15 November 2017
Lebanon’s Maronite patriarch Cardinal Beshara Raï meets with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Saudi Arabia on 14 November 2017. (photo: Fayez Nureldine/AFP/Getty Images)
Lebanon’s cardinal meets Saudi prince, former Lebanese premier (AsiaNews) Regional politics and terrorism, interreligious dialogue and Lebanese issues were at the center of Maronite Patriarch Bechara Raï’s recent trip to Riyadh, the first historic visit of a Christian leader to the Saudi kingdom. Over two days Cardinal Raï met King Salman, hereditary prince Mohammed bin Salman (Mbs) and former Lebanese premier Saad Hariri, who assured that “within the next two days” he will return to Lebanon...
Vatican confirms construction of Syriac church in Istanbul (Daily Sabah) Pope Francis confirmed construction of a Syriac church in place of the former Latin Catholic Cemetery in Turkey’s Istanbul, Vatican Ambassador Paul Russell said while visiting Istanbul’s Bakirköy Municipality Mayor Bülent Kerimoglu...
Priest: Christians face worse situation in Iraq now (AsiaNews) The situation of Christians “is worse than the arrival of ISIS” because they are “caught up in this clash between Arabs and Kurds, Shiites and Sunni,” which “hinders” the return of refugees to Mosul and the Nineveh plain, and “there is no longer any help.” The Rev. Samir Youssef, pastor of the diocese of Amadiya (Kurdistan), tells AsiaNews that part of the Christian families have “returned to Alqosh and Dohuk” for fear of violence in the Nineveh plain. “They spent two nights in the car, or delayed their departure for the danger of new clashes...”
St. Thomas Missionaries in India mark 50th anniversary (AsiaNews) A conference (13-16 November) on missiology is currently underway in Palai (Kerala) on the ‘Role and Relevance of Missionary Societies and Congregations in Mission ad Gentes and New Evangelisation’. Organised by the Missionary Society of St Thomas the Apostle (MST), the event marks the group’s 50th anniversary and is a venue for participants to reflect on its missionary vocation...
Pope gets special edition Lamborghini to auction for Christians in Iraq (CBS News) Luxury sports car maker Lamborghini has presented Pope Francis with a brand-new, special edition Huracan that will be auctioned off with the proceeds donated to charity...
14 November 2017
Daily life at the Greek Catholic seminary in Hungary includes a little free time for socializing. Learn more about what it takes To Be a Priest in Hungary in the March 2007 edition of ONE.
(photo: Tivadar Domaniczky)
14 November 2017
Workers remove wreckage after yesterday’s airstrikes in northern Syria. At least 57 were killed.
(photo: Abdurrazzak Sekirdy/Andalou Agency/Getty Images)
Airstrikes kill dozens in Syrian market (The New York Times) Dozens of people were killed in airstrikes on a market in northern Syria on Monday, according a monitoring group and a news agency run by activists. The attacks left rescuers and survivors digging late into the evening to search for residents still buried under the rubble...
Lebanon’s patriarch arrives in Saudi Arabia on historic visit (Catholic Herald) Catholic leaders in Lebanon have urged the international community to bring peace to the Middle East, amid the “state of deadlock” the country is in following the resignation of its prime minister. The Catholic Council of the Patriarchs and Bishops of Lebanon said it was a message that Cardinal Bechara Rai, the Maronite patriarch, would carry to Saudi Arabia on his visit this week...
Lebanon’s former prime minister blames Hezbollah for country’s crisis (Arab News) Hezbollah’s domination of Lebanon at the behest of Iran is the cause of the country’s political crisis and his own resignation as prime minister, Saad Hariri said in a dramatic and emotional TV interview on Sunday night. “I am not against Hezbollah as a political party but it should not be the cause of the destruction of Lebanon,” Hariri said...
Rescue workers search debris after quake kills over 500 (AP) Rescuers on Tuesday used backhoes and heavy equipment to dig through the debris of buildings toppled by a powerful earthquake on the border between Iran and Iraq that killed over 530 people, with weeping women crying out to God as aid workers found new bodies...
Pope sends condolences to Iran and Iraq (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis sent a pair of telegrams to Iraq and Iran on Monday, expressing his condolences for the damage and loss of life caused by Sunday’s severe earthquake...
Indian Christians hoping for solution to lack of burial ground (Christian Daily) Christians in Borivli East in Mumbai, India, are hoping that the government in the state of Maharashtra will provide them with more burial spaces for their community so that they will no longer be forced to shell out a lot of money to bury their dead in the west...
Pew Research Center: a closer look at Orthodox Christians (Pew) Recently, we sat down with George Demacopolous, a professor of theology at Fordham University, to examine trends and issues in the Orthodox Christian world. Demacopolous is a noted expert on Orthodox Christian history and the author and editor of six books...
13 November 2017
Franciscan Father Francesco Patton, custos of the Holy Land, says Catholic relations with the Orthodox in the Holy Land today are “very, very good.” (photo: CNS/Tyler Orsburn)
The metaphorical but impenetrable walls that separated Catholics, Greek Orthodox and Armenian Orthodox in the Holy Land are beginning to crumble.
What is formally called a “status quo,” but for generations had the effect of an excuse for inaction, is now being replaced by collaboration, said Franciscan Father Francesco Patton, custos of the Holy Land. Father Patton, elected and papally approved, is responsible for the region’s most sacred sites.
“The renovation of the (Church of the) Holy Sepulchre has been a great occasion for dialogue among the three communities,” said Father Patton. “Under the status quo, it is impossible to do something if the three communities are not together.”
“All the work was done on time,” said Father Patton. “We have to sign off (on) a new agreement for the second step,” which would put electrical systems underground, upgrade the sewage system and install humidity controls, he added.
Relations with the two Orthodox communities are now “very, very good,” Father Patton told Catholic News Service in a 10 November interview in Washington, where he visited the Franciscan monastery in the city — which also falls under the custos’ responsibilities — and met with patrons.
Members of the three churches “all know we are a minority,” Father Patton said. “We (Christians) are only 2 percent when we are together. When we are not together, each of us are less than 2 percent.” He said the different communities try to support each other on issues that affect just one of them.
Along the same lines, Father Patton said he saw unity and harmony among Christians, Muslims and Jews in the Holy Land. While some would prefer to reduce the role of religion in the region, “the meeting of the three Abrahamic communities” is essential, he added. “You can’t solve the problem excluding religion. You can solve it only by including religion.”
The Franciscans want to undertake further restoration initiatives at holy sites in Jerusalem, Nazareth, in the West Bank and elsewhere. He said they want to build housing for Christians who work at the holy sites so they will not have as far to travel to get to their jobs, including facing delays at Israeli checkpoints.
While there has been some success at preserving sacred sites as they were in antiquity, Father Patton does not begrudge residents’ businesses.
“If there are no jobs, there are no people,” he said.
Father Patton added that he expects tourism to be brisk, especially at Christmas.
“Last year was a good year,” he noted. “When there is no violence, there are pilgrims.”
“One-third of Israel’s tourists are coming to see the sacred places,” he added.
13 November 2017
A woman mourns next to a dead body following an earthquake in Sarpol-e Zahab, Iran, on 13 November. The 12 November earthquake killed more than 400 people and injured more than 6,000 in Iran and Iraq. (photo: CNS/Tasnim News Agency via Reuters)
Pope Francis sent messages of condolence to people in Iran and Iraq after a magnitude 7.3 earthquake killed more than 400 people, mostly in Iran.
The pope “assures all affected by this tragedy of his prayerful solidarity,” said the nearly identical messages, released on 13 November.
“In expressing his sorrow to all who mourn the loss of their loved ones, he offers his prayers for the deceased and commends them to the mercy of the almighty,” said the telegrams, signed by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state.
As he often does in emergencies, Pope Francis also asked for the “blessings of consolation and strength” for first responders and civil authorities.
The U.S. Geological Survey said the 12 November quake was centered 19 miles outside Halabja, Iraq. It was felt as far west as the Mediterranean coast.
The hardest-hit area was Iran’s western Kermanshah province, which sits in the Zagros Mountains that divide Iran and Iraq. The Associated Press reported residents in the rural area rely mainly on farming to make a living.
Caritas MONA, the regional branch of the church’s charitable aid agency in the Middle East and North Africa, sent tweets asking people to join Caritas Iran and Caritas Iraq in prayers for those affected.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with our brothers & sisters in Iraq and Iran following yesterday’s devastating earthquake that hit the border region,” said another tweet.
13 November 2017
A woman in Delhi, India, sits amid the rubble of her home destroyed by local authorities in a bid to relocate the residents in this 2 November photo. Pope Francis will celebrate the Catholic Church’s first World Day of the Poor on 19 November. (photo: CNS/Cathal McNaughton, Reuters)
Amnesty report warns of crime against humanity in Syria (Al Jazeera) Amnesty International says the Syrian government’s ‘surrender or starve’ campaign targeting civilians constitutes a crime against humanity. It is calling for an end to what it calls ‘the dark stain on the world’s conscience’...
Pope to lead celebration of World Day of the Poor (CNS) Pope Francis will celebrate the Catholic Church’s first World Day of the Poor 19 November by celebrating a morning Mass with people in need and those who assist them. After Mass, he will offer lunch to 500 people in the Vatican audience hall...
Refugees in Lebanon face eviction (Al Monitor) Thousands of Syrian refugees residing in several municipalities across Lebanon are under threat by eviction campaigns that have ramped up in recent weeks. Aid workers from several humanitarian organizations say that reports of refugee evictions have increased in a number of predominantly Christian areas...
Hundreds take part in reconciliation marathon in Gaza (Middle East Monitor) Hundreds of men and women took part in a reconciliation marathon organised by the Palestine Athletic Federation (PAF) in Gaza on Friday, MEMO’s correspondent in the enclave has reported. The race involved runners, cyclists and paralympic athletes in a celebration of the reconciliation between the Palestinian political factions, sending what was described as a “message of hope” to the world...
New threats reported against Copts (Fides) Coptic Christians in Egypt do not accept the condition of submission imposed on Christians in Islamic societies; they continue to build churches and even promote television networks to spread the Christian proclamation. This is why they must be attacked as “infidel fighters”, and their churches must be blown up. This is, in short, the message of instigation — to carry out new violence against Egyptian Copts — contained in a dossier widespread in recent days by the Wafa Media Foundation...
Orthodox church not opposed to sex education in Russian schools (RT) The church does not oppose sex education in schools, but urges caution as it can corrupt young minds, the head of the Moscow Patriarchate external relations department has stated...
9 November 2017
In this image from 2015, a displaced Iraqi child from the Shabak community, who fled fighting between ISIS and Peshmerga fighters around the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, stands at the Baharka camp, a few miles west of Erbil. (photo: Mohammed Sawaf/AFP/Getty Images)
There are several minority religions in Mesopotamia which are distantly related to each other and to Islam. For the most part, these religions are considered heterodox by the dominant Sunni Muslim population. In addition, some contain elements taken from Shi’ite Islam that go beyond what its adherents would find acceptable. In parts of the region, these religions are persecuted for being heterodox or considered as simply Shi’ite — a “proof” to some that Shi’ite Islam is also heterodox.
Included in this group would be the Shabak.
The Shabak people are concentrated in northern Iraq to the east and north of Mosul. CNEWA encounters them in the clinics we support in the Iraqi province of Dohuk. It is estimated that the Shabak presently number between 500,000 and 550,000.
The Shabak faith is remotely related to the Alawi sect which is in Turkey, Lebanon and Syria. The al-Asad family, the strong man rulers of Syria, belongs to the Alawi sect in western Syria. However, the relation between the two faiths is remote.
The Shabak take the basic Muslim creed that there is no God but God (Allah), Muslim reverence for the Prophet Muhammad and the Shi’ite reverence for Aly, the cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad, and combine them in an unusual way. For Shabak Allah, Muhammad and Aly form a type of trinity in which Aly is the primary manifestation of the divinity. While all Muslims have a deep, emotional reverence for the Prophet and while Shi’ite Muslims add to that a deep, emotional reverence for Aly (and his second son, Hussein), it is totally unacceptable for Sunni and Shi’ite alike to consider Muhammad and Aly as divine in any sense of the word. This Shabak belief alone is enough to bring on them the opprobrium of the dominant Muslim population.
The faith of the Shabak is hierarchically ordered. Each person and family comes under a pir, which is a type of priest/spiritual director. This pir is to be differentiated from the pir which is a spiritual authority/teacher in the Sufi traditions of Islam, although the two may be related. The pir is responsible for carrying out all the worship services in which he is assisted by a functionary called a rehber.
For the three great festivals of the year, 12 functionaries must take part in the ceremonies. The first festival is New Year, which is in December; the second is Ashurah, a Shi’ite memorial of the martyrdom of Imam Hussein and the Night of Pardon. During the Night of Pardon, the Shabak confess their sins — a practice common in Christianity, but unknown in Islam. In fact, public confession of sins, consumption of alcohol and pilgrimages to shrines of saints are practices (above and beyond their belief in a trinity) which sharply differentiate the Shabak from Islam.
The Shabak suffered greatly under ISIS. They are not considered a People of the Book and were hence faced with the stark choice of conversion to Islam or death. Since it is not clear to which ethnic group the Shabak belong — Turkic, Arab, Kurdish, Iranian — they are inevitably caught up on the ethnic conflicts of the region.
As a result, as is the case with many of the religious minorities of the Middle East, the survival of the Shabak is very precarious.
Religious Minorities in the Middle East — Introduction
Religious Minorities in the Middle East, Part 1: The Yazidis
9 November 2017
Pope Francis receives members of the community of the Ukrainian Pontifical College in Rome.
(photo: Vatican Radio)
Pope Francis marked the 85th anniversary of the foundation of St. Josaphat’s Ukrainian Pontifical College in Rome by sharing some thoughts with the school’s seminarians.
From Vatican Radio:
In his message to future Ukrainian priests, Pope Francis recalled that the institution was built with the intent of conveying a message of love and closeness to those faithful “who live in areas of suffering and persecution.”
He invited them to prepare for their apostolic mission as deacons and priests studying the Church’s Social Doctrine and recalling the example of Pope Pius XI whom, he said, “always and firmly raised his voice in defending the faith, the freedom of the Church and the transcendent dignity of every human person” while condemning the atheistic and inhumane ideologies that bloodied the 20th century.
“Also today the world is world is wounded by wars and violence” the Pope said with a particular reference to the beloved Ukrainian nation “from which you came and to where you will return” after having completed your studies in Rome.
Backing his encouragement to spread a culture of peace and acceptance with words from the Gospel, the Pope said “to you, seminarians and priests of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church, these challenges may seem out of your reach; but let us remember the words of the Apostle John: I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the Word of God abideth in you, and you have overcome the wicked one.”
The Pope said that by loving and proclaiming the Word they will become true shepherds of the communities that will be entrusted to them.
Read more here.
Meantime, CNS has this report from Junno Arocho Esteves, offering the pope’s personal remembrance of a beloved Ukrainian bishop:
Meeting a group of Ukrainian Catholics, Pope Francis said that long ago in Argentina, he had learned about the suffering of Christians in their homeland and about the beauty of their liturgy.
Speaking to a group of professors, students and alumni from the Ukrainian Pontifical College of St. Josephat, a seminary in Rome, the pope said he valued the lessons he learned as a boy from Bishop Stepan Chmil.
“It did me so much good because he spoke to me about the persecution, sufferings, the ideologies that persecuted the Christians” in Ukraine under communism, the pope said on 9 November.
Then-Father Chmil was among the first Eastern-rite Catholics allowed to enter the Salesian order while retaining their liturgical rites and traditions.
After completing his studies in Turin, Italy, Father Chmil ministered to countless Ukrainian refugees who arrived in Western Europe during World War II.
In 1948, he was sent to Argentina to minister to Ukrainian refugees there and met a young Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who was in his last year of grade school.
“I learned how to assist at Mass in the Ukrainian rite from him; he taught me everything,” the pope said.
Assisting Father Chmil twice a week, he said, “taught me to be open to a different liturgy, which has always remained in my heart as something beautiful.”
After Father Chmil’s death in 1978, the pope said, it was revealed that he had been “consecrated a bishop in secret in Rome” by Cardinal Josyf Slipyj, then-major archbishop.
Pope Francis also said he gave testimony for the Ukrainian bishop’s canonization cause to the current head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych.
“I wanted to remember him today,” he said, “because it is right to give thanks to him for the good that he has done for me.”
9 November 2017
Syria has declared victory over ISIS, but questions remain about how Syria will rebuild and recover after the lengthy civil war that has decimated much of the country. The video above shows some of the devastation and explores some solutions. (video: The National/YouTube)
Syria declares victory over ISIS (Reuters) Syria’s army declared victory over Islamic State on Thursday, saying its capture of the jihadists’ last town in the country marked the collapse of their project in the region...
An Iraqi town where Muslims, Jews and Christians coexist, in theory (The New York Times) Today Amadiya’s population of 9,000 is overwhelmingly Kurdish Muslim. But in the early 20th century there were said to be about two-thirds that many people, about evenly divided among Muslims, Christians and Jews — although there were 10 mosques compared with two churches and two synagogues. Everyone was packed into a circumference of a mile and a half...
Pope John Paul I declared ‘venerable’ (CNS) Pope Francis recognized that Pope John Paul I, who served only 33 days as pope, lived the Christian virtues in a heroic way. The Vatican announced Pope Francis’ decision on 9 November. It marks the first major step on the path to sainthood for the pope who died in 1978 at the age of 65, shocking the world and a church that had just mourned the death of Blessed Paul VI...
U.N.: 36.5 million people in East Africa face food crisis (CoastWeek.com) The number of people facing crisis-level food insecurity in the Eastern Africa region has increased by 18 percent to 36.5 million in October from 30.9 million a year ago, UN humanitarian agency said Tuesday...
Pope Francis: St. Francis Cabrini is a modern model for handling migration (CNS) St. Frances Cabrini, the missionary to Italian immigrants in the United States in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, “teaches us the path to handling the epochal phenomenon of migration by joining charity and justice,” Pope Francis said...
Blessed Rani Maria seen as a beacon of hope for Indian Christians (Global Sisters Report) The beatification of a martyred Catholic nun will help evangelization in India, where preaching Christ’s message has become increasingly difficult, church leaders say. Sister Rani Maria Vattalil’s beatification “is a major turning point in the history of Christianity in India, where peace-loving Christians face persecution,” said Shibu Thomas, head of Persecution Relief, an ecumenical forum that records attacks against Christians in India...
8 November 2017
Good Shepherd Sister Monique Tarabeh is pictured in an undated selfie photo. Sister Tarabeh grew up in Damascus, Syria, and her family still lives there despite the ongoing civil war that started in 2011. (photo: CNS/courtesy Good Shepherd Sister Monique Tarabeh)
Good Shepherd Sister Monique Tarabeh’s visit home in July and August was gut-wrenching. Sister Tarabeh grew up in Damascus, Syria, and her family still lives there, despite the civil war that started in 2011. The conflict has killed hundreds of thousands of people and forced millions to flee to safety in other nations.
Currently, Sister Tarabeh serves in Rome as the communications coordinator for the Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd congregation. Previously, she worked in Lebanon and Syria, using her master’s degree in graphic design.
She recently spoke to Global Sisters Report about her summer visit home and what she saw there.
Q: Your family in Damascus is safe, and you got to spend time with them. What was it like in Damascus?
A: In Damascus, the situation was bad. There were too many bombs. But my sister has a house in the mountains, so I stayed there awhile and then joined the community in Homs to help them. They needed help because so many families have moved from their area into Homs, even though there is all this damage.
Q: We’ve been told that Homs had been devastated by bombing and seen photos of a city destroyed by the war. You’re saying people are moving there?
A: Yes, people are going there because the areas where they live are even worse. Our center in Homs is working with the people who have moved there to give them education and psychological help. They teach them how to process the trauma, and they have special programs for children and youth. ... Around the convent, all those areas were bombed and destroyed, but the building of the convent and the church is untouched. You cannot believe it — it's like the hands of God were covering it.
I served in Homs for seven months in 2006 and 2007, and those areas ... were the richest, most beautiful places in Homs. Each building had five floors and balconies. Trees lined the streets, and there were flowers. It was a place you liked to go visit.
People walk in front of destroyed buildings at the site of a 2016 twin bomb attack in Homs, Syria.
When I saw this area where I spent a really beautiful time with the people there, when you see this empty, all this damage, my heart is broken. I stayed one day, and I could not speak when I returned to the convent.
And then to think about those people coming to Homs from places that are worse, like Aleppo, where you can’t see two stones stacked together because it’s all flat now. It’s hard to find the words.
I tried to talk about this, but it’s very painful when I remember all those people and their faces, and now they are not here. All the beautiful images all coming back at once. I cannot believe it happened.
Q: How do you deal with that? How do you continue working?
A: I took photos in Homs, but I can never take photos in Damascus, because Damascus is where I lived. I don’t like to see them at all. It’s not easy to see the place you grew up, and now, it’s destroyed.
Some areas are better than others. My family’s home is untouched, thank God, but all around them is damage. What happened to my family is nothing when you see the other areas.
But the people have a good spirit. I think as a way of surviving, they share a lot of humor and jokes. I really admire them. They do everything they can to let it pass and begin a new life.
Q: How do the sisters continue working? How do they keep their spirits up amid all the misery?
A: I asked them, “How can you continue? Nobody can just serve and give all the time.” One said, “Monique, when I saw I could do something for people, I forget myself.”
We also have Good Shepherd Sisters in Lebanon, and they can go there for a few days and rest with them.
But you are never safe. It’s just, every time when they go out, they don’t know if they’ll be back or not. They live day by day and trust that God will protect them.
This is an edited version of a story originally published in Global Sisters Report, a project of National Catholic Reporter. Visit their website for more.