29 January 2018
Religious sisters pray inside St. Thomas Church in Palakkad, India. Read about the priest who serves the parish in A Day in the Life of a Priest in Kerala in the December 2017 edition of ONE.
(photo: Don Duncan)
26 January 2018
Palestinian children play in the Al-Shati refugee camp in Gaza City on 15 January.
(photo: CNS/Mohammed Salem, Reuters)
The U.S. suspension of $65 million in aid to the U.N. agency that deals with Palestinian refugees alarmed advocates who work with Palestinians living in camps.
Hilary DuBose, country representative to the Palestinian territories for the U.S. bishops’ Catholic Relief Services, said her agency is “deeply concerned about the impact such a dramatic cut in aid will have.”
The agency, UNRWA, “is one of the major providers of critical, basic life-sustaining support services — including food assistance, education, health care, sanitation management — in the refugee camps. These needs exist.”
Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, said cutting the aid to refugee assistance would be inhumane.
“We have visited the refugee camps in Gaza and, even with the assistance they receive, they live very meager and undignified lives,” said Bishop Cantu, who was participating in the Hispanic Bishops’ Pilgrimage for Peace in the Holy Land. “The separation wall has already devastated their economy. Able-bodied Palestinians who would want to work and are trying to work can’t find sufficient work to support their families. It would be absolutely inhumane to cut the aid.”
He added that politicians must move away from taking offense at the words they say to one another and move toward thinking what is best for humanity.
U.S. President Donald Trump has expressed frustration with the lack of movement in Mideast peace. Early in January, Trump blamed the Palestinians and threatened to cut U.S. funding. Later, the U.S. government suspended a $65 million payment to UNRWA, which serves more than 5 million Palestinian refugees and their descendants scattered across the Middle East.
On 25 January, Trump said the Palestinians must return to peace talks to receive U.S. aid money.
Sean Callahan, president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services, and Giulia McPherson, interim executive director of Jesuit Refugee Service/USA, were among advocates who signed a 24 January letter from humanitarian aid groups. The letter, spearheaded by Refugees International and Norwegian Refugee Council, objected to the withdrawal of U.S. funds. It was addressed to U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson; Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis; Nikki Haley, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations; and Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, national security adviser.
“We are deeply concerned by the humanitarian consequences of this decision on life-sustaining assistance to children, women and men in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the West Bank and Gaza Strip,” the groups said in their letter. “Whether it is emergency food aid, access to primary health care, access to primary education, or other critical support to vulnerable populations, there is no question that these cuts, if maintained, will have dire consequences.”
They said they were “particularly alarmed” that the decision — which will impact humanitarian aid to civilians — was not based on an assessment of need but rather “designed to both to punish Palestinian political leaders and to force political concessions from them.”
“This is simply unacceptable as a rationale for denying civilians humanitarian assistance and a dangerous and striking departure from U.S. policy on international humanitarian assistance,” they said.
They reminded the U.S. leaders that, in 1984, the Reagan administration justified its decision to provide humanitarian aid to famine-struck Ethiopia by declaring that “a hungry child knows no politics.”
In a statement at the United Nations 25 January, Archbishop Bernardito Auza, permanent observer of the Holy See to the U.N., noted that the Vatican “deplores the sufferings of millions in the Middle East due to armed conflicts.” He called on the Security Council to end the humanitarian crises in the region based on solutions in the U.N. Charter.
Speaking during the Security Council open debate on the situation in the Middle East, Archbishop Auza also emphasized the “urgent need” to resume negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians toward a negotiated two-state solution.
25 January 2018
Pope Francis presides over an ecumenical prayer service 25 January with Orthodox Metropolitan Gennadios of Italy and Malta and Anglican Archbishop Bernard Ntahoturi, the archbishop of Canterbury’s personal representative to the Holy See, at Rome’s Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls. The service marked the end of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
(photo: CNS/Alessandro Bianchi, Reuters)
When different Christian churches recognize the validity of one another’s baptisms, they are recognizing that God’s grace is at work in them, Pope Francis said.
“Even when differences separate us, we recognize that we are part of the redeemed people, the same family of brothers and sisters loved by the one Father,” the pope said 25 January an ecumenical evening prayer service closing the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
The week ends on the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, and the papal vespers are celebrated at Rome’s Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, the church where, according to tradition, the apostle is buried.
At the beginning of the prayer service, Pope Francis stood before what is believed to be St. Paul’s tomb, accompanied by Orthodox Metropolitan Gennadios of Italy and Malta and Anglican Archbishop Bernard Ntahoturi, the archbishop of Canterbury’s personal representative to the Holy See.
The theme of the 2018 week of prayer was “Your right hand, O Lord, glorious in power,” which is taken from the song of Moses and Miriam in the Book of Exodus. It is a song of praise to God for having saved the Israelites as they crossed the Red Sea.
In his homily, Pope Francis said the early church theologians saw the parting of the Red Sea, the drowning of the Pharaoh’s forces and the safe passage of the Israelites as an image of baptism.
“Our sins are what was drowned by God in the living waters of baptism,” he said. “Sin threatened to make us slaves forever, but the force of divine love overpowered it.”
Precisely because Christians have experienced God’s “powerful mercy in saving us,” they can pray together and sing God’s praises, he said.
Related: Praying for Christian Unity
Another lesson from the crossing of the Red Sea, the pope said, is that while it involved individuals being saved by God, it also involved a community.
And after St. Paul was knocked off his horse and converted, he said, “the grace of God pushed him to seek communion with other Christians, immediately, first in Damascus and then in Jerusalem.”
“That is our experience as believers,” the pope said. “Bit by bit as we grow in the spiritual life, we understand better that grace reaches us together with others and that it is meant to be shared with others.”
“When we say we recognize the baptism of Christians from other traditions, we are confessing that they, too, have received the forgiveness of the Lord and his grace is working in them,” Pope Francis said. “And we accept their worship as an authentic expression of praise for what God has accomplished.”
But, he said, like the Israelites who wandered through the desert after passing through the Red Sea, Christians today face difficulties in their journey together. Some even face the danger of martyrdom simply because they are Christians.
And, like people of many religious traditions, there are millions of Christians in the world who fleeing from conflict and poverty or who are victims of human trafficking or are starving “in a world increasingly rich in means and poor in love,” the pope said.
But united in baptism and strengthened by God’s grace, he said, Christians are called to support one another and, “armed only with Jesus and the sweet power of his Gospel, to face every challenge with courage and hope.”
Earlier in the day, meeting with a delegation from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, Pope Francis said the greatest ecumenical challenge is to proclaim together faith in God and Jesus Christ to an increasingly secularized world.
And acting together on that faith, he said, Christians must ask for God’s grace to become instruments of his peace.
“May he help us always, amid divisions between peoples, to work together as witnesses and servants of his healing and reconciling love, and in this way to sanctify and glorify his name,” the pope told the Finnish delegation.
24 January 2018
A man from the Yazidi minority and young people pray at a shrine being rebuilt after it was destroyed in 2017 by Islamic State militants in Bashiqa, Iraq.
(photo: CNS/Khalid al Mousily, Reuters)
All people have a right to freely profess their own religious beliefs without fear of duress, Pope Francis said, calling on the world community to do more to protect the Yazidi minority.
“It is unacceptable that human beings are persecuted and killed because of their religion,” he told a group of Yazidis during a private audience at the Vatican on 24 January.
The Yazidis are a monotheistic religious minority, indigenous to areas in Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey. They have been especially persecuted by Islamic State militants, who — as they did with Christians — have forced them to convert or be killed.
He told the representatives, who were now living in Germany, that his encounter with them was also a sign of his solidarity and concern for all Yazidis, particularly those in Iraq and Syria.
His thoughts and prayers went to all “innocent victims of senseless and inhuman barbarity,” underlining that all people have the right “to freely and without duress profess and their own religious belief.”
The pope said the Yazidis’ rich spiritual and cultural history has been scarred by the “indescribable violations of fundamental human rights: kidnappings, slavery, torture, forced conversions and killings.”
“Your sanctuaries and places of prayer have been destroyed,” he said, and those lucky enough to have been able to flee have had to leave behind so much, including that which they held to be most holy and dear.
Aware of this tragedy, “the international community cannot remain a mute and inert spectator.”
He encouraged organizations and “people of goodwill” to help rebuild homes and places of worship that have been destroyed and to seek out concrete ways to create the right conditions for people to return to their homelands.
He also said he hoped everything possible would be done to help save those who were still in the hands of terrorists, locate those still missing and identify and properly bury those who have been murdered.
All over the world, he said, there are religious and ethnic minorities — including Christians — who are persecuted because of their faith.
“The Holy See will never tire of intervening by denouncing these situations, calling for the recognition, protection and respect” of minorities as well as calling for dialogue and reconciliation, he said.
“Once more I speak out in favor of the rights of the Yazidis, above all their right to exist as a religious community. No one can allocate oneself the power to eliminate a religious group because it is not among those (who are) ‘tolerated,’ ” he said.
Related: Religious Minorities in the Middle East: The Yazidis
23 January 2018
Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army fighters are seen on 22 January near, Afrin, Syria. Churches in Afrin are calling on the world to stop the slaughter of civilians during the Turkish military assault.
(photo: CNS/Khalil Ashawi, Reuters)
Churches in Afrin, Syria, are calling on the world to stop the slaughter of civilians during the Turkish military assault.
“We ask you to pray for us and for our city which, before a couple of days ago, was full of life, but today is not,” said the Rev. Saeed Daoud, a Syrian clergyman whose name has been changed at his request due to fear of retribution.
“The brutal attack of the Turkish military with extremist Islamic groups has been carried out, without any warning,” he told Catholic News Service in an email, referring to Turkey’s relentless shelling and ground offensive since 20 January.
In an appeal for international help, another religious leader wrote: “We are asking for intervention and protection against the violent attacks which are being levied against us at this moment.
“Many lives are in mortal danger,” said the Rev. Hakim Ismael. “We are unable to protect ourselves or our families against these attacks, neither are we able to offer assistance or shelter to the innocents. Please help us.”
The city of Afrin, located in a Kurdish-controlled area of northwestern Syria, is approximately 30 miles from Aleppo.
Father Emanuel Youkhana, an archimandrite of the Assyrian Church of the East, told CNS: “With the military defeat of ISIS in Iraq and the final phase of its defeat in Syria, we prayed and hoped to move forward in a new phase of reconciliation and rebuilding the life toward a future where all people — Christians, Muslims, Yezidis, Kurds, Arab, Assyrians and all — may live in dignity and justice.
“We are shocked by another brutal and violent attack on the people in Afrin. Here again, the innocent civilians are paying the price for political interests under the pretext of fighting against the terrorist,” said Father Youkhana, who runs Christian Aid Program Northern Iraq, a Christian program for displaced Iraqis around the city of Dahuk.
“The Turkish military operations against Kurdish and Christian people of the Afrin region cannot be justified. The civilians cannot be attacked under any claim,” he said, calling for an immediate end to the military operations and immediate aid to the people.
“Attacking who fought ISIS is shocking and questionable action,” he said. “We pray for decision makers to work for peace. Battle cannot be a path to peace.”
Dutch human rights advocate Johannes de Jong told CNS: “The civilian population of Afrin is deliberately targeted and being killed off. This is also a specific threat to the Christian church in Afrin.
“The jihadist proxies used by Turkey to invade Afrin have themselves said that there is no room for Christians there,” added de Jong, who closely monitors events in Syria’s North.
“Will the Trump administration allow Afrin’s civilian population to be indiscriminately killed by the Turkish air force and permit jihadist proxies to invade Afrin and kill any Christian they can find?” he asked.
De Jong directs Sallux, formerly the Christian Political Foundation for Europe, based in The Netherlands. For the past several years, he has worked with minorities in Syria and Iraq, including Syriac Christians, Yezidis, Turkmen and Kurds.
The Kurdish-run city of Afrin has only four hospitals, now packed with “injured people and wounded innocent children,” Rev. Daoud said, adding that there are several reported cases of women who miscarried “due to shock and fear.”
Robar Refugee Camp, housing 600 displaced Syrians from the Aleppo countryside, was bombed with many injuries. Camp residents have appealed to the United Nations to intervene to stop the shelling.
In another instance, 11 members of the same family were killed when they tried to escape the bombardment by sheltering in a nearby village.
Turkish war planes began shelling Kurdish positions in Afrin shortly after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced the launch of the military operation named Olive Branch. Erdogan has branded the mainly Kurdish YPG militia in the area a terrorist group; however, much of the bombing appears to be hitting civilian areas.
The YPG denies any direct links with the Turkish Kurdistan Workers’ Party and is a crucial part of a U.S.-backed alliance effectively battling Islamic State and other jihadists in northern Syria.
“That’s Turkey’s excuse for these raids, but in fact they (YPG) are not terrorists,” Lauren Homer, Washington, D.C.-based international human rights lawyer, told CNS of Erdogan’s claims. “To the extent they have fired weapons at the Turks, it’s in response to constant Turkish shelling of this and other areas along the Turkey-Syria border. It is a humanitarian catastrophe.”
“The bombing is quite indiscriminate. The church there is calling for a no-fly zone,” she said.
Erdogan is scheduled to meet Pope Francis at the Vatican on 5 February.
22 January 2018
Palestinian Catholics pray during Mass on 21 January at St. Joseph Church in, Jifna, West Bank.
(photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)
Building walls, whether between Israel and the Palestinian territories or the United States and Mexico, can only serve to separate people and create more isolation, said Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio L. Elizondo of Seattle.
“Walls can’t bring any positive aspect to any country,” he said 21 January, during a visit to this West Bank village. “The image is very negative. ‘I am keeping you out of my life.’ ... It creates more resentment and isolation. It makes it impossible to see the other.”
Bishop Elizondo was among 10 Hispanic U.S. bishops visiting the Holy Land and meeting with Israelis and Palestinians to get a better understanding of the Holy Land situation and to advocate for “bridges not walls.”
The bishop said he had returned to the Holy Land for the first time in 30 years and had been disappointed by the feeling that the situation had gotten worse rather than better.
“It is a tragic feeling coming to the Holy Land,” a place which for centuries has not had peace, he said. “It is a long process. A very slow process. I praise and pray for people in that process, but you have to be ready for martyrdom all that time. We humans are very slow learners.”
While acknowledging that terrorist violence was one of the push factors for the creation of the Israeli separation barrier — which includes a series of 25-foot cement walls and fences and is expected to extend more than 400 miles — Auxiliary Bishop Arturo Cepeda of Detroit said the whole use of the concept of walls prevents people from “seeing the other as a human person.”
“If we are not able to see the other as a human person, we are missing the point of who we are. The message is that this is about people, it is a human crisis ... the challenge is what is the most effective way to communicate this,” he said. “This is a human crisis. In our USA, we are facing a very, very hard human crisis, which is our immigrants. It is a terrible crisis.”
The Rev. Firas Aridah, parish priest at St. Joseph Church, told the visiting bishops there are more than 140 Israeli settlements and 636 Israeli checkpoints within the West Bank.
“We need the recognition of the simple human principle: No people has the right to impose his occupation on another people. We are waiting for the day when our churches will ring their bells, celebrating freedom and justice for all, Palestinians and Israelis,” Father Aridah said.
Earlier, Bishops Elizondo and Cepeda concelebrated Mass at St. Joseph Parish. In his homily, Bishop Elizondo told parishioners that, without forgiveness, there can be no dialogue.
“Regardless of the nationality — whether it be Palestinian, Israeli, Mexican or American — we are all created by the same Father and all redeemed by the same savior, Jesus Christ,” he said. “Forgiveness is the best and the most difficult, but the most powerful thing we can ever offer anybody. Forgiveness is a gift from God. It is very tough.”
Bishop Cepeda reminded parishioners that it was God who gave them the courage to “cry out for peace, justice, dignity and freedom.”
“Let us never ever stop crying out for what we believe in as people of faith, as Christians, as people of this land,” he urged. “We belong here, we belong to God, and God will give us the courage.”
The same day, other members of the delegation visited Holy Family Parish in Gaza. They included Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace; Bishop Nelson J. Perez of Cleveland, chairman of the USCCB Subcommittee on Hispanic Affairs; Bishop Felipe de Jesus Estevez of St. Augustine, Florida; Auxiliary Bishop Octavio Cisneros of Brooklyn, New York; Bishop Armando X. Ochoa of Fresno, California; Auxiliary Bishop Alberto Rojas of Chicago; retired Bishop Placido Rodriguez of Lubbock, Texas; and retired Auxiliary Bishop Rutilio del Riego of San Bernardino, California.
19 January 2018
Students at the Kidist Mariam Center in Meki, Ethiopia, take part in a traditional coffee ceremony. Learn how the center is helping the community — and helping young Ethiopians discover there’s No Place Like Home — in the December 2017 edition of ONE. (photo: Petterik Wiggers)
18 January 2018
Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas (L), Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb (C) and Pope Tawadros II, leader of Egypt's Orthodox Christians, attend a conference on Jerusalem in Cairo on 17 January 2018. Pope Francis was unable to attend the conference, but sent a message to the imam expressing his hopes and prayers for the region. (photo: Fayed El-Geziry/AFP/Getty Images)
Christians, Muslims and Jews who are sincere about their faith must be committed to protecting the special character of Jerusalem and to praying and working for peace in the Holy Land, Pope Francis wrote in a letter to the grand imam of Egypt’s al-Azhar University.
Only a special, internationally guaranteed statute on the status of Jerusalem “can preserve its identity and unique vocation as a place of peace,” the pope wrote. And only when the city’s “universal value” is recognized and protected can there be “a future of reconciliation and hope for the entire region.”
“This is the only aspiration of those who authentically profess themselves to be believers and who never tire of imploring with prayer a future of brotherhood for all,” Pope Francis wrote in the letter to Sheik Ahmad el-Tayeb, the grand imam.
El-Tayeb hosted a meeting 17 January with Christian and Muslim clerics and regional political leaders in reaction to U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision in December to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and to begin preparations to move the U.S. embassy there from Tel Aviv.
The sheik had invited Pope Francis to the meeting even though he knew the pope would be in Chile. Still, the pope said in his letter, “I assure you, I will not fail to continue praying to God for the cause of peace — a true, real peace.”
“In particular, I raise heartfelt prayers that leaders of nations and civil and religious authorities everywhere would work to prevent new spirals of tension and support every effort to make agreement, justice and security prevail for the populations of that blessed land that is so close to my heart,” the pope said in the letter, which was published 18 January by the Vatican.
Pope Francis repeated the Vatican’s long-standing position calling for renewed peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians to find a negotiated agreement that would guarantee both could live in peace within internationally recognized borders “with full respect for the particular nature of Jerusalem, whose significance goes beyond any consideration of territorial questions.”
17 January 2018
A worker clears some ground outside St. Thomas Church, which serves about 150 families in Palakkad, India. To read about A Day in the Life of a Priest in Kerala, check out the
December 2017 edition of ONE. (photo: Don Duncan)
16 January 2018
Melkite Greek Catholic Archbishop Georges Bacouni speaks with staff of a local Catholic school outside the Cathedral of Mar Elias in Haifa, Israel. Archbishop Georges recently wrote us a letter, reflecting on leading the church in the place where Christianity was born. This and more can be found in the December 2017 edition of ONE. (photo: Corinna Kern)
Tags: Middle East Christians Holy Land Education Holy Land Christians Church