17 October 2019
Displaced Syrians who fled violence after the Turkish offensive against Syria receive aid on 15 October 2019, at a camp on the outskirts of Dohuk, Iraq. Humanitarian concerns are growing as people caught in the crosshairs of the Turkish incursion into northeastern Syria try to flee for safety, and groups are scrambling to aid them. (photo: CNS/Ari Jalal, Reuters)
Humanitarian concerns are growing as people caught in the crosshairs of the Turkish incursion into northeastern Syria try to flee for safety, and groups are scrambling to aid them.
“There are big concerns about what is going on in northeastern Syria with the Turkish military aerial assaults and ground operations,” the Rev. Emanuel Youkhana told Catholic News Service by phone from northern Iraq, bordering the area.
Father Youkhana, a priest, or archimandrite, of the Assyrian Church of the East, runs Christian Aid Program Northern Iraq (CAPNI), a Christian program for displaced Iraqis around the city of Dohuk.
The U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, has reported that so far 1,000 Syrians have fled over the border into northern Iraq.
“The numbers are increasing,” Father Youkhana said. “CAPNI staff are on the border of Fishkhabur, and they are set up now in the camps to assist those fleeing.”
Fishkhabur is a town on the northwestern edge of Iraqi Kurdistan, principally inhabited by Chaldean Catholic Assyrians and some Kurds.
Karl Schembri, a spokesman for the Norwegian Refugee Council, described the situation to CNS: “The situation for many of the people is utter chaos: fear gripping the entire area, not know what is going to happen next, where the next attacks will be. A lot of ... displacement happening, the latest figures speak of around 200,000 people because of the fighting. There have been displacement camps that have closed down with people evacuated to other areas, which are hopefully safer.”
“Where can (we) go except here?” Omar Boobe Hose, a refugee from the northern Syrian town of Ras al-Ayn, which has seen heavy, fighting told the Associated Press. “We can’t go to Turkey, because they are our enemy, and the other side is also our enemy, the Syrian (government) side. Where can we go? We have only here. There are no other places for Kurds.”
About 50,000 Syrian refugees are expected to cross into northern Iraq over the next six months, according to the UNHCR. The migration is spurred by the Turkish military operation, which is using Syrian militants from Islamic State and al-Qaida as part of its ground troops fighting Kurdish and Syriac Christians of the Syrian Democratic Forces.
The Syrian Democratic Forces were, until recently, America’s ally in fighting Islamic State in Syria and ending its territorial caliphate there. The forces lost about 11,000 fighters waging war against the terror group. The U.S. troop pullback and Turkish offensive has raised fears of an Islamic State resurgence.
UNHCR said it so far has aided some 32,000 of the hundreds of thousands of civilians displaced by the fighting and Turkish bombardments in Syria’s northeast, mainly in Hassakeh, Qamishli, and Tal Tamer, by meeting basic needs.
But it also has mobilized protection teams to provide “psychological first aid and psychosocial support” to the many who were forced to leave “their homes without papers and other belongings” due to the suddenness of the Turkish military assault. “Families have also been separated,” the UNHCR reported.
Nearly all foreign aid workers reportedly have been evacuated because of security concerns, and there are fears that local staff could face reprisals, either at the hands of Turkish-led forces or its Syrian allied troops.
Schembri said the withdrawal of workers “is putting lives in danger, because there are at least 100,000 displaced (Syrians) due to previous fighting in the Syrian crisis who were completely dependent on humanitarian aid. So they depend on aid agencies for water, food, medical aid and shelter. Most of these services have been suspended because of the uncertainty and lack of safety for aid workers. Every day that passes without these aid services resuming is putting lives at risk in itself, not to mention the fighting that has already killed civilians.”
Bishop Georges Khazen, apostolic vicar of Aleppo for the Latin-rite Catholic Church, said the United States “has betrayed the Kurdish people” and insisted that Turkey’s incursion into northeastern Syria will lead to a new exodus, forcing Christians and other minorities out.
“Jihadis (Islamist militants) operate and fight under the auspices of the Turkish army. They (the Turks) claim they want to repatriate Syrian refugees to places where other peoples and communities already live,” Bishop Khazan told AsiaNews, a Rome-based missionary news agency. He said the Turkish military’s goal “is ethnic cleansing.”
“These wars do not solve problems; on the contrary, they lay the foundations for other, bigger ones,” he said, voicing his fear that Turkey’s interference in Syria will not stop with the so-called safe zone it is trying to establish for 2 million Syrian refugees from other regions who now live in Turkey.
Siban Sallo, a local Yazidi activist and journalist, reported that more than 500 Yazidis had been displaced in eight out of 15 Yazidi villages extending across Syria’s northeastern border with Turkey. Three Syriac-Christian villages in the vicinity also emptied out after the conflict began.
In a bipartisan vote on 16 October, the U.S. House of Representatives condemned President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from northeastern Syria.
The resolution asked the U.S. to support communities that have been displaced by the conflict with humanitarian assistance and called on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to immediately halt military action in the region. U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Washington would impose further sanctions on Turkey if a cease-fire in northeastern Syria is not established.
16 October 2019
A shoe is seen amid broken glass at the site of a car bomb blast in Qamishli, Syria, on 11 October 2019. Church bells have been ringing in Qamishli and elsewhere in northeastern Syria, signaling the alarm to Christians and others of the ongoing Turkish military operation having a devastating humanitarian impact on civilians. (photo: CNS/Rodi Said, Reuters)
Church bells have been ringing in Qamishli and elsewhere in northeastern Syria, signaling the alarm to Christians and others of the ongoing Turkish military operation that is having a devastating humanitarian impact on civilians.
“Hundreds of thousands of people have escaped,” said Yerado Krikorian, communications assistant for the Catholic aid agency Caritas Syria, which is working around the clock to aid those displaced by Turkish bombing and shelling.
“They need water where they have fled, and so Caritas is distributing badly needed water bottles and other essentials to those displaced in shelters throughout the Hassakeh region,” Krikorian told Catholic News Service by telephone from Damascus.
Caritas Syria is the country’s branch of Caritas Internationalis, the Catholic Church’s international network of charitable agencies.
The A’louk water station, supplying water to nearly 400,000 people in Hassakeh, is out of service, according to UNICEF. The organization and Syrian government are is trying to get it fixed.
Meanwhile, UNICEF warns that some 70,000 children have been displaced since hostilities escalated on 7 October, but it expected that number to more than double as a result of ongoing violence. As of 15 October, the United Nations estimates that at least 160,000 people have been displaced, but 400,000 are in need of humanitarian aid as the Turkish military and its allied Syrian rebels, including Islamic State and al-Qaida militants, press deeper into northeastern Syria, battling Kurdish and Syriac Christian forces.
Christians and other religious minorities said they feel particularly vulnerable as Turkish artillery targeted a predominantly Christian neighborhood in Qamishli, the largest city in northeastern Syria. News reports said Christians, Ayeda Habsono and her husband, Fadi, were severely wounded in the attack that hit their house. Several other residents also were injured. Christians and Yazidis have been victimized by Islamic State militants in recent times.
Humanitarians complain that they are being denied safe and unimpeded access to civilians due to Turkish shelling and airstrikes as well as uncertainty as to who is in control over certain areas, forcing many aid organizations to relocate to northern Iraq. Hospitals, schools and churches have been bombed. They have also decried targeted killings of civilians, including that of a Kurdish female politician, by Syrian militants working with the Turks.
Observers point to the danger of NATO member Turkey using proxy forces to carry out atrocities, deemed as war crimes.
David Miliband, head of the International Rescue Committee, condemned Turkey’s offensive, designed to
clear out the native population of Kurds, Christians and Yazidis to put 2 million Syrian refugees from other regions and now sheltering in Turkey into a so-called “safe zone.”
“The so-called safe zone is becoming a death trap,” Miliband warned. “And the winners of this are Islamic State and the Assad government.
“The northeast was one of the most stable parts of Syria,” he said, before U.S. President Donald Trump announced in early October that he was withdrawing U.S. troops.
Trump has since called for an immediate end to Turkey’s moves against the Kurds in Syria and has sent Vice President Mike Pence to the Middle East. The U.S. is “simply not going to tolerate Turkey’s invasion of Syria any longer,” said Pence.
Alarmed by the military onslaught on “beloved and martyred” Syria, Pope Francis called on “all the actors involved and the international community” to commit themselves “sincerely to the path of dialogue to seek effective solutions” to the crisis.
The pope said on 13 October that dramatic news was emerging about the fate of the populations forced to abandon their homes because of military actions. “Among these populations there are also many Christian families,” he said.
15 October 2019
Tags: Syria Caritas
Following a Mass near Thrissur, India, pilgrims carry a statue of St. Mariam Thresia on 13 October 2019. She was among five people canonized by Pope Francis at the Vatican that day.
(photo: CNS/Anto Akkara)
Among the five people canonized over the weekend, one was a religious sister from Kerala who founded a congregation in India.
From Vatican News:
A religious and mystic, Sister Mariam Theresia was born in Puthenchira, in southern India’s Kerala state, on April 26, 1876. Belonging to a once rich and noble family with extensive landed property, the future pioneer of the family apostolate grew up in piety and holiness under the loving guidance of her saintly mother, Thanda. In her intense love for God, the 8-year old girl gave herself up to austere, penance, fasting and prayer. She wanted to be conformed ever more to the likeness of the suffering Christ to whom she also consecrated her virginity at an early age.
In imitation of Jesus, she helped the poor, nursed the sick, visited and comforted the lonely people of her parish.
She was also blessed with the stigmata but kept it secret to avoid attention. She received several mystical gifts like prophecy, healing, an aura of light, sweet odor and frequently had ecstasies and levitations. Her entire existence was tormented by demons and she offered her sufferings for the remission of the sins of the world.
Thresia and three companions who joined her led a life of prayer and austere penance and continued to help families, visiting the sick, the poor and the needy irrespective of religion or caste. This ministry led her to establish the new Congregation of the Holy Family on 14 May 1914.
Sister Thresia died on 8 June 1926, at the age of 50, and was declared Blessed by Pope Saint John Paul II in 2000.
Pope Francis in February authorized a decree recognizing a miracle through her intercession, which cleared her for sainthood, and in July the Pope decided on 13 October as the canonization day.
Since then, the sisters of the Congregation of the Holy Family have been preparing intensely for this great day, said Sister Udaya, the Superior General of the Congregation. In Rome for Sunday’s canonization, she explained to Vatican news that they are concentrating more on spiritual preparation and works of charity for the family than external preparation.
Hear an interview with Sister Udaya at the link.
11 October 2019
Children enjoyed fun and games and much more at an annual summer camp in Armenia.
(photo: Catholic Ordinariate of Armenia, Georgia, Russia, Ukraine and Eastern Europe)
While much of the world is getting ready for winter, some of our friends in Armenia this week shared with us this glimpse of summer.
Below is a video showing highlights of a summer camp that was supported, in part, by CNEWA.
As a report from the church puts it:
From June to August 2019, the Armenian Catholic Ordinariate of Armenia, Georgia, Russia, Ukraine and Eastern Europe hosted about 833 participants in “Aghajanyan” Summer Camp in a wonderful campsite of Torosgyugh. The children come from Catholic communities of both Armenia and Georgia.
The report goes on to say the camp also welcomed children with disabilities. Daily activities included catechism classes, to “provide children with a solid foundation in a rapidly changing world of values and morals.” The camp also featured dance, handicrafts, language clubs and games.
The report explains just how important this project has become:
Every summer, our participants are living the dream of a place where everyone belongs and knows each other; becoming more self-confidence and reinventing themselves in new situations; feeling included with their peers in a caring community; lasting friendships and endless fun; trying new things and exploring new talents; and making forever memories.
CNEWA is proud to support this venture — and we’re pleased to share this video of highlights from a summer many young people will never forget.
9 October 2019
In this image from June, Ukrainian Catholic Bishop Paul P. Chomnycky of Stamford, Connecticut, in front of altar with book, concelebrates the Divine Liturgy at the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Philadelphia. (photo: CNS/Bob Roller)
Leaders of the Ukrainian Catholic Church in the United States have appealed to seminarians to identify candidates for the priesthood who can be “true missionaries and pastors.”
The appeal came in a September letter from the six bishops of the Metropolia of Philadelphia, which covers much of the U.S. It discussed some of the challenges and opportunities facing the Ukrainian Catholic Church and outlined the “spiritual and pastoral expectations of candidates to the priesthood.”
The bishops said parishes throughout the metropolia “will need a substantial replenishment of its clergy over the coming years.”
As an example, they cited the Philadelphia Archeparchy’s needs: 15 new priests in the next five years “to serve its faithful adequately and respond to their needs.”
“We are not looking for workers to simply accomplish a task or fulfill a plan, but for true missionaries and pastors who will care for the faithful with a willingness even to sacrifice their lives for them, from love of God and neighbor,” the bishops wrote.
The Metropolia of Philadelphia includes the Archeparchy of Philadelphia and the eparchies of Stamford, Connecticut, St. Josaphat in Parma, Ohio, and St. Nicholas in Chicago.
Signing the letter were Metropolitan-Archbishop Borys Gudziak and Auxiliary Bishops John Bura and Andriy Rabiy of the Philadelphia Archeparchy; Bishop Paul P. Chomnycky of Stamford; Bishop Bohdan J. Danylo of the St. Josaphat Eparchy; and Bishop Venedykt Aleksiychuk of the St. Nicholas Eparchy.
In the archeparchy and three eparchies, 185 active priests serve in ministry, according to a church spokesman. That includes 48 priests in Philadelphia, 59 in Stamford, 37 in Parma and 41 in Chicago.
The bishops said they remain committed to serving the faithful in the Ukrainian Catholic Church despite dwindling numbers. The letter cited how the number of parishioners has declined from more than 250,000 in the 1960s to 25,000 today.
The letter called for a widespread effort to rebuild the Ukrainian Catholic Church “one person at a time.”
“We need pastors who are ready to heal, inspire and rejuvenate, who, through their sermons and example, will give clear guidance to the conflicted postmodern person and will proclaim ‘the message of reconciliation,’“ the bishops wrote, citing St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians.
The leaders said the church’s priorities will focus on spreading the word of God, evangelization and catechization. Special emphasis will be made to appeal to youth and young adults through “creativity from the pastor and the ability to address -- persuasively but serenely -- deep and difficult questions of the present day.”
“Answering the appeal of Pope Francis, we should and will go outside the gates of our church buildings. A shepherd should follow the scent of his sheep, even those who are now outside the fold,” the letter said, citing the “millions” of people within the territory of the metropolia who are “unchurched, do not know God, do not enjoy the support of community.”
The bishops called for “team-based” ministry to carry out the important work ahead.
In appealing for priest candidates, the bishops said they were not seeking people “to improve their material status” nor those “with personal or family motivations, rather than the priority of evangelization.”
The task facing future priests will be difficult, the bishops wrote.
“A commitment to serve in our church must be a commitment for the long haul,” they said. “It is not for those who are quickly discouraged or disillusioned. True service to the flock entrusted to a pastor requires dedication and endurance -- an understanding the realities of the community you serve, in all their unvarnished truth.”
8 October 2019
Tags: Vocations (religious) Ukrainian Catholic Church
Filipina community members attend a meeting at the Pontifical Mission Library in Amman.
(photo: Nader Daoud)
In the current edition of ONE, writer Dale Gavlak visits Filipino migrants who are building a home in Jordan, thanks to the Teresian Association:
Aurea Gutierrez Perlai says she has found support through a pair of Filipina women who belong to a community of the Catholic Church known as the Teresian Association.
“Elisa [Estrada] and Amabel [Sibug] invited me and the children to get involved in the choir at church. My daughter, Nicole, now 13, plays guitar for the choir. Amabel taught her how to play and is working with Nicole on her very first recital. And my son, Jordan, who is 11, serves at the altar,” Ms. Perlai says proudly.
“They are like mothers to us. They stand beside us, asking us always what we may need, and how they can support us.”
An international community of the faithful present in 30 countries, the Teresian Association seeks to transform society in light of the Gospel through education and culture.
Both Ms. Estrada and Ms. Sibug say they draw inspiration from the martyr St. Pedro Poveda, the founder of the Teresians, whose ministry emphasized love, sacrifice and hard work.
“We are here only to walk with them. We are not the solution to their problems; Jesus is. Our own strength is in prayer,” says Ms. Estrada.
This, indeed, is how the two begin every day: “Amabel and I pray the rosary together.”
Read more about Filipinos In a Land of Refugees in the September 2019 edition of ONE. And for another glimpse at their world, check out the the video below.
7 October 2019
Tags: Jordan Migrants
Abel, a 16-year-old student at the Abune Endrias School in Ethiopia, is learning about the dangers of khat addiction and has seen the effects in his own family. Read how Ethiopians, with support from the church, are Breaking Free of this dangerous plant in the September 2019 edition of ONE.
(photo: Petterik Wiggers)
4 October 2019
Children participate in a group activity at the St. Paul Center for Church Services in Iraq.
(photo: Raed Rafei)
In the current edition of ONE, journalist Raed Rafei writes about visiting Iraq two years after the defeat of ISIS. He reports on how Iraqi Christians are facing the future — and notes that many are encouraged to stay because of the church’s commitment to education:
In the lively St. Paul Center for Church Services, hundreds of children come every day to take summer lessons in catechetics and Christian values, learn hymns and watch animated films about Jesus and the saints. The center, run by priests and young volunteers, also offers classes in music, computer literacy and English, as well as counseling and courses for young couples preparing for marriage.
“We focus on entertaining methods that foster cooperation among children,” says Father Ignatius, who manages Christian teaching for children, stressing the importance of such a program in encouraging the return of families, despite difficult economic conditions. Nearby, children participate in a group activity that tests their knowledge of the Bible in a playful environment.
“We need to plant the seeds of endurance and of Christian values in the hearts of our kids,” the priest explains. “They are the future.”
Educators are routinely trained to help tackle social issues that might affect youth, such as drinking and excessive online gaming.
Teaching is also the priority for the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, who reside in Qaraqosh at the Immaculate Conception Convent, a building from the 1960’s restored a year and half ago after sustaining heavy damage during the years of occupation and war.
“The psychological situation of our students is difficult,” says Sister Muntaha Hadaya, who teaches math at the Dominican Sisters’ school. She says instability and the lack of jobs affect the children’s morale.
“They need a lot of motivation, because the atmosphere in most households is depressing,” she explains. “Parents are constantly preoccupied with life’s many needs.”
The high rate of success of their students in official exams and the increasing demand for education have prompted the sisters to build a larger secondary school that will accommodate around 350 students. The new school will be equipped with laboratories and computer rooms.
Read more about the Resolve of Iraqi Christians in the September 2019 edition of the magazine. And discover more about the St. Paul Center in the video below.
3 October 2019
Tags: Iraqi Christians
Brother Peter Bray chats with students on the grounds of Bethlehem University.
(photo: Ilene Perlman)
In the September 2019 edition of ONE, Brother Peter Bray, vice chancellor of Bethlehem University, writes about the challenges and opportunities facing students at the school:
We are seeking to create an environment, develop an atmosphere, provide opportunities for our students to acquire the knowledge, gain the skills and develop the attitudes and values that are going to enable them to do what Jesus wanted — that is, to live life as fully as they possibly can, despite the military occupation with its various restrictions and confinement within the concrete wall and other barriers surrounding the West Bank.
One of the opportunities offered by the university is a place for Christians and Muslims to come together. For a significant number of the Muslim students, coming to Bethlehem University is the first time they have met a Christian. Many speak about it as an enlightening experience for them.
There are many challenges facing us as we seek to provide quality higher education for our students. The most obvious are the restrictions on movement. At present, 46 percent of our students come from East Jerusalem. To attend class they must pass through a military checkpoint at the wall each day — an unpredictable and humiliating experience. What these students face on their way to and from the university is the possibility that their bus may be stopped once or twice or even three times by different groups of Israeli soldiers. They can be questioned, interrogated, arrested; they could have a gun held to their face without any warning. You can imagine how they might feel by the time they arrive at school.
I am deeply concerned about our undergraduates and the potentially disheartening lives they face. We need to keep them aware of and committed to their dreams. Yet every day, they live with the possibility of their homes being raided in the middle of the night and some member of their family being taken away. The question that arises: What can we do to help them deal with this unpredictability, this injustice?
Read more of his thoughts here.
2 October 2019
Tags: Bethlehem University
The future is brighter for students at the Rosary Sisters School in Gaza, where renovated classrooms provide a comfortable and well-equipped learning environment. (photo: Ali Hassan)
The July 2019 edition of ONE included a compelling first-person account of life in Gaza from Sister Nabila Saleh, principal of the Rosary Sisters School:
Being the principal of the school is a tough row to hoe; it’s not an easy task to deal with life in Gaza, where teachers, parents and students are living with the aftermath of war or are threatened by its renewal. Anxious and unnerved, tempers flared. I understood the burdens and fears of a people under siege and living in poverty with little hope in the future.
Most people in Gaza suffered from posttraumatic disorders in one manner or another — especially the children, who endured three bloody conflicts in only five years. I could hardly hold back my tears when I came to realize how much they were deeply and forever scarred. Some of the children had seen mutilated bodies or experienced the daily artillery shelling and heard the continuing roar of warplanes overhead.
“No place in Gaza was safe,” some would tell me, adding, that they experienced panic attacks whenever there was a bombing. So often when I heard these stories, I wasn’t able to contain myself and I cried.
In a tenth-grade class, a student named Salma told me, with tears running down her cheeks: “I will never get married because I can’t bear losing one of my beloved in war. I can’t bear seeing them mutilated; I don’t want to be responsible for the misery of my children by letting them live in Gaza to suffer as I do. I have lost hope in life.
“I’m expecting another war any time,” she said. “I struggle daily with the fear that next time will be my turn to die, or my father’s, or my mother’s, or my little brother’s.”
I am deeply concerned by what happens in Gaza. Siege, war, internal dislocation, pay cuts and long-lasting electricity outages impact every aspect of Gazans’ lives — particularly the children. Living in these circumstances has forced them to experience poverty, hunger and a daily struggle to exist. This situation has left most of the people dependent on humanitarian aid.
Whenever I have to face hardships and feel vulnerable, I remind myself of the words of St. Paul: “[The Lord] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’
Read more in ONE magazine.
And check out the video below, which gives an intimate look at the work of the Rosary Sisters.
Tags: Gaza Strip/West Bank