There has been a lot of discussion lately about Christian refugees in the Middle East — and a lot of misinformation has been appearing online and in the media. CNEWA’s communications director Michael J.L. La Civita sets the record straight today at the website Aleteia. He notes:
This piece is offered to help dispel some of the erroneous information currently feeding confusion and partisanship where there should be none. Especially with portions of the electorate that self-identify as Christian or Catholic, it is vitally important to understand the realities about refugees and immigrants, beyond the unhelpful partisan narratives that are making assistance to both problematic and politicized...
...Much has been written regarding Middle East Christian refugees, their status, and whether or not they and other religious minorities should be offered refuge in the United States before other groups, such as Sunni Muslim refugees, whose numbers are far greater.
Here are a few points to consider:
- Of the 120,000 Christians pushed out of the Nineveh Plain into Iraqi Kurdistan (Irbil and Dohuk) in 2014 by ISIS, some 80,000 remain.
- Those living in Iraqi Kurdistan are legally identified as internally displaced peoples, and all are receiving some form of assistance from the UN, as well as from church organizations, such as CNEWA.
- Many have fled to Jordan — the king offered hospitality and expedited visas, but he asked the churches to care for the primary needs of the community. Parishes did just that, temporarily housing the refugees and providing for their basic needs.
- Others have returned to Baghdad, where they continue to draw pensions and salaries if once employed by the state.
- In 2016, 955 Iraqi Christian families, including 1,187 children, left Jordan for resettlement. Many went to Australia.
There is much more, including details about Syrian refugees, at the Aleteia website.
2 February 2017
Tags: Syria Iraq Middle East ISIS
Students perform at The Infant Jesus School in Dwaraka, India. CNEWA’s president Msgr. John E. Kozar visited the region in December. You can learn more and check out a video describing the trip here. (photo: John E. Kozar)
2 February 2017
In the video above, Vatican officials who traveled to Aleppo describe the liveliness and depth of the Christian community’s faith in that war-ravaged corner of the world. (video: Rome Reports)
In war-ravaged Aleppo, few answers on how to rebuild (AP) Aleppo has been scarred beyond recognition: Weeks after fighting stopped, a pall of dust covers its eastern districts, where streets are lined for blocks with buildings smashed to metal and brick rubble in scenes reminiscent of cities devastated in World War II. The destruction is the worst wreaked on any city in Syria’s six-year war. No one has any quick answers on how to rebuild Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, much less the rest of a country that has seen appalling desolation...
Iraqis returning home to Mosul (Andalou Agency) Almost 50,000 displaced people have returned to their homes in eastern Mosul and the city’s southern Qayyarah district, both of which were recently recaptured by the Iraqi army from the Islamic State terrorist group, according to Iraq’s Displacement and Migration Ministry. “The ministry is trying to persuade displaced people to leave the camps and return to liberated areas so the camps might be used to accommodate those expected to be displaced in upcoming operations to retake western Mosul,” ministry spokesman Sattar Nowruz told Anadolu Agency...
Report: hate speech against Christians on the rise in Turkey (Hurriyet Daily News) Turkey’s Association of Protestant Churches has prepared its 2016 Rights Violations Report, noting that hate speech against the country’s Christians has increased in both conventional and social media. The annual report said hate speech against Protestants persisted throughout 2016, in addition to physical attacks on Protestant individuals and their churches. The report also noted that churches in particular faced serious terror threats...
Some Muslim refugees converting to Christianity “to find safety’ (The Telegraph) The situation for refugees in the country — which is hosting more than a million and a half Syrians that make up a quarter of its total population — has become increasingly dire over the course of the six-year conflict. Some say they converted to benefit from the generous aid distributed by Christian charities, others to help their asylum applications to Europe, the United States, Canada and elsewhere. Christian converts are more likely to be persecuted in the Middle East than those who stay Muslims, and are thus more eligible for asylum...
Gaza sees rise in divorce rate (GulfNews.com) The Supreme Sharia Judicial Council in the Gaza Strip has reported an increase in divorce rates in the territory for 2016, with a total of 3,188 divorce cases being reported in the tiny coastal strip during that year...
1 February 2017
Tags: Syria Iraq Gaza Strip/West Bank Turkey Islam
CNEWA President Msgr. John E. Kozar welcomed Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil to CNEWA’s New York offices last October. A visit planned for this week had to be postponed because of the new executive order banning citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States. (photo: CNEWA)
U.S. President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration, issued last Friday, is hitting close to home.
The Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil has been forced to postpone a visit to the United States that was scheduled to begin this week.
Catholic New York explains:
President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration, “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States,” issued 27 January, includes a ban of citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries for 90 days, including Iraq. The others are Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. It also bars Syrian refugees from entering and suspends refugee admissions for 120 days.
“The door is closed for now for him to come to this country,” said Msgr. Kozar in a phone interview with CNY 31 January.
Along with Archbishop Warda, a priest from the diocese and a layman who serves there were banned from traveling to the United States. The trip was scheduled to include visits to Washington, D.C., and New York. The archbishop was originally invited by Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J...
...“We could possibly lose the moment to express the solidarity of Cardinal Dolan and the entire CNEWA family,” Msgr. Kozar said. “It directly affects us as a helping agency.” CNEWA is a papal agency that has served the poor throughout the Middle East, Northeast Africa, India and Eastern Europe since 1926.
Msgr. Kozar said he has already been in touch with CNEWA directors in the Middle East. Regarding the future, the executive order could gravely damage the agency’s ability to continue its mission.
“I’m planning a visit to Iraq in March to continue to demonstrate the solidarity we have and to show them we haven’t abandoned them and assure them that they are not forgotten. But I don’t know — will I be permitted to enter that country? As we have stopped the flow from these listed nations, some of them are doing the same in kind,” Msgr. Kozar said.
Asked how Catholics should respond, Msgr. Kozar said, “Our Holy Father is an eloquent spokesman of what our position is: Everyone is created in God’s image. It doesn’t matter at all about color or creed, or religion or what part of the world they are from. We love all. That’s in our Scriptures. That is from Christ Himself. That is the Church at its best.
“We want all people to be treated with basic human dignity that we hold comes from God himself and that comes from being part of his holy family,” he said.
Read more at Catholic New York.
1 February 2017
The Rev. Michael Kerestes dips a candle in holy water during the blessing service. With him are the Rev. Mykhaylo Prodanets, left, and the Rev. Gary Mensinger.
(photo: Sean McKeag/Times Leader)
The short video below was posted Sunday afternoon in the Times Leader, a newspaper for Northeastern Pennsylvania that covers the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area.
As the paper reported:
From the end of the Nesbitt Boat Launch, the Rev. Mykhaylo Prodanets tossed a large cross sculpted from ice into the Susquehanna River on Sunday.
As he threw both the cross and a bucket of holy water into the river, Prodanets prayed, “In the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit.” He was invoking the name of the Holy Trinity during a service commemorating the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River. The ceremony mirrors prayers and actions done during the Divine Liturgy on the Feast of Theophany.
About two dozen Byzantine Catholic faithful joined Prodanets and two other priests and a deacon at the Annual Susquehanna River Blessing.
The Byzantine Catholic churches have been offering the service for more than 10 years, according to the Very Rev. Gary Mensinger. The churches used to hold the service on the Pierce Street bridge, but it has since moved to the boat launch.
Mensinger, who splits his time as pastor of both St. Michael’s in Pittston and St. Nicholas Parish in Swoyersville, said another purpose of the 30-minute service is to thank God for the vitality the river holds in the Wyoming Valley and to ask for protection from floods in the upcoming year.
Read more. And watch the video below:
1 February 2017
Christians celebrate a Marian feast in the northern region of Tigray in Ethiopia. Catechists are being trained to help spread the faith. Learn more about why this movement might be
considered Ethiopia’s Sleeping Giant in the current edition of ONE.
(photo: Minasse Wondimu Hailu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
1 February 2017
A child displaced by fighting between the Iraqi army and ISIS rides in a truck to a camp for displaced families on 27 January in Mosul, Iraq. (photo: CNS/Paul Jeffrey)
Bishops say refugee ban raises concerns about religious freedom (CNS) The chairmen of three U.S. bishops’ committees on 31 January expressed solidarity with the Muslim community and expressed deep concern over religious freedom issues they said President Donald Trump’s refugee ban raises. Trump’s executive memorandum of 27 January “has generated fear and untold anxiety among refugees, immigrants and others throughout the faith community in the United States,” said the committee chairmen in a joint statement. “In response ... we join with other faith leaders to stand in solidarity again with those affected by this order, especially our Muslim sisters and brothers...”
Iraqi Christian leader visiting Mosul sees little future for Christians (CNS) As some residents of the city of Mosul celebrate their new freedom from the Islamic State group, an Iraqi Christian leader who visited the war-torn city said Christian residents are unlikely to return. “I don’t see a future for Christians in Mosul,” said Father Emanuel Youkhana, a priest, or archimandrite, of the Assyrian Church of the East...
Battle for Mosul: ‘I’ve never seen such hard fighting’ (The Guardian) Since October last year, when the operation to prise Mosul from the grip of Islamic State began, the fight between Iraqi forces and the jihadi group, which captured Mosul in June 2014, has taken place on a battlefield inhabited by civilians. Iraqi forces have now claimed to be largely in control of east Mosul, but in the west of the city an estimated 750,000 civilians are still living under Isis control...
Canadians condemn refugee ban (Catholic Register) Catholic and other religious voices across Canada are condemning the U.S. exclusion of refugees from seven majority Muslim countries...
Ethiopia faces new drought, seeks aid (AP) U.N. humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien visited a camp for displaced persons on Saturday, saying that “these people are really struggling to survive.” He cautioned, however, against “dramatizing by saying this may degenerate into famine...”
Jesus portrayed as an Indian in Bible show (UCANews.com) A two-hour stage show premiered in India’s Kerala state recently depicting Jesus as Indian, thus correcting European Christianity’s “misrepresentation” of Christ, according to the director. The show, titled Ente Rakshakan (“My Savior”), was created by a well-known showman Soorya Krishna Moorthy. It presents Jesus Christ as having black hair, eyes and Indian mannerisms. An audience of 2,000 people, including church officials and Bible scholars, attended the premier...
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.