26 November 2018
Tensions are mounting between Ukraine and Russia after Russia fired on and seized three Ukrainian naval vessels. (video: Sky News/YouTube)
Tensions escalate between Russia and Ukraine; Ukraine to vote on declaring martial law (BBC) Russia has fired on and seized three Ukrainian naval vessels off the Crimean Peninsula in a major escalation of tensions between the two countries. Two gunboats and a tug were captured by Russian forces. A number of Ukrainian crew members were injured. Each country blames the other for the incident. On Monday Ukrainian MPs are due to vote on declaring martial law…
Pope recalls Ukraine famine (Vatican News) Following the Angelus prayer on Sunday, Pope Francis remembered the man-made famine that struck Ukraine in 1932-1933 and the anniversary of the event which occurred on Saturday. Pope Francis called it “a terrible famine instigated by the Soviet regime which caused millions of people to die…”
Reports say dozens injured in toxic gas attack on Aleppo (CNN) Around 100 people were injured in toxic gas attack on the government-controlled city of Aleppo Saturday, according to Syrian state media and a British-based human rights group. It’s not clear who carried out the attack, but Syria’s state news agency quoted a local commander as blaming ‘terrorist groups,’ while Russia accused militants of firing mortar rounds containing chlorine on the city’s northwestern districts…
Franciscan custos calls attention to Holy Land Christians (CNS) Some Christians would consider it a blessing to live in the land where Jesus Christ was born and lived. But for some Christians who live with the daily reality and not the romanticism of the land where the faith originated, living as a religious minority in a place of conflict — often tied to religion — it is considered more of a “misfortune,” said the Rev. Francesco Patton, the head of the Holy Land Franciscans, also known as the custos, during a 7 November event in Washington…
Report: India ‘broke the internet’ to control information (UCANews.com) India leads the world in terms of choking cyberspace by shutting off access to the internet when controversial information, or misinformation, that risks fomenting unrest surfaces amid a rise in religion-based hate crime, raising concern about censorship among Catholic bishops and rights activists. A 12 November report on internet and digital media freedom in 65 countries by the U.S.-based non-profit Freedom House ranked India the worst offender after it blocked access to the web on at least 100 occasions this year alone…
19 November 2018
Tags: Syria India Ukraine Russia
Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan and Lebanese Cardinal Bechara Rai, patriarch of the Maronite Catholic Church, chat during the Assembly of Catholic Patriarchs and Bishops of Lebanon meeting in Bkerke, Lebanon.
(photo: CNS photo/courtesy Mychel Akl for the Maronite patriarchate)
Lebanon’s Catholic religious leaders appealed to the international community to stop the wars in the Middle East and to bring about a comprehensive and just peace.
In a statement following its 12 — 16 November annual meeting, the Assembly of Catholic Patriarchs and Bishops of Lebanon urged Catholics “to endure the grace of God in the hope of rebuilding their homelands with their Muslim brothers in equal and responsible citizenship.”
The prelates expressed their “anguish at the continuation of the wars in the Middle East, which continue to destabilize the peace, wreak havoc, destroy and displace citizens.” Reiterating their condemnation “of violence in all its forms,” they called for constructive dialogue among officials.
The patriarchs and bishops appealed to “the international community and concerned states” to stop wars in the region and “to bring about a comprehensive and just peace and to work seriously for the return of displaced persons, refugees, abductees and deportees to their countries, homes and properties.”
Lebanon continues to host more than 1 million Syrian refugees.
In their statement, the church leaders affirmed the principles that have been proclaimed by Pope Francis regarding the Middle East: that peace is a condition for Christians to remain in their homelands; that there is no Middle East without Christians, who are a factor of equilibrium and stability in it; and that citizens have the duty to defend the rights of individuals and minorities.
Turning with urgency to the continuing impasse in forming Lebanon’s government more than five months after parliamentary elections, the prelates said it is unacceptable that the government still does not exist.
They urged all the political parties concerned to facilitate the formation of the government, “today before tomorrow.” They pointed to “the loss of mutual trust, the absence of internal unity and the tyranny of private interests, as well as external interference” as reasons for the deadlock.
They applauded “with all the Lebanese -- at home and abroad -- the historic reconciliation” of two rival Maronite Catholic political leaders after more than four decades of enmity. Samir Geagea, leader of the Lebanese Forces political party, and Suleiman Frangieh Jr., head of the Marada party, have been foes since the early days of Lebanon’s 1975-1990 civil war.
Their formal reconciliation took place on 14 November under the patronage of Cardinal Bechara Rai at Bkerke, Maronite patriarch. The two Maronite leaders signed a document confirming their “joint will to turn the page of the past and move on toward new horizons” in their relations “at the human, social, political and national levels for the years to come.”
19 November 2018
Tags: Lebanon Middle East
Pope Francis eats lunch with poor people as he marks World Day of the Poor at the Vatican on 18 November. Some 1,500 people joined the pope for lunch in Paul VI hall. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Pope Francis has lunch with the poor (Vatican News) Pope Francis on Sunday joined about 1,500 poor people and a group of volunteers for lunch to mark the World Day of the Poor. After Holy Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, during which he urged believers to heed the cry of the poor and said that “the cry of the poor daily becomes stronger but heard less, drowned out by the din of the rich few, who grow ever fewer and more rich”, the Pope addressed the crowds gathered in St. Peter’s Square for the Angelus prayer, and then went to a beautifully decked out Paul VI Hall and took his seat at the main table…
Syrian army advances against ISIS in southeastern desert (Reuters) Hundreds of Islamic State militants withdrew from the heart of a rugged area in southeastern Syria after holding up for over three months against a major campaign by the Syrian army and its allies to crush them, rebels and residents said on Sunday…
The women smashing Ethiopia’s glass ceiling (BBC) Ethiopia is changing rapidly under Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, with women now wielding enormous power in a country where they have mostly been confined to traditional roles, writes BBC Tigrinya’s Hana Zeratsyon. Ethiopians like to say they were ruled by Queen Sheba in biblical times — something they take great pride in, yet the reality is that the Horn of Africa state is a deeply male-dominated society…
Russian Orthodox Church to continue humanitarian projects in Syria (TASS) Chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations, Metropolitan Hilarion, and Patriarch John X of Antioch met in Damascus and discussed further cooperation between the churches in the humanitarian and charity sphere, the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations said on Sunday. ”Patriarch John told about the current situation in his country and thanked the Russian Orthodox Church for its assistance to those hurt in the warfare in Syria. They also discussed a wide range of issues of inter-church relations and prospects for further cooperation in rendering humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people,” it said…
Cyclone kills dozens in southern India (UCANews) A cyclone killed more than 40 people and displaced hundreds of others at the weekend as it tore a destructive path across southern India, severely damaging farmland and buildings including the region’s most revered Marian shrine. Catholic Church agencies have joined Tamil Nadu state government in relief efforts to help people affected by Cyclone Gaja in Thanjavur Diocese and Pondicherry-Cuddalore Archdiocese...
Vatican urges Christians and Sikhs to ‘promote a culture of tenderness’ (Vatican News) The Vatican is urging Christians and Sikhs to join hands to ”promote a ‘culture of tenderness’ for the wellbeing of every human being and for the welfare of the entire created world!” The Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (PCID) made the call in its message on the occasion of Sri Guru Nanak Prakash Diwas, or Guru Nanak Jayanti, the birthday of Guru Nanak, the first guru and founder of the Sikh religion. A national holiday in India, it will be celebrated on 23 November this year...
16 November 2018
Tags: India Pope Francis Ethiopia Russian Orthodox
Pope Francis greets a woman religious as he makes a surprise visit to a free health clinic for the needy in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican on 16 November. The clinic was open for a week in advance of the 18 November observance of World Day for the Poor.
(photo: CNS/Junno Arocho Esteves)
16 November 2018
Tags: Pope Francis
Pope Francis addresses the Order of the Holy Sepulchre with an icon of "Our Lady Help of Persecuted Christians" nearby. He blessed the icon after his meeting with members of the order.
(photo: Vatican Media)
Pope meets with Indian children’s rights activist (Vatican News) Pope Francis on Friday received in private audience Indian children’s rights activist, Kailash Sathyarthi, who shared the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize with Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan. Founder of the “Bachpan Bachao Andolan”, or the Save Childhood Movement, and other initiatives against child labor and the abuse and exploitation of children, the 64-year old former electrical engineer and teacher has been honored with numerous recognitions both in India and abroad…
Pope to Holy Sepulchre: ’Root charitable works in prayer’ (Vatican News) Pope Francis took the opportunity to highlight “the dramatic situation of Christians who are persecuted and killed in ever-greater numbers.” He also called attention to a type of “white martyrdom, like, for example, that type which occurs in democratic countries when religious freedom is limited…”
Christian city in Syria grapples with decision to back the government (The Los Angeles Times) Only reluctantly had Mhardeh, a predominantly Christian city of 23,000 people, sided with the government in the war. But it was a choice that put the once-sleepy suburban city on the front lines and isolated it from its neighbors — predominantly Sunni Muslims, who make up the majority in Syria. Now, as the prospects of peace in the country improve, residents here are grappling with how they can again share a future with those who had become enemies on the battlefield…
Teen pregnancies are top threat to women’s health in India (UCANews.com) Teenage pregnancies and the culture of taking a child bride are both still rampant in India. UNICEF estimates 27 percent Indian women wed before they reach the age of 18, and at least seven percent are married by 15. The U.N. agency released a report in April showing that over 20 percent of the world’s adolescent population lives, and that the country has the highest rate of child marriages in South Asia…
Ethiopia unleashes changes over Africa and the Middle East (African News Agency) Ethiopia’s new prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, has unleashed a wave of breath-taking change since taking power in April, not just in the continent’s second most populous nation but across a swathe of east Africa and the Gulf. The transformation is so rapid and startling that it has been compared to Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika reforms in the Soviet Union in the 1980s, a comparison that does not seem exaggerated given the stasis it has replaced…
Order of Malta joins pope to mark World Day of the Poor (Vatican News) Pope Francis has invited everyone to mark the World Day of the Poor to be celebrated on Sunday, 18 November. Speaking to the crowds gathered in St. Peter’s Square for the Angelus, the Pope said that, for the occasion, a “First Aid Station” will be set up in the Square, where those in need will be able to receive medical care. Among the many organizations making sure the Day does not pass unnoticed is the Sovereign Order of Malta, whose core mission is to uphold human dignity and care for people in need…
15 November 2018
Tags: Syria India Ethiopia
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…
Tags: Syria Egypt Jerusalem Kerala