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December, 2018
Volume 44, Number 4
  
10 March 2015
Greg Kandra




An Assyrian woman prays at a church in Damascus on 1 March during a special liturgy for Assyrian Christians abducted by Islamic State fighters. (photo: CNS/Omar Sanadiki, Reuters)

Christian leaders again called for help for Assyrian Christians as Islamic State militants stepped up their attacks against their towns in northern Syria. Catholic News Service reports:

Syria’s northeast Hassake province is emerging as the new battlefield in the fight against the extremist group. Analysts say Hassake province, which extends like a thumb into neighboring Iraq and Turkey, could become the fault line of a new multi-front and lengthy war between Islamic State militants and Christians allied with Kurdish fighters.

“This is a very dangerous situation,” said Bassam Ishak, president of the Syriac National Council of Syria, warning of the major new offensive

on Christian villages along the Khabur River. “The villages on the south side of the river are in the hands of Islamic State militants,” Ishak told CNS. “They took Tal Nasri, which is very close to Tal Tamar,” Ishak explained. Tal Tamar “is at the crossroads of many highways to Aleppo, Syria’s second biggest city; to Qamishli, to Hassake and Ras al Ain.”

The March attacks follow a raid by Islamic State militants on a cluster of villages along the Khabur River on 23 February. More than 220 Assyrian Christians residents and other minorities were abducted then. About 20 Assyrian Christians were later released. Meanwhile, the apostolic nuncio to Syria, Archbishop Mario Zenari, told the Rome-based missionary news agency AsiaNews that Islamic State militants released 52 abducted Assyrian Christian families without ransom payment on 5 and 6 March.

“The 52 families who were held for days by the jihadists” are now safe, the archbishop told AsiaNews 9 March. “The militia still holds 16 people. Half of them are Christians; the other half is made up of Kurds.”

No Assyrian or other organizations reported similar information to confirm the news.

A statement issued by the Syriac National Council of Syria, the European Syriac Union, and the Christian Coalition for Syria said Islamic State militants seized “all villages on the south bank of the Khabur and several villages on the north bank.”

Catholic News Service obtained a copy of the statement, which warned that the extremist group will “try to cross the Khabur with large numbers of fighters and heavy weapons — vastly stronger than the lightly armed self-defense forces of both Christians and Kurds in the area.

Read the rest of the report.

Please continue to keep the people of Syria in your prayers. To learn how you can support them in this time of urgent need, please visit this giving page.



Tags: Syria Violence against Christians War

5 March 2015
Greg Kandra




A baby cries as members of a Palestinian family warm themselves by a fire on 20 February at the remains of their house that witnesses said was destroyed by Israeli shelling during a 50-day war last summer near Gaza City. (photo: CNS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa, Reuters)

The situation in Gaza remains critical six months after the war that devastated the region.

CNS spoke with CNEWA’s regional director for Palestine and Israel, Sami El-Yousef, after his most recent visit to Gaza. He noted that unemployment has hit 70 percent, and much of the region remains in ruins:

“One of the most difficult parts of our trip was seeing how much people have lost hope,” he told Catholic News Service on 2 March. “They really could not see any bright spot at the end of the tunnel; the tunnel does not even exist for them.”

Mr. El-Yousef said Gazans told him they feel the situation today is even worse than it was during the war, because then, at least, they had a bit of hope the war would end and things would get better with aid and reconstruction.

But promised financial aid from some Arab countries has failed to materialize largely due to an internal conflict between the Palestinian Authority’s ruling Fatah party and Hamas, which controls Gaza. Tunnels along the Egyptian border, which were used to smuggle cheap goods and fuel to Gazans, have been destroyed by the Egyptian government, which has labeled Hamas a terrorist organization.

Now all goods reaching Gaza come from Israel, with high Israeli prices, making many basics unaffordable for the local population. People are even resorting to buying basic food necessities on credit, but with no prospects of being able to pay off their debt any time soon, said Mr. El-Yousef.

“The troubles are so widespread, the general atmosphere is one of anger,” he said. “Anger at everyone: at the Palestinian Authority and Hamas for a lack of reconciliation, at Israel for creating the widespread destruction, at the international community for not doing more to support [Gaza] and at other Arab countries for not following through with their financial commitments.”

The level of tension is very high, he said, with the outlook for the future bleak.

Read more at the CNS link. And to find out how you can help the people of Gaza, visit our giving page — and please keep all those who are suffering in your prayers.



Tags: Gaza Strip/West Bank War Israeli-Palestinian conflict

5 March 2015
Greg Kandra




In the video above, Syrian and Iraqi church leaders discuss how the Islamic State has impacted their region. (video: Rome Reports)

Islamic State claims upper hand in fight for Iraq’s cities (CBS News) The front line in Iraq’s Kirkuk province was as close as CBS News correspondent Holly Williams and her team could get Thursday to the battle for Tikrit. The black flags of the Islamic State flew just 30 yards from Williams’ position with Kurdish peshmerga fighters, and beyond that, in Islamic State territory, was Iraq’s main north-south highway…

Dozens reported killed in mine blast in Ukraine (Vatican Radio) Local officials say at least 24 people have been killed and 9 remain missing after a massive blast at a coal mine in war-torn eastern Ukraine. The announcement came while Kiev accused authorities in rebel-controlled Donetsk of not doing enough to save lives…

War threatens to fracture Russian Orthodox faithful (U.S. News & World Report) One year on, war is threatening to further fracture Orthodoxy in Ukraine. While Orthodoxy has played a role in Ukraine-Russia relations long before the 2013 to 2014 Euromaidan protests and the subsequent conflict in eastern Ukraine, a decades-long divide has found renewed prominence in the past year. From churches being used to store weapons for the rebels to calls from pro-Ukrainian church leadership to send weapons to Kiev, it’s hard to deny that the war has come to the pews…

Israel moves to alleviate water shortage in Gaza (The Jerusalem Post) Israel plans to double the amount of water it sells to the Gaza Strip to help relieve the water crisis there and ease the burden on the overtaxed coastal aquifer. It is the latest in a series of gestures Israel has made recently to the Palestinians there and in the West Bank…

Rebels attack Syrian intelligence office (Associated Press) Rebels of Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate and other radical Islamic factions carried out an assault on Wednesday on a government intelligence building in the northern city of Aleppo, blowing up part of it, two activist groups said…



Tags: Syria Iraq Ukraine Gaza Strip/West Bank Israel

3 March 2015
Greg Kandra




A displaced Syrian girl finds temporary shelter at a school in Damascus, Syria, on 23 February. (photo: CNS/Youssef Badawi, EPA)

Syrian families who have fled their homes after the Islamic State raided their villages are receiving aid from CNEWA.

Catholic News Service interviewed Michel Constantin, CNEWA’s regional director for Lebanon, Syria and Egypt, who coordinates our regional emergency relief programs:

The Catholic Near East Welfare Association, upon learning about the Islamic State attacks, contacted Bishop Aprim Nathniel of the Assyrian Church of the East in Hassake, with whom the agency had collaborated on previous projects, said Michel Constantin, CNEWA’s regional director for Lebanon.

“What we learned from Bishop [Aprim] is that so far, there are around 900 families that have been displaced from around 18 villages out of 35,” Mr. Constantin told Catholic News Service on 27 February from Beirut. “Another 200 families are expected to come as soon as the fighting cools down a little bit.”

He said most of the 900 displaced families have been temporarily settled in homes in Hassake abandoned by fellow Christians — Assyrians, Syriac Catholics and Syriac Orthodox — who had earlier fled out of fear because Islamic State groups were very close.

“There were many individual houses that were vacant, so the bishop took the initiative to open these houses, knowing that nobody would mind,” Mr. Constantin said. Although the homes are furnished, the displaced families were in urgent need of food, heating fuel, gas for cooking and medication.

“It’s very important to reach out to them with something very basic to sustain them at least for a couple of weeks,” he said. As a first step, CNEWA arranged to send 900 food packages, enough for each family for that initial period.

However, delivering aid or money to Syria is complicated.

“It’s a very long process to buy food from the outside and send it to Syria. It’s not feasible, it takes too much time,” Mr. Constantin explained. Furthermore, transporting goods is perilous because there are daily raids by Islamic State along the only road that links Hassake to Qamishli.

Under such circumstances, he says it is more efficient to send money to purchase whatever is available locally, but due to the conflict, there is no banking system working in Hassake to send funds via bank transfer.

He said CNEWA was working with an Iraqi aid agency able to get the funds into Syria.

“Without this contact in Iraq we could not be so efficient,” he said.

As a first step, CNEWA sent around $36,000 to buy 900 food packages for $40 each. The agency determined from its work in Syria that $40 can sustain a family of five with food for about two weeks.

“It’s a top priority for us to help these people at this moment and then we can coordinate with other partners to see how more grants, more funding can be conveyed to them,” he added.

CNS has more details.

Meantime, the need continues to be urgent. Please keep these refugees and all who are seeking to help them in your prayers. And to learn how you can help, visit this link.



Tags: Syria Refugees CNEWA Relief

3 March 2015
Greg Kandra




Women in India have benefited from numerous initiatives of the village of San Joe Puram, including efforts to improve literacy, sanitation and water access. To learn more, read A Place of Promise — and Providence in the Winter edition of ONE. (photo: John Mathew)



Tags: India Village life Syro-Malabar Catholic Church Women Women in India

3 March 2015
Greg Kandra




In this image from December, an Iraqi soldier prays along a dirt road en route to the front lines to battle the Islamic State. The Iraqi military has launched a massive offensive to retake Tikrit from the Islamic State militants. (photo: Scott Person/Getty Images)

Iraqi forces launch offensive to retake Tikrit (Vatican Radio) Iraqi troops and militia fighters have launched an offensive to recapture the city of Tikrit from Islamic State militants. The military offensive is the largest since the militants took control of the city last year. The offensive is the first in a series of campaigns to try to reclaim large parts of northern Iraq from the Sunni extremists. Tikrit, the provincial capital of the Saladin province north of Baghdad, fell to the Islamic State last summer, along with Mosul and other areas in the country’s Sunni heartland…

Former general urges Lebanon to welcome refugees (Fides) Former general Michel Aoun, leader of the Free Patriotic Movement, has launched an appeal to the Lebanese authorities to welcome the entry of new refugees in Lebanon of Christian Assyrians, Chaldeans and Syrians fleeing areas of the Syrian province of Jazira, under attack by the Islamic State…

Patriarch Tawadros to meet with families of slain Coptic Christians (Fides) Coptic Orthodox Patriarch Tawadros II will meet today, Tuesday, 3 March, with the families of 21 Coptic Christians killed in Libya by terrorists linked to the Islamic State, according to official sources of the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate. The meeting will be held in the village of Samalot, in the province where most of the victims came from. Yesterday, during a homily, the patriarch said that the martyrs of Libya “have enriched the church with their blood,” and with their martyrdom have confessed and testified faith in Christ before the world…

Famed graffiti artist Bansky leaves his mark in Gaza (Salon) Whenever a new piece by graffiti artist Banksy shows up in the world, people take notice. Now, thanks to Banksy, the world is once again looking squarely at Gaza after what feels like the first time since the Gaza war last summer…



Tags: Iraq Lebanon Gaza Strip/West Bank Art Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II

2 March 2015
Greg Kandra




Pope Francis meets Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani of the Kurdistan Regional Government of Iraq, third from left, during a private audience at the Vatican on 2 March. During his Sunday Angelus, the pope offered special prayers for the people of Syria and Iraq. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)



Tags: Syria Iraq Pope Francis

20 February 2015
Greg Kandra




In this photo from the Winter edition of ONE, students pray at the Sts. Tarkmanchatz Armenian School in the Armenian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. To learn more about the school and the Armenian community, read “A Beacon of Hope in Jerusalem” in the current edition of ONE.
(photo: Ilene Perlman)



19 February 2015
Greg Kandra




Sonu Augustine plays with his daughter Nidhika in the yard of their home. (photo: Don Duncan)

The Winter edition of ONE features an interview with Sonu Augustine, who grew up in Kerala, India, but now lives with his family in Qatar. He is one of an estimated 400,000 Syro-Malabar Catholics in the Persian Gulf region. In his conversation with reporter Don Duncan, he discusses the challenges of faith and culture in the Persian Gulf:

ONE: Does your existence far from the core of the Syro-Malabar Church make it harder for you to transfer your traditions to your children?

SA: We have to work assiduously to make sure that the children are growing up in our faith. Growing up in India means that there is a communal family structure. Grandparents live with the family, brothers and sisters are always nearby, and there are Christian neighbors and a parish with activities of all types. In Qatar, however, it is much different. Even if I go regularly to church here, Syro-Malabar Catholics do not have adequate access to services in our tradition in the Gulf. The children miss out.

ONE: So you have attended the Latin-rite Mass for want of the Divine Liturgy in the Syro-Malabar’s tradition?

SA: For a starving man, whatever food he gets is good food. When he has options, he will opt for the best food. It was a situation like that when I first got here.

Read the full interview here.



17 February 2015
Greg Kandra




Pope Francis greets new Cardinal Berhaneyesus Souraphiel of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, after presenting a red hat to him during a consistory in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican on 14 February. The pope created 20 new cardinals. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)







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