12 March 2018
Residents flee after Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army fighters captured the village of Khaldieh in Afrin, Syria. Christian activists warn that a million Syrian civilians will face certain slaughter in northwestern Afrin, where they allege Turkey and its militant allies have already carried out war crimes. (photo: CNS/Khalil Ashawi, Reuters)
Christian activists warn that 1 million Syrian civilians will face certain slaughter in northwestern Afrin, where they allege Turkey and its militant allies have already carried out “war crimes” and “ethnic cleansing.”
They have appealed to U.S. President Donald Trump and top U.S. officials to stop the bloodshed, warning that failure to act jeopardizes the hard-fought U.S.-led military campaign against Islamic State in Syria.
Civilians from other parts of Syria and outside the country have reportedly offered to stand as “human shields” between the Kurdish-backed fighters and Turkish forces set to storm Afrin.
Cardinal Mario Zenari, apostolic nuncio to Syria, said, “I have never seen so much violence as in Syria.” In remarks on 9 March, he likened the situation to the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
The nuncio called the situation in the war-ravaged land “hell on earth,” especially for vulnerable children.
In March, Syria’s conflict entered its eighth year. More than 350,000 people have died, 5 million are refugees and 6.3 million civilians are displaced within the country.
Syria is currently “one of the most dangerous places for children,” Cardinal Zenari said. “It’s terrible. I always say, it’s a massacre of the innocents.”
Two Christian activists, Bassam Ishak and Lauren Homer, told Catholic News Service of the relentless assault by Turkey and militants from hardline jihadist movements, including the so-called Islamic State.
“Turkey has committed war crimes and ethnic cleansing already in Afrin and the Federation of Northern Syria,” or FNS, they told CNS.
Ishak heads the Syriac National Council and is a member of the political bureau of the Syrian Democratic Council. He is a graduate of The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. Homer, an Anglican, is a Washington, D.C.-based international human rights lawyer.
“Turkey has already ‘cleared’ villages of Yazidis, Kurds, Christians and others, promising to replace them with Syrian refugees. In fact, Afrin already has enlarged its population by 50 percent to house [internally displaced] Syrians, who are among those being killed, injured or captured,” they said.
People in and around Afrin are facing the warplanes, tanks, artillery and other heavy weapons of NATO’s second-largest standing army, Turkey.
A local health authority reported more than 220 dead and 600 civilians injured in this mainly Kurdish area of northwestern Syria, some 30 miles from Aleppo.
Videos and photos from Afrin taken by both Kurds and members of the Turkish forces depict bombed-out houses, mangled bodies of children killed by the blasts and civilians being herded away.
Largely untouched by Syria’s deadly conflict until recently, this part of the Federation of Northern Syria succeeded in creating a nonsectarian, pluralist, inclusive government system not seen elsewhere in the Middle East in which there is religious freedom and equal rights are granted to all.
Activists are calling for an immediate no-fly zone over Afrin, enforced by U.S. drones or warplanes; implementation of the 24 February U.N. Security Council resolution requiring a cease-fire by Turkey in Afrin; humanitarian aid and safe passage out for civilians; and mediation of a long-term cease-fire and withdrawal of Turkish troops to its own borders — potentially with promises of U.S. or U.N. border monitors.
Meanwhile, the Kurdish council that governs Afrin demanded the U.N. Security Council establish a no-fly zone over Afrin and forcibly respond to the Turkish offensive.
“This U.N. and U.S. and NATO inaction will go down in infamy as an inconceivable abandonment of our ‘allies’ the SDF and the FNS. Genocide seems to be only something we are interested in in retrospect, to mourn and wring our hands over,” Homer warned.
Anti-aircraft weapons are needed to stop the attacks, observers say, but the Syrian Democratic Forces, composed of Kurdish and Christian fighters, were never given the necessary arms. At this point, U.S. aerial patrols would be needed. The Kurds and Christian fighters largely won the U.S.-led battle against Islamic State in Syria.
“Military solutions are no real solutions. Taking Afrin will not solve any problems, neither the internal problems for Turkey in the long run, nor will it help solve any issue that is part of the Syrian question,” Ishak told CNS. Turkey says it is battling Kurdish “terrorists” as its pretext for invading Afrin.
“Instead, it will just further complicate the situation and increase the level of competition between actors jockeying for influence in Syria,” Ishak said.
Meanwhile, the Syrian military, backed with Russian airpower, carried out intensive ground and aerial assaults on the rebel-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta near Damascus. Syrian government forces have reportedly captured more than half of the area.
The international medical charity Doctors Without Borders said more than 1,000 civilians have been killed in the area since late February, while almost 400,000 residents are living under heavy bombardment, after having been subjected to nearly five years of siege, lacking food and medicines.
Pope Francis has repeatedly called on the international community to intervene in Syria to help end the violence. Calling the war in Syria “inhumane,” Pope Francis urged for an end to the fighting, immediate access to humanitarian aid and the evacuation of the injured and infirm.
12 March 2018
Tags: Syria Middle East Christians War Syrian Conflict
In this 2017 photo, a Catholic family working to repair their family home damaged by ISIS militants poses in the Christian town of Karamdes, Iraq. Portions of this year’s annual Good Friday collection will help support Christians in the Middle East who are trying to rebuild their lives. (photo: CNS/Martyn Aim, courtesy Knights of Columbus)
Good Friday collection appeals for funds to support Christians who have fled Syria, Iraq (Vatican News) Money raised by the Good Friday collection traditionally goes to support projects and communities throughout Palestine, Israel, Jordan, Cyprus, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Turkey, Iran and Iraq. In his letter, Cardinal Sandri appealed especially for financial support for Christian families and young people who have fled from the fighting in Syria and Iraq…
Rome children’s hospital reaches out to Syrian children (Vatican News) Bambino Gesu Hospital is treating two wounded Syrian children in Rome. The hospital owned by the Holy See has also joined hands with WHO and UNHCR for projects in Syria and Jordan to reach out to children hit by the ongoing war and bombardment in Syria…
Indian Catholic Church criticizes court decision on euthanasia (Vatican News) A ruling by India’s supreme court that allows euthanasia for the terminally ill has been criticized by India’s Catholic Church that says that the mark of good society is its ability and willingness to care for the most vulnerable of society…
Hotter, drier, hungrier: how global warming punishes the world’s poorest (The New York Times) A people long hounded by poverty and strife has found itself on the frontline of a new crisis: climate change. More than 650,000 children under age 5 across vast stretches of Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia are severely malnourished. The risk of famine stalks people in all three countries; at least 12 million people rely on food aid, according to the United Nations…
In Jerusalem’s Old City, hi-tech illuminates the city’s biblical past (Times of Israel) King David made a big, bold and bright return to Jerusalem Sunday evening at an advance showing of the Tower of David Museum‘s new Night Experience. The biblical leader who reigned over the United Kingdom of Israel and Judah three millennia ago comes to life again on the inner walls of the ancient citadel next to the Old City’s Jaffa Gate…
9 March 2018
Tags: India Middle East Christians Jerusalem Horn of Africa
This week, we feature an interview we did in 2015 with one of our photographers, Ilene Perlman.
Ilene has visited some of the most colorful and exotic corners of CNEWA’s world, and here she describes some of those places she’s seen and photographed. The diversity and drama she’s encountered have made for some of ONE’s most memorable images.
Among other things, the interview is a feast for the eye. Enjoy.
9 March 2018
The faithful gather for worship at St. Thomas Church in Palayur, a leading pilgrimage site for Christians in India. Read about how Christianity is enduring in India —
for 2,000 years and Counting — in the Winter 2013 edition of ONE. (photo: Jose Jacob)
8 March 2018
Syrian children walk past Syrian Red Crescent trucks carrying humanitarian aid in the town of Douma in the rebel-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta on 9 March 2018.
(photo: Hamza Al-Ajweigh/AFP/Getty Images)
U.N. aid convoy re-enters Eastern Ghouta amid ‘calm’ (BBC) A U.N. aid convoy has managed to enter the rebel-held area of Eastern Ghouta in Syria which has been under intense bombardment, officials say. For the first time since Monday, food supplies got into the town of Douma, the Red Cross said...
White House to convene summit on Gaza (The Times of Israel) The White House will convene a meeting next week of “stakeholders” to improve life in the Gaza Strip, a top Trump administration Middle East peace negotiator said Thursday...
Report: international flight ban in Erbil to be lifted (Daily Sabah) A ban on international flights into and out of northern Iraq’s Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) will be lifted before the upcoming Nevruz spring festival on 21 March, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has reportedly said...
Georgia debates teaching religion in school (Civil Georgia) This is not the first time religious education is considered for schools. Even as Georgia regained its independence in 1991, classes of “the History and Culture of Religion” were introduced into the classrooms and taught to pupils aged 8 to 12 until 2005. Despite its title suggesting social science tilt, the classes were often (although not always) taught by the Orthodox Christian priests and almost in all cases focused overwhelmingly on Orthodox Christianity as means of patriotic education — and religious indoctrination...
Friar trains Iraqis to preserve manuscripts seized by ISIS (AFP) As ISIS militants swept across Iraq three years ago, he rescued a treasure trove of ancient religious manuscripts from near-certain destruction. Father Najeeb Michaeel is now training fellow Iraqis to preserve their heritage. “My duty is to save our heritage, a significant treasure,” the Dominican friar told AFP in a telephone interview from his office in the city of Arbil, capital of Iraqi Kurdistan...
8 March 2018
Iraqi Christian children attend a session to help young refugees at the St. George Greek Orthodox Church in Amman, Jordan. To find out how Iraqis are Finding Sanctuary in Jordan, check out the Spring 2015 edition of ONE. (photo: Nader Daoud)
8 March 2018
Turkish-backed Syrian rebels gesture as they drive down a road in the area of Hallubi, north of Afrin, on 8 March 2018. (photo: Nazeer Al-Khatib/AFP/Getty Images)
Eastern Ghouta cut in two as Syrian army seizes ground (The Guardian) Syrian government forces have seized vast swathes of territory from rebels in the opposition-held suburbs of Damascus, effectively dividing the besieged enclave of eastern Ghouta in two and further squeezing rebels and the tens of thousands of civilians trapped inside...
Pope Francis meets with members of International Migration Commission (Vatican News) Pope Francis on Thursday met members of the International Catholic Migration Commission on the occasion of their Plenary Council. In prepared remarks to members of the Commission in the Vatican’s Clementine Hall, Pope Francis expressed his thanks to them for their work carried out in the Church’s name to assist migrants and refugees in great need. The multiple projects initiated on five continents, he said represented “exemplary instances of the four verbs — welcome, defend, promote and integrate”...
New U.S. embassy may be in Jerusalem, but not in Israel (The New York Times) In two months, the United States plans to open a new embassy to fulfill President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. There’s just one problem: The embassy may be in Jerusalem, but it may not be fully in Israel...
Meet Kuwait’s homegrown priest (The Jordan Times) Dressed in a traditional white Gulf headdress and with two red crosses embroidered on his black clerical robe, Kuwait’s first homegrown priest cuts a unique figure in the predominantly Muslim emirate. The Rev. Emmanuel Benjamin Jacob Gharib, 68, celebrates both the Bible and Gulf Arab culture with his Christian congregation in Kuwait City. In an interview with AFP ahead of the 20th anniversary of his ordination, he stressed the level of acceptance he has felt from fellow Kuwaitis. “Everyone welcomes me wherever I go,” said Father Emmanuel...
7 March 2018
In this image from 2014, two children greet a visitor to Gaza in the ruins of their neighborhood. Read more about Growing Up in Gaza in the Autumn 2014 edition of ONE. (photo: Shareef Sarhan)
7 March 2018
In this image from 2016, a volunteer embraces refugee children in a makeshift camp near Idomeni, Greece. The Vatican has called on Catholics and Catholic agencies to counteract the “refusal to welcome” migrants in some countries. (photo: CNS/Nikos Arvanitdis, EPA)
Turkey’s Erdogan criticizes UN ceasefire in Syria (The Independent) Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has criticised a UN-mandated ceasefire in Syria designed to stop the recent bloodshed in eastern Ghouta while defending his own military’s two-month-old operation against the Kurds in Afrin...
Vatican: Church must counteract ‘refusal to welcome’ migrants (CNS) The Catholic Church and Catholic agencies that work with migrants and refugees around the world are called to educate, advocate and seek alternative host countries in the face of a growing “refusal to welcome” newcomers, as the Vatican secretary of state defined the situation...
Jordan: Syrian refugees will benefit from regularizing their situation (The Jordan Times) Local organizations have welcomed the Ministry of Interior’s (MoI) announcement of a brand new campaign aimed at regularizing the status of Syrian refugees living informally in the urban areas of Jordan...
Report: Most Kerala converts choosing Hinduism (ManoramaOnline.com) If the results of a study published by the Media Research and Development Foundation, Kozhikode are to be believed, maximum number of religious converts in the state chose to embrace Hinduism....
Pope Francis makes donation for first Orthodox monastery in Austria (The Tablet) Pope Francis has donated 100,000 euros (£90,000) towards the first Orthodox monastery that is being built at St Andrä in Austria’s easternmost province of Burgenland...
‘Cycle priest’ gaining attention in India (UCANews.com) On the rugged mud paths of villages and the tarred roads of Rajkot town, people often spot a Catholic priest rushing on his cycle. After almost a decade’s work in Rajkot’s Junagadh parish, Father Vinod Kanatt is now nicknamed “cycle priest” in the diocese managed by the Carmelites of Mary Immaculate congregation...
6 March 2018
Father Jeevan is finding creative ways of preaching the Gospel to his flock in India. (photo: CNEWA)
CNEWA’s regional director in India, M.L. Thomas, recently had a chance to visit a mission, in the Diocese of Chanda, where he saw some of the work of a young priest — a convert from Buddhism named Father Jeevan K D.
Mr. Thomas writes:
The priest, on the right, lives a simple life among the people in his village. (photo: CNEWA)
Khurkheda is a village mission in the diocese of Chanda where Father Jeevan works. He is an ordained priest from Maharashtra. He has been developing this mission for 20 months.
Father Jeeven, looks like a ‘Sanyasi’ [a Hindu religious] and he is staying in a small rented room along with the people in the village.
“With CNEWA’s support we had a good beginning,” said Father Jeevan, who lives with few comforts and simple facilities. “I extend my heartfelt gratitude to you and to the CNEWA organization.”
Father Jeevan travels from village to village on motorcycle. (photo: CNEWA)
He is now working in 55 villages and preaches the Gospel.
“Every day, we visit a village with our catechists. We travel village to village by motorcycle or by bicycles. Sometimes we rent a jeep for the village visit —
especially when there are awareness programs, retreats or Bible conventions in the village. In the village, we visit the families; we listen to their problems and give them the Word of God and the Gospel values. And we teach them to pray every day. Also, we tell them the importance of education for their children and about the cleanliness.”
He explained how he has adopted some Hindu traditions to help catechize the peopl — including “Bhajan,” or singing devotional songs before an image of God [Christ]; keeping a fast as a kind of worship for a whole day; and wearing particular colors of saris for worship.
But he also emphasizes the importance of Catholic devotions in his mission.
“I started my mission with prayers and adoration,” he said. “With the power of the prayers and the adoration to the Blessed Sacrament, people started coming to the church. Many of the people were coming for the prayers and the adoration. And they used to share their problems and difficulties with me. I used to give enough time and listen to their problems and used to pray for them and they were happy and at peace. They used to invite me to their villages and to their families. I was very happy to visit them. I went to many villages visiting poor and sick and the afflicted. I preached the Good News to them.”
M.L. Thomas sent along some video, below, showing the creative ways that Father Jeevan has introduced Hindus to the Catholic faith, by incorporating some of their traditions in the liturgies.