14 November 2019
Iraqi demonstrators carry a wounded man during ongoing anti-government protests in Baghdad on 14 November 2019. (photo: CNS/Alaa al-Marjani, Reuters)
Protests have erupted across Iraq, sparking turmoil and uncertainty in a country already suffering from the aftershocks of ISIS. And the toll of the injured and dead keeps rising.
Time magazine reports:
Iraqi protesters draped in their country’s flag have been taking part in demonstrations since 1 October that have left at least 319 people dead and at least 8,000 injured according to the U.N.
Many of the protesters wear face masks and helmets in the hope that this will protect them from security forces’ use of live bullets, tear gas, stun grenades and sound bombs to disperse the crowds of mostly young protesters. But many have been injured and hundreds of families are left searching for their injured loved ones in hospitals. Activists and physicians have been killed or kidnapped while giving aid to the demonstrators in Baghdad, Iraq’s capital.
Tens of thousands of demonstrators have marched over the past six weeks and the protests have spread across the country. Dr Renad Mansour, a Middle East and North Africa Research Fellow at London-based think tank Chatham House describes the protests as “one of the largest grassroots political mobilizations.” Many Iraqis are frustrated that they are without clean water and electricity, despite the country having large oil reserves. Angered by the lack of jobs and basic public services, many protesters say corruption is to blame; money is being placed in the hands of the few, rather than the many, according to Mansour. Violence quickly became part of the equation, as protesters were met with lethal force by security forces.
13 November 2019
Six members of the Carmelite order have joined the Gospel Journey Campaign that started in January 2018 in India. Pictured are Sisters Ginsa Rose, Princy Maria, Ann Ligy, Therese, Little Therese and Treasa Margret. (photo: CNS/Philip Mathew, Global Sisters Report)
Meeting with two Catholic nuns who were on a journey to spread the Gospel proved a turning point in the life of Mohan Kumar, a Hindu man in southern India’s Kerala state.
Sisters Little Therese and Treasa Margret of the Congregation of the Mother of Carmel had gone to the 45-year-old alcoholic’s house as part of their Gospel Journey Campaign for spreading Jesus’ message and values to people of different faiths.
A week later, the nuns received a call from Kumar’s wife that her husband had stopped drinking and was acting more loving and kind to the family.
“We thanked God for the miraculous change in Kumar’s life and told the wife that we will continue to pray for her family,” Little Therese, 52, told Global Sisters Report.
For nearly two years, the Carmelite sisters have been on this journey of what they say is “radiating Gospel values on foot as Jesus did.” They walk with few possessions, expecting to live among people struggling with worldly and spiritual needs, in the pattern of Christ and his disciples.
Until May, the sisters, who go only by one or two given names, will be walking in the northeastern-most Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. From there they will go to the western Indian state of Maharashtra and one day hope to visit Mideastern and Asian nations.
The two nuns launched the campaign in Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese in early 2018 and visited Kumar, his wife and their two children at their home.
Sister Margret, 44, said they have many stories of alcoholics quitting their addictions to return to normal life, bringing joy to their families.
She recalled Kumar’s wife sharing many family problems during their talks. Her main worry was her husband’s heavy drinking, which consumed all his earnings.
“We tried to convince Kumar about the need for quitting drinking and taking care of his family. With the permission of the family, we also prayed in their house,” Sister Margret said.
The two nuns walk through towns and villages to evangelize, share the Gospel and teach Scripture among the most marginalized people of all religions. They include unorganized agricultural workers, low-wage urban laborers, the unemployed and tribal (Dalit) people in what was formerly India’s lowest caste.
They were joined in April 2018 by Carmelite Sisters Ginsa Rose, 51, and Therese, 43, and in January this year by Sisters Princy Maria, 55, and Ann Ligy, 60.
“We walk in pairs and talk to poor and marginalized people,” said Sister Little Therese. They also meet people who hang around in public places or sit in groups at coffee shops and share with them the Gospel and Jesus’ love.
Sister Little Therese said they have not faced any major challenges or obstacles during the campaign, although Hindu extremists opposed to Christianity have become more active in Kerala these days.
“Before we started the campaign, we had decided that, if any challenges or obstacles come our way, we would accept them with joy and go forward with courage,” she said as the other nuns nodded.
The people the nuns visit have only good words for them.
“I felt overwhelmed when the sisters shared the messages from the Bible and gave us a prayer card,” Sanjeev Rajan, 37, an auto-rickshaw driver, told Global Sisters Report.
He said the auto-rickshaw drivers are “very ordinary people” who were moved when the nuns spoke to them and prayed for them and their families.
Sister Little Therese said they follow Jesus’ command to his disciples when he sent them to villages in pairs.
“We carry a bag for keeping some essential things for daily use. We never carry any money or food. We survive with what people give us,” she added.
She said they take a two-day break during the week and spend the time in a nearby convent to pray and meditate and review their work. While traveling, they stay in homes that welcome them and eat what is given to them.
Once they are in a new region, Sister Margret said, they never use public or private transportation to move from one place to another.
“We go everywhere on foot, come rain or shine,” she said, and added, “God has been so gracious and merciful to us. None of us has fallen ill or felt tired of walking.”
Sister Ligy, a former teacher and the oldest of the six nuns, told Global Sisters Report she has a walking problem, “but that hasn’t stopped me from the campaign. I always felt that God is guiding me and giving me strength.”
The nuns make it a point to get the family’s permission before they pray for them.
“Once we visited a Muslim house. The mother insisted that we pray for them since she believes that Allah will listen to the prayers of people with pure hearts,” Sister Therese recalled.
According to their superior general, Sister Sibi, the vision of the campaign is based on the verse from the Gospel of St. Luke, “to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
The congregation’s general council and Cardinal George Alencherry, major archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church, have approved the campaign.
After the campaign completed its first year in January, Cardinal Alencherry hailed the nuns for doing “amazing work.” He told them that more sisters from other congregations also want to join the campaign.
Archbishop George Njaralakatt of Tellicherry said the nuns on the Gospel campaign are role models for others. He said he prayed that more sisters will follow the six original travelers to reach out to people who have never known Jesus or the Gospel.
8 November 2019
Tags: India Sisters
Muslims and Christians listen to a presentation on 7 November 2019, during “The Sultan and the Saint: The Spiritual Journey of Transformative Encounter” conference at The Catholic University of America in Washington. (photo: CNS/Tyler Orsburn)
Eight centuries ago, St. Francis of Assisi took a risk when he crossed the battlefield between Crusader and Muslim forces near Damietta, Egypt, desiring to meet Sultan al-Malik al-Kamil and preach his faith in Jesus Christ.
At the time, 1219, Christian forces were in the midst of the Fifth Crusade, which was eventually repelled by the sultan’s superior army near the town that was a center of trade and commerce on the Nile River where it flows into the Mediterranean Sea.
The future saint readily put his life on the line so he could witness his faith to the famed Muslim sultan, and in doing so both men came away with a new respect for the faith of the other, the Rev. Michael Calabria told a conference on that encounter with “the other” on 7 November at The Catholic University of America in Washington.
Early retellings of the meeting describe al-Kamil as willingly listening to St. Francis as he preached and being a gracious host, said Father Calabria, director of the Center for Arab and Islamic Studies at St. Bonaventure University in New York.
The future saint witnessed peacefully and his subsequent writings reveal the meeting had a profound impact on his life, the priest told participants in the event titled “The Sultan and the Saint: The Spiritual Journey of Transformative Encounter.”
Other accounts of the meeting written years later by Franciscans and others describe a more “disputant” St. Francis, attempting to convert al-Kamil to Catholicism, he said, even though there is no evidence of such a strong stance by the saint.
While the sultan did not relinquish his Islamic faith, he asked his Italian visitor to pray for him so that he would follow God more closely, Father Calabria said.
In setting the scene for such an unlikely meeting, Lev Weitz, associate professor of history and director of Islamic world studies at The Catholic University of America, described how St. Francis would not have been much of an anomaly to al-Kamil, an educated man who appreciated cultural exchanges.
Damietta was not a city isolated from the world. As a major port, merchants from Africa, Asia and Europe -- the Italian city-states in particular -- passed through continuously, Weitz said. That means Latin-rite Catholics from Europe would hardly be an unusual site among the majority Muslim population.
Beyond trade, the eastern Mediterranean region experienced widespread intellectual and cultural exchanges in the 11th through 13th centuries and al-Kamil’s court likely would have encountered people of various backgrounds, Weitz explained. Throughout the region, even worship sites were shared by members of both religions, he added.
So when Francis crossed the battlefield and was taken to al-Kamil by his troops, it was an opportunity for both men to learn from each other.
Undertaking such an encounter, it’s unlikely St. Francis could have predicted his visit “would have been so inspirational to the people of today,” said Imam Mohamed Bashar Arafat, president of the Civilizations Exchange and Cooperation Foundation, in Columbia, Maryland.
“To me St. Francis’ mission was a sacred mission for every Muslim, every Christian, every human being, religious or nonreligious. It is a story of reaching out to the other for the sake of peace, reconciliation and harmony,” Arafat told the conference.
St. Francis’ example is an invitation to people today to leave their “comfort zone and accept the challenges” presented in life, to move beyond hatred and violence to achieve peace, he said.
Likewise, the custos of the Holy Land, Franciscan Rev. Francesco Patton, told the conference St. Francis’ meeting with the sultan was “so important and significant for him and for us that in his writings after 1220 we find everywhere echoes and traces of the journey.”
He pointed to how Francis reminds the faithful that “(we are) not to make quarrels or disputes, to be subjects and subject to every human creature for the love of God, confessing to be Christians.”
In addition, he said, “we must be at the service of all for the love of God and it is essential to have a very clear Christian identity.”
With such practices in mind, the Custody of the Holy Land that Father Patton oversees, continues ongoing collaboration through schools in which thousands of Christian and Muslim children are enrolled, cooperative programs for peace and service to migrants and refugees. Father Patton said such endeavors keep alive the memory of the historic encounter of cultures.
“The meeting at Damietta reminds us of how barren both the use of violence and how illusory is victory obtained by force, how fragile is any peace obtained with the defeat of the enemy,” the custos said.
Pope Francis has repeatedly recalled the meeting himself. The dialogue that emerged between a poor Christian and a Muslim leader can serve as an example of the fraternity of humanity, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, papal nuncio to the United States, told participants.
St. Francis went across the war zone in an attempt to encounter the other, he said, and Pope Francis invites the faithful to encounter others unlike them in the same spirit.
“We know the history, but we have a tendency to forget about that,” he said.
“Francis came not as an ideologue, but as a missionary with a message of peace,” he added. “He did not try to force the sultan to believe, rather his approach was to propose Jesus. The church must recognize that the faith can only be proposed. It can never be imposed.”
Similarly, Archbishop Pierre continued, Pope Francis has emulated the saint in stressing the fraternity of the human family throughout his papacy in the documents he has promulgated and the interreligious outreach he has undertaken.
In particular, Pope Francis’ meeting with Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, the grand imam of al-Azhar, in the United Arab Emirates in February was noteworthy for the declaration both men signed to promote human fraternity and respect, he said.
“He sees human fraternity as a path for peace and mutual understanding in our world, a true force for good.”
Watch a video about the conference below.
7 November 2019
Tags: Muslim Interfaith
Pope Francis meets with members of the Social Justice and Ecology Secretariat of the Society of Jesus in the Vatican's Clementine Hall on 7 November 2019.
(photo: CNS/Vatican Media)
At a time when “situations of injustice and human pain” seem to be growing around the globe, Christians are called to “accompany the victims, to see in their faces the face of our crucified Lord,” Pope Francis said.
The pope spoke about the Gospel call to work for justice on 7 November when he met with about 200 people, Jesuits and their collaborators, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Jesuits’ Social Justice and Ecology Secretariat.
Listing examples of places where Catholics are called to work for justice and for the safeguarding of creation, Pope Francis spoke about “a Third World War being fought in pieces,” human trafficking, the growing “expressions of xenophobia and the selfish search for national interests,” and the inequality between and within nations, which seem to be “growing without finding a remedy.”
Then there is the fact that “never have we so hurt and mistreated our common home as we have in the last 200 years,” he said, and that environmental destruction impacts the world’s poorest people most of all.
From the beginning, St. Ignatius of Loyola intended the Society of Jesus to defend and spread the faith and to help the poor, Pope Francis said. In establishing the Social Justice and Ecology Secretariat 50 years ago, the Rev. Pedro Arrupe, then superior general, “intended to strengthen it.”
Father Arrupe’s “contact with human pain,” the pope said, convinced him that God was close to those who suffer and was calling all Jesuits to incorporate the quest for justice and peace into their ministries.
For Father Arrupe and for Catholics today, attention to society’s “discarded ones” and the struggle against the “throwaway culture” must be born of prayer and fortified by it, Pope Francis said. “Father Pedro always believed that the service of faith and the promotion of justice could not be separated: they were radically united. For him, all the ministries of the society had to respond, at the same time, to the challenge of proclaiming the faith and promoting justice. What until then had been a commission for some Jesuits should become everyone’s concern.”
Pope Francis said that when contemplating Jesus’ birth, St. Ignatius encouraged people to imagine that they were there as a lowly servant, helping the Holy Family in the poverty of the stable.
“This active contemplation of God, of God excluded, helps us discover the beauty of every marginalized person,” the pope said. “In the poor, you have found a privileged place of encounter with Christ. That is a precious gift in the life of the follower of Jesus: to receive the gift of meeting him among the victims and the impoverished.”
Pope Francis encouraged the Jesuits and their collaborators to continue to see Jesus in the poor and to listen to them humbly and serve them any way they can.
“Our broken and divided world needs to build bridges,” he said, so that people can “discover in the least ones the beautiful face of a brother or sister in whom we recognize ourselves, and whose presence, even without words, demands our care and our solidarity.”
While individual care for the poor is essential, a Christian cannot overlook structural “social evils” that create suffering and keep people poor, he said. “Hence the importance of the slow work of transforming structures through participation in public dialogue where decisions are made.”
“Our world is in need of transformations that protect life that is threatened and defend the weakest,” he said. The task is enormous and can cause people to despair.
But, the pope said, the poor themselves can show the way. They often are the ones who continue to trust and hope and organize to improve their lives and that of their neighbors.
A Catholic social apostolate should try to solve problems, Pope Francis said, but, above all, it should encourage hope and promote “processes that help people and communities to grow, that lead them to be aware of their rights, to use their abilities and to create their own future.”
6 November 2019
Tags: Pope Francis Poor/Poverty
In April 2016, students participated in adoration at the Al Bishara School in Ain Kawa, Iraq.
(photo: John E. Kozar/CNEWA)
5 November 2019
Tags: Iraq Iraqi Christians
Ethiopian Cardinal Berhaneyesus Souraphiel is seen at the headquarters of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington last month. (photo: CNS/Tyler Orsburn)
Ethiopia is now managing nearly a million refugees from South Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea, Sudan, Yemen and even Syria, said Ethiopian Cardinal Berhaneyesus Souraphiel. Because so many Ethiopians are refugees, those who remain in the country work to make newcomers feel welcome.
The cardinal, who visited Washington in late October, said his country had been “a country of hospitality, a country of open doors to migrants and refugees who suffer in other parts of the world. And if a poor country shares meager resources she has with migrants and refugees, how much more should the richer countries (do). Because one day, you might be a refugee or a migrant yourself.”
“I was surprised when I saw Syrian refugees in Addis Ababa and Ethiopia,” he added. “I don’t know how they arrived, the mothers arrived from Syria, and they have written on their chests in Amharic …’We are Syrians, we have come from Syria, please help us.’“
In separate interviews with Catholic News Service and with Catholic Standard, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Washington, Cardinal Souraphiel told of how the church is helping refugees and how the country’s poverty is forcing you people to emigrate from their homeland.
Souraphiel said the church is his country “is very much open to receive the refugees.” He said besides the Ethiopian Catholic Secretariat, the church works with international agencies such as Jesuit Refugee Service, Catholic Near East Welfare Association, Caritas and affiliated agencies such as the U.S. bishops’ Catholic Relief Services. Sisters of the Missionaries of Charity especially help with trauma counseling, he said.
When refugees arrive, church workers want “to let them know that they are welcomed” and get them registered with the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR. If refugees register with a parish, they have access to Catholic education and Catholic health services.
“Ethiopians themselves are refugees in other countries in some areas. So they know the need of refugees,” he said. Ethiopians “have sympathy and empathy for refugees and also people on the move.
“They never had grudges with refugees, and that is why I think Ethiopia is blessed by the Lord.”
Part of what drives young people to become refugees is poverty, and that is the biggest challenge facing the church, the cardinal said.
“We live with the poor and we stay with them. Wherever they are, we try to be the voice of the disadvantaged, the displaced people,” he said. The church especially tries to help “abandoned children, and also mothers who suffer because of the big burden of taking care of the family, which they bring with them when they migrate from their own villages to the cities.”
As of May, more than 2.8 million Ethiopians were displaced within their country. As of 2018, Ethiopia’s unemployment rate was more than 19 percent.
Economic growth on the national level “might not trickle down to the poor,” so millions of unemployed young people — including those with college degrees — want “to go abroad, especially to the Arab world and to South Africa and to Europe.”
“Their aspiration is to escape the networks of poverty and change their own individual lives and the lives of their family members,” he said. And although many do, the majority struggle. They may end up abused, and many return home.
Church leaders try to encourage people to have hope, “especially the youth,” and they work with them to try to find employment within the country.
The cardinal said he is disturbed when he hears of Europeans closing their borders.
“This is not biblical; it’s not Christian,” he said.
He noted that the United States also is also a country of migrants and refugees.
“This has been what has made America a special country … to be a home for persecuted persons or for persons who looked for refuge from violence in their own countries,” he said.
He said Christians and Muslims were very moved when, in March, Pope Francis kissed the feet of politicians from South Sudan.
“Each politician whose feet was kissed — behind him are millions of refugees,” he said. The gesture was “to prick their conscience, to say to them, ‘You are responsible for the suffering of millions of mothers and children and elders because of, say, love of wealth and political power.”
“He did that just by bending down and kissing the feet, not by many other words.
“If you ask me to bend down and kiss your feet I might try, but I don’t know if I will get up,” the 71-year-old said, laughing. “He, at 82 years old … they gave him some help … is able to do that.”
Cardinal Berhaneyesus Souraphiel visited the New York offices of CNEWA last week.
4 November 2019
Tags: Ethiopia Refugees
A child in Ethiopia peers out from beside a handful of khat, the popular but addictive crop that is causing widespread problems in the country. Read how some families are Breaking Free of the drug, with help from the church, in the current edition of ONE. (photo: Petterik Wiggers)
31 October 2019
Sister Marie-Therese and Sister Muntaha Hadaya visit a family who returned to Qaraqosh, Iraq, two years ago, after fleeing ISIS. Catholic and Orthodox patriarchs this week pressed the importance of preserving the Christian presence in the Middle East. (photo: CNEWA/Raed Rafei)
Syrian-born Catholic and Orthodox patriarchs pressed the need to preserve the Christian presence in the Middle East during a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
The patriarchs -- Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan, Melkite Patriarch Joseph Absi, Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II and Greek Orthodox Patriarch John X of Antioch -- met with Peter Szijarto, Hungary’s foreign minister, in addition to Putin and Orban during their official visit to the Hungarian capital 29-10 October.
In a speech to Szijarto, Patriarch Absi said the exodus of Christians from the Palestinian Territories, Lebanon, Iraq, and most recently Syria, has become “an alarming issue” for Christian leaders.
“The failure of different groups to live together in harmony in Middle Eastern countries is a threat to convivial relations between different groups all over the world,” he said.
“Failure to help the Middle-East to remain an oasis for different religions to live peacefully together will set a dangerous historical precedent,” Patriarch Absi warned. “Soon, similar conflicts will start to take shape in different places of the world.”
The patriarch stressed that the Christian presence in the Middle East “gives us a special role regarding our Muslim compatriots: that of witnessing the Gospel through a commitment to the service of all, whether in our schools, our hospitals, our centers for the elderly or our orphanages.”
He praised “the courage of the Hungarian position against immigration,” citing in particular the government’s Hungary Helps program, which has benefitted war-torn Syrian communities.
While the churches in the Middle East are trying to encourage Christians to stay in their homelands, Patriarch Absi said, “this is a mission that needs the work of governments because the needs are truly big and go beyond the capacity of the church.”
“What we need is countries with a similar vision to Hungary and Russia,” Patriarch Absi said. “That is, to help people the way they want to be helped rather than to change entire countries to befit political agendas.”
Patriarch Absi continued, “We hope that other countries will follow their example and encourage Christians to stay. This can be done by the lifting of economic sanctions, putting an end to the embargo, and by helping to achieve lasting peace. The Russian Federation and Hungary can have an impact on the international community; they can show other countries the way to achieve peace and how to safeguard nations in conflict.”
In a news conference on 30 October with Putin, Orban said that Hungary and Russia have a shared interest in stopping migration and achieving stability in the Middle East.
29 October 2019
Tags: Syria Iraq Orthodox Persecution
Filipino members of the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate harvest olives in the Garden of Gethsemane in Jerusalem on 19 October 2019. Catholic nuns, locals and international volunteers gathered to pick olives that will be made into liturgy oil used during the Chrism mass on Maundy Thursday in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. (photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)
25 October 2019
Ethiopian Cardinal Berhaneyesus Demerew Souraphiel stopped by our New York office Friday afternoon for a visit. He’s pictured in the center with (from l-r) the Rev. Abayneh Gebremichael, who leads the Ethiopian Catholic community in Washington; and CNEWA staff members Greg Kandra, Thomas Vargehese, Noel Selegzi, Haimdat Sawh and Christopher Kennedy. (photo: CNEWA)
Tags: Ethiopia CNEWA