12 November 2014
Christians gather for Evening Prayer outside St. Joseph’s Church in Erbil.(photo: Don Duncan)
The Autumn edition of ONE is online, and focuses a spotlight on The Middle East-most notably, with a dramatic look at life among refugees in Erbil, Iraq:
On talking to many Christian families and individuals who have taken refuge in cities across Iraqi Kurdistan, the master narrative is the same: ISIS, the jihadist Islamic terrorist movement seeking to create a caliphate in Iraq and Syria, had made rapid advances across large swaths of Iraq, and by early August, seized the Nineveh Plain in northern Iraq — a historic Christian stronghold.
The sixth day of August promises to be a date that will be seared into the Iraqi Christian psyche for quite some time: That is the day Iraqi Christendom finally — and maybe definitively — succumbed to extremists and much of the population was sent fleeing.
The exodus was rapid and frantic, beginning in the evening of 6 August. Families recount how they had 15 minutes to half an hour to grab what they could and leave, ahead of the rapid arrival of ISIS. The roads were choked with families in cars and on foot — Chaldean and Syriac Catholics, Copts and Armenians, but also Yazidis and Shiite Muslims from all over Nineveh — all fleeing the particular brand of ISIS fundamentalism. They headed east, to Iraqi Kurdistan and the protection of the Kurdish Peshmerga forces there. By the next morning, the heartland of Christian Iraq was firmly in the hands of ISIS.
“My father sold his own mother’s gold and took a loan from the government so he could build our house, and then everything was gone in 15 minutes,” says Wissam Abdul Hadi. “He worked for years and lost everything in a few minutes.”
The sense of loss and the incomprehension of the sudden, new reality are common to many of the displaced families. Beyond the shared narrative of expulsion, the personal stories issuing from the camps, church grounds and repurposed schools and social centers housing displaced Christians are varied and many.
...At a distance of 46 miles, Erbil is the nearest Kurdish city to Qaraqosh and, therefore, received the largest number of displaced people, currently estimated at more than 60,000. Most of them descended on the Christian neighborhood of Ain Kawa over the span of just a couple of days. Because of the overpopulation, living conditions for displaced Christians are the worst in Erbil.
Any and all resources were tapped so as to offer the displaced shelter and food. The Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, the Ephremite and Franciscan sisters, the Little Sisters of Jesus as well as Chaldean and Syriac priests and bishops were all mobilized. For the first week, many people were sleeping in churchyards without shelter, using each other’s stomachs as pillows. They complained of the scourge of ants at night and of the strong, beating sun during the day.
Read more about the Christian Exodus in the Autumn edition of ONE.
The need in Iraq remains great. Please visit this giving page to learn how you can help.
10 November 2014
It is no secret: This has been a time of tremendous turmoil for so many in the Middle East.
War this summer in Gaza left thousands dead, an overwhelming majority of them civilians. At the same time, violence exploded in Iraq, as radical Islamic jihadists — from their base in Syria — began their assault of Iraq, targeting Christians and other minorities. Hundreds of thousands of people found themselves literally running for their lives, fleeing to mountain refuges, or to Erbil, Baghdad, Amman and Beirut.
The autumn edition of the magazine brings vividly to life the hardship and the hope of so many who live in the land where Christianity first began.
You’ll meet the men, women and children, priests, sisters and care providers, people whose lives have been turned upside down, and yet still hope even as they cope with a new reality most would call a nightmare. You’ll see how the generosity of good people like you has been deployed; how through CNEWA, aid is reaching those most in need, and making a difference.
Let us know what you think! And spread the word!
7 November 2014
In this image from 2006, Father Adel Madanat celebrates a Sunday Divine Liturgy at the Greek Orthodox church in Ader, Jordan. (photo: Miriam Sushman)
Several years ago, we profiled the lives of Jordanian Christians, people with a rich and varied history:
Although most locals picture Jordanian Christians as exclusively wealthy urbanites, Christians, who count up to 6 percent of Jordan’s 5.9 million residents, live throughout this kingdom’s cities, towns and villages. A diverse mix of communities in a country sandwiched between Israel/Palestine and Iraq, they play an integral part in the kingdom’s public and economic life.
“Christianity was born in our region and it is not confined to Western culture,” Jordan’s Prince Hassan bin Talal said on the occasion of the publication of the French edition of his book, ‘Christianity in the Arab World.’
“Our Christian brothers’ defense of Arab values and the causes of the Arab world in all international fora is a truthful expression of their affiliation to their Arab patrimony.”
Only a few elderly women and young girls attended Mass on a recent Friday at St. Joseph Latin (Roman Catholic) Church in Ader, one of a cluster of villages in the Jordanian Christian heartland near the town of Kerak. Father Basheer, pastor of St. Joseph’s, explained that most of his congregation had gone to the nearby Orthodox parish to attend a funeral liturgy.
“Here, human relations and blood ties are very strong,” Father Basheer said. “Villagers are all relatives.”
Ader is an oasis of golden wheat fields in the middle of Jordan’s rocky southern desert. Herds of goats and sheep dot the gently rolling landscape. Of the village’s 4,500 inhabitants, Christians number one third of the population. Only when pressed do they identify themselves in Arabic as either “Lateen” (Latin), “Katulik” (Greek Catholic) or “Ruum” (Orthodox). Ader’s Christian community is a close one; differences between Catholicism and Orthodoxy are secondary to family.
Most Christian villagers belong to Arab Christian tribes who gave up their semi-nomadic way of life in the late 19th century, settling with their herds near Kerak. According to tribal custom, these Bedouin Christians were among the first peoples to embrace Christianity after Jesus’ ascension.
To learn more, read Jordanian Christians from the September 2006 edition of ONE.
6 November 2014
A woman venerates Holy Myron — chrism oils consecrated by the catholicos once
every seven years. (photo: Armineh Johannes)
In 2008, we looked at the deep spiritual history of Armenia:
"Etchmiadzin is the spirit and soul of Armenians,” said Father Mkrtich Proshian, dean of the Vaskenian Theological Seminary, which overlooks the shore of Armenia’s Lake Sevan.
“It keeps the diaspora spiritually alive and is the heart of the nation.”
At once referring to the world’s oldest cathedral and a complex of structures — ancient, medieval and modern — Etchmiadzin echoes sanctity and stability. The complex houses the administrative offices of the Armenian Apostolic Church and functions as the repository of its cultural and spiritual heritage. Located west of Yerevan, Armenia’s capital city, Etchmiadzin enjoys renewed celebrity in post-Soviet Armenia. Yet, it faces daunting challenges as the church struggles to redefine itself in this resource poor and geopolitically fragile country.
“The fact that it was built with stone from Mount Ararat is very symbolic,” continued the priest. Armenians have revered the region’s highest peak for more than three millennia, once believing Ararat to be the home of their pantheon of gods. Here, Noah’s ark rested after the great flood and here God offered his covenant to Noah. Though Ararat remains a national symbol, the mountain lies across the country’s border, in what is now Turkey — a fact that inspires great sorrow among Armenians.
“It is at once a symbol of our covenant with God, a symbol of hope of our promised land and the most poignant reminder of our loss,” said Armenian journalist Levon Sevunts, who immigrated to Canada in 1992.“Being Armenian means being Christian. The national identity and Christian identity are inseparable,” said Father Gevork Saroyan, who serves as dean of Etchmiadzin’s Karekin I Theological-Armenilogical Center. “And thanks to the church we were able to survive”…
…The seamless integration of culture, faith and language, which had forged a unique Armenian identity, enabled the Armenian people to endure (and thrive) for centuries, despite periods of benign neglect or political oppression. But the collective trials of the past had not prepared them for the tragedies that would visit them in the 20th century.
Under Turkish rule since the 14th century, Armenians of the eastern Mediterranean had long moved freely within the Ottoman Empire. But during World War I, the Young Turks — a reform movement under the sultan — forcibly displaced the empire’s Armenians for their alleged ties to the Allies, who were at war with Turkey. This resulted in the deaths of some 1.5 million people. Survivors fled to Lebanon, Syria, Europe and America.
The Armenian clergy in Ottoman Turkey were particularly hard hit; only 47 of an estimated 5,000 priests survived, according to studies conducted by the Armenian Church Research and Analysis Group.
Still reeling from the devastation, eastern Armenia, which included Etchmiadzin and the Armenian heartland in the Caucasus, fell to the Red Army as the Bolsheviks consolidated their power in Russia and forced its weaker neighbors to surrender.
Read more about Where God Descended in the May 2008 issue of ONE.
5 November 2014
Parishioners celebrate the Divine Liturgy at Uc Horon Armenian Apostolic Church in Istanbul.
(photo: Sean Sprague)
A few years ago, we looked at some of the challenges facing Armenians in Turkey:
It’s not easy to be an Armenian in Turkey,” says Robert Koptas, a native of Istanbul, once the city of the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great. Recently, the 30-something publisher cohosted a book release affair in the city’s posh Pangalti district.
“Among the Ruins” is a memoir written over 70 years ago by Zabel Yesayan, an Armenian-Turkish novelist who documented the massacre of up to 30,000 Armenians in the Turkish city of Adana. The party attracted about 100 Armenian-Turkish literati — who consider the novelist a protofeminist.
Mr. Koptas recalls a time in Turkey — only 20 years ago — when members of the Turkish Nationalist Party openly propagated anti-Armenian slogans, making it difficult to host events such as this one. Still, he is the first to admit he came of age in a tolerant Turkey. In college, he says his Armenian identity did not even faze his Turkish peers.
While still a concern, obvious discrimination preoccupies Turkey’s Armenian community less these days than does the disappearance of its cultural identity. A century ago, Turkey’s Armenian community numbered two million people. Today, only 50,000 remain. The tiny community now grapples with ever-stronger forces of assimilation and emigration, which many believe endanger its ancient culture.
The number of Armenian-Turks who speak Armenian, for instance, is steadily declining. It is believed only 20 percent of the community speaks Armenian on a daily basis. In addition, nearly 50 percent of young people marry non-Armenians.
“We are in danger of losing our culture and language, and it is a huge responsibility to keep it all alive,” says Mr. Koptas.
...Istanbul’s Armenian community is widely dispersed throughout the massive metropolis, which straddles two continents. Though some Armenian-Turks continue to live in Kumkapi, others prefer Pangalti and more cosmopolitan neighborhoods. Many more live across town, on the Asian banks of the Bosporus.
Despite its small size, diversity and sparse dispersal, the city’s Armenian community manages to maintain a cohesive identity remarkably well. As is the case in Armenian enclaves elsewhere in the world, the church and its institutions, such as schools and hospitals, are largely to thank for bringing together the community and preserving culture and language.
It helps that Istanbul’s Armenians in general make little fuss about religious differences, be they Apostolic, Catholic or Protestant. With Armenian churches few and far between, most attend whichever church is closest or more convenient — regardless of jurisdiction.
Annie Benlian explains that while she and her husband belong to the Armenian Apostolic Church, the preeminent faith community of the Armenian people, they prefer taking their young twins, Arax and Sandra, to an Armenian Catholic church near their apartment in Pangalti.
“The service is shorter than at the Apostolic church,” says the Jerusalem-born mother, “and thus more convenient for a busy family.”
“Most of our congregation was not born Catholic, but Jesus loves everybody and our gates are open to all,” explains Father Hagopas Copur, pastor of the parish frequented by the Benlians. “People go back and forth as they please. Our liturgies are similar, though the Apostolic Church is more traditional.”
Read more about Turkey’s Armenians Rising from the Ruins in the November 2010 issue of ONE.
5 November 2014
In this 11 October photo, a man waits in a tent for the opening of a center to help people displaced by fighting in eastern Ukraine. (photo: Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)
In pictures: Ukraine’s exposed war-displaced (Al Jazeera) With freezing temperatures creeping over eastern Ukraine, thousands of people in Donetsk find themselves struggling to survive what is expected to be a harsh winter in a time of war…
Chaldean patriarch: Iraqi Christians due more government support (AINA) The Iraq government has given Christian leaders a commitment that it will do more to protect their dwindling followers in strife-torn areas terrorized by the group calling itself the Islamic State…
Life in Raqqa under Islamic State (Al Monitor) Behind the walls of the de facto Islamic State, life in the northern Syrian city of Raqqa goes on. The city, once the summer capital of the Abbasid dynasty, has become a fundamentalist metropolis, where thousands of Islamic State fighters, families, immigrants and locals live under the sort of tailored circumstances that could only fit the society created by its self-appointed caliph, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi…
Coptic pope links extremist groups to West (Fides) Extremist groups upsetting the geopolitics of the Middle East are a product of strategies pursued in the West, according to Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II…
4 November 2014
Tags: Syria Iraq Ukraine Iraqi Christians Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II
Blankets line a fence where where Iraqi Christians are sheltered by Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena outside a youth sport center in Ain Kawa, Iraq. An early wintery deluge drove out families, adding to the woes for those who recently fled from the brutal Islamic State takeover of Iraq's Christian heartland. (photo: CNS/Dale Gavlak)
CNS today reports on Iraqi refugees who will be facing especially hard times in the months ahead:
Sister Habiba’s kindly face is etched with sadness as she surveyed the muddy field where dozens of tents sheltering displaced Iraqi Christians once stood.
Cold, punishing rains and blustery wind swept through the encampment 20 October, earlier than expected for winter, crashing down the tents in the dead of night. Shoes, slippers and toys were strewn about, stuck in the muddy mess, signaling the mad dash for safety.
The recent wintery deluge drove out families, adding to the woes for those who recently ran for their lives from the brutal Islamic State militant takeover of Iraq’s historic Christian heartland.
“The tents quickly filled with water and collapsed. They were engulfed in mud. Some people had to be taken to the hospital. This happened at 3 a.m.,” said the nun, one of four Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena providing the displaced with shelter, food, hygiene and water.
They, along with a lone priest, serve about 1,500 displaced Catholics from Mosul, Qaraqosh and Bartella, Christian towns in northern Iraq overrun by the Islamist extremists in early August. All were forced to flee rather than convert to Islam, pay a protection tax or be killed.
...The sport center itself is bursting at the seams with the displaced. Mattresses cover the floors of the two-story building like scattered dominoes; tall piles of colorful blankets fill corners. Families camp out helter-skelter within the facility’s rooms, but there is no privacy because space is at a premium. What is left of their worldly possessions is contained in some small suitcases and plastic bags.
Babies cry as people talk loudly; silence is a rarity. A badly traumatized woman wanders from room to room, muttering. But at least these people are living inside a building, rather than exposed to the elements outdoors.
“Our bishop has managed to get about 60 trailers, which are more stable to shelter against rain and the snow we later expect to get in January,” said Syriac Catholic Father Bashar. The trailers can each hold seven family members and now house those whose tents were swept away.
“But we need far more trailers to house the many people coming for aid,” he said. “They have run out of money and there is no safe place for them elsewhere.”
Other displaced Christians have camped out in churches, unfinished buildings and parks scattered throughout the town. But the early onset of winter here has signaled yet another danger to those bereft of safe shelter.
Please keep the people of Iraq in your prayers. The need remains great. To lend your support, visit this giving page.
3 November 2014
A child receives polio vaccination at an informal settlement of Syrian refugees in Bekaa, Lebanon, on 16 October. Msgr. Giampietro Dal Toso, secretary of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, who just returned from a visit to Syria, said “the humanitarian situation is worse than I thought.”
(photo: CNS/Mohamed Azakir, Reuters)
A Vatican official who just returned from a visit to Syria said “the humanitarian situation is worse than I thought”:
Msgr. Giampietro Dal Toso, secretary of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, told U.S. journalists in Beirut on 1 November that he had seen “the concrete face of suffering” as a result of war.
He also said the humanitarian crisis in Iraq is tied to the crisis in Syria.
“We should begin to look at this crisis as one crisis,” he said. “We have people crossing borders,” so humanitarian agencies must look at the bigger picture, he said. His remarks echoed those of Christian aid officials who work in the region.
Msgr. Dal Toso, the second-highest official at Cor Unum, which coordinates Vatican charitable agencies, said Syria’s middle class has disappeared, but noted, “The whole population is a victim of this war.”
Syria, which had a population of 22 million people before violence began in 2011, has at least 10 million people who are refugees or who are displaced within their own country, according to U.N statistics. The effect of such a shift in demographics has driven up the cost of living, including rent, medicine and even school fees, Msgr. Dal Toso said.
Other countries also are feeling the strain of accepting refugees from Syria and Iraq. For instance Lebanon, a country about 70 percent of the size of Connecticut, has a population of 4 million people, with an additional 1.5 million refugees living within its borders. The refugees are considered guests in Lebanon; they pay rent and work for lower wages than Lebanese. Catholic aid officials working in Lebanon say the government is, in essence, subsidizing the refugees’ garbage collection and utilities, such as electricity, because in many cases the refugees tap into existing utilities.
Msgr. Dal Toso, said “the first priority is to stop the violence,” then negotiate a solution and deal with the humanitarian situation.
To help those now suffering in Syria, visit this link.
31 October 2014
Students perform a folklore dance at the Franciscan School in Abou Kir, Egypt. (photo: Sean Sprague)
In 2002, we took readers to northern Egypt, to a remarkable school run by the Franciscan Sisters of the Cross:
Abou Kir is a suburb of Alexandria, a stone’s throw from the Mediterranean. A fishing village that today numbers about 300,000 people, it has a mixed religious population — about 70 percent Muslim and 30 percent Christian, the latter mostly Coptic Orthodox. This proportion of Christians is relatively high for Egypt, where the average Christian presence is less than 10 percent. Abou Kir’s Catholic school welcomes children of all faiths; here peaceful coexistence is understood as being part of the curriculum — and also of life. Of the student population, 55 percent of the children are Muslim and 45 percent are Christian. Of the school’s 34 teachers, 10 are Muslim and 24 are Christian.
“The continuation of a Christian presence here is very important,” Sister Zeina says.
“We offer a service to the local community by teaching Christians and Muslims to love one another.”
In a land where sectarian violence and mutual suspicion between the two religions are, sadly, not unusual, Sister Zeina holds firm to the belief that Christian and Muslim children need to be educated and grow up in a climate that fosters mutual respect.
“It is my conviction that they must be raised together,” she says.
The hustle and bustle in the muddy streets outside, with their horse carts, piles of garbage and pollution-belching, thundering trucks, was in marked contrast to the cleanliness and order of the school. I stepped across its threshold into a bright sanctuary for learning.
A spotless playground was bounded on two sides by the gleaming new four-story building. A third side was occupied by the old building, which had recently received a fresh coat of paint. Apartments overlook the fourth side. On the day of my visit, some curious women sat on their balconies, enjoying a bird’s-eye view of the all-school assembly in the courtyard.
Some 495 freshly scrubbed children in immaculate uniforms — bright red pullovers for the primary school, navy blue for the kindergarten and preparatory ages — were lined up in perfect formation. They saluted the Egyptian flag and sang the national anthem. A favorite Franciscan hymn followed. Sister Zeina then took the microphone and sweetly crooned a couple of Arabic lullabies, accompanied by a teacher on the organ. Then it was time for folklore class, and 12 girls in native Egyptian costume strutted out to perform a dance.
Their school assembly and folklore class completed, the children then filed from the playground into their classrooms — all smiles, hand in hand.
Read more about how the Franciscans were bringing learning to life in the May-June 2002 issue of the magazine.
30 October 2014
Tags: Egypt Children Education Christian-Muslim relations Catholic education
An Eritrean refugee and her daughter hold candles during a memorial gathering in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on 3 October, to mark the first anniversary of the Lampedusa migrant shipwreck that killed 366 migrants near the Italian coast. Catholic bishops and aid agencies have condemned a European Union plan to scale down the rescue of migrants and refugees in the Mediterranean Sea. (photo: CNS/Tiksa Negeri, Reuters)
Tags: Ethiopia Migrants Eritrea Italy