Luxor, Egypt, Aug 21, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) -
In the midst of recent violence in Egypt, the Coptic Bishop of Luxor says he was terrorized Aug. 16 by Islamists who tried to break into his house and kill him.
“During a demonstration in Luxor a group of Islamists tried to break into my house and tried to set fire to the whole building,” Bishop Youhannes Zakaria Badir told Aid to the Church in Need Aug. 19.
“Thank God, the army intervened to our aid.”
His message was sent alongside that of Bishop Kyrillos William Samaan of the Coptic Eparchy of Assiut, who said he believes “that the West does not realize what is actually happening; the reality is that we were attacked by a group of armed terrorists.”
Bishop Badir added that Christians are “willing to suffer, to lose their churches and homes,” and that they “accept it is for the good of our country and of all Christians and Muslims of Egypt.”
The Luxor bishop said that since the start of harsh anti-Christian attacks on Aug. 14, many churches have been closed and faithful, priests and religious are afraid to leave their homes.
“We prefer to stay at home, safe from further violence.”
The attacks began shortly after the Egyptian military killed protesters in Cairo who were demanding the restoration of Mohammad Morsi, who had been elected president following the country's Arab Spring, yet was ousted by a military coup July 3.
The demonstrators, who are aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist movement, then began vandalizing and burning churches, cars, shops, schools and homes belonging to Christians across the country, convinced of their complicity with the ouster of Morsi.
Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria, head of the Coptic Orthodox Church, the nation's largest Christian group, had publicly supported the military's coup.
Bishop William Samaan told Aid to the Church in Need that 80 churches have been burned or damaged since Aug. 14. “It is true they should be allowed to protest, but without using weapons,” he said.
The Egyptian military has cracked down on all protests, and has arrested both Morsi and Mohammad Badie, leader of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Since the Aug. 14 crack down, violence has spread across the country, with some 900 dead in the past week. While violence against Christians in Egypt is linked to Islamists, the Muslim Brotherhood has officially stated that it “stands firmly against any attack – even verbal – against churches.”
According to Bishop Badir, five Christians and a moderate Muslim were killed in Dabbiah, near Luxor.
He stated Islamists wrote anti-Christian slogans on religious buildings, including “down with you liars, down with you traitors” on the walls of the Melkite Greek Catholic parish of Saint Cyril in Cairo.
Christians across the country have been attacked, with seven killed in Al Nazla and one in Sohag. In Alexandria, a Coptic taxi driver was beaten to death after telling protesters they were disrupting his work.
Coptic Patriarch of Alexandria Ibrahim Isaac Sidrak stated Aug. 18 that “out of love for our country and in solidarity with all lovers of Egypt, both Christians and Muslims,” the patriarchate will not label the crisis “a political struggle between different factions.”
Rather, he insisted, the conflict is “a war against terrorism.”
Faysh Khabur, Iraq, Aug 21, 2013 (CNA) - Following recent clashes in Syria between al-Qaeda linked opposition groups and Kurdish forces, 20,000 Syrian refugees have fled to Iraqi Kurdistan – an autonomous region of northern Iraq – in the last six days.
“The factors allowing this sudden movement are not fully clear to us at this stage,” said Adrian Edwards, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees spokesman, at an Aug. 16 news briefing.
Around noon on Aug. 15, a group of some 750 Syrian refugees crossed a new bridge across the Tigris River on the border between Syria and Iraq near the Iraqi town of Faysh Khabur. Later that day, another group of between 5,000 and 7,000 people followed.
On Aug. 17, as many as 10,000 refugees entered Iraq at Faysh Khabur, bringing the total number of refugees at the single point to 20,000 in less than a week.
The Syrian refugees are fleeing the civil war which has its roots in March 2011, when demonstrations against Syrian president Bashar al-Assad began. That April, the Syrian army began to deploy to put down the uprisings, firing on protesters.
Since then, the civil war has claimed the lives of more than 100,000 people.
The large influx of refugees at Faysh Khabur adds to the 1.9 million Syrian refugees in nearby countries, most of whom are in Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey. Another 4.25 million Syrian people are believed to have been internally displaced by the war.
The Syrian opposition is divided among secularists, Islamists, and Kurds.
In mid-July, Kurdish forces fought with al-Qaeda affiliated Islamists, including the al-Nusra Front, and fought them off on July 17, according to Saudi news channel Al Arabiya. At the city of Ras al-Ain on the Turkish border, 29 people were killed.
Since then, Islamists have reportedly killed hundreds of Syrian Kurds.
The recent wave of Kurdish refugees has challenged the resources of the U.N., the Kurdish government in Iraq, and humanitarian agencies in the area. Many are from the Kurdish cities of Qamishli, Ar Raqqah, Efrin, and Hassakeh, as well as Aleppo.
Most of the refugees are families, including women, children, and elderly persons. Ahmed Karim said he left Syria with his wife and three-week old child to keep them from starving to death.
“There was a shortage of food in the market, and everything became expensive, from bread to gas canisters, and unemployment was spreading,” he told AFP.
Alan Paul, who is in the region with the charity Save the Children, said that “the refugee response in Iraq is already thinly stretched, and close to half of the refugees are children who have experienced things no child should.”
The refugees who arrived at Faysh Khabur were bussed to larger cities inside Iraqi Kurdistan, where refugee camps are already set up. A new camp nearer the border “should open in two weeks,” Edwards said, and it will hopefully “enable refugees currently living in costly rented accommodation to move to a UNHCR-assisted camp.”
Critics suggest the recent clashes between Kurds and al-Nusra Front involve the oil rich land of northern Syria controlled by the Kurds. Some have suggested Turkish support for al-Nusra Front, in an effort to oppose the movement for Kurdish autonomy.
The Kurds are a non-Arabic ethnic group, most of whom live in Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria. Those in Iraq already have an autonomous region unto themselves, and Turkish Kurds have long rebelled and fought with the national government for autonomy or succession.
Kurds make up nearly 10 percent of Syria's population, and are concentrated in north-east of the country.
In response to the attacks on Kurds by Islamists, Massoud Barzani, president of Iraqi Kurdistan, has announced his readiness to defend Syrian Kurds.
“Kurdistan will employ all its potential for the defense of the innocent,” the Lebanese news outlet Almayadeen reported him saying.
According to the BBC, on Aug. 10 Barzani said his government would “defend the Kurdish women, children and citizens” who are “under threat of death and terrorism.”
Vatican City, Aug 21, 2013 (CNA) - A group of French teenagers arrived in Rome this month without money or possessions in the hopes of learning how to let go of material things and grow closer to God.
“We've come here without money,” said 17-year-old Marie Lecointe. “It’s taught us to detach ourselves from things like beds, showers...”
Lecointe came to Rome on Aug. 19 alongside nine other youths aged 15 to 20. They left Paris on Aug. 3 with barely enough funds to reach Rome.
“We don’t know where we will sleep tonight but we will search around town,” Lecointe told CNA on Aug. 20.
The young woman said that the group, which belongs to France's Chapitre Saint Lazare or Saint Lazarus Chapter, prays a lot – which she says “has definitely helped them.”
The teens, who are now going from door to door asking for food or money, traveled on foot and sometimes, by bus.
“We have to ask people for...whatever they can give us,” added 20-year-old Arthur Thomé.
The ten young people spent their first night in Rome in a building run by the Community of Saint Peter, but they now need to find other places to sleep at during the following nights.
Otherwise, said Thomé who is the oldest and responsible for the group, they will have to sleep on the streets.
He told CNA that although they go out in twos and threes during the day asking for food, he wants them to sleep in the same place each night for security reasons.
Lecointe noted that they are trying to learn a few phrases in Italian, since most people they have spoken to did not speak French or even English.
“But it’s quite difficult because we don’t have any time now or any books to learn from,” she said. “We can understand some words because it comes from Latin, like French.”
Thomé said that the aim is to gather enough money during the day to buy the cheapest food that can feed the ten. “People are giving us money or food so now I’m not afraid but yesterday I was because we had no money and very little food.”
The group cooks their meals on the street in a pot and portable gas cooker they brought with them.
“One day we were cooking pasta and an Italian man came and said 'that’s horrible! How can you eat that?'” Lecointe recalled, laughing.
“He then cooked it for us because it was really catastrophic,” she remarked. “It was about ten days ago at the beach and he also made the sauce for us.”
“It was very delicious, better than our own food,” Lecointe smiled.
Rome, Italy, Aug 21, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - The annual meeting of Benedict XVI's students from his time at the University of Regensburg will gather next week to discuss “the question of God,” though the former Pope will not be joining them.
“Since he is retired, he does not want to attend any more public meetings,” Father Joseph Fessio, founder of Ignatius Press and a member of the group, told CNA Aug. 20.
“The circle of students will meet in Castel Gandolfo, as usual, and then they will all go to the Vatican,” he explained, “where they will participate in a Mass celebrated by the Pope Emeritus in the monastery of Mater Ecclesiae.”
The “Ratzinger Schuelerkreis,” or “students' circle,” has met to discuss topics in theology and the life of the Church since 1978, when their professor was pulled from academia to become a bishop.
This year's meeting will be held Aug. 29 to Sept. 2, and will discuss the topic of “the question of God against the background of secularization.” Benedict XVI chose the topic, as well as a guest speaker, the philosopher Rémi Brague.
Fr. Fessio said that “the idea of the annual meetings arose when Joseph Ratzinger was appointed Archbishop of Munich and Freising” in 1977.
When he moved to Rome to take up the post of prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1981, the annual event continued.
When in the spring of 2005, Cardinal Ratzinger was chosen as Pope, his former students thought that their annual tradition would stop, but were proved wrong.
Fr. Fessio recounted that “Pope Benedict said he was pleased to continue meeting with us.”
The Ratzinger Schuelerkreis is formed by about 50 people who studied for their doctorates under Ratzinger, but usually between 25 and 30 are able to make it to any year's meeting.
However, the 2005 meeting was “crowded with all the members, and so it was a little more formal because there were more people than usual.”
The schuelerkreis discusses a different topic of their mentor's choosing each year; the last meeting discussed ecumenism.
Fr. Fessio became a pupil of Ratzinger during the 1970s, when he went to Regensburg to conclude his studies in theology.
He had earned a master's in theology in 1972 under the supervision of Henri de Lubac, whose thought greatly shaped the Second Vatican Council.
After completing his studies in Lyon with de Lubac, Fr. Fessio asked for a suggestion of what to write this doctoral dissertation on, as well as under whom.
“De Lubac told me that one of the most important theologians of history, and maybe the most important theologian ever, was Hans Urs von Balthasar.”
“And he added that the best person who could supervise a thesis on von Balthasar was the young professor Ratzinger in Regensburg, and he sent him a recommendation letter to receive me among his students.”
The year Fr. Fessio completed his studies under de Lubac, the three professors – de Lubac, von Balthasar, and Ratzinger – founded the theological journal “Communio,” which is now published in 14 international editions and stands for a renewal of theology in continuity with the living Christian tradition.
Under Ratzinger's supervision, Fr. Fessio wrote his dissertation “The Ecclesiology of Hans Urs von Balthasar” and graduated with a Ph.D. in 1976.
“Professor Ratzinger was exactly the way we learned to know him as Pope: simple, humble, clear in exposition, cultivated. One of the best professors I have ever met.”
Discussing Benedict XVI's resignation this spring, Fr. Fessio said, “I was not surprised, since he spoke about this option with the journalist Peter Seewald, in the book ‘Light of the World’.”
Fr. Fessio maintained that the “decision to resign has been a decision of great 'modernity', and the Pope showed humility and courage in making it.”
He added that “none of us in the circle could be in any way surprised by the modernity of Benedict XVI. I attended several meetings of the schuelerkreis, and every time Joseph Ratzinger had something new to say, something that no one had explored, or ever thought before.”
Luxor, Egypt, Aug 21, 2013 (CNA) - Bishop Joannes Zakaria of Luxor, Egypt, said that Christians in his country are running out of food, but are “afraid to come out of their homes” for fear of attacks by the Muslim Brotherhood.
In statements to the Fides News Agency, Bishop Zakaria explained that even those who have money cannot buy food because stores are closed.
“I would like to help Christians but I can’t because I myself am confined to my home,” he said.
Bishop Zakaria said that he was the victim of an Aug. 16 attack by members of the Muslim Brotherhood. Fortunately police arrived on the scene in time to protect him, and two armored cars are now parked out front to shield his home.
However, the region is experiencing great unrest, with numerous Christian homes burned to the ground as the Muslim Brotherhood calls for “death to Christians,” he said.
“Because of security we canceled the celebrations of the Assumption, which we commemorate on August 22, not August 15,” the bishop explained.
“Everyone is at home, and I myself have been at the bishop’s residence for 20 days now. Security officers have advised me not to leave.”
Bishop Zakaria said he thinks that the Muslim Brotherhood’s campaign against Christians for last month’s ousting of Egyptian President Morsi “is senseless.”
“It is true that Christians took part in some demonstrations against him, but there were 30 million Egyptians, most of whom were Muslim, who protested against the deposed president,” he observed, voicing fears that “by attacking Christians they want to send Egypt into chaos.”
“I make Pope Francis’ call for prayers for peace in Egypt my own,” the bishop said. “Only with dialogue and mutual respect can we get out of this dramatic situation.”
The recent violence in Egypt has left more than 1,000 dead and thousands more wounded.
Manila, Philippines, Aug 21, 2013 (CNA) - A combination of seasonal monsoon rains and a tropical storm off the coast of the Philippines has caused massive damage to homes and property, leaving hundreds of thousands in need.
“Our team is presently working day and night,” said Gilda Avedillo, program officer for Caritas Manila’s disaster risk reduction and management program.
She told CNA that despite the difficulties caused by the flooding, the grace of God and support of the local Church “keeps us energetic and happy to help the needy.”
Manila and surrounding areas have been hit by severe flooding over the past few days, as a powerful typhoon intensified the effects of the monsoon rains. Authorities say 60 percent of the capital is submerged.
More than 300,000 people in the Manila area are estimated to be affected by the flooding.
Relief agencies and volunteers have already begun work to offer shelter and necessities to those who have been displaced by the floods.
Cardinal Louis Antonio Tagle of Manila has been personally monitoring and working with volunteers to coordinate relief efforts in the archdiocese.
“Let us console and help one another in little or big ways in order to lessen the pain of those who have suffered amid this bad weather,” he said over the Manila archdiocesan Radio Veritas.
Relief activities have been ongoing since Aug. 19, Avedillo told CNA. Currently, aid workers are packing and delivering necessities to people in affected regions, many of whom are staying at evacuation centers. Priorities are food, clean water, clothing, blankets, sanitary items and basic medication.
Students from local schools are assisting as volunteers, she explained, and local support from the Navy and government agencies in helping transport people has been “overwhelming.”
“We now need more support and help for rehabilitation,” continued Avedillo, adding that “the local people have been very generous in supporting their time and their financial help.”
“The Holy Spirit is guiding us, and the continuous inspiration from Cardinal Tagle and Caritas director Fr. Anton Pascual keeps us moving, in spite of the fatigue,” she said.
Washington D.C., Aug 21, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Several U.S. religious liberty groups are renewing calls for the federal government to officially recognize Nigerian Islamic extremist group Boko Haram as a terrorist organization for its violent attacks against Christians.
“Those who continue to wantonly kill Christians solely because of their faith should not be tolerated when available steps can be taken to curb this kind of genocidal terror,” Benjamin Bull, chief counsel of Alliance Defending Freedom, said Aug. 20.
“Boko Haram is eminently qualified to be designated as a foreign terrorist organization. We encourage the State Department to make that designation sooner rather than later so that fewer people will lose their lives needlessly.”
Alliance Defending Freedom, based in Washington, D.C., co-authored a July 25 report and formal petition on Boko Haram with the Virginia-based Jubilee Campaign, which defends the rights and freedoms of religious minorities overseas. The report and petition were sent to Secretary of State John Kerry.
Boko Haram, whose name means “Western education is forbidden,” has committed at least 168 acts of violence against Christians in 2012 alone. The National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism’s 2012 report ranked Boko Haram the second most deadly terrorist group in the world, surpassed only by the Taliban of Afghanistan.
More than 2,000 deaths have been attributed to the group since 2009, including citizens from 15 countries. Some of its victims were beheaded, and reports have also found the group engaging in kidnappings, forced conversions, church burnings, assassinations of policemen and the destruction of public buildings.
One attack on the city of Kano on Jan. 20, 2012 killed 200 people.
Fatou Bensouda, chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, said on Aug. 5 that the group’s alleged crimes constitute crimes against humanity.
The report from Alliance Defending Freedom and the Jubilee Campaign said that the State Department has named five “well deserving” groups as terrorist organizations.
“However, Boko Haram is guilty of much more,” it said.
The Nigerian group has called for the ethnic cleansing and genocide of Christians in northern Nigeria.
In 2011, a Boko Haram suicide bomber attacked the United Nations local headquarters in Abuja, killing nearly two dozen. The bomber said in a video before the attack that the action was intended as a message to President Barack Obama “and other infidels.”
Emmanuel Ogebe, the Jubilee Campaign’s legal expert on Nigeria, said Aug. 20 that Boko Haram has become “a highly sophisticated, suicide-bombing terrorist group with global ties and aspirations.”
“The fact that the U.S. has not designated it a foreign terrorist organization has not deterred Boko Haram from designating the U.S. a foreign target objective,” he said.
Official designation of Boko Haram as a foreign terrorist group would allow the U.S. government to freeze or seize its bank accounts, to deport its members and associates, and to sanction the group’s funders.
Supporters of the petition and report include the Family Research Council, the Institute on Religion and Democracy, the American Center for Law and Justice, the Igbo League, the Christian Association of Nigerian-Americans, and the Alliance for Democratic Republics in Africa.
The organizations have also started a petition for the general public to sign on the White House website charging that the U.S. government’s failure to name Boko Haram a foreign terrorist organization “undermines U.S. credibility.”
The petition states that through its terroristic activities in Nigeria, Boko Haram “has killed more Christians in terrorist attacks in 2012 than the total number of Christians killed in the rest of the world combined.”