11 May 2015
In this image from 2014, Cardinal George Pell gestures as he leaves the extraordinary Synod of Bishops at the Vatican. The cardinal has praised efforts at dialogue between Christians and Jews on the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate. (photo: Paul Haring/CNS)
Cardinal praises efforts to Christians and Jews (Vatican Radio) Cardinal George Pell has praised the efforts of participants in an historic international gathering of Christian and Jewish leaders in Israel to mark the 50th anniversary of the promulgation of the Conciliar declaration Nostra Aetate, on the Church’s relation to non-Christian religions...
Ukraine port braces for attack (Bloomberg) Ukraine’s eastern port of Mariupol is bracing for attack. Army vehicles rumble down streets, windows are fortified to shield against shell damage and signs pasted to apartment blocks point people to their nearest bomb shelter. Locals fear pro-Russian separatists will unleash an assault on their city now that President Vladimir Putin has finished hosting world leaders to mark the Soviet triumph over Nazi Germany. “Everyone’s talking about it,” said Iryna Hrynko, 40, a designer who arrived last year after fleeing the rebels’ Donetsk stronghold. “Friends back home even tell me about an attack...”
Iraq begins training Sunni fighters to battle ISIS (The Wall Street Journal) Iraq’s Shiite-led government has begun training Sunni tribal fighters here in the western province of Anbar, in an urgent U.S.-backed initiative to stem recent advances by Islamic State. The setbacks in Anbar have exposed the need for trusted and equipped Sunni fighters to help turn momentum against Islamic State and dry up the extremists’ pool of potential recruits. “When the government fails, people turn to Islamic State,” said Mohammad Abu Risha, a young tribal sheik from Anbar who commands 150 fighters. “The tribes don’t trust the government, and the government doesn’t trust the tribes...”
Suicide bombers attack hospital in Syria (AFP) Suicide bombers attacked a hospital in northwestern Syria on Sunday morning where around 250 soldiers and civilians have been trapped for two weeks, a monitoring group said. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the rebels, including members of a branch of Al-Qaeda, stormed the complex in the town of Jisr al-Shughur, having already captured the surrounding area a fortnight ago. Harrowing pictures show the scale of the assault, with the suicide bomber’s car bomb sending fireballs and plumes of thick black smoke into the air. it is not yet known how many people were killed in the attack...
Russian Orthodox Church sends over a million dollars to Ukrainian refugees (Christian Telegraph) The Russian Orthodox Church sent Ukrainian refugees more than 75 million of rubles (nearly 1.5 million of dollars) during last 9 months, reports Christian Telegraph. “Last summer we organized the center of help for civilians of Ukraine. By 24 April 2015 we received more than 20,000 appeals from refugees,” stated Vladimir Legoida, Chairman of the Synodal Informational Department of the Russian Orthodox Church...
8 May 2015
Sister Ayelech chats with students during lunchtime at the Blessed Gebremichael Catholic School in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia. To read her account of her life and vocation, check out “A Letter from Ethiopia” in the Spring edition of ONE. (photo: Petterik Wiggers)
8 May 2015
In the video above, a humanitarian worker in Syria decsribes the situation in his country.
(video: Rome Reports)
Caritas: pray for peace in Syria (Vatican Radio) Aleppo, once Syria’s commercial capital, has been on the front lines of the conflict there in recent weeks. Amnesty International this week slammed government and opposition forces for indiscriminate bombings targeting civilians, hospitals and schools...
Group with links to ISIS claims responsibility for attack in Gaza (Jerusalem Post) State ties claimed responsibility for a Friday mortar attack at a Hamas base in the Gaza Strip. According to AFP, witnesses at the scene said they heard explosions at the base, close to Khan Yunis. Information of any damage or injuries was not reported. The group, which calls itself “Supporters of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria in Jerusalem,” said in an online statement that the rockets it fired were aimed at a base occupied by Hamas’s armed wing, Izzadin Kassam...
Catholic charities impacted by “Francis effect” (CNS) Catholic charities around the world have no doubt about the reality of a “Francis effect” on their work. Because of the ongoing global economic crisis, most of the 164 national Catholic charities that form the Caritas Internationalis confederation report no significant increase in donations. However, the secretary-general of the Vatican-based network says Pope Francis has had a huge impact on their programs and priorities, on the number of volunteers and, especially, on their sharing...
Ethiopians held in Libya return home (BBC) A group of 35 Ethiopians who had been held in Libya have arrived in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. Officials welcomed them at the airport where they flew in from Egypt’s capital, Cairo. Ethiopia said their rescue was made possible “through co-ordinated effort” with the Egyptian government, but it is unclear who was holding them. More than 20 Ethiopians were killed in April by the Libyan branch of Islamic State, which filmed the executions...
7 May 2015
Tags: Syria Pope Francis Ethiopia Gaza Strip/West Bank
Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan, center, celebrates Mass on 3 May for displaced Iraqis in Erbil, Iraq. (photo: CNS/John E. Kozar)
Cardinal Leonardo Sandri and CNEWA president John E. Kozar concluded their pastoral visit to Iraq this week, and experienced first hand the profound faith and resilience of the country’s Christians:
The head of the Vatican’s Congregation for Eastern Churches visited Iraq to convey Pope Francis’ blessing and concern for Church officials and the displaced living and working in difficult circumstances.
In Dohuk, Cardinal Leonardo Sandri hugged children and comforted adults who expressed only one wish: to go back home. Pope Francis’ envoy left a few pictures of the pontiff that children held proudly, with large smiles. The displaced slept up to 20 per room, with baggage and cardboard boxes marking the space for each family. Carpets on the floor and an ever-running television were the only comforts for 60 families that share a few gas stoves and even fewer toilets.
At a Mass outside of a Syriac Catholic church in Erbil on 3 May, Sandri told Iraqis who had fled from Islamic State militants that their “hearts and lives had signs of the violence, persecution and dissemination that forced many to abandon their house in the plain of Ninevah, in Mosul, in Bakhdida (Qaraqosh) and in other villages, to find a safe shelter.”
The Mass’ main celebrant was by Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III Younan, but Sandri preached. In his homily, he spoke of the massacre of Assyrians by the Ottoman Empire a century ago.
“We remain speechless,” he said, “before this violence and aggression, but mostly because the human heart seems to have learned nothing from the dramas that shook the 20th century and that continue today while shedding more innocent blood with a blind and destructive blindness.
“Your pastors, the Pope and the universal Church fear a general exodus from lands that have been Christian for 2,000 years,” he said.
Before going to Erbil, Sandri spent three days in Baghdad, where he met with Iraq’s president and prime minister. Iraq without Christians would not be Iraq anymore, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi told him, echoing Pope Francis’ recurring declarations about the Middle East. President Fuad Masum told the cardinal he hoped the Pope would visit as soon as the situation will allow it.
In Erbil, Sandri met with about 10 members of ROACO, a coalition of funding agencies co-ordinated by the Congregation for Eastern Churches. Among them were the heads of French and German agencies as well as Aid to the Church in Need, the Holy Childhood Association and the Catholic Near East Welfare Association. During the two days prior to that meeting, members of ROACO visited many camps with displaced people, trying to evaluate their needs.
Msgr. John Kozar, head of Catholic Near East Welfare Association, told Catholic News Service that water is the “single most important reality” and is always in short supply.
“Even in the midst of extreme poverty and the complete lack of privacy and personal or family space, the refugees were so loving, welcoming and filled with gratitude and hope,” he said. “Some who had no kitchen or running water humbled us by offering us tea.”
During a meeting with the displaced in Ain Kawa, one man told the agency heads: “The only thing we want is to go back home.”
Then a girl named Tamara, 12, told them with a radiant face: “ISIS took everything, but we still have our faith in Jesus Christ, and they will never take it.”
7 May 2015
An oil over acrylic painting called "Burden" by Syrian artist Essa Neima.
(photo: CNS/courtesy Essa Neima)
A young Syrian painter named Essa Neima is translating the turmoil of his homeland into striking works of art:
At a recent exhibit, his oil on acrylic works ranged from depictions of damaged church and mosque mosaics, to a broken icon of Mary and a refugee woman forced into servitude by the need to survive.
Most of the paintings were strewn with the deep red color of blood.
“It is like treasure ... covered by blood because (of) what’s happening now, the sad events happening in Syria,” Neima told Catholic News Service in Washington, thousands of miles from his country, where conflict has killed nearly 200,000 people and dispersed about 10 million others, according to U.N. Estimates.
...He said he hoped his paintings would encourage more Americans to stand up against the war and to learn more about Syria’s rich heritage and culturally diverse society, often overlooked in U.S. news outlets, which he claimed were simplifying his country’s conflict.
“My message from this art show (is) to be a little bit optimistic about the situation and see things you don’t see it in the media,” Neima said.
“If I will watch (U.S.) media ... I see just three parties: There is a government, there is a free army and there are the extremists, and you think that there (are) just three parties and they are killing each other. The reality is there (are) a lot of people (who) care just to live peacefully. They just want their life to be safe, or they want to raise kids, or to have jobs, like the normal life.”
But even Neima seemed hard-pressed to understand how a conflict so violent could erupt in multicultural Syria, where he said he counted many friends from among the Arab country’s predominantly Muslim population.
“The Syrian society, when I was living there, was ... a liberal society. It wasn’t like I support the extremists because I am Muslim, or like because I am Christian I will belong to so and so ... there was not this category,” Neima said.
He said he had lived in Washington since 2012 and was teaching art at the University of the District of Columbia, but wanted eventually to return to Syria, where his parents and seven siblings still live, “when the conflict is over” and “everyone there accepts the other ... and lives in peace.”
To learn how you can support the suffering people of Syria, visit this giving page.
7 May 2015
Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, speaks with displaced Iraqis on 4 May in Erbil, Iraq. (photo: John E. Kozar)
Report: Number of internally displaced around the world grows (AP) A group that monitors the plight of people forced out of their homes by conflicts says the number of people displaced within their own countries surged to 38 million last year, with a few countries led by Iraq accounting for much of the increase. The Geneva-based International Displacement Monitoring Center said the number of internally displaced people worldwide was 4.7 million higher than in 2013...
Rescue workers report evidence of Syria using chemical weapons (The New York Times) Two years after President Bashar al-Assad agreed to dismantle Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile, there is mounting evidence that his government is flouting international law to drop jerry-built chlorine bombs on insurgent-held areas...
Troops killed as ceasefire in Ukraine falters (CNN) Fighting has again shaken a nearly three-month ceasefire deal between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, leaving five Ukrainian troops dead in a 24-hour period, Ukrainian officials said Wednesday. Twelve other Ukrainian service members were injured in the fighting in separatist areas of eastern Ukraine, the country’s National Security and Defense Council said...
Israel investigating underground tunnels near kibbutz (Haaretz) The Israeli army on Wednesday notified Kibbutz Nirim in the northwest Negev that it will check for underground tunnels in the area, following geological surveys carried out in the kibbutz by a private company. Some two months ago a number of kibbutz members contracted Geotech, a company specializing in airborne geophysical survey mapping, to check for underground digging in the area. The kibbutz members had been complaining since the war in Gaza in the summer that they were hearing noises of digging underground...
How can American Catholics help Christians in the Middle East? (U.S. Catholic) The ISIS blitzkrieg into northern Iraq last summer and the subsequent decimation of one of the oldest Christian communities of the church — coupled with the so-called Islamic State’s recent executions of Egyptian and Ethiopian Christians — have earned Middle East Christians some attention, if not quite the respect, of the politicians, candidates, policy wonks and journalists inside the Beltway. The headlines are dramatic and betray a sense of hopelessness and powerlessness. How can Catholics respond to this diabolical assault?...
6 May 2015
The influx of Syrian refugees in Lebanon is creating a new class of poor in the country: the Lebanese people themselves.
In the Spring edition of ONE, reporter Raed Rafei notes:
In the past three years, more and more Lebanese have joined the ranks of the poor because of the influx of an estimated 1.5 million refugees from neighboring Syria — a staggering figure, representing one refugee for every three people already residing in Lebanon. International organizations and local government officials describe the impact of the refugee crisis on the country as “disastrous” because of fierce competition for jobs, inflation of food prices and rental costs, a slowing economy and growing needs that have overwhelmed social services, infrastructure and government resources.
Read more about “Lebanon on the Brink” in the magazine. And for a graphic look at what all this means, check out Raed Rafei’s powerful video below, profiling one Lebanese family:
6 May 2015
The Harlem Globetrotters meet the globetrotting Pope Francis after his General Audience
on 6 May. (photo: Vatican Radio)
A famous basketball team inducted a new member today:
Pope Francis met on Wednesday with members of the Harlem Globetrotters, the famous basketball team from the United States.
During the encounter, they gave the Holy Father a jersey with the name “Pope Francis” and the number 90.
The Harlem Globetrotters are an exhibition basketball team founded in the 1920’s, featuring African-American players at a time when most sports were segregated. In later years, they were known for adding comedy and stunts to their routines. They are currently in Italy as part of their 2015 international tour.
Before meeting the Pope, members of the team entertained members of the crowd, spinning their signature red-white-and-blue basketballs.
The Harlem Globetrotters met with Pope St. John Paul II in 2000, and named him an Honorary Harlem Globetrotter.
6 May 2015
Syrian refugees walk the street at Zaatari refugee camp near Mafraq, Jordan, on 14 March. Jordan officials report international aid continues to fall short of what the country needs to host 1.4 million Syrian refugees. (photo: CNS/Jamal Nasrallah, EPA)
Situation in Ukraine “deteriorating” (Reuters) Five Ukrainian servicemen have been killed and 12 injured over the past 24 hours despite a ceasefire deal, Ukraine’s military said on Wednesday, describing a worsening situation in separatist eastern territories. The deaths came ahead of a meeting later on Wednesday of envoys from Russia, Ukraine, the OSCE rights watchdog and pro-Russian separatists. They are expected to discuss how to shore up the peace accord they agreed in Minsk, Belarus, in February. “In the past 24 hours the situation in the conflict zone deteriorated. The intensity of attacks is not falling,” military spokesman Andriy Lysenko said, accusing the separatists of using weapons outlawed under the ceasefire deal...
Jordan faces shortfall in funds to help refugees (Catholic Herald) International aid continues to fall short of what Jordan needs to host 1.4 million Syrian refugees, Jordanian officials reported, saying the number represents the equivalent of the United States hosting 60 million refugees.
With no end in sight to the Syrian conflict, now in its fifth year, officials are calling the situation critical. So far this year, Jordan has received only 7.2 percent of $2.9 billion needed for services to Syrian refugees and host communities...
Massacre site in Iraq becomes a monument to suffering (The New York Times) The concrete platform at the river’s edge is festooned with flowers and streaked with blood. Along a back wall are photographs taken from a video of the horror that unfolded here last year: a procession of Shiite men, shot in the head one by one by Islamic State fighters and shoved into the waters of the Tigris. The riverbank has become a memorial of the massacre and a site of Shiite pilgrimage, already taking a prominent place in Iraq’s ledger of sectarian atrocities. In all, roughly 1,700 Shiite military personnel from the Camp Speicher base are believed to have been methodically gunned down by the Sunni extremists at Saddam Hussein’s old palace complex in Tikrit in June...
UN begins talks with Syrians to find “common ground” (BBC) The UN has begun consultations with Syrian government and opposition officials as it seeks to find enough common ground to restart peace talks. Special envoy Staffan de Mistura said more than 40 groups had been invited to attend one-on-one meetings over the next five to six weeks. Iran and Turkey have also been invited, but jihadist militant groups have not. Mr. de Mistura described it as a stock-taking process, saying there would be no big roundtable discussions. The last round of peace talks in Geneva collapsed in early 2014 with the government refusing to discuss opposition demands...
Syrian artist shows pain of war (CNS) The sad realities of Syria’s civil war permeate the paintings of Essa Neima, a 34-year-old Syrian national. At a recent exhibit, his oil on acrylic works ranged from depictions of damaged church and mosque mosaics, to a broken icon of Mary and a refugee woman forced into servitude by the need to survive. Most of the paintings were strewn with the deep red color of blood. “It is like treasure ... covered by blood because (of) what’s happening now, the sad events happening in Syria,” Neima told Catholic News Service in Washington, thousands of miles from his country, where conflict has killed nearly 200,000 people and dispersed about 10 million others, according to U.N. Estimates...
If borders were opened, “100,000 people would leave Gaza” (Al Jazeera) Electricity runs only six to eight hours a day in the Gaza Strip. More than 160,000 homes were damaged or destroyed in last summer’s war with Israel, and 100,000 people are still homeless. International donors pledged to give $3.5 billion in reconstruction funds in October, but barely a quarter of that has materialized so far. Israel’s economic blockade continues, Palestinian leaders are divided, houses lie in ruin, and youths feel unable to escape from or change the situation...
5 May 2015
Cardinal Leonardo Sandri visits with Iraqi refugees in Erbil. (photo: John E. Kozar)
CNEWA’s president Msgr. John E. Kozar is on a pastoral visit to Iraq, along with Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches.
Details of the trip, from VIS:
The cardinal, in his second trip to Iraq, brought Pope Francis’ blessing to Iraqi Christians and transmitted the acknowledgement and encouragement of the Authorities for their work in the difficult current context of Iraq in favour of Christians, other minorities and those who suffer as a result of the violence. From 1 to 3 May Cardinal Sandri visited Baghdad where he celebrated the Divine Liturgy in the Chaldean Cathedral of St. Joseph and lunched with refugees assisted by various ecclesial institutions. In Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, he met with the Roaco delegation which is planning aid projects in various areas of pastoral life and in the assistance of refugees.
In his final address to the bishops in Erbil, the cardinal referred to the “signs of light” he had seen in the Churches of Iraq during his visit: “The liturgy, the hymns, the trust in Mary, but above all the splendour of charity, through ordinary works and those linked to the various forms of welcome and pastoral assistance to displaced and persecuted people. I have encountered first hand the heroic dedication of the many priests who are truly good pastors, who do not flee and who stay beside their flock; I have been moved by the profound communion that precedes any theological discussion — although the latter is necessary — and any other form of ecumenical agreement, when priests of different Christian churches wish well to each other and, along with the laypeople, organise aid activities for displaced persons, or guide educational paths in schools and parishes. It is also good to see the collaboration that the various agencies of the Roaco have offered in the planning and implementation phases for the good of all of you.”...
...Cardinal Sandri concluded his address by invoking the protection of Our Lady and of St. Peter for Pope Francis, “always so close to the Christians of the Middle East and to all those who are persecuted,” and for their Beatitudes the Patriarchs Louis Raphael I Sako of the Chaldean Catholic Church, and Ignatius Joseph III Younan of the Syro-Catholic Church.
To help those seeking to rebuild their lives in Iraq, and support CNEWA’s mission there, please visit this giving page — and keep our brothers and sisters in Iraq in your prayers!