15 July 2016
St. Vladimir embraced Christianity in the tenth century, and is considered the founder of the Eastern churches in the Belorussian, Carpatho-Rusyn, Russian and Ukrainian Catholic and Orthodox traditions. (photo: OCA.org)
Today, 15 July, marks the feast of St. Vladimir:
“The Holy Great Prince Vladimir, Equal of the Apostles.” Few names in the annals of history can compare in significance with the name of St. Vladimir, the Baptizer of Rus.
Born in 956, Vladimir was raised a pagan, but converted to Christianity — the first ruler of the Rus’ to embrace the faith. The people of his country soon followed his example:
Then followed an unforgettable and quite singular event … the morning of the Baptism of the Kievans in the waters of the River Dneipr. On the evening before, St Vladimir declared throughout the city: “If anyone does not go into the river tomorrow, be they rich or poor, beggar or slave, that one shall be my enemy.” The sacred wish of the holy Prince was fulfilled without a murmur: “all our land glorified Christ with the Father and the Holy Spirit at the same time.”
“Everywhere throughout Holy Rus, from the ancient cities to the far outposts, St. Vladimir gave orders to destroy the pagan sanctuaries, to flog the idols, and in their place to clear land in the hilly woods for churches, in which altars would be consecrated for the Bloodless Sacrifice. Churches of God grew up along the face of the earth, at high elevated places, and at the bends of the rivers, along the ancient trail “from the Variangians to the Greeks” figuratively as road signs and lamps of national holiness. Concerning the famed church-building activity of St Vladimir, the Metropolitan of Kiev St Hilarion (author of the “Word on Law and Grace”) exclaimed: “They demolished the pagan temples, and built up churches, they destroyed the idols and produced holy icons, the demons have fled, and the Cross has sanctified the cities.”
The man known as the “Baptizer of the Rus’ ” died on 15 July 1015, 28 years after his own baptism. He’s buried in a crypt in Kiev, now the capital of an independent Ukraine.
A beautiful troparion in the Orthodox tradition celebrates him as “another Paul”:
Holy Prince Vladimir
you were like a merchant in search of fine pearls.
By sending servants to Constantinople for the Orthodox Faith, you found Christ, the priceless pearl.
He appointed you to be another Paul,
washing away in baptism your physical and spiritual blindness.
We celebrate your memory,
asking you to pray for all Orthodox Christians and for us, your spiritual children.
Read more about his life here.
15 July 2016
Tags: Russia Saints
A man prays in front of a makeshift memorial on 15 July in Nice, France, as people pay tribute near the scene where a truck ran into a crowd, killing more than 80 people the previous evening. (photo: CNS/Pascal Rossignol, Reuters)
French president links attack in Nice to conflict in Middle East (ABC News) In a late-night address to the nation, French President Francois Hollande linked the deadly “terrorist attack” in Nice to the conflict in Iraq and Syria — and said France will intensify its military operations there in the aftermath of today’s tragedy. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, in which a large truck plowed into a crowd in Nice, France, killing at least 80 people late Thursday. But Mr. Hollande said that “the terrorist nature” of the attack “cannot be denied”…
Pope condemns attack in Nice (Vatican Radio) In a telegram sent on his behalf by the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Pope Francis has condemned the terror attack in Nice and expressed his profound sadness and his spiritual closeness to the French people…
Portion of Holy Sepulchre remains open during restoration (Fides) The restoration work, which started a few weeks ago, has completely surrounded the aedicule of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre with scaffolding and tarpaulins. But the place where, according to tradition, the body of Christ was laid after crucifixion will remain accessible to pilgrims during the work of restoration and consolidation of the structure…
Agreement near on dispute surrounding Coptic monastery land (Fides) Egyptian lawyer Ihab Ramzy, who protects the interests of the Coptic Orthodox Church, has announced details of an imminent agreement between the parties that should put an end to the long dispute which arose around the territories linked to the Coptic Orthodox Monastery of San Macarius, in the area of Wadi el Rayan…
Losing everything to drought in Ethiopia (TRTWorld) There are currently 10,000 men, women and children at this facility for internally displaced people. It includes a school, a medical unit, a food storage area, and little else. And according to the camp’s water supply expert, only ten people work here…
14 July 2016
Tags: Ethiopia Church of the Holy Sepulchre France
In this photo from 2005, Sister Winifred Doherty enjoys lunch with children at Good Shepherd School in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. (photo: Sean Sprague)
For 16 years, Sister Winifred Doherty of the Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd — informally known as the Good Shepherd Sisters — ministered to the poor in Ethiopia.
In 2012, citing dwindling vocations, the congregation suspended its work in the country. But we can’t forget the tremendous good work that Sister Winifred accomplished — work that is, in every sense, heroic.
Much of her ministry was devoted to helping those who had become victims of trafficking:
“While our ministry as Good Shepherd Sisters always had women in prostitution in mind,” says Sister Winifred, “we took a more direct approach in October 1994.
“The distresses of these women are many: poverty, depression, unwanted pregnancy, homelessness, the threat of AIDS, the distress of working on the streets — they face these things every day. But we listen to them and invite them into friendship.
“A novice and I used to venture out two nights a week to meet these women,” she continues. “I remember those nights when we walked the roads beside our house. There was some initial nervousness, but soon these feelings disappeared.
“I recall one woman who was out on the road only two nights after giving birth by Caesarean section. Immediately we drove this woman to her house outside the city where her little baby lay alone. The woman had no money for food, the rent was due and there were no social services available! Ongoing support for this woman meant teaching her rudimentary baby care, buying milk for the baby and providing financial support when she or the baby got sick or the rent was due. We were ready to help.
“My direct street ministry with these women only lasted seven months, but the friendships have continued. Today these women are involved in various training programs and income-generating activities such as card-making, cosmetology, catering, bamboo crafts, weaving and others.”
In 2012, as she embarked on a new chapter in her life, she looked back with fondness at her time in Ethiopia, and her congregation’s efforts to bring dignity to the poor and marginalized:
The work of the Good Shepherd congregation is about compassion and reconciliation. It is identifying and wanting to be close to and in solidarity with people who have been excluded — especially women and girls — and the most excluded groups are people living in poverty, women who have been forced into prostitution and, today, women and girls, boys and men, who have been trafficked. So I am energized by the work that we do. …
The one thing that always stood out for me was the spirit of the people, their sense of hope in the midst of desperate situations. I often think of them. Even when I was there, I remarked on their richness of spirit. Despite dire circumstances — horrible poverty and often threatening environments — they continue to give freely, share rich relationships with one another and seek to live in peace. That always impressed me and, of course, that was informed by their faith in God and their great prayer lives.
You can view a video interview with Sister Winifred below.
14 July 2016
Tags: Ethiopia Sisters human trafficking
Father Sherubine, his wife, Antoinette, and their children visit the Al Karma Center near Alexandria, Egypt. Antoinette volunteers at the center. (photo: Sean Sprague)
Several years ago, we visited the Al Karma Center in a suburb of Alexandria, Egypt, to explore how it is helping Coptic families enrich their faith:
Being a minority is never easy; being a minority newly settled in a once inhospitable terrain much less so. But such is the fate of some 40,000 Coptic Orthodox, who face poverty and isolation in the arid land west of the Nile Delta.
Most immigrated to the area from Upper Egypt to escape discrimination from Islamic fundamentalists and economic deprivation. Others came after the government encouraged them to leave the over-populated Nile Valley and settle along the desert highway linking Alexandria and Cairo. With only one church to serve them, all fear their faith and heritage will be lost on younger generations eager to escape the bleak landscape where jobs are few.
A multipurpose religious center near Alexandria, however, is providing this isolated community with an opportunity to bring their children together and strengthen their faith.
“The role of the center is to identify needy children and equip them with the tools and education to live their lives in a Christian way,” said Antoin Nabil, the coordinator of the Al Karma Center in Mariout, a southwestern suburb of the Mediterranean port city.
The center gathers children from across the desert for a three-day program of activities dubbed “Jesus the Child.” Boys and girls, ages 6 to 14, are shuttled to the center in groups of 50 to 60 for an up-close look at the life of the Coptic Church.
Read more about this Oasis of Hope in the March 2004 edition of our magazine.
14 July 2016
Tags: Egypt Coptic Orthodox Church Copts Coptic
Smoke rises from the site of air strikes conducted jointly by Syrian government and Russian planes against opposition forces controlling the Anadan district of Aleppo, Syria, on 5 June. (photo: Ahmed Muhammed Ali/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
U.S. reportedly offering Russia military pact to battle ISIS (The Washington Post) The United States is offering Russia a new military pact against the Islamic State and Al Qaeda in Syria, according to a leaked U.S. proposal that, if finalized, could dramatically alter America’s role in the Arab country’s five-year civil war…
U.S. trying to confirm air strike killed high-ranking ISIS leader (CNN) The United States is trying to verify that an airstrike recently killed a high-ranking ISIS commander, and the Pentagon confirmed Wednesday that in a separate action it took out a commander of the Pakistani Taliban who was responsible for the deaths of more than 130 children…
Syrian refugees graduate from Caritas-run school in Jordan (CNS) Exuberant Syrian refugee children sang, danced and played with colorful clowns as they celebrated graduation at their Caritas-sponsored school in this sleepy suburb of the Jordanian capital, Amman. Some 170 Muslim children, ages 5 to 17, proudly strode up on the outdoor platform of the Latin Patriarchate School of Naour, festooned for the occasion with red, yellow and orange balloons. They wore big smiles as they collected their certificates allowing them to move from primary to secondary school, while others completed high school…
Gaza farmers seek damages for Israel’s crop-spraying (Al Jazeera) Ibrahim Abu Taaymeh has grown spinach on land in the Gaza Strip for more than a decade. But the Palestinian farmer from Khan Younis, in southern Gaza, says his harvest was destroyed after the Israeli army sprayed an unknown herbicide on lands in the buffer zone near the Israel-Gaza border fence in October 2014…
For Palestinians, raising Arabian horses is the ‘hobby of the poor’ (The New York Times) The two gleaming black horses, certified purebreds named Rawnaq and Furys, provided a glimpse of a Palestinian passion — some call it an obsession — for raising show horses, racehorses and more modest steeds in what might seem like impossible conditions. The horses are bred and to some extent trained in gritty East Jerusalem neighborhoods like Issawiya, Tur and Jabal al-Mukaber, often by families who struggle to share tiny, cramped homes. “In America, they call raising horses the hobby of the rich,” said Muhamed Hamdan, 25, a Palestinian trainer who studied in the United States. “Here, it’s the hobby of the poor…”
Film on Indian martyrs to be released in Kerala (Vatican Radio) A documentary film that captures the agony of Kandhamal villagers of the eastern Indian state of Odisha is all set for release in Kerala, India. Directed by K.P. Sasi, “Voice from the Ruins — Kandhamal in search of Justice,” will be screened at three different places in Kerala, southern India, in the second half of July…
13 July 2016
Tags: Syria India Refugees Palestine War
Farha Nasrallah, widow of Boulos Al-Ahmar, stands with her 3-year-old daughter on the front steps of St. Elias Melkite Catholic Church in Al Qaa, Lebanon, on 10 July. Her late husband was driving an ambulance to the scene of explosion when more bombs went off. Residents of the predominantly Christian village are determined not to live in fear. (photo: CNS/Brooke Anderson)
Boulos al-Ahmar had just driven the ambulance to the scene of the explosion when more bombs detonated, killing him. When Majed Wehbe heard the first explosions near his home, he ran to the scene to help, only to arrive in time for the next set of explosions.
These men died as heroes, unafraid to run toward disaster to help others, and their Christian village wants to honor their memory by shunning the fear these explosions were designed to instill.
The Lebanese frontier village is mourning the loss of five residents to a series of explosions in late June. But within two weeks, the people were showing their determination to bring back life.
“We will continue to have culture, activities and late-night celebrations. We’re not just going to survive. We’re going to live our lives,” said Bashir Mattar, the mayor of Al Qaa, a village of about 15,000, predominantly Melkite Catholic, with some Maronite Catholic and Orthodox. They share the village with nearly 30,000 Syrian refugees who have fled war in their country, about three miles away.
The village is relatively poor, with the majority of the population belonging to the army, a reliable employer for an area with few job opportunities. Families live in modest homes, often decorated with canopies of grape vines. Syrian refugees live nearby in informal tented settlements.
“We will continue helping Syrian refugees so that they can live in dignity,” the mayor said at a 9 July town hall meeting, the first of its kind since the explosions, which led to the arrest of more than 200 Syrian refugees in the area. “If they get an education and have hope, especially the children, then they won’t turn to extremism and terrorism.”
Four suicide bombers hit the town in two separate incidents 27 June. They killed themselves and the five residents and injured more than 30 others. Although the perpetrators have yet to be identified, the area’s growing Syrian refugee community has been under tight security following the attacks.
Hilal Khashan, a professor of political studies at the American University of Beirut, said Al Qaa probably was not the target of the attack. He said some believe the suicide bombers got stuck in the village as they were trying to coordinate an attack in a big city.
Although there is a narrow stretch of Islamic State group-controlled land between Al Qaa and Syria, Khashan said he does not foresee a repeat of the attack, because the group does not have the constituency or resources in Lebanon to stage spectacular attacks, as it does in Iraq. Still, the bombings in al-Qaa left the Christian villages that border Syria’s Islamic-State-controlled areas shaken.
From the beginning of the Bekaa Valley until the entrance to the village of Al Qaa, 10 Lebanese Army checkpoints line the road. Inside the village, as the sun set and residents began to arrive at the town hall meeting in a building near the scene of the attacks, armored vehicles began patrolling the area. Some soldiers set up positions on the roofs of nearby buildings.
“Al Qaa is the door to Lebanon. If it falls, then Lebanon could fall,” said lifelong resident Georgette Farha Taom, emphasizing that she still considered the village’s Lebanese and Syrians to be on good terms. “We’ve always had a good relationship with the Syrians. They’re more scared than us. They fled their country. They have nowhere to go.”
The next morning, as worshipers, including some local Muslims, filled St. Elias Melkite Catholic Church, security personnel were again out in force, closely observing and sometimes checking IDs of those entering or walking by the church. Once the service started, the soldiers’ faces could be seen peering through the church’s windows, as the priest gave an impassioned sermon urging people not to be scared. He thanked the Lebanese army and honored the victims of the attacks, whose names and photos appeared at the main entrance to the church.
A prominent guest joined the congregation that day: Myriam Skaff, president of the Popular Bloc, visited the village from Zahle to show her support for Al Qaa, something she said she would continue to do on a regular basis. Although such gestures by politicians are not unusual at times of crisis, this visit appeared to give support to what locals wanted to show the rest of the country and beyond — that their village is open for business and is a safe destination.
“This is the first time since the attacks that the church is filled with people,” said the Rev. Elian Nasrallah. “There was no life after the attacks, but it’s coming back slowly.”
13 July 2016
In this image from May, Syrian refugees arrive at the Jordanian military crossing point of Hadalat at the border with Syria after a long walk through the Syrian desert. Hadalat was reportedly bombed by a Russian jet Tuesday, killing at least 12 people. (photo: Jordan Pix/Getty Images)
Syrian rebels say Russian jet bombed refugee camp along Jordan border (Reuters) Jets believed to be Russian on Tuesday struck a refugee camp along Jordan’s north-eastern border with Syria, killing at least 12 people and injuring scores in the first such Russian strike near the Jordanian border, rebels said. Several jets flying at high altitudes struck at noon a makeshift camp where a few hundred, mostly women and children, are stranded in a no-man’s-land on the Syrian side of the border, they said. The Russian Defense Ministry was not immediately available for comment...
Holy See’s UN observer speaks on Israeli-Palestinian crisis (Vatican Radio) The halted Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and the ongoing Syrian crisis were among the topics touched on by the Apostolic Nuncio and Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations in statement Tuesday. In his statement to the UN Security Council during an open debate on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian Question,” Archbishop Bernardito Auza reiterated Pope Francis’ denouncement of those responsible for the Syrian crisis, especially those who provide weapons to fighters...
Civilians killed in Indian state of Orissa (Fides) The Catholic Church in Orissa is on alert after the killing of five civilians, including two Christians in the district of Kandhamal in the Indian state of Orissa...
Refugees seen as resilient (CNS) Refugees arriving in the United States are resilient people who want to contribute to society, believes Darwensi Clark of the U.S. bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services. He’s seen it among the refugees he has worked with through the years...
Residents of Gaza turn to Turkey for medical care (The Los Angeles Times) More than 40 Palestinian men from Gaza... are sharing a rented apartment building [in Istanbul] while undergoing surgery and rehabilitation for injuries related to the ongoing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. They said they have no ties to the militant group Hamas, which rules Gaza. The United Nations has said the few hospitals in Gaza are unable to cope with the demands for surgery and rehabilitation. Thousands of people wait long periods for appointments or apply for treatment in countries such as Turkey, Egypt, Israel or Jordan...
U.S churches to Russia: we’re not leaving (RNS) Several American-based religious denominations remain defiant in the face of new laws that would ban them from proselytizing in Russia. The so-called “Yarovaya laws” make it illegal to preach, proselytize or hand out religious materials outside of specially designated places. The laws also give the Russian government wide scope to monitor and record electronic messages and phone calls...
Iraqis to pray ‘Our Father’ in Aramaic at World Youth Day (Fides) There will be more than two hundred young Iraqi Christians who from all the dioceses of the Country will participate in the forthcoming World Youth Day, to be held in Krakow in late July. And in that context, during the Via Crucis, some of them will have the chance to recite the Lord’s Prayer in Aramaic, Jesus’ language, before the Pope. “It will be an important moment for all of us, to be confirmed in faith and communion with the whole Church of Christ,” says Chaldean Bishop Basel Salim Yaldo, who will accompany the young Iraqis in their trip to Poland with Archbishop Bashar Warda, a dozen young priests and seven nuns...
12 July 2016
Pope Francis talks with Ahmad el-Tayeb, grand imam of Egypt’s al-Azhar mosque and university, during a private meeting at the Vatican on 23 May. The Vatican and Sunni Islam’s leading institution of higher learning have begun looking for ways to restart formal dialogue.
(photo: CNS/Max Rossi, Reuters)
The news today that the Vatican plans to send a high-ranking official to Cairo, in hopes of restarting talks at a leading Sunni Muslim university, is important for a number of reasons.
First, this move marks a possible thaw in relations that had grown frosty. If nothing else, it also signals a symbolic gesture of conciliation and respect toward one of the oldest universities in the world, one which has always been a powerful voice in Sunni Islam.
It also indicates that restoring this relationship is a priority to Pope Francis. Recalling the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate last year, he indicated in his message for the World Day of Peace in January that Nostra Aetate was “emblematic of the new relationship of dialogue, solidarity and accompaniment which the Church sought to awaken within the human family.”
To understand the significance of this move, it helps to understand a little background.
After the Second Vatican Council, the Secretariat for non-Christians, which later become the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, exchanged visits and was engaged in dialogue with al-Azhar University.
However, on 20 January 2011 the Islamic Research Academy of al-Azhar University broke off dialogue with the Vatican. The remarks of Pope Benedict XVI in his address at the University of Regensburg on 12 September 2006 and his call in 2011 for the protection of Coptic Christians who were under attack in Egypt were not well received at al-Azhar.
The address in Regensburg was looked upon as offensive and the call to protect Coptic Christians was seen as interference in the internal affairs of Egypt during a particularly tumultuous time. As a result, contact and dialogue between al-Azhar and the Vatican were broken off.
But on 23 May 2016, Ahmad el-Tayeb, the Sheikh al-Azhar, made an official visit to Pope Francis at the Vatican. The visit received broad media coverage and Pope Francis’ “dialogue of friendship” was evident.
Now, only a few weeks later, it appears that initial dialogue has born fruit, and it is quickly ripening.
It is a very happy and hopeful event.
12 July 2016
Sister Nabila Saleh serves as principal of the Rosary Sisters School in Gaza, helping children trying to heal from the wounds of war. (photo: John E. Kozar)
Sister Nabila Saleh has been working on behalf of young people for whom war, tragically, is just another way of life: the children of Gaza. The world they are living in was thrown into turmoil during the summer of 2014, when a seven-week-long war left much of the area devastated:
A report published in 2012 by the United Nations notes the Gaza Strip has “one of the youngest populations worldwide,” with about 51 percent of the population under 18 years of age.That same report predicted the Gaza Strip could become virtually unlivable by 2020, according to available trend data for access to food, drinking water, electricity, sanitation infrastructure, health care and schooling. A shortage of clean water alone could create a crisis as early as 2016, due to the accelerating depletion of groundwater wells and inadequate sewage systems.
Additionally, the Palestinian Ministry of Education lists hundreds of schools as damaged, and dozens destroyed entirely. The scope of the devastation is vast.
Against this backdrop, we visited Sister Nabila in 2014:
According to a UNICEF report, about 373,000 Palestinian children in the Gaza Strip — or 35 percent of the children there — require psychological intervention after the summer’s war.
...At one of the institutions CNEWA supports, the Rosary Sisters School, the scene looks markedly different than other places. The students are playing, drawing and dancing, expressing and discussing their summer.
Sister Nabila Saleh, the school’s principal, noticed a difference in the students’ behavior when they returned to school. The children were tense, and became more violent with one another on the playground.
“It was obvious the war had a bad impact on the children, and for that reason we decided to dedicate the first week to stress release by playing, drawing, dancing and writing — in cooperation with specialists,” Sister Nabila says.
“Most of the children responded positively during the social activities. Some students profoundly need additional treatment — especially those who lost loved ones, or those whose homes were completely demolished.”
Bit by bit, child by child, Sister Nabila is working to rebuild shattered young lives. Some deep wounds do not heal easily. But as she put it last year:
“I have hope; as long as there is life there is hope, hope to build. This hope fills the hearts of our students. They want to be doctors, lawyers ... All this means that they can build our country.”
To help support that hope in Sister Nabila’s corner of the world, visit this link.
12 July 2016
Students attend class at St. Michael School in Aiga, Ethiopia. CNEWA is helping provide nourishing biscuits so that schoolchildren in drought-ravaged Ethiopia don’t go hungry. See more pictures here. And to help these and other children in northeast Africa, visit this giving page.
(photo: John E. Kozar)