16 September 2015
Syrian refugees wait at the mosque courtyard at the Istanbul bus terminal as they try to get tickets to go to Germany through Greece on 16 September 2015.
(photo: Bulent Doruk/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Syria’s Assad blames West for refugee crisis (Reuters) Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has blamed Europe’s refugee crisis on Western support for “terrorists,” as people fleeing his country’s civil war stream towards the European Union. In his first public comments on the mass migration, broadcast on Wednesday, Assad said Europe could expect more refugees. Countries including the United States, Turkey and Saudi Arabia want to see Assad gone from power and have supported the opposition to his rule during the four-year-old war, including some of the armed groups fighting him...
Obama weighs talks with Putin on Syria (The New York Times) For more than a year, President Obama has resisted meeting one on one with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and only reluctantly taken a phone call, freezing out the Kremlin leader over his intervention in Ukraine in their own personal cold war. But this month, the two leaders will be in the same city at the same time amid rising tension in Syria, and the White House is divided by a debate over whether they should meet to try to work out their differences before the tumult in the Middle East escalates even further...
Power cuts prompt protests in Gaza (The New York Times) Several hundred Palestinians demonstrated in central Gaza on Monday evening over increasing power cuts, the latest in a series of protests that appear to have erupted over the issue. The demonstrations, which began Saturday in Rafah, a southern city in the Gaza Strip, are the largest in years. Still, it is uncertain if the protesters can sustain their momentum, and it is unclear if they will pose a challenge to Gaza’s Hamas rulers...
European bishops hold assembly in the Holy Land (Vatican Radio) The Council of European Episcopal Conferences (CCEE) this week is holding its Plenary Assembly in the Holy Land. The meeting came at the invitation of His Beatitude Fouad Twal, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem. By accepting the invitation for the Holy Land to host their meeting, the Presidents of the Bishops’ Conferences said it allowed for the meeting to be a pilgrimage to the very roots of European culture...
Ethiopia says hundreds of “Eritrea-backed” rebels have surrendered (Channel NewsAsia) Hundreds of Ethiopian rebels have fled their base in Eritrea and surrendered to authorities, handing over their weapons, the foreign ministry said on Tuesday.The little-known Tigray People’s Democratic Movement (TPDM) says it launched an insurgency 14 years ago seeking to “establish a popular democratic government” in Addis Ababa. Ethiopia has previously dismissed the group as “puppets” acting under the orders of arch-foe Eritrea, with whom it is embroiled in a border dispute...
15 September 2015
Tags: Syria Ethiopia Gaza Strip/West Bank Jerusalem Russia
Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych, major archbishop of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, greets the mother of a deceased soldier in July 2015. (photo: John E. Kozar)
“Reborn” and “renascent” are frequently used to describe the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. While such adjectives may describe correctly the situation of the church in Ukraine since it resurfaced from the catacombs of the Soviet Union, they fail to describe the circumstances for the entire church, which has flourished in the Americas, Oceania and Western Europe for up to a century. No longer the faith community of a central European people, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church is a worldwide body bonded by tradition and perseverance.
Modern Ukrainians share the same origins as Belarussians, Carpatho-Rusyns and Russians, all of whom regard the realm of the Kievan Rus’ as their own.
In the ninth century, the Varangians — a Scandinavian tribe known for their ferocity and piracy — swept into central Europe, settling among and intermarrying with the Eastern Slavic natives. Collectively called the Rus’, they established towns along the Dnieper, Dniester and Don rivers, asserted control of the trade routes from the Baltic to the Black seas and developed uneasy commercial relations with Constantinople, the capital of the Christian Eastern Roman Empire, commonly known as Byzantium.
A young man is ordained a priest in the Church of the Transfiguration in Kolomyja, Ukraine. (photo: Petro Didula)
One such town, Kiev, became dominant and its leader took on the title of grand prince. The grand prince controlled the city and its surroundings, while Rusyn relatives scattered from Novgorod (a city near modern St. Petersburg) to Halych (now a town in southwestern Ukraine) swore him allegiance.
According to the 12th-century Rus’ Chronicles, Grand Prince Vladimir I (956-1015), eager to abandon the polytheistic beliefs of his people, sent out emissaries to learn about Christianity, Judaism and Islam. But Christianity as practiced in Byzantium had the edge: Olga (879-969), Vladimir’s grandmother, had embraced Christianity while in Constantinople. But Olga had failed to instruct her son or her people in the Byzantine Christian faith.
Another likely source for Vladimir’s interest in Byzantine Christianity was the work of two missionary brothers, Cyril and Methodius. Charged by the patriarch of Constantinople to work among the Slavs of Moravia (862), the brothers created a Slavonic alphabet, translated scriptural works into Slavonic and introduced a Slavonic liturgy based on the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. While the disciples of Sts. Cyril and Methodius were later banished from Moravia, they established Byzantine Christianity among the Southern Slavs and Bulgars of the Bulgarian kingdom. Buttressed by this church, the Bulgarian state developed into a powerful empire that rivaled Byzantium and Kiev.
Ultimately, it may have been Vladimir’s interest in an alliance with Byzantium that led to his baptism in the Byzantine tradition. Yet the Rus’ Chronicles credit the Divine Liturgy, as celebrated in Constantinople’s Church of Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom), as the inspiration for Vladimir’s acceptance in 988 of Byzantine Christianity: “We knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth,” the annals record the emissaries as saying, “surely God dwells with the Greeks [as the Byzantines were known].”
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15 September 2015
The sisters at Bediani in Georgia keep bees to supplement their income. To learn more about life in their community, read “Alternative Lifestyles” in the September 2007 edition of ONE.
(photo: Justyna Mielnikiewicz)
15 September 2015
A picture taken on 14 September 2015 shows smoke billowing from the Syrian rebel-held area of Douma, east of the capital Damascus, following a reported air strike by Syrian government forces. The besieged area east of Syria’s capital suffered one of its bloodiest months in August, with ‘intense’ regime bombing attacks that killed and wounded hundreds,
Doctors Without Borders said. (photo: ABD Doumany/AFP/Getty Images)
For those who remain in Syria, daily life is a nightmare (The New York Times) Every morning, at the dawn call to prayer, women and children move silently from the Damascus suburb of Douma to the surrounding farm fields, seeking safety from the day’s bombardments by the Syrian government. The walk is part of a surreal routine described by the fraction of Douma’s residents who remain: shopping on half-demolished streets, scavenging wild greens, carrying out mass burials. But not even the fields are safe; recently, medics said, bombs killed two families there — 10 people, including seven children. As crowds of Syrians transfix the world with their flight to Europe, this kind of life is one of the many nightmares they are fleeing...
Vatican welcomes Iran agreement (Vatican Radio) The Holy See has welcomed Iran’s efforts to reduce or convert its nuclear facilities to peaceful purposes in return for the lifting of economic sanctions. In a statement delivered to the 59th General Conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna on Monday, the Holy See’s Secretary for Relations with States, Archbishop Paul Gallagher, said the Vatican “values positively” Iran’s recent agreement with the European Union and the so-called ‘P5 plus 1’ group of nations because “it considers that the way to resolve disputes and difficulties should always be that of dialogue and negotiation”...
Canadian troops arrive in Ukraine to train soldiers (The Globe and Mail) The Canadian training mission is taking place 1,200 kilometres away from the front lines, but the Kremlin nonetheless sees the exercises as part of a NATO buildup on its doorstep. The Russian embassy in Ottawa has criticized the mission as “counterproductive and deplorable.”
Conference looks at impact of social media in Middle East (Fides) In the tragic events that plague the people of the Middle East, an undeniable and growing role is also played by communication through social media. In order to address this emergency and rediscover social media as a space for dialogue and understanding among different identities, the Kaiciid has organized the first training program for operators in this sector in Amman, entitled “United Against Violence in the Name of Religion”...
Catholic activist reportedly receives death threats in India (Fides) The well-known Catholic intellectual and human rights activist John Dayal has received death threats by radical Hindu groups. This is what Fides learns from sources in the Indian Catholic community. Dayal has denounced the threats to the police in New Delhi. According to information confirmed to Fides by Fr. Savari Muthu, a priest in New Delhi and spokesman of the Archdiocese, Hindu radicals started threatening Dayal on 12 September with telephone intimidations and on social networks, with derogatory and offensive comments towards Dayal and the Christian faith...
14 September 2015
In this image from 2014, an Ethiopian Christian carries a cross on the Via Dolorosa in the
Old City of Jerusalem. (photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)
Today, 14 September, marks the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. Some background:
Early in the fourth century St. Helena, mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine, went to Jerusalem in search of the holy places of Christ’s life. She razed the second-century Temple of Aphrodite, which tradition held was built over the Savior’s tomb, and her son built the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher over the tomb. During the excavation, workers found three crosses. Legend has it that the one on which Jesus died was identified when its touch healed a dying woman.
The cross immediately became an object of veneration. At a Good Friday celebration in Jerusalem toward the end of the fourth century, according to an eyewitness, the wood was taken out of its silver container and placed on a table together with the inscription Pilate ordered placed above Jesus’ head: Then “all the people pass through one by one; all of them bow down, touching the cross and the inscription, first with their foreheads, then with their eyes; and, after kissing the cross, they move on.”
To this day the Eastern Churches, Catholic and Orthodox alike, celebrate the Exaltation of the Holy Cross on the September anniversary of the basilica’s dedication. The feast entered the Western calendar in the seventh century after Emperor Heraclius recovered the cross from the Persians, who had carried it off in 614, 15 years earlier. According to the story, the emperor intended to carry the cross back into Jerusalem himself, but was unable to move forward until he took off his imperial garb and became a barefoot pilgrim.
When he marked this feast two years ago, Pope Francis spoke of the cross as a mystery, and drew parallels between two trees — the one that led to man’s downfall in Eden, and the one that saved the world on Calvary:
“The one tree has wrought so much evil, the other tree has brought us to salvation, to health. This is the course of the humanity’s story: a journey to find Jesus Christ the Redeemer, who gives His life for love. God, in fact, has not sent the Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. This tree of the Cross save us, all of us, from the consequences of that other tree, where self-sufficiency, arrogance, the pride of us wanting to know all things according to our own mentality, according to our own criteria, and also according to that presumption of being and becoming the only judges of the world. This is the story of mankind: from one tree to the other.”
14 September 2015
Seminarians enjoy a traditional Ethiopian meal at Holy Trinity Ethiopian Orthodox Theological College in Addis Ababa. To learn more about the training of Orthodox clergy in that part of the world, check out “As It Was, So Shall It Remain?” in the September 2009 edition of ONE.
(photo: Cody Christopulos)
14 September 2015
A migrant sits wrapped in an emergency blanket at the crossing point between Hungary and Austria in Nickelsdorf, Austria, on 11 September. (photo: CNS/Leonhard Foeger, Reuters)
Pope: refugee crisis is “tip of an iceberg” (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis spoke about the refugee crisis during an interview with Portugal’s Radio Renascença which aired on Monday, calling it the “tip of an iceberg.” “These poor people are fleeing war, hunger, but that is the tip of the iceberg. Because underneath that is the cause; and the cause is a bad and unjust socioeconomic system, in everything, in the world — speaking of the environmental problem — in the socioeconomic society, in politics, the person always has to be in the center,” Pope Francis said...
Cor Unum convenes meeting on humanitarian crisis in Syria and Iraq (VIS) The Pontifical Council “Cor Unum” has organized a meeting on the humanitarian crisis in Syria and Iraq to be held on 17 September, which will be attended in particular by the Catholic charitable organisations active in the Middle East and the bishops of the region...
Israeli officials reject paying compensation for Catholic church damaged by arson (Fides) The tax authority in Israel has rejected in recent days the claim for compensation presented by the Catholic Church for the damage of the arsonist attack which last June devastated the Sanctuary of the Miracle of the Multiplication of Loaves and Fish, in Tabgha...
In Nineveh Plain, Christians stage procession for Feast of Holy Cross (Fides) In the Nineveh Plain, still largely subject to the control of the self-proclaimed jihadist Islamic Caliphate, about a thousand Christians moved in procession among fields and barren hills to reach a Marian monastery out of town and celebrate the solemnity of the Holy Cross on Sunday evening, 13 September. This took place in Alqosh, a city of the Nineveh Plain which has never fallen into the hands of the Islamic Caliphate...
Ethiopian refugees play waiting game (Catholic Register) Major refugee sponsor agencies, including the Office for Refugees Archdiocese of Toronto, have been strictly limited in the number of refugees they may apply to sponsor from East Africa — home to 1.8 million UNHCR-registered refugees and three million internally displaced people. Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) claims the limits on new applications to sponsor African refugees are there to give it a chance to clear the backlog. For government-sponsored refugees, CIC claims it manages to process 50 per cent of those cases within 25 months...
Priest offers Mass daily at destroyed West Bank olive orchards (CNS) Since hundreds of olive trees were uprooted to make room for a separation barrier through the Cremisan Valley adjacent to this largely Christian village, Father Aktham Hijazin, Annunciation parish priest, has been celebrating Mass daily behind red-and-white police tape. The tape — and the border police who patrol the area — prevent some 56 Palestinian landowners from reaching their land. A dump truck rumbles by, kicking up dust, just metres away from where the priest has set up his makeshift altar: a small table covered by a white cloth with three olive tree saplings at its base. On 6 September, as Hijazin celebrated Mass for a handful of local landowners and a small Swedish group, the sound of the trucks occasionally drowned out their voices. Later, coughing slightly, the priest held up the consecrated Eucharist, first toward the worshipers, then facing the destroyed orchards...
Russian Orthodox Church demands DNA testing on reported remains of Tsar’s children (IBT) The Russian Orthodox Church has demanded further testing of the remains believed to belong to the son and daughter of Russia’s last Tsar, Nicholas II, which the government plans to rebury in St. Petersburg. On Friday, a working group set up by the Russian government proposed on Friday to bury crown prince Alexei Romanov and his sister, grand duchess Maria, with the remains of their mother, father and siblings, in Peter and Paul Cathedral on 18 October...
11 September 2015
Tags: Iraq Pope Francis Ethiopia Israel Russian Orthodox
An Adivasi child carries his brother in the village of Bhatpal, in the Bastar region of India.
(photo: Jose Jacob)
In the Summer edition of ONE, Jose Kavi reports on the challenges facing sisters working in the conflict-stricken “Red Corridor.” He offers here some additional impressions of covering that story.
A sigh of relief went up from me when my train crossed over to Odisha from Chhattisgarh, two neighboring states in India’s central-eastern region. My four-day stay in Chhattisgarh was one of the toughest periods in my 35-year-old reporting career.
Chhattisgarh was one of the few of India’s 28 states that I had not visited until a reporting assignment took me there in March. It would be an understatement if I say I was not anxious or worried to visit that predominantly tribal state.
Gathering my wits, I boarded the plane to the Chhattisgarh capital of Raipur, some 750 miles southeast of New Delhi. The aircraft was full but only a couple of the passengers were tribal. The others were non-tribals: politicians, government officers, contractors and employees of transnational firms — all outsiders who lived off the mineral-rich state.
Their presence reminded me what I had read about Chhattisgarh, one of India’s states that struggled with a plethora of problems.
One of the problems was the stranglehold of Maoists over several pockets in the state.
In the past 20 years, the revolutionary Communist group that follows the ideals of Chinese leader Mao Zedong has killed more than 12,000 people in nine states, with Chhattisgarh topping them all.
During the nearly six-hour drive from Raipur to Jagdalpur, my host Father Augustine Vadakkedom explained that the Maoists had entered the state in late 1970s to help the poor tribal and Dalit communities who had been oppressed. However the protectors mounted a full-fledged war against the government and its security forces and the two marginalized communities soon found themselves caught in the middle.
Now I was wading into this troubled corner of the country. My assignment was to study the works of two Catholic women religious congregations serving Jagdalpur diocese that covers the Maoist-infested Bastar region.
Father Augustine and the sisters from the two congregations took us to places where we were told the Maoists were quite active. While passing through a forest road to go to a mission station, Father Augustine stopped at the spot where a landmine explosion two years ago killed at least 27 people, many of them top political leaders in the state. A red crumbled car stood in front of the nearest police station as a mute witness to that incident.
During the trip we met women such as Sister Julie Mathew who were caught in the crossfire of Maoists and security forces. Sister Julie had close encounters with Maoists at least three times. Once, she and another sister were blindfolded and taken by the outlaws to their hideouts deep inside the forests for questioning. She also told how she and some 50 hostel children faced death when Maoists attacked a police station that was adjacent to their convent.
The sisters explained how they had to reluctantly close village dispensaries under pressure from the Maoists, who wanted the church people to perform abortions and carry medicines for them.
But there were rays of hope in this dismal scenario.
First, there is the quiet revolution the nuns’ presence is stoking among illiterate men and women in remote villages. In one village, an aged woman shared how the people used to cower at the sight of even an office assistant in a government office. But the sisters are giving the people a sense of dignity and confidence. A few days before I met them, thought, the villagers had marched to a district collector as a group and gotten him agree to give them electricity to their village.
The villagers also admitted that they had strictly followed caste barriers until the sisters arrived. Now, they all sit together and seek solutions to their common problems. The sisters have taught them that is that there is strength in unity.
And the task is not over yet. That is why women like Sister Julie say they would remain, whatever the price they have to pay.
I let out a sigh of relief as the train chugged out of the last station in Chhattisgarh. I was comforted by the thought that there are still some people out there who are willing to risk their lives to improve the lives of others.
But reminders of the risks they face are never far away. Just a few days after I left the region, the newspapers reported another ambush by the Maoists that killed at least five security persons.
Read more about how sisters are working to change lives by “Serving in the Red” in the Summer edition of ONE.
And to support their work, visit this page.
11 September 2015
In this photo from 9 September, Bishop Gregory Mansour of the Eparchy of St. Maron of Brooklyn, N.Y., and Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan, the prelate of the Armenian Apostolic Church of the Eastern United States, participate in an ecumenical prayer service at St. Joseph Church on Capitol Hill opening the In Defense of Christians Leadership Convention in Washington.
(photo: CNS/Jaclyn Lippelmann)
A gathering in Washington this week called attention to the plight of Christians in the Middle East:
Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington called for solidarity with the persecuted Christians of the Middle East during a 9 September prayer service at a Roman Catholic church on Capitol Hill.
The prayer service was held in conjunction with the In Defense of Christians summit held at a Capitol Hill hotel, within walking distance of St. Joseph Church.
The summit is the second for the organization, which Cardinal Wuerl noted in his reflections during the prayer service.
“All of came together (in 2014) so the people could ... express solidarity with our brothers and sisters,” he said, “and bear prayerful witness to the suffering of so many ... especially our Christian brothers and sisters.”
This year, Cardinal Wuerl said, “we are gathered in solidarity and witness” again to support the region’s Christians who face “tragedy” every day. “Much, much needs to be said about what continues to happen in the Middle East,” he added.
“After the prayer service, we can walk out and enjoy freedom. So many of our brothers and sisters cannot do that.”
Cardinal Wuerl recalled the beatitudes, as proclaimed in English at the prayer service — but also in sung chant — by Melkite Father Nabil Haddad, founder of the Jordanian Interfaith Coexistence Research Center, and in particular, “those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” These, the cardinal said, are today’s Middle East’s Christians.
“We know that we can offer our prayers,” he added. “Prayer helps. Prayer is effective.”
Read the rest.
11 September 2015
The pope has called for concrete steps to help persecuted Christians in the Middle East. In the video above, an organization reports that a petition calling for action from the United Nations has garnered 130,000 signatures. (video: Rome Reports)
Pope discusses refugee crisis with Serbian president (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis met on Friday with the President of the Serbian Republic Tomislav Nikolic to discuss common interests, including the current refugee crisis, as well as relations between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches in the Balkan country. A statement from the Vatican press office after the private meeting said the two leaders also discussed Serbia’s progress towards integration into the European Union and the Catholic Church’s contribution to the common good of Serbian society...
European bishops say migration issue requires a continent-wide solution (CNS) The European Union must adopt a common asylum policy “without delay” because it is unacceptable for refugees to “drown and suffocate” at the fringes of the bloc, said the European bishops. A statement issued by the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community, COMECE, said a common policy would prevent countries from keeping out migrants. “If we can solve an economic crisis at an overnight EU extraordinary summit, then it should be just as easy with this crisis, especially when the fate of so many people is at stake. After all, the question of a common solution to the refugee crisis is also an issue that directly affects the values and the future of Europe,” said the statement issued 10 September...
U.S. official: ISIS making and using chemical weapons in Iraq and Syria (BBC) There is a growing belief within the US government that the Islamic State militant group is making and using crude chemical weapons in Iraq and Syria, a US official has told the BBC. The US has identified at least four occasions on both sides of the Iraq-Syria border where ISIS has used mustard agents, the official said. The official said the chemical was being used in powder form...
Russian Orthodox Church stands up for Muslim book ruled “extremist” by court (RT) Probes into allegations of extremism in ancient sacred writings should be banned, the Russian Orthodox Church said after a controversial court ruling over a Muslim book was announced in the Russian city of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. Ancient religious texts written hundreds of years ago should be immune from any form of legal process, Russian Orthodox Church spokesman Vsevolod Chaplin said in an interview with Interfax on Thursday...
“What I learned worshipping with Egypt’s Christians” (Christianity Today) Though different from our evangelical congregations back in America, the Coptic community offered us a vibrant place of faith where the gospel was preached, people were healed, and members strengthened each other. We sat through large open-air services with lively worship led by a praise team. We also attended solemn masses in hushed Arabic tones. Led by a soft-spoken priest simply called Abouna (“Our Father”), we often felt like we were discovering the early church...