8 January 2016
In the video above, the situation in three besieged villages in Syria is described as “extremely dire.” Activists say civilians have died because of a lack of food and medicine in rebel-controlled Madaya, near Damascus, or have died trying to escape. The Syrian government is finally allowing aid convoys into the area. (video: BBC/YouTube)
CNEWA’s regional director in Beirut, Michel Constantin, this morning sent us this report about the humanitarian tragedy unfolding in Madaya, Syria:
The village of Madaya is a part of the east Ghouta region, along with Zabadani and Serghaya. This cluster of villages has witnessed fierce combat between the different fragments of the opposition on one hand, and the Syrian regular army supported by the Iranian guards and Hezbollah fighters on the other.
This area is strategically important for its location. It is very close to the Lebanese border, and also to the Syrian capital of Damascus. Located near the Beirut-Damascus highway, who controls the area controls the smuggling of arms and other items.
Two years ago, the Syrian government made a strategic decision to besiege all villages and towns bordering Lebanon in the hands of the opposition. They were successful in recapturing all villages of the so-called Qalamoun area. As a result, the fighters of the opposition were pushed either to Lebanon or to the Ghouta villages, mainly Zabadani and Madaya. Supporters of the opposition also sought refuge in there.
Syrian government and Hezbollah sources have stated that scores of trucks containing humanitarian aid are scheduled to be sent to Zabadani in January. The first wave of trucks carrying medical and food stuffs were sent to Madaya. But, militant groups allegedly confiscated them and sold them to the inhabitants at a very high price.
Yesterday, the United Nations said it had received “credible reports” of people dying of starvation and said that the Syrian government had agreed to allow aid convoys into the besieged cities of Madaya, Foah and Kefraya.
There are conflicting reports of how many people have died. The aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres puts the number at 23 since 1 December. One activist says it could be as high as 41. The UN statement Thursday provided only one confirmed death, that of a 53-year-old man on Tuesday whose “family of five continues to suffer from severe malnutrition.”
Sources add that this is a partnership between the WFP, the International Red Cross and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and that aid would be enough to sustain 40,000 people for one month.
Finally, the situation is extremely difficult. The inhabitants are suffering, especially now in winter. The cold is another killing agent to be added to the mines besieging the town and thwarting aid efforts.
We contacted some leaders from the local church and they all stated that the only intervention right now is exclusively by the Red Cross and the United Nations. A church initiative is not possible at present because the political and military situation is very delicate.
8 January 2016
Syrian refugees arrive in December at a hotel in Mississauga, Ontario. They were greeted by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who has pledged to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of February. But the refugees are arriving with no sign of peace in the region, which could mean many more of them will need help in 2016. (photo: CNS/Mark Blinch, Reuters)
Editor’s note: the following appeared this week in a column in Canada’s Catholic Register.
During recent travels in Beirut I met Kamal and his family, Syrian-Armenian Christian refugees. They told a harrowing tale.
“In March 2014, a rebel group came to our town of Kassab and told all of us to convert to Islam or leave,” he said. “We all left in the middle of the night in a panic.”
There are more than 12,000 Syrian-Armenian Christians currently living in Lebanon who share a similar story, forced to flee in fear under dark skies. These are urban refugees who share a common experience: as minority Christians, they have suffered persecution for their faith. As such, families such as Kamal’s should be given priority under government-sponsored programs that are bringing 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada over the coming months.
For his children’s sake, Kamal desperately hopes to be able to take his young family to Canada or Europe, but anywhere that is safe will do.
As Canada begins to receive 25,000 government-sponsored Syrian refugees and as many as 10,000 who are privately sponsored, there is no peace in sight in the Middle East. The self-described Islamic State appears to be as strong as it was a year ago despite heavy bombing by several Western states, including Canada. But the reality is that defeating ISIS will only matter if there is a genuine political will to build lasting peace in Iraq and Syria.
It is good policy as well as a wonderful humanitarian gesture for Canada to welcome Syrian refugees, but the lack of peace and increasing political unrest means there will be even more refugees and more Christians knocking on the doors of the international community in 2016 and beyond.
Read the complete column here.
8 January 2016
P.S. Limsana, a primary-school student at Ashabhavan, takes in the scenic vistas surrounding her school in India, which serves children with special needs. To discover why things are looking up for the students there, read Kerala’s House of Hope in the Winter edition of ONE.
(photo: Jose Jacob)
8 January 2016
In this image from 6 January, Syrian civil defense team members in Aleppo hold banners as they gather to protest for civilians who starved to death in Madaya, Syria. The Syrian government has agreed to allow aid into the rebel-held village.
(photo: Beha el-Halebi/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Syrian government to allow aid into besieged town (BBC) The Syrian government has agreed to allow aid into the besieged rebel-held village of Madaya, the UN says, amid reports of residents starving to death. The UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) said that if access were secured, trucks could begin to arrive by Monday. Aid agencies say conditions in Madaya, near Damascus, are “extremely dire”...
Call for homes taken from Christians in Iraq to be returned (Fides) The Chaldean Christian politician Pascale Warda, former immigration minister in the first government of transition following the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime, has publicly expressed her satisfaction regarding Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr’s stand on the need to return to their rightful owners homes and property illegally stolen in recent months from Christian families in Baghdad, Kirkuk and other Iraqi cities. As reported by Iraqi media, including the website ankawa.com, Pascale Warda has asked all Iraqi citizens to support the reinstatement of the rights of the Christians owners supported by Muqtada al-Sadr...
Coptic Patriarch Tawadros: terrorism does not distinguish between Christians and Muslims (Fides) Terrorism “does not make any distinction between Christians and Muslims,” and even when it is fueled by religious ideology, it indiscriminately affects all believers in God, fomenting sectarian strife where people kill each other for “human stupidity” for “money” or to assert “their interests.” This is what Coptic Orthodox Patriarch Tawadros II said during some interviews released on 7 January by different Egyptian media...
Photographer captures Gaza’s efforts to rebuild (TIME) Italian photographer Federico Scoppa headed to Gaza for the first time in 2013, eager to make a contribution to the wide documentation of the enclave’s dire reality. “The initial idea was just to go [there] and see what the results of the bombing were,” Scoppa tells TIME, “but while walking the devastated streets and crossing neighborhoods completely knocked down, I started noticing spots of color that little by little appeared,” he recalls. “Then I saw that there were people who were coming back and settling back in their ravaged houses”...
Orthodox faithful mark Christmas (AP) As Christmas approached across the sprawling country’s nine time zones, Russians flocked to churches for long and solemn liturgies. At Moscow’s enormous Christ The Savior Cathedral, the service began at 11 p.m. on Wednesday and stretched two and a half hours, led by Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, with the devout standing shoulder-to-shoulder. President Vladimir Putin attended a midnight service at a church in the village of Turginovo, about 150 kilometers (90 miles) northwest of Moscow, where his parents were baptized...
7 January 2016
Tags: Syria Iraq Egypt Gaza Strip/West Bank Orthodox
The Orthodox community in the Alaskan village of Tatitlik was greatly affected by the ecological disaster that resulted from the wreck of the Exxon Valdez in 1989.
(photo: David McNew/Getty Images)
North America is a mosaic of ethnic groups and religions. Orthodox Christians are a tiny minority — about 0.65 percent — and include no more than three million of an estimated 460 million people living in Canada, Mexico and the United States. What they may lack in volume, however, North American Orthodox Christians make up in variety. They comprise immigrants and their descendants from Asia Minor, the Balkans, Europe and the Middle East, as well as Alaska Natives and recent converts, especially from the reformed churches.
The ancient rites of the church of Byzantium unite these Orthodox Christians. Rooted in the New World for more than a century, these North American churches retain strong bonds with the Old World, are divided into a number of ethnic jurisdictions — Albanian, Arab, Belarussian, Bulgarian, Greek, Romanian, Russian, Rusyn, Serbian and Ukrainian — and typically celebrate the divine mysteries in their respective liturgical languages.
One body has attempted to transcend these cultural differences. Originally a jurisdiction of the Orthodox Church of Russia, the Orthodox Church in America was established in 1970 and is led by a primate with the title of archbishop of Washington, metropolitan of all America and Canada.
Supreme canonical authority in the Orthodox Church in America rests with a synod of bishops from the 14 jurisdictions that compose this autocephalous, or independent, church. In addition, the Orthodox Church in America includes ethnic Albanian, Bulgarian and Romanian eparchies and jurisdictions in Canada and Mexico.
In English-speaking Canada and the United States, English is the norm in most liturgical services. Yet other languages may be used depending on the pastoral needs of the parish.
Click here to read more.
7 January 2016
Tags: Eastern Christianity Eastern Churches Orthodox
Today marks the date when Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas. In the image above, Ethiopian Orthodox Christians attend the Orthodox Christmas liturgy at Medhane Alem Cathedral in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. (photo: Minasse Wondimu Hailu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
7 January 2016
Syriac Catholics, most of them Iraqi refugees, receive communion at a Divine Liturgy in a makeshift church in Amman, Jordan. The pope today erected a new exarchate for the church
in Canada. (photo: Cory Eldridge)
Pope Francis erects new Syro-Catholic Apostolic Exarchate in Canada (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Thursday (7 Jan) erected the Syro-Catholic Apostolic Exarchate in Canada with the Eparchal seat in Montréal (Québec), nominating as its first Apostolic Exarch Rev. Antoine Nassif. The new Apostolic Exarchate consists of the Canadian territory taken from the Syro-Catholic Eparchy of Our Lady of Deliverance of Newark...
Lebanon strains under the weight of refugees (CNS) While the flow of migrants into Europe and the West has sparked controversy, Lebanon continues to bear the brunt of absorbing massive numbers of refugees. A commonly cited figure is that one in four people in Lebanon is displaced from Syria. “The impact of the Syrian and Iraqi refugees on the Lebanese society is huge and multidimensional,” [Michel] Constantin [of CNEWA] told CNS, stressing that the Syrian crisis will soon enter its fifth year, “with no end in sight...”
In Epiphany message, pope says “Seek out signs of God” (CNS) Go out and seek the signs God is offering everyone today that will lead to Christ, Pope Francis said. The thirst for God is present in everyone, and it’s the church’s task to help those with “a restless heart” by pointing them to the true light of Christ, the pope said 6 January, the feast of the Epiphany, which marks the manifestation of Jesus as savior to the world...
Christians face violence in Odisha, India Christian leaders ask government to provide protection against Hindu hardliners who continue to threaten the community in eastern Indian Odisha state that has witnessed major anti-Christian violence...
Teachers in Nineveh rebel against school programs imposed by ISIS (Fides) More than 30 teachers working in the northern Iraqi province of Nineveh, currently under the control of ISIS, were stopped and arrested for refusing to follow the new education programs imposed by jihadists in the schools of the region. The news of the arrests of “rebel” teachers was reported by local sources to the Kurdish media that monitor the north of Iraq, such as News Agency Ara. The teachers arrested will be judged by the Islamic court established by the jihadist regime, that in Iraq has its stronghold in Mosul...
Ukraine set to rename over 900 towns with Soviet names (Reuters) More than 900 Ukrainian towns and villages will be renamed over the course of the year, in accordance with Ukraine’s push to remove commemorations of Soviet and Communist-era figures, the head of Ukraine’s state Institute for National Memory told Channel 5 on Wednesday. Since Ukraine’s pro-European Maidan protests toppled the pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovych administration, the Ukrainian government has adopted a series of laws on “decommunization” — a process of removing displays, venerating anything Soviet...
Catholic agencies plead for help as Ethiopian drought worsens (Catholic Register) As the worst Ethiopian drought in 60 years threatens as many as 20 million people living in more than half of Africa’s second largest country, Catholic aid agencies in the desperate nation are asking for help as the crisis continues into 2016...
Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas (Vatican Radio) Orthodox Christians from around the world celebrate Christmas on Thursday (7 January), in line with the Julian calendar. Traditions vary from country to country but involve liturgies, jumping into frigid water, dancing, log-burning ceremonies, street processions and fireworks displays...
6 January 2016
It was recently announced that Pope Francis’s monthly prayer intentions would be released regularly on video for social media:
The new video messages, featuring the pope asking for prayers and action on various challenges facing the world today, will begin 6 January, the feast of the Epiphany of the Lord.
Often people are inundated with so much bad news that they might feel helpless, but “to pray together with Pope Francis for these challenges will us help a lot,” Jesuit Father Frederic Fornos told Vatican Radio...
Today, the first one was unveiled — a powerful and inspiring plea for dialogue among different faiths. Take a look below.
6 January 2016
Father Androwas Bahus has fostered a sense of community in his parish and often visits
with families. (photo: Ilene Perlman)
Writer Michele Chabin profiles an Israeli priest in the Winter 2015 edition of ONE. Here, she offers some background and additional insights into his world.
In Israel, especially, some journalistic assignments aren’t very upbeat, so when I accepted ONE’s assignment to travel to the Galilee to profile the Rev. Androwas Bahus, a Melkite priest, and his community in the Arab village of Shefa-Amr, I secretly hoped the father and his flock would share the joy and sense of purpose in their lives, and not just their challenges.
And then, on 17 June, less than a week before photographer Ilene Perlman and I were scheduled to visit Shefa-Amr, arsonists — the police later arrested three far-right-wing Jewish extremists — set fire to the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes in Tabgha, the site near the Sea of Galilee where, according to Christian tradition, Jesus miraculously multiplied loaves and fish to feed the 5,000.
The fire injured two people and badly damaged some of the church and an adjoining monastery.
Although Israeli Christians, who comprise less than 2 percent of the population, consider themselves relatively fortunate to be living in a country with a stable government and the rule of law, this attack and tens of others on Christian (and Muslim) property during the past few years have taken a toll on Christian morale.
The fact that the Israel police did not make a single arrest in connection with these attacks until the Loaves and Fishes church was torched has left Christians feeling vulnerable and frustrated.
I braced for this frustration when, on 21 June, Ilene and I attended a moving Sunday liturgy at the beautiful St. Peter & St. Paul Melkite Greek Catholic church, but when I interviewed the community members about the arson, what I heard was resolve, not anger. I learned that Father Bahus and other local clergy had organized a solidarity rally at the torched church for that very afternoon.
In his sermon that morning Father Bahus urged his parishioners to attend the demonstration and assert their civil and religious rights in a peaceful, Christian way. Within hours the parishioners were boarding buses to the church, more than an hour’s drive away.
Father Bahus told his flock he needed to remain at the church to officiate at a wedding but said he would be with the demonstrators in spirit.
The parish priest told me that, until recently, many Holy Land Christians have felt like leaves blowing in the wind, at the mercy of political forces beyond their control.
“What they need,” he said, “is hope and a feeling of empowerment.”
As I accompanied him on his home visits to the infirm and elderly, it was clear that both are in abundance in the Shefa-Amr parish, where church members donate funds to the parish on a monthly basis to strengthen the communities institutions and expand programming. The parish’s schools are thriving and there is a new community center.
Today, when Father Androwas Bahus leads Sunday mass, the pews are full and the spirit is overflowing.
Read more in “A Day in the Life of an Israeli Priest” in ONE.
And check out the video below, featuring an interview with photographer Ilene Perlman, who adds her own unique perspective on this memorable priest.
6 January 2016
Visually impaired students help each other walk around the grounds during recess breaks at the Shashemene School in Ethiopia. To learn more about this remarkable place, read The Future at Their Fingertips in the Winter edition of ONE. (photo: Petterik Wiggers)