5 August 2014
Tens of thousands of people from the Yazidi community fled their homes in northern Iraq on Sunday, after Islamic militants attacked the towns of Sinjar and Zunmar. (video: USA Today)
Islamic extremists impose reign of terror on Iraq (U.S.A. Today) Police cars have been repainted to say “Islamic police.” Women are forbidden from wearing bright colors and prints. The homes of Shiites and others have signs stating they are property of the Islamic State. And everyone walks in fear amid a new reign of terror. This is what life is like in Mosul, Tikrit and other cities in northern and western Iraq under the control of Islamic extremists after their lightning-fast military campaign that overwhelmed the Iraqi army in June…
Displaced Iraqi Christians from Mosul face humanitarian crisis (Vatican Radio) The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales has called for an end to the violent persecution of Iraqi Christians that threatens to extinguish their community. The bishops are also urging Catholics to join in a global day of prayer for Iraq’s Christians taking place on Wednesday, 6 August…
Baghdad patriarch: Iraqi Christian tragedy rooted in superpowers’ selfishness (AsiaNews) The international community and the world’s superpowers must realize the need for “concrete actions of solidarity” for Iraqi Christians because the “very survival” of the minority in the country and in middle East is at stake, said Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael I of Baghdad in a message to Pope Francis, eastern patriarchs and the presidents of bishops’ conferences. Faced with a never-ending tragedy, the patriarch of Baghdad addresses directly world powers, asking them to drop their “self-interest” and join together to achieve a “peaceful political solution” that alone can put an end to the conflict…
Gaza: No place to bury the dead (Al Jazeera) Corpses of dead Palestinians have overwhelmed morgues at Rafah’s hospitals, and relatives have been left with no option but to keep their loved-ones in commercial refrigerators. At the city’s Kuwaiti hospital on Monday, a stream of ambulances negotiated its way through crowds of medical staff and families, delivering bodies to be laid out on the gravel outside the building…
Gaza war stifles democracy in Israel (Al Monitor) The current Israel-Hamas conflict has generated an aggressive political patriotic discourse in Israel that has taken a heavy toll on Israeli democracy, in which those who dare to oppose the operation are expected to keep silent…
The quest to save Syria’s history (Der Spiegel) While the civil war in Syria has killed tens of thousands of people, it has also destroyed countless of the country’s ancient treasures. Now a number of Syrians are trying to save what artifacts they can — and are risking their lives to do so…
4 August 2014
Tags: Iraq Syrian Civil War Iraqi Christians Cultural Identity Israeli-Palestinian conflict
George Ayyad stands by his son, Jeries, of Gaza, in the intensive care unit of St. Joseph Hospital in Jerusalem on July. Since the death of his wife in an Israeli missile attack on their house in Gaza City in late July, Ayyad has been keeping vigil over his son, who is in critical condition. (photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)
Days of hope have given way to frustration and despair. We thought today we would see a ceasefire agreement take hold between the two sides, but after a few hours, a tentative truce very quickly broke down. Another escalation is underway in Gaza, each side blaming the other for breaking the ceasefire agreement.
On Friday, a group representing the main Christian organizations operating in the region visited St. Joseph Hospital and the Augusta Victoria Hospital in Jerusalem to get an update about the injured who have been transferred from Gaza due to the lack of proper facilities there. One of the cases is Jeries Ayyad (whom I wrote about earlier this week) whose mother was the first Christian victim in Gaza.
What I saw in the two hospitals is beyond imagination, and one only wonders about the kind of life these people will have should they recover, with amputated legs and arms and many with brain damage from shrapnel. There may be thousands like them who are not fortunate enough to make it to Jerusalem for better treatment.
On a more positive note, I am pleased our appeals to Europe have been heard. A number of our friends — including Manos Unidas, Spain; Embrace the Middle East in England; Caritas Switzerland; the Archdiocese of Cologne; Kinderhilfe Bethlehem in Switzerland; Kindermissionswerk in Germany; Missio and Misereor of Germany; Secours Catholique in France; Church in Need and Caritas Baby Hospital in Bethlehem — have all expressed interest and most have pledged support. All the contributions were made for CNEWA’s emergency phase, including medicines, fuel and medical treatments. Additionally, a few donors have urged us to submit specific proposals for the psychosocial intervention, which will be post-war.
This is an area where the need is great — and will only grow in the weeks ahead. Countless men, women and children will be suffering the after-effects of this conflict for a long time to come; for too many, post-traumatic stress, anxiety, depression and a host of other problems will linger and need treatment. Some wounds are invisible and deep. We are asking our donors in North America to prayerfully consider whatever they can offer at this time to help these people heal.
It is important to point out that we are coordinating the activities of various Catholic and non-Catholic agencies on the ground, hosting regular meetings at our office in Jerusalem. We have distributed our relief activities as follows: CNEWA will concentrate on provision of medicines, fuel and medical treatments in this emergency phase; Caritas Jerusalem is providing food packages and cash assistance; and Catholic Relief Services is assisting with the provision of non-food, hygiene packages and medical supplies. Thus, we are complementing our works to benefit as many people as possible. And, as always, CNEWA’s activities are implemented through the local church and its institutions.
Thank you for your continued support, and please keep the injured in your prayers.
To donate to our emergency fund and help those families in need today, please visit this page.
4 August 2014
Tags: Gaza Strip/West Bank Violence against Christians War Israeli-Palestinian conflict Relief
In this photo taken on Friday, Pope Francis meets the four sisters and three brothers of Jesuit Father Paolo Dall’Oglio, missing since last year and presumed kidnapped in northern Syria. The pope met the family at the Jesuit headquarters in Rome, where they all joined the Jesuit community for lunch. (photo via CNS, courtesy Infosj, Rome)
4 August 2014
Tags: Syria Pope Francis Priests Syrian Catholic
Lebanese religious leaders pray during a 24 July sit-in in Beirut to express solidarity with the Iraqi Christians of Mosul and against Israel’s military action in Gaza. A prominent Syrian Christian political leader has warned of an impending assault on Syria’s northeastern province of Hassake amid reports that thousands of Islamist fighters are preparing to take control of the predominantly Christian and Kurdish area. (photo: CNS/Sharif Karim, Reuters)
Syrian rebels raid Lebanese border town (Christian Science Monitor) Syrian rebels killed ten Lebanese troops and likely captured over a dozen more in a raid on a Lebanese border town, the country’s military chief said, the most serious spillover of violence yet into the tiny country from its neighbor’s civil war…
Thousands displaced from Arsal (Daily Star Lebanon) At least 3,000 families from Arsal have been displaced so far in clashes between Islamist militants and the Lebanese Army, which began Saturday, the mayor of Labweh, Ramez Amhaz estimated. The Daily Star spoke to one Lebanese family, who asked not to be named, as they were fleeing the town. “The militants were letting the civilians out this morning, and we left with the wave of people. There was firing by our house last night,” said the father…
Islamic State seizes Sinjar, pushing out Kurds and sending Yazidis fleeing (Washington Post) The ancient northern Iraqi town of Sinjar emptied Sunday, with thousands of people fleeing on foot as Sunni extremist militants made their first significant punches through the defenses of overstretched Kurdish forces. Sinjar is an ancestral home of the long-persecuted Yazidi religious sect, which the Islamic State has branded as devil worshipers, and few of its residents stayed to find out what was planned for them when the group’s militants entered Sunday…
Baghdad patriarch: ‘brotherhood and solidarity’ the only way forward (AsiaNews) In Iraq today, we need “brotherhood and solidarity” in order for “our troubled nation” to be able to “overcome the current crisis,” which has “thrown terrible sufferings and insurmountable privations at thousands of innocent people in great difficulty,” said Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael I of Baghdad in a message sent to AsiaNews and published for World Day of Prayer for Iraq…
Israel declares partial Gaza ceasefire but fighting goes on in Rafah (The Guardian) Israel has declared a seven-hour “humanitarian window” in Gaza to start at 10 a.m. local time amid international outrage at the third deadly attack on a U.N. school sheltering displaced Palestinians and mounting pressure for the bloodshed to end. The Israeli army has exempted the area around the southern town of Rafah, where the U.N. school was struck on Sunday and fighting was continuing…
Bereaved Israeli, Palestinian families call to stop war (Al Monitor) Ben Kfir speaks calmly, but he has already been dealt a terrible blow by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A Hamas suicide bomber murdered his daughter Yael in an attack near the Tzrifin military base in 2003. A bereaved father living 10 miles from the Gaza Strip, in a Qassam-stricken town, he took the stage on the night of 26 July at the Rabin Square rally and said: “Our prime minister never misses an opportunity to stand in front of every microphone and say that the terror infrastructure must be destroyed, and I certainly agree with him. But I believe that Hamas is not the infrastructure of terrorism. The infrastructure is poverty, ignorance, hopelessness, despair and the basic absence of security. These are not things the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] can handle, and as my 8-year-old granddaughter says, ‘One doesn’t put out fire with fire…’ ”
1 August 2014
Tags: Iraq Lebanon Syrian Civil War War Israeli-Palestinian conflict
Sister Muna Totah, a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Apparition, treats Karim Nofal, 15, of Gaza, at St. Joseph Hospital in Jerusalem on 30 July. (photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)
With close to a quarter of a million Palestinians rendered homeless by the continuing and intensifying fighting between Hamas and Israel in Gaza, the Coordinating Catholic Aid Organizations met three times in as many days to organize action to confront the humanitarian crisis.
In addition to the current material needs — food, water, personal hygiene items, medicine and diesel fuel for generators — the Catholic aid associations from the Holy Land, U.S. and Europe are beginning to plan for the psychosocial needs of Gazans at the eventual end to the confrontation.
“We are talking about a massive number of people who will be in need of help, and of at least 200,000 children who will need intervention,” said Sami El-Yousef, regional director of the Jerusalem Office of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association.
CNEWA ran such a program after the Israeli incursion into Gaza in 2012, he said.
In addition, he said, lack of drinking water has become a critical issue with the bombing of Gaza’s only electrical power plant, which has left the area largely without electricity for pumping water and sewage treatment. Diesel fuel is urgently needed for generators while milk for young children is also in short supply, he said.
CNEWA had been supplying the Anglican Al Ahli Arab Hospital with fuel for the generator for intermittent power outages, but after the attack on the power plant in late July, the hospital was left without any fuel and had to shut down all operations, said El-Yousef, who received a phone call from the hospital in the middle of the night. The next day he was able to provide the hospital with funds to purchase more fuel. The hospital needs some 500-600 liters of fuel per day now because the generator is its only source of power, said El-Yousef.
The unsanitary conditions in the streets are also causing illnesses, and El-Yousef said many children are coming to the hospital with cases of malnutrition, diarrhea and fever. The hospital is also treating many of those injured, he said. Other clinics are located in dangerous areas and have been shut down almost from the start of the hostilities, he said.
“It is really desperate,” he said.
Though there are medicines available in Gaza, there is a shortage of medications in the hospitals because people and institutions have used up their credit lines, and cash to purchase them is not available, El-Yousef said. CNEWA has been able to give written financial assurances to the banks, enabling the hospital to make necessary purchases, he said.
“Every day the situation is getting worse and people are reluctant to move outside,” said El-Yousef.
Catholic Relief Services’ country representative in Jerusalem, Matthew McGarry, credited the “heroic” staffers in Gaza for their continued dedication in distributing aid kits to those most in need during lulls in the fighting. Several of the staff members have lost family members, and others are now homeless but have continued to work to provide for others, he said.
“They are a committed, selfless team,” he said. “They are doing God’s work.”
In the last week of July, CRS supplied 500 families with nonfood kits, which included things like cooking sets, cleaning supplies, personal hygiene kits, water storage buckets and solar powered lanterns. Staffers normally would have been able to distribute 500 packages per day but could not because of the precarious situation, McGarry said.
He said CRS was in the process of procuring and distributing another 2,500 such aid packages and was working to get medical relief supplies via the U.S. Agency for International Development.
McGarry said people were desperate, and on 30 July the staff halted distribution when dozens of people who had not been registered came to the distribution point demanding the packages. Their details were taken and CRS will look to see if they fit the CRS criteria: people whose homes have been destroyed and who are not receiving any other assistance, said McGarry.
He said staffers have been able to procure some of the supplies locally, which helps Palestinians, while other supplies came from USAID shipments through the Israeli border, in coordination with Israeli authorities, he said.
“The situation is increasingly desperate and catastrophic,” he said. “The numbers are so huge and the needs so enormous.”
To lend much-needed assistance to the suffering families of Gaza, click here.
1 August 2014
Tags: CNEWA Gaza Strip/West Bank Health Care Israeli-Palestinian conflict Relief
In this image from 2007, a child greets visitors to the ancient Muslim city of Harar in Ethiopia. (photo: Cody Christopulos)
In 2007, we paid a visit to a remarkable corner of Ethiopia:
Imagine our surprise when, as we approached the outer walls of this, one of the holiest cities in the Islamic world, we were greeted by a booming call to prayer — from an Orthodox church. Famously, there are more than 90 mosques and shrines in this walled city, which occupies an area less than a square mile. But there are churches, too. …
For much of its history, Harar was a world center of commerce and Islamic culture. Though eclipsed on the world stage long ago, Harar remains a vibrant, multicultural city.
Christianity came to Ethiopia early: In the year 330 — 29 years after Armenia, and some 60 years before Rome — the Ethiopian king of Aksum declared Christianity the official religion of the state. Ethiopia’s distinctive form of Christianity, particularly its links with Judaism, has helped forge a unique culture that has survived intact for more than 1,800 years.
Read more about Ethiopia’s Forbidden City in the July 2007 edition of ONE.
1 August 2014
Tags: Ethiopia Cultural Identity Christian-Muslim relations Islam Ethiopian Christianity
A handout picture made available by the official government Syrian Arab News Agency in May shows Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III walking with a Christian and Muslim delegation during a visit to the old city of Homs, Syria. (photo: CNS/EPA)
With Syria buried in the news, hopes fade for ending world’s bloodiest war (Al Jazeera) Syria’s civil war is buried beneath the headlines these days, as Israeli forces pound the Gaza Strip, Ukraine struggles with the downing of a 300-passenger commercial jet, and much of Iraq is taken over by Al Qaeda-inspired extremists. Libya, meanwhile, is literally going up in flames. Even with 1,400 Gazans killed over the past few weeks, Syria has not lost its mantle as home to the world’s deadliest conflict. During a ten-day stretch in mid-July, a record 1,800 people were killed, as the death toll from three years of fighting climbs past 170,000…
Syrian city of Homs shows signs of life amid moonscape of devastation (The Guardian) In Damascus, the ministry of information, which controls visas and access for foreign media, is keen to approve trips to Homs, where developments broadly fit the official grand narrative of a return to normality, stability and the start of reconstruction — and of course the victory claimed by Assad. Opposition activists now living elsewhere reject the government’s upbeat narrative. “Homs is a city of horror,” said Razan, whose Sunni family was involved in the mass protests of April 2011 and suffered in the subsequent army offensive and repression…
Assyrians leaving Hassake for fear of ISIS (AINA) The Assyrian population of Hassakah, Syria is leaving the region because of threats from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), according to a report by the Adnkronos News Agency (AKI). Citing an official from the Assyrian Democratic Organization, AKI reports that the Christian Assyrian residents are abandoning their lands and homes because of fear that what happened in Mosul will happen here…
Israeli soldier captured, 50 Palestinians dead as cease-fire collapses (Al Jazeera) A 72-hour Gaza cease-fire crumbled only hours after it began Friday, with at least 50 Palestinians killed by Israeli shelling and Israel saying one of its soldiers may have been abducted. Israel also accused Gaza fighters of violating the U.S.- and U.N.-brokered truce by firing rockets and mortars…
Patriarch Fouad Twal: Truce will not help if Gaza remains a desperate prison (Fides) “The truce which has begun is a good thing, but it will not help if the conditions in Gaza remain those of a desperate land under siege, where only fear and frustration that feed hatred can grow,” said Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal of Jerusalem in a conversation with Fides. According to the patriarch, the structural conditions that feed blind hatred, starting from the embargo, must be removed…
Iraqis living under Isis rule in Mosul begin to show resistance (The Guardian) Iraqis living under Isis rule in Iraq, where non-Sunni residents have been forced from their homes and tens of mosques have been deemed idolatrous and marked for destruction, have started to push back against the extreme interpretation of Islam being imposed on them. With at least 8,000 years of continuous habitation, Mosul is considered an archeological treasure, with many heritage sites belonging to all religions and sects. Dubbed “small Iraq”, people from a range of religions and ethnicities have lived side by side peacefully for centuries. This solidarity remains in evidence through in these difficult times…
31 July 2014
Tags: Iraq Syrian Civil War Gaza Strip/West Bank War Israeli-Palestinian conflict
Picture Caption: Rev. Vincent Pereira of the Archdiocese of Ottawa joins Episcopal Vicar Rev. David Neuhaus and parish priest Rev. Piotr Zelasko at the Mass for Hebrew-speaking Catholics in Jerusalem. (photo: CNEWA Canada)
During our pilgrimage to the Holy Land with Catholic Women’s League members from Canada, we met a unique group of Hebrew-speaking Catholics in Israel. They make up a small but important community.
The leader of this community is Rev. David Neuhaus, the patriarchal vicar for Hebrew-speaking Catholics. Father Neuhaus has an interesting background. He grew up an Israeli Jew and was baptized Catholic at age 26. Four years later, he joined the Jesuits and became a priest.
Father Neuhaus spoke with us about the reality of Hebrew-speaking Catholics in Israel. After Israel became a state, people began to immigrate there in the 1950’s. You would assume that all these people were Jews. But the church in Israel began to notice that some of these people came to church on Sunday looking for a Mass!
Thousands of Catholics came to Israel with their Jewish spouses and families. They all spoke Hebrew. Father Neuhaus says this was something of an anomaly — Hebrew was the language always associated with the Jewish religion and Christians never used Hebrew.
The challenge at first was making Hebrew a Christian language — Mass, prayers, theology and catechism in Hebrew. Overall, that was quite successful.
The biggest difficulty has been transmitting the faith to Christian young people in a place where Jews are the majority. These children live fully immersed in secular Jewish society with no signs of Christianity anywhere. Many marry Jews and never come back to the church. So one of the church’s main focuses is children and youth ministry.
One of the aims of this church is to build unity among Arabic-speaking Christians and Hebrew-speaking Christians, and also to foster reconciliation among Christians and Jews. In its humble way, the vicariate is taking one step at a time to do just that.
This Hebrew-speaking vicariate also has a special outreach to the migrant population of Israel. Father Neuhaus is also the coordinator of the pastoral care for migrant workers and asylum seekers. This includes workers mostly from Asia, including Filipinos, Indians and people of other nationalities.
Many of these workers care for the children of the Jewish people, along with the elderly, the sick and the handicapped. The vicariate provides them with a space for community and Masses in their native languages. The children of these migrant workers end up going to school in Israel and learning Hebrew. These children also require support to nurture faith.
There are also asylum seekers who come from Africa — mainly Eritrea and Sudan. Unfortunately, Israel rarely grants refugee status to asylum seekers, so these people live in limbo. Good priests, nuns and pastoral workers do their best to care for this community’s needs.
During our visit, we joined the Hebrew-speaking community for Mass. For the Rev. Vincent Pereira, the chaplain of our pilgrimage, it was a unique experience to concelebrate Mass in Hebrew. There were three special things about the Mass:
During the sign of peace, it began with the presiding priest, since the priest represents Christ. He shook hands and it moved through the congregation from the front row to the back row. It was interesting symbolism — peace starts with Christ, and he spreads his peace to everyone.
Another detail was that they used matzo (traditional unleavened bread) instead of the regular white hosts that we use in North America for the Eucharist.
Finally, they gave us books and we sang with them and prayed the Mass parts in Hebrew. No, we didn’t learn Hebrew in a day — but we used books where Hebrew was transliterated into English to make it easier to follow. The music was beautifully performed by their seminarian Benny.
One thing that Father Neuhaus said stuck with me. I will try to take it to heart. He said that having a hard life doesn’t mean that you will not find someone who has an even harder life than you. So please reach out to them, open up and be generous towards those who have less than you.
Read more about the Hebrew-speaking vicariate in this article in ONE magazine.
31 July 2014
Tags: Middle East Christians Israel Holy Land Catholic Holy Land Christians
In this image from 2006, Metropolitan Jonah Lwanga presides over the Sunday liturgy at St. Nicholas Church in Kampala, Uganda. To learn more about Orthodoxy’s growth in Uganda, read Orthodox Africa in the March 2006 edition of ONE. (photo: Tugela Ridley)
31 July 2014
Tags: Africa Orthodox Church Patriarchate of Alexandria
Sister Gilbert Saliba, 79, visits Nidal Alawi, 11, of Gaza in the intensive care unit of St. Joseph Hospital in Jerusalem on 30 July. (photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)
In Jerusalem hospital, staff and family help Gaza trauma patients (CNS) St. Joseph Hospital specializes in head- and chest-trauma wounds. Jeries Ayyad, who was transferred from Gaza with the help of Caritas Jerusalem in cooperation with Israeli military, was one of 23 Gaza residents being treated at the hospital, run by the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Apparition. Three more patients were expected to arrive later on 30 July. ”There is a moment when we see all the suffering that we ask, ‘Where is God?’ ” said Sister Gilbert Saliba, the hospital’s president. “But then we look at the cross and see Jesus Christ on that cross, and how he suffered a lot of pain and he is still living all this pain. And we know he wants to use our hearts, our eyes and our hands to be merciful to human beings…”
Catholic priest leads flock through the violence in Gaza (Vatican Radio) While more than 200,000 Palestinians have been displaced from their homes in Gaza since the conflict began, with the number growing daily, other inhabitants are staying put despite the almost constant bombardments. Among them is the Rev. Jorge Hernandez, pastor of Holy Family Church in Zeitun, where he cares for his flock while bombs continue to fly overhead and land too close to home. “Unfortunately, the resistance movement is situated near houses and in the streets. For us, this was a problem yesterday. At a certain point, we could not leave the house. Then the bombs fell. One house near the church was hit and there has been some major damage to our rectory and parish school,” said Father Hernandez…
In Gaza, 11 members of a Palestinian family are killed in a single strike (Washington Post) The Balatas, like many Palestinian families, disliked Israel but also sought to distance themselves from Hamas. For more than three weeks, as the conflict has stretched on, the Balatas’ lives have revolved around how to best protect their large family, extending over several generations, in one of the most war-torn enclaves in Gaza. Now, trapped between the ambitions of Israel and Hamas, they have paid a heavy price…
Patriarch Gregory III: ‘Christians and Muslims, we are each other’s best guarantors’ (AsiaNews) In his message for the end of Ramadan, the Melkite Greek Catholic patriarch of Antioch notes that Christians and Muslims built the Arab civilization together and pleads with “our Arab brothers to come together to save Islam” from the extremist currents that are invading it. “We must, can and want to stay together, Muslims and Christians, to build together a better world for our future generations and our common future…”
As persecution of faithful rises, so does the religious response (Christian Science Monitor) Two recent reports about the restriction of religion around the world have come to the same conclusion: It’s getting worse. In its latest report, the Pew Research Center reported hostilities involving religion have risen since 2007. More than three-quarters of the world population live in places with high restrictions on religion, up by 12 percent. And in its latest report on religious freedom, the State Department said that 2013 saw “the largest displacement of members of religious communities in recent memory.” The biggest problems are in just a few countries, such as the Central African Republic, Syria, and Iraq…
The Middle East Council of Churches calls upon the international community (Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem) The Middle East Council of Churches issued a statement condemning the wars and the violence in Iraq, Syria and Palestine, with a special mention to the Christians of Iraq…
How the Russia-Ukraine war is being fought by churches (World Religion News) The Russian occupation of Ukraine has been under way for almost half a year. With the battle raging between the two nations, both Russian and Ukrainian Orthodox churches have begun a war of words to express their desires for the future. While tempers between the two churches have remained moderate since the Ukrainian Orthodox Church broke off from Moscow’s leadership in 1991, they have now reached a boiling point, with each taking a more active role in the war as the occupation wears on…
Tags: Syrian Civil War Gaza Strip/West Bank Violence against Christians Israeli-Palestinian conflict Christian-Muslim relations