10 February 2016
Syrian children, who fled bombing in Aleppo, wait in a tent city close to the Bab al Salam border crossing on the Turkish-Syrian border on 10 February. (photo: Fatih Aktas/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Damascus vows to recapture Aleppo from rebels (Business Insider) Damascus aims to secure Syria’s border with Turkey and recapture the city of Aleppo with its latest military offensive, a top adviser to President Bashar al Assad said on Tuesday. In an interview in her Damascus office, Bouthaina Shaaban held out little hope for diplomatic efforts to end the five-year civil war, telling Reuters proposals for a ceasefire were coming from states that “do not want an end to terrorism” and wanted to shore up insurgents who are losing ground. The Syrian army, backed by Russian air strikes and Iranian and Lebanese Hezbollah fighters, has launched a major advance in recent weeks near Aleppo, once Syria’s biggest city, now divided between rebel- and government-held sectors…
Doctors Without Borders: 23,000 flee Aleppo (ABC News) Doctors Without Borders says some 23,000 new arrivals fleeing the fighting in Aleppo are in urgent need of emergency shelter and support near Syria’s border with Turkey. In a press release issued Tuesday, the group says it has increased the number of beds in its hospital in Azaz district and is preparing to extend capacity if necessary…
Vicar of Aleppo says Syrian people do not want foreigners’ war (AsiaNews) The Syrian army, with the help of the Russians, is making great strides in the Aleppo region, says the apostolic vicar of Aleppo of the Latins, Bishop Georges Abou Khazen, O.F.M. “The goal is to free the area from militia extremists and allow people to return to their homes. In some areas, schools have reopened and the supply of electricity and water has returned,” he says. In a tense situation, Msgr. Georges Abou Khazen sees positive glimmers: “Many of the local fighters, the Syrian guerrillas, are calling for an end to the war, and want reconciliation and dialogue with military and government. Where instead there is a prevalence of foreign jihadists and militants linked to foreign powers in the region and outside the region, war still rages on…”
Pope Francis meets with prime minister of Iraq (Vatican Radio) Before the general audience on Wednesday, Pope Francis met with the prime minister of Iraq, Haydar al Abadi. The meeting took place in the studio of the Paul VI Audience Hall. The two discussed the role of interreligious dialogue and the responsibility of religious communities to promote tolerance and peace…
Pope-patriarch meeting historic, observers say, but substance is key (CNS) The planned 12 February meeting in Cuba between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church will be a historic event, those involved in ecumenical relations agree, but they contend the proof of the pudding will lie in the content of the joint statement the two church leaders are expected to sign at the end of their meeting…
Last Byzantine church in Ankara fights for survival (Christian Today) The last remaining Byzantine church in Ankara, Turkey, is fighting to survive as the crowded city continues to spread. The Orthodox Church of St. Clement, built at least 1,000 years ago, is in ruins and is quickly disappearing amid office buildings in the Altindag district. Despite being of cultural and historical importance, the church can only be visited by walking down an office fire escape with express permission from the owners…
9 February 2016
Tags: Syria Pope Francis War Turkey Patriarch Kirill
The Rev. Androwas Bahus teaches children in the smallest of his parishes at St. Andrew the Apostle Melkite Greek Catholic Church, in Akko, Israel. You can read about a day in the life of a priest in Galilee in the latest edition of ONE. (photo: Ilene Perlman)
9 February 2016
Tags: Israel Holy Land Holy Land Christians Priests Galilee
Syrian government soldiers celebrate after taking control of the village of Ratian, north of the embattled city of Aleppo, from rebel fighters on 6 February. (photo: George Ourfalian/AFP/Getty Images)
Syrian government forces, with Russian support, turn a corner (Huffington Post) Late on 2 February, the news hit: “All communication and supply line[s]” between Turkey and Aleppo had been severed, according to a Elijah Magnier, a renowned Arab war correspondent with Alrai Media Group. It seems to be so; the Syrian army and allied militias, backed by Hezbollah and Russian air power, took control of a tendril of territory that cuts off Aleppo-based rebels from the Turkish border. Eastern supply lines for ISIS appear to have also been cut. Edward Dark, a pseudonym for a respected commentator on Syrian affairs living in Aleppo, said on 3 February: “This is the beginning of the end of jihadi presence in Aleppo. After four years of war and terror, people can finally see the end in sight…”
Turkey under pressure to open border to Syrian refugees (Al Jazeera) Turkey came under mounting pressure to open its border Saturday as tens of thousands of Syrians fleeing a government onslaught sought entry and the European Union called on Ankara to grant them refuge. As many as 35,000 Syrians have amassed along the closed border, according to Suleyman Tapsiz, governor of the Turkish border province of Kilis. He said Turkey would provide aid to the displaced within Syria, but would only open the gates in the event of an “extraordinary crisis…”
Rebels threaten to execute anyone caught smuggling humanitarian aid to Foah and Kefraya (Al Masdar News) The Sharia Courts of Idlib that are run by the Islamist rebels of Jaysh al Fateh have issued a decree that bans the delivery of humanitarian aid to the predominately Shiite towns of Kefraya and Foah in the Idlib Governorate. Under this decree, any person(s) caught smuggling humanitarian aid to the aforementioned towns will be executed by the Shari’ah Courts of Idlib. This hard-lined stance against the delivery of humanitarian aid to the beleaguered civilians of Kefraya and Foah comes just one week after another convoy of humanitarian aid was delivered to the town of Madaya in western Damascus…
In Syria, war crimes don’t take sides, U.N. report says (CNN) They were prisoners of war on different sides of a conflict that’s raged for nearly five years. But all of them faced a horrifying reality, according to a new report on Syria released by the United Nations. Torture, mass executions and other war crimes have been carried out against detainees held by groups on practically all sides of the fighting, according to the report released Monday by the U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Syria…
Christians boycott peace conference; Chaldean Patriarch frustrated with empty words (Fides) Christian representatives invited to participate in the “Conference on the protection of peaceful coexistence,” held on Sunday, 7 February at the Iraqi Parliament, decided to boycott the event, to mark their distance from occasions when the calls to coexistence and harmony between different ethnic and religious identities are transformed into mere rhetorical formulas. In addition to the Christian communities, also other religious minorities, such as the Yazidis and Mandaeans boycotted the conference…
On the Great Council of the Orthodox Church (First Things) Already there is much talk about the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church. Between now and June 19, 2016, when the council officially opens on the island of Crete, there will be many rumors and much spin. Some will be justified; like other patriarchal institutions, Orthodox churches are not normally known for their transparency. However, other chatter will be less than helpful. What follow are some brief clarifications on basic questions surrounding the council…
8 February 2016
Tags: Syria Refugees War Ecumenism
Syrian children who fled bombing in Aleppo wander among tents at the Oncupinar crossing, opposite the Turkish province of Kilis, on 6 February 2016. (photo: Kerem Kocalar/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Syria refugee camps set up as Turkey limits entries (BBC) Turkish aid workers have been setting up tents and distributing supplies for thousands of new Syrian refugees kept from entering Turkey at the border. Some 35,000 people fled a Syrian government offensive in the Aleppo area last week, trying to enter Turkey’s Kilis border region. But Turkey has so far closed the border to most of them despite appeals by E.U. leaders to let them cross…
As Syrians flee anew, neighbors’ altruism hardens into resentment (New York Times) When the Syrian refugees first started streaming into this bedraggled border town, Gassim al Moghrebi was their tireless benefactor, distributing donations of food, money and clothes and sheltering as many as possible in two apartments he owned. “All of Ramtha was just like me,” Mr. Moghrebi said, describing a good will rooted in family ties that spanned the border, and sympathy for the victims of a pitiless war. “One man had ten apartments. He gave them to the Syrians for free.” But now, as Syria witnesses a new escalation of violence and flee again by the tens of thousands, neighboring countries are increasingly overwhelmed and reluctant to let them in. In many places, that early altruism has hardened into resentment — an ominous turn for those searching for safety from the war…
Maronite patriarch: Without a president, Lebanon is on brink of collapse (AsiaNews) Religious leaders, international diplomats and citizens have launched a fresh appeal to the Lebanese Parliament to elect a new president, a position now vacant for over 20 months. In his Sunday homily Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter lent his voice to this call…
Coptic eparchy to celebrate anniversary of the martyrdom of 21 Copts in Libya (Fides) The Coptic Orthodox Eparchy of Samalot is preparing to celebrate the first anniversary of the martyrdom of 21 Copts killed in Libya by ISIS militants. Celebrations will culminate in the solemn liturgy on Tuesday, 16 February. The 21 Coptic Egyptians were kidnapped in Libya in early January 2015…
A Catholic-Orthodox meeting is spectacular but not unprecedented (The Economist) The announcement of a meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, due to take place in Cuba on 12 February, is certainly a spectacular moment in ecumenical dialogue. But contrary to many reports that have appeared in the press this weekend, it is certainly not the first top-level encounter between the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches since the East-West schism of 1054. Before speculating about what will happen in Havana, it’s worth recalling, in barest outline, some landmarks in the history of this often tortured relationship…
5 February 2016
Tags: Syria Pope Francis Refugees Refugee Camps Patriarch Kirill
A Syriac Christian venerates the Gospel at the Church of the Forty Martyrs in Mardin, Turkey. Reports today highlight the return of refugees to the Middle East after finding a cold welcome in Europe. In the Winter 2015 edition of ONE magazine, contributor Don Duncan takes us to southeastern Turkey, where a small but steady number of Syriac Christians have returned from years in exile to rebuild their homeland. (photo: Don Duncan)
5 February 2016
Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill reads a prayer during the Christmas service 7 January at Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow. After almost three decades of tense Catholic-Russian Orthodox relations, Pope Francis will meet Patriarch Kirill 12 February in Cuba, en route to Mexico.
(photo: CNS/Sergei Chirikov, EPA)
Pope, Russian Orthodox patriarch to meet in Cuba, Vatican announces (CNS) After almost three decades of tense Catholic-Russian Orthodox relations, Pope Francis will meet Patriarch Kirill of Moscow 12 February in Cuba on the pope’s way to Mexico. It will be the first-ever meeting of a pope and Moscow patriarch, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, told reporters 5 February...
Lebanese churches concerned about religious discrimination with regards to access to functions and public resources (Fides) Maronite bishops expressed their concern over the imbalance that is being produced regarding access to public offices and state financial resources, with silent discrimination that see Christians penalized. The concern emerged during the last monthly meeting of the Assembly of Maronite Bishops, who met on Wednesday, 3 February, at the patriarchal see in Bkerke, under the presidency of Patriarch Bechara Peter...
Syrian rebels are losing Aleppo and perhaps also the war (Washington Post) Syrian rebels battled for their survival in and around Syria’s northern city of Aleppo on Thursday after a blitz of Russian airstrikes helped government loyalists sever a vital supply route and sent a new surge of refugees fleeing toward the border with Turkey...
Economic effect of Syrian war at $35 bn: World Bank (Al-Monitor) The devastating economic impact of the war in Syria and its spillover into nearby countries stands at $35 billion and climbing, the World Bank said. The estimate, included in a quarterly World Bank report on the Middle East and North Africa, was released on the same day that world leaders in London pledged more than $10 billion through 2020 to help the Syrians...
A seminar on the environment in Jordan (Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem) The Catholic Center for Studies and Media (C.C.S.M.), in cooperation with Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung held on Saturday, 30 January 2016 a seminar titled, “Environment: The Common Home of Humanity.” C.C.S.M. Director Father Rif’at Bader said that the preservation of the environment has become one of the greatest global challenges facing humanity. He added that Pope Francis’ historic message of the environment titled, “Laudato Si on Care for Our Common Home” stresses that most the people living on Earth state that they are faithful which entails orchestrating inter-religious dialogue in order to care for the environment, to defend the poor, and to ensure respect for the other brethren...
4 February 2016
Children at the Shashemene School clean their dishes after breakfast. (photo: Petterik Wiggers)
In the Winter edition of ONE, James Jeffrey takes readers to a remarkable school in Ethiopia serving young people who are visually impaired. Here are some other details about students who have the “future at their fingertips”:
“Seulam neuw,” I say in my British-accented Amharic (which tends to confuse most Ethiopians) to three boys, arms around shoulders, coming toward me along the school walk way.
It’s a ubiquitous phrase in Ethiopia expressing a range of greetings from “Peace” to “What’s up?” to “How you doing?”
Out shoot three hands into the air in front of the three blind school boys. I make my way along, each squeeze of a hand resulting in a smile and further polite Amharic words of greeting back at me.
Once you’re beyond formalities at Shashemene Boarding School for the Blind, the boys are much more forthright than the girls in making new acquaintances. Before I know it, a crowd of energized youngsters are clustered around me.
“I’m a tall guy,” I offer, my choices of Amharic ice breakers being limited.
Standing on tip-toes and stretching arms high in the air, the boys still can’t quite scale my height.
Petterik, the photographer I’m working with, comes to their aid, lifting them in the air so they can place a hand on top of my head. They return to the ground satisfied.
During such moments among the school’s students, smiling becomes contagious, youth and energy working its usual uplifting tonic. But at other times during my visit I experienced a range of quite different emotions.
Sometimes, surrounded by so many with disabilities, especially when struck so young, I felt sadness, perhaps mingled with guilt. Ethiopia can be a frustrating place to live and work, and I’m not immune from complaining: the glacial bureaucracy, the unreliably slow Internet, the power cuts.
But when faced with children coping, and succeeding, in a sightless world, such complaints become more than churlish.
I also felt anger. Anger at the overarching situation of these children and the sisters looking after them. For there’s no local help, no assistance from the government — its only involvement comes from taking increasing taxes.
Ethiopia undoubtedly still contains soul-crushing poverty for too many. But at the same time, significant wealth is being generated for some. Not far away, at Lake Langano, is a hotel resort built by Haile Selassie, the famous Ethiopian marathon runner. Guests at the hotel include wealthy Ethiopians reaping rewards from the growing economy. None have ever visited the school.
During afternoon coffee and biscuits at the sisters’ residence, a short walk from the school, Sister Ana described to me an attempted day trip to a beach at Lake Langano.
Upon arriving they were informed the entrance fee for each student was 100 Ethiopian birr, a sizeable sum — many Ethiopians earn about 30 birr for a day’s wage.
The possibility of making an exception for a busload of blind students didn’t come into it. They had to turn back.
In Western countries such as my home, the UK, there’s an ongoing heated debate about overseas aid being too large.
Such money could certainly be better managed, but I’ll gladly see foreign donations continue to a small embattled group of sisters and teachers doing their best to help the needy, destitute and forgotten of society.
Read more in the Winter 2015 edition of ONE.
4 February 2016
Sister Micheline, center, talks with a refugee about the needs of his camp in Bechouat, in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. (photo: Tamara Abdul Hadi)
In the Winter edition of ONE, readers meet Sister Micheline Lattouff, a Good Shepherd Sister working among the growing population of Syrian refugees settled in the Bekaa Valley. In the interview, she speaks of her vocation and her desire to serve her people.
ONE: What motivates you?
ML: I try to find what message God is sending me. I try to learn what God is trying to have me do. In 2005, I started looking at people in the villages and their suffering. The children used to play in a graveyard. Once, they burned the tail off a cat for fun. They had no normal games or activities. Their parents are illiterate and have no resources to rear their children.
I felt the Bekaa region needed support, like sheep without shepherd. I was frustrated; I thought, “What can I do for children in this area?”
ONE: So what did you do?
ML: I started asking teachers in public school, “If I make a center for children to visit after school, will you help?” And the principal offered benches and desks for free, and teachers volunteered. On Christmas 2005, I began a new experiment: From 3 to 5 p.m. an after-school program for Lebanese children from 9 to 15 years of age.
ONE: What have been some of your more rewarding moments?
ML: The best moment for me is when I see the children happy, successful in their studies and their life, when I see them able to pass through the difficulties and continue to achieve.
ONE: What have been some of your more difficult moments?
ML: The more difficult moments are when I have nothing to give the refugees. It is so difficult for me.
ONE: What thoughts sustain you during difficult times?
ML: I believe in human beings and God. I believe that God is capable of changing a person, when I see people improving from work, when I see success of people and developing.
Read more in the Winter 2015 edition of ONE.
4 February 2016
Syrian refugees wait at the border on 13 January near Royashed, Jordan. World leaders pledged billions on Thursday to help support refugees. (photo: CNS/EPA)
Leaders pledge billions for Syrian refugees (Voice of America) U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has pledged nearly $1 billion in new U.S. aid for Syrian refugees at an international donors conference and is calling for the Syrian government and Russia to halt attacks on rebel-held areas in order to let humanitarian aid through. The donors conference opened Thursday in London with European Union nations pledging more than three billion dollars to support people in Syria as well as in Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey, neighbor countries that are strained by the exodus of refugees fleeing the fighting...
Syria peace talks suspended (BBC) The third round of Geneva peace talks between the Syrian government and opposition has been suspended three days after a shaky start, underlining the mammoth challenge of putting an end to Syria’s five-year war. Riad Hijab, the opposition’s High Negotiations Committee (HNC) co-ordinator, arrived in Geneva on Wednesday to give an extra weight to the troubled talks. But comments of Russia’s foreign minister Sergey Lavrov, who said Russian strikes will not cease “until we really defeat terrorist organisations like al-Nusra Front” clearly made it difficult for both the UN and Syrian opposition to press ahead...
Iraq building a wall around Baghdad (BBC) Iraqi security forces have begun building a wall around the capital Baghdad in an effort to prevent attacks by the so-called Islamic State (ISIS). The reported 300km (186 miles) barrier will surround the city from all sides, an official said...
Christian associations react to rumors about discovery of weapons in a church in Turkey (Fides) The Federation of Assyrian associations have reacted harshly to the rumors — circulated in recent days on the Turkish media — that a cache of weapons and ammunition belonging to Kurdish armed groups was discovered by the army in Ankara at the Syrian Orthodox church of Santa Maria, in Diyarbakir. “More lies, another disgrace, still an operation aimed to hit a target,” wrote the international network of associations linked to Assyrian Christian communities scattered throughout the world in a statement. “We” says the statement sent to Agenzia Fides, “condemn this hostile attitude, which affects all Syrians and which was intended to indicate a target...”
Coptic patriarch visits dioceses, speaks out against domestic violence (Fides) Domestic violence, whose victims are mainly women and children, represent a devastating social phenomenon that has severe effects on people’s lives and also on civil society. This is what Coptic Orthodox Patriarch Tawadros II said during his catechesis and prayer meeting on Wednesday, at the church of St. George, in the suburb of Guizeh, attended by thousands of faithful...
3 February 2016
This structure marks the location of an ancient church, built on the site where Christians believe Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River. (photo: Greg Kandra)
Yesterday, UNESCO recognized the place of Christ’s baptism in Jordan as a “World Heritage Site.” In 2011, ONE magazine reported on efforts to preserve the site:
In a rustic wooden structure perched on the eastern bank of the Jordan River, Father Gianluigi Corti leads a group of Italian pilgrims in renewing their baptismal vows. The river is now little more than a muddy stream, drained over the years to meet the demands of the growing populations of the Holy Land. The air is still, apart from the singing of Italian hymns and a chorus of chirping insects. The latter is a constant sound in this dry, hot region of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan known as the Valley of Trickling Water, or Wadi el Kharrar in Arabic.
As Father Corti concludes the simple renewal service, he dips a plastic bottle into a heavy stone basin filled with water from the river and slowly pours its contents on the heads of the pilgrims. As a parish priest, he has led many such tours to the Holy Land.
“The Bible was not lived in Europe,” he says. “If you don’t know the land of the Bible directly, you cannot know what the Bible is.”
A short walk from the pilgrims lie the remains of an early Christian church.
Uncovered in the late 1990’s by a team of archaeologists led by Dr. Muhammad Waheeb, the ruins belong to a complex built at the end of the fifth century. They mark the site where early Christians believed Jesus was baptized — the same complex described in pilgrims’ accounts from the fifth to seventh centuries.
Above the brush, not far from the river’s edge, rises the golden dome of a new church built on land donated by the Jordanian royal family. Dedicated to St. John the Baptist, the Orthodox shrine is the most prominent monument in an area long believed to be the biblical Bethany Beyond the Jordan, where John lived, preached and baptized his cousin, Jesus. It also stands as a reminder of the Hashemites — Jordan’s royals who descend from the prophet Muhammad — and their personal commitment to develop the kingdom’s holy places, Christian, Jewish and Muslim.
Jordan is home to a mosaic of biblical places. For example, near the Zerqa River, Jacob wrestled the angel and received the name Israel. At Mount Nebo, Moses looked upon the Promised Land. The Prophet Elijah ascended to heaven on a chariot of fire from the Jordan River’s eastern bank, which also later served as the center of John the Baptist’s ministry.
These holy places, coupled with the country’s arid landscape, drew thousands of early Christians, such as St. Mary of Egypt, who led lives of penitence and prayer. Their monastic cells, caves, chapels and tombs in turn became important venues of pilgrimage for generations of Christians, who traveled along a well–beaten circuit from one site to the next for much of the first millennia of the Christian era.
Today, these sacred areas draw considerable numbers of pilgrims and tourists each year, but less traffic than one might expect. Most of the locations receive scant publicity and are overshadowed by better–known holy sites in Israel and Palestine. And, until recently, some of the most important sites in Jordan have been long lost or neglected.
Read more in On Jordan’s Bank in the January 2011 edition of ONE.