21 February 2017
Refugee Agnan Adnidihad fled Iraq and settled in Jordan, but hopes one day to join his daughter in the United States. (photo: Greg Kandra)
One of the heroic figures I’ve met during my time at CNEWA is this gentleman: Agnan Adnidihad, a 62-year-old former auto mechanic from Mosul, Iraq. I met him at the Italian Hospital in Amman, Jordan — a facility supported by CNEWA — in the spring of 2015, just a few months after he had fled Iraq. He had barely escaped with his life as ISIS swept in and took over.
As the translator explained when I spoke with Agnan: “They gave him three choices: convert, pay a tax, or be killed.” Agnan ran away, but was caught. They took everything he owned, all his money and papers, but he managed to escape and eventually made his way to Jordan.
When I met him, he was being treated for heart trouble and high blood pressure. The invasion and his escape had taken a terrible toll on him. He was looking to begin his life over somewhere else. “There is no hope for the future in Iraq,” he said. “They destroyed our homes, our work, everything.” His dream was to live with his daughter in the United States.
The one thing that sustained him, he told me, was his faith.
“Faith helps. I pray all the time. I pray to our Father in heaven and offer prayers for our Lady,” he said.
His story, of course, is just one of many. There are countless other refugees and displaced persons like Agnan Adnidihad around the world, fleeing persecution and even death.
I often tell people about Agnan when I visit parishes to talk about CNEWA’s work among refugees in the Middle East. We need to remember and pray for him and so many others like him — unsung heroes of our time who never give up hoping and praying. Despite everything, they still hold fast to their faith. It’s hard not to leave encounters with these people without feeling inspired and grateful — and deeply humbled.
You can watch my interview with Agnan Adnidihad here.
21 February 2017
The depiction of Titus’ Sack of Jerusalem includes a menorah being taken in the Arch of Titus in Rome. (photo: Creative Commons/Damian Entwistle)
The Vatican and Rome’s Jewish Museum are launching a unique exhibition later this year that is making history — and headlines.
From The New York Times:
This much is known: In 70 AD the Romans destroyed Jerusalem, looted the temple of its treasure — including a seven-branched solid gold menorah — and brought at least some of the artifacts back to Rome in a triumphant procession. Depictions of the victorious Roman army and its booty are carved on the Arch of Titus, near the Colosseum, built about a decade later to commemorate that military triumph.
What later happened to the menorah has been the object of intense speculation for centuries, giving rise to various, sometimes colorful, legends and scholarly hypotheses over its whereabouts.
Now, Rome’s Jewish community and the Vatican have teamed up to produce an exhaustive exhibition on the menorah, which in time became an enduring symbol of Jewish culture and religion, in a collaboration that leaders of the two communities described as a further step in solidifying their ties.
“This is a historic event,” Ruth Dureghello, the president of Rome’s Jewish community, said at a news conference on Monday. The menorah has connections to Rome, she added, “so such an important exhibit could only start here.”
Jews and Catholics have a long history of mutual suspicion and conflict, but relations between the two religions have been increasingly positive. In 1965, the Vatican issued “Nostra Aetate,” a landmark document that condemned anti-Semitism. Pope John Paul II, the first modern pope to pray in a synagogue, made an effort to improve the relationship, as have his successors, Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis.
The exhibit, “Menorah: Worship, History, Legend,” which includes about 130 artifacts, will open in May and will be presented at the Vatican Museums and at Rome’s Jewish Museum. The collaboration between the two institutions will finally transform longstanding dialogue into something “concrete,” Ms. Dureghello said.
21 February 2017
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...
16 February 2017
Host Derrick Fage, left, interviews CNEWA’s Carl Hétu on “Breakfast Television Montreal.”
(photo: from Breakfast Television Montreal)
CNEWA Canada’s national director, Carl Hétu, appeared on the popular Canadian program “Breakfast Television Montreal” earlier this week. He discussed some of the crises facing the world and sparking violence, particularly in the Middle East.
“Our world is going through a big transition right now,” he said. “Our world is facing great instability...when you don’t live in dignity, that’s part of the problem...you look for people to accuse.”
What can be done? “The world needs an infusion of love,” he explained. Check out the complete interview at this link.
16 February 2017
Tags: CNEWA Middle East Christians Persecution
A family poses inside their home in an Indian slum neighborhood served by the Sisters of the Destitute. To learn more, read ‘My Great Hope Is the Sisters’ in the current edition of ONE.
(photo: John Mathew)
15 February 2017
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...
15 February 2017
Tags: Syria Iraq Ethiopia Ukraine Russian Orthodox
Missak Baghboudarian, conductor of the Syrian National Symphony Orchestra, stands with Italian Catholic cathedral organist Eugenio Maria Fagiani during a 9 February performance at the Damascus Opera House. (photo: CNS/Ghyath Haboub)
A famed Italian Catholic cathedral organist is believed to have been the first Western musician to perform in Syria since the start of the civil war nearly six years ago.
“It has been awesome. It was something unbelievable,” Eugenio Maria Fagiani told Catholic News Service by phone of his recent performances in the Syrian capital, Damascus.
“It has been a great privilege to make music with people so passionate, so full of life and joy,” Fagiani said of the camaraderie shared with members of the Syrian National Symphony Orchestra and its maestro, Missak Baghboudarian.
Together they performed Joseph Jongen’s “Symphonie Concertante” and Camille Saint-Saens “Symphony No. 3” at the Damascus Opera House 9 February.
“I chose these pieces (because) they make people feel really joyful,” Fagiani said, remarking of the 1,100-person packed audience. The concert was recorded and is expected to be broadcast in Syria.
“I was welcomed by these colleagues with such a warm feeling that I will never forget,” the organist said of the experience. “This moment will be forever part of my heart.”
The following day, Fagiani played at St. Anthony’s Latin Church in Damascus, at the invitation of Cardinal Mario Zenari and the parish priest, Father Fadi. Both concerts initiated the first Syrian Pipe Organ Festival, sponsored by the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land.
A native of the northern Italian town of Bergamo, Fagiani is formidable in the world of international sacred organ music and is recognized for his composition and improvisation.
In Italy, he collaborates with the Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi and is also the cathedral organist in the town of Arezzo, especially playing services during which a bishop or archbishop presides. He regularly performs in Europe, the U.S. and Canada.
Initially, Fagiani was concerned about traveling to Syria, especially with its security situation as reported in the media. For that reason, he said, he did not inform his loved ones about the trip. But he soon discovered Damascus to be calm and quite tolerant, he told CNS. When he slipped into a large mosque for a visit, “nobody looked at me strangely,” he said.
“I walked easily in Damascus without any problems or danger. There are a lot of checkpoints, a lot control, but you feel safe in that way,” he added.
However, in other parts of Syria, government troops and rebel forces of various political stripes are engaged in heavy battles for the country’s future. The United Nations said the conflict has killed more than 300,000 people and displaced almost half of the Syrian population. The U.N. said another 600,000 people remain under siege by both by the Syrian military and rebel and jihadist groups.
Fagiani said he found that the devaluation of the Syrian currency coupled with high prices for fuel and other goods as well as electricity shortages have made life even for Syrians living in Damascus more difficult.
“This mission is bigger than us,” Fagiani said of the need to try to restore normalcy to ordinary Syrians. “The culture minister provided us with an extra two hours of electricity to ensure the concert at the church could happen.”
The concerts were co-sponsored by Syrian Culture Minister Mohammed Al-Ahmed, the Damascus Opera House and the Higher Institute of Music in Damascus.
Fagiani has also performed at various church-organized organ festivals, including in Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan. Last October, he played at the reopening and dedication of the Memorial of Moses at Mount Nebo, Jordan, the site where Moses is believed to have seen the Promised Land and died.
“The culture minister and Cardinal Zenari told me that the concerts were a big gift for them,” Fagiani said. “They’ve opened doors. I hope that others will follow in my steps.”
15 February 2017
Volunteers, many of them Muslim, help to repair a Chaldean church damaged by ISIS in Mosul.
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
Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan greets displaced Iraqis after the eucharistic liturgy in Erbil.
(photo: Paul Jeffrey)
One of the more energetic and visible advocates for CNEWA’s work among the persecuted and the poor has been the archbishop of New York, Cardinal Timothy Dolan. His support has been tireless and, indeed, heroic.
In his capacity as CNEWA’s chair, the cardinal has visited a number of regions we serve, to meet those who are facing challenges and difficulties far removed from his work in New York City.
Just last year, he traveled with CNEWA’s president Msgr. John E. Kozar and Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre to Erbil, where he met some of the Iraqi Christians who have been displaced by ISIS — men, women and children who have been literally running for their lives.
He spoke about that visit in an interview with the National Catholic Register:
What I saw was this blend of terrible sadness, and yet amazing charity and hope. Sadness, because these people who had come from Mosul or the plains of Nineveh — their families go back centuries and centuries, some to the time of St. Thomas the Apostle — had to abandon their homes in a couple of hours’ notice and couldn’t bring anything. They brought their children, obviously, and they brought their elders. The priests and nuns accompanied them on the [10-hour] walk, and they made it safely there. All these people want to do is go back home.
What’s hopeful is that they still have an extraordinarily vivid faith — their resilience is nothing less than profound. What’s moving as well is the remarkable charity and hospitality with which the Christians of Kurdistan have welcomed them.
So, we toured a number of camps. There would be thousands of these people in the refugee camps, which are actually rather secure and safe and where the local Christians have opened up schools, medical dispensaries and pharmacies. The people there will be the first to say that they are well taken care of — so, thanks be to God — because of a lot of international Christian support, and, yes, some support from the Kurdistan government and the Iraqi government.
At least they have these secure makeshift caravans, which we would call “trailers,” to live in. And the camp seems to be secure, and their needs and health and food are taken care of, as well as the education of their children. So the charity that has been shown them is remarkable.
Last summer, ONE published a photo essay, chronicling the cardinal’s visit. As we noted then:
“Pope Francis keeps saying that we priests must be with our people,” Cardinal Dolan said in his meeting with seminarians. “We just came from a refugee camp where we met a priest who slept outside on his mattress because he said he couldn’t sleep inside if his people were outside.
“We’ve met with sisters and priests who walked with the people from Mosul as they were fleeing. That’s the model of the priesthood. That’s Jesus: To be with our people all the time, to be especially close to your people in the difficult times.”
That closeness to people is emblematic of Cardinal Dolan’s priesthood. And again and again during that visit, it was striking to see how eagerly he embraced those he met — and how joyfully the people in the camps reached out to embrace him and make him feel welcome. In the true spirit of CNEWA, he seeks to accompany others in their struggles, sorrows and hopes.
When the Register asked what spiritual lessons he took from his trip, he offered an answer that beautifully encapsulates so much of CNEWA’s own mission:
We learn, first of all, that our faith is indeed as Jesus said: our “pearl of great price.” We tend to take it for granted, but these are people who literally have lost everything, rather than give up their faith. So, first of all, we learned the primacy of faith. We learned that we need to ask ourselves: Are we prepared to live our faith in such a way as we are ready to die for it? Because these people are. They will give up anything but their faith. As one lady said, “They can’t take our faith away from us.”
No. 2, we learn the importance of solidarity. This is the lesson of St. Paul in Corinthians come alive: When one member of the body suffers, all suffer. So we are suffering with them, and we cannot be callous to their suffering. So that solidarity is a second lesson.
Thirdly, we learn the importance of hospitality and charity, in that, even though it’s a long-range hospitality, we’re all at home in the Church. I said to them, “You know I don’t understand your language, we look different from you, we have come from a nation far, far away — and yet, I feel at home with you, because we are members of the household of the faith, and we are one.”
14 February 2017
Two young men take a break in the wood workshop of Caritas Georgia. To learn more about the skills being developed at Caritas, read A Letter from Georgia in the current edition of ONE.
(photo: Antonio di Vico)