15 November 2018
Pope Francis exchanges gifts with Catholicos Gewargis III, patriarch of the Church of the East, left, during a private audience on 9 November at the Vatican.
(photo: CNS/Gregorio Borgia, pool via Reuters)
Shortly after the Ascension of Jesus, his followers moved out into the world beyond Jerusalem. Jerusalem was, in a sense, at the center of the known world. Situated at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea, Jerusalem could look to the west and see the Roman Empire and its deeply rooted Greek culture; looking to the east, it would see the whole Asian continent. With Peter and Paul, Christianity moved westward, took root and grew. That is one reason why, when most modern Christians think of Christianity, they think specifically of Western Christianity. The truth, however, is that Christianity also moved eastward and entered a world very different from that of Europe and the Mediterranean.
From that, a different type of Christianity evolved, separated from and often unknown to Christians of the West.
One of the places CNEWA works, of course, is the Middle East; there, one can find some of the most ancient Eastern churches, which date back to the times of the apostles. CNEWA works with all of them. One of these churches is the Church of the East. It is sometimes known as the Assyrian Church of the East and, less accurately, the Nestorian Church.
The Church in the East flourished in the Persian Empire. Since the Persian and Roman Empires were almost constantly at war, Eastern Christians had little contact with their co-religionists in the West. But the achievements of these Eastern Churches were remarkable — and to many Christians in the West, perhaps, largely unknown. There were Assyrian Christian churches in China 1,000 years before the arrival of Francis Xavier. When Charlemagne was crowned by the pope on Christmas Day 800, there was already an Assyrian metropolitan (archbishop) in Tibet!
The first five centuries of Christianity saw a great deal of conflict between Christians over the nature of Christ and salvation. This led to bitter and, at times, violent conflicts between Christians. The Emperor in Byzantium enforced — often violently — the “orthodox” position throughout the empire, although many Christians resisted it.
To some extent, the Church of the East was involved in these controversies. The high (or low) point of the conflict was in the bitter exchanges between Nestorius, Patriarch of Constantinople and Cyril, Patriarch of Alexandria in Egypt. However, politics and geography ended up being more important than theology; and the Church of the East went its own way.
It has a famous school of theology in Nisibis in modern day Turkey, which produced many theologians. These scholars, working in Syriac, a Semitic language, developed their own theology simply outside the context and controversies of Western Christianity.
As a result, the Church of the East has an ancient theology about the nature of Christ that was developed in a Syriac — and not Greek-speaking — world. Although Assyrian Christians were uncomfortable with some of the theological expressions of Western Christianity — such as the title theotokos, “God-bearer,” for Mary — for the most part, their Christology developed independently and without much interaction with the West.
With the advent of the ecumenical movement and with increasing familiarity with the Eastern churches, the Catholic Church began a dialogue with the Church of the East. Accustomed to Byzantine, Protestant and other western theologies, the Catholic Church encountered a very different theological framework in the Church of the East. With great courage and openness, the two churches dealt with their very different attempts to articulate the nature of Christ.
After long and deep dialogue, the Catholic Church and the Church of the East produced a “Common Christological Declaration” on 11 November 1994. The statement declared: “Whatever our Christological divergences have been, we experience ourselves united today in the confession of the same faith n the Son of God who became man so that we might become children of God by his grace.”
While the agreement may not have caused great excitement in the ecumenical world, it was and remains a profound moment in the history of the ecumenical movement and the history of Christian theology. It was, however, an important sign that catholicity is not the same as uniformity. The agreement recognized that there can be different ways of looking at and expressing some very important things — such as the nature of the Incarnation.
It also made clear that those differences need not be a cause for division — to say nothing of hatred and violence.
Nearly 25 years later, it stands as a sign of hope.
Related: Profile of The Church of the East
15 November 2018
Tags: Syria Church of the East
Pope Francis bids farewell to Israeli President Reuven Rivlin following a private audience at the Vatican on 15 November. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Pope Francis welcomed Israeli President Reuven Rivlin to the Vatican on 15 November for a private discussion that included the importance of building greater trust between Israelis and Palestinians.
During their 35-minute meeting, they spoke about the importance of mutual trust in negotiations “so as to reach an accord respecting the legitimate aspirations of both peoples,” the Vatican said in a statement.
“The hope was expressed that suitable agreements may be reached” also between Israeli authorities and local Catholic communities “in relation to some issues of common interest,” it said, adding that the Holy See and the State of Israel would soon celebrate the 25th anniversary of establishing diplomatic relations.
Aided by interpreters, the pope and president spoke about “the political and social situation in the region, marked by different conflicts and the consequent humanitarian crises. In this context, the parties highlighted the importance of dialogue between the various religious communities in order to guarantee peaceful coexistence and stability,” the statement said.
“Mention was made of the importance of building greater mutual trust in view of the resumption of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians so as to reach an accord respecting the legitimate aspirations of both peoples, and of the Jerusalem question, in its religious and human dimension for Jews, Christians and Muslims, as well as the importance of safeguarding its identity and vocation as City of Peace.”
Exchanging gifts, Rivlin gave Pope Francis a small bas relief replicating the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem.
According to pool reporters, the president told the pope that the image showed how one could divide the various parts of the city, but also unite it in new ways. The walled Old City is divided into the Jewish quarter, the Armenian quarter, the Christian quarter and the Muslim quarter.
“Jerusalem has been a holy city for the three monotheistic religions for centuries. For the Jewish people, Jerusalem has been the spiritual center since the days of the First Temple over 3,000 years ago, but it is also a microcosm of our ability to live together,” the president tweeted later, adding a photo of the two of them speaking during the gift exchange.
The Vatican consistently has called for a special status for Jerusalem, particularly its Old City, in order to protect and guarantee access to the holy sites of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
During the meeting, Pope Francis gave Rivlin a large medallion, which the pope described as representing wheat being able to grow in the desert. Pool reporters said the pope told the president he hoped this desert would be transformed from a desert of animosity into a land of friendship.
The Jerusalem Post reported that Rivlin thanked the pope for supporting the fight against anti-Semitism.
“Your absolute condemnation of acts of anti-Semitism and your definition of such acts as anti-Christian are a significant step in the ongoing fight to stamp it out,” Rivlin said.
Members of Rivlin’s entourage said they also talked about the controversy between Jerusalem’s city government and the Catholic Church concerning city property taxes.
In early February, the Jerusalem Municipality announced it would begin collecting $186.4 million in property taxes from some 887 church-owned properties that were not houses of prayer. Since then, the Israeli government set up a negotiating team to resolve the dispute.
15 November 2018
Tags: Pope Francis Israel Jews
In this image from September, Palestinians run from tear gas fired by Israeli troops during a protest along a beach in the Gaza Strip. Violence has escalated in Gaza, leading to fears of another war. (photo: CNS/Mohammed Salem, Reuters)
Deadly legacy of ISIS continues to shape lives in Iraq (The Guardian) Devices Isis produced on a semi-industrial basis to lay in large barrier minefields are scattered throughout northern and western Iraq, from Mosul — the site of the group’s last stand — to al-Qaim on the Syrian border, where the group is still fighting, contributing to the displacement of an estimated 1.7 million Iraqis. The issue is not unique to Iraq. Similar homemade mines have been encountered from Afghanistan to Syria and Yemen — an escalating threat that has recently pushed global efforts to reduce land mine casualties into a sharp reverse…
After the worst violence in years, things could get even worse in Gaza (Vox) The conditions that lead to consistent Israel-Gaza skirmishes — like the Israeli blockade, which affects thousands of Palestinians on a daily basis, or Hamas’s control of Gaza — still exist. It’s why there will likely be more small outbreaks of violence that could potentially grow into bigger ones. One main reason for that is that experts say the decades-long peace process, meant to settle longstanding divisions between Israelis and Palestinians, is basically defunct…
India struggles with malnutrition and food waste (UCANews.com) More than 130 countries, including India, are debating how to overcome the adverse effects of climate change, migration and poverty to achieve zero hunger. The second of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, adopted by all United Nations member states, is to achieve zero hunger by 2030. It aims to make sure that all people, especially children and the more vulnerable, have access to sufficient nutritious food all year round. Is it possible for India to achieve that target by 2030?…
How the lights came back in Kerala’s ravaged homes (Indian Link) The devastating flood in Kerala left 2.56 million homes without electricity. How the Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB) restored power in under a fortnight by mobilizing every human resource at hand — including retired staff and volunteers — and doing away with red tape and questions of hierarchy, could be a model for every disaster-stricken state. The KSEB called its plan Mission Reconnect…
14 November 2018
Tags: Syria Gaza Strip/West Bank Kerala ISIS
In this image from 13 November, taxi drivers in Amman, Jordan, stage a protest against drivers from private hiring services. (photo: CNS/Andre Pain, EPA)
14 November 2018
The video above shows the planned route and design for Jerusalem's proposed cable car system, which is facing mounting criticism from architects and activists. (video: Jewish Life/YouTube)
Iraq Prime Minister says ISIS militants seeking to enter Iraq (VOA) Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi said on Tuesday hundreds of Iraqi Islamic State militants at Deir al-Zor in eastern Syria were trying to cross into Iraq. The militants have launched attacks in recent weeks against U.S.-backed Kurdish forces on the Syrian side of the border, prompting Iraqi militias that operate alongside the army to reinforce in the area…
Russian-controlled church in Ukraine rejects unification (VOA) The Russian-controlled branch of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine said Tuesday that it would not participate in the establishment of a unified church there as Kiev seeks to cut spiritual ties with Moscow. The announcement came after a planned meeting between top pro-Moscow clerics and President Petro Poroshenko fell through…
Architects, activists slam Jerusalem cable car plan (AP) An Israeli plan to build a cable car to Jerusalem’s historic Old City has united architects and Palestinian activists in opposition to a project they say is both an eyesore and a ploy to entrench Israeli control over the city’s contested eastern sector. Developers say the proposed project is meant to relieve snarling traffic and will ferry some 3,000 tourists an hour from the western sector directly to the Old City, in east Jerusalem. It follows a series of Israeli projects in the combustible city that have enraged the Palestinians…
Jerusalem patriarchs offer to mediate monastery dispute in Egypt (Egypt Independent) Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos III and Armenian Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Nourhan Manougian offered to mediate between the Egyptian and Ethiopian churches to settle the issue of Deir Es-Sultan Coptic Orthodox Monastery in Jerusalem, an Egyptian Coptic Orthodox official said on Saturday…
Indian village still faces challenges three months after flooding (The Indian Express) After a gap of over two months, the familiar throbbing sound of the wooden handlooms can be heard once again in the bylanes of Chendamangalam, a small village in Kerala renowned for its centuries-old handwoven textiles. The devastating floods in mid-August, which left a pervasive trail of destruction across the state, had caused massive losses for the handloom cooperatives in Chendamangalam, home to nearly 600 weavers, most of them women…
13 November 2018
Tags: Syria Egypt Jerusalem Kerala
Melkite Catholic bishops from around the world are seen on 7 November for their synod in Rabweh, Lebanon under the leadership of Patriarch Joseph Absi (seated center).
(photo: CNS/courtesy Melkite Catholic Synod)
Melkite Catholic bishops from around the world, meeting for their synod, criticized the deteriorating situation in the Palestinian territories and rejected Israel’s Nation State Law.
In a final statement following their 5-10 November synod in Rabweh, Lebanon, the bishops underscored “the seriousness of the oppression and the violation of the rights of innocent citizens” in the Palestinian territories and called upon “stakeholders to find the best ways to stop the tragedy of the Palestinian people.” The bishops appealed to the Palestinians “to unite their forces in the face of the new reality that is intended to be imposed on them.”
The bishops also rejected the Nation State Law passed by the Israeli Knesset on 19 July. The law limits the promotion and protection offered by the State of Israel to “Jewish citizens of the state of Israel.”
In their statement, the bishops said they support the position taken by Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land. That group’s 31 October statement said: “We must draw the attention of the authorities to a simple fact: Our faithful, the Christians, our fellow citizens, Muslim, Druze and Baha’i, all of us who are Arabs, are no less citizens of this country than our Jewish brothers and sisters.” That statement, signed by 25 prelates representing the Latin, Armenian, Melkite, Chaldean, Maronite and Syriac churches, called on Israel to rescind the law.
Addressing the general situation in the Middle East, the Melkite bishops voiced concern about “the deteriorating economic situation that makes most people suffer under the problem of poverty and need.”
They warned that such an atmosphere can be used “by those with influence and power to continue to control people in need.” The bishops appealed “to those concerned -- wherever they may be -- to work for the lifting of social injustice and the achievement of justice, in the interests of humanity and for the preservation of dignity.”
Regarding Lebanon, the Melkite bishops expressed their concern about the delay in the formation of a new government as the country’s rival political parties have yet to reach consensus since parliamentary elections in May. The bishops urged all parties “to put narrow interests aside and cooperate to speed up the formation of a government in order to mitigate the adverse negative effects of the delay at all levels.”
As for neighboring Syria, the bishops expressed their satisfaction “at the decline in fighting in most areas” in the country, the establishment of security and safety, the start of reconstruction and the return of refugees to their homes. They renewed their determination “to pursue the work of the church in order to alleviate the suffering of their children at all levels.”
13 November 2018
Tags: Lebanon Melkite
Mahinder Singh, a Dalit, sits with neighbors on charpai (cots of woven ropes) in their tiny village in Gangapar, India. (photo: John Mathew)
Indian Christians demand justice for Dalit Christians (Vatican News) India’s Catholics and Protestants jointly observed Dalit Liberation Sunday on 11 November with liturgy and activities calling for an end to discrimination suffered by Christians of lower-caste origins within the Christian community and in society. Bishop Sarat Chandra Nayak of Berhampur, chairman of the Office for Scheduled Castes/Backward Classes of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), asked people to remember the 100 poor Christians killed in anti-Christian violence in Odisha state’s Kandhamal 10 years ago…
Botched Gaza spy mission puts Israel back on the brink of war (The New York Times) On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu assured Israelis weary of conflict with Palestinians in the Gaza Strip that he was “doing everything I can in order to avoid an unnecessary war.” A day and a half later, Israel appeared to be on the brink of just that. After a botched intelligence mission by undercover commandos left seven Palestinian fighters dead, the militant group Hamas and other armed factions mounted an intense and escalating rocket and mortar barrage across much of southern Israel that continued into Tuesday morning…
Syrian Kurds resume push to remove ISIS from Syria (CNN) Syrian Kurdish forces are resuming the final phase of operations against ISIS, as the terrorist group is pushed back into its last remaining slivers of territory. The resumption comes as CNN releases remarkable and rare frontline footage of the recent intense fight against ISIS, filmed by Brazilian photographer Gabriel Chaim…
Holy See urges practical, effective action against human trafficking, slavery (Vatican News) The Holy See and the Catholic Church are deeply committed in the fight against human trafficking and modern slavery, both in tackling the drivers that fuel the scourge and in reaching out to victims. Archbishop Bernardito Auza, the Holy See’s Permanent Observer to the United Nations in New York made the statement on 9 November at a conference at the UN on “Practical Solutions to Eradicate Human Trafficking”…
Thousands join Ethiopia-Eritrea peace run (AFP) Thousands of Ethiopians and Eritreans took part in a 10km reconciliation run Sunday in Addis Ababa in the first joint sporting event since the former bitter foes launched a rapid diplomatic thaw in July. The peace run through the Ethiopian capital caught a new positive mood after years of “cold war”…
Conference explores Syriac Christianity (Vatican News) A two-day conference entitled “Syriac Christianity at the Crossroads of Cultures” gathered researchers from all over the world at the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome last week. Both Mar Gewargis III, Patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East, and Cardinal Louis Sako, Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans, participated in the opening session of the conference commemorating the 700th Anniversary of Abdisho of Nisibis…
9 November 2018
Tags: India Ethiopia Israel ISIS Eritrea
Myroslav Marynovych, a Ukrainian who was jailed for being the founding member of a human rights group, gestures during an interview with a Catholic News Service reporter in Washington.
(photo: CNS/Bob Roller)
Few dissidents who were exiled to gulags, the labor camps run by the Soviet Union, would think of them as pleasant experiences.
But for Myroslav Marynovych, a Ukrainian who was jailed for being the founding member of a human rights group that operated above-ground, it gave him the opportunity of a lifetime.
In the camp, he said, “I became a Christian.” And it was from his becoming a Ukrainian-rite Catholic that he learned the social doctrine of the church that served as the underpinning for much of his life after he was freed.
“It was a change in the system of my world view,” said Marynovych, now the vice rector of Ukrainian Catholic University, a position that lets him lecture without having a PhD.
“I got my PhD in [the] gulag,” he said with a laugh.
“I understood the world cannot be imagined without God,” he said. Christian views, Marynovych added, “became a very important basis for the reconstitution of the society.”
He recalled growing up under the notion that “only the Soviet system took care of the simpler worker. Then I read ‘Rerum Novarum,’ the first social encyclical, by Pope Leo XIII. I thought, ‘Wow!’“
The Soviet system also presented each struggle as a win-lose proposition, Marynovych said. But from reading Catholic social teaching, he came to the discovery that “each side needs the other,” adding that the world’s wealthiest countries were “the ones where cooperation between businesses and workers takes place.”
Marynovych acknowledged there is still a way to go in those former Soviet republics, because Soviet-style communism was all they knew.
“That’s the interesting difficulty,” he told Catholic News Service during an interview on 8 November. “You may not accept the communistic system philosophically, but it is much easier to change your flag” than to change a political system wholesale.
The church has a place in society, he said, noting a one-time government threat to shut down the church “if it did not do things in a certain way” met with a response from Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk that “the church must stand with our flocks.”
Marynovych said ecumenical relations with the church’s Orthodox counterparts in Ukraine are halting at times but filled with goodwill. This is different from past times, when church leaders regarded the other as being part of “a clear zero-sum game,” he added. “There’s no zero-sum language anymore.”
The situation may be different, though, between the Ukrainian Orthodox and their Russian Orthodox brethren. Recently, the Ukrainian Orthodox signaled their intent to cleave themselves from the Russian Orthodox, the largest single branch of Orthodoxy.
Marynovych said the Russian Orthodox had subsumed the Ukrainian Orthodox in 1686, and that the Ukrainian Orthodox want to recover their own symbols, lost over the centuries.
“I’m generally in favor of this new development,” he said, in spite of complications in connection with the ongoing hostilities between Ukraine and Russia.
9 November 2018
Pope Francis greets Mar Gewargis III, Catholicos Patriarch of the Church of the East. (photo: Vatican Media)
Pope prays for peace with head of Assyrian Church (Vatican News) During an audience with Mar Gewargis III, Pope Francis prayed for an end to the suffering of Christians in the Middle East, and celebrated the fruits of ecumenical dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Church of the East…
Syria war: Army frees 19 ISIS hostages (BBC) The Syrian army has freed 19 women and children held hostage since July by ISIS, state media say. They say the captives were rescued when troops launched an operation north-east of the desert city of Palmyra. The hostages were seized during an IS attack in the southern Suweida region. More than 200 people were killed. Suweida is a stronghold of the Druze religious minority, and the captives were drawn from this community…
Christians in Indian state seek religious freedom (UCANews.com) Christian leaders in India’s poll-bound Chhattisgarh state have presented a charter of demands to major political parties seeking to end discrimination and violence. The charter prepared by leaders of the ecumenical Chhattisgarh Christian Forum expressed concerns over the security of the miniscule Christian community in the central state, now ruled by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party. It also calls on the next government to ensure freedom to practice religion...
Gaza youth protest march reaches Jerusalem (Haaretz) President Reuven Rivlin joined thousands of students from Gaza border communities and other communities across the country at a rally in Jerusalem on Thursday, the culmination of a five day march to protest the tension and hostilities along the border…
8 November 2018
Tags: Syria India Iran Assyrian Church
Germans pass by the broken shop window of a Jewish-owned business in Berlin that was destroyed in 1938 during Kristallnacht. That year, from 9 to 10 November, Nazis in Germany torched synagogues and vandalized Jewish homes and schools. (photo: CNS photo/United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Md.)
It has been said that, though history does not repeat itself, it certainly does rhyme. More academically and more ominously, the philosopher George Santayana is reputed to have said, “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
Eighty years ago on the night of 9 November, there were riots in Germany. Because of the amount of broken glass on the street, the night is remembered in history as Kristallnacht, literally “the night of crystal,” or the Night of Broken Glass. Synagogues were torched and Jewish business destroyed. The Fasanenstrasse Synagogue in Berlin was burned and photos of the ruins have become icons of the horrors to follow. On that night 100 Jews were killed. In the days that followed, more than 30,000 Jews were arrested and government restrictions on Jews became increasingly harsher. The supposed cause for the riots was “patriots” responding to the assassination of the Nazi diplomat Ernst van Rath by a 17-year-old Polish-German Jew in Paris.
Almost exactly 80 years after Kristallnacht, an American hater of Jews in Pittsburgh brought an assault weapon and hand guns to the Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill, a neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Shouting “death to Jews,” he killed 11 worshippers, among whom were three octogenarians and one 97-year-old. This occurred at the end of a week in which bombs were mailed to prominent political figures in the United States.
In a country where mass shootings are quite literally a weekly occurrence — we are seeing it again this very day, in Thousand Oaks, California — it is easy to become numb to the violence and write it off as the work of another crazy person. That would be a big mistake. Words and actions have effects. Those familiar with Nazi Germany found the torch-carrying, anti-Jew-shouting neo Nazi demonstrators in Charlottesville, Virginia, eerily similar to the Party Rallies held in Nuremberg, Germany, from 1927-1939 — torch processions and all. While one may not be able to draw a direct and causal connection between Charlottesville and Squirrel Hill, it is naïve in the extreme to consider the two events merely coincidences.
Anti-Semitism is a recurring cancer in Western society and culture. Recognizing the role it played in the anti-Semitism and anti-Jewish rhetoric of the past, the Catholic Church in Vatican II rejected all forms of anti-Semitism and even declared it a sin. Every pope since John XXIII (d. 1963) has condemned anti-Semitism.
Like any cancer, when it comes to anti-Semitism it is important to remain vigilant. We can never assume that the hateful fires of Kristallnacht are out forever. They can tragically flare up at any time. Vigilance requires awareness. We must be aware both individually and communally that anti-Semitism is a sin and that it persists. One cannot hate Jews and be a good Catholic or Christian at the same time. Pope Francis himself told a group of rabbis just days ago, ”A Christian cannot be an anti-Semite; we share the same roots. It would be a contradiction of faith and life. Rather, we are called to commit ourselves to ensure anti-Semitism is banned from the human community.”
As an agency of the Holy See committed to interreligious dialogue and understanding, we at CNEWA can only echo that sentiment with a heartfelt “Amen.”
Times of great division, times of racial hatred and times of authoritarian governments throughout the world are times which have historically been fertile grounds for anti-Semitism. With Pope Francis and his predecessors, all Catholics need to stand against anti-Semitism and anything that nurtures it in our communities and our world.