24 January 2018
A man from the Yazidi minority and young people pray at a shrine being rebuilt after it was destroyed in 2017 by Islamic State militants in Bashiqa, Iraq.
(photo: CNS/Khalid al Mousily, Reuters)
All people have a right to freely profess their own religious beliefs without fear of duress, Pope Francis said, calling on the world community to do more to protect the Yazidi minority.
“It is unacceptable that human beings are persecuted and killed because of their religion,” he told a group of Yazidis during a private audience at the Vatican on 24 January.
The Yazidis are a monotheistic religious minority, indigenous to areas in Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey. They have been especially persecuted by Islamic State militants, who — as they did with Christians — have forced them to convert or be killed.
He told the representatives, who were now living in Germany, that his encounter with them was also a sign of his solidarity and concern for all Yazidis, particularly those in Iraq and Syria.
His thoughts and prayers went to all “innocent victims of senseless and inhuman barbarity,” underlining that all people have the right “to freely and without duress profess and their own religious belief.”
The pope said the Yazidis’ rich spiritual and cultural history has been scarred by the “indescribable violations of fundamental human rights: kidnappings, slavery, torture, forced conversions and killings.”
“Your sanctuaries and places of prayer have been destroyed,” he said, and those lucky enough to have been able to flee have had to leave behind so much, including that which they held to be most holy and dear.
Aware of this tragedy, “the international community cannot remain a mute and inert spectator.”
He encouraged organizations and “people of goodwill” to help rebuild homes and places of worship that have been destroyed and to seek out concrete ways to create the right conditions for people to return to their homelands.
He also said he hoped everything possible would be done to help save those who were still in the hands of terrorists, locate those still missing and identify and properly bury those who have been murdered.
All over the world, he said, there are religious and ethnic minorities — including Christians — who are persecuted because of their faith.
“The Holy See will never tire of intervening by denouncing these situations, calling for the recognition, protection and respect” of minorities as well as calling for dialogue and reconciliation, he said.
“Once more I speak out in favor of the rights of the Yazidis, above all their right to exist as a religious community. No one can allocate oneself the power to eliminate a religious group because it is not among those (who are) ‘tolerated,’ ” he said.
Related: Religious Minorities in the Middle East: The Yazidis
23 January 2018
Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army fighters are seen on 22 January near, Afrin, Syria. Churches in Afrin are calling on the world to stop the slaughter of civilians during the Turkish military assault.
(photo: CNS/Khalil Ashawi, Reuters)
Churches in Afrin, Syria, are calling on the world to stop the slaughter of civilians during the Turkish military assault.
“We ask you to pray for us and for our city which, before a couple of days ago, was full of life, but today is not,” said the Rev. Saeed Daoud, a Syrian clergyman whose name has been changed at his request due to fear of retribution.
“The brutal attack of the Turkish military with extremist Islamic groups has been carried out, without any warning,” he told Catholic News Service in an email, referring to Turkey’s relentless shelling and ground offensive since 20 January.
In an appeal for international help, another religious leader wrote: “We are asking for intervention and protection against the violent attacks which are being levied against us at this moment.
“Many lives are in mortal danger,” said the Rev. Hakim Ismael. “We are unable to protect ourselves or our families against these attacks, neither are we able to offer assistance or shelter to the innocents. Please help us.”
The city of Afrin, located in a Kurdish-controlled area of northwestern Syria, is approximately 30 miles from Aleppo.
Father Emanuel Youkhana, an archimandrite of the Assyrian Church of the East, told CNS: “With the military defeat of ISIS in Iraq and the final phase of its defeat in Syria, we prayed and hoped to move forward in a new phase of reconciliation and rebuilding the life toward a future where all people — Christians, Muslims, Yezidis, Kurds, Arab, Assyrians and all — may live in dignity and justice.
“We are shocked by another brutal and violent attack on the people in Afrin. Here again, the innocent civilians are paying the price for political interests under the pretext of fighting against the terrorist,” said Father Youkhana, who runs Christian Aid Program Northern Iraq, a Christian program for displaced Iraqis around the city of Dahuk.
“The Turkish military operations against Kurdish and Christian people of the Afrin region cannot be justified. The civilians cannot be attacked under any claim,” he said, calling for an immediate end to the military operations and immediate aid to the people.
“Attacking who fought ISIS is shocking and questionable action,” he said. “We pray for decision makers to work for peace. Battle cannot be a path to peace.”
Dutch human rights advocate Johannes de Jong told CNS: “The civilian population of Afrin is deliberately targeted and being killed off. This is also a specific threat to the Christian church in Afrin.
“The jihadist proxies used by Turkey to invade Afrin have themselves said that there is no room for Christians there,” added de Jong, who closely monitors events in Syria’s North.
“Will the Trump administration allow Afrin’s civilian population to be indiscriminately killed by the Turkish air force and permit jihadist proxies to invade Afrin and kill any Christian they can find?” he asked.
De Jong directs Sallux, formerly the Christian Political Foundation for Europe, based in The Netherlands. For the past several years, he has worked with minorities in Syria and Iraq, including Syriac Christians, Yezidis, Turkmen and Kurds.
The Kurdish-run city of Afrin has only four hospitals, now packed with “injured people and wounded innocent children,” Rev. Daoud said, adding that there are several reported cases of women who miscarried “due to shock and fear.”
Robar Refugee Camp, housing 600 displaced Syrians from the Aleppo countryside, was bombed with many injuries. Camp residents have appealed to the United Nations to intervene to stop the shelling.
In another instance, 11 members of the same family were killed when they tried to escape the bombardment by sheltering in a nearby village.
Turkish war planes began shelling Kurdish positions in Afrin shortly after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced the launch of the military operation named Olive Branch. Erdogan has branded the mainly Kurdish YPG militia in the area a terrorist group; however, much of the bombing appears to be hitting civilian areas.
The YPG denies any direct links with the Turkish Kurdistan Workers’ Party and is a crucial part of a U.S.-backed alliance effectively battling Islamic State and other jihadists in northern Syria.
“That’s Turkey’s excuse for these raids, but in fact they (YPG) are not terrorists,” Lauren Homer, Washington, D.C.-based international human rights lawyer, told CNS of Erdogan’s claims. “To the extent they have fired weapons at the Turks, it’s in response to constant Turkish shelling of this and other areas along the Turkey-Syria border. It is a humanitarian catastrophe.”
“The bombing is quite indiscriminate. The church there is calling for a no-fly zone,” she said.
Erdogan is scheduled to meet Pope Francis at the Vatican on 5 February.
22 January 2018
Palestinian Catholics pray during Mass on 21 January at St. Joseph Church in, Jifna, West Bank.
(photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)
Building walls, whether between Israel and the Palestinian territories or the United States and Mexico, can only serve to separate people and create more isolation, said Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio L. Elizondo of Seattle.
“Walls can’t bring any positive aspect to any country,” he said 21 January, during a visit to this West Bank village. “The image is very negative. ‘I am keeping you out of my life.’ ... It creates more resentment and isolation. It makes it impossible to see the other.”
Bishop Elizondo was among 10 Hispanic U.S. bishops visiting the Holy Land and meeting with Israelis and Palestinians to get a better understanding of the Holy Land situation and to advocate for “bridges not walls.”
The bishop said he had returned to the Holy Land for the first time in 30 years and had been disappointed by the feeling that the situation had gotten worse rather than better.
“It is a tragic feeling coming to the Holy Land,” a place which for centuries has not had peace, he said. “It is a long process. A very slow process. I praise and pray for people in that process, but you have to be ready for martyrdom all that time. We humans are very slow learners.”
While acknowledging that terrorist violence was one of the push factors for the creation of the Israeli separation barrier — which includes a series of 25-foot cement walls and fences and is expected to extend more than 400 miles — Auxiliary Bishop Arturo Cepeda of Detroit said the whole use of the concept of walls prevents people from “seeing the other as a human person.”
“If we are not able to see the other as a human person, we are missing the point of who we are. The message is that this is about people, it is a human crisis ... the challenge is what is the most effective way to communicate this,” he said. “This is a human crisis. In our USA, we are facing a very, very hard human crisis, which is our immigrants. It is a terrible crisis.”
The Rev. Firas Aridah, parish priest at St. Joseph Church, told the visiting bishops there are more than 140 Israeli settlements and 636 Israeli checkpoints within the West Bank.
“We need the recognition of the simple human principle: No people has the right to impose his occupation on another people. We are waiting for the day when our churches will ring their bells, celebrating freedom and justice for all, Palestinians and Israelis,” Father Aridah said.
Earlier, Bishops Elizondo and Cepeda concelebrated Mass at St. Joseph Parish. In his homily, Bishop Elizondo told parishioners that, without forgiveness, there can be no dialogue.
“Regardless of the nationality — whether it be Palestinian, Israeli, Mexican or American — we are all created by the same Father and all redeemed by the same savior, Jesus Christ,” he said. “Forgiveness is the best and the most difficult, but the most powerful thing we can ever offer anybody. Forgiveness is a gift from God. It is very tough.”
Bishop Cepeda reminded parishioners that it was God who gave them the courage to “cry out for peace, justice, dignity and freedom.”
“Let us never ever stop crying out for what we believe in as people of faith, as Christians, as people of this land,” he urged. “We belong here, we belong to God, and God will give us the courage.”
The same day, other members of the delegation visited Holy Family Parish in Gaza. They included Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace; Bishop Nelson J. Perez of Cleveland, chairman of the USCCB Subcommittee on Hispanic Affairs; Bishop Felipe de Jesus Estevez of St. Augustine, Florida; Auxiliary Bishop Octavio Cisneros of Brooklyn, New York; Bishop Armando X. Ochoa of Fresno, California; Auxiliary Bishop Alberto Rojas of Chicago; retired Bishop Placido Rodriguez of Lubbock, Texas; and retired Auxiliary Bishop Rutilio del Riego of San Bernardino, California.
19 January 2018
Students at the Kidist Mariam Center in Meki, Ethiopia, take part in a traditional coffee ceremony. Learn how the center is helping the community — and helping young Ethiopians discover there’s No Place Like Home — in the December 2017 edition of ONE. (photo: Petterik Wiggers)
18 January 2018
Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas (L), Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb (C) and Pope Tawadros II, leader of Egypt's Orthodox Christians, attend a conference on Jerusalem in Cairo on 17 January 2018. Pope Francis was unable to attend the conference, but sent a message to the imam expressing his hopes and prayers for the region. (photo: Fayed El-Geziry/AFP/Getty Images)
Christians, Muslims and Jews who are sincere about their faith must be committed to protecting the special character of Jerusalem and to praying and working for peace in the Holy Land, Pope Francis wrote in a letter to the grand imam of Egypt’s al-Azhar University.
Only a special, internationally guaranteed statute on the status of Jerusalem “can preserve its identity and unique vocation as a place of peace,” the pope wrote. And only when the city’s “universal value” is recognized and protected can there be “a future of reconciliation and hope for the entire region.”
“This is the only aspiration of those who authentically profess themselves to be believers and who never tire of imploring with prayer a future of brotherhood for all,” Pope Francis wrote in the letter to Sheik Ahmad el-Tayeb, the grand imam.
El-Tayeb hosted a meeting 17 January with Christian and Muslim clerics and regional political leaders in reaction to U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision in December to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and to begin preparations to move the U.S. embassy there from Tel Aviv.
The sheik had invited Pope Francis to the meeting even though he knew the pope would be in Chile. Still, the pope said in his letter, “I assure you, I will not fail to continue praying to God for the cause of peace — a true, real peace.”
“In particular, I raise heartfelt prayers that leaders of nations and civil and religious authorities everywhere would work to prevent new spirals of tension and support every effort to make agreement, justice and security prevail for the populations of that blessed land that is so close to my heart,” the pope said in the letter, which was published 18 January by the Vatican.
Pope Francis repeated the Vatican’s long-standing position calling for renewed peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians to find a negotiated agreement that would guarantee both could live in peace within internationally recognized borders “with full respect for the particular nature of Jerusalem, whose significance goes beyond any consideration of territorial questions.”
17 January 2018
A worker clears some ground outside St. Thomas Church, which serves about 150 families in Palakkad, India. To read about A Day in the Life of a Priest in Kerala, check out the
December 2017 edition of ONE. (photo: Don Duncan)
16 January 2018
Melkite Greek Catholic Archbishop Georges Bacouni speaks with staff of a local Catholic school outside the Cathedral of Mar Elias in Haifa, Israel. Archbishop Georges recently wrote us a letter, reflecting on leading the church in the place where Christianity was born. This and more can be found in the December 2017 edition of ONE. (photo: Corinna Kern)
12 January 2018
Tags: Middle East Christians Holy Land Education Holy Land Christians Church
A Daughter of Charity embraces one of the children at St. Vincent de Paul School in Alexandria, Egypt. Learn more about the remarkable history of these remarkable women, and the work they are doing as Charity’s Daughters in the December 2017 edition of ONE. (photo: Roger Anis)
The current edition of ONE features a profile of the Daughters of Charity, who have been working Egypt for 170 years:
In 1844, seven Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul sailed from France to Alexandria at the request of Egypt’s ruler, Muhammad Ali. They were well received and given a house in Alexandria. From there, they opened a dispensary, where they started their service.
It was not common at this time in Egypt to see sisters outside of convents, serving the community. The locals called the dispensary Saba Banat (“Seven Daughters”). As the charity work grew, the street itself came to be known by that same name.
St. Vincent de Paul founded the Daughters of Charity in France in 1633 with the help of St. Louise de Marillac. Until that point, religious vocations among women often took the form of a contemplative life in relative seclusion; the founders of the Daughters of Charity, by contrast, encouraged the sisters to work outside their convent — to serve Christ in the persons of those poor or in need, through material and spiritual works of mercy. Today, the congregation has a presence in 93 countries around the world.
The first seven Daughters of Charity in Egypt in Alexandria were doctors and nurses, including specialists in ophthalmology.
When the French Suez Canal Company was digging the canal in the middle of the 19th century, the sisters went to work in nearby hospitals to care for workers. After the completion of the canal, they continued to work in governmental hospitals in Port Said, Ismailia and many other facilities in Egypt. Currently, three sisters still work in one of the governmental hospitals in Port Said, maintaining the old tradition.
Over time, the Alexandria sisters gradually expanded their services, even opening schools in the early 20th century. Their presence peaked in 1952, the same year that witnessed a revolution that overthrew the monarchy and the establishment of a republic.
In 1959, the government seized the Saba Banat dispensary as part of a wider campaign of nationalization. In 1963, the dispensary was reopened in a building attached to the school in the At Attarin neighborhood. It kept its old name, despite moving from the old street.
Nowadays, the Daughters of Charity have nine convents in Egypt, where some 50 sisters live and serve locals by running dispensaries, schools, food kitchens and programs teaching literacy and handicrafts to young girls in Upper Egypt.
Read more. And check out the video below.
11 January 2018
The simple wooden chapel in Tarashcha, Ukraine offers Greek Catholic parishioners a traditional space to worship. Often, others need to make do in small rented spaces. Discover how the church in Ukraine is growing, often against surprising odds, in Planting Seeds, Nurturing Faith in the current edition of ONE. (photo: Ivan Chernichkin)
10 January 2018
Students play outside of St. Vincent de Paul School in Alexandria, Egypt. Learn more about the school and the Daughters of Charity who run it in the current edition of ONE. (photo: Roger Anis)