1 April 2019
Chorbishop Benyamin Beth Yadgar meets with members of the Assyro-Chaldean community in Tbilisi. (photo: Zviad Rostiashvili)
In the March 2019 edition of ONE, Chorbishop Benyamin Beth Yadgar writes of his ministry to the Assyro-Chaldean community in Tbilisi, Georgia:
Most of the Assyrians and Chaldeans living in Georgia are descendants of refugees from Iran. They came to Georgia at the beginning of the last century, as life had become very difficult for them. People died of hunger, exposure, and unbearably difficult conditions. In spite of the obstacles, however, thousands of refugees managed to reach Transcaucasia. I know how important faith was for them. My long suffering people proved it with their lives and sacrifices.
In the life of every Assyrian and Chaldean, wherever they find themselves, no matter what fate has thrown at them, there has always been something unshakable. These strong people resisted pressure, oppression, violence, cruelty and injustice. And what made them survive, what enabled them to endure, was something far stronger than a sense of national self-preservation. It was — and it remains — their Christian faith.
They have prevailed because of the Gospel.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Assyrians and Chaldeans in the revived and independent Georgia were grateful to live in a country with deep Christian traditions, and they gradually regained hope for a peaceful existence. But these hopes were sobered by the realities and results of life after 70 years of Soviet rule, during which society was in a severe informational vacuum. At that time taboos and prohibitions were an integral part of life. These extended to all spheres of social and state activity, including the practice of religion.
Information about religion was scarce and, in most cases, unreliable. While the Communist Party no longer openly persecuted the church, it mocked clergy and actively discouraged religion and the practice of faith. Decades of this numbing activity made clear the priority of our mission: to reaffirm, reassure and support those holding on to their Christian faith. We learned that it was vital to hold frequent meetings, conversations on religious topics and to help explain Christian doctrine, so that the faith did not remain something distant or merely a part of history. And so we began working to make Christianity an integral party of daily life — a code of conduct, a way of living rooted in love.
The primary objective for our mission has always been, and will continue to be, to live and witness the teachings of our Lord, Jesus Christ, through Scripture; we draw together communities for the celebration of sacraments and feast days; we foster love and charity among the people; we teach the faith, ethics and morals of the church; and we support the practice and preservation of our cultural heritage.
Read more in his Letter from Georgia.
1 April 2019
Tags: Georgia Chaldeans Assyrian Church
Pope Francis visited with migrants during his weekend trip to Morocco. (video: YouTube/CNS)
Moroccan archbishop describes fruits of visit of Pope Francis (Vatican News) With the papal visit to Morocco concluded, Archbishop Cristobal Lopez Romero of Rabat spoke to Vatican News about the impact of Pope Francis’ visit and his hopes for the future of the small Moroccan Church. Archbishop Lopez Romero said he is grateful to God for all of the graces which the Pope’s trip brought to the Church in Morocco. He thanked all of the State and Church Authorities who worked to ensure the success of the visit and highlighted 3 topics addressed by the Pope as being of particular interest to Moroccans…
Pope visits Muslim training center, migrants in Morocco (CNS) Moving from ideals and principles to concrete examples, Pope Francis met in Morocco with Muslim men and women studying to be prayer leaders and preachers and with dozens of migrants assisted by Caritas. A religious faith respectful of others and care for migrants were key themes in Pope Francis’ speech at his arrival ceremony in Rabat on 30 March. After meeting privately, Pope Francis and King Mohammed VI went on to the school the king founded to counter violent strains of Islam by training imams and “murshid,” men and women preachers and spiritual guides…
Pope in Morocco: protect ’multi-religious’ Jerusalem (Al Jazeera) Pope Francis has joined Morocco’s King Mohammed VI in saying Jerusalem should be a “symbol of peaceful coexistence” for Christians, Jews and Muslims on the first day of a visit to the North African country…
Indian priest says he was abducted at gunpoint by police (UCANews.com) Church officials in India’s Jalandhar Diocese have disputed a police claim that currency worth about US$1 million in unaccounted cash was recovered from a Catholic priest. Father Antony Madasserry, superior general of the Franciscan Missionaries of Jesus, was arrested along with five others on 29 March after 66.5 million Indian rupees in cash was recovered from three of his vehicles, police said in a statement. The entire police “story is false and misleading,” diocesan spokesman Father Peter Kavumpuram told ucanews.com...
India’s Church urges faithful to pray and vote ’judiciously‘ (Vatican News) India’s Catholic Bishops are urging their faithful to exercise their sacred duty and right to vote in the upcoming general election “judiciously” for the good of the country by choosing leaders who listen to the people and respond effectively to their anxieties and needs…
29 March 2019
Tags: India Pope Francis Muslim
The March 2019 edition of ONE is now online.
We’re pleased to announce that the March 2019 edition of ONE is now online. Check it out!
Among the places we visit:
Georgia…where Chorbishop Benyamin Beth Yadgar writes of his efforts to build up the faith of Assyrians and Chaldeans in a land that has endured oppression and injustice…
India…where we hear dramatic accounts of the devastating flood that struck Kerala last summer and learn how the church saved lives and continues to offer hope…
The Holy Land…where three communities of religious sisters are lovingly changing the lives of young people…
Ethiopia…where the church is involved in strengthening marriages and uplifting families.
All these and more can be found in the March 2019 edition of ONE. The digital edition is viewable at this link and the magazine itself will be arriving in mailboxes soon — bringing to your home the acclaimed journalism and stunning photographs that help to show so vividly how CNEWA is making a difference in the lives of many around the world.
For more, check out the video preview from our president, Msgr. John E. Kozar, below.
We couldn’t do it without you. Thank you and God bless you!
29 March 2019
Students of Al Inaya al Khasa School in Aleppo celebrate on a lunchtime trip to a playground across town. Read about efforts to help survivors of the brutal war in Syria in the March 2019 edition of ONE, now online. (photo: CNEWA)
29 March 2019
King Abdullah II of Jordan speaks after being awarded the Lamp of Peace, a top Catholic peace prize presented by the Conventual Franciscans of the Sacred Convent of Assisi in Italy, at the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, on 29 March 2019. (photo: CNS/courtesy Jordan's Royal Hashemite Court)
Franciscans give Jordan’s king award for peace (CNS) Jordan’s King Abdullah II urged greater co-operation to take on serious challenges worldwide as he was awarded a top Catholic peace prize by the Conventual Franciscans of the Sacred Convent of Assisi in central Italy. The annual award, known as the Lamp of Peace, recognises King Abdullah’s promotion of peace in the Middle East, support of interreligious dialogue, welcome of refugees and educational reforms…
Syria detention camp struggles to hold the women and children of ISIS (The New York Times) The announcement a week ago that the Islamic State had lost its final patch of territory in Syria was a milestone in the battle against the world’s most fearsome terrorist network. But it also raised urgent questions about what to do with the tens of thousands of people who had flocked to join the jihadists from around the world and now have nowhere else to go…
Muslims, Dalits wiped from electoral rolls in India (UCANews.com) Millions of socially underprivileged Dalit and Muslim people are missing from India’s electoral rolls as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pro-Hindu party seeks a second term in the upcoming national elections. Activists from both groups suspect they are victims of a conspiracy orchestrated by the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), which they say is seeking to take full advantage of the Hindu vote by exploiting anti-minority sentiment…
Pope issues new child protection law, guidelines for Vatican City State (CNS) To better protect minors and vulnerable adults from all forms of abuse and exploitation, Pope Francis approved a new law and a set of safeguarding guidelines for Vatican City State and the Roman Curia. Pope Francis established the new norms and legal, criminal and safeguarding procedures with an apostolic letter given “motu proprio” (on his own initiative), published 29 March. The law and procedures were to go into effect 1June…
Catholics, Muslims urged to work for peace by respecting ’the other’ (CNS) The way to peace runs through seeing one another as brothers and sisters, Catholic and Muslim leaders confirmed 25 March at a session of the National Catholic-Muslim Dialogue held at Catholic Theological Union…
28 March 2019
Tags: Pope Francis Jordan Muslim ISIS
In this image from 2015, Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, accompanied by CNEWA’s regional director for Lebanon, Michael Constantin (center), greets a young displaced Iraqi in Erbil, Iraq. (photo: CNS/John E. Kozar, CNEWA)
Iraqis and Syrians returning to their homelands and refugees living abroad need the help of all Catholics and people of goodwill, said the Congregation for Eastern Churches.
“Greater cooperation and a generous commitment by Christians all over the world to their brothers and sisters of the Holy Land and the Middle East is needed,” it said in its annual appeal, which the Vatican press office published on 28 March.
In a letter sent to bishops around the world, Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, congregation prefect, asked for continued support for the traditional Good Friday collection for the Holy Land.
The collection, taken up at the request of the pope, is administered by the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land — an administratively autonomous province of the Franciscan order — and the Congregation for Eastern Churches. The congregation monitors how all funds are used and supports projects in the Holy Land, Cyprus, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Turkey, Iran and Iraq.
The Franciscan Custody is responsible for most of the shrines connected with the life of Jesus as well as for providing pastoral care to the region’s Catholics, running schools, operating charitable institutions and training future priests and religious.
Part of its emergency funding efforts to Eastern-rite and Latin-rite dioceses in the Middle East, the congregation said, includes helping Iraqis and Syrians who are slowly returning to their homelands, as well as their fellow citizens still living as refugees.
“In order to assure the proper means necessary for a dignified life for those who return to Iraq and Syria and those who found refuge in surrounding countries like Lebanon and Jordan, the collaboration of all people of goodwill is needed,” a note from the congregation said.
Most of the collection goes to the Franciscan Custody. Of the amount earmarked for the congregation — which was 8.6 million euro (more than US$9.6 million) last year — went toward: the formation and support of seminarians, priests, religious and laypeople; educational activities for students in the Holy Land; assistance to churches in the Middle East; and emergency aid and extra spending for Iraqis and Syrians, the congregation said.
A detailed list of the projects supported through the funds given to the Franciscan Custody included assistance to the Christian minority in the region, providing pilgrims access to the archaeological sites and Christian shrines and supporting education.
Among the maintenance and restoration work carried out were projects at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth and the Church of the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor.
The collection also helped fund activities and educational grants for young people in the Holy Land, housing and small business projects there, as well as emergency aid to Syrians and Iraqis.
28 March 2019
Tags: Middle East Christians Holy Land Eastern Churches Holy Land Christians
On the road outside Rableh, Syria, visitors see the extent of the damage from years of war.
We received the following report a few days ago from our regional director in Beirut, Lebanon, Michel Constantin:
To better assess and evaluate the current situation in Syria — now that the regime’s forces have regained control of more than 75 percent of the country and secured the major cities and rural areas — CNEWA-Pontifical Mission visited our partners so as to touch base with the beneficiaries of our aid and the volunteers who are work on behalf of the church.
Our plan was to visit three areas: the capital of Damascus; the central city of Homs and Tartus on the coast; and finally, Aleppo, where we were asked to participate in a special synod of the churches organized locally to discuss the challenges facing the Christian community there, once the largest Christian community in the Middle East.
Unfortunately, the visit to Aleppo was canceled for security reasons. On the same day we were scheduled to travel there, heavy shelling targeted downtown Aleppo. Nevertheless, we were able to follow the work of the meetings and we were updated on the findings and recommendations.
What follows are our impressions and findings:
Military attacks continue to decrease, especially since the areas under the opposition or the extremists are now very restricted to one area in the northwest of the country (Edlib and the surrounding area, controlled by the extremist militia of Al Nusra) and the northeast (east of the Euphrates River under the Kurdish militias supported mainly by the United States). However, this stability should not be confused with long-term peace, which some question as doubtful. Some observers fear fragmentation and the ethnic cleansing of areas that fall either to government or Kurdish control. This could spin out of control, for example, should both parties face each other in battle around Deir Ezzor. This is particularly dangerous, as each side is backed by different outside powers.
The territorial defeat of ISIS does not mean it will cease to exist. Rather, it is likely to adapt its strategy, continue underground, and use more guerrilla and terrorist tactics. The problem in Syria is not just ISIS, but the lack of inclusive governance and equal opportunities in the country. These are the root causes that enabled ISIS to grow. The organization is not a cause but a consequence of the underlying political situation. As a result, the defeat of ISIS will not lead to the end of the conflict in Syria. If the root causes are not addressed, the conflict is likely to continue. In addition, new conflicts and new extremist groups might arise.
On the other hand, in the aftermath of the war and with the absence of a clear and united opposition, any political process without a clear strategy carries risks. A power vacuum — or political, ethnic or sectarian tensions — could become a source of renewed conflict, which may lead to the further destabilization of the region.
Socially and economically, the humanitarian catastrophe in Syria — and the resulting rupture of socioeconomic ties inflicted on the nation’s economy — has seriously damaged the infrastructure. It has reversed or significantly slowed not only the development of Syria itself, but also of its neighbors — first of all Lebanon and Jordan — as well as Turkey. This has exacerbated the situation in these states and has created new risks.
The streets of Homs are showing signs of life. (photo: CNEWA)
Conditions need to be created for the return of refugees and the restoration of life-support systems. These can bring not only humanitarian or economic dividends, but also political and strategic ones. But despite the improvement of the security situation in many areas, international experience shows that the absence of fighting is rarely the trigger for return of the displaced people. Numerous other factors are involved. These include:
Loss of human capital. The number of people lost to injury, death or emigration is staggering, and it will create permanent hardship for generations of Syrians. The decrease in the quality and quantity of public services — due to international sanctions on one hand and the absence of the qualified staff on the other — is clearly shown in schools, universities and especially in hospitals and other medical services. It is important to mention that more than 90 percent of available services in the country are public services. Moreover, many on the ground are saying that the highly qualified personnel who left Syria for other countries during the war were often granted citizenship rights. This means they were integrated into the society and the economy, and it makes their return to Syria unlikely, if not almost impossible
Security and socioeconomic conditions. Economic sanctions against Syria and its ally Iran impact directly the situation for Syrians on the ground. For there to be any improvement, sanctions must be eased, if not lifted altogether, reported local church leaders. The severe shortage of basic supplies, such as electricity, fuel and gas, has made it difficult to produce and export products for external markets, cutting off Syria from the flow of cash and imports. Until there is a change in the status of sanctions, post-conflict life will be much harder on the remaining population and will delay the return of the more than 5.6 million Syrians registered as refugees outside the country.
During our visit, we were in contact with school teachers and other civil servants who reported that their salaries have lost most of their purchasing power, falling more than 800 percent, from $600 per month before 2011 to $72 in 2019. And when we inquired regarding the need to continue with some emergency activities, we were told that sometimes even buying a bottle of vegetable oil would represent a challenge. More seriously, others informed us that some people lost their lives because they were not able to pay for the cost of dialysis treatment, which costs on average $25 per session.
Access to property and assets. Law No. 10 of 2018 established the concept of “renovation zones,” which put conditions on residents who want to return to their properties. They must present their deeds or proof of ownership within a certain short time period, or risk losing everything. Knowing that already many deeds were lost, the public perceived this step very negatively and many consider it a threat. There is much uncertainty.
28 March 2019
Tags: Syria ISIS
In this image from July 2018, a man walks next to a destroyed building in Aleppo, Syria. Syria claims Israel attacked Aleppo Wednesday — this, as concerns are growing about a humanitarian crisis in the country in the wake of the collapse of ISIS. (photo: CNS/Ghith Sy, EPA)
Syria: Israeli air attack targeted Aleppo (Al Jazeera) The Syrian military said Israel on Wednesday launched raids on an industrial zone in the northern city of Aleppo, causing damage only to materials, while opposition sources said the attack hit Iranian ammunitions stores and a military airport used by Tehran’s forces…
Humanitarian crisis emerging in Syria in the wake of ISIS (National Geographic) The International Rescue Committee estimated that more than 5,000 women and children, fleeing the fighting between Syrian forces and remnants of the Islamic State, arrived at al-Hol camp in one 48 hour period in early March. Since December, nearly 60,000 have arrived at the camp, pushing the camp to its breaking point, aid workers have said. About 100, mostly children, have died either en route to the camp or shortly after arriving, due to acute malnutrition, pneumonia, hypothermia, and diarrhea, according to the International Rescue Committee. These new refugees join more than 65 million refugees worldwide, now more than at any time since World War II, according to the United Nations…
Bishops: Indian voters must avoid ‘terror of pseudo-nationalism’ (UCANews.com) Ahead of the general elections in India in April, Church officials have issued pastoral guidelines asking Catholics to reject candidates who espouse certain ideologies and vote for guardians of secularism and democracy. Cardinal Oswald Gracias, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, joined other regional bishops in issuing a set of guidelines…
Pope offers prayers for flood victims in Iran (Vatican News) Pope Francis expressed his sorrow for the loss of life, injury and damage caused by flash floods in northern Iran that have killed at least 26 people. In a telegram, signed on his behalf by the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Pope Francis on Wednesday conveyed his heartfelt solidarity with all those affected and said he is praying for the deceased...
27 March 2019
Tags: Syria India Iran
Young adults are seen during a workshop in a Beirut church at the 2019 International Ecumenical Youth Meeting organized and sponsored by the Churches of Lebanon, the Middle East Council of Churches and the monastic Community of Taize. (photo: CNS/Middle East Council of Churches)
Amid all the violence of the world, religions must be factors of peace, Brother Alois Leser, prior of the Taize community, told Christian and Muslim young adults from 43 countries.
More than 1,600 Muslims and Christians gathered in Beirut to celebrate the feast of the Annunciation on 25 March in a ceremony punctuated by songs, prayers, reflections and speeches. They were encouraged to respect others to foster genuine interreligious dialogue.
The Beirut gathering was part of the 22-26 March International Ecumenical Youth Meeting, organized and sponsored by the churches of Lebanon, the Middle East Council of Churches and the monastic Community of Taize. For the Annunciation encounter -- at which participants observed a minute of silence for victims of violence around the world -- the young people were joined by various Muslim religious officials and clerics; Lebanese government representatives; the papal nuncio; Christian and Orthodox prelates and religious; and brothers from the French-based Taize ecumenical community.
Lebanon has observed the Marian solemnity of the Annunciation as a joint Christian-Muslim feast and a national holiday since 2010.
Brother Alois noted that for Christians and Muslims, “Mary is an example of a believer. With confidence, Mary surrendered herself to the will of God.”
He also told them, “At this time when our world is often shaken by violent events, it is fundamental to do everything to express that religions do not want violence, but seek to be factors of peace, friendship and fraternity among all human beings.”
He said that, in the Gospel, “Jesus went beyond the cultural, social and religious barriers of his time to enter into relationships with people who were not his people, who did not share his faith.”
“Allowing fraternity and friendship to grow implies respecting others in their difference,” he stressed. “In any genuine interreligious dialogue, an attitude of respect should keep us from wanting to force the other person to think as we do.”
Brother Alois’ speech was followed by a Muslim girls’ chorus singing about the Annunciation.
Sabine Adrien, a 28-year-old Catholic who participated in the meeting with seven other young adults from Lyon, France, told Catholic News Service: “I loved the gathering, especially the prayer between Christians and Muslims. It was very simple and beautiful, all of us praying together around Mary.
“It was especially touching to be in Lebanon to experience this because it’s a country of contrasts and coexistence,” Adrien said, observing that it is “sometimes (a) difficult coexistence between religions and between sects within each religion.”
Workshops and sessions at the ecumenical meeting -- at the main seaside event venue as well as in various churches in Beirut -- focused on issues related to coexistence and interfaith dialogue, as well as rituals and traditions of the Eastern churches.
Speaking to participants during a 23 March evening prayer service, Soraya Bechealany, secretary-general of the Middle East Council of Churches, said: “This gathering proves to you that the Christian presence is an integral part of the Middle East. Young people of the Middle East, you are involved in the preservation of human freedom and its dignity.”
That evening, Brother Alois told participants that “Lebanon can be a gateway of understanding between East and West.”
The relations between the Taize community and Lebanon date back to the early 1980s, when the late Brother Roger Schutz -- who founded the monastic community in 1940 -- visited the country as its civil war was still raging.
“We believe and see that the power of peace in this country is stronger than anything else,” Brother Alois said.
27 March 2019
Tags: Lebanon Muslim Interfaith
In this image from August 2018, an aerial view shows a partially submerged road in the Indian state of Kerala. Many in the country want the upcoming election in India to focus on climate change. (photo: CNS/Sivaram V, Reuters)
Following 2018 floods, Kerala residents want climate change to dominate election (NDTV.com) With memories of last year’s devastating floods still fresh in the minds of people of Kerala, they want the issue of climate change to be a dominant theme of the electoral discourse in the run-up to Lok Sabha polls beginning 11 April. A total of 483 people died in the August 2018 floods, which were the state’s worst in a century…
Syria requests urgent UN meeting on Golan Heights (The Jerusalem Post) The Syrian mission to the United Nations is urging the U.N. Security Council to call a meeting regarding President Donald Trump’s decision to sign a proclamation recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights. A U.N. official toldThe Jerusalem Post he estimated a meeting on this matter would take place in the upcoming weeks…
Voting to go ahead on Holy Thursday in India (UCANews.com) Voters in 13 Indian states will go to polling stations on Maundy Thursday in parliamentary elections after the High Court in Tamil Nadu state dismissed a petition from church officials to reschedule the date. The federal Election Commission has scheduled polling in 97 constituencies of 13 states on 18 April when Christians observe Maundy Thursday this year, starting their Easter Triduum leading to Good Friday and Easter…
Pope’s visit to Morocco shows ’Christians and Muslims are not enemies’ (Crux) Even though Abdellah Redouane has spent the past 20 years of his life as the director of the Islamic Cultural Center of Italy, the Morocco-born man can’t disguise his hope for the upcoming 30-31 March papal visit to his homeland. ”This is not just a regular visit,” Redouane told Crux on Tuesday. “I believe it’s particularly important because 99 percent of the population in Morocco is Muslim. Inviting the pope, who is the leader of the Catholic religion, is something important, and we must thank those who worked to organize this visit…”
Jewish artifacts found in Arab neighborhood of Jerusalem (The Jerusalem Post) 2,000-year-old olive and wine presses, a burial cave and mikvah from the descendants of the Maccabees were found in a south Jerusalem neighborhood…
Tags: Syria India Jerusalem Israel