22 December 2015
In this image from 2004, four young carolers pose in their home-made costumes in front of Holy Trinity Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in Kosmach, Ukraine. To learn more about the seasonal traditions and history of Christians nestled in the Carpathian Mountains, read “Faith and Tradition” from the November 2004 edition of ONE. (photo: Petro Didula)
22 December 2015
Young displaced Iraqis try to dig a drainage trench after heavy rains in November at a camp
in Baghdad. (photo: CNS/Ahmed Jalil, EPA)
Patriarchs encourage hope amid suffering in Middle East (CNS) Catholic patriarchs from the Middle East encouraged their trouble people to find inner peace at Christmas and urged the world to remember them. “In Iraq, we will celebrate the birth of Christ who comes into our hearts in silence and tears,” said Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Sako of Baghdad. However, he said, “We remain sustained by (an) inner peace that perpetuates the joy of faith and hope that we will, despite the trials, work toward a fairer country and a better future...”
Two Christian villages bombarded by jihadists (Fides) At least two civilians were killed and another twenty injured by grenades on Monday 21 December by anti-regime jihadist fighters against the villages of Maharda and Sqelbyia, in the province of Hama. The two towns, currently controlled by the government army, are inhabited by Orthodox Christians...
Canada to double number of Syrian refugees in 2016 (Time) Canada announced it will double the amount of Syrian refugees it admits in 2016. The country had initially pledged to take in 25,000 refugees by the end of February, but John McCallum, the minister of immigration and citizenship, said that number would be upped to 50,000 by the end of 2016, the BBC reports...
Syriac Christians in Palestine keep hope alive (Middle East Eye) In an unassuming room off a quiet alleyway connecting the Armenian and Jewish quarters of Jerusalem’s Old City, the self-described mayor of this city’s tiny Syriac community holds court. A prominent local tailor, Sammy Barsoum has for decades campaigned for the recognition of the approximately 5,000 Syriac Christians that call Palestine home...
Report: Newly crowned “Miss Iraq” receives kidnapping threat from ISIS (Jerusalem Post) Iraq’s new beauty queen received a threatening phone call on Tuesday telling her to join the ranks of ISIS or she will be kidnapped, according to a report by the Kuwaiti daily al-Watan. Shayma Qassim, 20, won the first beauty pageant to be held in Iraq in 40 years on Saturday. According to the report, following her win, Qassim received a threatening phone call in which she was warned that if she refused to join the ranks of the Islamic State movement she would be kidnapped...
21 December 2015
As part of a pre-Christmas tradition, children bring figurines of the baby Jesus to be blessed in St. Peter’s Square as Pope Francis leads the Angelus on 20 December. (photo: Vatican Radio)
21 December 2015
A displaced Syrian woman holds her ten-day-old twin grandchildren in a town on the outskirts of Damascus where they have taken shelter on 20 December 2015.
(photo: AFP/Amer Almohibany/Getty Images)
Pope appeals for peace in Syria (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis appealed for peace in Syria on Sunday, calling on the international community to realize in concrete action and genuine fact the endorsement of a UN-sponsored roadmap toward peace in the war-torn nation...
Christians disappearing from Gaza (USA Today) Dim lighting and candles softly illuminate decorative tapestries as the smell of incense fills the air and the harmonic sound of hundreds singing in unison drifts onto a busy street next to an overflowing church on a wet and windy Sunday morning. Despite the packed pews at Gaza’s Church of St. Porphyrius just weeks before Christmas, Christianity is not booming here. Rather, the worshipers at the 1,600-year-old shrine believe they may be the last group of Christians in Gaza, where they have lived and prayed since the birth of Jesus. The ongoing Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip and the highest unemployment rate in the world are prompting Christians to leave the besieged area in droves, some using the holiday season to their advantage...
Pope prays for flood victims in India (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis prayed for the victims of massive flooding in India on Sunday. Speaking to the faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square after the traditional Angelus prayer, Pope Francis said. “My thoughts turn in this moment to the dear populations of India, recently stricken by a great flood.” The city of Chennai, capital of Tamil Nadu state in southeastern India, was overwhelmed earlier this month after a series of record-breaking rainfalls triggered the flooding, in which some three hundred people perished. Much of the city’s 4.8 million population remains exposed to the threat of disease outbreak as a result of the flooding. Meteorologists fear unusually intense weather patterns could bring more rain...
President Assad visits a Catholic church (Fides) Syrian President Bashar al-Assad visited the Melkite Catholic parish of Our Lady of Damascus, in the Damascene district of al Qussur, with his wife Asma. Of the presidential visit, which took place on Friday evening, 18 December, the official Syrian media released photos and video the next day...
Russia confirms food embargo against Ukraine (AFP) Russia will introduce a food embargo against Ukraine next month over Kiev’s trade deal with the EU, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said Monday, extending punitive measures already in place against Western countries. “These measures will be extended to Ukraine too,” Medvedev said at a government meeting. “I have just signed the relevant decree...”
Visiting a monastery in Ethiopia (Daily Mail) The rope being tied around my waist by a monk comprised lengths of scraggly old leather attached to each other by granny knots. I have a fear of heights, and as I looked up, the cliff seemed to topple towards me by degrees. But this was the only way to visit the 6th century monastery of Debre Damo, which perches on a plateau in northern Ethiopia, a true wilderness...
18 December 2015
Tags: Syria India Pope Francis Ethiopia Gaza Strip/West Bank
The Rev. Francis Eluvathingal performs a wedding ceremony at the Jyotis Care Center in Navi Mumbai. To learn more about the growing church in Mumbai, read A Church of Their Own from the January 2012 edition of ONE. (photo: Peter Lemieux)
18 December 2015
Tags: India Indian Christians Mumbai
Jasan Zided of Hebron, West Bank, waits to sell Santa hats to tourists in an empty Manger Square on 15 December in Bethlehem, West Bank. (photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)
Middle East situation dampens Christmas in Bethlehem (Catholic Register) Though the Christmas tree was lit in Nativity Square in the traditional ceremony, and some traditional pre-Christmas parades have taken place, the Christmas spirit this year in Bethlehem has been dampened by the political situation, which, since October, has taken the lives of almost 100 Palestinians and 22 Israelis. Few pilgrims are visiting the holy sites — or the souvenir shops that line Manger Square — and there is none of the customary festive caroling at the square in the evenings leading up to Christmas Eve…
Israel and Turkey agree to restore diplomatic ties (The New York Times) Israel and Turkey have reached a preliminary agreement to begin restoring full diplomatic relations after years of deep freeze, Israeli officials said on Thursday. The two countries, once close regional allies, fell out after a deadly confrontation in 2010 between Israeli commandos and Turkish activists on a passenger vessel seeking to breach Israel’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip…
Syrian refugees snared in poverty (UNHCR) Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon are facing dire levels of poverty, with the situation expected to worsen in the near future, a study published today by the World Bank Group and the UN Refugee Agency revealed. Nearly 1.7 million Syrian refugees registered in Jordan and Lebanon live in miserable conditions, often unable to afford the very basics including sufficient food, clothes and medicine. The majority are women and children who live on the margins in urban and rural areas, often in substandard accommodation, rather than in refugee camps…
Mother Teresa to be declared a saint (Vatican Radio) Blessed Teresa of Calcutta is to be made a Saint. Pope Francis on Thursday authorized the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to promulgate a decree regarding a miracle attributed to the intercession of Blessed Teresa (née Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu)…
Coptic monasteries will not close over jihadist threats (Fides) Historical Coptic monasteries in the Wadi Natrun region will not suffer any closure for security reasons, after the jihadist threats aimed in particular against the monastery in Baramos, dedicated to the Virgin Mary…
Indian government assures justice for country’s Christians (UCANews.com) India’s government has assured the country’s Christian community of justice and protection against persecution. “We have always been with the Christian community and will always remain with them. There should be no confusion regarding this,” said Rajnath Singh, federal home minister, and second-in-command to India’s prime minister. Singh was speaking at a Christmas dinner organized by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India in New Delhi on 17 December...
17 December 2015
Tags: Refugees Israel Turkey Indian Christians Bethlehem
Pope Francis blows out the candle on a birthday cake presented by a young member of the Italian branch of Catholic Action during an audience with the group at the Vatican on 17 December. (photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano, handout)
Today marks the pope’s 79th birthday — and celebrating with him are young members of Catholic Action, a lay organization:
To follow a path toward Christ, one must follow the good path of forgiveness, peace and solidarity, and avoid following the evil path of vengeance, war and selfishness, Pope Francis told hundreds of Italian children.
The members of Catholic Action’s children’s section, parish-based groups of young people from 4 to 14 years of age, spent the year on various projects that aided migrants in the Italian diocese of Agrigento.
Upon the pope’s arrival, the youth sang “Happy Birthday” and presented him with a cake for his 79th birthday Dec. 17 during his traditional pre-Christmas audience with them.
The pope blessed and thanked the youth for their work with migrants, saying that they welcome in an exemplary way “so many brothers and sisters who arrive full of hope, but are also wounded and in desperate need of so much, including peace and bread.”
“You can offer a special contribution to this initiative with your enthusiasm and prayer, which I advise you to accompany with a small sacrifice, to share their essentials with others who do not have them,” he said.
Departing from his prepared speech, the pope asked the youth what would they do if they had two candies and their friend had none. “I’ll give him one,” a child responded.
“And if you have one candy and your friend has none, what do you do?” he asked. “Half!” another child exclaimed.
“Yes, half. Very good! Go forward this way,” the pope said.
After thanking the leaders of Catholic Action’s Italian branch, Pope Francis led the group in praying the “Hail Mary” and thanked them for their “commitment and dedication to Christian education.”
17 December 2015
Tags: Pope Francis Catholic Migrants Youth
During his annual Moscow press conference on 17 December, Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks on a number of topics, including the situation in Ukraine and the downing of a Russian combat jet by Turkey last month. (photo: Sasha Mordovets/Getty Images)
Putin: Russia did have people in Ukraine doing ‘certain military tasks’ (Reuters) Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that Russia did have personnel in eastern Ukraine who were carrying out certain military tasks but denied Moscow had deployed regular troops there. “We never said there were no people there who were carrying out certain tasks including in the military sphere,” Putin told an annual news conference. Putin said Russia was ready to persuade separatists in eastern Ukraine that a compromise was needed in order to achieve a political settlement of the conflict there…
Saudi Arabia’s new anti-terrorism coalition stirs questions and controversy (Los Angeles Times) In a region chock full of anti-terrorism coalitions, the newest alliance, founded by Saudi Arabia, has managed to raise the ire of countries left out — as well as eyebrows among some named as part of the club. Absent from the list of countries are Iraq and Syria, despite the coalition’s operations being aimed at fighting terrorism in those countries. Also missing is Saudi Arabia’s regional rival and Shiite powerhouse Iran, which is pitted against the Saudis in Syria, Iraq and Yemen…
Iraqi Christian refugees share their most treasured possessions (ABC News) Iraqi Christian Annosa Ishaa, poses for a photograph in her tented shelter erected in the grounds of Mazar Mar Elias Catholic Church in Erbil, Iraq. The church houses hundreds of Iraqi Christians who were forced to flee their homes — many with less than an hour to do so — as the Islamic State advanced last year. Asked, after her family what was the one thing she could not leave behind, the nurse from Qaraqosh said her passport…
Christians mark 40th anniversary of celebrating Christmas together in Jordan (Fides) This year marks the 40th anniversary of the unification of the date on which all the Churches and Christian communities in Jordan celebrate Christmas. In 1975, the heads of Christian churches agreed to celebrate Christmas on 25 December, according to the Gregorian calendar, while celebrating Easter according to the Julian calendar…
In India, Christmas in solidarity with flood victims (Fides) Churches in South India will experience a Christmas of solidarity and humanitarian aid, to help the victims of the flooding that occurred in recent days in the area of Chennai, in the state of Tamil Nadu. The effort of the churches will involve all the faithful pitching in time and resources; parishes, priests, religious communities, associations, lay people and families will donate money they would have spent on the celebrations Christmas in charity initiatives for families affected by the flood, estimated as “the worst in a hundred years…”
Why Jewish-Catholic reconciliation gives hope for the future (Vanity Fair) The church faithful have, for the most part, become the allies of the Jews, not only in their long-term war against anti-Semitism, but also and especially in the joint effort to repair the world and restore human universality…
The Oromo protests and Ethiopia’s political vulnerabilities (Tesfa News) At least 40 people have been killed, hundreds wounded, and thousands detained in more than three weeks of uprisings in Ethiopia’s Oromia state, the largest of nine linguistic-based states. The Oromo people make up close to 50 percent of Ethiopia’s population. Protesters primarily oppose a draft for a plan that, if implemented, will expand the jurisdiction of Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, into Oromia. The ongoing protests began last month in Ginci, a small town about 50 miles west of Addis Ababa. There, the demands were limited and benign, largely centering on the ownership transfer of a local stadium and the clearing of nearby forest for development by foreign investors. The master plan formed only one piece of their demands. Authorities responded using disproportionate force, triggering a widespread outrage…
16 December 2015
Tags: Ethiopia Middle East Iraqi Christians Christian-Jewish relations
Special Representative of the United Nations in Iraq Jan Kubis, left, meets with Kirkuk Governor Najm al-Din Karim on 14 December 2015 in Kirkuk. The governor has just announced that as a “sign of solidarity” with Christians, 24 December will be a public holiday.
(photo: Marwan Ibrahim/AFP/Getty Images)
Christmas Eve to be a public holiday as “sign of solidarity” in Kirkuk (Fides) This year, the birth of the Lord for the churches that follow the Gregorian calendar falls on a Friday, a public holiday for Muslims. This is why, as a sign of solidarity of the institutions and the whole society towards Christians, the governor of the province of Kirkuk, Kurdish Necmettin Karim, said that Thursday, 24 December, Christmas Eve, will be a public holiday...
Patriarch: “Mercy is a political act par excellence” (Fides) “Children of the world dream of a wonderful celebration with gifts, lights, decorated trees and crèches.” However, and I repeat the same words of Pope Francis, everything is distorted “because the world continues to make war.” This famous “third world war being fought in pieces,” which he speaks of so often, is unfolding before our eyes in our region.” This is what the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal writes in his traditional Christmas message, presented this morning at a press conference in Jerusalem, at the headquarters of the Latin Patriarchate...
Report describes “welfare of Syrian refugees” (The World Bank) Since the Syrian crisis began, nearly 1.7 million people have fled to neighboring Jordan and Lebanon. To better understand the profile and welfare of Syrian refugees living in Jordan and Lebanon, the World Bank Group and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) have worked closely together to produce The Welfare of Syrian Refugees: Evidence from Jordan and Lebanon. The report explores the socio-economic profile, poverty, and vulnerability of refugees, evaluates current policies and discusses prospects for policy reforms...
How the Arab Spring became the Arab cataclysm (The New Yorker) Five years later, the costs and consequences of the uprisings have stunned the world. “Perhaps we in the international community, and the people on the ground, were naïve and misled by how easy the Tunisians made it seem,” Sarah Leah Whitson, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, told me this week. “The Egyptians, too, got rid of a dictator. But we underestimated the forces against democracy and rights — and the way in which other forces of repression and destruction were able to fill the vacuums that the uprisings created...”
15 December 2015
Tags: Syria Iraq Egypt Arab Spring
An imam prays in a mosque. ISIS yesterday publicly beheaded three well-known imams in Mosul, Iraq. It’s the latest in a string of executions carried out by ISIS against Muslim religious leaders.
(photo: Tareq Salfur Rahman/Getty Images)
The news out of Mosul this morning is horrifying. From the Vatican news service Fides:
The self-styled Islamic State of jihadists beheaded three well-known Sunni imams in Mosul in the public square accused of not obeying orders that forced them to recruit young people for the Jihad.
The three imams, known by the local people for their profile of authentic men of God: Kazim Abdulkarim, Bilal al-Sheikh Agha and Abdullah al-Hayalli, had opposed to the atrocities committed by jihadists in the name of their bloody religious ideology. They were killed on Monday 14 December, in front of dozens of people gathered to witness the beheading. On the same day — report local sources to ARA Kurdish News Agency, also Ashwaq al-Nouaymi was murdered, a professor of Mosul who refused to give his students the teachings included in the new school curriculum imposed by Daesh.
Already in June 2014, a few days after having conquered Mosul, jihadists of Daesh had killed many Sunni imams of the city, including the Grand Imam, for refusing to swear allegiance to the Islamic Caliphate. The slaughter of the imam in Mosul was virtually ignored by the Western media. All Christians in the second Iraqi city managed to escape, and their houses were expropriated by jihadists.
ISIS has made headlines and shocked the world with its beheadings and executions of Christians and other minorities — most notoriously the mass killings of Coptic Christians on a Libyan beach last April.
But what may be less well-known is their practice of executing Muslims, particularly imams, who are the religious leaders of the community.
Last year, ISIS executed 12 imams in Mosul after they reportedly refused to swear loyalty to ISIS.
In January of this year, ISIS beheaded a Syrian imam for “insulting God.” According to AFP:
The Britain-based Observatory added that three of the man’s sons were ISIS fighters, and that it was the first time the jihadis executed a religious official for this reason.
The man was detained after watching a video on executions carried out by ISIS and cursing because God had permitted them, Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said.
A month later, ISIS executed two more Muslim clerics and beheaded four civilians in Mosul for condemning the burning of a Jordanian pilot alive.
These public executions are clearly designed to sow intimidation and terror — not just among Christians, but also among Muslims.
What happened yesterday in Mosul is just the latest example.
Tragically, if the past is any guide, it won’t be the last.