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Current Issue
December, 2017
Volume 43, Number 4
  
18 October 2017
Greg Kandra




In the video above, U.S.-backed forces in Syria celebrate the defeat of ISIS in Raqqa, the militant group’s self-proclaimed capital. (video: CBS News/YouTube)

Syrian fighters capture Raqqa (Al Jazeera) The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of Kurdish and Arab forces backed by the US, have announced the capture of Raqqa city after a four-month operation to drive out ISIS fighters. SDF spokesmen announced the takeover of the strategic Syrian city on Tuesday after a final battle at a sports stadium where ISIL (the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, also known as ISIS) made its last stand...

Iraq declares mission accomplished in Kirkuk (Al Jazeera) Iraq’s military says it achieved its objectives in a lightning-quick operation that saw troops sweep through disputed Kurdish-held territory in a punishing riposte to an independence vote last month...

ISIS militants stage attack outside Coptic church (AP) The militants drove into the city center of el-Arish in the morning, then split into two groups. One group traded gunfire with the guards outside the Church of Saint George, security and military officials said. Services at the church were suspended months ago, following a wave of attacks on Christians in Sinai.In a brazen daytime attack, about a dozen Islamic militants robbed a local bank, lobbed grenades and traded gunfire with security forces guarding an unused church in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula on Monday, killing seven people, including three civilians, officials said...

Vatican sends Diwali message to Hindus (CNA) With tensions between Christians and Hindu nationalists in India increasingly on the rise, the Vatican sent a message marking the Hindu feast of Diwali, urging members of both religions to go beyond mere tolerance of one another, and to foster a genuine mutual respect. Diwali is a Hindu festival of lights, and is being celebrated this year on 19 October...

American woman becomes Ethiopian princess in Orthodox wedding (The Independent) Fairytales are not known for beginning in a Washington DC nightclub, but for one American woman it was where she met the Ethiopian prince who would go on to become her husband...



17 October 2017
J.D. Conor Mauro




Embed from Getty Images
A member of the Kurdish-led S.D.F. coalition, backed by U.S. special forces, looks out from a building at the front lines in Raqqa on 16 October. (photo: Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images)

ISIS makes last stand at a stadium in Raqqa, its doomed ‘capital’ (NPR) The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces are in the process of kicking ISIS out of Raqqa, the extremist group’s self-declared capital. Now ISIS fighters are reportedly bottled up in a stadium complex in the Syrian city. As of Tuesday local time, the S.D.F. controlled “more than 90 percent” of Raqqa…

New tensions rise on the Nineveh Plain (Fides) A local formation of militias that include many Christian fighters among their ranks have told the Kurdish Peshmerga forces to abandon all areas of the Nineveh Plain under their control…

Crimes against Dalits on the rise (Fides) “The growing atrocities on the Dalits give the impression that India is returning to the age of Manusmriti, when Dalits were treated worse than slaves,” said Thomas Menamparampil, archbishop emeritus. His remark refers to the Hindu text that informed the country’s ancient caste system, in which Dalits occupy the most oppressed position in society. “The media reported recently that a 21-year-old Dalit man was beaten to death allegedly by a group of men belonging to a [higher] caste in Anand district, Gujarat. According to the news, he was killed only for reasons of caste,” the church leader says…

Diwali 2017: When is it and how is it celebrated? (Al Jazeera) Diwali, also known as the festival of lights, is the biggest festival celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists around the world. Its date changes every year and commemorates different things depending on local tradition and culture. As per India’s official holiday calendar, Diwali in 2017 will be on October 19, coinciding with the 15th day of Kartik, the holiest month in the Hindu lunar calendar. In southern India and in Singapore, Diwali will be observed on October 18, which is also an official holiday in Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka and the Sindh province in Pakistan…

Roman theater uncovered at base of Jerusalem’s Western Wall (Washington Post) Israeli archaeologists on Monday announced the discovery of the first known Roman-era theater in Jerusalem’s Old City, a unique structure around 1,800 years old that abuts the Western Wall and may have been built during Roman Emperor Hadrian’s reign. The edifice’s elegant masonry was found during excavations carried out in the past two years below the Western Wall tunnels, a warren of ancient subterranean passageways running alongside a contested Jerusalem holy site built by King Herod in the first century B.C…



Tags: Syria Iraq India Jerusalem

16 October 2017
Greg Kandra




The Rev. Samaan Shehata, shown above in an undated photo, was killed in a knife attack in Cairo, Thursday. (photo: Twitter)

Coptic Orthodox priest killed in street attack in Cairo (The Catholic Herald) Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church says a priest has been killed in a knife attack in a poor Cairo district, the latest deadly assault on members of the country’s Christian minority. The church says the attack took place on Thursday. The priest was identified in the media as the Rev. Samaan Shehata...

Iraqi forces capture installations outside Kirkuk (BBC) Iraqi government forces have captured key installations outside the disputed city of Kirkuk from Kurdish fighters. A military statement said units had taken control of the K1 military base, the Baba Gurgur oil and gas field, and a state-owned oil company’s offices. Baghdad said the Peshmerga had withdrawn “without fighting,” but clashes were reported south of Kirkuk. The operation was launched a month after the Kurdistan Region held a controversial independence referendum...

Lebanese president says country ‘can no longer cope’ with refugees (AP) Lebanon’s president says his country “can no longer cope” with the presence of Syrian refugees and appealed to the international community for help to organize their return. Michel Aoun says the refugees’ return to safe areas in Syria will put an end to their suffering and save Lebanon from negative repercussions...

U.S.-backed forces in Syria begin assault on Raqqah (The Los Angeles Times) Syrian forces backed by the United States said Sunday that they have launched a final push to drive Islamic State from its last footholds in Raqqah, after tribal leaders and a provincial council negotiated the safe exit of civilians along with the surrender of local militants and family members...

How art is blooming amid the Gaza wasteland (The Guardian) It might seem incongruous to find an event commemorating the quatercentenary of Shakespeare’s death in an isolated enclave corralled by electronically monitored fences, ruled by an armed and proscribed Islamic faction, and succinctly dismissed by Condoleezza Rice as a “terrorist wasteland.” But it was part of a long history of cultural life and heritage, easily overlooked amid a decade-long economic siege and three devastating wars...



13 October 2017
Greg Kandra




Pope Francis exchanges gifts with the Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri at the Vatican.
(photo: Vatican Radio/Reuters)


Pope Francis receives Lebanese prime minister (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis received the Prime Minister of Lebanon, Saad Rafic Hariri on Friday morning, in the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican. A Communiqué from the Press Office of the Holy See reports that the Pope and the Prime Minister held cordial conversation over a range of subjects, including various aspects of the situation in Lebanon...

How a seed bank, almost lost in Syria’s war, could help feed a warming planet (The New York Times) Ali Shehadeh is a plant conservationist from Syria. He hunts for the genes contained in the seeds we plant today and what he calls their “wild relatives” from long ago. His goal is to safeguard those seeds that may be hardy enough to feed us in the future, when many more parts of the world could become as hot, arid and inhospitable as it is here. But searching for seeds that can endure the perils of a hotter planet has not been easy...

Animal blessing in India brings together different faiths (Crux) Among the things that can bring people of different faiths together is a love of animals. In India, the traditional blessing of the animals, associated with the feast of St. Francis, brings more than Christian families to one Catholic parish. “People from all faiths are welcome. Many people of other religions bring their animals for the blessing,” Father Joe D’ Souza, pastor of St. John the Evangelist Church told Crux. “There were 8 non-Christian families present, belonging to the Parsi and Hindu faiths,” adding the animals break all religious barriers...

Unity deal offers hope for Palestinians (The New York Times) After a decade of hostility and recrimination, the two main Palestinian factions came together in Cairo on Thursday to sign a reconciliation deal that holds out the tantalizing prospect of a united Palestinian front...



12 October 2017
Greg Kandra




Pope Francis celebrates Mass at the Basilica of St. Mary Major to mark the centenary of the foundation of the Pontifical Oriental Institute. (photo: Vatican Radio/AFP)

Pope urges Oriental Churches to continue courageous witness (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Thursday celebrated Mass in the Basilica of St Mary Major to mark the centenary of the foundation of the Pontifical Oriental Institute and the Congregation for Eastern Churches. In his homily the pope encouraged all Christians of the Oriental Churches to continue with their courageous witness, despite the dramatic persecutions that they suffer...

Syro-Malabar Catholics rejoice in Pope Francis’ recent moves (UCANews.com) In a historic move, Pope Francis has extended the administrative powers of the Syro-Malabar Church across India, removing restrictions imposed since the arrival of Portuguese missionaries in the 16th century. Announcing the establishment of two new dioceses for the Eastern-rite church in letter to all India bishops, Pope Francis also authorized it to have pastoral powers across India, a move resisted by the majority Latin-rite bishops in the past...

The Christians fighting for freedom in Syria (National Review) The soldiers of the Syriac Military Council sit on a rug in an abandoned home in the urban wreckage of the caliphate’s capital, perhaps 200 yards from ISIS, drinking tea and chain-smoking. The predominantly Christian unit is a small but symbolically important part of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which have encircled ISIS and are slowly closing in...

Half of Syrian refugee children in Lebanon out of school (Middle East Monitor) Six years after the start of the Syrian crisis half of all Syrian refugee children in Lebanon are still out of school despite efforts by the UN and other parties, All4syria.info reported yesterday. Lebanese sources said that the ministry of education carried out several positive measures to bring Syrian refugee children into schools yet only 52 per cent joined in the 2017-2018 school year. Lebanon’s education ministry could only provide schooling for 250,000 children...

Prayers of the persecuted around the world (The New York Times) Though Monika Bulaj grew up in Communist Poland, she was nonetheless a devoutly Catholic child who studied mystics and dreamed of a life as a cloistered nun. But her teenage discovery that her grandmother’s town was once home to thousands of Jews who perished in the Holocaust set her on a different path: a 30-year journey documenting persecuted religious minorities around the world...



11 October 2017
Greg Kandra




In this file photograph, novices of the Congregation of the Mother of Carmel, part of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church in India, gather for morning prayer. In a letter, Pope Francis has urged unity among Catholics of different rites in India and authorized creating two new parishes.
(photo: Sean Sprague)


Pope urges unity among rites in India, authorizes creation of two new eparchies (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Tuesday urged for a “fruitful and harmonious cooperation” among the bishops of the three ritual Churches of India, as they reach out to provide pastoral care to their respective faithful, spread out in various parts of the country. “In India itself, overlapping jurisdictions should no longer be problematic, for the Church has experienced them for some time, such as in Kerala,” the Pope wrote in a letter the Indian bishops...

Iraqi women visit monastery after its recapture from ISIS (CNA) Last week 300 women visited a historic monastery near Mosul after its liberation from the Islamic State — a decision their priest said was made in order to show they aren’t afraid, and that Christians in Iraq are there to stay. “We decided to go to San Behnam and Sara monastery because a lot of Christian people are afraid to go to this place, because it is sometimes dangerous,” The Rev. Roni Momika said on 6 October, after returning from the visit. He said the group wanted to go to the monastery “to pray and to tell the world that we are here and we will pray for peace, and we will pray for the soldiers, and we will pray for Christians in all the world...”

Jordan says hosting refugees has cost $10 billion (Arab News) Authorities in Jordan on Tuesday estimated at more than $10 billion the cost of hosting thousands of refugees displaced from Syria since the civil war broke out there in 2011. The UN says that some 650,000 Syrian refugees are currently being housed in Jordan, but the government puts the figure far higher at around 1.3 million people...

Pope Francis reaches a milestone: 40 million Twitter followers (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis’ Twitter account — @pontifex — has reached a milestone: 40 million followers in 9 languages. The figure is significant not only in itself, but in what it represents for the Holy Father, himself, who, like his predecessor, desires to be a Christian witness among many on the “Digital Continent,” especially through social media...



10 October 2017
Greg Kandra




Chaldean bishops met with Pope Francis at the Vatican last week. (photo: Asia News)

Chaldean bishops express ‘solidarity and pride’ (AsiaNews) In a “critical and difficult” time for Iraq, the Chaldean Church expresses “appreciation” for the role played by the armed forces in the fight against the “terrorists” of the Islamic State (ISIS) and renews its call to “dialogue” to overcome the “crisis” between Erbil and Baghdad following the referendum on independence. This is what the Chaldean patriarchate underlines in a statement published at the end of the Synod, which was held in Rome from October 4 to 8. In the text, the leaders of the Iraqi Church also expressed the “solidarity and pride” of the Christian community, which has been able to keep the “faith” alive...

A journey into the destroyed heart of the Islamic State capital, Raqqa (The Guardian) After months of brutal fighting, the battle to retake Raqqa, the self-declared capital of the Islamic State caliphate, is almost over. Scroll down to follow photographer Achilleas Zavallis and reporter Martin Chulov as they journey from the Iraqi border to the wasteland of the frontline of the ancient Syrian city where the few remaining Isis fighters are making their last stand...

Libyan authorities recover bodies of Copts beheaded in 2015 (AP) Libyan authorities have recovered the bodies of 21 Coptic Christian workers, mostly Egyptians, who in 2015 were beheaded on a beach in the coastal city of Sirte by Islamic State militants, according to a statement issued Saturday by a government-linked anti-ISIS group...

ISIS fighters surrender en masse (The New York Times) The prisoners were taken to a waiting room in groups of four, and were told to stand facing the concrete wall, their noses almost touching it, their hands bound behind their backs. More than a thousand prisoners determined to be Islamic State fighters passed through that room last week after they fled their crumbling Iraqi stronghold of Hawija. Instead of the martyrdom they had boasted was their only acceptable fate, they had voluntarily ended up here in the interrogation center of the Kurdish authorities in northern Iraq...

Indian bishops denounce burning of flag, Hindu deity (UCANews.com) Indian Catholic bishops have denounced youths who burned the national flag and an image of a Hindu deity in Mizoram state, northeast India. “Those who have committed these acts cannot and should not profess to be Christians,” the Indian bishops’ conference said in a 6 October media release signed by secretary general Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas...



Tags: Iraq India ISIS Copts Chaldeans

6 October 2017
Greg Kandra




Embed from Getty Images
Iraqi civilians make their way through endangered areas filled with mines and bombs on 4 October, as the Iraqi army presses into the northern town of Hawija. On Thursday, Iraq’s prime minister announced the forces had driven ISIS out of the town. (photo: Andalou Agency/Getty Images)

Fighters linked to Al Quaida launch new attack in Syria (AP) Al-Qaida-linked fighters on Friday attacked a key central Syrian village at the crossroads between areas under government control and those controlled by insurgent groups, opposition activists said. In eastern Syria, meanwhile, 15 civilians, including children, were killed when a missile slammed into a government-held neighborhood in the city of Deir el-Zour on Thursday evening...

Iraq says it has taken one of the last ISIS strongholds (AP) Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced Thursday that Iraqi forces have driven the Islamic State group from one of the extremists’ last strongholds in the country, the northern town of Hawija...

World Council of Churches plans to work for peace in Ethiopia border dispute (AfricanNews.com) The World Council of Churches (WCC) has said it will pray and work for peace between Eritrea and Ethiopia in an attempt to partake in the resolution of a longstanding border dispute. This was disclosed by a WCC delegation that visited the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahdo Church last month in what was labeled a historic visit by the body. It was the first time in over a decade that such a visit had been executed...

Indian president challenged on religious persecution (Premier.org) As the 14th EU-India summit starts, the religious freedom group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) have asked EU leaders not to “turn a blind eye” to the oppression and torture in India of religious people. The situation for religious citizens has worsened under the current government. The right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party has been accused of inciting hatred and riots against Christians and other faith groups and are the political arm of the nationalistic Hindutva (“Hinduness”) movement...

Putin takes aim at Russia’s abortion culture (Foreign Policy) Russia’s anti-abortion movement has gathered momentum in recent months, as activists — usually devout members of the influential Russian Orthodox Church — have started seizing on the country’s demographic crisis as an urgent reason for banning the practice...

In Gaza, Hamas levels an ancient treasure (AP) Palestinian and French archaeologists began excavating Gaza’s earliest archaeological site nearly 20 years ago, unearthing what they believe is a rare 4,500-year-old Bronze Age settlement. But over protests that grew recently, Gaza’s Hamas rulers have systematically destroyed the work since seizing power a decade ago, allowing the flattening of this hill on the southern tip of Gaza City to make way for construction projects, and later military bases. In its newest project, Hamas-supported bulldozers are flattening the last remnants of excavation...



5 October 2017
Greg Kandra




Pope Francis embraces Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako during his audience with Chaldean bishops at the Vatican. (photo: Vatican Radio)

Pope urges Iraqi Chaldean bishops to build unity (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has urged leaders of the Chaldean Church to be builders of unity, favoring dialogue and collaboration between all actors of Iraqi society. The Pope was addressing bishops in Rome for the Synod of the Chaldeans, taking place from 4 to 8 October. The Chaldean Church is headed by Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako, Archbishop of Baghdad...

Pope: ‘May the Lord protect Egypt, the Middle East and the world from terrorism’ (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Wednesday had a special greeting for an Egyptian delegation led by the country’s Tourism Minister, in Rome to promote a pilgrimage in the footsteps of the Holy Family’s flight to Egypt...

Iraqi Christians ‘in danger’ after referendum (Catholic Herald) Church leaders in northern Iraq have issued a stark warning that the crisis triggered by last week’s Kurdistan independence referendum could endanger the region’s Christian presence. Following the referendum, which could see the KRG (Kurdistan Regional Government) area seceding from northern Iraq, five senior Catholic and Orthodox bishops issued a statement appealing to the international community to protect Christians and help them stay in their ancestral lands, especially the Nineveh Plains...

Russian Orthodox Church sends letter to top U.S. diplomat regarding religious freedom (SputnikNews) Moscow Patriarchate has sent a letter to US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson with the regard to the recently published report of the State Department suggesting that religious minorities faced discrimination in Russia, the deputy chairman of the Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations (DECR) said...



4 October 2017
Greg Kandra




Embed from Getty Images
Father Tom Uzhunnalil, freed last month after over a year in captivity in Yemen, will receive the Mother Teresa Award for Social Justice in Mumbai. (photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP/Getty Images)

Kidnapped Indian priest to get Mother Teresa award (Vatican Radio) Father Tom, recently freed after 18 months captivity in Yemen, has been named this year’s recipient of the Mother Teresa Award for Social Justice by Harmony Foundation Mumbai. Abraham Mathai, founder of Harmony Foundation said Father Tom exemplifies the year’s theme “Compassion Beyond Borders — a compassionate response to the refugee crisis.” Father Tom he said continued to work at a place of great danger despite having had the chance to leave the country...

Kurdish referendum could imperil Christian safe haven in Iraq (National Catholic Register) The Kurdish referendum vote for independence from Iraq has raised the specter of all-out war that, Middle East Christian leaders and advocates warn, could land the final blow to the future of Christianity in its historic Mesopotamian homeland...

Russia says airstrips wounded Al Quaida leader in Syria (AP) Russia’s military announced on Wednesday that it has carried out airstrikes in Syria this week that critically wounded the leader of the country’s al-Qaida-linked group and killed 12 other militant commanders...

Archeologists believe they have discovered tomb of St. Nicholas (The Telegraph) Archaeologists in Turkey have made a discovery which could settle a century-old debate ... and disappoint millions of children around the world. They have unearthed what they say is likely the tomb of the original Santa Claus, or Saint Nicholas, beneath an ancient church in Demre, southern Turkey...

The town that gave Russia its name (BBC) One hundred years ago, revolution flung Russia from the imperialist era into the communist era — from centuries of tsars to red Soviet stars. In St Petersburg, extravagant palaces recall the lavish lifestyles of the Russian emperors, while in Moscow, austere skyscrapers are reminders of the stark existence under dictatorial rule. Even though it’s been a century since Russians found themselves at the crossroads between these two major phases of their nation’s history, many are still at odds with one another over which period — and which city — had the greatest impact on today’s Russian culture and sparked citizens’ profound patriotism...







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