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Spring, 2014
Volume 40, Number 1
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In this 1996 image, children attend a festival in New York celebrating Greek heritage. (photo: Karen Lagerquist)
  
7 October 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro




Ecumenical Bartholomew I led the closing celebration of the 1,700th anniversary of the Edict of Milan, beginning with a solemn doxology, in St. Michael’s Cathedral in Belgrade on 5 October. (photo: Serbian Orthodox Church)

Orthodox Christians mark 1,700th anniversary of Edict of Milan (Yahoo! News) Eight Orthodox Christian leaders, dignitaries from other faiths, politicians and thousands of others on Sunday celebrated the anniversary of the Edict of Milan, which established toleration for Christianity in the Roman Empire 1,700 years ago. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew called in a sermon for more religious freedom and reconciliation, flanked by Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem, Patriarch Kirill of Russia, Patriarch Irinej of Serbia and their counterparts from Albania, Cyprus, Poland, Slovakia and other smaller Orthodox churches…

Kidnapped Italian Jesuit reported alive in Syria (Vatican Insider) “Father Paolo Dall’Oglio is alive and is being treated well by his kidnappers, who are members of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) extremist group,” says anti-regime activist Khalaf Ali Khalaf, reporting on information received from Al Qaeda-affiliated sources close to the extremist group…

Chaldean Patriarchate prohibits unauthorized sale of church property (Fides) The Patriarchate of Babylon of the Chaldeans has formally prohibited the sale of land and houses belonging to the patrimony of the church without permission “of the high ecclesiastical authorities.” The restrictive provision was made public in a statement on 5 October and makes explicit reference to the Holy See as a last resort call to grant licenses for the sale of properties belonging to the church…

Dozens killed in clashes as Egyptian identity politics turns violent (Christian Science Monitor) Large crowds gathered nationwide to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Egypt’s 1973 war with Israel. Supporters of former president Muhammad Morsi, ousted in a 3 July military takeover, also rallied in support of their leader and the democratic process they believe he embodies. In the capital, 30 anti-coup protesters were killed during pitched battles with the security services. Marching through the streets of west Cairo’s Dokki district, protesters shouted “we are not real… all this is photoshopped” in reference to the common refrain that Muslim Brotherhood supporters fabricate attendance numbers for the weekly demonstrations that have followed Mr. Morsi’s ouster…

At least 66 people killed in a day of bloodshed in Iraq (Washington Post) A suicide bomber blew himself up among a crowd of Shiite pilgrims passing through a mainly Sunni neighborhood in Baghdad and another detonated his explosives inside a cafe north of the capital, the deadliest of several attacks across Iraq on Saturday that killed at least 66 people. The killings, which also included attacks on journalists and anti-extremist Sunni fighters, are part of the deadliest surge in violence to hit Iraq in five years. The accelerating bloodshed is raising fears that the country is falling back into the spiral of violence that brought it to the edge of civil war in the years after the 2003 United States-led invasion…

Israelis, Palestinians intensify talks despite skepticism (Daily Star Lebanon) Israeli and Palestinian negotiators held a new round of talks on Monday, picking up the tempo of their meetings at the request of the United States in the face of widespread skepticism that they will ever reach a deal. The two sides resumed direct peace negotiations in late July after three years of stalemate and have conducted a series of discussions far from the gaze of the media over recent weeks, without any outward hint of the slightest breakthrough…



Tags: Egypt Iraq Ecumenism Middle East Peace Process Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I
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4 October 2013
Greg Kandra




A little boy shows Pope Francis where to sit during a lunch break in Assisi on 4 October. (photo: Catholic TV/Vatican)

On Friday, Pope Francis paid a pastoral visit to Assisi, home of the saint whose name he took, and spoke of how Christians must strip themselves of worldliness:

The pope offered this message in the same hall in which St. Francis, about 800 years ago, undressed himself and laid his fine clothes at his wealthy father’s feet, renouncing his riches and inheritance in favour of a life of poverty consecrated to God.

The pope once again put aside his prepared speech and began his impromptu remarks by debunking a notion that had circulated in the press in recent days: that he would imitate St. Francis by divesting the bishops, the cardinals and himself, as well. However, he said, today serves as a good occasion to invite the church to strip itself of worldliness.

All of the baptized comprise the church and all have to follow Jesus, who stripped himself and chose to be a servant and to be humiliated on his way to the cross. “And if we want to be Christians, there is no other way,” he said.

Without the cross, without Jesus and without stripping ourselves of worldliness, he said, “we become pastry shop Christians … like nice sweet things but not real Christians.”

“We need to strip the church,” he said. “We are in very grave danger. We are in danger of worldliness.”

The Christian cannot enter into the spirit of the world, which leads to vanity, arrogance and pride, he continued. And these lead to idolatry, which is the gravest sin.

The church is not just the clergy, the hierarchy and religious, he said. “The church is all of us and we all have to strip ourselves of this worldliness. Worldliness does us harm. It is so sad to find a worldly Christian.”

“Our Lord told us: We cannot serve two masters: either we serve money or we serve God. … We can’t cancel with one hand what we write with another,” he remarked. “The Gospel is the Gospel.”

The pope acknowledged the local poor who were gathered with him, saying: “Many of you have been stripped by this savage world that does not give work, that does not help, that does not care if children die of hunger … that does not care if many families do not have anything to eat or money to bring bread home.”

Referring to the hundreds of refugees who died in a shipwreck off the Italian island of Lampedusa Thursday, the pope lamented the large numbers of people who die trying to escape dire conditions in their home countries.

It is ridiculous that a Christian would want to follow a worldly path, he continued. “The worldly spirit kills. It kills people; it kills the church.”

The pope then asked the Lord to bestow upon Christians the courage to strip themselves of the spirit of the world, which he called “the leprosy, the cancer of society and the cancer of the revelation of God and the enemy of Jesus.”

He concluded: “I ask the Lord that he gives us all the grace to strip ourselves.”



Tags: Pope Francis Catholic Assisi
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4 October 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro




In this 24 September photo, Catholicos Karekin II of All Armenians, right, greets Catholicos Aram I of the Great House of Cilicia at the Mother Cathedral of Holy Etchmiadzin prior to the commencement of the first synod of the Armenian Apostolic Church in six centuries. (photo: Catholicosate of Cilicia)

Armenian Apostolic Church faces modern hurdles (New York Times) As church leaders gathered in Echmiadzin last week for a rare bishops’ conference, they seemed to be ready to put differences aside as they confronted a new set of challenges: entrenched secularism at home, assimilation of followers in the large Armenian diaspora abroad and general disaffection with organized religion. “The church is in dire need of renewal,” Catholicos Aram I, the leader of the Lebanon-based faction of the church, said in an interview as he strolled across the campus here of the Mother See. “And by renewal, I mean the church has to be responsive to the needs and expectations of the people.” He added, “The church has to respond to the challenges of the present-day world…”

Christians under threat in Syria as Islamist extremists gain influence (Washington Post) When radical Islamists tore down a cross and hoisted a black flag above a church in the northern Syrian city of Raqqah last week, it underscored the increasingly hostile environment for the country’s Christians. Although Syria is majority Sunni Muslim, it is one of the most religiously and ethnically diverse countries in the Middle East, home to minorities including Christians, Druze and Shiite-offshoot Alawites and Ismailis. But the country’s conflict, now in its third year, is threatening that tapestry. While the primary front in the war has pitted Sunni against Shiite, Christians are increasingly caught in the firing line…

Muslim Brotherhood protest in Cairo challenges military rule (Al Jazeera) Defying a security crackdown, thousands of supporters of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and ousted President Muhammad Morsi marched in Cairo Friday toward Rabaa al Adawiya square, the site of their former protest camp, which security forces crushed in August, a Reuters witness said. At least one Muslim Brotherhood supporter died from a gunshot wound in Cairo after clashes broke out Friday in several cities throughout the country at pro-Morsi rallies, according to multiple sources…

Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church holds regular session (Russian Orthodox Church) Patriarch Kirill greeted the Holy Synod members, offered reflections on the 1025th anniversary of Christianization of Kievan Rus and introduced them to the agenda of the session, which focused heavily on pastoral formation and education…

Churches targeted by extremists in Karnataka (Fides) There has been a surge in anti-Christian violence in the state of Karnataka. The Evangelical Fellowship of India, which brings together thousands of evangelical Christian communities, said that religious services and prayer meetings of ecclesial communities over the last two months have been targeted, pastors beaten and Christians arrested. In recent episodes, Hindu fundamentalists attacked and looted a church in Mandya district in Karnataka…



Tags: Egypt Syrian Civil War Violence against Christians Russian Orthodox Church Armenian Apostolic Church
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3 October 2013
Greg Kandra




Migrants are seen on a rescue boat as they arrive with a group that includes Syrian refugees at the port of Pozzallo, Italy, on 17 September. More than two million refugees have fled Syria’s civil war, with some landing in Italy. To learn how you can help, visit our Emergency: Syria page. (photo: CNS/Antonio Parrinello, Reuters)



Tags: Syria Syrian Civil War Refugees Italy Migrants
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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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