26 May 2015
A picture taken on 14 March 2014 shows a sculpture found in the ancient Syrian oasis city of Palmyra, 130 miles northeast of Damascus, and now displayed at the city’s museum. From the first to the second century, the art and architecture of Palmyra, standing at the crossroads of several civilizations, married Greco-Roman techniques with local traditions and Persian influences. (photo: Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images)
Now that ISIS has gained control of Palmyra — and, some fear, could destroy many of the priceless artifacts in the ancient Syrian city — an important Muslim voice has been raised, calling on the world to protect and defend these treasures.
Al Azhar, one of the oldest universities in the world and a center of Sunni Muslim learning, has declared that “protecting archaeological sites from destruction and plundering is the battle of all humanity.” The Cairo-based institution has called on the world community to prevent ISIS from “destroying the cultural and archaeological landmarks of the city.” As one of the most authoritative voices in Sunni Islam, Al Azhar stated that the destruction of world heritages sites and artifacts is haram — that is, forbidden by Sharia law.
Al Azhar has reason to be concerned for Palmyra.
In March 2001 the Taliban shelled and destroyed the giant statues of Buddha that had been erected in the Bamiyan Valley, Afghanistan. Scholars estimate that the statues were built between 507 and 554, before the birth of Muhammad and the arrival of Islam. It was the most widely publicized destruction of antiquities in recent times.
Unfortunately the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas was not an isolated example of barbarism in the name of religion. Since 2001 — and with increasing frequency recently — religious extremists have been attacking artistic and ancient artifacts in the name of religion. The most notorious of these desecrators of what the U.N. calls objects of World Heritage has been the self-proclaimed Islamic State, known in the Middle East by its acronym Daesh.
The present rampage of wanton destruction of the art and history of the Middle East is unparalleled in magnitude since the Mongol invasions under Hulagu Khan in the 13th century. The Mongols destroyed Baghdad in 1258 and brought the Golden Age of the Abbasid Caliphate to an end. Ironically ISIS, which claims to have reestablished the caliphate, is behaving in the same way as those who brought the caliphate in that part of the world to an end.
With the fall of Mosul in July 2014 ISIS members sacked the Mosul Museum which had been home to many artifacts dating from the Old through the New Assyrian periods (2015-612 B.C.). While some of the plundered artifacts were sold on the black market, many of the irreplaceable objects were simply and wantonly destroyed.
The world can only hope that the voices of concern raised by Al Azhar will be heard — and heeded.
26 May 2015
Tags: Syria ISIS Art Historical site/city
Iraqi army tanks get into position on the outskirts of Tikrit in an effort to retake an oil refinery from ISIS on 24 May. (photo: Ahmad Al-Rubaye/Getty Images)
Iraqi forces launch major offensive against ISIS (CNN) Iraq forces have launched a major military operation to liberate Iraq’s Anbar and Salaheddin provinces from ISIS, Iraqi state media and a key Shia militia group said Tuesday, a little more than a week after the militant group overran Anbar’s provincial capital, Ramadi. The fighting in Salaheddin province is aimed at cutting a supply route south into Anbar and liberate Baiji city and oil refinery, according to the media office for the militia group, al-Hashd al-Shaabi...
Homs could be next temptation for ISIS in Syria (Haaretz) The Islamic State’s capture of the town of Palmyra is another irreparable blow to one of the world’s most important cultural sites. According to reports from Syria, Islamic State fighters are already damaging antiquities, spreading concerns that ISIS will demolish a heritage that has survived for 2,000 years. Over the past two days, more than 400 people have been killed in the town, and thousands more have been arrested by ISIS forces after Syrian army soldiers fled, even though they were better armed...
Pope Francis sends message for Day of Christian Unity (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has sent a videomessage on the occasion of the Day for Christian Unity which took place in Phoenix, Arizona in the United States on 23 May...
Cardinal Turkson speaks on Africa Freedom Day (Vatican Radio) Speaking on the occasion of Africa Liberation Day or Africa Freedom Day being celebrated by many African countries on 25 May 2015, the President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Peter Kodwo Appiah Cardinal Turkson has spoken passionately about the need for African governments to work towards nation building. Cardinal Turkson, who originates from Ghana, was speaking in Rome during an interview with Fr. Paul Samasumo of Radio Vatican’s English Service for Africa...
Kremlin and Russian Orthodox Church join in celebrating saints (AP) Thousands of Russians have filled Red Square to join the patriarch of Russia’s Orthodox Church in celebrating Slavic literature and the two ninth-century monks considered to be the creators of the Cyrillic alphabet. The religious and patriotic holiday celebrations were in keeping with Kremlin efforts to promote national pride and consolidate society as Russia is under pressure from the West and its economy is heading toward recession...
22 May 2015
Tags: Syria Iraq Pope Francis Russian Orthodox
We were blessed to receive a letter and check in the mail earlier this month, from the Very Reverend Brian J. Welding, rector at Saint Paul Seminary in Pittsburgh. The seminarians wanted to collect alms during Lent to support displaced Iraqi Christians suffering persecution.
The letter reads in part:
I’m grateful to send you a check in the amount of $725.13, which was gathered from the 15 seminarians, our Bishop and 3 priests who reside at Saint Paul Seminary. Please use the funds for these Christians with whom we feel a spiritual and prayerful bond, acknowledging their suffering and beautiful witness to faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. Please also know of our gratitude for the charitable work of CNEWA, and give our greetings to our dear friend and fellow diocesan priest, Monsignor John Kozar.
Our hearts are full of prayers of thanksgiving for this generous and thoughtful gift — and the seminarians should know that those who will benefit from this act of charity will also be lifting them up in prayer. The Lord hears the cries of the poor!
If you’d like to learn how you can help, visit this link. And, when you can, please remember our brothers and sisters in Iraq in your prayers.
22 May 2015
The father of a man who was killed by ISIS militants in Libya earlier this year attends a service in the Virgin Mary Church near Cairo on 3 May. (photo: CNS/Reuters)
22 May 2015
The video above contains footage shot by a drone last fall as it flew over parts of Gaza, revealing dramatically the devastation to the region. A report out today says Gaza’s economy is on the “verge of collapse,” with the highest rate of unemployment in the world. (video: BBC)
ISIS seizes key Syria-Iraq border crossing (BBC) Islamic State militants have seized the last Syrian government-controlled border crossing between Syria and Iraq, a Syria monitoring group says. Government forces withdrew from al-Tanf — known as al-Waleed in Iraq — crossing as IS advanced, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said. The loss of al-Tanf to IS follows the group’s takeover of the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra on Thursday. The US says that fighting the militants will be a “difficult challenge...”
Some Christian towns being recaptured from ISIS militants (CNS) Church bells are ringing once again in the Assyrian Christian villages dotting the Khabur River in northeastern Syria after ISIS militants were routed by a combination of forces. It’s a stark contrast to the mounting concerns for one of the most renowned archeological sites in the Middle East following the Islamic State militant sweep into the ancient Syrian city Palmyra, a UNESCO world heritage site. Despite the ISIS militant victories in Iraq and Palmyra, the extremists have suffered a setback in Syria’s northeastern province of Hassakeh. There, Kurdish and Assyrian Christian fighters have again wrested control over the Abdul-Aziz Mountain near the village of Tal Tamar, according to activists and Christian officials in Hassakeh...
Gaza economy “on verge of collapse” (The Guardian) The economy of Gaza — assailed by war, poor governance and a joint Israeli-Egyptian blockade — has reached the “verge of collapse” with the coastal strip suffering the highest rate of unemployment in the world. The bleak picture is presented in a devastating report by the World Bank, released on Friday, which said that Gaza’s economy had been strangled by years of blockades, war and poor governance and faces a dangerous crisis over its ability to meet wages and other spending requirements. Calling for the “lifting of the blockade on the movement of goods and people to allow Gaza’s tradable sectors to recover” the report warned that about 43% of Gaza’s 1.8 million residents are unemployed, with youth unemployment reaching about 60% by the end of last year...
Amnesty International: all sides in Ukraine conflict are committing war crimes (AP) Both warring sides in eastern Ukraine are perpetrating war crimes almost daily, including torturing prisoners and summarily killing them, the Amnesty International rights group said in a report Friday. Amnesty said in a statement that it has heard from former captives of both Ukrainian government and separatist forces who say they faced savage beatings, torture with electric shocks, kicking and stabbings...
Coptic vicar: church will respect death sentence for Morsi (CNS) Egypt’s Catholic Church has pledged respect for the country’s justice authorities after a deposed Islamist president was sentenced to death for alleged complicity in a planned jail break. “After long deliberations, the Catholic Church has declared itself against the death penalty in general,” said Fr. Hani Bakhoum Kiroulos, patriarchal vicar of the Coptic Catholic Church. “But Egypt is an Islamic country which, like the United States, uses this sentence. Far from intervening in particular judgments, the Catholic Church must respect the country’s laws and judicial system.” The priest spoke as protests continued against the May 16 decision by a Cairo court that sentenced former President Mohammed Morsi and dozens of others...
Cardinal hopes for “trialogue” between Christians, Muslims, Jews (Vatican Radio) The three day conference ‘Nostra Aetate — Celebrating 50 years of the Catholic Church’s Dialogue with Jews and Muslims’ concluded yesterday at the Catholic University of America in Washington DC. The President of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity — and also responsible for the Church’s dialogue with the Jewish people — Cardinal Kurt Koch, was there. He says the Nostra Aetate declaration was a landmark in relations between the Catholic Church and other faiths. But, he notes that while the Church has ongoing bilateral talks with Jewish and Muslim religious leaders, it may be too early to engage in a “trialogue” among the three monotheistic faiths. “We don’t have trialogue and for us it is too early to make this because sometimes we speak about an Abrahamitic ecumenism — this is very clear — it is a good issue. But on the other hand, we have a very, very different interpretation of Abraham and we cannot deny this issue. And in the interreligious discussion, it is very important to treat also this difference that we have in the interpretation of Abraham...”
21 May 2015
Tags: Syria Iraq Ukraine Gaza Strip/West Bank Muslim
Msgr. Kozar speaks at Immaculate Conception Seminary in Huntington, New York.
(photo: Greg Kandra)
When CNEWA’s president Msgr. John Kozar looked at those gathered around the room Wednesday, he described it as a gathering of “family.” But if it was a family affair — and with about 60 people scattered around on sofas and easy chairs, it felt familiar — it was also one with a purpose.
The event, held in the faculty lounge at the Immaculate Conception Seminary in Huntington, New York, brought together supporters, donors and interested Catholics from around the greater New York area to learn the latest on the situation in Iraq and Egypt from Msgr. Kozar. He traveled to the region for a pastoral visit earlier this month, along with Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, Prefect for the Congregation for Eastern Churches.
The 45-minute talk, delivered without notes or a text, was impassioned, urgent and deeply personal. Msgr. Kozar detailed the harrowing conditions Iraqi Christians are enduring, even eight months after the ISIS offensive began last August: crowded tents, cramped halls, crude shipping containers serving as makeshift apartments for multiple families. He described the work CNEWA has undertaken in the country, helping to provide education, housing and health care to the tens of thousands who have been displaced. He saluted the courage and commitment of the ones he called the “footsoldiers” of the church, the sisters who are trying to meet the daily needs of so many in their charge. (Read more about the “Exodus” in Iraq.)
And, significantly, he spoke poignantly of the Iraqi people’s indomitable spirit.
Again and again, he said, he encountered resilience and hope. “They wanted us to know one thing,” he said quietly. “They wanted us to know they love the Holy Father. And they wanted to thank him for his prayers. They wanted us to know they were believers.” And he recounted meeting a little girl who told the visitors, “They have taken our homes. They will never take our faith.”
CNEWA president Msgr. Kozar speaks about his recent pastoral visit to the Middle East.
(photo: Greg Kandra)
It was the same story, he explained, in Egypt. Msgr. Kozar also told of visiting Cairo and meeting the “garbage pickers” — who have some of the most thankless jobs in the country. There are hundreds of thousands of them, yet their neighborhood isn’t even marked on any official map. But, he said, they have tremendous faith.
It is that faith, he said, that continues to uplift all the peoples of that troubled region — and faith which CNEWA is working to sustain and support through its many programs.
That support comes from the prayerful generosity of many people, known and unknown, as one of the hosts of the event, Msgr. Peter Vaccari, said.
In an interview after the talk, Msgr. Vaccari, the rector at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers, New York, described an effort the seminary undertook this year during Lent.
Msgr. Peter Vaccari, rector at St. Joseph’s Seminary, greets Msgr. Kozar. (photo: Greg Kandra)
“For the last two years, we’ve tried to raise consciousness about the dwindling population of Christians in the Middle East,” he explained. “The seminary is a place where a lot of people come for retreats, days of education, classes. We wanted to make the seminary a place where we can offer people a chance to be more conscious of the work we’re doing during Lent. So we put up offering boxes, asking people to contribute, knowing that this could be their Lenten work of mercy, joining their prayers with a contribution to CNEWA.”
That effort collected nearly $5,500 for the agency.
The event at the Huntington seminary, meantime, raised over $40,000 for CNEWA’s programs in the Middle East.
It is Msgr. Vaccari’s hope that these efforts will also help plant seeds in the hearts of the seminarians, who will remember the work of CNEWA after they are ordained and further help spread the word.
Those who attended heard Msgr. Kozar describe his recent pastoral visit to Iraq.
(photo: Greg Kandra)
“You are all missionaries,” Msgr. Kozar said at the end of the evening, pointing to all those gathered in the lounge. “You are the ones who can help us do what we do by telling others.”
Our brothers and sisters in Iraq continue to pray for all those who are praying for them — and their hearts are full of gratitude. “They will never take away our faith,” the little girl said. To help her and so many others, please visit our giving page.
And to find out how CNEWA can come visit your parish and share our story — so that YOU can help share it — please contact Norma Intriago at firstname.lastname@example.org
Msgr. Kozar was welcomed to Immaculate Conception Seminary by Msgr. Richard Henning, left, rector, and Msgr. Peter Vaccari, right, rector of St. Joseph Seminary in Yonkers, New York.
(photo: Greg Kandra)
21 May 2015
Two young students take a break during class at the Armenian School inside the convent in the Old City of Jerusalem. To learn more about the lives of Armenians in this small, close-knit community, read “Living Here is Complicated” from the Winter 2014 edition of ONE.
(photo: Ilene Perlman)
21 May 2015
Syrians stand and look out on the street of the ancient city of Palmyra on 18 May, a day after ISIS took control of the city, which is home to a 2,000-year-old World Heritage Site.
(photo: AFP/Getty Images)
ISIS takes full control of Palmyra (Reuters) Islamic State fighters tightened their grip on the historic city of Palmyra in Syria, days after capturing a provincial capital in neighboring Iraq, suggesting the growing momentum of the group which a monitor says now holds half of Syrian territory. The twin successes pile pressure not just on Damascus and Baghdad, but also throw doubt on U.S. strategy to rely almost exclusively on air strikes to defeat Islamic State. Extending its reach in the region, fighters loyal to the Sunni Muslim group have also consolidated their grip on the Libyan city of Sirte, hometown of former leader Muammar Gaddafi...
Cardinal: Christians, Muslims ‘still don’t know each other enough’ (CNS) “Despite 50 years of ‘Nostra Aetate,’” the Second Vatican Council’s document on interreligious relations, “we still don’t know each other well enough,” said French Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. Speaking 19 May about Catholic-Muslim relations, Cardinal Tauran added, “Most of the problems we face are problems of ignorance...”
Ukraine tears up military cooperation agreement with Russia (AP) Ukraine’s parliament on Thursday voted to suspend military cooperation with Russia in a long-anticipated move signaling a further break in relations between the once-close partners. Kiev also produced what it claimed was fresh confirmation of involvement by Russian intelligence in sowing unrest in breakaway eastern regions, saying it is evidence of continued Russian plans to destabilize Ukraine...
Pope urges prayers for China, persecuted Christians over Pentecost (CNS) Pope Francis asked Catholics worldwide to show solidarity through their prayers for Catholics in China and for persecuted Christians over the Pentecost weekend. The World Day of Prayer for the Church in China is observed each year on the feast of Our Lady Help of Christians, 24 May, which this year falls on Pentecost. The pope also underlined a prayer initiative of the Italian bishops’ conference inviting all Italian dioceses to pray for persecuted Christians on the vigil of Pentecost. The vigil is intended to “remember the many brothers and sisters exiled or killed for the sole reason that they are Christian,” said the pope. “They are martyrs...”
Pope: Christians are called to be one (Vatican Radio) His wounds are the “price” that Jesus paid for the Church to be united forever to Him and to God. Christians today are called to ask for the grace of unity and to fight against all “spirit of division, of war, of jealousy.” That was Pope Francis’s reflection during his Homily at Mass Thursday morning in the chapel of the Santa Marta guesthouse. For Pope Francis, “the great prayer of Jesus” is that the Church is united — that Christians “be one" as Jesus is with his Father. Drawing his reflections from the day’s readings, Pope Francis immerses us in the atmosphere of the Last Supper — not long before Christ gives Himself over to the Passion. Recalling Christ’s weighty words entrusted to the Apostles, the Pope warns us against “the great temptation” and entreats us not to yield to the other “father:” the one of “lies” and “division...”
20 May 2015
Tags: Syria Pope Francis Ukraine Muslim
The sun sets on the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra. The city contains architecture of one of the most important cultural centers of the ancient world. Saturday, ISIS militants seized part of Palmyra. Read more about efforts to save some of the city’s statues here.
(photo: Tibor Bognar/Getty Images)
20 May 2015
In the video above, Cardinal Fernando Filoni, papal envoy to Iraq, says words and good intentions are not enough to protect people in the Middle East. (video: Rome Reports)
Pope calls for an end to “unacceptable crime” of persecution (Vatican Radio) The many Christians who are being persecuted in our times “are martyrs” Pope Francis said on Wednesday, at the end of his General Audience. The Holy Father praised an initiative of the Italian Bishops’ Conference (CEI) to make a special remembrance, on the Vigil of Pentecost, of the many “brothers and sisters” who have been exiled or killed for no other reason than being Christian. He expressed his hope that the moment of prayer for the new Christian martyrs would increase the recognition that “religious liberty is an inalienable human right...”
ISIS reportedly seizes part of Palmyra in Syria (BBC) Islamic State fighters have seized the northern part of the ancient World Heritage-listed city of Palmyra in Syria, a monitoring group has said. Militants seized part of the town of Tadmur located on a strategic east-west route next to Palmyra on Saturday but had been pushed back from the ruins. Palmyra contains architecture of one of the most important cultural centres of the ancient world, according to Unesco...
Iraq calls for volunteers to battle ISIS (BBC) Iraq’s government has called for volunteers to fight against Islamic State and help retake the city of Ramadi. A cabinet statement said a voluntary recruitment drive was necessary to fill shortages in squads in the west of Anbar province. Thousands have fled Ramadi since its capture by IS on Sunday. Meanwhile, the US National Security Council said it was considering “how best to support local ground forces”...
Report: Israel holding talks with Hamas about floating port for Gaza (Haaretz) Israel is conducting talks with Hamas about the possible construction of a floating port between Turkish Cyprus and the Gaza coast that would allow goods to be transferred the Palestinian coastal territory, the Jordanian daily Ad-Dustour reported Tuesday, quoting Western diplomatic sources. According to the report, the talks, described as direct, have been ongoing in various European capitals with guarantees provided by Turkey, which has also been trying to advance dialogue between the two sides...
Dozens of priests reported leaving Ukraine (Interfax) Dozens of priests of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate (UOC MP) are leaving Ukraine in fear of persecutions, the head of the sector for interreligious liaisons at the Russian Orthodox Church’s Synodal Department for External Church Relations Priest Dimitry Safonov said on Monday. “There are dozens of priests who had to leave Ukraine. The exact statistic is currently impossible. They are pressured into leaving Ukraine. Their families are getting death threats, they themselves are facing the threat of physical violence,” he told an Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) conference on combating the intolerance and discrimination towards Christians...
Copts kidnapped on way to Marian shrine (Fides) Four young Coptic Christians in the province of Minya, Upper Egypt, were kidnapped along while walking along a country road to reach the ancient church dedicated to the Virgin Mary in the village of Jabal al-Tair, in the city of Salamut. This was reported by Egyptian sources consulted by Agenzia Fides...
Tags: Syria Iraq Ukraine Gaza Strip/West Bank Middle East