3 October 2017
Slewa Shamoon Aba displays a broken crucifix in the garden of his home. With the exit of ISIS, many Iraqi Christians are returning to their homes and villages and trying to rebuild.
(photo: Raed Rafei)
In the September 2017 edition of ONE, photojournalist Raed Rafei visits once-displaced Iraq Christians who are returning to home and having to make some Hard Choices:
Iraq’s largest Christian city, Qaraqosh served as a commercial hub for the entire region of the Nineveh Plain. Since the landmines were cleared and the area was declared safe in April, some 500 families have returned — a fraction of the pre-war population of 50,000.
Yet the simple fact that they are here tells a story of resilience, determination and faith.
In a once-bustling commercial neighborhood known simply as Al Souk (Arabic for “market”), locals have begun the mammoth task of clearing away rubble. With a shovel in hand and a black hat, Bahnam Matti, 72, removes detritus from what had been a clothes shop, now desolate with large holes in the ceiling. Every now and then, he pauses to wipe the sweat off his face with a pink towel placed on his shoulder.
Across the street, a woman in a bright red and blue dress sprays water from a hose on the entrance of her scorched restaurant. Others paint walls or cut wood panels, undaunted by the scale of destruction — scores of collapsed rooftops, smashed storefronts and hills of accumulated debris.
...Despite some shy rebuilding efforts by churches and homeowners, the estimated $70 million needed for the overall reconstruction of Qaraqosh still looms large. Several organizations have pledged to help with large finances, but substantial aid has not materialized yet.
The condition of Qaraqosh is not very different from that of most Christian towns in the Nineveh Plain, which typically report damage to 30 to 40 percent of structures — houses, schools, public institutions, churches, monasteries and hospitals alike.
But some towns, such as Batnaya, have been rendered completely uninhabitable, reporting 85 percent of buildings demolished under heavy aerial bombardment
Read more — and check out the video below.
3 October 2017
ISIS claims responsibility for deadly suicide attack in Syria (AP) The Islamic State group on Tuesday claimed responsibility for a pair of suicide bombings in the Syrian capital that killed 17 civilians and policemen the previous day. In Monday’s bombings, two men attacked a police station in the al-Midan neighborhood with several bombs, before one of them blew himself up, according to Syria’s interior minister, Lt. Gen. Mohammad al-Shaar. He said the other bomber made it inside the compound, where police killed him, causing his bomb to explode...
Kurdistan plans elections next month (Reuters) Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region is calling presidential and parliamentary elections for 1 November, the Erbil-based Rudaw TV said on Tuesday, as the Kurdish leadership cements its case for independence...
Catholics mark Gandhi’s birthday in India (UCANews.com) Some 500 people — Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists and Christians — marched with lit candles through Bhopal in India on 2 October to mark the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, father of the Indian nation, stressing his ideals of non-violence. Bhopal Archdiocese, based in the capital of Madhya Pradesh state, organized the march that culminated in an inter-religious prayer gathering. The event marked the 148th birth anniversary of Gandhi, who led India’s struggle for freedom from British rule while advocating non-violent methods. Archbishop Leo Cornelio of Bhopal who addressed the prayer gathering said the program was part of the church’s efforts to promote “inter-religious harmony and peace” in the state...
Russian Orthodox church takes aim at film about Tsar’s affair (Hollywood Reporter) Hundreds of billboards affirming the tsar’s love for his empress have been welcomed by director of controversial film ‘Matilda.’ In the latest salvo in a dispute over a Russian film about the last tsar’s affair with a ballerina, the Russian Orthodox Church has put up 300 billboards in Moscow displaying what it called “words about love” exchanged between the tsar and his wife...
2 October 2017
Tags: India Iraq ISIS Russian Orthodox
Students at the Father Roberts Institute in Lebanon study ecology in a greenhouse area. Learn how the church is serving these young people and others by Reaching the Margins in the
September 2017 edition of ONE. (photo: Don Duncan)
2 October 2017
Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila, president of Caritas Internationalis, prays that a young refugee he met in Greece has found someone willing to “share the journey” with him. A leading Vatican official on Monday declared that immigration and health care are pro-life issues.
Archbishop: Immigration, health care are pro-life issues (CNS) Pro-life issues cannot be restricted solely to bioethical concerns but must encompass a broader definition that defends life in every aspect, said Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life. Speaking to journalists at the Vatican press office on 2 October, Archbishop Paglia said that to be pro-life, Christians must “rethink the semantic value of the word, ‘life’ and not just in a reduced way...”
Coordinated bombing strikes Damascus (Al Jazeera) More than 10 people have been killed in an apparently coordinated bombing in Syria’s capital Damascus, according to several sources. A car bomb went off near a police station in Damascus’s al-Midan neighborhood on Monday, shortly before two suicide bombers detonated their explosive belts, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said. The 11 dead included police officers and civilians, the SOHR said, adding that the attack also caused injuries...
Russian border guard killed in shootout near Ukraine border (Voice of America) Russia’s top domestic security agency says one Russian border guard has been killed in a shootout with two men who tried to cross into Ukraine. The FSB said in a statement Monday the two men on Saturday opened fire when the officer who approached them in a Russian village that borders northeast Ukraine. One of the men blew himself up and the other was detained. The border guard died of gunshot wounds...
Church of the Holy Sepulchre suffers roof collapse (Newsweek) Part of the of the roof of Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre collapsed Friday as hundreds of worshipers visited the site. The church, one of the holiest locations in the Christian faith, had to be closed in the wake of the collapse while officials made sure it was safe for the congregation to return...
Palestinian prime minister visits Gaza (The Washington Post) The Palestinian prime minister arrived in the Gaza Strip on Monday for the first time in years as part of a new attempt to reconcile with the militant group Hamas after a decade-long split...
29 September 2017
Tags: Syria Ukraine Refugees Jerusalem Russia
Sisters Luma and Montaha, of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, visit Qaraqosh’s Church of Sts. Behnam and Sarah, damaged by ISIS. The church was built in 2008. Read more about Iraqi Christians returning to their homes in the Nineveh Plain in Hard Choices, in the September 2017 edition of ONE. (photo: Raed Rafei)
29 September 2017
Tags: Iraq Violence against Christians Iraqi Christians
Indian Foreign Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj greets the Rev. Thomas Uzhunnalil, rescued after being held hostage in Yemen, in New Delhi on 28 September. (photo: Money Sharma/AFP/Getty Images)
Freed Salesian priest arrives in India (UCAN India) Indian Salesian Father Thomas Uzhunnalil — who was released over a fortnight ago after his 18-month-long captivity in Yemen — arrived in New Delhi on 28 September and met Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Father Uzhunnalil arrived in the Indian capital following two weeks in Rome where he was taken after his release from suspected Islamic militants who abducted him 4 March 2016…
Assyrian to head Syrian parliament for first time in decades (AINA) A Christian legislator was Thursday elected speaker of parliament in predominantly Muslim Syria for the first time in decades. Hammudeh Sabbagh, a 58-year-old Syriac Orthodox Christian graduate in law and member of President Bashar al Assad’s Baath party from Hassake province in northeast Syria, won 193 votes out of 252 cast, state media reported…
Christians should return to Iraq as full citizens, cardinal says (Catholic Philly) Christians don’t want to be a “protected minority” in the Middle East; they must be full citizens with full rights and the opportunity to contribute to a just and lasting peace, said Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state. The return of Christians to Iraq’s Nineveh Plain “must be the first and urgent objective of our efforts,” the cardinal said. “That will allow the Christian community to then face the other challenges that awaits it in being fully active and generous in building up the common good of the entire nation…”
The sea was a breath of fresh air for isolated Gaza; now the water stinks (Washington Post) Some 100,000 cubic meters of raw or partially treated sewage have flowed into the sea each day since early summer, when Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas asked Israel to cut the power supply to Gaza amid a worsening feud with Hamas, the militant movement that controls the enclave. The power shortage means that sewage treatment plants can’t function. The pollution is so bad that Israel has shut down neighboring beaches for safety reasons and called on the Palestinian Authority to find a solution…
Palestinians slam U.S. Israel envoy’s ‘ignorance’ (Al Jazeera) The United States ambassador in Tel Aviv has angered Palestinians with a comment downplaying Israel’s 50-year occupation of the West Bank, the second such spat in a month. In a video interview with Israeli news site Walla broadcast in full on Friday, ambassador David Friedman said the Jewish state is “only occupying 2 percent” of the West Bank. “Israel is internationally recognized as the occupying power over 100 percent of Palestine, including in and around occupied east Jerusalem,” said Palestine Liberation Organization Secretary-General Saeb Erekat…
28 September 2017
Tags: Syria India Iraq Middle East Christians Priests
The Shrine of Hussein in Karbela, Iraq, stands above the tomb of Hussein bin Ali bin Abi Talib.
(photo: Tasnim News Agency [CC BY 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)],
via Wikimedia Commons)
Muslims will be commemorating a significant event this weekend — and it’s one that has ramifications for our world today.
On Saturday 30 September Shi’ite Muslims observe Ashura, the martyrdom of Hussein bin Ali bin Abi Talib. In the Muslim calendar Hussein died on the tenth (‘ašara) day of the month of Muharram in the year 61. This translates to 10 October 680 AD. The death of Hussein is a pivotal event in the history of Shi’ite Islam.
When the Prophet Muhammad died in June 632, he left behind no instructions about a successor. As the “Seal (i.e. “last”) of the Prophets,” there was no one who could succeed him. However, his role as Commander of the Faithful (amīr al-mu’minîn) — the religious and political leader of the Muslim community — required a successor.
From the very beginning, Muslims were divided about who should succeed Muhammad as leader of the faithful. One group held that Ali bin Abi Talib, the cousin and son-in-law of the prophet, should take leadership — and that leadership should remain in the family of the prophet. This group was known as the “party/faction” (Arabic: šî‘ah, hence Shi’ite). Another group held that anyone of the prophet’s tribe could be elected to fulfill the office. This group acted immediately after the death of Muhammad to elect Abu Bakr as the first caliph. This pre-empted the candidacy of Ali.
Three caliphs followed each other in succession until the assassination of Uthman, the third caliph, in 656. At this point, Ali was elected the fourth caliph. His election was contested by the Umayyad clan, the clan of the assassinated Uthman. Mu‘awiya, of the Umayyad clan was also elected Caliph and conflict ensued. Ali was ultimately assassinated in 651 by one of his disaffected followers. Ali’s first son, Hassan, made a treaty with Mu‘awiya agreeing not to pursue his (rightful) claim the to caliphate during Mu‘awiya’s lifetime.
Hassan died before Mu‘awiyah and, for the party of Ali, the caliphate should rightfully have passed to Ali’s second son Hussein. Once again this led to conflict. Hussein had a strong following in Kufa in what is now modern Iraq and attempted to go there to be with his supporters. Yazid, the son of Mu‘awiya, intercepted Hussein and his small caravan at a place called Karbala, just north of Kufa. Hussein’s retinue consisted not just of fighters but also women and children, among whom was Hussein’s 6-month-old son.
Hussein was betrayed by the people of Kufa. Hussein and his entourage faced the much larger army of the Kufan followers of Yazid. The forces prevented Hussein’s followers from obtaining water and they suffered greatly from thirst. The forces attacked; most of Hussein’s followers — including his infant son — were killed. Lastly, Hussein himself was killed and his head taken to Damascus, the seat of Yazid.
For Shi’ite Muslims, Hussein is the martyr par excellence. His martyrdom galvanized the followers of Ali into a clear movement in opposition to the Umayyad Caliphate in Damascus.
Over the centuries, Shi’ite Muslims have developed a piety of martyrdom surrounding the events at Karbala. Every year on 10 Muharram, Shi’ite Muslims stage commemorations of Hussein’s death. The ta‘ziya (literally: “consolation”) reenacts the martyrdom of Hussein and is accompanied by great mourning, loud wailing and self-flagellation. The emotional intensity of the ceremonies is extremely high; some of the mourners in an almost ecstatic state strike themselves to the point of drawing of blood.
Although strange to most Westerners, similar rituals can be found in some cultures on Good Friday. Indeed, there are some striking parallels here to Christianity. One of the unique characteristics of Shi’ite Islam is their belief in the sanctifying power of Hussein’s death. Some Shi’ite scholars would speak of redemptive suffering, a concept not acknowledged in Sunni Islam and considered heretical by Wahhabi Muslims. Nevertheless, in both his righteousness and his suffering, Hussein becomes the ideal of the Shi’ite community.
Shi’ite Muslims comprise about 15 percent of the Muslim community. As a result even people in the West familiar with Islam are likely more familiar with Sunni Muslims.
Nevertheless, Christians can easily see points of comparison and between the death of Jesus and the Shi’ite observances of Ashura — and from that, perhaps, there may even be a possibility for understanding and dialogue.
28 September 2017
Students conduct class in sign language at the Father Roberts Institute for Deaf Children, north of Beirut. Read more about this school and other institutions working to assist Lebanon’s most vulnerable in Reaching the Margins, from the September 2017 edition of ONE. (photo: Don Duncan)
28 September 2017
Tags: Lebanon Education Catholic Disabilities Caring for the Elderly
A picture taken through a broken TV screen shows Palestinian children playing near their home on 27 September in Gaza City. (photo: Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images)
Gaza power watch: How much electricity did Gaza get yesterday? (Haaretz) A severe electricity shortage in the Gaza Strip has left residents with as little as four hours of power a day in the sweltering summer heat, raising humanitarian concerns…
Interpol votes to accept ‘State of Palestine’ as member country (Haaretz) The Palestinians will join Interpol, the international police organization’s generally assembly voted on Wednesday, clearing the way for Palestine to become a member. Some 75 countries voted in favor, with 24 voting against and 34 abstaining. “The State of Palestine and the Solomon Islands are now INTERPOL member countries,” Interpol said on Twitter after the vote in Beijing…
Gaza’s fishermen struggle to keep afloat (Al Monitor) Fishing is not always a peaceful time at sea for Gaza’s fishermen, who follow in the footsteps of their fathers and grandfathers. They are allowed only to catch the fish in a small area close to the shore due to Israeli restrictions, and if they go beyond the permitted fishing zone they risk being shot at or losing their boats. Yet Palestinian fishermen still hold on to their trade, which has passed on to them for generations, fishing off the coast of the Gaza Strip and making their own fishing nets by hand…
Assyrian organization asks U.N. for support in northern Iraq (AINA) The Assyrian Universal Alliance, an umbrella organization for Assyrians worldwide, has sent a letter to the Secretary General of the United Nations, Mr. Antonio Guterres, regarding the establishment of an Assyrian regional government in north Iraq, where the majority of Assyrians remain after being driven out of Iraq since 2004. The population of Assyrian has dwindled from 1.5 million in 2004 to 400,000 today, with most having emigrated to flee the violence from Muslim groups and their continued marginalization by Arabs and Kurds…
Desperate plea from Chaldean patriarch: ‘We cannot endure another war’ (Christian Today) Fears of a new military confrontation in Iraq are mounting among Christians, Iraq’s Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Luis Raphael I, has warned. Christians who are still reeling from the depredations of Islamic State across the Nineveh Plain now fear the Kurdish referendum will lead to a resurgence of violence…
In Ukraine, a huge ammunition depot catches fire (New York Times) One of the Ukrainian Army’s largest ammunition depots caught fire overnight after what was probably an act of sabotage using a drone, an official said on Wednesday, setting off gigantic explosions and forcing the evacuation of about 30,000 people…
Bibles and other church contents burned in Karnataka attack (Global Christian News) A church in the Chitradurga district of Karnataka was broken into and all the items inside the church set ablaze by some unidentified miscreants just before midnight of 17 September…
27 September 2017
Tags: India Iraq Ukraine Gaza Strip/West Bank
Palestinian Christians Najwa and George Saadeh pray in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Following the death of her daughter at the hands of Israeli soldiers, Najwa says she has drawn strength from her faith to pursue reconciliation. For more on families who have suffered tragedies working diligently to create a better world, read Love as a Healing Balm, in the September 2017 edition of ONE. (photo: Nadim Asfour)
Tags: Middle East Christians Palestine Israeli-Palestinian conflict Holy Land Christians