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Volume 42, Number 1
  
30 December 2015
J.D. Conor Mauro




In this 1996 photo, worshipers walk to the entrance of St. Mariam’s Orthodox Cathedral in Asmara, Eritrea. Earlier this week, the funeral of the fourth patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church was held in this distinctive cathedral. (photo: Raphael Gaillarde/Gamma‑Rapho via Getty Images)

Funeral held for fourth patriarch of Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church (AllAfrica) A funeral for the fourth patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahdo Church, Abune Dioskoros, was held on Saturday, 26 December, following a night-long vigil at St. Mariam Orthodox Cathedral in Asmara. Abune Dioskoros has led his church since his election by the Holy Synod of the Eritrean Orthodox Church in April 2007. Due to controversy surrounding the removal of his predecessor, Abune Antonios, several Oriental Orthodox sister churches — such as the Coptic Orthodox and Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo churches — disputed the legitimacy of the election of the late patriarch…

Ecumenical patriarch: ‘Refugee Jesus’ is authentic guardian of refugees (Pappas Post) In his annual Christmas message, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, spiritual leader of the world’s 300 million Orthodox Christians, described as “truly a disgrace for the entire human race” the fact that children who have a right to life, education and development within their own family are forced to leave their homeland. Offering help and assistance to these brothers and sisters is “the most precious gifts of the wise men to the newborn Lord.” Forced to flee Herod’s murderous intentions, the child Jesus “is the authentic guardian of today’s refugees…”

Chaldean patriarch: Christian persecution a crime against humanity (National Catholic Register) “In one night, 120,000 Christians left their homes just with their clothes and have been living in camps for one and a half years. Is this not a crime against humanity?” Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael I of Baghdad spoke of this and other serious hardships and persecutions against Christians at a recent Rome conference on religious freedom…

Moscow archbishop: A holy year to boost Catholic and Orthodox collaboration (AsiaNews) The Jubilee of Mercy is an opportunity to boost the cooperation and communication between Catholics and Orthodox, in support of the family, the poor, prisoners and the disabled, says Roman Catholic Archbishop Paolo Pezzi of Mother of God at Moscow…

Syrian army backed by Russian jets enters rebel-held southern town (Daily Star Lebanon) Syrian troops fought their way into a rebel-held town in the southern province of Dara’a Wednesday in an assault which rebels said was supported by the heaviest Russian aerial bombing campaign so far in the south…

Israeli group helps blockaded Gazans negotiate path to outside world (Christian Science Monitor) The phone calls from Gaza start in the morning. There are students trying to get to universities abroad; a daughter trying to see a terminally ill parent in the West Bank; a bride trying to get to her own wedding in Jordan. On the other end of the line — at a cluttered desk in a cramped Tel Aviv office — sits Shadi Bathish, a 39-year-old paralegal who helps Palestinians navigate the Israeli military’s sometimes Kafkaesque bureaucracy and obtain the rare permits to exit the blockaded coastal territory. The job makes Mr. Bathish one of the few Israelis with a direct line to the hardships of Gaza residents, many of whose homes and neighborhoods were destroyed by the 2014 war between Hamas and Israel…



Tags: Syria Gaza Strip/West Bank Christian Unity Eritrea Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I

29 December 2015
Michael J.L. La Civita




An Orthodox priest holds a cross during the Meskel festival in Asmara, where thousands of people have gathered in the Eritrean capital to celebrate the finding of Christ’s cross by Saint Helen, some 1700 years ago. (photo: Nicolas Germain/AFP/Getty Images)

Though Eritrea’s political history began some 23 years ago, this northeast African nation has rich cultural roots dating back some 3,000 years, when Semitic peoples from the Arabian Peninsula first crossed the Red Sea and settled in the Horn of Africa. These cultural roots are not exclusively Eritrean, but a shared legacy with its symbiotic neighbor to the south, Ethiopia.

While Eritreans and Ethiopians share many elements of a common history and culture, Eritreans have forged a separate identity. Perhaps the single greatest element binding the two nations — the Christian faith and its cultural expression — may best have influenced the evolution of Eritrean self-determination.

Of the nation’s 6.3 million people, more than 50 percent are Christian. Although Catholics and evangelical Protestants are prominent in various ministries, most Christians belong to the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church. About 45 percent of the population is Sunni Muslim; animists and unbelievers make up the balance of the population. There have been some tensions among the religious communities, particularly with the influx of evangelical Christian missionaries from the United States, but generally these communities coexist harmoniously.

Historically, Eritrea’s Orthodox Christians have played a prominent role: advocating common bonds with Ethiopians; condemning Ethiopian atrocities and sheltering soldiers in monasteries in times of war; issuing calls for peace with their Ethiopian colleagues; providing care to all Eritreans in need, regardless of creed. Since independence, Eritrea’s Orthodox Church has been reorganized, its strengthened administrative structure poised to make an even greater impact.


Eritrean youth celebrate in Asmara during a colorful Epiphany festival. The festival, also known as ‘Timkat’ in the local Tigrinya language, is a commemoration of the Baptism of Jesus observed annually among the Orthodox Christians. (photo: Stringer/AFP/Getty Images)

Until 1991, Eritrea’s Orthodox Christians formed a single diocese of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. In July 1993 — just a few months after Eritreans overwhelmingly approved independence from Ethiopia — a delegation of Eritrean Orthodox Christians, bearing a letter of support from Eritrea’s respected Orthodox leader, Abune Philipos, visited the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church, Pope Shenouda III, in Cairo. They appealed for his support for the canonical erection of an independent Eritrean Orthodox Church that would nevertheless remain in full communion with the Coptic and Ethiopian Orthodox churches.

Pope Shenouda subsequently recognized their request. A signed protocol provided for strengthening cooperation between the two churches, including a joint general synod at least every three years; the formation of a common theological dialogue team; and the creation of a permanent committee to tackle theological formation, catechesis, youth and family programs, social services and development projects.

The then patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, Abune Paulos, also sanctioned the new church’s self-governance and issued a joint statement with Abune Philipos pledging mutual support.

In July 1994 Pope Shenouda consecrated five bishops, all drawn from Eritrea’s monasteries, who were elected to serve as diocesan bishops. These five men formed the nucleus of a synod that eventually elected the 96-year-old Abune Philipos, heralded by Eritreans as “the father of resistance to Ethiopian oppression,” as patriarch in 1998.

Click here to read more about the church and its subsequent development.



Tags: Eastern Christianity Eastern Churches Eritrea

29 December 2015
J.D. Conor Mauro




Carpatho-Rusyn Greek Catholic Bishop Milan Sasik, C.M., shows off a model of a church in the distinctive Rusyn style, built from wooden joints without the use of nails. To learn more, read our recent profile of Bishop Milan, or our feature on his rapidly reviving church, Out From Underground. (photo: Igor Grigoryev)



Tags: Ukraine Cultural Identity Carpatho-Rusyn Ruysn Ruthenians

29 December 2015
J.D. Conor Mauro




Farmers harvest crops from their fields in October in Alaga, Ethiopia. (photo: Thomas Imo/Photothek via Getty Images)

In Ethiopia, drought threatens to overshadow progress (Newsweek) This year’s drought comes despite Ethiopia’s strides in economic development over the past decade. The country’s GDP growth hovered around 10 percent between 2013 and 2014, ranking it among the fastest-growing economies in the world. But the county’s economy is heavily invested in agriculture, which accounts for 38 percent of Ethiopia’s GDP and 80 percent of nationwide employment. If the drought continues it will undoubtedly affect Ethiopia’s economy…

Too early to cheer victory over ISIS in Ramadi, experts say (AINA) Washington is hailing Iraq’s recapture of Ramadi from ISIS as a key step forward in the global battle against terror, but it may still be too early to celebrate. Ramadi, the capital of Iraq’s Anbar province, was seized by the militant organization in May. On Monday, Iraqi government forces finally declared victory after months of fighting, with televised images showing the Iraqi flag flying at a government complex. “They are still clearing out pockets of the city, there’s going to be a long process before they can call Ramadi secure. And then, there’s still the continuing threat from IS, which still holds Fallujah and other areas in Anbar,” said Iraqi General Ismail al Mahlawi, head of military operations in Anbar.

Refugees find freedoms and dangers in Brazil (Los Angeles Times) For many newly arrived Syrians in Sao Paulo, it is hard to find work, hard to communicate, hard to live in constant fear of street crime. They think of it as temporary refuge en route to more permanent homes, in more familiar lands. But in this freewheeling megacity of horizon-to-horizon skyscrapers and vertiginous freedoms, some also find space to remake themselves, in ways large and small…

A refugee’s journey: After risking everything to reach Europe, what next? (The Guardian) Earlier this year Patrick Kingsley met a Syrian family in Cairo and learned about their harrowing journey to Egypt. Patrick followed the father, Hashem al Souki, as he gambled on crossing the Mediterranean to seek asylum for them all in Sweden. Six months later he catches up with Hashem to see what happened next…

Syrian rebels shell Shiite villages after local truce, residents say (Daily Star Lebanon) Syrian rebels shelled two Shiite villages in the northwest of the country on Tuesday, killing at least one person, residents said, a day after pro-government fighters and civilians left the area for Turkey under a local ceasefire agreement…



Tags: Syria Iraq Refugees Ethiopia Drought

28 December 2015
J.D. Conor Mauro




Iraqi Assyro-Chaldean refugees play at a summer camp in Qartaba, Lebanon. To learn more about Iraqi Christian refugees in Lebanon, read In Limbo in Lebanon from the Autumn 2015 edition of ONE. (photo: Tamara Abdul Hadi)



Tags: Lebanon Iraqi Christians Iraqi Refugees Youth Iraqi

28 December 2015
J.D. Conor Mauro




Iraqi security forces wave their flag on 28 December after recapturing the city of Ramadi, the capital of Iraq’s Anbar province, about 70 miles west of Baghdad. (photo: Ahmad al Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images)

Iraq declares Ramadi liberated from ISIS, sweeps for bombs (Daily Star Lebanon) Iraq declared the city of Ramadi liberated from ISIS Monday and raised the national flag over its government complex after clinching a landmark victory against the extremists…

ISIS bomb Assyrian homes, monastery in Iraq, vandalizes cemeteries (AINA) Two days ago ISIS bombed ten Assyrian homes and a monastery in the Assyrian village of Tel Kaif in north Iraq. The blasts injured several people. The monastery belonged to Assyrian sisters. According to residents, ISIS threatened to bomb Assyrian homes in other villages in the area…

Christmas in Syria (Sputnik) [Slideshow] Despite the tense and volatile situation in Syria, the Christian residents of Damascus celebrate Christmas with a festive flair…

Syrian journalist who exposed ISIS Aleppo atrocities assassinated in Turkey (RT) A prominent Syrian journalist and filmmaker, known for his anti-Islamic State documentaries, was gunned down by unknown assailants in broad daylight in Gaziantep, Turkey. This is the third assassination of a journalist in the country over the last three months…

Catholic bishops react to anti-Christian extremist rabbi (Fides) The Assembly of Catholic Ordinary Bishops of the Holy Land condemned “with dismay” recent anti-Christian statements disseminated by Rabbi Benzi Gopstein. In recent days, the rabbi, known for his extremist positions and leader of the far-right Jewish nationalist Lehava movement, published his proposal on a website to ban Christian holidays and expel Christians from Israel, “before these vampires,” wrote Gopstein, “drink our blood…”



Tags: Syria Iraq Israel ISIS

23 December 2015
CNEWA staff




Nabil Jelil Daud and his wife, Semira Ayup Miha, both from Qaraqosh, Iraq, now live in a camp for internally displaced people in Erbil. “It is very difficult to be happy on this Christmas because we are outside our homes,” Mr. Daud said. (photo: CNS/Oscar Durand)

The holiday season this year is dramatically different for many in Iraq. CNS’s Oscar Durand reports:

Habiba Daud remembers Christmas in Qaraqosh as beautiful. The festivities would start days before with the preparation of traditional food and desserts. Families celebrated around a large Christmas tree.

On Christmas her family and friends gathered to enjoy the food and spend time together, chatting and playing with the children.

This year will be the second Christmas Daud will spend away from her home, against her wishes. In August 2014, Islamic State fighters seized Qaraqosh, a city less than 20 miles southeast of Mosul.

The Islamic State attacks in northern Iraq displaced more than 120,000 Christians, as well as minority Muslims and Yezidis.

In the first weeks the displaced lived in tents and temporary shelters in parks and churches. Today in Ain Kawa, there are eight camps where refugees live in plastic trailers locals call “caravans.” Many rent apartments or live with friends and family in others parts of Iraq.

Read more.

The video below, co-sponsored by CNEWA and CNS, offers a vivid and poignant glimpse at how displaced Iraqi Christians are celebrating Christmas this year. Please keep them in your prayers this season. And to remember them in a special way, visit this link.



Tags: Iraq Iraqi Christians Iraqi Refugees

23 December 2015
CNEWA staff




The Christmas tree and Nativity scene decorate St. Peter’s Square during a lighting ceremony at the Vatican on 18 December. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)



Tags: Vatican Christian

23 December 2015
J.D. Conor Mauro




In this image from September, Jordanian King Abdullah II addresses the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York City. Yesterday, in a televised address, the king described Arab Christians as “an integral part” of his kingdom’s civilization. (photo: Sasha Mordovets/Getty Images)

King Abdullah: Arab Christians are an integral part of our civilization (Fides) Arab Christians “are an integral part of our past, present and future” and right from the beginning “have been an essential partner in building our culture and civilization and in defending Islam,” King Abdullah II of Jordan said in a televised speech on Jordan state television on Tuesday 22 December…

Iraq sends more troops to fight ISIS in Ramadi (The New York Times) Iraq sent battalions of reinforcements on Wednesday to secure neighborhoods in Ramadi recaptured from ISIS, as soldiers continued an offensive for a second day to try to take full control of the city…

Russian Orthodox Church slams seizure of churches in Ukraine (TASS) Deacon Feodor Shulga, member of the secretariat for inter-Orthodox relations of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations, says that by seizing cathedrals of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, Ukrainian authorities are attempting to draw the church into the political and civil conflict in the country…

Mumbai holds interreligious Christmas celebration (Vatican Radio) The much-anticipated annual interreligious celebration of Christmas, hosted by Cardinal Oswald Gracias, archbishop of Bombay, is a fitting introduction indeed to the season of Christmas with its message of good will to all. This year’s theme emphasizes that we are all brothers and sisters caring for each other and for creation, in keeping with Pope Francis’ encyclical…

Palestinian eviction case spotlights Jerusalem settler push (AP) Ahmad Sub-Laban’s family has lived for decades under threat of eviction from their home overlooking the gold-topped Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem’s Old City. The experience inspired the 37-year-old Palestinian father of two to become a researcher for groups fighting attempts by Jewish settlers to move into properties in the city’s central Arab areas. The Israeli Supreme Court is now poised to rule in the final legal battle over the apartment, and Mr. Sub-Laban has tapped into his network of contacts to try to halt the eviction by putting pressure on the Israeli government. Under a longstanding U.S. framework for a peace deal, Jerusalem would be divided into two capitals, with Jewish neighborhoods going to Israel and the Arab ones to Palestine. This complex arrangement becomes yet more challenging as more Jews move into Arab areas. Earlier this month, Jerusalem-based U.S. diplomat Dorothy Shea visited the Sub-Labans to express concern about their fate and the “pattern of evictions…”



Tags: Iraq Ukraine Jordan Interreligious

22 December 2015
Michael J.L. La Civita




In this image from 2008, some 20,000 Georgian Orthodox believers celebrate the 31st anniversary of Patriarch Ilia II’s installation as head of the church in Tbilisi.
(photo: Vano Shlamov/AFP/Getty Images)


High in the Caucasus Mountains, at the eastern end of the Black Sea, rests Georgia. Poised between the Arabic, Persian and Syriac cultures of Asia and the Greco-Roman world of the Mediterranean, Georgians have fashioned a unique civilization, integrating the some of the customs, ideas and traditions of these seemingly disparate societies with their own.

Christianity — which became the state religion in the eastern Georgian kingdom of Kartli by the fourth century — is as much responsible for the creation and survival of this distinctive nation as its unique language.

Strategically situated on this crossroads, tiny Georgia has repeatedly overcome far superior foes — Romans, Persians, Arabs, Mongols, Ottomans and Russians. And the Orthodox Church of Georgia, often described as the buttress of the nation, remains a formidable force in the lives of the country’s 4.7 million people, 84 percent of whom belong to the church.


A church choir performs a chant at Mama Davitis Church in Tbilisi. Chants play an integral role in Georgian Orthodox church liturgy. (photo: Molly Corso)

Byzantine and Coptic histories note that St. Matthias the Apostle first brought the Gospel to the Georgian kingdom of Kartli and died a martyr’s death there around the year A.D. 80. Other Christian sources credit the apostles Andrew, Bartholomew, Simon the Zealot and Thaddeus with forming Christians among Georgia’s Jewish communities in Kartli and Egrisi, the western Georgian kingdom known by the ancient Greeks as Colchis — the mythical land of Jason, Medea and the Golden Fleece.Modern archaeological evidence — the remains of second- and third-century Christian tombs as well as early fourth-century churches — indicates an early presence of the faith, particularly near the Black Sea coast. That Christianity was the official religion of Kartli by the year 337 is incontestable. Armenian, Byzantine, Georgian, Greek and Latin sources all indicate that, in circa 300, Nino, a woman from Cappadocia, left Jerusalem for Kartli in search of the robe from Christ’s crucifixion.

“Equal to the apostles,” as Georgians revere her today, St. Nino worked primarily among the kingdom’s Jews, who were her first disciples. Written about a century after her death, “The Life of St. Nino” records the close relationship that existed between Nino and the Jews of Mtskheta (the capital of Kartli) as well as between the churches of Georgia and Jerusalem. It also details the conversion of King Mirian III, his establishment of Christianity as the faith of the kingdom and the erection of a shrine in Mtskheta to house the robe of Christ, known as the cathedral of Svetitskhoveli, or the “life-giving pillar.”

The “life-giving pillar” still stands in the heart of the nation, the bells summoning the faithful from Georgia’s mountains and valleys. To read more, click here.







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