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Current Issue
September, 2019
Volume 45, Number 3
  
18 October 2019
Dale Gavlak




Migrants from the Philippines are starting over in Jordan, with support from the local church.
(video: Nader Daoud)


The current edition of ONE features a look at migrants from the Philippines making a new home in Jordan, with the help and support of the Catholic Church. Journalist Dale Gavlak here offers some additional impressions of the people she met:

It seems that you almost can’t go anywhere in the western part of the Jordanian capital, Amman, without running into a guest worker from the Philippines.

They are everywhere. Although I’ve had the pleasure of knowing some who have worked for friends, I felt a whole new world open before me as I got to know two very special Filipina women with the Teresian Association who provide support and counsel to their many fellow country people navigating work and family challenges in Jordan.

Indeed, the Teresians are like “godmothers” to the Filipino community, says Ra’ed Bahou, CNEWA’s regional director in Amman.

I recall first meeting Elisa Estrada when she welcomed me at the front door of the Annunciation Roman Catholic Church. Her lovely, warm, and engaging smile immediately put me at ease. I’m sure she has this same calming effect on everyone she meets. Afterwards, scores of us joined hands all across the aisles to say the Lord’s Prayer.

“For all the people in the church, you just hold their hand and I ask, ‘Jesus, put your hands in my hands. Whatever the person needs, provide that,’“ Elisa says.

At the end of the service, we enjoy a delicious communal lunch featuring Filipino specialties at the Pontifical Library Cultural Center, where I am introduced to many Filipinas working in Jordan. It’s also a festive celebration of the parish priest Father Gerald’s birthday, including song and heartfelt prayer and thanks.

“I have baked thousands of cakes to celebrate the gift of life because these domestic helpers are unable to bake their cakes in the households where they serve,” says Elisa of celebrations involving birthdays, weddings, and anniversaries. “It’s the time that I can share the beauty of life. By using the illustration of the cake as well, I have an opportunity to speak.”

She points to the ingredients needed to make a cake. Taken individually, she says, they won’t taste good. ”It the same with us, if we work together, if there is unity, life will be beautiful,” Elisa says.

“I always tell Jesus, when I face somebody, please put your words in my mouth and open their heart. I ask Him, “When I speak, make it no longer me, but You speaking through me,” she explains.

Sharabeth Rosqeta, 35, from Cabaruan Quirino Isabela, Philippines, says she sought work in Jordan because her family is poor.

“We are 10 children, and I’m the youngest. I come to the Center every Friday because it’s a big help for me and I learn a lot. I was baptized here at the age of 23 with confirmation and communion following,” Sharabeth says. “I have been able to learn more about my faith and Jesus.”

The other Teresian, Amabel Sibug, has taught Sharabeth to play the guitar as well as how to budget her finances effectively.

“We celebrate as a family. This is the most important thing that they feel: I belong,” says the energetic Teresian. ”Welcome to the family, we are glad that you have come to share your life with us where we can learn to love and to pray, as well as to be strong and to lean on each other,” says Amabel.

”For us, the gift of our vocation is that we give up everything to share the love of Jesus,” Elisa adds. “Thanks to the Catholic Near East Welfare Association for sponsoring us for our activities. “

Read more about those making a new home In a Land of Refugees in the September 2019 edition of ONE.



Tags: Jordan

17 October 2019
Dale Gavlak, Catholic News Service




Displaced Syrians who fled violence after the Turkish offensive against Syria receive aid on 15 October 2019, at a camp on the outskirts of Dohuk, Iraq. Humanitarian concerns are growing as people caught in the crosshairs of the Turkish incursion into northeastern Syria try to flee for safety, and groups are scrambling to aid them. (photo: CNS/Ari Jalal, Reuters)

Humanitarian concerns are growing as people caught in the crosshairs of the Turkish incursion into northeastern Syria try to flee for safety, and groups are scrambling to aid them.

“There are big concerns about what is going on in northeastern Syria with the Turkish military aerial assaults and ground operations,” the Rev. Emanuel Youkhana told Catholic News Service by phone from northern Iraq, bordering the area.

Father Youkhana, a priest, or archimandrite, of the Assyrian Church of the East, runs Christian Aid Program Northern Iraq (CAPNI), a Christian program for displaced Iraqis around the city of Dohuk.

The U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, has reported that so far 1,000 Syrians have fled over the border into northern Iraq.

“The numbers are increasing,” Father Youkhana said. “CAPNI staff are on the border of Fishkhabur, and they are set up now in the camps to assist those fleeing.”

Fishkhabur is a town on the northwestern edge of Iraqi Kurdistan, principally inhabited by Chaldean Catholic Assyrians and some Kurds.

Karl Schembri, a spokesman for the Norwegian Refugee Council, described the situation to CNS: “The situation for many of the people is utter chaos: fear gripping the entire area, not know what is going to happen next, where the next attacks will be. A lot of ... displacement happening, the latest figures speak of around 200,000 people because of the fighting. There have been displacement camps that have closed down with people evacuated to other areas, which are hopefully safer.”

“Where can (we) go except here?” Omar Boobe Hose, a refugee from the northern Syrian town of Ras al-Ayn, which has seen heavy, fighting told the Associated Press. “We can’t go to Turkey, because they are our enemy, and the other side is also our enemy, the Syrian (government) side. Where can we go? We have only here. There are no other places for Kurds.”

About 50,000 Syrian refugees are expected to cross into northern Iraq over the next six months, according to the UNHCR. The migration is spurred by the Turkish military operation, which is using Syrian militants from Islamic State and al-Qaida as part of its ground troops fighting Kurdish and Syriac Christians of the Syrian Democratic Forces.

The Syrian Democratic Forces were, until recently, America’s ally in fighting Islamic State in Syria and ending its territorial caliphate there. The forces lost about 11,000 fighters waging war against the terror group. The U.S. troop pullback and Turkish offensive has raised fears of an Islamic State resurgence.

UNHCR said it so far has aided some 32,000 of the hundreds of thousands of civilians displaced by the fighting and Turkish bombardments in Syria’s northeast, mainly in Hassakeh, Qamishli, and Tal Tamer, by meeting basic needs.

But it also has mobilized protection teams to provide “psychological first aid and psychosocial support” to the many who were forced to leave “their homes without papers and other belongings” due to the suddenness of the Turkish military assault. “Families have also been separated,” the UNHCR reported.

Nearly all foreign aid workers reportedly have been evacuated because of security concerns, and there are fears that local staff could face reprisals, either at the hands of Turkish-led forces or its Syrian allied troops.

Schembri said the withdrawal of workers “is putting lives in danger, because there are at least 100,000 displaced (Syrians) due to previous fighting in the Syrian crisis who were completely dependent on humanitarian aid. So they depend on aid agencies for water, food, medical aid and shelter. Most of these services have been suspended because of the uncertainty and lack of safety for aid workers. Every day that passes without these aid services resuming is putting lives at risk in itself, not to mention the fighting that has already killed civilians.”

Bishop Georges Khazen, apostolic vicar of Aleppo for the Latin-rite Catholic Church, said the United States “has betrayed the Kurdish people” and insisted that Turkey’s incursion into northeastern Syria will lead to a new exodus, forcing Christians and other minorities out.

“Jihadis (Islamist militants) operate and fight under the auspices of the Turkish army. They (the Turks) claim they want to repatriate Syrian refugees to places where other peoples and communities already live,” Bishop Khazan told AsiaNews, a Rome-based missionary news agency. He said the Turkish military’s goal “is ethnic cleansing.”

“These wars do not solve problems; on the contrary, they lay the foundations for other, bigger ones,” he said, voicing his fear that Turkey’s interference in Syria will not stop with the so-called safe zone it is trying to establish for 2 million Syrian refugees from other regions who now live in Turkey.

Siban Sallo, a local Yazidi activist and journalist, reported that more than 500 Yazidis had been displaced in eight out of 15 Yazidi villages extending across Syria’s northeastern border with Turkey. Three Syriac-Christian villages in the vicinity also emptied out after the conflict began.

In a bipartisan vote on 16 October, the U.S. House of Representatives condemned President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from northeastern Syria.

The resolution asked the U.S. to support communities that have been displaced by the conflict with humanitarian assistance and called on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to immediately halt military action in the region. U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Washington would impose further sanctions on Turkey if a cease-fire in northeastern Syria is not established.



Tags: Syria

16 October 2019
Dale Gavlak, Catholic News Service




A shoe is seen amid broken glass at the site of a car bomb blast in Qamishli, Syria, on 11 October 2019. Church bells have been ringing in Qamishli and elsewhere in northeastern Syria, signaling the alarm to Christians and others of the ongoing Turkish military operation having a devastating humanitarian impact on civilians. (photo: CNS/Rodi Said, Reuters)

Church bells have been ringing in Qamishli and elsewhere in northeastern Syria, signaling the alarm to Christians and others of the ongoing Turkish military operation that is having a devastating humanitarian impact on civilians.

“Hundreds of thousands of people have escaped,” said Yerado Krikorian, communications assistant for the Catholic aid agency Caritas Syria, which is working around the clock to aid those displaced by Turkish bombing and shelling.

“They need water where they have fled, and so Caritas is distributing badly needed water bottles and other essentials to those displaced in shelters throughout the Hassakeh region,” Krikorian told Catholic News Service by telephone from Damascus.

Caritas Syria is the country’s branch of Caritas Internationalis, the Catholic Church’s international network of charitable agencies.

The A’louk water station, supplying water to nearly 400,000 people in Hassakeh, is out of service, according to UNICEF. The organization and Syrian government are is trying to get it fixed.

Meanwhile, UNICEF warns that some 70,000 children have been displaced since hostilities escalated on 7 October, but it expected that number to more than double as a result of ongoing violence. As of 15 October, the United Nations estimates that at least 160,000 people have been displaced, but 400,000 are in need of humanitarian aid as the Turkish military and its allied Syrian rebels, including Islamic State and al-Qaida militants, press deeper into northeastern Syria, battling Kurdish and Syriac Christian forces.

Christians and other religious minorities said they feel particularly vulnerable as Turkish artillery targeted a predominantly Christian neighborhood in Qamishli, the largest city in northeastern Syria. News reports said Christians, Ayeda Habsono and her husband, Fadi, were severely wounded in the attack that hit their house. Several other residents also were injured. Christians and Yazidis have been victimized by Islamic State militants in recent times.

Humanitarians complain that they are being denied safe and unimpeded access to civilians due to Turkish shelling and airstrikes as well as uncertainty as to who is in control over certain areas, forcing many aid organizations to relocate to northern Iraq. Hospitals, schools and churches have been bombed. They have also decried targeted killings of civilians, including that of a Kurdish female politician, by Syrian militants working with the Turks.

Observers point to the danger of NATO member Turkey using proxy forces to carry out atrocities, deemed as war crimes.

David Miliband, head of the International Rescue Committee, condemned Turkey’s offensive, designed to

clear out the native population of Kurds, Christians and Yazidis to put 2 million Syrian refugees from other regions and now sheltering in Turkey into a so-called “safe zone.”

“The so-called safe zone is becoming a death trap,” Miliband warned. “And the winners of this are Islamic State and the Assad government.

“The northeast was one of the most stable parts of Syria,” he said, before U.S. President Donald Trump announced in early October that he was withdrawing U.S. troops.

Trump has since called for an immediate end to Turkey’s moves against the Kurds in Syria and has sent Vice President Mike Pence to the Middle East. The U.S. is “simply not going to tolerate Turkey’s invasion of Syria any longer,” said Pence.

Alarmed by the military onslaught on “beloved and martyred” Syria, Pope Francis called on “all the actors involved and the international community” to commit themselves “sincerely to the path of dialogue to seek effective solutions” to the crisis.

The pope said on 13 October that dramatic news was emerging about the fate of the populations forced to abandon their homes because of military actions. “Among these populations there are also many Christian families,” he said.



Tags: Syria Caritas

18 September 2019
Dale Gavlak, Catholic News Service




Some of the 200 Iraqi Christian schoolchildren who study English, science, math, Arabic and Aramaic are seen at an afternoon school program set up by the Rev. Khalil Jaar at Our Lady Mother of the Church in Amman, Jordan. (photo: CNS/Dale Gavlak)

A shy 12-year-old Iraqi refugee boy waited with his parents and younger brother to register for the new school year. Someone measured him for the distinctive school uniform of maroon trousers and white striped shirt.

“The children ask themselves why they are here, why did they change their school and leave their school friends,” said the Rev. Khalil Jaar, who set up a school at his parish, Our Lady Mother of the Church.

“The first thing I like to do is to support these families and make them feel welcome. I know they are in shock,” the priest told Catholic News Service.

When Father Jaar spoke to the family, he discovered the boys had gone without schooling for the past two years.

“We will do our best to bring (them) up to speed. It’s important that they have Iraqi teachers like we do here, because they will immediately feel comfortable that they are in an Iraqi atmosphere,” the priest said.

As a new school year begins in the Middle East, Jordan -- which hosts the world’s second-largest refugee population per capita -- is facing the challenges of providing these youngsters with an education.

The U.N. refugee agency reported in August that of the 233,000 refugee children of school age in Jordan, 83,920 -- more than one-third -- are out of school and are not enrolled in any formal or informal education system, despite improvements made in recent years.

“Access to quality education continues to be a challenge for many, especially the most vulnerable, who are often forced to drop out of school to support their families,” UNHCR spokeswoman Lilly Carlisle said.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees has asked people to help close “the refugee education gap.”

Father Jaar has been at the forefront of doing just that at his parish school, established in September 2014 when some 800 Iraqi Christian families sought refuge in Jordan following their escape from Islamic State militants. The families arrived after the school year had started and were unable to attend Jordanian schools that year.

Father Jaar, who grew up as a Palestinian refugee from Bethlehem, West Bank, has devoted his ministry to aiding Iraqi and Syrian refugees flooding into Jordan from neighboring conflicts for more than a decade.

His church compound hosts a formal school for more than 600 students from Jordan, Syria and Iraq. The school operates under the auspices of Jordan’s Ministry of Education in the mornings.

“The Iraqis in this formal school are only some 80 pupils. But we must pay for them to attend because they are foreigners. We do our best to collect charity from friends to pay for them,” the priest said. He spends about $565 per year per Iraqi student to attend this government-approved school.

The compound hosts an afternoon informal school for 200 Iraqi Christian children four times a week. They are taught math, science, English, Arabic and Aramaic, the language of Christ that they use to pray.

They start their school by praying the Our Father in Aramaic.

“I insist that it is very important to maintain this valuable language for them,” he said.

But equally important is for the children to master English, he said, in the event they are eventually resettled in the West and/or they pursue higher educational studies. So Father Jaar emphasizes the study of English at the afternoon school.

But the priest has experienced his own challenges with running the afternoon school, in which education is provided free of charge. He must raise about $5,650 every month to pay Iraqi teachers, the transportation for the students, snacks, books, stationery and some extra activities.

“We know that our Lord will keep taking care of us. I do my best to keep in contact with my friends and the friends of the school. They are very generous. For the time being, we always had exactly what we need. This makes us depend on God,” Father Jaar said. “In spite all the difficulties of the school, I keep going with this project because I feel responsible to protect the children’s right to education. This is very important.”

Father Jaar has also made free computer science classes available to about 140 Iraqi students, ages 16-18; upon completion, they receive an international computer license.

“Many are unable to enroll in colleges here, so I invite them to be involved. Already many have started to work professionally from home on their computers,” he said.

“I am always available to help people without any discrimination. I don’t care about their nationality or religion,” Father Jaar said. “I am serving human beings here by trying to give them a better life.”



Tags: Refugees Jordan

4 September 2019
Dale Gavlak, Catholic News Service




The Rev. Khalil Jaar, Amy Peake, left, and Um Rita discuss the washable diapers the Iraqi Christian community is creating for refugees. (photo: CNS/Dale Galvak)

A petite, dark-haired woman busily measures and cuts large pieces of pastel pink and blue fleecy material as another sews.

“We left Iraq with our most precious possessions. ISIS stole everything from us, but thank God, they did take not our daughters,” the woman, known as Um Rita by her colleagues, told Catholic News Service, her eyes welling with tears.

Many Iraqi Christians, who fled Islamic State militants in August 2014, are still displaced, both inside Iraq and as refugees in neighboring lands, such as Jordan.

But the Rev. Khalil Jaar and British humanitarian Amy Peake have teamed up on an initiative that provides a livelihood to some of his Iraqi refugee parishioners, who have run short of funds, in a crowded section of Amman, the Jordanian capital.

“We have around 800 Iraqi refugee families living in my parish in Marka. They came after ISIS took Mosul and arrived here with almost nothing,” explained Father Jaar, who has devoted his ministry to aiding Iraqi and Syrian refugees flooding into Jordan from neighboring conflicts for more than a decade.

“Unlike the Syrian refugees, the Iraqis are not allowed to work. They don’t receive any help from nongovernmental organizations,” he told CNS. “So, you can imagine the situation of these families. I am looking to find a way for them to live in human dignity, to work and to have some money,” said Father Jaar, who grew up as a Palestinian refugee from Bethlehem, West Bank.

The Jordanian government grants work permits to some Syrian refugees, but others, such as Iraqis and Yemenis, are not officially allowed to work. But Father Jaar explained that Iraqis working in the church and on the compound may do so, because they are Christian and it’s a Catholic institution which has been helping them.

“When Amy visited our center, I felt her heart was burdened. She told me, ‘Father, I have a problem.’ ‘I have the solution,’ I told her.” And he chuckled, recounting their first meeting at his parish compound, Our Lady Mother of the Church.

Peake told CNS that at Zaatari, Jordan’s biggest refugee camp for Syrians, she had created a factory to produce high-quality washable diapers -- known in Britain as “nappies” -- and sanitary pads to aid Syrian refugee residents suffering from incontinence, including traumatized children, the elderly and the disabled.

The diapers are free; the idea was to help keep the refugees from spending most of their monthly stipend on disposable diapers.

“Not everybody is going to want to use a washable nappy for obvious reasons. But the 60 percent of people who carried on using them said they saved 25 percent of their monthly income -- which is a huge amount of money,” Peake explained.

Despite the positive results, the United Nations decided not to continue the project.

“Amy proposed to put the sewing machines here and immediately I gave her a big room, because we solve Amy’s problem as well as the problems of many Iraqi refugees in our parish. I see the Lord resolving so many issues,” said Father Jaar. At this time, more than 20 Iraqi Christians are working in the diaper factory.

“Behind each one working in the factory is a family to support with about five children. So, I do thank the Lord for this grace, this blessing he sent to us. I also thank Amy and everyone behind this fantastic relief service,” said the priest. “The families are given the opportunity to work in human dignity, not to beg for the needs of their family.”

Father Jaar said the Iraqi Christians who fled Islamic State are well-educated and skilled. They want the possibility to work, rather than receiving handouts.

“I remember during a food coupon distribution, I saw an Iraqi man crying,” he recalled. “I asked him, ‘Has someone hurt you? Why are you are crying? Why are you sad?’ He said, ‘No, Father, I am sad for myself. The work you are doing to help these people, this used to be my work in Mosul. I was a very rich man and I used to help people. Now, I am asking for someone to help me.’“

“You can imagine the frustration of these people,” Father Jaar said, adding that this man now has a responsible role in the factory. “My duty is to support them, to encourage them, to tell them that you are suffering, but you are suffering for a very high, noble reason: to preserve your faith. For you, for me, you are the living saints in my parish. I thank you for living with me.”

Diapers are distributed to churches working with Iraqi refugees in Amman and nearby Fuhais, as well as organizations such as “the House of Peace for the Elderly” (Dar es Salam for the Elderly), located in Amman, founded and run by Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity. The Collateral Repair Project, which assists 10,000 refugee families in Jordan, is also involved in locating refugees who need the washable diapers.



Tags: Refugees Jordan

12 August 2019
Dale Gavlak, Catholic News Service




In this file photo, Cardinal Louis Sako, the Chaldean Catholic patriarch, celebrates a liturgy in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican. Lay people for the first time joined clergy during the first two days of the weeklong Chaldean Catholic synod in northern Iraq. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)

The Chaldean Catholic Church concluded a weeklong synod in Ainkawa, a Christian enclave in the northern Iraqi city of Erbil, in which laity from the church’s various dioceses in the Middle East and the diaspora also participated for the first time.

The synod, held 4-10 August at the invitation of Cardinal Louis Sako, the Chaldean Catholic patriarch, brought together church leaders and parishioners from Iraq, the United States, Syria, Iran, Lebanon, Egypt, Canada, Australia and Europe to discuss issues vital for the church’s future in Iraq and worldwide.

Cardinal Sako said it was important to engage the views of the laity and to “support the participation of people in the life of the church” at such a critical moment in the church’s history. “The lay faithful, men and women, are members and partners of our church because of their faith and their common priesthood,” he said.

He said it was essential to “take advantage of their (laity’s) charisma” in the service of the church during what he described as a time of great difficulty in Iraq and Syria for thousands of Iraqi Christians who were forced to abandon their ancestral communities, including in Mosul and the Ninevah Plain.

“It is a good opportunity for us to study the complicated situation of our Chaldean Church in Iraq and diaspora, including the struggle with displacement, killing and destruction as well as current fears and concerns about the future,” Cardinal Sako told attendees.

“In such difficult circumstances, our faith should lead us to plant hope, joy and peace in the hearts of those we serve; respect them and create a friendly relationship with them, otherwise, we won’t grow up, improve and be trusted, but rather lose our credibility. Therefore, we should walk in the path of ‘evangelical conversion’ with all its aspects,” Cardinal Sako said.

Chaldean Archbishop Yousif Thomas Mirkis of Kirkuk, Iraq, told Catholic News Service by phone that the participation of the laity during two days of the synod was “a good experience.”

“We hope it is a good start for other future involvement. The first steps are new and open the possibility to other perspectives for the future,” he said of the 16 laypersons who attended.

The contingent included four lay women. Among them was Sister Maryam Yalda Shabo, superior of the Chaldean Sisters, Daughters of Mary Immaculate Conception, representing the patriarchal orders in Iraq.

Archbishop Mirkis said discussions centered on “liturgy, prayers, and the translation of the languages used in the diaspora for liturgy.”

Bishops also will be appointed for important towns in the predominately Kurdish areas of northern Iraq that are experiencing growth, in part because of the displacement of Christians.

“We need a bishop for Zakho because the diocese there is growing. We will split the dioceses in the Kurdish region. Amadiya and Duhok will become a diocese, while Zakho will become another,” Archbishop Mirkis explained.

In January, Archbishop Najib Mikhael Moussa of Mosul, Iraq was the first prelate installed since Christians were expelled from the city by Islamic State forces in 2014.

“He is doing his utmost to help Christians, but we know that the situation is very difficult to encourage people to return because many things, including universities, (schools, hospitals, and various infrastructure) are waiting to return,” Archbishop Mirkis said.

In a final statement, synod participants pledged “continued support to the displaced to help them return, build their homes and provide a source for their livelihoods.”

Other recommendations included: the Chaldean Church taking up its key role as a mediator with other Christians and various segments of Iraq’s mosaic social fabric; establishing a Chaldean Unified Fund to support joint projects and aid emergencies; organizing a Chaldean youth conference in Spring 2020 to address faith, marriage, and vocation; ongoing training to detect abuse; and preparing for a Chaldean Laity Conference in 2022.

Maronite Archbishop Joseph Soueif of Cipro, Cyprus, set the tone for the synod proceedings by leading a retreat during the assembly’s first two days.

As the conference opened, Cardinal Sako remarked on the challenges facing the Chaldean Catholic Church in a letter to Pope Francis.

“We can say that it has always been the ‘Church of the Martyrs.’ Even our Muslim brothers suffer for their life every day, and hope that in the shared pain, paths of hope for a better future can be opened,” he wrote.

He later told synod participants that “we pray also for our church, in particular, for the visit of Pope Francis to Iraq at this turning point in our history, for his presence and encouragement are what we need now.”



Tags: Iraqi Christians Chaldean Church Iraqi

18 July 2019
Dale Gavlak, Catholic News Service




People gather at the site of a car bomb blast outside the Syriac Orthodox Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Qamishli, Syria, on 11 July 2019. At least 11 people were injured in the blast during evening services. It was unclear who was responsible for the attack.
(photo: CNS/Rodi Said, Reuters)


Syriac Christians in northeastern Syria are calling on the United States to help defend them against a buildup of Turkish troops along the border, fearing they will be overrun and suffer the same fate as Afrin, where jihadist forces pushed out inhabitants last year.

The appeal by the U.S.-backed Christian Syriac Military Council, made available to Catholic News Service, warns of a possible Turkish attack on the eastern Euphrates River region in Syria. It said it fears the onslaught could affect thousands of Christians who live in Syria’s northeast, and it urges Washington to intervene.

The military council forms part of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces responsible for driving out Islamic State militants from Syria, while defending Syriac Christians from ISIS fighters.

About 700,000 Syrian Christians fled to Europe due to Islamic State attacks during Syria’s eight-year war.

Now, they fear a Turkish military incursion into the area east of the Euphrates River, which would again displace thousands of Christians who live in villages and towns along the Syrian-Turkish border.

“Turkey has been amassing troops at Ras al-Ayn, where there is no U.S. military presence,” Syriac Christian political leader Bassam Ishak told CNS by phone.

“But anywhere these troops come inside northeast Syria will be tragic, like in Afrin,” said Ishak, who heads the Syriac National Council. A graduate of The Catholic University of America in Washington, he is also a member of the political bureau of the Syrian Democratic Council.

“The safe zone Turkey has proposed is 32 kilometers (20 miles) deep. It’s in these areas where Kurds and Christians live. If Turkish forces come in, the expectation is that they will push out the inhabitants and turn the region over to extremist jihadist groups that they support, just like they did in Afrin a year ago,” he said.

Turkish troops and their rebel allies, including Islamic State and al-Qaida-linked fighters, swept into the northwest Syrian town of Afrin in March 2018, scattering its mainly Kurdish inhabitants, some of them Christian converts, and thousands of internally displaced Syrians from other parts of the country seeking shelter. Afrin had been one of the only areas virtually unaffected by the war. Turkey said it wanted to root out Kurdish militants.

Military Council member Aram Hanna told Kurdistan 24 TV that he hopes a U.S.-led coalition would protect northeast Syria because Islamic State “sleeper cells still pose a threat.”

Pope Francis has called Syria’s war the worst humanitarian disaster after World War II.

Ishak and Syrian religious leaders like Chaldean Catholic Father Samir Kanoon of Qamishli said the region’s inhabitants view Turkey as an enemy of Christians due to past history. Syriacs and other Christians living in Turkey were caught up in the 1915 Ottoman Empire’s genocide of Armenian Christians, which saw 1.5 million Armenians killed.

“Because of the massacres, Christians were forced to escape from Turkey, and this is where they fled, to northeastern Syria and Aleppo. Turkey is viewed by many as the enemy of Christians,” Father Kanoon told CNS earlier.

Also, “Syriac Christians and many of the Kurds who live in northeast Syria are the grandchildren and descendants of those who fled oppression and massacres in Turkey and fled to this area, considered the last safe zone from the Turks. Turkey, in their minds, is the source of terrorism,” Ishak told CNS.

Ishak drew attention to continuing instability in the area. On 11 July, three explosions took place in the northeast city of Hassakeh and, later that day, another explosion targeted the Syriac Orthodox Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Qamishli during the evening services, injuring about 11 people. It was unclear who was responsible for the attack.

“The church is located in an area within the control of the Syrian regime, but a truck was able to come and park outside the church,” Ishak said. “Someone detonated it from afar. It exploded just five minutes before the end of the Mass. If the blast happened 10 or 15 minutes later, when the people were leaving the church, it would have been a catastrophe.”

Lauren Homer, a Washington, D.C.-based international human rights lawyer familiar with the situation, called the Turkish troop amassing “puzzling, coming so soon after the Turks deployed Russian missiles near their southern border -- almost ensuring additional U.S. sanctions.”

Homer spoke to CNS during the U.S. State Department Ministerial on Religious Freedom taking place in mid-July in Washington.

She questioned whether Turkey is making “a direct challenge and threat to the U.S. and its global coalition partner troops present in Tel Abyad” or an “imminent threat to follow through on its long-threatened invasion of the entire Democratic Self-Administration” present in the region.

Syrian Christians and Kurds making up the self-administration have permitted religious freedom choices to all the inhabitants.

Homer, too, believes that if Turkey does invade northeast Syria, “it will be a repeat of Afrin in any territory they seize, bringing targeted genocide, ethnic cleansing, rapes and trafficking of women.”



Tags: Syria

25 April 2019
Dale Gavlak, Catholic News Service




Asma Aradeh, quality control manager, and Nawal Aradeh, project manager for SEP Jordan, pose for a photo at their workshop in Jerash, Jordan. Palestinian refugee women are turning their traditional embroidery handicraft into a successful international social enterprise business.
(photo: CNS/Dale Gavlak)


The poorest of Jordan’s 10 camps for Palestinian refugees would seem to be the unlikeliest place from which to launch an international business, but SEP Jordan is no usual enterprise.

Here, 350 Palestinian refugee women -- and a few Syrians -- practice their traditional craft of embroidery, but with a modern twist.

Inside a bright canary yellow-colored building among the camp’s rabbit-warren of narrow alleyways, a beige tote bag is embroidered in an Islamic geometric pattern suggesting sun bursts of orange, pink and yellow, while another captures the colors of the sea in navy, light blue and tan.

Another woman edges a silken white beach tunic in turquoise embroidery, while a lavender cashmere scarf gets embellished with intricate needlework in mauve. Traditional Bedouin red and white and Palestinian black and white kaffiyeh scarves take on a new spin with multicolored embroidery accents.

SEP stands for Social Enterprise Project. Its founder and CEO, Roberta Ventura, is a former Italian stockbroker, who decided about five years ago that she “could no longer just stand and look at the situation in refugee camps deteriorating without private sector involvement.”

“When I see refugees, I see a huge untapped potential, like you and me, who had to leave their homes,” Ventura told Catholic News Service.

Nawal Aradeh, project manager, told CNS that her job with the company “completely changed my life, because it gave me the chance to generate an income at a time when my personal circumstances were dire.”

“It was absolutely necessary for me to help myself and my six children. I felt overwhelmed by how I was going to do it because there are few job opportunities in the camp,” explained Aradeh, a former teacher in her late 40s, dressed in a simple white headscarf and long black cloak.

Aradeh is a Palestinian refugee who was raised in Jerash, 30 miles north of the capital, Amman. Jerash is considered one of the largest and best-preserved sites of Roman architecture in the world outside of Italy.

Yet it also has the impoverished Gaza Camp, where Palestinians fled during the Arab-Israeli wars. Aradeh and the other Palestinian refugee women participating in SEP Jordan grew up in Gaza Camp.

Selected out of hundreds of social enterprises, SEP Jordan was recognized for its groundbreaking work to improve the lives of refugees at an event in Vatican City hosted by Cardinal Peter Turkson last December.

The same month, SEP Jordan became one of 15 enterprises chosen by the Washington-based Laudato Si’ Challenge organization, inspired by Pope Francis, “to effectively and sustainably improve the lives of 10 million refugees, migrants and internally displaced people by 2020.”

Ventura emphasizes that SEP Jordan’s mission is to “bring thousands of refugees above the poverty line in a way which is driven by their talent.”

Raised a Catholic, she is happy to have quit her finance career to devote herself to working with the refugees, whom she considers artists of their handiwork craft. She also sees her new job as a type of calling.

Ventura and her economist husband, Stefano d’Ambrosio, have grounded the project on solid financial principles, so together with the women and a few men, such as regional manager Mahmoud Al Haj, SEP Jordan is the “first-ever private company ever to be set up in 50 years of the Gaza Camp’s existence,” she said. It is neither a nongovernmental organization nor a microcredit project.

“It helps that the women identify themselves with the brand, and they aren’t beneficiaries of aid. We are colleagues. They had enough of small microloans, fearing they could never pay them back,” Ventura said.

Asma Aradeh, 37, started as an embroiderer at the project and now heads up quality control. She, too, said the employment enabled her to move out of a decrepit, tin-roofed building where rain poured in during winter months and into a safe home for her family.

Besides the obvious economic advantages to the project, Asma Aradeh said it carries the added therapeutic value to their craft.

“Embroidering is relaxing and relieves stress. All the pressures are released when you are making each stitch,” Asma Aradeh, a mother of six, told CNS. “You feel a release from tension, tiredness, financial pressures and other things weighing you down psychologically and physically.”

However, SEP Jordan is not just a “feel-good” project; its high-quality craftsmanship caught the eye of award-winning Hollywood costume designer Jacqueline Durran, who employed some of the women to hand embroider costumes in the film, “Mary Magdalene,” starring Rooney Mara and Joaquin Phoenix.

The movie portrays Mary Magdalene, one of Jesus’ most important followers who also witnessed his crucifixion and resurrection. Durran said it was an “incredibly rewarding experience” working with the team of artists at SEP Jordan.

Their creations are also sold in high-end stores such as Harrod’s in London and in the Swiss ski resort of Gstaad. A new shop featuring the quality goods has opened in Geneva, and SEP Jordan’s products are also sold at the Landmark Hotel in the Jordanian capital, Amman.

“When the women cross-stitch, they put their feelings and emotions within the threads of their piece,” said Asma Aradeh, summing up the feelings of those involved.

“That’s why every stitch tells a story. And there is a story really behind every piece,” she said.



Tags: Refugees Jordan

19 March 2019
Dale Gavlak, Catholic News Service




In this image from 2018, a young Syrian refugee holds a watermelon at his shop in the Zaatari refugee camp near Mafraq, Jordan. "A lot of young men left Syria because they didn't want to fight in the conflict," Maha Yahya, director of the Carnegie Middle East Center, told Catholic News Service. (photo: CNS /Muhammad Hamed, Reuters)

As Syria’s civil war enters its ninth year, citizens in and outside the country find themselves in limbo. Catholic and other aid agencies are urging a swift resolution to the crisis.

Caritas Syria is campaigning for “an immediate end to the violence and suffering” and calling for “all sides of the conflict to come together to find a peaceful solution,” chiefly through reconciliation work.

“We are initiating reconciliation among the various communities to correct misconceptions in the minds of those living in Damascus, Ghouta, Aleppo and elsewhere about people outside their religious community,” said Sandra Awad, communications director for the Catholic aid agency Caritas Syria.

Caritas Syria is the country’s branch of Caritas Internationalis, the Catholic Church’s international network of charitable agencies.

Awad told Catholic News Service by telephone from Damascus that a meal involving Christians, Alawites and Muslims brought about a wonderful understanding and compassion for the suffering shared by all.

She said a Christian woman told her at the start of the lunch that she did not want to sit next to a woman wearing a headscarf because Muslims had kidnapped her son. Militants had entered her home and beat her son, resulting in psychological problems for him. They shot another son’s legs, leaving him paralyzed. The militants kidnapped the third son with his wife and child.

But Awad said she told her, “This woman with the headscarf lost her husband from mortar shelling, and her 15-year-old son lost his legs. She is taking care of her children by herself without any income.”

The Christian woman then responded: “Yes, all of us have suffered.”

“I could see her ideas begin to change,” Awad said. “The people spoke about the pain they experienced during the war. They began to feel that people have suffered as much as themselves and perhaps even more,” she said and, as a result, they got along together.

During a Caritas-sponsored visit to the Damascus suburb of Ghouta, a Muslim man questioned why militants were calling for people to be killed, rather than supported.

“Let them see who is helping us,” he said. “A Christian organization is helping us now.”

Caritas’ reconciliation efforts underline the practical support it provides to thousands of Syrians by distributing food baskets, clothes and blankets as well as medical assistance and psychosocial support.

Pope Francis has been closely engaged with the Syrian crisis, consistently calling for an end to the fighting. He has acknowledged the assistance Caritas gives to Syrians regardless of their ethnic or religious affiliation as the best way to contribute toward peace.

Syria’s war has killed more than 400,000 people and forced more than 6 million Syrians out of their homes inside Syria; 5.5 million have fled to neighboring countries since the outbreak of the conflict in 2011.

CAFOD, the Catholic international development charity in England and Wales, and Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops’ international aid and development agency, are part of the Caritas network.

In a statement provided to Catholic News Service, CAFOD said it “believes that until a political process addresses the underlying issues that led to the Syrian war, there will be no safe future in Syria for the millions of Syrians caught up in this conflict.

Syrian refugees sheltering in neighboring Jordan and Lebanon, many for longer than they ever imagined, have expressed concern for their future.

“My family believes that we cannot return to Syria because our home was destroyed, so there is nothing to go back to,” Um Mohamed, using her familial name in Arabic, told CNS in the northern Jordanian border town of Ramtha, which abuts Syria. “But we’re also finding it impossible to stay in Jordan because there is no work, my husband is sick, and our savings are running out.”

Another Syrian refugee at the large Zaatari camp, also near the border, said she is worried about her son left behind in Syria.

“He was living in an area controlled by the rebels, although he didn’t fight with them. But because of being in that place, he and other young Syrian men have turned themselves into the Syrian authorities in the hopes of getting a lesser jail term,” Um Sami told CNS, saying the Syrian government views them with suspicion.

“But the fear is that the government will forcibly conscript these men into the Syrian military and put them in frontline positions without any training. Or, what if my son is never seen again?” she said, her eyes welling with tears.

Other Syrian refugees are fearful that the regime considers them “traitors.”

“A lot of young men left Syria because they didn’t want to fight in the conflict,” Maha Yahya, director of the Carnegie Middle East Center, told CNS.

“A lot of refugees said to me, ‘I left so I don’t kill, and I don’t get killed.’ Even if they go back today, there is a new amnesty law, but there are no guarantees that they won’t be thrown into prison or sent to the frontline,” she explained.

Other refugees around Zahle, near the Syrian border in Lebanon, said they, too, fear a return, but for some there is no other choice.

A Christian aid worker told CNS about a Syrian widow who died unexpectedly in March. She left behind three young children who must go back to Syria to join relatives to care for them. But these family members live in the militant stronghold of Idlib in Syria’s north, making their fate uncertain.

Eight million Syrian children are now in need of assistance, including psychosocial support, according to the U.N. children’s agency, UNICEF.

“Every single Syrian child has been impacted by violence, loss, displacement, family separation and lack of access to basic services, including health and education. Grave violations of children’s rights -- recruitment, abductions, killing and maiming continue unabated,” UNICEF said on 6 March.

Syrians live without “peace or war,” Maronite Archbishop Samir Nassar of Damascus, told the Vatican news agency, Fides, on 11 March. “It’s an uncertain and difficult situation, which is becoming unsustainable for the weakest,” he said.

Archbishop Nassar warned that Syria’s historic Christian population has decreased in some areas by 77 percent, compared to the time before the conflict.



Tags: Syria Jordan Caritas Relief

25 September 2018
Dale Gavlak, Catholic News Service




French Bishop Nicolas Brouwet of Tarbes and Lourdes, in blue vestment, holds a candle during a vigil with Arab clergy, including retired Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal of Jerusalem, second from left, and retired Auxiliary Bishop Salim Sayegh of Jerusalem, at Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto in Naour, Jordan. (photo: CNS/Osama Toubasi, courtesy abouna.org)

Mary makes people grow in Christ and “shows us the way to permanent communion with the church,” the bishop of Lourdes, France, told Catholic clergy and faithful gathered in this town with a grotto to Our Lady of Lourdes.

“The Virgin Mary always leads us to Christ and makes our way to the kingdom of God. The Virgin Mary paves the way for us to the Lord, as if she also says that she is not always the focus of our attention, for she said in Cana ...: ‘Do whatever He tells you to do,’“ Bishop Nicolas Brouwet of Tarbes and Lourdes told people gathered at Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto in Naour on 21 September.

The bishop noted that when Mary appeared to St. Bernadette in France in 1858: “Bernadette was afraid of the apparition. She tried to make the sign of the cross, but she could not. Yet, after the Virgin Mary herself made the sign of the cross, Bernadette was able to do so, as if (Mary) were telling Bernadette: ‘Fear not, Christ is present in our midst. I was sent by the Holy Trinity.’

“The second thing that the Virgin Mary did during the apparition is that she did not speak and remained silent while smiling. Sometimes silence between two people is more expressive than talking. It indicates profound trust,” he said.

“The Virgin Mary respected this silent step toward Bernadette, and just made a smile,” he said. “Imagine this smile. It expressed a lot of confidence. The smile was the open door that paved the way for a new relationship. When we smile, everything becomes possible, and it becomes a sign of mental and emotional openness. When the Virgin Mary smiled, she revealed life in the kingdom of God and the life of grace toward God.”

Bishop Brouwet reminded people that St. Bernadette was “poor and sick ... illiterate and was not familiar with Christian education.”

Despite St. Bernadette’s weakness, he said, Mary “showed respect for her and viewed her as a very important person.” Mary does this to everyone, he added.

Among those present for the bishop’s homily were Bishop William Shomali, Latin patriarchal vicar for Jordan; retired Jerusalem Patriarch Fouad Twal; retired Auxiliary Bishop Salim Sayegh of Jerusalem; and Msgr. Mauro Lalli, first counselor for apostolic nunciature in Amman, Jordan.

Priests and deacons from the Latin, Melkite, Maronite and Chaldean Catholic churches as well as nuns from various congregations also attended the accompanying Mass.



Tags: Jordan Mary





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