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Winter, 2013
Volume 39, Number 4
imageofweek From the Archive
In this 1996 image, children attend a festival in New York celebrating Greek heritage. (photo: Karen Lagerquist)
3 October 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro

Rou’a, 10, from Daraya, plays on a swing with her cousin Abdullah, 2, at an informal refugee settlement in Talabaya in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. The camp is home to some 55 families who fled to Lebanon from their homes in Syria. (photo: CNS/Sam Tarling, Catholic Relief Services)

Flow of refugees destabilizes Lebanon (Der Spiegel) The flood of refugees is destabilizing an already weak and war-torn Lebanon, which borders Syria to the north and the east, and Israel to the south. The front between Sunnis and Shiites runs right through the heart of this tiny state, making Lebanon the focal point of a conflict that threatens to engulf the entire region. The Shiite Hezbollah militia uses Lebanon as a base for its struggle against the “Zionist enemy” — and since this spring, the group has been launching military operations here against the predominantly Sunni rebels in Syria…

Activists on all sides in Egypt feel the chill (Los Angeles Times) In Egypt, where nearly three years of political upheaval first toppled a tyrant, then ushered in and tossed out an Islamist government, and finally propelled a military man to power, activists of all stripes — many of them part of the country’s intellectual elite — are feeling the chill. To some, an increasingly authoritarian political climate is reminiscent of the bad old days under Hosni Mubarak. Back then many of those who dared dissent simply vanished into the maw of the security services, sometimes never to emerge. These days, though, the official dragnet extends far beyond the Brotherhood. Criticizing the army, the mere questioning of government policy, or expressing views that could be construed as sympathetic toward dead and detained Islamist “terrorists” has become a dangerous game…

Syrian Armenians move to disputed territory (AINA) Azerbaijan on Wednesday accused Armenia of resettling Syrian refugees in a disputed territory the two have been fighting over for decades. Azerbaijan’s United Nations ambassador said the rival neighbor had started a “very dangerous process” by moving Syrian Armenians into Nagorny Karabakh. Armenia says it has accepted more than 10,000 ethnic Armenians. But Armenia’s U.N. envoy said claims they have been moved into Nagorny Karabakh are “lies and distortion.” Azerbaijan’s U.N. envoy Agshin Mehdiyev said, in a news conference: “We have information that they already started it — settlement of Syrian refugees in occupied territories — and of course it is a very dangerous process with unpredictable consequences…”

University students in Gaza hit hard by blockade (Al Monitor) The siege surrounding Gaza has affected hundreds of university students. Many studying in universities outside of the strip have been unable to enroll for the new semester because of the closure of the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt. The blockade imposed on Gaza in the last two months has led to deteriorating economic conditions and the unemployment of tens of thousands of workers, the two student councils at Islamic University — male and female students have separate councils — have protested and suspended classes…

Mufti of Russia: Dialogue is the only road to peace in Syria (AsiaNews) The vice president of the Council of Muftis of Russia, Rushan Abbyasov, says we must defend the Christian presence in Syria, and calls for “dialogue and prayer” as a way out of the crisis in Syria. The religious leader condemns both foreign military intervention as well as attacks against Christians in the Middle East…

Tags: Egypt Lebanon Refugees Armenia Gaza Strip/West Bank
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2 October 2013
Greg Kandra

Philip Deeb and Philip Massamiri read from a prayer book during services at St. Ephrem Maronite Academy near San Diego. Christian immigrants from the Middle East have found a new home in Southern California — and have managed to maintain their faith and traditions. Read about it in East Goes West in the January 2004 issue of the magazine. (photo: Lyon Liew)

Tags: Middle East Christians Cultural Identity United States Emigration Maronite Christians
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2 October 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro

Eleven-year-old Syrian refugee Mohamad Zarzur, who survived the battle of Idlib, poses for a photo in Kilis, Turkey, in mid-September. He hopes one day to return to a peaceful Syria. (photo: CNS/Michael Swan, The Catholic Register)

Interfaith hospital on Turkish border helps Syrians save themselves (CNS) Two international aid organizations — the German Catholic Malteser International and the Turkish Muslim International Blue Crescent Relief — have come together to launch a 28-bed mobile hospital in the southern Turkey border town where locals say the normal population of 88,000 has nearly doubled with the influx of refugees. The doctors, nurses and support staff at the new hospital, which opened on 13 September, are all Syrian…

Fighting breaks out in another historic Syrian village (Fides) Following the violence in Maaloula, the war has spread to Sednaya, a village in the north of Damascus known for its historical, cultural and religious heritage. Sednaya is characterized by a large presence of churches and monasteries and a local community that speaks Aramaic. The village is under constant threat of Islamist militias that organize raids to terrorize the civilian population…

Beirut: Syrian refugees adapt to makeshift lives (Al Jazeera) The Lebanese government estimates that 1.2 million Syrians have come to Lebanon since the uprising began in March 2011. The refugees span the entire social and economic strata of Syrian society. Some are rich, some are poor; many are from the towns and villages that have been pummeled by government airstrikes and artillery fire. Others have escaped the urban combat in Idlib, Aleppo or the Damascus suburbs. Four refugee families from Syria reveal a cross-section of this emerging society, sharing many concerns…

Syrian schools start new year — a return to some normality for kids (Los Angeles Times) Despite a raging civil war, schools opened last month across the capital and elsewhere in government-controlled swaths of Syria, where officials have long boasted of a comprehensive and free public education system. In Damascus, more than 800 schools opened their doors to about 500,000 students, said Atef Hassan, a veteran teacher and official at the Ministry of Education. Administrators insisted on starting fall classes on time despite the daunting challenges facing Syria’s battered educational infrastructure…

Nearly 1,000 Iraqis killed In September (Boston Herald) Sectarian bloodshed has surged to levels not seen in Iraq since 2008. More than 5,000 people have been killed since April, when a deadly government raid on a Sunni protest camp unleashed a new round of violence that showed Al Qaeda in Iraq is still strong despite years of U.S.-Iraqi offensives against the terror group. At least 979 people — 887 civilians and 92 soldiers and national policemen — were killed in September, a 22 percent increase from the previous month, the United Nations mission in Iraq said Tuesday…

Tags: Syrian Civil War Refugees Education Health Care Iraq
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1 October 2013
Greg Kandra

Pope Francis prays during a meeting with cardinals at the Vatican on 1 October. As a series of consultations aimed at the reform of the Vatican bureaucracy began, the pontiff told his group of cardinal advisers that humility and service attract people to the church, not power and pride. (photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

Pope Francis began a series of meetings with key cardinal advisers today, as CNS reports:

As a series of consultations aimed at the reform of the Vatican bureaucracy began, Pope Francis told his group of cardinal advisers that humility and service attract people to the church, not power and pride.

“Let us ask the Lord that our work today makes us all more humble, meek, more patient and more trusting in God so that the church may give beautiful witness to the people,” he said on 1 October during morning Mass in his residence, the Domus Sanctae Marthae.

The strength of the Gospel “is precisely in humility, the humility of a child who lets himself be guided by the love and tenderness of his father,” he told the cardinals.

But overshadowing that piece of business was an interview published today in a prominent Rome newspaper:

In his latest wide-ranging interview, Pope Francis said that he aimed to make the Catholic Church less “Vatican-centric” and closer to the “people of God,” as well as more socially conscious and open to modern culture.

He also revealed that he briefly considered turning down the papacy in the moments following his election last March, and identified the “most urgent problem” the church should address today as youth unemployment and the abandonment of elderly people.

The pope’s remarks appeared in a 4,500-word interview, published 1 October in the Rome daily La Repubblica, with Eugenio Scalfari, a co-founder and former editor-in-chief of the newspaper. …

Their conversation touched on a range of topics, including economic justice, dialogue between Christians and nonbelievers, and reform of the Vatican bureaucracy.

“Heads of the church have often been narcissists, flattered and thrilled by their courtiers,” the pope said. “The court is the leprosy of the papacy.”

Pope Francis said that the Roman Curia, the church’s central administration at the Vatican, is not itself a court, though courtiers can be found there.

The Curia “has one defect,” he said. “It is Vatican-centric. It sees and looks after the interests of the Vatican, which are still, for the most part, temporal interests. This Vatican-centric view neglects the world around us. I do not share this view and I’ll do everything I can to change it.”

“The church is or should go back to being a community of God’s people,” he said. “Priests, pastors and bishops who have the care of souls are at the service of the people of God.”

In response to Scalfari’s opinion that “love for temporal power is still very strong within the Vatican walls and in the institutional structure of the whole church,” and that the “institution dominates the poor, missionary church that you would like,” Pope Francis agreed, saying: “In fact, that is the way it is, and in this area you cannot perform miracles.”

Pope Francis also spoke about the cardinals meeting with him this week:

“The first thing I decided was to appoint a group of eight cardinals to be my advisers, not courtiers but wise people who share my own feelings,” he said. “This is the beginning of a church that is not just top-down but also horizontal.”

You can read the full text of the interview at this link.

Tags: Pope Francis Vatican Rome
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1 October 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro

Pope Francis greets a member of an international meeting for peace on 30 September at the Vatican. The pope met with religious, political and cultural leaders who were gathered for an annual dialogue on peace that began in 1986 with Blessed John Paul II in Assisi. (photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

Dialogue for peace is religious obligation, pope tells leaders (CNS) Peace is so difficult to find because men and women struggle to stop focusing on their own interests long enough to listen to and learn from others, Pope Francis said. Pope Francis told the leaders that everyone has a responsibility to contribute to peace through their prayers and their actions, but for religious leaders that obligation is absolute because “the commandment of peace is deeply inscribed in the religious traditions we represent…”

Heads of churches visit Al Aqsa in solidarity (Fides) A delegation of senior representatives of the Christian churches of Jerusalem carried out a visit to the Mosque of Al Aqsa on Monday, 30 September, to publicly express their solidarity with the local Muslim community after the recent provocative actions staged by Jewish pro-settlement extremists nearby. The delegation included Catholic Bishop William Shomali, patriarchal vicar of the Latin Patriarchate; Anglican Bishop Suheil Dawani; and the Armenian Patriarchal Vicar Joseph Kelekian…

Chaldean patriarch urges Muslim-Christian unity (Daily Star Lebanon) At the close of his visit to Lebanon, Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael I said the fate of the region depends upon Lebanon’s ability to maintain Christian-Muslim unity. The patriarch called on all Lebanese to “unite, leave their petty disputes behind and look to the future, because the region’s fate is tied to Christian and Muslim unity in Lebanon…”

Coptic bishop escapes assassination attempt in Egypt (AINA) Bishop Anba Makarios of Minya was the target of an unsuccessful assassination attempted this morning. The bishop was driving into the town of Al Sario in the Minya province when his car came under a hail of bullets from several unidentified persons. The bishop’s driver was able to drive away and he brought the bishop to the home of a local Copt, where they took refuge. But the gunmen followed, surrounded the Copt’s house and shot at it for over 90 minutes, causing extensive damage to its windows, doors and walls…

Countries hosting Syrian refugees stretched to the limit (VOA) Participants at a United Nations refugee conference in Geneva are appealing for stronger international support for countries hosting large Syrian refugee populations. They say four neighboring countries of asylum are stretched to the limit. A U.N. video graphically shows the anguished evolution of Syria’s humanitarian crisis. What began as a series of peaceful protests in March 2011 has developed into a catastrophic situation in which more than 100,000 people have been killed and more than two million Syrians have fled the country…

Tags: Egypt Syrian Civil War Refugees Pope Francis Christian-Muslim relations
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30 September 2013
Greg Kandra

This image from 2007 shows an illuminated cross, part of the celebration of Meskel in Addis Ababa. (photo: Petterik Wiggers)

Ethiopians on Thursday night marked the Christian holiday of Meskel. Gerald Jones wrote about this dramatic celebration in 2011:

Meskel means “cross” in Amharic and it a major celebration (both religious and national) that commemorates the finding of the True Cross by the Empress Helena. Tradition holds that, praying for assistance, Empress Helena had a revelation; she was to light a bonfire, and the smoke would lead her to the resting place of the True Cross. …

The major celebrations occur on Meskel Eve. Around 6 pm, huge crowds gather in the Square where many priests assemble to chant in the Geez liturgical language and dance the measured steps of liturgical dance. These days, parish youth groups also gather and sing and dance, and it is wonderful to see young boys and girls actively involved in this traditional celebration.

The International Business Times has more details:

Legend has it that on this day circa 330, St. Helena — who is known as Nigist Eleni in Ethiopia and was the mother of Rome’s first Christian emperor, Constantine — found the cross on which Jesus had been crucified. In accordance with a revelation she’d had in a dream, Helena burned a giant pile of wood and frankincense. The smoke rose into the sky and then arced back down to earth, showing her the spot where the cross had been buried. Fragments of the cross were distributed to churches around the world, and one found its way to Ethiopia, where it is now said to be buried under the Gishen Mariam Church in the northeastern Wollo region. Ethiopia, which has one of the most devout Orthodox communities in the world, is the only country that celebrates the finding of the cross on a national level.

Tags: Ethiopia Cultural Identity Ethiopian Orthodox Church Ethiopian Christianity
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30 September 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro

Pope Francis meets with cardinals at the Vatican on 30 September during the consistory in which he announced 27 April as the date for the canonization of Blesseds John XIII and John Paul II. The Polish pontiff who led the Catholic Church for 27 years and witnessed the fall of communism and Pope John XXIII, who called the Second Vatican Council, will be declared saints in a single ceremony on Divine Mercy Sunday. (photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

Pope to canonize Blessed John XXIII, John Paul II April 27 (CNS) Recognizing that Blessed John XXIII and John Paul II have widespread reputations for holiness and that years of studying their lives and actions have proven their exceptional virtue, Pope Francis announced he would declare his two predecessors saints at a single ceremony on 27 April. The pope made the announcement on 30 September at the end of an “ordinary public consistory,” a gathering of cardinals and promoters of the sainthood causes of the two late popes. The consistory took place in the context of a prayer service in Latin and included the reading of brief biographies of the two sainthood candidates…

Pope receives Greek Orthodox patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Monday received in audience in the Vatican His Beatitude Theodoros II, the Greek Orthodox pope and patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa. The patriarch’s enthronement took place on 24 October 2004 at the Holy Church of the Annunciation of the Theotokos in Alexandria, in the presence of many primates and representatives of all the churches, the cultural and political leaders of Greece and Egypt and thousands of Christians… [To learn more about the Orthodox Patriarchal Church of Alexandria and All Africa, see our profile.]

God is everywhere in Egypt (Los Angeles Times) In politically fractured Egypt, there’s one belief that almost every faction seems to hold in common: God is on our side. Egypt’s social and cultural mix is complex, comprising Islamists, progressives, conservatives, those marching in lock step with the powerful military and more. But in the Arab world’s most populous and influential country, the many guises of piety are rarely absent from discourse. Whether in fiery mosque sermons, slow-moving constitutional deliberations or triumphal military statements, the banner of heaven is being waved by all sides…

Bombings across Iraq now touch on formerly safe havens (Christian Science Monitor) A rash of car bombs killed dozens across Baghdad on Monday, the latest in a series of deadly bombings that have racked Iraq over the past several days. The violence has brought the country’s civilian death toll to its worst level since 2008. The Christian Science Monitor reported earlier this month that many Iraqis feel the civil war never really ended, and that the recent surge in violence is evidence of the sectarian divide still plaguing the country — as well as the government’s inability to unite Iraq’s Sunnis and Shiites…

Chaldean patriarch: Eastern Christians united against extremism (AsiaNews) In pastoral visit in Lebanon, Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael I denounced the discrimination to which Christians are subdued and defended the contribution that they have made together with the Muslims for the history, culture and human rights in the Middle East. Referring to Pope Benedict XVI’s apostolic exhortation “Ecclesia in Medio Oriente,” the patriarch has asked all Christians to “remain firm” in their roots by educating their children in the faith received and strengthening the ecumenical work of unity among Christian denominations: without unity, he stressed, “we have no future…”

Four students arrested for anti-Christian vandalism in Israel (Fides) On Sunday afternoon, 29 September, four young Israeli Jews were arrested after they had severely damaged at least fifteen Christian graves in the cemetery situated on Mt. Zion, near the Old City of Jerusalem. The four were students attending a Jewish religious school situated in the west of the Old City. According to Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld, at least two of them seem to be activists connected to extremist movements in support of Jewish settlements in the West Bank…

Tags: Egypt Pope Francis Violence against Christians Iraq Pope John Paul II
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27 September 2013
Greg Kandra

Father Luis Montes, who directs St. Aloysius School in Alexandria, Egypt, spends some time with the students. Read more about the school’s remarkable work with the poor in City of Charity from the May 2009 issue of ONE. (photo: Sean Sprague)

Tags: Egypt Children Education Poor/Poverty
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27 September 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro

In this 2012 photo, Anaadi Ahmad, a refugee from Homs, Syria, holds one of her children in a refugee camp in Al Four, at the foot of the mountains on Lebanon’s eastern border with Syria. (photo: CNS/Sam Tarling, Catholic Relief Services)

Lebanese official says Syrian refugees threaten Lebanon’s existence (Daily Star Lebanon) Energy Minister Gebran Bassil warned Friday the Syrian refugee crisis threatens the existence of Lebanon and said the country must stop receiving refugees. “The Syrian refugee crisis is the biggest crisis threatening the Lebanese entity,” Bassil told a news conference to address the surge in the number of Syrian refugees crossing into the country. “We should stop receiving refugees with the exception of those who need health care,” Bassil said. The United Nations is aiding over 750,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon, and there are hundreds of thousands more people who are uncounted. Lebanese officials say the country needs more international aid to cope with the huge numbers of refugees…

Syrian refugees in Lebanon set differences aside (Al Monitor) The Syrian conflict has affected Lebanon on many occasions, with attacks against Hezbollah occurring in recent months alongside sectarian fighting in Tripoli. Refugees in precarious conditions, however, seem to have put their political differences aside in the face of dire odds. Most refugees agree that tensions about Syrians, though they exist, are minor compared with those between Lebanese and Syrians. Organizations dealing with Syrian refugees in Lebanon such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Norwegian Refugee Council also report this finding. Dana Sleiman, an information officer for UNHCR, said that the organization has not observed “any form of political segregation” among Syrian refugees, but that “tensions appear mostly between Lebanese and Syrians, primarily on financial issues…”

Islamists torch statues, crosses in Syrian churches (AINA) Fighters linked to Al Qaeda set fire to statues and crosses inside churches in northern Syria on Thursday and destroyed a cross on a church clock tower, a watchdog said. Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) fighters entered the Greek Catholic Church of Our Lady of the Annunciation in the northern city of Raqa and torched the religious furnishings inside, the Syria Observatory for Human Rights said. They did the same at the Armenian Catholic Church of the Martyrs, and also destroyed a cross atop its clock tower, replacing it with the ISIL flag…

Orthodox patriarch shares pain of Syrian people with pope (Vatican Radio) The pain and suffering of Christians in Syria was at the heart of a meeting that Pope Francis had on Friday with Patriarch Youhanna X, head of the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch and All the East. On Sunday the patriarch will attend Mass in St. Peter’s Square, celebrated by the pope to mark the Day of Catechists. In his encounter with the Holy Father, the patriarch spoke about the difficulties facing the Christian community in Syria and the surrounding region. He also talked about the plight of his own brother who was kidnapped last April, together with the Syriac Orthodox bishop of Aleppo. The two leaders also shared their hopes for progress on the journey towards full Christian unity…

Keeping the Khachkars (OCP Media Network) The cross is arguably the most familiar symbol of Christianity, but nowhere is this iconography as crucial or culturally entrenched as it is in Armenia. Wherever you go, thousands of khachkars, or cross-stones, provide a rare glimpse into the art of spiritual expression. Starting from the 4th century, the conversion of Armenians, and the instatement of Christianity — and by extension, the Armenian Apostolic Church — as a state religion in 301 issued a new era of national consciousness. Upon initial inspection, the khachkar bears resemblance to other forms of Christian art, namely the Celtic high cross and the Lithuanian kryzdirbyste, but in order to understand how a medieval stone became so charged with the Armenian spirit, a brief lesson in iconology is needed…

Tags: Lebanon Syrian Civil War Refugees Cultural Identity Armenia
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26 September 2013
Elias D. Mallon, S.A., Ph.D.

King Abdullah II speaks at the United Nations on 24 September. (photo: U.N./Marco Castro)

King Abdullah II, ruler of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, gave an extraordinary speech to the United Nations General Assembly on 24 September 2013. The king, a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad, and his family have long been engaged in dialogue with Christians and other religious faiths. Although the number of Christians in Jordan is small, they have enjoyed freedom to practice their faith under this king and his predecessors.

In his speech, King Abdullah spoke of what a modern Arab state needs to be: free, with freedom of opportunity and equality for all its citizens. However, the stability of Jordan is being put under tremendous pressure by the large number of refugees entering its borders, including Christians from Iraq and war refugees from Syria. The king noted that the number of refugees in Jordan equals 10 percent of the entire population — and that percentage could rise to 20 percent. No country can easily absorb that amount of refugees. As a comparison, if the United States were required to take the same percentage of refugees, the number would exceed the present populations of New York and New Jersey.

Put bluntly, Jordan needs all the help it can get. As one of the few areas of stability in the region, it is also one of the few places where Arab Christians are free to live their faith. It is developing democratic institutions and could in the future be one model for democracy in the region. The refugee problem threatens all of this. Jordan has shown typical Arab hospitality in welcoming refugees. However, the country’s economy cannot bear the strain that this brings. If Jordan is to survive, the international community needs to help it with feeding, housing and, if necessary, resettling the hundreds of thousands of refugees who have come there seeking safety.

You can read the full text of the king’s speech at this link.

Tags: Syrian Civil War Refugees Jordan United Nations Iraqi Refugees
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