Current Issue
December, 2017
Volume 43, Number 4
16 May 2012
Greg Kandra

From left, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Msgr. John Kozar and Msgr. Robert Stern spoke to CNEWA staff members yesterday at a luncheon. (photo: Erin Edwards)

Yesterday, CNEWA staff members had a chance to catch up with an old friend: Msgr. Robert Stern, CNEWA’s president emeritus. He joined us for a luncheon for the CNEWA family hosted by CNEWA’s President Msgr. John Kozar — and he was there to greet another familiar face who dropped by, CNEWA’s chair, Cardinal Timothy Dolan.

Msgr. Stern spoke a bit about what he’s been up to since he retired last fall — sorting through his many papers, traveling and getting used to life away from the office — and offered his continued prayers and heartfelt warm wishes to all of his extended CNEWA family.


15 May 2012
Greg Kandra

Lebanese Maronite Patriarch Bechara Rai visits St. Sharbel Maronite Church in Warren, Michigan on Sunday, 13 May. (photo: Detroit Free Press).

A recent visitor to CNEWA is now paying a visit to metropolitan Detroit, bearing a message of peace and unity that made headlines in the local press:

To the beat of Arabic drums and horns, one of the Mideast's most prominent Christian leaders strolled on a red carpet Monday into a Lebanese center in Dearborn as the crowd cheered.

The visit by Lebanese Maronite Catholic Patriarch Bechara Rai, 72, to a Shia Muslim center illustrated how his four-day visit to metro Detroit this week has brought together metro Detroit's diverse Lebanese-American communities.

"He's a great example for humanity," Dearborn Police Chief Ron Haddad, who is of Lebanese descent, said after meeting Rai.

Wearing a black cloak over a red robe with a golden cross hung around his neck, Rai beamed as he entered the Bint Jebail Cultural Center, a place named after a southern Lebanese town where many Dearborn residents have ancestral roots. A crowd quickly formed around him, taking pictures and lining up to shake his hand.

Elected last year as the spiritual leader of the Maronite Catholic community, Rai is touring North America to visit Lebanese-American communities.

Michigan has about 58,000 residents of Lebanese descent, but they come from various religions, sects and regions that at times have clashed. Tensions in Lebanon among various groups can spill over into metro Detroit. Christian-Muslim relations are tense of late in parts of the Arab world.

You can read more at the link. And you can check out our own coverage of the patriarch's visit to CNEWA last fall here, including a video of part of his talk. And for more on the Lebanese-American community of Dearborn, Michigan, read Forging a New Detroit in the January 2010 issue of ONE.

Tags: Unity United States Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter Multiculturalism Maronite Catholic

11 May 2012
Greg Kandra

Next month, CNEWA Canada will co-sponsor the premiere of a new documentary on the troubles facing the Holy Land, as seen through the people at Bethlehem University. The Vancouver Sun offers a preview:

The population of Israel and the Palestinian Territories is less than 11 million. But ongoing violence and anger in the region continues to create global military tensions and tear holes in the hearts of billions of Christians, Muslims, Jews and non-religious people. Canadian Roman Catholics are offering their perspective on this land of what Vancouver Archbishop Michael Miller calls “intolerance” and “fear” in a new documentary, titled Across the Divide. It premieres in Vancouver on June 3, 2012. See the preview of Across the Divide, which captures the dramatic time when a Catholic University in Bethlehem is caught in a gut-churning crossfire between Israeli troops and Palestinian militants.

Shot on location in Israel and the Palestinian Territories, and edited in Canada, Across the Divide offers a glimmer of hope for the divided region through the heroic actions of staff and students at Bethlehem University, which has 3,000 students, most of whom are Christian (30 per cent) or Muslim (70 per cent). The film captures the drama of a campus that, like the lives of its students, bears the scars of what the Canadian Catholic leaders call the “intractable” Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“This film presents the story of Bethlehem University, caught in the middle of a sad reality of injustice, violence, intolerance and fear that dishonour the Holy Land, a land that should be a wellspring of hope and faith,” says Vancouver Archbishop J. Michael Miller, CSB.

“By watching this film, viewers will take a positive step toward building a future of political and religious peace and justice in the region,” adds Father Thomas Rosica, CSB, CEO of Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation and executive producer of the documentary.

Rosica adds: “Across the Divide tells the remarkable, provocative story of the first Catholic institution of higher learning in Palestine... Against all odds, Bethlehem University has become a school of justice and peace in the Holy Land, and a real bridge among many different groups of people: Arab and Israeli, Christian, Muslim and Jew. In a part of the world that has known so much conflict, animosity, monologue and despair, the Catholic Church’s presence through Bethlehem University has offered a model of peace, friendship, dialogue and hope for the world.”

To learn about the film and its premiere, check out this link. And for more on Bethlehem University, read The Perseverance of Bethlehem University from ONE magazine.

Tags: Holy Land Canada CNEWA Canada Bethlehem University Media

26 April 2012
Greg Kandra

An Iraqi woman prays the rosary with a child on her lap in front of a statue of Mary at her house in Irbil, Iraq, 11 Sept. (photo: CNS/Azad Lashkari, Reuters)

With more attention being devoted to the plight of Christians in the Holy Land — this “60 Minutes” piece is just the latest example — the Catholic Courier newspaper in Rochester recently spoke with some experts on the region, including our own Michael La Civita:

The Holy Land is the birthplace of Christianity, yet it also is the very place Christianity is most in danger of disappearing, experts say.

“To think that there may be no Christians in the place where it all began is a rather arresting thought,” said Mark Schnellbaecher, regional director in the Middle East and Eastern Europe for Catholic Relief Services, the overseas aid agency of the U.S. Catholic bishops.

Attacks on Christians in the Middle East have increased dramatically in the last few years, Schnellbaecher said, pointing to Iraq as an example. Although always a minority, Iraq’s Christian community had been stable and protected during the reign of Saddam Hussein. After the U.S.-led invasion toppled the dictator in 2003, militant Islamic political movements that had been repressed under Hussein “came up like mushrooms after a spring rain,” he said. Members of these movements kidnapped and killed many Christians, and the survivors fled Iraq in droves.

“To watch the dispersement of one of the most ancient Christian communities before your eyes is just sad,” said Schnellbaecher, who is based in Beirut. “These are the kinds of things that normally happen over centuries, and here it’s happened in the course of a decade. I think it is certainly possible in my lifetime there won’t be any Christians in Iraq.”

The dire situation facing Iraqi Christians is being replicated in other Middle Eastern countries, he added. This is true in Syria, which seems to be on the brink of civil war, and in Egypt, where extremist Muslim groups have forced Christians to live in fear since the 2011 revolution ousted former President Muhammad Hosni El Sayed Mubarak.

“Everyone looks to Iraq, and they see what happened to the Christian community — it’s been decimated — and they sort of wonder, is that our fate as well?” Schnellbaecher said.

And Christians are not the only ones facing violence, hostility and displacement in the Middle East, where other religious minorities also are under attack, said Michael La Civita, vice president of communications for Catholic Near East Welfare Association, a papal agency providing humanitarian support to the people of the Middle East, northeast Africa, India and Eastern Europe.

“It’s open season on these smaller groups,” La Civita said.

Many times, religious differences are not the only reasons for hostilities, he added. Christians in many Middle Eastern countries, for example, tend to be well-educated members of the upper middle class, so anti-Christian violence is sometimes fueled by economic factors, La Civita said. These factors by no means justify such violence, he said, but they do help explain its origins.

“There is sometimes a social or economic or political reason for the violence that ensues. You have to put everything into its proper context and really look at what’s the source of some of these problems,” he noted.

Read more at this link.

Tags: Holy Land Christianity Emigration

24 April 2012
Greg Kandra

Patriarch Kirill leads a call to prayer Sunday at the Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow.
(photo: Reuters/Denis Sinyakov)

Tens of thousands gathered in Moscow on Sunday for a massive rally that blended protest and prayer.

Reuters has details:

The head of the Russian Orthodox Church warned tens of thousands of believers on Sunday they were “under attack by persecutors” on a nationwide day of prayer intended to heal divisions over a protest at the altar by a women’s punk band.

At least 40,000 people came to hear Patriarch Kirill lead them in prayer at Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow, where Pussy Riot performed a “punk prayer” on February 21 deriding the Church’s close relationship with President-elect Vladimir Putin.

The incident, and the arrest of three band members who face up to seven years in jail for their performance, has ignited a debate about the Church’s role in politics and left Kirill open to criticism from inside and outside the Church.

“We are under attack by persecutors,” said the Patriarch, his bass voice booming out through speakers from an outdoor stage where he stood under the cathedral’s steep white walls and golden domes, flanked by red- and gold-robed priests.

“The danger is in the very fact that blasphemy, derision of the sacred is put forth as a lawful expression of human freedom which must be protected in a modern society.”

Kirill depicts Christ the Savior as a symbol of the resurgence of the Orthodox Church since the end of atheist Soviet rule in 1991. It was rebuilt in the 1990s after being razed in the Soviet era and converted into a swimming pool.

But Kirill, who has steered the Church towards a more active role in politics, has faced criticism over his overt support for Putin, a former KGB spy whose 12-year rule has been described by the patriarch as a “miracle of God.”

You can read more here. The New York Times has more context, as well.

In the meantime, check out the story Orthodoxy Renewed from the March 2010 issue of ONE for more on challenges facing the Russian Orthodox Church.

Tags: Unity Russia Russian Orthodox Church Patriarchs

23 April 2012
Greg Kandra

As we noted last week, “60 Minutes” on Sunday night broadcast a report by Bob Simon on the exodus of Christians from the Holy Land.

For those who missed it, you can watch the piece below.

Tags: Palestine Jerusalem Holy Land Christian

20 April 2012
Greg Kandra

A programming note for television viewers: Sunday night, the acclaimed CBS News magazine "60 Minutes" will feature a report by correspondent Bob Simon on what the broadcast calls "the slow exodus of Palestinian Christians from the Holy Land."

Check your local listings.

The report will also be available online at this link after it’s broadcast. And an email alerted us to an additional report on the town of Taybeh that will appear on the web show “60 Minutes Overtime.” (We reported on Taybeh ourselves last year. You can read all about it that tiny Christian village in Palestine here.)

Meantime, you might also check out some of our other stories in ONE magazine on the same subject, including a report on Jordanian Christians and our special edition from 2010 on Christians in the Middle East.

20 April 2012
Greg Kandra

This image from 2007 shows how Eucharist and study are central in the lives of Coptic Catholic seminarians at St. Leo the Great, located in a Cairo suburb. (photo: Mohammed El-Dakhakhny)

Latest reports indicate that Egypt continues to be rocked by political turmoil and protest:

Tens of thousands of protesters packed Cairo’s downtown Tahrir Square on Friday in the biggest demonstration in months against the ruling military, aimed at stepping up pressure on the generals to hand over power to civilians and bar ex-regime members from running in upcoming presidential elections.

We’ve reported extensively on the lives of Christians in that corner of the world. In 2007, the magazine profiled the Coptic Catholic Church, beginning with its very deep roots:

Egyptian Christians — known as Copts, a derivative of the Greek word Aigyptios, meaning Egyptian — are proud of their ancient roots. They received the Gospel from St. Mark the Evangelist, who brought the faith to the city of Alexandria, second only to Rome in the ancient Mediterranean world. There, he died a martyr’s death around the year 67.

The evangelist extended his apostolic activity beyond the city’s prosperous Jewish community. He called for the city’s Copts and Greeks to adopt “the way,” the early Christian description for discipleship in Jesus Christ.

Mark sowed the Christian seed on fertile ground. Centuries before the Arab advent in the eastern Mediterranean, and with it the rise of Islam, Egyptian Christianity blossomed. It provided the church with the philosophical foundation and theological vocabulary responsible for its explosive expansion in the Greco-Roman world, introduced the cenobitic and hermitic variants of monastic life and peopled the universal church with some of its greatest saints and scholars, including Pantaenus, Clement, Origen, Anthony, Macarius, Didymus, Athanasius, Arius, Cyril and Dioscorus.

Read more.

Tags: Egypt Middle East Christians Africa

18 April 2012
Greg Kandra

Markian Surmach, owner of Surma in New York City, shows off some of the store’s pysanky. (photo: Erin Edwards)

We’re still in the Easter season, so how about some eggs?

We showcase some of the remarkable and intricate designs of psyanky — traditionally decorated chicken or goose eggs — in the March issue of ONE:

“Things have certainly changed, but this store remains the same,” says Markian Surmach, the owner of Surma — a family-run shop in the heart of New York City’s historic Ukrainian neighborhood on the Lower East Side. “Just look at it,” he says, pointing to Taras Schevchenko Place across the street, where the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art recently built a state-of-the-art facility. The steel-and-glass building occupies the full length of the city block, casting a long shadow over Surma’s modest storefront in a prewar walk-up building.

For nearly a century, Surma has served the city’s Ukrainian community, selling products from the homeland, such as traditional embroidered clothes and accessories, artwork, antiques and Ukrainian-language book and newspapers.

“They find their culture, and they find themselves here,” says Mr. Surmach. “People come to the store in search of a simpler and less complicated way of life.”

Before getting lost in Surma’s labyrinth of authentic Ukrainian treasures, patrons pass by a small glass showcase near the entrance. Inside, dozens of pysanky, or traditionally decorated chicken and goose eggs, shimmer on display. Radiant red, yellow and orange eggs intersperse with others dyed cooler hues of blue, green and violet. Intricate Christian and ancient pagan symbols adorn the surfaces.

As with most Slavs of Eastern Europe — Croats, Czechs, Poles, Rusyns and Slovaks — Ukrainians have cultivated the art of egg decoration to commemorate Christ’s passion, death and resurrection.

However, pysanky are also an intricate string in the collective fabric of Ukrainians and people of Ukrainian descent around the world. The designs serve as a living record and reminder of a shared, idyllic agrarian past.

“They’re not just eggs,” explains Mr. Surmach. “They have meaning. They represent a culture that respected the world around them.”

Read more here.

Tags: Ukraine Eastern Europe Easter

18 April 2012
Greg Kandra

This week, the Pontifical Council for Social Communications is sponsoring a seminar in Harissa, just north of Beirut, for bishops in the Middle East to look at how the church communicates in the region.

Vatican Radio has details:

President of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, says the event, part of a series of seminars planned in cooperation with bishops’ conferences around the world, is just one response to the new challenges created by new technologies...

“We think one of the more important challenges that the church has to face in this moment is how to have a real, concrete dialogue with the digital culture ... with our people today,” he says. “Especially the young generations because these young generations are involved in the digital culture. It’s their way of living.”

The seminar, running from 17 to 20 April, is bringing together some 50 bishops and 20 priests working in the field of communications in Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, the Holy Land, Jordan and Iraq and is being coordinated with the help of the Council of Catholic Patriarchs of the Middle East. The four-day encounter, focusing on the theme of “Communications in the Middle East as an Instrument of Evangelization, Dialogue and Peace,” follows on the heels of the 2010 Synod for the Church in the Middle East. Pope Benedict XVI himself is due to pay a pastoral visit to Lebanon in September to present the post-synodal exhortation of that Synod.

One seminar participant, Father Fady Tabet, calls the communications seminar “timely” especially given the recent conflicts in the Middle East and the Arab Spring. Director of the Voice of Charity Radio in Jounieh, Lebanon, Father Fady told Tracey McClure about some of the challenges facing the church in the Middle East as it tries to transmit Christ’s message of peace in a region in upheaval and not always tolerant of the Christian minority.

Father Fady says he expects the Lebanon seminar to send a message of unity within the Catholic Church, comprised of many Eastern churches in addition to the Latin Church — something particularly urgent now, he suggests, as Christians in the region look to the future with a certain degree of trepidation.

“The role of social communications and media [in the church] now,” he says, “is to spread the word of God and to strengthen our Christian people who are living this fear ... in the Middle East.”

Father Fady knows all about fear. He has been the target of death threats, a 2005 bomb attack on his radio station, and an Israeli airstrike on its antennae the following year.

But these threats to his life and to his job have done little to deter Father Fady from continuing his mission of bringing the Christian voice to the Middle East. What the church there urgently needs now, he says, is to meet emerging challenges posed by traditional forms of communications and new media.

“We need to understand today that the mass media is the first power in the whole world. Because unfortunately we don’t know how to talk to the youth. We don’t know how to talk to the people who don’t come to the church.”

You can read more about this here.

Tags: Christianity Unity Ecumenism Church

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