9 September 2013
Lebanese and Syrian Christian Maronites pray for peace in Syria at the Basilica of Our Lady of Lebanon in Harissa on 7 September. (photo: CNS/Hasan Shaaban, Reuters)
An estimated 100,000 people gathered in St. Peter’s Square Saturday for the historic Vigil of Prayer for Peace, led by Pope Francis. Countless more joined the bishop of Rome in prayer around the world.
Pope Francis concluded his homily with these words:
Is it possible to walk the path of peace? Can we get out of this spiral of sorrow and death? Can we learn once again to walk and live in the ways of peace? Invoking the help of God, under the maternal gaze of the Salus Populi Romani, Queen of Peace, I say: Yes, it is possible for everyone! From every corner of the world tonight, I would like to hear us cry out: Yes, it is possible for everyone! Or even better, I would like for each one of us, from the least to the greatest, including those called to govern nations, to respond: Yes, we want it! My Christian faith urges me to look to the Cross. How I wish that all men and women of good will would look to the Cross if only for a moment! There, we can see God’s reply: violence is not answered with violence, death is not answered with the language of death. In the silence of the Cross, the uproar of weapons ceases and the language of reconciliation, forgiveness, dialogue, and peace is spoken.
This evening, I ask the Lord that we Christians, and our brothers and sisters of other religions, and every man and woman of good will, cry out forcefully: violence and war are never the way to peace! Let everyone be moved to look into the depths of his or her conscience and listen to that word which says: Leave behind the self-interest that hardens your heart, overcome the indifference that makes your heart insensitive towards others, conquer your deadly reasoning, and open yourself to dialogue and reconciliation. Look upon your brother’s sorrow — I think of the children: look upon these … look at the sorrow of your brother, stay your hand and do not add to it, rebuild the harmony that has been shattered; and all this achieved not by conflict but by encounter! May the noise of weapons cease! War always marks the failure of peace, it is always a defeat for humanity. Let the words of Pope Paul VI resound again: “No more one against the other, no more, never! … Never again war!
“Peace expresses itself only in peace, a peace which is not separate from the demands of justice but which is fostered by personal sacrifice, clemency, mercy and love.” Brothers and Sisters, forgiveness, dialogue, reconciliation — these are the words of peace, in beloved Syria, in the Middle East, in all the world! Let us pray this evening for reconciliation and peace, let us work for reconciliation and peace, and let us all become, in every place, men and women of reconciliation and peace! So may it be.
Read the entire text of the homily at this link. You can watch an excerpt of the pope’s homily below.
9 September 2013
Tags: Pope Francis Vatican Middle East Peace Process Prayers/Hymns/Saints
The Catholic Women’s League (C.W.L.) of Canada is generously supporting projects to aid poor Christian families in the Holy Land through CNEWA Canada. Members of this fine organization — including Velma Harasen, C.W.L.’s former national president — were able to visit these projects during our Holy Land Pilgrimage.
The video above highlights the good work of two of CNEWA’s partners in the Holy Land:
The Infant Welfare Center in Jerusalem assists teenagers with learning disabilities and helps them to stay in school, as well as providing support for their families and teachers.
The Shepherd’s Field Hospital in Beit Sahour (near Bethlehem) provides much-needed health care to pregnant women, new mothers and their babies — including many of the poorest in the region.
Click here if you’d like to contribute to “Velma’s Dream.”
Next year, from 29 June – 9 July 2014, CNEWA Canada will again extend to C.W.L. members the opportunity to join us on a pilgrimage. We will visit the holy places of the Bible, meet Holy Land Christians and witness the good works of our many partners in the region. If you are interested, visit the trip page for more info. You can also watch our Holy Land pilgrimage promo video.
9 September 2013
Tags: Holy Land Pilgrimage/pilgrims Donors Holy Land Christians CNEWA Canada
In this 2008 photo, a man writes on a board during class at the Aramaic Language Institute in Maaloula, Syria, where local residents can study the writing and grammar of their ancestral language. (photo: CNS/Brooke Anderson)
Syrian war makes sudden appearance at convent in iconic Christian town (Washington Post) High in the mountains above Damascus lies a town so remote that Syria’s war had passed it by, so untouched by time that its inhabitants still speak the language of Jesus. The violence ravaging the rest of Syria has finally caught up with Maaloula, renowned as the oldest Christian community in the world — and the last in which the same version of Aramaic that prevailed 2,000 years ago is the native tongue. On Sunday, Syrian rebels, including some affiliated with Al Qaeda, swept through Maaloula for the second time in four days, after an assault a few days earlier in which the last of its few thousand residents fled and the specter of unchecked violence threatened to convulse the iconic town…
Melkite patriarch issues appeal to save Maaloula (Fides) Melkite Patriarch Gregory III, lamenting what he calls “the great tragedy of this war,” has launched an urgent appeal “to the international community, to the conscience of the whole world, to save the small village of Maaloula, which is a very important Christian symbol in the history of Syria…”
A testimony from a Syrian monastery (L’Osservatore Romano) Sister Marta Luisa Fagnani, a member of a small community of Italian Trappist nuns in Syria, speaks to L’Osservatore Romano about remaining prayerful under the present conditions. “Prayer and fasting are like weapons to empty oneself of oneself and to try to be more reasonable, to make oneself listen to a deeper wisdom,” Sister Marta Luisa says. “Prayer is powerful, of that we are convinced. Otherwise, we would not have chosen this life…”
Christians and Hindus united in fasting and prayer for peace in Syria (Fides) Fasting and prayer for peace in Syria sees Christians and Hindus in India united. Bishop Felix Machado of Vasai, president of the Commission for Ecumenical and Interreligious Dialogue of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, told Fides: “The pope’s appeal for a special day for peace in Syria was welcomed with joy and enthusiasm by Christians in India, and now has spread to the leaders and the Hindu communities. Some Hindu leaders called me to express solidarity and to ensure fasting and prayer in the Hindu temples…”
Pope: Waging war against evil means discarding violence (VIS) Pope Francis, following yesterday’s fast and prayer vigil for peace in Syria, the Middle East and all over the world, returned to the theme of peace during the Angelus at midday today. He commented on today’s Gospel reading in which Jesus states the condition for his disciples: to put nothing before their love for God, carrying their cross, and following Jesus. “At this moment in time, when we are praying intensely for peace, this Word of the Lord affects us profoundly, and fundamentally it says: ‘There’s a deeper war we must fight, all of us!’ It is the strong and brave decision to renounce evil and its seductions, and to choose good, fully prepared to pay personally — that is, following Christ, and taking up our cross! It is a profound war against evil! What is the point of fighting wars, many wars, if you are not capable of fighting this deeper war against evil? There’s no point!” the pope said…
Ecumenical patriarch meets with president of Estonia (The Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople) On 5 September Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople visited President Toomas Hendrik Ilves of Estonia to express his gratitude for their support of the Apostolic Orthodox Church of Estonia, especially following the restoration of its status of autonomy by the Ecumenical Patriarchate in 1996. Afterward, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew responded to questions from the local media regarding the two Orthodox jurisdictions in Estonia, the situation in Syria, and other contemporary issues…
6 September 2013
Tags: Pope Francis Syrian Civil War Violence against Christians Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I Estonia
In this image from last fall, a refugee child from Syria stands outside a makeshift shelter in the village of Jeb Jennine, in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley (photo: CNS/Paul Jeffrey)
The Catholic News Service (CNS) has established a special page on its website devoted to news and information about the crisis in Syria.
Along with the latest headlines from the Middle East and the Vatican, the site also has video, interviews and resources that can guide readers thorugh the sometimes complicated details of this critically important story.
Visit the page, titled “Praying for Peace in Syria,” and check back often. It’s updated several times a day. Saturday, it will feature a livestream of the pope’s prayer vigil at this link.
6 September 2013
Children at Our Lady of Armenia summer camp pose for the camera. (photo: Armineh Johannes)
In 2007, we paid a visit to central Armenia, and met children at a flourishing camp:
Diramayr is a refuge for Armenian orphans living in state orphanages as well as children invited by social workers and the Armenian Sisters of the Immaculate Conception, an Armenian Catholic community that sponsors the camp.
For Sister Arousiag, who returned to the land of her ancestors in the summer of 1990, the camp strengthens the emotional well-being of children scarred by abandonment and poverty and deepens their exposure to their Armenian culture and heritage.
“I like to think that here the children are camping with Christ,” Sister Arousiag said. “Many of the kids had never been to church before coming here.”
Religious devotions and catechism constitute a significant portion of the day at Diramayr. Days begin and end with prayer, while catechism class is a daily feature. Sunday mornings are reserved for the celebration of the Soorp Badarak, the Divine Liturgy.
Because few Armenians belong to the Armenian Catholic Church (just 220,000 of its 2.9 million citizens), most of those who attend the camp nominally belong to the Armenian Apostolic Church, the historic faith community of the Armenian people. The two churches share the same culture, liturgy and traditions (only full communion with the Church of Rome distinguishes Catholic from Armenian Apostolic Christians), thus sparing the camp from religious discord.
Sister Arousiag said she would not let a child’s religious background become an admissions factor. “How can I turn down a needy child just because they aren’t Catholic?”
Summer camp would not be summer camp if the campers had their heads stuck in their Bibles or catechisms all day. Children study languages (French or English), art and computers and also have plenty of time for sports and outdoor activities such as hiking and canoeing. They also take day trips to nearby Lake Sevan and visit the ancient historical monuments that dot Armenia’s countryside.
While most of the day is scheduled, the campers also have free time to horse around in the playground or chat with their friends.
Read more about the Kid’s Camps in the Caucasus from the November 2007 issue of ONE.
6 September 2013
In the Bethlehem Icon Center’s temporary classroom at Bethlehem University, students watch as Ian Knowles demonstrates the steps involved in painting an icon of the face of Christ, also known as the Mandylion. (photo: Nicholas Seeley)
In the Summer edition of ONE, writer Nicholas Seeley reports on one man’s efforts to pass on the art of icon writing. Here, the author describes for us how he first got to know the man behind that project.
I first met Ian Knowles in 2010, in Jordan. I was working on a story for this magazine about how the kingdom was trying to capture a bigger slice of the fast-growing faith tourism market. One of the lesser-known pilgrimage sites I visited was the Shrine of Our Lady of the Mountain, in the northern town of Anjara. It was one of five spots in Jordan the Vatican had highlighted as important destinations for pilgrims, but it was far from a tourist trap: a tiny church and convent in a tiny town, struggling to make ends meet and to provide services to a community facing growing economic hardship.
But in the nave of the Anjara church hung a pair of extraordinary wooden panels — giant triptychs painted with scenes from the life of Christ. They caught my attention immediately. There was a vibrancy, a sense of intention and inner light to the stylized figures that smashed through the musty vision of iconography I had taken away from art history classes. Though the work was very traditional, these pieces felt new, alive with message. And, while I knew that the tradition of icon creation was most associated with Greece and Russia, these pieces felt powerfully Middle Eastern — from the choice of colors and tones, to the names in Arabic script, to the many tiny references to the sacred geometry that is the center of Islamic art.
As it happened, in the church that day there was also a man up a ladder, busily putting the first shades of burnt sienna on the figure of the transfigured Christ that would become the center of the third panel. I stayed to take some pictures and to ask him about the church, and we fell to talking for some hours about tourism, history, and icons. And that’s how I met Ian Knowles.
I learned that it was his third trip to Anjara; he had been coming since 2009, staying for two or three months at a stretch to work on the panels. Though most of his work as a professional iconographer was in England, he had spent much of his time over the past two years in the Middle East, teaching and volunteering: painting new pieces for churches here, or restoring old ones. In the creation of icons, he found a way to offer something spiritual to Christian communities faced with an increasingly difficult social and economic situation.
He described how visiting the region had reinvigorated his art, and nurtured his growing interest in the Byzantine period, and the origins of iconography.
“I go back to the Byzantine period in the Middle East for a lot of my inspiration, because that’s when it was a truly Arab culture, but also a truly Christian culture; and rooted here; and of universal significance,” he said. “You wander around Beit Jala or Mar Elias, and you suddenly come across some fantastic Byzantine ruins. And they’re everywhere!”
And, of course, he mentioned his most ambitious idea: he was running a course in creating icons in Bethlehem, and he had the dream of starting a non-profit, a school where talented young Palestinian artists could come and learn the craft.
As he spoke about the essence of icon writing, I began to understand what was so powerful about his work. The icon is an object in which faith and prayer are made manifest, a physical expression of the religious context. Years on from that conversation in Anjara, it is truly exciting to see Ian Knowles’ dream of an icon school becoming a reality, and to have the opportunity to watch him pass along his remarkable gifts.
6 September 2013
People walk near destroyed buildings and debris in Deir al-Zor, Syria, on 4 September.
(photo: CNS/Khalil Ashawi, Reuters)
U.S. orders diplomats out of Lebanon (AP) The State Department on Friday ordered nonessential U.S. diplomats to leave Lebanon due to security concerns as the Obama administration and Congress debate military strikes on neighboring Syria. In a new travel warning for Lebanon, the department said it had instructed nonessential staffers to leave Beirut and urged private American citizens to depart Lebanon. The step had been under consideration since last week when President Barack Obama said he was contemplating military action against the Syrian government for its alleged chemical weapons attack last month that the administration said killed more than 1,400 people near Damascus. “The potential in Lebanon for a spontaneous upsurge in violence remains,” the department said...
Divisons remain over Syria at G20 summit (Vatican Radio) World leaders are continuing their discussions on the final day of the G20 Summit in St Petersburg, Russia. Divisions still remain on what sort of action to take on Syria. President Barack Obama told G20 leaders the United States has high confidence that Syrian forces used chemical weapons and underlined the need to uphold an international ban on the use of such weapons.But Russia, China and the EU are still opposed to a military solution...
Vatican’s Foreign Secretary meets with diplomats to discuss Syria (Vatican Radio) The Vatican’s Secretary for Foreign Relations Archbishop Dominque Mamberti has met with world ambassadors accredited to the Holy See to discuss Pope Francis’ initiative calling for a day of prayer and fasting for peace in Syria on Saturday 7 September. In a briefing for journalists about Thursday’s meeting, Director of the Vatican Press Office, Fr. Federico Lombardi, denied “in the most complete manner” that Pope Francis had telephoned Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. Fr. Lombardi was responding to reports in Italian media which he described as “devoid of foundation”...
Cardinal McCarrick: no strikes in Syria; don’t repeat mistakes of Iraq (CNS) Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, retired archbishop of Washington, said he opposed U.S. military intervention in Syria, adding that he was “not in favor of going to war to make peace.” “We made the mistake in Iraq. I hope we don’t make the mistake again in Syria,” he told Catholic News Service 5 September after visiting some of the nearly half-million refugees who had fled to Jordan, Syria’s southern neighbor. When asked what was worst, either allow Syria to use chemical weapons and do nothing or go in with limited military strikes, he quickly responded: “Neither is the proper answer”...
Archbishop Pendergast heartened by aid projects in Ethiopia (Catholic Register) Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast returned from a recent visit to Ethiopia pleased with how money is being spent in projects being funded by Canadian Catholics. The Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace had launched campaigns to raise funds to avert food crises in both the Sahel Region and the Horn of Africa in recent years. Prendergast was part of the delegation formed so Canadian Catholics can see what is being done with their money. “Ethiopia was considered the safest option and, though (D&P) has had involvement there for many years, no one had visited,” he said...
5 September 2013
In this image from last fall, rubble is seen near the altar inside a church damaged during shelling in Homs, Syria. (photo: CNS/Shaam News Network, handout via Reuters)
Once again there is talk of the United States being involved in military action in another Middle Eastern country. Having worked with Middle East issues for decades and now doing the same at Catholic Near East Welfare Association, I know people will ask my opinion about what is going on and the possibility of military action.
I have asked myself, “How many times have you found yourself in this situation?” I thought of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the so-called First Gulf War to remove Saddam Hussein from Kuwait, the bombing of Libya. It got me wondering about how often the United States has been involved in military action in a foreign country. I was born in 1944. Franklin D. Roosevelt was president. A very unscientific run through the “archives” of my brain have led me to realize that — with the exception of Jimmy Carter — every U.S. president in my 69 years of life has been involved in military action in a foreign country. If, as I fear, engaging in this kind of military action can be addictive, this is a very disturbing thing.
I have visited Syria. I have dear friends there. I know Syrians who have personally lived through the horrors of the bombing of Aleppo. A relative of people I know took her two grade-school children and left their home in a Damascus suburb the day before the poison gas attack.
Christians and Muslims have lived together in peace in Syria for a long time. A Muslim colleague pointed out to me proudly that one of the minarets of the ancient Umayyad Mosque was called “Our Lord Jesus.” In the past two years, however, the situation of Christians has gotten increasingly more precarious. They have been driven out of villages where they have lived for centuries. Two archbishops have been kidnapped and their whereabouts unknown. Christians have been killed, churches destroyed and it seems as if life will never again return to normal.
Yet, Christian voices from Syria are almost unanimous in stating that outside military intervention — be it in the form of bombing or the sale of weapons — will not only not help, but will make their situation worse. The Melkite Greek Catholic patriarch in Damascus and the Chaldean patriarch in Baghdad have spoken out against a U.S. attack on Syria. Pope Francis has repeatedly called for a non-violent political solution to the carnage in Syria. Everyone condemns the use of poison gas. It is evil, a crime against humanity that cries out to God. However, over 100,000 Syrians have died already through conventional warfare. Is this means of killing any less evil?
Pope Francis has declared a period of prayer and fasting for peace in Syria and the Middle East this Saturday, 7 September. Christians, Muslims and all people of good will need to give witness to the belief that violence begets violence and that the only peace that can hold is one based on non-violence and mutual respect.
To help displaced Syrian families, click here.
5 September 2013
Syrian refugees, fleeing the violence in their country, cross the border into the Kurdish region of northern Iraq on 4 September. (photo: CNS/Haider Ala, Reuters)
The USCCB president and chair of CNEWA Cardinal Timothy Dolan has written to President Obama on the worsening crisis in Syria.
His letter says, in part:
As our nation contemplates military action in Syria, we want to assure you and your Administration of our prayers. We know that the situation in Syria is complex and appreciate the patience and restraint that your Administration has exercised to date. We affirm your decision to invite public dialogue and Congressional review of any possible military action, and want to contribute to that discussion from our perspective as Catholic pastors and teachers.
We join you in your absolute condemnation of the use of chemical weapons in Syria. These indiscriminate weapons have no place in the arsenals of the family of nations. With you we mourn for the lives lost and grieve with the families of the deceased. At the same time, we remain profoundly concerned for the more than 100,000 Syrians who have lost their lives, the more than 2 million who have fled the country as refugees, and the more than 4 million within Syria who have been driven from their homes by the violence. Our focus is on the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in Syria and on saving lives by ending the conflict, not fueling it.
We have heard the urgent calls of the Successor of Saint Peter, Pope Francis, and our suffering brother bishops of the venerable and ancient Christian communities of the Middle East. As one, they beg the international community not to resort to military intervention in Syria. They have made it clear that a military attack will be counterproductive, will exacerbate an already deadly situation, and will have unintended negative consequences. Their concerns find a strong resonance in American public opinion that questions the wisdom of intervention and in the lack of international consensus.
We make our own the appeal of Pope Francis: “I exhort the international community to make every effort to promote clear proposals for peace in that country without further delay, a peace based on dialogue and negotiation, for the good of the entire Syrian people. May no effort be spared in guaranteeing humanitarian assistance to those wounded by this terrible conflict, in particular those forced to flee and the many refugees in nearby countries.”
Read the entire text at the USCCB website.
5 September 2013
Pope Francis exchanges a gift with Catholicos Baselios Mar Thoma Paulose II, head of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, during a private audience at the Vatican on 5 September.
(photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)