13 July 2016
Farha Nasrallah, widow of Boulos Al-Ahmar, stands with her 3-year-old daughter on the front steps of St. Elias Melkite Catholic Church in Al Qaa, Lebanon, on 10 July. Her late husband was driving an ambulance to the scene of explosion when more bombs went off. Residents of the predominantly Christian village are determined not to live in fear. (photo: CNS/Brooke Anderson)
Boulos al-Ahmar had just driven the ambulance to the scene of the explosion when more bombs detonated, killing him. When Majed Wehbe heard the first explosions near his home, he ran to the scene to help, only to arrive in time for the next set of explosions.
These men died as heroes, unafraid to run toward disaster to help others, and their Christian village wants to honor their memory by shunning the fear these explosions were designed to instill.
The Lebanese frontier village is mourning the loss of five residents to a series of explosions in late June. But within two weeks, the people were showing their determination to bring back life.
“We will continue to have culture, activities and late-night celebrations. We’re not just going to survive. We’re going to live our lives,” said Bashir Mattar, the mayor of Al Qaa, a village of about 15,000, predominantly Melkite Catholic, with some Maronite Catholic and Orthodox. They share the village with nearly 30,000 Syrian refugees who have fled war in their country, about three miles away.
The village is relatively poor, with the majority of the population belonging to the army, a reliable employer for an area with few job opportunities. Families live in modest homes, often decorated with canopies of grape vines. Syrian refugees live nearby in informal tented settlements.
“We will continue helping Syrian refugees so that they can live in dignity,” the mayor said at a 9 July town hall meeting, the first of its kind since the explosions, which led to the arrest of more than 200 Syrian refugees in the area. “If they get an education and have hope, especially the children, then they won’t turn to extremism and terrorism.”
Four suicide bombers hit the town in two separate incidents 27 June. They killed themselves and the five residents and injured more than 30 others. Although the perpetrators have yet to be identified, the area’s growing Syrian refugee community has been under tight security following the attacks.
Hilal Khashan, a professor of political studies at the American University of Beirut, said Al Qaa probably was not the target of the attack. He said some believe the suicide bombers got stuck in the village as they were trying to coordinate an attack in a big city.
Although there is a narrow stretch of Islamic State group-controlled land between Al Qaa and Syria, Khashan said he does not foresee a repeat of the attack, because the group does not have the constituency or resources in Lebanon to stage spectacular attacks, as it does in Iraq. Still, the bombings in al-Qaa left the Christian villages that border Syria’s Islamic-State-controlled areas shaken.
From the beginning of the Bekaa Valley until the entrance to the village of Al Qaa, 10 Lebanese Army checkpoints line the road. Inside the village, as the sun set and residents began to arrive at the town hall meeting in a building near the scene of the attacks, armored vehicles began patrolling the area. Some soldiers set up positions on the roofs of nearby buildings.
“Al Qaa is the door to Lebanon. If it falls, then Lebanon could fall,” said lifelong resident Georgette Farha Taom, emphasizing that she still considered the village’s Lebanese and Syrians to be on good terms. “We’ve always had a good relationship with the Syrians. They’re more scared than us. They fled their country. They have nowhere to go.”
The next morning, as worshipers, including some local Muslims, filled St. Elias Melkite Catholic Church, security personnel were again out in force, closely observing and sometimes checking IDs of those entering or walking by the church. Once the service started, the soldiers’ faces could be seen peering through the church’s windows, as the priest gave an impassioned sermon urging people not to be scared. He thanked the Lebanese army and honored the victims of the attacks, whose names and photos appeared at the main entrance to the church.
A prominent guest joined the congregation that day: Myriam Skaff, president of the Popular Bloc, visited the village from Zahle to show her support for Al Qaa, something she said she would continue to do on a regular basis. Although such gestures by politicians are not unusual at times of crisis, this visit appeared to give support to what locals wanted to show the rest of the country and beyond — that their village is open for business and is a safe destination.
“This is the first time since the attacks that the church is filled with people,” said the Rev. Elian Nasrallah. “There was no life after the attacks, but it’s coming back slowly.”
13 July 2016
In this image from May, Syrian refugees arrive at the Jordanian military crossing point of Hadalat at the border with Syria after a long walk through the Syrian desert. Hadalat was reportedly bombed by a Russian jet Tuesday, killing at least 12 people. (photo: Jordan Pix/Getty Images)
Syrian rebels say Russian jet bombed refugee camp along Jordan border (Reuters) Jets believed to be Russian on Tuesday struck a refugee camp along Jordan’s north-eastern border with Syria, killing at least 12 people and injuring scores in the first such Russian strike near the Jordanian border, rebels said. Several jets flying at high altitudes struck at noon a makeshift camp where a few hundred, mostly women and children, are stranded in a no-man’s-land on the Syrian side of the border, they said. The Russian Defense Ministry was not immediately available for comment...
Holy See’s UN observer speaks on Israeli-Palestinian crisis (Vatican Radio) The halted Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and the ongoing Syrian crisis were among the topics touched on by the Apostolic Nuncio and Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations in statement Tuesday. In his statement to the UN Security Council during an open debate on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian Question,” Archbishop Bernardito Auza reiterated Pope Francis’ denouncement of those responsible for the Syrian crisis, especially those who provide weapons to fighters...
Civilians killed in Indian state of Orissa (Fides) The Catholic Church in Orissa is on alert after the killing of five civilians, including two Christians in the district of Kandhamal in the Indian state of Orissa...
Refugees seen as resilient (CNS) Refugees arriving in the United States are resilient people who want to contribute to society, believes Darwensi Clark of the U.S. bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services. He’s seen it among the refugees he has worked with through the years...
Residents of Gaza turn to Turkey for medical care (The Los Angeles Times) More than 40 Palestinian men from Gaza... are sharing a rented apartment building [in Istanbul] while undergoing surgery and rehabilitation for injuries related to the ongoing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. They said they have no ties to the militant group Hamas, which rules Gaza. The United Nations has said the few hospitals in Gaza are unable to cope with the demands for surgery and rehabilitation. Thousands of people wait long periods for appointments or apply for treatment in countries such as Turkey, Egypt, Israel or Jordan...
U.S churches to Russia: we’re not leaving (RNS) Several American-based religious denominations remain defiant in the face of new laws that would ban them from proselytizing in Russia. The so-called “Yarovaya laws” make it illegal to preach, proselytize or hand out religious materials outside of specially designated places. The laws also give the Russian government wide scope to monitor and record electronic messages and phone calls...
Iraqis to pray ‘Our Father’ in Aramaic at World Youth Day (Fides) There will be more than two hundred young Iraqi Christians who from all the dioceses of the Country will participate in the forthcoming World Youth Day, to be held in Krakow in late July. And in that context, during the Via Crucis, some of them will have the chance to recite the Lord’s Prayer in Aramaic, Jesus’ language, before the Pope. “It will be an important moment for all of us, to be confirmed in faith and communion with the whole Church of Christ,” says Chaldean Bishop Basel Salim Yaldo, who will accompany the young Iraqis in their trip to Poland with Archbishop Bashar Warda, a dozen young priests and seven nuns...
12 July 2016
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. The Vatican and Sunni Islam’s leading institution of higher learning have begun looking for ways to restart formal dialogue.
(photo: CNS/Max Rossi, Reuters)
The news today that the Vatican plans to send a high-ranking official to Cairo, in hopes of restarting talks at a leading Sunni Muslim university, is important for a number of reasons.
First, this move marks a possible thaw in relations that had grown frosty. If nothing else, it also signals a symbolic gesture of conciliation and respect toward one of the oldest universities in the world, one which has always been a powerful voice in Sunni Islam.
It also indicates that restoring this relationship is a priority to Pope Francis. Recalling the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate last year, he indicated in his message for the World Day of Peace in January that Nostra Aetate was “emblematic of the new relationship of dialogue, solidarity and accompaniment which the Church sought to awaken within the human family.”
To understand the significance of this move, it helps to understand a little background.
After the Second Vatican Council, the Secretariat for non-Christians, which later become the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, exchanged visits and was engaged in dialogue with al-Azhar University.
However, on 20 January 2011 the Islamic Research Academy of al-Azhar University broke off dialogue with the Vatican. The remarks of Pope Benedict XVI in his address at the University of Regensburg on 12 September 2006 and his call in 2011 for the protection of Coptic Christians who were under attack in Egypt were not well received at al-Azhar.
The address in Regensburg was looked upon as offensive and the call to protect Coptic Christians was seen as interference in the internal affairs of Egypt during a particularly tumultuous time. As a result, contact and dialogue between al-Azhar and the Vatican were broken off.
But on 23 May 2016, Ahmad el-Tayeb, the Sheikh al-Azhar, made an official visit to Pope Francis at the Vatican. The visit received broad media coverage and Pope Francis’ “dialogue of friendship” was evident.
Now, only a few weeks later, it appears that initial dialogue has born fruit, and it is quickly ripening.
It is a very happy and hopeful event.
12 July 2016
Sister Nabila Saleh serves as principal of the Rosary Sisters School in Gaza, helping children trying to heal from the wounds of war. (photo: John E. Kozar)
Sister Nabila Saleh has been working on behalf of young people for whom war, tragically, is just another way of life: the children of Gaza. The world they are living in was thrown into turmoil during the summer of 2014, when a seven-week-long war left much of the area devastated:
A report published in 2012 by the United Nations notes the Gaza Strip has “one of the youngest populations worldwide,” with about 51 percent of the population under 18 years of age.That same report predicted the Gaza Strip could become virtually unlivable by 2020, according to available trend data for access to food, drinking water, electricity, sanitation infrastructure, health care and schooling. A shortage of clean water alone could create a crisis as early as 2016, due to the accelerating depletion of groundwater wells and inadequate sewage systems.
Additionally, the Palestinian Ministry of Education lists hundreds of schools as damaged, and dozens destroyed entirely. The scope of the devastation is vast.
Against this backdrop, we visited Sister Nabila in 2014:
According to a UNICEF report, about 373,000 Palestinian children in the Gaza Strip — or 35 percent of the children there — require psychological intervention after the summer’s war.
...At one of the institutions CNEWA supports, the Rosary Sisters School, the scene looks markedly different than other places. The students are playing, drawing and dancing, expressing and discussing their summer.
Sister Nabila Saleh, the school’s principal, noticed a difference in the students’ behavior when they returned to school. The children were tense, and became more violent with one another on the playground.
“It was obvious the war had a bad impact on the children, and for that reason we decided to dedicate the first week to stress release by playing, drawing, dancing and writing — in cooperation with specialists,” Sister Nabila says.
“Most of the children responded positively during the social activities. Some students profoundly need additional treatment — especially those who lost loved ones, or those whose homes were completely demolished.”
Bit by bit, child by child, Sister Nabila is working to rebuild shattered young lives. Some deep wounds do not heal easily. But as she put it last year:
“I have hope; as long as there is life there is hope, hope to build. This hope fills the hearts of our students. They want to be doctors, lawyers ... All this means that they can build our country.”
To help support that hope in Sister Nabila’s corner of the world, visit this link.
12 July 2016
Students attend class at St. Michael School in Aiga, Ethiopia. CNEWA is helping provide nourishing biscuits so that schoolchildren in drought-ravaged Ethiopia don’t go hungry. See more pictures here. And to help these and other children in northeast Africa, visit this giving page.
(photo: John E. Kozar)
12 July 2016
In this image from 3 July, Iraqis who fled from their villages due to the clashes, go to Dibege Tent Camp in Mosul’s Mahmur district as Mosul rescue operation continues. The United States announced plans to send more troops to Iraq to help retake Mosul.
(photo: Hemn Huseyin/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
U.S. deploying more troops to Iraq to retake Mosul from ISIS (The New York Times) President Obama will send 560 more troops to Iraq to help retake Mosul, the largest city still controlled by the Islamic State, a deployment intended to capitalize on recent battlefield gains that also illustrates the obstacles that Mr. Obama has faced in trying to wind down America’s wars. The additional troops are the latest escalation of the American military role in Iraq by Mr. Obama, who withdrew the last American soldiers from Iraq at the end of 2011...
Group works to save Syria’s ancient sites from destruction (Al Jazeera) A group of scholars, historians and activists have been working to protect and preserve the rich cultural heritage of war-torn Syria. The members of the initiative, a joint effort by people on the ground and an organisation called “The Day After — Heritage Protection initiative (HPI)” have been carrying out the dangerous work in places such as the Ma’ara mosaic museum, in Idlib province’s Maarat al Numan. They use sandbags in a bid to shield Roman and Byzantine era mosaics, some of which are 600-years-old, from bombs and shrapnel...
Ethiopian Jews on life in Israel: ‘It was always my dream to come to Jerusalem’ (The Washington Post) Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s historic trip to East Africa last week was aimed at boosting relations. But his last stop, in Ethiopia, held special meaning for many of the 135,000 Jews of Ethiopian origin who live in Israel today. Netanyahu is the first Israeli leader to visit the East African country. Formal ties were established between the two states in 1992...
Vatican sends official to Cairo, hopes to restart dialogue with Sunnis at university (CNS) The Vatican and Sunni Islam’s leading institution of higher learning have begun looking for ways to restart formal dialogue. Acting on Pope Francis’ expressed desire, the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue was sending a top-level official to Cairo to visit al-Azhar University, the council said in a written press release 12 July...
India aims to plant a record 50 million trees (Vatican Radio) Hundreds of thousands of people in India’s most populous state are jostling for space as they attempt to plant 50 million trees over the next 24 hours in hopes of setting a world record...
Russian Orthodox priest attempts to fly around the world in a balloon (International Business Times) Russian adventurer Fedor Konyukhov is attempting to fly around the world in a hot air ballon in record time. Lifting off from The Northam Aero Club, western Australia on 12 July, the 64-year-old Orthodox priest was given a warm send off by his wife and children, who watched him depart at sunrise. The Aero Club was used by American aviator Steve Fossett on his 4th solo attempt to fly around the world in a balloon. It took Fossett 13 and a half days — a time that Konyukhov hopes to beat...
11 July 2016
Two men from the Franciscan Oriental Seminary in Giza, Egypt, took perpetual vows in February and are scheduled to be ordained priests in August. (photo: CNEWA)
We recently got some encouraging news from Cairo, Egypt, where two seminaries CNEWA is helping support are continuing to produce new priests.
At the Franciscan Oriental Seminary in Giza, two men took perpetual vows in February. Brothers Ashraf (Augustino) Hanna Gayed and Ra’afat (Charbel) Kamel Wehish were also ordained to the diaconate in May, and are scheduled to be ordained to the priesthood next month.
The school boasts a total of 14 seminarians. During the summer break, some of the men will be going on a mission to the north of Sudan, Morocco and Kenya; others will visit the elderly and sick to provide medical and social services. Three of the men will travel to Italy to study Italian and Franciscan spirituality.
Meanwhile, in Ma’adi, at St. Leo the Great Coptic Catholic Seminary, two men were ordained to the priesthood in June.
St. Leo has 32 seminarians in Egypt, and two other men studying in Rome.
During the summer months, the men are being kept busy. Two seminarians are traveling to Poland this month for World Youth Day, and others will be involved in parishes for pastoral work. Two men are headed to Rome to continue their novitiate year.
If you’d like to help CNEWA support these and other seminarians in Egypt, visit this giving page. Please keep these men in your prayers!
11 July 2016
Nuns light candles on 11 July for victims of a suicide car bomb attack at a shopping area
in Baghdad. (photo: CNS/Ahmed Saad, Reuters)
Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Sako, on the Muslim feast of Eid al-Fitr, called for tolerance and forgiveness to fight extremism, hatred and terrorism.
Speaking at a prayer service 7 July in the Karrada section of Baghdad for the victims of the 3 July bombing that killed more than 290 people and wounded 200, the patriarch emphasized that “there is a spiritual, moral, and patriotic side for our prayer.”
“In such a tragedy, we are joining millions of Muslims in praying for the affected families, that God may have mercy on the victims and bless the wounded with a speedy recovery,” Patriarch Sako said.
“We express our shock, sadness and solidarity with Iraqis and strongly condemn these cruel acts that affected innocent people, stole the happiness of preparing to celebrate Eid al-Fitr and converted it to a national mourning,” he said.
The patriarch said terrorism had nothing to do with religion, “but may be linked to political games that allow killing of Muslims, Christians, Mandaeans and Yezidis as ‘infidels,’” the patriarch said.
He added that “everyone should understand that killing innocent people leads to hell rather than to heaven.”
“Our prayers this evening will help us learn lessons from this tragedy and find effective and permanent solutions,” he said. “If the government was coherent and politicians worked as one team, ISIS wouldn’t be able to commit these crimes; tamper with the country’s security and stability, killing thousands of innocent people; displace millions; and destroy the Iraqi national fabric and peaceful co-existence.”
11 July 2016
A man carries an injured girl after an airstrike in Aleppo, Syria, on 8 July. Rebel fighters have launched an assault on some districts of the city. (photo: CNS/Abdalrhman Ismail, Reuters)
Syrian rebels launch attack in Aleppo (BBC) Syrian rebel fighters have launched an assault on government-held districts of Aleppo, after troops cut their only route into the divided northern city. The rebel operation began at dawn on several fronts, with hundreds of shells being fired at western areas. State media said eight people were killed and dozens hurt by the barrage...
Report details life of Syrians under al-Qaeda affiliate (Al Monitor) Amnesty International released on 5 July a groundbreaking account of the “reality of life” for Syrians living in Idlib and Aleppo under the rule of Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s affiliate, and other armed groups, including those backed by US regional allies...
Vatican outlines pope’s upcoming trip to Georgia, Azerbaijan (Associated Press) The Vatican says Pope Francis will meet with Christian, Muslim and Jewish leaders during his 30 September-2 October trip to the former Soviet republics of Georgia and Azerbaijan, adding a strong interreligious dimension to an already politically delicate trip. The Vatican on Monday released the itinerary for the Caucasus trip, which was originally planned as an extension of Francis’ recent visit to Armenia but was split up...
Report: Child labor surging in Iraq (Reuters) More than half a million Iraqi children are estimated to be at work rather than at school as violence and displacement hurt the income of millions of families, according to UNICEF. The number of children currently working, more than 575,000 has doubled since 1990, the year when Iraq attacked Kuwait, setting off a chain of events that led to the 2003 US-led invasion and the sectarian strife that continues to this day...
CNEWA food program keeping girls in Ethiopia’s classrooms (Catholic Register) Most of the more than 10 million Ethiopians now dependent on direct food handouts will survive the country’s worst drought in 60 years, but how they survive will depend on the generosity of Catholics abroad. The Catholic Near East Welfare Association has launched a cash appeal to help feed students at Catholic schools and youth in parish summer programs. The food aid will keep students in school and help secure their futures once the drought is over...
Russian Orthodox monastery may open in Washington, D.C. (Sputnik) The first Russian Orthodox monastery could be opened in the US capital of Washington D.C. or in its vicinity, Metropolitan Jonah, a bishop of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR), told Sputnik. “In the area, not necessarily in D.C.... It will be Russian tradition, of course, you know, the services will also be in English, as well as in [Church] Slavonic... [The monastery] has a very specific outreach [program] to educate people about Orthodoxy and Russian culture and Russian spiritual culture,” Metropolitan Jonah said, answering a question about his plans to establish a monastery in Washington D.C....
American journalist Greg Burke appointed to succeed retiring Vatican spokesman Lombardi (Vatican Radio) The Rev. Federico Lombardi S.J. is stepping down after ten years as Director of the Holy See’s Press Office. Father Lombardi, who also served as Director of Programs and later, Director General of Vatican Radio from 1991 to February 2016, will be replaced by 56 year old American journalist Greg Burke, currently Vice Director of the Vatican Press Office. Father Lombardi, who turns 74 in August, was also Director General of Vatican television (CTV) from November 2005-January 2013...
8 July 2016
Four boys in Lebanon enjoy ka’ak, a sesame-seed-encrusted bread stuffed with spices. To learn more about the history and traditions of bread in Lebanon, check out Food for Thought from the September 2002 edition of our magazine. (photo: Marilyn Raschka)