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December, 2018
Volume 44, Number 4
12 September 2012
Bradley H. Kerr

According to the U.N., 100,000 refugees fled Syria in August for havens in neighboring nations, such as the Za’atri refugee camp in the Jordanian city of Mafraq, pictured above.
(photo: CNS/Majed Jaber, Reuters)

Bradley H. Kerr serves as promotional copywriter in CNEWA's New York office.

Today’s New York Times gives a heartbreaking report on the refugee crisis in and around Syria:

With less than a week before the start of the Syrian school year, classes have been scrapped indefinitely for tens of thousands of children, because their schools have either been destroyed or been sequestered as squatters’ quarters for displaced families, the officials said. In the province of Homs, so many doctors have fled that only three surgeons remained to serve a population of two million, the officials said, and laws to protect civilians during wartime were being ignored by both government soldiers and insurgents.

The United Nations refugee agency in Geneva said the number of people fleeing Syria had increased almost exponentially, from 18,500 in June to 35,000 in July to 102,000 in August. Roughly 2,000 Syrians were crossing daily into Jordan alone, trying to evade air and artillery attacks on towns near the southern border, said Adrian Edwards, a spokesman for the refugee agency.

The exodus has pushed the number of Syrian refugees to more than a quarter of a million, Mr. Edwards said.

There are more details in The New York Times.

CNEWA is working hard to provide lifesaving aid — such as food, medicine and heating oil — to Syrian refugees. If you want to contribute to the effort, please give here.

Tags: Syria Refugees CNEWA Syrian Civil War

12 September 2012
Erin Edwards

Staff and patients attend the evening liturgy at the Amala Hospital chapel in Trichur, Kerala. (photo: Peter Lemieux)

In the September 2011 edition of ONE, Peter Lemieux reported on the role the Syro–Malabar Catholic Church plays in India’s health care system:

For the next 15 minutes, the priest rushes through the multistory facility, distributing Communion to more than 30 patients in various wards. “Here, prayer is so much a part of the culture,” explains Father Paul. “But in a hospital setting, it’s a very fast pace. If you don’t deliver things in time, it’s a problem. Time is critical. If we’re delayed for even a minute, lives are threatened.”

Established in 1978 by the Carmelites of Mary Immaculate — the first and largest religious congregation for men in the Syro–Malabar Catholic Church — the institution consists of a full–service general hospital, a homeopathic hospital, a 100–bed ayurvedic (or traditional Indian medicine) hospital, a cancer research center, a cardiac center as well as a medical school and a nursing college.

The facility offers diagnostic treatment in almost every specialization and boasts the latest medical equipment and information technology, 25 surgical operating rooms and a state–of–the–art radiology department, which most recently acquired a new linear particle accelerator.

The medical school and nursing college together enroll 1,200 students from all over India. In total, more than 2,000 medical professionals and their families reside on the campus.

For more, read Healing Kerala’s Health Care.

Tags: Kerala Health Care Syro-Malabar Catholic Church Carmelite Sisters

12 September 2012
J.D. Conor Mauro

Ukrainian Catholic Archbishop Stefan Soroka of Philadelphia; Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk; and Archbishop Lawrence Huculak of Winnipeg, Manitoba, the metropolitan of the Ukrainian Catholic Church in Canada, process before the Divine Liturgy outside Sts. Volodymyr and Olha Cathedral in Winnipeg on 9 September. (photo: CNS/David Lipnowski)

Archbishop Caccia, Apostolic Nuncio: Great Expectations for Papal Visit (Fides) While the images of the Pope and the Lebanese and Vatican flags emerge everywhere, the slogan of the visit: “I give you my peace” dominates the front pages of newspapers. An evangelical phrase that, said Archbishop Caccia, “fully corresponds to the expectations of the people.” He further notes: “A special novena to prepare for the Pope’s visit is in progress in the churches in the Country.”

Pope Hopes to Further Interreligious Dialogue (Daily Star) Pope Benedict XVI hopes to advance the church’s relationship with Islam and help Christians keep their place in the Muslim world during his trip to Lebanon this week. The pope’s choice of Lebanon for his Middle East trip is not a casual one: the multi-confessional society — by which government posts are split among religious groups — was hailed by pope John Paul II as a model for the region. The visit will include meetings with representatives from Lebanon’s four main communities: Shiite, Sunni, Druze and Alawite.

Palestinian Prime Minister to Ease Protests with Price Cuts (Washington Post) After a meeting of his cabinet, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad announced a decision to cancel increases this month in the prices of diesel fuel, kerosene and cooking gas, which are purchased from Israel, and to reduce the recently raised value-added tax, which is pegged to Israeli rates under an economic agreement with Israel. To make up for revenue losses from the price and tax reductions, the government will cut the salaries of ministers and other high-level officials and reduce some government expenditures.

Egyptian Town’s Muslim-Christian Unrest Points to Bigger Challenges (Los Angeles Times) It began when a Christian dry-cleaning business scorched a Muslim man’s shirt: First came the insults, and then Muslims and Christians were clashing in a square in this farming town rimmed by pyramids, culminating in a lethal explosion. “There was nothing wrong before all this,” said Ahmed Araby, a Muslim car dealer in a white tunic standing in the shade of a mosque. “It was a mistake. It was over a shirt. Muslims and Christians were like brothers, but a huge problem has fallen on our doorstep.”

“North America’s Churches Can Be an Example for Ukraine” (CNS) Ukrainian Orthodox Metropolitan Yurij of Winnipeg, Manitoba, told several dozen Ukrainian Catholic bishops that the North American Catholic and Orthodox bishops have worked through the “animosity” that once marked relations between their churches, and they now collaborate. “In Ukraine, they have to go through the same kind of process,” he said, adding that bishops outside Ukraine must be patient with their brothers.

Tags: Egypt Lebanon Interreligious Palestinian Authority Ukrainian Catholic Synod

11 September 2012
Greg Kandra

On the eve of Pope Benedict XVI's historic trip to Lebanon, veteran Vatican observer John Allen helps place this visit into its many contexts:

Quite often, how an event is framed beforehand determines judgments after the fact about whether it was a success or a failure. In the run-up to Pope Benedict XVI’s 14-16 September trip to Lebanon, which unfolds against the backdrop of ongoing violence in Syria, there seem to be four basic competing frames. …

First, there’s the official line from Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesperson, asserting the pope is not traveling as a “powerful political leader” but as “the head of a religious community” whose mission is to confirm the Christians of the region “who serve the communities in which they live through the witness of their lives.” …

Second, there’s the frame proposed by Jesuit Father Paolo Dall’Oglio, a Jesuit who lived in Syria for 30 years prior to being expelled in June for his advocacy of the anti-Assad uprising. On Tuesday, Dall’Oglio finished an eight-day hunger strike in Rome intended to raise awareness about the Syrian situation.

Dall’Oglio issued a statement Tuesday expressing hope that the papal visit to Lebanon, the closest Benedict is every like to come to Syria, will be an occasion for unmasking the “lies of the regime” under Assad, and for demanding that the Christian nations of the West stop “giving the regime the possibility of spilling more Syrian blood.” …

Third, there’s the frame offered by Archbishop Louis Sako of Kirkuk, Iraq, who has suggested the papal trip should be a “line of last defense” stand in favor of Christian survival all across the Middle East.

As is well known, Christians today are estimated to represent no more than 5 percent of the population of the Middle East, down from 20 percent in the early 20th century. From 12 million today, the consensus estimate is that the Christian population of the Middle East will likely be 6 million in 2020. The decline is due to a number of factors, including lower birth rates, economic and political stagnation, and rising insecurity and the threat of Islamic radicalism. …

Finally, there’s a fourth frame suggested by Jesuit Father Samir Khalil Samir, an Egyptian scholar based at St. Joseph University in Beirut: extolling Lebanon itself as a model for the Islamic future, one based on moderation, religious freedom and freedom of conscience. …

[Father Samir] published an essay Tuesday in advance of the pope’s trip pointing out that Lebanon is the only country in the Middle East where a citizen can convert from one religion to another “without the risk of being killed or severely marginalized.”

Read the rest at the National Catholic Reporter’s site.

Tags: Syria Lebanon Middle East Christians Pope Benedict XVI

11 September 2012
Erin Edwards

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

11 September 2012
Greg Kandra

A worker cleans the entrance of the Trappist monastery in Latrun, near Jerusalem, defaced by vandals last week. (photo: CNS/Baz Ratner, Reuters)

Last week, we reported on the Trappist monastery near Jerusalem that was vandalized. John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter has some analysis and context:

Most people, most of the time, are fundamentally decent. Hence if they knew that there’s a minority facing an epidemic of persecution — a staggering total of 150,000 martyrs every year, meaning 17 deaths every hour — there would almost certainly be a groundswell of moral and political outrage.

There is such a minority in the world today, and it’s Christianity. The fact that there isn’t yet a broad-based movement to fight anti-Christian persecution suggests something is missing in public understanding.

In part, of course, the problem is that unquestionable acts of persecution, such as murder and imprisonment, are sometimes confused with a perceived cultural and legal “war on religion” in the West, a less clear-cut proposition. In part, too, it’s because of the antique prejudice that holds that Christianity is always the oppressor, never the oppressed.

Yet as with most things, politics also has a distorting effect, and a story out of Israel this week makes the point.

On Tuesday, the doors of a Trappist monastery in Latrun, near Jerusalem, were set ablaze, with provocative phrases in Hebrew spray-painted on the exteriors walls, such as “Jesus is a monkey.” The assault was attributed to extremist Jews unhappy with the recent dismantling of two settlements on nearby Palestinian land.

Founded in 1890 by French Trappists, the Latrun monastery is famed for its strict religious observance. Israelis call it minzar ha’shatkanim, meaning “the monastery of those who don’t speak.” Ironically, it’s known for fostering dialogue with Judaism, and welcomes hundreds of Jewish visitors every week.

Tuesday’s attack was not an isolated incident. In 2009, a Franciscan church near the Cenacle on Mount Zion, regarded by tradition as the site of Christ’s Last Supper, was defaced with a spray-painted Star of David and slogans such as “Christians Out!” and “We Killed Jesus!” According to reports, the vandals also urinated on the door and left a trail of urine leading to the church.

Last February, the Franciscan Custodian of the Holy Land wrote to Israeli authorities to appeal for better protection after another wave of vandalism struck a Baptist church, a Christian cemetery and a Greek Orthodox monastery. That time, slogans included “Death to Christianity,” “We will crucify you!” and “Mary is a whore.”

At the time, the custodian, Franciscan Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, complained that no arrests had been made in any of these cases.

Israeli observers say these assaults are part of what’s called the “price tag” campaign, meaning the vow by extremists that a price will be paid every time a settlement is dismantled — not just by those actually responsible for the demolition, but also by groups in Israeli society, such as the Christian minority, perceived to support the Palestinians and the ending of settlements. Frequent targets also include mosques, places of gathering for Arabs, and Israeli pacifists.

The assaults on Christian holy sites also reflect a nasty, if little-discussed, streak of broader anti-Christian animus in some Israeli circles. Local priests have reported that sometimes Yeshiva students chant insulting slogans at them, or even throw stones and spit in their direction.

The Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land released a statement in reaction to the latest attack.

”What is happening in Israeli society to the point that Christians are the sacrificial lambs of such violence?” they asked. “Those who left their hate-filled graffiti expressed outrage at the eviction of illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank. But why are they taking it out on Christians and their places of worship?”

There’s much more at the National Catholic Reporter.

Tags: Violence against Christians Jerusalem Monastery Trappist

11 September 2012
Greg Kandra

This Homs church was damaged in the ongoing violence in Syria.
(photo: CNS/Shaam News Network, handout via Reuters)

Vatican ambassador says 100,000 Christians have left Homs (Turkish Weekly) Approximately 100,000 Christians in Homs have had to move relocate within Syria due to the ongoing clashes between the Syrian army and opposition militants, according to a senior Vatican diplomat in Damascus. “Up until now, Christians have been suffering from the same consequences of the conflict like all the other citizens. However, a good number of Christians — around 100,000 — had to leave Homs. Most of them moved to the Christian Valley [Krak des Chevaliers] and to the Damascus area,” Vatican Ambassador to Syria Nuncio Mario Zenari said yesterday.

Vatican official: Religion’s role in Arab Spring is to promote dignity (Catholic News Service) Religious communities can assist the North African and Middle Eastern pro-democracy movements by upholding human dignity and not trying to claim power for one religion or one movement within a religion, a senior Vatican official said. Comboni Father Miguel Angel Ayuso Guixot, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, represented the Vatican at a conference in Istanbul last weekend on “The Arab Awakening and Peace in the New Middle East: Muslim and Christian Perspectives.”

Pentecostal church looted, razed near Moscow (The Moscow Times) The demolition, which sent shock waves through the country’s Protestant community over the weekend, was ordered by city authorities determined to build a sports stadium on the site. But the decision, based on a court order, is raising fears that religious freedom is under attack from a government that has long shown preferential treatment to the dominant Russian Orthodox Church.

Egyptian lawyer says Coptic immigration could be demographic disaster (Al Arabiya News) Egyptian Christian lawyer Mamdouh Ramzi warned of the repercussions of the immigration of Copts outside Egypt for fear of persecution at the hands of the Islamist government. “More than 100,000 Copts applied for immigration to the United States and Scandinavian countries,” he told Al Arabiya’s al-Hadath al-Masri (The Egyptian Event). “The immigration of such large numbers of Copts constitutes a grave threat to Egypt’s demographic structure.”

Tags: Syria Russian Orthodox Church Coptic Christians Egypt's Christians Arab Spring/Awakening

10 September 2012
Erin Edwards

The Italian Hospital in Kerak, Jordan, is run by the Comboni Sisters. (photo: John E. Kozar)

Here at CNEWA, we are very familiar with the Comboni Sisters and their dedication to the sick. They are involved with institutions we support, such as the Italian Hospital in Kerak, Jordan. Today, the Catholic News Service reported on the tireless work of Sister Giacinta Niboli, a Comboni Sister, in Egypt. She has served Egypt’s sick for the past 60 years:

“We are here to help, we don’t speak about Jesus, but are teaching love through showing mothers to properly care for their children, wash them well, and take care of their eyes,” Sister Giacinta said.

She added that the dust and fine sand of the desert and mountains that surround Nazlet Khater are the source of what she calls the village’s most endemic malady: eye infections. Other common ailments, she said, include stomach illnesses and influenza.

“We used to get a lot of scorpion bites, but those have declined. I also used to deliver babies, but now I send mothers to the hospital in the city of Sohag, 21 miles away,” Sister Giacinta explained.

She quickly added: “Remember, I am almost 85.”

Sister Giacinta said she does not worry about what lies ahead in post-revolution Egypt, where anywhere from an estimated 4 to 12 million Christians live among more than 70 million Muslims.

“I love them all, and they love me,” Sister Giacinta said of the Muslim majority. “They tell me, ‘You are baraka,’” [the Arabic word for a blessing], she said.

For more, read Comboni Sister Nurses Egyptians for 60 Years.

Tags: Egypt Middle East Jordan Health Care Comboni Sisters

10 September 2012
Greg Kandra

In preparation for Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Lebanon later this week, a papal media office in Jounieh distributed CD's in decorative envelopes. (photo: CNS/Jamal Saidi, Reuters)

Pope Benedict XVI: On the priority of peace for the Middle East (Vatican Radio) “My apostolic visit to Lebanon, and by extension to the Middle East as a whole, is placed under the sign of peace”: On the eve of his departure, Pope Benedict XVI has clearly stated the aim of this his 24th foreign visit and has voiced his serious concern for the “daily sufferings” of the people of the Middle East, “which sadly, and at times mortally, plague their personal and family life.”

Lebanon’s bishop says situation worsening for Christians (Lebanon Daily Star) The situation in the Middle East is becoming increasingly dangerous and threatens the presence of Christians, Maronite Bishop Michel Aoun said Sunday during a talk with reporters about the pope’s upcoming visit to Lebanon. “The pope’s synod is a road map for Christians in Lebanon and the Middle East; we all know that Christians are experiencing difficulties due to the political and regional situation and that they are exposed to immigration.”

Ukrainian Catholic leader shares favorites, faith in Winnipeg (Catholic News Service) When young Ukrainian Catholics asked the church’s major archbishop to name his favorite book of the Bible, he did not hesitate: the Gospel of St. John. Why? “First — shortest one,” laughed 42-year-old Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych, Ukraine. Then, he added more seriously: “With those few words, he speaks so profoundly.” “Favorites” was among question topics that young people from Manitoba submitted for the head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church to answer during a visit to St. Nicholas Parish on 7 September. Posed in the form of Tweets and projected onto a screen in front of the church, the questions followed a service to honor Blessed Nykyta Budka, the first Ukrainian Catholic bishop who arrived in Canada 100 years ago.

Russian Orthodox patriarch says his church is under attack (Reuters) The head of the Russian Orthodox Church used a Sunday prayer service and a state TV interview to argue that the church he presides over is under attack from foes he said fear its post-Soviet revival and want to destroy its places of worship. Patriarch Kirill did not name punk music group Pussy Riot but was clearly referring to the collective, three members of which were sentenced to jail for performing a “punk prayer” at the altar of a Moscow cathedral during which they criticized President Vladimir Putin.

Catholic Church likely to take up migrants’ issues in India (Times of India) With interstate migration trending upward over the years, the Catholic Church in India may adopt it as a policy matter to help migrants. Labor bodies attached to the church in 12 states — including Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka — will meet in Bangalore next month to chalk out a final decision.

Tags: India Lebanon Pope Benedict XVI Russian Orthodox Church Maronite

7 September 2012
Greg Kandra

Snake boats get ready to race during the Onam celebration in Kerala.
(photo: Arun Sinha/Wikipedia)

What, exactly, is Onam? Glad you asked.

Onam is the just-completed Hindu harvest festival celebrated in Kerala, India. As Wikipedia puts it:

It is the state festival of Kerala and falls during the month of Chingam (August–September) and lasts for ten days. The festival is marked by various festivities, including intricate flower carpets, elaborate banquet lunches, snake boat races, etc.

The festival has a rich and colorful history, and its observance now extends to all faiths. We asked Thomas Varghese, CNEWA’s vice president for India and Northeast Africa, to share a few things people should know about Onam. He was happy to oblige.

  1. Thripunithura Athachamayam. This is the festival that kicks off all the celebrations. It features a street parade accompanied by decorated elephants and floats, musicians and various traditional Kerala art forms.
  2. Feasting. Bring your appetite! Traditionally, the feasting of Onam is referred to as Onasadya, and it consists of a number of specialties (often more than 20 curries) dished up on a banana leaf.
  3. Pulikkali, or Tiger Play. Hundreds of grown men dress up as tigers and dance to the beat of traditional percussion instruments. It can take hours to decorate just one person—and all body hair has to be removed so that the skin can be painted in intricate detail. There are prizes for best costume, too.
  4. Aranmula Snake Boat Race. This is among the oldest snake boat races in Kerala. The focus is on tradition. About 50 boats take part in the race, which starts in the afternoon and includes religious rituals.
  5. Onam Week. Kerala puts on week-long celebrations around the state’s capital of Trivandrum. Festivities include stage shows, folk art and craft fairs.

For more, you can check out the link at Wikipedia. You can also read more about this year’s celebration in the Times of India. And you’ll find much more—including details about the festival’s origins and rituals—at

Tags: India Kerala

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