26 June 2014
In this image from last fall, a woman in Lebanon clutching a rosary prays for peace.
(photo: CNS/Hasan Shaaban, Reuters)
Elizabeth Scalia, the managing editor of the Catholic portal at the spiritual website Patheos, asked me to share some thoughts with her readers about the worsening crisis among Christians in the Middle East.
The picture is grim:
Today’s headlines are dramatic; the emotion raw: “Middle East Christians Feel Abandoned.” “Beleaguered Christians Make Final Stand.” “Christians Wonder if it is Time to Leave.” “Christians Last Journey.”
As the artificial geopolitical construct that is the Middle East collapses, millions of lives are altered irrevocably and indiscriminately each day: young and old, male and female, city sophisticate and nomadic shepherd, Sunni and Shiite, Arab and Armenian, rich and poor. In Iraq and Syria — by far the largest states in the region created by the Western Allied powers after their victory in World War I — the pressure cookers once controlled by strongmen have exploded, unleashing violent forces so extreme even Al Qaeda has repudiated the bloodletting.
Iraq — once awash in cash thanks to its oil reserves — has disintegrated, its people exhausted by more than 25 years of constant war. Syria — once the bedrock of regional stability — has crumbled, its people displaced and maimed. Meanwhile, extremist militias overrun vast swaths of devastated territory to restore an Islamist empire akin to those that dominated the region for centuries.
Middle East Christians bear the brunt of these brutalities. Though descendants of those who first received the Gospel almost 600 years before the advent of Islam, Christians are perceived by the extremists as imports from the West and, therefore, as enemies of Islam. Spread from Egypt to Iraq, and numbering no more than 15 million, Middle East Christians possess neither powerful allies supplying arms, nor an exclusivist ideology capable of rallying and uniting a diverse community with distinct traditions, rites and histories. And so to survive, Middle East Christians do what they have always done during similar waves of violence in their long history: they head for the hills.
Observers describe the current wave of violence in the Middle East, and the flight of its minorities — especially its Christians — as an existential threat. Can the Middle East survive without its Christians and other minorities? Sure, but can a region thrive though overwhelmed by extremist ideologies at odds with mainstream Muslims?
Check out Elizabeth Scalia’s blog, The Anchoress, for more.
To help Iraq’s besieged Christians, visit this page. And remember them, please, in your prayers.
26 June 2014
In this image from 2011, A 53-year-old Christian mother in northern Iraq displays a photo of her son, who was killed in sectarian violence. (photo: Safin Hamed)
CNEWA has just learned that the situation in Qaraqosh, Iraq, is critical, that all 50,000 people have been evacuated and that the Syriac bishop there is negotiating between two sides for his people.
The Globe and Mail has the background:
Thousands of Iraqi Christians arrived in Kurdish-controlled areas on Thursday after Islamist militants attacked one of the last Christian enclaves in country.
A staff member from the International Organization for Migration said that between 2,000 and 3,000 people arrived Wednesday night and Thursday morning at a converted youth centre in Ain Kawa, a Christian town on the outskirts of the Kurdish capital of Erbil, that was serving as a temporary refugee-processing hub. Thousands of other Christians were reported to have sought protection with local families in Erbil and other Kurdish cities.
The refugees were fleeing an attack by the extremist Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant on Qaraqosh, an historic Christian town outside the city of Mosul. In recent weeks, The Sunni extremist ISIL has made stunning advances in Iraq, seizing the cities of Mosul and Tikrit, as well as border crossings to neighbouring Jordan and Syria, as it pushes towards Baghdad.
ISIL is supported by remnants of the Baath Party of former dictator Saddam Hussein, as well as many local Sunni Muslim tribes opposed to the Shia-dominated government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Qaraqosh residents and Kurdish officials say ISIL attacked Qaraqosh — which had been under the joint protection of Kurdish peshmerga fighters and local Christian militiamen — late Wednesday night. Although the attack was apparently repulsed, several mortar rounds landed in Qaraqosh, a town of 50,000, provoking a mass exodus.
Until Wednesday, Qaraqosh had been seen as a safe haven for Christians fleeing violence and persecution in Mosul and other cities. Many residents had moved there following a wave of murders and threats targeting Mosul’s Christians in 2008.
We reported extensively on the plight of Christian refugees in northern Iraq in ONE in 2011, in our story A New Genesis in Nineveh.
Please keep the suffering people of Iraq in your thoughts and prayers. You can also help them with a tangible gift that can help bring medicine and equipment to those in need. Visit this page to learn how you can make a difference today.
26 June 2014
In this image from 2006, Metropolitan Nicholas presides at a liturgy in honor of Sts. Cyril and Methodius Church in Camp Nazareth, Mercer, Pennsylvania. To learn about the American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church, read our profile in the July 2006
issue of ONE. (photo: Lisa Kyle)
26 June 2014
Members of the Iraqi Special Operations Forces take their positions during clashes with the militant Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in the city of Ramadi on 19 June. (photo: CNS/Reuters)
Clashes between Kurds and Islamists, Christians fleeing Qaraqosh (Fides) On 25 June, Sunni militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) attacked the city of Qaraqosh, situated in the Nineveh Plain, about 17 miles from Mosul, home to many Chaldean Christians. The Kurdish militia repelled the attack thanks to the intervention of contingent reinforcement from Iraqi Kurdistan. Local sources consulted by Fides Agency confirm that the clashes have caused many deaths on both sides, and that since Wednesday evening, the civilian population has begun to flee en masse from Qaraqosh and other predominantly Christian villages in the region, heading towards Erbil and safer areas of the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan…
Vatican embassy official talks about Syrian and Iraqi situation (Vatican Radio) Lebanon is hosting more than a million refugees from the civil war in neighboring Syria, a greater number than any other nation. More recently, the insurgency in Iraq by the ISIS Islamic militants is causing concern among many Lebanese people about the risk of further destabilization in the Middle East. Monsignor Jain Mendez, a councilor at the Apostolic Nunciature in Lebanon, spoke to Susy Hodges about those fears…
Hundreds flee Sunni advances in Iraq (Al Jazeera) Hundreds of Iraqi villagers fleeing advances by Sunni militants crowded at a checkpoint on the edge of the country’s Kurdish-controlled territory Thursday to seek shelter in the relative safety of the self-ruled region, as Britain’s top diplomat arrived in Baghdad to urge the country’s leaders to unite against the insurgent threat…
Shiite violence traps Baghdad’s Sunnis, haunted by a grim past (New York Times) For now, sectarian assassinations do not nearly approach the wholesale slaughter of the years 2005 to 2007, when as many as 100 bodies a day sometimes showed up at the morgue, some of them Shiites killed in suicide bombings but many Sunnis who had been executed by Shiite militias. Still, the specter of that grim past preys on the thoughts of Baghdad’s Sunnis, who suddenly find themselves in a Shiite-dominated city threatened by extremist Sunnis, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and its allies, who want to kill all the Shiites…
Ukrainian rebels scheduled to meet with government Friday (Christian Science Monitor) Ukrainian separatist rebels have agreed to take part in further peace talks on Friday to end the conflict in Ukraine’s eastern regions, Interfax news agency said on Thursday…
Jordan shaken by threats from ISIS, Iraq, Syria (Al Monitor) Jordan has reacted swiftly to reports that the border crossing point of Treibel, on the Iraqi side, had fallen into rebel hands, including possibly fighters from the Islamic State in Iraq and al Sham (ISIS), by beefing up military presence on the eastern front and heightening the state of alert. The Jordanian armed forces confirmed on 24 June that it has reinforced its units along the 112-mile border with Iraq. It said the action was taken after the Iraqi army withdrew from the border crossing, and that the army and security personnel were ready to deal with any contingency…
25 June 2014
Tags: Iraq Ukraine Iraqi Christians War Iraqi Refugees
Making sfeeha from scratch is laborious, but well worth the effort. (photo: Ilene Perlman)
In Massachusetts, you can find a thriving enclave of Armenian culture, which we reported on in 2006:
At first glance, Watertown is not unlike many of the middle-class suburbs and small towns that have sprung up around Boston. Its most imposing building is the brick post office on Main Street, which is surrounded by an array of inconspicuous office buildings and stores. Take the New England accents away, and you could be anywhere in Small Town, U.S.A.
But look closer, especially along Mount Auburn Street, another of Watertown’s major thoroughfares. There you will find the offices of lawyer Ara H. Margosian II and optometrist J.C. Baboian, the Bedrojian Funeral Home and the St. James Armenian Apostolic Church. Armenian flags — tricolors of red, blue and orange — fly above filling stations. There is a cluster of specialty groceries, all more or less like the Sevan Bakery, which advertises “Fresh lahmejune daily” and displays a list of available dips: hommus, babagounesh, muhammara, yalangy, tabouleh and tarama. You would think Watertown, population 33,000, was founded by a group of Armenian gourmands, not 17th-century English settlers.
Like other immigrant communities, the 50,000 Armenian-Americans in the Boston area are bound together by several cultural factors. There is of course religion. In Watertown alone there are four Armenian churches — two Armenian Apostolic, a Catholic and an Evangelical — and several more within a short drive. There is also language, though this cultural glue is weakening as Armenians followed the historic assimilation patterns of other immigrant groups. And there is politics, particularly the galvanizing efforts to raise awareness about the Armenian genocide, which many believe has been an overlooked tragedy of the 20th century and one that Turkey has never fully acknowledged. Food might seem a less lofty social glue, but nonetheless it may be the most enduring. After all, very few drive to Watertown from New Hampshire or Vermont to attend a political rally or a Sunday liturgy. But they do come, and in droves, to stock their pantries and freezers.
Margaret Chauushian and her husband, Gabriel, bought the Sevan Bakery 22 years ago, five years after they moved to Watertown from Istanbul. The store is dominated by a long salad bar — actually, a salad bar that has been converted into a depository of dozens of different nuts: almonds, cashews, peanuts, toasted or fresh, unsalted or salted. In the back, several men and women were making fresh lahmejunes — a thin, spicy pizza — for which the bakery is best known. The store caters to Watertown’s 7,000 Armenian-Americans, Armenian-Americans who drive in from near and far and non-Armenians who have developed a taste for the food.
“Most of our customers are Armenian, of course, but we also have a lot of Jewish customers,” Mrs. Chauushian said. “Saturday is our busiest day. We have people who drive in from all over New England.”
Read more about where you can get A Taste of Little Armenia in the July 2006 issue of ONE.
25 June 2014
By providing services like traffic management the rebels hope they can get locals to help consolidate their hold. Imran Khan reports. (video: Al Jazeera)
Iraqi prime minister rejects emergency ‘salvation’ government (BBC) Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri Maliki has rejected calls for an emergency “national salvation” government to help counter jihadist-led Sunni rebels. Such calls represented a “coup against the constitution and an attempt to end the democratic experience”, he warned. The United States has led appeals to the country’s political leaders to rise above sectarian and ethnic divisions.
Ukraine helicopter shot down, ceasefire shattered (Vatican Radio) Ukrainian officials say nine people have died when a military helicopter was shot down by pro-Russia separatists, shattering a temporary ceasefire in eastern Ukraine and adding to fears of civil war…
Israel reins in West Bank military offensive (Christian Science Monitor) Israel’s military is starting to rein in its retaliatory offensive against Hamas in the West Bank amid concern that a campaign of arrests and raids following the disappearance of three teenagers may backfire by stirring Palestinian unrest. Since the abduction of three Israeli teens, Israel has arrested about 350 Palestinians, conducted sweeps of 1,800 locales, and raided 64 Islamic charities with suspected links to Hamas…
Chechen extremists threaten Jordan (Al Monitor) The exceedingly small number of foreign heads of state who have visited Grozny, the capital city of Russia’s Chechen Republic, increased by one last week when Jordan’s King Abdullah II met there with Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov. Though neither side offered any real detail on their discussions, the central topic may have been a profound one for the Middle East. According to Chechnya’s regional government, tens of thousands of Chechens live in Jordan, in itself an important topic for the leader of this relatively small ethnic group. Hardened veterans of Chechnya’s two unsuccessful wars for independence from post-Soviet Russia have become a significant component within the groups of international extremist Islamist fighters ranging across the Middle East and South Asia…
24 June 2014
Tags: Iraq Ukraine Jordan War Israeli-Palestinian conflict
Some of the more than 500 sets of twins are seen on 19 June taking part in the feast of Sts. Gervasis and Prothasis, patron saints of twins, at the parish of the same name in Kothanalloor, India. The church was dedicated in 1599 to the twin saints of the second century. To learn more about this unusual feast, visit the parish’s website. (photo: CNS/courtesy Kothanalloor parish)
24 June 2014
Tags: India Kerala
Kashmiri Shiite Muslims in Narbal, India, shout religious slogans as they take part in a 20 June protest against the ongoing conflict in Iraq. Saying the United States has a special responsibility to the people of Iraq, the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace called for diplomatic measures rather than a military response to the crisis facing the country. (photo: CNS/Danish Ismail, Reuters)
Bishop Pates, Pax Christi U.S.A. call for diplomacy to resolve Iraq crisis (CNS) Saying the United States has a special responsibility to the people of Iraq, the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace called for diplomatic measures rather than a military response to the crisis facing the country. In a letter to Susan E. Rice, national security adviser, Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, called upon the U.S. to urge Iraqi political leaders to “form an inclusive government” so that people who feel they have no voice in the country’s affairs are included in its governance.
In Mosul, Iraq, feared crackdown by militants has not materialized (Los Angeles Times) When gunmen broke through the city’s perimeter on 9 June amid a hasty retreat by Iraqi police and army units, with the mayor joining the exodus, many who remained braced for the worst. It came as somewhat of a surprise when residents awoke the next day to a city not under a harsh form of sharia, or Islamic law, imposed by foreign extremists, but one whose government offices were staffed in part by Iraqis allied with the insurgents against a Shiite Muslim-led central government that has little support among Mosul’s Sunni Muslim majority…
U.N. urges Israeli restraint in hunt for teens, warns of violence (Christian Science Monitor) A senior United Nations official on Monday urged Israel to exercise restraint in its search for three missing teenagers it accuses the Hamas Islamist group of kidnapping, while warning the Security Council that violence in the region could escalate. Israel’s army said it had detained another 37 Palestinians overnight as it searched and extended a crackdown on Hamas, which has denied having any knowledge of the missing teens. The Israeli military says it has detained 361 people since the Israeli students went missing on 12 June…
U.N. rights chief decries Egypt sentencing of journalists (U.N. News Center) United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay expressed deep concern over a string of recent court decisions in Egypt, including the verdicts and heavy jail sentences handed down today to three Al Jazeera journalists, as well as 11 other defendants who were tried in absentia. “Proceedings that clearly appear not to meet basic fair trial standards, particularly those resulting in the imposition of the death penalty, are likely to undermine prospects for long-term stability…”
Maronite bishops: Middle East turmoil threatens to change regional map (National Catholic Register) Maronite Catholic bishops expressed their concern about the war in Syria and Iraq and warned that Lebanon’s presidential vacuum poses a dangerous risk to the country, particularly amid the escalating regional turmoil that they said threatens to change the map of the Middle East. In a 19 June statement at the conclusion of their annual synod at the patriarchal seat of Bkerke, the bishops said they completely support the views expressed by Patriarch Bechara Peter about the presidential stalemate, and “his tireless efforts to push [parliamentary] members to perform their duty” and vote…
23 June 2014
Tags: Iraq Egypt Israeli-Palestinian conflict United Nations Maronite Church
Once again, ONE won.
CNEWA’s multimedia magazine triumphed again at the Catholic Press Association awards banquet last Friday, winning 15 — including First Place for General Excellence — at the Catholic Media Conference in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Evaluating the magazine, the judges wrote:
This magazine is a high quality publication with a sophisticated look and feel. It is filled with powerful images and stories from around the world, filtered through a Catholic lens. Outstanding.
The newspaper and magazine judges included journalism professors from Marquette University and Spring Hill College.
Here’s a complete list of ONE’s awards:
General Excellence (Mission Magazines)
Best Electronic Newsletter
“Discover ONE Online” by Gabriela Gaibor, Paul Grillo, Greg Kandra
Best Single Photo — Color
“Hungry to Learn: Boy With Homework” by Petterik Wiggers
Best Special Issue, Section or Supplement
“Summer 2013 Issue — Spotlight: Children in Need”
“Very compelling diverse section, wonderfully presented,” wrote the judges. “This thorough, compassionate work made me proud of your publication.”
Best Coverage of Religious Liberty Issues
“Faith Under Fire: Young Copts Persevere in Egypt” by Sarah Topol
Best Essay (Mission Magazines)
“Letter from Syria: Saving Children of War” by Ziad Hilal, S.J.
Best Multiple Picture Package — Feature
“Hungry to Learn” by Petterik Wiggers
Best Single Photo — Color
“Hungry to Learn: Smiling Child With Biscuit” by Petterik Wiggers
Best Online/Multimedia Presentation of Visuals
“Visiting Georgia and Armenia” by Michael J.L. La Civita, Blaine Hicklin, Thomas Varghese
Best Feature Article (Mission Magazines)
“A Greek Tragedy: In a deepening economic crisis, churches and charities help” by Don Duncan
Best Online Blog (Publication)
Individual Excellence — Photographer/Artist
Paul Grillo, Designer, ONE Magazine
Best Feature Article — Mission magazines
“Reaching the Young ‘Untouchables’” by Jose Kavi
Best Online Content Not Published in Print
“Journey Through the South Caucasus” (blog series) by Michael J.L. La Civita
23 June 2014
Palestinian refugee Mohamad Yaser, 6, from the Aida Refugee Camp in Bethlehem, West Bank, plays music with the "Sounds of Palestine" program at the Bethlehem Live festival on Star Street on 20 June. The festival brings attention to the neglected street and raises awareness about its needs in the municipality. (photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)
Residents of Bethlehem gathered to make a little noise — and get some attention — last week.
Sitting outside their childhood home on Star Street, three sisters and their cousin chatted as they watched a small parade of children dance past, following a variety of clowns and jugglers and two giant dancing puppets.
An actor dressed as a caveman, hunched over and stomped through the crowd while clutching a walking staff in one hand and a stone in another; he brought smiles to some faces and sent even some of the older boys scurrying with fright.
Along the side of the stone road, vendors sold traditional olive wood crafts, homemade Palestinian delicacies, thin traditional shrak bread, protest posters, clothes, designer jewelry and the prerequisite popcorn, hot dogs and ice cream.
“When we were young, this street was always full and lively. Children were in the streets. There were shops and offices here,” recalled Marlene, 60, one of the three Catholic women who asked that their last name not be used. Antoinette, 77, the oldest and unmarried sister, still lives in the house where they grew up. “But since the intifada, everything closed. Now usually the street is always empty. Seeing all these people here reminds us of the good days.”
Though on the face the Bethlehem Live Festival is a cheerful street festival — originally intended to bring attention to the neglected street and raise awareness about its needs — it also focuses on faith, justice and culture, said Elias D'eis, project manager for the festival.
Workshops and panels such as nonviolence and nonlinear leadership were part of the festival schedule. An art gallery exhibited works by local artists, and an open-mic cafe allowed young local artists and performers to be seen and heard. Eight international bands were to perform on nights of the festival.
D’eis said Bethlehem Live aims to empower local small nongovernmental organizations, artists, youth and community committees to take action in defining their future and addressing some topics that affect them daily but also relate to the global community. The project was initiated in 2013 by the Holy Land Trust, a nonprofit peacebuilding organization in Bethlehem.
There are more than 128 closed shops on Star Street because tourists are not coming here,” D’eis said. “Our responsibility as a community organization is to work for the future, to help the community remember this is their city and to show them their social responsibility.”