2 November 2016
An Iraqi man prepares a makeshift altar for the first Sunday Mass on 30 October at the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Qaraqosh after the city was recaptured from ISIS militants.
(photo: CNS/Ahmed Jadallah, Reuters)
2 November 2016
A young displaced Iraqi leads his animals to safety on 1 November after escaping from the ISIS-controlled village of Abu Jarboa, near Mosul. (photo: CNS/Ahmed Jadallah, Reuters)
Iraqi troops secure foothold in Mosul (BBC) Iraqi forces are securing their foothold in the city of Mosul, moving from house to house to clear areas of Islamic State (IS) militants. Soldiers and special forces paused their advance on Wednesday, a day after pushing into the eastern outskirts. A BBC journalist says they are moving with caution, amid fears of ambushes, secret tunnels and booby traps...
Russia tells rebels to leave Aleppo by Friday evening (Reuters) Russia on Wednesday told anti-government rebels holed up in Syria’s Aleppo to leave by Friday evening, signaling it would extend a moratorium on air strikes against targets inside the city...
In news conference, Pope Francis speaks on immigration, refugees (CNS) In one of his briefest airborne news conferences, Pope Francis spent just over 40 minutes with reporters and answered six questions ranging from Sweden’s newly restrictive immigration policy to the role of women in the church. He also was asked about his experience with charismatics and Pentecostals, the roots of his concern about human trafficking, secularization in Europe and his meeting in late October with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. Christians must never close their hearts to refugees and migrants, but governments have a duty to regulate the flux of newcomers as they allocate resources to ensure their integration into society, he said...
Vatican speaks out on human rights at U.N. (Vatican Radio) Archbishop Bernardito Auza, the Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, on Monday addressed the UN General Assembly on the promotion and protection of human rights. His intervention touched on a number of issues, including the “right to life of the unborn, of migrants in search of safety, of victims of armed conflicts, of the poor, of the elderly and the right to life of those facing the death penalty...”
Hindu groups criticize Vatican directive that bans scattering of ashes (News18.com) A Vatican directive barring Catholics from scattering ashes of the dead, a central practice among Hindus, has raised the hackles of Hindu organisations, who slam it as narrow-mindedness and an unnecessary restriction on the faithful from adopting best practices based in science only because its origins lie in other religions...
Russian Orthodox Church backs ‘Jesus Christ, Superstar’ (BBC) The Russian Orthodox Church has come out in support of the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar in the face of calls from hardline Christian activists for it to be banned. Church spokesman Vladimir Legoida says that while works like the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical might give rise to disputes and discussions, “it is not right to forbid an artist from drawing inspiration from the Holy Scripture...”
28 October 2016
CNEWA will be visiting Holy Angels Byzantine Catholic Church in San Diego this weekend.
If you’re in the neighborhood, stop by!
Our CNEWA team is visiting Holy Angels Byzantine Catholic Church in San Diego this weekend. I’ll be giving talks Saturday morning at 11, and Sunday afternoon at 12:45. I’ll also be preaching at the 9 a.m. Divine Liturgy on Sunday. My topic: bringing light and hope to the suffering peoples of the Middle East, especially in Iraq and Syria. I’ll also be offering some updates on the latest encouraging news from Iraq.
If you can, please join us! Visit the parish website for more information.
27 October 2016
Issa Nesnas received help from CNEWA in his youth—and now helps others as a CNEWA donor.
(photo: Greg Kandra)
I first met Issa Nesnas last winter, during a visit to meet CNEWA donors in California. To my surprise, it turns out that CNEWA had helped him during a time of need in his youth. Born and reared in Jerusalem, he received scholarship help from CNEWA to study in the United States. Not only that, but our magazine profiled his remarkable family in the 1990s. Issa has come a long way from Jerusalem; he now works for NASA in California, where he lives with his wife and three young children. He continues to give generously to CNEWA and believes in the philosophy of “paying it forward” — giving back in gratitude to those who gave to him.
I contacted him recently and asked if he’s share some of his story. He graciously agreed, and sent us the email below.
I was born on Christmas Day 1970 in Jerusalem, to Antoine and Eileen Nesnas. I grew up with two siblings: my older sister, Nayla, and my younger brother Nasri. I attended Collège des Frères, a Christian Brothers’ school in the Old City from kindergarten through 12th grade. Both my paternal and maternal ancestries can be traced back well over 400 years to the city of Jerusalem.
While I was growing up, my parents both had to work to support our family. My dad worked at the American Consulate in Jerusalem, while my mother worked at the Pontifical Mission for Palestine [CNEWA’s operating agency in the Middle East] for more than three decades, starting at the age of 19. (In fact, it was 36 years in all, which included assisting both the late Helen Breen and Carol Hunnybun for the visit of Pope Paul VI to Jerusalem in 1964). Through her time there, many directors served in that office. In the mid-1980’s, when I was in the ninth grade, the Rev. Andre Weller was in charge there. He was an unassuming figure with a genuine care for people. During that time, personal computers started to hit the market and the Pontifical Mission had just acquired their first personal computer. I recall that computer laying there with its nylon cover for many months on end.
My parents had the great foresight to buy us a small computer, which was a substantial purchase for a family of modest means. To ensure that their investment was fruitful, they enrolled my siblings and me in a Palestinian summer camp that focused on early computer education, which had yet to reach the high school and college curricula. We eagerly embraced these unique but rare opportunities. Armed with this knowledge, I offered Father Andre help with setting up their computer and tailoring it to their needs. t that time, personal computers had few applications. The main purpose was to automate the office’s accounting system. His agreeable response reflected his trust in my abilities, which invariably left me with a sense of confidence.
I knew very little about accounting; however, I was adept at writing computer programs. So I started to work on programming their accounting system during my free time. I recall spending numerous hours working on that. It took many months and I was making good progress. It was through that experience and interaction that I got to work with and later know Father Andre quite well.
Father Andre appreciated my effort through the many volunteer hours that I spent helping with the computers in the office and he wanted to help me. There was one thing that I critically needed: a scholarship to study engineering and pursue my dream of becoming a robotics engineer. At the time, I also did not fully comprehend how grants and scholarships in the U.S. worked.
Unbeknownst to me and to my parents, Father Andre discussed this situation with Msgr. Robert Stern upon one of his visits to CNEWA headquarters. Msgr. Stern, whom I got to know quite well during my undergraduate years in New York, was another formidable man who was intent on helping people. Together and with others, including Brother Robert Wise, a Christian Brother at my high school in Jerusalem, they tried to work out an arrangement for me that would allow me to lump together enough financial resources to attend Manhattan College. These included small contributions from Manhattan College, from my family, and from my student work. However, the primary contribution would come from CNEWA’s newly established scholarship fund through the generous endowment of an Aramco retiree, Ollie DeVine. With the help of several players, one of whom I only met a couple of years ago, the fund was established and I became the first recipient of this scholarship.
Ollie was a gracious man with whom I exchanged monthly letters and pictures when I started at Manhattan College in the fall of 1988. We were both eager to meet one another. A meeting in New York City was arranged for November of 1988 but later postponed to January. Sadly, Ollie passed away in December and we never got to meet in person. But over the years, I held on to the letters and pictures that he sent me. It is these gestures — his willingness to help — that were transformative in my life. I dedicated my doctoral dissertation to Ollie and his legacy.
Perhaps my initial request for help with a scholarship was a little unusual. But the fact is that the people at CNEWA and those who support them made it happen. It is a testament to their dedication to creating solutions to help people in need. This left me in awe. Those people enabled my journey and I will always be indebted to them. What they have done helped change my life in very profound ways.
The people I met along this journey and the genuine kindness and caring that I experienced throughout left the deepest impact on me. That made me very determined to give back, with the hope that it would make a positive impact on others.
I felt blessed and fortunate, but it also inspired me to reciprocate. I felt the need to do something in return that would help others. Once your life gets touched by others, it changes you to the core.
I think people should know that the work that CNEWA does touches so many lives in the most fundamental way. It connects potential donors to people who are in need and who are victims of political misfortunes. The aid that CNEWA offers helps people get up on their feet and improve their living conditions.
We are all part of the human fabric: people of different backgrounds, cultures, ethnicities and religions. Our lives are intertwined. Bombs and wars only sow seeds of anger and hatred, wreak havoc on the lives and livelihood of people for generations to come, create schisms and misunderstanding among cultures and never solve a problem at its core. Justice, kindness, education, and positive interaction will promote better understanding of our diversity and lead to more harmony, peace and prosperity in our world.
27 October 2016
A Bedouin is ordained to the diaconate in Jordan. To learn more about the enduring faith of Christians in that corner of the world, check out the Autumn 2016 edition of ONE and the story Where It All Began, a look at the Church of Jerusalem. (photo: John E. Kozar)
27 October 2016
Iraqi Christians pray at the Church of our Lady of Perpetual Help during a 25 October interfaith service in Ain Kawa. Iraqi Christians of various communities gathered with their church leaders to offer a prayer of support to Iraqi forces in the fight against the Islamic State.
(photo: CNS/Amel Pain, EPA)
U.S.: ISIS loses up to 900 soldiers (BBC) Between 800 and 900 Islamic State (IS) militants have been killed since Iraqi forces launched an offensive to retake Mosul last week, a top US general says. US Central Command chief Joseph Votel told AFP news agency it was hard to be precise as militants moved around the city and blended in with residents. Up to 5,000 IS fighters were thought to be in Mosul before the assault began...
Aid agencies step up assistance for displaced Iraqis fleeing Mosul (UN.org) As newly-displaced Iraqis are starting to arrive at camps set up by the United Nations for people fleeing the ongoing military offensive to wrest Mosul from terrorists, the Organization’s health and refugee agencies have ramped up their own operations to provide assistance and to respond to what has thus far been a ‘moderate’ influx. This week, flights from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) will be bringing in some 7,200 tents from its emergency warehouse in Dubai, this number is part of agency’s effort to secure 50,000 tents and 50,000 emergency shelter kits for families on the move...
Ecumenical prayer for peace in Iraq (Fides) At an interfaith prayer service in Ain Kawa, Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Raphael Louis Sako expressed the intention to proclaim 2017 as the “Year of Peace in Iraq,” creating moments of ecumenical prayer and shared ecclesial initiatives to nurture the “culture of peace and coexistence” in the country torn by sectarian strife. The liberation of Mosul, which united different forces, according to Patriarch Raphael Louis can become the beginning of a process of national reconciliation based on shared perspectives and points, to regain stability and lost unity...
Church of Transfiguration robbed, vandalized (The Jerusalem Post) The Church of the Transfiguration in northern Israel was robbed and vandalized, AFP reported on Tuesday. Church officials stated that multiple chalices were stolen, icons damaged and a donation box was robbed...
Christ’s burial spot exposed for first time in centuries (National Geographic) For the first time in centuries, scientists have exposed the original surface of what is traditionally considered the tomb of Jesus Christ. Located in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City of Jerusalem, the tomb has been covered by marble cladding since at least 1555 A.D., and most likely centuries earlier...
Russian Orthodox church rises in Oregon (Medford Mail Tribune) The Rev. Seraphim Cardoza admits that it is nothing short of “a minor miracle” that his tiny parish is erecting an ornate Russian Orthodox shrine in Rogue River. It is believed to be the first traditional Russian Orthodox Church, complete with onion dome, built on the West Coast in more than 70 years...
26 October 2016
This image from 2015 shows a child at a school for the Zabbaleen (garbage pickers) at the Salam Medical and Social Center in Cairo, Egypt. The center is run by the Daughters of Saint Mary Convent. See more images from Egypt and meet some of the country’s remarkable Christians in this photographic essay. (photo: John E. Kozar)
25 October 2016
A young Iraqi refugee who fled Mosul, the last major Iraqi city under the control of ISIS, stands between tents at the UN-run Al-Hol refugee camp in Syria’s Hasakeh province,
on 25 October 2016. (photo: Delil Souleiman/AFP/Getty Images)
ISIS sending ‘suicide squads’ to Mosul (CNN) ISIS is sending “suicide squads” from Syria to its Iraqi stronghold of Mosul, witnesses have told CNN, as tens of thousands of troops close in on the key city to take it from the militant group’s control. Witnesses said hundreds of new arrivals had streamed into Mosul from the group’s heartland of Raqqa, Syria, in the past two days, describing them as foreign fighters wearing distinct uniforms and suicide belts, and carrying light weapons.
The painful liberation of Iraq’s Christian heartland (The Daily Beast) For over two years the Christians of Qaraqosh, Iraq’s largest Christian town, had been deprived of their place of worship. After ISIS stormed into Mosul in June 2014, the militants quickly turned their sights on the surrounding towns and villages, home to the majority of Iraq’s Christians. By August, they had taken Qaraqosh, forcing its 50,000 inhabitants to abandon the town. But Father Amar’s joy at returning to his native Qaraqosh is tinged with sorrow about the destruction that surrounds him...
Turkey warns one million refugees could spill into Europe because of Mosul battle (The Express) A senior Turkish politician has claimed his country’s armed forces will remain on the ground in the key supply town of Bashiqa, which is located 8 miles from Mosul, as the battle to eliminate ISIS’ presence in Iraq continues. This comes after experts warned jihadis potentially posing as refugees could “unleash attacks on Europe as payback for Mosul...”
Bishops: Eastern Catholic migrants help Church (CNS) Eastern Catholic migrants living in Western Europe help the Catholic Church become more aware of its universality and diversity and, by remaining active in their faith, can help with the new evangelization of the continent, Eastern Catholic bishops said. Meeting in Fatima, Portugal, 20-23 October, the Eastern Catholic bishops of Europe examined “the challenges of the pastoral care of the Eastern Catholic faithful who migrate to Western countries and, often, to places where they find themselves without their own pastors,” according to a statement...
Pope: ‘the only solution to the migration crisis is solidarity’ (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Wednesday called for solidarity with migrants and refugees. Speaking to the crowd gathered in St. Peter’s Square for the weekly General Audience, the Pope reflected on two particular corporal works of mercy — welcoming the stranger and clothing the naked — and said that the growing numbers of refugees fleeing war, famine and dire poverty calls us to welcome and care for these brothers and sisters...
Queen visits refugee camp in Jordan (Daily Mail) Queen Mathilde of Belgium has admitted she’s expecting an ‘intense and emotional’ few days as she arrived in Jordan to begin a humanitarian visit. The monarch, 43, began her trip to the Middle East by visiting Jordan’s biggest refugee camp Al Zaatari in Mafraq near the Syrian border, which is home to 80,000 people...
25 October 2016
Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, Iraq, serves the thousands of displaced people who fled ISIS. He is calling for both prayers and planning to help support those who are suffering in his homeland, as they look to a future after ISIS. (photo: CNS/Tyler Orsburn)
It is never easy being a bishop and tending to a large and diverse flock. The mission is made even more challenging if you are a bishop in a time of war, displacement and persecution.
That is the story of Iraq’s Archbishop Bashar Warda. The Chaldean Catholic archbishop visited our offices this week and his presence served to remind us of the heroic work so many men and women are undertaking, despite sometimes overwhelming obstacles.
The past two years have been tumultuous. He described in 2015 some of what his people were facing:
Archbishop Warda said that 620 families were initially housed on the grounds of the cathedral in Erbil where he lived.
“People come and tell their stories of persecution and how they were really terrified, having to walk eight to 10 hours during the night,” Archbishop Warda said. “In the end, they would tell you, ‘Thank God we are alive. Nushkur Allah. We thank God for everything.’ That’s the phrase they end with. That’s strengthening, in a way...
...He tried to encourage the persecuted Christians whom he had welcomed to Erbil, within his heart he would frequently “quarrel with God.”
“I don’t understand what he is doing when I look at what has happened in the region,” Archbishop Warda said. “I quarrel with him every day.”
However, the arguments take place within his intimate relationship with God, one that, with the help of grace, withstands even the previously unimaginable challenges to his faith that he has faced over the past year.
“Before going to sleep, I usually hand all my crises, wishes, thoughts and sadness to him, so I can at least have some rest,” Archbishop Warda said. “The next day, I usually wake up with his providence that I would never dream about.”
This week, visiting New York, he reflected on all that had happened and spoke about looking beyond persecution, and planning for the future:
“We can’t be a church that complains all the time about persecution,” he said. “Persecution started on Good Friday. It’s not a new event for being a Christian. It started there and continues. It’s not the first experience, not the only experience. It’s happened in different parts of the world, and churches were able to emerge stronger than before. Aid is needed. We are going to face a new challenge with liberating Mosul, with convincing families to go back again. How are we going to convince them to go back to their villages? It needs a plan. We need some good, concrete plans.”
And he encouraged everyone to raise awareness about what is happening back in his homeland:
“In my visit here,” he explained, “Americans have no idea what is going on there. Raising awareness is so important. The roots of the Christians are in the Middle East. We have to keep these roots alive. Even if they are small and tiny roots, we have to work to keep them alive so they can give us more vitality. So we need to raise awareness, we need to pray for Christians.”
Pray for the people in Erbil and throughout the region. At this moment, as Iraqi soldiers launch their offensive to try and retake Mosul from ISIS, there are growing concerns about what could become a massive humanitarian crisis. To lend your support to these people in their moment of need, visit this page.
25 October 2016
The video above shows — for the first time in two years — the ringing of church bells in the city of Bartella in Iraq. ISIS overtook the city in 2014 and forced all Christians to flee. Iraqi soldiers are now closing in on Mosul as part of an offensive attempting to retake the city from ISIS.
(video: Rome Reports)
ISIS resorts to guerilla tactics as troops approach Mosul (CBS News) The United States says progress will slow down as the American-backed Iraqi offensive to take back Mosul from ISIS draws closer to the city. U.S. officials say an area larger than New York City has already been retaken from ISIS. Kurdish forces are still clearing Bashiqa, eight miles northeast of Mosul, reports CBS News correspondent Holly Williams. They’re up against the usual guerrilla tactics that are being used by ISIS: homemade explosives, networks of tunnels and suicide bombers...
Humanitarian corridors in Aleppo still open (AP) Russia’s Defense Ministry said on Tuesday it was keeping humanitarian corridors out of Syria’s Aleppo open following accusations by the U.N. humanitarian chief that warring parties were obstructing medical evacuations from the eastern, rebel-held districts of the city...
Syrian refugee women forge new lives in Jordan (The Los Angeles Times) According to the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees, women head 66,000 — or around percent — of the 188,000 Syrian refugee families registered with the agency in Jordan. Widowed, divorced or abandoned by their husbands, these women have become their families’ sole breadwinners, roles traditionally held in Syrian society by men...
Vatican sends message to Hindus for Diwali (Vatican Radio) The President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran has sent a Message to Hindus for the Feast of Deepavali (Diwali), entitled Christians and Hindus: Promoting hope among families...
Welcome to Gaza’s first deer farm (Al Monitor) Palestinians have always raised animals such as goats and camels, but one man has now taken up a new activity that is the first of its kind in the Gaza Strip — deer farming...