21 September 2017
Syrian Christians celebrate the Divine Liturgy at Jesus the King Chaldean Catholic Church in Hassake, in late May. (photo: Nidal Abdel Massih Thomas)
The new edition of ONE features a Letter From Syria by the Rev. Nidal Abdel Massih Thomas, a priest of the Chaldean Church. He describes the challenges his people are facing today — and the deep faith that sustains them:
I have vowed to stay with my parish and those displaced from other areas. I have struggled. However, with the support of the patriarch and my bishop, Antoine Audo, S.J., of Aleppo, who has helped provide material, medical and humanitarian support, we are helping to provide, as much as possible, the basic needs for the displaced Christian families remaining in our part of Syria.
Beyond those necessities of food, health care and shelter, our presence as priests and religious helps give hope to the people of God, where it is lacking. As shepherds — men and women who have left everything and followed Christ — our faith and trust in Christ binds us to the people. We have reopened education centers and provided recreational and pastoral activities for children in the summer.
We are still here.
Jesus Christ remains our inspiration. We are strengthened by his grace. Despite the circumstances, we celebrate the Divine Liturgy, honor the Virgin Mary and pray to Christ, asking for peace from the King of Peace. As a priest, I have given my life to serve the Lord and his people. Some have become martyrs in order to free their homeland. Yet, we continue to live in hope. As Jesus Christ said: “Take courage, I have overcome the world.”
Read more and see more images in the September 2017 edition of ONE.
21 September 2017
Bishop Boulos Marcuzzo, Patriarchal Vicar in Jerusalem and Palestine (right) surveys the damage from yesterday’s attack by vandals on St. Stephen Church outside Jerusalem.
(photo: Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem)
Vandals desecrate church near Jerusalem (Latin Patriarchate) On Wednesday, 20 September 2017, vandals have broken into and desecrated St. Stephen Church in Beit Gemal, near Beit Shemesh, west of Jerusalem. The perpetrators smashed a statue of the Virgin Mary and the stained-glass windows depicting important passages in the life of Jesus. Bishop Boulos Marcuzzo, Patriarchal Vicar in Jerusalem and Palestine, who visited the Church this morning, said that “this is not only an act of vandalism but an action against the sacredness of the holy places and the faith of people...”
‘Anti-conversion’ laws in India giving rise to conflict (Fides) “Anti-conversion” laws, which are instruments to restrict religious freedom, continue to exacerbate and polarize Indian society, says Jesuit Father Michael Kerketta, Indian theologian and professor in Ranchi, capital of the Indian state of Jharkhand, northern India...
Explosion injures pilgrims at Rosh Hashanah celebration in Ukraine (Radio Free Europe) A celebration of Rosh Hashanah in the central Ukrainian city of Uman has been marred by an explosion that authorities say lightly injured two Israeli pilgrims. Ukraine’s National Police said that an unidentified explosive device went off early in the morning on 21 September in a garage near the site where pilgrims are celebrating the Jewish New Year...
Egypt hands down death sentences to ISIS militants who beheaded Copts in Libya (AFP) An Egyptian court Saturday condemned to death seven people for membership of the Islamic State group and over the beheading in Libya of 21 Christians, all but one of them from Egypt, judicial officials said. ISIS in Libya posted a video on the internet in February 2015 of the gruesome beheadings on a Libyan beach, sparking international condemnation and Egyptian air strikes against jihadist targets in the neighboring Arab state...
20 September 2017
We’re pleased to announce that the September edition of our award-winning magazine ONE is now available online.
This edition focuses on the Middle East — with stories of perseverance and faith that reveal the impact CNEWA’s donors are having on that troubled corner of our world.
Among the many stories in this issue:
- Raed Rafei takes readers to Iraq, where Christians are facing Hard Choices as they return home in the wake of ISIS.
- Dale Gavlak introduces us to Jordan’s Christian Shepherds, and their efforts to preserve a vanishing way of life.
- And Diane Handal meets members of a family in Palestine who are overcoming tragedy with Love as a Healing Balm.
Plus: news, profiles, videos and photographs that help bring our world to you with passion and power. It all begins right here.
Meantime, take a moment to watch the video below, as CNEWA’s president Msgr. John Kozar gives us a preview of the magazine.
20 September 2017
A Russian-style icon of Our Lady of Fatima on display at the Catholic Parish of St. John the Baptist in the town of Pushkin near St. Petersburg, Russia. (CNS photos/Robert Duncan)
Catholics across Russia are celebrating the centenary of the 1917 apparitions of Mary to shepherd children in Fatima, Portugal.
According to one of the children, Sister Lucia Dos Santos, Mary asked for a special consecration of Russia to prevent the country from disseminating its “errors throughout the world,” a phrase now-retired Pope Benedict XVI interpreted as referring to communism.
Mary promised that Russia would “be converted” if her request was heeded, and Catholic Archbishop Paolo Pezzi of Moscow said he had witnessed this conversion in his lifetime.
“I thank our God that I became one of the witnesses of the return of Russia to Christ,” he said. But “we should not interpret Our Lady of Fatima as foretelling Russia’s conversion to Catholicism.”
Mary “still calls Russia to convert to Christ, but she did not say what form this conversion should take,” the archbishop said.
Though Russia has no official state religion, the majority of Russians identify with Eastern Orthodoxy, a branch of Christianity that has not been in communion with Rome for nearly a thousand years.
According to a recent study from the U.S.-based Pew Research Center, less than 1 percent of the Russian population identifies itself as Catholic.
Archbishop Pezzi said the Catholic Church’s minority status in Russia is actually one of its greatest assets for evangelization.
A Catholic in Russia “cannot base his faith on the tradition of the majority or on governmental support,” Archbishop Pezzi said. “This situation is a joyful opportunity for us: We can be defenseless witnesses of our faith.”
After an evening Mass at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Moscow in early summer, the Italian archbishop spoke to Catholic News Service about the challenges of living the Catholic faith in modern Russia.
“Russian Catholics sometimes feel themselves not so welcome. Ordinary people have the idea that if you are Russian, you ought to be Orthodox,” Archbishop Pezzi said.
“But I think that Russian Catholics should not feel hurt” by such sentiments, he said. On the contrary, “it means that they should show in their own life that Christianity can penetrate into all cultures and all nations.”
Of the estimated 250,000 Catholics registered in the Archdiocese of Moscow, the archbishop said, probably only 10-20 percent are actively practicing the faith.
Part of the challenge of encouraging a Catholic renaissance in Russia is administrative: Because the government favors Orthodoxy, the work of opening a new parish can be met with bureaucratic roadblocks.
“There is freedom, but there are also hardships,” said the Rev. Aleksandr Burgos, a priest based in St. Petersburg but originally from Spain. “In some cases, there is some pressure. I serve in St. Petersburg, a city with a tradition of tolerance, so for us it is easier than it is in other parts of Russia.”
Father Burgos had recently filed an application to register his fledgling parish with the government, a process that he expected to take up to three months. If denied, his Catholic community will not be able to enjoy “full freedom.”
Father Burgos said he consoles himself with the knowledge that “in the 19th and 20th centuries, the situation was worse.”
But Father Burgos’ parish may be placed under particular scrutiny by the government for the sole reason that it is Eastern-rite Catholic and almost indistinguishable from an Orthodox parish, except for being in union with Rome and praying for the pope at the liturgy.
Father Burgos belongs to the small Russian Byzantine Catholic Church, whose members celebrate the Byzantine liturgy and live the faith according to Eastern Christian traditions.
“We serve according to this rite because we think that nearly everything in the Orthodox tradition is very good,” Father Burgos said. “And of course it is important for Russian Catholics who wish to celebrate liturgy according to their national tradition,” since the majority of Russian Christians have always followed the Byzantine liturgical tradition.
According to Father Burgos, the Vatican supported the development of the Latin rite in Russia but decided that the restoration of the Byzantine Catholic rite in modern-day Russia could be “misinterpreted by the Orthodox.”
For decades, but especially since the breakup of the Soviet Union and the resurgence of the Eastern Catholic church in Ukraine, the Russian Orthodox have said the existence of the Eastern Catholic churches, which reunited with Rome over the past 500 years, are an obstacle to Christian unity. The Orthodox claim the Eastern Catholics encroach on Orthodox "canonical territory" and that their very existence is an attempt to achieve unity by breaking off pieces of the Orthodox community.
The Vatican has agreed that partial reunions are not a model for ecumenism, but insists the Eastern Catholic churches have a right to exist and to provide for the pastoral care of their faithful.
“This year we celebrate the 100-year anniversary of our exarchate,” Father Burgos said, “so I think that possibly the time has come” for the Vatican to re-establish it officially.
“I don’t think that our little church will disturb anyone,” Father Burgos said. “We do not need a huge cathedral, just a small chapel and an official registration to give our people the opportunity to pray and to feel themselves to be Russian citizens.”
Out of Byzantium
20 September 2017
In this image from March, a member of the Jordanian armed forces carries a toddler from the Rukban refugee camp to a nearby medical clinic operated by the UN. Reports indicate many displaced Syrians in the camp are stranded there, unable to return home.
(photo: Khalil Mazraawi/Getty Images)
Christian community in India threatened (Vatican Radio) A tiny Christian community in central India’s Madhya Pradesh state is being threatened by a right-wing Hindu nationalist group to flee the village or face dire consequences, the local bishop told Vatican Radio. Bishop Anthony Chirayath of the Syro-Malabar diocese of Sagar, who was visiting his Catholics in Mohanpur village in Guna district on Wednesday told Vatican Radio that the situation there was “very serious...”
The desperation of Syria’s displaced civilians (The Nation) Displaced Syrians are trapped as never before. Those in the desolate encampment in Rukban, on Jordan’s remote northeastern border (known as “the berm”), are a microcosm of Syria’s stranded civilians. They face an immediate threat, as the Syrian government forces they fled advance along the border with Jordan...
Israel announces general closure of West Bank, Gaza (Palestinian News Network) Israeli army spokesmen announced imposing a general closure on the West Bank, all crossings of the Gaza Strip, as the Jewish holidays approach. The closure is to start from midnight last night until Sunday night...
Richmond ordination reflects burgeoning membership in Russian Orthodox church (Richmond Press Herald) Toddlers, babes-in-arms, and other young children populating the church yard and inside St. Alexander Nevsky Church showed just how rapidly the parish family of the Russian Orthodox congregation has grown. Inside the sanctuary Sunday was another sign: the ordination of the Rev. Nathan Williams to the priesthood, the ordination of Joseph Kimball to the diaconate and the investiture of two tonsured Readers, Patrick Kimball and Matthew O’Donnell. Tonsured Reader is a first step toward priesthood...
19 September 2017
A Russian Orthodox woman prays, gazing at an icon, in an Orthodox parish in St. Petersburg. Orthodox Christianity has been on the rise in Russia since the fall of communism in 1991. Churches, according to one artist, are becoming centers of cultural life. (photo: CNS/Robert Duncan)
One hundred years after Russia’s communist revolution inaugurated an era of church persecution and state-sponsored atheism, an Eastern Orthodox novel recently won the country’s top literary prize, and a statue of the country’s first Christian emperor was erected outside the Kremlin walls.
The book and the statue epitomize a trend in contemporary Russia where artists from a variety of disciplines are hard at work to respond to rising interest in the country’s religious heritage.
“In modern Russia, there is an excellent trend: Our churches are becoming not only the centers of spiritual life, but also of cultural life,” said Alexey Puzakov, a leading conductor in Moscow.
“It is joyful that in modern Russia, one can express himself inside the church, both in a spiritual and a creative manner,” he told Catholic News Service.
The movement Puzakov highlights contrasts sharply with active participation in a parish. According to a recent study from the U.S.-based Pew Research Center, only 6 percent of the Orthodox population in Russia attends church weekly.
But, the study reported, 57 percent of Russians believe Orthodox Christianity is an important feature of national identity.
Religious devotion is reflected in a variety of artistic and cultural forms that are not all tied to the institutional church, Puzakov said.
“Human talent can be realized in different ways: through word, through painting and through sound,” the conductor explained. “All these are gifts from God that we cannot find in any hierarchy.”
Puzakov, who directs the Moscow Synodal Choir in performances by composers such as Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff, said performers and composers need the inspiration of faith in order to achieve excellence.
“The teaching of Jesus Christ is the root of all Christian art,” he said. “Good church singing is impossible without prayer.”
If, in the liturgy, for example, “a singer does not sing the words of the prayers from his heart, the result will be very formal, there will be no real synthesis of the liturgical rite and the prayers,” Puzakov said.
Another artist, Russian writer Eugene Vodolazkin, won his country’s most prestigious literature award for his 2012 novel “Laurus,” which is set in religious, medieval Russia.
“I wished to describe a way of life that is far from modern people,” Vodolazkin said, but one that is nevertheless attractive to contemporary readers.
Vodolazkin’s book details the religious quest of a “holy fool” in the Russian Orthodox tradition, a kind of ascetic who humiliates himself in the eyes of others to draw closer to God.
“Humans cannot live only through TV, the internet and shopping,” he said. “This all concerns a horizontal level (of living), while humans are looking for a vertical dimension to life.”
Andrey Antonov, a Russian Orthodox artist and sculptor, combines traditional peasant tools, like nails and sickles, as well as household items into cruciform objects and Christian-themed sculptures. (photo: CNS/Robert Duncan)
Orthodox Christianity is also influencing modern art in Russia. Andrey Antonov, for example, combines traditional peasant tools, like nails and sickles, as well as household items into cruciform objects and Christian-themed sculptures.
“The Russian peasant’s way of life developed from the Christian way of life,” Antonov explained. “Everything in this life revolved around the Christian feasts.”
Salavat Scherbakov, another sculptor, was at the center of a political controversy in 2015 in the run-up to the unveiling of his most recent sculpture: a giant depiction of St. Vladimir, Russia's first Christian ruler.
After public debate about where the statue would be situated and whether St. Vladimir was an appropriate figure to represent modern Russia, Scherbakov’s work was placed just outside the walls of the Kremlin.
“We are coming back to our roots,” Scherbakov said. “We still do not understand these roots well enough; it is a kind of new search for identity.”
Because Christianity was persecuted for 70 years under state-sponsored atheism in communist Russia, the sculptor said, it is to be expected that contemporary Russians are rediscovering their heritage.
“A lot of my mother’s ancestors were members of the clergy, and some were rather famous,” he said. “So my interest in Christianity is not something unusual; it is rather natural.”
In the realm of architecture, Sergey Pavlov said he devotes his free time to designing and restoring churches in Russia.
“The majority of projects I’ve seen recently can be called a kind of search for tradition,” said Pavlov, who works as chief architect of the Peterhof State Museum-Reserve.
But true expertise is needed to properly restore churches, he said, and, unfortunately, many architects are simply trying to imitate previous structures without truly understanding their liturgical purpose.
The Soviet period led to the break of handing on traditional church architecture through master-apprentice relationships, Pavlov said. That rupture makes the building of new churches more challenging.
“We are not the direct heirs of pre-revolutionary Russia, but I hope that the process of rethinking is constructive and creative,” he said. “There is demand for such work.”
19 September 2017
Sister Anahid, a Dominican sister of St. Catherine of Siena, administers a primary school in Dohuk. Read more about efforts to keep hope alive in Iraq in ‘God Wants Me Here,’ a web exclusive story from our March 2017 edition of ONE. (photo: Paul Jeffrey)
19 September 2017
Indian Catholics carry a statue of Our Lady of Good Health Vailankanni at the Miraculous Medal Shrine in Germantown, Pennsylvania. (photo: CatholicPhilly.com)
Assad: Christians in Syria are ‘no guests or migratory birds’ (Fides) Christians in Syria are “no guests or migratory birds.” They “are part of the origin of the nation, and without them there is no pluralistic Syria.” This is what Syrian President Bashar Assad said on 17 September, to a large delegation of participants in a room of the Damascus Hall at the annual youth gathering organized by the Syriac Orthodox Church...
Pope cites St. Francis Cabrini as a model to ministry to immigrants (CNS) Although she died 100 years ago, St. Frances Cabrini is a shining example of “love and intelligence” in ministering to the needs of immigrants and helping them become integral members of their new homelands, Pope Francis said. Responding to “the great migrations underway today” the same way Mother Cabrini did “will enrich all and generate union and dialogue, not separation and hostility,” Pope Francis said in a letter to Sister Barbara Louise Staley, superior of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which the saint founded...
Indian Catholics welcome new Marian shrine in Pennsylvania (CatholicPhilly.com) More than 700 faithful from various Indian and American Christian communities filled the pews and choir loft of the Miraculous Medal Shrine in Germantown on Saturday, 9 September for the feast of Our Lady of Good Health Vailankanni...
Two churches reopened, 60 churches still closed in Egypt (Egypt Independent) Minya and Abu Qirqas Archeparchy reopened on Sunday Anba Paula church in Kedwan village and St.Mary church in Ezzbet al-Furn in Minya governorate, after numerous Copts complained of preventing them from praying in the two churches. His Grace Bishop Makarios, General Bishop of Minya and Abu Qirqas, praised President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s efforts to reopen the two churches, asserting that both Muslims and Copts live harmoniously in both villages...
Pope praises Rome’s first interreligious half-marathon (CNS) After thousands of runners completed the first ever “multireligious” half-marathon in Rome, Pope Francis praised the initiative, which was sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Culture...
Is the Ark of the Covenant in Ethiopia? (Aleteia) after the destruction of the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem, no one knows for sure where the Ark of the Covenant ended up. The Ark disappeared without a trace (and without any known record of its whereabouts), so the place where it might be found — assuming it had been preserved in the first place — remains today one of the great enigmas not only of history but, particularly, of archaeology. But what is certain is that almost 45 million Ethiopian Orthodox Christians are convinced that the Ark of the Covenant was taken about 3,000 years ago to Aksum, in northern Ethiopia, and has since been jealously cared for by these monks in the modest church of Saint Mary of Zion...
18 September 2017
U.S. Army veteran Rocio Villanueva, 31, from Escondido, California, prays on the Via Dolorosa in the Old City of Jerusalem while touring the Holy Land with the Heroes to Heroes program on 11 September. The program brings wounded veterans to the Holy Land to tour with wounded Israeli veterans. (photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)
Inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, U.S. Army veteran Rocio Villanueva fell onto the stone of the unction where tradition holds that Jesus was laid out after his crucifixion and touched her head to the smoothed surface.
Injured during a tour of duty in Iraq and diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, the 31-year-old engineering specialist and mother of four was raised in a Catholic home but had slowly lost touch with her faith. After almost a week in the Holy Land as part of the second group of women veterans participating in the Heroes to Heroes program, Villanueva felt a spiritual renewal.
“Since the third day I got here I felt a healing in my heart. At the Church of the Annunciation (in Nazareth), I felt so good and able to speak to God,” said Villanueva, a member of St. Mary Catholic Church in Escondido, California.
“My family has been able help me physically, but with the part I have inside of me, it has been really hard to open up. I had so much anger in my heart and was so sad, I could cry about anything. Here I felt my heart open up. I went to confession and I felt that God was talking to me through the priest,” she said.
Since its founding six years ago by Judy Isaacson Schaffer, a Teaneck, New Jersey, marketing and sales professional whose father and grandfather served in the military, Heroes to Heroes has taken 14 groups of U.S. veterans — including those who served in Vietnam — to meet with their Israeli counterparts and visit holy sites. It is a peer-support program with the goal of helping achieve spiritual healing and preventing suicide.
Villanueva’s group was in the Holy Land 5-12 September. Participants visited Bethlehem, were baptized in the Jordan River and joined in the Israeli memorial ceremony commemorating the 9/11 attacks in New York and elsewhere.
With 22 U.S. veterans committing suicide every day, Schaffer said she recognized the need to reach out to those veterans suffering the most from PTSD, just as her father had volunteered with veterans from earlier wars. Because less than 1 percent of Americans serve in the armed forces — a small fraction of whom are women — many veterans feel isolated when they return, she said.
The peer-to-peer encounter with Israeli veterans, some of whom have also experienced traumatic injuries, as well as discussions within their own group allow the U.S. veterans to see that it is possible to move forward from their challenging experiences, Schaffer explained.
Participants are asked to stay in contact with members of their group for a year after the visit.
Most of the veteran services available in the U.S. are geared towards male veterans, and perhaps because of this lack of institutional and communal support, more women veterans commit suicide than men, Schaffer said.
In addition to combat trauma, some women have also been victims of military sexual trauma, she said.
“I will never get over (the trauma), but I can get past it,” said U.S. Army veteran Rory Shaffer, 42. A mother of three, Shaffer served twice in Iraq and was severely injured in a blast which killed three of her friends. She also witnessed the suicide of another friend while on combat duty.
“Within my household, I have support but the rest of my family just thinks I should get over it,” Shaffer said. “I have been suffering. I was not expecting that one-third of the group would say this group saved their lives.”
18 September 2017
Salesian Father Tom Uzhunnalil, who was released from captivity on 12 September, greets journalists as he arrives for a news conference in Rome on 16 September. Father Uzhunnalil, who is from Kerala, was abducted during an attack on a charity care home in Yemen in March 2016 and imprisoned for 18 months. (photo: CNS/Junno Arocho Esteves)
Freed Salesian priest describes his capture, liberation (CNS) Salesian Father Tom Uzhunnalil was sitting in a room in an unknown location — one of several he had been relocated to during his 18-month imprisonment — when he received some unexpected news. “Those who kept me came to where I slept (and said), ‘I bring you good news. We are sending you home. If you need to go to the bathroom, go. Take a shower, but quickly!’” Father Uzhunnalil told reporters 16 September at the Salesian headquarters in Rome...
As East Mosul comes back to life, West Mosul remains in ruins (NPR) Nine months after Iraqi forces drove ISIS from eastern Mosul, the east side’s main street has come back to life. Wedding convoys decorated with ribbons and flowers honk their horns. Female drivers pull up in front of pastry shops and stalls piled high with fresh fruit...
Understanding India’s only Catholic federal minister (UCANews.com) Recent photos of Indian church leaders meeting with top federal officials almost always include Alphons Joseph Kannanthanam, a Catholic who joined India’s ruling pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 2011. Many Catholic officials have accused the party of not treating religious minorities fairly. However, when Amit Shah, the BJP president, visited southern Kerala State in June to meet Catholic bishops, it was Kannanthanam who did the organizing...
Orthodox join procession commemorating Russian royalty (RT) The Russian Orthodox Church has commemorated the memory of Grand Duchess Elisabeth Fyodorovna Romanov and tragic events of the 1917 Revolution in a service and procession, with hundreds of worshipers joining the holiday outside Moscow...