8 October 2013
In Astoria, Greek Orthodox priests and faithful celebrate the annual feast of St. Irene Chrysovalantou. (photo: Cody Christopulos)
Several years ago, we toured Astoria, New York, and discovered a thriving Greek enclave:
Officially, Piraeus is Greece’s third largest city, after Athens and Thessalonica. But don’t tell that to Greek-Americans in the New York area. For them, the “third city of Greece” is, in fact, Astoria, a neighborhood on the northwestern edge of the Borough of Queens.
Once home to singer Tony Bennett, stage star Ethel Merman and television’s Archie Bunker, Astoria at its height as a Greek-speaking enclave in the 1970’s boasted an estimated 300,000 Greek-Americans — more than the number of Greeks living in Piraeus.
Economic advancement, marriages, retirement, death and, to a lesser degree, assimilation, have contributed to the decline in the number of Astoria’s Greek-Americans. About 40,000 Greek-Americans remain in this traditionally working-class neighborhood of row houses and apartment buildings. But even as young urban professionals — fleeing Manhattan’s escalating housing costs — and other immigrant groups replace them, Astoria retains its Greek flavor, thanks almost entirely to the abundance of Greek restaurants and cafes, butchers and bakers, churches and clubs.
“We’ve given the area a different color,” said Spiro Svolakos, 53, who came to Astoria almost 30 years ago. “We’ve made it a restaurant town.”
Dutch and German immigrants first settled in the farthest northwestern reaches of Long Island in the early 17th century. Early residents called the settlement Hallet’s Cove, but in the early 19th century renamed it after John Jacob Astor to lure America’s first millionaire to invest there. Waves of other immigrants soon followed. The late 19th century brought Czechs, Irish and Italians, groups that founded Astoria’s Catholic parishes, schools and social clubs. Greek immigrants joined them.
In the 1920’s, new immigration laws — based on nationality — significantly curtailed Southern European immigration to the United States. But after the passage of the 1965 Immigration Act, which ended the national-quota system, tens of thousands of Greeks, many of them from the island of Cyprus, streamed in. Most settled in the New York area, including Astoria, which quickly became the hub of local Greek-American life and a home away from home.
“As soon as you arrived in Astoria, you had your deli, your fish market, your butcher,” recalled Eugene Bouzalakos, who came to Astoria in 1979. “You didn’t even have to speak English. The schools spoke Greek, the church people spoke Greek. You didn’t miss Greece because you had everything.”
...” One thing about Greeks,” said Maria Bouzalakos, ”they like to see people eat.“
“And if there are four of us eating, I set a table for five,” added her husband, Eugene. “Always, someone comes. If not, I have set a place for Christ.”
“I go to Greece a lot, and I lament to them how they’ve sold their heart and soul for the euro,” said butcher John Gatzonis.
“They have given up their religion and have become Europeans,” he said, recalling a recent trip to Greece when he saw most Greeks disregarding the traditional period of fasting preceding the feast of the Dormition of Mary in August.
“If one wants to see a Greek now, you don’t go to Greece, you go to North America or Australia,” he said. “I’ve evolved, but to some extent I’m the same Greek I was in 1956.”
The family meal is one of those traditions preserved by many of Astoria’s remaining Greek-American families.
In all eastern Mediterranean cultures, “the meal time, the dinner time is a sacred time,” said Father George Anastasiou of St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Cathedral.
“Christ instituted the Last Supper as a meal. To eat with your family is sacred. You can see that to this day in Greek culture. We don’t have that American style of eating. We all order six, seven, eight dishes, and it becomes a familial thing.”
Read more about Discovering New York’s Greek Enclave in the November 2007 issue of ONE.
7 October 2013
The haunting melodies of the Armenian liturgy are chanted by a Bourj Hammoud choir. (photo: Armineh Johannes)
Several years ago, we profiled Armenians who had settled in Lebanon:
Determined to preserve their cultural identity, religion, language and traditions, these Armenian refugees established clubs, schools, churches, hospitals and dispensaries. Today they attend Armenian churches and schools, eat Armenian food, speak Armenian and read Armenian periodicals. Whether members of the Armenian Apostolic, Catholic or Evangelical churches, Lebanon’s Armenians live in harmony. Although tight-knit, they too are affected by the specters of unemployment, emigration and cultural disintegration haunting all Lebanese.
Roughly 100,000 people — 80 percent of the population of Bourj Hammoud — are Armenian. One of the most densely populated areas in the country, Bourj Hammoud has become one of the largest manufacturing hubs in Lebanon, a center for jewelry, shoes and clothing, all crafted by Armenians. And while Armenians prefer to work with fellow Armenians, their clients are usually fashion-conscious Maronites, Sunni Muslims and Druze. Yet inflation and regional economic challenges have affected even this affluent quarter.
“I have difficulty earning a living today; there is no work here,” says Armenak Kaiserian, who has run a shoe repair shop in Bourj Hammoud for 40 years.
In the narrow streets of Bourj Hammoud, traffic is so dense even the most intrepid drivers hesitate to venture there. Casting a rather somber pall on the area, five-story buildings border the narrow streets; drying clothes, hanging on lines along balconies, compete with webs of electric and telephone cable. Although it is hard to imagine, everyone in Bourj Hammoud can distinguish his or her own wires among the mess.
Read more about Lebanon’s Little Armenia in the July-August 2002 issue of the magazine.
4 October 2013
Tags: Lebanon Cultural Identity Armenia Armenian Apostolic Church Armenian Catholic Church
A little boy shows Pope Francis where to sit during a lunch break in Assisi on 4 October. (photo: Catholic TV/Vatican)
On Friday, Pope Francis paid a pastoral visit to Assisi, home of the saint whose name he took, and spoke of how Christians must strip themselves of worldliness:
The pope offered this message in the same hall in which St. Francis, about 800 years ago, undressed himself and laid his fine clothes at his wealthy father’s feet, renouncing his riches and inheritance in favour of a life of poverty consecrated to God.
The pope once again put aside his prepared speech and began his impromptu remarks by debunking a notion that had circulated in the press in recent days: that he would imitate St. Francis by divesting the bishops, the cardinals and himself, as well. However, he said, today serves as a good occasion to invite the church to strip itself of worldliness.
All of the baptized comprise the church and all have to follow Jesus, who stripped himself and chose to be a servant and to be humiliated on his way to the cross. “And if we want to be Christians, there is no other way,” he said.
Without the cross, without Jesus and without stripping ourselves of worldliness, he said, “we become pastry shop Christians … like nice sweet things but not real Christians.”
“We need to strip the church,” he said. “We are in very grave danger. We are in danger of worldliness.”
The Christian cannot enter into the spirit of the world, which leads to vanity, arrogance and pride, he continued. And these lead to idolatry, which is the gravest sin.
The church is not just the clergy, the hierarchy and religious, he said. “The church is all of us and we all have to strip ourselves of this worldliness. Worldliness does us harm. It is so sad to find a worldly Christian.”
“Our Lord told us: We cannot serve two masters: either we serve money or we serve God. … We can’t cancel with one hand what we write with another,” he remarked. “The Gospel is the Gospel.”
The pope acknowledged the local poor who were gathered with him, saying: “Many of you have been stripped by this savage world that does not give work, that does not help, that does not care if children die of hunger … that does not care if many families do not have anything to eat or money to bring bread home.”
Referring to the hundreds of refugees who died in a shipwreck off the Italian island of Lampedusa Thursday, the pope lamented the large numbers of people who die trying to escape dire conditions in their home countries.
It is ridiculous that a Christian would want to follow a worldly path, he continued. “The worldly spirit kills. It kills people; it kills the church.”
The pope then asked the Lord to bestow upon Christians the courage to strip themselves of the spirit of the world, which he called “the leprosy, the cancer of society and the cancer of the revelation of God and the enemy of Jesus.”
He concluded: “I ask the Lord that he gives us all the grace to strip ourselves.”
3 October 2013
Tags: Pope Francis Catholic Assisi
Migrants are seen on a rescue boat as they arrive with a group that includes Syrian refugees at the port of Pozzallo, Italy, on 17 September. More than two million refugees have fled Syria’s civil war, with some landing in Italy. To learn how you can help, visit our Emergency: Syria page. (photo: CNS/Antonio Parrinello, Reuters)
2 October 2013
Tags: Syria Refugees Syrian Civil War Migrants Italy
Philip Deeb and Philip Massamiri read from a prayer book during services at St. Ephrem Maronite Academy near San Diego. Christian immigrants from the Middle East have found a new home in Southern California — and have managed to maintain their faith and traditions. Read about it in East Goes West in the January 2004 issue of the magazine. (photo: Lyon Liew)
1 October 2013
Tags: Middle East Christians Cultural Identity United States Emigration Maronite Christians
Pope Francis prays during a meeting with cardinals at the Vatican on 1 October. As a series of consultations aimed at the reform of the Vatican bureaucracy began, the pontiff told his group of cardinal advisers that humility and service attract people to the church, not power and pride. (photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)
Pope Francis began a series of meetings with key cardinal advisers today, as CNS reports:
As a series of consultations aimed at the reform of the Vatican bureaucracy began, Pope Francis told his group of cardinal advisers that humility and service attract people to the church, not power and pride.
“Let us ask the Lord that our work today makes us all more humble, meek, more patient and more trusting in God so that the church may give beautiful witness to the people,” he said on 1 October during morning Mass in his residence, the Domus Sanctae Marthae.
The strength of the Gospel “is precisely in humility, the humility of a child who lets himself be guided by the love and tenderness of his father,” he told the cardinals.
But overshadowing that piece of business was an interview published today in a prominent Rome newspaper:
In his latest wide-ranging interview, Pope Francis said that he aimed to make the Catholic Church less “Vatican-centric” and closer to the “people of God,” as well as more socially conscious and open to modern culture.
He also revealed that he briefly considered turning down the papacy in the moments following his election last March, and identified the “most urgent problem” the church should address today as youth unemployment and the abandonment of elderly people.
The pope’s remarks appeared in a 4,500-word interview, published 1 October in the Rome daily La Repubblica, with Eugenio Scalfari, a co-founder and former editor-in-chief of the newspaper. …
Their conversation touched on a range of topics, including economic justice, dialogue between Christians and nonbelievers, and reform of the Vatican bureaucracy.
“Heads of the church have often been narcissists, flattered and thrilled by their courtiers,” the pope said. “The court is the leprosy of the papacy.”
Pope Francis said that the Roman Curia, the church’s central administration at the Vatican, is not itself a court, though courtiers can be found there.
The Curia “has one defect,” he said. “It is Vatican-centric. It sees and looks after the interests of the Vatican, which are still, for the most part, temporal interests. This Vatican-centric view neglects the world around us. I do not share this view and I’ll do everything I can to change it.”
“The church is or should go back to being a community of God’s people,” he said. “Priests, pastors and bishops who have the care of souls are at the service of the people of God.”
In response to Scalfari’s opinion that “love for temporal power is still very strong within the Vatican walls and in the institutional structure of the whole church,” and that the “institution dominates the poor, missionary church that you would like,” Pope Francis agreed, saying: “In fact, that is the way it is, and in this area you cannot perform miracles.”
Pope Francis also spoke about the cardinals meeting with him this week:
“The first thing I decided was to appoint a group of eight cardinals to be my advisers, not courtiers but wise people who share my own feelings,” he said. “This is the beginning of a church that is not just top-down but also horizontal.”
You can read the full text of the interview at this link.
30 September 2013
Tags: Pope Francis Vatican Rome
This image from 2007 shows an illuminated cross, part of the celebration of Meskel in Addis Ababa. (photo: Petterik Wiggers)
Ethiopians on Thursday night marked the Christian holiday of Meskel. Gerald Jones wrote about this dramatic celebration in 2011:
Meskel means “cross” in Amharic and it a major celebration (both religious and national) that commemorates the finding of the True Cross by the Empress Helena. Tradition holds that, praying for assistance, Empress Helena had a revelation; she was to light a bonfire, and the smoke would lead her to the resting place of the True Cross. …
The major celebrations occur on Meskel Eve. Around 6 pm, huge crowds gather in the Square where many priests assemble to chant in the Geez liturgical language and dance the measured steps of liturgical dance. These days, parish youth groups also gather and sing and dance, and it is wonderful to see young boys and girls actively involved in this traditional celebration.
The International Business Times has more details:
Legend has it that on this day circa 330, St. Helena — who is known as Nigist Eleni in Ethiopia and was the mother of Rome’s first Christian emperor, Constantine — found the cross on which Jesus had been crucified. In accordance with a revelation she’d had in a dream, Helena burned a giant pile of wood and frankincense. The smoke rose into the sky and then arced back down to earth, showing her the spot where the cross had been buried. Fragments of the cross were distributed to churches around the world, and one found its way to Ethiopia, where it is now said to be buried under the Gishen Mariam Church in the northeastern Wollo region. Ethiopia, which has one of the most devout Orthodox communities in the world, is the only country that celebrates the finding of the cross on a national level.
27 September 2013
Tags: Ethiopia Cultural Identity Ethiopian Orthodox Church Ethiopian Christianity
Father Luis Montes, who directs St. Aloysius School in Alexandria, Egypt, spends some time with the students. Read more about the school’s remarkable work with the poor in City of Charity from the May 2009 issue of ONE. (photo: Sean Sprague)
26 September 2013
Tags: Egypt Children Education Poor/Poverty
Recovering addicts attend a morning yoga class at the detoxification clinic in Kerala. (photo: Cody Christopulos)
In 2005, we turned a spotlight on a dark corner of Indian life, alcohol and drug addiction:
Not long ago, Vincent Njarekaden was driving on the back roads of Irinjalakuda. The rural district lies in the central Indian state of Kerala about 40 miles northwest of the port city of Cochin. Mr. Njarekaden is the camp coordinator of Navachaithanya, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center established in 1991 by the Syro-Malabar Catholic Eparchy of Irinjalakuda.
As he passed a toddy shop, Kerala’s version of the neighborhood bar, Mr. Njarekaden recognized a former patient, Antu, walking in its direction. Mr. Njarekaden pulled over and summoned Antu to the jeep. “Where are you going?” Mr. Njarekaden asked. The former patient gestured toward the toddy shop.
Economists often cite Kerala as a model of human development in India. The state has achieved a literacy rate, standard of health and women’s empowerment to a greater degree than the country at large.
But there is a dark side to this progress: Unemployment in Kerala stands at about 35 percent, the worst rate of any state in India, according to India’s Labor Ministry. Kerala’s crime rate nearly doubles the national rate, according to the Ministry of Home Affairs. A conference on suicide prevention, held in the state capital of Trivandrum in 2004, reported that there are more reported suicides in Kerala than in any other state.
But alcoholism is perhaps the state’s worst social malady.
“When there is high unemployment, it is not uncommon for many people to turn to alcohol,” said Dr. M. Prasanna Kumar, a health consultant in Trivandrum. …
Nearly every village has a toddy shop. They dot the rural byways like rest stops. The shops, typically dark wooden shacks, have good, cheap curries. But they are better known for their toddy, a pungent liquor made from coconut trees. Inside the shops, men — and only men — can be found sipping tall bottles after a day in the fields. Conversation is muted. The men drink purposefully. They are there to get drunk.
Six months ago, Antu attended a month-long detoxification camp at Navachaithanya. He had been sober for five months, he said, but had started drinking a month ago.
Antu recounted his story matter-of-factly; he did not seem ashamed of being caught by the camp administrator. He had spent the whole day climbing coconut trees, collecting fruit. And now he wanted a drink. Antu said he would probably drink four liter-bottles of toddy — which all told will cost him about two dollars, or half of his day’s pay — and then go home and pass out. He claimed he would not be hung over the following day when he woke up to climb more coconut trees. Scolded but undeterred, Antu resumed his walk toward the toddy shop.
Each month, about 50 men arrive at the center for the detoxification and rehabilitation camp. Most men come of their own will, Father Titus said. Others are referred by their families, employers or local police.
Read more about living One Day At a Time In Kerala from the July 2005 issue of ONE.
25 September 2013
Tags: India Kerala Indian Catholics Alcoholism
In this image from last month, people walk around a destroyed Protestant church in Mallawi, Egypt. Christians, making up 10 percent of Egypt’s 85 million people, have coexisted with the majority Sunni Muslims for centuries. Violence erupted periodically, but the attacks on churches and Christian properties in August were the worst in years. (photo: CNS/Reuters)
During his audience today, Pope Francis issued a call for Christian unity, and a plea to pray for those who are suffering:
The pope asked people to reflect upon whether they live out this unity or are they uninterested — preferring to be closed off from others, isolated within their own community, group of friends or nation.
“It’s sad to see a ‘privatized’ church because of egoism and this lack of faith,” he said.
It’s especially sad when there are so many fellow Christians in the world who are suffering or being persecuted because of their faith, he said.
“Am I indifferent or is it like someone in the family is suffering?” he asked.
He asked everyone to be honest with themselves and respond in their hearts: “How many of you pray for Christians who are persecuted” and for those who are in difficulty for professing and defending the faith?
“It’s important to look beyond one’s own fence, to feel oneself as church, one family of God,” he said.
But throughout history and even today, people within the church have not always lived this unity, he said.
“Sometimes misunderstandings, conflicts, tensions and divisions crop up that harm [unity], and so the church doesn’t have the face we would want, it doesn’t demonstrate love and what God wants.”
“And if we look at the divisions that still exist among Christians, Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants, we feel the hard work [needed] to make this unity fully visible.”
The world today needs unity, he said: “We need reconciliation, communion, and the church is the home of communion.”
Read the rest on CNS.
And, to learn how you can help Middle East Christians, visit this page.
Tags: Egypt Pope Francis Violence against Christians Christian Unity Egypt's Christians