19 July 2013
Father Elias Koucos presides over the liturgy at Prophet Elias Church in Holladay, Utah.
(photo: Cody Christopulos)
Three years ago, we visited the Greek Orthodox community in the heart of Mormon-dominated Utah:
From the summit of Ensign Peak in Utah, a mountain Mormons believe sacred, the visitor takes in a panoramic view of the rugged but splendid geography of this unique southwestern American state. To the west, one glimpses the Great Salt Lake and desert; to the south, one looks down upon the Salt Lake Valley, which cradles the state capital, Salt Lake City, and its sprawling suburbs; and to the east, one’s vision is blocked by the Wasatch Mountains, a forbidding, craggy wall towering thousands of feet above the valley. It was through these mountains that the Latter-day Saints first entered the Salt Lake Valley in the summer of 1847 after their long, difficult flight from religious persecution across America’s heartland. Mexican territory at the time, they and their followers nonetheless adopted the valley as their homeland, referring to it as “Mormon Zion,” and began settling what is today Salt Lake City.
A half-century later, the first Greek immigrants arrived in Salt Lake City. They did not come by handcart and oxen-pulled wagons, as did the original settlers, but by railroads built with immigrant labor in the decades before their arrival. Attracted to Utah with promises of jobs on the railroads, most of these Greeks soon began laying railroad tracks themselves. …
The precise number of Utahans of Greek descent is difficult to assess. In the 2000 U.S. Census, nearly 12,000 state residents reported to be of Greek ancestry. Approximately 1,000 active families, or about 4,000 people, belong to the Greek Orthodox Church of Greater Salt Lake. While small compared to the larger Greek-American enclaves in the eastern United States, Utah’s Greek-American community is thriving. According to the 2000 Census, Utah ranks ninth in the nation with respect to the percentage of the population claiming Greek ancestry.
Today, the Greek Orthodox Church is the binding force for Utah’s Hellenic community. Father Matthew Gilbert, pastor of Holy Trinity Cathedral, describes the parish as very active, with no shortage of activities, especially for the youth. Still, says the priest, himself “Greek” by marriage, passing down the faith to the next generation remains a challenge.
“The hardest thing is the spiritual aspect. It’s nice to dance and to play basketball. We have Greek schools, dance programs, Orthodox Christian camps in the summer, Greek camp, Sunday school. We offer everything imaginable, but it’s up to individuals to cultivate their spiritual life. It’s always easier to cultivate the fun things, but a spiritual life is difficult. It takes a lot of work. Being baptized is the easy part. The rest is commitment.”
Read more about Greek Orthodoxy in Mormon Zion from the July 2010 issue of ONE.
18 July 2013
Tags: Eastern Christianity United States Orthodox Church Orthodox
In this image from 2010, a woman and her grandson pose in the village of Aklaimi, Wadi al Nasarah, in the “Valley of the Christians,” near Homs. (photo: Sean Sprague)
The New York Times this week reported on the devastation civil war has brought to the Syrian city of Homs:
Little by little, the central Syrian city of Homs is losing its infrastructure and its landmarks. The national hospital lies in ruins. Rebel-held neighborhoods stretch for blocks without an intact building. Many government offices are closed. The silver-domed mosque of Khalid bin al Waleed — named for an early Islamic warrior particularly revered by Sunnis — stands pockmarked and perforated.
Abandoned cars rust beneath piles of rubble and downed wires.
Homs was an early bellwether of what Syria would become. One of the first cities to rise up in rebellion, it was home to mass demonstrations. As protests turned to armed revolt, the city began to split, largely along sectarian lines, with much of the Sunni majority supporting the uprising and members of President Bashar al Assad’s Alawite sect joining pro-government militias. Now, after more than a year of siege, bombardment and clashes, which have intensified recently as the government has renewed its assault on rebel strongholds, Homs may well be the site of the most concentrated destruction in the country.
But less than three years ago, that part of Syria was very different. We visited the region’s nearby villages in 2010:
Looking out at the idyllic countryside, with its gently rolling hills painted in hues of olive green and gold, its ancient villages and stone churches, it is no wonder why so many natives faithfully return at least once a year.
One such émigré is Lamaan Nahas. On vacation, she is visiting her home village of Alkaimi with her aging mother and three children. Mrs. Nahas left Syria 17 years ago and now lives in San Francisco, California, with her husband, children and, for the past year, her mother. She loves San Francisco and her life there, she says, but she misses her home in the Valley of Christians. Her mother, her gray hair pulled in a bun, smiles broadly, visibly happy to be back home, even if for just a short stay.
As we talked, a couple of girls approached a nearby fountain fed by a natural spring with large plastic jugs brought from home. As they filled them with the fresh cool water, they giggled with delight. The valley has many natural springs and it is not uncommon for each village to have one nearby. Though all homes in the valley are equipped with modern plumbing and electricity, locals often prefer to collect their drinking water from these springs.
Despite the lack of opportunity, many of the region’s remaining residents are clearly happy to live in such a beautiful environment.
Read more about Syria’s Valley of the Christians in the January 2011 issue of ONE.
17 July 2013
Tags: Syria Syrian Civil War War Village life
Msgr. Kozar visits with children at St. Anthony’s Dayssadan, a home for children with physical disabilities run by the Preshitharam Sisters in India. (photo: CNEWA)
Last year, CNEWA president Msgr. John E. Kozar traveled to India and wrote about his experience visiting a home for children:
The place is the St. Anthony’s Dayssadan, a home for children with physical disabilities run by the Preshitharam Sisters. The director of the facility is Sister Tessy, and she is accompanied by six other caring and loving sisters. …
When I walked around to give each of them some candy — as has been the custom during all of our pastoral visits with children — I became very much aware of their physical challenges, as some of them could not put out their hands to accept the candy. Their joy in welcoming me prompted one of them to ask me to pray for all of them. Their response to my blessing was to sing together a lovely hymn, alluding to how God watches over us all. What a powerful life lesson for me.
The sisters here are saints, completely devoted to the care of these special children. I feel that this visit with the sisters and His little ones, was the perfect way to put it all into perspective. God loves everyone: the poor, the disadvantaged, those with special challenges. And we are privileged and have the honor of reaching out to the needs of so many in India. As much as we might do in helping them, we receive infinitely more as we experience their courage, their kindness, their patience, and especially their FAITH. Yes, above all they are filled with faith. Their trust in God watching over them, with a little help from our CNEWA family, is the great equalizer. It not only keeps them going, but it also brings joy and happiness to their lives.
Read more from Msgr. Kozar’s journey In the Footsteps of St. Thomas.
16 July 2013
Tags: India Children Sisters Indian Christians Msgr. John E. Kozar
A mural depicting the Cathedral of Holy Etchmiadzin and Mount Ararat adorns a brick wall in Hollywood’s “Little Armenia.” (photo: Armineh Johannes)
Several years ago, we looked at a thriving group of Christian immigrants from the Middle East who had settled in southern California:
Leaving behind economic hardship, religious persecution and war — and in many cases family, friends and culture — Middle Eastern Christians have flocked to the United States in increasing numbers over the past three decades.
They have been immigrating to the United States and other Western countries since the late 19th century, but migration has increased as political and economic conditions have deteriorated in their home countries. About a quarter of a million Christians have left Palestine since 1948. Roughly the same number has left Lebanon since the end of its civil war more than a decade ago.
In coming to the United States, Christians from Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine and Syria bring with them rich traditions they hope to preserve amid the dominant American culture, which their children often absorb.
“I would like to think we will preserve our culture and identity and keep that distinctiveness, but that may be wishful thinking,” says Michael Nahabet, an Armenian who emigrated from Syria more than 20 years ago. “The melting pot is a reality and we do not fight it. I believe we should be integrated and not live in a ghetto. It’s not a resistance, but we want to keep our identity.”
Mr. Nahabet and his wife, Nora, an Armenian from Lebanon, send their two children, Eddie and Natalie, to an Armenian school. They speak mostly Armenian in the home, but Natalie says she mainly speaks English with her brother and her friends.
The Nahabets live in the Los Angeles suburb of Chatsworth, not far from another suburb, Glendale, where one in four residents is Armenian. An estimated quarter of a million Armenians — many from the eastern Mediterranean where Armenians have lived since the Middle Ages — live in Southern California. Mr. Nahabet immigrated to the Los Angeles area at age 24 to start a business. He bought a service station, which he operated for 10 years before going into publishing.
Large numbers of Christians — often wealthier, better educated and with more connections to the West than their Muslim neighbors in the Middle East — take advantage of the opportunities available to them in the United States and Europe.
Read more about East Goes West in the January 2004 issue of the magazine.
15 July 2013
Tags: Lebanon Cultural Identity Armenia United States Immigration
Residents walk near a damaged church on 8 June in Qusair, Syria, on their way to inspect their houses and collect their belongings. (photo: CNS photo/Rami Bleibel, Reuters)
Today, the National Catholic Reporter’s John Allen turned a spotlight on a “shadow war” that analysts say is targeting Christians in Syria, and Allen took note of CNEWA’s efforts to provide relief:
Christian minorities face threats in many parts of the convulsed Middle East today, but perhaps nowhere is the danger more acute than in Syria amid that nation’s bloody civil war....
...As NCR went to press, a Greek-Catholic monastery in Qara was under assault by rebel forces. Officials of the Norbertine order told Vatican Radio they had lost contact with a 74-year-old Belgian missionary, Daniel Maes, living at the monastery.
In a July 1 opinion piece on National Review Online, religious freedom activist Nina Shea charged that a “shadow war” is being waged against Syria’s Christians. Shea pointed to the death of Murad and the fact that Islamist groups have begun setting up Shariah courts in areas of Syria under their control, charging Christians with a variety of alleged offenses under Muslim law.
In that context, some Syrian Christians have issued warnings about Western policies of arming Syria’s opposition.
“I would like everyone to know that the West, in supporting the revolutionaries, is supporting religious extremists and helping to kill Christians,” Fr. Halim Noujaim, the Franciscans’ regional minister for Syria and Lebanon, said after the execution of Murad.
The Obama administration recently announced the U.S. will provide small arms and ammunition to the rebels. Critics such as Noujaim charge that Assad’s fall could pave the way for either Iraq-style chaos or the Egyptian-style rise of an Islamist regime, in either case setting up Syria's Christian minority for special hardship.
The Catholic Near East Welfare Association has issued an emergency appeal to support Syria’s Christians.
Read more at NCR.
And to learn how you can help, visit our special page devoted to Syria.
15 July 2013
Tags: Syria Refugees CNEWA
Residents pray in the chapel of the Sacred Scripture Social Message Into Living Experience community — or SSSMILE — in Vettikkuzi in southwestern India. The community serves the region’s homeless. To learn more, read A New Home With a New Family from the December 2003 issue of the magazine. (photo: Sean Sprague)
15 July 2013
Tags: India CNEWA
Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter has called for reconciliation in Lebanon, saying that sectarian militias will lead the country to “destruction.” (photo: CNS/Jim West)
Patriarch calls for reconciliation in Lebanon (Fides) Any non-state army should be considered “illegitimate” and will result in the return of the country to the “law of the jungle and an increase in crime, a phenomenon that unfortunately we are already recording,” according to the Patriarch of Antioch of the Maronites Bechara Peter Rai. He launched yet another warning about the fate of the Country of the Cedars during his homily on Sunday 14 July in Harissa. The head of the Maronite Church has called on political factions to reconcile in a new social contract, based on the National Pact of 1943 with which Christians and Muslims agreed on the joint management of political power and institutional offices in Lebanon which became independent from France. According to the patriarch, the conflict between the political factions is contributing to the “destruction of the country.” A drift that can be stopped only by returning to the foundational Covenant “with which the Lebanese built their Country on the basis of living together, preserving Lebanon against any loyalty to other nations of the East or the West”...
Dozens killed in series of attacks in Iraq during Ramadan (Al Jazeera) At least 33 people have been killed and almost 100 wounded in deadly attacks across Iraq as violence escalates during Ramadan, security and hospital officials say...
Car bomb kills at least 13 near Damascus (BBC) A car bomb has exploded north of the Syrian capital Damascus killing at least 13 people including 10 policemen, activists say. The overnight blast struck near a police station in the town of Deir Atiyeh, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. State-run Sana news agency confirmed the attack, saying “terrorists” had caused an unknown number of casualties. The blast comes as the Syrian army tries to regain ground around Damascus...
Hindus outraged at statue depicting Virgin Mary in a sari (International Business Times) The issue of Christian missionaries proselytizing in India has taken a bizarre turn after a church in the eastern state of Jharkhand installed a statue of Mother Mary and Baby Jesus depicted as “tribals,” the indigenous people of the state. With dark brown complexions and sporting traditional Indian tribal clothing (white sari with red border, etc.), the statue in a church in the village of Singhpur has sparked outrage from local Hindus and other non-Christians who have called for its immediate removal...
Tens of thousands line up to view relic in St. Petersburg (AFP) Around 65,000 people have queued for hours in Saint Petersburg to see a religious relic brought from Greece, officials said Saturday, in the latest sign of the Russian Orthodox Church’s influence in post-Soviet Russia. The cross of Saint Andrew — said to be a relic of the X-shaped cross on which Andrew the Apostle was crucified — was placed in Saint Petersburg’s Kazan Cathedral on Thursday after arriving from its historic home in Patras in Greece...
Patriarch Kirill: Russians are having too much fun (Radio Free Europe) Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill has urged Russians to have less fun and spend more of their free time in seclusion. On July 11, Kirill said there was “more fun than needed” in the life of Russians. He said people spent a lot of their energy working and should occupy their time in isolated, quiet places instead of celebrating during their vacations...
12 July 2013
Altar servers assist in a liturgy at Our Lady of Paradise Cathedral in São Paulo. (photo: Izan Petterle)
As Rio de Janeiro gets ready for World Youth Day later this month, here’s a glimpse at another side of Brazil, from a profile in the magazine two summers ago:
On a cool Sunday morning in early April, parishioners fill the pews of the Melkite Greek Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Paradise in São Paulo, Brazil.
Numerous icons adorn the walls of the cathedral’s stunning nave. The two most precious icons figure prominently on the iconostasis, an icon screen dividing the sanctuary from the nave: Christ Pantocrator (Christ the Righteous Judge) and Theotokos (Mother of God). Overhead, a Byzantine—style mural of the crucified Christ covers the ceiling. Above the scene are painted in Greek the words “Triumph of Christ.”
Moments later, when the clock strikes 11, Archbishop Fares Maakaroun enters holding up the Book of the Gospels. A hush falls on the congregation, and the liturgy commences.
Located in the Paraíso (Portuguese for paradise) neighborhood in the heart of South America’s largest city and steps from its busiest thoroughfare, Paulista Avenue, the imposing Byzantine—style cathedral seems an unlikely landmark.
Yet, the cathedral and the Arab parishioners who built it have defined Paraíso since the 1940’s when construction began. By then, many of São Paulo’s Arab Christian immigrant families were living in the working—class neighborhood. In subsequent decades, the Arab community steadily grew, at times in sudden bursts, when emigrants fled conflict in Lebanon, Syria or elsewhere in the Middle East in search of a better life in the New World. Hearing about the opportunities in Brazil — often from relatives or friends already in Paraíso — São Paulo quickly became a preferred destination.
Today, the cathedral serves as the seat of the bishop of Our Lady of Paradise in São Paulo, spiritual home to an estimated 400,000 people — the largest Melkite Greek community not only in the Americas but in the world.
Read more about Paradise in Brazil from the July 2011 issue of ONE.
11 July 2013
Tags: ONE magazine Melkite Greek Catholic Church Brazil World Youth Day
Youths from the South Hebron Hills kick around a soccer ball at summer camp in the West Bank village of Tuba on 28 June. The camp is a welcome break for Palestinian children. Read more about the summer camp at this link. (photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)
10 July 2013
Tags: Children Palestine Palestinians West Bank
Women from the village of Manhari weave religious articles in a program supported by the local eparchy. (photo: Sean Sprague)
While much of Egypt is in turmoil, faith somehow endures. Several years ago, writer-photographer Sean Sprague visited a Coptic Christian village in Upper Egypt for a closer look:
“People here,” [Father Matta] asserted as we strolled through the muddy lanes of Manhari, “don’t experience Islamic extremist aggression, but they do feel economically repressed.
“Many families cannot support themselves, although there are some wealthy Coptic families.”
Father Matta’s family, however, is not one of the wealthy ones. Typically, Eastern Catholic married priests in the Middle East must also hold down jobs outside the parish to support the family, thereby reducing the parish burden. The priest’s wife, in addition to rearing a family, must also work.
Father Matta led me on a tour of Manhari’s four-story Catholic Social Services Center. Here, working parents leave their children in a well-run kindergarten. School dropouts improve their reading and writing skills while young women learn to weave tapestries. The center offers additional vocational training in its tailoring workshop. Mothers and their children receive medical care in a mother-child clinic and the center conducts courses in health and hygiene.
“The villagers survive by raising livestock — cattle, buffalo, sheep and goats — and by growing clover for fodder,” Father Matta said. “Fuul, or fava beans, and wheat provide the Egyptian staple diet. They grow in fields around the village,” he added.
…A few miles from Manhari at an Orthodox church, which once served a monastic community, we met a priest revered by all Copts — Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant — Father Yacoub, an old man with a long white beard. Father Matta greeted him with elaborate embraces and kisses. Father Yacoub sat in virtual silence while we drank tea and spoke with his young colleague, Father Bola. His eyes gleamed with obvious pleasure at our visit.
“Relations between Orthodox and Catholic Copts in Manhari are warm,” Father Bola said, taking a sip of his sweetened tea.
“Caritas serves the entire community. Intermarriage is common. So it doesn’t really make much difference which church you are from. We are all from the same cloth.”
Read more on Upper Egypt’s Copts from the July 2002 issue of the magazine.
Tags: Egypt Coptic Orthodox Church Coptic Christians Copts Coptic Catholic Church