment.”
4 November 2016
In the video above, a priest from Aleppo says Christians are the targets of many attacks
in the city. (video: Rome Reports)
Humanitarian pause begins in Aleppo (The New York Times) A temporary halt in fighting announced by Russia to allow Syrian rebels and residents to leave the besieged eastern parts of Aleppo went into effect on Friday, with activists reporting a relative calm in the city. However, by early afternoon, state media said seven mortar shells from the rebel-held side of the city hit one of the corridors opened for those wanting to leave eastern Aleppo. The State TV said a correspondent for a pro-government station was wounded by shrapnel...
Iraqi forces push deeper into Mosul (Reuters) Iraqi special forces recaptured six districts of eastern Mosul on Friday, a military statement said, expanding the army’s foothold in the Islamic State bastion a day after its leader told his jihadist followers there could be no retreat. An officer in the elite Counter Terrorism Service, which has spearheaded the Mosul offensive, said its troops had launched a major operation against the militants who are now almost surrounded in their last major urban redoubt in Iraq...
Why Christianity’s holiest shrine is guarded by two Muslim families (The Washington Post) Two Muslim families were entrusted by a presumably weary Arab potentate to be the gatekeepers of the church. The Joudeh family keeps the key, while the Nuseibeh family opens up the church door every morning and locks it in the evening. In an interview with CNN earlier this year, Adeeb Joudeh, the current keeper of the key — an old, cast-iron object that’s a foot long — considered his family’s hereditary task to be a metaphor for religious tolerance...
The human tragedy unfolding in Gaza (The National) Gaza has experienced three wars in the past decade, each more devastating than the last. I last visited Gaza in 2009, six months after Israel’s Operation Cast Lead. I found an enclosed territory and population struggling to adapt to Hamas rulers and recovering from devastated homes and lives. The 2014 conflict, that killed more than 2,250 Palestinians — hundreds of them children — and left thousands permanently injured, along with the deaths of 67 Israeli soldiers and six Israeli civilians, still reverberates in Gaza; another war, just around the corner, is always feared...