13 April 2015
The Divine Liturgy is celebrated at the Easter Vigil in Sts. Peter and Paul Melkite Greek Catholic Church in Amman, Jordan. (photo: Greg Kandra)
What can you say about a day that began with the Muslim call to prayer echoing through the streets and ended with an exuberant Catholic liturgy celebrating the Resurrection?
That marked Saturday, my first full day in Amman, Jordan. To call it memorable would be an understatement; this was a day that I will not, cannot forget — and it is for days like this that I wanted to make this particular trip.
I’m here, really, by chance. I was invited to represent CNEWA as part of a group of a dozen other bloggers and journalists to take part in a tour sponsored by the Jordan Tourism Board. In addition to visiting some famous sites — the Dead Sea, Bethany, Petra — we would be in this corner of the Holy Land during one of the most sacred times of the year, as Catholics and Orthodox here together celebrate Easter (according to the Julian calendar). Later in the week, I’ll get a firsthand look at some of the projects CNEWA has been supporting over the years — notably at the Italian Hospital in Amman — and get to meet some of the people we’ve writing about in ONE magazine and on this blog. The opportunity was impossible to resist.
Friends and family, when they heard about this trip, were baffled — and a little alarmed. “Aren’t you scared? Isn’t it dangerous? What are you thinking?” But the fact is: Jordan remains one of the most safe and secure countries in the Middle East; tensions and wars rage around her borders, but Jordan remains stable. (Local businesses are doing their part: Our hotel, as do many in the region, requires that everyone entering pass through a metal detector, submit bags to be x-rayed, and consent to be lightly frisked. It’s like going through security at the airport, every day.)
So… after arriving Friday afternoon and settling in, I awoke early to the unfamiliar but haunting sound of the Muslim call to prayer. I rolled over and looked at my cell phone. It was a little after 4 in the morning. I had slept fitfully anyway — a 10-hour flight and seven-hour time difference will do that to you — so I decided to get up and, answering the call, pray Morning Prayer. I clicked on my breviary on my iPad and began my day.
Our group spent most of this first day on a bus, driving two hours north of Amman to visit the ancient city of Umm Qais, overlooking the borders of Syria and Israel. The day was cold and rainy; we couldn’t see far (though we were told, on a clear day, you could actually spot the Sea of Galilee many miles to the north). Umm Qais was also known at one time as Gadara, and it is believed by some scholars to be the region where Jesus, in Matthew’s gospel, drove demons from a man and into a herd of swine.
From atop the rolling hills of Umm Qais, a visitor can see the Golan Heights of Israel in the distance (photo: Greg Kandra)
The cold steady rain had a very different effect on our group, though. It drove us from the open air and into the bus.
Unquestionably, the highlight of the day came in the evening, when we experienced two Easter Vigils, from two very different Catholic traditions.
The Easter Vigil begins in St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Amman. (photo: Greg Kandra)
Our evening began at St. Peter’s, a Latin Catholic Church in Amman, where we arrived in a space full of flickering candles as the deacon stepped into the ambo. He took a breath. And in the hushed silence, he cried out the first phrases of the ancient chant that I know so well, the very chant I had proclaimed just a week earlier at my parish in Queens: “the Exsultet,” or Easter Proclamation. “Exult, let them exult, the hosts of heaven … exult, let angel ministers of God exult. Let the trumpet of salvation sound aloud our mighty King’s triumph…”
Every note was familiar to me. I knew it by heart. But I had never heard this before: The deacon was chanting the proclamation in Arabic. This moved me in a way I hadn’t expected; here was the universal church, our faith, unfolding before me. What I had sung in a parish in Queens was now being sung in this parish in Amman — and in countless other churches large and small, in languages ancient and new, throughout the world. I found myself blinking back tears. To be a part of this moment was an extraordinary gift.
The deacon chants the Easter Proclamation, the Exsultet, in Arabic. (video: Greg Kandra)
After a little while into the Mass, we had to leave to head to another vigil, this one Sts. Peter and St. Paul, a Melkite Greek Catholic Church a short drive away.
This was only my second experience of an Eastern liturgy; it included copious amounts of sprinkling, singing, processing, chanting and incense.
The Rev. Nabil Haddad incenses the congregation. (photo: Greg Kandra)
I found it spellbinding and beautiful. One of the writers on our trip, David Rupert, a Protestant, captured the essence beautifully on his blog, describing the view of an outsider who nonetheless felt a sense of belonging and kinship:
I walked into the Melkite Greek Catholic church in downtown Amman, Jordan, graciously invited by others. The Sts. Peter and Paul Church was small, with probably 150 people already gathered. We were late. The service was led by the Rev. Nabil Haddad, a gracious man who is working at bridging the gap in the Muslim, Jewish, and Christian world as the leader of the Jordanian Interfaith Coexistence Research Center.
I resisted the urge to find a way to make my way outside. I was so out of my element. This was a different culture, a different faith expression in a Middle Eastern tradition. And the service was in Arabic. To an outsider it was nonsense. Chants. Singing. Repetition. Kneeling. There was no music except for the melodic, hypnotic voices of chants that seemed to bring in a mix of Gregorian, Semitic and Arabic influence. I irreverently imagined a Jew in a vestment singing from a minaret. It was disruptive and disquieting. But as the service continued, it was powerful.
Across the Middle East, the birthplace of Christianity, believers are becoming a smaller and smaller slice of the population, losing the baby war. And they are oppressed and tormented and killed in some places. Yet, they survive and even thrive because of their love for each other and for God.
So here I am, standing among Christians who have been in the area for more than a thousand years. I am unworthy, ignorant, and just a little shocked. Who do I think I am? I have no idea what these people have to endure on a daily basis. and yet they embrace me and call me “brother.”
After the liturgy, we had a chance to spend time with Father Haddad and some of his flock. He’s a longtime friend of CNEWA, and was delighted to meet someone from the agency. He promised to get in touch the next time he visits New York.
I rode back to our hotel weary but grateful — and stirred by so many emotions. Several days back, overwhelmed with a thousand details demanding my attention — getting through the Triduum, finishing our taxes, ironing out all the details for this particular trip — I told my friend and editor Elizabeth Scalia that maybe I should back out of the Jordan trip. It was getting to be too much.
“You know,” she told me, “maybe you should look at what God has for you in the trip. There is a gift somewhere.”
After my experience Saturday night, I realize: She was right.
13 April 2015
Tags: Middle East Jordan Holy Land Holy Land Christians Melkite Greek Catholic Church
Altar servers spread incense as Pope Francis celebrates a 12 April liturgy in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican to mark the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. To learn more about the history of the churches of Armenia, and how they developed in the wake of the World War I-era massacre, read the profiles of the Armenian Apostolic Church and the Armenian Catholic Church in ONE. (photo: CNS/Cristian Gennari)
13 April 2015
Tags: Pope Francis Armenia Turkey Armenian Apostolic Church Armenian Catholic Church
Pope Francis greets Armenian Apostolic Catholicos Karekin II of the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin and All Armenians during a 12 April liturgy marking 100 years since the mass killings of Armenians under the Ottoman Empire. (photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP/Getty Images)
Term ‘genocide’ angers Turkey, while pope says memory leads to healing (CNS) Commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide, Pope Francis said atrocities from the past have to be recognized — not hidden or denied — for true reconciliation and healing to come to the world. However, Turkey’s top government officials criticized the pope’s use of the term “genocide” — citing a 2001 joint statement by St. John Paul II and the head of the Armenian Apostolic Church — in reference to the deaths of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians during their forced evacuation by Ottoman Turks in 1915-18. Turkey rejects the accusation of genocide, and the government called its ambassador to the Holy See back to Turkey…
Newest doctor of the church: St. Gregory of Narek (Vatican Radio) On Sunday, Pope Francis proclaimed the great Armenian St. Gregory of Narek a doctor of the universal church. The solemn proclamation took place during the introductory rites at the beginning of a Mass commemorating the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the massacre of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey…
Northern Iraq’s displaced get own radio station (Fides) Radio Al Salam (“the radio of peace”), a station at the service of the refugees in northern Iraq, began broadcasting on 5 April in Erbil. “This radio station is for all those who were forced from their homes, for all the refugees,” said the Rev. Pascal Gollnisch, a French Catholic priest with L’Oeuvre d’Orient, in Radio Al Salam’s inaugural broadcast…
Gazans’ unpaid salaries cause rise in social tensions (Al Monitor) The Gaza government employee salary crisis is placing severe strain on those affected. The main victims are the employees who find themselves unable to meet their families’ food needs, as debts keep accumulating and creditors demand repayment…
Syria rebels shut Aleppo schools after bloody regime raid (Daily Star Lebanon) Schools in rebel-held areas of Syria’s Aleppo city will be closed for at least a week after bloody air raids on civilian areas, activists said Monday. On Sunday, an airstrike on a school in the city’s opposition-controlled east killed five children, three women teachers and a man. The rebel education authority in Aleppo called on schools and teaching centers to suspend their classes until the end of the week, according to a statement distributed by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights…
10 April 2015
Tags: Iraq Pope Francis Gaza Strip/West Bank Armenian Apostolic Church Armenian Catholic Church
A parishioner lights votive candles at a Sunday morning liturgy at the Cathedral of St. James in the Armenian Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem. This Sunday, Pope Francis and Armenian Catholic Patriarch Nerses Bedros XIX will concelebrate a liturgy commemorating the massacre of Armenians by the Turkish Ottoman Empire in the World War I era. For more about Jerusalem’s Armenian community, read about how ‘Living Here Is Complicated’, in ONE’s Winter 2014 issue.
10 April 2015
Tags: Pope Francis Jerusalem Armenia Armenian Catholic Church
Palestinians gather at Gaza City’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on 9 April in a protest demanding protection of Palestinian refugees and ending the clashes at Yarmouk Refugee Camp. (photo: Ashraf Amra/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Palestinians in Syria are left to their fate (The Guardian) “We are being killed here, Yarmouk camp is being annihilated,” said Ahmad, a resident of the Palestinian camp just a few miles from the center of the Syrian capital who was given a pseudonym to protect his identity. Yarmouk, once a bustling southern suburb of Damascus of 200,000 people, has been starved for two years in a relentless siege by Bashar al Assad’s regime, which has also blocked water supplies for months, a tactic that activists say constitutes the use of water as a tool of war. Now the remaining 18,000 residents, many of whom suffer from ailments, are mired on the front line of the battle against ISIS, which has seized the majority of the camp…
After Damascus move, ISIS attacks rivals near Aleppo (Daily Star Lebanon) ISIS has bolstered its forces north of Aleppo, where it is attacking rivals as part of a broader push beyond its eastern strongholds, a rebel leader and an activist group said…
Palestinian Christians resist Israeli conscription (Al Monitor) In 2012, Israel began a conscription campaign and established a forum to recruit Christians into Israeli military service, led by Orthodox Rev. Gabriel Nadav, who enjoys the support of the Israeli government. Conscription attempts face vigorous resistance by political blocs and Christian religious authorities. The archbishop of Sebastia of the Greek Orthodox, Atallah Hanna, told Al Monitor, “We as Christians are an integral part of the components of the Palestinian people. Based on our national, religious and moral faith, we refuse the recruitment of our children in an army that practices oppression and injustice…”
Pope Francis receives president of Georgia in audience (VIS) This morning Pope Francis received in audience Giorgi Margvelashvili, president of Georgia. The cordial discussions involved the development of bilateral relations, with particular reference to the positive contribution of the local Catholic community in the fields of charitable activity and education…
India’s social progress ranking below neighbors (Vatican Radio) India has a low rank of 101 among the 133 countries measured for their social progress, even below some immediate neighbors such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka, indicating the level of meeting basic human needs and well-being, among other factors. Conducted by Social Progress Imperative, a US-based non-profit organisation set up in 2012, the index is seen as a measure of relationship between income inequality and social progress by using the commonly deployed Gini coefficient on income inequality…
9 April 2015
Tags: Syria Israeli-Palestinian conflict Georgia Palestinians Aleppo
Girls smile during art class at Don Bosco youth center in Istanbul. (photo: CNS/Elie Gardner)
Some Iraqi and Syrian refugees are making a new start in Turkey. Catholic News Service notes:
Basima Toma teaches English to about 40 children at the Don Bosco youth center.
A young Iraqi boy stands at the chalkboard with a plastic ruler in his hand and spells out the words W-I-N-T-E-R, S-P-R-I-N-G, S-U-M-M-E-R, A-U-T-U-M-N.
Toma and her family have been in Istanbul long enough to see each of these seasons come and go, more than once. In 2012 Toma, her husband and four children left their home in Baghdad.
Toma and her family are Chaldean Catholics. In Baghdad, as Christian-owned businesses were targeted and destroyed, Toma worried more and more for her children’s safety. One of her daughters was the only Christian in her classroom.
“Now I don’t fear for my children,” Toma says. “I put my head on my pillow and am not afraid when they are not with me.”
“Here we don’t ask anyone what religion they are or what political party they belong to,” said Salesian Father Andres Calleja Ruiz, head of the Don Bosco youth center. “We just want to help them.”
Read more at the CNS link.
9 April 2015
In this image from August, a woman in Germany cries over the loss of her daughter during a protest of ethnic Yazidis against the persecution of their people by ISIS in Iraq.
(photo: Alexander Koerner/Getty Images)
ISIS releases 200 Yazidis in Iraq (BBC) Islamic State militants have released more than 200 members of the Yazidi religious community being held in northern Iraq, Kurdish security officials have said. Most of the 216 prisoners were in poor health and bore signs of abuse, General Hiwa Abdullah told the Associated Press. About 40 children were among those freed, while the rest were elderly...
Rights group reports on executions in Ukraine (Vatican Radio) A human rights group says it has evidence that pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine summarily killed four Ukrainian soldiers in their captivity. Meanwhile in Lithuania, a Russian television channel was taken off-air over pro-Kremlin propaganda...
Canadian warplanes carry out first airstrikes against ISIS (CNN) Canadian fighter jets have carried out their first airstrike against ISIS in Syria, hitting one of the Sunni militant group’s garrisons. The CF-18 Hornets bombed near ISIS’ de facto capital of Raqqa, Canada’s Department of National Defence said Wednesday. It described the strike as successful...
Thousands of Copts flock to Jerusalem, despite ban (Gulfnews.com) For Coptic Christian Nadi Salib, going to occupied Jerusalem was a dream of a lifetime that only came true last year. Salib, now 56, was one of thousands of Copts who have made the pilgrimage to the Israeli-occupied city in recent years despite a decades-old ban from Egypt’s Coptic Church. “It was a joy unmatched by any other thing in this life to go to the Holy Land and visit the places blessed by Jesus Christ,” said Salib...
Photographer captures images of Gaza’s “wonder women” (The Telegraph) Photographer Ovidiu Tataru has been in Gaza for nine months working with Doctors Without Borders, and has created a series of photos with women dressed in a superhero cape...
8 April 2015
Tags: Syria Iraq Ukraine Jerusalem Coptic
A nun farms a small plot in Ethiopia’s countryside. Read more about the lives of women in Ethiopia in “An Uphill Battle” from the May 2009 edition of ONE. (photo: Petterik Wiggers)
8 April 2015
In this image from March, a priest gives Communion to Ukrainian soldiers in Yavoriv, Ukraine.
(photo: CNS/Mariana Karapinka)
Coptic church attacked in Alexandria, Egypt (L’Osservatore Romano) The Church of Raphael the Archangel in the quarter of Al Agami in Alexandria was attacked by a group of individuals who, after shooting repeatedly at the building, fled the scene. At least four people, including a police officer, were injured. Officials in Egypt have launched a large-scale operation to search and capture the assailants. The attack, carried out in the night between Sunday and Monday, coincided with the celebration of Palm Sunday by the Coptic Orthodox community...
Ukraine soldiers receive Easter gifts (Vatican Radio) Ukraine is preparing to celebrate Orthodox Easter amid concerns over ongoing ceasefire violations in the east where government forces fight against pro-Russian separatists. People from around the country try to give at least some hope to soldiers fighting on the front lines this Easter season...
Caritas to run mobile clinic in Gaza (Fides) Caritas Jerusalem is preparing the launch of a mobile clinic designed to provide health services to the residents of the Gaza Strip. This was reported to Agenzia Fides by Father Raed Abusahliah, director general of Caritas Jerusalem...
Archeologists defy militants in Iraq (BBC) Archaeologists from the University of Manchester have been working in Iraq and making “significant discoveries,” while Islamic State militants have been bulldozing historic Assyrian sites. “If the militants think they can erase history we are helping to make sure that can’t happen,” said archaeologist Jane Moon. They have been excavating a Babylonian administrative centre from 1500BC. It has provided more than 300 artefacts for the Iraq Museum in Baghdad. The Manchester archaeologists, believed to be on one of only two international teams operating in non-Kurdish Iraq, have returned to the UK after three months of fieldwork, near to the ancient city of Ur...
Christianity poised to continue its shift from Europe to Africa (Pew Research Center) The global Christian population has been shifting southward for at least a century and is expected to continue to do so over the next four decades, according to new demographic projections from the Pew Research Center. Overall, the share of Christians in the world is expected to remain flat. But Europe’s share of the the world’s Christians will continue to decline while sub-Saharan Africa’s will increase dramatically...
7 April 2015
Tags: Iraq Egypt Ukraine Gaza Strip/West Bank Coptic Christians
Catholic bishops visit the Cremisan Valley in January.
(photo: Catholic Bishop’s Conference of England and Wales)
In a victory for the Christian community in the Palestinian West Bank, the Society of St. Yves, a legal aid group of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, announced on 2 April that the Israeli Supreme Court had accepted the many petitions of Christian groups and rejected the plans to build an extension of the Israeli separation wall in the Cremisan Valley.
The barrier, which has been planned for many years, would have run down the Cremisan Valley near Bethlehem, severing some 50 Palestinian farming families from their farms, and separating the community of Salesian priests and brothers from that of the Salesian sisters. In addition, the 30-foot-high wall would have surrounded on three sides the school run by the sisters.
The St. Yves group noted: “The planned route was designed to confiscate a huge share of the privately owned lands of the people of Beit Jala in Cremisan as well as the Vatican church land owned by the two Salesian Monasteries. The planned route was to further separate both monasteries from each other and from the local population they serve.”
The issue of the separation wall has been an international concern for many. On 11 February 2015, Bishop Oscar Cantú, who chairs the Committee on International Justice and Peace of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, wrote to the chairs of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and the House Committee on Foreign Affairs expressing concern for the impact the wall would have not only on the Palestinians in the Cremisan, but also on the peace process.
Earlier, on 30 January 2014, Archbishop Paul-André Durocher, president of the Canadian Conference of Bishops, had written a letter expressing the deep concerns of the Canadian Catholic bishops regarding the separation wall. Archbishop Durocher’s letter was addressed to the Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs, with copies sent to the Israeli Ambassador to Canada, the Canadian Ambassador to Israel and Canada’s Ambassador for Religious Freedom.
Concerned about the impact of the proposed wall on the local community, including the works of the Salesians in the valley, Catholic Near East Welfare Association, as a non-governmental organization (NGO) accredited to the United Nations, took action. CNEWA provided an information packet on the Cremisan Valley to a coalition of more than 40 Catholic NGO’s at the United Nations on 30 April 2013. This resulted in many of those NGO’s writing letters against the building of the wall to the Israeli and United States ambassadors to the United Nations as well as to the U.S. Secretary of State.
“This is Holy Week and tomorrow is Good Friday and Easter,” said Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal at a news conference after the ruling was announced on 2 April. “This is an advance Resurrection. Even if tomorrow is Good Friday, we are very happy and can celebrate. We thank God for this.”
The patriarch acknowledged the important role played by the global church and the diplomatic community in advocating against construction of the wall.
This wall was illegal and justice has prevailed,” the patriarch said. According to Catholic News Service, the legal victory, the patriarch said, was the result of a joint effort among the Catholic Church, landowners, the three neighboring municipalities, and Israelis who supported their case. Some efforts were made openly, he said, while some were behind the scenes.
It is very good news that the rights of the people of the Cremisan Valley have been upheld by the Israeli Supreme Court. It’s a further sign that individuals and organizations can make a difference in the struggle for peace and justice in the Middle East.