1 April 2014
Jennifer Jozel, 17, a Catholic, holds a candle inside the Dormition of the Virgin Church in the Israeli Christian village of Mi’ilya in Galilee. She will join the air force in September. (photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)
Catholic News Service this week profiles a small but growing demographic, Israeli Christians who are volunteering to join the Israeli army:
At the end of a recent unofficial pre-induction briefing for about 30 young men preparing to join the Israeli army, the participants stood and, led by Greek Orthodox Father Gabriel Nadaf, recited the Our Father in Arabic with hands outstretched. They finished by making the sign of the cross.
“You are not going to shoot,” said Father Nadaf, the spiritual leader of the year-and-a-half-old Israeli Christian Recruitment Forum, whose 18-year-old son, Jubran, was among the new recruits. Father Nadaf reminded them of the fate of Syrian Christians, some of whom have been kidnapped and killed.
“You are going to protect. You do not go to attack but to defend. The Messiah said not to kill, he did not say don’t defend. We have to defend our Holy Land,” the priest said.
The young men represent an increasing number of young Israeli Christians who are deciding to voluntarily join the Israeli military, explained Capt. Shadi Haloul, 38, the forum’s spokesman, a Maronite Catholic and reservist in the Israeli Defense Forces.
Forum officials said about 84 Christians joined the army in the last half of 2013, the same number that joined in the prior 18 months. Although they are a small part of the 120,000 Christians who live in northern Israel, IDF officials called the forum’s impact “astounding.”
While Jewish men and women and Druze men from the age of 18 are required to serve in the military, Christians and Muslims have been exempt. Historically, Christian Arabs have viewed themselves as part of the Palestinian people and considered service in the army as unthinkable, although individual Christians have volunteered to serve on their own.
The forum was established to help Christians better integrate into Israeli society and to seek equal treatment and opportunities in a country where army service is key to accessing certain jobs and promotions, better mortgage terms and educational opportunities.
But also, as neighboring Arab countries remain in a quagmire of war and violence, some Israeli Christians say they want to help defend the only country in the region where they believe Christians have equal protection and freedom despite the occasional inequality.
Read more at the CNS website.
1 April 2014
Tags: Israel Palestinians Maronite Christian
In the video posted above, witnesses describe last week’s attack on Kessab. (video: RT.com)
Syrian Army trying to retake Kessab (RT.com) The Syrian Army is trying to retake the Christian majority town of Kessab reportedly seized by Al Qaeda-linked forces. The attack forced hundreds of ethnic Armenians to flee and caused international outcry, with Armenia blaming Turkey for supporting extremists. Warring sides in Syria are facing off over Kessab, an ethnic Armenian hub on the Turkey-Syria border…
Is Crimea gone? (CNN) In diplomacy, as in sales, success often depends on making your adversaries believe they proposed the result you wanted. By that measure, Russian President Vladimir Putin appears to have closed the sale on annexing Crimea from Ukraine. On Monday, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev visited the region that Moscow now claims over international protests, while Russia also said it was withdrawing a battalion of infantry troops from the tens of thousands deployed near the border with eastern Ukraine…
Pope Francis to become first pontiff to be broadcast in 3D (Variety) Pope Francis will become the first pontiff seen globally in 3D during the upcoming 27 April ceremony in St. Peter’s Square when two of his predecessors, Popes John Paul II and John XXIII, will be canonized as saints…
Some Muslim countries won’t screen ‘Noah’ (Catholic Register) Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates banned the film in early March, citing Islamic prohibitions on showing images of prophets. The Film Censorship Board in Indonesia, home to roughly 215 million Muslims — more than any other country — banned the film last week. Cairo’s Al Azhar University, a historic center of Islamic learning, issued a fatwa against the film urging Muslims not to see it, citing a prohibition on depicting prophets. Yet most Muslim-majority countries have not banned “Noah,” and many observant Muslims in America saw the film when it debuted…
31 March 2014
Tags: Pope Francis Syrian Civil War Turkey Crimea Media
Pope Francis blesses a woman during an audience with people who are deaf or blind in Paul VI hall at the Vatican on 29 March. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
On Saturday, Pope Francis offered some stirring words to those dealing with physical limitations:
Only those who recognize their own limits can accept the great gift of salvation in Jesus Christ, which is why Catholics with disabilities are such important and powerful witnesses of faith, Pope Francis said.
Meeting March 29 with close to 7,000 members, staff and volunteers of the Apostolic Movement for the Blind and the Little Mission for the Deaf, Pope Francis insisted it is “truly blasphemous” to believe that a physical limitation or disability is a punishment from God.
“Jesus radically refused that way of thinking,” he said.
“The person who is sick or has a disability, precisely because of his or her fragility and limits, can become a witness of the encounter: the encounter with Christ who opens one to life and to faith; and the encounter with others, with the community,” Pope Francis said.
The key to being a trustworthy, effective witness to Jesus, he said, is first having had the experience of meeting Jesus.
“A witness to the Gospel is one who has encountered Jesus Christ, who knows him or, better, feels known by him, recognized, respected, loved and forgiven. This encounter has touched him deeply, has filled him with new joy and given his life new meaning,” the pope said.
CNEWA supports a number of institutions that offer those with physical challenges both inspiration and hope, including the Paul VI Ephpheta Institute, which helps deaf children in Bethlehem and the Santa Lucia Home in Egypt, which helps young people who are blind. Visit our giving page to learn how you can support these and other wonderful institutions that are doing so much to uplift those most in need.
31 March 2014
The Holy Synod of the Syriac Orthodox Church convened and elected Mor Cyril Aphram Karim, metropolitan of the Archeparchy of the Eastern United States, to lead the church. He will be known as Patriarch Ignatius Aphram II upon his installation and will be the 123rd patriarch of Antioch. (photo: CNS/Gregory A. Shemitz)
Syriac Orthodox Church elects new patriarch (ABC News) The Syriac Orthodox Church has elected a new patriarch to lead one of the world’s oldest Christian sects, Lebanon’s national news agency said Monday. The announcement of the election of Cyril Aphrem Karim, a 48-year-old Syrian, was made by the Syriac Orthodox Church’s Lebanese headquarters in the village of Atshaneh northeast of the capital Beirut. Karim, who served as bishop in the United States, replaces Patriarch Ignatius Zakka I, who died on 21 March at the age of 80…
Egypt presidential election set for 26-27 May (Al Jazeera) Egypt’s electoral commission announced Sunday that the country’s presidential election will take place on 26-27 May, less than a year after the army overthrew President Muhammad Morsi. The man who toppled Egypt’s first democratically elected leader in July, former army chief Abdel Fattah el Sisi, is expected to win the vote easily…
After Crimea’s annexation, what Tatars might do next (Christian Science Monitor) Leaders of Crimea’s Tatar minority gathered Saturday to condemn Russia’s annexation of the peninsula and appealed to international bodies for recognition as an autonomous group. Tatars, an ethnically Turkic and mainly Muslim group that was subjected to mass deportation from their native Crimea by Soviet leader Josef Stalin in 1944, gathered to forge a collective response to Russia’s absorption of their native region…
Ukraine crisis: Crimea celebrates switch to Moscow time (BBC) People in the Crimean capital Simferopol have been celebrating the clocks changing to synchronise with the time in Moscow. Moscow formally annexed Crimea earlier in March after the predominantly ethnically Russian region held a referendum which backed joining Russia…
After Crimea, Russians say they want Alaska back (The Moscow Times) After Russia’s annexation of Crimea, which the Kremlin said corrected a “historical mistake,” some in Russia would like to see the divide with Alaska eliminated by having Russia stake a new claim on the territory, which Tsar Alexander II sold to the U.S. for $7.2 million in 1867…
Activists return to northern Syria as extremists retreat (Al Jazeera) After a campaign of kidnappings and executions, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant is starting to retreat. In areas the group controls, the ISIL has sought to impose Sharia, or Islamic law. In Raqqa, one of the group’s strongholds, the ISIL has forced women to completely cover themselves, banned smoking and forced business owners to close their shops during prayer times. The group recently imposed Sharia on Christians in Raqqa, telling them they couldn’t display any outward signs of faith and charging them a religious tax…
28 March 2014
Tags: Egypt Ukraine Syrian Civil War Crimea Syriac Orthodox Church
The Soorp Badarak, or Divine Liturgy, is celebrated daily by the Mekhitarist community.
(photo: Onnik Krikorian)
In 2007, we paid a visit to Armenia and discovered a seminary helping foster monastic vocations after the fall of Communism:
“Five years ago, when I was 75, I thought it was time to rest and pray in preparation for the last joyous journey to be with our Father in heaven, but it was not to be,” said Father Hovsep Behesniryan, a priest of the Armenian Catholic Armenia Congregation. After serving more than 64 years in ministries in Venice, Paris, Los Angeles and New York, “I was called into service once more, this time in Mekhitarist.”
He was sitting in a parlor of the Mekhitarist minor seminary, located in the Armenian capital city of Yerevan, where the Ethiopian-born priest supervises the education of those who hope to follow his path. The seminary opened in October 2004 and is now home to 22 boys, age 13 and older.
“Every boy who comes here believes God called him,” said 16-year-old Narek Tchilingirian, who spent a month at the seminary before deciding to enter. His mother, Tsovinar, was not surprised. “He always went to church regularly, and he always took part in religious ceremonies and youth organizations.”
Father Hovsep’s return to the land of his ancestors has more than personal significance for the octogenarian. The seminary also marks a significant step in the homecoming of an Armenian religious community after centuries in exile.
Read more about The Long Road Home in the May 2007 issue of ONE.
28 March 2014
During Pope Francis’ visit to the Holy Land, he will join Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I to issue a joint declaration on the 50th anniversary of the visit to Jerusalem by two of their predecessors, Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras. (photo: Nikolaos Manginas/Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople)
Pope to pray with Orthodox patriarch in Jerusalem (Daily Star Lebanon) Pope Francis will pray side by side with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople in Jerusalem, in a powerful sign of Christian unity during his May visit to Holy Land, the Vatican said on Thursday. The prayer will take place in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built over the spots widely believed to be the sites of the crucifixion, burial and resurrection of Jesus…
Missile on an Armenian church in Aleppo during Mass (Fides) The Armenian Catholic Church of the Holy Trinity in Aleppo was hit by a missile while the faithful celebrated the liturgy. The attack damaged the dome and broke the windows, but caused no injuries. This was confirmed to Fides Agency by the Rev. Joseph Bazuzu, pastor of the church…
U.N. prolongs probe of Syria rights violations (Daily Star Lebanon) The U.N. on Friday lamented the devastating violence in Syria and extended a probe into the “gross, systematic and widespread” human rights abuses in the war-ravaged country…
Syrian Kurds, rebels find common enemy in ISIS (Al Monitor) Bitter enemies less than a year ago, the Kurdish Democratic Union Party and the Free Syrian Army are cooperating to fight the extremist Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham. The first basis for this cooperation emerged when wounded F.S.A. fighters were treated in the Afrin Hospital. Kurdish leader Salim Muslim told Al Monitor, “When ISIS came, they [F.S.A.] escaped to our areas, and we protected them. Those people fought against us, but we are protecting them. Even some injured are treated in our hospitals, despite our having a shortage of medicine…”
Ethiopian Orthodox Church takes roots in Ghana (GhanaWeb) The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church will take firm roots in Ghana with the establishment of a branch of the church in Ghana after the acceptance of a fact-finding report that recommends this course of action…
Mother of Coptic Orthodox pope dies (Ahram Online) The mother of Pope Tawadros II, head of the Coptic Orthodox Church, passed away on Friday morning, spokesman Bishop Royce Morqos said in a statement. The funeral liturgy will be held at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Alexandria on Saturday.
27 March 2014
Tags: Pope Francis Syrian Civil War Ethiopian Orthodox Church Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II
In this image from 2011, a Christian cleric clasps hands with a Muslim sheik during a rally to demonstrate unity between Muslims and Christians in Cairo, Egypt.
(photo: CNS/Mohamed Abd El-Ghany, Reuters)
With mostly bad news coming out of the Middle East, it is encouraging to see that Christians and Muslims are working together in Lebanon to build peaceful relations.
Representatives from both faiths gathered this week in Beirut for the eighth Islamic-Christian Prayer Meeting, which had as its theme “Together Around Mary, Our Lady.”
The meeting took place on the Solemnity of the Annunciation (25 March), a national holiday in Lebanon and a day when both Christians and Muslims honor Mary, the mother of Christ. The meeting was organized by the St. Joseph University Alumni Assocation and the College of Our Lady of Jamhour.
Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin sent a message to participants, on behalf of Pope Francis. In the message, the pope encouraged Christians and Muslims to “work together for peace and for the common good, thus contributing to the full development of the person and the edification of society”, and entrusts the participants in the meeting “and all the inhabitants of Lebanon to the maternal intercession of the Virgin Mary, Queen of Peace and Protectress of Lebanon.”
“The Virgin Mary and Islamic-Christian Dialogue” was the theme of the address given by Rev. Miguel Angel Ayuso, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, during the meeting.
The Vatican news agency VIS reported:
In his address, which focused both on the figure of Mary and on the mission of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, Rev. Ayuso emphasized that the feast of 25 March was “a true example of the co-existence between Muslims and Christians that characterises Lebanese history, in the midst of so many difficulties, and which also constitutes an important example for many other nations.”
“Since Vatican Council II, the Catholic Church recognises that Muslims honor the Virgin mother of Jesus, Mary, and invoke her with piety,” he said. “Mary is mentioned various times in the Koran. Respect for her is so evident that when she is mentioned in Islam, it is usual to add ‘Alayha l-salam’ (‘Peace be upon her’). Christians also willingly join in this invocation. I must also mention those shrines dedicated to Mary which welcome both Muslims and Christians. In particular, here in Lebanon, how can we forget the shrine of Our Lady of Lebanon in Harissa?”
“Devotion creates sentiments of friendship: it is a phenomenon open to everyone. The cultural experiences that our communities can share encourage collaboration, solidarity and mutual recognition as sons and daughters of a single God, members of the same human family. Therefore, the Church addresses the followers of Islam with esteem. During the last 50 years, a dialogue of friendship and mutual respect has been constructed.”
With reference to the dialogue between Muslims and Christians, he went on to explain that the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue “seeks to establish regular relationships with Muslim institutions and organisations, with the aim of promoting mutual understanding and trust, friendship and, where possible, collaboration. In fact, there exist agreements with various Muslim institutions enabling the possibility of holding periodical meetings, in accordance with the programmes and procedures approved by both parties. With regard to the methods of interreligious dialogue and, therefore, the dialogue between Christians and Muslims, we must recall that dialogue is a two-way form of communication. ... It is based on witness of one’s own faith and, at the same time, openness to the religion of the other. It is not a betrayal of the mission of the Church, and much less a new method of conversion to Christianity. The document ‘Dialogue and Proclamation,’ published jointly by the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples and the Council for Interreligious Dialogue in 1991, identifies four different forms of interreligious dialogue: the dialogue of life, the dialogue of works, the dialogue of theological exchange and the dialogue of religious experience. These four forms demonstrate that it is not an experience confined to specialists.”
Rev. Ayuso concluded by analyzing the role of Mary as a model for both Muslims and Christians.
“In the Apostolic Exhortation ‘Marialis Cultus’, promulgated in 1974 by Pope Paul VI, Mary is presented as ‘the Virgin who listens’, ‘the Virgin who prays’, ‘the Virgin in dialogue with God’. ... But there is also the image of a model of dialogue of seeking when, addressing the Archangel Gabriel, she asks, ‘How is it possible?’. Mary, a model for Muslims and Christians, is also a model of dialogue, teaching us to believe, not to close ourselves up in certainties, but rather to remain open and available to others.”
27 March 2014
Residents who fled Kessab, Syria when it came under attack seek shelter at an Armenian church in a neighboring village. (photo: CNEWA)
Michel Constantin is CNEWA’s regional director for Lebanon, Syria and Egypt
On Friday 21 March 2014, fighters from the Islamic Front and the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front launched a surprise attack from the Turkish territories at the Syrian-Turkish borders in the north, seizing the Armenian Christian town of Kassab after taking the nearby border crossing.
The attack began at two in the morning. The inhabitants of Kassab, who are 95 percent Christian Armenians, were given only two hours to leave their houses or else risk getting killed.
Rebel fighters have also struck deeper into Lattakia province, attacking the town of Solas to the south and firing rockets overnight into Lattakia city, killing eight people. This has raised international concern, since the port of Lattakia is the main transportation hub shipping Syria’s chemical wepaons out of the country to be destroyed.
The attack also deepened the conflict between the two neighboring countries, especially since Syria accused Turkey of providing military cover for the rebel attack on Kassab, saying Turkish forces fired into Syrian territory. The Al Qaeda attack and takeover of the Kassab border crossing has caused up to 2,000 Armenian Syrians to flee the area. Mass looting and destruction of religious sites was reported by residents (similar to acts reportedly carried out in the city of Yabroud). Armenians are once again refugees like their ancestors who fled the Armenian genocide decades ago.
Some 680 Armenian families, the majority of the population of Kessab, were evacuated to safer areas in neighboring Basit and Lattakia; 300 Armenian families found shelter in their relatives’ and friends’ houses, while the remaining 380 have sought refuge in the Armenian Church’s hall. There is now concern about the fate of 10 to 15 families who couldn’t leave their village or chose to stay in their homes.
On Saturday 22 March, Syrian troops launched a counter-attack in an attempt to regain the border crossing point, according to eye-witnesses and state media. However, the following day the extremist groups once again entered the town of Kassab and took the remaining Armenian families hostage. They reportedly desecrated the town’s three Armenian churches, pillaged local homes and occupied the town and surrounding villages.
CNEWA immediately responded to the urgent need and provided the refugees with emergency items for 380 families in Lattakia, through its contact with the Armenian joint committee composed of an Armenian Catholic priest, an Armenian Apostolic priest, an Armenian Evangelical pastor and two social activists. CNEWA also supported 50 families who fled to Beirut through the Karagheuzian center in Bourj Hammoud.
To learn how you can support the refugees, visit our emergency giving page for Syria.
27 March 2014
U.S. President Barack Obama presents a gift to Pope Francis during a private audience at the Vatican on 27 March. The president gave the pope a blue box containing a selection of fruit and vegetable seeds from the White House Garden. (photo: CNS/Stefano Spaziani, pool)
President Barack Obama met Pope Francis today for the first time, and the visit included the customary exchange of gifts. The CNS blog has details:
U.S. President Barack Obama gave Pope Francis a small chest full of fruit and vegetable seeds that are used in the White House Gardens.
“If you have a chance to come to the White House, we can show you our garden as well,” the president said.
“Como no!” the pope replied in Spanish, “Why not?” or “Of course.”
The seeds were inside individual blue velvet pouches.
“These I think are carrots,” the president said as he opened one of the pouches.
The president said the idea for the seeds came after he heard that Pope Francis had decided to open to the public the gardens at the papal summer residence in Castel Gandolfo.
The custom-made box the seeds came in is made from reclaimed wood from the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Baltimore &mash; the first cathedral in the United States and an international symbol of religious freedom. [Read this story by the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s The Catholic Review for more interesting background on the box!]
The basilica’s cornerstone was laid by Jesuit Father John Carroll, the first Catholic bishop and archbishop in the United States.
Read more about the gifts. And CNS also has additional details about the meeting.
27 March 2014
A Free Syrian Army fighter runs amid destroyed buildings during clashes with forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al Assad in the town of Morek on 11 March. Catholic bishops of Syria called for a cease-fire and for the pursuit of the Geneva peace talks to end the crisis in their country. (photo: CNS/Rasem Ghareeb, Reuters)
Syrian Ambassador says 98 churches, 1900 mosques destroyed in Syria (Interfax) Syrian Ambassador Riad Haddad said that 98 Christian churches were partly or entirely destroyed during the military conflict in the country. At the same time, 1900 mosques, 1600 schools and 60 percent of Syrian hospitals were partly or entirely destroyed, Haddad said at his meeting with Patriarch Kirill in Moscow…
Violence against Copts in Egypt continues despite fall of Muslim Brotherhood (AINA) Violence in Egypt against Coptic Christians has continued despite the fall of President Muhammad Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, with believers still facing abductions and the government seizing their property, the Board of Inquiry in Cairo reported. The report, according to Fides News Agency, shows that Copts, who make up close to 10 percent of the population, are continuing to face “endemic forms of violence and abuse” in many parts of Egypt, particularly in the governorates of Luxor, Sohag and Aswan…
Egypt’s Sisi to run for president, vows to tackle militancy (Reuters) Abdel Fattah al Sisi, the general who ousted Egypt’s first freely elected leader, declared his candidacy on Wednesday for a presidential election he is expected to easily win. Sisi toppled Muhammad Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood last July after mass protests against his rule and has emerged as the most influential figure in an interim administration that has governed since then…
Ukrainian crisis may split Russian Orthodox Church (National Catholic Reporter) As Russian troops massed on Ukraine’s border and a controversial secession vote in Crimea approached on 16 March, Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church called for prayers “that brothers of one faith and one blood never bring destruction to one another.” Russia has prided itself on its revival of Orthodox Christianity after decades of Soviet persecution, but a war with the Ukraine could splinter the Russian Orthodox Church. That church has its roots in Kiev, where Prince Vladimir baptized his people as Christians in 988, an event viewed as a cornerstone of Russian and Ukrainian identity…
Israel to allow materials into Gaza for Turkish hospital (Daily Star Lebanon) Israel said on Thursday it will allow into the Gaza Strip construction materials and electric equipment to help build a Turkish-sponsored hospital, in a possible sign of improving ties with Ankara. Gaza, ruled by the Islamist group Hamas, lacks much basic civil infrastructure and lives under an Egyptian-Israeli blockade meant to cut off arms flows but which also curbs imports of fuel and building supplies. Turkey began constructing the hospital in 2011 using materials smuggled into the territory through tunnels and this is first time Israel has let any in for the project…
Pope entrusts the people of Lebanon to the Virgin Mary (VIS) On 25 March, Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin sent a message on behalf of Pope Francis to the participants in the eighth Islamic-Christian Prayer Meeting, expressing joy at “Christians and Muslims united in their devotion to the Virgin Mary.” He also entrusts the participants in the meeting “and all the inhabitants of Lebanon to the maternal intercession of the Virgin Mary, Queen of Peace and Protectress of Lebanon…”
Tags: Egypt Syrian Civil War Violence against Christians Gaza Strip/West Bank Russian Orthodox Church