27 November 2013
The Alslivi family enjoys Sunday brunch. Refugees from Iraq, the family faced years of separation before finally reuniting in Sweden in 2008. “Everyone in the household still vividly remembers the hard times and radiates joy about their current circumstances,” wrote Anna Jonasson in the May 2011 issue of ONE. To learn more about the challenges facing Iraqi refugees in Sweden, check out A Nordic Refuge No More. (photo: Magnus Aronson)
27 November 2013
Tags: Iraq Refugees Unity Iraqi Refugees Sweden
In this photo from late September, Syrian refugees stand outside in Beirut with papers to present to officials with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees for registration. (photo: CNS/Jamal Saidi, Reuters)
Pontifical conference focuses on Syrian refugee children in Lebanon (VIS) This morning, in the Holy See Press Office, a press conference was held to present the Healthcare Mission for Syrian Child Refugees in Lebanon, promoted by the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, the Bambino Gesu Paediatric Hospital and Caritas Lebanon. “Helping the Syrian population, regardless of ethnic origin or religious belief, is the most direct way of contributing to peace-building and the edification of a society open to all its different members,” said Cardinal Robert Sarah, president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum. Cardinal Sarah explained that Pope Francis’ words inspired this project, in the hope that “these tragedies may never be repeated…”
Pax Christi International: Europe must not close its doors to Syrian refugees (Fides) In an urgent appeal to the leaders of both sides of the conflict, Pax Christi International asks that the borders remain open, that humanitarian relief may reach the besieged population unhindered. Pax Christi International calls on the urgent need for a ceasefire to ensure humanitarian access to the besieged areas before the negotiations begin…
Syrian women increasingly targeted by violence (Al Jazeera) Syrian women are increasingly targeted with violence and sexual assault by armed groups in the civil war between rebel groups and the government of President Bashar al Assad, according to a new report. The Euro Mediterranean Human Rights Network, a network of more than 80 human rights organizations in more than 30 countries in Europe and the Mediterranean, released a report on Monday detailing the violence experienced by Syrian women in 2012 and 2013, based on firsthand testimonies or accounts from their families or aid workers…
Polio spreads to Damascus and Aleppo (Al Jazeera) The World Health Organization said on Tuesday that additional polio cases had been confirmed in two new areas of Syria, including near Damascus and in the northern city of Aleppo near Turkey. “In addition to 15 polio cases in Deir Ezzor province, Syria, two additional cases have been confirmed, one each in rural Damascus and Aleppo,” the organization said on its Twitter account…
Pope invites Ukrainian Greek Catholic faithful to brotherly communion (VIS) At the end of the catechesis at today’s general audience, the Holy Father greeted Ukrainian pilgrims, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk and the bishops and faithful of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. The Eastern Catholic pilgrims came to Rome to venerate the tombs of the apostles Peter and Paul at the end of the Year of Faith, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the translation of the relics of St. Josaphat to St. Peter’s Basilica. For this reason, the reading preceding the catechesis was given in Ukrainian. “The example of St. Josaphat, who gave his life for the Lord Jesus and for the unity of the Church, represents for all of us an invitation to commit ourselves every day to communion with our brothers,” said Pope Francis…
26 November 2013
Tags: Syria Pope Francis Refugees Syrian Civil War Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church
In Egypt, a young girl does her schoolwork. Catholic institutions in Upper Egypt, such as this Jesuit-run school in Minya, are largely responsible for the growth of the Coptic Catholic Church. Read more about it in our profile from the September 2007 issue of ONE. (photo: Sean Sprague)
26 November 2013
Tags: Egypt Children Education Catholic education
More than 10 percent of those killed in the Syrian conflict were children. In this video, children are describing life in Jobar, a district of Damascus. Suddenly, a shell hits the area. Stefanie Dekker reports. (video: Al Jazeera)
Pope receives President Putin: An end to the violence in Syria is urgent (VIS) Yesterday afternoon Vladimir Putin, president of the Russian Federation, was received in audience by Pope Francis. President Putin subsequently went on to meet with the secretary of State, Archbishop Pietro Parolin, who was accompanied by the secretary for Relations with States, Archbishop Dominique Mamberti. During the cordial discussions, satisfaction was expressed for the good existing bilateral relations, and the parties focused on various questions of common interest, especially in relation to the life of the Catholic community in Russia. Furthermore, special attention was paid to the pursuit of peace in the Middle East and the grave situation in Syria…
Proposals seek to preserve Christian demographic balance in parts of Iraq (Fides) A recent conference focusing on the demographic balance of historically Christian areas of Iraq concluded with the proposal of a package of concrete demands to address this emergency. In particular, the organization calls for the creation of a joint committee to develop and implement measures designed to encourage the return of native Christian families who left the region and to protect the Christians in the area of Mosul, still exposed to bullying and targeted violence…
Catholic Church official in Egypt urges Christians to remain in country (Catholic Sentinel) Egypt’s Christians should stay in their country and help it progress instead of taking “the easy way” of emigrating abroad, said a senior member of the country’s Catholic Church. The Rev. Rafic Greiche, head of the Catholic Church press office in Egypt, expressed concern to Catholic News Service on 20 November that hundreds of thousands of Christians have left for other countries since 2011, when a popular revolution ended the nearly 30-year secular rule of former autocratic president, Hosni Mubarak…
Egypt police fire water cannons on protesters testing new law (Los Angeles Times) Egypt’s tough new anti-protest law got its first major test Tuesday when dozens of demonstrators gathered in the capital to protest harsh police tactics — and were met with drenching water-cannon blasts. The anti-protest measure, which took effect Sunday, forbids spontaneous street demonstrations, which have been a prominent feature of public life here since the enormous 2011 uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak, the autocratic longtime president…
Bkerke denies patriarch resigning from Maronite church (Daily Star Lebanon) Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai does not plan to quit his post, a church representative said Tuesday. Bkerke, the seat of the Maronite Church, dismissed allegations that its patriarch will resign in order to head the Vatican Synod in the Middle East following rumors that Pope Francis denied renewal of Cardinal Leonardo Sandri’s term…
25 November 2013
Tags: Egypt Pope Francis Syrian Civil War Iraqi Christians Egypt's Christians
Greek Catholic seminarians in Hungary find some free time for socializing. (photo: Tivadar Domaniczky)
In 2007, we got a rare glimpse inside a Greek Catholic seminary in Hungary:
An ordinary day at the seminary starts at 6 a.m. with prayer, private meditation and the Divine Liturgy, followed by a quick breakfast.
Seminarians attend classes at the handsome theological institute, located down the street from the seminary. Classes begin promptly at 8:30 a.m. In the 1970’s, the eparchy opened the institute, named for one of the first doctors of the church, St. Athanasius. The only theological institute in the region, it is affiliated with the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome.
Lunch is taken in the seminary refectory at 1 p.m. From 2 to 4 p.m., students study foreign languages (fluency in two is required), attend an occasional seminar, play a sport or relax. After a two-hour study period, there is a 15-minute biblical reflection before dinner at 7 p.m. From 8 to 8:30 p.m., the seminarians gather in the chapel, where the house spiritual director, Father Tamás Kruppa, suggests themes for each student to meditate on the next day.
At 10 p.m., it is silentium magnum: No speaking is permitted until breakfast the next morning. Lights are out at 11 p.m.
Once a month, a day of silent retreat — led by a priest invited by the seminary — breaks the regular schedule. Silence is the rule that day, even during meals. There is also a weeklong retreat, held at Máriapócs early in November, with many liturgies and devotions.
“It’s very good,” said Father Tamás Horváth, the prefect of the seminary, “but it’s hard for the boys to be quiet that long, just as it is for adults.”
Read more about what it takes To Be a Priest in the March 2007 issue of ONE.
25 November 2013
Tags: Seminarians Hungary Greek Catholic Church Eastern Catholics Hungarian Greek Catholic
More than four months have passed since the death of Bulgarian Orthodox Metropolitan Kiril of Varna and Veliki Preslav, and the matter of his permanent successor has yet to be settled. A memorial service, pictured above, was held on 5 October. (photo: Bulgarian Orthodox Church)
Bulgarian Orthodox Church cancels Varna metropolitan election (Novinite) The Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church has decided to cancel the first round of the vote for metropolitan bishop of Varna and Veliki Preslav. The decision comes after representatives of both clergy and laity said they have grounds to believe that the election was rigged…
Pope Francis greets Ukrainian pilgrims (Vatican Radio) On Monday, Pope Francis greeted Ukrainian pilgrims celebrating the 50th anniversary of the transition of the relics of St. Josaphat to St. Peter’s Basilica. The delegation was led by His Beatitude Sviatoslav Shevchuk, major archbishop of Kyiv-Halyc, leader of the Ukrainian Catholic Church. St. Josaphat was a Ukrainian monk who later became an archbishop. He was martyred in 1623. “May the memory of this holy martyr speak of the communion of saints, the communion of life between all those who belong to Christ,” said Pope Francis…
Putin to meet Pope Francis as church relations warm (Moscow Times) President Vladimir Putin met with Pope Francis at the Vatican today as part of his state visit to Italy, an encounter many hope helped to improve relations between the Catholic and Russian Orthodox churches. Since the election of Pope Francis to head the Vatican in March, there have been signs that the two churches are eager to ease the tensions that have dominated their relations in recent decades and that date back all the way to the Great Schism of 1054…
Egyptians unite to repair houses of worship (Eurasia Review) Over the past four months, about 70 Coptic churches have been attacked and burned, according to government statistics. A number of mosques also have been attacked, mainly following the dispersal of the Rabea al Adawiyah and al Nahda sit-ins in August. This prompted Beit al Aela al Misriyah, a nongovernmental organisation, to launch an initiative to renovate houses of worship damaged in recent acts of violence with support from the government, Al Azhar, the Coptic Church and private individuals and businesses. The initiative, launched on 31 October, aims to promote tolerance and encourages all Egyptians to help repair damaged houses of worship, the organization said…
Coptic Orthodox representative protests constitution committee (Egypt Independent) Coptic Orthodox Bishop Paula of Tanta, representing his church within the 50-member committee tasked with amending the constitution, has threatened to withdraw for a second time — in protest against the drafting process. “Article 219 was the reason for quitting the Constitutional Assembly in 2012. It is going to be the reason also for quitting the 50-member committee in 2013,” he said…
Egypt law aims to curb protest (Christian Science Monitor) Egypt’s interim president issued a new law regulating protests that has been heavily criticized by rights groups for being overly restrictive, including allowing police to ban demonstrations without justification. The law is one of several recently proposed by the government that would give authorities broad discretion to shut down dissent, leading to charges that interim military-backed government is seeking to clamp down on freedoms. While the final law is not yet published, an earlier draft of the protest law would require those organizing demonstrations — or even open meetings with more than 10 people — to seek police approval three working days before, and would give police carte blanche to deny approval…
22 November 2013
Tags: Egypt Pope Francis Pilgrimage/pilgrims Coptic Orthodox Church Bulgarian Orthodox Church
Located outside the Jordanian city of Mafraq, near the Syrian border, the Zaatari refugee camp has become an interim home to about 113,000 Syrian refugees, according to current UNHCR data. (photo: CNS/Reuters)
In the Autumn issue of ONE, writer Nicholas Seeley reports on how Catholic health care initiatives are helping refugees in Jordan. Here, he offers more insight into how small faith-based charities are making a difference.
One of the interesting things about writing this story, for me, was the opportunity to reflect on the significance of local and faith-based organizations in emergency situations. When a huge humanitarian crisis occurs, the United Nations, governments and large international aid agencies quickly step in, and often they seem to monopolize the response with huge aid requests and high-profile projects, like Jordan’s Zaatari refugee camp. But they are not the only players.
It is important to remember that in Jordan, at least, only a small portion of the refugees have ever been in camps. Most are living in Jordanian cities and towns, often in low-income areas. When they arrived, it was local charities that first offered them help and support. When you spoke to refugees in 2011 and 2012, it was groups like Al Kitab wa Sunna or the Jordanian Green Crescent that they said were actually providing them with assistance: food, diapers, blankets and household goods. There were dozens of these local charities involved. They had been working in Jordan’s poor areas for years, and were able to expand quickly to start helping Syrians as well — long before the big international players got moving. Most of them were Islamic, including many associated with the Muslim Brotherhood, but there were Christian ones, too, including both dedicated organizations and small parishes across the country. (These days, there are also some Jewish groups working quietly in Jordan.)
It is hard to speak in concrete terms about how much of a role local faith-based organizations play — both because there are so many of them and because their donations are often irregular. Officials at several such agencies have told me they rely extensively on private, mostly Jordanian donors, rather than institutional contributions, and the amount of money they have at any given time can vary. Often a single large donor will pay for a load of blankets to be distributed, or for food to be provided for a few dozen families. Other times, the charity will pool smaller donations for ongoing programs, but those can only run as long as the funds keep coming.
Tracking the total impact of these disparate efforts would be a massive undertaking. But even aid workers from the big agencies say that a great deal of the support refugees in Jordan have received — perhaps the majority — has come from such faith-based organizations.
Today, both the United Nations and several of the organizations themselves have warned that that support is flagging. The sheer scale of the Syrian influx has strained Jordan’s public services and economy. Local donors are exhausted, and often feel they are in increasingly difficult economic straits themselves, so the support that sustained local charities has waned. In some places, there have even been complaints that impoverished Jordanians can no longer get assistance, because all the aid is going to refugees.
United Nations officials have said that the amount of money they have, huge though it is, will not be enough to provide for even the most basic needs of the Syrians if the assistance provided by local groups continues to diminish. Certainly the role of large institutional donors and the international community should not be diminished either.
But it is important to remember just how large and how critical a role is played by the accumulated efforts of small, local, faith-based organizations — even in the biggest emergency.
To learn how you can help support CNEWA’s work in Jordan, visit this page. You can read more about Syrian refugees in Jordan in Overwhelming Mercy, in the Autumn issue of ONE.
22 November 2013
Tags: Refugees Jordan Health Care ONE magazine Refugee Camps
In Kerala, an elderly resident of St. Athony’s House of Refuge recovers from an illness. (photo: Peter Lemieux)
Several years ago, we profiled the remarkable work of the Sisters of Nazareth in one corner of India:
At the rear of St. Antony’s House of Refuge in the village of Edakunnu, some 25 miles north of Kerala’s commercial center of Ernakulam, the twin bed in a private room reserved for hospice care is again occupied. The silk draperies dressing the small window are drawn. Caregivers move about deliberately. Visitors enter discreetly. With hushed voices, they say their last goodbyes to 90-year-old Mary P.M. Puthusey, holding the dying woman’s hand and caressing her gently.
As she is anointed with oil for the last time, an aura of sanctified calm fills this space of final respite. A silver cross hangs from the wooden bedpost above her head. Pinned to the opposite post is a laminated icon of the Virgin Mary. From another wall looms a calendar, dominated by an image of Jesus, which reads in big block letters, “I am the way, the truth, the life.”
These words have long been at the core of the dying woman’s being. She and the 43 remaining residents of St. Antony’s chose the religious life long ago in their early adulthood. Mary P.M. arrived in 1949, shortly after the Sisters of Nazareth, a congregation of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, established St. Antony’s for young women who, in the words of Father Augustine Thenayan, director of the Nazareth Institutions, “wanted to lead pious lives and become sisters, but who had no education.” Young no longer, the residents today are gray-haired, frail, often ill and dying one by one.
Hovering by the woman’s bedside is St. Antony’s resident caregiver, Mary P.L. Taking on a nurse’s role, Mary P.L. monitors the patient’s tubing, cleans her bedpan and adjusts her blanket. She rubs the back of Mary P.M.’s grieving younger sister and fellow resident, Rosakkutty. And, she spends countless hours sitting beside the dying woman, talking to her and praying with her for a “happy death.”
“As with all who have gone before her, I try to take away her pain and keep her as happy as can be,” explained Mary P.L. “God has given me this gift. I try to use it.”
Read more about Kerala’s Saving Grace in the July 2009 issue of ONE. And to learn how you can help continue good work in India, visit this giving page.
22 November 2013
Tags: India Sisters Caring for the Elderly
Pope Francis attends a meeting with the patriarchs and major archbishops of the Eastern Catholic churches in Syria, Iraq and and other parts of the Middle East, at the Vatican on 21 November. (photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)
Eastern Catholic churches committed to interreligious dialogue (VIS) The Congregation for the Eastern Churches today concluded its plenary session, held from 19 to 22 November, which focused on the balance of conciliar ideas regarding the Eastern churches 50 years after Vatican Council II. Appreciation was expressed for the beauty of conciliar ecclesiology and the value of diversity in unity, also underlining that the recognition of the apostolic origin is a theological and juridical affirmation…
Strife fuels polio’s return to Middle East (Der Spiegel) Polio is making a comeback in a decimated part of Syria, but the delicate politics of the war are making vaccination campaigns difficult. “We have been warning them for more than a month that polio is spreading, but [the WHO] refuse[s] to send the vaccine!” said Dr. Khalid Milaji, a Syrian doctor and part of the Polio Control Task Force, a group trying to rein in a new polio epidemic. And yet, for weeks, WHO had blocked a vaccination campaign aimed at containing what is probably the most dangerous outbreak in years, in the Syrian province of Deir Ezzor. The United Nations organization even tried to stop the analysis of virus samples. The reason: WHO has a policy of cooperating exclusively with the government in Damascus, even in times of war, despite the fact that the central government has long since given up on Deir Ezzor…
As Syrian war grinds on, a new flock of refugees takes flight (New York Times) Syria’s pigeon collectors, hamemati as they are known back home, are among the most ardent in the Arab world. They do not breed or race them. They will trade and sell them, but mostly they just keep them as treasured pets. So it comes as little surprise that some have gone to great lengths to pursue their hobby in exile, especially since no one expects Syria’s two-and-a-half-year civil war to end anytime soon…
Jordanian official asks heads of churches to promote pilgrimages (Fides) Nidal Katamine, the Jordanian minister of tourism, has issued a strong appeal to the heads of local churches to promote and concretely support pilgrimages to holy sites in Jordan. The invitation was expressed during an ad hoc meeting convened in Amman, at the headquarters of the Greek Orthodox Archepachy…
Ecumenical prayer across India for justice and reconciliation (Fides) Over 6,000 churches across India have come together to coordinate a simultaneous, ecumenical prayer service on 30 November. “We call on all Christians in the nation to join in this prayer to bless the nation,” said Archbishop Anil Couto of Delhi, president of the organizing committee of prayer. The idea of a national ecumenical prayer was founded in 2012 by a meeting between different Indian Christians leaders…
A look at the West Bank’s Monastery of St. George (Huffington Post) Hiding in folds of the Judean Desert are ancient monasteries which, since ancient times, have given hermits the desolation of their dreams. Orthodox Christians — whether from Palestine, Greece, Russia, or Ethiopia — enliven these monasteries today, as they have since the sixth century. The dramatically set Monastery of St. George welcomes pilgrims and tourists alike. For 15 centuries, the faithful have ventured to this spot, hiked into the ravine, quenched their thirst, and nourished their soul…
21 November 2013
Tags: Syrian Civil War Jordan Ecumenism Health Care Congregation for Eastern Churches
Thomas Varghese, U.S.C.C.B.’s Declan Murphy, Caritas Armenia director Anahit Mkhoyan and Michael La Civita in front of the Caritas office in Gyumri. (photo: CNEWA)
The romantic notions I may have had about traveling through “Middle Earth” dissipated when I met Syrian Armenians living in the Yerevan residence of Armenian Catholic Archbishop Rafael Minassian. Arriving the other evening, my colleagues and I began chatting with a Syrian Armenian Catholic seminarian who facilitates the care of these 13 families for the archbishop. Originally from the city of Qamishli in northeastern Syria, Pierre (for security purposes his family name will not be published) was passionate about what life was like before the civil war ravaged his country.
“We had liberty, we had freedom,” he said, “My brother is a famous drummer in Syria, he used to be hired for many parties and weddings … but now there is nothing.
“He also taught in the university, but now it is closed.” Ironically, Qamishli was settled by Assyro-Chaldean refugees fleeing Ottoman Turkish soldiers who began slaughtering the empire’s Armenian, Assyro-Chaldean and Greek Christians in 1915.
As Pierre looked to the ground, a young woman came running up the stairs to talk. “I heard your conversation, and I needed to be here.”
A graduate student in architecture in Armenia, she, too, spoke of the former Syria as if it were a lost Eden. “I was the only Christian on my street in Damascus. All my friends were Muslim — Sunni, Alawi, Druze. We didn’t care about which religion the other may have been. And we are still friends.”
She and her Armenian mother are living in Yerevan, but she has heard nothing from her father, an officer in the Syrian army.
Speaking with the archbishop’s staff and the Yerevan team of Caritas Armenia, who are working with a hundred Syrian Armenian refugee families now living in the capital city, we learned that most families have been torn apart; the husband remains behind to mind the property and assets while sending his wife and children to safety — perhaps Armenia, Lebanon or points farther west.
Aram Khachaturyan, who directs the refugee work of Caritas in Yerevan, said 11,000 Armenians have arrived in the country, but already some 2,000 have left. “Some have already returned to Syria; others have settled in Sweden.”
His colleague, Aida Khachatryan, added that the Syrian Armenian families from the cities, especially Aleppo and Damascus, have had an easier time adapting to life to Yerevan.
“They are integrating better,” she said, by learning Russian — the lingua franca in the Caucasus. “Some are already employing their skills as goldsmiths, jewelers and shoemakers.” But most families are desperately poor, arriving in Armenia with nothing.
As the charity of the Armenian Catholic Church, Caritas Armenia is helping to settle these families in apartments, providing initial rent payments, food, sanitary supplies and mattresses. Resources are tight. I asked the seminarian, who has been ordained a subdeacon, how the church — which has almost no resources in Armenia and Georgia — can afford to support these families.
“Archbishop Minassian says it is in the hands of Jesus,” said Pierre, pointing upward. “The archbishop says we have to do this: ‘These are the children of the church!’ ” Apostolic, Catholic and Evangelical Armenians are welcome in this home of the archbishop; as we have seen throughout these weeks in the Caucasus, poverty does not discriminate and nor does the outreach of the local churches.
(photo: Michael La Civita)
This visit to the churches and peoples of Georgia and Armenia ended on a poignant note, visiting the monastic complex of Geghard. Founded in the fourth century by the apostle to the Armenians, St. Gregory the Illuminator, most of the structures — freestanding or hewn from the rock of the river gorge where it is located — date to the 12th century. Fog shrouded the gorge as we approached the site, a place of pilgrimage for Armenian Christians.
(photo: Michael La Civita)
As we entered the darkened churches, partially illuminated by the candles lighted by pilgrims, I thought about this extraordinary journey, and the extraordinary people I have had the privilege to meet.
My colleagues and I have much to think about as we work together to plan how to best serve these people, their initiatives and their faith. But one thing is clear: Never have I met such generous people. Regardless of their poverty — and the Armenian Catholic Church in particular needs support these days — I met people who gave from their heart.
“Love! Love is why we do these things!” Aida Khachatryan of Caritas exclaimed yesterday. She looked at her uncle, Father Grigor Mkrtchyan, who, while not knowing English, understood her absolutely.
This terrific parish priest, who accompanied us through much of the visit, nodded his head in agreement, looked at me and said simply: “Thank you.”
Never have such simple words meant so much.
(photo: Michael La Civita)
Tags: Cultural Identity Armenia Caritas Caucasus U.S.C.C.B.