3 August 2018
An Iraqi father and his children are shown at the Saint Anthony Community Health Centre in Lebanon, supported by CNEWA. (photo: Carl Hétu)
CNEWA Canada has just launched a campaign to help Middle East Christians, and national director Carl Hétu this week offered some thoughts on the current situation on the blog for the Archdiocese of Toronto. An excerpt is below.
What is the current situation for Christians in the Middle East?
Daily life for Christians in the Middle East has been difficult. Things took a turn for the worse in 2003 during the invasion of Iraq by the U.S., Great Britain and their allies. Iraq spiraled into internal tribal conflict and anarchy. Christians were stuck in the middle — often being victims of threats, kidnapping, torture and assassination. As a result, approximately 1.2 million Christians were forced to leave the country since 2003. Some 250,000 Christians remain in Iraq today. The unresolved Israel-Palestinian conflict has also caused economic and political hardships. Only 55,000 and 1,100 Christians remain in the West Bank and Gaza, respectively. In Syria, the civil war has practically destroyed the country. Christians have certainly not been spared from the violence. The Christian population has gone down to 1 million from 2 million since 2011. More are fleeing. In Egypt, attacks on Christians are common. We believe that some 400,000 have left the country in the last seven years. Christians live in greater security in Jordan and Israel; but there has been a recent rise in internal tensions.
How does your most recent trip to Lebanon in April compare to your last visit to the region?
The Lebanese people seem anxious, tired and increasingly frustrated. The population of Lebanon is 4 million. There are more than 1.3 million Syrian and Iraqi refugees, plus 500,000 Palestinian refugees, in the country. The impact on the local economy and social services is overwhelming. Local aid organizations are exhausted and lacking in resources to support refugees but also there is an increasing number of Lebanese people who are getting poorer, losing their jobs and in need of support. It’s a very alarming and potentially volatile situation.
Visit this link to learn more — and to discover what’s being done and how you can help.
3 August 2018
Tags: Lebanon Middle East Christians CNEWA Canada Persecution
In this image from June, people walk toward the last Syrian government checkpoint while waiting for permission to leave the besieged section of Damascus. The Syrian ambassador to Lebanon has called for more refugees to return to their homeland. (photo: CNS/Omar Sanadiki, Reuters)
Syrian ambassador calls for refugees to return (The National) Syria’s ambassador to Lebanon has called for Syrian refugees to return home and for the countries hosting them to ease the transition. Ali Abdul Karim told Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil during a meeting on Thursday that certain agreements were being followed up on to help Syrian refugees return, according to a statement released by the minister’s office…
Netanyahu cancels trip abroad as possible Hamas-Israel cease fire deal emerges (The Los Angeles Times) Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday abruptly canceled an official visit to Central and South America as a possible agreement to halt the violence and ease tensions along its border with the Gaza Strip appeared to be emerging. In a statement, an Israeli government official said the trip, during which Netanyahu was scheduled to meet with the presidents of Colombia, Argentina, Chile, Guatemala and Honduras, was being canceled “due to the situation in the south…”
Bishops’ event in India focuses on divisive politics (UCANews.com) A Catholic Church-organized program in New Delhi has called on Indian politicians to cease being divisive and using religion as a way of attracting votes. Prominent opposition leader Mamta Banerjee was among several speakers voicing concerns over the divisions in Indian society during an assembly organized by the Indian Catholic bishops’ conference on 31 July…
Report: Syrian group recruiting children from camps (Human Rights Watch) The People’s Protection Units (YPG), the largest member of the Syrian Democratic Forces military alliance in northeast Syria, has been recruiting children, including girls, and using some in hostilities despite pledges to stop the practice, Human Rights Watch said today…
Has peace finally arrived for Ethiopia and Eritrea? (The New Yorker) The timing of the peace deal was sudden: within a matter of weeks, and after two decades of hostility, the governments of Ethiopia and Eritrea signed an agreement, on 9 July to restore diplomatic relations, reopen embassies in Addis Ababa and Asmara, and resume flights between the two countries. The Ethiopian Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, and the Eritrean President, Isaias Afwerki, both said they hoped for an end to a state of war that has dragged on between the two nations since Eritrea achieved independence from Ethiopia, after a thirty-year struggle, in 1993. More than 80,000 people have died in the conflict, and the United Nations has imposed an arms embargo on Eritrea, citing its border disputes with neighboring countries…
2 August 2018
Tags: Syria India Israel
In 1983, Pope John Paul II met in prison with Mehmet Ali Agca, who shot and wounded the pontiff in St. Peter's Square two years earlier. The pope publicly forgave him. (photo: CNS)
This year on Sunday 5 August—and on the first Sunday of August every year—many people around the world observe International Forgiveness Day. Although the observance is not connected with any specific religion, organizers note:
”Most world religions include teachings on the nature of forgiveness, and many of these teachings provide an underlying basis for many varying modern day traditions and practices of forgiveness. Some religious doctrines or philosophies place greater emphasis on the need for humans to find some sort of divine forgiveness for their own shortcomings, others place greater emphasis on the need for humans to practice forgiveness of one another, yet others make little or no distinction between human and divine forgiveness.”
Since much of CNEWA’s world is home to the three great monotheistic religions—Judaism, Christianity and Islam—it’s worth considering how each of these faiths treats the notion of forgiveness.
The three religions all differentiate between God’s forgiveness of humans and human beings forgiving each other. Each of the three monotheistic faiths strongly emphasizes that God is merciful and ready to forgive.
In Judaism, this idea recurs repeatedly. Almost like an antiphon, the phrase “tender and compassionate, slow to anger, rich in graciousness and ready to relent” (Joel 2:13) is applied again and again to God in the Hebrew Bible. The entire book of the Prophet Jonah is dedicated to God’s mercy.
In Christianity, God’s mercy and forgiveness are a constant theme of the preaching of Jesus. In the New Testament, God is presented as a loving Father who is always ready to forgive. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus’ connects the forgiveness of God with our own readiness to forgive: “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”
In Islam one finds the Ninety-Nine Beautiful Names of God. They are God’s titles and characteristics. The first two names of God for Muslims are: rahmani and rahim, “the Most Merciful, the Most Gracious.” For Muslims these are the two primary and most important characteristics of God. Of the 114 chapters of the Qur’an, all of them except one (Chapter 9, al-Tawba) begins “In the Name of God, the Most Merciful, the Most Gracious.”
Of course, almost all religions have a form of the “Golden Rule:” do unto others as you would have them to unto you. Nevertheless, forgiveness of those who harm and offend us is treated slightly differently in the three monotheistic traditions. Part of this may be due to the fact that the Hebrew Scriptures and the Qur’an contain legal material and are concerned in some cases with retributive justice. In these scriptures, the action of the offender is important: the offender must repent and ask for forgiveness. The Qur’an 42:41 is, however, instructive here. After reiterating the Law of Talion (an eye for an eye, etc.), it adds “but whoever forgives and brings about reconciliation, his reward is with God.”
But in Christian teaching, the New Testament is unique in its call for “gratuitous forgiveness.” In Matthew’s Gospel (6:14-15) Jesus connects his followers’ willingness to forgive with God’s willingness. When in Matthew 18 Peter askes Jesus how often he must forgive, Jesus responds “seventy times seven” or indefinitely. .” In Matthew 5:43-48 Jesus demands something unique in the monotheist faiths: love of one’s enemy. Jesus challenges his followers to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. In Luke 6:27-35 he expands the challenge and says “love your enemies and do good, lend without hope of return.” While dying on the cross Jesus asks God to forgive his executioners, although they clearly have not repented of what they are doing.
In our world today, mercy and forgiveness are needed perhaps now more than ever. There is a saying which is attributed to Mahatma Gandhi, the great Indian pacifist: if it is an eye for an eye, it won’t be long before the whole world is blind. Gandhi recognized that while forgiveness is very difficult and at times seemingly impossible, it is ultimately in our own self-interest too.
The world in which CNEWA works has seen more than its share of evil and violence. Genocidal attacks against Yazidis in northwestern Iraq, persecution of Christians and other religious minorities, destruction of churches, monasteries and sacred places, rape and slavery as tools of war and other atrocities are all crimes which cry to heaven. The drive towards vengeance can be very strong and very understandable.
But regardless of how strong or how understandable, vengeance must be resisted and must give way to mercy.
Wherever we work, CNEWA tries to be promote understanding, rebuilding of relationships, reconciliation and forgiveness — not only on International Forgiveness Day but every day.
In the words of a well-known commercial: it’s what we do.
2 August 2018
Tags: Christianity Islam Judaism
The Adi-Harush refugee camp shelters some 12,000 people. Learn how they are patiently waiting for a better future — and how the church is trying to give them hope — in This, Our Exile in the June 2018 edition of ONE. (photo: Petterik Wiggers)
2 August 2018
Men in India gathered recently to protest the draft list which has rendered some four million people without citizenship in northern India. (photo: Vatican News/AFP)
Israel claims Syrian civil war is effectively over (CNBC) Israel claimed Syria’s long-running civil war had effectively come to an end Thursday and predicted the Golan Heights frontier between the two countries would be much quieter over the coming months. Syrian President Bashar Assad has sought to restore central rule in several southwestern areas of the country in recent weeks, with a particular focus on reclaiming Golan Heights — an area of strategic and political significance for both Damascus and Jerusalem…
Israel halts fuel supplies to Gaza (AP) Despite renewed cease-fire efforts, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman announced that, starting Thursday, he is halting shipments of fuel and natural gas to Gaza in response to incendiary balloons that have targeted southern Israel. Israel also suspended fuel shipments to Gaza temporarily in July for similar reasons…
India renders four million people without citizenship (Vatican News) In a bid to identify illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, the Indian government released a draft list on Monday which has rendered about four million people without citizenship in the north-eastern state of Assam. Hundreds of thousands of people fled to India from Muslim-majority Bangladesh during its 1971 war of independence, settling down mostly in Assam and West Bengal…
Bishop Olmsted named apostolic administrator of Byzantine eparchy (CNS) Latin-rite Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of Phoenix has been appointed apostolic administrator of a Byzantine Ruthenian eparchy also based in Phoenix, the Holy Protection of Mary Byzantine Catholic Eparchy. The appointment by Pope Francis was announced on 1 August in Washington by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, Vatican nuncio to the United States…
Pope revises catechism to say death penalty ’inadmissible’ (CNS) Building on the development of Catholic Church teaching against capital punishment, Pope Francis has ordered a revision of the Catechism of the Catholic Church to assert “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person” and to commit the church to working toward its abolition worldwide…
1 August 2018
Tags: Syria India Pope Francis Gaza Strip/West Bank
CNEWA's president, Msgr. John E. Kozar, visits the Home of Faith in Kerala, India, which cares for children with disabilities. Read Msgr. Kozar’s reflections on how CNEWA evangelizes in the June 2018 edition of ONE. (photo: John E. Kozar)
1 August 2018
In the video above, Cardinal Edwin O’Brien expresses his concern over a new law he says limits the rights of non Jews. (video: Rome Reports/YouTube)
Cardinal expresses concerns over new law that grants exclusive rights to Jews in Israel (Rome Reports) Israel has passed a law that affords exclusive rights to Jewish people and removes Arabic as an official language. There are 1.8 million Arabs in Israel, which account for 20% of the total population. Israel’s new law has led to further fears of discrimination towards Arab minorities, with many Israeli neighborhoods and towns already effectively being segregated making it tough for an Arab to move in. According to Cardinal Edwin O’Brien, this new law has taken away full equality for non Jews…
Syria says road to Jordan crossing is ready (Reuters) The road to Syria’s border crossing with Jordan, closed by conflict in 2011, is ready for use and Damascus is looking at prospects of reopening it after recovering the border from rebels, the Syrian transport minister said…
Palestinian muftis bar participation in Jerusalem elections (Haaretz) The council of Palestinian muftis has issued a religious ruling barring Muslim residents of Jerusalem from participating in the city’s municipal elections this fall, either by running for office or by voting. In a statement issued on Monday, the council accused Israel of never ceasing its attempts to subdue the city’s Palestinian residents in various ways ever since it gained control of East Jerusalem in 1967…
Starvation deaths haunt India (UCANews.com) Increasing starvation deaths in India show the failure of state and federal governments to implement welfare measures and enforce a law that ensures the right to food, say church leaders and activists. The recent deaths of three children, all aged below nine, in New Delhi have brought to the fore the plight of nearly 191 million Indians who go to sleep on empty stomachs despite economic growth…
Indian tourism department to launch microsite on Christianity (Times of India) State tourism department, in a couple of weeks, will launch a microsite on Christianity in Kerala to lure more international travelers, especially religious scholars, historians and pilgrims…
31 July 2018
Tags: Syria India Jerusalem
Svetlana Hovhannisyan lives in a cabin outside of Gyumri with her five sons. (photo: Nazik Armenakyan)
In the current edition of ONE, journalist Gayane Abrahamyan how some families are struggling to care for children with disabilities in Armenia—and how a CNEWA-supported facility is giving many a new sense of purpose and hope:
For 15-year-old Artyom Hovhannisyan, every movement is a victory. Confined to a wheelchair in a city without ramps, the boy depends on his mother to carry him from place to place. Even at home, he has very limited space to maneuver; in fact, their dwelling barely warrants “home.”
Artyom’s mother, Svetlana, rears her five sons alone in a wooden cabin — a temporary structure erected following the devastating earthquake of December 1988. What was to be temporary, however, has become permanent, and stands badly in need of repair. The floor and ceiling have been rotting for years. Holes in the faded walls have been papered over with the boys’ drawings, diplomas and various certificates.
When she smiles, the lines on her face reveal years of concerns — years spent tending a small plot of land to try and feed her children while living on a monthly pension of about $90.
Around her cabin, about six miles from Gyumri, the second-largest city in Armenia after its capital of Yerevan, temporary settlements dot the landscape — a collection of small iron and wooden buildings erected nearly 30 years ago to shelter the suddenly homeless. Over the years, their inhabitants have left the settlement, moving to new buildings in the city. Now, only Ms. Hovhannisyan and her five sons remain. The eldest, 18 years old, will soon leave to join the army, adding another source of concern as Armenia’s army remains on guard.
But for now, Ms. Hovhannisyan finds solace and a sense of order by tending the earth. She has cleaned the stones from the garden and neatly organized them near a fence. She has planted trees, tilled the soil and sowed flowers.
“I am not afraid of work,” she says. “I will do everything. But when my eldest son will be called to the army, I don’t know what I’m going to do, because he is my only help with Artyom.”
She also receives tremendous help and support from the Emili Aregak Center, which helps care for her son.
Inside the glass-covered building, everybody is busy — they sing in one of the rooms, play in another, do exercises in a third, hold discussions in the fourth. Alive and vibrant, this unique space offers children and young adults with special needs and physical challenges room to move and room to live with sun and space in abundance.
“Everything is interesting here,” Artyom says happily. “I have participated in pottery classes. I have many good friends who help me.”
The center has changed Artyom’s life. The view beyond his window is now wider, brighter and full of hope.
“It is so good here. Everyone is joyful, everyone is nice and I love them a lot.”
Read about how the center has become A Source of Light to so many in the June 2018 edition of ONE.
31 July 2018
A flooded house is seen in the Kottayam district of India's Kerala state, where torrential rains have inundated hundreds of villages and displaced at least 100,000 people. (photo: UCANews/IANS)
Church helps victims as floods batter India (UCANews.com) Unusually long and heavy monsoon rains have inundated several parts of India and claimed at least 537 lives as church agencies and others reach out to help some two million people affected by floods. The Federal National Emergency Response Centre has recorded floods in six states after the monsoon began in Kerala in the south in early June. Teams of church people are working to provide immediate relief to flood-affected people, said Anjan Bag, who manages disaster intervention at Caritas India…
Druze women, children reportedly abducted by ISIS in Syria (Vatican News) Reports from Syria suggest that at least 36 women and children were abducted when the militant group attacked their villages in Sweida, a province in the south, last week. A few women have since managed to escape, but further details are unknown…
Doctor describes challenges Syrian refugees face in Jordan and Lebanon (WBUR/Public Radio) Millions of people have fled Syria since the civil war started there in 2011. Millions more are internally displaced. Here & Now’s Meghna Chakrabarti speaks with Dr. Zaher Sahloul, president and co-founder of MedGlobal, a relief organization that has been working in refugee camps in the region…
‘The city of my birth in India is becoming a climate casualty…’ (The New York Times) I spent the first seven years of my life in this delta city, close to where the Ganges pours into the sea. In my memory, it was a city of steam and sweat, rice and fish, of languid, muggy afternoons. A city of water. Lots and lots of water. On this trip, in the era of global warming, I found a city at profound risk...
Hairdressing school gives Syrian refugees in Lebanon dream of independence (Reuters) Around 20 Syrian and Lebanese girls and women will study hairdressing for six months under the L’Oreal Foundation’s Beauty for a Better Life program, earning an internationally recognized certificate if they are successful…
30 July 2018
Tags: Syria India Refugees
In this image from 2016, Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan celebrates a liturgy in a displaced-persons camp in Ankawa, Iraq. Last week, he presided at a synod of Syriac Catholic bishops, who issued a statement lamenting the plight of persecuted Christians.(photo: CNS/Paul Jeffrey)
Syriac Catholic bishops from around the world, meeting in Lebanon for their annual synod, lamented the plight of their “tormented and persecuted” faithful.
In their final statement from the 23-27 July gathering, with Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan presiding, the bishops noted that they have “raised their voices high in front of the world, denouncing the calamities” which have especially affected the Syriac church, particularly in Syria and Iraq.
They characterized the situation as “a catastrophe that repeats the tragedy of genocide that took place with their ancestors a hundred years ago.”
“This grave violation of their civil rights has shaken their human, societal and cultural being, especially as they have experienced the tragedies of the displacement of thousands of families,” the bishops said.
The prelates also said they addressed the issue of the migration of thousands of Syriac Catholic families from the region and “the sense of shared responsibility and the urgent need to pursue the spiritual, pastoral and social service of those displaced.”
Regarding Syriac Catholics who settled in Europe, the Americas and Australia, the bishops encouraged them to continue to live their traditions and heritage and “to love their new countries, to be faithful to them and to be creative in various fields,” while stressing “their constant quest for spiritual service despite challenges and difficulties.”
The prelates “renewed their support and solidarity with all the tormented and persecuted” Syriac people who suffer “the pain of displacement, migration and uprooting, assuring them that the Church will remain with them.”
Likewise, they also discussed the return of the displaced to their villages in the dioceses of Syria and Iraq, countries which have been “plagued by disturbances and futile wars in recent years.”
The Syriac Catholic bishops also underscored concerns regarding specific areas in the Middle East.
They stressed the need for solidarity among the Iraqi people, for dialogue and acceptance of the other and for security, peace and stability to be restored to Iraq.
Regarding Syria, they called for an end to the country’s seven-year civil war and for all parties “to work together for the return of normalcy” in the country.
The Syriac Catholic bishops maintained that “Jerusalem is a city for all followers of the three religions” and affirmed “the right of the Palestinian people to return to their land and to achieve a lasting peace in the two-state solution.”
They expressed their confidence “in the wise leadership” of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and the government of Egypt and congratulated Lebanon for peaceful parliamentary elections on 6 May, reiterating an earlier call that the Syriac Catholic community be represented in the new government.
Typically, the Syriac Catholic bishops meet in October. However, this year’s synod was scheduled to follow the first Syriac Youth International Convention, also held in Lebanon. More than 400 youth from 15 countries worldwide attended.
Tags: Lebanon Persecution Syriac Catholic Church