21 February 2017
In the video above, Iraqi refugees who have settled in Lebanon explain how persecution has strengthened their faith. (video: Rome Reports)
Troops advance on western Mosul (Al Jazeera) Iraqi forces advanced into the southern outskirts of Mosul on the second day of a push to drive ISIL from the city’s western half, as the visiting U.S. defense secretary met officials to discuss the fight against the armed group. With aerial support from the US-led coalition, Iraqi police and army troops launched the offensive on Sunday, part of a 100-day-old campaign that has already driven the fighters from the eastern half of the city...
Eastern Ukraine ceasefire begins (CNN) A ceasefire aimed at ending the bloody fight between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed separatists started Monday — but is already on shaky ground. The ceasefire is a renewed attempt to enforce the Minsk peace protocol — an agreement that has repeatedly failed since it was first partially implemented two years ago...
Some Copts seek asylum in Australia (ABC.net) Military vehicles run over Coptic protesters, dismembering and mangling 27 people in the worst massacre of Christians in the country’s history. Firebrand preachers shout incensed anti-Christian messages from the pulpit and mobs attack Coptic churches, businesses and homes. This is now a daily routine for Egypt’s Coptic Christians, the largest Christian minority in the Middle East...
Refugee family shares story of fleeing persecution (CNS) The Sharifs were living contentedly in Pakistan when life turned into a nightmare in 2012. An al Qaida-related group called BLA targeted Amir Sharif, a Catholic and a well-known professor at a university in Quetta. He was told to embrace Islam or leave the country...
More refugees looking to Canada for asylum (Catholic Register) Canada can expect to see more asylum seekers crossing its border with the United States as enforcement toughens at the U.S.-Mexican border and President Donald Trump continues to issue executive orders to restrain refugee arrivals, Catholic refugee advocates have told The Catholic Register...
16 February 2017
Host Derrick Fage, left, interviews CNEWA’s Carl Hétu on “Breakfast Television Montreal.”
(photo: from Breakfast Television Montreal)
CNEWA Canada’s national director, Carl Hétu, appeared on the popular Canadian program “Breakfast Television Montreal” earlier this week. He discussed some of the crises facing the world and sparking violence, particularly in the Middle East.
“Our world is going through a big transition right now,” he said. “Our world is facing great instability...when you don’t live in dignity, that’s part of the problem...you look for people to accuse.”
What can be done? “The world needs an infusion of love,” he explained. Check out the complete interview at this link.
16 February 2017
Tags: Middle East Christians CNEWA Persecution
A family poses inside their home in an Indian slum neighborhood served by the Sisters of the Destitute. To learn more, read ‘My Great Hope Is the Sisters’ in the current edition of ONE.
(photo: John Mathew)
15 February 2017
In this image from 2016, Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and Pope Francis meet at Jose Marti International Airport in Havana. Also pictured are Swiss Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, right, greeting Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, head of external relations for the Russian Orthodox Church.
(photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Chaldean Patriarchate condemns statements seeking revenge on Sunni Muslims (Fides) Mr. Ryan Salem — who yesterday appeared in a television program to assert that Iraqi Christians are also present in Mosul to fight and take revenge on Sunni Muslims — “has nothing to do with the Christ’s moral teachings, messenger of peace, love and forgiveness,” and cannot “make such statements involving Christians,” as it “does not represent them in any way” This is what the Chaldean Patriarchate said yesterday evening...
Catholic theologian urges closer ties with Russian Orthodox (CNS) A prominent Catholic ecumenist has urged a better understanding of the Russian Orthodox Church. “Those suspicious of the Russian Orthodox stance should go and see what’s happening,” said Barbara Hallensleben, a consultor with the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. “Of course, nationalist and ideological tendencies are always at work. But a lot of people in Russia are promoting Christianity — and by creating relations, we can strengthen church life and proclaim the faith with them,” said Hallensleben, who hosted anniversary commemorations of Pope Francis’ 2016 meeting with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill...
Displaced Syrians dream of return (Reuters) In Aleppo’s Jibreen shelter, home to refugees who have been unable or unwilling to return to their houses or flee further afield, the inhabitants of Qalayah, one of the villages from that area, swear they will one day recover their land. “We raised sheep and had land. We sold everything when we left. God willing we shall return. It’s our village, we can’t leave it,” said a lean man in his 40’s, traditional headdress worn over a long robe, who identified himself as Abu Mohammed...
How to tackle repetitive droughts in the Horn of Africa (Al Jazeera) Drought mitigation strategies in the Horn of Africa include both short-term approaches, such as distributing food to those affected and long-term approaches such as planting drought-tolerant crop varieties that can withstand insufficient rainfall, or diversifying one’s crop and income base so that there is something to fall back on when drought strikes...
U.S. diplomat says he expects Russia to meet its commitments on Ukraine (Reuters) U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Thursday that the United States was ready to work with Russia if it found common areas for cooperation, but said Moscow had to adhere to commitments made over Ukraine. “As we search for new common ground we expect Russia to honor its commitment to the Minsk agreements and work to de-escalate violence in Ukraine,” Tillerson told reporters after meeting with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov...
Kerala plans to attract Christians to ancient sites (UCANews.com) The southern Indian Kerala state government’s tourism department has initiated a plan to attract visitors to ancient Christian sites but church officials were irked that were not consulted...
15 February 2017
Tags: Syria Iraq Ukraine Ethiopia Russian Orthodox
Missak Baghboudarian, conductor of the Syrian National Symphony Orchestra, stands with Italian Catholic cathedral organist Eugenio Maria Fagiani during a 9 February performance at the Damascus Opera House. (photo: CNS/Ghyath Haboub)
A famed Italian Catholic cathedral organist is believed to have been the first Western musician to perform in Syria since the start of the civil war nearly six years ago.
“It has been awesome. It was something unbelievable,” Eugenio Maria Fagiani told Catholic News Service by phone of his recent performances in the Syrian capital, Damascus.
“It has been a great privilege to make music with people so passionate, so full of life and joy,” Fagiani said of the camaraderie shared with members of the Syrian National Symphony Orchestra and its maestro, Missak Baghboudarian.
Together they performed Joseph Jongen’s “Symphonie Concertante” and Camille Saint-Saens “Symphony No. 3” at the Damascus Opera House 9 February.
“I chose these pieces (because) they make people feel really joyful,” Fagiani said, remarking of the 1,100-person packed audience. The concert was recorded and is expected to be broadcast in Syria.
“I was welcomed by these colleagues with such a warm feeling that I will never forget,” the organist said of the experience. “This moment will be forever part of my heart.”
The following day, Fagiani played at St. Anthony’s Latin Church in Damascus, at the invitation of Cardinal Mario Zenari and the parish priest, Father Fadi. Both concerts initiated the first Syrian Pipe Organ Festival, sponsored by the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land.
A native of the northern Italian town of Bergamo, Fagiani is formidable in the world of international sacred organ music and is recognized for his composition and improvisation.
In Italy, he collaborates with the Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi and is also the cathedral organist in the town of Arezzo, especially playing services during which a bishop or archbishop presides. He regularly performs in Europe, the U.S. and Canada.
Initially, Fagiani was concerned about traveling to Syria, especially with its security situation as reported in the media. For that reason, he said, he did not inform his loved ones about the trip. But he soon discovered Damascus to be calm and quite tolerant, he told CNS. When he slipped into a large mosque for a visit, “nobody looked at me strangely,” he said.
“I walked easily in Damascus without any problems or danger. There are a lot of checkpoints, a lot control, but you feel safe in that way,” he added.
However, in other parts of Syria, government troops and rebel forces of various political stripes are engaged in heavy battles for the country’s future. The United Nations said the conflict has killed more than 300,000 people and displaced almost half of the Syrian population. The U.N. said another 600,000 people remain under siege by both by the Syrian military and rebel and jihadist groups.
Fagiani said he found that the devaluation of the Syrian currency coupled with high prices for fuel and other goods as well as electricity shortages have made life even for Syrians living in Damascus more difficult.
“This mission is bigger than us,” Fagiani said of the need to try to restore normalcy to ordinary Syrians. “The culture minister provided us with an extra two hours of electricity to ensure the concert at the church could happen.”
The concerts were co-sponsored by Syrian Culture Minister Mohammed Al-Ahmed, the Damascus Opera House and the Higher Institute of Music in Damascus.
Fagiani has also performed at various church-organized organ festivals, including in Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan. Last October, he played at the reopening and dedication of the Memorial of Moses at Mount Nebo, Jordan, the site where Moses is believed to have seen the Promised Land and died.
“The culture minister and Cardinal Zenari told me that the concerts were a big gift for them,” Fagiani said. “They’ve opened doors. I hope that others will follow in my steps.”
15 February 2017
Volunteers, many of them Muslim, help to repair a Chaldean church damaged by ISIS in Mosul.
Young Muslim volunteers help repair church in Mosul (Fides) About 30 young people, belonging to an organization of civilian volunteers, mostly Muslims, cleaned and tidied the Chaldean church dedicated to the Virgin Mary, in Drakziliya, in Mosul on the left bank of the Tigris River and now under the control of the Iraqi army...
Refugee camp teachers struggle to help displaced Syrian children (ABC.au) Refugee camp administrators say they fear for the future of Syria’s children as the civil war enters its sixth year. Many kids in refugee camps across Syria are learning to read and write in leaky tents with little more than tables and chairs for them to sit on...
Catholic group in India calls for release of kidnapped priest (Asia News) The All India Catholic Union (AICU), the largest lay Catholic organization in India, is calling on Prime Minister Narendra Modi to use his influence and that of his government to negotiate with the countries of the Middle East free the Rev. Tom Uzhunnalil, kidnapped in Yemen on 4 March 2016...
Russian Orthodox Church, Vatican to work closer on Christians’ persecution (Pravmir.com) The Russian Orthodox Church plans to strengthen its cooperation with Vatican on the issue of monitoring persecution of Christians in the Middle East and other regions, chairman of the Department of External Church Relations Metropolitan Hilarion said on Sunday...
East Africa food prices reach record highs due to drought (Reuters) Drought in East Africa has sent prices of staples such as maize and sorghum soaring, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said on Tuesday, warning that a sharp increase in food prices could lead to renewed hunger in the region. Prices of staple cereals have doubled in some markets, reaching record and near-record levels in swaths of Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Uganda and Tanzania, FAO said...
14 February 2017
Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan greets displaced Iraqis after the eucharistic liturgy in Erbil.
(photo: Paul Jeffrey)
One of the more energetic and visible advocates for CNEWA’s work among the persecuted and the poor has been the archbishop of New York, Cardinal Timothy Dolan. His support has been tireless and, indeed, heroic.
In his capacity as CNEWA’s chair, the cardinal has visited a number of regions we serve, to meet those who are facing challenges and difficulties far removed from his work in New York City.
Just last year, he traveled with CNEWA’s president Msgr. John E. Kozar and Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre to Erbil, where he met some of the Iraqi Christians who have been displaced by ISIS — men, women and children who have been literally running for their lives.
He spoke about that visit in an interview with the National Catholic Register:
What I saw was this blend of terrible sadness, and yet amazing charity and hope. Sadness, because these people who had come from Mosul or the plains of Nineveh — their families go back centuries and centuries, some to the time of St. Thomas the Apostle — had to abandon their homes in a couple of hours’ notice and couldn’t bring anything. They brought their children, obviously, and they brought their elders. The priests and nuns accompanied them on the [10-hour] walk, and they made it safely there. All these people want to do is go back home.
What’s hopeful is that they still have an extraordinarily vivid faith — their resilience is nothing less than profound. What’s moving as well is the remarkable charity and hospitality with which the Christians of Kurdistan have welcomed them.
So, we toured a number of camps. There would be thousands of these people in the refugee camps, which are actually rather secure and safe and where the local Christians have opened up schools, medical dispensaries and pharmacies. The people there will be the first to say that they are well taken care of — so, thanks be to God — because of a lot of international Christian support, and, yes, some support from the Kurdistan government and the Iraqi government.
At least they have these secure makeshift caravans, which we would call “trailers,” to live in. And the camp seems to be secure, and their needs and health and food are taken care of, as well as the education of their children. So the charity that has been shown them is remarkable.
Last summer, ONE published a photo essay, chronicling the cardinal’s visit. As we noted then:
“Pope Francis keeps saying that we priests must be with our people,” Cardinal Dolan said in his meeting with seminarians. “We just came from a refugee camp where we met a priest who slept outside on his mattress because he said he couldn’t sleep inside if his people were outside.
“We’ve met with sisters and priests who walked with the people from Mosul as they were fleeing. That’s the model of the priesthood. That’s Jesus: To be with our people all the time, to be especially close to your people in the difficult times.”
That closeness to people is emblematic of Cardinal Dolan’s priesthood. And again and again during that visit, it was striking to see how eagerly he embraced those he met — and how joyfully the people in the camps reached out to embrace him and make him feel welcome. In the true spirit of CNEWA, he seeks to accompany others in their struggles, sorrows and hopes.
When the Register asked what spiritual lessons he took from his trip, he offered an answer that beautifully encapsulates so much of CNEWA’s own mission:
We learn, first of all, that our faith is indeed as Jesus said: our “pearl of great price.” We tend to take it for granted, but these are people who literally have lost everything, rather than give up their faith. So, first of all, we learned the primacy of faith. We learned that we need to ask ourselves: Are we prepared to live our faith in such a way as we are ready to die for it? Because these people are. They will give up anything but their faith. As one lady said, “They can’t take our faith away from us.”
No. 2, we learn the importance of solidarity. This is the lesson of St. Paul in Corinthians come alive: When one member of the body suffers, all suffer. So we are suffering with them, and we cannot be callous to their suffering. So that solidarity is a second lesson.
Thirdly, we learn the importance of hospitality and charity, in that, even though it’s a long-range hospitality, we’re all at home in the Church. I said to them, “You know I don’t understand your language, we look different from you, we have come from a nation far, far away — and yet, I feel at home with you, because we are members of the household of the faith, and we are one.”
14 February 2017
Two young men take a break in the wood workshop of Caritas Georgia. To learn more about the skills being developed at Caritas, read A Letter from Georgia in the current edition of ONE.
(photo: Antonio di Vico)
14 February 2017
Members of Free Syrian Army encounter a flock of sheep in Aleppo during ‘Operation Euphrates Shield’ on 10 February 2017. A study released Monday says Syrian helicopters dumped banned chemical weapons on residential areas of Aleppo last year.
(photo: Muhammed Nour/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Holy See calls to protect civilians from terrorist attacks (Vatican Radio) The Holy See’s Permanent Observer to the United Nations, Archbishop Bernardito Auza, on Monday said “it is the obligation of the international community, in accord with the U.N. Charter, to protect civilians and their critical infrastructure from the brutality and barbarity of terrorist groups...”
Report: Syria used chemical attacks in Aleppo (The New York Times) Syrian military helicopters systematically dumped canisters of chlorine gas, a banned weapon, on residential areas of Aleppo at least eight times late last year in the final weeks of the battle to retake the city from rebels, Human Rights Watch said in a detailed study released Monday...
ISIS counterattacks as Iraqi forces prepare for Mosul push (AP) The Iraqi army has been moving troops around Mosul ahead of an expected push to retake its western half from the Islamic State group in the final decisive battle for the city, a commander said Tuesday. “We are preparing ... to launch a big operation in order to liberate the rest of Mosul,” said Brig. Walid Khalifa, deputy commander of the Iraqi Army’s 9th Division...
Hardliner elected new leader of Hamas in Gaza (Al Jazeera) Gaza’s ruling Hamas movement has chosen Yahya Sinwar, freed in a 2011 prisoner swap with Israel after more than 20 years in jail, as its new chief in the Palestinian enclave following an internal election, sources close to the group said. Sinwar will be a key decision-maker for Hamas and a member of the executive leadership that draws up policies, including towards Israel...
Violence flares in Ukraine (The Guardian) Since the war started in 2014 more than 300 shells have fallen on the grounds of the factory, the largest coking plant in Europe, which sits on Ukrainian-controlled territory just a few miles from the frontline with Russia-backed separatists. The big guns have been mercifully quiet for months, but the past fortnight has seen a new flurry of violence, linked in Kiev to a Russia apparently newly emboldened by the election of Donald Trump in the U.S...
Archeologists plan to excavate site linked to Ark of the Covenant (Times of Israel) One of the few remaining unstudied major biblical sites, where according to the Bible the Ark of the Covenant was kept for two decades, will be excavated by archaeologists this summer for the first time. Organizers hope the anticipated study of Kiryat Ye’arim (also transliterated as Kiriath Jearim) will shed light on the site’s significance during the Iron Age, the period associated with the biblical account of King David...
13 February 2017
Students walk around during recess breaks at the Shashemene School. (photo: Petterik Wiggers)
This morning, we received an email our regional director in Ethiopia, Argaw Fantu, with some welcome news about an institution CNEWA has long supported, the Shashemene School for the Blind.
He included a report from Sister Ashrita, one of three Franciscan Sisters of St. Mary of the Angels who run at the school. As she put it in the first paragraph of her report, “With the support of people of goodwill, we strive to share with the poor the love that God has for all giving our children a sense of hope and belonging.”
Among the highlights she mentioned:
During the past year, we had enrolled 96 students in the Residential School. (46 girls and 50 boys) from Grade 1 to Grade 6. In addition we had about 50 students in high school and college level who received support. The newcomers included some exceptional cases. Two girls whose mental capacity was very low had to be trained with all the basic day-to-day activities. Slowly they are trying to do things on their own. We have a new store keeper, and for the coming year we will have an academic director and other new staff.
After several trips to Addis Ababa, we managed to get some Braille text books in English and Civics. One can imagine how delighted the children were to run their fingers though the pages of their new books.
...Woletebihan Wolde, the boys’ child care taker, retired after 35 years of dedicated services. As a token of our appreciation for her services the administration and the staff gave her a loving farewell. Thank you and God bless you, Woletebirhan!
...We look with joy to those who completed their studies and are ready to take up a job. There are four with diplomas from teacher training colleges and six with degrees from Addis Ababa and Awassa University. Meanwhile there are new entries into institutions of higher learning, giving us fresh hope. These will take four or five years before they can take up a career. The Government is accepting and employing the blind, when they are qualified, respecting their rights and giving them equal opportunities. It is amazing to see how the blind make their way through life. “I can do all things in Him, who strengthens me.” These words of St. Paul can very well be applied to them.
To learn more about the school and its wonderful work, visit this link. And to discover how you can support the school’s mission, visit this giving page.