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Volume 44, Number 1
18 December 2012
Greg Kandra

The date of Patriarch-elect Youhanna X's enthronement has not yet been announced. (photo:

New patriarch of Antioch elected ( Patriarch-elect Youhanna X of Antioch and All the East, formerly the metropolitan archbishop of Western and Central Europe, was elected by the members of the Holy Synod earlier today, 17 December 2012, during a special session held at the Balamand Patriarchal Monastery of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos…

In India, mourners crowd the funeral of nurse caught in hoax (ABC News) Family and friends of the nurse found hanging in her room days after she had been duped by a “royal” hoax call from Australian disc jockeys gathered in a church in south India for her funeral Monday. Jacintha Saldanha’s body was kept at her husband’s home in the town of Shirva for a few hours before being taken to the church for a prayer service and burial. Mourners crowded the Our Lady of Health Church in Shirva for the memorial service before heading to the cemetery in the church grounds. Catholic priests recited prayers as Saldanha’s body was interred in a grave marked by a simple black cross. Saldanha’s husband and two children had accompanied the body from London, where her death on 7 December is being investigated as an apparent suicide...

Syrian war fueling Christian flight from Middle East (BBC) The Lebanese city of Zahle sits high in the Bekaa valley, on the ancient highway that connects Damascus to Beirut and the world beyond. To reach it from the coast by road in December, you must climb sharply through a series of hairpin bends — every few minutes you catch a glimpse of the steep highland scenery as a gap appears in the raw, foggy air. This Christian city has known dark times. It became a dangerous frontline as the armed forces of Syria intervened in Lebanon’s long, complex and bitter civil war in the 1980s. In a very similar conflict in the 1860s it was torched by besieging Druze and Turkish fighters after its Christian defenders were defeated. Civilians were massacred in the bloody aftermath. These days, Zahle is a place of safety. Christian families fleeing the violence and chaos of Syria’s civil war just a few kilometers further down that ancient highway are arriving in the city where Christian aid agencies care for them…

Catholics in Kerala may have to confess drinking to a priest (The Asian Age) For Catholics in Kerala, alcohol consumption will soon be a sin, which has to be confessed before a priest. That is, if a church panel has its way. The temperance commission of the Kerala Catholic Bishops Council (K.C.B.C.), which has taken up the issue, is also seeking a ban on employing people who drink in institutions run by the church…

Celebrating Hanukkah with the last Jews of Egypt (Foreign Policy) There were fewer attendees than usual at Thursday night’s Hanukkah celebration in the Egyptian capital, perhaps due to the political unrest that has gripped the city — or maybe just because of the cold weather. The tiny Jewish community of Cairo consists almost entirely of elderly women, and they have weathered the current period of national crisis just as they survived hardships decades ago. As the wax dripped from the candles on the menorah at the downtown Shaar Hashamayim Synagogue, protesters continued to mass outside the presidential palace across town and blocked off Tahrir Square, only a short walk away. The first round of voting in a contentious constitutional referendum took place Saturday, the penultimate day of Hanukkah…

Tags: Egypt Lebanon Syrian Civil War Indian Christians Patriarchs

17 December 2012
Greg Kandra

A Christmas tree decorates St. Peter’s Square after a lighting ceremony at the Vatican on 14 December. The 78-foot silver fir tree is from the Italian province of Isernia.
(photo: CNS/Paul Haring)

Tags: Vatican

17 December 2012
Greg Kandra

Pope offers prayers for Newtown victims (CNS) After 20 children and six adults were shot dead in Connecticut, Pope Benedict XVI offered his condolences and prayers, urging all to dedicate themselves to acts of peace in the face of such “senseless violence.” After reciting the Angelus on 17 December, the pope, speaking in English, said he was “deeply saddened” by the 14 December shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. In addition to the students and staff killed, the gunman took his own life. “I assure the families of the victims, especially those who lost a child, of my closeness in prayer,” he said. “May the God of consolation touch their hearts and ease their pain...”

Pope receives Palestinian president This morning in the Vatican Apostolic Palace Pope Benedict XVI received in audience Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority. Mr. Abbas subsequently went on to meet with Cardinal Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone S.D.B., accompanied by Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, secretary for Relations with States. In a press release Monday, the Holy See’s Press Office said “the cordial discussions made reference to the recent Resolution approved by the General Assembly of the United Nations by which Palestine was recognised as a Non-member Observer State of the aforementioned Organization...”

Bombs in Kirkuk during Cardinal Sandri’s Mass (Fides) Terrorist attacks struck yesterday, Sunday, 16 December, in the city of Kirkuk, causing nine deaths (including two children) and more than 50 injuries. Two coordinated attacks — carried out with two car bombs and seven bombs placed on the sides of the roads — targeted two Shiite mosques on the outskirts of the city. But the explosions were felt distinctly even in the Chaldean Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, during the celebration of the Mass where Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, Prefect of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches, presided...

Russian Nationalists criticize plans to build mosques in Moscow (RT) Moscow city authorities are about to announce the allocation of plots of land for three new mosques in the city, but ethnic Russian nationalists have voiced their protests saying that no one asked local residents before passing this decision...

Holy See releases pope’s message for World Day of Peace (Vatican Radio) Pope Benedict XVI’s message for World Peace Day 2013 was presented to journalists at a press conference in the Vatican on Friday by the president, secretary and under-secretary of the Pontifical Justice and Peace Council. Entitled ‘Blessed are the Peacemakers’, the message looks at both the theological and practical foundations for promoting justice and peace in today’s world...

Tags: Iraq Palestine Pope Benedict XVI Russia

14 December 2012
Greg Kandra

In a scene from the Hindi film “Christaayan,” Jesus is shown teaching the people.

The story of Jesus has been told many times on film, but never quite like this:

“Christaaya”, the first Hindi production about Jesus, has been presented to the public. Situated in India, it is inspired by the country’s traditional culture.

The six-hour epic was produced by Satprakashan Sanchar Kendra in Indore for the Divine Verb Society and will be broadcast nation-wide as a TV series. Directed by Fr Geo George, the movie was shot over a seven-year period in several states, including Tamil Nadu, Goa and Kerala, with the participation of more than 200 actors, almost all amateurs.

The presentation was held at the Miriam School in Indore, a school for the mentally disabled.

According to Mgr Leo Cornelio, archbishop of Bhopal, movies like “Christaayan” “are a great inspiration” because “they do not look only at the Christian community, but at each member of society.”

The movie presents actors dressed in saris of different colours within a context representative of the Indian tradition. What is more, 80 per cent of the actors are not Christian. For example, Ankit Sharma, who plays Jesus, is a Hindu.

You can read more at the link.

And check out the movie’s trailer, below.

Tags: India Kerala

14 December 2012
Greg Kandra

A woman visits the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem as the West Bank city marks Advent and gears up for the Christmas season. (photo: CNS/Marko Djurica, Reuters)

As Christmas nears, the little town of Bethlehem is approaching the busiest time of the year. In May of 2009, Pope Benedict XVI paid a visit and described the special appeal of this place Christians hold as sacred:

The message of Christ’s coming, brought from heaven by the voice of angels, continues to echo in this town, just as it echoes in families, homes and communities throughout the world. It is “good news”, the angels say “for all the people”. It proclaims that the Messiah, the Son of God and the Son of David, has been born “for you”: for you and me, and for men and women in every time and place. In God’s plan, Bethlehem, “least among the clans of Judah” (Mic 5:2), has become a place of undying glory: the place where, in the fullness of time, God chose to become man, to end the long reign of sin and death, and to bring new and abundant life to a world which had grown old, weary and oppressed by hopelessness.

For men and women everywhere, Bethlehem is associated with this joyful message of rebirth, renewal, light and freedom. Yet here, in our midst, how far this magnificent promise seems from being realized! How distant seems that Kingdom of wide dominion and peace, security, justice and integrity which the Prophet Isaiah heralded in the first reading (cf. Is 9:7), and which we proclaim as definitively established in the coming of Jesus Christ, Messiah and King!...

...Here in Bethlehem, a special perseverance is asked of Christ’s disciples: perseverance in faithful witness to God’s glory revealed here, in the birth of his Son, to the good news of his peace which came down from heaven to dwell upon the earth.

“Do not be afraid!” This is the message which the Successor of Saint Peter wishes to leave with you today, echoing the message of the angels and the charge which our beloved Pope John Paul II left with you in the year of the Great Jubilee of Christ’s birth. Count on the prayers and solidarity of your brothers and sisters in the universal Church, and work, with concrete initiatives, to consolidate your presence and to offer new possibilities to those tempted to leave. Be a bridge of dialogue and constructive cooperation in the building of a culture of peace to replace the present stalemate of fear, aggression and frustration. Build up your local Churches, making them workshops of dialogue, tolerance and hope, as well as solidarity and practical charity.

Read the rest of the Holy Father’s message here.

Tags: Bethlehem

14 December 2012
Greg Kandra

Report: possible Russian-US joint ultimatum in Syria (Fides) Russia and the United States are getting ready to order a joint ultimatum to Syria’s President Bashar Assad through the special envoy of the UN and the Arab League, Lakhdar Brahimi, in order for Assad to leave power “with dignity.” According to the news, reported today by the French newspaper “Le Figaro,” Washington and Moscow seem to have “exchanged the names” of leaders who could appear in the transitional government...

Car bomb kills at least 16 in Syria (Vatican Radio) Russia today said Syrian rebels are gaining ground and might win, on a day which saw a car bomb kill at least 16 people in Qatana, a town 25 kilometres southwest of Damascus. “One must look the facts in the face,” Russia’s state-run RIA quoted Mikhail Bogdanov, Russia’s special envoy for Middle East affairs as saying. “Unfortunately, the victory of the Syrian opposition cannot be ruled out...”

Photo essay: Egyptian Copts gather to pray ahead of vote on constitution (AFP via NBC News) Thousands of Egyptian Copts attended a Mass in the Cave Cathedral, or St Sama’ans, in the Manshiet Nasser district of Cairo on 13 December 2012, where they prayed for Egypt ahead of the disputed referendum on the new draft constitution slated for Saturday...

Christmas shopping in India (The Telegraph) Cochin has the highest density of Christians in India, and is dotted with cathedrals and churches. In a parody of our high streets back home, the roads are rammed with fevered shoppers, their faces consumed with the business of Christmas. The crowd scoops me up and funnels me into an alley, where I bash my ankles on rough wooden nativity scenes strewn along the ground. We move into a wider street now, and I step back to avoid a rickshaw driver who is unable to see through the baby Jesuses and fir trees swinging from his sun visor. I push my way into a shop; it is Christmas-decoration heaven. A sharp-elbowed nun lunges for the perfect bauble, scattering boxes of glittering stars to the floor...

Tags: Syria India Egypt Coptic

12 December 2012
Greg Kandra

Pope Benedict XVI is assisted by Thaddeus Jones of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications as he sends his first Twitter message during his general audience in Paul VI Hall at the Vatican on 12 December. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)

To much fanfare, Pope Benedict XVI sent out his first message on Twitter today. CNS notes:

Pope Benedict XVI launched his very own Twitter account, sending a short inaugural message to his more than 1 million followers.

“Dear friends, I am pleased to get in touch with you through Twitter. Thank you for your generous response. I bless all of you from my heart,” it said.

His tweet -- 139 characters -- went viral as the number of followers of @Pontifex and its seven other extensions grew by more than 5,000 new people an hour, a Vatican official said. Tens of thousands of followers retweeted the messages in the short minutes after they were posted.

After the pope gave his catechesis and blessing to those gathered for the general audience in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall, an announcement came over the speakers saying the pope was about to make his first tweet.

Officials placed a small wooden desk in front of the pope, and staff from the Pontifical Council for Social Communications placed a small tablet computer on top.

The pope put on his glasses as Thaddeus Jones, a U.S. official at the council, showed him the screen that already had the message prepared and loaded. The pope, with a tap, sent the greeting, which in English was just one character shy of the site’s 140-character limit.

The moment was captured on video, below:

Tags: Pope Benedict XVI Vatican

12 December 2012
Greg Kandra

A protester opposed to President Mohammed Morsi holds the Quran, a cross and the Egyptian national flag on top of a wall in front of the presidential palace in Cairo on 11 December. At least nine people were hurt when gunmen fired at protesters camping in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, according to witnesses and the Egyptian media. (photo: CNS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh, Reuters)

Coptic pope declines invitation of Egyptian president to dialogue (Vatican Insider) Egyptian authorities strongly urged the Coptic Church to take part in the “national dialogue” which President Mohammed Morsi called for last Saturday. But the Coptic Pope Tawadros II declined the invitation, replying that the Church sees itself as a religious institution whose role it is to pray for Egypt. He added that political dialogue is up to parties and public officials…

US designates Syria rebel group a terrorist organization (Los Angeles Times) The Obama administration has formally designated one rebel group fighting in Syria as a terrorist organization in an effort to marginalize the Al Qaeda affiliate and reduce its chances of gaining power should the Syrian government fall. Blacklisting Al Nusra Front is one of several diplomatic moves planned by the administration to try to maneuver moderate opposition groups into position to shape a pro-Western government if President Bashar al Assad is ousted…

Armenians fleeing Syria (New York Times) At the newly opened Cilician School in Armenia, the textbooks are in Arabic, photocopied from a single set flown out of war-torn Syria. The curriculum is Syrian, the flag on the principal’s desk is Syrian, and the teachers and students are all Syrians. They are also ethnic Armenians, driven by Syria’s civil war to a notional motherland most barely know. “Those who are coming here clearly want to go back,” said the school’s principal, Noura Pilibosyan, who came from Aleppo, Syria, in the summer. “Armenian is our language, but our culture is Syrian. It is hard to come here”…

The church and the ‘untouchables’ of India (Fides) In the 250 million untouchables, the Dalits, who in India are considered “human waste,” there is “the moaning of the Spirit of God” that declares the dignity of every human being. Of the Dalits, 20 million are Christian, abused and doubly discriminated. In the Year of Faith, the church in India, on celebrating the “Day for the Liberation of the Dalits” (December 9), renewed its commitment to aid the poor, marginalized and those discriminated against…

Russia’s Hermitage Museum under investigation for blasphemy (Reuters) The head of Russia’s renowned Hermitage Museum accused Russian authorities on Monday of fostering “mob rule” in taking up complaints by Russian Orthodox Christians over a British exhibit they said injured religious feelings. The row coincides with a surge in religious, nationalist sentiment in Russia, with President Vladimir Putin moving closer to the Orthodox Church to consolidate his support after facing the biggest protests since he rose to power nearly 13 years ago…

Ecumenism is at heart of New Evangelization (Vatican Radio) “Christian Unity: illusion or promise? Ecumenical aspects of the Year of Faith”: That was the title of a lecture given at the Lateran University on Monday by Swiss theologian Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity…

Tags: India Egypt Syrian Civil War Russia Armenia

11 December 2012
Greg Kandra

An Ultra-Orthodox Jewish couple lights candles on the third night of the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, “The Festival of Lights” in Jerusalem on 10 December. In Israel, families gather each evening during the eight-day celebration to light a candle on the menorah, eat traditional foods and exchange gifts. (photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)

The Jewish celebration of Hanukkah began last Saturday night, and concludes this weekend. Last year, Catholic News Service offered an intriguing primer on this feast and its connection to Christianity:

While most Christians know that the Jews are celebrating Hanukkah this season, not all that many know the the story of the festival and the heroic deeds of the Maccabees, the Jewish martyrs who resisted Greek attempts to make them turn away from their ancient faith. Scripture holds that a mother and seven sons chose torture and death rather than renounce their faith. The Maccabees were regarded by the early church as proto-martyrs of the early Christians who died for their faith across the Roman Empire.

In fact, both the Catholic and Orthodox churches even today remember the Maccabean martyrs in their calendars of saints.

The Wall Street Journal noted:

To the martyrs, breaking faith with God is worse than death. In one version, their deaths are interpreted as “an atoning sacrifice” through which God sustained the Jewish people in their travail.

The tone here isn’t the lightheartedness of the Christmas season. The Christian parallels lie, instead, with Good Friday and the story of Jesus’s acceptance of his suffering and sacrificial death. In both the Jewish and the Christian stories, the death of the heroes, grievous though it is, is not the end: It is the prelude to a miraculous vindication and a glorious restoration.

The Roman Catholic tradition honors these Jewish martyrs as saints, and the Eastern Orthodox Church still celebrates 1 August as the Feast of the Holy Maccabees. By contrast, in the literature of the rabbis of the first several centuries of the common era, the story lost its connection to the Maccabean uprising, instead becoming associated with later persecutions by the Romans, which the rabbis experienced. If the change seems odd, recall that the compositions that first told of these events (the books of Maccabees) were not part of the scriptural canon of rabbinic Judaism. But they were canonical in the church (and remain so in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox communions).

And so we encounter another oddity of Hanukkah: Jews know the fuller history of the holiday because Christians preserved the books that the Jews themselves lost. In a further twist, Jews in the Middle Ages encountered the story of the martyred mother and her seven sons anew in Christian literature and once again placed it in the time of the Maccabees.

“Hanukkah” means “dedication.” Originally, the term referred to the rededication of the purified Temple after the Maccabees’ stunning military victory. But as the story of the martyrs shows, the victory was also associated with the heroic dedication of the Jewish traditionalists of the time to their God and his Torah. If Hanukkah celebrates freedom, it is a freedom to be bound to something higher than freedom itself.

Happy Hanukkah to our Jewish friends and neighbors!

Tags: Christian-Jewish relations Jewish Judaism

10 December 2012
Greg Kandra

Syrian priest welcomed into monastic community in Iraq (Fides) Following his expulsion from Syria, Father Paolo Dall’Oglio SJ, founder of the monastic community of Deir Mar Musa, was welcomed into the newly founded monastery of Deir Maryam el Adhra, which began a few months ago in Sulaymanya in Kurdistan Iraq...

Gaza residents in no mood to celebrate (Los Angeles Times) As tens of thousands of Gazans celebrated Hamas’ 25th anniversary Saturday, Mohamed Mustafa Abdallah huddled by a small fire in a cinder-block shed, assembled from scraps of wreckage from his bombed-out wholesale food business a few feet away. He said he was in no mood to party. His business, near the restive Jabaliya refugee camp where many Gaza Strip militants live, was destroyed by an Israeli airstrike Nov. 17, leaving nothing but broken concrete atop crates of crushed onions, garlic cloves and other goods. It was only a year ago that he finished repairing the damage caused to the building during Israel’s Gaza Strip offensive in 2009. “No one cares about us but God,” the father of eight said...

Former hostage Terry Waite returns to Lebanon to highlight the plight of Christians (The Telegraph) Terry Waite is convinced his meeting with the leadership of Hizbollah, the militant group accused of kidnapping and holding him for five years, will lead to “something positive”. The former hostage spoke for two hours to one of its most senior figures at their stronghold in Beirut, his first encounter with the organisation held responsible for masterminding his kidnapping 25 years ago. Accompanied by The Telegraph, he travelled to Lebanon to highlight the plight of Christians who have fled the Syrian civil war. Now on his return to Britain he denied “political naivety” and said that he was sure his trip achieved something.

Copts in US fear for the faith (Fox) It seems like every Sunday, there’s a new face sitting in the pews of the Church of Saint Verena and the Three Holy Youth in Orange, California. Most are young professionals or families with small children and some have been living in the United States for a just few weeks. “The first waves of immigration,” said Bishop Serapion of the Coptic Diocese of Los Angeles, Southern California and Hawaii...Since the Arab Spring began in early 2011, Department of Homeland Security figures show the number of Egyptians seeking asylum has doubled. Unofficial estimates are that 100,000 Egyptians have so far sought refuge in the U.S. Many of them are believed to be Copts but there are no official statistics on their numbers...

Kerala prepares for Christmas (IBN) The first sign that Christmas is around the corner in Kerala comes in early December, when the mercury dips slightly. That’s when the morning stroll becomes a pleasant experience. Churches and Christian homes begin to put up the traditional Christmas stars, in varying sizes and shapes. Cribs are put up in the second week of December. Now-a-days, these are often ready-made. Nearly 22 percent of the state’s population is Christian, an estimated 32 million people. “Times have changed, so have customs. Gone are the days when the entire family used to get together to make wine, pickles and other food items. These days, who has the time; and then, where are the people to do those things,” asks 75-year-old Santhamma Joseph, a grandmother in Kottayam.

Tags: Syria Iraq Lebanon Gaza Strip/West Bank Palestine

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