31 January 2017
The Rev. Paolo Dall’Oglio ministered to people in Syria and committed his life to dialogue with the Islamic world. (photo: CNS)
When we first met this CNEWA hero two decades ago, we had no idea the dramatic turn his life would take.
The Rev. Paolo Dall’Oglio had settled in Syria, at Mar Mousa (St. Moses), a monastery about an hour’s drive north of Damascus that had become a treasured pilgrimage site for thousands of people every year. Our story in the magazine from 1998 explained its history:
A manuscript from Mar Mousa now in the British Museum dates the monastery’s construction to the sixth century. Local tradition says the monastery was founded on the site of the grave of St. Moses the Ethiopian (c. 330 – 405).
According to tradition, Moses, the slave of an Egyptian official, was dismissed from service for immoral conduct and theft.
Once freed, he formed a band of fierce robbers, who ran roughshod throughout Egypt. Fleeing the law after one escapade, he sought refuge with some hermits who overwhelmed the robber with their sanctity and kindness. He asked to remain with the hermits and, after making a confession, he received the sacraments. Encouraged by St. Isidore, he overcame his penchant for violence and sex and, with his band of robbers-turned-monks, he traveled throughout the Near East, spreading the Gospel.
Moses became a well-loved individual, particularly in the East, where the Coptic, Ethiopian, Greek, Latin and Syrian churches honor his memory.
In 1982, when Father Paolo Dall’Oglio, an Italian Jesuit priest, first came to Syria, the ancient Syrian Orthodox monastery of Mar Mousa was abandoned and in ruins. The monastery church dates from the 11th century; the frescoes that adorn it, from the 11th and 12th centuries.
...Today, the Mar Mousa community is led by Father Paolo, who has a flare for archaeology, languages, preservation and, of late, cheese-making. Definitely no hermit, Father Paolo is the tour guide, spiritual leader and overall mus’uul or the one responsible in the monastery.
“Today our community is composed of 10 members: five monks and five novice nuns [all of whom are under 40 years of age],” he says. “And we are international: we are Syrian, Italian and Swiss.”
He intended to turn the monastery into a place for shared prayer and dialogue — ideals close to the heart of CNEWA:
Christian-Muslim dialogue and supporting the Syrian Christian ecumenical movement rank at the top of this man’s objectives. His interest in Islam led him to pursue a doctorate in Qur’anic Studies from Rome’s Gregorian University.
“Our community plans to be ecumenical,” Father Paolo comments.
“We are particularly committed to prayer, hospitality and dialogue with the Islamic world. We hope to be a part of the movement in the Universal Church working toward achieving harmony with the Islamic world.”
Under his guidance, over the next several years the monastery became a center of interfaith dialogue. But the political situation in Syria eventually led Father Paolo to a different calling. The Italian Jesuit priest became a vocal peace activist and critic of the Syrian regime. Then, in 2013, he was kidnapped by militants of ISIS. There were reports that he was executed, but they have never been confirmed. An ISIS defector in 2015 insisted that he was still alive.
Pope Francis has mentioned Father Paolo in his public prayers and asked the world to pray for him and other Christians whose fate is unknown.
To this day, he remains a heroic figure to many around the world who continue to believe in his ideals of dialogue and peace between peoples.
As one of friends, Hind Aboud Kabawat, told a reporter last year:
“We have to follow his principles. To love the others, to build bridges with the others. To cross the line and make peace and make reconciliation. This was his favorite word.”
31 January 2017
In this image from 2014, Syrian girls at Good Shepherd Social Center in Deir al-Ahmar, Lebanon, make Christmas decorations. Hundreds of Syrian refugees attend school at the center. As a result of President Trump’s executive action last week, Syrian refugees such as these are prevented from resettling in the U.S. until further notice. (photo: CNS/Brooke Anderson)
Promised resettlement in the United States after escaping death and destruction in their homeland, many Syrian refugees are frustrated and angry over President Donald Trump’s executive action banning their entry to the U.S. until further notice.
“We’re frustrated. We were told that we were accepted for resettlement in the U.S., and now everything is at a standstill,” a Syrian refugee woman told Catholic News Service, wiping away tears as she surveyed her crumbling home in the Jordanian capital.
“Neither the U.S. Embassy nor the International Organization for Migration have responded to our repeated telephone calls about our status or what to expect in the future,” said the mother of four young children, whose family fled to Jordan in 2013 after their home was bombed. Rahma provided only her first name for fear of reprisal.
“If there is no longer any chance of being resettled in the U.S., then we would like to know whether we can apply somewhere else which will welcome us,” she said.
The burden of not being able to work in Jordan over these past years has left Rahma’s family desperate, unable to provide even the basic necessities of food and heating for the winter.
Refugee Abdel Hakim, a pharmacist from the southern Syrian town of Daraa, cannot contain his anger at seeing his dreams of starting a new life in the United States dashed. He and his family were far along in the approval process and expected to travel shortly from Jordan to the U.S. He called the measure “discriminatory and racist.”
“In the beginning, we didn’t want to leave Syria. But as it’s been plunged deeper in war, we now find even the door to America has been slammed shut in our faces,” he told CNS.
Trump’s 27 January presidential action ended indefinitely the entry of Syrian refugees to the U.S., pending a security review meant to ensure terrorists cannot slip through the vetting process. As well, it suspended the entire U.S. refugee resettlement program for 120 days.
The action also slapped a 90-day ban on all entry to the U.S. from seven Muslim-majority countries with terrorism concerns, including Syria. While Jordan is not on that list, the Middle East kingdom hosts more than 1.5 million refugees who have fled conflicts in neighboring Syria and Iraq, including flight from the so-called Islamic State militants.
“These dramatic and discriminatory policies will only harm, not help, U.S. interests and our national security,” Jesuit Refugee Service-USA said in a statement criticizing the decision.
For the past 15 years, as waves of refugees fleeing the 2003 Gulf war, the Syrian civil war and those persecuted by Islamic State militants have flooded Jordan in search of a safe haven, Catholic and other churches have provided food, clothing, heating and other items, regardless of the refugees’ religious background.
International faith-based aid groups, such as Catholic Relief Service and Caritas, have been at the forefront of efforts helping refugees, mainly from Syria and Iraq, but also those who fled the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011.
Resource-poor Jordan has struggled to provide water and electricity, education and health services to hundreds of thousands of refugees as the grinding conflicts in their homelands show little sign of ending. Many Syrian refugees accepted for U.S. resettlement have arrived from Jordan.
More than 27,000 Syrian refugees from 11 Middle Eastern host countries were under consideration for resettlement to the U.S. and in various stages of the approval process at the time of Trump’s action, according to the International Organization for Migration, a U.N.-related agency that interviews and prepares refugees for resettlement.
Quickly, the measure sparked mass protests at U.S. airports and other venues, where people demanded its repeal. Angry demonstrators criticized the ban as completely contrary to America’s ideals and its storied history of accepting immigrants fleeing persecution in search of a better life.
King Abdullah II of Jordan visited Washington Jan. 30, becoming the first Arab leader to meet members of the Trump administration, including Vice President Mike Pence and the secretaries of defense and homeland security.
The king raised the controversial bans in his talks, according to an official statement, which said he “emphasized that Muslims are the No. 1 victims” of Islamic terrorists, whom he called religious “outlaws” who “do not represent any faith or nationality.”
King Abdullah will address the National Prayer Breakfast 2 February and is expected to meet Trump.
The monarch is considered Washington’s closest Arab ally battling the Islamic State as part of the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq and Syria. Jordan hosts considerable U.S. military hardware and personnel, serving as a critical base for U.S. air operations against the Islamic State in Syria. It has also experienced deadly Islamic State attacks on its territory.
Jordan has also called the new administration’s proposal to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem “a red line” that could evoke “catastrophic” consequences, including widespread violent unrest at home and in the region. Jordan is the custodian of Muslim and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem under a 1994 peace treaty with Israel, only one of two treaties the Jewish state has with Arab countries.
31 January 2017
In the video above, the author of a new book describes the often-overlooked human toll of the refugee crisis that is now making headlines around the world. (video: Rome Reports)
Pope offers Mass for modern martyrs (L’Osservatore Romano) Pope Francis offered Mass on Monday, 30 January, in the Casa Santa Marta chapel for “today’s martyrs,” persecuted and imprisoned Christians, and for Churches which are not free to express the faith...
Vatican official: Wellbeing of society is measured by its response to migrants (Vatican Radio) The way a country responds to the needs of migrants and refugees is a “thermometer” of the wellbeing of that society. That’s the view of Canadian Jesuit Father Michael Czerny, recently appointed as undersecretary of the Vatican’s new department for Integral Human Development...
Trump ban on refugees ignites firestorm, but also gains support (CNS) As President Donald Trump signed an executive memorandum intended to restrict the entry of terrorists coming to the United States in the guise of refugees, the action brought quick response from Catholic and other religious leaders...
Leaflets dropped over western Mosul in advance of push (Andalou Agency) Iraqi aircraft dropped leaflets over western Mosul early Tuesday urging civilian residents to brace for impending army operations aimed at wresting the area from the Daesh terrorist group. “Your enemy [Daesh] has been defeated in eastern Mosul,” the leaflets read. “Your armed forces are now preparing to advance on the western side [of the city]...”
Palestinian local election set for May, likely without Gaza (AP) The Palestinian self-rule government in the West Bank has set May 13 as a new date for municipal elections after infighting between Hamas and Fatah groups derailed such a vote last year. The elections will likely only take place in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where the Palestinian Authority of President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah movement run autonomous enclaves...
Head of Russian Orthodox church backs abortion ban (The Tablet) Russia’s Orthodox patriarch has called on members of the Russian parliament to press for a total ban on abortions, warning that the high numbers perpetrated annually are impeding the country’s moral and social development. “I’ve appealed to deputies several times to consider restricting abortion, and I’ve seen some progress made in highlighting this evil,” Kirill I told State Duma members on 26 January. “This would not be some revolutionary step, but a necessary return to normality, without which it will be impossible for men and women to achieve happiness...”
30 January 2017
Tags: Syria Iraq Pope Francis Gaza Strip/West Bank Russian Orthodox
An elderly woman from Mosul, Iraq, sits at a refugee camp in Khazer, Iraq, on 29 January. Giving priority to Christian refugees for settlement programs would be “a trap” that discriminates and fuels religious tensions in the Middle East, said Patriarch Louis Sako of Baghdad.
(photo: CNS/Ahmed Jadallah, Reuters)
Giving priority to Christian refugees for settlement programs would be “a trap” that discriminates and fuels religious tensions in the Middle East, said Iraq's Chaldean Catholic patriarch.
“Every reception policy that discriminates (between) the persecuted and suffering on religious grounds ultimately harms the Christians of the East” and would be “a trap for Christians in the Middle East,” said Patriarch Louis Sako of Baghdad.
The patriarch, speaking to Fides, the news agency of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, commented on an executive action by U.S. President Donald Trump that temporarily stops from U.S. entry refugees from all over the world and migrants from seven countries in an attempt to review the screening process. The document asks that once the ban is lifted, refugee claims based on religious persecution be prioritized.
Patriarch Sako said any preferential treatment based on religion provides the kind of arguments used by those who propagate “propaganda and prejudice that attack native Christian communities of the Middle East as ‘foreign bodies’” or as groups that are “supported and defended by Western powers.”
“These discriminating choices,” he said, “create and feed tensions with our Muslim fellow citizens. Those who seek help do not need to be divided according to religious labels. And we do not want privileges. This is what the Gospel teaches, and what was pointed out by Pope Francis, who welcomed refugees in Rome who fled from the Middle East, both Christians and Muslims without distinction.”
Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila, Philippines, president of Caritas Internationalis, said any policy that gave priorities to Christians “might revive some of these animosities and might even pit Christians against Muslims, and that (also) might generate contrary action from the Muslims against Christians.”
“This is a time when we don’t want to add to the prejudice, the biases and even discriminatory attitudes evolving in the world,” he told Catholic News Service in Beirut 30 January at the Caritas Lebanon headquarters.
Emphasizing that he had not read the text of the executive action, but only news reports, the Philippine cardinal said announcing a ban being applied to specific countries was akin to “labeling them — and the migrants coming from those countries — as possible threats to a country. I think it is quite a generalization that needs to be justified.”
Cardinal Tagle, who has visited refugee settlements as part of his role as Caritas president, said he asks people who express reservations about receiving refugees and migrants, “Have you ever talked to a real refugee? Have you heard stories of real persons?”
“Very often, the refugee issue is reduced to statistics and an abstraction,” he said, and when people actually talk with refugees, “you realize that there is a human story, a global story (there) and if you just open your ears, your eyes, your heart then you could say, ‘This could be my mother. This could be my father. This could be my brother, my child.’
“These are human lives,” he said. “So, for people making decisions on the global level, please know that whatever you decide touches persons for better or for worse. And if our decisions are not based on the respect for human dignity and for what is good, then we will just be prolonging this problem — creating conflicts that drive people away.”
Canadian Jesuit Father Michael Czerny, undersecretary for migrants and refugees at the Vatican’s new Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, told CNS in Rome that Christians are asked to reflect on the Good Samaritan and not to “react and act as if the plight of migrants and refugees is none of our business.”
People should focus on those seeking security and “take the trouble to find out the facts” — like how “migrants, far from being a drain, make a net contribution to the domestic economy — rather (than) swallow allegations which just trigger fear.”
Richer countries should not only welcome those who are fleeing, they “can do much more to help improve security and living, working, education and health opportunities in the refugee- and migrant-producing countries,” he said in a written statement.
More effort should be put into peacemaking and more resources dedicated to “helpful foreign aid.”
“The role of government is to enact its people’s values, keeping different factors in balance. National security is important, but always in balance with human security, which includes values like openness, solidarity, hope for the future,” the Jesuit priest said.
“The bottom line,” he said “is the centrality and dignity of the human person, where you cannot favor ‘us’ and ‘them,’ citizens over others.”
Contributing to this story was Doreen Abi Raad in Beirut.
30 January 2017
Pope Francis greets Cardinal Gerald Lacroix of Quebec after celebrating morning Mass in the chapel of his residence at the Vatican on 30 January. A Vatican statement said the pope assured Cardinal Lacroix of his prayers for the victims of a shooting in a mosque in Quebec City.
(photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano, handout)
Pope prays for victims of Quebec mosque attack (Vatican Radio) On Monday morning, following the usual Mass at the Pope’s residence in the Casa Santa Marta, the Holy Father met with Cardinal Gérald Cyprien LaCroix, assuring the Archbishop of Quebec City of his prayers for the victims of the attack on a mosque there on Sunday night...
Vatican council for interfaith dialogue condemns Canada attack (Vatican Radio) The Vatican’s Council for Interreligious Dialogue has strongly condemned the shooting at a mosque in Canada in which six people were killed and another dozen wounded. More than 50 people were gathered for evening prayers at the Islamic Cultural Centre in Quebec City on Sunday night when the attack took place. Police have arrested two suspects in connection with the shooting, which Canadian authorities have described as a terror attack...
Chaldean patriarch: selection reception of migrants based on religion is ‘a trap for Christians’ (Fides) The option foreshadowed by U.S. President Donald Trump to maintain a “fast track” open for Christian refugees to enter the US, while the doors are closed to citizens of seven countries with a Muslim majority, is “a trap for Christians in the Middle East.” This was underlined by Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako, Primate of the Eastern Catholic Church...
Syria warns setting up safe zones would be dangerous (AP) Syria warned Monday of safe zones for civilians that U.S. President Donald Trump has expressed interest in creating, saying it would have to come in coordination with the Syrian government, otherwise it would be unsafe and violate the Arab nation’s sovereignty. The announcement was made in Damascus by Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem during a meeting with the head of the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR, Filippo Grandi, who began an official visit to Syria on Monday...
Hundreds in St. Petersburg protest plan to give cathedral back to church (AP) Protesters rallied in St. Petersburg on Saturday against plans by city authorities to give a landmark cathedral to the Russian Orthodox Church amid an increasingly passionate debate over the relationship between the church and the Russian state...
Gaza water shortage worsening (Reuters) Gaza has long suffered severe water problems, with its aquifer contaminated by sewage, chemicals and seawater and the territory’s three desalination plants unable to meet demand. To drink, most citizens depend on imported, bottled water. But locals and development specialists say the situation is getting beyond dire, with more than 90 percent of the water in the aquifer unfit for domestic use, according to Rebhy Al-Sheikh, the deputy chairman of the Palestinian Water Authority...
27 January 2017
Sister Antoinette helps an Iraqi refugee study at her convent in Amman. Read more about how these religious sisters are Welcoming the Stranger in the Winter 2016 edition of ONE. (photo: Tamara Abdul Hadi)
27 January 2017
Tags: Iraqi Christians Jordan Sisters Iraqi Refugees
“Today we brought back part of our dignity,” said Sophian, a parishioner in the town of Tel Kaif in Iraq’s Nineveh Plain, who helped raise the cross on the roof of his reopened church. (video: Rudaw)
Chaldean patriarch visits recovering community in Nineveh Plain (Fides) On Thursday, 26 January, a delegation of the Chaldean Church led by Patriarch Raphael Louis I visited the area of the Nineveh Plain recently retaken by the Iraqi army and met with local officials and community members. In Tel Kaif, in the Church of the Sacred Heart, the patriarch led a moment of prayer to invoke the gift of peace in the entire region and the prompt return of refugees to their homes…
Pope calls Catholics and Oriental Orthodox to work for peace (Vatican Radio) Wherever there is violence and conflict, Christians are called to work patiently to restore concord and hope. That was Pope Francis’ message on Friday to members of the Joint International Commission for theological dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Oriental Orthodox churches. The group, which is meeting in the Vatican this week, includes representatives of six ancient churches of the East that have been separated from the rest of the Christian world since the middle of the fifth century…
The desperate conditions inside a Serbian migrant camp (New York Times) Migrants are stuck in freezing conditions behind the central train station in Belgrade, Serbia, where they survive on one meal a day. Many of the estimated 1,000 migrants are escaping instability in Afghanistan, where a worsening war with the Taliban has sent record numbers of people fleeing their homes. They have lingered for weeks in legal limbo, unable to move north after European countries along the Balkans shut their borders last year…
Sisi’s church donation stirs religious controversy (Al Monitor) When Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al Sisi donated 100,000 Egyptian pounds to build a mosque and a church in the new administrative capital, he stirred a wave of criticism and a religious controversy…
Pope Francis: ‘Remember Holocaust so never repeated’ (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis met with a delegation from the European Jewish Congress on Friday on the occasion of the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which occurs annually on 27 January…
26 January 2017
Tags: Iraq Egypt Ecumenism Interreligious Serbia
A visitor enjoys a hot meal at the Harmony Center of Caritas Georgia. For two decades, Caritas Georgia has provided a wide range of services — including classes and health care — to the most vulnerable populations of the Caucasus. Learn more about their work in A Letter from Georgia in the current edition of ONE. (photo: Antonio di Vico)
26 January 2017
Pope Francis delivers a joint blessing with Orthodox Metropolitan Gennadios of Italy and Malta and Anglican Archbishop David Moxon, the archbishop of Canterbury’s representative to the Vatican, during an ecumenical prayer service to conclude the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls in Rome on 25 January. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Pope: Christian unity requires learning from each other (CNS) Divided Christians need to recognize the gifts God has given to other communities and learn from them “without waiting for the others to learn first,” Pope Francis said. Leading an ecumenical evening prayer service 25 January for the close of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, Pope Francis said Christians must overcome the “temptations of self-absorption that prevent us from perceiving how the Holy Spirit is at work outside our familiar surroundings,” including in the lives of other Christian communities...
Trump expected to order Syria ‘safe zones’ for refugees (Reuters) President Donald Trump is expected to order the Pentagon and State Department to produce a plan in coming days for setting up “safe zones” for refugees in Syria and neighboring countries, according to a document seen by Reuters, a move that could risk escalation of U.S. military involvement in Syria’s civil war. The draft executive order awaiting Trump’s signature signaled the new administration was preparing a step that Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama long resisted, fearing the potential for being pulled deeper into the conflict and the threat of clashes between U.S. and Russian warplanes over Syria...
Iraqi children returning to school in Mosul (AsiaOne.com) They have been waiting for two and half years and the children of Iraq’s east Mosul are flocking to enrol in their reopened schools, eager not to waste another day. “It’s a great day, today we are giving our children their right to receive an education,” said Ghassan Ahmed, queueing with his seven-year-old in the yard of Farahedi primary school...
New report highlights plight of displaced Palestinians (Vatican Radio) A new report released this week says the forced internal displacement of Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem is making them poorer and keeping them in misery and despair...
Debate on Christians in the Middle East (Fides) In an extensive interview recently published by the Lebanese daily L’Orient-Le Jour, former French economy minister Emmanuel Macron, an “independent” candidate in the next presidential election of France, rejected the argument that the permanence in power of Syrian President Bashar Assad would represent a “guarantee” for the survival of Christian communities in Syria...
Pope blesses sculpture dedicated to migrants (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has again expressed his closeness and concern for migrants and refugees by blessing a sculpture to be placed in the port of the Sicilian Island of Lampedusa, the gateway to Europe for hundreds of thousands fleeing poverty and violence...
25 January 2017
Tags: Syria Iraq Pope Francis Palestine Ecumenism
CNEWA’s president, Msgr. John E. Kozar, left, greets children at a school run by the Sisters of Destitute in the Ghaziabad Slums project at Deendayalpuri. (photo: CNEWA)
The current edition of ONE features some beautiful photographs of India, and this reflection by CNEWA President Msgr. John E. Kozar:
Despite horrible conditions of poverty, neglect and abuse, the children there manage to smile. When I try to bring smiles on their faces, I am rewarded with the gentle and reassuring messages that they reflect back to me: Life is very difficult, but there is always reason to be joyful. That joy and those beaming faces seem to radiate in the programs that CNEWA is so privileged to support.
Being a priest who loves to engage — some would say “entertain” — the children, I find myself always more the beneficiary of loving joy, rather than the benefactor of good will. And the joy of these beautiful children is infectious, especially for their priests, sisters and other caregivers. Even the sisters who insist on discipline and good order cannot resist the power of those grinning little ones. And that only brings out the best in me — as I, too, am captivated by their joy-filled smiles and laughter.
Below, you can see more images from a recent trip to India, narrated by Msgr. Kozar.