17 January 2014
Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, CNEWA’s Rev. Elias D. Mallon, Imam Khalid Latif, the Rev. Chloe Breyer and the V. Rev. Leonid Kishkovsky discuss current trends in religious freedom across the globe. (photo: courtesy of the United Nations)
If you want to know the state of religious freedom at the start of this new year, I got a revealing and sobering glimpse yesterday at the United Nations.
I took part in a panel discussion to observe Religious Freedom Day. It coincided with a Pew Report released earlier this week: “Religious Hostilities Reach Six-Year High.” The panel consisted of the V. Rev. Leonid Kishkovsky of the Orthodox Church of America; Dr. Brian Grim of Pew Research Center; Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, executive vice president of the New York Board of Rabbis; the Rev. Chloe Breyer, an Episcopal priest and director of the Interfaith Center of New York; Imam Khalid Latif, director of the Islam Center at NYU; and me, representing CNEWA.
The Pew Report employs two important ways of measuring religious freedom or lack thereof around the world: government restrictions and societal hostilities. Over the past several years each of the Pew Reports has shown increasing government restrictions and societal hostilities against (usually minority) religions. The most recent report shows an alarming increase in societal hostilities, including incidences where people have been killed for their faith.
In my paper, I offered several observations.
First, it seems to me that the notion of religion is not necessarily clear. When many people speak of religion they have an image of a Christian church with a clear organizational structure, with official spokespersons, etc. That is not the case with other — indeed, most — religions. Religions and faith traditions such as Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism, to say nothing of indigenous religions, are far less centrally organized than the average western, Christian church or denomination. Therefore, it is not always clear what a religion is or what its “borders” are. In its language about freedom of religion, the U.N. reflects this ambiguity by referring routinely to “freedom of religion or belief” without indicating what, if anything, the distinction might be.
Secondly, I noted that the majority of countries experiencing increased governmental restrictions and society hostilities were those that use some type of religious marker in their self-identification. In almost no country were these restrictions and hostilities directed at all religions; it is usually the religious freedom of only some religions that is compromised or threatened. The government isn’t always the only antagonist, either. In many, if not most, cases there are clear elements of religion vs. religion involved.
The problem is often one of conflicting rights. When the legitimate rights of one group or one individual conflict with the legitimate rights of another, there are few if any mechanisms to solve the conflict while at the same time respecting the rights and religious freedom of those involved. Further, the dichotomy of government/religion is too facile; governments and religion very often overlap.
These problems are both complicated and urgent. Even though the international community has spoken about freedom of religion since the 1948 U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Pew Studies indicate that the situation is in fact deteriorating.
Perhaps the time is right for research into how competing rights claims can be settled for the sake of the common good without compromising people’s fundamental rights.
26 September 2013
Tags: United Nations religious freedom Religious Diversity
King Abdullah II speaks at the United Nations on 24 September. (photo: U.N./Marco Castro)
King Abdullah II, ruler of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, gave an extraordinary speech to the United Nations General Assembly on 24 September 2013. The king, a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad, and his family have long been engaged in dialogue with Christians and other religious faiths. Although the number of Christians in Jordan is small, they have enjoyed freedom to practice their faith under this king and his predecessors.
In his speech, King Abdullah spoke of what a modern Arab state needs to be: free, with freedom of opportunity and equality for all its citizens. However, the stability of Jordan is being put under tremendous pressure by the large number of refugees entering its borders, including Christians from Iraq and war refugees from Syria. The king noted that the number of refugees in Jordan equals 10 percent of the entire population — and that percentage could rise to 20 percent. No country can easily absorb that amount of refugees. As a comparison, if the United States were required to take the same percentage of refugees, the number would exceed the present populations of New York and New Jersey.
Put bluntly, Jordan needs all the help it can get. As one of the few areas of stability in the region, it is also one of the few places where Arab Christians are free to live their faith. It is developing democratic institutions and could in the future be one model for democracy in the region. The refugee problem threatens all of this. Jordan has shown typical Arab hospitality in welcoming refugees. However, the country’s economy cannot bear the strain that this brings. If Jordan is to survive, the international community needs to help it with feeding, housing and, if necessary, resettling the hundreds of thousands of refugees who have come there seeking safety.
You can read the full text of the king’s speech at this link.
5 September 2013
Tags: Refugees Syrian Civil War Jordan Iraqi Refugees United Nations
In this image from last fall, rubble is seen near the altar inside a church damaged during shelling in Homs, Syria. (photo: CNS/Shaam News Network, handout via Reuters)
Once again there is talk of the United States being involved in military action in another Middle Eastern country. Having worked with Middle East issues for decades and now doing the same at Catholic Near East Welfare Association, I know people will ask my opinion about what is going on and the possibility of military action.
I have asked myself, “How many times have you found yourself in this situation?” I thought of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the so-called First Gulf War to remove Saddam Hussein from Kuwait, the bombing of Libya. It got me wondering about how often the United States has been involved in military action in a foreign country. I was born in 1944. Franklin D. Roosevelt was president. A very unscientific run through the “archives” of my brain have led me to realize that — with the exception of Jimmy Carter — every U.S. president in my 69 years of life has been involved in military action in a foreign country. If, as I fear, engaging in this kind of military action can be addictive, this is a very disturbing thing.
I have visited Syria. I have dear friends there. I know Syrians who have personally lived through the horrors of the bombing of Aleppo. A relative of people I know took her two grade-school children and left their home in a Damascus suburb the day before the poison gas attack.
Christians and Muslims have lived together in peace in Syria for a long time. A Muslim colleague pointed out to me proudly that one of the minarets of the ancient Umayyad Mosque was called “Our Lord Jesus.” In the past two years, however, the situation of Christians has gotten increasingly more precarious. They have been driven out of villages where they have lived for centuries. Two archbishops have been kidnapped and their whereabouts unknown. Christians have been killed, churches destroyed and it seems as if life will never again return to normal.
Yet, Christian voices from Syria are almost unanimous in stating that outside military intervention — be it in the form of bombing or the sale of weapons — will not only not help, but will make their situation worse. The Melkite Greek Catholic patriarch in Damascus and the Chaldean patriarch in Baghdad have spoken out against a U.S. attack on Syria. Pope Francis has repeatedly called for a non-violent political solution to the carnage in Syria. Everyone condemns the use of poison gas. It is evil, a crime against humanity that cries out to God. However, over 100,000 Syrians have died already through conventional warfare. Is this means of killing any less evil?
Pope Francis has declared a period of prayer and fasting for peace in Syria and the Middle East this Saturday, 7 September. Christians, Muslims and all people of good will need to give witness to the belief that violence begets violence and that the only peace that can hold is one based on non-violence and mutual respect.
To help displaced Syrian families, click here.
3 July 2013
Students relax on the grounds of Bethlehem University. (photo: Steve Sabella)
Yesterday, I was privileged to meet with an unusual group of “ambassadors” at the United Nations Church Center. These “ambassadors” consisted of eight students and (very recent) graduates of Bethlehem University in Palestine. (CNEWA was one of Bethlehem University’s cofounders and Msgr. John Kozar, president of CNEWA, serves on the university’s International Board of Regents.) The young Palestinians — male and female, Christian and Muslim — were working mostly in the field of business and economics. They came from different parts of Palestine. Two of them were from Hebron/Khalil, a town that has seen a great deal of conflict between Palestinians and Israeli settlers. These were students who had to overcome incredible obstacles to study and graduate. Nevertheless, their enthusiasm and energy were palpable.
While in New York, the contingent was meeting with a variety of ambassadors and United Nations agencies. Sponsored by, among others, Caritas Internationalis, CNEWA and Catholic Charities, they also met with members of the U.N. Israel/Palestine Working Group, whose members include not only Catholics but also Lutherans, Presbyterians and Mennonites. They also visited Archbishop Francis Chullikatt, the Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations.
After several days of meetings in New York, the group will break up and individual members will spend the summer in different places around the United States, including Washington, D.C., Seattle and Tucson. They’ll have a chance to experience life in the United States — and give folks in the United States a chance to meet firsthand some Palestinians. Almost all of the students spoke of an “image” that Americans have of Palestinians that does not correspond to the reality. They expressed the desire that their stay in the United States would help Americans to realize that Palestinians are not terrorists or radical extremists.
Seeing their idealism and their youth certainly made me believe that these “ambassadors” can make a real difference in helping Americans better understand Palestinians. And, once they return to their homeland, perhaps they may help Palestinians better understand Americans.
1 May 2013
Tags: Palestine United States United Nations Palestinians Bethlehem University
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.
18 March 2013
Tags: Middle East Christians Palestine Israeli-Palestinian conflict Farming/Agriculture Separation Barrier
Workers prepare the altar in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on 18 March, the day before Pope Francis’ installation Mass. (photo: CNS/Paul Hanna, Reuters)
With the election of Pope Francis, a relatively unknown person appeared center stage in the Catholic Church. A great deal is made about his “firsts” — the first Jesuit, the first pope from the Western Hemisphere. There is a great deal of curiosity regarding who he is and what kind of a pope he will be. People, it seems, are falling over themselves to find and interpret “signs” which will tell the world who Pope Francis is.
A bit of context might help. It is estimated that the median age of the world’s population is 28.4 years. Pope John Paul II became pope on 16 October 1978 — that is, 35 years ago. This means that more than half of the world’s population has known only Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was a fairly well-known entity when he was elected pope in 2005. Thus, for more than half the world’s population, the election of an unknown entity to the See of Peter is something new. In the long run of the church’s history, it is not that unusual. But it is to us, and hence the curiosity.
The inauguration of a pope is a very important time. It happens relatively rarely and is filled with symbolism — some of which is easily recognizable and some of which may be more arcane to the average observer. I was present in St. Peter’s Square when Pope John Paul I was inaugurated as pope and bishop of Rome. The ceremony is moving and impressive. While each new pope will necessarily inject elements of his own personality into the ceremony of his inauguration, the ceremony is not ad-libbed by any means. It is not the personal show of any pope.
Because the inauguration of any pope is so highly structured and even orchestrated, if one is to search for “signs” and insights into the new pope’s personality and even agenda, those signs are going to be very, very subtle. They will be so subtle, in fact, that observers will come up with contradictory “signs.” Papal observers run the very real risk of being too clever by half. Nonetheless, a papal inauguration is by no means totally devoid of indications of what the future might bring. (The Vatican has released details of tomorrow’s liturgy on its news website.)
If I were to come up with a significant indication in the inauguration of Pope Francis, it would be the presence of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople. Since 1054 the Eastern and Western churches have not only been divided; they have all too often been hostile to each other. There has not been a patriarch of Constantinople at a pope’s inauguration or a pope at a patriarch of Constantinople’s installation for well over a thousand years. This is significant.
In a world where the Arab Reawakening continues to cause great alarm among Christians in the Middle East, Pope Francis’ decision to postpone his first public audience in order to meet with the Catholic patriarchs and major archbishops of the Eastern churches is also significant. This might be an indication that Pope Francis is concerned about the unity of the church. It might be a sign also that he is concerned about the catholicity of the church in a way that we have not seen for a while. Yet in all this, only time will tell.
It is still probably better to participate in and observe Pope Francis’ inauguration as a believer rather than as a detective.
15 February 2013
Tags: Pope Francis Catholic Pope Patriarchs Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I
A red skull cap is seen as the world’s cardinals gather in St. Peter’s Basilica before the start of the last conclave in this 2005 file photo. (photo: CNS/Nancy Wiechec)
With the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI continuing to generate headlines and analysis, we asked our external affairs officer, Father Elias Mallon, to look at a few little-known facts about papal elections.
For several centuries the bishop of Rome was chosen in the same manner as other bishops — by the clergy, the neighboring bishops and the people of Rome. In 709, a Synod of the Lateran abolished the role of the people of Rome in the selection of the bishop. Nonetheless, slightly less than a hundred years later, in 862, the right of approval was restored to the Roman nobility by Pope Nicholas I.
In 1059, Pope Nicholas II decreed that the pope should be elected by the cardinals, although the system he set up was very different from the present one and a pope took office still only after the assent of the clergy and laity of Rome.
The conclave (Latin: cum clave, “[locked in] with a key”) was in place by the time of Pope Gregory X (1271-1276). Gregory set up stringent rules intended to prevent the extremely lengthy elections that had taken place in the past. Cardinals were secluded, were without private rooms and were allowed only two servants. After three days, they were to receive one meal a day; after five days, only bread and water. Over the centuries popes added, removed and modified different aspects of the conclave. Pope John Paul II codified the procedures now in place in 1996. The present conditions under which cardinals in conclave live aren’t as harsh as those prescribed by Gregory but they are still, nonetheless, monastic.
The number of cardinals has varied greatly over the centuries. Pope Sixtus V limited the number to 70 in 1587. However, in 1970 Pope Paul VI raised the number to 120, stipulating that cardinals over the age of 80 at the time of a pope’s death (or resignation) are ineligible to vote in a conclave. It is estimated that at times the College of Cardinals consisted of less than 10 cardinals.
The youngest pope ever elected was Giovanni di Medici who took the name Leo X. He was elected in 1513 at the age of 38. Although he was tonsured and, therefore, a cleric, he was not ordained or the member of a religious order at the time of his election. In 533, a man named Mercurius was elected. He thought it inappropriate for the bishop of Rome to have the name of the Roman god Mercury and changed his name to John (II). Since then, most popes have changed their names on being elected. The last pope to keep his baptismal name was Pope Marcellus II, who reigned less than 20 days in April 1555.
25 January 2013
Tags: Pope Benedict XVI Vatican Pope Patriarchs Vocations (religious)
Pope Benedict XVI received the leaders from several Oriental Orthodox Churches on the conclusion of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, to discuss the progress of talks between them to reach full communion. Click the video to watch. (video: Rome Reports)
With the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity drawing to a close today, and Pope Benedict XVI meeting with members of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Oriental Orthodox churches, we asked our external affairs officer Father Elias Mallon to explore a few interesting facts about the Roman Catholic Church and the Oriental Orthodox.
The Oriental Orthodox churches are six ancient churches that differ from the various Orthodox churches in the Byzantine tradition, such as the Greek, Romanian, Russian and Ukrainian, etc. They are: the Armenian Apostolic Church, Coptic Orthodox Church, Eritrean Orthodox Church, Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, Syriac Orthodox Church and the Indian Orthodox Church, which is split into two groups, the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church and the Malankara Syriac Orthodox Church. Many of these churches have Catholic counterparts in full communion with Rome: the Armenian, Coptic, Ge’ez, Syriac and Syro-Malankara Catholic churches are much smaller than their Orthodox counterparts and share their liturgical rites, traditions and many of the same disciplines.
These Orthodox churches are very ancient. The Coptic church traces its beginnings to St. Mark the Evangelist. The Syriac churches of the Antiochene tradition trace their roots to St. Peter. The Armenian church prides itself on being the oldest national church as Christianity became the state religion of Armenia in 301, though it traces its roots to Sts. Bartholomew and Thaddeus.
These churches are not in communion with the Catholic Church and the Byzantine Orthodox churches. The split between the Oriental Orthodox churches and the rest of Christianity is traditionally dated to the Council of Chalcedon (451). This council’s formulation of the relationship of the humanity of Jesus to his divinity was not acceptable to the Oriental Orthodox church for various reasons. Modern theological and historical research among the Catholic, Byzantine Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches has come to the conclusion that the differences that have existed for almost 15 centuries are cultural and linguistic, and need not necessarily be church dividing.
Relations between the Catholic Church and the Oriental Orthodox churches have improved dramatically since Vatican II. The Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue has — often against great odds, such as the arrest of Pope Shenouda III of the Coptic Orthodox Church by the Egyptian authorities from 1981-1985 — made considerable progress, resulting among other things with the official Statement of Christological Agreement that was signed 12 February 1988, overcoming one of the major obstacles to unity between the Catholic and Oriental Orthodox churches. Some ecclesialogical issues remain, but the commission continues to study the issues and to attempt to resolve them.
CNEWA works where all these churches originated and maintain large communities — Armenia, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, India, Iraq and Syria — and has developed an outstanding rapport with its leaders. CNEWA exercises the dialogue of charity in its many forms of assistance, from priestly formation in Ethiopia, refurbishing Syriac churches in the Middle East to humanitarian assistance in Armenia.
11 January 2013
Tags: Eastern Christianity Orthodox Church Eastern Churches Orthodox Oriental Orthodox
Pope Benedict XVI exchanges the sign of peace with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I during a Mass in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on 11 October to mark. the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council. The Mass also opened the Year of Faith. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Pentarchy, after the Greek for “five leaders,” refers to the five patriarchates in the early church. Originally, these patriarchates were located in important Roman cities that were significant for Christians for several reasons. First, the Christian community in each city was founded by one of the Twelve Apostles. Second, the cities contained large Christian communities led by a prominent bishop. The five patriarchates and their founders are: Rome, founded by Peter; Constantinople, founded by Andrew; Alexandria, founded by Mark; Antioch, founded by Peter; and Jerusalem, founded by James.
Although all five patriarchates still exist, several factors contributed to their decreasing role in Christianity. The bishops of Rome had historical problems with the apostolic roots of Constantinople. Schisms divided the early church, especially Alexandria and Antioch. In the seventh century, Jerusalem, Antioch and Alexandria fell to Arab Muslim armies. After the Latin sack of Constantinople in 1204, the churches of East and West, which had drifted apart, definitively broke communion with one another. And in May 1453, Constantinople, which had assumed dominance over the remaining Eastern patriarchates, fell to the Ottoman Turks, leaving Rome as the only patriarchate in the hands of Christians. The ensuing vacuum opened the way for the creation of other patriarchates, such as Moscow, “the Third Rome,” to grow in influence. Nonetheless the five ancient patriarchates still exist and function in different ways in the Eastern and Western churches. Following is a brief history, listed in order of prominence according to the Council of Chalcedon in 451.
Rome. Christianity came to the capital of the Roman Empire within 25 years of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Two of the most important Christian leaders, Peter and Paul, worked in Rome. The presence of their tombs in Rome made the city a center for pilgrimage. The bishop of Rome was always given some type of primacy as the bishop not only of the city of the tombs of Peter and Paul, but as the bishop of the Imperial Capital. When the seat of the empire moved East to Constantinople in 330, the role of the bishop of Rome took on increasing importance, especially in the West.
Constantinople. In 330, the Emperor Constantine moved the Imperial Capital to the Greek city of Byzantion. He and his successors played a major and at times questionable role in the history of Christianity. It was unthinkable that the bishop of the new capital, the “New Rome,” should not enjoy privilege equal to that of the other patriarchates. Thus, the patriarchate of Constantinople was erected. Though created after Rome, Alexandria and Antioch, it played a huge role. Presently, the patriarch of Constantinople — modern Istanbul — is the “Ecumenical Patriarch,” and he is considered the first among equals in the Orthodox Church. Since the fall of Constantinople, the number of Christians in the patriarchate has decreased. Relations between Rome and Constantinople, once hostile, have improved greatly since Vatican II.
Alexandria. Founded by Alexander the Great, Alexandria was the literary and cultural center of the Greco-Roman world. Christianity came very early to Egypt. It was among Egyptian Christians, known as Copts (from the Greek word aigyptos, meaning “Egypt”), that Christian monasticism first developed. In contrast with Antioch, Alexandria had its own school of theological thought. Copts today make up an important community in Egypt.
Antioch. The capital of the Roman province of Syria, Antioch was the place where the followers of Jesus were first called “Christians” (Acts 11:26). The New Testament several times mentions Peter being in Antioch, which eventually produced many important theologians who contributed to a distinct theological school. Conquered by the Muslims, sacked by the Crusaders and subject to large earthquakes, the city lost its importance both in the political and ecclesiastical worlds. Its ruins are near present day Antakya in Turkey.
Jerusalem. Considered the “Mother Church,” Jerusalem was never very influential. Its destruction by the Romans in the year 70, and the expulsion of the Jews as the Romans transformed the city into a Roman center in 136, contributed to Jerusalem’s lesser role in the pentarchy. In April 637, Patriarch Sophronius surrendered the city to the Muslim Khalif, Umar ibn Khattab.
CNEWA is an institution of the church of Rome, yet it works with Christians who make up all of the ancient patriarchates.
30 November 2012
Tags: Pope Patriarchs Church Antiochene church Orthodox Patriarchal Church of Alexandria
With Gaza very much in the news this week, we thought it would be helpful to look at some of the region’s remarkable history — and share a few little-known facts. So here are five things to know:
The area now known as the Gaza Strip got its name from the ancient city of Gaza. Gaza has been on the stage of world history for almost 4,000 years. The area of what is now the Gaza Strip was the site of several Egyptian fortresses from the end of the Early Bronze Age (3000-2100 B.C.) through the Middle Bronze Age (2100-1550 B.C.).
The city of Gaza is mentioned several times in the Old Testament and once in the New. Gaza was one of the five Philistine cities that Judah was unable to conquer (Judges 1:18). It was the city where Samson was held captive after having been betrayed by Delilah. It was in Gaza that Samson caused a temple to collapse, killing himself and his Philistine captors (Judges 16:21-51).
The present Gaza Strip consists of 139 square miles (360 square kilometers) and is slightly more than twice the size of Washington, D.C.
The Gaza Strip is one of the most densely populated areas in the world with 1,710,257 people as of July 2012. According to UN statistics, 43.8 percent of the population is under 14 years of age; half of the population is under 18 years old and unemployment is above 40 percent. The vast majority of the population is Muslim; only about 3,000 Christians live there today.
The Pontifical Mission for Palestine, CNEWA’s operating agency in the region, is working with the local church in Gaza to provide on-the-job-training to young people and jobs for women who have graduated from school. Our Jerusalem-based staff are also working to help educate handicapped children in Gaza. Last summer, we shared here some of the work being done by CNEWA to help meet the health needs of the people. You can help the families of Gaza now. Click here to learn more.
Tags: Gaza Strip/West Bank Palestine Israel Holy Land