7 November 2017
In the video above, Syrian children tell some of the horrors they experienced in the final days of ISIS in Raqqa. (video: VOA/YouTube)
Al Azhar reacts to massacre at U.S church (Fides) Violent acts “which desecrate the holiness of places of worship and destroy innocent lives threaten the people’s stability and security.” And the shedding of innocent blood, irrespective of race and the religion of the victims, “is forbidden by all religions.” With these words, the University of Al Azhar, the main academic and theological center of Sunni Islam, expressed in a formal statement the condolences to the victims of the massacre carried out on Sunday, 5 November by a former military in a Baptist church in Sutherland Springs, Texas...
Rebuilding ‘Hell Square’ in Syria’s Raqqa (Voice of America) In mid-October, ISIS was driven out of Raqqa as the remaining families fled the battle. Making the city once again livable, according to officials, is now an overwhelming task complicated by a political deadlock. Rebuilding lives after mass trauma, they add, may be close to impossible...
Maronite patriarch urges ‘vigilance over any sabotage scheme aimed at undermining Lebanon’ (Fides) Following the sudden resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri, “there must be vigilance and full awareness against any sabotage plot or scheme aimed at undermining stability in the country.” This is how Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Rai voiced regret over Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s shock resignation, warning of the destabilizing effects that this choice might have on the fragile national balance...
Archbishop emeritus S. Michael Augustine of India dies (Vatican Radio) Archbishop Emeritus S. Michael Augustine of Pondicherry-Cuddalore diocese of India passed away this morning in a local hospital. He served for 39 years as a bishop and 56 years as a priest till God called him to Himself at the age of 85...
Victims of ISIS in focus at U.N. forum (CNA) Persecuted religious minorities in Syria and Iraq deserve a better future after suffering at the hands of the Islamic State group. That was the message of Archbishop Bernadito Auza, the apostolic nuncio leading the Holy See’s permanent observer mission to the U.N. He said justice for the survivors “demands that we seek to return to them, as much as possible, what Daesh pillaged from them...”
Churches in U.K. to turn red in support of victims of persecution (Vatican Radio) Catholic schools and churches across the United Kingdom will be floodlit red to highlight the plight of persecuted Christians across the world...
6 November 2017
Cardinal Angelo Amato presided at the beatification ceremony for Sister Rani Maria in India on 4 November. (photo: Vatican Radio)
Indian sister beatified (Times of India) With teary eyes and overwhelming joy, the congregation celebrated the beatification of Blessed Rani Maria on Saturday. With the official declaration of the beatification, Blessed Rani Maria has become the first sister to be beatified in northern India and the seventh Indian to be beatified, after Sister Alphonsa, the Rev. Kuriakose Chavara, Mother Euphrasia, Father Joseph Vaz, Father Gonsalo Garcia and Mother Teresa…
Truck bomb in Syria kills dozens fleeing battle against ISIS (AP) A spokesman for U.S.-backed forces in Syria says more than a hundred people have been killed in a truck bomb blast in eastern Syria. Mustafa Bali of the Syrian Democratic Forces says the victims were refugees from the war against the ISIS group in the region. He said the attack occurred on Saturday near the Conoco gas plant near Deir Ezzor city…
Jordan plans new city to ease crowding, congestion (Middle East Eye) Jordan has announced plans to build a new city east of the capital Amman in order to ease rising population density and traffic congestion. The project to build the city some 19 miles from Amman was part of a drive to stimulate the economy and attract long-term investment, the government said in a statement published Sunday…
Archbishop of Canterbury forges closer ties with Russian Orthodox (Times of London) The archbishop of Canterbury is scheduled to pay a groundbreaking official visit to Moscow this month for talks with the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, and he will be received by senior politicians. This will be the first time that the head of the worldwide Anglican Communion has held talks with the patriarch in Moscow, and it is a signal of the growing importance of the Russian Orthodox Church, now one of the world’s biggest, richest and most powerful churches...
In Lebanon, maestro helps voices of refugee children rise above poverty, divisions (Voice of America) They are among the most underprivileged children in Lebanon, and now their voices can soar. For several months, conductor and composer Salim Sahab auditioned youngsters, most of whom work, for a choir of 300. With Syrian and Palestinian refugees selected along with Lebanese children, hopes are that the unifying power of singing will help cross political and sectarian lines…
3 November 2017
Tags: Syria India Jordan Sisters Saints
Elizabeth and Hannah Valentine pray at St. Nicholas Antiochian Orthodox Church in Wisconsin.
(photo: Miriam Sushman)
In 2003, we paid a visit to Cedarburg, Wisconsin, just north of Milwaukee, where the people of St. Nicholas Antiochian Orthodox Church are preserving ancient traditions and welcoming a diverse flock:
About half of the parish’s 175 members were raised in other church traditions. Others are second — and third — generation Greek or Russian Orthodox. About 40 are Arab. With this kind of a mix, everyone is thankful for the exclusive use of English in the Divine Liturgy.
Three of the youthful members are Chinese and were adopted by a local family. The oldest child is blind. She has learned the liturgy by heart and chants it with the choir. Her father watched her with pride while her siblings squirmed in the pew.
Though the congregants come from different ethnic backgrounds, they are united by their faith and the traditions of the Orthodox Church. “When there is a disagreement, it is never along ethnic lines,” Father [Bill] Olnhausen said.
He takes care to explain again and again the meaning of the church’s traditions for newcomers. Repetition, he explained, reinforces tradition.
Some traditions require more from the congregation than just listening. Prostration is common in the Orthodox Church, and on the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross parishioners knelt and bowed during the procession of the cross.
Among the joyful noises on that day were the voices of the youngest parishioners, some still so young they were wrapped in blankets and lay cooing in the pews.
St. Nicholas is child-friendly. A crying room in the back of the church was full of active toddlers whose parents retreated there for a “time out.” Preschoolers attended church school, returning for Communion with the adult parishioners.
Children and adults alike dressed in their Sunday clothes. Ties and white shirts were standard for boys and men and dresses for girls and women.
Community participation is also strong at the church. The church double tithes: 10 percent supports the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America. The other 10 percent goes toward charities and needy individuals.
Read more about Serving a Diverse Community in the November-December 2003 edition of our magazine.
3 November 2017
Smoke billows from the eastern Syrian city of Deir Ezzor during an operation by Syrian government forces against ISIS on 2 November 2017. Syria’s army and allied forces have taken full control of the eastern city of Deir Ezzor from the Islamic State group, Syrian state television said.
(photo: AFP/Getty Images)
ISIS ousted from last major city in Syria (CNN) The Syrian army and allied forces have taken full control of the city of Deir Ezzor, the last major Syrian city in ISIS’ hands, Syria’s Defense Ministry and state media said Friday. “Syria’s Army in cooperation with allied forces liberated the entire city of Deir Ezzor from the ISIS after killing a large number of the terrorists, among them foreigners,” the Syrian Defense ministry said in a statement...
Bishop dismisses call to make India a Hindu nation (UCANews) An Indian bishops’ conference official has reacted sharply against a radical Hindu party for trying to negate the secular Indian Constitution. Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, secretary-general of the Indian Catholic bishops’ conference, also disagreed with their insistence that Hindus in India should get priority over Christians, Muslims and other religious minorities. “India is a secular country and it will also remain so. It was not born out of religion and we do not want it to turn it into some religion-based country,” he said...
Maronite bishops call for refugees’ safe return (The Daily Star) The Council of Maronite Bishops reiterated its humanitarian solidarity with Syrian refugees Wednesday, but called for the safe return of the displaced to their homeland. “If this crisis continues, there will be a generation of refugees with no national identity, so how will they partake in the future of Syria?” a statement from the council, released after a meeting in Bkirki, read...
English Catholic, Anglican leaders call for Palestinian homeland (CNS) Recognition of a national homeland for Palestinians is required to achieve justice and reconciliation in the Holy Land, English Catholic and Anglican leaders announced on 2 November. They used the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, in which Britain declared its support for a Jewish state, to press for a two-state solution to decades of strife between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples...
Historic agreement on Holy Spirit signed in Dublin (AnglicanNews.org) Theologians from the Anglican Communion and Oriental Orthodox Churches have signed an historic agreement on the Holy Spirit. The Agreed Statement on the Procession and Work of the Holy Spirit was signed on Friday at the end of a week of discussions by the Anglican Oriental-Orthodox International Commission (AOOIC) and concludes two years of work on the subject...
2 November 2017
A Yazidi man prays in Lalish, Iraq, near Kurdistan. (photo: Diego Cupolo/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Most people in the west had never heard of the Yazidis before ISIS attacked them with genocidal fury in August 2014. Thousands of Yazidi men were captured and killed. Yazidi women and young girls were sold as sex slaves in the market place of Mosul. Many Yazidis took refuge on Mount Sinjar in northwestern Iraq and were threatened with starvation and lack of water. The world watched in horror as entire families faced starvation and death at the hands of ISIS. (There were even accounts of desperate mothers throwing their children from the mountain to keep them from being slaughtered by the Islamic militants.) Thus, the Yazidis entered the consciousness of the West as people of great tragedy and even greater mystery.
The Yazidi religion is not well understood. It tends to be very inward looking and secretive. The five daily prayers — an echo of Islam — are not said when outsiders are present. It is an endogamous faith that allows marriage only between a Yazidi man and Yazidi woman. Anyone marrying outside the faith is automatically considered to have converted to the other religion — and is effectively excommunicated.
Scholars refer to Yazidi belief as being syncretistic — that is, one faith taking over elements of another. This is common among almost all the religions of the world to some extent. (Christians, for example, took over the Roman pagan feast of Saturnalia, “baptized” it and made it into Christmas, despite the fact that the Bible is totally silent on what time of year Jesus was born.) In the Yazidi religion we see elements of Islam (the five daily prayers), Judaism (Saturday as a day of rest and the names of the seven “angels”) and other ancient religions such as Zoroastrianism, the ancient religion of Persia.
Similarly, their beliefs contain echoes of other faiths. Yazidis believe in one God who is the creator of all. However, their God is a remote deity that has little to do with creation. Rather there are seven “angels” who are emanations of this God; this is a characteristic found in Gnosticism, another ancient religion of the region. Of these angels, the head is Melek Ta’us or the Peacock Angel. Melek Ta’us is responsible for the world and its inhabitants. Two beliefs about Melek Ta’us have proven fateful for Yazidis. Because he is responsible for everything that happens in creation, Melek Ta’us is the source of both good and evil. Even in the earliest parts of the Bible we see a struggle as to who or what the source of evil is (see 2 Samuel 17:14 God overturns the advice of Ahitophel because God wanted “to bring evil on Absalom.”)
In addition, Yazidis have a story about God creating humanity and asking the angels to bow down to Adam. A similar story appears in the Qur’an (2:35 and elsewhere). In Yazidi faith, Melek Ta’us refused to bow; in Islam, Iblis refused to bow. For Yazidis this was a sign of Melek Ta’us’ loyalty; for Muslims Iblis becomes identified with the Shaytan, “Satan.” Because of this, ISIS considers Yazidis devil worshippers worthy of death. While ISIS offers Christians a choice between conversion, paying the jizya tax, exile or death, the choice for the Yazidis is much starker: conversion to Islam or death.
Yazidis also have the interesting belief that, while they are descended from Adam, they are not descended from Eve but through a special creation. Thus they see themselves as unrelated to those tainted beings who are descendants of Adam through Eve.
The origins of the Yazidis and even their name are not clear. While they hold the second Umayyad Caliph, Yazid I (647-683) in high regard, it is not clear what role that plays in either their practice of the faith or their name. The Sufi leader ?Adi ibn Musafir (died 1162) also plays an important role in Yazidism and his tomb not far from Mosul is an important place of pilgrimage.
Yazidis have lived for centuries in the Kurdish parts of Iraq, Turkey, Syria and Iran. For the most part, they were ignored and left alone by the Muslim majority. In recent times, however, there has been increasing hostility towards them. It is estimated that there are between 200,000 and one million Yazidis in the world. Many have left the Middle East for Europe, Australia and parts of North America. With the brutal attacks by ISIS, the number of Yazidi refugees has understandably increased greatly.
The Yazidis are very much a part of CNEWA’s world — and we number many of them among those we serve. CNEWA is active in northern Iraq and has a clinic in the city of Dahuk in the Iraqi Province of Dahuk. Many Yazidis make use of the clinic as they try to get their lives back together and face a future that is not only uncertain, but possibly very bleak. If it is true that Christians face the possibility of extinction in the Middle East, Yazidis face the possibility of extinction in the entire world.
Religious Minorities in the East — Introduction
2 November 2017
A large crowd gathered in Eshtia for the dedication of a youth center near the village’s church — a restoration made possible, in part, by CNEWA’s generous benefactors. (photo:ArmenianCatholic.org)
Tuesday, 31 October, was a blustery day here in Georgia — but nonetheless, a large crowd of villagers from Eshtia, along with press and friends from throughout Georgia, gathered for the opening of a youth center located near the village’s landmark church.
Local clergy offered blessings and prayers at the youth center dedication.
The center, once a shell of an abandoned house, was completely rehabilitated in three months, thanks to the great team at Caritas Georgia and the men of the village.
That was then: The abandoned house is shown here last spring, before the restoration work began.
This is now: The finished youth center is shown on the day of its dedication on 31 October.
The center will offer students classes in Georgian and English, computer programming skills, faith formation and continuing education in Armenian traditions, dance, folklore and customs.
Eshtia is one of a number of Armenian villages that salt and pepper the Georgian province of Javakheti.
I was pleased to represent CNEWA at the opening and to express the best wishes and prayers of our benefactors, who helped make this happen.
CNEWA’s Michael J.L. La Civita shared his warm wishes and prayers.
View more images from the dedication here.
2 November 2017
A displaced child, pictured in March 2017, walks through a refugee camp in Zahleh, Lebanon. What does the future hold for the people of the Middle East? Read a reflection by CNEWA’s president, Msgr. John E. Kozar, in the current edition of ONE. (photo: John E. Kozar/CNEWA)
2 November 2017
Pope condemns ‘murderous folly’ of terrorism (CNS) Pope Francis prayed for victims of the terrorist attack in New York, as well as victims of other terror attacks, and condemned the murder of innocent men and women in the name of God...
Syrian opposition rejects Russian dialogue initiative (Al Jazeera) The Syrian opposition attending the latest round of peace talks in Astana has rejected the Russian call for a Congress in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi. The “Syrian Congress on National Dialogue” proposed by Moscow during the two-day talks in the Kazakh capital is expected to discuss the reconciliation between all of the warring parties, political reform and discuss the proposed new Syrian constitution...
Hamas hands control of Gaza crossings to Palestinian Authority (The Guardian) The Palestinian militant group Hamas has formally relinquished security control of key crossings from the Gaza Strip to Egypt and Israel to its long-term rival, the Palestinian Authority, marking the first test of a fragile reconciliation accord agreed last month...
‘Race of Saints’ turns focus on India’s child brides (Vatican Radio) The “Don Bosco in the World” Foundation that organizes the event, wants to draw attention this year to the child brides of India who are forced to marry adult men, with serious health and psycho-physical consequences. The foundation will sent the fund raised by this year’s “Race of Saints” to the Salesians of Don Bosco of the Province of Bangalore, active in the southern state of Karnataka, who have been working to help child brides who are denied their childhood and rights...
Sister’s beatification ‘a joy for India’ (Vatican Radio) The CBCI Secretariat has issued a Press Release on Thursday, ahead of the Beatification of Sister Rani Maria which will be held on Saturday in Indore, India. Sister Rani Maria, professed sister of the Franciscan Clarist Congregation whose cause was cleared for beatification on 23 March 2017 will be declared ‘Blessed’ at a ceremony to be held on 4 November in Indore...
31 October 2017
Sisters Irene, Catherine and Veronica, members of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, are pictured at their residence at La Paix Hospital in Istanbul. (photo: CNS/Oscar Durand)
At 10 a.m., the Rev. Dominic Ko walked to the altar to begin Mass in Korean, his native tongue.
“Amen,” replied the 30 people in attendance, all of them also Korean.
The Church of St. Mary Draperis is in the heart of Istanbul, where the Franciscan Father Dominic landed 10 years ago to tend to the country’s Korean community. He is the only Korean priest in Turkey but, as a religious from a foreign country, he is not alone. He is one of the 125 Latin-rite Catholic religious from more than 20 nations. It is a tiny yet very diverse community for a country with very few Latin Catholics. Accurate numbers are not available, although the Istanbul Vicariate estimates they number about 5,000; Eastern Catholics number about 20,000.
“This place is very important in Christianity, a Christian treasure; therefore, we have to maintain this place,” said Father Dominic, who comes to Istanbul every week to celebrate Mass. He lives south of Istanbul, near the ancient city of Ephesus.
Turkey is a storied area in the history of Christianity. Early church communities began here and later expanded to the rest of the world. St. Paul traversed the region during his missionary journeys.
Much has changed since then. Today, the majority of Turkey’s 80 million inhabitants are Muslim. The number of Christians is estimated at about 100,000.
“Because there are Catholics present, we (the religious orders) are present,” said Bishop Ruben Tierrablanca Gonzalez, apostolic vicar of Istanbul. Bishop Tierrablanca, who is originally from Mexico, is a Franciscan friar; his order has been in Turkey since the 13th century.
Bishop Tierrablanca said some of the Latin Catholic religious orders currently active in Turkey put down roots many years ago. Today, despite the modest number of Catholics, they continue their mission.
Less than three miles from the church of St. Mary Draperis is the oldest psychiatric hospital in Turkey, Hospital La Paix (Peace Hospital), owned by the French Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent of Paul.
During the Crimean War, France and the Ottoman Empire asked the Daughters of Charity to help treat wounded troops. The order responded by sending a contingent of 255 sisters. About 100 of them died during their service.
After the war ended in 1856, Ottoman Sultan Abdulmejid wanted to thank the sisters for their contribution and offered them titles and medals of honor. The sisters refused and requested instead land to build a place where they could continue their charism of serving the poor. The sultan accepted and, two years later, Hospital La Paix opened its doors.
The Daughters of Charity no longer run the day-to-day operations, although they are still present at the hospital. The five sisters come from Italy, France, Greece, Slovenia and Vietnam.
“When I arrived here five years ago, I had never seen such a diversity to express the love of Christ,” said French Sister Catherine, head of the community of sisters at the hospital. Turkey is her first experience living in a country other than her own.
“It is important to show this diversity, which proves that we can live together, like brothers and sisters, doing well to each other,” she said.
Latin-rite Catholics in Turkey can attend Mass in English, Italian, French, Turkish, Korean, German and Spanish. Sometimes the Mass is only in one of these languages; sometimes it is a combination.
Back at St. Mary Draperis, as the Korean Mass ended and Father Dominic and the Korean community moved to another room to mingle, a new crowd took its place. Father Eleuthere Makuta of Congo arrived to celebrate Mass in English, French and Italian.
The Mass began and the choir, made up of Congolese, sang in French, accompanied by musicians on a keyboard and two drums.
Among the about 40 people attending Mass was Bing Giducos, who has been living in Turkey for nine years.
“It is beautiful, the joy of praying in my own language. It is as if I am one with God,” she said.
31 October 2017
Samunder Singh, who stabbed and killed Sister Rani Maria, stands in prayer before a portrait kept in her former convent in Udainagar, a mission station in northern India. She will be beatified on Saturday. (photo: UCANews.com)
Beatification of Indian nun to inspire persecuted Christians (Malaysia Herald) The upcoming beatification of an Indian nun murdered over 20 years ago, will be an inspiration for India's persecuted Christians, say local church leaders. Indian Catholics are preparing for the 4 November beatification ceremony of Sister Rani Maria Vattalil who was killed in a knife attack on 25 February 1995 as she traveled on a bus near the city of Indore on her way to her home state Kerala for a vacation. Sister Rani Maria was a member of the indigenous Franciscan Clarist Congregation in Indore Diocese situated in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. She was 41 years of age when she was murdered...
Christians await compensation in India (UCANews) An ecumenical delegation has called on India’s Odisha state government to finally implement the Supreme Court’s directive to increase compensation payments to victims of anti-Christian violence. The Supreme Court issued the order more than a year ago...
Syrian refugees in Lebanon face mounting hostility (Haaretz) Heart-rending reports describe the difficulties of life in Lebanon, especially for children. Some of them, as young as 10 years old, have been forced to work. Their parents aren’t allowed to hold down jobs officially because the Lebanese government won’t give them work permits. The men who head households may find occasional employment, in construction or agriculture, but they are paid a pittance. Lebanese President Michel Aoun has explicitly clarified that Lebanon will not allow Syrian refugees to settle within its borders, and the establishment of so-called safe zones has become an excuse for the public to rally against the newcomers...
Patriarch Kirill appeals to shared faith in Romania (Christian Today) Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church is extending an arm of friendship to Orthodox Christians in Romania in the first visit by a head of the Russian Church since the fall of communism. Romania, a NATO and European Union member which now hosts part of the US anti-missile shield and NATO’s anti-ballistic defense system, has had cool relations with Russia since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, although the two countries share cultural and religious ties...
Salvaging bodies: a doctor’s everyday reality in Syria (Al Jazeera) Trauma surgeon Shazeer Majeed has worked for Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in Yemen, South Sudan and Iraq. He is now working in northern Syria, a region gripped by instability, and shares his day-to-day reality of trying to keep victims of war alive...
Lebanese cardinal blesses New York chapel to St. Charbel (CNS) Cardinal Bechara Rai, patriarch of Maronite Catholics, inaugurated a chapel to Lebanon’s St. Charbel in St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The chapel is the first of its kind outside Lebanon...
Pope names auxiliary Chaldean bishop in San Diego to head Toronto eparchy (CNS) Pope Francis has appointed Auxiliary Bishop Bawai Soro of the Chaldean Catholic Eparchy of St. Peter the Apostle in San Diego as bishop of the Chaldean Catholic Eparchy of Mar Addai of Toronto. Bishop Soro, 63, has been an auxiliary bishop of the San Diego-based eparchy since the the pope named him to the post in January 2014...