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Turkey disputes US religious freedom commission’s assessment of Turkey

May 1, 2020 CNA Daily News 0

CNA Staff, May 1, 2020 / 12:09 pm (CNA).- The Turkish foreign ministry on Wednesday rejected Turkey’s inclusion in a report by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, charging that the report comes from a “biased mindset”.

“The report contains baseless, unaccredited and vague allegations as in the past years while trying to portray isolated incidents as violations of religious freedoms through far-fetched accusations,” Hami Aksoy, a spokesperson for the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said April 29.

“The importance attached by Turkey to protect religious freedoms, including those of religious minorities, is expressed at the highest level by our Government officials. Our authorities make it clear that any harm to the religious freedoms of our citizens will not be tolerated,” Aksoy added.

In its 2020 report, USCIRF recommended that the State Department add Turkey, as well as 10 other countries, to a “Special Watch List” of countries where abuses of religious minorities are taking place, but not at a level as severe as in those designated as “countries of particular concern.”

The commission wrote that “religious freedom conditions in Turkey remained worrisome” in 2019, “with the perpetuation of restrictive and intrusive governmental policies on religious practice and a marked increase in incidents of vandalism and societal violence against religious minorities.”

It cited the Turkish government’s prevention of the election of board members for non-Muslim religious groups and its limitations on the election of the Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople.

The report added that Alevis, a group related to Shia Islam and the country’s largest religious minority, “remained unable to gain official recognition for their gathering houses (cemevleri) as places of worship or to exempt their children from compulsory religious classes, despite European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) rulings finding that these policies violated Alevis’ rights.”

According to the US commission, Turkish religious minorities “expressed concerns that governmental rhetoric and policies contributed to an increasingly hostile environment and implicitly encouraged acts of societal aggression and violence.”

The report also drew attention to the permission given for a museum, that was originally a Greek Orthodox church and later a mosque, to be reconverted into a mosque. It noted also that president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has called for the same thing to happen to the Hagia Sophia, which has the same history.

USCIRF also said the Turkish government has “continued to dismiss, detain, and arrest individuals affiliated with, or accused of affiliation with, the U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gülen, for alleged complicity in a July 2016 coup attempt or involvement in terrorist activity.”

Gülen has lived in the US since 1999, and is considered a terrorist by the Turkish government.

The Turkish foreign ministry charged that Gülen’s mention in the report “amounts to deliberately turning a blind eye” to the coup attempt, and added: “We invite the US authorities to earnestly examine the evidence we have provided” about the Gülen movement “and to engage in effective cooperation in line with the spirit of alliance in order to reveal the true nature of this terrorist organization.”

Aksoy added that the recommendation of adding Turkey to a “special watch list” for religious freedom “is a clear indication of the biased mindset behind it and the circles under whose influence it was drawn up.”

“In the report that is supposed to include global trends that threaten religious freedoms, the Commission does not mention a single word about xenophobia, Islamophobia and discrimination on religious grounds that is on the rise in the West and the US,” Aksoy stated.

“This clearly reveals that the purpose of the report is not to protect religious rights and freedoms. It is clear that the Commission, which has been accused of being anti-Muslim in the past, has drawn up this report based on its unwarranted agenda and priorities under the influence of circles that are hostile to Turkey, rather than objective criteria. We recommend the authors of this report to look in the mirror and engage in self-criticism.”

Earlier this year, Turkish authorities arrested a Syriac Orthodox priest on terrorism charges after he provided bread and water to members of a Kurdish separatist group that has been deemed illegal.


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Syria’s Hidden Victims – Mary Sayegh

April 30, 2020 CNA Daily News 0

Washington D.C., Apr 30, 2020 / 06:00 am (CNA).- The Syrian civil war has led to one of the largest refugee crises of modern times, and presented unique problems for Syria’s ancient Christian communities. Marginalized for centuries, persecuted by… […]

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Togo bishops decry arrest of opposition leader

April 24, 2020 CNA Daily News 0

CNA Staff, Apr 24, 2020 / 11:31 am (CNA).- The bishops of Togo called for peace and respect for the rights of citizens after the violent arrest of an opposition leader from his home on Tuesday.

“[E]very citizen has the right and duty to express … […]

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Jerusalem archbishop blesses city with True Cross relic

April 6, 2020 CNA Daily News 2

CNA Staff, Apr 6, 2020 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- Unable to lead the traditional Palm Sunday procession through Jerusalem, Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, OFM, apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, blessed the city with a relic of the True Cross on April 5.

The annual procession, which recalls Christ’s entry into the city and the beginning of Holy Week, was cancelled in line with international efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19, with public gatherings and events suspended in Israel. 

“We decided since we cannot have the palm procession, to have anyway a moment of prayer this afternoon,” said Pizzaballa on Sunday. The archbishop led a short, multi-lingual “moment of prayer” at Dominus Flevit, a church located on the Mount of Olives.

The church, which is shaped like a teardrop, overlooks the city, and was built to mark the Gospel account of Jesus weeping as he envisioned the destruction of Jerusalem.

The prayer service ended with Pizzaballa raising a relic of the True Cross over the city in benediction. 

Jerusalem, said Pizzaballa, “is a symbol of the church, the symbol also of humanity. It is the house of prayer for all the people, according to the scriptures.”

“So when we cry [over] Jerusalem, together with Jesus, we cry [over] all our human fraternity, for this difficult moment we are living, for this sad Palm Sunday, this Easter we have to celebrate.”

Pizzaballa said that sadness over being unable to celebrate the liturgical feasts of Holy Week is real, but “maybe, in a way also very true, very essential.” 

“Today we have not celebrated the solemn and beautiful entrance of Jesus to the city of Jerusalem like every year, with faithful from all the parishes of the diocese and with pilgrims from all over the world,” Pizzaballa said during the prayer service.

“We have not raised our palms and olive branches to cry out ‘Hosanna’ to our king, Jesus the Christ.” 

Instead, the archbishop asked Catholics in the Holy Land and around the world to consider what the Lord may be trying to say during these times.

He noted that, while the people of Jerusalem in the Gospel greeted him with cheers on Palm Sunday, Jesus knew that “He came to Jerusalem, not to be on the throne like David, but to be put to death.” 

“The meaning that Jesus attributes to his ‘triumphal entry’ is different from the meaning that the people of Jerusalem saw in it,” he said.

“Perhaps this is the lesson that Jesus wants to teach us today. We turn to God when there is something that harms us. When we are in trouble, suddenly we all want to ask big and difficult questions.”

While people may be praying for an end to the COVID-19 pandemic as we often do for solutions  to other problems, the archbishop said that  “Jesus responds in His own way” to these prayers. 

“Precisely because Jesus says ‘yes’ to our deepest desires, He will have to say ‘no’ to our immediate desires,” he said.

Drawing comparisons between this year’s Palm Sunday and the biblical Palm Sunday during Christ’s earthly life, Pizzaballa said the story of Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem “is a lesson on the discrepancy between our expectations and God’s response.” 

The crowd who greeted Jesus was disappointed that their salvation was not immediate, said Pizzaballa, but “Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is truly the moment when salvation is born.” 

“The ‘Hosannas’ were justified, even if not for the reasons the Jerusalemites had supposed,” he said. 

This remains true today, he explained. Although it may seem as though God is not answering prayers and leaves people “disappointed,” this is in part because “our expectations remain without an apparent response.”

Christianity, he said, “is based on hope and love, not certainty,” and that while God will not answer all problems with certainty, “He won’t leave us alone.” 

“And here, today, despite everything, at the gates of His and our city, we declare that we really want to welcome Him as our King and Messiah, and to follow Him on His way to His throne, the cross,” he said.  

“But we also ask Him to give us the strength necessary to carry it with His own, fruitful love.”


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Aid workers kidnapped in Iraq released

March 27, 2020 CNA Daily News 0

CNA Staff, Mar 27, 2020 / 11:19 am (CNA).- Four men working in Iraq for the French humanitarian organization SOS Chrétiens d’Orient who went missing in Baghdad in January have been released by their kidnappers, the French president announced Thursday.

Emmanuel Macron announced March 26 that he “welcomes the release of our three nationals Antoine Brochon, Julien Dittmar, Alexandre Goodarzy and Iraqi Tariq Mattoka.”

The men disappeared Jan. 20 after they made a trip to an appointment by car. SOS Chrétiens d’Orient tried to contact them the following day, unsuccessfully.

The missing employees had gone to Baghdad “to renew their visas and the registration of association with the Iraqi authorities and to monitor the association’s operations” in the country.

Macron’s office said it had made “every effort” to secure their release, and he expressed “gratitude to the Iraqi authorities for their co-operation.”

SOS Chrétiens d’Orient said last week that they had received no ransom demand, and no group had claimed responsibility for the abduction.

The organization works to support Eastern Christians with humanitarian material aid; it has permanent missions in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and Egypt.

Christians in Iraq have suffered persecution in recent years, especially during the invasion of the Islamic State.

Prior to the United States invasion of Iraq in 2003, there were about 1.5 million Iraqi Christians. Today, that number is believed to be fewer than 500,000.