Current Issue
December, 2018
Volume 44, Number 4
24 May 2016
Greg Kandra

CNEWA President Msgr. John E. Kozar meets Sister Diana Momeka on a visit to the convent of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena in Ain Kawa, in northern Iraq, last year. (photo: CNEWA)

Last year, a tiny powerhouse made headlines for her passionate witness on behalf of the suffering people of Iraq:

The first thing that struck me about the veiled woman in white standing in our reception area was: “She’s so little.” The petite Dominican sister with the piercing eyes and dark hair didn’t look like someone who would shake the world.

But I soon learned that her passion and her message are, in fact, earth shaking. Small wonder that this small wonder has made some of the most powerful people in world capitals sit up and take notice.

Sister Diana Momeka left Iraq a few weeks ago to visit the United States; one of her most important stops was Capitol Hill, where she spoke to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. Last night, she braved a thunderstorm to drive from Washington to New York, to visit with several of us this morning at the offices of CNEWA. Beyond a reunion between old friends and collaborators — CNEWA has sponsored the work of her congregation for many years — this meeting held a deeper and more poignant purpose. She wanted to share her message about the plight of thousands of Iraqi refugees — men, women and children, young and old, healthy and infirm — who fled their homes last year to escape ISIS, and settled in whatever housing they could find in the northern Iraqi city of Erbil.

It has been a harrowing time — and the Iraqi families aren’t the only ones suffering. Sister Diana and dozens of other Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena fled their convent and also settled in Erbil, where they are working tirelessly to help people who sometimes feel helpless.

“My main message,” she told those of us gathered in the board room, “is to get human dignity to people there, in Iraq.” Her words were measured and her focus, laser sharp.

“People,” she continued, “have been humiliated. They are living in slums. These people are human beings with great love, great faith. But when you lose your home, your heritage, your culture, you lose your dignity. When you live in a container, in a tent, you don’t have any privacy, this is not a real human life to live. My hope is to find a way to give dignity back.”

We chronicled the remarkable work she and her order have undertaken in the pages of our magazine:

“People came with fever, dehydration, diarrhea,” says Sister Diana. “They were sleeping on the ground with no tents in the beginning. After some days they got tents, but there was no clean water, and so no proper bathing. Diseases like scabies started to increase.” It became clear some sort of health service was essential, and thus was the Martha Schmouny Clinic born — first in tents donated by French charity SOS Chrétiens d’Orient, and later transformed into a cluster of three prefabricated containers donated by CNEWA.

As time has passed, and the reality of the Christians’ displacement has become more and more entrenched, the Martha Schmouny Clinic has continued to grow, its capacity and range of services expanding to provide a better safety net for the vulnerable community.

“We often talk about the role of the Holy Spirit in our work,” Sister Diana said as she made her way to the clinic early one recent morning. “We started the clinic like a small grain of yeast and now it has steadily increased like dough.”

Sister Diana remains a hero to those who fled their homes — and remains a great advocate for their cause. To learn how you can support suffering Christians in Iraq, visit this giving page.

Tags: Iraq Iraqi Christians Sisters

24 May 2016
CNEWA staff

A student at Ashabhavan (“House of Hope”) enjoys breakfast, provided daily by the school. To learn more about how this institution changes the lives of children with special needs, read Kerala’s House of Hope, appearing in the Winter 2015 edition of ONE. (photo: Jose Jacob)

Tags: India Children Education

24 May 2016
J.D. Conor Mauro

Solidarity groups protest behind a line of riot police during the forced evacuation of a makeshift camp close to the Greece-Macedonia border near the village of Idomeni on 24 May. (photo: Sakis Mitrolidis/AFP/Getty Images)

Greece begins to clear migrants from Idomeni camp (TIME) Greek authorities have started removing thousands of migrants and refugees from a makeshift camp near the Macedonian border, where they have been stranded since Macedonia closed its border in February…

Rabbis launch campaign against religious hatred, ‘price tag’ gangs (Fides) Israel-based Rabbis for Human Rights have announced that a new campaign will be launched in the Knesset this week. ‘Price tag’ attacks are hate crimes directed mainly at Palestinians and Christians by extremist right-wing Israeli Jews. These crimes often go unpunished…

Terra Santa middle school in Aleppo hit by a missile (Custodia Terrae Sanctae) On Saturday, 21 May, missiles fell on the Terra Santa Middle School in Aleppo, Syria. One person died and two were seriously injured, including elderly people who had sought refuge there. Until this event, the school, with its large park, was considered to be one of the city’s few safe places. A year ago, the friars opened up classrooms in order to accommodate about 20 elderly people after their homes were bombed. “The explosion was extremely violent, and it was strongly felt,” said Brother Firas Lutfi, O.F.M., the school principal, in a telephone interview. “There is a no longer one place in Aleppo that is 100 percent safe…”

Egypt Parliament to discuss easing restrictions on building churches (WorldWatch Monitor) The Egyptian Parliament is considering a proposal on the construction of churches that Christians hope will narrow the country’s religious inequality gap. The construction of each new church typically had to be authorized directly by the Egyptian president, although attempts have been made to grant church-building permits from governors and the security authorities…

Surge in eastern fighting kills seven Ukrainian soldiers (Reuters) Ukraine said on Tuesday seven of its servicemen had been killed in the past 24 hours as a result of increased attacks by pro-Russian rebels, the highest reported daily casualty figure since August…

Russian Orthodox Church and the Church of the East open talks (AINA) Official dialogue between the Church of the East and the Russian Orthodox Church opened in consideration of the full-scale persecution of Christians in the Middle East, suffered especially in Iraq and Syria, on 18 May. The Commission recognized the importance of the Russian Orthodox Church’s solidarity with the Church of the East and all persecuted peoples of the Middle East…

Tags: Syria Ukraine Israel Migrants Greece

23 May 2016
CNEWA staff

Pope Francis talks with Ahmad el Tayeb, grand imam of Egypt’s Al Azhar mosque and university, during a private meeting at the Vatican on 23 May. (photo: CNS/Max Rossi, Reuters)

Pope Francis met today with the grand imam of Al Azhar Mosque, one of the oldest and most revered Sunni institutions in the world. CNS reports:

After five years of tension and top-level silence, Pope Francis and the grand imam of one of the most important Sunni Muslim universities in the world embraced at the Vatican May 23.

“The meeting is the message,” the pope told Ahmad el-Tayeb, the grand imam of al-Azhar University, as the religious scholar approached him just inside the door of the papal library.

El-Tayeb’s spring visit was the first meeting between a pontiff and a grand imam since the Muslim university in Cairo suspended talks in 2011.

Established in 1998, the formal dialogue between al-Azhar and the Vatican started to fray in 2006, after now-retired Pope Benedict XVI gave a speech in Regensburg, Germany. Al-Azhar officials and millions of Muslims around the world said the speech linked Islam to violence.

Al-Azhar halted the talks altogether in 2011 after the former pope had said Christians in the Middle East were facing persecution. Al-Azhar claimed that Pope Benedict had offended Islam and Muslims once more by focusing only on the suffering of Christians when many Muslims were suffering as well.

In February, Bishop Miguel Ayuso Guixot, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, delivered a letter to el-Tayeb from Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, council president, inviting him to the Vatican to meet the pope.

Cardinal Tauran and Bishop Ayuso welcomed the imam to the Vatican May 23 and accompanied him to the papal meeting.

Pope Francis sat to the side of his desk facing the grand imam rather than behind his desk as he customarily does when meeting with a visiting head of state.

Read the rest at CNS.

Tags: Pope Francis Interreligious Islam Sunni

23 May 2016
J.D. Conor Mauro

Iraqi pro-government forces advance towards the city of Fallujah on 23 May, as part of a major assault to retake the city from ISIS. (photo: Ahmad Al Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images)

Iraqi Army liberates strategic city in Anbar (Al Masdar News) The Iraqi Army has had a very successful day in the Anbar governorate, liberating several sites from ISIS terrorists around the city of Fallujah. However, the biggest surprise in Anbar came from Al Karma, where the Iraqi Armed Forces overwhelmed ISIS units to liberate this strategic city near the Iraqi capital…

Chaldean patriarch urges U.S. not to arm ‘Christian militias’ (AINA) Christian anti-ISIS forces in Iraq are set to benefit from a defense spending bill headed for authorization by the U.S. Congress. Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael I, however, urges against giving weapons to self-styled “Christian” militias. “There are no ‘Christian militias,’ but only politicized groups and simple people who are in desperate need of a salary…”

Israel allows building supplies to enter Gaza again (New York Times) The Israeli military authorities on Monday allowed building supplies to start flowing into Gaza again, lifting a suspension that had blocked work for more than a month on thousands of houses destroyed in the 2014 summer war. About 90 truckloads of cement were expected to cross into Gaza on Monday, according to the office of the special coordinator for the peace process…

Syria’s Catholic and Orthodox children to pray together for peace (AINA) Children from Syria’s different Christian denominations will be joining together to pray for peace in the country on International Children’s Day. The plan, which is being backed by Syrian church leaders, was described in a joint message from the country’s Catholic and Orthodox patriarchs. They wrote: “On this International Day of the Child, Christian children in many of the towns and cities of Syria are going to gather together and pray that peace may come at last…”

Wave of bombings kills scores in area of Syria loyal to Assad (Washington Post) A wave of coordinated bombings in Syria claimed by ISIS killed at least 78 people Monday in the usually calm coastal area where Russian troops are based, Syrian state media reported…

Egyptian press announces resumption of dialogue between Holy See and Al Azhar (Fides) ”In Egypt, great importance is given to the meeting between Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al Azhar; even the most popular newspapers dedicate large space to the event on the front page, and report that the decision to resume official dialogue between the Holy See and the largest Sunni theological institution has already been taken,” says Anba Kyrillos William Samaan, Coptic Catholic Bishop of Assiut…

Tags: Syria Iraq Gaza Strip/West Bank

20 May 2016
Greg Kandra

Most of the parishioners of St. Peter Chaldean Catholic Cathedral near San Diego emigrated from Iraq in the last 20 years. To learn more about this vibrant faith community, read East Goes West from the January-February 2004 edition of our magazine. (photo: Lyon Liew)

20 May 2016
Greg Kandra

The video above explains how Syrian bishops, religious organizations are seeking to stop sanctions on Syria, as a new report reveals countries are not delivering on aid they pledged to the war-torn country. (video: Rome Reports)

Israeli defense minister resigns (The New York Times) The Israeli defense minister, Moshe Yaalon, announced on Friday that he was resigning, an abrupt move that comes as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly conducts negotiations with a far-right party to join his government. As part of those negotiations, Mr. Netanyahu is believed to have offered the position of defense minister to Avigdor Lieberman, the head of the ultranationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party...

Air disaster adds to Egypt’s litany of woes (NPR) The cause isn’t yet known, but the loss of an Egyptian plane into the Mediterranean has already delivered a new round of trauma to a beleaguered country struggling on several fronts. President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi’s hardline rule faces mounting criticism at home and abroad. An ISIS-linked group is waging an insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula. The tourist industry has been in the doldrums for years. And the EgyptAir plane that vanished early Thursday marked the country’s second aviation disaster in just over six months...

Report: Countries not fulfilling pledges to help refugees (The Guardian) Countries who attended a London summit to help Syrian refugees have so far only committed a sixth of the money they pledged for 2016, a report shows. The money is due to be allocated to help countries in the region surrounding Syria, primarily Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, with a focus on Syrian children’s education and improving the chances of refugees finding paid work...

Over 100 reported killed by floods, landslides in Ethiopia (Al Jazeera) About 100 people have been killed by floods and landslides across Ethiopia that started last month, government officials say. At least 20,000 families have been made homeless, according to the UN, while local officials say there are a number of people still missing. Meteorologists have blamed this year’s particularly powerful El Niño weather phenomenon for the country’s high rainfall...

Aid from UAE headed to Iraqi refugees (Fides) The eleven Iraqi Christian refugee families in Mosul who found hospitality in Naur, western urban area of the municipality in Amman, will also receive this year material aid reserved for them from the United Arab Emirates...

Commission says suicides on the rise in Gaza (Gulf News) Independent Commission for Human Right’s (ICHR) figures show six suicides in Gaza since the beginning of this year whereas five Gazans took their lives in the entire 2015. The commission urged the situation in Gaza be addressed by the entire society which must establish a national mental health committee to tackle the suicides. The ICHR said there is a sharp increase in the rate of suicide attempts, too...

19 May 2016
Greg Kandra

Carol Hunnybun served CNEWA in the Middle East for nearly two decades.
(photo: Michael J.L. La Civita)

“A dauntless dame” is how CNEWA’s Michael La Civita described the indefatigable Carol Hunnybun in 1994. She joined CNEWA in Beirut in 1963, and eventually served with Helen Breen as administrators of our Jerusalem office from 1966 until 1982.

In an interview, she was asked about one corner of that world that has become a flashpoint for war and suffering, Gaza:

“I used to go down to Gaza once a week. I hated the place. It’s a horrible place. So much human misery; so much dirt; there are no drains in the camps. In the summer it’s not so bad; everything dries up. But in winter when the sand becomes muddy and greasy, you can imagine what it’s like.”

Before the troubles, she added, Gaza had fertile soil, beautiful orange groves and abundant vegetable gardens. But this changed “when all you have is thousands of refugees and ghastly living conditions.”

Over the years, Carol Hunnybun contributed several articles to the magazine, always writing about CNEWA’s world with candor, compassion and grace. In 1979, she captured the essence of CNEWA’s mission, as she described one facility in Bethlehem which CNEWA supported:

Three groups have joined together, and they have achieved great things. Each group brings a gift. First there are the committee members and the staff: their gift is dedication. Then there are the patients: their gift is courage. The donors are next: their gift is love. The gifts form a triple bond that unites all three and fires the Home with a special spirit. By these gifts and with God’s help, miracles still happen in Bethlehem.

Thanks to Carol Hunnybun and countless other heroes like her, miracles still happen in every corner of our world. Visit this link to learn how you can be a part of our mission.

19 May 2016
CNEWA staff

The map above shows how countries in the Middle East were divided up as a result of the Sykes-Picot Agreement, signed in May of 1916. (photo: Wikipedia)

In America Magazine, CNEWA’s External Affairs Officer, the Rev. Elias D. Mallon, S.A., Ph.D., takes a close look at an agreement that was signed 100 years ago this week, reshaping the boundaries of the Middle East:

The Sykes-Picot Agreement, one of the most fateful pacts in modern history, was signed 100 years ago on 16 May 1916. It is not an anniversary to be celebrated. An agreement made between Great Britain and France to divide up the Turkish Ottoman Empire after the end of the First World War, it was negotiated by the Englishman Mark Sykes (1879-1919) and the Frenchman François Georges-Picot (1870-1951).

Far from being relegated to Leon Trotsky’s often-cited “dustbin of history,” the Sykes-Picot Agreement has influenced the history of the Middle East for a century, and there is no indication that the influence will dissipate any time soon. The Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL, boasted of “the end of Sykes-Picot” when in 2014 the group took control of the Iraq-Syria border — physically removing the posts that marked the internationally recognized boundary. It is impossible to make sense of events in the Middle East today — from the rise of ISIS to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — without an understanding of the Sykes-Picot Agreement.

Read the full story, “Colonial Creations,” at America Magazine.

19 May 2016
Greg Kandra

Franciscan Sisters of the Heart of Jesus care for orphans at the Kidane Mehret Children’s Home in Addis Ababa. To learn about this orphanage, read Where Every Child Has a Name in the September-October 2001 edition of our magazine. (photo: Petterik Wiggers)

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