4 September 2018
An overhead view taken with a drone in early June shows the clock tower of the rebel-held city of Idlib, Syria. Pope Francis appealed for peace and dialogue as the Syrian government and its allies prepare to launch strikes against the Idlib province.
(photo: CNS /Ammar Abdullah, Reuters)
Pope Francis appealed for peace and dialogue as the Syrian government and its allies prepare to launch strikes against the last major rebel stronghold in Idlib province in the country’s northwest.
Speaking to hundreds of pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square for his Sunday Angelus address on 2 September, the pope warned that “the winds of war continue to blow” in the already war-weary country.
An attack against the Syrian province’s nearly 3 million people, he said, would cause “a humanitarian catastrophe.”
“I renew my heartfelt appeal to the international community and to all the actors involved to make use of the instruments of diplomacy, dialogue and negotiations, in compliance with international humanitarian law and to safeguard the lives of civilians,” the pope said.
Several world leaders had expressed concern over the looming attack and the possible use of chemical weapons by Syrian forces.
Syrian army warplanes allegedly flew over and bombed the eastern town of Douma, 15 miles north of Damascus, in a suspected chemical-weapon attack 7 April. Despite the accounts of witnesses, the Syrian government denied involvement in the attack.
The pope’s appeal echoed the sentiments of the United Nations and the United States, who have expressed similar concerns and fears that Syria, led by President Bashir al-Assad, would use chemical weapons against innocent civilians.
Antonio Guterres, U.N. secretary-general, urged Syria and its allies, which include Russia, Turkey and Iran, “to exercise restraint and to prioritize the protection of civilians.”
“The secretary-general is deeply concerned about the growing risks of a humanitarian catastrophe in the event of a full-scale military operation in Idlib province in Syria. The secretary-general once again reaffirms that any use of chemical weapons is totally unacceptable,” a U.N. statement said on 29 August.
On the same day Pope Francis made his appeal, U.S. President Donald Trump warned President al-Assad to “not recklessly attack Idlib province” and said Syria and its allies would be “making a grave humanitarian mistake to take part in this potential human tragedy.”
“Hundreds of thousands of people could be killed. Don’t let that happen!” President Trump tweeted.
4 September 2018
Tags: Syria Pope Francis
Many homes and businesses have been wiped out from the catastrophic flooding in Kerala, and recovery efforts are ongoing. (photo: CNEWA)
Over the weekend, we received an extensive report from Syro-Malabar Archbishop Andrews Thazhath, of the Archdiocese of Trichur, describing in great detail what his people have been facing in flood-ravaged Kerala:
Many bridges collapsed and houses were sunk or destroyed due to heavy water flow. The flood affected some churches also to the extent that we could not celebrate Mass even till today (30 August).
Most of our parish halls, schools and some presbyteries became relief camps. Auxiliary Bishop Tony Neelankavil and myself personally visited several relief camps. I am happy to report that priests, sisters, seminarians, lay church leaders and especially our youth were in the forefront in the rescue work and relief activities. People, irrespective of caste and creed, are helping us. Many parishes and religious houses distributed relief kits with food, clothes, cleaning materials and other essentials. Under the leadership of the Archdiocesan team, more than 5,000 family relief kits (each kit costing about Rs. 4000) were distributed to the neediest families.
The Archbishop’s house in Trichur became a store house of food and other essentials where many volunteers including Rev. Sisters, youth and seminarians were working day and night preparing and dispatching family kits. We are happy to report that some dioceses like Tellicherry, Ramanathapuram and some voluntary organizations sent in trucks materials for family kits with great generosity.
CNEWA, you will recall, has rushed emergency aid to those affected by this crisis. But the story is far from over:
The aftermath is very grave. Although schools opened on 29 August, many are still in relief camps, since their houses were destroyed or seriously damaged. Many cannot enter into their houses because of mud. Many have also lost their livelihood. As snakes and venomous reptiles have inhabited the houses during the flood, people are in a panic. The greatest challenge for us is to provide facilities for people as they go back to their own houses and rebuild. The government, NGOs and the church are preparing short-term and long-term plans for rehabilitation with the help of the local and international agencies.
A persistent threat right now is illness. CNEWA’s regional director in India, M.L. Thomas, writes that many residents are battling the risk of leptospirosis, or rat fever:
The recent excessive rainfall and uncontrolled release of water from various dams in Kerala virtually paralyzed and flooded the state; the people had no option but to struggle through the water-logged areas and pump out the contaminated water at their house. Animals—rats, cattle, dogs, pigs, and many birds and reptiles—carry the infectious bacteria. These animals for hours and days in the flood before they died, which ended up contaminating the water.
There are high risks of infection from leptospirosis, especially to those involved in the rescue operations, along with agricultural workers, shop workers, sewer workers, daily wage workers and many survivors of this disaster.
The health department of the government of Kerala is making all efforts to raise awareness and offer vaccinations throughout the flood-affected areas. But, still more and more people are being admitted to hospitals daily with fever and symptoms.
Meanwhile, the Latin rite Archbishop of Verapoly, Joseph Kalathiparambil, has decided to raise funds by putting his car up for sale. Local news reports explain that proceeds from the sale of the car — a Toyota Innova Crysta — will be used to construct houses for flood victims.
Finally, we can’t overlook the exceptional faith and perseverance of the people. Archbishop Andrews Thazhath concluded his report on this dire situation with a note of prayerful hope:
God has His plans for us. Therefore, even in the worst of calamities, we have hope, since God is faithful and we trust in His Providence. “We know that all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Rom.8:28) With the help of God and with the support of all people of good will, we hope and pray that we will be able to rebuild Kerala, “God’s Own Country.”
To help our brothers and sisters in need in India, please visit this page. And please remember them all in your prayers! Thank you.
4 September 2018
Tags: India Kerala
As Kerala recovers from last month's historic flooding, residents are now battling another hazard: rat fever. (photo: CNEWA)
Kerala battles rat fever in wake of flooding (BBC) The flood-hit south Indian state of Kerala has declared a health alert after dozens of people died of leptospirosis or rat fever in the last two days. The government has asked everyone who came into contact with flood waters to take medication as a precautionary measure to avoid an epidemic. Health officials in the state said there was no immediate cause for alarm and the situation was under control…
Greek Orthodox priests will be allowed to remarry (Greek Reporter) The Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate has decided to allow a second marriage for Greek Orthodox priests in the event that they are widowed or abandoned by their wife, religious news website Romfea.gr says…
Final offensive in Syria may come at a horrific cost (The New York Times) On land, Syria’s government is mustering thousands of conscripts to bolster its depleted forces. At sea, a Russian naval flotilla is just offshore, ready to intervene with formidable firepower. In Idlib Province, millions of civilians are dreading what comes next. The warring sides in Syria’s long and merciless civil war are preparing for another brutal offensive, and this one may be the last. Where Syria and its Russian and Iranian allies see a chance to crush the remaining opposition, Western leaders warn of a humanitarian calamity in Idlib, where an estimated three million civilians live…
Indian leader assures help for Christians (The Times of India) Union home minister Rajnath Singh assured all help and assistance to Christians during a meeting with secretary general of the Catholic Conference of India, the CBCI stated…
Jerusalem prepares for Rosh Hashanah (The Jerusalem Post) A photographic journey through the city as it gears up for 5779…
31 August 2018
Tags: India Kerala Orthodox Rosh Hashana
CNEWA's regional director in Jerusalem, Joseph Hazboun, left, exchanges gifts with Anba Antonius, the Coptic Orthodox Archbishop of Jerusalem. (photo: CNEWA)
When I first visited the small but beautiful chapel of the Coptic Sisters’ convent in the Old City of Jerusalem, I was shocked at the amount of mold and mildew that covered the ceiling and walls, leaving a pungent odor in the air. The sisters told me that they covered the ceiling with plastic sheeting to prevent old plaster from falling onto the floor when they received guests and held liturgies in the chapel.
CNEWA provided a small grant to improve the conditions inside the convent. Rehabilitation work involved removing the old plaster of the ceiling and walls, which not only solved the humidity problem but revealed the original stone walls of the chapel that had been covered over for decades. The grant also renovated three small rooms of the convent to ensure the health and safety of the sisters.
This photo was taken during a recent joint visit of the CNEWA team with His Excellency, Anba Antonius, the Coptic Orthodox Archbishop of Jerusalem.
His Excellency offered the Jerusalem Office a beautiful icon of the Holy Family on their trip to Egypt, which was hand-painted by his brother, and an icon of Mark the Evangelist, who brought Christianity into Egypt. Similar paintings can also be found in the sisters’ chapel, which was renovated under the grant.
31 August 2018
Tags: Jerusalem Coptic Orthodox Church
Young Syrian refugees are seen atop a vehicle at a camp in June in the village of Arsal, Lebanon. Officials say the refugee crisis in Lebanon continues, with the situation for many largely unchanged. (photo: CNS/Nabil Mounzer, EPA)
Syrian rebels destroy bridges in anticipation of offensive (AP) Syrian opposition fighters blew up bridges Friday linking areas they control to government-held territories in northwestern Syria in anticipation of a military offensive against their last stronghold in the country, activists and a war monitor said. The explosions rocked the area in al-Ghab plains, south of Idlib and came after rebels detected government troop movement in the area, according to Rami Abdurrahman, head of the war monitoring Syrian Observatory for Human Rights…
Status of Syrian refugees in Lebanon remains largely unchanged (CNS) While procedures are being put in place for Syrians to return to their war-torn country from neighboring Lebanon, the refugee crisis continues to linger and remains largely unchanged, a Caritas Lebanon official said…
Kerala needs a Marshall Plan (Times of India) The recent floods which have ravaged Kerala, in terms of scale and effect can be compared to post-war Germany. Kerala with a land mass of 38863 Sq. kms. is a little larger than Germany which has 35,021 Sq. kms. of land. With 7,24,649, people living in 5,645 camps, and the destruction of 10,000 kms of roads and extensive damage to industrial and agricultural infrastructure, it resembles a war-ravaged land. The repairing of the flood damaged Cochin airport, bridges, roads, dams, irrigation projects, waterways, schools, hospitals, homes, agriculture would all require vast amounts of money…
UN: four million refugee children out of school worldwide (The Jordan Times) Four million refugee children across the world remain out of school today, according to a new report issued by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) on Wednesday. The study, titled “Turn the Tide: Refugee Education in Crisis”, identified an increase by half a million in the number of out-of-school refugee children over the past year, warning that “despite the efforts of the governments of host countries, UNHCR and its partners, enrollment of refugee children in school is failing to keep pace with the growing refugee population…”
The scourge of child marriages in India (UCANews.com) All of 12 years old, a child with a cherubic face holding a balloon is the mother of a four-month-old baby girl. Both seem to consider the balloon to be a fun toy to play with. Each year at least 1.2 million children are married in India in violation of a law that sets a minimum marriage age of 18 for females and 21 for males…
Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill to meet with Patriarch Bartholomew in Istanbul (TASS) Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and all Russia arrived in Istanbul on Friday and is due to hold a meeting with Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, the press service of the Russian Orthodox Church head said. ”Patriarch Kirill has arrived at Istanbul’s airport. In an hour, a meeting between the two Patriarchs will begin,” the statement said…
30 August 2018
Tags: Syria India Lebanon Russian Orthodox
In one example of lived charity, Sister Simon Abd Elmalek, the head of Daughters of Charity in Alexandria, Egypt, visits with patients while visiting the dispensary the sisters run. (photo: Roger Anis)
CNEWA is known for its charitable activities around the world — but what, exactly, does that mean? What does the idea of “charity” convey?
In dealing with “charity” in the three great monotheistic religions of the world, it is interesting to note that each faith approaches it in a different way and uses different concepts to describe it.
In Christianity, for example, English-speaking Christians use the word ”charity,” often in relation to the the three “theological virtues” of faith, hope and charity. “Charity” can also be an attitude of kindness and compassion—someone is “charitable,” for example— or it can refer to separate acts of philanthropy, i.e. one gives to charity. This differentiation, however, is actually foreign to the New Testament. Individual acts of philanthropy—as Jesus mentions in Matthew 6—are referred to as “doing eleemosyne,” which comes from the Greek verb eleeo, ”to have pity, mercy.” When we find caritas in Latin translations of the Greek New Testament, it translates the Greek word agape, which is “love.” In Paul’s great treatise on love in 1 Corinthians 13, Paul uses the word nine times. Although the Latin translates these as caritas, modern English translations do not read “charity is patient and kind; charity is not jealous or boastful.” The word used is ”love,” and that is the correct word. Likewise, at the end of the chapter, Paul uses the same word, when he writes: “So faith, hope and love abide…but the greatest of these is love” (I Cor. 13:13).
Therefore, in modern English, “charity” does not always clearly convey the Gospel call — which is, simply, to love. Again and again, Jesus does not call his followers merely to give alms but to love— to love the least among them, to love their enemies, to love as he loves. Love is key—a fundamental message of the Gospels. Thus, even when Christians engage in acts of philanthropy, it is done not so much “out of charity” in the common sense, as it is from the command of Jesus that his followers love.
The approach in Judaism is slightly different. The whole notion of social justice— of care for the poor, the widow, the orphan and stranger—is a resounding message of the Hebrew prophets. Amos, the first of the prophets, preaches against “the crimes of Israel.” He writes: “They have sold the poor person for a pair of sandals; they trample on the head of the poor and push them out of their way.”
In the Hebrew Bible, acts of philanthropy are referred to as tsdaqah and mitzvah — the former with the connotation of that which is right, the latter with that which is commanded. Philanthropy is not an optional or occasional act of kindness. “Charity” in the Hebrew Bible is intimately connected to justice. For the prophets, to ignore the poor and needy is not merely an act of ungraciousness; it is disobedience to God. It is a punishable crime. Even today, a pious Jew will refer to a gratuitous act of kindness as a mitzvah something he or she feels obliged to do because of their faith.
Finally, in Islam, one of the Five Pillars is zakah. It is the donation of 2.5 percent of their holdings (differently calculated in different Muslim schools of theology), which Muslims are obliged to give annually for the support and help of the poor. Most Muslims would look upon that as the absolute minimum for them to do. The Arabic root zkh indicates purity, righteousness and goodness. Muslims also use the word sadaqa to refer to acts of kindness and compassion. It is basically the same word used by the Jews, although the root sdq in Arabic has an additional connotation of truth, authenticity and friendship.
I have looked at “charity” in Christianity, Judaism and Islam not because they have a monopoly on it. In fact, all religions require their adherents to be compassionate towards the weak and the poor. I looked at these three faiths because CNEWA’s work embraces all three; it is a Christian association working with Christians but not only Christians. Paradoxically Christian “charity” just for Christians would not be Christian at all.
In the world of the Middle East, where CNEWA does so much, the three religious traditions offer their adherents a call, a challenge and, indeed, a command: to take responsibility for the weak, the poor, the widow, the orphan and the stranger.
This is the very essence of charity.
And we are called to do all this not merely because it is a nice thing to do — but because the one God we worship demands it of us.
30 August 2018
Tags: Christianity Islam Judaism
Syrian refugee youth in Lebanon participate in a Caritas Lebanon education program. Christian and Muslim religious leaders appealed this week to the international community to work toward peace in the region to ensure the dignified return of refugees to their homes. (photo: CNS/courtesy Caritas Lebanon)
Lebanon’s Christian and Muslim religious leaders, meeting with the president of Switzerland, appealed to the international community to work toward peace in the region and to ensure the “dignified” return of refugees to their homelands.
Cardinal Bechara Rai, patriarch of Maronite Catholics, hosted Swiss President Alain Berset at Diman, the patriarchal summer residence in northern Lebanon on 28 August.
“This presence of high Muslim and Christian dignitaries clearly reflects the uniqueness of Lebanon as a country of convergence and interfaith dialogue,” Cardinal Rai said in welcoming Berset.
“In these difficult times, the countries of the Middle East are well aware of the fact that such cooperation and coexistence between Christians and Muslims is a beacon of hope for the peoples of this tormented region,” the cardinal said.
Those attending included Melkite Patriarch Joseph Absi; Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III Younan; Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II; Greek Orthodox Patriarch John X -- all of whom were born in Syria -- Catholicos Aram I of the Great House of Cilicia for the Armenian Orthodox Church; Archbishop Joseph Spiteri, papal nuncio to Lebanon; Mohammad Sammak, secretary general of Lebanon’s Christian-Muslim Committee for Dialogue; Muslim and Druze representatives, as well as Swiss diplomats.
“We appeal to the international community to shoulder its responsibility and strive to put an end to the ongoing conflicts and wars and to ensure the dignified return of the Palestinian refugees and displaced Syrians, Iraqis and others to their country,” Cardinal Rai told the Swiss president.
Lebanon, a country of about 4 million, is host to more than 1 million refugees from neighboring war-torn Syria. In addition, thousands of Iraqi Christians who were uprooted from their homes in Iraq’s Ninevah Plain by the Islamic State organization, and 500,000 Palestinian refugees who fled the 1948 Arab-Israeli war also are in Lebanon.
“This right of return must be a priority,” Cardinal Rai continued, regarding the refugee presence in Lebanon.
“It is their right as citizens to preserve their culture and civilization and to continue to write their history. Therefore, the question of their return should not be linked to political solutions that may take years and years,” particularly as they relate to the interests of various regional and international powers, the Lebanese cardinal continued.
For his part, Berset said, “My visit to Lebanon is a sign of support for this country at a time when the Middle East is witnessing a hostile, weakened” situation.
“Spiritual leaders have a great responsibility toward each other to denote the path of dialogue, exchange and peace. We know very well how rugged this road is and the difficulties it faces,” Berset continued.
“Lebanon is a world center for civilizations and for dialogue between religions and people,” Berset affirmed to the religious leaders.
“This visit also aims to remind Lebanon that it is not alone concerned with the refugees and the displaced,” Berset told the gathering. He noted that the previous day he had met with Lebanon’s president, the house speaker and other officials “only to confirm our concern about helping Lebanon.”
30 August 2018
Tags: Syria Lebanon Refugees
In this image from April, Syrian children are seen inside an informal settlement for refugees in Bar Elias, Lebanon. Many refugees fear returning home, wondering what the future will bring after the war. (photo: CNS/Jamal Saidi, Reuters)
Kerala leader says economic impact of floods was immense (The Indian Express) During the special Assembly session convened to discuss the relief and rehabilitation measures underway to cope with the state’s worst floods in a century, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan informed the House that a total of 483 people lost their lives in rain-related incidents this monsoon. While 14 people are reported to be still missing, around 140 people were admitted to hospitals during this period…
U.S. concerned as Syrian regime moves helicopters (CNN) The Syrian regime has moved armed helicopters closer to the rebel stronghold of Idlib in the last few weeks, according to two defense officials. The US is concerned they could eventually be used to launch another chemical attack using chlorine filled barrel bombs, though they are readily available for a conventional assault…
Syrian refugees fear for future after the war (The Guardian) The blazing guns of insurgency have largely been silenced in central and southern Syria, and politicians in Damascus, Beirut and Amman are claiming with increasing vehemence that a ruined country from which at least 6 million people have fled is now a safe for them to return. Few Syrians in Lebanon seem convinced. “I’ll serve my country proudly and shed my blood for it with a smile on my face, but not like this,” said Abu Ahmed, 41, who hails from the former opposition stronghold of Ghouta…
Copts called ’infidels,’ harassed for attending church (The Tablet) Last week, two churches in Egypt were subject to demonstrations by Muslim hardliners who prevented Coptic Christians from worshiping, claiming the churches are unlicensed. In a third incident, a police officer broke onto a church and screamed at the worshippers “Infidels … you are all infidels…”
Archbishop calls for ‘culture of encounter’ at U.N. (Vatican News) Genuine negotiation in dispute settlement calls for a “culture of encounter” that places at the center of all political, social and economic activity the human person, who enjoys the highest dignity, and respect for the common good. Genuine peace mediation needs trustworthy mediators and must include all parties for a good that is mutually beneficial to all the parties involved, said Archbishop Bernadito Auza, the Holy See’s Apostolic Nuncio and Permanent Observer to the United Nations in New York…
29 August 2018
Tags: Syria India Lebanon Kerala
Children in Kerala finally returned to school on 29 August after days of devastating floods. Many lost everything, including books, clothes and school supplies. (photo: CNEWA)
CNEWA’s regional director in India, M.L. Thomas, sent us this update from Kerala today:
After a long spell of forced holidays due to floods and vacations surrounding the Hindu Onam festival, millions of children in Kerala started back to school today, 29 August.
While most schools reopened, there is much more work to do. About 250 schools are still closed while the cleanup work continues; in some places, the toilet facilities have to be rebuilt. For some, the buildings remain unsafe. In a few places, they are still waiting for the water to recede. At one school that was turned into a relief shelter, helicopters dropped food packets, damaging some of the roof tiles, resulting in leaks in some of the classrooms; that school is still not open.
Volunteers and school teachers have pitched in to clean class rooms, benches and tables. But in many places, furniture and equipment are still lying outdoors.
The main task of the teachers now is to help the children recover from the terrifying shock of seeing their homes and schools swept away by floodwaters.
The children came through a terrific emotional trauma. Most of the students lost their books and study materials. They are worried about their belongings and how to continue their studies without books. We have to make arrangements to supply books and other materials, with the help of book suppliers and publishers. Most children also lost their uniforms and clothing.
Many church organizations and voluntary agencies are trying to minimize the trauma for children. The teachers will mainly focus on helping students to relax and regain confidence.
To help those in Kerala in need during this difficult time, please visit this page.
29 August 2018
Tags: India Kerala
Msgr. John E. Kozar welcomes Bishop Jacob Barnabas Aerath from India. (photo: CNEWA)
A trailblazer from India stopped by our New York office this morning for a visit: Syro-Malankara Bishop Jacob Barnabas Aerath.
CNEWA’s president, Msgr. John E. Kozar, described a visit to the bishop’s home turf, what he calls “The Great North,” a few years ago:
The great call of these churches is to reach out to the real mission territory of India: The spiritual sons and daughters of the Apostle Thomas have undertaken a new missionary thrust to evangelize the “unreached” in the northern half of India.
On a series of visits with my hosts — a team of humble priests, religious sisters and lay leaders, including catechists — I have experienced firsthand this new approach to missionary life in India. It is happening not by building schools, erecting clinics or developing social service projects, but simply by humbly living with the poor. This means no formal structures — no buildings per se — but living, breathing witnesses of Christ who share with the poor the love that God has for all, giving them a sense of hope and belonging.
Cultural and political sensitivities prohibit me from sharing with you where some of these visits have taken place, but I can tell you what I experienced. I met humble, tribal people. Many were not of any caste (thus, they are literally outcasts) and all of them were hungry to learn about Jesus. They felt very comfortable and loved by the priests, sisters and lay leaders who were sharing their faith with the poor.
I may have been the first North American to have ever visited them — and these beautiful, spiritually thirsty souls made me feel most welcome by making the sign of the cross and praying with me (in their local language) the Lord’s Prayer. This is where I really choked up; at that moment I felt that God truly was the father of us all. They reminded me of this tenet of my faith.
We got a great sense of that faith from Mar Barnabas, whose zeal and joy enlivened our office. He shared with us stories of the tremendous sacrifice and sense of mission that animate the Christians in his diocese — men and women, mostly lay people, who carry the message of the Gospel to people who may never before have heard the name of Jesus.
Often, these lay catechists teach and lead liturgies in an atmosphere of great risk.
“I tell them,” the bishop said, “at maximum you may lose your head. Get ready for it! And they respond, ‘We are ready!’”
The region he serves in northern India is very humble — he himself has no chancery, no house, no income beyond a modest budget to make ends meet. He described visiting one mission in his diocese and sleeping on the floor. But again and again, he reminded us of the faith that sustains and inspires his flock.
He told us about one man who isn’t a physician, yet people call him “the doctor,” and bring him anyone who is sick. He prays with them and for them—and often, that is enough.
“He tells them, ‘I have just one medicine,’” Mar Barnabas explained with a smile. “‘Prayer and fasting!’”
To spend time with this bishop — whom Msgr. Kozar described as “my younger brother”— is to be reminded of the missionary roots of our faith, and how that kind of fervor, even in times of great difficulty and challenge, continues to bear witness to the Gospel today.
Tags: India Indian Bishops