18 November 2013
In 1996, the tenth-century Armenian Apostolic Haghpat Monastery was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. (photo: Michael La Civita)
The drive south from the Georgian capital of Tbilisi to the northern Armenian city of Gyumri on Saturday was nothing short of spectacular. At times the landscape looked lunar, with pockmarked hills barren of vegetation. Then, it changed; cattle grazed on mountainous plateaus and snow-capped peaks loomed in the background. High above the meadows, churches and chapels crowned with the distinctive conical dome of the region sprouted from the landscape, constructed from the tufa of the mountains. Breathtaking.
Anahit Mkhoyan, who directs Caritas Armenia, welcomed us at the border and led Thomas Varghese and me through two ancient monasteries, both marvels of architecture and art: Haghpat and Sanahin. Built on opposite mountains by master and student in the tenth century, the churches, chapels, libraries and refractories — all intact — speak of a highly sophisticated culture.
A local woman volunteered to provide an impromptu tour of the village of Haghpat. (photo: Michael La Civita)
Located on the Silk Route at the crossroads of Asia and Europe, Armenia embraced Christianity in 301, becoming the first Christian nation. The Armenian Church severed relations with much of Christendom in the sixth century, largely to preserve the integrity of the Armenian nation, squeezed between Christian Byzantium and Zoroastrian Persia. But, as I wrote for ONE magazine in a profile of the Armenian Apostolic Church in 2006, the church:
Did not, however, demand the severance of commercial or cultural relationships with the Byzantine Empire, including the imperial church. For more than 400 years, trade between the two flourished. Byzantine emperors employed Armenian scribes, who flocked to Constantinople. Byzantine subjects served Armenian prelates and members of the nobility. Armenians engineered Byzantine defense systems and restored the dome of Haghia Sophia, the Great Church of Eastern Christendom. Armenians even ascended the Byzantine throne, establishing dynasties that supported the redevelopment of an independent Armenia, which cushioned the barrier between the Byzantine Christian and ascendant Arab Muslim worlds.
The medieval Armenian capital city of Ani — now a ghostly ruin just inside Turkey’s border with Armenia — demonstrates the architectural sophistication and artistic wealth of medieval Armenia. Described in contemporary chronicles as the “city of a 1001 churches,” Ani’s surviving churches are technical wonders, utilizing architectural devices — such as blind arcades and ribbed vaults — that would later support Europe’s Gothic cathedrals. Surviving frescoes and sculpted panels depicting kings and catholicoi, saints and angels, birds and crosses, reveal Arab, Byzantine, classical Greek and Persian influences.
The liturgical rites of the medieval Armenian Church, particularly the Soorp Badarak, or Divine Liturgy, mirrored the cosmopolitan nature of Armenian ecclesiastical art and architecture: While historians suggest the supremacy of Syriac sources, they also recognize influences from the churches of Antioch, Cappadocia and Jerusalem.
Later, particularly during the time of the Crusades, the church “increasingly adopted Latin (Roman Catholic) customs and liturgical practices as contacts with the Catholic Church increased.”
Though located in a remote area of Armenia, the many churches and chapels of Haghpat and Sanahin contain the same features possessed by the churches in the former capital of Ani. Armenia’s famous cross stones, or khachkars, litter the grounds and are artistic marvels. One khachkar, known as the All Savior Cross, depicts a suffering Jesus hanging on the cross and has been standing in its place since 1273. The carvings, which feature intricate lines symbolizing eternal life carved from the tufa, remind me of the great Celtic crosses of Ireland and the Celtic manuscript miniatures of the early Irish church.
Later, over a sumptuous dinner of salads and grilled pork kebabs, Anahit stunned me when she said modern scholars believe Armenians and the Irish share a common Celtic lineage. As I look back at the filigree on the crosses, both in Armenia and Ireland, there can be no doubt.
Some khachkars, such as the one seen above at Haghpat Monastery, bear stylistic elements suggesting a connection with ancient Celtic art. (photo: Michael La Civita)
On Sunday, Thomas and I were joined by Declan Murphy of the United States Conference for Catholic Bishops. After joining in the celebration of the Armenian Divine Liturgy at the chapel of the Armenian Catholic Ordinariate in Gyumri, we visited a multipurpose facility for children run by a true powerhouse: Sister Arousiag Sajonian, a “no nonsense nun” I have had the pleasure of knowing for some 16 years.
After a tour of the impressive facility dedicated to Our Lady of Armenia — which generous benefactors of CNEWA helped the sisters to build and equip — the center’s chorus gave a concert, combining traditional Armenian works with Gershwin tunes. The discipline of the voices, the harmonies and sounds created by the girls from all age groups were stunning. The choir and the work of the sisters here are all the more impressive in light of the fact that some of these girls were once homeless, others abandoned by fathers now living in Russia, while some were burdened by mothers engaged in the sex trade to feed their families.
Looking back on the cross stones that mark much of this proud but impoverished land, I am reminded about the redemptive power and meaning of the cross: love conquers death. Here, as exhibited by the Armenian Church — priests, sisters and lay people — love is conquering the evil of poverty and restoring the dignity of life.
This khachkar adorns the monastery in the village of Sanahin, seen as the sister monastery to that of Haghpat. (photo: Michael La Civita)
18 November 2013
Tags: Cultural Identity Georgia Armenian Apostolic Church Architecture Church
A young couple is married in the church of the ancient Gelati Monastery in Georgia. Dedicated to the Virgin Mary, the church was built by King David the Builder in the 12th century. You can find more pictures of the monastery here, and read about Michael La Civita’s journey through the Caucasus here and here. (photo: Michael La Civita)
18 November 2013
Tags: Cultural Identity Village life Eastern Christianity Georgia Eastern Europe
In this photo from September, a Syrian refugee boy flashes a peace sign along the border in Kilis, Turkey. (photo: CNS/Michael Swan, The Catholic Register)
Syrian Alawites hope for change in Turkey (Al Monitor) Syrian Alawite refugees face an added layer of difficulty in Turkey, particularly because they are Alawites. Common observations include issues such as different districts asking them to evacuate parks and mosques turning down their pleas for shelter. A frequent complaint by the refugees is that mosques charge them to use the bathroom. “Even Turkish Alawite doctors, teachers, translators and other civil servants assigned to attend the Syrian refugee camps have faced strong opposition from the camp’s Sunni residents,” said Bereket Kar, an Alawite activist and pundit from the Hatay province of southern Turkey…
Lebanon seeks to establish refugee camps in Syria (Daily Star Lebanon) Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati said Monday Lebanon is looking forward, with the help of the United Nations, to the establishment of Syrian refugee camps inside Syria. Mr. Mikati also revealed that Lebanese authorities have adopted “new measures” to make border control between Lebanon and Syria more effective. He did not give further details…
Syrian tragedy plays out on Jordan’s streets (Al Monitor) Of the 550,000 Syrians in Jordan, 430,000 reside in urban areas like Amman, Zarqa and Mafraq, or in villages near the borders. Middle-class citizens try to find a normal job, and the ones who can afford it — mainly richer entrepreneurs — move their businesses from Damascus to the Jordanian capital. Coming from the war, they all have a tale of loss. Most of the refugees who try to assimilate into Jordanian society have a hard time paying for rent, food and other living expenses. Living in Jordan is “extremely expensive,” Syrians complain, and many are unemployed. Registered refugees receive monthly cash allowances and food coupons from the United Nations…
Iraqi Jewish documents at the U.S. National Archives (New York Times) Books and manuscripts found in a flooded basement of Saddam Hussein’s secret police headquarters are now on display for the first time at the National Archives. They are ragged, warped, torn and stained, and that is after extensive restoration. This new exhibition, “Discovery and Recovery: Preserving Iraqi Jewish Heritage,” presents just 24 artifacts (and some reproductions) selected from 2,700 volumes and tens of thousands of documents the American military found submerged in four feet of fetid water in the Mukhabarat, Iraq’s intelligence building…
Vatican-supported interreligious forum opens in Vienna (Vatican Radio) The first-ever Global Forum of the King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz International Center for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue opens Monday morning in Vienna, Austria. Known by its acronym, KAICIID, the center is an international organization recognized by the United Nations, of which the Holy See is a founding observer. The president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, is slated to be among the speakers at Monday morning’s general assembly…
Chaldean patriarch: Government and religious leaders must unite Iraq (AsiaNews) In a speech before the Iraqi parliament on the occasion of Human Rights Day, Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael I said the country’s security situation has “deteriorated”; sectarian divisions are becoming more pronounced, while “regional and international” powers feed the growing fractures…
15 November 2013
Tags: Syria Iraq Refugees Turkey Refugee Camps
Situated about 100 miles outside of Tbilisi, Eshtia is one of 21 Armenian Catholic communities in Georgia that constitute a swath of Catholicism cutting through the predominantly Orthodox nation. (photo: Michael La Civita)
On Wednesday morning, Thomas Varghese, Caritas’s program manager Liana Mkheidze and I began our two-day journey though the southwestern Georgian region of Samtskhe-Javakheti, which is predominantly populated by Armenians.
It is a desperately poor region with high unemployment, high rates of emigration, broken families, high rates of diabetes and cardiovascular disease, and little or no infrastructure — such as sewage treatment, irrigation and potable water, roads and the like.
“Armenians have suffered disproportionately, as they lack the lifeline of strong personal networks that mark Georgian society,” wrote CNEWA’s contributor in the Caucasus, Molly Corso, in the autumn edition of ONE. “Bad roads, fuel shortages, heavy snowfalls and a language barrier challenged relations with the Tbilisi-based government, isolating Armenian communities in the southern region.”
The roads would be a challenge for anyone, but Kakha, Caritas’s longtime driver, navigated the steep climbs, the mountain roads and paths, the mortar-like marked roads and the gelatinous mud with ease — that is, when he was not arguing with Liana about the speed.
We visited three Armenian Catholic villages: Eshtia, Ujmana and Bavra. Thomas described the scene as positively medieval. “Time has stood still here,” he said in disbelief. My colleague has seen poverty stretching from India through Eritrea and Ethiopia, but the isolation, the bleakness of the landscape and the wretched poverty made an impression, he said, that will be hard to forget.
Caritas sends mobile clinics to the region, said Gaioz Kubaneishvili, who manages socio-health care projects for the agency, which he says are well attended by the villagers. He also noted that they have brought a fresh water supply to several villages, and are looking to set up a youth program, too. But a Catholic aid agency — regardless of how extensive its resources — cannot make up for what the municipalities should be doing. The problems here are profound.
Families live hand to mouth. They tend small plots, planting crops that can survive the severe temperatures and short growing season. What little excess they may have any given year, perhaps some potatoes, cabbage or barley, they sell for what they cannot produce, such as sugar, rice or oil.
Julia Sirinyan of Bavra, who I dubbed the mukhtar (an elder in Arabic) of her village, noted, too, that many of the families in the region were deserted, broken by the departure of husbands and fathers who left for Russia, never to return.
“Russian women steal our husbands,” she said, “including mine.
“We have no husbands, no jobs … but,” she said, shaking the thoughts from her mind, “look at my beautiful village. It is beautiful, is it not?”
Looking out at the bleak landscape, I found it hard at first to agree. Sure, the setting was beautiful, but the mud, the monochromatic landscape, the open sewage canals and the stench of the place made me queasy.
But as we spent more time in the region — meeting the women who tend the churches in absence of a priest; taking tea and fresh bread with a family whose son was confined to wheelchair after an automobile accident, his dream of serving as a priest destroyed; listening to the passion of this driven woman who clearly is a lifeline to her neighbors — indeed, I saw the beauty of her village and her people.
“Please help me save my village,” she pleaded. “We survive only thanks to God’s help.”
I later asked Bishop Giuseppe Pasotto, apostolic administrator for Catholics in Georgia, how he sustained his priests from feeling overwhelmed in the face of such poverty.
“I honestly do not know,” he said frankly, “but we rely on visits such as yours to help us remember that we are not alone here, that we are a part of something much larger.”
That generous response, thanking CNEWA for visiting Georgia and taking the time to listen and learn, exemplifies the exquisite generosity of this land and its people.
(photo: Michael La Civita)
We ended our visit to the west of the country by visiting Gelati Monastery, located high above the city of Kutaisi. Built in the early 12th century by King David the Builder, it once housed an academy that rivaled Constantinople’s, then the center of Christendom.
(photo: Michael La Civita)
Some of the mosaics and frescoes seen here date to its foundation and are masterpieces of Byzantine art.
The spectacular architecture, refined carvings and delicate frescoes reminded me of a few things: One, of the richness of this ancient culture in Middle Earth, and two, of a Russian proverb familiar even here: “Things survive what people do not.”
(photo: Michael La Civita)
15 November 2013
Tags: Cultural Identity Village life Georgia Architecture Caucasus
Children practice in a dance class sponsored by Caritas Georgia. (video: Michael La Civita)
The last few days — Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and today — have been grueling, emotionally and physically. CNEWA’s Thomas Varghese and I spent Tuesday in Tbilisi and then began a two-day excursion to Georgia’s southwest and western regions. We climbed elevations of more than 12,000 feet, reached plateau lakes and descended only to repeat the same slog. We have traveled hundreds of miles, some paved, many not, flirting along the Armenian or Turkish borders for most of the way.
We have learned that, while our journey to Middle Earth on the surface may seem as if we have stepped back in time, we are in the modern world with all of its challenges, but in concentrated form.
We began Tuesday meeting with the head of the Assyro-Chaldean community in Georgia, Chorbishop Benjamin Beth Yadegar. Assyro-Chaldean Catholics, he explained, have been present in Georgia since the “Year of the Cross,” 1915, when the Ottoman Turks and their Kurdish allies began their deportation and murder of the Ottoman Empire’s many Christians: Armenian, Assyro-Chaldean, Greek and Syriac. Some survivors found refuge in Georgia, only to be exiled to Siberia 20 years later by Stalin.
Thousands of Assyro-Chaldeans have returned from their Siberian exile, the gregarious priest told us over steaming-hot tea, but their socioeconomic situation is horrible. Living in crowded and filthy villages around Tbilisi, many have vitamin deficiencies, poor health and almost no education.
When he arrived as a newly ordained priest in 1995, Chorbishop Benjamin came with nothing to a community that had nothing. In those years, Georgians of all kinds suffered tremendous deprivations. They lacked water, food and fuel. A once-favored republic of the Soviet Union, in which numerous republics were connected in a complex web of economic dependence controlled by Moscow, Georgia descended into chaos when it declared independence. Moscow flipped off the switch, imposing a rail embargo and cutting the flow of everything from power and fuel to meat and dairy products. While economic advances have been made since, the country has yet to recover.
The young priest has breathed new life into the Assyro-Chaldean community, building a gorgeous church, appointing it with icons and furnishings handsomely made by parishioners trained in the parish’s many workshops. (Chorbishop Benjamin descends from a long line of carpenters, and his exquisite work furnishes even the parish conference room.) But, he admits, he is dealing with a reality common in the lands of the Eastern churches: emigration.
“We cannot stop this reality,” he said, adding that many young men from the community, particularly between the ages of 25 and 45 have moved to Istanbul. There, they find work in what is clearly the economic and political powerhouse of this region, Turkey. Most of these laborers are unskilled, and have only a remedial education. “Boys do not study. Our girls do, but once they finish university they don’t want to marry an unemployed boy with no education,” the chorbishop said.
We ended our pastoral visit on a high note, however, visiting with the many parishioners who work with their shepherd in producing Assyro-Chaldean dictionaries, lectionaries, vestments and even sacramentals, such as enameled medals and crosses. Many of these items are commissioned by parishes in the Americas, Europe and Oceania, enabling Chorbishop Benjamin to feed his sheep with income as he nourishes them spiritually.
We ended Tuesday with visits to many of Caritas Georgia’s excellent programs in its Caritas House, which stands on the outskirts of the city. Caritas Georgia is an aid organization of the Catholic churches in Georgia — Armenian, Assyro-Chaldean and Roman — and programs include spiritual formation for its staff and volunteers; workshops for needy children such as decorative arts, music, dance, iconography, art therapy and carpentry; and a soup kitchen and social programs for impoverished pensioners. The size, scope and quality of care is breathtaking. The imagination and commitment of the team running these programs is humbling.
A soprano performs at a gathering of members of the Harmonia Club, founded by Caritas Georgia. (video: Michael La Civita)
Walking through the halls as the sun set, I distinctly heard a waltz by the great Polish composer, Frederic Chopin. The sound from the piano was clear and the playing, professional. But this was not a recording. The instrument needed tuning, but it did not mar the beauty of the waltz. We walked into a hushed room, were ushered to a seat as if in a concert hall and watched and listened as the musician poured her heart and soul into that waltz. When she finished the last chord, her audience, erect in their seats, applauded politely and happily. She then began a Russian love song, her trained soprano voice strong yet soft.
I watched her audience, impoverished elderly pensioners all, listening and yet perhaps not. “What were they thinking of?” I thought. “Remembering their youth, their former lives as architects, economists, doctors and lawyers?” These beneficiaries of Caritas Georgia’s “Harmonia Club” — including the retired artist on the piano — were not peasants from the villages, but well educated men and women who survive on less than $95 a month (the average household income is $488).
Pointing to the musician as the audience applauded, Nino Tcharkhalashvili, Caritas’s human resources manager, said the pianist lives with her 90+-year-old mother, pooling together their meager incomes.
We left as the pianist ended an aria in honor of her mother, seated behind her, a survivor of the “Great Patriotic War,” World War II. The audience gave mother and daughter a standing ovation.
15 November 2013
Tags: Cultural Identity Poor/Poverty Village life Georgia Caucasus
In Ethiopia, school meals greatly improve concentration among students, such as Teklit Gebru of Sebeya. To read more about efforts to feed the hungry in Ethiopia, check out Hungry to Learn in the Autumn issue of ONE. And visit our Ethiopia giving page to learn how you can help. (photo: Petterik Wiggers)
15 November 2013
Tags: Ethiopia Children Education ONE magazine Hunger
In this 5 October photo, Syrian refugee children gather around a fire near their makeshift tents in Ankara, Turkey. (photo: CNS/Umit Bekta, Reuters)
United Nations shocked by Syrian refugees being turned away (Daily Star Lebanon) On Friday, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) expressed alarm over reports that Greece and Bulgaria were turning away Syrians fleeing their war-ravaged homeland, forcing them to return to overloaded Turkey. “Push-backs and prevention of entry can put asylum-seekers at further risk and expose them to additional trauma,” UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards told reporters, saying that all states must cease such practices immediately…
In Syria, a new order for daily bread (Los Angeles Times) The war in Syria has disrupted food supplies, and few scarce commodities are missed more than bread, a staple in the nation. At the height of the shortages last year, Syrians posted sonnets online about a boy and his beloved: a loaf of bread. Shortages in opposition neighborhoods and towns lead to long lines and crowding at the few functioning bakeries, which become targets for government shelling or airstrikes in which dozens have been killed. Now bakeries here in Aleppo no longer sell directly to customers. “The whole point was to avoid the crowding,” said Yusuf Hirih, owner of a bakery in Kalaseh neighborhood…
‘Little flowers’ of solidarity blossoming in the desert of Syria’s war (AsiaNews) “Little flowers” are blossoming in the desert of Syria’s war, tended by acts of charity and solidarity towards civilians crushed by bombs and overwhelmed by hunger, according to Melkite Greek Catholic Archbishop Jean-Clement Jeanbart of Aleppo and Archbishop Mario Zenari, papal nuncio to Syria. In the stories that they tell, the two prelates describe another Syria, one that survives alongside the Syria of hatred and destruction covered by international media. “Through its charity work, the Catholic Church is trying to regain the sense of love and brotherhood between Christians and Muslims that the war has destroyed,” said Archbishop Jean-Clement…
India needs a Magna Carta for children’s rights (Fides) “Every month about 100,000 Indian children die from causes related to malnutrition. Many die because of infectious diseases that could be cured, but malnutrition has weakened their immune systems,” said Sajan George Kavinkalath, president of the Mother Teresa Foundation for Children, in an appeal for the protection and safeguarding of childhood in India. “The first task of social justice is to save the lives of children. … A solemn legislative affirmation is needed on equal access to education for girls and against any discrimination of gender and caste or economic and social status, a sort of Magna Carta for the child…”
Syro-Malabar Catholic Church protests Western Ghats report (The Pioneer) The Catholic Church in Kerala has taken a stance against recommendations of the Madhav Gadgil and Kasturirangan committees for the protection of the Western Ghats and its ecology, saying that implementation of the proposals would put the farmers in the state’s high ranges into peril. A pastoral letter issued by Syro-Malabar Bishop Mathew Anikkuzhikkattil of Idukki asked farmers and people of the high ranges to deal with political parties and leaders supporting the panel reports in an organized manner…
Chaldean patriarch: ‘We fear for our survival’ (Aid to the Church in Need) Hopes are high ahead of the meeting of the Catholic patriarchs of the Middle East with the pope. Patriarch Louis Raphael I, the head of the Chaldean Church, which is in full communion with Rome, recently spoke to the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, remarking that he expects much from the meeting. The patriarch, who resides in Baghdad, described it as a great challenge for the Christians in the Middle East to live as full and equal citizens of their countries. “Emigration is threatening our present and our future. We fear for our survival…”
14 November 2013
Tags: Refugees Syrian Civil War Kerala Syro-Malabar Catholic Church Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael I
An Armenian farmer in Anjar, Lebanon, displays some of his produce. (photo: Armineh Johannes)
In 2002, we profiled Lebanon’s “Little Armenia,” which includes the Beirut suburb of Bourj Hammoud and the rural town of Anjar in the Bekaa Valley region, some 60 miles to the northeast.
In Anjar, this transplant community of farmers was able to live off their allotted land for decades. However, recent times have brought new challenges:
Overlooking the Mediterranean, on the slope of Musa Dagh (Mount Moses), a stone’s throw from the Syrian border, more than 5,000 Armenians from six villages, were flushed from their homes by the Turks. …
Finally, in September 1939, with the help of the French Navy, they were relocated to the rugged, dry land of Anjar, in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. While awaiting the construction of 1,000 single-room homes, these refugees lived for two years in tents. During the first months of their exile, malnutrition and malaria caused the death of some 500 Armenians. …
Despite the rugged climate of Anjar, the Armenians learned to work the land as they had back in Musa Dagh. In addition to 5,400 square yards of residential land, each family was allotted 9,360 square yards of agricultural land. …
“Once the lands were distributed, each family received 110 pounds of wheat for planting,” he adds. “We were able to make a living.”
“Today, I am unable to earn a living,” laments Boghos Taslakian, who is 77. “I sell my cabbages for 10 cents a pound at the market. In reality, agriculture has reached a dead end in Lebanon. My children are no longer interested — they don’t even know the exact location of the family farm. The majority of the youngsters are attracted by other activities, such as jewelry making.”
In order to make ends meet, farmers must take on other activities. After working as a farmer for more than 60 years, Assadour Makhoulian was forced to open a small supermarket in the village. Today his son operates it.
Read the rest in the July 2002 issue of our magazine.
14 November 2013
Tags: Lebanon Cultural Identity Armenian Apostolic Church Farming/Agriculture Armenian Catholic Church
Pope Francis takes off his zucchetto as he leaves his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on 6 November. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Prosecutor warns of a mafia threat against Pope Francis (Washington Post) Pope Francis could be at risk from the ‘Ndrangheta organized crime organization, according to a leading anti-mob prosecutor who has himself been the target of threats from the mafia. Nicola Gratteri, 55, a state prosecutor in the southern Italian region of Calabria, where the ‘Ndrangheta is most active, said the pope’s effort to reform the church is making the ‘Ndrangheta “very nervous.” The organization is considered by experts in Italy to be the most dangerous and coordinated mafia organization in the country. “For many years, the mafia has laundered money and made investments with the complicity of the church. But now the pope is dismantling the poles of economic power in the Vatican, and that is dangerous…”
Memory of a mass killing becomes another casualty of Egyptian protests (New York Times) Memory has become a frequent casualty of Egypt’s politics since the uprising against former President Hosni Mubarak in 2011. Leaders have tried to wipe away histories of atrocities by foot-dragging on investigations until new bloodshed dulls memories of the old. But nothing so far has matched the effort by the military-backed government and its supporters to extinguish the memory of Rabaa al Adawiya, the site of the worst mass killing in Egypt’s modern history, and a dangerous reminder of absent justice and Egypt’s festering political feuds. Reminders of the past have become a threat. Athletes have drawn outrage and censure for displaying the four-finger Rabaa symbol — Rabaa means “fourth” in Arabic — at competitions. For its part, the military quickly transformed the square where as many as 900 people were killed, leaving no hint of the violence except the bullet holes in lampposts and homes…
Egypt: Church threatens to reject constitution (Asharq al Awsat) The Coptic Church has threatened to reject Egypt’s new draft constitution over the terminology used to describe Christians and Jews. A member of the 50-member constitution drafting committee, speaking on condition of anonymity, revealed that the differences revolve around an article that uses the term “People of the Book” to refer to Christians and Jews, which some from the two minority groups find offensive. Egypt’s Christians have rejected the term “People of the Book,” preferring the article refer specifically to “non-Muslims…”
Jordan rejects Jewish prayer at Al Aqsa mosque compound (Al Monitor) Jordanian-Israeli ties, always under pressure, could be heading for trouble if the Knesset approves a controversial bill to divide Al Aqsa mosque compound in east Jerusalem, allowing Jews to pray in the Muslim compound. The bill was drafted by Israeli Deputy Minister for Religious Affairs Rabbi Eli Ben Dahan and was rejected by Arab Knesset members, who warned that if passed, the law could lead to the eruption of a third intifada. Under the peace treaty between Jordan and Israel, the former maintains a special supervisory role over Muslim and Christian holy sites in east Jerusalem, occupied by Israel since the 1967 war…
Syrian Kurds gaining ground, push for autonomy (Christian Science Monitor) Emboldened by a string of victories over powerful Al Qaeda affiliates fighting in Syria, Kurds there have taken a major step toward autonomy. On Tuesday, Kurdish groups announced the formation of an interim autonomous government in Syria’s Kurdish region, with elections to follow. The announcement comes on the heels of battle successes against Jabhat al Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, among the most powerful of the myriad homegrown and foreign forces fighting the Assad regime…
Russian Orthodox Church returns to Mideast (Al Monitor) Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, the Russian Orthodox Church’s chief external affairs officer, met with a number of state, political and religious officials in the Lebanese capital, bearing several messages. The most important was Russia’s decision to effectively act as the protector of Christians in the Levant and as their defender and legal representative, perhaps the only real one they have on an international level. The metropolitan went on to emphasize that the goals, principles and interests of the Russian Federation are predicated on “the survival of Levantine Christians in their countries, and their peaceful coexistence with their Muslim compatriots, away from external attempts to destabilize those countries…”
Serbian Orthodox Church celebrates “Vraci” (inSerbia) Today, the Serbian Orthodox Church celebrates the feast of Sts. Cosmas and Damian, popularly known as “Vraci” or “Vracevi.” These saints are considered patrons of the medical profession. Sts. Cosmas and Damian were twin brothers, physicians and early Christian martyrs born in Cilicia, part of today’s Turkey. They practiced their profession in the seaport of Ayas, Adana and the Roman province of Syria. They did not accept payment for their services, and many believe that this is how they attracted many people to Christian faith…
13 November 2013
Tags: Egypt Pope Francis Syrian Civil War Jordan Russian Orthodox Church
Editor’s note: our colleague Michael J.L. La Civita is traveling through the Caucasus and filing periodic posts to Facebook. Some initial impressions and pictures are below. He hopes to file a more complete report from Tbilisi tomorrow. In the meantime, for more on life in that part of the world, check out the story Staying Power, on Georgia’s Armenian Catholics, in the Autumn edition of ONE.
Before we set off to the southwestern portion of the country — a wretchedly poor and underserved region — I wanted to share a few pictures from yesterday: terrific folks doing great work for the poor, homeless and poor children, penniless pensioners and the indigent.
CNEWA has been supporting these efforts for years, though many are now self-sufficient.
Today we traveled about a hundred miles southwest of Tbilisi to a land where time has stood still, even here in Georgia.
We climbed the Caucasus Mountains about 12,000 feet above sea level, in the Samtskhe-Javakheti district, spending time in the Armenian villages of Eshtia, Ujmana and lastly Bavra.
The images here are from our travels and focus on Eshtia and its parish priest, Father Anton.
The 12th man from his family to serve as priest and a native of the village, he described life in the village, which is totally made up of subsistence farmers, who lack running water, roads and anything resembling what we call recreation.
They work, eat and sleep.
Over a beautiful lunch prepared by his wife, he told us how the community was placed here by a Russian general in the 1830’s, how the Turks invaded in 1915 and spared this village while others were wiped out, and the guilt the old-timers still feel.
The day was cold, wet and muddy. I saw few people, as most are leaving this gorgeous but hard land.
Meet Julia Sirinian, a teacher, community leader, translator and journalist.
Despite the rain, the mud, the grinding poverty and the fact that many men from her village of Bavra have abandoned their wives and families — including her own — for a new life in Russia, she is determined to save her “beautiful village.”
After meeting several families, taking coffee and sweets with one in particular, I see why she is so passionate about a place neglected by almost everyone.
Tags: Poor/Poverty Village life Georgia Farming/Agriculture Caucasus