Middle East

New Palestinian Saints Highlight Region’s Beleaguered Christians

Photo via Debbie Hill / Catholic News Service / RNS

A nun holds up a scarf that reads “Palestine” in Bethlehem, West Bank. Photo via Debbie Hill / Catholic News Service / RNS

Pope Francis will bestow sainthood on two Palestinian nuns on May 17, a move that’s being seen as giving hope to the conflict-wracked Middle East and shining the spotlight on the plight of Christians in the region.

Sisters Maria Baouardy and Mary Alphonsine Danil Ghattas are due to be canonized by the pontiff along with two other 19th-century nuns, Sister Jeanne Emilie de Villeneuve, from France, and Italian Sister Maria Cristina dell’Immacolata.

The coming canonizations have been described by the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, Fouad Twal, as a “sign of hope” for the region.

Syrian Catholic Leader Pleads with U.S. Christians Not to Forget His Threatened Church

Photo via REUTERS / Hosam Katan / RNS

A man reacts to a bomb in Aleppo’s al-Fardous district on April 29, 2015. Photo via REUTERS / Hosam Katan / RNS

Just a few decades ago, Aleppo was home to about 170,000 Catholics, about a third of the city’s population. Since the war broke out, Jeanbart has seen a third of his flock reduced by death, dislocation, and emigration while Aleppo’s Muslim population has soared.

The threat of annihilation is constant, as Aleppo has become the main battleground between the government forces of President Bashar Assad and a motley assortment of rebels who include growing numbers of fighters affiliated with the fundamentalist terrorism of the Islamic State group.

The War Against Christians Must End

Photo via REUTERS / Noor Khamis / RNS

A woman is escorted to the wards after hiding for three days at her university in Garissa. Photo via REUTERS / Noor Khamis / RNS

Last week, al-Shabab militants, aligned with al-Qaida, stormed the campus of Garissa University College in Kenya, asking students about their religion. They spared the lives of Muslims and killed the Christians. By the time the mayhem was over, almost 150 students lay dead.

A spokesmen for the terrorists boasted: “There are many dead bodies of Christians inside the building. We are also holding many Christians alive.”

This is not the first time that this has happened in Kenya. In 2013, at the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, 67 people were killed in cold blood. Muslims were allowed to go free.

The dead were all Christians.

In Libya in February, Islamic State militants beheaded 21 men on the beach. Their blood freely flowed into the Mediterranean Sea.

The victims were all Coptic Christians.

The Middle East contains proud remnants of the oldest Christian communities in the world. Their churches have been in flames. ISIS has demanded that the Christians convert to Islam, pay extra taxes or be killed. In Syria in February, ISIS militants abducted scores of Assyrian Christians.

Just because they are Christian.

How Christians Reject Jesus: On Violence and ISIS

ISIS flag in target scope, Crystal Eye Studio / Shutterstock.com

ISIS flag in target scope, Crystal Eye Studio / Shutterstock.com

Here at Sojourners we have written a lot about nonviolence. We take seriously the words of Jesus that we should love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. We believe that violence begets violence, or as Jesus put it, “Those who live by the sword die by the sword.” Personally, I take seriously the words of René Girard, the founder of mimetic theory, that we are now “confronted with a perfectly straightforward and even scientifically calculable choice between total destruction and the total renunciation of violence.”

Many Christians look to the Bible to justify divinely sanctioned violence against our enemies. Excuse me for stating the obvious, but Christians are not Biblians. We are Christians. As Christians, we should be putting Jesus first. Not Deuteronomy. Not Joshua. Not Judges. Not David. Not Solomon. Not Peter. Not Paul. Not the Bible.

Jesus first.

And Jesus calls us to nonviolence. As one of the early Christians stated, the way of Jesus, the way of nonviolent love that embraces our enemies, is the way of the cross and the world thinks that way is foolish.

We proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

Why I’m More Worried About Ebola Than ISIS

©EC/ECHO/Cyprien Fabre

Kailahun, Sierra Leone. Center of Ebola outbreak. ©EC/ECHO/Cyprien Fabre

The headlines and talk shows are dominated by the response ISIS. To be clear, this group readily uses fanatical and brutal actions to achieve its radically exclusive vision. The images they skillfully project are like violent, X-rated video games made real. No wonder that many react to this horror with chills going down their spines. But there is something that worries me more: the ongoing Ebola crisis.

How did ISIS come about? Sure, there’s huge complexity. Yet, we know that ISIS never would have emerged without, first of all, the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the ensuing, devastating war that left that nation in physical, political, and psychological shambles. Second, the sectarian, Shia-dominated regime, which emerged as the final U.S. ground troops left, further radicalized Sunni extremists. These factors were the breeding grounds for black-clothed fanatics ready to cut down any who differ with their identity, even if the majority of its victims are Muslims.

ISIS’s greatest recruiting tool is continued and renewed U.S. and Western military intervention in the Middle East. That, of course, is what their brutal actions are attempting to provoke. The moral callousness of this strategy inspires the fear which they desire and welcome.

However, ISIS can and will be contained. The neighboring regimes in the region are all deeply threatened by ISIS. In the end, they will be compelled to combat and resist ISIS the more these fanatics move out of the desert and toward others’ homelands. It will be bloody, but eventually other nation states and threatened sectarian groups, representing for the most part more mainstream and globally dominant expressions of Islam, will contain and defeat ISIS. The necessity and means of outside military assistance from the West and elsewhere is highly debatable, and at the end of the day, I don’t believe this will be the decisive factor.

Presbyterians Narrowly Vote to Divest from 3 Companies Involved in Israeli/Palestinian Conflict

Presbyterian Church (USA) voted June 20 to divest from 3 American companies. RNS photo courtesy Danny Bolin via PC(USA)

The Presbyterian Church (USA) voted Friday to divest church funds from three American companies it cited for profiting from the oppression of Palestinians within Israel’s occupied territories.

The 310-303 vote of the church’s General Assembly in Detroit marks a victory for divestment supporters both within and without the 1.8 million-member PCUSA, now the largest American church to embrace divestment as a strategy to pressure Israel to return its illegally held lands.

The divestment resolution targets companies that divestment supporters say supply electronic and earth-moving equipment that help Israel violate Palestinian rights. Presbyterians in support of the resolution described it as a long overdue stand on behalf of Palestinians suffering under the occupation, which began in 1967 when Israel pushed back attacks from neighboring countries.

The issue has roiled the church for the last decade, and during a more than three-hour debate, many lamented the divisiveness and noted how many around the world — in the U.S., Israel, and the Palestinian territories – would be watching.

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