Current Issue
September, 2019
Volume 45, Number 3
21 October 2015
Greg Kandra

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin Palace in Moscow, Russia, on 21 October 2015.
(photo: Kremlin Press Office/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Assad flies to Moscow to thank Putin for air strikes (Vatican Radio) On Tuesday, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad flew into Moscow for a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, during which the two men discussed their joint military campaign against Islamist militants in Syria. In his first foreign trip since the outbreak of the Syrian crisis in 2011, Assad’s visit came three weeks after Russia launched a campaign of air strikes against Islamist militants in Syria. Assad personally thanked Putin for his military support, emphasizing just how major a part Russia is playing in the Middle East...

Holy See denies report that pope has brain tumor (VIS) The director of the Holy See Press Office, Fr. Federico Lombardi, S.J., issued the following statement this morning: “The circulation of entirely unfounded news regarding the health of the Holy Father by an Italian newspaper is gravely irresponsible and unworthy of attention. Furthermore, as is clearly evident, the Pope is carrying out his very intense activity in an totally normal way”...

Olive harvest has begun in Gethsemane (Fides) The olive harvest in the garden of Gestsemani began on Saturday 17 October and will last at least one week. As usual, even this year the Franciscan friars, guardian of the Sacred Garden where Jesus prayed on Holy Thursday, invited the people of Jerusalem and volunteers from every part of the world to spend a few hours or an entire day to olive picking...

Fact-checking Israel’s statement to the UN Security Council ( On 16 October 2015, Israeli Ambassador Roet addressed the UN Security Council in an emergency session on the escalating situation in Israel and Palestine. Below are his statements followed by facts disproving the statements...

Thousands fleeing Eritrea in migrant crisis (The Wall Street Journal) On a cool March evening soon after his 16th birthday, Binyam Abraham waited until his mother and young siblings were sleeping and slipped away to begin the long trek toward Eritrea’s southern border. With his father trapped in open-ended military service that would soon snare him, too, Binyam walked for 19 hours without food or water to reach Ethiopia. He made a choice 5,000 of his countrymen make each month, by a United Nations estimate: to flee Eritrea and brave the world’s deadliest migrant trail, across the Sahara and the Mediterranean to Europe...

Tags: Syria Pope Francis Palestine Russia Eritrea

20 October 2015
Michael J.L. La Civita

A Bulgarian Orthodox priest holds a vestment as he waits for Patriarch Neofit at the St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Sofia on 11 April 2015. (photo: Nikolay Doychinov/AFP/Getty Images)

Geography has helped shape the history of the peoples of the Balkans. This peninsula in the Mediterranean lies at the crossroads of the ancient Greek and Latin civilizations of southern Europe, a juncture where Orthodoxy and Catholicism mingle, where Islam meets Christianity, where Asia and Europe collide. For millennia, these Balkan encounters have sparked major cultural and political movements. Bulgarian Orthodoxy, despite centuries of setbacks, is one such example.

Closely aligned with the fate of the nation and its peoples, the Orthodox Church of Bulgaria has endured significant difficulties for much of its history, which dates to the baptism of Tsar Boris I in the year 864. These challenges have included the rise and fall of independent states, schisms, Ottoman domination and Greek oppression. Just in the last century, the church has sustained three regional and two world wars; abdications, assassinations, executions and rigged elections; isolation from the rest of the Orthodox world; 45 years of Communist control; and internal discord and schism. Dramatic demographic decline — Bulgaria has lost 14 percent of its population in the last two decades and, in some years, the number of abortions exceeds live births — has taken its toll on the church’s role and effectiveness in the 21st century.

Men dance in the icy winter waters of the Tundzha river in the town of Kalofer as part of the Epiphany Day celebrations on 6 January 2015. (photo: Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP/Getty Images)

While today some 82 percent of Bulgaria’s 7.3 million people identify themselves as Orthodox, most do not follow the rites of the church. Some observers believe up to half of the population is agnostic or atheistic. Bulgarian Orthodoxy, they contend, has become an ethnic or cultural symbol.

A general council, held in July 1997, attempted to address the role of the church in post-Communist Bulgaria. Under the guidance of its patriarch, the council called on the government to allow it to develop freely and publicly, utilizing mass media, catechesis in state schools and the restoration of chaplaincies in the armed forces, prisons and hospitals. The council also addressed the urgent need for the spiritual renewal of the Orthodox faithful and focused on the development of formation and catechetical programs. But the resurrection of the Orthodox Church in Bulgaria — unlike the Orthodox revival in Romania, Russia, Serbia and Ukraine — remains arduous.

Click here to read more.

20 October 2015
Greg Kandra

Margaret Injak, 63, a Catholic resident of Jerusalem’s Old City, prays on 18 October
in St. Saviour’s Parish near her home. (photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)

As tensions mount and violence increases in Jerusalem, Christians are turning to prayer:

“We are very tired,” said Margaret Injak, 63, who lives near the third station of the cross along the Via Dolorosa. “We are very afraid of the police, we are afraid of the Israelis, we are afraid of the Muslims. I am for peace; I want peace for all the world, just peace.”

Christians have been staying mainly in the Christian Quarter of the Old City as yet another wave of violence plays itself out between Israeli security forces and Palestinians, she said, and parents have been keeping a closer eye on their children. Most of the attacks have been carried out by young Palestinians, some as young as 13, and what started in Jerusalem has spread to other Israeli cities. Fighting between Israeli soldiers and Palestinians continues in the West Bank and along the border with Gaza. The clashes between the two left at least 44 Palestinians and seven Israelis dead since the beginning of October.

St. Saviour is in the Christian Quarter, but not far from where, earlier in the month, stabbings took place on a part of the Via Dolorosa that is in the Muslim Quarter.

Over a number of decades, several Muslim Quarter properties have been bought by Jews, including a religious seminary and a long unused house purchased by former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. It is also along this portion of the Via Dolorosa that Jews walk through from the main Damascus Gate to reach the Western Wall.

The armed Israeli border policemen standing guard at the fourth and fifth station of the cross, where a metal detector has been placed, are meant to prevent further attacks.

Since the tensions began, Frieda Michail, 53, said she no longer lets her children go out and takes them and picks them up from school herself.

“We tell our children that politics is not for us, to leave it for the big people. If you want to live in peace you have to take care of your children. I tell them we are the brothers of Muslims and we are the brothers of Jews,” said her husband, William, 54. “I tell my children to be safe; to be good. I think there is only one God, for Muslims, Christians and Jews. If one of us has a problem, there are problems for all of us. I say it is not right these kids killing each other. It is sad for everybody.”

Auxiliary Bishop William Shomali, chancellor of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, said that as he made his way into the church accompanied by several children preparing their readings for the mid-morning family Mass, it was more important than ever to remain strong in faith.

“We keep our children safe by teaching them their faith, sending them to Catholic school and giving them a good example,” he told CNS.

In the church, religious try to keep a warm atmosphere for the children, teaching them about the Catholic faith and providing them with a safe gathering place. But recently the children have been very tense and anxious, said Gustavo Ramirez, a Salesian seminarian from Mexico who has been in Jerusalem for two years and who has been helping in catechism classes.

“We try to talk and smile and calm them by the way we do our work,” he said. “For me, it is sacrilegious that these things are happening in the Holy Land, but at the same time, upon reflection, the Via Dolorosa is the symbol of Christ’s suffering, and these people are experiencing that suffering now. It is the suffering of both people.”

Though the streets are less crowded than normal and hotels have reported cancellations, groups of pilgrims from Taiwan, Poland, India and Spain still walk the Via Dolorosa, or Way of the Cross, stopping at the stations and taking the presence of the border police in stride, with some pausing to snap pictures with the obliging young men and women in uniform.

“I know that violence is inherent to this place,” said Luis Vernajo, 66, a pilgrim from Madrid on his fourth visit to the Holy Land. “It is very complicated for a person to face that hate, but the desire to be here is so strong that you put that to the side. This place deserves for us to come here. Since the Psalm of David there has been a prayer for the peace of Jerusalem, and we all have to try and contribute to this. We all have to pray for a better peace of Jerusalem.”

Franciscan Brother Mark McPherson, an American originally from Los Angeles who has been in the Holy Land for three years, said he tries to make his presence on the Via Dolorosa a positive influence. He chats amiably equally with the Muslim shopkeepers as well as the Israeli soldiers.

“I try to be warm and friendly to everybody, also to the soldiers,” he said, noting a shopkeeper had just chastised him for taking a picture with some soldiers, calling them “killers.” “They are also probably scared, they are also young kids. You can't assume they are killers.”

Near the Armenian Catholic Patriarchate, at the fourth station, a young Jewish Orthodox mother, wearing a long skirt and a blue turban wrapped around her hair, walked down the street with her baby strapped to her chest in a baby carrier. Three armed private security guards towered over her as they accompanied her along the street. Shortly after, a border policeman called over a young Palestinian man to stand by the wall and frisked him for possible concealed weapons.

Heading down toward the Muslim quarter from the Christian Quarter, Jack Hliemat, 17, made the sign of the cross as he passed Saint Saviour and hurried to pick up breakfast for his family before they went to Mass.

“My parents tell me to be careful when I go out, but I am not afraid because I don’t do anything wrong,” he said.

Not far from the spot where a few week earlier an Israeli family was stabbed, killing the father and injuring the mother, Samir Asm, 56, reads a newspaper in front of the T-shirt shop he has run for 35 years. A blue T-shirt emblazoned with the word “peace” in Hebrew, Arabic and English hangs on display next to him.

“We like peace and we should help each other,” he said. “Even if we don’t have peace, I will sell my (peace) T-shirts.”

20 October 2015
Greg Kandra

The video above, broadcast on Russian state TV, reportedly shows drone footage of Syria’s
front lines. (video: YouTube)

Russian TV releases drone footage claiming to show scenes from Syrian battlefront (Vox) Most of us will never see Syria’s front lines. But on Monday, Russian state TV released a brief clip showing what it claims is HD footage of fighting there, taken by a drone camera hovering overhead...

Quiet in Ukraine offers hope for peace (The New York Times) Once Russian warplanes started bombing targets in Syria on 30 September, the world’s attention shifted away from Ukraine, a development that in the view of some analysts may have been part of the Kremlin’s calculations all along. Whether this was the intention of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, it is certainly true that the tenuous cease-fire in eastern Ukraine and the tense negotiations underway in Minsk, Belarus, to find a political solution are no longer in the news, not in Russia and not in the West...

Praying and hoping for peace in Jerusalem’s Old City (CNS) Following a week that included Palestinians stabbing Israelis, bloody clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli security forces, and despair rising on both sides, the parishioners of St. Saviour Church in the Old City of Jerusalem came to Mass on 19 October to pray, mainly for peace. “We are very tired,” said Margaret Injak, 63, who lives near the third station of the cross along the Via Dolorosa. “We are very afraid of the police, we are afraid of the Israelis, we are afraid of the Muslims. I am for peace; I want peace for all the world, just peace...”

Courage, strength needed for peace in Holy Land, says Pope (CNS) There is a need for great courage and strength in order to reject hatred and to carry out acts of peace in the Holy Land, Pope Francis said. Before reciting the Angelus on 18 October, the pope expressed his concern for the increase in violence between Israelis and Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. The clashes between the two left at least seven Israelis and 44 Palestinians dead since the beginning of October. “I am following with great concern the situation of high tension and violence that afflicts the Holy Land,” the pope said...

Meet the man trying to save Gaza’s antiquities (Al Monitor) Perched on the roof of a house in Al-Shati camp, west of Gaza City, is a small room with a tin roof and plastic windows. Palestinian sculptor Nafez Abed uses the room as a studio, where visitors are dazzled by the artifacts and sculptures, some of which his hands shaped dozens of years ago...

Catholics vs. Muslims in Rome’s first interfaith cricket match (Vatican Radio) Sporting history was made in Rome at the weekend as an all-Muslim cricket team played against St Peter’s Cricket Club, comprised of Catholic seminarians in training for the priesthood. The St Peter’s XI was launched in 2013 under the auspices of the Pontifical Council for Culture, with ecumenical and interfaith relations as an important part of the club’s mission. The Mount Cricket Club from Yorkshire in the north of England was founded back in the 1970s by children of Asian immigrant families and is today involved in both charitable initiatives and wider community integration...

Tags: Syria Pope Francis Ukraine Gaza Strip/West Bank Russia

19 October 2015
J.D. Conor Mauro

Iraqi refugee children study English together at a community center run by CNEWA in Amman, Jordan. To offer relief to the displaced people of the Middle East, click here. For a limited time, all donations will be matched — click here to learn more. (photo: CNEWA)

Tags: Iraq Refugees Jordan Iraqi Refugees Amman

19 October 2015
J.D. Conor Mauro

Copts attend a Friday Divine Liturgy at the Virgin Mary Church in Cairo. (photo: Virginie Nguyen Hoang/AFP/Getty Images)

Egyptian elections see high Christian turnout (Fides) According to the monitoring carried out by the Maspero Youth Union, a group of young activists of the Coptic Orthodox community, so far the percentage of Copts who voted is higher than those recorded in other religious and social groups. On the first day of voting, many Egyptian Christians went to the polls after going to church…

Cardinal Sandri: Syro-Malankara Catholic Church is a bridge to unity (Vatican Radio) Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches, delivered a speech memorializing Syro-Malankara Catholic Archbishop Benedict Mar Gregorios on Sunday…

Germany shows signs of strain from mass of refugees (Der Spiegel) Six weeks after Chancellor Angela Merkel’s historic decision to open Germany’s borders, there is a shortage of basic supplies in many places in this prosperous nation. Cots, portable housing containers and chemical toilets are largely sold out. There is a shortage of German teachers, social workers and administrative judges. Authorities in many towns are worried about the approaching winter, because thousands of asylum-seekers are still sleeping in tents…

Syrian troops advance toward air base besieged by ISIS (Daily Star Lebanon) Government forces advanced Monday under the cover of Russian airstrikes toward an air base besieged by ISIS in northern Syria, a Syrian military official and activists said, while a rebel military commander was killed in another battle in a nearby area…

Israel erects wall in wake of recent attacks (Vatican Radio) On Sunday, a Palestinian gunman killed a soldier and wounded 11 other people at a central bus station in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba, while Israeli authorities erect a concrete wall in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Jabel Mukaber…

Hunt for Israelis who killed Eritrean man (The Guardian) Israeli police are hunting members of a group of Israelis who killed an Eritrean migrant after mistakenly identifying him as a terrorist involved in an attack at a bus station. Haftom Zarhum was shot repeatedly by a security guard then kicked and spat at by a mob after going to the southern Israeli city of Beersheba to pick up his renewed work visa…

Tags: Syria Egypt Israel Germany Cardinal Leonardo Sandri

16 October 2015
Sami El-Yousef

Palestinian protesters run for cover from tear gas during clashes with Israeli troops near Ramallah, West Bank, on 16 October. (photo: CNS/Mohammed Torokman, Reuters)

Is this an intifada?

I returned home on 3 October after a one-week visit to New York to attend CNEWA’s annual planning meeting only to find a Jerusalem that was completely different from the one I had left a week earlier.

After landing in Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport, a normally quick drive to my home in the Old City of Jerusalem instead took me close to two hours, though it was a Saturday and traffic was very light. I learned later that coinciding with my arrival two Jewish people were stabbed, fatally, inside the Damascus Gate. I thought it an isolated incident, and the situation will quiet down and remain under control. Little did I know then!

Is this the beginning of a new intifada? [Intifada is Arabic for uprising.] I guess at this point it would be anyone’s guess; there are no experts in this particular field. We were caught off guard in 1987 with the first intifada, and again in 2000 with the second intifada. We were also caught surprised with the successive wars in the Gaza Strip.

And what about the incidents when we thought that an all-out intifada just started, and again we were all proven wrong. I remember in early July 2014, when the 16-year-old Palestinian boy Mohammad Abu Khdeir was kidnapped from his East Jerusalem neighborhood by Jewish extremists and later burned to death — we all thought this brutal action would spark an intifada. For a full month thereafter, we slept to the sound of gunshots and helicopters flying overhead as every neighborhood in East Jerusalem demonstrated every night. In frustration and anger, they demonstrated against the murder, the occupation [the annexation of Jerusalem by Israel after war in 1967 is not recognized by the international community]. However, it all stopped about a month later and, for Palestinians, life went back to its usual state of occupation, with all of its humiliations and injustices.

Why now?

One needs to mention that what is moving the masses today is the underlying threat to the Al Aqsa Mosque — a mosque revered as the third holiest place on earth for 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide. More importantly, the brutal force used by the Israeli police against women, the elderly and youth who keep watch inside the mosque, and the repeated police raids on the entire compound. have led to arrests, beating and even the use of tear gas around and inside the mosque. There seems to be little respect to the compound as a holy site.

The Palestinian perception today is that Israel is trying to change the “status quo” of Holy Land sites and move in a direction to limit access for Muslims to allow more access for Jews. Even though the Israeli prime minister has repeatedly assured everyone that Israel will continue to honor the status quo [which has been in effect since the 18th century], actions on the ground appear to be quite different. Allowing Jewish extremists to enter the compound and the mosque on a daily basis under heavy police guard while attempting to limit the hours when Muslims can enter the compound is a very provocative move. Various statements by other Israeli politicians and right wing settler leaders indicate their intentions to demolish the entire site and build a temple in its place, which has certainly inflamed this delicate situation.

Since 3 October, and according to various press reports and government sources, as of this writing more than 30 Palestinians have been killed and some 1,900 injured. Some 6 Israelis have been killed and about 70 injured. Those Israelis killed were attacked by knife-wielding Palestinian youths acting on their own. According to B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights group, of the Palestinian dead, 13 were accused of committing or having committed an attack. The remaining majority of those killed were innocent bystanders who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The remaining were active participants in demonstrations in various parts of the West Bank or the Gaza Strip.

Israeli security forces look on during a noon Friday prayer outside Ras al Amud neighbourhood on 16 October 2015 in Jerusalem. (photo: Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Images)

New policies and directives

It has been suggested that the increased number of Palestinian civilian casualties may be the result of the Israeli government’s new directives granting the army, police and even ordinary citizens with gun licenses greater latitude to shoot and kill those suspected of being dangerous.

Social media is playing a significant role in revealing such cases, which are considered “extra-judicial executions.” Today’s generation of Palestinian youth, unlike their predecessors, have greater access to mainstream technology and social media that is brimming with terrible images and videos that stereotype like never before, painting an evil picture of the people across the divide.

One video of a 13-year-old Palestinian boy who was hit by a settler car and left bleeding on the tram tracks in the Israeli settlement of Pisgat Ze’ev showed police at the scene, continuously kicking him and stepping on him while Israeli passersby were cursing at him and demanding that he be shot in the head immediately. Even paramedics at the scene stood idle and let him bleed, leading many to believe that true humanity was certainly lost on the streets of Jerusalem. Scenes such as these, which go viral, inflame the masses.

Exacerbating the situation are new policies and directives of the extreme right-wing Israeli government. In response to a recent incident when three Israelis were killed, the Israeli government decided to adopt a series of measures in East Jerusalem — a collective punishment, intended to humiliate the population rather than bring security. Some of these measures included sealing off and imposing a curfew on Palestinian East Jerusalem neighborhoods, which had been implemented overnight on the Mount of Olives, Sur Baher, Jabal al Mukabber, with others on the way including Shuafat and Beit Hanina to the north. Any individual involved in attacks — whether proven or not — faces withdrawal of residency status, along with their family members; all of the family’s property and assets are confiscated, their home demolished, and land deemed government property. Furthermore, new measures have loosened the restrictions on owning and carrying firearms for Jewish Israeli citizens while thousands of border police reserves and army battalions are being called in to “restore order,” especially in East Jerusalem, giving total impunity to the military and police, and even regular citizens who are now allowed take law into their own hands.

And what about the Palestinian position?

The Palestinian leadership finds itself in a very difficult position. President Abbas has been very clear that he and his leading Fatah party wish to see the current cycle of violence stop immediately; he does not wish to see a third intifada and has repeatedly made unpopular statements to the Palestinians to stop any violent activity directed against the Israelis. Additionally, the Hamas leadership has repeatedly declared that they are not interested in any escalation with Israel, as articulated by written directives in Gaza, which go so far as to declare a 500-meter closed military zone on the border with Israel.

Thus, the Palestinian leadership’s position is against any escalation at this time. However, the question is whether they will be able to control an increasingly angry and frustrated population and if so, at what price?

The sad reality for young people today

Instructions are being given to school children on how to behave if approached by fanatic settlers whose new motto is “Death to Arabs”; or approached by jittery police officers who suspect that these students may have a knife in their pocket or in their school bag. “Keep your hands out of your pockets and do not run away from any scene even if you are frightened or attacked” were my own instructions to my 14-year-old son as he was heading to school last Monday.

I feel sorry for yet another generation of Palestinians whose childhood is being lost as they confront increased extremism and radicalized hatred. In this regard, all Palestinian schools in Jerusalem have been shut down since early this week as a precautionary measure, and it is hoped that they will return to classes by Saturday.

Where do we go from here?

The international community must exert pressure to end the occupation, as nothing short of freedom for the Palestinians will end the vicious cycles of conflict. Even though the reasons change every time violence erupts, the common denominator — the occupation, remains the same. Unless the root cause is dealt with and resolved, then this will go down in history as part of another cycle that will eventually end, but will be followed by more cycles in the future that will be more deadly, and more vicious.

On a more practical note, one needs to highlight the continued important work carried out by Christian institutions working in education, health and social services that continue to provide safe havens and quality services with Christian values at heart. The value of Christian institutions shines brightest during times like these — of crisis, killing, hopelessness and despair. The message of peace, respect, tolerance, forgiveness and acceptance continues to filter through, seeking to make a positive contribution in the societies where CNEWA operates. The poor and the weak become more desperate during times of crisis and this is when we need to intensify our efforts to ensure that faith and hope are not lost.

Please continue to keep us in your prayers.

Sami El-Yousef is CNEWA’s regional director for Palestine and Israel.

Tags: Gaza Strip/West Bank Jerusalem Palestine Israel Israeli-Palestinian conflict

16 October 2015

Friday 16 October marks World Food Day. In this photo taken in 2005, Sister Winifred Doherty, a Good Shepherd sister, enjoys lunch with children at The Good Shepherd school in
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. (photo: Sean Sprague)

Tags: Hunger

16 October 2015

Israeli and border police stand guard on 9 October near a gate to the compound known by Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif and by Jews as the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
(photo: CNS/Jim Hollander, EPA)

Palestinians torch Jewish shrine (Vatican Radio) Palestinians set fire to a Jewish shrine in the West Bank on Friday as the Islamist group Hamas called for a day of rage against Israel. Israeli military officials say about 100 people converged on the tomb of the biblical patriarch Joseph, which is located in the Palestinian city of Nablus. They were pushed back by Palestinian security forces who arrived on site, but not in time to stop rebels setting parts of it on fire...

Holy site at center of increased tensions in Jerusalem (CNS) It has been painful to watch as violence has taken over Jerusalem once again, especially along the Via Dolorosa, where Jesus suffered in order to dissuade the use of violence, said Auxiliary Bishop William Shomali, Latin Patriarchate chancellor. This violence goes against Jerusalem’s vocation as a holy city, which should be open to all people of faith, he said. “We are shocked at what is happening,” Bishop Shomali told Catholic News Service in mid-October, after two weeks of unrest. “Violence does not help. We do not accept violence by any side...”

Syrian refugees encountering racism, but also kindness (AP) For the Syrian refugee family, one reprieve from crushing boredom in the asylum centre is short walks to a lake. But in a town teeming with neo-Nazis, the excursions can bring more distress than relief: A man recently stormed out of a coffee shop and screamed at two women of the Habashieh family to take off their hijabs “because we’re in Europe!” Another time, people inside a car yelled: “Auslaender raus!!” — Foreigners out!! Fear and frustration, however, have been tempered by kindness. A volunteer from nearby Dresden has befriended the Habashiehs, who fled Syria’s civil war and are now living in a temporary facility in the eastern town of Heidenau after arriving in Germany last month, following a perilous journey from Damascus. The experience mirrors the mixture of hostility and generosity that has greeted hundreds of thousands of migrants streaming into Europe this year...

Pontifical council issues document on human trafficking (Vatican Radio) The Pontifical Council of Migrant and Itinerant People’s has issued a final document following an international symposium on the Pastoral Care of the Road. The document and plan of action offers reflections and recommendations highlighting the scurge of human trafficking and calls on states and governments to “protect with all legal measures children and women earning a living or living on roads and streets, who are often victims of socio-economic inconsistencies and/or human trafficking...”

Christians kidnapped by ISIS released (VIS) At least 50 Christians in Qaryatayn taken hostage last August by jihadists of the Islamic State were released on Sunday 11 October, and were able to return to the villages of Zaydal and Fairuzeh in an area controlled by the Syrian government army. Their release, confirmed by the media linked to the Assyrian community, took place a few hours after the release of Syrian priest Jacques Murad, Prior of the Monastery of Mar Elian, who was carrying out negotiations to restore freedom to more than 200 Christians and Muslims in Qaryatayn still under the control of the jihadists of Daesh...

Pentecostal pastor killed in India (UCANews) A Christian minister was shot dead in eastern India, an act a church leader said points to a trend of terrorizing Christians in the tribal-dominated Jharkhand state. Chamu Hasda Purty, 54, of the Independent Pentecostal Church, was shot dead 12 October in Sandhi village of the state’s Khunti district. Police officials said they are unsure of the motives for the murder and that the attackers are on the run...

Tags: Syria Refugees Jerusalem Palestine Israel

15 October 2015

Dedicated to the Dormition of Mary, this Greek Catholic church in the village of Ieud, in the Maramures district of Transylvania, was returned to the Romanian Greek Catholic Church in 1991.
(photo: George Martin)

The two weeks before Christmas 1989 were more frenzied than usual for Romanians. Fueled by the fall of the Berlin Wall, rallies in the Romanian city of Timisoara, first held to protest the ouster of a popular Protestant pastor, László Tőkés, became anti-Communist marches. Ruthlessly, the Romanian regime’s dreaded secret police, the Securitate, responded by firing on the crowds, killing hundreds. Riots spread to other Romanian cities, including the capital of Bucharest, where civil war soon erupted.

By Christmas morning, the violence had ended as quickly as it had begun: The nation’s dictator, Nicolae Ceauşescu, lay in a pool of blood with his wife, Elena. Both were executed after caught fleeing the capital. A provisional government restored order and began a new chapter in the life of the country, including abrogating orders of the former regime dissolving the Romanian Greek Catholic Church (also called the Romanian Church United With Rome) 41 years earlier.

Greek Catholics prepare to receive the Eucharist in the parish church in Sisesti, a village in the historic Maramures region of Romania. (photo: Daniel Mihailescu/AFP/Getty Images)

Until Ceausescu’s spectacular fall, Romania’s surviving Greek Catholics rarely revealed their faith. Their last known bishops, jailed as “class enemies,” died in prison or under house arrest. Churches, schools and other assets were seized and turned over to the Romanian Orthodox Church, which had absorbed most of the clergy and laity after a government-sponsored synod of Romanian Greek Catholic priests severed ties with Rome in 1948. Now suddenly, in less than a fortnight, the nightmare for Romania’s Greek Catholics had ended, ironically beginning a painful process of regrouping and rebuilding, for which they were ill-prepared.

Who are Romania’s Greek Catholics? And what is the Romanian Church United With Rome? These questions are some of the most controversial in Central Europe. For what motivates this community of faith — who share the Byzantine legacy with their Romanian Orthodox brethren — is their ardor for their nation, which they helped nurture into being, and their union with Rome, itself prompted by their quest for civil rights.

Read a full account of Romania’s Greek Catholics here.

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