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December, 2017
Volume 43, Number 4
9 January 2013
Greg Kandra

One wall of the newly discovered chapel in Turkey has a cross-shaped window. (photo: Myra-Andriake Excavations/the New York Times)

Earlier this week, the New York Times had this intriguing piece of news:

In the fourth century A.D., a bishop named Nicholas transformed the city of Myra, on the Mediterranean coast of what is now Turkey, into a Christian capital.

Nicholas was later canonized, becoming the St. Nicholas of Christmas fame. Myra had a much unhappier fate.

After some 800 years as an important pilgrimage site in the Byzantine Empire it vanished — buried under 18 feet of mud from the rampaging Myros River. All that remained was the Church of St. Nicholas, parts of a Roman amphitheater and tombs cut into the rocky hills.

But now, 700 years later, Myra is reappearing.

Archaeologists first detected the ancient city in 2009 using ground-penetrating radar that revealed anomalies whose shape and size suggested walls and buildings. Over the next two years they excavated a small, stunning 13th-century chapel sealed in an uncanny state of preservation. Carved out of one wall is a cross that, when sunlit, beams its shape onto the altar. Inside is a vibrant fresco that is highly unusual for Turkey.

The chapel’s structural integrity suggests that Myra may be largely intact underground. “This means we can find the original city, like Pompeii,” said Nevzat Cevik, an archaeologist at Akdeniz University who is director of the excavations at Myra, beneath the modern town of Demre.

Mark Jackson, a Byzantine archaeologist at Newcastle University in England, who was not involved in the research, called the site “fantastic,” and added,“This level of preservation under such deep layers of mud suggests an extremely well-preserved archive of information.”

Check out the Times link for more. And you can read more about St. Nicholas himself here.

Tags: Turkey Architecture Saints

9 January 2013
Greg Kandra

Civilians and Free Syrian Army fighters gather at the site hit by a missile in Aleppo’s al Mashhad district on 7 January. (photo: CNS/Muzaffar Salman)

Apostolic Nuncio to Israel discusses property issues in Holy Land (Vatican Radio) The apostolic nuncio to Israel, Archbishop Giuseppe Lanzarotto, says the Holy See is hoping soon to reach a satisfactory conclusion to its ongoing talks with Israel on fiscal and property issues related to Catholic institutions in the Holy Land…

Jordanian refugee camp devastated by storm (Fides) The storms of snow, wind and freezing rain that struck the Hashemite Kingdom have had devastating effects on the refugee camp of Zaatari, in the Jordanian desert, where 50,000 refugees who fled from the Syrian civil war are crammed in an intolerable situation. “The storms,” reports to Fides Agency Wael Suleiman, director of Caritas Jordan, “have destroyed at least 500 tents in the camp”…

Report: violence in Syria may trigger mass exodus of Christians (Voice of Russia) Syria’s ongoing turmoil has turned the country into a dangerous place for Christians, says an international missionary organization called Open Doors. According to its World Watch List 2012, the situation in embattled Syria is getting worse for Christians. Syria has moved up to place 11 from 36 on Open Door’s list of least Christian-friendly states, since the conflict broke out more than a year ago. According to the report, many Syrian Christians are facing violence against them, many have been kidnapped or murdered, while churches have been severely damaged or demolished. The estimated Christian population in the country stands at around 10 percent…

Bishops’ pilgrimage to Holy Land nears end (Vatican Radio) The pilgrimage of solidarity by bishops from North America and Europe to Christian communities in the Holy Land is in its final stages…

Tags: Syria Refugees Syrian Civil War Violence against Christians Jordan

8 January 2013
Greg Kandra

Egyptian Muslims and Christians celebrate Coptic Christmas Eve in Cairo’s Tahrir Square on 6 January. (photo: CNS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany, Reuters)

Egypt’s Christians worried about rise of Islam (Washington Post) Christians were worried about their safety on Monday as they marked the first Christmas under Islamist rule, with Coptic Pope Tawadros II urging worshipers “not to be afraid” and some complaining that their lives had gone from bad to worse in the nearly two years since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak...

Bishop of Amman: peace a shared value for Christians and Muslims (Vatican Radio) “When you love you have to share. It’s not in terms of a Christian value but it’s in terms of Arab values. Sharing and being generous and opening the door to others is an Arab value and we are proud of it. The main thing that we share with our brother Muslims here is peace and security for Jordan. When we see what is happening in Syria and Iraq we pray to Almighty God to keep us safe and secure here.” This is the message of Bishop Maroun Elias Lahham, Bishop of Amman and Apostolic administrator of the diocese of Tunis, speaking with Vatican Radio’s Veronica Scarisbrick who is accompanying bishops from Europe and North America on their annual pilgrimage of solidarity with the Christians of the Holy Land...

Indian Christians encouraged to oppose death penalty and chemical castration for rapists (Fides) In a note sent to Fides Agency, the “Catholic Secular Forum” (CSF), a Catholic lay movement based in Mumbai, said that “death penalty and chemical castration are not the position of the Church.” In a memorandum sent to the Indian government, Christian movements urge the government to make sex education compulsory in public schools, in order to avoid the emergence of deviant sexual behavior in young people...

Syrian archbishop: “Palestinian refugees on exodus, just like the Holy Family” (Fides) During the Christmas period “it is not uncommon these days to see Palestinian families wandering the streets of Damascus. Parents carrying their children, followed by older children carrying parcels and bags. Tears to the eyes of women, anger in the eyes of men, the sadness of children’s eyes.” In a message sent to Fides Agency, the Archbishop of Damascus of the Maronites, Samir Nassar, outlined the double tragedy of the Palestinian refugees overwhelmed by the Syrian civil war, comparing their painful exodus to that lived by Jesus, Mary and Joseph...

PHOTO GALLERY: Theophany 2013 (OCA) On the first weekend of January 2013, parishes across the Orthodox Church in America celebrated the Great Feast of the Theophany of Our Lord by blessing water — outdoors as well as indoors — in commemoration of the Baptism of our Lord, Jesus Christ...

Tags: Syria Egypt Jordan Muslim Copts

7 January 2013
Greg Kandra

Still a precious gift, frankincense and myrrh are packaged in gilded tins in the Middle East.
(photo: Ilene Perlman)

Christians yesterday marked the Solemnity of the Epiphany — or Christmas, in the Orthodox tradition—which among other things commemorates the visit of the magi to the Christ child, bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

In 2003, the magazine looked at the history behind those gifts, and where they originate today:

In the ancient world, particularly in the Middle East, beauty was as important as air. It was in the gardens the people designed, the houses they built, the words they wrote, the very bowls they used, the candlesticks they carried, the fabrics they wove and the gifts they gave.

So when Christians ponder the gifts of the Magi as commemorated in the West during the feast of the Epiphany, the precious gold and fragrant frankincense and myrrh do not seem unusual for that time and place.

What was unusual is that these gifts were presented to a child whose significance was yet to be understood.

St. Irenaeus in his “Adversus Haereses” claimed the gifts were symbolic. Jesus was presented with gold for a King’s wealth, frankincense as the fragrance offered to divinity and myrrh as the balm used to anoint the dead.

Although the identity of the Magi remains a mystery (they have been variously described as wise men, kings, priests or magicians), we know for certain that firmly established trade routes enabled the travelers to bring their offerings from remote areas to Palestine. The three gifts, including gold that in today’s market would cost about $325 per ounce, would have been a kingly offering.

Scents were believed to bring good will and good wishes. Frankincense and myrrh were used to perfume ceremonial oils. When burned, the smoke was thought to bring prayers to the heavens.

Even today, during liturgies of the Eastern and Western churches, incense is often burned.

Read more about Scents of Time and Place.

Tags: Middle East Oman Epiphany

7 January 2013
Greg Kandra

A Syrian refugee woman carries her child in late December at a refugee camp near the Turkish town of Kilis. (photo: CNS/Muzaffar Salman, Reuters)

Pope appeals for cease fire in Syria (Vatican Radio) Pope Benedict XVI has made an urgent appeal to civil and political authorities to work for peace. The Pope’s heartfelt cry came on Monday during his annual address to Members of the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See. Speaking to representatives of the 179 States that currently have full diplomatic relations with the Vatican, as well as members of numerous international organizations such as the EU, the Order of Malta and the PLO, Pope Benedict emphasized that world leaders have a grave responsibility to work for peace. They are the first — he said — called to resolve the numerous conflicts causing bloodshed in our human family. The Pope went on to list urgent areas of concern starting with Syria which he described as being “torn apart by endless slaughter and the scene of dreadful suffering among its civilian population”...

Patriarch: idea to divide Egypt is “irrational” (Fides) The members of the Coptic diaspora who launched the idea to divide Egypt to create a Coptic state are “irrational.” This is what Pope Tawadros II in person said, after two months at the helm of the largest Christian community in an Arab country. In an interview with Turkish Anadolu Agency on the occasion of Coptic Christmas, Pope Tawadros strongly affirmed that “the Church is an integral part of that Egypt that will not be divided, that has been united since the Pharaoh Menes and will remain so forever”...

Indian laity oppose youth festivals on Sundays (Times of India) The commission for laity of Syro-Malabar Church in Kerala has come out strongly against the education department for conducting the school youth festivals on Sunday, the day for religious rituals and teachings for the Catholic community...

Patriarch Kiril congratulates Orthodox on Christmas (Voice of Russia) Addressing Orthodox Christians before the start of a solemn service at Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill congratulated them on Christmas and wished them peace, prosperity and well-being. In line with tradition, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church conducts a festive Christmas service at Christ the Savior Cathedral. “I congratulate you on the great feast of Christmas. I wish peace, prosperity and well-being to all of historical Rus, to the Russian state, to each and every one of you. May the grace of the Savior touch us not only on this wonderful Christmas night, but on all the days of our lives,” said the Patriarch...

Tags: Syria Egypt Pope Benedict XVI Syro-Malabar Catholic Church Orthodox

4 January 2013
Greg Kandra

Students line up for morning prayer at St. Jean Baptiste De La Salle School in Addis Ababa.
(photo: Peter Lemieux)

The latest issue of the magazine features as its cover story a look at the success of Catholic schools in a country that is overwhelmingly non-Catholic, Ethiopia:

Catholics — Latin and Ge’ez combined — make up less than 1 percent of Ethiopia’s roughly 85 million people. Forty-three percent of the population is Ethiopian Orthodox; 32 percent, Muslim; and 19 percent, Protestant. The Catholic Church plays a disproportionately influential role in the lives of many Ethiopians, however, especially through its schools, clinics and other social service institutions.

More than 350 Catholic schools operate around the country, enrolling some 120,000 Ethiopian students each year.

“We’re educating the biggest number of children after the government. No denomination can claim that,” says Demisse W. Aregay, principal of the all-boys St. Joseph Catholic School in Addis Ababa, one of five schools in Ethiopia — including Bisrate Gabriel — run by the De La Salle Christian Brothers. The brothers’ five schools alone enroll 7,000 students.

“Go anywhere in the country and you’ll find Catholic schools that are flourishing,” he continues. “So that helps create a mentality that they are some of if not the best schools in the country.”

Read more about how Ethiopian children are Making the Grade in the November 2012 issue of ONE.

Tags: Ethiopia Education

4 January 2013
Greg Kandra

Two Iraqi boys hold candles as they pray for peace in Iraq and Syria during Mass at a Chaldean Catholic church in Amman, Jordan on 23 December (photo: CNS/Ali Jarekji, Reuters)

Bishops in solidarity with “suffering and vulnerable” in Holy Land (Vatican Radio) Bishops from across Europe and North America this week will be visiting Syrian refugees in Jordan along with other suffering and vulnerable people and communities in the Holy Land. In a press release, the Holy Land Co-ordination reports: The 13th meeting of the Coordination of Episcopal Conferences in Support of the Church of the Holy Land and the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land takes place from 5-10 January. The delegation will meet in Bethlehem, visit Jordan and then concluding the annual pastoral visit in Jerusalem...

Syrian archbishop appeals for aid (Vatican Radio) Food, medicine, electricity and fuel are increasingly scarce in Jazira, the river plain area of Mesopotamia which encompasses northwestern Iraq and northeastern Syria. With the influx of Syrians fleeing the conflict in their country, Jazira’s population of 1 and a half million has swelled to some 2 million and Church and humanitarian officials are raising the alarm, saying not enough is being done to help them...

In Gaza, children bear psychological scars of conflict (Washington Post) Gazans often talk about the inescapability of war, and the symptoms of their suffering. They cast Gaza as a prison — one physical and psychological, where Israeli bombardment comes every so often,and there is little to do but bear it. Indeed, there are few places in the Arab world where psychology and trauma are as openly discussed as they are in Gaza. But health professionals here argue that there are few places in the region that contain a population so traumatized, a youth so obsessed with conflict.

Campaign begins to regain relics of St. Nicholas of Myra (Fides) The Turkish archaeologist Nevzat Çelik, responsible for the excavations at the archaeological site of Mira-Andraike, re-launched during the Christmas holidays the request to return the relics of St. Nicholas of Myra to Turkey, at the moment venerated at the Basilica of San Nicola in Bari...

How media in Lebanon marked the Christian feast of Christmas (Fides) In Lebanon the Christmas period is marked by the unique media coverage dedicated to the Christian celebrations. On Christmas Day, 25 December, the Al-Nour radio paid tribute to the birth of Christ with a selection of hymns. The main TV channel linked to the Shiite political formation articulated its programming with a Christmas card addressed to Christians, while the information services devoted considerable space to the Christmas celebrations, highlighting the participation of Hezbollah’s representatives in official ceremonies and underlining the title of “prophet” recognized by Islam to “Jesus the son of Mary”...

Russians flock to Baltics for Orthodox Christmas (New Age) With the Eastern Orthodox Christmas just around the corner, three ex-Soviet Baltic states are facing a new invasion from the east as Russian tourists flood in for the holidays. In stark contrast to the Soviet takeover which saw Moscow subjugate Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania from World War II until 1990-91, despite frosty official relations the EU Baltic trio are now rolling out the red carpet for Russian tourists. In the three capitals, hotels with special packages for Russian visitors in the run-up to Orthodox Christmas Day on 7 January are nearly fully booked...

Tags: Syria Gaza Strip/West Bank Turkey Russian Orthodox

3 January 2013
Greg Kandra

Children dressed as the Three Kings return to their seats after presenting offertory gifts to Pope Benedict XVI during Mass on the feast of Mary, Mother of God, in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican on 1 January. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)

Tags: Pope Benedict XVI Vatican

2 January 2013
Greg Kandra

A mother and child and a sister and child stand in front of a picture of Christ at the Christina Center in Trichur, India. (photo: Sean Sprague)

As we turn the page on the calendar, here’s an image that captures the spirit of possibility and hope that greets every new year.

It comes from a profile we did a few years ago on the Christina Center in Trichur, India. The center is a home and refuge for unmarried mothers, often delinquent or vulnerable girls who find themselves pregnant, homeless and alone:

These women suffer the strongest of taboos: Not only are they outcasts, but the stigma also extends to their entire families. It is difficult for their sisters — and daughters — to marry.

At the Christina Center, young women and their babies are offered discreet refuge and quality care. In most cases the women are eventually separated from their babies, a difficult but necessary step to ensure safe and healthy futures for the young women and their children.

The toddlers live at the Center until they are five years old; then they move on to St. Anne’s or St. Savio’s. In this way the young mothers are freed from the stigma of bearing an illegitimate child and instead are given a chance to continue with their lives in a normal fashion.

The Christina Center, St. Anne’s and St. Savio’s care for needy children — from their prenatal stages right through to adulthood and even beyond — in the midst of a challenging cultural and political climate. With God’s love, the orphans of Trichur have every chance to succeed.

Read more about The Orphans of Trichur in the May-June 2000 issue of our magazine.

Tags: India Children Orphans/Orphanages Women

2 January 2013
Greg Kandra

A defaced religious painting is seen with the eyes and mouth scratched out in the old city of Aleppo, Syria, on 27 December. (photo: CNS/Muzaffar Salman, Reuters)

Bishops describe Christmas in besieged Syria (CNS) Because of ongoing fighting in the city, Catholic leaders in Aleppo, Syria, canceled their traditional Christmas visits to local government officials, but the local governor dropped in on a meeting of bishops and priests on 27 December to offer his best wishes, said Bishop Giuseppe Nazzaro. The bishop, who is the Latin-rite apostolic vicar of Aleppo, said Gov. Mohammad Vahid Akkad, an appointee of besieged President Bashar Assad, expressed his appreciation for Pope Benedict XVI’s Christmas appeals for peace in Syria. After praying for peace in Syria in his midnight Mass homily, Pope Benedict expressed his concern Christmas Day for the “deeply wounded and divided” Syrian people. He called for “an end to the bloodshed, easier access for the relief of refugees and the displaced, and dialogue in the pursuit of a political solution to the conflict”…

Pope sends greetings to new Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch (Vatican Radio) At a time when the Middle East is so unstable and prone to violence, “it is increasingly urgent that the disciples of Christ offer an authentic witness of their unity, so that the world may believe the Gospel message of love, peace and reconciliation.” These are the words of Pope Benedict XVI, in a message of fraternal greetings in Christ’s love, to Youhanna X, the new Greek Orthodox patriarch of Antioch and All the East…

Bishop of Udaipur resigns (Fides) On 21 December 2012, Pope Benedict XVI accepted the resignation of Msgr. Joseph Pathalil from the pastoral care of the Diocese of Udaipur, India, in accordance with the Code of Canon Law. The Holy Father appointed Bishop John Devprasad Ganawa of Jhabua as bishop of the Diocese of Udaipur. The same prelate was appointed apostolic administrator of the vacant et ad nutum Sanctae Sedis of the Diocese of Jhabua…

Russian Orthodox church favors law banning adoptions (AsiaNews) Despite a wave of criticism from civil society groups and members of the Russian government, the Russian Orthodox Church has backed the controversial ‘anti-Magnitsky bill’ that President Vladimir Putin signed into law last Friday. As of 1 January, the new law bans adoptions of Russian children by U.S. citizens…

Dozens of religious items stolen from Russian Orthodox church in Hollywood (Los Angeles Times) Los Angeles police continued their investigation Monday into the theft of nearly 40 religious artifacts from a Russian Orthodox church in Hollywood. Thirty-seven items were taken from an altar room at the Holy Transfiguration Russian Orthodox Cathedral the night of 22 December, Los Angeles police said. No arrests have been made in the case...

Tags: Syrian Civil War Pope Benedict XVI Russian Orthodox Church Patriarchs Indian Bishops

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