20 August 2015
Pilgrims gather in Annaya, Lebanon, to venerate the remains of the revered Maronite monk, St. Sharbel. (photo: Sarah Hunter)
The Maronite Church is not known for its architectural achievements, artistic wonders or musical treasures. Driven into the peaks and valleys of Mount Lebanon — a mountain range stretching along the eastern Mediterranean — the Maronites’ greatest accomplishments are perseverance in the faith, the unique relationship forged between patriarch and people, and their role in the creation of modern Lebanon.
The fortunes of the Maronites are often tied to those of Lebanon; to separate either of these symbiotic entities would do neither of them justice. But equally inaccurate is the suggestion that to be Maronite is to be Lebanese, or vice versa. Some 10 million Lebanese live elsewhere, in Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe and Oceania; as many as half are Maronites.
The Maronite Church is rooted in the asceticism of the desert saints from Asia Minor, Egypt, Palestine and Syria — provinces of the Roman Empire that eventually evolved into Byzantium. Throughout the fourth and fifth centuries, thousands of men and women, following the Gospel’s call to “pray always,” withdrew from society and dedicated themselves to prayer and penance. One such hermit, a priest named Maron, repaired to a hilltop near the Syrian city of Aleppo. According to one fifth-century Syrian bishop, Maron lived a solitary life of fasting and prayer, attaining a “wealth of wisdom.”
Maron died in 410. Carrying with them the skull of the revered priest, his disciples — known as Maronites — formed Beit Maron (Syriac, meaning “house of Maron”), a monastic community near the great city of Antioch. There, the Byzantine Emperor Marcian sponsored the construction of the monastery, which was dedicated in 452.
Seventeenth-century frescoes decorate the apse of a monastery chapel in Lebanon’s Wadi Qadisha, or Valley of the Saints. (photo: Michael La Civita)
The development of the Maronite community coincided with the great debates rocking the early church in the eastern Mediterranean. And as the church, particularly in the East, became intricately linked to the imperial Byzantine state, the positions assumed by competing parties took on political overtones. The early Maronites were Hellenized Semites, natives of Byzantine Syria who spoke Greek and Syriac yet identified with Greek-speaking Constantinople and Antioch.
Where were the monks of Beit Maron in this political, social and theological upheaval? Little evidence remains. What has survived has triggered more than a century of debate among historians, particularly in Maronite circles. The general consensus, however, concludes that the Beit Maron community, as loyal subjects of the Byzantine emperor, accepted the decrees of the ecumenical councils called by the emperors to bring unity to church and commonwealth. They implemented them among the local Syriac-speaking Christian community, forming the nucleus of the Maronite Church.
The Arab Muslim annexation of Syria in the mid-seventh century altered the position of the Maronites. With contacts with Constantinople severed, Antioch in Muslim hands, and its ecclesial situation in disarray, the monks of Beit Maron elected one of their own as patriarch of Antioch. Tradition has it this first patriarch of Antioch of the Maronites, St. John Maron, was elected in 685.
Bands of Maronites soon began to settle in the northern reaches of Mount Lebanon, where they established autonomous communities and formed alliances among themselves while pledging fealty to the patriarch. They tenaciously defended their autonomy, repeatedly attacking Arab positions and harassing Byzantine scouts eager to retake the area.
Ironically, the Maronites flourished despite the destruction of Beit Maron in the ninth century and the relocation of the Maronite patriarchate to a monastery near the coastal town of Batroun. In the peaks and valleys of Mount Lebanon, the Maronites terraced the difficult terrain, tilled the soil, planted olive trees and fruit trees and cultivated vineyards. Maronite holy men and women, like their hermitic predecessors, lived and prayed alone, carving hermitages in the rock, inaccessible to predators but accessible to those seeking counsel. Thus for more than two centuries the Maronite Church endured in mountainous isolation.
Read a full account of the Maronite Church from ONE magazine here.
20 August 2015
Tags: Eastern Christianity Eastern Churches Maronite Church Maronite Eastern Catholic Churches
Sister Imre Ágota begins the day behind her desk, planning. A Greek Catholic Basilian sister, she is working to restore the faith in Hungary after years of Communist domination and suppression. Read more about their ministry in A Sister’s Act from the June 2007 edition of ONE. (photo: Tivadar Domaniczky)
20 August 2015
Tags: Sisters Eastern Europe Hungary Hungarian Greek Catholic
Egyptian policemen stand in front of a damaged national security building in northern Cairo on 20 August. (photo: Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images)
ISIS claims responsibility for car bombing in Cairo (The Washington Post) ISIS claimed Thursday it carried out a massive car bombing that targeted Egyptian security forces in Cairo, calling the operation revenge for the deaths of some of its members earlier this year. Six policemen were injured in the predawn attack on a branch of the National Security Agency, the country’s domestic spy service, in the Cairo suburb of Shubra al Kheima, the Interior Ministry said. The powerful blast — which could be heard across several Cairo districts — has raised fears of stepped up insurgent attacks in the Egyptian capital. Islamists and other militants have waged an increasingly deadly campaign against Egyptian security forces since a military coup ousted President Muhammad Morsi in 2013…
Kidnapped Syrian priest released (Christian Today) A priest kidnapped in Syria a month ago has been released but others are still missing. The Rev. Tony Boutros, 50, a Melkite Greek Catholic priest, was taken by unknown assailants on 12 July when he was being driven to church. His driver was also kidnapped. Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregory III of Antioch, disclosed the release of Father Boutros. Still missing are Italian Jesuit Father Paolo Dall’Oglio and two Orthodox Archishops, Youhanna Ibrahim and Paul Yazigi…
Hamas seizes ‘Israeli spy dolphin’ (BBC) Hamas claims to have captured a dolphin being used as an Israeli spy off the coast of Gaza, local media report. The group says the mammal was equipped with spying devices, including cameras, according to the newspaper Al Quds. It was apparently discovered by a naval unit of Hamas’s military wing and brought ashore…
Inside Aleppo (Newsweek) Over three years, this crude slaughter by both sides has turned Aleppo into a Syrian Stalingrad. It has also divided the city into two distinct halves. In the June attack, the jarra came in such numbers and over such a wide area that they sowed mass panic. Three days before Ramadan, the point of this barrage was to trumpet a major new rebel assault on the regime-held part of the city; the rebel militias, emboldened by new alliances and successes elsewhere in northern Syria, were hoping to break through the stalemate and take Aleppo once and for all. Their new offensive came amid persistent rumors that the Syrian regime might let go of the country’s second most important city, the better to defend its heartlands in the south and west of the country…
Torrential rains threaten historic Orthodox cathedral in Sitka, Alaska (oca.org) For two weeks, Archpriest Michael Boyle and the faithful of St. Michael the Archangel Cathedral here have been praying for relief from torrential rains that have pounded the region and flooded the historic structure’s basement. “While the cathedral, which stands in the middle of the downtown district, has been spared from mudslides, it has been significantly affected by rain — especially over the past 48 hours, during which at times up to an inch an hour fell,” said Father Michael…
Ethiopia restoring its first mosque (The Daily Trust) The history of Negash is one tied to that of Islam in Ethiopia dating back to the seventh century and is home to Africa’s first mosque built then. It has been dubbed ‘The second Mecca.’ Nigerian tourists were educated on the fact that during Haile Selassie’s reign, Muslim communities brought personal, inheritance and family issues before Islamic court. When our reporter visited, renovations were ongoing by the Turkish government as part of preparations to make it a UNESCO World Heritage site…
19 August 2015
Tags: Syria Ethiopia Gaza Strip/West Bank Orthodox ISIS
Palestinian Christian worshipers and priests take part in an open-air liturgy to protest the building of Israel’s controversial barrier in the Cremisan Valley.
(photo: Musa Al-Shaer/AFP/Getty Images)
“When you are besieging a city for a long time to capture it, you shall not destroy the trees by wielding the axe against them...” — Deuteronomy 20:19
The Cremisan Valley could be called the Valley of Broken Hopes. It lies between the Palestinian city of Bethlehem and the illegal settlements of Gilo and Har Gilo. It has been the center of controversy around Israeli plans to extend the “security barrier” through the valley. The barrier which has been planned for many years, would run down the Cremisan Valley near Bethlehem, severing some 50 Palestinian farming families from their farms, and separating the community of Salesian priests and brothers from that of the Salesian sisters. In addition, the 30-foot-high wall would surround on three sides the school run by the sisters.
For a time, it seemed the barrier would not be built. In an apparent victory for the Christian community in the Palestinian West Bank, the Society of St. Yves, a legal aid group of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, announced on 2 April that the Israeli Supreme Court had accepted the many petitions of Christian groups and rejected the plans to build an extension of the Israeli separation wall in the Cremisan Valley.
Those hopes for justice were dashed earlier this month. On 5 August 2015, the Israeli Supreme Court dismissed the petitions to have the wall moved to another place in the valley. Construction of the wall was begun almost immediately. Protests from the largely Christian population in the Valley quickly followed.
Some were prayerful and peaceful (such as the one shown above). But others led to violent confrontations with Israeli soldiers.
According to Vatican Radio, while “Israel claims the construction of the barrier is necessary for security reasons, Palestinians say the move is aimed at confiscating fertile land for the expansion of two Israeli settlements.”
Israeli border guards arrest a Palestinian protestor who was trying to reach tractors working on the construction of Israel’s controversial barrier in the Cremisan Valley.
(photo: Musa Al-Shaer/AFP/Getty Images)
19 August 2015
In this image from 2004, the Rev. Varghese Palathingal holds a young H.I.V. patient named Christy, who never leaves the priest’s side. (photo: K.L. Simon)
Several years ago, ONE took readers to a hospice in India offering care to AIDS patients:
The hospice was established in 2000 for patients with H.I.V. or AIDS, who were untreated or had been turned away by other medical facilities.
“We have had some 300 patients pass through here since we opened,” said the Rev. Varghese Palathingal, who runs the hospice named after the former Syro-Malabar Catholic Archbishop of Trichur, Mar Joseph Kundukulam. “We are the only facility of this kind in Kerala, perhaps in all of southern India.”
The AIDS epidemic in India is well-documented. The country has the second largest infected population in the world after South Africa. But for all practical purposes the country acts as if AIDS is not a serious social problem. Ignorance remains common among the public and even some supposed experts.
Hospitals and medical staff still routinely turn away patients. When their infection becomes known, people are pushed out of their homes by their communities, sometimes even by their own families.
Fear of dismissal or reprisal has forced most to keep their H.I.V. status secret at work and school. In addition, drugs that are immediately available in the West are out of reach due to cost. With nowhere to go, many of the infected take their own lives.
At the facility, the patients are glad to see Father Palathingal. His speech, touch and manner reveal real affection and concern. The children often swarm around him like some kind of off-season Santa Claus.
One child, Christy, grew so close to the priest that he now lives with him and the sisters at Pope Paul Mercy Home, a nearby facility for the mentally handicapped, also run by Father Palathingal.
Christy, an active 2-year-old who insists on going everywhere with the priest, was also at the center of a recent medical controversy. The boy was born H.I.V. positive and was abandoned by his parents. When his status turned negative at around 18 months, his health became the subject of public speculation.
Father Palathingal, the sisters and even some doctors credited the Ayurvedic treatment the boy received at the hospice for his negative status. Other medical professionals disagreed, saying such cases are rare but natural occurrences.
“During the first 18 months, a mother’s antibodies can remain in the child, without infecting him,” said Dr. Gopal Sankar, a young physician volunteering at Mar Kundukulam. “This may lead to H.I.V. tests coming back positive at first. Later, when the mother’s antibodies finally disappear from the child, the same tests will come out negative.”
Read more in “Hoping Against Hope” from the July-August 2004 edition of ONE.
19 August 2015
Sources say Khaled Asaad, the 82-year-old archaeologist who supervised the ancient ruins of Palmyria in Syria, was beheaded by ISIS militants. (photo: Vatican Radio/AP)
ISIS militants reportedly behead archeologist in Syria (Vatican Radio) The archaeologist who looked after ancient ruins of Palmyra in Syria is reported to have been killed by Islamic State (ISIS) militants. Khaled Asaad was taken hostage by the group after it seized the Unesco World Heritage site earlier this year. The family of the 82-year-old scholar said he had been beheaded by ISIS fighters, according to Syria’s director of antiquities, Maamoun Abdulkarim...
Iraq’s economy battered by war (AP) Since early 2014, Iraq has suffered a serious economic decline after the Shiite-led government in Baghdad started losing territory to the Sunni militants of the Islamic State group. Low oil prices exacerbated the decline, wreaking havoc on Iraq’s national budget, of which oil revenue makes nearly 95 percent...
Israel turns focus to anti-tunnel technology (Reuters) A year after Hamas used cross-border tunnels to launch deadly attacks during the Gaza war, Israel is testing new techniques to detect the hidden passages as a “top priority,” sources say, but has yet to announce the system fully operational. Beyond standard military secrecy, the reticence to trumpet the measures may be to mask lingering short-falls in the system and avoid giving Israelis a false sense of security as they return to homes near the Gaza Strip abandoned during the war...
Why Israel and Armenia should adopt the Yazidis (Huffington Post) The recent horrifying New York Times exposé on the Islamic State’s sex slavery system targeting Yazidi women was one of the most-read articles on the paper’s website in the last days. And yes, in a doubly perverse sense it feels good to be morally outraged at ISIS for a few minutes. But let us not get all too comfortable with our outrage over what the Times titled “Theology of Rape,” because we like to forget just how easily we forget. The history of mass media and atrocities in the modern world has taught us that the hurdle for us to really care — to the point where something is done about atrocities in progress — is just astoundingly high...
Russian cultural institutions urged to hold courses in self-defense (The Art Newspaper) After an attack last week by Russian Orthodox fundamentalists who damaged works of art in a Moscow exhibition, Mikhail Piotrovsky, the general director of St Petersburg’s State Hermitage Museum has urged the country’s cultural institutions to hold self-defence courses. In an open letter published on the museum’s website on Monday, 17 August, Piotrovsky proposed that Russia’s museums “immediately organise in-house training on protecting the state of their exhibitions, taking into account that as of November of this year, police will stop physically guarding museums,” due to budget cuts. He added that the Russian Museums Union, of which he is president, is looking to take legal measures against vandals...
18 August 2015
Tags: Syria Iraq Gaza Strip/West Bank Israel ISIS
Young people are active in the faith, according to members of the congregation at St. Peter and Paul Catholic Church in Tbilisi, Georgia. In addition taking part in weekly liturgy (as shown above), they attend formation classes supported by CNEWA to learn more about their
Armenian heritage. (photo: Molly Corso)
The last century or so has not been kind to Armenia or its Catholic minority, who form the Armenian Catholic Church. Sharing the distinct rites and traditions of the Armenian Apostolic Church — while maintaining full communion with the bishop of Rome — this community of faith has contributed considerably to the vitality of the Armenian nation, invigorating monasticism, scholarship and social service even as terror has nearly destroyed it.
2015 marks the centenary of the beginning of the Armenian Genocide. Although large numbers of Assyro-Chaldean and Greek Christians also suffered deportation or death at the hands of agents of the crumbling Ottoman Turkish Empire, the sheer number of Armenians affected astounds. By 1923, as many as 1.5 million Armenians perished.
The perpetrators did not make distinctions between Apostolic and Catholic Armenians. Their actions, however, decimated the tiny Armenian Catholic Church. In all, 7 bishops, 130 priests, 47 women religious and up to a 100,000 faithful died. Churches and schools were leveled. And while the post-Ottoman Turkish government distanced itself from the atrocities, the state appropriated abandoned properties and redistributed them to Muslim Turks.
Some of those who survived fled to Russian-dominated Armenia. Most survivors, perhaps a quarter of a million people, fled to Lebanon and Syria. There, from their place of exile, they re-established their communities and prospered, that is until war in Syria revisited them.
Sister Arousiag Sajonian leads catechesis programs at summer camps for youth in Tzakhkatzor, Armenia. (photo: Armineh Johannes)
In 1928, surviving Armenian Catholic bishops gathered in Rome, where they agreed to transfer the patriarchate to Beirut. While historically the largest concentration of Armenian Catholics lived in Lebanon and in the Syrian cities of Aleppo, Damascus and Kamichlié, recent statistics provided by the church indicate upward of 400,000 Armenian Catholics living in Armenia, Georgia, Russia and Ukraine.
While the tsars impeded the development of all Eastern Catholic communities in Imperial Russian lands, the Soviets were more brutal. In the 1920’s and 30’s, Stalin suppressed all Eastern Catholic churches. In Armenia and Georgia, party members shuttered Armenian Catholic village churches, arrested and shot parish priests and deported religious sisters. The Soviets wiped out all traces of Armenian Catholicism — or so they thought.
Catholic Armenians began to surface after a devastating earthquake in December 1988 flattened northern Armenia. And as the Soviet Union dissolved, these Catholics boldly petitioned for their churches to be reopened and for personnel to staff them.
The Armenian Sisters of the Immaculate Conception were among the first to respond, sending a team of sisters to work with families and village communities in northern Armenia and southern Georgia. And in 1991, the Holy See created a bishopric for Armenian Catholics in Eastern Europe, but the church is hampered by a lack of priestly vocations. Despite considerable resource shortages, however, the Armenian Catholic Church administers schools, camps and social service centers that offer help to all.
Read a full account of the Armenian Catholic Church from ONE magazine here.
18 August 2015
Israeli authorities uproot olive trees to build the separation wall near Bethlehem in the Palestinian West Bank on 17 August 2015. To learn more about the controversy surrounding the wall — and the people whose lives will be impacted by it — check out this post.
(photo: Issam Rimawi/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
18 August 2015
CNEWA staffers Chris Kennedy and Norma Intriago, with the Rev. Phil Latronico, during CNEWA’s visit to the New Jersey Catholic Charismatic Renewal Conference on 15 August. (photo: CNEWA)
Last weekend, CNEWA attended the New Jersey Catholic Charismatic Renewal Conference in Washington Township, at the gracious invitation of the Rev. Phil Latronico, the conference chair. We were there to spread awareness about the work we do on behalf of Christians throughout the Middle East.
Our presence there was especially significant as it was the one-year anniversary of the escape of 120,000 Christians from the Nineveh Plain, as they fled the violence and terror of ISIS.
My colleague, Norma Intriago, had the chance to address the conference during Saturday’s liturgy. She spoke movingly about those who are caring for the displaced Christians — people like Sr. Maria Hanna, OP, the Prioress of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena. She — along with 72 of her sisters — also fled the Nineveh Plain last August to the safety of Erbil, in Northern Iraq. There, with CNEWA’s help, the sisters immediately began ministering to their fellow displaced, providing emergency aid, healthcare and education.
As our visit was on the Feast of the Assumption, Norma also spoke of a story she heard from one of CNEWA’s church partners, of a mother and her four children, who fled ISIS in Syria for the safety of Lebanon. Unable to continue, she made an impossible choice — to leave her two youngest behind in the mountains so she could carry the rest of her family away from harm. Who else could comfort her and so many other mothers but Our Lady of Sorrows, who hears the prayers of so many who are desperate for help?
Norma concluded by asking for support and prayers for all those suffering in the Middle East, and especially for the caregivers like Sr. Maria Hanna, who face their own adversity and struggles while ministering to children and families in need.
The response by those at the conference was incredibly uplifting, and we’re so thankful for the new friends we made. In just a few hours, we were able to raise over $1,000 for those caring for people in some of the most troubled parts of the world. We’re especially grateful to Father Latronico, for his wonderful welcome and continuing support.
If you would like us to visit your parish or prayer group, please contact Norma Intriago, our development director, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
18 August 2015
Bodies of Syrians are seen after Assad regime forces bombed a marketplace inside residential areas in Douma Town of East Ghouta region of Damascus, Syria on 16 August 2015.
(photo: Motasem Rashed/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Civilians killed in fierce clashes in Ukraine (ABC — Australia) Ten people have reportedly been killed in eastern Ukraine in a flare-up in violence between government forces and pro-Russian rebels. Military and separatist sources said at least two Ukrainian soldiers and eight civilians were killed over the past day in several locations in the east of the country. It is thought to be the highest single day death toll in more than a month...
In Syria, UN “horrified” by attacks on civilians (BBC) The UN’s humanitarian chief has said he is “horrified” by the attacks on civilians taking place in Syria. Stephen O'Brien told reporters during a visit to Damascus that the targeting of non-combatants in the country’s war was “unlawful, unacceptable and must stop.” He was “particularly appalled” by government air strikes on a rebel-held suburb of the capital on Sunday...
Iraq’s summer of protest (Al Jazeera) For the past six weeks, thousands of Iraqis across the streets of Baghdad, Basra, Najaf and other cities have been protesting electricity cuts amid soaring temperatures, rampant corruption and the government’s mismanagement of basic services. They protestors, many of them young secular Iraqis, want government officials to be held accountable...
Church in Ethiopia works to promote family values (Vatican Radio) Series of workshops are being conducted for Pastoral Coordinators, Catechists, couples, laity councils, youth, Catholic students of Universitites, Catholic Life Community Movements and Young Catholic Workers on “Vocation and Mission of Families in the Church and in the Contemporary World.” According to the Rev. Hailegabriel Meleku, National Pastoral Coordinator, ‘Family’ is given great attention as the current situation of families is precarious in Ethiopia and the world. “All families have a mission to announce the Gospel of the family, the National plan of the Ethiopian Catholic Secretariat’s summer program is focused around the theme of the family, its vocation and their mission in the Church and the contemporary world,” he said...
Church leaders in India accuse authorities of tolerating crimes against Christians (UCANews.com) A parish church in India’s Madhya Pradesh state has been robbed, prompting Church leaders to accuse state authorities of allowing criminals to commit crimes against Christians with impunity. Thieves used the cover of darkness to break into St. Joseph Church in Ganj Basoda in Sagar diocese on 13 August and steal an unspecified amount of cash from the collection box, parish officials said. “This is the third theft or attempted theft from this church” in less than a year, parish priest Nitish Jacob told ucanews.com...