7 February 2019
Pope Francis meets Sheikh Ahmad al Tayyeb during his visit to the U.A.E. earlier this week.
(photo: Vatican Media)
On Sunday 3 February Pope Francis made history, when he began a three-day visit to Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) and became the first pope to visit the overwhelmingly Muslim Arabian Peninsula. The visit coincided with an interfaith meeting of religious leaders and theologians which was taking place.
The pope was greeted by Crown Prince Muhammad bin Zayed al Nahyan. The U.A.E. are home to a large number of Christians from south Asia who are working there. For several years the government has had a Ministry of Tolerance; Christians for the most part are able to worship freely, although not publicly. The U.A.E. is one of the more tolerant and open countries in the region.
While words like “unprecedented” are often used in the context of what Pope Francis does — and while such words tend to get overused and with inflation comes devaluation — one result of the visit, nevertheless, stands out in a special way. Pope Francis and Sheikh Ahmad al Tayyeb, the head of Al Azhar University, arguably the premier Sunni Muslim university in the world, produced a common document entitled Human Fraternity. It is a landmark document in many ways. While popes and Muslim leaders have made similar calls for peace and justice, this is unique in that it is a joint call, signed by the two men.
People familiar with reading statements of religious leaders recognize a certain “style” of writing peculiar to different traditions. Human Fraternity, however, is unique in that it evidences not only a “Catholic” style of writing but also a “Muslim” style of writing. It was and is intended to be both a Muslim and Catholic statement.
And this is especially significant: there is something new happening in the ecumenical and interreligious movements that can be seen at work in Human Fraternity. The Ecumenical and interreligious movements have been part of the central mission of the Catholic Church since Vatican II (1962-1965). In the decades following the council, there was tremendous progress made in the official dialogues between the Catholic Church and other churches and religions. Several “convergence” documents have been agreed upon, and in 1999 the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church published A Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification. The Doctrine of Justification was the primary theological point of difference between the Catholic Church and the Lutheran Reformers in the 16th century.
Yet for all the tremendous progress made on the theological level, by the 1990’s one began to hear of an “ecumenical winter” — or at the very least, ecumenical doldrums. It seemed to many that the incredible progress made through dialogue had not been translated into a change of attitudes. To many, it seemed that something was missing; on so many levels, it appeared that little had really changed.
But Pope Francis, merely by his presence and his approach, appears to be causing a noticeable shift.
One of the outstanding things about Francis’ various encounters is that there is — though it may be overlooked — a genuine sense of friendship and affection between the pope and his dialogue partners. This is most evident in the relationship between Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. It is very obvious that they like and trust each other; they are friends. This has led to extraordinary cooperation between the two leaders and their churches in areas of ecology, human rights, refugees and immigration. Both are very smart men. They realize that friendship and trust alone will not overcome the divisions between the churches.
They also realize, however, that all the convergence statements and joint declarations remain merely pieces of paper if trust and affection are lacking between the churches and their leaders.
This brings us to this week’s historic meeting. One can see a similar phenomenon between Pope Francis and Sheikh al Tayyeb. Al Azhar University broke off relations with the Holy See in 2011 after Pope Benedict XVI’s statement on the situation of Coptic Christians. Relations between the Holy See and Al Azhar were resumed under Pope Francis. The pope and the sheikh have met several times and it is clear that a warm and cordial relationship has developed between them.
Neither man, of course, is naïve about issues dividing Catholics and Muslims. However, both have achieved a level of trust that allows them to cooperate on a document which is at once truly Catholic — and truly Muslim.
Much of CNEWA’s work, of course, involves work among Muslims, especially in the Middle East. Witnessing this historic moment, with its spirit of cooperation and collaboration, is both an inspiration and a beacon of hope.
And it should serve as a sign to us all. Pope Francis has shown that theological ecumenism is not dead, but that it needs the human components of trust and friendship to transform theological papers into living documents that can change lives and help make our world a better, safer place.
7 February 2019
Tags: Pope Francis Ecumenism Muslim Abu Dhabi
M.L. Thomas, CNEWA’s regional director in India, pays a visit to Home of Faith, an orphanage in Kerala, one of the many institutions CNEWA is privileged to support. Read more about how CNEWA practices ”accompaniment” on behalf of the Holy Father and in the name of the church in the December 2018 edition of ONE. (photo: John E. Kozar/CNEWA)
7 February 2019
ISIS holdouts are continuing to fight, but many are fleeing the last villages they control in Syria. (video: CBS News/YouTube)
Families and fighters flee ISIS’ last village (BBC) Men, women and children, some with serious injuries, others describing running out of food, have been leaving the group’s rapidly shrinking enclave, which the US military on Tuesday said amounted to about 50 sq km (20 sq miles). They have been arriving at the village of Baghuz to surrender to the US-backed Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)…
Indian court rules change of religion doesn’t alter tribal status (UCANews.com) The high court in India’s Chhattisgarh state has ruled that the tribal status of a person will not alter if they change their religion to Christianity, stressing they can still enjoy state concessions aimed at improving the life of indigenous people…
New hopes for reopening Greek Orthodox seminary on Turkish island (The Washington Post) American presidents, religious freedom advocates, the European Union and Orthodox Christian leaders have for years issued desperate appeals to Turkey’s government to reopen a shuttered Greek Orthodox seminary on an island off Istanbul, but to no avail. Before it was closed in 1971, the Theological School of Halki stood for more than a century as the primary center of scholarship and clerical training for generations of Greek Orthodox leaders. Now, stripped of its educational role, its classrooms — emptied by arguments over politics, nationalism and minority rights — are kept pristine in the stubborn hope the students will someday return…
Does God want religious diversity? Abu Dhabi text raises questions (CNS) That many religions exist in the world is a fact, but what that plurality communicates to believers about God is a question that theologians are still discussing. Pope Francis and Sheik Ahmad el-Tayeb, grand imam of al-Azhar, a leading authority for many Sunni Muslims, stepped into the debate on 4 February when they signed a document on “human fraternity” and improving Christian-Muslim relations…
Orthodox Church changes jurisdictions (AsiaNews) The Russian Orthodox parish of San Remo, whose priest Dionisij Bajkov had been suspended in recent days by the Greek metropolitan of Italy Ghennadios (Zervos), has left the jurisdiction of Constantinople to join the Russian Orthodox Church abroad, the so-called Zarubežnaja. The parish priest with the community members also invited the other parishes of the former Russian archdiocese of Europe to join the new destination…
6 February 2019
Tags: Syria India Turkey ISIS
The Rev. Teshome Fikre Woldetensae helps serve the faithful of Holy Savior Church in Addis Ababa. (photo: Petterik Wiggers)
The current edition of ONE features a Letter from Ethiopia, written by the Rev. Teshome Fikre Woldetensae, a priest from the Eparchy of Emdibir in central Ethiopia. He describes with great poignancy what it is like to be a priest in that corner of the world:
I remember with great joy the visit I made when I was a parish priest to an old lady who was gravely ill, who used to live very far from the parish — a three-hour mule ride. It was a very rainy season and access to the village was very difficult. The village catechist and I covered most of the road on foot, since it was difficult to ride on mule. She was not expecting us, due to the weather. When we arrived, she could not believe it; she shouted with joy and felt relieved from her sickness for a time. The joy of that woman, in her final days of her earthly life, was exceptional for me and it touched me deeply.
I also think often about young Bedilu. He was 12 when I met him, living with his mother, Kelemua. Bedilu was born with a degenerative condition. He could not talk, and while he could stand and walk in his younger years, he eventually became bedridden. One day Kelemua came to me from her faraway village and asked me to go with her to visit her beloved son. I asked why, and she cried and cried.
Together, she and I went by car and entered the house where Bedilu was living. Seeing him and the place they lived — a small hut — broke my heart and I could not stop crying. I was very much impressed by the dedication and joy of Kelemua for serving her child.
I gave her what money I had, promising to support her and her son. I immediately wrote a letter to one of my friends in Italy explaining the situation, and before long I received funds to build a decent house for them. We bought a proper bed and other household goods — even a cow, for milk. Within a few months, the life situation of the family changed. Although doctors informed us that his condition could not be reversed, and only palliative care was possible, Bedilu and Kelemua had a greatly improved quality of life for years.
When he died, it was devastating for all of us who were involved in his life. His mother’s heart was broken, and we accompanied her in her grief. Kelemua’s strength and courage will remain with me forever.
Read more of his letter in the December 2018 edition of ONE.
6 February 2019
Jim Kingham and Anastasia Shkilnyk. (photo: courtesy Jim Kingham)
The current edition of ONE contains the hope-filled story of how Caritas Ukraine — with support from CNEWA — is offering the elderly poor a Window to the World, giving new life and possibility to some of the country’s neediest men and women.
In the course of his reporting, writer Mark Raczkiewycz spoke with Jim Kingham from Canada who, along with his now deceased wife, Anastasia Shkilnyk, has been an ardent supporter of this work:
They have contributed more than a half million dollars to implement a program in Ukraine similar to one in Canada: Medical equipment is purchased for Caritas, which in turn lends or rents it to the elderly. Family members then are shown how to use walkers and other life-easing equipment with their older relatives.
They started donating because, as he told us, “we felt that … elderly people have given so much to their children, too often not appreciated or recognized, that the least we could do is offer a little comfort, with freedom from financial worries when they need medical equipment, while still preserving their dignity.”
Five years ago, we told the story of the Kinghams on our blog — and noted with sadness the death of Jim’s wife, Anastasia:
We have known Anastasia as a generous person who strived to make the world a better place and who succeeded in changing many hearts.
Being a Ukrainian Canadian, she cared particularly about the marginalized people of Canada and Ukraine; however, her generosity knew no geographic borders. During her fulfilling life, she championed the principles of social justice and spent enormous amounts of personal time and resources to help victims of discrimination.
In 2013, together with her husband Dr. Jim Kingham, she established with CNEWA Canada a special endowment fund to support social justice projects in Ukraine. A modest woman, Anastasia refused to have the endowment named after her. This year, the endowment will start continuously supporting the charitable initiatives of Caritas Ukraine. One of these projects will be lending medical equipment, free of charge, to poor people with serious temporary and permanent disabilities.
The legacy of Anastasia’s writings, actions and of her sacrificial love will continue transforming lives in many countries. You can read more about her remarkable life in this tribute*, on the website for Ukrainian Catholic University.
To discover more of the good fruits of the Kinghams’ generosity — and the generosity of so many others around the world — read Windows to the World in the December 2018 edition of ONE.
* [Editor’s note: The original “tribute” hyperlink destination no longer exists; the link in the text now points to an Archive.Org preserved copy. For another Ukrainian Catholic University piece celebrating the life of Anastasia Shkilnyk, click here.]
6 February 2019
Tags: Ukraine CNEWA Canada Caritas
The video above shows highlights of Pope Francis' historic trip to the UAE.
(video: Vatican Media/YouTube)
Pope confers honor on Imam’s former councillor (Vatican News) Pope Francis has conferred the ‘Commenda con Placca dell’Ordine Piano’ upon Dr. Mohamed Mahmoud Abdel Salam, former councillor of the Grand Imam of al-Azhar, in gratitude for his work in strengthening relations between al-Azhar and the Catholic Church…
Iraq cardinal calls for end to persecution (The National) The mistreatment of Christians in the Middle East remains one of Pope Francis’ primary concerns, especially as the region remains engulfed in conflicts from Iraq to Syria and Yemen, according to the head of Iraq’s Catholic Church. Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako, Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans and head of the Chaldean Catholic Church, told The National that Pope Francis is seeking to turn a page in Christian-Muslim relations…
Politics suspected in burning of Marian statue in India (UCANews.com) A Marian statue was set on fire in India’s Madhya Pradesh state in the latest attack against Christians amid reports that more than 1,000 such attacks have occurred in the past year. Church leaders suspect the attack could have political undertones ahead of the national election due to take place in two months…
School in India celebrates Don Bosco (Vatican News) A Catholic school in extreme north-east India celebrated the feast of Don Bosco with an exhibition to promote and strengthen friendship with the created world. The Light of the World School (LWS) in Miao Diocese in Changlang district of Arunachal Pradesh organized the exhibition on the theme, ‘Peace with Nature’ on the occasion of the 31 January feast of Don Bosco…
The Syrian-Armenian refugee jewelers of Yerevan (Al Jazeera) Vahe Hovhannesian is one of tens of thousands of Christian Armenians who have returned in the wake of Syria’s civil war. Two years ago, he was living in Aleppo, dodging snipers on his way to work…
5 February 2019
Tags: Syria India Iraq Pope Francis Arabs
The Rev. Boulos Nassif teaches a class for deaf and hearing-impaired Egyptians in Minya. To learn more about the people Father Nassif serves, read Signs of Hope in the December 2018 edition of ONE. (photo: Roger Anis)
5 February 2019
Tags: Egypt Education Catholic Disabilities
People wait for Pope Francis’ arrival to celebrate Mass at Zayed Sports City Stadium in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, 5 February 2019. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Pope Francis, amid Abu Dhabi’s opulence, celebrates Mass for its migrants (New York Times) The opulence of Abu Dhabi is not subtle. Bentleys line the roads, glass skyscrapers rise like blades over corporate business parks, a multibillion dollar hotel once used jewels as ornaments, and the presidential palace gleams with marble and sparkles with crystal chandeliers. But valeting those cars, cleaning those hotel rooms, servicing those high-rise elevators and preparing watermelon appetizers for guests in the presidential palace are millions of migrants, many of whom are Catholics from India, the Philippines and South America. On Tuesday, the last day of his 40-hour visit to the United Arab Emirates, Pope Francis came to speak to them directly…
Vicar of Aleppo says pope and imam deliver ‘Magna Carta’ for Islamic-Christian relations (AsiaNews) The document signed yesterday by Pope Francis and the great imam of Al Azhar, Ahmad Muhammad al Tayyib, in the context of the pope’s trip to the Emirates “may represent the new Magna Carta” in Christian-Muslim relations. Bishop Georges Abou Khazen, apostolic vicar of Aleppo, commented to AsiaNews on the “historic visit not only for the East, but for the whole world” from a political and religious point of view…
‘Zero tolerance towards sexual assault’: Kerala Catholic Bishops’ body issues guidelines (UCAN-India) Reporting sexual offence cases to concerned authorities, cooperating in the investigation, avoiding inappropriate physical contact with minors and abstaining from taking overnight trips with them, are some of the key guidelines issued by the Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Council to church personnel in the backdrop of sexual assault cases tumbling out from within the community…
Iran ready to help rebuild Syria, says foreign minister (Al Monitor) Iran is ready to help rebuild Syria, the Islamic republic’s top diplomat said Tuesday as he hosted his Syrian counterpart in Tehran. Mohammad Javad Zarif, whose country has been a staunch ally to Damascus throughout Syria’s devastating war, met Walid Mouallem for closed-door talks at the Islamic republic’s foreign ministry. Damascus and Tehran signed a string of deals late last month, including a long-term economic cooperation agreement…
Search for Iraq’s stolen artifacts gets serious (AINA) Before Islamic State militants were forced from Iraq in 2017, they stole thousands of ancient artifacts. Most are still missing. Now, an international team of archaeologists is working to recover as many of the stolen national treasures as possible. Bruno Deslandes is an expert on historic buildings at UNESCO, the United Nations cultural agency. “We’re trying to recover a lot of artifacts and need all local and international resources to work. Iraq cannot do this on its own,” he said…
C.R.S. steps up as millions in Ethiopia displaced by flooding, ethnic violence (Crux) With millions of Ethiopians forced out of their homes, Catholic Relief Services is working with the local Catholic Church to offer immediate relief and to address the root causes of their displacement. Some 2.7 million people have fled their homes in Ethiopia in the last year, uprooted by devastating floods and violent land disputes between the Gedeo and Guji comminutes in the Oromia region of the country…
4 February 2019
Tags: Syria India Iraq Pope Francis Arabian Peninsula
CNEWA President Msgr. John E. Kozar pays a pastoral visit to the Cremisan Valley in the West Bank in December 2017. To read more about the broad view of “accompaniment” that informs the mission of CNEWA, read his column in the pages of the December 2018 edition of ONE. (photo: John E. Kozar)
4 February 2019
Tags: CNEWA Palestine Catholicism
Pope Francis and Sheik Ahmad el Tayeb, grand imam of Egypt’s Al Azhar mosque and university, arrive for an interreligious meeting at the Founder’s Memorial in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, 4 February 2019. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
In heart of Muslim world, pope calls for true religious freedom (Crux) Opening his historic visit to the heart of the Muslim word, Pope Francis on Monday pulled no punches in the United Arab Emirates, calling for true religious freedom while condemning the use of the name of God to justify violence…
Pope Francis seeks dialogue on first trip to UAE (Al Jazeera) Pope Francis started a three-day visit to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the first for a leader of the Roman Catholic Church in the Arabian Peninsula. Along with Saudi Arabia, the UAE is heavily involved in the war in Yemen — dubbed the world’s worst humanitarian crisis — and has a problematic human rights record. The UAE has also imposed an air, land, and sea blockade on Qatar, which has severely affected relations among Gulf countries over the past two years. Whether Pope Francis will address these issues is not clear, but expectations run high that the pope may do so in private talks with the UAE’s leadership…
U.N. chief hopes for new agreement after Israel concludes international observation mission (U.N. News) Noting a joint statement issued by the Foreign Ministers of the TIPH’s contributing countries — Italy, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and Turkey — the Secretary-General conveyed his hope on Friday “that an agreement can be found by the parties to preserve the TIPH’s long-standing and valuable contribution to conflict prevention and the protection of Palestinians in Hebron”…
To fight trafficking, Indian groups turn to the experts: survivors (Christian Science Monitor) Nearly eight million people in India live in modern slavery, according to estimates from the Global Slavery Index, many of whom were trafficked. Nearly 20,000 women and children were victims of trafficking in 2016, according to Indian government data, with the highest number in Bijoya’s state of West Bengal, along the border with Bangladesh. Victims’ advocates warn that the actual number is likely far higher. But even when trafficking victims escape, they face a new set of challenges. Survivors’ perspectives are rarely used to design prevention, rehabilitation, and advocacy processes, their advocates say — and that’s something a survivor group is hoping to change…
U.S. to leave nuclear arms treaty with Russia (Vatican News) The United States says it will stop complying with a nuclear pact with Russia of the Cold War era, raising fears of a new nuclear arms race between the two powers. The announcement comes after last-ditch negotiations to end the standoff collapsed…
Tags: India Pope Francis human trafficking Arabian Peninsula