10 February 2012
Ato Feleke Shibikom. (photo: Gabriel Delmonaco)
Several days ago, we heard some sad news. A beloved member of our Ethiopian staff, Ato Feleke Shibikom, passed away suddenly. He was 66 years old.
Ato Feleke was no ordinary man. (“Ato” means “mister” in Amharic, and that’s what everyone called him.) An aura of gentleness and confidence always surrounded him.
Trained as a teacher, Ato Feleke was a school principal in Addis Ababa before he joined our staff. He performed a unique task. CNEWA supports thousands of schoolchildren in their studies, and Ato Feleke monitored the Catholic schools in Ethiopia with which we work.
He visited schools, checked on the children and their academic progress. Just as importantly, he spent a lot of time with teachers. Ato Feleke organized many training seminars to ensure that our teachers upheld the high academic standards for which Ethiopia’s Catholic schools are renowned.
Ethiopia is twice the size of Texas. Our 51 Catholic schools are spread far and wide. The trip from Addis Ababa can sometimes take a whole day. But ever the good steward of our benefactors’ generosity, Ato Felleke worried about the cost of using the CNEWA car. Public transportation was slower — but also cheaper. He often chose public transportation. That is the kind of person Ato Feleke was.
Imagine the hours he spent in crowded old buses with his small suitcase! And the countless times that, reaching his destination, he shook the dust from his clothes and walked off toward a school. The children, catching sight of him in the distance, would come running and shouting his name.
I visited dark classrooms with him, classrooms with too many students and battered old desks. I saw him engage the children in songs and quiz them on their knowledge. Ato Feleke was a gentleman who always carried with him a welcoming smile and immense patience. He will be missed by all.
The journey to heaven must have been a good deal easier than his many trips in Ethiopia. I can see it now: Ato Feleke stepping off the bus. Dusting off his clothes. Smiling at St. Peter and saying, “I’m sure you have Catholic schools here ... let’s get to work!”
Generous benefactors have pledged gifts in Ato Feleke’s name for Catholic education in Ethiopia. Click here to find out how you can help.
Ato Feleke Shibikom, 1945 - 2012.
(photo: Gabriel Delmonaco)
9 February 2012
Tags: CNEWA Ethiopia Education Africa
Residents inspect the damage inside St. Ephrem Syriac Orthodox Church after a bomb attack in central Kirkuk, Iraq, 15 August. A parked car bomb and a motorcycle bomb killed one person and wounded 12 others in central Kirkuk, hospital and police sources said.
(photo: CNS / Ako Rasheed, Reuters)
This week’s cover story in the U.S. magazine Newsweek features a provocative, bloodstained image of Christ with the even more provocative tag line that reads, “The War on Christians.” Authored by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somali-Dutch activist, the article is laden with anecdotes about anti-Christian violence in the Muslim world.
“A wholly different kind of war is underway,” she writes, “an unrecognized battle costing thousands of lives. Christians are being killed in the Islamic world because of their religion. It is a rising genocide that ought to provoke global alarm.”
The author believes this war has been unreported or worse, ignored, by the mainstream media for fear of encouraging fear of Islam, or Islamophobia.
“But a fair-minded assessment of recent events and trends leads to the conclusion that the scale and severity of Islamophobia pales in comparison with the bloody Christophobia currently coursing through Muslim-majority nations from one end of the globe to the other,” she writes. “The conspiracy of silence surrounding this violent expression of religious intolerance has to stop. Nothing less than the fate of Christianity — and ultimately of all religious minorities — in the Islamic world is at stake.”
Wow. Surprising words for a self-proclaimed atheist with strong opinions about all religions, not just the Islamic faith of her ancestors.
No doubt, violence directed against Christians in the Muslim world has increased, particularly since the 9/11 attacks in the United States and the subsequent U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. In the pages of our bimonthly magazine, ONE, and on the news feed on our web site, CNEWA has covered the violence directed against Christians in the Middle East. Catholic media have also diligently reported on these events, as have the mainstream media, including The New York Times.
Last September, the conservative blog Catholic Culture reported on Christian-Muslim violence in Nigeria, quoting Archbishop Ignatius Ayau Kaigama of Jos.
“At least 14 people have died in tribal clashes in central Nigeria in the early days of September . Although the violence has pitted Christians against Muslims, a Catholic bishop insists that religion is not the fundamental cause of the conflict,” the report begins.
“The violence began when Muslims celebrating the end of Ramadan were attacked. Their assailants were described as Christians, but local church leaders did not recognize them. ‘I do not know who these people are and what denomination they belong to, ’ the archbishop said.
“In response to that attack, Muslims raided several Christian villages on Sunday and Monday. The bloodshed occurred around Jos, in the center of the country, where the mostly Muslim north meets the Christian south.
“Archbishop Kaigama said that the violence reflected a breakdown in overall security. ‘It is very convenient for those in authority to say that the whole crisis is about religion,’ he observed.
“ ‘Christians and Muslims are fighting. Yes, I don’t deny that,’ the archbishop continued. ‘But then, the factors that are fueling that crisis are not certainly only religions.’ He pointed to old tribal animosities, complaints about theft of cattle, and the influence of outside agitators.”
The archbishop is not denying Christian-Muslim violence. But unlike Ms. Hirsi Ali, he sees other forces at work, and believes there are factors unrelated to faith identity also fueling these hostilities. The same is true throughout the Arab world. These factors are socio-economic, political, tribal. And they are playing out in a culture beset by enormous change that even dictators cannot suppress.
“Islam is experiencing an identity crisis,” a colleague said during a recent editorial team meeting. And when a faith community experiences a crisis of identity, extremists act on their fears.
Is there a global Islamic conspiracy to create “pure” Muslim societies? If there is, which form of Islam? Sunni or Shiite? Sufi or Ibadhi? What about Alawi and Druze? As ONE magazine reported back in 2007, “the very nature of the Islamic faith, with its lack of a governing religious authority and reliance on group consensus for legitimization of Islamic identity, ensures that the continuing proliferation of splinter groups, large and small, is inevitable and will result in variations in doctrine and practice until the ‘last days.’ ”
To be sure, the author of the Newsweek piece admits no conspiracy exists: “No, the violence isn’t centrally planned or coordinated by some international Islamist agency. In that sense the global war on Christians isn’t a traditional war at all. It is, rather, a spontaneous expression of anti-Christian animus by Muslims that transcends cultures, regions, and ethnicities.” But pulling atrocities out of context, and ignoring that context, is irresponsible — as are misleading banners and headlines.
“News reporting” such as this does not contribute to the dialogue that is necessary if Christians and Muslims are going to continue to live together.
9 February 2012
Tags: Middle East Christians Middle East Violence against Christians Holy Land Christian-Muslim relations
In this unpublished photo, taken in 2003, two young boys play in front of a church in a Christian Village near Homs, Syria. (photo: Armineh Johannes)
As the situation in Homs, Syria, continues to grow more bloody and violent by the day, Independent Catholic News reports that many Christians have fled the city in large numbers, including three bishops:
This is not because they have received threats — most churches and places of worship have escaped attack — but because the situation generally is “becoming more dangerous by the hour.”
Three bishops — one Catholic and two Orthodox from the Dioceses of Homs and Hama, have left. Syria’s third largest city is now mainly inhabited mainly by Alawites (President Bashar al Assad’s tribe) and Sunnis.
Tuesday, The New York Times reported that the United States closed its embassy in Syria as a result of the escalating violence.
To learn more about the history of Christian villages in Syria, read Syria’s Christian Valley from the January 2011 issue of ONE.
8 February 2012
Tags: Syria War Emigration
An elderly Armenian tends his flock. (photo: Armineh Johannes)
In the January 2008 issue of the magazine, Gayane Abrahamyan wrote about the difficulties faced by elderly Armenian refugees:
In cooperation with the Armenian General Benevolent Union, the Armenian Apostolic Church — perhaps the most dominant force in Armenia — provides daily meals to needy elderly people and orphaned children in six locations in Yerevan and three other towns, feeding an estimated 1,200 people per day.
“Before the soup kitchens, there were days my wife and I didn’t even have bread so we just drank water for dinner,” said 75-year-old Grisha Ohanjanian. “About four years ago, our pension was very small, just $8, which isn’t even enough to sustain a dog.
“Both of us lost 22 pounds.”
For more from this story, read Pensioners in Crisis.
7 February 2012
Tags: Refugees Armenia Armenian Apostolic Church Caring for the Elderly
Sister Mariam Almiron of the Sisters of the Incarnate Word spins a small child around following Sunday Mass at the Holy Family Catholic Parish in Gaza. There are only about 3,000 Christians in Gaza, of which a little more than 200 are Catholic.
(photo: CNS/Paul Jeffrey)
As a small minority in many countries of the Middle East, Christians often face great challenges. Last summer Sami El-Yousef, regional director of CNEWA-Pontifical Mission for Palestine and Israel, paid a visit to Gaza to see how the Christian community there is faring:
Life in Gaza is not easy. While the government there tolerates Christian institutions and the Christian presence, it is clear that adopting a more conservative Islamic way of life does conflict at times with the more open society these Christian institutions and individuals are accustomed to.
There is an uneasy balance that seems to be maintained and holding thus far. It is certainly not easy for a teenage girl who follows a literary Tawjihi stream and finishes tenth grade and has no option but to complete her high school education in the public school system and finds herself being veiled to go to school. Neither it is easy for college-age females who are locked up in Gaza due to the blockade and want to get a college education and have no choice other than the Gazan universities and again must be veiled to go to classes. This also applies to men and women, boys and girls engaged in joint sports activities at the local YMCA who feel that they are under the watchful eye of a conservative class that does not approve of gender integrated activities.
There are other trivial matters that affect Christians, too, such as the Muslim ban on the consumption of alcohol and tobacco. These may be little inconveniences and some of them actually may be good for you, but these are additional restrictions Christians have to deal with on top of the pressures and restrictions of the occupation and the blockade. There are no easy answers, but one needs to be aware of the difficulties of daily life in Gaza, especially to the Christian community, and to appreciate the need to strengthen the Christian institutions and the Christian presence. There are many possibilities for assistance, and we hope to be able to fundraise and implement some of the projects in the near future.
After all, Christian institutions promote Christian values of worship, love, respect, honesty, humility, hope, forgiveness, compassion, integrity and self discipline among others. Gaza can only be a better place if these values are ingrained in society, and what better way to do this other than to strengthen the Christian institutions and empower them to continue to provide their services to all Palestinians alike with these values in mind.
You can read much more here. And visit our website to learn how you can join CNEWA and support Christians in the Middle East.
6 February 2012
Tags: Middle East Christians Middle East Gaza Strip/West Bank
The faithful proceed to St. George Kvashveti Church in Tbilisi, Georgia for its patronal feast.
(photo: Molly Corso)
In the March 2007 issue of ONE, Molly Corso wrote about the return of Orthodox traditions and practices in Georgia some 15 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union and imposed atheism:
A crowd swelled around Bishop Tevdora Chuadze as he blessed the faithful in Tbilisi’s St. George Kvashveti Church on 23 November, the feast of St. George.
Hundreds of believers filled the church, spilling into the adjoining courtyard where they waited to kiss and venerate the patronal icon of St. George. That afternoon, all of Georgia’s television stations broadcast the baptism of President Mikheil Saakashvili’s son by the head of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Catholicos-Patriarch Ilia II.
On that day, some 15 years after the disintegration of the Soviet Union and Communist-imposed atheism, it seemed the Georgian Orthodox Church had made a full recovery. A recent poll by the Caucasus Research Resource Center found that 63 percent of Georgians “fully trust” the church. (About 80 percent of Georgia’s 4.7 million citizens belong to the Georgian Orthodox Church.) In contrast, only 22 percent placed similar trust in President Saakashvili.
“The Georgian people were very strong, and did not lose their faith,” said Father Giorgi Getiashvili of the Kvashveti Church, one of the capital’s premier parishes.
Under Communist rule, people continued to go to church in secret. And after the fall of the Soviet Union, the church was reborn, Father Giorgi explained. “It was freed.”
For more, read A Georgian Revival.
3 February 2012
Tags: Georgia Georgian Orthodox Church
People cheer as a Christian Egyptian raises a cross and declares solidarity with the anti-government protesters in Tahrir Square in Cairo 9 Feb 2011.
(photo: CNS/Yannis Behrakis, Reuters)
An observant colleague mentioned to me the other day that al-Jazeera, the widely popular Arab news service, was using the expression “Arab Awakening” instead of “Arab Spring.” He wondered if there might be some significance to the difference. It is not easy finding out what the Arabic expression was that al-Jazeera is using and if it represents a conscious change. It does seem, however, that there is an increasing preference for “Arab Awakening” in the media of the Middle East. There are several reasons for this.
“Arab Spring” is an expression that was coined in the West and echoes movements like the “Prague Spring” (1968). For one thing, I am not sure spring holds the same connotation in Arabic as it does in European languages, especially those with traditions of Romantic poetry. In addition, the upheavals in Arab countries havecarried on for a year now and there was even some talk of an “Arab Winter.”
If the word that is being used in the Arabic media for “awakening,” is nahḍa, however, it is extremely interesting. By using the word nahḍa, several things would be accomplished. First, it would represent an attempt by the Arabic-speaking world to give its own name to the phenomenon. Second, and much more importantly, it would represent an attempt to link the events of the past year with an early modernist movement in the Middle East.
The nahḍa, or Awakening, was a political, cultural, linguistic and literary movement that began in Egypt at the end of the 19th century and spread to most of the Arabic-speaking world. Arab intellectuals — Muslim and Christian — began to look at their own societies. By studying — and criticizing — contemporary European achievements, Arabs were able to adapt them to a new situation. The 19th century was a time of change in the Arab world. The Ottoman Empire that had dominated the Arabic-speaking world for centuries was beginning to show serious signs of decay. After World War I, colonialism would also begin to lose its grip on the region. The nahḍa recovered the Arab past and attempted to bring it into the present. New literary forms were developed. The first novel in modern Arabic was published in Syria in 1865. Writers and poets known in the West such as Khalil Gibran and the Nobel Laureate Taha Hussein were products of the Awakening. Politically, the nahḍa engendered a great interest in constitutionalism, democracy, human rights, etc. among intellectuals.
There were several forces that brought the nahḍa to an end. With typical Arabic love for word play, some Arabs see the nakba, or “the Disaster,” which refers specifically to the founding of the State of Israel, as the end of the nahḍa. The reality is probably much more complex. Certainly, the rise of authoritarian governments and dictators in the Arab world with their censorship, secret police and attacks on freedom did equally as much to bring the nahḍa to a close. If the use of the expression “Arab Awakening” is an attempt to see contemporary events in the Middle East as a continuation or revival of the nahḍa — which is still is not clear to me — it would not only be very significant, it would be something that should be welcomed.
3 February 2012
Students of the Asela school and orphanage, administered by the Consolata Fathers, a Catholic community of brothers and priests, play soccer on the playground. (photo: Petterik Wiggers)
This Sunday, millions around the world will be watching American football’s biggest game of the season, Super Bowl XLVI. In many parts of CNEWA’s world, soccer is the game of choice. In this unpublished photo from the January 2008 issue of ONE, students of the Asela school and orphanage in Ethiopia practice some tricks.
Asela school and orphanage, run by the Consolata Fathers, has helped to educate many abandoned and some disabled boys since it opened its doors nearly 30 years ago. To learn more about the Asela school and orphanage, read Revealing Hidden Talent by Sisay Abebe.
2 February 2012
Tags: Ethiopia Education Africa Orphans/Orphanages Disabilities
Men pray during an open house at the Islamic Center of Long Island in Westbury, N.Y., in 2010. A decade after the terrorist attacks on the United States on 11 Sept 2001 led to a backlash against Muslims, many Americans are still uncomfortable with followers of Islam and think its teachings are at odds with American values. (photo: CNS / Gregory A. Shemitz)
I was fascinated to see a new study published within the last week: “Shari’a Law: Coming to a Courthouse Near You?” Written by Dr. Julie Macfarlane for the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, the study addresses a fear that seems to be rising in some quarters. Recently there have been proposals on ballots to ban Shari’a from the American legal system, treating Shari’a as a threat. Dr. Macfarlane deals with the question of what the Shari’a means for North American Muslims.
Shari’a is often used as a slogan in politics in the Muslim world. Calls to “re-instate the Shari’a” echo back and forth on the news. Often it is the most reactionary Muslims, such as the Taliban, who call for the restoration of the Shari’a, filling the media with images of beheadings, stonings and incredible intolerance. Given that image, the fear of some people is understandable, though not justified.
Even the expression “the Shari’a” is misleading. It is easy to get the impression that “the Shari’a” is a thing like the Declaration of Independence, the UN Charter or any given piece of legislation. Nothing could be farther from the truth. It is not a body of laws. There are many different ways that Shari’a is applied and interpreted in different countries and even within countries. The expression “the Shari’a” is often used a slogan for a very particular type of agenda, which most Muslims would reject.
Still the question remains: what do Muslims understand by the Shari’a? Since Islam is a worldwide religion, Muslims in different countries, cultures and circumstances have different understandings of it.
Dr. Macfarlane’s study shows that Shari’a does play an important role in the cultural and religious identity of the vast majority of American and Canadian Muslims. Most interestingly, the study shows that “the practice of shari’a [sic] for the vast majority of American Muslims is focused almost exclusively on private, family matters, primarily marriage and divorce.” However, even in this fairly limited area, 95 percent of the (Muslim) respondents said that it was important to have an Islamic marriage contract and a civil marriage license. In divorce cases Muslims frequently have recourse to U.S. courts to settle disputes such a custody.
To read the full study, visit this link.
2 February 2012
Tags: Interreligious Muslim Islam
Filipino domestic workers sing choir songs, as they crowd into the tiny shelter to attend Mass with Father Kevin O’Connell at English-speaking Sacred Heart Latin Catholic Church in Amman, Jordan. (photo: Tanya Habjouqa)
Yesterday the Independent Catholic News reported on a convention held by the UN International Labour Organization (ILO) that has provided some hope for international domestic workers:
The Convention constitutes an international commitment to work at improving the living and working conditions of a very large segment of the work force employed in the informal sector. The very first commitment is to recognize domestic workers as employees who are legally entitled to the minimum protection that all other categories of workers enjoy.
By establishing the principle that like any other workers, domestic workers are entitled to a minimum set of protections, the Convention is an acknowledgment of the crucial social and economic contribution of care workers. Since 90 to 92 percent of the domestic work force is made of women and girls, this principle is also very significant for gender equality.
Specific provisions in the Convention address the vulnerability of particular groups of domestic workers: migrant domestic workers, young domestic workers — those above the minimum age of employment but below 18 years of age — and for live-in domestic workers.
In November 2011, we featured a story about Filipino migrant workers in Jordan who — in spite of the tough circumstances they face as domestic workers — have found solace in faith:
Some have fled abusive employers, but most cite nonpayment of wages as the main reason why they left their jobs. As runaways, they are considered in breach of their work contracts under Jordanian law and no longer have the right to work in the country. Repatriating them is a complicated process, involving possible hefty fines and other legal and diplomatic wrangling. Some have lived at the shelter for years, waiting for official clearance to return home.
Father O’Connell proceeds to one of its administrative offices. He heads to an old desk at the front of the room. Atop the desk sit several small statues of the Virgin Mary in between an outdated computer monitor and a cheap, cardboard desk calendar.
The priest smiles at the some 35 Filipino women who have gathered in the small room. Some are middle-aged, but most are very young. Sitting on stackable plastic chairs, they gaze eagerly at the priest. From behind the desk, which also serves as an altar, he begins Mass.
For these migrant women, Mass offers them the spiritual solace they need to cope with the despair that otherwise can fill their daily routine. During the Rite of Peace, the women hug each other and laugh freely. At the celebration’s end, they applaud and cheer. New arrivals often cry, moved by the joy of their first Mass in months.
For more, read Far From Home by Nicholas Seeley.
Tags: Jordan Amman Teresian Association