9 August 2018
Residents gather for prayer and group discussion in the outdoor spaces of the Trippadam Psychosocial Rehabilitation Center run by the Bethany Sisters in Kerala. (photo: Meenakshi Soman)
In the current edition of ONE, writer Anubha George takes us to A Refuge to Mend and Grow, where the Bethany Sisters are helping forgotten and abandoned women. She offers some additional impressions below.
After an eight-hour journey from Kochi, we begin our climb into the mountains of Wayanad in north Kerala.
Fourteen hairpin turns later, where we see monkeys snatching food off people, the air turns cold. Gone is the humidity of Kerala. This feels a bit like the Indian version of the prairie —it’s spacious and very breezy. The air is clean and there are tall coconut trees all around. It is indeed a very picturesque part of the place known as “God’s Own Country,” Kerala.
There are two friendly faces waiting for us at the Trippadam Psychosocial Rehabilitation Center in Sultan Bathery run by the Bethany Sisters. We meet Sister Tabitha and Sister Darsana. Along with three other sisters, they look after 50 women who stay here. These women have been abandoned by their families because they suffer from mental health problems. Some of them will be here until their dying day. There’s medical help available here from the local government-run hospital; women can receive an assessment and monthly follow-ups with a psychiatrist, along with free medication and regular counseling sessions.
There are many challenges. The building is old; it was once a convent before it became an orphanage. It needs repairs. But in the middle of all this, the sisters offer a place of welcome and peace.
The sisters have created a sense of community and well-being for those who are with them; they give the women a feeling of security and of being loved. There’s a purpose to their lives— a life of routine. The day here starts at 5.30 am when the women are given coffee in bed. Then there’s prayer and meditation, followed by Mass. After breakfast, it’s on to chores around the center, such as cleaning and cooking. There’s also the garden to take care of, and chickens and cattle that need looking after. After lunch, it’s nap time. In the evening, there’s prayer outdoors in the garden (where there’s a little chapel) and then it’s lights out at 9 pm.
Throughout the day, there’s significant focus on prayer, alongside medical help and emotional support. The sisters believe it helps calm down the women. It gives them a sense of well-being and makes them feel that they’re not alone but that Christ is with them at all times.
We are reminded of that as we leave. As we walk out, a woman named Usha says goodbye. ”Christ looks after me,” she says. ”And he loves me.”
Read more from Anubha George in the June 2018 edition of ONE.
9 August 2018
In this file photo, Orthodox clergy celebrate the feast of Temqat – the Ethiopian commemoration of the baptism of Christ. In the aftermath of violence that has claimed the lives of at least six priests and numerous believers, the patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church has announced a period of fasting and prayer for peace. (photo: CNEWA/Cody Christopulos)
Fasting for prayer and peace in Ethiopia (Vatican News) Abune Mathias, Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, has decided to go through 16 days of fasting and prayer in order to invoke peace and reconciliation in the country’s Jijiga and Somali regions. The violence that took off in those areas of Ethiopia last week caused around 30 deaths. The Ethiopian Orthodox church has suffered the aftermath of this violence as, according to local news agencies, at least seven churches have been burned down and six priests and numerous believers killed…
Israel launches airstrikes in response to rocket attacks from Gaza (Business Insider) Palestinian militants on the Gaza Strip launched at least 150 rockets at Israel overnight, and Israel retaliated by pounding the region with deadly airstrikes. The Israel Defense Forces said mounting violence began Wednesday after militants shot at an IDF vehicle in the Gaza Strip. In response, Israel responded with tank fire…
Small Indian state of Goa has big impact (CNS) Goa, a former Portuguese colony that now ranks as having one of the most famous beaches in India, is continuing to promote Christianity in Asia as part of its colonial legacy, retired Archbishop Raul Gonsalves said…
Russian Orthodox fringe group hopes for return of the tsar (Reuters) The Union of Orthodox Banner Bearers is a small fringe group of Russian nationalists with no political power that stages processions, rallies and even burns books to promote their views. Clad in all-black and marching with their Orthodox banners, the group pairs a biker club’s aesthetic with the gold of religious icons. ”We are striving for the restoration of an autocratic monarchy. Like the one we had under our tsars,” Leonid Simonovich-Nikshich, the group’s white-bearded leader, said…
How robots are throwing a lifeline to Syrian refugees (The Guardian) Founded by Syrian neurosurgeon Dr Fadi al-Halabi, Maps is hugely innovative: it offers classes under the Lebanese curriculum, so that students can transfer into Lebanese schools if given the opportunity, and it also gives jobs to Syrian teachers — now refugees themselves — albeit on a volunteer basis. (Under Lebanese labour laws, Syrians are severely restricted in the work they are legally able to undertake.) Halabi has also founded three medical centers, which rely on unpaid Syrian doctors and nurses to provide care to 15,000 Lebanese and Syrians across the Bekaa valley. At a disused hospital that serves as Maps headquarters, former patient preparation and operation rooms have been turned into “innovation centers” where robotics, computer science, artificial intelligence (AI), and art and design are taught…
8 August 2018
Tags: Syria India Ethiopia Gaza Strip/West Bank
Children engage in a finger painting activity at a summer day camp run by the Howard Karagheusian Commemorative Corporation in the Bourj Hammoud section of Beirut. The camp is funded in part by CNEWA. (photo: CNS/Krikor Aynilian, courtesy Howard Karagheusian Commemorative Corporation)
In the sweltering, crowded Bourj Hammoud district of Beirut, a group of children from poor Christian families have discovered a summertime oasis of joy.
The 390 children, ages 3 to 13, are participants in the Howard Karagheusian Commemorative Corporation’s day camp, funded in part by CNEWA .
Held in a school, the seven-week day camp combines sports, games, art and activities such as cooking, music and dance with a mix of instruction in nutrition, hygiene, math, English and Bible study. The children also go on weekly outings to places their families normally are not able to afford.
The camp gives children an opportunity “to have new friends, to enjoy their childhood, to have these moments of fun and lovely memories within their miseries,” Serop Ohanian, the corporation’s Lebanon field director, told Catholic News Service.
There are no playgrounds or green spaces in densely populated Bourj Hammoud, often referred to as Little Armenia. Settled by Armenians who had fled the early 20th-century genocide, the area has grown into a vibrant community. However, Lebanon’s economic crisis has caused more families to slip into poverty. The district also has seen Syrian refugees resettling there.
Half of the camp participants are Lebanese Armenians and half are Syrian Armenian refugees from Aleppo, Syria. All are Christian. Armenian is the principal language spoken.
The children are nurtured and guided by 34 volunteers, most of whom are university students majoring in education, psychology and special education, specially trained by the corporation.
Volunteer Nver Bodozian, who works with 3-year-old children, is a refugee from Aleppo herself. She and her family came to Lebanon six years ago, early in Syria’s civil war. Her great-grandparents -- who fled the Armenian genocide -- originally settled in Aleppo.
Bodozian and her family are hoping to obtain visas to be resettled in a Western country. Meanwhile, she is studying to become a teacher at Kinder Mesrobian College in Beirut.
“We show the children love and care,” Bodozian said. “Even though I feel they have so much stress and sadness in their lives, they are so happy here.”
Bodozian and another volunteer have just completed an art activity with the preschoolers. Brilliant finger-painted butterflies, still drying, are hung across the classroom.
Next on their program is short play, retelling “The Three Little Pigs” story.
Young Migel, in the role of the wolf, “taps” on an imaginary door, making threatening “woo” sounds. His classmates, portraying little pigs, gleefully scoot around the room in feigned fright.
Later, seated at colorful child-sized tables and chairs, the youngsters prepare to eat sandwiches before recess. Bodozian leads them in a short prayer: “Thank you, God, for this day. Thank you for our food. Please help the poor.”
“If they can have faith in God beginning at a young age, it’s everything,” Bodozian said.
“Although not a faith-based organization, we do encourage the children and their families to trust in God and live by faith,” Ohanian explained.
“We want to spread a beacon of hope within the community, within these neighborhoods and tell the children to dream big dreams, to get out from their difficulties and give them the opportunity to be a productive member within this community,” he said.
Downstairs, recess is already underway for the 7- and 8-year-olds. Balls zigzag across the outdoor courtyard, following the rhythm of the children’s joy. Some kids stroll together, chatting with arms joined. A group of girls practice dance moves.
Taking a break from shuffling a soccer ball, Kevin, 8, a refugee from Aleppo, said, “my best friends are here,” pointing to Sevag and Garbis, both of Lebanon.
Their teacher, Alice Majarian, 26, told CNS that she calls the trio the Three Musketeers.
Majarian recounted the camp’s first day when Kevin told his campmates that they should play nicely together. Kevin is “really organized and friendly,” Majarian said.
Sevag likewise promotes good manners to his campmates. Majarian said he frequently tells the class, “we should respect the teachers” and reminds them to say “please” and “thank you.”
Garbis, still eating his sandwich, hugs Majarian.
“When you see the children growing and blossoming before you, it’s a great satisfaction,” she said as the trio resumes playing.
The children come from “complicated” backgrounds, whether because of financial struggles in their family or from the hollowed-out existence as refugees, Majarian said.
“These children are not refugees voluntarily. It’s really difficult to be pulled away from your house, surroundings and friends, to see how your parents and neighbors suffered. Digesting all those traumas is too much for children to handle,” she said.
The corporation is a program of the Karagheusian Foundation, which was established in New York City in 1918 after the death of 14-year-old Howard Karagheusian from pneumonia. His parents resolved to establish a humanitarian mission in his memory, focusing at first on sheltering, feeding and educating orphaned children who had survived the Armenian genocide. The corporation has operated in Lebanon, Syria and Armenia for more than 95 years.
The program’s clinic in Bourj Hammoud sees 2,500 patients a month; 70 percent are Syrian refugees and 30 percent are Lebanese. Of the refugees, 60 percent are Muslim and 40 percent are Christian.
Children enrolled in the camp also receive a free medical checkup and dental care.
For another example of the generous work of the Karagheusian Corporation, read A Letter from Lebanon in the current edition of ONE.
8 August 2018
Tags: Lebanon Armenia Beirut
Hundreds of Iraqi Christians processed through Karamles in the Nineveh Plain Monday night to commemorate the invasion of ISIS exactly four years ago. (photo: Fides/Asia News)
Returning Christians hold procession on anniversary of exodus (Fides) Hundreds of Iraqi Christians in Karamles took part in a procession Monday night, to commemorate the night four years ago earlier, when ISIS drove many tens of thousands of Christians from the towns and villages of the Nineveh Plain. Before the procession, there were prayers and a reflection on the pain and suffering caused by that dramatic mass exodus…
Lebanese town flooded with refugees hopes for return to normal (The New York Times) Seven years of war in Syria has displaced more than half the country’s population, leaving millions of refugees shipwrecked between the wasteland of home and the void of exile. Among the many Lebanese and Jordanian towns that received them was Arsal, where rented rooms and tent cities overflowed at one point with 120,000 Syrians — quadruple its Lebanese population…
In Jerusalem, concerns over crumbling Western Wall (The Sun) A massive survey of Jerusalem’ Western Wall is being planned, it emerged today, after a huge slab fell just feet away from a worshipper. Expert opinion is split on whether the collapse was a one-off, or if more stones are ready to fall…
India’s president praises contribution of Christian community (Crux) Noting that the Christian community in the state of Kerala is one of the oldest not only in India but anywhere in the world, the president of India said on Tuesday the Church’s heritage and history are a matter of immense pride for the entire country. President Ram Nath Kovind was speaking at the centenary celebrations of St. Thomas College in Thrissur, the city considered the cultural capital of Kerala…
Egypt’s Copts commemorate Virgin Mary amid tight security (Andalou Agency) Egyptian Coptic Christians on Tuesday began a 15-day fast to commemorate the Virgin Mary amid stepped-up security measures in and around the nation’s churches. The two-week religious holiday comes some 10 days after a prominent Coptic Bishop was found dead at the Anba Makar Monastery in Egypt’s northern Beheira province…
Magdala: first century synagogue unites Christians and Jews (Rome Reports) When the Legionaries of Christ acquired this land to build a church and pilgrim house, they never imagined they would discover a real treasure. Magdala, a town previously containing 4,000 inhabitants according to archaeologists was also Mary Magdalene’s hometown. The excavations have recovered 20 percent of the surface at the present moment. Among other things, they have unearthed the port, purification baths and the market where fish were sent to Rome, according to historian Flavius Josephus. However, the most important of all these discoveries is the synagogue from the first century…
7 August 2018
Tags: Syria Egypt Lebanon Iraqi Christians ISIS
A volunteer assists a young visitor at the Emili Aregak Center in Gyumri, Armenia. Learn more about how this center has become A Source of Light for so many children in the current edition of ONE. (photo: Nazik Armenakyan)
7 August 2018
Syrian refugees in Jordan are learning how to restore and rebuild architecture that was destroyed in their homeland. (photo: NBC News)
Lebanon sets guidelines for return of refugees (The Daily Star) General Security announced Monday it will create centers to register Syrian refugees looking to return to Syria after having earlier outlined conditions for returnees who are in violation of residency requirements, including lifetime bans on many refugees from returning to Lebanon. General Security published protocols on 1 August for the return of Syrians who had violated residency rules and now wished to return to their homeland. Approximately three-quarters of Syrians living in Lebanon do not have legal residency…
In Jordan, Syrian refugees learn how to rebuild damaged heritage sites (NBC News) A year-long training program launched by the U.S.-based World Monuments Fund and the Petra National Trust of Jordan is teaching Syrian refugees how to rebuild the heritage sites and decorative architecture that once made their cities the jewels of the archaeological world…
Thousands of Ethiopians displaced (AFP) Fighting in Ethiopia’s volatile eastern Somali region over the weekend has left an unknown number of civilians dead and thousands displaced, the patriarch of Ethiopia’s Orthodox church told state media on Monday. It was unclear what sparked the clashes in Ethiopia’s second-largest region, but it appeared to start after the arrival of troops in the regional capital Jijiga...
Ukraine’s Roma live in fear (AP) After attackers charged into a Roma encampment on the outskirts of Kiev, beating the residents and chasing them away, a leader of an ultranationalist group posted photos of his colleagues clearing the site and burning tents left behind. The attacks and the prospect of more violence are terrifying to Ukraine’s estimated 100,000 Roma…
6 August 2018
Tags: Syria Ethiopia Ukraine Jordan Roma
Displaced Iraqi Christians are struggling to rebuild, exactly four years after ISIS first swept through their country. This video, from last fall, shows some of what they are facing as they return home. (video: Raed Rafei/CNEWA)
Exactly four years ago — 6 August 2014 — ISIS began its assault on the Nineveh Plain, and thousands of Iraqi Christians began to run for their lives.
Al Jazeera takes note:
Displaced by the expansion of Islamic State (ISIS) — which rapidly overran vast territories in Iraq, eventually seizing one-third of the country in 2014—Christian families left their homes in the ancient Assyrian towns of Nineveh province to resettle in Erbil and the capital, Baghdad.
Samir Petrus, 50, who left Hamdaniya [also known as Qaraqosh], a district located on the outskirts of Mosul, where the majority of the Iraqi Christian community are Chaldo-Assyrians, says he will never return to Nineveh.
“There’s nothing for me to go back to. No jobs, no home, let alone safety and security,” says Petrus, who now lives at an IDP camp in Baghdad. “I’m here now with my girls and I have to look ahead.”
ISIS targeted minorities of the Nineveh plains when it stormed northern Iraq, taking over Mosul in 2014. Although other communities in Mosul hope to go home again, Christian and Yazidi minorities say they’ve endured enough persecution and refuse to return, even if ISIS has been defeated.
CNEWA has been on the ground and on the front lines of helping displaced Iraqi Christians since Day One — and we have been chronicling their story in our magazine, along with the story of the long road back to a life resembling normal. Last fall, in the pages of ONE magazine we described the Hard Choices many are facing:
A recent comprehensive survey carried out by church authorities indicates that of the 6,826 housing units in Qaraqosh, about a third are severely damaged or burned, with some two-thirds sustaining partial damage. Almost 100 homes are completely destroyed and beyond repair.
Despite some shy rebuilding efforts by churches and homeowners, the estimated $70 million needed for the overall reconstruction of Qaraqosh still looms large. According to Father Jahola, several organizations have pledged to help with large finances, but substantial aid has not materialized yet.
The condition of Qaraqosh is not very different from that of most Christian towns in the Nineveh Plain, which typically report damage to 30 to 40 percent of structures — houses, schools, public institutions, churches, monasteries and hospitals alike.
But some towns, such as Batnaya, have been rendered completely uninhabitable, reporting 85 percent of buildings demolished under heavy aerial bombardment.
The total cost for the reconstruction of the Nineveh Plain, estimated to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars — if not billions — will require a significant mobilization of aid by foreign governments and international charities.
This past spring, the new superior general of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, Sister Clara Nancy, wrote to us a Letter from Iraq, describing how the people — and the sisters serving them — are surviving on a resolute mixture of fortitude and faith:
We want and need to be with our people. We want to return with them to serve them.
And so we visit families in their homes. We lead youth groups and offer activities and lectures to help them understand themselves and their faith, sharing Bible stories when possible and catechesis for children. We understand these activities are modest — and that they are unable to heal them as a whole — but our efforts may be a balm to sooth their pain.
Life is so hectic in our area; our challenges look overwhelming. Therefore, we encourage people to go beyond their difficulties, and place them in a different context. We try to help them look into things through the eyes of faith. It is easy for people to feel depressed and live as passive victims. So, our aim is to help them live their faith as people who trust God and his providence. We are not the only ones who have lived this reality: The Bible tells us about those who had very similar experiences and yet they knew how to overcome their situation with hearts full of faith in the Lord.
It is hard to know what the future holds for our community. Displacement and immigration left young women unable to form a clear vision about their future. So, fostering vocations has been difficult when life is so unsettled. However, there are a few girls who are considering joining with us in serving the Lord as sisters. We are thinking of organizing a program for them to prepare them and introduce them to religious life.
We sisters have our own struggles, of course. We have asked different speakers to help us cope with the situation, spiritually and psychologically. We are grateful to all those who have risked their lives and have come to show solidarity and offer their knowledge.
Deep down, we believe our main help is the Risen Lord around whom we gather in every Eucharist. This unites us with the Christ and enables us to endure. Sharing with one another our difficulties gives us the opportunity to reflect and support one another. We have lost much, but we still have each other. And that is of great help.
Read more of Sister Clara’s letter here.
This day, in particular, please keep all our suffering brothers and sisters in the Middle East in your prayers. Their struggle is far from over — and they need your help, now more than ever. CNEWA continues to accompany them, support them, encourage them and stand with them during this difficult time. We invite you to stand with us—and with them. If you’d like to do more for those trying to rebuild in Iraq, visit this page to learn how you can help.
6 August 2018
Tags: Iraq Iraqi Christians ISIS Dominican Sisters
As summer temperatures climb, young people in Israel play in a water fountain on 3 August near the Old City of Jerusalem. (photo: CNS/Abir Sultan, EPA)
6 August 2018
A panel of clergy and lay people announced the launch of India's SAFBIN project, designed to improve food security in Asia. (photo: Vatican News)
Damascus creates body to repatriate Syrian refugees (AFP) Syria’s government is to set up a coordination committee to repatriate millions of its nationals who fled the country’s seven-year conflict, state media has said. The cabinet Sunday “agreed to create a coordination body for the return of those displaced abroad to their cities and villages,” state news agency SANA reported…
Over 400 people interrogated in connection with murder of Coptic bishop (Fides) Over 400 people were interrogated by the Egyptian judicial authorities of the Wadi Natrun region, as part of the investigation into the murder of Coptic Orthodox bishop Epiphanius, abbot of Saint Macarius monastery, who was killed on Sunday 29 July. In addition to the monks, police detectives will also interrogate workers, farmers and people who habitually frequented the monastery. But so far — specify the official sources of the Coptic Orthodox Church, consulted by Agenzia Fides — no person at the moment is believed to be responsible for the heinous murder of Anba Epiphanios…
Caritas India launches agricultural project to improve food security (Vatican News) Caritas India, the social arm of the Catholic Church in India has launched an agricultural project to help improve the food and nutritional security of small farmers across South Asia. Called the Smallholder Adaptive Farming and Biodiversity Network or SAFBIN, the initiative is being backed by Caritas Austria and Caritas Switzerland…
Canadians open their arms to refugees (Vatican News) n the first half of 2018, nearly 26,000 migrants sought asylum in Canada. Nearly 11,000 of these were illegal or “irregular” border crossers, of which a vast majority entered Canada through Quebec. Elana Wright, Advocacy and Research Officer of Development and Peace at Caritas Canada, spoke to Vatican News’ Timothée Dhellammes about Canadians’ openness to welcoming asylum seekers…
UN scales up humanitarian efforts in Ethiopia (UN.org) To address the urgent needs of more than a million displaced by inter-communal violence in southwestern Ethiopia over the past four months, UN humanitarian agencies and their partners are ramping up their efforts, providing among other things shelter, household items, water and sanitation, and food to the most vulnerable…
3 August 2018
Tags: Syria India Ethiopia Refugees
An Iraqi father and his children are shown at the Saint Anthony Community Health Centre in Lebanon, supported by CNEWA. (photo: Carl Hétu)
CNEWA Canada has just launched a campaign to help Middle East Christians, and national director Carl Hétu this week offered some thoughts on the current situation on the blog for the Archdiocese of Toronto. An excerpt is below.
What is the current situation for Christians in the Middle East?
Daily life for Christians in the Middle East has been difficult. Things took a turn for the worse in 2003 during the invasion of Iraq by the U.S., Great Britain and their allies. Iraq spiraled into internal tribal conflict and anarchy. Christians were stuck in the middle — often being victims of threats, kidnapping, torture and assassination. As a result, approximately 1.2 million Christians were forced to leave the country since 2003. Some 250,000 Christians remain in Iraq today. The unresolved Israel-Palestinian conflict has also caused economic and political hardships. Only 55,000 and 1,100 Christians remain in the West Bank and Gaza, respectively. In Syria, the civil war has practically destroyed the country. Christians have certainly not been spared from the violence. The Christian population has gone down to 1 million from 2 million since 2011. More are fleeing. In Egypt, attacks on Christians are common. We believe that some 400,000 have left the country in the last seven years. Christians live in greater security in Jordan and Israel; but there has been a recent rise in internal tensions.
How does your most recent trip to Lebanon in April compare to your last visit to the region?
The Lebanese people seem anxious, tired and increasingly frustrated. The population of Lebanon is 4 million. There are more than 1.3 million Syrian and Iraqi refugees, plus 500,000 Palestinian refugees, in the country. The impact on the local economy and social services is overwhelming. Local aid organizations are exhausted and lacking in resources to support refugees but also there is an increasing number of Lebanese people who are getting poorer, losing their jobs and in need of support. It’s a very alarming and potentially volatile situation.
Visit this link to learn more — and to discover what’s being done and how you can help.
Tags: Lebanon Middle East Christians CNEWA Canada Persecution