18 November 2014
Journalist Hanan Fekry holds a press conference at the Egyptian Journalists' Syndicate in Cairo.
(photo: David Degner)
In the Autumn edition of ONE, Sarah Topol reports on the “Coptic Renaissance” in Egypt. Below, she offers an additional perspective from covering the story.
When I reported the story on the influence of Copts on Egyptian history, it was a heady time for the Christian minority that makes up roughly 10 percent of the population. After a year of increasing sectarian attacks on rural Christian communities and a government run by Islamists, many Coptic Christians saw the leader of Egypt’s military coup as their savior. For decades, the minority has felt disenfranchised in their own country, and with the removal of political Islam from public life, many thought their position in Egypt would improve — no matter that the previous three military-bred presidents of Egypt had not improved their lot.
But that winter, the population was still afraid. It seemed most people I spoke with did not want to be identified strictly as Coptic. This was the most striking and puzzling part of reporting this story. On one hand, it made perfect sense to not want to be considered a token minority — it is understandable to want to be an Egyptian, no matter where or how one worships.
Being termed Coptic risks being seen as one-dimensional. “They were using me as a decoration, like a flower on a jacket lapel,” Hanan Fekry, a journalist who ran in the Journalist Syndicate Board election told me of her campaign, where many referred to her as the Coptic female candidate.
But what was unexplainable to me was how people who were campaigning for the rights of their minority did not want to be identified as that minority — even at a time of marked optimism for their future.
I spoke to quite a few people to put together this story — academics, cultural icons and public figures like Fekry; Youssef Sidhom, editor in chief of the Coptic weekly al-Watani newspaper; George Ishaq, a famous Coptic political activist who was a leader in the Kefeya movement, the first activist group to openly challenge Mubarak in the mid-2000s; Lotfy Labib, a famous Coptic actor; and Gerges Saber, a-33-year-old political activist. None of them wanted to be known as Copts. They felt it marginalized them, even though (as you’ll see in the story) Copts have been marginalized by pretty much everyone else in Egypt’s history. Why would they want to brush aside their identity? Is that not also marginalizing themselves?
The best answer I could get was from Ibrahim Ishak, the Christian researcher for the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights: it seemed to be, eh said, a vestige of the old fear. “In this part of the world, minority is a bad word,” Ishak said. “This is part of the culture here, minority means division, weakness. The Copts are speaking in this society, and the society doesn’t like this word [Coptic]. So if they use it, the society will dislike them more. It will look like you are trying to cut and divide the country.”
This, to me, was heartbreaking. Regardless of how you view the new Egyptian leadership, after so much turmoil since the 2011 revolution — and suddenly so much optimism — it felt like nothing was really all that different.
Read more on the “Coptic Renaissance” in the Autumn edition of ONE.
18 November 2014
Ultra-Orthodox Jewish women stand near the scene of an attack at a Jerusalem synagogue on 18 November. Two Palestinians are said to have killed four people with a meat cleaver and a knife in a Jerusalem synagogue on 18 November before being shot dead by police, the deadliest such incident in six years in the holy city. (photo: CNS/Finbarr O'Reilly, Reuters)
17 November 2014
Imran Khan spotlights the lives of citizens who live in the areas seized by ISIS. (video: Al Jazeera)
Syria refugees need help as winter looms (Daily Star Lebanon) Syrians forced by nearly four years of war to flee their homes are in desperate need of more aid as winter approaches, a humanitarian group warned Monday. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said the enormous numbers of Syrians displaced by the war faced plummeting temperatures and heavy rains…
Barred from entering Gaza, UN investigation begins in Jordan (Al Akhbar) The United Nations committee investigating possible war crimes by Israel during its summer assault on Gaza has spent the past week in Jordan listening to the testimonies of victims’ families and civil society organizations, Ma’an news agency reported on Sunday. The investigation committee, which was appointed by the U.N. Human Rights Council, was forced to meet with Palestinians in Jordan after it was denied entry to the West Bank and Gaza by Israel…
Conference explores the role of religion in Maidan (Vatican Radio) One year after the Euromaidan in Ukraine, one thing is clear: religion was at the heart of the movement, says a Ukrainian Catholic professor. “Unlike many western societies, where religion has been relegated to the margins of the public square, in Ukraine, it has been up front and center,” said the Rev. Peter Galadza, director of the Metropolitan Andrei Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies at St. Paul University in Ottawa…
Council for Christian Unity marks half century of ecumenism (Vatican Radio) On Tuesday the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity begins a four-day plenary session that will include an ecumenical celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council document ‘Unitatis Redintegratio.’ To celebrate the progress of the past half century, participants will attend ecumenical Vespers at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls on Thursday and a public commemorative session at the Pontifical Gregorian University on Friday morning…
17 November 2014
Tags: Syria Lebanon Ukraine Gaza Strip/West Bank Ecumenism
Refugee children gather in a shelter for displaced Iraqis in northern Iraq. CNEWA staff members recently visited the region to assess the needs of refugees. To learn how you can help, please visit this giving page. (photo: Ra’ed Bahou)
17 November 2014
Tags: Iraq Refugees CNEWA Children Iraqi Refugees
A doctor cares for a baby at CNEWA’s dispensary for refugees in northern Iraq.
CNEWA’s president, Msgr. John E. Kozar, has rushed an additional $382,011 in emergency funds to alleviate the suffering of desperate Iraqi and Syrian refugees in Iraqi Kurdistan, Jordan and Lebanon. In addition, funding partners in Germany have awarded CNEWA an initial grant of $124,522 to assist its work with displaced families in Iraqi Kurdistan.
“The situation for Iraq’s displaced families remains chaotic and fluid,” said CNEWA’s Michel Constantin, who, with colleague Ra’ed Bahou, has just returned from Iraqi Kurdistan. “Yet the coordination among our partners on the ground, led by the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, is excellent,” added Mr. Constantin, who heads CNEWA’s emergency response team from Beirut.
“Priests and people from the Armenian, Assyrian Church of the East, Chaldean and Syriac Catholic and Orthodox churches are enthusiastically working together,” Mr. Bahou added from Amman, Jordan, “and are eager to do more to make a difference. But they need more support.”
Msgr. Kozar has announced these funds will target those most in need served by our local church partners, who with our team have prioritized the needs as follows:
- $178,022 to the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena to provide 1,922 children in 13 displacement centers in Iraqi Kurdistan with milk and diapers for three months as well as winter clothes and shoes
- $95,000 to the Italian Hospital in Amman and the Mother of Mercy clinic in Zerqa to help cover medical costs due to the surge of Iraqi and Syrian refugees
- $62,261 for medicines and stipends for volunteer doctors and other health care providers, also displaced from their homes, serving the sick in Erbil
- $36,150 to help the Good Shepherd Sisters feed and clothe 155 refugee children in Lebanon for a three-month period
- $21,100 to help six parishes in Jordan accommodate Iraqi refugees over a three-month period, securing supplies such as refrigerators, stoves, washing machines, water tanks, solar water heaters and space heaters
- $20,000 to enable these six parishes in Jordan defray added electricity and fuel expenses through the end of the year
- $25,000 to provide these Iraqi refugee families with funds to secure clothes, blankets, mattresses and bedding as well as personal items
- $31,500 to allow 150 refugee families in Jordan to purchase food stuffs through the end of 2014
- $15,000 to the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary for catechism and formation programs, as well as counseling sessions for those suffering withpost-traumatic stress disorders
- $12,000 to provide 260 sickly Armenian Syrians living in Beirutwith medical care over a three-month period
- $10,500 to help the Little Sisters of Nazareth provide basic care to refugees living in the Dbayeh Refugee Camp northeast of Beirut.
Msgr. Kozar noted this latest distribution of funds supplements prior disbursements on behalf of Iraqi displaced families, including $267,500 since August for setting up clinics in the Kurdish cities of Erbil, Dohuk and Zahko; nursing formula and warm clothing for newborns and toddlers; food, mattresses and personal hygienic items for families displaced to Amman; and counseling for those impacted by post traumatic stress disorders. Since January, Msgr. Kozar noted, $598,109 has assisted more than 8,000 displaced Syrian families seeking refuge in Armenia and Lebanon, as well as those hiding in so-called safe zones within Syria.
“Many of the families we spoke to said they have very little rights and no access to public services within Kurdistan,” said Mr. Constantin, noting that as Arab speakers, they “feel they would have more rights and will be easier for them to cope in a strange country like in Jordan or Lebanon, rather than in Kurdistan.”
Returning to their villages seems more and more remote, he added. “Many families and religious sisters informed us that the experience of liberating Tel Eskof village following the air raids of the coalition against ISIS was a real disappointment. A few families decided to return back to that village to find their homes were seriously destroyed by the raids and those houses that escaped destruction were mined by the fanatic militants before their withdrawal.
“It is noteworthy to mention that a week ago a 16-year-old boy died when he tried to enter his house mined in Tel Eskof. This situation has made the return to their homes almost impossible.”
To learn how you can help, please visit this giving page.
14 November 2014
A Syrian refugee and her daughter walk to their makeshift home in Bechouat, Lebanon. The plight of Syrian refugees is the focus of the work of Sister Wardeh Kayrouz, who is profiled in the Autumn edition of ONE. Read the remarkable story of Sister Wardeh’s World.
(photo: Tamara Abdul Hadi)
14 November 2014
Sister Micheline (left) and CNEWA President Msgr. John E. Kozar visit a classroom in the elementary school opened by the sisters. 220 children, all Sunni, receive remedial education from qualified Syrian teachers. (photo: Michael La Civita)
Sisters risk lives to serve Syrian refugees (Catholic News Agency) Near the Lebanon-Syria border, two religious sisters are among the staff members at a refugee service center working to give relief — and hope — to thousands who have fled the armed conflict in Syria. “I keep my hope in prayer,” Sister Micheline Lattouff, a Good Shepherd Sister, told CNA at a 1 November meeting with journalists in Beirut. Sister Micheline is the director of the Social and Community Center of the Good Shepherd in Lebanon’s northern Bekaa Valley. The community center was originally established to run after-school programs and remedial classes for Lebanese children. The sisters have expanded their mission, helping educate refugee children and distribute food to Syrian families, while continuing to support a Christian tent settlement. The Catholic Near East Welfare Association and Catholic Relief Services support her efforts…
Syrian archbishop: U.S. attack on Syrian army would spell ‘second Libya’ (Fides) “If the U.S.-led intervention against the jihadists of the Islamic State eventually turns against the Syrian army, we could have a second Libya in Syria,” said Archbishop Jacques Behnan Hindo, titular of the Archeparchy of Hassaké-Nisibis. The archbishop describes the uncertainties and risks related to military intervention in Syria…
Pope’s visit to Turkey is a chance to bridge ancient divide (Al Monitor) As Ankara prepares to receive Pope Francis on 28-30 November, Turkish media have noted with raised eyebrows that Turkish affairs do not appear to be uppermost on the pope’s mind. His visit to the Turkish capital seems little more than an obligatory courtesy call on the host country of his real destination, the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. His visit likely has less to do with Turkey than the opportunity to work toward mending the schism with the Orthodox Church…
Jerusalem tension: Israel ends age limit on holy site access (BBC) The restrictions on Muslim male worshippers were imposed after tension and unrest in the city between Israel and the Palestinians. Extra police units were deployed in the city before Friday prayers, spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld said. Israel said the decision was linked to agreements reached during talks between Israel, the U.S. and Jordan in Amman…
13 November 2014
Tags: Syria Lebanon Refugees Sisters Ecumenism
Nesma al Haddad plays with her brother and friends in in her room in Gaza City. She could not sleep there during the war. (photo: Shareef Sarhan)
What is it like to be a child during wartime? The Autumn edition of ONE answers that question by visiting some children in Gaza:
Twelve-year-old Nesma al Haddad spent the summer in the safest part of her apartment building: the living area on the ground floor of a 12-story building. The main entrance was just a few steps away, and there were few windows. Her room upstairs, with her bed and her assortment of beautiful collectibles, went unoccupied.
With Israel and Hamas at war in Gaza, Nesma tried to carry on with her normal life, hiding her anxiety from her five siblings, despite the sounds of explosions and gunfire during the bombardment of the surrounding neighborhood.
More than once, Nesma and her family were forced to flee to a neighbor’s house; an apartment on the eighth floor was a target. She would leave behind her belongings, except for a suitcase, packed in advance with her favorite clothes and a toy.
“I did not fear anything,” Nesma says. “I worried about losing my favorite toy that I had bought during the last war, in 2012. But I was more worried about losing one of my family members.”
Hers is an all too common story in Gaza these days, and it reveals the invisible scars borne by so many children of war. When talking with these children, and hearing their experiences, one learns how deeply they have been affected by the violence around them — trauma that will take years to heal fully.
Read more about Nesma and other children of war in Shell-Shocked: Growing Up in Gaza in the Autumn edition of ONE.
13 November 2014
Israeli Border Police patrol the the site in Jerusalem's Old City known as Haram al Sharif by Muslims and that Jews refer to as the Temple Mount on 6 November. Recent tensions at the site, which is important to the faith life of Jews and Muslims, led the Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land to call for calm, saying that attachments to holy places should not be a cause of bloodshed, hatred or violence. (photo: CNS/Jim Hollander, EPA)
Catholics and Muslims, working together to serve others (VIS) The third seminar of the Catholic-Muslim Forum was held in Rome from 11 to 13 November, on the theme “Working Together to Serve Others.” Three specific issues were considered: working together to serve young people, enhancing interreligious dialogue, and service to society…
Jordanian prince: Jerusalem, a sanctuary for all (Al Monitor) What is to be done about Jerusalem? Twenty-five years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, this region is witnessing new walls being built in vain attempts to contain problems between people. When will we realize that walls for separating cultures and people only exacerbate sectarianism and accelerate fragmentation? How long will walls, figurative and physical, continue to poison our humanity? A walk through Jerusalem is a tour of world religion, architectural ascendancy and the winners and losers of wars…
International protection for Christians in the Nineveh Plain is needed (Fides) The international community must take charge of the return and protection of Christians in the Nineveh Plain, the bishops of the Syriac Orthodox Church said on 11 and 12 November in a synodal assembly in Lebanon, under the chairmanship of Patriarch Mar Ignatius Aphrem II…
Syria conflict: ‘Door closing’ on refugees, say NGOs (BBC) Syria’s neighbors are sharply reducing numbers of refugees from the conflict that they let onto their soil, two prominent humanitarian agencies say. Fewer than 18,500 fled Syria in October compared with more than 150,000 a month on average in 2013. The NGOs accused the international community of “a total collapse of solidarity…”
Yazidi families struggle to bring enslaved daughters home from captivity (Al Jazeera) The Yazidis caught the world’s attention in August when the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) attacked the Sinjar region of northern Iraq. Some 200,000 Yazidis fled into the mountains, walking for days as the weakest died of hunger and thirst. International forces sent humanitarian supplies and attacked ISIL fighters from the air, opening a path for Kurdish militias to evacuate the Yazidis. They flooded through Syria and took shelter in tents, parks and schools in Iraqi Kurdistan. Amid the subsequent politics of forming an international anti-ISIL coalition, few asked what happened to those Yazidis who didn’t escape…
12 November 2014
Tags: Middle East Christians Jerusalem Christian-Muslim relations Middle East Peace Process Yazidi
Christians gather for Evening Prayer outside St. Joseph’s Church in Erbil.(photo: Don Duncan)
The Autumn edition of ONE is online, and focuses a spotlight on The Middle East-most notably, with a dramatic look at life among refugees in Erbil, Iraq:
On talking to many Christian families and individuals who have taken refuge in cities across Iraqi Kurdistan, the master narrative is the same: ISIS, the jihadist Islamic terrorist movement seeking to create a caliphate in Iraq and Syria, had made rapid advances across large swaths of Iraq, and by early August, seized the Nineveh Plain in northern Iraq — a historic Christian stronghold.
The sixth day of August promises to be a date that will be seared into the Iraqi Christian psyche for quite some time: That is the day Iraqi Christendom finally — and maybe definitively — succumbed to extremists and much of the population was sent fleeing.
The exodus was rapid and frantic, beginning in the evening of 6 August. Families recount how they had 15 minutes to half an hour to grab what they could and leave, ahead of the rapid arrival of ISIS. The roads were choked with families in cars and on foot — Chaldean and Syriac Catholics, Copts and Armenians, but also Yazidis and Shiite Muslims from all over Nineveh — all fleeing the particular brand of ISIS fundamentalism. They headed east, to Iraqi Kurdistan and the protection of the Kurdish Peshmerga forces there. By the next morning, the heartland of Christian Iraq was firmly in the hands of ISIS.
“My father sold his own mother’s gold and took a loan from the government so he could build our house, and then everything was gone in 15 minutes,” says Wissam Abdul Hadi. “He worked for years and lost everything in a few minutes.”
The sense of loss and the incomprehension of the sudden, new reality are common to many of the displaced families. Beyond the shared narrative of expulsion, the personal stories issuing from the camps, church grounds and repurposed schools and social centers housing displaced Christians are varied and many.
...At a distance of 46 miles, Erbil is the nearest Kurdish city to Qaraqosh and, therefore, received the largest number of displaced people, currently estimated at more than 60,000. Most of them descended on the Christian neighborhood of Ain Kawa over the span of just a couple of days. Because of the overpopulation, living conditions for displaced Christians are the worst in Erbil.
Any and all resources were tapped so as to offer the displaced shelter and food. The Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, the Ephremite and Franciscan sisters, the Little Sisters of Jesus as well as Chaldean and Syriac priests and bishops were all mobilized. For the first week, many people were sleeping in churchyards without shelter, using each other’s stomachs as pillows. They complained of the scourge of ants at night and of the strong, beating sun during the day.
Read more about the Christian Exodus in the Autumn edition of ONE.
The need in Iraq remains great. Please visit this giving page to learn how you can help.