Current Issue
Summer, 2015
Volume 41, Number 2
24 August 2015
Greg Kandra

The Temple of Baal Shamin in Palmyra, Syria, a cultural landmark that has stood for nearly 2,000 years, was reportedly destroyed by ISIS. (photo: Wikipedia)

Reports this weekend indicate that the ruthless destruction of priceless antiquities by ISIS is continuing:

ISIS has reportedly destroyed another significant landmark in the ancient city of Palmyra, Syria.

The Temple of Baal Shamin stood for nearly two millennia, honoring the Phoenician god of storms and rain, as the BBC reported. Destruction of the site would be directly in line with ISIS’s campaign not just against people of other faiths, but against their culture. “Oh Muslims, these artifacts that are behind me were idols and gods worshipped by people who lived centuries ago instead of Allah,” one militant said of antiquities in Mosul, Iraq, earlier this year.

After the ISIS captured Palmyra in May, Baal Shamin seems to have fallen to the group’s philosophy.

“[ISIS] placed a large quantity of explosives in the temple of Baal Shamin today and then blew it up causing much damage to the temple,” Maamoun Abdulkarim, Syria’s antiquities chief, told Agence France-Presse. “The [temple’s inner area] was destroyed and the columns around collapsed.”

Tags: Syria Historical site/city ISIS

24 August 2015
Greg Kandra

A serviceman stands watch with a grenade launcher in a position of Ukrainian forces near Avdiivka on 23 August 2015. Sunday, Pope Francis renewed his appeals for peace in Ukraine. (photo: Anatolii Stepanov/AFP/Getty Images)

Pope appeals for peace in Ukraine (Vatican Radio) Following the Angelus on Sunday, Pope Francis made a new appeal for peace in Ukraine. “With deep concern, I am following the conflict in eastern Ukraine, which has accelerated anew in these last weeks,” the pope said. “I renew my appeal that the commitments undertaken to achieve peace might be respected; and that, with the help of organizations and persons of good will, there might be a response to the humanitarian emergency in the country…”

Thousands of migrants from Syria, Iraq rushing to Hungary (Vatican Radio) Thousands of desperate migrants — many of them Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans fleeing bloody conflicts — have spent the night in overcrowded refugee camps in Serbia after they crammed into trains and buses in neighboring Macedonia following clashes with police. That they are trying to enter Hungary where even the capital claims to be overwhelmed by the influx of refugees…

Committee against abuse against Christians set up in Iraq (Fides) A committee of the security forces has been set up with the aim to collect information and provide practical measures regarding the violence and abuse suffered by Christians in Iraq and in particular in the capital. Iraqi sources say the committee was set up on the orders of Prime Minister Haydar al Abadi, and aims to counter in particular the escalation of kidnappings and illegal expropriation of homes and land which in recent months Iraqi Christians have suffered…

Israeli villages near Gaza rebound warily (The New York Times) The border communities are still dotted with fortified bomb shelters, and because the war ended inconclusively, many residents say they can never quite escape the thought that the rockets and mortar rounds will start flying out of Gaza again or that Hamas militants will burst out of surreptitious tunnels right into their midst. Still, life is returning, though more quickly in some places than in others…

Greek Catholic army chaplain ministers in Ukraine (Ukraine Today) Back in June, Father Andriy Zelinskiy came to the Ukraine Today newsroom for an interview. He had just returned from the warzone in eastern Ukraine and recalled his service on the front line. During our last trip to the eastern Ukraine, we decided to visit Father Andriy to see with our own eyes the life of a military chaplain in the combat zone. Father Andriy shows us his Spartan living conditions — his body armor right beside him…

Ethiopian Catholics ask African Union to invite Pope Francis (Vatican Radio) A high-powered Ethiopian Catholic Church delegation met with the African Union Commission Chairperson, Dr. Dlamini Nkozasana Zuma to discuss the strengthening of bilateral relationships. During the meeting with Dr. Nkozasana Zuma, Cardinal Berhaneyesus suggested to her that it would be a great opportunity if the African Union would invite the Holy Father to speak during its one of its plenary sessions…

Tags: Pope Francis Ukraine Migrants Hungary

21 August 2015
Greg Kandra

In this image from 2003, pensioner Lury Merkvilashvili, 79, savors his only daily meal, thanks to Caritas Georgia. To learn more about the plight of the elderly in post-Soviet Georgia, read Caring for Georgia’s New Orphans from the Summer 2014 edition of ONE. (photo: Dima Chikvaidze)

Tags: Georgia Caring for the Elderly Caritas Pensioners

21 August 2015
Greg Kandra

Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill and President Vladimir Putin are seen visiting the restored St. Vladimir Equal-to-the-Apostles Church under the Moscow Eparchial House in June. (photo: Sasha Mordovets/Getty Images)

ISIS demolishes monastery in Syria (BBC) ISIS militants in Syria have demolished a Christian monastery in the town of Al Qaryatain in Homs province. The militants had also moved Christians taken captive in the town to their stronghold of Raqqa, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a U.K.-based monitoring group…

Russian Orthodox Church lends weight to Putin patriotism (BBC) A raid by Russian Orthodox vigilantes on “blasphemous” artworks in central Moscow has highlighted the influence of traditional, ultra-conservative values in President Vladimir Putin’s Russia. The Orthodox Church has long had close links to the Kremlin. And during Russia’s standoff with the West over Ukraine that relationship has only grown stronger…

Iraq’s child soldiers (Al Monitor) The world has borne witness to countless crimes committed by ISIS militants in Iraq and Syria over the past year. Iraqi and Syrian children have not been spared from these atrocities. Several reports by international human rights organizations have documented the group’s use of children for suicide operations, executing prisoners, guerrilla warfare and also as human shields…

Turkey awakens to ISIS threat within (The Wall Street Journal) News reports over the weekend revealed that Turkish police recently discovered 30 suicide vests, some ready for immediate use, in raids against the ISIS. The news came one week after an Islamic State social-media account threatened the Turks with an imminent attack. Accusing Turkey’s government of “standing with the crusaders and spilling Muslim blood,” the group warned that the Turkish people would be the ones paying the price for their leaders’ war on the caliphate. Reuters reported this week that a new video calls for the group to conquer Istanbul…

Sisters open new convent in India (Fides) The Salesian Sisters, Daughters of Mary Help of Christians have opened a house in the Indian state of Orissa, in Kandhamal district, which is located in the Archdiocese of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar. The district was notorious for the killings and anti-Christian violence that took place in August 2008, promoted by Hindu extremist groups against the faithful. The initiative of the new house comes from the religious sisters of the province of Calcutta, who responded to an invitation of the local church…

Tags: Syria India Sisters Turkey ISIS

20 August 2015
Michael J.L. La Civita

Pilgrims gather in Annaya, Lebanon, to venerate the remains of the revered Maronite monk, St. Sharbel. (photo: Sarah Hunter)

The Maronite Church is not known for its architectural achievements, artistic wonders or musical treasures. Driven into the peaks and valleys of Mount Lebanon — a mountain range stretching along the eastern Mediterranean — the Maronites’ greatest accomplishments are perseverance in the faith, the unique relationship forged between patriarch and people, and their role in the creation of modern Lebanon.

The fortunes of the Maronites are often tied to those of Lebanon; to separate either of these symbiotic entities would do neither of them justice. But equally inaccurate is the suggestion that to be Maronite is to be Lebanese, or vice versa. Some 10 million Lebanese live elsewhere, in Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe and Oceania; as many as half are Maronites.

The Maronite Church is rooted in the asceticism of the desert saints from Asia Minor, Egypt, Palestine and Syria — provinces of the Roman Empire that eventually evolved into Byzantium. Throughout the fourth and fifth centuries, thousands of men and women, following the Gospel’s call to “pray always,” withdrew from society and dedicated themselves to prayer and penance. One such hermit, a priest named Maron, repaired to a hilltop near the Syrian city of Aleppo. According to one fifth-century Syrian bishop, Maron lived a solitary life of fasting and prayer, attaining a “wealth of wisdom.”

Maron died in 410. Carrying with them the skull of the revered priest, his disciples — known as Maronites — formed Beit Maron (Syriac, meaning “house of Maron”), a monastic community near the great city of Antioch. There, the Byzantine Emperor Marcian sponsored the construction of the monastery, which was dedicated in 452.

Seventeenth-century frescoes decorate the apse of a monastery chapel in Lebanon’s Wadi Qadisha, or Valley of the Saints. (photo: Michael La Civita)

The development of the Maronite community coincided with the great debates rocking the early church in the eastern Mediterranean. And as the church, particularly in the East, became intricately linked to the imperial Byzantine state, the positions assumed by competing parties took on political overtones. The early Maronites were Hellenized Semites, natives of Byzantine Syria who spoke Greek and Syriac yet identified with Greek-speaking Constantinople and Antioch.

Where were the monks of Beit Maron in this political, social and theological upheaval? Little evidence remains. What has survived has triggered more than a century of debate among historians, particularly in Maronite circles. The general consensus, however, concludes that the Beit Maron community, as loyal subjects of the Byzantine emperor, accepted the decrees of the ecumenical councils called by the emperors to bring unity to church and commonwealth. They implemented them among the local Syriac-speaking Christian community, forming the nucleus of the Maronite Church.

The Arab Muslim annexation of Syria in the mid-seventh century altered the position of the Maronites. With contacts with Constantinople severed, Antioch in Muslim hands, and its ecclesial situation in disarray, the monks of Beit Maron elected one of their own as patriarch of Antioch. Tradition has it this first patriarch of Antioch of the Maronites, St. John Maron, was elected in 685.

Bands of Maronites soon began to settle in the northern reaches of Mount Lebanon, where they established autonomous communities and formed alliances among themselves while pledging fealty to the patriarch. They tenaciously defended their autonomy, repeatedly attacking Arab positions and harassing Byzantine scouts eager to retake the area.

Ironically, the Maronites flourished despite the destruction of Beit Maron in the ninth century and the relocation of the Maronite patriarchate to a monastery near the coastal town of Batroun. In the peaks and valleys of Mount Lebanon, the Maronites terraced the difficult terrain, tilled the soil, planted olive trees and fruit trees and cultivated vineyards. Maronite holy men and women, like their hermitic predecessors, lived and prayed alone, carving hermitages in the rock, inaccessible to predators but accessible to those seeking counsel. Thus for more than two centuries the Maronite Church endured in mountainous isolation.

Read a full account of the Maronite Church from ONE magazine here.

Tags: Eastern Christianity Eastern Churches Maronite Church Maronite Maronite Catholic

20 August 2015
Greg Kandra

Sister Imre Ágota begins the day behind her desk, planning. A Greek Catholic Basilian sister, she is working to restore the faith in Hungary after years of Communist domination and suppression. Read more about their ministry in A Sister’s Act from the June 2007 edition of ONE. (photo: Tivadar Domaniczky)

Tags: Sisters Eastern Europe Hungary Hungarian Greek Catholic

20 August 2015
Greg Kandra

Egyptian policemen stand in front of a damaged national security building in northern Cairo on 20 August. (photo: Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images)

ISIS claims responsibility for car bombing in Cairo (The Washington Post) ISIS claimed Thursday it carried out a massive car bombing that targeted Egyptian security forces in Cairo, calling the operation revenge for the deaths of some of its members earlier this year. Six policemen were injured in the predawn attack on a branch of the National Security Agency, the country’s domestic spy service, in the Cairo suburb of Shubra al Kheima, the Interior Ministry said. The powerful blast — which could be heard across several Cairo districts — has raised fears of stepped up insurgent attacks in the Egyptian capital. Islamists and other militants have waged an increasingly deadly campaign against Egyptian security forces since a military coup ousted President Muhammad Morsi in 2013…

Kidnapped Syrian priest released (Christian Today) A priest kidnapped in Syria a month ago has been released but others are still missing. The Rev. Tony Boutros, 50, a Melkite Greek Catholic priest, was taken by unknown assailants on 12 July when he was being driven to church. His driver was also kidnapped. Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregory III of Antioch, disclosed the release of Father Boutros. Still missing are Italian Jesuit Father Paolo Dall’Oglio and two Orthodox Archishops, Youhanna Ibrahim and Paul Yazigi…

Hamas seizes ‘Israeli spy dolphin’ (BBC) Hamas claims to have captured a dolphin being used as an Israeli spy off the coast of Gaza, local media report. The group says the mammal was equipped with spying devices, including cameras, according to the newspaper Al Quds. It was apparently discovered by a naval unit of Hamas’s military wing and brought ashore…

Inside Aleppo (Newsweek) Over three years, this crude slaughter by both sides has turned Aleppo into a Syrian Stalingrad. It has also divided the city into two distinct halves. In the June attack, the jarra came in such numbers and over such a wide area that they sowed mass panic. Three days before Ramadan, the point of this barrage was to trumpet a major new rebel assault on the regime-held part of the city; the rebel militias, emboldened by new alliances and successes elsewhere in northern Syria, were hoping to break through the stalemate and take Aleppo once and for all. Their new offensive came amid persistent rumors that the Syrian regime might let go of the country’s second most important city, the better to defend its heartlands in the south and west of the country…

Torrential rains threaten historic Orthodox cathedral in Sitka, Alaska ( For two weeks, Archpriest Michael Boyle and the faithful of St. Michael the Archangel Cathedral here have been praying for relief from torrential rains that have pounded the region and flooded the historic structure’s basement. “While the cathedral, which stands in the middle of the downtown district, has been spared from mudslides, it has been significantly affected by rain — especially over the past 48 hours, during which at times up to an inch an hour fell,” said Father Michael…

Ethiopia restoring its first mosque (The Daily Trust) The history of Negash is one tied to that of Islam in Ethiopia dating back to the seventh century and is home to Africa’s first mosque built then. It has been dubbed ‘The second Mecca.’ Nigerian tourists were educated on the fact that during Haile Selassie’s reign, Muslim communities brought personal, inheritance and family issues before Islamic court. When our reporter visited, renovations were ongoing by the Turkish government as part of preparations to make it a UNESCO World Heritage site…

Tags: Syria Ethiopia Gaza Strip/West Bank Orthodox ISIS

19 August 2015
Elias D. Mallon, S.A., Ph.D.

Palestinian Christian worshipers and priests take part in an open-air liturgy to protest the building of Israel’s controversial barrier in the Cremisan Valley.
(photo: Musa Al-Shaer/AFP/Getty Images)

“When you are besieging a city for a long time to capture it, you shall not destroy the trees by wielding the axe against them...” — Deuteronomy 20:19

The Cremisan Valley could be called the Valley of Broken Hopes. It lies between the Palestinian city of Bethlehem and the illegal settlements of Gilo and Har Gilo. It has been the center of controversy around Israeli plans to extend the “security barrier” through the valley. The barrier which has been planned for many years, would run down the Cremisan Valley near Bethlehem, severing some 50 Palestinian farming families from their farms, and separating the community of Salesian priests and brothers from that of the Salesian sisters. In addition, the 30-foot-high wall would surround on three sides the school run by the sisters.

For a time, it seemed the barrier would not be built. In an apparent victory for the Christian community in the Palestinian West Bank, the Society of St. Yves, a legal aid group of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, announced on 2 April that the Israeli Supreme Court had accepted the many petitions of Christian groups and rejected the plans to build an extension of the Israeli separation wall in the Cremisan Valley.

Those hopes for justice were dashed earlier this month. On 5 August 2015, the Israeli Supreme Court dismissed the petitions to have the wall moved to another place in the valley. Construction of the wall was begun almost immediately. Protests from the largely Christian population in the Valley quickly followed.

Some were prayerful and peaceful (such as the one shown above). But others led to violent confrontations with Israeli soldiers.

According to Vatican Radio, while “Israel claims the construction of the barrier is necessary for security reasons, Palestinians say the move is aimed at confiscating fertile land for the expansion of two Israeli settlements.”

Israeli border guards arrest a Palestinian protestor who was trying to reach tractors working on the construction of Israel’s controversial barrier in the Cremisan Valley.
(photo: Musa Al-Shaer/AFP/Getty Images)

19 August 2015
Greg Kandra

In this image from 2004, the Rev. Varghese Palathingal holds a young H.I.V. patient named Christy, who never leaves the priest’s side. (photo: K.L. Simon)

Several years ago, ONE took readers to a hospice in India offering care to AIDS patients:

The hospice was established in 2000 for patients with H.I.V. or AIDS, who were untreated or had been turned away by other medical facilities.

“We have had some 300 patients pass through here since we opened,” said the Rev. Varghese Palathingal, who runs the hospice named after the former Syro-Malabar Catholic Archbishop of Trichur, Mar Joseph Kundukulam. “We are the only facility of this kind in Kerala, perhaps in all of southern India.”

The AIDS epidemic in India is well-documented. The country has the second largest infected population in the world after South Africa. But for all practical purposes the country acts as if AIDS is not a serious social problem. Ignorance remains common among the public and even some supposed experts.

Hospitals and medical staff still routinely turn away patients. When their infection becomes known, people are pushed out of their homes by their communities, sometimes even by their own families.

Fear of dismissal or reprisal has forced most to keep their H.I.V. status secret at work and school. In addition, drugs that are immediately available in the West are out of reach due to cost. With nowhere to go, many of the infected take their own lives. At the facility, the patients are glad to see Father Palathingal. His speech, touch and manner reveal real affection and concern. The children often swarm around him like some kind of off-season Santa Claus.

One child, Christy, grew so close to the priest that he now lives with him and the sisters at Pope Paul Mercy Home, a nearby facility for the mentally handicapped, also run by Father Palathingal.

Christy, an active 2-year-old who insists on going everywhere with the priest, was also at the center of a recent medical controversy. The boy was born H.I.V. positive and was abandoned by his parents. When his status turned negative at around 18 months, his health became the subject of public speculation.

Father Palathingal, the sisters and even some doctors credited the Ayurvedic treatment the boy received at the hospice for his negative status. Other medical professionals disagreed, saying such cases are rare but natural occurrences.

“During the first 18 months, a mother’s antibodies can remain in the child, without infecting him,” said Dr. Gopal Sankar, a young physician volunteering at Mar Kundukulam. “This may lead to H.I.V. tests coming back positive at first. Later, when the mother’s antibodies finally disappear from the child, the same tests will come out negative.”

Read more in “Hoping Against Hope” from the July-August 2004 edition of ONE.

19 August 2015
Greg Kandra

Sources say Khaled Asaad, the 82-year-old archaeologist who supervised the ancient ruins of Palmyria in Syria, was beheaded by ISIS militants. (photo: Vatican Radio/AP)

ISIS militants reportedly behead archeologist in Syria (Vatican Radio) The archaeologist who looked after ancient ruins of Palmyra in Syria is reported to have been killed by Islamic State (ISIS) militants. Khaled Asaad was taken hostage by the group after it seized the Unesco World Heritage site earlier this year. The family of the 82-year-old scholar said he had been beheaded by ISIS fighters, according to Syria’s director of antiquities, Maamoun Abdulkarim...

Iraq’s economy battered by war (AP) Since early 2014, Iraq has suffered a serious economic decline after the Shiite-led government in Baghdad started losing territory to the Sunni militants of the Islamic State group. Low oil prices exacerbated the decline, wreaking havoc on Iraq’s national budget, of which oil revenue makes nearly 95 percent...

Israel turns focus to anti-tunnel technology (Reuters) A year after Hamas used cross-border tunnels to launch deadly attacks during the Gaza war, Israel is testing new techniques to detect the hidden passages as a “top priority,” sources say, but has yet to announce the system fully operational. Beyond standard military secrecy, the reticence to trumpet the measures may be to mask lingering short-falls in the system and avoid giving Israelis a false sense of security as they return to homes near the Gaza Strip abandoned during the war...

Why Israel and Armenia should adopt the Yazidis (Huffington Post) The recent horrifying New York Times exposé on the Islamic State’s sex slavery system targeting Yazidi women was one of the most-read articles on the paper’s website in the last days. And yes, in a doubly perverse sense it feels good to be morally outraged at ISIS for a few minutes. But let us not get all too comfortable with our outrage over what the Times titled “Theology of Rape,” because we like to forget just how easily we forget. The history of mass media and atrocities in the modern world has taught us that the hurdle for us to really care — to the point where something is done about atrocities in progress — is just astoundingly high...

Russian cultural institutions urged to hold courses in self-defense (The Art Newspaper) After an attack last week by Russian Orthodox fundamentalists who damaged works of art in a Moscow exhibition, Mikhail Piotrovsky, the general director of St Petersburg’s State Hermitage Museum has urged the country’s cultural institutions to hold self-defence courses. In an open letter published on the museum’s website on Monday, 17 August, Piotrovsky proposed that Russia’s museums “immediately organise in-house training on protecting the state of their exhibitions, taking into account that as of November of this year, police will stop physically guarding museums,” due to budget cuts. He added that the Russian Museums Union, of which he is president, is looking to take legal measures against vandals...

Tags: Syria Iraq Gaza Strip/West Bank Israel ISIS

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