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15th  February 2016  - A "gesture of revolt against death and destruction" is how Archbishop Samir Nassar, leader of the Maronite archdiocese of Damascus, describes the three chapels that the local Maronite community has decided to build in the peripheral neighborhoods of the Syrian capital, hard hit by the armed conflict that has devastated the Country for almost five years. The first of the three places of worship, dedicated to the Martyrs of Damascus in 1860, was inaugurated in recent weeks, while the other two will be completed in the coming months.

In a summary report, sent to Agenzia Fides, Archbishop Nassar describes with emotion the concern expressed by the entire local Maronite community in taking charge of the three projects, representing a concrete "sign of hope and confidence in the future of the Church in Syria" in this "year of mercy and of great suffering".

In his statement, the Maronite Archbishop recalled the figure of deacon Camille, who was killed in March 2013 by shrapnel from a mortar shell while he was near the church. After that event - said Mgr. Nassar - "I said to the priests that they could leave the city if they wanted to, because the diocese had no right to keep them in that condition. They all told me: You remain, and we will remain, too". Since then, those priests who "cling to their mission under the bombs" – remarked the Archbishop - also represent "the winning card and the guarantee of the future of a martyred Christianity that refuses to die". (GV) (Agenzia Fides 15/02/2016)

Published in News
Thursday, 04 February 2016 19:45

SYRIA “A stop to the war and arms trade”

4th February 2016 - Fr Paul Karam, Caritas Lebanon, is in London for the Syria donor conference. For him, the priority is to stop the conflict. So far, "personal interests" have prevailed with "the civilian population" paying the price. The Middle East is "a raging volcano" that can be stymied by following the path of peace outlined by Pope Francis.

"The most important thing, the starting point is to stop this war. We must silence weapons today, not tomorrow. The urgency increases each passing day. As long as there is war, we can never solve problems. Sadly, the conflict is bound to intensify,” said Fr Paul Karam, director of Caritas Lebanon.

For the past four years, the Catholic charity has led the way in helping Syrian and other refugees, streaming out of war-torn parts of the Middle East. The clergyman is currently in London for the Syria donor conference.

“As long as personal interests prevail and the flow of arms continues, the civilian population, the poor, and all those who work every day to earn a living to survive and educate their children will pay the price,” he told AsiaNews.

World leaders gathered in London this morning in an attempt to raise US$ 9 billion to meet the needs of the millions of Syrian refugees who fled the civil war.

Funds are also earmarked for resettlement in the Middle East, Europe and North America. However, only 43 per cent of the US$ 2.9 billion pledged to the UN's 2015 appeal were actually provided.

Observers hope that this donor conference, the fourth of its kind, meets the United Nations' demand for US$ 7.73 billion to help in Syria, plus US$ 1.23 billion aid for countries in the region affected by the crisis.

Some 70 international leaders will attend the summit, including United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. A coalition of more than 90 humanitarian and human rights groups involved in aid and rescue operations are also in London.

Caritas Lebanon has never skirted its responsibility, providing not only food but also psychological support. It has also encouraged exchanges between Christians and Muslims, particularly among young people.

"It is important to intervene in the health care field, as well as ensure that children are educated to give them a future,” Fr Karam said. However, “the most important thing to do is to stop the war. The international community has a responsibility to find a solution”. It must also do something to “stop arms trafficking”.

For the director of Caritas Lebanon, things “cannot go on like this . . . There is always money for weapons, to destroy; nothing to end the violence and help people. We have to stop this tragedy."

The solution lies with Pope Francis who laid down a roadmap for peace in his appeals. Hence, the failure of the ongoing Geneva talks is a source of "great sadness" because the parties "must seek peace and look for the good of the people, not their self-interest."

"The Middle East is a raging volcano,” the clergyman added. “We hope that the international community wakes up, shows greater international solidarity and provides more aid to migrants."

The war in Syria, which broke out in March 2011 as popular unrest against President Bashar al-Assad, morphed into open warfare involving Islamic extremist and jihadist group that has caused so far more than 260,000 deaths.

Over this period, one of the worst humanitarian crisis in history has unfolded, with 4.6 million Syrians forced abroad, primarily in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt.

Hundreds of thousands more have tried to reach Europe, sometimes losing their life paying the ultimate price for daring to cross the treacherous waters of the Mediterranean.

In recent days, those EU member states that had initially welcomed refugees, especially Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Germany, are now backtracking. (DS) (Asianews)

Published in News
Wednesday, 30 December 2015 16:43

SYRIA Christmas of Mercy

30th December 2015 - Damascus, not far from terrorists and bombs. Riad Sargi, a Greek Catholic Melkite, who along with his wife and children took part in the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia last September, spoke to AsiaNews about Christmas and the Jubilee of Mercy.

A mechanical engineer employed in the pharmaceutical industry, he oversees imports from Europe. He is also a volunteer with the St Vincent de Paul Society in Damascus. He and his wife, Rouba Farah, who is also working in the medical research sector, have three children: Leila (14) and twins Elias and Michael (5).

Although tragedy has befallen his country (250,000 deaths and 11 million displaced), “we have tried to experience the atmosphere of Christmas and respect its values despite the conflict that goes on unabated around us. We went to church, attended Mass, saw plays, watched young people sing and play hymns, whilst only two kilometres away from our church, war rages on in an area controlled by terrorists."

Like most Syrian Christians, he attended religious services conscious of "the danger of air strikes and shelling”. This is why his “greatest wish for our country, Syria, is a return to peace and reconciliation as well as the start of the process of reconstruction.”

What the Catholic engineer wants the most in this Jubilee of Mercy for a country at war and subject to terror is “to show how Christians live and express love to all people who have an open mind and a loving heart.”

"I am excited by the chance to show the ideal of love that is inherent in Christianity, which has no place for hatred to fuel of war and fighting in our country."

For him, "God is the source of mercy. Our hope is that this is not just a word to talk about in the newspapers or in meetings, but something that can inform a real way of life for those who seek love and mercy."

Good intentions aside, hardships, dangers, and suffering continue in a war fuelled by outside interests and foreign powers, compounded by the ideology of extremist groups and factions that exploit religion for their criminal designs.

As citizens of a “wounded country,” where pain is “growing every day, as seen in the tears of those who suffer,” the people of Syria “need a lot of mercy”. Indeed, "it will not be possible to put an end to the Syrian crisis without mercy, love and reconciliation,” which are "completely lacking in the hearts of those who fight in the name of God, as they see Him and shape Him to their own ends."

"Yet, despite everything, today more than ever it is important to build close relationships with all of the country’s components in order to regain the security that was lost and start reconstruction."

In one last thought for Pope Francis, who has always been close to Syria and its people, and called for a day of prayer and fasting for the country as early as September 2013, Riad noted that the pontiff “has centred his prayers, thoughts and actions on peace in Syria. This is why he requested the presence of a Syrian family at the meeting in Philadelphia to show his love for all Syrian families.”

Therefore, the Jubilee of mercy is a great message of love and reconciliation for what Pope Francis calls his "beloved Syria". (Elie Younan, Asianews)

Published in News
Sunday, 15 November 2015 22:49

CAR Call to International Forces for action

14th November 2015 - “The MINUSCA (United Nations mission in the Central African Republic) is guilty of inaction, or even absence, of leaving the civil population at the mercy of the militias. No peacekeeping force is deployed to prevent further crimes”, said the youths of the parish of Our Lady of Fatima in Bangui, in a document received by MISNA.

The area where the church is situated in the past week was involved in the fighting between rival armed groups. In their letter, the youths stressed one episode in particular, when some displaced buying supplies at the Pétévo market the other day, got caught in the crossfire of the armed groups without the international forces intervening to protect them.

“This further inaction has heightened hatred in the hearts of the people and risks bringing to a point of exasperation the youths tempted to join one of the armed groups to defend themselves and their families”, adds the letter. To avoid this scenario, the youths ask that checkpoints and neighborhood patrols be set up in the city, to protect the civilians.

The concerns of the youths of Fatima reflect the atmosphere in the country, where clashes broke out again, but also where hopes remain high in the visit of Pope Francis at the end of November. In regard, in the past hours France – present in the country with the Sangaris military mission – denied diplomatic indiscretions that Paris discouraged the Pope fro visiting Bangui, due to the situation. (Misna)

Published in News

7 August 2015  - The other 6.5 million are internally displaced, people who have had to abandon everything but have chosen to remain in the country.

More than 240 thousand people have been killed since the beginning of the conflict in Syria. About 12 thousand of these were children; almost 72 thousand civilians; more than 88 thousand regular army soldierse and about 34 thousand Islamic extremists. This is reported in the recent data released by Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an organization based in England but which has an extensive network of contacts on the ground.

Since March 2011, the date of the beginning of the clashes between Assad's government and a varied coalition of opponents, 240,381 people have died. On June 9 the count had reached 230,618. 11,964 children lost their lives, while the number of civilians who have died are 71,781. A third of the victims were soldiers fighting for Assad, or 88,616 units: of these, 50,570 were regular soldiers and the rest allied fighters.

As for the rebel fighters, 42,384 soldiers and 34,375 foreign jihadists were killed. The identity of the 3,225 dead on the field are still unknown. The fate of about 30 thousand people who are missing is still unknown: of these, 20 thousand are believed to be in government jails.

According to UN figures, there are about 10 million displaced. At least 4 million have chosen neighboring countries - Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq - while another 150 thousand have applied to the European Union for asylum. Within Europe, Germany has the largest contingent of refugees (28,500) while in absolute numbers Turkey - 1,758,092 with Syrian refugees - is the nation that has accepted the most. (Asianews)

Published in News

31 July 2015  – Every year in east African countries about 10,000 children are born with harelip and-or malformation of the palate, congenital malformations which threaten proper development. According to the NGO African Medical and Research Foundation, this malformation, noticed during pregnancy, is associated with genetic factors. Babies have difficulty eating and drinking, with speech, hearing and correct breathing, and the condition is generally seen as a taboo or punishment for bad deeds committed by some relation in the past. Very often the affected babies are hidden or abandoned or even killed. Similar malformation can also cause difficulties with breast feeding and consequent difficulty of survival and balanced growth. To prevent these problems from interfering with development, the babies need surgery in the first months of life, within the two first years. Only surgery will enable the child to speak, hear and feed normally. Sad to say the majority of babies in Africa suffering from this condition have no access to surgery which lasts just 45 minutes. (AP) (31/7/2015 Agenzia Fides)

rs. "Chaque jour – explique Joelle Eid pour fournir un terme de comparaison – une famille de cinq personnes doit dépenser 2,5 dollars ne serait-ce que pour acheter du pain". Et c'est surtout sur les catégories les plus fragiles que les retombées de cette réduction seront les plus rudes : en effet, la porte-parole du Pam explique que "80% des personnes auxquelles nous portons assistance  sont des femmes et des enfants".

Selon les chiffres fournis par les Nations Unies, plus de quatre millions de Syriens ont dû quitter leur pays depuis 2011 et se réfugier dans ceux voisins à cause de la guerre. La Jordanie en a accueilli près de 629.000, dont environ 100.000 seulement dans des camps de réfugiés. (Misna)

Published in News
Saturday, 18 July 2015 21:11

INDIA Divorce: toward a law for all

18 July 2015 - The Indian government is set to amend a divorce provision applicable to Christians in order to bring uniformity in divorce laws across religions.

The move comes amid a Supreme Court hearing in which a Christian man, Albert Anthony, is trying to overturn a lower court denying him a divorce because of the existing provision. Anthony's plea "was for equal treatment for all Indian citizens”.

The 2001 law amended the Indian Divorce Act of 1869, which the British created for Indian Christians. Under the old law, couples could divorce only if adultery or a change of religion by one party was proved. In the 2001 law, two years separation was added as a concession to some Christian groups who were against divorce, while only one year is necessary for other religions. Several High Courts have already noted the discriminatory nature of the provision.

“The law is a way to discourage and delay divorces among Christians”, said a family law expert George K Jose, who teaches law in Bangalore's Christ University.

"The law was discriminative. And we are happy that discrimination based on religion is now ending", said Supreme Court lawyer, Jose Abraham, who heads the Indian bishops' Commission of Law and Public Interest Litigations. Abraham added that the Catholic Church, though opposed to divorce, is happy about the move to try to bring parity between all Indians.

Separate laws govern marriage, inheritance and divorce among India's Christians, Muslims, Hindus and those who marry outside religion. For decades Hindu groups have been demanding civil laws be uniform for all Indians, instead opposed by Muslims who form about 15 percent of India's 1.2 billion people. (Misna)


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11 May 2015 - Chaldean Bishop of Aleppo: in dirty wars in the Middle East there are those who exploit the suffering of Christians. "We are under bombs every day. I think many Christians will flee from Aleppo and seek shelter in the coastal area, but they will do it when schools and universities close, after the exams. In the disaster in which we live, even this year schools and universities remained open in the central districts of Aleppo. Many still believe that studying is important for the future although one lives in a city that seems to have no future". This is what Syrian Jesuit Antoine Audo, Chaldean Bishop of Aleppo, told Fides, highlighting the feelings shared by Christian families who live in the martyred city.

In the last hours, according to news relaunched by international agencies in the region of Aleppo, jihadist militias have consolidated their positions. "Actually", says Bishop Audo "for more than three years we have not been using airports to get out of Aleppo. The impression is that a strong propaganda and psychological war against the government is being implemented, orchestrated even at an international level. They speak of an attack against Aleppo. Maybe they are planning something".

Even the news about Christians, according to the Chaldean bishop of Aleppo, is often used in an instrumental key: "three weeks ago", notes Bishop Audo "heavy attacks were carried out by armed anti-government groups against targeted districts where Christian Cathedrals are concentrated and then also against Suleimanya district, home to many Christians. Perhaps the intention was just to impress international public opinion and justify military responses. They have done everything to present this conflict as a religious clash between Christians and Muslims, or between Shiites and Sunnis. Of course, Christians are the most defenceless group, they have no weapons, they are afraid. But certain slogans and certain driven interpretations only serve to hide the real reasons and the real dynamics of the war. There are those who want to divide the whole area into small sectarian entities, as they tried to do in Iraq, in order to continue to dominate everything". (GV) (Agenzia Fides)

Published in News
Wednesday, 15 April 2015 21:16

SYRIA Anguish of Christian communities

15 April 2015 - The Heads of the Christian communities in Aleppo: is it the time of the Resurrection of the Savior or the funeral of his disciples? "During the Easter period, our city and our people suffered intense pain, anguish and discomfort during the night when neighborhoods in the city were hit with rocket-propelled grenades, with a destructive capacity that we had never heard and seen before". This is how the statement issued by the Heads of Churches and Christian communities of Aleppo begins, after fierce bombing hit in particular the neighborhoods where Christians are concentrated, in the days in which Easter was being celebrated in Syria according to the Julian Calendar .

"We went - write the leaders of the Council of Christian denominations in the matyred city in the text sent to Agenzia Fides - we saw and we cried: bodies pulled out from the rubble, shreds attached to the walls and blood mixed with the soil of homeland! Dozens of martyrs of every religion and confession, wounded and maimed, men and women, the elderly and children. We listened to the cries of the widows and the laments of the children and we saw the panic on the faces of the people".

The Heads of Churches and ecclesial communities turn to "people of conscience, in case there is anyone willing to listen" to implore the end of destruction and massacres: "Stop – says the statement - being a laboratory for experimenting weapons of a devastating war! We are tired! Close the doors of the sale of arms and stop the instruments of death and the supply of ammunition. We are tired!".
The Christian Leaders of Aleppo complain that the once most cosmopolitan metropolis of Syria has been transformed into a martyred city: "We want the 'Aleppo al Shahbah' to remain, a witness of tenderness, love and peace, of forgiveness and dialogue. Aleppo the city, the precious jewel on the crown of our Country, Syria, with all its components and its cultural, religious and sectarian diversity". (GV) (Agenzia Fides 15/04/2015)


Published in News
Thursday, 26 February 2015 15:41

SYRIA “The wretched choices of the West”

26 February 2015 - There are between 120 and 140 Assyrian Christians held hostage by jiahdists of the Islamic State who in the night between Sunday 22 and Monday, February 23 launched a large-scale attack against the Christian villages scattered along the banks of the river Khabur, in the Syrian province in northeastern Jazeera. This was confirmed to Agenzia Fides by Archbishop Jacques Behnan Hindo, ordinary of the Syrian Catholic Archieparchy in Hassaké-Nisibis. The hostages all belong to the villages of Tel Jazira, Tel Shamiram and Tel Gouram.

"The jihadists - refers Archbishop - have taken full control of the villages on the western shore of Khabur, while yesterday afternoon, February 24, all the inhabitants of 22 villages scattered along the eastern shore were evacuated and more than a thousand Christian Assyrian and Chaldean families fled to the major centers of Hassaké, Qamishli, Dirbesiye and Ras al-Ayn".

The offensive of the jihadists of the Islamic State has so far caused the death in combat of 4 Christians enrolled in the Assyrian militia - deployed with Kurdish battalions against the militia of Is - while at the moment, according to Assyrian sources, a young Christian Assyrian named Milad appears to be the only civilian victim of the Islamists.

According to the Syrian Catholic Archbishop, the jihadists have launched an offensive in the region of the Khabur to find new spaces and escape routes. According to Mgr. Hindo even countermoves proposed by some foreign Countries before the recent military strategies of the Islamic State confirms the serious responsibilities of the West in triggering conflicts that are destroying the Middle East.

"With their disastrous policies - the Archbishop explains to Fides - mainly the French and the US, with their regional allies, have favored in fact the Daesh escalation.

Now they persevere in error, commit strategic, grotesque mistakes such as the announcement of the 'spring campaign' to liberate Mosul and insist on interfering with irrelevant interventions, instead of recognizing that their guaranteed support to jihadist groups has led us to this chaos and has destroyed Syria, making us regress 200 years". (GV) (Agenzia Fides 26/02/2015)

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