27 August 2013
A man prays during the Sunday liturgy at the Coptic Orthodox Church of the Virgin Mary in the Maadi suburb of Cairo on 25 August. (photo: CNS/Dana Smillie)
As the situation in Egypt grows more troubled by the hour, people in the country countinue to be sustained by faith. Catholic News Service reports this morning on the country’s long and deep Christian heritage:
The Coptic Orthodox Church of the Virgin Mary sits in a tiled courtyard a few miles outside Cairo, on the left bank of the Nile as the river bends south toward Upper Egypt.
The structure’s front doors overlook the famed river, which Egyptian Christians who pray and worship here are convinced transported Mary, Joseph and their small boy, Jesus, to safety from persecution back home.
“In those times, this was a dock area from where the boats took off for Upper Egypt. The Holy Family came here from Palestine and got on one,” explained one of the church’s five priests, from an office overlooking the water.
Like the priest, many Copts — the name for Egypt’s indigenous Christians — trace their religion all the way back to Jesus who, according to the Gospel of St. Matthew, sought refuge in their country from the wrath of Herod the Great 2,000 years ago.
Coptic tradition holds that Christ stayed in Egypt for three years and that later, around the year 42, St. Mark the Evangelist also came to evangelize in the Egyptian port city of Alexandria, before being martyred there.
Christianity continued to spread among the locals called “Copts,” a derivative from the Greek word for Egypt, and by the third century, Christianity was the country’s dominant religion. By the time the newer religion of Islam arrived in Egypt in the middle of the seventh century, Egyptian Christianity had already provided the church with some of the world’s major Christian saints and had introduced new forms of monastic life.
“The history of the Coptic Church is both glorious and tragic,” wrote Otto F.A. Meinardus in his authoritative book on Egyptian Christianity, “Christians in Egypt.” …
Tension between Egypt’s Copts and Muslims has long been a problem, but recently it has dangerously spiked, first since President Hosni Mubarak’s overthrow by popular revolt in 2011, and even more so since the military’s July 3 ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi.
Morsi was aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood, whose members the Egyptian military is now pursuing.
Violence has surged even further since 14 August, when security forces raided two pro-Morsi protest camps in Cairo, which killed hundreds of people, most of them protestors.
Church leaders and independent human rights groups have recorded attacks on dozens of churches, schools, buildings, homes and other institutions belonging to Christians. Some non-Christian institutions have also come under attack in the violence, including government and security offices.
And visit this page to learn how you can help CNEWA to help Egypt’s Christians.
26 August 2013
Tags: Egypt Violence against Christians Coptic Orthodox Church Egypt's Christians
Iconographer Ian Knowles works on a new icon for the shrine of Our Lady of the Mountain, in Anjara, depicting the risen Christ surrounded by scenes from his life. (photo: Nicholas Seeley)
The Summer issue of ONE takes us back to school, to learn about the art and spirituality behind creating icons:
The instructor is patient, demonstrating the basics again and again — how to draw a line with a brush, how to mix the paint, how to find a face in a sheet of white. “Move the paper so it’s easier to draw,” he explains. “Work to your strengths, and know your weaknesses — which is a good spiritual principle! Because what you’re doing is learning spiritual life, really — in a very practical way.”
The teacher is Ian Knowles, a British iconographer who has been working in churches and convents in the Holy Land since 2008. As an artist, he creates extraordinary, vivid images. Though hewing fast to traditional styles and techniques, his pieces can feel strikingly modern, alive with spiritual purpose. It is this, as much as brushwork and technique, that he is attempting to pass along to his students.
“The purpose of the icon is prayer,” he says. “What you need as you paint Christ is to be with him, to experience him.”
Slowly, in a few places, the holy countenance begins to come to life on paper.
It is October 2012, and this is the first class of the Bethlehem Icon Center, an initiative to train students from Palestine in the ancient art of iconography. It is a project at once modest and ambitious. The classes are small and the curriculum, highly specific. But by helping students reach a high level of craftsmanship, the center’s founders hope to create something lasting and profound: not just the seed of a local craft industry, but an expression of the Holy Land’s ancient Christian culture and its role in the development of Christian art.
“Empowering local Christians, finding a way for them to rediscover their artistic, religious tradition in a very specific way — that’s exciting,” says the Rev. Timothy Lowe, a priest of the Orthodox Church in America and the rector of the Tantur Ecumenical Institute, which is a partner of the center, along with Mr. Knowles.
Read more about Prayers in Paint in the Summer issue of ONE.
26 August 2013
Tags: Palestine Christianity Bethlehem ONE magazine Icons
Civilians watch as workers remove debris and search rubble for casualties at building hit by shelling in the Bustan al Qasr district of Aleppo, Syria, on 21 August.
(photo: CNS/Ammar Abdullah, Reuters)
U.N. says snipers fired on weapons inspectors in Syria (New York Times) United Nations inspectors heading toward the site of a suspected chemical attack in Syria came under fire “multiple times by unidentified snipers” as they sought to cross into rebel-held territory on Monday, the United Nations said, and the first car in their convoy was hit. While there were no immediate reports of injuries, “the car was no longer serviceable,” so the inspectors “returned safely back to the Government check-point,” the United Nations said in a statement in New York, urging the combatants to cooperate with their effort to establish what happened in the attack last Wednesday. “The team will return to the area after replacing the vehicle,” the statement said...
Pope Francis renews calls for peace in Syria (Vatican Radio) After the recitation of the Angelus, Pope Francis renewed his call for peace in Syria. “It is not confrontation that offers hope to resolve problems, but rather the ability to meet and dialogue.” The Holy Father called on the International Community to do everything in its power to help the “beloved Syrian nation” find a solution to the ongoing conflict. At the end of his remarks, Pope Francis lead all those listening in a prayer to Mary, Queen of Peace...
Patriarch: Christians pay highest price in Mideast conflicts (Vatican Radio) Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter says Christians always pay the highest price when conflicts erupt in Middle East countries such as Egypt, Syria and Iraq. The cardinal also said that outside countries, especially in the West but also elsewhere, are helping to foment these conflicts...
Egyptian military using religion in propaganda campaign (New York Times) The Egyptian military has enlisted Muslim scholars in a propaganda campaign to persuade soldiers and policemen that they have a religious duty to obey orders to use deadly force against supporters of the ousted president, Muhammad Morsi. The effort is a signal that the generals are worried about insubordination in the ranks, after security forces have killed hundreds of their fellow Egyptians who were protesting against the military’s removal of the elected president — violence by the armed forces against civilians that is without precedent in the country’s modern history. The recourse to religion to justify the killing is also a new measure of the depth of the military’s determination to break down the main pillar of Mr. Morsi’s support, the Islamists of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Ethiopian nun who may be Jerusalem’s best-kept musical secret (The Guardian) From a small, spartan room in the courtyard of the Ethiopian church off a narrow street in Jerusalem, a 90-year-old musical genius is emerging into the spotlight. For almost three decades, Emahoy Tsegué-Mariam Guebrù has been closeted at the church, devoting herself to her life’s twin themes — faith and music. The Ethiopian nun, whose piano compositions have enthralled those who have stumbled across a handful of recordings in existence, has lived a simple life, rarely venturing beyond the monastery’s gates. But this month the nonagenarian’s scribbled musical scores have been published as a book, ensuring the long-term survival of her music. And on Tuesday, the composer will hear her work played in concert for the first time, at three performances in Jerusalem. Guebrù may even play a little.
14 August 2013
Tags: Egypt Pope Francis Syrian Civil War Jerusalem United Nations
Supporters of deposed Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi carry a protester injured during clashes with riot police and the army in Cairo on 14 August. At least 95 people were killed nationwide, many of them during the assaults on sites where Morsi supporters are holding vigils. (photo: CNS/Asmaa Waguih, Reuters)
The situation in Egypt is becoming more volatile and dangerous, with reports circulating today that churches are under attack. From the Washington Post:
Amid the fierce clashes taking place in Cairo, numerous reports and images are emerging of churches that have been attacked and burned elsewhere in the country.
Egyptian news Web site Mada Masr has some details on the attacks:
In Sohag [a city on the west bank of the Nile 245 miles south of Cairo], Bishop Moussa Ibrahim of Mar Girgis told Mada Masr that the church was set ablaze by Muslim Brotherhood supporters at 9:30 am in the absence of police forces, despite repeated threats against the church.
The biggest church in the governorate, Mar Girgis is located in Thakafa Square near the Brotherhood sit-in. Three other small churches were also attacked in Sohag but Ibrahim could not confirm the extent of the damage.
A Coptic resident living near the church told Mada Masr that shops owned by Copts and Muslims in front of the church were destroyed. Live shots were heard in the area as citizens began forming popular committees.
There are additional details, and images that purportedly show destroyed churches, at the link.
13 August 2013
Tags: Egypt Violence against Christians Copts Sunni Arab Spring/Awakening
An Egyptian girl wants a closer look at Verbo Encarnado Sister María de la Santa Faz. (photo: Mohammed El-Dakhakhny)
Several years ago, we reported on the remarkable work being undertaken by a congregation of sisters in Egypt seeking to help some of the poorest children in the country:
Amira still does not talk much, except with her eyes. A year after the sisters took her in, the 3-year-old is still recovering from the hell that was her home. Now her brown eyes are full of life and her expressive eyebrows, lifting and furrowing, say what she cannot: that she has been rescued, that she is lucky and that somehow she knows it.
Amira is from the dusty Egyptian town of Dekhela, near the coastal city of Alexandria. Here, the sisters of the Verbo Encarnado (Incarnate Word) Congregation, who hail from South America, have set up two homes for girls who used to live on the streets.
Some of the girls, like Amira, have escaped abusive families. Others seek an education, while some just want regular meals and a warm bed.
While the congregation’s Egyptian community is based in Cairo, “the smaller towns are where people really need help,” says Father Maurizio, one of the founders.
Father Maurizio helped set up the mission in eight years ago and was the first priest from the congregation to live permanently in the country.
“We wanted to learn more about this part of the world,” he says. “We recognize the value of Islam, but we also wanted to help support the Christian community.”
Approximately 10 percent of Egypt’s population is Christian, mostly Coptic Orthodox. Coptic and other Eastern Catholics number about 300,000 persons. Other Christians include Greek Orthodox and evangelical Protestants.
Whatever their faith community, most Egyptians live difficult lives far from the modern bustle of Cairo or the colonial grandeur of Alexandria.
The national average daily income is just over $10 a day. About 23 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. Due to overpopulation, a weak economy and high unemployment, the challenges facing Egypt’s youth are daunting.
Sister María Guadalupe, the superior of the community in Egypt, says the situation in Dekhela is especially bad. The town is poor; there are few social services.
“These girls were living with their families in one room,” she says. “No bathroom, no kitchen, just one room. Sometimes there would be a bed and that’s all. So the girls were spending all their time in the street.”
Many families consider education for girls a luxury rather than a necessity, she says. While some girls complete grade school, many are kept at home where their mothers teach them household duties. Such traditional attitudes prevail in both Muslim and Christian communities.
Read morea about Building a Brigher Future in Egypt in the November 2004 issue of ONE.
12 August 2013
Tags: Egypt Children Sisters Education
Students at St. Joseph’s Orphanage in Kerala, India, find time not only to study but also to dance. Read more about St. Joseph’s ‘Orphans’ in the September 2005 issue of ONE. (photo: Cody Christopulos)
9 August 2013
Tags: India Children Sisters Kerala Orphans/Orphanages
Each day the boys at the Malankara Boys’ Home pause on the lawn to pray before a statue of the Virgin Mary before going to school. (photo: Jose Jacob)
In the Summer issue of ONE, we take readers to a home for boys in India that is offering a new lease on life for those some consider “untouchable”:
A low building in the front houses a library, sick room, kitchen, pantry, work area and classroom. A path paved with red and black tiles, chipped and broken in places, leads to a four-story building where children study, sleep and play.
Between the two buildings — each in need of fresh paint — lies a small lawn with a statue of the Virgin Mary inside a large lotus, the national flower of India, fashioned out of concrete. Here, children pray before going to school.
In this home in 1996, the Syro-Malankara Catholic Archeparchy of Trivandrum began a plan to deliver children from a vicious circle of poverty, squalor and despair.
Seventeen years later, the Malankara Boys’ Home counts more than 175 extraordinary young men as success stories, part of a growing effort to spark a quiet social revolution among southern India’s Dalits.
Dalit, a Sanskrit term, denotes the former “untouchable” groups in India’s multilayered caste system that segregates people on the basis of birth.
Although Mahatma Gandhi called the Dalit “harijan” (children of God), and the Indian constitution bans caste discrimination, those people once identified as untouchable continue to lag behind socially and economically.
But thanks in part to Malankara Boys’ Home, that is beginning to change.
“Our children have brought hope to those who are dismissed as social scum,” says the Rev. Jose Kizhakedath, a priest of the archeparchy who started the home and guided its first seven years. It is a hope that is slowly but perceptibly changing the lives of some of Kerala’s young people most in need.
Read more about Reaching the Young ‘Untouchables’.
8 August 2013
Tags: India Children ONE magazine Indian Catholics Syro-Malankara Catholic Church
Children gather in a makeshift classroom in the Al Waer neighborhood of Homs. (photo: Ziad Hilal, S.J.)
In the Summer issue of ONE, now online, we look closely at CNEWA’s efforts to help needy children. One of the pieces in the magazine, written by the Rev. Ziad Hilal, S.J., describes the struggles of children in Syria who have been scarred by war:
Recent events have deeply affected the children, and we have noticed changes through our follow-ups at school. When they play, they transform wooden boxes into imitation weapons and play war games, reflecting the reality that the children are also internalizing the patterns of the war around them. Confronting this, we had to work hard to redirect the children to regular games, such as football and other sports.
Most children live in a state of denial. They refuse to acknowledge their fears. Meanwhile, mothers report their children cannot sleep alone in a separate bed anymore, which speaks to their trauma. Some others report cases that required the assistance of a speech therapist and a psychologist to overcome communication troubles.
At the same time, many youth have lost their jobs and their income, their great potential going to waste.
Thus, we decided to join both priorities in one project, aiming to take the children out of the streets and to provide jobs to the displaced youth.
We started with one pilot project at St. Savior Convent in the Adawiyya quarter, where many displaced families found refuge. The project consisted of gathering around 60 children in the convent and, with the help of the youth, preparing some educational activities: theater, music and more. The children were from different religious groups, and the convent became a center for reconciliation — especially for the parents from all confessions, who were obliged to sit together to watch their children in a common activity.
Soon after, two additional centers adopting the same model opened in other quarters where displaced families settled. At present the project enrolls more than 600 children.
Read more on Saving the Children of War.
And to learn how you can help, visit our Syria Emergency Relief page or check out various ways to support children in need.
8 August 2013
Tags: Refugees Children Syrian Civil War War Emigration
Muslim worshipers attend Friday prayers during the holy month of Ramadan at the Data Darbar mosque in Lahore, Pakistan, on 2 August. (photo: CNS/Mohsin Raza, Reuters)
The Muslim holy month of Ramadan is drawing to a close. The Jerusalem Post takes note:
Tens of thousands of Palestinians are to participate in processions, celebrations and cultural evenings to mark Eid ul Fitr, the end of the holy month Ramadan on Thursday. The celebrations are to continue through till Sunday. …
Ramadan can last either 29 or 30 days, depending on when the first moon of the next lunar month is sighted, and the dates often differ from country to country. Over 2.5 million worshipers prayed atop the Al Aqsa Mosque during the entire month of Ramadan, the Al Aqsa Foundation stated on Thursday.
Pope Francis has issued his own message to Muslims to mark Ramadan.
Earlier this week, CNEWA’s chief communications officer Michael J.L. La Civita appeared on Relevant Radio’s The Drew Mariani Show to talk about the Catholic Church’s relationship to Islam. You can hear that interview at this link, beginning at about the 30-minute mark.
Ramadan, of course, carries its own customs and traditions, and that extends to the celebration of Eid ul Fitr. Two years ago, the Rev. Elias Mallon wrote about that in ONE:
While Muslims around the world celebrate Eid ul Fitr with early morning prayers, feasts and charity, communities in different parts of the world add their own flare to the holiday. Muslims in different countries — whether in the Middle East, Indonesia, South Asia or elsewhere — celebrate with culturally distinct cuisine, decorations, clothing and activities.
A new and popular Ramadan tradition is for Muslims to invite their non—Muslims neighbors to take part in the iftar or Eid ul Fitr. In some communities in Europe and North America, where Muslims are a religious minority, the iftar has become an important interfaith celebration. What better way to promote interreligious understanding around the world than by sharing the joy of the iftar and Eid ul Fitr?
Happy Eid ul Fitr to all our Muslim friends and neighbors!
8 August 2013
Tags: Pope Francis Muslim Islam Ramadan
The wait is over: The latest edition of ONE, for Summer 2013, is now available online.
This issue throws a spotlight on children in need, with stories about a boys’ home in India and a school in Ethiopia, along with a moving letter from a Jesuit priest in Syria recounting efforts to help children heal from the trauma of war.
All that, plus the striking photography and world-class journalism that have made ONE, for the second year in a row, the most-honored magazine in the Catholic press.
Click here to read ONE online.
And, while you’re at it, check out our Facebook page and follow CNEWA on Twitter.
Tags: CNEWA Children ONE magazine