6 January 2015
Jordanian clerics walk in a procession to the site of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River.
(photo: CNS/Jamal Nasrallah, EPA)
My friend and colleague at The Priest magazine, Msgr. Owen Campion, recently invited me to write about the plight of Christians in the Middle East.
“Besieged! Why save the Middle East’s Christians?” is now available online.
The traumatic events of last summer finally have earned Middle Eastern Christians some attention, if not quite the respect, of the strategic classes inside the Beltway: politicians, candidates, policy wonks and journalists. The headlines are dramatic, betraying a sense of hopelessness: “Beleaguered Christians Make Final Stand,” “The Middle East’s Friendless Christians,” “Christianity in Iraq is Finished.”
“Western countries ought to come together and offer refuge to the tens of thousands [of Christians] who want to leave Iraq,” one observer wrote in The Washington Post in September 2014.
“Yes, this would mean the end of Christianity in this part of the world, where its presence has often served as a bulwark against fanaticism. But it’s over anyway, whatever happens to the Islamic State. It’s time to face that fact and save the Christians themselves.”
But defending — indeed, saving — Christians in the Middle East is not just about saving Christians. It is about saving pluralism, or what remains of it, in the Middle East. It is about building prosperous civil societies. It is about saving the Middle East and civilization, where it first took root.
Read the rest over at “The Priest.”
2 December 2014
CNEWA provides displaced Syrian children with food, clothing and school supplies.
(photo: Mitchell Prothero/Polaris)
Yesterday, we learned the United Nations World Food Program has suspended its voucher program, which feeds more than 1.7 million Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt, because of funding shortfalls.
“For refugees already struggling to survive the harsh winter,” cites a World Food Program statement, “the consequences of halting this assistance will be devastating.”
Syrian refugees living in camps and informal settlements depend on the assistance, as the host countries are overwhelmed by the enormity of need and lack the necessary resources. With winter settling in, the living conditions of the refugees are extremely precarious. Refugees lack proper housing, clothing and health care.
Yesterday, funding partners in Europe — including Kindermissionswerk — awarded CNEWA grants in the amount of $222,972 to assist CNEWA provide Syrian infants and school-age children with milk, diapers, winter clothing and school supplies.
Additional grants from Kindermissionswerk and Misereor, totaling $125,000, were also received for the needs of Iraqi children and medical supplies for CNEWA’s clinic in the Martha Schmouny camp in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan.
On this Giving Tuesday, give to CNEWA. Your gift will make a difference for innocent families devastated by war, power and greed.
17 November 2014
A doctor cares for a baby at CNEWA’s dispensary for refugees in northern Iraq.
CNEWA’s president, Msgr. John E. Kozar, has rushed an additional $382,011 in emergency funds to alleviate the suffering of desperate Iraqi and Syrian refugees in Iraqi Kurdistan, Jordan and Lebanon. In addition, funding partners in Germany have awarded CNEWA an initial grant of $124,522 to assist its work with displaced families in Iraqi Kurdistan.
“The situation for Iraq’s displaced families remains chaotic and fluid,” said CNEWA’s Michel Constantin, who, with colleague Ra’ed Bahou, has just returned from Iraqi Kurdistan. “Yet the coordination among our partners on the ground, led by the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, is excellent,” added Mr. Constantin, who heads CNEWA’s emergency response team from Beirut.
“Priests and people from the Armenian, Assyrian Church of the East, Chaldean and Syriac Catholic and Orthodox churches are enthusiastically working together,” Mr. Bahou added from Amman, Jordan, “and are eager to do more to make a difference. But they need more support.”
Msgr. Kozar has announced these funds will target those most in need served by our local church partners, who with our team have prioritized the needs as follows:
- $178,022 to the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena to provide 1,922 children in 13 displacement centers in Iraqi Kurdistan with milk and diapers for three months as well as winter clothes and shoes
- $95,000 to the Italian Hospital in Amman and the Mother of Mercy clinic in Zerqa to help cover medical costs due to the surge of Iraqi and Syrian refugees
- $62,261 for medicines and stipends for volunteer doctors and other health care providers, also displaced from their homes, serving the sick in Erbil
- $36,150 to help the Good Shepherd Sisters feed and clothe 155 refugee children in Lebanon for a three-month period
- $21,100 to help six parishes in Jordan accommodate Iraqi refugees over a three-month period, securing supplies such as refrigerators, stoves, washing machines, water tanks, solar water heaters and space heaters
- $20,000 to enable these six parishes in Jordan defray added electricity and fuel expenses through the end of the year
- $25,000 to provide these Iraqi refugee families with funds to secure clothes, blankets, mattresses and bedding as well as personal items
- $31,500 to allow 150 refugee families in Jordan to purchase food stuffs through the end of 2014
- $15,000 to the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary for catechism and formation programs, as well as counseling sessions for those suffering withpost-traumatic stress disorders
- $12,000 to provide 260 sickly Armenian Syrians living in Beirutwith medical care over a three-month period
- $10,500 to help the Little Sisters of Nazareth provide basic care to refugees living in the Dbayeh Refugee Camp northeast of Beirut.
Msgr. Kozar noted this latest distribution of funds supplements prior disbursements on behalf of Iraqi displaced families, including $267,500 since August for setting up clinics in the Kurdish cities of Erbil, Dohuk and Zahko; nursing formula and warm clothing for newborns and toddlers; food, mattresses and personal hygienic items for families displaced to Amman; and counseling for those impacted by post traumatic stress disorders. Since January, Msgr. Kozar noted, $598,109 has assisted more than 8,000 displaced Syrian families seeking refuge in Armenia and Lebanon, as well as those hiding in so-called safe zones within Syria.
“Many of the families we spoke to said they have very little rights and no access to public services within Kurdistan,” said Mr. Constantin, noting that as Arab speakers, they “feel they would have more rights and will be easier for them to cope in a strange country like in Jordan or Lebanon, rather than in Kurdistan.”
Returning to their villages seems more and more remote, he added. “Many families and religious sisters informed us that the experience of liberating Tel Eskof village following the air raids of the coalition against ISIS was a real disappointment. A few families decided to return back to that village to find their homes were seriously destroyed by the raids and those houses that escaped destruction were mined by the fanatic militants before their withdrawal.
“It is noteworthy to mention that a week ago a 16-year-old boy died when he tried to enter his house mined in Tel Eskof. This situation has made the return to their homes almost impossible.”
To learn how you can help, please visit this giving page.
10 November 2014
It is no secret: This has been a time of tremendous turmoil for so many in the Middle East.
War this summer in Gaza left thousands dead, an overwhelming majority of them civilians. At the same time, violence exploded in Iraq, as radical Islamic jihadists — from their base in Syria — began their assault of Iraq, targeting Christians and other minorities. Hundreds of thousands of people found themselves literally running for their lives, fleeing to mountain refuges, or to Erbil, Baghdad, Amman and Beirut.
The autumn edition of the magazine brings vividly to life the hardship and the hope of so many who live in the land where Christianity first began.
You’ll meet the men, women and children, priests, sisters and care providers, people whose lives have been turned upside down, and yet still hope even as they cope with a new reality most would call a nightmare. You’ll see how the generosity of good people like you has been deployed; how through CNEWA, aid is reaching those most in need, and making a difference.
Let us know what you think! And spread the word!
10 November 2014
The Monastery of St. Catherine of Alexandria in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula was built by the Byzantine emperor, Justinian I, in the sixth century. The monastery marks where Moses is said to have encountered the Lord in the burning bush and received the tablets of the Law. To read more about this unique holy site — which houses some of the most important treasures of the early church — see ONE’s profile of the Orthodox Church of Mount Sinai.
(photo: Jean-Luc Manaud/Getty Images)
St. Catherine’s Monastery denies the news of an Islamist attack (Fides) St. Catherine’s Monastery, located in the region of Sinai, has denied reports of alleged assaults carried out by Islamist groups, put into circulation in recent days by Christian media and blogs....
The Patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox: may the Churches unify the dates for the Easter celebration (Fides) A new appeal to all Christian Churches so that they celebrate the solemnity of Easter on the same date has been launched by the Coptic Orthodox Patriarch, Tawadros II...
To counter rise of Islamic State, Jordan imposes rules on Muslim clerics (Washington Post) Jordanian authorities have begun a campaign to coax — and, when necessary, pressure — Muslim clerics to preach messages of peaceful Islam from their pulpits. The main targets are Jordan’s more than 5,000 imams, including lay clerics and those on the government dole, who give the traditional sermon that follows Friday prayers...
The video of an Israeli cop shooting Arab citizen that has rocked the country (Washington Post) [T]he grainy black and white tape of police shooting a man in the Galilee early Saturday has lit a fuse in Israel, sparking praise and condemnation, and begging bigger questions about police conduct, allegiance to the state and who, really, is an Israeli and who is not...
The furniture of Christian homes put up for sale in the markets of Mosul (Fides) In the markets of Mosul entire areas are now occupied by the furniture and the tools looted in the houses abandoned by the Christians. The looted goods are put on sale at bargain prices...
30 September 2014
Good Shepherd Sister Micheline speaks to the Syrian students in Bechouat, Lebanon. CNEWA — through its generous benefactors — supports the ongoing work of the Good Shepherd Sisters with Syrian refugees. (photo: Tamara Hadi)
CNEWA’s regional director for Lebanon, Syria and Egypt, Michel Constantin, has just filed a comprehensive report on Syria that highlights this agency’s activities on behalf of Syrian families displaced within Syria and those now living in Lebanon.
“Since May 2012, CNEWA has disbursed U.S. $1,799,767 for more than 24,069 needy displaced Syrian families and 24,234 children,” he reports. “In 2014, CNEWA has thus far disbursed U.S. $553,109 to assist around 6,324 Syrian displaced families inside Syria and Lebanon.” These funds:
- Provided milk and diapers for newborn infants and also for children under 14 years old; this need was identified and prioritized by the Sisters of the Good Shepherd in Homs,Tartous and Damascus, in addition to the Daughters of Charity of Besançon in Damascus. This program reached around 2,525 children in four locations.
Provided daily breakfast and school kits for some 5,000 displaced students in 11 educational centers in the district of Homs, the Valley of Christians and Aleppo in coordination with the Jesuit Fathers in Homs, the Paulist Fathers in the Valley of Christians and the Maronite clergy in Aleppo.
Distributed winter clothing and blankets to some 2,500 displaced families in the area of Damascus, Homs, Tartous and Latakia.
Provided heating fuel for 400 families in Aleppo through coordination with the Society of St. Vincent DePaul in Aleppo.
Distributed food packages for around 1,740 Christian families recently displaced to downtown Aleppo, through coordination with the Marist Fathers in Aleppo and the Maronite Archeparchy of Aleppo.
Offered trauma healing and catechetical activities to around 900 children in 4 parishes (Maamoura, Qusayr, Hamra and Dmeineh) located in Qalamoun, recently recuperated by the government. This program was implemented through coordination with the Good Shepherd Sisters in Homs and the Greek Catholic Bishop Abdo Arbash of Homs.
Supported two Christian Armenian schools in the village of Kessab to repair damages to allow 260 Armenian students to be reenrolled in their schools after the liberation of Kessab from the Islamic militants.
Provided potable water tanks and food ratios to 514 Syrian families in Deir el Ahmar, in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, through coordination with the Good Shepherd Sisters in the Bekaa.
Provided programs offering psychological and spiritual support to mothers and children and 155 families as follows:
155 Assyrian — Syriac Orthodox and other Syriac Christian — families displaced from Syria and settled in the suburbs of Beirut.
350 Armenian Syrian mothers and 105 children settled in Bourj Hammoud and the surrounding areas northeast of Beirut.
Provided educational support to 970 children as follows:
486 school kits to 486 children including school uniforms, sports suits, shoes, stationery and books.
484 Syrian and Lebanese children with summer school and tutorial/remedial classes to strengthen their learning capacities to betterintegrate in Lebanese schools and follow the Lebanese academic curriculum.
“CNEWA’s operational approach relies on partnering with church affiliated groups (parish priests, congregations, patriarchal representatives, bishops, lay societies and others) that are already active and efficient in collecting the necessary data,” he writes, “can implement the program (purchasing, packaging, distribution, etc.), and have the capacity to report back in a timely manner.”
There’s much more here. To help CNEWA continue its good work for displaced Syrian families, click here.
23 September 2014
Tags: Syria Refugees CNEWA War Relief
An independent Catholic family foundation, Raskob, has awarded Catholic Near East Welfare Association an emergency grant to assist the agency in opening two additional medical clinics serving Iraqi Christian refugees in Iraqi Kurdistan. According to CNEWA’s partners on the ground, the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena and the Syriac Catholic Archbishop Boutros Moshe of Mosul, there are pressing health concerns for the 4,530 Iraqi Christian refugee families living temporarily in the cities of Dohuk and Zahko.
With fears of cholera and typhus, volunteer doctors are inoculating children in a makeshift dispensary in Erbil. Thanks to CNEWA’s benefactors, three more suitable clinics will open to serve better the needs of Iraqi Christian refugees. (photo: CNEWA)
The Dominican Sisters will administer the clinics day-to-day, as with CNEWA’s clinic taking shape now in Erbil. The sisters are coordinating their efforts with the Chaldean and Syriac priests responsible for relief efforts in Dohuk and Zahko, respectively.
The clinics will be staffed by volunteer doctors, Christians displaced from the city of Qaraqosh, and will provide quality care for chronic ailments and medical emergencies. Health care in Iraqi Kurdistan is largely private and cost prohibitive for the refugees, who fled their homes with nothing.
The emergency grant will help set up four examination rooms; install two bathrooms; waterproof a tent to serve as a waiting room; and provide medical equipment, such as an ultrasound machine, eye pressure meter, electrocardiograph, birthing and dental chairs, and other tools and equipment.
Members of CNEWA’s team in Beirut, who are making regular visits to Iraqi Kurdistan, are monitoring the implementation of the clinics.
15 September 2014
Tags: Iraq Iraqi Christians Health Care Iraqi Refugees Relief
A cross is carried to the altar during an ecumenical prayer service at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington on 9 September. The service was part of the In Defense of Christians three-day summit about the persecution of Middle Eastern minorities. (photo: CNS/Tyler Orsburn)
Note: The essay below originally appeared at Patheos.com.
The dust has yet to settle from the Ted Cruz debacle at the “summit” of the nascent political action group, In Defense of Christians (IDC). Stones have been hurled from all sides — often with no clear target other than self-defense. “Lord have mercy,” said one clergyman who attended the summit, “everyone seems to use [this] sad event to support their own preconceived conclusions.”
In Sunday’s The New York Times, it was columnist Ross Douthat’s turn. He claims the senator’s performance demonstrates that the “American right no less than the left and center will deserve a share in the fate” of the Middle East’s “increasingly beleaguered Christian communities” that “have suffered from a fatal invisibility in the Western world.” Their plight, “has been particularly invisible in the United States, which as a majority-Christian superpower might have been expected to provide particular support.”
The columnist considers three reasons for this supposed invisibility: the political left; the strategic class; and the right, especially its conservative Christians, whom he identifies as American Catholics and evangelicals.
Long before political strategists forged an alliance among so-called Christian “value voters” — when Catholics were just Catholics, not pawns divided by political lobbyists and strategists to engage in the culture wars — American Catholics provided significant support to their Christian sisters and brothers in the Middle East. Whether as donors to Catholic charities such as the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA), founded in 1926, or as members of chivalric orders such as the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem or the Order of Malta, American Catholics helped to build and sustain the many social service institutions of the churches in the Middle East. These church-run colleges and clinics, schools and child care programs, nursing homes and special needs facilities, halfway houses and substance abuse programs have served not just Christians, but generations of Alawis, Druze, Jews and Shiite and Sunni Muslims.
“Not only have American Catholics helped to build these social service institutions,” said CNEWA’s president, Msgr. John E. Kozar, “they have helped sustain the infrastructures of the churches that remain beacons of peace and stability in the Middle East.”
American Catholic generosity and concern for the other is not rooted in or sustained by a political cause or political ideology. Rather, it has been their Christian faith, which compels them to love their neighbor as themselves. And while that American Catholic generosity is exceptional, it is not isolated. Organizations in Europe and Canada have, since the middle of the 19th century, provided financial resources as well as priests, sisters and brothers at the service of all people in the Middle East.
Despite the enormous challenges affecting the churches of the West — many self-imposed — Catholics of the West have not lost sight of their sisters and brothers in the Middle East, nor have they abandoned the needs of the region’s non-Christians. They have rushed emergency aid to displaced families fleeing the civil war in Syria, the violent implosion of Iraq and the violence in Gaza even as they continue to support the formation of priests and religious sisters and brothers in Egypt, Iraqi Kurdistan and Lebanon.
Now, however, fresh from the political and legal battles waged over issues of religious liberty in the United States, the American “strategic class” has stepped in with its clients — elected politicians. Suddenly, claiming indifference on the part of the West, these Beltway policy wonks, lobbyists and talking heads have rushed to save the Middle East’s Christians from genocidal persecution at the hands of suicidal Muslim extremists. Employing the language framing U.S.-style religious liberty battles to describe the plight of Middle East Christians, they risk politicizing an issue that concerns all people of good will, thus excluding the vast majority of Americans weary of the divisive and bitter partisan battles marking American culture today.
There’s much more. Read the complete essay at Patheos.com.
3 September 2014
Refugees line up at a makeshift dispensary set up in Erbil. (photo: CNEWA)
From Iraq, we received a heart-breaking letter from Sister Maria Hanna, superior general of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, an Iraqi community of women religious with whom we collaborate closely.
“We entered the fourth week of displacement. Yet, there is nothing promising at all,” she writes of the displacement of more than a hundred thousand Christian refugees from their homes in the Nineveh Plain of northern Iraq. The Kurds, she writes, allowed the displaced “to enter their province,” but Sister Maria points out, “the church [had to] take full responsibility of us all.
“Yet, the number of refugees was so large that the Kurdish government had to face the stark reality and open their schools to provide additional shelter for refugees.
“We hear a lot about world governments and organizations sending financial aid to Iraq,” she continues, “but the refugee gets the least — we do not know or understand why.
“People lost almost everything,” she continues. “They cannot even afford to buy milk or formula for their children. What saddens us most is that, only one month ago, these people were the most educated in the country and among those most likely to build a life for themselves and their family, and now they do not have enough money in their pockets to survive the day. Christians became accustomed to investing their money in businesses, shops, fields, buildings, etc., [in order] to build their communities. Leaving their towns meant leaving everything they had been working for all their lives.
“Yet, amidst losing everything, accepting their lost dignity, is the most difficult loss they may experience.
“Some have found shelter in tents, others in schools, still others in church halls and gardens. They wait to be fed, or given food to cook; elderly are not being taken care of properly; children are living in unhealthy conditions; families have lost their privacy; women are exposed in these places; men have no jobs in a culture where a man is expected to support his families.
“Refusing to live without dignity, more and more people think of emigrating. Whoever owns a car or gold, sells them to buy a plane ticket out of the country. Needless to say, the buyers in Kurdistan are taking advantage and do not take into consideration the devastation these refugees face.
“Christians in Iraq are known for their faithfulness and peaceful way of living among others. They do not believe in violence or in war as a way to solve problems. Now, they feel that they are victims because other religions and political parties are dividing the country on the account of the innocent.
“None of us is a political analyst,” Sister Maria says, but “we still wonder why the world cannot petition the United Nations to take serious action toward the Islamic State [as ISIS now calls itself], and save the people from their misery, knowing that the Islamic State is the most dangerous group in the world.
“Is the world deaf and blind? she asks.
Of the despair now settling in among her people, Sister Maria writes that “people are almost convinced the only way out of this crisis is to emigrate and leave the country, if it is even possible. It is certain many have reached their breaking point and despair is setting in. Maybe emigrating is the only way to stop living in such a catastrophic humanitarian crisis.
“People cannot endure this persecution, marginalization, contempt and rejection anymore.
“If there is any other way, besides emigration, please let us know. Otherwise, please help people get out of the country, by seeking asylum, according to the U.N. law.”
In addition to its ongoing support of the churches in Iraq, CNEWA has rushed an initial installment of emergency funds to the sisters for the provision of milk, formula and diapers for children as well as the installation of portable sanitary units in camps in Dohuk and Erbil. CNEWA’s Beirut-based regional director, Michel Constantin, is in Erbil now, leading a team to coordinate better the work of the sisters and various volunteer initiatives of the Chaldean and Syriac churches.
Click here to learn how you can help Iraq’s displaced Christian families.
19 August 2014
The summer edition of CNEWA’s award-winning magazine, ONE, is now online! In this latest edition, we focus on the needs of the marginalized — the new orphans of Armenia and Georgia, refugees in Ethiopia, Untouchable Christians in India — and how the church accompanies them, responding to their basic needs.
Scroll through our virtual print edition, with its glorious images and colorful layouts enhanced with links to web only exclusives and links, including Pope Francis’ homilies and speeches from his recent pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
And finally, take a trip to Jordan with our own Msgr. Kozar, Cardinal Dolan and Bishop Murphy, who spend time with contemporary heroes and witnesses of the church: Middle East Christians.
Tags: CNEWA Armenia Georgia ONE magazine Caring for the Elderly