1 October 2014
Local residents stand next to the debris of a house hit by a mortar shell from the Syrian side of the border in Alanyurt village near the Turkish-Syrian border on 29 September. A Syrian priest on a U.S. mission trip says amid ongoing death and destruction in the Middle East, the Catholic Church continues to provide spiritual and material support for those in need.
(photo: CNS/Murad Sezer, Reuters)
The military attacks on Syria are having a powerful impact on the lives of ordinary families:
After telling parishioners and students in the religious education program at Our Lady of Guadalupe at St. James Parish about what is happening in Syria, Father Rodrigo Miranda was impressed that a 13-year-old girl was one of the first to respond.
“She came up to me and immediately asked: ‘What can we do to help?’” said Father Miranda, a priest of the Institute of the Incarnate Word.
As the current pastor at the cathedral in Aleppo, Syria, Father Miranda is hoping that all Catholics would be just as quick to generously respond to the needs of fellow Christians in the Middle East.
For the past three years, he said, Aleppo has been embroiled in a violent civil war that has destroyed the once-thriving Syrian city that is home to about 2.5 million people. While the vast majority of inhabitants are Muslim, Father Miranda said there is a small contingent of Christians living in Aleppo. “A few years ago, I’d say maybe 15 percent of the population was Christian,” Father Miranda told The Anchor, newspaper of the Fall River diocese. “Now, I think it’s closer to 10 percent, if not less. We are clearly the minority within the community.”
He said that not only are Christians in the minority, they often find themselves caught in the middle of the warring factions on either side of the conflict. More than 70,000 people — mostly civilians — have been killed and more than 3 million Syrians have been displaced since the uprising against President Bashar Assad began in March 2011. In addition, some 1.1 million people have taken refuge in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.
“The problem is you have Palestinians on one side, Arabs on the other, and the Christians are stuck in the middle,” Father Miranda said. “Both sides have preconceptions about the other,” he added.
“People have their own beliefs and they don’t understand or appreciate the other’s style of life.” While “everyone receives some form of help from the United Nations,” Father Miranda said Christians must rely solely on the Catholic Church for support. “Our mission (in Syria) is to evangelize the culture,” Father Miranda said. “We are trying to bring Christ to the people. We go to the places where the church can’t go due to circumstances.”
Read more about what CNEWA is doing to help the men, women and children of Syria here. And to offer your support, visit this page.
1 October 2014
Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s secretary of state, addresses the 69th U.N. General Assembly in New York on 29 September. (photo: CNS/Mike Segar, Reuters)
Dilemma for Iraqi Christians: stay or go? (Wall Street Journal) As America again gears up for deeper military involvement in the Middle East, many Chaldeans are engaged in a fateful debate: Either get as many people out of Iraq as possible to safe havens, such as the United States, or stay and fight, possibly with U.S. help. Iraq’s minority groups, including Christians, are more vocally pressing the Iraqi central government to set up militias to protect from Islamic militants. The militias would be part of a U.S.-backed plan for a national guard, but has met with resistance from Iraq’s government which fears militias may further destabilize the fragile country...
Holy See: World needs a revitalized United Nations (Vatican Radio) The conflicts in the Middle East and Ukraine demand a revitalized United Nations where member states put their responsibility to protect persecuted peoples above personal interests and thoroughly apply international law, according to the Vatican Secretary of State...
Israelis rethink life along Gaza border after war (Wall Street Journal) The mortar shell hit the roof of the Tragerman family home in the last days of fighting between Israel and Hamas. Their cars were already packed to flee, but it was too late for their 4-year-old son Daniel who lay on the floor dead. Thousands fled Israel’s kibbutz communities during the 50-day conflict that turned the Gaza Strip and the border region inside Israel into a war zone, according to Kibbutz Movement, the group that represents the collectives and organized evacuations for those on the Gaza border. Most of them have since returned. But after the death of Daniel, the Tragerman family said it won't go back to the border...
Over 400 corpses found in mass grave in Ukraine (International Business Times) Some 400 bodies, mostly of civilians, were taken to the morgues of Donetsk and other cities in eastern Ukraine now controlled by pro-Russian rebel militias after they were retrieved from mass graves, the insurgents said on Monday. “Currently there are about 400 bodies in morgues, 350 of which are of civilians, and many are in such a state that they cannot be identified,” said the deputy prime minister of the self-proclaimed People’s Republic of Donetsk, Andrei Purgin...
Hostility toward refugees in Lebanon growing (Fides) “The effects of the uncontrolled influx of Syrian refugees into Lebanon opens a disturbing scenario,” says the Rev. Paul Karam, president of Caritas Lebanon. “The concern has reached the warning level. Among the local population, hostility towards refugees continues to grow, after arms were found in refugee camps...”
30 September 2014
Tags: Syria Iraq Ukraine Gaza Strip/West Bank Israel
Good Shepherd Sister Micheline speaks to the Syrian students in Bechouat, Lebanon. CNEWA — through its generous benefactors — supports the ongoing work of the Good Shepherd Sisters with Syrian refugees. (photo: Tamara Hadi)
CNEWA’s regional director for Lebanon, Syria and Egypt, Michel Constantin, has just filed a comprehensive report on Syria that highlights this agency’s activities on behalf of Syrian families displaced within Syria and those now living in Lebanon.
“Since May 2012, CNEWA has disbursed U.S. $1,799,767 for more than 24,069 needy displaced Syrian families and 24,234 children,” he reports. “In 2014, CNEWA has thus far disbursed U.S. $553,109 to assist around 6,324 Syrian displaced families inside Syria and Lebanon.” These funds:
- Provided milk and diapers for newborn infants and also for children under 14 years old; this need was identified and prioritized by the Sisters of the Good Shepherd in Homs,Tartous and Damascus, in addition to the Daughters of Charity of Besançon in Damascus. This program reached around 2,525 children in four locations.
Provided daily breakfast and school kits for some 5,000 displaced students in 11 educational centers in the district of Homs, the Valley of Christians and Aleppo in coordination with the Jesuit Fathers in Homs, the Paulist Fathers in the Valley of Christians and the Maronite clergy in Aleppo.
Distributed winter clothing and blankets to some 2,500 displaced families in the area of Damascus, Homs, Tartous and Latakia.
Provided heating fuel for 400 families in Aleppo through coordination with the Society of St. Vincent DePaul in Aleppo.
Distributed food packages for around 1,740 Christian families recently displaced to downtown Aleppo, through coordination with the Marist Fathers in Aleppo and the Maronite Archeparchy of Aleppo.
Offered trauma healing and catechetical activities to around 900 children in 4 parishes (Maamoura, Qusayr, Hamra and Dmeineh) located in Qalamoun, recently recuperated by the government. This program was implemented through coordination with the Good Shepherd Sisters in Homs and the Greek Catholic Bishop Abdo Arbash of Homs.
Supported two Christian Armenian schools in the village of Kessab to repair damages to allow 260 Armenian students to be reenrolled in their schools after the liberation of Kessab from the Islamic militants.
Provided potable water tanks and food ratios to 514 Syrian families in Deir el Ahmar, in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, through coordination with the Good Shepherd Sisters in the Bekaa.
Provided programs offering psychological and spiritual support to mothers and children and 155 families as follows:
155 Assyrian — Syriac Orthodox and other Syriac Christian — families displaced from Syria and settled in the suburbs of Beirut.
350 Armenian Syrian mothers and 105 children settled in Bourj Hammoud and the surrounding areas northeast of Beirut.
Provided educational support to 970 children as follows:
486 school kits to 486 children including school uniforms, sports suits, shoes, stationery and books.
484 Syrian and Lebanese children with summer school and tutorial/remedial classes to strengthen their learning capacities to betterintegrate in Lebanese schools and follow the Lebanese academic curriculum.
“CNEWA’s operational approach relies on partnering with church affiliated groups (parish priests, congregations, patriarchal representatives, bishops, lay societies and others) that are already active and efficient in collecting the necessary data,” he writes, “can implement the program (purchasing, packaging, distribution, etc.), and have the capacity to report back in a timely manner.”
There’s much more here. To help CNEWA continue its good work for displaced Syrian families, click here.
30 September 2014
Tags: Syria Refugees CNEWA War Relief
The tide of refugees fleeing air strikes in Syria is growing. In the image above, Syrian Kurdish refugees walk with their belongings on 29 September after crossing into Turkey near the southeastern Turkish town of Suruc. (photo: CNS/Murad Sezer, Reuters)
30 September 2014
In the aftermath of the Gaza-Israel conflict, repairman Raed Abu Halema explains why many Palestinians are choosing not to repair their broken windows. (video: Al Jazeera)
Gaza’s children face an uncertain future (+972) In Gaza, where the population is very young — over 60 percent of Gazans are under the age of 25 — children are the population most vulnerable in conflict. Stuck in Gaza, these children only know the occupation and many have already witnessed several Israeli military operations. The latest Israeli offensive, named Operation Protective Edge, lasted for seven weeks and killed more than 500 children. More than 3,000 were injured, and 1,500 lost at least one parent. Most are traumatized. According to the United Nations, 373,000 children in Gaza are in immediate need of psychological assistance…
Anti-ISIS coalition’s ‘war on revenues’ hitting all Syrians (Al Akhbar) The international coalition’s airstrikes on the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and Al Nusra Front in Syria entered their second week today, with dozens of air raids and missile attacks targeting regions in Raqqa, Deir Ezzor, Hassake, Aleppo and Idlib. A Syrian source belonging to the so-called moderate opposition told Al Akhbar, “The recent strikes are going in the right direction to topple both ISIS and the regime.” However, civilians were the first to pay the price for these attacks, which caused oil prices to skyrocket…
Holy See: World needs a revitalized United Nations capable of action (Vatican Radio) The conflicts in the Middle East and Ukraine demand a revitalized United Nations where member states put their responsibility to protect persecuted peoples above personal interests and thoroughly apply international law, according to the Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin…
Patriarch implores Muslims: Condemn extremism, rebuild Iraq with Christians (Vatican Radio) “I want to send my best wishes to our Muslim brothers,” asking God “to protect and preserve our country from every form of evil,” said Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako, in a statement marking Eid al Adha. The patriarch urged all to condemn “violent, sectarian extremism, because it distorts religion…”
From an Iraqi churchyard (AINA) During his days in Baghdad, the Rev. Douglas Bazi survived a gunshot to the legs, a kidnapping that lasted nine days, and three explosions aimed at the Christian community. He watched his church shrink from 2,600 members to only 250, some of his flock perishing and many more fleeing. So when Father Bazi ministers to hundreds of refugees living in flimsy tents in his Ain Kawa churchyard in Kurdistan, he can relate to their suffering…
29 September 2014
Tags: Syria Iraq Gaza Strip/West Bank War Christian-Muslim relations
In this image from July, demonstrators from various religions gather during a protest in Irbil, Iraq, against militants of the Islamic State. Last week, Muslim leaders issued two important documents condemning the use of violence and the actions of ISIS. (photo: CNS/Azad Lashkari, Reuters)
In the past week two important documents have been published from Muslim organizations which respond to the often-heard question: “Why don’t Muslims speak out against what is happening to Christians and other religious minorities in Iraq and Syria?”
The first document, “In the Face of Conflict,” is a statement of principles published on 26 September by King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue in New York. Without mentioning any specific conflict or specific religion or faith traditions, the document condemns violence, terrorism and hate speech. It also condemns what it calls the “instrumentalization of religion to make war.”
A more interesting and more important document appeared 25 September 2014. It is an open letter to “Dr. Irahim Awwad Al-Badri, alias ‘Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi’” (who is the head of ISIS and self-declared Caliph) and “to the fighters and followers of the self-declared ‘Islamic State’” and it is signed by 126 Sunni leaders from around the world.
The lengthy letter is in the form of a traditional Islamic fetwa or legal decision. Far from being a statement of general principles, the letter deals with concrete events and persons. In the best of Muslim legal tradition, the letter uses principles from the Quaran and from the Sunna—the sayings and acts of the Prophet Muhammad—along with ideas from the great Muslim thinkers and commentators of the past, and from historical events.
At the beginning of this complicated and tightly reasoned letter there is an Executive Summary which contains 24 principles. Although each one is extremely important, some of the most notable and pertinent ones are:
- It is forbidden in Islam to ignore the reality of contemporary times when deriving legal rulings (#5),
- It is forbidden to kill journalists and aid workers (#7).
- It is obligatory to consider Yazidis as People of the Scripture (#11).
- The re-introduction of slavery is forbidden in Islam. It was abolished by universal consensus (#12).
- It is forbidden is Islam to force people to convert (#13).
- It is forbidden in Islam to torture people (#17).
- It is forbidden in Islam to declare a caliphate without consensus from all Muslims (#22).
Each of the points is derived from careful deduction according to the principles of Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh). While this may make the document difficult for the non-Muslim or the non-scholar to read, it is precisely what makes the document so magisterial and very important. It is a clear statement in the most Islamic terms possible that the Islamic State (variously IS, ISIS, ISIL) is neither a valid reinstatement of the Caliphate nor Islamic in any sense of the word.
29 September 2014
Tags: Syria Iraq Muslim
Pope Francis greets emeritus Pope Benedict XVI during an encounter for the elderly in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on 28 September. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
On Sunday, Pope Francis celebrated a special Mass for the elderly in St. Peter’s Square — one that brought together again the pontiff and his predecessor. During the Mass, Pope Francis spoke of the plight facing many older men and women:
The wisdom and love of older people are instrumental for building the future, and they can even cheer up grumpy teenagers, the pope said.
“It’s very good for you to go visit an older person. Look at our kids. Sometimes we see them being listless and sad; (if) they go visit an older person, they become happy,” he said.
“Older people, grandparents have an ability to understand very difficult situations, a great talent. And when they pray about these situations, their prayers are strong and powerful.”
But there are many who instead prey on their fragilities, and the pope warned against the “inhuman” violence being waged against the elderly and children in areas of conflict.
Harm can also be waged quietly, he said, through many forms of neglect and abandonment, which “are a real and true hidden euthanasia.”
People need to fight against “this poisonous throwaway culture,” which targets children, young people and the elderly, on “the pretext of keeping the economic system ‘balanced,’ where the focus is not on the human being but on the god of money.”
While residential care facilities are important for those who don’t have a family who can care for them, it’s important these institutes be “truly like homes, not prisons,” the pope said, and that their placement there is in the best interest of the older person, “not someone else.”
The summer edition of ONE looked closely at this issue, with a poignant glimpse into the lives of the “new orphans” of Armenia and Georgia:
For Georgia, a society with a long, cherished tradition of multigenerational households that take care of their own from cradle to grave, the idea of a senior citizen with no money and no family used to be unthinkable. As part of the Soviet Union, Georgians were insulated by a state-run system of health care: doctors were plentiful and medicine was cheap. The question of who would take care of grandma or grandpa in their old age was never an issue.
Today, however, with widespread poverty pushing families apart — many emigrate to Russia, or abroad — it is becoming more common.
Tsiala Gogodze, 74, used to arrange tours and official visits for dignitaries when Georgia was part of the Soviet Union. With a smattering of English to flavor her fluent Russian and Georgian, Ms. Gogodze laments the loneliness that gnawed at the seniors before they found the center and each other.
“You know what is horrible? No one needs people like us, not our relations, not anyone,” she says. “That is horrible.”
Family is a crucial part of Georgian culture, and the expectation that one’s family will always be there runs deep in the national psyche. Without family to look after them, or visit with them, many of the seniors who now visit the center had no one to talk with them or even care about them.
29 September 2014
Tags: Armenia Georgia Pope
In this image from last month, boys look at the site of a car bomb attack in Baghdad, Iraq.
A vicar at Iraq’s only Anglican church claims ISIS militants are closing in on Baghdad,
despite airstrikes. (photo: CNS/Wissm al-Okili, Reuters)
Report: ISIS closing in on Baghdad (International Business Times) The Islamic State group is allegedly closing in on Baghdad, according to a report from a vicar at Iraq's only Anglican church that claims the jihadists formerly known as ISIS are roughly one mile away from the Iraqi capital. Airstrikes against ISIS targets were supposed to stop the group from taking Baghdad...
Nuncio: Russian expansion endangers Catholics in Ukraine (CNA) The apostolic nuncio to Ukraine has urged efforts to support Catholics in the nation, warning that Russia’s expansion into the country has caused major instability and threatens a return to political persecution. “The danger of repression of the Greek-Catholic Church exists in whatever part of Ukraine Russia might establish its predominance or continue through acts of terrorism to push forward with its aggression,” Archbishop Thomas Gullickson said on 23 September...
Cardinal Koch expresses hope for closer Catholic-Orthodox relations (Vatican Radio) The head of the Vatican’s Council for Christian Unity says he regrets that Catholics and Orthodox leaders are unable to give a stronger sign of unity for Christians suffering persecution in the Middle East. Cardinal Kurt Koch has just returned from a meeting in Amman where he served as co-president of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches. A communique released on Wednesday reflects the difficulties the two sides encountered in the search for agreement on the theme ‘Synodality and Primacy’ which has been at the heart of the discussions since a 2007 plenary meeting in Ravenna, Italy...
India high court rules it is legitimate to not declare a religion (Fides) The Bombay High Court has ruled that the State cannot “compel any citizen to disclose his religion while submitting forms or declarations.” The decision reaffirms the secular character of Indian democracy and puts an end to a dispute that is recorded in other Asian countries...
Patriarch Kiril: modern art can harm humanity (The Moscow Times) Patriarch Kirill should take care not to wander too far from Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral, lest he risks stumbling upon the city’s museum of modern art — a cultural genre he recently described as “filth.” Speaking at an Orthodox festival on Wednesday, the head of the Russian Church told journalists that some forms of contemporary culture “show some horrors, some nonsense, idiocy,” state-run news agency RIA Novosti reported...
26 September 2014
Tags: Iraq India Ukraine Russia Orthodox
With their country undergoing continuing air strikes targeting ISIS, some Syrians are fleeing to neighboring countries. Here, a number of refugees wait at the Turkish border near Sanliurfa,
on 24 September. (photo: CNS/Sedat Suna, EPA)
26 September 2014
In this 30 June photo, a child walks through a dust storm at the Khazair camp near the city of Mosul. Many Iraqis have been temporarily housed at various camps for the internally displaced as they hope to enter the safety of the nearby Kurdish region. (photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Chaldean Catholics in Iraq want refugee status (89.3 KPCC) There are more than half a million Christians in Iraq today, and two-thirds of them are Chaldean. The group is under attack by the militant Islamic State, bombing Chaldean churches, attacking monasteries, and chasing Chaldeans from their ancestral land. Southern California is home to an estimated 50,000 Chaldeans, mostly in San Diego County. Community leaders and a Chaldean bishop have been lobbying Congress, the State Department, even the United Nations to open the door to more Chaldean refugees…
Chaldean patriarch: Let us go back to full unity (AINA) Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael I sent a letter of congratulations to the patriarch of Church of the East, Mar Dinkha IV, on the occasion of his 78th birthday on 15 September. In the congratulatory message, Patriarch Louis Raphael included an official invitation to start a path of dialogue together to restore full ecclesial communion between the Chaldean community — together with the bishop of Rome — and the community of the Church of the East…
Syrian army captures town near Damascus (Al Jazeera) Syrian government forces have overrun rebels in a town northeast of Damascus, strengthening President Bashar al Assad’s grip on territory around the capital. President Assad’s forces have been gradually extending control over a corridor of territory from Damascus to the Mediterranean coast this year, seizing towns and villages along the main north-south highway and in the mountainous Qalamoun area along the Lebanese border…
Israel criticized over blocking UNHRC mission (Al Jazeera) On 20 September, Makarim Wibisono was expected to begin his first mission as the newly appointed United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories. However, Wibisono has yet to begin this mission, since Israel has not yet granted him access to the occupied Palestinian territory…
Tags: Syria Iraq Palestine Israel Ecumenism