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June, 2018
Volume 44, Number 2
  
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

9 January 2017
Greg Kandra




Pope Francis makes his speech during an audience with the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See for the traditional exchange of new year’s greetings at the Vatican 9 January. The pope said that religions are “called to promote peace” and appealed to “all religious authorities to join in reaffirming unequivocally that one can never kill in God’s name.”
(photo: CNS/Alberto Pizzoli, pool)


Christian neighborhood in Mosul freed (Fides) On Sunday 8 January, the Iraqi regular army regained control of al Sukkar, an area in eastern Mosul once inhabited mostly by Christian families. This is what local sources reported to online magazine ankawa.com. The area comprises at least 700 homes belonging to Christian owners, some of whom had been occupied by foreign militants of ISIS...

Syria truce under stain (Reuters) A Syrian truce brokered by Russia and Turkey was under growing strain on Monday as rebels vowed to respond to government violations and President Bashar al-Assad said the army would retake an important rebel-held area near Damascus...

Egyptian president announces plans to build country’s largest church (Fides) It will be the largest Coptic Church of Egypt, it will be inaugurated by 2018 in the new capital which is being built outside Cairo, and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al Sisi will be among its direct sponsors...

Pope to diplomats: Break bad habits of war, injustice (CNS) At the start of a new year, Pope Francis laid out a laundry list of suggested resolutions for religious and political leaders for making a joint commitment toward building peace. No conflict exists that is “a habit impossible to break,” the pope said, but he underlined that kicking such a habit requires greater efforts to rectify social injustice, protect religious freedom, jump-start peace talks, end the arms trade and cooperate in responding to climate change and the immigration and refugee crises...

Marking Christmas, Patriarch Kirill urges Christians to spend less time in ‘virtual reality’ (TASS) Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia in his speech on Christmas Eve urged Christians to be more tolerant and forgiving, leave “virtual reality” for the real world and help those in need. “Let’s not be judgmental of each other’s weaknesses, more tolerant and kinder, give each other more joy and love. Let’s leave the virtual reality space for the real world, opening our hearts to people that really need attention and care,” the Patriarch said...

Ethiopians celebrate Christmas (Andalou Agency) Ethiopian Christians on Saturday celebrated Christmas in a festive and joyous atmosphere. Burgeoning star-rated hotels and malls that dotted the main streets of the capital city, Addis Ababa displayed colorful Christmas trees and lights. All Christian denominations in Ethiopia — Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant and Seventh-Day Adventist — celebrate Christmas on 7 January, although elsewhere only Orthodox Christians mark Christmas on this day as opposed to the widely recognized 25 December...



6 January 2017
Greg Kandra




In this image from last month, people flee the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul, Iraq. Thousands who are seeking safety are finding shelter in the homes of strangers, sometimes inside Mosul.
(photo: CNS/Mohammed Salem, Reuters)


Russia ‘scaling down’ military presence in Syria (Al Jazeera) Russia’s military says it has begun scaling down its deployment to Syria with its sole aircraft carrier the first to quit the conflict zone. President Vladimir Putin ordered the reduction of forces in Syria on 29 December as he announced a ceasefire between government and rebel forces, which has since dampened down the fighting...

The displaced of Mosul find shelter in the homes of strangers (AFP) The first stop for the thousands of civilians forced to flee their homes in Mosul is often inside their own city, sometimes in the homes of complete strangers...

Egypt’s Coptic Christians celebrate Christmas, mourn bombing victims (The Los Angeles Times) Emad Tawil on Thursday returned to the church where he survived a bombing that killed his wife and daughter last month, determined to celebrate Christmas even as he mourned. St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo is the mother church for Egyptian Copts, who celebrate Christmas on 7 January, based on the ancient Julian calendar. “Every time they bomb a church or attack us, they increase our faith,” said Tawil, 53...

Bishop says Turkish Catholics fearful, but government supportive (CNS) A church leader in Turkey said Catholics are fearful about attending church after recent terrorist attacks, but insisted local Christians can count on government protection. “Although we can move around freely, people are understandably afraid of coming to Mass and there’s been a drop in participation,” said Bishop Ruben Tierrablanca Gonzalez, apostolic vicar of Istanbul...

Young Lebanon refugees rap about their plight (The Daily Star) Calling themselves “The Homsies,” a group of Syrian teenagers in north Lebanon’s Akkar are using their musical talents to send a message of peace — and at the same time to help improve the lives of refugees. “If there is one thing everyone does, it’s listen to music. So this is a powerful tool to convey a message,” Qotiba, a 14-year-old from near the Syrian city of Homs, told The Daily Star. His song, “Al-Qusair — Spring of Freedom,” is a powerful and poetic expression of his longing for his hometown. “Syria is being destroyed and everyone should know that this is happening and that we want peace,” he said...



5 January 2017
J.D. Conor Mauro




Syrians fill plastic containers with water at a public fountain in Damascus on 3 January. (photo: Louai Beshara/AFP/Getty Images)

Drinking water a new casualty of Syria’s war (New York Times) For millions of Damascus residents, long-term concerns about the direction of the war in Syria have been replaced by worries about where to get enough water to do the dishes, wash clothes or take a shower. For nearly two weeks, the Syrian capital and its vicinity have been afflicted by a water crisis that has left taps dry, caused long lines at wells and forced people to stretch whatever thin resources they can find. As with most of Syria’s problems, the Damascus water crisis is a symptom of the war. Historically, most of the water for the capital has come from the Barada Valley north of the city, which is controlled by rebels…

In Aleppo, heads of churches pray together for peace (Fides) In Aleppo, at the beginning of the new year, on the occasion of World Day for Peace, Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II presided over the prayer for peace in Syria at the Cathedral of St. Ephrem the Syrian. Besides bishops and priests of the Syrian Orthodox Church, Maronite Bishop Joseph Tobji, Chaldean Bishop Antoine Audo and the Rev. Ibrahim Nseir of the Arab Evangelical Church also attended. The patriarch, the bishops and all those present prayed together for peace in Syria and an end to violence, and prayed for the return of the two bishops of Aleppo who disappeared in April 2013: Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Paul Yazigi and Syrian Orthodox Metropolitan Youhanna Ibrahim…

Syrians turn for help in Lebanon (CNS) Balancing boxes and bags filled with warm clothes for his family, Malak Elias Mnayeri waited for a taxi in the near-freezing temperatures outside Caritas Lebanon’s center in Zahle, close to the Syrian border. “Today I feel like a real father,” he told Catholic News Service, discussing the necessities he would take to his two children. The Syriac Orthodox family fled from Homs, Syria, four years ago.

“We used to live in dignity,” Mr. Mnayeri said. “I never thought we’d be living like this, always in need.” Through his work as an auto mechanic, Mr. Mnayeri’s family lived comfortably in Homs before the conflict started…

Iraqi civil authorities: Christians return to Basra (Fides) The celebrations for the beginning of the new year 2017 gave civil authorities of the province of Basra an opportunity to deliver positive messages toward Christians. In particular, the president of the provincial council in Basra, Khalaf Abdul al Samad, during his visit to an Armenian church in Basra expressed his intention to offer consistent support for the restructuring and recovery activities in the churches and help Christians return…

Christmas attacks confirm threats facing Christians in India (Crux) Four separate incidents of violence and intimidation around Christmas time illustrates that India’s powerful militant Hindu national movements continue to make life increasingly difficult for the country’s Christian minority…

Why are Yazidis being uprooted again? (Al Monitor) The Yazidi refugees who fled massacres at the hands of the Islamic State in Iraq are now being forced to vacate their camp in Turkey — in the dead of winter, on short notice. Although journalists were not allowed in the camp, Al Monitor was able to talk with Yazidis who were going out to shop. Halef Smoki, who has lived in the Diyarbakir camp for more than two years with his five-member family, told Al Monitor the situation there has become miserable since the evacuation order was given. “They were giving us food and looked after us. Now we are told to leave. They tell us, ‘No more meals or water, and soon we will cut your electricity.’ Where are we supposed to go with children in the middle of winter? We no longer have a doctor because they took him away. We are left with nothing. We are under government order. We will do what they say. If we can stay, we will…”



Tags: Syria Iraq India Lebanon Violence against Christians

4 January 2017
Greg Kandra




In the video above, a Chaldean priest from Iraq says Christians have found support in one another amid persecution in the Middle East. Thousands of Iraqis are fleeing Mosul every day as a new phase begins in the battle to retake the city from ISIS. (video: Rome Reports)

Syrian cease-fire crumbles (The Washington Post) A Syrian cease-fire backed by Russia and Turkey is crumbling five days after it began, with government forces pushing offensives around Damascus and rebels threatening to suspend participation in new peace talks. The truce was to have been followed by a meeting between government representatives and mainstream rebel factions in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan...

Over 2,000 Iraqis a day fleeing Mosul (Reuters) More than 2,000 Iraqis a day are fleeing Mosul, several hundred more each day than before U.S.-led coalition forces began a new phase of their battle to retake the city from Islamic State, the United Nations said on Wednesday...

Pope issues plea for nonviolence (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis is calling for a renewed culture of nonviolence to inform global politics today, saying military responses to conflicts only breed further violence. The Pope’s appeal comes in his annual message for the World Day of Peace, which is marked by the Catholic Church on 1 January...

Sisters of Loreto mark 175 years on mission in South Asia (Fides) The Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which brings together the religious better known as “Sisters of Loreto,” celebrates 175 years of missionary presence in South Asia. “With immense gratitude to God we celebrate the arrival in India of the first sisters, who 175 years ago brought the love of God,” Sister Anita M. Braganza, head of the religious Province of South Asia, said to Fides...

Church in Kerala forms support group for transgender people (CNS) The church in India’s Kerala state has formed a group of priests, nuns and laypeople to respond to the pastoral needs of transgender people, reported ucanews.com. Formed in Cochin under the aegis of Pro-Life Support, a global social service movement within the church, the ministry is significant as it is one of the few outreach programs for the transgender community by the institutional church in India...

The unique traditions of Ethiopian Christmas (Nazret.com) Christmas in Ethiopia, like most other Christian holidays, is celebrated in its own unique way. Falling on 7 January, the holiday of Genna (also known as Lidet, or “birthday”), does not hold as prominent a place on the Ethiopian calendar as it does in other parts of the world. Easter (Fasika) reigns as the preeminent Christian holiday, but Genna nonetheless remains a major religious and cultural event throughout the country...



30 December 2016
Greg Kandra




Displaced Syrians are seen with food on 12 December at a camp on the border between Syria and Turkey. A brokered cease-fire took effect in Syria Friday as part of a deal that includes a return to peace talks to end the five-year-long war. (photo: CNS/Maysun, EPA)

Cease-fire begins across Syria (The Washington Post) A cease-fire announced by the Syrian government went into effect across the country early Friday as part of a broader deal that includes a return to peace talks to end more than five years of war...

Children of Mosul talk about life under ISIS (The Los Angeles Times) The boy started tagging along with me as I walked through the Hassan Sham displaced persons camp east of Mosul earlier this month. Iyad Mohamed Yunus said he was 14 years old, but he looked several years younger. A black winter jacket and gray sweatpants hung on his wiry frame. His cheap black canvas sneakers were caked with mud from the camp’s dirt streets, now wet with cold rain. He had a black cap pulled low on his face, and I could see his breath as he talked about life in Mosul under Islamic State...

The long road to rebuilding Gaza (Al Jazeera) Hundreds of families in Gaza still live in caravans, a temporary solution to the mass displacement that followed the 2014 war. Many have no idea when they will be able to leave the caravans and rebuild their destroyed homes — a situation for which they blame Israel and Egypt, who have blockaded Gaza for the past decade, and the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority...

In India, 45,000 Hindus paid tribute to Jesus on Christmas Day (Vatican Radio) On Christmas day, some 45,000 Hindus paid tribute to the Child Jesus in Bhubaneshwar, capital of the State of Odisha, India. The event is historic, the more so since the Indian State was the scene in 2008 of the most vicious persecution of Christians ever perpetuated in India...

Vatican says nearly 4 million pilgrims visited during Jubilee (CNS) More than 3.9 million pilgrims visited and attended papal events, liturgies or prayer services during the Holy Year of Mercy in 2016, the Vatican said. The Prefecture of the Papal Household, the Vatican office that coordinates the audiences and distributes the free tickets to papal audiences and liturgies, said a total of 3,952,140 people attended a papal event at the Vatican...



29 December 2016
Greg Kandra




Women light candles before attending Christmas Eve Mass at the Melkite Catholic Cathedral in Damascus, Syria. The Syrian government has announced a cease-fire agreement on Thursday, a potential turning point in the war. (photo: CNS/Youssef Badawi, EPA)

Syrian government announces truce (The New York Times) The Syrian government and its most important ally, Russia, announced on Thursday that they had reached a cease-fire agreement with Syrian rebels and with Turkey — a potential turning point in a civil war that has lasted nearly six years and claimed hundreds of thousands of lives...

Winter moves in across Lebanon and refugees struggle (UNHCR) There are just over one million Syrian refugees in Lebanon. One-in-two live in substandard shelters like tents, garages, warehouses, unfinished buildings and animal sheds. They require continuous support to maintain their shelters, especially during winter, which can be bitter and long in Lebanon. More rain and snowstorms are forecast for the coming weeks. Some high-altitude towns in the Bekaa Valley and northern Lebanon have already been blanketed in snow...

Iraqi units resume offensive in Mosul (The Washington Post) Iraqi army, police and elite counterterrorism forces launched a combined assault on eastern Mosul after a two-week break, the military announced Thursday...

Kerry’s blunt words for Israel draw criticism (The New York Times) Secretary of State John Kerry’s rebuke of the Israeli government on Wednesday set off a wave of criticism from lawmakers in both parties. Republicans denounced what they said was the Obama administration’s harsh treatment of a steadfast ally and Democrats signaled that they were uneasy with Mr. Kerry’s pressure on Israel, even as they praised the effort to promote Middle East peace...

Palestinian family celebrates first Christmas together in 26 years (CNS) For the first time in 26 years, Lilian and Nadeem Aqleh had all six of their children with them to celebrate Christmas. “This is the happiest day of my life,” said Lilian, 70, who is Catholic, as she celebrated the holiday with her children and grandchildren, some of who traveled from the United States and Canada. “It is hard having your children so far away. I want my children with me. At Christmas we remember the birth of Christ and the meaning of Christmas is to share it with family...”



28 December 2016
Greg Kandra




Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, celebrates Christmas Mass at the Church of the Nativity in the West Bank town of Bethlehem.
(photo: CNS/Musa Al Shaer, pool via EPA)


In Christmas messages, patriarchs plead for peace (CNS) Lamenting the exodus of Christians from their ancestral homelands, Catholic patriarchs of the Middle East pleaded for peace and security in their annual Christmas messages. In separate statements, the prelates shared their anguish regarding the persecution and uprooting of Christians from the region...

Pope asks for love, prayers for persecuted Christians (CNS) Despite increased persecution and attacks against Christians, the faithful must strengthen their courage and joyful desire to follow Christ no matter the cost, Pope Francis said...

Israel postpones vote on new settlements (BBC) An Israeli committee has postponed a vote to authorize construction of almost 500 new homes in Jewish settlements in occupied East Jerusalem. The move apparently follows a request from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office. It also comes ahead of a speech on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. On Friday, the U.S. chose not to veto a UN Security Council resolution calling for an end to settlement construction...

Turkey, Russia discuss cease-fire plan for Syria (AP) Turkish and Russian officials are discussing the contours of a cease-fire for Syria, Syrian opposition factions said, building on cooperation between the two countries following a deal they brokered for the evacuation of opposition fighters from the northern city of Aleppo earlier this month...

Russian Orthodox metropolitan sends Christmas greetings to Pope Francis (Moscow Patriarchate) Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations, sent Christmas greeting to Pope Francis, Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury, Bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strom, chairman of the Council of the EKD, and heads of other non-Orthodox Churches...



27 December 2016
Greg Kandra




Pope Francis greets the crowd after delivering his Christmas message and blessing “urbi et orbi” (to the city and the world) from the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican
on 25 December. (photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano)


Pope: World scarred by war, greed must welcome Prince of Peace (CNS) The song of the angels that heralded the birth of Christ urges men and women to seek peace in a world divided by war, terrorism and greed, Pope Francis said. “Today this message goes out to the ends of the earth to reach all peoples, especially those scarred by war and harsh conflicts that seem stronger than the yearning for peace,” the pope said on 25 December...

Pope prays for victims of Russian plane crash (Vatican Radio) After the Angelus prayer in St. Peter’s Square on the Feast of Saint Stephen, Pope Francis expressed his condolences to the Russian people and the families of victims of the Christmas day plane crash that took the lives of 92 people near Sochi...

Vulnerable Ukrainians receive aid from Pope (Vatican Radio) Thanks to Pope Francis over 2 million people affected by the humanitarian crisis in eastern Ukraine will receive a first installment of much needed aid in time for Christmas...

Iraqi forces to resume assault on Mosul (Reuters) Iraqi forces will resume their push against the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) inside Mosul in the coming days, a U.S. battlefield commander has told Reuters. The move would be a new phase of the two-month-old operation that will see American troops deployed closer to the front line in the city...

Abducted Kerala priest appeals to Pope Francis for freedom (Indian Express) In a video posted on social media platforms, a Catholic priest from Kerala, who was abducted in Yemen in March this year, has appealed to the central government and Pope Francis to secure his release. He has alleged that not enough efforts were being made to free him because, as an Indian, he was “not considered of much value...”



22 December 2016
Greg Kandra




Syrians children play in the snow at a tent city in the Azaz neighborhood of Aleppo, Syria, on 21 December. (photo: Mustafa Sultan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

U.N. to create team to investigate Syria war crimes (Al Jazeera) The United Nations General Assembly has voted to establish a special team to “collect, consolidate, preserve and analyze evidence” as well as to prepare cases on war crimes and human rights abuses committed during the conflict in Syria. The General Assembly adopted a Liechtenstein-drafted resolution to establish the independent team with 105 in favor, 15 against and 52 abstentions. The team will work in coordination with the U.N. Syria Commission of Inquiry…

Three car bombings strike Mosul (AP) Three car bombs ripped through an outdoor market in Mosul on Thursday, killing at least 15 civilians and eight policemen, the Iraqi Defense Ministry said in a statement. The attack occurred in the eastern district of Gogjali, which Iraqi forces retook from Islamic State militants weeks ago as part of a massive operation to drive them from Mosul, the brief statement said. It did not say whether the explosions were caused by suicide attackers…

Indian Christians in Orissa seek protection for Christmas (Fides) A few days before Christmas, the Christians of Kandhamal district in the Indian state of Orissa, the epicenter of the anti-Christian massacres of 2008, have called for a Christmas free from all violence. “We want to celebrate Christmas in peace and serenity,” says the Rev. Pradosh Chandra Nayak, pastor of Our Lady of Charity Church in Raikia in Kandhamal. The pastor submitted a written request to the local police station in Raikia to ask protection for churches and Christian villages during the Christmas celebrations…

Israeli university defends Christmas tree against criticism (RNS) Administrators at the Technion, a public research university in Haifa, are rushing to defend the presence of a Christmas tree in the campus’ student union building. Their statement of support is part of a larger pushback against Jewish religious authorities who hold that such decorations have no place in public settings in predominantly Jewish areas in Israel…

Christmas thrives in Lebanon (CNS) Amid the turmoil in the Middle East and persecution of Christians in surrounding countries, the Christmas spirit is evident in Lebanon: sparkling lights, decorated trees and even mangers in public places. “Wherever you go you can find Christmas decorations,” even in the cities and the places where the residents are Muslim, the Rev. Joseph Soueid told Catholic News Service…



Tags: Syria Iraq India Lebanon Israel





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