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March, 2018
Volume 44, Number 1
  
31 January 2017
Greg Kandra




The Rev. Paolo Dall’Oglio ministered to people in Syria and committed his life to dialogue with the Islamic world. (photo: CNS)

When we first met this CNEWA hero two decades ago, we had no idea the dramatic turn his life would take.

The Rev. Paolo Dall’Oglio had settled in Syria, at Mar Mousa (St. Moses), a monastery about an hour’s drive north of Damascus that had become a treasured pilgrimage site for thousands of people every year. Our story in the magazine from 1998 explained its history:

A manuscript from Mar Mousa now in the British Museum dates the monastery’s construction to the sixth century. Local tradition says the monastery was founded on the site of the grave of St. Moses the Ethiopian (c. 330 – 405).

According to tradition, Moses, the slave of an Egyptian official, was dismissed from service for immoral conduct and theft.

Once freed, he formed a band of fierce robbers, who ran roughshod throughout Egypt. Fleeing the law after one escapade, he sought refuge with some hermits who overwhelmed the robber with their sanctity and kindness. He asked to remain with the hermits and, after making a confession, he received the sacraments. Encouraged by St. Isidore, he overcame his penchant for violence and sex and, with his band of robbers-turned-monks, he traveled throughout the Near East, spreading the Gospel.

Moses became a well-loved individual, particularly in the East, where the Coptic, Ethiopian, Greek, Latin and Syrian churches honor his memory.

In 1982, when Father Paolo Dall’Oglio, an Italian Jesuit priest, first came to Syria, the ancient Syrian Orthodox monastery of Mar Mousa was abandoned and in ruins. The monastery church dates from the 11th century; the frescoes that adorn it, from the 11th and 12th centuries.

...Today, the Mar Mousa community is led by Father Paolo, who has a flare for archaeology, languages, preservation and, of late, cheese-making. Definitely no hermit, Father Paolo is the tour guide, spiritual leader and overall mus’uul or the one responsible in the monastery.

“Today our community is composed of 10 members: five monks and five novice nuns [all of whom are under 40 years of age],” he says. “And we are international: we are Syrian, Italian and Swiss.”

He intended to turn the monastery into a place for shared prayer and dialogue — ideals close to the heart of CNEWA:

Christian-Muslim dialogue and supporting the Syrian Christian ecumenical movement rank at the top of this man’s objectives. His interest in Islam led him to pursue a doctorate in Qur’anic Studies from Rome’s Gregorian University.

“Our community plans to be ecumenical,” Father Paolo comments.

“We are particularly committed to prayer, hospitality and dialogue with the Islamic world. We hope to be a part of the movement in the Universal Church working toward achieving harmony with the Islamic world.”

Under his guidance, over the next several years the monastery became a center of interfaith dialogue. But the political situation in Syria eventually led Father Paolo to a different calling. The Italian Jesuit priest became a vocal peace activist and critic of the Syrian regime. Then, in 2013, he was kidnapped by militants of ISIS. There were reports that he was executed, but they have never been confirmed. An ISIS defector in 2015 insisted that he was still alive.

Pope Francis has mentioned Father Paolo in his public prayers and asked the world to pray for him and other Christians whose fate is unknown.

To this day, he remains a heroic figure to many around the world who continue to believe in his ideals of dialogue and peace between peoples.

As one of friends, Hind Aboud Kabawat, told a reporter last year:

“We have to follow his principles. To love the others, to build bridges with the others. To cross the line and make peace and make reconciliation. This was his favorite word.”



31 January 2017
Greg Kandra




In the video above, the author of a new book describes the often-overlooked human toll of the refugee crisis that is now making headlines around the world. (video: Rome Reports)

Pope offers Mass for modern martyrs (L’Osservatore Romano) Pope Francis offered Mass on Monday, 30 January, in the Casa Santa Marta chapel for “today’s martyrs,” persecuted and imprisoned Christians, and for Churches which are not free to express the faith...

Vatican official: Wellbeing of society is measured by its response to migrants (Vatican Radio) The way a country responds to the needs of migrants and refugees is a “thermometer” of the wellbeing of that society. That’s the view of Canadian Jesuit Father Michael Czerny, recently appointed as undersecretary of the Vatican’s new department for Integral Human Development...

Trump ban on refugees ignites firestorm, but also gains support (CNS) As President Donald Trump signed an executive memorandum intended to restrict the entry of terrorists coming to the United States in the guise of refugees, the action brought quick response from Catholic and other religious leaders...

Leaflets dropped over western Mosul in advance of push (Andalou Agency) Iraqi aircraft dropped leaflets over western Mosul early Tuesday urging civilian residents to brace for impending army operations aimed at wresting the area from the Daesh terrorist group. “Your enemy [Daesh] has been defeated in eastern Mosul,” the leaflets read. “Your armed forces are now preparing to advance on the western side [of the city]...”

Palestinian local election set for May, likely without Gaza (AP) The Palestinian self-rule government in the West Bank has set May 13 as a new date for municipal elections after infighting between Hamas and Fatah groups derailed such a vote last year. The elections will likely only take place in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where the Palestinian Authority of President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah movement run autonomous enclaves...

Head of Russian Orthodox church backs abortion ban (The Tablet) Russia’s Orthodox patriarch has called on members of the Russian parliament to press for a total ban on abortions, warning that the high numbers perpetrated annually are impeding the country’s moral and social development. “I’ve appealed to deputies several times to consider restricting abortion, and I’ve seen some progress made in highlighting this evil,” Kirill I told State Duma members on 26 January. “This would not be some revolutionary step, but a necessary return to normality, without which it will be impossible for men and women to achieve happiness...”



Tags: Syria Iraq Pope Francis Gaza Strip/West Bank Russian Orthodox

30 January 2017
Greg Kandra




Pope Francis greets Cardinal Gerald Lacroix of Quebec after celebrating morning Mass in the chapel of his residence at the Vatican on 30 January. A Vatican statement said the pope assured Cardinal Lacroix of his prayers for the victims of a shooting in a mosque in Quebec City.
(photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano, handout)


Pope prays for victims of Quebec mosque attack (Vatican Radio) On Monday morning, following the usual Mass at the Pope’s residence in the Casa Santa Marta, the Holy Father met with Cardinal Gérald Cyprien LaCroix, assuring the Archbishop of Quebec City of his prayers for the victims of the attack on a mosque there on Sunday night...

Vatican council for interfaith dialogue condemns Canada attack (Vatican Radio) The Vatican’s Council for Interreligious Dialogue has strongly condemned the shooting at a mosque in Canada in which six people were killed and another dozen wounded. More than 50 people were gathered for evening prayers at the Islamic Cultural Centre in Quebec City on Sunday night when the attack took place. Police have arrested two suspects in connection with the shooting, which Canadian authorities have described as a terror attack...

Chaldean patriarch: selection reception of migrants based on religion is ‘a trap for Christians’ (Fides) The option foreshadowed by U.S. President Donald Trump to maintain a “fast track” open for Christian refugees to enter the US, while the doors are closed to citizens of seven countries with a Muslim majority, is “a trap for Christians in the Middle East.” This was underlined by Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako, Primate of the Eastern Catholic Church...

Syria warns setting up safe zones would be dangerous (AP) Syria warned Monday of safe zones for civilians that U.S. President Donald Trump has expressed interest in creating, saying it would have to come in coordination with the Syrian government, otherwise it would be unsafe and violate the Arab nation’s sovereignty. The announcement was made in Damascus by Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem during a meeting with the head of the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR, Filippo Grandi, who began an official visit to Syria on Monday...

Hundreds in St. Petersburg protest plan to give cathedral back to church (AP) Protesters rallied in St. Petersburg on Saturday against plans by city authorities to give a landmark cathedral to the Russian Orthodox Church amid an increasingly passionate debate over the relationship between the church and the Russian state...

Gaza water shortage worsening (Reuters) Gaza has long suffered severe water problems, with its aquifer contaminated by sewage, chemicals and seawater and the territory’s three desalination plants unable to meet demand. To drink, most citizens depend on imported, bottled water. But locals and development specialists say the situation is getting beyond dire, with more than 90 percent of the water in the aquifer unfit for domestic use, according to Rebhy Al-Sheikh, the deputy chairman of the Palestinian Water Authority...



26 January 2017
Greg Kandra




A visitor enjoys a hot meal at the Harmony Center of Caritas Georgia. For two decades, Caritas Georgia has provided a wide range of services — including classes and health care — to the most vulnerable populations of the Caucasus. Learn more about their work in A Letter from Georgia in the current edition of ONE. (photo: Antonio di Vico)



26 January 2017
Greg Kandra




Pope Francis delivers a joint blessing with Orthodox Metropolitan Gennadios of Italy and Malta and Anglican Archbishop David Moxon, the archbishop of Canterbury’s representative to the Vatican, during an ecumenical prayer service to conclude the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls in Rome on 25 January. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)

Pope: Christian unity requires learning from each other (CNS) Divided Christians need to recognize the gifts God has given to other communities and learn from them “without waiting for the others to learn first,” Pope Francis said. Leading an ecumenical evening prayer service 25 January for the close of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, Pope Francis said Christians must overcome the “temptations of self-absorption that prevent us from perceiving how the Holy Spirit is at work outside our familiar surroundings,” including in the lives of other Christian communities...

Trump expected to order Syria ‘safe zones’ for refugees (Reuters) President Donald Trump is expected to order the Pentagon and State Department to produce a plan in coming days for setting up “safe zones” for refugees in Syria and neighboring countries, according to a document seen by Reuters, a move that could risk escalation of U.S. military involvement in Syria’s civil war. The draft executive order awaiting Trump’s signature signaled the new administration was preparing a step that Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama long resisted, fearing the potential for being pulled deeper into the conflict and the threat of clashes between U.S. and Russian warplanes over Syria...

Iraqi children returning to school in Mosul (AsiaOne.com) They have been waiting for two and half years and the children of Iraq’s east Mosul are flocking to enrol in their reopened schools, eager not to waste another day. “It’s a great day, today we are giving our children their right to receive an education,” said Ghassan Ahmed, queueing with his seven-year-old in the yard of Farahedi primary school...

New report highlights plight of displaced Palestinians (Vatican Radio) A new report released this week says the forced internal displacement of Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem is making them poorer and keeping them in misery and despair...

Debate on Christians in the Middle East (Fides) In an extensive interview recently published by the Lebanese daily L’Orient-Le Jour, former French economy minister Emmanuel Macron, an “independent” candidate in the next presidential election of France, rejected the argument that the permanence in power of Syrian President Bashar Assad would represent a “guarantee” for the survival of Christian communities in Syria...

Pope blesses sculpture dedicated to migrants (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has again expressed his closeness and concern for migrants and refugees by blessing a sculpture to be placed in the port of the Sicilian Island of Lampedusa, the gateway to Europe for hundreds of thousands fleeing poverty and violence...



Tags: Syria Iraq Pope Francis Palestine Ecumenism

25 January 2017
Greg Kandra




CNEWA’s president, Msgr. John E. Kozar, left, greets children at a school run by the Sisters of Destitute in the Ghaziabad Slums project at Deendayalpuri. (photo: CNEWA)

The current edition of ONE features some beautiful photographs of India, and this reflection by CNEWA President Msgr. John E. Kozar:

Despite horrible conditions of poverty, neglect and abuse, the children there manage to smile. When I try to bring smiles on their faces, I am rewarded with the gentle and reassuring messages that they reflect back to me: Life is very difficult, but there is always reason to be joyful. That joy and those beaming faces seem to radiate in the programs that CNEWA is so privileged to support.

Being a priest who loves to engage — some would say “entertain” — the children, I find myself always more the beneficiary of loving joy, rather than the benefactor of good will. And the joy of these beautiful children is infectious, especially for their priests, sisters and other caregivers. Even the sisters who insist on discipline and good order cannot resist the power of those grinning little ones. And that only brings out the best in me — as I, too, am captivated by their joy-filled smiles and laughter.

Below, you can see more images from a recent trip to India, narrated by Msgr. Kozar.




25 January 2017
Greg Kandra




In the video above, a Lebanese Christian now studying in Rome describes the significance of Lebanon as a place of refuge for so many. Many Syrian refugees now in Lebanon are struggling simply to survive. (video: Rome Reports)

At Mosul’s front lines, perils abound (The New York Times) After three months of fighting, the battle to retake Mosul has entered a new chapter, but the Islamic State’s vast arsenal of car bombs and suicide vests is far from spent and most of the civilian population is still trapped...

Syrian refugee children reduced to selling on Beirut’s streets (The Guardian) As the crisis in Syria approaches its sixth anniversary, the UN says 93 percent of refugee households in Lebanon don’t have enough food. When families can’t afford the basics, sending children out to work is one potentially dangerous way they try to cope. They also exhaust savings, sell any land or property they might own in Syria, and fall into debt...

Dispute over St. Petersburg cathedral sparks charges of anti-Semitism (The Washington Post) Recently announced plans to transfer the ownership of St. Isaac’s Cathedral from the state to the Russian Orthodox Church have sparked protests in the city, and on Tuesday that dispute turned uglier, with comments from a prominent politician leading to allegations of anti-Semitism in Orthodox-majority Russia. Those comments were made by Pyotr Tolstoy, the deputy chairman of Russia’s State Duma, during a news conference on Monday...

U.N.: New drought puts recovery of Ethiopia at risk (AfricaNews.com) The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization has warned that new drought across parts of southern Ethiopia may put recovery efforts at risk, unless urgent efforts are made to shore up vulnerable households in rural areas. In a statement released on Tuesday, the U.N. Said pastoral communities in these regions could suffer consequences of last year’s El Niño climate phenomenon, already witnessing forage shortfalls and water scarcity...

Coptic bishop makes donation for restoration of mosque (Fides) Coptic Orthodox Bishop Takla, at the head of the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of Dishna, in the governorate of Qena, has offered a donation to finance the restoration of the historic mosque dedicated to Abd al-Rahīm al-Qenāwī. The symbolic gesture of the donation took place recently during a public meeting in the presence of some local sheikhs, some Coptic priests and many residents of the area surrounding the mosque, in a festive atmosphere and marked by the desire to show the harmony between the Muslim and the Christian component of the Egyptian people...



24 January 2017
Greg Kandra




Born without arms, Jilumol Thomas grew up cared for by the Sisters of the Destitute in a home supported by CNEWA. She now works as a graphic designer. (photo: CNEWA)

Jilumol Thomas has done more — and with far less — than most of us can imagine. This 23-year-old young woman has defied the odds again and again, and is continuing to show others a quiet heroism that comes from trust in God.

CNEWA’s regional director for India, M.L. Thomas, wrote to tell us about her recently:

Jilumol Mariott Thomas — “Jilu” to her friends — was born the second of three children of Thomas Nellanikkattu and Annakkutty of Karimannoor near Thodupuzha in Kerala, the southern state of India. Tragically, she was born without arms. When Jilu was just four years-old, her mother died. Jilu was taken to the Mercy Home run by Sisters of the Destitute at Changanassery, a small town in Kerala, India supported by CNEWA in its childcare program.

At the Mercy Home, Jilu got support in abundance from the sisters. They set up a canvas for Jilu and gave her color pencils. In time, she learned how to battle her physical shortcomings. She started practicing graphics on a computer. Earning high marks in school, she eventually graduated and secured a degree in Animation and Graphic Design from Media Village in Changanassery.

After earning her degree, she started working on some computer-related jobs for private organizations. She later served as an office assistant at a church-run hospital at Paimkulam.

But her dream was to make a career in graphic design. Bishop Mar Sebastian Adayanthrath, Bishop Auxiliary of the Syro Malabar Catholic Archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamali, invited Jilu to join Viani Printing Press, run by the Archdiocese in Kochi city. A work space was specially created for Jilu at Viani by rearranging the computer table, mouse and keyboard; it was set up in such a way that she could work with her feet.

The little girl born without arms or hands is now reaching and touching many with her talent — and her spirit.

Someone once asked her, “When you cry, how do you wipe your tears?,” and she replied: “I have no hands to erase my tears. Let me meet everyone with laughter and a smile so that I never need to cry.”

Jilu credits her faith, her family, and the sisters who raised her for teaching her what is possible.

“There are people who discourage me,” she says, “but I learned many lessons from them regarding life. A bird sits on the branch of a tree with a firm belief that the branch will not break away from the stem. Similarly, the journey of my life is with full trust in my merciful God.”



24 January 2017
Greg Kandra




Iraqi soldiers inspect the debris on 22 January at St. George’s Monastery (Mar Gurguis), an historic Chaldean Catholic church on the northern outskirts of Mosul, which was destroyed by ISIS in 2015. The U.N. is racing to prepare emergency aid ahead of the battle for western Mosul.
(photo: AFP/Ahmad Al-Rubaye/Getty Images)


At Syria talks, a pledge to safeguard truce (AP) Syria talks in Kazakhstan between the Damascus government and rebel factions have concluded with Russia, Turkey and Iran striking a deal on a three-way mechanism to consolidate the country’s nearly month-old cease-fire...

U.N. ‘racing’ to prepare emergency aid ahead of battle for western Mosul (Reuters) The United Nations said on Tuesday it is “racing against the clock” to prepare emergency aid for hundreds of thousands of endangered civilians in Mosul with an Iraqi army offensive looming to oust Islamic State from the western half of the city. Iraqi officials said on Monday government forces had taken complete control of eastern Mosul, 100 days after the start of their U.S.-backed campaign to retake Iraq’s second largest city from IS insurgents who seized it in 2014...

‘Gaza infrastructure nearing collapse’ (The Jerusalem Post) Gaza’s infrastructure is on the verge of collapse, the Israeli NGO Gisha said in a detailed report it issued on Tuesday, which painted a bleak picture of the lack of basic utilities in the Hamas-controlled Strip. It described how Gaza’s 1.8 million residents lack regular supplies of electricity, drinking water and adequate telecommunication services...

Turkey’s beleaguered Christians aim to stay resilient (National Catholic Reporter) “People are naturally afraid, so many are staying away from the churches,” Bishop Ruben Tierrablanca Gonzalez, apostolic vicar of Istanbul, told NCR. “But Christians and Muslims are united against this violence, and the police who’ve been guarding our churches are kind and considerate. Though no one knows what will happen, we’re talking together and sharing our concerns...”

Communist Kerala leader warns church on commercialization of schools (UCANews) The southern Indian Kerala state chief minister and communist leader has lambasted some private schools for corrupt practices and warned that the church, which has worked extensively in education, not to fall prey to the commercial education lobby. Pinarayi Vijayan spoke at the diamond jubilee of church-run Devagiri St. Joseph’s College in Kozhikode district on 17 January. He lauded the Christian service in education but warned that it is fast becoming a for-profit enterprise...

Pope tells media to reject prejudice, leave space for hope (CNS) At a time when the media seem to feed a “vicious cycle of anxiety” and a “spiral of fear,” Christians should respond with honest stories that identify problems and evil, but also inspire real solutions, Pope Francis said...



23 January 2017
Greg Kandra




Villagers in Izbet Chokor, Egypt, greet one another along the road that runs through the hamlet, which both Christians and Muslims have made their home. Learn how they are Finding Common Ground in the Winter 2016 edition of ONE. (photo: Don Duncan)







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