19 March 2012
In this 6 January 2010 photo, Pope Shenouda III, the Coptic Orthodox patriarch, blesses the congregation during a Divine Liturgy celebrating Christmas at the Coptic cathedral in Cairo, Egypt. (photo: CNS/Asmaa Waguih, Reuters)
A lion of the universal church died on Saturday, 17 March.
Shenouda III, pope of Alexandria and patriarch of the See of St. Mark, led some 15 million Coptic Orthodox Christians — most of whom live in Egypt — since his election in 1971.
Not since the earliest days of the Egyptian church has one man impacted the Christian community of the region more than Pope Shenouda III. Picking up where his predecessor, Pope Kyrillos VI (1959-1971), left off, Pope Shenouda III spearheaded a revival in catechesis, particularly among youth, that spawned a resurgence in monastic life, renewed liturgical life and stimulated theological learning and Scripture study.
The pope also ended centuries of near isolation of the Coptic Orthodox Church, strengthening relations with other churches with which it maintains full communion — the Armenian Apostolic, Ethiopian, Eritrean, Malankara Syrian and Syriac Orthodox churches. He also reached out to other churches, particularly the Anglican, Byzantine Orthodox and Catholic churches. In May 1973, Pope Shenouda III and Pope Paul VI issued a joint statement that put to rest the Christological discord that divided the Coptic Orthodox and Catholic churches since the fifth century.
“He who is God eternal and invisible,” declared the popes, “became visible in the flesh, and took upon himself the form of a servant. In him are preserved all the properties of the divinity and all the properties of humanity, together in a real, perfect, indivisible and inseparable union.”
Egyptian Christianity is as old as Christianity itself, predating Islam and the Arab invasion of the country by six centuries. Despite 15 centuries marked by periods of persecution and peace, the Coptic Orthodox Church (which today accounts for up to eight million of Egypt’s 80 million people) thrives. Churches are packed with young and old; ancient monasteries flourish with monks and nuns; social outreach programs touch the needy and catechetical programs instill values and a sense of identity for the young — who are increasingly emigrating to the West.
Pope Shenouda III responded by setting up jurisdictions and establishing hundreds of parishes throughout Europe, North America and Oceania. Today, perhaps as many as four million Copt Orthodox Christians live outside Egypt, all of whom today are joining with their families back home in mourning the death of their beloved papa.
16 March 2012
Tags: Egypt Patriarchs Coptic Orthodox Church Coptic Christians Monasticism
A young Bedouin traveling by donkey through the ancient city of Petra, Jordan.
(photo: John E. Kozar)
Petra — the ancient fortress city carved out of rock in the Valley of Moses — features some of Jordan’s best-preserved traces of antiquity, along with significant evidence of early Christianity. In December, CNEWA President, Msgr. John E. Kozar visited Petra as a part of his pastoral visit to the Holy Land. Read all of Msgr. Kozar’s blog posts from his journey.
13 March 2012
Tags: Middle East Jordan Holy Land Msgr. John E. Kozar
A photo of Sally, a young Iraqi woman in Jordan, taken in April 2010. (photo: Gabriel Delmonaco)
In May of 2010 we were introduced to Sally, a lovely young Iraqi refugee in Jordan, by Sister Wardeh of the Franciscan Sisters of Mary. Sister Wardeh, a good friend and warrior for CNEWA, has worked with displaced Iraqis since the first Persian Gulf War in 1991. Sally’s story was especially poignant: this vibrant 19-year-old woman was battling cancer. Her chemotherapy was no longer working and she needed expensive surgery. CNEWA friends were able to rally behind Sally and her family. We raised $15,000 in one day to pay for her surgery. That gave Sally the precious gift of life, and the blessing of time.
Sadly, the time was short. We heard some sad news from Sister Wardeh recently: after a brave battle against the disease, Sally had “gone home to God.” We remember Sally and her family in our prayers, and we also remember those who cared for her so lovingly — people like Sister Wardeh. We are so thankful she introduced us to Sally — and thankful, too, that our CNEWA family was able to pull together and help her when she needed it most.
Join us this month as we celebrate the work of sisters like Sister Wardeh in the lives of women like Sally.
12 March 2012
Tags: Refugees CNEWA Iraqi Christians Jordan Amman
A parishioner leaves St. Elijah Church in Ain Kawa, a mostly Christian neighborhood outside Erbil, Kurdistan’s capital and largest city. (photo: Safin Hamed)
In the November 2011 issue of ONE, we reported that much of Iraq’s Christian population had found a haven in the Kurdish controlled north. Many had fled hostile cities like Mosul and Baghdad and were ready to start a new life in the Kurdish north. Over the weekend, The New York Times reported that Christians are now abandoning the area — due, in part, to lack of employment opportunities and security concerns:
“The consequence of this flight may be the end of Christianity in Iraq,” the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom wrote in its most recent annual report, summarizing the concerns of church leaders.
In January, the International Organization for Migration found that 850 of 1,350 displaced Christian families it was tracking in northern Iraq had left in the past year. Many cited fears about security as well as the strains of finding work, housing and schools in an unfamiliar place where they had few connections and spoke only Arabic, and not Kurdish.
“No one has done anything for us,” said Salim Yono Auffee, a member of the Chaldean/Assyrian Popular Council, a Christian group in northern Iraq. “These people are trying to figure out how to build their futures, to find homes, to get married. And they are leaving Iraq.”
Even in the relative safety of Kurdistan, some Christians say they still live in apprehension. A kidnapping of a Christian businessman in Erbil, the Kurdish capital, and a recent outbreak of riots and arson attacks against Christian-owned liquor stores in Dohuk Province — the northernmost in Iraq, along the Turkish border — have deeply unsettled Christian migrants to the area.
For more, read the Times’ article Exodus From North Signals Iraqi Christians’ Slow Decline.
9 March 2012
Tags: Iraq Iraqi Christians War
A sister treats a patient at the Mother of Mercy Clinic in Zerqa, Jordan. (photo: Nader Daoud)
Today is day two of our “Celebrating Women” campaign. In honor of the courageous women in our region, today’s picture comes from the Mother of Mercy Clinic in Zerqa, Jordan. This clinic is run and staffed by the Iraqi Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena. Last year 3,600 children received immunizations from the clinic. In December, Msgr. Kozar blogged about his visit to the clinic and the great work and beautiful spirit of the sisters who run this clinic:
We left Amman for densely crowded Zerqa, where we had an appointment to visit the Mother of Mercy Clinic. Perhaps the word “clinic” is a misnomer; this facility teems with activity and offers a multitude of services to a huge number of poor, almost all of whom are Muslim.
I have to tell you, the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, who run the clinic, are dynamos and command tremendous respect by the hundreds who come each day. Though the facilities are old, humble and crowded, the service provided is exceptional. On a typical day, the dispensary or emergency room might see between 100-140 patients. Additionally, there may be hundred mothers with their infants lined up for vaccinations. There are only two full-time doctors on staff, but they are complimented very well by a trained group of nurses, technicians, midwives, assistants and other helpers who make the delivery of services something to behold. I think our huge mega-hospitals in North America could learn a thing or two with the efficient management style seen here.
But most of all, there is a loving spirit demonstrated by the four sisters who work here and the dedicated staff that collaborates with them. Ra’ed mentioned that most of the staff have been employed at Mother of Mercy for many years, and while they could make greater sums elsewhere, they have made a commitment to stay and serve the poor.
Mother of Mercy is located right beside a huge Palestinian refugee camp, which houses about 80,000 inhabitants. You can imagine the volume of traffic to the clinic on some days, which lies within a compound that includes a parish church, dedicated to St. Pius X, and the parish school.
Another indicator of how beloved the sisters are is the fact that in every instance, save one, all the Muslim women with their children and infants felt very comfortable in allowing me to photograph them. Being cautious, I let one of the sisters accompanying me to ask their permission to take their photograph. I must tell you, the faces of both mother and child were prize-winning smiles, thanks to the sisters.
To learn more about the Mother of Mercy Clinic and the work of the Dominican Sisters, read Mothering Mercies from the May 2009 issue of ONE. To learn how you can help support the work of sisters like the Dominican Sisters, join our Causes page or give on our website.
7 March 2012
Tags: Middle East Jordan Health Care Dominican Sisters
Syrian refugees receive humanitarian aid from an Islamic organization in Tripoli, Lebanon, 6 March. (photo: CNS/Omar Ibrahim, Reuters)
As the situation in Syria continues to deteriorate, a new humanitarian crisis is unfolding. Issam Bishara, our regional director for Lebanon, Syria and Egypt, puts it in context:
In February 2012, Syrian government forces carried out a major attack on Homs. This resulted in the deaths of over 700 inhabitants, including women and children, and led to the widespread condemnation by world governments and various non-governmental organizations. On 29 February, the Free Syrian Army withdrew in a strategic retreat from Homs, in order to save the civilians still in the Baba Amr district.
During the past few days, some 2,000 Syrians have sought refuge in Lebanon, many of them from Homs, and particularly its opposition stronghold of Baba Amr. The majority of them, being Sunni, found refuge in border villages where they have relatives and mainly in the cluster of Wadi Khaled in Akkar-North Lebanon and in the East Bekaa border, in a no man’s land area called “Al Masharih.”
As for the Christian population: according to both Sister Marie Claude Naddaf, the superior general of the Good Shepherd congregation and Father Eliane Nasrallah, a good friend of CNEWA and the Greek Catholic parish priest of Al Qaa village (a Lebanese village located on the eastern border with Syria), the majority of the Christian families of Homs and the surrounding villages left during the escalations and found refuge in three areas:
- The Valley of Christians (inside Syria). It’s around 60 kms away from Homs on the international road between Homs and Tartous, which is a popular tourist site in western Syria, close to the Lebanese border. Most people in the area are Christians (Greek Orthodox, in particular.)
- The coastal city of Tartous (inside Syria). The Sisters of the Good Shepherd screened around 150 Syrian Christian families who escaped from Homs and found refuge in that area in addition to around 50 families who found shelter in Damascus.
- The Lebanese village of Al Qaa. Father Nasrallah says that at present 40 Christian families found refuge at their relatives’ homes within his parish. After visiting a majority of them, he reported that all of them are needy and living in very difficult conditions.
All displaced Christian families are struggling with severe weather. They are without power and basic necessities. They need emergency assistance such as food, foam mattresses, blankets, heating fuel and medications.
Christians are concerned about the repercussions of the events taking place in the region. They fear that the experiences of Iraq and Lebanon — which took place against the backdrop of a civil war — could play out again in their own lands. These concerns haunt the Syrian Christians, and have only been exacerbated by the death of more than 200 Christians in Homs as a result of the violence in the area, where the only victims have been civilians. It was reported that Christian residents of Hamidiya had been stopped from leaving Homs by anti-government forces, and were forced to evacuate their homes in the mosque to use them as human shields for protection against government troops. Further, the Virgin Mary Church, one of the oldest churches dating back to the early Christian era, was attacked by terrorists on 24-25 February. The surrounding commercial area, mainly owned by Christians, was also attacked. The same pattern that emerged in Iraq is now playing out in Syria: Islamic militants are now kidnapping and killing Christians.
At present, the priority of the local church is to help the displaced Christian families in Lebanon and inside Syria. Displaced Muslims are supported by Muslim NGO’s (mostly religious and Salafi institutions) and are receiving substantial funds from Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Christians are finding refuge with Christian communities where none of the Arab aid is available. The church is their only hope.
CNEWA is in the process of raising funds to assist some 260 families inside Syria and in Lebanon in coordination with Caritas Lebanon, which has already started providing some necessary items such as blankets to some families, regardless of religious affiliation. Click here to help!
It is worth mentioning: the Lebanese government has adopted a policy of remaining unbiased to the conflict in Syria. Accordingly, it is allowing demonstrations and free speech for both sides, without discrimination.
7 March 2012
Tags: Syria Lebanon Refugees Middle East Christians Relief
In this photo taken in 2000, Armenian Catholics celebrate Divine Liturgy in a village near Gyumri, Armenia. (photo: Armineh Johannes)
Today, Pope Benedict XVI addressed Middle East Christians in his general audience, encouraging church leaders and faithful in the region to remain hopeful in these arduous times:
“I extend my prayerful thoughts to the regions in the Middle East, encouraging all the priests and faithful to persevere with hope through the serious suffering that afflicts these beloved people,” he said.
The pope made his remarks when he greeted Armenian Patriarch Nerses Bedros XIX Tarmouni of Beirut and Armenian bishops from around the world attending their synod in Rome.
At the end of the general audience March 7 in St. Peter’s Square, the pope expressed his “sincere gratitude” for Armenian Catholics’ fidelity to their heritage and traditions, and to the successor of St. Peter.
Such fidelity has always sustained the faithful throughout “the innumerable trials in history,” he said.
The majority of Catholics in the Middle East belong to Eastern Catholic churches — the Armenian, Chaldean, Coptic, Maronite or Melkite churches.
For more check out the full CNS story in the ‘News’ section of our website. To learn how you can support Middle East Christians, visit our website.
6 March 2012
Tags: Middle East Christians Pope Benedict XVI Armenia Armenian Catholic Church
The Pontifical Mission-built reservoir in Deir El Ahmar holds up to 13.2 million gallons of water. (photo: Laura Boushnak)
Like the dysfunction in the electricity, internet and public sectors in Lebanon, the country’s patchy water sector is also seen, by many Lebanese, as an apt reflection of its hobbled government. Since the civil war, which lasted from 1975 to 1990, Lebanese have learned how to manage as private citizens and not rely on the government for support and protection. This mentality continues to this day and while it serves them well in surviving and managing during power and water cuts, it is also harmful in that few Lebanese seek to hold the government accountable for these shortcomings.
There is a widespread conviction here that political corruption does more harm to water supply than global warming. For example, there are precious few Lebanese initiatives to unmask and end such systemic problems in governance and thereby improve the provision of basic services, like water, once and for all.
In Lebanon, politics and business run very, very close, and for every advocate for reform to the government’s handling of basic services, there is another government figure with business interests in the given sector that run counter to the interests of the larger public. Private water provision is big business in a country where the government runs short of public water demand by some 30 percent.
Unlike its neighbors of Syria and nearby Jordan, Lebanon is a water-rich country and sees enough rainfall and snowfall (in the mountains) to more than provide for its annual needs. Its problems are a lack of water collection and storage infrastructure, an antiquated network of pipes that leak some 40 to 50 percent of the water, and an almost complete lack of water treatment facilities to clean polluted water.
To improve many of Lebanon’s daily woes, like water shortage, a clean up of governance culture and a stamping out of corruption is required. In the meantime, the NGOs, church groups and foreign governmental funds are providing a stopgap role that certainly helps, but will only become truly sustainable when Lebanon has a political culture that can take such initiatives and scale them up nationally.
For a personal take on Lebanon’s water woes, check out A World Without Water. And for more on what’s being done to help the people affected, read Springs of Hope in Lebanon in the January issue of ONE.
2 March 2012
Tags: Lebanon Water
Hassan Atrache buys water from a delivery truck at his house north of Beirut.
(photo: Laura Boushnak)
Journalist Don Duncan wrote about Lebanon’s water woes in the January issue of ONE. Here, he offers a personal perspective.
There are several things I had to adapt to when I first moved to Lebanon in May 2009. Although it is the most “Westernized” of Arab countries, and that makes some aspects of the move easy for a Westerner, the Westernized veneer belies deeper cultural differences one must understand and assimilate to over time. But before any of this happens, there are more practical differences that are starkly obvious the minute you land. Many basic government services are patchy. Electricity outages are a daily occurrence, water cuts happen frequently — especially in the dry summer months — the postal service is not reliable, and the internet speed in Lebanon is among the slowest in the world.
Within a few weeks of my initial move, the hot summer season was firmly in place and the steady supply of water I had come accustomed to became less and less steady. I had just about gotten used to the daily three-hour power cuts, which rotate on a scheduled basis, when I would wake up to find my kitchen tap and shower dry. Water cuts, it seemed, were much less predictable than electricity cuts and so were much harder to get accustomed to. Cuts would happen sporadically and last many hours, sometimes entire days, and the worst was that I never knew, once the water was cut, how long it would be before it would come back on so that I could carry on my household chores. In the meantime, the sink would progressively fill with dirty dishes, laundry would sit unwashed and, worst of all, in the searing, humid Beirut heat, I would have to manage without a shower and feel hot and nasty indefinitely.
The situation became unbearable and I began to try out some solutions. I would buy water bottles in bulk and boil them in big saucepans on the gas stove to do the dishes and laundry. I’d warm up water and give myself a sponge bath in the shower to feel fresh again. It wasn’t the same, and it was really time-consuming.
Then I began to see how Beirutis did it. The rich ones had big reservoirs in their buildings which would be filled by private providers as part of the hefty building charges they paid every year. The poor would resort to pulling water from wells or taking a plunge in the sea to keep clean. Those in between, many of them my neighbors, would manage by saving and rationing their water and when that ran dry, they’d pay a private water provider who would come and pump water he had taken from a spring up in the mountains. He’d come along in his mini-tanker truck and connect its hose to their water tanks. For a set price, he would pump a thousand to two thousand liters, to be rationed over as long a period as possible.
I have gotten used to this kind of intermittent government provision since I moved here, although there are still times I become exasperated and marvel at how easily the Lebanese adapt to fluctuations in supply of the various government goods and services. The truth is that, since 1975, when their civil war first broke out and the government collapsed, the Lebanese have learned how to do it themselves and not rely so much on the state. Since the war ended in 1990, things have gotten better and the government is more present, but the Lebanese people’s ability to cope has endured — an asset of resilience when the going gets tough.
You can read more about this issue — and what is being done about it — in the story Springs of Hope in Lebanon.
1 March 2012
Tags: Lebanon CNEWA ONE magazine Beirut Water
Mar Musa, named after St. Moses of Ethiopia, is an ancient Syriac monastery famous for its medieval frescoes. Today, the monastery draws tourists and Christians and Muslims committed to interreligious understanding. (photo: Armineh Johannes)
This morning we received word from our regional director in Beirut, Issam Bishara, that a monastery north of the Syrian capital of Damascus was ransacked by masked gunmen around 6 p.m. on 22 February.
Deir Mar Musa is home to religious men and women under the protection of Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III. The following is a press release from the monastery describing the events that transpired:
Events of Wednesday, 22 February 2012, at Deir Mar Musa el-Habashi
Wednesday evening at 6 p.m., the following happened:
Around 30 armed men — all, except their commander, had their face covered — stormed the monastery’s sheepfold, where some employees were dwelling. They turned the premises upside down, looking for weapons and money, and asking for the father in charge. One of the shepherds was forced to lead some of the armed persons to another part of the monastery. Four of the sisters, who were about to go to the prayer, were confined to a room under surveillance. Right after, some of the aggressors entered the church. The monastic community, gathered for meditation, reminded them that this was a place of prayer, and as such should be respected. The armed men forced the people present to assemble in a side aisle of the church. Then, they forcibly intercepted other persons at the monastery. They went on searching for weapons and money, but to no effect, destroying all means of communication they could find, but without causing any major damage.
During the aggression, the individual responsible for the group was taking photos with his mobile phone. After having permitted that the prayer goes on, he ordered the people present to remain in the church for an hour.
The superior of the monastery was in Damascus, and could not return before daybreak on Thursday.
It is noteworthy that those with authority among the armed persons declared straight away that they did not have the intention to harm the people present at the monastery, and in fact, they kept their word during the aggression.
Naturally, the question arises as to the identity of the armed group. At the moment, it seems impossible to give a definite answer. For sure, those men were familiar with weapons, seeking material interests. The reason why they were looking for weapons at a monastery that has been well known for years for its choice and promotion of nonviolence remains obscure.
We thank God for the protection of his angels, and we prayed during Mass for our aggressors and their families. In spite of these painful events, we did not lose our inner peace nor the desire to serve reconciliation.
Deir Mar Musa
Tags: Syria Damascus Syriac Catholic Church Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III Younan