31 March 2016
Children talk among the rubble in the city of Daraa, Syria, on 29 March.
(photo: Mahmod Abazid/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
U.N.: humanitarian help to Syria may lose momentum (AP) A supervisor of U.N. aid says efforts to get humanitarian help to besieged areas in Syria risk losing momentum several weeks into a partial cease-fire. Jan Egeland, who is leading a task force on humanitarian aid, said that “we are afraid now to lose some of the momentum that we got after the Munich meeting” in February, which set off a drive for better aid access and for the truce...
Report: Turkey shooting Syrian refugees on border (Newsweek) Turkish border guards have shot 16 refugees, including three children over the last four months as they flee violence in Syria, The Times reports. Citing London-based monitor Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the newspaper detailed incidents such as the killing of a man and his child, when crossing the border near the Syrian town of Ras alAin, earlier this month...
Blasphemy cases rising in Egypt (AP) In the past three years, prosecutions on charges of insulting Islam have risen dramatically. From three such cases in 2011, there were 21 cases in the courts in 2015, around half targeting Christians, according to Ishaq Ibrahim, a researcher with the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights...
Only 26 Jews remain in Cochin, India (Haaretz) These are just two of the seven synagogues in the coastal state of Kerala. (Another one, the striking Parur synagogue, is located 25 kilometers away on another Jew Street.) Despite these symbols, one thing Kerala does not have much of anymore is Jews. Today, there are only 26 Jews left in Cochin — though some don’t speak to, or even recognize, the others...
Pope to release document on family (CNS) The Vatican has set 8 April for the release of “Amoris Laetitia” (“The Joy of Love”), Pope Francis’ reflection on the family and family life. The document, subtitled “On Love in the Family,” will be released at a Vatican news conference with Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, general secretary of the Synod of Bishops, Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schonborn of Vienna and Giuseppina and Francesco Miano, a married couple who participated in both the 2014 and 2015 synods of bishops on the family. “Amoris Laetitia” is what is known as a “postsynodal apostolic exhortation,” a document addressed to the whole church reflecting on themes of church life and faith that have been discussed at a gathering of the Synod of Bishops...
30 March 2016
Father Haddad collects medicine from a storage unit outside his parish church in Zakho.
(photo: Raed Rafei)
Writer Raed Rafei reports on a mobile clinic serving displaced Iraqis in the Spring 2016 edition of ONE. Here, he offers some personal insights from the time spent with the Iraqi priest who runs the clinic:
The moment the Rev. Yousif Jamel Haddad, 31, picked me up to take me to the church he leads, I knew I was up for something special. This energetic, witty and well-rounded man greeted me wholeheartedly before we hastily drove to Zakho, a bustling small town in Kurdistan close to the majestic mountains separating this part of Iraq from Turkey and Syria.
“The further north you go in Iraq, the harsher people become,” he warned — echoing, probably, the bitterness of his own experience as a pastor in this lost land. He was raised as a city boy in the capital Baghdad. Father Haddad generously shared everything with me, from personal stories about how he has become a priest to bold theological views as well as sound geopolitical analysis regarding the future of Iraq.
On the road, we drove past a big mall, dozens of housing projects — some completed, but the majority still under construction — and an imposing neo-classical building, adorned with columns and a dome. That turned out to be the campus of an American university, not yet inaugurated. Everything I saw was evidence of the growing wealth of Kurdistan (growth now significantly put on hold since ISIS took over nearby territories) even if the signs of another reality, rural and destitute, can still be felt while passing through the bare landscape.
In Zakho, my first stop was the Virgin Mary Church, the Syriac Catholic establishment dating back to 1612, as Father Haddad proudly noted. The evening of my arrival, the pastor was celebrating a liturgy in this newly renovated church. He himself had overseen the restoration of the building and the display of some of its treasures, like a series of ancient stones with biblical inscriptions. That was one of his first missions when he arrived almost four years ago to preside over a small community of Christians here. Father Haddad confided that he was first appointed as a bishop in the United States, but said that he could not adapt to the American way of life. After a year in Boston and other parts of the country, he decided, against all odds and resistance from his superiors, to move back to his beloved Iraq.
For four days, Father Haddad, the mastermind behind the mobile clinic that I was reporting on, invited me many times for meals and tea to meet with displaced Christians from his community and discuss practical matters pertaining to refugee life as well as historical information on the Christian presence in the region. I was touched to see that he shared the rectory with displaced families. He seemed happy to see the place buzzing with the voices of children playing. He told me that when the refugees first arrived, he had to accommodate the men inside the Church and the women and children in a hall annexed to it. This situation lasted for several days before families could be relocated to rented apartments.
After a year and a half of displacement, Father Haddad understood that what his community really needs is not just assistance with food and medicine but hope for the future. He said that the church is offering computer courses to help the displaced find work. He has also helped families open a bakery and other small businesses to start generating income. Among all the problems facing refugees that I witnessed here, unemployment seemed the most pressing one. I repeatedly saw looks of discomfort and shame in the eyes of the men I interviewed when they revealed they had not been working for months.
The last thing that the two companions of Father Haddad, Wissam and Youssef, told me before dropping me at my hotel in Erbil was: “You know, we are educated people. We all have college degrees.” One had studied tourism and the other, drama. They had good jobs in the Nineveh Plain before ISIS occupied their homes. One worked with the local government and the other had a thriving business.
But now, as they bitterly said, they were doing nothing of value.
Read more about Father Haddad’s mobile clinic in Health on Wheels in the Spring 2016 edition of ONE. Meantime, check out the video below, which gives an intimate look at a day in the life of the clinic.
30 March 2016
A priest displays his cross tattoo, which Copts receive at baptism. See more pictures from Egypt, and read about the faith of Christians there, in the Spring 2016 edition of ONE.
(photo: John E. Kozar)
30 March 2016
Syrian refugees are seen at Fiumicino Airport in Rome on 29 February. The United Nations is urging countries around the world to accept nearly half a million Syrian refugees.
U.N. Chief urges countries to take in more Syrian refugees (The New York Times) Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called on Wednesday for countries around the world to accept around half a million Syrian refugees, criticizing political leaders who have responded to the migrant crisis by demonizing asylum-seekers. Opening a one-day ministerial conference in Geneva convened by the United Nations refugee agency, Mr. Ban called for “an exponential increase in global solidarity” in urging countries to accept about 480,000 Syrians over the next three years...
Aid to besieged areas of Syria has reportedly increased since cease fire (AP) A new report says the United Nations and partners delivered badly needed medical and food supplies to about 150,000 people in besieged areas of Syria after a cease-fire that started last month led to a drop-off in fighting. U.N. convoys delivered supplies to people in 10 of 18 areas under siege and to thousands in other, hard-to-reach areas after the 27 February cease-fire, according to the monthly report made available Tuesday. By comparison, less than 1 percent of areas designated as besieged received food aid in all of 2015, according to the U.N.’s humanitarian office...
Child labor rising in Gaza (Reuters) Child labor has risen sharply in Gaza, where youngsters toiling in garages and on construction sites have become breadwinners for families feeling the brunt of the Palestinian enclave’s 43 percent unemployment rate...
Doubts over new government in Ukraine (Vatican Radio) Ukraine’s prospects of forming a new government, which is vital to get billions of dollars in crucial international assistance, were thrown into fresh doubt on Tuesday...
Reports: Turkish government “expropriates” churches (Fides) In the context of the military operations carried out in southern Turkey against Kurdish positions of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, the government in Ankara ordered the expropriation of a large area of the historical center of Diyarbakir, even confiscating all the churches of the city which stands on the bank of the Tigris River. This is what local sources reported, relaunched by Agos, the Turkish-Armenian bilingual newspaper published in Istanbul...
29 March 2016
The Rev. Ziad Hilal, S.J., has worked to ease the suffering of those who remain in Homs, Syria, especially the children. (photo: John E. Kozar)
It is impossible to read about the work of the Rev. Ziad Hilal, S.J., a longtime partner of CNEWA, and not be moved. He has worked tirelessly in Syria to help that country’s most vulnerable citizens, its children, during a period of devastating war and upheaval. He wrote about it for ONE in 2013:
Starting February 2012, we realized the new status quo was likely to persist and we had to deal with this new reality, assisting the thousands of families living in temporary shelters in the relatively safe areas of the city. Our first priority was to take care of the hundreds of children who transformed the streets into their only playground and school, putting them at the mercy of the snipers, the shelling and the street violence. I still remember one of the children hiding behind a wall and calling me to take cover from a sniper. The children of Homs became experts in the art of escaping violence, but unfortunately many were not as lucky as I was on that day, and they paid with their lives on the streets.
Recent events have deeply affected the children, and we have noticed changes through our follow-ups at school. When they play, they transform wooden boxes into imitation weapons and play war games, reflecting the reality that the children are also internalizing the patterns of the war around them. Confronting this, we had to work hard to redirect the children to regular games, such as football and other sports.
Most children live in a state of denial. They refuse to acknowledge their fears. Meanwhile, mothers report their children cannot sleep alone in a separate bed anymore, which speaks to their trauma. Some others report cases that required the assistance of a speech therapist and a psychologist to overcome communication troubles.
At the same time, many youth have lost their jobs and their income, their great potential going to waste.
Thus, we decided to join both priorities in one project, aiming to take the children out of the streets and to provide jobs to the displaced youth.
His concluding thoughts:
As a priest, I would like to say our role as a church is to push people toward hope, which should never be abandoned — no matter how unbearable circumstances may seem.
Hope is what CNEWA has helped us provide. I believe it has been a lifeline from God — helping us and guiding our efforts to glorify the name of the Lord.
Read more in his Letter from Syria: Saving the Children of War from the Summer 2013 edition of ONE.
29 March 2016
Ivlita Kuchaidze, center, has survived famine, war and neglect over her 93 years in Georgia — but today lives in poverty, depending on charity to survive. Read her remarkable life story in the Spring 2016 edition of ONE. (photo: Molly Corso)
29 March 2016
A general view taken on 27 March 2016 shows part of the remains of the Arc de Triomph (Triumph Arc) monument that was destroyed by Islamic State (ISIS) jihadists in October 2015 in the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra. (photo: Maher Al Mounes/AFP/Getty Images)
Syria retakes Palmyra from ISIS, finds ruins in better shape than expected (Slate) Syrian forces, backed by lots of Russian air strikes and Lebanese militias, managed to drive the Islamic State out of Palmyra on Sunday in what was seen as a big victory for President Bashar al-Assad. Retaking the ancient city that is known for its 2,000-year-old ruins ended a three-week push by the government to retake the UNESCO world heritage site that had been in the hands of ISIS since May...
Some West Bank Christians denied permits to enter Jerusalem (CNS) Nicola Sansour’s voice had a tinge of sadness as he recounted how his family planned to celebrate Easter this year. They planned to attend Holy Week services at Beit Jalla’s Annunciation Parish, purchase new clothes for the three small children, decorate eggs and attend the parish Easter egg hunt. His wife, Nivine, 34, would gather with his mother and sisters to make the traditional stuffed semolina “mamoul” Easter cookies. But this would be another year in which he and his family would not be able to celebrate the holiday with a visit to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher — a mere three miles from his home...
Pope washes feet of refugees on Holy Thursday (CNS) In a moving gesture of brotherhood and peace, Pope Francis washed the feet of several refugees, including Muslims, Hindus and Copts. Gestures, like Jesus washing the feet of his disciples, “speak louder than words,” he said during the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper 24 March. Coming together, he added, is another gesture meant to show a desire to live in peace as brothers and sisters despite people’s different cultural and religious backgrounds...
Kidnapped Indian priest’s whereabouts unknown (Vatican Radio) The Indian government said it was still actively trying to rescue a Salesian priest kidnapped in Yemen in early March amid unconfirmed reports that the missionary had been crucified on Good Friday...
Killing of lawyer heightens tensions between Ukraine and Russia (Vatican Radio) Tensions are rising between Kiev and Moscow as a Ukrainian lawyer of an alleged Russian special forces soldier was found dead after disappearing in the middle of the soldier’s trial...
24 March 2016
Elias Kayrouz, right, works to help refugees in Lebanon, many of whom are Muslim.
(photo: Tamara Abdul Hadi)
In 2014, writer Diane Handal caught up with one Lebanese Maronite villager in the Bekaa Valley who volunteers to help Syrian refugees, most of whom are Muslim.
Here is some of her interview with Elias Kayrouz:
ONE: What has your work as a volunteer working with Syrian refugees taught you?
EK: Through working with the Syrian refugees, I have come to know hardship. Some of them say: “You can’t help us; we need more.” That makes me feel down — even frustrated — but at the end of the day, you can only do so much.
ONE: What is your personal advice to others in helping Muslims, bridging the differences and exposing biases?
EK: I think to myself: When I lay my head on my pillow, what would make me feel more at peace — if I work against other people and feed into the negativity, or if I help other people? Which would help me sleep better at night?
I advise everyone to think deeply about this.
ONE: Do you have any words to share about your philosophy on how this sectarian conflict can be resolved?
EK: We are one. All we need is for people to see how Muslims and Christians treat each other as human beings.
Think about the animal kingdom: The strong animals kill the weak ones. If this is how human beings live, the strong keep killing the weak, there will be no progress — just the law of the jungle. For me, doing good differentiates me from the animals. Over time, maybe I will help other people because of my example.
I do good in order to differentiate myself from the animals. I am sorry to put it so simply, but it is the truth.
Read the full interview here.
24 March 2016
In this image from 22 March, visitors pray in Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre, at the Stone of Unction or Anointing, where it is believed that the body of Jesus was prepared for burial.
(photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)
24 March 2016
In this image from December, Nabil Jelil Daud and his wife, Semira Ayup Miha, both from Qaraqosh, Iraq, pose in front of their trailer at Ashti 2, a camp for internally displaced people in Erbil. Pope Francis has called on people to remember persecuted Christians in Iraq.
(photo: CNS/Oscar Durand)
Pope Francis: Do not forget persecuted Iraqi Christians (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has called on people to “not forget the tragedy of persecution” in a letter sent Iraq Christians in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan. The letter — along with a gift of liturgical vestments and monetary support — was brought to the city by a delegation of the Italian branch of Aid to the Church in Need, led by the Bishop of Carpi, Francesco Cavina...
Iraq says it has launched offensive to retake Mosul (AP) The Iraqi military backed by U.S.-led coalition aircraft on Thursday launched a long-awaited operation to recapture the northern city of Mosul from Islamic State militants, a military spokesman said. In the push, Iraqi forces retook several villages on the outskirts of the town of Makhmour, east of Mosul, early in the morning on Thursday and hoisted the Iraqi flag there, according to the spokesman for the Joint Military Command, Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasool...
Catholic Eastern churches in India will not follow changes in foot-washing ritual (UCANIndia.in) The two Eastern Catholic churches in India have decided not to include women in the washing of the feet ceremony on Maundy Thursday this year...
Canadian archdiocese seeks to increase refugee sponsorships (Catholic Register) The Archdiocese of Toronto is asking Ottawa for the chance to sponsor another 4,000 refugees over the coming year, said Martin Mark, director of the refugee office. But the ambition of Toronto Catholics may be on a collision course with a hard cap on the number of private sponsorships Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada is willing to process...
Food for Ethiopia’s hungry stuck on ships (Bloomberg) Food supplies flowing to Ethiopia during the country’s growing hunger crisis are meeting a major challenge: they can’t get to people fast enough. Ethiopia is doubling its wheat purchases after the harshest drought in half a century, causing bottlenecks of ships at the country’s main port in neighboring Djibouti. At least 10 vessels are waiting to unload about 450,000 metric tons of wheat, according to information on the port’s website and ship-tracking data on Bloomberg. One carrying 50,000 tons of wheat and sorghum is berthed...
Muslim restorers feel history at work in mosaics above Jesus’ burial site (CNS) It’s quiet and dark in the cavernous gallery above Jesus’ burial place in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Raed Khalil and his small team of trained restorers have been patiently and methodically cleaning off centuries of soot and dirt from 39 ancient mosaics and two carved marble pieces, some of which may date back to the Byzantine period. All but one of the restorers are Muslim...