17 January 2019
In this image from 2018, Pope Francis, surrounded by clergy of different Christian traditions, holds an icon as he exchanges gifts with students of the World Council of Churches' Ecumenical Institute at Bossey near Geneva. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
In all of the countries where CNEWA works, from India to the Horn of Africa, Christians will be observing the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Catholics of the Latin and Eastern rites, as well as Orthodox Christians, will pray for the unity of the followers of Christ. This week is especially important for CNEWA because it was initiated 101 years ago by the Rev. Paul Wattson, S.A., who happens also to be one of the co-founders of CNEWA.
The theme for 2019 was chosen by Christians in Indonesia and is taken from Deuteronomy 16:20: “Justice, only justice, you shall pursue.” By choosing the theme of justice, Indonesian Christians wanted to make an important point. Living as they do in the most populous Muslim country in the world, they are acutely aware of two things. First, they realize that they are not only a minority but a divided minority. Many different churches with their believers can be found on the Indonesia archipelago. They realize that their divisions weaken the power of their witness in an overwhelmingly non-Christian environment. And secondly, they are aware of the importance of justice both for themselves and others.
The whole notion of Christian Unity can understandably come across as a rather “churchy” thing that deals with ancient doctrines, rituals, and controversies which many modern people no longer understand and hostilities which many Christians find scandalous. The struggle for Christian Unity can appear to be a rather inward- looking affair, disconnected from the world at large.
The theme of justice, however, adds an important element to the quest for Christian Unity. Unity does not merely look inward; it is profoundly related to the world. All Christians see the Gospel of Jesus as transforming the world. Christians have never and can never be indifferent to the problems we all face: war, oppression, violence, racism, hatred, poverty, etc. The biblical call to justice is a call to Christians to work together to overcome these problems and to transform the world into the Kingdom of God.
The regions in which CNEWA works experience all these challenges. In dealing with the problems mentioned above, we work closely with the different local churches—both Catholic and Orthodox—in service to people who are vulnerable and suffering.
When our efforts are scattered and divided, when there is even competition between churches, the task of seeking justice in our world is significantly weakened. By stressing justice this year, the ideal of Christian Unity is put into a very important context. Christian Unity is not seen primarily in the context of overcoming ancient controversies. Rather Christian Unity is seen in the context of service to the world.
The pursuit of justice to which all Christians are called is weakened and even compromised by our divisions. If Christians see their God-given calling as serving the world and transforming it into the Kingdom of God, we must work to remove any obstacles that make that calling harder to fulfill.
The Christians of Indonesia have given us all a challenge in the theme for the 2019 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity—a challenge both ancient and new: ”Justice, only justice shall you pursue.”
10 January 2019
Tags: Ecumenism Christian Unity Orthodox
Vested in silks and damask, Ethiopia's clergy mark Epiphany with a distinctive liturgy, a reminder of how different countries and cultures have adapted this feast as their own.
(photo: Asrat Habte Mariam)
The Christmas season is composed of several feasts which recount the beginnings of the life of Jesus and his ministry as an adult. Christmas recalls his birth; his baptism is celebrated at the end of the season.
But in the middle of the season is Epiphany. It was celebrated on the Christian calendar last Sunday, 6 January.
Epiphany is built around the account of the visit of the Magi which appears in the Gospel of Matthew and only the Gospel of Matthew. Matthew provides little or no information about this visit. We are told that wise men (magoi) came from the East. We are not told where in the East they came from or even how many there were; but since magoi is plural, Matthew indicates there were more than one. Different traditions count as many as 14, but the common number three is deduced from the gifts—no one came empty-handed.
The lack of details around this event makes it easy to attach popular traditions to it. And we see that in CNEWA’s world, where the celebrations of the Epiphany in the Middle East, in Ethiopia and in southern India are very different. While these traditions are celebrating the same event, they often do so in strikingly different and colorful ways.
The very diversity of the ways Epiphany is celebrated is a sign that Matthew has succeeded very well in what he attempted to do with his rather sparse account: he made the coming of Jesus an event with universal implications and applications. At its heart, this event, Epiphany, tells of an event that builds bridges and breaks down barriers.
It occurs against an interesting backdrop.
It is generally accepted that Matthew was writing for a community of Jews who had become followers of Jesus. As one would expect, they brought their Jewish traditions with them: the Torah, the notion of the chosen people, etc. As Christianity grew, tensions arose. Paul of Tarsus, in particular, attracted a large number of converts from paganism. While Matthew’s readers might expect the converts from paganism — for all practical purposes — to become observant Jews, that was not what Paul did. His converts to Christianity from paganism did not practice circumcision and did not follow the Law of Moses.
At the time of Jesus—and to some extent even today—religions tended to be culturally and linguistically specific. Even though the Greek and Roman cultures were very similar (even worshipping some of the same gods), the “Roman gods” had different names than the “Greek gods.” This reminds us that the major religions of the ancient world were both the source and result of the cultures in which they arose. Because of this, missionary endeavors were extremely rare, if not non-existent, in the pre-Christian world. It was simply assumed that one adhered to the religion of the culture into which they were born. Of course, there were borrowings and “cross pollination,” but the boundaries were clear and, for the most part, accepted.
The idea that a faith would not only be open to but would actively attract people from all cultures and nations was a new and strange one. It was an idea that many of Matthew’s readers would have found very hard to accept — and would have made Christianity difficult to embrace. But Matthew is the ideal teacher. His Gospel is a model of inclusion. If Jewish shepherds are the first to visit the newborn Jesus in Luke’s Gospel, it is the mysterious Magi who play the role of the first visitors in Matthew.
It is important also to note that in neither Gospel are we dealing with a mere visit, a social call. Whether it is the angels in Luke or the star and the dream in Matthew, these “visits” are also an epiphany, a “shining forth,” a revelation.
We know very, very little about the Magi. One thing, however, is certain: they were not Jews. They were foreigners. For Matthew, the first revelation is to the Gentiles. The Messiah was not born for a specific culture, a specific language, much less a specific nation. The Messiah is sent to all humanity.
Tribalism is a natural human characteristic. We tend to gather with those like us. God is “our God.” But the message of Matthew is clear. To see Jesus as the Messiah of any one group, one culture—to say nothing of one nation—is not to see Jesus at all, but merely to see a reflection of our own fears and prejudices.
We need to remember during this time of new beginnings, and the start of a new year, this salient truth: Epiphany means “to shine forth.” It is a movement outward not inward. The Epiphany is the rejection of all racial, cultural or national supremacy or chauvinism. It is a message of inclusion and, even, of hope.
Matthew helps underscore that point with his account of the epiphany. The writer of this Gospel makes sure that the Messiah is Emmanuel, Hebrew for “God-with-us,” and that the “us” in Emmanuel excludes no one of good will.
19 December 2018
Tags: Ethiopia Middle East
In this image from 2016, women light candles before attending Christmas Eve liturgy at the Melkite Catholic Cathedral in Damascus, Syria. (photo: CNS/Youssef Badawi, EPA)
All over the world in the places where CNEWA serves, Christians—Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant—next week will be celebrating Christmas. Earlier in the month Jews around the world celebrated Hanukkah. In different ways both Christmas and Hanukkah are festivals of light.
We human are at times odd creatures. Although we spend as much of our lives in darkness as in light, we are never quite comfortable with darkness. In the modern world we really don’t know what darkness is, other than the condition that exists before we turn on the lights. Blackouts, especially in big cities, become epic events and everyone remembers where they were “when the lights went out.”
For ancient peoples, darkness was far more powerful. What artificial light there was came from candles. While the wealthy might have many candles, the poor had few. When darkness set in, life changed. No one in the ancient world would consider themselves a “night person,” unless they were thieves or robbers.
In the Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments, light is a very important thing. Light is connected with divinity: God dwells in unapproachable light. In the highly sophisticated and even academic Nicean Creed Christ is proclaimed “Light of light.” The prophets often spoke of the people walking in darkness — and in describing the saving power of God, Isaiah (9:2) speaks of the people who walked in darkness seeing a great light, which is God. The psalmist (36:9) calls God the “fountain of light” and goes on to say “in your light we see the light.” Bonaventure, the great Franciscan saint and philosopher, spent a great deal of time thinking about what it means to say “in God’s light we see the light.”
Light and darkness also become metaphors for goodness and evil. One of the documents found among the Dead Sea scrolls was entitled “The Battle of the Children of Darkness with the Children of Light.” Light is good; darkness is not. Jesus himself is the light which enlightens his followers.
Hanukkah, which celebrates the rededication of the Temple after it was desecrated by the Seleucid Greek conquerors, recalls how the menorah was able to remain lit in the Temple for seven days, despite having enough oil for only one day. Hanukkah is for Jews the festival of lights par excellence.
Interestingly, while we Christians spend much of this season stringing lights and lighting candles to mark the birth of Christ, the New Testament is silent as to the time of year in which Jesus was born. It was something which just did not interest the Gospel writers, who were concerned with who Jesus was and what his teachings were. The overwhelming event of the Resurrection made things like the date and circumstances of Jesus’ birth quite secondary. In fact, two of the Gospels—Mark and John—do not mention it at all.
As Christianity took root and grew in the Roman Empire, converts from paganism were familiar with two very important pagan celebrations that took place around the winter solstice—the longest night of the year. Those feasts were the Saturnalia and the feast of Sol invictus, “the unconquerable sun.” These feasts were set at the darkest time of the year but also precisely at the winter solstice, after which the days started to become longer. Both of these festivals were extremely popular with Romans.
Not having a concrete date for the birth of Jesus, Christians opted to take the images of light overcoming darkness of the Roman festivals and to give them new meaning with the birth of Christ, the Light of the World.
As we Christians celebrate Christmas in our electrified world, it might be helpful to reflect a bit on darkness as something more powerful and frightening that merely having the switch off. When we see the darkness of war, suffering, racism, poverty and hatred in our world, the importance of light impresses us. The light of Christ dispels and overcomes that darkness.
In his light, the followers of Christ not only see the light but are ourselves called to become lights, to live in our world as enlightened and illuminating witnesses to the one whose birth we celebrate on Christmas.
13 December 2018
Tags: Christianity Judaism
An Arab couple are married at St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church in Montreal. Migrants and refugees often struggle to maintain their customs, their faith and their culture in a new land.
(photo: Cody Christopulos)
Last week, I looked at how we live in a world of migrants — and how CNEWA seeks to serve that world. But what happens to migrants after they settle in a new place? This is a question and challenge facing all of us.
We at CNEWA describe our mission as “accompanying the Eastern Churches.” Since our beginning over 90 years ago, CNEWA has accompanied the Eastern Churches through some of their most difficult times — through displacement, exile and outright genocide. More recently, since the turn of the millennium, Christians have been under incredible pressure in the Middle East; threats from ISIS, from civil war, from violence and terror of all kinds in the region have forced many to take flight.
As a result, the Christian population in the Middle East has plummeted. Christians of the Middle East form a considerable part of the movement of peoples we wrote about last week. Tens of thousands of Christians are refugees or displaced persons, forced to emigrate from their homes.
We are—or we like to think we are—familiar with the problems these people face. They are fleeing for their lives; their cities, homes, business, schools and very lives have been destroyed. They are struggling to survive. But even after their survival has been assured, even after they have arrived in countries where they are safe, refugees face new and daunting problems.
To begin with, there are problems of how they can practice their faith. Christians refugees from the Middle East often belong to one of the Eastern Churches—the so-called sui juris churches, which are fully Catholic and in communion with Latin Rite Catholics. Like their Orthodox counterparts, these Eastern Catholics are often quite different from their fellow Catholics of the Latin Rite. They have traditions which go back to the time of the Apostles. Their liturgical and sacramental practices are often the things which make these churches most visibly different from Latin Rite Catholics. They traditionally use ancient languages such as Syriac and Coptic. They very often have married clergy, which is now permitted outside their historical territories. Many of these churches have a Patriarch or Major Archbishop. They have a unique spirituality and theology which has sustained them for 2,000 years. But suddenly they find themselves in Germany, Scandinavia, Canada, Australia and to a lesser extent in the United States. Sometimes they are even surrounded by fellow Christians who view their Eastern form of Christianity with confusion and even suspicion.
How do these Christians maintain their traditions, rooted in the culture, theology and languages of the Middle East, in the West of the 21st century?
To me there seems to be two extremes which must be avoided.
The first extreme to avoid is complete assimilation to the new culture. The traditions, foreign as they are to the new cultures, may seem to become quaint and eccentric and ultimately become irrelevant. Often lacking infrastructures for their own churches in a new homeland, these Christians become absorbed into the majority Latin Rite or Protestant churches and, after a few generations, disappear. An important part of their history, thus, is lost.
The second extreme to avoid is the formation of ghettos. ”Little Assyrias,” “Little Chaldaeas,” etc. can spring up where these Christians separate themselves from the surrounding culture and live as if they were still in the Middle East, still speaking their ancient languages and maintaining their customs. While this may work for a while, the younger generations will ultimately resist speaking the language of the immigrant community, separate themselves by adapting to the dominant culture and leave behind shrinking populations of people who are ultimately alienated from their homelands and not integrated into their new country.
We need to remember that despite appearances, Christianity is not exclusively a western European phenomenon. The categories of the Greek and Roman world have played a huge part in the development of Western Christianity. But the operative word here is part. Christianity is far broader, richer and more diverse than Western Christianity alone. A thriving Eastern Christianity is important for the health of all Christians.
As more Eastern Christians settle in the West, and as the horror stories from the Middle East recede into memory, it is easy to forget these people. They are in new countries. They are out of danger; they have new homes, new lives. They are OK—or so it might seem. But we shouldn’t overlook them.
If their physical existence seems secure, in fact, these Christians are facing new challenges that threaten their spiritual existence.
How can they live their faith, so deeply rooted in the East, in a new world? How can they be part of and contribute to their new home countries and at the same time be faithful and authentic to their ancient heritage?
These are questions without easy answers — and merit our time, our study and our prayers.
6 December 2018
Tags: Refugees Migrants Eastern Catholics
This image from January shows one example of modern migration that has become all-too-common: a raft with 112 passengers drifts in the Mediterranean Sea off the Libyan coast before being rescued. (photo: CNS/Yannis Behrakis, Reuters)
On 18 December every year, the United Nations observes International Migrants Day. There are very clear and important legal differences between refugees, displaced persons, asylum seekers and migrants that should not be forgotten. (You can read more about what they mean at this blog post.) These categories are kept separate and distinct by the UN. However, CNEWA works in a world where all of these categories are present — and, at times, massively present. Today, I will look at how the various migrations of peoples have affected the globe and had a significant impact on the world CNEWA serves.
It is important to understand several things. Mass movements of people are not new; as you’ll see below, they have occurred several times in at least past two thousand years. The movements cause untold suffering for those who are displaced. However, they have also caused the destabilization and even destruction of civilizations and cultures which were the “host” or target countries/peoples. The problems caused by these movements often provide demagogues with deceptively easy “solutions,” which are often little more than thinly veiled forms of racism. Nevertheless, the problems and challenges are real.
Let’s look at how these migrations have occurred, and some important examples.
Throughout history people and groups have moved to find better or safer living conditions — at times, doing so in great numbers. There are many causes for this. The biblical book of Ruth speaks of Naomi and her family leaving Judah for Moab because of famine. Over the last 2,000 years there have been times of massive movements of peoples. War and military aggression are among the chief drivers of the mass movement of peoples. The arrival of the Huns on the stage of world history in the 4th to 6th centuries caused massive movements of peoples from Central Asia to the west, fleeing the armies of the Huns. The Huns coming from the east put pressure on the Goths and other “barbarians” who, in turn, pressured and ultimately brought about the collapse of the Roman Empire in the west.
In the late 11th centuries, it was the Mongols, again coming from eastern Asia, that caused great destruction and displacement from central Asia to the eastern shores of the Mediterranean. The Mongols brought the Muslim Abbasid Caliphate to an end and destroyed other kingdoms in Central Asia and the Middle East.
Lastly, the mass movement of Europeans to the “New World” which began in the 16th century had major impact on the indigenous peoples of North and South America, causing the extinction of many native civilizations and cultures. In each of these, climate, military conquest and economic issues all played varying roles.
In the last 20 years, it appears that there is a new mass movement of peoples. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that there are 68.5 million “forcibly displaced” people in the world. That number is broken down into 40 million internally displaced people, 25.4 million refugees and 3.1 million asylum seekers. As has been the case with every massive movement of peoples, this brings with it huge social, political and economic changes, all of which—at least initially—are destabilizing.
While it is common for the media in Europe and the United States to focus on the impact these people have on the situation in Europe and the U.S., in point of fact, the major “hosting countries,”— i.e., countries targeted by the movement of peoples—are Turkey (3.5 million displaced people), Uganda (1.4 million), Pakistan (1.4 million), Lebanon (1 million) and Iran (just under 980,000).
The UN recognizes that this is a humanitarian crisis of the highest magnitude for those people who are displaced. However, it presents almost insurmountable political, social and economic problems for the “hosting countries,” few of which are that economically—and at times politically—stable themselves.
In an attempt to address this, the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration was signed 13 July 2018. While not a treaty and not formally binding under international law, the Compact is an attempt to deal both with the problem both practically and compassionately. The Holy See. especially through its Permanent Observer Mission at the UN, has been active in promoting the Global Compact as a possible way of dealing with the problem. The main goals are not merely to provide for a safe and orderly migration of peoples but also to eliminate those “drivers of migration” that force people to leave their homes— i.e., climate change, war, poverty.
As a papal agency working in areas where the mass movement of peoples has had profound and almost invariably negative impact on all involved, CNEWA encourages our readers to become informed about the issues involved and remain familiar with what the Catholic Church is trying to do to address these important challenges.
Next week, we’ll look at how the various migrations of peoples have had a lasting impact — spreading new traditions, beliefs, practices and cultures to different corners of the world.
29 November 2018
Tags: Refugees Migrants
In this image from May, Pope Francis greets Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople during a meeting in the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
The last day of November holds a special significance for many Christians — and serves to remind us of the much-desired unity for which CNEWA and so much of the Christian world ardently pray.
In his encyclical Ut Unum Sint (That They May Be One) of 25 May 1995, Pope John Paul II wrote of the necessity of the church living and breathing with its “two lungs.” By that he was referring to the Catholic Church including Catholics not only of the Latin Rite but also the many different Orthodox Churches who were not in communion with Rome.
Historically it seemed that once Christians stopped being persecuted, they started arguing with each other. Churches broke relations (communion) with each other starting in the 4th century and continued to do so throughout the centuries. Some of the breaks were not that noticeable; others such as the Great Schism between the Eastern and Western Church in 1054 and the Protestant Reformation which started in 1517 were nothing short of tectonic and impacted major parts of the Christian world.
At the opening of the 20th century, Christianity found itself seriously divided and it seemed that those divisions were incurable. However, there were stirrings of the Spirit among some broad minded Christians, leading them to believe not only that divisions among Christians were wrong but also that they could be healed. The Ecumenical Movement was born.
With Vatican II (1962-65) the Catholic Church formally committed itself to this movement and to work for Christian unity by engaging in dialogue with other Christians. One of the most dramatic ecumenical events to occur took place during the council. Pope Paul VI visited the Holy Land—the first pope to do it since St. Peter. While there, he met with Athenagoras, the Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople in January of 1964. Although the role of the Patriarch of Constantinople among the Orthodox Churches is quite different than that of the pope in the Catholic Church, he is, nevertheless, the “first among equals” and the Ecumenical Patriarch.
The historic meeting ultimately resulted in the lifting of the mutual excommunications which had been promulgated by the two churches in 1054; it also brought about the commitment to engage in dialogue and the pledge of regular visits between the Phanar (the cathedral of the Patriarch of Constantinople) and the Holy See. It was decided that the patriarch would visit or send a delegation to the Holy See every year on 29 June, the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, the patron saints of Rome. The Holy See would return the visit every year on 30 November, the feast of St. Andrew, patron saint of Byzantium.
The initial meetings were cordial, ceremonial and, of course, very important. Sometimes the patriarch himself came to Rome and the pope went to the Phanar in Istanbul. More often, high level delegation exchanged visits to celebrate the feast of the other church.
Over the decades what had begun as a cordial and ceremonial—though important—event has evolved into the meeting of friends and brothers. The small steps of rapprochement made by Pope Paul and Patriarch Athenagoras in the Holy Land, have evolved into a deep friendship and cooperation between Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew and the Catholic and Orthodox Churches.
When the representatives of Pope Francis celebrate the Feast of St. Andrew tomorrow in Istanbul, they are representing two friends—Francis and Bartholomew—who have not only met several times but have worked together in issues such as the environment, world peace and the plight of refugees.
CNEWA’s world is deeply rooted in places where Orthodox Christians are in the majority. The yearly meetings between the pope and patriarch are signs to us that in a world of nationalism, xenophobia—if not downright hatred of “the Other”—and division, the “two lungs of the church” are working together to breathe new life in the two major Christian traditions of the world.
15 November 2018
Tags: Pope Francis Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople
Pope Francis exchanges gifts with Catholicos Gewargis III, patriarch of the Church of the East, left, during a private audience on 9 November at the Vatican.
(photo: CNS/Gregorio Borgia, pool via Reuters)
Shortly after the Ascension of Jesus, his followers moved out into the world beyond Jerusalem. Jerusalem was, in a sense, at the center of the known world. Situated at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea, Jerusalem could look to the west and see the Roman Empire and its deeply rooted Greek culture; looking to the east, it would see the whole Asian continent. With Peter and Paul, Christianity moved westward, took root and grew. That is one reason why, when most modern Christians think of Christianity, they think specifically of Western Christianity. The truth, however, is that Christianity also moved eastward and entered a world very different from that of Europe and the Mediterranean.
From that, a different type of Christianity evolved, separated from and often unknown to Christians of the West.
One of the places CNEWA works, of course, is the Middle East; there, one can find some of the most ancient Eastern churches, which date back to the times of the apostles. CNEWA works with all of them. One of these churches is the Church of the East. It is sometimes known as the Assyrian Church of the East and, less accurately, the Nestorian Church.
The Church in the East flourished in the Persian Empire. Since the Persian and Roman Empires were almost constantly at war, Eastern Christians had little contact with their co-religionists in the West. But the achievements of these Eastern Churches were remarkable — and to many Christians in the West, perhaps, largely unknown. There were Assyrian Christian churches in China 1,000 years before the arrival of Francis Xavier. When Charlemagne was crowned by the pope on Christmas Day 800, there was already an Assyrian metropolitan (archbishop) in Tibet!
The first five centuries of Christianity saw a great deal of conflict between Christians over the nature of Christ and salvation. This led to bitter and, at times, violent conflicts between Christians. The Emperor in Byzantium enforced — often violently — the “orthodox” position throughout the empire, although many Christians resisted it.
To some extent, the Church of the East was involved in these controversies. The high (or low) point of the conflict was in the bitter exchanges between Nestorius, Patriarch of Constantinople and Cyril, Patriarch of Alexandria in Egypt. However, politics and geography ended up being more important than theology; and the Church of the East went its own way.
It has a famous school of theology in Nisibis in modern day Turkey, which produced many theologians. These scholars, working in Syriac, a Semitic language, developed their own theology simply outside the context and controversies of Western Christianity.
As a result, the Church of the East has an ancient theology about the nature of Christ that was developed in a Syriac — and not Greek-speaking — world. Although Assyrian Christians were uncomfortable with some of the theological expressions of Western Christianity — such as the title theotokos, “God-bearer,” for Mary — for the most part, their Christology developed independently and without much interaction with the West.
With the advent of the ecumenical movement and with increasing familiarity with the Eastern churches, the Catholic Church began a dialogue with the Church of the East. Accustomed to Byzantine, Protestant and other western theologies, the Catholic Church encountered a very different theological framework in the Church of the East. With great courage and openness, the two churches dealt with their very different attempts to articulate the nature of Christ.
After long and deep dialogue, the Catholic Church and the Church of the East produced a “Common Christological Declaration” on 11 November 1994. The statement declared: “Whatever our Christological divergences have been, we experience ourselves united today in the confession of the same faith n the Son of God who became man so that we might become children of God by his grace.”
While the agreement may not have caused great excitement in the ecumenical world, it was and remains a profound moment in the history of the ecumenical movement and the history of Christian theology. It was, however, an important sign that catholicity is not the same as uniformity. The agreement recognized that there can be different ways of looking at and expressing some very important things — such as the nature of the Incarnation.
It also made clear that those differences need not be a cause for division — to say nothing of hatred and violence.
Nearly 25 years later, it stands as a sign of hope.
Related: Profile of The Church of the East
8 November 2018
Tags: Syria Church of the East
Germans pass by the broken shop window of a Jewish-owned business in Berlin that was destroyed in 1938 during Kristallnacht. That year, from 9 to 10 November, Nazis in Germany torched synagogues and vandalized Jewish homes and schools. (photo: CNS photo/United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Md.)
It has been said that, though history does not repeat itself, it certainly does rhyme. More academically and more ominously, the philosopher George Santayana is reputed to have said, “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
Eighty years ago on the night of 9 November, there were riots in Germany. Because of the amount of broken glass on the street, the night is remembered in history as Kristallnacht, literally “the night of crystal,” or the Night of Broken Glass. Synagogues were torched and Jewish business destroyed. The Fasanenstrasse Synagogue in Berlin was burned and photos of the ruins have become icons of the horrors to follow. On that night 100 Jews were killed. In the days that followed, more than 30,000 Jews were arrested and government restrictions on Jews became increasingly harsher. The supposed cause for the riots was “patriots” responding to the assassination of the Nazi diplomat Ernst van Rath by a 17-year-old Polish-German Jew in Paris.
Almost exactly 80 years after Kristallnacht, an American hater of Jews in Pittsburgh brought an assault weapon and hand guns to the Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill, a neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Shouting “death to Jews,” he killed 11 worshippers, among whom were three octogenarians and one 97-year-old. This occurred at the end of a week in which bombs were mailed to prominent political figures in the United States.
In a country where mass shootings are quite literally a weekly occurrence — we are seeing it again this very day, in Thousand Oaks, California — it is easy to become numb to the violence and write it off as the work of another crazy person. That would be a big mistake. Words and actions have effects. Those familiar with Nazi Germany found the torch-carrying, anti-Jew-shouting neo Nazi demonstrators in Charlottesville, Virginia, eerily similar to the Party Rallies held in Nuremberg, Germany, from 1927-1939 — torch processions and all. While one may not be able to draw a direct and causal connection between Charlottesville and Squirrel Hill, it is naïve in the extreme to consider the two events merely coincidences.
Anti-Semitism is a recurring cancer in Western society and culture. Recognizing the role it played in the anti-Semitism and anti-Jewish rhetoric of the past, the Catholic Church in Vatican II rejected all forms of anti-Semitism and even declared it a sin. Every pope since John XXIII (d. 1963) has condemned anti-Semitism.
Like any cancer, when it comes to anti-Semitism it is important to remain vigilant. We can never assume that the hateful fires of Kristallnacht are out forever. They can tragically flare up at any time. Vigilance requires awareness. We must be aware both individually and communally that anti-Semitism is a sin and that it persists. One cannot hate Jews and be a good Catholic or Christian at the same time. Pope Francis himself told a group of rabbis just days ago, ”A Christian cannot be an anti-Semite; we share the same roots. It would be a contradiction of faith and life. Rather, we are called to commit ourselves to ensure anti-Semitism is banned from the human community.”
As an agency of the Holy See committed to interreligious dialogue and understanding, we at CNEWA can only echo that sentiment with a heartfelt “Amen.”
Times of great division, times of racial hatred and times of authoritarian governments throughout the world are times which have historically been fertile grounds for anti-Semitism. With Pope Francis and his predecessors, all Catholics need to stand against anti-Semitism and anything that nurtures it in our communities and our world.
25 October 2018
Archbishop Bernadito Auza serves as the Holy See's Permanent Observer at the United Nations. (photo: Vatican Media)
On 24 October every year the world observes United Nations Day. This week, then, offers us an opportunity reflect on the important work of this body—and the Holy See’s involvement in it. CNEWA, as an agency of the Holy See, has significant interest in what the United Nations does — and it often impacts our work.
The United Nations or the UN was formed in 1945 immediately after World War II. The planet had experienced two major wars within a 30-year period. It has been estimated that up to 80 million people died in both wars; cities were leveled, populations were displaced and there was unimaginable suffering. Although the horror of those wars ominously seems to have faded for many people, the UN was founded precisely to prevent war, which was then rightly seen as the worst of all possibilities for humanity.
The UN consists of three different groupings: the Member States, which includes the General Assembly and the Security Council; UN Agencies such as UNESCO, UNICEF, etc.; and civil societies which consists of Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) who engage in advocacy for causes such as peace, disarmament, human rights, etc.
There are 193 sovereign member states at the UN. Each of these countries maintains a Permanent Mission to the UN in New York and often in Geneva. The head of the mission is the Permanent Representative, who holds the rank of ambassador and is often referred as such and such a country’s “ambassador to the UN.” All of these countries form the UN General Assembly (GA), which meets in plenary session every year in September but can meet at any other time. The GA works on issues that are before it on any number of issues, many of which result in conventions by which member states bind themselves by treaty to follow, maintain and enforce certain issues.
The UN Security Council (SC) consists of five permanent members (the P5): China, France, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States, each of whom enjoys absolute veto power over measures brought to the Council. Ten member states are elected by the General Assembly to serve on the Council for two-year terms.
In addition to the 193 sovereign member states, the UN recognizes two Permanent Observer Missions: the Holy See and Palestine. The Holy See, which has diplomatic relations with 180 states, was admitted to Permanent Observer status in 1964 and to full Observer Status in 2004. With full Observer Status, the Holy See has all the rights of a member state in the General Assembly except the right to vote.
The Holy See has a Permanent Observer Mission and a Permanent Observer Representative at the UN. The Permanent Representative of the Holy See to the UN is an archbishop with the rank of Nuncio. The Holy See is an active and effective member of the UN community as it advocates for, among other things, peace, disarmament, ecological responsibility, quality of life issues and very many others. One recent example: just last month, on 25 September 2018 Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, the Holy See’s Secretary for Relations with States, addressed the UN General Assembly advocating for the abolition of the death penalty. Although the Holy See is not a full member of the General Assembly, it plays a visible and important role in promoting peace and justice issues, serving in some ways as the conscience of the body.
The present and sixth Permanent Observer Representative is Archbishop Bernadito Auza, who was appointed on 1 July 2014. Archbishop Auza has shown himself to be an expert in increasing the visibility and, hence, effectiveness of the Holy See at the UN, especially through timely, strategic and informative conferences and side events. Through his work, the Holy See is an active participant in the issues affecting the contemporary world.
CNEWA has been accredited as an NGO at the UN for three decades, and I have been working at the UN for over 12 years, seven of which have been for CNEWA. It has been a fruitful and fascinating partnership, as CNEWA works with other NGOs to promote peace and justice in the Middle East — working with topics such as children’s rights, refugees and freedom of religion.
As we mark United Nations Day this week, it is good to recall the vital work the UN undertakes on behalf of the global community — and remember, as well, how all of us in the Christian community are called to work for unity and peace.
18 October 2018
Tags: United Nations
Russian Orthodox worshippers pray during a liturgy in 2017 at St. Isaac's Cathedral in St. Petersburg. (photo: CNS/Anatoly Maltsev, EPA)
Editor’s note: Monday, the Christian world was rocked by the news that the Patriarchate of Moscow, which governs the Orthodox Church of Russia, was breaking its ties with the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.
While the history behind this is long and complex, its effects today cannot be ignored or easily dismissed. Millions of Christians around the world could ultimately be affected — especially those in the world of CNEWA.
Here’s a brief Q &A with Elias D. Mallon, S.A., Ph.D. , in which he addresses some of the questions we had about this break and its significance.
Okay. So the patriarchate in Moscow has announced it is breaking relations with the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople. What does that mean?
Initially it means that the Orthodox Church of Russia will no longer pray for the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. It can develop to the point where Russian Orthodox Christians will no longer be able to attend the liturgies of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and that Russian Orthodox bishops and priests will not be able to concelebrate liturgies with those Orthodox churches in full communion with the Ecumenical Patriarchate. In other words, they are no longer in full communion. It is technically an excommunication.
Why are they doing this?
Because the Ecumenical Patriarch has begun the process which leaves room for a fully autonomous Orthodox Church of Ukraine. The Patriarch of Constantinople, who is considered the “first among equals” in the Orthodox communion of churches, traditionally has the right to do this. The Moscow Patriarchate, however, believes that Ukraine is part of its ecclesiastical territory.
What are the immediate effects of this?
Probably cessation of talks and relations between Moscow and Constantinople.
How does this impact those we serve?
CNEWA works in Ukraine where there are four Christian — three Orthodox and one Catholic — churches. While working primarily with the Catholic Church, CNEWA maintains good relations with the other churches. This will be greatly complicated and hostilities both old and new might surface.
Has this happened before?
Yes, this has happened before. Tragically, schisms remain a seemingly unavoidable part of Christian history. There were schisms after most of the Ecumenical Councils of the first five centuries; there was the schism between the East and West in 1054 and the great schism in the west brought on by the Reformation. Also, there have been schisms in the last two centuries involving other patriarchates, but these were healed eventually.
Why should we care?
A divided and mutually hostile Christianity is contrary to the will of Christ and undermines the ability of the church in preaching the Gospel. It took almost 1500 years to begin to heal the schisms of the first five centuries; discussions to heal the schism of 1054 are sporadic and of very varying success; the divisions of the Reformation, while showing some tractability, are still strong. This could have a lasting impact on any efforts to advance Christian Unity. With this in mind, we should fervently pray — as Jesus did in John’s Gospel — ”that all may be one.”
Tags: Ecumenism Russian Orthodox Church