22 April 2015
Agnon Adnidihad, 62, fled his home in Mosul last year. (photo: CNEWA)
Last Saturday morning, I met a man named Agnan Adnidihad. Now I’d like you to meet him, too.
A few months ago, he was a 62-year-old repairman working in Mosul, Iraq — a Syriac Orthodox Christian quietly tending his business and saying his prayers.
Then along came ISIS.
Today, Agnan is a refugee, living in a corner of Amman, Jordan, where all he can do is survey the remnants of a life that has been ransacked and left in ruins. I met him at the Italian Hospital in Amman, where he is being treated for heart ailments and stress. He agreed to a short interview; the hospital’s medical director, Dr. Khalid Shammas, served as our translator. You can watch the video below.
Dr. Shammas told us the needs of people like Agnan are great; many who pass through the hospital’s doors suffer from posttraumatic stress and depression. And their numbers are growing in Jordan. The country is being flooded with tens of thousands of people from Iraq and Syria who are literally running for their lives. In Jordan, they are finding their way to the Italian Hospital for treatment.
The Italian Hospital is Amman’s oldest medical facility, dating to 1926. (photo: Greg Kandra)
I was blessed to visit the hospital last weekend and receive a guided tour. In the Spring edition of ONE magazine, writer Dale Gavlak offers this snapshot of an institution that is having a profound and positive impact:
The Italian Hospital is Amman’s oldest medical facility, dating to 1926. The 100-bed hospital maintains a longstanding charitable tradition, providing some of the best care at low prices — in some cases, as with Nevine’s delivery, for free.
The hospital offers checkups, intensive care, pediatric and maternity care and a variety of other services, making referrals only in the case of the most serious procedures, such as cardiac surgery.
“For many years, refugees have been coming to our hospital, starting with the Palestinians,” says Nassim Samawi, administrative director. Now, as many as 130 Iraqi Christians daily seek medical assistance at the white limestone facility in Amman’s bustling downtown. Refugees driven from neighboring countries and continents alike come for help, including people from Syria, Sudan, Somalia and even Iraqis still displaced from the 2003 war.
“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 facility.
“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.”
When our group of newswriters and bloggers visited, the waiting rooms were crowded with mothers with small children and the elderly in wheelchairs. Young nurses shuttled from room to room tracking patients, collecting samples and filing paperwork. The overwhelming majority of patients and staff were Muslim; the women’s heads were covered in the traditional cloth hijab. Many spoke little or no English.
Many of the staff at the Italian Hospital, as with most of the patients, are Muslim. This nurse cares for newborns. (photo: Greg Kandra)
But for all that, the hospital remains distinctly Catholic. Every room has a crucifix on the wall. In the neonatal unit, images of the Virgin Mary with the baby Jesus watch over slumbering newborns. Two sisters from India, Sister Elizabeth and Sister Vinitha, from the Dominican Sisters of the Presentation of Mary, supervise the staff.
Sister Vinitha, left, and Sister Elizabeth, right, are the two sisters who serve at the Italian Hospital. (photo: CNEWA)
The work being done at the Italian Hospital is urgent — yet in our short time there, all we saw was calm. The hospital is spotless. The staff is efficient and gracious. You have the sense that all who come there are in the very best of hands.
For so many, these are the only hands reaching out to help them.
The Italian Hospital has a unit dedicated to caring for newborns, many born to refugees.
(photo: Greg Kandra)
It was a great privilege to see the work CNEWA is helping to make possible in this corner of the land we call Holy — and I was proud to be a part of it, even in some small way. There is so much good being done here. Grace is everywhere.
You, too, can share in this work, and make the lives of men like Agnon Adnidihad better. Take a moment to visit our giving page. You will be giving something beyond what you may realize — a sense of possibility and promise, of reassurance and hope. These people from Iraq and Syria need that. Now, more than ever.
Read more about the hospital in Finding Sanctuary in Jordan in the spring edition of ONE.
22 April 2015
Tags: Refugees Children Jordan Health Care
Students take a break from their studies at a school run by the Daughters of Charity in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia. Read the moving first person account of one of the Daughters of Charity in “A Letter from Ethiopia” in the Spring 2015 edition of ONE. (photo: Petterik Wiggers)
21 April 2015
Mother Jeanette Abou Abdullah comforts one of the hundreds receiving care in the Franciscan Sisters of the Cross’ hospital in Deir el Kamar, Lebanon. To learn more about challenges facing Lebanon today, check out “Lebanon on the Brink” in the Spring edition of ONE,
now available online. (photo: John E. Kozar/CNEWA)
21 April 2015
Patriarch Mathias of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church speaks during the 11 April Easter Vigil at Holy Trinity Cathedral in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Pope Francis has sent his condolences to the patriarch for the execution of more than 20 Ethiopian Christians at the hands of ISIS militants in Libya. (photo: CNS/Tiksa Negeri, Reuters)
Pope sends message of solidarity to Ethiopian Patriarch (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has sent a “message of solidarity” to the orthodox patriarch of Ethiopia, Abune Mathias, on the occasion of the killing of Ethiopian Christians in Libya. A video, which allegedly shows the beheading of twenty Ethiopian Christians, was released last Sunday by the so-called “Islamic State” terror group...
Ethiopians shocked by killings (AP) Many in Ethiopia are reeling from the news that several Ethiopians were killed in Libya by the Islamic State group, which over the weekend released a video purporting to show the killings.The killings, which have shocked many in the predominantly Christian country, were condemned by Pope Francis and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. The victims were planning to go to Europe by boat from Libya but were captured and then killed by the Islamic extremists, said grieving family members and government officials. Ethiopia’s government on Monday declared three days of mourning...
Pope offers condolences on death of former Chief Rabbi of Rome (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has sent a letter of condolences to the Chief Rabbi of the Jewish community of Rome, Riccardo Di Segni, after the death on Sunday of his predecessor, Rabbi Elio Toaff, at the age of 99...
U.S. begins training soldiers in Ukraine (The Wall Street Journal) U.S. troops kicked off a training program for their Ukrainian counterparts at a military base in western Ukraine Monday, far from the continuing fighting near Russia’s border. Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko praised the troopsrsquo; arrival as a sign the West is ready to help Ukraine defend its sovereignty. But the training program comes as NATO members are cautiously limiting their aid to Kiev to avoid provoking Russia...
Kerala hailed as a model for religious cooperation (Manorama Online) Kerala is a model for religious cooperation and coexistence, President Pranab Mukherjee said. Hindu, Muslim and Christian communities have lived together and contributed to the social welfare of the state, he added, while releasing a stamp commemorating the bicentennial of the Old Seminary in Kottayam...
16 April 2015
Tags: Pope Francis Ukraine Ethiopia Kerala Jews
Mayor Akel Biltaji of Amman speaks with the group of pilgrims. (photo: Greg Kandra)
If you were looking for a figure representing the diversity and religious harmony of Jordan, you couldn’t do much better than a man who was born in Gaza, was raised a Quaker, married a Muslim, and now serves as the mayor of the capital city of Amman.
Meet Mayor Akel Biltaji.
I did Monday night — along with the other religious bloggers and writers who are touring Jordan this week at the invitation of the Jordan Tourism Board. The mayor agreed to give us some time to talk about issues facing his city and his country. So a little after 6 p.m., we boarded our bus and made our way to Amman’s imposing city hall.
(photo: Greg Kandra)
We were ushered in through security and up a winding stairway to a large conference room.
(photo: Greg Kandra)
And there we suddenly saw the mayor: an elegant figure with a shock of white hair and a trim moustache, greeting each of us at the entrance to the room, shaking our hands, making chit-chat and asking us where we were from. We took our places around a large square conference table. The mayor’s communications staff also joined us.
Dapper, warm, talkative, effusive, the 64-year-old mayor is the very model of modern major politico. He’s also a born diplomat. When one of our bloggers asked him which cities in America he liked the most, he slyly worked his way around the room and extolled the virtues of every home town of every writer at the table.
(photo: Greg Kandra)
He has an instinct for people. And his background in management is impressive. From his official biography:
Raised and educated in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, he obtained his High School Diploma and the London General Certificate Examination at the American Friends Schools (Quaker) in 1959. Mr. Biltaji graduated in the summer of 1962 with a degree in education and joined the Arabian American Oil Company (ARAMCO) the same year. In the summer of 1969, Mr. Biltaji returned to Jordan to join the National Carrier ALIA, the Royal Jordanian Airlines as a senior management officer. In his 28-year distinguished airline career, Mr. Biltaji served in different capacities, the last of which was senior vice president.
His Majesty the Late King Hussein appointed him in March 1997 as the country’s minister of Tourism and Antiquities, where he continued to serve in this portfolio under His Majesty King Abdullah II until June, 2001, when he was appointed by King Abdullah II as chief commissioner to the newly declared Region of the Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority
In February, 2004, His Majesty King Abdullah II appointed Minister Biltaji as His Majesty’s advisor on Tourism Promotion, Foreign Direct Investment and Country Branding. In November 2005, he was also appointed as a member of the House of Senate, where he served as chairman of the Tourism and Heritage House Committee, and member of the Foreign Relations and Education Committees.
You would think the mayor of a major world capital would have better things to do than chat with writers after business hours on a Monday night. But for over an hour, Mayor Biltaji — in between extolling the virtues of his city and selling it to all those in the room — entertained questions on a number of topics.
On Jordan’s significance to the world: “This is the land of the sunrise of faith. … Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The mix is here. The heritage, the antiquities, it’s all around. This is the source of a spirit of compassion. When we count the apostles and the prophets that have touched this land, we are blessed. It means they left something and it stayed, and we hope to be the custodians to these relics and antiquities.”
On the importance of religious acceptance: “What is so unique about us here is acceptance. It’s not tolerance. Tolerance is a bit condescending, you know? That’s not coexistence. What matters is acceptance. Once you accept, you find yourself falling into taking the other in and being taken in, too, by the other. Once you surrender to that, that’s how things should be. “
On how Jordan is coping with refugees: “We’re managing. We are sharing with them whatever we can and making them feel at home. Just imagine if one-third of the U.S. just crossed the Mexican borders into the U.S. We have one-third the population, 30 percent of people living here have come from other places and are sharing very scarce resources. But this is part of our idea of acceptance. This is what is unique about Jordan. To have [been] born in Gaza, brought up in Jaffa, become a Jordanian — now I’m the mayor of four million people. Where else in the world can you do that? Lebanon? You can’t. They have kept the refugees in something like a ghetto. Here, certain refugees who came here years ago and made a life here have insisted on staying in camps as a symbol of the right to return. Some are members of parliament, members of city council, but they are Jordanians living in the camp. The identity is there. Refugees are included here in the political life of the country. Lebanon is different. It’s very sectarian. But here? We have 1.6 million Syrians — 20 percent of our schools in the north are full of Syrian refugees. But this, again is a sign of resilience, of compassion.”
At the conclusion, he wished us well and thanked us for coming to his country — and for helping to tell its story. He acknowledged that many people misunderstand Jordan and don’t realize that in a corner of the world rife with turmoil and terror, the Hashemite Kingdom remains stable, modern and secure. Again and again he attributed that to the leadership of the king, and what the mayor called a sense of “acceptance” of many cultures and faiths.
I think we all left the meeting wishing nothing but the best for the mayor and the land he so clearly loves. In comparison to the storms raging around it, Jordan is a sea of tranquility. Let’s pray it stays that way. The Middle East needs more Jordans — and more cheerleaders for the region like Akel Biltaji.
(photo: Greg Kandra)
13 April 2015
Tags: Middle East Jordan Holy Land Amman
The Divine Liturgy is celebrated at the Easter Vigil in Sts. Peter and Paul Melkite Greek Catholic Church in Amman, Jordan. (photo: Greg Kandra)
What can you say about a day that began with the Muslim call to prayer echoing through the streets and ended with an exuberant Catholic liturgy celebrating the Resurrection?
That marked Saturday, my first full day in Amman, Jordan. To call it memorable would be an understatement; this was a day that I will not, cannot forget — and it is for days like this that I wanted to make this particular trip.
I’m here, really, by chance. I was invited to represent CNEWA as part of a group of a dozen other bloggers and journalists to take part in a tour sponsored by the Jordan Tourism Board. In addition to visiting some famous sites — the Dead Sea, Bethany, Petra — we would be in this corner of the Holy Land during one of the most sacred times of the year, as Catholics and Orthodox here together celebrate Easter (according to the Julian calendar). Later in the week, I’ll get a firsthand look at some of the projects CNEWA has been supporting over the years — notably at the Italian Hospital in Amman — and get to meet some of the people we’ve writing about in ONE magazine and on this blog. The opportunity was impossible to resist.
Friends and family, when they heard about this trip, were baffled — and a little alarmed. “Aren’t you scared? Isn’t it dangerous? What are you thinking?” But the fact is: Jordan remains one of the most safe and secure countries in the Middle East; tensions and wars rage around her borders, but Jordan remains stable. (Local businesses are doing their part: Our hotel, as do many in the region, requires that everyone entering pass through a metal detector, submit bags to be x-rayed, and consent to be lightly frisked. It’s like going through security at the airport, every day.)
So… after arriving Friday afternoon and settling in, I awoke early to the unfamiliar but haunting sound of the Muslim call to prayer. I rolled over and looked at my cell phone. It was a little after 4 in the morning. I had slept fitfully anyway — a 10-hour flight and seven-hour time difference will do that to you — so I decided to get up and, answering the call, pray Morning Prayer. I clicked on my breviary on my iPad and began my day.
Our group spent most of this first day on a bus, driving two hours north of Amman to visit the ancient city of Umm Qais, overlooking the borders of Syria and Israel. The day was cold and rainy; we couldn’t see far (though we were told, on a clear day, you could actually spot the Sea of Galilee many miles to the north). Umm Qais was also known at one time as Gadara, and it is believed by some scholars to be the region where Jesus, in Matthew’s gospel, drove demons from a man and into a herd of swine.
From atop the rolling hills of Umm Qais, a visitor can see the Golan Heights of Israel in the distance (photo: Greg Kandra)
The cold steady rain had a very different effect on our group, though. It drove us from the open air and into the bus.
Unquestionably, the highlight of the day came in the evening, when we experienced two Easter Vigils, from two very different Catholic traditions.
The Easter Vigil begins in St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Amman. (photo: Greg Kandra)
Our evening began at St. Peter’s, a Latin Catholic Church in Amman, where we arrived in a space full of flickering candles as the deacon stepped into the ambo. He took a breath. And in the hushed silence, he cried out the first phrases of the ancient chant that I know so well, the very chant I had proclaimed just a week earlier at my parish in Queens: “the Exsultet,” or Easter Proclamation. “Exult, let them exult, the hosts of heaven … exult, let angel ministers of God exult. Let the trumpet of salvation sound aloud our mighty King’s triumph…”
Every note was familiar to me. I knew it by heart. But I had never heard this before: The deacon was chanting the proclamation in Arabic. This moved me in a way I hadn’t expected; here was the universal church, our faith, unfolding before me. What I had sung in a parish in Queens was now being sung in this parish in Amman — and in countless other churches large and small, in languages ancient and new, throughout the world. I found myself blinking back tears. To be a part of this moment was an extraordinary gift.
The deacon chants the Easter Proclamation, the Exsultet, in Arabic. (video: Greg Kandra)
After a little while into the Mass, we had to leave to head to another vigil, this one Sts. Peter and St. Paul, a Melkite Greek Catholic Church a short drive away.
This was only my second experience of an Eastern liturgy; it included copious amounts of sprinkling, singing, processing, chanting and incense.
The Rev. Nabil Haddad incenses the congregation. (photo: Greg Kandra)
I found it spellbinding and beautiful. One of the writers on our trip, David Rupert, a Protestant, captured the essence beautifully on his blog, describing the view of an outsider who nonetheless felt a sense of belonging and kinship:
I walked into the Melkite Greek Catholic church in downtown Amman, Jordan, graciously invited by others. The Sts. Peter and Paul Church was small, with probably 150 people already gathered. We were late. The service was led by the Rev. Nabil Haddad, a gracious man who is working at bridging the gap in the Muslim, Jewish, and Christian world as the leader of the Jordanian Interfaith Coexistence Research Center.
I resisted the urge to find a way to make my way outside. I was so out of my element. This was a different culture, a different faith expression in a Middle Eastern tradition. And the service was in Arabic. To an outsider it was nonsense. Chants. Singing. Repetition. Kneeling. There was no music except for the melodic, hypnotic voices of chants that seemed to bring in a mix of Gregorian, Semitic and Arabic influence. I irreverently imagined a Jew in a vestment singing from a minaret. It was disruptive and disquieting. But as the service continued, it was powerful.
Across the Middle East, the birthplace of Christianity, believers are becoming a smaller and smaller slice of the population, losing the baby war. And they are oppressed and tormented and killed in some places. Yet, they survive and even thrive because of their love for each other and for God.
So here I am, standing among Christians who have been in the area for more than a thousand years. I am unworthy, ignorant, and just a little shocked. Who do I think I am? I have no idea what these people have to endure on a daily basis. and yet they embrace me and call me “brother.”
After the liturgy, we had a chance to spend time with Father Haddad and some of his flock. He’s a longtime friend of CNEWA, and was delighted to meet someone from the agency. He promised to get in touch the next time he visits New York.
I rode back to our hotel weary but grateful — and stirred by so many emotions. Several days back, overwhelmed with a thousand details demanding my attention — getting through the Triduum, finishing our taxes, ironing out all the details for this particular trip — I told my friend and editor Elizabeth Scalia that maybe I should back out of the Jordan trip. It was getting to be too much.
“You know,” she told me, “maybe you should look at what God has for you in the trip. There is a gift somewhere.”
After my experience Saturday night, I realize: She was right.
9 April 2015
Tags: Middle East Jordan Holy Land Holy Land Christians Melkite Greek Catholic Church
Girls smile during art class at Don Bosco youth center in Istanbul. (photo: CNS/Elie Gardner)
Some Iraqi and Syrian refugees are making a new start in Turkey. Catholic News Service notes:
Basima Toma teaches English to about 40 children at the Don Bosco youth center.
A young Iraqi boy stands at the chalkboard with a plastic ruler in his hand and spells out the words W-I-N-T-E-R, S-P-R-I-N-G, S-U-M-M-E-R, A-U-T-U-M-N.
Toma and her family have been in Istanbul long enough to see each of these seasons come and go, more than once. In 2012 Toma, her husband and four children left their home in Baghdad.
Toma and her family are Chaldean Catholics. In Baghdad, as Christian-owned businesses were targeted and destroyed, Toma worried more and more for her children’s safety. One of her daughters was the only Christian in her classroom.
“Now I don’t fear for my children,” Toma says. “I put my head on my pillow and am not afraid when they are not with me.”
“Here we don’t ask anyone what religion they are or what political party they belong to,” said Salesian Father Andres Calleja Ruiz, head of the Don Bosco youth center. “We just want to help them.”
Read more at the CNS link.
9 April 2015
In this image from August, a woman in Germany cries over the loss of her daughter during a protest of ethnic Yazidis against the persecution of their people by ISIS in Iraq.
(photo: Alexander Koerner/Getty Images)
ISIS releases 200 Yazidis in Iraq (BBC) Islamic State militants have released more than 200 members of the Yazidi religious community being held in northern Iraq, Kurdish security officials have said. Most of the 216 prisoners were in poor health and bore signs of abuse, General Hiwa Abdullah told the Associated Press. About 40 children were among those freed, while the rest were elderly...
Rights group reports on executions in Ukraine (Vatican Radio) A human rights group says it has evidence that pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine summarily killed four Ukrainian soldiers in their captivity. Meanwhile in Lithuania, a Russian television channel was taken off-air over pro-Kremlin propaganda...
Canadian warplanes carry out first airstrikes against ISIS (CNN) Canadian fighter jets have carried out their first airstrike against ISIS in Syria, hitting one of the Sunni militant group’s garrisons. The CF-18 Hornets bombed near ISIS’ de facto capital of Raqqa, Canada’s Department of National Defence said Wednesday. It described the strike as successful...
Thousands of Copts flock to Jerusalem, despite ban (Gulfnews.com) For Coptic Christian Nadi Salib, going to occupied Jerusalem was a dream of a lifetime that only came true last year. Salib, now 56, was one of thousands of Copts who have made the pilgrimage to the Israeli-occupied city in recent years despite a decades-old ban from Egypt’s Coptic Church. “It was a joy unmatched by any other thing in this life to go to the Holy Land and visit the places blessed by Jesus Christ,” said Salib...
Photographer captures images of Gaza’s “wonder women” (The Telegraph) Photographer Ovidiu Tataru has been in Gaza for nine months working with Doctors Without Borders, and has created a series of photos with women dressed in a superhero cape...
8 April 2015
Tags: Syria Iraq Ukraine Jerusalem Coptic
A nun farms a small plot in Ethiopia’s countryside. Read more about the lives of women in Ethiopia in “An Uphill Battle” from the May 2009 edition of ONE. (photo: Petterik Wiggers)
8 April 2015
In this image from March, a priest gives Communion to Ukrainian soldiers in Yavoriv, Ukraine.
(photo: CNS/Mariana Karapinka)
Coptic church attacked in Alexandria, Egypt (L’Osservatore Romano) The Church of Raphael the Archangel in the quarter of Al Agami in Alexandria was attacked by a group of individuals who, after shooting repeatedly at the building, fled the scene. At least four people, including a police officer, were injured. Officials in Egypt have launched a large-scale operation to search and capture the assailants. The attack, carried out in the night between Sunday and Monday, coincided with the celebration of Palm Sunday by the Coptic Orthodox community...
Ukraine soldiers receive Easter gifts (Vatican Radio) Ukraine is preparing to celebrate Orthodox Easter amid concerns over ongoing ceasefire violations in the east where government forces fight against pro-Russian separatists. People from around the country try to give at least some hope to soldiers fighting on the front lines this Easter season...
Caritas to run mobile clinic in Gaza (Fides) Caritas Jerusalem is preparing the launch of a mobile clinic designed to provide health services to the residents of the Gaza Strip. This was reported to Agenzia Fides by Father Raed Abusahliah, director general of Caritas Jerusalem...
Archeologists defy militants in Iraq (BBC) Archaeologists from the University of Manchester have been working in Iraq and making “significant discoveries,” while Islamic State militants have been bulldozing historic Assyrian sites. “If the militants think they can erase history we are helping to make sure that can’t happen,” said archaeologist Jane Moon. They have been excavating a Babylonian administrative centre from 1500BC. It has provided more than 300 artefacts for the Iraq Museum in Baghdad. The Manchester archaeologists, believed to be on one of only two international teams operating in non-Kurdish Iraq, have returned to the UK after three months of fieldwork, near to the ancient city of Ur...
Christianity poised to continue its shift from Europe to Africa (Pew Research Center) The global Christian population has been shifting southward for at least a century and is expected to continue to do so over the next four decades, according to new demographic projections from the Pew Research Center. Overall, the share of Christians in the world is expected to remain flat. But Europe’s share of the the world’s Christians will continue to decline while sub-Saharan Africa’s will increase dramatically...
Tags: Iraq Egypt Ukraine Gaza Strip/West Bank Coptic Christians