18 January 2018
Pope Francis walks with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople at Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre on 25 May 2014, the 50th anniversary of the historic meeting between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras. (photo: CNS/Abir Sultan, EPA)
One hundred ten years ago today (18 January 1908) the first Week of Prayer for Christian Unity was observed. Founded as the Church Unity Octave by the Rev. Paul Wattson, and initially observed only by the Friars and Sisters of the Atonement, the week was dedicated to prayer for the unity of a divided Christianity.
But just eight years later, in 1916, Pope Benedict XV extended the observance of the Week of Prayer to the entire Catholic Church.
Half a century later, with the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church committed itself fully to the ecumenical movement, the work of restoring unity between Christians.
In writing about this year’s observance of the Week of Prayer, I would like to reflect on some of results it has accomplished. Happily, these correspond to the work and mission of CNEWA, of which Father Paul was a co-founder.
Father Paul was always fascinated by the Churches of the East — both Catholic and Orthodox. After World War I Christians in the Middle East suffered greatly. In addition to the expected results of war — such as loss of life, destruction of property, famine and being driven from one’s home — something new was happening. In the lands which had been part of the defeated Ottoman Empire, Christians — Armenians, Assyrians and others — were targeted for extermination.
In a perverse way, the persecution of Christians was “ecumenical.” It made no difference if one were Orthodox or Catholic, all Christians were slated for extermination. The persecutors ironically grasped the unity between Christians better than did the Christians themselves.
In this situation, Father Paul saw CNEWA as a way to help Christians in the Middle East survive. It came at a moment of great division. In the early 20th century, relations between the Catholic and Orthodox churches were far from good. At the time of the first observance of the Week of Prayer, Orthodox and Catholic Churches in the Middle East — separated since 1054 by mutual excommunications — barely communicated and deeply distrusted each other.
But from that period of hostility and division, what has been achieved in the last 110 years through prayer and dialogue is truly remarkable — and, even, inspiring.
One of the most amazing changes since 1908 has been in relations between the Catholic and Orthodox churches. On an institutional level, Vatican II set the Catholic Church on a path of dialogue with the Orthodox churches. The encounter between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras in the Holy Land on 6 January 1964 began a tradition of genuine friendship between the Bishop of Rome and the Patriarch of Constantinople. A year after the encounter in the Holy Land, on 7 December 1965, Pope Paul VI in Rome and Patriarch Athenagoras in Constantinople solemnly proclaimed that the mutual excommunications of 1054 were rescinded.
This work has born abundant good fruit. The Holy See and the Phanar (the seat of the Patriarch of Constantinople) exchange high level visits twice a year. Catholic and Orthodox theologians work together and meet regularly, attempting to overcome theological differences between the two churches.
Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew, who can be described as friends, have worked together on issues such as Christian responsibility for the planet. The pope’s encyclical Laudato Si’ on the environment was written with input from Orthodox theologians and both the pope and patriarch have spoken in unison about the importance of the issue.
In the Middle East, where CNEWA works, the situation for Christians has become dire. Both Catholic and Orthodox Christians face the real possibility of extinction in the lands where Christianity was born. Pope Francis speaks of “the ecumenism of blood” in which Christians find themselves thrown together, persecuted not because they are Orthodox or Catholic, but because they are all Christians. The experience in the Middle East has led the churches to a deep realization that what they have in common is far deeper than that which divides them.
As we begin the 110th observance of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, the challenges facing us are admittedly daunting. However, by reflecting on how things have changed since 1908 between Catholics and Orthodox (as well as Catholics and Protestants), we are filled with encouragement and hope.
There are signs that this annual Week of Prayer really has made a difference among those who call ourselves followers of Jesus Christ.
18 January 2018
Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas (L), Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb (C) and Pope Tawadros II, leader of Egypt's Orthodox Christians, attend a conference on Jerusalem in Cairo on 17 January 2018. Pope Francis was unable to attend the conference, but sent a message to the imam expressing his hopes and prayers for the region. (photo: Fayed El-Geziry/AFP/Getty Images)
Christians, Muslims and Jews who are sincere about their faith must be committed to protecting the special character of Jerusalem and to praying and working for peace in the Holy Land, Pope Francis wrote in a letter to the grand imam of Egypt’s al-Azhar University.
Only a special, internationally guaranteed statute on the status of Jerusalem “can preserve its identity and unique vocation as a place of peace,” the pope wrote. And only when the city’s “universal value” is recognized and protected can there be “a future of reconciliation and hope for the entire region.”
“This is the only aspiration of those who authentically profess themselves to be believers and who never tire of imploring with prayer a future of brotherhood for all,” Pope Francis wrote in the letter to Sheik Ahmad el-Tayeb, the grand imam.
El-Tayeb hosted a meeting 17 January with Christian and Muslim clerics and regional political leaders in reaction to U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision in December to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and to begin preparations to move the U.S. embassy there from Tel Aviv.
The sheik had invited Pope Francis to the meeting even though he knew the pope would be in Chile. Still, the pope said in his letter, “I assure you, I will not fail to continue praying to God for the cause of peace — a true, real peace.”
“In particular, I raise heartfelt prayers that leaders of nations and civil and religious authorities everywhere would work to prevent new spirals of tension and support every effort to make agreement, justice and security prevail for the populations of that blessed land that is so close to my heart,” the pope said in the letter, which was published 18 January by the Vatican.
Pope Francis repeated the Vatican’s long-standing position calling for renewed peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians to find a negotiated agreement that would guarantee both could live in peace within internationally recognized borders “with full respect for the particular nature of Jerusalem, whose significance goes beyond any consideration of territorial questions.”
18 January 2018
Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, chats with an elderly Palestinian woman on 17 January in the Beit Emmaus Home for the elderly and disabled in Qubeibeh, West Bank.
(photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)
President Trump denies U.S. embassy will move to Jerusalem by year’s end (Reuters) President Donald Trump denied on Wednesday that the planned relocation of the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem would take place within a year, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he expected the controversial move to happen by then. Reversing decades of U.S. policy, Trump in early December recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and set in motion the process of moving the embassy from Tel Aviv, imperiling Middle East peace efforts and upsetting the Arab world and Western allies alike...
Bishops hear range of feelings from Palestinians, Israelis (CNS) The entrance into this small Palestinian village encircled by the Israeli security barrier and settlements is through a series of bleak and darkened underpasses. But bishops from three continents said their 17 January meeting with students from the Bethlehem University nursing department satellite campus gave them a sense of hope...
Indian police guard Christian schools following threats (UCANews.com) Hundreds of policemen were deployed to guard two Catholic educational institutions in India’s Madhya Pradesh state this week amid alleged threats from Hindu hardliners. The move came as the Madhya Pradesh Catholic Diocesan Schools’ Association sought protection from the state high court for all its educational institutions following threats against them by Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the student body of the ruling pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party. Church officials say the group is trying to whip up hostility against the Christian institutions for not allowing its members onto their campuses to perform Hindu rites and other activities...
Warnings of fallout after U.S. freezes funding for Palestinian refugees (The Jordan Times) The UN agency for Palestinian refugees warned Wednesday it faced its worst funding crisis ever after the White House froze tens of millions of dollars in contributions, a move Palestinian leaders decried as cruel and blatantly biased...
ISIS continues to pose a threat in Iraq (AFP) Barely a month after Baghdad declared victory over the Islamic State group, the jihadists could still recapture areas of Iraq, especially near the border with Syria, experts and officials say...
U.S. plans open-ended military presence in Syria (BBC) The US will maintain an open-ended military presence in Syria to ensure the enduring defeat of the jihadist group Islamic State, counter Iranian influence, and help end the civil war. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said President Donald Trump did not want to “make the same mistakes” that were made in 2011, when US forces left Iraq...
Egypt’s president expresses ‘extreme concern’ with Ethiopia over Nile dam (AP) Egypt’s president on Thursday expressed his “extreme concern” to Ethiopia’s visiting prime minister over the lack of progress in talks on the impact of a massive upstream dam that Egypt fears could cut into its vital share of the Nile...
Armenians mark Christmas in Jerusalem (Public Radio of Armenia) The Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem, Nourhan Manougian, arrived on Thursday at Manager Square in Bethlehem heading a procession of Armenian clergy and notables ushering in the start of Armenian Christmas celebrations and the Feast of the Epiphany, WAFA reported. Roman Catholic Christians and other western denominations mark the feast using the Gregorian calendar, Orthodox Christians and most Armenian denominations celebrate the feast using the Julian calendar, while the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem marks Christmas and Epiphany together on 19 January...
17 January 2018
Sister Nigisti Desta. (photo: CNEWA)
Editor’s note: Today we begin a periodic series, “Stories from the Field,” first-person accounts of the impact CNEWA’s work is having around the world. Today we hear from Sister Nigisti Desta, who grew up in a CNEWA-supported orphanage in Ethiopia. Our regional director in Addis Ababa, Argaw Fantu, spoke with her recently and she shared with him this moving account of her life.
I was born in Mekele town, in northern Ethiopia’s Tigray region, in 1984. My mother is Aregash Kahesay. I was the third child born in my family, with four brothers. My father died when I was an infant, so I didn’t know him. Raising five children with no father was the biggest burden for my mother. Thus my mother sent my oldest brother and me to boarding school. My brother went to the boys’ boarding school in Dessie run by the Capuchin Brothers, while I went to the Kobo Orphanage run by Ursuline Sisters.
From grades 1-4, I attended Blessed Gebremichael Catholic School in Mekele. From 1996 to 2002, being at the orphanage with the sisters, I attended grades 5-12 in Kobo. While at the orphanage, I took not only academic classes, but also religious classes from the sisters. These became the cornerstones of my life. I learned how to do household chores and how to live in a community. What the sisters were doing for us — motherly care, showing love, fulfilling our needs — was very touching. I remember all these things. Sometimes, donations would arrive, and the sisters would use the money to buy shoes and clothes for us. They told us that there are supporters behind the scenes, especially CNEWA.
Over time I had a lot of positive observations on the services delivered by the sisters and the generosity of their hearts. I started pondering in my mind, thinking that “if the sisters dedicate their life and time to serve us orphaned and semi-orphaned children like this, why not me!? Why couldn’t I serve others in the future and be one of the sisters?” This thought grew within me. After completing my secondary education, I discerned my vocation and joined the same congregation.
When I asked the sisters to join their congregation, they accepted me immediately. In 2003, they sent me to Addis Ababa to begin my postulancy studies. I did my postulancy for two years and then spent two years in the novitiate. In 2006, I made my first vows and then was sent to Wolisso St. Luke Hospital and Nursing College to pursue my studies in nursing. I did that for three years. Upon graduating from Nursing College, I was assigned to serve in the clinic of Ursuline Sisters in Addis Ababa at a place called Gurd Shola. I served in this clinic for three years, from 2009 to 2012. While serving at the clinic, I got the opportunity to attend Health Officer Courses at Rift Valley College for four years and I earned my degree. Going forward, currently I am doing my second year medical studies at Hayat Medical College in Addis Ababa. It is a six-year course and, God willing, I will graduate in 2022.
Sister Nigisti Desta is shown receiving her degree from Rift Valley College in 2016. (photo: CNEWA)
With God’s will and guidance, together with the support of generous donors like CNEWA and the maternal care and love of the Ursuline sisters, upon completing my medical studies I would like to serve my congregation — and, in particular, the people of Kobo in the neighborhood where I grew up.
I know there are some girls who didn’t get the kinds of opportunities I have now. They need moral support and, if possible, material assistance to make their dreams real.
I am so grateful to CNEWA and its donors. Without their support, my life today as a religious sister working in health care would not have been possible.
For all your good deeds, may the good Lord reward you! I confidently say that I am the product of CNEWA’s support. Thank you so much. May God bless all of you. I keep you in my prayers.
17 January 2018
A worker clears some ground outside St. Thomas Church, which serves about 150 families in Palakkad, India. To read about A Day in the Life of a Priest in Kerala, check out the
December 2017 edition of ONE. (photo: Don Duncan)
17 January 2018
Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, is pictured in a 2016 photo at the Vatican. In an essay just published, the cardinal called on all Christian churches to undergo a conversion to a commitment to Christian unity. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Cardinal: Christians must convert to ecumenism (CNS) To be effective evangelizers, the Catholic Church and other Christian churches must constantly undergo their own conversion to a stronger commitment to Christian unity, said Cardinal Kurt Koch, the Vatican’s chief ecumenist. “So that the evangelizing task can be carried out in a credible way, the church itself continually needs a self-evangelization that includes conversion to the ecumenical search for Christian unity,” the Swiss cardinal wrote in the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano...
Russian Orthodox official calls for return to Julian calendar (Radio Free Europe) A senior Russian Orthodox Church official is calling for Russia to return back to its traditional Julian calendar that was used until February 1918. In a televised interview with church-affliliated Spas TV on 16 January, Aleksandr Shchipkov said the shift to the Gregorian calendar by the Bolsheviks a century ago was a bad idea...
Mediterranean leaders seek help with refugees (AP) The leaders of Cyprus, Greece and Jordan pledged a new partnership Tuesday with tighter cooperation on fighting terrorism, and rallied international support for countries hosting hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing the war in Syria...
India asked to establish universities for Christians (UCANews.com) India’s federal commission tasked with safeguarding religious minorities has called for the establishment of government-funded universities primarily for Christians. But not all Christians support the proposal. The National Commission for Minorities in its 13 January annual report said such an initiative would be in keeping with the already existing state-funded Aligarh Muslim University and Jamia Millia Islamia University...
Ethiopia: where living treasures thrive among ancient attractions (Business Day) Legends and mythology are as important as hard facts in Ethiopia, and the story goes that these churches were carved in mere days because the angels carried on the work at night after tired mortals put down their axes and chisels. Also on the pilgrim and tourist circuit is Aksum, another world heritage site where historians agree a great civilization was trading as early as 400BC. This is where the Queen of Sheba lived in the 10th century BC and is the resting place of the Ark of the Covenant, which contains the Ten Commandments God gave to Moses...
Orthodox charities prepare for ‘Souper Bowl Sunday’ (OCA.org) Sunday, 4 February 2018, has been designated “Souper Bowl of Caring Sunday” by International Orthodox Christian Charities [IOCC]. This year’s 20th annual Souper Bowl Sunday — it’s name reflects the anticipated Super Bowl on the same day — aims at rallying parish youth to champion feeding the poor and caring for those in need around the world...
16 January 2018
Melkite Greek Catholic Archbishop Georges Bacouni speaks with staff of a local Catholic school outside the Cathedral of Mar Elias in Haifa, Israel. Archbishop Georges recently wrote us a letter, reflecting on leading the church in the place where Christianity was born. This and more can be found in the December 2017 edition of ONE. (photo: Corinna Kern)
16 January 2018
Tags: Middle East Christians Holy Land Education Holy Land Christians Church
Iraqi boys from the Shabak community clear the rubble from around their home east of Mosul on 10 January. Read more about Shabaks here. (photo: Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images)
Minorities in northern Iraq look to future (AINA) Now that victory has been declared against the jihadists, Iraq’s ethnic and religious minorities — such as Christians, Yazidis and Shabaks — are taking the future into their own hands…
Caritas Lebanon: The refugee crisis is increasing, citizens increasingly poor (AsiaNews) The Syrian refugee emergency in Lebanon is “becoming increasingly serious” because it involves not only those who have fled the conflict, but “the same local population that is becoming increasingly impoverished,” the Rev. Paul Karam tells AsiaNews. The priest, who is also director of Caritas Lebanon, has been at the forefront of welcoming Syrian families fleeing the war for more than six years, and he is now warning of the danger of a “serious economic, political and social crisis” for the country. “The problem is increasingly widespread, and today we know that at least 28 percent of the Lebanese population lives below the poverty line…”
Palestinian leaders reconsider recognition of Israel (Al Jazeera) The Palestine Liberation Organization’s Central Council, the second-highest Palestinian decision-making body, has recommended revoking recognition of Israel until the latter recognizes the State of Palestine in its 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital…
Islamists vow to ‘kill more Copts’ in Egypt (Christian Today) Islamist militants in Egypt have vowed to ‘kill more Copts’ after shooting dead a 27-year-old Christian because he had a cross on his wrist. Bassem Herz Attalhah, also known as Haythem Shehata, was on his way home from work in El Arish, capital of North Sinai governorate, on Saturday evening when he was attacked by three armed militants, according to World Watch Monitor…
U.N. condemns twin suicide attacks in Baghdad (U.N. News Center) Strongly condemning two terrorist attacks in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has underscored the organization’s support for the country in its fight against terrorism…
Meeting with the representative of Al Imam Sayyed Ali Khamenei in Damascus (Syriac Patriarchate) His Holiness Patriarch Mor Ignatius Aphrem II received His Excellency Sayyed Abu’l Fadl Tabtabaei, representative of Al Imam Sayyed Ali Khamenei in Damascus, at the Patriarchate in Bab Touma, Damascus. His Excellency offered Christmas greetings to His Holiness, and the two discussed the historical role of Christians in Syria, Iran and throughout the Middle East…
Armenian parliament recognizes Yazidi genocide (Rudaw) The Armenian parliament voted to formally recognize and condemn the Yezidi genocide committed by ISIS…
12 January 2018
Tags: Syria Iraq Palestine Armenia United Nations
A Daughter of Charity embraces one of the children at St. Vincent de Paul School in Alexandria, Egypt. Learn more about the remarkable history of these remarkable women, and the work they are doing as Charity’s Daughters in the December 2017 edition of ONE. (photo: Roger Anis)
The current edition of ONE features a profile of the Daughters of Charity, who have been working Egypt for 170 years:
In 1844, seven Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul sailed from France to Alexandria at the request of Egypt’s ruler, Muhammad Ali. They were well received and given a house in Alexandria. From there, they opened a dispensary, where they started their service.
It was not common at this time in Egypt to see sisters outside of convents, serving the community. The locals called the dispensary Saba Banat (“Seven Daughters”). As the charity work grew, the street itself came to be known by that same name.
St. Vincent de Paul founded the Daughters of Charity in France in 1633 with the help of St. Louise de Marillac. Until that point, religious vocations among women often took the form of a contemplative life in relative seclusion; the founders of the Daughters of Charity, by contrast, encouraged the sisters to work outside their convent — to serve Christ in the persons of those poor or in need, through material and spiritual works of mercy. Today, the congregation has a presence in 93 countries around the world.
The first seven Daughters of Charity in Egypt in Alexandria were doctors and nurses, including specialists in ophthalmology.
When the French Suez Canal Company was digging the canal in the middle of the 19th century, the sisters went to work in nearby hospitals to care for workers. After the completion of the canal, they continued to work in governmental hospitals in Port Said, Ismailia and many other facilities in Egypt. Currently, three sisters still work in one of the governmental hospitals in Port Said, maintaining the old tradition.
Over time, the Alexandria sisters gradually expanded their services, even opening schools in the early 20th century. Their presence peaked in 1952, the same year that witnessed a revolution that overthrew the monarchy and the establishment of a republic.
In 1959, the government seized the Saba Banat dispensary as part of a wider campaign of nationalization. In 1963, the dispensary was reopened in a building attached to the school in the At Attarin neighborhood. It kept its old name, despite moving from the old street.
Nowadays, the Daughters of Charity have nine convents in Egypt, where some 50 sisters live and serve locals by running dispensaries, schools, food kitchens and programs teaching literacy and handicrafts to young girls in Upper Egypt.
Read more. And check out the video below.
12 January 2018
In this image from 2016, Pope Francis greets Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych, major archbishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, at the Vatican. The pope has accepted an invitation from Archbishop Shevchuk to visit the Ukrainian Greek Catholic community in Rome
later this month. (photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano, handout)
Pope to signal concern for Ukraine in basilica visit (Crux) In a sign of his concern for one of the world’s most chronic, and often neglected, conflict zones, Pope Francis will travel cross-town in Rome on Sunday, 28 January, to visit the Basilica of Santa Sofia and meet the Ukrainian Greek Catholic community which worships there, in what served for decades as their “Mother Church” during the period of Soviet domination in Ukraine. The Vatican announced the pope’s visit on Friday, saying it comes in response to an invitation by Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, the leader of the Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine, and an old friend of Francis’s from the time Shevchuk served as Apostolic Administrator of a Greek Catholic diocese in Buenos Aires, Argentina...
Islamist rebels fire on Christian church in Damascus (AMN) The Islamist rebels in the East Ghouta region of Damascus fired two missiles towards Bab Touma, Damascus Now News reported. According to the report released by Damascus Now, the missiles struck a historical church inside the predominately Christian district of Bab Touma, causing material damage to this religious site...
Indian priest, religious sister get jail term for defying court order (UCANews.com) A court in central India has sentenced a Catholic priest and a nun to two months each in jail for defying a court order to reinstate two students their school expelled two years ago...
Mideast leaders increase efforts to fight U.S. decision on Jerusalem (CNS) Church and political leaders in the Middle East are intensifying efforts to combat U.S. President Donald Trump’s unilateral decision declaring Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and plans to move the U.S. embassy there. “The two-state solution is accepted by all the world, including the Vatican. It corresponds to the legitimate resolutions passed by the United Nations,” Auxiliary Bishop William Shomali of Jerusalem, patriarchal vicar for Jordan, told Catholic News Service...
Iraqi Christians stalked by sorrow (UNHCR.org) As fighting continues in parts of northern Iraq after extremists were pushed from Mosul last year, many of those forced to flee have abandoned hope of returning home, fearing sectarian tension may endure, and are looking at a protracted exile, or moving on to other countries under UNHCR resettlement programs, though places are few and reserved for the most vulnerable...