1 August 2017
In the video above, a priest from Mosul explains how families have been keeping the faith during the long siege by ISIS and the battle to liberate the city. (video: Rome Reports/YouTube)
In Mosul, revealing the last ISIS stronghold (The New York Times) Days after the Iraqi government officially declared victory over the Islamic State in Mosul in July, the fighting was far from over. Roughly the size of a block in Manhattan, the last ISIS holdout of the Old City did not seem like the kind of place where anyone could still be alive after weeks of brutal combat. But a few such areas kept up the fight for days. And — horribly, amazingly — civilians were still being pulled out. What we saw as we went step by step with the Iraqi forces here made their survival seem even more miraculous...
Report: U.S. proposes arming Ukraine (The New York Times) The Pentagon and State Department have proposed to the White House a plan to supply Ukraine with anti-tank missiles and other arms, according to Defense Department officials. The proposed transfer — which also would include antiaircraft arms that would be defined as defensive weaponry — comes as fighting between Ukrainian troops and Russian-backed separatists has increased in recent days, and the United States is taking steps to deter aggressive military actions by Moscow...
After 150 years, a baptism takes place in Turkish province (DailySabah.com) Baptism ceremony has taken place at a chapel located near the ancient Temple of Apollo in Turkey’s southwestern Aydin province for the first time after 150 years. According to reports, the son of Assyrian businessman Enlil Simon Afram was baptized at the 300-year-old chapel, located in Aydin’s Didim district. The Metropolitan Bishop of Mardin and Diyarbakir Saliba Özmen performed the baptism...
Mosul musicians emerge from the shadows (Al Jazeera) Iraqi forces continue to root out the last remaining pockets of ISIL fighters in Mosul. But rebuilding the city and allowing people to return to their old lives is now the main priority. Musicians who lived under ISIL rule had to keep their profession a secret or face severe punishment...
31 July 2017
Many Iraqis living in settlement camps in Erbil have been displaced from home, community and even family for years. But reports today indicate some are finally beginning to return home. Read about their plight in the current edition of ONE. (photo: John E. Kozar)
31 July 2017
As the fighting is coming to an end, West Mosul is slowly coming back to life and students, such as those shown here, are returning to schools that are slowly reopening. Iraq reports
250,000 people have returned to the Nineveh Plain in recent weeks.
(photo: Noe Falk Nielsen/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Iraq: 250,000 have returned to homes in Nineveh (Fides) The Iraqi Ministry for Migration and Internal Mobility reported that more than 250,000 people have returned to their respective areas of origin in the Nineveh Province, who had to leave when those regions had been occupied or threatened by jihadist militias of the Islamic State...
Russia stages military parade in Syria (The New York Times) Russia’s global military ambition was on display Sunday when the country celebrated Navy Day with large military parades not only in St. Petersburg, but also off the coast of Syria. The parades of ships, submarines and aircraft were held at Russian naval bases in Sevastopol, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014, and at Tartus in Syria, where Russia is expanding its military presence...
Cardinal Parolin to visit Moscow (Vatican Radio) The Holy See has confirmed that the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, will travel to Moscow in September. Parolin’s journey to Russia comes in the wake of his visits to Belarus and to Ukraine in the past two years signaling the Vatican’s continuing engagement with eastern Europe and its desire to continue supporting the Christians in the region...
Thousands poised to leave Lebanon-Syria border zone (Times of Oman) Convoys of buses arrived on Monday to transfer thousands of Syrian militants and refugees from Lebanon’s border region into rebel territory in Syria in exchange for Hezbollah prisoners. Under a local ceasefire between the militants and the Hezbollah, about 9,000 fighters and their relatives were to leave on Monday, a Hezbollah media unit said earlier...
Children continue to swim as raw sewage floods Gaza beach (The Guardian) While pollution of Gaza’s 25 miles of beaches is not new, what is different is the degree. These days, according to the last environmental survey, 73 percent of Gaza’s coastline is dangerously polluted with sewage amid an energy crisis that is now also affecting Israel across the border wall, sharply up from 40-50 percent a year ago...
Four years later, still no word of priest kidnapped in Syria (Crux) In late July 2013, when Italian Jesuit Father Paolo Dall’Oglio entered a “rebel” territory of Syria, at the time under siege by the Islamic State, he knew something could happen. He want to Raqqa anyway, in hopes of brokering a deal for the release of kidnap victims. As it turns out, he himself was kidnapped on the 29th. No one has heard of him since...
28 July 2017
A Byzantine Catholic parish in Ohio is drawing on its tradition and faith to post messages on a local billboard. The billboard reads, “Life is tough. We are praying for you.”
(photo: CNS/courtesy of St. Nicholas Byzantine Catholic Parish)
A glance, a thought, a prayer are what St. Nicholas Byzantine Catholic Parish had
hoped to inspire in commuters when it launched its first billboard campaign in 2015.
Now the parish, situated in Barberton, Ohio, has launched its sixth billboard campaign, with the message: “Life is tough. We are praying for you.”
The parish wants to communicate its prayerful presence and solidarity with community members in the midst of their daily struggles, said the pastor, Father Miron Kerul-Kmec.
A banner that measures 8 feet by 14 feet was hoisted up onto the side of the church building in mid-May, and since early July, an 8-foot-by-20-foot billboard has graced a busy intersection nearby. It will have an eight-week run.
“A billboard with a Christian message, if done correctly, has power,” said the pastor. “The church’s message on a billboard is not a product like any other.”
He gave the example of a previous campaign, which featured the prayer, “Lord, have mercy.”
“If a small percentage of people who passed by were encouraged to say this short prayer, it’s great and the world became a better place for this,” he said. “It is something small that can change your thoughts and bring you to something better.”
The new billboard is the communications component of the parish’s yearlong pastoral program, which will include catechesis on the Byzantine Catholic Divine Liturgy and prayer.
“Prayers are a very powerful tool for how to change your life,” he said. “There is a need to refresh our understanding of prayer. We can use this prayer which is given to us, the Divine Liturgy. We want to remind our faithful how precious the Diving Liturgy is. We pray for the whole world there.”
The parish belongs to the Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Parma, Ohio, and the idea of using advertising first came up in discussions among parishioners about the eparchy-wide pastoral plan. They decided advertising would help meet one of the parish objectives of “bringing Christian thought to people,” said the pastor.
All of the billboards draw on the Byzantine Catholic tradition and practice of the faith.
Parishioners opted for billboards over other media because, unlike radio and television where one can change the channel, a billboard “is something you cannot avoid,” he told Horizons, the eparchy’s newspaper.
“You drive this way every day to work and every day it is a reminder,” he said.
Cost was another factor. Father Kerul-Kmec said he was surprised by the relatively low costs. A four-week campaign at a location that receives 8,000 looks per week was priced at $500; the parish has contracted for eight weeks for each campaign.
The billboards were designed pro bono by parishioner Kurt Valenta, creative director for Advance Ohio, the marketing arm for cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer, Cleveland’s daily newspaper.
“If you want to touch the community, what better way than to put a billboard in the heart of it,” said Valenta, who has worked in advertising for 33 years. He pointed to market research that indicates the efficacy of outdoor advertising.
Commuters may not pay much mind to the billboard the first few times they drive by, but eventually “the repetition makes people think,” he said. He added he would counsel parishes against online banner ads, which can be very expensive.
Father Kerul-Kmec said the response to the billboards has been “satisfying” to date.
He said a commuter called him one night at 11 p.m. to tell him that he was “deeply touched” by the Christmas billboard campaign. Father Kerul-Kmec has also received positive feedback from guests at the soup kitchen where he and parishioners serve lunch regularly. Others have said the billboards are “refreshing” and that “the road looks better now,” he added.
“If people would come to (our) church that would be great,” he said. “But the point is to bring the remembrance of God to people. If people were touched and went to their own church, it’s OK. It is not the intention to pull people to our parish, but just to send the Christian message to the world and to let people know that we are here.”
“Even if one person is touched by this, it is worth it,” he said.
Valenta said he believes participating in advertising presents “no ethical dilemma whatsoever” for the church.
“We are bombarded by messages every day... and the church needs to get the word out. You need to be proactive or you’re not a player,” he said. “We need to be there.”
28 July 2017
Workers unload supplies of medicine from trucks of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent near Damascus. The United Nations has delivered aid to only a few areas in Syria this month.
(photo: Samer Bouidani/NurPhoto/Getty Images)
UN struggles to deliver humanitarian aid to Syria (Al Jazeera) The United Nations has delivered aid to only a few hard-to-reach areas in Syria and not a single besieged location this month, a senior UN humanitarian official said on Thursday. Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Ursula Mueller told the UN Security Council in a video briefing from Amman, Jordan, that there have been no UN aid convoys to besieged areas in July and just one a week to hard-to-reach areas, meaning just over 120,000 people got help this month...
Catholic charities wants migrant stories to be heard (Vatican Radio) No matter the position one takes on national migration policy, Pope Francis, Caritas Internationalis and national Catholic charities across the globe want Catholics to meet a migrant or refugee and listen to his or her story...
Cardinal: Russia and West must settle differences for peace (CNS) Peace and an end to violent conflicts around the world should be placed above any national interests when it comes to the relationship between Western countries and Russia, Cardinal Pietro Parolin said...
Egypt sets up national council to combat terror (AFP) Egypt has created a “national council” to combat the rise of Islamist “terrorism” which has targeted its security forces and Coptic Christian minority, in a presidential decree issued on Wednesday. The decree, published in Egypt’s official gazette, sets up a “national council to combat terrorism and extremism” by adopting a “global national strategy”...
Zaatari: the ‘temporary’ shelter that has become Jordan’s fourth largest city (ABC.net.au) About 80,000 Syrians live here, and as far as refugee camps go, aid groups say Zaatari is the gold standard. There’s a bustling main market that smells strongly like the flat bread baking in wood ovens inside shops. Gold traders jostle for business with bridal wear shops and fresh fruit and vegetables are laid out for the choosing. Zaatari isn’t like the other camps though — many don’t allow commerce or small businesses, and don’t have as many aid programs offering such comprehensive support...
Iraq’s unsung culinary queen (Al Jazeera) Her previously out-of-print cookbook, which found its way into the nation’s heart 52 years ago, went back into circulation this year for the 18th time, with just 400 copies printed and distributed. The first edition has been upgraded with glossy pages showcasing Iraq’s time-tested recipes and dishes from the wider region. Adib and coauthor Firdous al-Mukhtar have been described as the first women to grant Iraqi cuisine its rightful place in history...
27 July 2017
In this image from last year, Christian worshippers pray at Sayydet al-Niyah Church in Damascus, Syria. Centuries before Christianity took root in Europe, it was flourishing in Syria and other countries to the East. (photo: CNS/Youssef Badawi, EPA)
Recently we have been hearing that Christianity risks extinction in the Middle East, the region often described as the “cradle of Christianity.” While Christians in the West lament the possible extinction of Christians in the East, the attitude is often “well, there never were a lot of Christians there any way.”
Each of us sees reality through a very local lens. It often seems as if the unspoken attitude among Western Christians is that, after the Ascension of Jesus, the Apostles got together, Peter decided to go to Rome and the other 11 went into assisted living. The conclusion: from the very beginning Christianity was a European phenomenon.
In fact, nothing could be further than the truth.
For at least the first 500 years of Christianity, most Christians lived east of the Mediterranean in what was then known as Syria and Mesopotamia. Many might be surprised to learn that the Church of the East, often referred to as “Nestorian,” was in China before Christianity reached Denmark and the Slavic countries. When Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne on Christmas Day in the year 800, Timothy of the Church of the East was a metropolitan archbishop in Tibet. Middle Eastern Christians were in India and China 1,000 years before the arrival of St. Francis Xavier (who died in 1552).
The region known as Mesopotamia stretched from the Mediterranean east, all the way to the
Persian Gulf. (photo: Wikipedia)
The Christian presence in the East, from the early days, was fairly extensive. For several centuries after the Muslim conquest of the Middle East (in the seventh century), Christians formed a majority of the population in the two Islamic caliphates. In the first caliphate, the Umayyad (661-750), Christians played a major role in the government. St. John Damascene (ca. 675-749) came from a family of Christian civil servants in the caliphate at Damascus.
There were and remain several different Christian churches in the Middle East, both Orthodox and Catholic, tracing their roots back to the time of the Apostles. Some of the ancient churches of the Middle East had great centers of theological learning like Edessa and Nisibis (respectively Sanliurfa and Nusaybin in modern Turkey). The university in Nisibis antedated the earliest universities in Europe by over 500 years.
One of the interesting characteristics of Middle Eastern theology is that, while Western Christians often used creeds to express their faith, the preferred medium for expressing faith in Middle Eastern Christianity was hymns and poetry. Thus, St. Ephrem the Syrian, one of the great biblical scholars and theologians of both the Western and Eastern churches, left behind not summas, like Aquinas and others, but rather huge volumes of hymns and poetry.
Over the next three weeks, we will look at 2,000 years of Christianity in Syria and Mesopotamia and how these ancient and most interesting churches were founded, flourished and ultimately began to decline; in places where they were once the majority, they are now small minorities, often well under 10 percent.
We hope to help readers not only understand just who these Christians are, but also why their survival is critical to Christians everywhere.
27 July 2017
Young people clap during the World Maronite Youth Days 19 July in Beirut. The event, organized by the Maronite Patriarchate Youth Pastoral Office, followed the World Youth Day model.
(photo: CNS/Johnny Antoun)
They came from around the world, from Australia, South America, Europe and the United States. Some came from Africa, and some from nearby countries in the Middle East.
They clapped and ululated, creating a celebratory atmosphere as nearly 500 young people from other countries joined 1,000 Maronite Catholic youths from Lebanon for World Maronite Youth Days.
Some participants came with a durbakke, a popular Lebanese hand drum, to accent the mood with a rhythmic beat. When a troupe of folk dancers performed the traditional dabke dance, many youths rushed from their seats to form snakes on the perimeter of the seating area, hands joined for the step-and-stomp line dance. Even nuns joined in.
“Everyone is singing songs, outwardly praising,” said Michel Kahwajy, 24, a Maronite Catholic from Richmond, Virginia.
“Meeting people that are my age that are passionate about their Maronite faith, that’s been a really moving thing for me,” he told Catholic News Service.
Although “America is a little bit more diverse ... being a ‘melting pot’ that it is, life is built more around religion here (in Lebanon),” Kahwajy said.
Archbishop Gabriele Caccia, the Vatican nuncio to Lebanon, welcomed the people “with great love” and told them “Pope Francis is among you and encourages you all.” Each participant received the Gospel of Luke in booklet form, a gift from the pope, and the nuncio urged them “to be a living Gospel.”
The World Maronite Youth Days ran 15-25 July. Pilgrims stayed with host families throughout Lebanon’s 13 Maronite eparchies, or dioceses, for the first few days to experience the day-to-day culture and spiritual life in a Lebanese Maronite Catholic parish. Later, monasteries and convents hosted the youth.
Young people gather for an evening event at the World Maronite Youth Days July 19 in Beirut.
(photo: CNS/Johnny Antoun)
Each morning began with Mass, prayers, catechesis and discussion groups. The youth also visited holy sites of Lebanon, including the tomb of St. Charbel, and they trekked through the forest of the famous Cedars of God (Horsh Arz el-Rab), cited 103 times in the Bible.
“Despite differences of culture and language, we are bridge builders,” said Father Toufic Bou Hadir, coordinator of the youth pastoral ministry for the Maronite Patriarchate. He told the young people: “In the face of terrorism, violence and conflicts, let’s say: ‘We are strong and courageous.’”
“It changed me a lot, this experience, sharing with a lot of young people, (who are) different, but with the same belief,” 18-year-old Ismael Azar of Buenos Aires, Argentina, told CNS. Even during times of fun, Azar noted, “it’s a spiritual moment too, because the climate of the event is very spiritual.”
“What I’m bringing back to Argentina,” Azar said, “is a lot of (new) friends that treat us like a family,” and a mission “to bring Jesus to the others.”
Sandy Agob, 23, said she and 13 others from the area around Aleppo, Syria, were “trying to stay happy, and that’s why we are here to celebrate with the Maronites, although there are bombs and problems in Syria.”
Agob said she appreciated the fellowship aspect of the event.
“We should stay strong even if all the situation is against us. We need to stay together, all the Christians in the world,” she said.
Watch a video of the event below.
27 July 2017
Kidist Kassahun studies in her room in Dubbo, Ethiopia, near her prayer corner. To learn about how Catholic schools there are succeeding, read Head of the Class in the current edition of ONE.
(photo: Petterik Wiggers)
27 July 2017
A destroyed building is seen in Mosul, Iraq, on 24 July. (photo: CNS/Stringer, EPA)
The hunt for the missing in Mosul (AFP) In Mosul, the missing are everywhere, their families hunting through the ruined Iraqi city for traces of lost husbands and wives, parents and children, brothers and sisters...
Gaza power-sharing deal moves ahead (AP) Lawmakers from Hamas and those affiliated with a former Gaza strongman have met for the first time in a decade in Gaza’s parliament building...
Ethiopia’s model drought defenses are put to the test (Christian Science Monitor) If Ethiopia was once the world’s poster child for drought mismanagement, it is now the regional model for early warning and nimble response. As two of the worst droughts in recorded history have swept across the country, a muscular, government-led reaction has driven back the crisis to mostly manageable levels — even as in neighboring South Sudan and Somalia, the same weather conditions have brought populations to the edge of famine...
India’s first Dalit president given a second Christian burial (OutlookIndia.com) A part of the ashes of India’s first Dalit President KR Narayanan, who was cremated on the banks Yamuna following Hindu rituals, was given a second Christian burial, admits his daughter Chitra Narayanan. There was kerfuffle over the discovery of a tomb in cemetery exclusively for Christians in the name of former president KR Narayanan, who was born into a Hindu Dalit family in Uzhavoor village in Kerala and remained so officially until he died on 9 November 2005...
Pushing the boundaries with icons (KALW) In the Russian Orthodox Church, art is much more than just decoration. Small, elaborate paintings known as icons portray Christianity’s most famous persons, and are used as tools for prayer. Today, a number of artists who are neither Russian nor Russian Orthodox are nonetheless pushing the boundaries of this religious art form...
26 July 2017
In this image from April, people from Mosul, Iraq, raise a wooden cross near St. Georges Monastery. (photo: CNS/Omar Alhayali, EPA)
CNEWA Canada’s national director, Carl Hétu published some thoughts recently on the future for Christians in Iraq, after the defeat of ISIS:
The reign of the Islamic State (Daesh) has come to an end in Iraq and it is losing ground in neighboring Syria. Iraqis, with an international coalition supporting them, have finally succeeded in uniting against a common enemy that has caused so much suffering, in particular to Iraq's Christian and Yazidi communities.
What happens now in Iraq? There seems to be no reconciliation in sight between the Shi’ite-led government and Sunnis who led the country under Saddam Hussein. Further north, the Kurds in Iraqi Kurdistan have clearly expressed their intention for more autonomy — even separation from Baghdad if they have to. The Iraqi central government has already indicated its opposition to such an idea — threatening force to repress any such movement.
Minority groups would be the biggest losers if a new civil war breaks out. Christians have found themselves unprotected and mistreated (threats, kidnappings, torture, assassinations) over the past 14 years in Iraq. While there were some 1.5 million Christians in Iraq in 2003, barely 250,000 remain today — half of whom were forcibly displaced by Daesh in 2014. The vast majority are displaced, living in Iraqi Kurdistan. In three years, some 40,000 have left for Jordan and Lebanon and for the promise of passage to Australia, Europe or Canada.
Iraq’s Christians were once recognized for nurturing excellent relations with other ethnic and religious groups within the country. Entrepreneurially driven, they have been important contributors to the country’s socio-economic development, creating jobs, and establishing effective social services and health-care institutions that provide assistance to the most disadvantaged, regardless of religion. For those who remain, a majority do not see a return to Mosul or the Nineveh Plains as a solution for fear of political and economic instability. Thus, without its Christians, Iraq now faces an enormous brain drain and shortage of qualified labor.
Should armed conflict erupt, the Christian presence in Iraq would suffer yet another blow. Peace, which to some eyes seems within reach, is the only way to save what remains of this ancient community. If members of the international coalition were to invest the same energy and resources as used in their mission to help neutralize Daesh, the country could finally achieve the stability that it desperately needs.
Read more at the Huffington Post.