20 May 2013
A woman prays in Al Qaa’s Greek Catholic church. Flooded with Syrian Christian refugees, the church is often filled to capacity. (photo: Tamara Hadi)
In the Spring 2013 issue of ONE, journalist Don Duncan writes about Syrian refugees settling in Lebanon. Below, he offers some further reflections.
One of the frustrations for me while living in Lebanon was the reputation the country has in the West. The word “Lebanon” conjures up dark images of war, sectarian tensions, political crises and humanitarian displacement. These are, of course, salient features of Lebanon’s past and present; it is on this image, and the preoccupation with it in the West, that my livelihood as a journalist depended to a large degree.
But the more time I spent as a resident of Lebanon, the more I saw things in the country that are rarely reflected in Western media. I also met with strange disinterest from editors when I pitched ideas that didn’t involve some form of conflict or misery.
Lebanon is unique in the region for many reasons. It is small yet crucial to the balance of power between the West, its Mid-East allies, and “non-aligned” countries like Syria and Iran. It also has the most diverse demographics of the region, which are both a curse and a blessing. There are 17 officially recognized sects sharing governmental power in a slow, halting political system of compromise. But while this particular system of confessional politics entrenches sectarian mentalities, it also keeps a fragile kind of peace. In addition, it makes Lebanon a place to which many people from around the region feel they can flee in times of danger and crisis. Here is the paradox: While Lebanon is often a zone of conflict, it is also a perpetual refuge — now for Syrians, but in the past also for a diverse group including Iraqis, Palestinians and Armenians, among others.
Lebanon is a refuge for the exact same reason that it is also a weak political entity and prone to conflict: It contains a wide and diverse population that is loosely held together in a national pact. This loose configuration can sometimes lead to conflict, but its looseness also means that there are pockets of liberalism and conservatism that coexist; there are spaces where many kinds of people can be — and feel — safe. So while Lebanon is a place where people may run and emigrate from in times of war, it is also a place where many kinds of people can run to. It can be home to all kinds of people. It can be both a heaven and a hell and, in my experience living there, heavenly and hellish experiences tend to coexist in close proximity.
My frustration has been that Western media tends to focus on the hellish aspects only. This is why it was a pleasure to report this story, looking at Lebanon’s most recent incarnation as a refuge — one for Syrian Christians and Muslims. A bishop I interviewed for the story said, with respect to Christians leaving Iraq and Syria, “The Middle East without Christians is not the Middle East.” By the same token, I would say this: The Middle East without a pluralistic, open, welcoming Lebanon is not the Middle East.
Read more about Syrians Crossing the Border into Lebanon in the Spring 2013 issue of ONE.
14 May 2013
Tags: Lebanon Unity Cultural Identity Interreligious Dialogue
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Life in Gaza weighs heavily on children, and often one sees this reflected in their eyes. CNEWA-sponsored psychosocial activities at NECC kindergartens in Gaza City provide an opportunity for children to unload their pent-up frustration. (photo: CNEWA-PMP)
Sami El-Yousef is CNEWA’s regional director for Palestine and Israel. He paid a visit to Gaza in late April. Below is an excerpt from his report on that visit. The full report can be read here.
It was a pleasure to return to Gaza to check on our various projects there and, more importantly, to show solidarity with the people and to affirm they are not forgotten.
On a rather positive note, there are no longer long lines at gas stations, as the supply of fuel is steadier. We did not hear many complaints about the shortages of basic food or medical supplies or building materials. Other aspects of life seem unchanged. The electric company still provides about 10 hours a day of electricity, while noisy, inefficient, polluting makeshift diesel generators offer power the rest of the day to homes and institutions.
On the other hand, there are still travel restrictions that neither Israel nor Egypt has eased; most of the population continues to complain about the “prison-like” environment in which they continue to live. On the political end of things, few in Gaza believe that the much-talked-about “reconciliation efforts” between Hamas and Fatah are leading to anything meaningful. They remain very skeptical about any such discussions. Most feel that neither party is ready for real reconciliation and that it will not happen anytime soon. There is also a deep distrust between Israel and Hamas and a sense that both sides may be planning the next offensive. Many believe it is only a matter of time and that the civilians will again pay a hefty price. Let’s hope I picked up the wrong signals, and that peace will prevail. Keep Gaza and its people in your prayers, especially the small, brave Christian community.
Though recent measures are not specifically directed against the Christian community, it is this community with its relatively liberal orientation that is directly affected. Here are a few measures and incidents that will illustrate the general mood:
The Hamas government recently put into practice the “education law” that forces the segregation of boys and girls in all educational institutions starting at the fourth grade level (age 9 and beyond). It further mandates that female teachers should not teach boys and vice versa.
As far as trade is concerned, Hamas has also mandated that in clothing shops, it is illegal for men to sell women’s clothes and for women to sell men’s clothes, again segregating the sexes.
Male teenagers who have long hair or wear fashionable clothes are now arrested, reportedly beaten, forcibly shaved and sent back on the street with stern warnings to abide by “decent” appearance.
Students who attend the public school system are subjected to weekly classes in fundamentalist Islamic indoctrination, with students being drilled and raised with no tolerance toanything that is not Islamic — a truly sad dimension of life in Gaza under Hamas, and certainly not an environment based on respect, human rights, tolerance and acceptance of the other.
For more, read the entire report on the trip to Gaza here.
1 May 2013
Tags: CNEWA Palestine Gaza Strip/West Bank Israeli-Palestinian conflict CNEWA Pontifical Mission
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This photo, taken in March, shows the property of the Cremisan Salesian Fathers and Sisters. Visible in the distance is the settlement of Gilo, built on land formerly part of Beit Jala. The plan is to expand the settlement of Gilo into the valley and connect it to another settlement called Har Gilo on the other side of the Cremisan property. CNEWA is a long-time supporter of the Salesian Sisters’ School, located on the premises. (photo: CNEWA)
A legal decision announced on Friday by an Israeli court has far-reaching implications for Palestinian farmers who own and work their lands near the West Bank city of Bethlehem. It also directly impacts Catholic religious institutions nestled in a region known as the Cremisan Valley.
The Cremisan Valley is a green, fertile stretch of land on the outskirts of Bethlehem. It is estimated that there are more than 50 families, most of them Christians, who own and farm the land. Although the valley is well within the borders of the Palestinian West Bank — i.e., not on the Israeli side of the Green Line or the 1967 demarcation dividing Israel proper from the West Bank — the Israeli government is planning to continue its Security Barrier through the Cremisan, in effect splitting the valley in two.
The United Nations estimates that the barrier stretches some 440 miles, more than twice the length of the 198-mile-long Green Line. Most of the barrier, about 70 percent, is either completed or under construction. The largest portion (about 85 percent) will run inside the West Bank, and cuts off almost 10 percent of Palestinian land from Palestinian control. About 6,500 Palestinians who live between the barrier and the Green Line are caught in what is called a “Seam Zone.” Therefore, those Palestinians over the age of 16 must obtain “permanent resident” permits to stay on land where they and their families have lived for centuries.
In addition to the farming families in the Cremisan Valley, there are two religious institutions on the land, run by the priests and sisters of the Salesians of Don Bosco. The priests came to the valley about 1870 when the area was still under the control of the Ottoman Empire. They opened the Cremisan Cellars, using the fertile hillsides to grow grapes and produce wines — including the sacramental wines used by Catholics in the Holy Land. In 1960, the Salesian sisters opened a school in the valley; today, it enrolls an estimated 450 students. CNEWA’s operating agency in the Middle East, the Pontifical Mission for Palestine, has provided grants to the sisters’ school to support the staff and install solar panels to provide electricity.
If the security barrier is constructed, Palestinian Christian farmers will be separated from their fields. Although there will be “agricultural gates” to allow farmers entry, similar openings already built elsewhere provide only limited access to the fields for short periods of time, making it virtually impossible for farmers to prune their olive trees or fertilize their crops and keep them properly maintained for successful farming.
The barrier will also separate the two Salesian communities. The priests will be isolated from the West Bank and will live in the Israeli-controlled “Seam Zone.” The sisters will be on the Palestinian side although the barrier will be erected around three sides of the property, creating a situation that the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries in the Holy Land describes as “prison-like … surrounded by military barriers and check-points.”
Recognizing the already precarious position of Christians in the region, the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries in the Holy Land, the Society of St. Yves — the legal and human rights office of the Latin Patriarchate — and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops have expressed their opposition to the extension of the security barrier through the Cremisan Valley as it will further deteriorate the situation of Palestinian Christians, whose emigration from the Holy Land has hastened since 2000.
29 April 2013
Tags: Middle East Christians Palestine Farming/Agriculture Israeli-Palestinian conflict Separation Barrier
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Canadian Senator Anne C. Cools introduces the documentary “Across the Divide” to Christian leaders in a Parliament building in Ottawa. (photo: CNEWA/Antin Sloboda)
On 15 April, CNEWA Canada joined with the office of Senator Anne C. Cools to organize a special event in Ottawa highlighting the situation of Christian communities in the Holy Land.
The Parliament Hill event brought over 30 community leaders representing a variety of Christian faith traditions, including Eastern Christians, Anglicans, Catholics, Mennonites, Presbyterians and others. The highlight of the conference was the screening of a documentary about the Bethlehem University, “Across the Divide.” The film is a production of the Salt + Light Media Foundation. CNEWA Canada sponsored its presentation across many Canadian cities in 2012.
Through Bethlehem University, we can see how the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has had a negative impact on the local Christians, who desire only to live in peace. Besides presenting the challenges these Christians face, the film also offers signs of hope. It shows how the leadership of the university and the students of many faiths together are committed to working for the benefit of all.
After the screening, participants shared their communities’ experiences in promoting peace in the Holy Land. Carl Hétu, national director of CNEWA Canada, moderated the constructive dialogue. The Rev. Thomas Rosica, C.E.O. of Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation, played an important part in stimulating the discussion as a panelist.
Senator Cools concluded by encouraging leaders of the Ottawa Christian communities to continue working together so one day peace might become a reality for all in the Holy Land and throughout the Middle East.
If you would like to order the film, contact Salt + Light Television.
And to learn how you can support Bethlehem University, click here.
26 March 2013
Tags: Middle East Christians Israeli-Palestinian conflict CNEWA Canada Bethlehem University Middle East Peace Process
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As we mark the holiest week of the Christian calendar, we can’t help but think about our suffering brothers and sisters in the Middle East — those living in the land where Jesus walked, in the region that became home to the very first Christians.
The faithful are desperate for a sign of hope. I pray you will be that sign.
Please watch the video below to learn more. Then, visit this page to learn how you can help.
25 March 2013
Tags: CNEWA Middle East Refugees War Violence against Christians
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CNEWA works for, through and with the churches of the East to serve those in need — such as this young Iraqi refugee, pictured last year in Amman, Jordan. (photo: John E. Kozar)
Last week, Catholic News Agency profiled some of the urgent work CNEWA is doing right now, particularly in the Middle East:
Catholic Near East Welfare Association is working with local Churches in and around Syria to help refugees and those who have been displaced by the country’s civil war, now beginning its third year.
“Our concern is not just for the Christian community, but for all people who are caught in the middle; the vast majority of people in Syria, as in any part of the world, just want peace,” Michael La Civita, the association’s communications director, told CNA on 18 March.
“They want to get back to normal, to rear their families and cope as best they can, and of course this makes it quite difficult for them, because the violence is just getting worse and worse.”
The Syrian conflict marked its second anniversary last week. On 15 March 2011, demonstrations sprang up nationwide, protesting the rule of Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s president and leader the country’s Ba’ath Party.
In April of that year, the Syrian army began to deploy to put down the uprisings, firing on protesters. Since then, the violence has morphed into a civil war.
United Nation’s estimates show that 70,000 people have been killed in the conflict. More than 1 million refugees have flooded into Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, and inside Syria another estimated 2.5 million are internally displaced.
Catholic Near East Welfare Association works through local Churches to help the poor and partners with the Jesuits, Armenian Catholics, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate and Melkite Greek Catholics.
“They come to us with needs, let us know what they need, and we provide them with the resources, whether its food, gear for children or schools,” La Civita said.
The group helps internally displaced people in Syria, those who have been forced out of their homes. These families are mostly from Homs and Aleppo, in the north and west of the country.
“They lived in the older quarters, and now they’re either in the suburbs or they’ve fled to a place called the valley of Christians, which is still in the hands of the government and is reasonably secure,” he explained.
Read the rest. Want to know what you can do? Take a moment to visit our page devoted to helping Middle East Christians, and make your voice heard!
5 February 2013
Tags: CNEWA Middle East Refugees Eastern Churches
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Pomegranates from Violette Elias’s orchard in Kafarchakna, Lebanon, await squeezing. Some of the juice will be turned into molasses. (photo: Dalia Khamissy)
Journalist Don Duncan wrote about the role of pomegranates in Lebanese culture in the November 2012 issue of ONE. Below, he shares a delicious discovery from his time reporting.
Since I moved to Lebanon in 2009, I’ve come to enjoy learning and practicing Lebanese recipes. The cuisine here is delicious and I was delighted, once I began reporting on the role of pomegranates in Lebanon, to discover Lebanese recipes involving the yummy fruit. Below are four such recipes. Enjoy!
Stuffed Vine Leaves with Pomegranate Molasses
- 400g (14 oz.) minced lamb
- 100g (3-4 oz.) rice
- 2 tbsp butter
- Salt and black pepper
- 200g (7 oz.) vine leaves
- 600g (21 oz.) lamb chops
- 1 tbsp pomegranate molasses
- 2 lemons, juiced
Mix the minced meat, rice and butter with a pinch of salt and some cracked black pepper. Boil the vine leaves for a few minutes, then, one by one, lay them flat on a chopping board. Cut off the stems and place a little of the meat mix in the middle. Fold up the sides of the leaves, then roll tightly, so the filling is enclosed within.
In a frying pan, melt a little more butter and gently sauté the chops. Now cover the bottom of another pot with any leftover blanched vine leaves, place the chops on them and lay the stuffed leaves on top in a circular pattern. Add enough water to cover, put a heavy plate on top, bring to a boil and then reduce the heat and cook for an hour and a half.
Mix the molasses with the lemon juice, add a pinch of salt, stir into the pot and cook for half an hour. Invert the pot on to a serving plate and serve.
Eggplant Sandwich with Pomegranate Molasses
- 500g (17-18 oz.) baby aubergines (eggplant)
- 200g (7 oz.) Middle Eastern thyme (or arugula)
- 1 tbsp pomegranate molasses
- 1 lemon, juiced
- 4 wholewheat pita breads
- 16 black pitted olives
- A few pomegranate seeds
Cut the aubergines in half, remove the stem, then sauté in a little olive oil until soft. Season with salt. Mix the thyme with the molasses diluted in lemon juice. Cut open the pitas, so they open like a pocket, add the eggplant, thyme, olives and a few pomegranate seeds.
Baked eggs with Pomegranate Molasses
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- 8 eggs
- 1 pinch salt
- 1 tbsp pomegranate molasses, diluted in 2 tbsp water
- Pomegranate seeds, for decoration
Heat the oil in a baking dish, in a medium-heat oven. Once hot, break in the eggs, add the salt and return to the oven. When almost cooked, add the diluted molasses, and return to the oven until it starts to bubble. Throw a few pomegranate seeds on top, and serve piping hot.
Sweet Pomegranate Salad
- 6 pomegranates
- 125ml (½ cup) rosewater (found in Middle Eastern stores)
- 125ml (½ cup) orange blossom water (found in Middle Eastern stores)
- 150-200g (⅓-½ oz.) pine nuts
- 4 tbsp sugar
Peel five of the pomegranates, remove their seeds and set aside. Juice the remaining fruit. Add the rosewater and orange blossom water to the juice, then stir in the reserved seeds. Sprinkle with pine nuts and sugar. Serve cold.
29 January 2013
Tags: Lebanon Cultural Identity Farming/Agriculture
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CNEWA’s president, Msgr. John Kozar, visited Rome earlier this month, and a few high-profile media outlets covered some presentations involving our work.
First, Rome Reports interviewed Msgr. Kozar. The video is below:
Catholic News Service also spoke with Msgr. Kozar, who emphasized that preserving the church’s diversity is a matter of faith, not nostalgia:
Finally, EWTN’s Rome bureau chief Joan Lewis was on hand, too:
I’ve been out for much of the day at a variety of meetings, including one late afternoon gathering for a small group of journalists at the Rome offices of CNEWA — the Catholic Near East Welfare Association. It was a fascinating roundtable presentation and discussion with New York-based Msgr. John Kozar, CNEWA president, and CNEWA’s three Middle East regional directors. Joining Msgr. Kozar were Ra’ed Bahou from Amman, Jordan; Issam Bishara from Beirut; and Sami El-Yousef from Jerusalem.
Also in attendance were Archbishop Terence Prendergast of Ottawa, Canada, who heads CNEWA in that country, and Carl Hétu, who spearheads CNEWA’s work in Canada. You’ll be hearing more about CNEWA’s amazing work in future columns and interviews for Vatican Insider. Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York is Chair of the Board of CNEWA.
Wednesday, Msgr. Kozar addressed over 100 prominent Italians about the needs of Eastern Christians, especially those of the Middle East, at the headquarters of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre in Rome. He spoke in the presence of the Order’s Grand Master, Cardinal Edwin O’Brien and co-host, Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation of the Eastern Churches.
Msgr. Kozar highlighted the devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy but noted the “thousands of volunteers came from far and wide to assist the victims of this horrific storm to help people rebuild.”
He then said, “almost every day, in an area of the world called the Middle East, people face forces far greater than the destruction of a hurricane: they face the storms of conflict, hostility, hatred, poverty, injustice and religious and political persecution. At times, there is little hope of survival, let alone the opportunity to rebuild and to live in peace with hope.
“The Catholic Church in this part of the world,” said the CNEWA president, “especially its family of Eastern churches, is small in number, but deeply rooted in the history, culture and fabric of society in the Middle East. It is the presence of the church that offers the poor, the oppressed and the victims of the daily storms of life a sign of hope, where otherwise there would be only flight, fear and despair.
Visit EWTN’s website for more.
24 January 2013
Tags: CNEWA Middle East CNEWA Canada Media CNEWA Pontifical Mission
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In this 28 September 2012 photo, Violette Elias cuts pomegranates that will eventually be squeezed and turned into molasses at her orchard near Kafarchakna, in northern Lebanon. (photo: Dalia Khamissy)
In the November 2012 issue of ONE, journalist Don Duncan discussed the role of pomegranates in Lebanese culture. In the course of his reporting, he joined farmer Violette Elias and her family for a meal in her home. Below, he shares his thoughts and impressions from the scene.
The farm of Violette Elias in the northern mountains of Lebanon is as typical as you are going to find in this small Mediterranean country. The house is a high-gabled, traditional Lebanese farm house, folded into a lush green environ — some 800 feet above sea level — with the soaring snow-capped peaks of Lebanon’s highest mountains behind it.
Around the house and down the hill behind it are scatters of trees, a motley orchard of apple, orange, pear and pomegranate trees that Violette harvests all year round. Toward late spring, the distinctive red flowers of the pomegranate trees begin to burst gently on the twigs, and as spring moves into summer the redness deepens. By August, pomegranate fruits are nearly ready for the picking. Violette picks them as she needs them throughout the harvesting season, which lasts until November.
In her kitchen, Violette has a basket of picked pomegranates and uses them for making her own molasses, which she says is an “indispensable” part of any kitchen. The day I visited her family, her four children — Adele, 31; Allisar, 29; Nassif, 28; and Habib, 25 — were back home for the weekend from Beirut. Each of them buzzes around Violette in the kitchen, preparing the dinner table as she works on a Lebanese snack featuring pomegranate. The scene is at once traditional and very contemporary, and I am struck by how well Lebanon has managed to hang on to its values and traditions — whereas countries like Ireland, where I am from, which once had similar values, often lose some measure of them in the face of evolving modernity and globalization.
Violette works her mortar and pestle, mixing her pomegranate molasses with herbs and raisins, and adding the resulting sauce to cooked rice to form a stuffing for peppers and zucchini, a traditional Lebanese snack. We all sit down at the table in the dining room and make small talk as we await Violette to finish and bring her homemade snacks and delicacies. Local cider is poured, and bread is sliced. We talk about Beirut, the rising rent and stagnant salaries — all obsessions for Lebanese in their 20’s and 30’s — but we also talk about the benefits of coming from the countryside and living in the capital, and what a luxury it is to quit the urban chaos at the weekend for the crisp climbs of the mountain.
I was a little envious of the Elias children — mainly because I don’t have such a haven in Lebanon, but also because it reminded me of Ireland, when I lived in Dublin and I had a similar country retreat: my native village in the midlands.
And then the food came out and it was, in some ways, like being at home. Even though the cuisine is worlds apart, it was mamma’s cooking in a way and it left a warm, satisfied feeling in my heart.
18 January 2013
Tags: Lebanon Cultural Identity Farming/Agriculture
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Left to right: Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, Cardinal Edwin F. O’Brien, Jesuit Archbishop Terrence T. Prendergast and Msgr. John E. Kozar hosted a reception in Rome to raise the Italian community’s awareness of the needs of the churches and people of the East. (photo: Carl Hétu)
This past Wednesday, in the frescoed reception rooms of the headquarters of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre, the Holy See’s Congregation for the Eastern Churches joined CNEWA in hosting a reception to introduce to the Italian community the needs of the Eastern churches.
The reception capped a flurry of public activities designed to better acquaint Italian Catholics with some of the issues challenging Christian families, especially in the Middle East. As in North America, the Italian media reports on the political and economic dimensions of the Middle East, but few raise the issue of the Christians who have been living there since the time of Christ.
Cardinal Leonardi Sandri, prefect of the Congregation of the Eastern Churches; Cardinal Edwin F. O’Brien, grand master of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre; Msgr. John E. Kozar, president of CNEWA; and Archbishop Terrence T. Prendergast, S.J., chair and treasurer of CNEWA Canada, welcomed more than 100 prominent Italians, including members of the political community and actor Giorgio Lupano.
“Almost every day, in an area of the world called the Middle East, people face forces far greater than the destruction of a hurricane,” Msgr. Kozar said in an address that referenced the hurricane that devastated parts of New York City and the surrounding regions last autumn.
“They face the storms of conflict, hostility, hatred, poverty, injustice and religious and political persecution. At times, there is little hope of survival, let alone the opportunity to rebuild and to live in peace with hope.”
CNEWA’s regional director for Lebanon, Syria and Egypt, Issam Bishara, reported on the current challenges and work being done for, through and with the Eastern churches in the midst of violent conflicts afflicting the region.
Comboni Missionary Sister Alessandra Fumagalli spoke about the work of her community in southern Jordan, where the sisters run the Italian Hospital in Kerak. “It’s really an emergency,” she said about the large numbers of people needing care from a 40-bed facility.
At his weekly audience the day before the event, the Holy Father thanked CNEWA and its benefactors, a few of whom joined Archbishop Prendergast and Msgr. Kozar in the audience hall, for all the work done on behalf of the church.
You, too, can join in these efforts of CNEWA to affirm human dignity, alleviate poverty, encourage dialogue and inspire hope. Click here to learn how.
Tags: Syria CNEWA Middle East Christians Jordan Msgr. John E. Kozar
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