24 September 2014
A cross atop a temporary building in downtown Erbil, Iraq, marks the office of Syriac Catholic Archbishop Boutros Moshe of Mosul — one of more than 130,000 Christians displaced by ISIS who are now seeking refuge in Erbil. To learn more, read the latest report on the refugee situation.
24 September 2014
A man holds Argentina’s flag as Pope Francis arrives to lead his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on 24 September. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
New air strikes hit Iraq, Syria (USA Today) U.S. and coalition aircraft hit five targets in Iraq and Syria early Wednesday as part of the continued round of airstrikes on targets connected to the militant Islamic State terrorist organization, the U.S. Central Command reported. Meanwhile, White House National Security Adviser Susan Rice told NBC News Wednesday the White House had seen social media reports that the allied airstrikes had killed the leader of Khorasan Group terrorist organization, Muhsin al-Fadhli, although U.S. officials had not confirmed those reports...
Syrian archbishop expresses concern over U.S. air strikes (Fides) The air raids against jihadi bases in Syria, carried out by the United States with the support of some Arab countries, do not elicit positive expectations among the population of Aleppo in Syria, This was reported to Fides Agency by the Armenian Catholic Archbishop of Aleppo, Boutros Marayati, who added he is afraid “that this type of external involvement could worsen the situation...”
Pope: Albania proves that diverse religions can live in peace (CNS) People of different religious beliefs can and must live together in peace, Pope Francis said. The Muslim majority and Christian minorities in Albania cooperate beautifully for the common good and prove to the world that it can be done, he said. I could see, with great satisfaction, that the peaceful and fruitful coexistence between people and communities belonging to different religions is not only beneficial, but is concretely possible and practical. They put it into practice” in Albania, he said during his general audience on 24 September...
Gaza talks to resume in late October (Reuters) Israel and the Palestinians agreed on Tuesday to resume talks late next month on cementing a Gaza ceasefire, allowing time for Palestinian factions to resolve internal differences which could threaten the Egyptian-mediated negotiations...
Pope Francis to visit Armenia in March (Public Radio of Armenia) Pope Francis will visit Armenia in March 2015, Chancellor of the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin, His Grace Bishop Arshak Khachatrian told reporters today. He said it’s going to be both a state and religious visit. A prayer in memory of the Armenian genocide victims will be held within the framework of the visit...
NATO: Russia has withdrawn many troops from Ukraine (Wall Street Journal) A top European Union official blasted Russia for reviving threats of retaliation against Ukraine over a trade deal with the bloc, stoking political tensions even as signs mount of a military de-escalation in the conflict zone. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization said that Russia had withdrawn a sizable number of troops from eastern Ukraine—though some remained. Meanwhile Russia-backed rebels in the region said they had begun pulling back their heavy artillery, after Ukrainian troops did the same...
Patriarch: Lebanon’s Muslims and Christians share same fate (Fides) “For the good of the nation, as spiritual leaders, our duty is to protect the moral and spiritual values and the fundamental and national constitutional principles.” This is what the Patriarch of Antioch of the Maronites, Bechara Boutros Rai said after his meeting on Tuesday 23 September with the new Grand Mufti of Lebanon, Abdel Latif Derian. In statements reported by the local press, the Primate of the Maronite Church said “At a social level, muslims and Christians in Lebanon are a family with a common destiny and a common culture...”
23 September 2014
Tags: Syria Iraq Gaza Strip/West Bank Armenia Muslim
The book of the Gospels is seen during during an ecumenical prayer service for Middle Eastern peace in Washington on 9 September. (photo: CNS/Tyler Orsburn)
What does it mean to defend Christians in the Middle East? This week, National Catholic Reporter explores that question — and gets some answers from CNEWA:
As many minority Christians in the region — already buffeted by decades of social marginalization and political instability and experiencing a historic bottoming out of their ranks — now face barbaric forms of persecution in places like Iraq and Syria, the questions have taken on a newfound significance. The issue has become all the more important here in America, where the effort to raise public awareness of their plight is still in its nascency (and susceptible to political opportunism), and the nation is, again, on the brink of war.
Interviews with experts — and the words of Middle East Christians themselves — suggest two answers. The first has to do with the legacy of Christians in the region.
“The center of the church in its formative years was in the area we now call the Middle East,” said the Catholic Near East Welfare Association’s Michael La Civita. He called the Christian presence in the Middle East “absolutely vital” to the development of both Eastern and Western civilization.
“So many of the great works of our classical Greco-Roman heritage would have been lost, but they were preserved by the Eastern churches, by the monasteries,” La Civita said. “The monks were scholars, they preserved books, transcribed them into Copt, Syriac and Armenian,” ancient languages still spoken by Middle East Christians today. “With the advent of Islam, the various Muslim courts appropriated the services of these Christians. They gave to the Muslim Arabs geometry and astronomy, and classical philosophy, all of which then the Muslim Arabs brought back to us, through Sicily and Spain.”
Asked what the loss of the Christian presence would mean to Christianity, La Civita said: “Culturally, liturgically, it would be a great loss to the church of Christ if its Eastern roots were severed. It would be a tremendous loss — a tremendous loss.”
There’s much more. Read it all at the NCR link.
22 September 2014
Tags: Middle East Christians CNEWA
In Jordan, a young refugee from Iraq proudly shows the emblem he painted on the wall in his cramped shelter: the Arabic letter for “N,” meaning Nazarene, or Christian. Back in his home in Iraq, it is the letter ISIS painted on houses to designate the homes of Christians, marking them for persecution or punishment. Thousands of refugees from Iraq, like this little boy, have found shelter in parishes in Jordan — but their struggles are far from over. Read the latest report
from our CNEWA staff. (photo: CNEWA)
19 September 2014
Armenian Katarine Hoveian, 91, has lived alone for 25 years. (photo: Nazik Armenakyan)
Pope Francis today met with the president of Armenia. The Summer edition of ONE includes a poignant look at some of those citizens the president serves, notably the elderly:
Since the earthquake, the population of Gyumri has dropped by about half. In 1988, some 220,000 people lived in the city. But by 2011 — due to the earthquake and the country’s economic collapse after it achieved independence from an unraveling Soviet Union — Gyumri’s population declined to 121,500. Many are convinced the actual number of people living in the city is less than 90,000.
According to the United Nations, Armenia is among the world’s “aging” nations. Pensioners constitute some 14 percent of the country’s 2.9 million people. In Gyumri, the average age is trending upward as more and more of the young and capable pursue employment abroad, usually Russia.
“Imagine how things stand with the frail elderly if men leave their children to go find jobs to earn their living, if unemployment is 40 percent in the city during the summer, and rises to 60 percent in the winter due to fewer seasonal jobs,” says Sister Arousiag Sajonian of the Armenian Sisters of the Immaculate Conception.
“If the young cannot survive, how can seniors?” asks Sister Arousiag, who arrived in northwestern Armenia soon after the earthquake. She later founded the Our Lady of Armenia Boghossian Educational Center in Gyumri, which since 2011 has also included a center to care for the elderly.
Observers say pensioners in northern Armenia are left alone with no caretakers for a variety of reasons. Some may have lost their children in the earthquake. Others lost their children to emigration. But alone in Gyumri exists the phenomenon of orphaned children brought by the Soviets to work in factories — orphans such as Ophelia Matevosian — who never married or created families and remain alone.
Read more about those Shaken by the Earthquake of Life in the Summer edition of ONE.
19 September 2014
Pope Francis walks next to Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan during a meeting at the Vatican on 19 September. (photo: CNS/Andrew Medichini, pool via Reuters)
Turkey opens border to Syrians fleeing ISIS (BBC) Turkey has allowed thousands of Syrian Kurds fleeing Islamic State (IS) militants to cross its southern border, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said. TV footage showed exhausted people, mostly women and children, crossing into the south-eastern border village of Dikmetas under tight security. The move followed clashes with Turkish Kurd protesters who were calling for the refugees to be allowed in. Syrian Kurds have been massing along the Turkish border since Thursday...
Pope meets with president of Armenia (VIS) This morning Pope Francis received in audience the president of the Republic of Armenia, Serzh Sargsyan, who subsequently met with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State, accompanied by Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, Secretary for Relations with States. During the cordial discussions, satisfaction was expressed for the development and strengthening of bilateral relations, highlighting the special role of Christianity in the history and life of Armenian society...
Will bishops at upcoming Synod understand the challenges of India? (UCANews) At least one Indian archbishop will speak at the Synod on the Family called by Pope Francis in Rome a fortnight from now. Having served in Delhi as the apostolic nuncio at a critical time in the country’s political history, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri is an old India hand. But will that be sufficient to have post-synod documents reflect the South Asian reality as a matter of conjecture, and hope?...
Religion still leads the way in Egypt (The Guardian) When protesters successfully called for the overthrow of Mohamed Morsi last year, part of their rhetoric played on fears that Egypt's first democratically elected president and his Muslim Brotherhood were seeking to turn the country into a theocracy. Yet 14 months on, religion and politics are as interwoven as ever — and Morsi’s successors in government are leading the way...
18 September 2014
Tags: Syria India Egypt Armenia Turkey
Iraqi Christians from Qaraqosh, who were forced to flee from advancing Islamic State militants, rest at a makeshift shelter near Erbil, Iraq, last week. Kurdish forces have reportedly taken back several nearby Christian villages in northern Iraq. (photo:CNS/Mohamed Messara, EPA)
Some encouraging news this week from northern Iraq, via AFP:
Kurdish Peshmerga forces on Tuesday recaptured seven Christian villages in northern Iraq in clashes with Islamic State (IS) jihadists, an officer and a cleric said.
Iraq’s largest Christian town, Qaraqosh, and dozens of other villages were all but emptied in what Christian leaders described as the worst disaster for the minority in centuries.Tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians, most of them Chaldeans, fled their homes when IS militants launched a renewed drive in the north in early August.
On Tuesday, Peshmerga forces ousted IS militants from seven villages west of the Kurdish capital Erbil during fighting in which rockets and mortar rounds were used, a senior officer said.
“We liberated those villages with the support of US aircraft,” Major Sardar Ali said, referring to the Nineveh plains area between Erbil and Mosul, the main IS hub in Iraq.
The United States, whose air force has been targeting IS jihadists in the area since early August, has yet to confirm it carried out the latest reported strikes.
The Peshmerga, the main security forces of the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq, are receiving arms and ammunition from countries including the United States and France.The officer said many of the homes were booby-trapped by the jihadists before they retreated.
A source in the Catholic Chaldean church told AFP that Kurdish forces had made progress Tuesday.
“The peshmerga managed to liberate several villages... (IS) militants have now fled from there,” the cleric said on condition of anonymity.
The villages were important because of their location close to the towns of Bartalla and Qaraqosh, he added.
Read more at the AFP link.
Thousands of Iraqi Christians today are homeless, living in tent cities and makeshift housing. You can help give them what they need to survive. Visit our giving page to learn how.
18 September 2014
A rosary hangs from a machine gun as Ukrainian soldiers stand at their positions near the Ukrainian town of Pervomaysk on 12 September. Ukraine moved to resolve months of crisis by strengthening ties to Europe and loosening some controls over the country’s rebellious eastern regions, where it has been fighting Russian-backed separatists. (CNS photo/Gleb Garanich, Reuters)
18 September 2014
Three weeks ago, we reported that an important Christian stronghold in Syria — the city of Mhardeh and nearby Hama — was under attack by ISIS and the Al Qaeda-backed rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra.
Recent reports indicate that the region is still under siege:
In the central province of Hama, two civilians, including a woman, were killed and another was injured in terrorist rocket attack on Mhardeh city in the countryside.
A source in Hama Police Command told SANA reporter that terrorists targeted Mhardeh city with four rocket shells that hit the western neighborhood, killing two civilians, one of them a woman, and injuring another, in addition to causing material damage to the citizens’ houses and properties.
Terrorists fired a number of rocket shells on several neighborhoods in the city of the central province of Homs, leaving 18 civilians injured, according to a source at Homs Police Command.
The source told SANA reporter that the rocket shells hit al-Walid suburb and Wadi al-Dahab neighborhood, wounding 18 civilians, in addition to causing material damage in the areas where the shells landed.
On Tuesday, seven civilians were injured in terrorist rocket and mortar attacks on Wadi al-Dahab and Ekrema neighborhoods and al-Walid suburb in Homs city.
A report from last week adds additional background:
The ongoing fighting among extremist Islamist anti-Assad groups continues deadlier than ever with the Islamic State (IS) gaining the upper hand. The rising violence and terror are a threat to minorities, especially Christians, whose ancient presence is increasingly in jeopardy. This is particularly true for the Greek Orthodox town of Mhardeh, one Syria’s remaining Christian strongholds, which is under siege from Jabhat al-Nusra forces.
...While the Islamist opposition to President Assad remains divided, Islamists — without exception — continue to target the country’s religious minorities, especially Christians.
The historic city of Mhardeh, one of the last Christian strongholds in Syria, is one of the latest victims.
Fighters from the Jabhat al-Nusra, which is connected to the al-Qaeda terror network and is loyal to its Ayman al-Zawahiri, have surrounded the town, and relentlessly shelled it, day and night, in the past week an eyewitness said. Without power supplies, the city is “besieged on all sides, except for one road, but it’s difficult to go on it,” he added.
For centuries, Mhardeh was a safe haven for Syria’s Greek Orthodox Christians, recently housing a population of approximately 23,000.
Known locally as the “city of the sun,” before plunging into the thick of the Syrian civil war, it had already experienced al-Nusra suicide attacks.
In recent weeks, militants have taken advantage of the lack of media coverage and international attention — whose focus is on the Islamic State and its push in Iraq — to renew its offensive against the Christian town and, more generally, across the Hama region.
However, according to sources in the Syrian opposition, jihadists were aiming at Mhardeh not because the population is Christian, but rather because they want to seize a major government military complex in the area.
18 September 2014
As reports circulate of Christians returning to some recaptured villages in northern Iraq, the British ambassador to the Holy See in the video above says “We want persecuted minorities to be
able to return home.” (video: Rome Reports)
Kurds retake Christian villages (AFP) Kurdish peshmerga forces on Tuesday recaptured seven Christian villages in northern Iraq in clashes with Islamic State (IS) jihadists, an officer and a cleric said. Iraq’s largest Christian town, Qaraqosh, and dozens of other villages were all but emptied in what Christian leaders described as the worst disaster for the minority in centuries.Tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians, most of them Chaldeans, fled their homes when IS militants launched a renewed drive in the north in early August. On Tuesday, peshmerga forces ousted IS militants from seven villages west of the Kurdish capital Arbil during fighting in which rockets and mortar rounds were used, a senior officer said...
Saudi Arabia pledges $500 million to Gaza rebuilding (Reuters) Saudi Arabia has pledged $500 million to help rebuild Gaza, Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Al-Hamdallah said on Thursday, with the full cost of post-war reconstruction expected to be around $4 billion over three years. Saudi Arabia’s commitment comes ahead of a conference in Cairo on 12 October when Palestinian leaders hope other donors, including Turkey, Qatar, the European Union and United States, will step forward with promises of support...
Kerala migration rising (The India Express) The Kerala Migration Survey of 2014 has found that flow of Keralites to abroad still continues mainly because of the state’s inability to provide suitable jobs for the increasing number of educated youths. Apart from this, the glamor associated with Gulf emigration is still strong among the state’s youth...
Pope meets with Jewish leaders to mark Rosh Hashanah (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Wednesday afternoon met with delegation of 40 world Jewish leaders at the Casa Santa Marta. The gathering was in honor of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Among those attending the event were World Jewish Congress (WJC) President Ronald S. Lauder, Latin American Jewish Congress President Jack Terpins, WJC Treasurer Chella Safra and a number of Jewish community heads and senior WJC officials...
Ethiopia equipped to confront Ebola crisis (Christian Science Monitor) Six months into the worst Ebola outbreak in history, only two African nations — Ethiopia and Algeria — are adequately prepared to handle the potential arrival of the virus, according to the World Health Organization. Nineteen countries are partially prepared, and 20 were described are not prepared at all...
Tags: Iraq Pope Francis Ethiopia Gaza Strip/West Bank Kerala