Thursday, July 31, 2014

Gaza's Christians bury their first casualty of the war


An image of Jesus Christ rests on the rubble of the home of Jalila Ayyad, a Christian woman killed following an Israeli airstike on her home in Gaza City on July 27, 2014
View gallery
  • .
  • .
Gaza City (Palestinian Territories) (AFP) - Jalila Ayyad's widower George still had a black eye and bloodstains on his shirt as he processed ahead of her coffin, hours after the air strike that destroyed their home.

She is also survived by two sons, but one could not be at her funeral because he is in hospital with serious wounds suffered in Sunday afternoon's Israeli strike.Jalila, 60, was the first Christian casualty of a bloody Gaza war.
The simple coffin -- white with a black cross -- was carried reverently down the marble stairs of the cemetery, and into the chapel of the Saint Porphyrius Greek Orthodox church in Gaza City.
"She died under the rubble," said Jalila's nephew, Fuad Ayyad.
"Both her legs were crushed after the house collapsed with her, her husband and son inside."
An Orthodox priest in a black gown read passages from the Bible and swung an incense receptacle, as the coffin was set down beneath an ornate ceiling of gold leaf images of saints, their names written in Arabic and Greek.
An icon of the Virgin Mary was placed upon Jalila's coffin, and some two dozen relatives sang "Hallelujah" as the afternoon call to prayer rose from the minaret of the adjacent mosque.
Her funeral was a sombre and respectful affair, but momentarily took on a political dimension when one member of the parish picked up a microphone and railed against Israel's bombardment of the small Palestinian coastal territory.
"This Palestinian Arab Christian woman died in shelling by the Israeli occupation," the speaker shouted angrily.
"There are massacres here every day. This is what happens to the Palestinian people. Where's the world, where's the international community in all this?"
"The bombs hit and kill -- they don't discriminate between civilian or militant," he said.
- Dwindling Christian community -
A relative, George Ayyad, agreed wholeheartedly. He dismissed the idea that Jalila's death would force more of the already dwindling Christian population out of Gaza.
"If we leave, that's exactly what the Israelis want. Anyway, where are we supposed to go? This is my homeland," he said.
"We Christians have been in Gaza for more than 1,000 years, and we're staying."
Her nephew Fuad was not so sure.
"Things like this make me want to just get out of here," he said.
Gaza's Christians have dwindled in number to around 1,500, most of them Greek Orthodox, out of a predominantly Sunni Muslim population of 1.7 million in the densely packed enclave.
The Christian community in Gaza City, like its counterparts elsewhere in the Middle East, has been shrinking because of both conflict and unemployment.
The ancient Mediterranean seafront city once had a thriving Christian community, especially under British-mandated Palestine that ended in 1948 with the creation of the Jewish state.
Jalila's coffin was carried into the small church cemetery, which was itself hit by an Israeli shell earlier in the week, and lowered into the ground.
The community's first casualty was born in Jerusalem and also had French nationality, the family said.
The latest Gaza conflict began on July 8 when Israel launched a military operation aimed at stamping out rocket fire from the Strip and also at destroying Hamas tunnels used to launch attacks inside the Jewish state.
The war has killed more than 1,030 Palestinians, most of them civilians including a large number of women and children, 43 Israeli soldiers and three civilians inside Israel.
"Today... another human being, an innocent one, has lost her life," Archbishop Alexios said.

Text said to evacuate, but Gaza parish staff had nowhere to go

By Judith Sudilovsky
Catholic News Service

JERUSALEM (CNS) -- When the staff at the lone Catholic parish in the Gaza Strip received text warnings to evacuate the premises, they had nowhere to go.

Father Raed Abusahlia, president of Caritas Jerusalem who has been in contact with the parish priest, told Catholic News Service that Father Jorge Hernandez of the Institute of the Incarnate Word and three nuns who live at the parish had nowhere to evacuate the 29 severely disabled children and nine elderly women in their care. 

Smoke rises from Gaza City after an Israeli airstrike July 29. (CNS/EPA)
Since Israel launched airstrikes against Gaza July 8, it has sent text messages to citizens to evacuate if they will be near a target. Israel bombed near Holy Family Catholic Church the morning of July 30.

The Vatican's Fides news agency, citing details from Father Hernandez, said the main target of the bombing was a home a few meters away from the parish. The home was completely destroyed, and the parish school, office and some rooms used by the parish were partially destroyed.

Father Abusahlia told CNS all the windows of the whole compound, as well as that of the Greek Orthodox Church, already were shattered from previous bombings of buildings around them. 

"They are in a very difficult situation," said Father Abusahlia. "It is a very dangerous area."

He said the number of refugees at the parish school, some distance away from the parish compound, increased from 600 people to 1,400 in the week ending July 30, and the number of refugees sheltered by the Greek Orthodox Church had increased from 1,400 to 1,900.

Caritas has been providing them with powdered milk, diapers and gasoline, which is especially important after the attack on the Gaza electrical plant. They rely on generators, Father Abusahlia said, and the gas to run them is very difficult and expensive to obtain.

Fides quoted Father Hernandez as saying: "We had a tough night, but we are here. This war is absurd.

"Everything happens around us," he said. "The Hamas militants continue to fire rockets and then hide in the alleys. And we cannot do anything. We cannot evacuate, it is impossible with children. Their families live here. It is more dangerous to go out than stay here. We try to stay in safer places, always on the ground floor."

Catholic priest leads flock through the violence in Gaza

Gazans mourn the death of their loved ones.
(Vatican Radio) While more than 200 thousand Palestinians have been displaced from their homes in Gaza since the conflict began, with the number growing daily, other inhabitants are staying put despite the almost constant bombardments.  Among them is Fr George Hernandez, pastor of the Catholics in Gaza, at Holy Family Church in Zeitun, where he cares for his flock while bombs continue to fly overhead and land too close to home.
Fr. Hernandez spoke to Vatican Radio where he described the situation on the ground and how the war has struck the Catholic community:
“Unfortunately, the resistance movement is situated near houses and in the streets. For us, this was a problem yesterday. At a certain point, we could not leave the house. Then the bombs fell. One house near the church was hit and there have been some major damage to our rectory and parish school”.
“We cannot move, How can you move thirty handicapped children and nine elderly? You absolutely cannot! Also, since they are not orphans, we are not their guardians and without permission from their parents we cannot move them. And even then, it is dangerous to walk the streets. So here we are, trying to resist,” he said.
Fr. Hernandez expressed his gratitude to Pope Francis, who personally extended messages of encouragement to he and his community in recent days:
“It is a comfort to know of the Pope’s nearness to us. We need someone to say, “this is enough!” and put an end to this massacre. We had the grace of a kind gesture by the Pope. A couple days ago, he sent us a message that expressed his closeness to the parish and his prayers for all Christians. We gave the news to all the parishioners and Christians and it was for them a relief.” 
“Unfortunately, the  Pope is not always listened to. The other day, we experienced a tragedy. The house of a Christian family was bombed, the mother is dead, the father was injured and the eldest brother is fighting for his life in the hospital. The hospitals in Gaza lack the means, space, and necessary instruments. This is our situation,” he said.
When asked about a truce, Fr. Hernandez stressed that Gaza has not had any peace, as all timelines of truce agreements have been broken. He said, “Unfortunately, we have not benefit from any appeals for a ceasefire because the violence has not ceased. It is one thing to say something at the theoretical level, it is another thing to live it.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Reflections on a Retreat and Mission Trip to the Hogar of San Miguel del Lago in Guatemala

             The news is full of stories about impoverished children from Central America making the dangerous trek across Mexico to Texas, Arizona, and California.  Less noteworthy for the media was the journey of nine Orthodox Christians from Texas, California, Wisconsin, Illinois, New York, and Ohio to the Children’s Residence or “Hogar”  of San Miguel del Lago in Guatemala in July 2014.  Groups of “missionaries” like ourselves arrive monthly to assist the nuns and staff in caring for Guatemalan children whose parents cannot take care of them.  Yes, we were of some help to the children with the extra attention our group provided, especially through games, arts and crafts, and by taking them swimming and to a few other activities.    We also did yard work and a few other chores, but for me it was primarily a most blessed retreat for several reasons.
             First, we displaced ourselves simply by traveling to the Hogar, which is both a home for children and a women’s monastery.  We rose early for prayers and went to bed not long after it was dark each night.  Evening prayers occurred right before dinner in the common dining room.  At the tables designated for visiting missionaries, we ate three times each day the same simple, satisfying food as the nuns, staff, and kids.  We became so used to standing for prayer before and after meals that a few members of our group jumped up quickly when I rose slightly to reach the peanut butter near the end of breakfast one day.  (It was like a scene from a monastic reality show!) In so many ways, we left the busyness and worries of our usual schedules behind—even wifi was scarce.  In ways small and large, our lives were reoriented for several days around a schedule shaped by the needs of the children and the routines of a monastic community.   In this context, our group bonded quickly with one another as we entered into a different style of life.
            Second, we did not really know in advance what we would be doing from one day to the next.  We had a general idea of the schedule, but the particulars of yard work and activities with the kids (ranging from swimming to arts and crafts and spontaneous play sessions) evolved from day to day in light of what pressing needs arose in the community.  As someone normally addicted to a routine, I found it both a challenge and blessing simply to go with the flow.  “The Spirit blows where He wills” and it was good for our group of busy, goal-oriented Americans to accept that we were not in charge of the schedule.  We learned not to measure a day by what we accomplished, but simply to be grateful for the opportunity to pray and be present with children whose stories are so different from our own.   The experience reminded me of caring for own daughters when they were small, for good days then had little to do with achieving pre-established goals.  They had much more to do with simply with being there.
            Third, the services reminded us that the language in which we pray is irrelevant.   With only one fluent Spanish speaker on our team, most of us did not follow every prayer word for word.  But that did not hinder our worship, for we all knew the familiar gestures, smells, and patterns of the daily services.  The highest form of prayer is without words anyway.  Since I am certainly not there yet, the simple words of the Jesus Prayer helped to still my wandering mind more than once.   Speaking of language, a bit of practice enabled me to intone a few litanies in apparently understandable Spanish.  The first Sunday I served by myself, but  my good friend Fr. Chad Hatfield of St. Vladimir’s Seminary presided at the Divine Liturgy on our second Sunday in Guatemala.  As he said afterwards, “For two gringos serving in Guatemala, we did pretty well.”  As in previous liturgies in Greece, Romania, and Syria, I was reminded of the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit overcame linguistic boundaries.
            Fourth, we dressed and worked differently than we usually do at home and not according to our own will.  As visitors to any monastic community know, modesty is the watchword.  And with boys and girls who are expected always to dress modestly, missionaries must set a good example and not become stumbling blocks.  So in warm weather that usually calls for shorts and sandals in the US, we wore long pants and tennis shoes.  With the exception of time spent doing yard work, I wore my cassock and sometimes a clerical hat.  Being hot natured to begin with, I did not mind the cold showers as a way of cooling off. (One day I took three!)  Since I make my living as a professor and do as little yard work as possible at home, it was a change of pace to cut grass on a hill with a non-motorized push mower and to spend a few hours pulling weeds.  But the spiritual benefits of manual labor and of restraining our own desires about summer clothing just a bit for the sake of others were undoubtedly positive dimensions of our experience.   Thank God for circumstances where our own preferences do not always prevail.
            Yes, it was a mission trip.  According to the nuns, our group did its job very well.  But as with all things done for the Kingdom, we cannot calculate the results with precision, at least not in this life.  That is up to God, not us.  What we can do is simply to be thankful for a wonderful retreat in a community of children who, despite their poverty and broken family backgrounds, are blessed by the care of holy nuns and staff members in ways that made us all stand back and give thanks.  At the end of the day, they were the missionaries to us. Thank God! 

All 45 Christian Institutions in Mosul Destroyed or Occupied By ISIS

By Orthodox Christian News in Orthodox News

Jul 30, 2014  1 Comment(s)  Tags: 
(AINA) — Since taking over Mosul on June 10, ISIS has destroyed, occupied, converted to mosques, converted to ISIS headquarters or shuttered all 45 Christian institutions in Mosul.
The following is the complete list of the Christian institutions in Mosul, grouped by denomination.
Syriac Catholic Church:
  1. Syrian Catholic Diocese – Maidan Neighborhood, Mosul
  2. The Old Church of the Immaculate – Maidan Neighborhood, Mosul (The church goes back to the eighth century AD)
  3. The New Church of the Immaculate – Maidan Neighborhood
  4. Church of Mar (Saint) Toma – Khazraj Neighborhood
  5. Museum of Mar (Saint) Toma – Khazraj Neighborhood
  6. Church of Our Lady of the Annunciation – Muhandiseen Neighborhood
  7. Church of the Virgin of Fatima – Faisaliah Neighborhood
  8. Our Lady of Deliverance Chapel – Shifaa Neighborhood
  9. The House of the Young Sisters of Jesus – Ras Al-Kour Neighborhood
  10. Archbishop’s Palace Chapel – Dawasa Neighborhood
Syriac Orthodox Church:
  1. Syrian Orthodox Archdiocese – Shurta Neighborhood
  2. The Antiquarian Church of Saint Ahodeeni – Bab AlJadeed Neighborhood
  3. Mar (Saint) Toma Church and cemetery, (the old Bishopric) – Khazraj Neighborhood
  4. Church of The Immaculate (Castle) – Maidan Neighborhood
  5. Church of The Immaculate – Shifaa Neighborhood
  6. Mar (Saint) Aprim Church – Shurta Neighborhood
  7. St. Joseph Church – The New Mosul Neighborhood
Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East:
  1. Diocese of the Assyrian Church of the East – Noor Neighborhood
  2. Assyrian Church of the East, Dawasa Neighborhood
  3. Church of the Virgin Mary (old rite) – Wihda Neighborhood
Chaldean Church of Babylon:
  1. Chaldean Diocese – Shurta Neighborhood
  2. Miskinta Church – Mayassa Neighborhood
  3. The Antiquarian Church of Shimon alSafa – Mayassa Neighborhood
  4. Church of Mar (Saint) Buthyoon – Shahar AlSouq Neighborhood
  5. Church of St. Ephrem, Wady AlAin Neighborhood
  6. Church of St. Paul – Majmooaa AlThaqafiya District
  7. The Old Church of the Immaculate (with the bombed archdiocese)- Shifaa Neighborhood
  8. Church of the Holy Spirit – Bakir Neighborhood
  9. Church of the Virgin Mary – Drakziliya Neighborhood
  10. Ancient Church of Saint Isaiah and Cemetery – Ras AlKour Neighborhood
  11. Mother of Aid Church – Dawasa Neighborhood
  12. The Antiquarian Church of St. George- Khazraj Neighborhood
  13. St. George Monastery with Cemetery – Arab Neighborhood
  14. Monastery of AlNasir (Victory) – Arab Neighborhood
  15. Convent of the Chaldean Nuns – Mayassa Neighborhood
  16. Monastery of St. Michael – Hawi Church Neighborhood
  17. The Antiquarian Monastery of St. Elijah – Ghazlany Neighborhood
Armenian Orthodox Church:
  1. Armenian Church – Maidan Neighborhood
  2. The New Armenian Church – Wihda Neighborhood
Evangelical Presbyterian Church:
  1. Evangelical Presbyterian Church – Mayassa Neighborhood
Latin Church:
  1. Latin Church and Monastery of the Dominican Fathers and Convent of Katrina Siena Nuns – Sa’a Neighborhood
  2. Convent of the Dominican Sisters, – Mosul AlJadeed Neighborhood
  3. Convent of the Dominican Sisters (AlKilma Monastery) – Majmooaa AlThaqafiya District
  4. House of Qasada AlRasouliya (Apostolic Aim) (Institute of St. John the Beloved)
  1. Christian Cemetery in the Ekab Valley which contains a small chapel.
Original article here
Orthodox Christian Network brings you news of events and people…

A Plea for Peace in Gaza from an Orthodox Christian in Palestine

How Many Mothers Will It Take?
Maria C. Khoury, Ed. D.
As we enter August 2014, my Church will enter a very special time of fasting and prayer for the Holy Mother of God, the Theotokos for the Holy Dormition, the Falling Asleep of the Virgin Mary (Aug 15/28).  “You gave birth to the Salvation of the world, through which we were uplifted from earth to heights…Hail! O Ever-Blessed, Pure One, shelter and strength; rampart and fortress to those who sing: “Praise the Lord all His works and exalt Him in all the ages.”  (Akathist Hymn) 
At this same moment in time, here in the Holy Land we have entered a slaughter of the worst kind where over 7,000 people are seriously injured and traumatized.  The brutal Israeli attacks on Gaza have just turned into a massacre because over 1300 people have been killed most of them mothers and children.  Maybe this tragedy will stop if the mothers of the 59 Israeli soldiers tell Israel to stop the bloodbath right now because unfortunately the American administration is not and wants to increase military support to Israel beyond 3.1 billion annually.  Everyone says that Israel has a right to defend itself but does that mean a new holocaust for Palestinians?  The churches in Gaza cannot handle any more people sleeping on the floor because the homeless and displaced are becoming over 200,000 people.  The UN is paying a very high price with the killings of several of their staff because Israel keeps attacking schools where families try to find shelter. Today (July 30) as I write this reflection another UN school was  attacked killing 16 children; in the same day the attack on the open market killed 17 people including two Palestinian journalists.  This is one of the worst humanitarian disasters as Israel is using the excuse that it wants to stop HAMAS firing rockets.  But it is a pretext for disproportionate military force.  How many mothers does Palestine have to give to gain freedom and uplift the siege on Gaza. HAMAS is a “terrorist” organization in Israeli eyes but it is the only resistance movement Palestine has on the ground to fight for their just cause.  Why doesn’t  anyone understand that Gaza is an open air prison and the people have been asking for freedom over 47 years with the international community forgetting about them.  Israel controls the boarders, the air and the sea.  They have made the place a living hell on earth.    
I have been very disturbed with the hate that is building in our society ever since July 8th when the violence intensified between Israel and Palestine.  The signs that say “Death to Arabs” and the signs in Jerusalem that say in Hebrew “There are no innocent people in Gaza,” are shocking.  When the Israeli people hold signs in the middle of Tel Aviv that say “there are no children in Gaza,” it should be alarming to the world since we have over 250 dead kids in the last 21 days. I am not sure how any of the children left in Gaza can ever achieve peace in their hearts when they see so much destruction around them and when we have so many examples of the five year old little girl that saw her mother and father blow up in pieces and everyone in her family died but she was one of the very few to be able to get a permit and receive medical help in Jordan.  These children are just traumatized for life. Why can’t Israel open the boarders and let all the injured receive help in the West Bank hospitals that are willing to treat them.  I am outraged that my sister in law spent two days on the phone calling everyone she knew in order to help her cousin Jeries (Jeries means George in Arabic ) get medical care while his body is 80% burned and his left leg and right foot have been cut off. What annoyed me the most is the Israeli rules that if you are under 45 years of age you automatically cannot get a permit to travel thus his brother Anton (Tony) was not able to accompany him to the Jerusalem hospital.  Jeries has had three strokes and has less than 20% chance to survive with over eight doctors helping him fight for his life.  He needs all of his family members at this critical time.
The family has no other brothers, no sisters and the mother, Jalileh was killed on the spot in the Israeli attack on their home, Sunday, July 27th making her the first Christian mother to be buried in Gaza.  She is originally from Taybeh and married all her life in Gaza where life before the 1967 Israeli occupation was relatively average.  The elderly special needs father was forced to accompany Jeries to the St. Joseph’s Hospital with only a 24 hour permit where only seven children (out of thousands) were the lucky ones to get out of Gaza for medical treatment;  but one of them died in the emergency room, two seven year olds are brain dead, and one in intensive care with his leg cut off.  One of the nurses said in Arabic “Where is Obama to come and see?  Sister Valentine said:  “How can man be so cruel and destructive?”  The senior UN official said:  “The world should hang its head with shame,” for letting Israel get away with human rights violations.  
 Jeries’ father is extremely traumatized that the only thing he could tell anyone that come from the Christian community to visit him including the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem and Archbishop Theodosius (Attala Hanna) “I am not Hamas, I am not Fatah, what did I do to them?” He cries with every phone call and continues to talk about his wife Jalileh and the eggplant dish she was preparing when the house was bombed. He has lost everything but has a very deep faith in God.  
Have you seen the evil face of Israel?  How many more dead mothers will it take to see it?  Does it make sense to you that 1.8 million people are locked up like in a cage.
“…incline Your ear O pure One and save us from sinking in sorrows; and preserve Your City O Theotokos from every siege of the enemies.”  
I pray all of you will have a blessed Holy Dormition fast and please do not be fooled by your local media in thinking we are all terrorists.  Please pray for peace in our world so we may see the Light of Christ in a land that has seen only darkness.Have a peaceful, blessed great day today!