25 April 2019
A young woman holds candles during a vigil in Lahore, Pakistan, on 23 April 2019, in solidarity with the victims of Sri Lanka's Easter suicide bomb attacks. (photo: CNS/Mohsin Raza, Reuters)
At Mass a few weeks ago, I heard an unusual noise coming from the entrance of the church. Without thinking, I turned and found myself fearing the worst. An attack? After Mass I asked others if they felt the same way and, to my surprise, some did. How many of us are experiencing this type of fear in our places of worship? For most Canadians, the answer is not at all; the risk of this happening is still very slim, after all.
But it may not feel that way. This past Easter Sunday, the killings of innocent Catholics while celebrating Mass in Sri Lanka would certainly reinforce this fear. We could add to this the stabbing of a priest while celebrating Mass at St. Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal; just before that, the killing of innocent Muslims in a New Zealand mosque; and last year, the killing of innocent Jews in a Pittsburgh synagogue. The list, regrettably, goes on.
Are these despicable acts of terror and inhumanity starting to have their effect on our sense of safety?
As we just celebrated the great feast of Easter — not just with chocolate bunnies but with the same spiritual vibrancy that millions of Christians still feel today — let’s remember that there is another way to fight this looming fear.
I’m refering to the Christians of countries such as Egypt who, over the past 10 years or so, have experienced the worst at the hands of well-armed and organized extremist groups that are determined to target minorities on specific feasts and in sacred spaces. Easter and Christmas, for example, are moments of particular worry for thousands of Christians in that country.
A few years ago, I traveled to Egypt and experienced how this drama plays out. One night, in a rural town, I joined a local Coptic Catholic community to celebrate Epiphany. To my surprise, I saw a small battalion of well-armed men coming to the church. They’re here to protect us, I was told. Somehow this didn’t reassure me.
I was in shock to hear that this happens all over Egypt: armed men come to Mass to protect the faithful. “How do you do it?,” I asked, referring to the heavy burden and fear on their shoulders. Their answer was very simple. “There is a level of fear, sure, but we’ve been practicing our faith, here, for more than 2000 years,” I was told. “We’ve lived through much worse and we have a mission given to us by Jesus.”
And there it is. Our journey is to follow Christ, wherever that may lead us. We shouldn’t be afraid when we are led towards people who are different from us; but, rather, we should follow the example of Middle East Christians and persevere in encountering others through dialogue, service and love, no matter what. Each day, these Christians offer inspiring works in the areas of healthcare, education and service to the handicapped, elderly, poor and so many more, regardless of their religion or ethnicity.
All are welcome. They know by experience that God’s compassion and mercy are the keys to fighting fear, building lasting relationships and, ultimately, bringing a lasting peace.
The terrorists can attack them, and yes, there will be broken families, pain, and horror, as in Sri Lanka this past Easter weekend. However, our Egyptian brothers and sisters can be witnesses that the faith will remain and love will prevail through forgiveness, reconciliation and compassion. It isn’t easy to do — but what an example to follow.
These values are the basis of CNEWA’s mission and this is why we have been working with Eastern Christians in the Middle East, India, northeastern Africa and Eastern Europe since 1926. They are the ones who started it all with great sacrifices and pain — but also with an amazing and deep commitment to Jesus.
So yes: in my parish earlier this month, for a short moment, I was distracted. But ultimately, I will keep my focus on the love of Jesus, which will help me to counter fear and to live in peace — no matter what.
25 April 2019
Tags: Egypt CNEWA Canada
Asma Aradeh, quality control manager, and Nawal Aradeh, project manager for SEP Jordan, pose for a photo at their workshop in Jerash, Jordan. Palestinian refugee women are turning their traditional embroidery handicraft into a successful international social enterprise business.
(photo: CNS/Dale Gavlak)
The poorest of Jordan’s 10 camps for Palestinian refugees would seem to be the unlikeliest place from which to launch an international business, but SEP Jordan is no usual enterprise.
Here, 350 Palestinian refugee women -- and a few Syrians -- practice their traditional craft of embroidery, but with a modern twist.
Inside a bright canary yellow-colored building among the camp’s rabbit-warren of narrow alleyways, a beige tote bag is embroidered in an Islamic geometric pattern suggesting sun bursts of orange, pink and yellow, while another captures the colors of the sea in navy, light blue and tan.
Another woman edges a silken white beach tunic in turquoise embroidery, while a lavender cashmere scarf gets embellished with intricate needlework in mauve. Traditional Bedouin red and white and Palestinian black and white kaffiyeh scarves take on a new spin with multicolored embroidery accents.
SEP stands for Social Enterprise Project. Its founder and CEO, Roberta Ventura, is a former Italian stockbroker, who decided about five years ago that she “could no longer just stand and look at the situation in refugee camps deteriorating without private sector involvement.”
“When I see refugees, I see a huge untapped potential, like you and me, who had to leave their homes,” Ventura told Catholic News Service.
Nawal Aradeh, project manager, told CNS that her job with the company “completely changed my life, because it gave me the chance to generate an income at a time when my personal circumstances were dire.”
“It was absolutely necessary for me to help myself and my six children. I felt overwhelmed by how I was going to do it because there are few job opportunities in the camp,” explained Aradeh, a former teacher in her late 40s, dressed in a simple white headscarf and long black cloak.
Aradeh is a Palestinian refugee who was raised in Jerash, 30 miles north of the capital, Amman. Jerash is considered one of the largest and best-preserved sites of Roman architecture in the world outside of Italy.
Yet it also has the impoverished Gaza Camp, where Palestinians fled during the Arab-Israeli wars. Aradeh and the other Palestinian refugee women participating in SEP Jordan grew up in Gaza Camp.
Selected out of hundreds of social enterprises, SEP Jordan was recognized for its groundbreaking work to improve the lives of refugees at an event in Vatican City hosted by Cardinal Peter Turkson last December.
The same month, SEP Jordan became one of 15 enterprises chosen by the Washington-based Laudato Si’ Challenge organization, inspired by Pope Francis, “to effectively and sustainably improve the lives of 10 million refugees, migrants and internally displaced people by 2020.”
Ventura emphasizes that SEP Jordan’s mission is to “bring thousands of refugees above the poverty line in a way which is driven by their talent.”
Raised a Catholic, she is happy to have quit her finance career to devote herself to working with the refugees, whom she considers artists of their handiwork craft. She also sees her new job as a type of calling.
Ventura and her economist husband, Stefano d’Ambrosio, have grounded the project on solid financial principles, so together with the women and a few men, such as regional manager Mahmoud Al Haj, SEP Jordan is the “first-ever private company ever to be set up in 50 years of the Gaza Camp’s existence,” she said. It is neither a nongovernmental organization nor a microcredit project.
“It helps that the women identify themselves with the brand, and they aren’t beneficiaries of aid. We are colleagues. They had enough of small microloans, fearing they could never pay them back,” Ventura said.
Asma Aradeh, 37, started as an embroiderer at the project and now heads up quality control. She, too, said the employment enabled her to move out of a decrepit, tin-roofed building where rain poured in during winter months and into a safe home for her family.
Besides the obvious economic advantages to the project, Asma Aradeh said it carries the added therapeutic value to their craft.
“Embroidering is relaxing and relieves stress. All the pressures are released when you are making each stitch,” Asma Aradeh, a mother of six, told CNS. “You feel a release from tension, tiredness, financial pressures and other things weighing you down psychologically and physically.”
However, SEP Jordan is not just a “feel-good” project; its high-quality craftsmanship caught the eye of award-winning Hollywood costume designer Jacqueline Durran, who employed some of the women to hand embroider costumes in the film, “Mary Magdalene,” starring Rooney Mara and Joaquin Phoenix.
The movie portrays Mary Magdalene, one of Jesus’ most important followers who also witnessed his crucifixion and resurrection. Durran said it was an “incredibly rewarding experience” working with the team of artists at SEP Jordan.
Their creations are also sold in high-end stores such as Harrod’s in London and in the Swiss ski resort of Gstaad. A new shop featuring the quality goods has opened in Geneva, and SEP Jordan’s products are also sold at the Landmark Hotel in the Jordanian capital, Amman.
“When the women cross-stitch, they put their feelings and emotions within the threads of their piece,” said Asma Aradeh, summing up the feelings of those involved.
“That’s why every stitch tells a story. And there is a story really behind every piece,” she said.
25 April 2019
Tags: Refugees Jordan
A prelate swings a censer over the casket of a victim during a funeral Mass in Negombo, Sri Lanka on 24 April 2019, three days after a string of suicide bomb attacks on churches and luxury hotels across the island. (photo: CNS/Athit Perawongmetha, Reuters)
India’s Latin-rite Church dedicates Divine Mercy Sunday to Sri Lanka bomb victims (Vatican News) India’s Latin-rite Church has pledged its closeness and solidarity with the victims of the terrorist bomb attacks in Sri Lanka on Sunday, dedicating Divine Mercy Sunday on 28 April as a day of prayer and solidarity with the Church and people of the island nation. Archbishop Felipe Neri Ferrao of Goa and Daman, the president of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of India (CCBI), that comprises the country’s Latin-rite bishops, released a statement on Wednesday, inviting CCBI member dioceses and the major superiors of religious congregations to join the initiative…
Sri Lanka: Interreligious dialogue vital to healing process (Vatican News) Father Indunil Janakaratne is Undersecretary at the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, which sent its condolences to President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference in Sri Lanka following the attacks. He underlined that interreligious dialogue has never been so vital. “Interreligious dialogue helps us to overcome these prejudices; interreligious dialogue also helps us to heal the wounds; interreligious dialogue helps us to build bridges,” he said…
Human chain in India honors Sri Lanka victims (UCANews.com) About 100 people including Muslims held hands to form a human chain in front of New Delhi’s Sacred Heart Cathedral to pay homage to the victims of suicide bomb attacks in Sri Lanka that killed 359 people, mostly Christians. Leaders from Christian, Muslim, Hindu and Sikh faiths joined hands on 23 April to express solidarity with families of victims of the Easter Sunday blasts…
USCCB names new head of ecumenical and interreligious affairs (USCCB) Rev. Walter Kedjierski of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, New York has been appointed as Executive Director of the Secretariat of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), based in Washington D.C…
Former Coptic monks sentenced to death for killing bishop (BBC) Two former Coptic Christian monks have been sentenced to death in Egypt over the murder of a bishop last year, officials have confirmed. Bishop Epiphanius, 64, was found dead in a pool of blood in July 2018 at a desert monastery north-west of Cairo. Authorities blamed the killing on unspecified “differences” between the monks and the bishop…
24 April 2019
Tags: India Egypt Interreligious Coptic Christians Persecution
In this image from 2016, CNEWA’s president, Msgr. John Kozar, leads benediction at the Al Bishara School in the Ain Kawa area of Erbil, in Iraqi Kurdistan. He remains inspired and deeply moved by the resilience and faith of those CNEWA is privileged to serve around the world. (photo: CNEWA)
In the current edition of ONE, CNEWA’s president, Msgr. John E. Kozar, offers a few thoughts on the power of the cross — and the spirit of Easter:
During a number of my pastoral visits, not only have I witnessed firsthand the extreme sufferings of war, famine, natural disasters and the like, I have witnessed and been uplifted by the resilience of the human spirit. The survivors of these disasters not only survive, they thrive — oftentimes as a result of their profound faith and, among Christians, their support of the church. CNEWA is honored and humbled to witness this in our role of accompaniment of the local church.
I think of the large numbers of refugees of every age who had to flee the ravages of ISIS in Iraq and Syria. But I especially recall the courageous women who carried their babies and clutched the arms of their elderly mothers and grandparents as they fled persecution to an unknown land — and a very uncertain future. But, inspired by their faith and nurtured by the church, they carried with them an abundance of hope, which has led them to a new life. Even if “new life” has meant living in a refugee camp or a cramped apartment, they have maintained their hope and have joyfully expressed it in their prayers and liturgical celebrations. I have had the great joy of participating in some of these liturgical events and have come away uplifted and renewed in my own faith.
The prominence of the cross of Jesus has been visible everywhere: on the fronts of tents or humble shelters, worn around their necks, painted on the exteriors of gathering places or displayed in some other ways. It proudly proclaims their identity and their sense of hope.
You’ll want to read it all — and check out the inspiring and thoughtful video reflection he offers below:
24 April 2019
Women hold signs during a 23 April 2019, prayer vigil outside a Catholic church in New Delhi, India, in solidarity with the victims of Sri Lanka's Easter suicide bomb attacks.
(photo: CNS/Adnan Abidi, Reuters)
24 April 2019
Tags: India Persecution
Police stand guard at the gate of Sacred Heart Cathedral in New Delhi following the terror attacks in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday. (photo: Bijay Kumar Minj/ucanews.com)
Police guard churches in New Delhi after Sri Lanka attacks (UCANews.com) Security has been beefed up at churches in Indian capital New Delhi after a series of suicide bombings killed more than 300 people in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday. Armed police are guarding Sacred Heart Cathedral in the capital and asking churchgoers to pass through metal detectors. They also frisk visitors who enter the 88-year-old building…
How Sri Lanka’s Christians became a target (The Atlantic) The deadly bombings in Sri Lanka over the weekend follow a pattern of religious terror that has become grimly familiar around the world. The attackers targeted churches on Easter Sunday, when Christians would be gathered in large numbers and vulnerable during worship. They also chose crowded and exposed public spaces, including hotels likely to be hosting foreign tourists…
Iraq cardinal says 25,000 Christians have returned to Qaraqosh (The National) Nearly 25,000 Iraqi Christians have returned to their homes in Qaraqosh over the past two years and were able to celebrate Easter last weekend, Iraq’s top Cardinal said on Wednesday. Also known as Bakhdida and Al Hamdaniyah, the town on the Nineveh Plains in northern Iraq was once home to 50,000 Iraqi Christians, making it the religious minority’s largest community in the country…
Israel lets hundreds of Gazans celebrate Easter in Jerusalem (Haaretz) Israel has allowed 500 Christian Palestinians to leave the Gaza Strip to celebrate Easter in Jerusalem, the Palestinian Authority’s Interior Ministry announced Monday, days after reports of an Israeli decision to give special permits to only 200 of the 1,200-strong Gazan Christian community drew criticism of Israel’s “arbitrary” change in policy…
Easter party brings together different religions in India (UCANews.com) Some 3,000 people including Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs joined Christians this year in celebrating Easter at an event in central India’s Bhopal city aimed at promoting religious tolerance. Archbishop Leo Cornelio of Bhopal was the main organizer of the inter-religious gathering in the capital of Madhya Pradesh state on Easter Sunday…
23 April 2019
Tags: India Gaza Strip/West Bank Jerusalem Iraqi Christians Persecution
A woman weeps during a memorial service for victims in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on 23 April 2019, two days after a string of suicide bomb attacks on churches and luxury hotels across the island.
(photo: CNS/Dinuka Liyanawatte, Reuters)
The liturgies of Holy Week are filled with references to Jesus as the Suffering Servant of God. The reference is to four poems in the book of Isaiah that speak of a mysterious “servant of God.” In the fourth poem (Isa 52:13-53:12), when harshly dealt with, the servant “bore it humbly, never opening his mouth he was like a lamb led to the slaughter house.” The servant ultimately is abused and killed for the sins and transgressions of all. This image of Jesus as the non-violent suffering servant of God is rooted deep in Christian theologian and piety.
We see it again in the Gospels. When an armed crowd comes to arrest Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, one of his followers strikes out with a sword of his own, severing the ear of the High Priest’s servant. Jesus rebukes his follower and states “those who take up the sword, die by the sword” (Matt 26:53). Throughout the Passion narratives, in the face of incredibly cruel violence, Jesus remains the non-violent victim.
All this makes the tragic events of this past Sunday all the more poignant and powerful.
This year on Easter Sunday, almost 400 people were killed in Sri Lanka. Most of them were celebrating the Resurrection — the victory of the non-violent Christ. Terrorists targeted Christians as they worshipped — that is, as they were united with their Lord who had been mishandled, beaten and crucified, who did not respond to violence with violence and was victorious. Like the Jesus they were worshipping, the victims of the attack were non-violent innocent people.
Anger is a normal, human reaction. Anger directed towards violence, oppression and injustice can be a good thing. But it is very easy for anger, especially in the face of such brutal and senseless violence, to become rage and a drive for revenge. That is entirely understandable. The rage of those who lost loved ones must be understood and, to some extent, felt.
But at times like these, we Christians face our greatest challenge: will we opt to be violent like Pilate or non-violent like Christ?
It must never be forgotten that, after having endured hatred, violence and death, the risen Christ brings to the world a message not of revenge but peace.
The true mystery of Easter is that violence, brutality, death and power are not victorious. Rather, weakness, humility and non-violence overwhelm violence, conquering it with life and goodness.
There is something deadening and horrifying about what happened in Sri Lanka. However, it is by no means something with which Christians are unfamiliar. Violence has been directed against us since the time of our Lord; it has been with us since the beginning. Since that time there has always been an understandable temptation towards revenge. However, the risen Suffering Servant constantly and inconveniently reminds us of the divine power of non-violence.
It may be tempting at times like this to call for retribution and vengeance. But the words of Paul ring clear: “Never repay evil with evil but let everyone see you are concerned on with that which is good. … Never try to get revenge (leave that to God). … Resist evil and conquer it with good” (Rom 12:17-21).
It is the belief in the overwhelming power of non-violence over violence, rooted in the Resurrection of the non-violent Christ, that makes us who we are — or definitely who we should be.
23 April 2019
Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan celebrates Mass for displaced Iraqis on 20 April 2019 at the Church of St. Elias in Dekwaneh, Lebanon.
(CNS photo/ courtesy Syriac Catholic Patriarchate)
23 April 2019
Tags: Syria Lebanon Iraqi Christians
Nuns pray during Mass near St. Sebastian Church in Negombo, Sri Lanka, on 23 April 2019, two days after a string of suicide bomb attacks on churches and luxury hotels across the island.
(photo: CNS/Athit Perawongmetha, Reuters)
Pope, bishops renew solidarity with Sri Lanka after terror attacks (Vatican News) Churches, groups and individuals joined Pope Francis as he reiterated his spiritual and fatherly closeness to the people of Sri Lanka following terrorist attacks on 3 churches and 3 hotels on Easter Sunday. Speaking to a large crowd in Rome’s St. Peter’s Square at midday on Easter Monday, the Pope said he was very close to Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith and Archdiocese of Colombo, the capital, and prayed for the numerous victims and wounded. While urging the international community to offer the needed help to Sri Lanka, he called on them not to hesitate in condemning these terrorist and inhuman acts that are never justifiable…
Holy Land Easter message calls for lasting peace in Jerusalem and the world (Vatican News) The 13 patriarchs and heads of Christian Churches in Jerusalem have expressed their Easter greeting to the people of the Holy Land, the larger Middle East and the world, wishing that the words of Christ, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly,” be realized everywhere…
Pope: Only risen Christ can bring peace to a world at war (CNS) As the machine of warfare continues to churn out more dangerous weaponry, only the power and joy of Christ’s resurrection can fill hearts with comfort and peace, Pope Francis said before giving his Easter blessing…
Religious minorities across Asia suffer amid surge in sectarian politics (The New York Times) The deadly attacks in Sri Lanka on Sunday highlighted how easily religious coexistence can be ripped apart in a region where secularism is weakening amid the growing appeal of a politics based on ethnic and sectarian identity. In India, the country’s governing right-wing Hindu party is exploiting faith for votes, pushing an us-versus-them philosophy that has left Muslims fearing they will be lynched if they walk alone…
During Easter season, some Russians look to strengthen bonds with Syrian Christians (The Washington Post) When Russians celebrate Orthodox Easter on 28 April, leaders in Moscow will send their annual messages of kinship to fellow Orthodox Christians around the world. In Syria, however, the bonds are part of a wider strategy endorsed by the Kremlin. A group of clerics, humanitarian groups and members of government has been quietly cementing ties with Syria’s tiny and embattled Christian communities, whose roots in the faith go back to its earliest centuries…
U.S. withdrawal from Syria threatens Kurdish language, too (Haaretz) Rojava University, opened only three years ago in the autonomous region established by Syria’s Kurds in northeastern Syria, is part of the revival of the long-suppressed Kurdish language. However, this revival is now under threat as the future of the region hangs in the balance following an announcement on the drawdown of the U.S. forces whose presence has protected the Kurds from a regime takeover or Turkish invasion…
18 April 2019
Tags: Syria India Pope Francis Russian Orthodox
Ruthenian Greek Catholics of the village of Tichy Potok, Slovakia, celebrate the paschal mystery on Easter in 2001. (photo: Jacqueline Ruyuak)
Tags: Cultural Identity Village life Slovakia Eastern Catholics Ruthenians