15 January 2014
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 United States Orthodox Church Pilgrimage/pilgrims
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!
14 January 2014
Tags: Syria Refugees CNEWA Syrian Civil War Violence against Christians
Alexander and Margarita Mamin prefer to work on icons with their religious themes rather than papier-mâché boxes and plates with secular motifs, which the Soviets had insisted upon. (photo: Sean Sprague)
Ten years ago, we paid a visit to Palekh, a village in Russia that was enjoying a kind of renaissance, with a resurgence of artists creating religious icons:
Under Soviet rule, Lenin, national achievements, cosmonauts, industrial workers and agricultural collectives were most often featured in the traditional style, with a touch of Socialist Realism — the Soviet standard for all art.
Examples are on display at the Palekh museum. To date, the village has resisted mass production; replicas remain forbidden. Most artists in Palekh paint boxes, but with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, many have reverted to icons.
Alexander and Margarita Mamin have been married 15 years and are both artists and graduates of the Palekh Art Academy. They live with their two children — both of whom want to be artists — in a log house surrounded by a vegetable garden.
“These days we paint everything from miniatures to big paintings in churches,” Mr. Mamin said. “For years we had worked on small boxes, but now we prefer to paint icons, especially large ones for iconostases.”
Palekh artists are doing more religious painting than before, especially the younger ones.
Read more in New Reality, Same Artists from the March-April 2004 issue of the magazine.
14 January 2014
Tags: Cultural Identity Russia Art Icons Soviet Union
Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych, leader of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, center, celebrates the Divine Liturgy at Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ in Kiev on 8 December during the beginning of the Ukrainian Synod of Bishops. (photo: CNS/courtesy Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church)
Ukrainian major archbishop responds to government threat (Vatican Radio) The head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych, responded on Monday to a letter from the government threatening to rescind the legal status of the U.G.C.C. The government’s threat appears to be an attempt to pressure the church because of its pastoral support of Ukrainians taking part in protests against the government. In a press conference, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav said that the church is not directly involved in the political process. He insisted, though, that it cannot stand aside when its faithful ask for spiritual care…
Pope Francis establishes diocese for Australia’s Indian Catholics (The Tablet) Pope Francis has established a diocese in Australia for the country’s 35,000 Syro-Malabar Catholics. Indian-born Bishop Bosco Puthur, who also has been named apostolic visitor for Syro-Malabar Catholics in New Zealand, will lead the eparchy. The Eparchy of St. Thomas the Apostle of Melbourne is Australia’s fifth Eastern-rite Catholic eparchy. Others have been established in Australia to serve Ukrainians, Maronites, who hail from Lebanon, the Damascus-based Melkites, and Chaldeans, whose patriarch is based in Baghdad…
Holy Land: uncertain future for migrants and refugees (Vatican Radio) The second day of a pilgrimage to the Holy Land by a delegation of Catholic bishops from Europe, North America and South Africa saw them celebrating Mass in Gaza, talking with Western embassy officials in Tel Aviv and meeting religious sisters involved in pastoral care of Christian migrants and asylum seekers. The bishops tour the Holy Land every January to show solidarity with Christians living in the land where Jesus was born, carried out his ministry and met his death. “Even a modern city like Tel Aviv has its hidden underbelly of poverty and deprivation,” reports Susy Hodges with Vatican Radio, “and a sizeable proportion of those living in these poorer neighborhoods are migrants or asylum seekers. Many of these people come from the Horn of Africa area, the Philippines, India and Sri Lanka and they include many Christians…”
Syria food crisis worsens as clashes continue (Al Jazeera) The United Nations’ World Food Program delivered rations to a record 3.8 million people in Syria in December, but civilians in eastern provinces and besieged towns near the capital remain out of reach, a spokeswoman said Tuesday. The W.F.P. expressed concern at reports of malnutrition in areas where fighting between government forces and rebel groups has entrapped civilians. The agency said children were especially vulnerable to starvation as the country’s three-year-old civil war drags on…
Syrian women demand voice at peace talks (Al Jazeera) A proper democracy cannot be established without the participation of women. Such is the message of Syrian women’s rights activists who concluded a two-day conference in Geneva on Monday to demand equal involvement in their country’s peace-building process, which has so far mostly included men. The activists on Monday asked the United Nations, which is brokering peace talks set to begin in Geneva on 22 January, to allow them to send women representatives. They also asked the international body to appoint a gender adviser to defend women’s voices at the negotiating table…
Egypt fears Ethiopia Renaissance Dam threatens water supply (Al Monitor) Each year on 9 January, Egyptians celebrate the anniversary of the 1960 construction of the Aswan Dam, during the reign of late President Gamal Abdel Nasser. But this year’s 54th anniversary was quite different, tinged with fear about the dangerous effects that the Ethiopian Renaissance Dam — slated for construction on the Blue Nile — would have on the operations of the Aswan. The latter might be put out of commission for up to two years. The various warnings by experts about the dangers of the new Ethiopian dam have begun to cause panic among Egyptians, to the point that many believe the Aswan Dam will collapse once the Renaissance is completed…
13 January 2014
Tags: Syria Syro-Malabar Catholic Church Migrants Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk Australia
Pope Francis greets members of the Catholic Committee for Cultural Collaboration, which promotes exchange between Orthodox churches and Oriental Orthodox churches, during the 50th anniversary of the committee at the Vatican on 11 January. (photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)
13 January 2014
Tags: Pope Francis Ecumenism Christian Unity
Syrian residents sit along a road near Damascus after fleeing their homes following clashes between opposition fighters and government forces on 30 December. (photo CNS/SANA via Reuters)
Syriac Orthodox priest: Young Christians flee Qamishli (Fides) “The exodus from the city is in full swing. Every day individuals and families in our community flee, especially young people, who are our hope and our future,” says the Rev. Yousef Abdulmasih. “Our town,” he said, referring to Qamishli, in the northeastern Syrian province of Jazira, “will become a city of old people…”
Pope’s Holy Land trip said to encounter political challenges (ANSAmed) Problems are emerging concerning the trip Pope Francis is scheduled to take to the Holy Land in May, according to a Palestinian official. Israeli media had recently criticized the fact that the pontiff’s visit to Israel was short and that the main ceremony, the final mass, has been scheduled in Bethlehem, in Palestinian territory. And the Custodian of the Holy Land, Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, had stressed after the announcement of the pontiff’s visit that “preparations will start with many discussions on protocol…”
Pope to diplomats: create a culture of dialogue and encounter (Vatican Radio) Dialogue, diplomacy and respect for human dignity must be the key to resolving national and international conflicts, the pope stressed in a speech delivered to the more than 180 ambassadors accredited to the Holy See, who gathered on Monday for the traditional New Year greetings to the diplomatic corps…
New pro-E.U. protests in Ukraine (Vatican Radio) Witnesses say at least 50,000 opponents of Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovich and his government rallied in central Kiev on Sunday, following earlier violent confrontations with riot police. The latest rally was an attempt to revive the pro-European Union protest movement after a Christmas and New Year break. Ukrainians continued the massive street protests in Kiev’s Maidan Square…
He bled for Egypt’s revolution, but now says ‘it’s over’ (Christian Science Monitor) Abdalla Kamal, who stood up to Hosni Mubark and to the military, and took a bullet for the revolution, says he’s done with political activism. Three years since the Mubarak dictatorship fell, the great hopes of the revolutionary moment have been dashed. What was seen as the first step toward democracy in the Arab world’s largest country has instead led toward military coup, political chaos, and extreme polarization…
A Muslim Sister determined to struggle on (Christian Science Monitor) Revolution has permeated Layla’s life since she sat down for the entrance exam that secured her a place at Al Azhar University. That was on 25 January 2011, the day protests against Mubarak broke out. In the three years since, the 19-year-old has become entangled in politics while studying at the ancient Islamic university. Today, she’s a central figure in the pro-Morsi protests on campus. She has lost 10 friends to violence since Egypt’s coup in July 2013. Most of them died on 14 August, when soldiers and riot police killed nearly a thousand Morsi supporters at Cairo’s Rabaa al Adaweya Square. But she is determined to carry on. “I know that this is a fight we can win. Otherwise, I’d never have started in the first place…”
10 January 2014
Tags: Egypt Pope Francis Ukraine Syrian Civil War Youth
Men help a wounded boy who survived what activists say was an airstrike by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al Assad in Damascus on 7 January. (photo: CNS/Bassam Khabieh, Reuters)
Recent images, like the one here, remind us of the ongoing suffering of children in Syria. Last summer, Ziad Hilal, S.J. described efforts to save the children of war:
It is worth mentioning that the people most affected by the war in Syria are children with special needs; their situation has deteriorated substantially. The ravages of war have destroyed two centers for handicapped children located in downtown Homs. Both centers operated under the administration of the Jesuit Fathers and the Sisters of the Sacred Heart.
In response, we opened two centers in safe areas to shelter these vulnerable children. The first center has enrolled 30 children at St. Savior Convent. The second is located at the Maronite convent outside of Homs. Both centers provide the children with necessary supervision in addition to therapeutic sessions and a hot meal every day.
Our mission has not been easy. At first, we had planned to work on a limited scale and within a limited period of time not exceeding three months, after which we had hoped that the war would have ended and the displaced would return to their homes. However, the sheer magnitude of destruction and the increasing needs of those displaced have made such plans impossible.
Caring for more than 3,000 displaced families and providing support to 2,000 children who need continuous care on all levels is indescribably heavy. And until now, few organizations have assisted us with our mission. I still remember how CNEWA took the initiative at the beginning of the harsh winter and provided 1,000 families with winter kits to help the children in our schools survive the cold and the poor housing conditions.
We have had some difficult cases of children who have lost one or both of their parents. One such child is a 12-year-old whom I will call “Rita.” Her father was shot in the head and has been in a coma since last year; her mother had a nervous breakdown and is being treated in a specialized center. Rita is currently living with her aunt, who is also displaced. Rita refuses to go back to school and she isolates herself from the world. The Sisters of the Good Shepherd, along with a psychologist, are trying to support her morally and to assist her in her studies at home. However, she has thus far rejected these efforts to help her.
Maybe our efforts will not be enough to satisfy the huge needs of the displaced families and to relieve their sufferings. But what we are trying to do is simply shine a small spot of light on the shadow of violence.
Read more about the Children of War.
And to learn how you can help them, visit our Syria page.
10 January 2014
Tags: Syrian Civil War Children War Relief
A Syrian refugee carries boxes of aid at Zaatari refugee camp in Mafraq, Jordan, on 31 December. (photo: CNS/Muhammad Hamed, Reuters)
Israeli youths help Syrians fight winter chills (Christian Science Monitor) After an unusually severe winter storm moved through the Middle East last month, leading to the deaths of 27 Syrian children, Israeli youths decided to extend a hand. Teens from one of the country’s largest youth movements have mobilized in 650 communities to collect blankets, coats and sleeping bags for their shivering Syrian neighbors, despite the political tensions between the two countries. Gal Lusky of Israel Flying Aid, a veteran humanitarian worker who helped organize the campaign, says it’s the most inspiring effort in which she’s participated…
Israel plans 1,400 new settlements: A blow to peace talks? (Christian Science Monitor) Israel on Friday announced plans to build 1,400 new homes in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, days after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visited the region to push peace talks in which settlements represent a major hurdle. Although widely expected, the announcement angered some of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s own coalition partners and infuriated the Palestinians, who accused Israel of seeking to derail the peace negotiations…
U.S. considers resuming nonlethal aid to Syrian opposition (New York Times) The Obama administration is considering the resumption of nonlethal military aid to Syria’s moderate opposition, senior administration officials said on Thursday, even if some of it ends up going to the Islamist groups that are allied with the moderates. The United States suspended the shipments last month after warehouses of equipment were seized by the Islamic Front, a coalition of Islamist fighters that broke with the American-backed Free Syrian Army and has become an increasingly vital force in the nearly three-year-old uprising against President Bashar al Assad. But as a result of the rapidly shifting alliances within Syria’s fractured opposition, some of the Islamists fought alongside the Free Syrian Army in a battle against a major rebel group affiliated with Al Qaeda, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria…
Ayatollah al Sistani: Violence against Christians threatens the whole country (Fides) The spiritual leader of Iraqi Shiites has expressed full solidarity with Iraqi Christians, stating that violence against Christians in Iraq represents a loss for the entire country. The ayatollah insisted that it is essential to preserve the presence of the indigenous Christian communities in Iraq…
Syriac and Armenian recognized as official languages of Iraq (Fides) The Iraqi government has recognized Syriac and Armenian among the official languages of the country, along with the language spoken by the Turkmens. The House of Representatives passed the Official Languages Act on Tuesday, 7 January. It is the fruit of ten years’ effort, finally enshrined as a basic right guaranteed by the constitution. To date, the only official languages recognized were Arabic and Kurdish…
9 January 2014
Tags: Iraq Refugees Syrian Civil War Iraqi Christians Israeli-Palestinian conflict
Iraqi refugees celebrate the liturgy in Amman. (photo: Nader Daoud)
Some years back, we profiled the Chaldean Catholics of Iraq, fleeing the war and hoping to make a new start in Jordan. Like so many refugees we have encountered over the years, they found solace in their faith:
The refugees carry on with their lives as best as possible. Father Mousalli celebrates baptisms, eucharistic liturgies, marriages and eventually funerals for his refugee flock.
Churches in Amman and Beirut have organized informal schools for children to make up for time lost out of school. The church has also enrolled university students in English and computer courses.
But despite their great belief in God, Chaldean refugees are filled with despair. They did not want to leave their beloved homeland and nearly all want to return if the political situation changes.
Read more about what they endured in Waiting for the Future from the March-April 2003 issue of the magazine.
Tags: Lebanon Refugees Iraqi Christians Chaldean Church Amman