1 December 2017
Pope Francis prays with Christian, Muslim and Buddhist religious leaders and Rohingya refugees from Myanmar during an interreligious and ecumenical meeting for peace in the garden of the archbishop’s residence in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on 1 December. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Each human being is created in the image and likeness of God, yet so often people desecrate that image with violence as seen in the treatment of Myanmar’s Rohingya minority, Pope Francis said.
“Today, the presence of God is also called ‘Rohingya,’” the pope said Dec. 1 after meeting, clasping hands with and listening intently to 16 Rohingya who have found shelter in Bangladesh.
“They, too, are images of the living God,” Pope Francis told a gathering of Christian, Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu leaders gathered in Dhaka for an interreligious meeting for peace.
“Dear brothers and sisters,” he told the crowd, “let us show the world what its selfishness is doing to the image of God.”
“Let’s keeping helping” the Rohingya, he said. “Let’s continue working so their rights are recognized. Let’s not close our hearts. Let’s not look away.”
The Rohingya, like all people, are created in God’s image, the pope insisted. “Each of us must respond.”
The refugees traveled to Dhaka from Cox’s Bazar, the southern Bangladeshi city hosting hundreds of thousands of refugees who have fled Myanmar. More than 620,000 Rohingya have crossed the border into Bangladesh since late August.
Speaking directly to them, Pope Francis said, “We are all close to you.”
In comparison to the suffering the Rohingya have endured, he said, the response of the people at the gathering actually is small. “But we make room for you in our hearts.”
“In the name of all those who have persecuted you and have done you harm, especially for the indifference of the world, I ask forgiveness,” he said.
Pope Francis’ remarks, which he made in Italian, were translated for the crowd and for the Rohingya. Many of them were in tears.
In his formal speech at the interreligious meeting, Pope Francis insisted “mere tolerance” for people of other religions or ethnic groups was not enough to create a society where everyone’s rights are respected and peace reigns.
Believers must “reach out to others in mutual trust and understanding,” not ignoring differences, but seeing them as “a potential source of enrichment and growth.”
The “openness of heart” to which believers of all faiths are called includes “the pursuit of goodness, justice and solidarity,” he said. “It leads to seeking the good of our neighbors.”
Pope Francis urged the people of Bangladesh to make openness, acceptance and cooperation the “beating heart” of their nation. Such attitudes, he said, are the only antidote to corruption, “destructive religious ideologies and the temptation to turn a blind eye to the needs of the poor, refugees, persecuted minorities and those who are most vulnerable.”
According to a Vatican translation, Farid Uddin Masud, speaking for the Muslim community, told the pope, “it is compassion and love which today’s world needs most. The only remedy and solution to the problem of malice, envy and fighting among nations, races and creeds lies in the compassionate love preached and practiced by the great men and women of the world.”
Masud, a famous prayer leader and advocate of dialogue and tolerance, is thought by some to have been the main target of a 2016 bombing at a major Muslim prayer service in Sholakia, Bangladesh. Four people were killed.
Praising the pope for speaking on behalf of “the oppressed, irrespective of religion, caste and nationality,” Masud particularly cited Pope Francis’ concern for the Rohingya. He said he hoped that the pope’s public support would strengthen international efforts to defend their rights.
Anisuzzaman, a famous professor of Bengali literature, told the gathering that in a world torn by strife, the pope’s message of encounter and dialogue takes on added importance.
“Those of us who are frustrated to find the forces of hatred and cruelty overtaking those of love and compassion can surely find solace in the pope’s message of peace and harmony and of fraternity and goodwill,” he said, according to the Vatican’s translation of his speech. “We note with great relief that the pope has, time and again, expressed his sympathy with the Rohingya from Myanmar, who have been forcibly ejected from their home and earth and subjected to violence and inhuman treatment.”
The pope arrived at the meeting in a rickshaw after a meeting with Bangladesh’s Catholic bishops. He had told the bishops that interreligious and ecumenical dialogue are essential part to the life of the church in Bangladesh.
“Yours is a nation where ethnic diversity is mirrored in a diversity of religious traditions,” he said. “Work unremittingly to build bridges and to foster dialogue, for these efforts not only facilitate communication between different religious groups, but also awaken the spiritual energies needed for the work of nation-building in unity, justice and peace.”
The Catholic Church’s preferential “option for the poor,” including the Rohingya refugees, is a sign of God’s love and mercy and must continue to shine forth in concrete acts of charity, Pope Francis told the bishops.
“The inspiration for your works of assistance to the needy must always be that pastoral charity which is quick to recognize human woundedness and to respond with generosity, one person at a time,” Pope Francis said.
1 December 2017
Patriarch Filaret of Kiev’s Ukrainian Orthodox Church, shown here during a visit to Chicago in 2012, has reached out to Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kiril and asked for forgiveness and an end to conflict.
Kiev’s Orthodox patriarch calls for dialogue, ‘forgiveness’ (AFP) The head of the Kiev-based Ukrainian Orthodox Church has called on Russian Patriarch Kirill to end “confrontation” between the two institutions for the sake of the faithful amid a rumbling conflict between Kiev and rebels...
Putin hopes Russian Orthodox Church will contribute to Syria’s reconstruction (TASS) Russian President Vladimir Putin has voiced the hope that the Russian Orthodox Church, which enjoys tangible international authority, will be able to promote the process of postwar reconstruction in Syria. “I do hope that the Russian Orthodox Church, with reliance on its authority in the world, will be able to promote concerted action by the international community for the sake of Syria’s revival, for providing humanitarian assistance to its citizens and for restoring its ruined cultural and spiritual centers,” Putin said...
Peace talks on Syria extended two weeks (United Nations) Previewing what he said will be “not just a normal round of talks,” Staffan de Mistura, the United Nations Special Envoy for Syria, insisted Thursday there should be no preconditions heading into the current round of discussions aimed at resolving the over six-year-long Syrian conflict that has resulted in immense human suffering...
Pope blesses Interreligious and Ecumenical Meeting for Peace (Vatican Radio) The meeting, which saw the participation of representatives of different faiths, took place on the second day of the Pope’s Apostolic Journey to Bangladesh. The 16 Rohingya — 12 men, two women and two young girls — traveled to Dhaka from Cox’s Bazar, the district bordering Myanmar where refugee camps are overflowing with more than 620,000 Rohingya who have fled violence in Myanmar. One by one, each one of the refugees approached the Pope at the end of the event and through the aid of an interpreter told him their stories and their experiences...
Syrian refugee uses musical talent (UNHCR) Three days a week, the bustle of daily life in one corner of Jordan’s remote Azraq refugee camp is drowned out by the driving beat of a traditional “doumbek” drum, loudly accompanied by two dozen singing and clapping children. Leading this joyful ensemble is 45-year-old Syrian refugee Ehsan Al Khalili, his hands a well-practiced blur of movement across the drum skin. His music class is aimed at children with disabilities living in the camp, but is open to all and hugely popular, judging by how quickly the plastic chairs in front of him fill up at the start of each session...
30 November 2017
An icon of apostles and brothers Sts. Peter and Andrew is pictured on a wall at the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity at the Vatican The icon was given by Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople to Pope Paul VI in 1964. Sts. Peter and Andrew are considered patrons of the Roman and Orthodox churches. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
When I worked for what is now known as the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, I often had to travel from Geneva, Switzerland, to Rome for meetings at the main office of the Secretariat. In the main meeting room, I could not help but notice the icon above, which hung on the wall. It always fascinated me. It shows the brothers, Sts. Peter and Andrew, embracing. There is a Greek inscription which reads: “The Holy Apostle Brothers.” Next to Peter are the words: Peter, the koryphaios (“leader, head”) and next to Andrew are the words: Andrew, the prtokltos (“first called”). Andrew is the “first called” because he was the first of the Apostles called by Jesus (John 1:40).
I later learned that the icon was a gift of Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople to Pope Paul VI as a remembrance of their meeting in the Holy Land in January 1964 — the first between a pope and a patriarch of Constantinople in well over a thousand years.
But the icon is more than merely a remembrance of the meeting. It has powerful symbolic importance — and it is especially significant today, the Feast of St. Andrew.
Peter is, of course, the patron saint of Rome. He and Paul were martyred in Rome and the bishop of Rome is the successor of St. Peter.
Andrew, however, is revered as the patron saint of Byzantium — and the patriarch of Constantinople is his successor. In a real sense, the icon represents not only Peter and Andrew embracing, nor even just Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras; it represents the hoped-for unity between the Eastern and Western Churches.
Although in the icon the apostles are embracing, the relationship between their successors has not always been so warm. In 1054 the bishop of Rome and the patriarch of Constantinople excommunicated each other and began the Great Schism which has divided the Eastern and Western churches for almost a thousand years.
The meeting of Paul VI and Athenagoros began a change in the relations between the churches. In 1965 each of the leaders revoked the anathemas (excommunications) of 1054. Peter and Andrew were beginning the road to reconciliation. Since that time there have been great advances toward unity between the two churches, although admittedly there are still problems to be solved.
One of the most beautiful outcomes of the initial encounter of pope and patriarch was an annual exchange of visits. On 29 June, the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, patrons of Rome, the Phanar, the seat of the Ecumenical Patriarch, sends a high level delegation to celebrate the feast with the Pope in Rome. I was privileged to be at the celebration at St. Peter’s Basilica in 1995 when the patriarch himself attended. Likewise, on 30 November, the feast of St. Andrew, patron of Byzantium, the Holy See sends a high-level delegation to the Phanar to join in the celebration. Thus, twice a year, on 29 June and 30 November, two churches — represented by the brothers Peter and Andrew — work together to restore the bonds of love and communion between them after over a thousand years of estrangement.
The Patriarchs of Constantinople have personally taken part in the celebrations in Rome at least three times (1995, 2004, 2008) while Pope John Paul II took part in the celebrations at the Phanar (1979), as did Pope Benedict XVI (2006) and Pope Francis (2014). When the pope or patriarch is unable to attend, a high-level delegation is sent.
Since the Feast of St. Andrew comes during a busy time in the West — during the season of Advent, when Catholic parishes and homes throughout the world have begun preparing for Christmas — it can be easy to overlook this day. But we shouldn’t. It speaks to a deep and prayerful yearning that goes back to the very words of Christ, “that all may be one.”
We at CNEWA collaborate closely with our brothers and sisters in the Orthodox Churches — supporting and celebrating any actions which can bring our two Churches closer together — and we join our prayers this day with all work diligently for Christian unity.
Pope Francis’s 2017 Message to Patriarch Bartholomew
30 November 2017
A Syrian refugee child greets a visitor at the community center in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. The center was founded by Sister Micheline Lattouff and is administered by the Sisters of the Good Shepherd. Read more about Sister Micheline here and discover her remarkable ministry to refugees in the Spring 2014 edition of ONE. (photo: John E. Kozar)
30 November 2017
Dramatic drone footage from October reveals the devastation of Raqqa, Syria. A new report states the U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria led to more than 800 civilian deaths over three years.
U.S.-led coalition has killed more than 800 in Syria, Iraq (Voice of America) The U.S.-led coalition targeting the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq said Thursday its airstrikes have killed 801 civilians since late 2014. The figures came in the coalition's latest monthly statement about its investigations into reports of possible civilian casualties resulting from the strikes...
Syrians on Jordan’s border trapped in power struggle (Al Monitor) Stranded along Jordan’s northeastern border with Syria at Rukban for nearly two years, Mohammad Khader al-Mahya lives in misery. Some 50,000 Syrians live in a 3-year-old desert encampment, hundreds of miles from the nearest city and cut off from international aid workers in a closed military zone...
Study: Ethiopia is an outlier of Orthodoxy (Pew Research Center) Ethiopia has the largest Orthodox Christian population outside Europe, and, by many measures, Orthodox Ethiopians have much higher levels of religious commitment than do Orthodox Christians in the faith’s heartland of Central and Eastern Europe...
Report: Armenia repeatedly violates ceasefire with Azerbaijan (APA) Armenia’s armed forces have 127 times violated the ceasefire along the line of contact between Azerbaijani and Armenian troops over the past 24 hours, the Azerbaijani Defence Ministry told APA on 30 November...
Pope’s message to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis is encouraging Catholics and Orthodox not only to further theological dialogue between them, but also to promote joint initiatives on issues such as caring for the environment, peaceful coexistence among peoples and the presence of Christians in the Middle East, without waiting for the day of full and visible communion...
29 November 2017
Priests lead the community in prayer during a mountaintop funeral in Aiga, Ethiopia.
(photo: John E. Kozar)
Last year, CNEWA’s president, Msgr. John E. Kozar, paid a pastoral visit to Ethiopia, and shared some of his impressions in words and pictures in the magazine.
He described one particularly memorable moment:
The powerful faith of these suffering souls endures in these most difficult of times. Their participation in the faith life of the church in their remote villages was evident at liturgical celebrations. One such celebration was a mountaintop funeral liturgy in Aiga. Some 500 mountain dwellers from far and wide came to pray for the eternal reward of the departed. Not only did some of them walk over dangerous mountains footpaths — some traveling for up to seven hours each way — but they carried the body on their shoulders for about ten kilometers, or six miles.
I was also privileged to visit some of the poor in their mountain homes. With a gentle traditional greeting — kissing my hands — they warmly welcomed us into their homes and immediately offered us their provisions for the day: bread, goat’s milk and coffee. For them, it was an honor to have a priest visit them. For me, it was an honor to be in the presence of holy people. I noticed that the cross was prominent, both in their homes and around their necks.
Read more and see more pictures here.
29 November 2017
A rebel fighter helps an elderly Syrian refugee return to Syria after crossing the Jordanian border. Reports indicate a small number of refugees are returning to Syria from camps in Jordan.
(photo: Mohamad Abazeed/AFP/Getty Images)
Lebanon’s president says Hariri to remain as prime minister (Reuters) Lebanese President Michel Aoun said that Saad al-Hariri will “certainly” remain prime minister and Lebanon’s political crisis will be resolved in a few days, an Italian newspaper reported on Wednesday...
More refugees returning to Syria from Jordan (AlBawaba.com) The number of Syrian refugees returning voluntarily to Syria from Jordan has been “slightly” rising since a tripartite agreement to back a ceasefire in southwest Syria went into effect early July. In October, there were some 750 returns from Jordan to Syria, compared with 1,078 voluntary returns in September, 1,203 in August and about 631 in July...
Stirrings of hope in Gaza (The Independent) Over recent weeks the early signs that Gaza’s isolation may finally be coming to an end has given a wary and weary civilian population the stirrings of hope. 1 December will be another key milestone in a negotiation process launched in mid-October by the two main Palestinian political parties — Fatah and Hamas — aimed at returning the Palestinian Authority (PA), led by Mahmoud Abbas, to Gaza after a 10-year absence...
Ukraine thanks Israel for support in Crimea (The Jerusalem Post) Over a busy two-day visit to Israel, Ukraine Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin stressed the importance of Jerusalem’s support in international forums regarding Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the conflict in the Donbass. He also gave priority to discussions about economic relations between Israel and Ukraine...
What archeology is revealing about the tomb of Jesus (National Geographic) Over the centuries, Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre has suffered violent attacks, fires, and earthquakes. It was totally destroyed in 1009 and subsequently rebuilt, leading modern scholars to question whether it could possibly be the site identified as the burial place of Christ by a delegation sent from Rome some 17 centuries ago. Now the results of scientific tests provided to National Geographic appear to confirm that the remains of a limestone cave enshrined within the church are remnants of the tomb located by the ancient Romans...
Vatican issues stamps featuring Pope Francis at Armenian Genocide Memorial (The Armenian Weekly) Designed by Daniela Longo, the stamp depicts Pope Francis at the Armenian Genocide Memorial Complex (Tsitsernakaberd), which he visited on 25 June. The pope was accompanied by the Catholicos of All Armenians, His Holiness Karekin II, as well as Armenian President Serge Sarkisian and First Lady Rita Sarkisian...
28 November 2017
Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, seen in this photograph from October 2016 during a visit to CNEWA’s New York office, is urging President Trump to give aid to persecuted Iraqi Christians.
During this week devoted to raising awareness about persecuted Christians in the Middle East, a leading voice for Christians there is speaking out, in an interview with AFP:
With ISIS routed at last, one of the oldest Christian communities in the Middle East has a chance to reoccupy its ancestral towns.
But the Chaldean and Syriac people of the Nineveh plain in Iraq need support to rebuild to their homes and are still anxious that fighting will return.
Bashar Warda, the Chaldean Archbishop of Erbil, hopes President Donald Trump’s administration will redirect US aid to his persecuted people.
And, in an interview in Washington with AFP, he suggested Christians could help quell tensions on frontline between Iraqi and Kurdish forces.
US Vice President Mike Pence and the ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, have suggested redirecting funds from UN aid agencies to Christian charities.
But with almost 20,000 Iraqi Christian families — around 100,000 people — driven from their homes, the bishop is calling for urgent action.
“This is a just case,” he told AFP of his people. “They are persecuted, they are marginalized and they are in need.”
Read the full story here.
Iraq’s Archbishop Warda: ‘Persecution Started on Good Friday’
28 November 2017
This little girl in Lebanon reminded us what generosity is all about — offering to share what little she had with a visitor. (photo: Philip W. Eubanks)
This #GivingTuesday is a special one for me. I spent some time this year reviewing our work on a pastoral visit in Lebanon and near the Syrian border. I saw firsthand the children we serve, many of whom — thanks to the local schools we support — are given not just an education and a safe place to better their future but also a warm meal they might not have had otherwise.
I wrote about one of these schools in particular in March:
“Run jointly by the Marist and Lasallian Brothers at the request of Pope Francis for congregations to join together to tackle the challenges facing refugees, [the Fratelli Association] hosts 270 Syrian students, both Muslim and Christian. We met the dynamic Brother Andres Gutierrez, who oversees the school along with Brother Miquel Cubeles, a Marist from Barcelona. [...] Brother Andres explained that he had rebuilt the school when he arrived, as the structure had sat abandoned for over 25 years prior to his arrival. The school has been open for just a year, and in that time they’ve completed several classrooms, a kitchen, a residence for the brothers and a computer lab. As it focuses on acclimating refugee students to the Lebanese curriculum, which is taught in French and English as opposed to the Arabic Syrian students are used to, the school will function as a remedial program of sorts, easing students into the Lebanese school system to improve their likelihood of success.”
As we visited during the lunch hour, the children were enjoying manoushe, a kind of Lebanese pizza, along with chips and a drink. One little girl, noticing I had nothing to eat, approached me and offered me one of her chips. I was caught entirely off-guard: a little girl who likely knew what it is to have nothing to eat wanted to make sure she shared what little she had.
As it says in the Gospel of Luke, “to whom much has been given, much will be required; and... to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.” What of those to whom almost nothing has been given, even those to whom much has been taken from them, and yet they still give eagerly the little they have? When I come into our office hoping to give back — to give of my time and from my heart — I do so with that little girl in mind.
So, this #GivingTuesday is, indeed, a special one for me, because I know how much every gift is appreciated and that what’s shared from your heart is shared also in the actions, prayers, witness, and love of all those children of God we serve.
Whether in Lebanon or elsewhere among CNEWA’s global family, we hope you’ll help us make this #GivingTuesday one of sharing, whether you’re sharing our blog, our #GivingTuesday video, sharing your prayers and intentions, or sharing from your pocketbook. Thank you for helping us #filltheirplates, hopefully to overflow in abundance.
To make a gift, visit this link. Thank you!
28 November 2017
UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura addresses the media as he leaves a hotel following talks with Syria’s opposition delegation, on 28 November in Geneva.
(photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images)
New Syria talks open in Geneva (Al Jazeera) Syria’s government and opposition will start a new round of UN-brokered talks in Geneva on Tuesday, but there is little optimism for progress towards ending the seven-year conflict. After months of stalemate, the talks are expected to focus primarily on a new constitution and elections, two of the four so-called “baskets” of reforms laid out by the United Nations for a political settlement to the Syria crisis...
In Iraq, Kirkuk residents nervous as power turns over again (NPR) Power has shifted again in one of Iraq’s most ancient and pivotal cities — Kirkuk. Kurds have recently been on top there but now Arab leaders are in charge and residents are tense as they look ahead...
Egypt says troops killed 14 militants after mosque massacre (AP) Egyptian authorities say security forces have killed at least 14 Islamic militants in Sinai and an adjacent Suez Canal province following the massacre at a village mosque in the northern part of the peninsula last week that killed 305 people...
Indian Catholics sorry papal invitation never came through (CNS) As Pope Francis began his tour to Myanmar and Bangladesh, Catholics in neighboring India regret missing a chance to meet him in their homeland, nostalgically recalling past papal visits, reported ucanews.com...
Delegation of Ethiopian Orthodox Church visits Moscow (The Ethiopian Herald) The delegation of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church went to Moscow with a 4-day working visit at the invitation of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia.The visit was preceded by the message from His Holiness Patriarch Abba Mathias to Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church expressing interest in reestablishing active cooperation that existed between two sisterly Churches earlier...
Russian church investigates czar’s killing in 1918 (AP) A Russian Orthodox Church panel looking into the 1918 killing of Russia’s last czar and his family says it’s investigating whether it was a ritual murder — a statement that has angered Jewish groups. Father Tikhon Shevkunov, the Orthodox bishop heading the panel, said after Monday’s session that “a large share of the church commission members have no doubts that the murder was ritual.” A representative of Russia’s state investigative agency said it will also probe the theory...