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, February 28, 2014

Jews, Muslims, Catholics of Argentina Complete Journey to Holy Land With Vatican Stop

Delegation That Visits Pope: We Are Showing Religions Can Co-exist
By H. Sergio Mora

ROME, February 28, 2014 (Zenit.org) - An interreligious delegation from Argentina, made up of 15 Catholics, 15 Jews and 15 Muslims who had traveled to Jordan, Israel and Palestine, was received by Pope Francis today in the Vatican. The group is headed by Rabbi Daniel Goldman, Father Guillermo Marco, and Omar Abboud.

“The people of the area saw it as an unheard of experience and something positive. We did not come to ask for respect for peace in the Middle East, but to show that coexistence is possible,” Julio Schlosser, president of the Delegation of Argentine Jewish Associations (DAIA), told ZENIT.

A communique of the Vatican Press Office stated that the meeting was characterized by great cordiality and lasted approximately one hour. Also attending the meeting was Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Commission for Relations with Jews, and Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious dialogue.

During the inter-confessional trip that ended in Rome “we met with the Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority, Rami Hamdallah,” said DAIA’s president. After the meeting with the Palestinian Prime Minister, trees of the Keren Kayemet LeIsrael (Jewish National Fund) were planted.

“Then some went with the Israeli President, Shimon Peres, and another delegation in which I was present went to Israel’s Parliament and spoke with a deputy,” continued Schlosser.

In Jordan, the delegation had the opportunity to see the Petra archaeological enclave. The delegation arrived in Rome yesterday, after being in the three countries that the Holy Father will visit during his apostolic journey in May.

Schlosser added that the delegation is contributing to “understanding between persons” and “showing that in our country religions can coexist and work together in peace.”

The program in Rome included “a meeting with <Argentine> Ambassador Juan Pablo Cafiero, to talk because there are always things that can be worked on,” he said.

Asked if this project was born when the future Pope was cardinal archbishop of Buenos Aires, DAIA’s president said yes, adding that “Father Guillermo Marco, Rabbi Daniel Goldman and Omar Abboud of the Islamic Center of the Argentine Republic, have been working for years on this, which is the inter-confessional dialogue, with the collaboration and contribution of the Latin American Jewish Congress. “We are trying to show the world that coexistence exists in Argentina, and more than that, because joint activities are held with great cordiality among all the Creeds.”

He concluded saying that “these days we have lived have been full of a total camaraderie. And in the climate that reigned we all seemed like young friends working together.”

Can the Pope Bring Hope to the Holy Land?

Father Rifaat Bader, an Organizer of Francis May Visit, on Expectations and Context


Rome, (Zenit.org) Robert Cheaib

Pope Francis will visit the Holy Land from May 24-26 of this year, on the occasion of the 50thanniversary of Pope Paul VI’s historic visit. The visit will take place in a complicated geo-political context, given the Syrian crisis, which is entering its third year, bringing with it heavy repercussions on the neighboring countries, especially in regard the question of security and refugees.

Father Rifaat Bader, one of the organizers of the papal visit, spoke with ZENIT about the situation of the refugees in Jordan and the atmosphere preceding the Pope’s visit.

Father Bader, a Jordanian priest of the Latin Patriarchate, is the director and founder of the Abouna site and director of the Center of Catholic Studies and Information in Jordan.

ZENIT: What is the estimated number of Syrian refugees in Jordan?

Father Bader: The number of refugees in Jordan is close to one million. There are three camps, the most important of which is A-Za’tari. There are about 250,000 refugees present in the camp, while the others are scattered in several countries.

ZENIT: How do these refugees receive what is necessary for their survival? Do they have the right to work in Jordan?

Father Bader: Whoever is registered as a refugee can’t work. The same problem was lived and is still being lived by Iraqi refugees, whose number is close to half a million.

ZENIT: How do they live then?

Father Bader: The charitable organizations offer a great contribution, together with the work carried out by the United Nations. Caritas offers a great service. Every day some 100,000 refugees receive help without distinction of religion or race. The Christian charitable work isn’t exclusivist. And here I would like to stress a question of crucial importance: charitable work must not be a cover for proselytism. I say it because, unfortunately, there are realities that offer humanitarian services to then propose a proselytizing agenda. This is an error of timing because it catches man in a moment of great fragility and takes advantage of his hunger and thirst to manipulate his religious sensibility. It’s a lack of respect of the dignity of the human person.

ZENIT: How many Christians are there among these refugees?

Father Bader: There is talk of some 17,000 Syrian Christian refugees in Jordan. They all came after the Syrian crisis. Their motives for coming to Jordan are diverse. Many of them come to us only temporarily, while waiting to receive visas to immigrate in the West. This phenomenon is a motive of great grief for them, because they live two difficult exoduses, but also for the Middle East in general, because it is being emptied of its Christian children.

ZENIT: In this context, what is the importance of the Pope’s visit?

Father Bader: The timing of the Pope’s visit was dictated by the 50thanniversary of Paul VI’s historic visit. We are preparing a book for the occasion which comments on that visit, presenting the historical picture of the Holy See’s relations with Jordan, on one hand, and with Palestine on the other. The book will contain notable contributions, among them that of Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas, of Jordanian King Abdullah II, and a special word from Cardinal Paul Poupard, who has communicated to us his personal experience of Pope Paul VI’s trip.

Pope Francis is coming to commemorate that visit and to foster diplomatic relations with three States. He will go by helicopter from Jordan to Bethlehem in support of the Palestinian State. There are few Heads of State who recognize the independent status of Palestine. With this visit, the Pope will express the position of the Holy See, which recognizes Palestine and supports it.

As Jordanians we are extremely happy with this visit, although we would have liked a longer stay of the Holy Father.

ZENIT: What will be the motto of the visit?

Father Bader: The visit will be a cry of peace. We have been asked to put forward our proposals for the logo and the motto. I think it will be “Joy and Hope.” The motto of Pope Benedict’s visit to Lebanon was: “I Give You My Peace,” and that of his visit to the Holy Land was: “Blessed are the peacemakers.” This time, also to commemorate <the Pastoral Constitution> Gaudium et Spes, we have proposed: “Joy and Hope.”

ZENIT: The interlocutor of the desire for peace is not a State now. Rather, we find ourselves before a destructive and closed ideology. What (human) hope can the Pope’s visit awaken?

Father Bader: You are absolutely right. We don’t have a real interlocutor. There are so many leaders and even more ideologies. However, I don’t see the present war as a war against Christians; it is, rather, a war of terrorism in the same way against Christians and Muslims. And precisely here is the occasion for us, as Arab Christians, to show our support for dialogue and friendship between Muslims and Christians. We must be one single source against terrorism and fundamentalism, against the forced insertion of religion in political battles.

Here I am pressed to affirm that the declaration of a Jewish religious nation is not an opportune step. The only State of a religious nature and of a totally peaceful character is Vatican City. If there should be religious nations -- and it’s something we don’t wish for -- they must be of a similar peaceful nature. The genesis of a Jewish religious State will give an alibi to the Islamists to form Islamic religious States, which will make everything all the more complicated. We hope, rather, for democratic States constituted on the right of citizenship and on equality in rights and duties.

Two days ago Palestine decided to eliminate the box of religious confession from identity cards. I think this is a great step forward. We must not deal with people according to their religious creed but as human persons. Our hope is that the Pope’s visit will be a contribution in the direction of equality and peaceful coexistence.

[Translation by ZENIT]

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Official website for Pope Francis' pilgrimage to the Holy Land


Pope Francis will be in the Holy Land May 24-26 this year. The official website regarding his pilgrimage has just been launched by the Media Committee created by the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries, bishops from various Catholic rites.

The Media Committee is responsible for putting into place the infrastructure necessary to welcome journalists from all over the world covering the Papal Visit in the Holy Land (Israel/Palestine). Additionally the Committee, prior to the visit, is charged with providing material and information to journalists to help them with their work. The general public may also find this service useful.

For this purpose, the Committee launched the official website on February 27; this website will be kept current on a daily basis.

The website is in seven languages: Arabic, English, French, Hebrew, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish.

The website, targeting journalists who might not be entirely familiar with the Christian world, aims to explain what will go on before and during the pilgrimage and communicate the Pope's intentions and the significance behind his words and actions. Also the website will present the realities of the Church and Christians of the Holy Land.

Here is the web address: http://popefrancisholyland2014.lpj.org/

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Al-Aqsa: Christian solidarity


Jerusalem - Feb. 26, 2014. A group made up of representatives form Christian churches in Jerusalem came to the Esplanade of Mosques this morning to protest against the Knesset proposal to remove Jordan and the Hachemite family as custodians of high holy Islamic sites and putting Israel in charge.

Tensions are being felt on the international level as well as the local level following negotiations of the Knesset, Israel's parliament, that envision abolishing Jordanian custody of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and replacing it with Israeli custody. Such a change of mandate over the holy places of Jerusalem threatens the established equilibrium and incites violence. The ongoing negotiations of the peace process are also vulnerable.

The delegation appearing at the Al-Aqsa Mosque this morning was composed of HE Monsignor William Shomali, Patriarchal Vicar of Jerusalem, and HE Mounib Younan, Head of the Lutheran Church of the Holy Land, as well as several priests and seminarians. They expressed their rejection of this possible change of the status quo. The delegation was welcomed by Cheick Azzam Al-Khatib, Director of the Waqf in Jerusalem, as well as by Cheick Abdel Azim Salhab, head of High Council of Awqaf in Jerusalem.

Christian leaders think that such a decision, if taken, would threaten to put an end to the peace process and the ongoing negotiations. The decision could also undermine the peace agreement that Israel has signed with the Jordan. The Jordanian Parliament has indeed voted, by a decision that might be described as historic because of its novelty, for the expulsion of the Israeli Ambassador in Amman.

Firas Abedrabbo

Translation to English by Al-Bushra

Al-Aqsa : solidarité des Chrétiens


JERUSALEM – 26 février 2014. Un groupe composé de quelques représentants des Eglises chrétiennes de Jérusalem s’est rendu sur l’esplanade des Mosquées ce matin pour protester contre le projet de la Knesset de remplacer par un mandat israélien, le mandat de la Jordanie et de la famille Hachémite sur ce haut lieux de l’Islam.

Suite aux négociations de la Knesset, Parlement israélien, en vue de la suppression du mandat jordanien sur la Mosquée de Al-Aqsa et son remplacement par un mandat israélien, des tensions se sont faites sentir aussi bien au niveau local qu’international. Un tel changement de mandat sur les lieux saints à Jérusalem, menace en effet l’équilibre établi et incite à la violence. Les négociations du processus de paix s’en trouvent aussi fragilisées.

La délégation qui s’est rendu ce matin à la mosquée Al-Aqsa était composée de SE monseigneur William Shomali, Vicaire Patriarcal Latin à Jérusalem, et de SE Mounib Younan, à la tête de l’Eglise Luthérienne en Terre Sainte, ainsi que de quelques prêtres et séminaristes. Ces derniers ont fait part de leur refus face à cet éventuel changement dans le Statu Quo. La délégation fut accueillie par le Cheick Azzam Al-Khatib, directeur des Waqfs à Jérusalem, ainsi que par le Cheick Abdel Azim Salhab, Chef du Haut Conseil des Waqfs à Jérusalem.

Les responsables chrétiens pensent qu’une telle décision, si elle est prise, menacerait de mettre fin au processus de paix et aux négociations en cours. La décision pourrait aussi ébranler l’accord de paix qu’Israël a signé avec la Jordanie. Le Parlement jordanien vient en effet de voter, par une décision que l’on peut qualifier d’historique de par son caractère inédit, l’expulsion de l’Ambassadeur Israélien à Amman.

Firas Abedrabbo

Patriarch’s Pastoral Visit in Ramallah

Ramallah IMG_0093-300x200 

RAMALLAH – On Sunday, February 23, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem went to Ramallah for a two-days pastoral visit to the parish of the Holy Family.

Having arrived in Ramallah for a pastoral visit, His Beatitude Patriarch Fouad Twal was greeted by several city dignitaries, the parish priest, Father Raed Abu-Sahlieh and his Vicar, Father Farah Bader, as well as communities of the Sisters of the Rosary and the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Apparition, the Mayor of the City, Mr. Moussa Hadid and his deputy, Mr. Kamal Deebes. Representatives of the Parish Council, various parish groups and scout movement were also present.

Upon his arrival, the Patriarch proceeded to the Church sacristy to prepare for the celebration of the Eucharist. Father Raed welcomed the Patriarch, stressing the importance of such a meeting not only the shepherd with his flock, but the flock with its shepherd. An opportunity for the faithful to share with him their ideas, concerns and expectations. Fr. Raed also exhorted the parishioners to further adopt the true spirit of “family” in parish life, recalling that the Church itself is a big family.

At the outset of his homily, the Patriarch said that the visit was part of a series of pastoral visits he performs to take a closer look at new parishes of the Diocese in Palestine, Galilee and Jordan. He also stressed that such a visit is an opportunity for him to encourage and support the various activities of the parish while listening to the difficulties and obstacles it experiences.

Later in his homily, the Patriarch spoke about the difficult situations of the region at this time, especially the flow of Syrian migrants into Jordan and Asian migrants into Israel. These new realities, according to the Latin Patriarch, put new responsibilities on the shoulders of the Church and its institutions. He therefore encouraged the faithful to unite their voices with the whole Church in asking God for peace in this country and around the world.

He then called the Christians of the Holy Land to remain attached to their country and their land, and to reject any idea of ​​emigration, claiming that our presence in this land impels us to be more faithful witnesses to the message of Jesus Christ, built on peace and love.

The songs of the Mass were inspired by the Choir of the Holy Family led by Sister Victoire Marjieh, Sisters of the Rosary. During the Mass, the scouts of the Holy Family were able to renew their promises at the hands of the Patriarch. His Beatitude also performed the blessing of the new logo of the Legion of Mary.

After the Mass, a meeting was scheduled between the Patriarch and the Mayor of Ramallah, Moussa Hadid, to discuss the current situation of the city. A meeting with the pastors of other churches represented in the city was also organized as well as a visit with all the parishioners and the various parish groups.

The pastoral visit of His Beatitude to Ramallah included a visit to the sick and the elderly. He also visited the National College – a part of the Latin Patriarchate schools – and the school of the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Apparition.

Source: www.abouna.org Imad Freij.


Ecumenical openness in Jerusalem


JERUSALEM – Bishop William Shomali, Latin Patriarchal Vicar in Jerusalem, preached to Anglican pastors at a spiritual retreat on February 19 and 20 at the Cathedral of St. George in Jerusalem.

The Anglican Archbishop of Jerusalem Suheil Dawani last week invited Bishop William Shomali to speak to the Anglican clergymen of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem during a spiritual retreat on the theme of “Covenant in Sacred Scripture and in the lives of pastors

Thirty pastors of the Anglican Church participated. Six Jordanian pastors, however, were unable to attend, due to a failure to receive an Israeli entry permit into the Holy Land.
The retreat was the occasion for a concrete and positive ecumenical gathering, which took place in an atmosphere of openness and mutual listening. It also promised to promote mutual understanding between the Anglican and Catholic Churches.

Bishop Shomali, while he discussed several topics, focused on four major points: Lectio Divina, the Homily and its importance in the life of the pastor and his parish, Providence, and the Virtue of Faith.
This was the second time that the Archbishop Suheil Dawani invited a member of the Catholic clergy to preach a retreat to the pastors of the Anglican Church. Father Rafiq Khoury, Director for the Center of Catechetical Studies in the diocese of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, had notably been invited formerly.

Firas Abedrabbo

Friday, February 21, 2014

Catholic Bishops in the Holy Land: "Keep the oases of prayer open in Tel Aviv"


PRESS RELEASE - Leaders of the Catholic Church in the Holy Land published yesterday, 20 February 2014, a declaration asking the Municipality of Tel-Aviv to cease its campaign against places of worship of migrant communities in South Tel-Aviv.

Keep the places of prayer open in Tel-Aviv!

We, the ordinaries of the Catholic Church in the Holy Land, have heard the cry of the faithful--Christians, Orthodox, Protestants, and Evangelicals--who are migrant workers and asylum seekers in the city of Tel-Aviv. They are also our brothers and sisters.

We have learned over the course of the past weeks that the Municipality of Tel-Aviv has shut down numerous places of worship in the suburb South Tel-Aviv. In certain cases, furniture has been confiscated.

Migrants gathered what little they had to establish Christian communities and places of prayer in apartments, shops, cellars, and shelters. They transformed these places into oases of prayer and solidarity where they could gather and be consoled by the Almighty and console each other since they are facing poverty and destitution, exile, and loneliness.

We recognize the right of civil authorities to enforce the law and maintain order, but we turn to them to ask for goodness and mercy for our brothers and sisters. Their churches and places of prayer are also holy places that must be favored and protected. We ask that this campaign against the churches of South Tel-Aviv be transformed into a campaign to help the churches respond to their civil obligations and to continue to serve the faithful.

Thus says the Lord of hosts: Judge with true justice, and show kindness and compassion toward each other. Do not oppress the widow or the orphan, the resident alien or the poor;  do not plot evil against one another in your hearts. (Zachriah 7:9-10)

+ Fouad TWAL
Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem 
President of the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land

Greek Catholic Melkite Archbishop Emeritus of St. John of Acre

+ Michel SABBAH
Latin Patriarch Emeritus of Jerusalem

+ Yaser Al-AYYASH
Greek Catholic Melkite Archbishop of Petra and Philadelphia (Amman)

Apostolic Administrator 'sede plena' of the Eparchy of Petra and Philadelphia

+ Joseph SOUEIF
Maronite Archbishop of  Cyprus

+ Moussa AL-HAGE
Maronite Archbishop of  Haïfa & the Holy Land

Exarch Maronite de Jérusalem
Apostolic Administrator of the Greek-Catholic Melkite Eparchy of St. John of Acre

+ Boutros MOUALLEM
Greek Catholic Melkite Archbishop Emeritus of St. John of Acre

+ Gregoire Pierre MELKI
Syrian-Catholic Exarch of Jerusalem

+ Joseph Jules ZEREY
Greek-Catholic Melkite Patriarchal Vicar of Jerusalem

+ Maroun LAHHAM
Latin Patriarchal Vicar for Jordan

+ Giacinto-Boulos MARCUZZO
Latin Patriarchal Vicar for Israel

+ William SHOMALI
Latin Patriarchal Vicar for Jerusalem et la Palestine

+ Kamal-Hanna BATHISH
Latin Patriarchal Vicar Emeritus

+ Selim SAYEGH
Latin Patriarchal Vicar Emeritus for Cyprus

Msgr. Joseph KELEKIAN
Armenian Catholic Exarch of Jerusalem

Fr. Pierbattista PIZZABALLA, OFM
Custody of the Holy Land

Fr. David NEUHAUS, S.J.
Latin Patriarchal Vicar for Catholic Hebrewphones
President of the Commission for Dialogue with the Jewish People

Fr. Jerzy KRAJ, OFM.
Latin Patriarchal Vicar forCyprus

Chaldean Patriarchal Vicar for Jordan

Père Pietro FELET, scj
Secretary General

 Original press release in French [below]; translation by Al-Bushra

«Gardez ouvertes les oasis de prière à Tel Aviv!»


COMMUNIQUE – Les responsables de l’Eglise Catholique de Terre Sainte ont publié hier, 20 février 2014, une déclaration qui demande à la municipalité de Tel Aviv de cesser sa campagne contre les lieux de prière des communautés de migrants à Tel Aviv Sud.

Gardez ouvertes les oasis de prière à Tel Aviv !

Nous, ordinaires de l’Eglise Catholique de Terre Sainte, avons entendu le cri des fidèles chrétiens, orthodoxes, protestants, évangéliques, qui sont travailleurs immigrés et demandeurs d’asile dans la ville de Tel Aviv. Eux aussi sont nos frères et sœurs.

Nous avons appris qu’au cours des dernières semaines la municipalité de Tel Aviv a fermé de nombreux lieux de culte dans la banlieue Sud de Tel Aviv. Dans certains cas, leurs meubles ont été confisqués.
Les migrants ont rassemblé le peu qu’ils avaient afin de fonder des communautés chrétiennes et des lieux de prière dans des appartements, des boutiques, des caves et des abris. Ils ont transformé ces lieux en oasis de prière et de solidarité. Il y a des lieux où ils peuvent se rassembler et être consolés par le Tout-Puissant, et se consoler les uns les autres, puisqu’ils se confrontent à leur pauvreté et leur dénuement, à leur exil et leur solitude.

Nous reconnaissons le droit qu’ont les autorités civiles d’appliquer la loi et de faire régner l’ordre, mais nous nous tournons vers elles pour leur demander bonté et miséricorde pour nos frères et sœurs. Leurs églises et lieux de prière sont aussi des lieux saints qu’il faut favoriser et protéger. Nous demandons que cette campagne contre les églises de Tel Aviv Sud soit transformée en une campagne pour aider les églises à répondre à leurs obligations civiles et à continuer à servir les fidèles.

Voici ce que déclare le Seigneur des armées célestes :
Rendez des jugements conformes à la vérité, témoignez-vous mutuellement de l’amour et de la pitié.

N’exploitez pas la veuve et l’orphelin, ni l’immigré et ceux qui sont dans le besoin,
et ne tramez aucun mal dans votre cœur les uns contre les autres.
(Zacharie 7 :9-10)

+ Fouad TWAL
Patriarche Latin de Jérusalem for
Président de l’Assemblée des Ordinaires Catholiques de Terre Sainte
Archevêque Grec-Catholique Melkite émérite de Saint-Jean d’Acre
+ Michel SABBAH
Patriarche Latin émérite de Jérusalem
+ Yaser Al-AYYASH
Archevêque Grec-Catholique Melkite de Petra et Philadelphia (Amman)
Administrateur Apostolique ‘sede plena’ de l’éparchie de Petra et Philadelphia
+ Joseph SOUEIF
Archevêque Maronite de Chypre
+ Moussa AL-HAGE
Archevêque Maronite de Haïfa & de Terre Sainte
Exarque Maronite de Jérusalem
Administrateur Apostolique de l’éparchie Grecque-Catholique Melkite de Saint Jean d’Acre
+ Boutros MOUALLEM
Archevêque Grec-Catholique Melkite émérite de Saint Jean d’Acre
+ Gregoire Pierre MELKI
Exarque Syrien-Catholique de Jérusalem
+ Joseph Jules ZEREY
Vicaire Patriarcal Grec-Catholique Melkite de Jérusalem
+ Maroun LAHHAM
Vicaire Patriarcal Latin pour la Jordanie
+ Giacinto-Boulos MARCUZZO
Vicaire Patriarcal Latin pour Israël
+ William SHOMALI
Vicaire Patriarcal Latin pour Jérusalem et la Palestine
+ Kamal-Hanna BATHISH
Vicaire Patriarcal Latin émérite
+ Selim SAYEGH
Vicaire Patriarcal Latin émérite pour Chypre
Msgr. Joseph KELEKIAN
Exarque Arménien Catholique de Jérusalem
Fr. Pierbattista PIZZABALLA, OFM
Custode de Terre Sainte
Fr. David NEUHAUS, S.J.
Vicaire Patriarcal pour les Catholiques Hébréophones
Président de la Commission de Dialogue avec le Peuple Juif
Fr. Jerzy KRAJ, OFM.
Vicaire Patriarcal Latin pour Chypre
Vicaire Patriarcal Chaldéen pour la Jordanie
Père Pietro FELET, scj
Secrétaire Général

Thursday, February 20, 2014

SOS Children's Villages: Filmed experiment in Norway hopes to raise awareness for displaced Syrian children

Click here for video: http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/sideshow/strangers-give-shivering-child-their-coats-175227230.html

What would you do if you saw a shivering child at a bus stop?

For those who consider humanity a lost cause, consider this: At least we live in a world where strangers will still give a freezing child a coat. So we've got that going for us.

In a filmed experiment in Norway, a jacketless child actor was instructed to sit at a bus stop and look cold — not a difficult task, judging by the snow on the ground.

Filmmakers from SOS Children's Villages, a charity that works to help abandoned, displaced and orphaned children, captured hidden footage of adults approaching the shivering child. In each case, according to Buzz60, the adult offers to help the kid with a jacket, gloves or a scarf.

That's not exactly news, and it would be depressing if the adults didn't offer to help. But that's kind of the point. The charity hopes to inspire people to help the children of Syria, at least a million of whom have been displaced, with many living outdoors.

The argument: If you'd help a freezing kid at a bus stop, why not help a child just as needy but on the other side of the globe?

Follow Mike Krumboltz on Twitter (@mikekrumboltz).

Pope Tawadros and Saudi ambassador agree to open Saudi Arabia's first church

Cairo, 19 February /MCN/ by Irin Moussa

A reliable source has told MCN that Pope Tawadros II, Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of Saint Mark's Episcopate, has reached an agreement with the Saudi ambassador in Cairo, Ahmed Kattan, to establish the first church ever built inside Saudi Arabia.

The source said that Pope Tawadros was extremely happy upon his return to the Cathedral in Al-Abbasiya, where he met with a German parliamentary delegation after the end of his first visit to the Embassy of Saudi Arabia.

MCN was told that the Pope thanked the King of Saudi Arabia and the current government for their approval to build the first church, which will be Coptic, and for the warm welcome from the Saudi ambassador in Cairo.

The source added that at the meeting, the two leaders also discussed consolidating relations between the Church and Saudi Arabia, especially after the king of Saudi Arabia pledged to send aid to Egypt after the revolution of June 30. His Holiness also expressed his condolences for the victims of the recent fire in a Medina hotel.

There are many Egyptian Copts in Saudi Arabia, and there are also more than a million Christians from Southeast Asia, particularly from the Philippines.

Hopes for peace in Syria shared with members of Syrian opposition

Hopes for peace in Syria shared with members of Syrian opposition
WCC general secretary Olav Fykse Tveit (left) with Syrian member of the opposition Shaykh Muhammad Al-Yaqoubi at the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva. 
15 February 2014

“The immediate end of the suffering of the people in Syria must now be the focus for all parties in the Geneva 2 talks,” World Council of Churches general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit said in a meeting today, 14 February in Geneva with members of the Syrian opposition. And “this includes all parties in the conflict,” he added.

Representatives of the Syrian opposition requested the meeting with Tveit after receiving a WCC message calling for an end to the conflict delivered to both sides of the Geneva 2 talks by Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations representative leading the talks and the UN-Arab League joint representative for Syria.

The message, which was given to Brahimi in mid-January before the talks, stresses the need for “immediate cessation of all armed confrontation and hostility within Syria” ensuring that “all vulnerable communities in Syria and refugees in neighbouring countries receive appropriate humanitarian assistance”. It urges “a comprehensive and inclusive process toward establishing a just peace and rebuilding Syria”.

Representatives from the Syrian opposition included Shaykh Muhammad Al-Yaqoubi, Islamic scholar, Dr Badr Jamous, vice-president of the Syrian National Coalition, Mr Abdul-Ahad Steifo from the Assyrian Democratic Organization, Mr Mohammad Farouk Tayfour, deputy leader of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, Dr Imad Eldin Rashid, president of the Syrian National Movement.

The group met for an hour and a half and then joined a press conference where Shaykh Muhammad Al-Yaqoubi made a strong plea for the release of kidnapped Syrian religious and laypersons.

In the meeting Tveit invoked prayers for peace in Syria, saying that with concern for security of all Syrians, including Christians, Muslims, and people of different faiths “we hope for a ‘just peace’ in Syria, a vision to which the WCC is deeply committed”.

We as religious leaders have to carry the hope that miracles are possible and that there will be peace,” he said. “If we are not doing this, who will?”

Tveit said that “we must work together for a future for Syria, where equal rights, stability, democracy and freedom for religion and expression for all” can prevail.

The WCC and its member churches “believe we must work together as religious communities and leaders,” he said.

Ending conflict, contributing to peace process

In discussions with the WCC staff members, the representatives of Syrian opposition each shared their perspectives on the current challenges of the dialogue process, as well as efforts aimed at defusing the conflict.

Shaykh Muhammad Al-Yaqoubi, in his response affirmed the role of religious leaders in supporting efforts for peace, stability and democracy in Syria.

He said that all communities, regardless of their religious affiliations in Syria have suffered.

Al-Yaqoubi, along with others in the group, highlighted the significance of common heritage of both Muslims and Christians, which he said has historical roots spanned over centuries in Syria and the Middle East.

On behalf of the members of the group, he also strongly condemned the kidnapping of the nuns of the St Thecla Convent in Maaloula, and the two Orthodox bishops from Aleppo last year in Syria.

In a press conference following the meeting, Al-Yaqoubi made a strong statement on the kidnappings, “calling upon all Islamic militants to immediately release all those who are unjustly detained against their will, especially the innocent bishops, nuns and monks”. He emphasized that this sort of activity does not reflect the values of Islam.

In April 2013 Archbishop Mar Yohanna Gregorios Ibrahim from the Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East and Archbishop Paul Yazigi from the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch were kidnapped near Aleppo while returning from a humanitarian mission. Later in December 2013, 12 nuns were also kidnapped.

During the press conference Tveit emphasized that the WCC condemns all violence perpetrated against the Syrian people, repeating that their suffering has to end.

Joint representative for Syria to deliver urgent call from churches to Geneva 2 talks (WCC news release of 17 January 2014)

Statement to Geneva 2 talks from the WCC Ecumenical Consultation on Syria
WCC member churches in Syria

High resolution photos may be requested via photos.oikoumene.org

Source: World Council of Churches http://www.oikoumene.org/en/press-centre/news/hopes-for-peace-in-syria-shared-with-members-of-syrian-opposition

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Indian Chaplain in the Holy Land: Risking one's life for one's employer


HOLY LAND, Tuesday, 18 February 2014. Father Tojy, the Indian chaplain in the Holy Land, sent us a moving testimony to the devotion of a migrant worker to her employer.

Ms. Anandavally, a 53 years old Indian woman care giver, risked her life while trying to save her employer, a 73 years old man who had Alzheimer’s disease, when a fire broke out in their apartment on January 1, 2014.

The cause of fire is not known.

When the fire started, she managed to escape and tried to get help from the neighbors but nobody was willing to come to her aid. So she ran back to the apartment to save the old man whom she was looking after and succeeded to carry him out of the fire, risking her own life. Both were taken to Rambam Hospital in Haifa immediately. She suffered burn injuries on her head, face and on both legs. The old man passed away 3 weeks ago.

She is unable to walk and her brother who came from Kerala is taking care of her. It will take a few months for her to recover fully. Some kindhearted (Good Samaritans) Indians are supporting her in the hospital.
Indeed it is written: “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13).

Source and picture: Saint James Vicariate for Hebrew speaking Catholics in Israel

Latin Patriarch Praises Kerry's Efforts to Bring Middle East Peace

US Official Underlines Importance of Faith in Bringing End to Conflict


Jerusalem, (Zenit.org

The US Secretary of State is aware of the power of faith in the Middle East peace process and is attentive to the concerns of Holy Land Christians in ending the conflict, an American State Department official has said.

During a meeting with the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Archbishop Fouad Twal, on Monday, Shaun A. Casey also said Secretary of State John Kerry hopes the framework of a peace agreement will be in place before the Pope’s visit to the Holy Land at the end of May.

Casey is a special advisor on faith-based community initiatives at the State Department, an office Kerry set up in August 2013 aimed at renewing and strengthening the role of religious communities in US foreign policy.

Kerry met Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for further talks in Paris on Wednesday. The peace process, which restarted last July, is scheduled to last up to nine months, with the aim to have an agreement in place by mid-2014.

At Monday’s meeting in Jerusalem, Casey stressed that the protection of Christians, the freedom of worship and access to the holy places of the Holy Land, are at the heart of the concerns of the Holy See and the United States.

Patriarch Twal praised John Kerry for his courage and his tenacity in the peace process and welcomed the establishment of the faith-based initiatives office whose role is said to be "crucial" in the peace process. “We cannot indeed claim to find a solution without taking into account the spiritual dimension of this land. It is a Holy Land, as its name implies”, the Patriarch stressed.

Auxiliary Bishop William Shomali, who also attended the meeting, raised the humanitarian problem of thousands of families divided by separation wall and hoped families would be reunited in time for the Pope's visit.

The Patriarch stressed that the Pope comes first “as a man of prayer" but will nevertheless "confirm the Christian people, a minority in the Holy Land, in faith, in an ecumenical spirit and interfaith dimension.”

“The whole world will be watching us through the media and we are delighted because we believe in the power of prayer,” the Patriarch said. He said about four thousand journalists are expected for the occasion.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Maronites: “sixteen centuries of openness and freedom”


JERUSALEM – On Saturday, February 15 at the Trappist monastery in Latrun, and the following day at the Maronite Convent in Jerusalem, the Feast of St. Maron was celebrated. Many faithful attended each event. Both ceremonies were presided over by Bishop Moussa El-Hage who spoke of the living memory of the holy founder of Lebanon.

On Sunday morning in Jerusalem, amid the warm hospitality that the Maronites have inherited from their founder, occurred the celebration of the Saint, for whom sixteen centuries have elapsed since he walked and worked among the Maronite faithful. Ever since his passing, Maronite believers  have sought to “live the deep experience of human freedom in all its dimensions, and also the same spirit of openness on the five continents where they are now located”, Bishop El-Hage noted in his homily. He is Archbishop of Haifa and the Holy Land and the Maronite Patriarchal Exarch of Jerusalem.

Saint Maron was a hermit of the mountains, a man of prayer. By faith and prayer, he gave rise to a genuine spiritual renewal for Christians in the Middle East, in the fourth century. “Through his intercession, let us pray for the current plight of Syria, a country where the saint himself lived”, the Exarch of Jerusalem urged.

Among the many faithful who flocked to the Maronite Convent Church of Jerusalem, were Mr. Hervé Magro, Consul General of France, and Bishop Giuseppe Lazarotto, Apostolic Nuncio to Israel. The latter showed by his presence “the love that binds the Maronite Church to the Holy See and His Holiness Pope Francis”, recalled Bishop El-Hage in his homily.

The Maronites are present in many religious communities in the Holy Land. Some are religious sisters, Franciscan monks, and Rosary Sisters, all the while remaining Maronites and meeting occasionally for important holidays.

Bishop El-Hage also celebrated the feast on Saturday, February 16, at the Abbey of Latrun,  he was the principal celebrant of the Mass. A celebration made ​​very moving through songs of typically oriental music and accompanied by the Qanûn instrument.

Among the monks of the abbey, there are three Lebanese Maronite brothers. They follow in the steps of many young Lebanese who left everything to embrace the monastic life and follow in the footsteps of their founder. The most famous follower being Saint Charbel Makhlouf.

Article and photos by Andres Bergamini

Links: Full Mgr El- Hage in French and Arabic Homily.


“The spiritual dimension is crucial in Peace Process” says Patriarch


JERUSALEM – On Monday, February 17, 2014, during a meeting with Shaun A. Casey, head of the “Office of Faith Community initiatives” of the U.S. State Department, Patriarch Twal reiterated his vision of a mutual peace for the two peoples and the three faiths.

Shaun A. Casey is the head of the new office set up by Senator John Kerry in August 2013 with the mission to renew and strengthen the role of religious communities in the foreign policy of the United States.
During a meeting yesterday with the Latin Patriarch, Mr. Casey revealed how John Kerry is aware of the power of faith in the peace process and how he has been attentive to the concerns of Christians in the Holy Land in the design of a peace agreement between the two parties. Kerry hopes even to put in place the framework of the agreement  before the Pope’s visit to the Holy Land. “What is certain however is that speaking to the Pope during his next visit to the Vatican will be important to help the two peoples to move in this direction,” noted Shaun A. Casey.

The protection of Christians, the freedom of worship and access to the holy places of the Holy Land, are at the heart of the concerns of the Vatican and the United States, Casey also recalled.

His Beatitude spoke of his admiration for the courage of John Kerry and his tenacity in the peace process. He welcomed the establishment of the faith-based initiatives office whose role will be crucial in the peace process: “we cannot indeed claim to find a solution without taking into account the spiritual dimension of this land. It is a Holy Land, as its name implies”, stressed Patriarch .

The U.S. official stressed how much the Holy Land “needs now concrete steps to move towards peace”, recalling how the role of the United States, a decisive interlocutor in the peace process, is the subject of many expectations. The Patriarch insisted on the fact that peace would be very beneficial for Israel itself, while affirming that “defending the Palestinians did not mean being against Israel.” He called for “both parties to work courageously for a genuine and lasting peace. A peace that is not only visible on one side, but mutual peace. A peace that is worth a few sacrifices.”

His Beatitude added: “There are walls everywhere. But even prior to destroying physical walls, there is the need to destroy the walls of hatred, ignorance, fear and arrogance that are in the hearts of men and their leaders.”

PHOTO1 shaunA.Casey

Bishop Shomali, who attended the meeting, raised the humanitarian problem constituted by the thousands of families divided by separation wall. “Allowing family reunification before the arrival of the Pope would be a sign of hope for Palestinians and a tribute to the visit of the man of peace.”

“Everyone should realize how peace would be beneficial not only for human rights but also economically for both parties,” declared Shaun A. Casey before enthusiastically saying, “just imagine what peace would look like…” He hopes the framework of a future peace agreement will be formulated within a few months.

For the Latin Patriarch, the “goodwill” of the two parties is crucial in the peace process. His Beatitude recalled that the parties should work in a climate of “reciprocity,” and that Jerusalem must remain “an open city for two peoples and three religions.”

Regarding the hopes and aspirations aroused by the arrival of the Pope for the Christians of the Holy Land, the Patriarch stressed that His Holiness comes first “as a man of prayer.” “He will nevertheless confirm the Christian people, a minority in the Holy Land, in faith, in an ecumenical spirit and interfaith dimension.”

“The whole world will be watching us through the media and we are delighted because we believe in the power of prayer,” added the Patriarch. About four thousand journalists are expected for the occasion.

Myriam Ambroselli

Monday, February 17, 2014

Raffoul Rofa interviewed on the Cremisan case


JERUSALEM – For many years, the case of the Cremisan Valley had greatly concerned large numbers of people who know the lush and picturesque place, and are aware that the Wall would not only threaten the historical link between two Salesian convents and the residents of Beit Jala, but also the more than fifty families whose lands are a source of income. The land in question then is a heritage of great value. The property deeds have passed from generation to generation, and so the families concerned are the rightful owners. During the interview, Mr. Rofa shed light on the reality of what has happened over the long haul, in Cremisan. Mr. Rofa currently directs the St. Yves Society, a Catholic Center linked to the Latin Patriarchate, and dedicated for several years to the defense of the human rights involved in this case.

1. For years we’ve gathered evidence on the case of the Cremisan Valley in Beit Jala, and seen the people come to the place every Friday, accompanied by the parish pastor, Father Ibrahim Shomali, to offer the Holy Mass, and at the same time to express their rejection of the Wall construction. When did the case begin?

In 2003, the Israeli Defense Ministry declared its intention to build a separation wall on the grounds of the Cremisan Valley in Beit Jala, on the pretext of security. In 2006, three years later, when the project was announced and began to take shape, some families in Beit Jala, the property owners, supported by the Municipality of Beit Jala, introduced a legal protest to the Court of Peace in Tel Aviv, which is charged with examining cases relating to the expropriation of the lands within the borders of Israel. Israel in fact considers the Cremisan Valley as part of the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem because these lands were annexed after the war of June 1967 – simply to expand the area of ​​Jerusalem. Therefore the Convent of the Salesians is regarded by Israel as part of Jerusalem and Beit Jala. But for the Salesian Monastery, located near the Convent of the Salesians, in particular Cremisan itself, only half of its land was annexed to the Municipality of Jerusalem in 1967, the other half remaining within the territories of the West Bank, particularly in Zone C.

In 2010, aware of the anomaly of the Israeli plan, the Salesians turned to Saint Yves Society to represent them before the Court. The position of the Sisters is very clear: they oppose the construction of the wall, and their message certainly reached the Israeli army. For their part, the army asked the Sisters to submit a list with the names of workers, employees, and the students who live within the perimeter of the school which they run for the benefit of  children The army at that time wanted to annex the Salesian Monastery, along with the Salesian Convent, behind the Wall, and later build a gate that would allow workers, employees and students access to the school in the morning and come out in the afternoon. The sisters stood up against this ‘solution’, convinced that such a step would likely to put the children’s safety at risk. Therefore we decided, on behalf of the Sisters, to turn to the Israeli Ministry of Defense and Senior Legal Counsel. Meanwhile, the parents of the students thought of withdrawing their children from school if the army decided to carry out the project.

In 2010, our request, stating our opposition to the construction of the wall, to the Court of Peace in Tel Aviv was accepted, at least according to the first plan. I say “the first” because the Ministry of Defence, subsequently, presented two other plans, hoping to obtain the approval of the Sisters. The second plan, also rejected by the Sisters, provides for the construction of the wall above the fence of the school itself. The third plan, still in force, involves the construction of the wall on the land below the road that connects the two monasteries with the town of Beit Jala.

2. At what point have you arrived in this case?

The construction of the Wall is suspended at this time. Last year a petition was presented to the Supreme Court of Israel, to reverse the Court of Peace in Tel Aviv verdict, with which we were dissatisfied. The case has been updated several times. A few days ago, on January 29, 2014, a hearing was held during which three judges listened to the arguments presented by the parties. We are currently awaiting the final verdict.

3. What is your assessment of the hearing?

I would rate it positively. We were impressed by the concern of the judges who listened to both sides, especially to the arguments presented by the families. Most interesting were the comments made by a retired Israeli army colonel, Shaul Arieli, a member of the Commission for Peace and Security, who explained why it was preferable to build the wall below the settlement of Gilo, and therefore avoid the expropriation of private property, and also, according to him, ensure greater security for Israel.

4. Who participated in the hearing, and what arguments were presented by both parties?
It was attended by the opposing parties. On the one hand, the Municipality, the residents of Beit Jala, the Society of Saint Yves, acting on behalf of the Sisters, and Nihad Rashid, who represents the monks; on the other hand, Counsel for the Har Gilo settlement, a representative of the Attorney General. The Court decided to take the testimony of the Commission for Justice and Peace, made ​​up of several officers and former military personnel. Also present were many supporters, including diplomats, friends, and representatives of the Latin Patriarchate – something that impressed the judges.

The lawyer of the Municipality of Beit Jala and the families, Ghayyath Nasser, placed emphasis on the source of income that these lands are for their owners, and the losses they might incur due to the construction of the Wall. He believes that the purpose behind the determination to build the wall implies a bigger annexation of vacant land. We understand things better if we remember that the route of the Wall is constantly changing, trying to avoid the buildings and grounds that include Palestinian villages to get their hands on the abandoned land.


On our side, as representative of the religious, Attorney Zvi Evni launched his defense, drawing the attention of the Court to explain that the Christian world has its eyes fixed on this courtroom hearing, arguing that the Sisters never approved the construction of the wall; on the contrary, they are in solidarity with the owners. In their eyes, the construction of the Wall will make the site a military zone and will leave an unacceptable effect on the surrounding regions, including the school. He suggested that the construction of the Wall – if it is absolutely necessary – be done according to the recommendations of the Commission for Peace and Security report.

The Israeli side presented its arguments, repeated and well known to all. From an economic point of view, the Attorney General believes that the ending the construction of the Wall would lead to a loss of NIS 80 million, paid for the preliminary infrastructure work to the construction of the wall. From the security viewpoint, the Attorney-General considers that the construction of the Wall, according to the proposal of the Commission, would reduce the area allocated to the Israeli army to address any potential security risks that could threaten the settlement (an area between 900 to 300 m). From a legal point of view, finally the Prosecutor asserts that no harm would be inflicted on the owners, who may gain access to their lands through the entrance gates, and other portals between the two convents, allowing the monks to provide religious services to the religious community.

5. Are you optimistic about the outcome of the next verdict?

We cannot predict anything. Personally, given the position of the judges during the hearing, I tend to say that this gave me a bit of hope. But do not forget that, in addition to the legal element, other considerations come into play.

Interview conducted by Firas Abedrabbo

Don Bosco celebrated again in the Holy Land


BETHLEHEM – On Sunday, February 9, 2014, the faithful celebrated the feast of St. John Bosco, friend of the young, in the Church of the Salesian Fathers. Bishop Shomali, Patriarchal Vicar of Jerusalem, was the principal celebrant of the Mass.

After the solemn celebration which was held on January 31, 2014 in Ratisbonne, Jerusalem, the Salesians of Bethlehem also celebrated their holy founder, Don Bosco, surrounded by their friends in the city of the Nativity of the Lord and in their environment.

Bishop William Shomali, Patriarchal Vicar of Jerusalem, was the principal celebrant of the Mass, with Fr. Jamal Khader, Seminary Rector, and a large number of con-celebrant priests, surrounded by the seminarians of Beit Jala.

Thanks to the Salesian Youth band, under the direction of a Salesian priest, the Mass was a time of great praise and grace. The harmony singing with musical accompaniment delighted the hearts of the faithful participants.

At the end of the Mass, all proceeded to the theater, where a sketch of the life of Don Bosco was presented.

The Salesian fathers have been present in the Holy Land since the 19th century. And in Bethlehem, they direct a technical school that offers vocational training to young people who seek to practice a trade.

Five months after the visit of the relics of St. John Bosco to the Holy Land in September 2013, the Saint is again remembered through the liturgy of the Church as it celebrates his memory.

Firas Abedrabbo