Current Issue
September, 2019
Volume 45, Number 3
16 August 2019
Greg Kandra

Pope Francis speaks as he leads the Angelus from the window of his studio overlooking St. Peter's Square at the Vatican on 15 August 2019. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)

Pope prays for victims of India flooding at Angelus (Vatican News) Following the recitation of the Angelus, Pope Francis prayed for the victims and the displaced, and for all the families left homeless. “May the Lord give strength to them and to all those who help them,” he said…

Tawadros: All Christian churches want unity (Egypt Independent) Pope Tawadros II of the Coptic Orthodox Church said that all Christian churches around the world want religious unity, not only the Coptic Orthodox Church. He pointed out that unity among churches is based on unity of faith, but this issue is still subject to individual discussions and has not yet been decided…

Eight years on, Syria’s neighbors weary of war refugees (AFP) Syria’s conflict has displaced millions of people since 2011, and its neighbors have absorbed the majority of those fleeing abroad. But today, with no political solution to the conflict in sight, Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan — who together host at least 5.2 million Syrian refugees — are increasingly seeing that population as a “burden…”

Thousands visited Western Wall, marched to mark Av (The Jerusalem Post) Thousands of people participated in a march through Jerusalem on Saturday night, commemorating the 9th of the Hebrew month of Av and the destruction of the First and Second Temples. According to the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, between Friday night and Sunday at sundown, some 150,000 people visited the Western Wall…

Tags: India Egypt Refugees Jerusalem

14 August 2019
Greg Kandra

This popular icon depicts the Dormition of Mary, when she "fell asleep" and entered eternal life.
(photo: St. Catherine's Monastery, Sinai, 13th century / Wikipedia)

15 August marks an important solemnity on the Catholic calendar: the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It honors the moment when — in the words of Pope Pius XII — “the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.”

In Eastern Catholic and Orthodox churches, this feast is known as the Dormition of Mary — her ”falling asleep” — and is commemorated on the same date:

The origin of the feast of the Dormition or the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary [Theotokos] is closely connected with her public veneration since the beginning of the fourth century. It developed from the early celebration of Christmas in which the Theotokos, the Mother of God our Savior, played an important role. The solemn proclamation of Mary as “the Theotokos” at the Council of Ephesus (431) greatly enhanced her public veneration as the “Mother of God.” This is evidenced by the fact that a few years later her divine maternity was celebrated in Jerusalem as the Feast of Mary, the Mother of God, on August 15. (cf. Armenian Lectionary, 434 A.D.)

A popular icon (shown above) depicts Mary asleep, surrounded by the apostles, with Jesus in heaven holding a baby in his arms — representing Mary beginning a new life.

It is common in some Byzantine parishes to bless flowers on this feast, including roses, the Lily of the Valley (sometimes called ”Mary’s Tears) and the Columbine —also known as ”Mary’s Shoes,” since one legend holds that wherever Mary walked on her way to visit Elizabeth, these flowers bloomed.

Tags: Byzantine Catholic Church Mary

14 August 2019
Greg Kandra

The video above shows dramatic footage of the flooding that has swept through parts of Kerala, killing more than 200 people. (video: VOA/YouTube)

India issues new flood alert as death toll tops 200 (The Guardian) India has issued a fresh flood alert for parts of the southern state of Kerala as the nationwide death toll from the annual monsoon rose to at least 244. On Wednesday authorities warned Kerala residents of heavy rainfall over the next 24-48 hours in some of the worst-affected regions of the state…

Hamas leader vows to shower Israel with missiles if IDF invades Gaza (The Times of Israel) Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar vowed on Tuesday that the terror group would prevail over the IDF should Israel send troops into the coastal enclave in any future conflict. We will defeat the occupation army, if it crosses into Gaza, if God, the ruler of the universe, wills,” Sinwar said in a short speech delivered to Palestinian families in his hometown Khan Younis in southern Gaza...

Armenians prepare to elect new patriarch (Fides) The Armenian apostolic community headed by the Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople, based in Istanbul, is preparing to elect the new Patriarch, and in recent days has launched its organizational work that will lead to the election of the successor of Mesrob II Mutafyan, who died in March. A new patriarch will be elected by spiritual and secular delegates, who themselves are yet to be elected. The election of these delegates will take place on 7 and 8 December…

What life is like on the Syria-Turkey border (Business Insider) Turkey’s involvement in the ongoing Syrian civil war is just one reason the border between the two countries is one of the most dangerous in the world. Millions of refugees fleeing the brutal regime of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and extremist groups like the Islamic State have fled the conflict, which has turned into a proxy war between Turkey, Russia, Iran, Israel, and the US…

The YouTube nun who is helping Russian Orthodoxy stay relevant ( It’s not every day you encounter a monastic who waxes poetic about the perils of modern partisanship. Or who cites Ricky Gervais as an example of how not to think about theology. And although black-habit-clad Sister Vassa Larin looks every bit the Russian Orthodox nun, little else about her conforms to what you might expect to be “nunlike…”

Tags: Israel Kerala Turkey Russian Orthodox

13 August 2019
Doreen Abi Raad, Catholic News Service

More than 100 young adults from Damascus, Syria, pose on 9 August, after arriving at the Liqaa Conference Center near Beirut. Meeting under the theme, "To You I Say Rise," more than 900 Melkite Catholic young people from the Middle East gathered in Lebanon for the first conference especially for them.(photo: CNS/Doreen Abi Raad)

Full of zeal for their faith, 920 Melkite Catholic young adults from the Middle East gathered in Lebanon for the first conference especially for them.

Meeting under the theme, “To You I Say Rise,” the participants, ages 18-35, came from the Palestinian territories, Syria, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait and Lebanon for the 9-13 August event, hosted by the Melkite Catholic Patriarchate.

Edward Nazarian, 22, a student in medical devices engineering from Aleppo, Syria, said the conference restored hope for young people, particularly those from Syria.

“After going through so many years of war, we fell into despair. We are here to renew that hope, that confidence and faith,” he told Catholic News Service.

The Rev. Kamil Melhem, spiritual director for young adults, told the group at the opening that the conference would “be the first spark that will illuminate the paths of our faltering lives in the East.” The main venue was the Liqaa (“gathering”) Conference Center, located in a valley beneath the Melkite Patriarchate in Rabweh, 12 miles north of Beirut.

The event combined prayer, educational workshops -- including communication and social media -- and presentations related to the Melkite Catholic identity. Participants also visited holy sites of Lebanon, including Harissa, Our Lady of Lebanon, the tomb of St. Charbel and the biblical coastal cities of Tyre and Sidon in South Lebanon.

Melkite Patriarch Joseph Absi told participants in his opening address, “You came carrying a variety of flags, but one banner unites you, the banner of Jesus Christ.”

He continued, “There are many voices and noises in your life, attracting you, disputing you ... tiring you, but today the voice of Jesus is calling each of you.”

Patriarch Absi advised the young adults: “Open up to each other and communicate. Show each other your dreams and aspirations, and share your fears and concerns. Unite, because you are the power that can create a new Pentecost.”

Emphasizing that young people are precious to the church, Patriarch Absi told them: “Thank God you are here. You have heard the voice of Jesus Christ who says, ‘Rise!’“

“It’s great to see the unity of the church,” said Nadine Zayat, 24, a recent graduate in sociology from Cairo.

“Even though we’re from different countries and different backgrounds, we’re all united in Jesus; this is why it’s so special. It’s great to meet new people, have fun and encourage and support each other to continue our message in our countries. I’m hoping more people get to know Jesus.”

Even though it is forbidden in Egypt to preach in the streets, she said, Christians “are a witness by the way we act.”

At a break time, Father Youssef Achaia of Cairo led an impromptu chorus singing “Immaculate Mary”; the circle they formed grew wider as more conference participants joined in.

“The youth, when they come together are very strong,” Father Achaia told Catholic News Service. “They can do a lot.”

As Christians living among Muslims in the Middle East, he said, “we have to be a light. We’re taking this light from Jesus, and we reflect it, first in our self, and then onto the others.”

For 32-year-old Khaldoon Al Haddad, who works at the Central Bank in Amman, Jordan, the gathering was a chance to exchange and share ideas. He told CNS one of the biggest challenges of working with a youth group in his parish is to engage teens, amid all their activities and the “noise of the world.”

“I hope to come back (to Jordan) with new ideas, new ways and methods to bring youth back to the church,” he said.

During lunchtime the first day, horns bellowed from three buses signaling the arrival of 110 young adults from Damascus, Syria, after more than 10 hours of travel. The journey, under normal circumstances, should not exceed three hours. However, because of their large number, procedures at the border crossing between the two countries caused their delay.

Emerging from the buses, the Syrians’ weariness transformed into exuberance at the celebratory welcome. A group of Jordanians played traditional bagpipes and thundering drums. There was cheering, clapping and waving of Syrian flags. Young adults joined arms for the step-and-stomp traditional dabke dance.

Dina Fares, 26, an English teacher from Damascus, told CNS: “We are so tired. But we are so excited to be here. ... We’re here to say, ‘There are Christians in Syria. We’re still here (in Syria), and we’re not going anywhere.’“

Inside the venue, Patriarch Absi posed for selfies and group photos with the newcomers from his native Damascus.

Elsewhere, Natalie Abou Sada, a 21-year-old graphic designer, was one of 11 young adults from the Palestinian territories.

“I’m very proud to represent my country. From here to Palestine, I want to bring back a message of peace and love. Peace is most important,” she told CNS. “We always pray for a better life.”

Tags: Lebanon Melkite

13 August 2019
Greg Kandra

Kerala churches are stepping in to respond to the flood emergency devastating parts of India. (video: BBC/YouTube)

Kerala churches respond to flood emergency (Vatican News) As floods triggered by heavy monsoon rains continue to submerge vast areas of states in southern and western India, Church agencies are joining in rescue and relief efforts. At least 200 people have died in floods and landslides following incessant rains that have particularly hit Kerala, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Gujarat states. Over 1.2 million have been affected. Kerala, where unprecedented rain and floods killed 480 people last August, is also the worst-hit this year…

Syrians celebrate Eid amid bombing (Al Jazeera) People in northern Syria are celebrating the Eid festival against a backdrop of increasing violence. Government forces have been bombarding targets in northern Hama and southern Idlib since last week’s short-lived ceasefire. It is in stark contrast to festivities for Syrian refugees living in security in southern Turkey…

Ethiopian Muslims mark Eid al-Adha (Andalou Agency) Muslims in Ethiopia have been celebrating the first day of the Eid al-Adha, a four-day religious holiday, on Sunday. In the capital Addis Ababa, hundreds of thousands of Muslims turned out for the Eid prayer in and around the city’s old stadium, which is located in the capital downtown…

Archeologists find evidence of Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem (CNN) Archaeologists excavating on Mount Zion in Jerusalem have uncovered evidence of the Babylonian conquest of the city, appearing to confirm a Biblical account of its destruction. Academics from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte made significant finds, including ash deposits, arrowheads and broken pieces of pots and lamps. The most surprising discovery, however, was an item of jewelry, which appears to be a tassel or earring with a bell-shaped upper portion, the researchers said...

Tags: Syria India Jerusalem

12 August 2019
Dale Gavlak, Catholic News Service

In this file photo, Cardinal Louis Sako, the Chaldean Catholic patriarch, celebrates a liturgy in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican. Lay people for the first time joined clergy during the first two days of the weeklong Chaldean Catholic synod in northern Iraq. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)

The Chaldean Catholic Church concluded a weeklong synod in Ainkawa, a Christian enclave in the northern Iraqi city of Erbil, in which laity from the church’s various dioceses in the Middle East and the diaspora also participated for the first time.

The synod, held 4-10 August at the invitation of Cardinal Louis Sako, the Chaldean Catholic patriarch, brought together church leaders and parishioners from Iraq, the United States, Syria, Iran, Lebanon, Egypt, Canada, Australia and Europe to discuss issues vital for the church’s future in Iraq and worldwide.

Cardinal Sako said it was important to engage the views of the laity and to “support the participation of people in the life of the church” at such a critical moment in the church’s history. “The lay faithful, men and women, are members and partners of our church because of their faith and their common priesthood,” he said.

He said it was essential to “take advantage of their (laity’s) charisma” in the service of the church during what he described as a time of great difficulty in Iraq and Syria for thousands of Iraqi Christians who were forced to abandon their ancestral communities, including in Mosul and the Ninevah Plain.

“It is a good opportunity for us to study the complicated situation of our Chaldean Church in Iraq and diaspora, including the struggle with displacement, killing and destruction as well as current fears and concerns about the future,” Cardinal Sako told attendees.

“In such difficult circumstances, our faith should lead us to plant hope, joy and peace in the hearts of those we serve; respect them and create a friendly relationship with them, otherwise, we won’t grow up, improve and be trusted, but rather lose our credibility. Therefore, we should walk in the path of ‘evangelical conversion’ with all its aspects,” Cardinal Sako said.

Chaldean Archbishop Yousif Thomas Mirkis of Kirkuk, Iraq, told Catholic News Service by phone that the participation of the laity during two days of the synod was “a good experience.”

“We hope it is a good start for other future involvement. The first steps are new and open the possibility to other perspectives for the future,” he said of the 16 laypersons who attended.

The contingent included four lay women. Among them was Sister Maryam Yalda Shabo, superior of the Chaldean Sisters, Daughters of Mary Immaculate Conception, representing the patriarchal orders in Iraq.

Archbishop Mirkis said discussions centered on “liturgy, prayers, and the translation of the languages used in the diaspora for liturgy.”

Bishops also will be appointed for important towns in the predominately Kurdish areas of northern Iraq that are experiencing growth, in part because of the displacement of Christians.

“We need a bishop for Zakho because the diocese there is growing. We will split the dioceses in the Kurdish region. Amadiya and Duhok will become a diocese, while Zakho will become another,” Archbishop Mirkis explained.

In January, Archbishop Najib Mikhael Moussa of Mosul, Iraq was the first prelate installed since Christians were expelled from the city by Islamic State forces in 2014.

“He is doing his utmost to help Christians, but we know that the situation is very difficult to encourage people to return because many things, including universities, (schools, hospitals, and various infrastructure) are waiting to return,” Archbishop Mirkis said.

In a final statement, synod participants pledged “continued support to the displaced to help them return, build their homes and provide a source for their livelihoods.”

Other recommendations included: the Chaldean Church taking up its key role as a mediator with other Christians and various segments of Iraq’s mosaic social fabric; establishing a Chaldean Unified Fund to support joint projects and aid emergencies; organizing a Chaldean youth conference in Spring 2020 to address faith, marriage, and vocation; ongoing training to detect abuse; and preparing for a Chaldean Laity Conference in 2022.

Maronite Archbishop Joseph Soueif of Cipro, Cyprus, set the tone for the synod proceedings by leading a retreat during the assembly’s first two days.

As the conference opened, Cardinal Sako remarked on the challenges facing the Chaldean Catholic Church in a letter to Pope Francis.

“We can say that it has always been the ‘Church of the Martyrs.’ Even our Muslim brothers suffer for their life every day, and hope that in the shared pain, paths of hope for a better future can be opened,” he wrote.

He later told synod participants that “we pray also for our church, in particular, for the visit of Pope Francis to Iraq at this turning point in our history, for his presence and encouragement are what we need now.”

Tags: Iraqi Christians Chaldean Church Iraqi

12 August 2019
Greg Kandra

As the death toll climbs and more people in southern India are displaced, Pope Francis has sent condolences to the victims of the disaster. (video: Hindustan Times/YouTube)

Pope sends condolences to India flood victims (Vatican News) Pope Francis has expressed his condolence for the victims of the floods and mudslides in the southern Indian states of Kerala, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Gujarat following days of torrential monsoon rains. At least 184 people have been killed and more than 400,000 displaced. ”Deeply saddened to learn of the tragic loss of life in the monsoons of recent days in Kerala, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Gujarat, and mindful of all those who have lost homes and livelihood, His Holiness Pope Francis sends his heartfelt condolences to the relatives of the deceased and injured,” Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, wrote in a telegram to local authorities on behalf of Pope Francis…

Syrian troops capture key village in Idlib (The Washington Post) Syrian government forces captured an important village in the northwestern province of Idlib on Sunday, drawing close to a major town in the last rebel stronghold in the country, state media and opposition activists said…

Israeli police clash with Muslims at Temple Mount (The Guardian) Israeli police have clashed with Muslim worshippers at a major Jerusalem holy site during prayers to mark the Eid al-Adha holiday. Palestinian medics said at least 14 people has been wounded, one seriously, in the skirmishes at the site, which Muslims refer to as the al-Aqsa mosque and Jews as the Temple Mount. Police said at least four officers had been wounded. Officers fired teargas, stun grenades and rubber bullets in the worst violence at the contested site in months. Witnesses said at least two people had been arrested…

India Catholics observe ‘Black Day’ (Vatican News) India’s Catholic Church observed ”Black Day” on Saturday, to protest against the discrimination that low-caste Christians and Muslims continue to face in the country. Indian bishops want to remind the people that the country bears constitution-based discrimination against Dalit Christians, i.e. Dalits who embrace Christianity…

Ukrainian president meets with Bartholomew in Constantinople (AsiaNews) Four months after his election as president of the Ukraine, Volodymir Zelensky met Bartholomew, the Ecumenical Patriarch, in Constantinople, yesterday. The visit comes eight months after the Kiev-based Orthodox Church of Ukraine was granted autocephaly, which led the Moscow Patriarchate to unilaterally cut sacramental ties with Constantinople...

Tags: Syria India Jerusalem Kerala

9 August 2019
Greg Kandra

A mother holds her newborn in the maternity ward of the Tiramayr Narek Hospital in Armenia. Read about the life and times of families in the remote corners of northern Armenia in the March 2009 edition of ONE. (photo: Justyna Mielnikiewicz)

Tags: Armenia

9 August 2019
Greg Kandra

Unusually heavy rains continue to pound India, causing massive flooding and forcing thousands to be evacuated to relief camps. (video: Down To Earth/YouTube)

Heavy rains pummel Kerala; thousands evacuated to relief camps (India Today) As incessant rains continued to wreak havoc in Kerala leading to a flood-like situation, 14 people have died since yesterday and over 22,000 have been evacuated to 315 relief camps. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has sought the army’s help and additional 13 more units of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) for the relief and rescue operations…

How plastics are both a curse and a blessing for Gaza (National Geographic) Gaza’s plastic recyclers are at the forefront of work to stave off economic, humanitarian, and environmental collapse. In recent years a new culture and economy have risen up around recycling plastics: from collecting and cleaning to sorting and repurposing, people have created direly needed business opportunities…

Population control efforts gaining ground in India (Al Jazeera) Across northern and central India, a campaign advocating for a population control law is gaining momentum. The movement ostensibly seeks to raise awareness over the need to restrain India’s population of 1.34 billion, second only to China’s 1.39 billion. But its subtext reflects a core belief of right-wing Hindu organisations: that Muslims are trying to “overtake” Hindus…

In Ethiopia’s mountains, a glimpse at how ancient human lived (The New York Times) Scientists have discovered what is by far the oldest evidence of human occupation at extreme altitudes: a rock shelter strewn with bones, tools and hearths 11,000 feet above sea level. People lived at the site, in the mountains of Ethiopia, as long as 47,000 years ago…

Tags: India Ethiopia Gaza Strip/West Bank Kerala

8 August 2019
Elias D. Mallon, S.A., Ph.D.

In this image from 2017, a Dominican sister visits the Church of Sts. Behnam and Sarah in Qaraqosh, Iraq, heavily damaged by ISIS. (photo: Raed Rafei)

On Saturday 10 August this year, Jews all over the world observe Tish’a b’Av, literally “the ninth of (the month) Av.” On this day, Jews remember the destruction of the Temple of Solomon by the Babylonians in 587 BC and the Second Temple by the Romans in 70 AD.

Although it is a Jewish observance, it gives all of us something to think about. The destruction of the sacred places of enemies and conquered peoples is almost as old as humanity itself. Tragically, it is a practice that has not waned in the contemporary world — including parts of the world CNEWA serves.

The briefest of researches uncovers some sobering data. Attacks on sacred places are far more common than most believers realize. Some of these desecrations receive media coverage. The vast majority do not.

In recent times there have been several attacks that have shocked the world. On 18 July 1994, a synagogue in Buenos Aires was firebombed and 85 people were killed. On 2 March 2001, with the entire world watching, the Taliban destroyed the 1500-year-old old giant statues of Buddha in Bamiyan, Afghanistan. — dynamiting and shelling the statues into oblivion. Most recently, on 24 July 2014, ISIS destroyed the Shrine of Yunus (Jonah) in Mosul, Iraq. Built on a still-existing 6th century BC palace, this had been originally a Christian shrine. When Christians were no long able to maintain it, it was taken over by Muslims, but was revered and visited by both Muslims and Christians. It was architecturally a strikingly beautiful building.

The Taliban destroyed statues of the Buddha of Bamiyan in 2001. The image above shows before it was destroyed (left) and after (right). (photo: Wikipedia Commons)

Across the centuries, the targets have included many different religions. Throughout the Middle East, there are the almost unrelenting attacks on Christian places of worship, with almost no country in the region being immune. And even before the rise of ISIS, Yazidis, Mandeans and even other Muslims (e.g., at the Shrine of Yunus) have seen their sacred places destroyed.

Significantly, the ancient world isn’t the only place where these horrors are unfolding. You need look no further than parts of the United States.

Although not nearly as old as the Buddhas of Bamiyan or the Shrine of Yunus, African American churches in the U.S.—sacred places—have been under almost constant attack, to the point that there is often little or no coverage of the atrocities. An article in The Huffington Post on 21 October 2015 recounts 100 attacks since 1950 against churches whose congregants were primarily black. A Google search uncovered a Wikipedia article that lists the churches and dates of the attacks. Since 2001, a dozen black churches have been attacked, three in 2019 alone.

The attacks on the temples in Jerusalem and almost all of the other sacred spaces mentioned here involved assaults on physical structures: temples, shrines, statues, etc. But it is important to remember that other cultures, especially indigenous cultures, have sacred spaces without buildings or permanent structures — some of them with histories going back thousands of years. It is the place that is sacred; frequently, there are no buildings on it.

Often in the news we hear about Native Americans or indigenous peoples elsewhere protesting what they see as the desecration of land by outside developers. This, too, is an attack on the sacred that deserves attention and action. International bodies like the United Nations are becoming aware of the problem of the destruction of sacred places and are trying to develop protocols and conventions to protect them.

Attention must be paid. These kinds of attacks affect us all. This Saturday, as Jews around the world observe and mourn the loss of the two temples in Jerusalem, we should pause and remember the loss of the sacred that is still going on around the world—not just in far-off and ancient places, but in our own country and neighborhoods.

Tags: Persecution Iraqi

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