12 September 2019
As part of a long tradition, the Passion Play is staged for a few weeks every 10 years in Oberammergau, Germany. This photograph is from the mid-19th century.
(photo: Josef Albert via Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain.)
Sometimes, people can be surprised at the similarities between Christianity and Islam — bonds that often aren’t easily apparent. We encounter this in the world CNEWA serves, where very often the two religions dwell peacefully together, with believers sharing cultures and, sometimes, traditions.
This month brought another example of this striking commonality.
This year on 10 September, Shi’ite Muslims all over the world observed Ashura, marked on the 10th day of the Islamic Month of Muharram. Muharram is the first month of the Muslim calendar and is one of the four sacred months (Qur’an 9:36) during which war and violence are forbidden.
Muharram also has special meaning for Shi’ite Muslims. It was on the 10th of Muharram almost 1,500 years ago that the army of the Umayyad Calif, Yazid, slaughtered Hussein bin Ali, the grandson of the Prophet. He also killed 70 of his followers, including infants.
It was the death of Ali’s youngest son, Hussein, that was the foundational experience for the Shi’ite sect in Islam.
The Muslim calendar is lunar and is 354/355 days long. Unlike Christians and Jews, who also follow a lunar calendar, Muslims do not correct the lunar calendar over against the solar calendar with 365/6 days. As a result, Muslim holy days move “backwards” during the solar year. Every year on the 10th day of the month of Muharram, Shi’ite Muslims observe the death of Hussein. In most countries the observance takes the form of the ta ? ziya, or passion play. In Shi’ite countries the faithful — with great zeal and at time shocking fervor — re-enact the death of Hussein on the field of Karbela. The re-enactment is accompanied by processions in which believers flagellate themselves or strike the foreheads with stones to the point of drawing blood. Ecstatic manifestations are fairly common during these observances.
Passion plays, of course, are not unique to Shi’ite Islam. In the pre-Reformation Middle Ages, Christians in Europe often re-enacted the Passion and Death of Jesus during Holy Week. Although deeply religious, passion plays also had secular and social overtones with different guilds presenting the passion play in different ways. Wikipedia lists over 15 countries which had or still have some form of passion play.
During the Reformation, with its sober and at times puritanical values, the exuberance and ecstatic nature of passion plays began to be looked down upon. While once extremely prevalent, passion plays in Protestant countries in Europe disappeared after the Reformation.
Of course, for Roman Catholics the legendary Passion Play in Oberammergau, Germany, is the most famous. In 1633 the Bavarian town of Oberammergau was in the midst of the plague. The town vowed that, if the plague abated, they would re-enact the Passion of Christ every 10 years. Their prayers were answered and for almost 250 years the town has staged the play. Over the years the spectacle has been updated to be in harmony with the Catholic Church’s teaching on the Jews since the document Nostra Aetate (1965) of Vatican II.
In the year when the play is performed—the next is in 2020—thousands of pilgrims and tourists come from all over the world to attend.
In other places like the Philippines and South and Latin America passion plays—often with shocking detail and realism—are part of the observance of Holy Week. While nonexistent in many parts of the world, passion plays, be they Muslim or Christian, are an attempt by believers to reconnect in a very concrete way with the redemptive sufferings and death of Imam Hussein bin Ali or Jesus Christ.
Similar phenomena can also be found in many of the other religious traditions of the world —serving to remind us that the human experience of faith and belief often finds expression in ways that are startling, dramatic and — despite our differences — profoundly universal.
12 September 2019
Pope Francis is flanked by Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, and Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, on 12 September 2019, during an audience with bishops who were ordained over the past year and were attending a course sponsored by the two congregations. (photo: CNS/Vatican Media)
New bishops need to prepare for a life filled with God’s surprises, with daily plans that change at the last minute and, especially, for a life dedicated to spending time with God and with the people, Pope Francis said.
“God surprises us and often likes to mess up our appointment books: prepare for this without fear,” the pope told about 130 bishops attending a course for bishops ordained in the past year.
Bishops exist to make tangible God’s love for and closeness to his people, the pope told them on 12 September. “But one cannot communicate the closeness of God without experiencing it every day and without letting himself be infected by his tenderness.”
Pope Francis told the new bishops that no matter what else is going on in their lives and ministries, they must spend time in prayer.
“Without this intimacy cultivated daily in prayer, even and especially in times of desolation and dryness, the nucleus of our episcopal ministry splits apart,” he said.
Without a strong relationship to God, the sower of every good seed, a bishop’s own efforts will not seem worth the effort, he said, and it will be difficult to find the patience necessary to wait for the seeds to sprout.
Closeness to God also leads directly to desire for closeness to God’s people, the pope said. “Our identity consists in being near. It is not an external obligation, but a requirement that is part of the logic of gift.”
“Jesus loves to approach his brothers and sisters through us, through our open hands that caress and console them, through our words pronounced to anoint the world with the Gospel and not ourselves,” Pope Francis said.
A bishop cannot simply “proclaim” his closeness to the people, the pope said. He must be like the good Samaritan: seeing people in need rather than looking the other way, stopping to help, bandaging wounds, taking responsibility for them and paying the cost of caring for them.
“Each of these requires putting yourself on the line and getting your hands dirty,” Pope Francis told the bishops.
“Being close to the people,” he said, “is trusting that the grace God faithfully pours out on us and of which we are channels, even through the crosses we bear, is greater than the mud we fear.”
And, he said, a simple lifestyle is part of a bishop’s mission because it is the first and clearest way to proclaim with integrity that “Jesus is enough for us and that the treasure we want to surround ourselves with is made up of those who, in their poverty, remind us of and represent him.”
Bishops must spend more time visiting parishes and other communities than they spend at their desks, and those visits should not be super-formal affairs, he said.
“What comes to mind are pastors who are so groomed that they seem like distilled water that has no taste,” he said. They must truly listen to people, rather than surrounding themselves with “lackeys and yes men,” he added.
12 September 2019
Tags: Pope Francis
Marie Rackley (left) of the Catholic Women’s League of Canada presents a check to CNEWA Canada’s Development Officer Melodie Gabriel (right). (photo: CNEWA)
Thank you to the Catholic Women’s League (C.W.L.) for giving CNEWA Canada the opportunity to speak at their recent National Convention in Calgary.
During the convention, the C.W.L. of Canada presented a check to CNEWA for $16,346.13.
I was pleased to accept the donation and thank the Catholic Women’s League for their ongoing support. I was also able to update attendees on conditions in the Middle East. Christians are few but mighty in these countries and play vital roles in interfaith dialogue, health services and aid to those in need. We thank the C.W.L. for the hope they bring to Holy Land Christians through their prayer and donations — and by spreading the word about CNEWA.
Earlier this summer, CNEWA Canada organized its 6th annual Pilgrimage to the Holy Land for C.W.L. members and CNEWA Canada donors. During the trip, they visited two projects that help women and families in the Holy Land: Shepherd’s Field Hospital and Infant Welfare Center.
These Christian institutions can to do the good work they do because of the ongoing generous support of donors such as the Catholic Women’s League. Thank you!
12 September 2019
Tags: Canada CNEWA Canada
The video above shows some of the recent devastation in Syria, with a growing number of children suffering casualties. A UN report says Syrian government forces backed by Russian warplanes may have committed war crimes in targeting schools and medical facilities.
(video: Al Jazeera/YouTube)
UN: US-led coalition may have committed war crimes in Syria (Al Jazeera) Syrian government forces backed by Russian warplanes may have committed war crimes while targeting medical facilities, schools, markets and farmland in an ongoing deadly campaign in northwestern Syria, UN investigators say. The UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria also said on Wednesday that Hay’et Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), a former al-Qaeda affiliate fighting government forces in the northwestern province of Idlib, fired rockets indiscriminately and killed civilians…
Indian state’s plan to fund Christian pastors sparks row (UCANews.com) Hindu groups have opposed a move by the chief minister of India’s Andhra Pradesh state to implement his election promise of paying a US$70 monthly honorarium to Christian pastors. The pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the southern state began its resistance after the state government on 27 August asked district officials to count the number of pastors in their areas…
‘Long way to go” before Russia and Ukraine repair relations (CNBC) A high-profile prisoner exchange between Russia and Ukraine is being seen as a boost to the possible resumption of peace talks, but some experts are tempering those hopes…
Shevchuk: marriage doesn’t solve the priest shortage (Crux) Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, Major Archbishop of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, has urged those considering allowing priests in the Latin rite to marry in order to help solve a crippling shortage, to proceed with caution, saying marriage has not curbed shortages in his own rite…
11 September 2019
Tags: Syria India Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church
Pope Francis greets Mohamed Husin Abdelaziz Hassan, president of Al Azhar University, during a meeting at the Vatican on 11 September. (photo: CNS/Vatican Media)
On a day remembered for the terrorist attacks against the United States, Pope Francis met with members of a committee of Muslim leaders and Vatican officials promoting a new era of dialogue and world peace.
The first meeting of the committee working to fulfill the goals of the “Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together” was held 11 September in the Vatican residence where the pope lives.
“The date was chosen as a sign of the will to build life and fraternity where others sowed death and destruction,” said a communique by the Vatican press office.
The Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together — which rejects violence and terrorism and promotes identity, dialogue and harmony — was signed in the United Arab Emirates in February by Pope Francis and Egyptian Sheikh Ahmad el Tayeb, grand imam of Al Azhar, a leading authority for many Sunni Muslims.
The seven-person committee is made up of representatives for the Vatican, Al Azhar University and the United Arab Emirates.
The pope greeted each member and gave them a special copy of the document, issued by the Vatican Library.
Calling them “artisans of fraternity,” the pope thanked them and encouraged them to be the source of a new form of politics of “not only of outstretched hands, but of open hearts,” the communique said.
During the committee’s meeting, which the pope did not attend, the members agreed to invite representatives of other religions to be part of the committee, and they made a proposal to ask the United Nations to proclaim a World Day of Human Fraternity, to be celebrated between 3 and 5 February.
When the meeting ended, “each member prayed according to his own faith for the victims of Sept. 11 and of every act of terrorism,” the Vatican statement said.
The members of the committee included: Cardinal-designate Miguel Angel Ayuso Guixot, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue; Mohamed Mahmoud Abdel Salam, former adviser to Egyptian Sheikh Ahmad el-Tayeb, grand imam of Al Azhar University; Mohamed Husin Abdelaziz Hassan, president of Al Azhar University; and Sultan Faisal Al Remeithi, UAE secretary general of the Muslim Council of Elders.
11 September 2019
Tags: Pope Francis Muslim
In this image from 2014, the Rev. M.J. Joseph, pastor of St. Alphonsa Church in India, leads a service for Dalits in a mud hut. Members of this poor and marginalized caste have appealed to Pope Francis for help to fight discrimination. (photo: John Mathew/CNEWA)
Dalits appeal to pope for help (UCANews.com) As Indian bishops prepare for their periodic visit to the Vatican, a group of socially poor Dalit people has appealed to Pope Francis to direct the prelates to work toward ending caste-based discrimination in the Church. The call from the Dalit Christian Liberation Movement (DCLM) came ahead of the Ad Limina Apostolorum meeting between 200 bishops from India’s 174 dioceses and Pope Francis in three groups from 13 September to 3 October…
Attacked Jesuit mission seeks action in eastern India (UCANews.com) A week after a mob of some 500 suspected Hindu hardliners vandalized a Jesuit mission in the eastern state of Jharkhand, church leaders have appealed to the governor to intervene and ensure police act against those responsible. The 11 September appeal to Governor Draupadi Murmu followed an attack on St. John Berchmans Inter College and an attached hostel for tribal students in the Mundli area of Sahibganj district eight days earlier…
Trapped in Jordan, Syrian refugees see no way home (AP) Seven years after fleeing the civil war in his homeland, Zahir Hamshari’s life is filled with questions and doubts: How to pay the rent? How to cover the electricity bill? How to afford even basic staples like bread and bottled water? But one thing is crystal clear for him. Like many Syrian refugees, he cannot envision returning to his war-torn country. ”There is no future for us in Syria,” Hamshari said. “Nothing encourages us to return back to Syria...”
Catholic bishop in Turkey calls for missionary effort, vocations (The Tablet) A Catholic bishop in Turkey has warned his Church lacks enough priests and places of worship to meet the needs of refugees and local residents, many of whom seek to return to Christianity or learn more about it. ”We need priests, nuns and laypeople who can help with the formation and daily pastoral care of Christians, which is made more complex by great distances”, said Bishop Paolo Bizzeti, an Italian-born Jesuit heading Turkey’s apostolic vicariate of Anatolia. “We also have Muslims who don’t intend to convert but wish to learn more about Christianity and help us convey its true values to Turkish society. This really is a land of opportunity for a Church wishing to become missionary again…”
10 September 2019
Tags: India Refugees Jordan Dalits
Students from Nativity Girls School in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, review an assignment. With more kids heading back to school this month, learn how Catholic schools in Ethiopia are Making the Grade, and making young scholars, in the November 2012 edition of ONE. (photo: Peter Lemieux)
10 September 2019
Tags: Ethiopia Education
Syrian refugees are seen in 2015 at a makeshift camp in Adana, Turkey. After years of welcoming millions of Syrians, Turkey is now forcing thousands of refugees to leave.
(CNS photo/Nathalie Ritzmann)
Turkey, long a haven for Syrian refugees, is sending them home (The New York Times) Turkey, which for eight years has welcomed millions of Syrian refugees, has reversed course, forcing thousands to leave its major cities in recent weeks and ferrying many of them to its border with Syria in white buses and police vans. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is pushing a radical solution — resettling refugees in a swath of Syrian territory controlled by the United States and its Kurdish allies. If that does not happen, he is threatening to send a flood of Syrian migrants to Europe…
Russian Orthodox churches in Europe may reconnect with Moscow (La Croix) Russian Orthodox churches in Europe are preparing to reconnect with Moscow after nearly 90 years under the protection of Constantinople. An extraordinary General Assembly of 186 members met in Paris 7 September to decide whether to reconnect with the Russian Orthodox Church, which they left in 1931 because of persecution under Stalin’s anti-religious policy…
Kerala on high alert following warnings of possible terror attack (Gulf News) All district police chiefs in Kerala have been asked to stay on high alert, said Director General of Police (DGP) Kerala, Loknath Behera on Monday. Earlier on Monday, the Lieutenant General SK Saini, the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief (GOC-in-C), Army Southern Command had warned that there might be an attack on the southern states, following the discovery of some boats from the Sir Creek region in Gujarat…
UN: Israel may have ’willfully killed’ Gaza protestors (The Jerusalem Post) The UN accused Israel of killing and injuring “peaceful” Palestinian protesters at the Gaza border, when it opened the 42nd session of its Human Rights Council in Geneva on Monday…
Ancient seal found near Western Wall (The Jerusalem Post) A 2,600-year-old seal bearing a Hebrew name was uncovered in dirt excavated in 2013 near the Western Wall, archaeologist Eli Shukron said on Monday. The seal is inscribed with the name of “Adenyahu Asher Al HaBayit,” meaning “Adenyahu by Appointment of the House,” the most prominent role in the king’s court in the Kingdom of Judea that appears for the first time on the list of ministries of Solomon…
9 September 2019
Tags: Refugees Jerusalem Turkey Russian Orthodox Church
A collection of pants and shirts on the floor at The Phillips Collection museum in Washington illustrates the lives of migrants lost at sea. "The Warmth of Other Suns: Stories of Global Displacement" exhibit focuses on people forced to leave their homelands.
(photo: CNS/Lee Stalsworth courtesy The Phillips Collection)
A pair of well-worn shoes left in the desert at the U.S.-Mexico border is the last thing you’d expect to find in one of the most prized rooms of the Washington museum known as The Phillips Collection, a premier venue for modern American art as well as classic European expressionists such as Renoir and Matisse.
But there, in a transparent case, in a space that focuses the viewer on the work of Mark Rothko, celebrated as a 20th century American artist but one who was born in what later became Latvia, the small battered shoes are on display.
They’re next to an item that looks as if it belonged to a child -- a piece of cloth embroidered with the image of a lion. A description explains the items were found in 2018 near the Arizona-Mexico border by members of the Undocumented Migration Project at the University of California at Los Angeles.
The items, likely left behind by a migrant heading north, made up part of the 100 multimedia pieces in the museum’s “The Warmth of Other Suns: Global Stories of Displacement” exhibit focused on those forced to leave their homelands. It is on display until 22 September.
“A lot of the works can be very heavy,” explained a museum guide — and she wasn’t talking about the physical weight of the objects.
Much like the person to whom the embroidered item likely belonged, Rothko left his homeland as a child, barely 10 when he left the Russian Empire and headed with his mother to a new life in the United States, where they arrived in late 1913.
They resettled with other family members who had arrived earlier in Portland, Oregon.
A large part of the exhibit focuses on the emotional toll as well as the dangers of such immigration journeys, and one experienced in modern times by a record 70.8 million around the world, fleeing war, persecution and conflict, according to 2018 statistics from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
One of the rooms in the exhibit, with a large-scale photograph of the sea covering a wall, and jeans and shirts strewn on the floor, reminds museum-goers of the stream of recent refugee drownings. The clothing installation, by artist Kader Attia, is titled “La Mer Morte” (The Dead Sea) and is reminiscent of the Italian island of Lampedusa, where Pope Francis in 2013 called attention to tragedies faced by those seeking refuge from conflicts in Africa to Europe.
Audio of waves and video of the sea nearby make it hard to escape the reality of the risks that refugees have confronted: Die drowning while trying to reach safety or die in a different way at home.
The exhibit takes up three floors of the Phillips, which is filled with portraits of refugees who arrived from Europe to Ellis Island in the early 1900s, photos of modern-day refugees from places such as Eritrea, Iraq and Syria who set up a refugee camp torn down in Calais, France, in 2016, audio in various languages in which immigrants speak of their experiences as well as the indignities they or their children suffer in their adoptive countries.
A black and white photograph of a building with a large sign that says “I am an American” showed what one American family of Japanese descent had to do the day after Pearl Harbor was attacked on 7 December 1941. Even after its prompt display of loyalty to the U.S., the family was sent to what was called a War Relocation Authority center, or an internment camp where some Japanese Americans were forced to live during World War II.
Though some of the items have a documentary quality, other art offers political commentary, such as the work of Siah Armajani, a Minnesotan artist, in a piece labeled with the ironic title “Seven Rooms of Hospitality.” It features plastic 3-D printed models of “uncertain spaces occupied by refugees, deportees, and exiles.” They include a cage, a shack and a model of a truck with the name of a company called Hyza on the side and the words describing its contents: “60 men, eight women, and three children, all dead.”
It was a reference to a 2015 incident in which 71 refugees and migrants from Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan suffocated in an airtight, refrigerated truck found abandoned on the side of an Austrian highway as they traveled from Hungary to Munich.
There’s also a chilling video made by Erkan Ozgen called “Wonderland” that focuses on a 13-year-old child who can’t speak, but miming with his hands and through grunts, describes an attack he witnessed and escaped from in his native Syria, motioning what seems to be a shooting and someone’s hands being tied. After watching, it’s hard not to hear his trauma through the grunts that travel through the museum floor.
Where a news item will document singular moments of difficulty, struggle, trauma and sometimes death that a displaced person may face, the exhibit’s photos, the audio playing in the background of migrants’ voices, videos of the empty and uninviting landscapes some of them have traveled through bring together the totality of the experience. Though it seems as if hope is absent and the “warmth” promised in the exhibit’s title is all but missing, perhaps it can be found in the space known as the “Rothko room,” where the migrant’s shoes are temporarily residing.
The Rothko room, a place where silence is encouraged, was envisioned as a place to meditate. Duncan Phillips, the museum’s founder, is said to have referred to it as a “chapel” and a painting by the immigrant artist, now widely recognized as a full-fledged American, hangs on each wall.
The paintings are of large and small blocks of bright and sometimes dark colors. According to the museum’s online literature, Phillips said of Rothko’s paintings that “what we recall are not memories but old emotions disturbed or resolved -- some sense of well-being suddenly shadowed by a cloud -- yellow ochres strangely suffused with a drift of gray prevailing over an ambience of rose or the fire diminishing into a glow of embers, or the light when the night descends.”
It’s hard to know how the journey of a displaced person will end, with success or with struggle, with the brightness of a new life like the one Rothko’s family was able to build or trudging through an unwelcoming place. The journey nevertheless began inside the shoes of a child that, like Rothko, was taken by his parents to start a new life in a new land.
9 September 2019
Tags: Refugees Immigration
Alexandria, Egypt is surrounded on three sides by water is now threatened by rising sea levels. (photo: Wikipedia/Creative Commons)
Rising sea levels threaten Egypt’s Alexandria (Voice of America) Alexander the Great established the city more than 2,000 years ago. In that time, it has survived invasions, fires and earthquakes. But, Alexandria now faces severe flooding from rising waters blamed on climate change. Alexandria is Egypt’s second largest city, with more than 5 million people. It is also an important port and home to about 40 percent of Egypt’s industrial activity. The city is surrounded on three sides by the Mediterranean Sea and sits next to a lake…
Gandhi seeks reconstruction payments for flood-ravaged Kerala (The Hindu) Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has written to Union Minister Arjun Munda and Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, urging them for early payment of compensation to tribals and reconstruction measures in flood-hit areas in the State…
Report: ’air strikes’ hit near Iraq border (BBC) Warplanes have struck positions of Iran-backed militias near Syria’s border with Iraq, activists say. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitoring group, said at least 18 Iranian and pro-Iranian fighters were killed. It was not clear who carried out the overnight strikes in and around the town of Albu Kamal…
Catholic priest, catechist arrested in India (UCANews.com) A Catholic priest and a catechist were arrested and jailed on Sept. 7 in India’s Jharkhand state after they were accused of grabbing tribal people’s land and engaging in forced religious conversions. The Rev. V.J. Binoy and catechist Munna Hansda, who work in the Rajadah mission area in Godda district under Bhagalpur Diocese, were arrested after a complaint by a villager. Two villagers — village head Rameshwar Thakur and Charlis Hansda — were accused of the same charges but reportedly absconded. The four have been accused of violating the eastern state’s stringent anti-conversion law, which prohibits religious conversion through allurement or force and without informing government authorities…
Tags: Syria India Egypt