8 August 2018
Children engage in a finger painting activity at a summer day camp run by the Howard Karagheusian Commemorative Corporation in the Bourj Hammoud section of Beirut. The camp is funded in part by CNEWA. (photo: CNS/Krikor Aynilian, courtesy Howard Karagheusian Commemorative Corporation)
In the sweltering, crowded Bourj Hammoud district of Beirut, a group of children from poor Christian families have discovered a summertime oasis of joy.
The 390 children, ages 3 to 13, are participants in the Howard Karagheusian Commemorative Corporation’s day camp, funded in part by CNEWA .
Held in a school, the seven-week day camp combines sports, games, art and activities such as cooking, music and dance with a mix of instruction in nutrition, hygiene, math, English and Bible study. The children also go on weekly outings to places their families normally are not able to afford.
The camp gives children an opportunity “to have new friends, to enjoy their childhood, to have these moments of fun and lovely memories within their miseries,” Serop Ohanian, the corporation’s Lebanon field director, told Catholic News Service.
There are no playgrounds or green spaces in densely populated Bourj Hammoud, often referred to as Little Armenia. Settled by Armenians who had fled the early 20th-century genocide, the area has grown into a vibrant community. However, Lebanon’s economic crisis has caused more families to slip into poverty. The district also has seen Syrian refugees resettling there.
Half of the camp participants are Lebanese Armenians and half are Syrian Armenian refugees from Aleppo, Syria. All are Christian. Armenian is the principal language spoken.
The children are nurtured and guided by 34 volunteers, most of whom are university students majoring in education, psychology and special education, specially trained by the corporation.
Volunteer Nver Bodozian, who works with 3-year-old children, is a refugee from Aleppo herself. She and her family came to Lebanon six years ago, early in Syria’s civil war. Her great-grandparents -- who fled the Armenian genocide -- originally settled in Aleppo.
Bodozian and her family are hoping to obtain visas to be resettled in a Western country. Meanwhile, she is studying to become a teacher at Kinder Mesrobian College in Beirut.
“We show the children love and care,” Bodozian said. “Even though I feel they have so much stress and sadness in their lives, they are so happy here.”
Bodozian and another volunteer have just completed an art activity with the preschoolers. Brilliant finger-painted butterflies, still drying, are hung across the classroom.
Next on their program is short play, retelling “The Three Little Pigs” story.
Young Migel, in the role of the wolf, “taps” on an imaginary door, making threatening “woo” sounds. His classmates, portraying little pigs, gleefully scoot around the room in feigned fright.
Later, seated at colorful child-sized tables and chairs, the youngsters prepare to eat sandwiches before recess. Bodozian leads them in a short prayer: “Thank you, God, for this day. Thank you for our food. Please help the poor.”
“If they can have faith in God beginning at a young age, it’s everything,” Bodozian said.
“Although not a faith-based organization, we do encourage the children and their families to trust in God and live by faith,” Ohanian explained.
“We want to spread a beacon of hope within the community, within these neighborhoods and tell the children to dream big dreams, to get out from their difficulties and give them the opportunity to be a productive member within this community,” he said.
Downstairs, recess is already underway for the 7- and 8-year-olds. Balls zigzag across the outdoor courtyard, following the rhythm of the children’s joy. Some kids stroll together, chatting with arms joined. A group of girls practice dance moves.
Taking a break from shuffling a soccer ball, Kevin, 8, a refugee from Aleppo, said, “my best friends are here,” pointing to Sevag and Garbis, both of Lebanon.
Their teacher, Alice Majarian, 26, told CNS that she calls the trio the Three Musketeers.
Majarian recounted the camp’s first day when Kevin told his campmates that they should play nicely together. Kevin is “really organized and friendly,” Majarian said.
Sevag likewise promotes good manners to his campmates. Majarian said he frequently tells the class, “we should respect the teachers” and reminds them to say “please” and “thank you.”
Garbis, still eating his sandwich, hugs Majarian.
“When you see the children growing and blossoming before you, it’s a great satisfaction,” she said as the trio resumes playing.
The children come from “complicated” backgrounds, whether because of financial struggles in their family or from the hollowed-out existence as refugees, Majarian said.
“These children are not refugees voluntarily. It’s really difficult to be pulled away from your house, surroundings and friends, to see how your parents and neighbors suffered. Digesting all those traumas is too much for children to handle,” she said.
The corporation is a program of the Karagheusian Foundation, which was established in New York City in 1918 after the death of 14-year-old Howard Karagheusian from pneumonia. His parents resolved to establish a humanitarian mission in his memory, focusing at first on sheltering, feeding and educating orphaned children who had survived the Armenian genocide. The corporation has operated in Lebanon, Syria and Armenia for more than 95 years.
The program’s clinic in Bourj Hammoud sees 2,500 patients a month; 70 percent are Syrian refugees and 30 percent are Lebanese. Of the refugees, 60 percent are Muslim and 40 percent are Christian.
Children enrolled in the camp also receive a free medical checkup and dental care.
For another example of the generous work of the Karagheusian Corporation, read A Letter from Lebanon in the current edition of ONE.
8 August 2018
Tags: Lebanon Armenia Beirut
Hundreds of Iraqi Christians processed through Karamles in the Nineveh Plain Monday night to commemorate the invasion of ISIS exactly four years ago. (photo: Fides/Asia News)
Returning Christians hold procession on anniversary of exodus (Fides) Hundreds of Iraqi Christians in Karamles took part in a procession Monday night, to commemorate the night four years ago earlier, when ISIS drove many tens of thousands of Christians from the towns and villages of the Nineveh Plain. Before the procession, there were prayers and a reflection on the pain and suffering caused by that dramatic mass exodus…
Lebanese town flooded with refugees hopes for return to normal (The New York Times) Seven years of war in Syria has displaced more than half the country’s population, leaving millions of refugees shipwrecked between the wasteland of home and the void of exile. Among the many Lebanese and Jordanian towns that received them was Arsal, where rented rooms and tent cities overflowed at one point with 120,000 Syrians — quadruple its Lebanese population…
In Jerusalem, concerns over crumbling Western Wall (The Sun) A massive survey of Jerusalem’ Western Wall is being planned, it emerged today, after a huge slab fell just feet away from a worshipper. Expert opinion is split on whether the collapse was a one-off, or if more stones are ready to fall…
India’s president praises contribution of Christian community (Crux) Noting that the Christian community in the state of Kerala is one of the oldest not only in India but anywhere in the world, the president of India said on Tuesday the Church’s heritage and history are a matter of immense pride for the entire country. President Ram Nath Kovind was speaking at the centenary celebrations of St. Thomas College in Thrissur, the city considered the cultural capital of Kerala…
Egypt’s Copts commemorate Virgin Mary amid tight security (Andalou Agency) Egyptian Coptic Christians on Tuesday began a 15-day fast to commemorate the Virgin Mary amid stepped-up security measures in and around the nation’s churches. The two-week religious holiday comes some 10 days after a prominent Coptic Bishop was found dead at the Anba Makar Monastery in Egypt’s northern Beheira province…
Magdala: first century synagogue unites Christians and Jews (Rome Reports) When the Legionaries of Christ acquired this land to build a church and pilgrim house, they never imagined they would discover a real treasure. Magdala, a town previously containing 4,000 inhabitants according to archaeologists was also Mary Magdalene’s hometown. The excavations have recovered 20 percent of the surface at the present moment. Among other things, they have unearthed the port, purification baths and the market where fish were sent to Rome, according to historian Flavius Josephus. However, the most important of all these discoveries is the synagogue from the first century…
7 August 2018
Tags: Syria Egypt Lebanon Iraqi Christians ISIS
A volunteer assists a young visitor at the Emili Aregak Center in Gyumri, Armenia. Learn more about how this center has become A Source of Light for so many children in the current edition of ONE. (photo: Nazik Armenakyan)
7 August 2018
Syrian refugees in Jordan are learning how to restore and rebuild architecture that was destroyed in their homeland. (photo: NBC News)
Lebanon sets guidelines for return of refugees (The Daily Star) General Security announced Monday it will create centers to register Syrian refugees looking to return to Syria after having earlier outlined conditions for returnees who are in violation of residency requirements, including lifetime bans on many refugees from returning to Lebanon. General Security published protocols on 1 August for the return of Syrians who had violated residency rules and now wished to return to their homeland. Approximately three-quarters of Syrians living in Lebanon do not have legal residency…
In Jordan, Syrian refugees learn how to rebuild damaged heritage sites (NBC News) A year-long training program launched by the U.S.-based World Monuments Fund and the Petra National Trust of Jordan is teaching Syrian refugees how to rebuild the heritage sites and decorative architecture that once made their cities the jewels of the archaeological world…
Thousands of Ethiopians displaced (AFP) Fighting in Ethiopia’s volatile eastern Somali region over the weekend has left an unknown number of civilians dead and thousands displaced, the patriarch of Ethiopia’s Orthodox church told state media on Monday. It was unclear what sparked the clashes in Ethiopia’s second-largest region, but it appeared to start after the arrival of troops in the regional capital Jijiga...
Ukraine’s Roma live in fear (AP) After attackers charged into a Roma encampment on the outskirts of Kiev, beating the residents and chasing them away, a leader of an ultranationalist group posted photos of his colleagues clearing the site and burning tents left behind. The attacks and the prospect of more violence are terrifying to Ukraine’s estimated 100,000 Roma…
6 August 2018
Tags: Syria Ukraine Ethiopia Jordan Roma
Displaced Iraqi Christians are struggling to rebuild, exactly four years after ISIS first swept through their country. This video, from last fall, shows some of what they are facing as they return home. (video: Raed Rafei/CNEWA)
Exactly four years ago — 6 August 2014 — ISIS began its assault on the Nineveh Plain, and thousands of Iraqi Christians began to run for their lives.
Al Jazeera takes note:
Displaced by the expansion of Islamic State (ISIS) — which rapidly overran vast territories in Iraq, eventually seizing one-third of the country in 2014—Christian families left their homes in the ancient Assyrian towns of Nineveh province to resettle in Erbil and the capital, Baghdad.
Samir Petrus, 50, who left Hamdaniya [also known as Qaraqosh], a district located on the outskirts of Mosul, where the majority of the Iraqi Christian community are Chaldo-Assyrians, says he will never return to Nineveh.
“There’s nothing for me to go back to. No jobs, no home, let alone safety and security,” says Petrus, who now lives at an IDP camp in Baghdad. “I’m here now with my girls and I have to look ahead.”
ISIS targeted minorities of the Nineveh plains when it stormed northern Iraq, taking over Mosul in 2014. Although other communities in Mosul hope to go home again, Christian and Yazidi minorities say they’ve endured enough persecution and refuse to return, even if ISIS has been defeated.
CNEWA has been on the ground and on the front lines of helping displaced Iraqi Christians since Day One — and we have been chronicling their story in our magazine, along with the story of the long road back to a life resembling normal. Last fall, in the pages of ONE magazine we described the Hard Choices many are facing:
A recent comprehensive survey carried out by church authorities indicates that of the 6,826 housing units in Qaraqosh, about a third are severely damaged or burned, with some two-thirds sustaining partial damage. Almost 100 homes are completely destroyed and beyond repair.
Despite some shy rebuilding efforts by churches and homeowners, the estimated $70 million needed for the overall reconstruction of Qaraqosh still looms large. According to Father Jahola, several organizations have pledged to help with large finances, but substantial aid has not materialized yet.
The condition of Qaraqosh is not very different from that of most Christian towns in the Nineveh Plain, which typically report damage to 30 to 40 percent of structures — houses, schools, public institutions, churches, monasteries and hospitals alike.
But some towns, such as Batnaya, have been rendered completely uninhabitable, reporting 85 percent of buildings demolished under heavy aerial bombardment.
The total cost for the reconstruction of the Nineveh Plain, estimated to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars — if not billions — will require a significant mobilization of aid by foreign governments and international charities.
This past spring, the new superior general of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, Sister Clara Nancy, wrote to us a Letter from Iraq, describing how the people — and the sisters serving them — are surviving on a resolute mixture of fortitude and faith:
We want and need to be with our people. We want to return with them to serve them.
And so we visit families in their homes. We lead youth groups and offer activities and lectures to help them understand themselves and their faith, sharing Bible stories when possible and catechesis for children. We understand these activities are modest — and that they are unable to heal them as a whole — but our efforts may be a balm to sooth their pain.
Life is so hectic in our area; our challenges look overwhelming. Therefore, we encourage people to go beyond their difficulties, and place them in a different context. We try to help them look into things through the eyes of faith. It is easy for people to feel depressed and live as passive victims. So, our aim is to help them live their faith as people who trust God and his providence. We are not the only ones who have lived this reality: The Bible tells us about those who had very similar experiences and yet they knew how to overcome their situation with hearts full of faith in the Lord.
It is hard to know what the future holds for our community. Displacement and immigration left young women unable to form a clear vision about their future. So, fostering vocations has been difficult when life is so unsettled. However, there are a few girls who are considering joining with us in serving the Lord as sisters. We are thinking of organizing a program for them to prepare them and introduce them to religious life.
We sisters have our own struggles, of course. We have asked different speakers to help us cope with the situation, spiritually and psychologically. We are grateful to all those who have risked their lives and have come to show solidarity and offer their knowledge.
Deep down, we believe our main help is the Risen Lord around whom we gather in every Eucharist. This unites us with the Christ and enables us to endure. Sharing with one another our difficulties gives us the opportunity to reflect and support one another. We have lost much, but we still have each other. And that is of great help.
Read more of Sister Clara’s letter here.
This day, in particular, please keep all our suffering brothers and sisters in the Middle East in your prayers. Their struggle is far from over — and they need your help, now more than ever. CNEWA continues to accompany them, support them, encourage them and stand with them during this difficult time. We invite you to stand with us—and with them. If you’d like to do more for those trying to rebuild in Iraq, visit this page to learn how you can help.
6 August 2018
Tags: Iraq Iraqi Christians ISIS Dominican Sisters
As summer temperatures climb, young people in Israel play in a water fountain on 3 August near the Old City of Jerusalem. (photo: CNS/Abir Sultan, EPA)
6 August 2018
A panel of clergy and lay people announced the launch of India's SAFBIN project, designed to improve food security in Asia. (photo: Vatican News)
Damascus creates body to repatriate Syrian refugees (AFP) Syria’s government is to set up a coordination committee to repatriate millions of its nationals who fled the country’s seven-year conflict, state media has said. The cabinet Sunday “agreed to create a coordination body for the return of those displaced abroad to their cities and villages,” state news agency SANA reported…
Over 400 people interrogated in connection with murder of Coptic bishop (Fides) Over 400 people were interrogated by the Egyptian judicial authorities of the Wadi Natrun region, as part of the investigation into the murder of Coptic Orthodox bishop Epiphanius, abbot of Saint Macarius monastery, who was killed on Sunday 29 July. In addition to the monks, police detectives will also interrogate workers, farmers and people who habitually frequented the monastery. But so far — specify the official sources of the Coptic Orthodox Church, consulted by Agenzia Fides — no person at the moment is believed to be responsible for the heinous murder of Anba Epiphanios…
Caritas India launches agricultural project to improve food security (Vatican News) Caritas India, the social arm of the Catholic Church in India has launched an agricultural project to help improve the food and nutritional security of small farmers across South Asia. Called the Smallholder Adaptive Farming and Biodiversity Network or SAFBIN, the initiative is being backed by Caritas Austria and Caritas Switzerland…
Canadians open their arms to refugees (Vatican News) n the first half of 2018, nearly 26,000 migrants sought asylum in Canada. Nearly 11,000 of these were illegal or “irregular” border crossers, of which a vast majority entered Canada through Quebec. Elana Wright, Advocacy and Research Officer of Development and Peace at Caritas Canada, spoke to Vatican News’ Timothée Dhellammes about Canadians’ openness to welcoming asylum seekers…
UN scales up humanitarian efforts in Ethiopia (UN.org) To address the urgent needs of more than a million displaced by inter-communal violence in southwestern Ethiopia over the past four months, UN humanitarian agencies and their partners are ramping up their efforts, providing among other things shelter, household items, water and sanitation, and food to the most vulnerable…
3 August 2018
Tags: Syria India Ethiopia Refugees
An Iraqi father and his children are shown at the Saint Anthony Community Health Centre in Lebanon, supported by CNEWA. (photo: Carl Hétu)
CNEWA Canada has just launched a campaign to help Middle East Christians, and national director Carl Hétu this week offered some thoughts on the current situation on the blog for the Archdiocese of Toronto. An excerpt is below.
What is the current situation for Christians in the Middle East?
Daily life for Christians in the Middle East has been difficult. Things took a turn for the worse in 2003 during the invasion of Iraq by the U.S., Great Britain and their allies. Iraq spiraled into internal tribal conflict and anarchy. Christians were stuck in the middle — often being victims of threats, kidnapping, torture and assassination. As a result, approximately 1.2 million Christians were forced to leave the country since 2003. Some 250,000 Christians remain in Iraq today. The unresolved Israel-Palestinian conflict has also caused economic and political hardships. Only 55,000 and 1,100 Christians remain in the West Bank and Gaza, respectively. In Syria, the civil war has practically destroyed the country. Christians have certainly not been spared from the violence. The Christian population has gone down to 1 million from 2 million since 2011. More are fleeing. In Egypt, attacks on Christians are common. We believe that some 400,000 have left the country in the last seven years. Christians live in greater security in Jordan and Israel; but there has been a recent rise in internal tensions.
How does your most recent trip to Lebanon in April compare to your last visit to the region?
The Lebanese people seem anxious, tired and increasingly frustrated. The population of Lebanon is 4 million. There are more than 1.3 million Syrian and Iraqi refugees, plus 500,000 Palestinian refugees, in the country. The impact on the local economy and social services is overwhelming. Local aid organizations are exhausted and lacking in resources to support refugees but also there is an increasing number of Lebanese people who are getting poorer, losing their jobs and in need of support. It’s a very alarming and potentially volatile situation.
Visit this link to learn more — and to discover what’s being done and how you can help.
3 August 2018
Tags: Lebanon Middle East Christians CNEWA Canada Persecution
In this image from June, people walk toward the last Syrian government checkpoint while waiting for permission to leave the besieged section of Damascus. The Syrian ambassador to Lebanon has called for more refugees to return to their homeland. (photo: CNS/Omar Sanadiki, Reuters)
Syrian ambassador calls for refugees to return (The National) Syria’s ambassador to Lebanon has called for Syrian refugees to return home and for the countries hosting them to ease the transition. Ali Abdul Karim told Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil during a meeting on Thursday that certain agreements were being followed up on to help Syrian refugees return, according to a statement released by the minister’s office…
Netanyahu cancels trip abroad as possible Hamas-Israel cease fire deal emerges (The Los Angeles Times) Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday abruptly canceled an official visit to Central and South America as a possible agreement to halt the violence and ease tensions along its border with the Gaza Strip appeared to be emerging. In a statement, an Israeli government official said the trip, during which Netanyahu was scheduled to meet with the presidents of Colombia, Argentina, Chile, Guatemala and Honduras, was being canceled “due to the situation in the south…”
Bishops’ event in India focuses on divisive politics (UCANews.com) A Catholic Church-organized program in New Delhi has called on Indian politicians to cease being divisive and using religion as a way of attracting votes. Prominent opposition leader Mamta Banerjee was among several speakers voicing concerns over the divisions in Indian society during an assembly organized by the Indian Catholic bishops’ conference on 31 July…
Report: Syrian group recruiting children from camps (Human Rights Watch) The People’s Protection Units (YPG), the largest member of the Syrian Democratic Forces military alliance in northeast Syria, has been recruiting children, including girls, and using some in hostilities despite pledges to stop the practice, Human Rights Watch said today…
Has peace finally arrived for Ethiopia and Eritrea? (The New Yorker) The timing of the peace deal was sudden: within a matter of weeks, and after two decades of hostility, the governments of Ethiopia and Eritrea signed an agreement, on 9 July to restore diplomatic relations, reopen embassies in Addis Ababa and Asmara, and resume flights between the two countries. The Ethiopian Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, and the Eritrean President, Isaias Afwerki, both said they hoped for an end to a state of war that has dragged on between the two nations since Eritrea achieved independence from Ethiopia, after a thirty-year struggle, in 1993. More than 80,000 people have died in the conflict, and the United Nations has imposed an arms embargo on Eritrea, citing its border disputes with neighboring countries…
2 August 2018
Tags: Syria India Israel
In 1983, Pope John Paul II met in prison with Mehmet Ali Agca, who shot and wounded the pontiff in St. Peter's Square two years earlier. The pope publicly forgave him. (photo: CNS)
This year on Sunday 5 August—and on the first Sunday of August every year—many people around the world observe International Forgiveness Day. Although the observance is not connected with any specific religion, organizers note:
”Most world religions include teachings on the nature of forgiveness, and many of these teachings provide an underlying basis for many varying modern day traditions and practices of forgiveness. Some religious doctrines or philosophies place greater emphasis on the need for humans to find some sort of divine forgiveness for their own shortcomings, others place greater emphasis on the need for humans to practice forgiveness of one another, yet others make little or no distinction between human and divine forgiveness.”
Since much of CNEWA’s world is home to the three great monotheistic religions—Judaism, Christianity and Islam—it’s worth considering how each of these faiths treats the notion of forgiveness.
The three religions all differentiate between God’s forgiveness of humans and human beings forgiving each other. Each of the three monotheistic faiths strongly emphasizes that God is merciful and ready to forgive.
In Judaism, this idea recurs repeatedly. Almost like an antiphon, the phrase “tender and compassionate, slow to anger, rich in graciousness and ready to relent” (Joel 2:13) is applied again and again to God in the Hebrew Bible. The entire book of the Prophet Jonah is dedicated to God’s mercy.
In Christianity, God’s mercy and forgiveness are a constant theme of the preaching of Jesus. In the New Testament, God is presented as a loving Father who is always ready to forgive. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus’ connects the forgiveness of God with our own readiness to forgive: “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”
In Islam one finds the Ninety-Nine Beautiful Names of God. They are God’s titles and characteristics. The first two names of God for Muslims are: rahmani and rahim, “the Most Merciful, the Most Gracious.” For Muslims these are the two primary and most important characteristics of God. Of the 114 chapters of the Qur’an, all of them except one (Chapter 9, al-Tawba) begins “In the Name of God, the Most Merciful, the Most Gracious.”
Of course, almost all religions have a form of the “Golden Rule:” do unto others as you would have them to unto you. Nevertheless, forgiveness of those who harm and offend us is treated slightly differently in the three monotheistic traditions. Part of this may be due to the fact that the Hebrew Scriptures and the Qur’an contain legal material and are concerned in some cases with retributive justice. In these scriptures, the action of the offender is important: the offender must repent and ask for forgiveness. The Qur’an 42:41 is, however, instructive here. After reiterating the Law of Talion (an eye for an eye, etc.), it adds “but whoever forgives and brings about reconciliation, his reward is with God.”
But in Christian teaching, the New Testament is unique in its call for “gratuitous forgiveness.” In Matthew’s Gospel (6:14-15) Jesus connects his followers’ willingness to forgive with God’s willingness. When in Matthew 18 Peter askes Jesus how often he must forgive, Jesus responds “seventy times seven” or indefinitely. .” In Matthew 5:43-48 Jesus demands something unique in the monotheist faiths: love of one’s enemy. Jesus challenges his followers to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. In Luke 6:27-35 he expands the challenge and says “love your enemies and do good, lend without hope of return.” While dying on the cross Jesus asks God to forgive his executioners, although they clearly have not repented of what they are doing.
In our world today, mercy and forgiveness are needed perhaps now more than ever. There is a saying which is attributed to Mahatma Gandhi, the great Indian pacifist: if it is an eye for an eye, it won’t be long before the whole world is blind. Gandhi recognized that while forgiveness is very difficult and at times seemingly impossible, it is ultimately in our own self-interest too.
The world in which CNEWA works has seen more than its share of evil and violence. Genocidal attacks against Yazidis in northwestern Iraq, persecution of Christians and other religious minorities, destruction of churches, monasteries and sacred places, rape and slavery as tools of war and other atrocities are all crimes which cry to heaven. The drive towards vengeance can be very strong and very understandable.
But regardless of how strong or how understandable, vengeance must be resisted and must give way to mercy.
Wherever we work, CNEWA tries to be promote understanding, rebuilding of relationships, reconciliation and forgiveness — not only on International Forgiveness Day but every day.
In the words of a well-known commercial: it’s what we do.
Tags: Christianity Islam Judaism