4 September 2015
A woman sits among sleeping migrants near the Keleti railway station in Budapest, Hungary, on 3 September. More than 2,000 people, most of them refugees from the Middle East, camped in front of the Keleti Railway Terminus, closed to them by authorities who said European Union rules bar travel by those without valid documents. (photo: CNS/Bernadett Szabo, Reuters)
At a moment when the eyes of the world are riveted on the horror unfolding in Europe — with tens of thousands, most from Iraq and Syria, fleeing for their lives, and some stories ending in tragedy and despair — there are, nonetheless, glimmers of hope.
Catholic aid agencies are there to help.
In Hungary, the government has asked Caritas Hungary to intervene:
[Vatican radio reporter] Linda Bordoni spoke to the Head of Caritas Hungary Emergency Response, Balint Vadasz, who explains that Caritas will expand its operation outside the camps and create “transit zones”: spaces in the city where refugees will be able to obtain assistance.
Vadasz, who has been talking to people at the train station where clashes with police officers have fueled tension and anger, says that the migrants and refugees can be divided into two groups: the first, consisting mostly in women and children that is patient, cooperative and subdued; the other, more numerous, he describes as “hardcore” and consists mostly of people who are fueling discontent and he says are provoking aggressive behavior.
Vadasz says that although there are many Syrian refugees amongst the crowds of migrants, there are also many economic migrants who attempt to pass as refugees but come from countries like Albania and Afghanistan.
He says that about 80% of them are men; the remaining 20% are families with children.
He speaks of the living conditions of the people trying to board trains at Budapest Station. He says the situation is extremely difficult for ordinary Hungarians.
He also describes the situation of utter chaos in the city where parks and streets are filled with wandering people who cause huge problems to the traffic and overun with litter — making everyday life unsustainable for citizens.
At the moment — he says — Caritas is providing basic humanitarian assistance to those in the camps but plans to expand its emergency response programme by creating spaces — “transit zones” — in the city of Budapest where refugees will be able to be assisted with a number of projects including special healthcare programmes for children and babies.
Many of the refugees fleeing to Europe first found refuge in Jordan, Lebanon or Turkey. Lebanon alone has absorbed an estimated 1.5 million refugees from neighboring Syria, a staggering figure representing one refugee for every three people already residing in the country. In Jordan, where it is said “if you are not a refugee, you are a stranger,” hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Syrians have poured into its cities for years, straining the kingdom’s already overburdened infrastructure.
And CNEWA is there to help, working through local churches and religious congregations to provide support to the displaced:
Two Franciscan Missionaries of Mary — one middle aged, one a novice — wind their way through a narrow alley lined with convenience shops and small cinderblock homes. Local residents greet them. The sisters are here to visit a few of the hundreds of Syrians who have taken refuge in Naba’a after fleeing their nation’s three-year civil war.
But Naba’a is hardly a refuge. Since the government of Lebanon has decided not to build refugee camps, people find shelter wherever they can: in one-room homes, in crowded apartments, even in tents.
In Naba’a, as in the rest of Lebanon, you are left to fend for yourself. But in a land riddled with clear and present dangers, the two sisters this day are bearing something often hard to find: hope.
...[One refugee] Mariam has not always had a hopeful outlook. When she first came to Beirut she was overwhelmed and despondent. Gabriel was out of work because of a back injury, and Sonique, her 13-year-old daughter, was still traumatized by what she had witnessed in Syria. The family lived in a tent on a roof, renting the space for $100 per month. But after she began attending a series of retreats sponsored by the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, Mariam found the courage to accept her circumstances and even to help others.
A team of psychologists and social workers counsels participants on the importance of positive thinking, how to live in community, how to care for others and how to preserve family unity in the midst of difficult circumstances. Children are taught the same lessons in separate sessions that include games and theater. The retreats always end with a party, with adults and children coming together for songs, skits and dancing.
Sisters of the Good Shepherd help care for Syrian refugee children at a makeshift school in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. (photo: John E. Kozar)
In Jordan, meantime, displaced Iraqi Christians who have fled ISIS are finding sanctuary — and CNEWA is there for them, too:
“The flow of refugees is great. We see the suffering they are going through and how we can support them,” says Sister Elizabeth Mary, one of the Dominican Sisters of the Presentation of Mary who staff the [Italian Hospital in Amman].
“Whatever funds we receive, they’re used because the people never stop coming. We are always looking for help,” adds the soft-spoken sister.
“It’s normal to see refugees here at the Italian Hospital, which is not the case with other hospitals in Amman. At every level, our staff is prepared to aid them, and the refugees also feel good about coming to our hospital,” Mr. Samawi says.
“Thousands of people are benefiting from our health care program handling mid-sized surgeries,” says Ra’ed Bahou, CNEWA’s regional director for Jordan and Iraq, which supports the Catholic hospital’s care for refugees and the poor. “Now, we are trying to help with larger surgeries — heart operations and some cancer and hernia treatments.”
Until recently, the U.N. High Council for Refugees also channeled assistance to the hospital through Caritas, but that aid has ended, straining the resources of the facility and its partner, CNEWA.
Those Iraqi Christians who fled ISIS come to the Italian Hospital primarily for the treatment of hypertension and diabetes, says medical director Dr. Khalid Shammas. Others suffer from chronic heart problems and strokes. Often, he says, the diseases are related to the enormous stress from the loss of homes, livelihoods and more.
“We listen to them. There is struggle, loss and disappointment. It’s no wonder the refugees are depressed,” says Sister Elizabeth.
To learn how you can continue to support this vital work, at a time when so many of our suffering brothers and sisters are in need, visit this giving page. And please keep all those seeking sanctuary — in Europe, in the Middle East, and around the world — in your prayers.
4 September 2015
Outside the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth, hundreds of Arab Israeli Christians hold banners in a rally against what they said was state discrimination in funding their schools. Christian schools in Israel stayed shut this week, delaying the start of the new academic year; the action affected about 33,000 pupils, mostly Muslim Israeli Arabs, at 47 schools. Read details at the website for the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. (photo: Ahmad Gharabli/AFP/Getty Images)
4 September 2015
Migrants protest outside a train near Budapest, Hungary on 4 September 2015. They refused to leave the train out of fear of being sent to a refugee camp. Since the beginning of 2015 the number of migrants using the so-called Balkans route has exploded with migrants arriving in Greece from Turkey and then travelling on through Macedonia and Serbia before entering
the EU via Hungary. (photo: Matt Cardy/Getty Images)
Migrants resist going to refugee camp (Vatican Radio) Thousands of migrants in Hungary trying to reach Western Europe rushed into a Budapest train station yesterday and shoved their way onto a waiting train. The train left the station, but was stopped by police in the nearby town of Bitske at a Hungarian camp for asylum seekers, setting off a bitter showdown...
Negotiations underway for release of Father Murad, hostages (Fides) Father Jacques Murad and about 270 Christians and Muslims taken hostage by jihadi militias during their offensive in southeast of Homs are alive, and their condition is currently considered quite “stable and secure.” Some heads of local ecclesial communities are carrying out negotiations through mediators to obtain their release as soon as possible...
U.N.: Gaza could be “uninhabitable” in five years (Newsweek) Gaza could become “uninhabitable” within five years if current economic trends continue, according to a United Nations report released this week. The report says that socio-economic conditions in Gaza are at their lowest point since 1967 and that the “social, health and security-related ramifications of the high population density and overcrowding are among the factors that may render Gaza unlivable by 2020, if present trends continue.” By 2020, Gaza’s population is predicted to increase from 1.6 million to 2.1 million, and for it to be a livable place, “herculean efforts” are needed to improve health, education, water and sanitation sectors, according to the report...
Pope Tawadros meets U.S. Congressional delegation (The Cairo Post) Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria and Patriarch of St. Mark Diocese met Thursday with a U.S. Congressional delegation at Saint Mark’s Cathedral in Cairo, Youm7 reported. The delegation’s visit aimed to review the situation of the Copts in Egypt. The delegation includes the U.S. congress members Louie Gohmert, Victoria Coates, Samantha Leahy, Stephen Colvin and Patrick Paul. “Egypt is in its way towards stability and the situation is much better than the previous years; Copts are in good relations with President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi and with all the Egyptians,” Pope Tawadros II told the l delegation, according to an official statement from the church...
3 September 2015
Tags: Syria Egypt Gaza Strip/West Bank Copts
On 2 September, a member of the Turkish military carries a young migrant named Aylan, 3, who drowned as his family attempted to sail to the Greek island of Kos. (photo: CNS/Reuters)
We know now that his name was Aylan Kurdi. He was three-years-old.
Yesterday, this harrowing image of Aylan’s lifeless body being carried from a beach in Turkey seized the attention of the world. Aylan and his five-year-old brother Galip drowned while trying to reach the Greek island of Kos from the Turkish resort town of Bodrum. Their mother, Rehan, also died. Only the boys’ father, Abdullah, survived.They were just two of at least a dozen migrants on a small boat fleeing the war in Syria.
According to USA TODAY, Aylan and his family were Kurdish Syrians from Kobane, a town near the Turkish border, trying to emigrate to Canada.
An editor at The Los Angeles Times put this picture in context:
It is heartbreaking, and stark testimony of an unfolding human tragedy that is playing out in Syria, Turkey and Europe, often unwitnessed,” she said. “We have written stories about hundreds of migrants dead in capsized boats, sweltering trucks, lonely rail lines, but it took a tiny boy on a beach to really bring it home to those readers who may not yet have grasped the magnitude of the migrant crisis.”
By one account, some 2,500 have died trying to cross the Aegean to reach Greece. The growing refugee crisis — with hundreds of thousands seeking to escape the bloodshed and turmoil in parts of the Middle East — has had a profound impact on many countries, with pressure increasing on European leaders to take action. In the meantime, the displaced in Iraq and Lebanon and Syria continue to turn to humanitarian agencies such as CNEWA, seeking help and hope. To learn what you can do for families such as the Kurdis in Syria, visit this page.
This day, please remember them in your prayers.
Remember Aylan Kurdi, and his brother Galip, and their mother Rehan, and so many others whose names we do not know who have lost their lives seeking sanctuary and a better life.
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them...
3 September 2015
The faithful celebrate the liturgy at the Church of St. Nicholas in Kampala, Uganda.
(photo: Tugela Ridley)
African Christianity has apostolic roots. St. Mark the Evangelist brought the Gospel to the Egyptian city of Alexandria — second only to Rome in the ancient world — and established a church there as early as A.D. 42.
Though sporadically persecuted by the Romans — Mark died a martyr’s death around A.D. 67 — the Alexandrian church blossomed. It provided the universal church with the philosophical foundation and theological vocabulary responsible for its explosive expansion, introduced variants of monastic life and peopled the Christendom with some of its greatest saints and scholars.
The Alexandrian church was not confined to cosmopolitan Alexandria. Its bishops, who still hold the title of “pope and patriarch of Alexandria and all Africa,” had jurisdiction throughout the African continent: the churches of Eritrea and Ethiopia, for example, are daughter churches.
But as the Egyptian church grew, cultural and linguistic differences — especially between the Copts and Greeks — divided the church. Rival parties struggled to secure the papal see of Alexandria. Finally, in 567, the Byzantine emperor recognized two claimants: the Copt, to whom the vast majority of Egypt’s Christians owed allegiance, and the Melkite (from the Syriac, meaning of the king), who led the Greek-speaking minority.
People approach St. George Orthodox Church in Cairo. (photo: Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images)
Scholars believe that by the eve of the Muslim Arab invasion in 641, Alexandrian Christians included up to 18 million Copts and some 200,000 Melkites, mostly Greek-speaking bureaucrats, merchants and soldiers. Both churches used the distinctive rites of the Alexandrian church. The Copts, however, adapted these liturgies for monastic use, which survive to this day. Eventually, the Greek-speaking church replaced these ancient rites with those from the Byzantine capital of Constantinople.
After the Arab Muslim occupation of northern Africa, Egypt’s Greek-speaking Christians suffered for their loyalty to Byzantium. Their numbers declined. Until the middle of the 19th century, most of the Greek Orthodox men who held the title of pope and patriarch of Alexandria lived in Constantinople and were appointed by the ecumenical patriarch.
Yet in the 19th century, the situation changed as Orthodox Christians from Greece, Lebanon and Syria began to settle in cities throughout the African continent. There, they built churches as their communities grew in size and wealth. The port city of Alexandria drew tens of thousands of Orthodox emigrants, particularly as Egypt won a form of autonomy from Great Britain. By the 20th century, the British estimated that nearly 200,000 Greeks lived in Egypt. Flush with assets, the Greek Orthodox popes and patriarchs of Alexandria gained considerable influence in Egypt and beyond.
Until the middle of the 20th century, Orthodoxy’s reach throughout “All Africa” ended at the Sahara. The story of how it penetrated the continent, to Kenya and Uganda in particular, is not the familiar one of European missionaries and colonizers. Rather, it began as a spontaneous movement by African Christians seeking a form of Christianity untainted by European colonization with roots in the early church.
To learn more about this African church, click here.
3 September 2015
Pope Francis meets with Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin in the Vatican.
(photo: Vatican Radio/AP)
Pope meets with Israel’s president (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis met Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin in the Vatican on Thursday (3 September) and held talks that focused on the situation in the Middle East and bilateral relations...
Vatican: Promote the rights of Christians in the Middle East (Vatican Radio) Promote the rights of Christian citizens of the Middle East, and bring an end to persecution. This was the message the Rev. Miguel Ángel Ayuso Guixot, M.C.C.I., the Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, brought to the “Interreligious Meeting on Supporting Citizenship Rights and Peaceful Coexistence: Challenges, Practices and Open Questions” which took place in Athens on 2-3 September...
Family of Syrian boy who drowned were trying to reach Canada (The Guardian) The family of a three-year-old Syrian boy whose body was washed up on a beach in Turkey were making a final, desperate attempt to flee to relatives in Canada even though their asylum application had been rejected, according to reports. Syria was already at war when Aylan Kurdi was born. He died with his five-year-old brother, Galip, and mother, Rehan. Their father, Abdullah, survived...
Ukraine weighs autonomy for parts of East (The New York Times) KIEV, Ukraine — A loud, angry and violent protest this week over a parliamentary measure to grant a greater degree of self-rule to Ukraine’s secessionist eastern districts overlooked one little-recognized fact: To a great extent, the rebel areas have already achieved an autonomy surpassing that envisioned in the measure. But that, paradoxically, could be a positive development, some analysts say, and a necessary first step to ending the fighting, which has cost more than 6,500 lives and has driven Ukraine’s economy close to collapse...
Church supports Indians on nationwide strike (CNS) The Catholic Church in India supported some 150 million workers on a nationwide strike that shut down factories, banks, traffic and government offices across India on 2 September. Workers across India are upset about labor policies of the government that they say are detrimental to the welfare of workers, said Bishop Oswald Lewis of Jaipur, head of the Indian bishops’ labor office. “The church is in solidarity with striking workers because we are concerned about their welfare,” the bishop told ucanews.com, adding that all Catholic forums in the country are supporting the strike...
Coptic patriarch calls for better use of Nile waters (Fides) An invitation to encourage the rational use of the waters of Egypt was made yesterday to all Egyptians by Pope Tawadros II, Patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church. The call to rationalize the exploitation of water resources of the longest river in the world was highlighted by the Patriarch in his homily during the liturgy celebrated in the church of the Virgin Mary and St. Athanasius, in the Cairo suburb of Heliopolis...
2 September 2015
In Canada, the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village near Edmonton recreates the life of settlers in the region. To learn how Ukrainians are passing on their heritage in Canada, check out “Holding on Through the Generations” in the November 2005 edition of ONE. (photo: Richard McGuire)
2 September 2015
In the video above, Pope Francis marks the anniversary of the end of World War II on Wednesday with a renewed condemnation of war and a call for a halt to arms trafficking and persecution of minorities. (video: Rome Reports)
Pope issues heartfelt appeal for peace (Vatican Radio) At a time when people are experiencing trouble and conflict in many countries, Pope Francis at the end of his General Audience on Wednesday made a heartfelt appeal for peace. Recalling the end of Second World War in the Far East, the Holy Father prayed that the world would never again have to experience the horrors of “such tragedies”...
Christian schools in Israel continue protest (Fides) Initiatives to support Christian schools in Israel continue. Instead of re-opening to students at the beginning of the new school year, a strike has begun against the political choices of the Jewish State deemed discriminatory. In Nazareth, in front of the Basilica of the Annunciation, a crowded demonstration of solidarity took place yesterday afternoon, 1 September...
EU set to continue sanctions to put pressure on Moscow (The Wall Street Journal) The European Union is set to roll over until 15 March sanctions targeted against almost 200 Russian and Ukrainian-separatist individuals and firms to maintain pressure on Moscow to fully implement the Minsk ceasefire terms by the end of the year, diplomats said...
Russia puts troops in Syria (The Daily Beast) As if Moscow weren’t satisfied with the game in Ukraine, the last month has seen a flurry of reports about its ever-expanding military involvement in Syria. One report has even alleged that Russian pilots are gearing up to fly missions alongside the Syrian air force, dropping bombs not just on ISIS but on anti-Assad rebels who may or may not be aligned with the United States or its regional allies...
Archbishop Marini named to head Eastern Catholic liturgical commission (Byzcath.org) Pope Francis has reconstituted the Congregation for the Eastern Churches’ Special Commission for the Liturgy and has named Archbishop Piero Marini as its president. The commission, founded in 1931, approves Eastern-rite liturgical books. Archbishop Marini, 73, served as Master of Pontifical Liturgical Celebrations from 1987 to 2007 and is president of the Pontifical Committee for International Eucharistic Congresses...
1 September 2015
Tags: Syria Pope Francis Ukraine Israel Russia
Syriac Catholics, most of them Iraqi refugees, receive communion at a Divine Liturgy in a makeshift church in Amman, Jordan. (photo: Cory Eldridge)
As with most Christian communities of the Middle East, the Syriac Catholic Church has suffered severely as the region’s stability has deteriorated in the last 100 years or so. During Iraq’s civil war (2006-2007), thousands fled the violence in Baghdad and Mosul, where they had once enjoyed relative prosperity. The displaced found security in their remote ancestral villages near ancient Nineveh.
Now, these once proud centers of the church — the source of many of its vocations to the priesthood and religious life — have been lost, too, as Islamic extremists invaded the Nineveh Plain in August 2014, displacing more than 100,000 Christians, as well as Yazidis and other minorities. Civil war in Syria has uprooted thousands more, while economic stagnation and political uncertainty in Egypt and Lebanon have encouraged some Syriac Catholic families to emigrate to the West.
A small church, numbering about 207,000 people worldwide, the Syriac Catholic Church somehow endures, despite the repeated conflicts and cycles of persecution in the last 120 years.
Together with the much larger Syriac Orthodox Church (which numbers some 4.2 million people, including 3.7 million in India), the Syriac Catholic Church shares in the heritage of the Syrian city of Antioch, the political and socioeconomic center of the eastern Mediterranean in the ancient world. Though inhabited by a diverse population — Greeks and Macedonians, Romans and Jews, Syrians and Nabateans — Antioch was culturally Hellenic and its lingua franca, Greek. But those who lived in Syria’s rural interior spoke Syriac, a dialect of Aramaic nurtured in the city of Edessa.
Parishioners pray at Our Lady of Deliverance Church in central Baghdad on 7 November 2010. Just a week earlier, 46 worshipers were massacred during the celebration of the Liturgy. (photo: Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images)
In the seventh century, Syriac Christians generally welcomed the invading Muslim Arabs, who accepted them as “People of the Book.” Syriac Christianity flourished. Poets composed hymns that simplified complex ideas. Scholars translated ancient Greek texts and wrote biblical commentaries. Monks explored grammar, medicine, philosophy, rhetoric and science. Theologians and poets continued the tradition of creating liturgies, borrowing elements from the Byzantine and other traditions.
Arab Muslim leaders employed Syriac scholars, who were largely responsible for the Arab world’s familiarity with ancient Greek astronomy, chemistry, mathematics and philosophy — disciplines that eventually reached Europe via Arab Sicily and Spain.
In the 18th century, a renewed Catholic presence in the Middle East, bolstered by the presence of French and Italian missionaries, formed a Catholic community within the Syriac Orthodox Church. The growth of this new church ended, however, as the long and painful decline of the Ottoman Turkish Empire coincided with the rise of European colonial ambitions. Suspicious of collusion, the Ottomans murdered more than 25,000 Syriac Christians between 1895 and 1896.
During World War I, the Christian subjects of the Ottoman sultan were caught between two opposing cultures — their Sunni Muslim superiors and the Allied “Christian” powers of Great Britain, France and Russia, which encouraged separatist movements. The consequences were grave. Hundreds of thousands were killed, including some 50,000 Syriac Catholics and six of the church’s bishops. Survivors, including the patriarch, sought refuge in cities, especially Beirut, which remains the seat of the Syriac Catholic patriarchate.
Click here for a full account from the pages of ONE magazine.
1 September 2015
In this image from Ethiopia, farmers in the northern Tigray region have constructed retaining walls to protect the soil from erosion. Pope Francis has designated the first day of September as World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation. Learn how you can help those struggling to care for the earth and for each other in Ethiopia at this link. (photo: Petterik Wiggers)