6 April 2018
Recent reports indicate the influx of refugees is having a dramatic impact on Lebanon. We’ve been exploring this phenomenon for several years, and in 2015 journalist Raed Rafei profiled Iraqi Christian refugees struggling to stay afloat while being In Limbo in Lebanon:
An estimated 1.5 million refugees, mainly from Syria, reside in Lebanon today, placing a tremendous strain on the country’s infrastructure, as well as its delicate social and political balances. A funding crisis among United Nations aid programs has led to a significant decrease in the level of assistance that refugees receive in the country. And recent popular unrest threatens to make living conditions even worse.
“It’s very hard for Iraqi refugees here,” says Michel Constantin, CNEWA’s regional director for Lebanon, Syria and Egypt. “Their options are very limited.”
Speaking from the organization’s Beirut office, Mr. Constantin says about 3,000 Iraqi Christian families, most from the Chaldean and Syriac communities, have come to Lebanon since August 2014. Most of these refugees now struggle with high costs of living, few opportunities and uncertain prospects.
Through these hardships, churches and church institutions have been a constant source of comfort and material aid, accompanying displaced families through the most difficult time of their lives.
For this Friday’s video, we offer you this dramatic glimpse at a handful of those thousands: an Iraqi Christian family trying to start over in Lebanon. Read the full story here.
6 April 2018
Tags: Iraq Lebanon Refugees Iraqi Christians
Two students take a break during class at St. Anne’s Secondary School in Boditi, Ethiopia. Discover more about their education — and the young religious sisters who are teaching them — in The Habit of Learning in the March 2018 edition of ONE. (photo: Don Duncan)
6 April 2018
Tags: Ethiopia Children Education
Medical staff treat a wounded Palestinian, injured during the 'Great March of Return' protest near the Israeli border, on 6 April. (photo: Abed Zagout/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Pope Francis meets with Armenian leaders (Vatican News) Pope Francis received Serzh Sargsyan, President of the Republic of Armenia in the Vatican on Thursday morning before meeting with the Catholicos of All Armenians Karekin II, and with Aram I, the Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia. Following the meetings, the Pope and the Armenian delegation participated in an inauguration ceremony and blessing of a statue of Saint Gregory of Narek in the Vatican gardens…
Gaza protests: Death toll rises to 22 (Washington Post) Palestinian protesters faced off against Israeli troops on Friday, creating a billowing smokescreen of burning tires on the Gaza side of the border with Israel in the latest show of anger a week after deadly confrontations along the heavily guarded dividing line. Israeli soldiers fired live ammunition and tear gas. The Gaza Health Ministry reported that at least two people were killed and scores were injured, five of them with critical injuries to the head and upper body. On Friday morning, a 30-year-old man was said to have died from injuries sustained during last Friday’s demonstration. The death of Thaer Rabaa, 30, brought the Palestinian death toll to 22 from last week’s clashes. The Gaza Health Ministry said more than 1,000 people were wounded by gunshots…
Assyrians in Syria celebrate traditions despite dangers (Christian Science Monitor) The Assyrian community, an ethnic minority in the Middle East, gathered to observe their New Year holiday and foster community pride. The group, whose numbers in the region are dwindling, have frequently been a target of ISIS…
Patriarch of Baghdad sees Chaldean martyrs as a source of peace and unity (AsiaNews) In a written statement commemorating the Day of the Chaldean Martyrs on 6 April, Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Raphael I refers to Iraqi martyrs as a “source of inspiration” embodying values of “hope, human dignity, tolerance and peace…”
Church in Goa, India, attacked with stones during Easter Vigil (Crux) An Easter vigil Mass was interrupted by people throwing stones in the Indian state of Goa. One woman was injured and two vehicles in the parking lot were damaged in the incident…
5 April 2018
Tags: India Middle East Christians Gaza Strip/West Bank
Pope Francis blesses the faithful with holy water on Palm Sunday in St. Peter’s Square. Water has powerful religious and spiritual meaning in both Judaism and Christianity.
(photo: CNS/Tony Gentile, Reuters)
Among Christians of all denominations, the end of Lent and the beginning of the Easter Season involves the blessing of water. We saw an example of this vividly last weekend when, in the Easter Vigil, Catholics throughout the world blessed water and celebrated the sacrament of baptism.
It served to remind us that water has great significance and importance in both Judaism and Christianity. Although water can and is seen as something dangerous and wild, that refers mostly to the waters of the sea, which the Hebrews held in some dread. In ancient Mesopotamia, the deity Tiamat, “the Deep,” was seen as an all devouring dragon. Water — fresh water — on the other hand was clearly a source of life. The Second Creation Account (Gen. 2:5-3:24) starts off in a dry and lifeless desert: “as yet there was no grass or shrubbery that has sprung up because God had not caused it to rain...” (Gen 2:5) Creation begins when God causes moisture (Hebrew: ’ēd) to rise from the earth.
With moisture — water — life begins.
It carries other connotations, as well. In the ancient Near East, water is often connected with the goddess of wisdom. Wisdom brings life and order. The desert is a frightening place, a “howling desert” (Deut 32:10), “a land of horror” (Isa 21:1), filled with strange and dangerous animals. There is neither city nor civilization in the desert. But with water, the wild chaos of the desert gives way to life, order and civilization — the gifts of Wisdom. We see this in scripture; in the book of Proverbs, wisdom is often connected with water (Prov 18:4; 20:5). In the New Testament, something similar can be found in the Gospel of John, which frequently connects Jesus with the Wisdom of the Hebrew Bible. Scholars have long noticed that the Prologue of John’s Gospel (1:1-18) sounds very much like the poem about Wisdom in the Book of Proverbs (8:22-31). Later in the Gospel, Jesus calls those who thirst to come to him and drink (John 7:37-39). Echoing the encounter of Jesus with the Samaritan woman at the well, the water which Jesus offers — his teaching — is spirit and springs up to eternal life.
The cleansing properties of water were, of course, not lost on the people of the Bible. Ritual purity was very important for the priests who served in the Temple. Purity was also important for all — priest and non-priest — who would worship at the Temple. There were many things which could render a person impure or unfit to worship in the Temple — everything from touching a dead body to coming into contact with pork. The impure person was purified by washing with water. Even today among some Jews there is the ritual of the miqveh. A miqveh is a pool connected with running (“living”) water that is used for purification. Converts to Judaism — as well as Jewish men and women who have incurred ritual impurity — are required to immerse themselves in the waters of the miqveh in order to become ritually pure once again. The Jewish community at Qumran, who were the copiers of the so-called “Dead Sea Scrolls,” left behind extensive ruins. A very visible part of the ruins are ritual baths or miqveh. So important is the miqveh that Jewish religious authorities hold that new Jewish communities should build a miqveh even before they build a synagogue.
Clearly Christianity has taken over a great deal of the symbolism of water found in the Hebrew Bible and incorporated it into our own faith and ritual. We observed this recently, when those symbols played a central role in the observances of Holy Week. The washing of the feet at the Holy Thursday liturgy underlines the cleansing power of water but also stresses that it is a requirement to be with Jesus (John 13:9). The symbols found in the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday reflect the destructive power of water in recalling the destruction of the Egyptians at the Sea. The waters of baptism are also a symbol of Christ’s death (Rom 6:3). However, the life-giving and cleansing powers of water are also stressed in the waters of baptism which bring newness of life.
Throughout the Bible, in both Testaments, the powerful symbolism of water is a common theme. For Christians, the recent observance of Holy Week provided a call to reflect on the powerful role of water in the faith of Christians and Jews — and a bond we share that stretches back through the centuries.
5 April 2018
Children line up to serve a First Communion Mass at the Melkite Greek Catholic Church of St. Gregory, Ader, Jordan. Check out the March 2018 edition of ONE to read how catechists and religious sisters are Inspiring the Faithful in Jordan. (photo: Nader Daoud)
5 April 2018
Palestinians take part in a protest near the border with Israel in the east Khan Yonis town southern Gaza Strip, on 4 April. (photo: Momen Faiz/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Palestinian killed by Israeli air strike on Gaza border: ministry (Daily Star Lebanon) A Palestinian was killed by an Israeli air strike on the Gaza border early Thursday, the health ministry in the Palestinian enclave said, as tensions increased ahead of new protests. This event comes after at least 17 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces last Friday when tens of thousands gathered along the border in a protest that led to clashes…
Egypt’s Catholic Coptic Church focusing on education, health and welfare (Vatican News) In a result that came as no surprise to Egyptians or to observers abroad, former army General Abdel Fattah al Sisi won the country’s presidential elections with 97 percent of the votes, securing another four-year term in office. Announcing the final results on Monday, Egypt’s election commission said there had been a 41.5 percent turnout at the polls. The only other opponent who ran against el-Sisi was little-known Mousa Mostafa Mousa, who entered the race hours before the deadline and whose party had previously endorsed Al Sisi. Father Rafic Greiche, spokesman for the Egyptian Coptic Catholic Church, said Coptic Catholic Patriarch Ibrahim Isaac Sidrak sent the president a congratulatory letter, highlighting the importance of taking care of the educational, health and welfare sectors over the next four years…
White House says U.S. presence in Syria coming to ‘rapid end’ (AINA) The White House said Wednesday that the U.S. military mission in Syria was coming to “a rapid end” but offered no firm timeline for a withdrawal, even as President Donald Trump has insisted it’s time for American troops to return home…
India’s Dalits protest as laws protecting them are rolled back (Christian Today) A ruling by India’s Supreme Court that threatens to reduce protection for its marginalized Dalit people could be overturned after the court agreed to hear an appeal. At least 10 people died in protests yesterday against the ruling when tens of thousands of Dalits — formerly known as “Untouchables” — took to the streets…
Gaza fishermen face gunfire, death plying their trade (Al Monitor) Under a truce agreement after their 2014 conflict, Israel restricts Palestinian fishing to within six miles of shore. Israel says it considers ships outside that zone suspect because they could be smuggling arms. However, according to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights in Gaza, Israeli attacks are taking place within the permitted area…
Attacks on Pakistani Christians after Easter kill four Catholics (Vatican News) Four members of a Catholic family were killed in a militant attack in the southwestern province of Balochistan on Easter Monday, and in another incident the following day, a group attacked worshippers in a Christian church in Punjab province, injuring many…
Ethiopia seeks return of looted treasures from London museum (Al Jazeera) Ethiopian artifacts looted by the British colonialists in the 19th century are on a display in London, but a top Ethiopian official says the treasures belong to Addis Ababa and they need to be returned to the rightful owner…
Armenians protest Turkish authorities’ intervention in patriarch selection (Fides) Within the Apostolic Turkish Armenian community protests and division continue regarding the results of the process of election of the new Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople, with see in Istanbul. Turkish-Armenian periodical Agos reports the appearance of anonymous posters criticizing Archbishop Aram Athesyan, former “locum tenens” of the patriarchate who in August was replaced by Archbishop Karekin Bekdjian. The latter has taken on a key role in the internal affairs of the patriarchate since the Turkish authorities cancelled the entire electoral process started in 2016 to choose a successor to Patriarch Mesrob II Mutafyan, affected in 2008 by a disabling neurological sickness…
4 April 2018
Tags: Syria Gaza Strip/West Bank Palestine Turkey Dalits
Eritrean Catholic refugees Abel Kflom, 27, and Musia Daniel, 30, look at olive branches 23 March at Our Lady Woman of Valor Tel Aviv Pastoral Center in Tel Aviv, Israel. (photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)
A refugee’s life is one of constant uncertainty and confusion.
Yet in their faith the refugees have found strength and refuge, said Father Rafic Nahra, priest of the St. James Vicariate, which ministers to the asylum seekers and migrant worker community in Israel.
Late 2 April, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suspended a U.N. deal that would have sent thousands of asylum seekers in Israel to Western countries rather than to Africa. The deal had been announced hours earlier, but its reversal did not surprise the refugees.
“The refugees are fearful but, unfortunately, they are used it,” Father Nahra said. “They have already left their country, crossed the Sinai, crossed a lot of dangers and faced a lot of problems. Uncertainty has become part of their life.”
Sitting in the courtyard of the Our Lady Woman of Valor Tel Aviv Pastoral Center in late March, two Catholic Eritrean refugees, Abel Kflom, 27, and Musia Daniel, 30, said they do not feel certain of their future.
“If our country was good, nobody would want to leave. But because it is a dictatorship, everybody wants to leave,” said Kflom, who has been in Israel for six years. “Of course, I am worried they might send me (to Rwanda).”
Both men fled during compulsory military service in Eritrea, which kept them away from their families for years. In the army, they said, people become like slaves to the commanders. Some men are forced to serve in the army until their 60s. There is no time limit to the service; people cannot decide when to leave.
Neither had intended to come to Israel. Kflom was kidnapped by members of the Rashaida Bedouin tribe, who took him and his friends from Sudan into the Sinai Desert, where he was brutally tortured for four months until his family was able to pay $19,000 in extortion money. He was released at the border with Israel.
During his captivity, his childhood prayers sustained him, he said.
Now, early every Saturday morning, Kflom walks with his wife and young son to the pastoral center for a traditional three-hour Eritrean Mass.
“I pray to God to help me,” he said. “Life is very difficult. You can’t look forward to your future. You don’t have permission to live here. You can't organize your life here. I am always under a lot of stress.”
Netanyahu has said he wants to deport 20,000 refugees — whom he maintains are mainly economic migrants — by the year 2020. If his original deportation plan is implemented, the deportation process will require single adult males to choose between a financial incentive for “voluntary deportation” to a third African country or indefinite incarceration.
Israel is not alone in struggling with a deportation policy. Countries such as Australia, Germany and Greece have implemented similar deportation policies, including financial incentives for refugees to leave or face incarceration. Following the October 2016 European Union declaration of “safe zones” in Afghanistan, other countries began to deport Afghan refugees. France will be debating a controversial migrant deportation bill in April.
“If you are married or not married, it won’t make a difference,” said Daniel, whose wife will give birth to their first child in mid-April. “They say they won’t deport someone who is married, but they are making a lot of pressure so you will go to another place.”
Without hesitating, Daniel and Kflom said they would choose incarceration over deportation to Africa.
“To sit in jail is nothing for me. I have been through worse,” said Daniel. “You do not know what an African country is. There is no democracy there, no one to look after us. Someone can take you and kill you and no one will know. It would be easier to return us to our country. So why are they sending us to Rwanda? It shows you that they know there is a problem with our country, and our lives are in danger if they send us back there.”
African refugees began reaching Israel via the Sinai Desert in 2005, and by 2013, there were 60,000 African refugees in Israel. As the numbers of refugees grew, the
government began taking measures to prevent or discourage them from reaching Israel. In 2013, Israel completed work on a border fence with Egypt and, since last year, the flow of refugees stopped.
Today an estimated 38,000 adult refugees remain in Israel, the large majority from Eritrea and about 20 percent from Sudan; smaller percentages come from other African countries.
According to the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, of the more than 13,700 applications for asylum submitted by Africans, only 10 people have been given refugee status in Israel. Some 200 Sudanese refugees from Darfur also have been granted humanitarian status.
Father Michael Gropse, director of the Tel Aviv pastoral center, said when the refugees come to weekly Mass, their prayers are in earnest.
“I can really feel their prayer of hope,” he said. “They are always asking for God’s guidance. But in their daily life, they are afraid, sometimes, to go out and be caught by the immigration police. But still their faith and hope is strong, and every Saturday I see it when they attend Mass.”
“In Eritrea, I grew up in the Catholic Church,” said Daniel, kicking around a soccer ball with a friend’s young son as he waited for an afternoon prayer study to begin at the pastoral center. “The moment I come here, I forget about everything until I leave, then reality hits me again.”
4 April 2018
A broken Marian statue is shown inside the grotto of Bihabandh Catholic Church in Odisha state after unidentified people attacked it on 1 April. (photo: provided by Rourkela Diocese)
Syrian regime claims last rebel group leaving Ghouta (CNN) Members of the last remaining and most powerful rebel group in the besieged Syrian enclave of Eastern Ghouta outside Damascus are leaving, according to Syrian state media. But an activist countered the government’s narrative, saying the evacuees were humanitarian cases — not all members of the group. Twenty buses carrying 1,065 Jaish al-Islam fighters and their families left Douma for Al-Wafideen Crossing on Monday. They headed to Jarablus in northern Syria, the Syrian Arab News Agency said...
Churches attacked in India’s Odisha state (UCANews.com) Vandals have destroyed two Marian statues and set fire to the sacristy and storeroom of a parish in Rourkela Diocese of India’s Odisha state. Sundergarh district administration has deployed armed police in the area because of the religious sensitivity of the two separate incidents on 1 April, said police inspector Bijay Kumar Singh...
Lebanon unemployment at alarming levels due to refugees, weak economy (Albawaba.com) President Michel Aoun said Thursday that the grave economic situation, presence of Syrian refugees and the reluctance of Lebanese to take low-paid jobs has caused unemployment to soar to 46 percent. Aoun made the remarks during a meeting with a delegation from the Lebanese Press Syndicate at Baabda’s presidential palace...
Jordan helping refugee children overcome trauma through football (The Jordan Times) HRH Prince Ali has highlighted Jordan’s efforts to heal traumatized Syrian refugee children through football. In a recent interview with CNN, conducted by Becky Anderson, a British journalist and anchor at CNN, Prince Ali explained that football is not only a sport, but a universal language in itself. Anderson visited the Zaatari refugee camp, during the Laureates and Leaders For Children summit, where she spoke to Prince Ali about how football is helping some children deal with the trauma of Syria’s civil war...
Indian government withdraws rules to punish journalists for ‘fake news’ (Vatican News) The round-about turn from Narendra Modi’s government came following an outcry from journalists and opposition politicians who said the measure was to stifle press freedom, especially in the run-up to next year’s general elections. Late Monday, the Information and Broadcasting Ministry had announced the government would withdraw its accreditation to journalists who peddled “fake news.” The withdrawal of accreditation would be either for a limited time or permanently, depending on the frequency of infringements...
Easter message of Christian leaders in Jerusalem (Vatican News) Heads of Christian Churches in Jerusalem have issued an Easter message offering their prayers for those suffering across the world for various reasons, that they may find hope, peace and life in the Cross of Christ. Thirteen patriarchs and heads of various Christian denominations in Jerusalem released a joint message on Friday, as violence erupted between Palestinians and Israeli security forces along the Israeli-Gaza border...
800 Copts travel to Jerusalem for Easter (Egypt Today) Five Air Sinai flights carrying 800 Coptic pilgrims headed to Jerusalem on Monday to celebrate Easter, officials from the Cairo International Airport told Egypt Today on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media. Egypt has built an air bridge to transport elder Coptic Christians, who are allowed to perform pilgrimage in Jerusalem during the Holy Week, the week before Easter...
3 April 2018
Masresha Tilahun displays the cross he has been carving by hand in woodworking class in the Addis Alem prison in Ethiopia. (photo: Don Duncan)
Journalist Don Duncan turns a spotlight on a remarkable prison ministry in Ethiopia in the March edition of ONE.
The assignment offered some challenges he didn’t expect, as he reports here.
Even before I made the journey to Ethiopia, I’d been warned that this would be a tricky assignment.
Through the connections of a CNEWA beneficiary, ONE had the rare and fortunate opportunity to gain access to two of Ethiopia’s prisons so as to see and understand the lives, needs and spirituality of an oft-overlooked population: the incarcerated.
I have only ever been in one prison before in my life, a medium-security facility in upstate New York which I visited with a journalism school classmate who was working with me on a crime story.
I had no idea what a prison in Ethiopia would be like but I proceeded with a certain sense of caution and even nervousness. I had been warned to be very careful about what kinds of questions I asked. Incarceration is quite politically charged and a hot issue in Ethiopia. A simple question — one that would go unnoticed in a regular context — could wreck havoc in the context of the prison, either among the prisoners or between the prison administration and the Addis Ababa Archdiocese Prison Chaplaincy, the organization that had helped to get us access to the prison.
Thus, I entered Addis Alem prison not with the thoughts of which questions I would ask the prisoners but rather which questions I would NOT ask them, under any circumstances.
I was to stay away from politics, for sure, but also stay away from any discussion of human rights; any questions that might convey an implied criticism of how the prison is run; and any questions as to the personal histories of the inmates: their homes, family lives, their specific crimes and the length of their sentences.
These restrictions, as sensible and well-meaning as they were, made for a very interesting exercise in interviewing.
I suddenly realized how spoiled I am in my usual interview practice, in the “outside world,” where the freedom of the press means that no question is off-limits. Now, I had to eventually write a colorful and insightful article based on material I was gathering under very restricted conditions. I was shot through by a low-burning anxiety that the story would be a washout, that it would fall flat on its face because of these restrictions.
But to my great surprise, the opposite happened. I’d been briefed that the prison was home to people from places near and far in Ethiopia and that their sentences varied, for crimes of gravity spanning from theft to serial murder. But when I found myself face-to-face with a prisoner, there was no way — because of the restrictions I was working under — that I could know or find out the specifics of his life or crimes. This meant that I could only focus on the here-and-now, his name and age, what his likes and dislikes were, what he was feeling in the present moment and what his spiritual life is like.
As I proceeded to interview inmates on these restricted terms, their humanity shone forth. I realized that, had I known their crimes or sentences, my rapport with them or my thinking about them would be shaded by the gravity of their past actions. Without that knowledge, I encountered everyone in the moment and I could fully perceive and appreciate their beauty and humanity as souls.
When I left the prison after a few hours, I realized how fortunate I was to have had the experience of visiting it. It was a striking manifestation of Jesus’s words in Matthew (5:43-44): “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
It is a beautiful thought — but it is often, in practice, a tall order.
Beyond prison, in the “outside world” that we live in, where there are far fewer restrictions on what we know about each other, how capable are we of perceiving and loving the soul of the sinner in spite of his/her sin?
It is rarely very easy to overcome one’s own biases, prejudices and judgments. And yet, Addis Alem prison caused me to be struck again by how truly indispensable a part of living a good life it is to be able to see beyond the sin, in spite of it, to project love.
Read Don Duncan’s report, ‘For I Was in Prison’ in the current edition of ONE.
3 April 2018
Seminarians stand outside a church in Lviv, Ukraine. (photo: John E. Kozar)
In the new edition of ONE, we focus on the formation of priests, religious sisters and lay people in the world CNEWA serves. Our president Msgr. John E. Kozar writes about it in the magazine:
For decades, CNEWA’s donors have made a powerful impact on seminarians — helping to educate and train future priests. Most of the Eastern Catholic seminaries where CNEWA serves are supported in varying degrees thanks to the generosity of our donors. For some, our support makes a tremendous difference. It may mean feeding hungry seminarians, or just keeping the doors open. For others, this support means improving the faculty, hiring more teachers or making modest renovations to the facilities. But for all, it represents an investment in the good health and future of the church.
Religious women, meanwhile, receive financial assistance from CNEWA from their first days in the novitiate. Although the subsidy may be modest, it represents a commitment of faith and hope — a sign of solidarity with these women as they formally embark on their journey to serve Christ as vowed religious.
And then there is the great and growing resource of the laity. The faith formation of the laity is often overlooked, with more attention given to those who are preparing for the priesthood or religious life. But it is vitally important to support the lay faithful, especially in places where it is not always possible to commission a priest or religious. CNEWA continues to place great importance on lay catechetical programs and adult faith enrichment and mission-sending initiatives that challenge the faithful to share their faith with those who have never been exposed to it.
Read more in the March 2018 edition of ONE. And hear more from Msgr. Kozar in the video below.