25 March 2015
A peshmerga checkpoint stands beside pools of oil with damaged oil pipeline infrastructure, as Iraqi Kurdish forces push the frontline forward against ISIS forces 20 miles southwest of Kirkuk, Iraq, on 13 March 2015.These peshmerga units of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) faction have made significant gains against villages held by ISIS, in concert with an Iraqi government and Shiite militia attack further south to free Tikrit from ISIS control.
(photo: Scott Peterson/Getty Images)
U.S., Iraq considering airstrikes to liberate Tikrit (Wall Street Journal) Iraqi officials are considering asking a U.S.-led coalition to launch airstrikes to liberate the Iraqi city of Tikrit from Islamic State militants, according to a spokesman for the president, after a more than three-week offensive in the city stalled without foreign assistance. Khalid Shwani, a spokesman for President Fouad Massoum, said Iraqi military leaders were meeting with U.S. military officials to study whether to request the airstrikes...
Syrian rebels capture Bosra from regime forces (AP) Syrian rebels on Wednesday seized an ancient town near the Jordan border that is a key government stronghold, ousting Syrian soldiers and allied militiamen from the region after four days of intense battles, opposition activists and rebels said. There was no immediate comment from the government on the fall of Busra Sham, a town in southern Syria classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its historic citadel, ruins and well-preserved Roman amphitheater. It was once the capital of the Roman province of Arabia and a stopover on caravan routes to Mecca, according to UNESCO...
A visit with the refugees of war-torn Syria (Archdiocese of Toronto) In part 1 of our interview with Carl Hétu, national director of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA), he described his trip to Israel and the Palestinian Territories with an international delegation of bishops. Following that visit, he traveled to neighboring Jordan and Lebanon to meet refugees from war-torn Syria. Hétu shared with us his first-hand account of their plight...
Aleppo’s Christians see regime as last hope (Al-Monitor) The conflict in Syria entered its fifth year this month, and many parts of the country and their inhabitants are hardly recognizable. This is true of the war-torn city of Aleppo, my hometown, with its mosaic of religious, social and ethnic groups who have all had to deal with the harsh realities and horrors of war on a daily basis...
Christians in India rally to protest nun’s rape (Indian Express) The Christian community on Tuesday took out a mammoth rally in protest against the rape of a 71-year-old nun in West Bengal and attacks on the Christian community and churches. According to estimates, 30,000-35,000 people, including sportspersons Dhanraj Pillay and Anjali Vedpathak, took part in the rally. A lot of people from as far as Talegaon and Lonavala were also among the crowd...
Armenian parliament endorses statement condemning genocides (Fides) On Tuesday, 24 March the Armenian Parliament voted a resolution condemning the massacres against the Assyrians and Greeks carried out in the Ottoman Empire between 1915 and 1923. The resolution was supported by all political forces in Parliament , and won the unanimous favor of 117 MPs...
24 March 2015
Tags: Syria India Iraq Armenia
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.
24 March 2015
In the video above, a coalition of nations — led by the Holy See — released a statement calling to support the human rights of Christians in the Middle East. (video: Rome Reports)
Syrian Christians feel fortunate to have escaped ISIS (The Los Angeles Times) As Islamic State militants closed in on her village, Asmar Jumaa, an Assyrian Christian, couldn’t shake a terrifying thought. “I remembered what they did to the Yazidi women,” said Jumaa, 22, recalling the fate of thousands of female adherents of the ancient sect kidnapped last summer when the Sunni Muslim extremists swept through northern Iraq. “I didn’t want that to happen to us.” She and eight family members, mostly women, were among several thousand Assyrian Christians who fled in late February as the militants advanced into dozens of largely Christian villages along the Khabur River in eastern Syria...
NATO commander: West should consider arming Ukraine (Voice of America) NATO’s military commander is again calling on the West to consider sending defensive weapons to Ukraine, to help it offset Russia’s continued support for the pro-Russian rebellion in Ukraine’s east. U.S. Air Force General Philip Breedlove, speaking Sunday, told a Brussels conference that he does not think “any tool of (the) United States or any other nation’s power should necessarily be off the table...”
Family in Gaza lived for months with unexploded bomb in their home (The Independent) When the Nassir family were finally rid of an unwanted household item they had been stuck with for more than seven months, there were huge cheers and bursts of music. The unexploded bomb, 10ft long, weighing more than a ton, and delivered by an Israeli warplane, had been the talk of Gaza’s Beit Hanoun neighborhood. The family was one of 40 households in Gaza sharing their residence with explosive devices because they had nowhere else to live...
India’s oldest woman dies at 112 (NDTV) Kunjannam Antony, the oldest woman in the country, died at the age 112 in Thrissur today, her family said. She was admitted to the hospital last night and died of old age related ailment this morning, they said. In 2014, the Limca Book of Records had recognised Kunjannam Antony, a spinster, as the oldest woman in the country. Relatives of Kunjannam also have with them the Baptism certificate issued by the Vicar of Our Lady Rosary (Catholic) Church at a nearby church, recording that she was baptised on May 20, 1903...
23 March 2015
Tags: Syria India Ukraine Gaza Strip/West Bank
Sunday night, the CBS News program “60 Minutes” presented a powerful report on the ongoing persecution of Christians in Iraq by ISIS. (We covered this issue extensively on the Autumn edition of ONE. Check out Don Duncan’s report on the “Exodus” from last year.)
As correspondent Lara Logan notes:
There are few places on earth where Christianity is as old as it is in Iraq. Christians there trace their history to the first century apostles. But today, their existence has been threatened by the terrorist group that calls itself Islamic State. More than 125,000 Christians — men, women and children — have been forced from their homes over the last 10 months.
The Islamic State — or ISIS — stormed into Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul, last summer and took control. From there, it pushed into the neighboring villages and towns across this region, known as the Nineveh Plains, a vast area that’s been home to Christians since the first century after Christ. Much of what took almost 2,000 years to build has been lost in a matter of months.
Watch the report below for an intimate and sobering glimpse at what is unfolding in that corner of the world. Please keep all those involved in your prayers. And remember to visit our giving page to learn how you can help ease the suffering of our brothers and sisters in Iraq and support CNEWA’s work there.
23 March 2015
Traditional embroidery remains popular in some of Ukraine’s villages. (photo: Petro Didula)
In 2011, we reported on efforts of aging Ukrainians to preserve disappearing traditions in the country’s villages:
Though a widow living on her own, Mrs. Palykh–Tomkiv has three sisters living nearby, 61–year–old Daryna Palykh, 70–year–old Iryna Tomkiv and 80–year–old Olha Tomkiv. The sisters survive their parents as well as two brothers and a sister.
On the feast day of the Holy Protection of the Mother of God, the family gathers at Iryna’s home. “Glory to Jesus Christ,” she says, using the traditional greeting in the village to welcome visitors, who include several relatives from the area and two nieces from Lviv.
Iryna has earned a reputation in the region for her exceptional embroidery skills. Her elaborate needlework adorns almost every item in the house, including napkins, tablecloths, pillowcases, curtains, wall décor and icons.
“It is nothing compared to scores of her embroidery done primarily for the church, especially those seven embroidered liturgical vestments,” exclaims her younger sister, Daryna.
Read more about “What’s Next for Ukraine’s Villages” from the March 2011 edition of ONE.
23 March 2015
Syrian refugee children at the Mrajeeb Al Fhood refugee camp in Jordan form the word “Syria” during an event to commemorate four years of the Syrian conflict, on 15 March.
(photo: CNS/Muhammad Hamed, Reuters)
Flow of refugees into northern Iraq continues (NRTTV) Four years after the conflict in Syria started, the flow of refugees continues into northern Iraq. Up to 100 people cross the Tigris River per day aiming to reach the official border crossing at Peshkhabour. The pain they have had to endure is etched on their faces and some have traveled for weeks to get here...
U.K. reportedly to train Syrian opposition to ISIS (Wall Street Journal) Britain plans to participate in a U.S.-led effort to train Syrian opposition troops, according to people familiar with the matter, but it will stop short of joining its closest ally in conducting airstrikes against Islamic State in Syria. The U.K. government will announce in the coming days its role in training moderate Syrian opposition forces in neighboring countries with the aim of bolstering their ability to fight the extremist group, the people said. Turkey and Jordan will be involved in the plan, one of the people said...
45,000 Egyptians flee Libya over fears of ISIS (International Business Times) More than 45,000 Egyptians living in Libya have fled the North African country since the Islamic State group posted a video last month purporting to show the beheading of 21 Coptic Christians, many of whom were Egyptian, according to Agence France-Presse. Egyptian Copts have been increasingly subject to attacks by militants from the Islamic State group, leading Cairo to urge Egyptians to return home from Libya, which is plagued by political turmoil and a growing threat of extremism...
Seven months after war, scars remain in Gaza (The Los Angeles Times) most seven months after the cease-fire that ended a devastating war in the Gaza Strip between Israel and the militant group Hamas, the fighting's ruinous effects are visible everywhere in this ragged coastal enclave. Reconstruction efforts have barely gotten off the rubble-strewn ground. Electricity flickers feebly through just six to eight hours each day. The economy, never robust, is in tatters. Government salaries mainly go unpaid. The infighting between Hamas, still the dominant power in Gaza, and the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority has grown even more bitter after a stillborn unity accord...
Report: Hindu group vandalizes cathedral in India (The Sun Daily) Indian police said on Monday they have arrested six people after Hindu fundamentalists were shown vandalising a cathedral in central India, the latest attack on Christian establishments in the Hindu-majority country. CCTV footage showed a group of men smashing plant pots, breaking down doors and shattering windows in the grounds of the cathedral in Madhya Pradesh state late Friday. The right-wing Hindu Dharma Sena group had accused the church of converting around 200 people from local tribal groups to Christianity, although it denies causing any damage to church property...
“Destruction, fear and mistrust” in the Holy Land (Archdiocese of Toronto) Every day in the news, we learn about the growing challenges faced by Christians in the Middle East. How can Canadians help support these vulnerable populations in the very lands where our faith originated? One way to help is through the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA), a papal agency for humanitarian and pastoral support. We interviewed CNEWA Canada’s national director, Carl Hétu, following his recent visit to the region...
20 March 2015
Tags: Syria India Iraq Egypt Gaza Strip/West Bank
In this image from 2009, Greek Catholic seminarians gather for morning worship in the chapel of the seminary in Hajdudorog, Hungary. (photo: Tivdar Domaniczky)
The Vatican today announced a reorganization of the Hungarian Greek Catholic Church, elevating it to a Metropolitan Church “sui juris.”
Vatican Radio explains:
[Pope Francis] has elevated the Eparchy of Hajdédorog for the Catholics of Byzantine Rite to a Metropolitan See, with a seat at Debrecen, and has nominated Bishop Fülöp Kocsis, until now Eparchal Bishop of Hajdédorog, as first Metropolitan;
The Pope also elevated the Apostolic Exarchate of Miskolc for Catholics of Byzantine Rite to an Eparchy, establishing it as a suffragen of the Metropolitan See of Hajdédorog, and has nominated Bishop Atanéz Orosz, who has been serving as Apostolic Exarch of Miskolc, as first Eparchal Bishop; and,
Erected the Eparchy of Nyíregyhéza for Catholics of Byzantine Rite, with territory taken from the Eparchy of Hajdúdorog, establishing it as a suffragen of the Metropolitan See of Hajdúdorog. Pope Francis has named Bishop Atanáz Orosz Apostolic Administrator sede vacante, of the new Eparchy.
We’ve done a number of stories on this church, including a profile in 2009 which examined it rich history and modern challenges:
With the collapse of the Iron Curtain, Hungary’s Greek Catholic Church surged to fill the void left after a half-century of despotic rule in Central and Eastern Europe. Led by Bishop Szilárd Keresztes, the Eparchy of Hajdúdorog collected icons, liturgical books, vestments and other sacramentals, which he immediately offered to the once banned Greek Catholic churches in Romania and Ukraine.
Because of its central location, Bishop Keresztes suggested the eparchial seminary — which is dedicated to St. Athanasius — should play a key role in the revival of Europe’s Greek Catholic churches. In 1990, he opened it to Romanians, Rusyns, Slovaks and Ukrainians interested in the priesthood. To improve the quality of the education offered there, the bishop invited an impressive number of foreign educated professors.
As a result, the theological faculty became an affiliate of the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome in 1995.
Formation of lay catechists also figured prominently in the life of the church soon after the collapse of communism. In 1992, the bishop signed an agreement with the Teachers Training College in Nyíregyháza and set up a corresponding department at the seminary for the formation of teachers.
The Hungarian Greek Catholic Church shares in the socioeconomic challenges affecting the country. Even as birthrates continue to fall, driving down the number of men and women entering priesthood and religious, the demands placed upon the church grow.
To learn more, read our profile and check out “Our Town” and “To Be a Priest” from earlier editions of the magazine, which give more details about the life and faith of Hungarian Greek Catholics.
20 March 2015
In this image from 2013, Melkite Catholic Patriarch Gregoire III Laham is pictured visiting a church in Damascus, Syria. (photo: CNS/Youssef Badawi, EPA)
Patriarch rejects calls for outside military intervention in Syria (CNS) The head of the Melkite Catholic Church rejected outright all calls for an international military intervention in Syria and urged Pope Francis and all Christian churches to “promote a concrete and realistic road map” to peace in the beleaguered nation. “It is reckless to think of military interventions, conducted from the outside, to defend Christians in Syria and the Middle East,” said Melkite Patriarch Gregoire III Laham of Damascus, Syria...
Pope reorganizes Hungarian Greek Catholic Church (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has reorganized the Hungarian Greek Catholic Church, and has elevated it to a Metropolitan Church “sui iuris”...
Skirmishes continue along Ukraine’s front line, despite cease fire (NPR) Fighting in eastern Ukraine between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russia separatists has died down after a cease-fire agreement last month, but there are stretches of the front line where shooting has never really stopped. Near the village of Pisky, for instance, you can hear the dull thud of incoming mortar rounds, coming in sporadic waves...
Indian cardinal: protect “not only cows, but human beings” (The Australian) India’s most senior Catholic has appealed to the government to protect “not only cows, but human beings” following the rape of an elderly nun. The call from Cardinal Beselios Cleemis came as a Hindu Right leader claimed the exploitation of nuns was part of “Christian culture”. He flew to West Bengal yesterday for a bedside meeting with the 71-year-old nun attacked on Saturday at the Convent of Jesus and Mary school...
Syrian refugees seek new lives in U.S. (Indiana Public Media) The Brookings Institution says the influx of refugees into Jordan would be comparable to the United States taking in more than 23 million refugees in just two years. As a result of the high demand, other countries, including Germany, Sweden and the U.S., are starting to take in refugees. The U.S. began bringing in Syrian refugees in October and expects to allow in a total of 2,000 by the end of the fiscal year...
19 March 2015
Tags: Syria India Pope Francis Ukraine
In this image from 2005, Vincent Njarekaden and Father Titus Kattuparambil review an anti-drug poster in Kerala. The church has been working to help people in India battle alcohol and drug addiction. To learn how, read “One Day At a Time in Kerala,” from the July 2005 edition of ONE.
(photo: Cody Christopulos)
19 March 2015
In this image from January, displaced Iraqi Yazidi children greet Catholic Relief Service workers and a delegation of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops during a visit to
Shariah Collective, Iraq. (photo: CNS/Dale Gavlak)
UN: ISIS may have committed genocide against Yazidis in Iraq (The Guardian) The United Nations human rights office has said that Islamic State fighters may have committed genocide against the minority Yazidi community in Iraq as well as crimes against humanity and war crimes against civilians including children. In a report based on interviews with more than 100 alleged victims and witnesses, published on Thursday, it urged the UN security council to refer the situation to the international criminal court for prosecution of the perpetrators. The report also said Iraqi government forces and affiliated militias “may have committed some war crimes” while battling the insurgency...
Catholic leader in Israel hopes Netanyahu victory gives impetus to pursue lasting peace (Vatican Radio) As right-wing Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu celebrates his latest election victory, analysts are asking what hopes remain for any peace negotiations with the Palestinians. In the run-up to Tuesday’s vote, the Likud party leader ruled out the creation of a Palestinian state in what he called the current context of rising Islamic extremism and instability in the Middle East. Jesuit Father David Neuhaus is in charge of the small Hebrew-speaking Catholic community in Israel. He wasn’t surprised by Netanyahu’s win in the polls, but he says this election victory may also provide new impetus for the international community to step up its pressure on the Israeli government and provide an alternative vision for lasting peace in the region...
U.S. Allies may send troops to Syria (Reuters) Some U.S. allies in the fight against ISIS militants in Syria may be willing to send troops to accompany and support the Syrian opposition force the coalition is planning to train and send back to Syria, Army General Ray Odierno said Wednesday. Odierno, the U.S. Army chief of staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee the military was aware the Syrian opposition force would need help and support once it returned home and was studying how best to provide that assistance...
Poland welcomes Ukrainian refugees (BBC) Almost 200 Ukrainians from the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, carrying just one suitcase each, were bussed from the warzone to Kharkiv in north-eastern Ukraine before being flown to a military airfield in northern Poland. To qualify for evacuation they had to have at least one Polish ancestor in the family. Now they are living together in a centre run by Catholic charity Caritas. It sits in a beautiful location on a wooded hillside above a large lake a few kilometres south of the town of Stawiguda...
Tags: Syria Iraq Ukraine Refugees Israel