9 September 2015
Following Pope Francis’s call for European churches to house refugees, Vatican officials in the video above say about half a million people might be helped. (video: Rome Reports)
UN: 850,000 refugees to cross sea to Europe this year (Reuters) At least 850,000 people are expected to cross the Mediterranean seeking refuge in Europe this year and next, the United Nations said on Tuesday, giving estimates that already look conservative. The UN refugee agency UNHCR called for more cohesive asylum policies to deal with the growing numbers...
Vatican official calls for religious freedom in Middle East (Vatican Radio) Religious freedom and respect for the rights of Christians and other minority groups in the Middle East were at the heart of an address by the Vatican Secretary for Relations with States, Archbishop Paul Gallagher, at an international conference held in Paris on Tuesday...
Syrian group calls for “safe passage” to help Syrian Christians (ABC) Australia is being urged to help create a safe passage for minority groups stranded as refugees in Syria and surrounding countries. President of the Australian Christian Syrian Association Christine Hanna said it was all well and good for Australia to increase its Syrian refugee intake, but many people, especially the Christians, were finding it extremely hard to flee to another country...
UN: death toll in Ukraine nears 8,000 (The New York Times) Nearly 8,000 people have died in the conflict in eastern Ukraine, the United Nations said Tuesday in a report blaming the continuing influx of fighters and weaponry from Russia as the major obstacle to peace...
Eritrea warns Ethiopia of “sabre rattling” (AFP) Eritrea has accused arch-rival Ethiopia of “sabre-rattling” and of threatening to invade, with the neighbors still in a tense standoff following a 1998-2000 border war. Asmara’s Ministry of Information said in a statement that war-like rhetoric from Ethiopia’s main party in the ruling coalition — the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) — had increased. Eritrea, which broke away from Ethiopia in 1991 after a brutal 30-year independence struggle, remains on an effective war-footing with Addis Ababa after a return to war in 1998...
Coptic patriarch: the Church’s mission is spiritual, not political (Fides) The Coptic Church is a reality of spiritual nature that serves the entire Egyptian society, without exception, and carries out that service without claiming direct political roles, but merely exercising its ecclesial mission. This is what Coptic Orthodox Patriarch Tawadros II said, speaking in a parish in Cairo. In his speech, Pope Tawadros intentionally repeated that the Coptic Church does not offer direct and personal support to any candidate, and also its social, charitable and educational activities are all carried out in relation to its mission, to the benefit of salvation of all...
8 September 2015
Tags: Syria Egypt Ukraine Ethiopia Eritrea
Maaloula is the one Syriac–speaking Christian village that survives in modern Syria.
(photo: Mitchell Prothero)
Just five years ago, the eastern Mediterranean was littered with sleepy provincial towns and archaeological ruins that obscured a glorious past. But in the last few years, in its genocidal march through what was once the commercial, cultural and political heart of antiquity, ISIS has laid waste to huge swaths of territory, killing and maiming human life even as it destroys humanity’s common patrimony.
The center of the East (as understood by the Romans) was Antioch, today a provincial city of 150,000 people in the southern Turkish province of Hatay. In antiquity, however, Antioch was the capital of the Roman province of Syria and, at its height in the first century A.D., home to more than 500,000 people.
Inhabited by Greeks and Jews, Macedonians and Syrians, Phoenicians and Nabataeans, Roman Antioch was culturally and linguistically Greek, the predominant culture of the Greco-Roman era. Those who lived in Syria’s rural interior, however, spoke Syriac, a dialect of the Aramaic spoken by Jesus.
A sophisticated city, Roman Antioch proved to be fertile ground for new ideas, philosophies and faiths, such as the teachings of Jesus. Many of these new ideas faded, but Christianity took root and flourished.
According to the Acts of the Apostles, believers fleeing the persecution of the Jewish authorities brought the Gospel to Antioch. These disciples worked among Jews and Gentiles and built up a community of believers. Barnabas and Paul nurtured it further and, around A.D. 44, Peter settled there, directing the life of the church for seven years before leaving for Rome. In time, this community achieved an identity. Again, according to Acts, “It was at Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians.”
This image from May 2014 shows damaged icons in the ancient monastery of St. Thecla in Maaloula — a sign of the recent destruction scarring the region’s glorious past. (photo: Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images)
And it boomed. For the next 500 years, the Antiochene church fostered anchorites (Maron, Simeon Stylites), bishop martyrs (Babylas, Ignatius), poets (Ephrem the Syrian, Romanos the Melodist), scholars (Flavian, Theodoret of Cyr, Theophilus) and theologians (John Chrysostom, Nestorius, Theodore of Mopsuestia). And while all were passionate about their faith, few agreed with one another.
The bishops of Antioch also assumed leadership among the bishops of the East, who increasingly referred to the Antiochene prelates as “patriarchs,” a title of honor once reserved in the Old Testament for Abraham, the 12 sons of Jacob and King David. Increasingly, Antioch’s patriarchs governed a mighty church that stretched beyond the eastern frontiers of the Roman Empire into India.
But the unity of the church of Antioch crumbled as cultural, linguistic and theological nuances took on political associations. Antioch had begun to decline long before its conquest by Muslim Arabs in 638. Earthquakes in the fifth and sixth centuries devastated the city, killing many and driving others away. After the Arabs took the city, the region’s Syriac-speaking Christian community prospered. After more than three centuries of stability under the Arabs, however, war occupation and natural disaster nearly finished the city of Antioch. By 1517, when the Ottoman Turks captured Antioch, its walls sheltered fewer than 300 inhabited houses, almost all Muslim Turks.
Christian merchants had long since left.
In 1034, the Syriac Orthodox patriarch of Antioch settled in a monastery in southeastern Asia Minor. In the late 14th century, the Melkite patriarch of Antioch settled in Damascus. Both patriarchates, though no longer centered in Antioch, remained of Antioch. Today, both retain the name of the ancient city as the name of their respective sees; yet, they live in the same quarter in the besieged Syrian capital of Damascus.
To learn more about this church, centered in what remains of Syria, click here.
8 September 2015
Students at the Salesian Sisters’ Laura Vicuna School enjoy a new classroom, made possible by support from CNEWA donors. (photo: CNEWA)
The Catholic world has done everything in its power to try to stop the Israeli military from constructing an annexation wall in the Cremisan Valley on land belonging to both the Catholic Church and some 60 Palestinian families from Beit Jala. A new report published by the Society of St. Yves — Catholic Center for Human Rights, The Last Nail in Bethlehem’s Coffin: The Annexation Wall in Cremisan, documents this long legal battle meant to bring justice to the church and people of Beit Jala. The report also underscores the advocacy efforts by the governments of the European Union — as well as various Catholic bishops’ conferences — to prevent the construction of the wall in the area.
From our perspective, CNEWA — through its operating agency in the Middle East, Pontifical Mission for Palestine — has been quietly working on the ground to solidify one of the most important and historically significant Catholic institutions in the area, the Salesian Sisters’ Laura Vicuna School. Over the past few years, CNEWA has provided several grants to help with the operating costs of the school, such as teachers’ salaries and the utility bills, especially the high electricity bill during the cold winter months. Over the past year or so, financial support for the school from our donors has intensified, ensuring that the school continues to provide a solid education for its 420 children (60 kindergarteners and 220 elementary students in addition to 140 youth club members of the school) despite the wall’s path.
In the next few weeks, the school will have a new solar power system that will generate free electricity, which will help reduce costs. The school will also be academically expanded to the 7th grade level; an old unused annex building was transformed into additional classroom space and a new multipurpose hall. The new space will be used for catechetical activities and an indoor play area for the younger students during the winter. With financial support, the school has also been able to save a retaining wall that was about to collapse after the last few snowstorms damaged its foundation. The wall has now been fixed and reinforced, which will allow the school to reopen the children’s newly equipped playground.
The newly reinforced wall and refurbished playground at the school are ready for the
new school year. (photo: CNEWA)
The underlying message of funding and implementing projects like the Salesian Sisters’ Laura Vicuna School and others is one of hope and perseverance. It demonstrates that the church is present and its institutions are alive — active and even expanding despite the difficult circumstances of the occupation. This also sends a message that these institutions are continuing to serve all people in various sectors — education, health and social services — with Christian values of tolerance, forgiveness and love, along with a continued call for peace and justice. CNEWA is proud of its work which brings together donors worldwide with the local partners in the Holy Land to improve and enhance these services that benefit all.
We convey our sincere thanks to the donors who saw the need to support the Laura Vicuna School and believed in its sacred mission: the Archdiocese of Cologne, Polish Aid, and the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre in Holland. This vital work would not have been possible without their moral and financial support.
8 September 2015
Patriarch Gregoire Pierre XX Ghabroyan of Cilicia, leader of the Armenian Catholic Church, embraces Pope Francis at the start of a morning Mass in the chapel of the Domus Sanctae Marthae at the Vatican on 7 September. The pope paid tribute to the enduring faith of Armenian Catholics through centuries of persecution. (photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano)
Pope Francis celebrated Mass on Monday morning in the chapel of the Santa Marta residence, with the recently-elected Patriarch of Cilicia of the Armenians, His Beatitude Gregory Peter XX Ghabroyan, as well as with the Bishops of Synod of the Apostolic Armenian Catholic Church and the Prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, Cardinal Leonardo Sandri.
In his homily, the pope spoke poignantly of Christian persecution:
Even today, “Perhaps more than in the early days,” said Pope Francis, [Christians] are persecuted, killed, driven out, despoiled, only because they are Christians”:
“Dear brothers and sisters, there is no Christianity without persecution. Remember the last of the Beatitudes: when they bring you into the synagogues, and persecute you, revile you, this is the fate of a Christian. Today too, this happens before the whole world, with the complicit silence of many powerful leaders who could stop it. We are facing this Christian fate: go on the same path of Jesus.”
The Pope recalled, “One of many great persecutions: that of the Armenian people... the first nation to convert to Christianity: the first. They were persecuted just for being Christians,” he said. “The Armenian people were persecuted, chased away from their homeland, helpless, in the desert.” This story — he observed — began with Jesus: what people did, “to Jesus, has during the course of history been done to His body, which is the Church.”
“Today,” the Holy Father continued, “I would like, on this day of our first Eucharist, as brother Bishops, dear brother Bishops and Patriarch and all of you Armenian faithful and priests, to embrace you and remember this persecution that you have suffered, and to remember your holy ones, your many saints who died of hunger, in the cold, under torture, [cast] into the wilderness only for being Christians.”
The Holy Father also remembered the broader persecution of Christians in the present day. “We now, in the newspapers, hear the horror of what some terrorist groups do, who slit the throats of people just because [their victims] are Christians. We think of the Egyptian martyrs, recently, on the Libyan coast, who were slaughtered while pronouncing the name of Jesus.”
Pope Francis prayed that the Lord might, “give us a full understanding, to know the Mystery of God who is in Christ,” and who, “carries the Cross, the Cross of persecution, the Cross of hatred, the Cross of that, which comes from the anger,” of persecutors — an anger that is stirred up by “the Father of Evil.”
“May the Lord, today, make us feel within the body of the Church, the love for our martyrs and also our vocation to martyrdom,” the Pope said. “We do not know what will happen here: we do not know. Only Let the Lord give us the grace, should this persecution happen here one day, of the courage and the witness that all Christian martyrs have shown, and especially the Christians of the Armenian people.”
8 September 2015
Migrants walk along rail tracks as they arrive to a collection point in the village of Roszke in Hungary after crossing the border from Serbia on 6 September.
(photo: CNS/Marko Djurica, Reuters)
Germany’s Angela Merkel calls for quotas of migrants (CNN) The flood of migrants pouring into Europe means all EU member states must step up to meet the mounting crisis, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Tuesday. Merkel called for mandatory quotas to be set for each country to take a share of displaced people, many from war-torn Syria...
UN calls for guaranteed relocation of refugees (Reuters) Europe must offer guaranteed relocation for Syrian refugees, as record numbers flee to Macedonia and Greece due to misery in their homeland and surrounding countries, the United Nations said on Tuesday. A record 7,000 Syrian refugees arrived in the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia on Monday, while some 30,000 are on Greek islands, including 20,000 on Lesbos, it said...
Pope asks European parishes to take in refugees (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has called on European parishes and religious communities to offer shelter to a migrant family. The Pope’s appeal came during the Sunday Angelus...
Pope simplifies annulment process (CNS) While a juridical process is necessary for making accurate judgments, the Catholic Church’s marriage annulment process must be quicker, cheaper and much more of a pastoral ministry, Pope Francis said. Rewriting a section of the Latin-rite Code of Canon Law and of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, Pope Francis said he was not “promoting the nullity of marriages, but the quickness of the processes, as well as a correct simplicity” of the procedures so that Catholic couples are not “oppressed by the shadow of doubt” for prolonged periods...
Pope concelebrates Mass with Armenian patriarch (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis’ morning Mass in the chapel of the Santa Marta residence on Monday was an extraordinary occasion: it saw the recently-elected Patriarch of Cilicia of the Armenians, His Beatitude Gregory Peter XX Ghabroyan, concelebrate the liturgy with the Holy Father, and exchange with the Pope the concrete sign of ecclesial communion...
Ukraine fighting at lowest level since conflict began (BBC) Fighting in eastern Ukraine has fallen to its lowest level since the conflict started, Ukrainian Defence Minister Stepan Poltorak has said. Mr Poltorak said Ukrainian forces were coming under attack just two to four times a day - the lowest rate in the past year and a half...
4 September 2015
Tags: Syria Pope Francis Ukraine Refugees Armenia
A woman sits among sleeping migrants near the Keleti railway station in Budapest, Hungary, on 3 September. More than 2,000 people, most of them refugees from the Middle East, camped in front of the Keleti Railway Terminus, closed to them by authorities who said European Union rules bar travel by those without valid documents. (photo: CNS/Bernadett Szabo, Reuters)
At a moment when the eyes of the world are riveted on the horror unfolding in Europe — with tens of thousands, most from Iraq and Syria, fleeing for their lives, and some stories ending in tragedy and despair — there are, nonetheless, glimmers of hope.
Catholic aid agencies are there to help.
In Hungary, the government has asked Caritas Hungary to intervene:
[Vatican radio reporter] Linda Bordoni spoke to the Head of Caritas Hungary Emergency Response, Balint Vadasz, who explains that Caritas will expand its operation outside the camps and create “transit zones”: spaces in the city where refugees will be able to obtain assistance.
Vadasz, who has been talking to people at the train station where clashes with police officers have fueled tension and anger, says that the migrants and refugees can be divided into two groups: the first, consisting mostly in women and children that is patient, cooperative and subdued; the other, more numerous, he describes as “hardcore” and consists mostly of people who are fueling discontent and he says are provoking aggressive behavior.
Vadasz says that although there are many Syrian refugees amongst the crowds of migrants, there are also many economic migrants who attempt to pass as refugees but come from countries like Albania and Afghanistan.
He says that about 80% of them are men; the remaining 20% are families with children.
He speaks of the living conditions of the people trying to board trains at Budapest Station. He says the situation is extremely difficult for ordinary Hungarians.
He also describes the situation of utter chaos in the city where parks and streets are filled with wandering people who cause huge problems to the traffic and overun with litter — making everyday life unsustainable for citizens.
At the moment — he says — Caritas is providing basic humanitarian assistance to those in the camps but plans to expand its emergency response programme by creating spaces — “transit zones” — in the city of Budapest where refugees will be able to be assisted with a number of projects including special healthcare programmes for children and babies.
Many of the refugees fleeing to Europe first found refuge in Jordan, Lebanon or Turkey. Lebanon alone has absorbed an estimated 1.5 million refugees from neighboring Syria, a staggering figure representing one refugee for every three people already residing in the country. In Jordan, where it is said “if you are not a refugee, you are a stranger,” hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Syrians have poured into its cities for years, straining the kingdom’s already overburdened infrastructure.
And CNEWA is there to help, working through local churches and religious congregations to provide support to the displaced:
Two Franciscan Missionaries of Mary — one middle aged, one a novice — wind their way through a narrow alley lined with convenience shops and small cinderblock homes. Local residents greet them. The sisters are here to visit a few of the hundreds of Syrians who have taken refuge in Naba’a after fleeing their nation’s three-year civil war.
But Naba’a is hardly a refuge. Since the government of Lebanon has decided not to build refugee camps, people find shelter wherever they can: in one-room homes, in crowded apartments, even in tents.
In Naba’a, as in the rest of Lebanon, you are left to fend for yourself. But in a land riddled with clear and present dangers, the two sisters this day are bearing something often hard to find: hope.
...[One refugee] Mariam has not always had a hopeful outlook. When she first came to Beirut she was overwhelmed and despondent. Gabriel was out of work because of a back injury, and Sonique, her 13-year-old daughter, was still traumatized by what she had witnessed in Syria. The family lived in a tent on a roof, renting the space for $100 per month. But after she began attending a series of retreats sponsored by the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, Mariam found the courage to accept her circumstances and even to help others.
A team of psychologists and social workers counsels participants on the importance of positive thinking, how to live in community, how to care for others and how to preserve family unity in the midst of difficult circumstances. Children are taught the same lessons in separate sessions that include games and theater. The retreats always end with a party, with adults and children coming together for songs, skits and dancing.
Sisters of the Good Shepherd help care for Syrian refugee children at a makeshift school in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. (photo: John E. Kozar)
In Jordan, meantime, displaced Iraqi Christians who have fled ISIS are finding sanctuary — and CNEWA is there for them, too:
“The flow of refugees is great. We see the suffering they are going through and how we can support them,” says Sister Elizabeth Mary, one of the Dominican Sisters of the Presentation of Mary who staff the [Italian Hospital in Amman].
“Whatever funds we receive, they’re used because the people never stop coming. We are always looking for help,” adds the soft-spoken sister.
“It’s normal to see refugees here at the Italian Hospital, which is not the case with other hospitals in Amman. At every level, our staff is prepared to aid them, and the refugees also feel good about coming to our hospital,” Mr. Samawi says.
“Thousands of people are benefiting from our health care program handling mid-sized surgeries,” says Ra’ed Bahou, CNEWA’s regional director for Jordan and Iraq, which supports the Catholic hospital’s care for refugees and the poor. “Now, we are trying to help with larger surgeries — heart operations and some cancer and hernia treatments.”
Until recently, the U.N. High Council for Refugees also channeled assistance to the hospital through Caritas, but that aid has ended, straining the resources of the facility and its partner, CNEWA.
Those Iraqi Christians who fled ISIS come to the Italian Hospital primarily for the treatment of hypertension and diabetes, says medical director Dr. Khalid Shammas. Others suffer from chronic heart problems and strokes. Often, he says, the diseases are related to the enormous stress from the loss of homes, livelihoods and more.
“We listen to them. There is struggle, loss and disappointment. It’s no wonder the refugees are depressed,” says Sister Elizabeth.
To learn how you can continue to support this vital work, at a time when so many of our suffering brothers and sisters are in need, visit this giving page. And please keep all those seeking sanctuary — in Europe, in the Middle East, and around the world — in your prayers.
4 September 2015
Outside the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth, hundreds of Arab Israeli Christians hold banners in a rally against what they said was state discrimination in funding their schools. Christian schools in Israel stayed shut this week, delaying the start of the new academic year; the action affected about 33,000 pupils, mostly Muslim Israeli Arabs, at 47 schools. Read details at the website for the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. (photo: Ahmad Gharabli/AFP/Getty Images)
4 September 2015
Migrants protest outside a train near Budapest, Hungary on 4 September 2015. They refused to leave the train out of fear of being sent to a refugee camp. Since the beginning of 2015 the number of migrants using the so-called Balkans route has exploded with migrants arriving in Greece from Turkey and then travelling on through Macedonia and Serbia before entering
the EU via Hungary. (photo: Matt Cardy/Getty Images)
Migrants resist going to refugee camp (Vatican Radio) Thousands of migrants in Hungary trying to reach Western Europe rushed into a Budapest train station yesterday and shoved their way onto a waiting train. The train left the station, but was stopped by police in the nearby town of Bitske at a Hungarian camp for asylum seekers, setting off a bitter showdown...
Negotiations underway for release of Father Murad, hostages (Fides) Father Jacques Murad and about 270 Christians and Muslims taken hostage by jihadi militias during their offensive in southeast of Homs are alive, and their condition is currently considered quite “stable and secure.” Some heads of local ecclesial communities are carrying out negotiations through mediators to obtain their release as soon as possible...
U.N.: Gaza could be “uninhabitable” in five years (Newsweek) Gaza could become “uninhabitable” within five years if current economic trends continue, according to a United Nations report released this week. The report says that socio-economic conditions in Gaza are at their lowest point since 1967 and that the “social, health and security-related ramifications of the high population density and overcrowding are among the factors that may render Gaza unlivable by 2020, if present trends continue.” By 2020, Gaza’s population is predicted to increase from 1.6 million to 2.1 million, and for it to be a livable place, “herculean efforts” are needed to improve health, education, water and sanitation sectors, according to the report...
Pope Tawadros meets U.S. Congressional delegation (The Cairo Post) Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria and Patriarch of St. Mark Diocese met Thursday with a U.S. Congressional delegation at Saint Mark’s Cathedral in Cairo, Youm7 reported. The delegation’s visit aimed to review the situation of the Copts in Egypt. The delegation includes the U.S. congress members Louie Gohmert, Victoria Coates, Samantha Leahy, Stephen Colvin and Patrick Paul. “Egypt is in its way towards stability and the situation is much better than the previous years; Copts are in good relations with President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi and with all the Egyptians,” Pope Tawadros II told the l delegation, according to an official statement from the church...
3 September 2015
Tags: Syria Egypt Gaza Strip/West Bank Copts
On 2 September, a member of the Turkish military carries a young migrant named Aylan, 3, who drowned as his family attempted to sail to the Greek island of Kos. (photo: CNS/Reuters)
We know now that his name was Aylan Kurdi. He was three-years-old.
Yesterday, this harrowing image of Aylan’s lifeless body being carried from a beach in Turkey seized the attention of the world. Aylan and his five-year-old brother Galip drowned while trying to reach the Greek island of Kos from the Turkish resort town of Bodrum. Their mother, Rehan, also died. Only the boys’ father, Abdullah, survived.They were just two of at least a dozen migrants on a small boat fleeing the war in Syria.
According to USA TODAY, Aylan and his family were Kurdish Syrians from Kobane, a town near the Turkish border, trying to emigrate to Canada.
An editor at The Los Angeles Times put this picture in context:
It is heartbreaking, and stark testimony of an unfolding human tragedy that is playing out in Syria, Turkey and Europe, often unwitnessed,” she said. “We have written stories about hundreds of migrants dead in capsized boats, sweltering trucks, lonely rail lines, but it took a tiny boy on a beach to really bring it home to those readers who may not yet have grasped the magnitude of the migrant crisis.”
By one account, some 2,500 have died trying to cross the Aegean to reach Greece. The growing refugee crisis — with hundreds of thousands seeking to escape the bloodshed and turmoil in parts of the Middle East — has had a profound impact on many countries, with pressure increasing on European leaders to take action. In the meantime, the displaced in Iraq and Lebanon and Syria continue to turn to humanitarian agencies such as CNEWA, seeking help and hope. To learn what you can do for families such as the Kurdis in Syria, visit this page.
This day, please remember them in your prayers.
Remember Aylan Kurdi, and his brother Galip, and their mother Rehan, and so many others whose names we do not know who have lost their lives seeking sanctuary and a better life.
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them...
3 September 2015
The faithful celebrate the liturgy at the Church of St. Nicholas in Kampala, Uganda.
(photo: Tugela Ridley)
African Christianity has apostolic roots. St. Mark the Evangelist brought the Gospel to the Egyptian city of Alexandria — second only to Rome in the ancient world — and established a church there as early as A.D. 42.
Though sporadically persecuted by the Romans — Mark died a martyr’s death around A.D. 67 — the Alexandrian church blossomed. It provided the universal church with the philosophical foundation and theological vocabulary responsible for its explosive expansion, introduced variants of monastic life and peopled the Christendom with some of its greatest saints and scholars.
The Alexandrian church was not confined to cosmopolitan Alexandria. Its bishops, who still hold the title of “pope and patriarch of Alexandria and all Africa,” had jurisdiction throughout the African continent: the churches of Eritrea and Ethiopia, for example, are daughter churches.
But as the Egyptian church grew, cultural and linguistic differences — especially between the Copts and Greeks — divided the church. Rival parties struggled to secure the papal see of Alexandria. Finally, in 567, the Byzantine emperor recognized two claimants: the Copt, to whom the vast majority of Egypt’s Christians owed allegiance, and the Melkite (from the Syriac, meaning of the king), who led the Greek-speaking minority.
People approach St. George Orthodox Church in Cairo. (photo: Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images)
Scholars believe that by the eve of the Muslim Arab invasion in 641, Alexandrian Christians included up to 18 million Copts and some 200,000 Melkites, mostly Greek-speaking bureaucrats, merchants and soldiers. Both churches used the distinctive rites of the Alexandrian church. The Copts, however, adapted these liturgies for monastic use, which survive to this day. Eventually, the Greek-speaking church replaced these ancient rites with those from the Byzantine capital of Constantinople.
After the Arab Muslim occupation of northern Africa, Egypt’s Greek-speaking Christians suffered for their loyalty to Byzantium. Their numbers declined. Until the middle of the 19th century, most of the Greek Orthodox men who held the title of pope and patriarch of Alexandria lived in Constantinople and were appointed by the ecumenical patriarch.
Yet in the 19th century, the situation changed as Orthodox Christians from Greece, Lebanon and Syria began to settle in cities throughout the African continent. There, they built churches as their communities grew in size and wealth. The port city of Alexandria drew tens of thousands of Orthodox emigrants, particularly as Egypt won a form of autonomy from Great Britain. By the 20th century, the British estimated that nearly 200,000 Greeks lived in Egypt. Flush with assets, the Greek Orthodox popes and patriarchs of Alexandria gained considerable influence in Egypt and beyond.
Until the middle of the 20th century, Orthodoxy’s reach throughout “All Africa” ended at the Sahara. The story of how it penetrated the continent, to Kenya and Uganda in particular, is not the familiar one of European missionaries and colonizers. Rather, it began as a spontaneous movement by African Christians seeking a form of Christianity untainted by European colonization with roots in the early church.
To learn more about this African church, click here.