3 August 2017
This pagoda in Shaanxi, China, dates to the seventh century. Scholars believe it was originally part of a monastery for the Church of the East — offering evidence of Christianity's deep roots in Asia. (photo: J. Coster/Wikipedia)
While all the ancient churches traditionally trace their roots back to one of the Apostles — or one of the 72 disciples who are mentioned without names in Luke’s Gospel — it is often difficult to verify these traditions in way which would be acceptable to modern historians.
The New Testament offers little help. It has Peter traveling to Antioch, although there is no mention in the Bible that Peter went to Rome. We also know from Acts 8:4-8 that Philip, one of the Twelve Apostles, travelled and preached in Samaria, which was not far from Jerusalem. There is more evidence in the Bible about Paul desiring to go to Rome and ultimately going there as a prisoner. Paul is also known to have founded several churches. However, although he insists that he is an “apostle” (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:9 and elsewhere), Paul was not a member of the original Twelve Apostles.
While traditions about the apostolic origins of some churches may be hard to verify, they do have deep roots. Early on, traditions arose according to which of the Twelve evangelized a particular area — Thomas in India, Andrew in Byzantium, and so on.
Nearly 200 years later, we find — as in India and parts of Armenia — that church institutions developed. The traditions were beginning to flourish. Shrines and memorials recording the presence of one of the Twelve, even many decades later, also indicate a longer tradition. So, when churches trace their roots back to apostolic times, there is very often an historical core to those traditions.
But before long, several forces — mostly political, theological, linguistic and cultural — led to isolation between the churches of the East and those of the Latin and Greek-speaking West.
The Church of the East, sometimes inaccurately called the Nestorian Church, was a church separated from the Western churches in many ways. First, it existed politically in the Persian Empire, which was almost in a constant state of war with Byzantium, the political center of Western Christianity. Secondly, its theology found the councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon unacceptable. This actually was to its advantage because “orthodox” Christianity was — sometimes correctly — seen by the Persians as the faith of the Byzantine enemies. Lastly, members of the Church of the East spoke Syriac and different dialects of Aramaic, in contrast to the Greek and Latin of the churches in the West.
But it was, in many ways, ahead of its time. It might surprise people to learn that the Church of the East developed schools of theology in Edessa and Nisibis (both in modern Turkey) some 500 years before the opening of the first great European universities. Also, for the first five centuries of the church, most Christians lived east of the Mediterranean; by the time of the Muslim conquests in the mid-seventh century, Christians formed a slight majority of the population of the Persian Empire.
One reason for its growth is that the Church of the East was renowned for its missionary activities. By the eighth century it had metropolitan sees (archdioceses) in several places in China and across Central Asia. The Church of the East brought Christianity to China before it arrived in Denmark and the Slavic countries of Europe and almost 1,000 years before St. Francis Xavier arrived in the region.
Although the Church of the East remains widely unknown in the West, for centuries it was one of the most vital forces for theology and missionary activity in the Christian world.
2,000 Years of Christianity in Syria and Mesopotamia — Introduction
3 August 2017
Tags: Christianity Eastern Christianity Eastern Churches Church of the East
Armenian octogenarian Marjik lives with her son in a converted shipping container in Artashat, Armenia. Read more about the challenges facing Armenia’s poor in ‘This Is the Only Light’ in the current edition of ONE. (photo: Nazik Armenakyan)
3 August 2017
Tags: Armenia Poor/Poverty Caring for the Elderly Caritas
A Syrian girl holds a woman’s hand as she walks down a street in the central Syrian rebel-held town of Talbiseh, north of Homs on 3 August 2017. (photo: Mahmoud Taha/AFP/Getty Images)
Homs cease-fire deal announced in Syria (BBC) A cease-fire between Syrian forces and rebels north of Homs has been agreed and will come into effect on Thursday, Russia’s defence ministry says. It would be the third such “de-escalation zone” put in place since July after talks between powers backing and opposing the Syrian government…
Maronite bishops issue appeal for repatriation of Syrian refugees (Fides) In a statement released at the end of their meeting on Wednesday, 2 August, Maronite bishops urge Lebanese civilian institutions to adopt a “global plan” to arrange for the return of Syrian refugees who found shelter in Lebanon…
Indian cardinal: There are no forced conversions (AsiaNews.it) The government of Jharkhand (in the northeast of the country) last night approved a law prohibiting conversions brought about by force or coercion. The government spokesman explained that “anyone who violates this law may be sentenced to three years in prison and 50,000 rupees fine, or both.” Speaking to AsiaNews, Cardinal Telesphore Toppo, archbishop of Ranchi and of Tribal Ethnicity, states: “This law is not to prohibit conversions, but it is against forced conversions. Forced conversions do not exist. We are free people with a free will and a free conscience and intelligence. No one can force another to convert…”
Why Germany’s new Muslims go to mosque less often (PulitzerCenter.org) Refugees I’ve spoken to complain that preexisting mosques’ members are overbearing and that the teachings there are irrelevant to their concerns: integration, trauma, and finding footing in a new society. They say older Muslims in Germany focus too much on identity politics and self-victimization, perhaps because they’ve felt like alienated minorities for decades. Many newcomers haven’t abandoned their culture or their faith, but they don’t want to hear this talk when they’re busy trying to fit in…
Russian Orthodox protest planned movie about Tsar Nicholas (The Telegraph) Hundreds of Orthodox activists held a standing in prayer protest in Moscow on Tuesday against a film about the last Russia Tsar Nicholas II having an affair, RBC reported…
2 August 2017
Tags: Syria India Lebanon Russia
CNEWA president Msgr. John E. Kozar was honored yesterday by his alma mater, Saint Meinrad College in Indiana. (photo: courtesy Saint Meinrad College)
We are delighted to share this news, from Saint Meinrad College in Indiana:
Rev. Msgr. John Kozar, a priest of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, PA, was honored on 1 August with the Distinguished Alumnus Award, at the annual Saint Meinrad Alumni Reunion. He graduated from Saint Meinrad College in 1967.
The award, given by the Saint Meinrad Alumni Association, was begun in 1990 to honor alumni who exemplify the Gospel values and have provided exemplary service in their lives or professions. The association’s board of directors reviews nominations for the award annually and makes the recommendations.
Msgr. Kozar is president of Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA) and the Pontifical Mission for Palestine. On behalf of the Holy Father, Msgr. Kozar oversees the Catholic Church’s aid to Christians in the Near East and Middle East — about 16 countries.
He attended Saint Meinrad High School and College, graduating in 1967 and continuing his seminary studies at St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore, MD. He was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Pittsburgh in 1971.
Then-Father Kozar spent the early years of his priesthood as an associate pastor at various parishes in the Pittsburgh Diocese. In 1978, he was named the development coordinator for the diocese’s mission office, making yearly pastoral visits to the diocese’s mission in Chimbote, Peru.
He also worked from 1987 to 2001 as pilgrimage director for the diocese, from 1995 to 1997 as vicar for clergy, from 1995 to 2001 as diocesan director of the Pontifical Mission Societies, and from 1997 to 2001 as director of the Diocesan Jubilee Office — while simultaneously serving as pastor of several parishes.
Then in 2001, he was named national director of the Pontifical Mission Societies. Responsibilities for the national offices of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, the Society of Saint Peter Apostle, the Missionary Union of Priests and Religious, and the Holy Childhood Association were added later that year.
Since 2011, Msgr. Kozar has been leading Catholic Near East Welfare Association, where he oversees the organization’s mission to support the Eastern Catholic churches, provide humanitarian assistance, promote Christian unity and interreligious understanding and collaboration, educate people about the churches of the East, and offer pastoral support to seminaries and religious orders.
He becomes the 26th Saint Meinrad alumnus to receive the Distinguished Alumnus Award.
Congratulations, Msgr. Kozar!
2 August 2017
Shipla Joy helps with homework at the children’s home administered by the Sisters of the Sacred Heart. Catholic education is having a powerful impact on young lives in India. (photo: Don Duncan)
In the June 2017 edition of ONE, journalist Don Duncan writes about the ways Catholic schools are changing lives in India. He adds some additional reflections below.
Time and again throughout this reporting trip, I’ve been reminded of the importance of education.
Kerala has the highest literacy rate of all the Indian states, at over 90 percent of the adult population. Many factors have contributed to this achievement, including the government school system and NGOs. However the contribution made by the church and its many educational establishments is seen as the indispensible factor in the creation of this highly literate population. All over the state, you see people reading books at bus stops or perusing the day’s newspaper at teahouses.
But this literacy statistic can be deceptive. Education remains a constant, perpetual battlefield. The fight never stops because every new generation that comes along needs to be educated; in order to garner people’s commitment to education, its benefits need to be immediately clear, not only to every student but also to his or her parents too.
Education is a very tough sell in the rural, mostly agricultural, areas of inner Kerala. People living by subsistence farming need their children to help them work the fields to assure the family’s food security and livelihood. It’s difficult to persuade people living such a hand-to-mouth existence to make education a priority. For many of them, education does not have the immediate pay-off that having their children work the fields does. In this sense, for people living day-to-day on the edge of poverty, the benefits and worth of allowing their children to attain a good education is a near total abstraction.
It reminds me a little of my frustrations with democracy and party politics in the four-year electoral cycle. Politicians wishing to be reelected focus almost exclusively on projects and initiatives that can come to fruition in the four years before they stand to be reelected. Anything that takes longer has less or no political capital for them and so, in this kind of political system, broader, deeper and important reforms often get sidelined. Some of these projects, much like the process of educating a child, require a much longer cycle of commitment. The fruits of such a commitment, and the human capital it produces, are significant.
In rural Kerala, children’s homes run by the church are offering the possibility of a full education to children who would otherwise have left school at age 10, if not earlier, and worked their parents’ fields. It is in the cases of children like these that one can see the utter transformation that education can bring.
Children who leave their homes young and are taken in by the religious sisters for the duration of their education often return years later to their villages with skilled professions; they come back as teachers, bankers, doctors, etc. These children-turned-educated adults are the living products of what education can do and they are now serving, in their own respective communities, as extremely compelling arguments for the value of education.
I met three such success stories from various church-run children’s homes across Kerala. But a childhood spent under the care of sisters is not all Deepu Sasidharan, Devika Narayanan, and Shilpa Joy have in common. These young adults are not only shining examples of the positive effect of education; their intimate familiarity with poverty, family dysfunction and child vulnerability, when put through the prism of education, has left them all with a keen sense of social justice and a burning mission to make it part of their respective professional practices.
While the ability of education to improve one’s financial and social standing may be the most apparent and compelling result of education for those who are living in poverty, education of course comes with many other benefits. It can help women empower themselves more and take better care of their children. Education can help men take better care of their wives and children. Education establishes a clear scientific underpinning to one’s sense of health and well-being.
As the number of educated children returning to their villages grows, it is hoped that through leading by example, these numbers will produce a gradual “snowball effect” whereby people, inspired by the example, send their own children to school. If this happens, Kerala’s rural communities are in for some major positive change — not only in terms of poverty reduction but also in terms of gender rights, children’s rights, agricultural practice, money management, local governance, healthcare and, really, every other aspect of life.
Read more about The Secret of Their Success in ONE.
2 August 2017
A Palestinian man, seen in January, is silhouetted on rubble of Palestinian houses destroyed during the Israeli War against Gaza. The man works for a company that turns the rubble into building materials. (photo: CNS/Mohammed Saber, EPA)
A heat wave in Israel and the Palestinian territories in July and near-record electricity usage — where it was available — are indications that, despite the continuous political tensions here, Christians, Muslims and Jews are facing a common enemy that needs to be confronted in a united manner.
“The level of the lake of Tiberias and of the Dead Sea is lower than 10 years ago, and the landscape is changing because of a continuous construction of houses,” Franciscan Father Francesco Patton, custos of the Holy Land, told Catholic News Service.
Father Patton and two other religious leaders spoke at a recent news conference organized by The Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development, a Jerusalem-based environmental organization. They spoke about the urgency of putting aside political and religious difference to face these challenges and the role religious leaders can take in increasing awareness of the issue.
Rabbi David Rosen, international director of interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Committee, told journalists the Jordan River Valley, another area of Biblical importance, is facing an environmental crisis. In a covenant signed by religious leaders four years ago, they noted that over the past 50 years, the lower Jordan River has had 96 percent of its flow diverted, and what little water remains is polluted with saline and liquid waste or sewage.
Father Patton told CNS that other pressing issues in the Holy Land include the increasing water shortage, improper waste disposal and growing air pollution in various regions.
While Israel has begun a garbage recycling program, the Palestinian Authority has yet to institute such an effort. Awareness of proper garbage disposal is also an issue among certain sectors of both populations, with many people still tossing garbage on the side of the road or outside their buildings, with little regard to garbage bins at their disposal. In certain places of East Jerusalem, garbage pickup by the municipality is either lacking or erratic, and Palestinian residents often burn their own garbage for lack of a better solution.
Recent internal political differences have caused electrical shortages in the Gaza Strip. This has affected the ability of the sewage system to function properly, which has caused raw sewage to flow into the Mediterranean Sea, which borders Egypt and Israel.
The northern industrial Israel port city of Haifa, though often lauded for its political tolerance, is also often sighted even by its own residents for the lack of the environmental controls over the chemical factories located on its seashore. In a position paper earlier this year, the Israeli Ministry of Health noted Haifa has a 15 percent higher rate of cancer than the rest of Israel and leads the country in asthma and breathing problems.
Father Patton, Rabbi Rosen and Kadi Iyad Zahalka, head judge of the Muslim Shariah courts in Israel, said religious leaders needed to unite in their efforts to educate and create a greater awareness about these environmental issues.
“We should offer values that can inspire the everyday life of people, and also recall the principles of our religious traditions that can inspire wise economic and political policies and decisions,” Father Patton told CNS.
He noted that the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, which is in charge of holy places, is working on a pilot project to include environmental education in its local schools curriculum for the coming school year.
The impact of climate change can be easily ignored if a person lives in an acclimatized environment with the air conditioning on in the summer and heating on in the winter, said Father Patton, the son of a farmer in northern Italy. He told CNS he has seen how the harvest seasons have changed over the past 10 years.
“This means something has changed ... climate change is something which touches our lives,” he said.
Referring to the papal encyclical “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home,” Father Patton noted the value of an interfaith strategy toward environmental issues in the Holy Land in the form of an “integral ecology.” He said the issue is not only one of “environmental ecology” but also of “cultural ecology,” which “connects the ecological issue to many fields in a reciprocal relationship.”
“In this place, it is particularly important to have a linked vision, to work on a connection ... between different cultures (and religions) of Judaism, Islam and Christianity. This is an integral vision of ecology in the encyclical of Pope Francis,” Father Patton told CNS. “He speaks of the importance of dialogue between religions of different faiths in this field. We can work as people of goodwill.”
At the news conference, the religious leaders discussed the common respect for the environment and nature inherent in their religious traditions and holy books, and the responsibility these teachings entrust to people.
Despite the continuing political violence and struggle to control land not only in Jerusalem and the whole Middle East, but also around the world, people need to start discussing the issues of real importance concerning climate change and environmental sustainability before there is no land left to fight over, said Zahalka.
“Our lives are more important than all these issues,” he said. The issue of environmental sustainability “gives us the opportunity to rethink all these (political) issues and put them into context ... to focus and invest in what is really important, which is life.”
Father Patton said the creation of an interfaith environmental dialogue could even serve as a confidence-building measure between Israelis and Palestinians and others in the region, which could enable future discussions on social, political and religious issues.
“We received the gift of creation and, first and foremost, we are part of creation, we are not over creation. We have a shared responsibility toward this generation,” he told journalists. “We can cooperate for something important for every human being in the present and in the future.”
2 August 2017
In this photo from June, a Palestinian boy stands outside his house at a refugee camp in Gaza City. New statistics show child labor is increasing in Gaza, as the economy continues to deteriorate.
(photo: CNS/Mohammed Salem, Reuters)
Child labor increasing in Gaza (Fides) Over the past five years, with the worsening of the economic crisis in the Gaza Strip, the phenomenon of child labor continues to increase. The news comes from the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics...
Lebanon jihadists withdraw to Syria (BBC) Thousands of jihadists and their families are relocating to Syria from the border with Lebanon as part of a ceasefire deal with Hezbollah. Fighters from Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) agreed to withdraw to Idlib province after Hezbollah, backed by Syrian forces, launched an offensive. The jihadists were targeted in the Juroud Arsal region, which had become a bastion for the group...
Knights of Columbus raises money to assist Christian town in Iraq (CNS) In 2014, the Islamic State removed hundreds of families of religious minorities from their homes in Karamdes, a mostly Christian town on the Ninevah Plain in Iraq. Just over two years later, the town, also known as Karemlash, was liberated. The Knights of Columbus will raise $2 million to assist these families in returning to their homes, according to Knights CEO Carl Anderson, who announced their pledge at the Knights’ 135th annual Supreme Convention being held in St. Louis...
Draft Orthodox catechism defends ecumenism (The Catholic Herald) A new draft catechism of the Russian Orthodox church has declared ecumenical discussions to date ‘completely faithful and obedient’ to Christian teaching, in opposition to critics of ecumenism within the church. The Catechesis of the Russian Orthodox Church, issued with the blessing of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, follows a submission to the Council of Bishops in February, and is published for Church-wide discussion...
In Kerala, ‘the world’s first Christian shoe brand’ (NewKerala.com) Neon Apostle is the first footwear company in the world to combine functionality, faith and footwear. Their initial offering of 11 designer Christian-themed casual shoe designs features a combination of cutting edge graphics and traditional Christian motifs...
1 August 2017
Slovak Bishop Milan Lach smiles alongside Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States, during a Divine Liturgy on 21 July at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Parma, Ohio. Bishop Lach was welcomed as the new apostolic administrator of the Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Parma. (photo: CNS/Laura Leraci, Horizons Newspaper)
1 August 2017
In the video above, a priest from Mosul explains how families have been keeping the faith during the long siege by ISIS and the battle to liberate the city. (video: Rome Reports/YouTube)
In Mosul, revealing the last ISIS stronghold (The New York Times) Days after the Iraqi government officially declared victory over the Islamic State in Mosul in July, the fighting was far from over. Roughly the size of a block in Manhattan, the last ISIS holdout of the Old City did not seem like the kind of place where anyone could still be alive after weeks of brutal combat. But a few such areas kept up the fight for days. And — horribly, amazingly — civilians were still being pulled out. What we saw as we went step by step with the Iraqi forces here made their survival seem even more miraculous...
Report: U.S. proposes arming Ukraine (The New York Times) The Pentagon and State Department have proposed to the White House a plan to supply Ukraine with anti-tank missiles and other arms, according to Defense Department officials. The proposed transfer — which also would include antiaircraft arms that would be defined as defensive weaponry — comes as fighting between Ukrainian troops and Russian-backed separatists has increased in recent days, and the United States is taking steps to deter aggressive military actions by Moscow...
After 150 years, a baptism takes place in Turkish province (DailySabah.com) Baptism ceremony has taken place at a chapel located near the ancient Temple of Apollo in Turkey’s southwestern Aydin province for the first time after 150 years. According to reports, the son of Assyrian businessman Enlil Simon Afram was baptized at the 300-year-old chapel, located in Aydin’s Didim district. The Metropolitan Bishop of Mardin and Diyarbakir Saliba Özmen performed the baptism...
Mosul musicians emerge from the shadows (Al Jazeera) Iraqi forces continue to root out the last remaining pockets of ISIL fighters in Mosul. But rebuilding the city and allowing people to return to their old lives is now the main priority. Musicians who lived under ISIL rule had to keep their profession a secret or face severe punishment...
31 July 2017
Many Iraqis living in settlement camps in Erbil have been displaced from home, community and even family for years. But reports today indicate some are finally beginning to return home. Read about their plight in the current edition of ONE. (photo: John E. Kozar)