13 July 2016
Farha Nasrallah, widow of Boulos Al-Ahmar, stands with her 3-year-old daughter on the front steps of St. Elias Melkite Catholic Church in Al Qaa, Lebanon, on 10 July. Her late husband was driving an ambulance to the scene of explosion when more bombs went off. Residents of the predominantly Christian village are determined not to live in fear. (photo: CNS/Brooke Anderson)
Boulos al-Ahmar had just driven the ambulance to the scene of the explosion when more bombs detonated, killing him. When Majed Wehbe heard the first explosions near his home, he ran to the scene to help, only to arrive in time for the next set of explosions.
These men died as heroes, unafraid to run toward disaster to help others, and their Christian village wants to honor their memory by shunning the fear these explosions were designed to instill.
The Lebanese frontier village is mourning the loss of five residents to a series of explosions in late June. But within two weeks, the people were showing their determination to bring back life.
“We will continue to have culture, activities and late-night celebrations. We’re not just going to survive. We’re going to live our lives,” said Bashir Mattar, the mayor of Al Qaa, a village of about 15,000, predominantly Melkite Catholic, with some Maronite Catholic and Orthodox. They share the village with nearly 30,000 Syrian refugees who have fled war in their country, about three miles away.
The village is relatively poor, with the majority of the population belonging to the army, a reliable employer for an area with few job opportunities. Families live in modest homes, often decorated with canopies of grape vines. Syrian refugees live nearby in informal tented settlements.
“We will continue helping Syrian refugees so that they can live in dignity,” the mayor said at a 9 July town hall meeting, the first of its kind since the explosions, which led to the arrest of more than 200 Syrian refugees in the area. “If they get an education and have hope, especially the children, then they won’t turn to extremism and terrorism.”
Four suicide bombers hit the town in two separate incidents 27 June. They killed themselves and the five residents and injured more than 30 others. Although the perpetrators have yet to be identified, the area’s growing Syrian refugee community has been under tight security following the attacks.
Hilal Khashan, a professor of political studies at the American University of Beirut, said Al Qaa probably was not the target of the attack. He said some believe the suicide bombers got stuck in the village as they were trying to coordinate an attack in a big city.
Although there is a narrow stretch of Islamic State group-controlled land between Al Qaa and Syria, Khashan said he does not foresee a repeat of the attack, because the group does not have the constituency or resources in Lebanon to stage spectacular attacks, as it does in Iraq. Still, the bombings in al-Qaa left the Christian villages that border Syria’s Islamic-State-controlled areas shaken.
From the beginning of the Bekaa Valley until the entrance to the village of Al Qaa, 10 Lebanese Army checkpoints line the road. Inside the village, as the sun set and residents began to arrive at the town hall meeting in a building near the scene of the attacks, armored vehicles began patrolling the area. Some soldiers set up positions on the roofs of nearby buildings.
“Al Qaa is the door to Lebanon. If it falls, then Lebanon could fall,” said lifelong resident Georgette Farha Taom, emphasizing that she still considered the village’s Lebanese and Syrians to be on good terms. “We’ve always had a good relationship with the Syrians. They’re more scared than us. They fled their country. They have nowhere to go.”
The next morning, as worshipers, including some local Muslims, filled St. Elias Melkite Catholic Church, security personnel were again out in force, closely observing and sometimes checking IDs of those entering or walking by the church. Once the service started, the soldiers’ faces could be seen peering through the church’s windows, as the priest gave an impassioned sermon urging people not to be scared. He thanked the Lebanese army and honored the victims of the attacks, whose names and photos appeared at the main entrance to the church.
A prominent guest joined the congregation that day: Myriam Skaff, president of the Popular Bloc, visited the village from Zahle to show her support for Al Qaa, something she said she would continue to do on a regular basis. Although such gestures by politicians are not unusual at times of crisis, this visit appeared to give support to what locals wanted to show the rest of the country and beyond — that their village is open for business and is a safe destination.
“This is the first time since the attacks that the church is filled with people,” said the Rev. Elian Nasrallah. “There was no life after the attacks, but it’s coming back slowly.”
12 July 2016
Students attend class at St. Michael School in Aiga, Ethiopia. CNEWA is helping provide nourishing biscuits so that schoolchildren in drought-ravaged Ethiopia don’t go hungry. See more pictures here. And to help these and other children in northeast Africa, visit this giving page.
(photo: John E. Kozar)
11 July 2016
Nuns light candles on 11 July for victims of a suicide car bomb attack at a shopping area
in Baghdad. (photo: CNS/Ahmed Saad, Reuters)
Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Sako, on the Muslim feast of Eid al-Fitr, called for tolerance and forgiveness to fight extremism, hatred and terrorism.
Speaking at a prayer service 7 July in the Karrada section of Baghdad for the victims of the 3 July bombing that killed more than 290 people and wounded 200, the patriarch emphasized that “there is a spiritual, moral, and patriotic side for our prayer.”
“In such a tragedy, we are joining millions of Muslims in praying for the affected families, that God may have mercy on the victims and bless the wounded with a speedy recovery,” Patriarch Sako said.
“We express our shock, sadness and solidarity with Iraqis and strongly condemn these cruel acts that affected innocent people, stole the happiness of preparing to celebrate Eid al-Fitr and converted it to a national mourning,” he said.
The patriarch said terrorism had nothing to do with religion, “but may be linked to political games that allow killing of Muslims, Christians, Mandaeans and Yezidis as ‘infidels,’” the patriarch said.
He added that “everyone should understand that killing innocent people leads to hell rather than to heaven.”
“Our prayers this evening will help us learn lessons from this tragedy and find effective and permanent solutions,” he said. “If the government was coherent and politicians worked as one team, ISIS wouldn’t be able to commit these crimes; tamper with the country’s security and stability, killing thousands of innocent people; displace millions; and destroy the Iraqi national fabric and peaceful co-existence.”
8 July 2016
Four boys in Lebanon enjoy ka’ak, a sesame-seed-encrusted bread stuffed with spices. To learn more about the history and traditions of bread in Lebanon, check out Food for Thought from the September 2002 edition of our magazine. (photo: Marilyn Raschka)
7 July 2016
Immaculate Conception sisters greet children at Our Lady of Armenia Education Center in Tashir, Armenia. More children there are growing up without fathers, and the Church is doing what it can to help. Read about Armenia’s Children, Left Behind in the Summer 2016 edition of ONE.
(photo: Nazik Armenakyan)
6 July 2016
A worker from the Piacenti restoration center works on a mosaic in the Church of the Nativity
on 5 July in Bethlehem. (photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)
An Italian team has completed restoration of Crusader-era mosaics in the Church of the Nativity, but the mosaics will only be unveiled publicly after work on lighting, electricity and the fire alarm system is also finished.
The work involved removing the layers of centuries-worth of soot and dirt — a result of the smoke of candles lit by pilgrims coming to venerate the site traditionally believed to be the birthplace of Jesus — from about 1.55 million tiny mosaic pieces that were reviewed and restored.
“I think all the churches want to save this church because here Jesus was born,” said Giammarco Piacenti, CEO of Piacenti restoration center, which began work on the church starting with the rotting wooden roof in April 2013. “It is important for all Christianity. For my professional life, this occasion is incredible.”
Only 1,400 square feet of mosaics remain from the original 21,528 square feet that adorned the wall, he noted. The others were destroyed by rain leaking through the roof, he said.
Made of stone, mother of pearl, and glass and gold leaf, the mosaics portray different scenes in the life of Jesus and the church, including the disbelief of Thomas, the Assumption and Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem on a donkey.
Piacenti said the mosaic of the disbelief of Thomas shows the date of 1155 and the names Ephraim and Basilius, presumably artisans who created the work. Some pieces of the mosaics remain missing and will not be replaced, he said, based on the theory of restoration that there should be a minimum of intervention on any piece.
“Really, it is only conservation,” he said.
One special moment came when restorers cleared away plaster from the wall bordering the roof in the main section of the church and discovered a seventh mosaic of a golden angel, in addition to the six they already knew existed. The angels’ arms gently direct pilgrims toward the grotto traditionally thought to be the site where Mary gave birth to Jesus.
During the Ottoman Empire, the angels’ faces were disfigured with gunshots to the nose and so here the missing pieces have been replaced, said Piacenti.
Both Islam and Judaism prohibit graven human images.
“They were shot in the nose to destroy, to kill them,” Piacenti said. Restoration gave them “a second life.”
The Church of the Nativity is shared by the Franciscans, and the Greek Orthodox and Armenian Orthodox churches. It is governed by the traditional Status Quo, the 1852 agreement that preserves the division of ownership and responsibilities of various Christian holy sites. In years past, the denominations have been known to jealously guard over their sections of the church, to the extent of fist fights breaking out over who could clean which part of the stone floor.
Relations among the churches have become progressively more cordial over the past decade, and the three churches were able to come together under the auspices of a special committee formed by the Palestinian National Authority. Through joint discussions they reached a working agreement permitting the much needed restorations on the Church of the Nativity to begin.
Once funds are raised, the next stage of the project will include restoration of the church’s 50 pillars and the study and restoration of the church floor and the mosaics underneath.
The different denominations have come to similar agreements in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, allowing for restoration projects to begin there as well.
5 July 2016
Suhaila Tarazi, left, meets with patients at the Al Ahli Arab Hospital. (photo: John E. Kozar)
The Summer edition of ONE features a powerful Letter From Gaza written by Suhaila Tarzai, director of the Al Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza. She describes the challenges of living in a land decimated by war:
The war has greatly harmed Gaza’s vulnerable health system, which had not functioned well beforehand. Many services and specialized treatments are not available to Palestinians inside Gaza. There is a lack of medicine for cancer treatment, drugs for cardiovascular diseases, life-saving antibiotics and kidney dialysis products.
Working in such dire conditions is too much for any human to cope with. Hundreds of the displaced were taking refuge in safer areas and we had our share of them at the hospital. They filled whatever little space we could find; they sat in the gardens and slept in the open. Our staff spared no effort in alleviating their suffering; I even hired extra help to give some staff a break. We offered them meals and water and blankets. (I have to record here my deepest gratitude to all of our donors, including CNEWA, for their support and generosity. Without them, we would not have succeeded.)
...A year and a half has elapsed since the war ended. And little of the money pledged from donor countries to rebuild Gaza has been received. The suffering in what many call the world’s largest open-air prison continues and it seems the rights of Gazans do not matter. According to several reports issued by the United Nations, Gaza will be “uninhabitable” by 2020.
For us Christians, all this suffering, depression, melancholy and despair should not sadden us, but render us more mature to confront the horror of the occupation and serve the needy. When I look into the eyes of our children wandering in the rubble, or when I see their stare on television screens, expressing their angry feelings to reporters, I know that nonetheless there is hope. Palestine will never be forgotten; it will remain deeply anchored in the conscience of the world. ... I pray that justice will eventually be done.
Read more of the Letter From Gaza. And check out the short video below, for another glimpse at life in the hospital.
1 July 2016
Faithful process to celebrate the liturgy in a camp for people displaced by war in Ain Kawa, northern Iraq. (photo: Paul Jeffrey)
The Summer 2016 edition of ONE features a riveting photo essay, chronicling the recent trip CNEWA’s chair, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, made to Iraq:
In the midst of evil, how does one offer love? Being with those in need is a start.
“I was raised with a high value on visiting people, especially when there was adversity,” wrote Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, upon his return from Iraqi Kurdistan in April. “A neighbor a block over had a fire; the next day we visited to see how they were doing and if they needed anything. Uncle Ed had eye surgery; we visited to make sure he was recovering. After my grandpa’s death, we visited my grandma a lot.”
The cardinal visited Iraqi Kurdistan “because,” he continued, “the Christian community there is family, a family in a lot of trouble, with much adversity, and to visit them is a very good thing.”
From 8 to 12 April, the cardinal, who chairs Catholic Near East Welfare Association, led a pastoral visit to Iraqi Kurdistan to be with the families displaced from their homes in northern Iraq’s Nineveh Plain since August 2014.
Read more and see additional pictures here. Below, photojournalist Paul Jeffrey, who covered the trip, describes some of what he saw and experienced.
30 June 2016
Nirmala Dasi Sister Lovely Kattumattam assists a resident at Ashraya, an elderly care center on the outskirts of Mumbai. To learn more about religious communities facing new challenges in India, read On a Mission from God in the Summer edition of ONE. (photo: Peter Lemieux)
29 June 2016
School food programs in Ethiopia provide students with nutritionally dense biscuits daily.
(photo: John E. Kozar)
In the Summer 2016 edition of ONE, CNEWA’s President Msgr. John E. Kozar reflects on a recent visit to drought-ridden Ethiopia:
Most of my visit was concentrated in the extreme northern reaches of the country bordering Eritrea. This is a vast mountainous area that has very challenging “roads” to reach remote villages; in many instances there are no roads at all, only dangerous mountain footpaths.
After a tortuous two-hour, nail-biting trip in a four-wheel-drive vehicle, our director of programs, Thomas Varghese, and I arrived in a remote village named Aiga, where we stopped at the humble parish school of St. Michael. There, the children warmly greeted us with songs and prayers and welcomed us lovingly into their classrooms, which have only the barest hint of outside natural light for the classes.
After visiting with each of the classes, we went outside the school, where they lined up to receive their “CNEWA” biscuits: a two-biscuit pack that would sustain them as the school day went on and would give them enough energy to walk home to their mountain dwellings. Most of the children walked over steep mountain trails for two or three hours each way to come to school. This simple nutritional supplement means the difference between these beautiful children coming to school or staying at home.
There were two very touching moments for me as they were enjoying their biscuits. The first came when I saw many children only eating one biscuit and wrapping up the other one to take home to be shared with others in their family; and the second was when a little girl offered me one of her biscuits. Tears came to my eyes at this gesture of kindness and generosity. What a demonstration of the Christian values that they learn in school and practice in their humble homes.
Read more in the magazine. And watch the video below for more of Msgr. Kozar’s impressions from that trip. If you’d like to support CNEWA’s work in Ethiopia, and help the hungry hold on to life, visit this giving page.