11 August 2014
Smoke rises in the Gaza Strip after an Israeli strike on 8 August.
(photo: CNS/Amir Cohen, Reuters)
The National Catholic Register this week has some very good insight into the ongoing crisis in Gaza — and the toll it is taking on the people there:
“Gaza was in a very difficult, potentially full-blown, humanitarian crisis situation six weeks before the conflict,” said Matt McGarry, country representative for Jerusalem, West Bank and Gaza at Catholic Relief Services, speaking to the Register from Gaza City.
“There are 1.8 million people that live in this tiny little stretch of land without the capacity to grow enough food to support itself on a tiny, contaminated aquifer. We can’t get in or out or sail more than three miles off of the coast. And this is not a new situation, but one that has grown over quite some time,” he said.
“We and other organizations said [Gaza] is really kind of perched on the edge of a potentially humanitarian crisis, and
[it] wouldn’t take much to push it over. And with the fighting in the last month being intense, it has emphatically pushed the situation into a full-on humanitarian crisis.”
...Michael La Civita, communications director for the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA), said that unless Gaza is lifted out of its economic misery and freedom of movement for its people restored, the region is headed for a conflict that would make the present struggle between Hamas and Israel “look like a sandlot fight.”
“You’re basically talking about a strip of land that is smaller than Manhattan, which is densely populated with almost no infrastructure,” he said.
Gaza City’s playground “Friendship Park” was a donation from CNEWA after one of its donors saw how the children were playing in trash heaps and open sewers.
“It was something that did not exist there: grass, swings, things of that nature,” he said. The playground has survived the bombings of Gaza, but not the massive use it has received from the children of Gaza, and it will need to be replaced soon.
But despite that small local improvement, La Civita stressed that the “situation has only gotten worse, not better,” under the blockade. Moreover, Hamas was not starved out, and the crushing poverty is radicalizing people to the point where Hamas — which the U.S. State Department has officially designated as a terrorist organization — appears to be losing its grip over other extremist groups that La Civita says made Hamas look moderate.
“If there is going to be a political solution, there first has to be an economic solution,” he said, noting that former Israeli President Shimon Peres made that same prediction back in 2003, when he was foreign minister, during the Oslo Accords.
“A vast majority of people affected by this are innocent men, women, children and elderly, and they are civilians,” he said. “And they have nothing to do with this.”
Although they number less than 3,000 people, he said the Christians in Gaza have been in the forefront of aiding people devastated by the violence. Catholic and non-Catholic agencies have been meeting regularly, coordinating their efforts and discussing how best to serve the people and not duplicate their services.
Said La Civita, “It’s important to understand that, in the middle of all this, the Church is a beacon of hope.”
There is much more to read and absorb. Visit this link to read it all.
Meantime, the organization EWASH (Emergency Water and Sanitation/Hygiene) in the occupied Palestinian territory offers some sobering statistics:
- 1.8 million people in Gaza have limited access to water—or no access at all, and the number is growing.
- 90% of wells, waste water treatment plants and desalination plants cannot operate due to power cuts and lack of fuel.
- 90% of water from the Coastal Aquifer is unfit for human consumption.
Check out more at this graphic at the EWASH website.
And to learn how you can help the people of Gaza, visit this page.
11 August 2014
Tags: Gaza Strip/West Bank War Israeli-Palestinian conflict Hunger Water
Emil, a Catholic Iraqi refugee, hides his face during a posed photo at the Caritas Lebanon Migrant Center in Beirut on 8 August. The resident of Mosul, Iraq, fled his hometown with family members after receiving threats from Islamic State militants. (photo: CNS/Dalia Khamissy)
8 August 2014
Tags: Iraq Violence against Christians Iraqi Christians Iraqi Refugees
In this image from 2009, Italian Archbishop Fernando Filoni, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, walks with a Swiss Guard at the Vatican. (photo: CNS/Danilo Schiavella, pool via Reuters)
This morning, it was announced that Pope Francis has appointed a personal envoy to help Christians in Iraq:
Pope Francis is sending a cardinal to Iraq to help thousands of Christians fleeing the rapid advance of jihadis from the Islamic State (IS), the Vatican says.
Cardinal Fernando Filoni, a former papal nuncio to the country, is being sent to Iraqi Kurdistan to show the pope’s “spiritual support and the church’s solidarity with the people who are suffering,” papal spokesman Federico Lombardi said.
He said Filoni would be departing soon but gave no date.
The Vatican has come in for criticism from Eastern Christians not doing more to help the persecuted minority, who are fleeing into the mountains alongside thousands of members of the minority Yazidi community in the face of a rapid advance north by Sunni extremists.
7 August 2014
Tags: Iraq Pope Francis Violence against Christians Iraqi Christians Iraqi Refugees
A Lebanese army soldier carries a young refugee fleeing the violence in Syria in the Lebanese border town of Arsal, Lebanon, on 6 August. (photo: CNS/Hassan Abdallah, Reuters)
6 August 2014
Tags: Syria Lebanon Refugees Syrian Civil War
Chaldean Bishop Frank Kalabat carries a monstrance on 1 August as he leads nearly 1,000 Chaldean Catholics outside Mother of God Chaldean Church in Southfield, Michigan in praying for for persecuted Iraqi Christians. (photo: CNS/Mike Stechschulte, The Michigan Catholic)
Chaldean Catholics in Michigan last week gathered to pray for suffering Christians in Iraq:
Standing in the sanctuary of Mother of God Chaldean Cathedral, flanked by an empty cross and two ominous red symbols, Chaldean Bishop Francis Kalabat led more than 1,000 people on 1 August in an earnest prayer for peace and a plea for help. The bright red symbols were the Arabic letter that stands for “Nassara” or “Nazarene” — meaning Christian, and they were ominous because Islamic militants have used the symbol to identify some 200,000 Iraqis singled out for an ultimatum: Convert to Islam, pay a tax or be killed. Painted on the targets’ houses, the symbol is intended by the militants to be a derogatory term. But Bishop Kalabat said he wears it with honor. “This is the latest image today of what has been endured for us as the cross,” he said, pointing to the wooden crucifix behind him. Bishop Kalabat, who in June was ordained the second bishop of the Southfield-based Chaldean Eparchy of St. Thomas the Apostle, urged those in attendance to keep their focus on Jesus, and to unite their sufferings with him. In a powerful address to the overflowing congregation, which included several local media outlets, Bishop Kalabat acknowledged the difficulty in forgiving those who unjustly persecute and kill Christians in the Middle East and elsewhere. But the bishop said forgiveness does not mean Christians should not also pray and ask for justice, including from elected leaders. He called on the United Nations and international community to condemn the violence as genocide and said humanitarian aid was badly needed for Iraqi refugees, many of whom have found temporary protection from the Kurdish army after fleeing their homes in northern and central Iraqi cities such as Mosul.
To help provide humanitarian aid to Iraqi refugees, visit this link.
5 August 2014
Tags: Iraq Middle East Christians Violence against Christians Iraqi Christians Iraqi
The new Melkite Greek Catholic archbishop of Akko, Haifa, Nazareth, and all Galilee, George Bakhouny, blesses those gathered for his installation in the Cathedral of Mar Elias in Haifa. (photo: Sami El-Yousef)
4 August 2014
Tags: Israel Catholic Holy Land Christians Melkite Greek Catholic Church Melkite
In this photo taken on Friday, Pope Francis meets the four sisters and three brothers of Jesuit Father Paolo Dall’Oglio, missing since last year and presumed kidnapped in northern Syria. The pope met the family at the Jesuit headquarters in Rome, where they all joined the Jesuit community for lunch. (photo via CNS, courtesy Infosj, Rome)
1 August 2014
Tags: Syria Pope Francis Priests Syrian Catholic
In this image from 2007, a child greets visitors to the ancient Muslim city of Harar in Ethiopia. (photo: Cody Christopulos)
In 2007, we paid a visit to a remarkable corner of Ethiopia:
Imagine our surprise when, as we approached the outer walls of this, one of the holiest cities in the Islamic world, we were greeted by a booming call to prayer — from an Orthodox church. Famously, there are more than 90 mosques and shrines in this walled city, which occupies an area less than a square mile. But there are churches, too. …
For much of its history, Harar was a world center of commerce and Islamic culture. Though eclipsed on the world stage long ago, Harar remains a vibrant, multicultural city.
Christianity came to Ethiopia early: In the year 330 — 29 years after Armenia, and some 60 years before Rome — the Ethiopian king of Aksum declared Christianity the official religion of the state. Ethiopia’s distinctive form of Christianity, particularly its links with Judaism, has helped forge a unique culture that has survived intact for more than 1,800 years.
Read more about Ethiopia’s Forbidden City in the July 2007 edition of ONE.
31 July 2014
Tags: Ethiopia Cultural Identity Christian-Muslim relations Islam Ethiopian Christianity
In this image from 2006, Metropolitan Jonah Lwanga presides over the Sunday liturgy at St. Nicholas Church in Kampala, Uganda. To learn more about Orthodoxy’s growth in Uganda, read Orthodox Africa in the March 2006 edition of ONE. (photo: Tugela Ridley)
30 July 2014
Tags: Africa Orthodox Church Patriarchate of Alexandria
Father Adris Hanna celebrates the Eucharist at greater Stockholm’s Syriac Catholic Church. (photo: Magnus Aronson)
With the news these days full of stories of refugees, we were reminded of a story in ONE from three years ago, about refugees from the Middle East who had settled in Sweden:
On an early December morning, 33-year-old Ramiz Toma stops his taxi in front of a home in one of Stockholm’s posh residential neighborhoods. Mr. Toma waits a few minutes until his client, a well-dressed businessman, approaches the car and swiftly takes a seat in the back. Mr. Toma then drives off down the street, still white from the night’s snowfall, and heads to the airport.
After a short while, the man glances at Mr. Toma’s identity badge on the dashboard and breaks the silence. “Where are you from?,” he asks.
“I am an Iraqi Christian,” responds the driver.
“Christian?” replies the man with surprise.
Mr. Toma nods with a faint smile.
“I didn’t know there were Christians in Iraq,” the man continues.
Mr. Toma catches the man’s regard through the rearview mirror. He politely but briefly tells him that, though a minority, Christians have always lived in Iraq. The man says nothing. After a few moments, Mr. Toma turns up the radio and drives on.
Mr. Toma knows his employer, the largest taxi company in Stockholm, discourages its drivers from chatting at length with clients, especially about politics and religion.
After dropping off the client at the airport, Mr. Toma admits he had wanted to say much more about Iraq’s Christians — their ancient history, different denominations, the suffering they have endured since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, even the recent memorial service he attended at his church in Stockholm honoring a Christian woman brutally murdered in her home in Baghdad.
Mr. Toma first came to Sweden in 2000, when the country’s policy toward Iraqi refugees still ranked as the most generous in the world. Believing Sweden a promised land, thousands of Iraqis clamored for asylum at its embassy in Baghdad.
With support from his family, the 23-year-old managed to travel to Sweden and obtain refugee status. However, as do most refugees, the young man struggled at first to adjust to life in Sweden, facing the usual challenges of language and culture.
However, a much larger and more complex problem afflicts Sweden’s Iraqi population: an alarmingly high unemployment rate. According to a recent study, among Iraqis living in Sweden for ten or more years, 73 percent of women and 60 percent of men are unemployed. Some experts attribute the high unemployment rate to the fact that Iraqis in Sweden, particularly Christians, are often well educated. Many had once belonged to Iraq’s affluent middle class. As a result, they have difficulty either landing or settling for one of the mostly unskilled jobs available to them. …
“My faith is the foundation for everything that matters in my life. Just as Jesus showed us his love, we learn to view other people with love when we go to church and listen to his words,” he says.
Mr. Toma’s parents still live in Iraq. And during his first few years in Sweden, he thought for certain he would one day return there and reunite with them. But as the years passed, he planted roots and now considers Sweden home. To his surprise, he even feels more comfortable now among Swedes than he does among his compatriots back in Iraq.
“When I go to Iraq to visit my family, I can’t stand being there for more than a week. It’s not the same people,” he explains. “Everything has changed. Here in Sweden, maybe I haven’t yet been accepted as a Swede. But I feel accepted in Swedish society. And for that I am grateful.”
Today, more than 170,000 Iraqis or persons of Iraqi descent live in Sweden. Iraqis first began coming to Sweden in the early 1980’s during the Iran-Iraq war. Immigration, however, reached its peak in 2007, when Swedish authorities granted asylum to 85 percent of the 20,000 Iraqis who requested it.
Read more about A Nordic Refuge No More from the May 2011 issue of ONE.
Tags: Iraqi Christians Cultural Identity Iraqi Refugees Sweden