3 November 2014
Pope Francis leads the Angelus in St. Peter's Square Saturday and implores pilgrims to pray
for Jerusalem. (photo: CNS /Tony Gentile, Reuters)
Pope: pray for peace in Jerusalem (Vatican Radio) Marking the Feast of All Saints Saturday with the traditional recitation of the midday Angelus with pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis’ thoughts turned to the Holy City of Jerusalem which has witnessed a spike in tensions in recent days...
Report: ISIS conducts mass execution of Iraqi tribe (AP) Islamic State of Iraq and Syria extremists lined up and shot dead at least 50 Iraqi men, women and children from the same tribe on Sunday, officials said, in the latest targeting of the group by militants. The killings, all committed in public, raise the death toll suffered by the Sunni Al Bu Nimr tribe in recent days to some 150, suggesting Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighters now view them as a threat. Some Sunnis in the volatile province had previously supported the local expansion of ISIS and other militants in December...
Al-Quaeda militants mass near Turkey border (AP) Al-Qaeda militants massed Monday near a Syrian border town in what appeared to be an attempt to seize a vital crossing from Western-backed rebels, activists said, underscoring the weakness of the fighters America hopes could be a moderate force in the chaotic civil war.
Blast targets troops near Egypt-Gaza border (AP) An explosive device went off on Monday near Egyptian troops demolishing houses in a town on the border with the Gaza Strip where Egypt is clearing a buffer zone to halt weapons smuggling, military officials said. The strong blast in the border town of Rafah caused no casualties, the officials say, but prompted authorities to raise the security alert level...
EU condemns “illegal” elections in Ukraine (Vatican Radio) The European Union has condemned as “illegal” elections held by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine where mining electrician-turned-rebel leader Alexander Zakharchenko was quick to announce victory...
31 October 2014
Tags: Syria Iraq Egypt Jerusalem Turkey
Students perform a folklore dance at the Franciscan School in Abou Kir, Egypt. (photo: Sean Sprague)
In 2002, we took readers to northern Egypt, to a remarkable school run by the Franciscan Sisters of the Cross:
Abou Kir is a suburb of Alexandria, a stone’s throw from the Mediterranean. A fishing village that today numbers about 300,000 people, it has a mixed religious population — about 70 percent Muslim and 30 percent Christian, the latter mostly Coptic Orthodox. This proportion of Christians is relatively high for Egypt, where the average Christian presence is less than 10 percent. Abou Kir’s Catholic school welcomes children of all faiths; here peaceful coexistence is understood as being part of the curriculum — and also of life. Of the student population, 55 percent of the children are Muslim and 45 percent are Christian. Of the school’s 34 teachers, 10 are Muslim and 24 are Christian.
“The continuation of a Christian presence here is very important,” Sister Zeina says.
“We offer a service to the local community by teaching Christians and Muslims to love one another.”
In a land where sectarian violence and mutual suspicion between the two religions are, sadly, not unusual, Sister Zeina holds firm to the belief that Christian and Muslim children need to be educated and grow up in a climate that fosters mutual respect.
“It is my conviction that they must be raised together,” she says.
The hustle and bustle in the muddy streets outside, with their horse carts, piles of garbage and pollution-belching, thundering trucks, was in marked contrast to the cleanliness and order of the school. I stepped across its threshold into a bright sanctuary for learning.
A spotless playground was bounded on two sides by the gleaming new four-story building. A third side was occupied by the old building, which had recently received a fresh coat of paint. Apartments overlook the fourth side. On the day of my visit, some curious women sat on their balconies, enjoying a bird’s-eye view of the all-school assembly in the courtyard.
Some 495 freshly scrubbed children in immaculate uniforms — bright red pullovers for the primary school, navy blue for the kindergarten and preparatory ages — were lined up in perfect formation. They saluted the Egyptian flag and sang the national anthem. A favorite Franciscan hymn followed. Sister Zeina then took the microphone and sweetly crooned a couple of Arabic lullabies, accompanied by a teacher on the organ. Then it was time for folklore class, and 12 girls in native Egyptian costume strutted out to perform a dance.
Their school assembly and folklore class completed, the children then filed from the playground into their classrooms — all smiles, hand in hand.
Read more about how the Franciscans were bringing learning to life in the May-June 2002 issue of the magazine.
31 October 2014
Tags: Egypt Children Education Christian-Muslim relations Catholic education
Syrian Kurdish refugees stand at the back of a truck as they cross the Turkey-Syria border on 18 October. (photo: CNS/Kai Pfaffenbach, Reuters)
U.N.: Foreign militants ‘flocking’ to Iraq, Syria (The Guardian) The United Nations has warned that foreign jihadists are swarming into the twin conflicts in Iraq and Syria on “an unprecedented scale” and from countries that had not previously contributed combatants. A report by the United Nations Security Council, obtained by the Guardian, finds that 15,000 people have travelled to Syria and Iraq to fight alongside the Islamic State and similar extremist groups. They come from more than 80 countries, the report states, “including a tail of countries that have not previously faced challenges relating to Al Qaeda…”
The terrible danger facing Syria’s refugees (The Telegraph) Scores of refugees from the Syrian province of Hama were killed this week when barrel bombs dropped by the Assad regime fell on their refugee camp in neighboring Idlib. Such a massacre would once have been front-page news, but now the images of the war across the Middle East between the jihadists of Isil and the US-led coalition ranged against them have overshadowed the three-year plight of the Syrian people…
Egypt flattens neighborhoods to create buffer with Gaza (The New York Times) With bulldozers and dynamite, the Egyptian Army on Wednesday began demolishing hundreds of houses, displacing thousands of people, along the border with Gaza in a panicked effort to establish a buffer zone that officials hope will stop the influx of militants and weapons across the frontier…
Pope seeks ‘unity in diversity’ (Vatican Radio) On Friday, Pope Francis met with members of the Catholic Fraternity of Charismatic Covenant Communities and Fellowship. The group is in Rome for its Sixteenth International Conference, which has for its theme “Praise and charismatic worship for a New Evangelization.” The bishop of Rome touched on several themes in his address to the group, beginning with the idea of “unity in diversity.” “Unity does not imply uniformity,” the pope said…
Europe’s Eastern Catholic bishops emphasize ecumenism (ByzCath.org) Following a four-day meeting in Lviv, 45 Eastern Catholic bishops in Europe issued a joint statement on ecumenism, mission and the conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East. “We reaffirm with greater awareness our right and duty to the pastoral care of our faithful wherever they are, including the right to proclaim the Gospel to those who do not know it yet,” the prelates said…
30 October 2014
Tags: Syria Iraq Pope Francis Gaza Strip/West Bank Eastern Catholics
An Eritrean refugee and her daughter hold candles during a memorial gathering in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on 3 October, to mark the first anniversary of the Lampedusa migrant shipwreck that killed 366 migrants near the Italian coast. Catholic bishops and aid agencies have condemned a European Union plan to scale down the rescue of migrants and refugees in the Mediterranean Sea. (photo: CNS/Tiksa Negeri, Reuters)
29 October 2014
Tags: Ethiopia Migrants Eritrea Italy
A priest kneels next to the grave of a soldier at a Ukrainian military camp near the eastern Ukrainian town Kramatorsk on 26 October. (photo: CNS/Roman Pilipey, EPA)
Russia backs plan by Ukraine separatists for early election (The New York Times) Setting the stage for renewed tensions with the West, the Russian government said on Tuesday that it would recognize the results of coming elections in the separatist-controlled areas of eastern Ukraine, where rebel leaders have scheduled a vote in defiance of the Ukrainian government and in violation of an agreement signed last month in Minsk, Belarus…
Pope prays for Ebola victims (Vatican Radio) At his General Audience on Wednesday, Pope Francis once again spoke of his concern for those affected by Ebola. “In the face of the worsening Ebola epidemic, I wish to express my deep concern about this relentless disease that is spreading especially in the African continent, above all among the most disadvantaged population”…
Armenian church to be consecrated on bank of the Jordan (Fides) Later this week, the new St. Garabed Armenian Church will be consecrated in Jordan, on the bank of the Jordan River, according to Armenian Apostolic Patriarchate of Jerusalem. The land on which the church stands — not far from the place traditionally referred to as the site of Jesus’ baptism — was donated by King Abdullah II of Jordan…
Kindness and laughter amid refugees in Jordan (CNS) After editing story after story from the Middle East, there is something very humbling about looking into a person’s eyes and seeing pain and despair. It is touching to see how families have tried to make a home, squeezed into small spaces separated by curtains and wood, sharing two toilets, a urinal and a church hall with 38 other people…
U.N.: Spike in Eritreans fleeing into Ethiopia (Al Jazeera) Over 200 Eritrean refugees are crossing the heavily fortified and dangerous border into neighboring Ethiopia daily, the United Nations said in a report noting a “spike” in those fleeing. Tens of thousands of people have fled the Horn of Africa country, escaping open-ended conscription and the iron-grip rule of President Isaias Afewerki, with many continuing northwards to brave the often-harrowing journey towards Europe. “The number of daily refugee arrivals spiked since the first week of September,” the October report from the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) read…
How the West buys ‘conflict antiquities’ from Iraq and Syria (Reuters) “Many antique collectors unwillingly support terrorists like Islamic State, ” Michel van Rijn, one of the most successful smugglers of antique artifacts in the past century, told German broadcaster Das Erste this month. And smuggling is booming in Iraq and Syria right now. In Iraq, 4,500 archaeological sites, some of them UNESCO World Heritage sites, are reportedly controlled by Islamic State and are exposed to looting. Iraqi intelligence claim that Islamic State alone has collected as much as $36 million from the sales of artifacts, some of them thousands of years old…
27 October 2014
Tags: Syria Pope Francis Ukraine Russia Eritrea
Franciscan Father Benito Jose Choque of Argentina holds a bucket of olives harvested from trees in the Garden of Gethsemane in Jerusalem. The trees' history extends to the time of Christ.
(photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)
An ancient tradition is continuing in Jerusalem these days, as CNS discovered:
For Salim Badawi, a Greek Orthodox Palestinian from the West Bank village of Beit Jalla, the opportunity to help a group of Franciscan priests harvest olives in the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives offers a sense of hope amid the adversaries his family has faced in their own olive groves.
He said much of the olive grove of his extended family has long been unreachable as it was taken years ago to build an Israeli settlement, now considered a neighborhood of Jerusalem.
An uncle tries every year — unsuccessfully — to reach the land, Badawi said.
“Here I feel hope that maybe one day it will be different, maybe we will one day be allowed to go there and pick our olives,” Badawi told Catholic News Service while reaching into the branches of one of the trees that can be traced to the time of Christ. “The olive trees are still there, but we can’t reach them. I feel something special in this holy place where we are picking the oldest olives in the area, maybe in the whole world.”
At the bottom of the tree, Karina Henriquez, a volunteer from Chile, places olives that drop from the branches into a sack. For her, the trees that continue to bear fruit after thousands of years are a symbol of Jesus, who is still giving fruit to all who seek him.
Henriquez does not want to discuss politics, but she knows that Israelis and Palestinians are good people.
“Too bad they can’t solve their problems. We were hopeful with the pope’s visit, but then there was the war,” she said.
Still, Henriquez feels the need to share the pope’s message of speaking to the soul of people about love and peace. “We have to pray so God will place peace and love in the hearts of all people,” she said.
Since the Franciscans retook possession of the small olive grove adjacent to the Church of All Nations in 1681, the Franciscan fathers have tended to eight of what are believed to be the oldest olive trees in the Holy Land. Tradition, backed by modern genetic testing, holds that the gnarled trees were grafted at some point during the Crusader era from a single tree that was a witness to Jesus’ agony more than 2,000 years ago.
Today, the trees are part of the Garden of Gethsemane, fenced off and protected from the crowds of faithful who come on pilgrimage to the site. To accommodate pilgrims, the Franciscans keep a box of small branches pruned from the trees from which people can freely take a memento.
27 October 2014
Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Sako of Baghdad, Iraq, arrives for a session of the extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family at the Vatican. Archbishop Sako suspended 12 Chaldean priests and monks for not receiving permission from their superiors before
emigrating from Iraq. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Iraq military offensive against ISIS could be a year away (ABC News) The combination of American airstrikes and Iraqi and Kurdish military operations are beginning to undermine ISIS’s confidence on the battlefield but an Iraqi offensive to take back territory is a long way off, U.S. military officials believe. It could be as long as a year before Iraq’s military is capable of launching a major offensive operation to retake Mosul and maybe just as long before a force of U.S. trained Syrian rebels can begin their own offensive operations against ISIS, the militant Islamic group also known as ISIL or the Islamic State...
Iraqi priests suspended (CNS) Twelve Chaldean religious men and priests living in the United States, Canada, Australia and Sweden have been suspended from exercising their priestly ministry for not receiving permission from their superiors before emigrating from Iraq. The sanctions went into effect 22 October following repeated, but “unfortunately unfruitful ultimatums” from the men's religious orders or bishops, said a written decree signed by Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Sako of Baghdad. The decree was translated into English from Arabic and is published on the patriarchate's official web site, saint-adday.com...
Christians of Mosul find haven in Jordan (The New York Times) Even as many of their neighbors fled the violence that engulfed Iraq after the American invasion, the three men stayed put, refusing to give up on their country or their centuries-old Christian community...
Ukraine leader wins election (Reuters) Pro-Western parties will dominate Ukraine's parliament after an election handed President Petro Poroshenko a mandate to end a separatist conflict and steer the country further out of Russia’s orbit into Europe’s mainstream. Poroshenko planned to start coalition talks on Monday after exit polls and partial results showed most of the groups that were holding up democratic and legal reforms demanded by the European Union had been swept out of parliament on Sunday...
Pope Francis greets members of Orientale Lumen Foundation (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis said on Friday there is no authentic ecumenical dialogue without being ready “for an interior renewal” and the quest for a greater fidelity to Christ and his wishes. His remarks came in an address at the Vatican to delegates taking part in an ecumenical pilgrimage, promoted by the Orientale Lumen Foundation and led by the Orthodox Metropolitan, Kallistos of Diokleia. The Pope said this journey towards an interior renewal is “absolutely essential” in order to make progress along the road leading to reconciliation and full communion between all believers in Christ...
Ecology, “common ground” for three Abrahamic religions (Fides) In a world marked by the upsurge of fundamentalism and ethno-religious sectarianism, ecology arises as a possible area of convergence and cooperation among the different religious traditions, beginning with those that share the same origin in Abraham, father of all believers. This is the key message highlighted during the conference entitled “Faith and Ecology”, held on Wednesday, 22 October in Jerusalem and co-organized by the Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development, by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation and the Studium Theologicum Salesianum...
CNEWA receives grant to aid Ukraine (Catholic Register) The Catholic Near East Welfare Association of Canada has received a $226,630 grant from the federal Office for Religious Freedom to combat religious persecution in parts of Ukraine. Over the past year, Russia annexed Crimea and violence has broken out in eastern Ukraine that has a large Russian population. Religious persecution has increased, with Greek Catholics being targeted, but also Ukrainian Orthodox who are not under the Moscow Patriarchate, as well as Roman Catholics, Jews, Crimean Tatar Muslims and others who do not support Russian separatists...
23 October 2014
Tags: Iraq Ukraine CNEWA Jordan Chaldean Church
Dominican Father Najeeb Michaeel works on a manuscript at his restoration laboratory in Qaraqosh, Iraq, prior to 6 August. Father Michaeel and his team moved 1,300 manuscripts dating from the 14th to 19th centuries before Islamic State militants invaded Qaraqosh on 6 August.
(photo: CNS/courtesy of Centre Numerique des Manuscrits Orientaux)
It has gone largely unnoticed, but a remarkable effort is underway to preserve priceless pieces of antiquity in Iraq. CNS notes:
Just as the so-called Monuments Men salvaged European masterpieces stolen by Nazi forces during World War II, a Dominican priest is protecting priceless manuscripts from falling into the hands of rampaging militants in northern Iraq.
Though operating on a much smaller scale, Dominican Father Najeeb Michaeel and the ancient manuscript collections in his care still face a very real threat.
Islamic State militants have been sweeping across the northern Iraq region in their bid to establish an Islamic state. Their campaign has become increasingly brutal in recent months as they continue to lay siege to unprotected towns and villages, murder hostages, threaten residents, confiscate property and, by many reports, desecrate or ransack religious places of worship.
The Dominicans’ collection of medieval manuscripts and valuable documents that already survived centuries of conflict and potential neglect were now under threat once again.
Early 6 August, the Feast of the Transfiguration, the residents of Qaraqosh woke up to the news that the Kurdish regional forces, known as peshmerga and who had been
repelling militant incursions, had packed up and left the city in the dead of night.
“The people woke up and realized they had no protection” and they started scrambling to evacuate the city, said Benedictine Father Columba Stewart, director of the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library at St. John’s Benedictine Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota, who has been helping Father Michaeel with his preservation work since 2009.
People had to flee on foot as the limited number of vehicles were being used to shuttle children, the ill and the elderly out of the city, he told Catholic News Service on 21 October from Collegeville.
Father Michaeel and his small team managed to pack two open-bed pickup trucks full of nondescript cardboard boxes holding 1,300 extremely fragile and valuable 14th to 19th century manuscripts.
Father Stewart said Father Michaeel was able to save “really important patriarchal manuscripts” from the Chaldean Patriarchate in Baghdad that recently had lent their collection to him for digitizing.
The wave of townspeople, including Father Michaeel, walked 40 miles in scorching August heat to Irbil, capital of the Kurdish region of Iraq, carrying whatever they could, said Father Stewart, who remains in almost daily contact with the Iraqi priest.
Just hours before militants invaded, they were able to truck the manuscripts, leaving behind the laboratory and digitizing equipment that had been provided by funding through the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library.
Now, in addition to preserving the manuscripts, the priest and his community provide the lion’s share of care of the refugees’ suddenly fragile lives because so many lack any shelter and support, Father Stewart said.
Father Michaeel started collecting and preserving the nation’s cultural and religious heritage as recorded on the manuscripts in the 1980s.
He persuades manuscript owners, monasteries and churches to let him borrow their works to be cleaned and digitized; he then returns the restored originals and gives digitized copies to the owner and specialized archives.
The priest also built a collection of some 750 manuscripts from the Dominican community.
Father Stewart said the early European Dominicans in Iraq “were the first cultural anthropologists” in the area. “They described what they were seeing and left very interesting records,” he said, documenting “their work and the communities they ministered to.”
The Dominicans have been in Iraq for so long, “there’s a lot of depth” and history in the collection, Father Stewart said.
Luckily, Father Michaeel already had digitized the collections in the Mar Behnam Syriac Catholic Monastery, which is now behind the front lines of the militants and rumored to have been destroyed or burned down, Father Stewart said.
Father Michaeel and his staff of six to eight local Iraqis use a simple, inexpensive technique of photographing manuscript pages with a high-end 35mm camera and flash strobe lights for illumination. The digital images are stored on a hard drive, which is then sent to Collegeville.
Staff at the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library then makes multiple backups, organizes the data, catalogues it and puts it online for scholars, Father Stewart said.
All training, funding and equipment for Father Michaeel’s work come through the donations, grants and foundation money pulled together by Father Stewart.
Father Stewart said Father Michaeel and his restoration team have made digital copies of 5,000 manuscripts with the library’s support. “It’s amazing what they’re doing on their own,” he said.
They will be getting new equipment as they settle in Irbil, he said, with now a second exodus under their belt. They were uprooted from Mosul in 2008, when the entire Dominican community left, many for Qaraqosh, in the wake of mounting kidnappings and threats against religious.
Father Stewart said as the Iraqi people, especially Christians, continue to be pushed out of their homes and their country and settle elsewhere, their history and heritage gradually will be lost.
“These are communities that no longer exist” as the people have scattered and their traditions fade away, he said.
When communities disappear, their heritage goes with them, he added, so these manuscripts and documents will most likely end up being the only memories that survive.
Even though “they are digital surrogates, it’s not the best, but they are better than nothing,” he said.
The museum and its funders will continue to support the preservation work because, Father Stewart said, “it’s a tiny investment for such a huge boon of conserving cultural memory.”
23 October 2014
In the video above, Iraqi refugees pouring into Jordan describe their struggles. To offer support during these trying times, visit our giving page. (video: Rome Reports)
ISIS threatens Iraq’s cultural heritrage (CNN) Thousands of years before the birth of Christ, the people of Mesopotamia mastered the first writing system, mathematics, astronomy, literature and law. Iraq’s past, however, is threatened by the nightmare of its present. ISIS is not only at war with the Iraqi state, it’s also at war with Iraq’s very identity — blowing up religious shrines, slaughtering and enslaving minorities such as the Yazidis, Christians and Turkmen, and executing its enemies...
Airstrikes in Syria have killed more than 500 people (The Telegraph) A month of US-led air strikes on Syria has now killed more than 500 jihadists, according to activists monitoring the conflict. As allied jets continue to bombard positions of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) around the besieged Kurdish town of Kobane, the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights said it had recorded a total of 553 dead since the air raids started in late September. Of those 32 were civilians, including women and children — mainly in towns further south such as Raqqa, the de facto headquarters of Isil, and around other targets such as oilfields. But 464 members of ISIS had been killed, many around Kobane. The number is thought to include sizeable numbers of foreign fighters, including a number of Britons...
Gaza rebuilding slowed by delays (News24) Several dozen tons of cement bags stored in a warehouse are one of the few tangible achievements so far of a $2.7bn plan to rebuild war-wrecked Gaza Strip. The programme was launched with high expectations at an international conference in Cairo on 12 October, but has run into obstacles, including wrangling between the rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah for control in Gaza and what officials say has been a trickle of promised aid. Hardest hit by delays are tens of thousands of Gazans living in communal shelters or the ruins of their homes since the summer war between Israel and the Islamic militant Hamas destroyed or damaged some 100 000 homes...
As elections approach, Catholic leaders say they see a new Ukraine (CNS) The task of the Catholic Church is not only to teach people how to pray, but how to live authentically Christian lives, two leaders of the Ukrainian Catholic Church said. The church’s ministers also have an obligation to accompany, support and minister to their followers in the midst of strife and even danger, said Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, major archbishop of Kiev-Halych, and 81-year-old Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, the retired head of the church...
Can Christians celebrate Diwali? (Deseret News) With a South Asian population of about three million, there are significant Diwali celebrations going on throughout the U.S. this week. Local Hindu and Jain temples and Sikh gurudwaras will host Diwali celebrations featuring hundreds of lights and lanterns, Indian curries and festive music played on harmoniums (keyboard), tablas (drum) and tambours (a stringed instrument). For many Asian Indians living in the diaspora, Diwali is not only religious, but steeped in socio-cultural significance and celebrations of South Asian identity. With this in mind Pramod Aghamkar, Executive Director of Satsang Ministries, started celebrating “Christian Diwalis” a few yeas ago in Dayton, Ohio. The Christian Diwali in Dayton is an effort on his part to immerse himself in native Asian-Indian culture and add the concepts and ideologies of the Christian worldview...
Dunkin Donuts in India: chickpea, saffron and chili (The Atlantic) The globalized world may not be flat, but it is round. And also frosted. And also, it must be said, delicious. In 2012, Dunkin’ Donuts — that quintessentially American purveyor of that quintessentially American thing, larded sugar-dough — launched in India. The 34 stores that are now spread across the country sell many products that will be familiar to American consumers: coffee, bagels, sandwiches, and, yep, doughnuts. They also sell items that were formulated specifically for Indian consumers: veggie burgers, lychee coolattas, and spicy sandwiches. The menu deviates so far from U.S. stores’ traditional breakfast-y fare that, in India, the chain brands itself as “Dunkin’ Donuts and More”...
22 October 2014
Tags: Syria India Iraq Ukraine Gaza Strip/West Bank
A Kurdish refugee child from the Syrian town of Kobani sits in front of a tent on 18 October in a camp on the Turkey-Syria border. To help refugees like these, visit this link.
(photo: CNS /Kai Pfaffenbach, Reuters)