23 May 2019
In this image from 2017, Pope Francis at the Vatican addresses participants at an encounter marking the 25th anniversary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The death penalty is "contrary to the Gospel," the pope said in his speech — echoing sentiments long expressed by Amnesty International. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
In CNEWA’s world, human rights are a constant concern. Freedom of religion, minority and women’s rights are constantly being challenged, if not violated, in one way or another throughout the world where we work and, indeed, the world in general.
Thus, an observance next week — which is fairly unheralded — is important for CNEWA and all people who are concerned with human rights. On Tuesday 28 May, the world observes Amnesty International Day. Most people have heard about Amnesty International and it is probably the largest and most active non-governmental human rights advocacy group in the world.
Amnesty, as it is commonly known, was founded in London in 1961 by Peter Benenson who had read about two students in Portugal who had been imprisoned for making a toast to freedom—something that did not sit well with the government of Antonio Salazar, Portugal’s dictator. Benenson and Eric Baker of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) published an article entitled “The Forgotten Prisoners” in The Observer in May of 1961 and Amnesty International was born.
From the outset, Amnesty has seen itself as advocate for the human rights enshrined in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948). Amnesty has been a particularly effective advocate for “prisoners of conscience,” i.e. those who are imprisoned for their faith or political beliefs. In 1977, Amnesty was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Long before it became an important point of discussion, Amnesty opposed capital punishment, which is considered the ultimate violation of human rights. Dictatorships and authoritarian governments often used capital punishment as a way of permanently silencing their opponents. In far too many places in the world, people the government finds unacceptable are executed without even having had a trial. Amnesty is constantly calling out countries for extrajudicial executions. Opposed in principle to capital punishment, Amnesty is always alert for situations in which people are not even granted a fair trial before they are killed.
The developing social teaching of the Catholic Church under the last three popes — John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis — has evolved to a point where the Catholic Church’s position of capital punishment is similar to that of Amnesty. On 11 October 2017 Pope Francis declared the death penalty to be “contrary to the Gospel.” He added that, “However grave the crime that may be committed, the death penalty is inadmissible because it attacks the inviolability and the dignity of the person.” The following year, he revised the catechism to reflect that teaching. Using a slightly different theological hermeneutic, the pope closely approached the position of Amnesty.
After 50 years — and with over 7 million supporters —Amnesty International may very well be the largest and best- known human advocacy group in the world. However, its work is far from done. All over the world there remain prisoners of conscience and authoritarian governments who still find ways to kill people they find dangerous or inconvenient.
Amnesty Day may not be an observance of which many people are aware. However, for those working for peace and justice — not only in CNEWA’s world but in the entire world — it is a very important day.
Attention must be paid.
23 May 2019
Tags: Pope Francis United Nations
Sister Emebet Mamo runs the Guder Catholic School in Ethiopia and lovingly looks after the children in her care. (photo: Chris Kennedy/CNEWA)
On a visit last week to Ethiopia, my colleague Haimdat Sawh and I had a chance to spend a morning with the students of Guder Catholic School, about eighty miles due west of Addis Ababa. Lovingly overseen by the Daughters of St. Anne, the school hosts 843 students in grades K-8. As the school’s director, Sister Emebet Mamo, explains, “What makes our school different is that we teach moral education — our students come to us to learn and grow morally.”
The school is held in great regard in the surrounding area, and graduates have gone on to be pilots, lawyers and doctors. One alumnus, who recently returned to speak at the school, is now an engineer for NASA.
23 May 2019
Early reports say India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi is poised to win a landslide victory in the country's elections. (video: BBC/YouTube)
Modi poised for victory in India (CNN) Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was poised for a landslide victory in the country’s general elections, early results showed on Thursday, defying expectations of even his own party to win a second term in office. Modi thanked Indians for “the faith placed” in his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), tweeting that it “gives us strength to work even harder to fulfill people’s aspirations…”
Vatican publishes a ’milestone’ for promoting interreligious dialogue (Vatican News) The Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (PCID) and the World Council of Churches (WCC) have launched a joint document to encourage Churches and Christian organizations to reflect on the structural roots that have led to the disruption of world peace…
Jerusalem prepares for thousands of Muslim visitors for Ramadan (The Jerusalem Post) The Israel Police have completed preparations for the third Friday of Ramadan in Jerusalem. Tens of thousands are expected for Friday services for the Islamic holy month. “The Israel Police will act decisively against anyone who tries to disrupt the peace,” the police spokesperson’s office announced…
Caste-driven honor killings haunt India (UCANews.com) In the last three years, more than 300 cases have been reported, according to government statistics. The practice has its roots in the caste system followed in Hinduism, the religion of 80 percent of Indian people. The caste system considers those outside the four castes — priests, warriors, traders and farmers — to be outcasts. They are socially excluded because even their presence is considered polluting. The socially and economically poor are considered untouchable because of their menial work such as clearing night soil (human excrement) and removing dead animals…
Ethiopia farmers fight drought with cows (Reuters) After farmer Manza Bulacho’s crops were wiped out in a drought that devastated parts of Ethiopia in 2017, the father of 10 hoped a cow could keep him going. Bulacho, 42, who lives near the city of Arba Minch in southern Ethiopia, joined a program that helped him borrow money to purchase a dairy cow and get it insured…
No Ramadan ceasefire in northern India (UCANews.com) Ramadan 2019 has been deadly in India’s northern state of Jammu and Kashmir compared to last year’s when the government announced a unilateral truce. The conflict-ridden region has witnessed six major encounters during the first 15 days of this year’s Ramadan, killing 12 Islamist militants, two army personnel and a civilian…
Grooms face crushing debt in Gaza (AP) Wedding lenders have filled an important need in Gaza’s conservative society, where young men and women are typically expected to marry in their late teens or early 20s. Facing a nearly 60% unemployment rate, many young Gazan men have been forced to put off their dreams of marriage because they cannot afford it…
22 May 2019
Tags: India Ethiopia Interreligious Ramadan
A member of the the Missionaries of Charity arrives to cast her vote at a polling station during the final phase of general elections in Kolkata, India, last week. Election results are due to be announced Thursday. (photo: CNS/Rupak De Chowdhuri, Reuters)
22 May 2019
In this image from 2017, Pope Francis and Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II attend an ecumenical prayer service in Cairo. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Tawadros: ‘Egypt’s church is not a political party’ (Middle East Monitor) Egypt’s churches distinguish between their national and political roles, the country’s Coptic pope, Tawadros II, said.”Politicians have their own speciality, which I didn’t study,” Tawadros told ME Sat. “All Copts are Egyptians, including myself. Our [Christian] role is to participate in our homeland’s prosperity, practice our rights as Egyptians,” the pope pointed out, adding that politics were being participated through “legal political parties.” “Egypt’s church is not a political party,” he stressed…
U.S. says Assad may be using chemical weapons in Syria again (The New York Times) The State Department said on Tuesday that the Syrian government might be renewing its use of chemical weapons, citing a suspected chlorine attack in northwest Syria, and maintaining that any use of such weapons would lead the United States and its allies to “respond quickly and appropriately…”
How a religious controversy may be shaping India’s election (The New York Times) Our correspondent, Jeffrey Gettleman, traveled to the south Indian state of Kerala, to see how Modi’s party, the B.J.P., is expanding its reach. Kerala is a progressive state, with large communities of Christians and Muslims, and the highest literacy rate in India. It’s one of the least likely places for Hindu nationalist politics to succeed. In fact, Modi’s party has never won a single seat in Parliament from Kerala. Now, that may be changing…
India’s disappearing Jewish community (UCANews.com) Jews arrived in the ancient port town of Kochi some 800 years ago. With just three Jews left in Mattancherry — all of whom are aged more than 80 — Jewish life in Synagogue Lane is destined to disappear…
Foreign spouses of West Bank residents in state of limbo (CNS) What was meant to be one of the happiest of occasions for the Zoughbi family became a nightmare because of Israeli policy on family reunification for foreign spouses of Palestinians…
21 May 2019
Tags: Syria India Egypt Kerala
Pope Francis was enrolled as an honorary member of the Foreign Press Association on 18 May 2019 and given a press identification card, which he signed. (photo: CNS/Vatican Media)
21 May 2019
Tags: Pope Francis
An Israeli border policeman stands guard not far from Ramallah, West Bank, on 17 May 2019, as Palestinians make their way to attend Friday prayer at al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem's Old City. (photo: CNS/Raneen Sawafta, Reuters)
Former Jerusalem patriarch: time to move away from war (CNS) Appealing to Israel and the United States, Archbishop Michel Sabbah, retired Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, said it was time to move away from war. ”It is time to look for more peace in the region and in Israel and Palestine,” he said. Seemingly addressing U.S. President Donald Trump, Sabbah said since the president says he believes in the Bible, he should read it and pay attention to what is written there about peace…
Ukraine’s new president dissolves parliament, calls election (The New York Times) Minutes after taking office on Monday, Ukraine’s new president, Volodymyr Zelensky, announced a snap parliamentary election that he hopes will consolidate his power and help him deliver on campaign promises to end endemic corruption and a prolonged separatist conflict…
Eight months after floods, Kerala is reeling from a water crisis (Scroll.in) The crisis in Karivellur Peralam is particularly severe, but all 14 of Kerala’s districts, save for Wayanad and Pathanamthitta, are facing acute drinking water shortage, just eight months after the state witnessed the worst floods in a century last August…
Indian bishops’ quiz ’an invigorating experience’ for young (UCANews.com) The Indian bishops’ office for education and culture has for the first time conducted a nationwide quiz involving about 30,000 Catholic school students. The event marked the 10th anniversary of the All India Catholic Education Policy. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India’s ‘Education Mastermind’ quiz culminated in the capital, New Delhi, on 15 May following a series of state and regional rounds that began in December…
U.S. parish awaits Russian bells (The Tribune-Review) Five Russian Orthodox bells are on their way from Voronezh, Russia, to St. Nicholas Orthodox Church in McKees Rocks. The bronze bells, ranging in size from 9 pounds to 42 pounds, were shipped last week and are expected to arrive in about two months…
20 May 2019
Tags: India Ukraine Jerusalem Kerala Russian Orthodox Church
Cardinal Nasrallah P. Sfeir, Lebanon's retired Maronite Catholic patriarch, died on 12 May 2019. He is pictured in a 2010 photo. (photo: CNS/Nancy Wiechec)
Church bells could be heard ringing throughout Lebanon on 12 May mourning Cardinal Nasrallah P. Sfeir, the country’s retired Maronite Catholic patriarch known for defending his country’s sovereignty and independence.
Cardinal Sfeir would have been 99 on 15 May.
“The Maronite church is orphaned and Lebanon is in mourning,” said a statement from Bkerke, the Maronite patriarchate, announcing his death.
Cardinal Bechara Rai, Maronite patriarch since 2011, said in his Sunday homily at Bkerke a few hours later, “In this patriarchal chair, where 63 years of continuous life has lived a priest, bishop, patriarch and cardinal, we lose an icon, but we all have gained a patron in heaven.”
In a telegram of condolence released 14 May, Pope Francis said that as an “ardent defender of the sovereignty and independence of his country,” Cardinal Sfeir would “remain a great figure in the history of Lebanon.”
Governing the Maronite church with “gentleness and determination,” he was a “free and courageous man” on the public stage, wisely knowing how to bring people together in the name of peace and reconciliation, the pope said in the message to Cardinal Rai.
Cardinal Sfeir served as Maronite patriarch from 1986 to 2011. His last public appearance was at Easter Vigil Mass at Bkerke. He was hospitalized a few days later with a pulmonary infection, his condition later worsening.
The cardinal was considered a respected power broker during Lebanon’s 1975-1990 civil war, which saw bitter infighting between rival militias, including opposing Christian factions.
“The national arena will miss the presence of the patriarch, a man of solid faith in his national positions and in defending Lebanon’s sovereignty and independence at the most difficult stage,” said Lebanese President Michel Aoun.
“The Maronite Church lost one of the most prominent patriarchs who had fingerprints on church affairs, heritage and traditions,” added Aoun, a Maronite Catholic.
Cardinal Sfeir was “a very simple, humble person, always ready to listen,” said Maronite Archbishop Paul Sayah, patriarchal vicar for foreign affairs, of the prelate he had known for more than 30 years.
“He spoke very little and listened a great deal. If you asked him a question, he would answer with a few words, but always deep and down to the point,” the archbishop told Catholic News Service.
The cardinal was a man “who was always open to dialogue, a man of peace and reconciliation,” Archbishop Sayah said.
“He believed very deeply in the Christian-Muslim coexistence. On the other hand, he was very adamant about safeguarding freedom: freedom of conscience, freedom of religion, freedom of speech. One of his famous sayings was, ‘Lebanon could not exist unless it were free,’“ Archbishop Sayah said.
In September 2000 Cardinal Sfeir issued, with the Maronite bishops, an appeal for an end to the Syrian occupation of Lebanon, which began during the war in 1976 and lasted until 2005.
“No one dared at that time” to take such a step and “break the taboo” predominating in Lebanon to speak out against the Syrian hegemony, “but he had the courage, the foresight,” Archbishop Sayah said.
For this stand, Cardinal Sfeir was referred to as the father of Lebanon’s second independence.
As patriarch, Cardinal Sfeir often told the faithful that despite the difficulties of current times, their circumstances now were simpler than “the miseries and persecution that befell our people throughout the ages. Our church is a church struggling for excellence.”
He is credited with organizing the 2004 Maronite Synod of Bishops, the first full Maronite synod to take place in Lebanon in 150 years, and the first in which women participated. It resulted in an 800-page document, an extensive study of the identity of the Maronite Catholic Church and its mission in the world.
In his later years, still at the patriarchate, Cardinal Sfeir continued to participate in church activities. He spent his time in prayer, and also reading and writing.
“He had a fantastic habit of writing in his diary every day,” Archbishop Sayah noted, and could be found writing, revising on his laptop at his desk.
“His legacy will remain for a very long time,” Archbishop Sayah said.
“He had that beautiful smile, that really reflected a deep internal peace,” Archbishop Sayah noted, attributing it to the cardinal’s life of intense prayer and meditation. He was even smiling as he was going into the hospital, the archbishop recalled. “I saluted him.”
“We are sad, but we rejoice at the legacy he left us,” Archbishop Sayah said.
Sheikh Abdul Latif Daryan, grand mufti of Lebanon’s Sunni Muslims, described Cardinal Sfeir as “a role model for moderation, openness, wisdom, dialogue, love and coexistence between Muslims and Christians.”
Born in 1920 in Rayfoun, Lebanon, Nasrallah Pierre Sfeir was ordained a priest in 1950 and ordained bishop in 1961.
He was appointed cardinal by Pope John Paul II in 1994.
Cardinal Sfeir was fluent in Arabic, French, English, Italian and Latin, as well as Syriac, the historical spiritual language of the Maronites.
He served as president of the Assembly of the Catholic Patriarchs and Bishops in Lebanon and was a founding member of the Assembly of the Catholic Patriarchs in the East.
Pope Benedict XVI accepted his resignation in 2011.
His death leaves the College of Cardinals with 221 members, 120 of whom are under 80 and eligible to vote in a conclave.
20 May 2019
Tags: Lebanon Maronite Catholic
Children wave Indian flags as they receive informal education at the Snehalaya Social Center run by the Sisters of the Holy Cross of Chavanod at a slum in New Delhi. (photo: Rita Joseph/ucanews.com)
Religious sisters offer women and children a way out of a New Delhi slum (UCANews.com) if the sisters had not taken the initiative to set the center up, many of their young wards would likely end up as child laborers with no chance of ever getting a formal education. The Sisters of the Cross of Chavanod congregation has been running the center since 1981, offering kids an informal education and preparing them for formal schooling, said Sister Lavina Rogers, who joined five years ago…
Pope tells missionaries to evangelize with urgency (Vatican News) The Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions, or PIME, was founded in Italy in 1850 as a society of diocesan priests and lay people who dedicate their lives to missionary activities. Pope Francis met Monday with participants in the Institute’s 15th General Assembly, reminding them of the “co-responsibility of all dioceses to spread the Gospel to peoples who do not yet know Jesus Christ…”
Russia announces ceasefire by Syrian forces (Al Jazeera) The Syrian government forces, backed by Russia, have unilaterally ceased firing in the northwestern Idlib province, the last major rebel-held territory, Moscow’s defense ministry said. However, opposition activists said shelling and air attacks continued on Sunday despite the announcement…
Putin intervenes to halt cathedral project after protests (The New York Times) President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia intervened in a bitter dispute in a provincial Russian city that erupted in protests this week, calling on the regional authorities to settle the matter peacefully. Such bursts of public outrage are growing more common in Russia, where stagnating and even declining living standards juxtaposed with expensive foreign adventures, official corruption and environmental degradation are testing people’s patience and driving down Mr. Putin’s popularity ratings…
At bombed shrine in Sri Lanka, a closeness to the universal church (Vatican News) The shrine’s rector said they never gave up their faith and continue to pray and celebrate Mass inside the shrine saying, “Our God is not a god of revenge. He is the God of love…”
Feeling awe at Ethiopia’s reverence for the dead (The Observer) The Kidist Selassie, Amharic for the Holy Trinity Cathedral, is located near Ethiopia’s parliamentary buildings. This cathedral is the second most important place of worship in Ethiopia, specifically to adherents of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Orthodox Christianity has a vast following in Ethiopia, and it is no wonder that one of the Patriarchs (Popes) in the Orthodox Church sits in Addis Ababa.
16 May 2019
Tags: Syria India Ethiopia Russian Orthodox
An Iraqi Airways Airbus rolls along a runway in Estonia, in January 2018. (photo: Anna Zvereva via Wikimedia Commons)
Iraqi Airways to resume flights to Syria after eight-year break (France24) Iraq’s national carrier is to resume flights to the capital of neighbouring Syria for the first time since the war there erupted in 2011, a spokesman said Thursday. Iraqi Airways will operate a weekly service from Baghdad to Damascus starting Saturday, spokesman Layth al Rubaie told AFP…
U.N. agency: Gaza blockade causes ‘near ten-fold increase’ in food dependency (U.N. News) According to UNRWA, it must secure an additional $60 million by June to continue providing food to more than one million Palestine refugees in Gaza, including some 620,000 “abject poor” who cannot cover their basic food needs and are surviving on $1.6 per day. The funds are also needed to cover the severely challenged 390,000 “absolute poor”, who survive on about $3.5 per day…
Rocket strike on Syria refugee camp kills ten civilians (Daily Star Lebanon) At least ten civilians were killed and 30 wounded in Syria by a rocket strike on the Neirab camp for Palestinian refugees close to the city of Aleppo Tuesday night, the United Nations said in a statement Thursday…
ISIS claims India foothold (UCAN India) Global terror group ISIS claims to have created a “province” in India as well as inflicting causalities on the Indian army while aiding local Muslim insurgents in the northern Kashmir region…
In Ethiopia, women and faith drive effort to restore biodiversity (Urban Faith) In Addis Ababa, approximately 35 percent of the household fuel wood — mainly eucalyptus — is systematically gathered from the Entoto Mountains just outside the city. Ethiopia historically planted large areas with fast-growing eucalyptus, a non-native species, to meet the demand for fuel wood. But the trees’ water-hogging nature has had a destructive impact on the land. There are efforts to reforest areas with native species, supported by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, which has a tradition of maintaining tree gardens throughout the country…
Tags: Syria India Iraq Ethiopia Gaza Strip/West Bank