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Winter, 2013
Volume 39, Number 4
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In this 1996 image, children attend a festival in New York celebrating Greek heritage. (photo: Karen Lagerquist)
  
22 August 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro




In this photo from May, a boy displaced by fighting in Syria attends a class in the governorate of Idlib, Syria. (photo: CNS/Muzaffar Salman, Reuters)

Issam Bishara, CNEWA’s regional director for Lebanon, Syria and Egypt, has compiled a brief report on the state of displaced Syrian Christians — both inside Syria and abroad. An excerpt:

In a communication sent to Agenzia Fides, the Syriac Orthodox Church claimed that over 90 percent of the Christians of Homs have been expelled by militant Islamists of the Farouq Brigades, who went door to door confiscating homes and forcing Christians to flee without their belongings. Jesuit sources in Homs say most Christians left on their own initiative to escape the conflict between government forces and insurgents. In either case, the Christian population of Homs has dropped from a pre-conflict total of 160,000 to about 1,000.

Though most of the news is tragic, it is important to recall Pope Francis’ urging: “Do not let yourselves be robbed of hope!” As Mr. Bishara details, there is still cause for hope, as even now people are giving witness to Christ’s love and helping those people experiencing desperate need. For instance:

  • 4,800 displaced Christian families in the area of western Homs and Wadi al Nasara (“Valley of Christians”) have received food and other essentials — hygiene products, winter kits, etc. — in addition to school supplies for around 1,480 students

  • 350 displaced Christian families in Al Hassake were provided food packages

  • 1,000 families isolated in the war zones have been fed

To read the rest, click here. To find out how you can help, follow this link.

To read a Syrian Jesuit’s firsthand account of the great efforts underway to help those affected by the war — especially children — read the Rev. Ziad Hilal’s Letter from Syria, appearing in the Summer 2013 issue of ONE.



Tags: Syrian Civil War Refugees Violence against Christians Relief
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22 August 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro




Father Dario Escobar prays in the Hermitage of St. Hawqa in Lebanon’s Qadisha Valley. To learn more about the life of a hermit in Lebanon, see Marilyn Raschka’s Heading for the Hills, from the January–February 2002 issue of our magazine. (photo: Armineh Johannes)



Tags: Lebanon Prayers/Hymns/Saints Priests Hermit
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22 August 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro




Startling images from Syria, but use of chemical weapons unclear (New York Times) Scores of men, women and children were killed outside Damascus on Wednesday in an attack marked by the telltale signs of chemical weapons: row after row of corpses without visible injury; hospitals flooded with victims, gasping for breath, trembling and staring ahead languidly; images of a gray cloud bursting over a neighborhood. But even with videos, witness accounts and testimonies by emergency medics, it was impossible to say for certain how many people had been killed and what exactly had killed them. The rebels blamed the government, the government denied involvement and Russia accused the rebels of staging the attack to implicate President Bashar al Assad’s government. Images of death and chaos poured out of Syria after what may be the single deadliest attack in more than two years of civil war…

Experts say ‘little doubt’ of chemical weapon attacks in Syria (Der Spiegel) Experts are convinced that the hundreds of people who died in attacks in Syria on Wednesday were the victims of chemical weapons. It is yet to be confirmed, however, exactly what was deployed and whether the Assad regime is indeed responsible. Stefan Mogl, a chemical weapons expert with Spiez Laboratory of the Swiss Federal Office for Civil Protection, says that after viewing the videos he is left with little doubt: “The combination of symptoms indicates a nerve agent.” Such a thing would be very difficult to simulate, Mogl says. What’s more, many of the victims were children, making it even less likely the scenario could be faked. And the number of people affected by the attack also seems hard to explain by anything other than by the use of chemical weapons…

U.N. chemical weapons inspectors arrive in Syria (Al Jazeera) United Nations inspectors arrived Sunday in the Syrian capital of Damascus on a mission to investigate the alleged use of chemical weapons, as Syrian officials vowed to fully cooperate with them. Their arrival comes after months of refusals by Syria’s government to let the teams into the war-ravaged country, where more than 100,000 people have been killed since fighting began in 2011. The United Nations team’s mission will be limited to investigating the alleged use of chemical weapons in three areas, in particular the 19 March attack in Khan al Assal that President Bashar al Assad blames on rebels. The other two sites have been kept secret…

Monastery near Jerusalem defaced in suspected ‘price tag’ attack (Haaretz) Police are investigating a fire bomb attack Monday night on the Beit Jamal Monastery near Jerusalem in the latest “price tag” incident, Israeli shorthand for pro-settlement hate crimes. Perpetrators threw a fire bomb into the entrance hallway and sprayed the monastery walls with the words “price tag,” “death to the Gentiles,” and “revenge.” Footage from security cameras shows fire burning for several minutes, but no vegetation or wooden furniture caught fire and it died out. The Beit Jamal Monastery is known for its good relations with Israelis, who visit to buy its ceramics…

Decade of violence threatens to uproot Iraq’s remaining Christians (Al Monitor) With the rise of internal disputes and religious extremism, Iraqi Christians are fleeing Iraq at alarming rates. This fall, Rafael Aichoa, an Iraqi Christian in his 40’s, will emigrate to Australia, joining the rest of his brothers and relatives. Aichoa realized that his connection to his ancestors’ land had completely come to an end late last year, when he discovered his parents’ mutilated bodies. Unlike Aichoa’s family, Saad Touma, a young Iraqi Christian, succeeded in escaping from his captors in the winter of 2008. Now, along with the rest of his family, Touma is preparing to leave the relatively safe Iraqi Kurdistan Region for Turkey as a prelude to permanent migration to Europe. Like thousands of other Iraqi Christians, Aichoa and Touma fear that the circle of violence in Iraq will widen to include all parts of the country. In the face of repeated targeting, nearly 700,000 Christians emigrated from Iraq, out of a total Christian population estimated at 1.4 million in 2003, according to international reports based on church records and civic organizations. Ablahad Afraim, the head of the Chaldean Democratic Union Party, believes that the number of Christians remaining in Iraq is less than 400,000…

Kidnappings, forced conversions and violence against Christians in India (Fides) Episodes of violence have troubled the Christian communities in India in recent days. Police in Chennai, in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, are looking for the parents who attacked their 23-year-old daughter over her conversion to Christianity and her desire to become a nun. A few days before, in the state of Rajasthan, the mother of a Christian pastor was severely beaten by Hindu extremists who had threatened to kill her and cut her to pieces if she did not convert to Hinduism…



Tags: Syrian Civil War Jerusalem Violence against Christians Iraqi Christians Indian Christians
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21 August 2013
Bob Pape




(photo: CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

Next Wednesday, 28 August, Msgr. Kozar and the staff of CNEWA’s New York office will celebrate Mass for the special intentions of our donors. Over the past several months, we have asked our friends and benefactors to submit their prayer intentions and have been humbled by the hundreds of prayer requests received. If you have a special prayer intention that you would like included at this Mass, please submit it by email to intentions@cnewa.org.

We are grateful to have this opportunity to pray for our donors and their intentions. Without the prayers and support we receive from our generous friends, we would not be able to fulfill the mission entrusted to us by the Holy Father. Thank you for giving us this opportunity to pray for you.



Tags: CNEWA Donors Prayers/Hymns/Saints
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21 August 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro




Boys from the Malankara Boys’ Home decide not to let a little rain spoil a perfectly good game of soccer. To learn more about the Malankara Boys’ Home, read Reaching the Young ‘Untouchables’ from the Summer 2013 issue of ONE. (photo: Jose Jacob)



Tags: India Children Education Syro-Malankara Catholic Church Indian Catholics
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21 August 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro




Worshipers pray in the Chaldean Basilica of Our Lady of Fatima in Cairo on 18 August. Christians, making up 10 percent of Egypt’s 85 million people, have coexisted with the majority Sunni Muslims for centuries. Violence erupted periodically, especially in the impoverished south, but the attacks on churches and Christian properties in the last week were the worst in years. (photo: CNS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh, Reuters)

Young Muslim: We can only rebuild Egypt together with Christians (AsiaNews) Muhammad Elhariry, a young Muslim businessman from Cairo, speaks about the growing unity between Muslims and Christians who want to rebuild a nation where different ethnicities and religions have lived together for 1,400 years. “Muslims were impressed by the attitude of Catholics, Coptic Orthodox and Protestant victims of the violence of the Muslim Brotherhood,” Elhariry said. “The Christians did not ask for help from other countries of the same religion, instead they believed in themselves and in the Egyptian people. … We Muslims offered to protect churches and religious buildings, but our Christian brothers and sisters said: ‘Do not waste your souls, they are so precious to us. We have closed these buildings for now. Together we will rebuild our churches once we have eradicated terrorism.’ … What is sacred to one of my neighbors is also sacred for me. I have respect for him and his free will…”

Bishop says Christians and Muslims united against Islamists (AsiaNews) “Egyptian Christians and Muslims are united to change the country,” says Yohanna Golta, Coptic Catholic bishop of Andropoli and auxiliary bishop of Alexandria. In contrast, he notes: “The Muslim Brotherhood is an international movement that is not aiming for the good of Egypt.” The prelate describes the dramatic climate of violence that pervades Egypt and criticizes those who ignore the views of millions of Egyptians and reduce the conflict to a political struggle between the military and Muslim Brotherhood…

Syria opposition alleges chemical strike (Al Jazeera) Syrian activists accused President Bashar al Assad’s forces of launching a gas attack that reportedly killed hundreds, according to the Syrian Revolution General Commission — an umbrella organization for at least 40 opposition groups Wednesday. The attack would, if confirmed, be the worst reported use of chemical arms in the two-year civil war. The government attacks reportedly took place in the Ghouta region, east of Damascus, in suburbs including Zamalka, Arbeen, and Ein Tarm. Video footage from districts east of the capital showed people choking, some of them foaming at the mouth, and many bodies with no signs of injuries. The country’s main opposition group, Syrian National Coalition, accused the regime of killing more than 650 people in the attack: “Over 650 confirmed dead result of deadly chemical weapon attack in Syria,” the National Coalition said on Twitter…

Syria divided: Crossing a bridge where a sniper waits (Los Angeles Times) The Karaj al Hajez crossing that spans Aleppo’s Queiq River is a 300-yard stretch of no man’s land that divides the two Aleppos: one held by the rebels, one by the government. Every day, a government sniper holed up in city hall picks off at least a few people. On good days, no one dies. People call it the crossing of death. The first time Battoul crossed, she kept replaying all the terrifying stories she had heard. But once across safely, her fear slipped away. “Life has to go on,” she says. “People cross and someone gets shot and they pick up the martyr and keep going…”

Gaza faces environmental disaster (Al Monitor) People driving through the municipalities of the Gaza Strip can easily tell when they have reached the Wadi Gaza Bridge. They are forced to hold their noses to avoid inhaling the odor of waste and sewage coming from the valley, which has turned into an environmental disaster. Wadi Gaza is one of the main natural features of the Gaza Strip. It stems from the hills of the Negev and the southern highlands of the city of Hebron. It is about 65 miles in length, and it extends from the armistice line east of Gaza to the Mediterranean coast. Not many citizens live on the banks of the valley anymore due to municipal neglect. Furthermore, the Palestinian families there live in constant fear that Israel will open the dams it has set up on its borders with the Gaza Strip, causing a major humanitarian disaster. In January 2010, the Israeli authorities opened the dam of Wadi Gaza without prior warning. This led to the inundation of dozens of houses and the displacement of about 100 Palestinian families. Gaza’s Civil Defense reported having to save seven people from drowning. Fred Bleiha, a local shepherd, says: “The area has transformed from a natural reserve that attracts tourists into a high-risk environmental disaster…”

Albania seizes Orthodox church (Greek Reporter) Tension still prevails in Përmet in Albania, where hundreds of Orthodox residents of the town came into conflict with police outside of the Church of the Virgin Mary. The church was forcibly taken over some days before following the orders of the municipal authorities. Photos of the scene showed crews building a brick wall at the entrance to prevent people from using the church as well as using sheet metal around columns. The municipality sent police to the church in order to implement a controversial Supreme Court decision that the church property belonged to municipal authorities…



Tags: Egypt Syrian Civil War Violence against Christians Gaza Strip/West Bank Albania
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20 August 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro




For those bemoaning the August heat: An elderly woman braves the harsh winter in Nyírascád, a village in Hungary of 4,400 people. To read more about life in Nyírascád, read Jacqueline Ruyak’s Holding on in Hungary, from the May 2006 issue of ONE. (photo: Balasz Gardi)



Tags: Cultural Identity Village life Hungary Greek Catholic Church Hungarian Greek Catholic
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20 August 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro




The caskets of 25 policemen killed in an ambush near the north Sinai town of Rafah lay on the ground after arriving at a military airport in Cairo on 19 August. Attacks by Islamist militants in the lawless north Sinai region have intensified since the overthrow of President Muhammad Morsi. (photo: CNS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany, Reuters)

Egyptian police arrest spiritual leader of Muslim Brotherhood (New York Times) The Egyptian police arrested the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood early on Tuesday, hours after a court ordered the release of former President Hosni Mubarak. The arrest of Muhammad Badie appeared to represent a red line the police never crossed during Mr. Mubarak’s own crackdowns on the group. Taken together with the fact that the former president’s release for the first time seems conceivable, the developments offered a measure of how far and how quickly the tumult shaking Egypt in recent days and weeks has rolled back the changes brought by the revolution of 2011…

Bishop of Luxor concerned with isolation, dwindling supplies (Fides) “Muslims and Christians who reside in [the area] have nothing because food supplies are running out and people are afraid to leave the house. Even those who are well off cannot buy food because all the shops are closed. I would like to reach them to give them help but I cannot because I am also segregated at home,” says Coptic Catholic Bishop Youhannes Zakaria of Luxor. On Friday, 16 August, demonstrators chased the bishop away from the center of Luxor. Police are standing watch at the bishopric…

Christian-Muslim animosity becomes incendiary subplot in Egypt (Los Angeles Times) Tensions between Muslims and Christians since the coup that overthrew Islamist President Mohamed Morsi have become an incendiary subplot to the intensifying battle for the nation’s future being waged between Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood movement and the military-backed government. Two Christians have reportedly been killed in recent days. Churches, schools, convents and at least one Christian orphanage have been attacked, torched or robbed, many of them in the southern deserts. Vestments have been scorched, statues shattered. Police have often provided little protection; parishioners said security forces didn’t arrive at St. George’s Church until three hours after the gunmen had fled…

Coptic church in Minya cancels Sunday liturgy for first time in 1,600 years (The Times of Israel) Amid escalating violence against Egypt’s Copts, churches in Minya, located in upper Egypt, canceled the celebration of the Divine Liturgy. Other churches in Minya have also canceled prayer services. “We did not hold prayers in the monastery on Sunday for the first time in 1,600 years,” says the Rev. Selwanes Lotfy of the Virgin Mary Monastery. He said supporters of ousted president Mohammed Morsi destroyed the monastery, which includes three churches, one of which is an archaeological site. “One of the extremists wrote on the monastery’s wall, ‘donate [this] to the martyrs’ mosque,’ ” Lotfy added…

Cardinal Sandri on Egypt: anti-Christian violence unacceptable (Vatican Radio) The prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, has condemned violence against Christians in Egypt, and called for national reconciliation, justice and lasting peace through dialogue. Speaking in French to Vatican Radio, Cardinal Sandri said, “The destruction of Christian churches is unacceptable.” Cardinal Sandri went on to say, “The revival of the country must take place in respect of the human person, in the mutual respect of all religions, in respect for religious freedom.” Cardinal Sandri said that faith or religion may not ever be used to justify violence…

Pope sends message to Hungary for feast of Saint Stephen (Vatican Radio) On Tuesday, Pope Francis sent a message to the president János Áder of Hungary to mark the feast of the nation’s founder and first king, Saint Stephan, which is celebrated each year on 20 August. The Holy Father wrote: “I ask God that the Hungarian people might find within themselves, and their human and spiritual heritage, the moral resources necessary in order to build a future of peace and fraternity…”

Ecumenical patriarch asks Turkey to end stalemate on seminary (Al Monitor) Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I has expressed his hope that the Turkish government will reopen the theological seminary on Istanbul’s Halki Island. Speaking at an iftar dinner recently, Bartholomew looked his host — Istanbul’s top Muslim clergyman Mufti Rahmi Yaran — in the eye and said: “Religious officials should be properly educated and set examples based on their training. Now that we are entering a dangerous stage of lacking qualified religious officials, we would like to emphasize the gravity of the situation at the Halki Seminary…”



Tags: Egypt Violence against Christians Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I Coptic Catholic Church Hungary
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19 August 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro




CNEWA President Msgr. John E. Kozar plays with students at the Atse Tekla Ghiorgis School in Ethiopia. (photo: Thomas Varghese/CNEWA)

In his story on the Atse Tekle Ghiorgis School in Ethiopia, Don Duncan points out one of the key programs contributing to the institution’s success:

Part of the school’s ethos of instilling dignity and respect among the poor children is a policy of financial contribution. While it is the only school in Addis Ababa to target the poorest of the poor, offering virtually free education, the school does require an annual contribution of $5 — $3.50 for a uniform and $1.50 for tuition.

“These contributions change nothing for us financially,” says Sister Mary, “but what is important is that the families make some kind of contribution, for the dignity of the child and the dignity of the family. We don’t believe in hand-outs.”

In extreme cases of destitution, contributions can be waived. The school is also helping a handful of families with rent assistance, to coax them away from sending children out to work and encourage them instead to send them to school. Still, these gestures are always done in exchange for help in the school — a weekly chore of cleaning a classroom, for example, undertaken by a member of the beneficiary’s family.

The $1.50 contribution toward tuition covers a feature unique to this school: a free lunch for every student each day.

“It’s very important for most of the children,” says Sister Baleynesh Wolteji, an Ethiopian who took over from Sister Mary as principal in 2011. “Their parents are often beggars in the streets and most of these children come to school without having breakfast. So to get one meal a day is very good for them and, in addition, it enables them to concentrate on their studies.”

The menu is simple: rice on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday and injera, an Ethiopian flatbread, on Wednesday and Friday. Along with education and the clean and safe surroundings of the school, the daily meal contributes to the school’s high attendance rate.

It may also be a key to the students’ excellent academic record. In the past 10 years, only one of the students has failed the state exam required at the end of eighth grade. And Sister Mary explains that this “failure” had an excuse of sorts: The student was absent frequently to care for a handicapped sister.

To learn more, read ‘It’s Not Just Talk and Chalk,’ appearing in the Summer 2013 issue of ONE.



Tags: Children Ethiopia Education Poor/Poverty Catholic education
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19 August 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro




In this 18 June photo, Coptic Catholic Patriarch Ibrahim Isaac prays during the liturgy in Rome. In an 18 August statement, he said the violence and unrest in Egypt are “not a political struggle between different factions.” (photo: CNS/Massimiliano Migliorato, Catholic Press Photo)

Catholic, Orthodox leaders in Egypt deny Christian-Muslim conflict (CNS) Speaking on behalf of Catholics in Egypt, Coptic Catholic Patriarch Ibrahim Isaac said the violence and unrest in his country are “not a political struggle between different factions, but a war against terrorism.” While mobs began attacking Christian churches, schools and convents, claiming the Christians supported Morsi’s ouster, there also were reports of Muslims forming cordons around Christian churches to protect them from the mobs and of Muslims offering shelter to their Christian neighbors. The Rev. Rafic Greiche, spokesman for the Egyptian Catholic Bishops’ Conference, confirms this (Fides), noting that despite attacks against about 60 churches throughout Egypt, “Muslims who live in the vicinity of the affected churches have helped men and women religious to put out the fires.” Father Greiche adds: “The majority of the population is against terrorism and religious extremism.” Coptic Pope Tawadros II issued a statement yesterday (AINA) along similar lines. “The attacks on government buildings and peaceful churches terrorize everyone, whether they be Copts or Muslims,” he said. “These actions go against any religion, any moral code and any sense of humanity…”

Egypt police killed in Sinai ambush (Al Jazeera) At least 24 Egyptian police officers have been killed in a rocket-propelled grenade attack in northern Sinai, security officials say. The officials said the Monday morning attack took place as the officers were driving through a village near the border town of Rafah in the volatile Sinai Peninsula. Egypt shut the Rafah border crossing after the deadly attack, a border official has told AFP news agency. Rafah is the sole crossing into the Gaza strip…

Syrian Palestinians pack Lebanon refugee camp (Los Angeles Times) Palestinians are a minority among the more than 600,000 Syrian refugees who have come to Lebanon. But their stateless status as lifelong refugees now forced to flee relatively secure lives in Syria has complicated the regional humanitarian crisis. Most were born in Syria, descendants of parents and grandparents who left ancestral homes in what is now Israel. While camp residents, including several relatives, have been welcoming, the Syrian Palestinians say the garbage-strewn squalor of this and other Palestinian camps in Lebanon has stunned them. “This is the first time I’ve ever seen anything like this, I still can’t believe it: the dirty streets, the lack of electricity, the broken houses, the soldiers guarding the entrances, the walls, the overcrowding,” says Ammar, an emigrant from Damascus incredulous at the plight of fellow Palestinians. “Animals live like this, not humans…”

Ethiopian church helps those affected by drought (Vatican Radio) Caritas Italiana has applauded the Ethiopian Catholic Church’s Social and Development Commission for the successful implementation of the Drought Recovery and Rehabilitation Project. The project is designed to rehabilitate and improve drought-affected households in the targeted 19 districts…



Tags: Egypt Violence against Christians Refugee Camps Palestinians Ethiopian Catholic Church
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