26 March 2019
Salwa Salem Copty, 70, holds a photo of her father, Fares, in front of the Melkite Catholic Church of St. Jacob in Ma’alul village, Israel. Salwa, who now lives in Cana, is fighting for the right to visit her father’s grave in the Ma’alul cemetery, which is now enclosed in an Israeli army base.
(photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)
The destroyed Arab village of Ma’alul, located just outside of Nazareth, does not appear on any Israeli map, but it is etched on Salwa Salem Copty’s heart.
Copty’s widowed mother and her three older siblings, along with other residents, were expelled from the village in July 1948 during Israel’s War of Independence. Copty was born 16 days later.
Copty laments that she has no memories of Ma’alul, but she clings to the stories her relatives have told her about what life was like there. Now, at age 70, she still visits the site of the village, drinking coffee and eating pastries with her children and grandchildren in the shadow of the reconstructed Melkite Catholic Church of St. Jacob.
But she is unable to visit her father’s grave because an Israeli air force base was constructed around the Christian cemetery shortly after the residents’ expulsion, and they have never been permitted to enter the base to go to the cemetery. Her father was killed a few months prior to the expulsion by a Jewish militia bullet and is buried in the cemetery.
“They told me father was in heaven and I would look at his picture and would see a cloud in the sky that looked like the picture, and I would think that my father is looking at me and is speaking to me, and I would talk to him,” said Copty, a retired social worker. She has enlarged the photograph of her father and keeps it in her home, still confiding her deepest worries and concerns to it.
“I am appealing to all sense of humanity for this request to visit the grave. I want to whisper on his grave, as if he will hear that he has a daughter named Salwa who misses him, just to touch the grave, the dust, his soul, the place where he walked, even where maybe he stepped. That drives me crazy,” she said.
Since 2000, Copty repeatedly has made formal requests to gain access to the cemetery to visit her family members buried there, but her appeals to various Israeli authorities through multiple channels have gone unhandled.
“I dream about this grave. I’m begging. I just want to visit my father’s grave before I die and it’s too late,” Copty said. “You can’t just erase someone’s memory.”
On 13 January Adalah, The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, filed a petition to the Israeli Supreme Court on behalf of Copty and her 93-year-old uncle, Subhi Mansour, to allow them to visit the cemetery. Mansour is the only living displaced resident of the village who can identify the location of the grave of Copty’s father, Fares Salem.
The petition, which will be heard by the court 24 June, was filed against the Israeli defense and interior ministries and the Israel Land Authority and demands that Copty and Mansour be permitted to visit the cemetery. The petition also seeks clarification regarding why the Interior Ministry and ILA have not been required to preserve Ma’alul’s Christian cemetery and protect it from desecration or, alternatively, why it is not allowing the petitioners or anyone on their behalf to maintain and protect the cemetery from desecration.
“The desecration of and failure to maintain the cemetery, and the failure of Israeli authorities to respond to Copty’s appeals within an appropriate and humane time frame, are all violations of the constitutional right to dignity -- both of the living and of the deceased -- and a violation of her right to grieve at the family grave,” Adalah said in the petition.
This is the first time a case relating to access to a cemetery located inside a military base has been brought to court.
The government ministries did not reply to requests for a response from Catholic News Service.
Mansour told CNS: “We haven’t been able to visit the cemetery since 1948. ... It’s not just us, everyone has family buried in the cemetery. Everyone should be able to visit their dead, place flowers on their graves.”
Copty’s oldest daughter, Odna -- which means “return” in Arabic -- accompanies her mother on visits.
“Because I have this name, I feel this village is always with me,” she said. “I always live my mother’s pain and suffering. Sometimes I wake up at night and she is crying to the picture.”
Along with the other descendants of the expelled families, Copty and her family return to St. Jacob Church, which they restored, on the second day of Easter for Mass, and her children attended the yearly summer camps held at the site to remember their village.
Today the remains of the destroyed village are overgrown, and the overturned rocks peek out from under rolling mounds of green grass, which has sprouted after a rainy winter, but Mansour can still point out where he lived and where Copty’s parents lived. He identifies one of the village’s wells amid the jumbled rocks.
Together with another niece who is an engineer, Mansour recently mapped out the pre-1948 village and, next to the church, they placed a large sign of the area marked with every family’s home.
They also placed name markers next to every pile of rubble to identify the homes on the ground, but someone tore down all the name signs.
25 March 2019
Tags: Israel Melkite
A teenager looks on as Pope Francis smiles during his visit to the Sanctuary of the Holy House on the feast of the Annunciation in Loreto, Italy, on 25 March 2019. (photo: CNS/Yara Nardi, Reuters)
22 March 2019
Tags: Pope Francis
In Ethiopia’s Afar region, girls wait to fill containers at the local water pump. The United Nations marks World Water Day on 22 March. In a message for the day, Pope Francis declared that access to water is "a fundamental human right." (photo: Petterik Wiggers)
21 March 2019
Tags: Pope Francis Ethiopia United Nations
The Most Rev. Marcel Gervais, archbishop emeritus of Ottawa, seated, visits the office of CNEWA Canada, in Ottawa. (photo: CNEWA)
Today we had a special visitor in our Ottawa office: The Most Rev. Marcel Gervais, archbishop emeritus of Ottawa.
In 2003, he accepted the invitation of the Holy See’s Congregation of the Eastern Churches and helped establish CNEWA in Canada. He was the first chair of CNEWA Canada until his retirement in 2007. At 87 years old, he is still very active, with a keen sense of humor. The CNEWA staff had a great time meeting him.
You are in our prayers Archbishop Gervais! May God give you many good and healthy years ahead.
20 March 2019
Tags: CNEWA Canada
Ayyub Bhikoo, an official of Al-Jamie Mosque, speaks during a 17 March 2019 prayer service at Sacred Heart Church in Auckland, New Zealand, for victims of the 15 March mosque attacks in Christchurch. (photo: CNS/Michael Otto, NZ Catholic)
19 March 2019
Tags: Muslim Interfaith
In this image from 2018, a young Syrian refugee holds a watermelon at his shop in the Zaatari refugee camp near Mafraq, Jordan. "A lot of young men left Syria because they didn't want to fight in the conflict," Maha Yahya, director of the Carnegie Middle East Center, told Catholic News Service. (photo: CNS /Muhammad Hamed, Reuters)
As Syria’s civil war enters its ninth year, citizens in and outside the country find themselves in limbo. Catholic and other aid agencies are urging a swift resolution to the crisis.
Caritas Syria is campaigning for “an immediate end to the violence and suffering” and calling for “all sides of the conflict to come together to find a peaceful solution,” chiefly through reconciliation work.
“We are initiating reconciliation among the various communities to correct misconceptions in the minds of those living in Damascus, Ghouta, Aleppo and elsewhere about people outside their religious community,” said Sandra Awad, communications director for the Catholic aid agency Caritas Syria.
Caritas Syria is the country’s branch of Caritas Internationalis, the Catholic Church’s international network of charitable agencies.
Awad told Catholic News Service by telephone from Damascus that a meal involving Christians, Alawites and Muslims brought about a wonderful understanding and compassion for the suffering shared by all.
She said a Christian woman told her at the start of the lunch that she did not want to sit next to a woman wearing a headscarf because Muslims had kidnapped her son. Militants had entered her home and beat her son, resulting in psychological problems for him. They shot another son’s legs, leaving him paralyzed. The militants kidnapped the third son with his wife and child.
But Awad said she told her, “This woman with the headscarf lost her husband from mortar shelling, and her 15-year-old son lost his legs. She is taking care of her children by herself without any income.”
The Christian woman then responded: “Yes, all of us have suffered.”
“I could see her ideas begin to change,” Awad said. “The people spoke about the pain they experienced during the war. They began to feel that people have suffered as much as themselves and perhaps even more,” she said and, as a result, they got along together.
During a Caritas-sponsored visit to the Damascus suburb of Ghouta, a Muslim man questioned why militants were calling for people to be killed, rather than supported.
“Let them see who is helping us,” he said. “A Christian organization is helping us now.”
Caritas’ reconciliation efforts underline the practical support it provides to thousands of Syrians by distributing food baskets, clothes and blankets as well as medical assistance and psychosocial support.
Pope Francis has been closely engaged with the Syrian crisis, consistently calling for an end to the fighting. He has acknowledged the assistance Caritas gives to Syrians regardless of their ethnic or religious affiliation as the best way to contribute toward peace.
Syria’s war has killed more than 400,000 people and forced more than 6 million Syrians out of their homes inside Syria; 5.5 million have fled to neighboring countries since the outbreak of the conflict in 2011.
CAFOD, the Catholic international development charity in England and Wales, and Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops’ international aid and development agency, are part of the Caritas network.
In a statement provided to Catholic News Service, CAFOD said it “believes that until a political process addresses the underlying issues that led to the Syrian war, there will be no safe future in Syria for the millions of Syrians caught up in this conflict.
Syrian refugees sheltering in neighboring Jordan and Lebanon, many for longer than they ever imagined, have expressed concern for their future.
“My family believes that we cannot return to Syria because our home was destroyed, so there is nothing to go back to,” Um Mohamed, using her familial name in Arabic, told CNS in the northern Jordanian border town of Ramtha, which abuts Syria. “But we’re also finding it impossible to stay in Jordan because there is no work, my husband is sick, and our savings are running out.”
Another Syrian refugee at the large Zaatari camp, also near the border, said she is worried about her son left behind in Syria.
“He was living in an area controlled by the rebels, although he didn’t fight with them. But because of being in that place, he and other young Syrian men have turned themselves into the Syrian authorities in the hopes of getting a lesser jail term,” Um Sami told CNS, saying the Syrian government views them with suspicion.
“But the fear is that the government will forcibly conscript these men into the Syrian military and put them in frontline positions without any training. Or, what if my son is never seen again?” she said, her eyes welling with tears.
Other Syrian refugees are fearful that the regime considers them “traitors.”
“A lot of young men left Syria because they didn’t want to fight in the conflict,” Maha Yahya, director of the Carnegie Middle East Center, told CNS.
“A lot of refugees said to me, ‘I left so I don’t kill, and I don’t get killed.’ Even if they go back today, there is a new amnesty law, but there are no guarantees that they won’t be thrown into prison or sent to the frontline,” she explained.
Other refugees around Zahle, near the Syrian border in Lebanon, said they, too, fear a return, but for some there is no other choice.
A Christian aid worker told CNS about a Syrian widow who died unexpectedly in March. She left behind three young children who must go back to Syria to join relatives to care for them. But these family members live in the militant stronghold of Idlib in Syria’s north, making their fate uncertain.
Eight million Syrian children are now in need of assistance, including psychosocial support, according to the U.N. children’s agency, UNICEF.
“Every single Syrian child has been impacted by violence, loss, displacement, family separation and lack of access to basic services, including health and education. Grave violations of children’s rights -- recruitment, abductions, killing and maiming continue unabated,” UNICEF said on 6 March.
Syrians live without “peace or war,” Maronite Archbishop Samir Nassar of Damascus, told the Vatican news agency, Fides, on 11 March. “It’s an uncertain and difficult situation, which is becoming unsustainable for the weakest,” he said.
Archbishop Nassar warned that Syria’s historic Christian population has decreased in some areas by 77 percent, compared to the time before the conflict.
18 March 2019
Tags: Syria Jordan Caritas Relief
Members of the Chaldean Catholic community in Papatoetoe, New Zealand, placed flowers and a tribute outside Ayesha Mosque after the 15 March 2019, attacks on two mosques in Christchurch. The message reads in part: "Please accept our prayer and condolences in this terrible, painful time. God have mercy on the people and we pray for the injured ones. Your brothers, St. Addai Catholic Church, New Zealand." (photo: CNS/courtesy NZ Catholic)
The St. Addai Chaldean Catholic community in suburban Auckland felt the impact of the Christchurch mosque killings with a special poignancy, because many members have experienced the sufferings inflicted by terrorism.
“There is a lady in my community -- they beheaded her son in front of her,” the Rev. Douglas Al-Bazi, a Chaldean priest, told NZ Catholic. “Another man, they killed his parents in front of him.”
Father Al-Bazi, who was kidnapped for nine days by Islamic militants in 2006 in Iraq, suffering serious injuries -- including being shot in the leg by an assailant wielding an AK-47 -- said that when he heard of the events in Christchurch, he was “really angry.”
“There were thousands of questions in my head, and also for my people,” he said.
He said he told his parishioners that “we fully understand as Iraqi people, especially Christian, we really understand” the pain, “because we are survivors of genocide, systematic genocide.”
“I am still shocked, me and my people, how this could happen here in New Zealand,” he added.
Father Al-Bazi said people at his church have said they are scared in the wake of the events in Christchurch, fearful of revenge attacks.
“I told them, no, this is not the time to be scared. It is the time to be united. So, show your happiness, show we are brave, and we have to tell the people how to be calm. Because already, we have had that experience. So, we have to guide people to tell them.”
Parishioners placed a floral tribute with a message of support in Arabic outside a local mosque the day after the shootings.
Father Al-Bazi said most of his community came to New Zealand seeking a safe place, and the violence that happened in Christchurch is unacceptable.
“I don’t know what we can do for those survivors, for those relatives, the only thing we can do is pray for them and say, ‘This is not New Zealand.’“
At the end of Mass on 18 March, everyone at St. Addai Church sang the national anthem, “God Defend New Zealand” in Maori and in English.
Police were stationed outside the church and told Father Al-Bazi, “It is for your protection.” The priest said he asked the officers to park a little down the road, so as not to alarm Massgoers.
15 March 2019
Tags: Muslim Chaldean Church
Nathalie Piraino, right, embraces Atli Moges, a financial technical adviser at Catholic Relief Services headquarters in Baltimore, following a 14 March 2019, memorial Mass honoring their four colleagues who died in the 10 March crash of Ethiopian Airlines flight 302. Moges spent three years working in Ethiopia, and knew the four. (photo: CNS/Kevin J. Parks, Catholic Review)
Approximately 480 men and women work at the Baltimore headquarters of Catholic Relief Services, the overseas aid and development agency of U.S. Catholics.
None were more affected than Yishak “Isaac” Affin and Atli Moges by the 10 March Ethiopian Airlines crash that took the lives of all 157 on board -- including four who were not just colleagues, but their fellow countrymen and women.
Affin and Moges were part of the standing-room-only gathering at the CRS chapel 14 March, when Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori offered a memorial Mass. His concelebrants included a majority of the 14 bishops who serve on the CRS board of directors, in town for meetings.
Like the four who perished, Moges and Affin are natives of Ethiopia, which has approximately 100 million residents. Almost half lack access to clean water.
Trying to better themselves so that they could better their country, the four CRS administrators were en route to a training session in Nairobi, Kenya, when their flight crashed minutes after takeoff from Addis Ababa, the capital of the east African nation that sits in a region wracked by famine.
“They do their work from their hearts,” Moges told the Catholic Review, Baltimore’s archdiocesan news outlet. “They were the kind of people who stayed in the office until midnight or worked Saturday if that was necessary.”
She speaks from experience.
A senior adviser for CRS in financial technical support, Moges came to Baltimore in 1988, but from August 2015 to March 2018 served in Ethiopia as the deputy country representative for operations.
Managing administration, finance, human resources and IT for a staff of approximately 200 during her time in Ethiopia, Moges said she worked with the four deceased staffers “very closely.”
They were typical of the 7,000 people employed by CRS, which prioritizes hiring and training local people in the nations it serves.
Moges said that Mulusew Alemu, a senior finance officer, was devoted to his Ethiopian Orthodox faith and “a delightful person, very respectful and hard-working.”
Despite his low-key demeanor, she said, Sintayehu Aymeku had “wonderful leadership skills.” A procurement manager who had lived for a time in the United States, Aymeku left behind a wife and three daughters.
“I had high hopes for him,” Moges said.
Sara Chalachew, who once spent three weeks in Baltimore on temporary duty, was promoted last December to senior project officer for grants. Moges said she was always smiling, and “got along with everyone on staff.”
Getnet Alemayehu was a senior procurement officer, known for being patient and persistent while navigating shipments.
Before Affin, a senior accountant, came to Baltimore in 2003, he worked as an auditor in Addis Ababa, where he knew Alemayehu as a driver, albeit one “studying at university.”
As Moges got emotional remembering the four after the Mass, Affin placed his right hand on her left shoulder.
The Mass included a choir comprised of CRS staff based in Baltimore.
Bishop Gregory J. Mansour of the Eparchy of St. Maron of Brooklyn, New York, who is chairman of the CRS board of directors, welcomed Archbishop Lori, who had made a short walk from the Catholic Center, headquarters of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, to CRS.
“Sorrow shared,” Bishop Mansour said, “is sorrow lessened.”
“Why were such good colleagues taken from us?” Archbishop Lori said in his homily. “A tragic moment such as this, and the season of Lent itself, tests and probes the depth of our faith,” he said.
“It highlights the kind of faith, hope and love -- coupled with courage -- that undergirds the many risks you and your colleagues take each day to advance the kingdom of justice, peace and love in this world.”
Archbishop Lori said the four employees “died in pursuit of their mission to bring a measure of food security to regions of the world that are habitually plagued by famine. They met the Lord as they were dedicating themselves and their lives to the golden rule.”
14 March 2019
Christians and Muslims of Dalit origin protesting in New Delhi on 12 March to demand the government provide them with the social welfare benefits enjoyed by their Hindu counterparts but denied to them. (photo: Bijay Kumar Minj/ucanews.com)
Hundreds of Dalit Christians and Muslims took to the streets yesterday in India's capital, demanding welfare benefits they say are being denied to them.
The story below comes from UCA News:
Some 500 Christians and Muslims who belong to former untouchable communities came together in New Delhi on 12 March, two days after the schedule for the April-May general elections were announced.
“The country is in election mood. We want to put across our demands to the government that they consider the rights of our Dalit Christian and Muslim brethren,” said Father Devasagaya Raj, secretary of the Indian bishops’ office for Dalit and socially disadvantaged people at the gathering.
Christians and Muslims of Dalit origin demand that they be given social welfare benefits meant for the uplift of Dalit people. Both communities have been denied these benefits since 1950 because the government says their religions do not follow the caste system.
“Six decades is not a small period [that] we have been suffering this injustice,” said Father Raj. “There is a limit for everything. We have decided that we will support a political party who will put our demands in their election manifesto.”
The 1950 presidential order said only Dalit people of the Hindu religion can enjoy constitutional benefits such as reservations in government jobs, education institutions and financial help with studies. The order was amended twice to include Sikhs in 1956 and Buddhists in 1990.
Both Buddhism and Sikhism also do not approve of the caste system, but they were included after the government accepted their argument that a mere change of religion does not change a person’s socio-economic situation.
But the same argument put forward by Dalit Christians and Muslims has not been successful in having another amendment applied. Christian leaders say political parties fear doing so because it could antagonize their majority Hindu voters.
“Most of the political parties have promised to consider our demand but no one has kept their word when they come to power. We want a firm promise now,” Father Raj said.
Delegates from most Indian states attended the rally which was organized by the National Council of Dalit Christians with support of Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India and the protestant National Council of Churches in India.
An estimated 30 percent of India’s 28 million Christians have a Dalit background. They are scatted across different Indian states, and speak different languages making coordination difficult, said leader like M. Mary John, founder member of National Council of Dalit Christians.
13 March 2019
Tags: India Dalits Mumbai
A Chinese man mourns a victim of the Ethiopian Airlines crash during a commemoration ceremony on 13 March 2019, near Bishoftu, Ethiopia. (photo: CNS/Baz Ratner, Reuters)