22 May 2017
U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump speak to Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem after visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulchre 22 May.
(photo: CNS/Jonathan Ernst, Reuters)
Following his official welcome to Jerusalem by Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, U.S. President Donald Trump began his two-day visit to Israel and the Palestinian
territories with a private visit to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and Western Wall.
Details of the visits to the holy sites had been a carefully guarded secret until the last moment, but from early 22 May the alleyways of the Old City were closed to both residents and tourists, and the main thoroughfares leading to the Old City were closed off to all traffic.
Under tight security and led by the traditional kawas honor guard announcing the way with the thumping of their ornamental staffs, the president made his way by foot through the Old City’s alleyways to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. He and first lady Melania Trump were welcomed at the entrance of the church courtyard by Greek Orthodox Patriarch Archbishop Theophilos III; Franciscan Father Francesco Patton, custos of the Holy Land; and Armenian Patriarch Nourhan Manougian. The president spoke briefly to the religious leaders and stopped at the entrance of the church for a group photograph after also speaking to a few other religious.
Trump, who also was accompanied into the church by his daughter, Ivanka Trump, and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, spent about 30 minutes in the church, which encompasses the area where, according to Christian tradition, Jesus was crucified, buried and later rose from the dead. At the entrance of the church is the stone of unction, where tradition holds that Jesus’ body was laid out and washed after his crucifixion. Inside the central rotunda is the newly renovated Edicule, where Jesus was buried.
The delegation then walked the short distance to the Western Wall plaza, where Trump was greeted by Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, rabbi of the Western Wall. Wearing the traditional Jewish kippa or skullcap, Trump walked alone to the wall, where he placed his hands on the stones for several minutes. He then placed a note with a prayer into a crack in the wall, a Jewish tradition. Melania and Ivanka Trump visited the women’s section of the wall separately, and the first lady spent a few minutes silently in front of the wall, touching it with her hand.
Trump is the first sitting president to visit the Western Wall in the contested Old City of Jerusalem. Both Israelis and Palestinians claim Jerusalem as their capital city.
The Western Wall, considered the holiest site for Judaism today as a remnant of the retaining wall of the Biblical Jewish Temple, also surrounds the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif compound, where the Jewish temple once stood and the location of Al-Aqsa mosque, Islam’s third-holiest site.
Avoiding any symbolic controversy involving the issue of the city’s sovereignty, the Trump administration insisted the visit to the sites be private, vexing Israel by Trump’s refusal to be accompanied by Israeli political leaders to the Western Wall.
Meanwhile, Palestinians said Israel had not allowed a Greek Orthodox Scout marching band to accompany the delegation to Church of the Holy Sepulchre as planned because of the Palestinian flags on their uniform. A spokesman from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs denied any Israeli involvement in the matter, suggesting that it might have been a U.S. security issue.
In a visit that encompasses both political and religious symbolism, Trump spent two days in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, with King Salman and other Muslim leaders. He was scheduled to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas 23 May in Bethlehem, West Bank, and was expected to urge the Palestinian leader to take productive steps toward peace.
According to media reports, he did not plan to visit Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity because of an exhibit there supporting hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.
In statements upon his arrival in Israel, Trump spoke warmly about the U.S.-Israeli bond and his deep sense of admiration for the country. He also spoke of the need to unite against “the scourge of violence.”
“We have the rare opportunity to bring security and stability and peace to this region and to its people by defeating terrorism,” Trump said at the welcoming ceremony upon his arrival at Ben Gurion Airport, where he was greeted by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara. “But we can only get there by working together. We love Israel. We respect Israel and I send your people the warmest greeting from your friend and ally, from all people in the USA, we are with you.”
The next leg of his first overseas trip as president is slated to include a visit to the Vatican as well as to Brussels.
22 May 2017
Clergymen are seen as they wait for the arrival of U.S. President Donald Trump for a welcoming ceremony 22 May at Ben Gurion International Airport in Lod, near Tel Aviv.
(photo: CNS/Amir Cohen, Reuters)
22 May 2017
Syrian opposition fighters, who were evacuated from the last opposition-held district in the central city of Homs, embrace as they arrive in the Maaret al-Ikhwaan village north of Idlib, on 22 May 2017. The Syrian regime on 21 May regained total control of the central city of Homs with the evacuation of rebels from the last area they had controlled.
(photo: AFP/Omar Haj Kadour/Getty Images)
Syria says Homs cleared of armed opposition (The Los Angeles Times) Syria’s government announced Sunday that the country’s third-largest city, Homs — once deemed the capital of the revolt against President Bashar Assad — had been cleared of armed opposition for the first time in more than five years. The announcement follows the completion of the evacuation of the last rebel-held neighborhood...
Conflict feeds rising divorce rates in Gaza (U.S. News and World Report) It used to be rare for a couple, especially one married for so long, to divorce in conservative Gaza, where even social relations between males and females before marriage face restrictions. Divorce is now a topic of frequent public concern, and one seen as an indicator of how bad Gaza’s humanitarian and sociopolitical crises have become. Divorce is a “national catastrophe,” says Abu Salman Al Mughany, 75, a “mukhtar,” or community leader, who mitigates family issues in Gaza City. “It’s the collapse of the social fabric in our communities...”
Report: Iraq conflict drives displacement to ‘nearly unprecedented’ level (Norwegian Refugee Council) The last three years of conflict in Iraq have caused a displacement crisis that is ‘nearly without precedent’ according to a report released today by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) and the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC). The Global Report on Internal Displacement found that widespread military offensives in Iraq caused almost 660,000 new displacements in 2016. One in ten people displaced by conflict around the world in 2016 were displaced in Iraq, bringing the total number of internally displaced Iraqis to over three million. A growing proportion of Iraqis have also been displaced more than once...
Egypt refers 48 to court over Coptic church bombings (BBC) Egypt’s public prosecutor says 48 suspected members of so-called Islamic State (ISIS) have been referred to a military court in connection with three bombings of Coptic churches. Thirty-one of the suspects are in custody while the others are still at large...
St. Nicholas relics arrive in Russia after more than 900 years in Italy (AP) Relics of Saint Nicholas, one of the Russian Orthodox Church’s most revered figures, arrived in Moscow on Sunday from an Italian church where they have lain for 930 years. Intense media coverage accompanied the arrival, underlining the church’s influence in post-Soviet Russia...
19 May 2017
CNEWA’s Michael J. La Civita writes: “This gentleman lives in a container with his wife, who is dying of cancer. He asked me to take a picture of him and his wife. Their sons are dead, and he alone cares for Victoria, who said she has every comfort.” (photo: Michael J. La Civita)
Today, we received more stirring images from Michael J. La Civita. He and Thomas Varghese, CNEWA’s director of programs, are on a pastoral visit to the Caucasus.
Michael described what he saw:
There is poverty, and then there is grinding poverty.
For many reasons, but I will start with corruption and tragedy, almost half of Armenia’s people have endured decades of want: want of shelter, heat, food, water and health.
What they have in abundance is dignity.
My friend and colleague, Thomas, today visited people who this past winter needed help to heat their homes and needed, as well, food to eat.
CNEWA’s Thomas Varghese visits Ophelia, an 85-year-old orphan who lives in a room in a decomposing hostel built by the Soviets in 1926. (photo: Michael J. La Civita)
Unemployment in the Gyumri region is more than 70 percent. Many of the people we visited today live in “temporary” housing since their homes and their lives were destroyed in the great earthquake in 1988.
Yes I said temporary. Sheds made of corrugated tin — some with electricity, others not. Bathrooms are holes in the ground.
This corrugated structure houses a blind father, his wife, their daughter and her two toddlers. Her husband abandoned her at 25, leaving her for Russia and a new life. That is a common story in Armenia. (photo: Michael J. La Civita)
Thanks to Caritas Armenia, families are receiving help, and I am pleased CNEWA is there in support. But I am frustrated that what we do is but a drop in the bucket.
The tears here, and the desolation, are heartbreaking.
Despite the dirt, this lady’s house is tidy. Lilacs perfume the air. (photo: Michael J. La Civita)
Read more about the work of CNEWA and Caritas Armenia, in A Letter from Armenia in the Summer 2015 edition of ONE.
An Unshakable Faith
Armenia’s Children, Left Behind
Shaken by the Earthquake of Life
19 May 2017
Pope Francis greets a resident as he arrives to give an Easter blessing to a home in a public housing complex in Ostia, a Rome suburb on the Mediterranean Sea, 19 May. Continuing his Mercy Friday visits, the pope blessed a dozen homes in Ostia.
(photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano)
Like parish priests throughout Italy do during the Easter season, Pope Francis spent an afternoon 19 May going door to door and blessing homes.
Continuing the “Mercy Friday” visits he began during the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis chose a public housing complex in Ostia, a Rome suburb on the Mediterranean Sea.
The Vatican press office said Father Plinio Poncina, pastor of Stella Maris parish, put up signs 17 May announcing a priest would be visiting the neighborhood to bless houses. The signs, which indicate a date and give a time frame, are a common site in Italy in the weeks before and after Easter.
“It was a great surprise today when, instead of the pastor, the one ringing the door bells was Pope Francis,” the press office said. “With great simplicity, he interacted with the families, he blessed a dozen apartments” and left rosaries for the residents.
“Joking, he apologized for disturbing people, however he reassured them that he had respected the hour of silence for a nap after lunch in accordance with the sign posted at the entrance to the building,” the press office said.
The pope’s Friday visits to hospitals and hospices, homes for children, rehab centers and other places of care were planned for the Year of Mercy as tangible ways for the pope to practice the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.
Although the Year of Mercy ended in November, the pope restarted making Mercy Friday visits in March when he visited a home and educational center for the blind and visually impaired.
Pope Francis gives an Easter blessing to a home in a public housing complex in Ostia, a Rome suburb on the Mediterranean Sea. (photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano)
19 May 2017
Refugees who have fled Mosul arrive at a camp for internally displaced persons.
(photo: Gail Orenstein/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Syria says U.S. air strike killed soldiers (AP) A Syrian military official said Friday that an aerial “aggression” by the U.S.-led coalition on a government military position near the border with Jordan the day before killed several soldiers and caused material damage. The strike was the first such close confrontation between U.S. forces and fighters backing President Bashar Assad and the development is likely to increase tensions in the war-torn country...
The last stand of ISIS in Mosul will test Iraqi forces (The Washington Post) After making rapid gains in a new offensive, Iraqi forces are close to choking off the last bastion of several hundred Islamic State fighters dug into the twisting alleyways and narrow streets of Mosul’s Old City. The final push will be led by Iraqi’s U.S.-trained Counter Terrorism Service units, the same forces that first entered the eastern reaches of the city in October when the battle to retake the city began, officers said. The plan involves clearing the final few neighborhoods north of the Old City and surrounding the square-mile-wide neighborhood...
Bishops say Church cannot ignore injustice in Israel-Palestine conflict (CAN) The Catholic Church will speak out against injustice and avoid any attempt to normalize the “festering wound” of the Israeli-Palestinian situation, a commission from the region’s leading Catholic bishops has said...
Trump embarks on trip to Middle East (Reuters) With turmoil enveloping his administration at home, President Donald Trump heads abroad on Friday for a trip the White House hopes will shift focus away from domestic controversies and on to his foreign policy agenda...
Russian patriarch asks U.N., Pope to intervene over religious laws (RT) The head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, has appealed to a number of international religious and political leaders, asking them to not let Kiev enforce its recent initiative that might see Orthodox religious communities diminished in Ukraine...
18 May 2017
Armenian Catholic Archbishop Rafael Minassian is always looking for ways to greet and help the poorest of the poor. (photo: Michael J. La Civita)
CNEWA’s Michael J. La Civita sent us these images this afternoon, showing Archbishop Rafael Minassian visiting his flock.
Archbishop Rafael Minassian, a shepherd close to his flock, jokingly refers to himself as “RAM.”
Armenia is rich in culture, history, faith and generosity. And thank God for that, for the poverty among some of its people is heartbreaking. Yet, how moving is the work of the church here.
Although tiny — and scattered from Siberia to the Caucasus — the Archdiocese of the Armenian Catholic Church is led by a shepherd who smells of his sheep. “RAM,” as the archbishop [Rafael Minassian] jokingly refers to himself, is a man on the move, always thinking of ways to reach and greet and help the poorest of the poor.
(photo: Michael J. La Civita)
18 May 2017
Some villagers from Vallakkallu, India, traveled to Marayoor to meet with journalist Don Duncan.
(photo: Don Duncan)
In the current edition of ONE, photojournalist Don Duncan reports on efforts at Breaking the Cycle of alcoholism and abuse in Kerala, and giving children a better future. Here, he offers some additional thoughts on India’s tribal culture.
While doing reporting for ONE in eastern Kerala state (in Idukki province to be exact), I had the privilege to get a closer look at some of India’s “scheduled tribes.”
India’s constitution recognizes some 645 distinct tribes that it regards as disadvantaged or culturally vulnerable and thus it sets out provisions to both help these tribes and to protect their respective cultures. According to the country’s 2011 census, people from these “scheduled tribes” make up 8.6 percent of the population.
Kerala state is home to 35 of those tribes and the tribal people make up 5 percent of its population.
Known in Hindi as Adivasi or “original inhabitants,” the various tribes tend to live in insular communities, many of them geographically remote. They are often suspicious or distrustful of outsider contact and the government maintains certain policies that bolster this insularity in a bid to protect the tribes’ unique cultures from contamination from the wider, dominant Indian culture.
As a foreigner, I was not allowed to visit the tribal village of Vallakkallu, which could be reached by a 15 mile trek cross country from Marayoor, the town I was based in for my reporting. “If you go there, the police could come and stop or maybe even arrest you,” my guide, Sister Melvy of the Sisters of the Destitute, told me. In fact, it is very difficult even for regular Indians to establish meaningful contact with certain tribes, so strong is their suspicion of outsiders or sense of insularity.
The Indian government takes the cultural protection of its aboriginal tribes very seriously. That impulse in and of itself is certainly commendable. But, as I got deeper into my reporting — which explored child welfare issues such as lack of education, bad parenting and child labor — I wondered if the government’s well-intentioned policy of protection vis-à-vis India’s scheduled tribes did not also have certain negative, unintended consequences.
While the tribal policy of the government does protect the cultural integrity of the tribes (as well as offering them material support), that same protection policy seems to also serve as a sort of obstacle to those charities/NGO’s wishing to help tribes improve their lot. A case in point is education. The Muthuvan tribe, which lives in Vallakkallu village, puts value and emphasis on working the land and doesn’t see the point of schooling. Attendance in the state primary school in the village is shabby and the only person who seems pro-schooling in any real way is the village’s sole teacher.
I think this opposition between the value of working the land and the value of education is one that is familiar to many. In the West, we started, at a certain point in the past, to evolve from a land-based value system to one that put more value in ideas and learning: the “knowledge economy,” as we call it now.
But each society evolves at its own pace and I think it is correct to respect the individual pace and nature of other societies’ respective evolutions.
But can a people evolve naturally when they are “protected” and ghettoized on reservations? If left to their own devices, the tribes of India would most probably interact to some degree with others, adopt what they see as useful, and essentially evolve at a pace and in a way that suits them best. But with the way things are now, while the government does much to preserve the tribes’ fragile and unique cultures, it also risks fossilizing these people, holding them in suspension, while the rest of India continues to develop.
18 May 2017
Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin greets Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II, second from left, and his delegation, on 18 May at the archbishop’s residence. (photo: CNS/John McElroy)
Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II met Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin during a five-day visit to Ireland.
“Christians in Egypt are now struggling for their existence,” he told Archbishop Martin on 18 May.
Archbishop Martin told Pope Tawadros that Irish Catholics were “very aware of the suffering that your Coptic community has endured even in recent weeks,” a reference to a pair of terrorist attacks 9 April at two Egyptian churches. The Islamic State group claimed credit for the attacks, which killed at least 45 people, injured more than 100 others and shook the Middle East’s largest Christian community to the core.
Assuring the Coptic leader of his “prayerful solidarity,” Archbishop Martin expressed the hope that Egypt could “become a beacon in the region for freedom of religion and for dialogue among all believers, especially with our Muslims sisters and brothers.”
Pope Tawadros also met Irish President Michael Higgins, other foreign officials and members of the Coptic Orthodox communities. He also consecrated two Coptic Orthodox churches in Dublin and Waterford.
The Coptic leader’s visit follows his pastoral visit to Britain, where he was received by Queen Elizabeth, Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury and the Prince of Wales.
On 12 May, Pope Tawadros was received by Archbishop Welby at Lambeth Palace and signed the official guestbook with the words “Love Never Ends.”
18 May 2017
Displaced Iraqis rest amid rubble after fleeing fighting between Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service forces and Islamic State militants on 15 May in Mosul. (photo: CNS/Danish Siddiqui, Reuters)
U.N. expects 200,000 more people to be driven from Mosul as fighting intensifies (Reuters) The United Nations said on Thursday up to 200,000 more people could flee Mosul as Iraqi forces push into the last districts held by Islamic State militants. Iraqi authorities and aid agencies are already struggling to cope with a surge in displacement since security forces opened a new front against the militants in Mosul earlier this month...
Turkey opens ‘city’ for orphans of Syrian war (BBC) Turkey has opened a vast center dedicated to housing and educating orphans from war-torn Syria. The complex, in the south-eastern border town of Reyhanli, will house 990 children in what Turkish media say is a cozy, home environment. They will live in 55 villas and have access to four schools, a mosque, a playground and a sports arena...
Indian religious groups meet to prepare for catastrophes (Vatican Radio) Caritas India in New Delhi on Tuesday, brought together faith-based organizations active in disaster management to create a network to help India become more resilient when catastrophe strikes. Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Sikh and Buddhist organizations participated in the meeting along with former government officials from the Disaster Management Authority. “It is time not only to be change-makers but also make others into change-makers,” said Swamini Adityanand Saraswati from the Global Interfaith Wash Alliance while addressing the meeting...
Gaza left in dark amid power struggle (BBC) By night, much of the Gaza Strip is plunged into darkness with streets lit only by the headlights of passing cars...
Copts who sought sanctuary ordered back to Egypt (The Australian) Ashraf Boshre spent 48 years double-checking that the security doors of his home in Giza, Egypt, were firmly locked before going to sleep. A Coptic Christian, the 51-year-old brought his wife, Amany, and daughters Maria, 24, Mira, 19, and Monica, 13, to Australia in late 2013 on a visitors’ visa, before applying for protection following decades of abuse. “When I’m walking the street, going to church (here), no one is going to come attack you,” said Mr. Boshre, who now lives in Sydney’s south. “No one is going to come attack your daughters because they’re not wearing the head cover. It helps me, I feel happy.” But within days, Mr. Boshre, his family, his parents Ibrahim and Nora, and sisters will be asked to buy plane tickets and return to Giza...