4 November 2014
Blankets line a fence where where Iraqi Christians are sheltered by Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena outside a youth sport center in Ain Kawa, Iraq. An early wintery deluge drove out families, adding to the woes for those who recently fled from the brutal Islamic State takeover of Iraq's Christian heartland. (photo: CNS/Dale Gavlak)
CNS today reports on Iraqi refugees who will be facing especially hard times in the months ahead:
Sister Habiba’s kindly face is etched with sadness as she surveyed the muddy field where dozens of tents sheltering displaced Iraqi Christians once stood.
Cold, punishing rains and blustery wind swept through the encampment 20 October, earlier than expected for winter, crashing down the tents in the dead of night. Shoes, slippers and toys were strewn about, stuck in the muddy mess, signaling the mad dash for safety.
The recent wintery deluge drove out families, adding to the woes for those who recently ran for their lives from the brutal Islamic State militant takeover of Iraq’s historic Christian heartland.
“The tents quickly filled with water and collapsed. They were engulfed in mud. Some people had to be taken to the hospital. This happened at 3 a.m.,” said the nun, one of four Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena providing the displaced with shelter, food, hygiene and water.
They, along with a lone priest, serve about 1,500 displaced Catholics from Mosul, Qaraqosh and Bartella, Christian towns in northern Iraq overrun by the Islamist extremists in early August. All were forced to flee rather than convert to Islam, pay a protection tax or be killed.
...The sport center itself is bursting at the seams with the displaced. Mattresses cover the floors of the two-story building like scattered dominoes; tall piles of colorful blankets fill corners. Families camp out helter-skelter within the facility’s rooms, but there is no privacy because space is at a premium. What is left of their worldly possessions is contained in some small suitcases and plastic bags.
Babies cry as people talk loudly; silence is a rarity. A badly traumatized woman wanders from room to room, muttering. But at least these people are living inside a building, rather than exposed to the elements outdoors.
“Our bishop has managed to get about 60 trailers, which are more stable to shelter against rain and the snow we later expect to get in January,” said Syriac Catholic Father Bashar. The trailers can each hold seven family members and now house those whose tents were swept away.
“But we need far more trailers to house the many people coming for aid,” he said. “They have run out of money and there is no safe place for them elsewhere.”
Other displaced Christians have camped out in churches, unfinished buildings and parks scattered throughout the town. But the early onset of winter here has signaled yet another danger to those bereft of safe shelter.
Please keep the people of Iraq in your prayers. The need remains great. To lend your support, visit this giving page.
4 November 2014
Syrian refugees rest while cooking a meal at an informal settlement in Bekaa, Lebanon,
on 16 October. (photo: CNS/Mohamed Azakir, Reuters)
Setback: U.S.-led rebels in Syria routed by fighters linked to Al-Qaeda (Washington Post) The Obama administration’s Syria strategy suffered a major setback Sunday after fighters linked to al-Qaeda routed U.S.-backed rebels from their main northern strongholds, capturing significant quantities of weaponry, triggering widespread defections and ending hopes that Washington will readily find Syrian partners in its war against the Islamic State. Moderate rebels who had been armed and trained by the United States either surrendered or defected to the extremists as the Jabhat al-Nusra group, affiliated with Al-Qaeda, swept through the towns and villages the moderates controlled in the northern province of Idlib, in what appeared to be a concerted push to vanquish the moderate Free Syrian Army, according to rebel commanders, activists and analysts...
UN: lack of stability in Gaza risks return to war (Reuters) There is still not an effective or united Palestinian government in place in Gaza and unless stability is achieved rapidly, another conflict will engulf the territory, a senior United Nations official said on Tuesday. Robert Turner, director of operations for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in Gaza, said the extent of damage and homelessness after the July-August war was worse than first thought. The latest estimates suggested reconstruction would take two to three years if all went well, he said...
Iraq plans counteroffensive against ISIS with U.S. help (TIME) Iraq is training 20,000 soldiers for a spring counter-offensive against the militant group that has taken over large swaths of the country, according to a new report, and working in close consultation with the United States to do it...
Clashes on Syrian border split Lebanese town (The New York Times) Waleed Fayyad coaxed his sport utility vehicle through a chilly rain, peering down dark streets in search of suspicious vehicles. Later that night, a few miles down the road, Lebanese soldiers and Hezbollah fighters would rush to thwart insurgents trying to descend the mountains from the Syrian border, but on Mr. Fayyad’s patrol through this remote Christian village, nothing moved. Mr. Fayyad, a municipal employee, is among many local men joining new security patrols to protect the village amid growing tensions along the border. Ras Baalbek is determined to stay out of the Syrian conflict, even as it is pushed toward deeper reliance on one of the combatants, Hezbollah, which is battling insurgents in Syria. Like Christians across Lebanon, the volunteers in Ras Baalbek are divided on Hezbollah, the powerful Shiite Muslim militia, which grew from its roots here in the Bekaa Valley into the country’s strongest political and military force...
Ukraine’s president holds security meeting (BBC) Ukraine’s Petro Poroshenko has held a meeting with his security chiefs, after a rebel-held vote that he said jeopardised “the entire peace process”. He again proposed scrapping a law, agreed under the 5 September truce deal, which gives special status to the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk areas. Under the truce, the regions were to hold Ukraine-run elections in December...
Dozens perish in shipwreck off Turkey (Vatican Radio) Mariners conducting rescue and recovery operations pulled 24 dead bodies from the sea at the mouth of Istanbul’s Bosphorus strait on Monday and saved seven people after a boat carrying a group of migrants foundered...
Invoking Romero in Lebanon (CNS) The Good Shepherd Sisters have been working in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley for 11 years. They opened an after-school care program to help the children of Deir-Al-Ahmar, near Baalbek. The area was under the control of Hezbollah and was known for production, and consumption of, hashish...
Canadian bishops mark 50th anniversary of decree on ecumenism (Catholic Register) Canada’s Catholic bishops examine the church’s connection with other Christian churches in a document marking the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council’s decree on ecumenism. Titled “A Church in Dialogue: Towards the Restoration of Unity among Christians,” the document reviews the work of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops with various ecumenical partners including the Orthodox, the Anglican Church of Canada, the United Church of Canada and others since the council...
3 November 2014
Tags: Syria Iraq Ukraine Gaza Strip/West Bank Turkey
A child receives polio vaccination at an informal settlement of Syrian refugees in Bekaa, Lebanon, on 16 October. Msgr. Giampietro Dal Toso, secretary of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, who just returned from a visit to Syria, said “the humanitarian situation is worse than I thought.”
(photo: CNS/Mohamed Azakir, Reuters)
A Vatican official who just returned from a visit to Syria said “the humanitarian situation is worse than I thought”:
Msgr. Giampietro Dal Toso, secretary of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, told U.S. journalists in Beirut on 1 November that he had seen “the concrete face of suffering” as a result of war.
He also said the humanitarian crisis in Iraq is tied to the crisis in Syria.
“We should begin to look at this crisis as one crisis,” he said. “We have people crossing borders,” so humanitarian agencies must look at the bigger picture, he said. His remarks echoed those of Christian aid officials who work in the region.
Msgr. Dal Toso, the second-highest official at Cor Unum, which coordinates Vatican charitable agencies, said Syria’s middle class has disappeared, but noted, “The whole population is a victim of this war.”
Syria, which had a population of 22 million people before violence began in 2011, has at least 10 million people who are refugees or who are displaced within their own country, according to U.N statistics. The effect of such a shift in demographics has driven up the cost of living, including rent, medicine and even school fees, Msgr. Dal Toso said.
Other countries also are feeling the strain of accepting refugees from Syria and Iraq. For instance Lebanon, a country about 70 percent of the size of Connecticut, has a population of 4 million people, with an additional 1.5 million refugees living within its borders. The refugees are considered guests in Lebanon; they pay rent and work for lower wages than Lebanese. Catholic aid officials working in Lebanon say the government is, in essence, subsidizing the refugees’ garbage collection and utilities, such as electricity, because in many cases the refugees tap into existing utilities.
Msgr. Dal Toso, said “the first priority is to stop the violence,” then negotiate a solution and deal with the humanitarian situation.
To help those now suffering in Syria, visit this link.
3 November 2014
Pope Francis leads the Angelus in St. Peter's Square Saturday and implores pilgrims to pray
for Jerusalem. (photo: CNS /Tony Gentile, Reuters)
Pope: pray for peace in Jerusalem (Vatican Radio) Marking the Feast of All Saints Saturday with the traditional recitation of the midday Angelus with pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis’ thoughts turned to the Holy City of Jerusalem which has witnessed a spike in tensions in recent days...
Report: ISIS conducts mass execution of Iraqi tribe (AP) Islamic State of Iraq and Syria extremists lined up and shot dead at least 50 Iraqi men, women and children from the same tribe on Sunday, officials said, in the latest targeting of the group by militants. The killings, all committed in public, raise the death toll suffered by the Sunni Al Bu Nimr tribe in recent days to some 150, suggesting Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighters now view them as a threat. Some Sunnis in the volatile province had previously supported the local expansion of ISIS and other militants in December...
Al-Quaeda militants mass near Turkey border (AP) Al-Qaeda militants massed Monday near a Syrian border town in what appeared to be an attempt to seize a vital crossing from Western-backed rebels, activists said, underscoring the weakness of the fighters America hopes could be a moderate force in the chaotic civil war.
Blast targets troops near Egypt-Gaza border (AP) An explosive device went off on Monday near Egyptian troops demolishing houses in a town on the border with the Gaza Strip where Egypt is clearing a buffer zone to halt weapons smuggling, military officials said. The strong blast in the border town of Rafah caused no casualties, the officials say, but prompted authorities to raise the security alert level...
EU condemns “illegal” elections in Ukraine (Vatican Radio) The European Union has condemned as “illegal” elections held by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine where mining electrician-turned-rebel leader Alexander Zakharchenko was quick to announce victory...
31 October 2014
Tags: Syria Iraq Egypt Jerusalem Turkey
Students perform a folklore dance at the Franciscan School in Abou Kir, Egypt. (photo: Sean Sprague)
In 2002, we took readers to northern Egypt, to a remarkable school run by the Franciscan Sisters of the Cross:
Abou Kir is a suburb of Alexandria, a stone’s throw from the Mediterranean. A fishing village that today numbers about 300,000 people, it has a mixed religious population — about 70 percent Muslim and 30 percent Christian, the latter mostly Coptic Orthodox. This proportion of Christians is relatively high for Egypt, where the average Christian presence is less than 10 percent. Abou Kir’s Catholic school welcomes children of all faiths; here peaceful coexistence is understood as being part of the curriculum — and also of life. Of the student population, 55 percent of the children are Muslim and 45 percent are Christian. Of the school’s 34 teachers, 10 are Muslim and 24 are Christian.
“The continuation of a Christian presence here is very important,” Sister Zeina says.
“We offer a service to the local community by teaching Christians and Muslims to love one another.”
In a land where sectarian violence and mutual suspicion between the two religions are, sadly, not unusual, Sister Zeina holds firm to the belief that Christian and Muslim children need to be educated and grow up in a climate that fosters mutual respect.
“It is my conviction that they must be raised together,” she says.
The hustle and bustle in the muddy streets outside, with their horse carts, piles of garbage and pollution-belching, thundering trucks, was in marked contrast to the cleanliness and order of the school. I stepped across its threshold into a bright sanctuary for learning.
A spotless playground was bounded on two sides by the gleaming new four-story building. A third side was occupied by the old building, which had recently received a fresh coat of paint. Apartments overlook the fourth side. On the day of my visit, some curious women sat on their balconies, enjoying a bird’s-eye view of the all-school assembly in the courtyard.
Some 495 freshly scrubbed children in immaculate uniforms — bright red pullovers for the primary school, navy blue for the kindergarten and preparatory ages — were lined up in perfect formation. They saluted the Egyptian flag and sang the national anthem. A favorite Franciscan hymn followed. Sister Zeina then took the microphone and sweetly crooned a couple of Arabic lullabies, accompanied by a teacher on the organ. Then it was time for folklore class, and 12 girls in native Egyptian costume strutted out to perform a dance.
Their school assembly and folklore class completed, the children then filed from the playground into their classrooms — all smiles, hand in hand.
Read more about how the Franciscans were bringing learning to life in the May-June 2002 issue of the magazine.
31 October 2014
Tags: Egypt Children Education Christian-Muslim relations Catholic education
Syrian Kurdish refugees stand at the back of a truck as they cross the Turkey-Syria border on 18 October. (photo: CNS/Kai Pfaffenbach, Reuters)
U.N.: Foreign militants ‘flocking’ to Iraq, Syria (The Guardian) The United Nations has warned that foreign jihadists are swarming into the twin conflicts in Iraq and Syria on “an unprecedented scale” and from countries that had not previously contributed combatants. A report by the United Nations Security Council, obtained by the Guardian, finds that 15,000 people have travelled to Syria and Iraq to fight alongside the Islamic State and similar extremist groups. They come from more than 80 countries, the report states, “including a tail of countries that have not previously faced challenges relating to Al Qaeda…”
The terrible danger facing Syria’s refugees (The Telegraph) Scores of refugees from the Syrian province of Hama were killed this week when barrel bombs dropped by the Assad regime fell on their refugee camp in neighboring Idlib. Such a massacre would once have been front-page news, but now the images of the war across the Middle East between the jihadists of Isil and the US-led coalition ranged against them have overshadowed the three-year plight of the Syrian people…
Egypt flattens neighborhoods to create buffer with Gaza (The New York Times) With bulldozers and dynamite, the Egyptian Army on Wednesday began demolishing hundreds of houses, displacing thousands of people, along the border with Gaza in a panicked effort to establish a buffer zone that officials hope will stop the influx of militants and weapons across the frontier…
Pope seeks ‘unity in diversity’ (Vatican Radio) On Friday, Pope Francis met with members of the Catholic Fraternity of Charismatic Covenant Communities and Fellowship. The group is in Rome for its Sixteenth International Conference, which has for its theme “Praise and charismatic worship for a New Evangelization.” The bishop of Rome touched on several themes in his address to the group, beginning with the idea of “unity in diversity.” “Unity does not imply uniformity,” the pope said…
Europe’s Eastern Catholic bishops emphasize ecumenism (ByzCath.org) Following a four-day meeting in Lviv, 45 Eastern Catholic bishops in Europe issued a joint statement on ecumenism, mission and the conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East. “We reaffirm with greater awareness our right and duty to the pastoral care of our faithful wherever they are, including the right to proclaim the Gospel to those who do not know it yet,” the prelates said…
30 October 2014
Tags: Syria Iraq Pope Francis Gaza Strip/West Bank Eastern Catholics
An Eritrean refugee and her daughter hold candles during a memorial gathering in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on 3 October, to mark the first anniversary of the Lampedusa migrant shipwreck that killed 366 migrants near the Italian coast. Catholic bishops and aid agencies have condemned a European Union plan to scale down the rescue of migrants and refugees in the Mediterranean Sea. (photo: CNS/Tiksa Negeri, Reuters)
29 October 2014
Tags: Ethiopia Migrants Eritrea Italy
A priest kneels next to the grave of a soldier at a Ukrainian military camp near the eastern Ukrainian town Kramatorsk on 26 October. (photo: CNS/Roman Pilipey, EPA)
Russia backs plan by Ukraine separatists for early election (The New York Times) Setting the stage for renewed tensions with the West, the Russian government said on Tuesday that it would recognize the results of coming elections in the separatist-controlled areas of eastern Ukraine, where rebel leaders have scheduled a vote in defiance of the Ukrainian government and in violation of an agreement signed last month in Minsk, Belarus…
Pope prays for Ebola victims (Vatican Radio) At his General Audience on Wednesday, Pope Francis once again spoke of his concern for those affected by Ebola. “In the face of the worsening Ebola epidemic, I wish to express my deep concern about this relentless disease that is spreading especially in the African continent, above all among the most disadvantaged population”…
Armenian church to be consecrated on bank of the Jordan (Fides) Later this week, the new St. Garabed Armenian Church will be consecrated in Jordan, on the bank of the Jordan River, according to Armenian Apostolic Patriarchate of Jerusalem. The land on which the church stands — not far from the place traditionally referred to as the site of Jesus’ baptism — was donated by King Abdullah II of Jordan…
Kindness and laughter amid refugees in Jordan (CNS) After editing story after story from the Middle East, there is something very humbling about looking into a person’s eyes and seeing pain and despair. It is touching to see how families have tried to make a home, squeezed into small spaces separated by curtains and wood, sharing two toilets, a urinal and a church hall with 38 other people…
U.N.: Spike in Eritreans fleeing into Ethiopia (Al Jazeera) Over 200 Eritrean refugees are crossing the heavily fortified and dangerous border into neighboring Ethiopia daily, the United Nations said in a report noting a “spike” in those fleeing. Tens of thousands of people have fled the Horn of Africa country, escaping open-ended conscription and the iron-grip rule of President Isaias Afewerki, with many continuing northwards to brave the often-harrowing journey towards Europe. “The number of daily refugee arrivals spiked since the first week of September,” the October report from the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) read…
How the West buys ‘conflict antiquities’ from Iraq and Syria (Reuters) “Many antique collectors unwillingly support terrorists like Islamic State, ” Michel van Rijn, one of the most successful smugglers of antique artifacts in the past century, told German broadcaster Das Erste this month. And smuggling is booming in Iraq and Syria right now. In Iraq, 4,500 archaeological sites, some of them UNESCO World Heritage sites, are reportedly controlled by Islamic State and are exposed to looting. Iraqi intelligence claim that Islamic State alone has collected as much as $36 million from the sales of artifacts, some of them thousands of years old…
27 October 2014
Tags: Syria Pope Francis Ukraine Russia Eritrea
Franciscan Father Benito Jose Choque of Argentina holds a bucket of olives harvested from trees in the Garden of Gethsemane in Jerusalem. The trees' history extends to the time of Christ.
(photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)
An ancient tradition is continuing in Jerusalem these days, as CNS discovered:
For Salim Badawi, a Greek Orthodox Palestinian from the West Bank village of Beit Jalla, the opportunity to help a group of Franciscan priests harvest olives in the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives offers a sense of hope amid the adversaries his family has faced in their own olive groves.
He said much of the olive grove of his extended family has long been unreachable as it was taken years ago to build an Israeli settlement, now considered a neighborhood of Jerusalem.
An uncle tries every year — unsuccessfully — to reach the land, Badawi said.
“Here I feel hope that maybe one day it will be different, maybe we will one day be allowed to go there and pick our olives,” Badawi told Catholic News Service while reaching into the branches of one of the trees that can be traced to the time of Christ. “The olive trees are still there, but we can’t reach them. I feel something special in this holy place where we are picking the oldest olives in the area, maybe in the whole world.”
At the bottom of the tree, Karina Henriquez, a volunteer from Chile, places olives that drop from the branches into a sack. For her, the trees that continue to bear fruit after thousands of years are a symbol of Jesus, who is still giving fruit to all who seek him.
Henriquez does not want to discuss politics, but she knows that Israelis and Palestinians are good people.
“Too bad they can’t solve their problems. We were hopeful with the pope’s visit, but then there was the war,” she said.
Still, Henriquez feels the need to share the pope’s message of speaking to the soul of people about love and peace. “We have to pray so God will place peace and love in the hearts of all people,” she said.
Since the Franciscans retook possession of the small olive grove adjacent to the Church of All Nations in 1681, the Franciscan fathers have tended to eight of what are believed to be the oldest olive trees in the Holy Land. Tradition, backed by modern genetic testing, holds that the gnarled trees were grafted at some point during the Crusader era from a single tree that was a witness to Jesus’ agony more than 2,000 years ago.
Today, the trees are part of the Garden of Gethsemane, fenced off and protected from the crowds of faithful who come on pilgrimage to the site. To accommodate pilgrims, the Franciscans keep a box of small branches pruned from the trees from which people can freely take a memento.
27 October 2014
Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Sako of Baghdad, Iraq, arrives for a session of the extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family at the Vatican. Archbishop Sako suspended 12 Chaldean priests and monks for not receiving permission from their superiors before
emigrating from Iraq. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Iraq military offensive against ISIS could be a year away (ABC News) The combination of American airstrikes and Iraqi and Kurdish military operations are beginning to undermine ISIS’s confidence on the battlefield but an Iraqi offensive to take back territory is a long way off, U.S. military officials believe. It could be as long as a year before Iraq’s military is capable of launching a major offensive operation to retake Mosul and maybe just as long before a force of U.S. trained Syrian rebels can begin their own offensive operations against ISIS, the militant Islamic group also known as ISIL or the Islamic State...
Iraqi priests suspended (CNS) Twelve Chaldean religious men and priests living in the United States, Canada, Australia and Sweden have been suspended from exercising their priestly ministry for not receiving permission from their superiors before emigrating from Iraq. The sanctions went into effect 22 October following repeated, but “unfortunately unfruitful ultimatums” from the men's religious orders or bishops, said a written decree signed by Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Sako of Baghdad. The decree was translated into English from Arabic and is published on the patriarchate's official web site, saint-adday.com...
Christians of Mosul find haven in Jordan (The New York Times) Even as many of their neighbors fled the violence that engulfed Iraq after the American invasion, the three men stayed put, refusing to give up on their country or their centuries-old Christian community...
Ukraine leader wins election (Reuters) Pro-Western parties will dominate Ukraine's parliament after an election handed President Petro Poroshenko a mandate to end a separatist conflict and steer the country further out of Russia’s orbit into Europe’s mainstream. Poroshenko planned to start coalition talks on Monday after exit polls and partial results showed most of the groups that were holding up democratic and legal reforms demanded by the European Union had been swept out of parliament on Sunday...
Pope Francis greets members of Orientale Lumen Foundation (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis said on Friday there is no authentic ecumenical dialogue without being ready “for an interior renewal” and the quest for a greater fidelity to Christ and his wishes. His remarks came in an address at the Vatican to delegates taking part in an ecumenical pilgrimage, promoted by the Orientale Lumen Foundation and led by the Orthodox Metropolitan, Kallistos of Diokleia. The Pope said this journey towards an interior renewal is “absolutely essential” in order to make progress along the road leading to reconciliation and full communion between all believers in Christ...
Ecology, “common ground” for three Abrahamic religions (Fides) In a world marked by the upsurge of fundamentalism and ethno-religious sectarianism, ecology arises as a possible area of convergence and cooperation among the different religious traditions, beginning with those that share the same origin in Abraham, father of all believers. This is the key message highlighted during the conference entitled “Faith and Ecology”, held on Wednesday, 22 October in Jerusalem and co-organized by the Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development, by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation and the Studium Theologicum Salesianum...
CNEWA receives grant to aid Ukraine (Catholic Register) The Catholic Near East Welfare Association of Canada has received a $226,630 grant from the federal Office for Religious Freedom to combat religious persecution in parts of Ukraine. Over the past year, Russia annexed Crimea and violence has broken out in eastern Ukraine that has a large Russian population. Religious persecution has increased, with Greek Catholics being targeted, but also Ukrainian Orthodox who are not under the Moscow Patriarchate, as well as Roman Catholics, Jews, Crimean Tatar Muslims and others who do not support Russian separatists...
Tags: Iraq Ukraine CNEWA Jordan Chaldean Church