9 April 2014
In this image from 2010, police limit access to the courtyard of the Holy Sepulchre, where thousands typically greet the procession. (photo: CNEWA, Jerusalem)
Some significant news out of Jerusalem today, from the Associated Press:
Palestinian Christians are awaiting a High Court of Justice ruling on a petition asking the state and the Israel Police to drop the heavy movement and security restrictions that have prevented worshipers from accessing holy sites in East Jerusalem on Holy Saturday during the past several years. Holy Saturday, which is the day before Easter, falls this year on 19 April.
The petition, filed in February by several East Jerusalem residents, argues that police roadblocks and barricades in and around the Old City on that day deter worshipers from even attempting to access the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and other sites for Holy Saturday celebrations. The petitioners have also asked that armed security personnel not be allowed to enter the church. The heads of the five Eastern Orthodox churches and the Franciscan Custos of the Holy Land also joined the petition.
Holy Saturday, also called the Saturday of Light by some of the eastern churches, is marked in East Jerusalem with a fire ceremony that symbolizes the resurrection of Christ. The custom for the past several hundred years is that the Greek Orthodox patriarch enters the holy sepulcher with an extinguished torch and prays. The tradition is that at 2 P.M., the torch lights up on its own, and its fire is passed on to the torches of other denominations and to the candles carried by thousands of believers waiting in the church and outside it.
According to the petitioners, between 1967 and 2005 Israel respected the Holy Saturday tradition and its character as a mass event. But in 2006, in a step that was never explained, the police started to erect barriers and screen worshipers before allowing them to enter. The petitioners’ attorney, Assad Masawi, said that in 2010, Palestinian Christian leaders began a dialogue with the authorities that resulted in somewhat improved access in 2011 and 2012. But in 2013 the situation deteriorated again, with reports of police roughing up worshipers and clergymen en route to the celebrations and refusing to allow access to various delegations whose visits had been coordinated in advance.
This is an issue CNEWA has been following for some time. In 2010, CNEWA’s Regional Director for Palestine and Israel, Sami el-Yousef, described the bittersweet atmosphere in Jerusalem during Holy Week:
For the past few years, Israeli authorities have closed the Old City and the area around the Church of the Holy Sepulchre during Holy Week, preventing local Christian and pilgrims from attending the Holy Fire celebration.
My 88-year-old father remembers when Jordan controlled East Jerusalem. During Holy Week, fleets of buses packed with pilgrims from Lebanon, Syria, Egypt and Iraq would park along the road to Jericho. The crowds of pilgrims would walk to the celebration in the Old City. Their numbers far exceeded today’s turnout at Easter time, yet the Old City never closed its gates and the streets inside were never blocked. Access was open to all.
A couple of years ago, Israeli authorities attempted to impose a permit system limiting the number of people who could attend the Holy Fire celebration. Incensed, local Christians demanded the government respect the church’s centuries-old Status Quo, which prohibits any restrictions on the faithful visiting the church. After all, pilgrims naturally want to get as close as possible to Christianity’s birthplace, especially during Holy Week.
This year, despite outcry from church leaders, members of civil society and the Christian community at large, Israeli authorities made it next to impossible to enter the Old City on Holy Saturday. In the early morning hours, police set up roadblocks at all the Old City’s gates and dozens of manned checkpoints along the streets and alleyways leading to the church. Authorities cooperated with church leaders only to the extent of allowing a limited number of local Christians access to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, provided that police escort them. Israeli authorities also detained a small group of locals at Saint Jacob’s Orthodox Church from early morning until just 15 minutes before the Holy Fire celebration began.
Since I live in the Old City, it was very strange to be escorted by Israeli police officers to my church. I felt ashamed to have capitulated to such treatment, but regretfully that was the only way to get to my destination. It was even stranger to witness St. Jacob’s Church — my parish — transformed into a holding cell, a detention center if you will, for hours.
Read more about Christian High Holy Days in the May 2010 issue of ONE.
9 April 2014
In preparations for Holy Week, Pope Tawadros II on Tuesday 8 April prepares holy chrism for the first time since his ordination in November 2012. The event marks the 38th times the chrism has been made in the Coptic Orthodox Church. To learn more about chrism, and its purposes, and to see more pictures of Tuesday’s liturgy, check out this link. And to learn more about the Christians of Egypt, read this profile from our magazine.
(photo: from Coptic Facebook page, via Ahram Online)
9 April 2014
Pope Francis arrives for his general audience on 9 April. (photo: CNS)
Pope expresses “profound pain” at murder of priest in Syria (Reuters) Pope Francis spoke on Wednesday of his deep grief over the assassination of a 75-year-old Dutch Jesuit priest in Syria and made a renewed appeal for an end to the violence. Frans van der Lugt had been living in Syria since the 1970’s and had become widely known for his refusal to leave Christians who remained in the rebel-held city of Homs as it was blockaded by government forces. He was beaten and shot dead by unidentified gunmen at his monastery on Monday...
During general audience, Pope Francis appeals for peace in Syria (CNS) Here is our translation of Pope Francis’ remarks today about the murder of Jesuit Father Frans van der Lugt and the continuing war in Syria: “Monday in Homs, Syria, Father Frans van der Lugt, my 75-year-old Dutch Jesuit confrere, was assassinated. He arrived in Syria about 50 years ago and always did his best for everyone with graciousness and love, and so was loved and held in esteem by Christians and Muslims. His brutal murder filled me with with deep sadness and made me think again of all the people who suffer and are dying in that martyred country, already too long a victim of a bloody conflict that continues to sow death and destruction...”
Ukrainian official: unrest will be resolved by force or by talks in 48 hours (CNN) Ukrainian acting Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said Wednesday that the separatist protests in Ukraine's eastern region would be resolved within 48 hours — either through negotiations or the use of force. At the same time, Russia insisted that the presence of its troops just over the border was no reason to worry...
Ethnic Armenians tell of flight from Kasab, Syria (Los Angeles Times) They fled Kasab at daybreak, amid the clamor of artillery and word that Islamist rebels were advancing toward them from Turkey. About 2,500 residents, most of them ethnic Armenians, gathered documents and what few possessions they could carry. They piled into cars and minibuses that carried them 40 miles down mountain roads to the government-held city of Latakia. Only some elderly remained behind, residents said. “We escaped with the clothes on our back,” said one of those who eventually made it to Lebanon...
8 April 2014
Tags: Syria Pope Francis Ukraine Armenia
Frans Van Der Lugt, S.J. (photo: courtesy Ziad Hilal, S.J.)
The world is shocked by the news of the ruthless murder of Rev. Frans Van Der Lugt, a 75-year-old Dutch Jesuit who was killed early yesterday morning in Homs, Syria. A masked gunman entered the Jesuit residence where Father Frans lived and shot him twice in the head.
This horrific event has hit us hard in the Beirut office of CNEWA. We have known and worked with Father Frans for nearly a decade.
Father Frans was a psychotherapist involved in interreligious dialogue in Syria since 1967. He also built a center in Homs that housed 40 children with mental disabilities.
He was a well-known figure in the old city of Homs, respected by many for his refusal to leave the old city’s remaining residents despite constant shelling and dwindling supplies, insisting that Syria was his home and he wanted to be with the country’s citizens in their time of need. The old city has been held by the rebels and under a government siege for nearly two years. Father Frans’ appeals for help, posted on YouTube, described dramatically the dire circumstances facing the people of Homs, where food was scarce and even milk for newborns was hard to come by.
CNEWA has worked with the Middle East province of the Jesuit Fathers for decades, especially its communities in Lebanon and Syria. In 2006, CNEWA supported Father Frans and his work with children near Homs, rehabilitating the Al Ard Center for the mentally challenged. Located some 18 miles from Homs in the village of Al Qusayr near the Lebanese-Syrian border, the center is owned and operated by the Jesuit Fathers under the jurisdiction of the Latin archbishop in Syria. Directed by Father Frans, the center provided physical therapy, teaching and skill-building five days a week, five hours a day — and all that for free. Before Syria’s civil war, the center also received people seeking spiritual meditation, formation and retreats. The center also established an agro-industrial center for the production of olive oil and wine.
Even during the siege of Homs, when we couldn’t contact Father Frans directly, CNEWA continued to support the needy, marginalized and suffering people of Homs through his brother Jesuit, Rev. Ziad Hilal, who also remained in Syria. Since 2012, CNEWA has been able to provide 5,310 Syrian families in Homs with food and 4,100 Syrian students with school kits through Father Ziad.
Our efforts to support the struggling and suffering people of Syria go on. You can learn more about how to help at this page.
Meantime, our thoughts and prayers are with our Jesuit colleagues in Syria. We grieve with them, and for all the people of Homs who knew and loved this remarkable and courageous priest.
As the Vatican noted yesterday, the world has lost “a man of peace.”
8 April 2014
In this image from 2004, pilgrims pray the Stations of the Cross in Jerusalem. Holy Week, the most sacred time of the year for Christians, begins next Sunday. (photo: Peter Lemieux)
8 April 2014
Pro-Russia protesters scuffle with the police at the regional government building in Donetsk, Ukraine, on 6 April. A Ukrainian Catholic bishop has warned his church could lose its legal status under Russian rule, and pledged to use “all possible means in the international arena” to defend it. (photo: CNS/Reuters)
Ukraine cracks down on demonstrators; Russia issues warning (Los Angeles Times) Ukrainian riot police on Tuesday cleared a regional administration building and public square in the eastern city of Kharkiv of hundreds of pro-Russia protesters, detaining scores in the process, officials said. In response, Russia’s Foreign Ministry issued a stern warning against the use of force on pro-Russia protesters in eastern Ukraine and alleged the direct involvement of private U.S. military experts…
Georgia’s ancient capital Mtskheta becomes holy city (Interfax) Georgian Orthodox Patriarch Ilia II has conferred the title of “holy city” on Georgia’s ancient capital Mtskheta, a place revered by Georgians…
Egypt’s media blackout on Sinai (Al Monitor) Ever since the beginning of the military operation that began in the Sinai Peninsula after the ouster of President Muhammad Morsi, there has been a media blackout regarding the events going on in this vital part of Egypt and the crises that its citizens are enduring. According to Mustafa Senger, a political activist from the Sinai, one of the most important problems is that mobile phone and Internet networks have stopped working…
Syria’s latest battle: The PR fight over sanctuary for Christians (Christian Science Monitor) When the Syrian opposition took over the Armenian Christian town of Kessab in coastal Syria last month, its 2,000 residents fled. Given the presence of Al Qaeda-linked Jabhat al Nusra and other Islamist groups, they feared the worst for their town. So far, these fears have not been realized. Instead, rebels appear to be using Kessab as an opportunity to try to undo their reputation for extreme brutality towards Syria’s Christians and Shiites. But the Assad regime, which considers itself the protector of minorities, has launched a media campaign to demonstrate how Islamists are terrorizing Christians in Kessab, turning the town into a public relations battlefield in Syria’s civil war…
Fears rise about impact of drought on Syrians (U.N. World Food Program) The United Nations World Food Program (W.F.P.) provided assistance to a record 4 million people in Syria last month but a special report published today highlights how a potential drought would strain the country’s already fragile food security situation. W.F.P. food security analysts say rainfall since September has been less than half the long-term average, and will have a major impact on the next cereal harvest…
Syrians mourn slain Jesuit priest (Al Jazeera) After three years of civil war, during which brutal killing has become commonplace, many Syrians were left stunned Monday by the murder of a Dutch Jesuit priest gunned down in Homs, the besieged city that he refused to abandon. Francis Van Der Lugt — or Abouna (“Father”) Frans, as he was known to Syrians — touched the lives of many, not only Christians. As word of his death spread through Syria, Syrians grieved publically. On Facebook, young and old replaced their profile pictures with one of Frans: in a T-shirt, on a bicycle, among the olive trees, or smiling under the unmistakable black basalt arches of Homs’s Old City…
7 April 2014
Tags: Syria Egypt Ukraine United Nations Georgian Orthodox Church
Dutch Jesuit Father Frans van der Lugt, who had worked in Syria since 1966, was abducted from his home in Homs, beaten by armed men and killed with two bullets to the head, the Jesuits said on 7 April. He is pictured in a late January photo. (CNS photo/Yaz an Homsy, Reuters)
The news today about Rev. Francis van der Lugt, a Jesuit priest gunned down in Homs, sent shockwaves around the world. We were struck, in particular, by a connection to CNEWA. A story in the Associated Press quoted one of our contributors, a colleague and friend of Father van der Lugt, Rev. Ziad Hilal:
Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said the 75-year-old van der Lugt, was “a man of peace, who with great courage, had wanted to remain faithful, in an extremely risky and difficult situation, to the Syrian people to whom he had dedicated, for a long time, his life and spiritual service.”
It appeared that van der Lugt was directly targeted. A single gunman walked into the monastery, entered the garden and shot him in the head, said Rev. Ziad Hillal, a priest, who was in the convent when the attacked occurred.
“I am truly shocked. A man of peace has been murdered,” Hillal said in a phone interview from Homs with the Vatican Radio.
Van der Lugt’s death was first reported by Homs-based priest Assad Nayyef, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the state-run news agency, SANA.
An activist based in a blockaded rebel-area said rebel fighters were shocked by the priest’s death.
“The man was living with us, eating with us, sleeping with us. He didn’t leave, even when the blockade was eased,” said Beibars Tilawi said via Skype. Regardless of the rebels’ views toward Christians, the priest was well-liked for his efforts to get the blockade lifted and alleviate widespread suffering and hunger among civilians, Tilawi said.
We join our prayers with all those in Syria, and indeed around the world, who are grieving this tragedy.
For more on the crisis in Syria, read Fr. Ziad Hilal’s “Letter from Syria” in the Summer 2013 issue of ONE.
7 April 2014
A volunteer jokes with a patient during a holiday party at St. Louis Hospital in Jerusalem. To learn more about this hospital’s mission and its diverse residents, read An Oasis of Compassion from the September 2012 issue of ONE. (photo: Debbie Hill)
7 April 2014
Tags: Jerusalem Sisters Health Care
Jesuit Father Frans van der Lugt chats with civilians in early January, urging them to be patient, in the besieged area of Homs, Syria. The Jesuits said on 7 April that the Dutch priest, who had worked in Syria since 1966, was beaten by armed men and killed with two bullets to the head.
(photo: CNS/Thaer Al Khalidiya, Reuters)
Jesuit priest killed in Homs (Vatican Radio) Dutch Jesuit Rev. Frans van der Lugt, a priest who lived in the war-torn Syrian city of Homs, was killed this morning. Fr. Alex Basili, Provincial of the Jesuits in the Middle East and the Maghreb confirmed the news to the Catholic news agency Fides. Fides reports that on 7 April, at around 8 am, Father Frans van der Lugt was abducted by armed men who beat him and then killed him with two bullets to the head in front of the Jeusuit residence in Homs...
“Serious” meeting held in bid to revive peace process (Reuters) The top negotiators from Israel and the Palestinian Authority held a “serious and beneficial” meeting Sunday night in an effort to rescue the stalled peace process, an American official was quoted as telling Israel Radio on Monday. Both sides are expected to meet again later on Monday, with Justice Minister Tzipi Livni representing the Israeli side and Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, representing the Ramallah government headed by Mahmoud Abbas...
Pope reaffirms evangelization in Africa (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has reaffirmed the importance of the Church’s work of evangelization in Africa, saying that lay and religious must “foster this missionary imperative” that has roots in the past but continues “every day in the Church’s pastoral work...”
Jesuit: Ukraine revolution “spiritual,” pitting good against evil (Catholic Register) The Canadian-born superior of the Jesuits in Ukraine is in Brussels to make the case for Ukraine’s revolution — a revolution rooted in Christian, European and democratic ideals, he argues. Church interest in Ukraine’s future runs high at the moment, Nazar told The Catholic Register in an e-mail. “There is a lot of interest in the Ukraine issue, not only with respect to Ukraine itself,” wrote Nazar. “(Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s nervous aggression, which he has never justified publicly, upsets a major European agreement following World War II that borders would be left as they are...”
Fire destroys Ukrainian Catholic Church outside Toronto (CBC) A two-alarm blaze has totally destroyed a Ukrainian Catholic Church in Brampton, Ont., outside Toronto. The fire at St. Elias the Prophet Church, located on Heritage Road north of Bovaird Drive West, started around 7 a.m. and by 8:10 a.m., according one witness, the entire building was fully engulfed by flames. “There is practically nothing left,” wrote Twitter user Tash Reed in a tweet less than 20 minutes later...
4 April 2014
Since the Syrian civil war began, the Sahel al Alma School in Jounieh, north of Beirut, has adapted to an influx of Syrian children, who now comprise the majority of students. To learn more about them, read Crossing the Border from our Spring 2013 issue of ONE. And to find out how you can help children like these, visit our Syria giving page. (photo: Tamara Hadi)