17 January 2014
Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, CNEWA’s Rev. Elias D. Mallon, Imam Khalid Latif, the Rev. Chloe Breyer and the V. Rev. Leonid Kishkovsky discuss current trends in religious freedom across the globe. (photo: courtesy of the United Nations)
If you want to know the state of religious freedom at the start of this new year, I got a revealing and sobering glimpse yesterday at the United Nations.
I took part in a panel discussion to observe Religious Freedom Day. It coincided with a Pew Report released earlier this week: “Religious Hostilities Reach Six-Year High.” The panel consisted of the V. Rev. Leonid Kishkovsky of the Orthodox Church of America; Dr. Brian Grim of Pew Research Center; Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, executive vice president of the New York Board of Rabbis; the Rev. Chloe Breyer, an Episcopal priest and director of the Interfaith Center of New York; Imam Khalid Latif, director of the Islam Center at NYU; and me, representing CNEWA.
The Pew Report employs two important ways of measuring religious freedom or lack thereof around the world: government restrictions and societal hostilities. Over the past several years each of the Pew Reports has shown increasing government restrictions and societal hostilities against (usually minority) religions. The most recent report shows an alarming increase in societal hostilities, including incidences where people have been killed for their faith.
In my paper, I offered several observations.
First, it seems to me that the notion of religion is not necessarily clear. When many people speak of religion they have an image of a Christian church with a clear organizational structure, with official spokespersons, etc. That is not the case with other — indeed, most — religions. Religions and faith traditions such as Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism, to say nothing of indigenous religions, are far less centrally organized than the average western, Christian church or denomination. Therefore, it is not always clear what a religion is or what its “borders” are. In its language about freedom of religion, the U.N. reflects this ambiguity by referring routinely to “freedom of religion or belief” without indicating what, if anything, the distinction might be.
Secondly, I noted that the majority of countries experiencing increased governmental restrictions and society hostilities were those that use some type of religious marker in their self-identification. In almost no country were these restrictions and hostilities directed at all religions; it is usually the religious freedom of only some religions that is compromised or threatened. The government isn’t always the only antagonist, either. In many, if not most, cases there are clear elements of religion vs. religion involved.
The problem is often one of conflicting rights. When the legitimate rights of one group or one individual conflict with the legitimate rights of another, there are few if any mechanisms to solve the conflict while at the same time respecting the rights and religious freedom of those involved. Further, the dichotomy of government/religion is too facile; governments and religion very often overlap.
These problems are both complicated and urgent. Even though the international community has spoken about freedom of religion since the 1948 U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Pew Studies indicate that the situation is in fact deteriorating.
Perhaps the time is right for research into how competing rights claims can be settled for the sake of the common good without compromising people’s fundamental rights.
17 January 2014
Tags: United Nations religious freedom Religious Diversity
Samples of raw coffee beans undergo a series of tests at a laboratory in Dire Dawa. Coffee is a vibrant and important part of Ethiopian culture. To learn more, read Brewed to Perfection from the November 2011 issue of ONE. (photo: Peter Lemieux)
17 January 2014
Tags: Ethiopia Cultural Identity Farming/Agriculture
Jewish settlers who lost land to Israeli army bulldozers reportedly take out their anger on Palestinians in West Bank. (video: Al Jazeera)
Coordination of Bishops Conferences’ voices support for Holy Land churches (Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem) “As Bishops from Europe, South Africa and North America we came to the Holy Land to pray with and support the Christian community and the cause of peace. In Gaza, we witnessed the deep poverty of the people, and the courageous presence of the small and vulnerable Christian communities there. Gaza is a man-made disaster, a shocking scandal, an injustice that cries out to the human community for a resolution. We call upon political leaders to improve the humanitarian situation of the people in Gaza, assuring access to the basic necessities for a dignified human life, the possibilities for economic development, and freedom of movement…”
Israel troops open fire on Gaza protesters (Daily Star Lebanon) The Israeli army fired live rounds and tear gas at protesters near the border fence in the Gaza Strip on Friday, wounding two Palestinians, medics and an AFP correspondent said.. Troops fired at some 300 demonstrators who were protesting against Israel’s destruction of farmland for its 300-yard buffer zone, the correspondent said. Two protesters were moderately wounded and taken to hospital, Gaza’s Hamas health ministry spokesman Ashraf al Qudra told AFP. Israel’s army was “unaware of the incident,” a spokeswoman said…
Syria proposes cease-fire in Aleppo (New York Times) The Syrian government on Friday proposed a cease-fire with rebel forces in the city of Aleppo and said it was willing to exchange detainee lists with the opposition to pave the way for a possible prisoner exchange. The proposals, which Walid al Moallem, the Syrian foreign minister, said he had given to Russia, appeared to be an effort by the government to show good faith days before an international peace conference is to be convened in Switzerland aimed at ending Syria’s civil war…
Egypt Islamists, police clash ahead of vote results (Daily Star Lebanon) At least one person was killed in clashes between Egyptian police and Islamists on Friday, as the country awaited results of a constitutional referendum billed as an endorsement of President Muhammad Morsi’s overthrow. Clashes between Mr. Morsi’s Islamist supporters and police armed with tear gas were reported in several cities, security officials said. One person was killed in fighting in Fayoum, a city southwest of Cairo, police said. His identity was not immediately clear…
Harsh anti-protest laws in Ukraine spur anger (Washington Post) Anger swept through the Ukrainian opposition Friday after a package of laws that would prohibit almost any type of street protest was rushed through parliament. The laws appear to borrow heavily from existing Russian legislation and seem to belie Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s declarations that he wants his country to build stronger ties with the European Union. Under the new laws, any organization receiving money from abroad — which, in Ukraine’s case, includes a huge number of groups including the Greek Catholic Church — must register as “foreign agents,” just as they must in Russia…
Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church web site hit by cyber attacks (RISU) The spokesman for the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, the Rev. Ihor Yatsiv, announced that the church’s official web site was hit by direct denial of service (DDoS) attacks. All attacks, as reported in the church’s Department of Information come from Rostelecom — the national telecommunications company in Russia.
16 January 2014
Tags: Egypt Ukraine Syrian Civil War Holy Land Israeli-Palestinian conflict
An elderly refugee from Azerbaijan sits in an unsanitary government housing project. (photo: Armineh Johannes)
A few years ago, we took a close look at the hard lives of the elderly in Armenia:
Since settling in Armenia 17 years ago, Sonya Sargsian can only recall losses, hardships and heartbreaks.
“When we escaped Azerbaijan in 1988, the state gave us temporary asylum here with assurances we would receive an apartment later,” said the 80-year-old widow. “But they forgot about us,” she continued, repeatedly pressing her face into her open hands.
A “refugee,” Mrs. Sargsian is among the thousands of Armenians who fled their homes in neighboring Azerbaijan in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s.
“Who needs a life like this? I don’t want to live in these inhumane conditions,” she added, gesturing at her run-down studio apartment.
Sonya Sargsian resides in a dilapidated government-owned building housing impoverished pensioners and the homeless — one of three clustered in a forgotten suburb of Yerevan, the Armenian capital. Built as a student dormitory after World War II, the building has not been renovated since its construction. Residents share a common bathroom, which barely functions. Decrepit plumbing supplies water at irregular intervals.
“We can’t take a bath for months. We walk a district away to get water. Those unable to make the trip try to forget they have basic human needs,” Mrs. Sargsian said, pointing to the sewage leaking through the ceiling.
Complicating matters is the disappearance of her son and his family. “When the war began,” she said, “I sent my son and his children to his in-laws’ home in Chechnya. I had no idea they would escape one war only to find themselves in another.”
She has received no news of their whereabouts; attempts to contact them have not yielded any leads. “Their home has been shelled and ruined. Nobody lives there,” she concluded.
For many elderly Armenians such as Sonya Sargsian, a normal life is but a memory.
A small landlocked nation of 2.9 million people, Armenia has paid a high price for its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Once part of a mammoth state-controlled centralized economy, Armenia has had to go it alone. Soviet-organized trading patterns collapsed and state-subsidized industries decayed.
Read more about Pensioners in Crisis from the January 2008 issue of ONE.
And to learn how you can help, visit our giving page for Eastern Europe.
16 January 2014
Tags: Armenia Poor/Poverty Caring for the Elderly Caucasus Pensioners
Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II casts his vote in Egypt’s constitutional referendum. (photo: The Coptic Orthodox Church)
Egypt approves new constitution, early results show (Christian Science Monitor) Egyptians who voted in a referendum overwhelmingly approved a new constitution, official sources said, citing early results of a ballot that could set the stage for army chief General Abdel Fattah al Sisi to declare his candidacy for president. About 90 percent of voters approved the constitution, the state news agency and a government official said…
Palestinians strive to keep hope alive in Holy Land (Vatican Radio) Fouad Twal, the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, told a visiting delegation of Catholic bishops from Europe, North America and South Africa that their pilgrimage to the Holy Land helps the local Church not to feel abandoned or forgotten by the international community. The Bishops conclude their five-day annual pilgrimage later on Thursday. On a visit to the Cremisan Valley, near Bethlehem, they met Palestinian families struggling to save their land from the separation wall threatening to upend their entire way of life…
Patriarch Gregory III appeals for a global campaign of prayer for peace in Syria (AsiaNews) Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregory III of Antioch has called on the faithful to pray for the success of the Geneva II Conference on peace in Syria, set to start in Montreux, Switzerland, on 22 January. In his appeal, the patriarch urged everyone to set aside a daily moment of prayer in churches, homes, and pastoral gatherings. “Let us pray for true reconciliation in Geneva II, among Syrians — and not just on security arrangements and humanitarian aid. Certainly, we greatly need this, but the key to the success of Geneva II is faith-based, human, cordial, national and truly Syrian reconciliation. As we thank the countries working for peace in Syria, we want their efforts to be so focused that peace be a Syrian peace…”
International donors pledge billions for war-ravaged Syria (Al Jazeera) International donors meeting in Kuwait pledged $2.4 billion in humanitarian aid for victims of the Syrian war, which the chief of the United Nations said Wednesday had left half the population in need of urgent help. Millions of Syrians have been driven from their homes as a result of the crisis, now in its third year. Getting aid to many of those in need remains a challenge because they are trapped in communities besieged by the fighting…
Chaldean Patriarchate opens clinic for Christians and Muslims in Baghdad (AsiaNews) Speaking about the spirit that led to the establishment of a medical clinic in Baghdad, Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael I said: “These projects and initiatives in the humanitarian field help spread a spirit of cooperation among all citizens. They also make it clear that Christians are true members of this country, who want to do good for everyone.” The clinic is open to Christians, Muslims and members of other religious faiths, without distinction or discrimination…
15 January 2014
Tags: Egypt Holy Land Patriarch Fouad Twal Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael I Melkite Patriarch Gregory III of Antioch
In Alaska, pilgrims bring to the tomb of St. Herman their well-worn travel icons. (photo: Clark James Mishler)
Deep in the heart of Alaska, there’s a thriving community of Christians, members of the Orthodox Church in America. We visited the community a few years ago and saw first-hand their deep faith:
Deep in the old-growth forest of Alaska’s Spruce Island, 8-year-old Julian Griggs made the Sign of the Cross before dipping his plastic bottle into the cold spring water. “Umm,” he said after a sip. “That tastes sweet.”
Up the trail, Julian’s parents joined other adults for a three-hour liturgy near the Orthodox church that enshrines the tomb of St. Herman of Alaska. But here in the forest, beside a small wooden shelter of candles and icons, the children were partaking in another Orthodox tradition.
The spring water that Julian was drinking is considered holy. According to local tradition, the spring was discovered by the monk Herman, a starets (or spiritual father in Russian), who came to Alaska from Russia in 1794. Until his discovery of the spring, the island was thought to be without fresh water. Pilgrims credit the spring water with healing a number of medical and spiritual ills.
“It’s really good, even if it’s a little brown,” said Xenia Hoffman, 12. The spring, and all that surrounds it, drew her family to Alaska. They moved here from California last year “because of St. Herman,” she said. “We wanted to be closer to him.”
Each summer, the Orthodox Church in America’s Diocese of Alaska organizes a pilgrimage to Spruce Island, an hour’s boat ride from the fishing town of Kodiak. Most come from the Alaska Native villages in the Kodiak region, but some come from as far away as Eastern Europe.
St. Herman was not the first Russian to come to Alaska. Legend holds that Russian settlers first established a colony in 1648. And in the early 18th century, Russian explorers and merchants sailed to Alaska by way of a strait (later named for one such explorer, Vitus Bering, who was in fact a Dane in the employ of Peter the Great) separating Asia from North America. They returned with sea otter pelts, which proved very valuable.
Read more about Orthodox Alaska in the November 2006 issue of ONE. And you can learn more about the Orthodox Church of America in a profile from 2012.
15 January 2014
Tags: Cultural Identity United States Orthodox Church Pilgrimage/pilgrims
In this 7 January photo, a carries a wounded girl who survived what activists say was an airstrike by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al Assad in Damascus. (photo: CNS/Bassam Khabieh, Reuters)
Appeal for an immediate ceasefire in Syria (VIS) The Pontifical Academy for Sciences held a workshop in the Vatican yesterday on the civil war in Syria, in which an appeal was made for an immediate end to violence and the commencement of reconstruction and dialogue between the various communities within the country. Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, led the meeting, which took place a week before the upcoming Geneva Peace Conference…
Syria conflict: Half population urgently needs aid (BBC) United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon says that half of Syria’s population, some 9.3 million people, now “urgently need humanitarian aid.” About 6.5 million people are now displaced inside Syria. More than 2.3 million have registered as refugees across the region, many living in camps, barely coping…
Palestinians rally for besieged brethren in Syria’s Yarmouk camp (Christian Science Monitor) The death of at least 28 starving Palestinians in Syria’s Yarmouk refugee camp has sparked protests across the Middle East. Fellow Palestinians are calling on the international community and the Palestine Liberation Organization to help end a siege imposed by the Syrian army last summer, after the camp became a hub for rebel fighters from the Free Syrian Army and extremist Islamist groups. Before the Syrian war began, Yarmouk was home to some 150,000 registered Palestinian refugees, making it the largest Palestinian camp in Syria. Very little food or other aid has been permitted in Yarmouk since the siege began in July…
Bishops at Bethlehem University: An oasis of peace (Vatican Radio) Visiting Bethlehem University as part of their pilgrimage to the Holy Land, bishops from North America, Europe and South Africa encountered hope and enthusiasm for Pope Francis’ upcoming visit from students at Bethlehem University…
Egyptian constitutional referendum goes into second day (Washington Post) Egyptians headed to the polls Wednesday for a second day of voting in a referendum on a new army-backed constitution, despite deadly violence on the first day of polling Tuesday, in which 11 people were killed and a Cairo-area courthouse was damaged in an early-morning bomb attack…
Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church will remain faithful to mission despite threats (Vatican Radio) The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church has released the full text, in English, of Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk’s response to the letter from the Ministry of Culture of Ukraine “concerning possible grounds for terminating the activity of the religious organizations of the U.G.C.C.” The letter from the Ministry of Culture involved a threat to rescind the church’s legal status, alleging that Ukrainian Greek Catholic priests had violated the law by taking part in the demonstrations in Maidan Square in Kiev…
14 January 2014
Tags: Egypt Syrian Civil War Refugee Camps Bethlehem University Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk
Children gather in a makeshift classroom in the Al Waer neighborhood of Homs. (photo: Ziad Hilal, S.J.)
“Evil appeared in an unprecedented way.”
That is how Father Ziad Hilal described the nightmare that is now Syria when he wrote to us. His Letter from Syria in the summer issue of ONE painted a stark portrait of a world torn apart by war — and of the innocent children he is desperately trying to save.
CNEWA, with the generous support of its donors, is making a difference in the lives of those children and so many others. To learn what we have been able to do, we invite you to read the latest report compiled by our regional offices in Amman and Beirut. To learn how you can help, you can also visit our Syria giving page.
“Hope is what CNEWA has helped us provide,” Father Hilal wrote. “I believe it has been a lifeline from God — helping us and guiding our efforts to glorify the name of the Lord.”
Thank you to all who have made this lifeline possible!
14 January 2014
Tags: Syria Refugees CNEWA Syrian Civil War Violence against Christians
Alexander and Margarita Mamin prefer to work on icons with their religious themes rather than papier-mâché boxes and plates with secular motifs, which the Soviets had insisted upon. (photo: Sean Sprague)
Ten years ago, we paid a visit to Palekh, a village in Russia that was enjoying a kind of renaissance, with a resurgence of artists creating religious icons:
Under Soviet rule, Lenin, national achievements, cosmonauts, industrial workers and agricultural collectives were most often featured in the traditional style, with a touch of Socialist Realism — the Soviet standard for all art.
Examples are on display at the Palekh museum. To date, the village has resisted mass production; replicas remain forbidden. Most artists in Palekh paint boxes, but with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, many have reverted to icons.
Alexander and Margarita Mamin have been married 15 years and are both artists and graduates of the Palekh Art Academy. They live with their two children — both of whom want to be artists — in a log house surrounded by a vegetable garden.
“These days we paint everything from miniatures to big paintings in churches,” Mr. Mamin said. “For years we had worked on small boxes, but now we prefer to paint icons, especially large ones for iconostases.”
Palekh artists are doing more religious painting than before, especially the younger ones.
Read more in New Reality, Same Artists from the March-April 2004 issue of the magazine.
14 January 2014
Tags: Cultural Identity Russia Art Icons Soviet Union
Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych, leader of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, center, celebrates the Divine Liturgy at Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ in Kiev on 8 December during the beginning of the Ukrainian Synod of Bishops. (photo: CNS/courtesy Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church)
Ukrainian major archbishop responds to government threat (Vatican Radio) The head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych, responded on Monday to a letter from the government threatening to rescind the legal status of the U.G.C.C. The government’s threat appears to be an attempt to pressure the church because of its pastoral support of Ukrainians taking part in protests against the government. In a press conference, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav said that the church is not directly involved in the political process. He insisted, though, that it cannot stand aside when its faithful ask for spiritual care…
Pope Francis establishes diocese for Australia’s Indian Catholics (The Tablet) Pope Francis has established a diocese in Australia for the country’s 35,000 Syro-Malabar Catholics. Indian-born Bishop Bosco Puthur, who also has been named apostolic visitor for Syro-Malabar Catholics in New Zealand, will lead the eparchy. The Eparchy of St. Thomas the Apostle of Melbourne is Australia’s fifth Eastern-rite Catholic eparchy. Others have been established in Australia to serve Ukrainians, Maronites, who hail from Lebanon, the Damascus-based Melkites, and Chaldeans, whose patriarch is based in Baghdad…
Holy Land: uncertain future for migrants and refugees (Vatican Radio) The second day of a pilgrimage to the Holy Land by a delegation of Catholic bishops from Europe, North America and South Africa saw them celebrating Mass in Gaza, talking with Western embassy officials in Tel Aviv and meeting religious sisters involved in pastoral care of Christian migrants and asylum seekers. The bishops tour the Holy Land every January to show solidarity with Christians living in the land where Jesus was born, carried out his ministry and met his death. “Even a modern city like Tel Aviv has its hidden underbelly of poverty and deprivation,” reports Susy Hodges with Vatican Radio, “and a sizeable proportion of those living in these poorer neighborhoods are migrants or asylum seekers. Many of these people come from the Horn of Africa area, the Philippines, India and Sri Lanka and they include many Christians…”
Syria food crisis worsens as clashes continue (Al Jazeera) The United Nations’ World Food Program delivered rations to a record 3.8 million people in Syria in December, but civilians in eastern provinces and besieged towns near the capital remain out of reach, a spokeswoman said Tuesday. The W.F.P. expressed concern at reports of malnutrition in areas where fighting between government forces and rebel groups has entrapped civilians. The agency said children were especially vulnerable to starvation as the country’s three-year-old civil war drags on…
Syrian women demand voice at peace talks (Al Jazeera) A proper democracy cannot be established without the participation of women. Such is the message of Syrian women’s rights activists who concluded a two-day conference in Geneva on Monday to demand equal involvement in their country’s peace-building process, which has so far mostly included men. The activists on Monday asked the United Nations, which is brokering peace talks set to begin in Geneva on 22 January, to allow them to send women representatives. They also asked the international body to appoint a gender adviser to defend women’s voices at the negotiating table…
Egypt fears Ethiopia Renaissance Dam threatens water supply (Al Monitor) Each year on 9 January, Egyptians celebrate the anniversary of the 1960 construction of the Aswan Dam, during the reign of late President Gamal Abdel Nasser. But this year’s 54th anniversary was quite different, tinged with fear about the dangerous effects that the Ethiopian Renaissance Dam — slated for construction on the Blue Nile — would have on the operations of the Aswan. The latter might be put out of commission for up to two years. The various warnings by experts about the dangers of the new Ethiopian dam have begun to cause panic among Egyptians, to the point that many believe the Aswan Dam will collapse once the Renaissance is completed…
Tags: Syria Syro-Malabar Catholic Church Migrants Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk Australia