15 December 2015
An imam prays in a mosque. ISIS yesterday publicly beheaded three well-known imams in Mosul, Iraq. It’s the latest in a string of executions carried out by ISIS against Muslim religious leaders.
(photo: Tareq Salfur Rahman/Getty Images)
The news out of Mosul this morning is horrifying. From the Vatican news service Fides:
The self-styled Islamic State of jihadists beheaded three well-known Sunni imams in Mosul in the public square accused of not obeying orders that forced them to recruit young people for the Jihad.
The three imams, known by the local people for their profile of authentic men of God: Kazim Abdulkarim, Bilal al-Sheikh Agha and Abdullah al-Hayalli, had opposed to the atrocities committed by jihadists in the name of their bloody religious ideology. They were killed on Monday 14 December, in front of dozens of people gathered to witness the beheading. On the same day — report local sources to ARA Kurdish News Agency, also Ashwaq al-Nouaymi was murdered, a professor of Mosul who refused to give his students the teachings included in the new school curriculum imposed by Daesh.
Already in June 2014, a few days after having conquered Mosul, jihadists of Daesh had killed many Sunni imams of the city, including the Grand Imam, for refusing to swear allegiance to the Islamic Caliphate. The slaughter of the imam in Mosul was virtually ignored by the Western media. All Christians in the second Iraqi city managed to escape, and their houses were expropriated by jihadists.
ISIS has made headlines and shocked the world with its beheadings and executions of Christians and other minorities — most notoriously the mass killings of Coptic Christians on a Libyan beach last April.
But what may be less well-known is their practice of executing Muslims, particularly imams, who are the religious leaders of the community.
Last year, ISIS executed 12 imams in Mosul after they reportedly refused to swear loyalty to ISIS.
In January of this year, ISIS beheaded a Syrian imam for “insulting God.” According to AFP:
The Britain-based Observatory added that three of the man’s sons were ISIS fighters, and that it was the first time the jihadis executed a religious official for this reason.
The man was detained after watching a video on executions carried out by ISIS and cursing because God had permitted them, Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said.
A month later, ISIS executed two more Muslim clerics and beheaded four civilians in Mosul for condemning the burning of a Jordanian pilot alive.
These public executions are clearly designed to sow intimidation and terror — not just among Christians, but also among Muslims.
What happened yesterday in Mosul is just the latest example.
Tragically, if the past is any guide, it won’t be the last.
15 December 2015
Syro-Malankara Catholic seminarians take part in a service at St. Mary’s Major Seminary
in Kerala. (photo: John E. Kozar)
In the subcontinent of India, Christians have flourished since ancient times. Originally united in faith, customs and caste, they are called the son and daughters of St. Thomas. According to tradition, the apostle brought the Christian faith to the Malabar Coast of southwestern India after the ascension of Jesus. Today these Christians, all of whom belong to the Syriac Christian tradition, are fragmented into seven churches. The youngest of these distinct churches, the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church, is a dynamic community that commissions priests and religious to northern India, Europe and North America, even as it grows and flourishes in South India, its geographic heart.
The Syro-Malankara Catholic Church came into being in the early 20th century as a work of the “reunion movement” and one visionary: Gheevarghese Panicker, better known as Mar Ivanios.
As with his contemporaries, Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) and Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948) — whose writings inspired the young priest — Father Gheevarghese was preoccupied with the renewal of his Malankara Syriac Orthodox community. He envisioned a monastic community for men and women that would integrate the monasticism of his own Syriac tradition with the essence of Hindu spirituality, sunyasi, the process of leading an interior life. Deeply spiritual, he reasoned that a community dedicated to contemplation, social action and evangelization would spark renewal.
Father Gheevarghese founded such a community, Bethany, modeling it on the Gospel account of Bethany. In an interview with CNEWA in February 1997, one of the last surviving original members of the community, 94-year-old Father Raphael, described a “revolutionary” spirit at the monastery, which combined the asceticism of the Hindu monk with the social teachings of the church and a commitment to imitate Christ.
Boys at the Malankara Boys’ Home in Kerala pause on the lawn to pray before a statue of the Virgin Mary before going to school. (photo: Jose Jacob)
“Having taken the three vows of chastity, poverty and obedience,” he recalled, “we Christian sunyami [monks]... led a simple, spiritual life. All were vegetarian, slept on the floor, ate from simple earthen pots, had only two sets of clothes, observed virtual silence and were at prayer five times a day.” On Sundays, the monks went into the community, preaching, counseling and consoling.
The monks of Bethany stirred interest among the Malankara Syriac Orthodox faithful, who, according to observers, continuously sought the community’s counsel. As Bethany grew, so too did interest among the Thomas Christians in a “reunion movement,” which picked up steam particularly after Father Gheevarghese was consecrated bishop in May 1925.
Choosing the name Ivanios, the new bishop immediately challenged the catholicos, bishops, priests and people of the Malankara Syriac Orthodox Church to “bring all the Syrian Christians of Kerala, who formed one church formerly, into true union once again so that the biblical idea of ‘one fold and one pastor’ may become a reality.”
Charged by the synod of the church, Mar Ivanios contacted the Catholic Church in 1926 about re-establishing full communion between the two churches, provided the Holy See recognize the validity of Malankara Syriac Orthodox orders, preserve its administrative structures in India and the use of the Western Syriac liturgy.
To read a full account of the formation and activity of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church, click here.
15 December 2015
Sister Liza Mundamattom plays with a child in a village in Bastar, India. To learn more about the courageous work these sisters are doing in a dangerous corner of India, read Serving in the Red in the Summer 2015 edition of ONE. (photo: Jose Jacob)
15 December 2015
Members of the Turkish Coast Guard near Izmir, Turkey, register Syrian migrants after capturing a boat carrying them on 10 December as they attempted to reach Greek island of Chios. Pope Francis spoke of the crisis facing refugees and migrants in his message for World Peace Day.
(photo: CNS/Tolga Bozoglu, EPA)
In Peace Day message, pope addresses death penalty, migrants (CNS) Pope Francis called for abolishing the death penalty worldwide, lifting the burden of debt on poor nations, global aid policies that respect life and revamped laws that welcome and integrate migrants. He urged individuals, communities and nations to not let indifference, information overload or pessimism discourage them from concrete efforts “to improve the world around us, beginning with our families, neighbors and places of employment.” Building peace, he said, is not accomplished by words alone, but through the grace of God, a conversion of heart, an attitude of compassion and the courage to act against despair. The pope’s multifaceted plea came in his message for World Peace Day, 1 January. The message, which was delivered to world leaders by Vatican ambassadors, was released at the Vatican on 15 December...
ISIS beheads three imams in Mosul (Fides) The self-styled Islamic State of jihadists beheaded three well-known Sunni imams in Mosul in the public square accused of not obeying orders that forced them to recruit young people for the Jihad. The three imams, known by the local people for their profile of authentic men of God: Kazim Abdulkarim, Bilal al-Sheikh Agha and Abdullah al-Hayalli, had opposed to the atrocities committed by jihadists in the name of their bloody religious ideology. They were killed on Monday, 14 December, in front of dozens of people gathered to witness the beheading...
Thousands rally to mark anniversary of Hamas (Al Bawaba.com) A thousands-strong rally in the Gaza Strip has marked the 28th anniversary of the foundation of the Palestinian resistance movement of Hamas, Press TV reports. The event was held in Gaza City on Monday, with attendees reaffirming their support for the movement. Since its establishment in December 1987, Hamas has refused to recognize Israel and adhered to resistance against the Israeli occupation, which it believes is the sole way of bringing about the liberation of occupied Palestinian territories. The movement says its goal is to liberate the entire historical Palestine...
Posters in Baghdad ask Christian women to wear the veil (Fides) There are posters on the walls of Baghdad, near the churches and in neighborhoods where there are still Christian communities asking women to wear the veil. The message is addressed directly to Christian women, since the poster portrays the image of the Virgin Mary and a text in which it is emphasized that even the Virgin Mary, docile to the teaching received, wore the veil. The same posters had appeared in some areas of the city in the month of November...
Letter of His Beatitude Gregorios III for the Feast of the Nativity (ByzCath.org) Glad tidings! Gospel! Great joy! Thus begins the Gospel of our Lord, God and Saviour Jesus Christ. Thus begins Christianity. Thus begins our holy Christian faith. This is the Feast of the Nativity. On this holy day, this year we hear anew the Christmas angel in the dark night, in the fields of Beit Sahur and Bethlehem, and in all parts of the world. We hear again the voice of the angel announcing to us all without exception, and particularly to all those receiving this letter, “I bring you glad tidings of great joy. I bring to you a Gospel, the Gospel of joy. This joy is Jesus himself, the Saviour...”
14 December 2015
Tags: Syria Iraq Pope Francis Refugees Gaza Strip/West Bank
Meron Getachew learns tailoring at a church-run training course in Ethiopia. To learn more about how the church is training young people to develop new skills, read “Bright Lights, Big Problems” in the Autumn edition of ONE. (photo: Petterik Wiggers)
14 December 2015
Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Sako of Baghdad is pictured in a 2014 photo in Geneva.
(photo: CNS/Salvatore Di Nolfi, EPA)
Iraqi patriarch says Christian persecution has reached “critical, violent” point (CNS) The survival of Christianity in the Middle East has reached such a critical point that the chances of dialogue and reconciliation in the region are being threatened, said Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Sako of Baghdad. “The situation is very bad, very critical and always violent,” Sako told Catholic News Service on 10 December. “Last year in August, 120,000 Christian people were expelled from their homes, their villages and now they are living in some camps with nothing, but the Church is helping them.” Sako was among the keynote speakers at a 10-12 December international conference on Christian persecution in the world. He told CNS that the mass exodus of Christians in the region will only worsen the situation due to growing tensions between Sunni and Shiite Muslims who “are killing each other...”
Patriarch visits Egypt (Fides) Maronite Patriarch Boutros Bechara Peter Rai carried out a four-day visit to Egypt, which ended yesterday, Sunday 13 December and was characterized by a busy schedule, not only from a pastoral point of view. The occasion for the patriarchal visit was the inauguration of the church dedicated to St. Maron, which underwent major restoration in the Cairo district of Heliopolis. During the visit in Egypt, the Primate of the Maronite Church had high-level contacts and met among others the Coptic Orthodox Patriarch, Tawadros II, the Grand Imam of al-Azhar, Ahmad al Tayyeb, and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi...
Russia angry at Turkey’s military presence in Iraq (New Europe) The scale of Turkey’s military presence in northern Iraq cannot be justified by the tasks of training any local groups, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said on Sunday. “We think that Turkey’s actions in northern Iraq are illegal. It is an invasion into a neighboring state,” he said. “Moreover, the scale of these actions cannot be justified by any training-related argument.” Iraq appealed to the United Nations Security Council on Friday to demand an immediate and unconditional withdrawal of all Turkish troops from northern Iraq, calling Turkey’s military incursion a “flagrant violation” of international law...
Syrian refugees receive a primer on Canadian life (The Globe and Mail) As the new Syrian arrivals take in the mundane details of Canadian life like so many refugees before them, there are signs of the emotional toll of the past few years. There is also evidence of the network of support that is ready to help, the sponsors who have brought them here, the volunteers on hand to translate. With as many as 25,000 refugees expected in the coming months, this is a scene that will play out again and again across Canada...
Bhopal archbishop receives peace award (Vatican Radio) Archbishop Leo Cornelio SVD, of Bhopal on Thursday received the prestigious International Human Rights Award for the year 2015 at the India Islamic Centre, New Delhi in a glittering ceremony organized by All India Council of Human Rights, Liberties and Social Justice...
Hanukkah lights the darkness in Ukraine (FoxNews.com) Since the crisis began two years ago, the Jewish community of Ukraine, numbering an estimated 300-350,000 Jews, has come together not just to provide much-needed aid, but also to celebrate the Jewish holidays with bravery and gusto unmatched under such circumstances. They have been joined in this massive undertaking by my organization, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, and other overseas Jewish and Christian aid groups — the Jewish Federations, Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, World Jewish Relief, and Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein and the International Fellowship of Christians & Jews — individual philanthropists, foundations, community leaders, and activists all seeking to ensure that life goes on even under duress...
11 December 2015
Pope Francis is embraced by Argentine Rabbi Abraham Skorka after praying at the Western Wall in Jerusalem on 26 May 2014. On the right is Omar Abboud, Muslim leader from Argentina.
(photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Fifty years ago, in October 1965, the Catholic Church published “The Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions.” This document, prepared by the Second Vatican Council, is also known by its Latin name Nostra Ætate, which translates as “in our times.” Two recent documents, one Catholic and the other Jewish, were just published that make us think that the document of the Second Vatican Council should be, in fact, “In Our Extraordinary Times.”
On 10 December 2015 the Commission for Religious Relations with Jews of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity published “The Gifts and Calling of God Are Irrevocable.” Continuing a trajectory that began with Nostra Ætate, the document is a “reflection...on current theological questions that have developed since the Second Vatican Council.” While the document does not break radically new ground, it makes important clarifications concerning Catholic relations with Jews.
Historically, the document clarifies, for example, that Nostra Ætate did not explicitly state that God’s covenant with the Jews was never invalidated. That position was stated by Pope John Paul II in his meeting with members of the Jewish community in Mainz, Germany, on 18 November 1980. The document also states with great clarity that the Letter to the Hebrews, often used to indicate that Judaism was “superseded” by Christianity, “has no intention of proving the promises of the Old Covenant to be false, but on the contrary treats them as valid.” Continuing this theme, the commission states that “the church does not replace the people of God of Israel,” rejects the notion that Jews “can no longer be considered the people of God” and adds “...it does not in any way follow that Jews are excluded from God’s salvation because they do not believe in Jesus Christ as the Messiah of Israel and the Son of God.”
This theological position has clear practical implications that the Catholic Church recognizes and accepts: “The church is therefore obliged to view evangelization to Jews, who believe in the one God, in a different manner from that to people of other religions and world views. In concrete terms this means that the Catholic Church neither conducts nor supports any specific institutional mission work directed towards Jews.”
“The Gifts and Calling of God Are Irrevocable” is indeed itself a gift to the ongoing relationship between Catholics and Jews. It moves the relationship to a deeper level, clarifies many important theological points and courageously draws practical conclusions. However, as important as the document is, it is the continuation of a trajectory that is 50 years old. As such it is not radically new and it certainly does not indicate any change of direction.
Coincidentally — or perhaps not so coincidentally — on 3 December 2015 the Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation (CJCUC) published an “Orthodox Rabbinic Statement of Christianity.” This document is by any measure extraordinary. It states, “As did Maimonides and Yehuda Halevi [great Jewish thinkers of the 12th and 11th centuries respectively] we acknowledge that Christianity is neither an accident nor an error, but the willed divine outcome and gift to the nations” (Par. 3).
This statement is not merely generous and broad spirited, but also most remarkable given the history of Catholic-Orthodox Jewish relations. While “The Gifts and Calling of God Are Irrevocable” mentions that “dialogue with the Chief Rabbinate of Israel has to that extent enabled more open relations between Orthodox Judaism and the Catholic Church,” the recent statement of the Orthodox rabbis goes even further.
Although painful, it is not difficult for Christians to see the distrust that many Jews, especially Orthodox Jews, might feel toward Christianity. Centuries of discrimination, persecution and theological disdain (often referred to as supercessionism) had given Orthodox Jews, whose memory is equally as long as that of the Catholic Church, little reason to trust that Christians would ever see them other than “objects” of conversion.
However, there was a far more formidable obstacle of which most Catholics and Christians were and remain unaware. One of the greatest Jewish thinkers of the 20th century was Rabbi Joseph B. Solevetchik (1903-1993). A member of what has been referred to as the “Solevetchik rabbinical dynasty,” Rabbi Solevetchik belonged to a long family of Eastern European orthodox rabbis. He worked in the United States for most of his adult life and was renowned for his intelligence and knowledge. His writings were and continue to be very influential in the Orthodox Jewish community.
In 1964, the year before Nostra Ætate, Rabbi Solevetchik published “Confrontation” in the Spring-Summer edition of the Jewish journal, Tradition. This article has to a great extent determined the nature and parameter of Orthodox Jewish-Catholic relations for the past 50 years.
While Rabbi Solevetchik considered it essential for Orthodox Jews to work with Christians and others in the overall society, his attitude toward any type of religious or theological dialogue was at best pessimistic. In his article he refers often to Christianity as “the religion of the many.” Understandably, he is concerned about the uniqueness of Judaism. He states “...the divine imperatives and commandments to which a faith community is unreservedly committed must not be equated with the ritual and ethos of another community” (p. 18), noting that it “is futile to find common denominators” (p. 1).
His fears are rooted in a long, painful history. “We are not ready for a meeting with another faith community in which we shall become the object of observation...” (p.21). “Nor are we related to any other faith community as “brethren” even though “separated.” (ibid). For Rabbi Solevetchik, when speaking of faith, “the whole idea of a tradition of faiths and the continuum of revealed doctrines...is utterly absurd” (p.22).
Again and again he expresses his fear that Judaism will lose its uniqueness and identity. Although he never uses the term, Solevetchik dreads Judaism being reduced to a type of “Proto-Christianity,” lacking its own uniqueness and value. Fifty years after Nostra Ætate it is easy to forget that the rabbi’s fears were not groundless for almost all of our 2000-year common history.
Thus it is almost impossible to overestimate the importance of this recent “Orthodox Rabbinic Statement on Christianity.” Arriving at the present level of trust and understanding — while recognizing there are still many areas which need further reflection — is a monument to the vitality and faithfulness of both Judaism and Christianity. The Orthodox rabbis were able to overcome incredible historical, intellectual and theological obstacles to arrive at this point and at the same time to be faithful to their history and tradition.
Their statement is one of great courage and hope for the future. The Catholic Church for its part continues to refine, purify and, where necessary, correct
attitudes that were theologically deficient and all too often destructive.
In a world racked by religiously inspired violence, the example of the Catholic-Jewish dialogue provides hope and perhaps even a paradigm for the overcoming of deep differences and painful histories even after 2000 years.
11 December 2015
Armenian archbishops from France, Ukraine, Russia and Nagorno-Karabakh concelebrate the blessing of chrism at Etchmiadzin in 1996. To learn more about Armenia’s spiritual core, read “Where God Descended” in the May 2008 edition of ONE. (photo: Armineh Johannes)
11 December 2015
An aerial view from an Indian relief helicopter shows flood affected areas of Chennai.
(photo: STR/AFP/Getty Images)
Some India Catholic churches to cancel Christmas celebrations after flooding (Vatican Radio) Catholic churches in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu are cancelling Christmas in order to divert funds to help victims of flooding in Chennai — the worst in more than a century that are being blamed on climate change. Dozens were killed and thousands were left homeless as Chennai — the fifth most populous city in India — suffered the worst November rainfall in more than 20 years and the wettest December day in over a century when more than 12 inches fell on 1 December...
Canada’s prime minister welcomes Syrian refugees (BBC) The first military plane carrying Syrian refugees to be resettled in Canada has arrived in the country. Welcoming the 163 refugees, new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his country was “showing the world how to open our hearts”. The newly elected Liberal government has pledged to take in 25,000 refugees by the end of February. Canada’s stance on the issue differs sharply to that of the US, which has been reluctant to take in migrants. Another plane is due in Montreal on Saturday...
Studying Hebrew in Gaza: Bridging two peoples (Haaretz) At the small mixed-gender training room of the Nafha center for Hebrew and Israeli studies, six students of various ages have gathered. “Me’ayin is the Hebrew word for ‘from where,’” the teacher, Ahmed Alfaleet, explains. Alfaleet, the head of the center, was once a prisoner in Israeli jails. The 42-year-old was one of the more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners exchanged for abducted soldier Gilad Shalit in 2011; after he was freed, he decided to take on the challenge of spreading the Hebrew language in Gaza...
Analysis: Jews and Catholics must implement new interfaith partnership (Vatican Radio) The new Vatican document on the Catholic Church’s changed relationship with the Jewish world will only be effective if it is shared “on the streets, in the pulpits, in the pews of our churches and synagogues”. That’s the view of Dr. Edward Kessler, founding director of the interfaith Woolf Institute in Cambridge and one of the two Jewish speakers at a press conference presenting the new Vatican document on Thursday...
10 December 2015
Tags: Syria India Gaza Strip/West Bank Jews
The frescoes adorning the Church of Saint Clement in Ohrid reveal the splendor of medieval Macedonia. (photo: Sean Sprague)
Except for a brief period some 1,000 years ago, the territory in the Balkan Peninsula now commonly known as Macedonia has always been subjected to land-grabbing by Bulgarians, Greeks, Serbs and Turks.
In 1991, the disintegration of Yugoslavia — an “experiment” of the Romantic era that united, among others, Macedonians, Croats, Serbs and Slovenes regardless of culture, history and religion — reignited Macedonian cultural and political aspirations for independence. This return of the “Macedonian Question,” which once haunted Europe’s crowned heads and ministers, has fueled new fears of instability in the Balkans — the “powder keg of Europe.”
Macedonian Orthodox await Easter in the Church of Saint Clement in Ohrid. (photo: Sean Sprague)
The preeminent faith community of the country, the Orthodox Church of Macedonia, is also engaged in an ongoing struggle for recognition. Historically, the various national Orthodox churches of the Balkans — Bulgarian, Greek, Montenegrin, Romanian and Serbian — have played leading roles in the development of their distinct nations, serving as cultural repositories and bastions of faith especially in times of peril. Macedonia’s Orthodox Christians, who account for nearly two-thirds of the populations, have taken that lead, but not without incurring isolation and scorn.
Led by its embattled head, Archbishop Stefan of Ohrid and Macedonia, the Orthodox Church of Macedonia works closely with the Macedonian state in developing and nurturing a distinct Macedonian Slav identity, in a nation that remains among Europe’s poorest.
Click here to read more.