Article from the Vatican’s Pontifical Missions news service, Fides
Amman (Agenzia Fides) - The initiative of Christians linked to evangelical groups that were filmed while distributing gospels and leaflets concerning spiritual reflection in the refugee camp in Zaatari, the main camp for the reception of refugees fleeing the Syrian civil war present on Jordanian territory, continues to be at the center of a debate.
The movie, on the internet, continues to provoke controversy and causes the stand off on behalf of Catholic Church responsibles: "you cannot bring provision and take advantage of that situation to distribute the Gospels" says to Fides Agency Archbishop Maroun Lahham, Patriarchal Vicar for Jordan of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. According to Msg. Lahham "in that way you are exploiting humanitarian initiatives to achieve forms of proselytism that have nothing to do with the dynamics of authentic Christian witness." The refugee camp in Zaatari started functioning exactly one year ago, July 29, 2012, with 2 thousand tents able to accommodate 10 thousand people. Now there are 120 thousand refugees, who represent the fourth most populous settlement inhabited in the entire Hashemite Kingdom. (GV) (Agenzia Fides 30/07/2013).
In a very sinister and dangerous development a group of American evangelicals have been active in Jordan utilising the conflict in Syria to proselytise Syrian Muslim refugees. The presence of these American evangelicals and their activities among the refugee community add to an already explosive situation creating the possibility that those who promote an extremist ideology in the region would utilise such activities as a means of incitement against Christians in general something that would have disastrous consequences for the indigenous Christians, within the west Jordan area of the Holy Land, the majority of whom are blameless in this matter.
The news report comes from CBN the Christian Broadcasting Network which is a Christian Zionist television network in the United States founded by televangelist Pat Robertson noted among other things for his Islamaphobic views. Even in the narrative of the news reporter, Wendy Griffith, these attitudes are at play as she describes Muslim women wearing normal Hijab as “Burka clad refugees.”
The CBN broadcast focuses on the work in Jordan of an American Christian evangelical NGO know as “e3 Partners Ministry.” This NGO operates out of Plano, Texas and its president and founder is Curtis Hail a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary a leading exponent of Christian Zionism in the U.S. The NGO's Vice president and Middle East Director, who features in this news report, is Thomas Doyle a fellow graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary and author of the book “Two Nations under God - Why You Should Care about Israel”.
The 2006 Statement on Christian Zionism by the Latin (Roman Catholic) Patriarch of Jerusalem and Heads of Churches in the Holy Land has a direct relevance to the current activities of Zionist evangelical organisations such as e3 Partners Ministry and their conduct in Jordan.
"The Christian Zionist program provides a worldview where the Gospel is identified with the ideology of empire, colonialism and militarism. In its extreme form, it places an emphasis
on apocalyptic events leading to the end of history rather than living Christ's love and justice today.
We categorically reject Christian Zionist doctrines as false teaching that corrupts the biblical message of love, justice and reconciliation."
The full text can be read here
Middle Eastern Christians decry how Western media misrepresent the increasingly violent events in Syria.
Articel from The Catholic World Report
By Alessandra Nucci
Note: Illustrations and descriptions added by this blog
Now that Syria is in shambles—with an estimated 93,000 dead, 1.5 million refugees, and 4.5 million internally displaced; ancient churches torched, destroyed, or vandalized; Christians targeted for murder and kidnapping and even used as human shields—now the mainstream media is starting to admit that, yes, the rebel forces appear to include quite a few Islamist guerrillas. Now that even chemical warfare has made its appearance, with Carla Del Ponte, a member of the International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, confirming that “the chemical weapons are being used by the rebels, not the men faithful to Bashar al Assad”; now that clergy are being kidnapped, with still no word of kidnapped bishops Yohanna Ibrahim and Boulos Yazigi and with the beheading of a cleric by Islamist rebels available on YouTube for all to see—now the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has started including some jihadist rebel atrocities in their reports.
Now that women are having to cover up with the abaya, or at least keep a veil handy when they venture out, just in case (something previously inconceivable in Syria), now the press is reporting the establishment of sharia courts which, according to the Washington Post, pass sentences “daily and indiscriminately” on Christians and anyone else who violates precepts of Wahhabi Islam.
Now that the economy has been brought to its knees by the widespread destruction and looting of stores and workshops; now that famine is at hand in the city of Aleppo, and foodstuffs are to be had only at enormous prices; now that the terrorists have reached Homs and Aleppo and the mountains above Damascus—now at last the press seems to have stopped describing the rebels’ fight as a high-minded struggle for “freedom.”
Syrian culture used to be distinctive among the lands of the Middle East for a coexistence between Christians and Muslims which went beyond mere tolerant forbearance, a reality of which Syrians were proud. Under the iron fist of the ruling Alawite dictators, who kept fundamentalists at bay, a good degree of religious freedom was preserved. Christians fleeing persecution in other Middle East countries found refuge in Assad’s Syria, including Iraqi Catholics fleeing post-Saddam persecution.
Yet today, after two years of “Arab Spring” rebellion, the 2,000-year-old community of Assyrian Christians—some of whom still pray in Jesus’ Aramaic tongue—is facing extinction, and the international media is complicit.
Since 2011, mainstream Western media, along with Al-Jazeera, has produced a steady stream of reports on the brutal suppression of liberty by the regime of Bashar al-Assad, ignoring the fact that the regime had long ensured that Syria’s nearly 2.5 million Christians—who include members of some 10 different faith traditions—were guaranteed the same rights as the Islamic majority. If the Assad regime, rather than being toppled, has become more popular with the passing of time and in the face of escalating violence, as many reports from the region indicate, it is because government tanks were the only thing standing between the people and sniper bullets from—or potential kidnapping by—rebel forces.
Nonetheless, as late as June—while the Vatican news agency Fides reported that the armed opposition was forcing Christians to leave the country, and PIME news agency AsiaNews identified Saudi Arabia and Qatar as the prime instigators of this move—the New York Times’ reporting on Syria persevered in laying the blame for the nation’s troubles largely upon on Assad and his supporters.
Yet Catholic authorities and Christian patriarchs of the different religious traditions in Syria have spoken up whenever possible.
“Eighty percent of the population is on the side of the government, like all Christians are,” was the assessment, months back, of the Catholic Chaldean bishop of Aleppo, Antoine Audo, SJ, one of the many to accuse the mainstream media, including the BBC, of slanted reporting.
Msgr. Giuseppe Nazzaro, OFM, apostolic vicar of Aleppo, said: “The papers take up only the news published by Al-Jazeera and other Arab media, which are financed by Qatar and Saudi Arabia. These countries are among the main supporters of the rebel forces whose only aim is to foment chaos in order to topple the Assad regime."
Gregory III Laham, patriarch of Antioch and leader of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, which is based in Damascus, revealed in an interview in June that Syrian Christians are being used as human shields in the armed battles between the Syrian army and the rebels. “The truce has been violated by the rebels, not Assad,” the patriarch said, contradicting UN envoy Kofi Annan, who had blamed the violation of the cease-fire on the government. “It is in the regime’s best interest that Kofi Annan’s peace plan succeed. There have been thousands of casualties among the soldiers, out of the ten thousand dead since the beginning of the revolt. On behalf of the other Syrian bishops, I can assure you that there has never been an unarmed demonstration that was attacked by the army. The government does not attack unless it is attacked.”
In June 2011 pro-government civilians carried a 60-foot wide, one-and-a-half-mile long Syrian flag through the streets of Damascus, hoping their demonstration would leave no uncertainty as to where the population stood, and that accounts of vast popular indignation against the government would be belied by the turnout. However, initial reports on the demonstration described it as being against the government rather than for it. To the camera a crowd is a crowd, their words are in Arabic, and any signs in English can be excised or spoken over.
“I thank the world’s solidarity,” the patriarch continued, “Italy’s and America’s, Caritas and the Muslim charity of the Gulf nations. But I would rather have not had to thank them.” On the subject of the two kidnapped bishops, the patriarch said: “Still no news. Under the Assads no bishops were ever kidnapped. But now we have change, we want to better our condition, and here we are.”
In the interview, which was given before President Obama decided to send arms to the rebel factions, Patriarch Twal worried that it might be the European nations who would do so: “All the Muslim radicals that were in Jordan have now gone to Syria. It is the utmost irony that we are now collaborating with them. Europe professes high values, yet collaborates with people who terrify them and their people, and terrify our Arab regimes. To think that Europe, and above all France and the UK, would even like to send arms to the rebels, in order to help defeat Assad! Aren’t 80,000 dead enough? Do we really want more victims and destruction, to change this famous Assad regime? Okay then, send in more weapons and the dead are bound to increase.”
Among the first cracks in the invisible iron curtain of mainstream media coverage was the testimony of the Trappist nuns of the Beata Maria Fons Pacis monastery, located in a small village near Aleppo. Of Tuscan origin, the sisters had come to Syria in 2005 to devote their lives to God and to their neighbors, Christians and Muslims alike. In an interview three years ago, with the uprisings already brewing, the community’s superior, Sister Martha, spoke about the demonstrations in support of Assad. “President Bashar was truly beloved by many people,” attested Sister Martha. “Today, of course, with the passing of time, there has been a growing awareness of a need for more justice and more liberty. But there is also a realization that among the rebels there is a violent faction that wants to exploit this situation to take over the country.”
Is there an international conspiracy? “I can’t say,” replied Sister Martha. “All we know is that the Saudis have bought land and houses, or lent money to people to buy land and houses. We know that weapons are pouring into Syria, along with money and soldiers. This can’t help but increase the instability.”
The sisters hoe their vegetable garden, pray, work, comfort the people. They never dreamed the situation would come to this when they came. “But where else would it make more sense for a monastery to be, than here?”
A well-known religious figure who has spoken out on the plight of Syrian Christians is Carmelite nun Mother Agnès-Mariam de la Croix. Of Lebanese origin, Mother Agnès-Mariam, 60, is the superior of a convent near Qara, about 50 miles from Damascus. In June 2012 she was warned of a plot to abduct her after she revealed that about 80,000 Christians had been “cleared out” of their homes in Homs province by rebel forces, and forced to flee the country. After the uprising began, Mother Agnès said she had noticed growing numbers of “aggressive, armed gangs which wished to paralyze community life, abducting people, beheading, bringing terror even to schools.” Slowly these gangs were identified: some were al-Qaeda recruits and affiliates, some had been involved with the Muslim Brotherhood, some were attached to other Islamist factions.
In the beginning, the Carmelite nun explained, the uprising embraced freedom and democracy. “But it steadily became a violent Islamist expression against a liberal secular society.” As one of many examples of the disinformation made possible by the language barrier, Mother Agnès cited an al-Jazeera report about the murder of a child in Homs, which was blamed on Syrian security forces. The video shows Sari Saoud’s mother crying out in front of her dead son, with a caption in English quoting the woman as saying, “Security forces committed this crime”. But, “we know this woman,” said Mother Agnès. “[She] is the niece of a stone-cutter who works at the monastery. What the woman said in fact was, ‘If security forces had been here, my son would not have been killed.”
Chemical warfare used, goes unreported.
Another Christian voice out of Syria is Sister Marguerite of the Community of Sisters of St Joseph of the Apparition, stationed at St. Louis Hospital, Aleppo, who writes that the people are so impoverished that they cut down the trees of city parks to get wood to heat their houses: “People resort to anything to support their families,” she says. “Even middle-class, well-to-do people, lawyers, engineers, tradesmen…Along the roads there are innumerable improvised street vendors selling whatever. School buildings are no longer for teaching, but are filled with displaced families, so children are in the street all day long, in the cold and rain, selling cigarettes, biscuits, chewing gum for a few pennies… a famous Christian musician who is practically ruined can be seen living outside the house where he used to live, playing the violin with tears in his eyes.”
Sister Marguerite also describes the menace of chemical warfare: “On St Joseph’s feast day, in March, the terrorists launched a missile with a chemical warhead on the province of Aleppo, killing 25 people and wounding others. Why is it that no press organ has spoken of this crime or condemned this act of chemical warfare on civilians?”
Christians targeted; the West looks the other way
By all accounts, while many people are suffering and dying in the Syrian conflict, no group is suffering more than Christians, stranded in the middle of a brutal war in which each side—rebel and regime—fires rockets into civilian areas and carries out attacks on a daily basis.
The Christians are not, however, simply collateral damage. As Nina Shea, director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, said at a subcommittee hearing at the US House of Representatives in June, “Christians are the targets of an ethno-religious cleansing by Islamist militants and courts. In addition, they have lost the protection of the Assad government, making them easy prey for criminals and fighters, whose affiliations are not always clear. Wherever they appear, Islamist militias have made life impossible for the Christians.”
Christians, peaceful and without anyone to protect them, are the first to be persecuted and harassed into leaving Syria. According to a report from last December of the UN Human Right Council’s Commission of Inquiry on Syria, although no religious community has been spared suffering, it is the Christians who face an “existential threat.” And in contrast to Syria’s Alawites, Shiites, and Sunnis, Syria’s ancient Christian community has no tribal system and no foreign power to defend it.
Shea’s detailed report cites numerous sources from within Syria, along with needed perspective on the foreign policies of Western nations with respect to the country’s imperiled religious minorities. She points to the attacks on religious freedom which took place in Afghanistan and Iraq under both Democratic and Republican administrations, which received no significant policy response from the United States. “For example,” relates Shea,
while there were 90,000 American and NATO troops on the ground in
Afghanistan, that country’s last remaining church, in Kabul, was razed in 2010 after its 99-year lease was cancelled. The US State Department knew of this, and even reported on it in September 2011, but no US official took any measure to stop or reverse it. The destruction of Afghanistan’s last church did not draw the international protest that accompanied the Taliban’s destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhist statues in 2001, but it is equally emblematic and even more consequential, depriving a religious community of its only house of worship. While the American people supported President Karzai’s government, financially and militarily, Afghanistan joined the infamous company of hardline Saudi Arabia as a country that will not tolerate any churches. America’s own diplomats and contract workers in Afghanistan must now hide their worship services.
Other examples include Iraq in 2005-2008, when Christians, Mandaeans, and Yezidis experienced persecutions that ultimately led to a nationwide “religious cleansing” campaign against non-Muslims,under the noses of the US occupying power and more than 100,000 American troops. American foreign policy officials apparently believed that it would constitute “special pleading” to do anything to help when 20,000 Christians were violently driven from Baghdad by Islamists in 2006. Yet by then the US was involved “in intensive efforts to ensure that nonviolent Sunnis gained positions in the Iraqi government, which, thanks to the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, was run largely by Shias, whom the administration had helped politically strengthen and unify,” according to Shea.
With these precedents, there is no use expecting a reaction to the July 2 report from Vatican news agency Fides that the jihadi faction known as Jabhat al-Nusra (which has heavily infiltrated the rebel forces in the area of the Latin Church of Saint Anthony, near Aleppo, where Father Francois Murad was murdered), have declared as their sole objective the establishment of an Islamic Caliphate, under which the law will not allow even the mere presence of “kafir” (“infidels,” or, in other words, non-Muslims).
With Islamic regimes gradually replacing the hoped-for democracies and extending from Morocco to Iran, thanks to Western influence, one wonders, with Mother Agnès-Mariam de la Croix, what exactly is going on: “We are bewildered by the position of Western countries; we aren’t used to seeing France as a country that favors fundamentalism, and we are even more surprised at the United States: didn’t they invade Afghanistan to get rid of al-Qaeda? What is the West out to achieve here…: freedom or fundamentalism? Or is it freedom for fundamentalism?”
Alessandra Nucci is an Italian author and journalist.
Original article here.
Archbishop Theodosios, Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem addresses an American Christian audience on the issues of Syria, Palestine and conflict in the Middle East.
Translated from Arabic
Theodosios (Atallah Hanna) of Sebastia of the Greek Orthodox Church said yesterday (22/07/13) when addressing a delegation of America Christian churches, "we hear a lot of voices in the West,
which call for the protection of Christian minorities in the Middle East demanding the maintenance of their rights, their survival and the continuity of their existence but at the same time we see
that there are some forces in the West that finance, arm and encourage extremist elements and these same elements and armed groups are targeting Christians."
"I would like to say to the West and with the utmost clarity that you’re arming of the so-called “Syrian opposition” has lead to the targeting of Christians, expelling them and weakening their
presence in Syria. These parties of armed extremists exploit religion for political purposes and are targeting Christians; the religion itself is completely innocent of this. If we can say that
the displacement of Christians today from the Arab region is funded by the West than this is a bitter reality which must be said and heard by some of the leaders in the West who flaunt the
protection of Christian minorities in the Middle East. Stop supporting extremism, fundamentalism and violence, if you want to actually help the Middle East you have to face down the scourge of
extremism and violence and not support colonial interests in the Middle East with money and weapons"
He added: "We refuse to be characterised as a minority who needs to be protected in our homelands, we are an essential component part of the fabric of this region and have no choice ahead of us
but to cling to our Arab identity and defend our homeland and lives in the East along with our fellow Muslims in an atmosphere of religious brotherhood and national unity in the civil democratic
manner where there is no majority or minority, but the citizen whose rights must be safeguarded regardless of religious or political affiliation. The
support of some Western powers for some violent armed parties creates an atmosphere of tension and provokes hatred and strife in Arab societies if the international community wants stability for
the Middle East, it must work with integrity to solve all dilemmas away from violence and slaughter. Slaughtering the innocent and devising sophisticated means to carry out the death sentence
will not lead to democracy, but will inflame religious and sectarian conflicts and the price will be paid by all the sons of the Middle East, both Muslims and Christians."
is there a suspicious silence regarding the kidnapping of Archbishops from Aleppo?" He went on: "Why is there a suspicious silence on the kidnapping of the Archbishops of Aleppo and the suffering of
the Christians in Syria targeted like all the sons of the Syrian? Will the displacement of Christians from Syria, their killing and
slaughter and the destruction of their churches lead to an alleged democracy? Has the west a contradictory position I wonder. Do you want theMiddle East free of Christians? Is your aim to
empty Arab region of Christians at the service of Israel's interest, which does not want an Arab Christian defending Arab rights, particularly on the question of Palestine?
Are Christians exposed to targeting because they defend the interests of the Arab nation? We really do not trust the West, which says it wants to protect Christians, but in fact wants to protect its interests and the interests of Israel at the expense of Christians and Muslims in the East. Do not tell us that you are keen on the Christian presence in the East, because your own policy contradicts this position. Syria is destroyed and her children killed and innocent people slaughtered, you say you want democracy for Syria, what democracy are you talking about, what happens in Syria happens in other Arab countries as well. We wish for Syria an end to its violence as soon as possible and that her children will engage in dialogue for the future of their country and for a halt to this massive destruction inflicted on the country that we love so much. "
He added: "I challenge you to support the Palestinian people in achieving their national aspirations, be with justice and do not side with the oppressor at the expense of the oppressed. Contribute to a just solution on the question of Palestine, our people deserve freedom. The humiliation of Palestinian dignity is an affront to all humanity, as we said in the document Kairos Palestinian we wish for the culture of the civil state, we don't want a religious Jewish state nor a Muslim nor a Christian state but a civil state with human dignity and human rights that does not discriminate against anyone based on religious or sectarian affiliation. We wish Egypt and its people to succeed in achieving their civil state as in all Arab countries. We have to make this East an oasis for peace and love away from extremism, intolerance and violence. In the interest of the peoples of the East if you want to contribute to achieving justice, peace and love between people support the civil State and do not fund extremism and violence and armed groups that exploit religion for purposes that are not religious."
Arabic original here
Note: Illustrations and descriptions added by this blog
Article from the Vatican’s Pontifical Missions news service, Fides
Aleppo (Agenzia Fides) - Supplies and goods have been blocked, including food, a real "food embargo", which is devastating the civilian population of Aleppo. The block, now in its seventh day, was imposed by rebel groups that control the northeast region of the city that now threaten even the interruption of water supply. The "rebels" are jagged in numerous groups and factions, some Islamists and jihadists such as "Jubhat al nosra", "Liwaa al tawhid", "Aasifat al Shimal", "Souqqour al shahba" and others, in which fighters from Afghanistan , Libya, Caucasus, from the former Soviet republics of Central Asia and other countries enlist. The city is split in two, a part under the control of the army (Southeast) and half under the control of armed groups (Northeast). It has been transformed into a "battlefield", with serious damage to the civilian population, of every race and religion, and sees destroyed its precious historical and cultural heritage.
Friar Bernard, one of the five Franciscan friars who has decided to remain in the city, in the convent of San Francesco, explains to Fides: "Famine is upon us. People are afraid, impoverished and cries. We focus on helping families and refugees. The Christian areas are in the middle between the area controlled by the army and the armed groups. The suffering of the civilian population is immense. The block of food is against all basic humanitarian law. People find it hard to even get bread".
The rebels took control of the road that links Aleppo to Hama. In the past few days there have been violent military clashes. Meanwhile, there is very little food supply and prices have skyrocketed. Vegetables are hard to find, because farmers are prevented from entering in the western suburbs of Aleppo. "In Aleppo, if the embargo continues, a humanitarian crisis is imminent", warns Friar Bernard.
Muhammad M., a Sunni Muslim, a professor at the University of Aleppo, told Fides: "The belligerents must explain to us the reason of so much killing of innocent people and the destruction of civilian infrastructure. Why is there a battle n the residential areas of the city? This destruction has not been seen for centuries". (PA) (Agenzia Fides 11/07/2013)
Note: Illustration and description added by this blog
Aleppo residents on the rebel controlled side of the crossing point protest the "food embargo" during which an armed rebel comes among the crowd (0.34 min) to disband the protest.
Video and description courtesy of syriareport.net
“Another video posted today, shows what appears to be an insurgent checkpoint – where a non-Syrian militant searches a civilian’s belongings to find food concealed – in violation of the embargo. Syrians communicating on social media have pointed to the insurgents non-native accent.”
Al Maydeen TV Lebanon interviews residents in Aleppo about the effects of the food embargo and siege. With English subtitles.
Update 14/07/2013 some food aid and essential commodities are now reaching west Aleppo. Video news report from Syrian media al-Ikhbaria here (in Arabic only)
Over 12 thousand Christian faithful "starving" in the village of Rableh: humanitarian law is invoked. 22/08/2012
Article from the Vatican’s Pontifical Missions news service, Fides
Rableh (Agenzia Fides) - Over 12 thousand faithful Greek-Catholics are trapped in the village of Rableh, west of Qusayr, in the area of Homs. Food is scarce, the faithful are living on "bread and water", medicine is lacking to treat the sick and wounded. This is the alarm raised by local sources of Fides that invoke respect for humanitarian law, that confirm what the international press is reporting on the situation in Rableh. Read more here
In Syria, Sunni rebels besiege Shiite villages. 18/10/12
Article from AP Associated Press
BEYANON, Syria (AP) — Anyone who dares try to slip out of the Shiite villages of Zahraa and Nubl is risking their life. Sunni rebel snipers outside are ready to gun them down. Roads out are blocked with barricades and checkpoints. Twice a day government helicopters bring residents supplies in a crucial lifeline. Read more here
Syria - Al-Qaeda and friends plus Turkey are thieves and rob the Syrian people. 23/12/12
Article from an activist/journalist in Turkey details the looting, by rebels, of Syrian grain and bread later sold in Turkey.
From Ali, a Turkish journalist: "We cover the theft of FSA... The headline "Free Bread Thieves" Also our journalist in Hatay took the pictures of the guys who are selling Syrian bread. It is much more cheaper than the Turkish bread so the demand is enormous. The town people are telling that the some Syrians are bringing the bread with vans. They also seize the international aid for Syrian people."A Turkish journalist working in the area near the border with Syria has been sending me reports about some unreported activities by the Free Syrian Army. He writes: "Just two days before the "food crise" in Aleppo, I hear many of my friends from Hatay that they started to see some Syrians are selling the bread in the city. Turkish breads are not same those in Syria even in Hatay. And I have to give you a name. Abdulqader As Salah a commander of Tawheed Brigades who has very close ties with Turkish intelligence. He is now selling "wheat" in Gaziantep province of Turkey. I am a Turkish journalist at the very beginning of this crisis I hear same thing from the Kurds in Ceylanpinar
(a border town near Ras Al-Ayn). I am a Turkish journalist at the very beginning of this crisis I hear same thing from the Kurds in Ceylanpinar (a border town near Ras Al-Ayn) The Kurds
who escaped from the battle between FSA and Kurdish militias told me that they saw some FSA members looting the wheat silos. Continue reading here.