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Current Issue
Winter, 2016
Volume 42, Number 4
  
24 January 2017
Greg Kandra




Iraqi soldiers inspect the debris on 22 January at St. George’s Monastery (Mar Gurguis), an historic Chaldean Catholic church on the northern outskirts of Mosul, which was destroyed by ISIS in 2015. The U.N. is racing to prepare emergency aid ahead of the battle for western Mosul.
(photo: AFP/Ahmad Al-Rubaye/Getty Images)


At Syria talks, a pledge to safeguard truce (AP) Syria talks in Kazakhstan between the Damascus government and rebel factions have concluded with Russia, Turkey and Iran striking a deal on a three-way mechanism to consolidate the country’s nearly month-old cease-fire...

U.N. ‘racing’ to prepare emergency aid ahead of battle for western Mosul (Reuters) The United Nations said on Tuesday it is “racing against the clock” to prepare emergency aid for hundreds of thousands of endangered civilians in Mosul with an Iraqi army offensive looming to oust Islamic State from the western half of the city. Iraqi officials said on Monday government forces had taken complete control of eastern Mosul, 100 days after the start of their U.S.-backed campaign to retake Iraq’s second largest city from IS insurgents who seized it in 2014...

‘Gaza infrastructure nearing collapse’ (The Jerusalem Post) Gaza’s infrastructure is on the verge of collapse, the Israeli NGO Gisha said in a detailed report it issued on Tuesday, which painted a bleak picture of the lack of basic utilities in the Hamas-controlled Strip. It described how Gaza’s 1.8 million residents lack regular supplies of electricity, drinking water and adequate telecommunication services...

Turkey’s beleaguered Christians aim to stay resilient (National Catholic Reporter) “People are naturally afraid, so many are staying away from the churches,” Bishop Ruben Tierrablanca Gonzalez, apostolic vicar of Istanbul, told NCR. “But Christians and Muslims are united against this violence, and the police who’ve been guarding our churches are kind and considerate. Though no one knows what will happen, we’re talking together and sharing our concerns...”

Communist Kerala leader warns church on commercialization of schools (UCANews) The southern Indian Kerala state chief minister and communist leader has lambasted some private schools for corrupt practices and warned that the church, which has worked extensively in education, not to fall prey to the commercial education lobby. Pinarayi Vijayan spoke at the diamond jubilee of church-run Devagiri St. Joseph’s College in Kozhikode district on 17 January. He lauded the Christian service in education but warned that it is fast becoming a for-profit enterprise...

Pope tells media to reject prejudice, leave space for hope (CNS) At a time when the media seem to feed a “vicious cycle of anxiety” and a “spiral of fear,” Christians should respond with honest stories that identify problems and evil, but also inspire real solutions, Pope Francis said...



23 January 2017
Greg Kandra




Government officials take part in the first session of Syria peace talks in Astana, Kazakhstan on 23 January 2017. (photo: Aliia Raimbekova/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Syria’s warring sides kick off talks in Astana (Al Jazeera) A delegation of Syrian rebels attending a new round of talks in Kazakhstan’s capital will not hold direct talks with representatives of the government, according to opposition sources. The meetings in Astana, organised by Russia and Turkey, are aimed at strengthening a shaky ceasefire that has largely held despite incidents of violence across Syria...

U.S.-backed forces brace for ISIS’ last stand in Iraq (CBS News) CBS News correspondent Charlie D’Agata reports that in some neighborhoods of eastern Mosul, there is a sense that things are returning to normal. Iraqi forces have managed to liberate the eastern half of the city right up to the Tigris River, which divides it roughly in half...

U.N.: Syrian child refugees struggle to get an education (Reuters) Syrian refugee children in Lebanon are struggling to get an education and many are being pushed into work or early marriage instead, the United Nations children’s agency UNICEF said on Monday. Around 187,000 youngsters — roughly half the school-age Syrian children in the country — are not going to classes, the agency said, as it launched a documentary on their situation...

Pope Francis calls for continued prayer for Christian Unity (Vatican Radio) Following the Angelus on Sunday, Pope Francis noted that we are currently in the midst of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which has for its theme this year “Reconciliation — The Love of Christ Compels Us...”

Russian Orthodox phone goes on sale for $25,000 (RT) Why would you pay $25k for a phone that isn’t even a smartphone? Well, why wouldn’t you, if it was covered in gold leaf, had 18-carat gold buttons, and most importantly, had an Orthodox cross engraved on it? Moscow-based mobile phone company Gresso created 988 (the year Christianity was adopted in Russia) of the phones, ranging from $6,300 to $25,000, depending on how blinged-out the model is. There is a version with diamond encrusted buttons, for example...



Tags: Syria Pope Francis Russian Orthodox ISIS

20 January 2017
Greg Kandra




In this image from last May, people visit the ancient historical site of Syria’s ravaged Palmyra following its recapture by regime forces from ISIS. Syria’s antiquities chief said today that ISIS militants have destroyed part of the ancient theater in the city and ruined other parts of the historic site. (photo: AFP/Louai Beshara/Getty Images)

Syria confirms ISIS has destroyed ancient ruins in Palmyra (BBC) Militants from ISIS have destroyed part of the Roman Theater in the ancient city of Palmyra. Syria’s antiquities chief said the tetrapylon — a group of four pillared structures which were mainly modern replicas — has also been ruined. The jihadists recaptured the UNESCO-listed archaeological site in December from government troops...

‘I went to Aleppo to study; I left in a convoy of refugees’ (The New York Times) One summer day I joined a group of young women in an upscale neighborhood of western Aleppo. We walked through a market carrying banners critical of the regime. A few minutes later, pro-Assad militiamen arrived in several cars and began circling us. We ran. A girl and I who sought refuge in a house in an alley were arrested...

Russian Orthodox believers take icy plunge on Epiphany (Reuters) Hundreds of thousands of Russian Orthodox believers took a plunge into sub-zero waters across Europe on Thursday to wash off their sins as part of Epiphany feast day celebrations. The annual 19 January commemoration of the baptism of Jesus Christ in the Jordan River saw more than 150,000 people dip into several ice holes across Moscow, Tass news agency said...

Lebanon prime minister calls for billions in foreign aid to help refugees (Reuters) Lebanon’s prime minister called on Thursday for “adequate and substantial” foreign investments worth nearly $10 billion to address the Syrian refugee crisis and upgrade the country’s crumbling infrastructure. At least 1 million people fleeing neighboring Syria’s war have poured into Lebanon since the conflict began in 2011, making up a quarter of the small country’s population and seriously straining its public services...

Priest from Diocese of Orange to head USCCB ecumenical office (CNS) The Rev. Alfred Baca, a priest of the Diocese of Orange, California, has been named the new executive director of the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs. Father Baca, pastor of St. Columban Parish in Garden Grove, California, since 2015, will assume his new post 1 July...



Tags: Syria Ecumenism Russian Orthodox ISIS

19 January 2017
Greg Kandra




Members of the Saint Elias Cathedral committee inspect the damage inside east Aleppo’s crumbling church, in the Old City, on 21 December 2016. The apostolic nuncio in Syria will be visiting Aleppo this week. (photo: Youssef Karwashan/AFP/Getty Images)

Cardinal to visit Aleppo (Fides) Cardinal Mario Zenari, Apostolic Nuncio in Syria, is expected to arrive in Aleppo in the early afternoon today, Thursday, 19 January, for a visit full of commitments and meetings that will continue until next Monday...

Syria’s Assad hopes for ‘reconciliation’ (Reuters) Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said he believed peace talks in Kazakhstan would lead to local “reconciliation” deals with rebels, a sign of his confidence in a process launched by his Russian allies after the opposition’s defeat in Aleppo...

Will Gaza’s electricity crisis escalate tension? (Al Monitor) The fear barrier surrounding the Hamas regime has broken. For the first time, thousands of demonstrators took to the streets 12 January over the electricity crisis in the Gaza Strip. The protesters were not afraid of Hamas’ security forces and were willing to confront them. Ever since Hamas took control over the Gaza Strip in a military coup almost a decade ago, many residents in the Strip have suffered from extreme poverty. As far as many of them are concerned, they no longer have anything to lose...

Young people engage in ecumenism in Toronto (Catholic Register) Younger generations, who have not seen a time before the ecumenism movement, are taking up the torch with great enthusiasm. One more indication of that is this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, where the Student Christian Movement (SCM) joins the Archdiocese of Toronto’s celebrations for the first time...

Ethiopians celebrate Epiphany (Andolu Agency) Tens of thousands of Ethiopian Christians gather in open spaces and around fountains Thursday in celebration of the Epiphany to commemorate the baptism of Jesus Christ...



Tags: Syria Ethiopia Gaza Strip/West Bank

18 January 2017
Greg Kandra




Bishop Declan Lang of Clifton, England, right, shakes hands with Palestinian Christian Daoud Nassar at the Tent of Nations 16 January in the West Bank, near Bethlehem.
(photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)


Pope: We look with hope to unity (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis said on Wednesday that Christian Unity and reconciliation are possible. He was speaking during his weekly General Audience in the Paul the VI hall where he also continued his catechesis on Christian hope...

In Holy Land visit, bishops encourage peaceful resistance to Israeli settlements (CNS) Thirteen bishops from North America and Europe visited the Tent of Nations as part of the Holy Land Coordination, which meets every January to focus on prayer, pilgrimage and solidarity with the Christian communities in the Holy Land. When the bishops arrived at the farm 16 January, they were greed by brothers Daoud and Daher Nasser. Embroiled in a legal battle to protect their property from confiscation by the Israeli government for 25 years, the Nasser family has made their farm — the last Palestinian controlled hilltop in the area — a symbol of nonviolent resistance...

Iraq military says it’s gained ‘full control’ of eastern Mosul (AP) U.S.-backed Iraqi government troops announced Wednesday they were in “full control” of eastern Mosul, after routing Islamic State militants from that part of the northern city almost exactly three months since the major operation started. The achievement was a “big victory,” said Iraqi Army Lt. Gen. Talib Shaghati, who commands the counter-terrorism forces, describing the success of the Iraqi forces as “unprecedented...”

Inside rebel-held Syria, where children beg to die (CNN) A massive white Islamic flag signals our entry into rebel-held northern Syria on a cold, cloudy winter day. The road is dotted with signs: “Smoking is a sin,” and “Look only at what Allah wants you to see” — this second one urging people not to leer at women or watch Hollywood movies. As we make our way through the hills of Idlib province, west of Aleppo, our driver Abdullah (not his real name) tells us jets have just bombed Maarrat Misreen, a 15 or 20-minute drive away. “They say there is a ceasefire,” he sighs. “Maybe in Aleppo. But there is still bombing in other parts of the country...”

Catholic youth meet in India to promote leadership (Vatican Radio) National Youth Convention of Catholic youth leaders is being held from 18-22 January at St Joseph’s Engineering College, Mangaluru, India. Bishop Henry D’Souza of Bellary, chairman of Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) Youth Council, said the convention will focus on promoting leadership among the youth...



Tags: Syria Iraq India Israel ISIS

17 January 2017
Greg Kandra




In the video above, a Christian Syrian refugee who has fled to Lebanon says faith has sustained many refugees. (video: Rome Reports)

Pope appeals for special care for migrant children (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis appealed for better treatment of child-migrants on Sunday. Speaking to pilgrims and tourists gathered in St. Peter’s Square to pray the Angelus with him, the Holy Father renewed his call for prayerful and concrete solidarity with minors forced to flee their homelands — especially for the children and adolescents forced to flee on their own, without the company of parents or older relatives...

Pope Francis meets with Palestinian president (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis met Saturday morning with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas at the Vatican...

U.N.: nearly 150,000 people displaced in Iraq since mid-October (AP) Iraqi forces have captured the site of the Mosque of the Prophet Younis after driving Islamic State group militants from a new neighborhood in eastern Mosul, a spokesman said on Tuesday. The progress comes as the U.N. warned that nearly 150,000 people have been displaced since the Mosul operation started in mid-October. The mosque was among dozens of historical and heritage sites destroyed by IS militants after their June 2014 onslaught...

Europe’s Catholic, Orthodox leaders say they will stand against terrorism (CNS) Catholic and Orthodox leaders have pledged to stand together against fundamentalism and terrorism, as well as resisting forces working to erode and destroy religious belief in Europe. “Terrorist violence against people considered unbelievers or infidels is the extreme degree of religious intolerance — we unreservedly condemn it and deplore that such acts have developed in the soil of a misguided religious culture,” the church representatives said in a joint message on 13 January...

U.S. increases airdrops to forces battling ISIS in Syria (USA Today) The U.S. Air Force is increasing airdrops of weapons, ammunition and other equipment to a growing number of opposition forces closing in on Raqqa, the Islamic State’s de facto capital in Syria. “Our expanded precision airdrop capability is helping ground forces take the offensive to (the Islamic State) and efforts to retake Raqqa,” said Gen. Carlton Everhart, commander of the Air Mobility Command, which is headquartered here. The Air Force conducted 16 airdrop missions in Syria last year, including six in December...

Deputy cites Armenian genocide in Turkish parliament (Fides) The Armenian deputy of the Turkish Parliament Garo Paylan, representative of the Peoples Democratic Party on 13 January was suspended for three parliamentary sessions after referring to the Armenian Genocide, during the plenary debate on the subject of the new Turkish Constitution...

Russian Orthodox Church will help restore Syrian shrines (Interfax) Head of the Synodal Department for External Church Relations Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk has assured the Russian Orthodox Church will help restore destroyed churches in Syria. “Certainly, we will take part in restoring churches, but first of all, we should restore peace in the country. It is difficult to get down to restoration, when the power in the territory is changing hands every now and then,” he said at his meeting with Moscow State Linguistic University students on Tuesday in Moscow...



Tags: Syria Iraq Lebanon Turkey Russian Orthodox

13 January 2017
Greg Kandra




Palestinian men and children warm up in front of a fire on 30 December at the Khan Younis camp in the Gaza Strip. Crippling power cuts have reduced Gazans to having electricity only three or four hours a day, which prompted a massive protest yesterday.
(photo: CNS/Mohammed Saber, EPA)


Syria says Israel attacked military airport (NPR) The Syrian government says Israel has attacked a military airport west of Damascus, and warns of “repercussions” without promising any specific retaliation. The Syrian state news agency SANA reports that rockets fired by the Israeli air force caused a fire at the al-Mezzeh airport just after midnight local time on Friday morning. The report did not identify if there were any casualties...

With electricity in short supply, 10,000 protest in Gaza (The New York Times) The nearly two million residents of Gaza have been suffering through a cold winter of crippling power cuts, receiving electricity for only three or four hours a day. The popular anger over the cuts erupted on Thursday in a large protest. In a rare display of defiance against the Hamas authorities who control the Palestinian territory, about 10,000 people took to the streets in the Jabaliya refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip...

Iraqi forces clash at Mosul University (BBC) Iraqi forces have met heavy resistance after launching an attack to recapture Mosul University from so-called Islamic State (ISIS), military officials say. Elite troops entered the compound on Friday in an attempt to secure the area in the last major IS stronghold in Iraq...

Irish men help rebuild in Lebanon refugee camp (The Irish Times) On the bustling streets of the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp in northern Lebanon, locals are drawn to an Irish man fielding impromptu questions. One person asks when she can move into a new apartment; another wants to shake hands and say hello; another asks about building extensions to their homes. All of them know that Waterford native John Whyte can get things done...

What to expect when the pope meets with president of Palestine (CAN) Pope Francis’ private audience with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas on 14 January will be a delicate diplomatic moment for the Holy See...



Tags: Syria Iraq Lebanon Gaza Strip/West Bank Palestine

12 January 2017
Greg Kandra




In this image from December, Syrian pro-government forces walk in the ancient Umayyad mosque in the old city of Aleppo. There are growing concerns that ancient antiquities such as this are in serious danger of being lost forever in the wake of the country’s civil war.
(photo: George Ourfalian/AFP/Getty Images)


Aleppo’s heritage sites ‘in danger’ (Al Jazeera) Urgent action is needed to protect damaged buildings in the Old City of Aleppo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, according to Syrian antiquities officials. “What happened in Aleppo is a disaster,” Maamoun Abdulkarim, Syria’s Director General of Antiquities and Museums (DGAM) told Al Jazeera in a telephone interview from Damascus this week...

Loss and fear linger in Mosul (Reuters) The trauma accumulated over 2-1/2 years of the jihadists’ repressive rule also often pours out unprompted — loved ones brutally murdered, homes looted and destroyed, livelihoods decimated, dreams extinguished. Some people are unafraid to air their grievances or finger their transgressors, but others are more cautious, fearful that Islamic State supporters remain at large and are watching...

Gazans living with four hours of power a day (Reuters) For weeks, Gazans have been making do with less than half their usual electricity supply — barely a few hours a day — with no sign of the shortages alleviating anytime soon, fuelling distress and frustration among the population. Normally, Gaza’s power alternates on eight-hour cycles, with generators providing electricity to those that can afford it in the down times. But since late last year, there have been only three or four hours of electricity a day in total...

Sex-selective abortions rising in Armenia (Fides) In Armenia, a country strongly characterized by the link with its cultural and spiritual traditions, there is the third highest global rate of selective abortions motivated by sex of the unborn, and data show a drastic increase of the phenomenon over time following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, which was also part of the Caucasian Republic...

Plans underway to revive ‘Way of the Holy Family’ in Egypt (Fides) The revival of the “Way of the Holy Family,” an itinerary to make pilgrimages to the places that, according to ancient local traditions, were crossed by the Holy Family during their exile in Egypt, continues to be the focus of initiatives, proposals and lively debate involving politicians and Egyptian tourism operators...

‘Tear down this wall’: Ecumenical week focuses on overcoming division (CNS) When a group of German Christians was asked in 2014 to prepare materials for the 2017 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, their choice of a “wall” as a symbol of sin, evil and division explicitly referred to the Berlin Wall. The German reflections on the power of prayer to bring down walls and the Gospel call to reconciliation were adopted by the World Council of Church’s Faith and Order Commission and the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and proposed to Christians worldwide for the 18-25 January octave of prayer...



11 January 2017
Greg Kandra




In this image from 8 January, a member of Free Syrian Army plays with a dog as the FSA members advance to al-Bab district of Aleppo during the ‘Operation Euphrates Shield’ in Syria.
(photo: Huseyin Nasir/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)


Lebanese president, a Maronite Christian, mends fences with Saudi Arabia (Fides) The President of Lebanon, Michel Aoun, a Maronite Christian, began his first trip in the Arabian Peninsula with the intent of mending relations with Saudi Arabia. On Tuesday 10 January, the meeting which took place in Ryiad between President Aoun and Saudi King Salman, according to many analysts, could open a new page in the relations between the two countries, contributing to the stabilization of the Middle Eastern area...

Report: Assad dropped 13,000 barrel bombs on Syria (The Independent) A UK-based Syrian war watchdog has published data tallying the number of violent incidents targeting civilians carried out by all parties in the bloody conflict for last year. The report from the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) found that Syrian regime helicopters dropped 12,958 barrel bombs in 2016 in total. The strikes resulted in the deaths of 653 civilians, SNHR found, including 166 children and 86 women. Most were dropped on rebel-held suburbs of Damascus, followed by Aleppo, Hama, Idlib, Daraa and Homs...

Commander: Mosul could be liberated in three months (AP) A top Iraqi commander told The Associated Press that the operation to retake the city of Mosul from the Islamic State group could be complete in three months or less. “It’s possible” that Mosul will be liberated in in that time frame, Lt. Gen. Talib Shaghati said in an interview with the AP on Tuesday evening. However, he warned it is difficult to give an accurate estimate of how long the operation will take because it is not a conventional fight...

Catholic-Muslim dialogue opens to support Islamic American communities (CNS) An emerging Catholic dialogue with Muslims aims to show public support for Islamic American communities. The dialogue stems from concerns expressed by U.S. bishops in the wake of “a serious uptick in violence against American Muslims ... to make sure that they are sensitive to what is going on in the (Muslim) communities,” said Anthony Cirelli, associate director of the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops...

Study: Christians in India increasingly under attack (The Guardian) The persecution of Christians in India has risen over the past year, pushing it up a league table of countries where the practice of the faith is a high-risk activity, according to a monitoring organization. The world’s second most populous country has risen to No 15 on the 2017 World Watch List, up from 31 four years ago. The list, compiled by Open Doors, is headed by North Korea for the 16th year in a row...

Vatican migration office announces first media campaign (Vatican Radio) The Migration and Refugee Section of the new Dicastery for the Promotion of Integral Human Development has announced it is launching its first media campaign. Although the Dicastery is run by Cardinal Peter Turkson — who had been serving as President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace — the Migration and Refugee Section is being led for the time being by Pope Francis himself, to show his particular concern during the ongoing refugee crisis...



Tags: Syria Iraq India Muslim ISIS

10 January 2017
Greg Kandra




A displaced Iraqi girl who fled the violence in the ISIS stronghold of Mosul holds a balloon at the Khazer refugee camp for displaced people near Erbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq. Iraqi forces have renewed their effort to seize Mosul.
(photo: Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP/Getty Images)


Civilian toll mounts in Mosul (Reuters) Iraqi forces pushed Islamic State fighters back further in Mosul on Tuesday in a renewed effort to seize the northern city and deal a decisive blow to the militant group, though progress was slower in some districts, the army said...

Health workers stretched thin in Syria (Al Jazeera) Health workers in a besieged rebel-held suburb of Damascus have said daily attacks by Syrian troops are stretching them to the limit, and many fear the fall of Aleppo has emboldened the government of President Bashar al-Assad to step up its offensive...

Lebanon’s new president visits Saudi Arabia (AP) Lebanon’s newly elected president met Tuesday with the Saudi king during his first visit to the kingdom, a meeting that could melt the ice between the two countries after relations became strained over divisions on Iran and the Shiite militant group Hezbollah...

Israelis to build another wall along Gaza border (Middle East Monitor) Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman has approved a budget of NIS3.34 billion ($870 million) to build a wall along the border with the Gaza Strip, Ynet News reported on Monday. The project is said to be one of the biggest and most expensive ever undertaken...

Indian archbishop denounces acquittal of nun’s alleged rapists (Vatican Radio) The acquittal of the alleged rapists of a Catholic nun in India’s Chhattisgarh state “is a grave injustice, not only for our consecrated, but also for all women who have suffered a similar trauma,” said Cardinal Oswald Gracias, Archbishop of Mumbai...



Tags: Iraq India Lebanon Gaza Strip/West Bank ISIS





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