28 December 2017
Christians in Baghdad, Iraq, celebrate Christmas after Mass on 25 December. Catholic patriarchs of the Middle East called for peace, security, prayer and solidarity at Christmastime.
(photo: CNS/Ali Abbas, EPA)
Catholic patriarchs of the Middle East — with hope, despite uncertainty in the region — called for peace, security, prayer and solidarity at Christmastime.
From Baghdad, Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Sako expressed hope for a “new phase” for his country, that the recent triumph over the Islamic State and the termination of terrorist control of Mosul and other Iraqi cities is a step toward security and stability.
But the liberation of those areas, he said, requires the Iraqi government to work to facilitate “the return of Christians to their homes and properties, preserving their rights as indigenous citizens, recognizing their culture, civilization and heritage as an essential part of Iraq’s history and preventing demographic changes in their historical geographic areas.”
Patriarch Sako reiterated that before the American-led invasion of 2003, there were more than 1.5 million Christians in Iraq. More than half of that Christian population has migrated due to discrimination, threats, abductions and the expulsion from their homes in Ninevah Plain by the Islamic State in 2014, he said.
“This is our homeland and we insist (we) remain here,” he said.
He called for unity among Iraqi Christians as well as for them to work “hand in hand with their fellow Muslims.” The future, Patriarch Sako said, “cannot be built without tolerance and coexistence.”
“So, let us move to the path of hope together,” Patriarch Sako said.
“In regard to Muslims, an honest dialogue is a must, to understand the truth of each side and accept it,” he said.
Alluding to U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the Chaldean patriarch urged Christians “to stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people, who have been suffering from injustice and displacement for 70 years.” He also called on them “to pray for Jerusalem to remain a holy city for Christians, Muslims and Jews.”
In his Christmas message, Lebanese Cardinal Bechara Rai, Maronite patriarch, also touched upon Trump's declaration regarding Jerusalem.
“We categorically reject it because it is an unjust and hostile decision toward Christianity and Islam, and of the Palestinian people in particular,” Cardinal Rai said. He said the decision demolished peace negotiations and could “ignite a new uprising and even war, God forbid.”
Citing World Bank studies, Cardinal Rai noted that one-third of the Lebanese people remain below the poverty level. Furthermore, the presence of 1 million displaced Syrians and hundreds of Iraqis as well as half a million Palestinian refugees is “compounding the needs of the Lebanese.”
Cardinal Rai called upon the Prince of Peace to protect Lebanon and “this growing (Middle East) region where Christianity originated, and to spread the culture of love, brotherhood and peace.”
Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan noted that Lebanon, “the only country where all citizens enjoy the best possible liberty and equality,” had faced numerous trials in 2017. In his Christmas message from the patriarchate in Beirut, he thanked God that the Lebanese army dispelled terrorist groups that were threatening Lebanon’s “very existence.”
“During this joyful season, our thoughts and prayers will particularly go to our brothers and sisters in Syria and Iraq, who have been suffering for long, because of their steadfast faithfulness to the Gospel,” Patriarch Younan said.
“Their presence as Christian minority that endured every kind of hardship is essential to the rebirth of their respective countries.”
He added that “there is still a lot to do that would inspire confidence to our eradicated and exhausted community in order to return to their ancestral land” in Syria and Iraq.
“Economic sanctions on Syria must be lifted,” the Syriac Catholic patriarch said. The sanctions, he said, “are like crimes against humanity, because they target the most vulnerable segments of a nation.”
Melkite Catholic Patriarch Joseph Absi, in a message from the patriarchate in Damascus, Syria, noted that “as the various currents of the world invade the spirit of the people” and “as the land of the East is trampled by war and displacement,” the faithful sometimes wonder about the presence of God “and his role in our lives.”
But Patriarch Absi offered hope and reassurance in his message that “Christmas comes, the Divine Incarnation, to reveal to us that God’s hand appears and accompanies us, especially in the difficult stages of our lives.”
28 December 2017
In Lviv, Sisters Servants of Mary Immaculate care for a bedridden sister who once served the underground church. Read more about how this church is growing, thanks to the enduring faith of its people, in the December 2017 edition of ONE. (photo: John E. Kozar/CNEWA)
28 December 2017
Chaldean Christians in Mosul, Iraq, attend Christmas Mass at St. Paul Cathedral on 24 December.
(photo: CNS/Amar Salih, EPA)
Pope appeals for peace in Holy Land (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis reaffirmed his commitment to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process on Monday, Christmas Day, 2017, and called for an end to war and injustice everywhere, in the name of Our Lord, “Prince of Peace” and reconciler of humanity to God the Father. The Pope made his remarks ahead of the urbi et orbi benediction — the traditional blessing given “the city and to the world” on Christmas Day and on other special days throughout the year...
Cardinal: victims of 2008 riot in India are ‘martyrs’ (Vatican Radio) The violence that lasted for nearly four months in 2008 against Christians in Kandhamal District of Odisha state resulted in the loss of 100 lives and left more than 56,000 people homeless. The survivors are facing continual denial of justice to them in the numerous cases pending before the law courts. But the Archdiocese of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar, to which the victims belonged to, is preparing to initiate the sainthood cause of those killed...
Critically ill children evacuated from Syria (Al Jazeera) Aid agencies are evacuating critically ill Syrians from Eastern Ghouta, an area home to around 400,000 people that has been under government siege since 2013. Children comprise around half of the population in one of the last rebel strongholds in the country, where medical supplies and food have been in short supply...
U.S.: ISIS down to fewer than 1,000 fighters in Iraq, Syria (Reuters) Fewer than 1,000 Islamic State fighters remain in Iraq and Syria, the United States-led international coalition fighting the hardline Sunni militant group said on Wednesday, a third of the estimated figure only three weeks ago...
Christians from Iraq celebrate Christmas in America (Chicago Tribune) A year ago, Milad Homo feared his family never would be able to celebrate Christmas in America. The Assyrian Christians had waited more than three years for a chance to emigrate from Turkey, where they had fled after Homo was threatened by a carload of men in black hoods as the family left a Baghdad church. Homo, his wife and two daughters had left all but a few possessions behind in Iraq, struggling to get by in a Turkish city packed with fellow refugees while praying they could someday join his mother, sisters and brothers in Chicago’s tight-knit Assyrian community...
Russian Orthodox biker priests pose for 2018 calendar (The Moscow Times) Russia’s Motorcycle Community of Orthodox Clergy has released a calendar marrying piety with a love for motorcycles in time for the holiday season. The 2018 calendar is titled “Thy Ways” and features priests posing next to their bikes...
22 December 2017
Here’s an early Christmas gift we’re delighted to unwrap for you: the latest edition of CNEWA’s award-winning magazine, ONE.
You can watch Msgr. Kozar’s video preview above. And you can read our digital version right here.
This edition has a rich trove of compelling stories, profiles and photographs. You can visit Ukraine and meet the devoted priests and lay people nurturing the church and helping it grow, often under surprising and very modest circumstances. You can discover the inspiring ways young Ethiopians are putting down roots and learning there’s no place like home. And you can meet a man some call the “Archbishop of Jesus” and hear his account of the challenges and joys of leading the flock in Galilee.
All this, plus insights from a priest in India — a man of the poor, serving the poor — and Msgr. Kozar reflecting on the enduring faith of Ukraine — while sharing his own poignant photographs.
We hope you enjoy this edition of ONE — and send it along to you with our prayers, gratitude and good wishes for the Christmas season and the new year to come.
22 December 2017
The Christmas tree is seen after a lighting ceremony in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican
on 7 December. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Earlier this month, Pope Francis made special mention of the Christmas tree standing in St. Peter’s Square and underscored its symbolic significance:
The centerpiece of the Vatican’s Christmas holiday decorations is the towering 92-foot spruce tree.
Measuring nearly 33 feet in diameter, the tree was donated by the Archdiocese of Elk, Poland, and transported to the Vatican on a flatbed truck traveling over 1,240 miles across central Europe.
Thanking the members of the Polish delegation, the pope said the tree’s soaring height “motivates us to reach out ‘toward the highest gifts’” and to rise above the clouds to experience “how beautiful and joyful it is to be immersed in the light of Christ.”
“The tree, which comes from Poland this year, is a sign of the faith of that people who, also with this gesture, wanted to express their fidelity to the see of Peter,” the pope said.
22 December 2017
Iraqis shop for Christmas decorations in Baghdad on 16 December. Many Christians in northern Iraq are celebrating their first Christmas since the region’s liberation from ISIS.
(photo: Sabah Arar/AFP/Getty Images)
Protester killed during demonstration in Gaza (Times of Israel) A Palestinian protester was killed during a violent demonstration along the Gaza Strip’s security fence on Friday, as thousands more took part in riots in the coastal enclave and across the West Bank for the third straight week following US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital...
Christmas returns to Qaraqosh (The New York Times) For more than two years, 300 militia fighters waited to retake from the Islamic State the Iraqi city of Qaraqosh, the country’s largest Christian enclave. Then, in October of last year, the photographer Quentin Bruno accompanied these civilians turned soldiers as they approached the city that was once home to 50,000 people. He remembered their excitement, as well as the mortars that rained down upon them, a few days after the Iraqi Army had launched the Battle of Mosul...
Christians ready for Christmas in Iraq (National Catholic Register) In their villages on the Nineveh Plain, Iraq’s Christians are celebrating their first Christmas since the region’s liberation from the Islamic State (ISIS). In the little town of Qaraqosh (also known as Baghdida), there will be no flocks of sheep grazing, or cows lowing, as in years past, on the holy night of Christ’s birth — just the sound of Christians singing the Divine Liturgy at midnight in their burned churches...
In Syria this Christmas, churches demined but deserted (Times of Israel) Deminers are now giving the houses of worship one last sweep to make them safe, but they remain in a terrible state and church officials say they will not hold traditional Christmas services this year. The Armenian Catholic Church of the Martyrs in Raqqa’s city center is barely recognizable, the cross atop its clock tower destroyed by jihadists years ago...
Why Christians are feeling nervous this Christmas in India (The Indian Times) As the countdown to Christmas is underway, the last few days have seen some stray attacks against the festival from fringe right wing outfits in three north Indian states. The incidents have unnerved the minority community, prompting Cardinal Baselios Cleemis, President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), the apex decision making body of the Catholic Church in the country, to comment that the community was “losing confidence in the government”...
Moscow approves huge statue of patriarch (The Moscow Times) The head of the Russian Orthodox Church will be memorialized in a 4-meter (13-foot) statue in the center of Moscow along with 15 other church figures. Patriarch Kirill, a staunch supporter of President Vladimir Putin, has raised eyebrows during his eight-year tenure for sporting pricey watches, sanctioning Russia’s campaign in the Syrian war and allegedly dealing in alcohol and tobacco imports in the 1990s...
New book traces history of Bethlehem (The New York Times) Telling the story of a city is a bold undertaking — an act, depending on the city, that entails parsing myth and historical accounts, archaeological digs and theological teachings, to distill the very essence of a place. Nicholas Blincoe takes on this mission with verve in his new book, “Bethlehem,” unveiling the history of “the most famous little town in the world,” a place whose associations have long existed in the sociocultural zeitgeist. It is the supposed birthplace of Jesus; a town known for dissent in the face of invading forces; the site of much holiness and bloodshed...
21 December 2017
Our friends at Caritas Georgia sent us the above video, with this warm message of the season:
“Charity is not about ‘giving to’ — Charity is about ‘being with.” Thank you for being with us! Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!”
Thank you, Caritas — and thanks to all our friends and donors from around the world who make it possible for us to “be with” Caritas and the people of Georgia when they need us!
21 December 2017
The adoration of the Magi is depicted in this icon by artist Ayman Fayez. The observance and celebration of Christmas vary around the world, with some places putting greater emphasis on Epiphany, and the visit of the Three Kings. (photo: CNS/Gregory A. Shemitz)
Christmas is the most beloved feast in the Christian calendar. We see this again and again throughout the world CNEWA serves, with varying traditions and customs in different regions. This is true even if it is not the most important feast — which is, of course, Easter.
It’s interesting to compare and contrast these two feasts and how they are observed.
Christmas and Easter differ in many interesting ways, beginning with the date.The entire church year revolves around Easter, which is the first Sunday after the first full moon of spring. Although it is always a Sunday, it can occur on any date between the first and second full moon of spring. The reason for this is that it is known that Jesus died on Friday the 13 or 14 of Nisan in the Jewish calendar. Christmas, on the other hand, is always on the 25th of December. The date for Christmas, on the other hand, is arbitrary, since nowhere in the Bible is it mentioned on which day or even month Jesus was born. The December date for Christmas was probably chosen to replace the Roman Saturnalia and other pagan celebrations which greeted the “return” of the invincible sun (sol invictus) after the winter solstice.
The feasts also differ in their liturgical observance. The liturgies of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter Vigil are unique and occur only once a year, but the liturgy at Christmas is really no different from that of any major feast with its own readings and prayers.
Then there are scriptural differences. The events of Holy Week and Easter are recounted in each of the four Gospels and echo throughout the entire New Testament. The conception and birth of Jesus, however, appear only in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke and are quite different from each other.
Matthew, for example, has the story about the visit of the Magi, the massacre of the innocent children and the flight into Egypt. This Gospel also mentions that the Magi visited the Holy Family in a house (ὀικία Matthew 2:11).
Luke, on the other hand, makes no mention of the Magi, the massacre or the flight into Egypt. For Luke, the fact that Jesus is lying in a manger (φάτνη Luke 2:7, 12) is a “sign” to the shepherds in the field at the time of the birth.
Perhaps because of the varying accounts in the Gospels, Christmas is much more open to creative expression and observance. That is perhaps one reason why it is celebrated so differently around the world. In some parts of the Western Church the emphasis is strongly on 25 December; in other parts of the West, the focus is placed on the Epiphany, the feast of “Three Kings.” But were there really just three? Matthew does not say how many Magi visited the Holy Family — over the centuries, the tradition has been as high as fourteen! — but, the number three has become standard for the simple reason that there were three gifts. No one came empty-handed.
The very “openness” of Christmas to attract to itself new and different traditions is sometimes lamented and even condemned. While things certainly can get out of hand, for the most part, the “adaptability” of Christmas is, I believe, very much in line with what this great feast is about.
Christmas is the celebration of our belief that the Eternal Word of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, became human, i.e. “one (tested) like us in all things but sin” (Hebrews 4:15). Over the centuries some Christians have attempted to deny the full humanity of Jesus and hold that he only “appeared to be human.” The Church has always rejected that but has not always appreciated its full meaning. As the feast celebrating the humanity of the Word of God, Christmas shares in all those things which are human — diversity, adaptation, change, a certain unpredictability, even messiness. If Christmas is, in a sense, the most physical and bodily feast of the Christian calendar, that is because it is supposed to be precisely that — the celebration that God has taken on our nature, our physicality in all things but sin.
The Eternal Word was made flesh — and that is what Christmas is about.
21 December 2017
Children dressed in Santa Claus costumes sit and sleep inside a classroom before participating in Christmas celebrations on 20 December at a school in Chandigarh, India.
(photo: CNS/Ajay Verma, Reuters)
21 December 2017
A Palestinian throws a stone at Israeli forces near Ramallah, West Bank, during a 20 December protest against U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. English and Welsh bishops have expressed their solidarity to Christians in the Middle East following President Trump’s move. (photo: CNS/Goran Tomasevic, Reuters)
English and Welsh bishops appeal for action on Jerusalem (Vatican Radio) The Catholic Bishops of England and Wales have expressed their solidarity to local Churches in Jerusalem and to all Christians in the Middle East following the US President’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. In a letter signed by the Archbishop of Westminster the bishops say they “count themselves among those who ‘love Jerusalem’ and ‘have every will to work and make it a land and a city of peace, life and dignity for all its inhabitants’...”
UN urges cooperation to make migration safer (Vatican Radio) The chief of the United Nations has called for solidarity with migrants whose rights need to be protected and urged for cooperation in managing migration to ensure its benefits are most widely distributed...
Security increased in Egypt for Christmas services (The Christian Post) As many as 230,000 security forces are expected to guard Christmas celebrations around Egypt next week, given the massive church and mosque bombings the country suffered earlier this year. “Holidays and vacations were canceled for security personnel and officers at all security directorates across the country,” security sources told Middle East News Agency...
Christmas in Kerala (The Hindu) Over the years, Christmas has become the most widely accepted religious celebration after Onam in Kerala. Most families, whether or not they believed in the story of Christ, invariably brought home a star at the onset of December. And then the Christmas cake...
Ultra-Orthodox woman in Jerusalem gives birth to 20th child (Times of Israel) An expectant woman who arrived at Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem to give birth earlier this week astounded staff when she revealed that the baby would be her 20th child. The ultra-Orthodox woman, 42, was from the Mea Shearim neighborhood of Jerusalem, the hospital said in a statement Wednesday...
Gravity-defying villagers risk lives for Christmas trees in Georgia (National Geographic) The forested valleys of Racha could be where your Christmas tree comes from. Every year, hundreds of men, women, and children from the impoverished villages of this mountainous region risk their lives to climb more than a hundred feet into the crowns of Abies nordmanniana fir trees and collect the cones, which supply seeds to Christmas tree growers in Europe...