2 April 2015
In this image from 2014, pilgrims hold candles lit from the Holy Fire at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. (photo by Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Images)
Five years ago, after Easter in 2010, I documented the Holy Fire celebrations in Jerusalem in the pages of ONE magazine.
Every year since then, I pull my treasured hard copy and re-read the story to compare it to the reality of the current Easter, only to find that the story hasn’t really changed. The same difficulties are encountered every year, as more restrictions are imposed and freedom of access to the holy sites seems to become more of a luxury rather than a right. With each passing year, our prayer is that the situation does not get worse. We have been accustomed to having more military and police officers with full gear in the church courtyard, roof, and inside the Holy Sepulchre itself; in fact, they outnumber the worshipers. That in itself is shameful. I do not believe there is any other place on earth where you see so many arms inside a church as is the case in our treasured Holy Sepulchre during the Holy Fire celebration on Holy Saturday. The saddest part of all is that all these measures have nothing to do with the security or public safety.
The situation in our larger Middle East is no more rosy, with the Arab Spring in many countries turning into an Arab nightmare, especially for most minority groups, including the Christians, among others. Where is all this leading is anyone’s guess. How many Christians will remain and how many will lose hope and decide to move on? How many will have the opportunity to move on and how many will be stuck? How many will be killed and how many persecuted? How many will become refugees? All are questions that remain unanswered, but given the trends of the past few years, it is hard to be optimistic.
Having presented a few thoughts for consideration as we mark Holy Week, I want to highlight the positive. We who are the indigenous Christians of the Holy Land and the larger Middle East are not here by chance. We have a long and proud history full of accomplishments and contributions. Our Christian institutions are our pride, as thousands of them throughout our region continue to provide quality services to all segments of society — especially in education, healthcare and social services. During wars and crisis, our institutions are the first responders and a model for coexistence, respect, care, love and support to those who in need.
The social service initiatives of the church never existed to support only Christians, and we never will. Our teachings mandate us to respect others and treat everyone equally, and demand a full life with dignity to all children of God. Thus, during this Easter season, we are reminded again of the dramatic events surrounding our Savior’s life, death and resurrection on the streets of Jerusalem over 2,000 years ago, and we are again reminded that the Master never really had an easy life himself. He taught us how to give rather than take, to be there for the weak and poor — very much the path followed by our Christian institutions. Over 2,000 years have passed, and the story is repeated again and again, and thus if we continue to face difficulties and hardships, if our life appears bleak at times, if we suffer for various reasons, we only need to look back and be reminded how blessed we are to call this Holy Land home and to continue to walk in in Christ’s footsteps.
Five years ago, I concluded my article in ONE with these words:
“Finally, I look forward to the day when my youngest son, Michael, grows strong enough to carry the banner, and I can pass onto him the honor of carrying it on Holy Saturday. My father passed the honor onto me, and I have already passed it onto my eldest son, Rami. When the days come that I no longer carry the banner, but my sons do so in my place, I will know I have done what I could to keep the tradition and faith alive. Maybe peace will have prevailed in the Holy Land and the celebration will return to how it should be — free.”
Well, five years since writing the article, peace has not prevailed. And the celebrations are not free. But my youngest son, Michael, is now 14, which was my age back in 1974, when my dad took me for the first time to attend the Holy Fire celebration, thus beginning my own journey to carry the cherished banner every year and be blessed with that honor. It is my intention to introduce Michael to this family tradition this year — in the hope that in another 40 years, he may in turn introduce his youngest child, and the tradition will go on!
Let us all keep the faith and hope alive. Happy Easter to all, far and near!
2 April 2015
In this image from 2014, Christians carry a cross during a procession along Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem's Old City on Good Friday. (photo: CNS photo/Ammar Awad, Reuters)
2 April 2015
In this image from November, Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople congratulate each other after signing joint declaration at patriarchal Church of
St. George in Istanbul. (photo: CNS/Grzegorz Galazka, pool)
Patriarch: “urgent need” for reconciliation with Catholic Church (CNS) Reconciliation between the Catholic and Orthodox churches is urgently needed, said Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople in an extensive interview with a prominent Jesuit journal. Due to great suffering and injustice around the world, “today, perhaps even more than 50 years ago, there is a greater and more urgent need for reconciliation,” he told Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro, editor of Civilta Cattolica. In the interview, which was available online 1 April, the patriarch suggested collaborating with Pope Francis in “common action” on social justice issues...
Church leaders say Easter offers hope amid violence (Vatican Radio) The leaders of Christian Churches in Jerusalem have issued a message for Easter, calling the Holy City a source of hope that “springs from the Resurrection” and urging “people everywhere not to fall into despair” over the recent violence threatening the region. The Church leaders express deep distress over the level of violence “still being falsely perpetrated in the name of religion in parts of the Middle East and elsewhere in recent times...”
UN: Syria and Iraq are “finishing schools” for extremists (The Guardian) Iraq and Syria have become “international finishing schools” for extremists according to a UN report which says the number of foreign fighters joining terrorist groups has spiked to more than 25,000 from more than 100 countries. The panel of experts monitoring UN sanctions against al-Qaida estimates the number of overseas terrorist fighters worldwide increased by 71% between mid-2014 and March 2015...
Kerala’s capital becoming “woman-friendly” (The Times of India) If all goes well, travel woes faced by solo women travellers to Trivandrum will be a thing of the past. In a first of its kind move in Kerala, Trivandrum Corporation is all set to launch a short stay home for women at Sreekandeshwaram by mid-April, which can be boarded up to three days while travelling, for a nominal rate. The authorities say that it is just the first, and one of the many steps towards making the capital a woman-friendly city...
1 April 2015
Tags: Syria Iraq Pope Francis Jerusalem Kerala
Catholic, Orthodox and Muslim religious leaders meet for an interfaith summit in Bkerke, Lebanon, on 30 March. They affirmed the “essential role” of the Christian presence in the Middle East and called for terrorism in the region to be confronted culturally,
educationally and politically. (photo: CNS/Mychel Akl)
A remarkable gathering took place this week in Lebanon:
Lebanon’s Catholic, Orthodox and Muslim religious leaders affirmed the “essential role” of the Christian presence in the Middle East and called for terrorism in the region to be confronted “culturally, educationally and politically.”
In a joint statement issued 30 March at the conclusion of an interfaith summit in Bkerke, the seat of the Maronite Catholic Church north of Beirut, the religious leaders emphasized that the Christian presence “plays an essential role” in the identity of the region “and predates Islam by several centuries.”
The leaders agreed to continue meeting quarterly to continue their discussions.
Cardinal Bechara Rai, Maronite Catholic patriarch, presided at the summit.
Terrorism, the religious leaders said, “must be fought through unifying the ranks of moderation” and “modernizing the religious rhetoric” with an emphasis on “reconciliation, tolerance and coexistence.”
“Eastern Christians are the first victims of the waves of violence in the region,” the leaders said, noting that Assyrians were the latest target as they cited the Islamic State invasion 23 February of about 30 Assyrian Christian villages in the Khabur region of Syria.
They called for the release of two Syrian bishops kidnapped in April 2013 — Syriac Orthodox Metropolitan Gregorios Yohanna of Aleppo and Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Paul of Aleppo.
“The wars in Syria and Iraq have been devastating,” the statement said. “As a result, 1.5 million Syrians have fled to Lebanon, in addition to thousands of Iraqis, not to mention (the presence of) half a million Palestinians.”
The number of Syrian refugees alone is equal to more than 25 percent of Lebanon’s population of about 4 million, putting Lebanon under great strain.
“The unorganized entry of Syrian refugees surpassed Lebanon’s coping capacity at several levels, from security to housing, labor, health, education, transport and food supply, which has depleted a treasury that is reeling under the burden of debt,” the leaders warned.
They also expressed a need to “prevent the temporary presence of refugees” from turning into a permanent presence, which they said would pose “a major threat to the unity and stability” of Lebanon.
The Christian and Muslim leaders said the dire circumstances of the refugees “require active international action and an increase in aid.”
“The international community must realize that Lebanon’s capacity is limited,” they stressed.
The leaders expressed “deep concern and disappointment” that the presidency of Lebanon remains vacant. The post is reserved for a Maronite Catholic under the country’s power-sharing system. The term of the previous president, Michel Suleiman, ended in May. Legislators have failed to agree on a successor.
“The election of a president must remain a critical and vital issue because the Maronite Christian president is the guarantee for coexistence,” the leaders said.
Regarding the crisis unfolding in Yemen, the leaders called on Arab states to “contain the escalation and protect the sovereignty, security and unity of all Arab countries.”
They applauded the feast of the Annunciation, 25 March — recognized by the Lebanese government in 2010 as an official national Christian-Muslim annual holiday — stressing that it enhances Lebanon’s message of coexistence to the world.
About 33 percent of Lebanon’s existing population is Christian, with the majority Maronites.
In addition to Cardinal Rai, attending the summit were: Melkite Catholic Patriarch Gregoire III Laham; Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignace Joseph III; Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II of Antioch; Chaldean Catholic Bishop Michel Kassarji of Beirut, representing Iraq's Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Sako; Armenian Catholic Patriarch Nerses Bedros XIX Tarmouni; Catholicos Aram of Cilicia, patriarch of the Armenian Apostolic Church; Greek Orthodox Archbishop Elias Audi of Beirut, representing Greek Orthodox Patriarch John X Yazigi; and the Vatican nuncio to Lebanon, Archbishop Gabriele Caccia.
Muslim representatives included Sunni Grand Mufti Abdel-Latif Derian; Abdel-Amir Qabalan, deputy head of the High Islamic Shiite Council; and Druze spiritual leader Naim Hassan.
1 April 2015
In this image from February, Ukrainian armed forces ride on armored personnel carriers near Debaltseve, Ukraine. (photo: CNS/Gleb Garanich, Reuters)
Children killed by landmines in Ukraine (Vatican Radio) The UN children’s charity UNICEF has said that at least 109 children are reported to have been injured and 42 killed by landmines and unexploded ordnance in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of eastern Ukraine since March 2014...
Iraq’s interior minister says Tikrit has been liberated (Reuters) Iraqi troops and Shi’ite paramilitary fighters were battling Islamic State on Wednesday in northern Tikrit, which officials described as the Sunni Muslim militant group’s last stronghold in the city. With officials touting victory in a month-long battle, state television said Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi was visiting the city, which the Islamist militants captured last June as they seized most of Iraq’s Sunni territories...
Helping amputees rebuild lives in Gaza (The Sydney Morning Herald) Mohamed al-Sillak was standing next to an ambulance outside a crowded marketplace in Gaza, holding the body of one of his children in his arms, when the second Israeli air strike hit. Seven months later he is standing in front of a ramp in a rehabilitation centre in Gaza, trying out his new leg. Next to him is Australian Greg Halford, an ortho-prosthetist from the International Committee of the Red Cross, who is three months into a 14-month assignment in the Gaza Strip...
Growing insecurity in India’s Christian community (BBC) Six people have been arrested in central India after a church was vandalised, allegedly by right-wing Hindu activists. It is the latest in a series of attacks on India’s small but influential Christian minority...
Ethiopia, a land where coffee meets tradition (CNN) Far from being just coffee exporters, Ethiopians are also major coffee lovers. Cafes densely line the streets of the capital Addis Ababa, and in 2013/14 3.6 million bags were consumed in the country, representing 71.6 percent of the total domestic consumption of Africa and 8 percent of all exporting countries. TO.MO.CA, with six branches in Ethiopia’s capital, is one of the most recognizable cafe brands. It has been owned by three generations of the same family for over 60 years, and now the company is opening its first international outpost in Tokyo, Japan, this May...
31 March 2015
Tags: Iraq India Ukraine Ethiopia Gaza Strip/West Bank
Syrian refugees are seen in Zaatari Camp in Jordan on 29 March.
(photo: CNS/Muhammad Hamed, Reuters)
Cardinal visits Iraqi refugees in Jordan (Fides) Cardinal Fernando Filoni, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, was sent by the Holy Father to Iraq to express the union of the Pope’s prayer with the many “Christian families and other groups of victims who were expelled from their homes and their villages, particularly in the city of Mosul and the Nineveh plain, many of whom had taken refuge in the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan”...
Refugees cling to hope so they can go home (CNS) Abu Bilal, a slender man in his 40s, is surrounded by cages of bright yellow canaries merrily twittering. Their melodious song injects a joyful energy into this otherwise drab, dusty refugee camp located on a desert plain in Jordan’s north near the border with Syria. Abu Bilal wishes his unusual pet shop in Zaatari Camp will cheer other Syrian refugees clinging to the last thread of hope to return home. As Syria’s civil war has entered its fifth year, refugees sheltering in Jordan’s largest camp expressed despair for the future, saying they never expected the conflict to have lasted so long or to have brought so much destruction to their beloved homeland...
U.S. Pledges aid to Syria (AP) The United States pledged $507 million in humanitarian aid at an international donors’ conference for Syria on Tuesday as the United Nations issued an appeal for $8.4 billion in commitments this year — the organization’s largest appeal yet for the war-ravaged country. Kuwait, which is hosting the third annual conference, pledged $500 million at the start of the meeting. The European Commission and EU member states pledged close to $1.2 billion total, double the overall EU pledge at last year’s conference...
Russian tanks enter eastern Ukraine (Newsweek) 22 Russian tanks crossed into Ukraine’s separatist-held eastern territories over the weekend, as pro-Moscow forces continue to seep into Ukraine’s war-stricken Donetsk and Luhansk regions, Donetsk’s local pro-government officials reported yesterday...
Kerala upholds liquor ban (Indian Express) A division bench of Kerala high court on Tuesday ratified the new liquor policy of the Congress government, paving the way for closure of all liquor bar hotels except those in the five- star classification...
Russian theater director suspended for offending Christians (The New York Times) The culture minister on Sunday fired the director of a Siberian theater who included a controversial interpretation of the life of Jesus in the Richard Wagner opera “Tannhauser.” The director, Boris Mezdrich, had failed to apologize and to take other steps to mitigate the outcry among the Orthodox faithful offended by various aspects of the production at the Novosibirsk State Academic Opera and Ballet Theater, said Vladimir Aristarkhov, the deputy minister of culture, according to Interfax. In 2013, a blasphemy law made it a criminal offense to perform public acts that offend believers, punishable by up to three years in prison...
30 March 2015
We were touched by a letter we received the other day, postmarked from Phoenix. It came from the Arizona State Department of Corrections.
Enclosed was a money order for five dollars. It came from a man in prison, and included this note:
“Please pray for the souls of my parents and brother. Also for my children, grandchildren, nephews and nieces, brothers and sister and myself, that we may be holy and that I will be with them soon. Thank you!!”
Who could fail to be moved by that spirit of generosity, and such a simple but profound act of faith?
During this time, the holiest week of the Christian calendar, we remember in a special way all our benefactors, and all who so earnestly and faithfully seek the face of Christ. Not only do we pray for our donors, but so do the poor — and their prayers are beloved by God, who hears their cries and offer to his children his tender mercies.
Thank you to all who are giving so much. Be assured of our continued gratitude and prayers — and know that every gift somehow works to uplift those most in need.
May your Holy Week be a blessed one!
30 March 2015
Catholicos Dinkha IV, patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East, is greeted by Pope Benedict XVI in 2007. Patriarch Dinkha died 26 March at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.
(photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)
Sad news from Chicago:
Catholicos Dinkha IV, patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East, died March 26 at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. A virus infection and pneumonia were cited as the cause of death. He was 79.
In a message of condolence sent to the temporary head of the church, Pope Francis offered his prayers for the deceased patriarch and said, “The Christian world has lost an important spiritual leader, a courageous and wise pastor who faithfully served his community in extremely challenging times.”
Pope Francis said he knew from his conversation with the catholicos how he “suffered greatly because of the tragic situation in the Middle East, especially in Iraq and in Syria, resolutely calling attention to the plight of our Christian brothers and sisters and other religious minorities suffering daily persecution.”
Catholicos Dinkha was born Sept. 15, 1935, in Iraq. He was ordained a priest at age 21 and became a bishop just five years later. He was elected patriarch in 1976, at the age of 41, succeeding Catholicos Eshai Shimun XXIII, who was assassinated a year earlier. Catholicos Dinkha was the first patriarch to be elected; traditionally, succession was from uncle to nephew.
Because of political instability in Iraq, Catholicos Dinkha moved the patriarchal see in 1980 from its ancestral homeland in modern-day Iraq to suburban Chicago in the United States, where a growing diaspora community was located.
Religious leaders offered words of condolence on the patriarch’s death.
“We pray for his soul. We pray also that the fathers of the Assyrian Church of the East will elect a new shepherd who will lead the flock during this crucial time when Christians are persecuted in the Middle East and our Syriac-Chaldean-Assyrian people are being persecuted and forced to be displaced from their homelands,” Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II of Antioch said in a statement to Catholic News Service.
“With great hope, we look forward to working together with the Assyrian community for the good of our people and a brighter future for all, following the footsteps of the late patriarch,” he said.
Syrian Catholic Patriarch Ignatius Youssef III Younan told CNS in an email that he last met with the late patriarch in May at the Russian Patriarchate in Moscow.
“We then had the chance to discuss the tragic situation of Christians and other minorities in Iraq, as a sinister prelude of what will happen in Mosul on June 10 and in the Plain of Niniveh on the night of Aug. 6-7,” Patriarch Younan recalled, referring to the invasion of northern Iraq by Islamic State militants.
“He was equally concerned about the ongoing exodus of his church’s membership to the point to fear that a time would come when Iraq and Syria will be emptied of Christians,” Patriarch Younan added.
“Let us pray that the Lord inspire the Holy Synod of the sister church that they may elect a successor filled with wisdom, energy and charisma enabling him to defend the very survival of the Church of the East, either in the Middle East or in the diaspora,” he said.
Catholicos Dinkha has been credited with rebuilding the church and updating the liturgy, translating portions from classical to modern Assyrian. He was esteemed as a fatherly figure and as a strong promoter of ecumenism. The Assyrian Church of the East is not in communion with any other churches, either Catholic or Orthodox.
And you can learn more about the Assyrian Church of the East by reading “Against All Odds” and our profile of the Church.
Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him...
30 March 2015
Pope Francis carries palm fronds in procession at the start of Palm Sunday Mass in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on 29 March. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
On Palm Sunday, pope expresses solidarity with persecuted Christians (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis remembered the persecuted Christians in the world on Sunday — Palm Sunday — during Mass in St. Peter’s Square. Following the proclamation of the Passion according to St. Mark, Pope Francis delivered a homily, in which he reflected on the plight of all those who endure humiliation because of their faithfulness to the Gospel, all those who face discrimination and pay a personal price for their fidelity to Christ...
Pope sends assistance to displaced in Iraq (CNS) As Holy Week and Easter approached, Pope Francis wanted to show his ongoing concern for people persecuted and displaced by violence in Iraq and in northern Nigeria. Although not specifying the amount, the Vatican press office said 27 March that the pope was sending aid money to people seeking shelter in Iraq’s Kurdistan region and to the Nigerian bishops’ conference to assist families in the northern part of the country where the terrorist group Boko Haram has been on a rampage. In addition, the Vatican said, the people of the Diocese of Rome, “united with their bishop,” Pope Francis, held a special collection and will send “colomba” Easter cakes to the displaced in Iraq...
Pope sends condolences on death of patriarch (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has sent his condolences upon learning of the death of the Patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East, Mar Dinkha IV. “The Christian world has lost an important spiritual leader, a courageous and wise pastor who faithfully served his community in extremely challenging times,” Pope Francis writes...
Car bombings kill at least 11 in Baghdad (AP) A pair of car bombings in a Baghdad suburb on Monday killed at least 11 people and wounded dozens, officials said, hours after the arrival of the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, for talks with the Iraqi officials.
Shortly before noon, the two explosive-laden cars went off simultaneously in a commercial area of the Shiite-dominated Husseiniyah district in northeastern Baghdad, a police officer said. Two policemen were among the dead. At least 26 people were wounded in the attack, he added...
Turkey moves to close gates at border with Syria (The New York Times) After maintaining an open-door policy throughout the four-year conflict in neighboring Syria, Turkey has moved this month to close the two remaining border gates between the countries, shutting out displaced Syrian refugees amid fears of a potential terrorist attack...
Kerala Christians observe Palm Sunday (NDTV) Churches in Kerala on Sunday were crowded on the occasion of Palm Sunday. Palm Sunday is celebrated with a lot of reverence as churches distribute palm leaves, freshly cut from coconut trees, to commemorate Jesus Christ’s entry into Jerusalem, when palm branches were placed in his path, before his arrest and crucifixion on Good Friday...
27 March 2015
Tags: Syria Iraq India Pope Francis Middle East
Parishioners request a blessing after the celebration of the liturgy at a new church in Babogaya, an Ethiopian village. The story of how the church came to be can be found in “12 Years of Perseverance” in the September 2005 edition of ONE. (photo: Sean Sprague)