Current Issue
September, 2019
Volume 45, Number 3
10 July 2017
CNEWA staff

These Iraqis in a refugee camp in Erbil are among the many thousands who have been displaced in recent years. A new interactive report by CNEWA gives what amounts to a definitive snapshot of Christianity in the region. (photo: John E. Kozar)

The migration of Christians in the Middle East over the last several years — owing to the war in Syria, the rise of ISIS, and ongoing political upheaval in the region — has had a profound impact on the region. The cultures and countries that are the very cradle of Christianity are seeing the faith disbursed and displaced. But hard and reliable statistics on this movement of peoples have been elusive — until now.

Drawing on diverse statistics and resources, CNEWA has compiled what amounts to a definitive snapshot of Christianity in the region today.

It is available as a multimedia presentation at this link.

We encourage you to visit the site and see for yourself how recent events have affected parts of CNEWA’s world — and, indeed, will continue to affect all of us who care about our brothers and sisters in the Middle East.

10 July 2017
Greg Kandra

Shilpa Joy provides physical therapy to youth at the Home of Peace. (photo: Don Duncan)

The current edition of ONE features an inspiring glimpse into the lives of young Indian men and women who experienced the profound positive impact of Catholic institutions. One of them is Shilpa Joy:

Shilpa Joy’s job as a therapist requires her to deal with many people every day, something she would never have imagined when she arrived at the sisters’ doorstep, a child escaping a violent home plagued by alcoholism.

“At the children’s home, I learned to adapt, live and work with many different kinds of personalities. I came to understand other people and see how the many other children are. Living with these different types of people helped me to get out of my childhood introversion,” she says.

Recently, Ms. Joy started a new job at the Home of Peace — a center dedicated to children with disabilities, run by the Daughters of Our Lady of Mercy — a stone’s throw away from her home with the Sisters of the Sacred Heart. Indeed, the sisters have welcomed her to live with them once more, temporarily, as she searches for an apartment.

At work in the Home of Peace, Ms. Joy makes use of all her professional skills, providing physical and speech therapy. She also has to adapt constantly to the very specific and sometimes acute needs of the children at the home.

In the home’s physical therapy room, a sort of gym adapted to special needs, one boy works on his balance by sitting on a large ball. Another boy, who wears a prosthetic lower leg, practices walking on the treadmill. At a nearby table, Ms. Joy performs stretches and exercises with another boy who suffers from cerebral palsy.

“Now, I can cope with all kinds of personalities or with difficult people or situations. I have learned, at the children’s home, how to cope with such things.”

After work, she goes back to her accommodations with the sisters. There, she serves as a sort of role model and counselor to the children in the home. She helps the girls with their homework and she urges them to strive for great things.

“I try to share my own experience with them,” the young woman says. “It is a way of trying to motivate them to go further, to study further and to have a happy, fulfilled life.”

Read more about The Secret of Their Success in the June 2017 edition of ONE.

10 July 2017
Greg Kandra

In the video above, Iraqi forces are seen declaring victory over ISIS in Mosul.
(video: ABC News/YouTube)

Iraq’s prime minister arrives in Mosul, declares victory over ISIS (The New York Times) Dressed in a military uniform, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi arrived here in Mosul on Sunday to congratulate Iraq’s armed forces for wresting the city from the Islamic State. The victory marked the formal end of a bloody campaign that lasted nearly nine months, left much of Iraq’s second-largest city in ruins, killed thousands of people and displaced nearly a million more...

The continued suffering of civilians in Mosul (Vatican Radio) Iraqi forces slowly advanced Monday to retake the last patch of ground in Mosul where Islamic State militants are holding on to a tiny sliver of the Old City. The operation comes a day after the prime minister visited the soldiers to congratulate troops on the hard-fought battle...

Turkey says for now it will not expropriate Christian churches around Mardin (Fides) Turkey declares that it has not yet implemented any measure to expropriate 50 Christian churches and monasteries scattered around Mardin, in the Turkish southwestern Tur Abdin region, to transfer its full control to Diyanet, the Turkish Presidency of Religious Affairs, a body directly linked to the Prime Minister...

A 700-year-old Christian tradition thrives in Jerusalem (CNA) In the Old City of Jerusalem it’s hard to escape the ancient history that’s still alive within its walls. A simple smartphone search can send you on a walk to a centuries-old shop, bring you to the steps of a millennium-old Church, or lead you past the 3,000 year-old Temple Mount — all bursting with people and energy. But it's only within the stone walls of Razzouk Ink that the modern pilgrim can have that history etched onto his or her body for the rest of their lives...

7 July 2017
Greg Kandra

Some Christian families, such as the one shown above, have moved back to their home village of Tel Eskof, Iraq. (photo: John E. Kozar/CNEWA)

In the current edition of ONE, CNEWA president Msgr. John E. Kozar reflects on the uncertain future facing Iraqi Christians:

More than 130,000 Christians in the Nineveh Plain of Iraq fled to what amounted to a “foreign” land in neighboring Iraqi Kurdistan. They became refugees in settlement camps. What has happened to those who settled in these camps and what does the future hold for the displaced?

Having visited Kurdistan recently, I have seen firsthand some of the liberated towns and cities previously held by ISIS. I can personally attest to the devastation of some towns and villages, the desecration of holy places and objects, the total theft of or destruction of all personal property. But the basic structures remain. However, I want to share with you an ongoing dilemma confronting Christians and other displaced people. It is the emotion-filled question: Should I return to my “liberated” town, village or city?

Read more and see more images here.

7 July 2017
Greg Kandra

The video above shows civilians still trapped in Mosul, as the battle against ISIS there rages on in its final days. (video: AFP/YouTube)

No escape from Mosul, and an unlikely chance of surrender (The New York Times) More than eight months after the Iraqi forces, supported by American airstrikes and advisers, began to wrest Mosul back from the Islamic State extremists, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi appears to be poised to announce that the forces have finally retaken all of Iraq’s second-largest city. In Mosul, that victory appears to be tantalizingly close, but not quite at hand...

Stories patients told me in Mosul (The New York Times) There are unknown thousands of residents still trapped in Mosul. People who have managed to escape describe a dire situation. They say that Islamic State fighters, surrounded by the Iraqi forces, have been holding the population hostage and use them as human shields. Civilians have few options. Escape and risk the Islamic State snipers’ bullets, or stay and risk being accidentally hit by shells or mortars from the Iraqi forces...

Maronite bishops express concerns over private weapons (Fides) The proliferation of private weapons among civilians worries the Maronite bishops who call upon the Lebanese authorities to counteract it with effective measures. The Maronite bishops expressed their concerns about the spread of individual weapons among the civilians during their monthly meeting, held on Wednesday, 5 July, in the patriarchal seat in Berkeley...

Egypt’s Copts have no plans to arm youth groups (Al Monitor) Despite a recent news report, the Coptic Church of Egypt has no intention of arming or training its parishioners to fight, according to Bishop Anba Makarios, the top Coptic Orthodox cleric in Minya governorate...

Prime Minister Modi gives Netanyahu replicas of relics from Kerala (The Hindu) Prime Minister Karendra Modi on Tuesday gifted his Israeli counterpart, Benjamin Netanyahu, with replicas of two sets of relics from Kerala, regarded as key artifacts of the long Jewish history in India...

Legendary photographer visits isolated Christian community in Ethiopia (Smithsonian) A sacred encounter, reminiscent of the biblical scene in which Jesus washes the feet of his disciples, was a highlight of the extraordinary journey that led Sebastião Salgado to create the pictures on these pages. They commemorate a people’s profound connection to both the heavens and the earth...

6 July 2017
Greg Kandra

Father Elias Ibrahim serves Syrian families at the Table of St. John the Merciful in Lebanon.
(photo: Raed Rafei)

The current edition of ONE offers this glimpse at life among Syrian refugees struggling to make a new life in Lebanon:

Even though many Syrian families say they feel generally welcome in Zahleh, local communities routinely express their exasperation with refugees. The stagnant economic situation, the protracted refugee crisis and grudges stemming from the Lebanese civil war — during which Syrian troops laid siege to Zahleh for three months — exacerbate tensions between the two communities.

“We encourage reconciliation initiatives to ease the tension between the Lebanese and the Syrians,” says Michel Constantin, regional director for CNEWA, which provides assistance to refugees and those in need from the host communities through the local churches.

One of these initiatives is a soup kitchen called the Table of St. John the Merciful, named after the seventh-century patriarch of Alexandria famed for never turning away a supplicant. Founded by the church a year ago, this program offers hot meals from Monday to Friday to nearly 350 refugees, as well as poor Lebanese citizens. People from around the city volunteer to staff the kitchen, which receives food from a large number of restaurants, bakeries and more prosperous local families.

On a recent Sunday, the Table received Syrian refugee families after the Divine Liturgy, offering chicken, meat, rice and salad as well as pizza for the children. Those at the gathering enjoyed music, dancing and even, for those of age, a bit of their favorite beverage. Such small comforts mean much to people in need, whether exiled from home or not — bringing a measure of cheer and a much-needed reprieve from their many worries.

“The aim is not only to serve food but to create lasting bonds and harmony among the people here,” said the Rev. Elias Ibrahim, a priest of the cathedral parish. Father Ibrahim oversees the operations of the center and serves also as a spiritual counselor for refugees.

Read more in the current edition of the magazine — and check out the exclusive video on refugees in Lebanon below.

6 July 2017
Greg Kandra

In this photo from 2016, Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill reads a payer during the Christmas service at Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow. Russia’s Orthodox church has just reported a sharp rise in seminary admissions, with a record number now training for the priesthood.
(photo: CNS/Sergei Chirikov, EPA)

Iraqi Prime Minister: ‘We managed to liberate Mosul’ (Reuters) Iraq’s prime minister on Tuesday congratulated his fighters on “the big victory in Mosul” — even as fighting with Islamic State of Iraq and Syria(ISIS) militants continued in Mosul’s Old City neighborhood where Iraqi forces are about 250 meters from the Tigris River and facing increasingly fierce resistance. Haider al-Abadi spoke during a press conference in Baghdad, less than a week after he declared an end to ISIS’ self-styled caliphate after Iraqi forces achieved an incremental win by retaking the landmark al-Nuri Mosque in the Old City. “Praise be to God, we managed to liberate (Mosul) and proved the others were wrong, the people of Mosul supported and stood with our security forces against terrorism,” al-Abadi said...

Russian Orthodox church sees sharp rise in vocations (The Tablet) Russia’s Orthodox church has reported a sharp rise in seminary admissions, with the highest numbers ever recorded now training for the priesthood in its 261 eparchies, or dioceses. The Interfax news agency said 1593 ordinands were expected to begin studies this summer, a 19 percent increase from 2016, while a further 827 young men would also join the church’s preparatory course, or propaedeuticum, a quarter more than last year. It added that a total of 5877 seminarians were now preparing for ordination, a figure comparable to that of Poland’s Catholic Church in its peak years 1985-7...

Catholic and Reformed Churches mark ecumenical milestone (Vatican Radio) Another “milestone” in ecumenical relations takes place in the German town of Wittenberg on Wednesday, as the World Communion of Reformed Churches signs up to the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification...

Indian archbishop warns about harassing Christians (Crux) Hindu nationalists are using “the conversion bogey” to harass Christians and other religious minorities in India. Archbishop Thomas Menamparampil, SDB, Archbishop emeritus of Guwahati, spoke to Crux about the situation of Christians in the country on the Feast of St. Thomas the Apostle, who is believed to have brought the Gospel to India, and to have been martyred near modern day Chennai. Thomas is the patron saint of the country, and the 3 July celebration is a solemnity in India...

UNESCO: no changes to alter the status of Jerusalem holy sites (Fides) The old city of Jerusalem and its historic walls remain in the list of world heritage sites to be considered “in danger.” And all the “facts” and the legislative or administrative measures put in place by Israel that have altered or claimed to alter the character and status of the Holy City should be considered null and void and revoked. This is how the resolution on the status of the Old Town of Jerusalem was voted on Wednesday 5 July by participants at the 41st session of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, gathered in Krakow...

5 July 2017
Greg Kandra

Students take notes at Our Lady’s Catholic School in Dubbo, Ethiopia. Read how Ethiopia’s Catholic schools are the Head of the Class, setting the standard for the next generation, in the June 2017 edition of ONE. (photo: Petterik Wiggers)

5 July 2017
Simon Caldwell, Catholic News Service

Farid Georges, a Syriac Christian from Homs, Syria, poses for a photo in England on 23 June. His artwork depicting Syria’s six-year war is being shown in Catholic cathedrals of northwest England and Wales. (CNS photo/Simon Caldwell)

A huge plume of grey smoke billows into a vivid blue sky as rooftops and buildings buckle into twisted iron and debris and then begin to fall. Beneath the smoke, human wreckage of the blast is visible: faces of victims contorted in pain and others dead, lying in pools of their own blood.

The painting is called “The Explosion” and is one of 11 works inspired by the Syrian war being shown in the Catholic cathedrals of northwest England and Wales in an exhibition called “Portraits of Faith: Syria’s Christians Search for Peace.”

They are the creations of Farid Georges, a Syriac Christian from Homs, Syria, who has depicted the six-year war in his native country in about two dozen paintings.

In a late-June interview with Catholic News Service in Lancaster, Georges, 70, a professional artist, recalled how in 2013 he personally witnessed the explosion that he would later capture in oil on canvas.

“This was particularly painful to paint,” he said.

“I saw the smoke rising and knew there was an explosion, and when I eventually went to the scene I was confronted with the scale of the damage, the destruction, and the sheer number of casualties, people who had perished of all different ages,” Georges said.

He added that to this day he does not know the source of the attack.

“I don’t care to know,” he said, adding: “This sort of thing shouldn’t happen anywhere.”

Homs was a city on the front line of the war and, as fighting engulfed residential areas, Georges and his family stopped sleeping in the bedrooms because they were exposed to gunfire and shell blast, choosing instead to spend their nights downstairs in the sitting rooms. Eventually, they fled into the countryside and spent a year there before finally leaving Syria for the safety of other countries.

Georges said he knew “many, many people” who died in Homs. They included Father Frans van der Lugt, 75, a Dutch Jesuit shot in the head in 2014 by assassins after he refused to abandon the poor and homeless of the city.

Georges painted a montage of 16 images in tribute to Father van der Lugt, and it now hangs in his home in Nuremberg, Germany, where he has lived since 2015. The painting forms part of the English exhibition arranged by Aid to the Church in Need, an international charity set up to help persecuted Christians.

Georges said he was “very shocked and saddened” by the priest’s murder.

“I knew him very well, we had a very close relationship,” he said.

“He has quite a legacy in Homs,” said Georges. “He treated all the people of Homs as equals. Even if they were Muslims, they were all his children. His monastery at Homs had Muslims and Christians in it all the time. He would give them refuge there and feed them.”

A painting by Farid Georges, a Syriac Christian from Homs, Syria, now living in England, shows his country at peace before it descends into war. His artwork is being shown in Catholic cathedrals of northwest England and Wales. (photo: CNS/Simon Caldwell)

The paintings in the exhibition were created between 2012 and 2014 and, together, they work like a narrative.

An early one, called the “Flower of Homs,” shows the Syrian city at peace before the violence, for instance. As the paintings progress to the horror of the war, the images darken, and dismembered bodies fill the canvas as people and their dwellings are destroyed.

“Forgiveness in Ma’aloula,” one of the later paintings in the exhibition, points beyond the war to the hope of Syrian Christians for final peace and reconciliation.

It depicts an enormous figure of Christ standing astride two hills representing the ancient Syrian village where Aramaic, the language of Jesus, was still spoken. The hills form faces staring at each other.

Georges said: “It (Ma’aloula) was invaded, the people were displaced, the churches were destroyed. To me, the people who did that do not represent Islam, because Muslims have lived there together with Christians for a very long time.”

The paintings in the exhibition were created between 2012 and 2014 and, together, they work like a narrative.

“I wish and hope that it will return to the diverse mosaic of peaceful coexistence that we have,” he said. “We have more than 20 sects of different confession in Syria. We have always lived in peace and coexistence.

“All we need is for us to be left to our own devices,” he added.

5 July 2017
Greg Kandra

The Vatican’s nuncio to Lebanon, Archbishop Gabriele Caccia, greets religious leaders during an interfaith conference at Notre Dame University Louaize in Zouk Mosbeh, Lebanon, on 1 July.
(photo: CNS/courtesy Mychel Akl, Maronite Catholic Patriarchate)

Agencies worry about refugees in limbo (CNS) Agencies and organizations that help refugees start new lives in the U.S. worry about the fate that awaits migrants in transit as well as those who will not be allowed into the country as the partial ban that the U.S. Supreme Court set in motion with its late June ruling goes into effect in early July...

Christian, Muslims leaders point to Lebanon as a model of coexistence (CNS) Top Christian and Muslim leaders and Lebanese government representatives agreed that Lebanon should be highlighted as an example of peaceful coexistence, noting that “the deepening of democracy in Lebanon sends a message of hope to the Arabs and to the world.” They also reiterated calls for peace and various churches’ support for “the Palestinian people and their national rights” and for Christians to remain in the Holy Land...

After backing Trump, Christians who fled Iraq fall into his dragnet (The New York Times) A few Sundays ago, federal immigration agents walked through the doors of handsome houses here in the Detroit suburbs, brushing past tearful children, stunned wives and statuettes of the Virgin Mary in search of men whose time was up. If the Trump administration prevails, more than 100 of these men may soon be deported, like the tens of thousands of other people rounded up this year as part of a national clampdown on illegal immigration. But the arrests may have stunned this community more than most...

Can jobs in Ethiopia keep Eritrean refugees out of Europe? (BBC) Many thousands of Eritreans have fled the country for Europe in search for a better life. A multinational initiative is now trying to stem the flow of migrants to Europe by training refugees and giving them jobs in neighboring Ethiopia...

India’s West Bengal state tops trafficking in children, women (Vatican Radio) There were 35,000 cases of child trafficking and 1,25,750 cases of women trafficking reported in India in 2016-17, with West Bengal state topping in both categories, a senior official of the National Anti-Trafficking Committee (NATC) has said...

Regardless of your religion, it’s worth making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem (The Sunday Times) Jerusalem is my high school history teacher, a teller of captivating stories that makes history real today. In a single morning, I heard a nun sing the Lord’s prayer in Aramaic, which was the language of Jesus; I visited a Russian Orthodox church; and then I watched children celebrate the 2500-year-old Jewish holiday of Purim on an ancient Roman road...

Pilgrimage to Ethiopia’s 12th century churches (Al Jazeera) The 11 medieval churches hewn from solid, volcanic rock in the heart of Ethiopia were built on the orders of King Lalibela in the 12th century. Lalibela set out to construct a “New Jerusalem” in Africa after Muslims conquests halted Christian pilgrimages to the Holy Land. Legend has it that the design and layout of the churches mimic those observed by the king in Jerusalem, which he had visited as a youth. Many place names across the town are also said to originate from the king’s memories of the Biblical city...

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