14 May 2013
Life in Gaza weighs heavily on children, and often one sees this reflected in their eyes. CNEWA-sponsored psychosocial activities at NECC kindergartens in Gaza City provide an opportunity for children to unload their pent-up frustration. (photo: CNEWA-PMP)
Sami El-Yousef is CNEWA’s regional director for Palestine and Israel. He paid a visit to Gaza in late April. Below is an excerpt from his report on that visit. The full report can be read here.
It was a pleasure to return to Gaza to check on our various projects there and, more importantly, to show solidarity with the people and to affirm they are not forgotten.
On a rather positive note, there are no longer long lines at gas stations, as the supply of fuel is steadier. We did not hear many complaints about the shortages of basic food or medical supplies or building materials. Other aspects of life seem unchanged. The electric company still provides about 10 hours a day of electricity, while noisy, inefficient, polluting makeshift diesel generators offer power the rest of the day to homes and institutions.
On the other hand, there are still travel restrictions that neither Israel nor Egypt has eased; most of the population continues to complain about the “prison-like” environment in which they continue to live. On the political end of things, few in Gaza believe that the much-talked-about “reconciliation efforts” between Hamas and Fatah are leading to anything meaningful. They remain very skeptical about any such discussions. Most feel that neither party is ready for real reconciliation and that it will not happen anytime soon. There is also a deep distrust between Israel and Hamas and a sense that both sides may be planning the next offensive. Many believe it is only a matter of time and that the civilians will again pay a hefty price. Let’s hope I picked up the wrong signals, and that peace will prevail. Keep Gaza and its people in your prayers, especially the small, brave Christian community.
Though recent measures are not specifically directed against the Christian community, it is this community with its relatively liberal orientation that is directly affected. Here are a few measures and incidents that will illustrate the general mood:
The Hamas government recently put into practice the “education law” that forces the segregation of boys and girls in all educational institutions starting at the fourth grade level (age 9 and beyond). It further mandates that female teachers should not teach boys and vice versa.
As far as trade is concerned, Hamas has also mandated that in clothing shops, it is illegal for men to sell women’s clothes and for women to sell men’s clothes, again segregating the sexes.
Male teenagers who have long hair or wear fashionable clothes are now arrested, reportedly beaten, forcibly shaved and sent back on the street with stern warnings to abide by “decent” appearance.
Students who attend the public school system are subjected to weekly classes in fundamentalist Islamic indoctrination, with students being drilled and raised with no tolerance toanything that is not Islamic — a truly sad dimension of life in Gaza under Hamas, and certainly not an environment based on respect, human rights, tolerance and acceptance of the other.
For more, read the entire report on the trip to Gaza here.
14 May 2013
Tags: CNEWA Gaza Strip/West Bank Palestine Israeli-Palestinian conflict CNEWA Pontifical Mission
In New York, Cardinal Cleemis Mar Baselios, major archbishop of the Syro-Malankara Church, visits with Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York and CNEWA's chair. (photo: John E. Kozar)
Today, the Vatican announced this coming Sunday, 19 May, Cardinal Cleemis Mar Baselios, major archbishop of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church, will take possession of his titular church in Rome, St. Gregory VII al Gelsomino.
The announcement came as the cardinal is paying a visit to North America. Yesterday he met in New York with CNEWA chair Cardinal Timothy Dolan and several other church leaders, including CNEWA president John E. Kozar, who snapped these pictures.
Since his arrival, the Syro-Malankara Church head has met with numerous church leaders, including Cardinal Dolan, center, and Cardinal Edward M. Egan, archbishop emeritus of New York. (photo: John E. Kozar)
14 May 2013
Tags: Vatican United States Syro-Malankara Catholic Church Indian Catholics Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan
Destroyed buildings are seen in the Old City of Aleppo, Syria, on 29 April. The Syriac Catholic patriarch said events in Syria were the result of Western nations carrying out a geopolitical strategy “to split Syria and other countries” in the Middle East. (photo: CNS/George Ourfalian, Reuters)
Patriarch: Crisis in Syria is part of Western strategy (CNS) The Syriac Catholic patriarch said events in Syria were the result of Western nations carrying out a geopolitical strategy “to split Syria and other countries” in the Middle East. “It’s not a question of promoting democracy or pluralism as the West wants us to understand of its policies. This is a lie, this is hypocrisy,” Syriac Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III Younan told Catholic News Service. Western nations did not heed warnings and so “bear responsibility for what is happening in Syria”…
Why Syrian quagmire threatens Turkey (CNN) Turkey’s tragic loss of at least 47 people in the car bombings in the border town of Reyhanli illustrates vividly that Turkey is not immune to the raging violence next door. Turkey has suffered similar, though far less deadly events in the past year, including Syria downing a Turkish jet, the killing of five Turks in cross-border artillery fire and a car bomb blast at a Turkey-Syria border crossing in February killing more than a dozen people. It is also hosting more than 400,000 Syrian refugees at a cost of $1.5 billion and counting. The United Nations estimates that number of refugees will triple by the end of this year. Moreover, it is a critical staging post and a logistical lifeline for opposition fighters against the leadership of Bashar al Assad in Damascus…
Christian village awaits arrival of Syrian army (Lebanon Daily Star) The advance of regime troops on the rebel stronghold of Qusair in central Syria has come as a relief for at least one village, mostly Christian, nestled on the shores of Lake Quttina. For the first time in eight months, the villagers of Ghassaniyeh do not have to make the risky trip across the lake to bring in fresh food and supplies…
Bishop says election of Pope Francis bodes well for Eastern Catholics (Catholic Sun) Bishop Gerald N. Dino of the Byzantine Holy Protection Eparchy of Phoenix said the election of Pope Francis bodes well for Eastern Catholics. “He’s very familiar with the Byzantine rite,” Bishop Dino said. “It means that we have a leader who understands a minority group within the church and respects those minorities”…
Why some Russian Orthodox believers are converting to other Christian faiths (Russia & India Report) Experts say there is a tendency in Russia, although a subtle one so far, of converting from the Russian Orthodox Church to other Christian denominations, such as Catholicism or Protestantism. This is because, they explain, believers often disagree with the position of the Russian Orthodox Church leaders on the most pressing problems of Russian society. In some cases, scandals around individual clergymen are to blame…
13 May 2013
Tags: Pope Francis Syrian Civil War Turkey Russian Orthodox Church Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III Younan
Patriarchs and heads of local churches in Jerusalem condemned the actions of Israeli police that took place during the celebrations of the Holy Fire on Saturday, 4 May.
(photo: CNEWA, Jerusalem)
Jerusalem’s highest ranking Christian clerics — Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant — issued a statement yesterday protesting the actions of the Israeli police during the celebrations of the Holy Fire last Saturday in the Old City of Jerusalem:
“We, the Heads of Churches in Jerusalem, watched with sorrowful hearts the horrific scenes of the brutal treatment of our clergy, people and pilgrims in the Old City of Jerusalem during Holy Saturday [in the Julian calendar] last week,” the leaders wrote.
“A day of joy and celebration was turned to great sorrow and pain for some of our faithful because they were ill-treated by some Israeli policemen who were present around the gates of the Old City and passages that lead to the Holy Sepulchre.”
According to The Times of Israel, three high-ranking Egyptian diplomats were evicted from the church during the liturgy. A Coptic Orthodox bishop who accompanied the diplomats “was beaten during the incident and briefly lost consciousness. He was treated at a Jerusalem hospital and later released.”
The Times also reported that Israel’s deputy foreign minister, Ze’ev Elkin, offered a verbal apology to Cairo for the “rough treatment” of three Egyptian diplomats on 9 May, a day after “Israel’s ambassador in Cairo, Yaakov Amitai, was summoned by the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Ministry spokesman Amr Roshdy said in a press conference that Amitai was issued a ‘strongly worded’ complaint about the treatment of the Egyptian diplomats.”
The heads of the churches stated that they “understand the necessity and the importance of the presence of security forces to ensure order and stability, and for organizing the celebration of the Holy Fire at the Church of the Resurrection. Yet, it is not acceptable that under pretext of security and order, our clergy and people are indiscriminately and brutally beaten, and prevented from entering their churches, monasteries and convents.
“We urge the Israeli authorities especially the Ministry of Interior and the police department in Jerusalem, to seriously consider our complaints, to hold responsibility and to condemn all acts of violence against our faithful and the clergy who were ill-treated by the police.”
CNEWA’s regional director for Palestine and Israel, Sami El-Yousef — a resident of the Old City who belongs to one of Jerusalem’s oldest Christian families — noted that each year Israeli “security” measures surrounding the Holy Fire become more restrictive, bringing back “memories of my ONE magazine article about the same old story that was published in the May 2010 edition. This year, however, was much worse than in 2010 as the Israeli police were brutal.”
In their statement, Jerusalem’s Christian leaders recognized these enhanced security measures, which effectively prevent the local Christian community from participating in the Easter celebrations, stating that “every year, the police measures are becoming tougher, and we expect that these accidents will not be repeated and the police should be more sensitive and respectful if they seek to protect and serve.
“We also denounce all those who are blaming the churches and holding them responsible of the Israeli measures during Holy Week celebrations. On the contrary, the heads of churches in Jerusalem condemn all of these measures and violations of Christians’ rights to worship in their churches and Holy Sites. Therefore, we condemn all measures of closing the Old City and urge the Israeli authorities to allow full access to the Holy Sites during Holy Week of both church calendars.”
Among those who signed the statement were Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III, Latin Patriarch Fouad, Armenian Apostolic Patriarch Norhan and the Franciscan custos of the Holy Land, Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa.
13 May 2013
Altar boys serve the liturgy at the Chaldean parish in Amman. (photo: Cory Eldridge)
In the Spring issue of ONE, writer-photographer Cory Eldridge profiles Christians who have fled Iraq to try and start over in Jordan:
The exodus of Iraqis has slowed since the difficult days of 2004 to 2008. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says a total of about 30,000 Iraqis are registered in Jordan. In 2011, 7,000 new arrivals registered with the agency. Last year it was half that.
Ra’ed Bahou, CNEWA’s regional director for Jordan and Iraq, says hard numbers are difficult to come by in the Middle East, and the number of registered and unregistered refugees is likely much higher. UNHCR doesn’t release numbers on religious affiliation, but Mr. Bahou believes about 30,000 Iraqi Christians live in Jordan, mostly in Amman. He expects that number to remain constant — a slow trickle in, a slow trickle out and no real change overall.
While the violence after the U.S. military’s surge did abate, life never became anything close to safe. In October 2010, Muslim extremists attacked Our Lady of Salvation Syriac Catholic Cathedral in Baghdad, and the hours-long event left 58 parishioners, priests and police dead. The slaughter cast a long pall over all the country’s Christians.
Iraqis regularly describe that event as the defining moment for them, when everything suddenly and irrevocably changed.
In a new but poor neighborhood with wide main streets and side roads packed with the haphazard dwellings of a developing slum, the Rev. Mansour Mattosha, pastor of Amman’s Syriac Catholic parish, walks up four flights of stairs to visit a parishioner — his niece.
Even before 2003, Amman hosted many Christian communities. Now, among Catholics alone there are Chaldean, Latin, Melkite Greek and Syriac parishes, as well as Coptic, Greek and Syriac Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic and Protestant parishes. Relations among the parishes are good: The overwhelming attitude among the faithful is: “We’re all Christians, and there’s too few of us to bicker.”
Most of these parishes can be found in one part of central Amman, called Hashami Shamali, where many Iraqi refugees live. Father Mattosha comes here several times a week to visit 20 or so families. His is one of the smallest congregations, and he serves it alone. When he arrived, there were about 200 Iraqi families in the parish, as well as the original 50 Palestinian families who established the parish in 1948. Now, the number of Iraqi families has dwindled to about 80; the rest have left for U.N.-sponsored locations from Germany and Sweden to the United States and Canada to Australia and New Zealand. Extended families who used to live in the same village, often on the same block, have ended up in multiple countries.
Read more on those who are now Out of Iraq.
13 May 2013
Tags: Iraq Refugees Jordan Chaldeans
A girl sits on a chair placed among rubble as she sells bread on a war-torn street in Deir al-Zor, Syria, on 9 May. (photo: CNS/Khalil Ashawi, Reuters)
Syria blames Turkey’s government for car bombings (Reuters) Syria’s information minister has blamed Turkey’s government for deadly car bombings near the Syrian border and branded Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan a “murderer,” state-run Russian TV company RT reported on Monday. The bombings took place as prospects appeared to improve for diplomacy to try to end the war in Syria, after Moscow and Washington announced a joint effort to bring government and rebels to an international conference as soon as possible...
Pontifical yearbook shows Catholic population steady, boom in vocations to diaconate (Vatican Radio) The number of Catholics globally remains largely unchanged at 1.2 billion, rising only slightly higher than global population growth for the 2010/2011 period. The number of priests (religious and diocesan) has grown, largely thanks to a rise in vocations in Asia and Africa which has helped balance the continued decline in Europe (-9% in the last decade). The same cannot be said for the number of professed women religious with a downward trend registering a drop of 10% over the past decade. But, perhaps the most surprising statistic revealed in the 2013 Pontifical Yearbook Monday was the boom in vocations to the permanent diaconate, particularly in Europe and the US where numbers have increased by over 40% in the past decade...
Report says India has highest number of child deaths within first 24 hours of life (Fides) Every year a million children die within 24 hours of birth, and two million before the age of three months. This is what emerges in a recently published report by the NGO Save the Children, in which it also records the death of 287,000 women for causes related to maternity. The first day of a child’s life is the most dangerous, especially in India, where 309,300 infants die each year in the first 24 hours of life. In “Surviving the First Day: Status of Motherhood 2013,” the NGO ranks India as having the highest number of maternal deaths in the world, with 56,000 cases per year...
Patriarch: meeting between Francis and Tawadros II caused joy, hope for unity (Fides) “The meeting between the Pope Francis and Pope Tawadros II caused joy especially among the very simple people. Now the hope is that the path on the way of unity can move forward with concrete and challenging steps.” This is what was reported to Fides Agency by His Beatitude Ibrahim Isaac Sidrak, Patriarch of Alexandria of the Catholic Copts. The patriarch outlined the hopes in the Egyptian Catholic community from the recent meeting between the Bishop of Rome and the Coptic Orthodox Patriarch...
Russian Orthodox patriarch pays first visit to China (New Straits Times) The Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill on Sunday held a service in Beijing on his first ever visit to Communist-ruled China, during which he called for closer ties between the giant neighbours. Kirill, dressed in an ornate red and gold robe, held the service for about 300 people in a tent on the grounds of the Russian embassy in Beijing amid tight security, an AFP photographer witnessed. Chinese exercises strict control over religion, requiring followers to worship in state-approved churches...
Immigration fuels growth in Toronto’s Catholic Church (Catholic Register) Immigration hasn’t just transformed the Catholic Church in Toronto, it’s made the archdiocese of Toronto massively different from Catholic Canada outside the Greater Toronto Area. Two out of every five Catholics in Toronto were born outside the country, compared to just one in 10 Catholics who are immigrants in the rest of Canada...
10 May 2013
Tags: Syria India Pope Francis Turkey Coptic
Roma musicians perform during a Roma funeral in Hodasz, Hungary. The majority of European Roma, commonly called “gypsies,” is Christian, with a strong representation, particularly in eastern Slovakia, of Greek Catholic or Orthodox. (photo: Balazs Gardi/VII Network)
Today, The New York Times ran an article on Roma integration into the Slovakian school system, drawing a parallel to the United States's own history of overcoming segregation:
Gazing out his window during morning recess on his first day at work, the principal of an elementary school here, Jaroslav Valastiak, was caught up short: all the children playing in the asphalt-covered yard were white, a strikingly monochromatic scene at a school where a majority of pupils are dark-skinned Roma.
Lunchtime brought another shock. The school canteen served only white children, with Roma pupils left outside with bagged rations, instead of hot food. Classes were also divided, officially on the basis of academic aptitude, but in a manner that ended up grouping students along rigid ethnic lines.
“The segregation here was as obvious as fireworks,” Mr. Valastiak said.
The 59-year-old principal has spent the past year trying to break down barriers, both physical and mental, in a painful struggle for integration that some here say echoes that of the United States more than a half-century ago.
“The situation in Slovakia now is exactly the same as it was in the United States,” said Peter Pollak, a Roma member of Parliament and the government’s plenipotentiary for Roma communities, who recently visited the United States to learn about its battles over segregated schooling and other entrenched barriers to equality.
In a continent faced with an economic crisis, soaring unemployment and bursts of nationalist populism, the elementary school here in eastern Slovakia is a microcosm of one of Europe’s biggest challenges: how to keep old demons of ethnic scapegoating at bay and somehow bring its most disadvantaged and fastest growing minority into the mainstream.
You can read the rest here.
ONE has been sharing stories of the Roma of Eastern Europe for years. To learn more about the Roma of Slovakia, see Jacqueline Ruyak's Those Who Remain Behind. Ms. Ruyak also reported on the Roma of Hungary in Our Town, which included a sidebar on the progress of anti-discrimination legislation in Eastern Europe at the time of its publication.
10 May 2013
Tags: Cultural Identity Hungary Slovakia Roma
Tawadros II of Alexandria, pope and patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church, and Pope Francis shake hands after exchanging gifts during a private audience in the pontiff’s library at the Vatican on 10 May. The pope told the Coptic leader that Christians are united in “ecumenism of suffering.” If you would like to learn more about Egypt’s largest Christian community, we profiled the Coptic Orthodox Church in the November 2005 issue of ONE. (photo: CNS/Andreas Solaro, pool via Reuters)
Pope Francis meets Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II (VIS) The visit of Tawadros II of Alexandria, pope and patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church, “strengthens the bonds of friendship and brotherhood that already exist between the See of Peter and the See of Mark, heir to an inestimable heritage of martyrs, theologians, holy monks and faithful disciples of Christ, who have borne witness to the Gospel from generation to generation, often in situations of great adversity,” said Pope Francis this morning. The pontiff remarked on the memorable meeting that took place, 40 years ago, between the predecessors of both, Pope Paul VI and Pope Shenouda III, which united them “in an embrace of peace and fraternity, after centuries of mutual distance”…
Syrian refugees: your stories (The Guardian) GuardianWitness, a program seeking ground-level media from people the world over, has been running for nearly a month — including a section dedicated to the stories of Syrian refugees. Caroline Bannock, a coordinator for the program, notes: “It’s not an easy situation to document and many refugees can’t be identified, in case it puts family, left behind in Syria, in jeopardy. However, people who can, do want us to see what the situation is like for them and NGOs, aid agencies and individuals have been sharing images, text and video — when it’s safe to do so. … We have been very moved by the content that has been shared with us — so please do go and look at it, if you haven’t already…”
Saturday an international day of prayer for peace (Fides) On Saturday, 11 May, Syrian Christians of all churches and ecclesial communities have organized a day of prayer to “pray to God to grant mercy to Syria and to put an end to the violence.” The appeal to pray for Syria has been extended to Christians throughout the world. “It is too risky to move in combat areas. We will have to limit ourselves to local meetings throughout the country, in homes, in meeting places and in churches,” said the text of the appeal, published on the internet. There are four prayer intentions: the return of peace, the liberation of all hostages, the care of children traumatized by war and humanitarian relief to all refugees…
For first time, Israeli police protect women praying at Western Wall (Washington Post) Israeli police with metal barriers and human chains on Friday held back thousands of ultra-Orthodox protesters who tried to prevent a Jewish women’s group from praying at a key holy site, the first time police have come down on the side of the women and not the protesters. The switch followed a court order backing the right of the women to pray at the Western Wall in the Old City with practices Orthodox Jews insist are the role of men alone…
Patriarch Kirill begins visit to China (Asianews.it) Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill arrived today in Beijing, the first leg of his official visit to China, which ends 15 June. In the Chinese capital, “The head of the Russian Orthodox Church will meet with government leaders in China, leaders of religious groups, and also with the Chinese officials responsible for religious affairs,” the Patriarchate Press Service said…
8 May 2013
Tags: Pope Francis Refugees Syrian Civil War Coptic Orthodox Church Roma
After receiving a new zucchetto (a clerical skullcap) from a young girl, Pope Francis offers her his old one in exchange in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on 8 May. The Spring issue of ONE, now available online, looks at how the new pontiff has spoken of issues important to him — and to CNEWA. Read what he had to say here. (photo: CNS/Alessia Giuliani, Catholic Press Photo)
8 May 2013
Tags: Pope Francis Pope
Archbishop Francis A. Chullikatt, permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, prays for the safety of Syriac Orthodox Metropolitan Gregorios Yohanna and Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Paul during Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York on 2 May. (photo: CNS/Gregory A. Shemitz)
Syrian bishops still missing after kidnapping (NPR) As orthodox Christians across the world celebrated a late Easter this year, Christian communities in Syria and neighboring Lebanon postponed all celebrations. Instead, they gathered in churches only to pray for the safe return of two bishops kidnapped outside of Aleppo last month. While their whereabouts are still unknown, the Syrian opposition and the Assad regime continue to trade blame for the abduction the Syriac Orthodox and Greek Orthodox Archbishops of Aleppo. We speak to the Syriac Orthodox bishop of Beirut and his congregation about how the kidnappings have marred the traditionally celebratory time of year…
Coptic Orthodox pope and Pope Francis to hold first meeting in 40 years (VIS) From 9 to 13 May, Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria, patriarch of the See of St. Mark and head of the Coptic Orthodox Church, will visit Rome to meet with Pope Francis on Friday. Pope Tawadros’ predecessor, Pope Shenouda III, met with Pope Paul VI in the Vatican 40 years ago in May of 1973. On that occasion, the pope and the Coptic Orthodox patriarch signed an important Christological declaration in common and initiated bilateral ecumenical dialogue between the two churches…
Three suspects arrested over Armenian church shooting (Tert.am) The Istanbul police have jailed three men on suspicion of opening gunfire near an Armenian church. One of the detainees is reported to be an ethnic Armenian. According to the Turkish website Samanyoluhaber, the men fired seven shots near the St. Hovhannes church during a liturgy…
Deadly attacks strike northern Iraq (Al Jazeera) A shooting and two car bombs in Iraq have left at least two people dead and wounded 26 in the western and northern parts of the country, officials have said. Hospital officials confirmed the casualty figures. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorised to speak to the media. Wednesday’s attacks follow shootings and a bombing which killed seven people in Iraq on Tuesday…
Ethiopian commuters bid farewell to archbishop memorial statue (AllAfrica.com) The statue of Ethiopian Orthodox Archbishop Abune Petros, erected in the archbishop’s memory in 1941, moved to its temporary location on Friday, 2 May 2013. The decision to relocate the statue came after the Ethiopian Railway Corporation began the construction of the 20-mile Addis Light Rail Transit project…
Tags: Syria Iraq Violence against Christians Orthodox human trafficking