12 April 2017
Father Michael Perry, minister general of the Franciscans, walks past the rubble of a bombarded building in Aleppo, Syria, during an early April visit to Franciscan friars there.
(photo: CNS/courtesy of the Franciscan Generalate)
Fifteen Franciscan friars continue to live and work in Syria; two of the friars minister in towns controlled by Islamic State forces.
The Rev. Michael Perry, minister general of the Franciscans, visited most of the friars the first week of April, but he could not enter areas controlled by Islamic State or by forces opposed to the government of President Bashar Assad.
He drove to Homs on 7 April, just hours after U.S. bombers attacked the nearby Shayrat air base in retaliation for the Syrian government's suspected use of chemical weapons.
“We didn’t see anything, but we certainly sensed the tension,” he told Catholic News Service in Rome on 12 April.
In Damascus, he said, he and the other friars could hear bombing “every 20 minutes, 24 hours a day” from one of the neighborhoods controlled by opposition forces. “This was constant, a constant reminder that nothing is settled; everything is still up in the air and people feel a great deal of insecurity.”
The people just want it to stop, he said.
“We have two Franciscans who are caught (in territories) under ISIS control,” he said. “They are living in two villages, 25 and 40 kilometers from Aleppo. They have been able to negotiate space and pay what is necessary” in order to stay and help the estimated 300 families remaining. The families are made up mostly of the elderly, children and “those who are too poor or too weak to find another place to go.”
“The friars are staying with them and showing their solidarity and suffering the same conditions as the people,” Father Perry said. To be able to stay, they had to remove all crosses, pictures of saints and other visible signs that they are Christians.
“It’s a miracle they’ve been able to negotiate the space, but it's a testimony to the perseverance and endurance of the Syrian people,” he said. Both friars are Syrians.
Father Perry began his weeklong trip in Beirut with Franciscans helping those who have fled Syria. The rest of his trip took place by car, including long detours to avoid areas controlled by Islamic State or by opposition forces.
“All along the south and eastern side to the eastern entry into Aleppo, I did not see one town that was alive,” he said. “They had all been bombed out, abandoned.”
“The closer we got to Aleppo, we saw a few people who were beginning to farm again, but we just didn’t see any signs of life, human life,” Father Perry said. “By contrast, the fields were in full bloom with poppies and different colored flowers. So it was this stark contrast of the death of humanity and nature almost saying, ‘It’s not over. Stop. It’s going to come back. There’s still hope. There’s a future even if it doesn’t look like there’s one now.’”
At a Catholic parish in Aleppo, Father Perry brought a weighty contribution to the hope professed by parishioners, the women religious, the friars and Bishop Georges Abou Khazen, apostolic vicar for the city’s Latin-rite Catholics.
Cardinal Angelo Comastri, archpriest of St. Peter’s Basilica, had given Father Perry three of the bricks used to close up the basilica’s Holy Door between jubilee years. Father Perry took one to South Sudan, one to Malaysia and the last he brought to Aleppo "as an invitation to dialogue, reconciliation and rebuilding.”
“I’ve been in war zones for the (U.S.) bishops, I’ve been in war zones for Franciscans International, but I’ve never witnessed anything on the scale of Syria. Ever,” Father Perry said.
12 April 2017
In this image from 2016, Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Sako of Baghdad is greeted by an elderly Iraqi woman after a prayer service at the Church of our Lady of Perpetual Help in Ainkawa. The patriarch this week released his Easter message to the Iraqi people.
(photo: CNS/Amel Pain, EPA)
Chaldean patriarch: Let the Easter flame not be turned off in your hearts (Vatican Radio) The Chaldean patriarch in his Easter message released on 9 April in Baghdad highlights the suffering and daily grief endured by Christians in Iraq and the world. The Chaldean Catholic Church has dedicated 2017 as the Year of Peace. For the patriarch, Holy Week culminating in the Easter celebration offers a fresh hope to breathe new life into prayer and reflection, reconciliation and dialogue...
Coptic patriarch: The massacres on Palm Sunday “were a test for the faith of Egypt’s Christians” (Fides) Pope Tawadros is sorrowful and deeply saddened, it is not easy to speak with him. This was how Patriarch Ibrahim Isaac Sidrak, Primate of the Copt Catholic Church expressed to Fides the feelings of many baptized Egyptians, after the carnage perpetrated last Sunday by suicide bombers in two Coptic Orthodox churches...
Holy Week for Copts will never be the same (Al Jazeera) Immediately following the twin bombings in Egypt that killed at least 40 Christians last Palm Sunday, the country’s president Abdel Fattah El Sisi released a statement saying “the attack ... will only harden the determination (of the Egyptian people) to move forward on their trajectory to realise security, stability and comprehensive development.” But just four months ago, another attack in Cairo’s Coptic Cathedral that killed at least 25 Christians did not bring Egyptians closer to security or stability...
Syrian nun honored by State Department says U.S. bombing is step back (CNS) Two weeks after the U.S. State Department honored her as a Woman of Courage, a Salesian sister from Syria told reporters President Donald Trump’s decision to bomb a Syrian air base is another step back from peace...
Easter plight of India’s Christians (Herald Malaysia Online) Even on Palm Sunday and Holy Week before Easter, there are reports of incidents of violence, intimidation and harassment against Christians in India, a discriminated minority oppressed by the majority Hindus...
Russian cosmonaut says he has taken relics of saints into space (AP) A Russian cosmonaut who has returned to Earth after a mission on the International Space Station said on Wednesday he had taken a relic of a Russian Orthodox saint with him. Astronauts and cosmonauts routinely take small items such as their children’s toys or CD’s with them as reminders of home. Sergei Ryzhikov told Russian news agencies that he would give the tiny relic of St. Serafim of Sarov’s body, which he received from its home monastery last year, to an Orthodox church in Star City outside Moscow, home to the cosmonaut training center...
11 April 2017
A young student reviews his classwork at St. Joseph’s Home for Children. (photo: Don Duncan)
In the March 2017 edition of ONE, journalist Don Duncan explores efforts at Breaking the Cycle of addiction and suffering that has scarred so many young people in Kerala, India:
Alcoholism strongly afflicts Kerala, reputed to be the heaviest drinking of India’s 29 states.
A 2007 report by the Alcohol and Drug Information Center (ADIC)-India, estimated Kerala’s consumption at more than two gallons of pure alcohol per person per year. Other studies suggest rising consumption rates since then — part of a broader trend spanning several decades.
In the last ten years, Kerala’s government has made a number of attempts to combat alcoholism — including, in 2014, announcing phased prohibitionary measures, restricting alcohol sales in hotels and limiting liquor license renewals, resulting in the closure of hundreds of bars and liquor distributors. The effects have been inconclusive, and recent election results have likely signaled a shift away from such heavy-handed measures.
Primary knock-on effects of alcoholism — domestic violence, marital crisis and the premature deaths of men — are clearly detrimental to children. But secondary consequences, such as the squandering of family income and the perpetuation of negative behaviors, also disrupt the lives of Keralite youth and obstruct them from reaching their full potential.
With no easy answers in sight, it has fallen to the church and its institutions to seek solutions for a problem that seems only to be growing worse.
And one way the church is trying to help is through education: creating institutions that help families struggling with a wide range of financial, medical or social issues. For more, check out the video below.
11 April 2017
Msgr. John E. Kozar, president of CNEWA, poses with a villager on 2 April in Batnaya, Iraq. Msgr. Kozar was on a pastoral visit to Iraq. Read more about his visit and his impressions of Iraq here.
11 April 2017
Security personnel investigate the scene of the 9 April bomb explosion outside the Cathedral of St. Mark in Alexandria, Egypt. (photo: CNS/EPA)
Coptic bombing victims to be honored at vigil (Vatican Radio) The Community of Sant’Egidio will hold their annual ecumenical prayer vigil on Tuesday, remembering especially the Coptic Christian martyrs and all those who are persecuted and killed for their faith...
Grief and desperation in Coptic community after Palm Sunday attack (CNN) Egypt’s Coptic Christians have spoken of their sadness — and their fears for the future — a day after terrorists targeted two churches packed with parishioners celebrating Palm Sunday. At least 49 people were killed in bombings at two churches in Tanta and Alexandria, the latest sectarian attacks one of the country’s most imperiled religious minorities. “We feel more angry today than we ever did before, and we feel desperate,” says Coptic Egyptian rights activist Mina Thabet. “Nothing is changing. The Copts feel very vulnerable and that no one cares about them...”
Clashes rock Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon (BBC) At least six people have been killed and 35 others wounded in clashes inside a Palestinian refugee camp in southern Lebanon since Friday, medics say. The fighting erupted when a joint security force deployed by the main Palestinian factions in Ein el-Hilweh came under fire from radical Islamists...
Fire destroys migrant camp in France (Vatican Radio) On Monday near Dunkirk in northern France, a large fire engulfed the Grande-Synthe migrant camp, which housed between 1,000 and 1,500 people in tightly-packed wooden cabins. French officials say the fire was caused by a fight that broke out between the Afghans and the Kurds living in the camp on Monday afternoon. Ten people were injured, including six who sustained wounds from the fight. Reports say riot police intervened and clashed with 100 or 150 migrants...
Winner of Rome marathon grew up in a Catholic mission in Ethiopia (Fides) Rahma Chota Tusa has won the Rome female Marathon for two years running. Rahma was born in Kofale, Ethiopia, where she grew up and trained at the Catholic Mission Sports Centre in Kofale, until she moved to the athletics team in Adama. “Rahma is one of 25 international level athletes who come from our breeding ground, she grew up with us and now lives in Addis Ababa,” said Fayisa Gameda, who works in the office of Kofale Catholic Mission...
Byzantine monk and nun debut cooking show (Aleteia.org) At a time when Christians are supposed to be “giving up stuff,” what are a monk and a nun doing in the kitchen cooking tasty meals? All Lent long, the two religious have been producing weekly cooking programs, tempting viewers to think about food rather than encouraging them to practice self-denial. But there’s more to their web-based program, Eastern Hospitality, than meets the palate...
10 April 2017
The altar is seen 3 April at the destroyed Immaculate Conception Church in Qaraqosh, Iraq.
(photo: John E. Kozar)
The next few months will determine whether Iraqi Christians can return to their homes in areas where Islamic State had been routed, according to Msgr. John E. Kozar, international president of Catholic Near East Welfare Association.
Msgr. Kozar, who was in Iraq 31 March — 5 April, cited several daunting challenges for Iraqi Christians who return to their country: infrastructure woes, burned- and bombed-out buildings, desecrated churches and security issues.
“Three liberated villages outside of Dahuk (in northern Iraq) are being resettled as we speak,” Msgr. Kozar told Catholic News Service in 7 April telephone interview from CNEWA headquarters in New York.
“The reason people are very hesitant to go back there is the reason of security. They hold very close to them the reign of terror ISIS had produced. They’re looking for some reassurance from the Iraqi government and the Kurdish Peshmerga government,” the military force that has liberated areas previously under Islamic State control, Msgr. Kozar said.
“The second reason would be there’s no infrastructure. There’s no water, no electricity, no sewage,” he said. “Those would be the single most difficult challenges that need to be overcome. The next two, three months will tell the tale.”
One town, Batnaya, was 85 percent destroyed by aerial bombing, according to Msgr. Kozar. “That one, I don’t know what the future might be for that. It looked to me like something out of World War II,” he said. Another town, Baqova, he described as “more burned out — some aerial bombing but more internal bombing — but all burned out.”
A third, somewhat larger town of 25,000, Teleskov, was “only occupied for nine days by ISIS. It was liberated after nine days, but it was then used by the Peshmerga as a staging area until three or four weeks ago. They use the distinction, ‘It was liberated, but not free,’” Msgr. Kozar said. “People accepted that to drive out ISIS from other towns and build up a fortification line so it would not come back.”
All three towns had significant Chaldean Catholic populations. Chaldeans are one of the Eastern churches, made up primarily of Iraqi Catholics.
A nun walks through the hallway of the badly damaged convent of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena in Qaraqosh, Iraq. (photo: John E. Kozar)
Msgr. Kozar also visited Qaraqosh, one of the cities in northern Iraq with a significant percentage of Assyrian Catholics. He also visited with sisters who had a convent in the city.
Qaraqosh “is heavily damaged but not destroyed,” he said. “There are 4,000-5,000 homes burned out, but the structures — thanks be to God — are pretty fair, but totally looted ... including seven Catholic churches and one Orthodox church, burned internally, pillaged and defaced.”
Msgr. Kozar recalled the extent of destruction at Immaculate Conception Church in Qaraqosh. The church courtyard, he said, was “all filled with soot, and there’s a heap of ashes in the center” as Islamic State had taken all of the church’s sacramentals, piled them up at the courtyard, and burned them. “ISIS had used it for target practice,” he added. “I even brought back shell casings as a little memento of the tragedy there. There was so much target practice there that they shot out two pillars in the courtyard.
“They defaced it in Arabic and German. ISIS had written really vile things about Jesus and the church. The convent was burned and gutted. Everything was stolen. Anything holy in their mind was burned,” he said. “That town had 52,000 Catholics that fled. Almost no one has returned there yet, even though technically it’s under the control of the Iraqi military and, in some sense, under the control of the Kurdish Peshmerga militia.”
Most Iraqi Christian are not prepared to go back, he said.
“What will they do? It’s really a very difficult time. Even though, on the one hand, ISIS has been routed within most instances, there’s still pockets in Iraq where ISIS has control.”
On the other hand, staying in the refugee camps is not a good option. “Some of the ISIS fighters have shaved their beards and are trying to sneak into the (refugee) camps,” Msgr. Kozar said. “This is part of that reign of terror.”
10 April 2017
The clinic of Shajaiya in Gaza offers care to mothers and infants of all backgrounds.
(photo: Wissam Nassar)
In the March 2017 edition of ONE, Hazem Balousha reports on a clinic operated by the Near East Council of Churches (N.E.C.C.) in Gaza. Here, he offers some additional impressions.
As a journalist, you become familiar with many things as you work in the field and you meet and listen to people.
I worked as a journalist for more than 17 years, mainly in the Gaza Strip and West Bank. I met thousands of people, I heard various stories, and I read millions of words from papers, books, and online.
Yet I was surprised when I visited the N.E.C.C. clinic of Shajaiya, east of Gaza strip — first, from the services they provide, and then from the stories of people who are going there to receive the health care.
I thought Gazans are less interested of having big families. But when it came to Shajaiya, it was a different. Most of women that I met and interviewed there want to have big families, with at least six children, despite the poverty and limited income.
I was curious about why a young couple with limited means would want to have a big family.
I asked one of the pregnant woman — expecting her 10th baby — if, looking back on her life, she would do things differently now. She said, “No,” and added, “We like kids and big families.”
She told me that she advised her two married daughters not to have too many children — just five or six. One of her daughters got married almost four years ago and she is expecting her third baby. I am still surprised, as both daughters live in poverty.
I was worried when I read the recent U.N. report that Gaza Strip population will exceed three million within 14 years. This small place that is facing a critical shortage of basic needs will have that number of people sharing the services and infrastructure.
But none of that seems to concern these young, growing families — which is another surprise I found in Gaza. Despite the difficulties they face, they somehow have faith in the future. As I noted in my story, one of the mothers told me:
“Of course we cannot predict the future. The economic situation is difficult, but we should build a family and live in peace, and God will definitely provide us with livelihood and enable us to get food and drink.”
Read more about the clinic Where Hope is Kindled in the March 2017 edition of ONE.
And to get an intimate glimpse of the clinic, check out the video below.
10 April 2017
Mourners attend the 10 April funeral for victims of a bomb attack the previous day at the Orthodox Church of St. George in Tanta, Egypt. Also 9 April, an explosion went off outside the Cathedral of St. Mark in Alexandria where Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II was presiding over the Palm Sunday service. (photo: CNS/Mohamed Hossam, EPA)
10 April 2017
Security personnel investigate the scene of a bomb explosion on 9 April inside the Orthodox Church of St. George in Tanta, Egypt. That same day an explosion went off outside the Cathedral of St. Mark in Alexandria where Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II was presiding over the Palm Sunday service. (photo: CNS/Khaled Elfiqi, EPA)
Pope condemns Cairo terror attack (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis condemned the terror attack on a Coptic church dedicated to St. George — Mar Girgis — in the city of Tanta, north of Cairo, which killed upward of two dozen people and injured nearly 60 others...
Vatican official: Egypt attacks won’t stop pope’s visit (CNS) Despite recent and repeated terrorist attacks against Egypt’s minority Christian communities, Pope Francis will not cancel his visit to Egypt. “The pope’s trip to Egypt proceeds as scheduled,” Greg Burke, Vatican spokesman, told Catholic News Service by email 10 April. The pope is scheduled to meet governmental and interfaith leaders during a 28-29 April visit to Cairo...
Christians and Muslims in Iraq march together for peace (Vatican Radio) This Holy Week in Iraq, Christians and Muslims will walk for 140 km [87 miles] through the Nineveh Plain in the name of peace and the end of violence in a once mostly Christian inhabited area. The peace march is supported by the Chaldean Patriarchate, which declared 2017 as “the Year of Peace...”
Christian worshipers flock to Jerusalem for Palm Sunday (Haaretz) Crowds of faithful gathered at Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the traditional site of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. Many waved palm fronds to symbolize how worshipers greeted Jesus over 2,000 years ago as he triumphantly entered Jerusalem...
Christians in Kerala welcome Palm Sunday (Mathrubhumi.com) The Christian community in Kerala observed Palm Sunday with prayer meetings and processions with palm leaves...
In managing drought, Ethiopia serves as a model (The National) The Horn of Africa is suffering its worst drought in decades, with devastating humanitarian consequences. Two districts in South Sudan are officially in famine. Areas of Somalia and Yemen are on the brink. Hundreds of thousands of people are at risk of death, while millions face severe disruption to their lives and livelihoods. The drought has affected Ethiopia too. In 2015, it experienced its most severe dry spell in 50 years, and there are fears that 2017’s rains will fail too. But in this East African country, once the poster child for poverty in Africa, no one is talking about famine. Unlike Somalia and South Sudan, Ethiopia is doing something right...
7 April 2017
An altar server carries incense through new Coptic Catholic parish community center still under construction in Izbet al Nakhl, in northern Cairo. To learn more about the lives and challenges facing Copts in Egypt’s capital, read Anxiety in Cairo in the newly published March 2017 edition of ONE. (photo: David Degner)
Tags: Egypt Coptic Catholic Church Coptic Urbanization