16 September 2013
Anna Valavanal (left) and her sister, Irin, visit the Deivadan sisters and residents in Thankamany. (photo: Peter Lemieux)
In 2010, we paid a visit to the Deivadan Home in Kerala, to meet the remarkable sisters caring for the elderly. We discovered the residents sometimes get unexpected visitors:
Siji Valavanal and her two daughters visit the Deivadan Home in Thankamany, in the Idukki District, a few afternoons each week. Established four years ago, the home takes in abandoned elderly women. On those days, Mrs. Valavanal picks up her daughters, 5-year-old Anna and 12-year-old Irin, from school and takes them to the market, where they purchase sacks of rice, tapioca, vegetables and other staples. They then head over to the Deivadan Home, knock on the door and offer the groceries. But more important for Mrs. Valavanal, she and her daughters stay awhile and visit with some of the residents.
Anna, wearing a bright pink-checkered dress, and Irin, wearing a pretty green dress, approach the bedside of a reclining resident. The frail woman sits up, reaches her hands out and clutches Irin’s hands. Irin smiles. She then gently caresses Anna’s cheeks. Anna blushes. The elderly woman beams.
On any given day, visitors drop in unannounced. Some bring sacks of rice, while others offer financial support. Together, as a community, they keep afloat these homes for the abandoned elderly. Some, such as Mrs. Valavanal and her daughters, have adopted the residents as additional parents and grandparents and stop by regularly.
“We’re happy when we come here. We sit and enjoy their company, feel their pain and hear their problems,” explains Mrs. Valavanal.
“Nowadays, society is always looking at the top level, not the low levels. Most people want to make relations with those with status, not to serve those in need. I want to create in my daughters’ minds the desire to serve others,” she says, echoing the wisdom of Father Kaippenplackal’s mother. For that lesson, Mrs. Valavanal could not have found her daughters better teachers than the Deivadan Sisters.
Read more about women with Fearless Grace in the July 2010 issue of ONE.
16 September 2013
Tags: India Sisters Caring for the Elderly Women in India
A damaged Syriac Catholic Church is pictured in Homs, Syria, on 15 September. (photo: CNS/Yazen Homsy, Reuters)
Maaloula’s cathedral and churches empty of Christians amid fighting (The Telegraph) On Sunday thousands of Christians should have filled its streets for the festival of the Holy Cross. But instead, the streets of Maaloula are filled with soldiers and tanks, spent bullet casings and the noise of Syria’s latest front-line fight. Maaloula is a special place. It has been a safe haven for Christians for 2,000 years — until now. It was a place of refuge so secure in its rugged mountain isolation that a dialect of the language of Christ, Aramaic, is still spoken here. But now, its Christian community of 2,000 has fled. In the tight alleyways and streets that wind up the Maaloula’s mountainside their language has been replaced by the Arabic of two bitter enemies: rebels from three Islamist groups and the soldiers of President Bashar al Assad…
U.N. finds ‘clear and convincing evidence’ of Syria chemical attack (Los Angeles Times) United Nations inspectors say there is “clear and convincing evidence” that chemical weapons were used on a relatively large scale in an attack last month in Syria that killed hundreds of people. A report from the inspectors says “the environmental, chemical and medical samples we have collected provide clear and convincing evidence that surface-to-surface rockets containing the nerve agent sarin were used … in the Ghouta area of Damascus” on 21 August…
Despite chemical weapons talks, fighting in Syria escalated (Washington Post) As negotiations to avert a U.S. strike against Syria ramped up last week, so, too, did the action on the ground. Warplanes dropped bombs over far-flung Syrian towns that hadn’t seen airstrikes in weeks, government forces went on the attack in the hotly contested suburbs of Damascus, rebels launched an offensive in the south, and a historic Christian town changed hands at least four times…
Some wounded Syrians treated in Israel (NPR) The wounded arrive from Syrian clinics with day-old injuries, rudimentary stitches and amputations. Some are women and children; others are adult men, some thought to be rebel fighters. Israel has helped about 200 of the injured across the border for medical treatment. No matter their role in the fighting, the Syrians have come here at great risk: They could face arrest or worse if Syria ever found out they visited Israel. Most of the Syrian patients here are alone — no family or friends by their side. They don’t risk calling or emailing their families in Syria, either…
Chaldean patriarch to Church of the East: let us go back to full unity (Fides) The Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans Louis Raphael I sent a letter of congratulations to the Patriarch of the Church of the East Mar Dinkha IV on the occasion of his 78th birthday, celebrated on 15 September. In the congratulatory message, Patriarch Louis Raphael extended an eloquent official invitation to start a path of dialogue together to restore full ecclesial communion between the Chaldean community — together with the bishop of Rome — and the Church of the East. “I take this opportunity, to express the desire of the Chaldean Church to begin dialogue for unity, which is the desire of Jesus. The beginning of this dialogue is urgent today, in the face of great challenges that threaten our survival. Without unity, there is no future for us…”
Pope receives Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem (VIS) The pope held an audience with members of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem participating in a pilgrimage to Rome to mark the Year of Faith on Friday afternoon. “The Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem has a history dating back almost a thousand years; yours is one of the most ancient welfare and charitable Orders still active today,” said Pope Francis…
Meeting of the Latin bishops of the Arab world (Fides) On 17 September, the ordinary meeting of the representatives of the Conference of Latin Bishops in the Arab Regions — the body that brings together the Catholic bishops of the Latin Church in the Arab states of the Middle East, Egypt and Somalia — will begin in Rome. The meetings will focus on the latest initiatives planned for the Year of Faith and the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council. The liaison body of the bishops of the Latin Church in the Arab countries was established in 1967 to promote collegiality and communion among local churches…
13 September 2013
Tags: Syrian Civil War Violence against Christians Ecumenism Christian Unity United Nations
In Lebanon, strong coffee sweetened to taste is served in the traditional manner. (photo: Marilyn Raschka)
In 2002, we introduced readers to some of the customs surrounding food and dining in Lebanon:
Coffee is a household essential. It is served if a visitor has stopped by just to say hello and it is also served following a meal. The serving of coffee signals “time to leave” so gracious hosts delay serving it. And no guest would leave before receiving it.
At weddings, coffee is served sweet, but it is also served unsweetened at funerals to show grief.
When at home, guests are asked how they prefer their coffee — the answers reflect the amount of sugar to be added. For the sake of ease, the Lebanese will often serve a pot of unsweetened coffee and include a tiny sugar bowl on the tray as cups are passed around to the guests. With the last sip, guests will put down their cups and say, which is a very short version of the above proverb.
Excavations in Beirut have unearthed coffee cups that date to the 16th century. The Arabic has been westernized to coffee and the word comes from the Red Sea port of Mocka, in Yemen.
Coffee still plays an important role in trade and business in Lebanon. There is no such thing as a business meeting without coffee being served. The big brew in the little cup accompanies the exchange of pleasantries that kick off the meeting.
In times past, it was considered disrespectful to refuse a cup of coffee. It was like refusing a handshake. There are Lebanese who do not drink coffee, but it is still considered good manners to give an explanation for one’s refusal. There is no decaffeinated Lebanese coffee, so refusing coffee in the evening is acceptable.
Read more Food for Thought.
13 September 2013
Tags: Lebanon Cultural Identity
In this 26 August photograph, a Coptic Orthodox bishop surveys the damaged evangelical church in Minya. Egypt’s interim government condemns all the attacks on Christian properties, calling them the “work of terrorists,” and blaming them on the Muslim Brotherhood and other groups supportive of ousted leader Mohammed Morsi. (photo: CNS/Louafi Larbi, Reuters)
In Minya, Islamists hold a Protestant church as a mosque (AsiaNews) The Christian community of Monshaat Baddini in the province of Samalout report that Islamists have occupied a local Protestant church since 14 August. The police never intervened to stop them. For almost a month, no Christian has been allowed to enter. According to local sources, the Islamists have removed all sacred fixtures and icons. On the wall of the church an inscription reads: “mosque of martyrs.” In Delga city of the province of Minya, Islamists have created a kind of parallel state — to survive, Christians must pay “jizya,” a tax imposed upon non-Muslims…
Coptic refugee from Minya finds comfort in pope’s words (AsiaNews) “I saw the pope at the Astalli Center. Meeting him and listening to his words comforted me, especially now, after I escaped from Egypt. At the moment, I do not think I can go back. I have beautiful memories that will always stay with me, but there is no place for me in my land,” said George, a 27-year-old Copt who in August fled from Minya, Egypt, the region most affected by the violence unleashed by Islamists after the overthrow of Mohammed Morsi. On 10 August, Islamists blew up the supermarket owned by George and his family, threatening to kill him and his loved ones. After his escape, he spent the past month in Rome, waiting for his application for political asylum to be accepted by Italian authorities…
Egyptian Coptic emigrants adapt to life in U.S. (PBS Newshour) Mary, a 29-year-old Coptic Christian from Minya, Egypt, who asked to be identified by only her first name while she works to get permanent resident status, and her husband originally went to Saudi Arabia after leaving Egypt. But coming from Minya, which has one of Egypt’s largest Coptic Christian populations, they didn’t feel at home in Saudi Arabia, where they couldn’t find any Coptic churches. Instead, they traveled to the United States and connected with the growing Coptic community in the Washington, D.C., area. The growing Egyptian population has led to record attendance at St. Mark Coptic Orthodox Church in Fairfax, Virginia…
Commentary: The United States should welcome war refugees (Al Jazeera) In the American debate over whether President Obama should intervene militarily in Syria or adopt a Russian proposal to eliminate the country’s chemical weapons, there is one important group that has received little attention: Syria’s approximately 2 million refugees and 4.25 million internally displaced citizens. The United States has long offered sanctuary for those fleeing political persecution or humanitarian crises. Syrians fleeing the war, however, have not experienced such kindness…
Russian Orthodox Church seeks to heal centuries-old schism (RIA Novosti) Russia’s dominant Orthodox Church said Friday it would discuss a draft document that will “heal” a schism with some of the smaller Russian Christian denominations known collectively as Old Believers. An expert on religions in Russia hailed the document as a “timely” effort by the increasingly powerful Russian Orthodox Church, but some of the Old Believers are wary the initiative. The Old Believers split from the mainstream Russian Orthodox Church after a reform initiated by Moscow Patriarch Nikon in the 1650s. The reform sought to clarify service texts, the spelling of Jesus’ name in the Cyrillic alphabet and other rituals such as the number of fingers believers should use when crossing themselves…
12 September 2013
Tags: Egypt Refugees Syrian Civil War United States Russian Orthodox Church
(video: Rome Reports)
The Crusades, for better or worse, get a bad rap. Yet, there were some positive initiatives that surfaced — among them, the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. An ancient knighthood of the Catholic Church, its members are charged by the pope with supporting the apostolic activities of the church throughout the Middle East, especially the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem.
This week, the leadership of the order is gathering in Rome. This report from Rome highlights some of the discussions underway, including the broadening of its mandate to reach out to Iraq, Syria and Turkey.
Michael J.L. La Civita is CNEWA’s chief communications officer and a knight commander of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem.
12 September 2013
Tags: Jerusalem Catholic Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem Rome
Copts attend a liturgy at St. Simon the Tanner Church, carved out of a cave in Egypt. (photo: Dana Smillie)
The popular web site Amusing Planet this week paid a visit to one of the most unusual churches in the world, the “cave church” of the Zabbaleen in Egypt:
Egypt is a Muslim-majority country, but the Zabbaleen are mainly Coptic Christians. Christian communities are rare in Egypt, so the Zabbaleen prefer to stay in Mokattam within their own religious community, even though many of them can afford houses elsewhere.
The local Coptic Church in Mokattam Village was established in 1975. After the establishment of the church, the Zabbaleen felt more secure in their location and only then began to use more permanent building materials, such as stone and bricks, for their homes. Given their previous experience of eviction from Giza in 1970, the Zabbaleen had lived in temporary tin huts up till that point. In 1976, a large fire broke out in Manshiyat Nasir, which led to the beginning of the construction of the first church below the Mokattam mountain on a site of 1,000 square meters. Several more churches have been built into the caves found in Mokattam, of which the Monastery of St. Simon the Tanner is the largest, with a seating capacity of 20,000. In fact, the Cave Church of St. Simon in Mokattam is the largest church in the Middle East.
In our magazine, we profiled the life of the Zabbaleen last year:
The Nagib family lives in Manshiyat Naser — also known as Garbage City — an impoverished Coptic Christian neighborhood nestled in the jutting desert cliffs that rise above Cairo’s bustling streets. Called Zabbaleen, or “garbage people” in Arabic, most hail from the rural province of Assiut, 250 miles to the south. For generations, the Zabbaleen have served as Cairo’s de facto garbage collectors, earning a meager living hauling away city dwellers’ trash and recycling anything salvageable.
To spend time with the Nagib family is to witness in microcosm the struggles of an entire class of people — and to realize that they are struggling not just to salvage what others discard, but also to salvage dignity and a way of life.
Devout Christians, most residents in Manshiyat Naser attend services at St. Simon the Tanner, a Coptic church carved out of the face of a cliff dominating the neighborhood.
Though some parishioners wish the church could do more for the community, the parish offers relief. For instance, it provides material assistance to orphans, widows and disabled persons. And it runs a nursery school, which enrolls some 500 boys and girls from the neighborhood.
Read more about Salvaging Dignity in Cairo in the September 2012 issue of ONE.
12 September 2013
Tags: Egypt Cultural Identity Village life Coptic Christians Copts
Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theodoros II of Alexandria visits Coptic Pope Tawadros II on 4 September. To learn more about the respective churches they lead, see our profiles of the Orthodox Patriarchal Church of Alexandria and All Africa and the Coptic Orthodox Church. (photo: The Coptic Orthodox Church)
Pope Tawadros II resumes public catechesis (Fides) After suspending his public catechesis for ten weeks due to the clashes that rocked Egypt following Muhammad Morsi’s removal from the presidency, Coptic Pope Tawadros II yesterday returned to host the traditional Wednesday audience in the Coptic Orthodox Cathedral of St. Mark in Cairo. “The world is saved because it is in God’s hands, and Egypt has a special place in his heart,” he said. “Let us not allow hatred and hostility to penetrate our hearts…”
Iraq’s cold war leaves country on edge (Christian Science Monitor) During Iraq’s brutal civil war, which began in 2006 and dragged on for more than two years, Shiites and Sunnis squared off, leaving tens of thousands dead. The rival factions never completely reconciled. During last spring’s election, Shiite politician and cleric Muqtada al Sadr allied with Sunni political blocs to successfully challenge Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki’s ruling party — a brief glimmer of hope that Iraq was edging toward reconciliation. But several months later and after levels of violence not seen since 2008, most Iraqis say the political union was more of a statement about both groups’ dislike of Mr. Maliki than an actual desire to work with one another. Now, many Iraqis fear that their civil war never really ended — instead, it just morphed into a cold war that leaves the nation vulnerable to a renewal of sectarian violence. The Syrian war next door to Iraq has also helped to drudge up a number of dormant sectarian issues…
Battle for Syria Christian town of Maaloula continues (BBC) A BBC correspondent in Syria has said the battle for an ancient Christian town is continuing, despite reports that government forces had retaken it. Jeremy Bowen said that a heavy gunfight with rebels was continuing in Maaloula, with smoke rising into the sky. He added that he had not seen evidence confirming religious sites had been damaged by Al Qaeda-linked jihadists…
Syrian opposition fails to reassure Syrian Christians (Al Monitor) Syrian Christians as a whole have not thrown their support behind either side in the Syrian war. Nevertheless, Christians in Syria have been subjected to a lot of pressure by both the regime and the opposition, which failed to give them — or any religious or ethnic Syrian component — any assurances or support. Some armed groups have accused the church of supporting the regime. And many of the opposition’s statements and video clips do not reassure minorities that they will be participants in the new Syria…
First Syrian refugees land in Germany (Der Spiegel) Some are injured, some are traumatized, but all have been forced to flee. A million Syrians have left their country because of the civil war. Germany has agreed to offer temporary asylum to 5,000, and the first refugees took off for Hanover on Wednesday…
Maronite patriarch inaugurates church in Romania (Daily Star Lebanon) Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter will visit Romania Thursday for meetings with senior Romanian officials and the inauguration of St. Charbel Church, the first Maronite parish in Eastern Europe. Patriarch Bechara Peter is also to hold meetings with members of the Lebanese community…
11 September 2013
Tags: Iraq Refugees Syrian Civil War Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II
Young seminarians practice chanting in Ge’ez in Ziway. (photo: Peter Lemieux)
In 2009, we paid a visit to the town of Ziway, Ethiopia, for a look at the local Orthodox seminary at a time of transition in the country:
Life in Ziway carries on much as it has for centuries. At the monastery, signs of traditional life abound. One priest shovels sun-baked cow patties onto a horse-drawn cart. Adolescent deacons in training sit in pairs near the lake shore studying Scripture. And huddled on wooden benches beneath a small grove of shady trees, some 20 young seminarians practice chanting. Their drones drown out the chirping birds.
The seminarians are guided by debteras, a class of learned men unique to the Ethiopian and Eritrean Orthodox churches. Debteras command respect: They function as catechists and participate as cantors in the celebration of the Qeddase, the eucharistic liturgy.
The seminarians and debteras chant in Ge’ez — the ancient liturgical language of the Ethiopian and Eritrean churches — which few people know.
Little about an Ethiopian Orthodox priest’s formation and rural lifestyle has changed over the centuries — at least until recently. Most Orthodox priests receive an education almost identical to that of the generations of priests before them. And most lead lives with their families in the countryside, surviving on subsistence farming and their parishioners’ meager offerings.
But as traditional agrarian Ethiopia develops and its increasingly better educated people leave their villages for the cities, many within the Ethiopian Orthodox community worry that its priests will no longer be relevant to the faithful they serve.
Read more about these seminarians in As It Was, So Shall It Remain?, in the September 2009 issue of ONE.
11 September 2013
Tags: Ethiopia Orthodox Ethiopian Orthodox Church Priests Seminarians
Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregory III, center right with red stole, celebrates the funeral liturgy of three men in Damascus, Syria, on 10 September. The men were killed during a raid by Syrian opposition fighters on the village of Maaloula northeast of Damascus on 7 September. (photo: CNS/Khaled al Hariri, Reuters)
Patriarch Gregory III: ‘Great leaders … know how to make peace’ (Fides) “The greatness of a leader is to seek peace and make peace, not to wage war and create destruction. A superpower is such if it is a power of peace,” says Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregory III. “The logic of violence is never the logic of wise people. … We call on all political leaders of the world to return to the Word of Jesus in the Gospel; this is enough to build a world of civilization, liberty, dignity, love and mercy…”
U.S.C.C.B. calls for negotiation, humanitarian assistance In Syria (U.S.C.C.B.) The Administrative Committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued an urgent call for a political solution to the crisis in Syria. The bishops issued the statement on the first day of their 10-11 September Administrative Committee meeting at the U.S.C.C.B. headquarters in Washington. The appeal followed a day of prayer and fasting for peace in Syria on September 7, which had been called for by Pope Francis. Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, U.S.C.C.B. president, and Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, U.S.C.C.B. International Justice and Peace chairman, wrote letters to President Obama and Congress, respectively, also urging that the United States not resort to military action…
Syria: Holy Land Bishop on fears of Christians in region (Vatican Radio) William Shomali, the auxiliary bishop of Jerusalem and the Palestinian territories, has been speaking out about possible foreign intervention in Syria. Bishop William says Christians across the Middle East do not want an international military strike on the regime of Bashar al Assad, fearing that regional chaos would ensue. Christians — and many Muslims, he suggests — are afraid fanatical elements within the rebel opposition would seek retaliation against those they see as supporters of the regime, while Christians have largely tried to stay neutral…
Patriarch Kirill: U.S. should heed unanimous religious leaders (Fides) On the eve of the 12th anniversary of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks, the Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill yesterday sent a message to President Barack Obama urging him to shelve plans for a military attack against Assad’s regime and to focus on diplomatic paths to stop the Syrian conflict, as has been suggested in recent days by leaders of all religious communities, starting with Pope Francis…
Syrian Christians pack passports fearing Islamist onslaught (Bloomberg) As the United States Congress debates a possible strike against Syrian President Bashar al Assad, Christians in and around Damascus say they face a double crisis. Like many other Damascenes, they fear an attack would lead to an escalation in the civil war rather than put an end to it, while they are also concerned about becoming a lightning rod for Muslim radicals. Salim Eid, a Christian who lives in an area of Homs under the control of Assad’s army, said the events in Maaloula reminded him of how his brother and other family members were forced by the rebels to vacate their homes and farms in Umm Sharshouh village in Homs Province earlier this year. Bishop George Abu Zakham said he was kicked out of his home in Homs last year along with about 85,000 Christians by extremist rebels. He said Christians in suburbs around Damascus were also displaced in the same way…
Arab world’s religious leaders urge common ground at Jordan conference (al-shorfa.com) Some 70 high-ranking church leaders and Muslim clerics from across the region and world met in Jordan last week to promote common ground among followers of the various religions and sects in the Middle East. Titled “Challenges facing Arab Christians,” the 3-4 September conference urged tolerance, peace and moderation and sought to address challenges facing Christians in the region as well as highlight their important contribution to Arab and Islamic civilizations. Participants included Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch of Antioch Gregory III — a Syrian national — who called for the organization of a global campaign to urge peace in Syria, and Patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church of Babylon Mar Louis Raphael I, who spoke to the current situation in Iraq…
10 September 2013
Tags: Middle East Christians Syrian Civil War Patriarch Kirill Melkite Patriarch Gregory III of Antioch U.S.C.C.B.
Mustafa Abu Bekir, 23, is carried by a family member as they enter Turkey from the Turkish Cilvegozu border gate on 9 September. (photo: CNS/Umit Bektas, Reuters)
The crisis in Syria has raised more concerns about refugees, many of whom have fled to neighboring countries.
From Catholic News Service:
Tanil Kahiaian, a refugee from the Syrian city of Aleppo, said he is doing what he can for the others fleeing his country. He, his wife and two children escaped the Syrian war almost a year ago, and since he has watched “tens of thousands” pour into neighboring Turkey as he did.
“It is so difficult for me to see this, their poverty. I am donating clothes from my work,” Kahiaian told Catholic News Service 8 September from near his home in Istanbul’s Kumkapi district.
Kahiaian said he considered himself among the fortunate refugees here, because he came with money, was being lodged by Istanbul’s Armenian Orthodox community, and was able to quickly get a job with an Armenian clothing firm in Turkey because of his numerous languages.
“I speak Turkish and I am doing for them a lot of business in Turkish clothes with Arabic countries. But the people on the border have nothing,” he said. “If there are [air] strikes on Syria, their numbers will be more.”
The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees announced 3 September that more than 2 million Syrians have fled to neighboring countries in search of security since the conflict began in 2011. About a million are reportedly children.
Turkey’s government is providing basic needs and some education to an estimated 200,000 Syrians in 20 different humanitarian camps along its 560-mile border with Syria. But as many as 260,000 other Syrians are living in other areas in Turkey, including Istanbul, where they often depend mostly on help from private aid groups, according to the U.N.
“We are getting more and more [Syrians] by the day,” said a Christian aid group official in Istanbul, who requested anonymity due to Turkish laws that officially forbid — but tolerate — religious institutions from performing humanitarian work in the country.
Read more about the plight of Syrian refugees at this link.
And visit our Emergency: Syria page to learn how you can help.
Tags: Refugees Syrian Civil War Emigration Refugee Camps Aleppo