21 June 2016
Pope Francis is preparing for a difficult trip to Armenia later this week to promote reconciliation with Turkey and Azerbaijan. (video: Rome Reports)
Holy and Great Council convenes (OrthodoxCouncil.org) After more than 60 years of planning, the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church convened its opening session on the island of Crete on Monday, 20 June, on the Feast of the Holy Spirit. After the celebration of the Divine Liturgy at the nearby Monastery of Gonia, His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew formally opened the proceedings of the Council. With one voice and one heart, the Hierarchs of the Council chanted the hymn of Pentecost, invoking the descent of the Holy Spirit to transform their work for the benefit of the Church and the entire world...
Could Orthodoxy be having its Vatican II moment? (ReligionDispatches.org) Hierarchs from most of the world’s individual Orthodox Christian Churches will convene for a Holy and Great Pan-Orthodox Council on the island of Crete, an event that many have been calling Orthodoxy’s Vatican II. This council has been making headlines in the Western press and has been covered by First Things and the Catholic press. Nevertheless, many American readers — due to a lack of familiarity with Orthodox Christianity — may not grasp the full significance of the event, which has implications for both geopolitics and Christian ecumenism. For that reason, I reached out to Father John Chryssavgis, Archdeacon of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and theological adviser to the Ecumenical Patriarch, and asked him to shed some light on the issues surrounding the council...
More than 600 journalists apply to cover pope’s trip to Armenia (Asbarez.com) More than 600 media representatives have applied to be accredited to cover the visit of the Pope to Armenia, Armenia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on its Twitter page. Pope Francis’ visit to Armenia will commence on 24 June with an official welcoming ceremony at the Zvartnots International Airport in Yerevan before the Pope’s travel to the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin, where a welcoming service will be offered in the Mother Cathedral...
Maronite bishops call for maintaining Christian presence in Middle East (CNS) Maronite Catholic bishops from around the world warned against plans to partition the Middle East and urged Christians to stand firm and to preserve co-existence with Muslims. In a statement at the conclusion of their 13-17 June synod, the bishops stressed the importance of continuing the presence of Maronite Catholics in Lebanon and the region...
Jordanian troops killed in car bomb at Syria border (BBC) Six Jordanian security personnel have been killed and 14 hurt in a car bomb attack near a makeshift refugee camp on the Syria-Jordan border, officials say...
What Egypt under Sissi is really like for Coptic Christians (Brookings.edu) The status of Coptic Christians in Egypt has for the most part remained unchanged since Anwar Sadat came to power in 1970. Today, there is little Christian representation in government, and sectarian violence is all but commonplace. But many have suggested that President Sissi is more respectful of minority rights than his predecessors, and many Christians supported Sissi’s rise to power...
20 June 2016
The symbols of the three monotheistic religions, Christianity, Judaism and Islam, on the front of an Arab Jewish center in the northern port city of Haifa in Israel.
(photo: Thomas Coex/AFP/Getty Images)
This past Saturday, the Archdiocese of New York and the American Bible Society invited CNEWA to take part in the New York Catholic Bible Summit — a remarkable gathering of biblical experts, academics, writers and theologians. It was attended by over 600 people, including the Archbishop of Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley, OFM Cap., (coincidentally, a member of CNEWA’s board) and Archbishop Octavio Ruis Arenas, the Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization.
I was privileged to give two seminars on “The Holy Lands Today,” a subject CNEWA knows intimately.
The brochure summed up the subject this way:
“The sacred scriptures of Jews, Christians and Islam... are held in deep reverence by more than a quarter of the world's population. At times, it is easy to believe that the lands of the Middle East are little more than Biblical places with modern conveniences. This can cause confusion and conflict... ‘Biblical geography’ can easily become sacred geopolitics with a potential for great conflict. The land called ‘holy’ by a quarter of the earth’s people is also a land of conflict, oppression and bloodshed.”
Few organizations are as familiar with the ongoing crisis in the Middle East than CNEWA. Across nine decades, this agency has worked to bring healing and hope to a land that too often suffers from turmoil and terror. Taking part in this summit was one way to share some of what we’ve discovered, and reflect on why this land is sacred to so many.
It was also an opportunity to affirm why the ongoing mission of Catholic Near East Welfare Association is so critically important — now, perhaps, more than ever.
20 June 2016
Angela Yaacoub, a 60-year-old widow from Mosul, visits St. Anthony’s Dispensary in Beirut, Lebanon. The dispensary helps care for refugees who have fled Iraq. To mark World Refugee Day, Pope Francis has called on Christians to “stand with refugees... to become with them artisans of peace.” (photo: Tamara Abdul Hadi)
Assist and accompany refugees while working to build peace in the world, Pope Francis urged on the eve of World Refugee Day.
“Refugees are people like everyone, but war took away their home, work, relatives and friends,” he said in the run-up to the United Nations-sponsored day 20 June.
Seeing the faces and hearing the stories of refugees should lead Christians “to renew our obligation to build peace through justice,” he said after praying the Angelus with people gathered in St. Peter’s Square 19 June.
“This is why we want to stand with them — to encounter them, welcome them, listen to them — in order to become together with them artisans of peace, according to God’s will,” the pope said, referring to the day’s theme, “We Stand #WithRefugees.”
The pope’s appeal followed a joint effort by the Vatican police, the Greek government and Rome’s Sant’Egidio Community to bring a group of Syrian refugees to Italy.
The Vatican police accompanied nine refugees — six adults and three children — from Athens to Rome 16 June. The community of Sant’Egidio, a Catholic lay organization, was arranging their housing.
The Syrian citizens, including two Christians, had been living in a refugee camp on the island of Lesbos — the same island Pope Francis visited in April to highlight the dramatic situation of the people there. He brought three refugee families on his flight back to Rome.
Pope Francis’ appeals and concrete actions tell the world that it is feasible to offer real help to refugees, said Jesuit Father Thomas Smolich, international director of Jesuit Refugee Service.
Leaders and everyday people “get a pretty good model” from Pope Francis about the Catholic and humanitarian duty of welcoming, advocating for and assisting refugees, Father Smolich told Catholic News Service 20 June.
“I would encourage people, especially on World Refugee Day, to contact the part of the church that works with refugees,” for example, Catholic Charities in the United States or Jesuit Refugee Service in Europe, he said, or ask and find out who else is helping in their community.
“There are so many things to do,” he said, such as visiting refugees, helping with free meals, doing advocacy work, becoming part of a long-term coordinated effort or just helping out when time allows. “The possibilities are endless.”
“People are doing this” in spite of what some political leaders say, he said, “so it is a question of bringing it to light” and inspiring more people to help rather than be paralyzed by fear.
While many fears can be legitimate, “fear often translates into anxiety,” which “warps our understanding” of what is really happening and what can be done, he said.
Becoming familiar with or getting to know “real people who share our fears,” but have experienced the difficulties of having to flee their homes, the Jesuit said, helps change the discussion from being centered on “‘What am I afraid of’ to ‘How can we build solidarity?’”
While global estimates say more than 60 million people are fleeing violence, conflict or persecution, the best way to digest such a statistic is “to meet people one-on-one or hear them speak” so they don’t remain an abstract number, the priest said.
JRS was urging people to meet with refugees or watch interviews on the JRS YouTube channel in order “to enable refugees to speak out about their hopes, their future” and help others learn about their lives, Father Smolich said.
Similarly, the International Catholic Migration Commission was commemorating World Refugee Day by sharing stories from resettled refugees around the world “as a witness to their strength and determination despite the hardship they have endured,” the commission said.
It said it hoped the stories would encourage those still on the move and call attention to the benefits refugees bring to host countries.
People were also invited during the Year of Mercy to continue sending messages of hope on social media using the #HandsOfMercy hashtag and share personal stories with #StoryOfMercy or #WithRefugees.
20 June 2016
The Primates of the Local Orthodox Churches and their delegations participate in the opening session of the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church at the Orthodox Academy of Crete.
(photo: Polish Orthodox Church/Jaroslaw Charkiewicz/HolyCouncil.org)
Pope Francis prays for work of pan-Orthodox council (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Sunday urged Catholics to pray for the Orthodox leaders from around the world who are holding their ‘Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church’ on the Greek island of Crete...
Synod opens (oca.org) According to the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s Press Office for the Holy and Great Council, several Council events will be available to the public via live streaming...
Pope appeals for solidarity ahead of World Refugee Day (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Sunday appealed for solidarity with refugees as he noted that Monday marks the annual United Nations World Refugee Day. The Pope recalled that the theme for this year’s event is ‘We stand together #With Refugees’ and with all those forced to flee their lands. Refugees, he insisted, are people like everyone else, who have been deprived by war of their homes, their jobs, their parents and their friends...
Cardinal begins trip to Ukraine (Vatican Radio) Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State, is on a six day official visit to Ukraine where he will meet with both Church and state officials...
Kerala leader condemns attack on Patriarch in Syria (Economic Times) Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan today condemned the attack on Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II, head of the Syrian Orthodox church, who had a narrow escape when a suicide bomber blew himself up at a function attended by the religious leader in Syria...
New York’s Cardinal Dolan in Iraq: Embracing the displaced Iraqi Christians (National Catholic Reporter) Shortly after his arrival to Erbil, Iraq, on 8 April 2016, Cardinal Timothy Dolan met at the hotel with the three American journalists, including this writer, for a brief conversation. He was clear what the goals of his visit were: To show solidarity with the displaced Iraqi Christian and Yazidi families; to express gratitude to the workers, volunteers and caregivers serving the displaced; and to support the local church and to demonstrate solidarity with it...
17 June 2016
If you thought you’d logged on to the wrong site, think again.
We’re pleased this morning to unveil a new look for our familiar website — brighter, cleaner, easier to navigate. As you’ve undoubtedly noticed by now, the enhancements also include freshening up the look of our blog, One-to-One.
Among other things, the design incorporates on the home page a new element that links directly to our video archive. It also features a link to ONE, our award-winning magazine and, of course, the popular blog you’re reading right now.
Pope Francis spoke of the power and importance of social media in his message for World Communications Day earlier this year:
Emails, text messages, social networks and chats can also be fully human forms of communication. It is not technology which determines whether or not communication is authentic, but rather the human heart and our capacity to use wisely the means at our disposal... I pray that this Jubilee Year, lived in mercy, “may open us to even more fervent dialogue so that we might know and understand one another better; and that it may eliminate every form of closed-mindedness and disrespect, and
drive out every form of violence and discrimination” (Misericordiae Vultus, 23). The internet can help us to be better citizens. Access to digital networks entails a responsibility for our neighbor whom we do not see but who is nonetheless real and has a dignity which must be respected. The internet can be used wisely to build a society which is healthy and open to sharing.
Communication, wherever and however it takes place, has opened up broader horizons for many people. This is a gift of God which involves a great responsibility. I like to refer to this power of communication as “closeness.” The encounter between communication and mercy will be fruitful to the degree that it generates a closeness which cares, comforts, heals, accompanies and celebrates. In a broken, fragmented and polarized world, to communicate with mercy means to help create a healthy, free and fraternal closeness between the children of God and all our brothers and sisters in the one human family.
That captures perfectly what we at CNEWA have embraced as a cornerstone of our mission, the “fraternal closeness between the children of God and all our brothers and sisters in the one human family.” That idea gave birth to the very name of our magazine, ONE — and, in turn, to the blog you are reading right now. We hope our new design serves to make communication easier and helps foster the closeness and communion of which the Holy Father speaks.
So, take a few moments and look around. We’ll continue to make enhancements and improvements in the months ahead, so come back and visit often!
17 June 2016
Leaders of Orthodox churches gather at the Orthodox Academy of Crete in Chania on the Greek island of Crete 17 June. Orthodox patriarchs and primates were meeting to consider a draft message for the 19-26 June Great and Holy Council of the Orthodox Church in Chania. The council is intended to be the first meeting of all the Orthodox churches in more than a millennium. From left are: Archbishop Sawa of Warsaw and all of Poland; Archbishop Chrysostomos of Nova Justiniana and all of Cyprus; Patriarch Irinej of Serbia; Patriarch Theodore II of Alexandria; Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople; Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem; Patriarch Daniel of Romania; Archbishop Ieronymos II of Athens and all of Greece; Archbishop Anastasios of Tirana, Durres, and all of Albania; Archbishop Rastislav of Presov, metropolitan of the Czech lands and Slovakia. Read more about the planned synod here.
(photo: CNS/Sean Hawkey, handout)
A historic gathering in Greece is due to begin on Sunday — but not without a few complications.
From the Associated Press:
Orthodox Christian leaders meeting for a historic council aimed at promoting unity made a last-minute appeal Friday to the Russian Orthodox Church and three others to attend the gathering, the first such meeting in more than a millennium.
A spokesman for Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I said the leaders of 10 out of the 14 Orthodox churches that were supposed to convene on the Greek island of Crete will seek to resolve the issues that made the four churches decide not to attend.
“It will proceed but they want their brothers with them and (now) make a plea even at the 11th hour” for them to attend, said the Rev. John Chryssavgis.
He said the church leaders met earlier on Friday and would later in the day send an official request for the other churches to attend. “They will try hard to get their brothers to attend,” Chryssavgis said, adding that the leaders will reach out and ask the others: “How can we address your problems?”
17 June 2016
In this image from April, Pope Francis is followed by Syrian refugees as he disembarks from this flight from the Greek island of Lesbos at Ciampino airport in Rome. The pope concluded his one-day visit to Greece by bringing 12 Syrian refugees to Italy aboard his flight. Today, the Vatican announced that nine more refugees from the island had been brought to Rome.
(photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Nine more Syrian refugees brought to Rome (Vatican Radio) A group of nine Syrian refugees, including two Christians, arrived in Rome on Thursday from the Kara Tepe refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos, following the visit of Pope Francis to the island on 16 April, when he accompanied three families of refugees back to Rome...
Cardinal Parolin embarks on visit to Ukraine (Vatican Radio) Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State, is on a six day official visit to Ukraine where he will meet with both Church and state officials. On Friday morning he celebrated Holy Mass at the Cathedral church of St. Alexander in Kiev and delivered a homily on the theme of the gospel warning “not to store up treasures on earth...”
Vatican message: Christianity and Islam both believe in a merciful God (Vatican Radio) Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, the President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, has delivered a message to the Muslim world on the occasion of the month of Ramadan. In the message, Cardinal Tauran extends best wishes for a spiritually rewarding fast, supported by good deeds. Making a pilgrimage to obtain God’s pardon for both for the living and the dead, he says, is truly a salient practice among believers...
Orthodox council: Greek Foreign Minister gives dinner for patriarchs (Vatican Radio) Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias hosted a dinner for the Primates of the Orthodox Church who are presently in Crete ahead of the official opening of the Holy and Great Council of the heads of all the autocephalous Orthodox Churches, scheduled to take place from Sunday until the end of the month...
The “immovable ladder” of Jerusalem (The Irish Catholic) Over the years, the various communities have found it virtually impossible to agree on renovations [at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre], with each side jealously guarding their prerogative. The most potent symbol of this is the so-called ‘immovable ladder’ perched on the façade of the church leading up to a window. First placed there in the 18th century, the ladder is referred to as immovable due to an understanding that none of the six Churches may move, rearrange, or alter any property without the consent of the other five...
16 June 2016
Sister Lilly Chirayath, C.H.F., joined by the children at her “House of Hope,” enjoys a visit from CNEWA’s Msgr. John E. Kozar in 2012. (photo: CNEWA)
Some of CNEWA’s greatest heroes are heralds of hope.
That would include Sister Lilly Chirayath, C.H.F., who runs the Holy Family Asha Niwas in New Delhi, otherwise known as the “House of Hope”:
“Our main mission is taking care of our orphanage,” Sister Lilly explains. “It’s where we help neglected and unwanted street girls 4 to 18 years of age.”
More than 25,000 families live in the slums of southwest New Delhi, where even menial work is hard to find. Many people turn to petty crime or worse. And for the homeless girls the sisters have taken in, the orphanage has been a place that has literally saved their lives.
“These girls had been wandering around railway stations, markets and streets,” Sister Lilly points out. “Some lost their parents or are abandoned. Others have been ill-treated by their drunken fathers. They were exploited by antisocial elements. Many are undernourished, both mentally and physically.”
The sisters help them in many ways — from providing shelter, food and clothing to ensuring each girl receives an education. As Sister Lilly says, “We believe they should have vocational training, health care, counseling and guidance.”
On her orphanage’s website, Sister Lilly explains even more about the hope that animates her mission:
Jesus said, “When you do something for the least of my brethren, you do it for me.”
Children are the loveliest creation of God. They are so innocent, so unblemished, so lovely, and so marvelous. They deserve everything best in the world. They deserve love, they deserve to be happy and they deserve to be well taken care of. God entrusts them to us, elders.
But what do we see in the world? For me, a child being treated cruelly is the most painful thing in the world. The most terrible poverty is loneliness and feeling of being unwanted.
Love the children; care for the children, help the children to grow up happily, and the world will be beautiful.
When one is happy, he/she spreads that happiness to others, to the society, to the whole world. So fill the hearts of children with love and make them fully active, creative and enthusiastic.
It is something Sister Lilly and her sisters happily do with boundless compassion, tenderness and joy.
16 June 2016
Muslim scholars and religious leaders gather in Erbil earlier this month to discuss how to deal with the situation in the Middle East. (photo: PRIO.org)
The tragic situation in the Middle East has challenged Muslim thinkers and religious leaders to analyze the almost total breakdown of civil society, sectarian violence on a historically unprecedented scale and widespread human suffering the region has not seen for centuries.
What can be done?
In recent months, two gatherings of Muslims scholars have attempted to deal with the situation and to offer possible solutions. A very important conference took place earlier this month in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan. It was held 2-4 June 2016 under the co-sponsorship of the Hikmah Center for Dialogue and Cooperation (Najaf, Iraq), the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) (Norway) and the Center for the Study of Islam and the Middle East (CSIME) (Washington, DC). As such, it was the second major recent attempt by Muslim scholars to deal with the situation in the Middle East.
The first attempt was a meeting of the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies. It took place in Marrakesh, Morocco, 25-27 January 2016. It was attended by Muslims from 120 Muslim majority countries from around the world. The Marrakesh conference dealt with the topic on a global scale and generally speaking from a Sunni perspective. The Marrakesh Declaration uses as its point of departure the so-called Constitution of Medina, which is an agreement the Prophet Muhammad made with the citizens of Medina delineating their rights and obligations when he came from Mecca and took over leadership of Medina. The Marrakesh Declaration challenges Muslim majority countries to: “develop a jurisprudence of the concept of ‘citizenship’ which is inclusive of diverse groups. Such jurisprudence shall be rooted in the Islamic tradition and principles and mindful of global change.”
The Erbil Declaration, however, is different in significant ways.First, it deals specifically with the situation in Iraq. Secondly, the document has been influenced by Shi’ite thought through the co-sponsorship of the Hikmah Center for Dialogue and Cooperation and also the CSIME. The presence of PRIO provides an non-Muslim perspective. The first thing that one notices is that the Erbil Declaration relies less on traditional Islamic categories and more on contemporary political theory. This is by no means to imply that the Erbil Declaration is a break with traditional Islamic thinking but rather that it is a contribution to its development.
Several very important concepts form the framework of the Erbil Declaration: citizenship, civil society and government, which is “responsive to all its citizens equally and regardless of their religious or ethnic identities.”
Dr. Ahmad Iravani, the president of CSIME, delivered a paper at the forum entitled “Inclusive Citizenship amid Cultural and Religious Diversity.” In the paper Dr. Iravani makes several important points. First, he states that “power-sharing through both direct electoral participation and civil society involvement is an absolutely integral part of building a social and political trust.” Religion is seen as having played and continuing to play an important — though not exclusive — role in civil society. Iravani notes that “...civil society engagement should be utilized to promote social harmony and religious pluralism within Iraq and demand a government that is responsive to all citizens....”
Recognizing that the notion of citizenship cannot simply be translated from a Western context into Iraq, Iravani notes: “Building a harmonious social compact that includes all Iraqi citizens is achievable perhaps only through the notion of citizenship. Although a modern concept...without it [citizenship], and given the diversity and recent conflicts and insecurity in Iraq, it would be very difficult to build a harmonious social order based on trust and mutual state-society responsibility.”
The Erbil Declaration then makes concrete applications of these principles:
- That the solution for Iraq is to enhance the status of citizenship, so all have equal rights and duties under the rule of law.
- That the well-ordered state should protect and guarantee for all Iraqis the fundamental freedoms of belief and expression.
- That authentic reconciliation should be promoted among the Iraqi people ensure the enhancement of mutual trust.
- That religious, educational, and media institutions should actively support inclusive citizenship, co-existence, and respect for others.
- That religious leaders should educate their congregations to respect our humanity and to reject all forms of extremism, hatred, and the use of terror.
- That after completely liberating the land of Iraq from Daesh, the Iraqi government should implement procedures for the establishment of peace and to prevent negative consequences from arising, such as cycles of revenge and sectarianism.
- That cultural institutions, civil society organizations, and universities should channel their energies towards the eradication of everything that would be detrimental to citizenship.
- That the capacities of young people should be given much attention, and support should be given to activities that ensure them with a life in dignity and an education that protects them from extremism.
- That the role of women as half of society should be reflected in their status as citizens, and they should have a substantive role in the development of society.
Given the situation in Iraq and elsewhere, the principles of the Erbil Declaration provide a clear, practical and contemporary framework for rebuilding societies that have been destroyed. Although specifically proposed for Iraq, the principles can be far more widely applied.
You can download the full text of the Erbil Declaration here.
16 June 2016
Women clean and sort coffee beans in Dire Dawa, Ethiopia, showing the painstaking human effort that goes into creating Ethiopia’s prized coffees. Learn more in Brewed to Perfection in the November 2011 edition of ONE. (photo: Peter Lemieux)