6 January 2015
Jordanian clerics walk in a procession to the site of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River.
(photo: CNS/Jamal Nasrallah, EPA)
My friend and colleague at The Priest magazine, Msgr. Owen Campion, recently invited me to write about the plight of Christians in the Middle East.
“Besieged! Why save the Middle East’s Christians?” is now available online.
The traumatic events of last summer finally have earned Middle Eastern Christians some attention, if not quite the respect, of the strategic classes inside the Beltway: politicians, candidates, policy wonks and journalists. The headlines are dramatic, betraying a sense of hopelessness: “Beleaguered Christians Make Final Stand,” “The Middle East’s Friendless Christians,” “Christianity in Iraq is Finished.”
“Western countries ought to come together and offer refuge to the tens of thousands [of Christians] who want to leave Iraq,” one observer wrote in The Washington Post in September 2014.
“Yes, this would mean the end of Christianity in this part of the world, where its presence has often served as a bulwark against fanaticism. But it’s over anyway, whatever happens to the Islamic State. It’s time to face that fact and save the Christians themselves.”
But defending — indeed, saving — Christians in the Middle East is not just about saving Christians. It is about saving pluralism, or what remains of it, in the Middle East. It is about building prosperous civil societies. It is about saving the Middle East and civilization, where it first took root.
Read the rest over at “The Priest.”
6 January 2015
A frankincense farmer cuts the bark of a tree to release resin. (photo: Ilene Perlman)
Today marks the Solemnity of Epiphany, commemorating the visit of the magi to the Christ child, bringing him gold, frankincense and myrrh.
In 2003, we took a closer look at the history behind these legendary gifts, particularly frankincense:
The Egyptians embalmed their kings with frankincense and considered the fruit of the Boswellia or frankincense tree the perfume of the gods that, when collected and preserved correctly, ensured immortality. Pliny noted in the first century A.D. how control of the frankincense trade had made the southern Arabians the richest people in the world. It was said the trees were so valuable that snakes guarded them.
Today, in Oman’s southernmost region of Dhofar, which borders Saudi Arabia’s vast and empty Rub al-Khali desert to the north and west and the upper curve of southern Yemen to the south, the stubby, thorny trees live where little else will. The trees can only grow when a complex set of conditions has been met: limestone soil and a climate with high humidity in a desert that receives little rain.
In Oman, frankincense accounted for three-quarters of the country’s gross national product until the bottom fell out of what was once a thriving trade. The finest grades of frankincense are still used for high-end perfume manufacturing. But gums of all grades can be found in the local souqs, especially “frankincense alley” in the country’s southern port of Salalah and the perfume market at Mutrah Souq in Oman’s capital, Muscat. The people who buy are local, burning it for its antiseptic purposes, perfuming hair with the smoke, chewing it for digestion.
The frankincense trees release their aromatic amber for only a few weeks in late summer. Gathering the resin has been a family-run business for centuries. Then, as now, the harvesting skill has been passed from father to son.
Read the rest in Scents of Time and Place.
6 January 2015
Syrian children stand in the back of a truck as they flee the contested Bab al Hadid neighborhood of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo following an overnight rocket attack on 2 January. (photo: Zein al Rifai/AFP/Getty Images)
New year offers little chance for children’s education in Syria, warns UNICEF (U.N. News Center) Recent school closures in Raqqa and Deir Ezzor governorates and parts of rural Aleppo in Syria have disrupted the education of some 670,000 children of primary and lower-high school age, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reported today. Briefing the press in Geneva today, UNICEF’s Christophe Boulierac warned that as the conflict enters its fifth year, 2015 will offer little chance for children’s education. Between January and December 2014 alone there were at least 68 attacks on schools across Syria, reported Mr. Boulierac. Those attacks reportedly killed at least 160 children and injured 343. But the real numbers are likely to be higher…
Armenian church head decries Christian persecution in the Middle East (Daily Star Lebanon) On Tuesday, Armenian Catholicos Aram I of Cilicia deplored the targeting of Christians by the region’s extremist groups and called for Lebanon to elect a new a president to safeguard the country from rampant violence…
Patriarch Abune Mathias of Ethiopia to visit Egypt for the first time (OCP News Service) A delegation of Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church led by Patriarch Abune Mathias will visit Egypt on Saturday on the invitation of Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria. This is the first apostolic visit of Patriarch Abune Mathias to the Coptic Patriarchate. These two ancient churches of the Oriental Orthodox family have a historic relation between them. The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church was ruled by the Coptic patriarch until the 20th century, when autocephalous status was granted in 1959…
Jordan to arm Sunni tribes in Iraq, Syria (Al Monitor) Jordan has adopted a new strategy in the fight against the Islamic State aimed at defending the kingdom against possible incursions by the militant group from western Iraq and eastern and southern Syria. On two separate occasions, King Abdullah declared that Jordan will do its best to support tribes in Syria and Iraq “that are engaging terrorist groups in both countries.” The king told the heads of southern Jordanian tribes on 18 December that Jordan is implementing “a security strategy to confront challenges [on fronts with Syria and Iraq] in accordance with programs that are being followed by the armed forces and the security bodies.” He added that the Jordanian armed forces will not hesitate to carry out their duty toward “Arab neighbors and brethren…”
5 January 2015
Tags: Syria Children United Nations Ethiopian Orthodox Church Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II
In this image from October, Ethiopian Archbishop Berhaneyesus Demerew Souraphiel of Addis Ababa arrives for the opening session of the extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family at the Vatican. Archbishop Souraphiel, 66, was one of 20 new cardinals named by Pope Francis on 4 January. You can read more about the Ethiopian Catholic Church here. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
5 January 2015
Syrian refugee children play in the mud after rain in Akkar, Lebanon, on 2 January. (photo: Mahmoud Salih/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
‘I wasn’t afraid, but now I am’: Syrians fear Lebanon’s visa rules (Al Jazeera) mixture of confusion and fear have struck the Syrian population currently residing in Lebanon after a recent announcement about new visa restrictions. Huddled together under the pouring rain in a rundown neighborhood in Beirut, a number of Syrians who have been living in Lebanon for several years kept repeating the same question, “What does this mean for us?” The move by the Lebanese government is unprecedented. As of Monday, Syrians trying to enter Lebanon have to provide documentation identifying their reason for being in Lebanon, highlighting stricter entry procedures for people who, since Lebanon gained its independence in 1943, had been able to move freely across the border…
In Jordan, church struggles to accommodate refugees (Aid to the Church in Need) For years now, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan has been a haven for refugees from Iraq. However, a critical limit is in view as the country is also forced to accommodate a huge and growing influx of refugees fleeing ongoing war and violence in Syria. Along with Lebanon, the country is threatened by chaos as hundreds of thousands of people displaced from both Syria and Iraq threaten to swamp Jordan’s capacity to cope with the newcomers…
The Arab world’s vanishing Christians (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) This past Christmas, like every Christmas, thousands of pilgrims and tourists traveled to the Middle East to celebrate the holiday in the land of the Bible. In Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem led a midnight Mass, while in Syria — where some Christians still speak dialects of Aramaic, similar to the ancient language Jesus spoke — celebrations were subdued, curtailed by the dangers of a war that is tearing the country apart…
Turkey permits first new church in 90 years (Al Arabiya) Turkey’s Islamic-rooted government has authorized the building of the first church in the country since the end of the Ottoman Empire in 1923. The church is for the country’s tiny Syriac community and will be built in the Istanbul suburb of Yesilkoy on the shores of the Sea of Marmara, which already has Greek Orthodox, Armenian and Catholic churches. “It is the first since the creation of the republic,” a government source said Saturday. “Churches have been restored and reopened to the public, but no new church has been built until now…”
Catholic bishop in Ukraine says situation in war zones ‘catastrophic’ (Ecumenical News) Catholic Bishop Stanislav Shyrokoradiuk of Kharkiv-Zaporizha says the situation in eastern Ukraine is dramatic, with death and hunger in the war zone near Russia. Bishop Stanislav’s diocese encompasses almost the entire eastern part of Ukraine, including areas no longer under the control of the government in Kiev, the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need reports. “The situation in the war zones is catastrophic. There is hunger. More than 80 people have already died of it in Luhansk and Donetsk,” said the bishop, who is also the director of Caritas Ukraine…
31 December 2014
Tags: Ukraine Lebanon Refugees Jordan Turkey
Santa Clauses parade through the streets of Thrissur, India, on 27 December. The Archdiocese of Thrissur created a new Guinness World Record when they assembled 18,112 Santa Clauses on the streets and broke the existing record set by Londonerry, Northern Ireland, with 13,000. Read more about this event here. (photo: CNS/Anto Akkara)
31 December 2014
A girl sits near Christmas decorations in a basement used as a bomb shelter in Donetsk, Ukraine on 30 December. (photo: CNS/Igor Tkachenko, Reuters)
Ukraine turns away from “the worst year since World War II” (Euronews) People in Ukraine are ready to turn their back what the country’s central bank has described as ‘the worst year since World War II’. Many internally displaced Ukrainians will ring in the new year in Kyiv’s Independence Square where violent protests forced former President Viktor Yanukovych to flee in February 2014...
Number of Catholics growing worldwide (Vatican Radio) The number of Catholics in the world has increased with growth registered across all five continents...
Egypt to expand buffer zone near Gaza (AFP) Egypt said Tuesday work will begin next week to double the width of a buffer zone being built along the border with the Gaza Strip to prevent militants infiltrating from the Palestinian enclave...
Church recalls pastoral workers killed in 2014 (Vatican Radio) 2014 was a grim year for the number of Church workers around the world killed by violence or the deadly Ebola virus. In its annual report, Fides, the news agency of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, states that 26 pastoral workers were killed — 3 more than in the previous year...
Over 18,000 Santa Clauses set world record in Kerala (Indo-Asian News Service) The archdiocese of Thrissur in Kerala on Saturday created a new Guinness World Record, when it assembled 18,112 Santa Clauses on the streets and broke the existing record set by Derry in Northern Ireland with 13,000. The event, named “Boun Natale 2014”, was the brainchild of Archbishop Andrews Thazhath, who had last year managed to parade 5,000 Santas...
30 December 2014
Tags: India Ukraine Gaza Strip/West Bank Vatican Kerala
A sister of the Congregation of the Mother of Carmel, one of CNEWA’s partner organizations in India, feeds ducks in Aluva, India. (photo: Sean Sprague)
30 December 2014
Tags: India Sisters Indian Catholics
A Syrian child who fled the clashes in his country rides his bicycle in mud around tents in Aleppo on 25 December. (photo: Orhan Cicek/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Aleppo’s shelters become underground schools (Al Monitor) In defiance of the grinding war that has been raging in Syria for nearly four years, underground shelters have been turned into schools. Students in rebel-held areas of Aleppo have returned to studying after most of the schools were destroyed…
Middle Eastern Christians flee violence for ancient homeland (National Geographic) On most afternoons, Mor Barsaumo, a honey-colored, fifth-century stone church nestled in a warren of slanted streets of Midyat, Turkey, draws a crowd. In the narrow courtyard, old men smoke cigarettes and drink coffee, while children kick a soccer ball across the stone floor. In a darkened classroom, empty except for a few desks, a teacher gives private lessons in Syriac, derived from Aramaic, the language of Christ. And now, the refugees also come. Advised by relatives or other refugees, newcomers to Midyat often make the steps of the church their first stop. Midyat and its environs — known in Syriac as Tur Abdin, “mountain of the servants of God” — are the historical heartland of the Middle East’s widely dispersed Syriac Orthodox Christian community. Now the region has become a haven as the fighting in Syria and Iraq has forced Christians to flee their homes…
Cardinal protests against forced conversions to Hinduism (Catholic Herald) The president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India has criticized forced conversions of Christians to Hinduism. Cardinal Baselios Cleemis Thottunkal, major archbishop of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church, said that he was gravely concerned that “conversion events are being held under the label of ‘homecoming…’ ”
Israeli soldier kills Palestinian teen in “cold blood,’ injures 3 others (Al Akhbar) A single bullet to the heart fired by an Israeli soldier was enough to kill 17-year-old Imam Jamil Ahmed Dweikat, a Palestinian teen from the town of Beita south of Nablus. Nael Talat Thiab, who was walking alongside Imam in their home village, was also shot in the leg by Israeli Occupation Forces. Lying in a hospital bed, the 17-year-old teen told Ma’an news agency that his friend was killed in “cold blood.” An Israeli spokeswoman claimed that the two youth were “hurling stones at a nearby road…”
29 December 2014
Tags: India Middle East Christians Israeli-Palestinian conflict Syro-Malankara Catholic Church Aleppo
Four young carolers pose in their home-made costumes in front of Holy Trinity Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in Kosmach, Ukraine. To learn more about how the Hutsuls of the Carpathian Mountains celebrate the holidays, read Faith and Tradition, from the November 2004 issue of ONE.(photo: Petro Didula)
Tags: Ukraine Cultural Identity Village life Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church Eastern Europe