10 February 2014
Syrian refugees living in Jordan wait to receive humanitarian supplies in Amman on 5 February. Syrians fleeing to neighboring Jordan from the besieged central city of Homs said some people there are starving to death for lack of food. (photo: CNS/Muhammad Hamed, Reuters)
Break in siege is little relief to Syrian city (New York Times) A three-day humanitarian cease-fire in the Syrian city of Homs was supposed to be a small breakthrough, a moment of relief for civilians trapped in a grim civil war. But mortar rounds and gunfire struck near aid convoys, damaging vehicles and leaving victims lying in the streets. Snipers fired on civilians as they fled their besieged neighborhood. Others refused to leave, fearing a massacre of those left behind. Limited food made it in, and some of the nearly 700 people who reached safety said they had been surviving on one meal a day and that some of their neighbors had resorted to eating grass…
Syrian town of Sednaya battles armed groups (Al Monitor) The damage caused by the battles on the way leading to the Sednaya monastery is not major: some crumbled rocks or burnt grass. However, inside the monastery, the magnitude of damage is striking — whether it is the broken glass or the multiple blows inflicted to the roof. The destruction was caused by missiles used by gunmen to try to bring down the bronze sculpture of Christ. It is not the first time that the monastery has been attacked. A year ago, mortar shells fell on it and there were attempts to infiltrate it. The latest attack was the fourth…
Gunman kills two at Orthodox cathedral in Russian far east (Los Angeles Times) A gunman opened fire on worshipers at a Russian Orthodox cathedral on Sakhalin Island off Russia’s Pacific coast, killing a nun and a parishioner in an attack that rattled nerves across the nation. The gunman’s motives were unknown, and investigators at the scene said the suspect, who was in custody, would be subjected to a mental health evaluation. Sakhalin Island is more than 4,000 miles from the Black Sea resort of Sochi, where Russia is hosting the Winter Olympic Games amid intense security fears…
Pro-government protesters clash with opponents in Ukraine (Vatican Radio) A tense calm has returned to the streets of Kiev, Ukraine’s capital, following clashes between pro and anti-government demonstrators. It comes at a time when protesters are remembering those who died in more than two months of unrest. Amid tensions, some 90 wooden crosses can now be seen on the barricades in central Kiev, were anti-government protesters have demanded the resignation of the president…
Bosnia: ‘It’s just like Ukraine’ (Deutsche Welle) Anti-government protests in Bosnia died down (BBC) over the weekend. However, former German envoy to Bosnia Christian Schwarz-Schilling tells D.W. that the problems there won’t go away for some time. “Once the poverty level reaches a certain barrier, once pensioners no longer receive their pensions, when teachers no longer receive their salaries and policemen aren’t paid — which is on the horizon — then a violent movement is more than likely to emerge. … It’s just like with Ukraine. There, the international community woke up only after a critical situation arose. The same thing will happen in Bosnia…”
Ecumenical patriarch delivers speech on dialogue and peace (Hurriyet Daily News) “Human conflict may well be inevitable in our world; but war and violence are certainly not,” said Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I. “The pursuit, however, of dialogue and peace calls for a radical reversal of what has become the normative way of survival in our world. It demands a transformation of values that are deeply seeded in our hearts and societies, hitherto determining our relationship with those who challenge our worldview or threaten our lifestyle. Transformation in the spiritual sense is our only hope of breaking the cycle of violence and injustice…”
7 February 2014
Tags: Ukraine Syrian Civil War Violence against Christians Russia Bosnia and Herzegovina
Pope Francis looks at a life-size replica of himself made entirely out of chocolate in Paul VI Hall at the Vatican on 5 February. Made of 1.5 tons of cocoa, the chocolate image was given to the pontiff during his general audience, according to Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano. (photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)
7 February 2014
Tags: Pope Francis Vatican Art Cuisine
A boy pushes a stroller holding water and another child past destroyed buildings in the besieged area of Homs, Syria, on 2 February. Syrians fleeing to neighboring Jordan from Homs said some people there are starving to death for lack of food. (photo: CNS/Thaer al Khalidiya, Reuters)
Evacuation of Syrian civilians begins in besieged city of Homs (Al Jazeera) The evacuation of civilians from a besieged area of the Syrian city of Homs has begun under a humanitarian deal agreed to this week, Syrian state television reported Friday. The siege of Homs has gone on for more than a year amid Syria’s relentless civil war, and activists say 2,500 people are trapped in the area, struggling with hunger and a lack of basic necessities. Many other Syrians across the country are under similar situations and are in desperate need of aid. A U.N. convoy of buses has arrived in Homs to start the initial evacuation of 200 women and children. The evacuation will not include men between the ages of 15 and 55, who are deemed most likely to be fighters…
As Israeli doctors aid Syrians, humanitarianism trumps geopolitics (Los Angeles Times) As civil war rages in Syria, with an estimated 130,000 people killed and millions displaced after nearly three years of fighting, Israel has been quietly providing aid to some of the wounded. Since the Israeli army launched the effort, officials say, more than 700 Syrians have received treatment at medical centers in Israel or at a field hospital operated by medics along the heavily fortified border. Patients have come from as far away as Homs, three hours to the north…
Amid truce, Hamas struggles to rein in rockets (Washington Post) Officially, a 14-month-old cease-fire between the Islamist militant group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, and its enemy, Israel, is holding. Unofficially, it is a truce that grows tenser by the day, as Hamas struggles to rein in armed factions that are not completely under its control. This kind of escalation has led to two wars in the past five years, and there is a palpable sense today that another could be on the horizon…
Lebanese politicians praise patriarch’s charter (Daily Star Lebanon) Politicians Thursday hailed the national charter announced by the Maronite Church a day earlier, saying it reflected Bkerke’s eagerness to preserve coexistence and the Lebanese state. After visiting Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter on Thursday, caretaker Social Affairs Minister Wael Abu Faour, from the Progressive Socialist Party, said the charter reflected the will of the Lebanese to live together in peace. The charter stressed the need for the timely election of a new president and for Muslim-Christian partnership to run Lebanon…
Chaldean patriarch and grand mufti meet to discuss unity (AsiaNews) Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael I and Grand Mufti of Iraq Sheikh Rafi Taha al Rifai met to discuss strategies to strengthen relations between the Christian and Muslim communities, as well as to encourage “joint action” to achieve the goal of a “lasting peace” in the country. The meeting dates back to 31 January, but details only recently emerged on the official website of the Chaldean Patriarchate, describing its atmosphere and objectives…
Ukraine: leak raises diplomatic tensions (Vatican Radio) In published remarks, an advisor to Russian President Vladimir Putin said the U.S. was funding Ukrainian “rebels” by as much as $20 million a day for weapons and other supplies. Sergei Glazyev urged the Ukrainian government to put down the “attempted coup,” and said Russia may have to intervene under the terms of a 1994 agreement between the United States and Russia…
Egypt: Six police wounded in twin Cairo bomb attacks (BBC) Six police officers have been wounded after two bombs went off in Cairo, the Egyptian health ministry says. The blasts were heard before 10 a.m. local time in the Giza area and were around two minutes apart. Local media report that the bombs targeted police vehicles stationed near a bridge…
6 February 2014
Tags: Lebanon Ukraine Syrian Civil War Israeli-Palestinian conflict Christian-Muslim relations
Greek citizens and migrants alike gather at the Caritas soup kitchen in central Athens. (photo: Doug Duncan)
Don Duncan reports on the economic crisis in Greece in the Winter issue of ONE. Here, he gives further insight into the country and its struggles.
Since the global financial crisis hit in 2008 and the Euro-crisis loomed soon after, Greece and my native Ireland — along with Portugal, Italy and Spain — have often been used in the same sentence to convey how bad things can get in the new global financial order.
Both Greece and Ireland are relatively small compared to the major European Union powers; both experienced stellar economic growth prior to the crisis, mismanagement of that growth by their respective governments and property bubbles that burst spectacularly. Both countries received bailouts and will have to deal with the consequences of those bailouts for years to come.
I live abroad in Brussels now, but I have become very familiar with the depth and evolution of the Irish recession on my many visits home since 2008. So on this, my first trip to Greece, I expected to encounter a similar landscape of survival, solidarity and hardship. And I did, only I was shocked by just how much worse things are in Greece.
Ireland’s problem seems to have plateaued recently. While the country is still in bad shape, a cautious, quiet kind of optimism is creeping in and people are beginning to look forward again with a little hope. In Greece, it seems people are still waiting for the country to “reach the bottom” of the crisis. The government is still enacting austerity measures imposed by the “Troika” of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund — measures meeting huge opposition and discontentment in the streets.
Unemployment is high, angry graffiti still flanks the street, a xenophobic right-wing nationalist current is growing, as is the flow of migrants who enter Greece — and, by extension, the E.U. — from places like the Horn of Africa, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and, more recently, Syria.
Middle class families can often be found in soup kitchens, getting food so as to save enough money to cover health bills. The social safety net, for most of the population, is but a distant memory. Suicide is on a sharp increase. But most of all, the general mood on the street is one of sadness and fatigue. It is something you don’t need to hear or be told about, it is written on people’s faces as they go about their day.
Things are not, and have never been, this bad in Ireland; the country was never gripped by as deep a mood of gloom and hopelessness. This is not to say that Ireland has not suffered. It has, and it still does. Many of its young, two of my sisters included, have had to emigrate, and this mass emigration has been one ingredient in the vague buoying of the economy — unemployment has fallen and remittance money has started flowing into the country. The sad, desperate pressure valve that is emigration appears to be less considered by young Greeks, many of whom prefer to move in with their parents to reduce costs rather than take the radical step of leaving the country indefinitely.
On my arrival back in Brussels, I Skyped with my sister, who now lives in Mackay, Australia. We were talking about the situation in Ireland and if and when she might even consider moving home. I assured her that her eventual return might not be as far off as she thinks. Telling her about what I saw in Greece, I reminded her that things could be worse and that it is always worthwhile to view bad times in a larger perspective.
I think this even applies to the Greeks; their crisis will end, eventually. The key now is whether they can work together to weather the storm.
6 February 2014
Tags: Poor/Poverty Greece Eastern Europe Economic hardships Caritas
In this image from 2010, Sister Shubba Poovattil visits with an elderly resident in Malayatoor, India, at a home devoted to caring for the “poorest of the poor.” Read more about the work she and other sisters are undertaking in Fearless Grace. (photo: Peter Lemieux)
This week Pope Francis released his first message for Lent, which begins on 5 March. The message focuses on the needs of the poor, taking for its starting point this verse from St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (2 Cor 8:9).
In imitation of our Master, we Christians are called to confront the poverty of our brothers and sisters, to touch it, to make it our own and to take practical steps to alleviate it. Destitution is not the same as poverty: destitution is poverty without faith, without support, without hope. There are three types of destitution: material, moral and spiritual. Material destitution is what is normally called poverty, and affects those living in conditions opposed to human dignity: those who lack basic rights and needs such as food, water, hygiene, work and the opportunity to develop and grow culturally. In response to this destitution, the Church offers her help, her diakonia, in meeting these needs and binding these wounds which disfigure the face of humanity. In the poor and outcast we see Christ’s face; by loving and helping the poor, we love and serve Christ. Our efforts are also directed to ending violations of human dignity, discrimination and abuse in the world, for these are so often the cause of destitution. When power, luxury and money become idols, they take priority over the need for a fair distribution of wealth. Our consciences thus need to be converted to justice, equality, simplicity and sharing.
No less a concern is moral destitution, which consists in slavery to vice and sin. How much pain is caused in families because one of their members — often a young person — is in thrall to alcohol, drugs, gambling or pornography! How many people no longer see meaning in life or prospects for the future, how many have lost hope! And how many are plunged into this destitution by unjust social conditions, by unemployment, which takes away their dignity as breadwinners, and by lack of equal access to education and health care. In such cases, moral destitution can be considered impending suicide. This type of destitution, which also causes financial ruin, is invariably linked to the spiritual destitution which we experience when we turn away from God and reject his love. If we think we don’t need God who reaches out to us through Christ, because we believe we can make do on our own, we are headed for a fall. God alone can truly save and free us.
Read the full message here.
And if you want to offer your support to women like sister Shubba Poovattil in India, visit this page to find out how.
6 February 2014
Tags: India Pope Francis Sisters Poor/Poverty Caring for the Elderly
From 27-29 January the Canonization Committee of the Armenian Apostolic Church convened in the Mother Cathedral of the Great House of Cilicia. Prior to the meeting, the members of the Canonization Committee met with Catholicos Aram I, center, who offered a benediction. (photo: Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin)
Canonization committee convened to discuss massacre victims (Fides) Almost a century since the events that many call “the Armenian Genocide” — carried out in the territories of Turkey in 1915 — the Armenian Apostolic Church firmly and definitively confirms its intention to proceed with the canonization for martyrdom of the victims of what the Armenians call the “Great Evil…”
Syria: Deal struck to evacuate civilians from Homs (Lebanon Daily Star) The United Nations and Syria have reached a deal to allow aid into besieged areas of Homs and give civilians safe passage out, state news agency SANA said Thursday. “Homs governor Talal al Barazi and U.N. resident coordinator Yaacoub al Hillo have reached an agreement securing the exit of innocent civilians from the Old City [of Homs] and the entrance of humanitarian assistance for civilians who choose to stay,” it reported…
U.N. report condemns torture, sexual abuse of Syrian children (Al Jazeera) Children in Syria have been subjected to torture and sexual violence during the years-old civil war, the United Nations has said, calling on both government forces and armed opposition groups to stop the brutal treatment of minors caught up in the conflict. The plea comes as violence in Syria continues despite attempts to bring the unrest to an end…
Israel approves plans for 550 Jerusalem settler housing units (The Jordan Times) Israel pushed forward on Wednesday with plans for more than 550 new housing units in three settlement neighborhoods of occupied East Jerusalem, the city council said. In a move likely to escalate tensions between Israel and the Palestinians as they hold U.S.-backed peace talks, the council said it had granted private contractors permits to build 386 units in Jabal Abu Ghneim — known to Israelis as Har Homa — 136 units in Neve Yaakov and 36 units in Pisgat Zeev…
Ukraine: a voice from the barricades (Vatican Radio) The international community is putting pressure on the Ukrainian government to take immediate steps to resolve the nation’s political crisis. Over two months of intense protests have put President Yanukovych under substantial pressure. Vatican Radio’s Linda Bordoni spoke to Bogdan Voron, creator of one of the art projects giving voice to the protesters in Kiev…
4 February 2014
Tags: Ukraine Syrian Civil War Armenia Israeli-Palestinian conflict Armenian Apostolic Church
Our good friends at Salt+Light Television have produced an excellent series entitled, “The Church Alive.” Dedicated to the New Evangelization, individual episodes in the series tackle subjects as diverse as interfaith dialogue, economics and the consecrated life.
One recent episode focused on the Eastern Catholic churches, looking at their histories, liturgies and challenges confronting these ancient churches, fully Eastern and fully Catholic. You can watch this episode below and, while you are at it, take some time to watch some of the other programs available on their station on YouTube.
4 February 2014
Tags: Ecumenism Eastern Christianity Eastern Churches Media Eastern Catholic Churches
Altar server Andriy Palchak, 14, holds a candelabra in a tradition known as the “Great Blessing of Water” during the Divine Liturgy celebrated for the feast of Theophany at St. Mary’s Assumption Ukrainian Catholic Church in St. Louis on 12 January. (photo: CNS/Lisa Johnston, St. Louis Review)
As the crisis in Ukraine continues to unfold, churches around the world are offering prayers of support. Catholic News Service recently carried a story profiling one church in St. Louis, Missouri:
Olga Shulga said her father has never lived in fear. So when she learned he had joined the protesters in Independence Square in Kiev, Ukraine, she wasn’t all that surprised.
Shulga and her husband, Alex, members of St. Mary’s Assumption Ukrainian Catholic Parish in St. Louis, are among those prayerfully watching as the unrest continues to unfold in Ukraine.
“My father will fight with everything he has, because we were raised Ukrainians,” said Olga Shulga. But the 37-year-old, who came to the United States from Kiev almost 15 years ago, worries about her family members who have frequently been bringing food and other necessities to protesters or stand with them in solidarity.
The ongoing protests started last fall after Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych withdrew from a promised trade deal with the European Union. The situation has brought together members of St. Mary’s Assumption to support one another and their homeland as they watch from afar. In mid-January, parishioners took up a collection to be sent to support protesters.
Many of the parish’s 30 households are recent immigrants and some came after the downfall of the Soviet Union in 1991, said the parish’s administrator, Deacon Eugene Logusch.
“The people in Ukraine have no fear,” he said. “They are prepared to stand up and they want change. They don’t want the country to continue in this way and the government was completely shocked” at the reaction.
Shulga said that while her heart is with her family, she’s grateful for the opportunities she’s had in the United States. In Ukraine, “there’s no future there. That’s why I left. It’s a fight for every person to build a new life for you and your family,” she told the St. Louis Review, newspaper of the archdiocese of St. Louis.
4 February 2014
Tags: Ukraine United States Ukrainian Catholic
In this video, Nisreen El-Shamayleh reports on a refugee community in Arsal, Lebanon, that received funding to run an informal school. The school teaches the full Syrian curriculum, and though students do not receive certificates, time spent in class is always fruitful. (video: Al Jazeera)
Syria in need of humanitarian corridors (Vatican Radio) Despite sharp differences over the conflict in Syria, Russia and Western countries have joined forces to initiate peace talks that began last month in Geneva. Meanwhile, a meeting in Rome yesterday aimed at tackling the humanitarian crisis stemming from the Syrian conflict…
Syria: Dutch priest trapped in Homs says residents going mad with hunger (The Telegraph) A Dutch priest trapped in the siege on the Syrian city of Homs has told how residents around him are being driven mad with starvation, as they are “abandoned” by the international community. The Rev. Frans Van der Lugt, a 75-year-old Roman Catholic and local leader in the besieged Old City in Homs, told of his community’s battle for survival in two years of living in a district brutalized by war and without food. “Our city has become a lawless jungle,” said Father Van der Lugt. “We are trying our best to behave in a fraternal way, so that we don’t turn on each other for the hunger…”
Maronite priest new president of Caritas Lebanon (Fides) The Council of Catholic Patriarchates and Priests, which convenes under Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter, appointed the Maronite Rev. Paul Karam as new president of Caritas Lebanon on 31 January. Father Karam is currently the national director of the Pontifical Mission Societies in Lebanon. The decision was made after assessing Caritas Lebanon’s role in light of increasing social challenges posed by the deluge of Syrian refugees — nearly 900,000 according to U.N. sources, or more than a million according to the Lebanese authorities — and the catastrophic conditions in which many of them live…
Police working against the abduction of Copts (Fides) In the first days of February, Egyptian security forces carried out a huge operation in the city of Assiut to dismantle an organized crime network that for months organized kidnappings, robberies and extortion against the local Coptic community. Coptic Catholic Bishop Kyrillos William of Assiut sees a decisive change of pace in the intervention carried out by the local police. “For months and months,” he says, describing the prevailing situation before this shift, “Coptic families and entire communities in Assiut and the province have lived in anguish. Kidnappings took place every day. … The perpetrators of these crimes were known to all, but when the Copts claimed and reported them to the security forces, nothing happened…”
Ukraine political impasse headed for parliament (Al Jazeera) Leaders of the anti-government protests that have gripped Ukraine’s capital for more than two months said they will seek constitutional changes Tuesday that would weaken the president’s powers. Meanwhile, Western officials are returning to the country this week in an attempt to resolve the political crisis, with help that could come partly in the form of a financial aid package currently under discussion between the United States and European Union. The constitutional changes were expected to be discussed in a parliamentary session Tuesday as Ukraine’s political crisis continues unabated, with protesters still refusing to leave their encampment in downtown Kiev or vacate buildings they occupy. The demonstrators, who clashed with police last month, are holding to an uneasy truce, and taking pains to adopt tactics of persuasion, as seen in this video…
3 February 2014
Tags: Syria Egypt Lebanon Ukraine Refugees
Kostas Patitas sits in his apartment in Kipseli, Athens. (photo: Don Duncan)
The Winter issue of ONE offers a powerful look at how the people of Greece are coping with their country’s ongoing economic crisis:
Kostas Patitsas, 59, who lives in the working-class Athens neighborhood of Kipseli, regularly takes advantage of his local parish’s food aid. Mr. Patitsas’s case is a classic example of Greek recession misfortune: In February 2012, his position was made redundant before he reached retirement age. Now he finds himself without a pension in an anemic job market that has become increasingly discriminatory against mature applicants as the recession deepens. He depends on his brother and other family members to pay the property tax on his small apartment and his electricity bills. He needs about $135 a month for cigarettes and tea. For food, he lives on the fare from his local parish, Hagia Zoni Church.
“I am quite optimistic by nature,” he says in the yard of the church as he lines up for food. “And I believe growth will return in 2014.” All the people lined up around him burst into laughter. He is quoting the much-maligned Greek Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras, who uses this phrase as a boilerplate response to any interrogation regarding the future. It becomes clear that for Kostas Patitsas, and for many others, humor is a coping mechanism.
Some 300 people have come to the soup kitchen at Hagia Zoni. They joke and laugh, but it is a heavy, trudging humor. Before long, they have all departed with their food to eat at home alone.
Mr. Patitsas eats his food on a small table in a communal garden outside the back door of his ground-floor apartment, which is dark, damp and shabby.
Along with humor, he says, his other big coping mechanism is his faith.
“I go to church every Sunday,” he says, “and when I feel low and hopeless, it fills my soul.”
Read more about A Greek Tragedy in the Winter 2013 issue of ONE.