29 August 2014
Yesterday, Washington’s Cardinal Donald Wuerl celebrated Mass to mark the opening of the academic year at the Catholic University of America in Washington. But he took a moment at the ceremony’s conclusion to make a personal and impassioned plea. The brief video below is worth watching and sharing. It speaks to the conscience of the world.
The text appears on the cardinal’s blog:
Often we’re asked, “How is it possible that in human history atrocities occur?” They occur for two reasons. Because there are those prepared to commit them and there are those who remain silent. And the actions in Iraq and Syria today, what’s happening to women, children, men, their displacement — as the least of the things happening to them — is something that we really are not free to ignore and sometimes all we have to raise is our voice.
Watch the video below.
Keep our suffering brothers and sisters in Iraq and Syria in your prayers. And, if you can, please remember them in a special way by making a gift to support the work of CNEWA in Iraq. Visit this page to learn how.
29 August 2014
Tags: Syria Iraq
Reports emerging from Syria indicate that an important Christian stronghold — the city of Mhardeh and nearby Hama — have been surrounded by ISIS and the Al Qaeda-backed rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra.
One account comes from the Middle Eastern news service Al-Monitor:
The swift deterioration of the situation in the west and north of Hama’s countryside [comes] as anti-regime forces — including Jabhat al-Nusra — advance toward the Christian city of Mhardeh, which overlooks Al-Ghab Plain, as well as in the direction of Hama’s military airport.
The militants began carrying out unprecedented attacks using BM-21 Grad missiles targeting the regime’s sites surrounding Alawite-majority towns in Masyaf city and Al-Ghab Plain.
Moreover, civilians have started fleeing Alawite villages that are located near battlefields such as the town of Arza near Hama’s military airport, which has been deserted.
A resident from an Alawite town in the western countryside of Hama told Al-Monitor, “The situation has become perilous as groups linked to Jabhat al-Nusra are approaching the region.”
“People are carrying arms at an increasingly rapid pace, while many families owning real estate in Tartous and Latakia have deserted their homes. The situation has become alarming in this region, especially since many residents expect Jabhat al-Nusra to commit massacres there, should it progress in the region. This will be in retaliation for the massacres the group accused the NDF of committing in Sunni towns — mainly in the towns of Tremseh and al-Lataminah in 2012,” he said.
A quick tour of the Alawite villages in the west of Hama’s countryside is sufficient to notice the extent of tension and alert among people, as dozens of checkpoints are deployed along the roads, while cars and pedestrians are being thoroughly searched.
29 August 2014
Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal of Jerusalem visits Iraqi Christian refugees in Jordan who recently fled Mosul, Iraq. Patriarch Twal praised Jordan’s efforts to help the refugees and encouraged the Christians who have remained steadfast, clinging to their faith, in the midst of persecution. (photo: CNS/courtesy Catholic Media Office)
29 August 2014
Tags: Iraq Refugees Jordan
A woman holds a baby at a temporary tent camp set up for Ukrainian refugees near the Russian-Ukrainian border. (photo: CNS/Alexander Demianchuk)
NATO accuses Russia of violating Ukraine’s sovereignty (BBC) NATO has accused Russia of a "blatant violation" of Ukraine’s sovereignty and engaging in direct military operations to support pro-Russian rebels. Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that “despite hollow denials”, it was now clear that Russia had illegally crossed Ukraine’s border. He said Nato would respect any Ukrainian decision on security, after its PM said he was putting the country on course for Nato membership. Russia denies sending troops and arms...
Mideast Church leaders denounce ISIS for “crimes against humanity” (Vatican Radio) The Patriarchs and Church leaders of Eastern rite churches have again denounced what they call “crimes against humanity” committed by Islamic State (formerly ISIS) militants in Iraq and Syria. Meeting outside Beirut, Lebanon, the Patriarchs condemned the persecution and killings of Christians, Yazidis and other minorities, saying the continued existence of Christians in the region is being threatened by the jihadi group’s campaign of terror. Thanking those who’ve been offering humanitarian assistance to the displaced, the Patriarchs are calling on the international community to stop the “criminal actions” of Islamic State and are challenging Islamic institutions to forcefully condemn the extremist group...
Cardinal: action needed to defend minorities in Iraq (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Thursday met with Cardinal Antonio Maria Vegliò, the President of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants, to discuss the plight of those fleeing the Islamist violence in Iraq. The so-called Islamic State controls large areas of both Syria and Iraq, and has been conducting a campaign of terror, especially against religious minorities, including Christians. Cardinal Vegliò told Vatican Radio the Pope said the Church must be in the forefront in efforts to defend the weak...
Major religions concentrated in just one or two countries (Pew Research Center) For several years, demographers at the Pew Research Center have been studying the demographic characteristics of eight groups: Buddhists, Christians, adherents of folk religions, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, the religiously unaffiliated and followers of other religions. While Christians and Muslims are more widely distributed around the world, the other groups have a majority of their populations in just one or two nations, according to 2010 estimates from our Global Religious Landscape report...
28 August 2014
Tags: Iraq Ukraine Muslim Russia
Palestinian civil defense officers in Beit Lahiya, Gaza Strip, inspect the rubble of a destroyed tower shortly after the cease-fire was announced on 26 August. (photo: CNS/Mohammed Saber, EPA)
Catholic aid organizations — including CNEWA — are hoping the latest cease-fire between Israel and Hamas will hold. CNS spoke with CNEWA’s regional director in the area:
“This is a window of opportunity,” said Sami El-Yousef, Catholic Near East Welfare Association’s regional director for Israel and the Palestinian territories. “[We hope] the unity government will take the lead. A lot of people here think the stage is set [for] a meaningful resumption of negotiations. Now it is up to leaders on both sides to make it happen, to move beyond [the same political hurdles.]
“Both leaderships must rise up to the occasion for us to move forward. Otherwise, the temporary cease-fire may last for a few months, then we will be back to the resumption of hostilities.”
The cease-fire that took effect 26 August calls for the easing of the Israeli-enforced embargo to allow humanitarian aid and construction material into Gaza under strict monitoring. Egyptians, who brokered the cease-fire, will open the Rafah crossing into the Gaza Strip. Terms also include enlarging the offshore zone for Palestinian fishermen to six miles.
The agreement was the latest of numerous attempts to end a seven-week conflict in which more than 2,100 largely civilian Palestinians and 70 Israelis, including 64 soldiers, were killed.
The organizations have coordinated their aid efforts, with Caritas Jerusalem focusing on food and cash assistance while Catholic Relief Services is distributing nonfood items and CNEWA is assisting with repairing damaged homes and institutions.
Father Raed Abusahlia, director of Caritas Jerusalem, said his agency’s long-term emergency appeal would last until Christmas. He said Caritas will provide food to 2,000 families as well as a cash distribution about $350 to all the Christian families in Gaza, with specific emphasis on those who lost all of their possessions and homes.
Caritas also will provide all the necessary school supplies for the students of the five Christian schools in Gaza, although it is not clear when school will begin.
“At the same time we have already sent three truckloads of food, diapers, milk and hygiene supplies last week,” he said, noting that the almost $84,000 worth of supplies came from local Catholic parishes as well as four Israeli groups.
El-Yousef said response to CNEWA’s earlier appeal for help from its donors has surpassed expectations, largely thanks to donations from European donors; he said donations would soon top $1 million. He added that the money will be largely used to help rebuild and rehabilitate Christian homes and institutions damaged during the conflict.
To learn how you can help Gaza’s traumatized families, please drop by our giving page.
28 August 2014
Tags: CNEWA Gaza Strip/West Bank Israeli-Palestinian conflict Relief Middle East Peace Process
Georgian Orthodox believers pray during a service on 28 August to mark the Day of the Virgin Mary, commemorating her Assumption, at the Sioni Cathedral of the Dormition in Tbilisi, Georgia. The Day of the Virgin Mary is observed by the Georgian Orthodox Church every year on 28 August. For more on life in Tbilisi, check out Caring for Georgia’s New Orphans in the Summer edition of ONE. (photo: CNS/Zurab Kurtsikidze, EPA)
28 August 2014
Tags: Georgia Eastern Churches Eastern Europe Georgian Orthodox Church
Mahinder Singh sits with neighbors in their tiny village in Gangapar. (photo: John Mathew)
In the Summer edition of ONE, writer Jose Kavi explores the life and times of “untouchable” Christian Dalits. Here, he offers further insight into what he saw while covering the story.
I was happy when I was asked to write an article Dalit Christians. The Indian Church has been demanding justice for its Dalit members for nearly 65 years.
An estimated 70 percent of Christians in India are of Dalit origin, mostly in the Latin Catholic Church and Protestant denominations that were introduced in India by Western missionaries.
The presence of Dalits among the Eastern churches, both Catholic and Orthodox, is around some 20 percent, concentrated mostly in Kerala, the church’s base in southern India. It is hard to identify these people of former low-caste origin, since they are well integrated into the mainstream churches.
So to write this story I turned to northern India, where the Syro-Malabar Church has several dioceses. Both Archbishop Kuriakose Bharanikulangara of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Eparchy of Faridabad and Bishop Aboon Mor Barnabas Yacob, the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church’s apostolic visitor to North India, said their churches are currently focusing mostly on their people, who have migrated to northern India from Kerala. However, they do support the church’s Dalit struggle.
Photographer John Mathew and I asked priests in the Bijnor Syro-Malabar diocese if they are doing anything for the Dalit people. They said they have a few local converts but were not sure if they belonged to any Dalit communities. The diocese covers Uttarakhand state and parts of neighboring Uttar Pradesh.
We decided to try our luck and set out to Gangapar-Birbhanwala, the diocese’s newest parish, in Uttar Pradesh. And it was a journey into new world. After traveling about five hours, we left the highways to enter a narrow dirt road. It took an hour to cover the 12 miles. We stopped at a bridge in Dhampur built over the Ramganga, one of the tributaries of the Ganges. Its blue and clean water gave us our first shock of the trip. The Ganges we have seen downstream at places such as Varanasi and Patna is no better than a sewage drain. The new government is planning to spend billions to clean up the river Hindus consider holy.
The Rev. M. J. Joseph, the young parish priest who came to the highway to guide us, said the river had changed its course only five years ago after a flood. The flood had washed away the road to Gangapar. We negotiated through farms and gutters and reached a tiny shed in the middle of an open field as the sizzling summer sun blazed above us.
“It is the parish church,” Father Joseph said with an apologetic smile. The tin-roofed shed has no cross, a normal sign of a church. There is no altar. The only Christian reminder is a painting of Jesus on the shed’s only wall. There was neither electricity nor running water. Our driver had to go to the nearby forest to answer nature’s call, as the place has no toilet.
Jarnail Singh, the church’s caretaker who lives in a room attached to the church shed with his wife and two children, asked his daughter Pinky to bring us water, which she did from the hand pump near the entrance.
Jarnail’s wife, Malkeet Kaur, readied the lunch by the time we finished exchanging pleasantries and conducting a few interviews. The special dish for the visitors was scrambled eggs.
After the lunch we set out for the villages. Most people live in thatched mud huts. Piles of cow dung cakes used as fuel and haystacks welcomed us at every entrance. Water buffaloes were tethered to poles near the huts. You could see charpai, the traditional cot that doubles up as sofa and bed, kept in the front yards.
Despite such dreary existence, everyone we met, including the aging Mahinder Singh, looked cheerful. He described his escape from Pakistan when the Indian subcontinent was divided. “I was so thirsty and went to drink from rivers, but they were filled with corpses. Then I went to wells, there also were dead bodies,” he recalled.
We asked him, “What makes you happy?”
“Prabhu Jisu” (“Lord Jesus”), he answered.
What more needed to be said?
Read more about Dalit Christians in Caste Aside from the Summer edition of ONE.
28 August 2014
Tags: India Indian Christians ONE magazine Indian Catholics Dalits
Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk says Russian troops are now on Ukrainian soil. (photo: Washington Post)
Russians invading, says Ukraine leader; tanks reported crossing border (Los Angeles Times) Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko called a snap meeting of his security council Thursday, declaring that Russian forces had invaded the country. Mr. Poroshenko dropped plans to attend the inauguration of Turkey’s newly elected President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and summoned the council as pro-Russia separatists tightened their grip on the town of Novoazovsk in southern Ukraine, opening a new front in the months-long battle with Ukrainian government troops…
Syria’s brutal war threatens international peace and security (U.N. News Center) Mass atrocities by government forces and armed groups continue to take place in Syria, causing immeasurable suffering to civilians and contributing to a spillover of violence affecting international peace and stability, a United Nations-appointed panel said today. The Commission’s latest report, based on 480 interviews and a wealth of documentary material, chronicles the human cost of the Syrian conflict that began in March 2011. The impact has been particularly grave for women and children, whose most basic rights are being violated every day…
Patriarchs meet ambassadors in Bkerke to save beleaguered Christians (AsiaNews) Patriarchs of the Eastern churches and ambassadors from diverse nations met at the Maronite Patriarchate in Bkerke, Lebanon. The summit is part of efforts by church leaders to preserve the role of Christians in Iraq, where the Islamic State is crushing minorities forcing hundreds of thousands of people to flee…
27 August 2014
Tags: Ukraine CNEWA Gaza Strip/West Bank United Nations Patriarchs
Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III, left, speaks to other Christian leaders during a visit to Iraqi refugees in Erbil, Iraq. Seen on the right is Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter. (photo: CNS/Mychel Akl, courtesy Maronite Patriarchate)
Returning from a visit to the Kurdish region of Iraq, Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III called the Islamic State invasion “pure and simple religious cleansing and attempted genocide.”
Catholic News Service reports:
“What we, the five patriarchs, saw in Ain Kawa, Erbil and other cities of Kurdistan, was something indescribable in terms of the violation of human rights and the threat of disappearing of various communities among the vulnerable minorities of Northern Iraq,” Patriarch Ignatius Joseph said. “It is a pure and simple religious cleansing and attempted genocide.
Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignatius Joseph and Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II stayed in Iraq for six days after arriving as part of a delegation of Catholic and Orthodox patriarchs who visited Erbil to give moral and spiritual support to the beleaguered Iraqis from the Ninevah Plain. The displaced minorities -- Christians, Yazidis, Shiite Muslims and Shabaks -- sought refuge there from their besieged towns and villages, which fell to Islamic State militants in early August after they were evicted for their religious affiliation.
Patriarch Ignatius Joseph spoke to Catholic News Service about the flood of displaced Iraqis they encountered.
In the Kurdistan region, “we saw hundreds of families still living on the streets, exposed to an unbearable heat wave, lacking the basic needs and primarily fearing for their future,” as winter approaches, the Catholic leader said. Temperatures in the Kurdish region currently climb above 105 degrees Fahrenheit, yet winters are harsh and freezing, often with torrential rain and snow.
Patriarch Ignatius Joseph said the most-asked question by many of the Christian refugees was, “Can we ever return?”
“At that question, the most feared answer was: No answer could be given,” he said.
The patriarch said that along with the little financial assistance they could offer the displaced, the patriarchs “prayed with them, consoling, encouraging and inspiring them with Christian ‘Hope against all hope,’ repeatedly reminding them of the promise of the Lord: ‘Do not be afraid, you little flock. … I will be with you until the end of time.’ ”
Read more about the patriarchs’ visit here.
27 August 2014
Tags: Iraq Violence against Christians Iraqi Christians Iraqi Refugees Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III Younan
The Iraqi army is only able to reach Amirli by air, as the Islamic State controls the territory below. (video: Al Jazeera)
Iraqi Christians weigh taking up arms against the Islamic State (National Geographic) Of all the many ancient peoples who once lived in the land between the Tigris and the Euphrates, Iraq’s Assyrian Christians pride themselves on having persisted in their traditional homeland for millennia, even as other civilizations thrived then disappeared, as languages and cultures died out, as ethnic groups melted into the ways and genetic pools of their conquerors. But today Iraq’s Assyrians, and its Christians in general, fear that their place in this multiethnic, multisectarian mosaic society is shrinking, under severe threat from the ultraconservative Islamist group the Islamic State…
Cease-fire between Israel and Hamas holding (Washington Post) An open-ended cease-fire between Hamas and Israel was holding Wednesday after seven weeks of warfare that killed more than 2,200 people. The Israeli military said early Wednesday that there had been no reports of violations since the cease-fire with Gaza went into effect Tuesday evening. The army later said it responded to fire from across the border with Syria after an officer was injured earlier in the day…
Syrian refugees in Gaza suffer second war (Al Monitor) The Gaza Strip was a haven for Palestinian refugees in Syria and for some Syrians — with around 1,000 refugees, including 260 families, 20 of whom are of Syrian origin — until the war made it an undesirable destination. Atef al Amawi, a Palestinian refugee from the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus, arrived in Gaza about two years ago with his family of ten, including his wife, three daughters, son and grandson. The family settled in two rented apartments in Beit Hanoun in northern Gaza. In an apartment that does not exceed 100 square meters (1,076 square feet), two other families of more than 18 members live with the Amawi family. Some of them left days ago for Syria due to the intensified bombing and poor living conditions…
Despite persecution Odisha Christians rooted in faith (Vatican Radio) As Christians in India’s eastern state of Odisha on Monday marked the 6th anniversary of the 2008 anti-Christian violence centered in Kandhamal District, a top Catholic leader of the state asserted that faith in the crucified Christ has never abandoned them. “Our people live in truth and love, and despite our suffering, vocations to the religious life have increased. Six years have passed from the terror carried out by Hindu extremists but the witness offered by the victims remain steadfast, and this has produced fertile seeds,” said Archbishop John Barwa Cuttack-Bhubaneshwar…
Kerala church gives bishops right to allow cremation of dead (The Indian Express) The Synod of Kerala-based Syro-Malabar Catholic Church has decided that from now on bishops of various dioceses can permit cremation of the dead, instead of the traditional burial. Although the church had allowed cremation under extraordinary situations, the right to permit that practice was till vested with the major archbishop, the head of the Syro-Malabar Church…
Tags: India Iraq Gaza Strip/West Bank Iraqi Christians War