11 September 2012
On the eve of Pope Benedict XVI's historic trip to Lebanon, veteran Vatican observer John Allen helps place this visit into its many contexts:
Quite often, how an event is framed beforehand determines judgments after the fact about whether it was a success or a failure. In the run-up to Pope Benedict XVI’s 14-16 September trip to Lebanon, which unfolds against the backdrop of ongoing violence in Syria, there seem to be four basic competing frames. …
First, there’s the official line from Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesperson, asserting the pope is not traveling as a “powerful political leader” but as “the head of a religious community” whose mission is to confirm the Christians of the region “who serve the communities in which they live through the witness of their lives.” …
Second, there’s the frame proposed by Jesuit Father Paolo Dall’Oglio, a Jesuit who lived in Syria for 30 years prior to being expelled in June for his advocacy of the anti-Assad uprising. On Tuesday, Dall’Oglio finished an eight-day hunger strike in Rome intended to raise awareness about the Syrian situation.
Dall’Oglio issued a statement Tuesday expressing hope that the papal visit to Lebanon, the closest Benedict is every like to come to Syria, will be an occasion for unmasking the “lies of the regime” under Assad, and for demanding that the Christian nations of the West stop “giving the regime the possibility of spilling more Syrian blood.” …
Third, there’s the frame offered by Archbishop Louis Sako of Kirkuk, Iraq, who has suggested the papal trip should be a “line of last defense” stand in favor of Christian survival all across the Middle East.
As is well known, Christians today are estimated to represent no more than 5 percent of the population of the Middle East, down from 20 percent in the early 20th century. From 12 million today, the consensus estimate is that the Christian population of the Middle East will likely be 6 million in 2020. The decline is due to a number of factors, including lower birth rates, economic and political stagnation, and rising insecurity and the threat of Islamic radicalism. …
Finally, there’s a fourth frame suggested by Jesuit Father Samir Khalil Samir, an Egyptian scholar based at St. Joseph University in Beirut: extolling Lebanon itself as a model for the Islamic future, one based on moderation, religious freedom and freedom of conscience. …
[Father Samir] published an essay Tuesday in advance of the pope’s trip pointing out that Lebanon is the only country in the Middle East where a citizen can convert from one religion to another “without the risk of being killed or severely marginalized.”
Read the rest at the National Catholic Reporter’s site.
11 September 2012
Tags: Syria Lebanon Middle East Christians Pope Benedict XVI
A worker cleans the entrance of the Trappist monastery in Latrun, near Jerusalem, defaced by vandals last week. (photo: CNS/Baz Ratner, Reuters)
Last week, we reported on the Trappist monastery near Jerusalem that was vandalized. John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter has some analysis and context:
Most people, most of the time, are fundamentally decent. Hence if they knew that there’s a minority facing an epidemic of persecution — a staggering total of 150,000 martyrs every year, meaning 17 deaths every hour — there would almost certainly be a groundswell of moral and political outrage.
There is such a minority in the world today, and it’s Christianity. The fact that there isn’t yet a broad-based movement to fight anti-Christian persecution suggests something is missing in public understanding.
In part, of course, the problem is that unquestionable acts of persecution, such as murder and imprisonment, are sometimes confused with a perceived cultural and legal “war on religion” in the West, a less clear-cut proposition. In part, too, it’s because of the antique prejudice that holds that Christianity is always the oppressor, never the oppressed.
Yet as with most things, politics also has a distorting effect, and a story out of Israel this week makes the point.
On Tuesday, the doors of a Trappist monastery in Latrun, near Jerusalem, were set ablaze, with provocative phrases in Hebrew spray-painted on the exteriors walls, such as “Jesus is a monkey.” The assault was attributed to extremist Jews unhappy with the recent dismantling of two settlements on nearby Palestinian land.
Founded in 1890 by French Trappists, the Latrun monastery is famed for its strict religious observance. Israelis call it minzar ha’shatkanim, meaning “the monastery of those who don’t speak.” Ironically, it’s known for fostering dialogue with Judaism, and welcomes hundreds of Jewish visitors every week.
Tuesday’s attack was not an isolated incident. In 2009, a Franciscan church near the Cenacle on Mount Zion, regarded by tradition as the site of Christ’s Last Supper, was defaced with a spray-painted Star of David and slogans such as “Christians Out!” and “We Killed Jesus!” According to reports, the vandals also urinated on the door and left a trail of urine leading to the church.
Last February, the Franciscan Custodian of the Holy Land wrote to Israeli authorities to appeal for better protection after another wave of vandalism struck a Baptist church, a Christian cemetery and a Greek Orthodox monastery. That time, slogans included “Death to Christianity,” “We will crucify you!” and “Mary is a whore.”
At the time, the custodian, Franciscan Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, complained that no arrests had been made in any of these cases.
Israeli observers say these assaults are part of what’s called the “price tag” campaign, meaning the vow by extremists that a price will be paid every time a settlement is dismantled — not just by those actually responsible for the demolition, but also by groups in Israeli society, such as the Christian minority, perceived to support the Palestinians and the ending of settlements. Frequent targets also include mosques, places of gathering for Arabs, and Israeli pacifists.
The assaults on Christian holy sites also reflect a nasty, if little-discussed, streak of broader anti-Christian animus in some Israeli circles. Local priests have reported that sometimes Yeshiva students chant insulting slogans at them, or even throw stones and spit in their direction.
The Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land released a statement in reaction to the latest attack.
”What is happening in Israeli society to the point that Christians are the sacrificial lambs of such violence?” they asked. “Those who left their hate-filled graffiti expressed outrage at the eviction of illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank. But why are they taking it out on Christians and their places of worship?”
There’s much more at the National Catholic Reporter.
11 September 2012
Tags: Violence against Christians Jerusalem Monastery Trappist
This Homs church was damaged in the ongoing violence in Syria.
(photo: CNS/Shaam News Network, handout via Reuters)
Vatican ambassador says 100,000 Christians have left Homs (Turkish Weekly) Approximately 100,000 Christians in Homs have had to move relocate within Syria due to the ongoing clashes between the Syrian army and opposition militants, according to a senior Vatican diplomat in Damascus. “Up until now, Christians have been suffering from the same consequences of the conflict like all the other citizens. However, a good number of Christians — around 100,000 — had to leave Homs. Most of them moved to the Christian Valley [Krak des Chevaliers] and to the Damascus area,” Vatican Ambassador to Syria Nuncio Mario Zenari said yesterday.
Vatican official: Religion’s role in Arab Spring is to promote dignity (Catholic News Service) Religious communities can assist the North African and Middle Eastern pro-democracy movements by upholding human dignity and not trying to claim power for one religion or one movement within a religion, a senior Vatican official said. Comboni Father Miguel Angel Ayuso Guixot, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, represented the Vatican at a conference in Istanbul last weekend on “The Arab Awakening and Peace in the New Middle East: Muslim and Christian Perspectives.”
Pentecostal church looted, razed near Moscow (The Moscow Times) The demolition, which sent shock waves through the country’s Protestant community over the weekend, was ordered by city authorities determined to build a sports stadium on the site. But the decision, based on a court order, is raising fears that religious freedom is under attack from a government that has long shown preferential treatment to the dominant Russian Orthodox Church.
Egyptian lawyer says Coptic immigration could be demographic disaster (Al Arabiya News) Egyptian Christian lawyer Mamdouh Ramzi warned of the repercussions of the immigration of Copts outside Egypt for fear of persecution at the hands of the Islamist government. “More than 100,000 Copts applied for immigration to the United States and Scandinavian countries,” he told Al Arabiya’s al-Hadath al-Masri (The Egyptian Event). “The immigration of such large numbers of Copts constitutes a grave threat to Egypt’s demographic structure.”
10 September 2012
Tags: Syria Russian Orthodox Church Coptic Christians Egypt's Christians Arab Spring/Awakening
In preparation for Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Lebanon later this week, a papal media office in Jounieh distributed CD's in decorative envelopes. (photo: CNS/Jamal Saidi, Reuters)
Pope Benedict XVI: On the priority of peace for the Middle East (Vatican Radio) “My apostolic visit to Lebanon, and by extension to the Middle East as a whole, is placed under the sign of peace”: On the eve of his departure, Pope Benedict XVI has clearly stated the aim of this his 24th foreign visit and has voiced his serious concern for the “daily sufferings” of the people of the Middle East, “which sadly, and at times mortally, plague their personal and family life.”
Lebanon’s bishop says situation worsening for Christians (Lebanon Daily Star) The situation in the Middle East is becoming increasingly dangerous and threatens the presence of Christians, Maronite Bishop Michel Aoun said Sunday during a talk with reporters about the pope’s upcoming visit to Lebanon. “The pope’s synod is a road map for Christians in Lebanon and the Middle East; we all know that Christians are experiencing difficulties due to the political and regional situation and that they are exposed to immigration.”
Ukrainian Catholic leader shares favorites, faith in Winnipeg (Catholic News Service) When young Ukrainian Catholics asked the church’s major archbishop to name his favorite book of the Bible, he did not hesitate: the Gospel of St. John. Why? “First — shortest one,” laughed 42-year-old Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych, Ukraine. Then, he added more seriously: “With those few words, he speaks so profoundly.” “Favorites” was among question topics that young people from Manitoba submitted for the head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church to answer during a visit to St. Nicholas Parish on 7 September. Posed in the form of Tweets and projected onto a screen in front of the church, the questions followed a service to honor Blessed Nykyta Budka, the first Ukrainian Catholic bishop who arrived in Canada 100 years ago.
Russian Orthodox patriarch says his church is under attack (Reuters) The head of the Russian Orthodox Church used a Sunday prayer service and a state TV interview to argue that the church he presides over is under attack from foes he said fear its post-Soviet revival and want to destroy its places of worship. Patriarch Kirill did not name punk music group Pussy Riot but was clearly referring to the collective, three members of which were sentenced to jail for performing a “punk prayer” at the altar of a Moscow cathedral during which they criticized President Vladimir Putin.
Catholic Church likely to take up migrants’ issues in India (Times of India) With interstate migration trending upward over the years, the Catholic Church in India may adopt it as a policy matter to help migrants. Labor bodies attached to the church in 12 states — including Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka — will meet in Bangalore next month to chalk out a final decision.
7 September 2012
Tags: India Lebanon Pope Benedict XVI Russian Orthodox Church Maronite
Snake boats get ready to race during the Onam celebration in Kerala.
(photo: Arun Sinha/Wikipedia)
What, exactly, is Onam? Glad you asked.
Onam is the just-completed Hindu harvest festival celebrated in Kerala, India. As Wikipedia puts it:
It is the state festival of Kerala and falls during the month of Chingam (August–September) and lasts for ten days. The festival is marked by various festivities, including intricate flower carpets, elaborate banquet lunches, snake boat races, etc.
The festival has a rich and colorful history, and its observance now extends to all faiths. We asked Thomas Varghese, CNEWA’s vice president for India and Northeast Africa, to share a few things people should know about Onam. He was happy to oblige.
- Thripunithura Athachamayam. This is the festival that kicks off all the celebrations. It features a street parade accompanied by decorated elephants and floats, musicians and various traditional Kerala art forms.
- Feasting. Bring your appetite! Traditionally, the feasting of Onam is referred to as Onasadya, and it consists of a number of specialties (often more than 20 curries) dished up on a banana leaf.
- Pulikkali, or Tiger Play. Hundreds of grown men dress up as tigers and dance to the beat of traditional percussion instruments. It can take hours to decorate just one person—and all body hair has to be removed so that the skin can be painted in intricate detail. There are prizes for best costume, too.
- Aranmula Snake Boat Race. This is among the oldest snake boat races in Kerala. The focus is on tradition. About 50 boats take part in the race, which starts in the afternoon and includes religious rituals.
- Onam Week. Kerala puts on week-long celebrations around the state’s capital of Trivandrum. Festivities include stage shows, folk art and craft fairs.
For more, you can check out the link at Wikipedia. You can also read more about this year’s celebration in the Times of India. And you’ll find much more—including details about the festival’s origins and rituals—at OnamFestival.org.
7 September 2012
Tags: India Kerala
Children perform in Jounieh, Lebanon, while filming a video greeting for Pope Benedict XVI. He will be visiting the country later this month. (photo: CNS/Jamal Saidi, Reuters )
With Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Lebanon just a week away, anticipation in the country is growing.
On the evening of 12 September, the eve of the Pope’s arrival in Lebanon, four processions of young people will depart from four points of Beirut to converge in the so-called “garden of Mary” in the Museum Square area, carrying candles and flags of Lebanon. There, around eight o’clock in the evening, the meeting will begin, with a program including songs, Muslim-Christian readings and prayers to ask God and the mother of Jesus that the papal visit is welcomed by all and lived as a blessing for the country of the cedars.
“The title of the initiative is ‘together in peace, love, freedom and security’. It will be a national and popular holiday, to show to the world that Lebanon can be in this moment in history the country of coexistence between Christians and Muslims,” explains Father Antoine Daou, Secretary of the Commission of the Lebanese Episcopal Conference for Dialogue with Islam. The meeting will be attended by representatives and authorities of all religious communities in the country, along with thousands of faithful.
There are more details at the Fides link.
7 September 2012
Tags: Lebanon Pope Benedict XVI Muslim
Patriarch Bishara Rai (photo: CNS)
Syria’s Christians support stability, not regime (AFP) Syria’s Christians do not support the regime of President Bashar Assad, but they do want stability in their war-torn country, Lebanon’s Maronite Christian Patriarch Bishara Rai told AFP on Thursday. “I tell Westerners who say that we (Christians) are with the Syrian regime that we are not with regimes, we are with the state. There is a big difference,” Rai told AFP, a week before the arrival in Lebanon of Pope Benedict XVI.
A Christian and Muslim vigil planned ahead of pope’s Lebanon visit (Fides) A Muslim-Christian vigil to invoke the protection of God and the Virgin Mary on the visit of Benedict XVI. On the evening of September 12, the eve of the Pope’s arrival in Lebanon, four processions of young people will depart from four points of Beirut to converge in the so-called “garden of Mary”, in the Museum Square area, carrying candles and flags of Lebanon. There, around eight o’clock in the evening, the meeting will begin, with a program including songs, Muslim-Christian readings and prayers to ask God and the Mother of Jesus that the papal visit is welcomed by all and lived as a blessing for the Country of the cedars.
More than a million children at risk from Syria crisis (Fides) In Syria and neighboring countries where they have taken refuge, there is an alarm for minors due to the shortage of food and health care facilities. There are tens of thousands of children involved in the internal conflict which has been going on for a year and a half without access to safe drinking water, adequate food and health care.
Lech Walesa asks Putin to pardon punk rock band involved in cathedral protest (Wall Street Journal) Poland’s legendary dissident Lech Walesa wrote to Russia’s President Vladimir Putin asking him to pardon three members of punk bank Pussy Riot sentenced last month for staging an anti-Putin protest at an Orthodox cathedral.
Ethiopia’s patriarch brokered peace (Sydney Morning Herald) His Holiness Abune Paulos was Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, one of the oldest Christian Churches in Africa; some two-thirds of Ethiopia’s 83 million people are Christian, the majority following the Orthodox faith.
6 September 2012
Tags: Syria Lebanon Ethiopia Pope Benedict XVI Russian Orthodox
Workers hang a poster of Pope Benedict XVI 4 September in Jounieh as part of the preparation for the pope's 14 to 16 September visit to Lebanon. (photo: CNS/Jamal Saidi, Reuters)
Lebanon security forces on alert ahead of pope’s visit (AFP) Security forces have been placed on alert ahead of Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Lebanon, riven by religious rivalries and shaken by the conflict in neighboring Syria, the visit’s coordinator said on Wednesday. “All Lebanese security organizations are on a state of alert poised to protect His Holiness the Pope,” who will travel to the eastern Mediterranean country 14 to 16 September, said Father Abdo Abou Kasm.
Archbishop fears for fate of Syrian Christians (ANSA) Christianity is at stake, especially in Syria, Archbishop Chrysostomos said Monday, warning that if extremists prevail in Syria, minorities and Christians will feel the repercussions.
Russian Orthodox leader says believers deserve protection (RT/Russia) Believers should be protected from “trolls” by law, both on the internet and in real life, the Russian Orthodox Church’s representative to the Council of Europe says. “Unfortunately we are often witnessing trolling in real life in the form of various performances, public actions and other activities aimed against religious communities. Such actions have repeatedly taken place in France, Italy, Spain, Norway, Russia, Ukraine and other countries,” Igumen Filipp Ryabykh said.
Catholic Church in India warns against visit Tamil Nadu (Asian Tribune) The Catholic Church has issued a travel warning against those visiting Tamil Nadu in India stating it is obvious that Tamil Nadu is currently not a conducive place for Sri Lankans to visit. “All Catholics are hereby adviced to refrain from joining pilgrimages to Trichy for visiting of the Velankanni Shrine,” said the statement in the “Messenger,” an official organ of the Catholic Church. It said the authorities at the Shrine reveal that they are not in a position to guarantee the safety of devotees from Sri Lanka.
For Copts, marriage in church may mean marriage TO the church (Egypt Independent) When Rafek Farouk, cofounder of Copts 38, began to chant against the Coptic Church’s divorce laws inside the church’s headquarters, dogs were brought in to run him and others off the grounds. The Copts 38 activist group was named after a 1938 bylaw which legalized a papal declaration listing ten circumstances under which Copts may divorce. When he ascended to the papacy in 1971, the late Pope Shenouda reduced the permissible grounds to two, although this change was not ratified by the state for nearly four decades. Since then, Copts can only obtain the church’s permission for a divorce and a second marriage if their spouse commits adultery or converts to another Christian sect or a different religion altogether.
5 September 2012
Tags: Syria India Lebanon Pope Benedict XVI Russian Orthodox Church
Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregory III prays during the closing Mass of the Synod of Bishops for the Middle East in St. Peter’s Basilica on 24 October 2010. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
Patriarch calls for “international campaign for reconciliation in Syria” (Fides) “For Syria, reconciliation is the only anchor of salvation.” This is why “an international campaign for reconciliation in Syria” is needed shared by all the Churches in the world: it is the heartfelt plea of the Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch of Damascus, Gregory III Laham, launched in an open letter, while the situation in Syria degenerates and “the language of violence has swept all other languages.”
Red Cross chief meets with Syrian president over humanitarian crisis (Vatican Radio) Recently-appointed president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (I.C.R.C.) Peter Maurer met with Syrian president Bashar al-Assad Tuesday morning about the current humanitarian crisis in Syria. The three-day visit will focus on the deteriorating humanitarian conditions in Syria, and the challenges faced by the I.C.R.C. in bringing aid to those affected by the conflict, the violence of which has been escalating in recent weeks.
More Russian Orthodox crosses chopped down (The Moscow Times) Someone chopped down a wooden Russian Orthodox cross at the entrance to the mountainous Seminsky Pass in southern Siberia’s Altai republic on Monday night. That same day, nine crosses were found chopped down at a cemetery in Priozersk, Leningrad region.
Maronite bishops call on faithful to turn out for papal visit (Lebanon Daily Star) Maronite bishops called Wednesday for a massive turnout for Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Lebanon next week. “The Maronite bishops call on the sons and daughters [of the Church] to turn out en masse to welcome his Holiness Pope Benedict XVI ... and be spiritually prepared to accept his guidance and work under his direction ... so that a real spring for Christians and for the region will be achieved,” said a statement issued by the Council of Maronite Bishops at the end of their monthly meeting.
4 September 2012
Tags: Syria Lebanon Russian Orthodox Maronite
A monk stands near Hebrew text sprayed on the entrance of a Trappist monastery outside Jerusalem, 4 September. (photo: CNS / Baz Ratner, Reuters)
It evidently happened early this morning. Catholic News Service has details:
Vandals burned the door of a Trappist monastery outside Jerusalem and spray-painted a wall with the names of illegal Israeli outposts, one of which had been evacuated two days earlier.
In addition to the names of the outposts — Jewish enclaves not approved by the Israeli government — the vandals scrawled slogans against Christianity including “Jesus is a monkey” on the walls on the Latrun monastery, best known for its contemplative monks and wine-making. The monastery, about 20 miles west of Jerusalem, sits on a hill overlooking the road linking Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
Trappist Father Louis Wehbee, who is responsible for the formation of novices at the monastery, said a monk heard a noise outside early Sept. 4 and went to investigate. He found the wooden door in flames and alerted the other monks. He was able to put out the flames with a fire extinguisher.
”We were very surprised and can’t understand why this has happened,” Father Wehbee told Catholic News Service in a phone interview. “Never in our 122-year history here has something like this happened to us. We are opened to all people, we have good relations with everybody. What makes us sad is the graffiti which they wrote against our faith. If there are political tensions, why are they taking it out against our religion?”
A day earlier, Israel authorities had evacuated residents from an unauthorized Jewish enclave in Migron, West Bank. Migron was one of the names spray painted on the wall.
Police said they had been preparing for such a so-called “price tag” attack against a Palestinian or Muslim target, which has been the recent modus operandi of a group of extremists following an outpost evacuation or other government action that they oppose.
Acting Jerusalem District Police Commander Meni Yitzhaki, who visited the monastery 4 Sept, said he had appointed a special investigator to look into the incident.
You can find more background and additional details at the link.
Tags: Violence against Christians Jerusalem Holy Land Monastery