1 May 2017
In the video above, you can learn more about the remarkable fundraiser arranged by students in Westchester, New York last weekend — a benefit concert which netted more than $15,000, with all proceeds going to support CNEWA’s work among the people of Syria. (video: CNEWA)
It sounded like a nice idea that might raise a little money and get some attention.
It got a lot more than that.
Last Friday, a remarkable fundraiser by a group of New York teenagers known as Relief United drew a crowd of some 300 people to a park in Westchester, New York — and, at last count, raised more than $15,000 to support CNEWA’s work with the people of Syria.
This was beyond anything we expected. As I told someone Friday night: “This is incredible.” You can see a video report of the event above.
Local media turned out to cover the concert and talk with the kids behind it.
Really making a difference in the world is an ambitious idea seven teens from Westchester are truly committed to.
“Even the smallest person can make a change,” a teen said.
Motivated by the disturbing images and headlines coming from Syria, the longtime friends organized a picnic and benefit concert at Kingsland Point Park Friday to raise money for Syrian refugee families, hospitals, and schools.
“We look at it on TV and we talk about it, but what are we doing?” said Michal Kozlowski, a student. “So I got together with a bunch of my friends and this started with a little dance in a little church and it’s just expanded.”
“I don’t like to think of it as us helping Syrians, because that makes them seem so distant and far away from us,” said Gibran Mourani, a student. “I like to think of it as teenagers helping teenagers, families helping families.”
Some of the teenagers who supported the event pose for a snapshot with CNEWA development associate Phillip Eubanks and multimedia editor Greg Kandra, who are kneeling in the front.
(photo: Chris Kennedy)
As we first reported last month, the benefit began a long way from Westchester:
“It started at World Youth Day in Krakow,” says Michal Kozlowski, a junior at Regis High School in New York City. “One of my friends I met there is from Syria and he started telling me about his brother, who lives under ISIS. He was speaking from the heart about what he had to do just to survive. Then Pope Francis spoke to us and said, ‘The leaders of today dream in their comfy couches but they don’t get out of that couch and make that dream a reality.’ The crowd roared and I thought: ‘I’ve got to do something.”
That planted the seed, which eventually grew into Friday’s event:
“Hopefully,” Michal says, “this can have an impact similar to what I had at World Youth Day. We want to organize energetic youth under a common, good goal to do something good.”
“This is something we feel passionate about,” adds Nick Sinopoli, another junior from Regis working with Michal on the project. “It’s something we can do to make a real difference in the world.”
In addition to music and food, the fundraiser offered opportunities to write notes to Syrian refugees, provided information about CNEWA and our work in the region, and even gave kids a chance to have their names tattooed on their arms (with a Sharpie) in Arabic.
Teenagers who attended had a chance to have their names written on their arm in Arabic.
(photo: Chris Kennedy)
It was something all of us who were there will remember for a long time. And we remain both humbled and grateful to the hardworking kids (and their parents and teachers!) who made this event possible — and all those who took part, who will be making such a difference in the lives of so many in Syria.
Our thanks go out to Michal Kozlowski, Lilly McHale, Nick Sinopoli, Michael Gauguin, Gibran Mourani, Jane Singman and Joe Gullotta, and to their supportive parents.
Michal Kozlowski, joined by some of the teenagers who helped organize the Relief United benefit concert, speaks to the hundreds of friends and supporters who attended the event in Westchester on 29 April. (photo: Greg Kandra)
1 May 2017
Tags: CNEWA Middle East Christians
Pope Francis’s visit last weekend to Egypt — where he was joined by the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew of Constantinople — brought together for the first time the heads of the churches of Rome and Constantinople with the leaders of the church founded in Egypt by St. Mark the Evangelist: Theodoros II, Orthodox pope and patriarch of Alexandria; Tawadros II, Coptic Orthodox pope and patriarch of Alexandria; and Coptic Catholic Patriarch Ibrahim Isaac. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
1 May 2017
Tags: Egypt Ecumenism Eastern Christianity Africa Egypt's Christians
In the video above, Pope Francis speaks to Egyptian Catholics during Mass on Saturday 29 April.
True faith means loving others to the extreme, pope tells Egypt’s Catholics (CNS) The only kind of fanaticism that is acceptable to God is being fanatical about loving and helping others, Pope Francis said on his final day in Egypt. “True faith,” he told Catholics, “makes us more charitable, more merciful, more honest and more humane. It moves our hearts to love everyone without counting the cost...”
Pope to Egypt’s priests and seminarians: be sowers of hope and dialogue (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Saturday told Egypt’s priests, religious and seminarians to be sowers of hope, builders of bridges and agents of dialogue, despite the many difficulties they face...
Pope in Egypt: Catholics and Copts recognize shared baptism (Vatican Radio) In a common declaration, signed by Pope Francis and Coptic Pope Tawadros II, Catholics and Copts declare for the first time that they will recognise each other’s sacrament of baptism...
Turkey sacks 4,000 more officials in crackdown (BBC) The Turkish government has sacked almost 4,000 more public officials in what appears to be the latest purge related to a failed coup last July. They include more than 1,000 justice ministry workers, a similar number of army staff and more than 100 air force pilots, officials said. In a separate decree, Turkey banned TV dating shows — a move previously mooted by the government. Earlier on Saturday, Turkey blocked the online encyclopedia Wikipedia...
Caritas India helps farmers avoid migration (Vatican Radio) Caritas India has started the Agrarian Prosperity Program (APP) in several northern Indian villages to provide the villagers with alternative sources of income and to check economic migration. Caritas introduced farmers to new techniques such as organic farming, a system to preserve indigenous seeds besides intensifying activities to save water such as renovation and construction of check dams, ponds, tanks and wells...
Student-run Relief United raises funds for Syria (WABC) Really making a difference in the world is an ambitious idea seven teens from Westchester are truly committed to. “Even the smallest person can make a change,” a teen said. Motivated by the disturbing images and headlines coming from Syria, the longtime friends organized a picnic and benefit concert at Kingsland Point Park Friday to raise money for Syrian refugee families, hospitals, and schools...
New York high school students raise $15,000 for CNEWA’s work in Syria (Fios1news.com) Seven school students brought the community together Friday night in Sleepy Hollow to raise money for people struggling throughout Syria. As more than 300 people came out to support, the students say they well exceeded their goal of $5,000 in donations, crossing $15,000 in eight months...
28 April 2017
Pope Francis has arrived in Egypt to begin his historic visit. Click on the embedded video below to watch live streaming updates of his trip, from the Vatican’s official news site.
His itinerary, from the Vatican via Catholic News Service:
Times listed are local, with Eastern Daylight Time in parentheses.
Friday, 28 April (Rome, Cairo)
— 10:45 a.m. (4:45 a.m.), Departure from Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci International Airport for Cairo.
— 2 p.m. (8 a.m.), Arrival at Cairo airport. Official welcoming ceremony at the Heliopolis presidential palace. Courtesy visits with el-Sissi and Sheik el-Tayeb. Speeches by the grand imam and the pope to participants in an international conference on peace.
— 4:40 p.m. (10:40 a.m.), Meeting with local authorities. Speeches by el-Sissi and Pope Francis. Courtesy visit to Pope Tawadros. Speeches by Pope Tawadros and Pope Francis.
Saturday, 29 April (Cairo, Rome)
— 10:00 a.m. (4:00 a.m.), Mass in Cairo. Homily by pope.
— 12:15 p.m. (6:15 a.m.), Lunch with Egypt's bishops and the papal entourage.
— 3:15 p.m. (9:15 a.m.), Prayer gathering with clergy, men and women religious, and seminarians. Speech by pope. Farewell ceremony.
— 5 p.m. (11 a.m.), Departure from Cairo airport for Rome.
— 8:30 p.m. (2:30 p.m.), Arrival at Rome’s Ciampino airport.
For more background on Egypt, and for context on the lives and struggles of Coptic Christians, check out these stories from ONE magazine:
Anxiety in Cairo: Christians Confront Challenges and Change
Finding Common Ground
Egypt’s Good Samaritans
Seeds of Survival: A Family Faces Fear in Egypt
Faith Under Fire: Young Copts Persevere in Egypt
28 April 2017
Pope Francis embraces Sheik Ahmad el-Tayeb, grand imam of al-Azhar University, at a conference on international peace in Cairo 28 April. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Calling his visit to Egypt a journey of “unity and fraternity,” Pope Francis launched a powerful call to the nation's religious leaders to expose violence masquerading as holy and condemn religiously inspired hatred as an idolatrous caricature of God.
“Peace alone, therefore, is holy, and no act of violence can be perpetrated in the name of God, for it would profane his name,” the pope told Muslim and Christian leaders at an international peace conference on 28 April. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople was in attendance.
Pope Francis also warned of attempts to fight violence with violence, saying “every unilateral action that does not promote constructive and shared processes is, in reality, a gift to the proponents of radicalism and violence.”
The pope began a two-day visit to Cairo by speaking at a gathering organized by Egypt’s al-Azhar University, Sunni Islam's highest institute of learning.
He told reporters on the papal plane from Rome that the trip was significant for the fact that he was invited by the grand imam of al-Azhar, Sheik Ahmad el-Tayeb; Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi; Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II; and Coptic Catholic Patriarch Ibrahim Isaac Sedrak of Alexandria.
Having these four leaders invite him for the trip shows it is “a trip of unity and fraternity” that will be “quite, quite intense” over the next two days, he said.
Greeted with a standing ovation and a few scattered shouts of “viva il papa” (long live the pope), the pope later greeted conference participants saying, “Peace be with you” in Arabic.
He gave a 23-minute talk highlighting Egypt’s great and “glorious history” as a land of civilization, wisdom and faith in God. Small olive branches symbolizing peace were among the greenery adorning the podium.
Religious leaders have a duty to respect everyone’s religious identity and have “the courage to accept differences,” he said in the talk that was interrupted by applause several times.
Those who belong to a different culture or religion “should not be seen or treated as enemies, but rather welcomed as fellow-travelers,” he said.
Religion needs to take its sacred and essential place in the world as a reminder of the “great questions about the meaning of life” and humanity’s ultimate calling. “We are not meant to spend all of our energies on the uncertain and shifting affairs of this world, but to journey toward the absolute,” he said.
He emphasized that religion “is not a problem, but a part of the solution” because it helps people lift their hearts toward God “in order to learn how to build the city of man.”
Egypt is the land where God gave Moses the Ten Commandments, which include “Thou shalt not kill,” the pope said. God “exhorts us to reject the way of violence as the necessary condition for every earthly covenant.”
“Violence is the negation of every authentic religious expression,” he said. “As religious leaders, we are called, therefore, to unmask the violence that masquerades as purported sanctity and is based more on the ‘absolutizing’ of selfishness than on authentic openness to the absolute.”
“We have an obligation to denounce violations of human dignity and human rights, to expose attempts to justify every form of hatred in the name of religion and to condemn these attempts as idolatrous caricatures of God.” God is holy, the pope said, and “he is the God of peace.”
He asked everyone at the al-Azhar conference to say “once more, a firm and clear ‘No!’ to every form of violence, vengeance and hatred carried out in the name of religion or in the name of God.”
Not only are faith and violence, belief and hatred incompatible, he said, faith that is not “born of sincere heart and authentic love toward the merciful God” is nothing more than a social construct “that does not liberate man, but crushes him.”
Christians, too, must treat everyone as brother and sister if they are to truly pray to God, the father of all humanity, the pope said.
“It is of little or no use to raise our voices and run about to find weapons for our protection,” he said. “What is needed today are peacemakers, not fomenters of conflict; firefighters, not arsonists; preachers of reconciliation and not instigators of destruction.”
The pope again appealed for people to address the root causes of terrorism, like poverty and exploitation, and stopping the flow of weapons and money to those who provoke violence.
“Only by bringing into the light of day the murky maneuverings that feed the cancer of war can its real causes be prevented,” he said.
Education and a wisdom that is open, curious and humble are key, he said, saying properly formed young people can grow tall like strong trees turning “the polluted air of hatred into the oxygen of fraternity.”
He called on all of Egypt to continue its legacy of being a land of civilization and covenant so it can contribute to peace for its own people and the whole Middle East.
The challenge of turning today’s “incivility of conflict” into a “civility of encounter” demands that “we, Christians, Muslims and all believers, are called to offer our specific contribution” as brothers and sisters living all under the one and same sun of a merciful God.
The pope and Sheik el-Tayeb embraced after the sheik gave his introductory address, which emphasized that only false notions of religion, including Islam, lead to violence. The grand imam expressed gratitude for the pope’s remarks in which he rejected the association of Islam with terror.
The sheik began his speech by requesting the audience stand for a minute’s silence to commemorate the victims of terrorism in Egypt and globally, regardless of their religions.
“We should not hold religion accountable for the crimes of any small group of followers,” he said. “For example, Islam is not a religion of terrorism” just because a small group of fanatics “ignorantly” misinterpret texts of the Quran to support their hatred.
The security surrounding the pope’s arrival seemed typical of many papal trips even though the country was also in the midst of a government-declared three-month state of emergency following the bombing of two Coptic Orthodox churches on Palm Sunday. The attacks, for which Islamic State claimed responsibility, left 44 people dead and 70 more injured.
Egypt Prime Minister Sherif Ismail and other Egyptian officials warmly greeted Pope Francis on the airport red carpet after the pope disembarked from the plane.
They walked together, chatting animatedly, to the VIP hall of Cairo International Airport, then the pontiff was whisked off to the presidential palace to meet el-Sissi at the start of his brief 27-hour visit.
Pope Francis repeated his calls for strengthening peace in his speech to hundreds of officials representing government, the diplomatic corps, civil society and culture.
“No civilized society can be built without repudiating every ideology of evil, violence and extremism that presumes to suppress others and to annihilate diversity by manipulating and profaning the sacred name of God,” he said.
History does not forgive those who talk about justice and equality, and then practice the opposite, he said.
It is a duty to “unmask the peddlers of illusions about the afterlife” and who rob people of their lives and take away their ability to “choose freely and believe responsibly.”
28 April 2017
Pope Francis walks with Egyptian Prime Minister Prime Minister Sherif Ismail, right, as he arrives at the international airport in Cairo 28 April. The pope was making a two-day visit to Egypt.
(photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Pope arrives in Cairo to begin Egypt visit (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has arrived in Egypt to begin an Apostolic Journey to the country. The Pope touched down at Cairo International Airport this Friday afternoon where he was met by the Apostolic Nuncio to Cairo, Bruno Musaro and a representative of the President of Egypt, Abdel-Fattah Al Sisi...
Pope brings to Cairo a message of peace (The New York Times) Francis, a politically savvy pontiff, will attempt a balancing act. He is expected to highlight the plight of Christians after recent violence in Egypt, while also continuing his mission to reach out to Muslims. Since December, the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, has signaled its intent to wage a sectarian war in Egypt by killing Christians in their homes, businesses or places of worship...
A hidden church in Cairo pins its hopes on good will from the Pope’s visit (The New York Times) For the past decade, a small Coptic Catholic congregation in a gritty north Cairo suburb has been trying to build a new church in the teeth of official resistance — a common tale in Egypt, where the law panders to old prejudices...
Panel accused of whitewashing Israeli discrimination against Christians (Al Monitor) A panel of experts created by Congress to defend religious freedom is being accused of whitewashing Israeli discrimination against Christians and other religious minorities. In an unprecedented public dissent against the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), the only Middle East Christian on the panel is accusing the panel of a “continuing and glaring refusal” to hold Israel to account since the commission’s founding in 1998...
The Eritreans heading to Ethiopia (Al Jazeera) The disputed border town of Badme is where war broke out between Ethiopia and Eritrea in 1998. It lasted for two years and devastated both countries. In 2002, a Hague boundary commission ruled that Badme was part of Eritrea. It was a ruling that both countries initially accepted. But Ethiopian troops continue to occupy the town. Nowadays an uneasy standoff exists between the two country’s armies along the still-contested border a few kilometres north of Badme, at the tip of Ethiopia's Yirga Triangle, which juts into Eritrea. But now there are others moving along the border: Eritreans who travel through the region’s hills, trying to keep out of sight of their own military, to escape into Ethiopia...
27 April 2017
Some New York teenagers have formed a charity called Relief United, which is hosting a fundraiser to help Syrian refugees Friday evening in Sleepy Hollow, New York.
All proceeds will go to CNEWA.
If you’re in Westchester County, New York, Friday — stop by and say hello!
An ambitious effort to raise funds for the people of Syria, called “Project Syria LIVE,” kicks off tomorrow evening. As we reported earlier this month, it’s the brainchild of a high school student, Michal Kozlowski, who reached out to other teenagers in his community to create a volunteer group known as Relief United:
The fundraiser for refugees will take place at Kingsland Point Park in Sleepy Hollow, NY from 5:30pm — 10:00pm and will provide a fun night for the community which will include a “Battle of Bands” comprised of local bands and other talented youth from local high schools along with special guests such as “Voice” finalist, Amanda Ayala. The evening will also feature speakers and exhibits highlighting the plight of the displaced, with a special focus on teenaged refugees. Admission is $15 and can be purchased at Relief United’s online Eventbrite, reliefunited.org. Tickets at the door will cost $20. A variety of food trucks will also be onsite to ensure a fun, well fed evening. 100 percent of donations and profits will go directly to CNEWA.
You can read more about the project here.
While the high school students are running this event, all proceeds will go directly to CNEWA and projects and programs we support to help Syrian refugees. Representatives from CNEWA will be there Friday evening — and we hope you’ll join us. (If you can’t make it, visit Relief United’s web page to learn how you can donate and lend your support.)
We’ll be posting updates on social media, so be sure to visit this blog, our Facebook page and Instagram.
Michal Kozlowski, left, and Nick Sinopoli are among the high school students organizing Project Syria LIVE, a fundraiser for CNEWA being held in Sleepy Hollow, New York on 28 April.
(photo: Greg Kandra)
27 April 2017
Tags: Syria Refugees Relief United
A man cleans a statue of Mary inside a Christian souvenir shop on 27 April ahead of Pope Francis’s visit to Cairo beginning on 28 April. (photo: CNS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh, Reuters)
27 April 2017
In this image from January, children wave Iraqi flags to celebrate the partial liberation of their city as they climb on top of armored military vehicles in Mosul, Iraq. Life in parts of the city has returned to normal, but the battle to liberate the rest of Mosul continues.
(photo: CNS/Paul Jeffrey)
‘Israeli strike’ hits military site near Damascus (BBC) An Israeli missile strike has caused a large explosion and fire at a military site near Damascus international airport, Syrian state media report. A fuel tank and warehouses were damaged, the Sana news agency said...
Defiance and dreams of peace in east Mosul (Irish Times) After an operation to retake the city began last October, Iraqi forces declared the eastern half of Mosul liberated in January, allowing normal life to return — insofar as possible in a city ruined by months of war...
Organ trafficker preys on Syrian refugees (BBC) Some refugees beg on the streets — particularly children. Young boys shine shoes, dodge between cars in traffic jams to sell chewing gum or tissues through the windows, or end up exploited as child labour. Others turn to prostitution. But selling an organ is one way to make money quickly...
Egypt’s Coptic Christians under siege ahead of Pope Francis’s visit (ABC.net) While Egypt’s Copts, the largest Christian denomination in the Middle East — thought to make up about 10 per cent of the country’s population of 90 million — have said they largely appreciate Pope Francis’s anticipated message of peaceful religious co-existence and respect, the community faces deep and intrinsic problems...
Indian community in New Zealand celebrates Christian and Hindu holidays together (Indian Weekender) In what can be termed as an excellent example of religious harmony in New Zealand, and more so, shining a bright light on India’s age-old diverse traditions, last weekend, Keralites in Christchurch celebrated Easter, a Christian festival, and Vishu, a Hindu festival, together...
26 April 2017
In the video above, Pope Francis speaks to the TED 2017 audience in Canada about his vision for the world and his hope for the future. (video: TED/YouTube)
Pope Francis yesterday became the first pontiff to deliver a TED talk (you can watch it above) speaking by video to an audience in Canada:
While searching for a connection today often means looking for Wi-Fi, Pope Francis said real connections between people are the only hope for the future.
“How wonderful would it be if the growth of scientific and technological innovation would come along with more equality and social inclusion,” he said in a video talk played 25 April for 1,800 people attending TED 2017 in Vancouver, British Columbia, and posted online with subtitles in 20 languages.
“How wonderful would it be, while we discover faraway planets, to rediscover the needs of the brothers and sisters orbiting around us,” the pope said in the talk that TED organizers had been advertising as that of a “surprise guest.”
Pope Francis spoke to the international conference about combating the current “culture of waste” and “techno-economic systems” that prioritize products, money and things over people.
“Good intentions and conventional formulas, so often used to appease our conscience, are not enough,” he said. “Let us help each other, all together, to remember that the other is not a statistic or a number. The other has a face.”
Many people in the world move along paths “riddled with suffering” with no one to care for them, the pope said. Far too many people who consider themselves “respectable” simply pass by, leaving thousands on “the side of the road.”
“The more powerful you are, the more your actions will have an impact on people,” he said, the greater the responsibility one has to act and to do so with humility. “If you don’t, your power will ruin you, and you will ruin the other.”
“There is a saying in Argentina,” he told his audience: “‘Power is like drinking gin on an empty stomach.’ You feel dizzy, you get drunk, you lose your balance, and you will end up hurting yourself and those around you, if you don’t connect your power with humility and tenderness.”
You can read more here.
TED is a media organization which posts talks online for free distribution. The main conference is held every year in Vancouver. Past speakers have included a wide range of prominent public figures, including Bill Clinton, Billy Graham, and Bono. As its website describes itself:
TED is a nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks (18 minutes or less). TED began in 1984 as a conference where Technology, Entertainment and Design converged, and today covers almost all topics — from science to business to global issues — in more than 100 languages.