2 August 2017
Shipla Joy helps with homework at the children’s home administered by the Sisters of the Sacred Heart. Catholic education is having a powerful impact on young lives in India. (photo: Don Duncan)
In the June 2017 edition of ONE, journalist Don Duncan writes about the ways Catholic schools are changing lives in India. He adds some additional reflections below.
Time and again throughout this reporting trip, I’ve been reminded of the importance of education.
Kerala has the highest literacy rate of all the Indian states, at over 90 percent of the adult population. Many factors have contributed to this achievement, including the government school system and NGOs. However the contribution made by the church and its many educational establishments is seen as the indispensible factor in the creation of this highly literate population. All over the state, you see people reading books at bus stops or perusing the day’s newspaper at teahouses.
But this literacy statistic can be deceptive. Education remains a constant, perpetual battlefield. The fight never stops because every new generation that comes along needs to be educated; in order to garner people’s commitment to education, its benefits need to be immediately clear, not only to every student but also to his or her parents too.
Education is a very tough sell in the rural, mostly agricultural, areas of inner Kerala. People living by subsistence farming need their children to help them work the fields to assure the family’s food security and livelihood. It’s difficult to persuade people living such a hand-to-mouth existence to make education a priority. For many of them, education does not have the immediate pay-off that having their children work the fields does. In this sense, for people living day-to-day on the edge of poverty, the benefits and worth of allowing their children to attain a good education is a near total abstraction.
It reminds me a little of my frustrations with democracy and party politics in the four-year electoral cycle. Politicians wishing to be reelected focus almost exclusively on projects and initiatives that can come to fruition in the four years before they stand to be reelected. Anything that takes longer has less or no political capital for them and so, in this kind of political system, broader, deeper and important reforms often get sidelined. Some of these projects, much like the process of educating a child, require a much longer cycle of commitment. The fruits of such a commitment, and the human capital it produces, are significant.
In rural Kerala, children’s homes run by the church are offering the possibility of a full education to children who would otherwise have left school at age 10, if not earlier, and worked their parents’ fields. It is in the cases of children like these that one can see the utter transformation that education can bring.
Children who leave their homes young and are taken in by the religious sisters for the duration of their education often return years later to their villages with skilled professions; they come back as teachers, bankers, doctors, etc. These children-turned-educated adults are the living products of what education can do and they are now serving, in their own respective communities, as extremely compelling arguments for the value of education.
I met three such success stories from various church-run children’s homes across Kerala. But a childhood spent under the care of sisters is not all Deepu Sasidharan, Devika Narayanan, and Shilpa Joy have in common. These young adults are not only shining examples of the positive effect of education; their intimate familiarity with poverty, family dysfunction and child vulnerability, when put through the prism of education, has left them all with a keen sense of social justice and a burning mission to make it part of their respective professional practices.
While the ability of education to improve one’s financial and social standing may be the most apparent and compelling result of education for those who are living in poverty, education of course comes with many other benefits. It can help women empower themselves more and take better care of their children. Education can help men take better care of their wives and children. Education establishes a clear scientific underpinning to one’s sense of health and well-being.
As the number of educated children returning to their villages grows, it is hoped that through leading by example, these numbers will produce a gradual “snowball effect” whereby people, inspired by the example, send their own children to school. If this happens, Kerala’s rural communities are in for some major positive change — not only in terms of poverty reduction but also in terms of gender rights, children’s rights, agricultural practice, money management, local governance, healthcare and, really, every other aspect of life.
Read more about The Secret of Their Success in ONE.
2 August 2017
A Palestinian man, seen in January, is silhouetted on rubble of Palestinian houses destroyed during the Israeli War against Gaza. The man works for a company that turns the rubble into building materials. (photo: CNS/Mohammed Saber, EPA)
A heat wave in Israel and the Palestinian territories in July and near-record electricity usage — where it was available — are indications that, despite the continuous political tensions here, Christians, Muslims and Jews are facing a common enemy that needs to be confronted in a united manner.
“The level of the lake of Tiberias and of the Dead Sea is lower than 10 years ago, and the landscape is changing because of a continuous construction of houses,” Franciscan Father Francesco Patton, custos of the Holy Land, told Catholic News Service.
Father Patton and two other religious leaders spoke at a recent news conference organized by The Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development, a Jerusalem-based environmental organization. They spoke about the urgency of putting aside political and religious difference to face these challenges and the role religious leaders can take in increasing awareness of the issue.
Rabbi David Rosen, international director of interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Committee, told journalists the Jordan River Valley, another area of Biblical importance, is facing an environmental crisis. In a covenant signed by religious leaders four years ago, they noted that over the past 50 years, the lower Jordan River has had 96 percent of its flow diverted, and what little water remains is polluted with saline and liquid waste or sewage.
Father Patton told CNS that other pressing issues in the Holy Land include the increasing water shortage, improper waste disposal and growing air pollution in various regions.
While Israel has begun a garbage recycling program, the Palestinian Authority has yet to institute such an effort. Awareness of proper garbage disposal is also an issue among certain sectors of both populations, with many people still tossing garbage on the side of the road or outside their buildings, with little regard to garbage bins at their disposal. In certain places of East Jerusalem, garbage pickup by the municipality is either lacking or erratic, and Palestinian residents often burn their own garbage for lack of a better solution.
Recent internal political differences have caused electrical shortages in the Gaza Strip. This has affected the ability of the sewage system to function properly, which has caused raw sewage to flow into the Mediterranean Sea, which borders Egypt and Israel.
The northern industrial Israel port city of Haifa, though often lauded for its political tolerance, is also often sighted even by its own residents for the lack of the environmental controls over the chemical factories located on its seashore. In a position paper earlier this year, the Israeli Ministry of Health noted Haifa has a 15 percent higher rate of cancer than the rest of Israel and leads the country in asthma and breathing problems.
Father Patton, Rabbi Rosen and Kadi Iyad Zahalka, head judge of the Muslim Shariah courts in Israel, said religious leaders needed to unite in their efforts to educate and create a greater awareness about these environmental issues.
“We should offer values that can inspire the everyday life of people, and also recall the principles of our religious traditions that can inspire wise economic and political policies and decisions,” Father Patton told CNS.
He noted that the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, which is in charge of holy places, is working on a pilot project to include environmental education in its local schools curriculum for the coming school year.
The impact of climate change can be easily ignored if a person lives in an acclimatized environment with the air conditioning on in the summer and heating on in the winter, said Father Patton, the son of a farmer in northern Italy. He told CNS he has seen how the harvest seasons have changed over the past 10 years.
“This means something has changed ... climate change is something which touches our lives,” he said.
Referring to the papal encyclical “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home,” Father Patton noted the value of an interfaith strategy toward environmental issues in the Holy Land in the form of an “integral ecology.” He said the issue is not only one of “environmental ecology” but also of “cultural ecology,” which “connects the ecological issue to many fields in a reciprocal relationship.”
“In this place, it is particularly important to have a linked vision, to work on a connection ... between different cultures (and religions) of Judaism, Islam and Christianity. This is an integral vision of ecology in the encyclical of Pope Francis,” Father Patton told CNS. “He speaks of the importance of dialogue between religions of different faiths in this field. We can work as people of goodwill.”
At the news conference, the religious leaders discussed the common respect for the environment and nature inherent in their religious traditions and holy books, and the responsibility these teachings entrust to people.
Despite the continuing political violence and struggle to control land not only in Jerusalem and the whole Middle East, but also around the world, people need to start discussing the issues of real importance concerning climate change and environmental sustainability before there is no land left to fight over, said Zahalka.
“Our lives are more important than all these issues,” he said. The issue of environmental sustainability “gives us the opportunity to rethink all these (political) issues and put them into context ... to focus and invest in what is really important, which is life.”
Father Patton said the creation of an interfaith environmental dialogue could even serve as a confidence-building measure between Israelis and Palestinians and others in the region, which could enable future discussions on social, political and religious issues.
“We received the gift of creation and, first and foremost, we are part of creation, we are not over creation. We have a shared responsibility toward this generation,” he told journalists. “We can cooperate for something important for every human being in the present and in the future.”
2 August 2017
In this photo from June, a Palestinian boy stands outside his house at a refugee camp in Gaza City. New statistics show child labor is increasing in Gaza, as the economy continues to deteriorate.
(photo: CNS/Mohammed Salem, Reuters)
Child labor increasing in Gaza (Fides) Over the past five years, with the worsening of the economic crisis in the Gaza Strip, the phenomenon of child labor continues to increase. The news comes from the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics...
Lebanon jihadists withdraw to Syria (BBC) Thousands of jihadists and their families are relocating to Syria from the border with Lebanon as part of a ceasefire deal with Hezbollah. Fighters from Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) agreed to withdraw to Idlib province after Hezbollah, backed by Syrian forces, launched an offensive. The jihadists were targeted in the Juroud Arsal region, which had become a bastion for the group...
Knights of Columbus raises money to assist Christian town in Iraq (CNS) In 2014, the Islamic State removed hundreds of families of religious minorities from their homes in Karamdes, a mostly Christian town on the Ninevah Plain in Iraq. Just over two years later, the town, also known as Karemlash, was liberated. The Knights of Columbus will raise $2 million to assist these families in returning to their homes, according to Knights CEO Carl Anderson, who announced their pledge at the Knights’ 135th annual Supreme Convention being held in St. Louis...
Draft Orthodox catechism defends ecumenism (The Catholic Herald) A new draft catechism of the Russian Orthodox church has declared ecumenical discussions to date ‘completely faithful and obedient’ to Christian teaching, in opposition to critics of ecumenism within the church. The Catechesis of the Russian Orthodox Church, issued with the blessing of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, follows a submission to the Council of Bishops in February, and is published for Church-wide discussion...
In Kerala, ‘the world’s first Christian shoe brand’ (NewKerala.com) Neon Apostle is the first footwear company in the world to combine functionality, faith and footwear. Their initial offering of 11 designer Christian-themed casual shoe designs features a combination of cutting edge graphics and traditional Christian motifs...
1 August 2017
Slovak Bishop Milan Lach smiles alongside Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States, during a Divine Liturgy on 21 July at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Parma, Ohio. Bishop Lach was welcomed as the new apostolic administrator of the Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Parma. (photo: CNS/Laura Leraci, Horizons Newspaper)
1 August 2017
In the video above, a priest from Mosul explains how families have been keeping the faith during the long siege by ISIS and the battle to liberate the city. (video: Rome Reports/YouTube)
In Mosul, revealing the last ISIS stronghold (The New York Times) Days after the Iraqi government officially declared victory over the Islamic State in Mosul in July, the fighting was far from over. Roughly the size of a block in Manhattan, the last ISIS holdout of the Old City did not seem like the kind of place where anyone could still be alive after weeks of brutal combat. But a few such areas kept up the fight for days. And — horribly, amazingly — civilians were still being pulled out. What we saw as we went step by step with the Iraqi forces here made their survival seem even more miraculous...
Report: U.S. proposes arming Ukraine (The New York Times) The Pentagon and State Department have proposed to the White House a plan to supply Ukraine with anti-tank missiles and other arms, according to Defense Department officials. The proposed transfer — which also would include antiaircraft arms that would be defined as defensive weaponry — comes as fighting between Ukrainian troops and Russian-backed separatists has increased in recent days, and the United States is taking steps to deter aggressive military actions by Moscow...
After 150 years, a baptism takes place in Turkish province (DailySabah.com) Baptism ceremony has taken place at a chapel located near the ancient Temple of Apollo in Turkey’s southwestern Aydin province for the first time after 150 years. According to reports, the son of Assyrian businessman Enlil Simon Afram was baptized at the 300-year-old chapel, located in Aydin’s Didim district. The Metropolitan Bishop of Mardin and Diyarbakir Saliba Özmen performed the baptism...
Mosul musicians emerge from the shadows (Al Jazeera) Iraqi forces continue to root out the last remaining pockets of ISIL fighters in Mosul. But rebuilding the city and allowing people to return to their old lives is now the main priority. Musicians who lived under ISIL rule had to keep their profession a secret or face severe punishment...
31 July 2017
Many Iraqis living in settlement camps in Erbil have been displaced from home, community and even family for years. But reports today indicate some are finally beginning to return home. Read about their plight in the current edition of ONE. (photo: John E. Kozar)
31 July 2017
As the fighting is coming to an end, West Mosul is slowly coming back to life and students, such as those shown here, are returning to schools that are slowly reopening. Iraq reports
250,000 people have returned to the Nineveh Plain in recent weeks.
(photo: Noe Falk Nielsen/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Iraq: 250,000 have returned to homes in Nineveh (Fides) The Iraqi Ministry for Migration and Internal Mobility reported that more than 250,000 people have returned to their respective areas of origin in the Nineveh Province, who had to leave when those regions had been occupied or threatened by jihadist militias of the Islamic State...
Russia stages military parade in Syria (The New York Times) Russia’s global military ambition was on display Sunday when the country celebrated Navy Day with large military parades not only in St. Petersburg, but also off the coast of Syria. The parades of ships, submarines and aircraft were held at Russian naval bases in Sevastopol, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014, and at Tartus in Syria, where Russia is expanding its military presence...
Cardinal Parolin to visit Moscow (Vatican Radio) The Holy See has confirmed that the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, will travel to Moscow in September. Parolin’s journey to Russia comes in the wake of his visits to Belarus and to Ukraine in the past two years signaling the Vatican’s continuing engagement with eastern Europe and its desire to continue supporting the Christians in the region...
Thousands poised to leave Lebanon-Syria border zone (Times of Oman) Convoys of buses arrived on Monday to transfer thousands of Syrian militants and refugees from Lebanon’s border region into rebel territory in Syria in exchange for Hezbollah prisoners. Under a local ceasefire between the militants and the Hezbollah, about 9,000 fighters and their relatives were to leave on Monday, a Hezbollah media unit said earlier...
Children continue to swim as raw sewage floods Gaza beach (The Guardian) While pollution of Gaza’s 25 miles of beaches is not new, what is different is the degree. These days, according to the last environmental survey, 73 percent of Gaza’s coastline is dangerously polluted with sewage amid an energy crisis that is now also affecting Israel across the border wall, sharply up from 40-50 percent a year ago...
Four years later, still no word of priest kidnapped in Syria (Crux) In late July 2013, when Italian Jesuit Father Paolo Dall’Oglio entered a “rebel” territory of Syria, at the time under siege by the Islamic State, he knew something could happen. He want to Raqqa anyway, in hopes of brokering a deal for the release of kidnap victims. As it turns out, he himself was kidnapped on the 29th. No one has heard of him since...
28 July 2017
A Byzantine Catholic parish in Ohio is drawing on its tradition and faith to post messages on a local billboard. The billboard reads, “Life is tough. We are praying for you.”
(photo: CNS/courtesy of St. Nicholas Byzantine Catholic Parish)
A glance, a thought, a prayer are what St. Nicholas Byzantine Catholic Parish had
hoped to inspire in commuters when it launched its first billboard campaign in 2015.
Now the parish, situated in Barberton, Ohio, has launched its sixth billboard campaign, with the message: “Life is tough. We are praying for you.”
The parish wants to communicate its prayerful presence and solidarity with community members in the midst of their daily struggles, said the pastor, Father Miron Kerul-Kmec.
A banner that measures 8 feet by 14 feet was hoisted up onto the side of the church building in mid-May, and since early July, an 8-foot-by-20-foot billboard has graced a busy intersection nearby. It will have an eight-week run.
“A billboard with a Christian message, if done correctly, has power,” said the pastor. “The church’s message on a billboard is not a product like any other.”
He gave the example of a previous campaign, which featured the prayer, “Lord, have mercy.”
“If a small percentage of people who passed by were encouraged to say this short prayer, it’s great and the world became a better place for this,” he said. “It is something small that can change your thoughts and bring you to something better.”
The new billboard is the communications component of the parish’s yearlong pastoral program, which will include catechesis on the Byzantine Catholic Divine Liturgy and prayer.
“Prayers are a very powerful tool for how to change your life,” he said. “There is a need to refresh our understanding of prayer. We can use this prayer which is given to us, the Divine Liturgy. We want to remind our faithful how precious the Diving Liturgy is. We pray for the whole world there.”
The parish belongs to the Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Parma, Ohio, and the idea of using advertising first came up in discussions among parishioners about the eparchy-wide pastoral plan. They decided advertising would help meet one of the parish objectives of “bringing Christian thought to people,” said the pastor.
All of the billboards draw on the Byzantine Catholic tradition and practice of the faith.
Parishioners opted for billboards over other media because, unlike radio and television where one can change the channel, a billboard “is something you cannot avoid,” he told Horizons, the eparchy’s newspaper.
“You drive this way every day to work and every day it is a reminder,” he said.
Cost was another factor. Father Kerul-Kmec said he was surprised by the relatively low costs. A four-week campaign at a location that receives 8,000 looks per week was priced at $500; the parish has contracted for eight weeks for each campaign.
The billboards were designed pro bono by parishioner Kurt Valenta, creative director for Advance Ohio, the marketing arm for cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer, Cleveland’s daily newspaper.
“If you want to touch the community, what better way than to put a billboard in the heart of it,” said Valenta, who has worked in advertising for 33 years. He pointed to market research that indicates the efficacy of outdoor advertising.
Commuters may not pay much mind to the billboard the first few times they drive by, but eventually “the repetition makes people think,” he said. He added he would counsel parishes against online banner ads, which can be very expensive.
Father Kerul-Kmec said the response to the billboards has been “satisfying” to date.
He said a commuter called him one night at 11 p.m. to tell him that he was “deeply touched” by the Christmas billboard campaign. Father Kerul-Kmec has also received positive feedback from guests at the soup kitchen where he and parishioners serve lunch regularly. Others have said the billboards are “refreshing” and that “the road looks better now,” he added.
“If people would come to (our) church that would be great,” he said. “But the point is to bring the remembrance of God to people. If people were touched and went to their own church, it’s OK. It is not the intention to pull people to our parish, but just to send the Christian message to the world and to let people know that we are here.”
“Even if one person is touched by this, it is worth it,” he said.
Valenta said he believes participating in advertising presents “no ethical dilemma whatsoever” for the church.
“We are bombarded by messages every day... and the church needs to get the word out. You need to be proactive or you’re not a player,” he said. “We need to be there.”
28 July 2017
Workers unload supplies of medicine from trucks of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent near Damascus. The United Nations has delivered aid to only a few areas in Syria this month.
(photo: Samer Bouidani/NurPhoto/Getty Images)
UN struggles to deliver humanitarian aid to Syria (Al Jazeera) The United Nations has delivered aid to only a few hard-to-reach areas in Syria and not a single besieged location this month, a senior UN humanitarian official said on Thursday. Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Ursula Mueller told the UN Security Council in a video briefing from Amman, Jordan, that there have been no UN aid convoys to besieged areas in July and just one a week to hard-to-reach areas, meaning just over 120,000 people got help this month...
Catholic charities wants migrant stories to be heard (Vatican Radio) No matter the position one takes on national migration policy, Pope Francis, Caritas Internationalis and national Catholic charities across the globe want Catholics to meet a migrant or refugee and listen to his or her story...
Cardinal: Russia and West must settle differences for peace (CNS) Peace and an end to violent conflicts around the world should be placed above any national interests when it comes to the relationship between Western countries and Russia, Cardinal Pietro Parolin said...
Egypt sets up national council to combat terror (AFP) Egypt has created a “national council” to combat the rise of Islamist “terrorism” which has targeted its security forces and Coptic Christian minority, in a presidential decree issued on Wednesday. The decree, published in Egypt’s official gazette, sets up a “national council to combat terrorism and extremism” by adopting a “global national strategy”...
Zaatari: the ‘temporary’ shelter that has become Jordan’s fourth largest city (ABC.net.au) About 80,000 Syrians live here, and as far as refugee camps go, aid groups say Zaatari is the gold standard. There’s a bustling main market that smells strongly like the flat bread baking in wood ovens inside shops. Gold traders jostle for business with bridal wear shops and fresh fruit and vegetables are laid out for the choosing. Zaatari isn’t like the other camps though — many don’t allow commerce or small businesses, and don’t have as many aid programs offering such comprehensive support...
Iraq’s unsung culinary queen (Al Jazeera) Her previously out-of-print cookbook, which found its way into the nation’s heart 52 years ago, went back into circulation this year for the 18th time, with just 400 copies printed and distributed. The first edition has been upgraded with glossy pages showcasing Iraq’s time-tested recipes and dishes from the wider region. Adib and coauthor Firdous al-Mukhtar have been described as the first women to grant Iraqi cuisine its rightful place in history...
27 July 2017
In this image from last year, Christian worshippers pray at Sayydet al-Niyah Church in Damascus, Syria. Centuries before Christianity took root in Europe, it was flourishing in Syria and other countries to the East. (photo: CNS/Youssef Badawi, EPA)
Recently we have been hearing that Christianity risks extinction in the Middle East, the region often described as the “cradle of Christianity.” While Christians in the West lament the possible extinction of Christians in the East, the attitude is often “well, there never were a lot of Christians there any way.”
Each of us sees reality through a very local lens. It often seems as if the unspoken attitude among Western Christians is that, after the Ascension of Jesus, the Apostles got together, Peter decided to go to Rome and the other 11 went into assisted living. The conclusion: from the very beginning Christianity was a European phenomenon.
In fact, nothing could be further than the truth.
For at least the first 500 years of Christianity, most Christians lived east of the Mediterranean in what was then known as Syria and Mesopotamia. Many might be surprised to learn that the Church of the East, often referred to as “Nestorian,” was in China before Christianity reached Denmark and the Slavic countries. When Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne on Christmas Day in the year 800, Timothy of the Church of the East was a metropolitan archbishop in Tibet. Middle Eastern Christians were in India and China 1,000 years before the arrival of St. Francis Xavier (who died in 1552).
The region known as Mesopotamia stretched from the Mediterranean east, all the way to the
Persian Gulf. (photo: Wikipedia)
The Christian presence in the East, from the early days, was fairly extensive. For several centuries after the Muslim conquest of the Middle East (in the seventh century), Christians formed a majority of the population in the two Islamic caliphates. In the first caliphate, the Umayyad (661-750), Christians played a major role in the government. St. John Damascene (ca. 675-749) came from a family of Christian civil servants in the caliphate at Damascus.
There were and remain several different Christian churches in the Middle East, both Orthodox and Catholic, tracing their roots back to the time of the Apostles. Some of the ancient churches of the Middle East had great centers of theological learning like Edessa and Nisibis (respectively Sanliurfa and Nusaybin in modern Turkey). The university in Nisibis antedated the earliest universities in Europe by over 500 years.
One of the interesting characteristics of Middle Eastern theology is that, while Western Christians often used creeds to express their faith, the preferred medium for expressing faith in Middle Eastern Christianity was hymns and poetry. Thus, St. Ephrem the Syrian, one of the great biblical scholars and theologians of both the Western and Eastern churches, left behind not summas, like Aquinas and others, but rather huge volumes of hymns and poetry.
Over the next three weeks, we will look at 2,000 years of Christianity in Syria and Mesopotamia and how these ancient and most interesting churches were founded, flourished and ultimately began to decline; in places where they were once the majority, they are now small minorities, often well under 10 percent.
We hope to help readers not only understand just who these Christians are, but also why their survival is critical to Christians everywhere.