30 October 2017
The tomb of the Jewish prophet Nahum in northern Iraq, shown above, is threatened by tensions in the region. (photo: Wikipedia)
Ancient tomb of Jewish prophet in danger (The Jerusalem Post) The tomb of the Prophet Nahum, which overlooks the Nineveh plains in northern Iraq, is now near the forefront of tensions between the Iraqi federal government and Kurdistan Regional Government. Since last week Iraqi forces, including Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias, have been fighting with Peshmerga in an attempt by Baghdad to push Kurdish forces out of disputed areas and take oil fields and strategic border areas from the Kurds. Although a cease-fire took effect on Friday, tensions remain high...
‘October Light’ spirituality energizes Mumbai children (Vatican Radio) St. Anthony’s Church, Vakola, Mumbai holds a week-long event ‘October Light’ for Sunday School children and enhances the significance of light during Diwali vacation...
Three Coptic Christian churches closed in Egypt (AP) Egyptian religious officials say authorities have shuttered three Coptic Christian churches over fears of attacks by Islamic militants. The Minya Coptic Orthodox Diocese said authorities sealed off two churches in the southern province, citing harassment and attacks by fundamentalists. A third was closed due to fears of attacks. The statement was issued late on Saturday, 28 October...
Pope urges U.S. to welcome migrants (CNS) Pope Francis called on the people of the United States to welcome migrants and urged those who are welcomed to respect the laws of the country. “To all people (of the U.S.) I ask: take care of the migrant who is a promise of life for the future. To migrants: take care of the country that welcomes you; accept and respect its laws and walk together along that path of love,” the pope said 26 October during a live video conversation with teenagers from around the world...
27 October 2017
Yesterday, the Catholic Guild at John F. Kennedy International Airport honored Deacon Greg Kandra, CNEWA’s multimedia editor, with the title of Clergy of the Year. (photo: Christopher P. Kennedy)
Being on the development team at CNEWA means my colleagues and I take to the road frequently to visit donors, parishes and the areas we serve. While the joys are numerous — meeting new people, discovering new places and being able to share stories of our work — we also deal with the foibles of travel, not the least of which are New York’s three ubiquitous airports. But at Terminal 4 at J.F.K., there’s a special place that makes things a bit more bearable. Our Lady of the Skies Chapel, serving Catholics at the airport since 1955, is a welcome solace, a space for Mass or quiet prayer. Notably, I’ve discovered, it’s one of the few spots in the airport where one is not subjected to the constant din of announcements about the perils of leaving luggage unattended.
It’s also special to us at CNEWA as this year, the chapel along with J.F.K.’s Catholic Guild and their affable chaplain, the Rev. Chris Piasta, honored our own Deacon Greg Kandra, as their “Clergy of the Year.” Yesterday, I was privileged to attend the chapel’s Annual Luncheon with Deacon Greg, a frequent traveling companion of mine, along with his wife, Siobhain, and several parishioners from Our Lady Queen of Martyrs in Forest Hills, Queens, where Deacon Greg serves.
In his brief remarks at the luncheon, held at the Cradle of Aviation museum in Garden City, NY, Deacon Greg mentioned that he was the first deacon to be honored by the chapel, noting that next year marks the 50th anniversary of the restoration of the permanent diaconate. He also noted that his ministry and the chapel’s are quite similar — meeting people wherever they are in their journey of life. Quoting the hymn “The Servant Song,” he concluded: “We are pilgrims on a journey. We are travelers on the road. We are here to help each other — walk the mile and bear the load.”
The Rev. Antonin Kocurek, parochial vicar at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs; Siobhain Kandra; Bishop Nicholas DiMarzo of Brookyn; Deacon Greg Kandra; and the Rev. Francis Passenant, administrator of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs, stand outside the Our Lady of the Skies Chapel Annual Luncheon. (photo: Christopher P. Kennedy)
27 October 2017
Displaced Iraqi Christian girls play during a break at the summer school organized by the Syriac Catholic Church of Martha Shmouny in Ain Kawa, a suburb of Erbil in Kurdish Iraq. Read more about the status of Christians of the Nineveh Plain in Hard Choices, in the September 2017 edition of ONE. (photo: Raed Rafei)
27 October 2017
Tags: Iraq Iraqi Christians Iraqi
Indian flower farmer Kanubhai Patel shows “divine roses,” which have suffered this year due to the hot weather, at his farm in Badarkha village outside Ahmedabad on 18 October. (photo: Sam Panthaky/AFP/Getty Images)
The uninhabitable village (New York Times) Hotter temperatures are forcing families in southern India to decide: Try to survive here, or leave? Hundreds of thousands of Indian farmers have committed suicide in the past 30 years, and some climate researchers believe hotter weather has driven crop failure and made the problem worse…
ISIS shores up last stronghold on Syria-Iraq border (Daily Star Lebanon) ISIS is building up its defenses in a pocket of territory on the Syrian-Iraqi frontier, the U.S.-led coalition said Friday, in an anticipation of assaults by Syrian and Iraqi forces aiming to snuff out the extremists’ last stronghold…
Iraq’s Christians ponder future in wake of Kurdish independence vote (Al Monitor) Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael I, in a 16 October press interview, expressed his concern that the Kurdish crisis would risk Christians’ presence in Iraq. He said the current conflict in the disputed areas between Baghdad and Erbil would impede the Christians’ return to their areas, and prompt Christians to rush to leave their country for good. The leader appealed to Christians to unite their ranks and engage in dialogue to preserve the Christian component in Iraq. Nevertheless, the church’s calls for a dialogue that would have Iraq’s Christians discuss the future of “the Christian component” may not gain much traction because of the great divide among this religious grouping…
Iranian Christian official, Iraqi prime minister discuss safety of Assyrians (AINA) Mr. Yonathan Betkolia, the secretary general of the Assyrian Universal Alliance and the Assyrian representative in the Iranian Parliament, attended a special meeting between Iranian legislators and Iraqi Prime Minister Dr. Haider al Abadi. During the meeting Mr. Betkolia raised concerns about the safety and security of Assyrians in Iraq…
Vice President Pence says U.S. will help Middle East Christians directly (AINA) The vice president delivered a keynote address at the annual In Defense of Christians Solidarity Dinner. “America will support these people in their hour of need,” he said…
26 October 2017
Tags: India Iraq United States ISIS Assyrian Church
Palestinian Christians Najwa and George Saadeh pray in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Following the death of her daughter at the hands of soldiers, Najwa says she has drawn strength from her faith to pursue reconciliation. For more on families who have suffered tragedies working diligently to create a better world, read Love as a Healing Balm, in the September 2017 edition of ONE. (photo: Nadim Asfour)
26 October 2017
Tags: Palestine Israeli-Palestinian conflict Bethlehem
Fighters of the Syrian Democratic Forces coalition walk down a street in Raqqa past destroyed vehicles and heavily damaged buildings on 20 October, after a Kurdish-led force expelled ISIS. (photo: Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images)
ISIS ‘on the run,’ U.S. commander says (New York Times) The American commander of the international military campaign against ISIS said Wednesday that the militants were “on the run” and facing defeat as the American-led coalition made plans to kill or capture several thousand remaining insurgents…
Tensions on the Nineveh Plain: Iraqi bishops appeal for dialogue (Fides) In Tel Kaif, Christian militias allege aggression from Kurdish Peshmerga forces. Catholic bishops of Iraq have again expressed concern over these tensions, calling on national political leaders “to engage in peace through dialogue,” and urging that the cities on the Nineveh Plain do not become the object of division among opposing military forces…
Army shells Iraqi town, but Assyrian priest refuses to leave (AINA) A senior Iraqi priest refused to leave Tel Eskov, even after military forces gathered there for battle. Chaldean cleric Father Salar Kajo and nine church workers remained in the Christian-majority town on the Nineveh Plains, around 19 miles north of Mosul, despite Iraqi and Peshmerga armies amassing there over the last 48 hours. All other inhabitants left Tuesday, following mortar attacks that injured three children…
Christian Kandhamal victims deserve greater compensation, says bishop (AsiaNews) Christian leaders today handed the authorities a memorandum, in which they call on them to enforce the supreme court ruling that awarded compensation to victims of the 2008 anti-Christian pogrom in Kandhamal…
Breaking barriers, Arab-Israeli women join movement to ‘wage peace’ (Christian Science Monitor) Frustrated with the peace process, more Arab-Israeli women are joining the ranks of Women Wage Peace, rejecting pressure not to “normalize” relations with Israeli Jews. “We want, in our own way, to make peace,” says one member…
Lebanon looks to recreate Palestinian society in refugee camp (Al Monitor) A few streets away from Mohammad al Hajj Hussein’s home, a piece of graffiti scrawls across a wall. It reads, “typical neighborhood.” Compared to residential neighborhoods in Lebanon and elsewhere in the Arab world, the statement rings true. There are broad concrete streets punctuated by corner shops and modern, pastel-colored apartment blocks of multi-bedroom homes and breezy courtyards. Nahr al Bared, however, is not a typical neighborhood but a Palestinian refugee camp, places usually known in Lebanon for their overcrowded, ramshackle squalor. It is also atypical because it preserves social structures that can be traced back to villages uprooted in Palestine in 1948…
25 October 2017
Tags: Syria India Iraq Lebanon Women (rights/issues)
This image from last summer shows some of the thousands of Yazidis, a religious minority persecuted by ISIS, who live in Lalish, Iraq, near Kurdistan.
(photo: Diego Cupolo/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
With the chaos prevalent in the Middle East — and especially with the violence of ISIS against all those who are not allied with it — there is much talk about religious minorities in the Middle East. Now seems a good time to take stock of the challenges these minorities are facing — and what those challenges mean to the rest of the world, particularly the world that CNEWA serves.
In the West, the major portion of the discussion revolves around Christians and whether Christian communities which date back to apostolic times will survive in the places of their origin. The focus on the Christian minority in the Middle East is understandable. Numbering over 18 million in the region, Christians form the largest minority population in the Middle East. Christianity, including its nominal adherents, is the largest religious group in Europe and the Western Hemisphere.
However, Christians are not the only or even the oldest minority in the Middle East. The land mass going eastwards from the Mediterranean to India has been the birthplace of most of the great religions of the world. The western part was the birthplace of the three monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The Iranian-Indian subcontinent saw the birth of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Zoroastrianism.
From the most ancient times, explorers, adventurers and merchants risked the perils of the huge Eurasian continent, bringing with them trade goods, inventions, ideas and religions. Contacts between the two areas were relatively constant and a type of cross-pollination was inevitable. Many of the large religions saw groups break off and form traditions of their own, some of which were considered acceptable, most of which were considered “heretical.”
Although relatively well known to Christians in the Middle East and to the people of CNEWA who work with them, many of these smaller religions are, for all practical purposes, unknown in the West except to scholars. Some of these religions are very limited geographically and have very few adherents in comparison with the major religions of the world. While Christianity and its continuance in the Middle East are under severe stress — and its viability there is open to question — there is no question of Christianity disappearing from the face of the earth. But that is not the case with some of region’s other minority religions. Groups such as the Yazidis are not threatened with extinction in merely the Middle East; they are faced with total extinction from the planet.
In the next several weeks, we will be looking at some of these religious minorities. Some are related loosely to Islam, such as the Alawis and the Shabak; others are related to Christianity and Middle Eastern gnostic theosophy like the Mandaeans; still others like the Yazidis have roots that antedate the present religions in the region. While many of these religions are monotheistic, i.e. believing in one God, they are not all monotheistic in the way that Judaism and Islam are. Some of them are ahl ul-kitb, “People of the Book” in Muslim dominated countries. Thus Jews, Christians and Mandaeans in Muslim countries are “protected” and enjoy some rights. They are, however, second class “citizens.” Other groups such as Yazidis, however, which are not “People of the Book,” enjoy no such protection. As a result, they often seek out remote regions in the area where they are at best ignored by the dominant religions. Often, however, they are objects of violent persecution — as was the case with the Yazidis in Sinjar, an Iraqi mountain town, which was fiercely attacked by ISIS. ISIS gave Christians the choice: convert to Islam; pay the jizya or poll tax; go into exile; or face certain death. Yazidis were given a much harsher choice: convert or be killed.
In the past, I have compared the religious and cultural situation in the Middle East to an extraordinarily beautiful and complex carpet, for which the region is justifiably famous. The carpets are woven from many colors and involve incredibly complex patterns. It is precisely the variety of the colors and the complexity of the patterns that make the carpets “magical.” With that in mind, it seems to me that for centuries the people of the Middle East formed a type of oriental carpet. Although the relations between the religions were sometimes tense and at times even violent, the carpet held together. Now in the 21st century, that carpet is quickly becoming unraveled. A synthesis which existed in some shape or form for thousands of years is now coming undone.
What are we to make of this? In the days ahead, we will look at some of the non-Christian minority religious “colors and patterns” in this “carpet.” In particular, we will explore religious minorities mostly in the area of Syria and Iraq where, for a variety of reasons, their very existence is threatened.
It is our hope that this will help us realize a fundamental truth: the world will be poorer if these ancient traditions are lost. We need to treasure the many threads binding together the Middle East and, indeed, our planet.
25 October 2017
Sister Davida Twal has made a big difference at the Rosary Sisters Elementary School in Bethlehem. Here, schoolchildren greet her and Mrs. Alexandra Bukowska-Mccabe, Representative of Poland to the Palestinian Authority, during a recent visit. (photo: CNEWA)
When Sister Davida Twal was entrusted with the responsibility of running the Rosary Sisters Elementary School in Bethlehem — a few steps from the “King David Wells” mentioned in the Bible (2 Sam 23:15) — little did she know that her leadership skills and long experience in school administration in Jerusalem and later in Gaza would be crucial to help turn the school into a wonderful safe haven for the children of Bethlehem.
When she arrived, in 2014, the kindergarten had around 16 children; the whole school, which goes up to 7th grade, had a total of 294 students.
Today, thanks to Sister Davida — and in close cooperation with CNEWA and a few other partner donors — the school has around 67 children in kindergarten, and a total of 415 students. The school is at full capacity and has had to turn away students. But thanks to a generous grant through CNEWA (Shaheen Endowment), the school will be able to expand, adding three more classrooms to enable more children to enroll.
25 October 2017
A picture taken on 23 October 2017, in the southern Gaza Strip, shows diggers searching for tunnels on the Egyptian side of the border with the Palestinian enclave. Reports indicate they were looking for three Palestinians who went missing. (photo: Said Khatib/AFP/Getty Images)
Mideast church leaders look to U.S. to help obtain peace (CNS) Two prominent Mideast church leaders told a U.S. audience that they were looking to the United States for leadership to obtain peace in the Middle East. “We look to America to lead the international community in so many ways,” said Lebanese Cardinal Bechara Rai, Maronite patriarch...
Thousands of ISIS supporters return home (Al Jazeera) Thousands of foreign ISIS supporters have returned to their home countries after leaving Syria and Iraq over the past two years, a US-based security analysis group has said. At least 5,600 people from 33 countries left ISIS-held areas in that period, with numbers increasing as the group began to suffer territorial losses, the Soufan Center said in a report published on Tuesday...
Israeli bulldozers raze land along Gaza border (Ma’an News Agency) Several Israeli bulldozers entered into the “buffer zone” in the central Gaza Strip, along the border with Israel, and leveled lands in the area on Tuesday morning. Palestinian security sources told Ma’an that four Israeli bulldozers entered dozens of meters into the Juhr al-Dik area and razed lands as drones flew overhead...
New Quebec law deemed ‘discriminatory’ against Muslims (Catholic Register) The new Quebec law on state neutrality on religion is under fire, as many deem it “discriminatory” against some Muslim women. Bill 62, officially “Act to foster adherence to state religious neutrality and, in particular, to provide a framework for requests for accommodations on religious grounds in certain bodies,” was adopted 18 October. This legislative text requires that, from now on, all public services be given and received without anything covering a person’s face...
Sharing cultures and religions at Sunday dinner (Huntington Herald-Dispatch) For more than 40 years, parishioners at Holy Spirit Antiochian Orthodox Church have treated the Tri-State to taste of their heritage at its annual Middle Eastern dinner, hosted Sunday, 22 October at the church in Huntington. From the heart of the Bible Belt to the Mediterranean coast and beyond, Sunday dinner holds a special place in the hearts of Christians worldwide — a time for family and friends to enjoy the Sabbath’s rest over a plate of home cooking from wherever home may be...
24 October 2017
Seniors play chess and backgammon in a Yerevan, Armenia park. (photo: Armineh Johannes)
ONE magazine has been chronicling the struggles of Armenia’s elderly for many years. In 2008, for example, we took a look at Pensioners in Crisis:
Most senior citizens depend on pensions to survive. And though the average pension has increased by $10 over the last five years, the cost of living has risen, mitigating the effectiveness of any increase. Today a typical pension pays a third of what is considered necessary for the average person to maintain the minimum standard of living in Armenia.
“The problem with raising pensions is quite difficult,” said Anahit Gevorgian, who heads the Elderly Issues Division in the Ministry of Labor and Social Issues. “Paying higher pensions is impossible in a country with widespread unemployment.
“Today there is just 0.9 worker for every pensioner, when there should be at least two workers to pay for one person’s pension.” About 11 percent of Armenia’s citizens are 65 or older.
In addition to the high unemployment rate, many Armenians work in the country’s substantial but informal economy. These “black market” jobs undermine the national pension system since neither the employee nor the employer pays taxes on salaries. Tax evasion of this kind plagues Armenia’s economy; the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund recently urged Yerevan to address the problem swiftly, which poses a principal hurdle to the country’s economic health.
Though pensions continue to fall short, the government is taking measures to make primary medical care freely available to pensioners in need; but those requiring specialized care must register in the hospital system. Generally, patients in Armenia pay for at least a portion of their medical costs. Under a special state-issued order, however, hospitals are required to waive their fees for pensioners, including those associated with specialized examinations and procedures.
Unfortunately, the order, signed into effect by the health minister, has had little success in compelling profit-driven hospitals to waive fees for pensioners.
“Each time we take an elderly person to the hospital using the state-issued order, they simply refuse the patient. In cases where we manage to have them admitted, we are forced to pay for everything,” said Karine Hayrapetian, a social worker with Mission Armenia, a social service agency serving the needs of elderly Armenians.
All too aware of these and other gaps in the health care system, Ms. Gevorgian says the breadth of the problem reaches farther than anything the Elderly Issues Division can tackle alone. A solution demands an overhaul of the entire national health care system.
For generations, Armenia’s seniors lived out their golden years in the company and loving care of their children. Their plight today comes as an alarming wake-up call to many in a society deeply rooted in traditional family values. A crisis that cannot be chalked up to inadequate pensions alone, it reveals a fundamental change of the family’s role in contemporary Armenian society.