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Spring, 2014
Volume 40, Number 1
imageofweek From the Archive
In this 1996 image, children attend a festival in New York celebrating Greek heritage. (photo: Karen Lagerquist)
  
23 April 2014
J.D. Conor Mauro




As Pope Francis’ newly appointed second secretary, Msgr. Yoannis Lahzi Gaid will assist with such tasks as translating and answering personal correspondences in the pope’s name. (video: Rome Reports)

Pope Francis names Coptic priest second personal secretary (National Catholic Register) Msgr. Yoannis Lahzi Gaid, a priest of the Coptic Patriarchate of Alexandria, has been made second personal secretary to Pope Francis. The position is among the pope’s closest collaborators, and this marks the first time that an Eastern Catholic priest has been appointed to the position…

Statement on the anniversary of the Syrian bishops’ abduction (Assembly of Orthodox Bishops of North and Central America) “We … express our grave concern over the escalation of unrest and ongoing violence in countries throughout the Middle East, especially in Egypt, Iraq and Syria. … One year ago, on 22 April 2013, Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Boulos Yazigi and Syriac Orthodox Archbishop Yohanna Ibrahim, were kidnapped by Islamist extremists during a joint philanthropic mission in the region. … For the safety of Metropolitan Paul and Archbishop John and for their return to their communities, let us pray to the Lord…”

More rockets hit Bekaa Valley towns (Daily Star Lebanon) Rockets from Syria hit two Bekaa Valley villages early Wednesday shortly after a Syrian warplane raided the outskirts of a border town known for its support for Syrian opposition fighters. A Lebanese army statement said a Syrian jet fired three rockets into the barren terrain surrounding Arsal shortly before midnight. Less than 20 minutes later, three rockets fired from the mountains targeted the Bekaa towns of Labweh and Nabi Othman, the statement added…

Palestinian factions announce deal on unity government (New York Times) The two main Palestinian factions announced an agreement on Wednesday to heal a seven-year schism and form a unity government within five weeks that would prepare for Palestinian elections six months later. The two groups — the Palestine Liberation Organization, which runs the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, and Hamas, the militant Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip — have reached similar accords before that were never carried out…

Tilt towards military unbalances Egypt’s ultra-conservative Salafists (Christian Science Monitor) When Egyptian military leader Abdel Fattah al Sisi made a televised address last July to announce the overthrow of President Muhammad Morsi, he was flanked by a coterie of the country’s most powerful religious figures. To his right sat the pope of the Coptic Church and the grand sheikh of Al Azhar, Sunni Islam’s highest seat of learning. Neither was a surprise to Egyptians. Less expected was the third religious leader: Galal el Morra, a prominent member of Egypt’s Salafist movement, which espouses a puritanical vision of Islam. This appearance may have been the high tide mark for the Salafists, who have been fractured and dislocated by the post-Morsi political shakedown…



Tags: Lebanon Refugees Pope Francis Palestine Coptic Catholic Church
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22 April 2014
J.D. Conor Mauro




In this 14 January photo, Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II receives Egypt’s minister of Irrigation and Water Resources to discuss the Ethiopian dam project and its impact on the relationship between the two nations. (photo: Coptic Orthodox Church)

Coptic pope advises Ethiopian patriarch to postpone visit (Daily Sabah) Patriarch Abune Mathias of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church has indefinitely postponed a visit he was scheduled to pay to Cairo on Friday upon a request from the Coptic Orthodox Church, a source with the Egyptian church said Monday. According to the source, who asked not to be named, Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II had advised his Ethiopian counterpart to postpone the visit due to concerns stemming from the dispute over Ethiopia’s controversial multibillion-dollar hydroelectric dam on the Nile River…

Aleppo’s children struggle to stay in school (Al Monitor) An unofficial survey conducted by a group of activists from civil society organizations in Aleppo determined that half of the schools in the city and surrounding countryside were badly damaged or destroyed. The damage has come mostly from Syrian regime shelling against armed opposition groups that used some schools close to military front lines as headquarters…

Syria: Rebels resist in Homs, Christians commemorate abductions (Vatican Radio) Syrian rebels are making their last desperate stand in the city of Homs, as government forces loyal to President Bashar al Assad make their strongest push yet to dislodge them from their positions in the city that was an early and important hub of unrest…

Maronite patriarch calls on international community to end war (SANA) Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter of Antioch and All the East reiterated his call on international community “to stop the terrorist war in Syria.” In a speech after the Divine Liturgy in Bkerke, the patriarch said: “Its time for U.N. to shoulder its responsibility…”

Fight brews between Israeli settlers and army (Al Jazeera) In two weeks, the residents of the settlement of Yitzhar, known as one of the West Bank’s most ideological and uncompromising, will vote on whether it’s acceptable to fight the army that is assigned to protect them. Perched on a hill outside of the Palestinian city of Nablus, this small town of about 1,100 people has developed an oversized reputation. In 2011, it earned the distinction of carrying out more attacks on Palestinians than any other settlement in the occupied West Bank — one out of every six incidents documented by the United Nations that year involved a resident of Yitzhar…

In Iraq, gangs seize homes of fleeing Christians (AINA) Gangs in Baghdad are seizing homes left vacant by Christian families who have been forced to flee from sectarian violence, according to Barnabas Aid. Iraq’s Christians are most at risk of having their homes seized as they lack the tribal affiliations that protect their Arab Muslim neighbors…



Tags: Egypt Syrian Civil War Violence against Christians Iraq Israeli-Palestinian conflict
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17 April 2014
J.D. Conor Mauro




Terrorism expands from Sinai to Cairo (Al Monitor) The violence in Egypt has taken a marked geographical shift in recent months from the remote areas of the Sinai Peninsula and the Suez Canal to the metropolises of Cairo and the Nile Delta. Analysts have two divergent opinions to explain this shift. Some analysts believe that the move by armed extremists toward the capital did not happen voluntarily and was not a planned strategy, but rather a shift enforced on these groups due to security measures and army operations in the Sinai Peninsula. The second opinion argues this was a premeditated step taken by armed groups, to extend the war against the post-Muslim Brotherhood regime…

Ukrainian security forces kill three pro-Russian protesters (New York Times) Ukrainian security forces killed three pro-Russian protesters, wounded 13 and took 63 captive in a firefight overnight in the eastern city of Mariupol, the interim Ukrainian interior minister said on Thursday. The clash was the most lethal so far in the east of the country…

Ukrainian civilians take up arms (Der Spiegel) It remains unclear what Russia might have in store for eastern Ukraine, but nationalist groups are preparing for the worst. In terms of their numbers, right-wing groups were only a minority during the Maidan protests, but they formed the backbone of the revolt against the Yanukovych government…

Syrian war takes heavy toll at a crossroad of cultures (New York Times) At the first-century Temple of Bel, one of the best-preserved buildings in the ancient city of Palmyra, a prominent column bears a new scar. A mortar shell left a telltale splash mark on the stone, without budging a structure that has stood for 2,000 years. Elsewhere, two other columns have collapsed, officials said, and bullets have pockmarked walls. But compared with the wholesale destruction that was feared, the damage, for now, is minimal. Yet the war has left deeper, less obvious wounds. Illegal digging, long a problem at the many sprawling archaeological sites in Syria, has accelerated during three years of conflict. Grave robbers, some crude, others professional, have stolen numerous objects from Palmyra’s tombs, museum officials say, sometimes sawing funeral friezes in two to make them easier to carry…

Report: Journalist killings in Syria likely to go unpunished (Al Jazeera) A spike in targeted murders of journalists in Syria landed the war-shattered country for the first time on the Committee to Protect Journalists’ annual Impunity Index, joining a list of countries where journalist killings are most likely to go unpunished, the international watchdog said Wednesday. More than 60 journalists have been killed by crossfire in the past three years, according to C.P.J. At least 61 were kidnapped in Syria in 2013, most by rebel forces, it said. Some of the journalists have since escaped or been released…



Tags: Egypt Syria Cultural Identity Ukraine Russia
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16 April 2014
J.D. Conor Mauro




Police officers stand guard at the entrance to the new Azraq Syrian refugee camp, which is under construction east of Amman, Jordan, 25 March. Azraq Refugee Camp will open on 30 April, according to a U.N. official. (photo: CNS/Muhammad Hamed, Reuters)

Syria refugees face growing challenges in Jordan urban areas (Daily Star Lebanon) Syrian refugees in urban areas of Jordan are struggling to cope with inadequate housing, high debts, rising costs and educational challenges for their children, a global relief agency said Wednesday. CARE International said a household assessment of more than 2,200 Syrian refugees showed 90 percent of them were living in debt to relatives, landlords, shopkeepers and neighbors. Jordan is home to more than 500,000 Syrian refugees…

Syria fighting leaves Maaloula, a historic Christian town, in ruins (Los Angeles Times) On Tuesday, Syrian forces were targeting the remnants of a rebel force in this historic town, long a center of Christian worship and pilgrimage. Though most insurgents had long fled, a determined few remained well concealed in buildings and within the rubble, moving through tunnels and blasted-out passages. But they faced overwhelming force. Russian-made tanks pounded their positions while automatic-weapons fire rained down on them. Snipers posted on the bare hillsides trained their rifles on remaining rebel redoubts…

Palestinians wounded in clashes with Israeli police at al Aqsa mosque (The Guardian) Dozens of Palestinians were wounded in clashes with Israeli police that erupted when the al Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem was opened to Jewish visitors. A police spokesman, Micky Rosenfeld, told AFP that Palestinians threw stones and firecrackers at police when they opened the walled compound’s gates on Wednesday…

All eyes on Russia as Ukraine begins offensive in East (Der Spiegel) Russia has repeatedly denied that it is mobilizing its forces on the Ukrainian border and dismissed satellite photos released by NATO last week — designed to prove the contrary — as being out of date. On Tuesday, Moscow said claims that some Russian troops were in eastern Ukraine were “absurd.” Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said he hopes that Kiev has “enough brains” to prevent a further escalation…

United against Moscow (The Tablet) The Easter season will be an uncertain one for the embattled people of Ukraine, but what is sure is that it will not herald improved relations between the region’s churches. Since Moscow’s creeping occupation of Crimea began in late February, the Russian Orthodox Church has echoed the line of President Vladimir Putin with an obsequiousness recalling the worst days of Soviet rule. Its stance has provoked resentment among local Catholics and forced Orthodox Ukrainians to make hard choices between spiritual and national loyalties. Recent efforts by Catholic leaders in Europe to cooperate with Russian Orthodoxy can hardly be sustained when such sharp differences emerge over freedom…



Tags: Syria Refugees Ukraine Refugee Camps Palestinians
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15 April 2014
J.D. Conor Mauro




Debris chokes a badly damaged church in the Monastery of Mar Sarkis in Maaloula after the Syrian government reclaimed it from rebel fighters on 14 April. (photo: CNS/Khaled al Hariri, Reuters)

Syrian army seizes ancient Christian town near Lebanon border (Reuters) Syrian soldiers backed by Hezbollah fighters recaptured the town of Maaloula, north of Damascus, on Monday, military sources and state television said, further squeezing rebels’ supply routes through the Qalamoun mountains into Lebanon. Islamist fighters, some from the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front, had taken over part of the ancient Christian town in December and held several nuns captive until releasing them in March in a prisoner-exchange deal. Government forces have recaptured several rebel-held areas and border towns in recent months, closing off supply routes from Lebanon and securing the main highway leading north from Damascus toward central Syria, Homs and the Mediterranean…

Missile strikes an Armenian Catholic school (Fides) A child died and 61 people were injured when a missile hit an Armenian Catholic school in Damascus, in the district of Bab Tuma. “Rescuers arrived immediately and the injured were taken to three hospitals in the area,” said the Rev. George Bahi, a priest of the Armenian Catholic Patriarchal Exarchate of Damascus. “We are all shocked by what happened…”

Syria’s graffiti revolution (Al Monitor) Syrian graffiti artists seek to reclaim the spirit of the revolution by taking on both the Assad government and radical Islamists. “This [graffiti] is an opportunity to gain back the public space that was stolen from us by the militias, formerly occupied by the regime with the pictures of Bashar and Hafez al Assad, and now taken by Quranic verses [of ISIS],” says Syrian activist Amer Mattar. Amer is a member of Shera’ (Arabic for “the street”), a group of young activists in the northern Syrian town of Kafr Nabl who are using graffiti as a way to reclaim a revolution they feel has gone horribly astray…

Ecumenical patriarch calls for peace in Ukraine (Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople) “We believe that the good will of the Ukrainian people will succeed in bringing healing and ultimate reconciliation. … It is our wholehearted hope and prayer that, by that time, all divisions may be healed for the sake of the unity of the Ukrainian people,” Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I said…

Ukraine says it has begun military operation in east (New York Times) After days of failing to enforce its own ultimatums, the Ukrainian government on Tuesday began what the president called a military operation to confront pro-Russian militants in the east of the country. The first indication that the operation represented more than just words this time was a modest Ukrainian military checkpoint established on a highway north of the town of Slovyansk, which has been controlled by militants since Saturday…

Russia warns of encroaching Ukrainian civil war (Al Jazeera) Ukraine’s government said Tuesday that an “anti-terrorist operation” to oust pro-Russian rebels from occupied buildings in the east had begun, but attempts to wrest back control appeared sluggish amid warnings from Russia over the risk of civil war. “Blood has once again been spilt in Ukraine. The country is on the brink of civil war,” Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev wrote on his Facebook page Tuesday, referring to at least two deaths on Sunday when Kyiv unsuccessfully tried to regain control in Slovyansk, one of about ten towns and cities where the rebels have seized buildings…



Tags: Syria Ukraine Violence against Christians Russia Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I
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14 April 2014
Greg Kandra




In this image from Passover in 2009, Jewish worshipers are wrapped in prayer shawls as they take part in the Jewish priestly blessing at the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest prayer site, in the Old City of Jerusalem. (photo: CNS/Darren Whiteside, Reuters)

Drought could complicate food crisis in Syria (NPR) In March, the United Nations World Food Programme reported that a potential drought in the area could significantly hurt food production in Syria: “Large rainfall deficits in the 2013-2014 season will have a major impact on Syria’s next cereal harvest. With three quarters of the rainfall season gone, it is unlikely that there will be a significant recovery in this agricultural season.” That could also make a disastrous situation much worse. Dina El-Kassaby, a public information officer for the World Food Programme based in Amman, Jordan, says getting food to areas stuck in the middle of combat is already very difficult...

Israel prepares for Passover (Associated Press) Smoke wafted through the air in Jerusalem on Monday morning as Jews burned scraps of bread and added the final touches to weeks of meticulous preparations for Passover, the holiday in which the biblical story of the Exodus of the Jewish people from ancient Egypt is retold. This year, the holiday comes amid uncertainty over the future of the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, with the sides facing an end-of-April deadline to reach a preliminary deal or agree to an extension of negotiations...

Pope sends Passover greetings (CNS) Offering Passover greetings to Rome’s Jewish community, Pope Francis also asked for prayers for his upcoming trip to the Holy Land. With the approaching of the start of Passover at sundown on 14 April, the Pope said he wanted to offer his “best wishes for peace” to Rome’s chief Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni and the city’s Jewish community...

Catholics in Crimea isolated (ByzCath.org) Catholics living in the Crimea have been cut off from their co-religionists in Ukraine since Russia seized the province, a bishop serving in Crimea has reported to Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). Bishop Jacek Pyl, an auxiliary of the Odessa-Simferopol diocese, told ACN: “We only communicate by phone or email; even the aid packages are kept back at the border...”

Parishes prepare for annual Good Friday collection for Holy Land (Vatican Radio) Parishes around the world this week will be taking up the traditional annual Good Friday Collection for the Church in the Holy Land.The proceeds from the Good Friday Collection go to the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land. The Franciscans have been caring for the holy sites there since 1209. They also assist the poor, run schools, provide scholarships, and conduct pastoral ministries to keep Christianity alive in the land where it originated. In his appeal to Catholics to donate generously this Good Friday, Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, Prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, said “The Collection is still today the principal source which sustains the life and works of the region’s Christians...”

Catholic priest from Kerala appearing in major film (Deccan Chronicle) A Catholic priest in Kerala is all set to play a prominent role in a feature film. Father Thomas Chakkalamattath, who belongs to the Catholic order Carmelites of Mary Immaculate (CMI), is enacting the role of a priest in the movie titled ‘Christmas Cake’, which narrates the story of a bond between a clergyman and a visually impaired boy abandoned by parents. The film, shot in Kerala and Malaysia, will hit screens on 25 April after Easter. It is directed by Sajan Kurien, who has made several parallel films screened in festivals...



Tags: India Pope Francis Ukraine Israel Kerala
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11 April 2014
J.D. Conor Mauro




A man shouts during a pro-Russia rally near the regional government building in Donetsk, Ukraine, on 6 April. (photo: CNS/Mikhail Maslovsky, Reuters)

Russian reboot of Crimea brings rubles and confusion (Al Jazeera) Just weeks after its blitzkrieg annexation of this Black Sea peninsula, the Kremlin is trying to do shock therapy with the region’s economy, moving swiftly to remake everything from the banking system and the legal system to the prices being set at open-air farmers’ markets and regular grocery markets…

Ukrainian Catholic clergy instructed on behavior during elections (RISU) The Synod of Bishops of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church approved on 4 April a set of instructions for how the clergy should behave during elections. The authors were prompted to issue the document in response to the behavior of clergy during the parliamentary electoral campaign of 2012. The document states that a priest is strictly prohibited from being part of a political party, from distributing campaign materials in church, from campaigning for someone and from openly expressing their political views in private conversations with believers…

From Cairo to Suez, Egypt workers defy government with labor strikes (Washington Post) Thousands of Egyptian workers have staged strikes for higher wages and better working conditions in recent weeks, raising the possibility of a confrontation between impoverished laborers and a new president set to be elected this spring…

Warily, Jordan assists rebels in Syrian war (New York Times) During more than three years of civil war in Syria, Jordan has come to the world’s attention largely because it has struggled to shelter hundreds of thousands of refugees. But, quietly, the desert nation has also provided a staging ground for rebels and their foreign backers on Syria’s southern front…

Lebanese army launches Bekaa Valley security plan (Daily Star Lebanon) On Thursday, the Lebanese army began implementing a security plan in the Bekaa Valley, raiding locations in the eastern town of Brital, notorious for being off-limits to authorities, in search for wanted individuals, including abduction gangs and drug dealers…



Tags: Egypt Ukraine Jordan Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church Crimea
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10 April 2014
J.D. Conor Mauro




Cardinal Emmanuel-Karim Delly, pictured in a 2012 photo, served as Chaldean patriarch from 2003 to 2013. Pope Benedict XVI made him a cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church in 2007. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)

Cardinal Emmanuel-Karim Delly, retired Chaldean patriarch, dies at 86 (The Catholic Register) Pope Francis praised the dedication of the retired patriarch of the Chaldean Church, Cardinal Emmanuel-Karim Delly, 86, who died April 8 in a hospital in San Diego, according to the California-based Chaldean Catholic Eparchy of St. Peter the Apostle. In a telegram of condolence to Patriarch Louis Sako of Baghdad, Pope Francis recalled “with deep gratitude the late patriarch’s dedication to his people and to the promotion of respectful, just and peaceful relations with followers of other religious traditions…”

Caritas president: International community must open refugee camps in Syria (Fides) “The number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon has reached an unsustainable threshold for Lebanon, equal to 25-30 percent of the population present on the national territory. The global and regional powers, instead of providing weapons to those who kill, should focus their interventions on this emergency,” said the Rev. Paul Karam, Maronite priest and president of Caritas Lebanon…

‘Risky’ operation brings aid to besieged Syrians in eastern Aleppo (U.N. News Center) The United Nations refugee agency and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent said today it managed to bring humanitarian aid to a besieged neighborhood in eastern Aleppo, an area that had been cut off from assistance since last June. The “rare and risky” operation to deliver aid to Boustan al Qaser was carried out following agreement with the Syrian Government and the opposition, according to a news release issued by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees…

Catholic convent, Maronite village latest targets of vandals in Israel (CNS) A Catholic convent near Jerusalem and a largely Maronite village in Galilee were damaged in recent weeks as a two-year wave of vandalism directed at Christians and Muslims in Israel and the West Bank continued…

Catholic bishops condemn separatism and sectarianism (RISU) The Conference of Roman Catholic Bishops in Ukraine released a statement supporting Ukrainian unity and condemning the incitement of hatred on religious grounds…



Tags: Syrian Civil War Middle East Chaldean Church United Nations Maronite Church
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9 April 2014
Greg Kandra




Pope Francis arrives for his general audience on 9 April. (photo: CNS)

Pope expresses “profound pain” at murder of priest in Syria (Reuters) Pope Francis spoke on Wednesday of his deep grief over the assassination of a 75-year-old Dutch Jesuit priest in Syria and made a renewed appeal for an end to the violence. Frans van der Lugt had been living in Syria since the 1970’s and had become widely known for his refusal to leave Christians who remained in the rebel-held city of Homs as it was blockaded by government forces. He was beaten and shot dead by unidentified gunmen at his monastery on Monday...

During general audience, Pope Francis appeals for peace in Syria (CNS) Here is our translation of Pope Francis’ remarks today about the murder of Jesuit Father Frans van der Lugt and the continuing war in Syria: “Monday in Homs, Syria, Father Frans van der Lugt, my 75-year-old Dutch Jesuit confrere, was assassinated. He arrived in Syria about 50 years ago and always did his best for everyone with graciousness and love, and so was loved and held in esteem by Christians and Muslims. His brutal murder filled me with with deep sadness and made me think again of all the people who suffer and are dying in that martyred country, already too long a victim of a bloody conflict that continues to sow death and destruction...”

Ukrainian official: unrest will be resolved by force or by talks in 48 hours (CNN) Ukrainian acting Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said Wednesday that the separatist protests in Ukraine's eastern region would be resolved within 48 hours — either through negotiations or the use of force. At the same time, Russia insisted that the presence of its troops just over the border was no reason to worry...

Ethnic Armenians tell of flight from Kasab, Syria (Los Angeles Times) They fled Kasab at daybreak, amid the clamor of artillery and word that Islamist rebels were advancing toward them from Turkey. About 2,500 residents, most of them ethnic Armenians, gathered documents and what few possessions they could carry. They piled into cars and minibuses that carried them 40 miles down mountain roads to the government-held city of Latakia. Only some elderly remained behind, residents said. “We escaped with the clothes on our back,” said one of those who eventually made it to Lebanon...



Tags: Syria Pope Francis Ukraine Armenia
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8 April 2014
J.D. Conor Mauro




Pro-Russia protesters scuffle with the police at the regional government building in Donetsk, Ukraine, on 6 April. A Ukrainian Catholic bishop has warned his church could lose its legal status under Russian rule, and pledged to use “all possible means in the international arena” to defend it. (photo: CNS/Reuters)

Ukraine cracks down on demonstrators; Russia issues warning (Los Angeles Times) Ukrainian riot police on Tuesday cleared a regional administration building and public square in the eastern city of Kharkiv of hundreds of pro-Russia protesters, detaining scores in the process, officials said. In response, Russia’s Foreign Ministry issued a stern warning against the use of force on pro-Russia protesters in eastern Ukraine and alleged the direct involvement of private U.S. military experts…

Georgia’s ancient capital Mtskheta becomes holy city (Interfax) Georgian Orthodox Patriarch Ilia II has conferred the title of “holy city” on Georgia’s ancient capital Mtskheta, a place revered by Georgians…

Egypt’s media blackout on Sinai (Al Monitor) Ever since the beginning of the military operation that began in the Sinai Peninsula after the ouster of President Muhammad Morsi, there has been a media blackout regarding the events going on in this vital part of Egypt and the crises that its citizens are enduring. According to Mustafa Senger, a political activist from the Sinai, one of the most important problems is that mobile phone and Internet networks have stopped working…

Syria’s latest battle: The PR fight over sanctuary for Christians (Christian Science Monitor) When the Syrian opposition took over the Armenian Christian town of Kessab in coastal Syria last month, its 2,000 residents fled. Given the presence of Al Qaeda-linked Jabhat al Nusra and other Islamist groups, they feared the worst for their town. So far, these fears have not been realized. Instead, rebels appear to be using Kessab as an opportunity to try to undo their reputation for extreme brutality towards Syria’s Christians and Shiites. But the Assad regime, which considers itself the protector of minorities, has launched a media campaign to demonstrate how Islamists are terrorizing Christians in Kessab, turning the town into a public relations battlefield in Syria’s civil war…

Fears rise about impact of drought on Syrians (U.N. World Food Program) The United Nations World Food Program (W.F.P.) provided assistance to a record 4 million people in Syria last month but a special report published today highlights how a potential drought would strain the country’s already fragile food security situation. W.F.P. food security analysts say rainfall since September has been less than half the long-term average, and will have a major impact on the next cereal harvest…

Syrians mourn slain Jesuit priest (Al Jazeera) After three years of civil war, during which brutal killing has become commonplace, many Syrians were left stunned Monday by the murder of a Dutch Jesuit priest gunned down in Homs, the besieged city that he refused to abandon. Francis Van Der Lugt — or Abouna (“Father”) Frans, as he was known to Syrians — touched the lives of many, not only Christians. As word of his death spread through Syria, Syrians grieved publically. On Facebook, young and old replaced their profile pictures with one of Frans: in a T-shirt, on a bicycle, among the olive trees, or smiling under the unmistakable black basalt arches of Homs’s Old City…



Tags: Egypt Syria Ukraine United Nations Georgian Orthodox Church
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