19 March 2014
Syrian refugees collect food at the Bab al Salam refugee camp in Azaz, near the Syrian-Turkish border on 14 March. Catholic bishops of Syria called for a cease-fire in their country and for the pursuit of the Geneva peace talks to end the crisis. (photo: CNS/Hamid Khatib, Reuters)
Lebanon cannot bear brunt of Syrian refugee crisis alone, U.N. official warns (U.N. News Center) Massive international support is crucial as the number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon continues to rise and is on track to reaching 1.5 million by the end of this year, a senior United Nations humanitarian official stressed today. “It is imperative that the international community helps bear the brunt of the pressure on Lebanon,” Ross Mountain, the acting U.N. resident and humanitarian coordinator in Lebanon, told a news conference in Geneva…
Israel strikes Syria in Golan Heights (Al Jazeera) Israeli warplanes unleashed airstrikes Wednesday against Syrian army targets in response to a roadside bombing in the Golan Heights that wounded four soldiers the day before, the Israeli military said. Tuesday’s roadside bombing and Wednesday’s strikes are the most significant escalation between Israel and Syria since the Syrian conflict began three years ago, though neither country has expressed interest in entering a war…
What has become of Syria’s revolutionaries (Der Spiegel) The Syrian civil war has caused great suffering since the protests against President Bashar Assad began three years ago. We revisit some of those people we have met in our reporting…
Pope grants radio interview, remembers priests close to the poor (Vatican Radio) In a video interview with an Argentinean radio station, Pope Francis called for the adoption of a spirit of poverty and defended priests, who live and work in slums among the poor. The radio station, which broadcasts from the slums of Buenos Aires, projected the video interview on a large screen in the local parish on the first anniversary of Pope Francis’ pontificate. This poor neighborhood, located close to the soccer stadium, includes the same slums where Pope Francis, as archbishop, would celebrate the Eucharist, spend time among the poor and assign priests to serve…
Ukrainian government condemns persecution of clerics in Crimea (RISU) On 18 March, the director of the Department of Religious and Ethnic Affairs of the Ministry of Culture of Ukraine, Volodymyr Yushkevych, issued a statement decrying the persecution of clerics in the Crimea. The document calls “to stop the practice of terror and to ensure respect for rights and liberties…”
Pro-Russian forces capture Ukrainian naval base in Crimea without firing a shot (Christian Science Monitor) Pro-Russian forces overran Ukraine’s naval headquarters in Crimea today, ratcheting up tensions in Ukraine a day after Russian and Crimean leaders signed a treaty paving the way toward annexation. Russian troops and unarmed militiamen stormed the naval headquarters in the port city of Sevastopol, according to Reuters, and raised the Russian flag. No shots were reported fired, and unarmed Ukrainian servicemen were seen leaving the building in civilian clothing an hour later. Ukraine’s government in Kiev, which refuses to recognize Crimea’s annexation, took a firmer tone, vowing today not to withdraw its military from Crimea, according to The Washington Post…
Moscow moves to destabilize eastern Ukraine (Der Spiegel) It’s not only in Crimea where Russian President Vladimir Putin is playing with fire, but also in eastern Ukraine. The majority of the people in the economically powerful region speaks Russian and rejects the new government in Kiev…
18 March 2014
Tags: Syria Ukraine Refugees United Nations Crimea
Rev. Mykola Kvych with his Crimean parishioners blesses Holy Water during the
Feast of Theophany. (photo: kapelanstvo.com.ua)
Over the weekend, the Ukrainian community was shocked to learn about the abduction of a Ukrainian Greek Catholic priest by armed men in the Crimea.
On Saturday, 15 March, a group of militants kidnapped Rev. Mykola Kvych from his parish church, Assumption of the Virgin Mary, in the Crimean city of Sevastopol. Besides providing pastoral care to the local Ukrainian Greek Catholic population, Father Kvych has also been ministering as a chaplain at the Ukrainian navy base. After several hours of interrogation and torture, the priest was released. However, his kidnappers reportedly warned him that if he continues his ministry, he will be tried and punished severely.
Two other Ukrainian Greek Catholic priests — Rev. Ihor Havryliv and Rev. Bogdan Kostecki — have also reportedly been approached and threatened by radicals because of their pastoral work. But reports indicate priests have been resisting intimidation tactics. Catholic News Agency reported on Sunday:
Priests in Crimea of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church has received numerous oral and written threats in recent weeks, as military tensions have escalated on the peninsula; several were warned to leave Crimea, yet have remained with their flock.
“Our priests and bishops have been very close to the people,” said Bishop Borys Gudziak of the Ukrainian Eparchy of St. Vladimir-Le-Grand of Paris, according to Vatican Radio. “We’ve been inspired by the example of Our Lord (who) went a long distance from fellowship with the Father to incarnate himself and be in our reality.”
The church’s priests in Crimea have been inspired by Pope Francis, “who said a pastor needs to have the smell of his sheep. And our pastors have been with the people, and they’re today with the people enduring this occupation in the Crimea,” Bishop Gudziak noted.
“Every abduction is a terrible event for everybody involved,” the bishop stated, emphasizing that “it’s a gross violation of human rights and God-given human dignity.”
Canada’s ambassador for religious freedom, Andrew Bennett, has expressed concern over the situation, stating, “On behalf of all Canadians who value freedom of religion and adherence to the rule of law, we call for an end to such practices of intimidation and for those responsible to be brought to justice.”
To help the Ukrainian Catholic Church in its peacebuilding mission in Ukraine, please visit this page.
18 March 2014
A Ukrainian woman in Malaga, Spain, cries during a 16 March protest against Russian President Vladimir Putin's actions in Ukraine. Pope Francis met privately at the Vatican with the head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church on 17 March, the day after pro-Russian voters on the Crimean peninsula voted to secede from Ukraine in a referendum the United States and European Union called illegal. (photo: CNS/Jon Nazca, Reuters)
18 March 2014
Istafanos Youssif, a university student from the port city of Suez, Egypt, stands inside the damaged Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Suez on 28 February. The church was among dozens of Christian properties that came under attack last August in the predominantly Muslim country. (photo: CNS/James Martone)
Egypt’s human rights situation is going from ugly to uglier (Christian Science Monitor) The severe abuses meted out to Egyptian citizens are gradually crushing any hopes of a pluralistic, truly democratic society. Jails teem with some 16,000 political activists; torture in detention centers and police stations reported to be growing more prevalent, not less so; and the taboo broken last August when the military attacked a Muslim Brotherhood protest camp at Rabaa al Adawey square. The group has since been outlawed. And while it’s true that the group’s supporters are bearing the brunt of the crackdown, it goes much wider…
A priest braces for the conquest of Crimea (Time) Archbishop Kliment of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kiev Patriarchate began evacuating the holy icons from his church about two weeks ago, as soon as he realized that the region of Crimea, where he serves as the leader of his faith community, would soon fall to the Russians. He wasn’t so much afraid of looting or arson from the Russian soldiers occupying his region of Ukraine, although that concerned him too. He was preparing for nothing less than the nullification of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Under Russian rule, “we will simply be liquidated,” he says. “Our church is an enemy to the order that Russia would impose here, and our churches would be either looted or in the best case forced to close…”
Russia moves to annex Crimea with Putin decree (Vatican Radio) Russian President Vladimir Putin has recognized Crimea as an independent state and says approving the region’s entry into the Russian Federation makes sense. He informed Russia’s parliament shortly after the European Union and the United States announced sanctions against dozens of officials from Russia and Ukraine who they blame for Russia’s military incursion into Crimea…
Scores killed and scores injured in Iraq attacks (AINA) Heavily armed militants attacked the home of a militiaman north of Baghdad on Sunday, killing and decapitating his wife and two sons and killing another person in a brutal assault before dawn. In the Baghdad area on Sunday, meanwhile, a bombing and two shootings killed three people, security and medical officials said. The latest bloodshed came a day after five car bombs were set off in commercial areas of the Iraqi capital, killing 15 people and wounding more than 50 others…
14 March 2014
Tags: Iraq Egypt Ukraine Russia Crimea
Father Pejic is the only full-time staff member at St. Sava’s Church. (photo: Andy Spyra)
In 2009, we paid a visit to a remarkably diverse parish in Germany with a rich mixture of people and cultures:
Apart from the occasional passerby, the streets of Mengendamm are deserted on this quiet Sunday morning. But as the clock approaches 10, this small industrial neighborhood on the north side of Hanover, Germany, momentarily awakens from its slumber.
As he does every week, Zarko Petrovic sounds the bell for worship at St. Sava’s Serbian Orthodox Church. The now retired 74-year-old Serb has spent most of his adult life as a guest worker outside his native country. For 20 years, he worked on the line at a Michelin tire factory in France. He then moved to Germany, where he worked for 14 years as a bartender at Hanover’s InterContinental Hotel before retiring. Now a volunteer sacristan, Mr. Petrovic summons the community to prayer by tolling bells.
At the top of the hour, Father Milan Pejic enters the sanctuary. Since 1976, the 56-year-old priest has led the Hanover parish, which numbers some 2,500 people.
Only 30 worshipers made it on time this morning, but up to 200 people will be in the church by the liturgy’s end. At the right of the nave, a handful of sick and elderly parishioners are seated in places reserved for them. The rest of the congregation faces the iconostasis and stands for the next two hours: women to the left, men to the right. A gilded chandelier hangs above their heads, lighting the dark sanctuary. The perfumed scent of incense fills the air.
Accompanied by a 10-member choir, a sung dialogue unfolds between the pastor and his flock. Some faithful enunciate the prayers’ every word; others pray silently, contemplating the splendid icons on the iconostasis and church walls.
St. Sava’s parishioners hail from 20 different nations, including Ethiopia and other unlikely corners of the world. For this reason, Father Pejic varies to some extent the liturgy’s content and sequence, he says, “depending on who is present.”
Following tradition, Father Pejic celebrates the Divine Liturgy in Church Slavonic, but pauses at several points to repeat select passages first in Serbian, then German. Readings from the Gospel, on the other hand, are chanted in Serbian and then read aloud in German.
“Chanting twice would be inappropriate, but the contents can be received better by the listeners if it is read. This way, even the Serbian-speaking parishioners understand the biblical text better,” he says.
Read more about Germany’s Orthodox Serbs from the July 2009 issue of ONE.
14 March 2014
Uniformed men, believed to be Russian servicemen, walk in formation near a Ukrainian military base in Crimea on 7 March. A Ukrainian Greek Catholic priest in Ukraine’s Crimea region said church members are “alarmed and frightened” by the Russian military occupation and fear their communities could be outlawed again if Russian rule becomes permanent. (photo: CNS/Vasily Fedosenko, Reuters)
Russian troops mass at border with Ukraine (New York Times) With a referendum on secession looming in Crimea, Russia massed troops and armored vehicles in at least three regions along Ukraine’s eastern border on Thursday, alarming the interim Ukraine government about a possible invasion and significantly escalating tensions in the crisis between the Kremlin and the West…
As E.U. doors open, Bulgarian and Romanian migrants see minds closing (Los Angeles Times) Bulgaria and neighboring Romania are among the most recent countries to have joined the 28-nation European Union. Both won admission in 2007, part of the E.U.’s ambitious drive to knit together the whole of a once-war-torn continent. Since 1 January, Bulgarians and Romanians have had the right to live and work as they please in any member country, from Ireland to Italy. However, this is putting the E.U.’s founding principles to the test; a wave of anti-immigrant sentiment is sweeping the region, with critics in richer nations looking for ways to put walls back up…
Gaza militants and Israel exchange strikes despite ‘truce’ (BBC) Rocket and air strikes have continued between Gaza militants and Israel despite Palestinian claims a truce had been restored. Several rockets hit Israeli soil on Thursday and Israel’s military said it had launched retaliatory air strikes…
Syrian archbishop discusses Lent during war (Fides) Maronite Archbishop Samir Nassar of Damascus says another Lent spent in war “will mean pain and violence,” but “from this abyss of suffering [one can also see] miraculous signs of light and hope, [such as] the mutual assistance and solidarity expressed spontaneously by poor families who open their doors to impoverished refugees…”
13 March 2014
Tags: Ukraine Israeli-Palestinian conflict Romania Crimea Bulgaria
Today, I was touched to receive the brief handwritten note pictured above. It comes from Maronite Archbishop Samir Nassar of Damascus.
Dear Msgr. Kozar,
The 4th year of war looks much more violent — it is too difficult for the church life. Thank you for your support and prayer to Our Lady of Peace.
He enclosed with the note a list of names: religious who have been kidnapped or killed during the civil war in Syria. With all the hardship his people are experiencing, this good man still took the time to write me a brief note of gratitude — an expression of solidarity and spiritual hope, and a humble request for prayer.
In 2012, the archbishop said: “One lives an apocalypse in Damascus, and we hope with all our heart, mind and strength, that resurrection may soon arrive.”
As we prepare for Easter during this holy season of Lent, we pray continually that the people of Syria will indeed know a resurrection of their own. We here at CNEWA join our prayers with the archbishop, and those of the whole world, seeking a peaceful end to this tragedy.
Won’t you help? Please pray for the archbishop and his people. Ask the intercession of Our Lady of Peace during this prayerful time. And to support our suffering brothers and sisters in Syria, please visit our giving page.
13 March 2014
Tags: Syria Syrian Civil War Maronite Church Damascus Eastern Catholic Churches
Father Mykhailo Dymyd stands in downtown Kiev at the site of the demonstrations on the Maidan.
(photo: Yaryna Pochtarenko)
Priests and sisters have shown extraordinary courage throughout the ongoing crisis in Ukraine. With their bodies, they are protecting people from violence. With their voices, they are speaking out for unity, harmony and the common good. In these new and uncertain days, courageous priests and sisters are needed more than ever.
A Kiev-based journalist, Liubov Eremicheva, had a chance to interview some of these special men who were present on the Maidan when the protests were taking place. One of them is Father Mykhailo Dymyd from Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv. Here’s part of what he had to say:
“The main mission of a priest is prayer. Prayer can be manifested in many different ways. For me as a priest, the most important prayer is the Divine Liturgy. Millions of people bring their own sacrifice. A hundred people died on the Maidan during demonstrations and we need to value their sacrifice. Prayer and liturgy are important because they bring our sacrifices in front of God, who is capable of transforming them into something lasting and deeply rooted in our hearts. Prayer helps people return home to their towns and villages with a new spirit: the spirit of love and respect, which we all felt when were here on the Maidan in Kiev. When a priest prays, then others around him pray with him as well, regardless of their religious affiliation or even regardless of whether they believe in God at all. A priest is a symbol of a spiritual support. We listen to people’s needs and hear what they have to say; we comfort and hear confessions. … Some of the boys who died here on the square had come to me and said: ’I want to confess because I want to die sinless.‘ They felt that these might be the last moments of their life.
“A priest has to be with his people always, not only at the parish or when the life is good. He has to care about his people and accompany them on their journeys. Right now, our people have shown tremendous efforts in protesting for their dignity on the Maidan Square. However, right now, many are asking themselves: ‘What’s next?’ When people started to fight for their rights, they forgot for a moment about their daily problems. Now that some victory has been achieved, people are returning again to their daily problems. When we were thirsty for freedom, we were all together. Now we are returning to our corners and we might feel lonely there again. And in these moments, people have to help one another; this is not something that only priests can do.”
Through Catholic Near East Welfare Association, you can assist priests like Father Mykhailo Dymyd to stand with the Ukrainian people and their aspirations for a better future. You can help the church to reach out to the marginalized, the sick and the poor.
Please click here to make a generous gift for Ukraine today!
13 March 2014
Tags: Ukraine CNEWA Eastern Churches Church Ukrainian Catholic Church
Today marks the one-year anniversary of the election of Pope Francis. In this image from 13 March 2013, a woman holding holy cards reacts after the election of a new pope outside the Metropolitan Cathedral in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina became the first man from Latin America to be elected pope and the first to take the name of Francis.
(photo: CNS/Agustin Marcarian, Reuters)
13 March 2014
Tags: Pope Francis Pope
A man runs while carrying a child who survived what activists say was an airstrike by government forces in Aleppo on 21 January. (photo: CNS/Ammar Abdullah, Reuters)
Aleppo TV provides lifeline in wartime (Al Jazeera) On TV, a group of boys play soccer in a street littered with broken concrete, amid apartment buildings scarred by bullet and shell holes. One of the boys accidentally kicks the ball down an alley, where it comes to rest near a hidden mine. As the boy is just inches from stepping on the detonator, a Syrian opposition fighter scoops him up. An announcer’s voice warns children to beware of mines and unexploded ordnance. This is one of the messages that the Syrian satellite TV station Aleppo Today airs daily that, along with its news programs and a breaking-news ticker, have made it the most popular network for current residents of Aleppo, refugees who have fled the war-torn city and opposition fighters in Syria’s north. The 24-hour, opposition-aligned news channel started a few months after the uprising began in Syria in March 2011, in order to cover protests and broadcast news about the uprising against President Bashar al Assad, back when it was hard to find any independent, non-government-controlled news out of Syria’s largest city…
Syrian women refugees humiliated, exploited in Turkey (Al Monitor) Women refugees from Syria are being sexually harassed by employers, landlords and even aid distributors in Lebanon, reported Human Rights Watch late in November. The organization “interviewed a dozen women who described being groped, harassed and pressured to have sex.” According to refugees, young Syrian women are facing the same difficulties in Turkey, including early marriages, abuse and even prostitution. Although Turkey is arguably one of the countries most hospitable toward Syrian refugees, these problems are reportedly on the rise…
Despite politics, Israeli doctors treat Syrians (Christian Science Monitor) The West Galilee Hospital in Nahariya is no stranger to war. Located only six miles south of the Lebanese border, it took a direct missile hit during the 2006 conflict with Hezbollah. But the Syrian war has pervaded these halls and wards in a much more personal way: through wounded Syrians, who are picked up at the border and brought here by the Israeli military for free treatment. Israel has a tradition of offering humanitarian assistance in war zones and natural disasters around the world, even where it is not particularly welcome. But treating Syrians, whose country is still officially at war with Israel, is not only a logistical miracle but also an extraordinary exercise in humanity trumping hate…
Gaza ceasefire agreed after two-day flareup (Reuters) Egypt brokered a ceasefire on Thursday aimed at ending a flare-up of rocket attacks from Gaza on Israeli towns and Israeli air strikes in the Palestinian enclave, the Islamic Jihad militant group said. There was no immediate word from Israel, but a senior Defense Ministry official said earlier in the day he expected the fighting to die down soon. “Following intensive Egyptian contacts and efforts, the agreement for calm has been restored in accordance with understandings reached in 2012 in Cairo,” Khaled al Batsh, an Islamic Jihad leader, wrote on Facebook, referring to a truce that ended an eight-day Gaza war two years ago…
Egypt may have to wait for presidential vote (Los Angeles Times) Egypt’s presidential election, previously set for this spring, could be pushed back to midsummer, state media reported, shifting the deadline from mid-april to 17 July. Political parties have been arguing over a contentious new election law that rules out legal challenges to the results as determined by the country’s main electoral body. Critics call the measure unconstitutional, and the only declared candidate in the presidential race so far, leftist politician Hamdeen Sabahi, says it casts doubt on the integrity of any vote…
Ukrainian Catholics fear ‘new oppression’ after Russian takeover (National Catholic Reporter) A Ukrainian Catholic priest in Crimea said church members are alarmed and frightened by the Russian military occupation and fear their communities might be outlawed again if Russian rule becomes permanent. The Rev. Mykhailo Milchakovskyi, a pastor in Kerch, Ukraine, described the atmosphere as tense because many residents of the town located in the eastern part of Crimea were unsure of their future. “No one knows what will happen. Many people are trying to sell their homes and move to other parts of Ukraine,” Father Milchakovskyi told Catholic News Service on Wednesday…
Tags: Syria Egypt Ukraine Gaza Strip/West Bank Israeli-Palestinian conflict