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December, 2017
Volume 43, Number 4
  
7 February 2014
J.D. Conor Mauro




A boy pushes a stroller holding water and another child past destroyed buildings in the besieged area of Homs, Syria, on 2 February. Syrians fleeing to neighboring Jordan from Homs said some people there are starving to death for lack of food. (photo: CNS/Thaer al Khalidiya, Reuters)

Evacuation of Syrian civilians begins in besieged city of Homs (Al Jazeera) The evacuation of civilians from a besieged area of the Syrian city of Homs has begun under a humanitarian deal agreed to this week, Syrian state television reported Friday. The siege of Homs has gone on for more than a year amid Syria’s relentless civil war, and activists say 2,500 people are trapped in the area, struggling with hunger and a lack of basic necessities. Many other Syrians across the country are under similar situations and are in desperate need of aid. A U.N. convoy of buses has arrived in Homs to start the initial evacuation of 200 women and children. The evacuation will not include men between the ages of 15 and 55, who are deemed most likely to be fighters…

As Israeli doctors aid Syrians, humanitarianism trumps geopolitics (Los Angeles Times) As civil war rages in Syria, with an estimated 130,000 people killed and millions displaced after nearly three years of fighting, Israel has been quietly providing aid to some of the wounded. Since the Israeli army launched the effort, officials say, more than 700 Syrians have received treatment at medical centers in Israel or at a field hospital operated by medics along the heavily fortified border. Patients have come from as far away as Homs, three hours to the north…

Amid truce, Hamas struggles to rein in rockets (Washington Post) Officially, a 14-month-old cease-fire between the Islamist militant group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, and its enemy, Israel, is holding. Unofficially, it is a truce that grows tenser by the day, as Hamas struggles to rein in armed factions that are not completely under its control. This kind of escalation has led to two wars in the past five years, and there is a palpable sense today that another could be on the horizon…

Lebanese politicians praise patriarch’s charter (Daily Star Lebanon) Politicians Thursday hailed the national charter announced by the Maronite Church a day earlier, saying it reflected Bkerke’s eagerness to preserve coexistence and the Lebanese state. After visiting Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter on Thursday, caretaker Social Affairs Minister Wael Abu Faour, from the Progressive Socialist Party, said the charter reflected the will of the Lebanese to live together in peace. The charter stressed the need for the timely election of a new president and for Muslim-Christian partnership to run Lebanon…

Chaldean patriarch and grand mufti meet to discuss unity (AsiaNews) Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael I and Grand Mufti of Iraq Sheikh Rafi Taha al Rifai met to discuss strategies to strengthen relations between the Christian and Muslim communities, as well as to encourage “joint action” to achieve the goal of a “lasting peace” in the country. The meeting dates back to 31 January, but details only recently emerged on the official website of the Chaldean Patriarchate, describing its atmosphere and objectives…

Ukraine: leak raises diplomatic tensions (Vatican Radio) In published remarks, an advisor to Russian President Vladimir Putin said the U.S. was funding Ukrainian “rebels” by as much as $20 million a day for weapons and other supplies. Sergei Glazyev urged the Ukrainian government to put down the “attempted coup,” and said Russia may have to intervene under the terms of a 1994 agreement between the United States and Russia…

Egypt: Six police wounded in twin Cairo bomb attacks (BBC) Six police officers have been wounded after two bombs went off in Cairo, the Egyptian health ministry says. The blasts were heard before 10 a.m. local time in the Giza area and were around two minutes apart. Local media report that the bombs targeted police vehicles stationed near a bridge…



Tags: Ukraine Lebanon Syrian Civil War Israeli-Palestinian conflict Christian-Muslim relations

6 February 2014
J.D. Conor Mauro




From 27-29 January the Canonization Committee of the Armenian Apostolic Church convened in the Mother Cathedral of the Great House of Cilicia. Prior to the meeting, the members of the Canonization Committee met with Catholicos Aram I, center, who offered a benediction. (photo: Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin)

Canonization committee convened to discuss massacre victims (Fides) Almost a century since the events that many call “the Armenian Genocide” — carried out in the territories of Turkey in 1915 — the Armenian Apostolic Church firmly and definitively confirms its intention to proceed with the canonization for martyrdom of the victims of what the Armenians call the “Great Evil…”

Syria: Deal struck to evacuate civilians from Homs (Lebanon Daily Star) The United Nations and Syria have reached a deal to allow aid into besieged areas of Homs and give civilians safe passage out, state news agency SANA said Thursday. “Homs governor Talal al Barazi and U.N. resident coordinator Yaacoub al Hillo have reached an agreement securing the exit of innocent civilians from the Old City [of Homs] and the entrance of humanitarian assistance for civilians who choose to stay,” it reported…

U.N. report condemns torture, sexual abuse of Syrian children (Al Jazeera) Children in Syria have been subjected to torture and sexual violence during the years-old civil war, the United Nations has said, calling on both government forces and armed opposition groups to stop the brutal treatment of minors caught up in the conflict. The plea comes as violence in Syria continues despite attempts to bring the unrest to an end…

Israel approves plans for 550 Jerusalem settler housing units (The Jordan Times) Israel pushed forward on Wednesday with plans for more than 550 new housing units in three settlement neighborhoods of occupied East Jerusalem, the city council said. In a move likely to escalate tensions between Israel and the Palestinians as they hold U.S.-backed peace talks, the council said it had granted private contractors permits to build 386 units in Jabal Abu Ghneim — known to Israelis as Har Homa — 136 units in Neve Yaakov and 36 units in Pisgat Zeev…

Ukraine: a voice from the barricades (Vatican Radio) The international community is putting pressure on the Ukrainian government to take immediate steps to resolve the nation’s political crisis. Over two months of intense protests have put President Yanukovych under substantial pressure. Vatican Radio’s Linda Bordoni spoke to Bogdan Voron, creator of one of the art projects giving voice to the protesters in Kiev…



Tags: Ukraine Syrian Civil War Israeli-Palestinian conflict Armenia Armenian Apostolic Church

4 February 2014
J.D. Conor Mauro




In this video, Nisreen El-Shamayleh reports on a refugee community in Arsal, Lebanon, that received funding to run an informal school. The school teaches the full Syrian curriculum, and though students do not receive certificates, time spent in class is always fruitful. (video: Al Jazeera)

Syria in need of humanitarian corridors (Vatican Radio) Despite sharp differences over the conflict in Syria, Russia and Western countries have joined forces to initiate peace talks that began last month in Geneva. Meanwhile, a meeting in Rome yesterday aimed at tackling the humanitarian crisis stemming from the Syrian conflict…

Syria: Dutch priest trapped in Homs says residents going mad with hunger (The Telegraph) A Dutch priest trapped in the siege on the Syrian city of Homs has told how residents around him are being driven mad with starvation, as they are “abandoned” by the international community. The Rev. Frans Van der Lugt, a 75-year-old Roman Catholic and local leader in the besieged Old City in Homs, told of his community’s battle for survival in two years of living in a district brutalized by war and without food. “Our city has become a lawless jungle,” said Father Van der Lugt. “We are trying our best to behave in a fraternal way, so that we don’t turn on each other for the hunger…”

Maronite priest new president of Caritas Lebanon (Fides) The Council of Catholic Patriarchates and Priests, which convenes under Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter, appointed the Maronite Rev. Paul Karam as new president of Caritas Lebanon on 31 January. Father Karam is currently the national director of the Pontifical Mission Societies in Lebanon. The decision was made after assessing Caritas Lebanon’s role in light of increasing social challenges posed by the deluge of Syrian refugees — nearly 900,000 according to U.N. sources, or more than a million according to the Lebanese authorities — and the catastrophic conditions in which many of them live…

Police working against the abduction of Copts (Fides) In the first days of February, Egyptian security forces carried out a huge operation in the city of Assiut to dismantle an organized crime network that for months organized kidnappings, robberies and extortion against the local Coptic community. Coptic Catholic Bishop Kyrillos William of Assiut sees a decisive change of pace in the intervention carried out by the local police. “For months and months,” he says, describing the prevailing situation before this shift, “Coptic families and entire communities in Assiut and the province have lived in anguish. Kidnappings took place every day. … The perpetrators of these crimes were known to all, but when the Copts claimed and reported them to the security forces, nothing happened…”

Ukraine political impasse headed for parliament (Al Jazeera) Leaders of the anti-government protests that have gripped Ukraine’s capital for more than two months said they will seek constitutional changes Tuesday that would weaken the president’s powers. Meanwhile, Western officials are returning to the country this week in an attempt to resolve the political crisis, with help that could come partly in the form of a financial aid package currently under discussion between the United States and European Union. The constitutional changes were expected to be discussed in a parliamentary session Tuesday as Ukraine’s political crisis continues unabated, with protesters still refusing to leave their encampment in downtown Kiev or vacate buildings they occupy. The demonstrators, who clashed with police last month, are holding to an uneasy truce, and taking pains to adopt tactics of persuasion, as seen in this video



Tags: Syria Egypt Ukraine Lebanon Refugees

3 February 2014
Greg Kandra




In this image from 2011, Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill celebrates Christmas liturgy at Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow. Last week, he joined Patriarch John X. Yzigi of the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch in issuing a plea for peace in Syria.
(photo: CNS/Denis Sinyakov, Reuters)


Syria hits areas held by rebels in Aleppo (New York Times) Syrian government aircraft continued to strike rebel-held areas in Aleppo with makeshift bombs on Sunday, killing at least three dozen people, most of them women and children, antigovernment activists said. The bombs were dropped across neighborhoods in the south and east of the country’s largest city, reducing cinder-block apartment buildings to rubble and leaving crowds of men searching the debris for survivors, according to videos posted online...

Russian, Greek Orthodox leaders join in call for peace in Syria (AsiaNews) The Moscow Patriarchate and the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch have launched a joint appeal for peace and independence of Syria. “The two churches believe that only through open and honest dialogue true peace its independence and territorial integrity be guaranteed in Syria, and equal rights and opportunities for its citizens ensured,” reads the statement issued on 30 January, at the end of Patriarch John X Yazigi’s visit to Moscow...

Protestors fill Kiev’s square as president returns to work (EuroNews) Ukraine’s embattled president has announced that he is returning to work on Monday after four days’ sick leave. It came as thousands of protesters filled Kiev’s main square — demanding that he give up power. Opposition leaders, fresh from meeting European US officials at a conference in Munich, told the crowd that they would secure international aid of they were able to take power. “We have a common understanding with our Western partners about what should be done in Ukraine and how much money it requires,” said Arseniy Yatsenyuk, leader of Ukraine’s opposition Fatherland Party. “But first of all, the question is who will be executing this plan of change for Ukraine, as no one trusts this regime”...

Pope’s first Lenten message to focus on poverty (Catholic News Service) Pope Francis has chosen the theme, “He became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich,” for this year’s Lenten message, said a Vatican statement on 31 January. The theme comes from a verse from St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians where the apostle is promoting generosity in giving and wishes to “test the genuineness of your love by your concern for others.” The full verse reads: “For you know the gracious act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that for your sake he became poor although he was rich, so that by his poverty you might become rich,” (2 Cor 8:9). The text of the pope’s message for Lent, which begins on 5 March, was to be released at a Vatican news conference on 4 February...

Cyberactivists say dreams of democracy in Middle East unrealized (Catholic News Service) Cyberactivists from Egypt and throughout the Middle East said their dreams of freedom of expression and democracy are unrealized. They are caught in a vise of surveillance and censorship, no matter if the military or Muslim Brotherhood hold the reins of power in the aftermath of the Arab Spring that saw longtime rulers toppled three years ago. “I’m wanted by three different branches by the security forces, mainly because they have their own propaganda about the revolution,” said Marcell Shehwaro, a young Syrian Christian blogger. “I work against it. I was forced to flee my house, my family and my friends” to live in an area under opposition control...

Kerala considers bill to stop lavish weddings (Business Standard) The Kerala government will soon come up with a bill that will prevent ostentatious weddings where people flaunt their wealth, Social Welfare Minister M.K. Muneer said here Monday. Muneer told the state assembly that the situation has reached such a “dangerous level” where weddings only mean flaunting of one’s wealth. “We are working out on how we can prevent this excessive flaunting of wealth on the occasion of weddings and it would be through a new law,” he said.



31 January 2014
J.D. Conor Mauro




Ibrahim Fahmy, 18, center, poses for a photo with co-workers on 17 January outside the silver shop where they work in Cairo. Mr. Fahmy says he supports Egypt’s new constitution because he believes it can create the stability needed for foreign tourists to return. (photo: CNS/James Martone)

New Egyptian constitution holds promise for Copts (National Catholic Register) After enduring the worst persecution in centuries, a new constitution gives Coptic Christians renewed hope for civil rights and freedom in Egypt, but a lot of work remains. “It is good — not very good — but it is good,” said the Rev. Rafic Greiche, spokesman for Egypt’s Catholic Conference. “It could not have been better given the context we are living now.” The new constitution’s vision of a pluralistic and inclusive civil state now depends not only on translating it into laws, but also translating it into Egyptian hearts and minds, Father Greiche added…

Gaza youth dream of jobs in Qatar (Al Monitor) On 14 January the Palestinian and Qatari governments signed an agreement for the recruitment of 20,000 professional and specialized Palestinian workers to find employment in Qatar, in addition to the estimated 20,000 Palestinians who have already been working for years in the Gulf state…

Peace plan lets most Jewish settlers remain in West Bank, envoy says (Washington Post) Roughly three-quarters of Jewish settlers in the West Bank would be included in redrawn Israeli borders envisioned under U.S.-backed peace negotiations, the lead U.S. envoy told American Jewish leaders on Thursday…

Church leaders in Ukraine call for national unity (Church Times) At a meeting predominantly of clergy of the Moscow Patriarchate in Odessa (in southern Ukraine on the Black Sea coast, a Russian-speaking area) last Saturday, the call was for moderation, but also national unity: “We especially encourage local elites — political, cultural, intellectual, social — do not rock the boat in which you sit. Do not think that the current conflicts are careless political games. Be aware that we are one family and that we live in the same home: Ukraine…”

U.N. calls for Ukraine torture probe as activist speaks of being ‘crucified’ (Al Jazeera) A Ukrainian anti-government activist who disappeared a week ago during widespread protests in and around Kiev has resurfaced with his face badly beaten and with wounds to his hands, saying his abductors tortured and “crucified” him. “They crucified me, they nailed down my hands. They cut off my ear, they cut my face. There isn’t a spot on my body that hasn’t been beaten,” Bulatov said. “Thank God, I am alive.” He also said he was kept in the dark at all times, and could not identify his captors…

Syria peace talks adjourn with little progress but some hope (Los Angeles Times) The first round of long-awaited Syrian peace talks ended Friday in Geneva with no breakthrough but with both sides planning to meet again and resume negotiations. “Progress is very slow indeed, but the sides have engaged in an acceptable manner,” Lakhdar Brahimi, the chief United Nations negotiator, told reporters in Geneva. “This is a very modest beginning, but it is a beginning on which we can build…”

Mideast cyberactivists say dreams of democracy remain unrealized (CNS) Cyberactivists from Egypt and throughout the Middle East said their dreams of freedom of expression and democracy are unrealized. They are caught in a vise of surveillance and censorship, no matter if the military or Muslim Brotherhood hold the reins of power in the aftermath of the Arab Spring that saw longtime rulers toppled three years ago…



Tags: Egypt Ukraine Middle East Gaza Strip/West Bank Unity

30 January 2014
J.D. Conor Mauro




The Dutch Rev. Frans van der Lugt, S.J., prays at the residence of the Jesuit fathers in the besieged area of Homs, Syria, on 29 January. The priest recently made an appeal for help in a YouTube video, highlighting severe shortages of food and medicine. The Rev. Ziad Hilal, a fellow Jesuit, made note of Father Van der Lugt’s stalwart presence in his Letter From Syria, published in the Summer 2013 issue of ONE. (photo: CNS/Yazan Homsy, Reuters)

Syria allegedly demolishing neighborhoods to punish residents (The Guardian) The Syrian government has demolished thousands of buildings, in some cases entire neighborhoods, in parts of Damascus and Hama, as part of a collective punishment against residents of rebel-held areas, Human Rights Watch says. Satellite imagery taken over both cities has revealed seven areas where neighborhoods have either been largely destroyed or totally demolished. None of the destruction was caused during combat. Rather, the buildings have been systemically destroyed using bulldozers and explosives placed by troops who first ordered residents to leave and then supervised the demolitions…

Starving to death in Syria’s Yarmouk camp (Al Jazeera) In the Yarmouk refugee camp, more than 55 people have died from hunger and the majority of children are suffering from malnutrition, according to Abdullah al Khatib, a Palestinian activist living there. Most people are consuming soup made from water and spices, Khatib said, and some are reportedly eating grass for survival. Starvation conditions continue despite recent United Nations efforts to get much-needed food through the street battles and checkpoints, and most residents are still searching garbage piles for anything edible, Khatib told Al Jazeera on Monday. Until last week, food aid had not been delivered to the camp since September 2013…

Ukraine tensions high after amnesty laws’ adoption (Vatican Radio) Tensions remain high in Ukraine’s capital after the government approved an amnesty for anti-government protesters, following deadly violence in which as many as five people died. Opposition parties abstained from voting because the legislation contains unacceptable conditions, while the European Union’s top envoy and neighboring countries expressed concern about the situation…

Amid ‘civil war’ talk, Kremlin keeps wary eye on Ukraine (Christian Science Monitor) Russia has offered strong assurances of non-intervention in a fast-unraveling Ukraine. But experts say the Kremlin is watching events in Kiev with mounting concern as central government control grows increasingly tenuous — and warn that Moscow may react badly if the ten-week-old protest movement leads to sweeping constitutional changes in Ukraine. President Vladimir Putin told European Union leaders in Brussels Tuesday that Moscow will not change the terms of its financial-aid package to Ukraine, even if the government in Kiev changes, and will not interfere in the increasingly turbulent political crisis there. He chided European Union officials for what he described as cheerleading for anti-government protesters, and warned against the urge to “mediate” in the struggle for Ukraine’s soul…

The verdict on the wall in the Cremisan Valley has been postponed (Fides) The Supreme Court of Israel has postponed the verdict on the route of the separation wall. Israeli authorities plan to build a security wall in the Cremisan Valley, on the land of 58 Palestinian families in Beit Jala and two Salesian religious communities. The Society of St. Yves, a Catholic human rights, filed the lawsuit against the construction of the wall in the Cremisan Valley. Those in attendance at yesterday’s hearing included Bishop William Shomali, patriarchal vicar of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, several priests of the patriarchate, the mayors of Bethlehem and Beit Jala and the representatives of 13 consulates of foreign countries…

Maronite patriarch: Lebanon needs a president (AsiaNews) Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter I, in an interview yesterday with Lebanese daily As Safir, said that the election of a new president, national unity and respect for the constitution are some of some of the urgent issues the country must address. The church leader, also a cardinal of the Catholic Church, decried attempts to postpone the presidential elections. “The problem is that everyone wants to divide the country according to his perspective instead of becoming as one…”

Chaldean patriarch reflects on first year leading church, future of church (AsiaNews) In a pastoral letter addressed to the bishops, priests, nuns and faithful on the occasion of the first anniversary of his election as leader of the Chaldean Church, Patriarch Louis Raphael I discussed concerns such as massive emigration, fragmentation, isolation, the revision of the liturgy. “Our church is invited to rebuild what was destroyed and distorted, gather the scattered” and call back those who have fled…

Egypt says charging Al Jazeera journalists with terrorism (Christian Science Monitor) The Egyptian prosecutor’s office today said it had charged 20 journalists working with the Al Jazeera news network, including four foreigners, with various charges including belonging to or aiding a terrorist organization and broadcasting false news. But the prosecutor’s statement did not list the names of the defendants, and it was unclear who had been charged. The terrorism charges send a chilling message to journalists who veer from the government’s view of events in Egypt…



Tags: Syria Egypt Ukraine Middle East Separation Barrier

29 January 2014
J.D. Conor Mauro




Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria visits Egyptian General Fattah al Sisi on 26 January, accompanied by a delegation of Coptic Orthodox Bishops. (photo: Coptic Orthodox Church)

Egyptian Christian leaders pay visit to General al Sisi (Fides) On Sunday, 26 January, the Coptic Pope Tawadros II paid visit to General Abdel Fattah al Sisi, deputy prime minister and commander-in-chief of the Egyptian Armed Forces. During the visit Pope Tawadros expressed his congratulations to the Egyptian Armed Forces on the occasion of the third anniversary since the beginning of the revolution that led to the fall of the regime of Hosni Mubarak. The large delegation that accompanied the patriarch included six other Coptic Orthodox bishops. The following day, similar gestures of appreciation towards the strong man of the Egyptian army — and likely future candidate for the next presidential election — came from Catholic leaders in Egypt, including Coptic Catholic Patriarch Ibrahim Isaac Sidrak…

Patriarch attributes extremism to poor religious education (Interfax) Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia said the best way to prevent extremism and radicalism is to increase the level of religious education. “The religious feelings of people … are now exploited to cause these people to commit radical actions. Many people indeed genuinely take the horrible path of terrorism, thinking that by doing so they serve God,” the patriarch said at the opening ceremony of the Christmas parliamentary sessions in the Federation Council on Tuesday…

Masses and vigils for missing Jesuit in Syria (Fides) On 29 July 2013, the Italian Jesuit Paolo Dall’Oglio was kidnapped in Raqqa, Syria’s largest city controlled by the militia known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Since then, no word has emerged about his status. Masses and vigils praying for the gift of his release, along with that of others who have been kidnapped in the war-torn nation, have been announced in different cities around the world…

Canada bars Ukraine officials behind crackdown (AFP) Canada will refuse entry to any Ukraine government officials linked to a crackdown on protestors, the immigration minister announced Tuesday, while condemning violence there. “Effective immediately, our government will be restricting the entry to Canada of key officials of the Ukrainian government who are responsible for the oppression of citizens and the opposition as they defiantly and courageously speak out in support of freedom and democracy,” the minister, Chris Alexander, told reporters. The move follows the United States last week revoking of visas of several Ukrainian nationals linked to violence in Kiev…

Syrian government backs away from U.N. plan on humanitarian relief for Homs (Washington Post) Hopes faded Monday for a quick win at peace talks between Syria’s warring factions after the Syrian government declined to authorize a convoy of food to enter a besieged neighborhood in the center of the city of Homs under the terms of an agreement brokered by the United Nations. There was no sign, either, that a promise to allow women and children to leave was moving forward, calling into question whether progress would be possible on the far more momentous issues that will have to be discussed if the conference is to end Syria’s brutal civil war…

Heads of all canonical Orthodox churches to meet (InSerbia) Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I has invited the heads of all canonical Orthodox churches to a meeting in Istanbul on 9 March 2014 for the planning of the organization of the Pan-Orthodox Council for the next year. The meeting is slated to be a serious effort toward the unity of the Christian world and closer cooperation between Orthodox churches…

Georgian authorities to finance another four religions (Interfax) In addition to the Orthodox Church, Georgia will provide funds to the Armenian Church, the Catholic Church and Jewish and Islamic faith communities from the state budget, Georgian Prime Minister Irakly Garibashvili told a government meeting on Monday. “Various statements have recently been made stating that religious conflicts became frequent under our rule. I believe that is not true,” he said. “We respect all religions and the fact that we are now considering the issue of state financing of another four religions in addition to the Orthodox Church confirms that…”



Tags: Syria Egypt Ukraine Canada Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I

28 January 2014
J.D. Conor Mauro




Syrian refugees move a tent at the Bab al Salam refugee camp in Azaz, near the Syrian-Turkish border on 17 January. Syria's nearly three-year civil war has led to what the U.N. calls the "greatest humanitarian crisis in modern history." (photo: CNS/Mahmoud Hebbo, Reuters)

Patriarch urges West to help suffering Syrian refugees stay in region (Aid to the Church in Need) While sympathizing with refugees who seek a new life in the West, Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregory III of Antioch urged that aid programs be boosted both within Syria and in neighboring countries to enable them to stay in the region. “Of course, we cannot decide … what response our people should make, the suffering is so great, but the real answer is to provide more help — more relief — on the spot and not outside, which will encourage them to leave. But if they must go, we understand their situation.” He added: “The danger is that if they leave the region of the Middle East, they will never go back. This applies to other groups as well as the Christians…”

Ukraine repeals anti-protest laws; prime minister resigns (Washington Post) There were growing signs Tuesday that Ukraine’s opposition movement was gaining ground in its efforts to remake the country, with the resignation of the prime minister, approval of an amnesty bill for protesters and the repeal of harsh new laws restricting freedom of speech and assembly…

Lebanese cringe as a breakdown in government wafts uphill (New York Times) Since Lebanon’s government resigned 10 months ago, Parliament has scarcely convened, no major laws have been passed and the caretaker cabinet has lacked the political clout to set any important policies. All of this has left the country without a unified approach to the huge influx of refugees fleeing the civil war in neighboring Syria, a spate of bombings that have killed dozens of civilians and gunfights between rival neighborhoods in the northern city of Tripoli…

Jordan’s balancing act on Syria (Al Monitor) For Jordan, one thing is definite about the peace conference on Syria which opened in the Swiss resort of Montreux last week: It proved that relations with the Damascus government have reached a historic low. Since the breakout of the Syrian uprising in March 2011, the Damascus government has been critical of Amman’s alleged role in allowing fighters and weapons to cross into southern Syria. Defenders of the Jordan position say that the country hosts a million Syrian refugees, who pose social and economic challenges. Jordan has more than 186-mile border with Syria, and the neighboring countries have had historic problems. If the Damascus regime survives, Jordan will want to keep its options open…

Censorship and suppression in Belarus (Al Jazeera) Nestled between Russia and Poland sits an autocratic state dubbed “Europe’s last dictatorship.” Artistic directors and founders of The Belarus Free Theatre, Kaliada and Nicolai Khalezin, are also public enemies of their home country. Their crime is setting up an underground company aiming to cast a spotlight on the day-to-day struggles faced by their countrymen and women. They are now living in exile in London. Kaliada said actors and directors who wanted to be part of the Belarus Free Theatre faced losing their jobs and educational opportunities, because of their affiliation with the blacklisted group. They perform in secret locations, from private houses to secluded woodlands…

Egypt’s military rulers face heightened threat from shadowy militant group (Christian Science Monitor) A shadowy militant group based in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula has set its sights on Egypt’s mainland, bringing a building insurgency to the heart of the capital. Ansar Bayt al Maqdis, or Supporters of Jerusalem, claimed responsibility for a powerful car bomb that killed four people in Cairo Friday. Members of the group also appear to have shot down an Egyptian military helicopter in the Sinai Saturday with a shoulder-launched surface-to-air missile. The group, founded in 2011, largely focused attacks on Israel and the northern Sinai until the military deposed former President Mohamed Morsi, previously a Muslim Brotherhood leader, last July…



Tags: Ukraine Syrian Civil War Jordan Melkite Patriarch Gregory III of Antioch Belarus

27 January 2014
J.D. Conor Mauro




A pro-European Union protester throws a Molotov cocktail during clashes with riot police in Kiev, Ukraine, on 22 January. The European Union threatened to take action against Ukraine over its handling of anti-government protests after three people died during violent clashes in Kiev. (photo: CNS/Gleb Garanich, Reuters)

Pope: appeal for dialogue in Ukraine (Vatican Radio) On Sunday, Pope Francis appealed for constructive dialogue in Ukraine. Addressing the crowds gathered in St. Peter’s Square for the Angelus Prayer, the pope said he is praying for the people of Ukraine, in particular for those who have lost their lives during the violence of the past days, and for their families. He said he is praying the parties involved will avoid resorting to violent actions, and that the spirit of peace and the quest for common good may prevail…

Ukraine: Justice Ministry seized after day of mourning for slain protester (Al Jazeera) Thousands of Ukrainians chanted “Hero!” and sang the national anthem on Sunday, as a coffin carrying a protester who was killed in last week’s clashes with police was carried through the streets of the capital, underscoring the rising tensions in the country’s two-month political crisis. Mikhail Zhiznevsky, 25, was one of three protesters who died in clashes Wednesday. Protesters seized the Justice Ministry building Sunday night, adding another government building to the several already occupied by the opposition…

Patriarchs Kirill and Yohanna X’s make joint appeal to Geneva II conference (Fides) On Sunday, 26 January Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill and the Greek Orthodox Patriarch Youhanna X of Antioch made a joint appeal to the international conference on the Syrian conflict, which is currently underway in Switzerland, in order to invite all participants at the summit to “reject extremist demonstrations” and to put an end to “intolerance and political ultimatums.” Only free and fraternal dialogue within the Syrian community, say the two patriarchs in the letter, can pave the way to a peaceful solution of the crisis…

Patriarch says nuns seized in Syria are fine (Daily Star Lebanon) The group of nuns seized in the ancient Syrian town of Maaloula last month are doing well, Greek Orthodox Patriarch Youhanna X said Saturday. “The nuns are fine, I personally spoke to them over the phone a few days ago at the patriarchate’s headquarters,” he said. “They are at one of the homes inside Yabroud and they are fine, but it is not enough for us to know they are okay. We hope they will be released with the two kidnapped bishops soon because they carry a message of peace in the service of others…”

Egypt’s Sisi promoted to field marshal, mulls presidential run (Los Angeles Times) Egypt’s top generals gave their blessing to a presidential run by Abdel Fattah al Sisi on Monday, the same day he was also promoted to field marshal. Both actions were viewed as indicators of a near-certain candidacy by Egypt’s most powerful figure. The ranking military official, who led a popularly supported coup nearly seven months ago against the country’s first democratically elected president, has not declared his political intentions, but even before Monday’s endorsement by the top military council, there were growing signs he would do so soon…

Bombings hit several towns across Iraq (Al Jazeera) At least 17 people were killed in a fresh wave of violence across Iraq on Saturday, which included a car bombs and mortar attack on a Shiite Muslim village, police and medical sources said. The deadliest attack took place near the Iraqi city of Baquba, 40 miles northeast of Baghdad, where three mortar bombs killed six people, police said. Violence in Iraq climbed back to its highest level in five years in 2013, when nearly 9,000 people were killed, most of them civilians, according to the United Nations…

Ancient church mosaic with symbol of Jesus uncovered in Israel (Yahoo! News) Archaeologists in Israel have uncovered intricate mosaics on the floor of a 1,500-year-old Byzantine church, including one that bears a Christogram (a monogram or combination of letters that forms an abbreviation for the name of Jesus Christ) surrounded by birds. The ruins were discovered during a salvage excavation ahead of a construction project in Aluma, a village about 30 miles south of Tel Aviv, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced Wednesday. The basilica was part of a local Byzantine settlement, but the archaeologists suspect it also served as a center of Christian worship for neighboring communities because it was next to the main road running between the ancient seaport city of Ashkelon in the west and Beit Guvrin and Jerusalem in the east…



Tags: Syria Egypt Pope Francis Ukraine Greek Orthodox Patriarch Youhanna X of Antioch

24 January 2014
J.D. Conor Mauro




In this video report from a Turkish border town, Dr. Abdullah Zogby sees much psychological trauma in the refugees he treats — including his own children. All the patients at this privately funded clinic in a Turkish border town have crossed into Turkey illegally, so are not eligible for U.N. or government assistance. (video: Al Jazeera)

Activists say 63 dead from hunger, medical shortages in Damascus camp (Daily Star Lebanon) Syrian activists said Friday it has documented the deaths of 63 people, including women and children, in the besieged Yarmuk Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus due to food and medical shortages. Yarmuk in southern Damascus has been under a choking army siege since June, along with several other opposition-held areas across Syria, mostly around the capital and in the central city of Homs. “The number of people who have died in Yarmuk camp as a result of their poor health and living conditions, and the severe lack of food and medicine has risen to 63,” the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said…

Kiev protesters occupy government building amid uneasy truce (The Guardian) Ukrainian protesters erected more street barricades and occupied a government ministry building on Friday after the failure of crisis talks with President Viktor Yanukovich, pointing to a further weekend of protest. Mr. Yanukovich’s Party of the Regions confirmed reports that two months of anti-government protests were spreading to other parts of the country, particularly the west, where “extremists” had seized regional administration buildings. Protesters broke into the agricultural policy ministry building in central Kiev early on Friday, meeting no resistance…

Ukrainian Orthodox churches break off negotiations (Ukrainian News Agency) Patriarch Filaret of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Kiev Patriarchate, declared a halt to negotiations on unification of churches with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Moscow Patriarchate, and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church. This came in response to the Russian Orthodox Church forbidding the latter two churches from holding these talks. Patriarch Filaret also noted that that relations with the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church remain good, though no unification talks were being held…

Deadly blasts hit police in Cairo (BBC) Five people have been killed and about 90 wounded after three blasts in the Egyptian capital that appeared to target the police force. The attacks began with a powerful car bomb that exploded outside the police headquarters in central Cairo, killing four people and wounding at least 76. Within hours, two other blasts occurred elsewhere in the city, killing one person and injuring 15. The attacks come on the eve of the third anniversary of the 2011 uprising…

New Maronite exarch to Africa speaks about station, Syria (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has erected the new apostolic exarchate for the Eastern Catholic Maronite faithful in Western and Central Africa, in Ad Ibadan, Nigeria. The Rev. Simon Faddoul was nominated by Pope Francis to be the first apostolic exarch to the region. He currently serves as president of Caritas Lebanon, assisting more than one million Syrian refugees who have flooded across the border to escape the ongoing conflict in their homeland. Father Faddoul was also appointed apostolic visitor for the Maronite faithful resident in Southern Africa. In an interview with Tracey McClure, the priest explains what an apostolic exarchate is, and sheds some light on the Maronite faithful in Africa, many of whom come from Lebanon and Syria…

Bomb explodes near French church in Rome (The Guardian) A small makeshift bomb has exploded in a street in central Rome, causing slight damage to a building belonging to a French religious establishment and three parked cars, police said. There was no immediate word on what was behind the explosion early on Friday morning, which occurred hours before a visit to Pope Francis by French president François Hollande, but security was tight near the Vatican before the meeting…



Tags: Egypt Ukraine Refugees Syrian Civil War Children





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