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June, 2018
Volume 44, Number 2
  
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

2 February 2017
Greg Kandra




A displaced Syrian woman, fleeing from Deir Ezzor city besieged by ISIS, walks through the falling snow carrying a child on her shoulder in a refugee camp in al-Hol, near the Iraqi border
on 1 February 2017. (photo: Delil Souleiman/AFP/Getty Images)


Lebanon backs returning Syrian refugees to ‘safe zones’ (AP) Lebanon’s president says the international community should facilitate the return of Syrian refugees to Syria by setting up “safe zones” in coordination with their government. Michel Aoun made his comments Friday during a meeting with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi. Lebanon is home to some 1.2 million Syrian refugees, equivalent to one fourth of its own population...

Trump discusses safe zones with Jordan’s king (Reuters) U.S. President Donald Trump discussed with Jordan’s King Abdullah the possibility of establishing safe zones in Syria, the White House said on Thursday...

Advocates stress the U.S. has moral obligation to help refugees (CNS) Leaders from six organizations want Americans and President Donald Trump to understand that refugees, especially those from war-torn Middle Eastern countries, are average people with careers, comfortable homes and loving families rather than see them as a monolithic threat to the United States...

In Mosul hospital, nothing left but scavengers and the ISIS dead (The Daily Beast) After three months of battle and over two years under the rule of the so-called Islamic State, Mosul’s health sector is stretched beyond its limits, and the destruction of the city’s biggest and most prestigious hospital weighs heavily on the people here. It is symbolic of the price the city has had to pay for its liberation, which remains incomplete...

Gentiles in fight to save Kerala’s Jewish monuments (Asia Times) For Jews, Mala, a small town in southern India, is unique in many ways. Some 50 families are said to have lived there peacefully for over a thousand years — something that is quite rare in Jewish history. Mala also has the largest Jewish cemetery in India and one of its oldest synagogues. These are the monuments of their existence that the Jews of Mala handed for preservation to the local government before they left en masse for Israel, after its formation in 1948...



2 February 2017
Greg Kandra




In the video above, Vatican officials who traveled to Aleppo describe the liveliness and depth of the Christian community’s faith in that war-ravaged corner of the world. (video: Rome Reports)

In war-ravaged Aleppo, few answers on how to rebuild (AP) Aleppo has been scarred beyond recognition: Weeks after fighting stopped, a pall of dust covers its eastern districts, where streets are lined for blocks with buildings smashed to metal and brick rubble in scenes reminiscent of cities devastated in World War II. The destruction is the worst wreaked on any city in Syria’s six-year war. No one has any quick answers on how to rebuild Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, much less the rest of a country that has seen appalling desolation...

Iraqis returning home to Mosul (Andalou Agency) Almost 50,000 displaced people have returned to their homes in eastern Mosul and the city’s southern Qayyarah district, both of which were recently recaptured by the Iraqi army from the Islamic State terrorist group, according to Iraq’s Displacement and Migration Ministry. “The ministry is trying to persuade displaced people to leave the camps and return to liberated areas so the camps might be used to accommodate those expected to be displaced in upcoming operations to retake western Mosul,” ministry spokesman Sattar Nowruz told Anadolu Agency...

Report: hate speech against Christians on the rise in Turkey (Hurriyet Daily News) Turkey’s Association of Protestant Churches has prepared its 2016 Rights Violations Report, noting that hate speech against the country’s Christians has increased in both conventional and social media. The annual report said hate speech against Protestants persisted throughout 2016, in addition to physical attacks on Protestant individuals and their churches. The report also noted that churches in particular faced serious terror threats...

Some Muslim refugees converting to Christianity “to find safety’ (The Telegraph) The situation for refugees in the country — which is hosting more than a million and a half Syrians that make up a quarter of its total population — has become increasingly dire over the course of the six-year conflict. Some say they converted to benefit from the generous aid distributed by Christian charities, others to help their asylum applications to Europe, the United States, Canada and elsewhere. Christian converts are more likely to be persecuted in the Middle East than those who stay Muslims, and are thus more eligible for asylum...

Gaza sees rise in divorce rate (GulfNews.com) The Supreme Sharia Judicial Council in the Gaza Strip has reported an increase in divorce rates in the territory for 2016, with a total of 3,188 divorce cases being reported in the tiny coastal strip during that year...



Tags: Syria Iraq Gaza Strip/West Bank Turkey Islam

1 February 2017
Greg Kandra




A child displaced by fighting between the Iraqi army and ISIS rides in a truck to a camp for displaced families on 27 January in Mosul, Iraq. (photo: CNS/Paul Jeffrey)

Bishops say refugee ban raises concerns about religious freedom (CNS) The chairmen of three U.S. bishops’ committees on 31 January expressed solidarity with the Muslim community and expressed deep concern over religious freedom issues they said President Donald Trump’s refugee ban raises. Trump’s executive memorandum of 27 January “has generated fear and untold anxiety among refugees, immigrants and others throughout the faith community in the United States,” said the committee chairmen in a joint statement. “In response ... we join with other faith leaders to stand in solidarity again with those affected by this order, especially our Muslim sisters and brothers...”

Iraqi Christian leader visiting Mosul sees little future for Christians (CNS) As some residents of the city of Mosul celebrate their new freedom from the Islamic State group, an Iraqi Christian leader who visited the war-torn city said Christian residents are unlikely to return. “I don’t see a future for Christians in Mosul,” said Father Emanuel Youkhana, a priest, or archimandrite, of the Assyrian Church of the East...

Battle for Mosul: ‘I’ve never seen such hard fighting’ (The Guardian) Since October last year, when the operation to prise Mosul from the grip of Islamic State began, the fight between Iraqi forces and the jihadi group, which captured Mosul in June 2014, has taken place on a battlefield inhabited by civilians. Iraqi forces have now claimed to be largely in control of east Mosul, but in the west of the city an estimated 750,000 civilians are still living under Isis control...

Canadians condemn refugee ban (Catholic Register) Catholic and other religious voices across Canada are condemning the U.S. exclusion of refugees from seven majority Muslim countries...

Ethiopia faces new drought, seeks aid (AP) U.N. humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien visited a camp for displaced persons on Saturday, saying that “these people are really struggling to survive.” He cautioned, however, against “dramatizing by saying this may degenerate into famine...”

Jesus portrayed as an Indian in Bible show (UCANews.com) A two-hour stage show premiered in India’s Kerala state recently depicting Jesus as Indian, thus correcting European Christianity’s “misrepresentation” of Christ, according to the director. The show, titled Ente Rakshakan (“My Savior”), was created by a well-known showman Soorya Krishna Moorthy. It presents Jesus Christ as having black hair, eyes and Indian mannerisms. An audience of 2,000 people, including church officials and Bible scholars, attended the premier...



31 January 2017
Greg Kandra




In the video above, the author of a new book describes the often-overlooked human toll of the refugee crisis that is now making headlines around the world. (video: Rome Reports)

Pope offers Mass for modern martyrs (L’Osservatore Romano) Pope Francis offered Mass on Monday, 30 January, in the Casa Santa Marta chapel for “today’s martyrs,” persecuted and imprisoned Christians, and for Churches which are not free to express the faith...

Vatican official: Wellbeing of society is measured by its response to migrants (Vatican Radio) The way a country responds to the needs of migrants and refugees is a “thermometer” of the wellbeing of that society. That’s the view of Canadian Jesuit Father Michael Czerny, recently appointed as undersecretary of the Vatican’s new department for Integral Human Development...

Trump ban on refugees ignites firestorm, but also gains support (CNS) As President Donald Trump signed an executive memorandum intended to restrict the entry of terrorists coming to the United States in the guise of refugees, the action brought quick response from Catholic and other religious leaders...

Leaflets dropped over western Mosul in advance of push (Andalou Agency) Iraqi aircraft dropped leaflets over western Mosul early Tuesday urging civilian residents to brace for impending army operations aimed at wresting the area from the Daesh terrorist group. “Your enemy [Daesh] has been defeated in eastern Mosul,” the leaflets read. “Your armed forces are now preparing to advance on the western side [of the city]...”

Palestinian local election set for May, likely without Gaza (AP) The Palestinian self-rule government in the West Bank has set May 13 as a new date for municipal elections after infighting between Hamas and Fatah groups derailed such a vote last year. The elections will likely only take place in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where the Palestinian Authority of President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah movement run autonomous enclaves...

Head of Russian Orthodox church backs abortion ban (The Tablet) Russia’s Orthodox patriarch has called on members of the Russian parliament to press for a total ban on abortions, warning that the high numbers perpetrated annually are impeding the country’s moral and social development. “I’ve appealed to deputies several times to consider restricting abortion, and I’ve seen some progress made in highlighting this evil,” Kirill I told State Duma members on 26 January. “This would not be some revolutionary step, but a necessary return to normality, without which it will be impossible for men and women to achieve happiness...”



Tags: Syria Iraq Pope Francis Gaza Strip/West Bank Russian Orthodox

30 January 2017
Greg Kandra




Pope Francis greets Cardinal Gerald Lacroix of Quebec after celebrating morning Mass in the chapel of his residence at the Vatican on 30 January. A Vatican statement said the pope assured Cardinal Lacroix of his prayers for the victims of a shooting in a mosque in Quebec City.
(photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano, handout)


Pope prays for victims of Quebec mosque attack (Vatican Radio) On Monday morning, following the usual Mass at the Pope’s residence in the Casa Santa Marta, the Holy Father met with Cardinal Gérald Cyprien LaCroix, assuring the Archbishop of Quebec City of his prayers for the victims of the attack on a mosque there on Sunday night...

Vatican council for interfaith dialogue condemns Canada attack (Vatican Radio) The Vatican’s Council for Interreligious Dialogue has strongly condemned the shooting at a mosque in Canada in which six people were killed and another dozen wounded. More than 50 people were gathered for evening prayers at the Islamic Cultural Centre in Quebec City on Sunday night when the attack took place. Police have arrested two suspects in connection with the shooting, which Canadian authorities have described as a terror attack...

Chaldean patriarch: selection reception of migrants based on religion is ‘a trap for Christians’ (Fides) The option foreshadowed by U.S. President Donald Trump to maintain a “fast track” open for Christian refugees to enter the US, while the doors are closed to citizens of seven countries with a Muslim majority, is “a trap for Christians in the Middle East.” This was underlined by Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako, Primate of the Eastern Catholic Church...

Syria warns setting up safe zones would be dangerous (AP) Syria warned Monday of safe zones for civilians that U.S. President Donald Trump has expressed interest in creating, saying it would have to come in coordination with the Syrian government, otherwise it would be unsafe and violate the Arab nation’s sovereignty. The announcement was made in Damascus by Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem during a meeting with the head of the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR, Filippo Grandi, who began an official visit to Syria on Monday...

Hundreds in St. Petersburg protest plan to give cathedral back to church (AP) Protesters rallied in St. Petersburg on Saturday against plans by city authorities to give a landmark cathedral to the Russian Orthodox Church amid an increasingly passionate debate over the relationship between the church and the Russian state...

Gaza water shortage worsening (Reuters) Gaza has long suffered severe water problems, with its aquifer contaminated by sewage, chemicals and seawater and the territory’s three desalination plants unable to meet demand. To drink, most citizens depend on imported, bottled water. But locals and development specialists say the situation is getting beyond dire, with more than 90 percent of the water in the aquifer unfit for domestic use, according to Rebhy Al-Sheikh, the deputy chairman of the Palestinian Water Authority...



27 January 2017
J.D. Conor Mauro




“Today we brought back part of our dignity,” said Sophian, a parishioner in the town of Tel Kaif in Iraq’s Nineveh Plain, who helped raise the cross on the roof of his reopened church. (video: Rudaw)

Chaldean patriarch visits recovering community in Nineveh Plain (Fides) On Thursday, 26 January, a delegation of the Chaldean Church led by Patriarch Raphael Louis I visited the area of the Nineveh Plain recently retaken by the Iraqi army and met with local officials and community members. In Tel Kaif, in the Church of the Sacred Heart, the patriarch led a moment of prayer to invoke the gift of peace in the entire region and the prompt return of refugees to their homes…

Pope calls Catholics and Oriental Orthodox to work for peace (Vatican Radio) Wherever there is violence and conflict, Christians are called to work patiently to restore concord and hope. That was Pope Francis’ message on Friday to members of the Joint International Commission for theological dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Oriental Orthodox churches. The group, which is meeting in the Vatican this week, includes representatives of six ancient churches of the East that have been separated from the rest of the Christian world since the middle of the fifth century…

The desperate conditions inside a Serbian migrant camp (New York Times) Migrants are stuck in freezing conditions behind the central train station in Belgrade, Serbia, where they survive on one meal a day. Many of the estimated 1,000 migrants are escaping instability in Afghanistan, where a worsening war with the Taliban has sent record numbers of people fleeing their homes. They have lingered for weeks in legal limbo, unable to move north after European countries along the Balkans shut their borders last year…

Sisi’s church donation stirs religious controversy (Al Monitor) When Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al Sisi donated 100,000 Egyptian pounds to build a mosque and a church in the new administrative capital, he stirred a wave of criticism and a religious controversy…

Pope Francis: ‘Remember Holocaust so never repeated’ (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis met with a delegation from the European Jewish Congress on Friday on the occasion of the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which occurs annually on 27 January…



Tags: Iraq Egypt Ecumenism Interreligious Serbia

26 January 2017
Greg Kandra




Pope Francis delivers a joint blessing with Orthodox Metropolitan Gennadios of Italy and Malta and Anglican Archbishop David Moxon, the archbishop of Canterbury’s representative to the Vatican, during an ecumenical prayer service to conclude the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls in Rome on 25 January. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)

Pope: Christian unity requires learning from each other (CNS) Divided Christians need to recognize the gifts God has given to other communities and learn from them “without waiting for the others to learn first,” Pope Francis said. Leading an ecumenical evening prayer service 25 January for the close of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, Pope Francis said Christians must overcome the “temptations of self-absorption that prevent us from perceiving how the Holy Spirit is at work outside our familiar surroundings,” including in the lives of other Christian communities...

Trump expected to order Syria ‘safe zones’ for refugees (Reuters) President Donald Trump is expected to order the Pentagon and State Department to produce a plan in coming days for setting up “safe zones” for refugees in Syria and neighboring countries, according to a document seen by Reuters, a move that could risk escalation of U.S. military involvement in Syria’s civil war. The draft executive order awaiting Trump’s signature signaled the new administration was preparing a step that Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama long resisted, fearing the potential for being pulled deeper into the conflict and the threat of clashes between U.S. and Russian warplanes over Syria...

Iraqi children returning to school in Mosul (AsiaOne.com) They have been waiting for two and half years and the children of Iraq’s east Mosul are flocking to enrol in their reopened schools, eager not to waste another day. “It’s a great day, today we are giving our children their right to receive an education,” said Ghassan Ahmed, queueing with his seven-year-old in the yard of Farahedi primary school...

New report highlights plight of displaced Palestinians (Vatican Radio) A new report released this week says the forced internal displacement of Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem is making them poorer and keeping them in misery and despair...

Debate on Christians in the Middle East (Fides) In an extensive interview recently published by the Lebanese daily L’Orient-Le Jour, former French economy minister Emmanuel Macron, an “independent” candidate in the next presidential election of France, rejected the argument that the permanence in power of Syrian President Bashar Assad would represent a “guarantee” for the survival of Christian communities in Syria...

Pope blesses sculpture dedicated to migrants (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has again expressed his closeness and concern for migrants and refugees by blessing a sculpture to be placed in the port of the Sicilian Island of Lampedusa, the gateway to Europe for hundreds of thousands fleeing poverty and violence...



Tags: Syria Iraq Pope Francis Palestine Ecumenism





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