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2 April 2013
Pope Francis visits the excavated necropolis below St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican on 1 April. The necropolis is where St. Peter’s tomb has been venerated since early Christian times and where the first church dedicated to him was built. The tomb is two levels below the main altar of the modern basilica. (photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)
Yesterday, Pope Francis became the first pope to tour what is believed to be the burial site of St. Peter. CNS reports:
Kneeling before the tomb of St. Peter, Pope Francis repeated the three professions of faith the Gospels report the apostle making: “Lord, you are the Christ, the son of the living God,” “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life,” and “Lord, you know everything; you know I love you.”
Cardinal Angelo Comastri, archpriest of St. Peter’s Basilica, said Pope Francis made the three professions on 1 April while kneeling on the marble floor of the Clementine Chapel, facing a grill that allows visitors to see the back of what is believed to be St. Peter’s tomb.
“It was moving for us to hear the pope, who took these words of Peter and made them live again, because today it is his mission to continue the mission Jesus entrusted to Peter,” the cardinal told Vatican Radio.
Cardinal Comastri accompanied Pope Francis on a late-afternoon tour of the excavated necropolis where St. Peter is buried. Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said Pope Francis was the first pope to tour the site, walking the path between mostly second-century burial vaults to the tomb.
Read more at the CNS link.
2 April 2013
Tags: Pope Francis Vatican Saints
The Russian military's Orthodox chapel can be deployed wherever soldiers may be stationed. (photo: Russian Airborne Force)
Now, an unorthodox kind of church for Orthodox soldiers.
From the Guardian:
The Russian military unveiled an unlikely new weapon in its arsenal this month — an army of parachuting priests. The unit of chaplains, who have joined the Russian Airborne Force to train in parachute jumping and vehicle assembly, will operate out of flatpack churches that can be airlifted in to wherever soldiers may be stationed.
The church could be mistaken for a standard-issue army cabin, taking the form of a khaki-colored shed on wheels, were it not for the cladding of gilded icons and the majestic onion dome spire sprouting from its rooftop. The mobile prayer room has also been fitted with a “life-sustaining module”, which includes a diesel power source, an air-conditioning unit and a fridge, reported Russia Today.
The chapel is flown in as a kit of parts, delivered via the kind of airborne platform usually used to carry armored vehicles and other heavy military equipment, and is then assembled on the ground. Within, the gilded interior incorporates crucifixes, bells and icons, as well as a mini theatre — which can be extended sideways with additional wings, thus forming the cross-shaped plan of an Orthodox church.
The initiative has not gone without controversy in the Russian government, where debate rages over the cost of rearmament and rising military spending.
While the Russian army insists this is the first ever flying chapel in the world, Orthodox Christianity is not the first to bring mobile worship to the battlefield. The Israeli Defense Force launched a mobile synagogue initiative in 2011 to allow troops to pray more comfortably as they operate the Iron Dome anti-missile system in southern Israel. The UK Friends of the Association for the Wellbeing of Israel’s Soldiers (UKAWIS) has provided such mobile synagogues — which contain an ark, reader’s platform and washbasin — as “a source of spiritual sustenance [for the soldiers] as they carry the weight of Israel’s security on their shoulders”.
2 April 2013
Tags: Russia Russian Orthodox Church Priests Church
The video above from CNS shows highlights of Pope Francis celebrating his first Holy Week and Easter. You can read more about the pope’s Easter message, the traditional “urbi et orbi,”
at this link.
In Easter messages, church leaders call for peace in Syria (CNS) In Easter messages, Catholic patriarchs in the Middle East highlighted the need for an end to the war in Syria, now entering its third year. Cardinal and Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter appealed “to the disputants in Syria, who are so intent in demolishing the homes of peaceful citizens, [the country’s] institutions and history, and the killing of dozens of innocent people a day … we appeal to them to put away their arms and refuse the money given to them from the outside world, whose interest is only to demolish Syria and other Arab countries…”
Report: March deadliest month in Syrian war (CNN) The brutal civil war in Syria claimed more than 6,000 lives in March alone — making it the deadliest month since the conflict began a little more than two years ago, the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported Monday. The group said 6,005 people were killed in Syria last month. That’s more than all the deaths that occurred in the first nine months of the war. “This will become the new normal, and the death toll figures will continue to rise,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, the head of the observatory.
Priest from Kerala killed in Bangalor (New Indian Express) A 62-year-old rector was found murdered inside St. Peter’s Pontifical Seminary, located next to a church early Monday. The police said the assailants escaped with some valuables after striking the rector’s head with a blunt weapon before strangling him. The victim, Father K. J. Thomas, a native of Kerala, had been staying at the seminary for the past five years. He was the managerial as well as spiritual head of the church and used to train priests…
Hope for a unified Easter (Catholic Register) When Catholics sat down to Easter dinner on 31 March, Orthodox Christians still had most of Lent ahead of them as they wait for Easter Sunday on 5 May. Why would Christians be so divided about something as fundamental as Easter, the one day that stands at the heart of the faith? Getting all Christians to celebrate Easter together would be a major step forward in ecumenical relations, said Father Damian MacPherson, the archdiocese of Toronto’s ecumenical and interfaith affairs director…
Exploring Christianity’s Ethiopian roots (Ebony.com) Christianity reportedly arrived in North Africa in the latter part of first century A.D. or the early part of the second, while “the adoption of Christianity in Ethiopia dates to the fourth-century,” according to findings by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Bible also documents the conversion of an Ethiopian eunuch as the early church was forming. Likewise, Moroccan explorer Ibn Battuta mentions Christians in Nubia (an area that covers present-day northern Sudan and southern Egypt) in his 14th century travelogue. But when Europeans penetrated Sub-Saharan Africa in the 16th Century, ultimately mining the region for Africans to enslave, the historical narrative shifts which is perhaps why many associate the religion most with Europeans to this day…
28 March 2013
Tags: Syrian Civil War Ecumenism Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter Indian Catholics Ethiopian Christianity
In this image from Holy Week in 2009, Christians in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem pray at the Stone of Unction, the place where the body of Jesus was prepared for burial. (photo: CNS/Yannis Behrakis, Reuters)
27 March 2013
Tags: Middle East Jerusalem Easter Christian Church of the Holy Sepulchre
A child prays during liturgy in Santhithadam, India. (photo: Sean Sprague)
Several years ago, we paid a visit to a valley in Kerala where some enterprising families had established a small community of Christians:
Santhithadam means “Valley of Peace” in Malayalam, the language of Kerala.
Located at the end of a nearly impassable dirt road, Santhithadam is indeed a peaceful valley hidden away in one of the most remote corners of Kerala, in southwest India. While much of Kerala is overcrowded, its many people competing for limited farmland, Santhithadam is an exception.
Not far from the border with Tamil Nadu and set on the high Attapaddy plateau, the area was thinly populated by scattered tribes for centuries. Then, about 30 years ago, 76 families settled in Santhithadam from the crowded south, including 40 Syro-Malabar Catholic families from Kottayam, Kerala’s Christian heartland.
The families who settled in Santhithadam were like pioneers arriving at a new frontier. These economic migrants had given up their former lives, knowing there would be no turning back. What tiny plots of land they had owned in Kottayam were sold and replaced in Santhithadam with larger plots, ripe for development and cultivation. But at the time, many of these hard-working people did not know what they were facing.
Read more about Kerala’s Brave New Frontier in the July 2003 issue of the magazine.
26 March 2013
Tags: India Kerala Syro-Malabar Catholic Church Indian Christians Farming/Agriculture
Jesus falls the first time, the third Station of the Cross, is depicted in the prayer book for the Way of the Cross service on Good Friday at Rome’s Colosseum. The Via Crucis prayer book is illustrated with works discovered in Bethlehem and attributed to an unknown 19th-century Palestinian Franciscan artist. (image: CNS)
The Vatican has released the text of the Way of the Cross that Pope Francis will pray on Good Friday — and it has some strong connections to the people of the Middle East and to the world of CNEWA.
Meditating on Christ’s passion and the ways people contribute to his suffering, Lebanese youths lamented the ongoing emigration from and violence in the Middle East, divisions among Christians, the abuse of women and children, and the promotion of abortion.
But despite the hardships, horrors and despair, Christians are called to walk with Christ because “suffering, embraced in faith, is transformed into the path to salvation,” the youths said in meditations for the 29 March Way of the Cross service at Rome’s Colosseum.
Christians can find hope in bearing their burdens because Christ is with them. However, acceptance does not mean putting an end to one’s dreams, to speaking out and fighting for freedom and the truth, the reflections said.
“God does not want suffering and does not accept evil,” the text said. In fact, people can carry the cross with joy and hope because Christians know Christ “triumphed over death for us.”
A group of Lebanese young people wrote the meditations at the request of retired Pope Benedict XVI; the Vatican released the published text with commentary and prayers on the 14 Stations of the Cross on 25 March.
Each year, the pope chooses a different person or group of people to write the series of prayers and reflections that are read aloud during the solemn, torch-lit ceremony.
The retired pope asked Lebanon’s Maronite Patriarch Bechara Rai to choose the youths and guide their preparation of the texts. The retired pope’s request was meant to recall his 2012 visit to Lebanon and invite the whole church to pray for the Middle East — its tensions and its beleaguered Christian community.
The task of composing the 14 meditations was divided equally among committees from the six rites of the Catholic Church represented in Lebanon: Latin, Maronite, Melkite, Armenian, Syriac and Chaldean. In addition, six Catholic youth groups, a special-needs group and a nongovernmental organization were randomly chosen and assigned a station to focus on.
Participants said they tried to show the biggest challenges facing young people in the Middle East and elsewhere while also showing the Christian vision of hope and resurrection.
Read more here. And you can find the full text at the Vatican website.
25 March 2013
Tags: Lebanon Emigration Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter Prayers/Hymns/Saints Easter
CNEWA works for, through and with the churches of the East to serve those in need — such as this young Iraqi refugee, pictured last year in Amman, Jordan. (photo: John E. Kozar)
Last week, Catholic News Agency profiled some of the urgent work CNEWA is doing right now, particularly in the Middle East:
Catholic Near East Welfare Association is working with local Churches in and around Syria to help refugees and those who have been displaced by the country’s civil war, now beginning its third year.
“Our concern is not just for the Christian community, but for all people who are caught in the middle; the vast majority of people in Syria, as in any part of the world, just want peace,” Michael La Civita, the association’s communications director, told CNA on 18 March.
“They want to get back to normal, to rear their families and cope as best they can, and of course this makes it quite difficult for them, because the violence is just getting worse and worse.”
The Syrian conflict marked its second anniversary last week. On 15 March 2011, demonstrations sprang up nationwide, protesting the rule of Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s president and leader the country’s Ba’ath Party.
In April of that year, the Syrian army began to deploy to put down the uprisings, firing on protesters. Since then, the violence has morphed into a civil war.
United Nation’s estimates show that 70,000 people have been killed in the conflict. More than 1 million refugees have flooded into Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, and inside Syria another estimated 2.5 million are internally displaced.
Catholic Near East Welfare Association works through local Churches to help the poor and partners with the Jesuits, Armenian Catholics, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate and Melkite Greek Catholics.
“They come to us with needs, let us know what they need, and we provide them with the resources, whether its food, gear for children or schools,” La Civita said.
The group helps internally displaced people in Syria, those who have been forced out of their homes. These families are mostly from Homs and Aleppo, in the north and west of the country.
“They lived in the older quarters, and now they’re either in the suburbs or they’ve fled to a place called the valley of Christians, which is still in the hands of the government and is reasonably secure,” he explained.
Read the rest. Want to know what you can do? Take a moment to visit our page devoted to helping Middle East Christians, and make your voice heard!
25 March 2013
Tags: Refugees CNEWA Middle East Eastern Churches
Matzo and drops of wine are seen on a plate at a Seder table. The Jewish ritual feast is celebrated during Passover, the commemoration of the deliverance of the Israelites from Egyptian slavery. (photo: CNS/Nancy Phelan Wiechec)
To mark the beginning of the feast of Passover tonight, Pope Francis has sent a message to Rome’s Jewish community:
”May the Almighty, who freed his people from slavery in Egypt to guide them to the Promised Land, continue to free you from every evil and accompany you with his blessing,” the pope said in the message delivered on 25 March.
Passover, the eight-day commemoration of God freeing the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt, was set to begin that evening.
Thanking Rabbi Riccardo di Segni, chief rabbi of Rome, for attending his inaugural Mass on 19 March and his meeting with religious leaders the next day, Pope Francis said, “I am particularly pleased to extend to you and the entire Rome community my most fervent wishes for the great Passover feast.
“I ask you to pray for me, while I assure you of my prayers for you, trusting that we can deepen the bonds of esteem and mutual respect,” the pope said.
On the website of Rome’s Jewish community, Rabbi di Segni said he appreciated the message and planned to respond with a message wishing the pope and Rome’s Christians a happy Easter.
22 March 2013
Tags: Pope Francis Catholic-Jewish relations Christian-Jewish relations Jewish Catholic-Jewish Dialogue
Pope Francis shakes hands as he greets diplomats during an audience with the Vatican diplomatic corps in the Apostolic Palace’s Sala Regia on 22 March. (photo: CNS/Tony Gentile, Reuters)
Pope Francis this morning met with nearly 200 members of the diplomatic corps, and spoke powerfully and poignantly about the church’s mission in the world:
As you know, there are various reasons why I chose the name of Francis of Assisi, a familiar figure far beyond the borders of Italy and Europe, even among those who do not profess the Catholic faith. One of the first reasons was Francis’ love for the poor. How many poor people there still are in the world! And what great suffering they have to endure! After the example of Francis of Assisi, the church in every corner of the globe has always tried to care for and look after those who suffer from want, and I think that in many of your countries you can attest to the generous activity of Christians who dedicate themselves to helping the sick, orphans, the homeless and all the marginalized, thus striving to make society more humane and more just. But there is another form of poverty! It is the spiritual poverty of our time, which afflicts the so-called richer countries particularly seriously. It is what my much-loved predecessor, Benedict XVI, called the “tyranny of relativism,” which makes everyone his own criterion and endangers the coexistence of peoples. And that brings me to a second reason for my name. Francis of Assisi tells us we should work to build peace. But there is no true peace without truth! There cannot be true peace if everyone is his own criterion, if everyone can always claim exclusively his own rights, without at the same time caring for the good of others, of everyone, on the basis of the nature that unites every human being on this earth.
One of the titles of the Bishop of Rome is “pontiff” — that is, a builder of bridges with God and between people. My wish is that the dialogue between us should help to build bridges connecting all people, in such a way that everyone can see in the other not an enemy, not a rival, but a brother or sister to be welcomed and embraced! My own origins impel me to work for the building of bridges. As you know, my family is of Italian origin; and so this dialogue between places and cultures a great distance apart matters greatly to me, this dialogue between one end of the world and the other, which today are growing ever closer, more interdependent, more in need of opportunities to meet and to create real spaces of authentic fraternity. In this work, the role of religion is fundamental. It is not possible to build bridges between people while forgetting God. But the converse is also true: it is not possible to establish true links with God, while ignoring other people. Hence it is important to intensify dialogue among the various religions, and I am thinking particularly of dialogue with Islam. At the Mass marking the beginning of my ministry, I greatly appreciated the presence of so many civil and religious leaders from the Islamic world. And it is also important to intensify outreach to non-believers, so that the differences which divide and hurt us may never prevail, but rather the desire to build true links of friendship between all peoples, despite their diversity.
Fighting poverty, both material and spiritual, building peace and constructing bridges: these, as it were, are the reference points for a journey that I want to invite each of the countries here represented to take up.
The entire text can be read at the Vatican news site.
22 March 2013
Tags: Pope Francis Unity Ecumenism Christian Unity Dialogue
Ethiopian children gather on a rural hillside. (photo: Christian Molidor, R.S.M.)
Several years ago, we took readers to Ethiopia for a closer look at the diverse traditions of its peoples:
The peoples of Ethiopia have long experienced constant interaction through trade, warfare, religious activities, migration and intermarriage.
Although Christians and Muslims have often found themselves as antagonists in territorial disputes, the two faith communities share in many of the same observances.
Large numbers of Christians and Muslims attend an annual sacrifice at Lake Bishoftu, a fertility rite of pagan Oromo origins. Members of both faiths also participate in an annual pilgrimage to the Harege region to honor the archangel Gabriel.
Non-Christians also join Ethiopian Christians in their celebration of the Finding of the True Cross, a two-day festival known as Meskel, as well as the Christian celebration of Temqat, or the feast of the Epiphany.
No matter their religious or ethnic identities, Ethiopians also share a number of cultural traits. Belief in active spirits such as the evil eye, a ban on the consumption of pork, a ritual calendar, pilgrimages and monotheism are just some of the many beliefs and practices common to the great majority of the Amhara, Tigrinyans, Falasha, Kman, Oromo, Somali and Haddiya of every faith community.
Despite these similarities and the modernization and consolidation efforts of Ethiopian governments starting in the late 19th century, Ethiopia is not a single national society.
Sadly, poverty is probably the only characteristic common to most every Ethiopian. The country is overwhelmingly poor, with most of the population engaged in subsistence farming. Degraded lands, poor cultivation and frequent droughts have left the country periodically unable to feed its people.
Read more about the Ethiopian people in the July 2004 issue of ONE.
Tags: Ethiopia Cultural Identity Christian-Muslim relations Farming/Agriculture Ethiopian Christianity