15 December 2016
Pope Francis kisses the foot of a refugee during Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper at the Center for Asylum Seekers in Castelnuovo di Porto, about 15 miles north of Rome on 24 March 2016. The pope washed and kissed the feet of refugees, including Muslims, Hindus and Copts.
(photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano, handout)
Pope Francis celebrates his 80th birthday this Saturday, 17 December, and it seems a good opportunity to take note of his profound commitment to the poor and suffering of the world — a commitment that became clear from the moment he took the name Francis. He described his choice of that name in his first homily as pope in 2013:
During the election, I was seated next to the archbishop emeritus of São Paolo and prefect emeritus of the Congregation for the Clergy, Cardinal Claudio Hummes: a good friend, a good friend! When things were looking dangerous, he encouraged me. And when the votes reached two thirds, there was the usual applause, because the pope had been elected. And he gave me a hug and a kiss, and said: ‘Don’t forget the poor!’ And those words came to me: the poor, the poor. Then, right away, thinking of the poor, I thought of Francis of Assisi. Then I thought of all the wars, as the votes were still being counted, till the end. Francis is also the man of peace. That is how the name came into my heart: Francis of Assisi. For me, he is the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation; these days we do not have a very good relationship with creation, do we? He is the man who gives us this spirit of peace, the poor man. ... How I would like a church that is poor and for the poor!
It was a theme he elaborated on just a few days later:
The church in every corner of the globe has always tried to care for and look after those who suffer from want, and I think that in many of your countries you can attest to the generous activity of Christians who dedicate themselves to helping the sick, orphans, the homeless and all the marginalized, thus striving to make society more humane and more just.
His search for a “more humane and more just” society has taken him to some of the most troubled corners of the world — and inspired dramatic gestures that still resonate. In 2014, the pontiff made his first trip to the Holy Land, where he repeatedly urged peace and dialogue among different faiths. At one point, in a historic and controversial move, he stopped his motorcade so he could pray at the Separation Wall:
It is an image that will define Pope Francis’s first official visit to the Holy Land. Head bowed in prayer, the leader of the Catholic church pressed his palm against the graffiti-covered concrete of Israel’s imposing “separation wall,” a Palestinian girl holding a flag by his side. It was, as his aides conceded later, a silent statement against a symbol of division and conflict.
His concern for the marginalized and suffering has also inspired Francis to become a leading voice in the world — perhaps the leading voice — crying out on behalf of refugees and displaced persons. In 2013, he wrote:
Migrants and refugees are not pawns on the chessboard of humanity. They are children, women and men who leave or who are forced to leave their homes for various reasons, who share a legitimate desire for knowing and having, but above all for being more. The sheer number of people migrating from one continent to another, or shifting places within their own countries and geographical areas, is striking. Contemporary movements of migration represent the largest movement of individuals, if not of peoples, in history. As the Church accompanies migrants and refugees on their journey, she seeks to understand the causes of migration, but she also works to overcome its negative effects, and to maximize its positive influence on the communities of origin, transit and destination.
Again and again across the first years of his pontificate, Pope Francis has heroically championed the poor, the displaced, the forgotten. He serves as an example to all of us at CNEWA — and to the rest of the world — of what we are called to be as Christians.
As he put it during a general audience in March of 2013:
Following Jesus means learning to come out of ourselves ... to meet others, to go toward the outskirts of existence, to be the first to take a step toward our brothers and our sisters, especially those who are the most distant, those who are forgotten, those who are most in need of understanding, comfort and help.
There is such a great need to bring the living presence of Jesus, merciful and full of love!
Happy birthday, Pope Francis. Ad multos annos!
15 December 2016
An Egyptian girl wants a closer look at Verbo Encarnado Sister María de la Santa Faz. The sister and her congregation serve some of the poorest of the poor outside Alexandria, Egypt. To learn more, read Building a Brighter Future from the November 2004 edition of ONE.
(photo: Mohammed El-Dakhakhny)
15 December 2016
A man carries a child with an IV drip on 12 December as he flees deeper into the remaining rebel-held areas of Aleppo, Syria. (photo: CNS/Abdalrhman Ismail, Reuters)
Evacuation effort in Aleppo restarts (The New York Times) A new effort to evacuate thousands of civilians and opposition fighters from the remaining rebel-held districts of the Syrian city of Aleppo started on Thursday, one day after a previous attempt collapsed amid fresh violence. Hundreds of families, including children and wounded adults, gathered in the rebel enclave with bags and blankets, while lines of ambulances and green buses crossed from the city’s government-held side to pick them up. Later in the day, the first wave of evacuees had reached Aleppo’s government-held side...
Imam offers personal condolences to Coptic Patriarch Tawadros (Fides) Sheikh Ahmed al Tayyib, Grand Imam of al-Azhar, led the high-level delegation of the largest Sunni theological center, who yesterday paid a visit at the headquarters of the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate to bring his condolences to Patriarch Tawadros II and of the whole Coptic Church, after the massacre carried out last Sunday in the chapel in Boutroseya next to the Coptic Cathedral of St. Mark...
New violence against Christians in India raising concerns (Fides) New violence against Christians, carried out in view of Christmas, cause concern in the Indian Christian community. According to information gathered by Fides, on 14 December a group of about 30 Hindu militants attacked a group of Catholic faithful in Tikariya, a village just outside the city of Banswara, in Rajasthan State, hitting the Catholic priest Stefphan Rawat, women and other Christians...
More young refugee girls being forced into marriage (International Business Times) Every year, hundreds of Syrian girls living in refugee camps across Lebanon are kidnapped and forced into marriage. This is the fate facing 13-year-old Manal, who was kidnapped from a refugee camp in the Bekaa valley nearly two months ago. Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have fled to Lebanon to escape violence after their country plunged into civil war in 2011. At present, Lebanon is hosting more than one million Syrian refugees, who hope to return to their homeland one day, or build a better life free from war and persecution in their host country...
Thousands rally in Gaza to mark founding of Hamas (Al Jazeera) Tens of thousands of Palestinians, including hundreds of gunmen and children waving mock weapons, rallied in Gaza celebrating the 29th anniversary of the founding of the Islamic group Hamas that rules the territory...
14 December 2016
Members of the special police forces stand guard to secure the area around the Coptic Orthodox cathedral complex on 11 December after an explosion inside the complex in Cairo. ISIS has now claimed responsibility for the attack, which killed at least 24 people.
(photo: CNS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany, Reuters)
Fierce shelling halts Aleppo evacuation (BBC) A deal to evacuate rebel fighters and civilians from eastern Aleppo has stalled, with heavy shelling reported in the Syrian city. A ceasefire was declared in Aleppo on Tuesday and buses brought in to ferry people out of the devastated enclave. But fighting resumed on Wednesday. Syrian activists also say air strikes over rebel-held territory have resumed...
ISIS claims credit for bombing of Coptic cathedral in Egypt (The Wall Street Journal) Islamic State claimed responsibility for a bombing that killed 24 people at Cairo’s main Coptic Christian cathedral this weekend, in what would be the first militant attack on a Christian house of worship in Egypt since 2011. It is the deadliest attack on civilians claimed by the terror group in Egypt since the October 2015 crash of a Russian passenger jet shortly after takeoff from the Red Sea resort city Sharm El Sheikh that killed all 224 people aboard...
AP: Life inside Mosul (AP) The Associated Press interviewed more than two dozen residents who have left Mosul since Iraqi troops began retaking outlying districts last month. They gave a glimpse into life in a place that has been virtually sealed off from the outside under the rule of the Islamic State group...
Soldiers raid agricultural lands in Gaza (International Middle East Media Center) Israeli forces, on Tuesday morning, leveled lands in the northern Gaza Strip, while opening fire on agricultural lands in the southern region of the coastal enclave, according to witnesses. Witnesses told Ma’an News agency that four Israeli bulldozers entered the northeastern Gaza Strip, from the Zekim military base, and leveled lands...
Russia’s Communist Party turns toward the Orthodox Church (Al Jazeera) More than 25 years after the Soviet collapse, the party vocally appeals to Orthodox Christianity, Russia’s dominant creed. The party’s sole post-Soviet chairman Gennady Zyuganov called Jesus “the first Communist” more than once...
Indian bishops launch new policy toward Dalits (Fides) To build a truly inclusive community is an ethical imperative: motivated by this intent the Indian Bishops’ Conference has launched a new policy of inclusion, support and development of Dalits, the poorest and marginalized sectors of Indian society. A document presented by Cardinal Baselios Cleemi, President of the Conference and, among others, by Archbishop Kuriakose Bharanikulangara and by Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, secretary general of the Conference, explain that this policy aims to be a step forward, to “eradicate the practices of untouchability and caste discrimination at all levels, improving the living conditions of the Dalits and especially accompanying the Dalit Christians who seek constitutional protection and justice from the state...”
13 December 2016
High school student Christopher O’Hara was so inspired by CNEWA’s work, he organized a fundraiser for us at a New York restaurant earlier this year. (photo: CNEWA)
One of the inspiring figures from CNEWA’s recent past just may be our youngest hero: a 17-year-old student from Long Island, Christopher O'Hara.
Hearing about the work we do, he wanted to help support our mission, and got an idea that he hoped would make a difference:
I am a junior in high school, and I came to be involved in CNEWA in a rather unusual way. I spent a month last summer in rural Tibet studying Chinese and living with a local family. When I returned home, I was looking forward to spending the rest of my summer reading at the beach. But on one of those first quiet days, I ended up having a long and detailed conversation with a good friend of my parents, who wanted to tell me about an incredible organization she had been involved with, CNEWA. Her enthusiasm was contagious. The more I listened, the more I thought this was something I needed to look into. I did some research on CNEWA, and I could not have been more impressed. My parents’ friend put me in contact with Lauren Lozano, a development associate at CNEWA.
In my conversations with Lauren and her colleagues Norma Intriago and Philip Eubanks, we discussed how someone in my position could raise awareness and funds for CNEWA. At the same time we were having these conversations, the refugee crisis in Syria and Iraq was exploding, and I thought the subsequent lack of international response was appalling. The professionals at CNEWA informed me of the real threat facing Christians in the Middle East, and I decided that my focus would be on their charitable operations in that region. I reached out to faculty and administration at my school, Chaminade High School, but I wanted to do more. It became clear that I should organize — with the help of my family and friends — a fundraising event. I told the people at CNEWA my idea, and we were off and running.
He ended up organizing a fundraiser at the renowned Gallagher’s Steakhouse in New York City last June. The event garnered some attention — and Chris even appeared on a local radio show to discuss his interest in CNEWA and how others can help.
As he put it during the interview: “People in need shouldn’t be a political issue. We’re all humans. When people are suffering, we have an obligation to help each other.”
We couldn’t agree more — and we remain grateful for so many like Chris O’Hara who are helping us to fulfill our mission: to “build up the church, affirm human dignity, alleviate poverty, encourage dialogue — and inspire hope.”
To learn more about what you can do, and how you can help, visit this link.
13 December 2016
A boat representing migrants is pictured in the Nativity scene in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on 9 December. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
The Vatican installed its annual Nativity scene in St. Peter’s Square last week, and the figures in the scene this year carry particular significance:
The Christmas tree and Nativity scene are symbols of God’s love and hope, reminding us to contemplate the beauty of creation and welcome the marginalized, Pope Francis said.
Baby Jesus, whose parents could find no decent shelter and had to flee persecution, is a reminder of the “painful experience” of so many migrants today, he said on 9 December, just before the Vatican Christmas tree was to be lit and its Nativity scene was to be unveiled.
Nativity scenes all over the world “are an invitation to make room in our life and society for God — hidden in the gaze of so many people” who are living in need, poverty or suffering, he told people involved in donating the tree and creche for St. Peter’s Square.
The northern Italian province of Trent donated the 82-foot-tall spruce fir, which was adorned with ceramic ornaments handmade by children receiving medical treatment at several Italian hospitals.
The 55-foot-wide Nativity scene was donated by the government and Archdiocese of Malta. It features 17 figures dressed in traditional Maltese attire as well as replica of a Maltese boat to represent the seafaring traditions of the island.
The boat also represents “the sad and tragic reality of migrants on boats headed toward Italy,” the pope said in his speech in the Vatican’s Paul VI hall.
“In the painful experience of these brothers and sisters, we revisit that (experience) of baby Jesus, who at the time of his birth did not find accommodation and was born in a grotto in Bethlehem and then was brought to Egypt to escape Herod's threat.”
“Those who visit this creche will be invited to rediscover its symbolic value, which is a message of fraternity, sharing, welcoming and solidarity,” the pope said.
The Nativity scene and tree will remain on display until 9 January, the Feast of the Baptism of Jesus.
13 December 2016
A nun cries as she stands inside St. Mark's Coptic Orthodox Cathedral on 11 December after an explosion inside the cathedral complex in Cairo. (photo: CNS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh, Reuters)
Egypt mourns victims of attacks on cathedral (Reuters) Mourners packed an Egyptian church on Monday for a funeral service for 25 people killed in the bombing of Cairo’s main Coptic cathedral, while angry survivors accused authorities of security lapses. Tearful Christians gathered at the Virgin Mary and St. Athanasius Church in Cairo where Coptic Pope Tawadros II prayed over the wooden coffins of the victims of Sunday’s bombing, one the deadliest attacks on the Christian minority in recent memory. On the walls hung banners bearing the names of the dead, many of them women...
Egypt’s Christians pray for peace (Catholic Register) With 25 dead and as many as 21 of the 45 injured in hospital, victims of a suicide bomber at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Cairo, Egypt’s Christians are praying for the unity and peace of their nation, a Catholic pastor in Egypt’s Christian heartland told The Catholic Register...
Pope sends letter to Syria’s President Assad (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has sent a letter to the President of Syria, Bashar al-Assad, through Cardinal Mario Zenari, Apostolic Nuncio to Syria, appealing for “an end to the violence and the peaceful resolution of hostilities” in the country...
U.N. says 35,000 children have fled Mosul (AP) The U.N. children’s agency said Tuesday that about 35,000 children have fled from Mosul since Iraqi forces and a U.S.-led coalition launched a massive operation in mid-October to retake the city from the Islamic State group. Iraqi special forces meanwhile pushed deeper into the city’s eastern part, retaking the Falah neighboring late Monday, said Lt. Gen. Abdul-Wahab al-Saadi. Fighting raged as a haze of fog and smoke hovered over the city, which was rocked by tank fire and airstrikes...
Pope sends message to migration and development forum (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has sent a message to participants in the Global Forum on Migration and Development, which took place in Dhaka, Bangladesh. In the message, sent through the Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin and published in the Osservatore Romano, the Holy Father “encourages governments and regional political authorities to confront the crisis provoked by the mass movement of people”...
World needs politics of peace, pope says (CNS) Calling for a new style of politics built on peace and nonviolence, Pope Francis also called for disarmament, the eradication of nuclear weapons and an end to domestic violence and abuse against women and children. “Violence is not the cure for our broken world,” he said in his annual message for the World Day of Peace on 1 January...
7 December 2016
Msgr. John E. Kozar speaks during an interfaith forum on the crisis for Christians in the Middle East at the Sheen Center in New York City on 5 December. (photo: CNS/Gregory A. Shemitz)
CNEWA’s President Msgr. John E. Kozar was one of several prominent leaders of different faiths — including CNEWA’s chair, New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan — who gathered in New York Monday night to discuss some of the threats facing Christians in the Middle East.
As CNS reports:
Christians in the Middle East face extinction because of genocide, wars and international indifference to their plight, according to panelists at a 5 December interfaith forum in New York.
A concerted multilateral effort to establish a safe haven for them while rebuilding their devastated homelands is preferable to massive permanent resettlement to other countries, including the United States, they said.
Twelve speakers at the Sheen Center for Thought & Culture event explored “The Crisis for Christians in the Middle East,” with a particular focus on vulnerable Christian minorities in Syria and Iraq.
...Msgr. John E. Kozar, president of Catholic Near East Welfare Association, said his organization works with the Eastern churches throughout the Middle East, an area not fully understood or appreciated by those in the Latin church. The charitable and health care efforts particularly by women religious in largely Muslim areas have been well-received, and Christians and others have gotten along well, he said. Nonetheless, there is much outright suffering and persecution, he said.
“Syria is an absolute mess, but the church is still there,” Msgr. Kozar said. Lebanon is at or close to capacity with refugees. Jordan has the greatest concentration of refugees in the world, but its camps are plagued with extortion and a gangland mentality. Christians are considered third-class citizens in Egypt and still suffer reprisals after the ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood. Christians in Kurdistan and Iraq face different challenges.
“We are accompanying Christians who believe that somehow Our Lord will accompany and sustain them. We try to bring a reasonable stability,” he said.
Msgr. Kozar and other speakers underscored the deep historic and cultural connection of the Christians to their lands. “There is a tug of war between the goodwill of people here in the West who want to welcome and adopt (the refugees) and presume it’s best to extract them from where they are, and the church leaders and most of the people who want to stay” in the region and return to their countries when it is safe to do so, Msgr. Kozar said. “Family, faith, and church are connected.”
New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan holds an icon of the 21 Coptic Martyrs of Libya as he speaks during an interfaith forum on the crisis for Christians in the Middle East at the Sheen Center in New York City on 5 December. (photo: CNS/Gregory A. Shemitz)
Cardinal Dolan offered the impassioned closing remarks:
“All of you,” he told those assembled, “have helped me keep a very solemn promise.” As archbishop of New York, he explained, many of his brother bishops from the Middle East frequently visit him, as do priests, religious women and men and lay faithful from those persecuted lands. And he himself, he added, has been honored to visit them in countries such as Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.
His brother bishops, he said, plead with him, “‘Please don’t forget us. We feel alone. We are desperate. We feel isolated.’
“And over and over again,” he continued, “I whisper to them, ‘We will not forget you; I promise.’”
“You have helped me keep that same promise, that we will not forget,” he told the preeminent group of scholars, civic officials, religious leaders and representatives of humanitarian organizations, as well as symposium participants.
“We have a God who is calling us to a sense of justice, we have a God who is calling us to advocacy and charity,” the cardinal said. “These people we can’t forget, my dear friends. They look to us as believers, they look to us as Americans.”
NET-TV from the Diocese of Brooklyn also covered the event. Check out the video report below.
7 December 2016
In this image from November, men walk in rubble near St. Mary’s Catholic Church and St. Elias Orthodox Church after a bombing in Damascus, Syria. An interfaith panel in New York this week explored how Christians in the Middle East are facing threats from war, indifference and genocide.
(photo: CNS/Mohammed Badra, EPA)
Syrian rebels reportedly withdraw from old city (BBC) Syrian rebels have left the last areas they held in Aleppo’s old city, while calling for a five-day truce to allow the evacuation of civilians. Activist monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the pull-back in Syria’s second city came after days of heavy fighting...
Large Syrian refugee population in Lebanon sparks social tensions (Voice of America) The United Nations has launched a four-year crisis response plan for Lebanon it hopes will maintain stability and prevent an internal conflict from breaking out. It is appealing for $2.8 billion to get humanitarian and stabilization support programs underway in 2017. The United Nations does not believe Lebanon is on the brink of collapse but it warns there is a danger the country could implode if the Syrian refugee crisis is not well managed...
Panel: wars, indifference, genocide imperil Mideast Christians (CNS) Christians in the Middle East face extinction because of genocide, wars and international indifference to their plight, according to panelists at a 5 December interfaith forum in New York. A concerted multilateral effort to establish a safe haven for them while rebuilding their devastated homelands is preferable to massive permanent resettlement to other countries, including the United States, they said...
ISIS launches overnight attack against Iraqi troops in Mosul (AP) Iraq special forces captured a new neighborhood Wednesday from the Islamic State group in eastern Mosul, according to a senior commander — the latest gain in a massive military operation now its seventh week. The commander of a joint operations center that oversees the Mosul campaign, Lt. Gen. Abdul-Amir Yarellah, said in a statement that troops had “fully liberated” the al-Elam neighborhood and raised the Iraqi flag over its buildings. Yarellah added that IS militants “suffered losses” without elaborating...
Gaza doctors launch appeal to save children (Al Jazeera) With Gaza’s blackouts lasting 16 hours a day, hospitals have had to resort to using electrical generators. But fuel to operate the generators is increasingly scarce and expensive, posing an intractable challenge...
6 December 2016
A gift from the Catholicos Patriarch llia II of the Orthodox Church of Georgia, this 18th-century Russian icon of St. Nicholas hangs in CNEWA’s New York offices.
Today, the universal church celebrates the feast of St. Nicholas. Several years ago, CNEWA’s Michael J.L. La Civita paid tribute to this beloved saint:
Nowhere is the universal nature of St. Nicholas’s popularity more apparent than in the southern Italian city of Bari. In early May I traveled to this bustling port, the capital of Puglia, an agricultural region hugging the Adriatic coast. While traveling through the region I observed bands of nomads, grasping decorated staffs and burdened with backpacks. When I mistook them for Albanian refugees, my traveling companion informed me that these travelers were making an annual pilgrimage to Bari. There, on 9 May, in an impressive medieval basilica that bears his name, the church celebrates the “translation” of the relics of St. Nicholas to Bari.
According to tradition, Nicholas was born in the mid-third century to a wealthy Christian couple in Patara, a town near the southern shores of Asia Minor (modern Turkey). After the premature death of his parents, Nicholas gave up his wealth and entered a monastery, later traveling to Egypt and the Holy Land. He returned to his monastery, hoping to live quietly as a hermit. However, against his will, he was elected as Bishop of Myra, a small town near Patara.
Although little else is known about Nicholas, his popularity rests on his compassion for the poor and his passion for the faith.
“The reason for this special veneration of this special bishop, who left neither theological works nor other writings,” writes Leonid Ouspensky, a noted Russian theologian, “is evidently that the church sees in him a personification of a shepherd, of its defender and intercessor.”
One of the most powerful stories reveals Nicholas’s compassion for the poor. There were three young girls whose father had lost his fortune and, consequently,
their dowries. Due to their poverty, the girls were ignored by all the eligible men. Moved by their plight, Nicholas, under the cover of darkness, went to the man’s home and dropped a bag of gold through an open window. Finding the gold the following morning, the man was overwhelmed and, thanking God, married off his eldest girl.
Several nights later, Nicholas secretly deposited a second bag of gold. Dumbfounded, the man used it for his second daughter’s dowry.
The man, however, was determined to identify his benefactor and waited for the unknown person’s appearance. Again, under the cover of darkness, Nicholas left yet another sum of gold. Hearing a thump, the man rose to his feet and caught up with his mysterious benefactor, whom he recognized immediately. Nicholas demanded silence, binding the man to an oath never to reveal his identity.
St. Nicholas’s generous spirit continues to inspire countless people around the world (where do you think we get the idea of Santa Claus?) and his compassion toward the poor and needy also animates our work here at CNEWA. May he continue to enliven our hearts during this special time of year — and always!