26 March 2012
In this photo taken in 2010, a farmer rides through Wadi al Nasarah (Arabic for Valley of Christians), near Homs. (photo: Sean Sprague)
Though much of Syria is in turmoil and many Christians are fleeing, we reflect today on Wadi al Nasarah, a group of about 40 Christian villages. In the January 2011 edition of ONE, Sean Sprague told the story of a flourishing valley of Christians holding onto its ancient Christian roots:
“We were traditionally farmers, harvesting our olives and growing grain crops and keeping animals. But these days, very few of us Christians are involved in that kind of work. We have prospered and have received a good education, going to university in the towns, so we either work in tourism or are professional people,” she continues.
Ms. Nehme’s generation is not the first to have left its rural roots: Her father is an electrician; her mother teaches at a local school.
Syria is a cradle of Christianity. The word Christian was first coined in the ancient Syrian city of Antioch — which has been a part of Turkey since the borders were redrawn in 1939. The apostles Peter and Paul settled there, nurturing a church that eventually emerged as the center of Christian thought in the eastern Mediterranean. Antiochene theologians, from both the Greek– and Syriac–speaking communities, played leading roles in the Christological controversies that eventually divided the early church, differences that are now understood as cultural and linguistic.
For more, read Syria’s Christian Valley.
23 March 2012
Tags: Syria Middle East Christians Middle East Farming/Agriculture
Palestinian Joseph Hazboun, 46, poses at the piano with his daughters, Layal, 16, Yazan, 14, and son, Lene, 12, in their apartment in East Jerusalem 28 Feb. For 17 years Hazboun, who is from Bethlehem, West Bank, has been living with his family in Jerusalem without a permanent Israeli residency permit. (photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)
If anyone needs to know what it is like to live in a divided city like Jerusalem, a member of our CNEWA family can tell you.
Catholic News Service recently chatted with one of the long-time staffers in our Jerusalem office:
Joseph Hazboun remembers when he could hop into his car in Jerusalem and drive the few miles to the nearby West Bank city of Bethlehem to see his family. It was easy enough, even passing through mandatory checkpoints, that he and his Jerusalem-born wife and children would make the trip at least twice a month.
It has been years, though, since the Hazbouns, who are Catholic, could make the 25-minute drive on their own. Now the family must take light rail, two taxis and walk across a checkpoint to get from their home in East Jerusalem to Bethlehem. The venture takes at least 90 minutes. The result: The Hazbouns have curtailed their visits to once every several months.
Israeli laws on the book since 2003 strictly limit who can obtain permanent residency status and thus enjoy the related benefits, including driving privileges. The Supreme Court recently upheld the law.
Although he is the spouse of a Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem who holds an Israeli permanent resident ID, Hazboun is prohibited from becoming a permanent resident of Israel because he is from Bethlehem. Only those with permanent residency can enjoy benefits of Israeli society, including coverage under the health care system and social security benefits.
Every year the couples keep close track of their rent receipts, utility bills, school tuition payments and vaccination records. They trek to the Ministry of Interior and then to the Civil Administration in the West Bank to get the piece of paper that allows them to live together legally as a family.
They are among thousands of Palestinian couples who continue living in a state of limbo and uncertainty because they must apply for a temporary residence permit annually. “That puts us at their mercy as, at any given moment, they can rebuke our residency permit and tell us to go away somewhere. But I have nowhere else to go. Here is where my work is, here is where we have our home,” said Hazboun, 46, who has worked in the Jerusalem office of the Pontifical Mission for Palestine for 18 years. He has lived in the city since he married his Jerusalem-born wife, Rima, 17 years ago.
“I can’t understand what the security threat is to Israel if we drive,” Hazboun said. “This is just another prohibition to make our life in Israel difficult. It is a demographic war. (They think) that if they make it difficult for us we will say, Why live such a life in Jerusalem when we can move about freely in the West Bank?”
There’s much more. Read the rest. And for more on life in Jerusalem, and throughout Israel, check out Msgr. Kozar’s posts on his Journey to the Holy Land, and for some history of the sacred city, read The Holy City of Jerusalem.
21 March 2012
Tags: CNEWA Jerusalem Palestinians
From left, CNEWA President Msgr. John Kozar, Dominican Sister Maria Hanna and CNEWA Regional Director for Jordan and Iraq Ra’ed Bahou gather with Dominican Sisters outside the Mother of Mercy Clinic in Jordan. (photo: CNEWA)
Last December, during his pastoral visit to the Holy Land, CNEWA President Msgr. John Kozar had a chance to visit with Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena at their clinic in Jordan. These sisters — whose provincial house is in Iraq — staff hospitals, orphanages and schools for those still in Iraq and those Iraqis displaced throughout the Middle East. They do not turn their backs on the people, and the dire circumstances in Iraq seem to drive them to want to do more. Last August we were able to catch up with a few Dominican Sisters visiting the U.S. and gain some insight into this fearless congregation of sisters:
Your community lost its mother house to the violence.
Sister Diana Moneka: Yes, it was bombed several times. But God was with us. When they bombed our mother house the first time, the missile fell on a bedroom where four sisters were sleeping. It was 1:30 a.m. They couldn’t escape. Pressure from the fire prevented them from opening the door. A sister sleeping down the hall eventually got them out. The sisters were so shocked, but after a while they felt the presence of God. They realized, “We’re still alive because of God.”
How is morale among the sisters?
Sister Maria: They are very down and frustrated. Whenever there is some activity and work, and they’re busy and producing, they are happy. But sometimes, they get very frustrated.
Sister Diana: We’re walking with people step by step, every day. Wherever there is a bomb, we’re with the victims. Caring for traumatized people is a very difficult task, because their trauma wears off on you. Coming back home, if you don’t have a big community that supports you, the spiritual and psychological parts are very hard.
We’ve lost lots of family. I lost my brother. Five years ago, he was shot. One sister, two of her nephews were kidnapped and disappeared. Another, her nephew disappeared and they have heard nothing about him. It’s been almost five years now. We’re trying to help people and at the same time dealing with our own trauma.
Sister Maria: In the past six years, we have not had one meeting with all the sisters together. We used to have them at the mother house. This is very difficult for the sisters, because we can’t unite together. We want to build a new mother house. We have the property and the blueprints, but we do not have the money.
Click here to read more of our interview with the sisters.
19 March 2012
Tags: Middle East Jordan Health Care Dominican Sisters
In this 6 January 2010 photo, Pope Shenouda III, the Coptic Orthodox patriarch, blesses the congregation during a Divine Liturgy celebrating Christmas at the Coptic cathedral in Cairo, Egypt. (photo: CNS/Asmaa Waguih, Reuters)
A lion of the universal church died on Saturday, 17 March.
Shenouda III, pope of Alexandria and patriarch of the See of St. Mark, led some 15 million Coptic Orthodox Christians — most of whom live in Egypt — since his election in 1971.
Not since the earliest days of the Egyptian church has one man impacted the Christian community of the region more than Pope Shenouda III. Picking up where his predecessor, Pope Kyrillos VI (1959-1971), left off, Pope Shenouda III spearheaded a revival in catechesis, particularly among youth, that spawned a resurgence in monastic life, renewed liturgical life and stimulated theological learning and Scripture study.
The pope also ended centuries of near isolation of the Coptic Orthodox Church, strengthening relations with other churches with which it maintains full communion — the Armenian Apostolic, Ethiopian, Eritrean, Malankara Syrian and Syriac Orthodox churches. He also reached out to other churches, particularly the Anglican, Byzantine Orthodox and Catholic churches. In May 1973, Pope Shenouda III and Pope Paul VI issued a joint statement that put to rest the Christological discord that divided the Coptic Orthodox and Catholic churches since the fifth century.
“He who is God eternal and invisible,” declared the popes, “became visible in the flesh, and took upon himself the form of a servant. In him are preserved all the properties of the divinity and all the properties of humanity, together in a real, perfect, indivisible and inseparable union.”
Egyptian Christianity is as old as Christianity itself, predating Islam and the Arab invasion of the country by six centuries. Despite 15 centuries marked by periods of persecution and peace, the Coptic Orthodox Church (which today accounts for up to eight million of Egypt’s 80 million people) thrives. Churches are packed with young and old; ancient monasteries flourish with monks and nuns; social outreach programs touch the needy and catechetical programs instill values and a sense of identity for the young — who are increasingly emigrating to the West.
Pope Shenouda III responded by setting up jurisdictions and establishing hundreds of parishes throughout Europe, North America and Oceania. Today, perhaps as many as four million Copt Orthodox Christians live outside Egypt, all of whom today are joining with their families back home in mourning the death of their beloved papa.
16 March 2012
Tags: Egypt Patriarchs Coptic Christians Coptic Orthodox Church Monasticism
A young Bedouin traveling by donkey through the ancient city of Petra, Jordan.
(photo: John E. Kozar)
Petra — the ancient fortress city carved out of rock in the Valley of Moses — features some of Jordan’s best-preserved traces of antiquity, along with significant evidence of early Christianity. In December, CNEWA President, Msgr. John E. Kozar visited Petra as a part of his pastoral visit to the Holy Land. Read all of Msgr. Kozar’s blog posts from his journey.
13 March 2012
Tags: Middle East Jordan Holy Land Msgr. John E. Kozar
A photo of Sally, a young Iraqi woman in Jordan, taken in April 2010. (photo: Gabriel Delmonaco)
In May of 2010 we were introduced to Sally, a lovely young Iraqi refugee in Jordan, by Sister Wardeh of the Franciscan Sisters of Mary. Sister Wardeh, a good friend and warrior for CNEWA, has worked with displaced Iraqis since the first Persian Gulf War in 1991. Sally’s story was especially poignant: this vibrant 19-year-old woman was battling cancer. Her chemotherapy was no longer working and she needed expensive surgery. CNEWA friends were able to rally behind Sally and her family. We raised $15,000 in one day to pay for her surgery. That gave Sally the precious gift of life, and the blessing of time.
Sadly, the time was short. We heard some sad news from Sister Wardeh recently: after a brave battle against the disease, Sally had “gone home to God.” We remember Sally and her family in our prayers, and we also remember those who cared for her so lovingly — people like Sister Wardeh. We are so thankful she introduced us to Sally — and thankful, too, that our CNEWA family was able to pull together and help her when she needed it most.
Join us this month as we celebrate the work of sisters like Sister Wardeh in the lives of women like Sally.
12 March 2012
Tags: Refugees CNEWA Iraqi Christians Jordan Amman
A parishioner leaves St. Elijah Church in Ain Kawa, a mostly Christian neighborhood outside Erbil, Kurdistan’s capital and largest city. (photo: Safin Hamed)
In the November 2011 issue of ONE, we reported that much of Iraq’s Christian population had found a haven in the Kurdish controlled north. Many had fled hostile cities like Mosul and Baghdad and were ready to start a new life in the Kurdish north. Over the weekend, The New York Times reported that Christians are now abandoning the area — due, in part, to lack of employment opportunities and security concerns:
“The consequence of this flight may be the end of Christianity in Iraq,” the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom wrote in its most recent annual report, summarizing the concerns of church leaders.
In January, the International Organization for Migration found that 850 of 1,350 displaced Christian families it was tracking in northern Iraq had left in the past year. Many cited fears about security as well as the strains of finding work, housing and schools in an unfamiliar place where they had few connections and spoke only Arabic, and not Kurdish.
“No one has done anything for us,” said Salim Yono Auffee, a member of the Chaldean/Assyrian Popular Council, a Christian group in northern Iraq. “These people are trying to figure out how to build their futures, to find homes, to get married. And they are leaving Iraq.”
Even in the relative safety of Kurdistan, some Christians say they still live in apprehension. A kidnapping of a Christian businessman in Erbil, the Kurdish capital, and a recent outbreak of riots and arson attacks against Christian-owned liquor stores in Dohuk Province — the northernmost in Iraq, along the Turkish border — have deeply unsettled Christian migrants to the area.
For more, read the Times’ article Exodus From North Signals Iraqi Christians’ Slow Decline.
9 March 2012
Tags: Iraq Iraqi Christians War
A sister treats a patient at the Mother of Mercy Clinic in Zerqa, Jordan. (photo: Nader Daoud)
Today is day two of our “Celebrating Women” campaign. In honor of the courageous women in our region, today’s picture comes from the Mother of Mercy Clinic in Zerqa, Jordan. This clinic is run and staffed by the Iraqi Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena. Last year 3,600 children received immunizations from the clinic. In December, Msgr. Kozar blogged about his visit to the clinic and the great work and beautiful spirit of the sisters who run this clinic:
We left Amman for densely crowded Zerqa, where we had an appointment to visit the Mother of Mercy Clinic. Perhaps the word “clinic” is a misnomer; this facility teems with activity and offers a multitude of services to a huge number of poor, almost all of whom are Muslim.
I have to tell you, the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, who run the clinic, are dynamos and command tremendous respect by the hundreds who come each day. Though the facilities are old, humble and crowded, the service provided is exceptional. On a typical day, the dispensary or emergency room might see between 100-140 patients. Additionally, there may be hundred mothers with their infants lined up for vaccinations. There are only two full-time doctors on staff, but they are complimented very well by a trained group of nurses, technicians, midwives, assistants and other helpers who make the delivery of services something to behold. I think our huge mega-hospitals in North America could learn a thing or two with the efficient management style seen here.
But most of all, there is a loving spirit demonstrated by the four sisters who work here and the dedicated staff that collaborates with them. Ra’ed mentioned that most of the staff have been employed at Mother of Mercy for many years, and while they could make greater sums elsewhere, they have made a commitment to stay and serve the poor.
Mother of Mercy is located right beside a huge Palestinian refugee camp, which houses about 80,000 inhabitants. You can imagine the volume of traffic to the clinic on some days, which lies within a compound that includes a parish church, dedicated to St. Pius X, and the parish school.
Another indicator of how beloved the sisters are is the fact that in every instance, save one, all the Muslim women with their children and infants felt very comfortable in allowing me to photograph them. Being cautious, I let one of the sisters accompanying me to ask their permission to take their photograph. I must tell you, the faces of both mother and child were prize-winning smiles, thanks to the sisters.
To learn more about the Mother of Mercy Clinic and the work of the Dominican Sisters, read Mothering Mercies from the May 2009 issue of ONE. To learn how you can help support the work of sisters like the Dominican Sisters, join our Causes page or give on our website.
7 March 2012
Tags: Middle East Jordan Health Care Dominican Sisters
Syrian refugees receive humanitarian aid from an Islamic organization in Tripoli, Lebanon, 6 March. (photo: CNS/Omar Ibrahim, Reuters)
As the situation in Syria continues to deteriorate, a new humanitarian crisis is unfolding. Issam Bishara, our regional director for Lebanon, Syria and Egypt, puts it in context:
In February 2012, Syrian government forces carried out a major attack on Homs. This resulted in the deaths of over 700 inhabitants, including women and children, and led to the widespread condemnation by world governments and various non-governmental organizations. On 29 February, the Free Syrian Army withdrew in a strategic retreat from Homs, in order to save the civilians still in the Baba Amr district.
During the past few days, some 2,000 Syrians have sought refuge in Lebanon, many of them from Homs, and particularly its opposition stronghold of Baba Amr. The majority of them, being Sunni, found refuge in border villages where they have relatives and mainly in the cluster of Wadi Khaled in Akkar-North Lebanon and in the East Bekaa border, in a no man’s land area called “Al Masharih.”
As for the Christian population: according to both Sister Marie Claude Naddaf, the superior general of the Good Shepherd congregation and Father Eliane Nasrallah, a good friend of CNEWA and the Greek Catholic parish priest of Al Qaa village (a Lebanese village located on the eastern border with Syria), the majority of the Christian families of Homs and the surrounding villages left during the escalations and found refuge in three areas:
- The Valley of Christians (inside Syria). It’s around 60 kms away from Homs on the international road between Homs and Tartous, which is a popular tourist site in western Syria, close to the Lebanese border. Most people in the area are Christians (Greek Orthodox, in particular.)
- The coastal city of Tartous (inside Syria). The Sisters of the Good Shepherd screened around 150 Syrian Christian families who escaped from Homs and found refuge in that area in addition to around 50 families who found shelter in Damascus.
- The Lebanese village of Al Qaa. Father Nasrallah says that at present 40 Christian families found refuge at their relatives’ homes within his parish. After visiting a majority of them, he reported that all of them are needy and living in very difficult conditions.
All displaced Christian families are struggling with severe weather. They are without power and basic necessities. They need emergency assistance such as food, foam mattresses, blankets, heating fuel and medications.
Christians are concerned about the repercussions of the events taking place in the region. They fear that the experiences of Iraq and Lebanon — which took place against the backdrop of a civil war — could play out again in their own lands. These concerns haunt the Syrian Christians, and have only been exacerbated by the death of more than 200 Christians in Homs as a result of the violence in the area, where the only victims have been civilians. It was reported that Christian residents of Hamidiya had been stopped from leaving Homs by anti-government forces, and were forced to evacuate their homes in the mosque to use them as human shields for protection against government troops. Further, the Virgin Mary Church, one of the oldest churches dating back to the early Christian era, was attacked by terrorists on 24-25 February. The surrounding commercial area, mainly owned by Christians, was also attacked. The same pattern that emerged in Iraq is now playing out in Syria: Islamic militants are now kidnapping and killing Christians.
At present, the priority of the local church is to help the displaced Christian families in Lebanon and inside Syria. Displaced Muslims are supported by Muslim NGO’s (mostly religious and Salafi institutions) and are receiving substantial funds from Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Christians are finding refuge with Christian communities where none of the Arab aid is available. The church is their only hope.
CNEWA is in the process of raising funds to assist some 260 families inside Syria and in Lebanon in coordination with Caritas Lebanon, which has already started providing some necessary items such as blankets to some families, regardless of religious affiliation. Click here to help!
It is worth mentioning: the Lebanese government has adopted a policy of remaining unbiased to the conflict in Syria. Accordingly, it is allowing demonstrations and free speech for both sides, without discrimination.
7 March 2012
Tags: Syria Lebanon Refugees Middle East Christians Relief
In this photo taken in 2000, Armenian Catholics celebrate Divine Liturgy in a village near Gyumri, Armenia. (photo: Armineh Johannes)
Today, Pope Benedict XVI addressed Middle East Christians in his general audience, encouraging church leaders and faithful in the region to remain hopeful in these arduous times:
“I extend my prayerful thoughts to the regions in the Middle East, encouraging all the priests and faithful to persevere with hope through the serious suffering that afflicts these beloved people,” he said.
The pope made his remarks when he greeted Armenian Patriarch Nerses Bedros XIX Tarmouni of Beirut and Armenian bishops from around the world attending their synod in Rome.
At the end of the general audience March 7 in St. Peter’s Square, the pope expressed his “sincere gratitude” for Armenian Catholics’ fidelity to their heritage and traditions, and to the successor of St. Peter.
Such fidelity has always sustained the faithful throughout “the innumerable trials in history,” he said.
The majority of Catholics in the Middle East belong to Eastern Catholic churches — the Armenian, Chaldean, Coptic, Maronite or Melkite churches.
For more check out the full CNS story in the ‘News’ section of our website. To learn how you can support Middle East Christians, visit our website.
Tags: Middle East Christians Pope Benedict XVI Armenia Armenian Catholic Church