7 August 2017
Lara Yussif Zara made history last week, becoming the first Christian woman elected mayor in Iraq. She is pictured here with local leaders, including Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako. Read more about this historic election at this link. (photo: Twitter/iraqchristians)
4 August 2017
An Israeli policeman throws a stun grenade in Jerusalem’s Old City on 27 July. Weeks of violence have raised tensions in the Old City. (photo: CNS/Amir Cohen, Reuters)
With tensions still high in the Old City following weeks of violence, the Rev. Firas Aridah completed his work at the Latin Patriarchate early so he could leave Jerusalem for his West Bank parish before any possible violence began.
“There were many [Israeli] police and soldiers, closing many roads,” Father Aridah told Catholic News Service in a phone interview once he was back in Jifna’s St. Joseph Parish 28 July.
Friday afternoon prayer in Muslim tradition is considered especially significant and is required of all Muslim men. Often during volatile periods, prayers at the contested Al Aqsa Mosque compound have been followed by demonstrations. Sometimes the tensions spread to other sections of Jerusalem, or even to the West Bank.
For Father Aridah and other parish priests in the West Bank, the challenge is to emphasize the Christian tradition of nonviolence while supporting their young parishioners’ desire to oppose the Israeli occupation.
Father Aridah said he counsels young people not even to throw stones at the young Israeli soldiers who sometimes come near their village on patrols or in search of men wanted by the army.
“The problem is with the [Israeli] government, not with the soldiers,” he said. “Violence is not acceptable from either side. With this conflict, Israel is losing its image as a democratic state. I tell the young men that we are not with this violence. If we do not accept for Israel to behave this way, then how can we accept it from our side? Wherever God is represented in our life, we should have no violence.”
If word that someone might be considering taking part in a violent demonstration reaches him, the priest makes a beeline to that home for a conversation. The way to best serve their society, he advises them, is to get an education, to bring a new vision to Palestinian life.
“I don’t want to see blood in my parish,” Father Aridah said. “If we want to see [real] results, I tell [the young people] to be educated. I [tell them] to serve your people well, do well in the university, then go get a job in society and tell the world [about our situation], but do nothing with violence. If we want to resist, we resist with education.”
As he prepared to leave for a new parish in northern Israel, Father Aktham Hijazin of the Annunciation Parish in Beit Jala spent his last Sunday with his parish saying his good-byes. He said the majority of Palestinians, including his parishioners, are proponents of nonviolent opposition to the Israeli occupation. His parishioners did not take part in the clashes in neighboring Bethlehem, he said.
Following the tenants of their Catholic faith, he said, “They are not interested to take part in any violent act.”
In Ramallah, West Bank, Father Ibrahim Shomali noted that though he did not take part, members of his parish as well as clergy from the Melkite and Greek Orthodox churches did participate in peaceful demonstrations in Ramallah, away from the flashpoints with Israeli soldiers.
He said he has made it clear to his parishioners that, even while under Israeli occupation, violent confrontation is not acceptable. Even if Israel settlers attack Palestinian farmers and villagers, violence is not justified, he added.
As Christians, he said, people must respect all holy places and respect the holiness of Al Aqsa for Muslims.
“We resist with our prayers and with our Bible and with respect of the human person,” Father Shomali said. “If you can love your enemy, you can have more power over them and get stronger to ask for your rights.”
The Al Aqsa mosque compound has been the focal point of Palestinian-Israel confrontation for decades. To Muslims it is Haram al Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary where, according to tradition, the Prophet Muhammad ascended into heaven. To Jews it is holy as the Temple Mount, where, according to Jewish tradition, the two biblical temples stood. In the Gospels, this is where Jesus lashed out against the money-changers when he came to Jerusalem on Passover.
On 14 July outside one of the compound gates, two Israeli policemen were murdered by three men from an Israeli Arab town. The men had smuggled guns into the compound; Israeli police shot and killed them. Israel responded by erecting metal detectors and other security measures outside the compound, sparking protests — some violent — by Muslims.
A week later, a Palestinian snuck into the Israeli settlement of Halamish and killed three members of an Israeli family during their Shabbat dinner. An off-duty soldier shot and injured the attacker.
Israel eventually removed the metal detectors at the Al Aqsa compound and replaced cameras with “smart cameras” that have face recognition capabilities and can detect weapons.
“The place is holy for the three religions, Muslims, Christians and Jews, so we should [all] be able to raise our praise to God,” said a Catholic priest, who asked not to be named. “This may be possible when a peace agreement is reached.”
3 August 2017
Tags: Palestine Israel Jerusalem Israeli-Palestinian conflict
Armenian octogenarian Marjik lives with her son in a converted shipping container in Artashat, Armenia. Read more about the challenges facing Armenia’s poor in ‘This Is the Only Light’ in the current edition of ONE. (photo: Nazik Armenakyan)
2 August 2017
Tags: Armenia Poor/Poverty Caring for the Elderly Caritas
A Palestinian man, seen in January, is silhouetted on rubble of Palestinian houses destroyed during the Israeli War against Gaza. The man works for a company that turns the rubble into building materials. (photo: CNS/Mohammed Saber, EPA)
A heat wave in Israel and the Palestinian territories in July and near-record electricity usage — where it was available — are indications that, despite the continuous political tensions here, Christians, Muslims and Jews are facing a common enemy that needs to be confronted in a united manner.
“The level of the lake of Tiberias and of the Dead Sea is lower than 10 years ago, and the landscape is changing because of a continuous construction of houses,” Franciscan Father Francesco Patton, custos of the Holy Land, told Catholic News Service.
Father Patton and two other religious leaders spoke at a recent news conference organized by The Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development, a Jerusalem-based environmental organization. They spoke about the urgency of putting aside political and religious difference to face these challenges and the role religious leaders can take in increasing awareness of the issue.
Rabbi David Rosen, international director of interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Committee, told journalists the Jordan River Valley, another area of Biblical importance, is facing an environmental crisis. In a covenant signed by religious leaders four years ago, they noted that over the past 50 years, the lower Jordan River has had 96 percent of its flow diverted, and what little water remains is polluted with saline and liquid waste or sewage.
Father Patton told CNS that other pressing issues in the Holy Land include the increasing water shortage, improper waste disposal and growing air pollution in various regions.
While Israel has begun a garbage recycling program, the Palestinian Authority has yet to institute such an effort. Awareness of proper garbage disposal is also an issue among certain sectors of both populations, with many people still tossing garbage on the side of the road or outside their buildings, with little regard to garbage bins at their disposal. In certain places of East Jerusalem, garbage pickup by the municipality is either lacking or erratic, and Palestinian residents often burn their own garbage for lack of a better solution.
Recent internal political differences have caused electrical shortages in the Gaza Strip. This has affected the ability of the sewage system to function properly, which has caused raw sewage to flow into the Mediterranean Sea, which borders Egypt and Israel.
The northern industrial Israel port city of Haifa, though often lauded for its political tolerance, is also often sighted even by its own residents for the lack of the environmental controls over the chemical factories located on its seashore. In a position paper earlier this year, the Israeli Ministry of Health noted Haifa has a 15 percent higher rate of cancer than the rest of Israel and leads the country in asthma and breathing problems.
Father Patton, Rabbi Rosen and Kadi Iyad Zahalka, head judge of the Muslim Shariah courts in Israel, said religious leaders needed to unite in their efforts to educate and create a greater awareness about these environmental issues.
“We should offer values that can inspire the everyday life of people, and also recall the principles of our religious traditions that can inspire wise economic and political policies and decisions,” Father Patton told CNS.
He noted that the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, which is in charge of holy places, is working on a pilot project to include environmental education in its local schools curriculum for the coming school year.
The impact of climate change can be easily ignored if a person lives in an acclimatized environment with the air conditioning on in the summer and heating on in the winter, said Father Patton, the son of a farmer in northern Italy. He told CNS he has seen how the harvest seasons have changed over the past 10 years.
“This means something has changed ... climate change is something which touches our lives,” he said.
Referring to the papal encyclical “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home,” Father Patton noted the value of an interfaith strategy toward environmental issues in the Holy Land in the form of an “integral ecology.” He said the issue is not only one of “environmental ecology” but also of “cultural ecology,” which “connects the ecological issue to many fields in a reciprocal relationship.”
“In this place, it is particularly important to have a linked vision, to work on a connection ... between different cultures (and religions) of Judaism, Islam and Christianity. This is an integral vision of ecology in the encyclical of Pope Francis,” Father Patton told CNS. “He speaks of the importance of dialogue between religions of different faiths in this field. We can work as people of goodwill.”
At the news conference, the religious leaders discussed the common respect for the environment and nature inherent in their religious traditions and holy books, and the responsibility these teachings entrust to people.
Despite the continuing political violence and struggle to control land not only in Jerusalem and the whole Middle East, but also around the world, people need to start discussing the issues of real importance concerning climate change and environmental sustainability before there is no land left to fight over, said Zahalka.
“Our lives are more important than all these issues,” he said. The issue of environmental sustainability “gives us the opportunity to rethink all these (political) issues and put them into context ... to focus and invest in what is really important, which is life.”
Father Patton said the creation of an interfaith environmental dialogue could even serve as a confidence-building measure between Israelis and Palestinians and others in the region, which could enable future discussions on social, political and religious issues.
“We received the gift of creation and, first and foremost, we are part of creation, we are not over creation. We have a shared responsibility toward this generation,” he told journalists. “We can cooperate for something important for every human being in the present and in the future.”
1 August 2017
Slovak Bishop Milan Lach smiles alongside Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States, during a Divine Liturgy on 21 July at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Parma, Ohio. Bishop Lach was welcomed as the new apostolic administrator of the Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Parma. (photo: CNS/Laura Leraci, Horizons Newspaper)
31 July 2017
Many Iraqis living in settlement camps in Erbil have been displaced from home, community and even family for years. But reports today indicate some are finally beginning to return home. Read about their plight in the current edition of ONE. (photo: John E. Kozar)
28 July 2017
A Byzantine Catholic parish in Ohio is drawing on its tradition and faith to post messages on a local billboard. The billboard reads, “Life is tough. We are praying for you.”
(photo: CNS/courtesy of St. Nicholas Byzantine Catholic Parish)
A glance, a thought, a prayer are what St. Nicholas Byzantine Catholic Parish had
hoped to inspire in commuters when it launched its first billboard campaign in 2015.
Now the parish, situated in Barberton, Ohio, has launched its sixth billboard campaign, with the message: “Life is tough. We are praying for you.”
The parish wants to communicate its prayerful presence and solidarity with community members in the midst of their daily struggles, said the pastor, Father Miron Kerul-Kmec.
A banner that measures 8 feet by 14 feet was hoisted up onto the side of the church building in mid-May, and since early July, an 8-foot-by-20-foot billboard has graced a busy intersection nearby. It will have an eight-week run.
“A billboard with a Christian message, if done correctly, has power,” said the pastor. “The church’s message on a billboard is not a product like any other.”
He gave the example of a previous campaign, which featured the prayer, “Lord, have mercy.”
“If a small percentage of people who passed by were encouraged to say this short prayer, it’s great and the world became a better place for this,” he said. “It is something small that can change your thoughts and bring you to something better.”
The new billboard is the communications component of the parish’s yearlong pastoral program, which will include catechesis on the Byzantine Catholic Divine Liturgy and prayer.
“Prayers are a very powerful tool for how to change your life,” he said. “There is a need to refresh our understanding of prayer. We can use this prayer which is given to us, the Divine Liturgy. We want to remind our faithful how precious the Diving Liturgy is. We pray for the whole world there.”
The parish belongs to the Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Parma, Ohio, and the idea of using advertising first came up in discussions among parishioners about the eparchy-wide pastoral plan. They decided advertising would help meet one of the parish objectives of “bringing Christian thought to people,” said the pastor.
All of the billboards draw on the Byzantine Catholic tradition and practice of the faith.
Parishioners opted for billboards over other media because, unlike radio and television where one can change the channel, a billboard “is something you cannot avoid,” he told Horizons, the eparchy’s newspaper.
“You drive this way every day to work and every day it is a reminder,” he said.
Cost was another factor. Father Kerul-Kmec said he was surprised by the relatively low costs. A four-week campaign at a location that receives 8,000 looks per week was priced at $500; the parish has contracted for eight weeks for each campaign.
The billboards were designed pro bono by parishioner Kurt Valenta, creative director for Advance Ohio, the marketing arm for cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer, Cleveland’s daily newspaper.
“If you want to touch the community, what better way than to put a billboard in the heart of it,” said Valenta, who has worked in advertising for 33 years. He pointed to market research that indicates the efficacy of outdoor advertising.
Commuters may not pay much mind to the billboard the first few times they drive by, but eventually “the repetition makes people think,” he said. He added he would counsel parishes against online banner ads, which can be very expensive.
Father Kerul-Kmec said the response to the billboards has been “satisfying” to date.
He said a commuter called him one night at 11 p.m. to tell him that he was “deeply touched” by the Christmas billboard campaign. Father Kerul-Kmec has also received positive feedback from guests at the soup kitchen where he and parishioners serve lunch regularly. Others have said the billboards are “refreshing” and that “the road looks better now,” he added.
“If people would come to (our) church that would be great,” he said. “But the point is to bring the remembrance of God to people. If people were touched and went to their own church, it’s OK. It is not the intention to pull people to our parish, but just to send the Christian message to the world and to let people know that we are here.”
“Even if one person is touched by this, it is worth it,” he said.
Valenta said he believes participating in advertising presents “no ethical dilemma whatsoever” for the church.
“We are bombarded by messages every day... and the church needs to get the word out. You need to be proactive or you’re not a player,” he said. “We need to be there.”
27 July 2017
Kidist Kassahun studies in her room in Dubbo, Ethiopia, near her prayer corner. To learn about how Catholic schools there are succeeding, read Head of the Class in the current edition of ONE.
(photo: Petterik Wiggers)
26 July 2017
Boys play under an overflowing dam along Powai Lake in Mumbai, India, on 20 July. Young Indian Catholics are set to travel to Yogyakarta, Indonesia next month for Asian Youth Day.
(photo: CNS/Shailesh Andrade, Reuters)
Young Indian Catholics set to participate in the upcoming seventh Asian Youth Day in Indonesia are expecting the event to change their perspectives on faith, reported ucanews.com.
They will join about 3,000 young people from 26 Asian countries in the Indonesian city for the summit, with the theme “Joyful Asian Youth: Living the Gospel in Multicultural Asia.”
The Indian participants are mostly youth leaders and aware of “what is happening in the church, its structure, way of functioning,” said Father Thomas.
“Interacting with other youths about their role in the church and ways of working and their exchanging about these experiences will be helpful for their lives,” he said.
Delegation members come from different regions of India and were chosen by their dioceses. All will cover their own costs, Father Thomas said.
Leon Pereira, vice president of the Indian Catholic Youth Movement, said he is among 12 chosen from Vasai Diocese and is looking forward to meeting young Catholics from various nations.
“They are coming from different backgrounds — their role in the church, way of prayers, and cultures will be different,” said Pereira.
“Interacting with them, I’m sure will strengthen our faith, our prayer life and our role in society.&rduo;
The 24-year-old said he was looking to forward to understanding how Catholics from other countries practice their faith.
Jenny Joy, 26, of Delhi Archdiocese said meeting Indians from different regions will be “an experience” because “we are different in our food habit, culture and language.”
Joy said India’s diversity will make it a challenge for the delegation to tell its whole story.
“Life situations, culture and language of Christians from different regions of India vary vastly, making it almost difficult to generalize the situation of Indian Christians,” she said.
25 July 2017
A boy carries his belongings in Mosul, Iraq, on 23 July. Some Iraqi Christians who are making their slow return to ancestral lands say it will take time to rebuild their lives and trust of those who betrayed them. (photo: CNS/Thaier Al-Sudani, Reuters)
As some Iraqi Christians make a slow return to the region around Mosul following the defeat of the Islamic State group, many say it will take time to rebuild their lives and even longer to rebuild their trust of those who betrayed them.
“The war isn’t finished yet and neither is the Islamic State. There is no stability and there is still fighting in Mosul,” said Patriarch Louis Sako, head of Iraq’s Chaldean Catholic Church, who visited Mosul on 20 July, touring churches left badly damaged during the city’s three-year occupation by the extremists.
“How can Christians return when there are homes destroyed and there are no services? But most important is safety. The return of Christians needs time,” Patriarch Sako warned, in remarks carried by Radio Free Europe.
Although Iraqi forces declared victory over Islamic State fighters in Mosul early in July, the patriarch said the region remains unstable, leaving Christians uncertain about their future in their historic homeland.
“Trust must be rebuilt because the Christians of this region have endured such abuse and violence, leaving deep wounds,” Patriarch Sako said.
Father Emanuel Youkhana, an Iraqi priest, or archimandrite, of the Assyrian Church of the East, also warned that although Islamic State may be defeated militarily, “it doesn’t mean that its mentality, ideology or culture will be ended.”
Father Youkhana, who runs the Christian Aid Program Northern Iraq, a program for displaced Iraqis around the city of Dahuk, spoke to Catholic News Service via Skype.
“The mentality of Islamic State in terms of accepting or recognizing others who are different is still there among people. Although we are happy for the liberation of Mosul, in reality, no Christian or Yezidi will go back to Mosul. I say this with pain,” he emphasized.
“Now is the time to think about alternative places to set up public services, health care, businesses and economics in the region,” perhaps to establish these in “one of the Ninevah Plains towns, such as Telaskov, to serve Christians, Yezidis and Muslims,” he said.
Many see Telaskov as a prime location for the reconstruction and rebuilding of lives to start in earnest, because Islamic State militants spent less than two weeks occupying it, so damage is minimal.
Telaskov translates as “Bishop’s Hill” and, before the Islamic State takeover, was a thriving town of 11,000.
“Now, more than 600 families have returned to Telaskov; those formally from the town and nearby Batnaya because it is not possible to return to Batnaya due to huge damage,” Father Youkhana said.
“Life is regained, markets are open, the church is functioning and hoping the schools will be open there as well by the beginning of the school year,” he said.
Christians have expressed concerns that the current military line dividing the once predominantly Christian Ninevah Plains region will harden to become a de facto political/administrative line, dividing their numbers. In the north are towns like Telaskov and Batnaya, and the Kurdistan Regional Government and the Kurdish peshmerga fighters hold sway. Towns south of the line — where Qaraqosh, Bartella, and Bashiqa are found — are now under the control of the Iraqi army and Shiite militias.
Father Youkhana’s CAPNI organization has been able to rehabilitate more than 180 houses and properties and 17 schools north of the military line, where there is greater stability.
He expressed concerns especially for towns south of the military line, like Qaraqosh, once the biggest Christian town of 50,000 before the Islamic State takeover in August 2014.
“The Shiites are now trying to monopolize it and other towns. We have the challenge about how to keep them. We believe there will be a Christian town of Qaraqosh. The question is: Who will rule it? Questions also arise about the physical connectivity of Qaraqosh to other Christian towns in the Ninevah Plains given the different political and military sides that control the divided area.
Father Youkhana also shared a fear expressed by Christians that the victims of Islamic State extremists such as themselves, the Yezidis and other religious minorities will again become victims in the reconstruction process.
“Our people are concerned that Arab Sunni Muslims who hosted and joined Islamic State and helped the extremists against us will be given priority in reconstruction of Mosul, perhaps from the Iraqi government and the Arab Gulf states,” he said. “The victims will be ignored and neglected.”
Christians are calling on the international community, along with the Iraqi government, to help them and other citizens from religious minority backgrounds. Often, Father Youkhana said, there are unfair expectations that all the help will come from Christians themselves or the Western churches.
“It is the government and the international community that should commit to support these people,” he said.
“To rehabilitate a house is not enough to return. Beyond the politics, the security, there is the livelihood of how families can survive. When 30 families are coming to a neighborhood in Qaraqosh, they need a grocery, a bakery, jobs,” he said.
“We fled in one night from the Islamic State; we may take one or two years to return home,” he added.