8 November 2017
Good Shepherd Sister Monique Tarabeh is pictured in an undated selfie photo. Sister Tarabeh grew up in Damascus, Syria, and her family still lives there despite the ongoing civil war that started in 2011. (photo: CNS/courtesy Good Shepherd Sister Monique Tarabeh)
Good Shepherd Sister Monique Tarabeh’s visit home in July and August was gut-wrenching. Sister Tarabeh grew up in Damascus, Syria, and her family still lives there, despite the civil war that started in 2011. The conflict has killed hundreds of thousands of people and forced millions to flee to safety in other nations.
Currently, Sister Tarabeh serves in Rome as the communications coordinator for the Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd congregation. Previously, she worked in Lebanon and Syria, using her master’s degree in graphic design.
She recently spoke to Global Sisters Report about her summer visit home and what she saw there.
Q: Your family in Damascus is safe, and you got to spend time with them. What was it like in Damascus?
A: In Damascus, the situation was bad. There were too many bombs. But my sister has a house in the mountains, so I stayed there awhile and then joined the community in Homs to help them. They needed help because so many families have moved from their area into Homs, even though there is all this damage.
Q: We’ve been told that Homs had been devastated by bombing and seen photos of a city destroyed by the war. You’re saying people are moving there?
A: Yes, people are going there because the areas where they live are even worse. Our center in Homs is working with the people who have moved there to give them education and psychological help. They teach them how to process the trauma, and they have special programs for children and youth. ... Around the convent, all those areas were bombed and destroyed, but the building of the convent and the church is untouched. You cannot believe it — it's like the hands of God were covering it.
I served in Homs for seven months in 2006 and 2007, and those areas ... were the richest, most beautiful places in Homs. Each building had five floors and balconies. Trees lined the streets, and there were flowers. It was a place you liked to go visit.
People walk in front of destroyed buildings at the site of a 2016 twin bomb attack in Homs, Syria.
When I saw this area where I spent a really beautiful time with the people there, when you see this empty, all this damage, my heart is broken. I stayed one day, and I could not speak when I returned to the convent.
And then to think about those people coming to Homs from places that are worse, like Aleppo, where you can’t see two stones stacked together because it’s all flat now. It’s hard to find the words.
I tried to talk about this, but it’s very painful when I remember all those people and their faces, and now they are not here. All the beautiful images all coming back at once. I cannot believe it happened.
Q: How do you deal with that? How do you continue working?
A: I took photos in Homs, but I can never take photos in Damascus, because Damascus is where I lived. I don’t like to see them at all. It’s not easy to see the place you grew up, and now, it’s destroyed.
Some areas are better than others. My family’s home is untouched, thank God, but all around them is damage. What happened to my family is nothing when you see the other areas.
But the people have a good spirit. I think as a way of surviving, they share a lot of humor and jokes. I really admire them. They do everything they can to let it pass and begin a new life.
Q: How do the sisters continue working? How do they keep their spirits up amid all the misery?
A: I asked them, “How can you continue? Nobody can just serve and give all the time.” One said, “Monique, when I saw I could do something for people, I forget myself.”
We also have Good Shepherd Sisters in Lebanon, and they can go there for a few days and rest with them.
But you are never safe. It’s just, every time when they go out, they don’t know if they’ll be back or not. They live day by day and trust that God will protect them.
This is an edited version of a story originally published in Global Sisters Report, a project of National Catholic Reporter. Visit their website for more.
8 November 2017
The icon above depicts the Synaxis of the Archangel Michael and the Other Bodiless Powers, a feast day celebrated on 8 November throughout the Eastern Christian world. (photo: OCA.org)
This date, 8 November, marks a significant feast for the Eastern churches: the Synaxis of the Archangel Michael and the Other Bodiless Powers.
The Synaxis of the Chief of the Heavenly Hosts, Archangel Michael and the Other Heavenly Bodiless Powers: Archangels Gabriel, Raphael, Uriel, Selaphiel, Jehudiel, Barachiel, and Jeremiel was established at the beginning of the fourth century at the Council of Laodicea, which met several years before the First Ecumenical Council. The 35th Canon of the Council of Laodicea condemned and denounced as heretical the worship of angels as gods and rulers of the world, but affirmed their proper veneration.
A feast day was established in November, the ninth month after March (with which the year began in ancient times) since there are Nine Ranks of Angels. The eighth day of the month was chosen for the Synaxis of all the Bodiless Powers of Heaven since the Day of the Dread Last Judgment is called the Eighth Day by the holy Fathers. After the end of this age (characterized by its seven days of Creation) will come the Eighth Day, and then “the Son of Man shall come in His Glory and all the holy Angels with Him” (Mt. 25:31).
Read more about this feast here.
Troparion — Tone 4
Commanders of the heavenly hosts, / we who are unworthy beseech you, / by your prayers encompass us beneath the wings of your immaterial glory, / and faithfully preserve us who fall down and cry to you: / “Deliver us from all harm, for you are the commanders of the powers on high!”
Kontakion — Tone 2
Commanders of God’s armies and ministers of the divine glory, / princes of the bodiless angels and guides of mankind, / ask for what is good for us, and for great mercy, / supreme commanders of the Bodiless Hosts.
8 November 2017
Tags: Eastern Christianity Eastern Churches
Pope Francis greets the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar at the Vatican on Tuesday.
(photo: EPA/Vatican Radio)
Pope meets Egypt’s Muslim leader (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis met on Tuesday with the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Sheikh Ahmed Muhammad al-Tayeb who is in Rome to attend a conference organised by the St Egidio community...
Jesuits launch first child protection center in Addis Ababa (Vatican Radio) Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Ethiopia, a Catholic Church Organisation that works with refugees, launched the Child Protection Centre in Addis Ababa, which is the first of its kind in the city. The center, which is strategically located in the capital city, is established to respond to the growing demand of the urban refugee community due to the growing number of refugee children and their vulnerability...
Iraq’s Christians worry over Iraqi-Kurdish conflict (Al Jazeera) Many Christians are uncertain about their future in Iraq after government forces, with the help of Shia militia, retook most of the disputed territories in Iraq controlled by the Kurds...
Germany pledges more aid to Jordan (The Jordan Times) Germany on Tuesday pledged to provide Jordan with over 575 million euros in assistance to respond to the Kingdom’s development needs and support the Syrian refugees in Jordan...
Indian cardinal makes pastoral visit to New Zealand (New Zealand Catholic) The Syro-Malabar Catholic community in New Zealand was thrilled to be visited last month by Cardinal Mar George Alencherry, the major archbishop of their church. The church is an Eastern Catholic Major Archiepiscopal Church based in Kerala, India. It is a sui iuris particular church in full communion with the Pope and the worldwide Catholic Church. There are about 4500 Syro-Malabar Catholics in New Zealand and about 10 priests of that rite are ministering in this country, often in Latin rite parishes...
7 November 2017
In the video above, lonely elderly in Armenia find purpose and happiness spending time at the Nadine Basmajian Day Care Center in Gyumri, supported in part by CNEWA.
One of the projects CNEWA is helping to support in Armenia is the Nadine Basmajian Day Care Center for the elderly in Gyumri. We reported on the center a few years ago in ONE:
At the Nadine Basmajian Center, 35 elderly people currently find company and sympathy as they spend their days there; some 200 seniors have benefited since the [Armenian Sisters of the Immaculate Conception] launched the center.
The most energetic participant, Hamazasp Hakobian, 85, divides his life into three phases: orphanage, the end of World War II and the earthquake.
“I overcame the postwar famine, but the earthquake destroyed everything,” he says of a calamity that killed his wife, leaving him to rear his three teenagers alone. Now he is alone again.
“They all have left the country, looking for sources of income and means of survival,” he says of his children. “We are here in this center so we don’t lose our minds with loneliness, hunger and cold. We couldn’t bear to be away for even a day,” he says, with a kindly look to his friends.
Now, the center has sent us a video, chronicling the day-to-day life of some of these “new orphans” being cared for by the sisters. See for yourself, in the video above, what a wonderful difference it is making in their lives. Thanks to our generous donors for helping to bring light and life to this corner of Armenia!
7 November 2017
In this image from 2013, altar boys serve the liturgy at the Chaldean parish in Amman. To learn more about Iraqi families seeking to start a new life in Jordan, read Out of Iraq in the Spring 2013 edition of ONE. (photo: Cory Eldridge)
7 November 2017
In the video above, Syrian children tell some of the horrors they experienced in the final days of ISIS in Raqqa. (video: VOA/YouTube)
Al Azhar reacts to massacre at U.S church (Fides) Violent acts “which desecrate the holiness of places of worship and destroy innocent lives threaten the people’s stability and security.” And the shedding of innocent blood, irrespective of race and the religion of the victims, “is forbidden by all religions.” With these words, the University of Al Azhar, the main academic and theological center of Sunni Islam, expressed in a formal statement the condolences to the victims of the massacre carried out on Sunday, 5 November by a former military in a Baptist church in Sutherland Springs, Texas...
Rebuilding ‘Hell Square’ in Syria’s Raqqa (Voice of America) In mid-October, ISIS was driven out of Raqqa as the remaining families fled the battle. Making the city once again livable, according to officials, is now an overwhelming task complicated by a political deadlock. Rebuilding lives after mass trauma, they add, may be close to impossible...
Maronite patriarch urges ‘vigilance over any sabotage scheme aimed at undermining Lebanon’ (Fides) Following the sudden resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri, “there must be vigilance and full awareness against any sabotage plot or scheme aimed at undermining stability in the country.” This is how Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Rai voiced regret over Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s shock resignation, warning of the destabilizing effects that this choice might have on the fragile national balance...
Archbishop emeritus S. Michael Augustine of India dies (Vatican Radio) Archbishop Emeritus S. Michael Augustine of Pondicherry-Cuddalore diocese of India passed away this morning in a local hospital. He served for 39 years as a bishop and 56 years as a priest till God called him to Himself at the age of 85...
Victims of ISIS in focus at U.N. forum (CNA) Persecuted religious minorities in Syria and Iraq deserve a better future after suffering at the hands of the Islamic State group. That was the message of Archbishop Bernadito Auza, the apostolic nuncio leading the Holy See’s permanent observer mission to the U.N. He said justice for the survivors “demands that we seek to return to them, as much as possible, what Daesh pillaged from them...”
Churches in U.K. to turn red in support of victims of persecution (Vatican Radio) Catholic schools and churches across the United Kingdom will be floodlit red to highlight the plight of persecuted Christians across the world...
6 November 2017
Cardinal Angelo Amato presided at the beatification ceremony for Sister Rani Maria in India on 4 November. (photo: Vatican Radio)
Indian sister beatified (Times of India) With teary eyes and overwhelming joy, the congregation celebrated the beatification of Blessed Rani Maria on Saturday. With the official declaration of the beatification, Blessed Rani Maria has become the first sister to be beatified in northern India and the seventh Indian to be beatified, after Sister Alphonsa, the Rev. Kuriakose Chavara, Mother Euphrasia, Father Joseph Vaz, Father Gonsalo Garcia and Mother Teresa…
Truck bomb in Syria kills dozens fleeing battle against ISIS (AP) A spokesman for U.S.-backed forces in Syria says more than a hundred people have been killed in a truck bomb blast in eastern Syria. Mustafa Bali of the Syrian Democratic Forces says the victims were refugees from the war against the ISIS group in the region. He said the attack occurred on Saturday near the Conoco gas plant near Deir Ezzor city…
Jordan plans new city to ease crowding, congestion (Middle East Eye) Jordan has announced plans to build a new city east of the capital Amman in order to ease rising population density and traffic congestion. The project to build the city some 19 miles from Amman was part of a drive to stimulate the economy and attract long-term investment, the government said in a statement published Sunday…
Archbishop of Canterbury forges closer ties with Russian Orthodox (Times of London) The archbishop of Canterbury is scheduled to pay a groundbreaking official visit to Moscow this month for talks with the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, and he will be received by senior politicians. This will be the first time that the head of the worldwide Anglican Communion has held talks with the patriarch in Moscow, and it is a signal of the growing importance of the Russian Orthodox Church, now one of the world’s biggest, richest and most powerful churches...
In Lebanon, maestro helps voices of refugee children rise above poverty, divisions (Voice of America) They are among the most underprivileged children in Lebanon, and now their voices can soar. For several months, conductor and composer Salim Sahab auditioned youngsters, most of whom work, for a choir of 300. With Syrian and Palestinian refugees selected along with Lebanese children, hopes are that the unifying power of singing will help cross political and sectarian lines…
3 November 2017
Tags: Syria India Sisters Jordan Saints
Elizabeth and Hannah Valentine pray at St. Nicholas Antiochian Orthodox Church in Wisconsin.
(photo: Miriam Sushman)
In 2003, we paid a visit to Cedarburg, Wisconsin, just north of Milwaukee, where the people of St. Nicholas Antiochian Orthodox Church are preserving ancient traditions and welcoming a diverse flock:
About half of the parish’s 175 members were raised in other church traditions. Others are second — and third — generation Greek or Russian Orthodox. About 40 are Arab. With this kind of a mix, everyone is thankful for the exclusive use of English in the Divine Liturgy.
Three of the youthful members are Chinese and were adopted by a local family. The oldest child is blind. She has learned the liturgy by heart and chants it with the choir. Her father watched her with pride while her siblings squirmed in the pew.
Though the congregants come from different ethnic backgrounds, they are united by their faith and the traditions of the Orthodox Church. “When there is a disagreement, it is never along ethnic lines,” Father [Bill] Olnhausen said.
He takes care to explain again and again the meaning of the church’s traditions for newcomers. Repetition, he explained, reinforces tradition.
Some traditions require more from the congregation than just listening. Prostration is common in the Orthodox Church, and on the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross parishioners knelt and bowed during the procession of the cross.
Among the joyful noises on that day were the voices of the youngest parishioners, some still so young they were wrapped in blankets and lay cooing in the pews.
St. Nicholas is child-friendly. A crying room in the back of the church was full of active toddlers whose parents retreated there for a “time out.” Preschoolers attended church school, returning for Communion with the adult parishioners.
Children and adults alike dressed in their Sunday clothes. Ties and white shirts were standard for boys and men and dresses for girls and women.
Community participation is also strong at the church. The church double tithes: 10 percent supports the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America. The other 10 percent goes toward charities and needy individuals.
Read more about Serving a Diverse Community in the November-December 2003 edition of our magazine.
3 November 2017
Smoke billows from the eastern Syrian city of Deir Ezzor during an operation by Syrian government forces against ISIS on 2 November 2017. Syria’s army and allied forces have taken full control of the eastern city of Deir Ezzor from the Islamic State group, Syrian state television said.
(photo: AFP/Getty Images)
ISIS ousted from last major city in Syria (CNN) The Syrian army and allied forces have taken full control of the city of Deir Ezzor, the last major Syrian city in ISIS’ hands, Syria’s Defense Ministry and state media said Friday. “Syria’s Army in cooperation with allied forces liberated the entire city of Deir Ezzor from the ISIS after killing a large number of the terrorists, among them foreigners,” the Syrian Defense ministry said in a statement...
Bishop dismisses call to make India a Hindu nation (UCANews) An Indian bishops’ conference official has reacted sharply against a radical Hindu party for trying to negate the secular Indian Constitution. Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, secretary-general of the Indian Catholic bishops’ conference, also disagreed with their insistence that Hindus in India should get priority over Christians, Muslims and other religious minorities. “India is a secular country and it will also remain so. It was not born out of religion and we do not want it to turn it into some religion-based country,” he said...
Maronite bishops call for refugees’ safe return (The Daily Star) The Council of Maronite Bishops reiterated its humanitarian solidarity with Syrian refugees Wednesday, but called for the safe return of the displaced to their homeland. “If this crisis continues, there will be a generation of refugees with no national identity, so how will they partake in the future of Syria?” a statement from the council, released after a meeting in Bkirki, read...
English Catholic, Anglican leaders call for Palestinian homeland (CNS) Recognition of a national homeland for Palestinians is required to achieve justice and reconciliation in the Holy Land, English Catholic and Anglican leaders announced on 2 November. They used the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, in which Britain declared its support for a Jewish state, to press for a two-state solution to decades of strife between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples...
Historic agreement on Holy Spirit signed in Dublin (AnglicanNews.org) Theologians from the Anglican Communion and Oriental Orthodox Churches have signed an historic agreement on the Holy Spirit. The Agreed Statement on the Procession and Work of the Holy Spirit was signed on Friday at the end of a week of discussions by the Anglican Oriental-Orthodox International Commission (AOOIC) and concludes two years of work on the subject...
2 November 2017
A Yazidi man prays in Lalish, Iraq, near Kurdistan. (photo: Diego Cupolo/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Most people in the west had never heard of the Yazidis before ISIS attacked them with genocidal fury in August 2014. Thousands of Yazidi men were captured and killed. Yazidi women and young girls were sold as sex slaves in the market place of Mosul. Many Yazidis took refuge on Mount Sinjar in northwestern Iraq and were threatened with starvation and lack of water. The world watched in horror as entire families faced starvation and death at the hands of ISIS. (There were even accounts of desperate mothers throwing their children from the mountain to keep them from being slaughtered by the Islamic militants.) Thus, the Yazidis entered the consciousness of the West as people of great tragedy and even greater mystery.
The Yazidi religion is not well understood. It tends to be very inward looking and secretive. The five daily prayers — an echo of Islam — are not said when outsiders are present. It is an endogamous faith that allows marriage only between a Yazidi man and Yazidi woman. Anyone marrying outside the faith is automatically considered to have converted to the other religion — and is effectively excommunicated.
Scholars refer to Yazidi belief as being syncretistic — that is, one faith taking over elements of another. This is common among almost all the religions of the world to some extent. (Christians, for example, took over the Roman pagan feast of Saturnalia, “baptized” it and made it into Christmas, despite the fact that the Bible is totally silent on what time of year Jesus was born.) In the Yazidi religion we see elements of Islam (the five daily prayers), Judaism (Saturday as a day of rest and the names of the seven “angels”) and other ancient religions such as Zoroastrianism, the ancient religion of Persia.
Similarly, their beliefs contain echoes of other faiths. Yazidis believe in one God who is the creator of all. However, their God is a remote deity that has little to do with creation. Rather there are seven “angels” who are emanations of this God; this is a characteristic found in Gnosticism, another ancient religion of the region. Of these angels, the head is Melek Ta’us or the Peacock Angel. Melek Ta’us is responsible for the world and its inhabitants. Two beliefs about Melek Ta’us have proven fateful for Yazidis. Because he is responsible for everything that happens in creation, Melek Ta’us is the source of both good and evil. Even in the earliest parts of the Bible we see a struggle as to who or what the source of evil is (see 2 Samuel 17:14 God overturns the advice of Ahitophel because God wanted “to bring evil on Absalom.”)
In addition, Yazidis have a story about God creating humanity and asking the angels to bow down to Adam. A similar story appears in the Qur’an (2:35 and elsewhere). In Yazidi faith, Melek Ta’us refused to bow; in Islam, Iblis refused to bow. For Yazidis this was a sign of Melek Ta’us’ loyalty; for Muslims Iblis becomes identified with the Shaytan, “Satan.” Because of this, ISIS considers Yazidis devil worshippers worthy of death. While ISIS offers Christians a choice between conversion, paying the jizya tax, exile or death, the choice for the Yazidis is much starker: conversion to Islam or death.
Yazidis also have the interesting belief that, while they are descended from Adam, they are not descended from Eve but through a special creation. Thus they see themselves as unrelated to those tainted beings who are descendants of Adam through Eve.
The origins of the Yazidis and even their name are not clear. While they hold the second Umayyad Caliph, Yazid I (647-683) in high regard, it is not clear what role that plays in either their practice of the faith or their name. The Sufi leader ?Adi ibn Musafir (died 1162) also plays an important role in Yazidism and his tomb not far from Mosul is an important place of pilgrimage.
Yazidis have lived for centuries in the Kurdish parts of Iraq, Turkey, Syria and Iran. For the most part, they were ignored and left alone by the Muslim majority. In recent times, however, there has been increasing hostility towards them. It is estimated that there are between 200,000 and one million Yazidis in the world. Many have left the Middle East for Europe, Australia and parts of North America. With the brutal attacks by ISIS, the number of Yazidi refugees has understandably increased greatly.
The Yazidis are very much a part of CNEWA’s world — and we number many of them among those we serve. CNEWA is active in northern Iraq and has a clinic in the city of Dahuk in the Iraqi Province of Dahuk. Many Yazidis make use of the clinic as they try to get their lives back together and face a future that is not only uncertain, but possibly very bleak. If it is true that Christians face the possibility of extinction in the Middle East, Yazidis face the possibility of extinction in the entire world.
Religious Minorities in the East — Introduction