5 February 2016
Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill reads a prayer during the Christmas service 7 January at Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow. After almost three decades of tense Catholic-Russian Orthodox relations, Pope Francis will meet Patriarch Kirill 12 February in Cuba, en route to Mexico.
(photo: CNS/Sergei Chirikov, EPA)
Pope, Russian Orthodox patriarch to meet in Cuba, Vatican announces (CNS) After almost three decades of tense Catholic-Russian Orthodox relations, Pope Francis will meet Patriarch Kirill of Moscow 12 February in Cuba on the pope’s way to Mexico. It will be the first-ever meeting of a pope and Moscow patriarch, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, told reporters 5 February...
Lebanese churches concerned about religious discrimination with regards to access to functions and public resources (Fides) Maronite bishops expressed their concern over the imbalance that is being produced regarding access to public offices and state financial resources, with silent discrimination that see Christians penalized. The concern emerged during the last monthly meeting of the Assembly of Maronite Bishops, who met on Wednesday, 3 February, at the patriarchal see in Bkerke, under the presidency of Patriarch Bechara Peter...
Syrian rebels are losing Aleppo and perhaps also the war (Washington Post) Syrian rebels battled for their survival in and around Syria’s northern city of Aleppo on Thursday after a blitz of Russian airstrikes helped government loyalists sever a vital supply route and sent a new surge of refugees fleeing toward the border with Turkey...
Economic effect of Syrian war at $35 bn: World Bank (Al-Monitor) The devastating economic impact of the war in Syria and its spillover into nearby countries stands at $35 billion and climbing, the World Bank said. The estimate, included in a quarterly World Bank report on the Middle East and North Africa, was released on the same day that world leaders in London pledged more than $10 billion through 2020 to help the Syrians...
A seminar on the environment in Jordan (Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem) The Catholic Center for Studies and Media (C.C.S.M.), in cooperation with Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung held on Saturday, 30 January 2016 a seminar titled, “Environment: The Common Home of Humanity.” C.C.S.M. Director Father Rif’at Bader said that the preservation of the environment has become one of the greatest global challenges facing humanity. He added that Pope Francis’ historic message of the environment titled, “Laudato Si on Care for Our Common Home” stresses that most the people living on Earth state that they are faithful which entails orchestrating inter-religious dialogue in order to care for the environment, to defend the poor, and to ensure respect for the other brethren...
4 February 2016
Children at the Shashemene School clean their dishes after breakfast. (photo: Petterik Wiggers)
In the Winter edition of ONE, James Jeffrey takes readers to a remarkable school in Ethiopia serving young people who are visually impaired. Here are some other details about students who have the “future at their fingertips”:
“Seulam neuw,” I say in my British-accented Amharic (which tends to confuse most Ethiopians) to three boys, arms around shoulders, coming toward me along the school walk way.
It’s a ubiquitous phrase in Ethiopia expressing a range of greetings from “Peace” to “What’s up?” to “How you doing?”
Out shoot three hands into the air in front of the three blind school boys. I make my way along, each squeeze of a hand resulting in a smile and further polite Amharic words of greeting back at me.
Once you’re beyond formalities at Shashemene Boarding School for the Blind, the boys are much more forthright than the girls in making new acquaintances. Before I know it, a crowd of energized youngsters are clustered around me.
“I’m a tall guy,” I offer, my choices of Amharic ice breakers being limited.
Standing on tip-toes and stretching arms high in the air, the boys still can’t quite scale my height.
Petterik, the photographer I’m working with, comes to their aid, lifting them in the air so they can place a hand on top of my head. They return to the ground satisfied.
During such moments among the school’s students, smiling becomes contagious, youth and energy working its usual uplifting tonic. But at other times during my visit I experienced a range of quite different emotions.
Sometimes, surrounded by so many with disabilities, especially when struck so young, I felt sadness, perhaps mingled with guilt. Ethiopia can be a frustrating place to live and work, and I’m not immune from complaining: the glacial bureaucracy, the unreliably slow Internet, the power cuts.
But when faced with children coping, and succeeding, in a sightless world, such complaints become more than churlish.
I also felt anger. Anger at the overarching situation of these children and the sisters looking after them. For there’s no local help, no assistance from the government — its only involvement comes from taking increasing taxes.
Ethiopia undoubtedly still contains soul-crushing poverty for too many. But at the same time, significant wealth is being generated for some. Not far away, at Lake Langano, is a hotel resort built by Haile Selassie, the famous Ethiopian marathon runner. Guests at the hotel include wealthy Ethiopians reaping rewards from the growing economy. None have ever visited the school.
During afternoon coffee and biscuits at the sisters’ residence, a short walk from the school, Sister Ana described to me an attempted day trip to a beach at Lake Langano.
Upon arriving they were informed the entrance fee for each student was 100 Ethiopian birr, a sizeable sum — many Ethiopians earn about 30 birr for a day’s wage.
The possibility of making an exception for a busload of blind students didn’t come into it. They had to turn back.
In Western countries such as my home, the UK, there’s an ongoing heated debate about overseas aid being too large.
Such money could certainly be better managed, but I’ll gladly see foreign donations continue to a small embattled group of sisters and teachers doing their best to help the needy, destitute and forgotten of society.
Read more in the Winter 2015 edition of ONE.
4 February 2016
Sister Micheline, center, talks with a refugee about the needs of his camp in Bechouat, in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. (photo: Tamara Abdul Hadi)
In the Winter edition of ONE, readers meet Sister Micheline Lattouff, a Good Shepherd Sister working among the growing population of Syrian refugees settled in the Bekaa Valley. In the interview, she speaks of her vocation and her desire to serve her people.
ONE: What motivates you?
ML: I try to find what message God is sending me. I try to learn what God is trying to have me do. In 2005, I started looking at people in the villages and their suffering. The children used to play in a graveyard. Once, they burned the tail off a cat for fun. They had no normal games or activities. Their parents are illiterate and have no resources to rear their children.
I felt the Bekaa region needed support, like sheep without shepherd. I was frustrated; I thought, “What can I do for children in this area?”
ONE: So what did you do?
ML: I started asking teachers in public school, “If I make a center for children to visit after school, will you help?” And the principal offered benches and desks for free, and teachers volunteered. On Christmas 2005, I began a new experiment: From 3 to 5 p.m. an after-school program for Lebanese children from 9 to 15 years of age.
ONE: What have been some of your more rewarding moments?
ML: The best moment for me is when I see the children happy, successful in their studies and their life, when I see them able to pass through the difficulties and continue to achieve.
ONE: What have been some of your more difficult moments?
ML: The more difficult moments are when I have nothing to give the refugees. It is so difficult for me.
ONE: What thoughts sustain you during difficult times?
ML: I believe in human beings and God. I believe that God is capable of changing a person, when I see people improving from work, when I see success of people and developing.
Read more in the Winter 2015 edition of ONE.
4 February 2016
Syrian refugees wait at the border on 13 January near Royashed, Jordan. World leaders pledged billions on Thursday to help support refugees. (photo: CNS/EPA)
Leaders pledge billions for Syrian refugees (Voice of America) U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has pledged nearly $1 billion in new U.S. aid for Syrian refugees at an international donors conference and is calling for the Syrian government and Russia to halt attacks on rebel-held areas in order to let humanitarian aid through. The donors conference opened Thursday in London with European Union nations pledging more than three billion dollars to support people in Syria as well as in Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey, neighbor countries that are strained by the exodus of refugees fleeing the fighting...
Syria peace talks suspended (BBC) The third round of Geneva peace talks between the Syrian government and opposition has been suspended three days after a shaky start, underlining the mammoth challenge of putting an end to Syria’s five-year war. Riad Hijab, the opposition’s High Negotiations Committee (HNC) co-ordinator, arrived in Geneva on Wednesday to give an extra weight to the troubled talks. But comments of Russia’s foreign minister Sergey Lavrov, who said Russian strikes will not cease “until we really defeat terrorist organisations like al-Nusra Front” clearly made it difficult for both the UN and Syrian opposition to press ahead...
Iraq building a wall around Baghdad (BBC) Iraqi security forces have begun building a wall around the capital Baghdad in an effort to prevent attacks by the so-called Islamic State (ISIS). The reported 300km (186 miles) barrier will surround the city from all sides, an official said...
Christian associations react to rumors about discovery of weapons in a church in Turkey (Fides) The Federation of Assyrian associations have reacted harshly to the rumors — circulated in recent days on the Turkish media — that a cache of weapons and ammunition belonging to Kurdish armed groups was discovered by the army in Ankara at the Syrian Orthodox church of Santa Maria, in Diyarbakir. “More lies, another disgrace, still an operation aimed to hit a target,” wrote the international network of associations linked to Assyrian Christian communities scattered throughout the world in a statement. “We” says the statement sent to Agenzia Fides, “condemn this hostile attitude, which affects all Syrians and which was intended to indicate a target...”
Coptic patriarch visits dioceses, speaks out against domestic violence (Fides) Domestic violence, whose victims are mainly women and children, represent a devastating social phenomenon that has severe effects on people’s lives and also on civil society. This is what Coptic Orthodox Patriarch Tawadros II said during his catechesis and prayer meeting on Wednesday, at the church of St. George, in the suburb of Guizeh, attended by thousands of faithful...
3 February 2016
This structure marks the location of an ancient church, built on the site where Christians believe Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River. (photo: Greg Kandra)
Yesterday, UNESCO recognized the place of Christ’s baptism in Jordan as a “World Heritage Site.” In 2011, ONE magazine reported on efforts to preserve the site:
In a rustic wooden structure perched on the eastern bank of the Jordan River, Father Gianluigi Corti leads a group of Italian pilgrims in renewing their baptismal vows. The river is now little more than a muddy stream, drained over the years to meet the demands of the growing populations of the Holy Land. The air is still, apart from the singing of Italian hymns and a chorus of chirping insects. The latter is a constant sound in this dry, hot region of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan known as the Valley of Trickling Water, or Wadi el Kharrar in Arabic.
As Father Corti concludes the simple renewal service, he dips a plastic bottle into a heavy stone basin filled with water from the river and slowly pours its contents on the heads of the pilgrims. As a parish priest, he has led many such tours to the Holy Land.
“The Bible was not lived in Europe,” he says. “If you don’t know the land of the Bible directly, you cannot know what the Bible is.”
A short walk from the pilgrims lie the remains of an early Christian church.
Uncovered in the late 1990’s by a team of archaeologists led by Dr. Muhammad Waheeb, the ruins belong to a complex built at the end of the fifth century. They mark the site where early Christians believed Jesus was baptized — the same complex described in pilgrims’ accounts from the fifth to seventh centuries.
Above the brush, not far from the river’s edge, rises the golden dome of a new church built on land donated by the Jordanian royal family. Dedicated to St. John the Baptist, the Orthodox shrine is the most prominent monument in an area long believed to be the biblical Bethany Beyond the Jordan, where John lived, preached and baptized his cousin, Jesus. It also stands as a reminder of the Hashemites — Jordan’s royals who descend from the prophet Muhammad — and their personal commitment to develop the kingdom’s holy places, Christian, Jewish and Muslim.
Jordan is home to a mosaic of biblical places. For example, near the Zerqa River, Jacob wrestled the angel and received the name Israel. At Mount Nebo, Moses looked upon the Promised Land. The Prophet Elijah ascended to heaven on a chariot of fire from the Jordan River’s eastern bank, which also later served as the center of John the Baptist’s ministry.
These holy places, coupled with the country’s arid landscape, drew thousands of early Christians, such as St. Mary of Egypt, who led lives of penitence and prayer. Their monastic cells, caves, chapels and tombs in turn became important venues of pilgrimage for generations of Christians, who traveled along a well–beaten circuit from one site to the next for much of the first millennia of the Christian era.
Today, these sacred areas draw considerable numbers of pilgrims and tourists each year, but less traffic than one might expect. Most of the locations receive scant publicity and are overshadowed by better–known holy sites in Israel and Palestine. And, until recently, some of the most important sites in Jordan have been long lost or neglected.
Read more in On Jordan’s Bank in the January 2011 edition of ONE.
3 February 2016
In the video above, the plight of a 10-day-old Syrian refugee in Lebanon illustrates the challenges facing many who have been displaced by Syria’s civil war. World leaders are gathering in London this week to try and find solutions for Syria’s refugee crisis. (video: Rome Reports)
World leaders aim to raise billions for Syrian refugees (The Guardian) World leaders are gathering in London for a conference aimed at raising $9bn for Syrian refugees and preventing the creation of a permanent underclass of uneducated, restless and jobless Syrians living in countries’ bordering their homeland. Organizers want the aid to be diverted from food handouts towards work and education opportunities for Syrians in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan...
Report: More than 10,000 refugee, migrant children have disappeared in Europe (Al Jazeera) More than 10,000 unaccompanied refugee and migrant children have disappeared in Europe, the EU police agency Europol said on Sunday, fearing many have been whisked into sex trafficking rings or the slave trade. Europol’s press office confirmed to Al Jazeera the figures published in British newspaper The Observer. The number relates to the past 18-24 months...
Pope greets UN peacekeepers at audience (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Wednesday met with a group of soldiers serving as United Nations peacekeepers from Paraguay and Argentina. The group was attending the weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square...
UNESCO recognizes baptism site of Jesus as World Heritage Site (Fides) The site of Jesus’ baptism on the Jordan River has been officially declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, during a ceremony held in Paris on the evening of Tuesday 2 February. The ceremony was also attended by a delegation from the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, including the Jordanian Minister for Tourism Nayef H Al-Fayez and Archbishop Maroun Lahham, Patriarchal Vicar for Jordan of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem...
Chaldean monastery in Tehran reopens (Fides) On the eve of the meeting in the Vatican between Iranian President Hassan Rohani and Pope Francis, it was possible to reopen the Chaldean monastery of the Congregation of the Daughters of Mary in Tehran. This was reported by official sources of the Chaldean Patriarchate, recalling that the monastery had been closed since 2013...
Why the Middle East’s largest Christian community is fleeing Egypt (International Business Times) Egyptian churches across New York and New Jersey have seen their communities swell in recent years as Egypt has faced political turmoil, a slumping economy and a growing militant insurgency. The exodus has intensified fears for the future for Christianity in the Middle East, as some now worry for the fate of Egypt’s Christians, one of the world’s oldest Christian communities...
Ukraine’s economy minister quits (Bloomberg) Ukraine’s government, splintering over issues from the war in the nation’s east to faltering anti-corruption efforts, suffered a new setback as its reform-minded economy minister stepped down. Aivaras Abromavicius, 40, a Lithuanian-born former fund manager, said Wednesday that he wouldn’t be a “puppet” for officials he accuses of blocking overhauls of the ex-Soviet republic’s economy and institutions...
2 February 2016
Tags: Syria Egypt Refugees Jordan Chaldeans
Chaldeans pray during an ordination Mass at St. Peter Chaldean Catholic Cathedral
in El Cajon, California. (photo: Nancy Wiechec)
The Winter 2015 edition of ONE includes a visit to Chaldeans who have settled in the American southwest. Journalist Joyce Coronel offers some personal reflections below.
“We have the blood of martyrs running in our veins.”
It was the most compelling quote I’d ever had in a long career in Catholic journalism. Those words, spoken in the wake of a deadly attack on a Catholic cathedral in Baghdad in late 2010, set me on a path that still unwinds before me.
When CNEWA asked if I would write about the Chaldean Church in the western U.S., I knew I would finally get to see the eparchy’s headquarters located in El Cajon, California, a five-hour drive from where I live in Arizona.
What I saw there in the course of writing the article for ONE was deeply inspiring. Two young men, eager to serve the church, stood before a packed cathedral and promised to spend their lives as priests.
The church was jammed with the faithful, and clergy watched from around the altar. Among them were two young priests ordained last spring as well as Chorbishop Monsignor Felix Shabi, better known around the eparchy simply as Father Felix. A canon lawyer, he speaks five languages and is devoted to serving his people.
Father Felix leads the Chaldean Catholic vicariate in Arizona and it is he who spoke those words of martyrdom to me five years ago, explaining that the Chaldean church has endured nearly 2,000 years of persecution. His own cousin, Father Ragheed Ganni, was martyred for the faith in Mosul in 2007.
As he told me of the plight of his people on that fateful day in 2010, the aroma of Chaldean cuisine filled the air. No one had ever invited me to stay for lunch after an interview! Food, I now realize, is integral to the Chaldean identity. To meet and not break bread is anathema.
Standing inside the Good Old Days Spices shop on Main Street in El Cajon, it was easy to see the blending of faith, family and food that characterize the Chaldean culture. Nancy Delly runs the store along with her husband, Wisam. The family has been in business 30 years. Behind the counter are large statues of the Virgin Mary as well as various saints, along with strings of rosary beads. There’s also a giant photo of her cousin, the late Patriarch Mar Emanuel III Delly, just over the display of Middle Eastern teas, kabob sticks and cans of fava beans.
As Nancy rings up customers’ purchases, she tells them, “Thank you. God will bless you.” But does she miss the old country?
“My life here is quiet and good and I like it. If somebody don’t like America, I say, ‘Go back. I buy your ticket.” Life here is good. This is my home.”
It’s all about family here. I asked Raad Delly, president of the parish council at Mar Abraham Chaldean Church in Arizona, about the close-knit community. It seems to me that everyone is related. How many cousins does he have in the U.S. anyway?
“Probably 200,” he laughed. “When you introduce yourself, they say, ‘My mom’s mother was a Delly’ and so on. Somehow, some way, we are all related to each other.”
In the streets and shops and restaurants as well as the church, it’s not uncommon to see older women, dressed in their native attire of long, simple dresses, their heads covered in a close-fitting cap. Many of these elderly Chaldean immigrants have spent a lifetime in villages where they walked to church every day and visited with friends, so life in a new land can seem lonely. In El Cajon, they attend early morning Mass, then spend several hours at local senior adult day care centers.
It takes a while for the community to accept a journalist who is clearly not one of their own. I found that greeting them with the traditional “Shlama,” (“Peace”) and mentioning the name of Father Felix opened more than a few doors.
One woman didn’t want to share her name with me or be photographed, but after I spent two hours sitting with her and four generations of her family, the evening ended with hugs and kisses all around. Her son — who was only an infant in her arms when his father was killed — will be a student in my First Communion class at Holy Cross Chaldean Mission in Gilbert, Arizona this year.
Angel Mikha, who teaches alongside me, is frequently mistaken for my sister. But it isn’t a mistake, not really. Over the last five years, we’ve become sisters in Christ as this community has adopted me, a Latin rite Catholic, strengthening my own faith with their heroic witness and hearty hospitality.
It’s a journey that’s still unfolding and one that inspires me daily to try to follow Christ more sincerely.
Read more in “Nineveh, U.S.A.” in the current edition of ONE.
2 February 2016
Sister Liza Mundamattom, of the Deen Bandhu Samaj Sisters, greets a member of the Chamba Mahara caste in Bastar, India. The Vatican’s Year of Consecrated Life officially came to a close today. To read about some of the sisters we have profiled since the year began, visit this link. And to support the formation of more sisters around the world, visit this giving page.
(photo: Jose Jacob)
During Mass he celebrated today, Pope Francis marked the end of the Year of Consecrated Life:
Pope Francis has called on consecrated men and women to make courageous and prophetic choices, to not be afraid of getting their hands dirty and of walking the geographical and existential peripheries of mankind today.
The Pope was speaking to consecrated men and women during Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica marking the end of the Year of Consecrated Life.
The Year, which was celebrated throughout the world, began on the First Sunday of Advent in November 2014 and came to a close on the World Day of Consecrated Life on 2 February, 2016.
The initiative, called for by Pope Francis, aimed to be an occasion of renewal for men and women in consecrated life, of thanksgiving among the faithful for the service of sisters, brothers, priests, and nuns, and an invitation to young Catholics to consider a religious vocation.
During his homily the Pope described the just ended Year of Consecrated Life as “a river” saying “it now flows into the sea of mercy, into the immense mystery of love that we are experiencing through the Extraordinary Jubilee.”
He concluded: “May the Lord Jesus, through the maternal intercession of Mary, grow within us, and each increase in each of us the desire of encounter, the custody of wonder and the joy of gratitude. Then others will be attracted by His light, and will be able to meet the Father’s mercy.”
You can read the pope’s homily here.
2 February 2016
In the video above, Jordan’s King Abdullah II describes the difficulties his country is facing dealing with the influx of refugees from Syria. (video: BBC)
Jordan’s king says citizens are “at a boiling point” over refugees (International Business Times) Jordan’s King Abdullah II has said that people in his country are at “boiling point” due to the influx of thousands of refugees from Syria, BBC reported Tuesday. Abdullah’s comments came on the heels of the U.N. refugee agency’s statement Sunday that about 20,000 Syrian refugees have been stranded on the war-torn country’s border with Jordan. Jordan has been accepting refugees from Palestine and Iraq for decades and now asylum-seekers from Syria make up nearly 20 percent of the country’s population, BBC reported. “For the first time we can’t do it any more,” Abdullah said...
Russia open to hard-liners attending Syria peace talks (AP) Russia said Tuesday it supports the inclusion of all opposition parties in Syrian peace talks, including representatives of two hard-line Islamic groups, as President Bashar Assad’s troops captured a village north of Syria’s largest city with the aid of Russian airstrikes. Syria’s official SANA news agency reported the capture of Hardatneen, north of Aleppo, as U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura kicked off what he called a second day of peace talks in Geneva by hosting a government delegation for the second time since Friday. He also planned a separate meeting with the main opposition group later in the day...
U.S. weighs options to speed Iraq’s fight to retake Mosul (Reuters) The United States is willing to deploy Apache attack helicopters and advisers to help Iraq retake the city of Mosul from Islamic State as it considers options to speed up the campaign against the militant group, a top U.S. general said on Monday...
Winter plunging Iraqis deeper in debt (Huffington Post) These days, 40 year-old Syrian father of three, Faruq Mohammed Hamo, tells me there are local shops where he dare not go and show his face. Faruq is deep in debt and is ashamed to go to stores where he can’t pay back the food items he’s bought on credit. His family fled conflict in the Kobane, Syria, in September 2014. They now live in Qaladze, north of Sulaymaniyah in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, just a few kilometres from the border with Iran. They fled with nothing and have been helped by neighbours as well as getting help from UNHCR. But, Faruq says, he has been unable to find regular work and things are going from bad to worse...
Pope: Consecrated life must be close to the people (VIS) Pope Francis spoke to participants in the Jubilee of Consecrated Life yesterday, noting: “Men and women are consecrated, not to distance themselves from people and to live in comfort; no, to become closer to and to understand the life of Christians and non-Christians, their suffering, their problems, the many things that can be understood only if a consecrated man or woman is close to them. ... Consecrated life is not a status that allows us to watch others from a distance...”
1 February 2016
The image above shows a detail of the baptistery painting from Deir ez-Zor, Syria,
that may portray the Virgin Mary.
(photo: Tony De Camillo/Yale University Art Gallery/The New York Times)
Sunday, Fordham theology professor Michael Peppard published a fascinating essay in The New York Times, taking a closer look at an image from Syria that he believes may have rich historical meaning:
At the Yale University Art Gallery hang wall paintings from one of the world’s oldest churches. Buried by the middle of the third century, this house-church from eastern Syria had images of Jesus, Peter and David. The gallery showcases a well-preserved procession of veiled women that once surrounded its baptistery, a room for Christian initiation.
Off to the side, seldom noticed among the likes of Jesus and Peter, stands a different wall fragment, faded but still discernible: a woman bent over a well. Holding the rope of her vessel, she looks out at the viewer or perhaps over her shoulder, seemingly startled in the act of drawing water.
Who is she? The museum’s identification is certainly plausible: “The painting most likely depicts a scene from the encounter between Christ (not shown) and a woman from Samaria,” as recorded in the Gospel of John. But historians also know that the Samaritan Woman, a repentant sinner who conversed at length with Jesus, was usually depicted in dialogue with him. This woman appears to be alone.
Is it possible that a painting from a building excavated in 1932 and publicized around the world has not been correctly identified?
He makes a compelling argument that the figure is, in fact, the Virgin Mary:
...While the Samaritan Woman at the Well was a respected biblical figure for early Christians, there was actually a more prominent “woman at the well” in Syria: the Virgin Mary during the Annunciation, when an angelic visitor informed her of her miraculous pregnancy. Where does this episode take place? The setting of the canonical account, in the Gospel of Luke, is not specified. But the second-century biography of Mary’s early life, usually called the Protevangelium of James, describes how one day, during a break from her work, “she took the pitcher and went forth to draw water, and behold, a voice said: ‘Hail, you are highly favored, the Lord is with you, blessed are you among women.’ And she looked around on the right and on the left to see from where this voice could have come.” During this first encounter, at a well or spring, the angel was heard but not seen. Mary appeared to be alone.
Archival photographs and drawings made by the archaeologists on site show that the supposed absence behind the female figure is not totally silent — it speaks a couple of lines. That is to say, a field sketch of the wall done “to show additional details” depicts two painted lines touching the woman’s back, along with a kind of starburst on the front of her torso, features described as “unexplained” in the archaeological report. But with the new interpretation of the figure, in connection with the Eastern iconography that came later, the lines invite a rather evident meaning. They appear to represent a motion toward the woman’s body and a spark of activity within it, as if something invisible were approaching and entering her — an incarnation.
If correct, this woman at a well is the oldest securely datable image of the Virgin Mary.
Read more at The New York Times.