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Current Issue
September, 2017
Volume 43, Number 3
  
15 February 2017
Greg Kandra




Volunteers, many of them Muslim, help to repair a Chaldean church damaged by ISIS in Mosul.
(photo: Ankawa.com)


Young Muslim volunteers help repair church in Mosul (Fides) About 30 young people, belonging to an organization of civilian volunteers, mostly Muslims, cleaned and tidied the Chaldean church dedicated to the Virgin Mary, in Drakziliya, in Mosul on the left bank of the Tigris River and now under the control of the Iraqi army...

Refugee camp teachers struggle to help displaced Syrian children (ABC.au) Refugee camp administrators say they fear for the future of Syria’s children as the civil war enters its sixth year. Many kids in refugee camps across Syria are learning to read and write in leaky tents with little more than tables and chairs for them to sit on...

Catholic group in India calls for release of kidnapped priest (Asia News) The All India Catholic Union (AICU), the largest lay Catholic organization in India, is calling on Prime Minister Narendra Modi to use his influence and that of his government to negotiate with the countries of the Middle East free the Rev. Tom Uzhunnalil, kidnapped in Yemen on 4 March 2016...

Russian Orthodox Church, Vatican to work closer on Christians’ persecution (Pravmir.com) The Russian Orthodox Church plans to strengthen its cooperation with Vatican on the issue of monitoring persecution of Christians in the Middle East and other regions, chairman of the Department of External Church Relations Metropolitan Hilarion said on Sunday...

East Africa food prices reach record highs due to drought (Reuters) Drought in East Africa has sent prices of staples such as maize and sorghum soaring, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said on Tuesday, warning that a sharp increase in food prices could lead to renewed hunger in the region. Prices of staple cereals have doubled in some markets, reaching record and near-record levels in swaths of Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Uganda and Tanzania, FAO said...



14 February 2017
Greg Kandra




Members of Free Syrian Army encounter a flock of sheep in Aleppo during ‘Operation Euphrates Shield’ on 10 February 2017. A study released Monday says Syrian helicopters dumped banned chemical weapons on residential areas of Aleppo last year.
(photo: Muhammed Nour/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)


Holy See calls to protect civilians from terrorist attacks (Vatican Radio) The Holy See’s Permanent Observer to the United Nations, Archbishop Bernardito Auza, on Monday said “it is the obligation of the international community, in accord with the U.N. Charter, to protect civilians and their critical infrastructure from the brutality and barbarity of terrorist groups...”

Report: Syria used chemical attacks in Aleppo (The New York Times) Syrian military helicopters systematically dumped canisters of chlorine gas, a banned weapon, on residential areas of Aleppo at least eight times late last year in the final weeks of the battle to retake the city from rebels, Human Rights Watch said in a detailed study released Monday...

ISIS counterattacks as Iraqi forces prepare for Mosul push (AP) The Iraqi army has been moving troops around Mosul ahead of an expected push to retake its western half from the Islamic State group in the final decisive battle for the city, a commander said Tuesday. “We are preparing ... to launch a big operation in order to liberate the rest of Mosul,” said Brig. Walid Khalifa, deputy commander of the Iraqi Army’s 9th Division...

Hardliner elected new leader of Hamas in Gaza (Al Jazeera) Gaza’s ruling Hamas movement has chosen Yahya Sinwar, freed in a 2011 prisoner swap with Israel after more than 20 years in jail, as its new chief in the Palestinian enclave following an internal election, sources close to the group said. Sinwar will be a key decision-maker for Hamas and a member of the executive leadership that draws up policies, including towards Israel...

Violence flares in Ukraine (The Guardian) Since the war started in 2014 more than 300 shells have fallen on the grounds of the factory, the largest coking plant in Europe, which sits on Ukrainian-controlled territory just a few miles from the frontline with Russia-backed separatists. The big guns have been mercifully quiet for months, but the past fortnight has seen a new flurry of violence, linked in Kiev to a Russia apparently newly emboldened by the election of Donald Trump in the U.S...

Archeologists plan to excavate site linked to Ark of the Covenant (Times of Israel) One of the few remaining unstudied major biblical sites, where according to the Bible the Ark of the Covenant was kept for two decades, will be excavated by archaeologists this summer for the first time. Organizers hope the anticipated study of Kiryat Ye’arim (also transliterated as Kiriath Jearim) will shed light on the site’s significance during the Iron Age, the period associated with the biblical account of King David...



13 February 2017
Greg Kandra




Opposition fighters backing Turkish troops drive past stones blocking a road on the outskirts of the Syrian town of al-Bab on 12 February 2017. Turkish troops backed by Syrian rebel fighters have entered the center of the ISIS bastion of al-Bab and will soon capture it, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Sunday. (photo: Rafat Ahmad/AFP/Getty Images)

Turkish troops enter ISIS stronghold in northern Syria (AP) Turkey’s president said Sunday that his troops and allied Syrian fighters have reached the heart of the Islamic State stronghold of al-Bab in northern Syria and will eventually join the effort to recapture Raqqa, the extremists’ de-facto capital in Syria. Recep Tayyip Erdogan said ISIS fighters have begun deserting al-Bab, which has been under attack for weeks...

Hezbollah urges Lebanon plan for return of Syrian refugees (AFP) The head of Lebanon's powerful Hezbollah movement on Sunday urged the government to coordinate with Damascus to help refugees to return now that “large areas” of Syria are “safe”...

Ukraine turns a blind eye to ultra rightist militias (The Washington Post) Despite Kiev’s pledge to rein them in, rogue militias continue to fight against Moscow-backed separatists. When war erupted in 2014, Ukraine’s army was on its knees after decades of corruption and neglect. So the top brass joined forces with volunteer battalions to counter the pro-Russian insurgency. But these informal groups proved difficult to control, with some committing heinous abuses. Almost all have been incorporated into Ukrainian state forces...

Canada’s churches consider court action over refugees (Catholic Register) As the storm over the fate of refugees intensifies in the United States, Canada’s churches are deliberating whether or not to take the federal government to court to pull Canada out of its Safe Third Country Agreement with the U.S...

Using art to heal: battling cancer in Gaza (Al Jazeera) Aya Abdulrahman was informed by her doctors that she would be dead by the end of 2014. At 21, she had seven malignant tumors. “Your daughter has two months left to live. You cannot do anything. Go home,” the doctor told Abdulrahman’s mother. The painful news, however, did not stop her from pursuing her dreams. Since childhood, all Abdulrahman wanted to do was become an artist and leave her mark on the world through art...



Tags: Syria Ukraine Refugees Turkey ISIS

10 February 2017
Greg Kandra




In this image from last month, Syrian children transport their salvaged belongings from their damaged house in Doudyan, a village in northern Aleppo. A Caritas official who has just returned from Aleppo describes parts of the city as “post-apocalyptic” and “beyond human imagination.”
(photo: CNS/Khalil Ashawi, Reuters)


Parts of Aleppo described as ‘post-apocalyptic’ (Vatican Radio) A senior Caritas official who’s just returned from the Syrian city of Aleppo says the devastation and humanitarian crisis there are “beyond human imagination” with many areas in the east looking as though they had been hit by a nuclear bomb. Patrick Nicholson is the head of Communications for Caritas Internationalis and has just returned from a visit to the war-ravaged city. In an interview with Susy Hodges he described the scenes, especially in eastern Aleppo, as “post-apocalyptic” because of the extent of the destruction and shared with her a shocking story of how he discovered 6 young children, including a baby, living on their own amidst the rubble of their bombed-out house...

Retaken parts of Mosul return to life (The New York Times) The last time I was in Iraq, two months ago, I stood next to the highway out of the city of Mosul and watched ambulances screaming by, carrying dead and wounded soldiers. During my reporting in Mosul this week, the picture couldn’t have looked more different in the eastern half of the city, which was recently taken back by government forces. Even in places where soldiers were still partly on edge — like above, patrolling along the banks of the Tigris River near the front line with the Islamic State — I still was able to walk alongside them...

Assad: U.S. troops welcome in Syria to fight terrorism (AP) Syrian President Bashar Assad said in an interview released on Friday that the United States is welcome to join the battle against “terrorists” in Syria — as long as it is in cooperation with his government and respects the country’s sovereignty...

Syrian women arrive in Canada to continue their education (CBC) Five young women who were unable to finish their education in war-torn Syria landed at Pearson International Airport Thursday to start their journey as students in Canada. The women will be studying English at the International Language Academy of Canada (ILAC), after winning scholarships from the organization...

Melkites bring fresh signs of life to Catholic cathedral in Canada (Catholic Register) After being closed for more than a decade, the Cathedral of the Transfiguration north of Toronto has quietly re-opened its doors. The cathedral has welcomed parishioners of nearby Jesus the King Melkite Catholic Church to use its yet unfinished space for Sunday services. The Melkite Catholics had been homeless after their Thornhill, Ont., church was engulfed in flames last October...



Tags: Syria ISIS Melkite

8 February 2017
Greg Kandra




Pope Francis speaks during his general audience in Paul VI hall at the Vatican 8 February. The pope called for action in the fight against human trafficking and asked for prayers for migrants.
(photo:CNS/Paul Haring)


Aleppo: Faith and courage in a city of conflict (Vatican Radio) For five years the Syrian city of Aleppo has been a key battleground in the country’s brutal civil war. This former financial hub was home to 250 thousand Christians with hopes and dreams. Now it has become a place of loss and suffering. With a fragile ceasefire in place, aid agencies are keeping up their work to help those who have lost everything as a result of the conflict...

Pope calls for action in fight against human trafficking (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis appealed to government leaders to be strong in the fight against the scourge of human trafficking. Marking Wednesday’s ‘International Day of Prayer and Awareness Against Human Trafficking’ marked annually on 8 February, and focusing this year on the trafficking of children and adolescents, the Pope had words of encouragement for all those who in different ways, help minors who have been enslaved and abused to be freed from this terrible oppression...

U.N. says 30,000 have returned to Mosul (AP) Some 30,000 people have returned to Mosul since Iraqi forces launched a massive operation in October to retake the country’s second largest city from the Islamic State group, the U.N. said Tuesday...

Bishop: ‘legalization’ of Israeli settlements is against the virtues of justice (Fides) Bishop William Shomali, Patriachal Vicar of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem for the Holy City and Palestine, said the law the Israeli Parliament passed yesterday — which “regulates” houses and Israeli settlements built illegally on Palestinian territory illegally occupied by the army of Israel — “makes the solution two peoples-two states almost impossible. It offends justice...”

Bishops to Secretary of State: don’t move U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem (Catholic News Agency) The Israeli-Palestinian conflict requires wise U.S. engagement to build a better future for both peoples, and this future could be endangered by an embassy relocation, the U.S. Catholic bishops told the new Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson...



Tags: Syria Iraq Pope Francis Palestine Israel

7 February 2017
Greg Kandra




Rebel fighters sit inside an armored vehicle near the town of Bizaah northeast of the city of
Al-Bab, near the Syrian city of Aleppo, on 4 February 2017.
(photo: AFP/Nazeer al-Khatib/Getty Images)


ISIS ‘besieged’ al-Bab (Al Jazeera) Syrian government forces have advanced on the ISIS-held city of al-Bab, cutting off the last supply route that connects it to the armed group’s strongholds further east towards Iraq, according to a monitoring group...

Holy See calls on U.N. To address economic, social, spiritual poverty (Vatican Radio) The Holy See’s representative to the United Nations has told a commission for social development that world leaders must address “not only economic poverty but also social and spiritual poverty with policies and investments that people can see and touch”...

Iraq using corpses to wage psychological warfare in Mosul (Reuters) As Iraqi forces prepare to expand their offensive against Islamic State from east to west Mosul, they want to stamp out any sympathy that residents may have for the group, which won instant support when it seized the vast city in 2014. “We will leave the terrorists there,” said Ibrahim Mohamed, a soldier who was standing near three dead jihadists, ignoring the stench...

Egypt’s Christians granted leave to visit Jerusalem (Albawaba.com) Egypt’s Muslim civil servants have long had the right to take a one-off paid vacation to perform the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. Until now, however, the country’s Christian minority has enjoyed no such accommodation. That all changed on Saturday when the nation’s Supreme Constitutional Court ruled that Coptic government employees should be allowed an equivalent month-long holiday to visit Jerusalem...

Kerala bishop wants Catholics to marry earlier (Scroll.in) The bishop of Thamarassery diocese of the Syro Malabar Catholic Church, the largest group of Catholics in the state, issued a pastoral letter in January, exhorting believers to ensure that their boys are married off before the age of 25 and girls before they turn 23. It said that late marriages have an adverse impact on the birth of children and the well-being of the family...

Pope releases Lenten message (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis’ Lenten message was released on Tuesday entitled “The Word is a gift. Other persons are a gift”...



6 February 2017
J.D. Conor Mauro




United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi visits Aleppo on 1 February. (photo: George Ourfalian/AFP/Getty Images)

Meeting the Christians of Aleppo (Catholic Herald) On December 23, the guns finally fell silent and an apparent victory was handed to Syria’s President Assad in the battle for the city. Today, the cacophony of bombs is replaced by an eerie silence. Will the people come back? Not yet. With a political settlement still a distant hope, people are just marking time. In the meantime, the full cost of war can at last be counted, including the depletion of the city’s Christian population…

Syria’s Assyrians concerned about postwar existence (AINA) Some of Syria’s Christians fear that their existence in the postwar Syria would be threatened, particularly following the latest political and military developments accompanying the crisis. Those Christians expressed their worries after they were ruled out from the upcoming Geneva talks, and because the Syriac language was not included in the draft constitution that a Russian delegation handed over to representatives of the Syrian government in Damascus last month to provide equality between Kurdish and Arabic language in local administrative areas…

Jordan joins the table in Astana for Syrian ceasefire talks (Rudaw) For the first time Jordanian representatives are in Astana, the capital city of Kazakhstan, meeting with officials from Russia, Turkey, Iran, as well as the United Nations to discuss the implementation of the Syrian ceasefire agreement on Monday…

Israel’s settlement bill ‘big step towards annexation’ (Al Jazeera) The Israeli Knesset has advanced controversial legislation that, if approved, would lead to a host of illegal settlements built on privately owned Palestinian land being legalized retroactively. The so-called “Regulation Bill,” scheduled for a vote on Monday, would apply to around 4,000 settlement homes in the West Bank for which settlers could prove ignorance that they had built on privately owned land and had received encouragement from the Israeli state to do so…

Israel not paying to de-mine Christian holy site (Al Jazeera) Nearly half a million tourists annually walk past two fenced-in minefields to visit Qasr al Yahud (“Castle of the Jews”), the site where Jesus was believed to have been baptized in the River Jordan. A $4 million project launched last year by the de-mining charity Halo Trust is hoping to make the site safer, after the group struck an agreement with Israeli authorities, the Palestinian Authority and local churches that own plots in Qasr al Yahud. But Israel, whose army peppered the site with mines after the 1967 war, is not paying for these de-mining efforts, observers note…

Tremors felt in northern India (Times of India) An earthquake measuring 5.8 on the Richter Scale struck Uttarakhand late on Monday night. The quake caused tremors that were felt across northern India. Two teams of the National Disaster Response Force (N.D.R.F.) “have been rushed from Ghaziabad to Uttarakhand to conduct rescue and relief operations, if the situation arises,” tweeted the Office of the Home Minister of India…



Tags: Syria India Palestine Israel Aleppo

2 February 2017
Greg Kandra




A displaced Syrian woman, fleeing from Deir Ezzor city besieged by ISIS, walks through the falling snow carrying a child on her shoulder in a refugee camp in al-Hol, near the Iraqi border
on 1 February 2017. (photo: Delil Souleiman/AFP/Getty Images)


Lebanon backs returning Syrian refugees to ‘safe zones’ (AP) Lebanon’s president says the international community should facilitate the return of Syrian refugees to Syria by setting up “safe zones” in coordination with their government. Michel Aoun made his comments Friday during a meeting with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi. Lebanon is home to some 1.2 million Syrian refugees, equivalent to one fourth of its own population...

Trump discusses safe zones with Jordan’s king (Reuters) U.S. President Donald Trump discussed with Jordan’s King Abdullah the possibility of establishing safe zones in Syria, the White House said on Thursday...

Advocates stress the U.S. has moral obligation to help refugees (CNS) Leaders from six organizations want Americans and President Donald Trump to understand that refugees, especially those from war-torn Middle Eastern countries, are average people with careers, comfortable homes and loving families rather than see them as a monolithic threat to the United States...

In Mosul hospital, nothing left but scavengers and the ISIS dead (The Daily Beast) After three months of battle and over two years under the rule of the so-called Islamic State, Mosul’s health sector is stretched beyond its limits, and the destruction of the city’s biggest and most prestigious hospital weighs heavily on the people here. It is symbolic of the price the city has had to pay for its liberation, which remains incomplete...

Gentiles in fight to save Kerala’s Jewish monuments (Asia Times) For Jews, Mala, a small town in southern India, is unique in many ways. Some 50 families are said to have lived there peacefully for over a thousand years — something that is quite rare in Jewish history. Mala also has the largest Jewish cemetery in India and one of its oldest synagogues. These are the monuments of their existence that the Jews of Mala handed for preservation to the local government before they left en masse for Israel, after its formation in 1948...



2 February 2017
Greg Kandra




In the video above, Vatican officials who traveled to Aleppo describe the liveliness and depth of the Christian community’s faith in that war-ravaged corner of the world. (video: Rome Reports)

In war-ravaged Aleppo, few answers on how to rebuild (AP) Aleppo has been scarred beyond recognition: Weeks after fighting stopped, a pall of dust covers its eastern districts, where streets are lined for blocks with buildings smashed to metal and brick rubble in scenes reminiscent of cities devastated in World War II. The destruction is the worst wreaked on any city in Syria’s six-year war. No one has any quick answers on how to rebuild Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, much less the rest of a country that has seen appalling desolation...

Iraqis returning home to Mosul (Andalou Agency) Almost 50,000 displaced people have returned to their homes in eastern Mosul and the city’s southern Qayyarah district, both of which were recently recaptured by the Iraqi army from the Islamic State terrorist group, according to Iraq’s Displacement and Migration Ministry. “The ministry is trying to persuade displaced people to leave the camps and return to liberated areas so the camps might be used to accommodate those expected to be displaced in upcoming operations to retake western Mosul,” ministry spokesman Sattar Nowruz told Anadolu Agency...

Report: hate speech against Christians on the rise in Turkey (Hurriyet Daily News) Turkey’s Association of Protestant Churches has prepared its 2016 Rights Violations Report, noting that hate speech against the country’s Christians has increased in both conventional and social media. The annual report said hate speech against Protestants persisted throughout 2016, in addition to physical attacks on Protestant individuals and their churches. The report also noted that churches in particular faced serious terror threats...

Some Muslim refugees converting to Christianity “to find safety’ (The Telegraph) The situation for refugees in the country — which is hosting more than a million and a half Syrians that make up a quarter of its total population — has become increasingly dire over the course of the six-year conflict. Some say they converted to benefit from the generous aid distributed by Christian charities, others to help their asylum applications to Europe, the United States, Canada and elsewhere. Christian converts are more likely to be persecuted in the Middle East than those who stay Muslims, and are thus more eligible for asylum...

Gaza sees rise in divorce rate (GulfNews.com) The Supreme Sharia Judicial Council in the Gaza Strip has reported an increase in divorce rates in the territory for 2016, with a total of 3,188 divorce cases being reported in the tiny coastal strip during that year...



Tags: Syria Iraq Gaza Strip/West Bank Turkey Islam

1 February 2017
Greg Kandra




A child displaced by fighting between the Iraqi army and ISIS rides in a truck to a camp for displaced families on 27 January in Mosul, Iraq. (photo: CNS/Paul Jeffrey)

Bishops say refugee ban raises concerns about religious freedom (CNS) The chairmen of three U.S. bishops’ committees on 31 January expressed solidarity with the Muslim community and expressed deep concern over religious freedom issues they said President Donald Trump’s refugee ban raises. Trump’s executive memorandum of 27 January “has generated fear and untold anxiety among refugees, immigrants and others throughout the faith community in the United States,” said the committee chairmen in a joint statement. “In response ... we join with other faith leaders to stand in solidarity again with those affected by this order, especially our Muslim sisters and brothers...”

Iraqi Christian leader visiting Mosul sees little future for Christians (CNS) As some residents of the city of Mosul celebrate their new freedom from the Islamic State group, an Iraqi Christian leader who visited the war-torn city said Christian residents are unlikely to return. “I don’t see a future for Christians in Mosul,” said Father Emanuel Youkhana, a priest, or archimandrite, of the Assyrian Church of the East...

Battle for Mosul: ‘I’ve never seen such hard fighting’ (The Guardian) Since October last year, when the operation to prise Mosul from the grip of Islamic State began, the fight between Iraqi forces and the jihadi group, which captured Mosul in June 2014, has taken place on a battlefield inhabited by civilians. Iraqi forces have now claimed to be largely in control of east Mosul, but in the west of the city an estimated 750,000 civilians are still living under Isis control...

Canadians condemn refugee ban (Catholic Register) Catholic and other religious voices across Canada are condemning the U.S. exclusion of refugees from seven majority Muslim countries...

Ethiopia faces new drought, seeks aid (AP) U.N. humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien visited a camp for displaced persons on Saturday, saying that “these people are really struggling to survive.” He cautioned, however, against “dramatizing by saying this may degenerate into famine...”

Jesus portrayed as an Indian in Bible show (UCANews.com) A two-hour stage show premiered in India’s Kerala state recently depicting Jesus as Indian, thus correcting European Christianity’s “misrepresentation” of Christ, according to the director. The show, titled Ente Rakshakan (“My Savior”), was created by a well-known showman Soorya Krishna Moorthy. It presents Jesus Christ as having black hair, eyes and Indian mannerisms. An audience of 2,000 people, including church officials and Bible scholars, attended the premier...







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