19 July 2013
Five-year-old Battoul al Hassan stands outside her family’s temporary home in Jounieh, Lebanon. To read our recent story on Syrian refugees in Lebanon, see Crossing the Border, from the Spring 2013 issue of ONE. (photo: Tamara Hadi)
CNEWA’s humanitarian fight for Syrian refugees (AsiaNews) The Syrian tragedy is creating tens of thousands of refugees each month. Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA) is active along the Lebanese border helping displaced Christian families. “In the past year, we have helped more than 11,000 families and 4,000 children,” its regional director Issam Bishara told AsiaNews. “And our work goes on.” In the last 14 months, Catholic Near East Welfare Association has been able to provide food and other aid to 4,474 children and 11,152 Syrian families in need, displaced from an area that runs from Homs to the Lebanese border. For the upcoming school year, the papal agency also plans to provide school supplies to at least 1,500 children in Homs for a period of 160 days…
Israeli law tears Palestinian families apart (Al Jazeera) Thousands of families are affected by the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law, which prohibits Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza from obtaining permanent or temporary resident status in East Jerusalem or Israel. The citizenship law applies to married couples even when one spouse holds Israeli residency or citizenship. Since Israel’s 1967 annexation of East Jerusalem, a move unrecognized by the international community, Palestinians have rarely been granted citizenship rights, only residency rights. Palestinians live with the threat of having their residency revoked. As a result, a generation of Palestinian children has grown up living in uncertainty and fear…
Egyptian Christians happy Morsi is gone but remain wary (Jerusalem Post) Coptic Christian community is not under any illusion that the army’s installation of an interim government devoid of Islamists spells the end to its long-standing grievances, such as difficulties in getting state jobs, equality before the law and securing permits to build churches. Communal tensions and attacks on Christians and churches rose sharply under Morsi, Egypt’s first freely-elected president. Many Copts, who make up about a tenth of Egypt’s 84 million people, left the country where their ancestors settled in the earliest years of Christianity — several centuries before the arrival of Islam…
After ouster, Egypt’s military and Islamists are far from a deal (New York Times) More than two weeks after the military removed President Mohamed Morsi from power, intense efforts to bring the generals and the ex-president’s Islamist supporters to an agreement have so far come up empty, deepening Egypt’s political crisis. The efforts, according to intermediaries, have been stymied by the military’s refusal so far to release Mr. Morsi and several aides, who are held incommunicado and have not been charged with crimes. In Mr. Morsi’s absence, members of his movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, have continued to demand that the military’s intervention be reversed as a precondition for any settlement…
18 July 2013
Tags: Egypt Refugees CNEWA Middle East Christians Israeli-Palestinian conflict
In this image from 2010, a woman and her grandson pose in the village of Aklaimi, Wadi al Nasarah, in the “Valley of the Christians,” near Homs. (photo: Sean Sprague)
The New York Times this week reported on the devastation civil war has brought to the Syrian city of Homs:
Little by little, the central Syrian city of Homs is losing its infrastructure and its landmarks. The national hospital lies in ruins. Rebel-held neighborhoods stretch for blocks without an intact building. Many government offices are closed. The silver-domed mosque of Khalid bin al Waleed — named for an early Islamic warrior particularly revered by Sunnis — stands pockmarked and perforated.
Abandoned cars rust beneath piles of rubble and downed wires.
Homs was an early bellwether of what Syria would become. One of the first cities to rise up in rebellion, it was home to mass demonstrations. As protests turned to armed revolt, the city began to split, largely along sectarian lines, with much of the Sunni majority supporting the uprising and members of President Bashar al Assad’s Alawite sect joining pro-government militias. Now, after more than a year of siege, bombardment and clashes, which have intensified recently as the government has renewed its assault on rebel strongholds, Homs may well be the site of the most concentrated destruction in the country.
But less than three years ago, that part of Syria was very different. We visited the region’s nearby villages in 2010:
Looking out at the idyllic countryside, with its gently rolling hills painted in hues of olive green and gold, its ancient villages and stone churches, it is no wonder why so many natives faithfully return at least once a year.
One such émigré is Lamaan Nahas. On vacation, she is visiting her home village of Alkaimi with her aging mother and three children. Mrs. Nahas left Syria 17 years ago and now lives in San Francisco, California, with her husband, children and, for the past year, her mother. She loves San Francisco and her life there, she says, but she misses her home in the Valley of Christians. Her mother, her gray hair pulled in a bun, smiles broadly, visibly happy to be back home, even if for just a short stay.
As we talked, a couple of girls approached a nearby fountain fed by a natural spring with large plastic jugs brought from home. As they filled them with the fresh cool water, they giggled with delight. The valley has many natural springs and it is not uncommon for each village to have one nearby. Though all homes in the valley are equipped with modern plumbing and electricity, locals often prefer to collect their drinking water from these springs.
Despite the lack of opportunity, many of the region’s remaining residents are clearly happy to live in such a beautiful environment.
Read more about Syria’s Valley of the Christians in the January 2011 issue of ONE.
18 July 2013
Tags: Syria Syrian Civil War War Village life
In this video, the BBC’s Ahmed Maher reports on the violent backlash against Christians in Egypt since Muhammad Morsi was forced from office. (video: BBC)
Egyptian Coptic church destroyed by looters (BBC) There has been a string of attacks on Christians in different provinces in Egypt since Muhammad Morsi was forced from office, with Coptic Christians saying they have been singled out for campaigning against him. In the village of Dalga, near the central Egyptian city of Minya, a church was looted and destroyed and the priest, Father Ayoub Youssef, had to flee for his life. He said Muslim neighbours helped his escape from the roof of his house. “Had it not been for them, I would have been lynched,” he said.…
Coptic pope suspends public catechesis for security reasons (Fides) Yesterday, Coptic Orthodox Patriarch Tawadros II canceled for the third consecutive time the weekly meeting of public prayer and catechesis he typically holds on Wednesday afternoon in St. Mark’s Cathedral in Cairo. Coptic Catholic Bishop Boutros Fahim Awad Hanna of Minya has noted that since 30 June, “Pope Tawadros avoids appearing in public, not so much because he fears for his life, but because he does not want people to gather for fear that some fool could throw a few bombs. At the moment there are those who accuse Christians of being responsible of the popular uprising…”
Israeli-Palestinian talks: speculation mounts on possible breakthrough (The Guardian) The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, has convened a meeting of the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah amid mounting speculation about an imminent breakthrough that may bring Israel and Palestine back to the negotiating table. Israeli President Shimon Peres further raised expectations in a statement which said: “From the latest information at my disposal, [United States Secretary of State John Kerry] has succeeded in progressing the chance for opening peace talks. … The coming days are crucial and we are within touching distance.” Both parties, he added, were “making an effort to overcome the final obstacles…”
Bridge to nowhere: Syrian refugees in Greece (Al Jazeera) Syrians fleeing war spend every resource at their disposal and risk life and limb to arrive in Greece, but safe arrival is no guarantee of an easier life. While the war rages, Greek authorities will not deport Syrian refugees, but nor will they support them in any way. Without residence permits, it is next to impossible for them to work legally. Many are reduced to begging. Others live off the charity of the Greek Orthodox Church and community organizations. It is easy to be picked up during police stop-and-search operations targeting undocumented migrants. Syrians can end up jailed for months while their nationality is verified. Once inside a detention center, police brutality is all too frequent. Greece is experiencing a severe backlash against migrants, legal and illegal, as a six-year recession has driven unemployment to 27 percent…
Bulgarian Orthodox Church appoints new acting metropolitan of Varna (Sofia Globe) The Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church appointed Dorostol Metropolitan Ambrosii as temporary metropolitan of Varna on 18 July. Metropolitan Ambrosii will hold the position until the election of a new metropolitan, who would replace Metropolitan Kiril, found dead on a Black Sea beach earlier this month. After Kiril’s death, the Holy Synod named Vratsa Metropolitan Kalinik as acting Varna Metropolitan, but Kalinik withdrew after clergy and laity wrote to the Holy Synod objecting to his appointment…
17 July 2013
Tags: Violence against Christians Middle East Peace Process Immigration Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II Bulgarian Orthodox Church
Msgr. Kozar visits with children at St. Anthony’s Dayssadan, a home for children with physical disabilities run by the Preshitharam Sisters in India. (photo: CNEWA)
Last year, CNEWA president Msgr. John E. Kozar traveled to India and wrote about his experience visiting a home for children:
The place is the St. Anthony’s Dayssadan, a home for children with physical disabilities run by the Preshitharam Sisters. The director of the facility is Sister Tessy, and she is accompanied by six other caring and loving sisters. …
When I walked around to give each of them some candy — as has been the custom during all of our pastoral visits with children — I became very much aware of their physical challenges, as some of them could not put out their hands to accept the candy. Their joy in welcoming me prompted one of them to ask me to pray for all of them. Their response to my blessing was to sing together a lovely hymn, alluding to how God watches over us all. What a powerful life lesson for me.
The sisters here are saints, completely devoted to the care of these special children. I feel that this visit with the sisters and His little ones, was the perfect way to put it all into perspective. God loves everyone: the poor, the disadvantaged, those with special challenges. And we are privileged and have the honor of reaching out to the needs of so many in India. As much as we might do in helping them, we receive infinitely more as we experience their courage, their kindness, their patience, and especially their FAITH. Yes, above all they are filled with faith. Their trust in God watching over them, with a little help from our CNEWA family, is the great equalizer. It not only keeps them going, but it also brings joy and happiness to their lives.
Read more from Msgr. Kozar’s journey In the Footsteps of St. Thomas.
17 July 2013
Tags: India Children Sisters Msgr. John E. Kozar Indian Christians
In this photo from Sunday, 7 July 2013, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I presides over the concelebration of the Divine Liturgy for the patronal feast of the Church of St. Kyriaki in Kontoskali, Istanbul, with Metropolitans Germanos of Theodoroupolis and Athenagoras of Kydonies. Metropolitan Chrysostomos of Myra was also in attendance. (photo: N. Manginas/The Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople)
Ecumenical patriarch sympathizes with protests, prays for kidnapped bishops (AsiaNews) Ramadan has not stopped anti-government protests, which began with the events of Gezi Park. At an iftar (the traditional dinner after the daily fast during Ramadan) offered by the mayor of Istanbul to leaders of non-Muslim religious minorities, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I showed his interest in and sympathy for the protests, which are a sign of the growing desire for democracy and justice in Turkish society. In a veiled reference to the protests in Gezi Park, the patriarch said, “We are excited and joyful witnesses to important facts that seek to find a solution to long-standing situations that have accumulated over the years in Turkish society even though they cause divisions and polarization.” In his brief but tough speech, Bartholomew mentioned the kidnapping of Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Paul and Syriac Orthodox Metropolitan Yohanna, expressing concern for their fate and inviting all those present at the iftar dinner to pray for them…
Concern for Syrian refugees grows (Vatican Radio) Suspected rebel gunmen assassinated a well-known supporter of Syrian President Bashar al Assad in Lebanon today, the latest sign that Syria’s civil war is spreading to its smaller neighbor. It was the first assassination of a pro-Assad figure in Lebanon since Syria’s conflict started more than two years ago. Meanwhile, the United Nations has appealed for more humanitarian aid for Syrian refugees…
After Morsi, Christians and churches targeted by Islamists (AsiaNews) More than 100 Christian families have fled Al Arish in the Sinai after receiving death threats from Islamist groups following the fall of Muhammad Morsi. Currently, Coptic churches in northern Sinai have canceled all services and meetings, except for the Divine Liturgy on Friday. No Christians are left in the towns of Rafah and Sheikh Zowayd. The Sinai Peninsula has always been a home for Islamist groups, many of them linked to Hamas in Gaza. For decades, they have fought against the Egyptian army as it tried to stop weapon supplies and smuggling into the Gaza Strip. Under Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, the army had reduced pressure on them but now the military is back in force following the fall of Hosni Mubarak’s successor…
Russian, Serbian patriarchs criticize Serbian government (B92) Serbian Orthodox Patriarch Irinej has conferred with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill in the Russian Patriarchate in Moscow. The Serbian church head sought the aid of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian government in the preservation of Kosovo and Metohija, leveling criticism at the Serbian authorities. Patriarch Irinej underlined that Serbia must not renounce Kosovo and Metohija, because that would imply renouncing its history, culture, spirituality and holy sites. Patriarch Kirill remarked that the Russian Orthodox Church agrees with the stands of its sister church in terms of Kosovo and Metohija, and he also criticized Serbia’s political leadership…
Roma integration idles (Al Jazeera) The Roma are Europe’s biggest ethnic minority. For decades they have been victims of racism, discrimination and social exclusion. In 2005 twelve European countries declared “the decade of Roma inclusion” and, in 2011, the European Union established a framework for their integration. But in its latest report, the E.U. Commission concluded that not only has inadequate progress been made but that the majority of states failed to allocate sufficient resources for Roma inclusion…
Grassroots ‘ecumenical friendship’ strengthens Catholic-Orthodox relations (Catholic World Report) Rather than collecting dust on a Vatican shelf, Pope John Paul II’s apostolic letter “Orientale Lumen” (“Light of the East”), which encourages Latin Catholics to better know the traditions of the Christian East, has continued to inspire a Washington, D.C.-based grassroots ecumenical movement for almost two decades. Initially planned as a single meeting to discuss the pope’s work, the Orientale Lumen Conference has become an annual gathering open to anyone. In some ways, it has kept the light of Orthodox-Catholic dialogue burning even while official dialogues hit roadblocks…
16 July 2013
Tags: Syrian Civil War Violence against Christians Ecumenism Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I Roma
A mural depicting the Cathedral of Holy Etchmiadzin and Mount Ararat adorns a brick wall in Hollywood’s “Little Armenia.” (photo: Armineh Johannes)
Several years ago, we looked at a thriving group of Christian immigrants from the Middle East who had settled in southern California:
Leaving behind economic hardship, religious persecution and war — and in many cases family, friends and culture — Middle Eastern Christians have flocked to the United States in increasing numbers over the past three decades.
They have been immigrating to the United States and other Western countries since the late 19th century, but migration has increased as political and economic conditions have deteriorated in their home countries. About a quarter of a million Christians have left Palestine since 1948. Roughly the same number has left Lebanon since the end of its civil war more than a decade ago.
In coming to the United States, Christians from Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine and Syria bring with them rich traditions they hope to preserve amid the dominant American culture, which their children often absorb.
“I would like to think we will preserve our culture and identity and keep that distinctiveness, but that may be wishful thinking,” says Michael Nahabet, an Armenian who emigrated from Syria more than 20 years ago. “The melting pot is a reality and we do not fight it. I believe we should be integrated and not live in a ghetto. It’s not a resistance, but we want to keep our identity.”
Mr. Nahabet and his wife, Nora, an Armenian from Lebanon, send their two children, Eddie and Natalie, to an Armenian school. They speak mostly Armenian in the home, but Natalie says she mainly speaks English with her brother and her friends.
The Nahabets live in the Los Angeles suburb of Chatsworth, not far from another suburb, Glendale, where one in four residents is Armenian. An estimated quarter of a million Armenians — many from the eastern Mediterranean where Armenians have lived since the Middle Ages — live in Southern California. Mr. Nahabet immigrated to the Los Angeles area at age 24 to start a business. He bought a service station, which he operated for 10 years before going into publishing.
Large numbers of Christians — often wealthier, better educated and with more connections to the West than their Muslim neighbors in the Middle East — take advantage of the opportunities available to them in the United States and Europe.
Read more about East Goes West in the January 2004 issue of the magazine.
16 July 2013
Tags: Lebanon Cultural Identity Armenia United States Immigration
Pope Francis greets the crowd after praying the Angelus at the papal villa in Castel Gandolfo, Italy, on 14 July. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Pope Francis prays for the victims of the Volhynia Massacre (VIS) Following Sunday’s Angelus, the pope commemorated the massacres of Volhynia in June 1943, a tragic episode during World War II in which tens of thousands of people lost their lives. He said: “I join in prayer with the prelates and faithful of the church in Ukraine, gathered in the cathedral of Lutsk for the Holy Mass of the souls of the deceased on the seventieth anniversary of the massacres at Volhynia. Those actions, provoked by nationalist ideology in the tragic context of the Second World War, claimed tens of thousands of victims and damaged the fraternity between the two peoples, the Polish and the Ukrainian. I entrust to the mercy of God the souls of the victims and, for their people, I ask the grace of profound reconciliation and of a peaceful future in hope and in sincere collaboration in building together the Kingdom of God…”
Monastery under attack; nuns appeal to Palestinian president (Fides) The nuns of the Greek Orthodox monastery in Bethany have sent a letter to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to urge the leaders of the Palestinian Authority to take charge, with appropriate measures, of the escalation of attacks that the site has been suffering lately: thrown stones, broken glass, theft and looting of the monastery property as part of a campaign of intimidation. “We do not exclude,” wrote the Mother Superior Sister Ibraxia in her letter to President Abbas, “that behind these attacks there are those who want to foment discord among the children of the Palestinian nation…”
Greek Orthodox patriarch: Syrian people committed to unity and peace (SANA) Greek Orthodox Patriarch Youhanna X of Antioch and All the East stressed that the Syrian people are committed to the territorial integrity of Syria, adding that efforts should be exerted for Syria to restore peace, security and stability. During a visit to Lattakia province, he called on the neighboring countries to exert efforts for peaceful political solution to the crisis in Syria, which was and will remain the homeland for dialogue, fraternity, amity and peace…
NGO claims Egyptian state is failing to respond to attacks on copts (Daily Star Lebanon) Egypt’s Christians have been targeted in a wave of attacks since the ouster of Islamist President Muhammad Morsi, and the state is failing to protect them, an NGO said Monday. Sectarian violence since the latest political upheaval in Egypt began has killed four Coptic Christians in Luxor governorate, with churches elsewhere torched and looted, said the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. “What is disturbing is the failure of the security apparatus to act — which at times looks like collusion — to protect citizens and their property who are being targeted on the basis of their religion,” the EIPR’s Ishak Ibrahim said in a statement…
Israel begins deporting Eritrean refugees to troubled African homeland (Los Angeles Times) In an acceleration of its controversial crackdown on African asylum seekers, Israel has begun sending Eritrean refugees back to their restive homeland, where they face uncertain and potentially perilous futures. The first planeload of 14 Eritreans left Israel over the weekend and the government is expected to repatriate about 200 more in the coming days, according to refugee-rights groups. After receiving a flood of about 60,000 African refugees over the last seven years, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared the influx a threat to the country’s security and Jewish character…
15 July 2013
Tags: Egypt Pope Francis Palestine Israel Eastern Europe
Residents walk near a damaged church on 8 June in Qusair, Syria, on their way to inspect their houses and collect their belongings. (photo: CNS photo/Rami Bleibel, Reuters)
Today, the National Catholic Reporter’s John Allen turned a spotlight on a “shadow war” that analysts say is targeting Christians in Syria, and Allen took note of CNEWA’s efforts to provide relief:
Christian minorities face threats in many parts of the convulsed Middle East today, but perhaps nowhere is the danger more acute than in Syria amid that nation’s bloody civil war....
...As NCR went to press, a Greek-Catholic monastery in Qara was under assault by rebel forces. Officials of the Norbertine order told Vatican Radio they had lost contact with a 74-year-old Belgian missionary, Daniel Maes, living at the monastery.
In a July 1 opinion piece on National Review Online, religious freedom activist Nina Shea charged that a “shadow war” is being waged against Syria’s Christians. Shea pointed to the death of Murad and the fact that Islamist groups have begun setting up Shariah courts in areas of Syria under their control, charging Christians with a variety of alleged offenses under Muslim law.
In that context, some Syrian Christians have issued warnings about Western policies of arming Syria’s opposition.
“I would like everyone to know that the West, in supporting the revolutionaries, is supporting religious extremists and helping to kill Christians,” Fr. Halim Noujaim, the Franciscans’ regional minister for Syria and Lebanon, said after the execution of Murad.
The Obama administration recently announced the U.S. will provide small arms and ammunition to the rebels. Critics such as Noujaim charge that Assad’s fall could pave the way for either Iraq-style chaos or the Egyptian-style rise of an Islamist regime, in either case setting up Syria's Christian minority for special hardship.
The Catholic Near East Welfare Association has issued an emergency appeal to support Syria’s Christians.
Read more at NCR.
And to learn how you can help, visit our special page devoted to Syria.
15 July 2013
Tags: Syria Refugees CNEWA
Residents pray in the chapel of the Sacred Scripture Social Message Into Living Experience community — or SSSMILE — in Vettikkuzi in southwestern India. The community serves the region’s homeless. To learn more, read A New Home With a New Family from the December 2003 issue of the magazine. (photo: Sean Sprague)
15 July 2013
Tags: India CNEWA
Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter has called for reconciliation in Lebanon, saying that sectarian militias will lead the country to “destruction.” (photo: CNS/Jim West)
Patriarch calls for reconciliation in Lebanon (Fides) Any non-state army should be considered “illegitimate” and will result in the return of the country to the “law of the jungle and an increase in crime, a phenomenon that unfortunately we are already recording,” according to the Patriarch of Antioch of the Maronites Bechara Peter Rai. He launched yet another warning about the fate of the Country of the Cedars during his homily on Sunday 14 July in Harissa. The head of the Maronite Church has called on political factions to reconcile in a new social contract, based on the National Pact of 1943 with which Christians and Muslims agreed on the joint management of political power and institutional offices in Lebanon which became independent from France. According to the patriarch, the conflict between the political factions is contributing to the “destruction of the country.” A drift that can be stopped only by returning to the foundational Covenant “with which the Lebanese built their Country on the basis of living together, preserving Lebanon against any loyalty to other nations of the East or the West”...
Dozens killed in series of attacks in Iraq during Ramadan (Al Jazeera) At least 33 people have been killed and almost 100 wounded in deadly attacks across Iraq as violence escalates during Ramadan, security and hospital officials say...
Car bomb kills at least 13 near Damascus (BBC) A car bomb has exploded north of the Syrian capital Damascus killing at least 13 people including 10 policemen, activists say. The overnight blast struck near a police station in the town of Deir Atiyeh, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. State-run Sana news agency confirmed the attack, saying “terrorists” had caused an unknown number of casualties. The blast comes as the Syrian army tries to regain ground around Damascus...
Hindus outraged at statue depicting Virgin Mary in a sari (International Business Times) The issue of Christian missionaries proselytizing in India has taken a bizarre turn after a church in the eastern state of Jharkhand installed a statue of Mother Mary and Baby Jesus depicted as “tribals,” the indigenous people of the state. With dark brown complexions and sporting traditional Indian tribal clothing (white sari with red border, etc.), the statue in a church in the village of Singhpur has sparked outrage from local Hindus and other non-Christians who have called for its immediate removal...
Tens of thousands line up to view relic in St. Petersburg (AFP) Around 65,000 people have queued for hours in Saint Petersburg to see a religious relic brought from Greece, officials said Saturday, in the latest sign of the Russian Orthodox Church’s influence in post-Soviet Russia. The cross of Saint Andrew — said to be a relic of the X-shaped cross on which Andrew the Apostle was crucified — was placed in Saint Petersburg’s Kazan Cathedral on Thursday after arriving from its historic home in Patras in Greece...
Patriarch Kirill: Russians are having too much fun (Radio Free Europe) Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill has urged Russians to have less fun and spend more of their free time in seclusion. On July 11, Kirill said there was “more fun than needed” in the life of Russians. He said people spent a lot of their energy working and should occupy their time in isolated, quiet places instead of celebrating during their vacations...