21 January 2014
In this image from last March, Pope Francis walks with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople at the Vatican. (photo: CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano via Catholic Press Photo)
This week marks the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Pope Francis spoke about the subject on Friday:
Pope Francis said the evangelization of secular society requires focusing on the essentials of Christianity in collaboration with other Christian churches.
The pope made his remarks on 17 January at a meeting with representatives of the Lutheran Church in Finland, who were making their annual ecumenical pilgrimage to Rome on the feast of Finland’s patron, St. Henry. The meeting occurred one day before the start of the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
Pope Francis told the group that ecumenical relations lately have been undergoing “significant changes, owing above all to the fact that we find ourselves professing our faith in the context of societies and cultures every day more lacking in reference to God and all that recalls the transcendent dimension of life.”
“For this very reason, our witness must concentrate on the center of our faith, on the announcement of the love of God made manifest in Christ his son,” the pope said. “Here we find space to grow in communion and in unity, promoting spiritual ecumenism.”
Pope Francis quoted the Second Vatican Council’s decree on ecumenism, which described “spiritual ecumenism” as consisting of “conversion of heart and holiness of life, together with private and public prayer for Christian unity,” which form the “soul of the whole ecumenical movement.”
In the Summer issue of ONE, the Rev. Elias Mallon wrote about ecumenism:
It has been almost 50 years since the publication of the Decree on Ecumenism. It would be a mistake to underestimate the tremendous progress that has been made as Christians come to a deeper understanding of what we believe as we work toward the unity willed by Christ. That is not, however, a call to self-satisfaction.
As recently as the General Audience of 18 January 2012, the first day of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, Pope Benedict XVI said “the ecumenical task is a responsibility of the entire church and of all the baptized.”
He recognized that “since the birth of the ecumenical movement more than a century ago, there has always been a clear awareness that the lack of unity among Christians is an obstacle to a more effective proclamation of the Gospel.” But, the pope added: “The fundamental truths of the faith unite us more than they divide us.”
A long and challenging road lies ahead to complete Christian unity. But it is a road Pope Francis seems eager to travel. In addressing the delegation of the ecumenical patriarchate in Rome for the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul in late June, Pope Francis stressed that “the search for unity among Christians is an urgent task — you have said that ‘it is not a luxury, but an imperative’ — that, today more than ever, we cannot put aside.”
Read more on the issue of ecumenism in the Summer 2013 issue of ONE.
21 January 2014
Tags: Pope Francis Ecumenism Christian Unity Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I
A pro-European Union protester throws an object during clashes with Ukrainian riot police in Kiev, Ukraine, on 19 January. Ukrainian Catholic Church leaders appealed for calm as violent protests escalated after a government crackdown. (photo: /Valentyn Ogirenko, Reuters)
Ukrainian Major Archbishop calls for peace (Vatican Radio) The head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, is calling on Ukrainians to join in prayers for peace and unity as they celebrate the Divine Liturgy on 22 January — the anniversary of Ukrainian independence in 1918. “With great dismay and sadness we witness the events taking place at the moment in Kyiv,” he said, “In view of these exceptional circumstances I would like to appeal to all the faithful of the church, the Ukrainian people, and to all people of good will. In the name of God, stop the bloodshed! Violence was never the way to build a free and independent state! Bloodshed will never reconcile hearts or bring a positive outcome.” The call comes in response to the recent episodes of violence surrounding the once-peaceful protests in the streets of Kiev. Police and protestors have clashed over the past two nights as government forces attempted to break up protests and dismantle barricades leading to government offices. Monday’s riots followed a night of violence that already left as many as 130 people injured. Protesters threw rocks and stun grenades, while police responded with tear gas…
No shrines in Maaloula untouched by war (Pravoslavie) A radical Islamist group that occupied the small Christian town of Maaloula in Syria late in 2013 desecrated absolutely all shrines of the town, reports Al Hadas portal with the reference to materials of the Al Akhbar Lebanese newspaper. According to eyewitnesses who fled Maaloula during the latest warfare in the region, members of Al Nusra completely destroyed some churches and damaged or ransacked others. The extremists blew up the statue of Christ the Savior, which had stood at the entrance of the Monastery of St. Tekla, as well as the statue of the Virgin Mary…
Alleged Syrian detainee torture photos called a ‘smoking gun’ (Christian Science Monitor) A team of former war crimes prosecutors claim to have found a “smoking gun” that proves that the regime of Syrian President Bashar al Assad tortured and killed its opponents. In a report released Monday to the Guardian and CNN, the prosecutors said they found “direct evidence” of “systematic torture and killing,” based on the analysis of over 26,000 images smuggled out of Syria by a defector who says he was a military police photographer. The pictures show thousands of dead prisoners, many of whom appeared to be emaciated, strangled, or beaten. “Ultimately, the validity of our conclusions turn on the integrity of the people involved,” said Sir Desmond de Silva, chair of the panel assigned to investigate the images. “We, the team, were very conscious of the fact there are competing interests in the Syrian crisis — both national and international. We were very conscious of that. We approached our task with a certain amount of skepticism, bearing that in mind…”
Deadly suicide bombing hits Shia suburb in Beirut (Al Jazeera) A suicide bomber killed four people Tuesday in a southern Beirut suburb known for its support of the Shiite military and political group Hezbollah, security sources said, as violence continues to spill across the border from Syria and inflame tensions between Lebanon’s Sunni and Shiite communities. The target of the attack was not immediately clear. The bomb went off on a busy street with small shops and restaurants in the Haret Hreik area of Beirut’s largely Shiite southern suburbs, near an area where a similar bombing killed five people earlier this month. Tensions from the nearly three-year-old conflict in neighboring Syria have increasingly affected Lebanon, which is still recovering from its own 1975-1990 civil war and has been without a fully functioning government since March…
Cardinal Koch on Christian Unity and Jewish-Catholic relations (Vatican Radio) The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is being celebrated by many Churches in the northern hemisphere from 18-25 January, focusing this year on a provocative question from St. Paul to the early Christian community in Corinth: “Has Christ been divided?” Resources for this annual event have been developed by an ecumenical group of Christians in Canada and are available on the websites of both the Vatican’s Council for Christian Unity and World Council of Churches…
Report: Egypt’s Sisi to quit post in a few days to run for president (Jerusalem Post) Egypt’s military chief, General Abdel Fattah al Sisi, plans to resign from his post in the coming days in order to run for president with the army’s backing, an Arab newspaper reported on Tuesday. General Sisi came to the decision “in light of wide popular demands, in addition to signs of Arab approval, especially from the Gulf,” an informed source told the London-based Al Hayat newspaper. The source also said that Sisi made his decision after carefully studying expected “Western reactions, especially American,” to his potential candidacy, and saw that the Pentagon welcomed the move. The presidential election would be held in March, the report speculated…
Durocher struck by Christian-Muslim relations in Holy Land (Catholic Register) The president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops said instead of signs of hope in the Holy Land, he found hope-filled people serving despite the difficulties. “The situation itself is quite, in many ways, depressing, and seems unsolvable,” said Archbishop Paul-André Durocher. “In spite of that men and women, Christians, Catholics, continue to be involved, gather, celebrate and do good to the people around them. I was particularly impressed by the openness of relationships with Muslims they share living conditions with, and the great respect many Muslims have for the Christians who are a tiny minority but do incredible good there. … Continually, the refrain was: ‘Do not forget us, and pray for us.’ ” The archbishop was among a delegation of bishops from Europe, South Africa and North America who participated in the annual Holy Land Coordination meeting mandated by the Holy See 11-16 January…
17 January 2014
Tags: Syria Egypt Ukraine Beirut Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk
Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, CNEWA’s Rev. Elias D. Mallon, Imam Khalid Latif, the Rev. Chloe Breyer and the V. Rev. Leonid Kishkovsky discuss current trends in religious freedom across the globe. (photo: courtesy of the United Nations)
If you want to know the state of religious freedom at the start of this new year, I got a revealing and sobering glimpse yesterday at the United Nations.
I took part in a panel discussion to observe Religious Freedom Day. It coincided with a Pew Report released earlier this week: “Religious Hostilities Reach Six-Year High.” The panel consisted of the V. Rev. Leonid Kishkovsky of the Orthodox Church of America; Dr. Brian Grim of Pew Research Center; Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, executive vice president of the New York Board of Rabbis; the Rev. Chloe Breyer, an Episcopal priest and director of the Interfaith Center of New York; Imam Khalid Latif, director of the Islam Center at NYU; and me, representing CNEWA.
The Pew Report employs two important ways of measuring religious freedom or lack thereof around the world: government restrictions and societal hostilities. Over the past several years each of the Pew Reports has shown increasing government restrictions and societal hostilities against (usually minority) religions. The most recent report shows an alarming increase in societal hostilities, including incidences where people have been killed for their faith.
In my paper, I offered several observations.
First, it seems to me that the notion of religion is not necessarily clear. When many people speak of religion they have an image of a Christian church with a clear organizational structure, with official spokespersons, etc. That is not the case with other — indeed, most — religions. Religions and faith traditions such as Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism, to say nothing of indigenous religions, are far less centrally organized than the average western, Christian church or denomination. Therefore, it is not always clear what a religion is or what its “borders” are. In its language about freedom of religion, the U.N. reflects this ambiguity by referring routinely to “freedom of religion or belief” without indicating what, if anything, the distinction might be.
Secondly, I noted that the majority of countries experiencing increased governmental restrictions and society hostilities were those that use some type of religious marker in their self-identification. In almost no country were these restrictions and hostilities directed at all religions; it is usually the religious freedom of only some religions that is compromised or threatened. The government isn’t always the only antagonist, either. In many, if not most, cases there are clear elements of religion vs. religion involved.
The problem is often one of conflicting rights. When the legitimate rights of one group or one individual conflict with the legitimate rights of another, there are few if any mechanisms to solve the conflict while at the same time respecting the rights and religious freedom of those involved. Further, the dichotomy of government/religion is too facile; governments and religion very often overlap.
These problems are both complicated and urgent. Even though the international community has spoken about freedom of religion since the 1948 U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Pew Studies indicate that the situation is in fact deteriorating.
Perhaps the time is right for research into how competing rights claims can be settled for the sake of the common good without compromising people’s fundamental rights.
17 January 2014
Tags: United Nations religious freedom Religious Diversity
Samples of raw coffee beans undergo a series of tests at a laboratory in Dire Dawa. Coffee is a vibrant and important part of Ethiopian culture. To learn more, read Brewed to Perfection from the November 2011 issue of ONE. (photo: Peter Lemieux)
17 January 2014
Tags: Ethiopia Cultural Identity Farming/Agriculture
Jewish settlers who lost land to Israeli army bulldozers reportedly take out their anger on Palestinians in West Bank. (video: Al Jazeera)
Coordination of Bishops Conferences’ voices support for Holy Land churches (Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem) “As Bishops from Europe, South Africa and North America we came to the Holy Land to pray with and support the Christian community and the cause of peace. In Gaza, we witnessed the deep poverty of the people, and the courageous presence of the small and vulnerable Christian communities there. Gaza is a man-made disaster, a shocking scandal, an injustice that cries out to the human community for a resolution. We call upon political leaders to improve the humanitarian situation of the people in Gaza, assuring access to the basic necessities for a dignified human life, the possibilities for economic development, and freedom of movement…”
Israel troops open fire on Gaza protesters (Daily Star Lebanon) The Israeli army fired live rounds and tear gas at protesters near the border fence in the Gaza Strip on Friday, wounding two Palestinians, medics and an AFP correspondent said.. Troops fired at some 300 demonstrators who were protesting against Israel’s destruction of farmland for its 300-yard buffer zone, the correspondent said. Two protesters were moderately wounded and taken to hospital, Gaza’s Hamas health ministry spokesman Ashraf al Qudra told AFP. Israel’s army was “unaware of the incident,” a spokeswoman said…
Syria proposes cease-fire in Aleppo (New York Times) The Syrian government on Friday proposed a cease-fire with rebel forces in the city of Aleppo and said it was willing to exchange detainee lists with the opposition to pave the way for a possible prisoner exchange. The proposals, which Walid al Moallem, the Syrian foreign minister, said he had given to Russia, appeared to be an effort by the government to show good faith days before an international peace conference is to be convened in Switzerland aimed at ending Syria’s civil war…
Egypt Islamists, police clash ahead of vote results (Daily Star Lebanon) At least one person was killed in clashes between Egyptian police and Islamists on Friday, as the country awaited results of a constitutional referendum billed as an endorsement of President Muhammad Morsi’s overthrow. Clashes between Mr. Morsi’s Islamist supporters and police armed with tear gas were reported in several cities, security officials said. One person was killed in fighting in Fayoum, a city southwest of Cairo, police said. His identity was not immediately clear…
Harsh anti-protest laws in Ukraine spur anger (Washington Post) Anger swept through the Ukrainian opposition Friday after a package of laws that would prohibit almost any type of street protest was rushed through parliament. The laws appear to borrow heavily from existing Russian legislation and seem to belie Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s declarations that he wants his country to build stronger ties with the European Union. Under the new laws, any organization receiving money from abroad — which, in Ukraine’s case, includes a huge number of groups including the Greek Catholic Church — must register as “foreign agents,” just as they must in Russia…
Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church web site hit by cyber attacks (RISU) The spokesman for the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, the Rev. Ihor Yatsiv, announced that the church’s official web site was hit by direct denial of service (DDoS) attacks. All attacks, as reported in the church’s Department of Information come from Rostelecom — the national telecommunications company in Russia.
16 January 2014
Tags: Egypt Ukraine Syrian Civil War Holy Land Israeli-Palestinian conflict
An elderly refugee from Azerbaijan sits in an unsanitary government housing project. (photo: Armineh Johannes)
A few years ago, we took a close look at the hard lives of the elderly in Armenia:
Since settling in Armenia 17 years ago, Sonya Sargsian can only recall losses, hardships and heartbreaks.
“When we escaped Azerbaijan in 1988, the state gave us temporary asylum here with assurances we would receive an apartment later,” said the 80-year-old widow. “But they forgot about us,” she continued, repeatedly pressing her face into her open hands.
A “refugee,” Mrs. Sargsian is among the thousands of Armenians who fled their homes in neighboring Azerbaijan in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s.
“Who needs a life like this? I don’t want to live in these inhumane conditions,” she added, gesturing at her run-down studio apartment.
Sonya Sargsian resides in a dilapidated government-owned building housing impoverished pensioners and the homeless — one of three clustered in a forgotten suburb of Yerevan, the Armenian capital. Built as a student dormitory after World War II, the building has not been renovated since its construction. Residents share a common bathroom, which barely functions. Decrepit plumbing supplies water at irregular intervals.
“We can’t take a bath for months. We walk a district away to get water. Those unable to make the trip try to forget they have basic human needs,” Mrs. Sargsian said, pointing to the sewage leaking through the ceiling.
Complicating matters is the disappearance of her son and his family. “When the war began,” she said, “I sent my son and his children to his in-laws’ home in Chechnya. I had no idea they would escape one war only to find themselves in another.”
She has received no news of their whereabouts; attempts to contact them have not yielded any leads. “Their home has been shelled and ruined. Nobody lives there,” she concluded.
For many elderly Armenians such as Sonya Sargsian, a normal life is but a memory.
A small landlocked nation of 2.9 million people, Armenia has paid a high price for its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Once part of a mammoth state-controlled centralized economy, Armenia has had to go it alone. Soviet-organized trading patterns collapsed and state-subsidized industries decayed.
Read more about Pensioners in Crisis from the January 2008 issue of ONE.
And to learn how you can help, visit our giving page for Eastern Europe.
16 January 2014
Tags: Armenia Poor/Poverty Caring for the Elderly Caucasus Pensioners
Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II casts his vote in Egypt’s constitutional referendum. (photo: The Coptic Orthodox Church)
Egypt approves new constitution, early results show (Christian Science Monitor) Egyptians who voted in a referendum overwhelmingly approved a new constitution, official sources said, citing early results of a ballot that could set the stage for army chief General Abdel Fattah al Sisi to declare his candidacy for president. About 90 percent of voters approved the constitution, the state news agency and a government official said…
Palestinians strive to keep hope alive in Holy Land (Vatican Radio) Fouad Twal, the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, told a visiting delegation of Catholic bishops from Europe, North America and South Africa that their pilgrimage to the Holy Land helps the local Church not to feel abandoned or forgotten by the international community. The Bishops conclude their five-day annual pilgrimage later on Thursday. On a visit to the Cremisan Valley, near Bethlehem, they met Palestinian families struggling to save their land from the separation wall threatening to upend their entire way of life…
Patriarch Gregory III appeals for a global campaign of prayer for peace in Syria (AsiaNews) Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregory III of Antioch has called on the faithful to pray for the success of the Geneva II Conference on peace in Syria, set to start in Montreux, Switzerland, on 22 January. In his appeal, the patriarch urged everyone to set aside a daily moment of prayer in churches, homes, and pastoral gatherings. “Let us pray for true reconciliation in Geneva II, among Syrians — and not just on security arrangements and humanitarian aid. Certainly, we greatly need this, but the key to the success of Geneva II is faith-based, human, cordial, national and truly Syrian reconciliation. As we thank the countries working for peace in Syria, we want their efforts to be so focused that peace be a Syrian peace…”
International donors pledge billions for war-ravaged Syria (Al Jazeera) International donors meeting in Kuwait pledged $2.4 billion in humanitarian aid for victims of the Syrian war, which the chief of the United Nations said Wednesday had left half the population in need of urgent help. Millions of Syrians have been driven from their homes as a result of the crisis, now in its third year. Getting aid to many of those in need remains a challenge because they are trapped in communities besieged by the fighting…
Chaldean Patriarchate opens clinic for Christians and Muslims in Baghdad (AsiaNews) Speaking about the spirit that led to the establishment of a medical clinic in Baghdad, Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael I said: “These projects and initiatives in the humanitarian field help spread a spirit of cooperation among all citizens. They also make it clear that Christians are true members of this country, who want to do good for everyone.” The clinic is open to Christians, Muslims and members of other religious faiths, without distinction or discrimination…
15 January 2014
Tags: Egypt Holy Land Patriarch Fouad Twal Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael I Melkite Patriarch Gregory III of Antioch
In Alaska, pilgrims bring to the tomb of St. Herman their well-worn travel icons. (photo: Clark James Mishler)
Deep in the heart of Alaska, there’s a thriving community of Christians, members of the Orthodox Church in America. We visited the community a few years ago and saw first-hand their deep faith:
Deep in the old-growth forest of Alaska’s Spruce Island, 8-year-old Julian Griggs made the Sign of the Cross before dipping his plastic bottle into the cold spring water. “Umm,” he said after a sip. “That tastes sweet.”
Up the trail, Julian’s parents joined other adults for a three-hour liturgy near the Orthodox church that enshrines the tomb of St. Herman of Alaska. But here in the forest, beside a small wooden shelter of candles and icons, the children were partaking in another Orthodox tradition.
The spring water that Julian was drinking is considered holy. According to local tradition, the spring was discovered by the monk Herman, a starets (or spiritual father in Russian), who came to Alaska from Russia in 1794. Until his discovery of the spring, the island was thought to be without fresh water. Pilgrims credit the spring water with healing a number of medical and spiritual ills.
“It’s really good, even if it’s a little brown,” said Xenia Hoffman, 12. The spring, and all that surrounds it, drew her family to Alaska. They moved here from California last year “because of St. Herman,” she said. “We wanted to be closer to him.”
Each summer, the Orthodox Church in America’s Diocese of Alaska organizes a pilgrimage to Spruce Island, an hour’s boat ride from the fishing town of Kodiak. Most come from the Alaska Native villages in the Kodiak region, but some come from as far away as Eastern Europe.
St. Herman was not the first Russian to come to Alaska. Legend holds that Russian settlers first established a colony in 1648. And in the early 18th century, Russian explorers and merchants sailed to Alaska by way of a strait (later named for one such explorer, Vitus Bering, who was in fact a Dane in the employ of Peter the Great) separating Asia from North America. They returned with sea otter pelts, which proved very valuable.
Read more about Orthodox Alaska in the November 2006 issue of ONE. And you can learn more about the Orthodox Church of America in a profile from 2012.
15 January 2014
Tags: Cultural Identity Pilgrimage/pilgrims United States Orthodox Church
In this 7 January photo, a carries a wounded girl who survived what activists say was an airstrike by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al Assad in Damascus. (photo: CNS/Bassam Khabieh, Reuters)
Appeal for an immediate ceasefire in Syria (VIS) The Pontifical Academy for Sciences held a workshop in the Vatican yesterday on the civil war in Syria, in which an appeal was made for an immediate end to violence and the commencement of reconstruction and dialogue between the various communities within the country. Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, led the meeting, which took place a week before the upcoming Geneva Peace Conference…
Syria conflict: Half population urgently needs aid (BBC) United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon says that half of Syria’s population, some 9.3 million people, now “urgently need humanitarian aid.” About 6.5 million people are now displaced inside Syria. More than 2.3 million have registered as refugees across the region, many living in camps, barely coping…
Palestinians rally for besieged brethren in Syria’s Yarmouk camp (Christian Science Monitor) The death of at least 28 starving Palestinians in Syria’s Yarmouk refugee camp has sparked protests across the Middle East. Fellow Palestinians are calling on the international community and the Palestine Liberation Organization to help end a siege imposed by the Syrian army last summer, after the camp became a hub for rebel fighters from the Free Syrian Army and extremist Islamist groups. Before the Syrian war began, Yarmouk was home to some 150,000 registered Palestinian refugees, making it the largest Palestinian camp in Syria. Very little food or other aid has been permitted in Yarmouk since the siege began in July…
Bishops at Bethlehem University: An oasis of peace (Vatican Radio) Visiting Bethlehem University as part of their pilgrimage to the Holy Land, bishops from North America, Europe and South Africa encountered hope and enthusiasm for Pope Francis’ upcoming visit from students at Bethlehem University…
Egyptian constitutional referendum goes into second day (Washington Post) Egyptians headed to the polls Wednesday for a second day of voting in a referendum on a new army-backed constitution, despite deadly violence on the first day of polling Tuesday, in which 11 people were killed and a Cairo-area courthouse was damaged in an early-morning bomb attack…
Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church will remain faithful to mission despite threats (Vatican Radio) The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church has released the full text, in English, of Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk’s response to the letter from the Ministry of Culture of Ukraine “concerning possible grounds for terminating the activity of the religious organizations of the U.G.C.C.” The letter from the Ministry of Culture involved a threat to rescind the church’s legal status, alleging that Ukrainian Greek Catholic priests had violated the law by taking part in the demonstrations in Maidan Square in Kiev…
14 January 2014
Tags: Egypt Syrian Civil War Refugee Camps Bethlehem University Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk
Children gather in a makeshift classroom in the Al Waer neighborhood of Homs. (photo: Ziad Hilal, S.J.)
“Evil appeared in an unprecedented way.”
That is how Father Ziad Hilal described the nightmare that is now Syria when he wrote to us. His Letter from Syria in the summer issue of ONE painted a stark portrait of a world torn apart by war — and of the innocent children he is desperately trying to save.
CNEWA, with the generous support of its donors, is making a difference in the lives of those children and so many others. To learn what we have been able to do, we invite you to read the latest report compiled by our regional offices in Amman and Beirut. To learn how you can help, you can also visit our Syria giving page.
“Hope is what CNEWA has helped us provide,” Father Hilal wrote. “I believe it has been a lifeline from God — helping us and guiding our efforts to glorify the name of the Lord.”
Thank you to all who have made this lifeline possible!
Tags: Syria Refugees CNEWA Syrian Civil War Violence against Christians