6 August 2018
As summer temperatures climb, young people in Israel play in a water fountain on 3 August near the Old City of Jerusalem. (photo: CNS/Abir Sultan, EPA)
3 August 2018
An Iraqi father and his children are shown at the Saint Anthony Community Health Centre in Lebanon, supported by CNEWA. (photo: Carl Hétu)
CNEWA Canada has just launched a campaign to help Middle East Christians, and national director Carl Hétu this week offered some thoughts on the current situation on the blog for the Archdiocese of Toronto. An excerpt is below.
What is the current situation for Christians in the Middle East?
Daily life for Christians in the Middle East has been difficult. Things took a turn for the worse in 2003 during the invasion of Iraq by the U.S., Great Britain and their allies. Iraq spiraled into internal tribal conflict and anarchy. Christians were stuck in the middle — often being victims of threats, kidnapping, torture and assassination. As a result, approximately 1.2 million Christians were forced to leave the country since 2003. Some 250,000 Christians remain in Iraq today. The unresolved Israel-Palestinian conflict has also caused economic and political hardships. Only 55,000 and 1,100 Christians remain in the West Bank and Gaza, respectively. In Syria, the civil war has practically destroyed the country. Christians have certainly not been spared from the violence. The Christian population has gone down to 1 million from 2 million since 2011. More are fleeing. In Egypt, attacks on Christians are common. We believe that some 400,000 have left the country in the last seven years. Christians live in greater security in Jordan and Israel; but there has been a recent rise in internal tensions.
How does your most recent trip to Lebanon in April compare to your last visit to the region?
The Lebanese people seem anxious, tired and increasingly frustrated. The population of Lebanon is 4 million. There are more than 1.3 million Syrian and Iraqi refugees, plus 500,000 Palestinian refugees, in the country. The impact on the local economy and social services is overwhelming. Local aid organizations are exhausted and lacking in resources to support refugees but also there is an increasing number of Lebanese people who are getting poorer, losing their jobs and in need of support. It’s a very alarming and potentially volatile situation.
Visit this link to learn more — and to discover what’s being done and how you can help.
2 August 2018
Tags: Lebanon Middle East Christians CNEWA Canada Persecution
The Adi-Harush refugee camp shelters some 12,000 people. Learn how they are patiently waiting for a better future — and how the church is trying to give them hope — in This, Our Exile in the June 2018 edition of ONE. (photo: Petterik Wiggers)
1 August 2018
CNEWA's president, Msgr. John E. Kozar, visits the Home of Faith in Kerala, India, which cares for children with disabilities. Read Msgr. Kozar’s reflections on how CNEWA evangelizes in the June 2018 edition of ONE. (photo: John E. Kozar)
31 July 2018
Svetlana Hovhannisyan lives in a cabin outside of Gyumri with her five sons. (photo: Nazik Armenakyan)
In the current edition of ONE, journalist Gayane Abrahamyan how some families are struggling to care for children with disabilities in Armenia—and how a CNEWA-supported facility is giving many a new sense of purpose and hope:
For 15-year-old Artyom Hovhannisyan, every movement is a victory. Confined to a wheelchair in a city without ramps, the boy depends on his mother to carry him from place to place. Even at home, he has very limited space to maneuver; in fact, their dwelling barely warrants “home.”
Artyom’s mother, Svetlana, rears her five sons alone in a wooden cabin — a temporary structure erected following the devastating earthquake of December 1988. What was to be temporary, however, has become permanent, and stands badly in need of repair. The floor and ceiling have been rotting for years. Holes in the faded walls have been papered over with the boys’ drawings, diplomas and various certificates.
When she smiles, the lines on her face reveal years of concerns — years spent tending a small plot of land to try and feed her children while living on a monthly pension of about $90.
Around her cabin, about six miles from Gyumri, the second-largest city in Armenia after its capital of Yerevan, temporary settlements dot the landscape — a collection of small iron and wooden buildings erected nearly 30 years ago to shelter the suddenly homeless. Over the years, their inhabitants have left the settlement, moving to new buildings in the city. Now, only Ms. Hovhannisyan and her five sons remain. The eldest, 18 years old, will soon leave to join the army, adding another source of concern as Armenia’s army remains on guard.
But for now, Ms. Hovhannisyan finds solace and a sense of order by tending the earth. She has cleaned the stones from the garden and neatly organized them near a fence. She has planted trees, tilled the soil and sowed flowers.
“I am not afraid of work,” she says. “I will do everything. But when my eldest son will be called to the army, I don’t know what I’m going to do, because he is my only help with Artyom.”
She also receives tremendous help and support from the Emili Aregak Center, which helps care for her son.
Inside the glass-covered building, everybody is busy — they sing in one of the rooms, play in another, do exercises in a third, hold discussions in the fourth. Alive and vibrant, this unique space offers children and young adults with special needs and physical challenges room to move and room to live with sun and space in abundance.
“Everything is interesting here,” Artyom says happily. “I have participated in pottery classes. I have many good friends who help me.”
The center has changed Artyom’s life. The view beyond his window is now wider, brighter and full of hope.
“It is so good here. Everyone is joyful, everyone is nice and I love them a lot.”
Read about how the center has become A Source of Light to so many in the June 2018 edition of ONE.
30 July 2018
In this image from 2016, Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan celebrates a liturgy in a displaced-persons camp in Ankawa, Iraq. Last week, he presided at a synod of Syriac Catholic bishops, who issued a statement lamenting the plight of persecuted Christians.(photo: CNS/Paul Jeffrey)
Syriac Catholic bishops from around the world, meeting in Lebanon for their annual synod, lamented the plight of their “tormented and persecuted” faithful.
In their final statement from the 23-27 July gathering, with Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan presiding, the bishops noted that they have “raised their voices high in front of the world, denouncing the calamities” which have especially affected the Syriac church, particularly in Syria and Iraq.
They characterized the situation as “a catastrophe that repeats the tragedy of genocide that took place with their ancestors a hundred years ago.”
“This grave violation of their civil rights has shaken their human, societal and cultural being, especially as they have experienced the tragedies of the displacement of thousands of families,” the bishops said.
The prelates also said they addressed the issue of the migration of thousands of Syriac Catholic families from the region and “the sense of shared responsibility and the urgent need to pursue the spiritual, pastoral and social service of those displaced.”
Regarding Syriac Catholics who settled in Europe, the Americas and Australia, the bishops encouraged them to continue to live their traditions and heritage and “to love their new countries, to be faithful to them and to be creative in various fields,” while stressing “their constant quest for spiritual service despite challenges and difficulties.”
The prelates “renewed their support and solidarity with all the tormented and persecuted” Syriac people who suffer “the pain of displacement, migration and uprooting, assuring them that the Church will remain with them.”
Likewise, they also discussed the return of the displaced to their villages in the dioceses of Syria and Iraq, countries which have been “plagued by disturbances and futile wars in recent years.”
The Syriac Catholic bishops also underscored concerns regarding specific areas in the Middle East.
They stressed the need for solidarity among the Iraqi people, for dialogue and acceptance of the other and for security, peace and stability to be restored to Iraq.
Regarding Syria, they called for an end to the country’s seven-year civil war and for all parties “to work together for the return of normalcy” in the country.
The Syriac Catholic bishops maintained that “Jerusalem is a city for all followers of the three religions” and affirmed “the right of the Palestinian people to return to their land and to achieve a lasting peace in the two-state solution.”
They expressed their confidence “in the wise leadership” of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and the government of Egypt and congratulated Lebanon for peaceful parliamentary elections on 6 May, reiterating an earlier call that the Syriac Catholic community be represented in the new government.
Typically, the Syriac Catholic bishops meet in October. However, this year’s synod was scheduled to follow the first Syriac Youth International Convention, also held in Lebanon. More than 400 youth from 15 countries worldwide attended.
27 July 2018
Tags: Lebanon Persecution Syriac Catholic Church
Bishop Milan Lach holds up an icon of Blessed Theodore Romzha, the Ruthenian bishop of Mukachevo, Ukraine, who was killed by the communists in the 20th century. The icon was presented to him by Bishop Milan Sasik, right, the current bishop of Mukachevo. He attended Bishop Lach's Divine Liturgy of enthronement at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Parma, Ohio on 30 June. (photo: CNS/Reen Nemeth, Horizons)
At 44, Bishop Milan Lach is the fifth bishop of the Byzantine Ruthenian Eparchy of Parma and the youngest bishop to head a diocese in North America.
He also is the third-youngest Eastern Catholic bishop to head a diocese and the first foreign-born bishop for an eparchy that comprises 12 states in the Midwest.
A native of Slovakia, Bishop Lach is among about a dozen bishops from other countries that Pope Francis has appointed to the United States.
He was enthroned recently as Parma’s bishop during a Divine Liturgy at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, after having served as its apostolic administrator since 24 June 2017. He succeeds Bishop John M. Kudrick, who resigned in May 2016.
Bishop Lach, who is a Jesuit, has visited almost every parish and mission of the eparchy since his arrival to the United States last summer and has established pastoral priorities that include youth, evangelization, and parish reorganization.
Byzantine Catholic Bishop Milan Chautur of Kosice, Slovakia, who was present for the 30 June enthronement, said his “wish for all the faithful” in the United States is that they receive Bishop Lach “as a gift from the Slovak church.”
“After the fall of communism, we immediately turned to the Greek Catholic Church in America for material needs, to build churches again. We were liquidated for 18 years (under communism),” the 60-year-old prelate told Horizons, newspaper of the Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Parma.
But now, with the Slovak Eastern Catholic Church strongly re-established, there may be an opportunity to return the favor, he said.
“We sense that, compared with us, there is a certain crisis of vocations and in the spiritual life (in the United States),” he said. “So, just as we received material gifts after the fall of communism, now we can repay with spiritual gifts.”
Bishop Chautur, who is a Redemptorist, said he attended the enthronement because he realized the importance of maintaining a connection between the Byzantine Catholic churches in the United States and Europe.
“There are people who came (to the United States) 10 years ago or 100 years ago, and they still carry within them the Gospel they received from their forefathers,” he said.
At the same time, he acknowledged the mission of the Byzantine Catholic Church in the U.S. is to minister and to be open to the diversity in American society.
“It is important to understand the roots (of the church), but it has to be open to everybody, all races, everyone is welcome,” he said. “The church has to fulfill its missionary vocation.”
The early Christians “didn’t stay in the ethnic ghetto, but they went to the whole world,” he said. “It is good to understand where we come from, but to spring up new offshoots. This was the foundation we have received, and now we need to build a new church, with new growth, open to everyone.”
Bishop Chautur, who ordained Bishop Lach a deacon in 2000 and a priest a year later, was one of three European bishops at the enthronement.
The other concelebrating Catholic bishops included Bishop Kudrick; Bishop Kurt R. Burnette of the Byzantine Eparchy of Passaic, New Jersey; Bishop John S. Pazak of Byzantine Eparchy Phoenix, Bishop Bohdan Danylo of the Ukrainian Eparchy of St. Josaphat, also based in Parma; Bishop Nelson J. Perez of the Latin-rite Diocese of Cleveland; Auxiliary Bishop Neal J. Buckon of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services; Ruthenian Bishop Milan Sasik of Mukachevo, Ukraine; and Bishop Abel Socska of Nyiregyhaza, Hungary.
Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States, presided at the enthronement, attended by 400 people. The liturgy also was livestreamed. He read the letter of the pope appointing Bishop Lach to Parma, as well as a message from the prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Eastern Churches, Cardinal Leonardo Sandri.
Byzantine Archbishop William C. Skurla, metropolitan archbishop of Pittsburgh, was the main celebrant and homilist. He urged Bishop Lach in his homily to use his “energy to enliven the spiritual life of the church and protect it from the challenges of secularism and materialism which undermine the faith of our people.”
At the end of liturgy, Bishop Sasik presented Bishop Lach with an icon of Blessed Theodore Romzha, the Ruthenian bishop of Mukachevo who was martyred by the communists in the 20th century.
“I would like to express to the Holy Father my gratitude for his confidence in me as bishop of Parma. I will try my best to be the successor of the Apostles, to govern and serve,” Bishop Lach said at the end of the liturgy.
Bishop Lach told Horizons he intends to develop action plans in various areas of pastoral ministry and eparchial management to develop a more vibrant church.
“We are invited to be witnesses to the Gospel,” he said. “Our church must focus on evangelization, have a spirit of openness and prayer.”
His priorities include the “liturgy, the sacraments, especially the Eucharist and confession,” which are “part of our Eastern theology,” he said. He underlined the need to offer more catechesis and faith formation to the faithful, and to nurture priestly vocations.
Due to the current priest shortage in the eparchy, Bishop Lach has been inviting priests from Slovakia to come and minister. Two Slovak priests are currently undergoing the visa application process; one of them is expected to arrive this fall.
Bishop Lach said the recruitment of Slovak priests is a short-term measure to try to meet the urgent need for priests: Two priests retired this past year and at least another four are expected to retire in the next 12 months.
He said he hopes prospective vocations to the priesthood will be nurtured and there will be American candidates for seminary soon. The eparchy currently has two men in seminary formation and a third who will be ordained a subdeacon in August.
Bishop Lach recently created an eparchial youth commission to try to jump-start more youth ministry efforts.
The bishop also said he will consider reorganizing parishes to shift already limited resources, both pastoral and financial, to support the new missions and prayer communities that have developed in the western part of the eparchy.
“Perhaps we will have fewer parishes, but they will be more open (to welcoming others) and more vibrant,” he said.
He said there is an urgent need to get the eparchy in stronger financial shape, which includes reducing costs across the board, and he has already reached out to the neighboring Latin-rite Catholic dioceses of Cleveland and Youngstown, Ohio, to share resources.
In an interview with Horizons, Bishop Perez said it has been a “a great blessing” to share resources with the eparchy and to get to know Bishop Lach, whom he described as a “wonderful guy, young guy, very spiritual, very pastoral.”
“It’s a great celebration for all of us, Eastern rite and Latin rite,” he said of Bishop Lach’s enthronement. “We all gathered together in an incredible liturgy and a great moment of joy for the church.”
Read more about the Ruthenian Catholic Church at this link.
26 July 2018
Tags: Byzantine Catholic Church
A clergyman and altar servers process during Mass in 2014 at St. Joseph Chaldean Catholic Church in Baghdad, Iraq. The upcoming synod for the Iraqi Chaldean Catholic Church in Baghdad is expected to discuss issues vital for the church's future both in Iraq and among its diaspora community. (photo: CNS/Ahmed Saad, Reuters)
The upcoming synod for the Iraqi Chaldean Catholic Church in Baghdad in August is expected to discuss issues vital for the church’s future both in Iraq and among its diaspora community.
Chaldean Archbishop Yousif Thomas Mirkis of Kirkuk, Iraq, told Catholic News Service that the clergymen also will discuss during meetings from 7-13 August the election of new bishops as several Iraqi clergy are nearing retirement age. Proposals will be made for potential candidates.
Another concern, Archbishop Mirkis said, is the question of “vocations because there are presently only 15 seminarians in preparation to serve five Chaldean Catholic dioceses.”
Liturgical discussions will focus on the new translation of the Mass and developments to “adapt the Mass to the new communities living in the diaspora,” he said of Chaldeans now found in Australia, Canada, France and the United States.
The role of the deacon in Mass and the sacraments as well as the use of liturgical music are on the agenda as well.
Archbishop Mirkis said the situation of each Chaldean Catholic diocese in the Middle East and abroad will be examined. The Chaldean leaders are seeking ways to augment the spiritual formation of the Chaldean community to increase its vibrancy and vitality in the face of challenges, he explained.
Observers believe that 400,000 to 500,000 Christians now live in Iraq, compared to 1.5 million before the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003.
Chaldeans are the indigenous people of Iraq, whose roots trace back thousands of years.
Read more about the Chaldean Catholic Church in this profile from ONE.
25 July 2018
Tags: Iraq Chaldean Church
A woman participates in an outdoor prayer session at the Trippadam Center for Women. To learn more about this institution and the women it benefits, read A Refuge to Mend and Grow, from the June 2018 edition of ONE. (photo: Meenakshi Soman)
23 July 2018
Tags: India Sisters Health Care Women
In this 2016 photo, the Al Ahli Arab Hospital provides care in Gaza. ONE magazine published a letter from the hospital’s director in the pages of its Summer 2016 edition. (photo: CNEWA)
Writing for National Catholic Reporter, Patrick Whelan, a pediatric specialist at UCLA, and lecturer at the Keck School of Medicine, describes the medical crisis he witnessed on a recent visit to Gaza:
Traveling to Tel Aviv, I sought out a pharmacy to obtain for my son, Olivier, some melatonin, a natural supplement that helps with jet lag and is widely available without a prescription in the United States. I discovered that, though it has no adverse side effects, melatonin requires a prescription in Israel that must come from an Israeli doctor; the pharmacist would not provide it to a physician like me from abroad.
This level of concern for our own health stands in stark contrast to the devastating health effects I observed during a June 7-8 visit to Gaza where residents have been living under severe Israeli economic sanctions for the past 11 years.
It is only with extreme difficulty that residents can enter or leave Gaza, and only with the permission of the Israeli government. The Erez Crossing is a looming building that once processed thousands of people traveling every day to work in Israel. But when my son and I arrived just before 9 a.m. on a Thursday, for an hour-long trip through Israeli customs, the terminal was virtually deserted.
Later, some Israeli friends told us that Palestinians had been replaced with other day laborers — Filipina women staffing hospitals and nursing homes; Romanian and Chinese workers staffing numerous construction sites; and Thai farmworkers being brought in to pick crops. Meanwhile, unemployment in Gaza is more than 40 percent, with 80 percent of the population receiving some kind of international economic assistance.
The Gaza side of the Erez Crossing was very bleak, with high concrete walls topped by barbed wire. We were bussed from the crossing to a security checkpoint with uniformed men from the Palestinian Authority. There we met our host, Nahed Wehaidi, the Gaza director of American Near East Refugee Aid — a relief organization founded after the 1967 Arab-Israeli War to provide aid for refugees in the Middle East. His negotiations allowed us through a third checkpoint, maintained just a few yards away by Hamas, the political party that is the de facto government of Gaza.
The purpose of our visit was to tour four hospitals and clinics, accompanied by a group of seven public health doctors and aid workers from American Near East Refugee Aid.
The first visit was Al Ahli Arab Hospital — the only Christian hospital in Gaza — first built in 1882 and operated for 30 years until 1982 by the Southern Baptist Convention in the U.S. The hospital and its clinics are currently sponsored by the Anglican Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem.
The head of Ahli Arab, Suhaila Tarazi, who is from South Carolina, along with Jehad al Hesi, chief of pediatrics, spent an hour telling us about the malnutrition and related illnesses that they had been treating. The halls were packed with mothers and children. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East estimates that the number of daily medical consultations at their own 22 facilities across Gaza is 113 patients per doctor per day.
Every provider we met seemed overwhelmed. Their distress is in part a result of a January decision by the Trump administration to withhold $65 million of a $125 million contribution to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. According to Tarazi, Ahli Arab recently had to drop the number of patient beds from 80 to 50 because of a lack of resources.
We visited an outpatient clinic in Gaza City — sponsored by the Middle East Council of Churches — that focuses on prenatal care, family planning and early childhood development. It was packed with women in dark-colored abayat and veils. Issa Tarazi, the executive director, took us to meet a group of girls who were in a program to help diminish the psychosocial impact of post-traumatic stress related to the conflicts. Thirty smiling teenagers insisted on performing a dance for us, to very loud music, proudly showing off their preparation.
The children of Gaza, Tarazi told us, are still suffering the consequences of the 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict that, according to UNICEF, killed more than 500 children and injured almost 3,400 — nearly a third with permanent disability. More than 1,500 children were orphaned. Tarazi said things got worse during two months of weekly protests that began in March against the Israeli blockade, with at least 125 people killed and thousands more injured. The Israeli Defense Forces have publicly stated that they are shooting to wound rather than to kill. A June 9 story in the Los Angeles Times documented the wave of lower extremity amputations of young people as a result of gunshot wounds to the legs that had overwhelmed medical facilities — which lack the kind of vascular surgery capability to which gunshot victims have access in most trauma centers in the United States.
At the Ard El Insan Clinic, the chief of pediatrics, Adnan al Wahaidi, said he had evaluated two children just that morning with rickets, a form of malnutrition almost never seen today in the U.S. He introduced me to one of the children — Jamal, a 2-year-old boy with the worst bowed legs of vitamin D deficiency that I had ever seen. Jamal waddled around one of the exam rooms, kicking a ball to the best of his ability, which al Wahaidi artfully returned.
One of the doctors told me they had seen many children with bullet wounds to their lower extremities — with treatment limited to cleansing the wounds, sterile bandages, antibiotics and only ibuprofen and Tylenol for pain relief. One couldn’t help but notice bullet holes on the walls of the clinic, which doctors described as being “on the front lines” during the Israeli Defense Forces’ invasions of December 2008 and July 2014.
At Al Quds Hospital, a major trauma unit run by the Palestine Red Crescent Society, we were ushered into the palatial office of hospital chief Khalil Abou Foul, a trauma surgeon trained in Libya. A delegation of their doctors sat with us while he explained what the hospital was up against.
He took us into the operating areas and we all donned surgical boots for a visit to the cardiac catheterization laboratory. The doctors were very proud of all their equipment and the chief of interventional cardiology came out of a procedure to shake hands and tell us about their clinical capabilities — for people with insurance. He said they sometimes had to plan a month in advance for certain procedures in order to procure the necessary supplies; he had recently missed an international meeting because he could not get an exit pass in time.
Our last stop was to 1,600-year-old Orthodox St. Porphyrius Church, named for a fourth century bishop who demolished pagan temples and introduced Christianity. The caretaker of the church showed us a baptismal font made of white stone that dated to the construction of the church around the year 402, in which generations of his own family had been baptized. But the number of Christians has been falling as the level of distress in Gaza has been rising, he said.
Gaza City was itself a prosperous port in the spice trade, dating long before the time of Jesus. Now, with no functioning stoplights, hundreds of horse and donkey-drawn carriages driven by children, and only four to six hours of electricity available every day, there was a sense of disorder and economic desperation everywhere we went.
The most striking thing to me was the lack of hostility toward Israel in our conversations with the doctors, nurses, and the staff of that ancient church. Contemplating our visit, reconciliation seemed not only possible but essential.
For now, my inability to obtain melatonin from an Israeli pharmacy pales in comparison with all the reasons that Palestinian parents in Gaza have for losing sleep at night.
An infant receives a checkup at the Al Ahli Arab Hospital. (photo: CNEWA)