26 January 2015
An Iraqi refugee family poses for a portrait in their camp in Erbil, Iraq. (photo: Don Duncan)
Jordan and Lebanon have become a temporary refuge for millions of Syrian and Iraqi refugees seeking shelter after being forced to flee their homelands. But despite the time that has passed, things are not improving, says Carl Hétu, Canada National Director of Catholic Near East Welfare Association.
After a sobering two weeks in the Middle East, including time spent in Jordan, Lebanon, Israel and Palestine (Gaza), it is clear to Hétu that the status quo is no longer viable. “There needs to be a new approach to help the millions of innocent lives caught in the middle,” he says. “We need to show more courage and resolve, diplomatically, and more generosity in our efforts.”
The Canadian government recently announced an increase in the number of Syrian refugees it will accept — 10,000 to be exact — and its level of humanitarian assistance for persons affected by the conflict in the region.
“The government has a responsibility to respond in such a way on behalf of Canadians,” adds Hétu. “Of course, 10,000 pales in comparison to the three million or so refugees who have spread throughout the region. Neighboring countries are doing more than their share. For example, Lebanon, a country of 4.4 million has received some 1.8 million refugees and Jordan, a country of 6.4 million people, has received more than one million refugees from Syria and Iraq.”
Hétu is back in Canada to shine light on the struggle those affected are forced to contend with on a daily basis. “One thing is clear,” he says. “Everything has changed for the worse. There’s more human suffering, more despair, more refugees, more killings, more social problems, more economic depression. But despite everything, people still have a sense of hope.”
“In Syria, the ongoing war is starving millions who are fleeing to find a better place. For those who have already fled, the unbearable present and unknown future is almost too much to bear.”
For Iraqi Christians and Yazidis who were pushed out of their ancestral villages under threat of death by radical group ISIS, they escaped with only the shirt on their backs. “They’re happy for the aid they have received so far, but how long can people live in crowded church halls divided only by curtains?”
But despite the devastation, the region is filled with stories of solidarity and hope for the future. In Gaza, for example, a Catholic school and parish took in hundreds of displaced people during the Israel-Gaza conflict — which helped to forge new relationships between the Christians and Muslims of Gaza.
As refugees and displaced wait for diplomatic solutions, their needs for basic supplies remain great. CNEWA appeals to Canadians to continue its generous support so that it can provide churches, religious communities and other groups in and around the region — on the field — in their direct assistance to those afflicted by the conflicts in the region. Canadian visitors can donate to CNEWA by visiting CNEWA.ca; U.S. visitors can visit CNEWA.org.
22 January 2015
Tags: Middle East Christians
In this image from 2006, two students at the Shashemene School for the Blind in Ethiopia take a break between classes. (photo: Sean Sprague)
Several years ago, we paid a visit to a remarkable school giving remarkable opportunities to children with special needs:
Three days after she was born, Meseret was struck blind. She spent much of her early childhood locked in her room; her parents did not know what to do with her. But a few years ago, Meseret’s family found out about the Shashemene School for the Blind, run by the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, and decided that Meseret would be happier there than at home.
The school lies within a large, gated compound — a sanctuary in Shashemene, a bustling Ethiopian town of 50,000. It was here that Meseret, now 12, learned Braille. And it was here that she first came to understand that her life, like those of the other 120 blind students enrolled in the school, could be meaningful.
Read more about “Special Attention for Special Needs” in the November 2006 edition of ONE.
21 January 2015
In this image from 2014, a woman prays in her church in Armenia. Until a priest arrived in 2002, parishioners found it difficult to preserve and celebrate their faith. Read more about how Georgia’s Armenian Catholics persevered in “A Firm Faith” from the Spring 2014 edition of ONE.
(photo: Molly Corso)
20 January 2015
A Russian Orthodox believer bathes in the icy water of a lake in Ilyinskoye, Russia, on Monday, 19 January 2015. Thousands of Russian Orthodox Church followers plunged into icy rivers and ponds across the country to mark Epiphany, which they observe on 19 January, cleansing themselves with water that has just been blessed. (photo by Sasha Mordovets/Getty Images)
16 January 2015
Students at the Asela orphanage prepare for careers in the skilled trades. To learn more about their lives, read “Revealing Hidden Talent” in the January 2008 edition of ONE.
(photo: Petterik Wiggers)
15 January 2015
The altar, or Holy of Holies, is seldom revealed during the liturgy at Debra Zion.
(photo: Sean Sprague)
In 2005, we took readers inside one of the oldest active religious communities in Ethiopia, Debra Zion:
We climbed out of the boat and walked toward Debra Zion Church, atop a hill less than a mile away. We were soon joined by a group of islanders, each bowing to the archbishop and kissing the cross he carried in his right hand.
At the church, we met Abba (Father) Mariam Samuel, one of the island’s three monks. Wearing a flat cotton hat, black cassock and a bright yellow shawl, he looked younger than his 43 years.
“I have been a monk for 23 years, but I was assigned here just two years ago,” he said. The three monks live in community, subsisting on a $5-per-month stipend as well as small gifts from the community. There are also five priests on the island.
Joining Abba Mariam Samuel was Abba Gebre Mariam, 66, a priest native to Tullu Gudo. He is a balding man with a weak back and huge smile. Like the archbishop, Abba Gebre Mariam carries a wooden cross, always ready to bless a passerby.
The islanders are known as “Lak’i,” he said, descendants of the Aksumites and speak a language that dates to the old empire. Some 25,000 Lak’i live in the general area, many of whom abandoned the island at one point or another because of the harsh living conditions.
“There is dire poverty on the island,” said Abba Gebre Mariam, who is married and has eight children.
Poverty exists throughout Ethiopia, but it is indeed “dire” on this island. The Lak’i of Tullu Gudo live in round stone huts covered with thatch. There is no electricity or running water — drinking water is carried from wells. There are no roads or automobiles, though dirt paths abound.
Until recently, fishing was the main source of income. Lake Ziway was flush with tilapia, which the islanders would sell at mainland markets. Due to overfishing, the lake has been closed to commercial fishermen.
Farming is seasonal; there is no irrigation. My visit, in late autumn, marked the end of the rainy season. Fields of barley, wheat and maize, which grow on the island’s lowlands, were almost ready for harvest. The terraces I saw from the boat stand neglected, carved out of the hills when Tullu Gudo was more densely populated and more provisions were needed.
Some islanders also raise cows, goats and donkeys for transportation. Many households also have a few chickens. A traditional society, the men are responsible for fishing and farming while the women tend the home.
Tullu Gudo has had a primary school for 26 years, but there is not a single shop. Anything not produced on the island must be brought from the mainland.
“One change for the good has been the construction of our new church,” Abba Gebre Mariam said. “Here we live by our faith.”
Read more about Ethiopia’s Island Sanctuary in the January 2005 edition of ONE.
14 January 2015
Pope Francis shakes hands with Hindu Kurukkal SivaSri T. Mahadeva after receiving a robe from him during a meeting with religious leaders at the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on 13 January. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
13 January 2015
Tags: Pope Francis Interreligious Interfaith Hindu Hinduism
Sylvana Akiki and her husband work in the Lebanon bakery they started with a microcredit loan from CNEWA. The bakery has given them a new lease on life. The Akikis are able to sell what they bake to various schools and shops in their neighborhood, and can now support their family as a result. To learn more, check out this blog post. (photo: CNEWA)
12 January 2015
Iraqi refugee children pose outside the Syriac Catholic Church of Our Lady’s Assumption in Amman, Jordan, in late October. (photo: CNS/Barb Fraze)
Catholic News Service has an update on the situation among Iraqi refugees in Jordan:
A Catholic official warned that funding will soon run out to feed and house thousands of Iraqi Christians sheltering in Jordan after being made homeless by Islamic State militants.
Syriac Catholic Fr. Noor Alqasmosa, who is charged with helping the refugees, told Catholic News Service that the funding situation is desperate, as the chances for many to restart a new life now further dim.
The priest said many Iraqi Christians probably will not be able to seek resettlement in Western countries in 2015 because these countries appear to give priority to Syrians fleeing their nearly four-year conflict.
“I was shocked when I was told that neither the U.S. nor the EU would take in Iraqi Christians from Mosul and Ninevah for resettlement,” said Noor, as he prefers to be called.
“We had everything in Mosul and left with nothing,” the Iraqi priest said following recent talks with UN and foreign government officials in the Jordanian capital.
“We have Caritas funding lasting just until the end of February to help the 7,000 Iraqi Christians in Jordan,” the priest said, his voice lowering with concern and strain visible on his face. “There is no hope among the people. They believe the world has abandoned them and are leaving them to die.”
Read more. Keep the suffering people of Iraq in your prayers. And please visit this giving page to lend your support.
8 January 2015
Pope Francis greets Tahsin Said Ali Beg, a leader of the Yazidi people, and other members of the delegation during a private audience at the Vatican on 8 January. The delegation spoke about the good relations between Christians and Yazidis and their efforts to help one another.
(photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)
In his appeals for an end to the persecution of minorities in Syria and Iraq, Pope Francis often has mentioned both the Christians and the Yazidis attacked by Islamic State fighters. Today he met with representatives of the Yazidis.
For more than half an hour on 8 January, Pope Francis met with global leaders of the Yazidi ethnic and religious group, including their secular leader Tahsin Said Ali Beg and Sheikh Kato, who is their spiritual leader or “Baba Sheikh.”
Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said that in addition to the two leaders who live in Iraqi Kurdistan, other representatives of the community came from northern Iraq, Georgia and Germany, where many have fled.
Thanking Pope Francis for his support, one of the delegates referred to the Pope as “father of the poor,” Father Lombardi said.
The Yazidi are a Kurdish community with a monotheistic religion with Zoroastrian and other influences. When militants of the Islamic State proclaimed a caliphate in June 2014 and began their rampage through Syria and northeastern Iraq, they particularly targeted Christians and Yezidis. They tried to covert many to Islam, killed thousands and drove tens of thousands from their homes with almost no warning.
Thanking the Pope for his support “during this time of persecution and suffering,” the delegation informed the Pope about “the situation of about 5,000 Yezidi women reduced to slavery” by the Islamic State, Father Lombardi said.
Read more at the CNS link.