20 January 2015
Bishops visit the Cremisan Valley in the Holy Land.
(photo: Catholic Bishop’s Conference England and Wales)
Our journey in the Holy Land took the bishops to the Cremisan Valley in Beit Jala, which is part of the Bethlehem district. This valley has been contested over the last few years. The Israeli government says for security reasons it intends to build a separation wall through the region. But such a wall would have a significant impact not only on the local residents, but also on two religious communities of Salesians who live, work and minister there.
The Society of St. Yves — a center for human rights of the Latin patriarchate based in Jerusalem — claims the wall is really a way to secure Christian-owned land in the Palestinian West Bank to allow Israel to build 800 new housing units that would be part of the Gilo settlement right beside the valley.
According to the Israeli government, a wall will be necessary to protect the Israeli settlements in the area. One can argue that with the recent high tensions between Israel and Palestine, that security is becoming increasingly important. Israeli settlements, such as Gilo, however, are not recognized by the international community.
On 4 September 2014, the Israeli Ministry of Defense presented to the Supreme Court two proposed alternatives, which showed that the actual wall route could be changed to better serve all parties. It would allow the Salesian Sisters and the Salesian Brothers to remain on the Palestinian side of the wall.
The Society of St. Yves is suggesting that, if there is going to be a wall, it may not impact the 50 Christian families that own property in the valley, or disrupt the harvesting of olives, fruits, nuts and much more. Also, it would secure the Salesian Sisters’ elementary school of 450 children, who can’t live in what would become a military zone if the wall is built on the original proposed route. Furthermore, it would allow the Salesian Brothers to continue producing their famous wine and other produce from the land — an industry that creates many jobs for Palestinians and attracts pilgrims.
The court is now exploring all possibilities and should give its verdict soon. It would be devastating for the Salesians — and the Christian community in general — if the Israeli court ignores the proposed alternatives of the Israeli Ministry of defense, and permits the wall to be constructed as originally planned.
As a Christian man told us, this land was owned for several generations by his family; his livelihood would be destroyed, since he receives much revenue from it. His children already told him that if the wall is built, they would have no choice but to leave the Holy Land for good.
As the Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal told us, “Actually, there shouldn’t be any walls at all.” Palestinians and Israelis need to have a common place where both peoples can talk, meet, trade and build peace for the generations to come.
In the meantime, the bishops will continue to raise this issue in their respective countries and they invite anyone interested in peace to do the same by writing letters to their government and their Israeli Embassy.
20 January 2015
A Russian Orthodox believer bathes in the icy water of a lake in Ilyinskoye, Russia, on Monday, 19 January 2015. Thousands of Russian Orthodox Church followers plunged into icy rivers and ponds across the country to mark Epiphany, which they observe on 19 January, cleansing themselves with water that has just been blessed. (photo by Sasha Mordovets/Getty Images)
20 January 2015
In this 20 January photo, Ukrainian soldiers carry the coffin of a fallen comrade across the Maidan Square in Kiev. (photo: Anatolii Stepanov/AFP/Getty Images)
As fighting deepens in eastern Ukraine, death toll rises (Washington Post) Intensifying battles, mounting death tolls and dire new warnings from Russia have dragged eastern Ukraine’s long-running conflict into some of the worst fighting since last summer, rendering a months-old cease-fire agreement effectively defunct…
A new eparchy for Ethiopia and a new metropolitan for Eritrea (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has erected a new eparchy in Ethiopia, which will be known as the Eparchy of Bahir Dar-Dessie, and in another development, Pope Francis has also erected the Metropolitan Church of Asmara in Eritrea. Although Eritrea as a nation won its independence in 1991, the Catholic Church of Ethiopia and Eritrea have always been regarded as one episcopal conference. As of Monday, the two are now separate…
Flow of Syrian refugees to Lebanon drops after restrictions (Daily Star Lebanon) A United Nations official says the flow of Syrian refugees into Lebanon has dropped sharply due to restrictions recently imposed by Lebanese authorities. Although Lebanese border officials began informally restricting the entry of Syrians last October, Beirut officially imposed visa regulations earlier this month on their neighbors. The move was the first such in decades. Ninette Kelley, the U.N. refugee agency’s representative in Lebanon, told reporters Tuesday the number of new Syrian refugees in Lebanon dropped by 44 percent in 2014, compared to the previous year…
Maronite patriarch: Poverty destabilizes the Middle East (Fides) Poverty is a key factor in the lack of stability in the Middle East, because “there cannot be peace where there is underdevelopment,” said Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter. Thus, Jihadist factions shore up their numbers by virtue of financial resources, paying the salaries of the new fighters enrolled in its ranks…
Patriarch urges Christians, Muslims to lead fight against extremism (Vatican Radio) Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael is calling upon Christians and Muslims of the world to lead the fight against fundamentalism by being the first to reject all forms of discrimination and violence. He made the call at a conference organized at the weekend in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, by the Iraqi Center for Diversity Management…
16 January 2015
Tags: Ukraine Middle East Christians Ethiopia Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter Eritrea
Bishops from around the world pray for peace in the town Sderot on the border with Gaza.
(photo: Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales)
Carl Hétu is national director of CNEWA Canada. He accompanied Canadian Bishop Lionel Gendron and 15 other bishops from around the world in a recent visit to the Holy Land.
Not too many people are familiar with Sderot, an Israeli town right beside Gaza — just over a mile away. The bishops visited the city since its population was subjected to most of the Hamas rockets fired from Gaza during the 51-day war last summer.
At first glance, this beautiful town of 24,000 is modern, well-kept, and clean — it looks like a typical town in the Western world. But many people since 2008 have moved out; many others just can’t, because they have no other choices.
You can’t see any significant damage; the town was cleaned up quickly and any destruction was minimal compared to what happened just a short distance away in Gaza. But what is most serious is the damage you can’t see. Many people here suffer from post-traumatic stress.
Apparently, there are no other towns in the world that have has as many bomb shelters.
One resident shared with us, “Actually, my wife and I never had enough time to take shelter, so like many others, we hoped the rockets wouldn’t fall on our house. And even if we made it to safety, the problem remains. When rockets are coming your way, it will leave you in shock.”
Shaking his head, he continued, “But it wasn’t like this before. We had good rapport with the people of Gaza and them with us. They worked here; we bought their produce and used their facilities at their beaches. Now we can’t even talk, yet alone meet. Everything is blocked with this wall. We are living in two distinct worlds. It shouldn’t be like this. I don’t know how this happened.”
After leaving Sderot, we were left to think: this war has left people deeply injured and they believe the worst is yet to come. There has to be a way to find peace.
As Pope Francis called on us to do during his trip to the Holy Land last May, we shouldn’t forget to ask God to give us the courage to leave our comfort zones and seek new ways to find peace.
We should never think of war as an alternative. It only makes things worse, especially for innocent families.
16 January 2015
We received this letter and a loving gift from Uganda. (photo: CNEWA)
Yesterday, I received a note from the apostolic nuncio to Uganda, Archbishop Michael August Blume, S.V.D., that included a twenty dollar bill.
In Italian, he wrote that the children of St. Kizito Primary School in Bugolobi, a neighborhood in the capital city of Kampala, had decided to raise money for the needy children of Palestine. The twenty dollar bill, he wrote, was the fruit of this initiative of the school’s generous children.
A Divine Word Missionary from South Bend, Indiana, the archbishop asked the CNEWA family to remember in prayer the intentions of these loving young donors from Africa.
What a loving testimony to the needs of others! Indeed, the beautiful children of St. Kizito in Bugolobi will be remembered in our prayers, and we ask them to remember us as well.
16 January 2015
Students at the Asela orphanage prepare for careers in the skilled trades. To learn more about their lives, read “Revealing Hidden Talent” in the January 2008 edition of ONE.
(photo: Petterik Wiggers)
16 January 2015
A Turkmen refugee child who fled Syria to the Akkar district in north Beirut, Lebanon, waits to receive humanitarian aid from the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency on 15 January. (photo: Ratib al Safadi/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Prayers and calls for peace in Syria, Iraq (Vatican Radio) The ongoing conflict in Syria and Iraq and the suffering of persecuted Christians there was the focus of a prayer effort in Rome on Thursday. The vigil took place as the United Nations issued a call for solutions to the ongoing conflict in the Middle East. Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect for the Congregation for Oriental Churches, led the vigil. In his homily, the cardinal prayed “for the conversion of those who do evil, that their hardened hearts open to a new way of seeing, a new experience of humanity, to an authentic religiosity that does not kill or persecute, but which promotes the good of the other, even if they are different…”
Food enters besieged Homs, Syria after local deal (Daily Star Lebanon) U.N. aid workers have started delivering food to tens of thousands of people trapped in a besieged district of Homs city in Syria following negotiations with warring parties, officials said Friday. In the absence of a nationwide peace deal, relief groups have tried to get localized agreements with fighters on all sides of the conflict to get convoys through to people in battle zones…
Lebanon: Syrians refugees facing deadly winter with little aid (Al Akhbar) For the refugees living in tents in Lebanon, the storm has yet to subside. The fear of death stays with them like the snow that has swept through their tents. Noura, who escaped from the hell of Aleppo to end up in an unofficial camp in Bar Elias, expresses grave concern over the situation. Carrying her baby in her arms to give him warmth, she says: “I only received food aid twice in the past four months. If the cold doesn’t kill us, we will certainly die of hunger…”
The small miracle amid the carnage in Syria (Talking Points Memo) In the beginning of October, Islamic State forces surrounded and besieged the Kurdish town of Kobane in northern Syria at the border with Turkey. IS had swept through Iraq quickly, picking up American tanks and mortars abandoned by the fleeing Iraqi army along the way. Observers feared a humanitarian disaster akin to the IS massacre of ethnic Yazidis on Mount Sinjar in August. The Pentagon insisted that, with no ground troops to fight, Kobane could not be saved. Turkish tanks sat at the border, waiting for an IS victory and a possible ground invasion. Months after it was supposed to fall, Kobane still stands, and IS has been forced back. The story of the town’s resistance is an epic tale of determination and self-defense…
Ukraine backs mobilization of troops in east (Vatican Radio) Ukraine’s parliament has approved a mass military mobilization amid allegations that thousands of Russian troops have invaded the east where separatists have sharply increased their activities. The measures come amid confusion over who is in control over the strategic airport area in Donetsk…
Bishops discusses support for Egyptian Christian schools (Fides) On 13 and 14 January, Egyptian Catholic bishops met in the district of Maadi to discuss coordination among various Catholic communities, with special focus on schools. Coptic Catholic Patriarch Ibrahim Isaac presided over the meeting, which was also attended by Greek-Melkite Patriarch Gregory III, as vice-president of the ecclesial organization…
15 January 2015
Tags: Syria Iraq Egypt Ukraine Lebanon
Bishops from around the world visited a housing project in Gaza.
(photo: the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales)
Carl Hétu is CNEWA’s national director in Canada. He accompanied Canadian Bishop Lionel Gendron and 15 other bishops from around the world in a recent Holy Land visit. Carl shares his impressions of Gaza after a visit earlier this week.
The bishops participating in the Episcopal Conferences of Coordination in Solidarity with the Church in the Holy Land make it a point to visit Gaza each year to show solidarity with the local Christian community. There are only about 2,000 Christians in Gaza, out of a total population of 1.8 million. This year, after 51 days of war between Hamas and Israel, Christians felt the effects of war the most. We were eager to meet with them — but we almost didn’t make it.
Even though all papers were submitted to the Israeli government over a month ago, we had to wait more than seven hours at the checkpoint until 3:25 pm when we were finally allowed entry. The checkpoint at Erez Crossing closes at 3:30 pm.
The bishops used their time constructively. While waiting, they prayed together for peace. At midday, they decided to start moving to make a point that they wouldn’t leave until they would be allowed in. So we moved to the first military checkpoint and crossed to the customs desk. The military asked us to return to the bus and wait there, which we did.
Morning Prayer at Erez Crossing as bishops wait for permission to enter Gaza.
(photo: the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales)
After a long day, we eventually went through the crossing, walking the fenced road.
For me, this was my first time entering Gaza. It reminded me of my first experience facing third-world poverty in the shanty towns of Lima, Peru. But there was one exception: the level of destruction of hospitals, schools, homes and infrastructure (including the water and electrical systems) was overwhelming.
More than 110,000 people lost their homes. Even now, months later, most people have electricity only a few hours a day.
We visited Holy Family Church and the parish school, which is a part of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. In our discussions there, we didn’t go into deep political analysis of why the war happened, or look at placing blame. Instead, we focused our time on the suffering of innocent victims, especially children and the elderly. The situation now is much worse for families who were already poor and living in harsh conditions.
The school has become a sanctuary from daily life. In school, children can play, learn and hope for a better future — but after school, children and teachers go back to reality. And these days, it is cold and there isn’t any heat. Tragically, three babies died of hypothermia this past weekend. And at night, as I experienced for myself, it is totally dark.
The teachers told us that this past war was the most painful one they have ever experienced. Non-stop explosions over 51 days have shaken them deeply. The material loss is one thing, but there is also the lingering psychological suffering — post-traumatic stress disorders. One teacher, overwhelmed, couldn’t continue the conversation.
One 17-year-old shared with us: “Thank you for your humanitarian help. At least we have food, but my family needs our dignity back. My dream of a better life cannot grow with the wall keeping me prisoner in Gaza.”
And here, with 75 percent unemployment, his future looks grim indeed.
Please remember these good people in your prayers. If you want to give to Gaza, please visit our donation page here.
15 January 2015
The altar, or Holy of Holies, is seldom revealed during the liturgy at Debra Zion.
(photo: Sean Sprague)
In 2005, we took readers inside one of the oldest active religious communities in Ethiopia, Debra Zion:
We climbed out of the boat and walked toward Debra Zion Church, atop a hill less than a mile away. We were soon joined by a group of islanders, each bowing to the archbishop and kissing the cross he carried in his right hand.
At the church, we met Abba (Father) Mariam Samuel, one of the island’s three monks. Wearing a flat cotton hat, black cassock and a bright yellow shawl, he looked younger than his 43 years.
“I have been a monk for 23 years, but I was assigned here just two years ago,” he said. The three monks live in community, subsisting on a $5-per-month stipend as well as small gifts from the community. There are also five priests on the island.
Joining Abba Mariam Samuel was Abba Gebre Mariam, 66, a priest native to Tullu Gudo. He is a balding man with a weak back and huge smile. Like the archbishop, Abba Gebre Mariam carries a wooden cross, always ready to bless a passerby.
The islanders are known as “Lak’i,” he said, descendants of the Aksumites and speak a language that dates to the old empire. Some 25,000 Lak’i live in the general area, many of whom abandoned the island at one point or another because of the harsh living conditions.
“There is dire poverty on the island,” said Abba Gebre Mariam, who is married and has eight children.
Poverty exists throughout Ethiopia, but it is indeed “dire” on this island. The Lak’i of Tullu Gudo live in round stone huts covered with thatch. There is no electricity or running water — drinking water is carried from wells. There are no roads or automobiles, though dirt paths abound.
Until recently, fishing was the main source of income. Lake Ziway was flush with tilapia, which the islanders would sell at mainland markets. Due to overfishing, the lake has been closed to commercial fishermen.
Farming is seasonal; there is no irrigation. My visit, in late autumn, marked the end of the rainy season. Fields of barley, wheat and maize, which grow on the island’s lowlands, were almost ready for harvest. The terraces I saw from the boat stand neglected, carved out of the hills when Tullu Gudo was more densely populated and more provisions were needed.
Some islanders also raise cows, goats and donkeys for transportation. Many households also have a few chickens. A traditional society, the men are responsible for fishing and farming while the women tend the home.
Tullu Gudo has had a primary school for 26 years, but there is not a single shop. Anything not produced on the island must be brought from the mainland.
“One change for the good has been the construction of our new church,” Abba Gebre Mariam said. “Here we live by our faith.”
Read more about Ethiopia’s Island Sanctuary in the January 2005 edition of ONE.
15 January 2015
Syrian refugees endure harsh living conditions at the Atmeh refugee camp in Idlib, Syria, on 11 January. (photo: Ahmed Hasan Ubeyd/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Syrian refugee freezes to death in Bekaa as storm toll hits 12 (Al Akhbar) A Syrian refugee woman froze to death in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley on Wednesday, as the stormy weather that hit the country last week returned. Ramah Mohammed Tehrani is yet another name added to the list of Syrian refugees who perished in the latest ice storm, dubbed “Zina,” in Lebanon. Tehrani was found dead in her home, which she shared with her family in the outskirts of the city of Baalbek. She was a mother of three, including a 5-year-old daughter. “I am a maternal orphan now,” said her eldest son, 15-year-old Hekmat. His father is reportedly still in Syria…
Coptic pope: The cartoons of Muhammad are offensive (Fides) The cartoons on Muhammad published by the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo are “offensive” and any insult must be rejected “at all levels,” said Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II. After the massacre, the magazine printed 5 million copies — whose cover shows a cartoon depicting the Prophet Muhammad crying and holding a sign that says “je suis Charlie” under the title, “all is forgiven.” Religious insults, Pope Tawadros said, “do not help [the cause of] peace in the world, and do not produce any benefit…”
Pope says respect for religion should limit freedom of expression (CNS) Commenting on recent killings by Islamist terrorists at a Paris newspaper, Pope Francis condemned killing in the name of God, but said freedom of expression should be limited by respect for religion and that mockery of faith can be expected to provoke violence. The pope said freedom of expression was a “fundamental human right” like freedom of religion, but one that must be exercised “without giving offense…”
Chaldean bishops elected and confirmed (VIS) Pope Francis has approved the canonical election by the Synod of Bishops of the Chaldean Church of Rev. Basel Yaldo as auxiliary of the Patriarchate of Babylon of the Chaldeans. Additional appointments include Archbishop Amel Shamon Nona as bishop of the Chaldean Eparchy of St. Thomas the Apostle in Sydney, Australia, and Chorbishop Emmanuel Challita as bishop of the Chaldean Eparchy of Mar Addai in Toronto, Canada…
Syrian rebels, government reach truce in besieged area (Daily Star Lebanon) Syrian rebels and government forces began observing a 10-day truce Thursday in the last rebel-held area of the central city of Homs, marking another setback for opposition fighters, activists said…
U.N. envoy vows to press on for Aleppo truce (Daily Star Lebanon) U.N. peace envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura Thursday vowed to press on with efforts for a truce in Aleppo, adding that wanted a resolution of the devastating conflict this year. De Mistura, a Swedish-Italian diplomat appointed as U.N. envoy on Syria in July, said the second city of Aleppo was a “symbolic microcosm of all of Syria.” This was so “because it has the highest number of displaced people, because it has seen two years of suffering, because while the government and the opposition continue being involved in heavy fighting between them, ISIS is only 20 miles away from Aleppo,” he said…
Sunni-Alawite couples in Syria defy sectarianism (Al Monitor) Many believe that the conflict in Syria is a power struggle between Sunnis and Alawites, while others assert that the conflict is between a dictatorial regime and armed revolutionaries. In both cases, there is no doubt that sectarianism and hatred between Alawite extremists and Sunni extremists plays a major role in this conflict. Still, there are young men and women from different communities who continue to challenge this paradigm through love, determination and marriage. Damascus, despite the war, is still able to witness such love stories in these difficult days…
The Great Wall of Saudi Arabia? (Christian Science Monitor) Saudi Arabia has been constructing a 600-mile East-West barrier on its Northern Border with Iraq since September. The main function of the barrier will be keeping out ISIS militants, who have stated that among their goals is an eventual takeover of the Muslim holy cities of Mecca and Medina, both of which lie deep inside Saudi territory, according to United Press International…
Tags: Syria Pope Francis Refugees Chaldean Church religious freedom