15 March 2018
The video above, from 2016, shows some of the devastation of the Syrian civil war, with dramatic before and after images. The destruction has only worsened since then. The war reached its seventh year today. (video: Kashif Malik/YouTube)
Pictures show devastation of Syria over seven years (Newsweek) Syria’s devastating civil war reached its seventh year Thursday, with President Bashar al-Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies taking on the last of the insurgents trying to unseat him. Meanwhile, the U.S. is caught in the middle of a new conflict between two of its partners...
Remains of 21 beheaded Copts to be returned to Egypt (Egypt Today) Upon request from Egyptian Attorney General Nabil Sadek, Libyan Attorney General Abdul Qader Juma Radwan on Wednesday agreed to return the remains of the 21 Egyptian Coptic victims who were killed in Sirte by Islamic State (ISIS) terrorists in February 2015. Siddiq Assour, head of investigations at the Libyan Attorney General’s Office, affirmed that the Libyan authorities coordinated with the Egyptian authorities to send the bodies of the victims after DNA samples were delivered...
Poverty drives Syrian refugees in Lebanon to marry off girls early (Voice of America) A growing number of girls among the 1.5 million Syrian refugees who have fled to Lebanon since 2011 are becoming wives amid rising poverty, aid groups said on the eighth anniversary of the conflict. Around 1 in 5 Syrian girls ages 15 to 19 in Lebanon is married, according to the United Nations children’s agency (UNICEF), which fears more young girls will be married off by families that cannot afford food, rent and medicines...
Report: Israel demolished thousands of homes in Jerusalem (Al Jazeera) A new Palestinian report reveals that Israel demolished five thousand homes in Jerusalem since 1967 as well as the demolition of neighborhoods in the eastern part of the city...
Ethiopia appeals for more drought aid to help nearly 8 million people (Andalou Agency) Ethiopia has appealed for $1.6 billion in humanitarian and development assistance for 2018 to help millions of people in desperate need of aid. The appeal was made in capital Addis Ababa on Tuesday at the launch of a Humanitarian Disaster Resilience Plan mapped out by the Ethiopian government in collaboration with international donors...
14 March 2018
An Israeli flag on Mount of Olives flies near the city of Jerusalem on 13 February.
(photo: CNS/Jim Hollander, EPA)
U.S. Christian leaders, including the head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, wrote government and church leaders in the Holy Land to express opposition to Jerusalem’s plan to tax church properties not used for worship.
The religious leaders urged the Israeli government and the city of Jerusalem not to inhibit the churches’ work in and around Jerusalem. In a separate letter, they told Holy Land church leaders they would continue to press the Israeli government on these issues.
In early February, the Jerusalem Municipality announced it would begin collecting $186.4 million in property taxes from some 887 church-owned properties that were not houses of prayer. The proposal to levy taxes on some properties would run contrary to the unofficial historical tax-exempt status the churches have enjoyed for centuries.
Franciscan Father David Grenier, general secretary of the Custody of the Holy Land, which oversees Catholic religious sites, said bank accounts of some churches, such as the Anglicans and the Assyrians, were frozen in mid-February. He said some churches had been threatened with confiscation of property if the bills went unpaid, and churches were being charged retroactively for seven years.
After the Christian leaders closed the Church of the Holy Sepulcher for three days, the Israeli government set up a negotiating team to resolve the dispute.
A church source in the Holy Land told Catholic News Service 14 March that the committees for the talks had not yet been formed.
Besides Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, USCCB president, signers of the two letters included Bishop Elizabeth A. Eaton, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; Armenian Archbishop Vicken Aykazian, ecumenical director and legate of the Armenian Church of America; and Bishop Michael B. Curry, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church.
“We affirm your protest against the recent efforts to confiscate church lands or tax church properties whose function is integral to the churches’ mission,” the U.S. church leaders told Holy Land Christian leaders. Their letter was sent to Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III, Armenian Patriarch Nourhan Manougian and Franciscan Father Francesco Patton, custos of the Holy Land.
In their letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, the U.S. church leaders noted that the proposed tax measures “would have the effect of creating a situation that jeopardizes the very survival of the Christian community in the Holy Land.”
They said the different activities in which the Holy Land churches are involved — education, health care and pilgrimages — “are integral to the churches’ mission” and also benefit the Jerusalem community beyond the churches.
14 March 2018
A young peoples’ choir sings during a liturgy during the “Vocation and Mission Day for Youth” in Emdibir, Ethiopia. (photo: CNEWA)
We received this report and some pictures this week from our regional director in Addis Ababa, Argaw Fantu:
Emdibir Eparchy was erected in 2003 with territories detached from the Archdiocese of Addis Ababa. Since the early 1920s, Catholic faith in the area stayed strong, due to the few devoted lay faithful, like “Abbabba” (means father in Amharic) Antoinios, Abbabba Ruphael and Abbabba Estiphanos. Their devotion was extraordinary: they used to walk for 15 days across the country, following the French Capuchin missionaries, so they could receive the sacraments. Returning home after another 15 days’ walk, they were seen to be especially graced and full of blessings. Family members and neighbors would even welcome having these travelers spit on their faces; they saw it as a blessing, for it came from mouths that had received Holy Communion.
At that time, foreign missionaries were very few in number, unable to speak the different local languages and incapable of traveling long distances on foot, horse or mule.
But missionary zeal and a deep faith persist in Emdibir.
One person eager to pass that on to the youth is the young local priest, the Rev. Misrak Tiyu, Pastoral Coordinator of the eparchy. He designed a pastoral project entitled Strengthen Youth Ministry and Revitalize Christian Communities. In this project, he creatively planned to engage catechists, youth leaders, members of the small Christian communities and young Catholic professionals.
Children take part in the youth festival. (photo: CNEWA)
Though his dreams are big and resources are limited, Father Misrak didn’t hesitate to knock at the door of CNEWA for financial support in early 2016. CNEWA secured $25,600 for his work in 2017 and 2018. With this plan, a great pastoral outreach was observed in the eparchy in 2017. I had the opportunity to visit two events: a training day for catechists and a youth festival.
The three-day youth festival was very creatively organized with the theme “Vocation and Mission Day for Youth.” In the program more than 1,000 dynamic, enthusiastic and lively youth and children participated.
More than 1,000 young people participated in the youth festival. (photo: CNEWA)
This event has really helped strengthen the faith of the young people, exciting them to engage actively and to focus on reviving the zeal of their great grandparents.
In a real sense, CNEWA is not only responding to immediate needs of the local church, but it also accompanying the revival of faith in the younger generation.
We want to send a big THANK YOU with prayerful remembrance to all CNEWA supporters and people of good will. May the Good Lord, who sustained faith through his passion, death and resurrection, reward all!
14 March 2018
Women pray in church after the liturgy in Palayur, India. Read more about the faith of the “Thomas Christians” in the Winter 2013 edition of ONE. (photo: Jose Jacob)
14 March 2018
Palestinians wait to cross an Israeli roadblock in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Issawiya. A law passed on 7 March by the Israeli parliament allows the interior minister to revoke the permanent residency status of Palestinians living in East Jerusalem. (photo: CNS/Ammar Awad, Reuters)
Report urges action to end Syrian civil war (Vatican News) As the Syrian civil war enters its eighth year this week, the humanitarian agency Save the Children has issued a new report urging the international community to push for an immediate end to the conflict. In the report, published on Monday, Save the Children, describes the “apocalyptic” bombing campaign in Eastern Ghouta that has targeted homes, schools, hospitals and other medical facilities, forcing thousands of families to live in underground shelters. “For hundreds of thousands of children in Syria, this is the worst point of the conflict so far,” the report says...
New law allows Israel to revoke residency of East Jerusalem Palestinians (CNS) A new Israeli law that allows the government to revoke the permanent residency status of Palestinians living in East Jerusalem is contrary to international law, said the director of a Catholic legal aid center...
Why migrants risk journey from Africa to Europe (CNN) In a series of reports, CNN has been highlighting the plight of migrants in Libya who have been abducted and tortured to extort a payment for their release, and even sold as slaves. Yet even with these dangers awaiting them, the UN Migration Agency (IOM) estimates there are up to 1 million migrants currently in Libya. So why would anyone risk so much, and what’s it like to make the journey?...
Young Indian Christians shrug off scandals (UCANews.com) Most young Christians in India are proud of their church despite scandals involving sex and money, says a study conducted by a major seminary in the western city of Pune. However, almost half of respondents from southern India, which often reports such scandals, said they were “embarrassed” by the church...
Efforts to rewrite Indian history worry Christians, Muslims (UCANews.com) Christian and Muslim leaders in India are appalled by federal government moves to “revise” the country’s history in a bid to push a pro-Hindu narrative. Reuters revealed last week that a committee appointed by the Narendra Modi government has been working for six months to prove Hindus are direct descendants of India’s first inhabitants. The reports also said that the committee is seeking to demonstrate that ancient Hindu scriptures are fact, not myth...
13 March 2018
Participants have a discussion on 7 March after a meeting of the National Catholic-Muslim Dialogue at the University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary in Illinois. This year’s topic was
“One God, One Humanity: Confronting Religious Prejudice.”
(photo: CNS/Karen Callaway, Chicago Catholic)
Taking on the issue of religious prejudice, the National Muslim and Catholic Dialogue met for the third time at University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary 6-8 March.
Announced in February 2016, the national dialogue, which is sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, aims to show public support for Islamic American communities.
It builds on three regional Catholic-Muslim dialogues — mid-Atlantic, Midwest and West Coast — that have taken place for more than 20 years.
Chicago Cardinal Blase J. Cupich co-chairs the dialogue with Sayyid Syeed, national director of the Islamic Society of North America’s Office of Interfaith and Community Alliances.
During the 7 March public portion of the dialogue, Rita George-Tvrtkovic, associate professor of theology at Benedictine University in Lisle, and Irfan Omar, associate professor of theology at Marquette University in Milwaukee, delivered remarks around the theme “One God, One Humanity: Confronting Religious Prejudice.”
Delivering remarks from a Catholic viewpoint, George-Tvrtkovic addressed rooting out prejudice inside Catholic and Muslim communities, in nonreligious or non-Catholic or Muslim communities and between the two religions.
“We have to begin with our own attitudes — not just Catholics who are prejudiced, but I also mean my attitude towards my fellow Catholics who I may perceive as Islamophobic. After all, it’s difficult to approach our coreligionists to tell them we think their views are incorrect and un-Catholic,” she said. “We know this is not easy, since there are several New Testament verses on how to correct your fellow Christians.”
Taking a gentle, one-on-one approach to help people understand the church’s teaching toward Islam, which is outlined in the Second Vatican Council’s document “Nostra Aetate” (Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions), is a good place to start, she said. Another approach is sharing the church’s teaching with children in catechetical materials before they may form a prejudice.
When trying to root out religious prejudice outside of Catholicism and Islam, we must be careful not to create an “us versus them” view, George-Tvrtkovic said.
“Sometimes I hear Christians and Muslims say they are allies because they are both fighting against a common enemy, the secular or the godless. But actually, we need to convert the secular and godless from religious prejudice, too,” she said. “Both Catholics and Muslims need to pay attention to the arguments of the non-religious. Many nonreligious — especially millennials — are formerly members of our communities. Others have never had any connection to any religion."
When trying to root out prejudice between Catholics and Muslims, we should turn to Mary, she said.
“Mary in particular has the potential as an interreligious bridge between Catholics and Muslims in a way that Jesus Christ could never be, since she’s a dividing line between the two religions,” she said.
“Mary also has potential to be an intrareligious bridge between Catholics and Protestants — and between different sorts of Muslims — but she has also been an intrareligious problem in both religions, in terms of the disparity between popular piety, heterodoxy, orthodoxy,” she continued. “Intrareligiously, we disagree about Mary, and that might be an interesting conversation for Catholics and Muslims to have. Both of us have problems with Mary.”
In his remarks from an Islamic viewpoint, Omar said that interfaith dialogue is about humanizing and learning about the “other,” those holding different beliefs. He cited Muslim scholars who interpret the Quran as promoting religious diversity.
“The question that the Quran is concerned about is not whether diversity is good or bad, vis-a-vis a blessing. The questions that the Quran starts with or seems to be addressing are ‘How do we coexist with those that are different?’ ” Omar said. “How do we conduct ourselves in light of our difference when we’d be hard-pressed to find a sane person who would deny that we all live in a relational reality? We are related to each other in some form or fashion.”
We do this by acknowledging our differences and seeking to learn about each other. Inherent in this is celebrating those differences, he said.
“Just as we have no choice but to exist in a time and space continuum, I believe we have no choice but to live inter-relationally. Expressed in the language of faith this has also been referred to as living religiously today means living inter-religiously,” Omar said.
While interreligious dialogue has come a long way over time, there is a new urgency today to address the danger of exclusivism — the view that one religion is superior to another.
“If one considers herself a person of faith today, remaining indifferent is not an option,” he said.
13 March 2018
Pope Francis bows his head in prayer during his election night appearance on the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican on 13 March 2013. The crowd joined the pope in silent prayer after he asked them to pray that God would bless him. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Today marks the five-year anniversary of Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio being elected pope — and taking the name Pope Francis.
One remarkable moment from that day occurred in the photograph above, when he first appeared on the balcony at St. Peter’s and asked the people for their prayers — and offered a humble bow.
Here are his remarks from that historic night:
Brothers and sisters, good evening!
You know that it was the duty of the Conclave to give Rome a Bishop. It seems that my brother Cardinals have gone to the ends of the earth to get one... but here we are... I thank you for your welcome. The diocesan community of Rome now has its Bishop. Thank you! And first of all, I would like to offer a prayer for our Bishop Emeritus, Benedict XVI. Let us pray together for him, that the Lord may bless him and that Our Lady may keep him.
[Our Father... Hail Mary... Glory Be...]
And now, we take up this journey: Bishop and People. This journey of the Church of Rome which presides in charity over all the Churches. A journey of fraternity, of love, of trust among us. Let us always pray for one another. Let us pray for the whole world, that there may be a great spirit of fraternity. It is my hope for you that this journey of the Church, which we start today, and in which my Cardinal Vicar, here present, will assist me, will be fruitful for the evangelization of this most beautiful city.
And now I would like to give the blessing, but first — first I ask a favor of you: before the Bishop blesses his people, I ask you to pray to the Lord that he will bless me: the prayer of the people asking the blessing for their Bishop. Let us make, in silence, this prayer: your prayer over me.
Now I will give the Blessing to you and to the whole world, to all men and women of good will.
Brothers and sisters, I leave you now. Thank you for your welcome. Pray for me and until we meet again. We will see each other soon. Tomorrow I wish to go and pray to Our Lady, that she may watch over all of Rome. Good night and sleep well!
Ad multos annos!
13 March 2018
In the video above, church leaders discuss the impact of Pope Francis’ papacy on the five-year anniversary of his election. (video: CNS/Robert Duncan/YouTube)
Marking the five-year anniversary of Pope Francis’ election (CNS) Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected pope just a few days after telling the College of Cardinals that the Catholic Church faced a clear choice between being a church that “goes out” or a church focused on its internal affairs. After the cardinal from Buenos Aires, Argentina, was elected on 13 March 2013, and chose the name Francis, he made “go out,” “periphery” and “throwaway culture” standard phrases in the papal vocabulary...
Middle East bishops receive encouragement from Pope Francis (Vatican News) Bishops from across the Middle East have made pilgrimages to three papal basilicas to “pray for the strengthening of the faith” of Catholics in their countries “who live in difficult situations.” Members of the Conference of Latin Bishops of the Arab Regions (Celra) said they also received “great encouragement” from Pope Francis’ prayers and work for peace across the Middle East during a meeting with him as part of a five-day trip to Rome...
Palestinian Prime Minister survives assassination attempt in Gaza (CNN) Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah survived an assassination attempt in northern Gaza on Tuesday morning, according to Wafa, the official Palestinian news agency. Hamdallah, who was making a short trip to the coastal enclave to mark the opening of a new water treatment facility, had just passed through the Erez border crossing from Israel when a bomb detonated near his convoy, tearing the siding off at least one black SUV and blowing out the car’s windows...
Ujjain, India Christian hospital vandalized (Manoramaonline.com) Pushpa Mission Hospital, run by the Ujjain diocese in Madhya Pradesh was vandalized and critical life support systems were disrupted by a mob of suspected BJP workers...
Report: Turkish forces ‘encircle’ Syrian Kurdish city (BBC) The Turkish military says it has surrounded the Kurdish-held city of Afrin in northern Syria, the focus of an offensive against a Kurdish militia. A statement said troops and allied Syrian rebels had also captured “critically important areas...”
India’s pro-Hindu party wins over Christian-led states (UCANews.com) The results of state elections in the Christian-dominated states of Nagaland and Meghalaya, as well as in the communist stronghold of Tripura on March 3, showed how the BJP [pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party] is making considerable gains in these areas...
12 March 2018
Residents flee after Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army fighters captured the village of Khaldieh in Afrin, Syria. Christian activists warn that a million Syrian civilians will face certain slaughter in northwestern Afrin, where they allege Turkey and its militant allies have already carried out war crimes. (photo: CNS/Khalil Ashawi, Reuters)
Christian activists warn that 1 million Syrian civilians will face certain slaughter in northwestern Afrin, where they allege Turkey and its militant allies have already carried out “war crimes” and “ethnic cleansing.”
They have appealed to U.S. President Donald Trump and top U.S. officials to stop the bloodshed, warning that failure to act jeopardizes the hard-fought U.S.-led military campaign against Islamic State in Syria.
Civilians from other parts of Syria and outside the country have reportedly offered to stand as “human shields” between the Kurdish-backed fighters and Turkish forces set to storm Afrin.
Cardinal Mario Zenari, apostolic nuncio to Syria, said, “I have never seen so much violence as in Syria.” In remarks on 9 March, he likened the situation to the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
The nuncio called the situation in the war-ravaged land “hell on earth,” especially for vulnerable children.
In March, Syria’s conflict entered its eighth year. More than 350,000 people have died, 5 million are refugees and 6.3 million civilians are displaced within the country.
Syria is currently “one of the most dangerous places for children,” Cardinal Zenari said. “It’s terrible. I always say, it’s a massacre of the innocents.”
Two Christian activists, Bassam Ishak and Lauren Homer, told Catholic News Service of the relentless assault by Turkey and militants from hardline jihadist movements, including the so-called Islamic State.
“Turkey has committed war crimes and ethnic cleansing already in Afrin and the Federation of Northern Syria,” or FNS, they told CNS.
Ishak heads the Syriac National Council and is a member of the political bureau of the Syrian Democratic Council. He is a graduate of The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. Homer, an Anglican, is a Washington, D.C.-based international human rights lawyer.
“Turkey has already ‘cleared’ villages of Yazidis, Kurds, Christians and others, promising to replace them with Syrian refugees. In fact, Afrin already has enlarged its population by 50 percent to house [internally displaced] Syrians, who are among those being killed, injured or captured,” they said.
People in and around Afrin are facing the warplanes, tanks, artillery and other heavy weapons of NATO’s second-largest standing army, Turkey.
A local health authority reported more than 220 dead and 600 civilians injured in this mainly Kurdish area of northwestern Syria, some 30 miles from Aleppo.
Videos and photos from Afrin taken by both Kurds and members of the Turkish forces depict bombed-out houses, mangled bodies of children killed by the blasts and civilians being herded away.
Largely untouched by Syria’s deadly conflict until recently, this part of the Federation of Northern Syria succeeded in creating a nonsectarian, pluralist, inclusive government system not seen elsewhere in the Middle East in which there is religious freedom and equal rights are granted to all.
Activists are calling for an immediate no-fly zone over Afrin, enforced by U.S. drones or warplanes; implementation of the 24 February U.N. Security Council resolution requiring a cease-fire by Turkey in Afrin; humanitarian aid and safe passage out for civilians; and mediation of a long-term cease-fire and withdrawal of Turkish troops to its own borders — potentially with promises of U.S. or U.N. border monitors.
Meanwhile, the Kurdish council that governs Afrin demanded the U.N. Security Council establish a no-fly zone over Afrin and forcibly respond to the Turkish offensive.
“This U.N. and U.S. and NATO inaction will go down in infamy as an inconceivable abandonment of our ‘allies’ the SDF and the FNS. Genocide seems to be only something we are interested in in retrospect, to mourn and wring our hands over,” Homer warned.
Anti-aircraft weapons are needed to stop the attacks, observers say, but the Syrian Democratic Forces, composed of Kurdish and Christian fighters, were never given the necessary arms. At this point, U.S. aerial patrols would be needed. The Kurds and Christian fighters largely won the U.S.-led battle against Islamic State in Syria.
“Military solutions are no real solutions. Taking Afrin will not solve any problems, neither the internal problems for Turkey in the long run, nor will it help solve any issue that is part of the Syrian question,” Ishak told CNS. Turkey says it is battling Kurdish “terrorists” as its pretext for invading Afrin.
“Instead, it will just further complicate the situation and increase the level of competition between actors jockeying for influence in Syria,” Ishak said.
Meanwhile, the Syrian military, backed with Russian airpower, carried out intensive ground and aerial assaults on the rebel-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta near Damascus. Syrian government forces have reportedly captured more than half of the area.
The international medical charity Doctors Without Borders said more than 1,000 civilians have been killed in the area since late February, while almost 400,000 residents are living under heavy bombardment, after having been subjected to nearly five years of siege, lacking food and medicines.
Pope Francis has repeatedly called on the international community to intervene in Syria to help end the violence. Calling the war in Syria “inhumane,” Pope Francis urged for an end to the fighting, immediate access to humanitarian aid and the evacuation of the injured and infirm.
12 March 2018
Tags: Syria Middle East Christians War Syrian Conflict
In this 2017 photo, a Catholic family working to repair their family home damaged by ISIS militants poses in the Christian town of Karamdes, Iraq. Portions of this year’s annual Good Friday collection will help support Christians in the Middle East who are trying to rebuild their lives. (photo: CNS/Martyn Aim, courtesy Knights of Columbus)
Good Friday collection appeals for funds to support Christians who have fled Syria, Iraq (Vatican News) Money raised by the Good Friday collection traditionally goes to support projects and communities throughout Palestine, Israel, Jordan, Cyprus, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Turkey, Iran and Iraq. In his letter, Cardinal Sandri appealed especially for financial support for Christian families and young people who have fled from the fighting in Syria and Iraq…
Rome children’s hospital reaches out to Syrian children (Vatican News) Bambino Gesu Hospital is treating two wounded Syrian children in Rome. The hospital owned by the Holy See has also joined hands with WHO and UNHCR for projects in Syria and Jordan to reach out to children hit by the ongoing war and bombardment in Syria…
Indian Catholic Church criticizes court decision on euthanasia (Vatican News) A ruling by India’s supreme court that allows euthanasia for the terminally ill has been criticized by India’s Catholic Church that says that the mark of good society is its ability and willingness to care for the most vulnerable of society…
Hotter, drier, hungrier: how global warming punishes the world’s poorest (The New York Times) A people long hounded by poverty and strife has found itself on the frontline of a new crisis: climate change. More than 650,000 children under age 5 across vast stretches of Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia are severely malnourished. The risk of famine stalks people in all three countries; at least 12 million people rely on food aid, according to the United Nations…
In Jerusalem’s Old City, hi-tech illuminates the city’s biblical past (Times of Israel) King David made a big, bold and bright return to Jerusalem Sunday evening at an advance showing of the Tower of David Museum‘s new Night Experience. The biblical leader who reigned over the United Kingdom of Israel and Judah three millennia ago comes to life again on the inner walls of the ancient citadel next to the Old City’s Jaffa Gate…
Tags: India Middle East Christians Jerusalem Horn of Africa