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18 September 2014
Three weeks ago, we reported that an important Christian stronghold in Syria — the city of Mhardeh and nearby Hama — was under attack by ISIS and the Al Qaeda-backed rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra.
Recent reports indicate that the region is still under siege:
In the central province of Hama, two civilians, including a woman, were killed and another was injured in terrorist rocket attack on Mhardeh city in the countryside.
A source in Hama Police Command told SANA reporter that terrorists targeted Mhardeh city with four rocket shells that hit the western neighborhood, killing two civilians, one of them a woman, and injuring another, in addition to causing material damage to the citizens’ houses and properties.
Terrorists fired a number of rocket shells on several neighborhoods in the city of the central province of Homs, leaving 18 civilians injured, according to a source at Homs Police Command.
The source told SANA reporter that the rocket shells hit al-Walid suburb and Wadi al-Dahab neighborhood, wounding 18 civilians, in addition to causing material damage in the areas where the shells landed.
On Tuesday, seven civilians were injured in terrorist rocket and mortar attacks on Wadi al-Dahab and Ekrema neighborhoods and al-Walid suburb in Homs city.
A report from last week adds additional background:
The ongoing fighting among extremist Islamist anti-Assad groups continues deadlier than ever with the Islamic State (IS) gaining the upper hand. The rising violence and terror are a threat to minorities, especially Christians, whose ancient presence is increasingly in jeopardy. This is particularly true for the Greek Orthodox town of Mhardeh, one Syria’s remaining Christian strongholds, which is under siege from Jabhat al-Nusra forces.
...While the Islamist opposition to President Assad remains divided, Islamists — without exception — continue to target the country’s religious minorities, especially Christians.
The historic city of Mhardeh, one of the last Christian strongholds in Syria, is one of the latest victims.
Fighters from the Jabhat al-Nusra, which is connected to the al-Qaeda terror network and is loyal to its Ayman al-Zawahiri, have surrounded the town, and relentlessly shelled it, day and night, in the past week an eyewitness said. Without power supplies, the city is “besieged on all sides, except for one road, but it’s difficult to go on it,” he added.
For centuries, Mhardeh was a safe haven for Syria’s Greek Orthodox Christians, recently housing a population of approximately 23,000.
Known locally as the “city of the sun,” before plunging into the thick of the Syrian civil war, it had already experienced al-Nusra suicide attacks.
In recent weeks, militants have taken advantage of the lack of media coverage and international attention — whose focus is on the Islamic State and its push in Iraq — to renew its offensive against the Christian town and, more generally, across the Hama region.
However, according to sources in the Syrian opposition, jihadists were aiming at Mhardeh not because the population is Christian, but rather because they want to seize a major government military complex in the area.
18 September 2014
As reports circulate of Christians returning to some recaptured villages in northern Iraq, the British ambassador to the Holy See in the video above says “We want persecuted minorities to be
able to return home.” (video: Rome Reports)
Kurds retake Christian villages (AFP) Kurdish peshmerga forces on Tuesday recaptured seven Christian villages in northern Iraq in clashes with Islamic State (IS) jihadists, an officer and a cleric said. Iraq’s largest Christian town, Qaraqosh, and dozens of other villages were all but emptied in what Christian leaders described as the worst disaster for the minority in centuries.Tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians, most of them Chaldeans, fled their homes when IS militants launched a renewed drive in the north in early August. On Tuesday, peshmerga forces ousted IS militants from seven villages west of the Kurdish capital Arbil during fighting in which rockets and mortar rounds were used, a senior officer said...
Saudi Arabia pledges $500 million to Gaza rebuilding (Reuters) Saudi Arabia has pledged $500 million to help rebuild Gaza, Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Al-Hamdallah said on Thursday, with the full cost of post-war reconstruction expected to be around $4 billion over three years. Saudi Arabia’s commitment comes ahead of a conference in Cairo on 12 October when Palestinian leaders hope other donors, including Turkey, Qatar, the European Union and United States, will step forward with promises of support...
Kerala migration rising (The India Express) The Kerala Migration Survey of 2014 has found that flow of Keralites to abroad still continues mainly because of the state’s inability to provide suitable jobs for the increasing number of educated youths. Apart from this, the glamor associated with Gulf emigration is still strong among the state’s youth...
Pope meets with Jewish leaders to mark Rosh Hashanah (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Wednesday afternoon met with delegation of 40 world Jewish leaders at the Casa Santa Marta. The gathering was in honor of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Among those attending the event were World Jewish Congress (WJC) President Ronald S. Lauder, Latin American Jewish Congress President Jack Terpins, WJC Treasurer Chella Safra and a number of Jewish community heads and senior WJC officials...
Ethiopia equipped to confront Ebola crisis (Christian Science Monitor) Six months into the worst Ebola outbreak in history, only two African nations — Ethiopia and Algeria — are adequately prepared to handle the potential arrival of the virus, according to the World Health Organization. Nineteen countries are partially prepared, and 20 were described are not prepared at all...
17 September 2014
Tags: Iraq Pope Francis Ethiopia Gaza Strip/West Bank Kerala
In this image from last year, Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk presides at the consecration of
Kiev’s new cathedral. (photo: CNEWA)
This week Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York and chair of CNEWA’s board, wrote movingly of a conversation he had recently with Sviatoslav Shevchuk, the major archbishop of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. From the cardinal’s blog:
I have grown to admire this young, brave brother bishop over the last years, as we have often spent time in Rome together, and especially when I was with him last year for the dedication of the daring new Cathedral of the Resurrection in Kiev.
The Catholic Church in Ukraine is young, alive, growing, and prophetic. This, from a worldly point of view, is illogical, near miraculous, as Greek Catholics were viciously persecuted by Stalin in the years of Soviet oppression. Even after the breakup of the communist empire, and the restoration of freedom in Ukraine, Catholics were not given back their former churches that had been given to the Russian Orthodox, and the courageous yet decimated community almost had to start afresh.
Through the optic of the Gospel, we know that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the faith,” so believers are hardly surprised by the vitality and growth of the Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine.
Archbishop Shevchuk, like his predecessor, Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, now retired, is a true “confessor of the faith,” a pastor revered by his people, a leader in bringing unity, peace, and hope to a country threatened by thugs and thieves within, and an aggressor on the border.
I check in with him, because I worry about him, want to encourage him, and am inspired by him. My call last week found him uncharacteristically grim and apprehensive.
“Timothy, we are under attack! Our country is under siege from Russia! Our people are being murdered, their homes destroyed, not by alleged separatists in Ukraine wanting to return to Russia, but by Russian troops and mercenaries. Please see that the truth gets out. There is an invasion here.”
Last week, the Catholic bishops of Ukraine issued a chilling statement that their beloved country is “flowing in blood,” and urged Western governments — like ours — not to become “accomplices in the sin of murder.”
Just so we would understand, the Ukrainian bishops were blunt: “This peaceful, sovereign nation has been subjected to a direct military intervention by a Northern neighbor — hundreds of units of heavy weaponry and technology, thousands of armed mercenaries and soldiers of Russia’s standing army are crossing our borders of Ukraine, sowing death and destruction.”
Read more of his conversation at Cardinal Dolan’s blog.
17 September 2014
A girl carries her brother across the Mai-Aini refugee camp near Shire in northern Ethiopia. To read about the lives of these refugees, check out Starting Over: Elsa’s Dream in the Summer edition of ONE. (photo: Petterik Wiggers/Panos Pictures)
17 September 2014
In this image from May, Jordan’s King Abdullah welcomes Pope Francis during his visit to Amman.
(photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Jordan’s King Abdullah II: We want to increase presence of Arab Christians (Fides) In the sectarian conflicts afflicting the Middle East, Jordan wants to represent “an oasis of security and stability,” while pledging to do its utmost to protect the Christian Arabs and increase their presence in the region. This is how — according to Jordan sources consulted by Fides Agency — King Abdullah II outlined the profile of his country in a meeting with government representatives convened on 16 September to outline the Jordanian position regarding the alarming progression of the jihadists of the Islamic State...
UN brokers deal to help rebuild Gaza (BBC) A deal has been agreed by Israeli and Palestinian officials to allow building materials into the Gaza Strip for reconstruction, a top UN official says. Robert Serry, special co-ordinator for the Middle East peace process, said the Palestinian Authority would play a lead role in the reconstruction effort. He said it was a step towards the aim of lifting all restrictions on Gaza. More than 100,000 people were left homeless by the recent 50-day conflict between Israel and militants in Gaza...
Coptic Christians clash with police in Egypt (AP) A couple hundred Christian protesters clashed with police in southern Egypt after holding a demonstration on Tuesday in front of a police station demanding authorities locate an abducted housewife, a security official said. The official says protesters hurled Molotov cocktails at a police station in Samalout town, in Minya province, wounding three policemen. The police arrested at least 33 protesters. The official says the demonstration was over the abduction of a 37-year-old Coptic housewife, who went missing two weeks ago...
Patriarch Kiril receives a fighter jet as a gift (The Guardian) Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox church, was presented with an unlikely gift for a religious leader this week as he toured a factory in Russia’s far-east — a single-seater fighter jet SU-35. Kirill was presented with the jet after giving icons to workers at the civilian and military aircraft plant, the church said in a statement on its official website on Tuesday...
India seeks urgent aid for flood victims (Independent Catholic News) A bishop in India has described the areas engulfed by catastrophic floods last week, as ‘Ground Zero.’ Bishop Peter Celestine of Jammu-Srinagar said: “The State of Jammu and Kashmir has experienced the worst-ever floods in living history and our area is like Ground Zero.” Bishop Celestine said that as a result of the floods the lives and livelihood of the people of the state, particularly in the Kashmir region have been completely upturned...
16 September 2014
Tags: Egypt Gaza Strip/West Bank Jordan Islam Coptic Christians
U.S. Bishops Edward J. Weisenburger of Salina, Kansas, and Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, stand amid rubble from buildings destroyed in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Gaza. They visited Gaza on 14 September as part of 18 bishops’ nine-day prayer pilgrimage for peace in the Holy Land. To learn what you can do to help those whose homes have been destroyed
in Gaza, visit our giving page. (photo: CNS/Matt McGarry, CRS)
16 September 2014
In this image from June, Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, president of Caritas Internationalis, speaks at a conference in Washington, DC. (photo: CNS/Bob Roller)
Cardinal on Middle East: “Greatest crisis since World War II” (Vatican Radio) Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga opened a high level Caritas meeting for the crises in the Middle East with an impassioned call for peace. Speaking on Monday at the start of the Rome meeting scheduled to run from 15 to 17 September, Cardinal Rodriguez, President of Caritas Internationalis, spoke of the tragedy of millions in Syria who are forced to flee their homes because of conflilct, of the violence of fundamentalist extremism in Iraq and eastern Syria, and of the predicament of Gaza inhabitants who have lost all in recent Israeli bombing. “As part of the humanitarian community” he said “we are confronted with the greatest crisis the world has faced since the Second World War...”
Pope’s envoy to Iraq: “Iraqi people must be defended” (Vatican Radio) Cardinal Fernando Filoni, the special envoy of Pope Francis to Iraq, has called the actions of the so-called Islamic State “Devil things.” Cardinal Filoni, who is Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour “no one can use the name, or in the name of God, to do things like this...”
Gaza’s housing crisis is described as “much worse than the war” (The Washington Post) Official numbers are few in Gaza City, a densely populated seaside enclave of 600,000. But businessmen, rights groups and economists agree that apartment rents here have more than doubled since the war ended, as thousands of displaced residents elbow into an already saturated housing market. Before the war, experts said, an average two-bedroom apartment went for $200 per month; now it can rent for as much as $500...
In Ukraine, rebels granted self-rule and amnesty (BBC) Ukraine’s parliament has granted self-rule to parts of eastern regions held by pro-Russian rebels, as well as an amnesty for the fighters themselves. The measures are in line with the 5 September ceasefire agreement signed by President Petro Poroshenko. The European and Ukrainian parliaments also voted to ratify a major EU-Ukraine association agreement...
15 September 2014
Tags: Syria Iraq Ukraine Middle East Gaza Strip/West Bank
A Christian man from Qaraqosh, Iraq, who was forced to flee from advancing Islamic State militants in Mosul, cuts another man’s hair in front of tents near Erbil on 10 September.
(photo: CNS/Mohamed Messara, EPA)
15 September 2014
Retired Bishop Michael D. Pfeifer of San Angelo, Texas, stands in front of the Israeli separation wall near Jerusalem on 12 September. Bishop Higgins was one of 18 bishops on a nine-day prayer pilgrimage for peace in the Holy Land. (photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)
Pope laments the “madness of war” (Vatican Radio) “We have yet to learn the lesson from the madness of war,” lamented Pope Francis Sunday as he launched two appeals following the midday Angelus prayer with faithful and tourists in St Peter’s Square...
Heavy fighting reported in Ukraine over the weekend (Washington Post) The heaviest fighting in a series of truce violations in Ukraine’s restive east strained the tenuous 10-day-old cease-fire between the Kiev government and pro-Russian separatists, with both sides blaming the other Monday for attacks that included the shelling of residential buildings. Ukrainian military spokesman Andriy Lysenko on Monday accused the rebels of attacking checkpoints and other positions in the east in intensified fighting over the weekend. The Ukrainian military, he said, was forced to respond...
Bishop criticizes senator for politicizing summit on Mideast Christians (CNS) A Catholic bishop criticized Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, for politicizing a conference of diverse political and church leaders working on behalf of Christians and other minorities in the Middle East. “When you come to a hard political stance on anything, it’s going to cause a flare-up, and that’s what happened last night,” Maronite Bishop Gregory J. Mansour of Brooklyn, New York, told Catholic News Service...
Holy Land tour heightens U.S. Bishops’ awareness of complexities of region (CNS) U.S. bishops visiting the Holy Land said an on-the-ground tour and briefing about the situation in East Jerusalem heightened their awareness of the settlement issue in the divided city. “The expansion of settlements is quickly driving (the possibility of a two-state solution) off the drawing board,” said Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace. “The continuing expansion of the Jewish communities and its implication for a two-state solution has been a concern of the National Interreligious Leadership Initiative for Peace in the Middle East...”
Gaza children return to school (Al Jazeera) At least half a million children returned to their schools in the Gaza strip on Sunday, where many will be given special attention and pyschological counselling before their regular classes begin. This initiative aims to help children deal with the traumas the war has inflicted on them. There has been several weeks of delay due to the damage of more than 250 schools and the use of about 90 UN educational facilities as shelters for tens of thousands of internally displaced Palestinians, the United Nations and local authorities said...
Law would permit Christian women to inherit property of deceased children (The Times of India) The Narendra Modi government is readying an amendment in the Indian Succession Act of 1925 that will allow Christian women to get rights in the property of their deceased children. As per Sections 41 to 48 of Indian Succession Act, 1925, governing Christians, it gives mothers no right to inherit property of deceased children who have not left behind any will. All such properties are to be inherited by the father. If the father is not alive, the properties go to the siblings...
Catholics and Orthodox to meet in Amman (VIS) The eighth plenary session of the International Joint Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church will take place in Amman, Jordan from 15 to 23 September, following the invitation from the Greek-Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, His Beatitude Theophilos III...
12 September 2014
Two Christian women from Qaraqosh, Iraq, who were forced to flee advancing Islamic State militants in Mosul, wait in front of tents outside St. Joseph Shrine near Erbil, Iraq, 10 September. Sister Marie Claude Naddaf, provincial leader of Lebanon and Syria f or the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, is still shaken by what she witnessed visiting Irbil. (photo: CNS/Mohamed Messara, EPA)
A sister who took part in our staff’s recent visit to Iraq offers her powerful, first-hand account of what she saw, in an interview with CNS:
Sister Marie Claude Naddaf, provincial leader of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd for Lebanon and Syria, is still shaken by what she witnessed visiting Erbil, Iraq.
Representing the Union of the Superior Generals of women religious in Lebanon, Sister Marie Claude accompanied Catholic Near East Welfare Association on its 2-5 September mission to the capital of the Kurdish region in Iraq.
More than 100,000 Christians and other minorities sought refuge in the region following attacks by Islamic State militants. Many were given less than half an hour to flee their houses.
“I saw with my eyes, listened with my ears, met them (refugees) and received them in my heart,” Sister Marie Claude told Catholic News Service. “I was not at all expecting to see that much misery, poverty and sadness in the eyes of the refugees.”
“For me, it’s very difficult to find the words to describe this tragedy, people who were uprooted from their civilization, their culture, their land. They were pulled out like weeds — expulsed, exiled and taken away. Will the world even try to understand and feel what these people are feeling?”
Sister Marie Claude lived through Lebanon’s 1975-90 war, the current war in Syria, and has served Iraqi refugees who fled to Syria after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
“But never before have I witnessed anything like this, people living on the streets, when before they were living comfortably with dignity in their homes,” she said. “It pierced my heart like a knife.”
Most of the displaced adults are educated professionals — doctors, engineers, architects, government workers, teachers and university professors — who were providing services to the Iraqi people.
Now their future is uncertain.
Sister Marie Claude likened their plight to that of the first Christians living in the catacombs, exposed to the elements and all kinds of dangers.
A recipient of the “International Woman of Courage” award from the U.S State Department in 2010 for her work with abused, neglected and trafficked women, Sister Marie Claude has continued to be one of the Middle East region’s most effective champions for at-risk women.
“There are all these political strategies and policies concerning women’s rights and violence against women, yet women are left exposed on roads and sidewalks of Irbil, exposed to all kinds of violence and dangers, and nobody is doing anything to raise a voice for them,” Sister Marie Claude said. “The world is able to see, but it seems it doesn’t want to look at them.”
During her visit, she heard about a pregnant woman who was living in a tent with about 20 other people when she went into labor. The woman delivered her baby without any medical assistance.
“There was not even anything to cover the newborn baby with, except a shirt off of somebody’s back.”
The next day the baby was very sick, so the mother walked with her baby to the dispensary tent. Because there was a team of about 15 doctors, all exiles from Qaraqosh volunteering their time, the baby’s life was saved. But the baby’s face was severely burned from exposure to the sun during the walk.
“I want to send a plea to the world. This is enough. It cannot continue,” Sister Marie Claude said.
She questioned a policy of ordering airstrikes against the Islamic State.
“The U.S. minister of defense is saying that each airstrike would cost $8 million,” she said.
Instead, she said, the international community should work toward liberating the villages that were taken over by Islamic State militants and, through the United Nations, create a protected zone.
The objective of such raids, Sister Marie Claude said, is “just to protect their own interests, especially the areas rich in oil.”
Yet the church, she said, is a shining witness amid the misery.
Among the displaced are two bishops, priests and more than 100 sisters who are living among the people, helping them and sharing in their sorrows, she said.
To help all who are suffering in Iraq, please visit our giving page. And remember to keep them — and all those caring for them — in your prayers.