19 July 2019
Sister Nabila Saleh, principal of the Rosary Sisters School in Gaza, checks in with students. Read her Letter from Gaza, about life with the students, in the July 2019 edition of ONE. (photo: Ali Hassan)
18 July 2019
Tags: Gaza Strip/West Bank
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.”
17 July 2019
Martina Isaac stands in front of her home in the Zabbaleen quarter of Manshiyat Naser, Cairo. For more about the life of this Coptic enclave, and the sisters who serve their community, read Reclaiming Lives, from the July 2019 edition of ONE. (photo: Hanaa Habib)
16 July 2019
Tags: Egypt Sisters Copts Catholic education Coptic
Sister Abhaya and Sister Phincitta socialize with students St. Clare Oral School for the Deaf in Kerala. Read more about how these young people are getting A Sound Education in the July 2019 edition of ONE. (photo: Sajeendran V.S.)
15 July 2019
Syrian Armenians celebrate the Divine Liturgy at St. Grigor Narekatsi Armenian Catholic Parish in Yerevan, Armenia. Read how Syrian refugees are starting over in Armenia, and how the church is supporting them, in Hope Takes Root in the July 2019 edition of ONE. (photo: Nazik Armenakyan)
10 July 2019
Tags: Syria Armenia
Children attend English class at the Fratelli School in Saida, Lebanon. To learn more about how this school helps to bring education to a “lost generation’ of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, read Fratelli, Where Education Is Alive in the July 2019 edition of ONE. (photo: Tamara Abdul Hadi)
28 June 2019
Tags: Lebanon Refugees Children Education Catholic education
Sister Nabila Saleh oversees the education of all students at the Rosary Sisters School in Gaza. (photo: Ali Hassan)
The new edition of ONE magazine features a letter from Gaza, written by Sister Nabila Saleh, principal of the Rosary Sisters School. She describes her life and mission:
Religious life carries great requirements and obligations: It demands vows of poverty, chastity and obedience; it requires the ability to break with worldly desires in order to pursue union with God. The road before us is quite thorny and fraught with hardships, but I knew then that the way to God is worthwhile if we allow him to work through us as he desires.
My life, heart and soul are enlightened by the existence of the extreme beauty of God. I tell him continually, “take what you have given me, and use me as you wish me to serve you.” I do believe in God’s providence because he has everything and he can do great things through me.
There are three sisters in the convent in Gaza: I am from Egypt; Sister Martina Bader and Sister Bertilla Murj are from Jordan. We dedicate much of our time to prayer, to the Liturgy of the Hours and worship of the Lord in the Eucharist. We have a harmonious relationship despite our respective differences — different backgrounds, cultures and accents. I cannot deny that I found it difficult at first, but our common love of Christ has brought us to work together in an almost perfect communion.
We believe that God has chosen us to work for him in Gaza to spread love by our care and to offer ourselves as a sacrifice to counter evil from wherever it arises. I am convinced our sacred mission is our daily struggle in teaching ethics, virtues and moral values and instilling the spirit of tolerance and mutual respect for all, regardless of race, gender or creed.
Read more of her letter in the July 2019 edition of ONE, now online.
27 June 2019
Tags: Gaza Strip/West Bank Sisters ONE magazine
Michael Shami, a seminarian at the Pontifical North American College, is pictured during his ordination as a deacon at the college in Rome on 2 June 2019. Shami was ordained as a deacon using the Antiochene Syriac rite of the Maronite Catholic Church. (photo: CNS/Denis Nakkeeran)
Ancient tones of Syriac chant, columns of incense, ornate oriental vestments and bearded clerics filled the chapel of the Pontifical North American College in early June, creating a rare Middle Eastern atmosphere in the heart of the U.S. church’s flagship seminary in Rome.
The ordination of Michael Shami to the diaconate was the first at the NAC in more than 20 years to use the Antiochene Syriac rite of the Maronite Catholic Church. The new deacon said the ritual underlined the church’s universality for his fellow seminarians and highlighted treasures proper to one of the smallest and most ancient Christian churches.
In the Maronite tradition, “there are no great treatises like in the West with Aquinas,” Deacon Shami explained. “Its strength is in its liturgical contributions.”
For example, he said, in the ordination rite, “when the bishop is imposing his hands upon the candidate, he’s fluttering his hands, and the specific verb used there for the action of the Holy Spirit” is the same verb “used for the Holy Spirit hovering over the primordial waters in Genesis and the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.”
“Because typology is the primary mode of Syriac theology, it makes a very rich connection between biblical events and historical events and sacramental events and the general life of the believer,” Deacon Shami said.
While most of the altar servers were Latin-rite seminarians of the NAC, who wore their Latin cassocks and albs, many of them had spent three months learning to chant the Syriac prayers and preparing for the demanding liturgy.
“I didn’t see the hodgepodge” of East and West mixing “as an eyesore or lack of uniformity,” Deacon Shami said. “At the same altar, there was a Maronite deacon standing with a Byzantine priest leading him as his sponsor and Latin servers -- it kind of encapsulated the true universalism of the church and it was appropriate that it should happen in Rome.”
Preparing for Maronite ministry at a Latin seminary might be unusual, but Deacon Shami was confident it would help him to be a successful witness to his religious heritage in the United States.
“It provided me with an opportunity to try to communicate to a predominately Latin- or even Protestant-minded United States the value of the Eastern tradition in general, specifically our heavy reliance on patristics and sacramental mystagogy,” he said. “It taught me which idioms were helpful for communicating Eastern theology and which were not.”
Deacon Shami said that he had to put in extra effort to remain faithful to his Eastern spiritual heritage while at the Latin-rite NAC, but even those challenges bore fruit with his confreres.
“I would chant my own Office in my room,” Deacon Shami said, referring to the daily prayers of the Liturgy of the Hours. The other seminarians “hearing my voice, hearing me take such great love in my tradition in worshipping God, they themselves turned and looked more into the Western chant tradition.”
In other areas of life at the NAC, East and West did not mix so well. Fasting — not eating meat or dairy products — is at the heart of Eastern spiritual discipline and there are long periods of fasting throughout the liturgical year.
“It was very difficult to fast at the NAC. I tried my best, though,” he said, and there, too, it became an opportunity to share with the Latin-rite seminarians the idea of fasting as an ascetical practice.
The NAC also asked Deacon Shami not to wear his Eastern-style outer cassock, he said, because it would break up the uniformity of the seminarians’ attire. Other challenges were making time to visit Eastern-rite liturgies in Rome that would often conflict with the NAC’s schedule.
Deacon Shami is among the few young Maronite-rite seminarians in the United States. At 25, he is aware that his choice to remain faithful to the Christian heritage of his ancestors is counter-cultural. His own father, for instance, “Latinized” when he moved to the United States.
Like many U.S. immigrants from Lebanon, where the Maronite church is centered, “my father stopped attending (the Maronite liturgy) and simply started going to the local Latin parish” because it was more convenient.
As an adolescent, Deacon Shami said he took an interest in the Syriac language and developed his skills while an undergraduate at New York University.
“In my parish assignment last summer, I offered a free Syriac class and I had attendance of upward of 25-30 persons,” Deacon Shami said. “Even people of other backgrounds, with Italian last names, were coming” because Syriac is close to “the language Christ spoke.”
Deacon Shami completed his stint at the NAC in June and plans to visit Lebanon before returning to the United States for a parish assignment that will last until his priestly ordination in May 2020. As a new priest, he hopes to help revive Maronite traditions that have been lost.
A recent liturgical reform in the Maronite church “had a lot of simplification and elimination,” he said.
“One of them is when the priest elevates the host as he’s offering it, and he recounts all the great patriarchal sacrifices of old, from Abraham and Noah to David on the Threshing-Floor of Ornan,” Deacon Shami explained.
“The last sacrifice (the priest) mentions in this anamnesis is the sacrifice of the widow who puts the two pence in the treasury vault,” he said. “It really kind of encapsulates this idea that the greatest sacrifice, as St. Aphrahat says, is the sacrifice of the heart, and so the priest is asking that this sacrifice be akin to that sacrifice, the sacrifice of the widow.”
“Those kinds of prayers have been completely eliminated,” Deacon Shami said, because there was an assumption that many of them were “too complex” for people to understand.
“We need to have a reclamation of sorts,” Deacon Shami said.
26 June 2019
Tags: Maronite Catholic
Archbishop Elpidophoros of America stands with his crosier during his enthronement as the seventh archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America at the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in New York City on 22 June. Also pictured are retired Metropolitan Avgoustinos of Germany and Archbishop Demetrios, who headed the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America from 1999 to 2019.
(photo: CNS/Dimitrois Panagos, courtesy GOA)
25 June 2019
Syriac Catholic bishops from around the world met for their annual synod in Lebanon last week, led by Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan. (photo: CNS/courtesy Syriac Catholic patriarchate)
Faced with the migration of Christians from Syria and Iraq, Syriac Catholic bishops meeting in Lebanon for their annual synod called upon church members “scattered everywhere in the East and West” to cling to their faith with hope so they “can be witnesses to the joy of the Gospel wherever they are.”
In a statement at the conclusion of the 17-22 June gathering led by Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan, the bishops acknowledged the suffering of the faithful in the face of “endless wars, persecutions, acts of violence, terrorism, displacement, murder and destruction, and the uprooting of a large number of nationals from the land of fathers and grandparents -- Syria and Iraq -- and their dispersion throughout the world.”
Yet the bishops stressed that they also are optimistic, “thanking God for the return of many displaced people to their villages” in Iraq and Syria.
The prelates noted that Christians “are an authentic component and founder in these two countries.” They called for solidarity among all citizens to build peace, hope and unity.
Synod participants came from dioceses and patriarchal and apostolic offices in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Egypt, the United States, Venezuela and Australia. They were joined by the patriarchal vicar in Rome.
In studying pastoral service in the countries where Syriac Catholics relocated -- primarily Europe, the Americas and Australia -- the bishops acknowledged the plight of migration “to the country of alienation and painful assimilation” and the importance of sending “priests of good quality.” They pointed to visits from the patriarch and bishops to Syriac Catholics worldwide in which the faithful were called “to preserve the deposit of faith and trust for their churches, the Syriac heritage and native lands.”
The bishops reiterated their demand to stop wars and “resolve disputes through dialogue and peaceful means, and to achieve a just, comprehensive and lasting peace.” They called for the return of all displaced persons, refugees and abductees to their homelands.
The synod also stressed “the right of the Palestinians to return to their homes and establish their state on their land,” emphasizing that Jerusalem “is a holy city for the followers” Christianity, Judaism and Islam.
They called on Lebanon’s president, prime minister “and all concerned” to find an immediate solution to the country’s economic recession and crisis in the housing sector that pushes Lebanese youth, in particular, to emigrate.
In their statement, the prelates welcomed efforts made “to obtain the official recognition of our Syriac Church in Jordan.”
They also praised the establishment of a Syriac Youth Meeting in Syria in early July and plans for a World Youth Meeting in 2021, which both follow the first World Youth Meeting in Lebanon in the summer of 2018. The bishops recommended such meetings be held in eparchies and other countries.
Tags: Syriac Catholic Church Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III Younan