28 September 2018
A Bedouin family picks cherries in an orchard in Deir El Ahmar. (photo: Laura Boushnak)
In 2012, we visited a corner of Lebanon that was flourishing, thanks to a reservoir and irrigation system CNEWA helped to provide:
The presence of water gave us a means to stay here,” says 65-year-old Hana Habshi, a resident of the Maronite Catholic town of Deir El Ahmar. The once-bustling agricultural hub nestles on the slopes of the fertile Bekaa Valley, about 60 miles northeast of Beirut, where Mr. Habshi has lived and worked since the height of civil war in the 1980’s. But for the past decade, thanks to several irrigation projects, Mr. Habshi has returned to his hometown every summer to farm his family’s ancestral lands. “It helped us come back and live off the land again.”
Lebanon’s civil war — which ravaged the country from 1975 to 1990 — destroyed much of the nation’s infrastructure, including its irrigation systems, and sounded the death knell for the Bekaa Valley’s agricultural economy.
Without reliable sources of water, and subsequent erosion, farmers could no longer cultivate the land that formerly nourished lush fields and bountiful yields. Desperate for work, inhabitants moved to Lebanon’s major coastal cities, such as Beirut, Saida and Tripoli. Some left the country altogether. The few who remained scraped by as sustenance farmers, growing crops that require little water such as wheat, hay and, in some cases, hashish.
Deir El Ahmar, like most settlements in the area, remains but a shadow of its former self. Its many empty homes and crumbling public buildings remind locals and visitors of a more prosperous past. Though municipal authorities register some 10,000 residents, in reality half as many actually live there — and only then in the summer months. In winter, the town’s population plunges to little more than 3,000.
However, in the last ten years, Deir El Ahmar has been slowly but surely bucking the trend. Locals attribute this reversal to one thing — water. Since 1999, when the town installed its first irrigation system drawing on natural spring water, residents such as Mr. Habshi have been trickling back to town and reviving their parched properties and the Christian identity of the town.
“Before it was all just trees and shrubs, but look what happens when water comes,” says Mr. Habshi, pointing to the surrounding hillsides and valley below.
Read more about Springs of Hope in Lebanon in the January 2012 edition of ONE.
28 September 2018
Pope Francis addresses the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity. (photo: Vatican Media)
Pope: Holy Spirit shows path to Christian unity (Vatican News) Pope Francis spoke Friday to participants in the Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, inviting the Catholic Church to discern the Holy Spirit’s presence in charismatic movements. The theme for the Plenary Assembly was “Pentecostals, Charismatics, and Evangelicals: Impact on the Concept of Unity”. Pope Francis said the growth of these communities is “an important phenomenon, which cannot be overlooked.” He said, “We have the duty to discern and recognize the presence of the Holy Spirit in these communities, seeking to build bonds of authentic solidarity with them…”
Hundreds of refugees set to return to Syria from Lebanon on Saturday (The Daily Star) General Security announced Friday that “hundreds” of refugees will be returning to Syria from different Lebanese regions the next day, in the latest of voluntary returns organized in coordination with the Syrian government…
Relief group says number of Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia rising after border reopens (AfricaNews.com) Eritreans are taking advantage of reopening of border crossing to enter neighbouring Ethiopia. Some to visit relatives, others for trade but also others are there to stay. This is according to ReliefWeb, a leading humanitarian information source on global crises and disasters. It is a specialized digital service for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). ReliefWeb cited the Shire District administration in the northern Ethiopian Tigray regional state as stating that up to 15,000 Eritreans have arrived in the Ethiopia since borders reopened…
Kerala government to provide aid to those who lost their livelihoods in flood (The Statesman) The Kerala government on Thursday announced it will provide free ration for three months to those who lost their livelihood due to the devastating floods. ”The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act scheme will also be reworked to provide more number of working days to those who suffered due to the floods,” Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan told the media here. He also announced various committees headed by senior officials to formulate policies and to speed up rebuilding efforts in flood-hit state…
India strikes down adultery law (CNN) India’s top court has abolished a colonial-era law criminalizing extramarital sex, in a landmark ruling campaigners have hailed as a victory for women’s rights. Under the 158-year-old adultery law, known as Section 497, a man could be imprisoned for up to five years for engaging in sexual relations with a married woman without the consent of her husband. The Supreme Court struck down the law Thursday, ruling it retrograde and discriminatory toward women…
27 September 2018
Tags: India Pope Francis Ethiopia Christian Unity Eritrea
The lulav (palm fronds), a silver etrog box and the etrog (large lemon) are displayed during Sukkot, the last of the Jewish high holy days. (photo: Wikipedia)
CNEWA works in places with many different cultures, faiths and traditions — and during this time of year, we are reminded in a particular way of the rich religious and cultural traditions of the Jewish people.
In the fall — starting with Rosh Hashanah, moving through Yom Kippur and ending with Sukkot — Jews mark the ”high holidays” and issue in the New Year of their calendar with prayers and celebrations. This week, Jews throughout the world celebrate the feast of Sukkot, sometimes referred to in English as the Feast of Booths or Tabernacles, the latter from the Latin tabernaculum, “tent.”
Sukkot is one of the three great pilgrim festivals in the Old Testament: Passover, the Feast of Weeks or Pentecost and Sukkot. Long before the construction of the Temple in Jerusalem, Sukkot was an agricultural festival celebrating the end of the harvest. This is clear in Exodus 34:22 where it is called the Feast of the Ingathering (ha’asîf) at the end of the year and is paired with the Feast of Weeks, which is earlier in the year at the wheat harvest.
Sukkot runs for seven or eight days depending on whether one is in Israel or in the diaspora. The festival is outlined in detail in Leviticus 23:33-36, 39-43. It is to last seven days and the first and eighth (!) days are to be a “sacred assembly” on which no work is to be performed. It is a feast of celebration: “On the first day you shall take choice fruits, palm branches, boughs of leafy trees…and you shall rejoice in the presence of the Lord.” It is required that the people live in sukkot, “huts, shelters, booths,” made from branches of palm trees and other leafy trees. This is perhaps the most obvious practice that a non-Jew would notice. Jews throughout the world will build sukkot for the week. In major cities such as New York, it is not uncommon to see sukkot popping up on balconies of high rise apartments. For seven days, Jews will take their meals in the booths and some will even sleep in them. According to Leviticus, the booths are to remind the Israelites that their ancestors lived in shelters such as these during the Exodus.
During one of the central days of Sukkot, there is the ceremony of drawing water, reminiscent of the purification ceremonies at the Temple. This ceremony is specifically mentioned in the seventh chapter of John’s Gospel and may have provided the occasion for Jesus’ exclamation: “If anyone is thirsty, let them come to me! Let the one come and drink, who believes in me” because he is “living water” (John 7:37-38).
Also during Sukkot, Jews will display the etrog and the lulav. The etrog is a large citrus like a lemon but considerably larger, while the lulav is palm fronds which are often artfully woven in ways familiar to what some Christian cultures do with palms on Palm Sunday.
Depending upon where one lives—in Israel or the diaspora—there are two different endings to the week of Sukkot. The first is Shmini Atzeret, the “eighth assembly/congregation” which closes the festival. The second, for those in the diaspora, is the festival Simhat Torah, “the joy of the Torah.”
Perhaps most significantly, though, the ending of Sukkot signals, in fact, a beginning — the start for Jews of a new year, full of promise and possibility.
27 September 2018
Sister Ayelech Gebeyehu, left, attends 5:30 morning prayer in the chapel of her convent in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia. Read more about the life of this religious sister in A Letter from Ethiopia in the Spring 2015 edition of ONE. (photo: Petterik Wiggers)
27 September 2018
The video above shows how some Syrian refugees are coping with life in Lebanon. Cardinal Bechara Boutros Rai of Lebanon told Canadian bishops earlier this week that Canada needs to help the Syrian refugees and support their efforts to return home. (video: EuroNews/YouTube)
Indian activists seek unity to protect minority rights (UCANews.com) Rights activists in India have called for more united and coordinated work to ensure the rights of religious minorities, tribal and Dalit people. Activists, lawyers and civil society met in New Delhi to honor Soni Sori, a tribal activist who was chosen by Ireland-based rights organization Front Line Defenders for an award this year…
Patriarch: Canadians must help Syrian refugees who want to return home (Catholic Register) Western nations must support Syrian refugees in Lebanon who want to return home, Cardinal Béchara Boutros Raï told Canada’s Catholic bishops. Lebanon, a country of four million people, has received two million refugees since the Syrian civil war broke out seven years ago, said Raï of Lebanon, the Maronite Catholic Patriarch. He was speaking on 24 September to the annual gathering of more than 80 eparchs and bishops from across Canada...
Thousands gather in Jerusalem for blessing (Reuters) Tens of thousands of worshippers packed Jerusalem’s Western Wall plaza on Wednesday to receive a blessing from members of Judaism’s priestly caste. Holding prayers shawls above their heads and covering their faces, the priests, known as “Kohanim” in Hebrew, began chanting the blessing, which begins: “The Lord bless you and keep you”...
Ethiopians celebrate Meskel (Africa News) On the ground and online, orthodox Christians in Ethiopia and Eritrea are commemorating the Meskel festival, the founding of the true cross on which Jesus was crucified. Reports indicate that the Ethiopian Orthodow Tewahdo Church held a procession at the Meskel Square in Addis Ababa. The colourful and elaborate ceremony was attended by President Mulatu Teshome and deputy mayor of the capital, Takele Uma…
New York museum brings Armenia to the fore (The Art News) Armenia, on the far eastern border of the Western world, has long been overlooked in the history of Christian art. Now an ambitious show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York aims to rectify that with dazzling displays of illuminated manuscripts, carvings, reliquaries and textiles that testify to a culture’s dogged resilience. Almost all of the objects in the exhibition are on view in the U.S. for the first time…
26 September 2018
Tags: Syria Lebanon Ethiopia Armenia
Lebanon's Our Lady of Kaftoun (Deir Saydet Kaftoun) Monastery in Kaftoun is pictured in this 2013 photo. Now the land of the cedars is accessible virtually, via a free app in English -- called Holy Lebanon -- aimed at promoting religious tourism. (photo: CNS /courtesy Nour Farra Haddad)
From its high majestic mountains, picturesque villages and coastal towns to its bustling cities, Lebanon is rich in breathtaking scenery, cultural diversity and religious sites.
Now the land of the cedars mentioned in the Bible 96 times is accessible virtually, via a free app in English -- called Holy Lebanon -- aimed at promoting religious tourism.
“Even if you can’t come to Lebanon to visit, you can download the app and have an idea about different religious sites around the country,” Nour Farra Haddad, developer of the Holy Lebanon app, told Catholic News Service.
“Holy Lebanon,” introduced in June, was followed in July with an announcement from the Vatican that it will authorize official pilgrimage visits to Lebanon in 2019.
The multifaith app features 300 religious sites, representative of all of Lebanon’s 18 religious traditions, including Catholic, Orthodox and Muslim. The sites include churches, monasteries, convents, shrines and sanctuaries as well as mosques, many dating back centuries ago.
“It is just a beginning,” Farra Haddad said, noting that more sites will be added to the Holy Lebanon app in the future.
While the app took two years to develop, it is based on Farra Haddad’s 10 years of research as a religious anthropologist.
Lebanon, about two-thirds the size of Connecticut, is visibly steeped in religion.
“This is something that really surprises people: We have about 6,000 religious sites all around Lebanon,” Farra Haddad said, although she notes that no formal comprehensive survey of the exact number of sites has been compiled.
“Because Lebanon is considered an Arab country, sometimes people assume it’s a Muslim country only or that it’s related to the Islamic world, but Christianity was born in this area,” Farra Haddad said.
“I think people who have a curiosity about the Holy Land forget that South Lebanon is a part of the Holy Land where Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary walked,” Farra Haddad said, referring to Sidon and Tyre. “There is no doubt about that.”
In Lebanon, Christians account for approximately 40 percent of the population.
The country’s president is a Maronite Catholic, and half of the country’s 128 parliamentary seats are reserved for Christians.
Lebanon has approximately 900 religious sites dedicated to Mary, according to the app. That’s not counting informal shrines, thousands of which dot the country near buildings and roadsides.
Aside from the sites of Lebanon’s native saints -- Charbel, Rafka and Hardini -- which are visited by Christians and Muslims, St. George is the most popular saint, with 350 Christian sites and about 20 Muslim sites.
Western saints -- including Sts. Francis of Assisi, Rita, Bernadette of Lourdes and Therese of Lisieux -- also hold a special place in believers’ hearts, and churches and sanctuaries dedicated to them can be found throughout Lebanon.
By far the most popular pilgrimage site is the Our Lady of Lebanon shrine and basilica -- Harissa -- perched high above the Mediterranean Sea. Each year more the shrine receives than 2 million pilgrims, Muslims and Christians alike, as Mary is venerated by Muslims, and a full chapter is devoted to her in the Quran.
“It’s very important to let people around the world know that there are Christians in Lebanon,” the Rev. Khalil Alwan, vice rector of Harissa, told CNS.
Maronite Father Alwan said it is fitting that Muslim sites are included in the app.
“In Lebanon, Christians and Muslims coexist. This is the mission of Lebanon. That’s what John Paul II said,” he emphasized, referring to the saint’s quote: “Lebanon is more than a country. It is a message of freedom and an example of pluralism for East and West.”
“Lebanon is a holy land for Muslims and Christians,” Father Alwan added.
The Holy Lebanon app also happens to coincide with Harissa’s yearlong commemoration of the Marian shrine’s jubilee, 110 years since the shrine was inaugurated in 1908. Until 4 August 2019, pilgrims to the Marian shrine can receive an indulgence offered by the Vatican.
Farra Haddad pointed out that the Holy Lebanon app was designed for friendly navigation. “It’s not complicated, and the menu is easy,” she said, adding that elderly people have told her the app is simple to use.
From anywhere in the world, the Holy Lebanon app can be downloaded for free from the App Store or Google Play.
Navigating between the six sections of the app, users can access historical details about each of the 300 religious sites; background about the saint or holy figure; details about Christian and Muslim rituals; a calendar of feast days and celebrations; suggested itineraries for tours; and lodging possibilities at monasteries and convents.
26 September 2018
In the video above, the Rev. Nawras Sammour, who runs the Jesuit Refugee Service in Syria and Iraq, speaks of his hopes for his homeland as it seeks to recover from a long and brutal civil war. (video: Rome Reports/YouTube)
Jordan king vows to protect Jerusalem’s Muslim and Christian character (The Jerusalem Post) Jordan will thwart any attempts to change Jerusalem’s Muslim and Christian character, King Abdullah II told the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday. He made an impassioned plea for a two-state resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based on the 2002 Arab League initiative and warned against a one-state solution to the conflict…
Priest vows Syria will recover (Rome Reports) The Rev. Nawras Sammour runs the Jesuit Refugee Service in Syria and Iraq. Until recently, their main task was to deal with emergencies. However, now they are promoting projects to rebuild the region and be able to start again…
Syria minister vows Idlib will be recovered (Reuters) The Syrian state will recover Idlib through war or peaceful means, a minister was quoted as saying on Tuesday, pointing to the government’s determination to defeat rebels there despite a Russian-Turkish deal that halted an expected army offensive…
World Bank warns Gaza’s economy ’collapsing’ (The Independent) Gaza’s economy is in “free fall” and half the population is living under the poverty line, the World Bank has warned, citing a decade-long blockade by Israel and crippling cuts to funding and aid. The devastating report, released on Tuesday, said the finances of the 25-mile long besieged strip were “collapsing”, liquidity had dried up, and plunging aid flows were no longer able to stimulate growth…
Inside a safe house for Ethiopian women (Pacific Standard) Off one of central Addis Ababa’s many bustling streets—past the vendors selling local fruits and vegetables and the young men shining the shoes of the wealthy—is a secret, self-enclosed village. In that village, women and girls, some as young as 11, have found a refuge. They have given birth to babies conceived from rape and fled bride abduction, early marriage, and other abuses. They have come from across Ethiopia to heal from horrors. Some humanitarian workers suspect increased rates of gender-based violence might be linked to the country’s current drought, its worst in decades…
25 September 2018
Tags: Syria Ethiopia Gaza Strip/West Bank Jordan
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.
25 September 2018
Tags: Jordan Mary
A donor sent us this note and shared his story. (photo: CNEWA)
Recently, CNEWA’s president, Msgr. John E. Kozar, received a letter from one of our donors. You don’t get letters like this every day.
The author wrote from a prison in the United States, where he receives our magazine, ONE. He scribbled a few sentences on lined notebook paper:
Enclosed is $25 to help out your ministry. Glad I can help a little. Enclosed is my testimony.
Attached was a single sheet of paper titled “Journey of Faith.” Msgr. Kozar was so moved, he wanted to share some of this man’s witness with you. It reads, in part:
When I was 14 years old, I already was asking myself what is the meaning and purpose of life? Why are we here on earth? God wasn’t a part of my life at 14. I spent my first 5 years of school going to a Catholic parochial school and attending Catholic Mass, but I never connected with God. I couldn’t make heads or tails of my life at 14 and it bothered me. Eventually, I drifted to a group of kids in my San Francisco Marina neighborhood who were dealing with the same identity crisis. They were juvenile delinquents and I became one. I stole cars to joy ride, shoplifted, burglarized businesses, cut school, ran away from home and got into alcohol and drugs. I became a criminal going to jail. Eventually, I went for a big score that went sour and ended up with a life sentence in Florida.
…Once I was back in prison, finding myself stripped of everything, I was forced to reflect. In the depths of my abjection, God gave me the grace to recall his goodness. I acknowledged my sins, repented and asked for his forgiveness. God forgave me. Today I’m reconciled with God, myself and the Catholic Church. Since then I’ve been living a sacramental life of weekly Mass, weekly communion, frequent confession, daily prayer and scripture readings...
…Being at peace with God has a future. This world is passing away. Many people sadly believe this world is all there is to life, that this is our final destiny. They’re wrong. Man is made to live in communion with God in whom he finds true happiness. St. Augustine said it so well. “For you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”
If you have been away from God and the Church, come back. Jesus is waiting for you. No matter what you have done, God forgives all sin. God is a very merciful and forgiving God.
We remain forever grateful to donors like this man — people who give what they can, however they can, to help those who have even less. These quiet acts of love are bringing hope and dignity to those who are otherwise forgotten.
As Msgr. Kozar writes so poignantly in the upcoming edition of ONE:
Many of the good works supported by CNEWA reach out to all and proudly proclaim that God loves all his children. There is no “pecking order” with our God—we are all embraced by his love. We do not exclude and only offer help to “our own”—Jesus makes it clear that we love all.
All of our CNEWA family thank you for your support—and, better yet, they promise to remember you in their prayers. God bless you.
God bless all our donors who give so generously and share so selflessly!
25 September 2018
In this image from 2017, Pope Francis and Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria, patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church, attend an ecumenical prayer service in Cairo. Tawadros told a gathering in New Jersey yesterday that conditions for Copts in Egypt have improved. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Thousands arrested in Ethiopia following ethnic violence (New York Times) The Ethiopian government has arrested thousands of people around the capital, Addis Ababa, over the last week and sent many of them to military camps for “rehabilitation,” the authorities said on Monday, as the government sought to respond to mounting criticism from Ethiopians who say it has done little as ethnic violence has flared…
Official: 50,000 Syrians returned home from Lebanon this year (Reuters) Fifty thousand Syrians have returned home from Lebanon so far in 2018 and the number could reach 200,000 in a year’s time if it continues at this rate, a top Lebanese official said on Tuesday…
India’s manual scavengers pay price of neglect (UCANews.com) India’s lax policies and social neglect have been blamed for the increasing deaths of Dalit workers engaged in manually cleaning sewers and septic tanks. Eleven manual scavengers have died this month — five of them on Sept. 9 in a single incident in capital New Delhi as they were cleaning a sewage treatment tank. ”It is ironic that the government is projecting the issue as some isolated incidents” when so many die each year, said Bezwada Wilson, who is working to end manual scavenging…
Tawadros: Egypt society has changed for the better (Egypt Independent) Pope of Alexandria’s Coptic Orthodox Church Tawadros II visited Saint Mark Coptic Orthodox Church in Jersey City, US on Monday, leading a liturgy for thousands of Copts. During his visit, Pope Tawadros II praised Copts’ current conditions in Egypt, stating that society has changed for the better. He pointed out that Coptic members in the House of Representatives have increased to 39 members in 2015, compared to only one or two before 2011…
Coptic Christians nominated for Nobel Peace Prize (Coptic Orphans/PR Newswire) Coptic Christians have been nominated for the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize for their refusal to retaliate against deadly and ongoing persecution from governments and terrorist groups in Egypt and elsewhere. The Copts, who are the indigenous people of Egypt and number as many as 20 million around the world, have been the victims of centuries of violence and oppression for practicing their Christian faith, chiefly in Egypt…
Tags: Syria Egypt Ethiopia Refugees Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II