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Winter, 2015
Volume 41, Number 4
  
1 February 2016
CNEWA staff




The image above shows a detail of the baptistery painting from Deir ez-Zor, Syria,
that may portray the Virgin Mary.
(photo: Tony De Camillo/Yale University Art Gallery/The New York Times)


Sunday, Fordham theology professor Michael Peppard published a fascinating essay in The New York Times, taking a closer look at an image from Syria that he believes may have rich historical meaning:

At the Yale University Art Gallery hang wall paintings from one of the world’s oldest churches. Buried by the middle of the third century, this house-church from eastern Syria had images of Jesus, Peter and David. The gallery showcases a well-preserved procession of veiled women that once surrounded its baptistery, a room for Christian initiation.

Off to the side, seldom noticed among the likes of Jesus and Peter, stands a different wall fragment, faded but still discernible: a woman bent over a well. Holding the rope of her vessel, she looks out at the viewer or perhaps over her shoulder, seemingly startled in the act of drawing water.

Who is she? The museum’s identification is certainly plausible: “The painting most likely depicts a scene from the encounter between Christ (not shown) and a woman from Samaria,” as recorded in the Gospel of John. But historians also know that the Samaritan Woman, a repentant sinner who conversed at length with Jesus, was usually depicted in dialogue with him. This woman appears to be alone.

Is it possible that a painting from a building excavated in 1932 and publicized around the world has not been correctly identified?

He makes a compelling argument that the figure is, in fact, the Virgin Mary:

...While the Samaritan Woman at the Well was a respected biblical figure for early Christians, there was actually a more prominent “woman at the well” in Syria: the Virgin Mary during the Annunciation, when an angelic visitor informed her of her miraculous pregnancy. Where does this episode take place? The setting of the canonical account, in the Gospel of Luke, is not specified. But the second-century biography of Mary’s early life, usually called the Protevangelium of James, describes how one day, during a break from her work, “she took the pitcher and went forth to draw water, and behold, a voice said: ‘Hail, you are highly favored, the Lord is with you, blessed are you among women.’ And she looked around on the right and on the left to see from where this voice could have come.” During this first encounter, at a well or spring, the angel was heard but not seen. Mary appeared to be alone.

Archival photographs and drawings made by the archaeologists on site show that the supposed absence behind the female figure is not totally silent — it speaks a couple of lines. That is to say, a field sketch of the wall done “to show additional details” depicts two painted lines touching the woman’s back, along with a kind of starburst on the front of her torso, features described as “unexplained” in the archaeological report. But with the new interpretation of the figure, in connection with the Eastern iconography that came later, the lines invite a rather evident meaning. They appear to represent a motion toward the woman’s body and a spark of activity within it, as if something invisible were approaching and entering her — an incarnation.

If correct, this woman at a well is the oldest securely datable image of the Virgin Mary.

Read more at The New York Times.



1 February 2016
CNEWA staff




The pages shown above depict ancient biblical manuscripts being preserved by the Museum of the Bible. The Rev. Elias Mallon of CNEWA says misinterpretation of Scripture gives rise to religious fundamentalism in all faiths. (photo: CNS)

CNEWA’s external affairs officer, the Rev. Elias Mallon, was interviewed recently by Michael Swan of the Catholic Register, and he offered some insight into what gives rise to religious fundamentalism:

Most people have never heard a homily preached on Deuteronomy 20:10-18. It’s kind of difficult to apply these God-given rules of war to daily life in the 21st century.

The part about enslaving the women and killing all the men and boys if the village resists attack has little application when asking a boss for a raise or negotiating a mortgage renewal.

The Bible was written in a very different place at a very different time by people whose self-understanding and world view was formed by forces people today might understand intellectually but struggle to feel deep inside.

Father Elias Mallon, a member of the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement, said it need not be so: It is possible to find some deeper Christian meaning in difficult texts from the Bible. But it requires study and an understanding of the history embedded in biblical literature, which was collected over a 1,000-year span and finally accepted as part of the Bible more than 17 centuries ago.

Father Mallon was recently in Toronto for a three-way discussion among Catholics, Muslims and Jews about reading and interpreting difficult texts. The event was hosted by the Archdiocese of Toronto.

The New York priest has spent a lifetime reading, translating and understanding the ancient languages which, once mastered, gave him insights into the Bible and the monotheistic cultures of the three Abrahamic religions. He’s been a contributor to Muslim-Christian dialogue since 1985, and he is the author of “Islam: What Catholics Need to Know.” He also serves as external affairs officer of Catholic Near East Welfare Association.

Learning to interpret tricky, terrible and difficult texts in sacred Scriptures is not some obscure, academic challenge. When preachers and ordinary believers misinterpret their sacred texts, the result is almost always fundamentalism, Father Mallon said.

“Fundamentalism is probably, and I mean this sarcastically, the ecumenical reality,” he said. “We all have it. It’s a problem for all of us — Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists. Right down the line, that’s the problem.”

Fundamentalism is usually the result of reading an ancient, sacred text as if it were a newspaper or a modern textbook — reading the words without any awareness of the culture or the historical circumstances in which they were first spoken, he said.

“All of our texts are ancient. All of our texts come out of a context,” Father Mallon said. “It’s a world that wasn’t pluralistic. It was more violent.”

Read the rest.



1 February 2016
Greg Kandra




Villagers climb on top of a crowded Jeep after their weekly shopping in an Indian village in the so-called “Red Valley.” To learn how a group of devoted sisters is helping the poor in this conflict-stricken corner of the country, read “Serving in the Red” in the Summer 2015 edition of ONE.
(photo: Jose Jacob)




1 February 2016
Greg Kandra




In this picture from 10 January, Archbishop Stephen Brislin of Cape Town, South Africa, center, listens to an Israeli border policeman after he stopped a delegation of bishops near the Palestinian land in the Cremisan Valley in Beit Jala, West Bank. An Israeli court has rejected appeals to stop construction of the wall dividing the Cremisan Valley. (photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)

Israeli court rejects appeals to stop Cremisan wall (Fides) The Israeli High Court rejected the appeals that had been presented to counter the resumption of the construction of the “wall of division” in the Cremisan Valley. The appeals were presented by the Salesian Sisters of the Convent located in the area affected by the works, by the municipality of Beit Jala and by the Palestinian owners of agricultural land expropriated to build the barrier...

Jordan seeks international aid to help with Syrian refugees (Financial Times) Jordan is prepared to allow tens of thousands of Syrians to work in the kingdom, the country’s prime minister said, if the international community agrees to extend billions of dollars worth of aid for its economy, which is buckling under the burden of hosting more than one million refugees...

Iraq faces calamity from dropping oil prices (The New York Times) Iraqis seeking to withdraw money from banks are told there is not enough cash. Hospitals in Baghdad are falling back to the deprivation of the 1990s sanctions era, resterilizing, over and over, needles and other medical products meant for one-time use. In the autonomous Kurdish region in the north, the economic crisis is even worse: government workers — and the pesh merga fighters who are battling the Islamic State — have not been paid in months. Already, there have been strikes and protests that have turned violent. These scenes present a portrait of a country in the midst of an expensive war against the Islamic State that is now facing economic calamity brought on by the collapse in the price of oil, which accounts for more than 90 percent of the Iraqi government’s revenue...

Coptic professer sentenced to three years in prison for insulting Islam (Fides) The court of Beni Mazar sentenced a Coptic teacher on charges of insulting Islam to three years in prison. The episode happened last spring, at a village school in Nasiriyya, near the town of Beni Mazar, in the Egyptian province of Minya. Four students of the school were arrested for having shown a video, filmed with a mobile phone, where they mimicked the scene of the slaughter of a faithful Muslim in an attitude of prayer, in imitation of the horrific executions committed by jihadists of the Islamic State...

Ukraine authorities demand French TV pull documentary on Maidan uprising (RT.com) Ukraine’s authorities have urged a French broadcaster to take a documentary titled “Masks of Revolution” off the air. They claim the movie misrepresents Maidan events, and have a list of their own suggestions for what needs to be shown. The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry in their facebook statement went as far as to urge Canal+ TV to overhaul their editorial policy...

Artist depicts life in one of Europe’s largest refugee camps (Mashable.com) The first impression of the “Jungle” — the refugee and migrant camp in northern France that is home to some 6,000 people — is of rubbish. Huge piles of rubbish, everywhere. Food waste, torn sleeping bags, children’s toys, Christmas trees, you name it, it’s probably lying abandoned somewhere in the camp. Amongst it all, people...



29 January 2016
Greg Kandra




Students at the Shashemene School for the Blind in Ethiopia sing and pray together after breakfast. The school is giving blind and partially sighted students lessons in faith, hope and independence. Learn more in “The Future at Their Fingertips,” in the Winter 2015 edition of ONE.
(photo: Petterik Wiggers)




29 January 2016
Greg Kandra




Kurds leave their houses with their belongings after new curfews were imposed in the Sur district of Diyarbakir on 27 January 2016. A military strike in the region this week damaged a Syrian Orthodox church dedicated to the Virgin Mary. (photo: Ilyas Akengin/AFP/Getty Images)

Church hit during military offensive in Turkey (Fides) A Syrian Orthodox church in Diyarbakir, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, was damaged during the Turkish military offensive against the positions of the Kurdish Workers’ Party. The damage was caused by the bombing carried out by the Turkish army. This was reported by Father Yusuf Akbulut, the pastor of the church, who continues to send alarming messages from his home, where he barricaded himself with the family while fighting continues in the area...

Coca Cola to open factory in Gaza (Times of Israel) Coca Cola is to open a factory in the Gaza Strip within weeks, which will eventually provide more than 1,000 jobs in what is one of the world’s worst-hit unemployment hot spots...

Hidden child labor in refugee camps (The Guardian) There are no figures on the informal Syrian labor force in Turkey but there are almost 2.3 million registered Syrian refugees living in the country, according to the U.N., with about 9 percent of them in refugee camps. The rest have to provide for themselves with no financial support from the state. An expert from the Centre for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies has suggested around 250,000 Syrian refugees are working illegally in the country, with a recent Human Rights Watch report claiming child labor is “rampant.” Many reports of illegal working come from the garment sector, the country’s second largest industry.

Hindu girl wins essay contest for writing about Christian unity (Catholic Register) Sometimes, it takes an outsider to speak the truth about our faith. Sharanya Tiwari is a Grade 11 Catholic high school student of Hindu faith. Out of all the entries, it was her essay on Christians united in “their rich faith in Christ” that set her apart from the others in the annual Friars’ Student Writing Award held in conjunction with the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. The annual contest is co sponsored by the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement-Graymoor and The Catholic Register...



Tags: Syria Gaza Strip/West Bank Turkey Hindu

28 January 2016
Elias D. Mallon, S.A., Ph.D.




Muslim leaders gather in Marrakesh, Morocco to discuss the rights of religious minorities
in Muslim countries. (photo: Twitter)


Some three hundred Muslim scholars met this past week in Marrakesh, Morocco, at the invitation of King Mohammed VI to discuss the situation of (religious) minorities in “Muslim Majority Communities.” The kings of Morocco and Jordan are well known for their efforts to promote respect for human right in Muslim countries.

The religious leaders and scholars gathered in Marrakesh issued a “Declaration on the Rights of Minorities in Predominantly Muslim Majority Communities.” The English form of the Declaration is an “Executive Summary” and is shorter than the Arabic text. (You can read it here.)

The Executive Summary — claiming its theoretical and theological base on the “Constitution/Charter of Medina” (622) in which the Prophet Muhammad guaranteed the rights of non-Muslims in Medina — speaks of “principles of constitutional contractual citizenship.” The group calls for cooperation built on “A Common Word between Us and You,” an extremely important “letter” of a wide variety of Muslims to Christians around the world which was published 13 October 2007. Signed by over 120 Muslim leaders, that letter called for overcoming conflicts and promoting better cooperation between Muslims and Christians. The Marrakesh Declaration concretely calls for Muslim countries to “go beyond mutual tolerance and respect, to providing full protection for the rights and liberties to all religious groups...”

Perhaps more importantly — and providing the real challenge — the Declaration calls for Muslim scholars the world over to “develop a jurisprudence of the concept of ‘citizenship’ which is inclusive of diverse groups.” This is significant because Christian leaders in the Middle East since the so-called Arab Spring have been stressing the importance of citizenship, which is a relatively new concept in Islamic Law.

The Declaration merits closer study of the original Arabic text. It would also be important to see the list of signers, if such exists.

Nevertheless, especially in the context of “A Common Word between Us and You,” even the Executive Summary of Marrakesh Decaration is an important development in the attempts of Muslims to respond to the crisis of extremism in Islam. One can only hope that those who ask “Why aren’t they speaking out again terrorism?” will have the opportunity to read this text.



28 January 2016
CNEWA staff




The New York Times this week posted this brief documentary, created by a 17-year-old Syrian girl named Khaldiya, who lives with her family in a camp for Syrian refugees in Jordan. It’s part of an ongoing series in the Times (called “Op-Docs”) produced by independent filmmakers who have received support from the nonprofit Sundance Institute.

In the Times, Khaldiya writes:

When I arrived at the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan three years ago, I was overwhelmed. My family left our village in the region of Syria where the revolution began, after the area was bombed. My mother and six younger siblings and I suddenly became eight of the world’s 4.5 million Syrian refugees, and we have been living with 80,000 of them in our camp ever since.

Life in a refugee camp was different from what I’d expected. While it is hard in many ways, it has challenged me to be stronger and more independent. Now I am sharing my experiences in this Op-Doc video, which I made through a media workshop at an activity center in the camp in 2014, working with a visiting filmmaker to film as much of my life as I could.

Watch her video, which is called “Another Kind of Girl,” below.



28 January 2016
Greg Kandra




A seminarian reads the Bible with a young scholar visiting the Uzhorod Greek Catholic Theological Academy of the Blessed Theodore Romzha in Ukraine. To learn more about how seminarians are helping revive the faith in Ukraine, read “Out From Underground” in the Autumn 2015
edition of ONE. (photo: Oleg Grigoryev)




28 January 2016
Greg Kandra




Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, retired archbishop of Washington, speaks alongside Sheik Abdallah Bin Bayyah during the Marrakesh conference on the rights of religious minorities in the Muslim world, in Morocco, on 27 January. (photo: CNS/Azure Agency)

Muslim leaders reiterate support for minority rights (CNS) Muslim leaders from around the world adopted a declaration defending the rights of religious minorities in predominantly Muslim countries. Participants said the Marrakesh Declaration, developed during a 25-27 January conference, was based on the Medina Charter, a constitutional contract between the Prophet Muhammad and the people of Medina. The declaration said the charter, instituted 1,400 years ago, guaranteed the religious liberty of all, regardless of faith...

General warns Mosul dam could collapse (The New York Times) The top U.S. general in Iraq warned Thursday of the potential collapse of Mosul Dam in the country’s north, saying that such an event could prove “catastrophic.” The U.S.-led coalition is still determining the likelihood the hydroelectric dam could collapse but has developed a contingency plan alongside the Iraqi government, U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Sean MacFarland said Thursday...

Russian Orthodox Church denies rumors of planned meeting between pope and patriarch (Interfax) The assumptions about a possible meeting between Patriarch Kirill and Pope Francis in a Latin American country this February are baseless, the Synodal Department for External Church Relations told Interfax-Religion...

Kerala bishops to meet political and social leaders (Fides) To understand the perspectives and ideas of the various political parties and civil society organizations, the Kerala Catholic Bishops Council will hold a series of meetings with various stakeholders in the political and social life of Kerala, ahead of the Assembly elections likely to be held in April...

Excavations uncover fifth century church (Fides) Archaeological excavations in the underground city discovered in 2012 in the city of Nevsehir, in the historical region of Cappadocia, have brought to light an underground church carved into the rock that could date back to the fifth century AD, with frescoes in good condition that are generating excitement among experts and historians...







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