11 September 2015
In this photo from 9 September, Bishop Gregory Mansour of the Eparchy of St. Maron of Brooklyn, N.Y., and Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan, the prelate of the Armenian Apostolic Church of the Eastern United States, participate in an ecumenical prayer service at St. Joseph Church on Capitol Hill opening the In Defense of Christians Leadership Convention in Washington.
(photo: CNS/Jaclyn Lippelmann)
A gathering in Washington this week called attention to the plight of Christians in the Middle East:
Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington called for solidarity with the persecuted Christians of the Middle East during a 9 September prayer service at a Roman Catholic church on Capitol Hill.
The prayer service was held in conjunction with the In Defense of Christians summit held at a Capitol Hill hotel, within walking distance of St. Joseph Church.
The summit is the second for the organization, which Cardinal Wuerl noted in his reflections during the prayer service.
“All of came together (in 2014) so the people could ... express solidarity with our brothers and sisters,” he said, “and bear prayerful witness to the suffering of so many ... especially our Christian brothers and sisters.”
This year, Cardinal Wuerl said, “we are gathered in solidarity and witness” again to support the region’s Christians who face “tragedy” every day. “Much, much needs to be said about what continues to happen in the Middle East,” he added.
“After the prayer service, we can walk out and enjoy freedom. So many of our brothers and sisters cannot do that.”
Cardinal Wuerl recalled the beatitudes, as proclaimed in English at the prayer service — but also in sung chant — by Melkite Father Nabil Haddad, founder of the Jordanian Interfaith Coexistence Research Center, and in particular, “those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” These, the cardinal said, are today’s Middle East’s Christians.
“We know that we can offer our prayers,” he added. “Prayer helps. Prayer is effective.”
Read the rest.
11 September 2015
The pope has called for concrete steps to help persecuted Christians in the Middle East. In the video above, an organization reports that a petition calling for action from the United Nations has garnered 130,000 signatures. (video: Rome Reports)
Pope discusses refugee crisis with Serbian president (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis met on Friday with the President of the Serbian Republic Tomislav Nikolic to discuss common interests, including the current refugee crisis, as well as relations between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches in the Balkan country. A statement from the Vatican press office after the private meeting said the two leaders also discussed Serbia’s progress towards integration into the European Union and the Catholic Church’s contribution to the common good of Serbian society...
European bishops say migration issue requires a continent-wide solution (CNS) The European Union must adopt a common asylum policy “without delay” because it is unacceptable for refugees to “drown and suffocate” at the fringes of the bloc, said the European bishops. A statement issued by the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community, COMECE, said a common policy would prevent countries from keeping out migrants. “If we can solve an economic crisis at an overnight EU extraordinary summit, then it should be just as easy with this crisis, especially when the fate of so many people is at stake. After all, the question of a common solution to the refugee crisis is also an issue that directly affects the values and the future of Europe,” said the statement issued 10 September...
U.S. official: ISIS making and using chemical weapons in Iraq and Syria (BBC) There is a growing belief within the US government that the Islamic State militant group is making and using crude chemical weapons in Iraq and Syria, a US official has told the BBC. The US has identified at least four occasions on both sides of the Iraq-Syria border where ISIS has used mustard agents, the official said. The official said the chemical was being used in powder form...
Russian Orthodox Church stands up for Muslim book ruled “extremist” by court (RT) Probes into allegations of extremism in ancient sacred writings should be banned, the Russian Orthodox Church said after a controversial court ruling over a Muslim book was announced in the Russian city of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. Ancient religious texts written hundreds of years ago should be immune from any form of legal process, Russian Orthodox Church spokesman Vsevolod Chaplin said in an interview with Interfax on Thursday...
“What I learned worshipping with Egypt’s Christians” (Christianity Today) Though different from our evangelical congregations back in America, the Coptic community offered us a vibrant place of faith where the gospel was preached, people were healed, and members strengthened each other. We sat through large open-air services with lively worship led by a praise team. We also attended solemn masses in hushed Arabic tones. Led by a soft-spoken priest simply called Abouna (“Our Father”), we often felt like we were discovering the early church...
10 September 2015
A resident of the Deivadan Home in Malayatoor, India, receives a blessing from 96-year-old Father Abraham Kaippenplackal, founder of the Deivadan Sisters. The sisters run the facility, whose mission is to help uplift Kerala’s abandoned elderly. To learn more, read “Fearless Grace” from the July 2010 edition of ONE. (photo: Peter Lemieux)
10 September 2015
A Syrian refugee woman cries as she carries her baby through the mud to cross the border from Greece into Macedonia near the Greek village of Idomeni on 10 September.
(photo: CNS/Yannis Behrakis, Reuters)
Archdiocese of Toronto to sponsor 100 refugee families from Syria (Catholic Register) One hundred more families, three-million more dollars and an infinite well of compassion will be the Archdiocese of Toronto’s response to photos of three-year-old Alan Kurdi’s tiny, lifeless body lying on a Turkish beach. As interest in Syria’s 3.5 million refugees has spiked with front page pictures and television coverage of the Kurdi family, as well as thousands of refugees struggling through Hungary and Greece on their way to Germany and Western Europe, Cardinal Thomas Collins has decided to add to the more than 600 refugee cases Toronto Catholics have already taken on this year...
A new wave of migrants flees Iraq (The New York Times) Emboldened by the recent wave of news coverage showing their countrymen and fellow Arabs fleeing the war in Syria and reaching Europe, many Iraqis see a new opportunity to get out. After years of violence and unmet promises for democracy by a corrupt political elite, Iraqis who resisted leaving during previous crises are now embarking on the country’s next great wave of emigration, an exodus that leaders warn is further tearing at the country at a time when its unity, more than ever, is threatened by the militants of the Islamic State...
Russia sends weapons, military experts to Syria (Vatican Radio) Russian forces have reportedly begun participating in military operations in Syria in support of President Bashar al-Assad’s government troops...
Sex-selective abortions, trafficking impacting marriage in India (AP) When Sadhuram Berwal wanted to get married, his family went about it in the traditional Indian way, asking relatives, neighbors and local temple priests to suggest a young woman. But after an extensive search among women of his caste in his area, no suitable bride could be found. A larger factor had narrowed the field sharply: a skewed male-female ratio that is particularly pronounced in his home state of Haryana, in India’s north, due to sex-selective abortions in a society where many families prize boys over girls, mostly for economic reasons...
Happy New Year 2008 in Ethiopia (Vatican Radio) On the occasion of the Ethiopian New Year 2008, this Saturday 12 September, the Archbishop of Addis Ababa, Cardinal Berhaneyesus Souraphiel has given his New Year message and blessing through the Ethiopian media. The Ethiopian calendar is based on the Coptic calendar, which was fixed to the Julian calendar in 25 B.C. by the Emperor Augustus of Rome with a start date of 29 August J.C., thus establishing the New Year on this day...
9 September 2015
Syrian children walk amid the dust during a sandstorm on 7 September 2015 at a refugee camp on the outskirts of the eastern Lebanese city of Baalbek. (photo: AFP/Getty Images)
A massive sandstorm is taking a devastating and deadly toll on parts of the Middle East this week:
Thick yellow dust blew into Middle Eastern capitals from the east on Tuesday, putting life — and war — briefly on pause.
The massive sandstorm started in Iraq and also blanketed parts of Syria, Turkey, Egypt, Cyprus, Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinian territories on Tuesday.
Health authorities in several countries warned people not to leave their homes, and schools closed in Jordan and Lebanon. Many flights across the region were grounded due to poor visibility. The Syrian regime even called off airstrikes against rebels in central Syria on Monday due to the weather.
While some Syrians had a brief respite from the bombing, the storm presented dangers of its own. Thousands of Syrians were hospitalized with breathing problems and oxygen supplies were running low in some areas, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. In the Syrian capital Damascus, health officials said they had treated more than 1,200 people, including 100 children, with breathing difficulties.
Several casualties were reported in connection with the storm in Lebanon. The country’s health ministry said two women were killed and some 750 hospitalized. Syrian refugees sheltering in informal camps in Lebanon were particularly hard hit by the storm, Agence France Press reported.
Syria’s health minister urged citizens to “avoid prolonged exposure to the outdoors” and said hundreds of people had been treated for cases of asthma and other respiratory problems.
Thick haze was hanging over Jerusalem and much of Israel and the Palestinian Territories, with officials also warning the vulnerable to stay indoors.
The view from the Mount of Olives — which normally offers a sweeping panorama of Jerusalem’s Old City and the Al Aqsa mosque compound with its golden Dome of the Rock — was completely obscured by the dust.
The thick cloud also enveloped parts of the eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus, where residents were told to limit their time outdoors.
...The interior ministry said that dozens of Syrian refugees who had been rescued from a fishing boat off the coast of Cyprus on Sunday had been moved from a makeshift camp to a better-equipped facility because of the extreme weather.
9 September 2015
Following Pope Francis’s call for European churches to house refugees, Vatican officials in the video above say about half a million people might be helped. (video: Rome Reports)
UN: 850,000 refugees to cross sea to Europe this year (Reuters) At least 850,000 people are expected to cross the Mediterranean seeking refuge in Europe this year and next, the United Nations said on Tuesday, giving estimates that already look conservative. The UN refugee agency UNHCR called for more cohesive asylum policies to deal with the growing numbers...
Vatican official calls for religious freedom in Middle East (Vatican Radio) Religious freedom and respect for the rights of Christians and other minority groups in the Middle East were at the heart of an address by the Vatican Secretary for Relations with States, Archbishop Paul Gallagher, at an international conference held in Paris on Tuesday...
Syrian group calls for “safe passage” to help Syrian Christians (ABC) Australia is being urged to help create a safe passage for minority groups stranded as refugees in Syria and surrounding countries. President of the Australian Christian Syrian Association Christine Hanna said it was all well and good for Australia to increase its Syrian refugee intake, but many people, especially the Christians, were finding it extremely hard to flee to another country...
UN: death toll in Ukraine nears 8,000 (The New York Times) Nearly 8,000 people have died in the conflict in eastern Ukraine, the United Nations said Tuesday in a report blaming the continuing influx of fighters and weaponry from Russia as the major obstacle to peace...
Eritrea warns Ethiopia of “sabre rattling” (AFP) Eritrea has accused arch-rival Ethiopia of “sabre-rattling” and of threatening to invade, with the neighbors still in a tense standoff following a 1998-2000 border war. Asmara’s Ministry of Information said in a statement that war-like rhetoric from Ethiopia’s main party in the ruling coalition — the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) — had increased. Eritrea, which broke away from Ethiopia in 1991 after a brutal 30-year independence struggle, remains on an effective war-footing with Addis Ababa after a return to war in 1998...
Coptic patriarch: the Church’s mission is spiritual, not political (Fides) The Coptic Church is a reality of spiritual nature that serves the entire Egyptian society, without exception, and carries out that service without claiming direct political roles, but merely exercising its ecclesial mission. This is what Coptic Orthodox Patriarch Tawadros II said, speaking in a parish in Cairo. In his speech, Pope Tawadros intentionally repeated that the Coptic Church does not offer direct and personal support to any candidate, and also its social, charitable and educational activities are all carried out in relation to its mission, to the benefit of salvation of all...
8 September 2015
Tags: Syria Egypt Ukraine Ethiopia Eritrea
Patriarch Gregoire Pierre XX Ghabroyan of Cilicia, leader of the Armenian Catholic Church, embraces Pope Francis at the start of a morning Mass in the chapel of the Domus Sanctae Marthae at the Vatican on 7 September. The pope paid tribute to the enduring faith of Armenian Catholics through centuries of persecution. (photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano)
Pope Francis celebrated Mass on Monday morning in the chapel of the Santa Marta residence, with the recently-elected Patriarch of Cilicia of the Armenians, His Beatitude Gregory Peter XX Ghabroyan, as well as with the Bishops of Synod of the Apostolic Armenian Catholic Church and the Prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, Cardinal Leonardo Sandri.
In his homily, the pope spoke poignantly of Christian persecution:
Even today, “Perhaps more than in the early days,” said Pope Francis, [Christians] are persecuted, killed, driven out, despoiled, only because they are Christians”:
“Dear brothers and sisters, there is no Christianity without persecution. Remember the last of the Beatitudes: when they bring you into the synagogues, and persecute you, revile you, this is the fate of a Christian. Today too, this happens before the whole world, with the complicit silence of many powerful leaders who could stop it. We are facing this Christian fate: go on the same path of Jesus.”
The Pope recalled, “One of many great persecutions: that of the Armenian people... the first nation to convert to Christianity: the first. They were persecuted just for being Christians,” he said. “The Armenian people were persecuted, chased away from their homeland, helpless, in the desert.” This story — he observed — began with Jesus: what people did, “to Jesus, has during the course of history been done to His body, which is the Church.”
“Today,” the Holy Father continued, “I would like, on this day of our first Eucharist, as brother Bishops, dear brother Bishops and Patriarch and all of you Armenian faithful and priests, to embrace you and remember this persecution that you have suffered, and to remember your holy ones, your many saints who died of hunger, in the cold, under torture, [cast] into the wilderness only for being Christians.”
The Holy Father also remembered the broader persecution of Christians in the present day. “We now, in the newspapers, hear the horror of what some terrorist groups do, who slit the throats of people just because [their victims] are Christians. We think of the Egyptian martyrs, recently, on the Libyan coast, who were slaughtered while pronouncing the name of Jesus.”
Pope Francis prayed that the Lord might, “give us a full understanding, to know the Mystery of God who is in Christ,” and who, “carries the Cross, the Cross of persecution, the Cross of hatred, the Cross of that, which comes from the anger,” of persecutors — an anger that is stirred up by “the Father of Evil.”
“May the Lord, today, make us feel within the body of the Church, the love for our martyrs and also our vocation to martyrdom,” the Pope said. “We do not know what will happen here: we do not know. Only Let the Lord give us the grace, should this persecution happen here one day, of the courage and the witness that all Christian martyrs have shown, and especially the Christians of the Armenian people.”
8 September 2015
Migrants walk along rail tracks as they arrive to a collection point in the village of Roszke in Hungary after crossing the border from Serbia on 6 September.
(photo: CNS/Marko Djurica, Reuters)
Germany’s Angela Merkel calls for quotas of migrants (CNN) The flood of migrants pouring into Europe means all EU member states must step up to meet the mounting crisis, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Tuesday. Merkel called for mandatory quotas to be set for each country to take a share of displaced people, many from war-torn Syria...
UN calls for guaranteed relocation of refugees (Reuters) Europe must offer guaranteed relocation for Syrian refugees, as record numbers flee to Macedonia and Greece due to misery in their homeland and surrounding countries, the United Nations said on Tuesday. A record 7,000 Syrian refugees arrived in the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia on Monday, while some 30,000 are on Greek islands, including 20,000 on Lesbos, it said...
Pope asks European parishes to take in refugees (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has called on European parishes and religious communities to offer shelter to a migrant family. The Pope’s appeal came during the Sunday Angelus...
Pope simplifies annulment process (CNS) While a juridical process is necessary for making accurate judgments, the Catholic Church’s marriage annulment process must be quicker, cheaper and much more of a pastoral ministry, Pope Francis said. Rewriting a section of the Latin-rite Code of Canon Law and of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, Pope Francis said he was not “promoting the nullity of marriages, but the quickness of the processes, as well as a correct simplicity” of the procedures so that Catholic couples are not “oppressed by the shadow of doubt” for prolonged periods...
Pope concelebrates Mass with Armenian patriarch (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis’ morning Mass in the chapel of the Santa Marta residence on Monday was an extraordinary occasion: it saw the recently-elected Patriarch of Cilicia of the Armenians, His Beatitude Gregory Peter XX Ghabroyan, concelebrate the liturgy with the Holy Father, and exchange with the Pope the concrete sign of ecclesial communion...
Ukraine fighting at lowest level since conflict began (BBC) Fighting in eastern Ukraine has fallen to its lowest level since the conflict started, Ukrainian Defence Minister Stepan Poltorak has said. Mr Poltorak said Ukrainian forces were coming under attack just two to four times a day - the lowest rate in the past year and a half...
4 September 2015
Tags: Syria Pope Francis Ukraine Refugees Armenia
A woman sits among sleeping migrants near the Keleti railway station in Budapest, Hungary, on 3 September. More than 2,000 people, most of them refugees from the Middle East, camped in front of the Keleti Railway Terminus, closed to them by authorities who said European Union rules bar travel by those without valid documents. (photo: CNS/Bernadett Szabo, Reuters)
At a moment when the eyes of the world are riveted on the horror unfolding in Europe — with tens of thousands, most from Iraq and Syria, fleeing for their lives, and some stories ending in tragedy and despair — there are, nonetheless, glimmers of hope.
Catholic aid agencies are there to help.
In Hungary, the government has asked Caritas Hungary to intervene:
[Vatican radio reporter] Linda Bordoni spoke to the Head of Caritas Hungary Emergency Response, Balint Vadasz, who explains that Caritas will expand its operation outside the camps and create “transit zones”: spaces in the city where refugees will be able to obtain assistance.
Vadasz, who has been talking to people at the train station where clashes with police officers have fueled tension and anger, says that the migrants and refugees can be divided into two groups: the first, consisting mostly in women and children that is patient, cooperative and subdued; the other, more numerous, he describes as “hardcore” and consists mostly of people who are fueling discontent and he says are provoking aggressive behavior.
Vadasz says that although there are many Syrian refugees amongst the crowds of migrants, there are also many economic migrants who attempt to pass as refugees but come from countries like Albania and Afghanistan.
He says that about 80% of them are men; the remaining 20% are families with children.
He speaks of the living conditions of the people trying to board trains at Budapest Station. He says the situation is extremely difficult for ordinary Hungarians.
He also describes the situation of utter chaos in the city where parks and streets are filled with wandering people who cause huge problems to the traffic and overun with litter — making everyday life unsustainable for citizens.
At the moment — he says — Caritas is providing basic humanitarian assistance to those in the camps but plans to expand its emergency response programme by creating spaces — “transit zones” — in the city of Budapest where refugees will be able to be assisted with a number of projects including special healthcare programmes for children and babies.
Many of the refugees fleeing to Europe first found refuge in Jordan, Lebanon or Turkey. Lebanon alone has absorbed an estimated 1.5 million refugees from neighboring Syria, a staggering figure representing one refugee for every three people already residing in the country. In Jordan, where it is said “if you are not a refugee, you are a stranger,” hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Syrians have poured into its cities for years, straining the kingdom’s already overburdened infrastructure.
And CNEWA is there to help, working through local churches and religious congregations to provide support to the displaced:
Two Franciscan Missionaries of Mary — one middle aged, one a novice — wind their way through a narrow alley lined with convenience shops and small cinderblock homes. Local residents greet them. The sisters are here to visit a few of the hundreds of Syrians who have taken refuge in Naba’a after fleeing their nation’s three-year civil war.
But Naba’a is hardly a refuge. Since the government of Lebanon has decided not to build refugee camps, people find shelter wherever they can: in one-room homes, in crowded apartments, even in tents.
In Naba’a, as in the rest of Lebanon, you are left to fend for yourself. But in a land riddled with clear and present dangers, the two sisters this day are bearing something often hard to find: hope.
...[One refugee] Mariam has not always had a hopeful outlook. When she first came to Beirut she was overwhelmed and despondent. Gabriel was out of work because of a back injury, and Sonique, her 13-year-old daughter, was still traumatized by what she had witnessed in Syria. The family lived in a tent on a roof, renting the space for $100 per month. But after she began attending a series of retreats sponsored by the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, Mariam found the courage to accept her circumstances and even to help others.
A team of psychologists and social workers counsels participants on the importance of positive thinking, how to live in community, how to care for others and how to preserve family unity in the midst of difficult circumstances. Children are taught the same lessons in separate sessions that include games and theater. The retreats always end with a party, with adults and children coming together for songs, skits and dancing.
Sisters of the Good Shepherd help care for Syrian refugee children at a makeshift school in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. (photo: John E. Kozar)
In Jordan, meantime, displaced Iraqi Christians who have fled ISIS are finding sanctuary — and CNEWA is there for them, too:
“The flow of refugees is great. We see the suffering they are going through and how we can support them,” says Sister Elizabeth Mary, one of the Dominican Sisters of the Presentation of Mary who staff the [Italian Hospital in Amman].
“Whatever funds we receive, they’re used because the people never stop coming. We are always looking for help,” adds the soft-spoken sister.
“It’s normal to see refugees here at the Italian Hospital, which is not the case with other hospitals in Amman. At every level, our staff is prepared to aid them, and the refugees also feel good about coming to our hospital,” Mr. Samawi says.
“Thousands of people are benefiting from our health care program handling mid-sized surgeries,” says Ra’ed Bahou, CNEWA’s regional director for Jordan and Iraq, which supports the Catholic hospital’s care for refugees and the poor. “Now, we are trying to help with larger surgeries — heart operations and some cancer and hernia treatments.”
Until recently, the U.N. High Council for Refugees also channeled assistance to the hospital through Caritas, but that aid has ended, straining the resources of the facility and its partner, CNEWA.
Those Iraqi Christians who fled ISIS come to the Italian Hospital primarily for the treatment of hypertension and diabetes, says medical director Dr. Khalid Shammas. Others suffer from chronic heart problems and strokes. Often, he says, the diseases are related to the enormous stress from the loss of homes, livelihoods and more.
“We listen to them. There is struggle, loss and disappointment. It’s no wonder the refugees are depressed,” says Sister Elizabeth.
To learn how you can continue to support this vital work, at a time when so many of our suffering brothers and sisters are in need, visit this giving page. And please keep all those seeking sanctuary — in Europe, in the Middle East, and around the world — in your prayers.
4 September 2015
Outside the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth, hundreds of Arab Israeli Christians hold banners in a rally against what they said was state discrimination in funding their schools. Christian schools in Israel stayed shut this week, delaying the start of the new academic year; the action affected about 33,000 pupils, mostly Muslim Israeli Arabs, at 47 schools. Read details at the website for the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. (photo: Ahmad Gharabli/AFP/Getty Images)