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Summer, 2015
Volume 41, Number 2
13 August 2015
Michael J.L. La Civita

Bishop Amba Tadros, Coptic Orthodox Bishop of Port Said, pays a visit to Marina House and distributes sweets following a pre-Lenten feast. (photo: Sean Sprague)

Egyptian Christianity is as old as Christianity itself, predating Islam and the Arab invasion of the country by six centuries. But for Egypt’s 8.85 million Christians, social inequity — exacerbated by anti-Christian violence with the arrival of the Arab Spring — is a fact of daily life.

Until the overthrow of longtime president Hosni Mubarak in 2011, Egyptian Christian leaders preferred not to call too much attention to the injustices or the occasional acts of violence. Most Christians, or Copts (a derivative of the Greek word, Aigyptios, meaning Egyptian), lived side by side with their Muslim neighbors, particularly in the country’s densely populated cities. Copts made accommodations in exchange for security and the freedom to worship. But the rise, and fall, of the Muslim Brotherhood has challenged that approach as more and more lay Copts demand full respect as citizens of a secular Egypt.

Despite the turmoil of the past 50 years or so, the Coptic Orthodox Church, which embraces more than 93 percent of all Coptic Christians, thrives. Churches are packed with young and old; ancient monasteries flourish with monks and nuns; social outreach programs touch the needy and catechetical programs instill values and a sense of identity for the young — who are increasingly emigrating to the West.

At the Church of Mary Queen of the World in Port Said, Egypt, Orthodox gather for liturgy on Sunday morning in the Angel Chapel. (photo: Sean Sprague)

St. Mark the Evangelist, disciple of St. Peter, brought the Gospel to the Egyptian city of Alexandria — second only to Rome in the ancient world — establishing a church among the Jewish, Greek and native Egyptian communities as early as the year 42. The church of Alexandria grew quickly. By the early third century, its reputation as the primary center of learning, biblical scholarship and theological exploration was unchallenged in the Christian world. The Alexandrian church was not confined to cosmopolitan Alexandria — many Christians, seeking solitary lives of prayer and contemplation, fled to the desert and uninhabited hinterlands south of the Nile Delta. It was in Egypt where Christian monasticism started, and eventually spread to Asia Minor and Syria in the fourth century and to the West in the early sixth century.

Debates regarding the nature and person of Jesus inflamed the Christian world, especially as they assumed an increasing ethnic, linguistic and political tone. Ecumenical councils were called to advance peace and unity, define orthodoxy and condemn heresy. Yet, the decrees, and the methods used to employ them, divided the church further.

Significant numbers of Alexandria’s Christians opposed the Council of Chalcedon (451). Over time they joined like-minded Syriac Christians and separated from the rest of the church. Today, this group of non-Chalcedonian churches (now called Oriental Orthodox) includes the Armenian Apostolic, Coptic, Eritrean, Ethiopian, Malankara Syrian and Syrian Orthodox churches. It is generally agreed this schism reflected cultural, linguistic and philosophic differences more than differences in matters of faith.

For centuries, Egypt remained primarily Christian even after Muslim Arab tribes conquered it in 641. The Arabs retained the civil structures set up by the Romans, employed Coptic bureaucrats, sanctioned the development of a Coptic code of civil law, and later a code of canon law, and approved the construction and refurbishment of churches and monasteries. Conversion to Islam was gradual, and by the 12th century, Copts had declined in number and influence, fading into obscurity until the birth of modern Egypt 700 years later.

Click here for more on the Coptic Orthodox Church from the pages of ONE magazine.

13 August 2015
Greg Kandra

Some of the 78 children who took part in the 2015 Bethlehem Summer Camp, sponsored by the Pontifical Mission Library, pause for a picture during a walking tour of Bethlehem. The camp’s theme — “Our Heritage, Our Identity” — gave both Muslim and Christian participants a chance to discover more about Palestinian culture. To learn more, read the camp newsletter.
(photo: CNEWA)

13 August 2015
Greg Kandra

Iraqi men mourn outside a mosque in the holy city of Najaf on 13 August 2015 during the funeral of Shiite victims of this morning’s truck bombing in Baghdad’s northern suburb of Sadr City. The attack claimed by ISIS is one of the deadliest in the city in months.
(photo: Haidar Hamdani/AFP/Getty Images)

ISIS truck blast kills dozens in Baghdad (The Washington Post) A refrigerated truck packed with explosives detonated in a busy market Thursday, killing at least 60 people in an attack claimed by the Islamic State and marking one of the bloodiest strikes in Baghdad since the militants’ rise last year. The blast struck the sprawling Jamila market in the Shiite neighborhood of Sadr City while it was packed with early-morning traders buying wholesale supplies for their stores...

Refugees in Lebanon face new challenges, dwindling support (The Daily Star) With more than 1.2 million refugees in the country, the Lebanese government issued stringent new visa and residency requirements for Syrians in January of this year, placing an onerous new burden on those who were able to flee the fighting. “We are prisoners of the circulars being issued by the Lebanese General Security office,” said one refugee who preferred to remain anonymous. After securing his place in line at the General Security office in Tripoli, he sat outside puffing a cigarette, a weary expression on his face...

Israel installs “smart” fences around Gaza ( Israel has installed new “smart” fences around Gaza-adjacent communities in the wake of Operation Protective Edge, featuring the ability to recognize suspicious activity and send troops to the scene in seconds. Reports have surfaced in recent days, both from Israeli and Palestinian sources, that Hamas has accelerated its construction of hidden attack tunnels. On Tuesday, Ibrahim Adel Shehadeh Shaer, a Hamas operative in Israeli custody, told the Shin Bet of the organization’s plans to use tunnels in a future conflict. Hamas also claimed on Wednesday that it had captured an Israeli drone and made it operational...

Iraqi refugees writes of the pain of leaving home (CNS) Throughout August, tens of thousands of displaced Christians in refugee camps in Kurdish-controlled Iraq are marking the first anniversary of their exile following the fall of the Ninevah Plain and its villages to Islamic State forces. Among them is Abo Remon, a 60-year-old man from Bartellah who is also known to refugees as “Mr. Matti.” Before the invasion, the married father-of- three had a good job in the communications sector. He now lives in the Al-Hikma center in Kaznanan, one of 120,000 people waiting in patience for their eventual liberation...

A visit to “Armenia’s Switzerland” (Huffington Post) Driving about 90 kilometers northeast of Armenia’s vibrant capital city of Yerevan, the highway narrows into mountainous roads as you enter the Tavush region famous for its resort town of Dilijan. The unseasonably hot and humid summer has vacationers flocking to “Armenia’s Switzerland” from across Armenia and bordering Georgia, Russia and Iran, as well as from various parts of Europe. They come seeking what affluent folks of Transcaucasia sought when they built their summer villas here — the crisp, alpine mountain air of unspoiled forests, preserved national park and lakes and to bask in the natural healing springs...

12 August 2015
Greg Kandra

The Rev. Flavio Pace, who works with the Congregation for Eastern Churches, enjoys a laugh with Msgr. John E. Kozar in his office. (photo: Greg Kandra)

CNEWA’s President Msgr. John E. Kozar welcomed a visitor from Rome to our offices in New York this week: the Rev. Flavio Pace. Father Pace works as the personal administrative secretary to Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, head of the Vatican’s Congregation for Eastern Churches.

It was a happy reunion for the two men, who recently saw each other in Iraq during the historic pastoral visit of Cardinal Sandri to the country. During that trip, Msgr. Kozar and leaders of other Catholic aid agencies saw first hand the profound faith and resilience of the country’s Christians, many of whom have been displaced and continue to face persecution from ISIS. CNEWA has been working tirelessly to support these Iraqis and, thanks to the generosity of our friends and benefactors, has been able to make a profound difference in the lives of thousands of desperate people.

It’s a mission Father Pace spoke of with gratitude.

“That trip to Iraq,” he said yesterday, “that visit was so important because of the special support of the CNEWA offices there. It was the first time a cardinal prefect had visited, and it was possible because of CNEWA.”

He explained what he called the “special link” of CNEWA to the Congregation for Eastern Churches:

“For the congregation, it was important to have the help offered by CNEWA. The idea was to visit pastorally, with the heart of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, to allow people to feel the closeness of the church and the affection of Pope Francis. Thanks be to God, CNEWA’s local offices, the regional offices, are a blessing to us. They know the realities and can help us understand the situation before a project is undertaken.”

The local offices, he said, can do what the nuncio, the Vatican’s representative in a country, can’t — being aware of particular needs in particular areas.

“The nuncio,” Father Pace went on, “is in Baghad, not Erbil. Thanks be to God, the regional office of CNEWA knows what is needed, can establish relationships, can know what skills are required for projects. I remember very well visiting a clinic in Dohuk operated by CNEWA. The cardinal came away with such a good impression of this work. He felt a closeness to the people as a pastor, as a priest, not in a generic way, but in a Christian attitude. It was a way to serve and meet the people. For the congregation, it is very important to have the kind of support, the help, that CNEWA offers. It helps assist in the life of the Eastern churches.”

Father Pace was ordained as a priest for Milan in 2002. His work now takes him far beyond Italy, to the many places Eastern Churches have deep roots — and to the many places where those roots have spread, with diaspora who now worship all over the world. Most recently, he found himself with Cardinal Sandri in California, as the cardinal dedicated a new cathedral. But Father Pace hopes to make it back to New York someday soon to visit Msgr. Kozar and CNEWA, maybe even with Cardinal Sandri.

“I offer personal greetings on behalf of his eminence,” he said with a smile. “CNEWA has a special relationship, a special link, to the congregation. So much of what we do is possible, because of CNEWA.”

(photo: Greg Kandra)

12 August 2015
CNEWA staff

Last week, Carl Hétu, national director of CNEWA Canada, appeared on Canada’s Salt + Light TV to discuss the plight of Christians in the Middle East, and his recent meeting with Pope Francis. Check out the video below.

12 August 2015
Greg Kandra

A worker fastens a new cross to the bell tower of St. Sava’s Serbian Orthodox Church in Hanover, Germany. Learn more about Germany’s Orthodox Serbs in this feature from the July 2009
edition of ONE. (photo: Andy Spyra)

12 August 2015
Greg Kandra

A Ukrainian woman stands outside her home after it was destroyed as a result of shelling between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatists on 10 August 2015 in Golmovsky village, Donetsk region. (photo: Aleksey Filippov/AFP/Getty Images)

EU: Surge in fighting in Ukraine violates ceasefire (BBC) The European Union says escalating attacks on government-controlled areas in eastern Ukraine violate a February peace deal with pro-Russia separatists. “The Minsk Agreements must be implemented in good faith, starting with full observation of the ceasefire and genuine withdrawal of heavy weapons,” the EU said. Ukraine on Monday accused rebels of carrying out the heaviest shelling since the truce was agreed. Russia denies any role in the fighting...

Papal message for World Peace Day focuses on overcoming indifference (CNS) Selfishness and fear keep too many people ignorant of the suffering of others and prevent them from finding creative ways to express solidarity and to promote peace, said a statement from the Vatican’s justice and peace office. To promote a reflection on the need for a “conversion of mind and heart” open to the needs of others, Pope Francis has chosen “Overcome indifference and win peace” as the theme for the church’s celebration of the World Day of Peace 2016. Announcing the theme for the 1 January celebration, the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace said that peace is difficult to achieve when people are indifferent “to the scourges of our time...”

Melkite patriarch opens sainthood cause for Boutros Wadih Kassab ( On Friday 7 August 2015, at the Cathedral of the Resurrection in Cairo, HB Gregorios III, Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, of Alexandria and of Jerusalem, presided over the solemn opening of the cause for beatification and canonisation of Boutros Wadih Kassab (1913-86), the apostle of Upper Egypt. “It gives us great joy to open the process of the cause for beatification and canonisation of Boutros Wadih Kassab, a great Christian layman deeply committed to his faith, which led him to found and work for very many Catholic associations dedicated to serving young people...”

Arabic and life lessons: a summer in Lebanon (Huffington Post) My parents encouraged me to study Arabic abroad. Grateful for my parent’s encouragement and after a few Google searches, I decided exactly where I wanted to go — Beirut, Lebanon. That summer I would spend six weeks in a Middle Eastern country, studying Arabic at the Lebanese American University. I travelled to Lebanon to learn Arabic, but also because of my interest in The Middle East. In Lebanon, I learned much about the simple concepts of sharing, understanding, and living. On the smallest of levels to the most complex, these concepts offered a rich educational experience. All the while, I searched for potential links between the West and the Middle East...

Ethiopian cardinal calls for charity, fasting (Vatican Radio) According to the Ethiopian Liturgical Calendar the 15 days fast from 7-21 August 2015, before the feast of the Assumption of Our Lady the Blessed Virgin Mary, is an important time for the spiritual renewal of the faithful throughout the nation. In his message to the faithful for the occasion of the fast days H. Em. Cardinal Berhaneyesus Souraphiel, C.M., Metropolitan Archbishop of Addis Ababa, President of CBCE and AMECEA Chairman, said we must follow the example of Our Lady the Blessed Virgin Mary and take care of those in need of our support. “Charity and giving love to the needy and the vulnerable should be our religious responsibility, this fasting period is a good time to practice charity and make it part of our life,” he said...

Statue of Don Bosco vandalized in India (Vatican Radio) Politically motivated religious fanaticism reared its ugly head in northeast India on Friday when a crowd of miscreants vandalized a statue of Don Bosco and threw it into the Bharalu river, near Guwahati, the commercial capital of Assam state...

Tags: India Egypt Pope Francis Ukraine Ethiopia

11 August 2015
Michael J.L. La Civita

An Iraqi refugee prays the rosary at a Chaldean church in Amman, Jordan.
(photo: CNS/Ali Jarekji, Reuters)

Before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, 1.5 million Christians accounted for nearly 6 percent of Iraq’s population, down from about 12 percent in the World War II-era. While hard figures are unavailable, fewer than 200,000 Christians — only 1 percent — remain in Iraq today. Many of these Christians are displaced Chaldeans, members of an ancient church who share the history and traditions of the Church of the East yet profess full communion with the church of Rome.

The word Chaldean identifies this Catholic community with an ancient people who once controlled Mesopotamia, the fertile land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers (modern Iraq and portions of Syria and Turkey). Chaldeans take pride in their ancient roots, counting Abraham of Ur of the land of the Chaldeans — whom Jews, Christians and Muslims call their father in faith — as one of their own.

This pedigree has not protected them for the ferocity unleashed in the Middle East, particularly in the last few decades, driving many Chaldeans to the West. In 1990, according to official Chaldean records, only 50,000 Chaldean Catholics lived in North America, shepherded by one bishop in a Detroit suburb. Today, nearly 200,000 Chaldean Catholics live on the continent, with bishops in Detroit, San Diego and Toronto.

Not just the cradle of civilization, Mesopotamia is also the cradle of the Christian faith. In its fertile soil, the seeds of Christianity took root quickly and eventually spread like wildflowers throughout Asia. The early years of the church were tumultuous. Because the church became intimately linked to the state, especially in the Mediterranean world, questions regarding the person and nature of Jesus Christ were politicized. As the church embraced converts from the Greco-Roman and Semitic worlds, these Christological questions were exacerbated by cultural and linguistic differences. These issues, coupled with the frequent wars between the eastern Roman (that is, Byzantium) and Persian empires, compromised the position of the church in Mesopotamia, which styled itself the “Church of the East.” As a result, by the late fifth century, this Church of the East parted ways with the rest of the Christian world.

Chaldean Catholics receive Holy Communion at a liturgy in a destroyed church in Baghdad. (photo: Marco Di Lauro/Getty Images)

Nevertheless, the Church of the East became renowned for its scholarship, especially in grammar, history, logic, mathematics, philosophy and theology. Arab Muslims, who conquered the Persian Empire in 634, employed church scholars, who are largely responsible for the Arab world’s familiarity with ancient Greek astronomy, chemistry, mathematics and philosophy — disciplines that eventually reached Europe.

At its height in the 14th century, the Church of the East spanned most of Asia and included some 30 metropolitan sees and more than 200 eparchies. But the church’s successes were nearly destroyed overnight when, at the end of the 14th century, Timur the Lame and his army invaded the Middle East, sacked its cities, massacred the inhabitants and leveled what remained. Those Christians who escaped death or enslavement retreated into the mountains, hunkering down in remote monasteries and mountainside villages.

Even as isolation intensified, pockets of the church came into contact with Latin Catholic missionaries. In 1445, friars received the Chaldeans (as they were known) living on the island of Cyprus into full communion with Rome. The use of “Chaldean” dates to this union. Subsequently, individual communities and families of the Church of the East formed pro-Catholic or anti-Catholic parties, marking centuries of turmoil as families and factions jockeyed back and forth.

The papacy did not recognize a Catholic patriarch until 1830, and for the next 150 years — despite the atrocities during World War I — the Chaldean Church strengthened its position at the expense of the Church of the East. The seat of the patriarch moved from Mosul to Baghdad in 1950 as large numbers of Chaldean Catholics settled in the capital. Well educated and industrious, the Chaldeans eventually constituted a significant portion of Iraq’s middle and professional classes.

While the unraveling of Iraq has decimated the nation’s Christian communities of all rites and traditions, it has intensified collaboration between the two historic churches; relations between the Chaldean Church and the Church of the East have improved dramatically.

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

11 August 2015
Greg Kandra

In this image from 2013, Michal Reich and her husband, Doro, sit with their children, Benny and month old Josephine, in their home in Jerusalem. They are among a small but devoted group of Hebrew-speaking Catholics in Jerusalem. (photo: Debbie Hill)

In 2013, we took readers inside the Hebrew-speaking Catholic community in Jerusalem. This week, the vicar responsible for that community, the Rev. David Neuhaus, S.J., has written a letter to mark the group’s 60th anniversary. An excerpt:

We are all invited to reflect on the fact that God Almighty has planted the seed of faith in Christ deep in the soil of both Palestinian (and Arab) and Israeli societies. Does this have significance for the vocation of Christ’s disciples who, though separated by walls of enmity because of the ongoing conflict, are united by their faith in Christ? The words of the Apostle take on new meaning in our context, “For (Christ) is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it” (Ephesians 2:14-16).

Brought together, despite the walls of enmity, because “He is our peace,” Hebrew speaking and Arabic speaking disciples of Christ are called to show that justice, peace and equality are possible in our land. Our lives of faith must reveal the alternatives to war and violence, contempt and discrimination, engaging the other as brother and sister. Disciples of Christ can constitute a bridge between the Palestinian (and Arab) and Israeli worlds. We cannot assent to injustice and must be sensitive to injustice wherever it is present, especially in our own society. As disciples of Christ, we must also preach pardon as we have an intimate personal experience of being pardoned although we are sinners.

You can read the full letter here.

And to learn more about Hebrew-speaking Catholics, check out “Hebrew Spoken Here” from the Spring 2013 edition of ONE.

11 August 2015
Greg Kandra

A burned-out section of the Benedictine Church of the Multiplication at Tabgha, Israel, is seen after an arson fire in late June. The Assembly of the Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land filed an official complaint to Israeli police against the leader of a radical Israeli movement over his remarks supporting and encouraging the burning of churches.
(photo: CNS/courtesy Catholic Church in Jerusalem)

Jewish extremist said to pose threat to Holy Land Christians (RNS) The church body authorized by the Vatican to oversee the Catholic Church’s property in Israel has asked Israel’s attorney general to indict a Jewish extremist who, it says, recently incited violence against Israel’s Christian churches. In a letter sent to Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein on Sunday, the Custody of the Holy Land said Benzion Gopstein, sometimes spelled “Gopshtein,” head of the Jewish extremist group Lehava, poses a threat to Holy Land Christians...

Hebrew-speaking Catholic community marks 60 years (Vatican Radio) Father David Neuhaus S.J., the Latin Patriarchal Vicar responsible for the Saint James Vicariate for Hebrew Speaking Catholics in Israel, has written a pastoral letter on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Work of Saint James in 1955 as a Catholic association dedicated to developing Hebrew-speaking Catholic communities in the State of Israel...

Iraq’s parliament approves reform plan (The New York Times) Iraq’s parliament on Tuesday unanimously approved an ambitious reform plan that would cut spending and eliminate senior posts, including the three largely symbolic vice presidencies, following mass protests against corruption and poor services...

U.N.: Funding prospects “bleak” for Syrian refugees (AP) Funding prospects are “bleak” and impoverished Syrian refugees face more cuts in food aid, the head of the World Food Program said in an interview, after inspecting the bare refrigerator of a refugee family and meeting boys forced to swap school for work to help their families survive. Ertharin Cousin, the U.N. agency’s executive director, called on donor countries to give more to millions displaced by the Syria conflict, now in its fifth year...

Ukraine bans 38 Russian “hate” books (BBC) Ukraine has banned 38 books published in Russia, alleging that they spread “hate ideology” and “separatism.” The ban includes works by Russian nationalists Alexander Dugin, Eduard Limonov and Sergei Glazyev. The blacklist was published by the Ukrainian State Television and Radio Committee. It accused Russia of waging “information warfare” against Ukraine...

Christians, Muslims observe “Black Day” in India (Vatican Radio) Christians and Muslims in Delhi on Monday observed “Black Day” to mark the 65th anniversary of signing of a presidential order that excluded their Dalit brethren from reservation. Some 200 people wore black badges and demonstrated in front of New Delhi’s Sacred Heart Cathedral to demand the repeal of the Constitution (Scheduled Caste) order India’s first president Rajendra Prasad signed on 10 August 1950...

Tags: Syria Iraq India Ukraine Israel

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