12 January 2016
Most Orthodox Christians in Estonia fall under the jurisdiction of the Moscow patriarch. Here in 2003, then Patriarch Alexei II prayed at the grave of his parents in Tallin, Estonia.
(photo: STR/AFP/Getty Images)
Tucked in a remote corner of northern Europe on the eastern shore of the Baltic Sea, lie the republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. These nation states possess distinct cultures, languages and peoples, yet they have shared a common history and fate. Squeezed between larger and more powerful peoples — Danes and Germans to the west, Swedes to the north, Poles to the south and Russians to the east — theirs is a history of domination and subjugation. Each neighboring power has struggled to capture their hearts, minds, souls and wealth.
The Baltic tribes — Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians — were the last European peoples to embrace Christianity. At the end of the 12th century, Pope Celestine III called for a campaign of conversion. These “Northern Crusades,” conducted by military orders allied with the Catholic kings of Denmark and Sweden, succeeded in converting the Baltic peoples by the 14th century.
Christianity, however, was not unknown among them. was not unknown among them. The Slavs of Kievan Rus’, especially those in the nearby city of Novgorod, had established mission churches throughout the Baltic region since they had embraced Christianity in its Byzantine form in the tenth century. The Kievan Rus’ — whose descendants today include Belarussians, Carpatho-Rusyns, Russians and Ukrainians — maintained close trading partnerships with the various Baltic tribes, whose amber, flax, honey and timber were particularly valued. Some Baltic tribal leaders even adopted the Byzantine religion of the Rus’, erected churches and ordered their peoples to be baptized and instructed in the faith.
Estonia’s Orthodox community is divided along ethnic lines. Soon after Estonia declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, a dispute developed within the church between ethnic Estonians and ethnic Slavs, mostly Russians. A minority of believers, ethnic Estonians, sought to reestablish an autonomous church under the jurisdiction of the ecumenical patriarch in Constantinople. The majority wished to maintain their relationship with the patriarchate of Moscow.
Eventually, the two sides agreed on a resolution that allowed individual parishes to decide which jurisdiction to follow. Consequently, there are two Orthodox churches of Estonia.
The Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church, which falls within the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, is led by Metropolitan Stephanos of Tallinn and All Estonia and includes some 20,000 members in 60 parishes.
The Estonian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, led by Metropolitan Cornelius of Tallinn and All Estonia, encompasses more than 150,000 members in 31 parishes.
Click here to read more.
12 January 2016
Tags: Eastern Christianity Eastern Churches Estonia
We were surprised and humbled to receive word this week that the quarterly magazine The American Benedictine Review — edited by the Rev. Terrence Kardong, O.S.B., from Assumption Abbey in Richardton, North Dakota — recently published a glowing tribute to our flagship magazine, ONE.
It reads, in part:
ONE is not just attractive, it is extremely meaty. In it you find fascinating articles about the Christian churches all over the East, and just not the Near East. Anybody interested in the various Eastern Catholic Churches will find a wealth of information here. Some of these churches, like the Copts of Egypt, are relatively numerous and well-known. But ONE also runs reports on the many tiny and obscure Christian groups.
After reading this periodical faithfully for the past 10 years, I have to say that it is probably my favorite newsletter in the world. The photography is brilliant, the writing is first-rate and the tone is totally admirable. Rarely have I come across an article that I consider unbalanced or biased or poorly done.
But that is not the end of the story. If you follow my recommendation and start reading ONE, do not expect much comfort. The pages of ONE are full of suffering. If this magazine did not show us the face of this suffering, it would not be doing its job.
We’re proud to be doing our job — and we’re grateful for these warm words, Father Terrence! Thank you!
If you haven’t discovered ONE yet, check out our latest edition online. And to subscribe, visit this link.
12 January 2016
People pray during a Mass on 11 January concelebrated by bishops from North America, Europe and South Africa for Iraqi Christian refugees at Our Lady of Peace Center on the outskirts of the Jordanian capital, Amman. (photo: Dale Gavlak)
Bishops visiting the Holy Land this week prayed yesterday with and for Iraqi refugees in Jordan.
With crises in Syria and Iraq deepening, Catholic bishops on a solidarity visit with the “forgotten” Christians of the Middle East are urging stepped-up peace efforts to resolve conflicts tearing apart the troubled region.
Highlighting the ongoing plight of Iraqi Christian refugees who face another winter of displacement, 18 months after fleeing persecution by Islamic State militants, is also their top concern.
“They want a future which is full of peace,” Bishop Declan Lang of Bristol, England, said of the Iraqi Christians who attended a packed, solemn Mass at Our Lady of Peace Center on the hilly, tree-lined outskirts of the Jordanian capital.
“These people are of tremendous faith, and that’s where they find their identity. What we are trying to say to them is that you are not forgotten,” Bishop Lang told Catholic News Service.
Bishop Lang has been leading 12 bishops from Europe, South Africa and North America on the third and final leg of a pilgrimage to encourage Christians in the Holy Land. Known as the Holy Land Coordination, the annual event was set up at the invitation of the Holy See at the end of the last century to offer support to local Christian communities of the Holy Land.
The bishops earlier traveled to the Gaza Strip and the West Bank to encourage a Palestinian Christian population increasingly dwindling in the land of Jesus’ birth.
But the bishops told Catholic News Service that it also was important to hear from Iraqi Christians and other refugees, so the wider Christian community can effectively help them.
“It’s important that we remind our governments and the general population of the situation of Iraqi Christians,” Bishop Lang said of the some 8,000 Iraqi Christians currently sheltering in neighboring Jordan.
They fled their ancient homeland of more than 14 centuries after Islamic State militants told them to convert to Islam, be killed or leave. Tens of thousands are internally displaced in northern Iraq.
“So one of the responsibilities and obligations that we have is to keep reminding people of the stress and distress of the Iraqi refugees,” Bishop Lang said.
One Iraqi Christian, identified only as Bashar, said after the Mass, “My family and I sadly feel that we can never go back to our home in Mosul.” A mechanical engineer, the man had once owned his own telecom company in Iraq’s second-biggest city, which is currently in the hands of Islamic State.
“The military didn’t protect us, and our Muslim neighbors betrayed us, even robbing us of our personal possessions. So we believe that the only future for us is somewhere in the West,” said the man, who now shelters with his family of four at the center’s compound because he has lost his savings.
Read the full report.
12 January 2016
Turkish police secure the area after an explosion on 12 January 2016 in Istanbul, Turkey. At least 10 people have been killed and 15 wounded in a suicide bombing near tourists in the central Istanbul historic Sultanahmet district, which is home to world-famous monuments including the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia. Turkish President Erdogan has stated that the suicide bomber was of Syrian origin. (photo: Can Erok/Getty Images)
Vatican expresses sorrow over Turkey bombing (Vatican Radio) Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State, on Tuesday expressed his sorrow for the terrorist attack which took place in Istanbul, Turkey. “What is happening [in Turkey] pains us. What is happening there, what continues to repeat itself, confirms that the best medicine in the face of these evils is always mercy”...
Pope acknowledges appointment of new bishop in Kerala (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Tuesday acknowledged the appointment of a new auxiliary bishop to a diocese in southern India’s Kerala state belonging to the eastern rite Syro-Malabar Catholic Church. At its meeting at Mount Saint Thomas in Kerala, the Syro-Malabar Church Synod elected Father Jose Pulickal as Auxiliary Bishop of Kanjirapally, headed by Bishop Mathew Arackal. Unlike in the Latin-rite Church where the Pope directly appoints bishops, the synods of eastern-rite Catholic churches have the autonomy of appointing their own bishops, to which the Pope gives his assent...
Kurdish militants attack checkpoint controlled by Christians (Fides) Kurdish militiamen of the YPG yesterday attacked by surprise a checkpoint in the Governorate of Qamishli in northeastern Syria, which was presided by men belonging to the militia of the self-defense Sootoro, formed mainly of Syrian and Assyrian Christians who act in coordination with the Syrian government army. The Kurdish attack provoked a firefight, which lasted an hour, during which — according to reports from the Assyrian International News Agency — the Assyrian militant David Gabriel was killed, and three Kurdish soldiers were injured. According to other sources, the three Kurdish soldiers may have also died...
U.S. bishop says Palestinians in Cremisan Valley have “lost hope” (CNS) A U.S. bishop visiting the Holy Land for the second year in a row said Palestinians whose land has been divided by the Israeli separation barrier “have lost hope.” “It was very sad to see the present situation where individuals have their lands confiscated and trees uprooted,” said Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico. “This is a sign of something much larger. It seems to be a diminishing of the rights of Palestinians to be there and a lack of acknowledgment of their legitimate right to be present whether in the state of Israel or in Palestinian lands.” Bishop Cantu and 12 bishops from Europe, South Africa and North America visited the Cremisan Valley 10 January as part of the Holy Land Coordination, in which they come to show solidarity with Palestinian Christians...
11 January 2016
Tags: Syria Palestine Israel Kerala Turkey
In October 2015, four schools opened in northern Iraq, serving more than 2,400 displaced refugee children in Erbil, Dohuk and Zakho. One of the schools, run by the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, is fully supported by CNEWA, which provided funding to furnish, equip and operate the school for one year. (photo: CNEWA)
In the past, we’ve reported on the inspiring work of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, and the courageous ministry being carried out under the leadership of their superior, Sister Maria Hanna. The sisters were among those driven from their homes by ISIS in August of 2014, joining more than a hundred thousand other Iraqis fleeing for their lives. The sisters settled in Iraqi Kurdistan. In our Spring 2015 edition of ONE, we chronicled their remarkable story of tenacity and grace.
In addition to her work rallying her sisters and the people they lovingly serve, Sister Maria Hanna has been updating her friends and supporters around the world. She sent the following letter a few days ago, spotlighting the many challenges they continue to face, but also expressing gratitude for the generous support they have received-including, most prominently, from CNEWA and its operating agency in the region, the Pontifical Mission.
The letter serves as a reminder of the hardships so many innocent families are enduring. But it also offers hope, revealing in a very personal way how CNEWA’s donors and partners are making a profound difference in the lives of countless men, women and children.
Dear Sisters, Brethren and Friends...
With the New Year greetings, I extend my gratitude for your continuous support and prayers. Also, I would like to share with you our highlights from 2015.
Thanks to the blessed efforts of people who are accompanying us, we have had an eventful year. In addition to accompanying the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) at the camps, sisters were able to prepare 400 children for First Communion in ten groups in different cities and towns in the region of Kurdistan.
We are grateful to the Lord that our efforts to open a primary school were fruitful. Eventually, we managed to get all the licenses needed from the Iraqi and Kurdish governments. Bishop Warda (the Chaldaean Bishop of Erbil) offered us a building that Catholic organizations built on property belonging to the Archdiocese of Erbil, and the Pontifical Mission [CNEWA], thankfully, furnished it. There are about 460 pupils — girls and boys and all are IDPs. Seven of our Dominican sisters are working at the school, with other teachers and administrators, also IDPs. Studying at our school is free. The salaries of teachers and staff (about $18,000 a month) have been granted by the Pontifical Mission [CNEWA] for this year.
People are thankful and happy for this project, as the condition of other schools is really miserable. Because of the large number of the IDPs, some schools have three shifts a day, each shift for different groups, and the number of pupils in a class could number more than 80.
Also, we managed to open another kindergarten for the IDPs as there is more demand this year. The families prefer to send their children to be educated by the Dominican
Sisters. Now there are 440 children attending our kindergartens in Ain Kawa. Additionally, in a town called Aqra with 250 IDP families, we opened a kindergarten for 50 children. The kindergarten in Kaznazanalso has 130 children in attendance. These kindergartens are free of charge for the IDPs.
In both projects, school and kindergarten, sisters have been noticing much improvement in children’s behavior. They are more willing to listen to their teachers and it is easier for teachers to discipline the children. The schools are equipped with playground and a sport field, which gave the children a suitable environment to play and direct their energy.
However, people are still facing many challenges. As for the present condition in Iraq, it is still traumatic. We were shocked last month when seven individuals (parents with their 7-year-old son, and 3-year-old daughter and a lady with her 7-year-old son and 13-year-old daughter) drowned in the sea as they were trying to flee to Greece.
Everybody is physically and psychologically exhausted. It does not seem that there is any solution. People risk their lives. Immigration is increasing in all directions. Just before the end of the year, families of 167 persons were placed in Slovakia (at once) as part of immigration program, and there are more to go in the coming month. That, of course, shook the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine Of Siena [and also shook] the confidence of people about the future of Christianity in Iraq. Add to that, there are other families who are leaving the country [to go to] Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. In a matter of three months the number of children in our school fell from 520 to 460; also about 15 children from the kindergarten left with their families and more are planning to leave.
Although we are sad to see people leave, people who are living in prefabricated houses are facing a tremendously hard time, especially now in winter as these houses are not healthy at all; they are not made to contain large families, neither are they equipped for such harsh weather. They are extremely cold in winter, extremely hot in summer.
The recent news about the policy in the Middle East is not encouraging at all; nether is there anything promising. Everything is unknown and uncertain. Therefore, it is not surprising to see people leave. We pray that the doors of divine mercy may open for our brothers and sisters, that they may find people who could welcome them. As for us, we remain with the remnant here, to support the people intellectually and spiritually through educational projects and liturgical meetings.
Within the community, we are thankful for all those who helped us purchase a house which provided a better environment for our young sisters in formation program.We have started preparing for our general chapter that is planned to be held in July 2016.
We ask your prayers that God may enlighten us and grant us His wisdom to discern in our reality despite all the difficulties and pressures we are living.
Sister Maria Hanna, O.P.
Prioress of Dominican Sisters of Saint Catherine of Siena — Iraq
To help support Sister Maria Hanna and her sisters, and the vitally important work they are undertaking on behalf of our brothers and sisters in Iraq, please visit this giving page. And please: keep them all in your prayers. Thank you!
11 January 2016
An Israeli soldier stops a group of bishops from visiting land owned by Palestinian farmers in the Cremisan Valley, not far from Bethlehem. (photo: CNEWA)
Note: Last summer, we reported on the controversy surrounding the building of a separation wall in the Cremisan Valley. Yesterday, a group of bishops visiting the region attempted to visit the area. Carl Hétu, National Director CNEWA Canada, is accompanying Bishop Lionel Gendron of St-Jean Longoueil, Québec, vice president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops — and he describes below what happened.
On our way to visit the Christian community of Beit Jala on Sunday, property owners invited the Holy Land Coordination bishops delegation to visit their land. As the bishops were about to enter the first property, an Israeli jeep came to block access. The delegation was told that they couldn’t go further.
“This isn’t Israel property,” the bishops replied. “These farmers are inviting us to visit their land.”
The response from the soldier in the jeep was short: “You can’t go further.”
The bishops prayed and then left to join the parishioners for Mass nearby.
The bishops had come to show their solidarity with the 55 local Christians families who are about to lose their land and their livelihoods. The farmers harvest olives, apricots, nuts, figs and much more. This will be a substantial loss of revenue for them and another loss of high quality land for agriculture.
Last April, the farmers were rejoicing over an Israel court ruling which had rejected the building of the wall. But in a surprising and unusual decision, the court reversed its judgment in July and ruled in favor of starting the wall. Since August, the Israel Army has been uprooting ancient olive trees, some hundreds of years old, and preparing the land for construction.
As the bishops left the area to celebrate Mass with the Beit Jala local parish, they could hear the echoes of earth-moving machinery echoing through the valley.
You can read more about the troubled history of the Cremisan Valley here. And there’s more about the bishops’ visit to the region here.
11 January 2016
Pope Francis addresses the diplomatic corps at the Vatican on 11 January. During his speech, the pope dedicated key parts to the “grave crisis of migration.”
(photo: CNS/Alessandro Bianchi, Reuters)
Pope Francis addresses “grave crisis” of migration in speech (L’Osservatore Romano) In his speech to the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See, Pope Francis dedicated the most significant passages to “the grave crisis of migration which we are facing.” The diplomats had gathered in the Regia Hall on Monday morning, 11 January, for the traditional audience at the beginning of the year. The choice was motivated by the Pope’s wish to help discern the causes of the crisis and “consider possible solutions,” in order to defeat “the inevitable fears associated with this massive and formidable phenomenon”...
Vatican promotes message for World Day of Migrants and Refugees (Vatican Radio) The World Day of Migrants and Refugees will be celebrated on Sunday 17 January 2016. Pope Francis’ message to mark the day was released in October 2015. Based on the theme, “Migrants and Refugees Challenge Us. The Response of the Gospel of Mercy,” the Holy Father recalls what he said in the Bull of indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, Misericordiae Vultus; that is, “at times we are called to gaze even more attentively on mercy so that we may become a more effective sign of the Father’s action in our lives”...
In Gaza, visiting bishops see signs of hope amid continued destruction (CNS) From a new playground at the Catholic parish in Gaza to transitional housing provided by a U.S. agency, visiting bishops from three continents said they saw signs of hope and resilience amid the continuing poverty and destruction in the Gaza Strip. “There is still a lot of suffering, but I’ve seen more signs of hope. This year one of the main things (that impressed me) was this sort of hope,” said Bishop Lionel Gendron of St. Jean-Longueuil, Quebec. “There are a few signs that it is possible to rebuild in a very simple way. Last year, I thought it was truly awful; this year, hope is there”...
Christians and Muslims visit Christian cemetery desecrated in Iraq (Fides) On Sunday 10 January, a delegation of Christian and Muslim representatives visited the Christian cemetery in Kirkuk, desecrated on 23 December, with damage to several tombs and gravestones...
Kerala bishops slam state government over farmers’ issues (Vatican Radio) The Catholic bishops of southern India’s Kerala state have slammed the state government for not addressing the issues of farmers. In a circular, which was read out in Catholic churches in the state on Sunday, the Kerala Catholic Bishops Council (KCBC) urged farmer cutting across religious lines to unite to strengthen the Indian Farmers’ Movement (Infarm), based in Kottayam district...
New book traces the ancient Christian civilization of Ethiopia (Irish Catholic) Here is a really remarkable book on which to begin the New Year, a book that will open up for many a new horizon of Christian culture and faith. This long book is a 17th-century biography of a very holy woman. But its distinction is that she is African, and the book contains elements of autobiography in a biographical framework. It is the work of an African author and has long been regarded as an important book by the Ethiopian Orthodox Tawahado Church as the Ethiopians now prefer to call it. As the earliest known biography of an African woman it is unique and it should be much better known...
8 January 2016
Tags: Iraq Pope Francis Refugees Ethiopia Muslim
In the video above, the situation in three besieged villages in Syria is described as “extremely dire.” Activists say civilians have died because of a lack of food and medicine in rebel-controlled Madaya, near Damascus, or have died trying to escape. The Syrian government is finally allowing aid convoys into the area. (video: BBC/YouTube)
CNEWA’s regional director in Beirut, Michel Constantin, this morning sent us this report about the humanitarian tragedy unfolding in Madaya, Syria:
The village of Madaya is a part of the east Ghouta region, along with Zabadani and Serghaya. This cluster of villages has witnessed fierce combat between the different fragments of the opposition on one hand, and the Syrian regular army supported by the Iranian guards and Hezbollah fighters on the other.
This area is strategically important for its location. It is very close to the Lebanese border, and also to the Syrian capital of Damascus. Located near the Beirut-Damascus highway, who controls the area controls the smuggling of arms and other items.
Two years ago, the Syrian government made a strategic decision to besiege all villages and towns bordering Lebanon in the hands of the opposition. They were successful in recapturing all villages of the so-called Qalamoun area. As a result, the fighters of the opposition were pushed either to Lebanon or to the Ghouta villages, mainly Zabadani and Madaya. Supporters of the opposition also sought refuge in there.
Syrian government and Hezbollah sources have stated that scores of trucks containing humanitarian aid are scheduled to be sent to Zabadani in January. The first wave of trucks carrying medical and food stuffs were sent to Madaya. But, militant groups allegedly confiscated them and sold them to the inhabitants at a very high price.
Yesterday, the United Nations said it had received “credible reports” of people dying of starvation and said that the Syrian government had agreed to allow aid convoys into the besieged cities of Madaya, Foah and Kefraya.
There are conflicting reports of how many people have died. The aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres puts the number at 23 since 1 December. One activist says it could be as high as 41. The UN statement Thursday provided only one confirmed death, that of a 53-year-old man on Tuesday whose “family of five continues to suffer from severe malnutrition.”
Sources add that this is a partnership between the WFP, the International Red Cross and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and that aid would be enough to sustain 40,000 people for one month.
Finally, the situation is extremely difficult. The inhabitants are suffering, especially now in winter. The cold is another killing agent to be added to the mines besieging the town and thwarting aid efforts.
We contacted some leaders from the local church and they all stated that the only intervention right now is exclusively by the Red Cross and the United Nations. A church initiative is not possible at present because the political and military situation is very delicate.
8 January 2016
Syrian refugees arrive in December at a hotel in Mississauga, Ontario. They were greeted by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who has pledged to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of February. But the refugees are arriving with no sign of peace in the region, which could mean many more of them will need help in 2016. (photo: CNS/Mark Blinch, Reuters)
Editor’s note: the following appeared this week in a column in Canada’s Catholic Register.
During recent travels in Beirut I met Kamal and his family, Syrian-Armenian Christian refugees. They told a harrowing tale.
“In March 2014, a rebel group came to our town of Kassab and told all of us to convert to Islam or leave,” he said. “We all left in the middle of the night in a panic.”
There are more than 12,000 Syrian-Armenian Christians currently living in Lebanon who share a similar story, forced to flee in fear under dark skies. These are urban refugees who share a common experience: as minority Christians, they have suffered persecution for their faith. As such, families such as Kamal’s should be given priority under government-sponsored programs that are bringing 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada over the coming months.
For his children’s sake, Kamal desperately hopes to be able to take his young family to Canada or Europe, but anywhere that is safe will do.
As Canada begins to receive 25,000 government-sponsored Syrian refugees and as many as 10,000 who are privately sponsored, there is no peace in sight in the Middle East. The self-described Islamic State appears to be as strong as it was a year ago despite heavy bombing by several Western states, including Canada. But the reality is that defeating ISIS will only matter if there is a genuine political will to build lasting peace in Iraq and Syria.
It is good policy as well as a wonderful humanitarian gesture for Canada to welcome Syrian refugees, but the lack of peace and increasing political unrest means there will be even more refugees and more Christians knocking on the doors of the international community in 2016 and beyond.
Read the complete column here.
8 January 2016
P.S. Limsana, a primary-school student at Ashabhavan, takes in the scenic vistas surrounding her school in India, which serves children with special needs. To discover why things are looking up for the students there, read Kerala’s House of Hope in the Winter edition of ONE.
(photo: Jose Jacob)