10 April 2015
Palestinians gather at Gaza City’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on 9 April in a protest demanding protection of Palestinian refugees and ending the clashes at Yarmouk Refugee Camp. (photo: Ashraf Amra/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Palestinians in Syria are left to their fate (The Guardian) “We are being killed here, Yarmouk camp is being annihilated,” said Ahmad, a resident of the Palestinian camp just a few miles from the center of the Syrian capital who was given a pseudonym to protect his identity. Yarmouk, once a bustling southern suburb of Damascus of 200,000 people, has been starved for two years in a relentless siege by Bashar al Assad’s regime, which has also blocked water supplies for months, a tactic that activists say constitutes the use of water as a tool of war. Now the remaining 18,000 residents, many of whom suffer from ailments, are mired on the front line of the battle against ISIS, which has seized the majority of the camp…
After Damascus move, ISIS attacks rivals near Aleppo (Daily Star Lebanon) ISIS has bolstered its forces north of Aleppo, where it is attacking rivals as part of a broader push beyond its eastern strongholds, a rebel leader and an activist group said…
Palestinian Christians resist Israeli conscription (Al Monitor) In 2012, Israel began a conscription campaign and established a forum to recruit Christians into Israeli military service, led by Orthodox Rev. Gabriel Nadav, who enjoys the support of the Israeli government. Conscription attempts face vigorous resistance by political blocs and Christian religious authorities. The archbishop of Sebastia of the Greek Orthodox, Atallah Hanna, told Al Monitor, “We as Christians are an integral part of the components of the Palestinian people. Based on our national, religious and moral faith, we refuse the recruitment of our children in an army that practices oppression and injustice…”
Pope Francis receives president of Georgia in audience (VIS) This morning Pope Francis received in audience Giorgi Margvelashvili, president of Georgia. The cordial discussions involved the development of bilateral relations, with particular reference to the positive contribution of the local Catholic community in the fields of charitable activity and education…
India’s social progress ranking below neighbors (Vatican Radio) India has a low rank of 101 among the 133 countries measured for their social progress, even below some immediate neighbors such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka, indicating the level of meeting basic human needs and well-being, among other factors. Conducted by Social Progress Imperative, a US-based non-profit organisation set up in 2012, the index is seen as a measure of relationship between income inequality and social progress by using the commonly deployed Gini coefficient on income inequality…
9 April 2015
Tags: Syria Israeli-Palestinian conflict Georgia Palestinians Aleppo
Girls smile during art class at Don Bosco youth center in Istanbul. (photo: CNS/Elie Gardner)
Some Iraqi and Syrian refugees are making a new start in Turkey. Catholic News Service notes:
Basima Toma teaches English to about 40 children at the Don Bosco youth center.
A young Iraqi boy stands at the chalkboard with a plastic ruler in his hand and spells out the words W-I-N-T-E-R, S-P-R-I-N-G, S-U-M-M-E-R, A-U-T-U-M-N.
Toma and her family have been in Istanbul long enough to see each of these seasons come and go, more than once. In 2012 Toma, her husband and four children left their home in Baghdad.
Toma and her family are Chaldean Catholics. In Baghdad, as Christian-owned businesses were targeted and destroyed, Toma worried more and more for her children’s safety. One of her daughters was the only Christian in her classroom.
“Now I don’t fear for my children,” Toma says. “I put my head on my pillow and am not afraid when they are not with me.”
“Here we don’t ask anyone what religion they are or what political party they belong to,” said Salesian Father Andres Calleja Ruiz, head of the Don Bosco youth center. “We just want to help them.”
Read more at the CNS link.
9 April 2015
In this image from August, a woman in Germany cries over the loss of her daughter during a protest of ethnic Yazidis against the persecution of their people by ISIS in Iraq.
(photo: Alexander Koerner/Getty Images)
ISIS releases 200 Yazidis in Iraq (BBC) Islamic State militants have released more than 200 members of the Yazidi religious community being held in northern Iraq, Kurdish security officials have said. Most of the 216 prisoners were in poor health and bore signs of abuse, General Hiwa Abdullah told the Associated Press. About 40 children were among those freed, while the rest were elderly...
Rights group reports on executions in Ukraine (Vatican Radio) A human rights group says it has evidence that pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine summarily killed four Ukrainian soldiers in their captivity. Meanwhile in Lithuania, a Russian television channel was taken off-air over pro-Kremlin propaganda...
Canadian warplanes carry out first airstrikes against ISIS (CNN) Canadian fighter jets have carried out their first airstrike against ISIS in Syria, hitting one of the Sunni militant group’s garrisons. The CF-18 Hornets bombed near ISIS’ de facto capital of Raqqa, Canada’s Department of National Defence said Wednesday. It described the strike as successful...
Thousands of Copts flock to Jerusalem, despite ban (Gulfnews.com) For Coptic Christian Nadi Salib, going to occupied Jerusalem was a dream of a lifetime that only came true last year. Salib, now 56, was one of thousands of Copts who have made the pilgrimage to the Israeli-occupied city in recent years despite a decades-old ban from Egypt’s Coptic Church. “It was a joy unmatched by any other thing in this life to go to the Holy Land and visit the places blessed by Jesus Christ,” said Salib...
Photographer captures images of Gaza’s “wonder women” (The Telegraph) Photographer Ovidiu Tataru has been in Gaza for nine months working with Doctors Without Borders, and has created a series of photos with women dressed in a superhero cape...
8 April 2015
Tags: Syria Iraq Ukraine Jerusalem Coptic
A nun farms a small plot in Ethiopia’s countryside. Read more about the lives of women in Ethiopia in “An Uphill Battle” from the May 2009 edition of ONE. (photo: Petterik Wiggers)
8 April 2015
In this image from March, a priest gives Communion to Ukrainian soldiers in Yavoriv, Ukraine.
(photo: CNS/Mariana Karapinka)
Coptic church attacked in Alexandria, Egypt (L’Osservatore Romano) The Church of Raphael the Archangel in the quarter of Al Agami in Alexandria was attacked by a group of individuals who, after shooting repeatedly at the building, fled the scene. At least four people, including a police officer, were injured. Officials in Egypt have launched a large-scale operation to search and capture the assailants. The attack, carried out in the night between Sunday and Monday, coincided with the celebration of Palm Sunday by the Coptic Orthodox community...
Ukraine soldiers receive Easter gifts (Vatican Radio) Ukraine is preparing to celebrate Orthodox Easter amid concerns over ongoing ceasefire violations in the east where government forces fight against pro-Russian separatists. People from around the country try to give at least some hope to soldiers fighting on the front lines this Easter season...
Caritas to run mobile clinic in Gaza (Fides) Caritas Jerusalem is preparing the launch of a mobile clinic designed to provide health services to the residents of the Gaza Strip. This was reported to Agenzia Fides by Father Raed Abusahliah, director general of Caritas Jerusalem...
Archeologists defy militants in Iraq (BBC) Archaeologists from the University of Manchester have been working in Iraq and making “significant discoveries,” while Islamic State militants have been bulldozing historic Assyrian sites. “If the militants think they can erase history we are helping to make sure that can’t happen,” said archaeologist Jane Moon. They have been excavating a Babylonian administrative centre from 1500BC. It has provided more than 300 artefacts for the Iraq Museum in Baghdad. The Manchester archaeologists, believed to be on one of only two international teams operating in non-Kurdish Iraq, have returned to the UK after three months of fieldwork, near to the ancient city of Ur...
Christianity poised to continue its shift from Europe to Africa (Pew Research Center) The global Christian population has been shifting southward for at least a century and is expected to continue to do so over the next four decades, according to new demographic projections from the Pew Research Center. Overall, the share of Christians in the world is expected to remain flat. But Europe’s share of the the world’s Christians will continue to decline while sub-Saharan Africa’s will increase dramatically...
7 April 2015
Tags: Iraq Egypt Ukraine Gaza Strip/West Bank Coptic Christians
Catholic bishops visit the Cremisan Valley in January.
(photo: Catholic Bishop’s Conference of England and Wales)
In a victory for the Christian community in the Palestinian West Bank, the Society of St. Yves, a legal aid group of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, announced on 2 April that the Israeli Supreme Court had accepted the many petitions of Christian groups and rejected the plans to build an extension of the Israeli separation wall in the Cremisan Valley.
The barrier, which has been planned for many years, would have run down the Cremisan Valley near Bethlehem, severing some 50 Palestinian farming families from their farms, and separating the community of Salesian priests and brothers from that of the Salesian sisters. In addition, the 30-foot-high wall would have surrounded on three sides the school run by the sisters.
The St. Yves group noted: “The planned route was designed to confiscate a huge share of the privately owned lands of the people of Beit Jala in Cremisan as well as the Vatican church land owned by the two Salesian Monasteries. The planned route was to further separate both monasteries from each other and from the local population they serve.”
The issue of the separation wall has been an international concern for many. On 11 February 2015, Bishop Oscar Cantú, who chairs the Committee on International Justice and Peace of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, wrote to the chairs of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and the House Committee on Foreign Affairs expressing concern for the impact the wall would have not only on the Palestinians in the Cremisan, but also on the peace process.
Earlier, on 30 January 2014, Archbishop Paul-André Durocher, president of the Canadian Conference of Bishops, had written a letter expressing the deep concerns of the Canadian Catholic bishops regarding the separation wall. Archbishop Durocher’s letter was addressed to the Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs, with copies sent to the Israeli Ambassador to Canada, the Canadian Ambassador to Israel and Canada’s Ambassador for Religious Freedom.
Concerned about the impact of the proposed wall on the local community, including the works of the Salesians in the valley, Catholic Near East Welfare Association, as a non-governmental organization (NGO) accredited to the United Nations, took action. CNEWA provided an information packet on the Cremisan Valley to a coalition of more than 40 Catholic NGO’s at the United Nations on 30 April 2013. This resulted in many of those NGO’s writing letters against the building of the wall to the Israeli and United States ambassadors to the United Nations as well as to the U.S. Secretary of State.
“This is Holy Week and tomorrow is Good Friday and Easter,” said Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal at a news conference after the ruling was announced on 2 April. “This is an advance Resurrection. Even if tomorrow is Good Friday, we are very happy and can celebrate. We thank God for this.”
The patriarch acknowledged the important role played by the global church and the diplomatic community in advocating against construction of the wall.
This wall was illegal and justice has prevailed,” the patriarch said. According to Catholic News Service, the legal victory, the patriarch said, was the result of a joint effort among the Catholic Church, landowners, the three neighboring municipalities, and Israelis who supported their case. Some efforts were made openly, he said, while some were behind the scenes.
It is very good news that the rights of the people of the Cremisan Valley have been upheld by the Israeli Supreme Court. It’s a further sign that individuals and organizations can make a difference in the struggle for peace and justice in the Middle East.
7 April 2015
People light candles in front of a Catholic church during the Easter vigil in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk, Russia, on 4 April. (photo: CNS/Ilya Naymushin, Reuters)
7 April 2015
In the video above, Pope Francis during the Easter Monday Regina Coeli address condemns the persecution of Christians around the world. (video: Rome Reports)
Pope offers Urbi et Orbi message, calling for peace in Middle East (Vatican Radio) Tens of thousands of people gathered in Saint Peter’s Square on Sunday morning, despite the cold and the rain, to take part in Solemn Mass with Pope Francis in celebration of Easter. Following the Liturgy, the Holy Father gave the traditional Blessing Urbi et Orbi — to the City [of Rome] and to the World...
Ukraine’s president agrees on autonomy referendum (Vatican Radio) Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko has for the first time publicly lifted his objections to a referendum that could give more powers to regions controlled by pro-Russian separatists. Monday’s announcement came while nation faces its first anniversary of a year-long insurgency and more deaths...
Has the world “looked the other way” while Christians are killed? (The Washington Post) The atmosphere in the Vatican’s St. Peter’s Square turned from celebratory to somber as Pope Francis devoted his address Monday to the bleak subject that has occupied most of his recent remarks. “Our brothers and our sisters ... are persecuted, exiled, slain, beheaded, solely for being Christian,” he said, his expression tense, his cadence slow but deliberate. The persecution of Christians is a theme that ran through most of the pope’s speeches this weekend...
Jordan to host exhibition for companies to rebuild Gaza (Haaretz) Jordan will host about 300 companies supporting the Palestinian Authority’s efforts to rebuild the Gaza Strip at an exhibition in September, Jordan’s Petra news agency reported Monday. The International Exhibition for the Reconstruction of Gaza will include construction companies, producers of construction technology and building materials, contractors and architects, the report said...
Kerala Christians celebrate Easter (NewKerala.com) While some people went to churches for a pre-sunrise Easter Mass, others turned up after sunrise. The Easter service ends in most churches when the priest offers a piece of cake. At some places, a teaspoon of wine is first served. Starting from Palm Sunday last week, Christians, who form nearly a quarter of Kerala’s 33 million people, were busy with rituals and festivities associated with the Holy Week (also known as Passion Week), which ended with Sunday's morning Mass...
2 April 2015
Tags: India Ukraine Gaza Strip/West Bank Middle East Kerala
In this image from 2014, pilgrims hold candles lit from the Holy Fire at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. (photo by Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Images)
Five years ago, after Easter in 2010, I documented the Holy Fire celebrations in Jerusalem in the pages of ONE magazine.
Every year since then, I pull my treasured hard copy and re-read the story to compare it to the reality of the current Easter, only to find that the story hasn’t really changed. The same difficulties are encountered every year, as more restrictions are imposed and freedom of access to the holy sites seems to become more of a luxury rather than a right. With each passing year, our prayer is that the situation does not get worse. We have been accustomed to having more military and police officers with full gear in the church courtyard, roof, and inside the Holy Sepulchre itself; in fact, they outnumber the worshipers. That in itself is shameful. I do not believe there is any other place on earth where you see so many arms inside a church as is the case in our treasured Holy Sepulchre during the Holy Fire celebration on Holy Saturday. The saddest part of all is that all these measures have nothing to do with the security or public safety.
The situation in our larger Middle East is no more rosy, with the Arab Spring in many countries turning into an Arab nightmare, especially for most minority groups, including the Christians, among others. Where is all this leading is anyone’s guess. How many Christians will remain and how many will lose hope and decide to move on? How many will have the opportunity to move on and how many will be stuck? How many will be killed and how many persecuted? How many will become refugees? All are questions that remain unanswered, but given the trends of the past few years, it is hard to be optimistic.
Having presented a few thoughts for consideration as we mark Holy Week, I want to highlight the positive. We who are the indigenous Christians of the Holy Land and the larger Middle East are not here by chance. We have a long and proud history full of accomplishments and contributions. Our Christian institutions are our pride, as thousands of them throughout our region continue to provide quality services to all segments of society — especially in education, healthcare and social services. During wars and crisis, our institutions are the first responders and a model for coexistence, respect, care, love and support to those who in need.
The social service initiatives of the church never existed to support only Christians, and we never will. Our teachings mandate us to respect others and treat everyone equally, and demand a full life with dignity to all children of God. Thus, during this Easter season, we are reminded again of the dramatic events surrounding our Savior’s life, death and resurrection on the streets of Jerusalem over 2,000 years ago, and we are again reminded that the Master never really had an easy life himself. He taught us how to give rather than take, to be there for the weak and poor — very much the path followed by our Christian institutions. Over 2,000 years have passed, and the story is repeated again and again, and thus if we continue to face difficulties and hardships, if our life appears bleak at times, if we suffer for various reasons, we only need to look back and be reminded how blessed we are to call this Holy Land home and to continue to walk in in Christ’s footsteps.
Five years ago, I concluded my article in ONE with these words:
“Finally, I look forward to the day when my youngest son, Michael, grows strong enough to carry the banner, and I can pass onto him the honor of carrying it on Holy Saturday. My father passed the honor onto me, and I have already passed it onto my eldest son, Rami. When the days come that I no longer carry the banner, but my sons do so in my place, I will know I have done what I could to keep the tradition and faith alive. Maybe peace will have prevailed in the Holy Land and the celebration will return to how it should be — free.”
Well, five years since writing the article, peace has not prevailed. And the celebrations are not free. But my youngest son, Michael, is now 14, which was my age back in 1974, when my dad took me for the first time to attend the Holy Fire celebration, thus beginning my own journey to carry the cherished banner every year and be blessed with that honor. It is my intention to introduce Michael to this family tradition this year — in the hope that in another 40 years, he may in turn introduce his youngest child, and the tradition will go on!
Let us all keep the faith and hope alive. Happy Easter to all, far and near!
2 April 2015
In this image from 2014, Christians carry a cross during a procession along Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem's Old City on Good Friday. (photo: CNS photo/Ammar Awad, Reuters)