20 December 2016
Tourists walk past a large Santa Claus on 17 December near the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem.
(photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)
20 December 2016
A Syrian child, who was among the people evacuated, flashes the victory sign upon arriving 19 December at a temporary housing center in the countryside outside Aleppo. (photo: CNS/EPA)
Pope Francis pleads for end to “homicidal madness” of terrorism (CNA) What are being called two major acts of terrorism in just the past 24 hours have prompted Pope Francis to again beg for an even stronger commitment to putting such bloody attacks, which have marred many parts of the world over the past 18 months, to an end. “Pope Francis unites to all men and women of good will who commit so that the homicidal madness of terrorism no longer finds space in our world,” a 20 December telegram from the Vatican read...
Aid agencies race against time in Aleppo (Vatican Radio) Tens of thousands of people have fled eastern Aleppo city in the past weeks, seeking safety and protection. However, their new reality could be bleak if they aren’t properly equipped for winter, as temperatures are low and will dip to –5 degrees Celsius at night in the coming days...
Father Murad: reconciliation in Syria will take a long time (Fides) While the evacuation of the population from the east districts of Aleppo controlled for years by rebel militias continue with great difficulty, the Rev. Jacques Murad, Syrian monk of the Deir Mar Musa Community, in a statement issued to Agenzia Fides said that a possible authentic reconciliation will take a long time. “The victims of violence in Syria are all Syrians, Muslims and Christians. And the poor are those who suffer most, those who have not had a chance to escape...”
Iraq unable to treat huge numbers of wounded (The Washington Post) Doctors in an array of medical facilities around Mosul — including military-run field clinics and mobile treatment centers — are struggling to keep up with demand as the offensive against the Islamic State grinds on. As Iraqi forces have pressed deeper into crowded neighborhoods, more than a third of the civilians fleeing require trauma care, a significantly higher proportion than international health experts have seen in other conflicts...
Nuncio to Ukraine brings greetings from the pope (Vatican Radio) The Apostolic Nuncio in Ukraine, Archbishop Claudio Gugerotti, visited the Catholic communities of both the Greek and the Latin rites in Donetsk and Luhansk from 16 to 18 December 2016. It is customary for the Nuncio to visit different communities on the eve of major religious holidays to convey the greetings and blessing of Pope Francis...
CRS board chair wants to share agency’s work more widely (CNS) The humanitarian work of Catholic Relief Services and its partner agencies directed toward refugees in the Middle East deserves far more attention than it has received and Maronite Bishop Gregory J. Mansour says it’s time Catholics in the pew know about it. The work of feeding, sheltering and providing health care for hundreds of thousands of people who have trekked to safety in Jordan and Lebanon from Iraq and Syria is a story that the mainstream media largely has ignored, much to the chagrin of Bishop Mansour, the incoming chairman of the board at CRS...
India’s ancient Christmas tradition (News India Times) Christmas is celebrated by Indians the world over not just as the more visible manifestation of the Hollywood, mass-produced version, but also as an ancient festival with indigenous Indian traditions...
19 December 2016
Syrians try to get warm as they wait to be evacuated from the east part of Aleppo on 19 December 2016. Temperatures have dropped below freezing in the region.
(photo: Aref Watad/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Editor’s note: we received the following email this morning from Michel Constantin, CNEWA’s regional director in Beirut, who has been in touch with our partners on the ground in Syria. He offers the latest information we have on what is happening in Aleppo.
The humanitarian situation is catastrophic; the weather is extremely cold. Over 15,000 people had gathered in a square in east Aleppo on Sunday for buses to take them to rebel-held areas outside the city. Many had spent the night sleeping in the streets in freezing temperatures. In the evenings, it can go to –5C [23 Fahrenheit]. They have access to very little food, fuel, water and medical supplies. The situation on the ground remains grim as people wait.
As for the Christian communities (which are in west Aleppo, in the areas primarily controlled by the Syrian army): they find themselves in a better security situation because combat and military activities have been reduced.
During the last few weeks, the situation of the Christians in Aleppo has been extremely difficult. Some convents were directly hit with shelling. At present the families are in great need for heating fuel and food.
With our partners on the ground, CNEWA is trying hard to support the neediest fragile families with emergency supplies, especially providing 2,000 children with milk components every month through the Marist brothers. We are also providing medical support through the Maronite Archdiocese of Aleppo and the Saint Vincent de Paul association.
At present, we are expecting some direct funds to help the neediest families before Christmas; we are working with the Besançon Sisters to try and keep some 750 families warm.
Of course, all of what we do is not enough. Any emergency donation should be directed to accompany the poor families through the harsh winter with winterization items.
To support the suffering people of Syria during this difficult time, please visit this link.
19 December 2016
Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, gestures during a news conference in September. Appointed in June, he spoke with journalists on Monday 19 December after releasing his first Christmas message.
(photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)
Except for specific incidents in Egypt and one in Libya, Christians in the Middle East are suffering the same fate as their fellow citizens, Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, told media in response to a journalist’s question at his first Christmas news conference.
Because of the political chaos and the destruction of parish records, there are no statistics of how many Christians have been killed in the conflicts, he said, but the numbers of Christians who have been killed because they are Christian is low.
Thousands of Christians have been killed as victims of war just like others in the region, he said.
Nevertheless, Christians have remained strong in their witness to their faith, Archbishop Pizzaballa added.
The archbishop, appointed in June, released his first Christmas message, followed by the news conference, on 19 December. In his message, he said Advent and Christmas are times to “prepare for God’s surprises” and to remember the “incredible gift” with which God surprised humanity.
“We need God’s surprises. With these surprises God opens up the horizon and brings the novelty that can change our world and our lives,” Archbishop Pizzaballa said.
He also blamed the Mideast violence on the arms trade, power interests and “relentless fundamentalism.”
“The situation of Christians in Syria, Iraq and Egypt is a complete tragedy. In these countries, (the) cradle of our civilization, the vicious cycle of violence which is at work seems hopeless and endless,” he said in the message. “Wars and the way of force have not been able to bring peace and justice; it only brought more violence, death and destruction.”
He told journalists at the news conference: “The images of Aleppo we see in front of our eyes are shocking. ...Those who are suffering the price of this abnormal tragedy are the people.”
While the Holy Land is not facing such an extreme situation as in the rest of the region, Christians have still had to confront several cases of vandalism of church property, the construction of the Israeli separation barrier in the Cremisan Valley on property belonging to dozens of Christian families and unresolved budgetary issues regarding Christian schools, said Archbishop Pizzaballa.
In response to a journalist’s question, Archbishop Pizzaballa noted that the tiny Christian community in Gaza, numbering 1,000 people, is also facing the same difficulties all Gazans face living inside the enclave as “one big prison.” In addition to the political and military role they play in Gaza, Hamas is also an Islamic religious movement, and its fundamentalist religious pressure is felt strongly by the Christian community, he said.
He also noted that, in Jordan, the patriarchate has welcomed thousands of refugees: With a population of 7 million, the country has taken in 3 million refugees, he said.
In addition, in Israel the patriarchate has also taken on the responsibility of administering to some of the needs of a smaller refugee community.
Commenting on an 18 December terrorist attack in the Jordanian city of Karak, where a police standoff with gunmen at a Crusader castle left 10 people dead, including a Canadian tourist, Archbishop Pizzaballa said he hopes this was an isolated incident and that he is “confident authorities in Jordan are doing their best to isolate all ideological movements.”
Throughout the region, the church and Christian charities have a presence, and one concrete way Christians can help is to financially support these groups in their work, Archbishop Pizzaballa said, adding that there do not seem to be any serious political attempts to resolve the conflicts.
“The circumstances are not always easy, and we know ... we have to talk of justice and mercy, but sometimes in front of these tragedies it seems like slogans, and people are tired of slogans with no change,” he added.
The archbishop also said education is essential to combating all cases of extremism.
“We have our part of responsibility in those devastating tragedies: We cannot continue to only speak about dialogue, justice and peace. Words are not enough. We must combat poverty and injustice, and give a continual testimony of mercy to reveal to the world the love and tenderness of our God,” he said in his message.
Despite all of the tragedies, Christians must have hope, he said in the message.
“This hope is the light that is continually guiding us among the darkness and confusion of this region and of the whole world. Our broken hearts should be ready for surprises. And Christmas is actually the time to renew our faith in the God of surprises as we go to Bethlehem to venerate an apparently powerless God: The child Jesus,” Archbishop Pizzaballa said. “In our prayers, we are and we will continually carry this wounded world.”
19 December 2016
In this image from December 2011, CNEWA’s president Msgr. John E. Kozar meets with children of Blessed Sacrament Orphanage in Ain Warka, Lebanon. You can read more about that memorable visit here. (photo: CNEWA)
19 December 2016
Civilians from the remaining rebel-held pockets of eastern Aleppo are evacuated from the embattled city by bus on 19 December 2016. (photo: George Ourfalian/AFP/Getty Images)
Evacuations from Aleppo resume (BBC) Thousands of people, including dozens of orphans, have left Aleppo in one of the besieged Syrian city’s biggest evacuations yet. More than 4,500 civilians have left rebel-held parts of eastern Aleppo so far on Monday...
Jordan attackers planned further assaults (Al Jazeera) Assailants who staged attacks in Jordan’s southern city of Karak on Sunday had suicide vests and other weapons, and were planning further attacks, Interior Minister Salamah Hamad has said. Hamad on Monday did not give details on the identity or nationality of the attackers, saying an investigation was still ongoing...
Church, state seeing eye to eye in Putin’s Russia (AP) The Russian Orthodox Church is expanding its influence in what was once an officially godless state — and President Vladimir Putin appears eager to harness that resurgent power of faith to promote his own agenda. Long consigned to society’s margins in the Soviet era of “scientific atheism,” religious activists in today’s Russia can get theater performances banned and exhibitions closed. Their next target is to end state funding for abortion in a land where nearly half of all pregnancies end in termination...
U.S. House passes religious freedom bill (CNS) The U.S. House 13 December passed the bipartisan Frank Wolf International Religious Freedom Act and sent it to President Barack Obama’s desk for his signature. The measure gives the Obama administration and the U.S. State Department new tools, resources and training to counter extremism and combat a worldwide escalation of persecution of religious minorities...
U.S. bishops form working group to monitor needs of migrants, refugees (CNS) The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is establishing a working group charged with developing spiritual, pastoral and policy advocacy support for immigrants and refugees...
Byzantine art on a grand scale in Winnipeg Ukrainian Catholic Church (Catholic Register) Nativity scenes are common during the Christmas season but few in Canada can match a stained glass window in a Winnipeg church for size and splendor. Created by prominent iconographer Sviatoslav Makarenko of Yonkers, N.Y., the window is a rare example of Byzantine iconography in the leaded stained-glass medium. It dazzles above the main entrance of St. Joseph’s Ukrainian Catholic Church...
16 December 2016
A creche titled “Jesus the Global Refugee” is seen outside Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Church in Wyandanch, New York. The structure, designed as a refugee’s lean-to, was created to call public attention to the biblical mandate to welcome immigrants and give shelter to refugees.
(photo: CNS/Gregory A. Shemitz)
This Sunday is International Migrants Day. Every year on 18 December, the United Nations honors the contributions and struggles of immigrants and refugees.
International Migrants Day is a call to action to for us to welcome the migrants who live in our communities, and to work together as a global community to protect all migrants’ human rights.
There are 244 million migrants in the world today. This includes 20 million refugees who have fled their homelands in order to escape persecution, armed conflicts and natural disasters. Every day the news seems filled with heartbreaking stories of their plight. As Pope Francis has made vividly, unforgettably clear, at a moment when the broken bodies of drowned migrants are washing up on Italy’s shores, addressing their needs with mercy and compassion is one of the deepest moral challenges of our time.
But on this International Migrants Day it would be a mistake — a very regrettable mistake — to think of migration as something negative. Yes, sometimes the migrant’s story is a tragic one. Sometimes it can be difficult to welcome the stranger. Yet we must never forget the many wonderful gifts that generations of migrants have contributed to our society and to the Catholic Church. And migrants continue to make positive contributions today, as we explored in a Winter 2015 feature in ONE about refugees from war-torn Iraq who have found a new home in the United States:
Over the years, El Cajon, which lies east of San Diego, has taken on the shape of its growing community of Iraqi Christians. Signs in many of the city’s shops and restaurants are in Chaldean or Arabic, leading some to dub East Main Street, “Little Baghdad.” A stroll through the grounds of St. Peter Chaldean Cathedral is more reminiscent of the ancient city of Babylon, with sculptured lions of Ishtar guarding the entrance to the hall.
From this city, Bishop Sarhad Jammo, a native of Baghdad, leads the Chaldean Eparchy of St. Peter the Apostle, a jurisdiction spanning 19 states in the west of the country. Second only to Michigan — the cradle of the nation’s other Chaldean eparchy — California has grown into a major Chaldean hub, with ten parishes and two missions. El Cajon alone also boasts two convents, a monastery and a seminary alongside a catechetical program serving 1,000 children, who learn to pray and celebrate the Qurbana, the eucharistic liturgy of the Chaldean Church, in a modern form of the Aramaic language.
On a warm Friday morning in mid-August, a red-haired altar server sweeps the floor in the hall at St. Michael Chaldean Church, where some 70 or so parishioners had just finished a morning game of bingo. Born in Baghdad, Domunik Shamoun, 11, came to the United States in 2008 with his two older brothers and parents. He expresses pride in his heritage.
“I think it’s cool that Jesus spoke Chaldean when he was alive. I speak the same language,” he says during a pause from his work. At home he speaks Chaldean to his parents and English to his brothers.
You can read the rest here.
16 December 2016
Pilgrims light candles at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, West Bank, on 11 December.
(photo: CNS/Abed Al Hashlamoun, EPA)
16 December 2016
Deserted Christmas stalls are seen in Thiruvananthapuram, India on 11 December. The country’s vendors are facing an economic crisis since the prime minister ordered the withdrawal of a large percentage of rupees in circulation. (photo: CNS/Anto Akkara)
Syria evacuation grinds to a halt (BBC) The evacuation of east Aleppo has been halted, with Syrian rebels accused of failing to respect a deal to lift their own siege of two pro-government towns. At least 6,000 civilians and rebels are said to have left Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, since Thursday after the government recaptured most of the city. But the UN believes that some 50,000 people are still trapped there...
Limit on bank withdrawals dampens Christmas spirit in India (CNS) For vendor Elizabeth Antony, who ekes out a living selling fish on the roadside in the heart the capital of Kerala state, the Christmas season is not very festive. “This Christmas will be the worst in my memory,” said Antony, 63. “Fish sales have gone down to one third. Even if I stay back on the road till 11 p.m., the little fish I bring is not sold,” Antony told Catholic News Service, blaming Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the “worst misery” in her life. Modi shocked India on 8 November in an unprecedented and controversial move that saw the banking system withdraw high-valued 500-rupee ($7.30) and 1,000-rupee ($14.60) notes that account for 86 percent of the currency in circulation...
Cardinal issues Christmas Message, praying for peace in Syria (Vatican Radio) The President of Caritas Internationalis, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, has issued a Christmas Message discussing the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Syria. This war has been the bleakest winter for Syria, but we know that after winter comes spring,” — Cardinal Tagle writes — “With your support, Caritas around the world has been working towards peace in Syria...”
ISIS shows no sign of weakening in Mosul (Reuters) Islamic State fighters have stepped up counterattacks on Iraqi forces in Mosul amid bad weather as the U.S.-backed offensive to capture their last major city stronghold in Iraq enters its third month...
Catholic schools in Ethiopia asked to contribute to eradication of FGM (Vatican Radio) Catholic Schools in Ethiopia are asked to integrate the issue of reproductive health to their system. The Ethiopian Catholic Church Social and Development Commission (ECC SDCO) Education team in collaboration with Women and Family Affairs team organized a 3-day workshop for School Directors and teachers in Addis Ababa from 12-14 December on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and other harmful practices...
Start-ups develop technologies to help Syrian refugees in Lebanon (Financial Times) Local entrepreneurs are developing web services, smartphone apps and hardware for an “internet of things,” with its connected devices, to address the refugee crisis as it grinds through its sixth year...
15 December 2016
Pope Francis kisses the foot of a refugee during Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper at the Center for Asylum Seekers in Castelnuovo di Porto, about 15 miles north of Rome on 24 March 2016. The pope washed and kissed the feet of refugees, including Muslims, Hindus and Copts.
(photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano, handout)
Pope Francis celebrates his 80th birthday this Saturday, 17 December, and it seems a good opportunity to take note of his profound commitment to the poor and suffering of the world — a commitment that became clear from the moment he took the name Francis. He described his choice of that name in his first homily as pope in 2013:
During the election, I was seated next to the archbishop emeritus of São Paolo and prefect emeritus of the Congregation for the Clergy, Cardinal Claudio Hummes: a good friend, a good friend! When things were looking dangerous, he encouraged me. And when the votes reached two thirds, there was the usual applause, because the pope had been elected. And he gave me a hug and a kiss, and said: ‘Don’t forget the poor!’ And those words came to me: the poor, the poor. Then, right away, thinking of the poor, I thought of Francis of Assisi. Then I thought of all the wars, as the votes were still being counted, till the end. Francis is also the man of peace. That is how the name came into my heart: Francis of Assisi. For me, he is the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation; these days we do not have a very good relationship with creation, do we? He is the man who gives us this spirit of peace, the poor man. ... How I would like a church that is poor and for the poor!
It was a theme he elaborated on just a few days later:
The church in every corner of the globe has always tried to care for and look after those who suffer from want, and I think that in many of your countries you can attest to the generous activity of Christians who dedicate themselves to helping the sick, orphans, the homeless and all the marginalized, thus striving to make society more humane and more just.
His search for a “more humane and more just” society has taken him to some of the most troubled corners of the world — and inspired dramatic gestures that still resonate. In 2014, the pontiff made his first trip to the Holy Land, where he repeatedly urged peace and dialogue among different faiths. At one point, in a historic and controversial move, he stopped his motorcade so he could pray at the Separation Wall:
It is an image that will define Pope Francis’s first official visit to the Holy Land. Head bowed in prayer, the leader of the Catholic church pressed his palm against the graffiti-covered concrete of Israel’s imposing “separation wall,” a Palestinian girl holding a flag by his side. It was, as his aides conceded later, a silent statement against a symbol of division and conflict.
His concern for the marginalized and suffering has also inspired Francis to become a leading voice in the world — perhaps the leading voice — crying out on behalf of refugees and displaced persons. In 2013, he wrote:
Migrants and refugees are not pawns on the chessboard of humanity. They are children, women and men who leave or who are forced to leave their homes for various reasons, who share a legitimate desire for knowing and having, but above all for being more. The sheer number of people migrating from one continent to another, or shifting places within their own countries and geographical areas, is striking. Contemporary movements of migration represent the largest movement of individuals, if not of peoples, in history. As the Church accompanies migrants and refugees on their journey, she seeks to understand the causes of migration, but she also works to overcome its negative effects, and to maximize its positive influence on the communities of origin, transit and destination.
Again and again across the first years of his pontificate, Pope Francis has heroically championed the poor, the displaced, the forgotten. He serves as an example to all of us at CNEWA — and to the rest of the world — of what we are called to be as Christians.
As he put it during a general audience in March of 2013:
Following Jesus means learning to come out of ourselves ... to meet others, to go toward the outskirts of existence, to be the first to take a step toward our brothers and our sisters, especially those who are the most distant, those who are forgotten, those who are most in need of understanding, comfort and help.
There is such a great need to bring the living presence of Jesus, merciful and full of love!
Happy birthday, Pope Francis. Ad multos annos!