15 January 2013
Father John Ariekal leads a congregation of Dalits in Pappala in prayer. (photo: Peter Lemieux)
In the current issue of the magazine, we visit India and meet the Christian Dalits, the “untouchable” caste facing discrimination and fighting for equality:
The highest caste, the Brahmin, traditionally pursued religious vocations and served as priests and spiritual leaders. They also made, upheld and taught the law. Ranked second is the Kshatriya caste, to which warriors and the military elite belonged. Next in rank is the Vaishya caste, which traditionally included cattle herders, merchants, traders and some artisans. Ranked fourth is the Shudra caste, made up of artisans, farmers and laborers.
At the very bottom of the caste system are the Dalits, below more than 3,000 sub-castes. Considered subhuman and “untouchable” until the 19th century, Dalits were treated as slaves to upper castes — denied even the most basic civil, political, economic and social rights.
The Dalits’ untouchable status dictated where they could live, work, worship, eat, collect water and even walk or sit in public places. They could only socialize and marry within their caste. They were prohibited from receiving an education, including learning to read and write. And for centuries, they were required to hide themselves in the event members of Brahmin caste approached, so as not to pollute their purity.
India gained independence from British rule in 1947, and in 1950 the Constitution of India took effect. The Constitution prohibits discrimination based on caste or tribe, specifically enumerating the groups historically oppressed, including Dalits, in the provisions “Scheduled Castes” and “Scheduled Tribes.” About a quarter of India’s 1.2 billion people belongs to one of these scheduled castes and tribes.
The Constitution also stipulates for “Reservation,” a system of affirmative action that sets aside a certain number of positions in government and enrollment slots in public universities for members of the scheduled castes and tribes. Yet despite legal protections and reservation, caste-based discrimination persists throughout the subcontinent.
“It’s very hard to be a Dalit,” says Dr. Simon John, chairman of the Backward People Development Corporation and a Christian who lives in Pathanamthitta, a predominantly non-Dalit area in the central Travancore region of Kerala. “I don’t face the first degree of untouchability as my father faced. They don’t ask me to step aside. Nowadays, they just ignore you. They don’t recognize your presence wherever you are. I face it at the higher levels, because of my family tradition, my education and where I live. But still my problem is the passive attitude, off-hand comments, non-recognition of my existence in my student days, my work days and even at present.
Read more about India’s Christian Untouchables in the November 2012 issue of ONE.
15 January 2013
Tags: India Syro-Malankara Catholic Church Indian Christians Indian Catholics
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In this 2010 photograph, Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal of Jerusalem waves after celebrating Mass at the cathedral in Valparaiso, Chile, on 8 November. (photo: CNS/Eliseo Fernandez, Reuters)
Patriarch Twal urges democratic participation among Jordanians (Fides) Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal has sent a message to the “dear children” of Jordan in view of the upcoming parliamentary elections, scheduled for 23 January. In the message, the patriarch thanked King Abdullah II for ensuring that all citizens are able to exercise their electoral rights enshrined in the Constitution, and recalls the words addressed by the king to Pope Benedict XVI in May 2009, during the papal visit to Jordan: “The sons of our people, Muslims and Christians are equal citizens before the law, and all are involved in shaping the future of our country.” Patriarch Twal notes that country, after the worship due to the one God, occupies a position of first importance, since dedication towards one’s country precedes and guarantees the protection of the legitimate interests of individuals or groups. “There is no contradiction between the worship of God and belonging to one’s own country.”
Georgian Orthodox Patriarch Ilia II’s ‘star power’ (Eurasianet.org) Georgia’s two squabbling rulers, the prime minister and the president, both need love — the love of the country’s spiritual leader, the guardian of national unity, the primus inter pares, Georgian Orthodox Patriarch Ilia II. A recent, seemingly playful exchange in which the president and prime minister bickered over whom the patriarch loved more showed rather clearly that Georgia’s political system is not a diarchy, but a triumvirate, and that secular leaders need to vie for the holy graces of the chief of the Georgian Orthodox Church. Georgians’ infatuation with their political leaders is pretty much a one-night stand; they tend to lose interest the moment leaders take office. But the patriarch always tops the national love charts. And, so, well aware of the patriarch’s star power, the civic leaders turned up at the celebrations that marked Orthodox New Year, plus Ilia II’s 80th birthday and the anniversary of his 1977 enthronement — “a celebration of love,” as the church leader himself put it.
Rapes and bombings drive half a million refugees out of Syria (Christian Science Monitor) The flood of refugees from Syria, driven by rampant bombings and the widespread use of rape as an instrument of terror, threatens to destabilize the Middle East. The Syrian government bombed areas around Damascus on Monday as part of its push to keep rebel fighters out of the capital, leaving many children among the dozens killed, anti-regime activists said. An international aid organization cited such raids, along with rape and widespread destruction, as key factors in the exodus of more than a half-million Syrians to neighboring countries since the conflict began in March 2011. The International Rescue Committee said it could be “months, if not years” before the refugees can return home and warned that Syria’s civil war could enflame tensions in the Middle East.
Coptic Christians fleeing Egypt following Islamist takeover (The Telegraph) Tens of thousands of Egyptian Christians are leaving the country in the wake of the Egyptian revolution and subsequent Islamist takeover of politics, priests and community leaders say. Coptic Christian churches in the United States say they are having to expand to cope with new arrivals, as priests in cities like Cairo and Alexandria talk of a new climate of fear and uncertainty. “Most of our people are afraid,” said Father Mina Adel, a priest at the Church of Two Saints in Alexandria. “Not a few are leaving — for America, Canada and Australia. Dozens of families from this church alone are trying to go too.” Father Mina’s church has an important place in the history of the Arab Spring. It was struck by a car bomb on New Year’s Eve 2010, Egypt’s worst sectarian attack in recent decades, in which 23 people were killed. After the bombing, liberal Muslim groups staged protests in support of Christians, printing posters showing the cross and the crescent interlinked which then went on to be symbols of inter-faith unity during the Tahrir Square protests three weeks later. But the victory of the Muslim Brotherhood in parliamentary and presidential elections has changed the mood — particularly as the biggest opposition party is the even more hardline Salafist movement which wants strict Sharia law implemented.
14 January 2013
Tags: Egypt Syrian Civil War Jordan Georgian Orthodox Church Patriarch Fouad Twal
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A Rosary sister greets a Bedouin child in the abandoned ruins of old Smakieh.
(photo: Tanya Habjouqa)
Last year, we visited the Christians of Jordan’s Kerak plateau, and found a resilient group of people held together by faith:
In the cramped living room of his house in the Jordanian village of Smakieh, 90-year-old Ghasan Hijazine sits among a small army of children, grandchildren and extended family, reminiscing about his childhood.
In those days, he says, people lived in byut sha’ar (literally “houses of hair” in Arabic), or tents made of camel hair, which were pitched on the dusty, wind-beaten hillsides surrounding the village.
“People lived off farming. If they grew something, they ate it. If not, they didn’t eat,” says the elderly man, who apparently does not remember that period with much affection.
Mr. Hijazine bears the scars of a troubled past: He has no hands and only one leg. He lost his limbs laying mines on the Israeli border in the 1960’s. His ice-blue eyes, however, are still bright and full of laughter.
The Hijazine clan is Christian, as are all residents of Smakieh and the nearby village of Hmoud. The two villages represent the last entirely Christian settlements in Jordan. Located on the Kerak plateau, one of Jordan’s poorest areas, neither area has enjoyed a golden age.
Life was hard, continues Mr. Hijazine. People were poor and often cold and hungry. They eked a meager existence from farming small plots of land and keeping livestock.
“I didn’t have a childhood,” adds his wife, Teresa.
Every few months, a priest from Kerak — the regional hub — would visit Smakieh. He would live, eat and pray with the people in their tents. The priest also served as their doctor and educator.
Those days, however, have long passed.
The Hijazines now live in a modern house of cinderblock and plaster. They also expect all their grandchildren to leave the village to attend university when the time comes.
Though Mrs. Hijazine dresses in a somewhat traditional manner, wearing a black headscarf over long, thick braids, she embraces modern- day conveniences, cooking time-honored recipes with a gas stove.
As do most Jordanians, the Christians of the Kerak area express pride about their tribal past. But nostalgia for the old days is hard to find on the Kerak plateau. For generations, these villagers have struggled to achieve a better life, a fight that often has meant leaving behind tribal customs. Now, young and old have their eyes fixed firmly on the future. They want to talk about the Internet, not about camels and sheep; about college degrees, not tents and traditions.
Read more about the Kerak plateau in A Bridge to Modern Life from the May 2012 issue of ONE.
14 January 2013
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Young Syrian refugees stand outside their tents after heavy rain on 10 January at the Zaatari refugee camp in the Jordanian border town of Mafraq. Snow, driving rain and howling winds in early January compounded the already desperate situation for Syrians.
(photo: CNS/Muhammad Hamed, Reuters)
Syrian government warplanes pound Damascus suburbs (CBS News) Syrian activists say a regime attack on Damascus’ rebellious suburbs has killed at least 45 people, including eight children. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Monday that 24 of the dead, including all eight children, were killed by government air strikes and artillery in eastern Ghouta district on Sunday...
Jordanian archbishop opens churches to welcome refugees (Fides) In front of the humanitarian catastrophe that looms over the refugee camp of Zaatari — where snowstorms and freezing rain in recent days have swept away hundreds of tents — Archbishop Maroun Laham, Patriarchal Vicar for Jordan of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, opens the doors of churches and parish complexes to accommodate Syrian refugees...
Indian bishops speak out against rape, support “dignity of women” (Fides) As another episode of gang rape shakes the nation — the victim, a 29 year-old a woman in Punjab, raped by six men in Amristar — the Bishops of India reaffirm “the sanctity of life and the necessity of an effort in the field of education, to combat this practice that degrades the dignity of women...”
CNEWA launches Rome event for Eastern Catholic churches (Vatican Radio) Many Catholics today are surprised when they hear that their Church is made up of a myriad of ancient rites and not just the Latin one. Many of these 22 rites stem directly from the lands where Jesus lived. The Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA) is trying to raise awareness among the faithful that the Church’s rich tapestry of eastern traditions is an historically important source of strength for the Universal Church. But, these ancient churches need our help. That’s why the President of CNEWA, Monsignor John Kozar is co-hosting with the Pontifical Congregation for Eastern Churches a special event and pilgrimage in Rome this week. He and Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, Prefect of the Congregation, are hoping to introduce Italians, mostly Catholics, to the reality of the eastern rite churches...
A Vatican artist from Russia (Kuwait Times) After Michelangelo and Raphael, the Vatican’s latest official painter is something of an unusual choice-an ebullient Russian woman with a pet owl who is a regular at the court of cardinals and popes. An Orthodox believer in the heart of Roman Catholicism, Natalia Tsarkova paints her classical-style portraits in a flat filled with Vatican memorabilia by the walls of the Holy See. “I like the atmosphere here, I feel needed,” Tsarkova told AFP in an interview in a studio with several unfinished works and back copies of the Vatican’s official newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano...
11 January 2013
Tags: India Syria CNEWA Jordan Russian Orthodox
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Pope Benedict XVI exchanges the sign of peace with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I during a Mass in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on 11 October to mark. the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council. The Mass also opened the Year of Faith. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Pentarchy, after the Greek for “five leaders,” refers to the five patriarchates in the early church. Originally, these patriarchates were located in important Roman cities that were significant for Christians for several reasons. First, the Christian community in each city was founded by one of the Twelve Apostles. Second, the cities contained large Christian communities led by a prominent bishop. The five patriarchates and their founders are: Rome, founded by Peter; Constantinople, founded by Andrew; Alexandria, founded by Mark; Antioch, founded by Peter; and Jerusalem, founded by James.
Although all five patriarchates still exist, several factors contributed to their decreasing role in Christianity. The bishops of Rome had historical problems with the apostolic roots of Constantinople. Schisms divided the early church, especially Alexandria and Antioch. In the seventh century, Jerusalem, Antioch and Alexandria fell to Arab Muslim armies. After the Latin sack of Constantinople in 1204, the churches of East and West, which had drifted apart, definitively broke communion with one another. And in May 1453, Constantinople, which had assumed dominance over the remaining Eastern patriarchates, fell to the Ottoman Turks, leaving Rome as the only patriarchate in the hands of Christians. The ensuing vacuum opened the way for the creation of other patriarchates, such as Moscow, “the Third Rome,” to grow in influence. Nonetheless the five ancient patriarchates still exist and function in different ways in the Eastern and Western churches. Following is a brief history, listed in order of prominence according to the Council of Chalcedon in 451.
Rome. Christianity came to the capital of the Roman Empire within 25 years of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Two of the most important Christian leaders, Peter and Paul, worked in Rome. The presence of their tombs in Rome made the city a center for pilgrimage. The bishop of Rome was always given some type of primacy as the bishop not only of the city of the tombs of Peter and Paul, but as the bishop of the Imperial Capital. When the seat of the empire moved East to Constantinople in 330, the role of the bishop of Rome took on increasing importance, especially in the West.
Constantinople. In 330, the Emperor Constantine moved the Imperial Capital to the Greek city of Byzantion. He and his successors played a major and at times questionable role in the history of Christianity. It was unthinkable that the bishop of the new capital, the “New Rome,” should not enjoy privilege equal to that of the other patriarchates. Thus, the patriarchate of Constantinople was erected. Though created after Rome, Alexandria and Antioch, it played a huge role. Presently, the patriarch of Constantinople — modern Istanbul — is the “Ecumenical Patriarch,” and he is considered the first among equals in the Orthodox Church. Since the fall of Constantinople, the number of Christians in the patriarchate has decreased. Relations between Rome and Constantinople, once hostile, have improved greatly since Vatican II.
Alexandria. Founded by Alexander the Great, Alexandria was the literary and cultural center of the Greco-Roman world. Christianity came very early to Egypt. It was among Egyptian Christians, known as Copts (from the Greek word aigyptos, meaning “Egypt”), that Christian monasticism first developed. In contrast with Antioch, Alexandria had its own school of theological thought. Copts today make up an important community in Egypt.
Antioch. The capital of the Roman province of Syria, Antioch was the place where the followers of Jesus were first called “Christians” (Acts 11:26). The New Testament several times mentions Peter being in Antioch, which eventually produced many important theologians who contributed to a distinct theological school. Conquered by the Muslims, sacked by the Crusaders and subject to large earthquakes, the city lost its importance both in the political and ecclesiastical worlds. Its ruins are near present day Antakya in Turkey.
Jerusalem. Considered the “Mother Church,” Jerusalem was never very influential. Its destruction by the Romans in the year 70, and the expulsion of the Jews as the Romans transformed the city into a Roman center in 136, contributed to Jerusalem’s lesser role in the pentarchy. In April 637, Patriarch Sophronius surrendered the city to the Muslim Khalif, Umar ibn Khattab.
CNEWA is an institution of the church of Rome, yet it works with Christians who make up all of the ancient patriarchates.
11 January 2013
Tags: Pope Patriarchs Church Antiochene church Orthodox Patriarchal Church of Alexandria
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Students at the Don Bosco Institute practice welding in the Rod el Farag neighborhood of Cairo, Egypt, on 12 November 2008. Run by the Salesians of Don Bosco, the institute enables Egyptians from all economic backgrounds to learn a trade to improve their lives and communities. Some students, such as those pictured here, are workers who came back to the school to enhance their skills. To learn more about the Don Bosco schools, read Building Persons, Forming Good Citizens from the January 2009 issue of ONE. (photo: Shawn Baldwin)
11 January 2013
Tags: Egypt Education
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CNEWA President Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York talks with Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, before a meeting of the Synod of Bishops on the new evangelization at the Vatican on 26 October. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Cardinal Sandri in Egypt: Guarantee profession of faith for all (Vatican News) Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, while visiting Egypt to celebrate the Year of Faith with the local church, met with those responsible for apostolic events in that country. “Doubtlessly,” he said in a 9 January address, “you are experiencing the desert of this very difficult present situation. Perhaps we must guard against letting the desert advance in our consciences and our hearts precisely while we are trying to advance the Gospel. Do not forget that the Son of God’s intense days were preceded and followed by an even more intense dialogue with the Father.” The cardinal went on to entrust the objectives of the Year of Faith, called by the Holy Father on 11 October 2012, to those responsible for apostolic events: “We are asked in grace to remain close to the life of the church and to participate directly in it. ... In this way, we may share the church’s mission to all peoples. We are expecting a renewed missionary impulse from the Year of Faith because throughout the world the most diverse religions are meeting and facing one another. And we are hoping for the confirmation of the church’s presence in the world, with its due support and the defense of Christians who are not granted religious freedom. The ability to profess one’s own creed must be guaranteed to everyone without exception, and thus also to Christians”…
Cardinal Dolan urges leadership from U.S. president for Israeli-Palestinian peace (U.S.C.C.B.) The United States is poised to make a real difference in the Arab-Israeli-Palestinian conflict and should provide tireless leadership to ensure a two-state solution in the Middle East, said two leaders of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (U.S.C.C.B.) in a 9 January letter to President Barack Obama. “We affirm your support of the two-state solution, promise our support for strong U.S. leadership for peace, and urge you even to consider appointing a high profile envoy in hopes that as in the past this might advance peace and justice in the region,” wrote Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, president of U.S.C.C.B., and Bishop Richard Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, chairman of the U.S.C.C.B. Committee on International Justice and Peace…
Rebels seize control of north Syrian airbase (BBC) Rebels are reported to have taken control of a strategic military airbase in northwestern Syria after days of fierce fighting with government forces. Opposition activists said the Free Syrian Army (F.S.A.) was in full control of Taftanaz airport. Videos purportedly showed fighters inside the facility. Helicopters based there have been used to attack rebel-held areas. “Many regime forces have been killed and most of the soldiers and officers fled at dawn,” Rami Abdul Rahman told the A.F.P. news agency. “This is the largest airbase to be seized since the revolt began”…
Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Visits Georgia (Civil.ge) Greek Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I visited Tbilisi on the occasion of 80th birthday of the Georgian Orthodox Church leader, Patriarch Ilia II, and of 35th anniversary of the Georgian patriarch’s enthronement. Serbian Orthodox Patriarch Irinej and interim leader of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church Metropolitan Cyril of Varna and Veliki Preslav are also attending. President Saakashvili received leaders of Orthodox churches on 10 January. He said that Patriarch Ilia II’s jubilee was a “celebration” for all of Georgia. Patriarch Bartholomew I is expected to meet PM Bidzina Ivanishvili on 11 January, according to the Georgian Patriarchate…
Coptic pope expresses strong desire for ecumenism (Fides) Pope Tawadros II, patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church, has been contributing to the new climate of dialogue and proximity among Christians since last November. On Tuesday, 8 January, the Coptic pope welcomed the visiting Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches. In December, during the Christmas holidays, the patriarch wanted to personally pay homage with a visit to all the heads of Christian churches in Egypt who follow the Gregorian calendar. “On that occasion,” says Botros Fahim Awad Hanna, auxiliary bishop of Alexandria of the Catholic Copts, “he expressed the desire to meet at least once a month. New Patriarch Tawadros is aware of the crucial importance of the ecumenical journey, and at the same time he reveals his profile as a pastor. He said: the doctrinal issues must be left to theologians. We, as pastors, have to express in front of all our fraternal love, in mutual love. It should be noted that his motto is the phrase of the first letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians: love will never have an end”…
Bishops warn of increasing polarization in the Holy Land (Vatican Radio) Bishops from North America and Europe have concluded their annual pilgrimage of solidarity to the Christians of the Holy Land with an appeal for prayers for peace. In their final statement the bishops note that the people in the region are living through dark and dramatic events, such as the conflict in Gaza and southern Israel; civil war in Syria, and increasing polarization within Israel and Palestine. These developments, they write, have caused profound anxiety for all but particularly for the dwindling Christian population…
10 January 2013
Tags: Syrian Civil War United States Coptic Orthodox Church Patriarchs Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan
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The Eparchy of Saint-Maron de Montreal of the Maronites, which Bishop-Elect Marwan Tabet will head, is located in Montreal, Quebec, and serves Canada’s entire Maronite population. (photo: Sarah Hunter)
Today, a good friend of CNEWA, Maronite Father Marwan Tabet, was named bishop of the Eparchy of Saint-Maron de Montreal of the Maronites by Pope Benedict XVI. The bishop-elect was born in Bhamdoun, Lebanon, in 1961, entered the Congregation of the Lebanese Maronite Missionaries in 1980, and was ordained to the priesthood in 1986. Father Marwan, who is known throughout Lebanon as a man of action who knows how to get things done — and well. As the general secretary of Lebanon’s Catholic schools, Father Marwan raised the standards for Catholic education throughout the country, offering superb educations for Christian and Muslim students in the poorer sections of the country as well as students in the affluent neighborhoods of Beirut.
In the July 2008 edition of ONE, we focused on Father Marwan and his efforts with Catholic schools in Lebanon:
In many parts of Lebanon, [Catholic schools] represent the last forum where Christian and Muslim youth meet and grow up knowing one another. “Catholic schools are natural places where children can come together, sit next to each other and get to know the other person slowly but surely,” said Maronite Father Marwan Tabet, who heads Lebanon’s General Secretariat of Catholic Schools.
“It’s not like you have to shove it down the throats of people — and the kids grow to know each other, to love each other, to accept each other. That’s very important.”
Father Marwan believes the student body’s religious diversity ranks among the greatest strengths of the nation’s Catholic school system. These schools, he said, are a “place where there is no proselytism, where children are not converted to Christianity. On the contrary, they are open to the other culture. They are accepted and they are cared for with the best of means and possibilities.”
Congratulations Bishop-elect Marwan, and God’s blessings on your new assignment.
10 January 2013
Tags: Education Christian-Muslim relations Canada Maronite Catholic education
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Snowstruck Bethlehem is seen through one of its many moisture-speckled windows. (photo: CNEWA)
It is true: One can’t predict what will happen in the Middle East — political conflict, war, refugees, persecutions. But who would have seen this coming? A snow storm has hit the Holy Land — the first in five years. And the magic of snow had its effect on the children and adults alike who turned out to play, laugh and enjoy the moment.
Yes, schools and offices are closed. Roads are hard to access and navigate — the region isn’t equipped to handle such events. But even here, people are having simple, basic fun. What a pleasure to see!
(Click any of the photos for a full-size image.)
Children build a snowman near the Church of the Nativity. (photo: CNEWA)
This 9 January photo captures the snowfall in Manger Square. (photo: CNS/Marcin Mazur, Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales)
10 January 2013
Tags: Holy Land Bethlehem West Bank Church of Nativity
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At St. Sava’s dance classes, students wear opanak, traditional Serbian shoes. (photo: Andy Spyra)
Worship, though primary, is only one of the activities a church can host. In Germany, St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Church caters to a strong community of Serbian immigrants, and helps to preserve many facets of Serbian culture:
Since the 1950’s, St. Sava’s has offered its youngsters catechetical courses and cultural classes — held every Saturday — that instruct and reinforce the church’s religious teachings and cultural heritage.
“In our new community center, we originally planned for two classrooms,” remembers Father Pejic. “Thank God we were underestimating the need!”
Currently, the community center has barely enough space to accommodate the nearly 130 children, between the ages of 7 and 17, who attend the classes. The curriculum includes seven grade levels with courses in religion, the Serbian language, traditional dance and singing.
For this and more, read Germany’s Orthodox Serbs, from the July 2009 issue of ONE.
Tags: Cultural Identity Eastern Christianity Germany Serbian Orthodox
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