20 May 2019
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…
10 May 2019
Tags: Syria India Iraq Ethiopia Gaza Strip/West Bank
Orphans pray at Kidane Mehret Home in Addis Ababa. (photo: Sean Sprague)
My colleague, Haimdat Sawh, and I are about to depart for Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, for a weeklong visit to a number of the programs supported by CNEWA.
Along with our regional director for Ethiopia, Argaw Fantu, we’ll be visiting several schools in and around Addis Ababa, including the Kidist Mariam Center, the Meki Catholic School and St. Ephrem’s Seminary.
I invite you to join this journey by following along with us on CNEWA’s Facebook and Instagram pages, where we’ll be posting daily as we see firsthand the tremendous impact CNEWA and our donors have, through our partnerships through the local church. It’s an opportunity we are blessed to have, and blessed to be able to share.
10 May 2019
Some of the girls at the Abune Endreans Children's Home in Ethiopia pray during Mass.
Recently, we received an encouraging update from Argaw Fantu, our regional director in Addis Ababa, about a home for children that CNEWA is supporting in Ethiopia:
The Apostolic Vicariate of Harar, in the eastern Ethiopia, was erected in March 1937. Since then, the Catholic Church has become more visible with its social development services — providing education, emergency services during times of food shortage, and potable water for the vast rural population.
For a variety of reasons, family life in this part of the country can sometimes be unstructured and lead to poverty. Some of the children are semi-orphans. The Catholic Church in eastern Ethiopia is striving to help young girls and children through boarding facilities and the guidance of Capuchin priests.
The Abune Endreans Children’s Home in Dire Dawa is one of these initiatives. It has helped many girls to grow, become self-reliant, and contribute to the good of others. Several weeks ago, CNEWA’s staff from Addis Ababa had an opportunity to visit this home and meet the children, their guardian Capuchin community and Abune Angelo Pagano, OFM, Cap, the Apostolic Vicar of Harar.
The girls are receiving a good education, following a well-organized schedule for study and chores. Older girls are in charge of assisting and training younger ones. This kind of program, we learned, allows children to grow — being responsible for each other and becoming caretakers of one another.
Abba Wondwossen Wube helps some students during class. (photo: CNEWA)
We met two girls who recently went to university for their higher studies after successfully completing secondary education. They were at the home during their semester break. They said that the home is everything for them. Though they have left the home to study, they said they really missed the family atmosphere. That is why they came during their break to stay with their “sisters.”
Abba Wondwossen Wube, OFM, Cap, recently assigned to be in charge of the home, said that the girls in this home are very special. On Saturdays, they are caretakers of the parish church compound; he said that they like singing and serving in the church. They feel very responsible for each other.
In the past, many girls have passed through this home. A few of them are now supporting it in whatever ways they can. For example, as Abba Wondossen put it,”one of the former resident girls of this home, who now lives in the United States, comes every summer and covers the annual school fees of many girls. Some others at one time bought a washing machine for the home. At another time, some former residents helped repair the kitchen. When I see these things, I feel proud of my Church.”
CNEWA is a longtime supporter of Abune Endreas Children’s Home. Currently 48 girls are being served there. CNEWA covers many of the larger expenses for maintaining the home, and we sincerely thank our donors who have made all this possible. The visit was very touching. Looking around the area and reflecting on the changing landscape of the vicariate, we witnessed the significant effort of the Catholic Church to help these young girls through this facility and others. Our partners are really navigators through these waves of challenges. Thank you, indeed!
Some of the young ladies pose for a portrait. (photo: CNEWA)
10 May 2019
Tags: Ethiopia Education
On 9 May 2019, nuns and priests pray at St. Sebastian Church in Negombo, Sri Lanka. It was the first Mass at the church since the Easter bomb attack by militants linked to ISIS.
(photo: CNS/Dinuka Liyanawatte, Reuters)
10 May 2019
Tags: ISIS Persecution
The video above explains some of the preparations and practices surrounding Ramadan in Jerusalem. The Vatican has issued a message for Ramadan, urging universal fraternity between Christians and Muslims. (video: 24News/YouTube)
Muslims gather in Jerusalem for Ramadan prayers (AP) Crowds of worshippers have gathered at a Jerusalem holy site the first Friday prayers of Ramadan, Islam’s holiest month. Israeli police said more than 135,000 worshippers prayed at al-Aqsa mosque in the sacred compound, known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as the Temple Mount…
Vatican message for Ramadan urges universal fraternity (Vatican News) The Vatican is calling on Christians and Muslims worldwide to promote human fraternity and harmonious existence by building bridges of friendship and promoting a culture of dialogue where violence is rejected and the human person is respected. The Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (PCID) made the invitation in a message to wish Muslims worldwide a peaceful and fruitful celebration of Ramadan…
Lebanon won’t survive with refugees, says Aoun (Middle East Monitor) Lebanon would never survive if half a million Palestinian refugees and 1.6 million Syrian refugees remained in the country, the Lebanese president, Michel Aoun, said yesterday. Aoun remarks came during a meeting held at the presidential palace in the Lebanese capital of Beirut with a delegation from the Middle East Council of Churches (MECC), headed by its secretary general Souraya Bechealany. Aoun called on the MECC to help the Lebanese government resolve the Syrians refugees’ issue “by persuading Western countries to accept the refugees return to their countries as soon as possible…”
Sources: only a toddler left after airstrike in Syria (BBC) Dozens of people have reportedly been killed after government and Russian air strikes were stepped up in north-western Syria. Two-year-old Khadija al-Hamdan was pulled out of the rubble in Idlib after one such assault. She was the only member of her immediate family to survive…
Pope sends cardinal to Lesbos as refugees continue to arrive (CNS) Three years after Pope Francis visited Lesbos and took 12 refugees back to Rome with him, Cardinal Krajewski returned to the Greek island on 8 May to check on the situation for the pope, to make contact with government officials and to distribute more than $100,000 to Caritas Hellas and to projects the Greek Catholic charity is supporting…
9 May 2019
Tags: Syria Refugees Jerusalem Muslim Ramadan
In this image from 2017, a man cries as he carries his daughter while walking from an ISIS-controlled part of Mosul toward Iraqi special forces soldiers. (photo: CNS/Goran Tomasevic, Reuters)
This week, the United Nations has a rather unusual observance, marking the Time of Remembrance and Reconciliation across two days, on 8 and 9 May.
On the surface, this commemoration does not look all that different from any number of days on which countries and peoples remember events of the past and the sacrifices made by their citizens in times of conflict. The UN Time of Remembrance and Reconciliation is, however, quite different. It was inaugurated by an act of the General Assembly on 22 November 2004. Recognizing that many countries had days that commemorated the victory of the Allies in World War II, the UN wanted to do something different: it wanted to remember everyone who died in World War II.
World War II had the highest casualties of any conflict in history. Although exact figures are difficult to come by, it is estimated that between 70 and 85 million human beings lost their lives. That alone makes World War II also the greatest human catastrophe in history.
By initiating this Time of Remembrance and Reconciliation, the UN is attempting to accomplish at least two things: first, to remember the horrors of war; and secondly, to work for reconciliation. The General Assembly document is clear. The horrors of World War II were the impetus for the founding of the UN. The very raison d’être of the UN was and remains to prevent war. In the UN Charter member nations are called to “make every effort to settle all disputes by peaceful means.” The bedrock on which the UN was founded was the horror of war. For the UN and its member states, war is never a solution, is never a good thing.
While the remembrances and memorials which most countries observe—we have Memorial Day later this month—are proper and good, the UN is making an important point. The horrors of World War II are fading in most people’s memory. The vast majority of the inhabitants of this planet were born long after the end of that war. With the fading of the memory of the horror of war often comes a fading of the commitment to avoid war at all costs. For far too many people, war is something that happens on a video screen or in another country. It is something the other people do in other places than our own. The idea of New York, London, Paris, Rome, etc. being leveled like Berlin in 1944 simply does not enter into the imagination of most people. We are shocked by natural disasters, but do not seem to realize that war is far worse and far more destructive than any natural disaster.
The UN Time of Remembrance and Reconciliation echoes what popes have been teaching for decades. Pope John XXIII published Pacem in terris (“Peace on Earth”) on 11 April 1963. Who can forget the impassioned plea of Pope Paul VI in his address to the UN General Assembly on 4 October 1965: “No more war, war never again!”? Since then, every pope has denounced war and called for just and peaceful solutions to the world’s conflicts. One cannot say their voices have been heard. Can it be because we have forgotten the horrors of war?
CNEWA works in places where people do not have to be reminded of the horrors of war. They experience it in their cities (Mosul, Raqqa and others), in their villages, their churches and their very bodies. As so many today play endless war games on cell phones and videos, the UN Time of Remembrance and Reconciliation reminds us that war is not a game. War is never as far away as we think. War is the worst of all possible solutions. The UN knows this; popes and the Catholic Church know this, and have consistently condemned war as a solution to anything.
Are we aware of this and do we agree?
9 May 2019
Tags: Iraq United Nations
Marian devotion is especially widespread and popular during the month of May. In this photo from 2008, people attending a retreat in Purakkad, Kerala, pray at a shrine devoted to Mary.
(photo: Peter Lemieux)
9 May 2019
Tags: India Mary
Pope Francis prays in front of a candle in memory of victims of sexual abuse as he visits St. Mary's Pro-Cathedral in Dublin in August of 2018. Pope Francis has revised and clarified norms and procedures for holding bishops and religious superiors accountable in protecting minors as well as in protecting members of religious orders and seminarians from abuse. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Pope issues new norms for mandatory reporting of abuse (CNS) Pope Francis has revised and clarified norms and procedures for holding bishops and religious superiors accountable in protecting minors as well as in protecting members of religious orders and seminarians from abuse. The new juridical instrument is meant to help bishops and religious leaders around the world clearly understand their duties and church law, underlining how they are ultimately responsible for proper governance and protecting those entrusted to their care. For this reason, the new document establishes a clearer set of universal procedures for reporting suspected abuse, carrying out initial investigations and protecting victims and whistleblowers…
Indian Christians seek better security at churches (UCANews.com) Christian leaders in India have intensified their call to make churches safer after police arrested a man and accused him of having links to Islamic terror groups and planning to attack religious places in Kerala state…
Iraq’s Christians grapple with new threat from Iran-backed militias (National Catholic Register) After surviving the genocidal campaign of Islamic State militants, Iraq’s Christians are facing new challenges as they attempt to rebuild their lives in their ancestral homeland…
Government forces capture village in Syria (Al Jazeera) Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have pushed their way into a northwest rebel-held enclave, clashing with armed groups and capturing a strategically located village in Hama province, widening an offensive that had previously involved mainly aerial bombings and shelling…
Calls for reform over India’s ’vanishing girls’ (UCANews.com) Indians’ preference for male children has created a skewed gender ratio but the trend could be reversed with social change and government determination to implement laws, say rights activists. About 100 medical doctors, activists and lawyers attended a national consultation in New Delhi on 2 May with the theme “Vanishing girls: Revisiting Civil Society Response Against Sex Selection…”
Tags: Syria India Pope Francis Iraqi Christians