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Current Issue
Summer, 2014
Volume 40, Number 2
imageofweek From the Archive
In this 1996 image, children attend a festival in New York celebrating Greek heritage. (photo: Karen Lagerquist)
  
23 October 2014
Greg Kandra




Dominican Father Najeeb Michaeel works on a manuscript at his restoration laboratory in Qaraqosh, Iraq, prior to 6 August. Father Michaeel and his team moved 1,300 manuscripts dating from the 14th to 19th centuries before Islamic State militants invaded Qaraqosh on 6 August.
(photo: CNS/courtesy of Centre Numerique des Manuscrits Orientaux)


It has gone largely unnoticed, but a remarkable effort is underway to preserve priceless pieces of antiquity in Iraq. CNS notes:

Just as the so-called Monuments Men salvaged European masterpieces stolen by Nazi forces during World War II, a Dominican priest is protecting priceless manuscripts from falling into the hands of rampaging militants in northern Iraq. Though operating on a much smaller scale, Dominican Father Najeeb Michaeel and the ancient manuscript collections in his care still face a very real threat.

Islamic State militants have been sweeping across the northern Iraq region in their bid to establish an Islamic state. Their campaign has become increasingly brutal in recent months as they continue to lay siege to unprotected towns and villages, murder hostages, threaten residents, confiscate property and, by many reports, desecrate or ransack religious places of worship.

The Dominicans’ collection of medieval manuscripts and valuable documents that already survived centuries of conflict and potential neglect were now under threat once again.

Early 6 August, the Feast of the Transfiguration, the residents of Qaraqosh woke up to the news that the Kurdish regional forces, known as peshmerga and who had been repelling militant incursions, had packed up and left the city in the dead of night.

“The people woke up and realized they had no protection” and they started scrambling to evacuate the city, said Benedictine Father Columba Stewart, director of the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library at St. John’s Benedictine Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota, who has been helping Father Michaeel with his preservation work since 2009.

People had to flee on foot as the limited number of vehicles were being used to shuttle children, the ill and the elderly out of the city, he told Catholic News Service on 21 October from Collegeville.

Father Michaeel and his small team managed to pack two open-bed pickup trucks full of nondescript cardboard boxes holding 1,300 extremely fragile and valuable 14th to 19th century manuscripts.

Father Stewart said Father Michaeel was able to save “really important patriarchal manuscripts” from the Chaldean Patriarchate in Baghdad that recently had lent their collection to him for digitizing.

The wave of townspeople, including Father Michaeel, walked 40 miles in scorching August heat to Irbil, capital of the Kurdish region of Iraq, carrying whatever they could, said Father Stewart, who remains in almost daily contact with the Iraqi priest. Just hours before militants invaded, they were able to truck the manuscripts, leaving behind the laboratory and digitizing equipment that had been provided by funding through the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library.

Now, in addition to preserving the manuscripts, the priest and his community provide the lion’s share of care of the refugees’ suddenly fragile lives because so many lack any shelter and support, Father Stewart said.

Father Michaeel started collecting and preserving the nation’s cultural and religious heritage as recorded on the manuscripts in the 1980s.

He persuades manuscript owners, monasteries and churches to let him borrow their works to be cleaned and digitized; he then returns the restored originals and gives digitized copies to the owner and specialized archives.

The priest also built a collection of some 750 manuscripts from the Dominican community.

Father Stewart said the early European Dominicans in Iraq “were the first cultural anthropologists” in the area. “They described what they were seeing and left very interesting records,” he said, documenting “their work and the communities they ministered to.”

The Dominicans have been in Iraq for so long, “there’s a lot of depth” and history in the collection, Father Stewart said.

Luckily, Father Michaeel already had digitized the collections in the Mar Behnam Syriac Catholic Monastery, which is now behind the front lines of the militants and rumored to have been destroyed or burned down, Father Stewart said.

Father Michaeel and his staff of six to eight local Iraqis use a simple, inexpensive technique of photographing manuscript pages with a high-end 35mm camera and flash strobe lights for illumination. The digital images are stored on a hard drive, which is then sent to Collegeville.

Staff at the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library then makes multiple backups, organizes the data, catalogues it and puts it online for scholars, Father Stewart said.

All training, funding and equipment for Father Michaeel’s work come through the donations, grants and foundation money pulled together by Father Stewart.

Father Stewart said Father Michaeel and his restoration team have made digital copies of 5,000 manuscripts with the library’s support. “It’s amazing what they’re doing on their own,” he said.

They will be getting new equipment as they settle in Irbil, he said, with now a second exodus under their belt. They were uprooted from Mosul in 2008, when the entire Dominican community left, many for Qaraqosh, in the wake of mounting kidnappings and threats against religious.

Father Stewart said as the Iraqi people, especially Christians, continue to be pushed out of their homes and their country and settle elsewhere, their history and heritage gradually will be lost.

“These are communities that no longer exist” as the people have scattered and their traditions fade away, he said.

When communities disappear, their heritage goes with them, he added, so these manuscripts and documents will most likely end up being the only memories that survive.

Even though “they are digital surrogates, it’s not the best, but they are better than nothing,” he said.

The museum and its funders will continue to support the preservation work because, Father Stewart said, “it’s a tiny investment for such a huge boon of conserving cultural memory.”



22 October 2014
Greg Kandra




A Kurdish refugee child from the Syrian town of Kobani sits in front of a tent on 18 October in a camp on the Turkey-Syria border. To help refugees like these, visit this link.
(photo: CNS /Kai Pfaffenbach, Reuters)




21 October 2014
Greg Kandra




People displaced by fighting in Eastern Ukraine wait to enter an abandoned building site in Kiev on 19 October. The lot has been turned into a center for the distribution of food,
clothing and other aid. (photo: CNS/Petro Didula, Ukrainian Catholic University)


The Ukrainian capital of Kiev enjoyed warmer weather in early October, but the temperatures dropped dramatically in the middle of the month, catching displaced people completely unprepared.

CNS reports:

At an ad hoc aid distribution center on 19 October, people who had fled their homes in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Eastern Ukraine lined up early in the morning to be among the first allowed inside to go through piles of donated coats, scarves and clothing. Two young mothers, seeing a volunteer pass a box of disposable diapers through the donation window, pleaded for the box, certain that by the time they got inside the abandoned construction site the diapers would be gone. Standing quietly at the back of the line, Elena, a petite dark-haired, blue-eyed woman from Donetsk, said she and her 10-year-old daughter had come to the center the day before as well. The “Volunteer Hundred,” a group formed during the Maidan demonstrations earlier in the year, hands out food on Saturdays and clothing and household goods on Sundays. The young woman, who asked that her last name not be used, recounted her blessings: The Donetsk family whom she served as a nanny owns a small apartment in Kiev and is letting her and her daughter stay there. Her husband has gone back to the conflict zone because of widespread accounts of pro-Russian rebels confiscating or destroying abandoned homes and apartments.

To support the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church as it ministers to its people, visit this page.



20 October 2014
Greg Kandra




Hindu holy men protest against alleged violence against Hindus in Jammu, India. Leaders of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue said Hindus and Christians must work for a “culture of inclusion for a just and peaceful society.” (photo: CNS photo/Jaipal Singh, EPA)

The Vatican has released a message to Hindus for the Feast of Deepavali, which takes place later this week:

Dear Hindu Friends,

  1. The Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue joyfully greets all of you on the festive occasion of Deepavali, celebrated on 23 October this year. May the Transcendent Light illumine your hearts, homes and communities, and may all your celebrations deepen the sense of belonging to one another in your families and neighbourhoods, and so further harmony and happiness, peace and prosperity.
  2. We wish to reflect with you this year on the theme “Fostering together a culture of ‘inclusion’”. In the face of increasing discrimination, violence and exclusion throughout the world, ‘nurturing a culture of inclusion’ can be rightly seen as one of the most genuine aspirations of people everywhere.
  3. It is true that globalization has opened many new frontiers and provided fresh opportunities to develop, among other things, better educational and healthcare facilities. It has ushered in a greater awareness of democracy and social justice in the world, and our planet has truly become a ‘global village’ due in large part to modern means of communication and transportation. It can also be said, however, that globalization has not achieved its primary objective of integrating local peoples into the global community. Rather, globalization has contributed significantly to many peoples losing their sociocultural, economic and political identities.
  4. The negative effects of globalization have also had an impact on religious communities throughout the world since they are intimately related to surrounding cultures. In fact, globalization has contributed to the fragmentation of society and to an increase in relativism and syncretism in religious matters, as well as bringing about a privatization of religion. Religious fundamentalism and ethnic, tribal and sectarian violence in different parts of the world today are largely manifestations of the discontent, uncertainty and insecurity among peoples, particularly the poor and marginalized who have been excluded from the benefits of globalization.
  5. The negative consequences of globalization, such as widespread materialism and consumerism, moreover, have made people more self-absorbed, power-hungry and indifferent to the rights, needs and sufferings of others. This, in the words of Pope Francis, has led to a “‘globalization of indifference’ which makes us slowly inured to the suffering of others and closed in on ourselves” (Message for the World Day of Peace, 2014). Such indifference gives rise to a ‘culture of exclusion’ (cf. Pope Francis, Address to the Apostolic Movement of the Blind and the Little Mission for the Deaf and Mute, 29 March 2014) in which the poor, marginalized and vulnerable are denied their rights, as well as the opportunities and resources that are available to other members of society. They are treated as insignificant, dispensable, burdensome, unnecessary, to be used and even discarded like objects. In various ways, the exploitation of children and women, the neglect of the elderly, sick, differently-abled, migrants and refugees, and the persecution of minorities are sure indicators of this culture of exclusion.
  6. Nurturing a culture of inclusion thus becomes a common call and a shared responsibility, which must be urgently undertaken. It is a project involving those who care for the health and survival of the human family here on earth and which needs to be carried out amidst, and in spite of, the forces that perpetuate the culture of exclusion.
  7. As people grounded in our own respective religious traditions and with shared convictions, may we, Hindus and Christians, join together with followers of other religions and with people of good will to foster a culture of inclusion for a just and peaceful society.

We wish you all a Happy Deepavali!

Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran
President



17 October 2014
Greg Kandra




Laborers crowd into a bus in Ernakulam, India, after a long workday. The region is undergoing dramatic changes, as a result of urban sprawl. Learn more about this in Change Comes to ‘God’s Own Country’ from the July 2012 edition of ONE. (photo: Peter Lemieux)



16 October 2014
Greg Kandra




A Kurdish refugee woman from the Syrian town of Kobani cooks on a fire as her children accompany her in a camp in the Sanliurfa, Turkey. (photo: CNS photo/Umit Bektas, Reuters)



15 October 2014
Greg Kandra




Strong coffee sweetened to taste is served in the traditional manner in Lebanon.
(photo: Marilyn Raschka)


In 2002, we took a look at the customs and cuisine of Lebanon — including some traditions surrounding coffee:

Coffee is a household essential. It is served if a visitor has stopped by just to say hello and it is also served following a meal. The serving of coffee signals “time to leave” so gracious hosts delay serving it. And no guest would leave before receiving it.

At weddings, coffee is served sweet, but it is also served unsweetened at funerals to show grief.

When at home, guests are asked how they prefer their coffee — the answers reflect the amount of sugar to be added. For the sake of ease, the Lebanese will often serve a pot of unsweetened coffee and include a tiny sugar bowl on the tray as cups are passed around to the guests. With the last sip, guests will put down their cups and say, which is a very short version of the above proverb.

Excavations in Beirut have unearthed coffee cups that date to the 16th century. The Arabic has been westernized to coffee and the word comes from the Red Sea port of Mocka, in Yemen.

Coffee still plays an important role in trade and business in Lebanon. There is no such thing as a business meeting without coffee being served. The big brew in the little cup accompanies the exchange of pleasantries that kick off the meeting.

In times past, it was considered disrespectful to refuse a cup of coffee. It was like refusing a handshake. There are Lebanese who do not drink coffee, but it is still considered good manners to give an explanation for one’s refusal. There is no decaffeinated Lebanese coffee, so refusing coffee in the evening is acceptable.

Also accompanying coffee drinking is the custom of reading the coffee cup. Turned upside down, the sediment slowly runs down the inside of the cup leaving expressive patterns. Valleys and peaks suggest travel or trouble, other patterns promise money or romance. Readers speak with confidence about these possible events and even the most doubting of Thomases will listen.

Read more about coffee customs in Food for Thought from the September-October 2002 issue of the magazine.



14 October 2014
Greg Kandra




In this image from last month, a displaced Iraqi child, who fled from violence by Islamic State militants in Mosul, sits with her family outside their tent at a camp in Erbil. Gathered with Pope Francis, members of the Synod of Bishops on the family issued a message of solidarity, support and prayers for all families suffering from the impact of war and violence, especially
in Iraq and Syria. (photo: CNS Ahmed Jadallah, Reuters)




10 October 2014
Greg Kandra




Internally displaced children eat inside a tent in Aleppo, Syria, on 8 October. Christians cannot follow Jesus while turning away from people who are hungry, Pope Francis said. To help the suffering people of Syria, please visit this link. (photo: CNS /Jalal Al-Mamo, Reuters)



8 October 2014
J.D. Conor Mauro




Antonina Harutinian sits in her domik home in, Gyumri, Armenia. Though meant to be temporary shelters for those displaced by the 1988 earthquake, the tiny domik structures remain the only home many Armenians have known in the decades since. To read more about challenges facing Armenian pensioners, read Shaken by the Earthquake of Life, in the Summer 2014 issue of ONE. (photo: Nazik Armenakyan)



Tags: Poor/Poverty Armenia Caring for the Elderly Pensioners





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