15 September 2015
A picture taken on 14 September 2015 shows smoke billowing from the Syrian rebel-held area of Douma, east of the capital Damascus, following a reported air strike by Syrian government forces. The besieged area east of Syria’s capital suffered one of its bloodiest months in August, with ‘intense’ regime bombing attacks that killed and wounded hundreds,
Doctors Without Borders said. (photo: ABD Doumany/AFP/Getty Images)
For those who remain in Syria, daily life is a nightmare (The New York Times) Every morning, at the dawn call to prayer, women and children move silently from the Damascus suburb of Douma to the surrounding farm fields, seeking safety from the day’s bombardments by the Syrian government. The walk is part of a surreal routine described by the fraction of Douma’s residents who remain: shopping on half-demolished streets, scavenging wild greens, carrying out mass burials. But not even the fields are safe; recently, medics said, bombs killed two families there — 10 people, including seven children. As crowds of Syrians transfix the world with their flight to Europe, this kind of life is one of the many nightmares they are fleeing...
Vatican welcomes Iran agreement (Vatican Radio) The Holy See has welcomed Iran’s efforts to reduce or convert its nuclear facilities to peaceful purposes in return for the lifting of economic sanctions. In a statement delivered to the 59th General Conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna on Monday, the Holy See’s Secretary for Relations with States, Archbishop Paul Gallagher, said the Vatican “values positively” Iran’s recent agreement with the European Union and the so-called ‘P5 plus 1’ group of nations because “it considers that the way to resolve disputes and difficulties should always be that of dialogue and negotiation”...
Canadian troops arrive in Ukraine to train soldiers (The Globe and Mail) The Canadian training mission is taking place 1,200 kilometres away from the front lines, but the Kremlin nonetheless sees the exercises as part of a NATO buildup on its doorstep. The Russian embassy in Ottawa has criticized the mission as “counterproductive and deplorable.”
Conference looks at impact of social media in Middle East (Fides) In the tragic events that plague the people of the Middle East, an undeniable and growing role is also played by communication through social media. In order to address this emergency and rediscover social media as a space for dialogue and understanding among different identities, the Kaiciid has organized the first training program for operators in this sector in Amman, entitled “United Against Violence in the Name of Religion”...
Catholic activist reportedly receives death threats in India (Fides) The well-known Catholic intellectual and human rights activist John Dayal has received death threats by radical Hindu groups. This is what Fides learns from sources in the Indian Catholic community. Dayal has denounced the threats to the police in New Delhi. According to information confirmed to Fides by Fr. Savari Muthu, a priest in New Delhi and spokesman of the Archdiocese, Hindu radicals started threatening Dayal on 12 September with telephone intimidations and on social networks, with derogatory and offensive comments towards Dayal and the Christian faith...
14 September 2015
In this image from 2014, an Ethiopian Christian carries a cross on the Via Dolorosa in the
Old City of Jerusalem. (photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)
Today, 14 September, marks the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. Some background:
Early in the fourth century St. Helena, mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine, went to Jerusalem in search of the holy places of Christ’s life. She razed the second-century Temple of Aphrodite, which tradition held was built over the Savior’s tomb, and her son built the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher over the tomb. During the excavation, workers found three crosses. Legend has it that the one on which Jesus died was identified when its touch healed a dying woman.
The cross immediately became an object of veneration. At a Good Friday celebration in Jerusalem toward the end of the fourth century, according to an eyewitness, the wood was taken out of its silver container and placed on a table together with the inscription Pilate ordered placed above Jesus’ head: Then “all the people pass through one by one; all of them bow down, touching the cross and the inscription, first with their foreheads, then with their eyes; and, after kissing the cross, they move on.”
To this day the Eastern Churches, Catholic and Orthodox alike, celebrate the Exaltation of the Holy Cross on the September anniversary of the basilica’s dedication. The feast entered the Western calendar in the seventh century after Emperor Heraclius recovered the cross from the Persians, who had carried it off in 614, 15 years earlier. According to the story, the emperor intended to carry the cross back into Jerusalem himself, but was unable to move forward until he took off his imperial garb and became a barefoot pilgrim.
When he marked this feast two years ago, Pope Francis spoke of the cross as a mystery, and drew parallels between two trees — the one that led to man’s downfall in Eden, and the one that saved the world on Calvary:
“The one tree has wrought so much evil, the other tree has brought us to salvation, to health. This is the course of the humanity’s story: a journey to find Jesus Christ the Redeemer, who gives His life for love. God, in fact, has not sent the Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. This tree of the Cross save us, all of us, from the consequences of that other tree, where self-sufficiency, arrogance, the pride of us wanting to know all things according to our own mentality, according to our own criteria, and also according to that presumption of being and becoming the only judges of the world. This is the story of mankind: from one tree to the other.”
14 September 2015
Seminarians enjoy a traditional Ethiopian meal at Holy Trinity Ethiopian Orthodox Theological College in Addis Ababa. To learn more about the training of Orthodox clergy in that part of the world, check out “As It Was, So Shall It Remain?” in the September 2009 edition of ONE.
(photo: Cody Christopulos)
14 September 2015
A migrant sits wrapped in an emergency blanket at the crossing point between Hungary and Austria in Nickelsdorf, Austria, on 11 September. (photo: CNS/Leonhard Foeger, Reuters)
Pope: refugee crisis is “tip of an iceberg” (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis spoke about the refugee crisis during an interview with Portugal’s Radio Renascença which aired on Monday, calling it the “tip of an iceberg.” “These poor people are fleeing war, hunger, but that is the tip of the iceberg. Because underneath that is the cause; and the cause is a bad and unjust socioeconomic system, in everything, in the world — speaking of the environmental problem — in the socioeconomic society, in politics, the person always has to be in the center,” Pope Francis said...
Cor Unum convenes meeting on humanitarian crisis in Syria and Iraq (VIS) The Pontifical Council “Cor Unum” has organized a meeting on the humanitarian crisis in Syria and Iraq to be held on 17 September, which will be attended in particular by the Catholic charitable organisations active in the Middle East and the bishops of the region...
Israeli officials reject paying compensation for Catholic church damaged by arson (Fides) The tax authority in Israel has rejected in recent days the claim for compensation presented by the Catholic Church for the damage of the arsonist attack which last June devastated the Sanctuary of the Miracle of the Multiplication of Loaves and Fish, in Tabgha...
In Nineveh Plain, Christians stage procession for Feast of Holy Cross (Fides) In the Nineveh Plain, still largely subject to the control of the self-proclaimed jihadist Islamic Caliphate, about a thousand Christians moved in procession among fields and barren hills to reach a Marian monastery out of town and celebrate the solemnity of the Holy Cross on Sunday evening, 13 September. This took place in Alqosh, a city of the Nineveh Plain which has never fallen into the hands of the Islamic Caliphate...
Ethiopian refugees play waiting game (Catholic Register) Major refugee sponsor agencies, including the Office for Refugees Archdiocese of Toronto, have been strictly limited in the number of refugees they may apply to sponsor from East Africa — home to 1.8 million UNHCR-registered refugees and three million internally displaced people. Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) claims the limits on new applications to sponsor African refugees are there to give it a chance to clear the backlog. For government-sponsored refugees, CIC claims it manages to process 50 per cent of those cases within 25 months...
Priest offers Mass daily at destroyed West Bank olive orchards (CNS) Since hundreds of olive trees were uprooted to make room for a separation barrier through the Cremisan Valley adjacent to this largely Christian village, Father Aktham Hijazin, Annunciation parish priest, has been celebrating Mass daily behind red-and-white police tape. The tape — and the border police who patrol the area — prevent some 56 Palestinian landowners from reaching their land. A dump truck rumbles by, kicking up dust, just metres away from where the priest has set up his makeshift altar: a small table covered by a white cloth with three olive tree saplings at its base. On 6 September, as Hijazin celebrated Mass for a handful of local landowners and a small Swedish group, the sound of the trucks occasionally drowned out their voices. Later, coughing slightly, the priest held up the consecrated Eucharist, first toward the worshipers, then facing the destroyed orchards...
Russian Orthodox Church demands DNA testing on reported remains of Tsar’s children (IBT) The Russian Orthodox Church has demanded further testing of the remains believed to belong to the son and daughter of Russia’s last Tsar, Nicholas II, which the government plans to rebury in St. Petersburg. On Friday, a working group set up by the Russian government proposed on Friday to bury crown prince Alexei Romanov and his sister, grand duchess Maria, with the remains of their mother, father and siblings, in Peter and Paul Cathedral on 18 October...
11 September 2015
Tags: Iraq Pope Francis Ethiopia Israel Russian Orthodox
An Adivasi child carries his brother in the village of Bhatpal, in the Bastar region of India.
(photo: Jose Jacob)
In the Summer edition of ONE, Jose Kavi reports on the challenges facing sisters working in the conflict-stricken “Red Corridor.” He offers here some additional impressions of covering that story.
A sigh of relief went up from me when my train crossed over to Odisha from Chhattisgarh, two neighboring states in India’s central-eastern region. My four-day stay in Chhattisgarh was one of the toughest periods in my 35-year-old reporting career.
Chhattisgarh was one of the few of India’s 28 states that I had not visited until a reporting assignment took me there in March. It would be an understatement if I say I was not anxious or worried to visit that predominantly tribal state.
Gathering my wits, I boarded the plane to the Chhattisgarh capital of Raipur, some 750 miles southeast of New Delhi. The aircraft was full but only a couple of the passengers were tribal. The others were non-tribals: politicians, government officers, contractors and employees of transnational firms — all outsiders who lived off the mineral-rich state.
Their presence reminded me what I had read about Chhattisgarh, one of India’s states that struggled with a plethora of problems.
One of the problems was the stranglehold of Maoists over several pockets in the state.
In the past 20 years, the revolutionary Communist group that follows the ideals of Chinese leader Mao Zedong has killed more than 12,000 people in nine states, with Chhattisgarh topping them all.
During the nearly six-hour drive from Raipur to Jagdalpur, my host Father Augustine Vadakkedom explained that the Maoists had entered the state in late 1970s to help the poor tribal and Dalit communities who had been oppressed. However the protectors mounted a full-fledged war against the government and its security forces and the two marginalized communities soon found themselves caught in the middle.
Now I was wading into this troubled corner of the country. My assignment was to study the works of two Catholic women religious congregations serving Jagdalpur diocese that covers the Maoist-infested Bastar region.
Father Augustine and the sisters from the two congregations took us to places where we were told the Maoists were quite active. While passing through a forest road to go to a mission station, Father Augustine stopped at the spot where a landmine explosion two years ago killed at least 27 people, many of them top political leaders in the state. A red crumbled car stood in front of the nearest police station as a mute witness to that incident.
During the trip we met women such as Sister Julie Mathew who were caught in the crossfire of Maoists and security forces. Sister Julie had close encounters with Maoists at least three times. Once, she and another sister were blindfolded and taken by the outlaws to their hideouts deep inside the forests for questioning. She also told how she and some 50 hostel children faced death when Maoists attacked a police station that was adjacent to their convent.
The sisters explained how they had to reluctantly close village dispensaries under pressure from the Maoists, who wanted the church people to perform abortions and carry medicines for them.
But there were rays of hope in this dismal scenario.
First, there is the quiet revolution the nuns’ presence is stoking among illiterate men and women in remote villages. In one village, an aged woman shared how the people used to cower at the sight of even an office assistant in a government office. But the sisters are giving the people a sense of dignity and confidence. A few days before I met them, thought, the villagers had marched to a district collector as a group and gotten him agree to give them electricity to their village.
The villagers also admitted that they had strictly followed caste barriers until the sisters arrived. Now, they all sit together and seek solutions to their common problems. The sisters have taught them that is that there is strength in unity.
And the task is not over yet. That is why women like Sister Julie say they would remain, whatever the price they have to pay.
I let out a sigh of relief as the train chugged out of the last station in Chhattisgarh. I was comforted by the thought that there are still some people out there who are willing to risk their lives to improve the lives of others.
But reminders of the risks they face are never far away. Just a few days after I left the region, the newspapers reported another ambush by the Maoists that killed at least five security persons.
Read more about how sisters are working to change lives by “Serving in the Red” in the Summer edition of ONE.
And to support their work, visit this page.
11 September 2015
In this photo from 9 September, Bishop Gregory Mansour of the Eparchy of St. Maron of Brooklyn, N.Y., and Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan, the prelate of the Armenian Apostolic Church of the Eastern United States, participate in an ecumenical prayer service at St. Joseph Church on Capitol Hill opening the In Defense of Christians Leadership Convention in Washington.
(photo: CNS/Jaclyn Lippelmann)
A gathering in Washington this week called attention to the plight of Christians in the Middle East:
Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington called for solidarity with the persecuted Christians of the Middle East during a 9 September prayer service at a Roman Catholic church on Capitol Hill.
The prayer service was held in conjunction with the In Defense of Christians summit held at a Capitol Hill hotel, within walking distance of St. Joseph Church.
The summit is the second for the organization, which Cardinal Wuerl noted in his reflections during the prayer service.
“All of came together (in 2014) so the people could ... express solidarity with our brothers and sisters,” he said, “and bear prayerful witness to the suffering of so many ... especially our Christian brothers and sisters.”
This year, Cardinal Wuerl said, “we are gathered in solidarity and witness” again to support the region’s Christians who face “tragedy” every day. “Much, much needs to be said about what continues to happen in the Middle East,” he added.
“After the prayer service, we can walk out and enjoy freedom. So many of our brothers and sisters cannot do that.”
Cardinal Wuerl recalled the beatitudes, as proclaimed in English at the prayer service — but also in sung chant — by Melkite Father Nabil Haddad, founder of the Jordanian Interfaith Coexistence Research Center, and in particular, “those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” These, the cardinal said, are today’s Middle East’s Christians.
“We know that we can offer our prayers,” he added. “Prayer helps. Prayer is effective.”
Read the rest.
11 September 2015
The pope has called for concrete steps to help persecuted Christians in the Middle East. In the video above, an organization reports that a petition calling for action from the United Nations has garnered 130,000 signatures. (video: Rome Reports)
Pope discusses refugee crisis with Serbian president (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis met on Friday with the President of the Serbian Republic Tomislav Nikolic to discuss common interests, including the current refugee crisis, as well as relations between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches in the Balkan country. A statement from the Vatican press office after the private meeting said the two leaders also discussed Serbia’s progress towards integration into the European Union and the Catholic Church’s contribution to the common good of Serbian society...
European bishops say migration issue requires a continent-wide solution (CNS) The European Union must adopt a common asylum policy “without delay” because it is unacceptable for refugees to “drown and suffocate” at the fringes of the bloc, said the European bishops. A statement issued by the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community, COMECE, said a common policy would prevent countries from keeping out migrants. “If we can solve an economic crisis at an overnight EU extraordinary summit, then it should be just as easy with this crisis, especially when the fate of so many people is at stake. After all, the question of a common solution to the refugee crisis is also an issue that directly affects the values and the future of Europe,” said the statement issued 10 September...
U.S. official: ISIS making and using chemical weapons in Iraq and Syria (BBC) There is a growing belief within the US government that the Islamic State militant group is making and using crude chemical weapons in Iraq and Syria, a US official has told the BBC. The US has identified at least four occasions on both sides of the Iraq-Syria border where ISIS has used mustard agents, the official said. The official said the chemical was being used in powder form...
Russian Orthodox Church stands up for Muslim book ruled “extremist” by court (RT) Probes into allegations of extremism in ancient sacred writings should be banned, the Russian Orthodox Church said after a controversial court ruling over a Muslim book was announced in the Russian city of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. Ancient religious texts written hundreds of years ago should be immune from any form of legal process, Russian Orthodox Church spokesman Vsevolod Chaplin said in an interview with Interfax on Thursday...
“What I learned worshipping with Egypt’s Christians” (Christianity Today) Though different from our evangelical congregations back in America, the Coptic community offered us a vibrant place of faith where the gospel was preached, people were healed, and members strengthened each other. We sat through large open-air services with lively worship led by a praise team. We also attended solemn masses in hushed Arabic tones. Led by a soft-spoken priest simply called Abouna (“Our Father”), we often felt like we were discovering the early church...
10 September 2015
The Franciscan Sisters of the Cross in Lebanon help care for the mentally and
physically handicapped. (photo: CNEWA)
Between now and 1 November (All Saints’ Day), the first $100,000 donated to help the sisters in CNEWA’s world will be matched dollar for dollar.
This past week, CNEWA received the following letter from a loyal donor. During this Year of Sisters, he shares our belief that supporting the compassionate women of the Church has never been more important:
As a California businessman, I have always tried to get the biggest bang for the buck. I saw no reason that I should view religious affairs differently. Jesus, in one of his parables (Luke 16), seems to acknowledge the skill of worldly managers as greater than those of the light, and suggests we learn from them.
I remember my early years in Catholic education, and the huge impact the sisters made on me and my classmates. Who can overlook the life commitment these women made, and the opportunity to have a family that they gave up? What a statement of faith and love.
As a result of the sacrifices of many young women like these, the backbone of the Catholic Church in the United States was formed. They were never in the headlines, but were present, telling their story of faith in a quiet but very real way.
This same opportunity presents itself today in the third world, a world of grinding poverty and war. So many young women are ready to sacrifice, but unable to do so for lack of resources.
What is the solution? How might we be shrewd managers?
Well, CNEWA has come up with a plan: when you send a dollar to train and educate a young woman in a novitiate, another donor has agreed to add a matching dollar.
Doubling the amount you give to a good cause will always be a good investment. It also increases the number of good people who can join together, to not only make the world a better place, but also build up the Church.
That sounds like something in which everyone wins. So won’t you join me in participating in this wonderful project? Together we can make a difference.”
Your gift to CNEWA is worth double if received by 1 November. Please click here to give what you can. Thank you!
10 September 2015
Steeped in legend, Etchmiadzin Cathedral in Armenia is the mother church of the
Armenian people. (photo: Armineh Johannes)
Thousands of tribes and peoples litter the pages of world history. Most have distinguished themselves as conquerors or settlers, eventually passing from the scene and leaving behind as their legacy a tablet, a ruin or a reputation. The Armenians, whose ancient homeland now encompasses eastern Turkey, parts of the Caucasus and northwestern Iran, have endured for more than 3,000 years — despite the challenges of living along the East-West trade routes. Squeezed between Asia and Europe, Armenians have outlived more powerful neighbors, who repeatedly and relentlessly sought to subjugate and even obliterate them.
How have the Armenians survived, when far more powerful peoples — Romans and Parthians, Byzantines and Ottomans — vanished? Most historians would credit the resolve and resourcefulness of the Armenian Apostolic Church, a powerful faith community that has either defined or impacted all aspects of Armenian society, language and culture.
Incontestably, Armenia was the first nation to adopt the Christian faith. A Roman scribe, known to history as Agathangelos, recorded the events of St. Gregory the Illuminator’s conversion of King Tiridates III based on contemporary sources more than a century after the deaths of the principals. What is not documented, however, is the origin of Armenian Christianity. Ancient tradition credits the apostles Bartholomew and Thaddeus as the source of the Christian faith in Armenia. Armenian Christian familiarity with Syriac and Greek Christian customs — before the era of Gregory — point to Armenia’s links to the ancient churches of the eastern Mediterranean.
Sunday morning liturgy is celebrated at St. James Monastery in the Armenian Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem. (photo: Ilene Perlman)
Armenian Christianity prospered, charting its own course as it navigated the troubled waters of neighboring Byzantium and Persia. This quest for independence did not, however, require the severance of commercial or cultural relationships with the Christian Byzantines or the Muslim world. For centuries, trade flourished. Byzantine emperors and Muslim leaders employed Armenian scribes. Armenians engineered defense systems and restored the dome of Haghia Sophia, the Great Church of Eastern Christendom. The medieval Armenian capital city of Ani — now a ghostly ruin just inside Turkey’s border with Armenia — demonstrates the architectural sophistication and artistic wealth of medieval Armenia. Described in contemporary chronicles as the “city of a 1001 churches,” Ani’s surviving churches are technical wonders, utilizing architectural devices — such as blind arcades and ribbed vaults — that would later support Europe’s Gothic cathedrals. Surviving frescoes and sculpted panels depicting kings and catholicoi, saints and angels, birds and crosses, reveal Arab, Byzantine, classical Greek and Persian influences.
Even after the Ottoman Turks supplanted the Byzantines, capturing Constantinople in 1453, the Armenians of the Ottoman Empire thrived well into the modern era. Armenian catholicoi, patriarchs and bishops guided their eparchies, which until the eve of World War I numbered 52. But the rise of national movements throughout 19th-century Europe, which began in Ottoman provinces in the Balkans, significantly altered the position of the empire’s Christian minorities, especially its Armenians.
The empire’s Armenian communities, whose aspirations were nominally supported by France, Great Britain and Russia, were violently targeted, beginning with isolated pogroms in 1894 and 1895. Eventually, these incidents spread throughout the empire, fueled after the Ottoman Turks entered World War I as an ally of Germany and Austria-Hungary. By 1923, some 1.5 million Armenians perished in what many today call the Armenian Genocide. Those who survived, perhaps a quarter of a million people, fled to Lebanon and Syria.
Click here to learn more about this church, and how it has survived the violence of the last century.
10 September 2015
A resident of the Deivadan Home in Malayatoor, India, receives a blessing from 96-year-old Father Abraham Kaippenplackal, founder of the Deivadan Sisters. The sisters run the facility, whose mission is to help uplift Kerala’s abandoned elderly. To learn more, read “Fearless Grace” from the July 2010 edition of ONE. (photo: Peter Lemieux)