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December, 2017
Volume 43, Number 4
  
22 February 2017
Greg Kandra




Refugees from Eritrea tell Pope Francis about their journey to safety during a meeting 21 February at the Vatican with participants in the VI International Forum on Migration and Peace.
(photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano)


Pope: Protection of migrants is a moral duty (Vatican Radio) Speaking to participants of an International Forum on Migration and Peace taking place in Rome, whom he received in the Vatican, the Pope said the political community, civil society and the Church must offer a shared response to the complexities of the phenomenon of migration today . “Our shared response, he said, may be articulated by four verbs: to welcome, to protect, to promote and to integrate...”

750,000 people trapped in Mosul ‘on brink of starvation’ (The Telegraph) Many of the 750,000 civilians trapped inside Mosul are on “the brink of starvation” as Iraqi forces fight their way into the western half of the city, aid groups have warned. Backed by Western airpower and special forces, Iraqi troops and Shia milita fighters are preparing to storm Mosul’s airport and begin the final phase of liberating the city. The offensive to drive Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) from Iraq’s second largest city began in October and civilian food supplies are running low after four months of siege...

ISIS threatens to eliminate Egypt’s Christians (ARA News) The radical group of Islamic State (ISIS) on Sunday released a new propaganda video, threatening to eliminate Egypt’s Christians and vowing to “liberate Cairo.” The video also shows the last statement of a man it said was responsible for the deadly bombing of a Coptic cathedral in Cairo on 11 December, that killed at least 28 people, mostly women and children...

Gaza is outwardly rebuilding, but inwardly fearful (The New York Times) Gaza seems at a loss for what might be next. After so many years of isolation, residents of Gaza find themselves ever further from Palestinians in the West Bank, their future clouded by rising doubts that they could ever unite and work toward a lasting peace...

U.N. boosts aid for Ethiopia, Somalia to head off famine (Voice of America) U.N. aid agencies are appealing to international donors to provide money to scale up lifesaving operations in drought-stricken Ethiopia and Somalia, where millions of hungry people are at risk of death and illness...

Historic Kerala church renovated (The Hindu) The Koonan Kurishu Church (Church of the Leaning Cross) in Mattancherry has undergone a transformation worthy of its remarkable place in history. The church, built in 1751, commemorates the January 1653 vow taken by the Malankara Nazranis or Christians against Portuguese and Roman Catholic Church attempts to dominate their spiritual and ritual affairs. The 1751 church underwent major renovation in 1974. Now, it has been renovated by retaining the original structure except in places where it had deteriorated badly...



Tags: Iraq Pope Francis Ethiopia Kerala ISIS

21 February 2017
Greg Kandra




In the video above, Iraqi refugees who have settled in Lebanon explain how persecution has strengthened their faith. (video: Rome Reports)

Troops advance on western Mosul (Al Jazeera) Iraqi forces advanced into the southern outskirts of Mosul on the second day of a push to drive ISIL from the city’s western half, as the visiting U.S. defense secretary met officials to discuss the fight against the armed group. With aerial support from the US-led coalition, Iraqi police and army troops launched the offensive on Sunday, part of a 100-day-old campaign that has already driven the fighters from the eastern half of the city...

Eastern Ukraine ceasefire begins (CNN) A ceasefire aimed at ending the bloody fight between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed separatists started Monday — but is already on shaky ground. The ceasefire is a renewed attempt to enforce the Minsk peace protocol — an agreement that has repeatedly failed since it was first partially implemented two years ago...

Some Copts seek asylum in Australia (ABC.net) Military vehicles run over Coptic protesters, dismembering and mangling 27 people in the worst massacre of Christians in the country’s history. Firebrand preachers shout incensed anti-Christian messages from the pulpit and mobs attack Coptic churches, businesses and homes. This is now a daily routine for Egypt’s Coptic Christians, the largest Christian minority in the Middle East...

Refugee family shares story of fleeing persecution (CNS) The Sharifs were living contentedly in Pakistan when life turned into a nightmare in 2012. An al Qaida-related group called BLA targeted Amir Sharif, a Catholic and a well-known professor at a university in Quetta. He was told to embrace Islam or leave the country...

More refugees looking to Canada for asylum (Catholic Register) Canada can expect to see more asylum seekers crossing its border with the United States as enforcement toughens at the U.S.-Mexican border and President Donald Trump continues to issue executive orders to restrain refugee arrivals, Catholic refugee advocates have told The Catholic Register...



15 February 2017
Greg Kandra




In this image from 2016, Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and Pope Francis meet at Jose Marti International Airport in Havana. Also pictured are Swiss Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, right, greeting Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, head of external relations for the Russian Orthodox Church.
(photo: CNS/Paul Haring)


Chaldean Patriarchate condemns statements seeking revenge on Sunni Muslims (Fides) Mr. Ryan Salem — who yesterday appeared in a television program to assert that Iraqi Christians are also present in Mosul to fight and take revenge on Sunni Muslims — “has nothing to do with the Christ’s moral teachings, messenger of peace, love and forgiveness,” and cannot “make such statements involving Christians,” as it “does not represent them in any way” This is what the Chaldean Patriarchate said yesterday evening...

Catholic theologian urges closer ties with Russian Orthodox (CNS) A prominent Catholic ecumenist has urged a better understanding of the Russian Orthodox Church. “Those suspicious of the Russian Orthodox stance should go and see what’s happening,” said Barbara Hallensleben, a consultor with the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. “Of course, nationalist and ideological tendencies are always at work. But a lot of people in Russia are promoting Christianity — and by creating relations, we can strengthen church life and proclaim the faith with them,” said Hallensleben, who hosted anniversary commemorations of Pope Francis’ 2016 meeting with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill...

Displaced Syrians dream of return (Reuters) In Aleppo’s Jibreen shelter, home to refugees who have been unable or unwilling to return to their houses or flee further afield, the inhabitants of Qalayah, one of the villages from that area, swear they will one day recover their land. “We raised sheep and had land. We sold everything when we left. God willing we shall return. It’s our village, we can’t leave it,” said a lean man in his 40’s, traditional headdress worn over a long robe, who identified himself as Abu Mohammed...

How to tackle repetitive droughts in the Horn of Africa (Al Jazeera) Drought mitigation strategies in the Horn of Africa include both short-term approaches, such as distributing food to those affected and long-term approaches such as planting drought-tolerant crop varieties that can withstand insufficient rainfall, or diversifying one’s crop and income base so that there is something to fall back on when drought strikes...

U.S. diplomat says he expects Russia to meet its commitments on Ukraine (Reuters) U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Thursday that the United States was ready to work with Russia if it found common areas for cooperation, but said Moscow had to adhere to commitments made over Ukraine. “As we search for new common ground we expect Russia to honor its commitment to the Minsk agreements and work to de-escalate violence in Ukraine,” Tillerson told reporters after meeting with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov...

Kerala plans to attract Christians to ancient sites (UCANews.com) The southern Indian Kerala state government’s tourism department has initiated a plan to attract visitors to ancient Christian sites but church officials were irked that were not consulted...



Tags: Syria Iraq Ukraine Ethiopia Russian Orthodox

15 February 2017
Greg Kandra




Volunteers, many of them Muslim, help to repair a Chaldean church damaged by ISIS in Mosul.
(photo: Ankawa.com)


Young Muslim volunteers help repair church in Mosul (Fides) About 30 young people, belonging to an organization of civilian volunteers, mostly Muslims, cleaned and tidied the Chaldean church dedicated to the Virgin Mary, in Drakziliya, in Mosul on the left bank of the Tigris River and now under the control of the Iraqi army...

Refugee camp teachers struggle to help displaced Syrian children (ABC.au) Refugee camp administrators say they fear for the future of Syria’s children as the civil war enters its sixth year. Many kids in refugee camps across Syria are learning to read and write in leaky tents with little more than tables and chairs for them to sit on...

Catholic group in India calls for release of kidnapped priest (Asia News) The All India Catholic Union (AICU), the largest lay Catholic organization in India, is calling on Prime Minister Narendra Modi to use his influence and that of his government to negotiate with the countries of the Middle East free the Rev. Tom Uzhunnalil, kidnapped in Yemen on 4 March 2016...

Russian Orthodox Church, Vatican to work closer on Christians’ persecution (Pravmir.com) The Russian Orthodox Church plans to strengthen its cooperation with Vatican on the issue of monitoring persecution of Christians in the Middle East and other regions, chairman of the Department of External Church Relations Metropolitan Hilarion said on Sunday...

East Africa food prices reach record highs due to drought (Reuters) Drought in East Africa has sent prices of staples such as maize and sorghum soaring, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said on Tuesday, warning that a sharp increase in food prices could lead to renewed hunger in the region. Prices of staple cereals have doubled in some markets, reaching record and near-record levels in swaths of Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Uganda and Tanzania, FAO said...



14 February 2017
Greg Kandra




Members of Free Syrian Army encounter a flock of sheep in Aleppo during ‘Operation Euphrates Shield’ on 10 February 2017. A study released Monday says Syrian helicopters dumped banned chemical weapons on residential areas of Aleppo last year.
(photo: Muhammed Nour/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)


Holy See calls to protect civilians from terrorist attacks (Vatican Radio) The Holy See’s Permanent Observer to the United Nations, Archbishop Bernardito Auza, on Monday said “it is the obligation of the international community, in accord with the U.N. Charter, to protect civilians and their critical infrastructure from the brutality and barbarity of terrorist groups...”

Report: Syria used chemical attacks in Aleppo (The New York Times) Syrian military helicopters systematically dumped canisters of chlorine gas, a banned weapon, on residential areas of Aleppo at least eight times late last year in the final weeks of the battle to retake the city from rebels, Human Rights Watch said in a detailed study released Monday...

ISIS counterattacks as Iraqi forces prepare for Mosul push (AP) The Iraqi army has been moving troops around Mosul ahead of an expected push to retake its western half from the Islamic State group in the final decisive battle for the city, a commander said Tuesday. “We are preparing ... to launch a big operation in order to liberate the rest of Mosul,” said Brig. Walid Khalifa, deputy commander of the Iraqi Army’s 9th Division...

Hardliner elected new leader of Hamas in Gaza (Al Jazeera) Gaza’s ruling Hamas movement has chosen Yahya Sinwar, freed in a 2011 prisoner swap with Israel after more than 20 years in jail, as its new chief in the Palestinian enclave following an internal election, sources close to the group said. Sinwar will be a key decision-maker for Hamas and a member of the executive leadership that draws up policies, including towards Israel...

Violence flares in Ukraine (The Guardian) Since the war started in 2014 more than 300 shells have fallen on the grounds of the factory, the largest coking plant in Europe, which sits on Ukrainian-controlled territory just a few miles from the frontline with Russia-backed separatists. The big guns have been mercifully quiet for months, but the past fortnight has seen a new flurry of violence, linked in Kiev to a Russia apparently newly emboldened by the election of Donald Trump in the U.S...

Archeologists plan to excavate site linked to Ark of the Covenant (Times of Israel) One of the few remaining unstudied major biblical sites, where according to the Bible the Ark of the Covenant was kept for two decades, will be excavated by archaeologists this summer for the first time. Organizers hope the anticipated study of Kiryat Ye’arim (also transliterated as Kiriath Jearim) will shed light on the site’s significance during the Iron Age, the period associated with the biblical account of King David...



13 February 2017
Greg Kandra




Opposition fighters backing Turkish troops drive past stones blocking a road on the outskirts of the Syrian town of al-Bab on 12 February 2017. Turkish troops backed by Syrian rebel fighters have entered the center of the ISIS bastion of al-Bab and will soon capture it, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Sunday. (photo: Rafat Ahmad/AFP/Getty Images)

Turkish troops enter ISIS stronghold in northern Syria (AP) Turkey’s president said Sunday that his troops and allied Syrian fighters have reached the heart of the Islamic State stronghold of al-Bab in northern Syria and will eventually join the effort to recapture Raqqa, the extremists’ de-facto capital in Syria. Recep Tayyip Erdogan said ISIS fighters have begun deserting al-Bab, which has been under attack for weeks...

Hezbollah urges Lebanon plan for return of Syrian refugees (AFP) The head of Lebanon's powerful Hezbollah movement on Sunday urged the government to coordinate with Damascus to help refugees to return now that “large areas” of Syria are “safe”...

Ukraine turns a blind eye to ultra rightist militias (The Washington Post) Despite Kiev’s pledge to rein them in, rogue militias continue to fight against Moscow-backed separatists. When war erupted in 2014, Ukraine’s army was on its knees after decades of corruption and neglect. So the top brass joined forces with volunteer battalions to counter the pro-Russian insurgency. But these informal groups proved difficult to control, with some committing heinous abuses. Almost all have been incorporated into Ukrainian state forces...

Canada’s churches consider court action over refugees (Catholic Register) As the storm over the fate of refugees intensifies in the United States, Canada’s churches are deliberating whether or not to take the federal government to court to pull Canada out of its Safe Third Country Agreement with the U.S...

Using art to heal: battling cancer in Gaza (Al Jazeera) Aya Abdulrahman was informed by her doctors that she would be dead by the end of 2014. At 21, she had seven malignant tumors. “Your daughter has two months left to live. You cannot do anything. Go home,” the doctor told Abdulrahman’s mother. The painful news, however, did not stop her from pursuing her dreams. Since childhood, all Abdulrahman wanted to do was become an artist and leave her mark on the world through art...



Tags: Syria Ukraine Refugees Turkey ISIS

10 February 2017
Greg Kandra




In this image from last month, Syrian children transport their salvaged belongings from their damaged house in Doudyan, a village in northern Aleppo. A Caritas official who has just returned from Aleppo describes parts of the city as “post-apocalyptic” and “beyond human imagination.”
(photo: CNS/Khalil Ashawi, Reuters)


Parts of Aleppo described as ‘post-apocalyptic’ (Vatican Radio) A senior Caritas official who’s just returned from the Syrian city of Aleppo says the devastation and humanitarian crisis there are “beyond human imagination” with many areas in the east looking as though they had been hit by a nuclear bomb. Patrick Nicholson is the head of Communications for Caritas Internationalis and has just returned from a visit to the war-ravaged city. In an interview with Susy Hodges he described the scenes, especially in eastern Aleppo, as “post-apocalyptic” because of the extent of the destruction and shared with her a shocking story of how he discovered 6 young children, including a baby, living on their own amidst the rubble of their bombed-out house...

Retaken parts of Mosul return to life (The New York Times) The last time I was in Iraq, two months ago, I stood next to the highway out of the city of Mosul and watched ambulances screaming by, carrying dead and wounded soldiers. During my reporting in Mosul this week, the picture couldn’t have looked more different in the eastern half of the city, which was recently taken back by government forces. Even in places where soldiers were still partly on edge — like above, patrolling along the banks of the Tigris River near the front line with the Islamic State — I still was able to walk alongside them...

Assad: U.S. troops welcome in Syria to fight terrorism (AP) Syrian President Bashar Assad said in an interview released on Friday that the United States is welcome to join the battle against “terrorists” in Syria — as long as it is in cooperation with his government and respects the country’s sovereignty...

Syrian women arrive in Canada to continue their education (CBC) Five young women who were unable to finish their education in war-torn Syria landed at Pearson International Airport Thursday to start their journey as students in Canada. The women will be studying English at the International Language Academy of Canada (ILAC), after winning scholarships from the organization...

Melkites bring fresh signs of life to Catholic cathedral in Canada (Catholic Register) After being closed for more than a decade, the Cathedral of the Transfiguration north of Toronto has quietly re-opened its doors. The cathedral has welcomed parishioners of nearby Jesus the King Melkite Catholic Church to use its yet unfinished space for Sunday services. The Melkite Catholics had been homeless after their Thornhill, Ont., church was engulfed in flames last October...



Tags: Syria ISIS Melkite

8 February 2017
Greg Kandra




Pope Francis speaks during his general audience in Paul VI hall at the Vatican 8 February. The pope called for action in the fight against human trafficking and asked for prayers for migrants.
(photo:CNS/Paul Haring)


Aleppo: Faith and courage in a city of conflict (Vatican Radio) For five years the Syrian city of Aleppo has been a key battleground in the country’s brutal civil war. This former financial hub was home to 250 thousand Christians with hopes and dreams. Now it has become a place of loss and suffering. With a fragile ceasefire in place, aid agencies are keeping up their work to help those who have lost everything as a result of the conflict...

Pope calls for action in fight against human trafficking (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis appealed to government leaders to be strong in the fight against the scourge of human trafficking. Marking Wednesday’s ‘International Day of Prayer and Awareness Against Human Trafficking’ marked annually on 8 February, and focusing this year on the trafficking of children and adolescents, the Pope had words of encouragement for all those who in different ways, help minors who have been enslaved and abused to be freed from this terrible oppression...

U.N. says 30,000 have returned to Mosul (AP) Some 30,000 people have returned to Mosul since Iraqi forces launched a massive operation in October to retake the country’s second largest city from the Islamic State group, the U.N. said Tuesday...

Bishop: ‘legalization’ of Israeli settlements is against the virtues of justice (Fides) Bishop William Shomali, Patriachal Vicar of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem for the Holy City and Palestine, said the law the Israeli Parliament passed yesterday — which “regulates” houses and Israeli settlements built illegally on Palestinian territory illegally occupied by the army of Israel — “makes the solution two peoples-two states almost impossible. It offends justice...”

Bishops to Secretary of State: don’t move U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem (Catholic News Agency) The Israeli-Palestinian conflict requires wise U.S. engagement to build a better future for both peoples, and this future could be endangered by an embassy relocation, the U.S. Catholic bishops told the new Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson...



Tags: Syria Iraq Pope Francis Palestine Israel

7 February 2017
Greg Kandra




Rebel fighters sit inside an armored vehicle near the town of Bizaah northeast of the city of
Al-Bab, near the Syrian city of Aleppo, on 4 February 2017.
(photo: AFP/Nazeer al-Khatib/Getty Images)


ISIS ‘besieged’ al-Bab (Al Jazeera) Syrian government forces have advanced on the ISIS-held city of al-Bab, cutting off the last supply route that connects it to the armed group’s strongholds further east towards Iraq, according to a monitoring group...

Holy See calls on U.N. To address economic, social, spiritual poverty (Vatican Radio) The Holy See’s representative to the United Nations has told a commission for social development that world leaders must address “not only economic poverty but also social and spiritual poverty with policies and investments that people can see and touch”...

Iraq using corpses to wage psychological warfare in Mosul (Reuters) As Iraqi forces prepare to expand their offensive against Islamic State from east to west Mosul, they want to stamp out any sympathy that residents may have for the group, which won instant support when it seized the vast city in 2014. “We will leave the terrorists there,” said Ibrahim Mohamed, a soldier who was standing near three dead jihadists, ignoring the stench...

Egypt’s Christians granted leave to visit Jerusalem (Albawaba.com) Egypt’s Muslim civil servants have long had the right to take a one-off paid vacation to perform the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. Until now, however, the country’s Christian minority has enjoyed no such accommodation. That all changed on Saturday when the nation’s Supreme Constitutional Court ruled that Coptic government employees should be allowed an equivalent month-long holiday to visit Jerusalem...

Kerala bishop wants Catholics to marry earlier (Scroll.in) The bishop of Thamarassery diocese of the Syro Malabar Catholic Church, the largest group of Catholics in the state, issued a pastoral letter in January, exhorting believers to ensure that their boys are married off before the age of 25 and girls before they turn 23. It said that late marriages have an adverse impact on the birth of children and the well-being of the family...

Pope releases Lenten message (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis’ Lenten message was released on Tuesday entitled “The Word is a gift. Other persons are a gift”...



6 February 2017
J.D. Conor Mauro




United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi visits Aleppo on 1 February. (photo: George Ourfalian/AFP/Getty Images)

Meeting the Christians of Aleppo (Catholic Herald) On December 23, the guns finally fell silent and an apparent victory was handed to Syria’s President Assad in the battle for the city. Today, the cacophony of bombs is replaced by an eerie silence. Will the people come back? Not yet. With a political settlement still a distant hope, people are just marking time. In the meantime, the full cost of war can at last be counted, including the depletion of the city’s Christian population…

Syria’s Assyrians concerned about postwar existence (AINA) Some of Syria’s Christians fear that their existence in the postwar Syria would be threatened, particularly following the latest political and military developments accompanying the crisis. Those Christians expressed their worries after they were ruled out from the upcoming Geneva talks, and because the Syriac language was not included in the draft constitution that a Russian delegation handed over to representatives of the Syrian government in Damascus last month to provide equality between Kurdish and Arabic language in local administrative areas…

Jordan joins the table in Astana for Syrian ceasefire talks (Rudaw) For the first time Jordanian representatives are in Astana, the capital city of Kazakhstan, meeting with officials from Russia, Turkey, Iran, as well as the United Nations to discuss the implementation of the Syrian ceasefire agreement on Monday…

Israel’s settlement bill ‘big step towards annexation’ (Al Jazeera) The Israeli Knesset has advanced controversial legislation that, if approved, would lead to a host of illegal settlements built on privately owned Palestinian land being legalized retroactively. The so-called “Regulation Bill,” scheduled for a vote on Monday, would apply to around 4,000 settlement homes in the West Bank for which settlers could prove ignorance that they had built on privately owned land and had received encouragement from the Israeli state to do so…

Israel not paying to de-mine Christian holy site (Al Jazeera) Nearly half a million tourists annually walk past two fenced-in minefields to visit Qasr al Yahud (“Castle of the Jews”), the site where Jesus was believed to have been baptized in the River Jordan. A $4 million project launched last year by the de-mining charity Halo Trust is hoping to make the site safer, after the group struck an agreement with Israeli authorities, the Palestinian Authority and local churches that own plots in Qasr al Yahud. But Israel, whose army peppered the site with mines after the 1967 war, is not paying for these de-mining efforts, observers note…

Tremors felt in northern India (Times of India) An earthquake measuring 5.8 on the Richter Scale struck Uttarakhand late on Monday night. The quake caused tremors that were felt across northern India. Two teams of the National Disaster Response Force (N.D.R.F.) “have been rushed from Ghaziabad to Uttarakhand to conduct rescue and relief operations, if the situation arises,” tweeted the Office of the Home Minister of India…



Tags: Syria India Palestine Israel Aleppo





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