19 June 2013
Pope Francis greets the crowd as he arrives to lead his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on 19 June. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Pope: Christian unity calls for Catholic unity (VIS) Pope Francis dedicated his catechesis of the Wednesday general audience to the expression “of the body” that the Second Vatican Council used to indicate the nature of the church: the church is the body of Christ. “How much damage is caused to the church by divisions among Christians, by being apart, by narrow interests! The divisions among us,” he continued, “but also the divisions between the communities: evangelical Christians, Orthodox Christians, Catholic Christians, why are we divided? We must try to bring unity…”
Pope commemorates World Refugee Day (VIS) After giving his catechesis at the general audience, the Holy Father spoke of World Refugee Day, which is commemorated on this day. “We cannot be insensitive to these families or towards our refugee brothers and sisters. We are called to help them, opening ourselves to understanding and hospitality. … In their faces is etched the face of Christ!”…
Cardinal Sandri: A cry for peace in land of Christ’s birth (Vatican Radio) In his homily before this year’s R.O.A.C.O. assembly, which brings together charitable agencies from around the world to support the global church, Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches and president of R.O.A.C.O., said the following: “The journey towards Christian perfection is … highly demanding, for it is measured by the paradoxical love of the Cross: ‘love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you’! When one thinks of the vortex of violence — as unceasing as it is irrational — which has struck our brothers and sisters in Syria and Iraq, as well as of the tension threatening in the Holy Land, in Egypt, and in other places in the Middle East, one cannot avoid the fully paradoxical nature, from a human point of view, of the Gospel’s command…”
‘Islamization’ of Gaza schools endangers Catholic institutions (AsiaNews) Catholic schools in the Gaza Strip risk closure. The Hamas government is implementing legislation to prevent the presence of “non-Islamic” schools in their territory and those that do not conform to the rules, such as the strict separation between the sexes, will be closed. At present, there are three Catholic schools in the Gaza Strip: the school of the Latin Patriarchate, a school run by the Sisters of the Holy Family and the school of the Sisters of the Holy Rosary. Together, they educate over 1000 students, most of whom are Muslim. In recent weeks, Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal of Jerusalem has expressed a desire to discuss the issue with Ismail Haniyeh, prime minister of Gaza…
Coptic Pope: Egyptian Christians should follow their conscience in civic matters (Daily News Egypt) Members of Egypt’s Christian minority are free to express their opinions on the streets, just as they were to vote for whomever candidate they supported in the past presidential elections, said head of the Coptic Orthodox Church Pope Tawadros II. In a Monday interview on MBC Egypt satellite channel, the patriarch said the decision for Copts to protest, both on 30 June and in general, was an issue of personal freedom of expression. “Anyone is allowed to express their opinions peacefully,” said the pope. He went on to say the church is above politics and focused on its social and religious role…
Sunnis, Shiites clash in Lebanese town (Washington Post) Fighting erupted in the southern Lebanese town of Sidon on Tuesday between the supporters of a Salafist sheik and local Shiites affiliated with the Hezbollah movement in the latest example of sectarian tensions fueled by the conflict in neighboring Syria. The state-run National News Agency said one person was killed and four were injured. Tensions also have soared in eastern Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, where adjoining Sunni and Shiite communities have become entangled in the war across the border…
18 June 2013
Tags: Pope Francis Patriarch Fouad Twal Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II Cardinal Leonardo Sandri ROACO
Father Mansour Mattosha is the only priest in his Syriac Catholic parish. (photo: Cory Eldridge)
Cory Eldridge wrote about the plight of Iraqi refugees in Jordan for the Spring 2013 issue of ONE. One of the people he met was a very busy Syriac Catholic priest.
After Father Mansour Mattosha spent a day driving around Amman visiting parish families, a Jesuit school and then finally his small Syriac Catholic church, I was worried about him. The priest has been in Amman for three and a half years, which makes him the longest-serving priest in the parish’s 64 years. The majority of his parishioners are Iraqi Christians, refugees who have fled horrific violence, destroyed neighborhoods and broken communities. Most of them arrive with just a few thousand dollars, usually made from selling a home and all the non-transportable valuables they own. They arrive in Amman separated from their families, friends and a land their ancestors have called home for thousands of years.
Father Mattosha cares for his community with inspiring humor and humility. One of the first things he told me when he picked me up in his very used Toyota Corolla was that most of the families who made up the founding members of the parish — Palestinians who fled the 1948 War — had left the Syriac Catholic Church. There had only been a handful of priests over the years. The families either went to the Latin churches in the city, keeping their ties to Catholicism, or they went to the Syriac Orthodox Church, keeping their language and liturgy. “This is our fault,” Father Mattosha said, meaning the tiny Syriac Catholic Church that has few resources. “It’s not their fault. There was no priest to marry the young people, do baptisms or celebrate Mass.”
After going around town, we finished our day in the dining room of his exceedingly tidy apartment, just a door or two away from the chapel. The parish cannot afford a caretaker for the church. He served me tea while he drank hot water to stave off the cold, saying he cannot drink more than a sip of tea without becoming wired.
Then he told me about his cousin who had been kidnapped. Like most of his congregation, Father Mattosha comes from a small city called Qaraqosh, just outside Mosul in northern Iraq. His cousin, a chicken farmer named Ghassan, was abducted. The criminals, as Father Mattosha calls them, demanded $30,000. He chipped in money, along with his brothers, to ransom Ghassan. Luckily, the kidnappers kept their word and released Ghassan.
That was when I became concerned for Father Mattosha. He has suffered many of the same losses as his parishioners and then in the course of his ministry he suffers theirs as well. After a day of doing pastoral work, he is left to his church, his prayers, and his thoughts. I asked him who ministers to the priest.
“What can you do?” he said and smiled. “You complain to God, to Jesus. Thank God the church is next door. I can go there. But I am mature enough for it.”
Being alone at the church, he says, helps him better understand his parishioners. It is a lonely life away from home.
18 June 2013
Tags: Iraqi Christians Jordan Iraqi Refugees Amman Syriac Christians
The sisters at St. Mary Monastery in Bediani keep bees to supplement their income. (photo: Justyna Mielnikiewicz)
Georgia’s rich tradition of monasticism stretches all the way back to the sixth century. In the September 2007 edition of ONE, Paul Rimple provided a glimpse into the active lifestyles of women religious in the former Soviet nation:
The seven sisters of St. Mary Monastery in Bediani, a remote village in the southern mountains of Georgia, begin their day with communal prayer at 4 a.m. Three hours later, they are tending the gardens and the bees, milking cows, making cheese, embroidering vestments and cleaning the chapel.
Georgia’s religious houses are expected to be self-sufficient, which requires ingenuity on behalf of the sisters. But the sisters of Bediani also care for six single mothers and their children, who live near the convent and have little means of earning a living.
“So many girls came for advice,” said the ubiquitous Mother Mariam, who claims her effort to care for these women and their children was unplanned. “They want to keep their babies, but either their families, or the fathers of the babies, are against it.”
For one such mother, Ketevan, the sisters’ help has been a godsend. “If it wasn’t for this place, my life would be miserable,” she said holding her 16-month-old daughter.
“My family doesn’t accept me — I’d be on the street.”
These young women face a difficult road ahead: Georgia is poor, it lacks social service programs and it holds on to a non-Western concept of traditional relationships. Most single mothers are banished by their families.
Read more about Georgia’s Alternative Lifestyles.
18 June 2013
Tags: Sisters Monastery Georgia Monasticism Monastic Life
In this video, CNN’s Mohammed Jamjoom reports on the latest in a series of attacks that are targeting every ethnic group in Iraq. Instability within the nation has given rise to concerns about the possibility of civil war. (video: CNN)
Over 30 killed, 50 wounded in bombing at Baghdad mosque (CNN) At least 31 people were killed and 57 others were wounded when two suicide bombers attacked a Shiite mosque in Baghdad on Tuesday, police said. The incident took place during noon prayers in the Habib Ibn al Mudhaher mosque in al Qahira, a predominantly Shiite neighborhood in the northeastern section of the Iraqi capital. The bombers, clad in suicide vests, detonated the explosives inside the mosque. Police said that the two bombers used pistols equipped with silencers to kill several guards before they entered the mosque and blew themselves up. Sunni-Shiite tensions and violence have been on the rise for months in Iraq…
Beirut: appeal for Catholic-Orthodox unity, peace in Syria (AsiaNews) Catholic and Orthodox churches opened their respective synods today in Beirut to discuss the grave situation facing Syria’s Christian communities, caught between warring Shiite and Sunni factions in a conflict that is beginning to spill into Lebanon. Greek Orthodox Patriarch Youhanna X of Antioch and Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregory III of Antioch also made a joint appeal for the unity of all Christians…
Syrian refugees find little help in Greece (Washington Post) Thousands of Syrians fleeing war and misery are making their way to Europe, and many are coming through Greece, whose Mediterranean islands stretch within tantalizing reach of home. Once they get here, many wish they’d never come. Greece’s economic meltdown has left little food, medicine or other aid for refugees washing up on its shores. The new arrivals are packed into detention camps, and those who stay longer hide in cramped, barren apartments, fearing anti-immigrant violence on the streets…
Israel debates branding ‘price-tag’ attacks terrorism (Christian Science Monitor) Frustrated at their inability to stem a spike in violence against West Bank Palestinians by Jewish settlers with so-called “price tag” attacks, over the weekend Israeli law enforcement authorities nearly acquired permission to treat the attackers as terrorists. Attacks by right-wing vigilantes have surged this year. But few arrests or indictments have been made after they have desecrated West Bank mosques and churches, damaged Palestinian cars, and scrawled graffiti outside the residences of Israeli peace activists…
Ethiopia, Egypt tone down talk of war over Nile dam (Daily Star Lebanon) Ethiopia and Egypt cooled talk of war on Tuesday and agreed to more dialogue to resolve a row over a giant dam that the Horn of Africa nation is building on the Nile, on which Egyptians depend on for almost all their water. “Some pronouncements were made in the heat of the moment because of emotions. They are behind us,” Mohamed Kamel Amr, Egypt’s foreign minister, told a joint news conference with his Ethiopian counterpart Tedros Adhanom in Ethiopia’s capital…
17 June 2013
Tags: Iraq Ethiopia Syrian Civil War Violence against Christians Ecumenism
In this image from 2008, an Iraqi mother holds her child near her new home in Syria. (photo: Spencer Osberg)
In 2008, we looked at the wave of refugees moving from Iraq, hoping to find sanctuary in Syria:
Iraq’s Christians have paid a high price for the war. Prior to 2003, about a million Christians lived in Iraq, accounting for some 5 percent of the country’s 23 million people. But as violence intensified, reaching a crescendo in 2006, extremist groups began targeting Christians. Living in small pockets within predominantly Muslim communities, and without organized militias to protect them, Christians proved especially vulnerable. Moreover, extremists increasingly viewed Iraqi Christians as collaborators with the Western “Christian” occupying forces.
Fleeing the sectarian violence that has engulfed Baghdad, Basra, Mosul and areas where Christians have lived for centuries, an estimated 400,000 of Iraq’s Christians have sought refuge in neighboring countries or further afield. Of the roughly half million who remain in Iraq, more than half are internally displaced, many having migrated north to the autonomous Kurdish region, which remains relatively stable.
Now, of course, many Iraqi refugees are on the move again, fleeing the civil war in Syria.
You can read more about them in two stories in the current issue of ONE: a look at Iraqis making a new home in Jordan and Syrians fleeing to Lebanon.
17 June 2013
Tags: Syria Refugees Iraqi Christians Jordan Iraqi Refugees
Greek Orthodox Patriarch John X and Maronite Patriarch Bechara Pater meet in Bkerke, the Maronite patriarchate north of Beirut, where they issued a joint 13 June statement calling for the release of two Syrian Orthodox bishops kidnapped on 22 April in northern Syria. (photo: CNS/Mychel Akl, courtesy of Bkerke, the Maronite patriarchate)
Maronite patriarch consecrates Lebanon to Mary (Fides) Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter consecrated Lebanon and the entire Middle East to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, praying that all the peoples of the region are freed “from the sins that lead to divisions, aggression and violence.” The solemn ceremony took place yesterday, Sunday, 16 June. A multitude of believers gathered to pray that the “land of the cedars” is not overwhelmed by the contagion of sectarian conflict that is afflicting Syria…
Syrian war intensifies Lebanon’s divisions (Al Jazeera) As violence escalates in Syria, residents of the tiny Alawite enclave of Jabal Mohsen in neighboring Lebanon brace themselves for the next attack. Tensions have long simmered between Alawites in Jabal Mohsen — a settlement atop a hill in the middle of Lebanon’s northern city of Tripoli — and the predominantly Sunni neighbourhood Bab al Tabbaneh nestled at the bottom…
UNRWA: Palestinian camps in Syria ‘theaters of war’ (Ma’an News Agency) Palestinian refugee camps in Syria have become “theaters of war” in the country’s ongoing conflict, with many inaccessible to the U.N.’s agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA’s commissioner general said Sunday. More than half of the 530,000 Palestinian refugees registered in Syria have been displaced and 15 percent have fled abroad, including 60,000 to neighboring Lebanon and over 7,000 to Jordan…
Christians affected by Syrian conflict (Vatican Radio) At least 93,000 people have been killed since the Syrian civil war began two years ago, while hundreds of thousands have been displaced by the violence. Among those affected by the civil war are Christian communities. A report sent to Aid to the Church in Need, written by a priest ministering in the region, describes the situation in the city of Homs, Syria’s third largest city, which has been devastated conflict…
Gaza’s ‘gypsies’ face daily discrimination (Al Monitor) The Dom are counted among the people commonly referred to as “gypsies,” who live around the world. According to a recent study, linguistic theorists have linked Domari, the Dom’s language, to the Punjabi dialect of Hindi and therefore believe the Dom’s ancestors originated in northwestern India and migrated east. The Dom settled in the Middle East, while those who settled in Europe are Romani…
Jordan’s Department of Antiquities unearths Byzantine church in Jerash (Jordan Times) Looting of archaeological sites in Jordan is a widespread problem, yet this time it has brought to light the mosaic floor of a previously undiscovered Byzantine-era church near the city of Jerash. “Underneath about a meter of soil, the mosaic floor of Kanisat Qirmerl was almost perfectly preserved,” Jacques Seigne, director of the French Archaeological Mission at Jerash, told The Jordan Times. According to the inscription, which mentions the patron and mosaicist of the floor, the mosaics date back to about 590…
14 June 2013
Tags: Lebanon Syrian Civil War Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter Byzantium Gypsy
Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury, England, and Pope Francis attend a prayer service during a private audience at the Vatican on 14 June. (photo: CNS/Stefano Spaziani, pool)
Pope Francis met for the first time the Anglican archbishop of Canterbury today, and in his prepared remarks spoke about the desire for Christian unity:
Today’s meeting is an opportunity to remind ourselves that the search for unity among Christians is prompted not by practical considerations, but by the will of the Lord Jesus Christ himself, who made us his brothers and sisters, children of the One Father. Hence the prayer that we make today is of fundamental importance.
This prayer gives a fresh impulse to our daily efforts to grow toward unity, which are concretely expressed in our cooperation in various areas of daily life. Particularly important among these is our witness to the reference to God and the promotion of Christian values in a world that seems at times to call into question some of the foundations of society, such as respect for the sacredness of human life or the importance of the institution of the family built on marriage, a value that you yourself have had occasion to recall recently.
Then there is the effort to achieve greater social justice, to build an economic system that is at the service of man and promotes the common good. Among our tasks as witnesses to the love of Christ is that of giving a voice to the cry of the poor, so that they are not abandoned to the laws of an economy that seems at times to treat people as mere consumers.
Read more of the pope’s remarks, and those of the archbishop, at this link.
14 June 2013
Tags: Pope Francis Vatican Ecumenism Christian Unity
The escalating conflict in Syria has forced thousands of Syrians to leave their country. Christian families in particular face a hardship reality in the refugees camps in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan. This short film captures the testimony of men and women longing to go back to their homeland in peace and harmony. (video: CRTN and Aid to the Church in Need)
No trace of abducted Syrian Bishops (Aid to the Church in Need) Even six weeks after they were taken, there is still no trace of the two Syrian bishops abducted at the end of April, according to Razek Siriani, the ecumenical relations and relief officer of the Syrian Orthodox Archdiocese of Aleppo. “Since their abduction we have received no information of where they are being held or how they are,” Siriani said. The two prelates of Aleppo, Archbishop Mor Gregorius Yohanna Ibrahim of the Syrian Orthodox Church and Bishop Boulos Yazigi of the Greek Orthodox Church, were abducted by armed men on 22 April…
U.S. to begin arming Syrian rebels (Los Angeles Times) The White House declared Thursday that Syria had crossed a “red line” by using chemical weapons in that country’s civil war, and in response, U.S. officials said, President Obama had authorized sending arms to some rebel groups…
Iraqi Kurdistan region struggles to cope with Syrian refugees (Al Monitor) With the continuously deteriorating security and political situation in Syria, and the growing fighting between government and opposition forces, many Syrian citizens — particularly Syria’s Kurds — have been forced to seek refuge in the Iraqi Kurdistan region. This resulted in a wave of displacement that local authorities in Kurdistan did not expect, making the need for international assistance more pressing than ever…
In Israel, Christian cemetery desecrated with Hebrew graffiti (AsiaNews) The Christian-Arab population of Tel Aviv denounces continuing cases of religious and ethnic discrimination. The last case occurred on 12 June in the local Orthodox cemetery. A group of vandals desecrated a number of tombs overnight and smeared the walls with slogans in Hebrew calling for “revenge” against Christians and the “price” they should pay for their acts against Jews. Graffiti with insults appeared on the house of Khaled Kaboub, district judge in Tel Aviv, situated not far from the cemetery…
Cardinal Tauran reaches out to Hindu representatives (Vatican Radio) On Thursday, the head of the Vatican’s Council for Interreligious Dialogue, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, met with leaders of the United Kingdom’s Hindu community met at a London temple, or “mandir.” Surrounded by Catholic and Hindu scholars, as well as local school children, the cardinal reaffirmed the Catholic Church’s commitment to interfaith dialogue as a way of knowing and appreciating other religious traditions and of creating the conditions for all people to live in freedom and peace…
13 June 2013
Tags: Iraq Syrian Civil War Violence against Christians Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran Christian-Hindu relations
Arya Raghavan tends the cows at Mother Mary Home for Girls in Kerala. (photo: Sean Sprague)
In 2008, we visited an orphanage in Kerala that was transforming the lives of its young residents:
Arya Raghavan is a 12-year-old girl with a big grin and sparkling eyes. Athletic, she loves to climb trees, pick fruit and toss them to her friends waiting below. Arya lives with her younger sister, Athira, and 40 other girls at an orphanage founded by a Catholic community of sisters in Chamal, a village in India’s southwestern state of Kerala.
The future for both Arya and Athira looks bright, but that was not always the case.
Four years ago, the girls’ father committed suicide, leaving their mother, Mini, homeless and destitute, unable to support herself and her four children. Eventually, Mini found a job working as a live-in caregiver for the sick and elderly. Though she manages to support herself, she cannot provide for her children — nor can they move in with her.
Mini would have preferred to keep her family together, but she reasoned her girls would be better off in a nearby child care institution. A Hindu, she had no doubts that her girls would be well cared for by the sisters at Mother Mary Home for Girls.
In a state where the rate of suicide is two and a half times the national average, Arya and Athira’s story is all too familiar. Many correlate Kerala’s high suicide rate with the state’s unemployment rate — a staggering 20 percent — which ranks among the highest in India. Underemployment is significant as well. Families largely get by with funds from family members who work abroad; foreign remittances account for more than 20 percent of Kerala’s gross domestic product. And though the economy in India has been booming, radically transforming this incredibly diverse and complex nation of a billion people, poverty is widespread among Kerala’s 31.8 million people.
Mother Mary Home for Girls lies in the remote and beautiful valley of Wayanad, nestled between hills covered in dense tropical vegetation. To Arya, Athira and the other girls, all of whom were born to poor, broken families, the orphanage must have first appeared as an oasis.
Read more about A Place to Call Home from the March 2008 issue of ONE.
13 June 2013
Tags: India Children Sisters Indian Catholics Homes/housing
Residents walk near a damaged church on 8 June in Qusayr, Syria, on their way to inspect their houses and collect their belongings. Fierce fighting in the area in the past three weeks left dozens of rebels, troops and Hezbollah fighters dead. (photo: CNS/Rami Bleibel, Reuters)
Conflicts in Syria, Mali pose unprecedented threats to children (United Nations) Despite efforts to protect children living in war-affected countries, the evolving character and tactics of conflict are creating unprecedented threats for children, particularly in Syria, Mali and the Central African Republic, a top United Nations envoy said today. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s latest report on children and armed conflict reviews situations in 21 countries. On Syria, Mr. Ban said in his annual report that the toll the conflict is taking on children is “unacceptable and unbearable,” and urging immediate measures to protect the lives and dignity of all children…
As Syrian crisis grows, donors are in short supply (Los Angeles Times) Facing a growing humanitarian crisis, international relief agency Oxfam set a goal in January of raising $53 million to aid victims of Syria’s brutal civil war. So far, Americans have contributed $150,000. Oxfam isn’t alone. Mercy Corps has collected $900,000 for Syrian refugees during the 27 months of the war, a fraction of the $2.5 million raised in a few weeks in 2006 during the one-month war between Israel and the Hezbollah militia in Lebanon. Other aid groups report similar low levels of response — a sharp contrast to Americans’ usual warmhearted giving to help victims of foreign earthquakes, floods and wars. The stinginess reflects the murky nature of the Syrian war…
Palestine decries Israel’s new outpost plan (Al Jazeera) An Israeli settlement push in the occupied West Bank, involving the building of 1,000 new homes in two new settlements, is “killing the two state solution,” said Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah today. Earlier in the day, an Israeli settlers’ council asked Israeli zoning authorities in the occupied territory to approve the building of 550 housing units in Bruchin, an unauthorized outpost granted legal status by Israel last year…
Ethiopian Orthodox patriarch’s visit to Egypt postponed (Fides) Ethiopian Orthodox Patriarch Mathias I has postponed his visit to Egypt originally planned for 17 June. This act disconfirms the rumors circulating about the possibility of an “ecclesial mediation” carried out by Abune Mathias and Coptic Orthodox Patriarch Tawadros II on the thorny issue of the Grand Renaissance Dam, which is causing tension in the relations between Egypt and Ethiopia…
Coptic leaders to attend 30 June protests (Egypt Independent) Senior leaders in Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church denominational council have announced they will join opposition groups’ 30 June protests to demand early presidential elections. However, the church establishment has not urged Copts to attend demonstrations, preferring to leave it to each member of the congregations personal convictions…
Tags: Syrian Civil War Children Palestine Donors Coptic Orthodox Church