12 December 2013
In this image from August, a Coptic Orthodox bishop surveys a damaged church in Minya, Egypt. (photo: CNS/Louafi Larbi, Reuters)
CNEWA’s external affairs officer, the Rev. Elias D. Mallon, S.A., Ph.D., appears in the pages of America magazine this week, writing about the struggle for democracy in Egypt — and how this is impacting Christians:
The situation of Christians in post-Morsi Egypt has grown rapidly and significantly worse. Pro-Morsi forces accuse the Coptic Christians of having staged a military coup against the democratically elected president. Although the number of Egyptian Christians is so small (estimates range between 5 percent and 15 percent of the population) that it would, practically speaking, be impossible for them to overthrow the government, nonetheless all over the country violent attacks on Christians and Christian institutions have reached an unprecedented level. On 17 August 2013, a list was published of 32 Christian institutions that had been attacked, looted or destroyed since Mr. Morsi’s removal. When the looting and destruction of Christian homes and businesses are also taken into account, the list is only the proverbial tip of the iceberg. The image of Patriarch Tawadros standing with General el-Sisi has become a rallying point for the pro-Morsi, anti-military demonstrators to focus attacks on Christians as the enemy.
Egypt is experiencing the worst of all possible situations; there is no clear good side and no clear bad side. The actions of the pro-Morsi supporters who attack Christians show quite clearly what their agenda may have been all along. Yet the military’s actions and the ferocity of its response to the pro-Morsi demonstrators make it very difficult to be sympathetic. In fact, that is a major problem: it is almost impossible to be completely sympathetic to either side. Each side has grievances and each side has committed atrocities. This has made it very difficult, if not impossible, for countries like the United States and the member states of the European Union to take a clear stand on what is happening and to support one group against the other.
The situation in Egypt highlights a very important fact that is crucial for the entire Middle East. Despite all the rhetoric, democracy alone is not and cannot be the answer. Since the advent of the Arab Spring, there has been a great deal of talk about democracy. Most of it has been shallow and naïve.
Read on to learn more.
Meanwhile, America’s editor, Matt Malone, S.J., draws a connection between this piece and one written six decades ago for the magazine by Senator John. F. Kennedy:
Nearly 60 years after J.F.K. wrote for these pages, America once again looks at a seemingly intractable problem in the Mediterranean region. Father Mallon’s analysis is, in fact, a faint echo of Senator Kennedy’s caution, especially when Father Mallon writes that “to expect democracy in the Middle East to emerge, develop democratic institutions and thrive in a decade or two is not only unrealistic; it is unfair.” Indeed, such a course would amount to something President Kennedy himself derided in a 1963 speech, an unsustainable “Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war.” Still, there are many in the foreign policy establishment today who argue for such a “historically naïve” form of progress, says Father Mallon: “For many in the United States, democracy means ‘just like us.’ ”
29 October 2013
Tags: Egypt Violence against Christians Egypt's Christians Democracy Arab Spring/Awakening
Children in the village of Awo, such as 13-year-old Tiblets Gebray, often suffer from chronic malnutrition and depend on outside support during lean years. (photo: Petterik Wiggers)
In the Autumn issue of ONE, Don Duncan writes about efforts to help in the hungry in parts of Ethiopia. Here, he offers his personal impressions of the region he visited.
I was only about 5 when Irish rock singer Bob Geldof was making headlines again. We were used to seeing him prancing around a stage singing hits like “I Don’t Like Mondays” with his band, The Boomtown Rats. Ireland is a small place and we are almost systematically proud of anyone who makes it big beyond our shores.
By 1984, Geldof was becoming known more for his humanitarian credibility than for his indie credibility. Responding to BBC reports of a burgeoning famine crisis in Ethiopia, he established a series of charity initiatives in the United Kingdom and beyond involving rock stars and rock concerts. Band Aid in 1984 and Live Aid in 1985 netted a combined total of $245 million for Ethiopia.
Almost 30 years later, Geldof remains high in the Ethiopian consciousness. Everywhere I went, the mere mention of my nationality elicited the same response: Bob Geldof!
In Europe, the legacy of the Band Aid/Live Aid era has been a deeply entrenched image of Ethiopia as a place of poverty, misery and famine. My experience so far in this county has been to the contrary, thankfully. Sure, the country has its problems but it is rapidly developing and most of the regions are stable, food secure and progressing.
It was not until I got to the northern region of Tigray that a shadow was cast on this largely positive impression. Many areas near the border with Eritrea in northern Tigray, as well as in the desert areas of southeastern Ethiopia, are in constant danger of famine. Population growth over the past 30 years, combined with the detrimental effects of climate change on yearly rainfall, have rendered many swaths of the region barren and left its population chronically food insecure. It is here that I found the schools where CNEWA is helping to provide crucial high-energy biscuits during the months where food is most scarce.
It was shocking to me to think that, while the rest of the country develops, some areas are slipping back to conditions similar to the traumatic famine that swept the country in the 1970’s and 80’s. But then I began to see terraces along the hills, dams on streams, small reservoirs, canalization and irrigation systems and other such technology dotting the landscape that spoke of a real effort to stave the effects of climate change. I was told that since the fall of the communist Derg regime in 1990 — a regime that worked on natural resource rehabilitation, but only in the villages it wanted to repopulate — the new administration has been very serious about land rehabilitation across the whole country.
It reminded me of how famine can be political. Again, I thought of Bob Geldof and the politics of his Live Aid and Band Aid initiatives. Through music and televised events, he created a widespread consciousness of the Ethiopian famine among the populations in the West and, by extension, forced Western government to stand up, pay attention and take action.
Most encouraging of all is that, unlike the external aid of the 1980’s, the land rehabilitation initiatives in Ethiopia today are managed domestically by the Ethiopian government. While much of the money for the projects comes from foreign governments and international agencies like the World Food Program, Ethiopia has taken the fore on managing its own risk with regards to drought, famine and food insecurity. This is very encouraging.
Still, for many of the homes and schools I visited in northern Tigray, this sea change is imperceptible. Their fields are still poor and their stomachs empty for much of the year. But all around them, technologies and infrastructures are being put in place that will eventually, perhaps in the next few years, return a level of productivity to their land and food to their table.
Read more of Don Duncan’s reporting in Hungry to Learn, in the Autumn issue of ONE. To find out how you can help feed the hungry in Ethiopia, follow this link.
28 October 2013
Tags: Ethiopia Farming/Agriculture ONE magazine Hunger Famine
Coptic Christians chant prayers during a candlelight protest after dozens were killed during clashes with soldiers and riot police in October 2011. (photo: CNS/Reuters)
In the Autumn issue of ONE, Sarah Topol reports on young Copts persevering during a time of turmoil in Egypt. Here, she offers some reasons why they dare to hope.
You read a lot of stories about Christians fleeing Egypt — they make up roughly 10 percent of the country’s 85.3 million people, and are now the largest Christian population in the Middle East.
Since the revolution, Egypt’s economy has crumbled, the political system has in some ways become even more repressive and instances of sectarian violence have mounted. One might imagine every Christian would want to leave Egypt — or at least they would be depressed by their prospects in a country they have inhabited for centuries. And while feelings of concern, fear and anxiety continue — and there are young people who want to leave — the kids I spoke with in Cairo want to stay put. In reporting this story, I was struck by how positive the young people I spoke to were.
It shouldn’t have shocked me, because you see this phenomenon throughout history; time and again, young people have asked for change because they are too youthful to have been disappointed in the past. They have less to lose than their parents. And let’s face it — your early 20’s are the time for idealism.
But what made their optimism interesting to me is that these particular young people have been disappointed. In Feb 2011, president Hosni Mubarak stepped down, and many thought they toppled a dictator. They believed there was a New Egypt on the horizon.
Instead, the transition has been turbulent. Ruled by an interim military government that prosecuted more civilians in military courts in 18 months in power than Mubarak did in his nearly 30-year reign, they then saw the election of Muslim Brotherhood President Muhammad Morsi. Under his term, journalists have been intimidated, the economy has continued to fail, rolling blackouts have hit the country and protests against his term have ended in more violent clashes with security services. From inflation to security to trash collection, everything in Egypt seems to be stagnating, if not getting worse. Yet the young people I spoke with were trying to stay positive, though even they admit that’s not easy. But why?
The best answer I got was from Diana Maher Ghali, a 24-year-old who is expecting her first child this fall. She had this to say about their youthful optimism:
We believe that after the dawn there is light. That’s the rule of the world; it’s not dark all the time, and it’s not light all the time, and we feel this is our time to make a change.
We didn’t live under [Gamal] Nasser or [Anwar] Sadat. We didn’t live through all those wars. We didn’t live under the English occupation. This is our time to do something and this is our time to make history as young people.
If we don’t do anything, then our kids are going to blame us in the future for standing still and watching our country fall apart. I think we get our enthusiasm from this. We try to encourage each other. If we ever give up, it’s over. It’s always important to have hope that something will change, but it’s about taking action — not just sitting in your home.
Read more about Faith Under Fire in the Autumn issue of ONE.
30 September 2013
Tags: Egypt Cultural Identity ONE magazine Coptic Christians Copts
This image from 2007 shows an illuminated cross, part of the celebration of Meskel in Addis Ababa. (photo: Petterik Wiggers)
Ethiopians on Thursday night marked the Christian holiday of Meskel. Gerald Jones wrote about this dramatic celebration in 2011:
Meskel means “cross” in Amharic and it a major celebration (both religious and national) that commemorates the finding of the True Cross by the Empress Helena. Tradition holds that, praying for assistance, Empress Helena had a revelation; she was to light a bonfire, and the smoke would lead her to the resting place of the True Cross. …
The major celebrations occur on Meskel Eve. Around 6 pm, huge crowds gather in the Square where many priests assemble to chant in the Geez liturgical language and dance the measured steps of liturgical dance. These days, parish youth groups also gather and sing and dance, and it is wonderful to see young boys and girls actively involved in this traditional celebration.
The International Business Times has more details:
Legend has it that on this day circa 330, St. Helena — who is known as Nigist Eleni in Ethiopia and was the mother of Rome’s first Christian emperor, Constantine — found the cross on which Jesus had been crucified. In accordance with a revelation she’d had in a dream, Helena burned a giant pile of wood and frankincense. The smoke rose into the sky and then arced back down to earth, showing her the spot where the cross had been buried. Fragments of the cross were distributed to churches around the world, and one found its way to Ethiopia, where it is now said to be buried under the Gishen Mariam Church in the northeastern Wollo region. Ethiopia, which has one of the most devout Orthodox communities in the world, is the only country that celebrates the finding of the cross on a national level.
27 September 2013
Tags: Ethiopia Cultural Identity Ethiopian Orthodox Church Ethiopian Christianity
Father Luis Montes, who directs St. Aloysius School in Alexandria, Egypt, spends some time with the students. Read more about the school’s remarkable work with the poor in City of Charity from the May 2009 issue of ONE. (photo: Sean Sprague)
27 August 2013
Tags: Egypt Children Education Poor/Poverty
Rev. Elias D. Mallon is a Franciscan Friar of the Atonement and CNEWA’s external affairs officer. He holds a Ph.D. in Middle Eastern languages from the Catholic University of America. (image: Currents)
Yesterday, Currents, a program on the Diocese of Brooklyn’s NET television station, aired an interview with a familiar face — CNEWA’s own Rev. Elias Mallon.
As the Mideast cauldron boils, a top church leader is cautioning that Christians always pay the highest price — scapegoats whenever trouble occurs in the area. But Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter also claims that outside countries — especially in the West — are deliberately fomenting conflicts in the region with one goal in mind — destroying the Arab World.
To gain further insight into the patriarch’s observations, our Bill Delano went to the headquarters of Catholic Near East Welfare Association, a direct Papal lifeline to the churches in the Middle East. Bill spoke with the association’s external affairs officer, Father Elias Mallon, who is also the chairman of Catholic-Muslim Dialogue for the Archdiocese of New York. Bill asked Father Mallon about what the Maronite leader said and about conditions on the ground right now.
Watch the video here.
11 January 2013
Tags: Egypt CNEWA Copts Arab Spring/Awakening
Students at the Don Bosco Institute practice welding in the Rod el Farag neighborhood of Cairo, Egypt, on 12 November 2008. Run by the Salesians of Don Bosco, the institute enables Egyptians from all economic backgrounds to learn a trade to improve their lives and communities. Some students, such as those pictured here, are workers who came back to the school to enhance their skills. To learn more about the Don Bosco schools, read Building Persons, Forming Good Citizens from the January 2009 issue of ONE. (photo: Shawn Baldwin)
17 September 2012
Tags: Egypt Education
The Zabbaleen are descendants of migrant farmers from Upper Egypt who first came to Cairo in the 1940’s in search of employment. They began working in the garbage trade, collecting, sorting and recycling to earn a living. (photo: Dana Smillie)
The September edition of ONE can now be viewed on our website. Give it a look. One of our features this month comes from award-winning journalist, Sarah Topol. Topol profiles a family in Egypt’s Zabbaleen or “garbage people” community:
The Nagib family lives in Manshiyat Naser — also known as Garbage City — an impoverished Coptic Christian neighborhood nestled in the jutting desert cliffs that rise above Cairo’s bustling streets. Called Zabbaleen, or “garbage people” in Arabic, most hail from the rural province of Assiut, 250 miles to the south. For generations, the Zabbaleen have served as Cairo’s de facto garbage collectors, earning a meager living hauling away city dwellers’ trash and recycling anything salvageable.
To spend time with the Nagib family is to witness in microcosm the struggles of an entire class of people — and to realize that they are struggling not just to salvage what others discard, but also to salvage dignity and a way of life.
Mrs. Nagib’s husband collected trash for a living. Now too old to work, he has passed his route on to his children. And it seems, one by one, the Nagib children are carrying on the tradition.
Six days a week, Mrs. Nagib rises before dawn to see off three of her sons to their work as garbage collectors. At 5, the young men will have climbed into the family truck to head down the slopes to the city — a drive that takes two hours. There, they go from apartment to apartment along their route collecting garbage. By early afternoon, they head home, the truck loaded with trash.
For more, read Salvaging Dignity.
13 September 2012
Tags: Egypt Africa ONE magazine
CNEWA has been a longtime supporter of the Kidane Mehret Children's Home and School in Ethiopia. (photo: Gabriel Delmonaco)
At CNEWA, we understand the importance of investing in children and young people. It’s an investment in a better world. In Ethiopia, much of our work supports schools and child care institutions, such as the Kidane Mehret Children’s Home and School. We have shared many stories about Kidane Mehret, whether it be that of a recent graduate’s gratitude or Msgr. Kozar’s visit there earlier this year.
Interested in helping the children of Ethiopia? Find out more on our website.
11 September 2012
Tags: CNEWA Ethiopia Education Africa Orphans/Orphanages
This boy is a resident of a home for abandoned children in King Mariut, Egypt. The home is run by the priests and sisters of the Institute of the Incarnate Word. (photo: Sean Sprague)
In the May 2009 edition of ONE, we reported on what is referred to as a “City of Charity” or oasis for abandoned, abused or needy children in the village of King Mariut, Egypt:
About a quarter of the children, Father Luis estimates, come from homes where there was serious abuse. Some of the children lived on the streets. Others were forced by their parents to beg for their bread.
But in King Mariut, the children have a chance for a happier, healthier childhood. During the day, they attend St. Aloysius. After classes end, they go home to one of 10 nearby houses run by the priests and sisters of the Institute of the Incarnate Word.
Originally from São Paulo, Brazil, Sister Maria Laudis Gloriae lives and works at one of the larger houses, just down the road from the school. For the 37 girls and 9 boys who live there, it is home. One of the girls — a bright-eyed, curly haired 2-year-old — has lived at the home since the tender age of 2 months. Her parents, both of whom are poor and mentally ill, abandoned her on the doorstep of a rectory in Upper Egypt. The parish priest entrusted the infant to the sisters’ care.
Holding the bouncy child in her arms, Sister Maria explains that parish priests referred many of the children now living in King Mariut.
“Sometimes local priests know the history of the family, know the children and know if there is a problem. There are sisters who travel a lot in Upper Egypt, so the priests know us and know our work.”
The complex of school and houses in King Mariut make up what the priests and sisters of the institute call the City of Charity. According to Father Luis, the mission of the foundation is “to care about those whom no one else cares about.”
For more, read City of Charity.
Tags: Egypt Children Education Orphans/Orphanages