17 August 2015
Children attend a class in traditional Arab dance at the Centro Social Hondureño árabe.
(photo: Carina Wint)
Some might be surprised to learn there’s a thriving Arab population in the heart of Central America. We explored some of that phenomenon in 2006:
The Centro Social Hondureño árabe is Honduras’s largest and most opulent country club, boasting tennis courts, a fitness center, sushi bar, disco and other luxuries rare in this country that is one of the poorest in the hemisphere. But for all its glitter, the club’s chief distinction, suggested by its name, is that it was founded by and primarily for the country’s small but prosperous Arab-Honduran community.
“The community has always looked for forums to socialize, to maintain our bond, and this club is a consummation of that feeling,” said Lidia Abouid, the club’s supervisor.
On a recent summer day, only a couple of miles from the urban din of San Pedro Sula, Honduras’s city of industry, scores of children could be found paddling in an Olympic-sized pool, cooling off after a morning of tennis and racquetball. The voice of the Lebanese chanteuse Fayrouz wafted over the grounds as the staff tidied the club’s three banquet halls: the Palestine, the Jerusalem and the Bethlehem.
Today, there are as many as 220,000 Arab-Hondurans. While they represent only 3 percent of the total population of 7.3 million people, they have had an outsized influence on the nation. They are most visible in business and only slightly less so in politics. Centro Social’s president, Juan Canahuati, a textile magnate with numerous other entrepreneurial activities, is considered the country’s top businessman. Coffee exporter and former Industry and Commerce Minister Oscar Kafati’s ancestors immigrated to Honduras in the late 19th century from Beit Jala, a Christian town adjacent to Bethlehem. Former President Carlos Flores Facusse’s mother came from Bethlehem.
Arab immigration to Latin America is not unique to Honduras nor are such success stories. To take just two prominent examples: former Argentine President Carlos Ménem (1989-1999) traces his roots to Syria; Mexico’s telecommunications titan, Carlos Slim Helu, the world’s third richest man, is of Lebanese descent.
Nearly all Arab-Hondurans claim Christian Palestinian origins, making the Arab-Honduran experience unique. Proportionally, there are more people of Palestinian descent in Honduras than any other Latin American country.
Arab Palestinians first came to Honduras in the 19th century, but the largest waves arrived after 1896, the year the Ottoman Turkish Empire, which then controlled
Palestine, first allowed emigration. Numerous factors motivated the early emigrants. In 1909, the Ottomans included in the military draft Christians and Jews, who were once forbidden to serve, but required to pay tribute instead. Economic incentives also drove Arabs abroad. Tourism and commerce, areas in which many Christians worked, declined during World War I. And increasingly Palestine’s Arab Christians found themselves competing with the growing Jewish population, largely secular Zionist immigrants from Europe, in their entrepreneurial activities. Just as today, there seemed to be more opportunities for enterprising Arabs abroad.
Read more about “Middle Eastern, Central American Style” in the September 2006 edition of ONE.
14 August 2015
Ethiopian children gather on a rural hillside. For a look at some of the rich and diverse traditions of the country and its people, read “Behold the Ethiopian” in the July-August 2004 edition of ONE.
(photo: Christian Molidor, R.S.M.)
13 August 2015
Some of the 78 children who took part in the 2015 Bethlehem Summer Camp, sponsored by the Pontifical Mission Library, pause for a picture during a walking tour of Bethlehem. The camp’s theme — “Our Heritage, Our Identity” — gave both Muslim and Christian participants a chance to discover more about Palestinian culture. To learn more, read the camp newsletter.
12 August 2015
A worker fastens a new cross to the bell tower of St. Sava’s Serbian Orthodox Church in Hanover, Germany. Learn more about Germany’s Orthodox Serbs in this feature from the July 2009
edition of ONE. (photo: Andy Spyra)
11 August 2015
In this image from 2013, Michal Reich and her husband, Doro, sit with their children, Benny and month old Josephine, in their home in Jerusalem. They are among a small but devoted group of Hebrew-speaking Catholics in Jerusalem. (photo: Debbie Hill)
In 2013, we took readers inside the Hebrew-speaking Catholic community in Jerusalem. This week, the vicar responsible for that community, the Rev. David Neuhaus, S.J., has written a letter to mark the group’s 60th anniversary. An excerpt:
We are all invited to reflect on the fact that God Almighty has planted the seed of faith in Christ deep in the soil of both Palestinian (and Arab) and Israeli societies. Does this have significance for the vocation of Christ’s disciples who, though separated by walls of enmity because of the ongoing conflict, are united by their faith in Christ? The words of the Apostle take on new meaning in our context, “For (Christ) is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it” (Ephesians 2:14-16).
Brought together, despite the walls of enmity, because “He is our peace,” Hebrew speaking and Arabic speaking disciples of Christ are called to show that justice, peace and equality are possible in our land. Our lives of faith must reveal the alternatives to war and violence, contempt and discrimination, engaging the other as brother and sister. Disciples of Christ can constitute a bridge between the Palestinian (and Arab) and Israeli worlds. We cannot assent to injustice and must be sensitive to injustice wherever it is present, especially in our own society. As disciples of Christ, we must also preach pardon as we have an intimate personal experience of being pardoned although we are sinners.
You can read the full letter here.
And to learn more about Hebrew-speaking Catholics, check out “Hebrew Spoken Here” from the Spring 2013 edition of ONE.
10 August 2015
Mosaics such as the one above, in the Chora Church in Istanbul, Turkey, show some of the richness of Byzantine tradition. To learn more about the art depicted here, and the glorious mosaics of Byzantium, check out “Shimmering Glory: Byzantine Mosaics” from the Winter 2013 edition of ONE. (photo: Sean Sprague)
7 August 2015
A doctor checks a young patient at a dispensary supported by CNEWA in Erbil, Iraq. Read more about efforts to provide health care to displaced Iraqis here. (photo: CNEWA)
6 August 2015
One year ago today, 6 August 2014, ISIS stormed through the cities and villages of northern Iraq, sending thousands literally running for their lives. Among them: the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena. Here, they are shown setting up housekeeping among others who have been displaced in Erbil, Iraq. Read more about the resilience and grace of the Iraqi people — one year after the invasion of ISIS — in the Summer 2015 edition of ONE. (photo: Don Duncan)
5 August 2015
Children relax during a break at the kindergarten run by the Dominican Sisters of Saint Catherine of Siena in Ain Kawa, Erbil. (photo: Don Duncan)
Tomorrow marks the one-year anniversary of the invasion of northern Iraq by ISIS — an event that displaced tens of thousands of Iraqis, many of them children. The aftershocks are still being felt.
The Summer 2015 edition of ONE has an extensive, in-depth look at what has happened to many of those displaced. An online exclusive profiles sisters caring for children:
At 8:30 a.m., a new facility for the children of displaced Iraqi families is abuzz with the sound of young voices and teachers.
From one classroom comes a singsong drone wishing the children a good morning in Arabic. “Sabah al kheir” comes the greeting, lilted at the end to suggest a question. “Sabah al noor,” the children reply, wishing their teachers a good morning in return.
In all five classrooms of the kindergarten, the day begins with the “first circle,” where teachers welcome the children, prayers are said and songs are sung. Prayers often include requests God return them to their former houses and villages, or that clothes and food be sent to those displaced Christians still living in precarious shelter.
From another classroom, melodies of Arabic nursery rhymes interspersed with ones in English can be heard. A slow, accented rendition of “One Potato, Two Potato” floats through the air at one point.
In the middle of this cacophony, Sister Ban Saeed is busy at a desk in the administrative office — a room with a curtain dividing it in two. The other half serves as the staff kitchen.
A Dominican Sister of St. Catherine of Siena who trained as a Montessori teacher in Adrian, Michigan, and followed that with a master’s degree in early childhood education, Sister Ban is the engine behind the new kindergarten that this community of Iraqi Christians has so sorely needed since ISIS expelled them from their homes in August 2014.
“The kindergarten is a big help to families here,” she says of the school that opened on 17 March. “We are getting children out of their homes for a few hours a day. Since the displacement, most homes in fact contain two or three families, so it has been a very difficult situation. This kindergarten helps bring happiness to the children and to the parents as well.”
As with many other services, kindergarten was something most Christians had access to in their hometowns and villages across the Nineveh Plain. But since their abrupt expulsion, that entire infrastructure has disappeared. In the initial months of the crisis, the need for essentials such as shelter and health care was the central focus; now, secondary services such as education and child care are slowly beginning to return to the picture, doing much to ease the suffering and anxiety of the displaced families.
Read it all.
To support the ongoing work of the sisters helping these children, please visit our giving page. And remember to keep these people in your prayers!
4 August 2015
Hamaspyur Nazaretian greets visitors at her shelter in Gyumri. The Summer 2015 edition of ONE includes a personal and poignant “Letter from Armenia.” Read about life among the elderly there at this link. (photo: Nazik Armenakyan)