28 June 2012
President-elect Mohammed Morsi, center, meets with Christian leaders from different denominations at the presidential palace in Cairo on 27 June.
(Photo: CNS/Egyptian presidency via Reuters)
Last weekend’s historic election in Egypt has prompted cautiously optimistic reactions from Christian leaders in the country. Gerard O’Connell of Vatican Insider has the details:
“We hope that he will fulfill his promises,” the Anglican bishop of Egypt said after Egypt’s first elected Islamic president, Mohammed Mursi, promised to be a president for all Egyptians, to appoint a prime minister who is not from the Muslim Brotherhood, and to appoint a Christian vice-president.
[Anglican] Bishop Mouneer Hanna Anis expressed this widely shared hope in a letter to his community and friends shortly after the election results were announced on Sunday evening, June 24.
Mursi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, gained 51.7 percent of the vote in the freest and most honest election to be held in the country since 1952. His opponent, Ahmed Shafiq, the last prime minister of the deposed President Hosni Mubarak’s administration, gained 48.3 percent.
The results have revealed a deeply divided country and much fear among Christians — who count for some 10 percent of the population, and among the secular and liberal sectors of the electorate. About 40 percent of the 50 million people entitled to vote actually did so.
Mursi’s election “may be the best thing for the moment, in order to avoid violence, but performance will be important,” a senior Catholic leader in Cairo, who wished to remain anonymous, told me.
The Coptic Catholic bishop of Luxor, Monsignor Youhannes Zakaria, told Fides that he considers Mursi’s victory “positive” and hopes “that now all work in a spirit of cooperation to renew the country.” He said the president’s first words “give peace,” in particular that he wants “to be President of all Egyptians, to improve economy and also to re-launch tourism.” Egyptian society is “tranquil,” he added, “but now after the words they want actions.”
Meanwhile, the acting head of the Coptic Catholic Church has sent a congratulatory letter to the new president:
The Coptic Catholic Church in Egypt has sent a letter of congratulations to the country’s first freely elected Islamic president and told him Catholics are praying that God may bless with success his work “for the realization of a civil, democratic, modern state that respects the rights and freedoms of all and can guarantee security, peace and social justice.”
The letter was signed by Monsignor Kyrillos William, the bishop of Assiut and acting head of the Coptic Catholic Church in Egypt, which has between about 200,000 members.
Writing in the name of the Coptic Catholics “in Egypt and in the countries of the diaspora,” the bishop congratulated Mohammed Mursi “for having gained the confidence of the people” in the mid-June presidential elections.
He said Coptic Catholics “are confident that with the aid of the Most High and All Powerful (God), and with your wisdom, you will be capable of leading the country and working for the superior interests of the nation and all its children, so that the cohesion of its fabric remains as it always has been.”
For more on the responses of Egyptian Christians to the election, click here. For more on Egypt’s Coptic Christians, check out the September 2011 issue of ONE magazine, where we explored the plight of Christian women in Egypt and profiled the challenges facing one woman reporter.
26 June 2012
Tags: Egypt Christian-Muslim relations Egypt's Christians Democracy
Israeli-Arab fourth-grade students pray in Aramaic during language class at Jish Elementary School in Jish, Israel, 20 June. (photo: CNS/Debbie Hil)
As reported by the Catholic News Service, a mostly Maronite Catholic community in Jish, Israel, is making an effort to revive the Aramaic language — the language spoken by Jesus. This revival has begun with language classes at the village’s elementary school:
Some 110 students are now studying the language at the elementary school as a result of years of effort by village resident Shadi Khalloul, 37, chairman of the Aramaic Christian nongovernmental organization in Israel.
“This is our Maronite Aramaic heritage,” he said on a recent visit to the school. “We are hoping to revive (Aramaic) as a spoken language. Hopefully the pupils will use it among themselves to communicate with each other. It is our forefather’s language. It is the language of Jesus, we should not forget that, especially the Aramaic Galilee dialect.”
Spoken Aramaic, the root language of all Semitic languages, is still preserved in parts of Syria, Iraq and Lebanon — and even by elderly Jews originating from a region of Kurdistan — but the spoken language has been virtually lost in Galilee, where about 10,000 Maronite Catholics use it solely for prayer. During their daily interactions, they speak Arabic.
For more, read Maronites in Israel Learn Aramaic.
20 June 2012
Tags: Children Israel Education Maronite Catholic Aramaic
A man makes an icon at the Immaculate Conception Church in Jordan, which is undergoing major restoration sponsored by CNEWA. (photo: John E. Kozar)
Back in December, Msgr. John E. Kozar, CNEWA’s president, made his first pastoral visit to the Holy Land. Along the way, he visited many people and projects vital to CNEWA’s mission, such as the Immaculate Conception Melkite Greek Catholic parish in Jordan:
From the hospital we went to visit the Melkite Greek Catholic pastor of Immaculate Conception Church, Abuna Boulos (or Father Paul), and were joined there by Archbishop Yasser Ayyash and some other priests. We had a delightful lunch, where I learned much about the Melkite Greek Catholic Church. When I entered the rectory, Father Boulos immediately introduced me to his wife, as it is the Melkite tradition for priests to marry before ordination. After a brief visit to the church, which is finishing up a major restoration project sponsored by CNEWA, we headed for the Bedouin village of Smakieh for the highlight of the day and the spiritual highlight of this pastoral visit thus far.
We were invited by the archbishop and Abuna Boulos to concelebrate at the ordination liturgy for a subdeacon and deacon. What an honor for Father Guido and myself. Not only did the archbishop make us feel welcome, he even vested us in the Melkite vestments used for their liturgy. It was a very proud moment for both of us.
For more, read Msgr. Kozar’s blog series “Journey to the Holy Land.”
15 June 2012
Tags: CNEWA Middle East Christians Middle East Jordan Melkite Greek Catholic Church
Armenian World War II veterans celebrate Victory Day in Yerevan, Armenia.
(photo: Justyna Mielnikiewicz)
In the November 2009 issue of ONE, Justyna Mielnikiewicz’s photographs and Annie Grunow’s words helped to paint a picture of the vast, diverse region referred to as the ‘Caucasus’:
While the Armenians, Georgians and Chechens may be most familiar, there are countless other peoples in the Caucasus who staunchly retain their own ethnic identities. Geographic names usually reflect a portion of an area’s ethnic population, but by no means can a geographic name be mistaken for ethnic homogeneity. Linguistic and religious differences also occur within a seemingly distinct ethnicity. Refugee and emigrant populations further confound the picture.
Abkhazians, Chechens and Ossetians are present in both Georgia and Russia; each group is struggling to gain some degree of autonomy. Abkhazians and Ossetians, which are distinct ethnic groups with their own languages, are largely Orthodox Christians.
For more, read Where Europe Meets Asia.
14 June 2012
Tags: Cultural Identity Armenia Caucasus
In this 2006 image, Father Douglas May stands in front of a Cairo plaza and mosque across the street from the Our Lady Queen of Peace Home for Mentally Handicapped Children.
(photo: Octavio Duran/Maryknoll Mission Archives)
Father Douglas May grew up in a small town near Buffalo, New York, but now serves as a Maryknoll missionary in Cairo. From time to time he will offer his insights and perspectives “on the ground” from Egypt. Here, he offers a brief introduction to the work he does.
After working with Maryknoll in Kenya for four years, I returned to Egypt in late January of 2012. As the only native-born American, English-speaking priest in Egypt, I provide pastoral services for several communities in the Cairo area. On occasion, I also say the Coptic Catholic Divine Liturgy in both Arabic and English, as the need arises.
In many ways, it’s been a kind of homecoming. I have spent 18 of the last 30 years working in Egypt and was part of the formation-education team at St. Leo the Great Coptic Catholic Seminary for ten of those years.
When I first returned, my original intention was to provide pastoral support for Catholics who speak English as a first, second or third language. It was also to be “Uncle Douglas” for many of my former seminarians who are now priests scattered throughout Egypt. But with the encouragement of the Holy See’s nuncio, Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, I applied for and got the position of “International Coordinator” for the Center for Intercultural Dialogue and Translation and the Center for Arab-West Understanding (a nongovernmental organization, or NGO).
The Center for Arab-West Understanding (CAWU) and its company, The Center for Intercultural Dialogue and Translation (C.I.D.T.) in Cairo, are some of the few “on-site” organizations fostering Muslim-Christian dialogue and sociopolitical pluralism in Egypt and in the Middle East. It supports forums and workshops among religious and political leaders; reviews and critiques media information on the internet, TV and in the press; runs an intern program for students from Arab and Western countries; provides an internet library; and offers translation services. The Arab-West Report is run by C.I.D.T. It is the largest English-language website in the world concerning Christian-Muslim relations and reviews Arab and Western media reports on TV, the internet and in the printed media. It has become a reliable source of information for many writers and reporters.
While my focus over my first four months has been finances and fundraising, I hope eventually to do some “on-site” work in villages where many of my former seminarians are now priests. I want to do whatever I can to help promote interreligious and interdenominational relations, along with sociopolitical and religious pluralism among Egyptians. Being a “foreigner,” I need the help of local leaders, at least on the Catholic side, to do this. Right now, we’re still in the planning stages. In the current environment, it is obvious that efforts have to be made or the sociopolitical and religious situation will only get worse.
Having a labor-relations background and some hotel management experience in the U.A.E. before becoming a priest, I hope that maybe a team approach can facilitate some positive change. I also worked for two years back in the late 80’s with the Palestine Red Crescent Society in Cairo, where I was the only Christian and only American teaching at a nursing school that was run by the society. Looking back on that experience, I realize I learned much more than I taught.
I hope to write occasionally for ONE-TO-ONE, as well as for the A.W.R. website. While I am not an academian nor an expert, I believe that my various experiences and contacts give me the ability to view things differently and offer personal reflections.
13 June 2012
Tags: Egypt Unity Ecumenism Interreligious Christian-Muslim relations
An Iraqi woman prays at a Chaldean Catholic church in Amman, Jordan, on 15 April. Thousands of Iraqi Christians fled to neighboring Jordan following a spate of bombings that targeted churches in Iraqi cities in the past few years. (photo: CNS/Ali Jarekji, Reuters)
With the situation in Syria deteriorating and anxiety growing over the plight of Christians in the Middle East, the National Catholic Register’s Tim Drake spoke recently with someone intimately connected to the region and its people: Bashar Matti Warda, the Chaldean archbishop of Erbil, in northern Iraq:
Following the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, there has been a significant reduction in the number of Christians in Iraq. Why is that?
Yes, there’s been a reduction. Christian churches were targeted, Christians were threatened and killed, and many were forced to move elsewhere. There are so many reasons that many felt there was no future for them amidst an immature political process. The political process is based on family and tribal connections. Those in the U.S. look at the situation and wonder what’s going wrong. They say, “They have a constitution; there was an election. Things should be going okay.” What those on the outside don’t realize is that tribal connections are working on the inside. The tribes and parties look out for their own interests. Iraq is a very wealthy country, with a $100-billion budget, and many resources, such as oil. There’s much greed. So, for Christians, there are many reasons for them to leave — and maybe one or two reasons for them to stay.
Where are Christians going? Are there any safe enclaves for Christians in the Mideast?
They have gone to Syria, to Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan, but all of these are “waiting countries.” People tend not to stay there. Forty-four percent of Iraqi asylum seekers are Christian. They are going to any place that will speed the process of immigration. Other families seek final settlement in Europe, Australia, New Zealand and the U.S. Those who are not able, who are too poor or do not have the means to travel, often move inside the country to places such as Erbil and northern Iraq.
How might the instability in Syria affect Christians there?
It’s precarious. Syria is sensitive because Lebanon would be affected by Syria. It would cause chaos there as well as to the Christian presence in Iraq. When there’s chaos, it is not a good time for minorities.
Do you see post-communist Russia as a possible defender of Christians in the Mideast?
No, primarily because of communism. The Orthodox are very strong in Russia, but, politically speaking, we cannot view them as our defenders.
What are three things you would like American Catholics to know about Catholics in Iraq?
First, that Christianity has had a presence in Iraq for 2,000 years. It’s a very old community. It has not been converted from Islam. We were there before Islam. Our schools were always the best, even from the sixth and seventh centuries. Second, we’ve been through a very difficult time. We are grateful to the many people who have held out a hand of charity and solidarity with us, the various Catholic charities. However, we would like to leave this path of charity for the path of opportunity. Yes, we are a minority, but we have the capability to stay and build a good future for Iraq. Third, I would like to see more of a commitment by the media to raise the awareness of the issues in Iraq to build schools and hospitals. We are not benefitting from the wealth that Iraq has. We need to find ways to stay and build the community. When we leave Iraq, it’s a big loss. When I visited our communities in Detroit, the second and third generations are no longer speaking the language. Our whole culture is gone.
Do you see a peaceful generation coming?
Yes, that’s what we have to work for. The next generation is not following in the footsteps of their parents because they are tired of the mess. So many voices are asking when, for what and why? These courageous questions are helpful.
There’s much more at the Register.
We also spotlighted Christians in Iraq recently in A New Genesis in Nineveh, the cover story of ONE's November 2011 issue.
12 June 2012
Tags: Syria Iraq Iraqi Christians War Emigration
Lettegebriel Hailu and her niece discuss migrating to Israel. (photo: Peter Lemieux)
Award–winning journalist Peter Lemieux reports from Africa and India for ONE. To read his full report on Ethiopian migrants, see The High Stakes of Leaving in our May 2012 issue.
I witnessed one of the most striking scenes from my reporting on the migration of young Ethiopian women to the Middle East when I interviewed Lettegebriel Hailu and her 16-year-old niece Mebrhit. The teenager was poised, against her family’s wishes, to set off for Israel to work as a domestic servant.
We sat on plush couches and neatly upholstered chairs in the foyer of the domestic abuse shelter that Lettegebriel runs in Addis Ababa. The smoky scent of freshly roasted Ethiopian coffee filled the air. The scene was comfortable, if not the conversation, as Lette translated her young niece’s answers to my questions.
The first part of the interview offered few insights into Mebrhit’s thinking. Like a teenager steeled to get her way, her replies were hushed and to the point. She seemed disinterested in the discussion at hand.
But when I asked Mebrhit about the logistics of traveling to Israel, for the first time she started to open up. And what she had to say must have sent shivers up and down her aunt’s spine.
There are two ways for migrants to leave Ethiopia for the Middle East. They can fly out of Bole International Airport with a legitimate travel visa — for tourism or work abroad — or they can go overland on the “desert route” and cross the border into a neighboring country, usually with the assistance of illegal traffickers. Some head to Djibouti then take a boat to Yemen and eventually make their way to Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates. Others go through Sudan and continue by bus or by foot to their destination country.
If all goes according to plan, they arrive no worse for the adventure. But for even the most discerning and well-traveled migrants, let alone a 16-year-old girl from rural Ethiopia, that is one very big “if.”
According to Mebrhit and her friends who have already braved the passage from Ethiopia to Israel, she will follow her brokers’ instructions — from what to wear and how to behave, to where to go and what to do. She will travel from the Merkato in Addis Ababa to Sudan by bus. She will dress in Muslim attire, covering her face and traveling in slippers. From there, she will cross into Egypt on foot, claim Eritrean nationality and, says Mebrhit, “there’s an obvious place where you go to prison.” In jail, she will make a short telephone call.
Lette interrupts her translation: “She’ll be saying, ‘Send me this amount of money, otherwise I’ll spend the rest of my life in prison.’ Then by hook or crook, we’ll have to get her that money. Once she receives the money, she’ll be let go.”
By that point in the journey, Mebrhit will have memorized her new identity, that of a persecuted Eritrean. Her traffickers will have given her fake Eritrean documents — with a few years added to her age. She will have studied the details of her Eritrean village, the high school she supposedly attended, the names of fictitious family members and concocted stories that demonstrate a youth going nowhere. And on the buses and in jail, she will do deeper background research about life in Eritrea. After her release from prison, she will look to connect with another broker to get her to Israel.
As Lette knows well, the dangers of these overland journeys — not to mention what Mebrhit faces once in the destination country — lurk at every turn. In the desert, migrants are sometimes left miles from the border and told to walk the rest of the way with no food or water. Boats that traverse the Gulf of Aden can be overcrowded, shoddy and at risk of capsizing. Along the way, migrants may be passed from one broker to the next, each ready to exploit and extort the vulnerable migrant in his possession.
Mebrhit is too young to grasp the gravity of these life-altering risks. And Lette is essentially powerless to prevent Mebrhit from taking them. She and her family can only advise Mebrhit and support her in Ethiopia, if not her decision to make this journey.
“She doesn’t know more than we know,” says Lette. “And this is all the information we have. But her mind’s made up. So we’re really stuck.”
Lette and I squirmed in our cushioned chairs, hunting for a more comfortable position. But there was none.
11 June 2012
Tags: Ethiopia Middle East Migrants Women
This October 2009 photograph depicts rain clouds over the Dome of the Rock, an Islamic shrine in Jerusalem's Old City that also has significance to Jews and Christians.
(Photo: CNS photo/Darren Whiteside, Reuters)
The exodus of Christians from the Middle East has been garnering a great deal of attention — so we asked sociologist Dr. Bernard Sabella to take a closer look at some of the causes, in a web-exclusive essay for ONE magazine:
The percentage of Christians living in the Holy Land has decreased from 10.7 percent in 1890 to 1.4 percent in 2010. There are three principal explanations for this: First, the local Christian community has a relatively lower population growth compared to the rest of the population; second, the ongoing political conflict and instability; and third, the dire economic and social consequences of a prolonged political stalemate.
Christian families in the Holy Land are relatively small, with an average size of four to five members, compared to Muslim and religious Jewish families, which average one and a half to two times as many children as Christian families. During the decade 2000 to 2010, Christian numbers remained the same because of lower birth rates and the emigration of Christian youth.
The 1948 Arab-Israeli war left its impact on the Holy Land’s indigenous Christian population — 60,000 of its members became refugees (among the total 726,000 refugees) and 30,000 were displaced within the boundaries of the new state of Israel. Thanks to the assistance of the various churches and the Pontifical Mission for Palestine, many of the refugees, irrespective of religious background, were able to recover and resume their lives.
If 1947 is taken as the base year, when the Christian population was at 143,000, population experts would expect the figure to have doubled naturally by 1980 and to have reached the mark of 400,000 or more by 2010, assuming a growth rate of 2 percent per year. To the contrary, the present figures indicate the disappearance of six out of every ten Christians since 1948. Some would argue this is strictly due to trends of demographic nature. But in reality, these matters alone do not explain the steadily declining numbers, particularly in the occupied Palestinian Territories.
For more answers, read the rest on our magazine’s website.
11 June 2012
Tags: Palestine Israel Holy Land Christian
Three students pose for a portrait at a Latin Catholic school in Ader, Jordan.
(photo: Tanya Habjouqa)
In the May edition of ONE, journalist Nicholas Seeley visited some of Jordan’s remaining Christian villages and reported on efforts to uphold the faith and adjust to a changing world:
“I have five engineers — boys and girls — out of nine.” He grins proudly as he lists their accomplishments: one works as an agricultural engineer for the army, another teaches in Amman, a third is an engineer in Abu Dhabi. The other children are in high school and college. His wife teaches in Smakieh’s public schools.
“All scientific knowledge has come to us through the church,” says Mr. Hijazine. “We, as Christians, want to be the best in the area.”
For years, he says, people from Smakieh have left to pursue higher education, a choice the local church has always encouraged. “They came back bringing new ideas and information with them,” continues the educator. “They tried to make us understand or to explain to us how the rest of the world was working and changing. So everything came to us either through the church or through the people who came back.”
For more, read A Bridge to Modern Life.
7 June 2012
Tags: Jordan ONE magazine Catholic Schools Bedouin
A sister speaks with a resident of the Maison du Sacre Coeur, a Catholic institution run by the Daughters of Charity that serves the needs of disabled children. (photo: John E. Kozar)
Here at CNEWA, we value the work of religious sisters throughout the regions we serve. Congregations such as the Daughters of Charity in Israel remind us, through their dedication, that the love is in the details. Msgr. John Kozar, CNEWA president, was able to witness their remarkable work firsthand when he visited Israel last December:
From his office we drove to the Maison du Sacre Coeur. This is a cherished Catholic institution that serves the needs of specially challenged children of all ages — even up to their early 20’s. Sister Katherina Fuchs, the Austrian-born Daughter of Charity who directs the facility, welcomed us and introduced us to three other sisters, who came from Lebanon and Spain. This dedicated group of sisters, followers of St. Vincent de Paul, offer tender, loving care to these very special children. I was particularly moved while watching the level of care with which some physical therapists worked, massaging the muscles of these special needs kids. Through a delicate series of respiratory heaves and hos, they were able to extract from them the desired cough that would help to clear their lungs.
Do you want to support the work of sisters like the Daughters of Charity? For the next 60 days, your gift to sisters — for their formation and good works — will be matched dollar-for-dollar up to $50,000 by a generous benefactor of CNEWA.
Tags: Children Israel Sisters Disabilities Daughters of Charity