14 January 2016
In the video above, officials describe efforts to bring humanitarian relief to the starving city of Madaya in Syria. (video: Rome Reports)
Aid begins arriving in besieged Syrian city of Madaya (CNN) A second aid convoy is on the way to the besieged Syrian city of Madaya, where numerous people are reportedly starving, according to a U.N. source in the convoy. The new convoy is made up of about 50 trucks carrying wheat flour, medicine, blankets and winter clothes, the source said early Thursday. The source said the convoy hopes to reach Madaya shortly...
Dramatic conditions of Iraqi and Syrian children (L’Osservatore Romano) Women and children are the primary victims of the horrors that accompany the conflicts in Iraq and Syria, which are mostly the work of the so-called Islamic State. British daily newspaper, Daily Mail, reports the testimony of several young people who have escaped the Jihadist group in northern Iraq. These witnesses stated that they were trained — brain-washed — to sacrifice themselves as suicide bombers...
Watchdog group: 2015 “worst year” for Christian persecution (RNS) With North Korea leading the way and Islamic extremism rapidly expanding, 2015 was the “worst year in modern history for Christian persecution,” according to a group tracking this issue. Iraq is in second place on Open Doors’ 2016 World Watch List, a ranking of the top 50 most dangerous places in the world to be a Christian. It’s the first of 35 countries on the list where Islamic extremism “has risen to a level akin to ethnic cleansing,” said the report, released Wednesday...
Update on refugee families being housed at Vatican parishes (Vatican Radio) Two refugee families are now being hosted by the two parishes of the Vatican, in response to the 6 September 2015, Angelus appeal of Pope Francis for every parish in Europe to welcome a family of refugees...
Meeting street children is like meeting Christ (Fides) Meeting, visiting, assisting street children means encountering Christ: this is what a group of young Catholics in Nagpur, a city in central India experienced when they went in search of street children. Pushpa Singh, one of the young people involved, told Fides: “At Epiphany, the Wise Men make their way to the Child Jesus. For us it was the same experience. We saw the Child Jesus in the poor, marginalized, abandoned children”...
Closed Catholic church in Pennsylvania reopens as Russian Orthodox (Wilkes Barre Times Leader) After being vacant for more than three years, the former St. Rocco’s Roman Catholic Church on the corner of Tompkins and West Oak streets has reopened its doors as St. Irene Russian Orthodox Outside Church of Russia. The church plans to open more doors in the community by purchasing homes in the Greater Pittston area for parishioners in need...
13 January 2016
Hundreds gather for one of the Masses at Church of the Presentation in Upper Saddle River, New Jersey. Members of our CNEWA development team visited there this past weekend to talk about our work in the Middle East. (photo: CNEWA)
“We welcome Deacon Greg Kandra from the Catholic Near East Welfare Association this weekend. As we hear about the situation of Catholics in the Near and Middle East, we are reminded of how blessed we are to live in a country that places such importance on religious liberty. As we stand in the shadow of the Epiphany and the visit of the three kings, we recognize the Christian qualities of hospitality and diversity. These foreigners were some of the first people to recognize the Messiah and they continue to teach us much about our faith.” —Father Bob Stagg, From the Pastor’s Desk,
10 January 2016
This past weekend, our CNEWA development team celebrated the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord with the people at the Church of the Presentation in Upper Saddle River, New Jersey.
For those unfamiliar, the church is located in the Archdiocese of Newark, about 20 miles northwest of Wall Street. Despite being so close to Newark and Manhattan, the church is situated in one of the most beautifully wooded and serene locations imaginable. Its proximity makes this a popular parish among a very diverse demographic.
Church of the Presentation in Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, has a thriving and diverse parish community. (photo: CNEWA)
The Rev. Bob Stagg, the pastor, and his parish social justice ministry group, led by Kay Furlani, welcomed us. The parish is already active in visits and aid to Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and other locations. Members have also visited the Holy Land. With so much happening in the world, the parish felt a weekend to address the plight of Christians in the Middle East would enhance the already strong faith and social justice awareness of this community.
CNEWA’s multimedia editor, Deacon Greg Kandra, center, was welcomed to the parish by the Rev. Bob Stagg, pastor (left) and the Rev. Ed Cuba (right). (photo: CNEWA)
Deacon Greg preached at all six Masses over the weekend, sharing stories that resonated with the parish. His homily helped bring attention to the many dire situations in the Middle East that both Christians and Muslims are struggling with right now.
Deacon Greg preached at six Masses over two days at the parish. (photo: CNEWA)
He described, in particular, the challenges facing sisters serving the people of Iraq, and told the story of how Sister Maria Hanna and the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena had to flee their convent when ISIS swept through the country in the summer of 2014. (You can read more about their remarkable and courageous story in the pages of ONE.)
For my part, I was there as a member of CNEWA’s development team to meet parishioners, pass out information about our work, and answer questions about how people can support our mission, particularly on behalf of Christians in the Middle East.
Deacon Greg met with parishioners after all the Masses. (photo: CNEWA)
There is still much more to learn and discuss. Abigail Metzger was one of the many dedicated parishioners we met in Upper Saddle River. She is coordinating a follow-up discussion session for the parish later this month that will include her own impressions from a recent trip to Bethlehem. You can visit the parish website or drop Abigail a line for additional details: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kay Furlani from the parish’s peace and social justice ministry, center, coordinated the visit of Deacon Greg and CNEWA’s Chris Kossowski. (photo: CNEWA)
We had a wonderful visit and both Kay Furlani and Father Bob made us feel like part of the parish family. We’re grateful for their generosity of spirit, their hospitality and their tremendous commitment to helping the people of the Middle East.
If you’d like CNEWA to visit your parish or church group, please email our Development Director Norma Intriago. We look forward to seeing you sometime soon!
13 January 2016
The Rev. Joaqim Unfal is the sole monk residing at Mar Evgin Monastery in Tur Abdin, Turkey. Learn more about Syriac Christians returning to their homeland in Coming Home in the
Winter 2015 edition of ONE. (photo: Don Duncan)
13 January 2016
Syrian children are rescued from the wreckage after Russian airstrike hit a school at Zibdiyye neighborhood in Aleppo, Syria. (photo: Andalou Agency/Getty Images)
U.N. relief official calls for immediate end to blockades in Syria (The New York Times) The head of the United Nations’ relief efforts for Syria pleaded with all warring parties on Tuesday to lift their sieges on key towns and let aid agencies deliver food and medical care to people stuck behind front lines. “The immediate thing to be done is to lift sieges everywhere,” the humanitarian coordinator for Syria, Yacoub El Hillo, told reporters by phone from Damascus, the Syrian capital, where he is based...
Eight children, teacher killed in Russian airstrike in Syria (Reuters) Eight children and their teacher were killed by a Russian airstrike that hit a school in the northern Syrian province of Aleppo on Monday, according to a leading human rights monitor. The U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that more than 20 people were also injured in the strike, all of whom were teachers and students at a school in the town of Anjara, located around nine miles north of the city of Aleppo. The death toll is expected to rise as the search for survivors in the rubble of the school building continues, Al Jazeera reports...
U.S.-led coalition destroys ISIS cash storehouse in Iraq (USA TODAY) Airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition blew up a warehouse in Iraq where the Islamic State had stored millions of dollars in cash, the U.S. military disclosed Tuesday. Coalition aircraft targeted a “cash distribution center” near Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, which is under control of the extremist group, the U.S military said in a daily report on details of airstrikes...
Pope prays for victims in Turkey (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis Wednesday remembered the victims of Tuesday’s suicide bomb attack in Istanbul which left ten people dead...
Archbishop advocates for Christian schools in Jordan (Fides) In the historical life of the Churches in the Middle East, there has always been a valuable role carried out by Christian schools especially in the present scenario ravaged by sectarian conflict. This was strongly advocated by Archbishop Maroun Lahham, Patriarchal Vicar for Jordan of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, during his intervention at the conference for the training of Catholic school head masters being held in Amman...
Dialogue between Vishnus and Christians in India (Fides) In India there is need to bear witness to the power of prayer combined with action to build a community of peace and harmony: this is the result of the recent session of dialogue between Christians and Vishnus, which was attended by the Office for Interreligious Dialogue and Ecumenism in the Bishops’ Conference of India...
12 January 2016
Most Orthodox Christians in Estonia fall under the jurisdiction of the Moscow patriarch. Here in 2003, then Patriarch Alexei II prayed at the grave of his parents in Tallin, Estonia.
(photo: STR/AFP/Getty Images)
Tucked in a remote corner of northern Europe on the eastern shore of the Baltic Sea, lie the republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. These nation states possess distinct cultures, languages and peoples, yet they have shared a common history and fate. Squeezed between larger and more powerful peoples — Danes and Germans to the west, Swedes to the north, Poles to the south and Russians to the east — theirs is a history of domination and subjugation. Each neighboring power has struggled to capture their hearts, minds, souls and wealth.
The Baltic tribes — Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians — were the last European peoples to embrace Christianity. At the end of the 12th century, Pope Celestine III called for a campaign of conversion. These “Northern Crusades,” conducted by military orders allied with the Catholic kings of Denmark and Sweden, succeeded in converting the Baltic peoples by the 14th century.
Christianity, however, was not unknown among them. was not unknown among them. The Slavs of Kievan Rus’, especially those in the nearby city of Novgorod, had established mission churches throughout the Baltic region since they had embraced Christianity in its Byzantine form in the tenth century. The Kievan Rus’ — whose descendants today include Belarussians, Carpatho-Rusyns, Russians and Ukrainians — maintained close trading partnerships with the various Baltic tribes, whose amber, flax, honey and timber were particularly valued. Some Baltic tribal leaders even adopted the Byzantine religion of the Rus’, erected churches and ordered their peoples to be baptized and instructed in the faith.
Estonia’s Orthodox community is divided along ethnic lines. Soon after Estonia declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, a dispute developed within the church between ethnic Estonians and ethnic Slavs, mostly Russians. A minority of believers, ethnic Estonians, sought to reestablish an autonomous church under the jurisdiction of the ecumenical patriarch in Constantinople. The majority wished to maintain their relationship with the patriarchate of Moscow.
Eventually, the two sides agreed on a resolution that allowed individual parishes to decide which jurisdiction to follow. Consequently, there are two Orthodox churches of Estonia.
The Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church, which falls within the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, is led by Metropolitan Stephanos of Tallinn and All Estonia and includes some 20,000 members in 60 parishes.
The Estonian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, led by Metropolitan Cornelius of Tallinn and All Estonia, encompasses more than 150,000 members in 31 parishes.
Click here to read more.
12 January 2016
Tags: Eastern Christianity Eastern Churches Estonia
We were surprised and humbled to receive word this week that the quarterly magazine The American Benedictine Review — edited by the Rev. Terrence Kardong, O.S.B., from Assumption Abbey in Richardton, North Dakota — recently published a glowing tribute to our flagship magazine, ONE.
It reads, in part:
ONE is not just attractive, it is extremely meaty. In it you find fascinating articles about the Christian churches all over the East, and just not the Near East. Anybody interested in the various Eastern Catholic Churches will find a wealth of information here. Some of these churches, like the Copts of Egypt, are relatively numerous and well-known. But ONE also runs reports on the many tiny and obscure Christian groups.
After reading this periodical faithfully for the past 10 years, I have to say that it is probably my favorite newsletter in the world. The photography is brilliant, the writing is first-rate and the tone is totally admirable. Rarely have I come across an article that I consider unbalanced or biased or poorly done.
But that is not the end of the story. If you follow my recommendation and start reading ONE, do not expect much comfort. The pages of ONE are full of suffering. If this magazine did not show us the face of this suffering, it would not be doing its job.
We’re proud to be doing our job — and we’re grateful for these warm words, Father Terrence! Thank you!
If you haven’t discovered ONE yet, check out our latest edition online. And to subscribe, visit this link.
12 January 2016
People pray during a Mass on 11 January concelebrated by bishops from North America, Europe and South Africa for Iraqi Christian refugees at Our Lady of Peace Center on the outskirts of the Jordanian capital, Amman. (photo: Dale Gavlak)
Bishops visiting the Holy Land this week prayed yesterday with and for Iraqi refugees in Jordan.
With crises in Syria and Iraq deepening, Catholic bishops on a solidarity visit with the “forgotten” Christians of the Middle East are urging stepped-up peace efforts to resolve conflicts tearing apart the troubled region.
Highlighting the ongoing plight of Iraqi Christian refugees who face another winter of displacement, 18 months after fleeing persecution by Islamic State militants, is also their top concern.
“They want a future which is full of peace,” Bishop Declan Lang of Bristol, England, said of the Iraqi Christians who attended a packed, solemn Mass at Our Lady of Peace Center on the hilly, tree-lined outskirts of the Jordanian capital.
“These people are of tremendous faith, and that’s where they find their identity. What we are trying to say to them is that you are not forgotten,” Bishop Lang told Catholic News Service.
Bishop Lang has been leading 12 bishops from Europe, South Africa and North America on the third and final leg of a pilgrimage to encourage Christians in the Holy Land. Known as the Holy Land Coordination, the annual event was set up at the invitation of the Holy See at the end of the last century to offer support to local Christian communities of the Holy Land.
The bishops earlier traveled to the Gaza Strip and the West Bank to encourage a Palestinian Christian population increasingly dwindling in the land of Jesus’ birth.
But the bishops told Catholic News Service that it also was important to hear from Iraqi Christians and other refugees, so the wider Christian community can effectively help them.
“It’s important that we remind our governments and the general population of the situation of Iraqi Christians,” Bishop Lang said of the some 8,000 Iraqi Christians currently sheltering in neighboring Jordan.
They fled their ancient homeland of more than 14 centuries after Islamic State militants told them to convert to Islam, be killed or leave. Tens of thousands are internally displaced in northern Iraq.
“So one of the responsibilities and obligations that we have is to keep reminding people of the stress and distress of the Iraqi refugees,” Bishop Lang said.
One Iraqi Christian, identified only as Bashar, said after the Mass, “My family and I sadly feel that we can never go back to our home in Mosul.” A mechanical engineer, the man had once owned his own telecom company in Iraq’s second-biggest city, which is currently in the hands of Islamic State.
“The military didn’t protect us, and our Muslim neighbors betrayed us, even robbing us of our personal possessions. So we believe that the only future for us is somewhere in the West,” said the man, who now shelters with his family of four at the center’s compound because he has lost his savings.
Read the full report.
12 January 2016
Turkish police secure the area after an explosion on 12 January 2016 in Istanbul, Turkey. At least 10 people have been killed and 15 wounded in a suicide bombing near tourists in the central Istanbul historic Sultanahmet district, which is home to world-famous monuments including the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia. Turkish President Erdogan has stated that the suicide bomber was of Syrian origin. (photo: Can Erok/Getty Images)
Vatican expresses sorrow over Turkey bombing (Vatican Radio) Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State, on Tuesday expressed his sorrow for the terrorist attack which took place in Istanbul, Turkey. “What is happening [in Turkey] pains us. What is happening there, what continues to repeat itself, confirms that the best medicine in the face of these evils is always mercy”...
Pope acknowledges appointment of new bishop in Kerala (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Tuesday acknowledged the appointment of a new auxiliary bishop to a diocese in southern India’s Kerala state belonging to the eastern rite Syro-Malabar Catholic Church. At its meeting at Mount Saint Thomas in Kerala, the Syro-Malabar Church Synod elected Father Jose Pulickal as Auxiliary Bishop of Kanjirapally, headed by Bishop Mathew Arackal. Unlike in the Latin-rite Church where the Pope directly appoints bishops, the synods of eastern-rite Catholic churches have the autonomy of appointing their own bishops, to which the Pope gives his assent...
Kurdish militants attack checkpoint controlled by Christians (Fides) Kurdish militiamen of the YPG yesterday attacked by surprise a checkpoint in the Governorate of Qamishli in northeastern Syria, which was presided by men belonging to the militia of the self-defense Sootoro, formed mainly of Syrian and Assyrian Christians who act in coordination with the Syrian government army. The Kurdish attack provoked a firefight, which lasted an hour, during which — according to reports from the Assyrian International News Agency — the Assyrian militant David Gabriel was killed, and three Kurdish soldiers were injured. According to other sources, the three Kurdish soldiers may have also died...
U.S. bishop says Palestinians in Cremisan Valley have “lost hope” (CNS) A U.S. bishop visiting the Holy Land for the second year in a row said Palestinians whose land has been divided by the Israeli separation barrier “have lost hope.” “It was very sad to see the present situation where individuals have their lands confiscated and trees uprooted,” said Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico. “This is a sign of something much larger. It seems to be a diminishing of the rights of Palestinians to be there and a lack of acknowledgment of their legitimate right to be present whether in the state of Israel or in Palestinian lands.” Bishop Cantu and 12 bishops from Europe, South Africa and North America visited the Cremisan Valley 10 January as part of the Holy Land Coordination, in which they come to show solidarity with Palestinian Christians...
11 January 2016
Tags: Syria Palestine Israel Kerala Turkey
In October 2015, four schools opened in northern Iraq, serving more than 2,400 displaced refugee children in Erbil, Dohuk and Zakho. One of the schools, run by the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, is fully supported by CNEWA, which provided funding to furnish, equip and operate the school for one year. (photo: CNEWA)
In the past, we’ve reported on the inspiring work of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, and the courageous ministry being carried out under the leadership of their superior, Sister Maria Hanna. The sisters were among those driven from their homes by ISIS in August of 2014, joining more than a hundred thousand other Iraqis fleeing for their lives. The sisters settled in Iraqi Kurdistan. In our Spring 2015 edition of ONE, we chronicled their remarkable story of tenacity and grace.
In addition to her work rallying her sisters and the people they lovingly serve, Sister Maria Hanna has been updating her friends and supporters around the world. She sent the following letter a few days ago, spotlighting the many challenges they continue to face, but also expressing gratitude for the generous support they have received-including, most prominently, from CNEWA and its operating agency in the region, the Pontifical Mission.
The letter serves as a reminder of the hardships so many innocent families are enduring. But it also offers hope, revealing in a very personal way how CNEWA’s donors and partners are making a profound difference in the lives of countless men, women and children.
Dear Sisters, Brethren and Friends...
With the New Year greetings, I extend my gratitude for your continuous support and prayers. Also, I would like to share with you our highlights from 2015.
Thanks to the blessed efforts of people who are accompanying us, we have had an eventful year. In addition to accompanying the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) at the camps, sisters were able to prepare 400 children for First Communion in ten groups in different cities and towns in the region of Kurdistan.
We are grateful to the Lord that our efforts to open a primary school were fruitful. Eventually, we managed to get all the licenses needed from the Iraqi and Kurdish governments. Bishop Warda (the Chaldaean Bishop of Erbil) offered us a building that Catholic organizations built on property belonging to the Archdiocese of Erbil, and the Pontifical Mission [CNEWA], thankfully, furnished it. There are about 460 pupils — girls and boys and all are IDPs. Seven of our Dominican sisters are working at the school, with other teachers and administrators, also IDPs. Studying at our school is free. The salaries of teachers and staff (about $18,000 a month) have been granted by the Pontifical Mission [CNEWA] for this year.
People are thankful and happy for this project, as the condition of other schools is really miserable. Because of the large number of the IDPs, some schools have three shifts a day, each shift for different groups, and the number of pupils in a class could number more than 80.
Also, we managed to open another kindergarten for the IDPs as there is more demand this year. The families prefer to send their children to be educated by the Dominican
Sisters. Now there are 440 children attending our kindergartens in Ain Kawa. Additionally, in a town called Aqra with 250 IDP families, we opened a kindergarten for 50 children. The kindergarten in Kaznazanalso has 130 children in attendance. These kindergartens are free of charge for the IDPs.
In both projects, school and kindergarten, sisters have been noticing much improvement in children’s behavior. They are more willing to listen to their teachers and it is easier for teachers to discipline the children. The schools are equipped with playground and a sport field, which gave the children a suitable environment to play and direct their energy.
However, people are still facing many challenges. As for the present condition in Iraq, it is still traumatic. We were shocked last month when seven individuals (parents with their 7-year-old son, and 3-year-old daughter and a lady with her 7-year-old son and 13-year-old daughter) drowned in the sea as they were trying to flee to Greece.
Everybody is physically and psychologically exhausted. It does not seem that there is any solution. People risk their lives. Immigration is increasing in all directions. Just before the end of the year, families of 167 persons were placed in Slovakia (at once) as part of immigration program, and there are more to go in the coming month. That, of course, shook the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine Of Siena [and also shook] the confidence of people about the future of Christianity in Iraq. Add to that, there are other families who are leaving the country [to go to] Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. In a matter of three months the number of children in our school fell from 520 to 460; also about 15 children from the kindergarten left with their families and more are planning to leave.
Although we are sad to see people leave, people who are living in prefabricated houses are facing a tremendously hard time, especially now in winter as these houses are not healthy at all; they are not made to contain large families, neither are they equipped for such harsh weather. They are extremely cold in winter, extremely hot in summer.
The recent news about the policy in the Middle East is not encouraging at all; nether is there anything promising. Everything is unknown and uncertain. Therefore, it is not surprising to see people leave. We pray that the doors of divine mercy may open for our brothers and sisters, that they may find people who could welcome them. As for us, we remain with the remnant here, to support the people intellectually and spiritually through educational projects and liturgical meetings.
Within the community, we are thankful for all those who helped us purchase a house which provided a better environment for our young sisters in formation program.We have started preparing for our general chapter that is planned to be held in July 2016.
We ask your prayers that God may enlighten us and grant us His wisdom to discern in our reality despite all the difficulties and pressures we are living.
Sister Maria Hanna, O.P.
Prioress of Dominican Sisters of Saint Catherine of Siena — Iraq
To help support Sister Maria Hanna and her sisters, and the vitally important work they are undertaking on behalf of our brothers and sisters in Iraq, please visit this giving page. And please: keep them all in your prayers. Thank you!
11 January 2016
An Israeli soldier stops a group of bishops from visiting land owned by Palestinian farmers in the Cremisan Valley, not far from Bethlehem. (photo: CNEWA)
Note: Last summer, we reported on the controversy surrounding the building of a separation wall in the Cremisan Valley. Yesterday, a group of bishops visiting the region attempted to visit the area. Carl Hétu, National Director CNEWA Canada, is accompanying Bishop Lionel Gendron of St-Jean Longoueil, Québec, vice president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops — and he describes below what happened.
On our way to visit the Christian community of Beit Jala on Sunday, property owners invited the Holy Land Coordination bishops delegation to visit their land. As the bishops were about to enter the first property, an Israeli jeep came to block access. The delegation was told that they couldn’t go further.
“This isn’t Israel property,” the bishops replied. “These farmers are inviting us to visit their land.”
The response from the soldier in the jeep was short: “You can’t go further.”
The bishops prayed and then left to join the parishioners for Mass nearby.
The bishops had come to show their solidarity with the 55 local Christians families who are about to lose their land and their livelihoods. The farmers harvest olives, apricots, nuts, figs and much more. This will be a substantial loss of revenue for them and another loss of high quality land for agriculture.
Last April, the farmers were rejoicing over an Israel court ruling which had rejected the building of the wall. But in a surprising and unusual decision, the court reversed its judgment in July and ruled in favor of starting the wall. Since August, the Israel Army has been uprooting ancient olive trees, some hundreds of years old, and preparing the land for construction.
As the bishops left the area to celebrate Mass with the Beit Jala local parish, they could hear the echoes of earth-moving machinery echoing through the valley.
You can read more about the troubled history of the Cremisan Valley here. And there’s more about the bishops’ visit to the region here.