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...
20 December 2017
An Iraqi woman prays during Mass in 2015 at a Catholic church in Basra. Archbishop Habib Al Nawfali of Basra warned that the country’s Christian community still feels pessimistic about the future, despite the recent announcement by the government that troops have defeated
Islamic State. (photo: CNS/Essam Al-Sudani, Reuters)
A Chaldean Catholic archbishop from southern Iraq has warned that the country’s beleaguered Christian community still feels pessimistic about the future, despite the recent announcement by the government that troops have defeated Islamic State.
Archbishop Habib Al Nawfali of Basra told Catholic News Service: “The daily practice of robberies, gang rapes, torture and murder of Christians is ongoing. Therefore, they are pondering what will be next. We are afraid of another wave of persecution that will be the end of Christians.”
The archbishop, who spoke on the fringes of a meeting on intercultural dialogue sponsored by the European Parliament in early December, said politicians in the West should lobby the Iraqi government to ensure that the Christian minority is protected.
He said that he believed up to one million Christians have fled the country since the 2003 U.S. invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein. He described the exodus of Christians from their ancient homeland as a “disaster.”
Basra is home to some two million Iraqis, and he said Christians’ experience with the Islamic community is mixed. He said most Muslims in the city are “moderate and they don’t care for religious fanaticism. They treat us Christians equally with dignity and respect.”
However, he said: “There are fanatics who say loudly in the mosques that we are blasphemers, we are the sons of pigs and monkeys. They don’t feel shy in saying that.”
The archbishop said the reasons why Christians remain targets are often complex.
“Sometimes it’s about political or economic gain ... they find that Christians are higher educated, have properties, or, for example, work as doctors in hospitals or other senior positions, so they attack them to get money.”
He also said Chaldean Catholics, who worship in the Aramaic language that Jesus spoke, “are afraid that this language will disappear in the next generation because our community is now distributed everywhere.” He said there are currently Chaldean communities in 64 countries, and many of them are now worshiping in the local language rather than their mother tongue.
Describing what has happened the Christians in the country as “genocide,” he said the international community should make it a priority to protest the rights of the native people of Iraq, including the Christians.
“We need support politically from Western leaders, and Christian villages need help economically to open workshops to provide employment or for the reconstruction of houses,” the archbishop said.
Asked about preparations for Christmas, the archbishop said that the 400 or so families who remain in his congregation are “people of deep hope and immense faith.” Describing how he has received numerous death threats during his ministry, he said, “I trust in God, the Chaldean people continue to trust in God — our faith is deeply rooted, we have been here for almost 2,000 years. That’s a long time.
“We have only the Spirit of Jesus with us. We have a strong faith; people lose everything but they stay Christian, thank God for that,” he said.
20 December 2017
People carry Christmas trees, handed out annually by the Jerusalem municipality, in Jerusalem’s
Old City. (photo: CNS/Amir Cohen, Reuters)
20 December 2017
Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, shown here in an image from 2016, says the status of Jerusalem should not be affected by “unilateral decisions.” (photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)
Archbishop: Israelis, Palestinians must agree before Jerusalem changes (CNS) The status quo of Jerusalem should remain as is until an agreement about the holy city is reached by Palestinians and Israelis, said Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. “The status quo affects the fragile life between the different communities. (It) should be changed only through dialogue,” he told journalists at the Latin Patriarchate on 20 December...
Six killed during protests in Iraqi Kurdistan (CNN) At least six people were killed and more than 70 injured Tuesday as anti-government protests erupted for a second straight day, said a provincial health director in Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region...
Report: More than 9,000 killed in battle for Mosul (AP) Between 9,000 and 11,000 people were killed in the nine-month battle to recapture the Iraqi city of Mosul from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant group (ISIS), an Associated Press (AP) investigation has found. The civilian casualty rate is nearly 10 times higher than that previously reported...
The German priest who celebrates Christmas in Jerusalem with Jews (Haaretz.com) When Father Nikodemus opens the gate of his church on Mount Zion this Sunday, a huge line of people will be waiting for midnight mass. But it won’t be pilgrims approaching him then. “It’s a strange evening,” says Nikodemus, laughing. “I guess I’m the only priest in the world who celebrates Christmas with an almost entirely Jewish audience.” Ninety-five percent of the 1,000-plus visitors on this special night are Jewish Israelis, he estimates...
A Syrian Santa in Jordan (Huffington Post) It wasn’t long before Christmas in Amman, Jordan. I’d just overheard a stranger talking about a Muslim, Syrian refugee working as a Santa Claus actor in a mall on the outskirts of town. Using some creepy internet magic, I identified the mall and got in contact with him. He invited me to come and say hello. Two hours of arguing with security guards later, and I managed to secure a ten minute interview...
19 December 2017
Britain’s Prince Charles greets clergymen after attending a prayer service led by the Melkite Catholic community on 19 December at St. Barnabas Church in London. During the service, Prince Charles described the “barbaric persecution” of Christians as “even more perverse and dreadful” given the Quran’s spirit of reverence toward Jesus and Mary. (photo: CNS/Toby Melville, Reuters)
The Prince of Wales made some pointed remarks today during a visit to a Melkite church in London.
From The Tablet:
The Prince of Wales has described his profoundly shocked at the suffering endured by Catholics in Syria.
Addressing the Melkite Greek Catholic Community in London, along with their hosts from the Anglican Parish of St Barnabas in Pimlico, and friends from other churches, he said it was “a particular privilege” to be able to celebrate the birth of Christ with a community that traces its origins to the very earliest Christian communities in the Holy Land.
“As someone who, throughout my life, has tried, in whatever small way I can, to foster understanding between people of faith, and to build bridges between the great religions of the world, it is heartbreaking beyond words to see just how much pain and suffering is being endured by Christians, in this day and age, simply because of their faith,” he said.
“As Christians we remember, of course, how Our Lord called upon us to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute. But for those confronted with such hatred and oppression, I can only begin to imagine how incredibly hard it must be to follow Christ’s example.”
Tags: Syria Middle East Christians