23 January 2014
Several weeks ago, CNEWA’s Chief Communications Officer Michael J.L. La Civita and and Director for Programs Thomas Varghese visited the South Caucasus — Armenia and Georgia — to assess needs and see how CNEWA might be able to help. Their journey was chronicled in a series of blog posts in late November. Now, we’re pleased to present the video below, which brings this remarkable trip to life in a new way — capturing the spirit, character and faith of the people and their homeland.
Take a few minutes to watch. If you’d like to learn how you can support our brothers and sisters in that part of the world, visit our Eastern Europe giving page.
23 January 2014
Tags: Armenia Georgia Eastern Europe Caring for the Elderly Caritas
In this image from 2012, a teenager is seen using an iPad in St. Louis, MO. (photo: CNS/Lisa Johnston, St. Louis Review)
Pope Francis issued his message today for World Communications Day, and focused on digital media:
Like the good Samaritan, who stopped on the road to help a person in need, travelers along today’s communication highways should offer support to those they encounter there, Pope Francis said.
“The digital world can be an environment rich in humanity; a network not of wires but of people,” he said in his message for World Communications Day.
Modern means of communication, especially the Internet, offer “immense possibilities for encounter and solidarity,” he said. Because of that, he said, the Internet is “a gift from God.”
“Communication at the service of an authentic culture of encounter” is the theme of this year’s World Communications Day, which most dioceses will mark 1 June, the Sunday before Pentecost. The message, released 23 January, was dated 23 January, the feast of St. Francis de Sales, the patron saint of journalists.
“Good communication helps us grow closer, to know one another better, and ultimately to grow in unity,” the pope said.
“The walls which divide us can be broken down only if we are prepared to listen and learn from one another,” he said. “A culture of encounter demands that we be ready not only to give, but also to receive.”
Good communicators must take the time necessary to listen to others and, more than just tolerate, truly accept them, he said.
“Engaging in dialogue does not mean renouncing our own ideas and traditions, but the claim that they alone are valid or absolute,” the pope said in his message.
Archbishop Claudio Celli, president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, told reporters that the pope is not proposing “a relativism” of the faith, but is continuing his predecessors’ calls for the church to engage with a multi-cultural and multi-religious world.
“I can’t have an outlook of being the only one and the absolute,” Archbishop Celli said. “I am just a concrete incarnation of that truth that is Jesus Christ and his Gospel,” which people live out in myriad ways in different cultures and traditions across the world.
Read more. And you can read the full message at this link.
23 January 2014
Tags: Pope Francis Unity Dialogue
A Syrian refugee boy carries wood in the Al Yamdiyeh refugee camp near the Syrian-Turkish border in Latakia province on 10 January. (photo: CNS/Khattab Abdulaa, Reuters)
Pope Francis has issued another plea for peace in Syria. From CNS:
As world leaders gathered in the hopes of finding a peaceful solution to Syria’s three-year-long brutal conflict, Pope Francis asked that they spare no effort in bringing an end to the violence.
The pope also urged the people of Syria to rebuild their nation and see in the other “not an enemy, a rival, but a brother or sister to welcome and embrace.”
The pope made the appeal at the end of his general audience in St. Peter’s Square on 22 January, the day a major peace summit, dubbed “Geneva II” began in Switzerland.
The U.N.-sponsored talks — scheduled to run at least until Jan. 24 — were to bring world leaders together to help forge a solution to the crisis and bring representatives of the Syrian government and major opposition figures together for direct talks for the first time.
A two-person Vatican delegation, led by Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican observer to U.N. agencies in Geneva, was also invited to attend the peace summit.
In his appeal to summit participants, Pope Francis said he was praying that “the Lord touch the hearts of everyone so that, by exclusively seeking the greater good of the Syria people, who have been greatly tried, they spare no effort in urgently bringing an end to the violence and conflict, which already has caused too much suffering.”
The pope said he also was praying that the people of Syria would begin a journey of reconciliation and peace “with determination.” He asked that the country be rebuilt “with the participation of all citizens,” so that everyone would see each other as family and not as rivals.
And visit our Syria emergency relief page to learn how you can help.
23 January 2014
Tags: Pope Francis Refugees Syrian Civil War United Nations Middle East Peace Process
A woman addresses riot police holding shields during a rally held by pro-European Union protesters in Kiev, Ukraine, on 21 January. Ukrainian Catholic Church leaders appealed for calm as violent protests escalated after a government crackdown. (photo: CNS/Vasily Fedosenko, Reuters)
Ukraine protesters declare eight-hour truce as talks with government continue (The Guardian) An eight-hour truce has been declared by protesters in Kiev after a day of violence in which at least three people died and an opposition leader said he was willing to face “a bullet in the forehead” if Ukraine’s president, Viktor Yanukovych, did not launch snap elections. After the truce was announced, protesters began to extinguish the huge burning barricade, made of thousands of tires, which has separated them from lines of riot police and been the focal point of clashes…
Ukraine’s path to unrest (New York Times) Just a few months ago, President Viktor F. Yanukovich seemed to be on track to signing a trade and political agreement with the European Union. A look back through crucial moments over the past year follows…
Oriental Orthodox and Catholic churches share dialogue in Kerala (Business Standard) A week-long international dialogue between the Oriental Orthodox and Catholic churches will be held in Kerala beginning on 27 January. Dozens of delegates from the Oriental Orthodox churches of Armenia, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Syria will join those from the Roman Catholic Church to discuss issues like ecclesiology, episcopacy, apostolic succession, the relevance and important of the Ecumenical Councils and the church and its mission, Metropolitan Gabriel Gregorios of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church told reporters. Last year, the conference was held in Rome and in 2012 at Ethiopia. This is the first time it is being held in India, he said…
As power cuts continue, Gaza turns to solar energy (Al Monitor) Gaza has suffered from a severe electricity shortage since mid-2006, after Israel bombed the territory’s only power plant. The crisis was then compounded by the political disputes between Hamas and Fatah and issues surrounding importing the industrial fuel required for the movements’ operations. Electricity is provided for eight hours a day, and is periodically cut for another eight hours. Many Gazans have started to rely on solar energy to generate electricity as a replacement for other methods, such as generators that operate on fuel imported from Israel…
In divided Iraq, Sunnis fleeing Anbar find restive refuge in Shiite holy city (Washington Post) The plush accommodation halls on the outskirts of the southern Iraqi city of Karbala, normally reserved for visiting Shiite pilgrims, now teem with displaced Sunnis fleeing violence in the Western province of Anbar. There and elsewhere, sectarian tensions are brewing as Iraq spirals into the worst cycle of violence it has experienced in years. But here, in one of the holiest cities for Shiite Muslims, Sunni children play on brightly painted swings as families gather in the waning winter light beside clipped magnolia-lined lawns…
Drive-by shooters kill 5 police at Egypt checkpoint (Los Angeles Times) Drive-by assailants gunned down five police officers at a checkpoint in the south of Egypt early Thursday, state media reported, in the most serious attack against security forces in nearly a month. In addition to the five killed, two officers were wounded in the attack in the governorate of Beni Suief, about 80 miles south of the capital, the Interior Ministry said. The attack took place two days before the anniversary of the start of the 2011 uprising against authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak — a date that is also a holiday honoring the country’s police. Tens of thousands of police and soldiers were to be deployed to stave off any unrest…
22 January 2014
Tags: Iraq Egypt Ukraine Gaza Strip/West Bank Ecumenism
Godmothers in Palayur, India, get ready for group baptism on the ‘First Sunday.’ (photo: Jose Jacob)
The winter issue of ONE is now online. Our cover story focuses on the thriving faith of Palayur, India, where St. Thomas is believed to have introduced Christianity some 2,000 years ago. Celebrations on the First Sunday of every month continue to pass on the faith:
One of the most important events on the First Sunday is the celebration of baptism at the Thaliya Kulam. Families arrive from all across Kerala. Godmothers sit with the children in their laps, with godfathers, parents and relatives standing behind. From the baptismal font in the pond, Father Koonamplackal invites godparents to bring the candidates up one by one. …
From across Kerala, others continue to be drawn to the site, called by a spiritual allure they cannot quite put into words. The sacristan says some parishioners who had left Palayur now feel something is missing. They tell him they want to come back.
Professor Menachery says such testimonies are part of Palayur’s power — and a testament to the deep and enduring faith it inspires, which has truly stood the test of time. That, he explains, is part of what makes Palayur unique.
“It is doubtful,” he says, “whether there are many places in the world that could claim a similar continuous Christian presence for nearly two millennia.”
Read more about Palayur in 2,000 Years and Counting from the Winter issue of ONE.
22 January 2014
Tags: India Kerala Indian Christians ONE magazine Thomas Christians
A clergyman holds a religious picture during a rally by pro-European Union protesters in Kiev, Ukraine, on 21 January. Ukrainian Catholic Church leaders appealed for calm as violent protests escalated after a government crackdown. (photo: CNS/Gleb Garanich, Reuters)
Ukraine protests: Two protesters killed in Kiev clashes (BBC) Two protesters have been killed in clashes with police in the Ukrainian capital Kiev. Prosecutors confirmed they had died from bullet wounds. They are the first fatalities since protests began in November at the government’s rejection of a planned treaty with the European Union. Wednesday’s clashes began after police moved in to dismantle a protest camp. President Viktor Yanukovych held a three-hour meeting with opposition leaders to discuss the crisis. No further details have been released about the talks, but correspondents say Mr. Yanukovych is unlikely to give in to the opposition’s call for snap elections…
The bishops express their appreciation for the new constitution (Fides) The new Egyptian constitution, which was approved with a majority of 98 percent of the vote in the referendum held on 14 and 15 January, was greeted with satisfaction by the Coptic Catholic bishops. According to Kyrillos William Samaan, Coptic Catholic bishop of Assiut; Antonios Aziz Mina, bishop of Giza; and Joannes Zakaria, bishop of Luxor, church leaders appreciate the fact that the new Constitution guarantees the fundamental rights of all Egyptians, regardless of race, religion, gender or age…
Hope in Montreux? A starting point for peace in Syria (Der Spiegel) Violence in Syria has been appalling in the run up to this week’s peace talks in Switzerland. To resolve the stalemate, representatives of the government and the rebels will begin seeking a political solution in talks set to begin on Wednesday in Montreux, Switzerland. There have also been talks behind the scenes, both between the two sides and between the United States and Russia. Still, civilians are now even worse off than before…
Pope Francis’ message to World Economic Forum in Davos (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has sent a message to participants at the World Economic Forum which opens in the Swiss resort city of Davos on Tuesday evening. Catholic Church leaders are among those taking part in the four-day meeting. In the message, Pope Francis says it’s important to praise the steps being taken to improve people’s welfare in areas of health care, education and communications and to recognize the fundamental role that modern business activity plays in bringing about these changes. Nonetheless, he says, the successes which have been achieved have often led to widespread social exclusion and too many men and women still experience the dramatic consequences of daily insecurity…
In the center of Jerusalem, anti-Christian graffiti (Patriarchate of Jerusalem) The website of Quds Net News Agency, on 10 January 2014, showed pictures of graffiti from a few days ago, written in Hebrew on the walls of the Notre Dame Center, near the Christian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. According to the site, this is not the first time that graffiti “calling for the expulsion of Christians” has been discovered on the wall of an institution belonging to the Catholic Church, not to speak of other Christian institutions…
Organization says Israel plans 261 settler homes deep in West Bank (Daily Star Lebanon) Israel on Wednesday moved forward with plans for 261 new homes in two settlements located deep in the occupied West Bank, the Peace Now settlement watchdog said. The plans include 256 housing units in Nofei Prat settlement, between east Jerusalem and Jericho, and another five in the sprawling Ariel settlement in the north, the group said. Construction would be allowed to start “without further political approval or public awareness,” it added. It was the fifth such move in just over two weeks and raised to 2,791 the number of new settler homes announced since the start of the year…
21 January 2014
Tags: Egypt Pope Francis Ukraine Syrian Civil War Holy Land
In this image from last March, Pope Francis walks with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople at the Vatican. (photo: CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano via Catholic Press Photo)
This week marks the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Pope Francis spoke about the subject on Friday:
Pope Francis said the evangelization of secular society requires focusing on the essentials of Christianity in collaboration with other Christian churches.
The pope made his remarks on 17 January at a meeting with representatives of the Lutheran Church in Finland, who were making their annual ecumenical pilgrimage to Rome on the feast of Finland’s patron, St. Henry. The meeting occurred one day before the start of the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
Pope Francis told the group that ecumenical relations lately have been undergoing “significant changes, owing above all to the fact that we find ourselves professing our faith in the context of societies and cultures every day more lacking in reference to God and all that recalls the transcendent dimension of life.”
“For this very reason, our witness must concentrate on the center of our faith, on the announcement of the love of God made manifest in Christ his son,” the pope said. “Here we find space to grow in communion and in unity, promoting spiritual ecumenism.”
Pope Francis quoted the Second Vatican Council’s decree on ecumenism, which described “spiritual ecumenism” as consisting of “conversion of heart and holiness of life, together with private and public prayer for Christian unity,” which form the “soul of the whole ecumenical movement.”
In the Summer issue of ONE, the Rev. Elias Mallon wrote about ecumenism:
It has been almost 50 years since the publication of the Decree on Ecumenism. It would be a mistake to underestimate the tremendous progress that has been made as Christians come to a deeper understanding of what we believe as we work toward the unity willed by Christ. That is not, however, a call to self-satisfaction.
As recently as the General Audience of 18 January 2012, the first day of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, Pope Benedict XVI said “the ecumenical task is a responsibility of the entire church and of all the baptized.”
He recognized that “since the birth of the ecumenical movement more than a century ago, there has always been a clear awareness that the lack of unity among Christians is an obstacle to a more effective proclamation of the Gospel.” But, the pope added: “The fundamental truths of the faith unite us more than they divide us.”
A long and challenging road lies ahead to complete Christian unity. But it is a road Pope Francis seems eager to travel. In addressing the delegation of the ecumenical patriarchate in Rome for the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul in late June, Pope Francis stressed that “the search for unity among Christians is an urgent task — you have said that ‘it is not a luxury, but an imperative’ — that, today more than ever, we cannot put aside.”
Read more on the issue of ecumenism in the Summer 2013 issue of ONE.
21 January 2014
Tags: Pope Francis Ecumenism Christian Unity Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I
A pro-European Union protester throws an object during clashes with Ukrainian riot police in Kiev, Ukraine, on 19 January. Ukrainian Catholic Church leaders appealed for calm as violent protests escalated after a government crackdown. (photo: /Valentyn Ogirenko, Reuters)
Ukrainian Major Archbishop calls for peace (Vatican Radio) The head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, is calling on Ukrainians to join in prayers for peace and unity as they celebrate the Divine Liturgy on 22 January — the anniversary of Ukrainian independence in 1918. “With great dismay and sadness we witness the events taking place at the moment in Kyiv,” he said, “In view of these exceptional circumstances I would like to appeal to all the faithful of the church, the Ukrainian people, and to all people of good will. In the name of God, stop the bloodshed! Violence was never the way to build a free and independent state! Bloodshed will never reconcile hearts or bring a positive outcome.” The call comes in response to the recent episodes of violence surrounding the once-peaceful protests in the streets of Kiev. Police and protestors have clashed over the past two nights as government forces attempted to break up protests and dismantle barricades leading to government offices. Monday’s riots followed a night of violence that already left as many as 130 people injured. Protesters threw rocks and stun grenades, while police responded with tear gas…
No shrines in Maaloula untouched by war (Pravoslavie) A radical Islamist group that occupied the small Christian town of Maaloula in Syria late in 2013 desecrated absolutely all shrines of the town, reports Al Hadas portal with the reference to materials of the Al Akhbar Lebanese newspaper. According to eyewitnesses who fled Maaloula during the latest warfare in the region, members of Al Nusra completely destroyed some churches and damaged or ransacked others. The extremists blew up the statue of Christ the Savior, which had stood at the entrance of the Monastery of St. Tekla, as well as the statue of the Virgin Mary…
Alleged Syrian detainee torture photos called a ‘smoking gun’ (Christian Science Monitor) A team of former war crimes prosecutors claim to have found a “smoking gun” that proves that the regime of Syrian President Bashar al Assad tortured and killed its opponents. In a report released Monday to the Guardian and CNN, the prosecutors said they found “direct evidence” of “systematic torture and killing,” based on the analysis of over 26,000 images smuggled out of Syria by a defector who says he was a military police photographer. The pictures show thousands of dead prisoners, many of whom appeared to be emaciated, strangled, or beaten. “Ultimately, the validity of our conclusions turn on the integrity of the people involved,” said Sir Desmond de Silva, chair of the panel assigned to investigate the images. “We, the team, were very conscious of the fact there are competing interests in the Syrian crisis — both national and international. We were very conscious of that. We approached our task with a certain amount of skepticism, bearing that in mind…”
Deadly suicide bombing hits Shia suburb in Beirut (Al Jazeera) A suicide bomber killed four people Tuesday in a southern Beirut suburb known for its support of the Shiite military and political group Hezbollah, security sources said, as violence continues to spill across the border from Syria and inflame tensions between Lebanon’s Sunni and Shiite communities. The target of the attack was not immediately clear. The bomb went off on a busy street with small shops and restaurants in the Haret Hreik area of Beirut’s largely Shiite southern suburbs, near an area where a similar bombing killed five people earlier this month. Tensions from the nearly three-year-old conflict in neighboring Syria have increasingly affected Lebanon, which is still recovering from its own 1975-1990 civil war and has been without a fully functioning government since March…
Cardinal Koch on Christian Unity and Jewish-Catholic relations (Vatican Radio) The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is being celebrated by many Churches in the northern hemisphere from 18-25 January, focusing this year on a provocative question from St. Paul to the early Christian community in Corinth: “Has Christ been divided?” Resources for this annual event have been developed by an ecumenical group of Christians in Canada and are available on the websites of both the Vatican’s Council for Christian Unity and World Council of Churches…
Report: Egypt’s Sisi to quit post in a few days to run for president (Jerusalem Post) Egypt’s military chief, General Abdel Fattah al Sisi, plans to resign from his post in the coming days in order to run for president with the army’s backing, an Arab newspaper reported on Tuesday. General Sisi came to the decision “in light of wide popular demands, in addition to signs of Arab approval, especially from the Gulf,” an informed source told the London-based Al Hayat newspaper. The source also said that Sisi made his decision after carefully studying expected “Western reactions, especially American,” to his potential candidacy, and saw that the Pentagon welcomed the move. The presidential election would be held in March, the report speculated…
Durocher struck by Christian-Muslim relations in Holy Land (Catholic Register) The president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops said instead of signs of hope in the Holy Land, he found hope-filled people serving despite the difficulties. “The situation itself is quite, in many ways, depressing, and seems unsolvable,” said Archbishop Paul-André Durocher. “In spite of that men and women, Christians, Catholics, continue to be involved, gather, celebrate and do good to the people around them. I was particularly impressed by the openness of relationships with Muslims they share living conditions with, and the great respect many Muslims have for the Christians who are a tiny minority but do incredible good there. … Continually, the refrain was: ‘Do not forget us, and pray for us.’ ” The archbishop was among a delegation of bishops from Europe, South Africa and North America who participated in the annual Holy Land Coordination meeting mandated by the Holy See 11-16 January…
17 January 2014
Tags: Syria Egypt Ukraine Beirut Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk
Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, CNEWA’s Rev. Elias D. Mallon, Imam Khalid Latif, the Rev. Chloe Breyer and the V. Rev. Leonid Kishkovsky discuss current trends in religious freedom across the globe. (photo: courtesy of the United Nations)
If you want to know the state of religious freedom at the start of this new year, I got a revealing and sobering glimpse yesterday at the United Nations.
I took part in a panel discussion to observe Religious Freedom Day. It coincided with a Pew Report released earlier this week: “Religious Hostilities Reach Six-Year High.” The panel consisted of the V. Rev. Leonid Kishkovsky of the Orthodox Church of America; Dr. Brian Grim of Pew Research Center; Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, executive vice president of the New York Board of Rabbis; the Rev. Chloe Breyer, an Episcopal priest and director of the Interfaith Center of New York; Imam Khalid Latif, director of the Islam Center at NYU; and me, representing CNEWA.
The Pew Report employs two important ways of measuring religious freedom or lack thereof around the world: government restrictions and societal hostilities. Over the past several years each of the Pew Reports has shown increasing government restrictions and societal hostilities against (usually minority) religions. The most recent report shows an alarming increase in societal hostilities, including incidences where people have been killed for their faith.
In my paper, I offered several observations.
First, it seems to me that the notion of religion is not necessarily clear. When many people speak of religion they have an image of a Christian church with a clear organizational structure, with official spokespersons, etc. That is not the case with other — indeed, most — religions. Religions and faith traditions such as Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism, to say nothing of indigenous religions, are far less centrally organized than the average western, Christian church or denomination. Therefore, it is not always clear what a religion is or what its “borders” are. In its language about freedom of religion, the U.N. reflects this ambiguity by referring routinely to “freedom of religion or belief” without indicating what, if anything, the distinction might be.
Secondly, I noted that the majority of countries experiencing increased governmental restrictions and society hostilities were those that use some type of religious marker in their self-identification. In almost no country were these restrictions and hostilities directed at all religions; it is usually the religious freedom of only some religions that is compromised or threatened. The government isn’t always the only antagonist, either. In many, if not most, cases there are clear elements of religion vs. religion involved.
The problem is often one of conflicting rights. When the legitimate rights of one group or one individual conflict with the legitimate rights of another, there are few if any mechanisms to solve the conflict while at the same time respecting the rights and religious freedom of those involved. Further, the dichotomy of government/religion is too facile; governments and religion very often overlap.
These problems are both complicated and urgent. Even though the international community has spoken about freedom of religion since the 1948 U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Pew Studies indicate that the situation is in fact deteriorating.
Perhaps the time is right for research into how competing rights claims can be settled for the sake of the common good without compromising people’s fundamental rights.
17 January 2014
Tags: United Nations religious freedom Religious Diversity
Samples of raw coffee beans undergo a series of tests at a laboratory in Dire Dawa. Coffee is a vibrant and important part of Ethiopian culture. To learn more, read Brewed to Perfection from the November 2011 issue of ONE. (photo: Peter Lemieux)
Tags: Ethiopia Cultural Identity Farming/Agriculture