14 January 2019
There are indications ISIS may be making its last stand in Syria, according to forces battling them. (video: BBC/YouTube)
U.S.-backed Syrian force: ISIS is in its ’final moments’ (Reuters) Islamic State militants are “living their final moments” in the last enclave they hold near the Iraqi border, where U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are attacking them, an SDF official said on Sunday…
India’s Latin-rite bishops create two commissions (Vatican News) The Conference of Catholic Bishops of India (CCBI) that brings together the Latin bishops of the country’s 132 dioceses, concluded its plenary assembly on Monday establishing two new commissions, a CCBI press release said. 143 bishops participating in CCBI’s 31st Plenary Assembly held in Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu state, from 7 to 14 January, voted in favour of establishing the new Commissions for Ecology and for Small Christian Communities (SCC)…
Mother sets herself and children on fire at Syrian refugee camp (Sydney Morning Herald) A Syrian mother has attempted to burn herself and her children to death at a refugee camp in eastern Syria after she failed to find food for her family for three straight days, a civil defense spokesman says…
New road divides Israelis and Palestinians (CNN) The newest road in the West Bank is sparking controversy. Designed to ease traffic between Jerusalem and nearby settlements, it looks and feels like any other road. Israeli officials call it Route 4370, but its detractors have another name for it: “apartheid road…”
Kiev military hospital joins new Orthodox Church of Ukraine (Kiev Post) The Church of the Intercession of the Holy Virgin at the Main Military Hospital in Kiev has become part of the newly created Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU). The hospital church has been subordinate to the then Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP) for over 20 years, Ukrainian TV Channel 5 reports…
11 January 2019
Tags: Syria India Ukraine Refugee Camps Indian Bishops
Young Catholics from around the world pray at a church in United Arab Emirates in this undated photo. Approximately one million Catholics reside in the UAE as expatriate workers, according to the Apostolic Vicariate of Southern Arabia. Pope Francis will visit Abu Dhabi, the UAE capital next month. (photo: CNS/Apostolic Vicariate of Southern Arabia)
Catholics from around the world living in the United Arab Emirates are waiting with great anticipation for Pope Francis’ 3-5 February visit, the first papal trip to the Arabian Peninsula.
“Pope Francis is the ambassador of peace, courageously crossing borders and fostering personal encounters with religious leaders, heads of states and humanitarian organizations in the Arab world,” said the Rev. Johnson Kadukkan, parish priest at St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Abu Dhabi, where Pope Francis will stop for a private visit on 5 February before celebrating Mass at Zayed Sports City Stadium.
There are eight Catholic churches throughout the seven emirates of the UAE, with a ninth church under construction. Each church offers an extensive schedule of “weekend” Masses, all of which are full. Since the UAE is an Islamic country and Friday is considered a day of prayer for Muslims, Catholics attend weekend Mass on Friday or Saturday; Sunday is a workday.
St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Abu Dhabi, for example, has about 90,000 parishioners, with eight priests celebrating nearly 20 Masses during the weekend in various languages: Arabic, English, Tagalog, Spanish, French, Italian, German, Korean, Polish, Ukrainian, Urdu, Sinhalese and the Indian languages of Konkani, Malayalam and Tamil.
“The rulers of the UAE have been benevolent and tolerant, allowing us to practice our faith in the places of worship, and for this we are very thankful,” Father Kadukkan said.
Reflecting on the significance of Pope Francis’ visit, Joseph Khadige, a Lebanese who has been working in the UAE since 1982, told Catholic News Service that Pope Francis’ visit is “a sign from God. It is something we never thought would happen in our lifetime, for a pope to visit the UAE. The world should understand: This is not a small thing.”
Some people in the West confuse the UAE with Saudi Arabia, Khadige noted.
“So, when we say that 70,000 people attend a single church, they might say ‘impossible,’“ he said, in reference to the approximate number of parishioners at his parish, St. Michael’s in Sharja, an emirate close to Dubai.
On the contrary, Khadige said, “Here in the UAE, we practice our faith in full.”
From his experience, Khadige, general manager for an Italian global firm, has noticed that many Christians from the West who are lukewarm or practically atheists when they first arrive in the UAE as expatriate workers eventually are influenced by their active Christian peers.
“They see a lot of staff in their companies and organizations are going to church.” Little by little, he said, they are inspired to return to the church.
“They are now believers, and they are calling the priests to bless their house, to bless their children. And they enroll their children in catechism classes to be more active,” Khadige said, noting that in every church, there are around 5,000 children enrolled in such classes.
“It’s not just about the numbers. It’s about what is happening in a Muslim country,” he said.
Ed Magbag of the Philippines, a project manager with a design and engineering firm who has worked in the UAE for 14 years, notes that the UAE “is like a home away from home for all Christians.”
Parishioners of St. Joseph’s Cathedral, he and his wife are active in Couples for Christ, a global lay ecclesial movement, which has about 15,000 active members in the UAE.
Pope Francis’ visit “will show the world that despite different cultures, races, religions and practices, there is respect, love and coexistence of all local people and expatriates in the UAE,” Magbag told CNS.
Magbag considers Pope Francis’ visit to the UAE as “the best gift,” that “rekindles the fire in the heart of the faithful,” who are expecting spiritual nourishment.
Like many fellow Catholics in the UAE, the Magbags cut short their vacation to their homeland to be present in the UAE for Pope Francis’ visit.
“This is one experience we must not miss,” he said. Many workers are asking for a day of leave for the Pope’s 5 February Mass at the stadium.
“Pope Francis symbolizes God’s presence on earth and so, when the Pope Francis is visiting the UAE, it is as if God is visiting his children in the Middle East, not only Christians, but our Muslim brethren as well,” Magbag added.
“Make Me a Channel of Your Peace” is the theme for this papal visit, taken from the opening words of the Prayer of Peace of St. Francis Assisi, from whom Pope Francis has taken his name. The logo of the visit is a dove bearing an olive branch.
“Pope Francis is building bridges and creating an environment for peaceful dialogue to achieve peace and harmony globally,” Father Kadukkan told CNS.
“The UAE government has made huge strides by inviting Pope Francis to the country, and this is a step in the right direction to achieve tolerance, both within the Emirates as well as within the region,” the Indian priest told CNS.
The UAE government is organizing the visit with support from the Catholic Church.
Additionally, Sheik Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE president, has declared 2019 as the Year of Tolerance.
Approximately 1 million Catholics reside in the UAE as foreign workers, according to the Apostolic Vicariate of Southern Arabia.
They come from the Middle East, Asia, Europe, Africa and the Americas, with the majority from India and the Philippines.
11 January 2019
Tags: Muslim Arabian Peninsula
In this image from November, schoolchildren walk as U.S. troops patrol in Hassakeh, Syria. The U.S. announced it has begun troop withdrawals from Syria.(photo: CNS/Rodi Said, Reuters)
U.S. forces begin withdrawal from Syria (The New York Times) The United States has started withdrawing its troops from Syria, an American military spokesman said on Friday, further muddling the Trump administration’s plans for disengagement from one of the Middle East’s most complex battlefields…
Syro-Malabar Church to set up internal committees on ’Safe Environment Policy’ (UCANews.com) The Kerala-based Syro-Malabar Church has decided to set up internal committees at the diocesan level co-opting lay leaders to study complaints of sex abuse and financial mismanagements. The ongoing synod of the Syro-Malabar Archiespicoal Church Thursday decided to implement the “Safe Environment Policy” in order to create a “safe environment” for all, including children and vulnerable adults…
Syrian refugees wading through water in Lebanon camps (Al Jazeera) Tarima Ibrahim huddled together with her children to keep them warm as incessant rainfall, heavy winds and hail slapped their tarpaulin tent and lashed the refugee camp around it. ”We are freezing,” she said. “The tent is not heating up because it is flooded with ice-cold water.” Lebanon was hit by Storm Norma on 6 January, heavily impacting at least 360 informal refugee settlements and putting 850 others at risk…
Ukrainian Catholic leader says unity of Catholics and Orthodox is not utopian thinking (Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church) “Today the ecumenical movement at a universal scale is a fact,” he said. “It cannot be stopped anymore…”
Russia-Ukraine conflict enters its fifth year (Newsweek) As Ukraine marked the fifth anniversary of the start of its armed conflict with Russian-backed separatists, Kiev said there were multiple violations of its cease-fire agreement in the eastern part of the country known as the Donbas…
Are Armenian-Israeli relations warming up? (The Jerusalem Post) ”We identify strongly with the Jewish people,” says Armenian Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan. “We are very different from our neighbors. We have a long history, and have survived many wars and invasions. We know how to adapt to different cultures…”
10 January 2019
Tags: Syria Ukraine Armenia Syro-Malabar Catholic Church
Vested in silks and damask, Ethiopia's clergy mark Epiphany with a distinctive liturgy, a reminder of how different countries and cultures have adapted this feast as their own.
(photo: Asrat Habte Mariam)
The Christmas season is composed of several feasts which recount the beginnings of the life of Jesus and his ministry as an adult. Christmas recalls his birth; his baptism is celebrated at the end of the season.
But in the middle of the season is Epiphany. It was celebrated on the Christian calendar last Sunday, 6 January.
Epiphany is built around the account of the visit of the Magi which appears in the Gospel of Matthew and only the Gospel of Matthew. Matthew provides little or no information about this visit. We are told that wise men (magoi) came from the East. We are not told where in the East they came from or even how many there were; but since magoi is plural, Matthew indicates there were more than one. Different traditions count as many as 14, but the common number three is deduced from the gifts—no one came empty-handed.
The lack of details around this event makes it easy to attach popular traditions to it. And we see that in CNEWA’s world, where the celebrations of the Epiphany in the Middle East, in Ethiopia and in southern India are very different. While these traditions are celebrating the same event, they often do so in strikingly different and colorful ways.
The very diversity of the ways Epiphany is celebrated is a sign that Matthew has succeeded very well in what he attempted to do with his rather sparse account: he made the coming of Jesus an event with universal implications and applications. At its heart, this event, Epiphany, tells of an event that builds bridges and breaks down barriers.
It occurs against an interesting backdrop.
It is generally accepted that Matthew was writing for a community of Jews who had become followers of Jesus. As one would expect, they brought their Jewish traditions with them: the Torah, the notion of the chosen people, etc. As Christianity grew, tensions arose. Paul of Tarsus, in particular, attracted a large number of converts from paganism. While Matthew’s readers might expect the converts from paganism — for all practical purposes — to become observant Jews, that was not what Paul did. His converts to Christianity from paganism did not practice circumcision and did not follow the Law of Moses.
At the time of Jesus—and to some extent even today—religions tended to be culturally and linguistically specific. Even though the Greek and Roman cultures were very similar (even worshipping some of the same gods), the “Roman gods” had different names than the “Greek gods.” This reminds us that the major religions of the ancient world were both the source and result of the cultures in which they arose. Because of this, missionary endeavors were extremely rare, if not non-existent, in the pre-Christian world. It was simply assumed that one adhered to the religion of the culture into which they were born. Of course, there were borrowings and “cross pollination,” but the boundaries were clear and, for the most part, accepted.
The idea that a faith would not only be open to but would actively attract people from all cultures and nations was a new and strange one. It was an idea that many of Matthew’s readers would have found very hard to accept — and would have made Christianity difficult to embrace. But Matthew is the ideal teacher. His Gospel is a model of inclusion. If Jewish shepherds are the first to visit the newborn Jesus in Luke’s Gospel, it is the mysterious Magi who play the role of the first visitors in Matthew.
It is important also to note that in neither Gospel are we dealing with a mere visit, a social call. Whether it is the angels in Luke or the star and the dream in Matthew, these “visits” are also an epiphany, a “shining forth,” a revelation.
We know very, very little about the Magi. One thing, however, is certain: they were not Jews. They were foreigners. For Matthew, the first revelation is to the Gentiles. The Messiah was not born for a specific culture, a specific language, much less a specific nation. The Messiah is sent to all humanity.
Tribalism is a natural human characteristic. We tend to gather with those like us. God is “our God.” But the message of Matthew is clear. To see Jesus as the Messiah of any one group, one culture—to say nothing of one nation—is not to see Jesus at all, but merely to see a reflection of our own fears and prejudices.
We need to remember during this time of new beginnings, and the start of a new year, this salient truth: Epiphany means “to shine forth.” It is a movement outward not inward. The Epiphany is the rejection of all racial, cultural or national supremacy or chauvinism. It is a message of inclusion and, even, of hope.
Matthew helps underscore that point with his account of the epiphany. The writer of this Gospel makes sure that the Messiah is Emmanuel, Hebrew for “God-with-us,” and that the “us” in Emmanuel excludes no one of good will.
10 January 2019
Tags: Ethiopia Middle East
Sister Veronique administers the Franciscan Sisters’ School in Beni Suef, Egypt. In the current issue of ONE magazine, read more about how the sisters are bringing Signs of Hope to the region. (photo: Roger Anis)
10 January 2019
Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, greets an Iraqi religious man during a Christmas visit to Baghdad. In an interview after his return, the cardinal spoke of being touched by the deep faith of Iraqi Christians. (photo: CNS/courtesy Chaldean Catholic Patriarchate)
Cardinal touched by faith of Iraqi Christians (Vatican News) Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin described his 4-day Christmas visit to Iraq as one full of meaning to a Church that, amidst suffering and tribulation, bears witness to the joy and beauty of the Gospel. He expressed the hope of the Iraqi faithful for a visit by Pope Francis and underscored the importance of collaboration between Christians and Muslims for a peaceful future in the country…
Pope urges Indian Church to bear fruits of faith, charity (Vatican News) Pope Francis has sent his blessings to India’s Latin-rite bishops, wishing their plenary assembly bear much fruit in the service of their faithful, helping them to grow in faith and charity. “His Holiness sends fraternal greetings to you and your brother Bishops gathered on this occasion, and invites you ‘to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ... an openness to letting Him encounter [you]… unfailingly each day (Evangelii Gaudium, 3),” wrote Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin in a message sent on behalf of the Pope to the bishops…
India’s citizenship bill stirs fears of migrant invasion (UCANews.com) Widespread protests continue in northeast India after the government passed a controversial bill this week to grant citizenship to non-Muslim migrants from neighboring nations. Critics have blasted the move as being politically motivated in an election year — the general election is due in the coming months as the ruling party’s term ends in May — and say it violates the country’s secular values…
Turkey says it will launch offensive if U.S. delays pullout from Syria (The Guardian) Turkey will launch an offensive against Syrian Kurdish forces if the US delays the withdrawal of its troops from Syria, the foreign minister has said. ”If the [pullout] is put off with ridiculous excuses like Turks are massacring Kurds, which do not reflect the reality, we will implement this decision,” Mevlüt Çavusoglu told NTV television…
9 January 2019
Tags: India Iraqi Christians Turkey Indian Bishops
CNEWA donor Dr. Camille Salame provides medical examinations to Syrian women on a visit to the Karagheusian Center in Lebanon. (photo: Tamara Abdul Hadi)
The current edition of ONE features a profile of Lebanon’s Karagheusian Socio-Medical Center, a refuge for refugees that helps them adapt to their new surroundings. Writer Doreen Abi Raad has some additional impressions of her visit there:
It’s easy to get lost navigating the maze of tiny streets in the Beirut suburb of Bourj Hammoud. But ask anyone in the bustling neighborhood for directions to the Karagheusian Medico-Social Center, and it’s as though you are receiving a welcoming invitation to their home.
For nearly 100 years, the clinic has been a landmark. It began serving the Armenian community at the beginning of the 20th century, reaching out to refugees who settled in Bourj Hammoud after fleeing the Ottoman massacres.
Now Karagheusian also serves refugees from neighboring Syria. Since 2011, tiny Lebanon has absorbed more than one million people displaced from the Syrian conflict.
At the clinic, a team of 40 rotating doctors, plus a staff of 40, serves 4,000 patients a month. Of those, 3,000 are Syrian refugees and 1,000 are from the Lebanese host community. About two-thirds of the clinic’s current beneficiaries are Muslim.
On a typical morning, worn strollers are lined in a row outside near the entrance to the sunny yellow building that houses the center.
Inside, at the central reception desk a nurse named Vartouq, with an engaging smile, rocks an infant in her arms while the baby’s mother tends to her young son. “I love babies,” Vartouq says. ”I want to see them well and in good health.”
Soon after, Vartouq is comforting a toddler girl who is crying pitifully during her vaccination shot. “You’re my sweetheart and you’re brave,” Vartouq reassures, gently holding a tiny hand in her own.
“I like to help everybody. All are God’s children,” Vartouq says, as dozens of mothers with their children patiently wait their turn to meet with staff.
This is the spirit that permeates the busy Karagheusian Center. The misery that the refugees carry from their catastrophic experiences seems to vanish as they enter the center, where they are welcomed with open arms. I was so touched by the loving care and support they receive. It is as if a huge weight has been lifted from their shoulders.
Dr. Camille Salame, a neurosurgeon from Norwich, Connecticut, and a longtime contributor to CNEWA, likened the mission of the Karagheusian Center to that of Mother Teresa’s call to do ”small acts with great love.”
Some months earlier, Dr. Salame had contacted CNEWA, offering to provide any service he could during his visit to his native Lebanon.
That outreach led to Dr. Salame presenting a talk on back and neck pain for a group of some 150 Syrian Armenian Christian refugee women who gather each week as part of Karagheusian’s social service initiatives supported by CNEWA. After the talk, the doctor tirelessly met with 25 women for individual consultations.
Karagheusian’s social services arm, which includes a team of eight social workers, is aimed at providing support and encouragement, to help both refugees and vulnerable members of the host community to live a dignified life. Those initiatives include home visits, after school tutorial programs, a summer camp for children, trauma therapy sessions, vocational training for women to learn income-generating skills and women’s empowerment groups.
“I’m happy to see how much help the community is receiving,” said Dr. Salame of his visit to the Karagheusian center. “This is an oasis of hope.”
Read more about A Refuge in Lebanon in the December 2018 edition of ONE.
9 January 2019
Devaki, 76, awaits the visit of a mobile care unit, which helps her care for her disabled son.
(photo: Meenakshi Soman)
The current edition of ONE takes readers on a journey into some of the poorest parts of India, where a mobile clinic is bringing healing and hope:
“Some of these families live in remote and far out places. They live by themselves in jungles. Access is difficult. But we find a way,” Father Elambasseril says.
R. Vasudevan lies on the floor of a small room. He lives in a small hut in the Dalit village of Ittakaveli. The tropical humidity is at its peak this late October afternoon. Mosquitoes buzz around.
Vasudevan was 21 when he fell off his motorbike. People around him thought he was drunk; no one called for help. Because of the delay in medical attention, his paralysis from the waist down became permanent.
“I’ve been bedridden for the last 27 years now,” the 48-year-old says. “But I am mentally strong and have been able to survive this.” Despite his suffering, he radiates good cheer.
His mother, Devaki, 76, is his full-time caregiver. “I have three daughters,” she says. “They visit occasionally and help bathe him.”
Both Devaki and Vasudevan look forward to their weekly visit from the Mother Teresa care team. “The priest prays. The volunteers and the nurse make conversation. I have visitors,” Vasudevan says, smiling.
Read more about Healing the Forgotten in the December 2018 edition of ONE.
9 January 2019
The video above shows the dramatic impact of a winter storm that devastated refugee camps in Lebanon Monday. (video: Straits Times/YouTube)
Storm wrecks refugee camps in Lebanon (AFP) Heavy rains and snow wrecked several informal settlements housing Syrian refugees in Lebanon and left thousands in need of emergency assistance, aid workers said on Tuesday (8 Jan). Some of the worst affected were the refugees living in Arsal, a mountainous border area in northern Lebanon where the roofs of rudimentary shacks caved under the weight of the snow…
Christians concerned about religious freedom if Turkey enters Syria (CNS) Growing numbers of Christians in North America and Europe are joining Christians in Syria’s northeast in expressing concern for the future of religious minorities and Kurds in that region should the U.S. give Turkey the “green light” to take over the fight against Islamic State. ”News of any Turkish military involvement in northern Syria impacts us strongly and negatively,” Chaldean Catholic Father Samir Kanoon of Qamishli, Syria, told Catholic News Service…
Ethiopia-Eritrea border boom as peace takes hold (BBC) The reopening of the border between former enemies Ethiopia and Eritrea has dramatically changed the towns near the frontier, writes the BBC’s Emmanuel Igunza…
Russian Patriarch: Antichrist will use Internet to control people’s lives (The Moscow Times) The leader of the Russian Orthodox Church has said that humans’ dependence on modern technology will result in the coming of the Antichrist. In an interview with Russian state media, Patriarch Kirill explained he does not entirely oppose gadgets, but warned against “falling into slavery” to smartphones. Patriarch Kirill said that the collection of user data including “location, interests and fears” will make it possible for humans to be controlled by external forces…
8 January 2019
Tags: Lebanon Ethiopia Russian Orthodox Church Eritrea Refugee Camps
A boy prepares to receive Communion during a Divine Liturgy marking the feast of the Nativity at St. George Ukrainian Catholic Church in New York City on 7 January. The Ukrainian Catholic Church and other Eastern Catholic churches celebrate Christmas according to the Julian calendar.
(photo: CNS/Gregory A. Shemitz)
Tags: Ukrainian Catholic Church