8 January 2014
A mother holds her newborn in the maternity ward of the Tiramayr Narek Hospital. (photo: Justyna Mielnikiewicz)
While much of North America copes this week with a “polar vortex” of near-zero temperatures, we were reminded of the hard winter others face in different parts of the world.
In 2009, we focused on Armenia, visiting a hospital that can be difficult to reach during winter:
Natives of Shirak often refer to the area as the Armenian Siberia and consider themselves exiled from much of the country’s cultural and economic life, especially the prosperity many compatriots in Yerevan, the nation’s capital, have been enjoying in recent years. Indeed, the gap between the socioeconomic development in Yerevan and the lethargy of Armenia’s rural, impoverished north widens by the day. Whereas newly constructed supermarkets, boutiques and luxury high-rise buildings illuminate Yerevan’s streets, the only signs of modern life in Ashotzk are the occasional car and Tiramayr Narek Hospital.
Ashotzk rises some 6,600 feet above sea level and is covered in three to five feet of snow six months out of the year. During the winter months, temperatures often drop to 40 degrees below zero and many of the roads are closed.
One road, known as the “life road,” is kept accessible throughout the winter and is used only in the case of medical emergencies. It extends 17 miles from the village of Berdashen, the neighboring community closest to Armenia’s northern border, directly to the hospital. Before the hospital commissioned the construction of the “life road,” residents had no way of reaching medical care in the winter months. To this day, residents still try to plan their pregnancies so that mothers give birth between the months of April and October.
“Getting to the medical center in Gyumri was impossible in winter before there was the hospital,” said Mariam Simonian, a nurse who lives in Berdashen.
Read more about the Armenian Winter in the March 2009 issue of ONE.
8 January 2014
Tags: Children Health Care Armenia Poor/Poverty
A Roma family sit in the living room of their house in Hodász, Hungary. Many homes in this neighborhood have no running water, leaving their residents to transport water from public water sources. (photo: Balazs Gardi)
The plight of the Roma: Europe’s unwanted people (Der Spiegel) Some 10 to 12 million Roma live in Europe — more than the population of Austria — and the roots of this population stretch back over 1,000 years. The Roma have also been ostracized, persecuted and suppressed as gypsies for centuries, including the murder of hundreds of thousands of Roma at the hands of the Nazis. The Roma are Europe’s biggest minority, and remain the continent’s unwanted people. Now, tens of thousands of them are fleeing westwards from poverty and discrimination in the countries of southeastern Europe. But European Union member states are failing to help them…
Ethiopian migrants expelled by Saudis remain in limbo back home (New York Times) For decades, rich Arab countries in the Middle East have been a major destination for migrant workers from developing nations. Deportations had happened before, but the scale of the recent expulsions from Saudi Arabia is virtually unheard of, the labor organization said. About 150,000 Ethiopians have been forced out of the country. Their expulsion puts the Ethiopian government under strain because the remittances they sent had greatly contributed to the country, which has one of the world’s fastest-growing economies but is still very poor…
The Syria effect: Lebanese Sunnis begin to strap on bombs (Christian Science Monitor) Lebanon’s moderate Sunni community is radicalizing, as shown by last week’s suicide bombing in Beirut. When Qutaiba Satem, a 19-year-old engineering student, drove an explosives-laden car into a Shiite suburb of Beirut last week and blew himself up, he became the first Lebanese Sunni to commit an apparently sectarian-driven suicide bombing against Shiite civilians in Lebanon…
ISIL: An Al-Qaeda challenge in Syria and Iraq (Al Jazeera) The common link between the upsurge of fighting this week in the western Iraqi cities of Fallujah and Ramadi, and also in rebel-held parts of northern Syria, is the Al Qaeda affiliate known by the acronym ISIL (or often, ISIS) — the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. And in a sign of the complexity of the violent power struggles in both countries, ISIL is being confronted not only by its prime enemy in each country — the regime of President Bashar al Assad in Syria, and the government of Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki — but also by rival anti-Assad and anti-Maliki forces…
Egypt’s Copts celebrate Christmas amid political uncertainty (Al Jazeera) Last year’s Coptic Christmas saw the Muslim Brotherhood in power and its political party send envoys to wish Egypt’s long-embattled Christian minority well. This year’s Christmas, on Tuesday, found worshipers raucously cheering General Abdel Fattah al Sisi, the military leader who overthrew the Brotherhood-backed President Mohamed Morsi in July. The Brotherhood has been smashed and Morsi is behind bars, a wave of anti-Christian violence has at least temporarily abated, a new constitution is being drafted, and the Coptic community is breathing a tentative sigh of relief…
7 January 2014
Tags: Ethiopia Syrian Civil War Migrants Immigration Roma
A woman dressed as a character from a Nativity scene puts a lamb around the neck of Pope Francis as he arrives to visit the Church of St. Alfonso Maria dei Liguori in Rome on 6 January. Read more about the pope’s visit at this link. (photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)
7 January 2014
Tags: Pope Francis Catholic Rome
A boy in a live Nativity scene carries a dog as Pope Francis visits the display at the Church of St. Alfonso Maria dei Liguori in Rome on 6 January. Orthodox Christians who follow the Julian calendar are celebrating Christmas on 7 January. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Millions celebrate Orthodox Christmas (RT.com) Millions of Orthodox Christians across the globe are celebrating Christmas on Tuesday with one of the most revered Christian relics: the Gifts of the Wise Men, brought to Moscow after leaving Greece for the first time in more than 500 years. 7 January is Christmas Day for Russian Christians, the Jerusalem Orthodox Church, the Serbian Orthodox Church, the Georgian Orthodox Church, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, as well as for some Protestants who use the Julian calendar. According to the Julian calendar, the holidays come 13 days after the Christmas festivities in the Catholic Church. One of the most important Christian relics, the Gifts of the Wise Men to the newborn Jesus, were delivered from Thessaloniki to Moscow on the eve of the Orthodox Christmas. The holy Gifts have left the Agiou Pavlou (St. Paul’s) monastery on Mount Athos for the first time since the 15th Century. The sacred relics brought from Greece are to be displayed in the Russian capital until 13 January. At present they are drawing queues of five hours...
Latin Patriarch hopes pope’s visit will be a “cry for peace” (Catholic News Service) Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal of Jerusalem welcomed the announcement of Pope Francis’ May visit to the Holy Land and said he hopes the pilgrimage will be a “cry for peace,” particularly for Palestinians, Israelis, Syrians and others beset by conflict...
Russia ramps up security in Sochi (Vatican Radio) Russia says it has launched one of the biggest security operations in Olympic history, after two suicide attacks killed dozens of people. The announcement comes a month before the start of the Winter Olympic Games in the Black Sea resort of Sochi. Russian authorities say they are deploying more than 30,000 police and interior ministry troops and limiting access to the Black Sea resort of Sochi. Yet, protecting the expected thousands of athletes and spectators at a time of suicide bombings in the country has become a major challenge, officials acknowledged...
Syrian rebels battling for control of key city (Los Angeles Times) Syrian rebel groups battled one another Monday for control of a provincial capital, part of a vicious round of score settling targeting an Al Qaeda affiliate that gained stature fighting President Bashar Assad but alienated many by imposing strict Islamic law. Fighting for control of Raqqah followed several days of heavy clashes in rebel-held territory farther west in which disparate militias advanced against fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. In March, Raqqah was the first major Syrian city to fall completely to rebel forces, and it has been one of the main bases of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
Why Christians are crucial to the Middle East (National Catholic Register) Thomas Farr is the director of the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center and a visiting associate professor of religion and international affairs at Georgetown’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service. A former American diplomat, he is a leading authority on international religious freedom. In December, the Religious Freedom Project hosted a Rome-based conference titled “Christianity and Freedom: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives.” “From Cairo and Damascus to Tehran and Beijing, religious freedom is under siege. Ironically, it is Christianity — a faith that contributed decisively to the rise of religious liberty — that now finds itself increasingly persecuted around the world,” the conference organizers noted. On 30 December, Farr offered further reflections on the reasons for the sharp rise in anti-Christian violence in the Middle East and the West’s failure to intervene...
6 January 2014
Tags: Pope Francis Middle East Christians Syrian Civil War Russia Patriarch Fouad Twal
In this 1996 photo, Abune Paulos, patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, douses a crowd with holy water. Abune Paulos passed away in 2012. (photo: Asrat Habte Mariam)
Christians around the world are celebrating Epiphany today. Several years ago we explored how this feast is observed in Ethiopia:
Since time immemorial, Ethiopians have worshiped the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of Jesus, the Apostles and saints. According to an ancient tradition, Menelik, the son of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, carried the Ark of the Covenant off to Aksum, the ancient capital of Ethiopia. This same tradition holds that the Ark, which the Hebrews believed symbolized the presence of God among them, remains in Aksum, enshrined in the cathedral complex of St. Mary of Zion. Within the sanctuary of every Ethiopian Orthodox church, a tabot rests on the altar, a reminder of God’s revelation in word and sacrament.
As evening drew near, the city’s clergy, balancing the sacred tabots, slowly converged on Jan Meda, the “Field of the King.” In my youth Jan Meda was considered the preserve of the monarch. Situated on this majestic field is the Pool of Temqat. This pool, considered holy by believers, was to be blessed by the patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, Abune Paulos, after vespers and an all-night vigil.
Elaborately decorated tents, erected on the field for the occasion, housed the sacred tabots. Meanwhile, two rows of priests, deacons, monks and debteras were formed. Separated by a patch of earth, but facing one another, the clergy began to chant the psalms rhythmically, the pace set by a priest-drummer. Throughout the night, in the tents where the tabots rested, the clergy recited prayers and chanted the holy office while the laity kept vigil in the open air.
Early on the morning of the feast Abune Paulos arrived at Jan Meda. Dressed majestically in white, and surrounded by his retinue of bishops, the patriarch took the place of the emperor, the “King of Kings, Conquering Lion of Judah,” the central figure of these ceremonies when Ethiopia was considered a Christian realm.
The celebration began with a series of sermons, which contemplated the meaning of Jesus’ baptism and the significance of God’s words: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). Delivered by monks from the country’s remote monasteries, these often lengthy reflections were followed by prayers and hymns.
Finally the patriarch, encircled by his clergy, solemnly blessed the waters of the Pool of Temqat with a golden cross. The rite was simple: the patriarch plunged the cross into the waters while the assembly chanted hymns and antiphons. The crowd stirred when the patriarch sprinkled the dignitaries and faithful with the blessed water — with a hose!
Read more about this celebration in Temqat: Celebrating Epiphany in Ethiopia.
6 January 2014
Tags: Ethiopia Ethiopian Orthodox Church Ethiopian Christianity Ethiopian Orthodox Patriarch Abune Paulos Epiphany
Syrian refugees drink tea as they sit in front of their tents at Zaatari refugee camp in Mafraq, Jordan, on 31 December. Pope Francis will dine with Syrian refugees during his 24 May visit to Jordan on a trip that also will include Israel and the Palestinian territories. (photo: CNS/Muhammad Hamed, Reuters)
Pope to visit Middle East, meet Orthodox leader (Voice of America) Pope Francis is to visit biblical sites in Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Territories in May, his first trip to the Christian Holy Land as pontiff and only the fourth by a pope since biblical times. The 24-26 May trip to Amman, Jerusalem and Bethlehem will mark the 50th anniversary of a historic trip to the region by Pope Paul VI. Pope John Paul II visited in 2000 and Pope Benedict XVI went in 2009. Apart from its significance for Catholic relations with Jews and Muslims, Pope Francis’ trip will hold major importance for relations among Christians because it will include a meeting in Jerusalem with the spiritual head of the world’s Orthodox Christians, as well as Anglican and Protestant leaders…
Bishop William Shomali on pope’s visit to Holy Land (Vatican Radio) The auxiliary bishop of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, William Shomali, told Vatican Radio that expectations are high for the pope’s planned visit. “Christians, Jews and Muslims [in the Holy Land] are counting on this visit to intensify the ecumenical and the interreligious relationships,” he said. You can listen to a recording of the bishop’s remarks at the bottom of the article…
Thousands march for refugee rights in Israel (Al Jazeera) Tens of thousands of African asylum seekers and their supporters continued a three-day protest Monday on the streets of Tel Aviv demanding that the Israeli government recognize their refugee status and end the policy of detention without trial. “More than 30,000 demonstrators marched peacefully,” police spokeswoman Lubra Samri said when the protest began on Sunday, which would make the action the largest such rally by migrants in Israel’s history. The protest comes after a December mass walkout from a detention facility by hundreds of asylum seekers who are detained there during the night and barred from seeking work during the day. Those caught breaking the strict rules risk arrest and confinement in a closed prison…
Fire of extremism devours decades-old library in Lebanon (Middle East Online) A decades-old library owned by a Greek Orthodox priest in north Lebanon’s majority Sunni city of Tripoli was torched late Friday, a day after a sectarian scuffle, a security source said. “Unknown assailants torched the Saeh Library in Tripoli, destroying two-thirds of some 80,000 books and manuscripts housed there,” said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The attack came a day after “a pamphlet was discovered inside one of the books at the library that was insulting to Islam and the prophet Mohammad,” said the source…
Egypt’s interim president visits Coptic pope (Independent) On Sunday, Egypt’s interim president on Sunday made a rare visit to see the pontiff of the nation’s Orthodox Christians at St. Mark’s Cathedral, the papal seat in central Cairo, according to a brief statement by the church. The highly symbolic visit to Pope Tawadros II by President Adly Mansour was made ahead of Coptic Christmas, which falls on Tuesday, 7 January. On his part, Pope Tawadros had taken the unusual step of publicly criticizing the president, rejecting an Islamist-tilted constitution adopted in 2012 that, in his view, was discriminatory and compromised the human rights of Egyptians…
2 January 2014
Tags: Pope Francis Refugees Middle East Violence against Christians Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II
A Christian farmer works the fields near his home in northern Egypt. (photo: David Degner)
In the Winter issue of ONE, now online, writer Sarah Topol visits one family of farmers in northern Egypt and recounts the difficulties they face:
Muslim extremists vandalized some 70 Christian homes in Abu Qurqas in a week of clashes that began on 18 April. The struggles of this small Catholic farming community of 6,000 located about 160 miles south of Cairo mirror the events taking place in Coptic communities across the country (ethnic Egyptian Christians are known as Copts, which derives from the Greek, “Aigyptios,” meaning Egyptian Christian). And though the Labib’s situation is extreme, their story is representative of the perils facing many of Upper Egypt’s Coptic families in these turbulent times.
Since the January 2011 revolution that toppled Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak, sectarian attacks in the country’s south have mushroomed. These days, Egypt’s Copt minority, which makes up roughly 10 percent of the population, feels a sense of anxiety as never before. Amid the general atmosphere of instability, rising prices and chronic shortages, the threat of extremist Muslim groups — both in organized politics and on the streets — has triggered sectarian attacks, along with a fear that the next bout of violence is just around the corner.
“They worry about everything related to stability; they don’t feel secure,” says Father Haidar, the pastor of the church of the Virgin Mary in Abu Qurqas. “This is their own country — they were born here, but they don’t feel safe.
“It’s the situation of Christians in the whole country,” he adds, “not just the situation of this village.” …
Father Haidar says [a] lack of accountability and justice has led many to be even more fearful, staying home and engaging even less with the society around them.
“They have been through many challenges and struggles since the revolution,” he explains. “They have lost many things — material things, as well as spiritual and psychological things,” he says of his parish community. And this loss bleeds into their faith.
“It’s not only in their daily life, it’s also in their spiritual aspects — their beliefs. We need to convince them God is with them and going to help.”
Read more about Seeds of Survival in Egypt in the Winter 2014 issue of ONE.
2 January 2014
Tags: Egypt Violence against Christians Farming/Agriculture Copts Egypt's Christians
Residents search for survivors after what activists said were air strikes by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad in Aleppo 28 December. (photo: CNS/Jalal Alhalabi, Reuters)
Missile strike kills at least 20 people in Aleppo (Los Angeles Times) At least 20 people were killed in Aleppo on Wednesday when a residential building was hit with a rocket from a warplane as the government’s daily bombardment of the northern Syria city continued, activists said. More than 500 people have been killed across Aleppo province in two weeks of a fierce government offensive with rockets and destructive barrel bombs, local doctors and human rights groups reported. Now approaching the end of its third year, the conflict in Syria has left more than 130,000 dead, reported the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a pro-opposition rights group, this week. Nearly 12,000 of those were women and children…
Melkite Greek Catholic archbishop speaks about Syrian Christians (Aid to the Church in Need) Syrian-born Archbishop John Darwish heads the Melkite Greek Catholic eparchies of Furzol, Zahle and Bekaa in Lebanon. With a population of 200,000 Christians, Zahle is the largest Christian city in the Middle East. His jurisdiction straddles the western border of Syria and is currently home to 800 Syrian Christian refugee families — a total of more than 6,000 people — who have fled their homeland where they were caught in the fighting between the Syrian regime and rebel forces, and where Islamist rebels have been increasingly targeting the Christian community. Archbishop Darwish spoke with Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need on 18 December, during his visit to New York…
Pope Tawadros cancels catechesis on day of constitutional referendum (Fides) As the people of Egypt are preparing for a referendum to express their opinions on the text of the new constitution, the patriarch of Alexandria of the Coptic Orthodox, Pope Tawadros II, decided to cancel the traditional Wednesday catechesis that was supposed to be held in conjunction with the referendum. The constitutional referendum is scheduled on 14-15 January…
Powerful explosion rocks Beirut (Al Jazeera) A powerful explosion has rocked southern Beirut, sending smoke rising from the stronghold of the armed Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah, according to local residents. Five people were killed and others wounded, according to the country’s Health Ministry. Thursday’s blast is the latest sign of heightened sectarian tensions in the country, already soaring because of the civil war in neighboring Syria…
Armenian Apostolic patriarch commemorates new year with message (Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin) Noting that 2013 was a year of progress, Patriarch Karekin II says: “There were also difficult times in the homeland as well as in the diaspora. We are facing deep-rooted problems such as making our country prosperous, defending our rights, reinforcing our statehood and improving our national and religious life. We are concerned with the predicament of the Armenian people living among the conflicts in the Middle East. We are hopeful that the children of Armenia will unite in the name of love for the homeland and nation. … On this New Year’s Day, I exhort our beloved people to fill their lives with spiritual healing and pilgrimage this year…”
31 December 2013
Tags: Egypt Syrian Civil War Armenian Apostolic Church Beirut Aleppo
In this 2010 photo, streetlights cast a soft glow on a Moscow street scene beside the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of Christ the Savior. (photo: Julia Vishnevets)
New Year’s Eve has arrived. As people of the world celebrate, many use this time to reflect on matters such as the potential for new beginnings, what we might learn from the past and the reconciliation of the old with the — often radically — new. To read about how the Russian Orthodox Church is adapting to a changing world, read Orthodoxy Renewed, from the March 2010 issue of ONE.
Please keep in your prayers those affected by the recent bombings in Russia — and violence the world over — that this new year may be one of peace and healing.
Happy New Year!
31 December 2013
Tags: Cultural Identity Russia Russian Orthodox Church
Abune Mathias, patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, poses earlier this year with Msgr. John E. Kozar, CNEWA’s president; Argaw Fantu, regional director for Ethiopia; and Gerald Jones, former regional director for Ethiopia. (photo: Thomas Varghese)
Patriarch of Ethiopian Orthodox Church arrested temporarily (Zegabi) The patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tawahedo Church, Abune Mathias, was placed under house arrest temporarily, but has since been released, according to a report by the Ethiopian Review today. The move is reported to have been attributed to Tsegaye Behane, national security adviser to the prime minister, allegedly over the patriarch’s criticisms of the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Force. Abune Mathias was reportedly interrogated for 72 hours before his release…
Israel releases 26 more Palestinian prisoners (Los Angeles Times) Israel released 26 Palestinian prisoners early Tuesday, the third of four groups it promised to free as part of peace talks restarted during the summer. Most of the prisoners were from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ ruling Fatah faction and were serving long sentences for killing Israelis. Israel released the five Jerusalem prisoners at a checkpoint on the Mount of Olives where they were awaited by hundreds of family members, friends and officials carrying Palestinian flags and posters of the prisoners. Adnan Afandi of Bethlehem, one of the freed men, had served 21 years in prison. “I feel that we came out from the grave and into life once again,” he said…
Aleppo archbishop says church helps everyone, ‘without distinction’ (AsiaNews) “The church in Aleppo is standing steadfast despite the bombs, hunger and cold of recent weeks,” said Chaldean Archbishop Antoine Audo of Aleppo. “We want to live and have faith, and show our solidarity to everyone without distinction of religion or faction. This is our mission, our task.” Although the situation has improved in the past few days, the city is full of poor people, the archbishop noted. Still, the situation has not stopped Christians and the church from helping others and praying for peace in all of Syria…
Russia orders security crackdown after bombings (Vatican Radio) Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered new security measures across Russia following two suicide attacks killed dozens of people within two days in the southern city of Volgograd. Local residents remain concerned however after Monday’s attack on a trolley bus killed 15 people and Sunday’s blast at the main train station took at least 18 lives. Security forces are seen in Volgograd around what was once a blue and white trolley bus, powered by overhead electric cables. It is now reduced to a twisted, gutted carcass…
Tags: Syrian Civil War Israeli-Palestinian conflict Russia Ethiopian Orthodox Church Syrian Catholic