Current Issue
Winter, 2015
Volume 41, Number 4
7 January 2016
Greg Kandra

Today marks the date when Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas. In the image above, Ethiopian Orthodox Christians attend the Orthodox Christmas liturgy at Medhane Alem Cathedral in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. (photo: Minasse Wondimu Hailu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

7 January 2016
Greg Kandra

Syriac Catholics, most of them Iraqi refugees, receive communion at a Divine Liturgy in a makeshift church in Amman, Jordan. The pope today erected a new exarchate for the church
in Canada. (photo: Cory Eldridge)

Pope Francis erects new Syro-Catholic Apostolic Exarchate in Canada (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Thursday (7 Jan) erected the Syro-Catholic Apostolic Exarchate in Canada with the Eparchal seat in Montréal (Québec), nominating as its first Apostolic Exarch Rev. Antoine Nassif. The new Apostolic Exarchate consists of the Canadian territory taken from the Syro-Catholic Eparchy of Our Lady of Deliverance of Newark...

Lebanon strains under the weight of refugees (CNS) While the flow of migrants into Europe and the West has sparked controversy, Lebanon continues to bear the brunt of absorbing massive numbers of refugees. A commonly cited figure is that one in four people in Lebanon is displaced from Syria. “The impact of the Syrian and Iraqi refugees on the Lebanese society is huge and multidimensional,” [Michel] Constantin [of CNEWA] told CNS, stressing that the Syrian crisis will soon enter its fifth year, “with no end in sight...”

In Epiphany message, pope says “Seek out signs of God” (CNS) Go out and seek the signs God is offering everyone today that will lead to Christ, Pope Francis said. The thirst for God is present in everyone, and it’s the church’s task to help those with “a restless heart” by pointing them to the true light of Christ, the pope said 6 January, the feast of the Epiphany, which marks the manifestation of Jesus as savior to the world...

Christians face violence in Odisha, India Christian leaders ask government to provide protection against Hindu hardliners who continue to threaten the community in eastern Indian Odisha state that has witnessed major anti-Christian violence...

Teachers in Nineveh rebel against school programs imposed by ISIS (Fides) More than 30 teachers working in the northern Iraqi province of Nineveh, currently under the control of ISIS, were stopped and arrested for refusing to follow the new education programs imposed by jihadists in the schools of the region. The news of the arrests of “rebel” teachers was reported by local sources to the Kurdish media that monitor the north of Iraq, such as News Agency Ara. The teachers arrested will be judged by the Islamic court established by the jihadist regime, that in Iraq has its stronghold in Mosul...

Ukraine set to rename over 900 towns with Soviet names (Reuters) More than 900 Ukrainian towns and villages will be renamed over the course of the year, in accordance with Ukraine’s push to remove commemorations of Soviet and Communist-era figures, the head of Ukraine’s state Institute for National Memory told Channel 5 on Wednesday. Since Ukraine’s pro-European Maidan protests toppled the pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovych administration, the Ukrainian government has adopted a series of laws on “decommunization” — a process of removing displays, venerating anything Soviet...

Catholic agencies plead for help as Ethiopian drought worsens (Catholic Register) As the worst Ethiopian drought in 60 years threatens as many as 20 million people living in more than half of Africa’s second largest country, Catholic aid agencies in the desperate nation are asking for help as the crisis continues into 2016...

Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas (Vatican Radio) Orthodox Christians from around the world celebrate Christmas on Thursday (7 January), in line with the Julian calendar. Traditions vary from country to country but involve liturgies, jumping into frigid water, dancing, log-burning ceremonies, street processions and fireworks displays...

6 January 2016
CNEWA staff

It was recently announced that Pope Francis’s monthly prayer intentions would be released regularly on video for social media:

The new video messages, featuring the pope asking for prayers and action on various challenges facing the world today, will begin 6 January, the feast of the Epiphany of the Lord.

Often people are inundated with so much bad news that they might feel helpless, but “to pray together with Pope Francis for these challenges will us help a lot,” Jesuit Father Frederic Fornos told Vatican Radio...

Today, the first one was unveiled — a powerful and inspiring plea for dialogue among different faiths. Take a look below.

6 January 2016
Michele Chabin

Father Androwas Bahus has fostered a sense of community in his parish and often visits
with families. (photo: Ilene Perlman)

Writer Michele Chabin profiles an Israeli priest in the Winter 2015 edition of ONE. Here, she offers some background and additional insights into his world.

In Israel, especially, some journalistic assignments aren’t very upbeat, so when I accepted ONE’s assignment to travel to the Galilee to profile the Rev. Androwas Bahus, a Melkite priest, and his community in the Arab village of Shefa-Amr, I secretly hoped the father and his flock would share the joy and sense of purpose in their lives, and not just their challenges.

And then, on 17 June, less than a week before photographer Ilene Perlman and I were scheduled to visit Shefa-Amr, arsonists — the police later arrested three far-right-wing Jewish extremists — set fire to the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes in Tabgha, the site near the Sea of Galilee where, according to Christian tradition, Jesus miraculously multiplied loaves and fish to feed the 5,000.

The fire injured two people and badly damaged some of the church and an adjoining monastery.

Although Israeli Christians, who comprise less than 2 percent of the population, consider themselves relatively fortunate to be living in a country with a stable government and the rule of law, this attack and tens of others on Christian (and Muslim) property during the past few years have taken a toll on Christian morale.

The fact that the Israel police did not make a single arrest in connection with these attacks until the Loaves and Fishes church was torched has left Christians feeling vulnerable and frustrated.

I braced for this frustration when, on 21 June, Ilene and I attended a moving Sunday liturgy at the beautiful St. Peter & St. Paul Melkite Greek Catholic church, but when I interviewed the community members about the arson, what I heard was resolve, not anger. I learned that Father Bahus and other local clergy had organized a solidarity rally at the torched church for that very afternoon.

In his sermon that morning Father Bahus urged his parishioners to attend the demonstration and assert their civil and religious rights in a peaceful, Christian way. Within hours the parishioners were boarding buses to the church, more than an hour’s drive away.

Father Bahus told his flock he needed to remain at the church to officiate at a wedding but said he would be with the demonstrators in spirit.

The parish priest told me that, until recently, many Holy Land Christians have felt like leaves blowing in the wind, at the mercy of political forces beyond their control.

“What they need,” he said, “is hope and a feeling of empowerment.”

As I accompanied him on his home visits to the infirm and elderly, it was clear that both are in abundance in the Shefa-Amr parish, where church members donate funds to the parish on a monthly basis to strengthen the communities institutions and expand programming. The parish’s schools are thriving and there is a new community center.

Today, when Father Androwas Bahus leads Sunday mass, the pews are full and the spirit is overflowing.

Read more in “A Day in the Life of an Israeli Priest” in ONE.

And check out the video below, featuring an interview with photographer Ilene Perlman, who adds her own unique perspective on this memorable priest.

6 January 2016
Greg Kandra

Visually impaired students help each other walk around the grounds during recess breaks at the Shashemene School in Ethiopia. To learn more about this remarkable place, read “The Future at Their Fingertips” in the Winter edition of ONE. (photo: Petterik Wiggers)

6 January 2016
Greg Kandra

In this image from October, refugees from Turkey arrive in a rubber boat on a beach near Molyvos, on the Greek island of Lesbos. At least 27 refugees attempting a similar trip drowned Monday night. (photo: CNS/Paul Jeffrey)

Migrants drown crossing from Turkey to Greece (Vatican Radio) At least 27 migrants and refugees from the Middle East are reported to have drowned Monday night while trying to cross from Turkey to the eastern Greek islands...

JRS: Urgent need to help Syrian children (Fides) Approximately 2.8 million Syrian children are out of school as a result of the war, 550,000 of whom are in Lebanon. The Jesuit Refugee Service center in Jbeil serves nearly 500 Syrian refugee children, including providing psychosocial support to children through Peace Education classes — an experience that allows you to see the “educational emergency” that must be addressed urgently, so as not to jeopardize the future generations of young Syrians. The report of the activities of the center in Jbeil, released by JRS, shows that all of the children at the centre have been touched by war, with mortars and bombs a daily risk...

Iraq offers to mediate Saudi dispute amid fears of “disaster” (The Washington Post) Iraq offered Wednesday to mediate between neighbors Saudi Arabia and Iran in efforts to ease a standoff that threatens to expand sectarian fault lines across the region. The fast-moving diplomatic meltdown between Shiite power Iran and Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia has raised global alarms over its potential spillover across the Middle East, including fragile peace efforts in Syria. “We cannot stay silent in this crisis,” Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jafari said at a news conference in Tehran...

Hackers suspected in Ukraine blackout (The Washington Post) U.S. Homeland Security and intelligence agencies are analyzing computer code from what appear to be one of the first known cyber attacks that resulted in an electrical power outage — this one in Ukraine. The 23 December incidents, which lasted several hours and affected tens of thousands of people, were reported by Ukraine power authorities in the capital region and in the western part of the country...

Gaza gets first new hospital in a decade (Reuters) The Gaza Strip’s struggling healthcare system will get some much needed help in 2016 after the first new hospital in a decade opened its doors in the territory last month and as two more foreign-funded clinics are set to launch this year. After nearly five years of construction, with delays caused by fighting and restrictions on imports imposed by Israel and Egypt, the Indonesia Hospital opened its doors on 27 December and has since been treating more than 250 patients a day...

Vatican approves opening sainthood cause for nearly 100 murdered Indian Christians (CNA) The green light has officially been given to open the cause for sainthood of the nearly 100 Christians murdered in the Indian state of Odisha in 2008. The opening of the cause is a source of pride for the relatives of those killed, but also “for the whole Church this is a pride because our men, our women and our children, those who were martyred for the faith, they are not forgotten,” Archbishop John Barwa told CNA on 5 January...

5 January 2016
Michael J.L. La Civita

Orthodox Christians light candles as they celebrate Orthodox Easter during a midnight liturgy at the cathedral in Korca, Albania. (photo: Gent Shkullaku/AFP/Getty Images)

The creation of the Orthodox Church of Albania began not in remote Albania — a nation in southeastern Europe — but in Boston, Massachusetts. There, in 1908, free from the constraints of Ottoman Turkish oppression and Greek domination, Albanian-American Orthodox Christians formed an ethnic Albanian church, Byzantine in ethos and Orthodox in faith. Four years later — after a rump Albanian state was carved from the Balkan provinces of the Ottoman Empire — serious discussions surfaced in the homeland concerning the establishment of an independent Orthodox Church of Albania.

Since its inception a century ago, this Christian community has suffered greatly, especially during the Marxist dictatorship of Enver Hoxha. In 1967, Hoxha declared Albania the world’s first atheistic state, targeting the country’s Catholic, Muslim and Orthodox communities equally. He jailed the nation’s Orthodox bishops and clergy; an unknown number were murdered. His henchmen shuttered monasteries and pulled down hundreds of churches, converting the remaining sanctuaries into cinemas, clubs, gymnasiums and stables.

Hoxha’s campaign desolated the Orthodox Church. After his death in 1985, and the subsequent collapse of the Marxist government six years later, a representative of the Orthodox ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople toured the country — only 15 clergymen and a handful of laity remained to greet him.

Orthodox Christians once accounted for some 20 percent of Albania’s population; most were “Tosks,” a term that describes a collection of Albanian tribes concentrated in the southern half of the country. Latin Catholics, concentrated among the “Ghegs” in the north, included about 10 percent of the population. Muslims dominated both groups, but all Albanians, Tosks and Ghegs, descended from Christian families who embraced Islam after the Ottomans began to subdue the Balkans in the 15th century.

Today, most Albanians, while conscious of the cultural, religious and tribal identities of their forebears, remain largely aloof from religion. About a third of Albania’s 2.9 million people practice some form of religious faith. Muslims — primarily Sunnis or Bektashi, a Sufi sect — dominate the religious landscape, followed by Orthodox and Catholic Christians.

Click here to learn more.

5 January 2016
Greg Kandra

Newly ordained, the Rev. David Stephan receives a kiss from his aunt during a reception at St. Peter Chaldean Cathedral in El Cajon, California. A Dominican Sister of St. Catherine of Siena, she traveled from Iraq to be with the family for his ordination. Read more about Chaldeans who have settled in the American southwest in “Nineveh, U.S.A.,” in the Winter 2015 edition ONE.
(photo: Nancy Wiechec)

5 January 2016
Greg Kandra

The video above, from late December, describes the circumstances surrounding the kidnapping of the Rev. Dhiya Aziz, who was finally freed in Syria several days after his disappearance.
(video: Rome Reports)

Kidnapped Franciscan priest reportedly freed in Syria (Vatican Radio) The Custody of the Holy Land announced late Monday that the Rev. Dhiya Aziz, OFM has been liberated, and the Custos, Franciscan Father Pier Battista Pizzaballa confirmed the announcement in brief remarks to Vatican Radio. “The situation remains very grave and dramatic in Syria, though we are doubtless happy and relieved that Father Dhiya [Aziz] has been released,” he said...

Syriac church leaders angered by ISIS attack in Qamishli (Catholic Register) Syriac church leaders denounced the year-end terrorist attack that targeted Christian-owned restaurants in Qamishli, Syria. Islamic State claimed responsibility for the 30 December attack, which killed 20 people, 13 of them Christian, and injured more than 40. “Most victims were young people willing to welcome the New Year with hope and joy,” Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III Younan told Catholic News Service from the patriarchate in Beirut. Instead, he said, “In tears and gloomy hope, Christians of Qamishli welcomed 2016...”

Ukraine debates whether to celebrate Christmas twice (Reuters) Ukraine, which marks Christmas on 7 January, according to Orthodox Christian tradition, has embarked upon a national debate about whether it should also celebrate on 25 December a step that would bring it in line with Western Europe. The debate — which reflects a re-examination of national identity under the impact of the falling-out with Russia — could sharply divide opinion and comes amid a heightened battle for influence between the Russian and Ukrainian branches of the Orthodox Church...

Russian Orthodox Church becoming more visible in Putin’s Russia (Christian Science Monitor) The 1993 Constitution strictly defines Russia as a secular state, in which no religion is the official or obligatory one. But many people in post-Soviet Russia yearn for ideological certainties to fill the void left by communism. And with the ascent of Vladimir Putin and Russia’s new order, the Russian Orthodox Church, an ancient institution that was nearly annihilated during seven decades of Soviet rule, is returning to a highly visible and central role in the life of the country...

Cleemis praises multiplicity of voices in India (The Hindu) Cardinal Baselios Cleemis, head of the Syro-Malankara Church, has stressed the rich heritage of Hindu society in keeping tolerance and protection of smaller communities which is a way of life for society...

Pope’s monthly prayer intentions to be released on video (CNS) Pope Francis will deliver his monthly prayer intentions on video over social media as part of a Jesuit-run global prayer network. The new video messages, featuring the pope asking for prayers and action on various challenges facing the world today, will begin on 6 January, the feast of the Epiphany of the Lord...

4 January 2016
Elias D. Mallon, S.A., Ph.D.

Iranian and Turkish demonstrators hold pictures of executed Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr al Nimr as they protest outside the Saudi Embassy in Ankara, on 3 January 2016.
(photo: Adem Altan/AFP/Getty Images)

The year 2015 was filled with violence and bloodshed in the Middle East. The New Year does not promise much better. On 2 January, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia executed at least 47 people in a single day. Even for a place like Saudi Arabia — where, unlike most other places in the world, executions have been increasing — 47 executions in one day is extraordinary.

Mass executions are always signs of danger ahead, but the fact that Sheikh Nimr Baqir al Nimr was one of those killed is particularly ominous. Sheikh al Nimr was a Shiite religious leader who lived in Al Awamiyyah in the eastern part of Saudi Arabia. Al Awamiyyah is home to a significant Shiite minority and it is near Bahrain, where Saudi troops have successfully helped the Sunni regime put down demonstrations of its majority, though disenfranchised, Shiite population.

Sheikh al Nimr was a leader of Shiite protest movements in the area that called for equal rights for Shiites in a Saudi Arabia ruled by Sunnis of the Wahhabi movement. While harsh in his critique of both Sunni and Shiite rulers, and while indicating that Shiites might secede from Saudi Arabia, Sheikh al Nimr during protests in 2011-2012 called for “the roar of the word” and not violence.

His death, therefore, has caused outrage in the Shiite world and has resulted in Saudi Arabia breaking diplomatic relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran, whose Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, predicted divine retribution for the execution.

Once again people are asking about the difference between Sunni and Shiite Muslims. The divide began with the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632. From the outset Muslims disagreed — often violently — as to who should succeed him. Those who believed the successor (Arabic khalifa, Caliph) should be chosen by an election are Sunnis; those who believed it should be one of the direct descendants of the prophet are Shiites.

While the two groups hold a great deal in common — e.g. the creed, daily prayers, alms giving, fasting and Ramadan and the Hajj to Mecca — the outlook of each has increasingly diverged.

Shiite Muslims revere the imams, the descendants of the prophet. Different groups of Shiites revere different numbers of imams — mostly seven or twelve — but the largest group by far forms “Twelver Islam,” the official religion of Iran. Centuries of persecution have promoted a deep sense of martyrdom in Shiite Islam. Most Shiites believe that all of the imams were somehow murdered by their enemies and revere their burial places along with those of other holy people. This is tantamount to apostasy for Sunni Muslims, especially the Wahhabi. Shiite Islam has developed deep mystical and philosophical roots. The religious structure of Shiite Islam with people holding titles such as Grand Ayatollah, Ayatollah, Hujjatulislam, etc., reflects a long tradition of theological and philosophical learning.

Sunnis, on the other hand, tend to be more austere in their approach to Islam. While there are four schools of jurisprudence and centers of learning such as Al Azhar in Egypt, the structure is much looser and there is really little or no hierarchy. Thinkers such as Al Ghazali (1058-1111) and Ibn Taymiyya (1263-1328) still exert a powerful influence over many Sunnis. While these thinkers could in no way be considered anti-intellectual, they were very much against speculative religious thought. In the 20th century, the thought of Ibn Taymiyya has enjoyed a revival on several different but related fronts. The official form of Islam practiced in Saudi Arabia, called Wahhabi by many and Salafi by most Saudis, relies heavily on Ibn Taymiyya and the Hanbali School of Islam.

Sayyid Qutb (1906-1966), an Egyptian member of the Islamic Brotherhood, further developed — some would say deformed — and radicalized some of the Salafi and neo-Hanbali strains that had been developing in Saudi Arabia, which was nevertheless often strongly opposed to Qutb. ISIS carries the trajectory of these developments even further — some would say, to their logical conclusions.

Competition between Sunni and Shiite Muslims has been continuous throughout history, with Sunni Muslims usually having the upper hand. Sunni empires have struggled with Shiite empires over the centuries, without significantly changing the ratio of approximately 85 percent Sunnis to 15 percent Shiites in the world.

As Sunnis and Shiites developed in different directions, the 20th century witnessed several important events. Ibn Saud (1875-1953), a fervent Wahhabi Sunni, took over Arabia after World War I and renamed it Saudi Arabia — the only country in the world named after a family. With the discovery of huge oil reserves, Saudi Arabia became incredibly wealthy and influential. Saudi Arabia used its resources to propagate its particular brand of Sunni Islam throughout the Muslim world.

Iran, on the other hand, was a powerful center of Shiite Islam. Under the shah and his government’s close ties to the British and the United States, Iran seemed to be moving toward a Western-oriented modernization. The Iranian Revolution of 1979 and the rise of Ayatollah Khomeini, however, set Iran on a radically different course. The now Islamic Republic of Iran also sought to spread its self-described revolutionary form of Islam to other parts of the Islamic world. Conflict between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia moved beyond the theological to include the geo-political.

As in most religious conflicts, outsiders can rarely grasp the issues involved or even see the differences between the two groups. Thus for the non-Muslim the differences between Sunnis and Shiites are difficult to see (Muslims have similar problems with Catholics, Anglicans and Lutherans). However, for Muslims those differences are deep, very real and also connected with differing political agenda.

Recently there has been some hope that all the parties in the Middle East might work together, at least temporarily, to end the unprecedented chaos and destruction. Saudi Arabia and Iran were involved in discussions with other world powers about possible solutions in the region. Whether the execution of Sheik al Nimr will bring that incipient détente to an end is not yet clear.

One thing, however, is for certain: the death of Sheikh al Nimr will not help the progress towards peace and stability in the Middle East.

Tags: Middle East Muslim Islam Sunni Shiite

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