13 December 2016
High school student Christopher O’Hara was so inspired by CNEWA’s work, he organized a fundraiser for us at a New York restaurant earlier this year. (photo: CNEWA)
One of the inspiring figures from CNEWA’s recent past just may be our youngest hero: a 17-year-old student from Long Island, Christopher O'Hara.
Hearing about the work we do, he wanted to help support our mission, and got an idea that he hoped would make a difference:
I am a junior in high school, and I came to be involved in CNEWA in a rather unusual way. I spent a month last summer in rural Tibet studying Chinese and living with a local family. When I returned home, I was looking forward to spending the rest of my summer reading at the beach. But on one of those first quiet days, I ended up having a long and detailed conversation with a good friend of my parents, who wanted to tell me about an incredible organization she had been involved with, CNEWA. Her enthusiasm was contagious. The more I listened, the more I thought this was something I needed to look into. I did some research on CNEWA, and I could not have been more impressed. My parents’ friend put me in contact with Lauren Lozano, a development associate at CNEWA.
In my conversations with Lauren and her colleagues Norma Intriago and Philip Eubanks, we discussed how someone in my position could raise awareness and funds for CNEWA. At the same time we were having these conversations, the refugee crisis in Syria and Iraq was exploding, and I thought the subsequent lack of international response was appalling. The professionals at CNEWA informed me of the real threat facing Christians in the Middle East, and I decided that my focus would be on their charitable operations in that region. I reached out to faculty and administration at my school, Chaminade High School, but I wanted to do more. It became clear that I should organize — with the help of my family and friends — a fundraising event. I told the people at CNEWA my idea, and we were off and running.
He ended up organizing a fundraiser at the renowned Gallagher’s Steakhouse in New York City last June. The event garnered some attention — and Chris even appeared on a local radio show to discuss his interest in CNEWA and how others can help.
As he put it during the interview: “People in need shouldn’t be a political issue. We’re all humans. When people are suffering, we have an obligation to help each other.”
We couldn’t agree more — and we remain grateful for so many like Chris O’Hara who are helping us to fulfill our mission: to “build up the church, affirm human dignity, alleviate poverty, encourage dialogue — and inspire hope.”
To learn more about what you can do, and how you can help, visit this link.
13 December 2016
A boat representing migrants is pictured in the Nativity scene in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on 9 December. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
The Vatican installed its annual Nativity scene in St. Peter’s Square last week, and the figures in the scene this year carry particular significance:
The Christmas tree and Nativity scene are symbols of God’s love and hope, reminding us to contemplate the beauty of creation and welcome the marginalized, Pope Francis said.
Baby Jesus, whose parents could find no decent shelter and had to flee persecution, is a reminder of the “painful experience” of so many migrants today, he said on 9 December, just before the Vatican Christmas tree was to be lit and its Nativity scene was to be unveiled.
Nativity scenes all over the world “are an invitation to make room in our life and society for God — hidden in the gaze of so many people” who are living in need, poverty or suffering, he told people involved in donating the tree and creche for St. Peter’s Square.
The northern Italian province of Trent donated the 82-foot-tall spruce fir, which was adorned with ceramic ornaments handmade by children receiving medical treatment at several Italian hospitals.
The 55-foot-wide Nativity scene was donated by the government and Archdiocese of Malta. It features 17 figures dressed in traditional Maltese attire as well as replica of a Maltese boat to represent the seafaring traditions of the island.
The boat also represents “the sad and tragic reality of migrants on boats headed toward Italy,” the pope said in his speech in the Vatican’s Paul VI hall.
“In the painful experience of these brothers and sisters, we revisit that (experience) of baby Jesus, who at the time of his birth did not find accommodation and was born in a grotto in Bethlehem and then was brought to Egypt to escape Herod's threat.”
“Those who visit this creche will be invited to rediscover its symbolic value, which is a message of fraternity, sharing, welcoming and solidarity,” the pope said.
The Nativity scene and tree will remain on display until 9 January, the Feast of the Baptism of Jesus.
13 December 2016
A nun cries as she stands inside St. Mark's Coptic Orthodox Cathedral on 11 December after an explosion inside the cathedral complex in Cairo. (photo: CNS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh, Reuters)
Egypt mourns victims of attacks on cathedral (Reuters) Mourners packed an Egyptian church on Monday for a funeral service for 25 people killed in the bombing of Cairo’s main Coptic cathedral, while angry survivors accused authorities of security lapses. Tearful Christians gathered at the Virgin Mary and St. Athanasius Church in Cairo where Coptic Pope Tawadros II prayed over the wooden coffins of the victims of Sunday’s bombing, one the deadliest attacks on the Christian minority in recent memory. On the walls hung banners bearing the names of the dead, many of them women...
Egypt’s Christians pray for peace (Catholic Register) With 25 dead and as many as 21 of the 45 injured in hospital, victims of a suicide bomber at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Cairo, Egypt’s Christians are praying for the unity and peace of their nation, a Catholic pastor in Egypt’s Christian heartland told The Catholic Register...
Pope sends letter to Syria’s President Assad (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has sent a letter to the President of Syria, Bashar al-Assad, through Cardinal Mario Zenari, Apostolic Nuncio to Syria, appealing for “an end to the violence and the peaceful resolution of hostilities” in the country...
U.N. says 35,000 children have fled Mosul (AP) The U.N. children’s agency said Tuesday that about 35,000 children have fled from Mosul since Iraqi forces and a U.S.-led coalition launched a massive operation in mid-October to retake the city from the Islamic State group. Iraqi special forces meanwhile pushed deeper into the city’s eastern part, retaking the Falah neighboring late Monday, said Lt. Gen. Abdul-Wahab al-Saadi. Fighting raged as a haze of fog and smoke hovered over the city, which was rocked by tank fire and airstrikes...
Pope sends message to migration and development forum (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has sent a message to participants in the Global Forum on Migration and Development, which took place in Dhaka, Bangladesh. In the message, sent through the Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin and published in the Osservatore Romano, the Holy Father “encourages governments and regional political authorities to confront the crisis provoked by the mass movement of people”...
World needs politics of peace, pope says (CNS) Calling for a new style of politics built on peace and nonviolence, Pope Francis also called for disarmament, the eradication of nuclear weapons and an end to domestic violence and abuse against women and children. “Violence is not the cure for our broken world,” he said in his annual message for the World Day of Peace on 1 January...
7 December 2016
Msgr. John E. Kozar speaks during an interfaith forum on the crisis for Christians in the Middle East at the Sheen Center in New York City on 5 December. (photo: CNS/Gregory A. Shemitz)
CNEWA’s President Msgr. John E. Kozar was one of several prominent leaders of different faiths — including CNEWA’s chair, New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan — who gathered in New York Monday night to discuss some of the threats facing Christians in the Middle East.
As CNS reports:
Christians in the Middle East face extinction because of genocide, wars and international indifference to their plight, according to panelists at a 5 December interfaith forum in New York.
A concerted multilateral effort to establish a safe haven for them while rebuilding their devastated homelands is preferable to massive permanent resettlement to other countries, including the United States, they said.
Twelve speakers at the Sheen Center for Thought & Culture event explored “The Crisis for Christians in the Middle East,” with a particular focus on vulnerable Christian minorities in Syria and Iraq.
...Msgr. John E. Kozar, president of Catholic Near East Welfare Association, said his organization works with the Eastern churches throughout the Middle East, an area not fully understood or appreciated by those in the Latin church. The charitable and health care efforts particularly by women religious in largely Muslim areas have been well-received, and Christians and others have gotten along well, he said. Nonetheless, there is much outright suffering and persecution, he said.
“Syria is an absolute mess, but the church is still there,” Msgr. Kozar said. Lebanon is at or close to capacity with refugees. Jordan has the greatest concentration of refugees in the world, but its camps are plagued with extortion and a gangland mentality. Christians are considered third-class citizens in Egypt and still suffer reprisals after the ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood. Christians in Kurdistan and Iraq face different challenges.
“We are accompanying Christians who believe that somehow Our Lord will accompany and sustain them. We try to bring a reasonable stability,” he said.
Msgr. Kozar and other speakers underscored the deep historic and cultural connection of the Christians to their lands. “There is a tug of war between the goodwill of people here in the West who want to welcome and adopt (the refugees) and presume it’s best to extract them from where they are, and the church leaders and most of the people who want to stay” in the region and return to their countries when it is safe to do so, Msgr. Kozar said. “Family, faith, and church are connected.”
New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan holds an icon of the 21 Coptic Martyrs of Libya as he speaks during an interfaith forum on the crisis for Christians in the Middle East at the Sheen Center in New York City on 5 December. (photo: CNS/Gregory A. Shemitz)
Cardinal Dolan offered the impassioned closing remarks:
“All of you,” he told those assembled, “have helped me keep a very solemn promise.” As archbishop of New York, he explained, many of his brother bishops from the Middle East frequently visit him, as do priests, religious women and men and lay faithful from those persecuted lands. And he himself, he added, has been honored to visit them in countries such as Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.
His brother bishops, he said, plead with him, “‘Please don’t forget us. We feel alone. We are desperate. We feel isolated.’
“And over and over again,” he continued, “I whisper to them, ‘We will not forget you; I promise.’”
“You have helped me keep that same promise, that we will not forget,” he told the preeminent group of scholars, civic officials, religious leaders and representatives of humanitarian organizations, as well as symposium participants.
“We have a God who is calling us to a sense of justice, we have a God who is calling us to advocacy and charity,” the cardinal said. “These people we can’t forget, my dear friends. They look to us as believers, they look to us as Americans.”
NET-TV from the Diocese of Brooklyn also covered the event. Check out the video report below.
7 December 2016
In this image from November, men walk in rubble near St. Mary’s Catholic Church and St. Elias Orthodox Church after a bombing in Damascus, Syria. An interfaith panel in New York this week explored how Christians in the Middle East are facing threats from war, indifference and genocide.
(photo: CNS/Mohammed Badra, EPA)
Syrian rebels reportedly withdraw from old city (BBC) Syrian rebels have left the last areas they held in Aleppo’s old city, while calling for a five-day truce to allow the evacuation of civilians. Activist monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the pull-back in Syria’s second city came after days of heavy fighting...
Large Syrian refugee population in Lebanon sparks social tensions (Voice of America) The United Nations has launched a four-year crisis response plan for Lebanon it hopes will maintain stability and prevent an internal conflict from breaking out. It is appealing for $2.8 billion to get humanitarian and stabilization support programs underway in 2017. The United Nations does not believe Lebanon is on the brink of collapse but it warns there is a danger the country could implode if the Syrian refugee crisis is not well managed...
Panel: wars, indifference, genocide imperil Mideast Christians (CNS) Christians in the Middle East face extinction because of genocide, wars and international indifference to their plight, according to panelists at a 5 December interfaith forum in New York. A concerted multilateral effort to establish a safe haven for them while rebuilding their devastated homelands is preferable to massive permanent resettlement to other countries, including the United States, they said...
ISIS launches overnight attack against Iraqi troops in Mosul (AP) Iraq special forces captured a new neighborhood Wednesday from the Islamic State group in eastern Mosul, according to a senior commander — the latest gain in a massive military operation now its seventh week. The commander of a joint operations center that oversees the Mosul campaign, Lt. Gen. Abdul-Amir Yarellah, said in a statement that troops had “fully liberated” the al-Elam neighborhood and raised the Iraqi flag over its buildings. Yarellah added that IS militants “suffered losses” without elaborating...
Gaza doctors launch appeal to save children (Al Jazeera) With Gaza’s blackouts lasting 16 hours a day, hospitals have had to resort to using electrical generators. But fuel to operate the generators is increasingly scarce and expensive, posing an intractable challenge...
6 December 2016
A gift from the Catholicos Patriarch llia II of the Orthodox Church of Georgia, this 18th-century Russian icon of St. Nicholas hangs in CNEWA’s New York offices.
Today, the universal church celebrates the feast of St. Nicholas. Several years ago, CNEWA’s Michael J.L. La Civita paid tribute to this beloved saint:
Nowhere is the universal nature of St. Nicholas’s popularity more apparent than in the southern Italian city of Bari. In early May I traveled to this bustling port, the capital of Puglia, an agricultural region hugging the Adriatic coast. While traveling through the region I observed bands of nomads, grasping decorated staffs and burdened with backpacks. When I mistook them for Albanian refugees, my traveling companion informed me that these travelers were making an annual pilgrimage to Bari. There, on 9 May, in an impressive medieval basilica that bears his name, the church celebrates the “translation” of the relics of St. Nicholas to Bari.
According to tradition, Nicholas was born in the mid-third century to a wealthy Christian couple in Patara, a town near the southern shores of Asia Minor (modern Turkey). After the premature death of his parents, Nicholas gave up his wealth and entered a monastery, later traveling to Egypt and the Holy Land. He returned to his monastery, hoping to live quietly as a hermit. However, against his will, he was elected as Bishop of Myra, a small town near Patara.
Although little else is known about Nicholas, his popularity rests on his compassion for the poor and his passion for the faith.
“The reason for this special veneration of this special bishop, who left neither theological works nor other writings,” writes Leonid Ouspensky, a noted Russian theologian, “is evidently that the church sees in him a personification of a shepherd, of its defender and intercessor.”
One of the most powerful stories reveals Nicholas’s compassion for the poor. There were three young girls whose father had lost his fortune and, consequently,
their dowries. Due to their poverty, the girls were ignored by all the eligible men. Moved by their plight, Nicholas, under the cover of darkness, went to the man’s home and dropped a bag of gold through an open window. Finding the gold the following morning, the man was overwhelmed and, thanking God, married off his eldest girl.
Several nights later, Nicholas secretly deposited a second bag of gold. Dumbfounded, the man used it for his second daughter’s dowry.
The man, however, was determined to identify his benefactor and waited for the unknown person’s appearance. Again, under the cover of darkness, Nicholas left yet another sum of gold. Hearing a thump, the man rose to his feet and caught up with his mysterious benefactor, whom he recognized immediately. Nicholas demanded silence, binding the man to an oath never to reveal his identity.
St. Nicholas’s generous spirit continues to inspire countless people around the world (where do you think we get the idea of Santa Claus?) and his compassion toward the poor and needy also animates our work here at CNEWA. May he continue to enliven our hearts during this special time of year — and always!
6 December 2016
The image above shows Prince Charles attending the consecration of the new St. Thomas Cathedral in London on 25 November. It is the first Syrian Orthodox cathedral in the U.K. Three archbishops from Syria and Iraq were denied visas to enter the U.K. for the dedication because authorities were concerned they would not leave the country. (photo: Catholic Herald)
Syria says it rejects Aleppo ceasefire if rebels remain (Reuters) Syria rejects any ceasefire negotiated by any party in rebel-held eastern Aleppo unless what it describes as terrorist groups there depart, its Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday in a statement carried by state media...
Nineveh Plain Protection Unit seeks to recruit Christians (Fides) The Nineveh Plain Protection Units, a paramilitary organization established in Iraq in 2014, consisting mainly of Assyrian Christians, Syrians and Chaldeans, has announced the opening of a recruitment campaign on a voluntary basis. It is particularly aimed at young men of the local Christian communities of Mosul and Nineveh Plain region willing to participate in military operations to reconquer and defend the towns of the land that had been occupied by the jihadists of ISIS...
Syrian and Iraqi archbishops denied visas to enter U.K. (Catholic Herald) Three archbishops from Iraq and Syria were refused entry into the UK despite being invited by the country’s Syriac Orthodox Church. Archbishop Nicodemus Daoud Sharaf of Mosul, Archbishop of St. Matthew’s Timothius Mousa Shamani and Archbishop Selwanos Boutros Alnemeh of Homs and Hama, were all refused UK visas which would have enabled them to attend the consecration of the UK’s first Syriac Orthodox Cathedral, last month...
Ukrainian Catholics in Canada collect $90,000 to help displaced in Ukraine (New Pathway) The pope called for a special collection to be carried out all over Europe in April 2016 for the needs of Ukrainian people. Many Ukrainian Catholic Eparchies in Canada decided to follow the pope’s call and they too ran collections in the Ukrainian Catholic parishes across the country in May. The Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA), an agency of the Holy See, founded by Pope Pius XI in 1926, was assigned with the task of sending the collections to Ukraine...
Canada vows to help Lebanon with refugee crisis (Middle East Monitor) Canada has vowed to help Lebanon to cope with the flow of refugees from Syria, Anadolu has reported. The offer of help was made by Minister of Foreign Affairs Stephane Dion at a joint press conference with his Lebanese counterpart, Gebran Bassil. “We hope that Canada’s support will help Lebanon and its host communities build resilience and cope with the ongoing crisis in the region,” said Dion. “Canada and Lebanon have a strong and deeply rooted relationship, and our two countries continue to work closely together to achieve peace, security and stability in the Middle East...”
Christians united by community in Mumbai (The Indian Express) In Kerala, they may have their differences, but when in Mumbai, they identify themselves as a homogenous group — the Malayalee Syrian Christians. Back home in ‘God’s own country’ they could be either Syrian Catholics, Jacobites, Marthomites or Orthodox, all different sects of Syrian Christians — a Christian community from Kerala tracing its origin to Thomas the Apostle. In Mumbai, differences are put aside as the yearning to meet a fellow Malayalee brings them together...
5 December 2016
In this image from Sunday, Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill consecrates a prominent new church in Paris, Saint Trinity, on the banks of the Seine. The complex containing the church is owned by the Russian government and includes a cultural center and a school.
Read more and see more images here.
(photo: Dominique Boutin/TASS via Getty Images)
5 December 2016
In the video above, the Secretary of the Middle East Council of Churches discusses the struggle of Christians in the Middle East today, noting that Christians have always survived persecution and adding, “We have to have hope.” (video: Rome Reports)
A stall in the battle for Mosul: ‘We are fighting the devil himself’ (The Guardian) The startling progress of the first few weeks of the campaign to take Iraq’s second city, the terror group’s last urban stronghold in Iraq, has given way to a numbing reality: Isis will not surrender Mosul, and Iraq’s battered military will struggle to take it. Since Iraqi forces entered Gogali, a light industrial neighborhood, in mid-November, the advance has slowed. “When we started, we were talking weeks,” said Hussein. “Now, we hope it will be by early in the new year. But these guys are not cowards. They kill as easy as they breathe...”
Russian field hospital hit in Aleppo (AP) Rebel shelling of the Syrian government-held part of Aleppo killed a Russian nurse in a makeshift Russian hospital in the city on Monday while the Defense Ministry in Moscow said a Russian fighter jet crashed into the Mediterranean Sea after returning from a sortie over Syria. The developments were a blow to Russia, which has been one of the staunchest supporters of Syrian President Bashar Assad in his country’s bitter civil war, now in its sixth year...
Christian village attacked in Egypt (Assyrian International News Agency) Muslim radicals attacked a Coptic Christian village in Upper Egypt last week over rumors that a community center and a meeting hall is being converted into a church. A group of Muslims burned down the community center in Al-Nagameesh village in Sohag Governate and moved to the village to loot the houses and the businesses owned by the Copts, Morning Star News reported...
Orthodox patriarch: ‘Amoris Laetitia’ recalls the mercy of God (CNS) Knowing the debate surrounding Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on the family, Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople said the document “first and foremost recalls the mercy and compassion of God and not just moral norms and canonical rules...”
Patriarch Gregorios III visits parish in London (ByzCath.org) His Beatitude visited the Melkite parish in London, where he served the Divine Liturgy. Concelebrating were the parish priest, Father Shafiq Abouzayd, the assistant priest Father Robert Gibbons, together with Deacon Richard Downer. His Beatitude preached on the need to remain faithful to the Eastern Christian heritage, as light comes from the East. He also congratulated clergy of the Melkite Church and members of the congregation whose name day falls on this day or in succeeding days: so all those named for St. John of Damascus, St. Barbara and St. Nicholas...
2 December 2016
In this image from May, Syrian children from Aleppo play in a shanty near Gaziantep, Turkey. Turkey’s foreign minister on 2 December called for an immediate ceasefire in Syria.
(photo: CNS/Sedat Suna, EPA)
Turkish foreign minister calls for ceasefire in Syria (Reuters) Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu called for an immediate ceasefire in Syria on Friday, describing the situation in Aleppo as critical and saying that President Bashar al-Assad was unfit to rule. Asked about Assad at a news conference in Beirut, Cavusoglu said it was undeniable that the Syrian leader was responsible for 600,000 deaths and that somebody with that record should not be running a country...
Report: Iraqi commanders examined strategy shift to avert Mosul war of attrition (Reuters) Facing brutal urban warfare in Mosul and with their push slowed by the presence of one million residents, Iraqi commanders examined changing strategy last week to help civilians leave to give the army a free hand to strike Islamic State fighters. The proposal, a sign of frustration at slow progress in the six-week campaign against Islamic State in Mosul, was ultimately dismissed by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and his generals, military sources told Reuters in interviews...
Germany pledges millions for Lebanon refugees (The Daily Star) German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier Friday pledged $10.65 (10 million euros) in aid to Lebanon to help it cope with the Syrian refugee crisis. “We are ready to offer Lebanon the required financial assistance to help it with the financial crisis caused by the Syrian refugees,” Steinmeier said during a news conference with caretaker FM Gebran Bassil...
Metropolitan Tikhon: Orthodoxy in United States attracting converts (Interfax) His Beatitude Metropolitan Tikhon, the Primate of the Orthodox Church in America, arrived in Russia to celebrate the 70th birthday of Patriarch Kirill and All Russia. Anyway, he found some time to meet with an Interfax-Religion correspondent and share his opinion about the recent presidential campaign in the United States, ongoing crisis in Ukraine and tell some interesting facts about Orthodoxy in America...
Pax Christi pushes for new Israeli-Palestinian peace process (CNS) Pax Christi International has called for a new peace process to end violence among Israelis and Palestinians and assure fundamental human rights as defined by international law...
Gaza teenager finds way to generate electricity from candles (RT.com) A teenage girl in Gaza has found a resourceful way of overcoming chronic power shortages, by constructing a device that can generate electricity from the heat of candles, New China TV reports. Faced with regular blackouts, Shahd Abu Lebda, 16, told New China TV that she “depends on the principle that ‘a person in need will find a way’ — which pushed me towards inventing a device that generates electric charges for smart mobile phones from the energy of heat that comes from candles...”