Current Issue
June, 2018
Volume 44, Number 2
2 March 2018
Greg Kandra

As the situation in Syria continues to deteriorate, and pleas for peace are heard again and again, we were reminded of a story in our magazine from 2014: a Letter from Syria by the Rev. Ziad Hilal., S.J.

He described the terrible and terrifying conditions the people were facing, especially the children, yet concluded: “As a priest, I would like to say our role as a church is to push people toward hope, which should never be abandoned — no matter how unbearable circumstances may seem.”

Last year, he was interviewed for America magazine and echoed that sentiment:

Of course, one gets scared considering all the deaths and violence that are directly affecting this life, but our solid belief helps us defeat this fear, knowing that God is with us no matter what. Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ teaches us: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (Jn 14:27). Hope is always stronger than fear.

For this Friday’s video, we offer this profile of Father Ziad that accompanied his letter. Pray for the Syrian people and all those, like Father Ziad, who are seeking to help them.

2 March 2018
Greg Kandra

The Rev. Thabet Habeb Yousef, a Chaldean Catholic priest from Iraq, says the people of his town are working to rebuild and hold on to hope after the devastation of ISIS. (photo: Greg Kandra)

Earlier this week, a visitor from Iraq stopped by our New York offices: the Rev. Thabet Habeb Yousef, a 42-year-old Chaldean Catholic priest from the town of Karemlesch in the Diocese of Mosul.

Father Thabet serves as the sole parish priest at St. Adday Church in the town. With the arrival of ISIS in 2014, hundreds of Christians fled, settling in Erbil, in Iraqi Kurdistan. They have only recently begun to return home.

What they found has been heartbreaking.

“We have 756 houses,” Father Thabet explained. “241 were burned by ISIS, 112 houses were attacked by armed forces, destroyed completely. Others had partial damage. ISIS also damaged the infrastructure. Many mines were left in the fields, in the houses. You can’t imagine. It was a miserable situation.”

But slowly, he said, the people have begun to reconstruct the town, thanks to the generosity of various church charities. And he has worked, as well, to restore a sense of purpose and hope.

“We are working with zeal,” he said, “with spirituality, to give hope. I told them when we were away, ‘One day we have to return, we have to recover our identity.’ This was a way to encourage them to return.”

Related: Hard Choices

While he is in the United States — he will be visiting family in Detroit for a few day before returning to Mosul — he says he gets regular emails from his flock.

“Each day, they send me a message,” he explained. “They ask, ‘When will you return? We are waiting for you! Father, stay with us.’ They have been encouraged to stay and they want support.”

Much support, he said, comes from the faith of the people, and understanding their purpose in that part of the world.

“They have great hope now,” he said. “They know their vocation is to stay here, because Iraqi Christians have a mission here, to be the light in the darkness. The situation in Iraq is very bad. But the Muslims know we are Christians, we are people of peace and love. If we leave Iraq, we take that with us. Our future needs to be there.”

Christians have deep roots in the region, he said, going back to the first century.

“Our role is to understand that,” he said, “and to understand there is grace in being there. Many Christians around the world have extended their hands to us, to encourage us, so we have hope. We are one Body of Christ. So my message to the world is, please, do not forget us.”

And his message to his flock?

“Christians are still here,” he said with a smile. “ISIS tried to get rid of us. But they didn’t. Our return home means hope. It is a kind of a victory, really. The Christians in Iraq are heroes.”

For a powerful look at what some displaced Iraqis are facing when they return home, watch the video below by Raed Rafei.

2 March 2018
Greg Kandra

Students take a break from their studies at a school run by the Daughters of Charity in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia. To learn more about the opportunities they are receiving, read A Letter from Ethiopia in the Spring 2015 edition of ONE. (photo: Petterik Wiggers)

1 March 2018
Greg Kandra

Sister Josephine Amala Valarmathi addresses a meeting of domestic workers in Chennai, India. The Indian religious sister has been providing legal aid to migrant workers to help them avoid exploitation. (photo: CNS/courtesy Global Sisters)

Eastern Ghouta bombardment: 674 Syrian civilians killed in 13 days (Al Jazeera) As many as 674 civilians have been killed in nearly two weeks by the continuous air attacks on the Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta, a Syrian volunteer group has said. The Syrian Civil Defense, also known as the White Helmets, said on Friday that more than 670 people have been killed since the Syrian government, aided by Russia, launched an air offensive on the largely rural area outside the capital on 18 February...

New law sought for Kerala church properties ( Catholic reformists have launched a campaign for a new law to govern church properties in southern Kerala as the Indian state’s top court studies land deals involving Cardinal George Alencherry, the major archbishop of the eastern rite Syro-Malabar Church...

Indian sister answers call of migrants (Global Sisters Report) Sister Josephine Amala Valarmathi says providing free legal aid to migrant workers in their destination countries is a must to end their exploitation by employers and employment agents. Numerous cases could be avoided, she says, if Indian embassy officials would join civil society organizations in those countries to educate workers on local laws. The nun says her priority since 2003 has been to organize awareness programs for migrant workers on safe legal migration procedures so that they could avoid exploitation and fraudulent recruitments...

Pope to visit Geneva for anniversary of World Council of Churches (Vatican News) Pope Francis will travel to Geneva on 21 June to mark the 70th anniversary of the World Council of Churches. The announcement was made on Friday at a press conference in the Vatican by the WCC General Secretary, Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit and by Cardinal Kurt Koch, head of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity...

Archbishop recalls UN Human Rights Declaration (Vatican News) In the statement at the UN session this week, Archbishop Ivan Jurkovič spoke about how this 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights “represented a unique opportunity to reaffirm its pivotal importance as a reference point for global and cross-cultural discussion on human rights, fundamental freedoms and human dignity”...

1 March 2018
Greg Kandra

Students at the Father Roberts Institute in Lebanon join hands to perform the dabke, a folk dance native to the Levant. Learn how the church is serving Lebanon’s most vulnerable and Reaching the Margins in the September 2017 edition of ONE. (photo: Don Duncan)

1 March 2018
Greg Kandra

In the video above, Cardinal Edwin O’Brien, Grand Master of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre, reflects on the controversy that led to the sacred site being closed earlier this week, and suggests a way forward. (video: Rome Reports/YouTube)

Iranian Christians fear the worst (The New York Times) They sold their homes and possessions, quit their jobs, and left their country — they thought for good. The Iranians, mainly members of their nation’s Christian minorities, were bound for a new life in America after what should have been a brief sojourn in Austria for visa processing. But more than a year later, some 100 of them remain stranded in Vienna, their savings drained, their lives in limbo and the promise of America dead...

New mobile money initiative launched for refugees in Jordan (Reuters) The Central Bank of Jordan today signs an agreement with Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to launch Mobile Money for Resilience (MM4R), a multifaceted grant initiative focused on financially empowering vulnerable groups such as low-income Jordanians and refugees. As the first initiative of its kind in the Middle East, MM4R will provide access to more advanced digital financial services, such as payment transfers, savings and credit...

Catholic priest stabbed to death in Kerala (Deccan Herald) A Catholic priest died after sustaining stab injuries in an attack by an employee of his parish, near the famed Kurisumudi pilgrim centre in Malayattoor in Ernakulam district, on Thursday. The Rev. Xavier Thelakat (51) was stabbed by a man identified as Johny, a sexton at the St. Thomas International Shrine in Kurisumudi where Father Xavier was the Rector...

Priest jailed for rape in India acquitted, freed ( A Catholic priest jailed two years ago on charges of raping a young girl was released 28 February after a court acquitted him of all charges in central Indian Madhya Pradesh state, a hotbed of anti-Christian activities...

For the birds: Armenian says ‘When you have a good pigeon, you get great respect’ ( David Shirvanyan has been keeping doves (a type of pigeon) since he was five years old, when he got a bird as a gift from a relative. He fell in love, and today he has 300. He plies his trade at Yerevan’s bird market, which operates on weekends, offering animals both for food and for pets...

28 February 2018
Greg Kandra

A woman kisses the Stone of Unction, or Stone of Anointing, representing where the body of Jesus was prepared for burial after the crucifixion in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City on 28 February. The sacred site reopened Wednesday after being closed for three days over a dispute about taxes. (photo: CNS/Ammar Awad, Reuters)

28 February 2018
Greg Kandra

Tourists place candles outside the locked doors of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem’s Old City. The church, the holiest site for Christians, reopened on 28 February after a dispute over property taxes. (photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)

Church of Holy Sepulchre reopens (CNS) Christian leaders in the Holy Land announced they would reopen the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on 28 February after the Israeli government has set up a negotiating team to resolve a municipal dispute over property taxes...

Pope prays for Syria at General Audience (Vatican News) The Pope was greeting pilgrims and visitors from Syria, the Holy Land and the Middle East present at the General Audience on Wednesday, when he improvised yet another appeal for what he called that “martyred nation.” “We must pray for these brothers and sisters of ours,” he said, “and for all persecuted Christians”...

Ethiopian Jews threaten hunger strike (AP) Representatives for thousands of Ethiopian Jews announced Wednesday they will stage a mass hunger strike if Israel eliminates funding to allow them to join their families in that country. Hundreds gathered at a synagogue in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, to express concern that Israel’s proposed budget removes the funding to help them immigrate to reunite with relatives...

Meet a family that has tattooed Christians in Jerusalem for 700 years (The Federalist) Buried in a maze of alleyways in the Old City of Jerusalem near Jaffa Gate stands a small shop with a sign that reads, “Razzouk Tattoo: Tattoo with Heritage Since 1300.” The Razzouk family has been tattooing for 700 years. When the family moved to Israel from Egypt, they brought their tattooing tradition with them. Ever since then, the Razzouks have been providing tattoos for Christians in Israel as certificates of their pilgrimage...

In Jordan, a classroom for refugees built by refugees wins architecture award ( The building, which has won a global architecture award, was constructed in Jordan’s Za’atari village and is designed to cope with high and low temperatures. It looks like a giant beehive — but this amazing structure is a school for refugees built by refugees. The dome was constructed as a classroom for children in the village of Za’atari, near the huge Syrian refugee camp of the same name in Jordan...

27 February 2018
Greg Kandra

Eritreans walk through Asmara, Eritrea, marking the Feast of Kidane Mehret on 25 February.
(photo: CNEWA)

Last weekend, hundreds of Eritrean Christians turned out to mark an important feast on the Ethiopian and Eritrean calendar.

Some background:

The Ethiopian and Eritrean Orthodox and Catholic churches have a tradition that after Jesus’s Ascension, his mother went to Calvary to pray to him for a favor. Jesus descended in a host of angels to ask what she wanted. Mary asked him to save anyone who would pray or do works of charity in her name. Jesus’s promise to do so is known as Kidane Mehret, the Covenant of Mercy, remembered on Yekatit 16 in the Ethiopian calendar. This usually corresponds to 23 February in the Western calendar; some churches celebrate the feast of Kidane Mehret on the nearest Sunday.

Friends and supporters of CNEWA may also recognize the phrase “Kidane Mehret” from the children’s home that bears that name in Addis Ababa — another reminder of God’s mercy at work in the world.

27 February 2018
Greg Kandra

Tourists stand outside the locked doors of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on 26 February in Jerusalem’s Old City. Jerusalem’s mayor today suspended his plan to tax Jerusalem church properties, which had led to the church being closed. It’s not yet known whether this action will lead to the sacred site reopening. (photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)

Israel suspends plan to tax Jerusalem church properties (AP) Jerusalem’s mayor on Tuesday suspended a plan to impose taxes on properties owned by Christian churches, backing away from a move that had enraged religious leaders and led to the closure of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. In a statement, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said a professional team was being established to negotiate with church officials to “formulate a solution.” “As a result, the Jerusalem Municipality is suspending the collection actions it has taken in recent weeks,” it said...

Fighting in Syria goes on despite ‘pause’ (BBC) Fighting continued in the rebel-held Eastern Ghouta area in Syria during the first daily five-hour “pause” ordered by the government’s ally Russia. Activists said there were government air and artillery strikes, while Russia said rebels shelled a “humanitarian corridor” meant to let civilians leave. As a result, there were no UN aid deliveries or medical evacuations...

Thousands of police dispatched to Gaza (Al Jazeera) The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) has called for the dispatch of 3,000 policemen from the West Bank to the Gaza Strip, a senior PLO leader has told Anadolu Agency. “The move is aimed at establishing control over Gaza’s [Hamas-run] police stations,” Wasil Abu Yousef, a senior member of the PLO’s authoritative Executive Committee, said Monday...

Thousands venerate slain nun on first feast day ( Thousands of Catholics gathered at the tomb of a beatified Indian nun to mark the anniversary of her murder, with leaders projecting her as inspiration for persecuted Christians in the country. Six Catholic bishops joined some 200 nuns and 1,500 Catholics on 24 February at the tomb of Blessed Rani Maria on her first feast day since she was beatified as a martyr last November in a step that took her closer to canonization...

Ethiopia affirms open door refugee policy (Xinhua) Ethiopia has reaffirmed its open-door policy for refugees that are flocking into the East African country mainly from its unsettled neighboring countries. The Ethiopian refugee agency (ARRA) said Monday that even though the country presently shelters more than 900,000 refugees, it will maintain its open door policy towards refugees and “continue to receive new arrivals from several of its neighbors, notably from South Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea, Sudan and Yemen”...

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