Current Issue
December, 2018
Volume 44, Number 4
22 February 2018
Elias D. Mallon, S.A., Ph.D.

A sister serves a midday meal in Ghaziabad, India. (photo: John Mathew)

This past Tuesday, on 20 February, the UN observed the World Day for Social Justice. In one sense the concept of justice and social justice as a basic human right is a relatively new phenomenon in world history. In the past, highly stratified societies with very inequitable sharing of resources were considered to be part of the natural order. The poor were poor, it was believed, because God did not create them nobles. On the other hand, a notion of social justice and the call to a more equitable sharing of resources are as old as the prophetic tradition. The three great monotheistic religions of the world — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — not only believe in the same one God, they all also have a strong prophetic tradition of justice. CNEWA’s roots are — as its name implies — in the Near East, the home of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Among the people we serve many are Christians and Muslims. The home of the prophetic call to justice is in a real sense also the home of CNEWA.

In the tradition of the Hebrew Bible, the Torah, or Law, stressed the importance of taking care of the weak and poor and offering them the same legal justice as the strong and powerful. In Leviticus, farmers are told not to harvest their entire fields and to leave whatever parts of their harvest fall to the ground, so that the poor may glean them (Lev. 19:9 ff.) The handicapped are not to be taken advantage of (19:14-15). The Bible demands that the administration of justice not be overawed by the wealthy and powerful (Exod. 22:20; Lev. 19:34). Repeatedly the bible demands justice for the widow, the orphan and the alien. In Deut. 10:17-18 it reads “...Yahweh your God is God of is he who sees justice done for the orphan and the widow, who loves the alien and gives him food and clothing.”

In the books of the prophets, justice is more central than worship. In Isaiah 1:11-17, God says, “...I am sick of holocausts of rams...bring me your worthless offerings no more....Take your evildoing out of my sight. Learn to do good, search for justice, help the oppressed, be just to the orphan, plead for the widow.” Throughout the Hebrew scriptures, God abhors usury, false weights and measure of merchants (Amos 8:4 ff.) and withholding wages from workers (Lev. 19:13).

In the New Testament Jesus describes his ministry as, among other things, “to bring good news to the poor” (Lk. 4:18). The Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man (Lk. 16:19-31) describes the horrible fate of the rich man who ignored the poverty-stricken Lazarus. In Christ’s description of the Last Judgement (Mt. 25:31-46), the difference between the righteous and the damned is that the righteous fed the hungry, clothed the naked, visited the sick, etc., etc. and the damned did not. Although often conveniently overlooked by the entitled and comfortable, social justice is the ultimate “orthodoxy” for the followers of Jesus in the Gospels.

A similar situation can be found in Islam. The Qur’an constantly calls for the protection of the poor and the weak. Zakat, donations for the poor, is one of the Pillars of Islam. Qur’an 4:136 reads “ strict in observing justice and be witnesses for God, even though it be against yourselves or against parents or relatives...” One of the most extraordinary Surahs (chapters) of the Qur’an is Surah 80, ‘Abasa. It begins “He {Muhammad} frowned (‘abasa) and turned away....” It relates the story of a blind man approaching the Prophet who is speaking/preaching to some people. God rebukes the Prophet for ignoring the handicapped man and paying attention to “him who is disdainfully indifferent.” For Muslims, even the Holy Prophet of Islam is not absolved from caring for the poor, outcast and handicapped and is rebuked when he fails in this.

For many of us — and perhaps, at times, all of us — social justice is something quite secondary, little more than a decoration on the Christmas tree of our lives of virtue. That is really quite amazing. While there are things in the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament and the Qur’an that are esoteric, hard to understand or appear only once, the demands of social justice are found boldly woven throughout all our sacred texts like a shockingly bright pattern on a fabric — a pattern than cannot be overlooked. There is neither reason nor excuse to ignore it.

The UN is a relatively recent organization. World Day for Social Justice is even more recent.

But the call for social justice is — literally — as old as the Bible.

22 February 2018
Greg Kandra

Youngsters at Our Lady’s Catholic School in Dubbo, Ethiopia, show the youthful promise of Catholic education in a country where Catholics are a small minority. Read more about how Catholic schools are helping students like these go to the Head of the Class in the June 2017 edition of ONE.
(photo: Petterik Wiggers)

22 February 2018
Greg Kandra

Destroyed buildings are seen in a time lapse image at night on 18 February in the rebel-held city of Daraa, Syria. (photo: CNS/Alaa Al-Faqir, Reuters)

Calls for cease-fire in Syria, as violence escalates (CBS News) Sweden and Kuwait called for a vote Thursday on a U.N. resolution ordering a 30-day cease-fire throughout Syria to enable delivery of humanitarian aid to millions of people in acute need, and the evacuation of the critically sick and wounded...

Fire guts Syrian refugee camp in Lebanon (Andalou Agency) An early-morning fire destroyed several tents in a Syrian refugee camp in southern Lebanon on Tuesday. The fire broke out inside the 23-tent camp in al-Wazzani camp, destroying 15 tents, according to an Anadolu Agency reporter in the area. He said a heater had caused the blaze. No injuries were reported in the fire, which has left around 60 people homeless...

Report: Ukraine ‘desperately concerned’ about possible attack on gas pipeline (CNBC) Ukraine is worried that one of Europe’s most contentious energy developments will leave its gas pipeline vulnerable to a Russian attack, according to a leading political risk expert...

Has proof of the existence of the prophet Isaiah been found in Jerusalem? (Haaretz) The impression of Prophet Isaiah’s personal seal may have been found in Jerusalem. Excavations in the Ophel — an area just below the Temple Mount — found the seal mark, called a bulla, in undisturbed Iron Age remains, just 3 meters (10 feet) from where the bulla of King Hezekiah of Judah was found in 2015...

How volunteers made Lent special for a poor man in India (The Better India) In Thrissur, Kerala, a volunteer group led by social activist Devassy Chittilappilly under the moniker ‘Karuna’ has been regularly engaging in various philanthropic deeds for some time now. During Lent, the group involves itself in helping the homeless and people living on streets by giving them food and a bath. Nevertheless, nothing prepared them for the shock when they saw an old man, in a miserable state, eating food waste at a garbage dump yard at Velappaya, a village in the Thrissur district...

Pope Francis: The importance of native languages (Vatican News) Today is International Mother Language Day. Promoted by UNESCO, this day seeks to promote lingual and cultural diversity, as well as the ability to speak more than one language. Pope Francis supports the use of one’s mother tongue. “The mother tongue is a bastion against ideological and cultural colonization, and against a dominant way of thinking, which destroys diversity,” he said during his homily at Santa Marta in November 2017. For Pope Francis, not being able to speak in one’s native language is a way of erasing history in order to undermine freedom of thought. Each dialect, Pope Francis says, “has historical roots”...

21 February 2018
CNEWA staff

The video above, from 2017, offers a look at some of the young residents of the Dbayeh Refugee Camp in Lebanon. (video: CNEWA)

CNEWA’s regional director in Beirut, Michel Constantin, passed along this update on the Dbayeh Refugee Camp, which was established in the early 1950’s to shelter Palestinian refugees expelled during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. CNEWA has been supporting an educational program at the camp, which is now helping Syrian children whose educational level is very low and who may need remedial studies and therapy in order to adapt and fit it.

Sometimes, the challenges can be quite daunting. Without help, the children could be doomed to become drop-outs. That could have been the fate for one young girl in particular — but Michel wanted us to know her story and how CNEWA’s support for this program had made a profound difference:

Sajida el Saleh is a 9-year-old Muslim Syrian girl from Aleppo who fled the war zone and found refuge in a small rented house on the edge of Dbayeh Camp. She lives with her parents and two brothers.

Following her admission in the second-grade remedial program for Syrian students in October 2016, Sajida was referred for a speech therapy assessment; the assessment showed written language difficulties. She had a weak ability to read and write, due to a variety of problems, including an inability to make the connection between certain letters and certain sounds.

Throughout the academic year 2016-2017, Sajida followed speech therapy sessions to help her improve her pre-reading and writing skills. Through follow-ups, it was discovered that Sajida also had hearing difficulties. Her parents were advised to consult a specialist. The diagnosis showed hearing malfunction that required a hearing aid.

By the end of the school year, Sajida, started hearing properly. With the assistance of a speech therapist, she showed major improvements. She is now able to read syllables and words and form simple sentences easily.

The specialist follow-up, along with the skills improvement in reading and writing, enabled her to take the end-of-year exams and pass her class. Sajida was admitted to public school in the third grade.

The remedial program, with the psycho-social support, gave Sajida the opportunity to grow on many levels — physically, intellectually and socially.

There are now about 520 families living in the Dbayeh Refugee Camp, a growing number are Syrians with young children.

21 February 2018
Greg Kandra

Soldiers gesture as the car carrying Lebanese President Michel Aoun leaves after his 20 February visit to Our Lady of Salvation Syriac Catholic Cathedral in Baghdad, Iraq. Aoun arrived in Iraq on his first visit to the county since he was elected in 2016. The church was attacked by Islam militants during an evening Mass in 2010, killing at least 58 people and wounding dozens.
(photo: CNS/Ali Abbas, EPA)

21 February 2018
Greg Kandra

A young man lies on a stretcher at a at a clinic on 20 February after bombings in the besieged town of Ghouta, Syria. At least 194 people were among those killed by Syrian regime shelling and airstrikes on the besieged Damascus suburb. Another 900 have been injured.
(photo: CNS/Bassam Khabieh, Reuters)

Syrian forces target rebel-held Eastern Ghouta (Vatican News) Air strikes, rocket fire and long-range artillery pounded several areas across Eastern Ghouta, leaving scores of people dead. The powerful and coordinated barrage targeted the last major opposition pocket near the capital and constitutes the most intense period of bombing seen in years. Rami Abdul Rahman from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told Vatican News that 194 people have been killed and 900 injured since Sunday...

Ukraine marks anniversary of Maidan bloodshed (Radio Free Europe) With paper angels, flowers, and fond words for the dead, Ukraine has marked the anniversary of a bloody crackdown on the Euromaidan protests that drove a Moscow-friendly president from power four years ago. The annual commemorations honor protesters who were killed in clashes with security forces in Kyiv on 20 February 2014 — a group of victims many Ukrainians call the Heavenly Hundred...

Muslims and Copts begin building a church together in Egypt (Egypt Independent) Muslims and Copts in the Kom al-Loufi Village of Samalut city in Minya have started to build a church by the name of “the virgin and the martyr Abanoub” after clashes erupted between Muslims and Copts that led to the damage of the old church building in April 2017. The village inhabitants stressed the unity, cooperation, and love of the nation during the challenges facing the country at the moment...

U.S. condemns crackdown in Ethiopia (AP) Ethiopia, a key U.S. ally in the fight against terrorism in North Africa, is again on the brink of chaos following the outbreak of large-scale protests that erupted last week. The demonstrations prompted the government to declare a state of emergency and Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn to submit his resignation amid the worst political crisis the country has faced in years...

Workers may have discovered ancient altar in Church of Holy Sepulchre (Aleteia) Greek workers and Israeli researchers may have discovered an ancient altar in Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre. And it has been “hiding in plain sight” for centuries. “Leaning against a wall in a shadowy corner of Jerusalem’s [Church of the] Holy Sepulchre, the big blank rock the size of a dining-room table invited scribbling by passing pilgrims and tourists,” said Smithsonian magazine, noting that the piece was known to tourists as the “graffiti stone”...

20 February 2018
CNEWA staff

The Snehalayam Boys Home in Kerala bears a sign, expressing gratitude to CNEWA.
(photo: CNEWA)

Last week, we received this inspiring news from M.L. Thomas, our regional director in India, with an update on a project CNEWA has supported in Kerala:

In 2017, CNEWA supported a project for renovating a so-called “smart class room” — equipped with the latest computer technology — for the Snehalayam Boys Home at the remote village of Pattikkad in the district of Thrissur in Kerala.

This home is run by the Malabar Missionary Brothers, which was founded in 1948. Now there are 90 poor children and young people there, between ages of 5 and 20. The brothers are engaged in a variety of important ministries in the area: teaching catechism, taking care of orphan boys, caring for older men who are destitute, training and teaching mentally handicapped children, providing vocational training for the unemployed youth, offering health care in rural areas, among others.

The majority of the boys at the home come from broken families; some are orphans and a few are street boys. Their parents are daily wage workers and struggling hard to maintain the families. They are unable to provide sufficient nutritious food to the children and are not capable of meeting the expenses for education. Hence, they send the children to orphanages for a chance at a better life.

The home now has a “smart class room,” with the latest computer technology, to help teach the students. (photo: CNEWA)

At the home, there are 12 computers for training the children. The smart class room is equipped with these computers and an LED projector. One of the students, Amal Jose, with training and support from the Boys Home, is learning to excel in learning English and using computers. His parents are separated. For the last five years Amal Jose is staying in this Boys Home.

The home also provides the students opportunities for higher education, such as courses in hotel management and accounting. Some of our students are attending these vocational higher degree courses.

All these facilities receive assistance from CNEWA. We are grateful to all our donors for the generous contributions to the Snehalayam Boys Home!

Below is a brief video showing some of the home. It includes a personal message of gratitude from one of the boys.

20 February 2018
CNEWA staff

The video above, from the BBC, shows the incredible trek a Coptic priest makes every day in Ethiopia, to pray in an ancient church carved into the side of a mountain. (video: BBC)

20 February 2018
Doreen Abi Raad, Catholic News Service

In this 2013 file photo, interreligious leaders gather in Beirut for a meeting of the Adyan Foundation. The foundation has been named the recipient of the Niwano Peace Prize.
(photo: CNS/courtesy Adyan Foundation)

Adyan, a Lebanese foundation for interreligious studies and spiritual solidarity, is the recipient of the 35th Niwano Peace Prize.

Lebanon now moves “a firm step further toward its recognition as a world center for dialogue between cultures and religions,” said the Rev. Fadi Daou, president of Adyan Foundation, in announcing the international award in Beirut on 19 February.

“Peace has a specific name in Lebanon, and that is ‘living-together,’ ” he added.

Maronite Father Daou is one of the five founders of Adyan (“religions” in Arabic), each of whom are followers of different denominations of Christianity and Islam.

Since its foundation in 2006, Adyan “has worked to take interreligious dialogue from apologetic debates and populist complacency, to a common commitment in what we call ‘religious social responsibility,’ ” Father Daou said.

The Tokyo-based Niwano Peace Foundation established the Niwano Peace Prize in 1983 to honor and encourage individuals and organizations that have contributed significantly to interreligious cooperation, thereby furthering the cause of world peace. It is named for Nikkyo Niwano, founder and first president of the lay Buddhist organization Rissho Kosei-kai.

The award’s selection committee commended Adyan for valuing “religious diversity in promoting peace and social justice” and cited Adyan as “a visible and committed actor for peace in Lebanon and the broader region.”

Past Niwano Peace Prize recipients include Brazilian Archbishop Helder Camara; Jordanian Prince El Hassan bin Talal; retired Archbishop Elias Chacour of Haifa, Israel; the late Bishop Samuel Ruiz Garcia of San Cristobal de Las Casas, Mexico; Father Hans Kung, a Swiss theologian; the World Muslim Congress; and the Sant’Egidio Community.

Father Daou recalled St. John Paul II’s declaration that “Lebanon is more than a country, it is a message” of coexistence for East and West.

“I really believe that this award, coming from Japan, is ‘another voice’ — now from the East — to remind us of what John Paul II said,” Father Daou said.

“Worldwide, peace today signifies justice and the liberation of oppressed people,” Father Daou said. “It also means stopping the implication of religion in political choices and ending linking religion to violence and extremism.”

While it is important to discover what is common among religions, Father Daou noted, even more important is “to discover the differences between religions and to educate people — especially the youth — to respect those differences, as an expression of our belief in freedom of conscience and our refusal of all forms of coercion and takfirism (considering others as infidels),” he said.

Father Daou said the “problematic reality” in the Middle East “pushes us to go a step further in order to promote interreligious solidarity in the combat of extremism and of injustice.”

Recent Adyan initiatives include offering interfaith mediation dialogue and peace education to vulnerable Syrian citizens, both in Lebanon and Syria. In Iraq, working with journalists and civil society activists, Adyan focuses on spreading the values of inclusive citizenship and interreligious solidarity, particularly to heal the society from the traumas of Islamic State.

Father Daou said that Adyan will continue on its path “for the adoption of pluralism as a social and political value in Arab countries.”

“It will also work for the promotion of resilience to all forms of extremism and for the development of social cohesion, spiritual solidarity, intercivilizational encounter and world stability,” he added.

By 2016, a decade after its foundation, Adyan had more than 3,000 members with some 35,000 direct beneficiaries in 29 countries.

The Niwano Peace Prize ceremony will take place in Tokyo on 9 May.

20 February 2018
Greg Kandra

In the video above, Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Bashar Warda of Iraq discusses the plight of Christians in his country at Georgetown University in Washington. (video: CNS/YouTube)

Chaldean archbishop: Time to be honest with Muslims (CNS) If Christians in the Middle East are going to be “honest” with their Muslim dialogue partners, said Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Warda of Irbil, Iraq, Muslims will have to acknowledge that the persecution of Christians in the region did not start with the Islamic State’s rise to power in 2014. “We experienced this not for the last four years, but 1,400 years,” Archbishop Warda said during a 15 February speech at Georgetown University in Washington, sponsored by the Religious Freedom Research Project of the university’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs...

Report: U.S. ambassador warns evacuation of settlements could start civil war (The Jerusalem Post) A forced evacuation of West Bank settlements could spark civil war in Israel, US Ambassador David Friedman told Jewish American leaders in Jerusalem, according to a report on Channel 10 News...

Patriarch urges faithful to eschew violence (The Hindu) Head of the Syrian Christian Church Patriarch Moran Mor Ignatius Aphrem II called on the faithful to eschew violence and to resort to passive resistance to obtain justice. He said India, a land of tolerance, had set an example through Mahatma Gandhi in peaceful protest. In a televised message to thousands of Jacobite Syrian Church members here on the Patriarchal Day celebrations on Sunday, the Patriarch said he was one with the sufferings of the people in the Malankara Church and reiterated the unbreakable link between the Malankara Church and the throne of Antioch...

Muslim leader: Church shooting had ‘nothing to do with Islam’ (Radio Free Europe) The mainstream Muslim leadership in Russia’s Daghestan region has condemned an attack that killed five people outside a Russian Orthodox church, saying that the suspect had “nothing to do with the true Islam.” In a 19 February statement, the office of the region’s chief mufti also extended condolences to the relatives and friends of the victims of the attack the previous day in the Daghestani town of Kizlyar...

Search continues for missing Iranian plane (Vatican News) The wreckage of the Aseman Airlines plane is thought to be in the Zagros Mountains, but blizzard like conditions have hindered efforts to pinpoint the exact site of the tragedy. The domestic flight vanished from radars an hour after leaving Tehran Airport for city of Yasuj on Sunday...

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