7 November 2013
In this September photo, Chaldean Patriarch Raphael Louis I delivers a homily in St. Raphael Chaldean Cathedral in Beirut during his pastoral visit to Lebanon. (photo: Chaldean Patriarchate)
Chaldean patriarch sends letter to clergy (Chaldean Patriarchate) On 31 October, His Beatitude Patriarch Louis Raphael I sent a second letter to the Chaldean clergy that came as a continuation for the first letter, sent on 4 July. This letter reminds the clergy, monks and nuns of the high vocation to which the Lord has called them. He focused especially on the values of daily prayer, communal life, humble service, clarity and transparency in dealing with financial matters. “‘The church is not an institution devised and built by men,’” the patriarch says, quoting theologian Romano Guardini, “‘but a living reality…’”
Iraqi children face poverty, violence, exploitation (Al Monitor) After more than ten years of continuous conflict in Iraq, children remain consistent victims of widespread poverty, political dysfunction and sectarian violence. Terrorist groups in Iraq have not excluded children, as numerous attacks have targeted places where children are likely to be present. This was the case in the attack that targeted an elementary school in one of the villages in northwestern Iraq on 6 October. This attack claimed the lives of more than a dozen children, while 44 were injured by the blast caused by two car bombs…
Pope Tawadros declines to celebrate the anniversary of his inauguration (Fides) Pope Tawadros II canceled the celebrations planned to mark the first anniversary of his inauguration as the pope and patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church. The anniversary falls on 18 November. This renunciation is due to the difficult condition experienced by the Coptic Church and the whole of Egypt. The Coptic pope nevertheless said that he will recite the liturgical prayers of that day, asking God to grant peace…
Middle East Christians consider threats to their communities (Al Monitor) During a gathering of Christian representatives from across the Middle East in Beirut, participants were divided on the matter of prioritizing dangers. The disparity in the opinions of the six delegations regarding the most important threats facing Christians was stark. In simpler words, there was disagreement over the first, immediate and spontaneous answer to the question: Who is currently your enemy? A point of broad agreement, however, concerned calling upon the West to support the cause of Christians in the Middle East…
Israel reportedly proposes separation wall as Palestinian border (Al Jazeera) Israeli negotiators told their Palestinian counterparts that the separation wall that cuts through the occupied West Bank will serve as the border of a future Palestinian state, according to Israeli media reports. Since peace talks resumed in late July, the Palestinians have repeatedly complained about Israel’s lack of clarity on the issue of borders. The Palestinians insist the peace talks should be based on the lines that existed before the 1967 Six Day War, when Israel seized and occupied Gaza, the West Bank and Arab east Jerusalem…
Pope to receive Russian president at the Vatican (Times of Malta) Pope Francis will receive Russian President Vladimir Putin on 25 November, an encounter that could help mend strained relations between the Vatican and the Russian Orthodox Church. Russian-Vatican relations have been fraught since the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union, with Moscow accusing the Catholic Church of trying to poach believers from the Russian Orthodox Church, a charge the Vatican denies…
6 November 2013
Tags: Iraq Pope Francis Middle East Christians Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael I
Msgr. John E. Kozar snaps a picture of Sunni Muslim refugee children being taught by the Good Shepherd sisters in the village of Deir el Ahmar, Lebanon. (photo: Michael La Civita)
CNEWA’s president, Msgr. John E. Kozar, and chief communications officer, Michael La Civita, are making a round of pastoral visits in Lebanon this week. On Saturday, Mr. La Civita will join Thomas Varghese, CNEWA’s programs officer, for two weeks in the Caucasus, assessing the needs of the churches in Georgia and Armenia.
Today, Msgr. John Kozar and I traveled to Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley with two of our Beirut staff, Michel Constantin and Kamal Abdel Nour. Driving in Lebanon is not for the faint of heart. Cars, buses and trucks careen through pockmarked streets. Exhaust fumes permeate the air. Chaos reigns. Horns dominate. After more than two hours on the main road linking Beirut and Damascus — which required climbing elevations of more than 4,000 feet — we reached the ancient town of Baalbek. There, we turned west toward a cluster of Christian villages on the eastern slope of Mount Lebanon about 20 miles from the Syrian border. Our destination: Deir el Ahmar, the Red (or bloody) Convent, a village named for a massacre of monks there ages ago.
As we arrived, we were greeted as old friends by Good Shepherd Sisters Micheline Lattouff and Rita Hadchity and their dedicated team of Lebanese and Syrian volunteers. Together, they work to help the nearly 300 refugee families who have made their home in the area as a result of the civil war in Syria. Some 260 of these families are Sunni Muslim, and they have named their settlement of plastic-wrapped cardboard huts Ezzedine after their native village near Homs.
Although the families arrived with nothing, they found friends in a Maronite village community. The village’s Good Shepherd sisters acted quickly — winter was approaching — providing heating fuel, mattresses, blankets, coats, drinking water and food. The sisters then began to visit the refugee families, as well as some 25 Christian families who settled with their kin in the village. Initially, they spent time with the mothers, who naturally worried about their children, whose childhoods have been robbed by violence and their futures compromised by displacement and poverty.
Known worldwide for their care of single mothers, children and the poor in general, the Good Shepherd sisters immediately recognized the signs of posttraumatic stress disorder and decided to intervene, with the consent of the mothers.
This summer, Sister Micheline set up three tents, where she and her volunteers worked and played with the children, winning the support of their parents. Just a few weeks ago, on 21 October, they opened an elementary school program in the sisters’ social center, providing remedial education to some 220 children and utilizing the services of qualified Syrian teachers. Under images of the Good Shepherd and the Blessed Mother, these children, all of whom are Sunni Muslim, are for at least a few hours a day returning to their childhood. They play games, laugh, learn and share secrets so important in childhood.
Not exactly a shy soul, Msgr. Kozar livened up the classrooms with joyful questions and riddles, winning smiles and shouts of joy from the children. He won over even the serious teachers who are confronted with the enormous task of teaching these displaced children the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic.
I was impressed with the facility, which already resembles a typical Catholic school. Order and cleanliness prevail, despite the grinding poverty impacting children living without running water, a sanitary environment, nutritious food or the basics in health care.
After a quick lunch with the children, we visited one large family presided over by a matriarch named Frengieh. Draped in black from head to toe, she took us into her cardboard home, introduced us to her sons and daughters and her grandchildren. Her delightful sense of humor, her sense of hospitality and her warmth made us forget that she was essentially homeless. The fact that she encouraged her family and the sisters to pose for a group portrait by our “staff photojournalist,” Msgr. Kozar, indicated the warmth and trust that exists between the refugees and the sisters. Most refugees fear reprisals back home if their photographs are seen by the enemy, which could be anyone.
Caesar, Abdulahad and Ulah Yakoub, the children in a Syriac Christian family that have fled to Lebanon, relax at home and talk about their new life in the village of Bechouat. (photo: Michael La Civita)
After a cup of tea with Frengieh, we traveled up to the nearby village of Bechouat to meet with Yakoub family, a Syriac Christian family who two years ago fled the extremist rebels in Hassake, near the Syrian border with Iraq. The father, who took time from his custodial concerns for the local Maronite shrine dedicated to Our Lady, recalled the travails of traveling to Damascus on a public bus for more than 18 hours through 17 checkpoints with his wife and three children Ulah, Abdalahad and Caesar. Leaving behind his elderly parents and his younger brother, they hitched a ride to Bechouat, where they live in a small room provided and furnished by the parish. The children, dressed in their school uniforms, spoke to us about the difficulties of attending a French-curriculum school while knowing only Arabic. Ulah, a shy 15-year-old, quietly asked Sister Micheline if the sisters could help them with their studies. “Of course!” she replied, beaming at the chance to lend a hand.
Afterward, over a cup of sweetened Arabic coffee, the exuberant sister told us that the presence of the Good Shepherd motivates her. “I never think I am tired or that we can’t do anything else,” she said. “The Good Shepherd is here; he is here among his people. He loves his people, because he loves his Father.”
“He loves you,” I added with a smile. She lowered her head, looked at me and replied, “I know, and that is why I am happy.”
Today’s visit speaks volumes why it is imperative Christianity thrive in the Middle East. And it speaks volumes why the support given to the churches and peoples of the region through CNEWA by readers such as you is so important: Simple initiatives such as these, brought about by religious sisters and parish volunteers — all motivated by the Gospel — are restoring dignity, self-respect, trust and even joy to Christian and Muslim families once robbed of these basic human values.
Remember them in your prayers.
To learn how you can help, check our Syrian relief page.
6 November 2013
Tags: Lebanon Refugees CNEWA Sisters Beirut
A Free Syrian Army fighter walks inside a church in Aleppo, Syria, on 4 November. The following day, the Vatican embassy in Damascus was struck by a mortar round. No one was injured. Read more. (photo: CNS/Molhem Barakat, Reuters)
6 November 2013
Tags: Syria Syrian Civil War Vatican Aleppo Damascus
In this 2010 photo, Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal of Jerusalem prays at the Stone of Unction before leading the the Easter Vigil Mass in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. (photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)
Patriarch Twal: Israeli demolitions sabotage peace (Fides) Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal of Jerusalem condemned the recent demolition of a house built on Latin Patriarchate property by the Israeli government. “There is no justification for the demolition, but when the municipality and the Israeli government enact demolitions and displace people from their homes, these practices increase hatred and endanger the future of peace…”
Jesuits create online courses for refugees (Fides) Currently there are more than 500,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan. The Jesuit Refugee Service launched online higher education courses in Amman last July, and immediately found a welcome surprise: word of mouth among refugees has led to the boom of enrollments…
Pope extends greetings to Hungarian Roma (VIS) After today’s general audience, the pope extended his customary greetings to more than 45,000 participants gathered in St. Peter’s Square. He dedicated some words to the Hungarian Roma population who are participating in a national pilgrimage to Rome. “You have brought with you the cross that was blessed in this square ten years ago by Blessed John Paul II,” he said…
Egypt court upholds ban on Muslim Brotherhood (Los Angeles Times) An Egyptian appeals court on Wednesday upheld a sweeping ban on the Muslim Brotherhood, in a sign of the interim government’s determination to keep heavy pressure on the Islamist movement. The ban, ordered in September, outlaws all Brotherhood-linked groups and activities, and paves the way for the seizure of the movement’s assets. The Brotherhood denounced the ruling, which came just two days after deposed Islamist President Mohamed Morsi was put on trial by the military-backed government…
Bishop of Kerala to government: give a home to the homeless (Fides) Philipose Mar Crisostomo, Syro-Malankara metropolitan archbishop, urged the Prime Minister of Kerala, Oommen Chandy, to pursue initiatives to provide homes for the homeless. Mr. Chandy presented the project called “Zero Landless” to church leaders, which aims to provide a plot of land to all farmers who do not have one. On this occasion, the metropolitan suggested a similar project: “Zero Homeless,” demanding the state of Kerala to give the same attention to all homeless families…
5 November 2013
Tags: Egypt Refugees Kerala Patriarch Fouad Twal Roma
Oseni Khalajian, a pensioner living in Eshtia, belongs to a community of Armenian Catholics descended from Armenians who fled to Georgia to escape the Turkish mass murder. (photo: Molly Corso)
The Autumn issue of ONE includes a memorable look at life in Armenia, and Catholics who have true staying power — those who kept the faith alive despite years of persecution:
Older generations, while they maintained their Catholic identity, are still struggling to come to terms with their faith after decades of pressure to abandon it. Built in 1886, when the first Armenian immigrants started to trickle out of Turkey and into Georgia, the church in Eshtia was turned later into a warehouse when the Soviet Union’s Josef Stalin went to war against religion in the 1930’s.
Armenian Catholics, however, went to great lengths to maintain their identity and faith. Villagers tell tales about elders baptizing the communities’ babies in secret, and Dr. Ovsepian remembered celebrating Christmas.
“During the time of the Communists, people were also religious,” Father Antonian recalls. “I remember well the holidays like Christmas — which were celebrated.”
But for men like Vano Gasparian, a local born in 1955, being an Armenian Catholic was part of his identity, even if he grew up knowing little about the faith.
“Catholics remained Catholics,” he says, adding, however, that for the older generations it can be a difficult transition from a culture that promoted atheism to a life of faith.
“For the young, they believe with their whole soul,” he says. For the older generations, “for us, it is harder.”
Read more in the Autumn issue of ONE.
5 November 2013
Tags: Cultural Identity Armenia Village life Georgia Armenian Catholic Church
In this 2008 photo, Armenian Apostolic Catholicos Karekin II of the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin, patriarch of All Armenians, attends Pope Benedict XVI’s weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican. (photo: CNS/Dario Pignatelli, Reuters)
Patriarch Karekin II to head World Council of Churches (ArmenPress) The delegates of the tenth assembly of the World Council of Churches in Busan, South Korea, unanimously elected His Holiness Karekin II, supreme patriarch and catholicos of All Armenians, to become the president of the World Council of Churches. The Press Service of the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin informed Armenpress that the patriarch will head the Council for the coming eight years…
Archbishop calls Sadad killings the largest massacre of Christians in Syria (Fides) “What happened in Sadad is the most serious and biggest massacre of Christians in Syria in the past two years and a half,” said Archbishop Selwanos Boutros Alnemeh, Syriac Orthodox metropolitan of Homs and Hama. In Sadad, invaded by Islamist militias a week ago and then re-conquered by the Syrian army, “45 innocent civilians were martyred for no reason, and among them several women and children, many thrown into mass graves. Other civilians were threatened and terrorized. 30 were wounded and 10 are still missing. For one week, 1,500 families were held as hostages and human shields…”
Five days on the ground with Syrian Christians (Catholic World Report) As civil war continues to rage in Syria, Christian communities with ancient roots in the country stand in the crossfire between the Syrian government and the rebel forces. Below is an account of several days in the war zone from the Rev. Daniel Maes, a Belgian priest who has been at the Melkite Greek Catholic Monastery of Mar Yakub in Qara, Syria for several years. In it he details the efforts of Mother Agnes-Mariam de la Croix, the Lebanese-born superior of the Mar Yakub nuns, to free hostages taken by the rebels and to negotiate peace…
Explosion at the nunciature in Damascus, no casualties (VIS) According to the Holy See Press Office, the apostolic nunciature in Syria, located in Damascus in the central quarter of Malki, was struck by a mortar shell this morning. The incident did not cause extensive structural damages and the nunciature remained open to the public today…
United Nations estimates 40 percent of Syrians need aid (Al Jazeera) Valerie Amos, United Nations humanitarian chief, told the 15-member Security Council on Monday that 9.3 million people now need outside help to survive, up from 6.8 million in September, and 6.5 million are now homeless inside the country, up from 4.25 million. The population of Syria is about 23 million…
Orthodox and Catholic theologians call for peace in Middle East (U.S.C.C.B.) The North American Orthodox Catholic Theological Consultation issued a statement on the plight of Christians in the Middle East at their meeting in Mississauga, Ontario, calling for the release of a Greek Orthodox metropolitan and a Syriac Orthodox metropolitan — both from Aleppo, Syria — and repudiating the kidnapping, torture and killing of not only Christians but all civilians…
Ethiopian Orthodox Church works to end violence against women (Care2) With 45 million members, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church has powerful influence on Ethiopian society. U.N. Women forged an initiative with the church in two districts, Woldia and Kobo, in the northern Amhara region. Aiming to reach a broad population, the project involves in-depth training workshops that engage religious leaders to take the lead to end violence against women and girls. At the trainings, the religious leaders learn about the causes and consequences of violence against women and strategies to prevent violence…
To celebrate Diwali, Nepal and India ‘lose’ a month of electricity (AsiaNews) In India and Nepal, the five-day Diwali festival consumes every year as much electricity as a whole month of ordinary use. Still, the ’festival of lights’ is the most important and lavish celebration on the Hindu calendar. And today, the fifth and final day of the festival, people celebrated Bhai Tika, a time when brothers and sisters meet and exchange gifts…
4 November 2013
Tags: India Syrian Civil War Violence against Christians Armenian Apostolic Church Ethiopian Orthodox Church
A young Ethiopian girl is shown in one of many photographs captured by Sister Christian Molidor during her travels for CNEWA. (photo: Christian Molidor, R.S.M.)
In the Autumn edition of ONE, we devote several pages to the remarkable photographs of Christian Molidor, R.S.M., who worked for CNEWA for many years and died this past summer. Michael J.L. La Civita pays tribute to her life and work in the video below.
4 November 2013
In the video above, Melkite Patriarch Gregory III of Antioch answers questions at Aid to the Church in Need’s UK office. (video from Aid to the Church in Need)
Patriarch Gregory III of Antioch discusses life in Syria (Byzcatch.org) John Pontifex interviews Patriarch Gregory III of Antioch at Aid to the Church in Need’s UK office. The Patriarch, who is the head of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, was visiting the UK as the guest-of-honour at Aid to the Church in Need’s Persecuted but never forgotten events in London and Glasgow. In this interview he talks about what life has been like for Christians in war-torn Syria...
Mursi trial begins in Egypt (Vatican Radio) Egypt on Monday began the trial of ousted president Mohamed Mursi. It is the second time in just over two years that an overthrown president has been in court in Egypt. The trial is not being aired on state television and journalists were barred from bringing their telephones into the courtroom set up in a Cairo police academy. The now-banned Muslim Brotherhood has said it will not abandon street protests to pressure the army,which toppled Mursi on 3 July, to reinstate him. Speaking to Vatican Radio the Chief press spokesman, of the Greek Melkite Catholic Church in Cairo, Fr. Rafic Greiche says he hopes the trial will help turn a page for the Egyptian people...
Pope Francis prays for deceased cardinals and bishops (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Monday, 4 November celebrated Mass in remembrance of all the cardinals and bishops who died during the past year. During the Mass, which was held in St. Peter’s Basilica, the Pope reminded us that we are all in the merciful hands of God who will grant heavenly rewards to the just and the righteous...
Chaldean patriarch reflects on his ministry (Asia News) “Remember always that you are priests!” Therefore, “I invite you to think of the wonderful mission to which you are called” within “the One, Universal, Holy and Apostolic Church,” said Chaldean Patriarch Mar Louis Raphael Sako I in a letter to the Chaldean clergy, published on 31 October and recently sent to Asia News. His Beatitude talks about the ten years of his episcopate, his nine months at the helm of the patriarchal see and the coming final celebrations of the Year of Faith. For this reason, he has decided to address for a second time, after his first letter in May, all the bishops, priests, religious and nuns of the Chaldean community in order to invite them to “prayer and introspection” under the protection “of the Virgin Mary...”
30 October 2013
The staff here will be on retreat the rest of this week. But before we left, we wanted to remind you to check out the newest issue of the magazine. The Autumn issue of ONE is now online. The print edition should be arriving in your mailbox any day now.
For a preview, check out the brief video below from Msgr. Kozar. And then visit us at this link for more. See you next week!
29 October 2013
Tags: Egypt CNEWA Ethiopia Jordan ONE magazine
Children in the village of Awo, such as 13-year-old Tiblets Gebray, often suffer from chronic malnutrition and depend on outside support during lean years. (photo: Petterik Wiggers)
In the Autumn issue of ONE, Don Duncan writes about efforts to help in the hungry in parts of Ethiopia. Here, he offers his personal impressions of the region he visited.
I was only about 5 when Irish rock singer Bob Geldof was making headlines again. We were used to seeing him prancing around a stage singing hits like “I Don’t Like Mondays” with his band, The Boomtown Rats. Ireland is a small place and we are almost systematically proud of anyone who makes it big beyond our shores.
By 1984, Geldof was becoming known more for his humanitarian credibility than for his indie credibility. Responding to BBC reports of a burgeoning famine crisis in Ethiopia, he established a series of charity initiatives in the United Kingdom and beyond involving rock stars and rock concerts. Band Aid in 1984 and Live Aid in 1985 netted a combined total of $245 million for Ethiopia.
Almost 30 years later, Geldof remains high in the Ethiopian consciousness. Everywhere I went, the mere mention of my nationality elicited the same response: Bob Geldof!
In Europe, the legacy of the Band Aid/Live Aid era has been a deeply entrenched image of Ethiopia as a place of poverty, misery and famine. My experience so far in this county has been to the contrary, thankfully. Sure, the country has its problems but it is rapidly developing and most of the regions are stable, food secure and progressing.
It was not until I got to the northern region of Tigray that a shadow was cast on this largely positive impression. Many areas near the border with Eritrea in northern Tigray, as well as in the desert areas of southeastern Ethiopia, are in constant danger of famine. Population growth over the past 30 years, combined with the detrimental effects of climate change on yearly rainfall, have rendered many swaths of the region barren and left its population chronically food insecure. It is here that I found the schools where CNEWA is helping to provide crucial high-energy biscuits during the months where food is most scarce.
It was shocking to me to think that, while the rest of the country develops, some areas are slipping back to conditions similar to the traumatic famine that swept the country in the 1970’s and 80’s. But then I began to see terraces along the hills, dams on streams, small reservoirs, canalization and irrigation systems and other such technology dotting the landscape that spoke of a real effort to stave the effects of climate change. I was told that since the fall of the communist Derg regime in 1990 — a regime that worked on natural resource rehabilitation, but only in the villages it wanted to repopulate — the new administration has been very serious about land rehabilitation across the whole country.
It reminded me of how famine can be political. Again, I thought of Bob Geldof and the politics of his Live Aid and Band Aid initiatives. Through music and televised events, he created a widespread consciousness of the Ethiopian famine among the populations in the West and, by extension, forced Western government to stand up, pay attention and take action.
Most encouraging of all is that, unlike the external aid of the 1980’s, the land rehabilitation initiatives in Ethiopia today are managed domestically by the Ethiopian government. While much of the money for the projects comes from foreign governments and international agencies like the World Food Program, Ethiopia has taken the fore on managing its own risk with regards to drought, famine and food insecurity. This is very encouraging.
Still, for many of the homes and schools I visited in northern Tigray, this sea change is imperceptible. Their fields are still poor and their stomachs empty for much of the year. But all around them, technologies and infrastructures are being put in place that will eventually, perhaps in the next few years, return a level of productivity to their land and food to their table.
Read more of Don Duncan’s reporting in Hungry to Learn, in the Autumn issue of ONE. To find out how you can help feed the hungry in Ethiopia, follow this link.
Tags: Ethiopia ONE magazine Farming/Agriculture Hunger Famine