Current Issue
September, 2019
Volume 45, Number 3
27 February 2015
CNEWA staff

A young girl celebrates the Divine Liturgy in the village of Al Qaa in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, currently home to many Syrian refugees. (photo: Tamara Hadi)

The Christians of Syria need us to take direct action. The families who have escaped need food to eat. A warm place to sleep. Medical care to ease their pain. Trauma counseling to soothe emotional wounds that may never heal.

We wish we could stop the violence, but we know we can help these suffering Christians heal. With their world destroyed, they’re desperate for any small patch of peace. A helping hand. So let’s reach out to them today, together.

Click here to take direct action. Thank you, and God bless you.

Tags: Syria Refugees Middle East Christians Relief

27 February 2015
J.D. Conor Mauro

A symbol of prosperity, fertility and happiness, the pomegranate is one of the most important foods in Armenian culture, and a common theme across Armenian artwork of all kinds — such as these vases, pictured in a pottery and ceramics studio in the Armenian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. To learn more about Armenians in Jerusalem, read ‘Living Here Is Complicated’ from the Winter 2014 issue of ONE. For more on cultural significance of pomegranates, click to read about A Fruitful Trade. (photo: Ilene Perlman)

Tags: Jerusalem Cultural Identity Armenia Farming/Agriculture

27 February 2015
J.D. Conor Mauro

Assyrian Christian women and their daughters pray for the hundreds of Assyrian Christians abducted by the Islamic State from villages in northeastern Syria, in a church in Jdeideh, Lebanon, on 26 February. (photo: Anwar Amro/AFP/Getty Images)

U.N. report: Islamic State acts may be officially classifiable as ‘genocide’ (Jerusalem Post) According to a new United Nations report released Monday, atrocities committed by the Islamic State are liable to be officially classified as genocide. A joint effort issued by the U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq and the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, the report details the abuses against Turkmen, Shabaks, Christians, Yazidi, Sabaeans, Kaka’i, Faili Kurds, Arab Shiite communities and posits that at least 165 executions were carried out by the Islamic State group’s ’courts’ in the areas it controls…

Amid hostage crisis, Assyrians and Kurds join forces (Christian Science Monitor) Syrian Assyrian Christians and Kurds have joined forces in a bid to regain territory from the Islamic State group, which seized dozens of Assyrian villages and scores of hostages in northern Syria this week…

New episodes of violence against Christian churches (Fides) New episodes of violence against Christian communities and buildings in India have been reported in various parts of India…

Ruble ripple: New Russian laws make life difficult for migrant workers (Al Jazeera) The rapid slide in the value of Russia’s currency since December has driven up inflation, placing immense pressure on the millions of migrant workers hard pressed to make ends meet on already meager salaries. Certainly it is no longer easy to pick up a job. Work permits now cost 22,000 rubles and carry a 4,000 ruble monthly fee. Before obtaining one, each applicant must purchase health insurance, supply proof of medical tests for HIV, tuberculosis, drug addiction and skin disease and pass a test on Russian language, history and law. All of which must be done within a month of arrival…

As Kiev pulls back in east, Ukraine struggles with what went wrong (Christian Science Monitor) Haggard Ukrainian Army soldiers withdrew 15 heavy artillery guns today, their armored convoy part of a delayed cease-fire agreement with Russian-backed separatists to ease a conflict that has taken nearly 6,000 lives. The fact that these first steps are being taken 12 days later than agreed — with rebel forces in the meantime capturing the strategic railway hub of Debaltseve — illustrates how separatist units that faced losses last summer have been transformed into a more capable force now making battlefield advances…

Tags: Syria India Ukraine Violence against Christians Russia

27 February 2015
Sami El-Yousef

Woman who lost her son during the war thanking Misereor for their contributions to CNEWA’s psychosocial workshop. (photo: CNEWA)

Editorial note: In February, CNEWA’s regional director for Palestine and Israel, Sami El-Yousef, conducted a program review in Gaza. CNEWA’s partners from the aid organization of the German Catholic bishops, Misereor, accompanied Mr. El-Yousef for a portion of the visit, which focused on humanitarian activities implemented through the churches of Gaza. Below are excerpts from his report, which may be read in its entirety here.

It is never easy visiting Gaza in normal circumstances let alone after a brutal war. ...

The residents who we spoke with were very angry with many issues: the two political factions, Fatah and Hamas, for doing nothing to ease their suffering and for the lack of progress to reconcile; at UNRWA [the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East] for not doing enough to help reconstruct; and at the international community for not denouncing war for the people of Gaza; and at Israel for destroying life in Gaza. ...

To hear people say that “Gaza’s situation as it stands today is worse than it was during the 51-day war in the summer” is quite a depressing statement. However, this was to be expected considering the current state of affairs:

  • Gaza continues to live under a severe blockade that has not improved since the end of the war in August 2014
  • The Rafah crossing with Egypt is nearly shut-down and only allowed to open for 2-3 days every two months in order to allow the transfer of severe medical cases
  • The cost of all food items and basic commodities are 3-4 times more expensive
  • No meaningful reconstruction efforts have begun and thus the economy is at near standstill with unemployment reaching 70 percent
  • Personal debt is at a record high causing serious social and economic problems
  • Electricity is supplied between 6-8 hours per day
  • Basic water and sewage infrastructure are still not back to pre-war levels (which was a disaster in the making before the war)
  • There is a lack of basic law and order as poverty gets more rooted and petty theft and crime is on the rise
  • Islamic fanaticism and the influence from the Islamic State are of great concern to Gazans, especially for the Christian community.

I must admit that the despair and frustration level seems to be very high and is cross-cutting within all areas of society. ...

We have a grave humanitarian situation in Gaza. People are desperate to get their voices heard, calling for reconciliation, peace and justice — a declaration that there is true injustice imposed on Gaza’s population of 1.8 million people and that they deserve a better life.

Click here to help heal Gaza’s families.

26 February 2015
M.L. Thomas

Samundar Singh, left, pays tribute at a memorial ceremony for Sister Rani Maria Vattalil, whom he stabbed to death in 1995. Flanking Mr. Singh are Sister Selmi Paul and Stephen Vattalil, siblings of Sister Rani, who have offered him forgiveness. (photo: M.L. Thomas)

On 25 February 1995, while riding a bus in central India, Samundar Singh stabbed Franciscan Clarist Sister Rani Maria Vattalil over 50 times in plain view of 60 passengers. Mr. Singh was tried and sentenced to death, but the sentence was commuted to life in prison. While serving his sentence, Sister Selmi Paul, F.C.C., his victim’s sister, visited Mr. Singh, forgiving him and calling him “brother.” Profoundly touched by this gesture, Mr. Singh repented and converted to Christianity. After 11 years in prison, Mr. Singh was released as a result of the petition signed by Sister Rani’s family, the provincial of the Clarist Congregation and the bishop of Indore, offering their forgiveness in a powerful message of Christian love.

Yesterday, Cardinal George Alencherry, major archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, led a ceremony commemorating the 20th anniversary of Sister Rani’s death. Samundar Singh attended, praising Indian Christians as “India’s hope,” remarks all the more relevant in light of recent Hindu fundamentalist attacks on Christians.

Sister Rani Maria received the title, “servant of God,” in 2007. The cause for her beatification and sainthood is being considered.

Tags: India Violence against Christians Sisters Indian Christians Reflections/Inspirational

26 February 2015
J.D. Conor Mauro

An officer inspects damages at the crime scene after unidentified attackers set fire to a Greek Orthodox seminary in West Jerusalem, on 26 February. (photo: Salih Zeki Fazlioglu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Suspected Israeli nationalists torch Christian seminary in Jerusalem (Al Jazeera) Suspected Israeli nationalists set fire to a Christian seminary in Jerusalem and vandalized an elementary school in Nablus on Thursday, officials said. The attacks, which came a day after a similar group burned a mosque near Bethlehem, have been characterized as hate crimes by Israeli officials and “terrorism” by Palestinians…

Israeli president: Church arson ‘inconceivable’ (Arutz Sheva) President Reuven Rivlin spoke by phone Thursday with Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem, and expressed his sadness and shock at the arson and graffiti attack on a building within the Greek Orthodox compound on Mt. Zion…

More Assyrian Christians captured by Islamic State (New York Times) Continuing its assaults on a string of Assyrian Christian villages in northeastern Syria, the Islamic State militant group has seized scores more residents over the past two days, bringing the number of captives to as many as several hundred, Assyrian organizations inside and outside Syria said on Thursday…

The plight of Syria’s vulnerable Christian minority (Washington Post) Before a brutal civil war engulfed Syria, the country was testament to the religious and ethnic diversity of the Middle East. Arabs of different faiths, Kurds, Armenians, Assyrian Christians and others lived side by side, embracing a rather durable Syrian nationalism. But the increasingly sectarian character of the Syrian conflict and the rise of the Islamic State threaten to unravel the rich tapestry of Syrian society…

Patriarchs’ Lenten messages focus on struggles of Middle East Christians (Catholic Sentinel) The Middle East is suffering a “Way of the Cross” that is the greatest tragedy since World War II, Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregory III said in a Lenten message about suffering. He said the church, despite its efforts, is having difficulty meeting the growing needs it faces in the region. In a separate Lenten message, Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter called for greater efforts to preserve the Christian presence in the Middle East…

Coptic monks lie down in front of bulldozers (Fides) A new road running from the city of Fayoum threatens an archaeological area that stretches around a church dating to the fourth century. The project also threatens the water supply of the monastery and some cultivated areas belonging to it. In recent days, the monks launched an initiative of non-violent resistance, lying in the path of bulldozers…

Tags: Syria Egypt Middle East Christians Jerusalem Violence against Christians

25 February 2015
Michael J.L. La Civita

Children stand near mortar shells in the center of the Syrian town of Kobani (Ayn al-Arab) after it was freed from ISIS. After its defeat in Kobani, ISIS has now turned its attention to the city of Hassake. (photo: Esber Ayaydin/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

There is no word about the fate of the scores of Syrian Christians — including women and children — taken into custody by ISIS the last few days.

“The situation is not yet clear,” said CNEWA’s Michel Constantin in an interview with the Catholic newswire, Aleteia. “There were around 150 persons who were kidnapped. Among them, 14 or 15 are children and women. Others are elderly, and others are young persons. This is not very precise because the conflict is still going on.

“ISIS militants are still holding some of the villages; others are under attack.”

Mr. Constantin, who as regional director for Lebanon, Syria and Egypt coordinates CNEWA’s emergency response in Syria and Iraq, added that those who fled their homes sought safety in Hassake, a city of 188,000 people now surrounded by ISIS:

“The attention now is on the city of Hassake itself. The city is surrounded by ISIS militants, and the rural area around the city is all occupied by those fanatics. The people inside Hassake are afraid of a concentration of militants inside the city, so people are very afraid.”

CNEWA, he added, is rushing aid to the displaced now hunkered down in the city. To learn how you can help, click here.

Follow this link to read the rest of Aleteia’s breaking interview with Michel Constantin.

25 February 2015
J.D. Conor Mauro

Glass-like works made from colorful powders, the art of cloisonné enamel originated in the eastern Mediterranean region and developed in the Byzantine Empire — and, some scholars argue, Georgia, where it is known as minankari. To learn about its revival in Georgia, and how the church is using it to improve the lives of Georgian youth, read Crafting a Future from the Winter 2014 issue of ONE. (photo: Molly Corso)

Tags: Georgia Art Caritas Georgian Orthodox Church Youth

25 February 2015
J.D. Conor Mauro

A Group of Syrian Kurds return from Turkey to their hometown of Kobane, guided by Turkish officials on 25 February. (photo: Halil Fidan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

For Syria, an infusion of hope for desperate Christian community (Aleteia) The apparent kidnapping of some 90 Christians in the northeast of Syria is another reminder — if any is needed — that Christians and other religious groups continue to be at grave risk as Islamic jihadi groups gather steam in the Middle East. And that merely serves to put greater pressure on people of means to pick up their belongings and seek greener pastures in the West. But that option is one that many Christian leaders in the Middle East are fighting hard to counter. Melkite Greek Catholic Archbishop Jean-Clement Jeanbart of Aleppo, Syria, a couple hundred miles west of where the 90 Christians were captured Monday, knows that he must counter the temptation not only with material aid but with a real sense of hope that the current long lent Christians are suffering will indeed come to an end…

Islamic State selling looted Syrian art in London to fund its war (Washington Post) Almost 100 items of Syrian art and antiquities looted by the extremist Islamic State group have been smuggled into Britain and sold for money to fund the group’s activities, art crime experts and archeologists have warned. The items, allegedly being sold in London, range from looted gold and silver Byzantine coins to Roman pottery and glass together worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. The London paper compared the phenomenon to Africa’s “blood diamond” industry, in which the money raised by the sale of precious African diamonds financed wars and conflicts across the continent…

Coptic Church forms committee to evacuate Egyptians from Libya (Fides) A “crisis unit” has been instituted at the request of the Synod of the Coptic Orthodox Church to collect data and information regarding all Egyptians still present in Libya, in order to facilitate rapid evacuation and repatriation…

Strangers in their own land: Displaced Ukrainians face uncertain future (Al Jazeera) More than one million registered internally displaced people have been uprooted by the violent conflict in Ukraine’s east. In the ten months since refugees started flowing out of the rebel-held territories, the number of displaced in Ukraine has risen to the most in Europe since the Balkan wars…

The war in Ukraine: A failure to evangelize? (Catholic News Agency) Conflict in eastern Ukraine has pitted the country’s government against separatists widely believed to be backed by Russia, and some are attributing the chaos to a failed evangelization in the country. According to the Rev. Wojciech Surówka, a Dominican priest who directs the St. Thomas Aquinas Institute of Religious Sciences in Kiev, “a dialogue of reconciliation between Ukrainians and Russians should begin from the church. If we do not start it, politicians will never do it. It would be nice if the formula of ‘forgive and ask forgiveness’ were delivered simultaneously by the Ukrainian and Russian bishops…”

Mosque torched near Bethlehem in a suspected ‘price tag’ act (i24 News) Palestinians near the Palestinian West Bank town of Bethlehem said a mosque in the village of Jab’awas was set on fire before dawn on Wednesday, arousing suspicions that the vandalism was carried out by right-wing extremists as part of the “price tag” campaign. Nationalist graffiti were sprayed on the mosque’s walls…

Tags: Syria Egypt Ukraine West Bank Libya

24 February 2015
Michael J.L. La Civita

(image: Tele Lumiere)

More than 90 Syrian Christians, including women and children, have been captured by ISIS militants near the northeastern Syrian city of Hassake.

A number of accounts from Syria report heavy fighting that began over the weekend as ISIS attacked Christian villages along the Khabur River. The river flows into Hassake, a city of 188,000 people, many of whom are Assyro-Chaldean and Armenian Christians.

Hassake is now cut off.

A “mass exodus of people took place [to] Hassake” writes Archimandrite Emanuel Youkhana in an email to aid partners, including CNEWA. Church of the East “Bishop Mar Aprem Athniel told me the church and community hall are overloaded with people.”

Syria Daily reports that “the jihadists struck along the Khabur River, moving southeast from Tal Shamiran all the way to Tal Hurmiz. Claims are circulating that churches were burned and villagers were kidnapped, with women and children separated from the men as the Islamic State seeks a prisoner exchange with local Kurdish groups.”

An ethnically diverse region, northeastern Syria is home to large numbers of ethnic Kurds, most of whom are Sunni Muslims, and Assyro-Chaldean and Armenian Christians. Many of the Christians are descendants of those who survived previous massacres. These include the genocidal murder of the Christian community in the waning days of the Ottoman Empire in 1918, and the Simele Massacre of 1933, in which the Iraqi army systematically targeted northern Iraq’s Assyro-Chaldean Christians, perhaps murdering as many as 3,000 people.

“Those villages,” writes Archimandrite Youkhana of the 35 Syrian communities now under siege by ISIS, “were started by Assyrians who fled the massacre of August 1933. So far, they never use the term ‘village’ or ‘town’ for their settlements … [but] insist to say ‘camps’ to reflect the fact that they were settled temporarily.”

The villagers, he notes, “hope to one day return to Iraq.”

At present, writes CNEWA’s Michel Constantin, “all roads leading to Hassake are blocked by so-called Islamic State militants, and the only way to respond to the needs of the refugees is through Turkey or northern Iraq.

“We are establishing communication now to explore any possibilities of providing emergency relief to these new refugees.”

(image: Tele Lumiere)

Tags: Syria Violence against Christians Chaldean Church Assyrian Church Church of the East

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