27 April 2016
Syrians help a wounded youth following an air strike on the Fardous rebel-held neighborhood of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on 26 April 2016. (photo: Ameer Alhalbi/AFP/Getty Images)
ISIS making advances against rebels in Syria (AP) Militants from the Islamic State group seized five villages from Syrian rebels close to the Turkish border Wednesday, further weakening the rebels’ foothold in the Aleppo area. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a network of activists monitoring the Syria conflict, said the extremist group took five villages in Azaz district, north of Aleppo, where rebels hold an enclave host to tens of thousands of internally displaced civilians...
Christians in Baghdad on pilgrimage to Ur (Fides) It was the biggest pilgrimage made by Iraqi Christians in recent years: about 200 Chaldeans from Baghdad went to Ur, the historical site of lower Mesopotamia, now in the Iraqi governorate in Dhi Quar, which is usually identified with the birthplace of patriarch Abraham, father of all believers...
Sharp increase in marriages in Gaza (Gulf News) Despite the sharp deterioration in economic conditions in the Gaza Strip, the number of marriages there increased in 2015 by 4,650 (28.8 per cent) making the largest annual increase since the Sharia courts were set up in the coastal enclave, said a senior Gaza official...
Army rescues children kidnapped in Ethiopia (Fides) Ethiopia’s military entered the territory of South Sudan to try to save hundreds of children abducted from Ethiopia by a group of south sudanese armed men. According to Ethiopian radio station Fana, children were taken when suspected ethnic Murle fighters attacked villages in Ethiopia’s southwestern Gambella region. More than 200 people were killed in those attacks. The Army surrounded the place where the children were kept prisoners and intervened to release them. According to the Ethiopian government, in the raid which took place on 15 April near the town of Gambella, western Ethiopia...
New Yorkers venerate relics of Lebanese saint (The Tablet) Fresh flowers, fragrant incense and hymns welcomed the first-class relics of Lebanese St. Sharbel Makhlouf as they entered the Holy Doors of Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Cathedral, Brooklyn Heights. The relics are on their first U.S. tour to mark the 50th anniversary of the saint’s beatification. At the Brooklyn Heights’ cathedral, the 9-10 April visit was a major highlight of the Year of Mercy and observed with two days of devotions, including several Masses, a healing service, nocturnal adoration and opportunities for the sacrament of reconciliation in Arabic and English...
26 April 2016
Anna Hafeli, 97, has been supporting CNEWA for decades through a variety of programs.
Every now and then, we have the good fortune to meet some of the generous donors who have supported CNEWA faithfully for many years — sometimes, for decades. They remind us of the spirit that has uplifted and guided CNEWA for 90 years. One of those people is Anna Hafeli, who is just seven years older than CNEWA. We met earlier this year on a visit to California:
Anna is a marvel: a 97-years-young powerhouse who exudes such joy, you can’t help but be uplifted in her presence. She has been contributing to CNEWA for decades — supporting our seminarian programs and work in the Middle East and the Horn of Africa. She also has four annuities through CNEWA.
Touched that we took the time to drop by, she shared with us stories of her journey from her youth in Switzerland, to Canada, and then finally to California, where she worked a variety of odd jobs — mostly as a waitress — to make ends meet.
...To me, Anna represents the heart and soul of what CNEWA is about: faithful, committed people who quietly and selflessly give whatever they can to help those in need. Their generous spirit so often goes unnoticed. But today, I’d like you to notice Anna Hafeli. Thank you, Anna, for all you’ve done to make a difference in the lives of so many.
Want to join Anna and others like her in our mission? Visit this link.
26 April 2016
An icon hangs among the ruins of one of the few remaining structures at the site of the raized village of Navilovka near Chachersk, Belarus. Navilovka was among hundreds of villages in Belarus demolished by authorities and the residents evacuated following radiation contamination from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986. (photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
Today marks the 30th anniversary of the disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear power station in Ukraine:
The meltdown at the Soviet plant was the worst nuclear disaster in history.
An uncontrolled reaction blew the roof off, spewing out a cloud of radioactive material which drifted into other parts of the USSR, including Russia and Belarus, and northern Europe.
Relatives of those who died attended candle-lit vigils at several churches, including at Slavutych, a town built to re-house workers who lived near the nuclear plant. A series of events are being held throughout the day.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko laid a wreath and observed a minute’s silence in the Ukrainian capital Kiev before heading north for a ceremony at the plant itself, not far from the Belarussian border.
Speaking in Chernobyl, he said the nuclear disaster had been Ukraine’s biggest challenge between the Nazi occupation in World War Two and the recent conflict in eastern Ukraine, which he described as “Russian aggression”.
Vasyl Markin, who had been working in Chernobyl at the time of the disaster, attended the midnight vigil in Slavutych.
“This tragedy will stay with us till the end of our lives,” he said. “I won’t be able to forget it anyway.”
The disaster forced over 250,000 to be relocated and resulted in the deaths of thousands from radiation poisoning, including 31 clean up workers.
Last week, Pope Francis remembered the victims:
Pope Francis on Wednesday prayed for the victims of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station disaster 30 years from the tragedy.
Addressing the various groups of pilgrims of different nationalities present in St. Peter’s Square for the General Audience, the Pope had special greetings for those from Ukraine and Belarus.
Mentioning the International Conference that has been organized to mark the anniversary, Pope Francis said he is “praying for the victims of that disaster while expressing appreciation and gratitude to those who have assisted them and for the initiatives aimed at alleviating their suffering and the damage.”
26 April 2016
Christian church leaders gathered for a summit at the Carter Center in Atlanta last week vowed to work for peace in the region. Pictured above (l-r), Archbishop Suhail Dawani of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem; Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem; Rev. Dr. Olav Fyske Tveit, General Secretary of the World Council of Churches;
Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal of Jerusalem. (photo: courtesy, Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb)
ISIS destroys “Clock Church” of Mosul (The Telegraph) Islamic State jihadists have blown up one of Mosul’s best known remaining churches, known as the Clock Church after its tower, according to Iraqi news reports. The clock tower was paid for by Empress Eugenie of France, wife of the last Emperor Napoleon III, as a gift to the Dominican Fathers who were building the church in the 1870s...
U.S., Mideast Christian leaders vow to work for peace, increase advocacy (CNS) Christian churches have a responsibility to work to bring the chronic conflict in the Middle East to a just peace, and more effective advocacy is needed in the United States, said church leaders meeting in Atlanta. Nearly 40 heads of Christian churches and church-related organizations in the U.S. and the Holy Land adopted a four-page document, “Pursuing Peace and Strengthening Presence: The Atlanta Summit of Churches in the USA and the Holy Land,” after meeting at the Carter Center in Atlanta on 19-20 April. “We believe that working toward a just and lasting solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict would ... also promote peace in the Middle East region in general,” the document said...
Remembering Chernobyl 30 Years Later (NBC News) The forests and fields near the abandoned site of the world’s worst nuclear power plant disaster teem with animal life, proving that in some cases humans pose a bigger threat to animals than radiation. The Chernobyl nuclear reactor blew up 30 years ago on Tuesday, sending a radioactive cloud over much of Europe and prompting the resettlement of hundreds of thousands of people from the area around the plant...
Copts return to Jerusalem for Palm Sunday (Fides) Palm Sunday, celebrated the day before yesterday by the Churches that follow the Julian calendar, saw an exponential increase of Egyptian Coptic pilgrims who have come to celebrate the rites of Holy Week in Jerusalem. According to the Egyptian media, in the current year already at least 5,700 Coptic Orthodox Christians have reached the Holy City, an increase of more than a thousand units compared to the Coptic pilgrims who had carried out a pilgrimage to the Holy Places of Jerusalem in 2015...
Russia signs agreements to help rebuild Syria (RT) Damascus and Moscow have signed nearly a billion dollars worth of agreements to rebuild war-torn Syria, according to the Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi. The two countries intend to develop energy, trade, finance and other sectors of the economy...
Indian bishops meet the Prime Minister (Fides) A delegation of Indian Bishops met Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The group was led by the President of the Bishops’ Conference, Cardinal Baselios Cleemis, accompanied by the General Secretary, His Exc. Mgr. Theodore Mascarenhas, and Deputy Secretary General, Mgr. Joseph Chinnayyan. As reported in a statement sent to Fides, the delegation asked Prime Minister Modi to invite the Pope to visit India at a convenient date for both the Indian government and the Holy See...
A village left behind by Jews in Ethiopia is now a top tourist draw (The Times of Israel) he brightly painted Star of David comes as a surprise on the road from Gondar toward the Simien Mountains, just around a bend as you leave the city in northern Ethiopia. “Wolleka Falasha Jewish Village,” the hand-painted sign proclaims. Welcome to an abandoned Jewish village, one of Gondar’s top ten recommended tourist attractions...
25 April 2016
CNEWA’s President Msgr. John Kozar visits with two Iraqis during his trip to Kurdistan earlier this month. Last weekend, he shared some of his experiences from that trip with clergy in the
Diocese of Providence. (photo: CNEWA)
Msgr. John E. Kozar, President of Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA) was invited to be the keynote speaker at a Convocation and Priests’ Study Day for the priests of the Diocese of Providence, Rhode Island, on 18 April 2016. I was fortunate to accompany him on this short trip.
The topic of the Study Day was the current situation of Christians in the Middle East. With over 150 priests, Bishop Thomas J. Tobin and two other bishops in attendance, Msgr. Kozar spoke about his recent trip to Erbil and Iraqi Kurdistan. Accompanied by Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre, New York, monsignor led a pastoral visit to the many different projects that CNEWA supports for the over 120,000 Christians who fled the onslaught of ISIS in August 2104.
It was Msgr. Kozar’s second trip to Erbil. He spoke of the tremendous needs of the displaced people in the region. He told the assembled priests of how CNEWA works with the local church to build up the societal and human infrastructure of the camps where the displaced Iraqis are housed. Although there have been noticeable improvements in their lives — many no longer live in tents and have educational and health care opportunities available — the longer they are away from the homes, the greater is their despair.
Monsignor reported on one the more creative projects which CNEWA supports: namely, two mobile clinics which can bring medical care to those who are at a distance from Erbil and unable to access the more permanent clinics which have been set up. He also spoke warmly of a visit to a village where he was welcomed by Catholic and Orthodox Christians as well as Yazidis.
The presentation was followed by a lively exchange of questions and comments. Many of the participants said that they found the Study Day very helpful in informing them about a critical topic that is important to their ministries.
25 April 2016
Orthodox Christians marked Palm Sunday yesterday. In this picture, a boy takes a break from the Palm Sunday procession in St. Petersburg, Russia, on 24 April.
(photo: Valya Egorshin/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
25 April 2016
In the video above, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Fouad Twal, reflects on the impact the ceaseless cycle of wars is having on people in the Middle East. (video: Rome Reports)
Suicide bombing near Muslim shrine in Syrian capital (CBS News) A suicide bombing near a Shiite Muslim shrine outside Syria’s capital city left at least 15 people dead and dozens more wounded Monday, Syrian officials told CBS News. Syrian State television said only that an explosion in Sayyida Zeinab, south of Damascus, had “killed and wounded some people,” without providing further information, but sources at the Ministry of Health told CBS News “at least 15 people were killed and more than 80 were admitted to nearby hospitals for immediate treatment in the aftermath of the bombing...”
Predominantly Christian city bombed by Islamist rebels (Fides) Islamist militias linked to Al Qaeda Jabhat al Nusra Front group launched an attack with mortars on the Syrian city of Sqelbiya, a predominantly Christian city, in the central province of Hama on Sunday, 24 April, killing at least four civilians...
Unemployment in Gaza reaches 60 percent (Middle East Monitor) Sixty per cent of the population of Gaza is unemployed, while 70 per cent live in poverty, QudsNet reported yesterday. Secretary-General of the General Federation of Palestine’s Trades Unions in Gaza (GFPTU), Sami Al-Amassi, said: “Palestinian workers ... live in accumulated suffering caused by the Israeli occupation which tightens the siege, closes crossings and bans the entry of raw materials...”
Copts celebrate Palm Sunday (Egypt Independent) Hundreds of Coptic Christians flocked to the churches of New Valley governorate on Sunday to celebrate Palm Sunday and the beginning of Holy Week, which will culminate in a week’s time with Easter Sunday. Many gathered in the Church of the Virgin Mary in Khariga Oasis, the largest church in the governorate, for a special mass marking the high day in the liturgical calendar...
Explaining the Mass to young people in India (Fides) The Jubilee of the 400th anniversary of the founding of St. Andrew’s Church in Bandra, in Mumbai, was the occasion for a special celebration dedicated to the young: it was a Holy Mass animated with theatrical dramatizations and music, as explained by Father Caesar D’Mello, the pastor of St. Andrew’s church. Furthermore, “the different moments of the Mass were explained in their deeper meaning, involving those present...”
22 April 2016
One of Cairo’s Zabbaleen hauls garbage in a homemade sack. Many of the city’s poorest residents make a meager living sorting and selling trash. Learn more about life in Egypt in the Spring 2016 edition of ONE. (photo: John E. Kozar)
22 April 2016
In this photo from 2014, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople leads the Divine Liturgy at the Church of St. George in Istanbul, Turkey. (photo: Filippo Monteforte/Getty Images)
The Turkish State opens a case to recover the lands returned to the Ecumenical Patriarchate in recent years (Fides) Turkey has opened a case against the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, to cancel the legal acts with which some land were returned to the Orthodox Patriarchal See...
The Patriarchs of Antioch remember the two Bishops kidnapped: “We do not have the support of the ‘giants.’ Our only hope is in the Lord” (Fides) “We shall continue to live in this East, ringing our bells, building our churches, and lifting up our Crosses...”
Karabakh: The Anguish of Conflict Lingers for Civilians (EurasiaNet) Now that the fighting has subsided in the contested territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, civilians on the Armenian side are struggling to restore a sense of normalcy...
Babushkas of Chernobyl (Aljazeera) The defiant women who returned to the radioactive exclusion zone soon after the disaster share their tales of survival...
Cong. for Oriental Churches shows support for Pope’s Ukraine appeal (Vatican Radio) The Congregation for the Oriental Churches on Friday released a press statement, expressing support for the extraordinary collection to take place this Sunday in churches across Europe for the people suffering from the war in Ukraine...
Author Jurgen Todenhofer, who lived with IS for 10 days (BBC) Extremists belonging to so-called Islamic State have lost a number of towns and cities recently, including Palmyra. But does that mean that they are being beaten?...
21 April 2016
Dominican Sister Elene kisses 4-year old Luis Firas as he walks to a preschool in Ainkawa, Iraq. The Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena were displaced by the Islamic State group in 2014 and have established schools and other ministries among the displaced.
(photo: CNS/Paul Jeffrey)
Paul Jeffrey of Catholic News Service accompanied Cardinal Timothy Dolan on his recent trip to northern Iraq, and got to meet some of the extraordinary women who are serving the displaced in Kurdistan:
When the Islamic State group rolled across Iraq’s Ninevah Plain in 2014, tens of thousands of Christians fled for their lives to Kurdish-controlled areas of the country. They still wait in limbo in crowded camps, facing an undefined future. The only certainty they enjoy is knowing that whatever happens to them, a group of Dominican nuns will be at their side.
“We will not leave our people. Wherever they go, we will go with them,” said Sister Luma Khudher, a member of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena.
The Iraqi congregation was founded in Mosul in the late 19th century and, over the decades, the nuns have operated schools and clinics throughout the country. In the aftermath of the 2003 U.S. invasion, many of their facilities became refuges for families displaced by the violence.
By 2014, driven out of Mosul by the Islamic State, many of the nuns were in Qaraqosh, where they were repeatedly assured that Kurdish Peshmerga fighters would protect the city. But the Kurdish troops pulled out late 6 August 2014, and the sisters were among the last to hurriedly flee for their lives.
Sister Khudher drove one of the convent’s four vehicles, the sisters packed tight as they crept along the dark and crowded highway to Erbil, the capital of Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdistan region. It took 10 hours to cover 30 miles.
“Our superior was with me in the car, and she wouldn’t let the sisters cry so that I could focus on driving,” Khudher said. “When we finally got here I couldn’t stop crying. All of a sudden I had to face the reality that I was not in my hometown anymore. I had left my church, my convent, I had left everything behind. And the people, like Jesus says in the Gospel, were like sheep without a shepherd.”
As tens of thousands of displaced Iraqis poured into Erbil and other areas, the Kurdish regional government, facing the collapse of its own oil-fueled economy, had few resources to offer. The country’s central government was far away in Baghdad and not overly concerned about a bunch of displaced Christians and other minorities.
It was the church that stepped into the breach, appealing for resources from around the world, organizing displaced families in tents, solving the myriad problems of a population that had lived a middle-class life back home, yet which had to flee with no advance notice, and thus no chance to bring along much more than the clothes they wore.
“We were in shock. We didn’t know if it was day or night. We just looked at each other and looked at the people and tried to listen to them. We tried to be strong for the others, but we were all the same,” Sister Khudher said. “Sister Maria (Hanna, the congregation’s superior) said we would start with diapers and milk. So we went to different camps, and it was my first time to learn that diapers have numbers. I was handing them out and someone would say, ‘Sister, this is not the size I need.’ I didn’t know diapers came in sizes.”
Diapers and milk soon became blankets and tarps and food. The nuns became the de facto managers of aid for much of the displaced community.
Dominican Sister Ferdos Zora sings with students in a preschool for displaced children
in Ainkara, Iraq. (photo: CNS/Paul Jeffrey)
“The sisters were everywhere. When we asked about the needs of the displaced no one could answer with any authority except the Dominican sisters,” Michel Constantin, the regional director for the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, told Catholic News Service.
“There was a vacuum in the local church, which wasn’t ready to deal with such a situation. And the displaced priests weren’t trained to deal with this crisis. The sisters were more educated, they’d already been involved in social work with their clinics and schools and orphanages, and they were in direct contact with the people on the ground,” said Constantin, who quickly helped the congregation set up a clinic.
The Dominican sisters were not the only religious order around, but Constantin said they were unique.
“We talked with other congregations, but some said they didn’t know how to deal with refugees. Or they spoke different languages. Some said this wasn’t their mandate. But the Dominican sisters never talked about mandates. They said there’s a need and we’ll work day and night to meet it,” he said.
The sisters were also selfless, not mentioning their own miserable living conditions. Several elderly nuns died in the first few difficult months in Erbil.
“When we had asked the sisters about what was needed, they never mentioned themselves. They only talked about the needs of the people,” Constantin said.
Constantin says a group of Lebanese nuns collected their own funds to help the Dominican sisters with underwear, soap and shampoo for personal use.
The sisters expanded their medical work, adding mobile clinics to reach the displaced living in remote villages. And with local schools teaching in Kurdish, they began opening schools and preschools in Arabic and Aramaic for the displaced.
That’s just the beginning. Read the full story here. And visit this giving page to learn how you can support the sisters in their work with the displaced people of Iraq.