5 July 2017
Farid Georges, a Syriac Christian from Homs, Syria, poses for a photo in England on 23 June. His artwork depicting Syria’s six-year war is being shown in Catholic cathedrals of northwest England and Wales. (CNS photo/Simon Caldwell)
A huge plume of grey smoke billows into a vivid blue sky as rooftops and buildings buckle into twisted iron and debris and then begin to fall. Beneath the smoke, human wreckage of the blast is visible: faces of victims contorted in pain and others dead, lying in pools of their own blood.
The painting is called “The Explosion” and is one of 11 works inspired by the Syrian war being shown in the Catholic cathedrals of northwest England and Wales in an exhibition called “Portraits of Faith: Syria’s Christians Search for Peace.”
They are the creations of Farid Georges, a Syriac Christian from Homs, Syria, who has depicted the six-year war in his native country in about two dozen paintings.
In a late-June interview with Catholic News Service in Lancaster, Georges, 70, a professional artist, recalled how in 2013 he personally witnessed the explosion that he would later capture in oil on canvas.
“This was particularly painful to paint,” he said.
“I saw the smoke rising and knew there was an explosion, and when I eventually went to the scene I was confronted with the scale of the damage, the destruction, and the sheer number of casualties, people who had perished of all different ages,” Georges said.
He added that to this day he does not know the source of the attack.
“I don’t care to know,” he said, adding: “This sort of thing shouldn’t happen anywhere.”
Homs was a city on the front line of the war and, as fighting engulfed residential areas, Georges and his family stopped sleeping in the bedrooms because they were exposed to gunfire and shell blast, choosing instead to spend their nights downstairs in the sitting rooms. Eventually, they fled into the countryside and spent a year there before finally leaving Syria for the safety of other countries.
Georges said he knew “many, many people” who died in Homs. They included Father Frans van der Lugt, 75, a Dutch Jesuit shot in the head in 2014 by assassins after he refused to abandon the poor and homeless of the city.
Georges painted a montage of 16 images in tribute to Father van der Lugt, and it now hangs in his home in Nuremberg, Germany, where he has lived since 2015. The painting forms part of the English exhibition arranged by Aid to the Church in Need, an international charity set up to help persecuted Christians.
Georges said he was “very shocked and saddened” by the priest’s murder.
“I knew him very well, we had a very close relationship,” he said.
“He has quite a legacy in Homs,” said Georges. “He treated all the people of Homs as equals. Even if they were Muslims, they were all his children. His monastery at Homs had Muslims and Christians in it all the time. He would give them refuge there and feed them.”
A painting by Farid Georges, a Syriac Christian from Homs, Syria, now living in England, shows his country at peace before it descends into war. His artwork is being shown in Catholic cathedrals of northwest England and Wales. (photo: CNS/Simon Caldwell)
The paintings in the exhibition were created between 2012 and 2014 and, together, they work like a narrative.
An early one, called the “Flower of Homs,” shows the Syrian city at peace before the violence, for instance. As the paintings progress to the horror of the war, the images darken, and dismembered bodies fill the canvas as people and their dwellings are destroyed.
“Forgiveness in Ma’aloula,” one of the later paintings in the exhibition, points beyond the war to the hope of Syrian Christians for final peace and reconciliation.
It depicts an enormous figure of Christ standing astride two hills representing the ancient Syrian village where Aramaic, the language of Jesus, was still spoken. The hills form faces staring at each other.
Georges said: “It (Ma’aloula) was invaded, the people were displaced, the churches were destroyed. To me, the people who did that do not represent Islam, because Muslims have lived there together with Christians for a very long time.”
The paintings in the exhibition were created between 2012 and 2014 and, together, they work like a narrative.
“I wish and hope that it will return to the diverse mosaic of peaceful coexistence that we have,” he said. “We have more than 20 sects of different confession in Syria. We have always lived in peace and coexistence.
“All we need is for us to be left to our own devices,” he added.
5 July 2017
The Vatican’s nuncio to Lebanon, Archbishop Gabriele Caccia, greets religious leaders during an interfaith conference at Notre Dame University Louaize in Zouk Mosbeh, Lebanon, on 1 July.
(photo: CNS/courtesy Mychel Akl, Maronite Catholic Patriarchate)
Agencies worry about refugees in limbo (CNS) Agencies and organizations that help refugees start new lives in the U.S. worry about the fate that awaits migrants in transit as well as those who will not be allowed into the country as the partial ban that the U.S. Supreme Court set in motion with its late June ruling goes into effect in early July...
Christian, Muslims leaders point to Lebanon as a model of coexistence (CNS) Top Christian and Muslim leaders and Lebanese government representatives agreed that Lebanon should be highlighted as an example of peaceful coexistence, noting that “the deepening of democracy in Lebanon sends a message of hope to the Arabs and to the world.” They also reiterated calls for peace and various churches’ support for “the Palestinian people and their national rights” and for Christians to remain in the Holy Land...
After backing Trump, Christians who fled Iraq fall into his dragnet (The New York Times) A few Sundays ago, federal immigration agents walked through the doors of handsome houses here in the Detroit suburbs, brushing past tearful children, stunned wives and statuettes of the Virgin Mary in search of men whose time was up. If the Trump administration prevails, more than 100 of these men may soon be deported, like the tens of thousands of other people rounded up this year as part of a national clampdown on illegal immigration. But the arrests may have stunned this community more than most...
Can jobs in Ethiopia keep Eritrean refugees out of Europe? (BBC) Many thousands of Eritreans have fled the country for Europe in search for a better life. A multinational initiative is now trying to stem the flow of migrants to Europe by training refugees and giving them jobs in neighboring Ethiopia...
India’s West Bengal state tops trafficking in children, women (Vatican Radio) There were 35,000 cases of child trafficking and 1,25,750 cases of women trafficking reported in India in 2016-17, with West Bengal state topping in both categories, a senior official of the National Anti-Trafficking Committee (NATC) has said...
Regardless of your religion, it’s worth making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem (The Sunday Times) Jerusalem is my high school history teacher, a teller of captivating stories that makes history real today. In a single morning, I heard a nun sing the Lord’s prayer in Aramaic, which was the language of Jesus; I visited a Russian Orthodox church; and then I watched children celebrate the 2500-year-old Jewish holiday of Purim on an ancient Roman road...
Pilgrimage to Ethiopia’s 12th century churches (Al Jazeera) The 11 medieval churches hewn from solid, volcanic rock in the heart of Ethiopia were built on the orders of King Lalibela in the 12th century. Lalibela set out to construct a “New Jerusalem” in Africa after Muslims conquests halted Christian pilgrimages to the Holy Land. Legend has it that the design and layout of the churches mimic those observed by the king in Jerusalem, which he had visited as a youth. Many place names across the town are also said to originate from the king’s memories of the Biblical city...
30 June 2017
Here at CNEWA, our New York office will be closed until Wednesday to mark the Independence Day holiday. But if you’re looking for news, photos, videos and insights from the world we serve, look no further. The June edition of our award-winning magazine, ONE, is now available online.
Recently honored with a record 31 awards from the Catholic Press Association, ONE continues to bring stories of inspiration, courage, faith and hope to our readers and donors. This edition features a cover story about excellent Catholic schools in Ethiopia; we also take readers to a city in Lebanon offering welcome and hope to refugees and see how Caritas (with support from CNEWA) is helping the poorest of the poor, both young and old, in Armenia.
For more insight, take a moment to watch this video preview from Msgr. John E. Kozar below. Meantime, have a safe and happy holiday weekend — and thank you for your continued readership and support!
30 June 2017
Social worker Rachelle Beaini, right, dances with Syrian women during a social event hosted at a soup kitchen that welcomes refugees in Zahleh, Lebanon. Read more about how the city is dealing with the influx of newcomers, straddling Hardship and Hospitality, in the June 2017
edition of ONE. (photo: Raed Rafei)
30 June 2017
In the video above, a young survivor of the recent attack on a Coptic Christian church describes what he witnessed. (video: AfricaNews/YouTube)
Survivor of Coptic church attack tells his story (Reuters) Ten-year-old Egyptian schoolboy Mina Habib recounts the day Islamist gunmen killed his father in an attack on a group of Coptic Christians traveling to a monastery in Minya, southern Egypt last month. The boy rarely leaves his house these days. He is still recovering from seeing Islamist gunmen kill his father for being a Christian...
Lebanon refugee camps hit by suicide bombers (BBC) Five militants have blown themselves up during a raid by Lebanese troops on refugee camps near the Syrian border, Lebanon’s army said. A young girl was killed and three soldiers wounded by the blasts. Four others were hurt when an attacker threw a hand grenade, the army said. It happened during an operation to search for militants and weapons in an area near the town of Arsal...
Christians in the Golan Heights endure (AFP) Few Christians remain on the Israeli-held part of the strategic plateau northeast of the Sea of Galilee, where Christians believe Jesus walked on water. Only two isolated Christian families still live there, according to the families themselves and a researcher on the Golan Heights. Their churches open only on rare occasions, such as for a recent solidarity visit by Arabs from the Israeli cities of Haifa and Nazareth...
Report confirms chemical weapons used in Syria (The New York Times) Sarin nerve agent or a similar poison was used in the 4 April aerial attack in northern Syria that killed nearly 100 villagers, including children, the monitoring group that polices the chemical arms ban treaty concluded Thursday in a report shared with United Nations diplomats...
New liquor policy comes to Kerala (India Legal) It was champagne time for the tourism, liquor and hospitality industry in Kerala recently. What brought good cheer was the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government’s decision to scrap the phased prohibition policy initiated by the Congress-led UDF government that preceded it. Justifying the move, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan labelled the earlier policy as “impractical...”
29 June 2017
Pope Francis greets Orthodox Archbishop Job of Telmessos and his delegation at the conclusion of a Mass marking the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican 29 June. As is customary an Orthodox delegation from the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople attended the feast day Mass. Read more about the Mass here. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
29 June 2017
In this image from 2016, a volunteer embraces refugee children at a makeshift camp in near Idomeni, Greece. The Holy See has called for financial donations to developing countries to go toward supporting migrants, refugees and the local poor.
(photo: CNS/Nikos Arvanitdis, pool via EPA)
Holy See calls for donations to help migrants and the poor (Vatican Radio) The Holy See has called for financial donations to developing countries hosting refugees and forced migrants to go equally towards supporting arriving migrants and the local poor. It also said migrants and refugees should be both welcomed in their countries of arrival and accompanied before, during, and after their migratory journey...
Rosaries and rifles: Christians battling ISIS in Raqa (AFP) As the fightback against IS intensified the Syriac Military Council (SMC) — formed in 2013 to defend the community during Syria’s civil war — joined with the SDF. After a months-long operation to encircle Raqa, the SDF burst into the city on 6 June and are chipping away at jihadist-held districts, with help from heavy US-led coalition air strikes. Now the SMC’s fighters are battling jihadists on the frontline in Raqa, some proudly wearing their religion on their sleeves — literally. Many fighters have tattoos of rosaries inked around their wrists and the word "JESUS" printed down their forearms...
The courage of a Christian town on the frontline of Jihad (Newsweek) Qaa has now become a symbol for the courage of Christians of Lebanon — and not for the first time. During Lebanon’s civil war (1975-90), Qaa’s Christians were the target of sectarian attacks and, later,on the receiving end of regime brutality during the Syrian occupation, which only ended in 2005 after the Cedar Revolution...
A new island in the Mediterranean? (The New York Times) Israel’s intelligence and transport minister has long pushed the idea of an artificial island off the coast of the Gaza Strip, with plans for a port, cargo terminal and even an airport to boost the territory’s economy and connect it to the world. But now the minister, Israel Katz, has released a slick, high-production video setting out his proposal in more detail, complete with a dramatic, English-speaking narration, colorful graphics and stirring music...
28 June 2017
The Rev. Gregory Gilbert celebrates the liturgy at Sts. Mary Magdalene and Markella Greek Orthodox Church in Darlington, Maryland. (photo: Facebook)
From The Baltimore Sun:
Growing up a Southern Baptist in eastern Tennessee, Brent Gilbert says, he never realized there were other ways to worship.
He figured everyone knew the best church music was contemporary.
He was sure there was a 45-minute pastor’s sermon at the heart of every Sunday service.
And didn’t all Christians agree that religious art, symbols and rituals were relics of a less desirable past?
Then he encountered the ancient faith that would change his life.
In the formal liturgy, rituals and language of the Greek Orthodox Church, he found a worship tradition so enriched by its direct link to lives of Christ’s original followers that it turns faith into an “all-encompassing phenomenon.”
Gilbert is neither ethnically nor culturally Greek — his forebears came to America from the British Isles. But after discernment and years of study, he’s now the Rev. Gregory Gilbert, the presiding priest of Sts. Mary Magdalene and Markella Greek Orthodox Church in Darlington — and a prominent example of the gradual but insistent wave of conversion that is turning a tradition long rooted in ethnic heritage into a more varied and, some say, more American movement.
Almost half the nearly 1 million Orthodox Christians in the United States today are converts, the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States of America reported in 2015. The majority of these married into the church. But a growing number are joining simply out of an affinity for the faith.
“We can still say that it’s not the majority of the laity — at this stage, most have been raised in the church — but there’s a lot of them,” says the Very Rev. Archpriest Andrew Damick, pastor of St. Paul Antiochian Orthodox Church in Emmaus, Pa., and the author of several books on Orthodox Christianity. “Conversion has already had a pretty big impact.”
Continue reading at the link. You’ll also find a gallery of photos and a video.
28 June 2017
Bechara Peter Cardinal Rai of Lebanon, patriarch of the Maronite Catholic Church, walks near a statue of Our Lady of Fatima on 25 June. He led a pilgrimage to consecrate Lebanon and all the Middle East to Mary. (photo: CNS/Mychel Akl, courtesy Maronite Patriarchate)
Lebanese Cardinal Bechara Peter Rai consecrated Lebanon and all the Middle East to Mary in Fatima, praying for peace and stability.
Thousands of faithful from the Middle East as well as Lebanese diaspora from around the world also made the pilgrimage for the “Lebanon Day in Fatima,” which began 24 June with the recitation of the rosary and a candlelit procession.
“We have come from Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, the Holy Land, Egypt, the (Persian) Gulf countries and various countries of proliferation — particularly from Australia, Canada, the United States, Europe — to continue, from generation to generation, to honor our Blessed Virgin Mary,” the patriarch said during his homily 25 June. He concelebrated Mass with Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan and a delegation of bishops and priests.
“We have come to renew the dedication of Lebanon and the countries of the Middle East to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, according to her wishes. This dedication is to repent, to stop wars and to consolidate peace,” Cardinal Rai said.
Beginning in June 2013, the patriarch has annually consecrated Lebanon and all the Middle East to Mary at Harissa, home of Our Lady of Lebanon. The consecrations were in response to a request of the Synod of Bishops for the Middle East held in the Vatican in October 2012. This year, the consecration at Fatima commemorated the centennial of the apparitions, when Mary appeared to three shepherd children in the Portuguese village.
“We have come to ask for the intercession of Our Lady of Fatima for peace in the Middle East region, and for stability in Lebanon, to preserve our country’s mission and model of coexistence among religions and cultures, especially among Christians and Muslims,” the cardinal said in his homily at Fatima. He stressed that “Lebanon’s significance lies in its open system of cultural and religious pluralism within a framework of cooperation, integration and mutual enrichment.”
About 40 percent of the approximate 4 million Lebanese citizens residing in Lebanon are Christian.
Lebanon has the only Christian head of state in the entire Middle East and North Africa. Under Lebanon’s power-sharing system, the presidency is reserved for a Maronite Catholic, while the prime minister is a Sunni Muslim, and the speaker of parliament is a Shiite Muslim.
28 June 2017
In the video above, the leader of an NGO providing support in the Middle East describes the remarkable and unshakable faith of the Iraqi people she has met. (video: Rome Reports)
Airstrike on ISIS prison reportedly kills dozens (The New York Times) An airstrike in eastern Syria destroyed a house that the Islamic State had turned into a prison, killing dozens of people, Syrian activists said Tuesday, and they blamed the military coalition led by the United States for the attack. A spokesman for the coalition confirmed that it had bombed buildings controlled by the Islamic State in the area on Monday and said that it was investigating the reports of civilian deaths...
Iraqi military says it has retaken two Mosul neighborhoods (Reuters) Iraq’s military said on Wednesday it had retaken two more neighborhoods from Islamic State in Mosul’s Old City, bringing it closer to total control of the city...
Some towns in Italy seek refugees for economic growth (Financial Review) During the past decade, a flood of migrants and refugees has begun to replace the Italians who left. From 2008 to 2013, the percentage of foreign migrant workers in the Italian farm industry nearly doubled to 37 per cent from 19 per cent, according to the National Institute of Agricultural Economics...
Unpacking recent violence against Egypt’s Copts (Eurasia Review) On 26 May, the Islamic State (ISIS) murdered 29 Coptic Christians on a bus in Minya, the latest targeting of Egypt’s largest minority community. Three church bombings since December, also claimed by ISIS, have killed over 70 Copts. The government of Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi casts itself as the protector of Egyptian Copts, and violence against them appears to result straightforwardly from the ideological-strategic imperatives of ISIS. Yet such a shallow narrative is inadequate to understand recent outbreaks of violence affecting the Coptic community...
Gaza on the brink (Foreign Affairs) An ongoing electricity crisis is placing an inordinate amount of pressure on Gaza. If not addressed, it could end with a political implosion, a full-blown humanitarian disaster, and yet another round of violence between Hamas and Israel...
Cyberattack hits Ukraine, then spreads (The New York Times) Computer systems from Ukraine to the United States were struck on Tuesday in an international cyberattack that was similar to a recent assault that crippled tens of thousands of machines worldwide...