31 October 2011
A nun reads a bible outside of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.
(photo: Paul Souders)
Today Palestine became a full member of UNESCO, the U.N. cultural and educational agency:
Huge cheers went up in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization after delegates approved the membership in a vote of 107-14 with 52 abstentions. Eighty-one votes were needed for approval in a hall with 173 UNESCO member delegations present.
“Long Live Palestine!” shouted one delegate, in French, at the unusually tense and dramatic meeting of UNESCO's General Conference.
While the vote has large symbolic meaning, the issue of borders of an eventual Palestinian state, security troubles and other disputes that have thwarted Middle East peace for decades remain unresolved.
For more from this story see, UN cultural agency grants full membership to Palestine.
28 October 2011
Tags: Palestine Jerusalem Holy Sepulchre
A boy plays near the construction site of a new facility at New Orthodox School in Madaba. (photo: Joseph Zakarian)
In our July 2010 cover story, journalist Nicholas Seeley reported on the revitalization of Orthodox schools in Jordan. In the story we learned that these schools also acted as a foundation for interfaith collaboration and tolerance:
“I’m in a Christian school, but I wear my Muslim veil, and nobody asks me, ‘Why are you wearing that?’ It’ normal,” says Tyba Hardan, an Iraqi-born sophomore in her first year at Amman’s Patriarch Diodoros I School.
Most teachers and students say that preventing sectarianism is not a concern and that the schools remain places where people of different faiths build trust and respect.
“That respect develops when you work with children from kindergarten through high school. They sit together, Christians and Muslims, and they grow up together. This is our contribution,” Archimandrite Innokentios says, “teaching them, guiding them into this way of accepting one another.”
For more see, Rebuilding a Sure Foundation.
26 October 2011
Tags: Children Jordan
Archbishop Elias Chacour, the Melkite Greek Catholic Archbishop of Akko, Haifa, Nazareth and All Galilee addresses the audience at St. Paul’s University in Ottawa, Canada. (photo: Elias Mallon)
Anyone wondering about the future of Christianity in the Middle East could find some fascinating answers last weekend in Canada, where a symposium on that topic was held at St. Paul’s University in Ottawa. It was sponsored by the Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies and CNEWA — and I was invited to take part in a panel discussion.
The main speaker was Archbishop Elias Chacour, the Melkite Greek Catholic Archbishop of Akko, Haifa, Nazareth and All Galilee. Archbishop Chacour, the first native Palestinian Arab to be named a Melkite archbishop in Israel, refers to himself as “the other man from Galilee.” It is a title he deserves. He has worked for peace, justice and reconciliation between Christians, Jews and Muslims for decades. He is the author of several books, the most famous of which, Blood Brothers, has been translated into 20 languages.
Living for years in poverty in the small Israeli Palestinian Arab town of Ibilin, he worked to bring opportunities for education not only for his own Christian people, but also for Muslim and Jewish children in the area. His goal has been not only to educate the youth academically, but also to acquaint them with their Muslim and Jewish neighbors, defusing hatred and hopefully contributing to a just and lasting peace.
Nominated three times for the Nobel Peace Prize, Archbishop Chacour has worked tirelessly to make the world aware of the plight of Palestinians. In this he is not different from many others. What makes him stand out is that, while making the oppressed and unjust situation of the Palestinians clear to the world, he is at the same time very careful not to demonize Israeli Jews. Again and again, he warns his readers and his followers against the danger of contributing to a circle of hatred and violence that constantly threatens to engulf the region.
For years I have wanted to meet this other man from Galilee and was fortunate at the symposium to have several conversations with him. The encounters were not disappointing. He has a quick sense of humor. Being with him, you feel that he is somewhere between a prophet and a beloved uncle. In Arabic he is popularly known as abuna ilyas, “Father Elias,” which happens to be what I am called in Arabic, too. We joked about the presence of two “Eliases” at the symposium. He quickly puts people at ease and it is easy to overlook that you are in the presence of a truly great man.
At the symposium, Archbishop Chacour met with members of the Roman Catholic, Eastern Catholic and Orthodox churches. The future of Christianity is on the mind of these and of all Christians in the Middle East. Emigration, discrimination and outright persecution are factors that are reducing the presence of Christians in the very lands where Christianity was born. Archbishop Chacour’s comments to those who had suffered discrimination and even persecution because they were Christian were extraordinary. He understood their anger and pain; indeed he had experienced many of the same things. However, he reminded them all of the necessity to forgive and to work for reconciliation.
The symposium also included panels with scholars, clergy and the Honorable Jason Kenney, a member of the Canadian Parliament and a minister in the current government. There were lively and informed discussions on the complex problems facing all the peoples, but especially Christians in the Middle East. While no solutions were offered of course, the message of Archbishop Chacour gives us reason to believe that the situation is not hopeless.
Catholic News Service has more on Archbishop Chacour and his background at this link.
17 October 2011
Tags: Middle East Christians Christianity Unity Christian-Muslim relations Middle East Peace Process
In a grove near the West Bank city of Nablus a woman sorts olives. (photo: Ahikam Seri)
Yesterday, Israel announced the names of 477 Palestinian prisoners who will be released in exchange for a soldier held by Hamas. Many of the prisoners were convicted of violent and deadly crimes committed against Palestinians and Israelis:
They also noted that of the 6,000 or so remaining Palestinian prisoners in Israel, hundreds were being held without being charged while others were held under administrative detention for crimes amounting to political activism. And they said Israelis and others minimized the terrible toll on the families of people held for years, not knowing if or when they would be released.
“One of the reasons we want Palestine to be recognized as a state by the United Nations is so that our people being held by Israel will be recognized for what they are: prisoners of war under the Geneva Convention,” a top intelligence official in Ramallah said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not permitted to speak publicly.
All of this comes as Palestinian leaders continue to seek recognition of statehood from the United Nations, which some believe could finally lead to peace in the region. For some context on some of the challenges leaders will face in negotiations to define a Palestinian/Israeli border, check out the intensive multimedia package on the New York Times website, Challenges in Defining an Israeli-Palestinian Border.
Life in Palestine was the focus of a story in the January 2009 issue of ONE, when journalist Hanne Foighel reported on a small but significant part of Palestinian life and culture, the olive:
As Ms. Lavie picked olives, she became friendly with her Palestinian coworkers. One family told her about their youngest son who is in an Israeli prison and the father who used to work as a cook in Israel but no longer has a permit to enter the state. According to Ms. Lavie, the family longs for the time when Israelis and Palestinians can live and work together in peace.
“I am meeting people who really want peace and I feel that by being here with them I am helping the situation to be a little less violent.”
Looking out over his land, Nabeeh Aldeeb was moved by what he saw: Palestinians and Israelis picking olives together.
“I feel that the politicians are very far away from the people,” he said with a sigh as olives from a nearby tree dropped softly and the distinct smell of the fruit filled the early autumn air.
For more from this story see, Olive Offerings by Hanne Foighel.
11 October 2011
Tags: Gaza Strip/West Bank Palestinians
A woman prays in a church in Deir Azra, a Christian village in Upper Egypt. (photo: Holly Pickett)
Sunday night in Cairo a demonstration turned deadly when military officials opened fire on a group of Christian demonstrators, killing some two dozen of them, the New York Times reported:
Coptic leaders issued an unusually pointed statement charging that the demonstrators were set up to take the blame for a crackdown. “Strangers got in the middle of our sons and committed mistakes to be blamed on our sons,” the statement said, claiming that acts of discrimination or aggression against Copts repeatedly “go unpunished.”
In a measure of their growing distrust of the military-led government, the families of the Copts killed in the violence decided they did not trust government-run facilities to perform autopsies, fearing the results might hide evidence of the violence by security forces. After hours of deliberation with priests, activists and human rights groups, they arranged to bring forensic teams to a Coptic hospital, causing the funeral to be called off.
Inside the hospital, Mariam Telmiz, 40, sat at the bedside of a brother-in-law who had been wounded by a bullet at the demonstration. Another brother-in-law had been killed by a bullet.
The military was ready to protect Egyptian Muslims who carried a Saudi flag or even pulled the Israeli flag off its embassy, she said, “but the one who holds his cross high gets humiliated.”
For more on this story read Copts Denounce Egyptian Government Over Killings in today’s New York Times or Copts Mourn Victims in Cairo Protest from the Catholic News Service.
In the current issue of ONE, Cairo-based journalist Sarah Topol reported on some of the difficulties faced by Christian women in Egypt in the story Spotlight: Coptic Women. In the video below, Sarah talks about what it’s like to be a woman journalist in Egypt during such a challenging time.
6 October 2011
Tags: Egypt Africa Coptic Christians
The Melkite Greek Catholic Warood School in Aleppo, Syria, enrolls 350 students from preschool through sixth grade. (photo: Spencer Osberg)
In the November 2009 issue of ONE Spencer Osberg reported on the diverse community of Christians living in Aleppo, Syria, one of the “oldest continuously inhabited centers in the world”:
The Greek Melkite Catholic Church offers a host of social services. Since his installation in 1995, Archbishop Jeanbart has worked tirelessly to expand existing programs and has spearheaded many new ones.
“I feel as a pastor I have to do my part to help our people to remain, to try and help the youth not to emigrate.”
The archbishop focuses much of his energy on the archeparchy’s numerous educational institutions. Under his watch, the archeparchy has opened six vocational schools that provide training in business, tourism, nursing and other skilled trades. The archbishop expressed hope the schools would enable a new generation of Syrian Christians to “find a good job and encourage them to remain in the country — to continue living in this country where we have been for 2,000 years.”
In addition, the archeparchy administers numerous and well-regarded elementary and secondary schools. Open to all Syrians regardless of creed, these schools are diverse and dynamic centers of learning and culture, often enrolling more non-Christian than Christian students. Depending on a family’s ability to pay, the church awards generous financial aid packages to qualifying students and in some cases waives school tuition and fees altogether.
For more about Aleppo see Aleppo: A Syrian Mosaic by Spencer Osberg. For more about the state of Syria’s Christians, check out last week’s blog post, Syria’s Christians: Are We Next?
28 September 2011
Tags: Syria Middle East Christians Middle East Melkite Greek Catholic Church
Photographer Sean Sprague captured these dancers during the Istanbul Gypsy & Orientale Dance Festival in May of 2010. (Photo: Sean Sprague)
Turkey’s diversity has been well documented in the pages of ONE — including members of the Roma community, seen in the photo above partaking in an ancient celebration marking the arrival of spring. The celebration includes bonfires, traditional music and dancing. Though the Roma are a minority, their culture and traditions remain strong.
For more about Turkey’s diversity check out, Turkey’s Melting Pot from the May 2011 issue of ONE.
Turkey was in the news this week, being touted as an example of progress in the disarray within the Middle East.
“Turkey is the only country that has a sense of where things are going, and it has the wind blowing on its sails,” said Soli Ozel, a professor of international relations at Istanbul Bilgi University.
The country’s foreign policy seized the attention of many in the Middle East and beyond after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s tour this month of three Arab countries that have witnessed revolutions: Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. Even Mr. Erdogan’s critics were impressed with the symbolism of the trip.
For more, read the New York Times article, In Riddle of Mideast Upheaval, Turkey Offers Itself as an Answer.
21 September 2011
Tags: Turkey Gypsy
In an undated photo from our archive: A seminarian prays in a church in Beit Jala, Palestine. (photo: Karen Lagerquist)
Today the Catholic News Service reported on the recent Palestinian bid for U.N. membership:
In a Sept. 20 interview in the suburban Washington offices of the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation, Patriarch Fouad Twal told Catholic News Service that “the question of full membership for Palestine does not mean the end of negotiations. On the contrary, they must continue negotiating and speaking to find a solution for everybody, peace for everybody and security for everybody.”
Patriarch Twal, a Jordanian-born Palestinian, said that, in preaching about peace, he often says that it must be “peace for all the inhabitants, otherwise nobody can enjoy peace.” He and other Christian leaders, including Pope Benedict XVI, often cite a two-state solution as the desired path to peace.
Read more on the Catholic News Service website.
20 September 2011
Tags: Palestine Seminarians Church of the East
Sister Maria Hanna and Father Guido Gockel, CNEWA’s vice president for the Middle East. (photo: Greg Kandra)
The plight of Christians in Iraq remains an ongoing concern. Last week, two leading Iraqi bishops met with the President of the Council of Europe in Brussels to discuss a wide range of issues — including religious freedom, education and the treatment of women.
We got some insight of our own several weeks ago, when we had a chance to talk with some nuns from Iraq, Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena. They were in the United States to meet with political and religious leaders around the country in an effort to raise awareness and raise funds for the remarkable work that they do.
Here’s part of our conversation:
Please tell us about your ministry in Iraq since the start of the war in 2003.
Sister Maria Hanna: When the bombs started falling in Baghdad and people started to flee, we opened our convents to families. We gave people a place to stay. Or we connected them with families who could shelter them for a night. We did not wait for people to come to us. We went to locations where people congregated and asked them if they needed anything that we could provide.
We gathered an organization of young adults who went door to door to beg for food and other things to help families in need. Our sisters baked bread every day so people at least had bread to survive.
When families lost someone to violence or kidnapping, the sisters stayed with them, accompanied them, let them know we were there for them.
Years ago, the government nationalized our Catholic schools. After the regime fell, the government gave the buildings back to us. We let displaced families stay in the schools, too. We made sure people had the necessities to live. Our pantries were always empty, because we always gave everything away.
Early in the crisis, especially in 2003 and 2004, most of Iraq’s hospitals closed down. We run Al-Hayat Hospital in Baghdad, and we stayed opened. We stayed open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We stayed open for the people.
From accompanying displaced families and seeing their needs, we saw that children had no place to go, so we opened kindergartens. We rented houses to give children a safe place to play.
We also have our orphanages. One used to be in Baghdad, in a very dangerous zone, so we moved it to a village nearby. It is called the Beatitude House. This year, we are planning to open a new orphanage for boys with the help of the American Embassy. One of our biggest hopes is to build another hospital, too.
You’re also working night and day to bolster the Christian presence in Iraq.
Sister Maria: Most of our work is pastoral — not schools and hospitals. Every year, we prepare about 1,600 boys and girls to receive Communion. Our sisters do this in remote areas where there is no priest. This week and last, 667 children received First Communion in one village, because of our pastoral ministry.
We also do Gospel sharing with families. We gather a few families together and we share the Gospel with one another. Our sisters teach Catechism, too. We also run activities with the Dominican Third Order, lay people. In one town, we have about 180 lay people of different ages who help the local parish with whatever is needed. So, you can tell we’re everywhere.
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.”
To read more, visit this link.
And check out this page to learn how you can support the life-saving work in Iraq.
19 September 2011
Tags: Iraqi Christians War Health Care Orphans/Orphanages Dominican Sisters
A nurse gives Noor Fahmy her daughter, Mary, shortly after delivery at St. Thérèse Hospital in Cairo, Egypt. (photo: Shawn Baldwin)
In the July 2008 edition of the magazine, journalist Liam Stack told us about a Catholic hospital in Cairo that provided care to Egypt’s needy without regard to religion:
Overall, the hospital employs 4 dentists, 3 nurses, 45 doctors and 33 nonmedical employees, most of whom live in Imbaba.
While the facility’s employees are all Christian, Father Morgan is quick to point out that the overwhelmingly majority of its patients are Muslim.
“This hospital is interested only in the health of the community, not in people’s religion,” he says. “I would say that more than 85 percent of the people who come here are Muslims, and it’s no problem.”
What patients care about most when it comes to health care, in his view, is not the doctor’s religion, but his ability. That is why people, Christian and Muslim, come from all over the country to receive treatment at St. Thérèse Hospital.
To learn more about St. Thérèse Hospital, check out the story Healing Egypt’s Needy.
Tags: Egypt Health Care Africa