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Pope’s Easter appeal for peace includes special prayers for Syria, Gaza

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — In his Easter appeal for peace throughout the world, Pope Francis made special mention of the ongoing “carnage” in Syria and the recent violence along Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip, violence the pope said had not spared “the defenseless.” Read more »

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Longing for Christmas peace in the Holy Land

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During this wonderful time of the year, when Christians throughout the world focus minds and hearts on the coming of God upon the earth as one of us, our attention naturally turns to the place where the incarnation occurred.

While all the Earth is a holy creation of the almighty, Bethlehem and the surrounding lands that Jesus walked upon, taught upon, miraculously acted upon, suffered and died upon, and gloriously resurrected upon are uniquely holy and thus deserving of the title Holy Land.

In the Holy Land the Prince of Peace taught humanity the way to true peace.     Read more »

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Call to build bridges, not walls, in the Holy Land

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Dialog reporter

 

Palestinian pastor Rev. Dr. Raheb Mitri visits Delaware to talk about oppression in his homeland

 

NEWARK – Since the time of Jesus, there have been Christians in the Holy Land, but for much of that time, they have lived under the occupation of others, a Palestinian Lutheran pastor told an audience in Newark on May 18.

“Unfortunately, not too many people are aware of what is going on in Palestine and the little town of Bethlehem,” said Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb, pastor of Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem and president of Bright Stars of Bethlehem, an advocacy organization for the people of Palestine. Raheb spoke at multiple events in Delaware, including this one at First Presbyterian Church-Newark. Read more »

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Faith is expressed in charity, unity, pope says at canonization Mass

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Declaring four 19th-century women religious saints, Pope Francis said they are models for all Christians of how faith, nourished in prayer, is expressed concretely in acts of charity and the promotion of unity.

The new saints, proclaimed during a Mass May 17 in St. Peter’s Square, included two Palestinians — Sts. Marie-Alphonsine, founder of the Rosary Sisters, and Mary of Jesus Crucified, a Melkite Carmelite — as well as French St. Jeanne Emilie de Villeneuve and Italian St. Maria Cristina Brando. Read more »

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2014 was a year marked by millions suffering in the Middle East

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Catholic News Service

The story of the Middle East in 2014 is one of war and displacement, broken families and tireless aid workers, and the rise of a new group one scholar referred to as “al-Qaida on steroids.”

It’s a story of populations stretched to the limit, but still welcoming more refugees as neighbors. And it’s a tale of religious leaders calling for prayer, meeting for dialogue and urging an end to the violence.

U.S. Bishop Richard J. Malone of Buffalo, N.Y., stands amid rubble from buildings destroyed in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Gaza. Bishop Malone visited Gaza Sept. 14 as part of 18 bishops' nine-day prayer pilgrimage for peace in the Holy Land. (CNS photo/Matt McGarry,

U.S. Bishop Richard J. Malone of Buffalo, N.Y., stands amid rubble from buildings destroyed in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Gaza. Bishop Malone visited Gaza Sept. 14 as part of 18 bishops’ nine-day prayer pilgrimage for peace in the Holy Land. (CNS photo/Matt McGarry)

The continuing civil war in Syria created what Antonio Guterres, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, called “the defining humanitarian challenge of our times.” His agency estimated in December that more than 3.3 million Syrian refugees lived in the neighboring countries of Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt.

UNHCR also estimated that, within Syria, 12.2 million people were in need, including 7.6 million people displaced from their homes. Of those displaced, half were children.

Amid the migration of Syrians to neighboring countries, a group calling itself the Islamic State began driving Christians, Yezidis and even Muslim minorities from parts of Syria and Iraq. The minorities told stories of the Islamic State group cutting off electricity for weeks ahead of the main troops’ arrival. When the militants arrived, minorities were told to convert to Islam, pay a protection tax or be killed.

Mary Habeck, associate professor in strategic studies at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, described the Islamic State, and its parent group, al-Qaida, as “merchants of violence” trying to “use Islam for their own purposes.” The groups are “a very tiny group of extremists that have decided that they understand what Islam is, and they are going to force the rest of the Muslim-majority world in their direction.”

After capturing Mosul, Iraq, in June, the Islamic State group declared a caliphate, or Islamic empire. Habeck said the group views itself as “the only legitimate government in the entire world.”

Faced with the choice of renouncing their faith or being killed, hundreds of thousands of Christians and other minorities in Iraq’s Ninevah province fled Mosul to places like Qaraqosh. Later, as Islamic State fighters advanced, the minorities fled again to cities like Irbil, Iraq, where they slept in churches or in tents in parks and on the streets.

The mass migration of Syrians and Iraqis, combined with Palestinians left homeless after a 50-day Israeli incursion into the Gaza Strip, created a huge challenge for international aid organizations, including those run by the Catholic Church. Most refugees in the Middle East do not live in camps, but in local communities. This placed a strain on the host countries.

Church agencies focused on helping those communities. For instance, between August and early November, Caritas Jordan registered 4,000 Iraqis; the agency helped more who did not register.

Lebanon, a country 70 percent the size of Connecticut, has a population of 4 million and hosted 1.5 million additional refugees.

Jordan, slightly smaller than Indiana, with a population of 6.5 million, recognized 44 different nationalities as refugees. From 1921 to 2011, Jordan had a $10 billion deficit; since the Arab Spring began in 2011, it has picked up an additional $10 billion deficit.

Although the Jordanian government welcomed those fleeing, for the past three years it said that 30 percent of any aid going to help Syrian refugees must help the host community. It set similar quotas when Iraqis began fleeing to Jordan in 2003, at the start of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

Christian aid agencies tried to coordinate their work, focusing on various aspects of aid: One agency might help with mattresses and personal items; another might help with education.

Church agencies also coordinated aid in Gaza after the Israeli-Hamas war left 2,000 Palestinians dead, thousands injured and more than 100,000 people homeless.

In July, the Catholic aid agencies met three times in as many days, planning for Gazans’ psychosocial and material needs.

“We are talking about a massive number of people who will be in need of help, and of at least 200,000 children who will need intervention,” Sami El-Yousef, regional director of the Jerusalem office of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, told Catholic News Service in July.

During a May visit to the Holy Land, Pope Francis made an unscheduled stop to pray for peace before the controversial separation wall built by Israel throughout the West Bank land. He invited Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to the Vatican to pray for peace.

Throughout the year, he made repeated calls for peace in the Middle East. In early October, he met with the region’s apostolic nuncios and top Vatican officials; later that month, he included a discussion on the Middle East during the Oct. 20 consistory of cardinals in order to let the region’s seven patriarchs, who were taking part in the Synod of Bishops, also attend the proceedings.

At that meeting, Pope Francis said the Middle East was experiencing “terrorism of previously unimaginable proportions” in which the perpetrators seem to have absolutely no regard for the value of human life.

The Mideast Catholic and Orthodox patriarchs as well as bishops from North America, Europe and Oceania visited the Holy Land and northern Iraq to express solidarity with their fellow Christians. And although patriarchs expressed concern about Christians fleeing the violence in northern Iraq, laypeople were not the only ones leaving the advance of Islamic State: Twelve Chaldean religious men and priests living in the United States, Canada, Australia and Sweden were suspended from exercising their priestly ministry for not receiving permission from their superiors before emigrating from Iraq.

Once the Iraqis and Syrians fled, they hoped for resettlement in another country. One refugee described waiting for resettlement as “miserable days doing nothing.” Almost all Iraqis interviewed by a variety of news sources said they would not return to their country.

Father Rifat Bader described the refugees: “They are teachers. They are normal people, very kind people.” Faith “is a part of their identity.”

The Iraqis, he said, “are knocking at the doors of the embassies” trying to get resettled. But after their initial appointment, they were being forced to wait six months for a second appointment, he said

 

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Bishop criticizes Texas senator for politicizing summit on Mideast Christians

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — A Catholic bishop criticized Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, for politicizing a conference of diverse political and church leaders working on behalf of Christians and other minorities in the Middle East.

“When you come to a hard political stance on anything, it’s going to cause a flare-up, and that’s what happened last night,” Maronite Bishop Gregory J. Mansour of Brooklyn, New York, told Catholic News Service Sept. 11.

Cruz was a keynote speaker at the gala solidarity dinner at the inaugural summit of In Defense of Christians, a new organization with the aim of shaping policy and heightening awareness of Christians in the Middle East.

The conference brought together more than 500 politicians, church leaders, including Catholic and Orthodox patriarchs flown in from the Middle East, and Christians in the diaspora. The patriarchs emphasized that their differences did not preclude unity on behalf of all minorities in the Middle East.

Cruz, touted as a potential Republican candidate for president in 2016, left the stage after he was booed for saying that Christians have no better ally than Israel.

In a statement posted on his website, Cruz said: “After just a few minutes, I had no choice. I told them that if you will not stand with Israel, if you will not stand with the Jews, then I will not stand with you. And then I walked off the stage.”

Bishop Mansour said he felt Cruz “had a litmus test for us: If we don’t stand with Israel, then he won’t stand with us. Well, that’s not an approach that is viable for a Christian.

“Christians don’t ally themselves to any state,” said Bishop Mansour. “We are not allied to the state — to the United States or to Iraq, or to Syria. Christians must be free to engage their society, to build up what is beautiful in it, and to critique what is not.”

Jesuit Father Drew Christiansen, distinguished professor of ethics and global development at Georgetown University, attended the conference but was not at the gala.

In a blog for ncronline.org, scheduled for publication Sept. 15, Father Christiansen contrasted the unanimity of the patriarchs’ message on Christians with Cruz’s remarks, which he called divisive.

“Members of the audience responded that calls made by Cruz and other speakers for respect for Jews and their inclusion in a pluralist Middle East had met with wide approval,” wrote Father Christiansen, who has spent years advocating for Mideast Christians in his work as a policy adviser for the U.S. bishops’ conference and as editor of America magazine.

“It was Cruz’s assertion that Israel was an ally of Middle Eastern Christians to which they objected,” he wrote. “They felt that their effort to build a coalition had been hijacked for the sake of Cruz’s own political ambitions and the ultra-Zionist cause.”

Bishop Mansour, who said he liked Cruz personally, told CNS: “I ran after him, and I saw him, face to face, as you and I are talking. He was very upset.”

But he pointed out that many in the audience at the gala dinner were Palestinian Christians.

“Come on, you have to talk to your audience, you have to talk to the people who are here. I felt that showed a great insensitivity on his part,” said Bishop Mansour, whose comments were echoed by others in attendance.

“We’ve been very careful, all the organizers and everybody involved,” said Bishop Mansour. “The only one who was not very careful was Sen. Cruz.”

“He made it very clear about defense of Jews and defense of Christians, but he did not mention defense of Muslims,” said Bishop Mansour. He said everyone at the conference had been “very careful to defend the best of the Muslim tradition and to condemn the worst in it.”

The bishop noted that 18 congressmen and senators had had talks with the Christian leaders on Capitol Hill without any kind of animosity.

After Cruz left the stage, one of the event organizers chastised the crowd, and In Defense of Christians posted a statement on its website from its president, Toufic Baaklini:

“As (Lebanese) Cardinal (Bechara) Rai so eloquently put it to the attendees of the In Defense of Christians’ inaugural summit gala dinner: ‘At every wedding, there are a few problems.’ In this case, a few politically motivated opportunists chose to divide a room that for more than 48 hours sought unity in opposing the shared threat of genocide, faced not only by our Christian brothers and sisters, but our Jewish brothers and sisters and people of all other faiths and all people of good will.

“Tonight’s injection of politics when the focus should have been on unity and faith momentarily played into the hands of a few who do not adhere to IDC’s principles. They were made no longer welcome,” the statement said, without indicating whether that meant the hecklers or Cruz.

The senator also posted a statement on his website:

“Tonight in Washington should have been a night of unity as we came together for the inaugural event for a group that calls itself ‘In Defense of Christians.’ Instead, it unfortunately deteriorated into a shameful display of bigotry and hatred,” the statement said.

“When I spoke in strong support of Israel and the Jewish people, who are being persecuted and murdered by the same vicious terrorists who are also slaughtering Christians, many Christians in the audience applauded. But, sadly, a vocal and angry minority of attendees at the conference tried to shout down my expression of solidarity with Israel.

“They cannot shout down the truth. And we should not shy away from expressing the truth, even in the face of, especially in the face of, ignorance and bigotry,” it said.

 

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Viewpoint: When global problems heat up

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If there’s anything good to say about the state of the world this month, it’s that at least we’re going to have nice weather for the apocalypse.

The poet Robert Frost once noted that “some say the world will end in fire and some say ice.” Who knew it could end during one of the balmy summer days we’ve enjoyed in the Diocese of Wilmington this year?

It’s not the heat; it’s the history of recent world conflicts and the dangers they portend. Here’s a review of this summer’s news: Read more »

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Working to end the madness, restore dignity in the Middle East

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Catholic Near East Welfare Association

 

Catholic Near East Welfare Association works with churches to aid the poor, create dialogue, inspire peace

 

“The situation on the ground [in Gaza] is horrific. The attack on the Shajaia neighborhood yesterday [July 20] was very ugly and left 50 dead (including 17 children, 14 women and 4 senior citizens) as well as 210 wounded and 70,000 displaced. … “Those who visited the neighborhood during the two-hour humanitarian ceasefire yesterday reported bodies of women and children scattered in the narrow streets. …

“The Latin and Greek Orthodox parishes have opened facilities to receive those displaced mostly from Shajaia. There has not been any human loss affecting Christians, and property damage is limited to broken glass and minor damage. Let’s hope it remains this way. The most serious damage to the community is clearly psychological.

“We are continuously assessing the situation and continue to pray for an end to this madness.” Read more »

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Holy Land bishops criticize ‘collective punishment’ of Palestinians

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JERUSALEM — Catholic leaders in the Holy Land called for an end to the cycle of violence and criticized Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories and its collective punishment of Palestinians.

“Using the death of the three Israelis to exact collective punishment on the Palestinian people as a whole and on its legitimate desire to be free is a tragic exploitation of tragedy and promotes more violence and hatred,” said a July 8 statement from the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land.

People carry the body of a Palestinian boy whom hospital officials said was killed in an Israeli airstrike on his family's house in Gaza City July 9. The Israeli army intensified its offensive on the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, striking Hamas sites and killing dozens of people in a military operation it says is aimed at quelling rocket fire against Israel. (CNS photo/Ashraf Amrah, Reuters)

People carry the body of a Palestinian boy whom hospital officials said was killed in an Israeli airstrike on his family’s house in Gaza City July 9. The Israeli army intensified its offensive on the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, striking Hamas sites and killing dozens of people in a military operation it says is aimed at quelling rocket fire against Israel. (CNS photo/Ashraf Amrah, Reuters)

“We need to recognize that the kidnapping and cold-blooded murder of the three Israeli youth and the brutal vengeance killing of the Palestinian youth are products of the injustice and of the hatred that the occupation fosters in the hearts of those prone to such deeds,” the church leaders said, but added that the deaths “are in no way justifiable.”

In early July, Israel launched airstrikes into the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, killing more than 40 Palestinians — including children, elderly and militants — in a circle of escalating violence that began with the discovery of the bodies of three kidnapped Israeli teens and the brutal apparent revenge killing of a Palestinian teen. The Israeli offensive, dubbed Operation Protective Edge, has hit hundreds of targets, while more than 100 missiles have been launched into southern Israel, reaching into the center of the country and Jerusalem as well.

The ordinaries, who include Catholic bishops and the Franciscan custos of the Holy Land, called the situation in Gaza “an illustration of the never-ending cycle of violence in the absence of a vision for an alternative future.”

They criticized Israeli “leadership that continues to foster a discriminatory discourse promoting exclusive rights of one group and the occupation with all of its disastrous consequences. Settlements are built, lands are confiscated, families are separated, loved ones are arrested and even assassinated. The occupation leadership seems to believe that the occupation can be victorious by crushing the will of the people for freedom and dignity. They seem to believe that their determination will ultimately silence opposition and transform wrong into right.”

“Resistance to occupation cannot be equated with terrorism,” they said. “Resistance to occupation is a legitimate right, terrorism is part of the problem.”

The church leaders said the mourned all those, Israeli and Palestinians, who had died.

“Some of their faces are well known because the media have covered in detail their lives, interviewing their parents, bringing them alive in our imaginations, whereas others, by far more numerous, are mere statistics, nameless and faceless. The selective coverage, mourning and memory are themselves part of the cycle of violence,” they said.

The church leaders also said the “violent language of the Palestinian street that calls for vengeance is fed by the attitudes and expressions of those who have despaired of any hope to reach a just solution to the conflict through negotiations. Those who seek to build a totalitarian, monolithic society, in which there is no room for any difference or diversity, gain popular support, exploiting this situation of hopelessness. To these we also say: Violence as a response to violence breeds only more violence.”

“We need radical change,” they said. “Israelis and Palestinians together need to shake off the negative attitudes of mutual mistrust and hatred.” They called for educating the younger generation “in a new spirit that challenges the existing mentalities of oppression and discrimination,” but they also called for a change in political leaders.

“We must find leaders who are clear-sighted and courageous enough to face the urgency of the present situation and to take the difficult decisions that are needed, leaders who, if necessary, are ready to sacrifice their political careers for the sake of a just and lasting peace. Such leaders have the vocation to be healers, peacemakers, seekers of justice and visionaries of the alternatives to the cycle of violence,” they said, recalling Pope Francis’ separate meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders during his May visit to the Holy Land and “his incessant call for justice and peace.”

The complete statement can be found at http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2014/07/09/holy_land_a_call_for_courageous_change/1102679.

 

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