16 January 2015
A Turkmen refugee child who fled Syria to the Akkar district in north Beirut, Lebanon, waits to receive humanitarian aid from the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency on 15 January. (photo: Ratib al Safadi/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Prayers and calls for peace in Syria, Iraq (Vatican Radio) The ongoing conflict in Syria and Iraq and the suffering of persecuted Christians there was the focus of a prayer effort in Rome on Thursday. The vigil took place as the United Nations issued a call for solutions to the ongoing conflict in the Middle East. Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect for the Congregation for Oriental Churches, led the vigil. In his homily, the cardinal prayed “for the conversion of those who do evil, that their hardened hearts open to a new way of seeing, a new experience of humanity, to an authentic religiosity that does not kill or persecute, but which promotes the good of the other, even if they are different…”
Food enters besieged Homs, Syria after local deal (Daily Star Lebanon) U.N. aid workers have started delivering food to tens of thousands of people trapped in a besieged district of Homs city in Syria following negotiations with warring parties, officials said Friday. In the absence of a nationwide peace deal, relief groups have tried to get localized agreements with fighters on all sides of the conflict to get convoys through to people in battle zones…
Lebanon: Syrians refugees facing deadly winter with little aid (Al Akhbar) For the refugees living in tents in Lebanon, the storm has yet to subside. The fear of death stays with them like the snow that has swept through their tents. Noura, who escaped from the hell of Aleppo to end up in an unofficial camp in Bar Elias, expresses grave concern over the situation. Carrying her baby in her arms to give him warmth, she says: “I only received food aid twice in the past four months. If the cold doesn’t kill us, we will certainly die of hunger…”
The small miracle amid the carnage in Syria (Talking Points Memo) In the beginning of October, Islamic State forces surrounded and besieged the Kurdish town of Kobane in northern Syria at the border with Turkey. IS had swept through Iraq quickly, picking up American tanks and mortars abandoned by the fleeing Iraqi army along the way. Observers feared a humanitarian disaster akin to the IS massacre of ethnic Yazidis on Mount Sinjar in August. The Pentagon insisted that, with no ground troops to fight, Kobane could not be saved. Turkish tanks sat at the border, waiting for an IS victory and a possible ground invasion. Months after it was supposed to fall, Kobane still stands, and IS has been forced back. The story of the town’s resistance is an epic tale of determination and self-defense…
Ukraine backs mobilization of troops in east (Vatican Radio) Ukraine’s parliament has approved a mass military mobilization amid allegations that thousands of Russian troops have invaded the east where separatists have sharply increased their activities. The measures come amid confusion over who is in control over the strategic airport area in Donetsk…
Bishops discusses support for Egyptian Christian schools (Fides) On 13 and 14 January, Egyptian Catholic bishops met in the district of Maadi to discuss coordination among various Catholic communities, with special focus on schools. Coptic Catholic Patriarch Ibrahim Isaac presided over the meeting, which was also attended by Greek-Melkite Patriarch Gregory III, as vice-president of the ecclesial organization…
15 January 2015
Tags: Syria Iraq Egypt Lebanon Ukraine
Bishops from around the world visited a housing project in Gaza.
(photo: the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales)
Carl Hétu is CNEWA’s national director in Canada. He accompanied Canadian Bishop Lionel Gendron and 15 other bishops from around the world in a recent Holy Land visit. Carl shares his impressions of Gaza after a visit earlier this week.
The bishops participating in the Episcopal Conferences of Coordination in Solidarity with the Church in the Holy Land make it a point to visit Gaza each year to show solidarity with the local Christian community. There are only about 2,000 Christians in Gaza, out of a total population of 1.8 million. This year, after 51 days of war between Hamas and Israel, Christians felt the effects of war the most. We were eager to meet with them — but we almost didn’t make it.
Even though all papers were submitted to the Israeli government over a month ago, we had to wait more than seven hours at the checkpoint until 3:25 pm when we were finally allowed entry. The checkpoint at Erez Crossing closes at 3:30 pm.
The bishops used their time constructively. While waiting, they prayed together for peace. At midday, they decided to start moving to make a point that they wouldn’t leave until they would be allowed in. So we moved to the first military checkpoint and crossed to the customs desk. The military asked us to return to the bus and wait there, which we did.
Morning Prayer at Erez Crossing as bishops wait for permission to enter Gaza.
(photo: the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales)
After a long day, we eventually went through the crossing, walking the fenced road.
For me, this was my first time entering Gaza. It reminded me of my first experience facing third-world poverty in the shanty towns of Lima, Peru. But there was one exception: the level of destruction of hospitals, schools, homes and infrastructure (including the water and electrical systems) was overwhelming.
More than 110,000 people lost their homes. Even now, months later, most people have electricity only a few hours a day.
We visited Holy Family Church and the parish school, which is a part of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. In our discussions there, we didn’t go into deep political analysis of why the war happened, or look at placing blame. Instead, we focused our time on the suffering of innocent victims, especially children and the elderly. The situation now is much worse for families who were already poor and living in harsh conditions.
The school has become a sanctuary from daily life. In school, children can play, learn and hope for a better future — but after school, children and teachers go back to reality. And these days, it is cold and there isn’t any heat. Tragically, three babies died of hypothermia this past weekend. And at night, as I experienced for myself, it is totally dark.
The teachers told us that this past war was the most painful one they have ever experienced. Non-stop explosions over 51 days have shaken them deeply. The material loss is one thing, but there is also the lingering psychological suffering — post-traumatic stress disorders. One teacher, overwhelmed, couldn’t continue the conversation.
One 17-year-old shared with us: “Thank you for your humanitarian help. At least we have food, but my family needs our dignity back. My dream of a better life cannot grow with the wall keeping me prisoner in Gaza.”
And here, with 75 percent unemployment, his future looks grim indeed.
Please remember these good people in your prayers. If you want to give to Gaza, please visit our donation page here.
15 January 2015
The altar, or Holy of Holies, is seldom revealed during the liturgy at Debra Zion.
(photo: Sean Sprague)
In 2005, we took readers inside one of the oldest active religious communities in Ethiopia, Debra Zion:
We climbed out of the boat and walked toward Debra Zion Church, atop a hill less than a mile away. We were soon joined by a group of islanders, each bowing to the archbishop and kissing the cross he carried in his right hand.
At the church, we met Abba (Father) Mariam Samuel, one of the island’s three monks. Wearing a flat cotton hat, black cassock and a bright yellow shawl, he looked younger than his 43 years.
“I have been a monk for 23 years, but I was assigned here just two years ago,” he said. The three monks live in community, subsisting on a $5-per-month stipend as well as small gifts from the community. There are also five priests on the island.
Joining Abba Mariam Samuel was Abba Gebre Mariam, 66, a priest native to Tullu Gudo. He is a balding man with a weak back and huge smile. Like the archbishop, Abba Gebre Mariam carries a wooden cross, always ready to bless a passerby.
The islanders are known as “Lak’i,” he said, descendants of the Aksumites and speak a language that dates to the old empire. Some 25,000 Lak’i live in the general area, many of whom abandoned the island at one point or another because of the harsh living conditions.
“There is dire poverty on the island,” said Abba Gebre Mariam, who is married and has eight children.
Poverty exists throughout Ethiopia, but it is indeed “dire” on this island. The Lak’i of Tullu Gudo live in round stone huts covered with thatch. There is no electricity or running water — drinking water is carried from wells. There are no roads or automobiles, though dirt paths abound.
Until recently, fishing was the main source of income. Lake Ziway was flush with tilapia, which the islanders would sell at mainland markets. Due to overfishing, the lake has been closed to commercial fishermen.
Farming is seasonal; there is no irrigation. My visit, in late autumn, marked the end of the rainy season. Fields of barley, wheat and maize, which grow on the island’s lowlands, were almost ready for harvest. The terraces I saw from the boat stand neglected, carved out of the hills when Tullu Gudo was more densely populated and more provisions were needed.
Some islanders also raise cows, goats and donkeys for transportation. Many households also have a few chickens. A traditional society, the men are responsible for fishing and farming while the women tend the home.
Tullu Gudo has had a primary school for 26 years, but there is not a single shop. Anything not produced on the island must be brought from the mainland.
“One change for the good has been the construction of our new church,” Abba Gebre Mariam said. “Here we live by our faith.”
Read more about Ethiopia’s Island Sanctuary in the January 2005 edition of ONE.
15 January 2015
Syrian refugees endure harsh living conditions at the Atmeh refugee camp in Idlib, Syria, on 11 January. (photo: Ahmed Hasan Ubeyd/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Syrian refugee freezes to death in Bekaa as storm toll hits 12 (Al Akhbar) A Syrian refugee woman froze to death in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley on Wednesday, as the stormy weather that hit the country last week returned. Ramah Mohammed Tehrani is yet another name added to the list of Syrian refugees who perished in the latest ice storm, dubbed “Zina,” in Lebanon. Tehrani was found dead in her home, which she shared with her family in the outskirts of the city of Baalbek. She was a mother of three, including a 5-year-old daughter. “I am a maternal orphan now,” said her eldest son, 15-year-old Hekmat. His father is reportedly still in Syria…
Coptic pope: The cartoons of Muhammad are offensive (Fides) The cartoons on Muhammad published by the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo are “offensive” and any insult must be rejected “at all levels,” said Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II. After the massacre, the magazine printed 5 million copies — whose cover shows a cartoon depicting the Prophet Muhammad crying and holding a sign that says “je suis Charlie” under the title, “all is forgiven.” Religious insults, Pope Tawadros said, “do not help [the cause of] peace in the world, and do not produce any benefit…”
Pope says respect for religion should limit freedom of expression (CNS) Commenting on recent killings by Islamist terrorists at a Paris newspaper, Pope Francis condemned killing in the name of God, but said freedom of expression should be limited by respect for religion and that mockery of faith can be expected to provoke violence. The pope said freedom of expression was a “fundamental human right” like freedom of religion, but one that must be exercised “without giving offense…”
Chaldean bishops elected and confirmed (VIS) Pope Francis has approved the canonical election by the Synod of Bishops of the Chaldean Church of Rev. Basel Yaldo as auxiliary of the Patriarchate of Babylon of the Chaldeans. Additional appointments include Archbishop Amel Shamon Nona as bishop of the Chaldean Eparchy of St. Thomas the Apostle in Sydney, Australia, and Chorbishop Emmanuel Challita as bishop of the Chaldean Eparchy of Mar Addai in Toronto, Canada…
Syrian rebels, government reach truce in besieged area (Daily Star Lebanon) Syrian rebels and government forces began observing a 10-day truce Thursday in the last rebel-held area of the central city of Homs, marking another setback for opposition fighters, activists said…
U.N. envoy vows to press on for Aleppo truce (Daily Star Lebanon) U.N. peace envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura Thursday vowed to press on with efforts for a truce in Aleppo, adding that wanted a resolution of the devastating conflict this year. De Mistura, a Swedish-Italian diplomat appointed as U.N. envoy on Syria in July, said the second city of Aleppo was a “symbolic microcosm of all of Syria.” This was so “because it has the highest number of displaced people, because it has seen two years of suffering, because while the government and the opposition continue being involved in heavy fighting between them, ISIS is only 20 miles away from Aleppo,” he said…
Sunni-Alawite couples in Syria defy sectarianism (Al Monitor) Many believe that the conflict in Syria is a power struggle between Sunnis and Alawites, while others assert that the conflict is between a dictatorial regime and armed revolutionaries. In both cases, there is no doubt that sectarianism and hatred between Alawite extremists and Sunni extremists plays a major role in this conflict. Still, there are young men and women from different communities who continue to challenge this paradigm through love, determination and marriage. Damascus, despite the war, is still able to witness such love stories in these difficult days…
The Great Wall of Saudi Arabia? (Christian Science Monitor) Saudi Arabia has been constructing a 600-mile East-West barrier on its Northern Border with Iraq since September. The main function of the barrier will be keeping out ISIS militants, who have stated that among their goals is an eventual takeover of the Muslim holy cities of Mecca and Medina, both of which lie deep inside Saudi territory, according to United Press International…
14 January 2015
Tags: Syria Pope Francis Refugees Chaldean Church religious freedom
Pope Francis shakes hands with Hindu Kurukkal SivaSri T. Mahadeva after receiving a robe from him during a meeting with religious leaders at the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on 13 January. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
14 January 2015
Tags: Pope Francis Interreligious Interfaith Hindu Hinduism
A displaced Yazidi child looks out of a temporary shelter covered in Kurdish writing (“genocide in Sinjar”) in the Dawodiya refugee camp in Dohuk, Iraq, on 14 January. (photo: Safin Hamed/AFP/Getty Images)
Yazidi refugees at risk of genocide (AsiaNews) ISIS’s hatred for Yazidis is even stronger than that towards Christians. The latter can convert or pay the jizya (a tax levied on some non-Muslims for protection). For Yazidis, whose beliefs are a mixture of Zoroastrian, Christian and Muslim influences, there can only be extermination to “cleanse” Islamic land from paganism. Women are the exception; younger women are given in marriage to ISIS fighters, while older women are used as slaves and prostitutes…
Shiite leaders forbid insults against Sunnis (Al Monitor) During the last week of 2014, Al Azhar’s Grand Imam Ahmed al Tayeb demanded that Shiite authorities in Iran and Iraq issue clear fatwas strictly forbidding the insulting of Sunni figures and their sanctities. This happened during the visit of Mahmoud Mahmoudian, the new head of Iran’s Interest Desk in Egypt. The grand imam called on Muslim scholars to “avoid strife between Sunnis and Shiites, as it is tearing the Islamic nation apart and preventing consensus and dialogue between both sects…”
Libyan militants claim kidnapping of 21 Egyptian Christians (New York Times) Libyan militants calling themselves part of the Islamic State said on Monday that they were holding captive 21 Egyptian Christians, raising new fears about the extremist group’s spreading influence beyond the battlegrounds of Syria and Iraq. The statement came on the same day that hackers linking themselves to the Islamic State temporarily seized control of the Twitter account of the United States military’s Central Command, and just days after the emergence of a video-recorded vow of allegiance to the group by one of the perpetrators of last week’s terrorist attacks in Paris…
Oppressive policies unite Egypt activists (Al Jazeera) Ahead of the fourth anniversary of the 25 January uprising, Egypt’s Islamist and liberal activists, remain poles apart despite speculations that they may be considering some kind of rapprochement. “The time has come for us to restore popular unity in preparation for a new wave of the January revolution,” read a statement released by 20 Egyptian opposition groups on Sunday…
Closing Jewish tomb in Egypt raises tensions (Al Monitor) Egypt’s closure of the tomb of Rabbi Abu Hasira and the cancelation of the annual festival celebrating his birth in the Nile Delta have angered Jewish pilgrims and tourists, inciting Tel Aviv to take the matter to UNESCO…
13 January 2015
Tags: Iraq Egypt Copts Libya Yazidi
Sylvana Akiki and her husband work in the Lebanon bakery they started with a microcredit loan from CNEWA. The bakery has given them a new lease on life. The Akikis are able to sell what they bake to various schools and shops in their neighborhood, and can now support their family as a result. To learn more, check out this blog post. (photo: CNEWA)
13 January 2015
Iraqi refugees take shelter at the Arbat camp in Sulaimaniya, Iraq, on 9 January. (photo: Feriq Ferec/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Millions of Iraqis displaced by Islamic State (Al Jazeera) During 2014, more than two million Iraqis were internally displaced by conflict in northern and western Iraq. According to U.N. and Iraqi officials, most took refuge in the Kurdish regions, Baghdad and the southern provinces. The majority of displaced Iraqis are living in either temporary camps, which were settled by the U.N. mission in Iraq in cooperation with the Iraqi government, or are taking refuge in mosques and schools. The rest are hosted by relatives or volunteer families outside of the conflict zones…
Dispute between El Cajon priest and Chaldean leader in Iraq continues (Los Angeles Times) Intervention by Pope Francis has apparently not solved the schism between a prominent Chaldean priest in eastern San Diego County and the head of the Chaldean Catholic Church in Iraq. At issue is a demand by Patriarch Louis Raphael I that the Rev. Noel Gorgis and several other Chaldean priests in the United States return to Iraq or face, in effect, excommunication. In an interview, the patriarch said that the survival of the church is at stake. “We have been there for 2,000 years,” he said. “We have a mission and a role, and if a future exists for the Chaldean Church, it is not in the diaspora but in Iraq.” Last week Pope Francis appeared to have settled the issue, asserting that Father Gorgis and the others need not accede to the demand. But on Friday, Patriarch Louis Raphael issued a statement that, in effect, said that he does not acknowledge the pope’s authority to overturn his order…
Latin patriarch: Holy Land Coordination visit sign of solidarity (Vatican Radio) The annual pilgrimage of European and American bishops of the Holy Land Coordination is taking place in Jerusalem this week. Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal of Jerusalem says he is pleased that the bishops have come this year to give witness to what he describes as the “dire” circumstances in which the Holy Land is living…
At least six Kiev civilians killed when rocket hits bus (Daily Star Lebanon) At least six Ukrainian civilians were killed and more than a dozen wounded Tuesday when a rocket fired by pro-Russian insurgents hit a bus, Kiev’s military said. A statement issued by the press center of Ukraine’s military campaign in the east said around 20 people were also injured in the incident about 20 miles southwest of the rebel stronghold of Donetsk…
Pope: Religious beliefs must never be abused for violence, war (VIS) The second stage of Pope Francis’ apostolic trip to Sri Lanka was his visit to the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall in Colombo, where he participated in a meeting with representatives of other religious confessions. Following a speech by the Buddhist monk Vigithasiri Niyangoda Thero, the pope gave an address in which he affirmed the church’s profound and lasting respect for other religions, and reiterated that, for the sake of peace, religious beliefs must never be abused to justify violence and war…
12 January 2015
Tags: Pope Francis Ukraine Iraqi Christians Iraqi Refugees Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael I
Roger Ziade won an award for using a microcredit loan from CNEWA to start a catering business that is now flourishing in Lebanon. (photo: CNEWA)
Not long ago, we received an email from Michel Constantin, our regional director in Beirut, with some exciting news: CNEWA received several awards from the Citigroup Micro-entrepreneurship Awards program.
Implemented in 30 countries including the United States, the program raises awareness about the importance of micro entrepreneurship and microfinance in supporting the financial inclusion and economic empowerment of low-income individuals.
In Lebanon, the program is implemented by the Young Men Christian Association (Y.M.C.A) in coordination with 11 enterprise organizations that participate and nominate to the award their clients who excelled and made a difference in their loans.
In selective countries, an additional award is given for the “Most Innovative Microfinance Institution” that honors a microfinance institution that has created or implemented an innovative product, delivery mechanism or integrated financial education with product offering.
Implemented in Lebanon for the second year, CNEWA was selected for this award from the 11 enterprise organizations.
CNEWA is one of the leading organizations in microfinance with more than $6 million in loans to more than 1,000 recipients through its 14 years of implementation with an overall 99% return on loans; the rate is considered excellent, as micro-credit programs are not usually very successful.
The granted loans are used for a wide range of small projects (grocery store, taxi license, car spare parts, sewing machines, agriculture, small industries etc.). Loans vary between $4,000 and $10,000 and are paid over a period of three years. The interest is fixed at 6% decreasing rate; the program is set to be implemented at the minimum possible operating expenses. And re-payments are made by the beneficiaries on monthly basis to the related banks.
The winners include:
Roger Ziade, a 44-year-old single man who used to work with his brother as a caterer for different kinds of occasions (weddings, funerals, first communion, etc.). Mr. Ziade won the award of excellence in the amount of $2,500 for his creative idea and uncommon job.
Through CNEWA’s two consecutive loans, he purchased and equipped two vans with a mobile kitchen and a mobile toilet. Previously providing delivery in an equipped car, Mr. Ziade now caters for local TV production companies and provides breakfast, lunch and snacks for actors and crew members. His mobile bathroom was considered very innovative and is used by many production companies because so filming takes place in remote or rural areas.
Three years after benefiting from CNEWA’s micro loans, Roger Ziade makes an average monthly income of $1,500. He is currently engaged and hopes to grow more his business to start and raise a family.
Sylvana Akiki is a 53-year-old mother of five. She won an award of $2,000.
When Mrs. Akiki’s husband lost his job as a head waiter in the Gulf, he returned to Lebanon and together they decided to open a small bakery in their village Raachine, Keserouan to support their big family.
Through CNEWA’s loan, she was able to purchase an industrial oven and launch her business. Today, she is growing her business as she introduces the production of small cakes and hamburger bread. She and her husband distribute and sell what they produce to various schools and shops in their region.
From being broken and jobless, Mrs. Akiki and her husband are now financially capable of supporting and raising their five children.
Haidar Hallal is 44 years old, physically handicapped and confined to a wheelchair. Haidar won the first award for the $2,000 for his business selling exotics birds, free-range chickens and eggs.
At the age of 15 and on his way to school, Mr. Hallal was struck by a stray bullet, paralyzing him from the waist down. Haidar never returned to school nor walked again. He is a Shiite Muslim from Najjarieh village, a rural coastal community outside the city of Sidon, about 26 miles South of Beirut. Haidar first began raising and selling exotic birds at the age of 25.Through CNEWA’s loan, Mr. Hallal transformed his passion into a profitable business. He purchased an egg incubator, dairy cows, bees and supplies and now sells cow’s milk and honey to a growing number of individuals and business.
Little by little, he has attracted regular and loyal clients. Today, Mr. Hallal earns 800 per month, enough to support himself, his mother and two unmarried sisters.
Roula Zaarour is 50 years old, married with three daughters. She won the second award for the $1,500 for her garment factory business. Through CNEWA’s loan Mrs. Zaarour rented the factory space across the street from her family’s apartment in Biakout — Mount Lebanon and purchased two sewing machines and supplies. Through contacts with women’s clothing suppliers, Roula started the clothing business as an individual contractor.
As she benefited from another loan, she purchased four more specialized sewing machines and hired employees. Today, the factory produces on average 350 dresses per week with a cost of $1.5 per piece. After covering the operating expenses, which include the rent, electricity and her employees’ salaries, Mrs. Zaarour takes home a net income of $1,200 a month. With this money, she supports her family and pays her children’s tuition at a nearby school, which costs some $ 8,000 a year.
You can learn more about CNEWA’s microcredit program in the article Putting the Future in Their Hands from the September 2011 edition of ONE.
12 January 2015
Iraqi refugee children pose outside the Syriac Catholic Church of Our Lady’s Assumption in Amman, Jordan, in late October. (photo: CNS/Barb Fraze)
Catholic News Service has an update on the situation among Iraqi refugees in Jordan:
A Catholic official warned that funding will soon run out to feed and house thousands of Iraqi Christians sheltering in Jordan after being made homeless by Islamic State militants.
Syriac Catholic Fr. Noor Alqasmosa, who is charged with helping the refugees, told Catholic News Service that the funding situation is desperate, as the chances for many to restart a new life now further dim.
The priest said many Iraqi Christians probably will not be able to seek resettlement in Western countries in 2015 because these countries appear to give priority to Syrians fleeing their nearly four-year conflict.
“I was shocked when I was told that neither the U.S. nor the EU would take in Iraqi Christians from Mosul and Ninevah for resettlement,” said Noor, as he prefers to be called.
“We had everything in Mosul and left with nothing,” the Iraqi priest said following recent talks with UN and foreign government officials in the Jordanian capital.
“We have Caritas funding lasting just until the end of February to help the 7,000 Iraqi Christians in Jordan,” the priest said, his voice lowering with concern and strain visible on his face. “There is no hope among the people. They believe the world has abandoned them and are leaving them to die.”
Read more. Keep the suffering people of Iraq in your prayers. And please visit this giving page to lend your support.