24 January 2019
In honor of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, 18-25 January, Middle East Christian leaders attended an ecumenical prayer service at St. Severus the Great Church in Atchaneh, Lebanon. (photo: CNS/courtesy Syriac Orthodox patriarchate)
At a gathering of Middle East leaders coinciding with the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, the Syriac Orthodox patriarch emphasized the need to unify efforts against extremism and terrorism.
“A hundred years after the genocide during the Ottoman Empire and major displacements,” Christians in the region are still facing similar circumstances, said Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II of Antioch.
“Many of our churches have been destroyed and hundreds of thousands of our Christian brothers have been forced to migrate from the land of their fathers,” Patriarch Aphrem said. “To whose benefit is it if the region is emptied of Christians?”
He opened the 22-23 January executive committee meeting of the Middle East Council of Churches, which he hosted at the patriarchal residence in Atchaneh, Lebanon.
Members of the executive committee attending the meeting included Iraqi Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako, patriarch of Chaldean Catholics; the Rev. Habib Badr, senior pastor of the National Evangelical Church of Beirut; and Souraya Bechealany, acting secretary-general of Middle East Council of Churches; as well as bishops and representatives from Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant churches in the Middle East.
Patriarch Aphrem called for regular meetings, at both the spiritual and political levels, to unify efforts against extremism and terrorism, as well as “to promote the principles of coexistence, human values, religious freedom and the spiritual and social values that exist.”
“We know that our future is the future of living together with our Muslim brothers,” the patriarch said, adding that “if we want to have a secure future,” all must work together.
The patriarch lamented “the great silence of the great world powers” regarding the fate of two bishops kidnapped in Syria nearly six years ago, Orthodox Metropolitan Paul of Aleppo and Syriac Orthodox Metropolitan Gregorios Yohanna of Aleppo.
In its final statement, the executive committee called on “the international community and the Arab world to work for the release of the kidnapped bishops” as well as priests and lay abductees.
It called for “the establishment of peace in Syria and the dignified and safe return of displaced persons to their homeland and for the restoration of Iraq’s recovery and the return of uprooted children to their land.”
It rejected the decision to declare Jerusalem the capital of “the occupying power” and called for the “realization of the state of Palestine stipulated in the relevant international resolutions.”
It also condemned “all forms of extremism and terrorism,” expressing their hope for the “cooperation between churches and Islamic authorities to build a religious discourse” based on “the values of love, peace, social justice and dialogue.”
24 January 2019
Tags: Middle East
In this image from November, U.S. soldiers surveil the area during a combined joint patrol in Manbij, Syria. (photo: CNS/Zoe Garbarino, U.S. Army handout via Reuters)
Future of Syria “safe zones” uncertain (CNN) A “safe zone” in Syria? The US tried it with Turkey before. It didn’t work. President Donald Trump has tweeted twice about the possibility of establishing a “20 mile safe zone” in Syria, something he has said is part of his decision to pursue a total withdrawal of US troops from Syria, a decision that sparked several high profile resignations from his administration…
Ethiopia says thousands have been granted amnesty (AFP) Ethiopia on Tuesday said it had granted more than 13 000 people amnesty as part of a broad reform agenda pushed by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, state media said…
Terrorist involved in beheading of Copts killed in Libya (Egypt Today) Al-Mahdy Deqno, one of the three most dangerous terrorists, Libya’s national army (LNA) Killed on Friday, was involved in beheading 21 Egyptian Copts in Libya in 2015…
Ancient cistern complex found under Jerusalem playground (The Times of Israel) Back in 2005, the Israel Antiquities Authority received word that at a Jerusalem neighborhood playground, the sand was being swallowed up into the earth. After initial testing by IAA archaeologist Dr. Yuval Baruch, it was discovered that the sand box was constructed directly above an ancient water cistern…
Indian pilgrims gather for World Youth Day (Vatican News) An Indian delegation of some 56 young people is in Panama City to celebrate the Catholic Church’s 34th World Youth Day (WYD) with Pope Francis. The young pilgrims from across India landed in Panama on 15 January and were hosted in the parish of Atalaya in the Diocese of Santiago de Veraguas, for the preliminary “Days in the Dioceses” events of the WYD…
Pope highlights pros and cons of internet and social media (Vatican News) In his message for the World Day of Social Communications 2019, Pope Francis urges responsible use of the internet, saying it should be used to liberate not to entrap. In his message entitled “We are members one of another» (Eph 4:25) From social network communities to the human community, released on the feast day of St Francis de Sales, Patron Saint of Journalists, the Pope underlines that the Internet and social media are an important resource. But he also emphasizes that the Internet has been “proven to be one of the areas most exposed to disinformation and to the conscious and targeted distortion of facts and interpersonal relationships, which are often used to discredit…”
23 January 2019
Tags: Syria Egypt Pope Francis Ethiopia Coptic Christians
A sister assists a student at the Franciscan Sisters’ School in Beni Suef, Egypt. Learn how children there are seeing Signs of Hope in the current edition of ONE. (photo: Roger Anis)
23 January 2019
Pope Francis shakes hands with Abiy Ahmed, prime minister of Ethiopia, during a private audience at the Vatican on 21 January. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Pope receives Ethiopian Prime Minister (Vatican News) Pope Francis on Monday met with the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Abiy Ahmed, at an audience at the Vatican. According to a communique from the Holy See Press Office, the “cordial talks” emphasized “important initiatives underway for the promotion of national reconciliation, and for the integral development of Ethiopia”. The talks also focused on the “role of Christianity in the history of the Ethiopian people”—Ethiopia was one of the first lands to adopt Christianity, and the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church remains the largest religious body in the country by population…
Holy See urges resumption of Israeli-Palestinian dialogue (Vatican News) The Holy See on Tuesday reiterated its appeal to Israeli and Palestinian authorities to resume dialogue for peace in the region and respond to the legitimate aspirations of both the people by ensuring the coexistence of two states. Archbishop Bernardito Auza, the Holy See’s Permanent Observer to the United Nations in New York, made the call on Tuesday at a Security Council debate on the situation in the Middle East and the Palestinian question…
ISIS gearing up for comeback in Syria (The Jerusalem Post) Four days after a major attack claimed by the Islamic State in Manbij, Syria killed at least nineteen people, including four Americans, a suicide bomb ripped through a passenger bus in nearby Afrin, causing numerous fatalities. While the nearly eight-years-long war has turned decidedly in the Assad regime’s favor, the prevalence of terrorist activity continues to force people from their homes, effectively providing cover for ISIS fighters to escape detection…
India state lifts ban on eggs for school meals (UCANews.com) Eggs are back on the menu for school students in India’s Chhattisgarh state, 13 years after they were banned for fear of hurting the religious sentiments of upper-caste Hindu and Jain vegetarians. The pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) state government withdrew eggs from students’ midday meals in 2005, two years after it came to power…
A million rosaries from Bethlehem headed to Panama for World Youth Day (Vatican News) A million rosaries made by Christian artisans of Bethlehem have been destined as gifts to the participants in the Catholic Church’s World Youth Day (WYD) that kicked off on Tuesday in Panama City…
22 January 2019
Tags: Syria India Pope Francis Ethiopia
A Syrian child greets visitors at a refugee camp in Zahleh, Lebanon. Read more about Syrians finding care in Lebanon in the December 2018 edition of ONE. (photo: Carl Hétu)
22 January 2019
Tags: Syria Lebanon Refugees
Turkish military vehicles are seen in late December 2018 in the countryside of Manbij, Syria. (photo: CNS/Khalil Ashawi, Reuters)
U.S. demands security guarantee for Kurdish Y.P.G. from Turkey (Al Jazeera) The protection of allied forces who fought and died battling ISIS in Syria must be guaranteed, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu in a phone conversation…
How hundreds of Syrians found refuge in Ethiopia (Al Jazeera) While Syrians make up a tiny fraction of the refugee population in Ethiopia, estimated at more than 905,000 people by the U.N., they have attracted attention and sympathy among locals…
Orthodox patriarch of Antioch receives Russian delegation (Fides) A delegation of Russian parliamentarians visiting the Middle East was received in Damascus by Greek Orthodox Patriarch Youhanna X of Antioch. Interfax reports that the patriarch expressed gratitude for the role carried out by Russia in the scenario of the Syrian conflict…
Discrimination within Dalit community a huge challenge in fight against casteism (Kathmandu Post) The so-called “lower-caste Dalits” of Olani Village in Godavari Municipality, Kailali, cannot use the same water tap or well as that of the “upper-caste Dalits.” Separate wells have been constructed for the upper and lower caste Dalits in the village. This is only a case in point. Chairman of ward-11 Shiva Bahadur B.K. said incidents of caste-based discrimination take place in the municipality almost every day. “A Dalit is humiliated and discriminated by another Dalit. How can we fight against caste-based discrimination when the Dalit community itself is entrenched in casteism?” said B.K…
In Iraq, there’s life for Christians after Islamic fundamentalism (Crux) When Cardinal Patriarch Louis Sako presided over the episcopal ordinations of the new Chaldean Archbishop of Mosul, Najib Mikhael Mousa and the new auxiliary of the country’s capital, Bishop Robert Jarjis, on Jan. 18, the message seemed clear: There’s life for Christianity in Iraq after ISIS. “This is the greatest challenge that requires active participation of the church and Christians in public life in a city of ‘almost fully destroyed’ ancient churches,” Sako said. In fact, the bell tower of the city’s Dominican church is one of the few things that remained standing after the occupation of the city by the Islamic terrorist organization…
18 January 2019
Tags: Syria India Iraq Dalits
Some of the young people at the Kidane Mehret Children’s Home share their Christmas joy.
Earlier this week, our regional director in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Argaw Fantu, forwarded to us this lovely note and some pictures from our old friend Sister Lutgarda, of the Kidane Mehret Children’s Home. Thanks to our generous benefactors, CNEWA once again was able to send a donation to help the young people celebrate Christmas:
Peaceful greetings to all from Kidane Mehret Children’s Home!!
How beautiful a day can be when kindness touches it! These are the words with which I would like to thank each one of you, who have fundraised for our dear children. The generous sum of $5,000 has been received through CNEWA to celebrate the Christmas party for our children. It came truly in a good time, when we are preparing for Christmas.
I wish again and again that one day one of you will be here to participate and experience the joy of our children as they share their talents and receive their gifts.
To you and to all those who have donated this money, in the name of all the sisters and our dear children, I would like to express to you our heartfelt thanks for your kind and generous donation you have sent us for all these years. Hope that all of you are keeping well.
We have no words to thank you for your generosity. Every small donation counts. Whatever money remains of the party will go toward buying some items of food for the children and milk for the smaller ones.
Be sure that we will include you in our daily prayers and we ask the good Lord to continue to shower his choicest blessings upon each one of you and on your family. We wish you a very happy year to you and all your families.
God bless you all!
Sister Lutgarda Camilleri
Sister Lutgarda poses with some of the children at the home. (photo; CNEWA)
18 January 2019
In this image from 2015, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, Bishop Camillo Ballin, apostolic vicar of Northern Arabia, Sheik Nahyan and Bishop Paul Hinder, apostolic vicar of Southern Arabia, cut a ribbon during the inauguration of St. Paul’s Church in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Pope Francis is scheduled to visit the United Arab Emirates next month.
(photo: CNS/courtesy of Apostolic Vicariate of Southern Arabia)
When Pope Francis visits Abu Dhabi 3-5 February, he will visit a land where interreligious tolerance is mandated by law; while Catholics in the United Arab Emirates count their blessings for that, the pope is expected to nudge for something more.
Tolerance is praiseworthy, and Catholics in the Emirates do not take it for granted. But for Pope Francis, the next step — and often a big one — is mutual knowledge, respect and cooperation.
As the pope said in Bangladesh in late 2017, “respect and shaping a culture of encounter, dialogue and cooperation in the service of our human family” requires “more than mere tolerance. It challenges us to reach out to others in mutual trust and understanding, and so to build a unity that sees diversity not as a threat, but as a potential source of enrichment and growth.”
The Apostolic Vicariate of Southern Arabia cares for the almost 1 million Catholics living in the Emirates, Oman and Yemen. The faithful belong to 16 parishes -- with Mass offered in a dozen languages in churches, chapels and meeting rooms, sometimes simultaneously.
In the United Arab Emirates, a federation of seven emirates on the southeast edge of the Arabian Peninsula, the ruling families have donated land for Catholic and other Christian churches. But no bells call the faithful to prayer and no crosses can be visible from the street.
Islam is the state religion and the faith of almost all of its citizens. But citizens account for less than 20 percent of the Emirates’ population; most of the rest are foreign workers from almost every country in the world and include significant numbers of Catholics from India and the Philippines.
“We have experienced great benevolence from the leaders of the Emirates to be able to worship in the churches that have been built on land generously donated by them,” said Bishop Paul Hinder, head of the apostolic vicariate. “These gestures and the continuous efforts by the state to create an environment of tolerance and harmony in the community are very encouraging.”
The Catholic parishes run busy Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults programs, but only for foreigners. “Most of our RCIA candidates come from other Christian denominations or did not have a life in faith at all. Some are Hindu,” said Marcus Khoury, who assists with the program at St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Abu Dhabi.
Bringing adults into the Catholic faith is “a delicate matter where we have to be careful at all times,” Khoury said. “We are not allowed to proselytize among Muslims, and therefore have to make sure that our RCIA candidates were not originally Muslim.”
For Khoury, who worked for a year in neighboring Saudi Arabia, where Christianity can be practiced only in private homes, “Abu Dhabi is fortunately very open and relaxed when it comes to practicing other religions.”
Khoury works as in-house legal counsel specializing in construction and arbitration law. Many Muslims, he said, know just by his name that he is Christian, or at least from a Christian family. But “my Muslim co-workers rarely talk about religion with me. To a certain extent it still is a touchy subject, as one may risk being misunderstood as proselytizing and trying to convert Muslims when talking to them about Christianity.”
At work and at school, Bishop Hinder said, Catholics interact with their Muslim sisters and brothers and people of other faiths, so friendships are formed and cultures shared.
But the visit of the pope, which will include “the first ever public Mass in the country,” will bring even more attention to the Catholic community, the bishop said, so Catholics want “to put our best foot forward to shine during this time.”
Feras Hamza is a Dubai-based professor and Islamic historian who has participated in high-level Christian-Muslim dialogue programs. He told Catholic News Service, “The lived reality of day-to-day interaction, co-existence and social exchange -- economic, cultural or otherwise -- is itself a form of continuous dialogue” and one that best describes “the state of Christian-Muslim relations in the UAE.”
“Christians and Muslims in the UAE do not need to discuss their scriptures to demonstrate ‘dialogue,’“ he said. “‘Religion’ cannot be singled out from what anthropologists would call ‘culture,’“ and people’s “values may be anchored in and shaped by religious traditions, but they ultimately have life and meaning only in communal exchange and in the everyday.”
A sign of how seriously the UAE takes tolerance, he said, is the appointment of a Cabinet “minister of state for tolerance” and the proclamation by Sheik Khalifa bin Zayed, the UAE president, of 2019 as the “Year of Tolerance.”
In addition to focusing on dialogue with his Muslim hosts, Pope Francis will devote time to the international community of Catholics living in the Emirates. Those Catholics include lawyers like Khoury and financiers, doctors, nurses, teachers and tens of thousands of maids and construction workers.
For many of the domestic and blue-collar workers, a job in the Emirates is a great opportunity to work and send money home to their families. But policing their working conditions has not been easy; the government continues to enact protections, such as making it illegal for an employer to confiscate the worker’s passport, regulating the fees employers can withhold from paychecks, mandating a maximum 12-hour work day for domestics and guaranteeing one day off each week.
The Catholic parishes are one of the few places in the Emirates where foreign workers of all countries and categories come together.
Khoury, the lawyer, said his French-language community at St. Joseph’s includes people from France, Belgium, Lebanon, Iraq, Cameroon and Egypt. It lets him “break through the otherwise typical expat bubble in which expatriates-foreigners largely stick to their own nationality and social class.”
Many of the migrants are unmarried. Bishop Hinder said that through their involvement in parish communities “they end up becoming each other’s support system for spiritual growth and in personal relations.”
And while the government has made strides in protecting workers, “there are sometimes unfortunate situations where migrant workers find themselves in dire straits if companies close down or salaries are not paid,” the bishop said. “All parishes have set up community-service initiatives to help in this type of case,” with volunteers providing legal assistance, parishioners collecting food and clothing and sponsors coming forward to pay for a stranded worker’s plane ticket back home.
As guests in a foreign land, Bishop Hinder said, Catholics know their actions speak louder than words, and “living in peace and harmony becomes a natural priority.”
“We do not take anything for granted,” the bishop said, “but we are thankful to the Lord for his grace in being able to live and share our faith in the communities we live in.”
18 January 2019
Tags: Muslim Arabs
The Vatican yesterday announced guidelines to help the fight against human trafficking.
(video: Rome Reports/YouTube)
Vatican releases guidelines to help in fighting human trafficking (CNS) The Vatican has created a set of pastoral guidelines to inspire and improve the church’s work in addressing the crime of human trafficking and the care of its victims worldwide. The Migrants and Refugees Section of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development released its “Pastoral Orientations on Human Trafficking” 17 January at a Vatican news conference…
Week of Prayer for Christian Unity at heart of ecumenism (Vatican News) The joint celebration that kicks off the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is a powerful symbol of unity and of the recognition that Christian denominations are on the path to unity and getting closer in doctrine. The Week of Prayer, traditionally observed from 18 to 25 January, unfolds this year on the theme “Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue” inspired by Deuteronomy…
Ukraine approves property law affecting thousands of churches (AP) Ukraine’s parliament on Thursday adopted a bill spelling out procedures for transferring church property after a new unified Ukrainian Orthodox church was granted independence. The bill could potentially affect some 12,000 churches in Ukraine and vast amounts of property, including the gems of Orthodox Christianity like the vast Pechersk Monastery in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev…
Ethiopia allows almost one million refugees to live and work outside camps (Reuters) Ethiopia passed a law on Thursday giving almost 1 million refugees the right to work and live outside of camps, in a move praised for providing them with more dignity and reducing reliance on foreign aid…
Jerusalem hit by rare snowstorm (The Daily Mail) Snow covered Jerusalem in a rare flurry which swept across the Holy Land last night, including at the Dome of the Rock and Western Wall. Citizens of Jerusalem flocked to the streets to enjoy the rare sighting, with some even grabbing hold of their toboggans…
17 January 2019
Tags: Ethiopia Ukraine Jerusalem Christian Unity
In this image from 2018, Pope Francis, surrounded by clergy of different Christian traditions, holds an icon as he exchanges gifts with students of the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Institute at Bossey near Geneva. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
In all of the countries where CNEWA works, from India to the Horn of Africa, Christians will be observing the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Catholics of the Latin and Eastern rites, as well as Orthodox Christians, will pray for the unity of the followers of Christ. This week is especially important for CNEWA because it was initiated 101 years ago by the Rev. Paul Wattson, S.A., who happens also to be one of the co-founders of CNEWA.
The theme for 2019 was chosen by Christians in Indonesia and is taken from Deuteronomy 16:20: “Justice, only justice, you shall pursue.” By choosing the theme of justice, Indonesian Christians wanted to make an important point. Living as they do in the most populous Muslim country in the world, they are acutely aware of two things. First, they realize that they are not only a minority but a divided minority. Many different churches with their believers can be found on the Indonesia archipelago. They realize that their divisions weaken the power of their witness in an overwhelmingly non-Christian environment. And secondly, they are aware of the importance of justice both for themselves and others.
The whole notion of Christian Unity can understandably come across as a rather “churchy” thing that deals with ancient doctrines, rituals, and controversies which many modern people no longer understand and hostilities which many Christians find scandalous. The struggle for Christian Unity can appear to be a rather inward- looking affair, disconnected from the world at large.
The theme of justice, however, adds an important element to the quest for Christian Unity. Unity does not merely look inward; it is profoundly related to the world. All Christians see the Gospel of Jesus as transforming the world. Christians have never and can never be indifferent to the problems we all face: war, oppression, violence, racism, hatred, poverty, etc. The biblical call to justice is a call to Christians to work together to overcome these problems and to transform the world into the Kingdom of God.
The regions in which CNEWA works experience all these challenges. In dealing with the problems mentioned above, we work closely with the different local churches—both Catholic and Orthodox—in service to people who are vulnerable and suffering.
When our efforts are scattered and divided, when there is even competition between churches, the task of seeking justice in our world is significantly weakened. By stressing justice this year, the ideal of Christian Unity is put into a very important context. Christian Unity is not seen primarily in the context of overcoming ancient controversies. Rather Christian Unity is seen in the context of service to the world.
The pursuit of justice to which all Christians are called is weakened and even compromised by our divisions. If Christians see their God-given calling as serving the world and transforming it into the Kingdom of God, we must work to remove any obstacles that make that calling harder to fulfill.
The Christians of Indonesia have given us all a challenge in the theme for the 2019 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity—a challenge both ancient and new: ”Justice, only justice shall you pursue.”
Tags: Ecumenism Christian Unity Orthodox