18 October 2016
Lebanese army soldiers stand on an armored truck next to a church during a patrol after bombings in late June in Qaa. When a series of bombs exploded in the Lebanese Christian village near the Syrian border, it not only changed the lives of the victims and their families, but also the lives of Syrian refugees living nearby. (photo: CNS/EPA)
When a series of bombs exploded in a Lebanese Christian village near the Syrian border in June, it not only changed the lives of the victims and their families, but also the lives of Syrian refugees living nearby.
In a government effort to prevent any future attacks, a Lebanese town that was once a lifeline for Syrians for education, activities and friendships has now been cut off from the local Syrian community.
“Before the bombings, we had nearly 350 Syrian children coming to our center every day for classes and activities,” said Father Elian Nasrallah, a priest at St. Elias Melkite Catholic Church, located just footsteps from the attacks three months ago. Before that, the community center hosted both Syrian and Lebanese children, who learned and played together and celebrated one another’s holidays. The priest said they will reopen the center later in October, even under high security and tensions.
Although tourism is slowly returning to the area, with Lebanese from different parts of the country visiting for hunting trips and barbecues, tensions remain between the Lebanese government tasked with protecting its citizens and an increasingly frustrated Syrian refugee community that feels stifled by suspicion restrictions.
“We’re not in a normal situation. What happened was very hard. We need to think about the martyrs and their families,” the priest said.
Four suicide bombers hit the town square of Qaa in two separate incidents 27 June, killing themselves and five residents and wounding more than 30 others. It shook up the relatively quiet frontier area, highlighting its vulnerability as bordering a part of Syria controlled by the Islamic State group. Since then, the area’s growing Syrian refugee community of around 30,000 has been under tight security. Hundreds have been arrested on suspicion of having connections to the attacks, and the residents of the agricultural area called Qaa Projects, which has become a vast informal tented settlement, now require government permission to leave the area.
On a recent Sunday, Fawza Ibrahim Ali was in Qaa, having gotten permission through Father Nasrallah to visit. She needed medicine and respite from her life at the makeshift camp, where families of 10 share tents, and where the past three months have meant isolation and uncertainty.
“We’re now doing nothing,” she said, sitting on the balcony of the priest’s home, which he suggested so that she would not arouse suspicion in a more public space like an outdoor cafe. Describing her daily life, she said, “I get up in my tent, I get cleaned and get dressed, I do my housework, and I sit for the rest of the day. There’s nowhere to go.”
With no end in sight, she dreams of returning to Raqqa, the Syrian capital of Islamic State’s self-proclaimed caliphate. Ali remembers better days there: neighbors visiting one another, children playing outdoors and going to school, and women wearing colorful clothing — unlike the full black niqab they’re now required to wear — and walking through the city at all hours. It’s where she met her husband, and where her oldest daughter, now 20, earned her bachelor’s degree at age 16.
“I want to return to Raqqa,” she said. After pausing briefly, she added, “I know it’s impossible.”
“If you saw Raqqa, you wouldn’t recognize it anymore. It’s over.”
Ali hopes for a better situation between the Syrian refugees and the residents of Qaa, in which they would be able to once again visit one another freely.
“They used to come to our tents for tea. Now, we don’t get any visitors.” She emphasized that she is grateful for the medical and emergency care that she and other refugees in Qaa Projects receive from the United Nations and the Lebanese Red Cross. But they’ll need more than the essentials to heal their isolation and stagnation.
The first step to getting things back to relative normality will be reopening the community center for children, which offers classes and activities; for many, it is the closest thing they’ve had to a school since they arrived in Lebanon.
Fortunately for the children, they don’t need government permission to move around. But they might need to feel welcome, after three months of tight security.
“It will be hard to convince the kids to come back,” said Father Nasrallah. “But we’ll try again. Life has to go on.”
17 October 2016
In this image from April, a woman prepares tea in a camp for internally displaced families in Ain Kawa, near Erbil, Iraq. Residents of the camp were displaced from Mosul and other communities in Iraq when ISIS swept through the area in 2014. On 17 October 2016, a battle began to retake Mosul from ISIS — sparking both hope and concern among displaced Iraqis.
(photo: CNS/Paul Jeffrey)
Iraqi Christians are cautiously welcoming the start of the battle for Mosul and the Ninevah Plain, their ancestral homeland of the past 14 centuries from which they were brutally driven out by the Islamic State group more than two years ago.
“They’ve been waiting for this day after being forced out in the summer of 2014, and many Christians have been living in very miserable conditions since. A number are eager to go back,” Father Emanuel Youkhana told the Catholic News Service. The archimandrite, a member of the Assyrian Church of the East, heads the Christian Aid Program Northern Iraq, CAPNI.
“Of course the military operation is just the first of several phases paving the way for their return. They will need security and other guarantees before they go back,” Father Youkhana said. “Also much reconstruction and rehabilitation of the region occupied the Islamic State militants will need to take place.”
This summer, the U.N. said that as the Mosul crisis evolves, up to 13 million people throughout Iraq may need humanitarian aid by the year’s end — far larger than the Syrian crisis. This would make the humanitarian operation in Mosul likely the single largest, most complex in the world in 2016.
Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Yousif Thomas Mirkis of Kirkuk, Iraq, told CNS Iraqi Christians view these operations “with hope and fear.”
“Everything is complicated. Still, we are waiting for what will happen after Daesh (the Arabic slang name for Islamic State), because maybe those criminals will be thrown out of Iraq, but the mentality remains in those who welcomed them,” Archbishop Mirkis said. “So how do we heal the country from this kind of fanaticism, which is very deep in society?”
The Kirkuk Archdiocese has taken in and ministered to hundreds of Iraqi Christians displaced by the brutal attacks of the Islamic State militants, who demanded Mosul residents leave their homes and businesses, convert to Islam or be killed.
Prior to the Iraqi military’s capitulation to a small group of Islamic State fighters in 2014, Mosul was inhabited by more than 2 million people. It’s believed that only about 1 million residents remain today. Some 130,000 have fled to other areas within Iraq, such as Kirkuk or Kurdistan. Thousands of others are being housed in neighboring countries, such as Jordan and Lebanon, while perhaps hundreds have been resettled or are awaiting resettlement in the U.S., Australia and Canada. Some live in cramped conditions in church basements. Caritas and other Catholic organizations have been working to help them.
International humanitarian organizations are warning that Iraqis, mainly Sunni Muslims, left in Mosul are “now in grave danger.” The Norwegian Refugee Council, Save the Children and others are urging the establishment of safe exit routes for civilians to flee the city.
“Unless safe routes to escape the fighting are established, many families will have no choice but to stay and risk being killed by crossfire or bombardment, trapped beyond the reach of humanitarian aid with little food or medical care,” said Aram Shakaram, Save the Children’s deputy country director in Iraq.
“Those that try to flee will be forced to navigate a city ringed with booby traps, snipers and hidden land mines. Without immediate action to ensure people can flee safely, we are likely to see bloodshed of civilians on a massive scale,” Shakaram warned.
The humanitarian groups criticize instructions from Iraq’s military urging inhabitants to hunker down inside their homes.
At best, this is impractical in a brutal urban conflict, the groups say. At worst, it risks civilian buildings being turned into military positions and families being used as human shields, they argue.
But even if people do manage to flee, they also face some uncertainty. Although aid agencies have been preparing for months, observers believe camps for the internally displaced are ready for perhaps some 60,000 people, and these camps could be overwhelmed within days.
The U.N. Office of the Coordinator for Humanitarian Affairs reported it is locating additional land for extra camps to be set up. It reported that construction of additional sites, with capacity for 250,000 people, is underway. Food rations for 220,000 families are ready for distribution, 143,000 sets of emergency household items are in stock; latrines and showers are being readied for dispatch and 240 tons of medication are available at distribution points. But funding toward a flash appeal has been insufficient to prepare fully for the worst-case scenario.
Even if the operation rids the area of Islamic State, Archbishop Mirkis said a number of Christians have serious concerns about returning home without iron-clad guarantees for their future safety.
“Who can give such assurances? Maybe the big countries. But those who suffered the most are the Yezidis. The Yezidis and all the minorities face the same problem. How can we have peace with neighbors who looted our houses?” he asked.
He also expressed concerned for civilians inside Mosul.
“All those children, elderly and civilians are caught like in a prison. We have to think about them too. We have to read the book of Jonah. It can explain many things to us,” the Catholic Chaldean leader said.
14 October 2016
Syro-Malabar faithful celebrate the conclusion of a spiritual retreat in the Archeparchy of Changanacherry. (photo: John E. Kozar)
In the current edition of ONE, CNEWA’s president Msgr. John E. Kozar reflects on a subject that is the focus of the Autumn edition of the magazine, the Catholic Eastern churches:
These Eastern churches are ancient and apostolic; they are challenged by poverty, hatred, oppression, persecution and “smallness,” but they are unique in their individual character and identity.
Rather than dictate to these individual churches how they might be more like “us,” CNEWA proudly walks with them to uplift them and fortify them in proclaiming their faith and their traditions.
More than anything else, each is a church full of faith, sometimes in a very heroic sense. Helping them maintain this faith is the single greatest act of accompaniment we can offer. Despite overwhelming odds, they endure and remain faithful to our Lord. And we are privileged to witness their daily professions of faith.
The little children radiate in their smiles how a loving Jesus brings joy to their hearts. With a simple signing of the cross, singing of a spiritual hymn, kissing an icon, or preparing to receive the Body of Christ in Communion, these little ones lovingly embrace their faith and invite our continuing expressions of support. They bring us honor as we walk with them.
People who are hungry or who have no shelter find comfort in the church. Although displaced and forced to flee from their home, they still have another “home” — the church. CNEWA reaches out to help nourish them, to bring them basic health care, to provide temporary housing — in short, to remind them they are not alone. While we assist them in their needs, they remind us that we are all members of God’s family. Our prayers for them are infinitely redounded by remembrance of us in their prayers.
There is much more at this link. And check out the Autumn 2016 edition of ONE for more on CNEWA’s unique partnership with the Eastern churches.
12 October 2016
Pope Francis embraces Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople during an ecumenical prayer service with religious leaders in the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, Italy on 20 September. Pope Francis and retired Pope Benedict XVI joined a group of religious and civil leaders praising the patriarch in a new book, ahead of the 25th anniversary of the patriarch’s election. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Defending religious freedom, fighting indifference to attacks on human dignity and promoting care of creation are obligations that Orthodox and Catholics share and areas where Pope Francis said he and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople are in deep harmony.
In anticipation of the 2 November celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Orthodox patriarch’s election, Pope Francis and retired Pope Benedict XVI joined a group of religious and civic leaders in contributing to a book, “Bartholomew: Apostle and Visionary,” published by the U.S.-based Thomas Nelson.
The Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, published the texts written by Pope Francis and Pope Benedict 12 October.
In many meetings, Pope Francis wrote, the two “have not only strengthened our spiritual affinity, but above all have deepened our shared consciousness of the common pastoral responsibility we have at this point in history before the urgent challenges that Christians and the entire human family face today.”
At their first meeting, in March 2013, Pope Francis said he felt he was encountering someone “who in his person and his manner expresses all the profound human and spiritual experience of the Orthodox tradition.”
The relationship has grown and deepened both personally and on the level of their ministries, the pope said.
“The church of Rome and the church of Constantinople are united by a profound and longstanding bond, which not even centuries of silence and misunderstanding have been able to sever,” Pope Francis wrote. Building on the work of their predecessors, the two leaders have “the sacred task of tracing our way back along the path that paved the separation of our churches, healing the sources of our mutual alienation and moving toward the re-establishment of full communion in faith and love, mindful of our legitimate differences, just as it was in the first millennium.”
Pope Francis said he has learned much from Patriarch Bartholomew’s long study and teaching on the Christian obligation to care for the environment, and he said the two share a Gospel-based commitment to working for “a world that is more just and more respectful of every person’s fundamental dignity and freedoms, the most important of which is religious freedom.”
In working for a world where love and solidarity play a greater role, Pope Francis wrote, “we are both aware that the voices of our brothers and sisters, now to the point of extreme distress, compel us to proceed more rapidly along the path of reconciliation and communion between Catholics and Orthodox, precisely so that they may be able to proclaim credibly the Gospel of peace that comes from Christ.”
In his contribution to the book, retired Pope Benedict said he first met the patriarch in 2002 as they were traveling with St. John Paul II on a train to Assisi, Italy. “The patriarch had invited me to sit with him for a while in the same compartment and, in this way, to become personally closer.”
Meeting “along the way” was not accidental, the retired pope wrote.
With the patriarch’s knowledge of theology, cultures and languages, “his thought is a journey with others and toward others, which certainly does not degenerate into a lack of direction, in which ‘being on the road’ would simply lead nowhere.”
“Deep-rootedness in faith in Jesus Christ, the son of the living God and our redeemer, does not stand in the way of openness to the other, because Jesus Christ bears in himself all truth,” Pope Benedict wrote.
Referring to Patriarch Bartholomew as “this great man of the church of God,” Pope Benedict also praised “his love for creation and his advocacy that it be dealt with in accordance with this love, in matters big and small.”
Pope Benedict said he was pleased that even after he resigned in 2013, “the patriarch has remained ever close to me personally and has even visited me in my little cloister. In many places in my apartment can be found memorable items from him. These items are not only endearing signs of our personal friendship, but also signposts toward unity between Constantinople and Rome, signs of hope that we are heading toward unity.”
11 October 2016
In this image from last spring, children sing in a preschool for displaced children run by the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena in Ain Kawa, near Erbil, Iraq. To see more and learn more, read United in Faith, Prayer and Love in the Summer 2016 edition of ONE.
(photo: CNS/Paul Jeffrey)
7 October 2016
A woman pauses on her way home in an Armenian village. Caritas Armenia, a longtime partner of CNEWA, seeks to help that country’s elderly. You can read a firsthand account and learn more about the challenges facing the region’s elderly in Shaken by the Earthquake of Life, both published in recent issues of ONE magazine. (photo: courtesy Caritas Armenia)
6 October 2016
Tags: Armenia Poor/Poverty Village life Caritas
Bells call Georgians to celebrate the Divine Liturgy in Tblisi, Georgia. To learn more about the ancient church of Constantinople, and how it is thriving today, read Out of Byzantium in the Autumn 2016 edition of ONE. (photo: Molly Corso)
5 October 2016
Tags: Eastern Christianity Eastern Churches Georgia
A young student in Ethiopia offers a warm greeting as he begins another school day. CNEWA’s president Msgr. John E. Kozar paid a pastoral visit to the Horn of Africa earlier this year. See more images from his trip and learn more about the challenges this part of the world faces in this pictorial essay from the Summer 2016 edition of ONE. (photo: John E. Kozar)
4 October 2016
Tags: Ethiopia Children Education Africa Horn of Africa
Sister Hakinta Muradyan drives children to the Catholic church in Tashir, Armenia. Many of the children in the town are fatherless. To learn more about the challenges they’re facing, and how the church is helping them, read Armenia’s Children, Left Behind in the Summer 2016 edition of ONE. (photo: Nazik Armenakyan)
3 October 2016
Tags: Children Sisters Armenia Catholic
Pope Francis meets with Orthodox Patriarch Ilia II of Georgia at the Svetitskhoveli Cathedral in Mtskheta. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Paying honor to the steadfast faith of Orthodox Christians in Georgia, Pope Francis nevertheless urged them to draw closer to other Christians and work together to share the Gospel.
Georgian Orthodox Patriarch Ilia II, who recently has been cautious in his relations with leaders of other churches, greeted Pope Francis when he arrived at the Tbilisi airport on 30 September, welcomed him to the patriarchal palace that evening and hosted him again on 1 October at Svetitskhoveli Cathedral in Mtskheta.
Walking into a meeting hall at the patriarchate on 30 September, Pope Francis helped the 83-year-old Patriarch Ilia, who moves with great difficulty because of Parkinson’s disease.
More than 80 percent of Georgians are Orthodox; Catholics from the Latin, Armenian and Chaldean churches form about 2 percent of the population.
In the 1980’s, the Georgian Orthodox Church was deeply involved in the process of seeking Christian unity, but its participation has waned in recent years in conjunction with a stronger assertion of Georgian identity, including its language and Orthodox faith.
When the pope arrived in Georgia, small groups of Orthodox faithful gathered on the road outside Tbilisi airport holding signs protesting the his visit. One sign called him a “heretic” and the other accused the Catholic Church of “spiritual aggression.” The same groups were present the next evening outside Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, the spiritual center of the Georgian Orthodox Church.
The Orthodox groups most opposed to dialogue with Western Christians have expressed fear that closer ties with the West will lead to what they see as moral decadence.
Patriarch Ilia told Pope Francis that while globalization is not “a negative phenomenon per se, it contains a lot of dangers and threats,” including the possibility of creating what he described as a “homogenous mess” that erases specific cultural and moral values.
While the world has experienced progress in many ways, he said, “humanity has taken steps backward in spirituality, in belief in God.”
Nevertheless, the patriarch spoke warmly of Catholic-Orthodox dialogue and practical cooperation and he welcomed the pope, saying, “This is truly a historic visit. May God bless our two churches.”
Pope Francis began his speech by making a personal, improvised comment: “I am profoundly moved by hearing the ‘Ave Maria’ composed by Your Holiness. Only a heart profoundly devoted to the Mother of God could compose something so beautiful.”
“Faced with a world thirsting for mercy, unity and peace,” Pope Francis told the patriarch and members of the Georgian Synod of Bishops, God asks Catholics and Orthodox to “renew our commitment to the bonds which exist between us, of which our kiss of peace and our fraternal embrace are already an eloquent sign.”
While the Georgian patriarchate traces its origins to the preaching of the apostle Andrew, the church of Rome — the papacy — was founded by the apostle Peter. The two apostles were brothers, Pope Francis noted, and the churches they founded “are given the grace to renew today, in the name of Christ and to his glory, the beauty of apostolic fraternity.”
“Dear brother,” the pope told the patriarch, “let us allow the Lord Jesus to look upon us anew, let us once again experience the attraction of his call to leave everything that prevents us from proclaiming together his presence.”
“The Lord has given this love to us, so that we can love each other as he has loved us,” Pope Francis said.
The love of God and love for God, he said, should enable Catholics and Orthodox “to rise above the misunderstandings of the past, above the calculations of the present and fears for the future.”
Pope Francis praised the strength of the Georgian people and the Georgian church, which “found the strength to rise up again after countless trials.”
Pope Francis and the Orthodox patriarch of Georgia met on 30 September and pledged to witness to the Gospel of peace. (video: CNS)
The Georgian Orthodox Church, like the Catholic churches, is still recovering from harsh repression under Soviet rule. In 1917, there were almost 2,500 Orthodox churches in the country, but by the mid-1980’s only 80 were open for worship. The Catholic parishes suffered a similar fate, with church property confiscated and used as museums, offices, social halls or given to the Orthodox.
“The multitude of saints, whom this country counts, encourages us to put the Gospel before all else and to evangelize as in the past, even more so, free from the restraints of prejudice and open to the perennial newness of God,” the pope said.
When differences arise, he said, they must not be allowed to be an obstacle to evangelizing together, but a stimulus to get to know and understand each other better, “to intensify our prayers for each other and to cooperate with apostolic charity in our common witness, to the glory of God in heaven and in the service of peace on earth.”
Pope Francis ended his remarks by praying that the Georgian martyrs would intercede to bring “relief to the many Christians who even today suffer persecution and slander, and may they strengthen us in the noble aspiration to be fraternally united in proclaiming the Gospel of peace.”
Vatican officials had hoped that Patriarch Ilia would an official delegation to the pope’s Mass in Tbilisi on 1 October, which did not happen, but the patriarch warmly welcomed the pope to Svetitskhoveli Cathedral that evening, explaining the importance of the site in the history of Georgian Christianity and describing it as a symbol of stalwart faith in the face of the harshest persecution.
Pope Francis responded by praising the way the Georgian Orthodox treasure their history, but he also said that Christian identity is maintained when it not only is deeply rooted in faith, but “also when it is open and ready, never rigid or closed.”
Georgian Orthodox tradition holds that a chapel in the cathedral houses the seamless tunic of Jesus, a garment the pope described as symbolizing “a mystery of unity.”
Contemplating that seamless garment, he said, should make Christians feel “deep pain over the historical divisions” among them. “These are the true and real lacerations that wound the Lord’s flesh.”
Tags: Pope Francis Ecumenism Christian Unity Georgia Georgian Orthodox Church