16 November 2015
Women hold roses as Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois of Paris celebrates a Mass in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris on 15 November to pray for those killed in terrorist attacks.
(photo: CNS photo/Paul Haring)
Pope Francis sends condolences to France (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has sent a telegram to Cardinal André Vingt-Trois, Archbishop of Paris, assuring victims, their families and emergency personnel that he is united with them in prayer. Signed by the Secretary of State of the Holy See, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the telegram condemns this and all acts of violence, and asks God to inspire thoughts of peace and solidarity...
Pope says nothing can justify terrorist attacks (CNS) Using God’s name to try to justify violence and murder is “blasphemy,” Pope Francis said 15 November, speaking about the terrorist attacks on Paris. “Such barbarity leaves us dismayed, and we ask ourselves how the human heart can plan and carry out such horrible events,” the pope said after reciting the Angelus prayer with visitors in St. Peter’s Square...
Text of initial Vatican statement on Paris attacks (CNS) Here in the Vatican we are following the terrible news from Paris. We are shocked by this new manifestation of maddening, terrorist violence and hatred which we condemn in the most radical way together with the Pope and all those who love peace...
Muslims condemn terror attacks in Paris (USA Today) Muslims worldwide on Saturday strongly condemned the terrorist attacks by the Islamic State that killed at least 127 people in Paris. Shuja Shafi, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, an umbrella body that represents more than 500 organizations including mosques, schools and charities, described the killings as “horrific and abhorrent.” “My thoughts and prayers for the families of those killed and injured and for the people of France, our neighbours,” he said in a statement. “This attack is being claimed by the group calling themselves ‘Islamic State’. There is nothing Islamic about such people and their actions are evil, and outside the boundaries set by our faith...”
Archbishop: Religions must work together against hate (Vatican Radio) The President of the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization, Archbishop Rino Fisichella, said the upcoming Jubilee of Mercy is needed even more after the terrorist attacks in Paris. In an interview with the Italian magazine, Famiglia Cristiana, Archbishop Fisichella said all three monotheistic religions agree that God is merciful. “It is one more reason to work together — and to help each other in this task — to explain to the world that religions do not exist to be imprisoned by hate, but they are to spread compassion, and to work against fear as a way of life in all nations,” he said...
Israel approves entry of thousands of Ethiopians with Jewish lineage (Deutsche Welle) Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Sunday his government had given the green light to a proposal allowing more than 9,000 Ethiopians to settle in Israel. “Today we have taken an important decision, to bring to Israel within the next five years the last of the communities with links to Israel waiting in Addis Ababa and Gonder,” Netanyahu said in a statement. The Ethiopians in question, the last members of a group known as Falash Mura, claim Jewish ancestry even though they themselves are Christians, having converted in the 18th and 19th centuries. For this reason, they are not eligible for Israeli citizenship...
Christians get a Bible reading month in India (New India Express) Drawing inspiration from ‘Ramayana Masam’ during the Malayalam month of Karkatakam, the Catholic Church in Kerala is planning to observe December as ‘Bible Reading Month’, coinciding with the Christmas fast. It is an initiative of the Bible Commission of the Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Council (KCBC). According to KCBC, the plan is to observe Bible Reading Month every “December to highlight the theme ‘word become flesh’. As the birth of Jesus Christ is celebrated in December, the month is appropriate. The faithful await Christmas with prayers and fasting. Reading the Bible will enrich prayers,” said KCBC deputy secretary the Rev. Varghese Vallikkattu...
13 November 2015
The Rev. Jacques Mourad poses for a photo on 11 November in the reception area at Our Lady of the Annunciation Church in Beirut, Lebanon. (photo: CNS/Doreen Abi Raad)
When a man dressed head-to-toe in black entered the room where the Rev. Jacques Mourad was being held by the Islamic State, the Syriac Catholic priest thought his time to become a martyr had come.
“That moment was really intense and difficult,” he recalled.
It was eight days after Father Mourad’s May abduction by Islamic State from Qaryatain, Syria, where he served as prior of the ancient Syriac Catholic Mar Elian monastery. The militants also kidnapped Boutros, a deacon. Together they spent 84 days in captivity.
To the two prisoners’ surprise, their would-be executioner did not treat them as though they were “infidels” (Christians), who are considered as impure and beneath fanatic Muslims: The man in black shook their hands, greeted them with “salam alaykoum” (peace be with you) and asked questions as if he would like to get acquainted.
When Father Mourad asked, “Why are we here?” the masked man told the priest to consider it as a “khaelwe,” which in Arabic means a time of spiritual reflection, a spiritual retreat.
“I needed this concept of a ‘spiritual retreat,’” the priest told Catholic News Service while visiting Lebanon on 11 November, a month after his escape. “I felt that the Lord was speaking through this masked Muslim. It gave me a push to keep going.”
Instead of the dreaded death sentence, the encounter turned out to be a turning point for Father Mourad. From that day, the priest said, his prayers had a whole new meaning, and he began to see his imprisonment as a way to carry and embrace the cross of Jesus.
In the 19-by-10-foot bathroom that served as their prison cell, Father Mourad and Boutros spent most of their time praying together.
“The prayer that really helped us, that was a source of strength, was the rosary,” the priest said. He added that they also relied on Scripture.
“I used to remember the verse from Matthew: ‘But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.‘”
As far as the two Christians knew, they were the only prisoners. From behind the locked bathroom door, sometimes they could hear the muffled voices of their captors, or their footsteps. Otherwise, they were completely cut off from the outside world.
There was no electricity in their cell. Daylight entered through a tiny window near the ceiling. Nights were dark, long and especially difficult, Father Mourad recalled. The two prisoners were given rice and water twice daily. Tea was added to that ration three times during their captivity.
Periodically, Father Mourad and Boutros were threatened with the ultimatum, “Either you become Muslim, or we cut your head off.”
One time Father Mourad was beaten. He distinctly remembers that it was on the 23rd day of imprisonment. Nothing in particular provoked the punishment, which was carried out with a plastic hose, functioning as a whip.
“It really hurts,” the priest calmly recalled of the scourging, which he said lasted about half an hour. “They thought maybe I would succumb and agree to become a Muslim.”
Yet Father Mourad said Boutros “was suffering because he was watching me.” Every so often, the priest said, he would turn his head and smile at Boutros to console him.
“Personally, despite the pain, I lived this half hour in peace,” the priest said. “I felt privileged that I was participating in Jesus’ suffering. But at the same time, I considered myself unworthy of it.”
Clever tricks of manipulation were also used, the priest told CNS. The day after the beating, one of the captors apologized for his colleague who carried out the assault on the priest.
“It’s like a psychological game,” Father Mourad explained. “They scourge you, and then they apologize, as if they want to show that Islam is merciful.”
He said he responded, “Don’t worry, I had already forgiven him.”
On 4 August, Islamic State captured and demolished Mar Elian monastery, where Father Mourad had served for 15 years. Aside from the extensive archaeological excavation and renovations he oversaw, the priest promoted dialogue and coexistence between Christians and Muslims.
“For many years he built bridges between the religions. This has now proved its value in the war,” Father Jihad Youssef, a fellow Syriac Catholic, told the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need after Father Mourad’s abduction.
Father Mourad also had been sheltering Christian and Muslim refugees at the monastery.
When asked by Catholic News Service how he sees his mission for the future, the priest shrugged his shoulders and responded: “After this happened to me, I have a bigger responsibility now, with Christian-Muslim dialogue. We can’t play with God’s will.”
13 November 2015
This image from June 2015 shows the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmed al-Tayyeb, speaking during a visit to Florence. The imam has condemned an attack on a Christian church in Egypt, saying it goes against Islam. (photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP/Getty Images)
Imam condemns attack on evangelical church in Egypt (Fides) Attacks against places of worship “go against the authentic Islamic religion and its teachings of tolerance”, but fail to undermine the unity of the Egyptian people. This is how Ahmed al-Tayyeb, Grand Imam of al-Azhar condemned the attack carried out on Thursday, November 12 against a church in Cairo belonging to the Evangelical Coptic community...
Foundation opens nursery, kindergarten in Erbil, Iraq (Fides) The capital Erbil is home to about 250,000 displaced persons and refugees of
different ethnic groups; next to the Kurdish population there are also displaced Iraqis and Syrian refugees. In order to allow these families to recover at least some normalcy in a situation deeply marked by discomfort, AVSI Foundation opened a nursery in 2015, run by a community of Dominican nuns, which houses about 130 children and is located in Ozal City. 1,200 families live in this area, of whom over 900 are Christians, some are Muslim yazides and others are Muslims, and have all fled the violence of ISIS...
Arafat’s Gaza home to become a museum (Haaretz) Yasser Arafat’s home in Gaza City will be opened as a museum after Hamas handed it back to Fatah, the party Arafat founded, in a ceremony on November 11th, the anniversary of Arafat’s death in 2004. The house has been closed since the Islamic militant group Hamas took over Gaza in 2007. Faisal Abu Shahla, a member of Fatah’s revolutionary council, said it was an emotional moment to enter the house, where Arafat resided from 1994 to 2001. The museum will tell the story of Arafat’s life, Shahla said...
Syrian refugees find new home in Miami (The Miami Herald) Rama Saleh always intended on leaving her hometown of Aleppo, Syria — but she never imagined a civil war would be the catalyst for her departure. In August, the 19-year-old arrived in Miami, with her parents, brother and two sisters. She had spent two years living in Turkey, where she worked 12-hour shifts in a T-shirt factory, six days a week, to help pay for her family’s rent and food. Today, Saleh is looking forward to furthering her education. The war prevented her from finishing high school, so her goal is to pass the GED exam and enter college. And while she is determined to create a better future for herself, the memories of her family’s escape still haunt her...
The smallest church in Frankfurt to be consecrated (ByzCath.org) From next week, Saint George’s Graduate School of Philosophy and Theology will have probably Frankfurt’s smallest church. The new house of worship, to be consecrated by Patriarch Gregorios III from Damascus, measures just 42 square metres. “This church is something special: small, but exclusive,” says artist Oleg Kuzenko while he contemplates his colourful paintings on the wall and the ceiling, For they depict Jesus Christ, his mother Mary, the Apostles’ Communion, John the Baptist and the four evangelists’ symbols. Oleg Kuzenko created the murals and the icons for Saint George’s Graduate School of Philosophy and Theology’s new Byzantine church, which will be consecrated next Wednesday by Patriarch Gregorios III Laham of Damascus and the Limburg Bishop Thomas Loehr. It will be called “Of the Holy Cross of Jerusalem...”
12 November 2015
Tags: Syria Iraq Egypt Islam Copts
Slovak Greek Catholic parishioners worshiping inside the church in
Ladomirová, Slovakia. (photo: Andrej Ban)
What divides the Greek Catholic and Orthodox churches of Central and Eastern Europe usually reflects the complex history and geopolitical realities of the continent more than any particular theological nuances, even papal primacy.
The Slovak Greek Catholic Church is a sui iuris (or self-governing) community in Slovakia — Byzantine in character and Catholic in faith — raised to the rank of a metropolitan church by Pope Benedict XVI in January 2008. It includes some 211,000 Greek Catholics from a number of ethnic groups living in the landlocked country, including Carpatho-Rusyns, Hungarians, Roma, Slovaks and Ukrainians.
Led by Metropolitan Archbishop Jan Babjak of Presov, the dynamic Jesuit has bolstered ties between the Slovak church and her daughter church in Canada, where some 2,500 Slovak Greek Catholics form the Eparchy of Sts. Cyril and Methodius.
Additionally, the metropolitan archbishop — installed in 2002 — has deepened ties to Greek Catholics in other worldwide jurisdictions. These include the Metropolitan Archeparchy of Pittsburgh and its three dependent eparchies in the United States; the Apostolic Exarchate for Byzantine Catholics in the Czech Republic; and the Eparchy of Mukacevo, now in Subcarpathian Ukraine, or Transcarpathia.
Girls wearing traditional dress participate in an Easter celebration in Jakubany, a village in northern Slovakia. (photo: Father Damian Saraka)
In the celebration of the sacraments, Slovak Greek Catholic parish communities use Slovak and its Latin alphabet as well as Church Slavonic and its Cyrillic alphabet. And its territory is restricted to parish communities in the Slovak Republic.
Yet the church’s origins and development are synonymous with the various Carpatho-Rusyn Greek Catholic churches of Central Europe. Together, the ancestors of these Catholics received the Christian faith from Sts. Cyril and Methodius in the late ninth century. And they professed their full communion with the bishop of Rome in the chapel of the castle of Uzhorod in April 1646, centuries after the Western (Catholic) and Eastern (Orthodox) churches had drifted apart.
According to the Slovak Republic’s 2011 census, only 0.6 percent of the population of nearly 5.5 million identify as Carpatho-Rusyn, proof of the decline of a Carpatho-Rusyn identity among Slovakia’s Greek Catholics. Nevertheless, sustaining solidarity among other jurisdictions of Carpatho-Rusyn origin — Greek Catholic and Orthodox — remains a concern of the Slovak Greek Catholic leadership.
Reviving parishes of all ethnic communities; forming a new generation of priests, religious and lay leaders; instilling proper catechesis, especially among the urbanized youth; and restoring parish churches and other parish facilities take precedence for this new yet ancient church.
Read a full account of the Slovak Greek Catholic Churches here.
12 November 2015
Abanoub Sherif carries a beekeeper’s hat to his father’s apiary near their home in
El Mahalla, Egypt. (photo: David Degner)
In 2014, we visited a school for visually impaired children in Egypt and met one student, Abanoub, hoping to attend a university:
Abanoub is a 17-year-old student from El Mahalla el Kubra, an industrial city in the Nile Delta about two hours’ drive from Cairo. When he first came to the home at the age of 5, he admits, he was terrified. “But then I got used to the place and I felt that I wanted to stay there forever. I built a new life for myself and made new friends,” he says. He is currently in his second year of high school and wants to attend college and major in psychology. He recently started learning the guitar.
But the transition from a school for the blind to a university can be a challenge. Sister Souad says they begin preparing children for the task from day one.
“We tell them, ‘One day, you will leave here and go to university with all kinds of people around.’ Since they are prepared, the transition is normal. We encourage them to take recorders to class, then listen again at home. They study normally.”
One of their students recently received a scholarship to study in the United States.
“I hope other blind children learn that going away from their family is not that difficult; it can be much better for their future,” Abanoub says.
“We teach them there is nothing they can’t do,” Sister Souad says proudly. “They are normal children. The only difference is they cannot see, but that doesn’t mean they can’t live a normal life.”
Read more about young people in Egypt journeying “Out of Darkness” in the Spring 2014 edition of ONE. And to help support the Christians of Egypt, please visit this giving page.
12 November 2015
Smoke rises after the Peshmerga forces belonging to the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) attack the Sinjar town of Mosul, Iraq, on 12 November 2015.
(photo: Yunus Keles/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Report calls ISIS attacks on minorities “genocide” (Reuters) Islamic State militants committed genocide against Iraq’s Yazidis in the north of the country and carried out crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing, and war crimes against other minorities, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum said on Thursday...
Pope urges Slovakia church to receive migrants in charity (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Thursday told the bishops of Slovakia the Church is called to receive migrants “in a spirit of charity and respect for the human person,” while, at the same time, necessarily observing the law. The Holy Father was meeting the bishops as part of their ad limina visit to Rome. He held an informal discussion with them, while presenting them his speech in written form...
Ukraine passes anti-discrimination law (BBC) Ukraine’s parliament has passed a law banning discrimination in the workplace, including that based on sexual orientation. It is the last of a package of ten laws that had to be approved for the European Union to consider visa-free travel for Ukrainians. Several previous attempts to get the bill through parliament failed over fears it would lead to the introduction of same-sex marriage in Ukraine...
Pope sends message to India’s Eucharistic Congress (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has sent a video message to the participants in India’s National Eucharistic Congress, taking place in Mumbai from 12-15 November. In the message, Pope Francis praises the gathering, saying, “The Eucharistic Congress is God’s gift not only to the Christians of India but to the entire population of a country so culturally diverse and yet so spiritually rich.” The theme of the Congress is the Eucharist as nourishment, which moves and inspires us to nourish others...
Coptic Church warns against collection of money on behalf of damaged monasteries (Fides) The Coptic Orthodox Church, with a statement sent to the Egyptian media through its official channels, has warned individuals and groups not to announce the collection of money for and on behalf of the historical monasteries in the area of Wadi al-Natrun, badly damaged by floods in recent weeks. The statement of the Coptic Church also indicates the only account number opened at a bank in Egypt and officially authorized by the church to collect donations for the restoration of the flooded monasteries...
10 November 2015
Tags: India Iraq Pope Francis Ukraine Refugees
Orthodox believers hold an icon of Saints Cyril and Methodius during a service in
Mikulcice, Czech Republic. (photo: Vova Pomortzeff/Alamy)
The fortunes of the Orthodox Church in the Czech Republic and Slovakia mirror those of these Central European states, which once formed a united Czechoslovakia. Both the church and state were born after the collapse of the multiethnic empire of Austria-Hungary in 1918. Both were controlled by Nazi occupiers during World War II and then by the Soviets, who commandeered leadership after the war. Both were revived after the Velvet Revolution in 1989 and have since been affected by the dissolution of Czechoslovakia — the so-called Velvet Divorce — in 1993.
Though a relatively young community, and numbering only about 100,000 people, the Orthodox Church in the Czech lands of Bohemia and Moravia and the independent republic of Slovakia dates back more than a thousand years.
In Europe’s Middle Ages, Latin missionaries worked among the Slavic peoples of the principality of Great Moravia — which covered much of the territory of the contemporary states of the Czech Republic and Slovakia. These missionaries (most of whom were Germanic) introduced the Latin rites of the Roman church in the ninth century and advocated closer ties with Moravia’s Germanic enemies. To counter these efforts, Moravia’s reigning prince, Rastislav, petitioned the emperor in the great Byzantine city of Constantinople to provide Slav-speaking missionaries to work among the prince’s subjects.
In 862, the emperor sent two Greek brothers, Cyril and Methodius, who devised an alphabet for the Slavonic vernacular, translated Scripture and the liturgies of the church into Slavonic (it remains unclear whether these liturgies were Byzantine or Latin in rite), and transcribed the first Slavic code of civil law. Despite support from the papacy, the brothers’ work generated hostility among the Latin Germanic bishops. They later drove Cyril and Methodius from Moravia, engineered Rastislav’s removal and, in 886, banished their followers.
Greater Moravia collapsed after 893. Its successor state, the Latin Catholic Kingdom of Bohemia, retained its Slavic “Czech” identity despite profound antagonisms and influences from neighboring Germanic principalities — a state of affairs that survived until the decades following World War II.
Orthodox Easter night service in front of the Dormition Church at the Olsany Cemetery in Prague, Czech Republic. (photo: Vova Pomortzeff/Alamy)
With the breakup of the Hapsburg realm of Austria-Hungary in 1918, and the birth of the Czechoslovak state, a group of Latin Catholic priests called for the use of the vernacular in the celebration of the Mass, optional clerical celibacy and the reception of the Eucharist under both species. Influenced by the work of Sts. Cyril and Methodius, Jan Hus and Martin Luther, these priests eventually formed the Czechoslovak Hussite Church, a national church that grew quickly, especially in the Czech heartland of Bohemia.
While this church retained elements of its Catholic heritage, some priests were sympathetic to the 15th-century Hussite scholar and diplomat, Peter Payne, and his interest in Orthodoxy. Heeding appeals from the Serbian Orthodox patriarchate, one priest, Father Matej Pavlik, was received into the Orthodox Church and consecrated a bishop in 1921.
Taking the name Gorazd, the new bishop erected two eparchies, one in the Bohemian capital of Prague and another in the Slovak town of Mukacevo, the historical center of Carpatho-Rusyn Greek Catholics. While he was bishop, a large number of these Greek Catholics accepted Orthodoxy after the Holy See imposed restrictions (for example, barring the use of married priests) on their parish communities in North America.
A prolific writer and a zealous pastor, Bishop Gorazd established parishes for all of the diverse ethnic communities that made up the Orthodox Church of Czechoslovakia, including Bohemian Czechs, Carpatho-Rusyns, Russian exiles, Serbs and Slovaks.
Today, this Orthodox Church is strongest in Slovakia, especially in the Carpatho-Rusyn areas of the northeast near Poland and Ukraine, numbering some 50,000 people. In the Czech lands of Bohemia and Moravia, the church is weak. This reflects the status of religious identity in the modern Czech Republic — a majority of Czechs identify themselves as atheists. Most Orthodox Christians who fill the churches in both republics are guest workers from Greece, Russia and Ukraine and may include up to 500,000 people.
Click here to read more.
10 November 2015
Carpatho-Rusyn Greek Catholic Bishop Milan Sasik, C.M., looks out the window of his
office in Uzhorod. (photo: Oleg Grigoryev)
The Autumn edition of ONE features an online exclusive profile of Bishop Milan Sasik of Ukraine, who describes efforts to revive what had been, during the Soviet era, an underground church:
As Ukraine still struggled with nascent nation building, Bishop Milan encountered a community in a state of “spiritual hunger.”
Its shepherds, 128 priests, had been placed in Soviet prisons and sent to exile in Siberia, and 20 would never return alive. Some 40 churches had been destroyed by the Communist government, and 273 more were transferred to the Orthodox Church of Russia — the only church the Soviets had authorized, which operated under the strict control of the Kremlin.
In 1991, when Ukraine gained independence, the eparchy initially regained only 117 churches and four monasteries from Moscow. Of the more than 500 eparchial institutional buildings that were nationalized, the eparchy was left with 60.
As a result, Bishop Milan initially had nowhere to live.
“I joked that I would live in the cathedral tower, or in the crypt or even in the sacristy.”
The priority was clear: The bishop initiated numerous brick-and-mortar projects — most importantly, a seminary to meet the demand of the newly resurgent faithful.
Read more of the profile here.
And in the Autumn edition of ONE, learn more about the seminarians being formed in Ukraine, helping the church come “Out From Underground.”
10 November 2015
Forces of the Syrian opposition launch missiles targeting Hemeimeem military airport in Latakia, Syria, on 10 November 2015. (photo: Ali Hafavi/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Blasts strike Syrian city (Reuters) At least 23 people were killed and 40 wounded in two explosions in the Syrian city of Latakia on Tuesday, a monitoring group said, in one of the bloodiest attacks on President Bashar al-Assad’s coastal stronghold. The blasts hit two separate areas of the city, one from rocket fire and the other either from a rocket or a planted explosive device, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. With many of the wounded in serious condition, the death toll was expected to rise, said the Observatory, which monitors the war using sources on the ground...
Canadians brace for surge of Syrian refugees (CBC) Refugee resettlement agencies across Canada are working overtime to develop plans for integrating an unprecedented surge of refugees, without knowing how soon they’ll arrive or whether their agencies’ budgets will increase to meet the costs...
A Christian safe zone in Iraq? (Al-Monitor) Christian activists are making the unlikely gamble as their yearslong exodus from Syria and Iraq has turned into an outright stampede under the Islamic State (ISIS). They’re launching a lobbying blitz to get the United States to label their plight a genocide — and create pressure for the subsequent creation of a Christian safe haven in Iraq. “We are forming a lobby team and trying to raise some money to hire [a] very respected diplomat so we can get more countries involved in this issue,” said Loay Mikhael, head of the Foreign Relations Committee at the Chaldean Syriac Assyrian Popular Council...
Ethiopia appeals for help to feed thousands (AP) An Ethiopian official says the country’s more than 730,000 refugees could go hungry if $55 million in food aid is not raised by the end of the year. Ayalew Awoke, deputy director of refugee affairs, said Monday that a $20 million donation by the U.S. will be used up by the end of December and he warned of “a major crisis” unless aid comes in...
Russian Orthodox church to offer “pure” Wi-Fi (The Guardian) The Russian Orthodox Church has said it will offer free “Orthodox internet” Wi-Ficleansed of immoral content near churches and in public places around Moscow. Orthodox priest Roman Bogdasarov, who heads the Russian Inter-religious Council, told Izvestia newspaper that the internet contains many threats to users, including recruitment materials for Christian sects and Islamic State, pornography and “distorted versions of history”...
9 November 2015
Tags: Syria Iraq Ethiopia Russian Orthodox
Rev. Paul Watson, S.A. (1863-1940). (photo: Graymoor Archives)
On 22 September 2015, in a moment rich with significance for CNEWA and for Christian unity, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of the Archdiocese of New York — and CNEWA’s chair — formally opened the cause for canonization of the Rev. Paul Wattson, S.A., (1863-1940), CNEWA’s co-founder. Father Paul will now be formally known as “Servant of God,” and further investigation can begin into his life and work. Once his heroic virtues are established, he may be declared “Venerable”; evidence of one miracle attributed to him can result in beatification; a second miracle may lead eventually to the pope declaring him, formally, a saint.
For Father Paul, this is the latest milestone in a long journey of faith that has left an enduring imprint on Christianity around the world. It’s a journey that began, in fact, in the Episcopal Church. Long before he helped launch CNEWA, Father Paul was an Episcopal priest, a co-founder of the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement and a champion of Christian unity and helping the poor.
The Society of the Atonement, consisting of the Franciscan Friars and Sisters of the Atonement, was founded in the Episcopal Church in 1898. In 1909 the entire community sought and received communion with the Roman Catholic Church. Significantly, Father Paul and his community did not leave the Episcopal Church motivated by anger or rejection; rather he saw his “journey to Rome” as the logical continuation of his commitment to the unity of all Christians. This passion for unity manifested itself his preaching and writings. But even more importantly, this commitment led him to found the annual Chair of Unity Octave, eight days of prayer for Christian Unity from 18-25 January. This observance, which started at Graymoor, Garrison, New York, was recommended to the universal Catholic Church by Pope Benedict XV. The Church Unity Octave over the decades evolved into the Week of Prayer of Christian Unity, which is now observed by Christians throughout the world.
In a world in which the ecumenical movement was just beginning and did not enjoy wide acceptance, the attitude of Father Paul toward non-Latin rite and non-Catholic churches was unique. In the early 20th century, the Catholic Church in the United States had recently experienced the loss of a quarter million Eastern Catholics because of the insensitivity of Latin Catholics to the legitimate practices of the Eastern Catholic churches. The attitude towards those Eastern Catholics who remained was often one of ignorance and distrust. Relations between Catholics and Protestants were hardly better.
Father Paul regarded other churches not as heretics and enemies, competitors or targets for proselytization, but as friends and fellow travelers on the road to the unity Christ wished for his church. He saw it as his task to be the Lamp that helped them on this journey.
His attitude toward other churches and his concern for the poor brought Father Paul in increasing contact with the Christians of the Middle East and India. After World War I, the situation of Christians in the Middle East was dire. Genocide was the order of the day for Christians in the lands of the Middle East. Millions of Armenians and hundreds of thousands of Christians from other Orthodox and Eastern Catholic churches were either slaughtered or driven out of their homes as refugees.
Father Paul and the Rev. George Calvassy (later a bishop) of the Greek Byzantine Catholic Church sought a way to alleviate the sufferings of all Christians in the Middle East. Their attempts took many different routes, some of them dead ends, but their efforts along with others resulted ultimately in the founding of Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA) in 1926. Pope Pius XI formally recognized CNEWA as a pontifical organization and placed it under the direction of the archbishop of New York.
The Eastern Churches — Catholic and Orthodox — were dear to the heart of Father Paul. Many bishops from these churches visited Father Paul at Graymoor to ask his help and express their gratitude for any assistance they received.
Father Paul died on 8 February 1940. His pioneering work for Christian unity today might be considered ahead of its time, and even prophetic. He did not live to see the Second Vatican Council and its decree on Christian Unity; he did not see the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity become a world-wide event promulgated by both the Vatican and the World Council of Churches. But his prayers, vision and passion laid the groundwork for vastly improved relations between Catholics and Orthodox Christians, and helped CNEWA become a significant force for humanitarian and pastoral aid in a Middle East — a troubled land that is once again in our own day a place of genocide and exile.
CNEWA is proud that one of its founders is now continuing his journey — this time on the road to sainthood.
You can read more about Father Paul in the Autumn 2015 edition of ONE.