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29 April 2016
An estimated 200 people gathered at the United Nations yesterday to hear presentations on the topic of “Defending Religious Freedom and Other Rights: Stopping Mass Atrocities Against Christians and Other Believers.” (photo: Philip W. Eubanks)
As I walked down First Avenue in New York City yesterday, I had my umbrella in tow; the clouds were threatening rain and none of the 193 flags of the United Nations were flapping. The skyscrapers nearby reflected the dreariness of the morning in their windows, and I wondered how the day’s story might shake out.
On occasion, my work with CNEWA takes me here to the UN building, where I’m able to encounter firsthand what’s happening in our world and how it affects those we serve.
The meeting this particular morning concerned the persecution of religious minorities, particularly Christians and Yazidis — the very population CNEWA serves in the Middle East and elsewhere. As is normal for a meeting of this nature, we were to hear from academics and “experts in the field,” but what I didn’t expect were those who came to share their very personal stories.
The elevator to the chamber where we were meeting was packed. A man standing next to me looked somber and was wearing a shiny silver lapel pin that said, “KAYLA.” A man standing next to him assumed that KAYLA was the name of a non-governmental agency and asked in good networking fashion, “What’s KAYLA exactly?” The gentleman sunk a little and said, “My daughter.”
Suddenly, everyone in the elevator knew exactly why this father was here. He was there to tell the story of Kayla Mueller — a story that needed to be told here and across the world.
In fact, both Carl and Marsha Mueller had come to speak about their daughter, Kayla, her work with Doctors Without Borders, and her Christian faith, which had been the foundation for her passion to serve the people of the Middle East. In the summer of 2013, Kayla was captured by terrorists in Aleppo, Syria and held captive for some 18 months.
At the meeting yesterday, her parents spoke of her uncompromising faith — how, her integrity would not allow her to convert from Christianity, even in the face of death. In fact, in the face of the notorious terrorist “Jihadi John,” who had assumed she’d converted, Kayla turned and calmly stated, “I need to correct you; I have not converted.”
In the spring of 2013, before her capture the Muellers had pleaded with Kayla to come home. “This isn’t your fight,” they told her, “These are not your people.” Kayla responded in a long letter that there should be no “my people/your people’ mentality in this world,” that God’s love made us one people obligated to care for one another in solidarity and empathy for all.
This was the spirit of Kayla. She spoke extensively of the importance of using our “hands as tools” to alleviate suffering of these people. She lived that out with her own hands and her own life. In a letter smuggled out just prior to her death, she wrote to her parents, “I have surrendered myself to my Creator... there is no one else,” and she signed the letter, “All my everything.”
Indeed, the Muellers spoke to the “everything” Kayla had given and that we as a world must give to care for those suffering at the hands of terrorism. “One thing we can do,” Kayla’s mother told us, “is call the world to act.”
When I left the meeting, I stood by the window and noticed the green lawn at the United Nations building — perhaps an odd sight among all the brown and grey, the steel and glass. In the Muellers I saw my mother and father. In Kayla I saw the raw, unconditional love for all God’s people, a love I aspire to and one that informs why I do this work.
But in solidarity with Kayla I had to ask, “Have I done enough?” Had I given all my everything yet?
The sun had come out peeking from behind the clouds of earlier and the flags were waving as I walked back uptown. There was a light breeze. Much work is yet to be done. We’ll go on doing it, giving each day a little more of everything we have to offer and hoping it answers that call to act — the same call that Kayla answered with her life, and that her parents have answered with their commitment to this cause.
29 April 2016
Today, 29 April, marks the feast of St. Catherine of Siena. In the picture above from 2015, Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena settle in to their makeshift convent in Erbil, Iraq, where they are serving displaced Iraqis fleeing ISIS. Read more about their heroic and selfless work here. (photo: Don Duncan)
29 April 2016
In the video above, a Syrian refugee carries the Olympic torch while passing through a refugee camp near Athens. The city of Aleppo, Syria has come under renewed attack recently, with medical facilities being bombed. (video: Rome Reports)
Aleppo rocked by fresh fighting (BBC) Deadly fighting has resumed in Syria’s divided second city of Aleppo, after a brief lull overnight. State media say rebels shelled a mosque in the government-held district of Bab al-Faraj, killing eight people. Rescue workers report that a clinic in rebel-held Marja was targeted in an air strike, the second medical facility to be hit in a week...
Lebanese cardinal calls for EU to help end Mideast conflicts (CNS) Lebanese Cardinal Bechara Rai urged the international community and the European Parliament to stop the wars in the Middle East through dialogue, and he called for a return of the displaced to their countries of origin. In a speech 27 April to the European Parliament in Brussels, the Maronite Catholic patriarch warned that the crisis in the region has direct consequences not only for Christians, but also for the Mediterranean Basin as well as Europe...
Russian Orthodox, Catholics launch joint project to rebuild Syrian churches (CNS) Russia’s Catholic Church has launched a joint project with Russian Orthodox leaders to rebuild churches and monasteries destroyed during the war in Syria. Msgr. Igor Kovalevsky, secretary-general of the Russian bishops’ conference, said the project should be viewed as the “first concrete outcome” of Pope Francis’s February meeting in Cuba with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill...
Indian bishop kidnapped, released (CNS) A Catholic bishop in southern India was kidnapped and assaulted by unknown attackers demanding money. Bishop Prasad Gallela of Cuddapah was blindfolded, handcuffed and forcibly taken away while he was traveling home after celebrating Mass at Karunagiri Shrine 25 April, reported ucanews.com. He said unidentified kidnappers came in two vehicles and took “me to an undisclosed location.&rdquo: “They hit me and punched me, resulting in injuries all over my body. I did not resist,” Bishop Gallela told ucanews.com. “Police are trying to find those behind the incident.”
Ethiopia “on the edge of a crisis” (The New Internationalist) Ethiopia’s most severe drought for 30 years is currently sweeping across the country. It has triggered prolonged dry spells, delaying the much sought-after rains that allow farmers to harvest their crops and leaving over 10 million people in immediate need of aid assistance. ‘We have to find a way to ration our animal feed during periods of drought,’ says Roba...
Indian Catholics respond to papal mandate on environment (Vatican Radio) Nearly a year after Pope Francis released his encyclical on the environment, dioceses and church agencies across India have launched several projects implementing the spirit of the papal document...
28 April 2016
Archbishop Benedict Mar Gregorios oversaw a period of explosive growth in the Syro-Malankara church in India — and was dubbed “India’s Renaissance Man” for his wide-ranging interests
and tastes. (photo: Sister Christian Molidor, R.S.M.)
A figure who had a profound effect on the people of India was Benedict Mar Gregorios, the Syro-Malankara Archbishop of Trivandrum. Profiling him in 1992, Sister Christian Molidor, R.S.M. wrote of India’s “Renaissance man”:
Mar Gregorios is the major archbishop of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church, a community that achieved full communion with the Church of Rome in 1930. Ordained a bishop in 1955, his efforts to renew the Syriac liturgy within a truly Indian context has led to the Church’s tremendous growth. Today more than 300,000 people are baptized members. When the archbishop was ordained in 1955, the Syro-Malankara Church numbered just over 70,000 members.
Mar Gregorios has initiated programs with the Tamils in the south, and with the dispossessed — the so-called “untouchables” — in his own state of Kerala.
We met the archbishop on several of his visits to New York and were certainly familiar with his projects funded by the benefactors of Catholic Near East Welfare Association. Now we were seeing him for the first time on his own turf.
We came to see what we might do. We left feeling he had done much for us.
This simple priest/erudite scholar insists, “Our Lord didn’t come to save souls alone, but to save people! We must realize that the God who gave us a body and who himself assumed a body, cannot be thought of as indifferent to our material needs, for he made us to live in human dignity — dignity that presupposes a certain material well-being.”
After his death in 1994, our magazine noted:
An agricultural expert, the Archbishop started model farms and experimented with various plant forms to bolster the lives of his people, most of whom live on farms. Many of these small plots are supported by our Association.
As Archbishop, Mar Gregorios encouraged the renewal of the Syriac liturgy within a truly Indian context, enabling this small community, which numbered just 70,000 members in the 50s, to grow at a tremendous rate. Today the Syro-Malankara Catholic community numbers more than 300,000 people.
We mourn “the loss of this great and good man of God,” wrote Msgr. Robert L. Stern in a letter of condolence, “...the boldness of his vision and the strength of his trust in Almighty God will ever be an inspiration and a consolation to me.”
His extraordinary vision and outreach to the dispossessed helped transform India and spread the faith — and his legacy lives on to this day in schools and institutions. This is heroism in action. As Sister Christian wrote all those years ago:
It is this reservoir of respect and good will that enables Mar Gregorios, religious men and women, and the laity, to demonstrate their love and concern for the people — the power of Christian charity in action, not just words.
28 April 2016
Young students from the Church of St. Rosalie in Hampton Bays, New York raised money to help displaced children in the Middle East, and last weekend they presented a generous check to CNEWA’s Christopher Kennedy. (photo: Carol Carey/Church of St. Rosalie)
A major part of my role at CNEWA is saying “Thank you” to all who make our work possible. While our donors come from all walks of life, it’s rare that I get a chance to thank people who are much younger than me — those whom Pope Francis has called “the strength that moves us forward.” This past Sunday, I had the chance to do just that, visiting the Church of St. Rosalie in Hampton Bays, New York.
Greeted by delightful spring weather — and a vibrant parish to match — I was there on behalf of CNEWA to accept a donation from the parish’s faith formation students. For the second year in a row, they had collected change in mite boxes for our work in the Middle East with displaced Christian children and others in need. Their small sacrifices had added up to a generous donation of $1,000 to CNEWA, in addition to gifts for their community food pantry.
I was welcomed by the church’s dynamic pastor, the Rev. Edward Sheridan, along with Marion Boden of the parish’s Committee of the Common Good, who arranged the mite box project with religion formation coordinator Eileen McPhelin. In his homily, directed to the young Sunday school students who sat on mats in front of the pews, Father Ed preached about the day’s Gospel, from John. He explained that, through simple means like donating our change, we are indeed loving one another as Jesus has loved us.
In my brief remarks after Communion, I shared the story of a young girl Msgr. Kozar had met on one of his visits to Iraq, who told him, “They have taken our homes, but they will never take our faith.” Through our faith, and love for each other, we are able to give that most precious gift of hope to those who need it most.
As always, if you’re interested in having CNEWA visit your parish and spread our mission of hope, please do not hesitate to contact Norma Intriago, Director of Development, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
28 April 2016
In this image from 2010, a dance group performs at the annual Greek Festival in Salt Lake City. To learn more about a thriving community of Greek Americans preserving their culture in Mormon country, read Greek Orthodoxy in Mormon Zion in the July 2010 edition of ONE.
(photo: Cody Christopulos)
28 April 2016
In the video interview above, Cardinal Antonio Maria Veglio accuses Europe of behaving “like Pontius Pilate” when it comes to refugees from the Middle East. (video: Rome Reports)
Airstrikes hit Aleppo hospital (The New York Times) On Thursday, with civilian casualties rapidly mounting on both sides, government airstrikes destroyed a hospital affiliated with Doctors Without Borders, killing 27 people. The location of the destroyed hospital in rebel territory was well known, Doctors Without Borders said in a statement in which it called for an end to the targeting of health facilities. Among the dead were three children and six staff members, health workers and witnesses said, including one of the area’s last remaining pediatricians. The death toll was expected to rise...
Lebanon’s army kills ISIS leader near Syrian border (Reuters) Security officials in Lebanon say Lebanese military forces have killed a leader of Islamic State (ISIS) militants during an army operation in the country’s mountainous border region with Syria. The ISIS leader in the border region was named by security officials and Lebanon’s National News Agency as Nayif al-Shaalaan...
Regional war between Armenia and Azerbaijan? (The Hill) his is not only a battle over territory. Rather, it is simultaneously a struggle over culture, diversity, inclusiveness and, most importantly, independence and diverging vision for the future of the South Caucasus...
Coptic priests on mission to proclaim Easter (Fides) In Egypt, Coptic churches — who follow the Julian calendar — are celebrating Holy Week. In view of Easter, greetings and good wishes are expressed to the Copts by representatives of institutions. Even Ahmed al Tayyeb, great Imam of Al Azhar, went to the Coptic Cathedral in Cairo to personally express his Easter greetings to Orthodox Coptic Patriarch Tawadros II. And in the imminence of the Christian solemnity, also pastoral initiatives flourish in the large North African country: in recent days, some Coptic Orthodox priests of the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of Minya, Upper Egypt, decided to leave their parishes to go to celebrate moments of prayer in the streets, in cafes and in public places, in order to announce the Passion and the Resurrection of Christ to the many baptized who do not attend churches and sanctuaries even on the occasion of the liturgical solemnities...
Report: Indian officials halt Christian church wedding over claims bride was forced to convert (AFP) A group of hardline Hindu activists and police stormed a church in central India and stopped a wedding midway after accusing the pastor of forcefully converting the bride to Christianity, an official said on Thursday (28 April). As the wedding got underway at the Church of God in India in Madhya Pradesh state, men belonging to the fringe Hindu outfit Bajrang Dal barged in accompanied by the police, who arrested ten people, a church spokesman said...
27 April 2016
CNEWA’s Director of Development Norma Intriago speaks to the Rosary Altar Society at St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey last weekend. (photo: CNEWA)
The closer you get to the Jersey Shore, the more idyllic everything seems. If it’s not the cedar shake siding on the quaint homes, it’s the little ice cream shops or perhaps even the way the pine trees could almost masquerade as palm trees as they sway with the wind.
A recent visit to Point Pleasant Beach, in fact, sent us from New York down the parkway and into the heart of this idyllic community. Norma Intriago, CNEWA’s Director of Development, and I were privileged to offer a presentation to the Rosary Altar Society at St. Peter’s Catholic Church — a bedrock of the Point Pleasant community and a beautiful church and school at that.
Our presentation highlighted the suffering and the hope of the people of Iraq who have fled ISIS — often not just once, but two or three times as the terrorist group gained territory, forcing migration farther east across the Nineveh Plain. Not all who have fled to places like Erbil made it there safely, such as the Yazidi father and son who are now without mother and wife, daughter and sister. Their stories have become important, but difficult for us to hear and share.
That said, while much can and should be told of the tragedy these Iraqis are facing, our work there for, with, and through people such as the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena means that we can focus on sharing stories of faith and hope. They are stories about the start of a makeshift school that sees 500 eager students daily. They are stories of clinics and pharmacies offering much-needed healthcare. They are stories that would never have been told had the people here not been connected with the people there.
Bringing our program to the parish level is, for me, all about supporting those connections and saying, “This is what’s happening; these are the brothers and sisters it’s happening to, and here’s the hope you’re bringing them.” The people of the Point Pleasant community so understood and appreciated that message and they were eager to be even more connected.
Indeed, at the end of our presentation, a kind gentleman in the audience shared that his young daughter had brought home a flier about our event. He knew he had to come, he said. After all, he’s a Christian from Baghdad who knew well the plight his people are facing. And this work is so very important to him. Norma and I couldn't have been more thankful for our time there and for the people we met.
If you’re interested in having CNEWA visit your parish and spread our mission of hope, please do not hesitate to contact Norma Intriago, Director of Development, at email@example.com.
Philip W. Eubanks is a Development Associate for CNEWA in New York City.
27 April 2016
The Rev. Oleg Kindiy, who teaches philosophy and theology at Ukrainian Catholic University, gives a tour of the chapel at the school in Lviv, Ukraine. To learn more about this remarkable school and the impact it is having, read Where Change Is on the Curriculum in the Spring 2016 edition of ONE. (photo: Petro Zadorozhnyy)
27 April 2016
Syrians help a wounded youth following an air strike on the Fardous rebel-held neighborhood of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on 26 April 2016. (photo: Ameer Alhalbi/AFP/Getty Images)
ISIS making advances against rebels in Syria (AP) Militants from the Islamic State group seized five villages from Syrian rebels close to the Turkish border Wednesday, further weakening the rebels’ foothold in the Aleppo area. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a network of activists monitoring the Syria conflict, said the extremist group took five villages in Azaz district, north of Aleppo, where rebels hold an enclave host to tens of thousands of internally displaced civilians...
Christians in Baghdad on pilgrimage to Ur (Fides) It was the biggest pilgrimage made by Iraqi Christians in recent years: about 200 Chaldeans from Baghdad went to Ur, the historical site of lower Mesopotamia, now in the Iraqi governorate in Dhi Quar, which is usually identified with the birthplace of patriarch Abraham, father of all believers...
Sharp increase in marriages in Gaza (Gulf News) Despite the sharp deterioration in economic conditions in the Gaza Strip, the number of marriages there increased in 2015 by 4,650 (28.8 per cent) making the largest annual increase since the Sharia courts were set up in the coastal enclave, said a senior Gaza official...
Army rescues children kidnapped in Ethiopia (Fides) Ethiopia’s military entered the territory of South Sudan to try to save hundreds of children abducted from Ethiopia by a group of south sudanese armed men. According to Ethiopian radio station Fana, children were taken when suspected ethnic Murle fighters attacked villages in Ethiopia’s southwestern Gambella region. More than 200 people were killed in those attacks. The Army surrounded the place where the children were kept prisoners and intervened to release them. According to the Ethiopian government, in the raid which took place on 15 April near the town of Gambella, western Ethiopia...
New Yorkers venerate relics of Lebanese saint (The Tablet) Fresh flowers, fragrant incense and hymns welcomed the first-class relics of Lebanese St. Sharbel Makhlouf as they entered the Holy Doors of Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Cathedral, Brooklyn Heights. The relics are on their first U.S. tour to mark the 50th anniversary of the saint’s beatification. At the Brooklyn Heights’ cathedral, the 9-10 April visit was a major highlight of the Year of Mercy and observed with two days of devotions, including several Masses, a healing service, nocturnal adoration and opportunities for the sacrament of reconciliation in Arabic and English...