6 October 2011
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.
2 September 2011
Tags: Egypt Health Care Africa
Young students at an assembly at the Abou Kir Franciscan School in Egypt.
(photo: Sean Sprague)
In the May/June 2002 edition of CNEWA World (now known as ONE), Sean Sprague reported on the Abou Kir Franciscan School which was revitalized by the Lebanese Franciscan Sisters of the Cross.
Some 495 freshly scrubbed children in immaculate uniforms — bright red pullovers for the primary school, navy blue for the kindergarten and preparatory ages — were lined up in perfect formation. They saluted the Egyptian flag and sang the national anthem. A favorite Franciscan hymn followed. Sister Zeina then took the microphone and sweetly crooned a couple of Arabic lullabies, accompanied by a teacher on the organ. Then it was time for folklore class, and 12 girls in native Egyptian costume strutted out to perform a dance.
To learn more about the work of the Franciscan Sisters of the Cross in Egypt read Blind to Limitations, by Liam Stack, in the May 2010 issue of ONE. To learn more about the Abou Kir school read Sean Sprague’s story, Bringing Learning to Life.
22 August 2011
Tags: Egypt Africa Catholic Schools Franciscan Sisters of the Cross Northeast Africa
“A Boy in Shadows” (photo: Nimer Nidal, age 13)
Nimer Nidal, 13, a student of photographer, Rich Wiles, at the Lajee Center in 2005 produced this photo as a part of a collaborative arts project entitled “A Window to Our World.” The Lajee Center, in the Aida Refugee Camp in Palestine, provides youth living in the camp with an opportunity for recreation, education and cultural activities.
To learn more about Rich Wiles’ work with the children in the Aida Refugee Camp check out our interview with him in the November 2010 edition of ONE. Diane Handal's story, Living in Limbo, also from the November 2010 edition, will provide more insight on the state of children living in Palestinian refugee camps.
19 August 2011
Tags: Refugees Palestine Refugee Camps Palestinian Refugees
A novice at the Transfiguration Convent in Tbilisi, Georgia, helps to care for a former nun who is now a resident in the hospice run by the sisters. (photo: Justyna Mielnikiewicz)
Read the story Alternative Lifestyles from the September 2007 edition of ONE to learn more about the sisters of Tbilisi’s Transfiguration Convent.
16 August 2011
Tags: Middle East Christians Middle East Sisters Georgia Monastery
Details at Vatican Radio:
Another church has been attacked in the Iraqi city of Kirkuk. The bombing comes less than two weeks after a Catholic and an evangelical church were targeted. This latest attack on St. Ephrem’s Syriac Orthodox Church happened yesterday while security staff spotted a vehicle carrying suspicious devices.
The parish priest escaped without injury. ...
Speaking to Lydia O’Kane, [John Pontifex, Head of Press and Information at Aid to the Church in Need, says] that the government authorities have promised to increase police protection around churches and will fund a rebuilding project around the latest church to be attacked. But John Pontifex says that the real question about “long term” reassurance of protection is not being answered.
The article can be viewed at Vatican Radio, complete with the recording of the full broadcast audio.
Rev. Dr. Elias Mallon, S.A., CNEWA’s Education and Interreligious Affairs Officer, reflects upon this event, as well as the larger trend of violence pervading the region:
Violence against Christians and the bombing of Christian Churches in certain Muslim countries is cowardly and criminal activity which must be stopped immediately.
However, we Christians are challenged by Paul’s command “Never repay evil with evil, but let everyone see that you are concerned only with that which is good” (Romans 12:17). In suffering persecution we must never lose sight of the sufferings of others. Christians who live in the Middle East remind us that it is not only Christians who suffer from the violence of extremism. In fact, the majority of victims of Islamic extremism are other Muslims. On the same day that the Church of Mar Ephraim was bombed over three dozen Iraqis were killed by a terrorist bomb in a market in Kut, Iraq; six were killed by a suicide bomber in Tikrit, Iraq; and seven Shi’ites were killed in the Shi’ite holy city of Najaf in Iraq.
These terrorist attacks against Muslims took place during Ramadan, the holiest month of the Muslim calendar. All attacks against innocent lives are an abomination against God. Attacks against innocent people during holy times such as Ramadan, Christmas and Easter is a “spreading of evil in the land” which the Qur’an condemns and which every person of good will considers an offense against God and humanity, regardless of the faith of the victim.
Tags: Iraq Middle East Christians Middle East Violence against Christians