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Current Issue
September, 2017
Volume 43, Number 3
  
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...



31 January 2017
Greg Kandra




In the video above, the author of a new book describes the often-overlooked human toll of the refugee crisis that is now making headlines around the world. (video: Rome Reports)

Pope offers Mass for modern martyrs (L’Osservatore Romano) Pope Francis offered Mass on Monday, 30 January, in the Casa Santa Marta chapel for “today’s martyrs,” persecuted and imprisoned Christians, and for Churches which are not free to express the faith...

Vatican official: Wellbeing of society is measured by its response to migrants (Vatican Radio) The way a country responds to the needs of migrants and refugees is a “thermometer” of the wellbeing of that society. That’s the view of Canadian Jesuit Father Michael Czerny, recently appointed as undersecretary of the Vatican’s new department for Integral Human Development...

Trump ban on refugees ignites firestorm, but also gains support (CNS) As President Donald Trump signed an executive memorandum intended to restrict the entry of terrorists coming to the United States in the guise of refugees, the action brought quick response from Catholic and other religious leaders...

Leaflets dropped over western Mosul in advance of push (Andalou Agency) Iraqi aircraft dropped leaflets over western Mosul early Tuesday urging civilian residents to brace for impending army operations aimed at wresting the area from the Daesh terrorist group. “Your enemy [Daesh] has been defeated in eastern Mosul,” the leaflets read. “Your armed forces are now preparing to advance on the western side [of the city]...”

Palestinian local election set for May, likely without Gaza (AP) The Palestinian self-rule government in the West Bank has set May 13 as a new date for municipal elections after infighting between Hamas and Fatah groups derailed such a vote last year. The elections will likely only take place in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where the Palestinian Authority of President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah movement run autonomous enclaves...

Head of Russian Orthodox church backs abortion ban (The Tablet) Russia’s Orthodox patriarch has called on members of the Russian parliament to press for a total ban on abortions, warning that the high numbers perpetrated annually are impeding the country’s moral and social development. “I’ve appealed to deputies several times to consider restricting abortion, and I’ve seen some progress made in highlighting this evil,” Kirill I told State Duma members on 26 January. “This would not be some revolutionary step, but a necessary return to normality, without which it will be impossible for men and women to achieve happiness...”



Tags: Syria Iraq Pope Francis Gaza Strip/West Bank Russian Orthodox

30 January 2017
Greg Kandra




Pope Francis greets Cardinal Gerald Lacroix of Quebec after celebrating morning Mass in the chapel of his residence at the Vatican on 30 January. A Vatican statement said the pope assured Cardinal Lacroix of his prayers for the victims of a shooting in a mosque in Quebec City.
(photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano, handout)


Pope prays for victims of Quebec mosque attack (Vatican Radio) On Monday morning, following the usual Mass at the Pope’s residence in the Casa Santa Marta, the Holy Father met with Cardinal Gérald Cyprien LaCroix, assuring the Archbishop of Quebec City of his prayers for the victims of the attack on a mosque there on Sunday night...

Vatican council for interfaith dialogue condemns Canada attack (Vatican Radio) The Vatican’s Council for Interreligious Dialogue has strongly condemned the shooting at a mosque in Canada in which six people were killed and another dozen wounded. More than 50 people were gathered for evening prayers at the Islamic Cultural Centre in Quebec City on Sunday night when the attack took place. Police have arrested two suspects in connection with the shooting, which Canadian authorities have described as a terror attack...

Chaldean patriarch: selection reception of migrants based on religion is ‘a trap for Christians’ (Fides) The option foreshadowed by U.S. President Donald Trump to maintain a “fast track” open for Christian refugees to enter the US, while the doors are closed to citizens of seven countries with a Muslim majority, is “a trap for Christians in the Middle East.” This was underlined by Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako, Primate of the Eastern Catholic Church...

Syria warns setting up safe zones would be dangerous (AP) Syria warned Monday of safe zones for civilians that U.S. President Donald Trump has expressed interest in creating, saying it would have to come in coordination with the Syrian government, otherwise it would be unsafe and violate the Arab nation’s sovereignty. The announcement was made in Damascus by Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem during a meeting with the head of the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR, Filippo Grandi, who began an official visit to Syria on Monday...

Hundreds in St. Petersburg protest plan to give cathedral back to church (AP) Protesters rallied in St. Petersburg on Saturday against plans by city authorities to give a landmark cathedral to the Russian Orthodox Church amid an increasingly passionate debate over the relationship between the church and the Russian state...

Gaza water shortage worsening (Reuters) Gaza has long suffered severe water problems, with its aquifer contaminated by sewage, chemicals and seawater and the territory’s three desalination plants unable to meet demand. To drink, most citizens depend on imported, bottled water. But locals and development specialists say the situation is getting beyond dire, with more than 90 percent of the water in the aquifer unfit for domestic use, according to Rebhy Al-Sheikh, the deputy chairman of the Palestinian Water Authority...



27 January 2017
J.D. Conor Mauro




“Today we brought back part of our dignity,” said Sophian, a parishioner in the town of Tel Kaif in Iraq’s Nineveh Plain, who helped raise the cross on the roof of his reopened church. (video: Rudaw)

Chaldean patriarch visits recovering community in Nineveh Plain (Fides) On Thursday, 26 January, a delegation of the Chaldean Church led by Patriarch Raphael Louis I visited the area of the Nineveh Plain recently retaken by the Iraqi army and met with local officials and community members. In Tel Kaif, in the Church of the Sacred Heart, the patriarch led a moment of prayer to invoke the gift of peace in the entire region and the prompt return of refugees to their homes…

Pope calls Catholics and Oriental Orthodox to work for peace (Vatican Radio) Wherever there is violence and conflict, Christians are called to work patiently to restore concord and hope. That was Pope Francis’ message on Friday to members of the Joint International Commission for theological dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Oriental Orthodox churches. The group, which is meeting in the Vatican this week, includes representatives of six ancient churches of the East that have been separated from the rest of the Christian world since the middle of the fifth century…

The desperate conditions inside a Serbian migrant camp (New York Times) Migrants are stuck in freezing conditions behind the central train station in Belgrade, Serbia, where they survive on one meal a day. Many of the estimated 1,000 migrants are escaping instability in Afghanistan, where a worsening war with the Taliban has sent record numbers of people fleeing their homes. They have lingered for weeks in legal limbo, unable to move north after European countries along the Balkans shut their borders last year…

Sisi’s church donation stirs religious controversy (Al Monitor) When Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al Sisi donated 100,000 Egyptian pounds to build a mosque and a church in the new administrative capital, he stirred a wave of criticism and a religious controversy…

Pope Francis: ‘Remember Holocaust so never repeated’ (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis met with a delegation from the European Jewish Congress on Friday on the occasion of the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which occurs annually on 27 January…



Tags: Iraq Egypt Ecumenism Interreligious Serbia

26 January 2017
Greg Kandra




Pope Francis delivers a joint blessing with Orthodox Metropolitan Gennadios of Italy and Malta and Anglican Archbishop David Moxon, the archbishop of Canterbury’s representative to the Vatican, during an ecumenical prayer service to conclude the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls in Rome on 25 January. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)

Pope: Christian unity requires learning from each other (CNS) Divided Christians need to recognize the gifts God has given to other communities and learn from them “without waiting for the others to learn first,” Pope Francis said. Leading an ecumenical evening prayer service 25 January for the close of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, Pope Francis said Christians must overcome the “temptations of self-absorption that prevent us from perceiving how the Holy Spirit is at work outside our familiar surroundings,” including in the lives of other Christian communities...

Trump expected to order Syria ‘safe zones’ for refugees (Reuters) President Donald Trump is expected to order the Pentagon and State Department to produce a plan in coming days for setting up “safe zones” for refugees in Syria and neighboring countries, according to a document seen by Reuters, a move that could risk escalation of U.S. military involvement in Syria’s civil war. The draft executive order awaiting Trump’s signature signaled the new administration was preparing a step that Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama long resisted, fearing the potential for being pulled deeper into the conflict and the threat of clashes between U.S. and Russian warplanes over Syria...

Iraqi children returning to school in Mosul (AsiaOne.com) They have been waiting for two and half years and the children of Iraq’s east Mosul are flocking to enrol in their reopened schools, eager not to waste another day. “It’s a great day, today we are giving our children their right to receive an education,” said Ghassan Ahmed, queueing with his seven-year-old in the yard of Farahedi primary school...

New report highlights plight of displaced Palestinians (Vatican Radio) A new report released this week says the forced internal displacement of Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem is making them poorer and keeping them in misery and despair...

Debate on Christians in the Middle East (Fides) In an extensive interview recently published by the Lebanese daily L’Orient-Le Jour, former French economy minister Emmanuel Macron, an “independent” candidate in the next presidential election of France, rejected the argument that the permanence in power of Syrian President Bashar Assad would represent a “guarantee” for the survival of Christian communities in Syria...

Pope blesses sculpture dedicated to migrants (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has again expressed his closeness and concern for migrants and refugees by blessing a sculpture to be placed in the port of the Sicilian Island of Lampedusa, the gateway to Europe for hundreds of thousands fleeing poverty and violence...



Tags: Syria Iraq Pope Francis Palestine Ecumenism

25 January 2017
Greg Kandra




In the video above, a Lebanese Christian now studying in Rome describes the significance of Lebanon as a place of refuge for so many. Many Syrian refugees now in Lebanon are struggling simply to survive. (video: Rome Reports)

At Mosul’s front lines, perils abound (The New York Times) After three months of fighting, the battle to retake Mosul has entered a new chapter, but the Islamic State’s vast arsenal of car bombs and suicide vests is far from spent and most of the civilian population is still trapped...

Syrian refugee children reduced to selling on Beirut’s streets (The Guardian) As the crisis in Syria approaches its sixth anniversary, the UN says 93 percent of refugee households in Lebanon don’t have enough food. When families can’t afford the basics, sending children out to work is one potentially dangerous way they try to cope. They also exhaust savings, sell any land or property they might own in Syria, and fall into debt...

Dispute over St. Petersburg cathedral sparks charges of anti-Semitism (The Washington Post) Recently announced plans to transfer the ownership of St. Isaac’s Cathedral from the state to the Russian Orthodox Church have sparked protests in the city, and on Tuesday that dispute turned uglier, with comments from a prominent politician leading to allegations of anti-Semitism in Orthodox-majority Russia. Those comments were made by Pyotr Tolstoy, the deputy chairman of Russia’s State Duma, during a news conference on Monday...

U.N.: New drought puts recovery of Ethiopia at risk (AfricaNews.com) The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization has warned that new drought across parts of southern Ethiopia may put recovery efforts at risk, unless urgent efforts are made to shore up vulnerable households in rural areas. In a statement released on Tuesday, the U.N. Said pastoral communities in these regions could suffer consequences of last year’s El Niño climate phenomenon, already witnessing forage shortfalls and water scarcity...

Coptic bishop makes donation for restoration of mosque (Fides) Coptic Orthodox Bishop Takla, at the head of the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of Dishna, in the governorate of Qena, has offered a donation to finance the restoration of the historic mosque dedicated to Abd al-Rahīm al-Qenāwī. The symbolic gesture of the donation took place recently during a public meeting in the presence of some local sheikhs, some Coptic priests and many residents of the area surrounding the mosque, in a festive atmosphere and marked by the desire to show the harmony between the Muslim and the Christian component of the Egyptian people...



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 ISIS Russian Orthodox

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 ISIS Russian Orthodox





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