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September, 2018
Volume 44, Number 3
  
11 March 2014
Greg Kandra




Mother Plagia Sayyaf of Mar Thecla monastery in Maaloula, Syria, left, who along with at least 11 other nuns was freed after three months, attends a prayer service at the Greek Orthodox Church of the Holy Cross in Damascus on 10 March. Islamist rebels claim ed responsibility for the abduction of the nuns in December from Syria's ancient town of Maaloula.
(photo: CNS/Khaled al-Hariri, Reuters)


Syria claims it freed 25 prisoners in exchange for nuns ( Al Jazeera) Syria freed only 25 prisoners, not 150 as had been reported, in exchange for a group of kidnapped nuns, the country’s information minister Omran al-Zoubi has said. The statement came despite mediators and the opposition saying 150 female detainees had been freed in exchange for the nuns, who were kidnapped from the town of Maalula by rebels fighters last year. “The number of people released in exchange for the Maalula nuns is not more than 25 people, whose hands had not been stained by the blood of the Syrian people,” state news agency SANA quoted Zoubi as saying. “Everything that has been said on this issue is not accurate and has been exaggerated...”

Catholic officials call release of nuns an answer to prayers (CNS) The release of at least 12 Greek Orthodox nuns who were abducted in Syria in December was an answer to prayers, said regional Catholic officials. Melkite Patriarch Gregoire III Laham said 10 March that he felt “a wave of joy” along with “thousands and thousands” of other people when he heard the nuns had been freed a day earlier. Islamist rebels claimed responsibility for the abduction of the nuns in December from Syria’s ancient town of Maaloula, where Aramaic, the language of Jesus, is still spoken. Two Orthodox bishops and three priests, including an Armenian Catholic and Italian Jesuit, also have been abducted in Syria and remain missing...

Ukraine’s ousted leader urges resistance to new government (The New York Times) As Russia tightened its grip on Crimea, Ukraine’s ousted president appealed on Tuesday to the country’s military units to refuse to follow the orders of the new interim authorities, declaring that he remained commander in chief and would return to the country as soon as conditions permitted. Appearing in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don for the first time since the scale of Russia’s intervention in Crimea became evident, the ousted leader, Viktor F. Yanukovych, denounced the West for rushing to recognize and to provide financial assistance to a government he said was a junta...

Orthodox to hold a pan-Orthodox synod in 2016 (Catholic World News) The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople will preside over a pan-Orthodox council in 2016, according to a statement from the patriarchate. The decision to hold a pan-Orthodox council — officially called the “Holy and Great Synod of the Orthodox Church” — was announced at the conclusion of a meeting of all the heads of the Eastern Orthodox churches. During the meeting, the leaders also discussed the situation in Syria and Ukraine...

Communists and Catholics forge alliance in India (UCANews.com) The Communist party in Kerala has thrown its support behind five Christian candidates in the southern Indian state, a traditionally Christian stronghold, in the country’s forthcoming national elections. The move highlights a bridging of the divide between communists and Christians in the state, as well as a growing disaffection between Christians and the ruling Congress party, particularly over the issue of the government’s plans to protect the Western Ghats, a hilly region that runs through Kerala. Christians, who comprise less than 20 percent of the state’s 30 million population, have been politically decisive in some pockets of the state’s electorate and are traditionally strong backers of the Congress party...



10 March 2014
Greg Kandra




Pope Francis arrives for a weeklong Lenten retreat with senior members of the Roman Curia in Ariccia, near Rome, on 9 March (photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

Pope Francis is taking a break as Lent begins. Vatican Radio reports:

Pope Francis is in the hillside town of Ariccia just south of Rome for a week-long Lenten retreat with members of the Curia. The Pope left the Vatican Sunday afternoon by bus — just a few hours after reciting the Angelus prayer with the faithful in St. Peter’s Square.

Breaking from a long-held tradition of holding them in the Vatican, Pope Francis decided to organize this year’s annual retreat from 9-14 March at the Pauline Fathers’ retreat and conference center in Ariccia. The small medieval town is not far from the papal summer residence of Castel Gandolfo. And, in choosing to get away from the Vatican and the daily pressures of curia work and duties, Pope Francis is telling us silence and prayer can have a transforming power in one’s life and relationships with others.

In an interview last week in the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, Pope Francis said annual retreats should be given more importance and “everyone has a right to spend five days in silence and meditation.” And, speaking to a group of spiritual directors in audience in the Vatican, the Pope said those who go on an “authentic” retreat “experience the attraction and fascination of God and return renewed and transfigured in their daily lives, their ministry and their relationships.”

Msgr. Angelo De Donatis, pastor of a parish in the center of Rome, is preaching for the Pope and curia officials this week. A respected spiritual director of priests and seminarians, Msgr. De Donatis is reflecting on the theme of “the purification of the heart” in his mediations throughout the week.

Read more about the retreat at the Vatican Radio website.



10 March 2014
Greg Kandra




A boy cries as he stands amid rubble of collapsed buildings at a site hit by what activists said was a barrel bomb dropped by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad in Aleppo on 6 March.
(photo: CNS/Hosam Katan, Reuters)


Kidnapped Syrian nuns freed (The New York Times) Syrian insurgents released 13 nuns and three attendants who disappeared three months ago from their monastery in the ancient Christian town of Maaloula, Lebanese and Syrian officials said early Monday, ending a drama in which rebels said they were protecting the women from government shelling and Syrian officials said they were abducted in an act of intimidation against Christians. The handoff was infused with suspense until the last moment. Officials said Sunday afternoon that the nuns had crossed the mountainous border to Arsal, a pro-rebel town in Lebanon, to be handed off to Lebanese officials and driven to Syria...

Russia condemns “lawlessness” in Ukraine (CNN) Russia accused far-right groups Monday of “conniving” with the new authorities in Ukraine, as pro-Moscow forces consolidated their hold on their neighbor’s Black Sea peninsula. In a statement, the Russian Foreign Ministry condemned “lawlessness” in eastern Ukraine and accused the West of being silent over violence and detentions taking place against Russian citizens, such as one incident last week when it said masked gunmen fired on and injured peaceful protesters...

Bishop of Aleppo writes: “We Christians live in fear” (The Telegraph) Today, the first Sunday of Lent, will see churches crowded across the globe. But here in Syria, where St Paul found his faith, many churches stand empty, targets for bombardment and desecration. Aleppo, where I have been bishop for 25 years, is devastated. We have become accustomed to the daily dose of death and destruction, but living in such uncertainty and fear exhausts the body and the mind...

Catholicism growing in heart of Muslim world (The Boston Globe) Many Americans have heard or read reports about an exodus of Christians out of the Middle East, and in terms of the indigenous Arab Christian population that’s all too real. Christians now make up only 5 percent of the region’s population, down from 20 percent a century ago. In places like Iraq, whole Christian communities are on the brink of extinction. Yet the Arabian Peninsula today is also, improbably, seeing one of the most dramatic Catholic growth rates anywhere in the world. The expansion is being driven not by Arab converts, but by foreign ex-pats whom the region increasingly relies on for manual labor and domestic service...

Pope and World Council of Churches discuss opportunities for Christian Unity (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis and the general secretary of the World Council of Churches, Rev Olav Fykse Tveit, have discussed “new opportunities for Christian unity today”, focused on working together for peace, justice and environmental protection. At a meeting in the Vatican on Friday, the two leaders reaffirmed their commitment to the path of “full and visible communion” among Christians of different denominations. They also talked about peace in the Middle East and on the Korean peninsula, about economic justice and about an upcoming summit of religious leaders to press for urgent action on climate change...

A visit to Kerala: they don’t call it “God’s own country” for nothing (The Washington Post) As grandiose slogans go, Kerala has one of the best: “God’s Own Country,” they call it, an assertion of divine provenance that’s loudly proclaimed on countless signposts and bumper stickers across the state. In most corners of the planet, such a boast would sound unbearably self-satisfied, tourist-oriented branding at its tritest. But here in this prosperous state on the southwest coast of India, it doesn’t sound smug so much as sincere, precise even. “Rest your eyes on our natural splendor,” it seems to say, “and believe...”



4 March 2014
Greg Kandra




Marta Borodayko lights a candle following a prayer service to pray for people in Ukraine on
25 February at St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral in Chicago.
(photo: CNS/Karen Callaway, Catholic New World)




4 March 2014
Greg Kandra




Military personnel, believed to be Russian servicemen, walk in formation outside a Ukrainian military base in Perevalnoye, Ukraine, on 3 March. (photo: CNS/David Mdzinarishvili, Reuters)

Putin calls Ukraine revolt unconstitutional (Associated Press) Russian President Vladimir Putin pulled his forces back from the Ukrainian border on Tuesday yet said Moscow reserves the right to use all means to protect Russians there. He accused the West of encouraging an unconstitutional coup in Ukraine and driving it into anarchy. He also declared that any sanctions the West places on Russia will backfire...

Syria has removed a third of its chemical weapons (Reuters) Syria has shipped out about a third of its chemical weapons stockpile, including mustard gas, for destruction abroad, the global chemical arms watchdog said on Tuesday. The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague said Damascus had now handed over six consignments of the toxic agents it declared to the OPCW as part of a Russian-U.S. deal struck last year...

Syria begins season of Lent (Fides) In Syria, the Eastern Rite Churches have already begun Lent, the liturgical season during which the Christian, with a journey of conversion, fully lives the mystery of the resurrection of Christ in his annual memory. For the third consecutive year, the beginning of Lent is lived by Syrian Christians in a country torn apart by civil war. “In our parishes” the Armenian Catholic Archbishop of Aleppo Boutros Marayati said “we celebrated the beginning of Lent already on Sunday afternoon. There were many faithful and the participation was intense...”

Cardinal defends religious liberty (Vatican Radio) Cardinal Peter Turkson on Tuesday highlighted the importance of religious freedom saying “It is important to preserve and defend religious freedom because it concerns “each person’s freedom to live according to their own deeper understanding of the truth.” Cardinal Turkson, Pesident of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, was speaking at a conference entitled “The Church and Human Rights,” taking place in Bratislava, on the initiative of the Slovakian Bishops’ Conference. In his address, Cardinal Turkson said, “freedom of religion is inseparable from freedom of thought and conscience” and includes “the freedom to change one’s religion or belief” and “the freedom to manifest that religion or belief both in private and communally...”

Spanish missionary priest is the only Catholic presence in one region of Ethiopia (Fides) Father Christopher Hartley Sartorios, a 55-year-old Spanish diocesan missionary from Toledo, is the only Catholic priest who has ever reached the Somali region of Ethiopia called Ogaden, where he has been living alone for 7 years in Gode, a territory which is 100% Muslim...



3 March 2014
Greg Kandra




An icon of Mary and the Christ child is seen as members of the Crimean self-defense unit stand guard outside the local government headquarters in Simferopol, Ukraine, on 2 March. (photo: CNS/David Mdzinarishvili, Reuters)



Tags: Ukraine Russia Crimea

3 March 2014
Greg Kandra




An Orthodox priest prays next to armed servicemen near Russian army vehicles outside a Ukrainian border guard post in Ukraine’s Crimean region on 1 March. The head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church said Ukrainians must be prepared “to sacrifice our lives in order to protect the sovereign, free, independent, and unified state.” (photo: CNS/Baz Ratner, Reuters)

Pope prays for Ukraine (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis asked for prayers for Ukraine on Sunday, which he said was living through a delicate situation. The Holy Father expressed the hope that all parts of the country “will endeavour to overcome misunderstandings and build together the future of the nation.” The Pope also appealed to the international community “to support any initiative for dialogue and harmony.” He made the call following the recitation of the Angelus in St Peter’s Square...

Russia: US threats over Ukraine “unacceptable” (Voice of Russia) The Russian Foreign Ministry has described US Secretary of State John Kerry’s threats to Russia in connection with the situation in Ukraine as unacceptable. “We deem the threats against Russia unacceptable, conveyed in a series of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s public statements in connection with the latest developments in Ukraine,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement...

World leaders condemn Russian invasion of Crimea (Sydney Morning Herald) The leaders of the world’s top industrialised powers have turned on fellow G8 member Russia, condemning its “clear” violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty after the invasion of the Crimean Peninsula. In a pointed statement referring to themselves as the G7 — rather than the G8 — the leaders said Russia’s actions were incompatible with the Group of Eight Nations, which Moscow joined in 1997, and said they would not take part in preparatory talks for June’s G8 summit in Sochi...

Ukrainian Catholic leader: “We must be ready to sacrifice our lives” (Catholic World News) As Russian military forces intervened in the Ukraine’s Crimean region, the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church said that “we must stand up for our country” and “be ready, if necessary, to sacrifice our lives in order to protect the sovereign, free, independent, and unified state.” “The entire world community is on the side of Ukraine, as Russia is the aggressor,” said Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, according to a report from the Religious Information Service of Ukraine. “During the last three months, the Church, especially the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, was with its people. And it will continue to remain with its people. If, God forbid, we will have to stand together on the battlefield with our soldiers, with our army, the Ukrainian Church, especially the UGCC, is ready to provide pastoral support...”

Catholic church in Gaza attacked (Associated Press) A Palestinian rights group says assailants have attacked a Catholic church in the Gaza Strip. The Palestinian Center for Human Rights says an explosive detonated in the church’s yard. The group said an “abusive slogan” was written on the church wall. No further damage or injuries were reported. Hamas police spokesman Ayoub abu Shaar said Thursday an investigation was opened into the attack, which occurred Wednesday...



28 February 2014
Greg Kandra




Perla Akiki receives Communion from her father, Father Wissam Akiki, after he was ordained to the priesthood on 27 February at St. Raymond’s Maronite Cathedral in St. Louis. Father Akiki is the first married man to be ordained a priest for the U.S. Maronite Catholic Church.
(photo: CNS/Lisa Johnston, St. Louis Review)




28 February 2014
Greg Kandra




Pope Francis meets with 45 important interfaith leaders from Argentina who have just returned from the Holy Land. (photo: Vatican Radio/L’Osservatore Romano)

Ukraine’s ex-President makes first public appearance (BBC) Ukraine’s ex-President Viktor Yanukovych has made his first public appearance since being ousted last week, telling a news conference in Russia he would fight for his country. He said he was “not overthrown’, but was compelled to leave Ukraine after threats to his life. Those who drove him from power were “young neo-fascist thugs”, he said. He said current tensions in Crimea were “understandable” but stated his desire for Ukraine to remain united...

Christians fleeing Syria to return to Turkey (Reuters) When Louis Bandak fled the violence in Syria, he sought refuge in the country his grandfather was forced to abandon exactly 90 years ago this week. Bandak, his wife and two daughters are part of a small but growing trickle of Christians arriving in Turkey after three years of civil war in Syria killed more than 140,000 people. “Although I had never been here before, it does not feel strange. This too is my homeland,” says Bandak, sitting in warm winter sun outside the 5th Century Mor Abrohom Monastery in Midyat, 30 miles north of the border. While most Christian refugees are in Lebanon or Jordan, countries with which they share linguistic or cultural ties, several thousand have come to Turkey. For many it is a reversal of their ancestors’ flight around a century ago, when World War One and the subsequent building of the post-Ottoman Turkish state made Turkey a hostile land for millions of Christians...

Pope meets with interfaith group on its return from Holy Land (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has met with 45 important interfaith leaders from Argentina who have just returned from the Holy Land, which the Pontiff himself is due to visit in May. Thursday’s meeting in the Santa Marta guesthouse included 15 Jews, 15 Muslims and 15 Catholics. Their trip covered many of the stops which the Holy Father is expected to visit during his brief pilgrimage to Jordan, Israel and Palestine. The group met leading political and religious authorities and visited the holy sites of the three monotheistic religions...

Syriac community receives deed for ancient monastery land in Turkey (Hurriyet Daily News) The lands of the historic Mor Gabriel Monastery located in Turkey’s southeastern province of Mardin have been returned to the Syriac community, completing an important step in the slow-running restoration of the group’s property...

Study shows 74% of children in Kerala addicted to tobacco (International Business Times) Kerala, India’s most literate state with more than 93.91 percent literacy rate, is also home for largest number of alcoholics, cancer patients and children addicted to tobacco. A study by National Drug Dependence Treatment Centre (NDDTC) and the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) revealed this startling facts. The study said that 74 percent of Kerala’s children between the age group 5-18 consume tobacco. As part of the study, a total of 119 children were covered examining their pattern, profile and substance use, reported American Bazaar...



27 February 2014
Greg Kandra




Abba Kidane Mariam Arega talks on his cell phone in a minibus taxi in Addis Ababa.
(photo: Peter Lemieux)


In 2010, we paid a visit to Ethiopia and looked at the unusual way of life of some monks in Addis Ababa:

Though hardly the lap of luxury, the monks at this urban religious house enjoy comforts unthinkable in the far more ascetic rural monasteries for which Ethiopian Orthodoxy has long been known. No one bears witness better to this contrast than Abba Kidane Mariam Arega, who has just arrived in the capital from the rural Georgis of Gasicha Monastery in Wollo. He is on his way to visit old friends at the Ziquala Monastery, a day’s journey from Addis Ababa.

Before dawn the next day, Abba Kidane sets out for Mount Ziquala, an extinct volcano whose peak is home to the monastery. For the next two hours, he drives along the dusty highway that cuts through the golden plains of Ethiopia’s Rift Valley.

Little by little, the sun’s morning rays illuminate the landscape. Nearing Mount Ziquala, the two-mile-high peak casts a wide shadow on the valley. As the sun climbs above the mount, its shadow gradually draws back as though a stage curtain, revealing an ageless vignette — peasants with donkeys tending their fields.

Arriving at the base of the mountain, Abba Kidane pulls into Wanbere Mariam, a small farming village whose outward appearances have not changed in centuries. Only pop music pulsating from an unidentifiable source situates it in the new millennium.

The drive may be over, but the journey is certainly not. The summit of the mountain may only be reached by hiking three hours on a winding trail. Despite the steep, rocky terrain, the monk displays no physical strain, even as his flowing black cassock absorbs the sun’s now blistering rays. The trail’s switchbacks steepen as they climb the mountain; the thick shrubs give way to forest.

Finally, the trail levels out and opens onto a swath of terraced fields. Sweeping panoramic views of the countryside are visible in almost every direction. A weathered sign welcomes visitors to the Ziquala Monastery, where some 230 monks and 120 nuns make their home.

Read more in Relevant or Relic from the November 2010 issue of ONE.







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