9 April 2015
Girls smile during art class at Don Bosco youth center in Istanbul. (photo: CNS/Elie Gardner)
Some Iraqi and Syrian refugees are making a new start in Turkey. Catholic News Service notes:
Basima Toma teaches English to about 40 children at the Don Bosco youth center.
A young Iraqi boy stands at the chalkboard with a plastic ruler in his hand and spells out the words W-I-N-T-E-R, S-P-R-I-N-G, S-U-M-M-E-R, A-U-T-U-M-N.
Toma and her family have been in Istanbul long enough to see each of these seasons come and go, more than once. In 2012 Toma, her husband and four children left their home in Baghdad.
Toma and her family are Chaldean Catholics. In Baghdad, as Christian-owned businesses were targeted and destroyed, Toma worried more and more for her children’s safety. One of her daughters was the only Christian in her classroom.
“Now I don’t fear for my children,” Toma says. “I put my head on my pillow and am not afraid when they are not with me.”
“Here we don’t ask anyone what religion they are or what political party they belong to,” said Salesian Father Andres Calleja Ruiz, head of the Don Bosco youth center. “We just want to help them.”
Read more at the CNS link.
8 April 2015
A nun farms a small plot in Ethiopia’s countryside. Read more about the lives of women in Ethiopia in “An Uphill Battle” from the May 2009 edition of ONE. (photo: Petterik Wiggers)
7 April 2015
People light candles in front of a Catholic church during the Easter vigil in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk, Russia, on 4 April. (photo: CNS/Ilya Naymushin, Reuters)
2 April 2015
In this image from 2014, Christians carry a cross during a procession along Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem's Old City on Good Friday. (photo: CNS photo/Ammar Awad, Reuters)
1 April 2015
Catholic, Orthodox and Muslim religious leaders meet for an interfaith summit in Bkerke, Lebanon, on 30 March. They affirmed the “essential role” of the Christian presence in the Middle East and called for terrorism in the region to be confronted culturally,
educationally and politically. (photo: CNS/Mychel Akl)
A remarkable gathering took place this week in Lebanon:
Lebanon’s Catholic, Orthodox and Muslim religious leaders affirmed the “essential role” of the Christian presence in the Middle East and called for terrorism in the region to be confronted “culturally, educationally and politically.”
In a joint statement issued 30 March at the conclusion of an interfaith summit in Bkerke, the seat of the Maronite Catholic Church north of Beirut, the religious leaders emphasized that the Christian presence “plays an essential role” in the identity of the region “and predates Islam by several centuries.”
The leaders agreed to continue meeting quarterly to continue their discussions.
Cardinal Bechara Rai, Maronite Catholic patriarch, presided at the summit.
Terrorism, the religious leaders said, “must be fought through unifying the ranks of moderation” and “modernizing the religious rhetoric” with an emphasis on “reconciliation, tolerance and coexistence.”
“Eastern Christians are the first victims of the waves of violence in the region,” the leaders said, noting that Assyrians were the latest target as they cited the Islamic State invasion 23 February of about 30 Assyrian Christian villages in the Khabur region of Syria.
They called for the release of two Syrian bishops kidnapped in April 2013 — Syriac Orthodox Metropolitan Gregorios Yohanna of Aleppo and Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Paul of Aleppo.
“The wars in Syria and Iraq have been devastating,” the statement said. “As a result, 1.5 million Syrians have fled to Lebanon, in addition to thousands of Iraqis, not to mention (the presence of) half a million Palestinians.”
The number of Syrian refugees alone is equal to more than 25 percent of Lebanon’s population of about 4 million, putting Lebanon under great strain.
“The unorganized entry of Syrian refugees surpassed Lebanon’s coping capacity at several levels, from security to housing, labor, health, education, transport and food supply, which has depleted a treasury that is reeling under the burden of debt,” the leaders warned.
They also expressed a need to “prevent the temporary presence of refugees” from turning into a permanent presence, which they said would pose “a major threat to the unity and stability” of Lebanon.
The Christian and Muslim leaders said the dire circumstances of the refugees “require active international action and an increase in aid.”
“The international community must realize that Lebanon’s capacity is limited,” they stressed.
The leaders expressed “deep concern and disappointment” that the presidency of Lebanon remains vacant. The post is reserved for a Maronite Catholic under the country’s power-sharing system. The term of the previous president, Michel Suleiman, ended in May. Legislators have failed to agree on a successor.
“The election of a president must remain a critical and vital issue because the Maronite Christian president is the guarantee for coexistence,” the leaders said.
Regarding the crisis unfolding in Yemen, the leaders called on Arab states to “contain the escalation and protect the sovereignty, security and unity of all Arab countries.”
They applauded the feast of the Annunciation, 25 March — recognized by the Lebanese government in 2010 as an official national Christian-Muslim annual holiday — stressing that it enhances Lebanon’s message of coexistence to the world.
About 33 percent of Lebanon’s existing population is Christian, with the majority Maronites.
In addition to Cardinal Rai, attending the summit were: Melkite Catholic Patriarch Gregoire III Laham; Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignace Joseph III; Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II of Antioch; Chaldean Catholic Bishop Michel Kassarji of Beirut, representing Iraq's Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Sako; Armenian Catholic Patriarch Nerses Bedros XIX Tarmouni; Catholicos Aram of Cilicia, patriarch of the Armenian Apostolic Church; Greek Orthodox Archbishop Elias Audi of Beirut, representing Greek Orthodox Patriarch John X Yazigi; and the Vatican nuncio to Lebanon, Archbishop Gabriele Caccia.
Muslim representatives included Sunni Grand Mufti Abdel-Latif Derian; Abdel-Amir Qabalan, deputy head of the High Islamic Shiite Council; and Druze spiritual leader Naim Hassan.
30 March 2015
Catholicos Dinkha IV, patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East, is greeted by Pope Benedict XVI in 2007. Patriarch Dinkha died 26 March at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.
(photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)
Sad news from Chicago:
Catholicos Dinkha IV, patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East, died March 26 at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. A virus infection and pneumonia were cited as the cause of death. He was 79.
In a message of condolence sent to the temporary head of the church, Pope Francis offered his prayers for the deceased patriarch and said, “The Christian world has lost an important spiritual leader, a courageous and wise pastor who faithfully served his community in extremely challenging times.”
Pope Francis said he knew from his conversation with the catholicos how he “suffered greatly because of the tragic situation in the Middle East, especially in Iraq and in Syria, resolutely calling attention to the plight of our Christian brothers and sisters and other religious minorities suffering daily persecution.”
Catholicos Dinkha was born Sept. 15, 1935, in Iraq. He was ordained a priest at age 21 and became a bishop just five years later. He was elected patriarch in 1976, at the age of 41, succeeding Catholicos Eshai Shimun XXIII, who was assassinated a year earlier. Catholicos Dinkha was the first patriarch to be elected; traditionally, succession was from uncle to nephew.
Because of political instability in Iraq, Catholicos Dinkha moved the patriarchal see in 1980 from its ancestral homeland in modern-day Iraq to suburban Chicago in the United States, where a growing diaspora community was located.
Religious leaders offered words of condolence on the patriarch’s death.
“We pray for his soul. We pray also that the fathers of the Assyrian Church of the East will elect a new shepherd who will lead the flock during this crucial time when Christians are persecuted in the Middle East and our Syriac-Chaldean-Assyrian people are being persecuted and forced to be displaced from their homelands,” Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II of Antioch said in a statement to Catholic News Service.
“With great hope, we look forward to working together with the Assyrian community for the good of our people and a brighter future for all, following the footsteps of the late patriarch,” he said.
Syrian Catholic Patriarch Ignatius Youssef III Younan told CNS in an email that he last met with the late patriarch in May at the Russian Patriarchate in Moscow.
“We then had the chance to discuss the tragic situation of Christians and other minorities in Iraq, as a sinister prelude of what will happen in Mosul on June 10 and in the Plain of Niniveh on the night of Aug. 6-7,” Patriarch Younan recalled, referring to the invasion of northern Iraq by Islamic State militants.
“He was equally concerned about the ongoing exodus of his church’s membership to the point to fear that a time would come when Iraq and Syria will be emptied of Christians,” Patriarch Younan added.
“Let us pray that the Lord inspire the Holy Synod of the sister church that they may elect a successor filled with wisdom, energy and charisma enabling him to defend the very survival of the Church of the East, either in the Middle East or in the diaspora,” he said.
Catholicos Dinkha has been credited with rebuilding the church and updating the liturgy, translating portions from classical to modern Assyrian. He was esteemed as a fatherly figure and as a strong promoter of ecumenism. The Assyrian Church of the East is not in communion with any other churches, either Catholic or Orthodox.
And you can learn more about the Assyrian Church of the East by reading “Against All Odds” and our profile of the Church.
Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him...
27 March 2015
Parishioners request a blessing after the celebration of the liturgy at a new church in Babogaya, an Ethiopian village. The story of how the church came to be can be found in “12 Years of Perseverance” in the September 2005 edition of ONE. (photo: Sean Sprague)
26 March 2015
Bishop Jacob Mar Barnabas Aerath, of the Eparchy of St. John Chrysostom of Gurgaon of the Syro-Malankara Church, is surrounded by new Catholics he baptized recently in Punjab. To learn more about Catholic outreach in northern India, read Msgr. Kozar’s account of a recent visit there in the Winter edition of ONE. (photo: CNEWA)
25 March 2015
Lunch is served in the traditional Indian manner at St. Antony’s English Medium School. To learn more about this school, read “Education as a Common Goal” in the September-October 2003 edition of the magazine. (photo: Sean Sprague)
24 March 2015
Hana Habshi adjusts the irrigation pipes in his apple orchard in Deir El Ahmar.
(photo: Laura Boushnak)
In 2012, we reported on ways CNEWA is helping bring water to parched corners of Lebanon:
“The presence of water gave us a means to stay here,” says 65-year-old Hana Habshi, a resident of the Maronite Catholic town of Deir El Ahmar. The once-bustling agricultural hub nestles on the slopes of the fertile Bekaa Valley, about 60 miles northeast of Beirut, where Mr. Habshi has lived and worked since the height of civil war in the 1980’s. But for the past decade, thanks to several irrigation projects, Mr. Habshi has returned to his hometown every summer to farm his family’s ancestral lands. “It helped us come back and live off the land again.”
Lebanon’s civil war — which ravaged the country from 1975 to 1990 — destroyed much of the nation’s infrastructure, including its irrigation systems, and sounded the death knell for the Bekaa Valley’s agricultural economy.
Without reliable sources of water, and subsequent erosion, farmers could no longer cultivate the land that formerly nourished lush fields and bountiful yields. Desperate for work, inhabitants moved to Lebanon’s major coastal cities, such as Beirut, Saida and Tripoli. Some left the country altogether. The few who remained scraped by as sustenance farmers, growing crops that require little water such as wheat, hay and, in some cases, hashish.
Deir El Ahmar, like most settlements in the area, remains but a shadow of its former self. Its many empty homes and crumbling public buildings remind locals and visitors of a more prosperous past. Though municipal authorities register some 10,000 residents, in reality half as many actually live there — and only then in the summer months. In winter, the town’s population plunges to little more than 3,000.
However, in the last ten years, Deir El Ahmar has been slowly but surely bucking the trend. Locals attribute this reversal to one thing — water. Since 1999, when the town installed its first irrigation system drawing on natural spring water, residents such as Mr. Habshi have been trickling back to town and reviving their parched properties and the Christian identity of the town.
“Before it was all just trees and shrubs, but look what happens when water comes,” says Mr. Habshi, pointing to the surrounding hillsides and valley below.
Learn more in “Springs of Hope in Lebanon” from the January 2012 edition of ONE.