26 January 2015
An Iraqi refugee family poses for a portrait in their camp in Erbil, Iraq. (photo: Don Duncan)
Jordan and Lebanon have become a temporary refuge for millions of Syrian and Iraqi refugees seeking shelter after being forced to flee their homelands. But despite the time that has passed, things are not improving, says Carl Hétu, Canada National Director of Catholic Near East Welfare Association.
After a sobering two weeks in the Middle East, including time spent in Jordan, Lebanon, Israel and Palestine (Gaza), it is clear to Hétu that the status quo is no longer viable. “There needs to be a new approach to help the millions of innocent lives caught in the middle,” he says. “We need to show more courage and resolve, diplomatically, and more generosity in our efforts.”
The Canadian government recently announced an increase in the number of Syrian refugees it will accept — 10,000 to be exact — and its level of humanitarian assistance for persons affected by the conflict in the region.
“The government has a responsibility to respond in such a way on behalf of Canadians,” adds Hétu. “Of course, 10,000 pales in comparison to the three million or so refugees who have spread throughout the region. Neighboring countries are doing more than their share. For example, Lebanon, a country of 4.4 million has received some 1.8 million refugees and Jordan, a country of 6.4 million people, has received more than one million refugees from Syria and Iraq.”
Hétu is back in Canada to shine light on the struggle those affected are forced to contend with on a daily basis. “One thing is clear,” he says. “Everything has changed for the worse. There’s more human suffering, more despair, more refugees, more killings, more social problems, more economic depression. But despite everything, people still have a sense of hope.”
“In Syria, the ongoing war is starving millions who are fleeing to find a better place. For those who have already fled, the unbearable present and unknown future is almost too much to bear.”
For Iraqi Christians and Yazidis who were pushed out of their ancestral villages under threat of death by radical group ISIS, they escaped with only the shirt on their backs. “They’re happy for the aid they have received so far, but how long can people live in crowded church halls divided only by curtains?”
But despite the devastation, the region is filled with stories of solidarity and hope for the future. In Gaza, for example, a Catholic school and parish took in hundreds of displaced people during the Israel-Gaza conflict — which helped to forge new relationships between the Christians and Muslims of Gaza.
As refugees and displaced wait for diplomatic solutions, their needs for basic supplies remain great. CNEWA appeals to Canadians to continue its generous support so that it can provide churches, religious communities and other groups in and around the region — on the field — in their direct assistance to those afflicted by the conflicts in the region. Canadian visitors can donate to CNEWA by visiting CNEWA.ca; U.S. visitors can visit CNEWA.org.
26 January 2015
Tags: Middle East Christians
Pope Francis greets members of the Pontifical Institute of Arabic and Islamic Studies at the Vatican. (photo: ANSA/Vatican Radio via Facebook)
Pope closes Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (Vatican Radio) Christians are called to follow the example of Jesus in encountering, listening and working together with others to spread the message of the Gospel in the modern world. That was Pope Francis’ message to members of all the different Christian Churches gathered in the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls on Sunday evening to mark the conclusion of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity...
Pope Francis issues an appeal for peace in Ukraine (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis issued a heartfelt appeal on Sunday for Ukraine saying, “I am following with deep concern the escalation of the fighting in eastern Ukraine, which continues to cause many casualties among the civilian population...
Russian Orthodox head criticizes French magazine’s mockery of Christians (Reuters) The head of Russia’s influential Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, said on Sunday cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad in the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo were “childish” compared to offences it had dished out to Christians. Charlie Hebdo has regularly offended Muslims, Christians and others with its irreverent cartoons. Gunmen killed 12 people at the Paris office of the weekly this month saying they were avenging the Prophet Mohammad, whom the magazine had depicted in cartoons in defiance of a ban in Islam on representing its founder. Kirill, who has close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, said in a sermon that he opposed both terrorism and giving offence to religious feelings...
Pope: Listening is essential to interreligious dialogue (Vatican Radio) “If it is assumed that we all belong to human nature, prejudices and falsehoods can be overcome and an understanding of the other according to a new perspective can begin.” These were the words said by Pope Francis to the members of the Pontifical Institute of Arabic and Islamic Studies today. The audience coincided with the 50th anniversary of the Institute’s opening...
Gaza says it will end five-year boycott of Israeli products (Times of Israel). Gaza’s Ministry of Economy announced Monday it will end its 5-year boycott of Israeli products, the Palestinian Ma’an news agency reported. Many factories and processing facilities, which normally provide Gaza residents with food and other goods, were destroyed in this summer’s conflict between Israel and Hamas, and rebuilding has been slow. Additionally, Israel and Egypt have destroyed many of the tunnels that Hamas uses to illegally import goods into the Gaza Strip, and Egypt has set up a buffer zone to further limit Hamas’s smuggling efforts....
Monks scramble to preserve Iraq’s Christian history (NPR) In an unfinished building in the northern Iraqi city of Erbil, displaced Christian children sing a little song about returning to their village. “We’re going back,” they sing, “to our houses, our land, our church.” Right now, they’re living in an open concrete structure. The self-styled Islamic State, or ISIS, took over their home village of Qaraqosh, and the Christians fled in fear, on foot...
22 January 2015
Tags: Iraq Pope Francis Ukraine Gaza Strip/West Bank Russian Orthodox
Father Paul Wattson, who co-founded the Friars of the Atonement and CNEWA, also launched the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. (photo: CNS/courtesy Society of the Atonement, Graymoor)
Once again the time has come for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (18-25 January). Started in 1908 as the Octave for Church Unity by Rev. Paul Wattson, an Anglican priest, the Week of Prayer has spread throughout the world.
It’s just one part of Father Paul’s remarkable legacy. He founded an order of Franciscans — the Friars of the Atonement, to which I belong — with the express intent of working for reconciliation and Christian unity. In 1909, the community was accepted into the Roman Catholic Church.
With that, his efforts to work for Christian unity moved to a broader context. The Octave was approved and encouraged for the entire Catholic Church by Pope Benedict XV in 1916. Today, it is observed by Christians of many churches around the world.
Central to Father Paul’s desire for Christian unity was his reading of a verse from chapter 17 of the Gospel of John: “That they all may be one...” From my youth I was aware of the quote from John 17:21 and the role it played in the founding of the Friars of the Atonement. It is a quote that evoked two questions in me. “Who are the ‘all’?” and “be one what?” The “all” is clearly that — everyone who is the Other, the Outsider. And Jesus himself explains the What as he continues the prayer. “One” is that great mystery of love and community; one is the Trinitarian life of the Godhead.
The Other can be not only different but unsettling, frightening, and even threatening. The Other — whether it be Orthodox or Protestant Christians, Jews, Muslims or members of other world religions — can be something we are more comfortable avoiding than engaging. Long before Vatican II challenged the Catholic Church to engage the Other in dialogue, Father Paul Wattson was seeking out other Christians — Orthodox, Protestant, Anglican — to engage them in the mystery of becoming ”one.”
After the Second Vatican Council, 20 years after the death of Father Paul, his initial vision was expanded to include engagement with members of every faith. To be sure, the goals and methods of engaging other Christians are different from those of engaging Jews, Muslims, Hindus, etc. But true to the vision of Father Paul, no one was to be excluded, ignored or left out. From the very concrete and Christian event of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, the inclusiveness of the “all” was taken very seriously.
As the External Affairs Officer at Catholic Near East Welfare Association — which Father Paul also co-founded — I work with Christians of every variety in the Middle East, the Horn of Africa and Southern India. The schools, hospitals and clinics we support welcome Muslims and members of other religions. Tragically, the Near East has become a dangerous part of the world — not only for Christians, but for all people who oppose violence in the name of religion and the oppression of the Other.
The vision of Father Paul as the founder of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity and co-founder of CNEWA finds its expression in his desire to bring things together as one. And his legacy may now get even wider recognition. Recently, the Vatican gave approval to begin the process for the beatification and canonization of Father Paul.
In one of those coincidences that life often provides us, the masthead of CNEWA’s magazine, named ONE, answers the question of my youth “one what?” and intersects with a wider view of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity:
One God • World • Human Family • Church
To read more about Father Paul and his CNEWA connection, check out this profile from The Catholic Register.
22 January 2015
In this image from 2006, two students at the Shashemene School for the Blind in Ethiopia take a break between classes. (photo: Sean Sprague)
Several years ago, we paid a visit to a remarkable school giving remarkable opportunities to children with special needs:
Three days after she was born, Meseret was struck blind. She spent much of her early childhood locked in her room; her parents did not know what to do with her. But a few years ago, Meseret’s family found out about the Shashemene School for the Blind, run by the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, and decided that Meseret would be happier there than at home.
The school lies within a large, gated compound — a sanctuary in Shashemene, a bustling Ethiopian town of 50,000. It was here that Meseret, now 12, learned Braille. And it was here that she first came to understand that her life, like those of the other 120 blind students enrolled in the school, could be meaningful.
Read more about “Special Attention for Special Needs” in the November 2006 edition of ONE.
22 January 2015
In this image from December, an Iraqi Christian prays inside a shrine on the grounds of Mazar Mar Eillia (Mar Elia) Catholic Church which has become home to hundreds of Iraqi Christians who were forced to flee their homes as the Islamic State advanced. The apostolic nuncio hopes Christians who fled northern Iraq can return later this year. (photo: Getty Images)
King Abdullah of Jordan praises pope (Fides) The views expressed by Pope Francis during his recent visit to Asia on the need to reconcile freedom of expression and respect for religions and religious symbols were praised and supported by King Abdullah II of Jordan, during a meeting with the leaders of the Bedouin tribe of Beni Sakhr...
Civilians killed during shelling in Ukraine (CNN) Seven civilians were killed when shells hit a trolley bus station in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk, the City Council there said Thursday, as the months-long conflict in the country’s east showed little sign of easing. In total, 10 civilians have been killed and 20 injured in shelling of four city districts in the past 24 hours, the Donetsk City Council said on its website. “As of now, the situation remains difficult,” the statement reads...
Nuncio: Christians could return to northern Iraq this year (Catholic Herald) Archbishop Giorgio Lingua, the Apostolic Nuncio to Iraq, has said that Christians may be able to return to their homes in northern Iraq later this year — but only if Islamic State is pushed out first. The archbishop, speaking to Aid to the Church in Need, a charity for persecuted Christians, said that once Mosul and the Nineveh Plains had been retaken the country must undergo a period of “national reconciliation”...
Gaza rebuilding to halt at end of January (Newsweek) A United Nations programme to rebuild Gaza and give aid and shelter to more than 100,000 Gazans made homeless by the 50-day summer war will be suspended at the end of January because world donors have reneged on promises to pay...
21 January 2015
In this image from 2014, a woman prays in her church in Armenia. Until a priest arrived in 2002, parishioners found it difficult to preserve and celebrate their faith. Read more about how Georgia’s Armenian Catholics persevered in “A Firm Faith” from the Spring 2014 edition of ONE.
(photo: Molly Corso)
21 January 2015
In this image from last October, Archbishop Stephen Brislin of Cape Town, South Africa, left, leaves the concluding session of the extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family at the Vatican. Archbishop Brislin has just returned from a visit to the Holy Land and spoke of the challenges Christians there are facing. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Russia condemns European Union (Vatican Radio) Moscow has condemned the European Union’s decision to keep sanctions against Russia in place over its role in Ukraine, where at least six civilians died in increased fighting between government forces and pro-Russian forces...
Archbishop speaks of need for Christian unity in Holy Land (Vatican Radio) In this the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, Archbishop Stephen Brislin of Cape Town, South Africa has spoken of the “tremendous challenges” facing the Christian community in the Holy Land saying, that it is very important for them to stand together...
Bishop returns from Iraq, describes plight of refugees (National Catholic Register) Qaraqosh, a bed of Christianity since the first century, was totally Syriac Catholic. Syriac-Catholic Bishop Barnaba Yousif Habash of the Syrian Catholic Eparchy of Our Lady of Deliverance, based in Bayonne, N.J., is a native of Qaroqosh. He describes his birthplace as “the biggest island of Christianity in the Islamic ocean.” Bishop Habash traveled to Irbil to spend the holidays with the more than 100,000 displaced Christians who were uprooted from Mosul and Iraq’s Nineveh Plain, as well as from Qaraqosh, by the advance of the Islamic State. The exiled Christians are still camping out in tents and uncompleted buildings in harsh winter conditions. Among them are priests, nuns and two bishops...
Ethiopians mark Epiphany (Turkish Press) Millions of Ethiopian Orthodox Christians continued for the second day to celebrate Epiphany, a three-day occasion marking the baptism of Jesus Christ in the Jordan River and locally known as Timket. Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, Abune Mathias, offered a benediction for thousands of people who congregated to mark the holy occasion in Jan Meda, a wide open field in Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa...
Russian Orthodox activists urge ban on award-winning film (RT.com) Russian Orthodox activists are pressing the Culture Ministry in Moscow to create an “Orthodox Hollywood” and ban the distribution of the Golden Globe-winning “Leviathan.” The believers say that the drama tarnishes the reputation of the Russian Orthodox Church, openly criticizes the Russian government and shouldn’t appear on the big screen...
20 January 2015
In this 2008 file photo, Bishop Menghesteab Tesfamariam of Asmara, Eritrea, speaks during an interview at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington. This weekend, Pope Francis appointed him metropolitan of the new Eritrean Catholic Church. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
On Sunday, the Holy See announced that Pope Francis, bishop of Rome, had created a new Eastern Catholic metropolitan church in the northeast African nation of Eritrea. The new Eritrean Catholic Church, carved from the four Eritrean eparchies (or dioceses) of the Ge’ez Catholic Church based in the Ethiopian capital city of Addis Ababa, will be sui iuris (meaning “of its own right”) and will be subject directly to the Holy See.
According to the Vatican Information Service announcement, “the seat of the new metropolitan church is Asmara, [the capital of Eritrea,] which is elevated to the status of metropolitan archeparchy.” This new metropolitan church, which will continue to utilize the Ge’ez rites and traditions it shares with its sister church in neighboring Ethiopia, includes the eparchies of Barentu, Keren and Seghenity, in addition to the Archeparchy of Asmara. The pope appointed Bishop Menghesteab Tesfamariam, M.C.C.J., formerly eparchial bishop of Asmara, as the first metropolitan archbishop of Eritrea.
The Holy See also announced that the re-formed Ethiopian Catholic Church, led by Cardinal-designate Metropolitan Berhaneyesus D. Souraphiel, C.M., will include a new jurisdiction, erecting the Eparchy of Bahir Dar-Dessie, and asking Bishop Lisane-Christos Matheos Semahun, the former auxiliary of Addis Ababa, to shepherd its 18,000 Catholics.
Click here to learn more about the Eritrean and Ethiopian Catholic churches, and their ancient Ge’ez rites and traditions. To learn more about the Eastern churches, visit this new feature we have created that gathers together the profiles written on all the Eastern churches featured in ONE magazine between 2005 and 2012.
20 January 2015
Tags: Pope Francis Ethiopia Eritrea Ethiopia’s Catholic Church Eritrean Catholic Church
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)