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Current Issue
Winter, 2013
Volume 39, Number 4
imageofweek From the Archive
In this 1996 image, children attend a festival in New York celebrating Greek heritage. (photo: Karen Lagerquist)
  
22 August 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro




In this photo from May, a boy displaced by fighting in Syria attends a class in the governorate of Idlib, Syria. (photo: CNS/Muzaffar Salman, Reuters)

Issam Bishara, CNEWA’s regional director for Lebanon, Syria and Egypt, has compiled a brief report on the state of displaced Syrian Christians — both inside Syria and abroad. An excerpt:

In a communication sent to Agenzia Fides, the Syriac Orthodox Church claimed that over 90 percent of the Christians of Homs have been expelled by militant Islamists of the Farouq Brigades, who went door to door confiscating homes and forcing Christians to flee without their belongings. Jesuit sources in Homs say most Christians left on their own initiative to escape the conflict between government forces and insurgents. In either case, the Christian population of Homs has dropped from a pre-conflict total of 160,000 to about 1,000.

Though most of the news is tragic, it is important to recall Pope Francis’ urging: “Do not let yourselves be robbed of hope!” As Mr. Bishara details, there is still cause for hope, as even now people are giving witness to Christ’s love and helping those people experiencing desperate need. For instance:

  • 4,800 displaced Christian families in the area of western Homs and Wadi al Nasara (“Valley of Christians”) have received food and other essentials — hygiene products, winter kits, etc. — in addition to school supplies for around 1,480 students

  • 350 displaced Christian families in Al Hassake were provided food packages

  • 1,000 families isolated in the war zones have been fed

To read the rest, click here. To find out how you can help, follow this link.

To read a Syrian Jesuit’s firsthand account of the great efforts underway to help those affected by the war — especially children — read the Rev. Ziad Hilal’s Letter from Syria, appearing in the Summer 2013 issue of ONE.



Tags: Syrian Civil War Refugees Violence against Christians Relief
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1 May 2013
Greg Kandra




Despite the war, the Trappist sisters have chosen to stay in Syria at the monastery they established. (photo: Monastery of Valserena)

An Italian news site this week takes a look at a group of Trappist nuns that has established a monastery in Syria. Despite the violence and war around them, they are determined to stay:

We are simply here, open and available, according to our Rule. We will have to see what happens. In the present state of things one cannot make predictions, but it is our intent to stay close to the population and they are grateful for the fact that we have not moved.

Visit Il Sussidiario for the full interview.

Last fall, AsiaNews profiled the sisters and saw them as a “sign of hope” for Syria:

Amid the chaos of the Syrian civil war, when the main noise has been the sound of bombs going off and the screams of those they wounded, there are still some places where the prevailing hatred is held at bay. One of them is a Trappist monastery in the small Maronite village of Azeir, located in western Syria between the cities of Tartous and Homs. Five Italian nuns from the Monastery of Valserena (in Pisa) call it home. Despite the fighting raging around them, they chose to stay in the country. “Despite our Italian nationality,” said Sister Monica, superior of the Mother House, “and the resources we might have because of it, we are part of this community and cannot leave at a time of trial. Its fate is our fate.”

In letters written over the past few months and posted on the monastery’s website, the nuns describe the tragedies of the war and the suffering endured by the residents of the villages that surround them.

For the sisters, the monastery is a tangible sign of hope. “A place where God is worshiped in his real presence, both Eucharistic and Ecclesial, through prayers and brotherly communion, is a blessing for all.”

However, “our neighbours are discouraged,” said one of the letters posted. “Even in our small village, civilians and young conscripts have been killed.”

“The country,” wrote another, “has become a battleground for adversaries that are bigger than Syria, people who came to fight in this land and this people to settle their own conflicts.”

In each post, the Trappist nuns call on all Christians to pray for the Syrian population that welcomed them.

Click here for the rest of the story.



Tags: Syria Sisters Monastery Monasticism Trappist
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12 March 2013
Bradley H. Kerr




This image from last fall shows the burned interior of Kevork Church is seen after clashes between Free Syrian Army fighters and forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al Assad in Aleppo. (photo: CNS/George Ourfalian, Reuters)

Since Syria fell into civil war, more than 900,000 Syrians have fled their homeland and two million more are displaced inside Syria. Christians have been hit especially hard. Cities like Homs, once the heart of the Christian community, are now all but empty of the faithful. Moreover, Christian refugees in neighboring Lebanon are reluctant to reach out for aid from the United Nations and the Red Crescent, out of fear for their safety.

Recently, the New York Times took readers into the heart of the crisis:

Quietly but inexorably, a human tide has crept into Lebanon, Syria’s smallest and most vulnerable neighbor.

As Syrians fleeing civil war pour over the border, the village priest here, Elian Nasrallah, trudges through muddy fields to deliver blankets. His family runs a medical clinic for refugees. When Christian villagers fret about the flood of Sunni Muslims, he replies that welcoming them is “the real Christianity.”

But the priest and his parishioners cannot keep up. The United Nations counts more than 305,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon, but local officials and aid workers say the actual number is about 400,000, saturating this country of four million.

The Lebanese government — by design — has largely left them to fend for themselves. Deeply divided over Syria, haunted by memories of an explosive refugee crisis a generation ago, it has mostly ignored the problem, dumping it on overwhelmed communities like Qaa.

So far, Lebanon’s delicate balance has persevered, but there is a growing sense of emergency.

Read further for more details. The picture it paints is harrowing.

We at CNEWA are working with our partners in the Eastern Catholic churches to ensure Syria’s Christians do not fall through the cracks.

This is how:

Coordinating Church Aid

Churches in Syria and Lebanon are already ministering to the needs of displaced Christians. But the Christian community is fractured and does not have a history of working together. The only institution known and trusted by all sides is CNEWA. Perhaps our greatest contribution to the relief effort has been to coordinate the initiatives with our church partners. Working together works.

Feeding Displaced Families

Inside Syria, we are helping our partner churches to feed 3,000 of the most vulnerable Christian families who are in their care. Some of these families live in especially violent areas and are too frightened to leave home; others are simply too poor to afford the cost of food. The families are receiving emergency food packages with enough to feed five people for a month.

Medicine for Refugees

With our help, the Good Shepherd Sisters in Lebanon are providing 800 Iraqi refugees with medicine for chronic health problems. They include families like Walid H., his wife and three children, all of whom have become asthmatic since moving into a moldy, one-room slum apartment. This family is receiving inhalers and other necessary medications, thanks to the sisters and CNEWA.

Helping Families Adjust

No one knows how long the refugees will be in Lebanon, but they are not going home any time soon. Working with Armenian Catholic and Armenian Orthodox church leaders, we are helping children from 450 families to adjust to Lebanon’s education system — a real challenge, as many schools only teach in French. We are also providing women with vocational training so they can find jobs.

Sheltering the Homeless

Lebanon has many parishes, congregations of religious and other Christian institutions. Right now, we are helping to survey church-owned real estate in order to identify vacancies where refugee families can live in stability and dignity.

You can be a part of our effort to bring help and hope to the suffering people of Syria. Visit our Syria emergency donor page to learn how your gift can make a difference!



Tags: Lebanon Syria Syrian Civil War Refugees Refugee Camps
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5 December 2012
Bradley H. Kerr




Syrian children are seen at the Turkish border fence as members of the Free Syrian Army and the Kurdish Democratic Union Party exchange gunfire in northern Syria. (photo: CNS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh, Reuters)

Vatican Radio today reported on the deepening crisis in Syria, with special attention devoted to the suffering children. The report noted that more than 200,000 children are at risk from cold and disease. Charities are calling for urgent funding — and that includes CNEWA.

We started sending aid to Syria when the crisis developed last spring. Our first focus was Christian children and families who were cast out of the city of Homs. But as more Christians flee from other cities, we are enlarging the scope of our concern. As of the last report I’ve seen, we’ve helped to provide emergency aid to 1,851 families and an additional 2,514 babies and children.

I’m especially pleased we’ve started to give away Winter Survival Kits — enough warm clothes and heating oil to protect a family from the winter cold. So far, 350 vulnerable Christian families have gratefully received these kits.

And that is only the start. We aim to help at least 2,000 families before the worst of winter is here. But we’ll need $210 to help each family before it’s too late. Please check out our special page devoted to the crisis in Syria to learn how you can help.



Tags: Syria Syrian Civil War Children Refugees Relief
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20 September 2012
J.D. Conor Mauro




Concerned about what the future may hold without the protection afforded by the al-Assad regime, many Syrian Christians view the ongoing upheaval with trepidation. CNN reports:



Tags: Syria Syrian Civil War Middle East Christians Violence against Christians
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19 September 2012
J.D. Conor Mauro




Last weekend, Pope Benedict XVI delivered his apostolic exhortation, entitled “Ecclesia in Medio Oriente,” in Lebanon. This long and detailed document, a summary of which can be found at the Vatican news site, lays out the hopes, concerns and general attitude of the Catholic Church on the church in the Middle East.

A week before this, however, the secretary of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue gave a terse, compact speech discussing many of the same key points, focusing specifically on what lies ahead for Syria:

In his speech, [Colombian priest] Father Miguel Ángel Ayuso Guixot — an expert on Islam and the Middle East, who headed the Pontifical Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies for a number of years before being called to the Curia in the early summer - summarises the Vatican’s five priorities for Syria: “an immediate end to violence from whatever part; dialogue towards reconciliation as the necessary path to respond to the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people; preserve the unity of the Syrian people regardless of ethnicity and religious affiliation; an appeal from the Holy See to the international community to dedicate itself to a process of peace in Syria and the entire region for the benefit and well-being of all humanity.” ...

Father Guixot underlines that by avoiding “partisan politics,” the Christian community does not show “cowardice” but “courage”: a “bridge” between different communities. This statement is also an implicit call to Christian leaders to try to ensure that the Church does not take sides.

In his speech, the number two man of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue recognizes the legitimacy of the government in Damascus, unlike Western chancelleries, but stresses that the “aspirations” of the Syrian people are “legitimate” and should not be ignored or crushed as if they were “foreign forces,” as many Christian leaders are doing. It is important to note that the international community’s call for continued efforts towards peace does mention the possibility of some form of armed conflict. ...

According to the Vatican, human rights, particularly religious freedom, can only benefit from democratic regimes taking root in the country and “Christians in the Arab world, alongside their fellow Muslim citizens, are ready to play their part as citizens who together strive to build societies that respect the human rights of all citizens.”

The first elections that took place following the “spring” in Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt have led to the victory of Islamic parties which “have adopted the language of pragmatism and moderation.” In response to these results, the Holy See has emphasized the need to cultivate a “culture of democracy” that can prevent this development from “descending into a negative form of “majoritarianism.”

But Guixot also understands the reasons behind the scepticism expressed by many moderate Muslim leaders towards western democratic systems, associated with “atheist” and “non Islamic” values they see coming from the West and underlines the importance of documents produced by Egyptian university Al-Azhar – the most respected centre of Sunni Islamic learning. These documents support the building of democratic systems, human rights and freedom of worship within the context of Islamic tradition. The Holy See upholds this, against groups like the Salafi movement, which uses “religion as a tool to create discord among the various components of the nation.”

Read the whole piece at Vatican Insider.



Tags: Syria Syrian Civil War Vatican Arab Spring/Awakening
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12 September 2012
Bradley H. Kerr




According to the U.N., 100,000 refugees fled Syria in August for havens in neighboring nations, such as the Za’atri refugee camp in the Jordanian city of Mafraq, pictured above.
(photo: CNS/Majed Jaber, Reuters)


Bradley H. Kerr serves as promotional copywriter in CNEWA's New York office.

Today’s New York Times gives a heartbreaking report on the refugee crisis in and around Syria:

With less than a week before the start of the Syrian school year, classes have been scrapped indefinitely for tens of thousands of children, because their schools have either been destroyed or been sequestered as squatters’ quarters for displaced families, the officials said. In the province of Homs, so many doctors have fled that only three surgeons remained to serve a population of two million, the officials said, and laws to protect civilians during wartime were being ignored by both government soldiers and insurgents.

The United Nations refugee agency in Geneva said the number of people fleeing Syria had increased almost exponentially, from 18,500 in June to 35,000 in July to 102,000 in August. Roughly 2,000 Syrians were crossing daily into Jordan alone, trying to evade air and artillery attacks on towns near the southern border, said Adrian Edwards, a spokesman for the refugee agency.

The exodus has pushed the number of Syrian refugees to more than a quarter of a million, Mr. Edwards said.

There are more details in The New York Times.

CNEWA is working hard to provide lifesaving aid — such as food, medicine and heating oil — to Syrian refugees. If you want to contribute to the effort, please give here.



Tags: Syria CNEWA Syrian Civil War Refugees
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30 August 2012
Erin Edwards




Young Syrian refugees walk through a camp in Anbar province west of Baghdad, Iraq, 19 August.
(photo: CNS/Ali al-Mashhadani, Reuters)


While violence and urest escalate in their homeland, many Syrians are seeking refuge in neighboring countries. Recently the Catholic News Service reported on the plight of women and children fleeing the violence in Syria:

“Families are trying desperately to stay together,” but not always succeeding, [Caroline] Brennan added. Sometimes, men “stay home trying to protect their land, or they’re fighting — or worse, they’ve been kidnapped. The women are left to lead the family. They think: What is happening to the people they love in this world?“

But she also told of a Syrian husband and father named Faizad.

“He came across the border, but his wife and (most of their) children weren’t allowed to make it. But then he has a son he has to care for. He (the son) cries at night, he misses his mom,” Brennan said. Workers can tell from the boy’s drawings that he has seen “people with guns killing innocent people,” she added.

“This is a humanitarian crisis at its heart,” she said.

There are “huge social needs of the people, especially children and mothers,” said Vivian Manneh, a 20-year CRS veteran currently serving as a regional program manager for the Middle East. “Kids are starting to think, ‘What is going to happen to us? Where are we going to be?’ There are lots of psychosocial needs, lots of basic needs such as food, clothing, shelter.”

For more, read Syrian Refugees Flood Neighboring Countries.



Tags: Syria Middle East Refugees Iraq War
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26 July 2012
Erin Edwards




Syrian refugees walk outside tents at a refugee camp in the Turkish border town of Boynuegin on 24 March. (photo: CNS/Osman Orsal, Reuters)

The violence in Syria escalates by the day and more and more Syrians are seeking refuge in neighboring countries, such as Turkey. Though Turkey has continued sheltering thousands of Syrians who have fled the conflict, officials are concerned that any increase in refugees will put a significant strain on their efforts:

In the Syria crisis, Ankara has hinted it might act to head off any vast influx of refugees, but has not spelled out what it would do, beyond seeking U.N. Security Council approval or at least support from its NATO allies for any such intervention.

Turkey toughened its military rules of engagement on the frontier after Syria shot down a Turkish jet in disputed circumstances last month, but has not retaliated directly.

“A buffer zone, humanitarian corridors, a safe haven are all vague concepts which will require international resolutions,” said one Turkish official, who asked not to be named.

“Definitely an aggression from Syria might be a turning point, or a massive influx of refugees,” he said. “The other scenario is the total collapse of the regime in Syria. We will reconsider our measures along the borders and protect them.”

For the moment, Turkish leaders seem wary, but more focused on coping better with the refugees they already host.

For more from this story, read Syria Conflict: Turkey Refugee Camps Struggle To Cope With 44,000 Syrians. If you would like to contribute to our Syria emergency fund, please visit our website.



Tags: Syria Refugees Turkey Refugee Camps
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17 July 2012
Erin Edwards




Archbishop Swerios Malki Murad of the Syriac Orthodox Church in the Holy Land.
(photo: John E. Kozar)


In supporting Eastern churches, their leaders and their faithful, CNEWA’s network of friends and benefactors enables more good to be done. Today, we have in our thoughts and prayers The Syriac Orthodox Church, which has roots in Syria, a country still very much in turmoil.

Just today, one prominent Catholic leader in Damascus renewed his pleas for peace in the region:

“In Damascus, the last three days have been very difficult” as the fighting moved to the city, Archbishop Mario Zenari, the [Vatican] nuncio, told Catholic News Service in a telephone interview from the capital July 17.

“The situation compared to a month ago clearly is more tense,” he said.

“The situation of the Christian community is the same as the situation for all Syrians. The Christians are not targeted, but they are under the same bombing and shelling the others face,” the archbishop said.

An uprising against President Bashar Assad’s government began in March 2011. Thousands of civilians have died in the fighting since then, and hundreds of thousands have been displaced. The U.N. refugee agency said July 17 that the number of Syrians seeking refuge outside the country has risen sharply in the past three months, with some 112,000 Syrian refugees now registered in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.

Archbishop Zenari said, “The international community must speak with one voice; otherwise the parties involved in the conflict won’t listen.” The nuncio said he was not lobbying for any specific international intervention, but “too much time has already passed. There are many ways to reach a consensus.”

Some Christian leaders in Syria have questioned the pro-democracy efforts to oust Assad, pointing out how religious liberty and the Christian communities have been protected under his leadership.

“The future is difficult to foresee,” the archbishop said. “Until now, there has been a good level of freedom of religion in Syria and good relations between Christians and Muslims. It could be difficult if that changed.”

We are still hard at work ensuring that Syrians who have fled the chaos are cared for. Learn more about our emergency Syria fund on our website.



Tags: Syria Middle East Christians Middle East Syriac Orthodox Church Church
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