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, August 29, 2014

Pope meets with Gaza priest: a moment of grace and hope

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Friday morning met with Father Jorge Hernandez, an Argentine missionary of the Institute of the Incarnate Word and parish priest in Gaza.

Speaking in Italian with Vatican Radio’s Alessandro Gisotti, Father Hernandez said the meeting with the Pope was a “grace” – and not the first. “On the contrary,” he said, “during the war, Pope Francis was always close to us.”

Father Hernandez said Pope Francis encouraged the small Catholic community “to be the salt of the earth in the land of Gaza.” He said he was particularly touched by the Pope’s message of Christian witness. The Catholics of Gaza have a special call to witness to Jesus Christ in the very land that Jesus called home, “the land that saw Him suffering, saw Him dying… but also saw Him rising.”
In a land with almost two million inhabitants, the Christian community in Gaza is a very small minority, with only 136 Catholics and about 1300 Christians total. Father Hernandez said relations between Christians are very good.

The commitment of Pope Francis, and of the Christians in Gaza, he said, “is an existential and concrete commitment… witnessing especially to the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ.”

Father Hernandez said his people hope that the current truce between Israeli and Palestinian forces will endure. “Just look at the suffering of both peoples!” he said. “You need to understand one thing… with war, nobody wins. No one! Each side will have to pay the consequences, in one way or another. Ultimately, no one gains from war, we all lose. We hope that God will bless us with the strength to begin again from the start.”

In order to build an enduring peace, Father Hernandez said, we must seek to build peace with justice. “Peace requires sacrifice, but it is possible.”

Father Hernandez went on to express his gratitude to people throughout the world who have been so close to his community in the trying circumstances of recent weeks – especially the sick, “who have offered their sufferings, praying and pleading for peace.” He said the Christians of the parish of Gaza often remember those who pray for them, in the Mass, in the Rosary, and in Eucharistic Adoration. “I want to take this opportunity,” he said, “to say thank you, and God bless you.”


Thursday, August 28, 2014

Eastern Catholic Patriarchs: We Must Stop Financing, Arming Terrorists

Also Declare Attacks on Christians and Their Property "Should Be Criminalized"
By Staff Reporter

VATICAN CITY, August 28, 2014 (Zenit.org) - Eastern Catholic Patriarchs have called on the international community to confront the existence of the Islamic State in order to put an end to the terrorist and fundamentalist organizations responsible for an upsurge of violence forcing thousands to flee throughout the Middle East.

In a statement in the wake of their meeting in Bkirki, Lebanon, the See of the Maronite Catholic Patriarchate, the Eastern patriarchs declared that attacks on Christians and their property "should be criminalized," and stressed the need to “stop supporting the financing of these terrorists and arming them,” reported Assyrian International News Agency Thursday.

Attended by the diplomats of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, the meeting was aimed at broaching the present situation facing the region's Christians, as well as to discuss presidential polls in Lebanon, the Middle Eastern nation with the greatest percentage of Christians.

Present there were Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Gabriele Caccia, Russian Ambassador, Alexander Zasypkin, US Ambassador, David Hale, British Ambassador, Tom Fletcher, the Personal Representative of the UN Secretary-General in Lebanon, Derek Plumbly, and Charge D'affaires of the Embassy of France, Jerome Kochar, and Chinese Charge D'Affaires, Han Jing.

Stressing the need for putting pressure on the financers of these organizations to cut off the sources of terrorism, Patriarchal Vicar, Archbishop Boulos Sayyah, while reading out the meeting's statement, said, "The international community is also responsible for the growing of 'Daash' and Takfiri movements.”

It is very painful to witness the silence of world powers, he said, as the assault on Christians threatens the Christian presence in many countries, such as Egypt, Syria and Iraq.

Calling on the international community to "work hard” to find homes for those now without shelter, to “liberate their properties” and to “protect their rights and security," the Patriarchs underscored that the towns of Nineveh should be liberated.

For those displaced, they said the international community must help them return to their homes, and for those who haven’t, it must prevent their displacement through international guarantees.

To find a solution to the current ordeal, the Church officials said, means addressing the causes that led to these events in the Middle East.

They stressed the need to stop supporting the financing of terrorists and arming them and called for the rise of the civil state so that the countries of the East would be able to live in peace.

Turning to Lebanon, the Patriarchs also implored all political blocs to separate the issue of presidential polls from the path of regional and international conflicts, and said "the election of the President is a duty prior to taking any decision regarding the forthcoming parliamentary polls."

In April 2014, a presidential election was held in Lebanon, but since no candidate reached a two-thirds majority in the first round and subsequent rounds failed to produce a quorum, an eleventh round is scheduled for 2 September. The acting president is Tammam Salam, an Independent.

Apostolic Vicar of Aleppo: 'Worse Than Arms Are the Preachers of Violence'

Apostolic Vicar of Aleppo Discusses City's Present Situation and Breakdown of Law and Order
By H. Sergio Mora

RIMINI, August 28, 2014 (Zenit.org) - The armed occupation of Syria by Islamic State militants is not the worst thing to happen to the country. Even worse are their preachers who establish themselves in mosques and temples to preach hatred and enroll little ones.

This is according to the Apostolic Vicar of Aleppo, Monsignor George Abou Khazen, who gave a press conference in Rimini Wednesday, accompanied by his predecessor, Bishop Giuseppe Nazzaro,
Responding to a question from ZENIT on the impression many have that Muslims in the region are all extremists, he pointed out: “The Muslim population in Syria is very moderate, and continues to be so. They are convinced and preach this in the mosques.”

And Monsignor Khazen added that now the foreign militias “not only brought troops, but also the Ulemas and Saudis who began to preach an absolutely different Islam, and they even enroll children.” Moreover, he explained that they instituted Islamic courts in which a Syrian can be judged by a ceceno [extremist]. In other words, if a father sees that his daughter is being kidnapped by a Muslim, in court he will meet another militiaman just like the aggressor.

To have an idea of who they are, Monsignor Nazzaro pointed to the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia who issued a fatwa last year, which was published in newspapers, in which he stated: “Whoever believes that the earth revolves around the sun is an infidel, because my predecessor of the ‘70s said so, and whoever omits this does not deserve to live.” Based on this, you can imagine what the army of the ISIS is like, he said.

Asked by ZENIT about the present situation in Aleppo, after three years of war, Monsignor Khazen said it is a difficult situation, with problems of water, light and lack of security, where there are mortar strikes and every day new deaths. The city is divided: there are neighborhoods controlled by the rebels and others by the Government. The rebels besieged and controlled the city. Today the Syrian army has opened a zone and is able to supply it. The airport is closed because “they also target civil flights.” He added that to date there is no knowledge of the fate of kidnapped bishops and priests and that the convents of nuns residing in Aleppo are still there.

In regard to the financing of these militias, he told ZENIT that “everyone knows about this. It comes from Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Turkey, however, gives less support, only of a logistical nature. If they really wanted the situation to end, they wouldn’t send or train people, they wouldn’t arm them,” he said, adding that “another country” is also involved.

“Just a year ago, when the rebels were only Syrians, things were different; there was respect, there was not this violence and extremism. Now it is the militiamen, primarily foreigners. Now there are many people who before hoped that this spring would flower, but they have realized that it hasn’t,” continued the Apostolic Vicar.

In regard to the Pope’s visit to the Holy Land, he said the population was aware of it. Information comes when there is light and the news can be seen. “Moreover, we have also transmitted it,” he said, adding that people said “we wish the Pope would come here too.”

In regard to the emigration of Christians, he said that in 1968, when the previous government to Assad’s father nationalized the schools, the first exodus took place of Christians to Lebanon, because they wanted to be able to give their children a Christian education. It was “a time of terror," he said.

“In the beginning Assad’s father was harsh, although he was the last to carry out a coup d’Etat to take power. He wasn’t a Sunni but an Alawite. In the last years of his life, Assad’s father began to relax things, and with his son the opening was greater, almost total in some sectors, such as tourism, commerce, with sufficient security.”

Monsignor Khazen added “there are no statistics of Christians who have stayed in Syria,” although before the war, Christians numbered some 250,000 in a city of 4.5 million. “Today, approximately 60% of Christians have left,” he said.

The Apostolic Vicar concluded by expressing the hope that “present day Syria may continue to exist as a secular, pluralist and moderate country.”

September 1, 2014: Please see Questioning the veracity of a statement attributed to the current Apostolic Vicar of Aleppo

Faith communities in Geneva show solidarity with persecuted communities in Iraq

Faith communities in Geneva show solidarity with persecuted communities in Iraq
© WCC/Laurence Villoz

English version published on: 22 August 2014

World Council of Churches, Geneva, Switzerland - Around 400 people met at the Temple de la Fusterie in Geneva, Switzerland to participate in an inter-religious vigil on 20 August expressing solidarity with the persecuted religious communities in Iraq during this time of conflict in the country.

The event was organized by a number of local religious organizations, including Swiss member churches and Muslim organizations who regularly work in partnership with the World Council of Churches (WCC).

Deacon Maurice Gardiol, a member of the Inter-religious Platform and one of the organizers of the event, expressed his concern for communities in Iraq. He said the persecuted religious communities in Iraq and elsewhere should not be left alone.

William McComish, president of the Geneva Spiritual Appeal Association, said that all religious traditions represented at the vigil reject hatred and violence. Due to this common vision, persons of faith demand an end to the use of religion to justify violence.

Jean-Claude Mokry, parish priest of the Old Catholic Church of Geneva, shared similar views, saying it is not possible to remain indifferent to the situation in the Middle East, nor to those who are oppressed, no matter what religion, cast or creed they belong to.

A member of the Syrian Kurdish Yazidi community who has been living in Switzerland for three years recalled that several people were killed in his region by the militants. He expressed his concern about the situation in the region, given that a large number of people, including women and children have been abducted and killed in the conflict. What we see in the media is far from reality, he said.

“In Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, Christians are living without shelter, home and basic necessities of life,” said an Iraqi Christian.

A young woman from the Alevi community said that the militants in Iraq perpetrating violence in the name of Islam should not be associated with Muslims elsewhere. A letter written by religious scholars stated that people inciting violence could not be considered authentic representatives of Islam, reported another member of the Muslim community from Geneva.

Before the vigil, the participants each with a white rose in hand formed a human chain around the temple as a symbolic gesture of inter-religious reflection on peace and solidarity. While speakers lit a candle at the centre of the Fusterie, Cagdas Ozan, a Sufi musician and member of the Alevi Cultural Centre, sang and played the harp. A moment of silence and prayer was observed.

Contributions for humanitarian assistance in Iraq were collected on behalf of Caritas International.
News release prepared with reporting from Laurence Villoz of the Protestinfo – Protestant News Agency in Switzerland

Source: http://www.oikoumene.org/en/press-centre/news/a-geneve-une-veillee-solidaire-soutient-les-victimes-en-iraq

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Patriarch visits Missionaries of Charity Sisters in Jerusalem


JERUSALEM – August 24, 2014 -  As part of visits, which His Beatitude Fouad Twal, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, is performing, to the different religious communities in the Mother Church, he recently visited the Missionary Sisters of Charity (known as the Sisters of Mother Teresa of Calcutta), who live in the Old City of Jerusalem. 

He has also recently visited the Carmelite Sisters of Bethlehem and the Rosary Sisters, a local congregation born at the time of the restoration of the Latin Patriarchate in the mid 19th century.
In these days, the Patriarch took the opportunity to meet the many religious communities in the diocese. Indeed, the Bishop of Jerusalem has had more personal encounters with the sisters, learning about their ministries, their concerns and their needs. For his part, he finds that the visits give the opportunity to share with the communities the news of the local Church and universal Church and also entrusting intentions to their prayers.

Right now especially, the Patriarch asked religious communities to pray for the upcoming Synod on the Family to be held in Rome from October 5-19, 2014. Communities are also encouraged to include any proposals that will enrich the Instrumentum Laboris of the Synod.

In these very difficult times for the people of Gaza, it is no coincidence that the Patriarch visited the Missionaries of Charity and the Sisters of the Rosary, each of whom has a community of sisters in Gaza. The Patriarch spoke with them about the life they are living and was able to ask them about the situation faced by their sisters there.

The Missionaries of Charity and the Sisters of the Rosary in Gaza are now preparing to welcome newly assigned members to their communities. These, one a new superior, are nevertheless still stuck in Jerusalem until the permits are issued by the Israeli authorities to cross the Gaza border.

Before leaving their humble dwelling, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem was able to pray with the Missionary Sisters of Charity in the simple and prayerful chapel of the house, and implored upon them God’s blessing.

Firas Abedrabbo


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Washington to Be Next Visit of Pope's Iraq Envoy

Cardinal Filoni Expected to Meet Eastern Patriarchs, US Bishops in American Capital

Rimini, (Zenit.org) Staff Reporter | 604 hits

The Pope's special envoy to Iraq is to meet the Eastern Patriarchs in Washington D.C. in the coming weeks, the Holy See's representative to the United Nations in Geneva has said.

Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, speaking during a press conference at Communion and Liberation's Rimini Meeting, said Cardinal Fernando Filoni will be meeting the patriarchs and the prefect of the Congregation of Oriental Churches, Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, in the U.S. capital.

"It will seek to involve the American bishops and so influence public opinion," Archbishop Tomasi said. "Other initiatives will be undertaken in Geneva."

Cardinal Filoni, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, returned last week after a seven day visit to the war-torn region of northern Iraq where many Christians and other religious minorities are being persecuted by Islamists.

Source: http://www.zenit.org/en/articles/washington-to-be-next-visit-of-pope-s-iraq-envoy

Final Preparations Being Made for Pope's Soccer Match for Peace

Players Representing World's Different Cultures and Religions to Play in Rome, September 1st


Rome, (Zenit.org) Staff Reporter 

A soccer match proposed by Pope Francis and made up of players representing different cultures and religions is to take place in Rome’s Olympic stadium on September 1st.

The Interreligious Match for Peace will feature current and past players representing different cultures and religions: Buddhist, Christian (Catholic and Protestant), Jewish, Hindu, Muslim and Shinto.

According to Vatican Radio, the event is co-organized by the Scholas Occurrentes initiative, an Argentine project strongly backed by Pope Francis to bring education to the poorest in societies across the world. Italy's Fundazione PUPI is also organizing the match.

It aims to unite fans and players from all world regions and faiths, through their shared love sport, in a moment of unity and solidarity in support of world peace.

The United Nations Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is also partnering with the event.

"The prevention and resolution of conflict is central to the goal of eradicating hunger and malnutrition. Indeed, without peace there can be no end to hunger, and without ending hunger, there cannot be peace," said FAO Director-General Jose Graziano da Silva.

The proceeds from the event will be given to the project “Un'Alternativa di Vita”, which supports poor children in Buenos Aires.

Former Argentinian national player Javier Zanetti, now Vice-President of Inter Milan, told Vatican Radio: "When I spoke with Pope Francis about this project, it was a big concern for us to do something for world peace.

“I think the fact that so many stars have joined in can help professional football support peace.  Although the game is raising money for charitable purposes, the most important thing we want to do is spread the Pope’s message of peace to the world."



Patriarch Sako Calls For 'Real Communion' With Suffering Iraqis

Criticizes International Community, Muslim Leaders for Ineffective Action


Baghdad, (Zenit.org) Staff Reporter

The head of Iraq’s assembly of Catholic bishops has criticized indifference and ineffective action by the international community and Muslims in the face of atrocities carried out against Christians and other religious minorities in Iraq.

In a statement issued August 24th, Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako observed that actions by the international community towards Iraq have so far “made no real change in the course of events and the fate of the these affected people is still at stake, as if these people are not part of the human race.”

He added the “same is true” with regard to the Muslim community, whose statements have not been “according to our expectation, knowing that Christians have contributed and fought for this country, living in partnership with their Muslim brothers alongside the Islamic civilization.”

The Chaldean Patriarch also wondered when, in view of growing religious fundamentalism, Islamic religious scholars and Muslim intellectuals would “critically examine this dangerous phenomenon and eradicate it by educating a true religious consciousness and spreading a genuine culture of accepting the other as brother and as an equal citizen with full rights.”

Patriarch Sako stressed the growing crisis of refugees, and said what the Iraqi people need is not “exhausting statements” but “real communion” with those who are suffering, as was shown recently by visiting French bishops and Pope Francis' special envoy to Iraq.

Here below is the full text of the Patriarch’s statement:


It has become obvious that Iraqi Christians along with other minorities have received a fatal blow at the core of their lives and their existence whether through displacing more than a hundred thousand Christians by force, or looting their possessions, money, and documents, or occupying their houses for just being Christian! I visited the camps of the displaced persons in the provinces of Erbil and Dohok and what I saw and what I heard is beyond any imagination!

Since the 6th August until now there is not yet an immediate concrete solution for the crisis we are facing. On the other hand the flow of funds, arms and fighters continues to the Islamic State. Despite the fact that we are living an organized campaign of elimination from Iraq, the world conscience is not fully awake to gravity of the situation. Now, the second phase of the calamity has already began, which is the migration of these families to the different parts of the world, thus dissolving the history, heritage, and identity of these people into void.

Displacement and migration have their great impact on us, both on Christians and Muslims. Iraq is losing an irreplaceable component of its society, the Christian one; hence begins the vanishing of a genuine tradition!
The international community, principally the United States and European Union due to their moral and historic responsibility towards Iraq, cannot be indifferent. While acknowledging all that is being done to solve this crisis, it seems that the decisions and actions undertaken until now have made no real change in the course of events and the fate of the these affected people is still at stake, as if these people are not part of the human race!

The same is true with regard to the Muslim community, whose statements about the barbaric acts in the name of their religion practiced against the life, dignity and freedom of Christians were not according to our expectation, knowing that Christians have contributed and fought for this country, living in partnership with their Muslim brothers alongside the Islamic civilization.

Religious fundamentalism is still growing in its power and force, creating tragedies, and making us wonder when the Islamic religious scholars and the Muslim intellectuals will critically examine this dangerous phenomenon and eradicate it by educating a true religious consciousness and spreading a genuine culture of accepting the other as brother and as an equal citizen with full rights.

What has happened is terrible and horrific, therefore, we need an urgent and effective international support from all the people of good will to save the Christians and Yezidis, genuine components of the Iraqi society from extinction, knowing that silence and passivity will encourage ISIS fundamentalists to commit more tragedies! The question is who will be the next?

Many of these displaced persons wish to return to their towns and houses in the Nineveh Plain, and hope to see it safe under international protection. But the full safety of this zone cannot be achieved without the cooperation of the International Community along with the joint action of the Central Government and the Regional Government of Kurdistan. These innocent people deserve to live in peace and dignity after the terror afflicted on them by the ISIS and after being looted by their own neighbors.

The Church: Certainly we are proud of the faith of our sons and daughters and their steadfastness and courage in the face of this calamity for the sake of their belief. We invite them to live this crisis in a real communion with all the people around them without any distinction. What we need is not exhausting statements but real communion with others which we experienced during the visit of the delegation of French bishop's conference, Personal Envoy of Pope Francis and Patriarchs. This crisis is empowering us for a spiritual, moral and material reconstruction of our communities. We do respect the decision of those who wish to migrate, but for those who wish to remain, we underline our long history and deeply rooted heritage in this land. God has his own plan for our presence in this land and invites us to carry the message of love, brotherhood, dignity, and harmonious co-existence.

Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako,
President of the Assembly of the Catholic Bishops in Iraq

Source: http://www.zenit.org/en/articles/patriarch-sako-calls-for-real-communion-with-suffering-iraqis

Iraqi Families, children cross the desert to find refuge in Kurdistan

Many Iraqis fleeing the massacre of the Islamic State spent days traveling through the desert mountains of Sinjar. Most of them made the treacherous journey barefoot and without water. Those who arrived in Kurdistan recalled the agony they suffered. 

Iraqi Refugee
"We had nothing. We were dying of thirst, hunger. There was nothing there. We have been walking for 12 days, many people died, we feel distraught."

Now they are safe and recovering from the exhausting journey. However, they carry wounds that cannot be easily healed, especially the children who witnessed the atrocities first hand. 

Iraqi Refugee
"We had nothing. We had nothing until we reached here. On the way I saw many people who fell to the ground because they were thirsty.”

Several months ago, camps like this one in Bajet Kandela was occupied by Syrian refugees. Now, they are full of Iraqis, who live in over 1,500 tents.

24 members of this family survived the dangerous trek. Along with a 2 month old newborn, they spent six days traveling through the mountains with only one bottle of water. 

Iraqi refugee
"We had one bottle of water and divided it among us, one bottle. Each person drinks water in the lid, just to have a sip and not die, that's it, just to survive."

The Middle East is suffering an unprecedented humanitarian crisis that has been classified by the UN as "maximum level”. According to UNICEF, the scale and the type of violations against children, women and minorities in Iraq are among the worst seen in this century. 


Saturday, August 23, 2014

‘Christianity as we know it in Iraq is being wiped out’, says the LPJ General Administrator

1COMMUNIQUE – The General Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, father Imad Twal, describes in this statement, the dramatic situation of Christians in Irak, forced by the Islamic State to leave their homeland. He explains how the LPJ is trying to receive some of them in Jordan, and to satisfy some of their concrete basic needs.  
While a small number of Christians have inhabited Iraq for over 2,000 years, the multiple political conflicts and changes in Iraq have resulted in their displacement and emigration.
However, the taking control of Sinjar and Mosul Dam in northern Iraq by the ISIS jihadists has led hundreds of thousands of religious minorities, among which were about one hundred thousand Christians, to leave their homes.
This is one of the worst displacements Iraqi Christians have experienced. They left their homes with three choices: convert to Islam, pay jizya (a poll tax levied on non-Muslims), or die at the hands of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), now called IS.
IS have marked Christian houses in Mosul with the phrase “property of the Islamic State” and an Arabic mark for “Nazirite.”
More than 200 Christian families have been fleeing Mosul as IS militants confiscated their belongings, including cars, money, medicine, and food.

Where to Go?

This is first question that came to their minds, leaving homes with only the clothes they were wearing. Jordan has welcomed about 1000 Iraqi Christians.
Our Lady of Peace Center in cooperation with Caritas has opened its doors to welcome about one hundred Christians from 22 Iraqi families. The children number 35: 4 ranging in age from the 1 month to 2 years, 21 from 2 to 12 years, 10 from 12 to 18 and the rest are parents and old people.
These Christians need not only a place to stay but the simplest basic needs since they have fled their home with practically nothing. Fr. Imad Twal General Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem and previous director of OLPC has personally visited them, expressed his support and prayers for them and, most of all, reaffirmed the real desire of LPJ to help them.

Our Lady of Peace Center welcoming the fleeing Christians


What do they need?
• These Christians are really struggling to have the basic necessities of life – food, water, medical supplies and clothing.
  • Sanitary services: the welcoming of OLOPC for this number of people imposes a real challenge on the capacity of the facility, including, without doubt, sanitary services.
• The refugee-Christians have a visa to remain in Jordan from 3 to 6 months. At that point, they will need a permanent place of residence. But how? They can’t even afford the tickets for travel.
  • Education: a good number of these Christians are children. And with the coming academic year, they will need to enroll at schools. An essential right for all children.
  • Psychological support: these families have lived a real nightmare since they were terrorized and forced to leave their homes hands empty based on their religious affiliation. The children, especially, need urgent psychological help in order to regain the feeling of security.
  • A clear vision for the future: none of these Christians expected such a storm. Where to go? What will happen? For how long? How to manage? How to afford living?  These are just some of the many questions that need an answer in planning for the future

• Above all they need our support and prayers and those of the whole world. They need their voices to be heard worldwide, so as to stop this merciless persecution of Christians.


 If you prefer donate in euros:
Bank: Pax-Bank, Köln
IBAN : DE16 3706 0193 0058 0290 17
Description: Support Iraki Christians
Rev. Fr. Imad Twal
General Administrator- LPJ August 2014

Remembering James Foley with Faith and Fondness

Catholic News Service

Faith, prayer sources of strength for slain U.S. journalist, his family
American journalist James Foley, who was kidnapped by unidentified gunmen in November 2012 in Idlib, Syria, is pictured in an undated photo. Foley, a freelance war correspondent from New Hampshire and Marquette University alum, was killed at the hands of the Islamic State militant group. (CNS photo/Nicole Tung, courtesy GlobalPost via EPA)
In April 2013, the parents of slain U.S. journalist James Foley attended a prayer vigil at Marquette University in Milwaukee to pray for their son, who at that time had disappeared in Syria.

Before Diane and John Foley had confirmation that spring that their son was missing, Diane said she just felt it -- he had missed one of his usual phone calls home -- and once they knew for sure, the couple said they were relying on their Catholic faith to cope and leaning on prayer to bring him home.

"Faith has been part of family life, but this has deepened my faith because there is our hope. Our hope is that God will take care of Jim," she told the Catholic Herald in Milwaukee at the time.

That strong faith will likely help the couple, who are members of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary in Rochester, get through the fact that their 40-year-old son was beheaded by militants with the Islamic State extremist group, known as ISIS.

According to an AP story, U.S. officials confirmed a graphic video released Aug. 19 that showed ISIS fighters beheading Foley, a 1996 graduate of Marquette who had been a freelance journalist for the past several years, mostly in the world's trouble spots. In 2011, he was kidnapped on a Libyan battlefield and held captive in Tripoli for 45 days.

Sometime in late 2012, he went missing in Syria. The last time the Foley family heard from him was before Thanksgiving that year.

A statement about his death attributed to Diane Foley was posted on a Facebook page originally set up to urge James' release. Family members "have never been prouder of him," it said.

"He gave his life trying to expose the suffering of the Syrian people," the statement said, which also urged the militants to release others they are holding hostage. "Like Jim, they are innocents. They have no control over American policy in Iraq, Syria or anywhere in the world."

ISIS said they killed James Foley in retaliation for U.S. airstrikes on the militants' strongholds and the group said it would kill another U.S. hostage.

News of his grisly death has sent shock waves around the world, eliciting prayers and statements of support for the family from Catholic leaders, the Marquette community, reporters' organizations, fellow journalists and many others.

"The brutality of this act is itself evidence of an unspeakable evil that is rampant and inhuman," New Hampshire Bishop Peter A. Libasci of Manchester. "To the prayers that have been offered since his captivity almost two years ago, we now add our prayers for James' eternal rest and, in Christ Jesus Our Lord, James's future resurrection to eternal life."

"Our prayers also must accompany a sorrowful mother, a grieving father, a deeply pained family and countless friends who have kept vigil all this time," he said. "May we also pray for those who have embraced the way of darkness and death, that they may turn away from this terrible evil now and forever."

News reports said the Foleys' pastor, Father Paul Gousse, was at the family's house for about 45 minutes Aug. 19. He left without speaking to reporters. The parish posted a notice that the church would be open to all to join in prayer for Jim, his family, friends, colleagues "and all who are still in danger."

Besides Facebook, his family has been using Twitter and other social media to express their sorrow and ask for privacy.

In her statement on Facebook, Diane Foley said: "We thank Jim for all the joy he gave us. He was an extraordinary son, brother, journalist and person. Please respect our privacy in the days ahead as we mourn and cherish Jim."

James' sister, Kelly, took to Twitter asking others not to watch the video that shows his beheading: "Please honor James Foley and respect his family's privacy. Don't watch the video. Don't share it. That's not how life should be."

Twitter CEO Dick Costolo said on Twitter that anyone sharing the images of the event would have their accounts suspended. "We have been and are actively suspending accounts as we discover them related to this graphic imagery. Thank you."

In 2011, after he was let go by his kidnappers in Libya, James Foley wrote an article for Marquette magazine on how prayer, specifically the rosary, got him through captivity in a military detention center in Tripoli.

He had been captured with two colleagues, he said. "Each day brought increasing worry that our moms would begin to panic. My colleague, Clare, was supposed to call her mom on her birthday, which was the day after we were captured. I had still not fully admitted to myself that my mom knew what had happened. But I kept telling Clare my mom had a strong faith.

"I prayed she'd know I was OK. I prayed I could communicate through some cosmic reach of the universe to her."

Foley began to pray the rosary.

"It was what my mother and grandmother would have prayed. I said 10 Hail Marys between each Our Father. It took a long time, almost an hour to count 100 Hail Marys off on my knuckles. And it helped to keep my mind focused," he wrote. "Clare and I prayed together out loud. It felt energizing to speak our weaknesses and hopes together, as if in a conversation with God, rather than silently and alone."

Foley also described his experience at Marquette University, which he said "has always been a friend to me. The kind who challenges you to do more and be better and ultimately shapes who you become." He added that Marquette had never been "a bigger friend to me than when I was imprisoned as a journalist."

Marquette posted a link to his article along with a statement about his death on the university's website: https://news.marquette.edu.

"The Marquette community is deeply saddened by the death of alumnus and freelance journalist James Foley," the university's statement said. "We extend our heartfelt prayers and wishes for healing to James' family and friends during this very difficult time."

James Foley had majored in history at the Jesuit university, then enrolled at Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and earned a master's degree in 2008.

"(He) had a heart for social justice and used his immense talents to tell the difficult stories in the hopes that they might make a difference in the world -- a measure of his character for which we could not be prouder," the Marquette statement said.

A campus prayer vigil to remember Foley and to support his family was scheduled for Aug. 27 on campus.

Source: http://americamagazine.org/issue/remembering-james-foley-faith-and-fondness

They Chose Death Over Conversion

Elderly Iraqi Christians defy terrorists, flee to camp
An elderly Iraqi woman fleeing violence gestures at the Al Waleed refugee camp in Iraq Aug. 19. One group of sick, elderly Iraqi Christians said they defied terrorist demands to convert to Islam or be killed. (CNS photo/Morris Bernard, UNHCR handout via EPA)

A group of 11 sick, disabled and elderly Iraqi Christians—including an 80-year-old woman with breast cancer—defied terrorists who ordered them to convert to Islam or be beheaded, saying they preferred death to giving up their faith.

The united resistance prompted the Islamic State extremists to drop their demands and order the Christians to immediately leave their village of Karamless after first robbing them of their possessions, according to one of the survivors.

Sahar Mansour, a refugee from Mosul, told Catholic News Service in an Aug. 18 email that the group turned up at Ankawa refugee camp, where she is living, after they were released by the Islamist fighters. They had remained behind in Karamless because they were too weak to flee when the town was overrun by Islamic State militants the night of Aug. 6-7.

Mansour said she met the 80-year-old woman with cancer, who gave her name as Ghazala, in Ankawa on Aug. 18 and heard her account of their escape.

"When the people of Karamless fled from the village they (the elderly) were alone," Mansour said. "She (Ghazala) told me when they woke up in (the) morning they were surprised when they saw nobody in the village."

Instead they were "afraid and terrified," she continued, when they met masked fighters from the Islamic State, who ordered them to go home and remain indoors.

Mansour said Ghazala told her that on Aug. 16, the terrorists assembled the group "and told them either to convert or to be killed by sword."

"Ghazala told me that all the people told the terrorists that 'we prefer to be killed rather than convert,"' Mansour said. She said Ghazala added that members of the group scolded the terrorists for ignoring Islamic sacred texts that forbade forced conversions of non-Muslims.

Mansour said the elderly told the militants that the Islamic State had nothing to gain from the conversion of a group of sick, disabled and elderly people.

"When ISIS heard that they told the people to leave Karamless immediately, without taking anything, to leave with only with the clothes they were wearing," she said.

"ISIS took all their money from all of them and their gold," Mansour said, adding that one person had the courage to ask the terrorists to return some of their money so they could buy food for their journey to the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq.

The group of five men and six women later arrived at the Kalak checkpoint, the gateway to Kurdish-controlled territory, in two cars.

There, they were allowed to contact relatives already in refugee camps, who were taken to meet them, Mansour said.

Ghazala was reunited with her brother, and she is receiving medical treatment for her cancer.

Source: http://americamagazine.org/issue/they-chose-death-over-conversion

Friday, August 22, 2014

Cardinal Fernando Filoni: my mission among the sufferings of the Iraqi brothers

...the question cannot be set as a conflict between Islam and Christianity. On the other hand, those who are carrying out these terrible actions against minorities do it in the name of an intolerant political-religious ideology. And this is something that should make one think.


Vatican City - Cardinal Fernando Filoni, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, who returned from Iraq last night after his visit as personal envoy of Pope Francis, met the Pope this morning to inform him about the mission entrusted to him.

Video by Catholic News Service

In the following interview, the Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation told Fides Agency about the meetings and impressions that marked the days spent in the devastated Middle Eastern Country

Eminence, your visit was an emergency humanitarian trip which involved Christians and the other inhabitants of northern Iraq. What did you see? It was a mission in the suffering accomplished especially among Christians who escaped from Mosul and the Nineveh Plain. Uprooted from their homes, from the simplicity of their daily lives, to end up catapultated in an unpredictable situation. To find oneself, from one day to the next, without a home, without clothes, without all the bare necessities that one takes for granted and that now no longer exist, such as no water to wash oneself, with a temperature of 47 degrees. Or sleep on the street or in the garden, under a tree or under a plastic cover. With women used to working in the house, who appear disorientated. With children who are perhaps the only ones who do not understand the drama of the situation, and they run to and fro. With the elderly thrown in a corner and the sick who do not know if there is a doctor or medicines for them.

Is there an encounter, an event that particularly struck you?

A mother showed me her little 3 month girl, saying that while they were fleeing from Mosul, the baby’s gold earrings were removed. The object in itself is not important, but that violence also expresses contempt towards the little ones. I said: they have removed the earrings, but the most precious things are still with you: your child and your dignity. This wounded dignity that no one could take away. They were happy. They began to clap.

How were you welcomed? The fact that the Pope was unable to be present personally and immediately sent his personal envoy - not a diplomat, was a significant sign that he wanted to share everything with them. And I lived those days among them. I felt privileged compared to them, for the fact of having a room where to sleep and a bit of water to wash my hands. But I shared everything with them. I did not represent myself, but the Holy Father, and this sharing everything with them was a sign of the Pope’s closeness. I visited Christian and Yazidi villages. And then I participated in the life of the local Church. Even the Bishops, priests, religious men and women had to flee and had to find a place where to sleep. Through the envoy, the Pope wanted to encourage everyone, tell everyone that they have not been forgotten.

Returning from Korea, Pope Francis recognized that the way to stop the unjust aggressor is to be sought in international bodies.

The Church as Church is and will always be against war. But these poor people have the right to be defended. They have no weapons, they have been driven out from their homes in a cowardly way, they have not engaged the enemy.

How can one guarantee the right of these people to live in dignity in their own homes? Certainly not giving way to violence and trying to contain it in every way. But we cannot hear the cry of these people who tell us: help us, and defend us.

For this purpose, would it not be useful to know in the first place who provides money and weapons to jihadists, and aim at stopping the flow?

These are bodies and groups that operate showing that they are well supplied with arms and money, and one wonders how it is possible that all this passage of arms and resources escapes the control of those who have the duty to monitor and prevent such tragic developments. The question I heard from many is that on "remote control", on who moves things from far away. But I think that, for now, it is difficult to give an answer.

You were Nuncio in Iraq under Saddam Hussein. Can the current crisis be put in relation with the events of 2003 and the way in which an end was put to that regime? Yes and no. On the one hand, an upheaval in the Country that has created many critical situations and suffering has been produced, even if we must never forget that before there was not a calm and ideal situation. On the other hand, more than ten years have gone by. The more we move away from those events, the more one wonders if what is happening today is just the fault of others and of those facts of the past, or if there are other responsibilities. And we need to ask what has been done in all this time, and what could have been done.

Even the Pope has insisted that the victims of what is happening in Iraq are not only Christians, but all minorities. What does this emphasis suggest?

Obviously in the West, the situation of Christians is known. But, for example, the Yazidi have asked us to talk about them because - so I have been told - "we are a people with no voice and no one talks about us". The dramatic situations that I have seen and what they are experiencing really makes them the first victims. But there are Shiite villages from which all had to run away. And then the Mandaeans, and all other groups.

You spoke with influential political leaders both in Iraqi Kurdistan and Baghdad. Do they still share a unifying perspective for the future of the Country or are the centrifugal forces unstoppable now? Iraq is a composite Country. A political-geographical expression which appeared from 1920 onwards, where the extent of the Country is not perceived as uniformity but as multiplicity. The Authorities and the bishops speak of a mosaic of presences, cultures, and religions. Of course if this mosaic remains intact it has its own beauty and a future.

But if one begins to remove the tiles, sooner or later everything can fall apart.

The unity of the State is guaranteed by the Constitution, but then it has to be realized in the life of the Country and this is difficult, partly because each group carries their trauma, suffering, long persecution, injustice. Now Iraq is a Country to be rebuilt, and can remain united only if such units and the respect of different identities find space.

In the West, some take advantage of the events in Iraq to relaunch the contrast between Christianity and Islam. There is a fact: as I have already said, the attacks affect Christians, Yazidis, Shiites, but also against Sunnis. So the question cannot be set as a conflict between Islam and Christianity. On the other hand, those who are carrying out these terrible actions against minorities do it in the name of an intolerant political-religious ideology. And this is something that should make one think.

Source: http://www.news.va/en/news/asiairaq-cardinal-fernando-filoni-my-mission-among

USCCB President, Archbishop Kurtz, calls for a special collection for victims of violence in the Middle East

August 19, 2014

WASHINGTON— Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, president of the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has called on the bishops to consider taking up a special collection “to provide humanitarian relief and pastoral support for our affected brothers and sisters in the Middle East.” In an August 19 letter, he requested that the collection be held during the weekend of September 6-7 or September 13-14.

The impetus for the special appeal is a “great concern for the ongoing crisis in the Middle East, the cradle of Christianity,” Archbishop Kurtz explained in the letter. “Our Church mourns the terrible suffering of Christians and other innocent victims of violence in Iraq, Syria and Gaza who are struggling to survive, protect their children and live with dignity in dire conditions.”

Money given to the collection will be disbursed for humanitarian needs by Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and other Catholic agencies working in partnership with the local Church.

These organizations, Archbishop Kurtz explained, have well-established partnerships with the Catholic Church in the region that allow them to respond quickly and efficiently to victims in some of the hardest-to-reach areas. Collection funds will also support Church programs to aid persecuted Christians and for rebuilding needs of Catholic dioceses in the impacted areas.

“Our Christian brothers and sisters and other innocent victims of the violence in the Middle East urgently need the assistance of the Catholic community of the United States,” Archbishop Kurtz wrote. “Thank you for your support of this special collection and for your continued prayers for the victims of this crisis.”

More information can be found at: www.usccb.org/about/national-collections/index.cfm

USCCB Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs Reasserts Commitment to Dialogue with Muslims

August 20, 2014

New statement cites respect for Muslims from Vatican II, popes
Expresses sadness over violence, Christians who reject engagement
Joins Pope Francis in saying dialogue leads to growth, witness and peace

WASHINGTON—The Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) reasserted their commitment to dialogue with other religions and Muslims in particular in a statement developed between October 2013 and its release August 19. The committee, which is chaired by Auxiliary Bishop Denis J. Madden of Baltimore, listed tensions between Christians in Muslims in different parts of the world as a primary reason for reaffirming the need for dialogue.

“We understand the confusion and deep emotions stirred by real and apparent acts of aggression and discrimination by certain Muslims against non-Muslims, often against Christians abroad,” the bishops wrote. “Along with many of our fellow Catholics and the many Muslims who themselves are targeted by radicals, we wish to voice our sadness, indeed our outrage, over the random and sometimes systematic acts of violence and harassment—acts that for both Christians and Muslims threaten to disrupt the harmony that binds us together in mutual support, recognition, and friendship.”

The bishops expressed sadness over “deliberate rejection” of the call to engage in dialogue with Muslims by some Christians, Catholic and not. They noted that the call to respect and dialogue comes from the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions (Nostra Aetate) and has been reaffirmed by subsequent popes. They also noted that, for nearly 20 years, their committee has dialogued with several national Muslim organizations, producing documents on education, marriage and revelation.

“Perhaps most importantly, our work together has forged true bonds of friendship that are supported by mutual esteem and ever-growing trust that enables us to speak candidly with one another in an atmosphere of respect,” the bishops wrote. “Through dialogue we have been able to work through and overcome much of our mutual ignorance, habitual distrust, and debilitating fear.”

The bishops affirmed Pope Francis’ words of November 28, 2013, to the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, that “dialogue does not mean renouncing one’s identity” nor accepting compromises on faith and morals. They wrote, “Like the pope, we are convinced that the encounter and dialogue with persons different than ourselves offers the best opportunity for fraternal growth, enrichment, witness, and ultimately peace.”

Full text of the statement is available online: http://www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/ecumenical-and-interreligious/interreligious/islam/dialogue-with-muslims-committee-statement.cfm

Vatican and papal statements regarding Muslims are also available online: www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/ecumenical-and-interreligious/interreligious/islam/vatican-council-and-papal-statements-on-islam.cfm

Information on Catholic-Muslim dialogues in the United States is available at: www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/ecumenical-and-interreligious/interreligious/islam/index.cfm

Patriarch Twal calls for justice, international peace force for Gaza

2014-08-22 Vatican Radio
(Vatican Radio) As the conflict between Israel and Hamas continues to wreak destruction and death in Gaza, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Fouad Twal, has expressed dismay over the collapse of truce talks in Egypt.  In an interview with Vatican Radio’s Italian service,  the leader of the Catholic Latin rite Church in the Holy Land said despite hopes that the talks would succeed,  “for years, there was this inner fear that things would not go well because there is no political goodwill to arrive at a final solution that  is right for everyone.”

“What is a cease-fire if the conditions that lead to violence remain the same? Conditions that create desperate people, frustrated, extremist and angry!" exclaimed the Patriarch.  “We must do much more to create a normal life: we need a (new) culture, a new mentality and an international force that can take the place of Israel (to keep the peace) in order to break this wall around the city.”

“If there were a normal life (in Gaza):  if there were streets leading outside, if there were an airport for travel, if there were a port, if the roads were open (into and out of) Israel, Egypt, and Jordan…and people could do business, live, sell, travel, study, go to hospital and to university, we would not have frustrated and desperate extremists.”

Asked how Gaza’s small Christian community is faring in the mayhem, Patriarch Twal said the area where the school and convent are located has not been harmed.  “They have opened their doors to several  hundred people – Muslim and Christian – who are living inside the grounds now but nothing has been touched.  It is nice that the Church is open to all those in need, Muslims, Christians… Our charity here corresponds to your solidarity that comes from abroad.”

During his visit to Korea, Pope Francis spoke often about the situation in the Middle East and Gaza.  “For us, he’s a father,” said Patriarch Twal, “and we thank the Holy Father; we are grateful to him.  We have very positive memories of his visit here, his stop at the Wall (Israel’s security barrier) – an image seen around the world,  I believe that people here have not forgotten that stop at the wall of separation, that means everything.”

Both sides, the Patriarch affirmed, are tired of conflict and desire peace.  “Absolutely!  Here, Caritas is collecting aid from all over the world.  There have been two or three Israeli organizations which have participated in this material aid to send to Gaza.  Certainly, there is no want of good will to condemn a certain kind of politics.”
(From archive of Vatican Radio)

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

My Plea to the People of Israel: Liberate Yourselves by Liberating Palestine

By Desmond Tutu | Aug. 14, 2014 | reprinted from Ha'aretz

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, in an exclusive article for Haaretz, calls for a global boycott of Israel and urges Israelis and Palestinians to look beyond their leaders for a sustainable solution to the crisis in the Holy Land.

A child next to a picture of Nelson Mandela at a pro-Palestinian rally in Cape Town. August 9, 2014 Photo by AP

The past weeks have witnessed unprecedented action by members of civil society across the world against the injustice of Israel’s disproportionately brutal response to the firing of missiles from Palestine. If you add together all the people who gathered over the past weekend to demand justice in Israel and Palestine – in Cape Town, Washington, D.C., New York, New Delhi, London, Dublin and Sydney, and all the other cities – this was arguably the largest active outcry by citizens around a single cause ever in the history of the world. 

A quarter of a century ago, I participated in some well-attended demonstrations against apartheid. I never imagined we’d see demonstrations of that size again, but last Saturday’s turnout in Cape Town was as big if not bigger. Participants included young and old, Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, agnostics, atheists, blacks, whites, reds and greens ... as one would expect from a vibrant, tolerant, multicultural nation. I asked the crowd to chant with me: “We are opposed to the injustice of the illegal occupation of Palestine. We are opposed to the indiscriminate killing in Gaza. We are opposed to the indignity meted out to Palestinians at checkpoints and roadblocks. We are opposed to violence perpetrated by all parties. But we are not opposed to Jews.”

Earlier in the week, I called for the suspension of Israel from the International Union of Architects, which was meeting in South Africa. I appealed to Israeli sisters and brothers present at the conference to actively disassociate themselves and their profession from the design and construction of infrastructure related to perpetuating injustice, including the separation barrier, the security terminals and checkpoints, and the settlements built on occupied Palestinian land. “I implore you to take this message home: Please turn the tide against violence and hatred by joining the nonviolent movement for justice for all people of the region,” I said.

Over the past few weeks, more than 1.6 million people across the world have signed onto this movement by joining an Avaaz campaign calling on corporations profiting from the Israeli occupation and/or implicated in the abuse and repression of Palestinians to pull out. The campaign specifically targets Dutch pension fund ABP; Barclays Bank; security systems supplier G4S; French transport company Veolia; computer company Hewlett-Packard; and bulldozer supplier Caterpillar. Last month, 17 EU governments urged their citizens to avoid doing business in or investing in illegal Israeli settlements. We have also recently witnessed the withdrawal by Dutch pension fund PGGM of tens of millions of euros from Israeli banks; the divestment from G4S by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; and the U.S. Presbyterian Church divested an estimated $21 million from HP, Motorola Solutions and Caterpillar.

It is a movement that is gathering pace. Violence begets violence and hatred, that only begets more violence and hatred. We South Africans know about violence and hatred. We understand the pain of being the polecat of the world; when it seems nobody understands or is even willing to listen to our perspective. It is where we come from. We also know the benefits that dialogue between our leaders eventually brought us; when organizations labeled “terrorist” were unbanned and their leaders, including Nelson Mandela, were released from imprisonment, banishment and exile. We know that when our leaders began to speak to each other, the rationale for the violence that had wracked our society dissipated and disappeared. Acts of terrorism perpetrated after the talks began – such as attacks on a church and a pub – were almost universally condemned, and the party held responsible snubbed at the ballot box.

The exhilaration that followed our voting together for the first time was not the preserve of black South Africans alone. The real triumph of our peaceful settlement was that all felt included. And later, when we unveiled a constitution so tolerant, compassionate and inclusive that it would make God proud, we all felt liberated. Of course, it helped that we had a cadre of extraordinary leaders. But what ultimately forced these leaders together around the negotiating table was the cocktail of persuasive, nonviolent tools that had been developed to isolate South Africa, economically, academically, culturally and psychologically. At a certain point – the tipping point – the then-government realized that the cost of attempting to preserve apartheid outweighed the benefits. The withdrawal of trade with South Africa by multinational corporations with a conscience in the 1980s was ultimately one of the key levers that brought the apartheid state – bloodlessly – to its knees. Those corporations understood that by contributing to South Africa’s economy, they were contributing to the retention of an unjust status quo. Those who continue to do business with Israel, who contribute to a sense of “normalcy” in Israeli society, are doing the people of Israel and Palestine a disservice. They are contributing to the perpetuation of a profoundly unjust status quo. Those who contribute to Israel’s temporary isolation are saying that Israelis and Palestinians are equally entitled to dignity and peace.

Ultimately, events in Gaza over the past month or so are going to test who believes in the worth of human beings. It is becoming more and more clear that politicians and diplomats are failing to come up with answers, and that responsibility for brokering a sustainable solution to the crisis in the Holy Land rests with civil society and the people of Israel and Palestine themselves. Besides the recent devastation of Gaza, decent human beings everywhere – including many in Israel – are profoundly disturbed by the daily violations of human dignity and freedom of movement Palestinians are subjected to at checkpoints and roadblocks. And Israel’s policies of illegal occupation and the construction of buffer-zone settlements on occupied land compound the difficulty of achieving an agreement settlement in the future that is acceptable for all.

The State of Israel is behaving as if there is no tomorrow. Its people will not live the peaceful and secure lives they crave – and are entitled to – as long as their leaders perpetuate conditions that sustain the conflict. I have condemned those in Palestine responsible for firing missiles and rockets at Israel. They are fanning the flames of hatred. I am opposed to all manifestations of violence. But we must be very clear that the people of Palestine have every right to struggle for their dignity and freedom. It is a struggle that has the support of many around the world. No human-made problems are intractable when humans put their heads together with the earnest desire to overcome them. No peace is impossible when people are determined to achieve it. Peace requires the people of Israel and Palestine to recognize the human being in themselves and each other; to understand their interdependence.

Missiles, bombs and crude invective are not part of the solution. There is no military solution. The solution is more likely to come from that nonviolent toolbox we developed in South Africa in the 1980s, to persuade the government of the necessity of altering its policies. The reason these tools – boycott, sanctions and divestment – ultimately proved effective was because they had a critical mass of support, both inside and outside the country. The kind of support we have witnessed across the world in recent weeks, in respect of Palestine.
My plea to the people of Israel is to see beyond the moment, to see beyond the anger at feeling perpetually under siege, to see a world in which Israel and Palestine can coexist – a world in which mutual dignity and respect reign. It requires a mind-set shift. A mind-set shift that recognizes that attempting to perpetuate the current status quo is to damn future generations to violence and insecurity. A mind-set shift that stops regarding legitimate criticism of a state’s policies as an attack on Judaism. A mind-set shift that begins at home and ripples out across communities and nations and regions – to the Diaspora scattered across the world we share. 

The only world we share.

People united in pursuit of a righteous cause are unstoppable. God does not interfere in the affairs of people, hoping we will grow and learn through resolving our difficulties and differences ourselves. But God is not asleep. The Jewish scriptures tell us that God is biased on the side of the weak, the dispossessed, the widow, the orphan, the alien who set slaves free on an exodus to a Promised Land. It was the prophet Amos who said we should let righteousness flow like a river.

Goodness prevails in the end. The pursuit of freedom for the people of Palestine from humiliation and persecution by the policies of Israel is a righteous cause. It is a cause that the people of Israel should support. Nelson Mandela famously said that South Africans would not feel free until Palestinians were free. He might have added that the liberation of Palestine will liberate Israel, too.

--Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Crisis in Gaza and the West Bank: Context and Action

A Public Forum Sponsored by the Coalition for Peace with Justice

Pullen Memorial Baptist Church, Raleigh, North Carolina

August 6, 2014

P.S. Please note I spoke incorrectly about Chomsky. I said he was against the right of return. I stand corrected. I apologize for my error.  --Rania Marsi

Dr. Rania Masri

Human Rights Activist and Environmentalist

University of Balamand, Environmental Sciences, Faculty Member

Has accepted a position at the American University in Beirut.

Environmental Justice, Environmental Sciences, Environmental Literature, Civic Engagement, Community Based Research, Community-Based Learning, Civil Society, Middle East Politics, Arab Gulf Politics, Islamism, State-society relations, Gender, Environmental Sustainability, Social Sciences, Public Policy, Human Resource Management, Environmental Science, Pedagogy, Lebanon, and Feminism

Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti: 'Islamic State' is enemy of Islam

2014-08-20 Vatican Radio

(Reuters) - Saudi Arabia's Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz Al al-Sheikh, the highest religious authority in the country, has said the militant groups Islamic State and al Qaeda were "enemy number one of Islam" and not in any way part of the faith.  Although the mufti and other senior Saudi clerics have condemned Islamic State, al Qaeda and other groups before, the timing of Al al-Sheikh's statement on Tuesday is significant given the gains by militants in Iraq.

"Extremist and militant ideas and terrorism which spread decay on Earth, destroying human civilization, are not in any way part of Islam, but are enemy number one of Islam, and Muslims are their first victims," he said in a statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency.

He later compared them to the Kharijite movement in early Islam, which assassinated the Prophet Mohammed's son-in-law Ali for making compromises to a rival Muslim faction, and has been seen as heretical by most subsequent Muslim sects.

Saudi Arabia follows the ultra-conservative Wahhabi school of Sunni Islam but sees Islamist militants, who staged attacks in the kingdom last decade, as posing a threat to its own stability.

Although senior Wahhabi clerics endorse execution by beheading for offences that include apostasy, adultery and sorcery, oppose women driving or working and describe Shi'ites as heretics, they differ from al Qaeda and Islamic State militants in opposing violent revolt.

Thousands of young Saudis are believed to have traveled to Syria and Iraq to join rebel and militant groups, spurring concern within the authorities that they may eventually launch attacks on their own government.
Saudi Arabia labeled Islamic State, al Qaeda, Nusra Front and other groups as "terrorist" in March and imposed long prison terms for offering them public support or giving them moral or material aid.

Early this month King Abdullah made a speech attacking militant groups that used Islamic justifications, and urged Muslim scholars and leaders to fight against them.

(From archive of Vatican Radio)

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Pope Francis: A single nation cannot judge how to stop an unjust aggressor

 The United Nations is the right venue to discuss the issue.

Answering questions regarding the persecution of Christians and other religious minorities by fundamentalists of the Islamic State (IS), the Pope said that “it is legitimate to halt the unjust aggressor”. And he underlined the word “halt” pointing out that does not mean to “bomb”. He said the methods used to halt the aggressor are to be evaluated. The Pope also pointed out that in these cases we must not forget “how many times with the excuse of halting the unjust aggressor (…) have powerful nations taken possession of peoples and waged a war of conquest!” A single nation, he said, cannot judge how to stop an unjust aggressor, and he pointed to the United Nations as the right venue to discuss the issue. Pope Francis also pointed out that persecuted Christians are close to his heart, but he underlined the fact that there are also other minorities suffering persecution, and they all have the same rights.

Regarding his availability to travel to Kurdistan to be with the fleeing refugees, Pope Francis said he is ready to do so if it is deemed a good thing to do. At the moment, however, he pointed to the various initiatives undertaken by the Vatican, such as sending Cardinal Fernando Filoni, writing to the UN Secretary General, and writing a personal communiqué that was sent to all the nunciatures and governments in the area.

Excerpt from the Pope's press conference on his return flight from Korea on Aug. 18

 Source: http://www.news.va/en/news/pope-holds-press-conference-on-flight-back-from-ko    

Pope Francis on prayers with leaders of Palestine and Israel at the Vatican

The door to peace is still open; we cannot see that door through the smoke of bombs, but it is open.

...speaking about the Invocation for Peace in the Holy Land that recently took place in the Vatican in the presence of the leaders of Palestine and Israel, Pope Francis said “it was not a failure”. He said the event sprung from the political leaders themselves, who could not find the right place to do it. He revealed that initially they wanted to organize it when the Pope was in the Holy Land in May in a neutral venue like the Nunciature. But that would have posed problems as the president of the State of Palestine would have had to enter Israel and it was not easy. So they said to me: “Let’s do it in the Vatican!” the Pope said. They are both men of peace, he said. They are convinced that the only way forward is the way of negotiation and dialogue. “And today that door is still open, he said, were there to open the door of prayer. Peace, Francis said, is a gift and it was important to show humanity that the way of negotiation and dialogue is important, and it is not possible without prayer. Today, the Pope said, we cannot see that door through the smoke of the bombs, but it is open.

Excerpt from the press conference held on the Pope's return flight from Korea on August 18.

Source: http://www.news.va/en/news/pope-holds-press-conference-on-flight-back-from-ko

Monday, August 18, 2014

Chaldean Patriarch Sako's Statement From Iraq

"Liberate the villages and other places that have been occupied as soon as possible and with a permanent result. The hope of these people must not be allowed to die!"


Vatican City, (Zenit.org)

The Chaldean Patriarch, Louis Raphael I Sako, has issued the following statement concerning the visit of Pope Francis’ Personal Envoy to Iraq, Cardinal Fernando Filoni, and calling on international organizations to intervene.


The Special Envoy of the Holy Father in Iraq, Cardinal Fernando Filoni, accompanied by Patriarch Sako, by the Apostolic Nuncio, and the local Bishops, met with the political authorities of the Autonomous Region of Kurdistan and visited the Christian refugees as well as the Yezidi and others in the provinces of Duhoq and Erbil.

They heard about and saw for themselves the tragedy and suffering of so many families that have left their villages, their homes and property, above all in Mosul, on the plain of Nineveh, and in Sinjar. What they heard and saw has compelled them to join in a new appeal from the Patriarch in asking the International Community, and in particular to countries and international organizations that take their moral responsibilities seriously:

  1. To intervene immediately in bringing help in providing basic necessities: water, food, medical supplies, sanitary services, etc.
  2. To liberate the villages and other places that have been occupied as soon as possible and with a permanent result. The hope of these people must not be allowed to die!
  3. To assure that there is international protection for these villages and so to encourage these families to go back to their homes and to continue to live a normal life in security and peace. Many times did the people cry out to us: help us to return to just living our lives!

[Original Text: English]

Source: http://www.zenit.org/en/articles/chaldean-patriarch-sako-s-statement-from-iraq