9 May 2012
A Syrian family arrives at an army checkpoint in northern Lebanon on 27 March.
(photo: CNS/Afif Diab, Reuters)
Over the last several weeks, we’ve brought you stories about the struggles of Syria’s Christians and the ongoing efforts to help them.
We’ve been gratified and moved by the amazing show of support from our readers and donors. Thank you! You can learn more about what CNEWA is doing in partnership with local churches in this recent update from Issam Bishara, our regional director in Lebanon.
But the need is still great. This report from the BBC shows what some people are facing — and why so many are fleeing:
Homs, a lively Syrian city once regarded as a place of peaceful co-existence, has borne the brunt of violence in Syria’s 14-month long uprising.
The neighbourhood of Baba Amr was its biggest target in a city activists now call the “capital of the revolution”.
Not a single building seems to have escaped the government’s ferocious assault. Structures still standing are peppered with shrapnel, blackened by fire, fingers of concrete.
Indiscriminate bombing ripped away entire floors of large residential blocks.
“No government likes to shell its own people,” says Homs Governor Ghassan Abdulal. “We had no choice. The armed groups were firing from civilian areas.”
Visit our website to learn how you can help provide lifesaving aid such as food and medicine to Syrian refugees.
8 May 2012
Tags: Lebanon Refugees CNEWA Middle East Christians Relief
The Holy Family School celebrates its 12th commencement ceremony. (photo: Sami El-Yousef)
In many reports and blogs on Gaza, the tone is often negative, reflecting the very difficult circumstances in Gaza — for instance, the gas shortage or the usual challenges associated with the blockade. But this time, I want to write about a very joyous celebration: the 12th commencement ceremony at the Holy Family School in Gaza. I was privileged to attend this along with his Beatitude Patriarch Fouad Twal.
This was no ordinary ceremony, as the 17 graduates — including three Christians — started their schooling in 2000, just as the second intifada was beginning. There has not been a stretch of quiet since they started their studies; they’ve had to contend with closures, travel restrictions, a blockade, a full-fledged war, violence and counter-violence, and swift and forceful Israeli air strikes. In short, these young men and women have not had a normal childhood or education. Yet, sitting there for the celebration, I couldn’t help but marvel: it was a grand, festive event with speeches full of hope and big dreams, just like any other commencement ceremony anywhere else in the world. Despite the bleak political situation, the valedictorian was full of energy and hope that tomorrow will be a better day.
Between each speech, there was a performance by the school’s Dabkeh team, featuring traditional Palestinian dance. It was the largest I have ever seen, with some 50 members of all ages. The team was fully synchronized and disciplined. It was a great joy to watch. These students were proud to be performing for us all — as if they were passing on a message that, despite all the difficulties of these past 12 years, they learned how to have fun and how to keep the culture alive.
Congratulations to the class of 2012! May the future be kinder to you than the past.
The school's Dabkeh team honors the graduates with a performance. (photo: Sami El-Yousef)
4 May 2012
Tags: Gaza Strip/West Bank Palestine Education
A damaged church is seen in Homs, Syria, 30 March.
(photo: CNS/Shaam News Network, handout via Reuters)
After more than one year of unrest, the ongoing political crisis in Syria has caused tens of thousands to be caught in the crossfire between government and opposition forces. As a result, thousands of Syrians have fled their homes choosing to escape the violence. Many have migrated to neighboring countries, while others moved to safer and more stable areas in Syria.
The deteriorating economic conditions led by the conflict and the sanctions imposed on Syria have created high levels of unemployment and inflation. Since March 2011, the Syrian pound has depreciated against the U.S. dollar by nearly 65 percent. This has significantly affected Syrian families, who now find it difficult to pay for food, rent and fuel. The rise in prices is driving low-income Syrians deep into poverty.
Working in close collaboration with the local churches, CNEWA has been able to identify by name more than 1,770 displaced families living in dire economic situations, jeopardizing child nutrition and health:
- 400 families remain in Homs (despite the military actions), according to the Good Shepherd Sisters.
- 450 families left Homs and found refuge in Damascus, according to the Greek Catholic Patriarchate of Antioch and the Good Shepherd Sisters.
- 920 families left Homs and found shelter in the cluster called the “Valley of Christians,” according to by the social service office of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch.
In response to this urgent humanitarian need, CNEWA’s regional office in Lebanon launched an emergency program for the aid of Syrian families. CNEWA is working through existing structures of the Greek Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Latin churches to reach the most needy.
The first phase of the program includes distribution of emergency kits containing food, hygiene items and baby milk.
CNEWA and other donor agencies have pooled resources to reach around 1000 needy Christian families in the Syrian cities of Homs, Valley of Christians, Tartous, Damascus and other locations on the Syrian/Lebanese border.
So far CNEWA received positive responses from:
- The Raskob Foundation (US)
- The Holy Childhood (Germany)
- Missio (Germany)
- The Archdiocese of Cologne (Germany)
To find out how you can help, visit this link.
And to read more about the unfolding crisis, check out these blog posts: The Faithful Who Are Fleeing the Holy Land and The Struggles of Syria’s Christians.
3 May 2012
Tags: Syria Middle East Violence against Christians CNEWA Pontifical Mission
Franciscan Sisters of the Cross in Lebanon pick fruit. (photo: Marilyn Raschcka)
The Franciscan Sisters of the Cross in Lebanon care selflessly for the sick, disabled and orphaned individuals in Lebanon. Last December, during his pastoral visit to the region, CNEWA president Msgr. Kozar witnessed the work the sisters do first hand.
Marilyn Raschka wrote one of our first stories profiling the Franciscan Sisters of the Cross in the Jan/Feb 1999 issue of the magazine:
“Love — thats what they need,” my guide asserted as we walked into a room flooded with sunshine and colorful quilts. What looked like four- and five-year-old children in this room were actually teen-agers whose bodies were robbed of growth and whose minds had failed to develop. The room provided a safe, secure playing area for these residents. Toys were often used to stimulate those who could respond. But nothing worked better than a smile and a hug from nuns and staff.
The energy required of this community is replenished by young novices, three of whom I met during my visit. All three young women have sponsors from the United States who, through CNEWAs sponsorship program, contribute to their education and living expenses. Studies are strenuous, separation from family is painful and a future of difficult work could take its toll. But these challenges have created a bond that helps the women persevere. And youth, with its built-in buoyancy, provides extra time for some basic “nunsense.”
For more read, Bearing the Cross in Lebanon.
30 April 2012
Tags: Lebanon Sisters Beirut Franciscan Sisters of the Cross
This image of Jerusalem was captured by CNEWA President Msgr. John Kozar during his pastoral visit to the Holy Land last year. You can read about it here.
CNEWA Canada just announced it is partnering with the Catholic Women’s League (C.W.L.) of Canada for a new initiative that will allow Catholic women across the country to support a program for at-risk youth in the Old City of Jerusalem.
Here is an excerpt from an article that can be found on the Canadian Catholic Register website:
Velma Harasen, the national president of the C.W.L., said this is more than just a catchy name with a personal touch — it really is her dream.
“My dream was always to have an international project that our league sisters across the country could embrace,” said Harasen. “It’s been a dream of mine since [the C.W.L.] established the theme centred on faith and justice, and [focused on] women against poverty.”
“Velma’s Dream” will raise money to support the education program of the Infant Welfare Centre in the Old City, which works at getting youth — both Christian and non-Christian — who have dropped out of school back into the classroom. It does so by teaming up teachers with psychologists and psychiatrists who help youth find new ways to approach their studies and accompany the students through their reintegration to school until their graduation date.
Carl Hétu, national director of CNEWA, said expanding the resources and the reach of the program will have a very real impact on the society at large.
“This project deals ... with schools, teachers and parents to take care of school dropouts, who are on the streets and have no means,” said Hétu. “[It’s] to bring them back in school, to help them finish school and ... become full citizens of the Old City.
“[It] will allow them to have better jobs ... and be more involved in their community later on.”
You can see the rest of the article here.
To learn more about CNEWA’s partnership with the Catholic Women’s League of Canada, click here.
26 April 2012
Tags: Children Jerusalem Education CNEWA Canada
An Iraqi woman prays the rosary with a child on her lap in front of a statue of Mary at her house in Irbil, Iraq, 11 Sept. (photo: CNS/Azad Lashkari, Reuters)
With more attention being devoted to the plight of Christians in the Holy Land — this “60 Minutes” piece is just the latest example — the Catholic Courier newspaper in Rochester recently spoke with some experts on the region, including our own Michael La Civita:
The Holy Land is the birthplace of Christianity, yet it also is the very place Christianity is most in danger of disappearing, experts say.
“To think that there may be no Christians in the place where it all began is a rather arresting thought,” said Mark Schnellbaecher, regional director in the Middle East and Eastern Europe for Catholic Relief Services, the overseas aid agency of the U.S. Catholic bishops.
Attacks on Christians in the Middle East have increased dramatically in the last few years, Schnellbaecher said, pointing to Iraq as an example. Although always a minority, Iraq’s Christian community had been stable and protected during the reign of Saddam Hussein. After the U.S.-led invasion toppled the dictator in 2003, militant Islamic political movements that had been repressed under Hussein “came up like mushrooms after a spring rain,” he said. Members of these movements kidnapped and killed many Christians, and the survivors fled Iraq in droves.
“To watch the dispersement of one of the most ancient Christian communities before your eyes is just sad,” said Schnellbaecher, who is based in Beirut. “These are the kinds of things that normally happen over centuries, and here it’s happened in the course of a decade. I think it is certainly possible in my lifetime there won’t be any Christians in Iraq.”
The dire situation facing Iraqi Christians is being replicated in other Middle Eastern countries, he added. This is true in Syria, which seems to be on the brink of civil war, and in Egypt, where extremist Muslim groups have forced Christians to live in fear since the 2011 revolution ousted former President Muhammad Hosni El Sayed Mubarak.
“Everyone looks to Iraq, and they see what happened to the Christian community — it’s been decimated — and they sort of wonder, is that our fate as well?” Schnellbaecher said.
And Christians are not the only ones facing violence, hostility and displacement in the Middle East, where other religious minorities also are under attack, said Michael La Civita, vice president of communications for Catholic Near East Welfare Association, a papal agency providing humanitarian support to the people of the Middle East, northeast Africa, India and Eastern Europe.
“It’s open season on these smaller groups,” La Civita said.
Many times, religious differences are not the only reasons for hostilities, he added. Christians in many Middle Eastern countries, for example, tend to be well-educated members of the upper middle class, so anti-Christian violence is sometimes fueled by economic factors, La Civita said. These factors by no means justify such violence, he said, but they do help explain its origins.
“There is sometimes a social or economic or political reason for the violence that ensues. You have to put everything into its proper context and really look at what’s the source of some of these problems,” he noted.
Read more at this link.
24 April 2012
Tags: Holy Land Christianity Emigration
Children play at the Caritas camp held at the Samta Park Sanitarium in Nunisi, a mountain town in Georgia’s Karagauli region. (photo: Justyna Mielnikiewicz)
In the November 2007 issue of ONE, Paul Rimple reported on the invaluable effect summer camps have on children in the Caucasus:
“Many of the children come from very troubled families — very poor,” said Zizi Inadze, a staff member who grew up on the streets and, like Mr. Biganashvili, received assistance from Caritas. “Some had never seen fish or butter before, and even others never had seen a toilet. I was so shocked to see kids using a bucket, I couldn’t believe it.”
The camps of Sister Arousiag Sajonian and Father Witold Szulczynski are different in structure, but their aim is the same. They offer disadvantaged children a quintessential childhood experience that is normally available only to the more privileged. And it is a testament to the camps’ success that so many former campers have returned, as adults, to help educate the next generation.
A mere two carefree weeks can have an outsized impact on the children’s lives, said Ms. Inadze, the former street child who now works for Caritas.
“Here at the camps, they learn to open up and share a sense of warmth. They receive love and attention.”
For more, read Kid’s Camps in the Caucasus.
23 April 2012
Tags: Children Georgia Caucasus Tbilisi
A retired priest sits near a painting of St. Lawrence at the Beit Afram home for the elderly in Taybeh. (photo: Rich Wiles)
As we shared on this blog, last night “60 Minutes” aired a segment on the dwindling Christian community in the Holy Land. This is a subject near and dear to our hearts here at CNEWA. As is true in every country where CNEWA operates, our work in the Holy Land relies heavily on our collaboration with the local churches of the region. In the July 2011 issue of ONE, we published an article profiling the all-Christian village of Taybeh, which is located in the West Bank, just north of Jerusalem:
“Taybeh is the only entirely Christian village in Palestine,” says 70–year–old Ne’meh Issa proudly. Born and reared in Taybeh, Mrs. Issa has spent her entire life in the village. As do most villagers, she feels strongly about Taybeh’s Christian identity. “It is pure Christian and exists peacefully next to Muslim villages and also Israeli settlements.”
Though small with only 2,000 inhabitants, Taybeh is in fact the last remaining entirely Christian settlement in Palestine. Everyone belongs to one of its three churches. About 1,160 villagers belong to St. George Orthodox Church, which was built between 1929 and 1932 near the site of a fourth–century church. Another 530 belong to Christ the Redeemer Latin Catholic Church, built in l971. And about 310 belong to St. George Melkite Greek Catholic Church, built in l964.
For more, read A Town Named ‘Good’. In addition to the segment that aired last night on “60 Minutes,” CBS News posted some web extras online, including a video report about Taybeh. Check it out below!
20 April 2012
Tags: Middle East Christians Middle East Palestine Palestinians West Bank
This image from 2007 shows how Eucharist and study are central in the lives of Coptic Catholic seminarians at St. Leo the Great, located in a Cairo suburb. (photo: Mohammed El-Dakhakhny)
Latest reports indicate that Egypt continues to be rocked by political turmoil and protest:
Tens of thousands of protesters packed Cairo’s downtown Tahrir Square on Friday in the biggest demonstration in months against the ruling military, aimed at stepping up pressure on the generals to hand over power to civilians and bar ex-regime members from running in upcoming presidential elections.
We’ve reported extensively on the lives of Christians in that corner of the world. In 2007, the magazine profiled the Coptic Catholic Church, beginning with its very deep roots:
Egyptian Christians — known as Copts, a derivative of the Greek word Aigyptios, meaning Egyptian — are proud of their ancient roots. They received the Gospel from St. Mark the Evangelist, who brought the faith to the city of Alexandria, second only to Rome in the ancient Mediterranean world. There, he died a martyr’s death around the year 67.
The evangelist extended his apostolic activity beyond the city’s prosperous Jewish community. He called for the city’s Copts and Greeks to adopt “the way,” the early Christian description for discipleship in Jesus Christ.
Mark sowed the Christian seed on fertile ground. Centuries before the Arab advent in the eastern Mediterranean, and with it the rise of Islam, Egyptian Christianity blossomed. It provided the church with the philosophical foundation and theological vocabulary responsible for its explosive expansion in the Greco-Roman world, introduced the cenobitic and hermitic variants of monastic life and peopled the universal church with some of its greatest saints and scholars, including Pantaenus, Clement, Origen, Anthony, Macarius, Didymus, Athanasius, Arius, Cyril and Dioscorus.
19 April 2012
Tags: Egypt Middle East Christians Africa
A Palestinian doctor examines a child at the N.E.C.C. Mother and Child Clinic in Gaza City.
(photo: Eman Mohammed)
Fares Akram is a journalist based in Gaza.
Two weeks before my wife, Alaa, delivered our second baby, I was at Al-Ahli Arab Hospital, preparing to interview its directors and staff for the ONE magazine article
that features the role of Christian organizations and institutions in serving the poor of the Gaza Strip.
Having seen how tranquil the hospital is, with its unique services and peaceful garden, I thought of bringing my wife to deliver in that hospital. And yes, this plan worked out; it was there that our daughter, Celine, saw the light by Caesarean section. Alaa said that she most liked the way in which nurses treated her and how skillful the surgeon was.
Church-affiliated organizations and centers offer a wide set of services in Gaza, the coastal enclave controlled by the Islamic Hamas movement. However, these services are not widely renowned, and the reason could be lack of proper promotion.
But having been through many of these institutions, I have seen and experienced the unique services they represent, from vocational training centers to hospitals and clinics.
These organizations demonstrate great determination by continuing to work in such hard circumstances, challenging Israeli restrictions on Gaza, lack of sufficient funding and operating under the Hamas government.
In Gaza, there are many charities and NGOs to help people, especially after the 2007 siege increased levels of poverty and hardship, but the Christian charities are much older and offer services that address the essential needs of the people. Only the Mother and Child Clinic, run by The Near East Council of Churches (N.E.C.C.), provides post-natal care for both mother and child.
During my reporting, I had come to see a mosque and a church embracing each other. It's even not easy to distinguish between the two structures. The church also hosts Myrrh Bearers Society of the Orthodox Church, the decade-old charity that struggles to achieve its goals despite low levels of support.
To read more of Mr. Akram's reporting on church-affiliated institutions in Gaza, see
Behind the Blockade, from the March 2012 issue of
Tags: Gaza Strip/West Bank Palestine Holy Land Health Care