2 February 2017
Students perform at The Infant Jesus School in Dwaraka, India. CNEWA’s president Msgr. John E. Kozar visited the region in December. You can learn more and check out a video describing the trip here. (photo: John E. Kozar)
2 February 2017
In the video above, Vatican officials who traveled to Aleppo describe the liveliness and depth of the Christian community’s faith in that war-ravaged corner of the world. (video: Rome Reports)
In war-ravaged Aleppo, few answers on how to rebuild (AP) Aleppo has been scarred beyond recognition: Weeks after fighting stopped, a pall of dust covers its eastern districts, where streets are lined for blocks with buildings smashed to metal and brick rubble in scenes reminiscent of cities devastated in World War II. The destruction is the worst wreaked on any city in Syria’s six-year war. No one has any quick answers on how to rebuild Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, much less the rest of a country that has seen appalling desolation...
Iraqis returning home to Mosul (Andalou Agency) Almost 50,000 displaced people have returned to their homes in eastern Mosul and the city’s southern Qayyarah district, both of which were recently recaptured by the Iraqi army from the Islamic State terrorist group, according to Iraq’s Displacement and Migration Ministry. “The ministry is trying to persuade displaced people to leave the camps and return to liberated areas so the camps might be used to accommodate those expected to be displaced in upcoming operations to retake western Mosul,” ministry spokesman Sattar Nowruz told Anadolu Agency...
Report: hate speech against Christians on the rise in Turkey (Hurriyet Daily News) Turkey’s Association of Protestant Churches has prepared its 2016 Rights Violations Report, noting that hate speech against the country’s Christians has increased in both conventional and social media. The annual report said hate speech against Protestants persisted throughout 2016, in addition to physical attacks on Protestant individuals and their churches. The report also noted that churches in particular faced serious terror threats...
Some Muslim refugees converting to Christianity “to find safety’ (The Telegraph) The situation for refugees in the country — which is hosting more than a million and a half Syrians that make up a quarter of its total population — has become increasingly dire over the course of the six-year conflict. Some say they converted to benefit from the generous aid distributed by Christian charities, others to help their asylum applications to Europe, the United States, Canada and elsewhere. Christian converts are more likely to be persecuted in the Middle East than those who stay Muslims, and are thus more eligible for asylum...
Gaza sees rise in divorce rate (GulfNews.com) The Supreme Sharia Judicial Council in the Gaza Strip has reported an increase in divorce rates in the territory for 2016, with a total of 3,188 divorce cases being reported in the tiny coastal strip during that year...
1 February 2017
Tags: Syria Iraq Gaza Strip/West Bank Turkey Islam
CNEWA President Msgr. John E. Kozar welcomed Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil to CNEWA’s New York offices last October. A visit planned for this week had to be postponed because of the new executive order banning citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States. (photo: CNEWA)
U.S. President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration, issued last Friday, is hitting close to home.
The Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil has been forced to postpone a visit to the United States that was scheduled to begin this week.
Catholic New York explains:
President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration, “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States,” issued 27 January, includes a ban of citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries for 90 days, including Iraq. The others are Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. It also bars Syrian refugees from entering and suspends refugee admissions for 120 days.
“The door is closed for now for him to come to this country,” said Msgr. Kozar in a phone interview with CNY 31 January.
Along with Archbishop Warda, a priest from the diocese and a layman who serves there were banned from traveling to the United States. The trip was scheduled to include visits to Washington, D.C., and New York. The archbishop was originally invited by Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J...
...“We could possibly lose the moment to express the solidarity of Cardinal Dolan and the entire CNEWA family,” Msgr. Kozar said. “It directly affects us as a helping agency.” CNEWA is a papal agency that has served the poor throughout the Middle East, Northeast Africa, India and Eastern Europe since 1926.
Msgr. Kozar said he has already been in touch with CNEWA directors in the Middle East. Regarding the future, the executive order could gravely damage the agency’s ability to continue its mission.
“I’m planning a visit to Iraq in March to continue to demonstrate the solidarity we have and to show them we haven’t abandoned them and assure them that they are not forgotten. But I don’t know — will I be permitted to enter that country? As we have stopped the flow from these listed nations, some of them are doing the same in kind,” Msgr. Kozar said.
Asked how Catholics should respond, Msgr. Kozar said, “Our Holy Father is an eloquent spokesman of what our position is: Everyone is created in God’s image. It doesn’t matter at all about color or creed, or religion or what part of the world they are from. We love all. That’s in our Scriptures. That is from Christ Himself. That is the Church at its best.
“We want all people to be treated with basic human dignity that we hold comes from God himself and that comes from being part of his holy family,” he said.
Read more at Catholic New York.
1 February 2017
The Rev. Michael Kerestes dips a candle in holy water during the blessing service. With him are the Rev. Mykhaylo Prodanets, left, and the Rev. Gary Mensinger.
(photo: Sean McKeag/Times Leader)
The short video below was posted Sunday afternoon in the Times Leader, a newspaper for Northeastern Pennsylvania that covers the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area.
As the paper reported:
From the end of the Nesbitt Boat Launch, the Rev. Mykhaylo Prodanets tossed a large cross sculpted from ice into the Susquehanna River on Sunday.
As he threw both the cross and a bucket of holy water into the river, Prodanets prayed, “In the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit.” He was invoking the name of the Holy Trinity during a service commemorating the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River. The ceremony mirrors prayers and actions done during the Divine Liturgy on the Feast of Theophany.
About two dozen Byzantine Catholic faithful joined Prodanets and two other priests and a deacon at the Annual Susquehanna River Blessing.
The Byzantine Catholic churches have been offering the service for more than 10 years, according to the Very Rev. Gary Mensinger. The churches used to hold the service on the Pierce Street bridge, but it has since moved to the boat launch.
Mensinger, who splits his time as pastor of both St. Michael’s in Pittston and St. Nicholas Parish in Swoyersville, said another purpose of the 30-minute service is to thank God for the vitality the river holds in the Wyoming Valley and to ask for protection from floods in the upcoming year.
Read more. And watch the video below:
1 February 2017
Christians celebrate a Marian feast in the northern region of Tigray in Ethiopia. Catechists are being trained to help spread the faith. Learn more about why this movement might be
considered Ethiopia’s Sleeping Giant in the current edition of ONE.
(photo: Minasse Wondimu Hailu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
1 February 2017
A child displaced by fighting between the Iraqi army and ISIS rides in a truck to a camp for displaced families on 27 January in Mosul, Iraq. (photo: CNS/Paul Jeffrey)
Bishops say refugee ban raises concerns about religious freedom (CNS) The chairmen of three U.S. bishops’ committees on 31 January expressed solidarity with the Muslim community and expressed deep concern over religious freedom issues they said President Donald Trump’s refugee ban raises. Trump’s executive memorandum of 27 January “has generated fear and untold anxiety among refugees, immigrants and others throughout the faith community in the United States,” said the committee chairmen in a joint statement. “In response ... we join with other faith leaders to stand in solidarity again with those affected by this order, especially our Muslim sisters and brothers...”
Iraqi Christian leader visiting Mosul sees little future for Christians (CNS) As some residents of the city of Mosul celebrate their new freedom from the Islamic State group, an Iraqi Christian leader who visited the war-torn city said Christian residents are unlikely to return. “I don’t see a future for Christians in Mosul,” said Father Emanuel Youkhana, a priest, or archimandrite, of the Assyrian Church of the East...
Battle for Mosul: ‘I’ve never seen such hard fighting’ (The Guardian) Since October last year, when the operation to prise Mosul from the grip of Islamic State began, the fight between Iraqi forces and the jihadi group, which captured Mosul in June 2014, has taken place on a battlefield inhabited by civilians. Iraqi forces have now claimed to be largely in control of east Mosul, but in the west of the city an estimated 750,000 civilians are still living under Isis control...
Canadians condemn refugee ban (Catholic Register) Catholic and other religious voices across Canada are condemning the U.S. exclusion of refugees from seven majority Muslim countries...
Ethiopia faces new drought, seeks aid (AP) U.N. humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien visited a camp for displaced persons on Saturday, saying that “these people are really struggling to survive.” He cautioned, however, against “dramatizing by saying this may degenerate into famine...”
Jesus portrayed as an Indian in Bible show (UCANews.com) A two-hour stage show premiered in India’s Kerala state recently depicting Jesus as Indian, thus correcting European Christianity’s “misrepresentation” of Christ, according to the director. The show, titled Ente Rakshakan (“My Savior”), was created by a well-known showman Soorya Krishna Moorthy. It presents Jesus Christ as having black hair, eyes and Indian mannerisms. An audience of 2,000 people, including church officials and Bible scholars, attended the premier...
31 January 2017
The Rev. Paolo Dall’Oglio ministered to people in Syria and committed his life to dialogue with the Islamic world. (photo: CNS)
When we first met this CNEWA hero two decades ago, we had no idea the dramatic turn his life would take.
The Rev. Paolo Dall’Oglio had settled in Syria, at Mar Mousa (St. Moses), a monastery about an hour’s drive north of Damascus that had become a treasured pilgrimage site for thousands of people every year. Our story in the magazine from 1998 explained its history:
A manuscript from Mar Mousa now in the British Museum dates the monastery’s construction to the sixth century. Local tradition says the monastery was founded on the site of the grave of St. Moses the Ethiopian (c. 330 – 405).
According to tradition, Moses, the slave of an Egyptian official, was dismissed from service for immoral conduct and theft.
Once freed, he formed a band of fierce robbers, who ran roughshod throughout Egypt. Fleeing the law after one escapade, he sought refuge with some hermits who overwhelmed the robber with their sanctity and kindness. He asked to remain with the hermits and, after making a confession, he received the sacraments. Encouraged by St. Isidore, he overcame his penchant for violence and sex and, with his band of robbers-turned-monks, he traveled throughout the Near East, spreading the Gospel.
Moses became a well-loved individual, particularly in the East, where the Coptic, Ethiopian, Greek, Latin and Syrian churches honor his memory.
In 1982, when Father Paolo Dall’Oglio, an Italian Jesuit priest, first came to Syria, the ancient Syrian Orthodox monastery of Mar Mousa was abandoned and in ruins. The monastery church dates from the 11th century; the frescoes that adorn it, from the 11th and 12th centuries.
...Today, the Mar Mousa community is led by Father Paolo, who has a flare for archaeology, languages, preservation and, of late, cheese-making. Definitely no hermit, Father Paolo is the tour guide, spiritual leader and overall mus’uul or the one responsible in the monastery.
“Today our community is composed of 10 members: five monks and five novice nuns [all of whom are under 40 years of age],” he says. “And we are international: we are Syrian, Italian and Swiss.”
He intended to turn the monastery into a place for shared prayer and dialogue — ideals close to the heart of CNEWA:
Christian-Muslim dialogue and supporting the Syrian Christian ecumenical movement rank at the top of this man’s objectives. His interest in Islam led him to pursue a doctorate in Qur’anic Studies from Rome’s Gregorian University.
“Our community plans to be ecumenical,” Father Paolo comments.
“We are particularly committed to prayer, hospitality and dialogue with the Islamic world. We hope to be a part of the movement in the Universal Church working toward achieving harmony with the Islamic world.”
Under his guidance, over the next several years the monastery became a center of interfaith dialogue. But the political situation in Syria eventually led Father Paolo to a different calling. The Italian Jesuit priest became a vocal peace activist and critic of the Syrian regime. Then, in 2013, he was kidnapped by militants of ISIS. There were reports that he was executed, but they have never been confirmed. An ISIS defector in 2015 insisted that he was still alive.
Pope Francis has mentioned Father Paolo in his public prayers and asked the world to pray for him and other Christians whose fate is unknown.
To this day, he remains a heroic figure to many around the world who continue to believe in his ideals of dialogue and peace between peoples.
As one of friends, Hind Aboud Kabawat, told a reporter last year:
“We have to follow his principles. To love the others, to build bridges with the others. To cross the line and make peace and make reconciliation. This was his favorite word.”
31 January 2017
In this image from 2014, Syrian girls at Good Shepherd Social Center in Deir al-Ahmar, Lebanon, make Christmas decorations. Hundreds of Syrian refugees attend school at the center. As a result of President Trump’s executive action last week, Syrian refugees such as these are prevented from resettling in the U.S. until further notice. (photo: CNS/Brooke Anderson)
Promised resettlement in the United States after escaping death and destruction in their homeland, many Syrian refugees are frustrated and angry over President Donald Trump’s executive action banning their entry to the U.S. until further notice.
“We’re frustrated. We were told that we were accepted for resettlement in the U.S., and now everything is at a standstill,” a Syrian refugee woman told Catholic News Service, wiping away tears as she surveyed her crumbling home in the Jordanian capital.
“Neither the U.S. Embassy nor the International Organization for Migration have responded to our repeated telephone calls about our status or what to expect in the future,” said the mother of four young children, whose family fled to Jordan in 2013 after their home was bombed. Rahma provided only her first name for fear of reprisal.
“If there is no longer any chance of being resettled in the U.S., then we would like to know whether we can apply somewhere else which will welcome us,” she said.
The burden of not being able to work in Jordan over these past years has left Rahma’s family desperate, unable to provide even the basic necessities of food and heating for the winter.
Refugee Abdel Hakim, a pharmacist from the southern Syrian town of Daraa, cannot contain his anger at seeing his dreams of starting a new life in the United States dashed. He and his family were far along in the approval process and expected to travel shortly from Jordan to the U.S. He called the measure “discriminatory and racist.”
“In the beginning, we didn’t want to leave Syria. But as it’s been plunged deeper in war, we now find even the door to America has been slammed shut in our faces,” he told CNS.
Trump’s 27 January presidential action ended indefinitely the entry of Syrian refugees to the U.S., pending a security review meant to ensure terrorists cannot slip through the vetting process. As well, it suspended the entire U.S. refugee resettlement program for 120 days.
The action also slapped a 90-day ban on all entry to the U.S. from seven Muslim-majority countries with terrorism concerns, including Syria. While Jordan is not on that list, the Middle East kingdom hosts more than 1.5 million refugees who have fled conflicts in neighboring Syria and Iraq, including flight from the so-called Islamic State militants.
“These dramatic and discriminatory policies will only harm, not help, U.S. interests and our national security,” Jesuit Refugee Service-USA said in a statement criticizing the decision.
For the past 15 years, as waves of refugees fleeing the 2003 Gulf war, the Syrian civil war and those persecuted by Islamic State militants have flooded Jordan in search of a safe haven, Catholic and other churches have provided food, clothing, heating and other items, regardless of the refugees’ religious background.
International faith-based aid groups, such as Catholic Relief Service and Caritas, have been at the forefront of efforts helping refugees, mainly from Syria and Iraq, but also those who fled the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011.
Resource-poor Jordan has struggled to provide water and electricity, education and health services to hundreds of thousands of refugees as the grinding conflicts in their homelands show little sign of ending. Many Syrian refugees accepted for U.S. resettlement have arrived from Jordan.
More than 27,000 Syrian refugees from 11 Middle Eastern host countries were under consideration for resettlement to the U.S. and in various stages of the approval process at the time of Trump’s action, according to the International Organization for Migration, a U.N.-related agency that interviews and prepares refugees for resettlement.
Quickly, the measure sparked mass protests at U.S. airports and other venues, where people demanded its repeal. Angry demonstrators criticized the ban as completely contrary to America’s ideals and its storied history of accepting immigrants fleeing persecution in search of a better life.
King Abdullah II of Jordan visited Washington Jan. 30, becoming the first Arab leader to meet members of the Trump administration, including Vice President Mike Pence and the secretaries of defense and homeland security.
The king raised the controversial bans in his talks, according to an official statement, which said he “emphasized that Muslims are the No. 1 victims” of Islamic terrorists, whom he called religious “outlaws” who “do not represent any faith or nationality.”
King Abdullah will address the National Prayer Breakfast 2 February and is expected to meet Trump.
The monarch is considered Washington’s closest Arab ally battling the Islamic State as part of the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq and Syria. Jordan hosts considerable U.S. military hardware and personnel, serving as a critical base for U.S. air operations against the Islamic State in Syria. It has also experienced deadly Islamic State attacks on its territory.
Jordan has also called the new administration’s proposal to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem “a red line” that could evoke “catastrophic” consequences, including widespread violent unrest at home and in the region. Jordan is the custodian of Muslim and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem under a 1994 peace treaty with Israel, only one of two treaties the Jewish state has with Arab countries.
31 January 2017
In the video above, the author of a new book describes the often-overlooked human toll of the refugee crisis that is now making headlines around the world. (video: Rome Reports)
Pope offers Mass for modern martyrs (L’Osservatore Romano) Pope Francis offered Mass on Monday, 30 January, in the Casa Santa Marta chapel for “today’s martyrs,” persecuted and imprisoned Christians, and for Churches which are not free to express the faith...
Vatican official: Wellbeing of society is measured by its response to migrants (Vatican Radio) The way a country responds to the needs of migrants and refugees is a “thermometer” of the wellbeing of that society. That’s the view of Canadian Jesuit Father Michael Czerny, recently appointed as undersecretary of the Vatican’s new department for Integral Human Development...
Trump ban on refugees ignites firestorm, but also gains support (CNS) As President Donald Trump signed an executive memorandum intended to restrict the entry of terrorists coming to the United States in the guise of refugees, the action brought quick response from Catholic and other religious leaders...
Leaflets dropped over western Mosul in advance of push (Andalou Agency) Iraqi aircraft dropped leaflets over western Mosul early Tuesday urging civilian residents to brace for impending army operations aimed at wresting the area from the Daesh terrorist group. “Your enemy [Daesh] has been defeated in eastern Mosul,” the leaflets read. “Your armed forces are now preparing to advance on the western side [of the city]...”
Palestinian local election set for May, likely without Gaza (AP) The Palestinian self-rule government in the West Bank has set May 13 as a new date for municipal elections after infighting between Hamas and Fatah groups derailed such a vote last year. The elections will likely only take place in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where the Palestinian Authority of President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah movement run autonomous enclaves...
Head of Russian Orthodox church backs abortion ban (The Tablet) Russia’s Orthodox patriarch has called on members of the Russian parliament to press for a total ban on abortions, warning that the high numbers perpetrated annually are impeding the country’s moral and social development. “I’ve appealed to deputies several times to consider restricting abortion, and I’ve seen some progress made in highlighting this evil,” Kirill I told State Duma members on 26 January. “This would not be some revolutionary step, but a necessary return to normality, without which it will be impossible for men and women to achieve happiness...”
30 January 2017
Tags: Syria Iraq Pope Francis Gaza Strip/West Bank Russian Orthodox
An elderly woman from Mosul, Iraq, sits at a refugee camp in Khazer, Iraq, on 29 January. Giving priority to Christian refugees for settlement programs would be “a trap” that discriminates and fuels religious tensions in the Middle East, said Patriarch Louis Sako of Baghdad.
(photo: CNS/Ahmed Jadallah, Reuters)
Giving priority to Christian refugees for settlement programs would be “a trap” that discriminates and fuels religious tensions in the Middle East, said Iraq's Chaldean Catholic patriarch.
“Every reception policy that discriminates (between) the persecuted and suffering on religious grounds ultimately harms the Christians of the East” and would be “a trap for Christians in the Middle East,” said Patriarch Louis Sako of Baghdad.
The patriarch, speaking to Fides, the news agency of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, commented on an executive action by U.S. President Donald Trump that temporarily stops from U.S. entry refugees from all over the world and migrants from seven countries in an attempt to review the screening process. The document asks that once the ban is lifted, refugee claims based on religious persecution be prioritized.
Patriarch Sako said any preferential treatment based on religion provides the kind of arguments used by those who propagate “propaganda and prejudice that attack native Christian communities of the Middle East as ‘foreign bodies’” or as groups that are “supported and defended by Western powers.”
“These discriminating choices,” he said, “create and feed tensions with our Muslim fellow citizens. Those who seek help do not need to be divided according to religious labels. And we do not want privileges. This is what the Gospel teaches, and what was pointed out by Pope Francis, who welcomed refugees in Rome who fled from the Middle East, both Christians and Muslims without distinction.”
Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila, Philippines, president of Caritas Internationalis, said any policy that gave priorities to Christians “might revive some of these animosities and might even pit Christians against Muslims, and that (also) might generate contrary action from the Muslims against Christians.”
“This is a time when we don’t want to add to the prejudice, the biases and even discriminatory attitudes evolving in the world,” he told Catholic News Service in Beirut 30 January at the Caritas Lebanon headquarters.
Emphasizing that he had not read the text of the executive action, but only news reports, the Philippine cardinal said announcing a ban being applied to specific countries was akin to “labeling them — and the migrants coming from those countries — as possible threats to a country. I think it is quite a generalization that needs to be justified.”
Cardinal Tagle, who has visited refugee settlements as part of his role as Caritas president, said he asks people who express reservations about receiving refugees and migrants, “Have you ever talked to a real refugee? Have you heard stories of real persons?”
“Very often, the refugee issue is reduced to statistics and an abstraction,” he said, and when people actually talk with refugees, “you realize that there is a human story, a global story (there) and if you just open your ears, your eyes, your heart then you could say, ‘This could be my mother. This could be my father. This could be my brother, my child.’
“These are human lives,” he said. “So, for people making decisions on the global level, please know that whatever you decide touches persons for better or for worse. And if our decisions are not based on the respect for human dignity and for what is good, then we will just be prolonging this problem — creating conflicts that drive people away.”
Canadian Jesuit Father Michael Czerny, undersecretary for migrants and refugees at the Vatican’s new Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, told CNS in Rome that Christians are asked to reflect on the Good Samaritan and not to “react and act as if the plight of migrants and refugees is none of our business.”
People should focus on those seeking security and “take the trouble to find out the facts” — like how “migrants, far from being a drain, make a net contribution to the domestic economy — rather (than) swallow allegations which just trigger fear.”
Richer countries should not only welcome those who are fleeing, they “can do much more to help improve security and living, working, education and health opportunities in the refugee- and migrant-producing countries,” he said in a written statement.
More effort should be put into peacemaking and more resources dedicated to “helpful foreign aid.”
“The role of government is to enact its people’s values, keeping different factors in balance. National security is important, but always in balance with human security, which includes values like openness, solidarity, hope for the future,” the Jesuit priest said.
“The bottom line,” he said “is the centrality and dignity of the human person, where you cannot favor ‘us’ and ‘them,’ citizens over others.”
Contributing to this story was Doreen Abi Raad in Beirut.