11 September 2015
An Adivasi child carries his brother in the village of Bhatpal, in the Bastar region of India.
(photo: Jose Jacob)
In the Summer edition of ONE, Jose Kavi reports on the challenges facing sisters working in the conflict-stricken “Red Corridor.” He offers here some additional impressions of covering that story.
A sigh of relief went up from me when my train crossed over to Odisha from Chhattisgarh, two neighboring states in India’s central-eastern region. My four-day stay in Chhattisgarh was one of the toughest periods in my 35-year-old reporting career.
Chhattisgarh was one of the few of India’s 28 states that I had not visited until a reporting assignment took me there in March. It would be an understatement if I say I was not anxious or worried to visit that predominantly tribal state.
Gathering my wits, I boarded the plane to the Chhattisgarh capital of Raipur, some 750 miles southeast of New Delhi. The aircraft was full but only a couple of the passengers were tribal. The others were non-tribals: politicians, government officers, contractors and employees of transnational firms — all outsiders who lived off the mineral-rich state.
Their presence reminded me what I had read about Chhattisgarh, one of India’s states that struggled with a plethora of problems.
One of the problems was the stranglehold of Maoists over several pockets in the state.
In the past 20 years, the revolutionary Communist group that follows the ideals of Chinese leader Mao Zedong has killed more than 12,000 people in nine states, with Chhattisgarh topping them all.
During the nearly six-hour drive from Raipur to Jagdalpur, my host Father Augustine Vadakkedom explained that the Maoists had entered the state in late 1970s to help the poor tribal and Dalit communities who had been oppressed. However the protectors mounted a full-fledged war against the government and its security forces and the two marginalized communities soon found themselves caught in the middle.
Now I was wading into this troubled corner of the country. My assignment was to study the works of two Catholic women religious congregations serving Jagdalpur diocese that covers the Maoist-infested Bastar region.
Father Augustine and the sisters from the two congregations took us to places where we were told the Maoists were quite active. While passing through a forest road to go to a mission station, Father Augustine stopped at the spot where a landmine explosion two years ago killed at least 27 people, many of them top political leaders in the state. A red crumbled car stood in front of the nearest police station as a mute witness to that incident.
During the trip we met women such as Sister Julie Mathew who were caught in the crossfire of Maoists and security forces. Sister Julie had close encounters with Maoists at least three times. Once, she and another sister were blindfolded and taken by the outlaws to their hideouts deep inside the forests for questioning. She also told how she and some 50 hostel children faced death when Maoists attacked a police station that was adjacent to their convent.
The sisters explained how they had to reluctantly close village dispensaries under pressure from the Maoists, who wanted the church people to perform abortions and carry medicines for them.
But there were rays of hope in this dismal scenario.
First, there is the quiet revolution the nuns’ presence is stoking among illiterate men and women in remote villages. In one village, an aged woman shared how the people used to cower at the sight of even an office assistant in a government office. But the sisters are giving the people a sense of dignity and confidence. A few days before I met them, thought, the villagers had marched to a district collector as a group and gotten him agree to give them electricity to their village.
The villagers also admitted that they had strictly followed caste barriers until the sisters arrived. Now, they all sit together and seek solutions to their common problems. The sisters have taught them that is that there is strength in unity.
And the task is not over yet. That is why women like Sister Julie say they would remain, whatever the price they have to pay.
I let out a sigh of relief as the train chugged out of the last station in Chhattisgarh. I was comforted by the thought that there are still some people out there who are willing to risk their lives to improve the lives of others.
But reminders of the risks they face are never far away. Just a few days after I left the region, the newspapers reported another ambush by the Maoists that killed at least five security persons.
Read more about how sisters are working to change lives by “Serving in the Red” in the Summer edition of ONE.
And to support their work, visit this page.
11 September 2015
In this photo from 9 September, Bishop Gregory Mansour of the Eparchy of St. Maron of Brooklyn, N.Y., and Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan, the prelate of the Armenian Apostolic Church of the Eastern United States, participate in an ecumenical prayer service at St. Joseph Church on Capitol Hill opening the In Defense of Christians Leadership Convention in Washington.
(photo: CNS/Jaclyn Lippelmann)
A gathering in Washington this week called attention to the plight of Christians in the Middle East:
Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington called for solidarity with the persecuted Christians of the Middle East during a 9 September prayer service at a Roman Catholic church on Capitol Hill.
The prayer service was held in conjunction with the In Defense of Christians summit held at a Capitol Hill hotel, within walking distance of St. Joseph Church.
The summit is the second for the organization, which Cardinal Wuerl noted in his reflections during the prayer service.
“All of came together (in 2014) so the people could ... express solidarity with our brothers and sisters,” he said, “and bear prayerful witness to the suffering of so many ... especially our Christian brothers and sisters.”
This year, Cardinal Wuerl said, “we are gathered in solidarity and witness” again to support the region’s Christians who face “tragedy” every day. “Much, much needs to be said about what continues to happen in the Middle East,” he added.
“After the prayer service, we can walk out and enjoy freedom. So many of our brothers and sisters cannot do that.”
Cardinal Wuerl recalled the beatitudes, as proclaimed in English at the prayer service — but also in sung chant — by Melkite Father Nabil Haddad, founder of the Jordanian Interfaith Coexistence Research Center, and in particular, “those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” These, the cardinal said, are today’s Middle East’s Christians.
“We know that we can offer our prayers,” he added. “Prayer helps. Prayer is effective.”
Read the rest.
11 September 2015
The pope has called for concrete steps to help persecuted Christians in the Middle East. In the video above, an organization reports that a petition calling for action from the United Nations has garnered 130,000 signatures. (video: Rome Reports)
Pope discusses refugee crisis with Serbian president (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis met on Friday with the President of the Serbian Republic Tomislav Nikolic to discuss common interests, including the current refugee crisis, as well as relations between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches in the Balkan country. A statement from the Vatican press office after the private meeting said the two leaders also discussed Serbia’s progress towards integration into the European Union and the Catholic Church’s contribution to the common good of Serbian society...
European bishops say migration issue requires a continent-wide solution (CNS) The European Union must adopt a common asylum policy “without delay” because it is unacceptable for refugees to “drown and suffocate” at the fringes of the bloc, said the European bishops. A statement issued by the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community, COMECE, said a common policy would prevent countries from keeping out migrants. “If we can solve an economic crisis at an overnight EU extraordinary summit, then it should be just as easy with this crisis, especially when the fate of so many people is at stake. After all, the question of a common solution to the refugee crisis is also an issue that directly affects the values and the future of Europe,” said the statement issued 10 September...
U.S. official: ISIS making and using chemical weapons in Iraq and Syria (BBC) There is a growing belief within the US government that the Islamic State militant group is making and using crude chemical weapons in Iraq and Syria, a US official has told the BBC. The US has identified at least four occasions on both sides of the Iraq-Syria border where ISIS has used mustard agents, the official said. The official said the chemical was being used in powder form...
Russian Orthodox Church stands up for Muslim book ruled “extremist” by court (RT) Probes into allegations of extremism in ancient sacred writings should be banned, the Russian Orthodox Church said after a controversial court ruling over a Muslim book was announced in the Russian city of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. Ancient religious texts written hundreds of years ago should be immune from any form of legal process, Russian Orthodox Church spokesman Vsevolod Chaplin said in an interview with Interfax on Thursday...
“What I learned worshipping with Egypt’s Christians” (Christianity Today) Though different from our evangelical congregations back in America, the Coptic community offered us a vibrant place of faith where the gospel was preached, people were healed, and members strengthened each other. We sat through large open-air services with lively worship led by a praise team. We also attended solemn masses in hushed Arabic tones. Led by a soft-spoken priest simply called Abouna (“Our Father”), we often felt like we were discovering the early church...
10 September 2015
The Franciscan Sisters of the Cross in Lebanon help care for the mentally and
physically handicapped. (photo: CNEWA)
Between now and 1 November (All Saints’ Day), the first $100,000 donated to help the sisters in CNEWA’s world will be matched dollar for dollar.
This past week, CNEWA received the following letter from a loyal donor. During this Year of Sisters, he shares our belief that supporting the compassionate women of the Church has never been more important:
As a California businessman, I have always tried to get the biggest bang for the buck. I saw no reason that I should view religious affairs differently. Jesus, in one of his parables (Luke 16), seems to acknowledge the skill of worldly managers as greater than those of the light, and suggests we learn from them.
I remember my early years in Catholic education, and the huge impact the sisters made on me and my classmates. Who can overlook the life commitment these women made, and the opportunity to have a family that they gave up? What a statement of faith and love.
As a result of the sacrifices of many young women like these, the backbone of the Catholic Church in the United States was formed. They were never in the headlines, but were present, telling their story of faith in a quiet but very real way.
This same opportunity presents itself today in the third world, a world of grinding poverty and war. So many young women are ready to sacrifice, but unable to do so for lack of resources.
What is the solution? How might we be shrewd managers?
Well, CNEWA has come up with a plan: when you send a dollar to train and educate a young woman in a novitiate, another donor has agreed to add a matching dollar.
Doubling the amount you give to a good cause will always be a good investment. It also increases the number of good people who can join together, to not only make the world a better place, but also build up the Church.
That sounds like something in which everyone wins. So won’t you join me in participating in this wonderful project? Together we can make a difference.”
Your gift to CNEWA is worth double if received by 1 November. Please click here to give what you can. Thank you!
10 September 2015
Steeped in legend, Etchmiadzin Cathedral in Armenia is the mother church of the
Armenian people. (photo: Armineh Johannes)
Thousands of tribes and peoples litter the pages of world history. Most have distinguished themselves as conquerors or settlers, eventually passing from the scene and leaving behind as their legacy a tablet, a ruin or a reputation. The Armenians, whose ancient homeland now encompasses eastern Turkey, parts of the Caucasus and northwestern Iran, have endured for more than 3,000 years — despite the challenges of living along the East-West trade routes. Squeezed between Asia and Europe, Armenians have outlived more powerful neighbors, who repeatedly and relentlessly sought to subjugate and even obliterate them.
How have the Armenians survived, when far more powerful peoples — Romans and Parthians, Byzantines and Ottomans — vanished? Most historians would credit the resolve and resourcefulness of the Armenian Apostolic Church, a powerful faith community that has either defined or impacted all aspects of Armenian society, language and culture.
Incontestably, Armenia was the first nation to adopt the Christian faith. A Roman scribe, known to history as Agathangelos, recorded the events of St. Gregory the Illuminator’s conversion of King Tiridates III based on contemporary sources more than a century after the deaths of the principals. What is not documented, however, is the origin of Armenian Christianity. Ancient tradition credits the apostles Bartholomew and Thaddeus as the source of the Christian faith in Armenia. Armenian Christian familiarity with Syriac and Greek Christian customs — before the era of Gregory — point to Armenia’s links to the ancient churches of the eastern Mediterranean.
Sunday morning liturgy is celebrated at St. James Monastery in the Armenian Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem. (photo: Ilene Perlman)
Armenian Christianity prospered, charting its own course as it navigated the troubled waters of neighboring Byzantium and Persia. This quest for independence did not, however, require the severance of commercial or cultural relationships with the Christian Byzantines or the Muslim world. For centuries, trade flourished. Byzantine emperors and Muslim leaders employed Armenian scribes. Armenians engineered defense systems and restored the dome of Haghia Sophia, the Great Church of Eastern Christendom. The medieval Armenian capital city of Ani — now a ghostly ruin just inside Turkey’s border with Armenia — demonstrates the architectural sophistication and artistic wealth of medieval Armenia. Described in contemporary chronicles as the “city of a 1001 churches,” Ani’s surviving churches are technical wonders, utilizing architectural devices — such as blind arcades and ribbed vaults — that would later support Europe’s Gothic cathedrals. Surviving frescoes and sculpted panels depicting kings and catholicoi, saints and angels, birds and crosses, reveal Arab, Byzantine, classical Greek and Persian influences.
Even after the Ottoman Turks supplanted the Byzantines, capturing Constantinople in 1453, the Armenians of the Ottoman Empire thrived well into the modern era. Armenian catholicoi, patriarchs and bishops guided their eparchies, which until the eve of World War I numbered 52. But the rise of national movements throughout 19th-century Europe, which began in Ottoman provinces in the Balkans, significantly altered the position of the empire’s Christian minorities, especially its Armenians.
The empire’s Armenian communities, whose aspirations were nominally supported by France, Great Britain and Russia, were violently targeted, beginning with isolated pogroms in 1894 and 1895. Eventually, these incidents spread throughout the empire, fueled after the Ottoman Turks entered World War I as an ally of Germany and Austria-Hungary. By 1923, some 1.5 million Armenians perished in what many today call the Armenian Genocide. Those who survived, perhaps a quarter of a million people, fled to Lebanon and Syria.
Click here to learn more about this church, and how it has survived the violence of the last century.
10 September 2015
A resident of the Deivadan Home in Malayatoor, India, receives a blessing from 96-year-old Father Abraham Kaippenplackal, founder of the Deivadan Sisters. The sisters run the facility, whose mission is to help uplift Kerala’s abandoned elderly. To learn more, read “Fearless Grace” from the July 2010 edition of ONE. (photo: Peter Lemieux)
10 September 2015
A Syrian refugee woman cries as she carries her baby through the mud to cross the border from Greece into Macedonia near the Greek village of Idomeni on 10 September.
(photo: CNS/Yannis Behrakis, Reuters)
Archdiocese of Toronto to sponsor 100 refugee families from Syria (Catholic Register) One hundred more families, three-million more dollars and an infinite well of compassion will be the Archdiocese of Toronto’s response to photos of three-year-old Alan Kurdi’s tiny, lifeless body lying on a Turkish beach. As interest in Syria’s 3.5 million refugees has spiked with front page pictures and television coverage of the Kurdi family, as well as thousands of refugees struggling through Hungary and Greece on their way to Germany and Western Europe, Cardinal Thomas Collins has decided to add to the more than 600 refugee cases Toronto Catholics have already taken on this year...
A new wave of migrants flees Iraq (The New York Times) Emboldened by the recent wave of news coverage showing their countrymen and fellow Arabs fleeing the war in Syria and reaching Europe, many Iraqis see a new opportunity to get out. After years of violence and unmet promises for democracy by a corrupt political elite, Iraqis who resisted leaving during previous crises are now embarking on the country’s next great wave of emigration, an exodus that leaders warn is further tearing at the country at a time when its unity, more than ever, is threatened by the militants of the Islamic State...
Russia sends weapons, military experts to Syria (Vatican Radio) Russian forces have reportedly begun participating in military operations in Syria in support of President Bashar al-Assad’s government troops...
Sex-selective abortions, trafficking impacting marriage in India (AP) When Sadhuram Berwal wanted to get married, his family went about it in the traditional Indian way, asking relatives, neighbors and local temple priests to suggest a young woman. But after an extensive search among women of his caste in his area, no suitable bride could be found. A larger factor had narrowed the field sharply: a skewed male-female ratio that is particularly pronounced in his home state of Haryana, in India’s north, due to sex-selective abortions in a society where many families prize boys over girls, mostly for economic reasons...
Happy New Year 2008 in Ethiopia (Vatican Radio) On the occasion of the Ethiopian New Year 2008, this Saturday 12 September, the Archbishop of Addis Ababa, Cardinal Berhaneyesus Souraphiel has given his New Year message and blessing through the Ethiopian media. The Ethiopian calendar is based on the Coptic calendar, which was fixed to the Julian calendar in 25 B.C. by the Emperor Augustus of Rome with a start date of 29 August J.C., thus establishing the New Year on this day...
9 September 2015
Syrian children walk amid the dust during a sandstorm on 7 September 2015 at a refugee camp on the outskirts of the eastern Lebanese city of Baalbek. (photo: AFP/Getty Images)
A massive sandstorm is taking a devastating and deadly toll on parts of the Middle East this week:
Thick yellow dust blew into Middle Eastern capitals from the east on Tuesday, putting life — and war — briefly on pause.
The massive sandstorm started in Iraq and also blanketed parts of Syria, Turkey, Egypt, Cyprus, Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinian territories on Tuesday.
Health authorities in several countries warned people not to leave their homes, and schools closed in Jordan and Lebanon. Many flights across the region were grounded due to poor visibility. The Syrian regime even called off airstrikes against rebels in central Syria on Monday due to the weather.
While some Syrians had a brief respite from the bombing, the storm presented dangers of its own. Thousands of Syrians were hospitalized with breathing problems and oxygen supplies were running low in some areas, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. In the Syrian capital Damascus, health officials said they had treated more than 1,200 people, including 100 children, with breathing difficulties.
Several casualties were reported in connection with the storm in Lebanon. The country’s health ministry said two women were killed and some 750 hospitalized. Syrian refugees sheltering in informal camps in Lebanon were particularly hard hit by the storm, Agence France Press reported.
Syria’s health minister urged citizens to “avoid prolonged exposure to the outdoors” and said hundreds of people had been treated for cases of asthma and other respiratory problems.
Thick haze was hanging over Jerusalem and much of Israel and the Palestinian Territories, with officials also warning the vulnerable to stay indoors.
The view from the Mount of Olives — which normally offers a sweeping panorama of Jerusalem’s Old City and the Al Aqsa mosque compound with its golden Dome of the Rock — was completely obscured by the dust.
The thick cloud also enveloped parts of the eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus, where residents were told to limit their time outdoors.
...The interior ministry said that dozens of Syrian refugees who had been rescued from a fishing boat off the coast of Cyprus on Sunday had been moved from a makeshift camp to a better-equipped facility because of the extreme weather.
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.