Current Issue
June, 2017
Volume 43, Number 2
18 May 2017
CNEWA staff

Armenian Catholic Archbishop Rafael Minassian is always looking for ways to greet and help the poorest of the poor. (photo: Michael J. La Civita)

CNEWA’s Michael J. La Civita sent us these images this afternoon, showing Archbishop Rafael Minassian visiting his flock.

Michael wrote:

Armenia is rich in culture, history, faith and generosity. And thank God for that, for the poverty among some of its people is heartbreaking. Yet, how moving is the work of the church here.

Although tiny — and scattered from Siberia to the Caucasus — the Archdiocese of the Armenian Catholic Church is led by a shepherd who smells of his sheep. “RAM,” as the archbishop [Rafael Minassian] jokingly refers to himself, is a man on the move, always thinking of ways to reach and greet and help the poorest of the poor.

Archbishop Rafael Minassian, a shepherd close to his flock, jokingly refers to himself as “RAM.”
(photo: Michael J. La Civita)

18 May 2017
Don Duncan

Some villagers from Vallakkallu, India, traveled to Marayoor to meet with journalist Don Duncan.
(photo: Don Duncan)

In the current edition of ONE, photojournalist Don Duncan reports on efforts at Breaking the Cycle of alcoholism and abuse in Kerala, and giving children a better future. Here, he offers some additional thoughts on India’s tribal culture.

While doing reporting for ONE in eastern Kerala state (in Idukki province to be exact), I had the privilege to get a closer look at some of India’s “scheduled tribes.”

India’s constitution recognizes some 645 distinct tribes that it regards as disadvantaged or culturally vulnerable and thus it sets out provisions to both help these tribes and to protect their respective cultures. According to the country’s 2011 census, people from these “scheduled tribes” make up 8.6 percent of the population.

Kerala state is home to 35 of those tribes and the tribal people make up 5 percent of its population.

Known in Hindi as Adivasi or “original inhabitants,” the various tribes tend to live in insular communities, many of them geographically remote. They are often suspicious or distrustful of outsider contact and the government maintains certain policies that bolster this insularity in a bid to protect the tribes’ unique cultures from contamination from the wider, dominant Indian culture.

As a foreigner, I was not allowed to visit the tribal village of Vallakkallu, which could be reached by a 15 mile trek cross country from Marayoor, the town I was based in for my reporting. “If you go there, the police could come and stop or maybe even arrest you,” my guide, Sister Melvy of the Sisters of the Destitute, told me. In fact, it is very difficult even for regular Indians to establish meaningful contact with certain tribes, so strong is their suspicion of outsiders or sense of insularity.

The Indian government takes the cultural protection of its aboriginal tribes very seriously. That impulse in and of itself is certainly commendable. But, as I got deeper into my reporting — which explored child welfare issues such as lack of education, bad parenting and child labor — I wondered if the government’s well-intentioned policy of protection vis-à-vis India’s scheduled tribes did not also have certain negative, unintended consequences.

While the tribal policy of the government does protect the cultural integrity of the tribes (as well as offering them material support), that same protection policy seems to also serve as a sort of obstacle to those charities/NGO’s wishing to help tribes improve their lot. A case in point is education. The Muthuvan tribe, which lives in Vallakkallu village, puts value and emphasis on working the land and doesn’t see the point of schooling. Attendance in the state primary school in the village is shabby and the only person who seems pro-schooling in any real way is the village’s sole teacher.

I think this opposition between the value of working the land and the value of education is one that is familiar to many. In the West, we started, at a certain point in the past, to evolve from a land-based value system to one that put more value in ideas and learning: the “knowledge economy,” as we call it now.

But each society evolves at its own pace and I think it is correct to respect the individual pace and nature of other societies’ respective evolutions.

But can a people evolve naturally when they are “protected” and ghettoized on reservations? If left to their own devices, the tribes of India would most probably interact to some degree with others, adopt what they see as useful, and essentially evolve at a pace and in a way that suits them best. But with the way things are now, while the government does much to preserve the tribes’ fragile and unique cultures, it also risks fossilizing these people, holding them in suspension, while the rest of India continues to develop.

18 May 2017
Sarah MacDonald, Catholic News Service

Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin greets Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II, second from left, and his delegation, on 18 May at the archbishop’s residence. (photo: CNS/John McElroy)

Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II met Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin during a five-day visit to Ireland.

“Christians in Egypt are now struggling for their existence,” he told Archbishop Martin on 18 May.

Archbishop Martin told Pope Tawadros that Irish Catholics were “very aware of the suffering that your Coptic community has endured even in recent weeks,” a reference to a pair of terrorist attacks 9 April at two Egyptian churches. The Islamic State group claimed credit for the attacks, which killed at least 45 people, injured more than 100 others and shook the Middle East’s largest Christian community to the core.

Assuring the Coptic leader of his “prayerful solidarity,” Archbishop Martin expressed the hope that Egypt could “become a beacon in the region for freedom of religion and for dialogue among all believers, especially with our Muslims sisters and brothers.”

Pope Tawadros also met Irish President Michael Higgins, other foreign officials and members of the Coptic Orthodox communities. He also consecrated two Coptic Orthodox churches in Dublin and Waterford.

The Coptic leader’s visit follows his pastoral visit to Britain, where he was received by Queen Elizabeth, Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury and the Prince of Wales.

On 12 May, Pope Tawadros was received by Archbishop Welby at Lambeth Palace and signed the official guestbook with the words “Love Never Ends.”

18 May 2017
Greg Kandra

Displaced Iraqis rest amid rubble after fleeing fighting between Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service forces and Islamic State militants on 15 May in Mosul. (photo: CNS/Danish Siddiqui, Reuters)

U.N. expects 200,000 more people to be driven from Mosul as fighting intensifies (Reuters) The United Nations said on Thursday up to 200,000 more people could flee Mosul as Iraqi forces push into the last districts held by Islamic State militants. Iraqi authorities and aid agencies are already struggling to cope with a surge in displacement since security forces opened a new front against the militants in Mosul earlier this month...

Turkey opens ‘city’ for orphans of Syrian war (BBC) Turkey has opened a vast center dedicated to housing and educating orphans from war-torn Syria. The complex, in the south-eastern border town of Reyhanli, will house 990 children in what Turkish media say is a cozy, home environment. They will live in 55 villas and have access to four schools, a mosque, a playground and a sports arena...

Indian religious groups meet to prepare for catastrophes (Vatican Radio) Caritas India in New Delhi on Tuesday, brought together faith-based organizations active in disaster management to create a network to help India become more resilient when catastrophe strikes. Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Sikh and Buddhist organizations participated in the meeting along with former government officials from the Disaster Management Authority. “It is time not only to be change-makers but also make others into change-makers,” said Swamini Adityanand Saraswati from the Global Interfaith Wash Alliance while addressing the meeting...

Gaza left in dark amid power struggle (BBC) By night, much of the Gaza Strip is plunged into darkness with streets lit only by the headlights of passing cars...

Copts who sought sanctuary ordered back to Egypt (The Australian) Ashraf Boshre spent 48 years double-checking that the security doors of his home in Giza, Egypt, were firmly locked before going to sleep. A Coptic Christian, the 51-year-old brought his wife, Amany, and daughters Maria, 24, Mira, 19, and Monica, 13, to Australia in late 2013 on a visitors’ visa, before applying for protection following decades of abuse. “When I’m walking the street, going to church (here), no one is going to come attack you,” said Mr. Boshre, who now lives in Sydney’s south. “No one is going to come attack your daughters because they’re not wearing the head cover. It helps me, I feel happy.” But within days, Mr. Boshre, his family, his parents Ibrahim and Nora, and sisters will be asked to buy plane tickets and return to Giza...

17 May 2017
Greg Kandra

Priests and scribes assist Abune Gregorius, Archbishop of Ziway, Ethiopia, as he studies an ancient text near the island church of Debre Zion. To learn more about Ethiopian Orthodoxy at the Crossroads, check out our November 2007 edition of ONE. (photo: Sean Sprague)

17 May 2017
Greg Kandra

Pope Francis prepares to use incense to venerate an icon of the Holy Family as he celebrates Mass at the Air Defense Stadium in Cairo on 29 April. UNESCO plans to declare the path taken by the Holy Family through Egypt as a World Heritage site. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)

‘Path of the Holy Family’ to be recognized by UNESCO (Fides) UNESCO is preparing to recognize the “Path of the Holy Family,” the itinerary that unites the places traveled, according to the millennial traditions, by Mary, Joseph and the Child Jesus when they found refuge in Egypt to escape the violence of Herod, as “World Heritage” of humanity. This is what Adel Gindy, general head of the international relations of the Egyptian tourism development Authority reported to national media...

Syria denies it burned bodies of political prisoners (The New York Times) The Syrian government forcefully rejected on Tuesday accusations by the United States that the bodies of thousands of political prisoners had been disposed of in a crematory at a prison near Damascus, describing the allegations as “lies” to justify American aggression...

The Mosul families who lived in fear ( With ISIS on the brink of defeat in Mosul, a dark chapter in the history of the city looks set to come to an end. But for those civilians who fled, or found themselves trapped by the militants, there remains a long road ahead. spoke to the Iraqis who are trying to rebuild the lives that the terror group destroyed...

Ukraine’s president says his official website hit by a cyberattack (BBC) Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s official website has been hit by an “organised” cyber-attack from Russia, his administration has said. It said it was Russia’s response to Mr Poroshenko’s decree banning some of Russia’s biggest social media networks and net services popular in Ukraine...

Russia fights computer virus with holy water (CNA) After malware hacked as many as 200,000 computers throughout the world, the Russians have an idea: blessing the computers with holy water...

16 May 2017
CNEWA staff

A villager and his horse make their way through downtown Eshtia, Georgia.
(photo: Michael J. La Civita)

CNEWA’s Michael J. La Civita is making a pastoral visit to the Caucasus this week, and sent back these images from the tiny village of Esthia. He noted on Facebook:

Eshtia. Once a village of 1,300 families, now home to just 500 families — all Armenian Catholic refugees from the genocide a century ago.

It is a tidy village of birches, daffodils and thieving magpies. CNEWA is proudly supporting Caritas’s work here in helping the youth, who number 300.

While it seems as if time stands still, it does not. Many of the men men have fled to Omsk, Russia, to earn a living — leaving their families behind.

The landscape surrounding Eshtia. (photo: Michael J. La Civita)

Tags: Georgia Caucasus

16 May 2017
Greg Kandra

An Iraqi Federal Police member walks next to a destroyed house after their clashes with Islamic State fighters in Mosul, Iraq, on 28 April. (photo: CNS/Muhammad Hamed, Reuters)

Iraq says battle for Mosul is nearly won (Reuters) Iraqi forces have dislodged Islamic State from all but 12 square km of Mosul, a military spokesman said on Tuesday, after planes dropped leaflets into the city telling civilians the battle was nearly won. Seven months into the U.S.-backed campaign, the militants now control only a few districts in the western half of Mosul including the Old City, where Islamic State is expected to make its last stand...

U.S. says Syria built crematoriums to handle mass prisoner killings (The Washington Post) The Syrian government has constructed and is using a crematorium at its notorious Sednaya military prison near Damascus to clandestinely dispose of the bodies of prisoners it continues to execute inside the facility, the State Department said Monday...

Local Muslims contribute to building of Christian church in Egypt (Fides) It took little more than a year to build the second church in the village of Ismailia, in the Egyptian province of Minya. The Christian place of worship was also built in a short space of time thanks to the financial contribution of the local Muslim population. The inauguration of the new church, dedicated to St. George and the Virgin Mary, took place last week with the festive participation of many villagers, Christians and Muslims...

Catholic bishops seek help from Indian president to protect indigenous people (Vatican Radio) Catholic bishops from India's tribal lands have sought the intervention of President Pranab Mukherjee to ensure the rights of millions of adivasis or indigenous people. The memorandum signed by bishops from six states with large tribal populations said they were “saddened” by the policies of state governments that have trampled over tribal people’s rights...

Letter from patriarch regarding his resignation ( Abandonment of Patriarchal Service is the culmination of my Catholic Christian, monastic and humanitarian life’s work: a period during which the Holy Savior has bestowed his blessings on me...

Russia finances restorations of ‘Star Street’ in Bethlehem (Fides) The Russian government has decided to finance $4 million in restoration and reconstruction work in the historic center of Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus...

Tags: Syria Iraq Egypt Muslim ISIS

15 May 2017
Philip W. Eubanks

College freshman Christopher O’Hara greets CNEWA president Msgr. John E. Kozar during a fundraiser hosted last week at Gallagher’s Steak House in New York City. Joining him are Christopher’s parents, Kelly and Chris O’Hara. (photo: CNEWA)

A little over a month ago, I was blessed to travel with CNEWA president, Msgr. John E. Kozar, on a pastoral visit to Lebanon. While there, we toured schools, medical clinics, a seminary, and refugee camps to see just how CNEWA accompanies the poor, suffering, and displaced throughout the Middle East. For me, it was a humbling trip — one that made me eager to return home and share with our donor family stories of the real need facing this community, as well as my own first-hand accounts of the tremendous good our donors have made possible.

With thanks to the O’Hara family and, in particular, their son Christopher, we were able to share a little about that trip recently at Gallagher’s Steakhouse in midtown Manhattan. Christopher is a freshmen with Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service who, as a junior at Chaminade High School on Long Island, wanted to reach out to help people in need. (Coincidentally, Father Walsh was CNEWA’s first president). Last year, Christopher organized a special evening to raise awareness and support for the Christian community in the Middle East and the people they serve.

During this year’s gathering, Msgr. Kozar not only shared stories from our trip to Lebanon, but also about his recent trip to Iraq as one of the first Westerners to visit some of the liberated towns on the Nineveh Plain.

Msgr. Kozar also spoke of a convent and a church he toured where extremists had used the buildings as target practice and ransacked every icon and liturgical book. He spoke of the courage of a group of parishioners who came with brooms to clean the church so that they could celebrate Easter Mass — with hardly any parishioners present.

The need has been particularly great across the Middle East lately, and that’s why an evening bringing together some of CNEWA’s friends and supporters in the greater New York City area was a real opportunity to provide an update of what’s happening — and make a difference at the same time. More than that, is exciting for us at CNEWA to know that we count young people among some of our most faithful supporters.

Christopher O’Hara’s efforts to raise awareness was inspiring to another group of youth, a volunteer initiative calling themselves “Relief United,” who recently held a Battle of the Bands concert to help Syrian refugees. (You can read about their efforts here.) Together, the students were able to show that the youth of today can offer powerful and faithful acts of generosity and mercy. All of us here at CNEWA could not be more thankful for their cheerful and enthusiastic service on our behalf.

If you’d like to support Christopher in his efforts to make an impact in the lives of this struggling community of faith in the Middle East, you can make a donation here.

15 May 2017
Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service

A menorah and its shadow are seen in one part of an exhibition on the menorah at the Vatican on 15 May. The second part of the exhibition is at the Jewish Museum in Rome.
(photo: CNS/Paul Haring)

The Vatican Museums and the Jewish Museum of Rome are exploring together the significance of the menorah, although they also give a nod to the centuries-old legend that the Vatican is hiding the golden menorah from the Temple of Jerusalem.

A two-part exhibition, one at the Vatican and the other at the Jewish Museum of Rome, prominently features a replica of the 1st-century Arch of Titus, showing Roman soldiers carrying the menorah and other treasures into Rome.

From a coin minted in the century before Christ’s birth to a 1987 Israeli comic book featuring a superhero with a menorah on his chest, the exhibit, “The Menorah: Worship, History and Myth,” documents the use of the seven-branched candelabra both as a religious item and a symbol of Jewish identity.

The exhibit is scheduled to be open through 23 July. One ticket includes admission to the main part of the exhibit in the Charlemagne Wing just off St. Peter’s Square and to the Jewish Museum, located about a mile away at Rome’s main synagogue.

Among the pieces displayed at the Jewish Museum stands a towering mosaic inscription describing treasures buried at the Basilica of St. John Lateran, the cathedral of the Diocese of Rome. Dating from the 13th century, while the Crusades were raging, the mosaic’s 37-line inventory includes “the golden candelabrum” Titus brought to Rome.

The legend has persisted for centuries that the Vatican is hiding the solid gold menorah — if not at St. John Lateran, then in a cave at the Vatican. Jewish religious and political leaders continue to ask the popes to return the piece.

Arnold Nesselrath, director of the Department of Byzantine, Medieval and Modern Art at the Vatican Museums, said the mosaic from the time of the reign of Pope Nicholas IV is the last the Vatican heard of the famous menorah. Excavations under the altar of St. John Lateran and the surrounding area in the early 20th century turned up no trace of the treasures.

Still, he said, the legend documents just how important the menorah is in Jewish culture.

Francesco Leone, the art historian who prepared the exhibit catalogue, told Catholic News Service the most historically reliable explanation of the Temple menorah’s fate is that it was taken as booty from Rome by the Vandals or Goths before the end of the fifth century and melted down.

The oldest object in the exhibit is the “Magdala stone,” a carved block from a synagogue in the Galilee excavated in 2009. The stone, which has a carved menorah on one side, is from before the time of Jesus.

Alessandra Di Castro, director of the Jewish Museum, said working with the Vatican Museums and with scholars both of them called on to help with the research, “we experienced firsthand how working together brought each of us new understanding.”

Nesselrath agreed, saying, “The collaboration was a process of deepening respect for what is sacred to the other.”

Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni, the chief rabbi of Rome, writing in the exhibit catalogue said, “The Jewish link with the menorah is ancient, strong and full of symbolic significance, and the link has never been broken.”

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