30 August 2017
Ukrainian Catholic Archbishop Stefan Soroka of Philadelphia blesses a woman and other pilgrims during "A Call of Prayer Marian Pilgrimage" on 27 August at Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Catholic Church in Centralia, Pennsylvania.
(photo: CNS/courtesy George Ann Novak-Katchick)
Only a few structures still stand in this nearly abandoned borough 62 miles northeast of Harrisburg. Even fewer are visible through the tree cover from the top of an adjacent mountain overlooking what was once a thriving community.
The most notable and recognizable structure is the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Catholic Church, with bright blue domes that rise out of the foliage on the side of the mountain. Though all but seven of the town’s residents relocated because of the continuing fire in the anthracite coal mine beneath its surface, the church continues to serve a successful and thriving parish.
Nearly 400 people made the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Philadelphia’s pilgrimage to the little church on 27 August for the second annual “A Call to Prayer” on the eve of the Dormition of the Holy Mother of God.
The pilgrimage was the second since Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych, Ukraine, the leader of more than 5 million Ukrainian Catholics around the globe, visited the church on 10 November 2015. He was accompanied by Archbishop Stefan Soroka of Philadelphia, metropolitan of Ukrainian Catholics in the United States, and Father Michael Hutsko, pastor of the parish.
Archbishop Shevchuk felt a sense of true holiness at the church and expressed his desire for all people of faith to visit and share the same sanctity and serenity. Six months after the visit, he declared the church a holy pilgrimage site.
“This church is built on the top of solid rock,” Archbishop Soroka said at the time. “A rock of faith for the area, for these pilgrims, and that’s what we want everyone to benefit from here, that our Lord’s love for us in unending.
“Even in disaster, the church continues,” he said.
For the pilgrimage, people crowded into the church, built in 1912, and onto the grounds for the Divine Liturgy celebrated by Archbishop Soroka and local clergy.
Outside the church, they followed along in prayer and song heard over large speakers.
“When one thinks of Centralia, two images come to mind — the mountain and the fire. This is providential, since many references to holy mountains and fire as the presence of God are found in sacred Scripture,” Father John Fields said during his homily.
“Today, as pilgrims to this holy mountain we come with open hearts, humility and faith to be in the presence of God and seek his grace and his blessings for our needs,” Father Fields told the faithful.
After the liturgy, the pilgrims processed from the church to an outdoor chapel that held an 18th-century replica of the miraculous Our Lady of Pochaev icon. A long line of pilgrims waited to pray before it.
Conventual Franciscan Father Martin Kobos, pastor of Mother Cabrini Church in Shamokin, Pennsylvania, offered a reflection on the living rosary. He held up a photo of his meeting with St. John Paul II and then took out something even more special — a rosary given to him by the saint.
Msgr. James T. Melnic led the Akafist to the Dormition of the Mother of God before the Holy Shroud of the Dormition as pilgrims spilled out of the outdoor chapel.
The service was followed by a candlelight procession with the icon to the church for a Moleben prayer service to the Mary led by Archbishop Soroka.
During his homily, Archbishop Soroka recalled the words of Mary to the servants at the wedding feast at Cana: “Do whatever he tells you.” It’s the same advice Mary gives to the faithful today, he said, “to follow Jesus and to do what he inspires us to do.”
Afterward, participants were anointed with the holy oil and venerated the icon as well as the icon and relics of Blessed Nicholas Charnetsky, a martyr of the church who was beatified by St. John Paul in 2001.
Pilgrims traveled from as far as Philadelphia, Washington and New Jersey to focus on their spiritual lives during the afternoon.
The procession was the moment Marsha Brubaker of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, had been waiting for. She and her husband, Phil, made the pilgrimage after reading about the event in the faith section of a local newspaper.
“It’s visually powerful when you see so many people praying for peace and praying for others; it’s outstanding,” she said.
Making the trip from Philadelphia for the second year was Eugene Borys and his family, who received individual blessings from Archbishop Soroka. Borys’ son is a seminarian and joined the pilgrimage with five seminarians from St. Josaph at Ukrainian Catholic Seminary in Washington.
Mary Theresa Mattu, 83, of nearby Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania, was raised in the parish, being baptized and married there. It is also where her parents are buried. She still attends Divine Liturgy at the church.
Barbara Liparela of Shavertown, Pennsylvania, attended as a member of the choir from St. Mary’s Ukrainian Catholic Church in McAdoo, Pennsylvania, which sang the responses during the Divine Liturgy.
Several languages could be heard being spoken during the pilgrimage, reminding those on the grounds of the feast of Pentecost, when the common language understood by all was that of faith.
30 August 2017
Jordanian security forces stand guard at the Al-Karameh border point with Iraq on 30 August 2017. Jordan and Iraq reopened their only border crossing, saying security had been restored three years after ISIS seized control of frontier areas. (photo: Khalil Mazraawi/AFP/Getty Images)
Pope Francis urges African nuns to offer credible witness (Vatican Radio) The Holy Father Pope Francis has asked members of the Association of Consecrated Women in Eastern and Central Africa (ACWECA) to deepen the bonds of friendship and communion among themselves so that they may offer a more convincing witness to society and the Church. He has also called on them to embrace a united apostolate to the poor, the sick and the marginalized...
Jordan and Iraq open border crossing (AFP) Jordan and Iraq on Wednesday reopened their only border crossing, saying security had been restored three years after the Islamic State group seized control of frontier areas. In a joint statement, the two countries’ governments said the crossing, called Turaibil in Iraq and Al-Karameh in Jordan, was reopened after it was “secured... against attacks by criminal gangs...”
Pope and patriarch prepare statement for World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation (Vatican Radio) At his General Audience, the Pope said he and “our dear brother Bartholomew, Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople” had prepared a Message to be released on 1 September. “In [the message],” the Holy Father said, “we invite all to assume a respectful and responsible attitude towards Creation...”
Helping Ethiopian Jews (Times of Israel) Sometimes, it’s easy to read a continual drip-drip-drip of headlines and forget about the people behind them. Take, for example, the headlines these past couple of years about the Falash Mura, the former-and-perhaps-future Jews of Ethiopia, who want to move to Israel...
Pilgrims return to abandoned coal town (Newsworks.org) Only a few structures still stand in what was Centralia, Pennsylvania. Even fewer are visible through the tree cover from the top of an adjacent mountain overlooking what was once a thriving community. The most notable and recognizable structure is the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Catholic Church, whose bright-blue domes rise out of the foliage on the side of the mountain. Though all but seven of the town’s residents relocated because of the ongoing fire in the anthracite coal mine below its surface, the church continues to serve a successful parish...
29 August 2017
Volunteers reach out to help flood victims in India. (photo: CNEWA)
While many in the United States and around the world have been following the dramatic stories of Hurricane Harvey in Texas, we were reminded today of a similar disaster affecting the other side of the world.
This morning, we received a note from our regional director in India, M.L. Thomas, who wrote about the torrential rains and floods that have affected millions in India — and he described how the Diocese of Gorakhpur is responding. CNEWA has supported the diocese and its projects in many ways over the years, particularly in efforts to strengthen the rural health care system.
M.L. Thomas wrote:
Recent floods in eastern Uttar Pradesh have claimed hundreds of lives and caused heavy damage in the areas impacted by the floods. Over 2,523 villages in 24 districts are flooded, affecting approximately two million people. The flood fury is caused by the raging waters of rivers emanating from Nepal.
The Diocese of Gorakhpur, through its social service team, reached out to the flood victims to provide clean drinking water, food items, and medicines. The diocese accepted the help of school children and college students for distributing food packets and water bottles to those in need.
Our prayers are with all our suffering brothers and sisters in India, in Texas, and around the world, with the fervent hope that God’s tender mercies will shelter them through every storm.
Students help to distribute food packets, medicine and water to those affected by the floods.
29 August 2017
In the video above, a Syrian Christian refugee describes the warm welcome he has received at Vatican parish. (video: Rome Reports/YouTube)
Christian prisoner freed in Iraq (Fides) Rana Behnam is a Christian woman who was freed in the suburbs of Tal Afar after having been held for a long time in a place of segregation by the jihadists of the self-proclaimed Islamic State in Tal Afar, along with other yazida women. Her release — according to Iraqi media reports — took place during the offensive that was launched last Sunday by the Iraqi army...
Top Vatican official discusses terrorist threat, immigration debate (CNS) The Vatican obviously is concerned about terrorist threats, “especially for the senseless hatred” it represents, and will continue to remain vigilant, said Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state. Speaking to reporters on 26 August Cardinal Parolin said he had seen the most recent video attributed to Islamic State in which the pope and Vatican are threatened, and “one cannot help but be concerned.” However, he said, he did not believe the video prompted extra security measures beyond those that have been in place for some time...
Hostility grows toward Syrian refugees in Lebanon (Reuters) For six years, tensions have simmered as 1.5 million Syrians poured into Lebanon, equal to around a quarter of its population. Refugees have faced waves of hostility since the conflict in neighboring Syria took hold. But the debate over their presence has taken a harder edge in recent months, fueled by political leaders who say Lebanon has lost patience with the social and financial burden of the refugee crisis...
Pope Tawadros dedicates first Coptic church in Japan (Egyptian Streets) Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II has inaugurated the first Coptic Orthodox church in Kyoto Japan, state-run MENA news agency reported on Sunday. The church was established in 2016 to serve Egyptian, Ethiopian and Eritrean Coptic communities living in the East Asian country. The inauguration was attended by a number of Coptic bishops including Daniel the bishop of Sydney in Australia in addition to Egyptian Ambassador to Japan Ismail Khairat...
Syrian refugee earns high marks in Canada (Catholic Register) Peace, order, good government — that’s all Jomanah Chahrour’s family needed to succeed when they arrived in Edmonton almost six years ago, fleeing Syria’s chaotic, brutalizing civil war. Headed for McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont., with an $80,000 Schulich Leader Scholarship and her high school diploma from Windsor’s Catholic Central High School in her back pocket, Chahrour doesn’t count her success as merely personal. For the 19-year-old future astrophysicist, success is a family affair...
28 August 2017
Armenian Catholics in the southern Georgian village of Djulgha gather for the Divine Liturgy. Learn more about the people and traditions of the Armenian Catholic Church in this profile from 2008. (photo: Armineh Johannes)
28 August 2017
Tags: Cultural Identity Village life Georgia Armenian Catholic Church Caucasus
Indian residents walk through flood waters in the Indian state of West Bengal on 24 August. The death toll from the floods have climbed about 1,000. Pope Francis offered prayers for the victims during his Sunday Angelus. (photo: Diptendu Dutta/AFP/Getty Images)
Pope Francis offers prayers for India flood victims (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis offered prayers on Sunday for the victims of massive flooding in Bangladesh, Nepal, and northern India over the past several days. “I express my closeness to all the [affected] populations, and pray for the victims and for all who suffer because of this calamity,” Pope Francis said…
Car bombing in Baghdad kills 12 (Al Jazeera) A car bombing has struck a busy market area in eastern Baghdad, killing at least 12 people, Iraqi officials say. The explosives-laden car went off at the wholesale Jamila market in Baghdad’s Shia district of Sadr City on Monday morning, a police officer said. The explosion also wounded 28 other people, he said, saying the death toll was expected to rise further…
Pope pleased with ‘constructive’ visit of Cardinal Parolin to Russia (Vatican Radio) In an exclusive interview with Vatican media on Friday, Cardinal Pietro Parolin reviewed his state visit to Russia this week, pointing out its highlights and the issues as yet unresolved between the Holy See and the Russian Federation. Cardinal Parolin said he briefed Pope Francis immediately upon his return to the Vatican on Thursday. He said the Pope “was pleased with the impressions and positive results which I shared with him...”
Church in India remembers 2008 anti-Christian riots (Crux) On 25 August, Christians around India marked Kandhamal Day, commemorating the ninth anniversary of the worst anti-Christian attacks in India’s history, and some of the worst anywhere in the world…
Hundreds in Gaza go to the movies for the first time in 30 years (The Independent) Film lovers in Gaza were able to watch a movie in a cinema for the first time in 30-years at a screening of the premier of a film about the treatment of Palestinian prisoners. Gaza City’s Samer Cinema has been closed since the 1960s, but this weekend the building played host to around 300 moviegoers, along with a gaggle of press…
24 August 2017
Tags: India Iraq Gaza Strip/West Bank Russia Relief
This painting depicts the Patriarch of Constantinople, Gregory V, being arrested by the Ottomans on Easter Sunday in 1821. He was later hanged.
(photo: Nikiforos Lytras [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)
As I noted in an earlier post, Christian decline in the Middle East covered a period of many centuries. As early as the 9th century, we find Christians converting to Islam for any number of reasons. The almost total destruction of the Christian infrastructure during the Mongol invasions (13th century) further weakened the Christian position.
Under the Ottoman Empire (from the end of 13th century until 1923) the status of Christians further deteriorated. The Ottoman Empire did everything possible to expand its borders. For several centuries, it enjoyed considerable success. Most of the Balkan countries, parts of Hungary and Poland and all of Greece came under Ottoman rule. All of these countries were Christian — Orthodox, Catholic or Protestant.
The Ottomans employed the millet (originally Arabic for: religion, religious community, nation) system in which each religious group enjoyed a certain autonomy and lived under its own denominational leadership and laws. But each remained under the strict control of the Ottoman overlords. While this provided a certain autonomy, it also ran the risk of “ghettoizing” and, hence, isolating the communities. At the same time the same social, cultural and financial incentives continued which would entice Christians to convert to Islam.
In the 19th century the Ottoman Empire entered a period of decline. There were large groups like Greeks, Armenians, Assyrians and others who became restive. Nationalist movements began to emerge and many of these groups sought independence. In 1821 Greek nationalists revolted against the Ottoman Sultan Mahmud II. The patriarch of Constantinople, Gregory V, who was also the leader of the Greek millet, opposed the revolt. Nevertheless, the Sultan held him responsible. On 22 April 1821, Easter Sunday, the Ottomans arrested Gregory after the liturgy and hanged him in full vestments on the gate of the patriarchate, where his body remained for two days. This not only enflamed the Greeks but also encouraged Russian, French and British intervention on the side of the Greek rebels. Ultimately the rebels were victorious and Greece achieved independence in the Treaty of Constantinople in May 1832.
The success of the Greeks was a shock to the Ottomans. They had been invincible for centuries. Soon other Christian millets became possible hotbeds for revolutionaries. The intervention of Russia, France and Britain on the side of the Christian Greeks was a warning to the Ottomans.
At the outbreak of World War I (1914-1918), the Ottomans joined on the side of Germany and Austria-Hungary against the British, French and Russians, who not coincidentally had supported the Greek war for independence. After some initial successes, it became clear that the Ottomans were on the losing side. Christian millets were looked upon as possible areas for revolt and for support of the Allied Powers. In fact, some of the millets, like the Armenians, did see an opportunity for independence.
In 1915 the Ottomans began a systematic extermination of Armenians, the vast majority of whom were Christians. It should also be noted that Armenians were widespread in the Ottoman Empire. In what the United Nations and others, including Pope Francis, refer to as the Armenian Genocide, over 1.5 million Armenians were either executed or died from starvation and forced migration. While the Armenians have received the attention of Western historians, they weren’t the only ones who faced persecution and death. Other groups, including the Assyrians and Chaldeans, were also massacred.
The end of World War I and the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire allowed the French and British to divide up the Ottoman remains along lines of their own national interests. The Sykes-Picot Agreement (1916) created artificial countries in the area of Syria Mesopotamia. Created according to British and French national interests — and not linguistic, ethnic, religious or political considerations — these countries were and are inherently unstable. As British and French control in the region began to wane, many of these countries experienced anti-colonialist revolutions and sought their identities in a non-European, non-Christian (which to many in the region was the same) Islam. Once again, especially in Iraq, Christians became the target for massacres. Beginning in 1933 there were several massacres of Assyrian Christians, the worst event being at the town of Simele on 10-11 August of 1933.
By this time Christianity in the region was in sharp decline. The Christian population of Turkey in 1914 was estimated at 14 percent. By 2017 it had sunk to 0.2 percent. Genocide, emigration and expulsion reduced the Christian population, which had been the majority in the 6th century, to an insignificant minority in the 21st.
The wars the United States waged against Iraq (2003 to the present) further worsened the situation of Christians, who were often caught in the crossfire of competing forces or targeted as traitors, sympathetic to the (Christian) invaders. Having once numbered more than 1.5 million, Christians now number 150,000 or less in Iraq. The Syrian Civil War (2011-present) and the rise of the Islamic State have made the situation of Christians in Syria and Mesopotamia almost intolerable.
Whether Christianity will or even can survive in the region is today a very open question.
2,000 Years of Christianity in Syria and Mesopotamia: Introduction
2,000 Years of Christianity in Syria and Mesopotamia — Part 1: In the Beginning
2,000 Years of Christianity in Syria and Mesopotamia — Part 2: Christians and Muslims Co-exist
2,000 Years of Christianity in Syria and Mesopotamia —Part 3: Christianity Begins to Decline
24 August 2017
In this image from 2007, a young couple is married in Tbilisi, Georgia. To read more about the flourishing faith of the people there, read A Georgian Revival in the March 2007 edition of ONE.
(photo: Molly Corso)
24 August 2017
Sushma Swaraj, India’s Minister for External Affairs, met with a group of Salesians recently and assured them that a kidnapped priest, the Rev. Tom Uzhunnalil, was alive and could be freed soon.
(photo: Vatican Radio)
Cardinal Parolin meets with Putin (Vatican Radio) Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin yesterday met with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the presidential residence in Sochi. According to a statement from the Holy See Press Office the meeting lasted for about an hour and was held in a positive, friendly, and respectful atmosphere with an open exchange of views on various themes including international and bilateral relations...
Indian official: ‘Father Tom could be released soon’ (Vatican Radio) Sushma Swaraj assured a delegation of Indian Salesains who met her in New Delhi on 17 August that the Rev. Tom Uzhunnalil, who was kidnapped in Yemen a year ago, is alive and could be released soon. Speaking to the delegation the Minister for External Affairs said that securing his freedom was among the highest priorities of the government. She added that she felt for the “unimaginable trauma and suffering” Father Uzhunnalil has endured...
Electricity crisis threatens clean water services in Gaza (Middle East Monitor) In light of the severe electricity crisis clean water and sewage services in the Gaza Strip are suffering, which is ultimately affecting residents of the besieged enclave, Quds Press reported yesterday. Gaza residents only have four hours of electricity every day, sometimes every two days...
Forces agree to truce in Ukraine for start of new school year (BBC) Forces fighting in eastern Ukraine have committed to a ceasefire before the start of the new school year, say international monitors. The truce will take hold at midnight on Friday, OSCE representative Ambassador Martin Sajdik said. Shelling has previously marred the 1 September return to school for children — an occasion that is widely celebrated in Ukraine...
Russian culture alive in rural Alaska (Voice of America) Alaska is the largest state in the United States. It is also one of the least populated. The state is home to 741,000 people. Among them are Native Alaskans, immigrants, adventure-seekers and oil industry workers from other parts of the country. The state is also home to a community known as the Russian Old Believers. They came to Alaska from Russia nearly 50 years ago. They built a village on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula. The village is called Nikolaevsk...
23 August 2017
Volunteers prepare some 5,000 sandwiches for the Lebanese army, which is waging an offensive against an Islamic State enclave near Ras Baalbek, Lebanon. Hundreds of volunteers, Christian and Muslim, are involved in the project, spearheaded by Mother Agnes Mariam of the Cross, a Lebanese Carmelite nun. (photo: CNS/Mother Agnes Mariam of the Cross)
As the Lebanese army wages an offensive against an Islamic State enclave near the border of Syria, Lebanese civilians — Christian and Muslim — are working side by side, not far from the frontlines, to feed some 5,000 soldiers.
The project was spearheaded by Mother Agnes Mariam of the Cross, a Lebanese Carmelite nun who is superior of the Melkite Catholic monastery of St. James the Mutilated in Qara, Syria. The monastery is about 2.5 miles from the battle.
“Soldiers are involved in a very dangerous operation to defend and liberate the Lebanese territory from Daesh, so it’s very natural to offer help to the army,” Mother Agnes told Catholic News Service, using the Arabic acronym for Islamic State. “Now with the international war on terror, the army has a special importance, and these Lebanese soldiers are offering their lives to save our lives.”
When Mother Agnes visited the army compound, she saw that the kitchen was essentially an empty shell.
The nun talked to local priests, local Christian associations, Scout groups and organizations such as Caritas and “everybody was very thrilled to help.” They mobilized to equip the space — located about six miles from the frontlines of the battle — with “elementary things” such as refrigerators, stoves, pots, utensils and tables for working.
The Lebanese army began its operation in the outskirts of Ras Baalbek and al-Qaa in Lebanon on 19 August. By 22 August, the army said it had recaptured two-thirds of the territory in the area.
At first people from mostly the villages of Ras Baalbek and al-Qaa came to volunteer, but as word spread of the effort to help feed the Lebanese army, the project mushroomed, and now there are nearly 300 volunteers involved.
Businesses are chipping in. Mother Agnes likened the response of solidarity to a “rolling ball,” with new offers of assistance each day from bakeries and supermarkets.
“Since the very beginning Muslims asked to participate. And they were very much welcome.” People are coming to volunteer from Shiite villages and Sunni villages, she said.
“Everyone works together knowing that the military are also from all the denominations,” she said.
Organized in assembly lines, the volunteers — covered in hairnets, aprons and gloves — prepare 5,000 pita bread sandwiches daily, using chicken and beef cooked at the facility, topped with hummus and pickles. The menu also includes fruit and something sweet, like a piece of cake. Just for the chicken sandwiches, the effort requires 1,763 pounds of chicken each day. Battalion trucks load up the meals for delivery to the soldiers.
“To see all these people giving their time, sharing their skills, to cook, to organize with very limited means, it is a beautiful expression of solidarity with the army. All religions are unified with the purest love for our country, our wounded country,” said Mother Agnes.
Prayers are also being said for the safety of the soldiers and the success of the military mission.
“We have been living this battle moment by moment in prayer, in supplication, in hope and in solidarity,” Mother Agnes said. She added that while working, the volunteers pray the rosary, sing Marian hymns as well as the national anthem and patriotic songs.
Mother Agnes noted that, as is customary in Lebanon, many Muslims attended Christian schools.
“We are praying to holy Mother Mary and they (Muslims) also venerate her, so they don’t mind if we pray our Christian prayers, and they even join in, because, all together, we work and we pray,” she said.
Mothers whose sons were killed in previous battles are coming to help “with a lot of joy and hope,” Mother Agnes said. “They give us a very good example,” she said.
The project will continue “until the end, when victory is achieved,” she stressed. “We hope that this battle will finish very soon, that it's a matter of a few weeks, if not a few days.”