21 March 2014
A woman cries as she holds a boy at a site hit by what activists said was a barrel bomb dropped by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad in Aleppo, Syria, on 6 March.
(photo: CNS/ Hosam Katan, Reuters)
Two weeks ago, Michel Constantin, CNEWA’s regional director for Beirut, spoke to a meeting of Aid to the Church in Need in Kaslik, Lebanon. He described the humanitarian crisis in Syria:
The latest estimates published by the UNHCR show that 6.8 million people in Syria are needy, 5.25 million people internally displaced and an additional 2.2 million seeking refuge in neighboring countries from a conflict that has reportedly killed over 130,000 people.
Some areas face food shortages, and even areas that have been spared large-scale violence like Damascus lack sufficient quantities of gasoline, heating oil and cooking gas. U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos said that by the end of 2014 around 70 percent of the Syrian population will need emergency food help.
Harsh winter weather had made matters worse, and people lack winter clothes, blankets and fuel, with women and children particularly at risk.
In the large city of Aleppo, a battle zone for the past 18 months, the price of bread has climbed in some places more than 15-fold to 250 Syrian pounds ($3.50) a kilo, while it is estimated that half of public hospitals have been damaged by the conflict.
The Syrian displaced families in general and the Christians in particular are facing serious challenges to provide the basic necessities for their children. The need is further inflated when it comes to families who found refuge within their confessional communities and remained unknown — not registered with an international organization whose main activities are concentrated at the large refugee camps.
You can read the full text of his speech here.
And visit this page to learn how you can help our suffering brothers and sisters in Syria.
20 March 2014
Pope Francis waves as he leaves his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican
on 19 March. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Fortune magazine has just published a list of the 50 greatest leaders in the world — and the Bishop of Rome tops the list:
When a reformer sweeps through an institution more forcefully in just a year than any other in memory — and when that institution is some 2,000 years old and the largest organization on earth — he draws attention, admiration, and wonder. That’s why Pope Francis leads our inaugural list of the World’s Greatest Leaders, and why he was proposed more often by our nominators than any other candidate. Reforming the scandal-plagued Vatican bank, finally beginning to address the child sexual abuse scandal, shaking up the Vatican’s self-absorbed bureaucracy, setting a striking new tone through his personal example of modesty and inclusiveness — this is what a great leader does.
The magazine describes Pope Francis this way:
Just over a year ago, a puff of white smoke announced the new spiritual leader of 1.2 billion Roman Catholics around the world. In the brief time since, Francis has electrified the church and attracted legions of non-Catholic admirers by energetically setting a new direction. He has refused to occupy the palatial papal apartments, has washed the feet of a female Muslim prisoner, is driven around Rome in a Ford Focus, and famously asked “Who am I to judge?” with regard to the church’s view of gay members. He created a group of eight cardinals to advise him on reform, which a church historian calls the “most important step in the history of the church for the past 10 centuries.” Francis recently asked the world to stop the rock-star treatment. He knows that while revolutionary, his actions so far have mostly reflected a new tone and intentions. His hardest work lies ahead. And yet signs of a “Francis effect” abound: In a poll in March, one in four Catholics said they’d increased their charitable giving to the poor this year. Of those, 77% said it was due in part to the Pope.
Visit the Fortune link to see who else made the list.
19 March 2014
A Syrian girl in Jordan’s Zaatari refugee camp girl paints her vision of a perfect place to live.
(photo: CNS photo/Dale Gavlak)
With the number of Syrian refugees now soaring into the millions, CNS reports on one innovative effort to help the most vulnerable, the children:
As Syria’s civil war hurtles into its fourth year, hopes of returning home soon seem far off for the 2.5 million refugees sheltering in neighboring countries, like Jordan. Syrians are soon expected to overtake Afghans as the largest refugee population in the world, according to the United Nations.
Top U.N. officials warn that the grinding conflict will leave a generation of 5.5 million children — in and outside Syria — physically and emotionally scarred. But American street artist Samantha Robison is working hard to change that.
A native of Washington, D.C., Robison and her team of international artists paint alongside the refugee children, encouraging them to remain strong and positive in Jordan’s Zaatari camp.
Covered in splashes of paint in every color of the rainbow, Robison encourages a 9-year-old Syrian girl named Zeinab to express her future dreams through painting on a recycled tent tarp.
“I am drawing a bird flying in the air. To me, it represents the freedom we want,” the enthusiastic child said as she drew.
Peaceful demonstrations protesting the rule of Syrian President Bashar Assad erupted three years ago and were soon met by sniper fire from government troops before bursting into all-out civil war.
Robison said the young Syrian refugees at Zaatari remember the start of the conflict, but now look to the future.
“Yes, commemorate the three years, but also remember where they’ve come from and how much they’ve accomplished,” she said.
“Honor the human dignity and the next generation and the future of Syria. I think is where a lot of the energy needs to be focused,” she added, speaking of the children.
Read the rest.
And to learn how you can help needy children fleeing the war in Syria, visit our giving page.
18 March 2014
A Ukrainian woman in Malaga, Spain, cries during a 16 March protest against Russian President Vladimir Putin's actions in Ukraine. Pope Francis met privately at the Vatican with the head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church on 17 March, the day after pro-Russian voters on the Crimean peninsula voted to secede from Ukraine in a referendum the United States and European Union called illegal. (photo: CNS/Jon Nazca, Reuters)
14 March 2014
Father Pejic is the only full-time staff member at St. Sava’s Church. (photo: Andy Spyra)
In 2009, we paid a visit to a remarkably diverse parish in Germany with a rich mixture of people and cultures:
Apart from the occasional passerby, the streets of Mengendamm are deserted on this quiet Sunday morning. But as the clock approaches 10, this small industrial neighborhood on the north side of Hanover, Germany, momentarily awakens from its slumber.
As he does every week, Zarko Petrovic sounds the bell for worship at St. Sava’s Serbian Orthodox Church. The now retired 74-year-old Serb has spent most of his adult life as a guest worker outside his native country. For 20 years, he worked on the line at a Michelin tire factory in France. He then moved to Germany, where he worked for 14 years as a bartender at Hanover’s InterContinental Hotel before retiring. Now a volunteer sacristan, Mr. Petrovic summons the community to prayer by tolling bells.
At the top of the hour, Father Milan Pejic enters the sanctuary. Since 1976, the 56-year-old priest has led the Hanover parish, which numbers some 2,500 people.
Only 30 worshipers made it on time this morning, but up to 200 people will be in the church by the liturgy’s end. At the right of the nave, a handful of sick and elderly parishioners are seated in places reserved for them. The rest of the congregation faces the iconostasis and stands for the next two hours: women to the left, men to the right. A gilded chandelier hangs above their heads, lighting the dark sanctuary. The perfumed scent of incense fills the air.
Accompanied by a 10-member choir, a sung dialogue unfolds between the pastor and his flock. Some faithful enunciate the prayers’ every word; others pray silently, contemplating the splendid icons on the iconostasis and church walls.
St. Sava’s parishioners hail from 20 different nations, including Ethiopia and other unlikely corners of the world. For this reason, Father Pejic varies to some extent the liturgy’s content and sequence, he says, “depending on who is present.”
Following tradition, Father Pejic celebrates the Divine Liturgy in Church Slavonic, but pauses at several points to repeat select passages first in Serbian, then German. Readings from the Gospel, on the other hand, are chanted in Serbian and then read aloud in German.
“Chanting twice would be inappropriate, but the contents can be received better by the listeners if it is read. This way, even the Serbian-speaking parishioners understand the biblical text better,” he says.
Read more about Germany’s Orthodox Serbs from the July 2009 issue of ONE.
13 March 2014
Today marks the one-year anniversary of the election of Pope Francis. In this image from 13 March 2013, a woman holding holy cards reacts after the election of a new pope outside the Metropolitan Cathedral in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina became the first man from Latin America to be elected pope and the first to take the name of Francis.
(photo: CNS/Agustin Marcarian, Reuters)
12 March 2014
Tags: Pope Francis Pope
A family caravan transports hay on Highway 4 near Meki, south of Ethiopia’s capital.
(photo: Peter Lemieux)
In 2010, we reported on the plight of farmers in Ethiopia:
For Lema Waka and his family, life in their hamlet in Ethiopia’s Rift Valley carries on much as it has for generations. On this blazing hot day, the family is wrapping up the season’s teff harvest. With the help of laborers, they have cut, threshed and sacked the grain that Ethiopians use for the baking of their bread, injera. Together, they load and strap the sacks onto donkey-drawn carts. Harnessed up, the Lemas’ caravan is ready for the market in Meki, the nearest town some eight miles away.
Mr. Lema cracks the whip on the donkeys and the caravan pulls onto the paved and freshly painted Trans-African Highway 4, the only visible sign of contemporary life for miles. Once completed, Highway 4 will traverse the entire continent, linking Cairo to Cape Town. Intended to stimulate trade, investment and growth across the continent, it has done just that for some Ethiopians, proving to be a vital lifeline between urban centers within the country.
But the benefits of Highway 4 have not been reaped by most of Ethiopia’s rural population, even those along its route. Most of Ethiopia’s farmers use age-old agricultural methods to plant traditional crops, such as teff, onions and tomatoes, which sell cheaply in local markets. Most rely on the fickle goodwill of Mother Nature. Most expect their children, especially their daughters, to help maintain the family farm and manage the household at the expense of continuing their education. And most consider the donkey-drawn cart the industry standard. For these peasant farmers and their families, survival is a hand-to-mouth equation for which there is no margin for error.
The Lema family is no different. Lema Waka depends on the rains and his five-acre plot of land to support his wife and nine children. He grows corn, white beans, sorghum and tomatoes, but mainly teff — the most labor-intensive crop of the bunch. Though the grain covers the greatest amount of cultivated land in Ethiopia, it delivers the lowest crop yield per acre. Mr. Lema’s 1.5 tons of teff might bring in a little more than $1,000 on the market. But much of it never reaches the market at all. With it, he must first pay the day laborers, who helped with the harvest, and neighbors, who lend him cattle, and he must purchase seeds for next season. The Lemas will be lucky to clear $500, barely enough to feed the family until the next harvest.
Read about some solutions aimed at helping these farmers in Farming a Brighter Future from the January 2010 issue of ONE.
And to learn how you can help them today, visit our Ethiopia giving page.
11 March 2014
Last Sunday was Sunday of Orthodoxy for the Orthodox Church of America. Clergy and faithful gathered at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Minneapolis, MN for Pan-Orthodox Vespers. Read more about the history and spiritualty behind this feast at this link. (photo: OCA/Facebook)
11 March 2014
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
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.