We seek to keep you literally "updated" on movement in terms of truth and justice in the Middle East in general with a particular eye on Palestine. The links below will take you to various articles and websites that offer the perspective of leaders in the religious, NGO, and human rights communities. Additionally, Al-Bushra, ever vigilant, provides links to regular reporting as well as opinion pieces by journalists. The dates given here indicate when the link was posted; the most recent posting is at the top. Check the article itself for the date the information was released by the source.

Friday, September 27, 2013

“Back to the UN”, Bishop Shomali’s analysis

Sep 27, 2013


New York –  The 68th UN General Assembly opened in New York on Tuesday September 24  against the background of a  tense international context.  The major crisis concerns Syria but attention also focuses on the Iranian nuclear issue and the peace talks between Israel and Palestine.  Bishop William Shomali, Patriarchal Vicar in Jerusalem presents an analysis.

1.  Iran’s president stressed  that his country was “not a threat,” to the world or the Middle  East. These conciliation attempts raise a cautious hope among Western diplomats, but have not swayed the Israeli authorities.  “This action reflects exactly the Iranian strategy to talk and buy time to advance its capability to develop nuclear weapons ,” said Netanyahu.  Do you think that diplomacy will ever be given a chance?

Hassan Rohani is a skillful politician and wants to gain time to continue Iran’s nuclear program.  Certainly, Westerners have reason to doubt.   We should not get ourselves caught and confined in this vicious circle of lies.

It is necessary to solve the Iranian problem in a radical way. We should first rid the Middle East of all nuclear programs. A bomb, whether Indian, Pakistani, Iranian or Israeli is a destructive atomic bomb.

Efforts should be made ​​to prevent nuclear programs and the manufacture of chemical weapons. We must resolve all other political issues that lead to the use of such weapons.

2. Would the return of Iran within  the assembly of nations help to stop or end the Syrian tragedy?
The term “stop” is pretentious.  Iran is certainly a key element of the conflict, but it is only one element in the same way as Russia or Hezbollah provide assistance to Syria.

The right solution should primarily come from within Syria, from Syrians themselves, backed by international pressure.  For this, a course of action in several phases should be followed:

- Establish an immediate  cease-fire
- Prevent any entry of weapons into Syria
- Prepare the way for free, fair and transparent  elections
- Accept the result of the elections

In this view, Iran has a role to play and as a friend of Syria, could wield a positive influence in imposing a cease-fire.

3. What is your view in the delay of the Western military intervention in Syria?

I understand that there may have been some hesitation on the part of the United States and Europe for several reasons.

First, for ethical reasons: the perpetrators of the chemical attacks have not been identified.  So an attack cannot be launched without any proof of guilt.   And if  they were rebels, would the West still decide  to attack?

Then there is a reason for fear: the escalation of violence and a regional conflagration.

Finally, the third reason concerns the Russian and Chinese veto votes and restraint of the British Parliament, which held back Obama.

Speaking on a more spiritual level, the participation of millions of faithful from all over the world in the day of prayer and fasting called by Pope Francis on Saturday, September 7,  had an impact on politicians. God works in a hidden and unexpected way.

4. Obama and Hollande want to obtain a resolution from the  Russians,  implying a clear threat that validates the  use of force in Syria if Assad does not fulfill his  promises to eliminate chemical weapons. Do you think they are right?

If we look at the facts from the point of view of Hollande and Obama, we arrive at the conclusion that force must be used against Assad. But this view assumes that Assad is a dictator or the cause of all evils in Syria and should therefore be removed at all costs.

The history of chemical weapons is actually a good excuse  to launch an attack on Syria to remove Assad.  At the same time, would this be the means to weaken Iran and Hezbollah, the bitter enemies of the United States?

On the other hand, Holland and Obama would not  acknowledge that their approach to the Syrian issue is not objective. It is true that Assad is a dictator but he remains moderate compared to other dictators in the Middle East.

We often hear of the need for democracy in the Middle East, but it is a mistake to believe that it can happen in a few months.   Democracy in Syria needs a long introduction and initiation.  It will not be a result of a  civil war or an external military intervention or even the victory of the Syrian rebels, many of whom are Salafists or Jihadists affiliated to Al Qaedah.

The Iraqi experience is proof.  The Western powers thought  that change and transformation can take effect within five weeks of a military operation.  Years later, this poor country suffer from an alarming  instability every day, at the cost of the lives of many innocent people.  I want to use the Iraqi lesson as a guideline for all politicians
5. Barack Obama said he did not speak of “ illusions ” about the difficulty of achieving peace between Israel and the Palestinians. What do you actually expect from the ongoing talks?

The only path to a solution is a political dialogue. A dialogue, that is honest, transparent, creative and based on internationally accepted platform.  So far, bilateral negotiations have failed.

Starting from the premise that the same causes produce the same effects, it can be concluded that if there is a lack of flexibility, negotiations will fail, and there will be escalation of violence…

I would like to quote an American diplomat who, in  private session said: “ When two enemies are fighting for over 80 years and they are unable to overcome their problems, the only thing is to impose a solution. ”

6 . The U.S. president  estimated that the international community had not been up against the Syrian tragedy … Is the West today a powerless spectator to the Middle East in general?

Yes, he’ is right. The world has been a spectator and I dare say even guilty. If a country has the power to act in favor of peace and does not, it commits the sin of omission.

There has also been accomplices (see the example of weapons in Syria) that have made ​​the conflict longer, and without victory to one side or the other. The only solution is to declare, as I said, a cease-fire followed by negotiations between the two parties under international supervision.  Not taking this path would mean knowingly prolonging the conflict and with full responsibility.

7.  There have been attempts by extremists seeking to provoke a sectarian conflict in the Middle East (attacks in Iraq, Egypt, Syria …). What is your analysis?  Do you feel that  the situation could worsen and religious radicalization will intensify at the expense of Christians?

It is true that there is a radicalization in the Middle East because of religious ideologies based on intolerance, and Christians suffer.

Christians should not appear to be victims of persecution and expect  from heaven a ready-made solution. They should not remain neutral and shut themselves in a ghetto.  They should instead, engage in the political life of their countries, suffer and struggle with other citizens, and make smart alliances with moderate Muslims … The Copts in Egypt understood this need  to engage in public life, particularly during the last coup. They are also active in the drafting of  the new constitution.

Interview by Christophe Lafontaine

Source: http://en.lpj.org/2013/09/27/back-to-the-un-bishop-shomalis-analysis/

Pope Francis receives message from Beit Jala Christians


VATICAN – In an audience with Pope Francis at the Vatican, Father Ibrahim Shomali, parish priest of Beit Jala, delivered a message from the people of the city to the Holy Father relating the current suffering of Christian families in the town of Beit Jala.

Fr. Shomali emphasized to the Holy Father the extent of the Israeli oppression regarding the people of Beit Jala, through its expropriation of private lands to open roads and build settlements, including the Wall of Separation, and, more recently, the seizure of lands belonging to the Convent of Cremisan.

Fr. Shomali’s message focused on the fact that the “Palestinian people” strongly adhere to its national homeland and its fight to stay on it. However, the conservation of lands requires concrete measures to thwart any takeover attempt, and to enable the Palestinian people to live with dignity in a free State.

It is worth recalling here that an Israeli Court in Tel Aviv last April adopted a decision reaffirming the course of the Separation Wall, around Cremisan, especially between the Convents of the Salesian Fathers and the Salesian Sisters, as well as the annexation of private properties belonging to 58 Palestinian families of Beit Jala to the settlement of Gilo, south of Jerusalem.

The Heads of the Catholics Churches in the Holy Land, at the time, called for the realignment of the course of the Wall, in accordance with internaitonal law, pointing out to the Israeli decision-makers that the seizure of lands in no way serves the cause of peace, nor  does it  bolster the position of the moderates who, in this objective, opt for non-violence.

Sources: http://en.lpj.org/2013/09/26/pope-francis-receives-message-from-beit-jala-christians/

Gaza Christian schools, “back to normal”


GAZA – Five Christian schools (including three Catholic schools) would have closed their doors for the academic year if the Hamas government followed a law banning mixed schools in the Gaza Strip. For the time being, the school year started without a problem, except for the persistent apprehension of an impending closure that has taken hold of the entire Gazan population for two months. 

In April, Hamas (in power in Gaza since 2007) intended to implement a legislation codifying the separation of sexes in schools and prohibiting a man to teach girls, as a woman with boys older than 9 years, according to Islamic law.  However, only the Christian schools (as well as those held by the UN) have mixed classes with a student population 3,500.

This is good news for Father Faysal Hijazeen, director of the Latin Patriarchate schools in Israel and Palestine, who confirms that “back to school went well.” He added that “all the students and teachers of the Christian Schools in Gaza have gone back to classes without changing any of the practices and routines of the previous years.  Fr. Hijazeen hopes that “the situation will remain as it is.” In October Father Hijazen, Father Humam Khzouz, General Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate, will meet with the Minister of Education in Gaza. To date, the Ministry of Education requested to increase the number of students and teachers, male and female.

Last April, Father Faysal said that “it will be a big problem to comply with e decision of Hamas to ban mixed schools in Gaza.  We do not have the space and we do not have the money to divide our schools. In addition to finding additional spaces, schools should in this case hire and pay more teachers and staff.”

Egypt closed its border with Gaza

With the influx of students, 983 in both Latin Patriarchate schools in Gaza for the school year 2013-2014, these young people share the fate and concern of the 1.7 million men, women and children living under an almost total blockade imposed by Israel and for two months by Egypt.

This restriction “is a horrible feeling of confinement for Gazans,” stated Fr. Hijazen, who compared this land to an “open-air prison.”  ” Egypt imposes restrictions on the Rafah crossing on the border with the Gaza Strip, open intermittently since the beginning of July. This passage is the only access to the Palestinian territory that is not controlled by Israel.  Relations between Cairo and Hamas have deteriorated since the ouster President Mohamed Morsi.  The borders with Israel are almost impossible for Palestinians to cross, there are hundreds that cannot leave or return to Gaza. This continuously and seriously affects every day life -  socially, economically and in terms of education.

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) released a report on Monday, September 23, stating that “the restrictions imposed by Egypt on the border between that country and the Gaza Strip exacerbate an already precarious humanitarian situation  … ) including increasing fuel shortages and limited access to health services available in Egypt. ”The report adds that “on the other hand, the Israeli authorities have allowed only a very limited relaxation of the draconian restrictions on crossings into Israel. The already fragile humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip has worsened,” the report stated.

Christophe Lafontaine

Source: http://en.lpj.org/2013/09/26/gaza-christian-schools-back-to-normal/

Friday, September 20, 2013

Latin Bishops of Arab Regions Continue Call for Peace

Communique from 50th Assembly

Rome, (Zenit.org)

Here is a translation of the communique from the Conference of Latin Bishops of the Arab Regions, following their 50th assembly.

* * *

In the course of its 50th Assembly, held at Rome from September 17-20, the Conference of Latin Bishops of the Arab Regions (CELRA) examined pastoral subjects regarding their respective countries, paying particular attention to the Syrian conflict. In this connection, the Bishops expressed:

1. Their gratitude to Pope Francis for his touching appeal for a universal Day of Fast and Prayer for peace in Syria, which witnessed their full participation in order to avoid the worsening of a situation, already tragic, which an eventual military intervention could effect.

2. Their solidarity with the Syrian people – regardless of their religious or political affiliation – who are suffering terribly because of an absurd war which has already caused more than 100,000 victims and millions of wounded, evacuees and refugees.

3. Their conviction that the present conflict will not be resolved with an escalation of violence and much less so by providing more arms to the two sides in conflict, but rather through dialogue and negotiation under international supervision.

This situation requires a speedy decision to put an end to a conflict that has been going on for more than two and a half years.

Added moreover:

4. Several countries of CELRA (Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq) are direct witnesses of the suffering of the victims and are committed in humanitarian assistance to the refugees, especially through their respective Caritas. The Bishops wish to thank profoundly the benefactors who have demonstrated great generosity to the refugees and the volunteers, who work in difficult conditions to help the people and to distribute medicines and food to them.

5. The Latin Bishops of the Arab Regions ask men of good will to continue to pray incessantly for the intentions of the Middle East and to make every effort to find a feasible solution to the Syrian conflict.

Source: http://www.zenit.org/en/articles/latin-bishops-of-arab-regions-continue-call-for-peace

Pope Francis Writes Imam Ahmed al-Tayyeb

Expresses Esteem and Respect for Islam and Muslims


Rome, (Zenit.org) Staff

\Pope Francis sent a message to Ahmed al-Tayyeb, the great Imam of the Islamic University al-Azhar, the main cultural institution of Sunni Islam. The news was given in a statement by the same University with headquarters in Cairo, reporting that the Pope's message expresses esteem and respect "for Islam and Muslims" and the hope that one tries to make an effort in the "understanding among Christians and Muslims in the world, to build peace and justice".

According to Fides News Agency, the personal letter from the Pope was delivered on Tuesday, September 17 to the Great Imam of Al-Azhar by the Apostolic Nuncio in Egypt, Archbishop Jean-Paul Gobel, together with the message to the Islamic world also signed by Pope Franciso for the end of Ramadan, recently issued by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.

Recently, dialogue between the Holy See and al-Azhar was interrupted by the will of the institution of Islam, which had interpreted Pope Benedict XVI’s statements on the need to protect Christians in Egypt and the Middle East as an undue Western interference. Pope Benedict expressed that need after the attack against the Coptic Cathedral in Alexandria on New Year's Eve 2011.

"Pope Francis’ letter to Imam al-Tayyeb" Fr. Hani Bakhoum, secretary of the Patriarchate of Alexandria of the Catholic Copts told Fides "is a way of expressing the deep sense of respect and affection that the Catholic Church, the Holy See and the Pope have towards all Muslims and especially of al-Azhar, which is the most representative institution of moderate Sunni Islam. Surely this letter will help over time to put aside any misunderstanding and also to resume the bilateral dialogue with the Holy See"

Source:  http://www.zenit.org/en/articles/pope-francis-writes-imam-ahmed-al-tayyeb

Friday, September 13, 2013

Challenges for Arab Christians

Some 70 high-ranking Arab church leaders, together with their Western counterparts and Muslim clerics gathered in Amman, Jordan, on Sept. 3-4 for a meeting to deal with the challenges facing Arab Christians. The Christian and Muslims leaders aimed to find a way to end the sectarian strife threatening their people and countries. “We must confront extremist trends,” Archbishop Fouad Twal, Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, told the gathering. He said it was the duty of religious leaders and their communities to work jointly “to get the new generation to accept the other,” in order to “isolate these trends.” For decades, Arab Christians have been fleeing the Holy Land and the rest of the Middle East in large numbers, mainly because of violence. Within the past two-and-a-half years, some 450,000 Christians are believed to be among the two million people who have fled the civil war in Syria, an ancient land of historic churches and the country where St. Paul encountered Christ on the road to Damascus.

Source: http://americamagazine.org/issue/challenges-arab-christians

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Administrative Committee • United States Conference of Catholic Bishops: Statement on Syria

September 10, 2013

The Administrative Committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is gathered for its September 2013 meeting in Washington, DC, just three miles away from the Capitol where Congress is debating a resolution to authorize the use of military force in Syria.  Today we prayed for our nations’ leaders and for the Church and people of Syria.  Having just participated, with our people, in the Holy Father’s Day of Prayer and Fasting for Peace in Syria, the Middle East and the world on September 7, we commit ourselves to continued prayer and action for peace in the days ahead.

As our nation contemplates military intervention, we stand in solidarity with the Church and people of Syria, and with our Holy Father, Pope Francis, and the bishops of the Middle East.  We affirm the actions and messages of our President, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, and the Chairman of our Committee on International Justice and Peace, Bishop Richard E. Pates, and now add our own collective voice to theirs in the national debate.

Chemical weapons have no place in the arsenals of the family of nations. There is no doubt that the use of chemical weapons in Syria was a heinous crime against humanity.  As Pope Francis declared: “With utmost firmness I condemn the use of chemical weapons: I tell you that those terrible images from recent days are burned into my mind and heart. There is a judgment of God and of history upon our actions which are inescapable!”

Tragically, the deaths from chemical weapons are only part of the grievous story of Syria these days.  More than 100,000 Syrians have lost their lives.  More than 2 million have fled the country as refugees.  More than 4 million within Syria have been driven from their homes by violence.  A humanitarian catastrophe is unfolding in Syria.  We call upon our nation and the international community to save lives by pressing for serious dialogue to end the conflict, by refraining from fueling further violence with military attacks or arms transfers, and by offering more humanitarian assistance.

We have heard the urgent calls of our Holy Father, Pope Francis, and our suffering brother bishops of the venerable and ancient Christian Churches of the Middle East.  As one, they beg the international community not to resort to military intervention in Syria.  They have made it clear that a military attack will be counterproductive, will exacerbate an already deadly situation, and will have unintended negative consequences.  Their concerns strongly resonate in American public opinion that questions the wisdom of intervention and in the lack of international support.

We recall a decade ago when the Holy See and the Church in the Middle East urgently warned of the “unpredictable” and “grave” consequences of a U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, concerns we shared with our government.  Although Syria is not Iraq and the resolution before Congress calls for a limited strike, not an invasion, the warnings we are hearing from the Holy See and local bishops of the region are similar; they question the probability of success of the use of military force in shortening the conflict and saving lives.  We are also aware of the heavy burden already borne by the military and their families.

For this reason, we make our own the appeal of Pope Francis: “I exhort the international community to make every effort to promote clear proposals for peace in that country without further delay, a peace based on dialogue and negotiation, for the good of the entire Syrian people. May no effort be spared in guaranteeing humanitarian assistance to those wounded by this terrible conflict, in particular those forced to flee and the many refugees in nearby countries."

The Congressional resolution acknowledges that “the conflict in Syria will only be resolved through a negotiated political settlement.”  Instead of employing armed force, our nation should work with the international community and direct all of its considerable diplomatic capabilities to initiate dialogue and negotiation. The use of force is always a last resort, and it should only be employed by legitimate authority in accordance with international norms.  The lack of international and domestic consensus in this case is deeply troubling.  Recent international proposals to secure and destroy Syria’s chemical weapons deserve serious consideration, evaluation and encouragement.

We affirm the longstanding position of our Conference of Bishops that the Syrian people urgently need a political solution.  We ask the United States to work with other governments to obtain a ceasefire, initiate serious negotiations, provide impartial humanitarian assistance, and encourage efforts to build an inclusive society in Syria that protects the rights of all its citizens, including Christians and other minorities.

As Congress struggles with the complex challenges and humanitarian catastrophe that have engulfed Syria, we offer the voice of the Universal Church and our prayers for peace.

Source: http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/global-issues/middle-east/syria/statement-on-syia-by-usccb-administrative-committee-2013-09-10.cfm

Palestinian President Meets With Archbishop of Westminster

Archbishop Nichols Says Holy Land Peace Affects Whole World

London, (Zenit.org)

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met with Archbishop Vincent Nichols today in London to discuss the urgent need for progress on the peace process and the importance of the continuing support of the Church in England and Wales for all in the Holy Land.

Abbas said that the presence of Christians in the Holy Land was vital as they are not viewed as a minority but an integral part of the Palestinian community. He  thanked the Church in this country for its work in supporting a peaceful solution, for its advocacy, for helping projects in Palestine and told of the Palestinian Authority’s collaboration with the Latin Patriarchate in Jerusalem on house building projects to enable Christians to remain in Jerusalem. He said he was encouraged by US Secretary of State John Kerry’s serious intent about the outstanding peace initiative, reiterating the importance of a negotiated peace, but warned that the continuing expansion of settlements on Palestinian land posed a major threat to progress. Of particular concern is the cutting off of East Jerusalem from the rest of Palestine, he said.

Archbishop Nichols said the work of the Holy Land Co-ordination, mandated by the Holy See, was an important sign of the Catholic Church’s concern and support for all in the Holy Land. He also drew attention to Friends of the Holy Land, the UK charity that helps and supports Palestinian Christians in a number of practical ways.

“I was pleased and honoured to meet with President Abbas and his delegation,” he said. “This gave an added dimension to our many visits and the continuing work of the Holy Land Co-ordination, which will go out again in January. Promoting a just peace for all in the Holy Land is a crucial issue which affects the whole world.”

President Abbas called for further help from the Archbishop and all Christians on the specific issue of Cremisan, where the building of the Security Wall and the illegal appropriation of Christians’ lands in Beit Jala (a suburb of Bethlehem) was affecting livelihoods and leading to accelerated emigration of Christians from the area.

Archbishop Nichols said that Christians in England and Wales would continue to pray for peace and for the people in the Holy Land, while continuing to support them in practical ways.

The Archbishop of Westminster was also accompanied by Archbishop Kelly, emeritus Archbishop of Liverpool, and representatives of Archbishop Justin Welby, the Rev Toby Howarth and Charles Reed, who expressed the concern of the Archbishop of Canterbury about the situation. The meeting followed discussions between President Abbas and John Kerry, US secretary of State, about getting the peace process back on track. Sir Vincent Fean, British Consul General to Jerusalem, represented the British government, whose leaders the Palestinian delegation will meet tomorrow.

President Abbas will be meeting with Pope Francis next month.

Source: http://www.zenit.org/en/articles/palestinian-president-meets-with-archbishop-of-westminster

Friday, September 6, 2013

Join James O'Dea, Zainab Al-Suwaij, Grandmother Flordemayo, Sister Jenna and Stephen Dinan for a unified prayer for Syria

Prayer for Syria
In support of His Holiness Pope Francis' call
for a worldwide day of fasting and prayer

Join James O'Dea, Zainab Al-Suwaij, Grandmother Flordemayo, Sister Jenna and Stephen Dinan for a unified prayer for Syria.

September 7, 2013 - 12:00 p.m. PT/3:00 p.m. ET

Register Free - http://theshiftnetwork.com/PrayerForSyria

The violence in Syria is heartbreaking as women, children and elderly alike are dying and over 2 million people are now refugees. It is time for people around the world to stand together and appeal to the leaders of all factions to seek nonviolent solutions.

His Holiness Pope Francis announced he would lead a worldwide day of fasting and prayer for peace in Syria on Sept. 7. In solidarity with His Holiness, people of all spiritual traditions are invited to join in a Prayer for Syria. Your heartfelt participation, together with people around the world, will help create a unified call for peace, leveraging our collective spiritual power.

Syria: Not a Place on the Map, But an Ensemble of People

Leader of Jesuit Refugee Services Says Military Intervention Would Be a Disaster


Rome, (Zenit.org)

A military intervention in Syria will not give the results anyone wants. Instead, everyone will be the loser, and there will be no victor.

This is the assertion of Jesuit Father Nawras Sammour, the director of the Middle East and North Africa region for Jesuit Refugee Services. The priest, a native of Aleppo, affirmed this in an interview with the charity Aid to the Church in Need.

Speaking from Damascus, Father Sammour said that military intervention would lead to "an increase in violence: a terrible escalation" that would have ramifications in the whole region.

He insisted that the Syrian crisis is too complex to be resolved with a foreign military operation, adding that no one can foresee the long term results.


Father Sammour said that in Damascus, everyone is "living in expectation" of a foreign military attack, though "life generally continues as before the threat of war."

As the citizens go about their days -- often without electricity -- there is no general consensus about whether military intervention will occur, he observed. Still, many have begun to stockpile food, and those with the possibility of fleeing the country have done so.

"Those, like me, who wish on the other hand to stay in Syria, avoid going abroad for fear of being blocked out, given the hostilities. Together with some brothers we have just cancelled a trip to Lebanon precisely for this reason,” Father Sammour explained.

The Jesuits are helping more than 17,000 Syrian families, 80% of which are Muslim.

More than territory

The Jesuit priest welcomed wholeheartedly Francis' appeal for peace and the designation of Saturday as a global Day of Fasting and Prayer.

"Now more than ever we are in need of prayer,” he said.

"Pope Francis’ language included anyone who supports the values of peace and integration and, fortunately, many Syrians love and respect their fellow citizens, of whatever creed or social level, regardless of the information spread by the media that lead one to believe the opposite,” the priest stated.

Father Sammour lamented that the media is "always hunting for extremists," but that the "silent majority" of the nation has a desire for unity.

While waiting to see what will happen in the next few days, Father Sammour asked the international community to look at his country with less superficiality: "Syria isn’t a map on Google earth. It’s not a territory to invade or liberate. It’s not merely a place but a wonderful mosaic. Syria is first of all an ensemble of people: the Syrians. And I hope that this will finally be taken into consideration.”

Source: http://www.zenit.org/en/articles/syria-not-a-place-on-the-map-but-an-ensemble-of-people

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Jesuit Superior Calls Possible Attack on Syria "A Terrible Mistake"

Says Military Intervention Would Hurt Syrians, an Abuse of Power


Vatican City, (Zenit.org) Junno Arocho Esteves


Father Adolfo Nicolas, superior-general of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), had strong words for the US and France, who are currently weighing their options to attack Syria in response to a chemical weapons attack allegedly carried out by Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.

Fr. Nicolas called such actions “an abuse of power”, questioning the authority that the two countries had to inflict a punishment that would ultimately hurt more innocent victims. The Jesuit General’s remarks come on the heels of Pope Francis’ announcement of a day of prayer and fasting for the people of Syria this Saturday.
In the interview conducted by John Pontifex of the Independent Catholic News, Fr. Nicolas said that while it is not customary for him to comment on political and international conflicts, he could not keep silent in front of the situation in Syria.

“I have to confess that I cannot understand who gave the United States or France the right to act against a Country in a way that will certainly increase the suffering of the citizens of that country, who, by the way, have already suffered beyond measure,” Fr. Nicolas stated. “Violence and violent action, like what is being planned, have to always be the last resort and administered in such a way that only the guilty are affected.” The Jesuit General also stated that the Jesuits are behind the Pope “100%” in his call to the end of armed conflict in Syria.

Abuse of Power

When asked regarding the responsibility of the international community to punish those who use chemical weapons against their own people, Fr. Nicolas said that it is true, in the current circumstances, there are three components missing to justify the US and France’s course of action.

The Jesuit General stated that an attack from the United States, in itself, is an abuse of power. “The US has to stop acting and reacting like the big boy of the neighborhood of the world. This leads inevitably to abuse, harassment and bullying of the weaker members of the community,” Fr. Nicolas said.

The second problem with the current situation is that the investigation into the use of chemical weapons should be made clear to the whole world. “It is not enough that some members of the punishing Government make a statement of conviction,” he said. “They have to convince the world, so that the world can trust in them. This confidence does not happen today, and many have already started speculation about the ulterior motives that the USA may have in the projected intervention.”

Thirdly, once the use of chemical weapons is confirmed, a course of action should be taken that would only serve to punish the those who committed the crime. Fr. Nicolas said that the US and France’s current strategy will instead inflict more punishment on the Syrian population, which has suffered for over 2 years. “It is very worrying that in the name of justice we plan an attack that will increase the suffering of the victims.”

Concluding his interview, Fr. Nicolas stated that he has no prejudice against the United States or France but vehemently disagrees with their current strategy, saying that they are the brink of making “a terrible mistake.”
“That two such Countries would come together for such an outrageous measure is part of the world´s anger,” he said. “We are not afraid of the attack; we are afraid of the barbarism to which we are being lead.”

Source: http://www.zenit.org/en/articles/jesuit-superior-calls-possible-attack-on-syria-a-terrible-mistake

On Syria, the limits of reason demand a day of prayer

By Drew Christiansen, S.J.


With no end in sight for Syria’s dreadful civil war, Pope Francis has called for a day of prayer and fasting for peace on Saturday, September 7. With the fecklessness of the international community, and with no prospect that limited military intervention will bring relief to the victims of war, we should be driven to our knees. It is a moment for the church to pray for God to grant peace where men have failed to dampen the fires of war and see no prospect of doing so soon.

The turn to prayer at a juncture like this is not just a Catholic thing. It is a profound human need which others can share, because humanity is face to face with its own powerlessness to prevent the cruelest evils from being done. For that reason, the pope has made his request “a universal invitation” to all men and women “of peace.” In doing so, he is giving voice to humanity’s desire for peace. He is also inviting us to come to grips with our inability to bring about peace and to voice our exasperation at the intransigence of so many now blocking the way to peace.

Prayer and fasting may be especially important exercises for us can-do Americans.  The debate over whether to briefly intervene in the Syrian conflict offers an occasion to reflect on the human and national limitations that most times we are so ready to ignore or deny. After a wrong-headed war in Iraq and that country’s ongoing travails, after the very limited and probably temporary successes in Afghanistan, after so many veterans wounded in mind and heart, with the continuing chaos and repression in Egypt, we Americans have many reasons to reflect on our human limitations and particularly on the evident incapacity of military power and governmental influence to bring about the good we desire.

For all Christians, including Catholics, Saturday will also be a time to lament the impending threat of the disappearance of Middle Eastern Christianity. Syria was the last great refuge of Christians in the region. Its secular Baathist regimes allowed a religious pluralism that respected the numerous, ancient Christian churches that found their home in Syria. In addition, successive waves of Palestinian and Iraqi Christians took refuge in Syria. The Syrian sanctuary is no more, and with the Copts under tremendous pressures in Egypt, Middle Eastern Christianity is in dire peril.

For American Christians, and Americans generally, Saturday should be an occasion to search our consciences as to whether we have done enough to show solidarity with Middle East Christians. For whether in Iraq or Lebanon or Syria, time after time American foreign policy has been a disaster for the region’s Christians. If we were truly interested in international religious liberty, we would have long ago adopted a policy more attuned to the realities of the region. We would have worked to preserve the fragile accommodations that allowed religious diversity to flourish there.  Now we can mostly look to a sad future for Middle East Christians as refugees and asylum-seekers. We should be sorely pained as well because granting asylum is something our nation has been loath to do, admitting only small numbers of refugees from the Middle East in the last ten years.

Fasting is another cross-cultural practice that can be embraced both by Catholics and people of good will in times of crisis. Fasting helps us better attune ourselves to the depths of our existence. It is a suitable expression of the emptiness we experience when we cannot make things right, and a way to express solidarity with the injured and impoverished victims of this war. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, even Congress and presidents called for national days of fasting. The Second Continental Congress and George Washington as commander in chief of the Continental Army called for days of days of ”humiliation, fasting and prayer.” So did President John Adams in 1798.

In the midst of our own Civil War, President Lincoln declared “a national day of prayer and humiliation” for March 30, 1863 “to the needful end of our reformation as a whole people.” He explained the need of spiritual purification. “Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace to pray to the God who made us!” Mr. Lincoln understood there was a place for fasting in civic life too.

It is no surprise that these proclamations were issued in times of war. For war puts us in extremis, but it also clouds the mind and puts the heart in turmoil corrupting our ability to perform truly human acts. Our American forebears understood that fasting cleanses the mind for sober deliberation and purifies the heart for disinterested and generous action. For these reasons, fasting is just the kind of thing we need to do as we approach a national debate on a limited intervention in Syria. The gods of military force, political rationality and human organization have failed us.  Fasting has the power to free us from passions of politics and open us up to fresh visions of peace.

But we can achieve that clarity of mind and purity of heart only if we have first consciously experienced the insufficiency of political reason to resolve our problems, the inability of military power to produce a positive outcome and the incapacity of the world community to agree on a solution to so evident a problem. The essence of the day of prayer and fasting, as the American founders understood, is “humility and humiliation.” We must acknowledge our finitude and that of our institutions, and welcome our exhaustion and exasperation as preludes to renewal. Only then can we find sure hope for God’s promise of peace.

Father Christiansen, a longtime adviser to the U.S. bishops on Mideast affairs and the former editor of Americathe Jesuit weekly, is a visiting scholar this year at Boston College.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Francis Reiterates Appeal for Peace in Syria

Says Saturday's Prayer and Fast Will Also Be for Peace in the Heart

Vatican City, (Zenit.org)

Francis today reiterated his call to prayer and fasting this Saturday, affirming the appeal he made Sunday during his weekly Angelus address.

At the end of today's general audience -- the first general audience after the summer break -- the Holy Father invited everyone to participate in Saturday evening's vigil, with fasting and prayer, "for peace in Syria, in the Middle East, and in the whole world."

"Also for peace in our hearts, because peace begins in the heart," he said.

He asked the whole Church to live the day "intensely." And he expressed his gratitude for other Christians, to those of other religions, and all those of good will "who wish to join us, in the places and ways proper to them."

Francis called on his own flock, the faithful and pilgrims of Rome, to come to St. Peter's Square at 7 pm, "to invoke from the Lord the great gift of peace."

He concluded, "May the cry for peace be raised strongly throughout the earth!"

Francis to Arabic-Speaking Pilgrims: Faith Can Make World More Just

Encourages Them to Be Example of God's Mercy


Vatican City, (Zenit.org)

Pope Francis today encouraged Arabic-speaking faithful, especially from Iraq, Jordan and Egypt, to always be united with Christ, adding that faith can make the world more just and beautiful.

The Holy Father said this at the end of today's general audience, during his greetings to pilgrims of various language groups. The Wednesday general audiences began again today after a summer break. As has been his custom, Francis greets the language groups in Italian or Spanish, and a speaker translated his words.
For the Arabic-speakers, Francis had a message of encouragement.

"Be always united with Christ, building his Kingdom with fraternity, sharing and merciful works," he said.
"Faith is a potent force capable of making the world a more just and beautiful place," he added. "Be an example of God's mercy and demonstrate to the world that trials and tribulations, difficulties, violence and evil can never defeat he who has vanquished death: Jesus Christ."

Last week, Francis was visited by Jordan's king and queen. A Vatican statement noted that King Abdullah was commended for his commitment in the field of interreligious dialogue, including a conference that he called in Amman focused on the challenges Christians face in the Middle East. The conference ended today.
Francis and other Vatican officials have also continued to call for an end to the violence in Egypt. The prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, told Vatican Radio last week that "the destruction of Christian churches is unacceptable." In a series of attacks in mid-August, more than 50 churches and other Church centers were attacked and burned in Egypt.



Tuesday, September 3, 2013

US Bishops' Statement on Day of Prayer for Peace in Syria

"May our prayers, fasting, and advocacy move our nation to promote a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Syria"

Washington, D.C., (Zenit.org

Here is a statement from Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York and president of the US episcopal conference, and Bishop Richard Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace.

The statement released today calls on US Catholics to participate in the Day of Fasting and Prayer for Peace in Syria, which Pope Francis proclaimed for this Saturday.

* * *

Pope Francis has called for a Day of Fasting and Prayer for Peace in Syria, the Middle East, and the world to be held on September 7, 2013, the vigil of the birth of Mary, Queen of Peace. The Holy Father reminds us that "peace is a precious gift, which must be promoted and protected" and that "all men and women of good will are bound by the task of pursuing peace."

We are anguished by the terrible suffering of the Syrian people and again affirm the need for dialogue and negotiation to resolve this conflict that has wrought so much devastation. The use of chemical weapons is particularly abhorrent and we urgently pray for the victims of such atrocities and for their loved ones.  And we applaud the work done by those bringing humanitarian aid to people affected by this crisis and pray for their efforts to ease the suffering of our brothers and sisters.

As our nation's leaders contemplate military action, it is particularly appropriate and urgent that we in the United States embrace the Holy Father's call to pray and fast on September 7 for a peaceful end to the conflict in Syria and to violent conflicts everywhere. Pope Francis has exhorted "the international community to make every effort to promote clear proposals for peace, …a peace based on dialogue and negotiation, for the good of the entire Syrian people."

Last Friday, our Conference of Bishops reaffirmed an earlier message of the Holy Father "that the path of dialogue and negotiation between all components of Syrian society, with the support of the international community, is the only option to put an end to the conflict."  We urged "the United States to work with other governments to obtain a ceasefire, initiate serious negotiations, provide impartial and neutral humanitarian assistance, and encourage building an inclusive society in Syria that protects the rights of all its citizens, including Christians and other minorities."

We ask all U.S. Catholics and people of goodwill to join us in witnessing to the hope we have in our hearts for peace for the Syrian people. May our prayers, fasting, and advocacy move our nation to promote a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Syria.  And may Mary, Queen of Peace, pray for us and the people of Syria.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
Bishop Richard E. Pates
Chairman, Committee on International Justice and Peace
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

 Source: http://www.zenit.org/en/articles/us-bishops-statement-on-day-of-prayer-for-peace-in-syria

Monday, September 2, 2013

Francis Rallying Support for Peace

In Addition to Sept. 7 Day of Fasting and Prayer, Using Twitter to Discourage War


Rome, (Zenit.org)

US President Barack Obama is busy trying to convince Congress and US citizens that military intervention in Syria is necessary to maintain American credibility and punish the Assad regime for reportedly using chemical weapons to attack its citizens Aug. 21.

Pope Francis, however, is busy pleading for peace. Three tweets were sent from his @Pontifex account today, each urging peace.

"How much suffering, how much devastation, how much pain has the use of arms carried in its wake," says the most recent tweet.

Another, three hours earlier, said, "We want a peaceful world, we want to be men and women of peace."
Some hours before that, the tweet from @Pontifex was, "War never again! Never again war!"

And Sunday, he tweeted, "Let us pray for peace: peace in the world and in each of our hearts."

"Gather to pray"

Also on Sunday, the Holy Father declared a day of prayer and fasting for peace, to be held this Saturday, Sept. 7.

He made the appeal in his weekly Angelus address.

“There are so many conflicts in this world which cause me great suffering and worry, but in these days my heart is deeply wounded in particular by what is happening in Syria and anguished by the dramatic developments which are looming," the Pope said during his address in St. Peter's Square.

“I appeal strongly for peace, an appeal which arises from the deep within me. How much suffering, how much devastation, how much pain has the use of arms carried in its wake in that martyred country, especially among civilians and the unarmed! I think of many children who will not see the light of the future! With utmost firmness I condemn the use of chemical weapons: I tell you that those terrible images from recent days are burned into my mind and heart. There is a judgement of God and of history upon our actions which is inescapable! Never has the use of violence brought peace in its wake. War begets war, violence begets violence."

Francis announced that Saturday in St. Peter's Square, from 7 pm till midnight, "we will gather in prayer and in a spirit of penance, invoking God’s great gift of peace upon the beloved nation of Syria and upon each situation of conflict and violence around the world. Humanity needs to see these gestures of peace and to hear words of hope and peace! I ask all the local churches, in addition to fasting, that they gather to pray for this intention."

Joining in

The Fides agency reported that the Grand Mufti of Syria, Ahmad Badreddin Hassou, the spiritual leader of Sunni Islam in Syria, expressed his desire to join the Pope in this prayer.

The news agency reported that "an exploratory request to that effect was sent by the Islamic leader to the Apostolic Nuncio in Damascus, His Excellency Monsignor Mario Zenari, and in coming days the feasibility of this desire will be evaluated on both sides."

Fides also reported that several Christian leaders in the Middle East affirmed that the Pope's appeal found its way into "everyone's hearts."

"The Christian communities in Syria, the Middle East and in the diaspora are happy and ready to join in fasting and prayer."

Source: http://www.zenit.org/en/articles/francis-rallying-support-for-peace

Sunday, September 1, 2013

ASIA/SYRIA - Archbishop Matta Roham : "It is easy to launch air strikes, difficult to stop the consequences"

Hassaké (Agenzia Fides ) -2013-08-30

"It is easy to pave the way for air strikes on Syria, but it is difficult to end the war and the consequences of these attacks throughout the Middle East": is the comment, entrusted to Fides Agency by Eustathius Matta Roham, Syro-Orthodox Metropolitan Archbishop of "Jazirah and Euphrates", worried and saddened by the situation that the country is experiencing . "Everywhere, in Syria and outside Syria , the faithful are praying to ward off an attack by foreign countries against Syria and in order to build peace in the whole region. We all pray that our Lord Jesus Christ enlightens the minds of the people in power, so that they act according to justice and peace, for the sake of human beings".

The Archbishop informs Fides Agency on the situation in the governorate of Hassake, in eastern Syria, bordering Turkey and Iraq. "Flights at the civil airport of Kamichly, as well as in all other Syrian airports are blocked. Even ground transportation from Kamichly to all other Syrian cities and to Lebanon are blocked. The population, already suffering for the conflict, fears a worsening of the situation", with further consequences of hunger and misery.

Another Syrian Catholic Bishop, who requested anonymity, explains to Fides Agency: "Today it is impossible to imagine the future of this country, once a peaceful land and home for all refugees of the Middle East. The most dramatic thing has been the absence of any form of dialogue in the last three years, while anguish and despair inhabit these people".

"This conflict - continues the Bishop - has turned Syria into a battlefield, destroying the world of work, the innocence of childhood, the peace of families, as well as infrastructure, schools, places of worship, houses and hospitals". "It is a cruel tragedy - he concludes - a small nation carries such a heavy cross, in silence". (PA) (Agenzia Fides 30/08/2013)

Source: http://www.fides.org/en/news/34195-ASIA_SYRIA_Archbishop_Matta_Roham_It_is_easy_to_launch_air_strikes_difficult_to_stop_the_consequences#.UiPdQz_NmSF

On the Plea for Peace

"I have decided to proclaim for the whole Church on 7 Sept. next, the vigil of the birth of Mary, Queen of Peace, a day of fasting and prayer for peace in Syria, the Middle East, and throughout the world"


Vatican City, (Zenit.org


Here is a Vatican translation of the Pope's address this morning, given before and after praying the midday Angelus with the faithful gathered in St. Peter's Square.

* * *
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Hello!

Today, dear brothers and sisters, I wish to add my voice to the cry which rises up with increasing anguish from every part of the world, from every people, from the heart of each person, from the one great family which is humanity: it is the cry for peace! It is a cry which declares with force: we want a peaceful world, we want to be men and women of peace, and we want in our society, torn apart by divisions and conflict, that peace break out! War never again! Never again war! Peace is a precious gift, which must be promoted and protected.

There are so many conflicts in this world which cause me great suffering and worry, but in these days my heart is deeply wounded in particular by what is happening in Syria and anguished by the dramatic developments which are looming.

I appeal strongly for peace, an appeal which arises from deep within me. How much suffering, how much devastation, how much pain has the use of arms carried in its wake in that martyred country, especially among civilians and the unarmed! I think of many children who will not see the light of the future! With utmost firmness I condemn the use of chemical weapons: I tell you that those terrible images from recent days are burned into my mind and heart. There is a judgment of God and of history upon our actions which are inescapable! Never has the use of violence brought peace in its wake. War begets war, violence begets violence.

With all my strength, I ask each party in this conflict to listen to the voice of their own conscience, not to close themselves in solely on their own interests, but rather to look at each other as brothers and decisively and courageously to follow the path of encounter and negotiation, and so overcome blind conflict. With similar vigour I exhort the international community to make every effort to promote clear proposals for peace in that country without further delay, a peace based on dialogue and negotiation, for the good of the entire Syrian people.

May no effort be spared in guaranteeing humanitarian assistance to those wounded by this terrible conflict, in particular those forced to flee and the many refugees in nearby countries. May humanitarian workers, charged with the task of alleviating the sufferings of these people, be granted access so as to provide the necessary aid.

What can we do to make peace in the world? As Pope John said, it pertains to each individual to establish new relationships in human society under the mastery and guidance of justice and love (cf. John XXIII, Pacem in Terris, [11 April 1963]: AAS 55, [1963], 301-302).

All men and women of good will are bound by the task of pursuing peace. I make a forceful and urgent call to the entire Catholic Church, and also to every Christian of other confessions, as well as to followers of every religion and to those brothers and sisters who do not believe: peace is a good which overcomes every barrier, because it belongs all of humanity!

I repeat forcefully: it is neither a culture of confrontation nor a culture of conflict which builds harmony within and between peoples, but rather a culture of encounter and a culture of dialogue; this is the only way to peace.

May the plea for peace rise up and touch the heart of everyone so that they may lay down their weapons and let themselves be led by the desire for peace.

To this end, brothers and sisters, I have decided to proclaim for the whole Church on 7 September next, the vigil of the birth of Mary, Queen of Peace, a day of fasting and prayer for peace in Syria, the Middle East, and throughout the world, and I also invite each person, including our fellow Christians, followers of other religions and all men of good will, to participate, in whatever way they can, in this initiative.

On 7 September, in Saint Peter’s Square, here, from 19:00 until 24:00, we will gather in prayer and in a spirit of penance, invoking God’s great gift of peace upon the beloved nation of Syria and upon each situation of conflict and violence around the world. Humanity needs to see these gestures of peace and to hear words of hope and peace! I ask all the local churches, in addition to fasting, that they gather to pray for this intention.

Let us ask Mary to help us to respond to violence, to conflict and to war, with the power of dialogue, reconciliation and love. She is our mother: may she help us to find peace; all of us are her children! Help us, Mary, to overcome this most difficult moment and to dedicate ourselves each day to building in every situation an authentic culture of encounter and peace. Mary, Queen of Peace, pray for us!

Source: http://www.zenit.org/en/articles/on-the-plea-for-peace