3 October 2016
Pope Francis meets with Orthodox Patriarch Ilia II of Georgia at the Svetitskhoveli Cathedral in Mtskheta. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Paying honor to the steadfast faith of Orthodox Christians in Georgia, Pope Francis nevertheless urged them to draw closer to other Christians and work together to share the Gospel.
Georgian Orthodox Patriarch Ilia II, who recently has been cautious in his relations with leaders of other churches, greeted Pope Francis when he arrived at the Tbilisi airport on 30 September, welcomed him to the patriarchal palace that evening and hosted him again on 1 October at Svetitskhoveli Cathedral in Mtskheta.
Walking into a meeting hall at the patriarchate on 30 September, Pope Francis helped the 83-year-old Patriarch Ilia, who moves with great difficulty because of Parkinson’s disease.
More than 80 percent of Georgians are Orthodox; Catholics from the Latin, Armenian and Chaldean churches form about 2 percent of the population.
In the 1980’s, the Georgian Orthodox Church was deeply involved in the process of seeking Christian unity, but its participation has waned in recent years in conjunction with a stronger assertion of Georgian identity, including its language and Orthodox faith.
When the pope arrived in Georgia, small groups of Orthodox faithful gathered on the road outside Tbilisi airport holding signs protesting the his visit. One sign called him a “heretic” and the other accused the Catholic Church of “spiritual aggression.” The same groups were present the next evening outside Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, the spiritual center of the Georgian Orthodox Church.
The Orthodox groups most opposed to dialogue with Western Christians have expressed fear that closer ties with the West will lead to what they see as moral decadence.
Patriarch Ilia told Pope Francis that while globalization is not “a negative phenomenon per se, it contains a lot of dangers and threats,” including the possibility of creating what he described as a “homogenous mess” that erases specific cultural and moral values.
While the world has experienced progress in many ways, he said, “humanity has taken steps backward in spirituality, in belief in God.”
Nevertheless, the patriarch spoke warmly of Catholic-Orthodox dialogue and practical cooperation and he welcomed the pope, saying, “This is truly a historic visit. May God bless our two churches.”
Pope Francis began his speech by making a personal, improvised comment: “I am profoundly moved by hearing the ‘Ave Maria’ composed by Your Holiness. Only a heart profoundly devoted to the Mother of God could compose something so beautiful.”
“Faced with a world thirsting for mercy, unity and peace,” Pope Francis told the patriarch and members of the Georgian Synod of Bishops, God asks Catholics and Orthodox to “renew our commitment to the bonds which exist between us, of which our kiss of peace and our fraternal embrace are already an eloquent sign.”
While the Georgian patriarchate traces its origins to the preaching of the apostle Andrew, the church of Rome — the papacy — was founded by the apostle Peter. The two apostles were brothers, Pope Francis noted, and the churches they founded “are given the grace to renew today, in the name of Christ and to his glory, the beauty of apostolic fraternity.”
“Dear brother,” the pope told the patriarch, “let us allow the Lord Jesus to look upon us anew, let us once again experience the attraction of his call to leave everything that prevents us from proclaiming together his presence.”
“The Lord has given this love to us, so that we can love each other as he has loved us,” Pope Francis said.
The love of God and love for God, he said, should enable Catholics and Orthodox “to rise above the misunderstandings of the past, above the calculations of the present and fears for the future.”
Pope Francis praised the strength of the Georgian people and the Georgian church, which “found the strength to rise up again after countless trials.”
Pope Francis and the Orthodox patriarch of Georgia met on 30 September and pledged to witness to the Gospel of peace. (video: CNS)
The Georgian Orthodox Church, like the Catholic churches, is still recovering from harsh repression under Soviet rule. In 1917, there were almost 2,500 Orthodox churches in the country, but by the mid-1980’s only 80 were open for worship. The Catholic parishes suffered a similar fate, with church property confiscated and used as museums, offices, social halls or given to the Orthodox.
“The multitude of saints, whom this country counts, encourages us to put the Gospel before all else and to evangelize as in the past, even more so, free from the restraints of prejudice and open to the perennial newness of God,” the pope said.
When differences arise, he said, they must not be allowed to be an obstacle to evangelizing together, but a stimulus to get to know and understand each other better, “to intensify our prayers for each other and to cooperate with apostolic charity in our common witness, to the glory of God in heaven and in the service of peace on earth.”
Pope Francis ended his remarks by praying that the Georgian martyrs would intercede to bring “relief to the many Christians who even today suffer persecution and slander, and may they strengthen us in the noble aspiration to be fraternally united in proclaiming the Gospel of peace.”
Vatican officials had hoped that Patriarch Ilia would an official delegation to the pope’s Mass in Tbilisi on 1 October, which did not happen, but the patriarch warmly welcomed the pope to Svetitskhoveli Cathedral that evening, explaining the importance of the site in the history of Georgian Christianity and describing it as a symbol of stalwart faith in the face of the harshest persecution.
Pope Francis responded by praising the way the Georgian Orthodox treasure their history, but he also said that Christian identity is maintained when it not only is deeply rooted in faith, but “also when it is open and ready, never rigid or closed.”
Georgian Orthodox tradition holds that a chapel in the cathedral houses the seamless tunic of Jesus, a garment the pope described as symbolizing “a mystery of unity.”
Contemplating that seamless garment, he said, should make Christians feel “deep pain over the historical divisions” among them. “These are the true and real lacerations that wound the Lord’s flesh.”
3 October 2016
Tags: Pope Francis Ecumenism Christian Unity Georgia Georgian Orthodox Church
The video above details some of the highlights of Pope Francis’s trip this past weekend to Azerbaijan, including his visit to a newly dedicated mosque. (video: Rome Reports)
Pope visits mosque in Azerbaijan, issues plea for tolerance (CNS) As the spiritual leader of a tiny religious minority in Azerbaijan, Pope Francis told the leaders of the country’s other religious communities that they share a responsibility to help people grow in faith, but also in tolerance for the faith of others. “The blood of far too many people cries out to God from the Earth, our common home,” the pope said on 2 October during a meeting with religious leaders hosted by Sheik Allahshukur Pashazade, the region’s chief imam, in Baku’s Heydar Aliyev Mosque…
Pope meets charity workers in Tbilisi (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis met Catholic charity workers in the Georgian capital and encouraged them in their work, saying “the poor and the weak are the ‘flesh of Christ’ who call upon Christians of every confession, urging them to act without personal interests, following only the prompting of the Holy Spirit.” The meeting took place in the grounds of the Camilliani health clinic in Tbilisi and was attended by its director and the head of Caritas Georgia. Also present were staff and volunteers working for various Catholic charitable organizations in Georgia as well as patients and medical staff from the Camilliani clinic…
Syrian cave hospital shut down after attack (CNN) A hospital inside a cave in northeastern Syria has been forced to shut down after being hit by suspected “bunker-buster” missiles, according to an international aid organization. The hospital just outside of Hama — about 27 miles north of Homs — was hit Sunday, according to the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations…
Al Azhar University will organize international conference on peace (Fides) The Islamic University of Al Azhar will organize in early 2017, in cooperation with the Muslim Council of Elders, an international conference on peace, coexistence and interreligious dialogue, which will also include the active representatives of the Christian Churches of the East…
Ukrainian church in Canada destroyed by fire reopens (CBC) After a devastating fire, which burned St. Elias Ukrainian Catholic Church to the ground in April 2014, the Brampton church has now reopened, and to celebrate the church held its opening liturgy and consecration on Saturday. Hundreds of parishioners and guests from around the world attended, including head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, His Beatitude Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, who flew in from Ukraine to preside…
30 September 2016
Tags: Egypt Pope Francis Georgia Canada Azerbaijan
Pope Francis and Orthodox Patriarch Ilia II of Georgia arrive for a meeting at the patriarchal palace in Tbilisi, Georgia, on 30 September. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Subtly acknowledging Georgia’s ongoing territorial dispute with Russia, Pope Francis urged greater efforts to sow peace throughout the Caucasus region.
Shortly after arriving in Tbilisi at the start of his 16th foreign trip, the pope met privately with Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili 30 September and, with the president, he addressed a small gathering of civic leaders and members of the diplomatic corps outside the presidential palace.
In a nation where more than 230,000 people are still displaced by the ongoing Georgian-Russian dispute over control of South Ossetia, the pope said it was time to find a way for the displaced to return to their homes and for respect for the “sovereign rights” of each nation. Only Russia and a handful of other nations recognize the supposed independence of South Ossetia.
The theme the government and local church chose for the pope’s visit 30 September-1 October was “pax vobis,” “peace be with you.”
Margvelashvili was more blunt than the pope. Georgia, he said, “is still victim of a military aggression on the part of another state: 20 percent of our territory is occupied and 15 percent of the population is displaced. Their homes were taken only because they are ethnically Georgian!”
“Only 40 kilometers (about 25 miles) from here, there is barbed wire that prevents a peaceful population — neighbors and relatives — from having a relationship with each other,” the president said. “Only 40 kilometers from here, each day human beings witness violence, kidnappings, murders and offenses that deeply wound dignity.”
The return of displaced people is the government’s primary concern, he said. “Human beings should not have to suffer because of political situations and they have a right to return to their own homes.”
Pope Francis urged the people of the region to make concerted efforts to respect their cultural and ethnic differences, giving everyone a chance “to coexist peacefully in their homeland or freely to return to that land if, for some reason, they have been forced to leave it.”
“The peaceful coexistence among all peoples and states in the region is the indispensable and prior condition for such authentic and enduring progress,” the pope told the country’s leaders.
Georgia, which had been part of the Soviet Union, has been working for 25 years to build democracy and promote development. Pope Francis said he hoped the process would continue, increasingly involving all sectors of society to ensure “stability, justice and respect for the rule of law.”
Both the pope and the president emphasized Georgia’s “European” identity, but also it’s geographical location and historic role as a meeting place of Asia and Europe. Over Russian objections, Georgia has been trying to join the members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization; it has belonged to the Council of Europe since 1999.
The formal meetings took place after a brief airport welcoming ceremony. The president and patriarch were at the airport to welcome the pope, as were a boy and girl, who offered him a basket of grapes.
Pope Francis and Orthodox Patriarch Ilia II, bowed by age and Parkinson’s disease, stood next to each other as the Vatican and Georgian national anthems were played.
30 September 2016
In the video above, Pope Francis lands in Georgia and begins his trips to the Caucasus.
(video: Rome Reports)
Pope Francis arrives in Georgia to begin visit (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has arrived in Georgia at the start of a three day trip to the Caucasus which will also take him Sunday for a brief visit to Azerbaijan. On Friday, Georgian government, civil and religious leaders and members of the Catholic community turned out at Tbilisi’s international airport to greet the pontiff, whose plane touched down shortly before 3:00 pm local time...
Pope Francis calls for respect of international law (Reuters) Pope Francis called for respect for international law and the sovereign rights of nations as he arrived in Georgia on Friday, an implicit criticism of Russia, which keeps troops in two breakaway areas of the ex-Soviet state. But Francis measured his words carefully, in an apparent attempt not to hurt the Vatican’s increasingly warm ties with the Kremlin-backed Russian Orthodox Church...
Archbishop expresses hope over papal visit (Vatican Radio) Archbishop Raphael Minassian hopes that the Papal visit to Azerbaijan and Georgia will promote peace in the region. The small Catholic community in Georgia, which Pope Francis is visiting on Friday and Saturday, is made up of Latin, Chaldean and Armenian rites...
Syria military says it retook hospital, refugee camp in Aleppo (USA TODAY) Syrian government forces took control of a hospital in the besieged northern city of Aleppo on Friday, a day after seizing a Palestinian refugee camp in the city from rebels, according to Syria’s military. The military said its forces captured the Kindi hospital and were strengthening their positions in the Handarat refugee camp, the Associated Press reported...
U.S. surpasses Syrian refugee goal (The Washington Post) The United States has admitted 12,500 refugees from war-
ravaged Syria over the past year, surpassing President Obama’s target, and expects to admit even more next year, a State Department official said Tuesday...
29 September 2016
Sister Maureen Grady, C.S.C. worked for CNEWA in Beirut during a dangerous time in the 1980’s.
(photo: Christian Molidor, R.S.M.)
Some of our CNEWA heroes have witnessed remarkable moments of suffering, courage and grace. One who worked closely with us for many years even described her tenure in the Middle East as a time of “amazing grace.”
Sister Maureen Grady, a member of the Congregation of Sisters of the Holy Cross, served in Beirut as the chief operating officer of Pontifical Mission, CNEWA’s operating agency in the Middle East.
When she stepped down from that post in 1993, she wrote of her early days in Lebanon in the 1980’s:
Lebanon was in the midst of its own civil war, a war that witnessed the unlimited capacity of hatred, greed, corruption and the thirst for power. While emergency relief programs for displaced families and the handicapped were implemented, I fell in love with the people and country.
The hope of the young and the courage of the women religious inspired in me a passion for a people who were saddened and burdened by the destruction of their country by their own.
We Americans know the danger and extent of the power of hatred as it was unleashed in Lebanon. It was a very dangerous time. How I survived I do not know; and now that I think of it, I do not know why I took the risk. I know taking such a risk is something you only do once. However I made calculated decisions and took advice from those in the know.
I was protected. There are many incidents I could describe that illustrate this protection: lunching in a quiet restaurant that 30 minutes after I left became the scene of a bloodbath; boarding a ferry to travel from Cyprus to Beirut as I habitually did, only to change my mind and fly into Beirut instead — that ferry was bombed that night. It was God who invited me to begin this journey and it was God who sustained and protected me.
Not long after that, she began working with CNEWA and Pontifical Mission full time. She described meeting the agency’s chair, Cardinal John O'Connor:
[CNEWA’s National Secretary] Msgr. John Nolan arrived in Lebanon with Cardinal John O’Connor, president of the Pontifical Mission’s sister agency, Catholic Near East Welfare Association. The cardinal approached me and asked, “Could you handle this?” and I responded, “Yes.” Msgr. Nolan then formally asked me to accept the position of director.
Later at a gathering of Lebanon’s religious, male and female, the cardinal introduced me as his representative in Lebanon, saying, “remember, my last name is O’Connor, and hers, O’Grady!”
It was a perilous period. In 1989, her convent was shelled during heavy fighting in east Beirut. A report at the time noted that she spent the night in the convent basement after the windows were blown out. But she persisted:
The greatest resource of any organization is its people. I recruited a young, energetic and intelligent staff; a group of people who were interested in doing their part to bring peace to their country. And though they could profit from formation and guidance, their dynamism and energy strengthened our efforts to work with the poor. And unlike the majority of the populace, they were freer of the prejudices that have haunted their homeland.
For four years, the biggest decision each day was whether or not to call each person to the office. Every morning we communicated with one another via walkie talkie — the phone lines were almost always down. Usually we discussed the fighting in each individual’s neighborhood and whether it was relatively safe to leave the security of a stairwell or a bunker. I was responsible for the safety and lives of each staff member. Yet in those four years of fighting, we only missed two working days. In a nation that saw schools, businesses and basic social services disrupted 50 percent of the time, our staff’s desire to work was amazing and their accomplishments, astounding.
“Astounding” could well describe the heroic work of this tireless sister, whose tenacity and resourcefulness paid off — and her work reminds us still of the spirit that guides all who work among the poor and suffering of the world.
29 September 2016
Earlier this week, CNEWA’s president Msgr. John E. Kozar was in Onatario for the meeting of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, and to meet with CNEWA’s board in Canada. Along the way, he stopped by the offices of Salt + Light TV for an interview on their program “Perspectives.” Among other things, he touched on the ongoing crisis in Ethiopia. (His portion of the conversation begins at 8:10 in the video below).
Thanks to the generosity of our donors, CNEWA has responded to the debilitating drought in that corner of the world. Read this report to learn how.
But there is still so much more to be done. To find out what you can do for the suffering people in the Horn of Africa, visit this link.
29 September 2016
Families displaced by violence arrive in June at a temporary shelter in Kirkuk, Iraq. Chaldean Catholic bishops, meeting for their annual synod in Erbil, Iraq, pleaded for peace in the Middle East and for the liberation of areas seized by the Islamic State so that the displaced can return to their homes. (photo: CNS/EPA)
Chaldean Catholic bishops, meeting for their annual synod, pleaded for peace in the Middle East and for the liberation of areas seized by the Islamic State group so that the displaced can return to their homes.
Chaldeans were among the approximately 120,000 Christians who were uprooted when the Islamic State seized Mosul and the Ninevah Plain in Iraq during the summer of 2014.
In the final statement issued at the conclusion of the 22-27 September synod, the 20 bishops from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Lebanon, the United States, Canada and Australia also expressed their solidarity with Bishop Antoine Audo of Aleppo, Syria, one of the participants.
They called for officials to “stop the war in Syria and sit together in a constructive dialogue to find a peaceful political solution that preserves the country and the nation.”
Regarding the issue of priests and monks who left their dioceses and monasteries in Iraq without formal permission to emigrate, the bishops emphasized that such departures from the homeland “were raising doubts among faithful.” Consequently, the statement directed that those priests and monks must “leave their current dioceses (abroad) immediately.”
“We could accept them, on condition that one of the Chaldean bishops can accommodate them after a month or two of rehabilitation,” the statement continued. “Meanwhile, (those) priests should return to their bishops to regularize their status before commencing their pastoral mission.” They confirmed that Chaldean Father Noel Gorgis, who had emigrated without permission, had been ordered to leave the Eparchy of St. Peter the Apostle in San Diego.
The synod selected three candidates for bishop of the San Diego eparchy to be sent to Pope Francis. Bishop Shlemon Warduni has been serving as interim bishop of the eparchy since the retirement of Bishop Sarhad Jammo.
The statement said that the Chaldean Church will proceed with the cause for canonization of Catholics martyred in Iraq since 2003, including Archbishop Faraj Rahho, Father Father Ragheed Kani, four deacons and a nun.
29 September 2016
In the video above, the UN Special Envoy to Syria expresses his gratitude to Pope Francis for his efforts to bring peace to Syria. (video: Rome Reports)
Pope Francis speaks to Mideast aid agencies (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis received representatives from the various Catholic aid agencies and charitable organizations under the leadership of the Pontifical Council Cor unum working in Iraq, Syria, and other countries in the region affected by the ongoing conflicts in both Syria and Iraq. The Pontifical Council Cor unum is the Pope’s special instrument for carrying out humanitarian initiatives, promoting integral human development, coordinating the initiatives of Catholic Organizations, and encouraging the faithful to give concrete witness to the Gospel through charitable activity...
Russia rejects U.S. demands for resumption of Syrian cease-fire (The New York Times) The Russian government vowed on Thursday to press ahead with its operations in Syria, dismissing Secretary of State John Kerry’s threat to cut off talks if the bombardment of Aleppo continued. “We have more than once suggested 48-hour pauses in order to ensure humanitarian access,” Sergei A. Ryabkov, the deputy foreign minister of Russia, told reporters in Moscow on Thursday. “But our American colleagues are totally fixated on demands of a seven-day pause for reasons that only they know...”
Patriarch: Palestinian refugees have right to return to their homeland (Fides) The international recognition of the Palestinian State is an act which cannot be delayed if one really wants to favor the re-establishment of peace in the Middle East. And one must also support and ensure the return of all Palestinian refugees, still scattered in the Middle East, to their homeland, which is one of their “natural rights.” This is how Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Rai defined the prerogative claimed by the descendants of the Palestinian Arab populations who fled from Palestine after the birth of the State of Israel...
Baby born in jungle symbolizes suffering of India’s Christians (Crux) When Father Madan Singh was recently appointed the director of Jana Vikas, a grassroots organization based in the eastern Indian region of Kandhamal, the very first thing he did was to visit a young girl named “Jungle Rani,” whose mother gave birth to her in 2008 when tens of thousands of Christians took refuge in a forest during ferocious anti-Christian riots...
Vatican publishes theme for 2017 World Day for Social Communications (Vatican Radio) The theme for the Church’s 2017 World Day for Social Communications was published on Thursday. The theme or motto chosen for this event is: “Fear not, for I am with you” (Is 43.5). Communicating hope and trust in our time...
28 September 2016
Children help one another at the Our Lady of Armenia Education Center in Tashir, Armenia. For more about the spirit and perseverance of the Church of Armenia, check out An Unshakable Faith in the Autumn 2016 edition of ONE. (photo: Nazik Armenakyan)
28 September 2016
In this image from 2014, Pope Francis welcomes former Israeli President Shimon Peres during a meeting at the Vatican. Peres died Tuesday at the age of 93.
(photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano via EPA)
Pope Francis offers condolences on death of Shimon Peres (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has sent a telegram expressing his “heartfelt condolences” to the people of Israel upon learning of the death of their former President, Shimon Peres. He died on Tuesday at the age of 93. “I fondly recall my time with Mr Peres at the Vatican and renew my great appreciation for the late President’s tireless efforts in favor of peace,” Pope Francis said...
Children of Aleppo, trapped in a killing zone (The New York Times) Among the roughly 250,000 people trapped in the insurgent redoubt of the divided northern Syrian city are 100,000 children, the most vulnerable victims of intensified bombings by Syrian forces and their Russian allies. Though the world is jolted periodically by the suffering of children in the Syria conflict — the photographs of Alan Kurdi’s drowned body and Omran Daqneesh’s bloodied face are prime examples — dead and traumatized children are increasingly common...
Pope renews appeal for Aleppo (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has once again appealed for peace in Syria. At his General Audience on Wednesday, the Pope said, “dramatic news continues to reach me concerning the fate of the people of Aleppo, with whom, through prayer and spiritual closeness, I feel united in suffering...”
Among young Lebanese, only 25 percent are Christians (Fides) Today, Christians account for 34 percent of the Lebanese population registered in the civil Status register. But if the focus is placed on the Lebanese population up to 25 years of age, the percentage of Christians drops to 25 percent. This is the most eloquent demographic data on the current number of Christians in Lebanon, released by the vice president of the Maronite League Hiam Boustany at the Conference convened yesterday by the Movement for the Earth at the convent of Mar Yacoub, in the village of Karm Saddeh and dedicated to the sale of land belonging to Christian owners...
Russian implicated in shooting down Malaysia Airlines jet over Ukraine (The New York Times) A Dutch-led investigation has concluded that the powerful surface-to-air missile system that was used to shoot down a Malaysia Airlines plane over Ukraine two years ago, killing all 298 on board, was trucked in from Russia at the request of Russian-backed separatists and returned to Russia the same night. The report largely confirmed the already widely documented Russian government role not only in the deployment of the missile system, called a Buk, or SA-11, but the subsequent cover up, which continues to this day...
Patriarch Kirill signs petition urging Putin to ban abortion (AFP) Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill on Tuesday signed a petition calling for a legal ban on abortion, the Church said in a statement. The Patriarch met anti-abortion campaigners and signed a petition to be handed to President Vladimir Putin urging a ban on abortions. The Patriach’s signing of the petition apparently represents a hardening of the Church’s position as it has previously only called for a ban on state-provided abortions without a medical necessity...,/p>
Ethiopians mark Meskel (Reuters) Orthodox priests lit a bonfire in the heart of the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa on Monday evening to mark the eve of Meskel, a festival to mark the finding of the cross of Jesus. Tens of thousands of people, many holding up candles in the failing light as the sun set, crowded on terraces around the square where the ceremony was led by the head of Ethiopia’s Christian Orthodox church, Patriarch Abune Mathias...