21 November 2017
A conservator cleans the surface of the Edicule, the traditional site of Jesus’ burial and resurrection, in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City of Jerusalem. (photo: CNS/Oded Balilty, National Geographic)
In the nation’s capital, a $15 museum ticket and pair of 3-D glasses is the passport Christian pilgrims and others need to experience what may be the holiest site in Christianity.
Employing state-of-the-art technology, the National Geographic Museum in Washington on 15 November opened an exhibit that virtually transports visitors to the streets of Jerusalem and through the doors of a small church that protects what is believed to be the site of Christ’s burial and, to Christians, the site of his resurrection.
“We put you in the Old City, we talk to you a little about the walls of the city, how they move over time and where the Gospels say that the Crucifixion took place, and try to give you the context,” said Kathryn Keane, vice president of exhibitions for National Geographic during an interview with Catholic News Service.
After an introductory video explaining some of the tumultuous history surrounding the tomb of Christ site, where structures above have been built and torn down repeatedly over the centuries, visitors walk toward a set where a virtual guide projected on a wall welcomes them to a courtyard just outside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.
It’s a visual appetizer to get them ready for the experience of, not just entering via 3-D through its doors, but also of flying over it and witnessing, from a bird’s eye view, a time-lapse of the structure’s physical history.
“We’re not only taking you in the church the way it looks today but we also go up above the church and we take you back through time,” said Keane. “It’s a bit of a time machine and we show you all the evolutions of the building, from the time that it was, under [Roman emperor] Hadrian, a pagan temple.”
“This is not what I would consider a traditional exhibit. It’s more an experience than it is an exhibit,” said National Geographic archaeologist Fred Hiebert, whose unique experience inside the church led to “Tomb of Christ: The Church of Holy Sepulchre Experience,” which runs at the Washington museum until August 2018.
Last year, Hiebert witnessed various stages of a nine-month-long, $3 million restoration of the small shrine within the Holy Sepulcher that protects the tomb of Christ. The shrine often is referred to as the Edicule, Latin for “little house.” During the process, the three religious groups with jurisdiction over the structure, and who had agreed on its restoration — the Armenians, the Franciscans and the Greek Orthodox — agreed to also allow restorers to put a moisture barrier around the the tomb itself.
The tomb likely had not been opened in centuries and, at some point, marble slabs were placed on top, perhaps to keep pilgrims from taking home parts of it. It has been venerated since the time of Constantine, the first Christian Roman Emperor who, in the fourth century, sent a team in search of the holy burial site. Soon after, they identified a quarry as that place and Constantine’s mother, Helena, had a shrine built around it.
The exhibit explains how the effects of weather, earthquakes and also great numbers of pilgrims, many of whom light candles that contribute to a buildup of soot, had brought the structure to the brink of collapse.
It also explains the dilemma religious leaders faced when they learned that by injecting liquid mortar into the shrine to reinforce it, it presented the possibility that it would seep into the tomb itself — defeating the purpose of protecting the most important part. They had to swiftly decide to shut down the shrine to allow the team to protect the tomb — and that meant briefly opening it.
“They said, ‘Do it, but don’t take more than 60 hours to do it,’“ said Hiebert.
When restorers temporarily shut down the site, Hiebert and other members of the National Geographic team were present to witness the opening of the tomb, which exposed the original limestone bed and the walls of the cave, which Christians believe witnessed Christ returning to life.
“To think that we, we were some of the few people who were locked in that church, got to see what people for hundreds and hundreds of years of Christianity hope to see, and we had a chance to see that. … If there’s anything that drove me to do a virtual exhibit, it was that guilt,” Hiebert said to an audience gathered at the museum on the opening night of the exhibit. “We have to tell the world about this.”
The National Geographic team scanned the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the smaller structure inside, the Edicule, in such detail, that visitors who stop by the exhibit can don a VR, or virtual reality, headset and enter the tiny shrine, navigate the small passage way that leads to the tomb, a space that accommodates no more than three or four people, and see an exact visual representation of the tomb, without the real-life inconveniences.
“As tourist, you get maybe 15 seconds in the tomb and then they move you out,” explained National Geographic engineer Corey Jaskolski at the opening night event. “Part of capturing this and being able to share it with the world through the National Geographic Museum is that we can let people spend as long as they want in the tomb. You can go in there and have your own personal experience and be able to see it in all its glory without the interruptions and bustle of the crowd around.”
The exhibit explains some of the technology the restoration team from the National Technical University of Athens used, as well as what National Geographic used to scan the images that made the visual aspect of the exhibit possible.
“We can tell a story about great science and there’s a certain great aspect of faith to it, too,” said Hiebert.
Keane said the project is an intersection of history, architecture, science, technology and faith.
“All of these things aren’t at odds with each other,” she said.
The exhibit displays the document that Greek Orthodox, Armenian and Franciscan leaders signed in 2016, which made the restoration possible, while also noting in a timeline that the groups had agreed in principle in 1959 that the “little house” needed the renovations.
Hiebert applauded the cooperation among the religious groups as a “brave” and said of their ability to agree, “That happens once in a lifetime with these guys.”
The project shows, Hiebert said, that there can be cooperation among different groups in the Middle East.
“Having reviewed the history of the [Holy Sepulcher] church, and realizing that it’s a contested space, in a contested area … here was a project that was bringing people together to do something that was positive,” he said. “That is a metaphor for optimism in the Middle East. In a place as difficult as Jerusalem, as complex as the Middle East, it’s still possible to do an optimistic idealistic project.”
Archaeologist Hiebert said the exhibit, as well as a TV show about the restoration of the tomb of Christ that National Geographic documented, will debut 3 December on its cable channel. The December cover story of National Geographic magazine also focuses on archaeology and what it reveals about the life of Christ. It shows that science and faith can go hand in hand, Hiebert said.
“When we look back on the history of exploration and even the history of National Geographic, we realize that this idea that science is divorced from faith is not true,” he said. “It seemed to me natural that National Geographic would be in a position of, here’s a site, which is sacred and historic, and we’re about to embark on an epic adventure.”
21 November 2017
Tags: Jerusalem Church of the Holy Sepulchre
In this image from 2016, a priest examines a Catholic church destroyed by ISIS militants in Karamdes, Iraq, following the town’s liberation. The U.S.C.C.B. has designated this Sunday, 26 November, as a day of prayer for persecuted Christians in the Middle East. (photo: CNS/Archdiocese of Erbil)
Iraqi Supreme Court rules Kurdish referendum unconstitutional (BBC) The Iraqi Supreme Court has ruled that a referendum on Kurdish independence was unconstitutional. The ruling comes nearly two months after the vote, in which 92 percent of Iraqi Kurds supported secession…
Lebanon’s military chief asks for readiness at Israel border (The Jerusalem Post) Lebanon’s army chief urged “full readiness” at the southern border to face the “threats of the Israeli enemy and its violations,” the army said in a tweet on Tuesday. Army Commander General Joseph Aoun called on soldiers to be ever vigilant for the “good implementation” of the U.N. resolution 1701 to “preserve stability” at the border with Israel...
U.S. bishops designate next Sunday a day of prayer for persecuted Christians in the Middle East (U.S.C.C.B.) In the midst of the turbulence in the Middle East, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops expresses solidarity with Christians and all those who suffer from the conflict and persecution in the region. The church stands at the service of all people in the Middle East, both Christians and Muslims…
Russian patriarch warns of the ‘end of history’ (The Moscow Times) The head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, said Monday that the end of the world is approaching, the state-run RIA Novosti news agency reports. Following a service at the Christ the Savior Cathedral in central Moscow, Kirill told congregants that the coming apocalypse “is already visible to the naked eye”…
A trip through the stunning, rock-hewed churches of Ethiopia (The New York Times) These trips reinforced my opinion that Ethiopia is one of the more exciting places in the world to visit right now: an attractive mix of ancient tradition and rapid modernization. What’s more, it can all be seen fairly economically…
20 November 2017
Tags: Iraq Ethiopia Russia
A chef displays ingredients and Keralite specialties prepared by chefs at Naipunnya Institute of Management and Information Technology. (photo: Peter Lemieux)
In the United States, families are preparing for Thanksgiving this Thursday. But for another kind of feasting, check out this story from India:
If you enjoy food, you should come to Kerala!” said Father Sebastian Kalapurackal, a Syro-Malabar Catholic priest and director of Naipunya Institute of Management and Information Technology, which boasts one of the state’s top hotel management programs. Each year, the program graduates some 100 students, many of whom land jobs with five-star hotels, major cruise lines and airline companies.
Keralites unquestionably take great pride in their local cuisine — and for good reason. Its diversity and sophistication have earned the state worldwide fame.
What is more, it is unique. A narrow strip of coastland bounded to the east by the Western Ghats (mountains) and to the west by the Arabian Sea, Kerala has been largely disconnected from the rest of India for much of its history. Isolated from the prevailing trends of Indian cooking, Keralites developed a distinct culinary tradition unlike any other on the subcontinent.
The secret to Keralite cuisine is its special blend of produce and other indigenous ingredients: rice from the paddies; pepper, cardamom, coriander, turmeric and asafetida from the forests and fields; and fish caught off the coast or in one of the many freshwater rivers. However, what gives many Keralite dishes their signature flavor is coconut. Translated from the local language of Malayalam as “land (alam) of the coconut (kera),” Kerala produces a vast quantity of the fruit, which grows just about everywhere and is one of the state’s principal exports.
The essence and complexity of Keralite cuisine, however, should not be reduced to the sum of its ingredients. Religion and region have also played significant roles in the development of Kerala’s diverse menu of tasty entrees and treats. Christians, Hindus and Muslims approach food differently. And in Kerala, each faith community possesses its own variant culinary tradition.
“Ninety percent of what Muslims eat is meat, Hindus are 100 percent vegetarian and Christians eat everything, including pork,” said T.C. Noushad, a Muslim restaurateur who owns Royal Food Court, a chain of five establishments across Ernakulam.
“I serve everything and anything, just give me 15 minutes,” he added.
According to Father Kalapurackal, to Christians, taste matters most.
“That’s the problem with our people. They worry too much about their taste buds and not enough about their health. We should learn from the Hindus and eat less meat.”
Read more about what’s cooking in Kerala in the November 2008 edition of ONE.
And if you’re curious, try out some recipes, too.
20 November 2017
Tags: India Cultural Identity Cuisine
Pope Francis marked the first World Day of the Poor on Sunday by celebrating Mass with thousands of homeless people, and then hosting them for a luncheon. (video: Rome Reports/YouTube)
Fear of extinction pushes Basra’s Christians to isolation (Al Monitor) Shiites around the world celebrated the Arbaeen holiday on 9 November. This year, Christians in Iraq participated in the Shiite ritual to attest to the coexistence and social interaction between the Christian minority and the Shiite majority in central and southern Iraq. Youssef Touma Elias, an Iraqi Christian, took part in the celebrations and served the Shiite pilgrims who marched to the sacred shrine of Imam Hussein in the city of Karbala. However, this positive step by the members of the Christian minority conceals their deep fear and mistrust of the majority, who failed to protect them from the threats of extremists over recent years…
Hariri plans return to Lebanon (Voice of America) Saad al Hariri, who announced his resignation as Lebanon’s prime minister earlier this month, plans to visit Egypt Tuesday before returning home. His office announced Sunday he will meet with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al Sisi in Cairo…
Indian Christians welcome plan to help poor (UCANews.com) Christian leaders in India have welcomed a government plan to provide free coaching to religious minority students to help them prepare for civil service entry exams. They hope it will ultimately mean more Christians, including from tribal minorities, are able to enter the social mainstream…
Russian Orthodox priests, traffic police march to remember road victims in Moscow (The Moscow Times) Russian Orthodox clergy and traffic police in western Russia this weekend marched down a notoriously dangerous motorway on the eve of the World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims. More than 20,000 people die on the roads in Russia every year, according to the RIA Novosti news agency…
Pope Francis marks World Day of the Poor (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis celebrated Mass on Sunday — the XXXIII Sunday in Ordinary Time and the first-ever World Day of the Poor — in St. Peter’s Basilica…
17 November 2017
Tags: Iraq India Lebanon Russia
In this image from 2016, children prepare for first communion at a Catholic church in a displaced persons camp in Ain Kawa, near Erbil, Iraq. Now, a year later, some displaced Iraqis are returning to their homes. Read about that and more in the September 2017 edition of ONE. (photo: Paul Jeffrey)
17 November 2017
Tags: Iraq Iraqi Christians
On Thursday, Pope Francis paid a visit to volunteers who have set up a “field hospital” near St. Peter’s to mark the first World Day of the Poor this Sunday. (video: Rome Reports/YouTube)
Will Saudis impose a blockade on Lebanon? (Al Jazeera) Some Lebanese politicians and bankers believe Saudi Arabia intends to do to their country what it did to Qatar — corral Arab allies into enforcing an economic blockade unless its demands are met…
Jordan builds world’s largest solar plant in refugee camp (The Jordan Times) After six months of construction that saw the sprawling of some 40,000 solar panels over “the size of 33 football fields” in southern Mafraq, the world’s largest solar power plant built in a refugee settlement was inaugurated on Monday…
Bishop Mansour speaks out about supporting Middle East Christians (National Catholic Register) In this interview, Maronite Catholic Bishop Gregory Mansour, a longtime champion of human rights and the Middle East’s Christians, and board chairman of Catholic Relief Services, discusses the role C.R.S. has played in this alliance to sustain the Middle East Christians, and to help them fulfill their mission of building peace in their societies…
New book examines rift between Copts and Muslims (Arab News) The Egyptian regime since Gamal Abdel Nasser has remained steadfast in underplaying sectarian incidents and emphasizing national unity among all Egyptians, despite the occurrence of violent incidents, according to “The Copts” by veteran journalist Abdel Latif El-Menawy…
Christian women coming of age in India (UCANews.com) Women burying their differences to come together is not something new in India. But Christian women forgetting their denominational differences and coming together to claim their space within the Christian community is creating ripples. Regional units of the Indian Christian Women’s Movement are now being launched in different parts of the country. Its Kerala unit was started in September. The affirming presence and enthusiastic participation of women in the movement testifies to the tremendous synergy in such an initiative…
Marking the first ‘World Day of the Poor’ around the world (Vatican Radio) This Sunday parishes in Rome and around the world will mark the first World Day of the Poor which is just one of the fruits of the Jubilee of Mercy. The Pontifical Council for the Promotion for the New Evangelization has been tasked with the organization of the initiative called by Pope Francis.
16 November 2017
Tags: India Egypt Lebanon Jordan
Alawites celebrate a festival in Banyas, Syria during World War II. (photo: Wikipedia/Public Domain)
Of all the religious minorities in the Middle East, perhaps the ‘Alawi or Alawites are the most familiar to people outside the Middle East. In the world CNEWA serves, one of the most prominent political rulers in the region is an ‘Alawi: Bashar al-Assad, the strongman ruler of Syria. His father, Hafiz al-Assad, was also a member of the faith.
The ‘Alawi are also known in history as the Nuṣayri; that is now considered pejorative and was replaced by ‘Alawi. There are significant ‘Alawi minorities in Lebanon (180-200,000), Turkey (500,000-1 million) and Syria (1.5-3 million). The ‘Alawi faith is — like many of the minority religions of the Middle East — highly syncretistic, i.e. comprised in part of beliefs and practices taken from other religions — often with changes that make them unrecognizable. It is generally agreed that the religion has its origins in Shi’ite Islam, but its adherents are considered to be a in ġulāt, “extreme” and heretical, although Muslim opinions about the ‘Alawi religion have vacillated over the centuries.
If syncretism is common among minority religions in the Middle East, so is secrecy, and the ‘Alawi are no exception — though some studies about the faith have been undertaken over the last century. The ‘Alawi belief revolves around a trinity or, perhaps better, a triad. They believe in one god, who is referred to as the “Essence” or “Meaning” (Arabic: ma‘nā) from which emanate two further manifestations: the “Name” or “Veil” and the “Gate.” These can take different manifestations in history, the most common being ‘Ali b. Abi Talib as the “Essence,” Muhammad as the “Name” and Salman al Farisi as the “Gate.” Other figures from both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament appear in differing roles.
The ‘Alawi believe that they were originally astral lights who fell from grace and descended to earth. Salvation is achieved through a series of rebirths (metempsychosis). Those who are judged to have been evil are reborn as women — considered to be demonic and excluded from rituals — along with members of other religions, such as Christianity, etc. Salvation consists of achieving contemplation of the “Essence” after having journeyed through the seven heavens. The exclusion of women from rituals has brought about a type of female piety that differs from that of male adherents and tends to be quite syncretistic.
One of the more unusual practices of the ‘Alawi is the quddas, a highly secret and important ritual, open only to males; during this ritual, wine is consecrated and consumed. At times ‘Alawi have been particularly concerned to keep this ritual secret from Christians. ‘Alawi also have holidays. They celebrate Nowruz, the Iranian (Zoroastrian) New Year, as well as Christmas, the Epiphany and the feasts of Mary Magdalene.
The fate of the ‘Alawi over the centuries has been varied. Generally regarded as heretics, they were spared by the Crusaders because the Crusaders thought they were not Muslims. During the time of the Ottoman Empire there were attempts made to convert the ‘Alawi to Sunni Islam, the dominant religion of the empire. After World War I and the Sykes-Picot Treaty, France took control of northern Syria and southern Turkey, where a large number of the ‘Alawi lived. Perhaps as part of a divide-and-conquer tactic, the French were favorable towards the ‘Alawi. For a while there was an ‘Alawi province. It later became the Government of Latakia and was finally subsumed into the modern Syrian state.
There is an unusual variety of opinions among Muslims as to the nature of the ‘Alawi faith. Some, like the medieval Muslim theologian ibn Taymiyya (d. 1328), believe that the ‘Alawi are infidels and subject to jihad. Generally Shi’ite Muslims consider them “extremists” and heterodox. On the other hand, Haj Amin al-Husseini (d. 1974), the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, for political reasons recognized the ‘Alawi as Muslims. Some scholars and observers think that, since taking control of Syria in 1971, the al-Assad family has worked to “sunnify” the ‘Alawi to make them more acceptable to the Sunni majority in Syria. Whether this is true and, if true, effective, remains to be seen. However, it needs also to be noted that historically the strongest allies of the al-Assad family have been the Iranian Shi’ites.
Unlike other religious minorities in the Middle East, the ‘Alawi do not live under the threat of extinction.
Religious Minorities in the Middle East — Introduction
Religious Minorities in the Middle East, Part 1: The Yazidis
Religious Minorities in the Middle East, Part 2: The Shabak
16 November 2017
An Indian Christian woman prays on 2 November, All Souls’ Day, at a cemetery in Bhopal. A Catholic bishop has sought protection for the Christian community in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh after Hindu nationalists marched through the streets waving burning torches and denouncing missionaries. (photo: CNS/Sanjeev Gupta, EPA)
A Catholic bishop has sought protection for the Christian community in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh after Hindu nationalists marched through the streets waving burning torches and denouncing missionaries.
The marchers on 10 November accused Sagar district authorities of not acting upon complaints they filed against missionaries for violating a law that restricts religious conversions. They said if the administration failed to act within two weeks, they would start an indefinite strike in front of a Catholic-run orphanage in the area.
Ucanews.com reported the trouble in Sagar started in September after government officials evicted a Catholic priest working in the orphanage and closed a 20-year-old mission following a dispute over the land title. Church leaders say the government action was instigated by Hindu groups.
The leaders of the fundamentalist religious awakening co-ordination committee, which organized the march, told media that the church's social services and work in education and health care are all a facade to convert gullible people to Christianity.
The protesters said they were working with the government for a national law against religious conversions and to check missionary activities. Madhya Pradesh and five other Indian states already have laws that make religious conversion through allurement and force illegal.
“We are under tremendous pressure,” said Bishop Anthony Chirayath of Sagar, who submitted a memorandum to district officials and the state chief minister and governor seeking their intervention for the protection of Christians.
Ucanews.com reported the bishop wanted the administration to take immediate steps to end this “false and malicious campaign” in the media that projects Christians as “out to convert Hindus, violating laws.”
The facts disproved the propaganda, he said. Sagar has some 300,000 people. But since its beginning in 1986, the diocese has only 1,000 Catholics.
“Our number has not grown in years. Still, we are accused of converting people,” he said.
The district has only 5,000 Christians among its 2.3 million people, 92 percent of whom are Hindus. In the predominantly Hindu state, Christians form less than 1 percent of the 72 million population.
Christian leaders say the state, run by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party, has been tacitly supporting violence against Christians orchestrated by Hindu nationalists, pushing to establish a Hindu-only nation in India.
Missionaries in the diocese say the campaign by hardline Hindu activists has made their work increasingly difficult as villagers view them as criminals.
16 November 2017
Syrians prepare merchandise for sale during a celebration in Aleppo’s historic souk as it reopens on 16 November 2017. Next week, Russia, Turkey and Iran will hold talks in Ankara about the future of Syria. (photo: George Ourfalian/AFP/Getty Images)
Russia, Turkey and Iran to hold talks on Syria (Bloomberg) Russia, Turkey and Iran will hold summit talks on Syria next week as Ankara threatens a possible attack on U.S.-allied Kurdish forces and tensions rise between Moscow and Washington over the future of the war-torn state...
Lebanon’s Hariri accepts invitation to visit France (CNN) Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri has accepted an invitation to leave Saudi Arabia and go to France, an Elysee Palace spokewoman told CNN on Thursday. It comes a day after Lebanon’s President accused Riyadh of holding Hariri “captive”...
Saudi media on cardinal’s visit: fraternity and peace (AsiaNews) The historic visit of Maronite Patriarch Bechara Raï to Riyadh, the first for a Christian leader to the ultraconservative Wahhabi kingdom, has had a great deal of echo in local media, accompanied by lots of photos. The main newspapers emphasize the “fraternal” relationship that binds the two countries, as well as “the importance of religions and cultures” against extremism. However, the clamor and celebrations are overshadowed by the controversial story regarding the resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, considered to be under “Saudi seizure”...
ISIS audio clips calls for ‘lone wolf’ attacks in Kerala (The Times of India) In a shocking audio sent presumably from Afghanistan, the Islamic State has exhorted its supporters in Kerala to mount an “lone wolf” attack in state to finish off the “idolators and disbelievers.” Abdul Rashid Abdulla, the youth from Thrikkarippur in Kasargod district who is believed to be in the IS stronghold in Nargarhar, sent the audio clip through the Telegram app two days ago...
Ukraine votes for new holiday on 25 December (Digital Journal) Ukrainian lawmakers on Thursday voted for a new public holiday on 25 December in a move which they said would allow the country to distance itself from Russia, which celebrates Orthodox Christmas in January. Ukraine is majority Orthodox and 7 January will remain a public holiday in the country even though the Western Christmas day is now officially recognized...
15 November 2017
Pope Francis blesses a Lamborghini presented by representatives of the Italian automaker at the Vatican on 15 November. The car will be a auctioned and the proceeds given to support charities, with a portion helping displaced Iraqi Christians. (photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano)
While a Lamborghini would make a stylish popemobile, Pope Francis has decided to auction off the one he was given by the Italian automaker to aid several charities close to his heart.
The pope was presented with a one-of-a-kind white and gold Lamborghini Huracan by the luxury car manufacturer 15 November, just before making his way to his weekly general audience in the standard popemobile.
The pope signed and blessed the automobile, which will be auctioned off by Sotheby’s. The proceeds, the Vatican said, will be given to the pope, who already has chosen to fund three projects: the resettlement of Christians in Iraq’s Ninevah Plain; support for women rescued from human trafficking and forced prostitution; and assistance to the suffering in Africa.