6 January 2015
A frankincense farmer cuts the bark of a tree to release resin. (photo: Ilene Perlman)
Today marks the Solemnity of Epiphany, commemorating the visit of the magi to the Christ child, bringing him gold, frankincense and myrrh.
In 2003, we took a closer look at the history behind these legendary gifts, particularly frankincense:
The Egyptians embalmed their kings with frankincense and considered the fruit of the Boswellia or frankincense tree the perfume of the gods that, when collected and preserved correctly, ensured immortality. Pliny noted in the first century A.D. how control of the frankincense trade had made the southern Arabians the richest people in the world. It was said the trees were so valuable that snakes guarded them.
Today, in Oman’s southernmost region of Dhofar, which borders Saudi Arabia’s vast and empty Rub al-Khali desert to the north and west and the upper curve of southern Yemen to the south, the stubby, thorny trees live where little else will. The trees can only grow when a complex set of conditions has been met: limestone soil and a climate with high humidity in a desert that receives little rain.
In Oman, frankincense accounted for three-quarters of the country’s gross national product until the bottom fell out of what was once a thriving trade. The finest grades of frankincense are still used for high-end perfume manufacturing. But gums of all grades can be found in the local souqs, especially “frankincense alley” in the country’s southern port of Salalah and the perfume market at Mutrah Souq in Oman’s capital, Muscat. The people who buy are local, burning it for its antiseptic purposes, perfuming hair with the smoke, chewing it for digestion.
The frankincense trees release their aromatic amber for only a few weeks in late summer. Gathering the resin has been a family-run business for centuries. Then, as now, the harvesting skill has been passed from father to son.
Read the rest in Scents of Time and Place.
5 January 2015
In this image from October, Ethiopian Archbishop Berhaneyesus Demerew Souraphiel of Addis Ababa arrives for the opening session of the extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family at the Vatican. Archbishop Souraphiel, 66, was one of 20 new cardinals named by Pope Francis on 4 January. You can read more about the Ethiopian Catholic Church here. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
31 December 2014
Santa Clauses parade through the streets of Thrissur, India, on 27 December. The Archdiocese of Thrissur created a new Guinness World Record when they assembled 18,112 Santa Clauses on the streets and broke the existing record set by Londonerry, Northern Ireland, with 13,000. Read more about this event here. (photo: CNS/Anto Akkara)
31 December 2014
A girl sits near Christmas decorations in a basement used as a bomb shelter in Donetsk, Ukraine on 30 December. (photo: CNS/Igor Tkachenko, Reuters)
Ukraine turns away from “the worst year since World War II” (Euronews) People in Ukraine are ready to turn their back what the country’s central bank has described as ‘the worst year since World War II’. Many internally displaced Ukrainians will ring in the new year in Kyiv’s Independence Square where violent protests forced former President Viktor Yanukovych to flee in February 2014...
Number of Catholics growing worldwide (Vatican Radio) The number of Catholics in the world has increased with growth registered across all five continents...
Egypt to expand buffer zone near Gaza (AFP) Egypt said Tuesday work will begin next week to double the width of a buffer zone being built along the border with the Gaza Strip to prevent militants infiltrating from the Palestinian enclave...
Church recalls pastoral workers killed in 2014 (Vatican Radio) 2014 was a grim year for the number of Church workers around the world killed by violence or the deadly Ebola virus. In its annual report, Fides, the news agency of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, states that 26 pastoral workers were killed — 3 more than in the previous year...
Over 18,000 Santa Clauses set world record in Kerala (Indo-Asian News Service) The archdiocese of Thrissur in Kerala on Saturday created a new Guinness World Record, when it assembled 18,112 Santa Clauses on the streets and broke the existing record set by Derry in Northern Ireland with 13,000. The event, named “Boun Natale 2014”, was the brainchild of Archbishop Andrews Thazhath, who had last year managed to parade 5,000 Santas...
23 December 2014
Tags: India Ukraine Gaza Strip/West Bank Vatican Kerala
On 26 December 2004, tens of thousands of lives in India were changed forever by one of the deadliest earthquakes and tsunamis in history. More than 200,000 people lost their lives throughout Indonesia.
CNEWA’s program director Thomas Varghese, now based in New York, was working in India at the time. In the video below, he describes what he experienced and saw — and how CNEWA responded to this humanitarian disaster.
23 December 2014
Tags: India Tsunami
Fadi Hazboun, 20, takes a selfie of with his Catholic family from Nazareth in front of the Christmas tree in Manger Square outside the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem, West Bank, on 21 December. Pictured with him are his father, Afif; mother, Nardin; and his 8-year-old brother, Jowan. (photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)
23 December 2014
Tags: Holy Land Bethlehem Palestinians West Bank
Syrian refugees walk at the Zaatari refugee camp in the Jordanian city of Mafraq, near the border with Syria, on 7 December. Pope Francis Tuesday wrote a pre-Christmas letter to the suffering Christians of the Middle East. (photo: CNS photo/Muhammad Hamed, Reuters)
Pope Francis writes letter to Christians in the Middle East (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has written a pre-Christmas letter to the Christians of the Middle East to express his closeness to them at a time of “afflictions and tribulations” due to “the continuing hostilities in the region, but especially because of the work of a newer and disturbing terrorist organization.” Though the Pope does not refer to the organization by name, Islamic State militants in recent months have forced hundreds of thousands of Christians, Yazidis and other minorities from their homes and villages in Iraq. The Pope, who says he follows daily reports of the “enormous suffering endured by many people in the Middle East,” describes the organization “of previously unimaginable dimensions,” responsible for “all kinds of abuses and inhuman acts.” Christians were “brutally driven out of their native lands,” he observes, where they “have been present since apostolic times…”
Israeli who joined ISIS may have citizenship revoked (The Jerusalem Post) Interior Minister Gilad Erdan is considering if he will revoke the citizenship of an Israeli minor who joined joined Islamic State in Syria or Iraq and is now trying to come back home for medical treatment. Erdan said, in an interview with Channel 2 on Monday, that he is waiting for Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman’s recommendation in order to decide how to proceed in revoking the citizenship of Marwan Haldi, a Nazareth resident, before he can return to Israel. “This is someone who was most likely trained to kill as part of the most brutal terror organizations in the world,” Erdan said in a statement to The Jerusalem Post. “It’s up to me to seriously reconsider his return to Israel as well as his continuing to be a citizen…”
Churches burned in Egypt last year are still in ruins (Global Post) Exactly 16 months ago here, as news flowed in of the bloody dispersal of sit-ins in Cairo that left more than 800 supporters of ousted Muslim Brotherhood President Muhammad Morsi dead, angry mobs in this Upper Egyptian city took to the street and attacked churches, shops and other Christian-run establishments. The churches, which the army promised to fix more than a year ago, still stand half-built as Minya’s Copts prepare for another drafty Christmas…
Winter could be a weapon of war in Ukraine (USA Today) A deteriorating humanitarian situation amid the hardship of an approaching winter in east Ukraine is giving the Ukrainian national government an opening to turn the local population against Russian-backed separatists…
Churches in India increase security for Christmas (Times of India) At 178 years, St James Church is Delhi’s oldest. Yet, this Christmas, it will be chary of welcoming visitors after morning service on Thursday due to security concerns and might even not allow anyone in after the ceremony. Other churches in the city are, meanwhile, making arrangements for additional security alongside Christmas preparations…
South African mosque hosts Christmas dinner for Christians (IOL News) The Open Mosque in Wynberg has not suffered a backlash after hosting a Christmas dinner for about 100 Christian guests, says its founder, Dr. Taj Hargey. Dr. Hargey described the dinner on Sunday as a “historic occasion that has never been [seen] anywhere in the world before…”
22 December 2014
Tags: Egypt Ukraine Middle East Israel Copts
The Christmas tree and Nativity scene decorate St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican after a lighting ceremony on 19 December. New LED lighting was also unveiled on the facade and dome of the basilica during the ceremony. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
22 December 2014
Girls at Good Shepherd Social Center in Deir al-Ahmar, Lebanon, make Christmas drawings and decorations for their parents during class on 17 December. More than 300 Syrian refugees ages 5 to 14 attend school at the center. (photo: CNS/Brooke Anderson)
Pope creates new diocese in India (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Monday created a new diocese in southern India’s Tamil state. He erected the Latin rite Diocese of Kuzhithurai in Kanyakumari district, appointing 63-year old Salesian priest, Fr. P. Jerome Dhas Varuvel as its first bishop. The new diocese has been created with territories taken from Diocese of Kottar, making it a suffragan of Madurai Archdiocese. Kuzhithurai Diocese has over 264,000 Catholics in 100 parishes and 123 mission stations spread across an area of 915 sqkm. They are served by 131 priests and 269 religious men and women. The cathedral of the new diocese will be the Church of the Most Holy Trinity at Thirithuvapuram, in Kuzhithurai city...
India’s Christians decry increase in anti-Christian violence (Vatican Radio) The Christian community in India has been feeling a sense of apprehension and fear at the incidents of violence against Churches and their personnel in various parts of the country...
Syrian refugee children get taste of normalcy (CNS) It could be the scene of an ordinary school day anywhere. Just a few days before Christmas, the younger students were making decorations and singing carols downstairs, while the older ones were taking their final exams upstairs. But for the Syrian refugee children at the Good Shepherd Social Center in Deir al-Ahmar, getting an education is something many of their young compatriots are missing...
Hamas conducts rocket tests in Gaza (Jerusalem Post) The IDF said it detected rocket experiments in the Gaza Strip on Monday. During the experiments, Hamas fired rockets from Gaza towards the Mediterranean Sea. Hamas fires rockets into the sea every few days, as part of its weapons program. The launches are used by Hamas arms designers to experiment with various projectile models...
Christmas in Ethiopia (The Guardian) Before dawn, our guide Sefiwe was waiting for our little group to gather. In the darkness, we joined the flocks of white-robed pilgrims and made our way towards the rock-hewn church of Bet Maryam (House of Mary). It was very early morning on 7 January: Christmas Day for the Ethiopian Orthodox church. We were in Lalibela, the town in the northern highlands that Ethiopian Christians consider their Jerusalem...
19 December 2014
Tags: Syria India Lebanon Ethiopia Gaza Strip/West Bank
In this image from 2013, a man lights a candle in a temporary Ukrainian Greek Catholic tent church during anti-government protests in Kiev. (photo: CNS/Tatyana Zenkovich, EPA)
Ukrainian Catholic leaders have warned their church is being driven underground again, according to CNS:
“In Crimea and eastern Ukraine, we’ve already effectively returned to the catacombs,” said Father Ihor Yatsiv, the church’s Kiev-based spokesman.
“It’s a sad paradox that history is being repeated just as we commemorate our liberation. But after a couple of decades of freedom, we again look set to lose our freedom,” he told Catholic News Service on 18 December.
The priest spoke as Ukrainian Catholic communities in Russian-occupied Crimea approached a 1 January deadline for re-registering under Russian law. He said the Byzantine Ukrainian Catholic Church had no legal status in Russia and would therefore be unable, in practice, to register.
Father Yatsiv said Russian and separatist forces had not officially refused to register Ukrainian Catholic parishes, but had ensured it was impossible because of the lack of legal provisions. He added that there was no effective government in separatist-controlled eastern Ukraine, where rebel groups did not recognize Ukrainian Catholics and were “imposing whatever rules and regulations they choose.”
Earlier in December, Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych told Austria’s Kathpress news agency that Crimea’s five Ukrainian Catholic parishes would find themselves “outside the law,” along with the territory’s Latin Catholic, Muslim and breakaway Orthodox communities.
“It’s ironic we’ve just been celebrating the 25th anniversary of our legalization in the former Soviet Union — but our right to legal activity will soon be withdrawn in various parts of our country,” Archbishop Shevchuk told Kathpress Dec. 12.
“There’s clearly no religious liberty already in Crimea and the occupied territories of the east, and I hope the international community will deploy its resources to restoring freedoms in the affected areas,” he said.
Ukrainian Catholics fled Crimea to escape arrests and property seizures after Russia annexed the region in March. Most church parishes have closed in Ukraine’s war-torn Luhansk and Donetsk regions, where separatists declared an independent “New Russia” after staging local referendums last spring.
Ukraine’s Catholic Caritas charity warned on 11 December of a “humanitarian catastrophe” this winter, with 490,000 people now registered as refugees, and 545,000 displaced abroad, mostly in Russia.
The Ukrainian Catholic Church makes up around a tenth of Ukraine’s 46 million inhabitants. It was outlawed under Soviet rule from 1946 to 1989, when many clergy were imprisoned and most church properties seized by the state or transferred to Russian Orthodox possession.