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Volume 44, Number 2
7 January 2013
Greg Kandra

Still a precious gift, frankincense and myrrh are packaged in gilded tins in the Middle East.
(photo: Ilene Perlman)

Christians yesterday marked the Solemnity of the Epiphany — or Christmas, in the Orthodox tradition—which among other things commemorates the visit of the magi to the Christ child, bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

In 2003, the magazine looked at the history behind those gifts, and where they originate today:

In the ancient world, particularly in the Middle East, beauty was as important as air. It was in the gardens the people designed, the houses they built, the words they wrote, the very bowls they used, the candlesticks they carried, the fabrics they wove and the gifts they gave.

So when Christians ponder the gifts of the Magi as commemorated in the West during the feast of the Epiphany, the precious gold and fragrant frankincense and myrrh do not seem unusual for that time and place.

What was unusual is that these gifts were presented to a child whose significance was yet to be understood.

St. Irenaeus in his “Adversus Haereses” claimed the gifts were symbolic. Jesus was presented with gold for a King’s wealth, frankincense as the fragrance offered to divinity and myrrh as the balm used to anoint the dead.

Although the identity of the Magi remains a mystery (they have been variously described as wise men, kings, priests or magicians), we know for certain that firmly established trade routes enabled the travelers to bring their offerings from remote areas to Palestine. The three gifts, including gold that in today’s market would cost about $325 per ounce, would have been a kingly offering.

Scents were believed to bring good will and good wishes. Frankincense and myrrh were used to perfume ceremonial oils. When burned, the smoke was thought to bring prayers to the heavens.

Even today, during liturgies of the Eastern and Western churches, incense is often burned.

Read more about Scents of Time and Place.

Tags: Middle East Oman Epiphany

7 January 2013
Greg Kandra

A Syrian refugee woman carries her child in late December at a refugee camp near the Turkish town of Kilis. (photo: CNS/Muzaffar Salman, Reuters)

Pope appeals for cease fire in Syria (Vatican Radio) Pope Benedict XVI has made an urgent appeal to civil and political authorities to work for peace. The Pope’s heartfelt cry came on Monday during his annual address to Members of the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See. Speaking to representatives of the 179 States that currently have full diplomatic relations with the Vatican, as well as members of numerous international organizations such as the EU, the Order of Malta and the PLO, Pope Benedict emphasized that world leaders have a grave responsibility to work for peace. They are the first — he said — called to resolve the numerous conflicts causing bloodshed in our human family. The Pope went on to list urgent areas of concern starting with Syria which he described as being “torn apart by endless slaughter and the scene of dreadful suffering among its civilian population”...

Patriarch: idea to divide Egypt is “irrational” (Fides) The members of the Coptic diaspora who launched the idea to divide Egypt to create a Coptic state are “irrational.” This is what Pope Tawadros II in person said, after two months at the helm of the largest Christian community in an Arab country. In an interview with Turkish Anadolu Agency on the occasion of Coptic Christmas, Pope Tawadros strongly affirmed that “the Church is an integral part of that Egypt that will not be divided, that has been united since the Pharaoh Menes and will remain so forever”...

Indian laity oppose youth festivals on Sundays (Times of India) The commission for laity of Syro-Malabar Church in Kerala has come out strongly against the education department for conducting the school youth festivals on Sunday, the day for religious rituals and teachings for the Catholic community...

Patriarch Kiril congratulates Orthodox on Christmas (Voice of Russia) Addressing Orthodox Christians before the start of a solemn service at Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill congratulated them on Christmas and wished them peace, prosperity and well-being. In line with tradition, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church conducts a festive Christmas service at Christ the Savior Cathedral. “I congratulate you on the great feast of Christmas. I wish peace, prosperity and well-being to all of historical Rus, to the Russian state, to each and every one of you. May the grace of the Savior touch us not only on this wonderful Christmas night, but on all the days of our lives,” said the Patriarch...

Tags: Syria Egypt Pope Benedict XVI Syro-Malabar Catholic Church Orthodox

4 January 2013
Greg Kandra

Students line up for morning prayer at St. Jean Baptiste De La Salle School in Addis Ababa.
(photo: Peter Lemieux)

The latest issue of the magazine features as its cover story a look at the success of Catholic schools in a country that is overwhelmingly non-Catholic, Ethiopia:

Catholics — Latin and Ge’ez combined — make up less than 1 percent of Ethiopia’s roughly 85 million people. Forty-three percent of the population is Ethiopian Orthodox; 32 percent, Muslim; and 19 percent, Protestant. The Catholic Church plays a disproportionately influential role in the lives of many Ethiopians, however, especially through its schools, clinics and other social service institutions.

More than 350 Catholic schools operate around the country, enrolling some 120,000 Ethiopian students each year.

“We’re educating the biggest number of children after the government. No denomination can claim that,” says Demisse W. Aregay, principal of the all-boys St. Joseph Catholic School in Addis Ababa, one of five schools in Ethiopia — including Bisrate Gabriel — run by the De La Salle Christian Brothers. The brothers’ five schools alone enroll 7,000 students.

“Go anywhere in the country and you’ll find Catholic schools that are flourishing,” he continues. “So that helps create a mentality that they are some of if not the best schools in the country.”

Read more about how Ethiopian children are Making the Grade in the November 2012 issue of ONE.

Tags: Ethiopia Education

4 January 2013
Greg Kandra

Two Iraqi boys hold candles as they pray for peace in Iraq and Syria during Mass at a Chaldean Catholic church in Amman, Jordan on 23 December (photo: CNS/Ali Jarekji, Reuters)

Bishops in solidarity with “suffering and vulnerable” in Holy Land (Vatican Radio) Bishops from across Europe and North America this week will be visiting Syrian refugees in Jordan along with other suffering and vulnerable people and communities in the Holy Land. In a press release, the Holy Land Co-ordination reports: The 13th meeting of the Coordination of Episcopal Conferences in Support of the Church of the Holy Land and the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land takes place from 5-10 January. The delegation will meet in Bethlehem, visit Jordan and then concluding the annual pastoral visit in Jerusalem...

Syrian archbishop appeals for aid (Vatican Radio) Food, medicine, electricity and fuel are increasingly scarce in Jazira, the river plain area of Mesopotamia which encompasses northwestern Iraq and northeastern Syria. With the influx of Syrians fleeing the conflict in their country, Jazira’s population of 1 and a half million has swelled to some 2 million and Church and humanitarian officials are raising the alarm, saying not enough is being done to help them...

In Gaza, children bear psychological scars of conflict (Washington Post) Gazans often talk about the inescapability of war, and the symptoms of their suffering. They cast Gaza as a prison — one physical and psychological, where Israeli bombardment comes every so often,and there is little to do but bear it. Indeed, there are few places in the Arab world where psychology and trauma are as openly discussed as they are in Gaza. But health professionals here argue that there are few places in the region that contain a population so traumatized, a youth so obsessed with conflict.

Campaign begins to regain relics of St. Nicholas of Myra (Fides) The Turkish archaeologist Nevzat Çelik, responsible for the excavations at the archaeological site of Mira-Andraike, re-launched during the Christmas holidays the request to return the relics of St. Nicholas of Myra to Turkey, at the moment venerated at the Basilica of San Nicola in Bari...

How media in Lebanon marked the Christian feast of Christmas (Fides) In Lebanon the Christmas period is marked by the unique media coverage dedicated to the Christian celebrations. On Christmas Day, 25 December, the Al-Nour radio paid tribute to the birth of Christ with a selection of hymns. The main TV channel linked to the Shiite political formation articulated its programming with a Christmas card addressed to Christians, while the information services devoted considerable space to the Christmas celebrations, highlighting the participation of Hezbollah’s representatives in official ceremonies and underlining the title of “prophet” recognized by Islam to “Jesus the son of Mary”...

Russians flock to Baltics for Orthodox Christmas (New Age) With the Eastern Orthodox Christmas just around the corner, three ex-Soviet Baltic states are facing a new invasion from the east as Russian tourists flood in for the holidays. In stark contrast to the Soviet takeover which saw Moscow subjugate Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania from World War II until 1990-91, despite frosty official relations the EU Baltic trio are now rolling out the red carpet for Russian tourists. In the three capitals, hotels with special packages for Russian visitors in the run-up to Orthodox Christmas Day on 7 January are nearly fully booked...

Tags: Syria Gaza Strip/West Bank Turkey Russian Orthodox

3 January 2013
Greg Kandra

Children dressed as the Three Kings return to their seats after presenting offertory gifts to Pope Benedict XVI during Mass on the feast of Mary, Mother of God, in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican on 1 January. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)

Tags: Pope Benedict XVI Vatican

2 January 2013
Greg Kandra

A mother and child and a sister and child stand in front of a picture of Christ at the Christina Center in Trichur, India. (photo: Sean Sprague)

As we turn the page on the calendar, here’s an image that captures the spirit of possibility and hope that greets every new year.

It comes from a profile we did a few years ago on the Christina Center in Trichur, India. The center is a home and refuge for unmarried mothers, often delinquent or vulnerable girls who find themselves pregnant, homeless and alone:

These women suffer the strongest of taboos: Not only are they outcasts, but the stigma also extends to their entire families. It is difficult for their sisters — and daughters — to marry.

At the Christina Center, young women and their babies are offered discreet refuge and quality care. In most cases the women are eventually separated from their babies, a difficult but necessary step to ensure safe and healthy futures for the young women and their children.

The toddlers live at the Center until they are five years old; then they move on to St. Anne’s or St. Savio’s. In this way the young mothers are freed from the stigma of bearing an illegitimate child and instead are given a chance to continue with their lives in a normal fashion.

The Christina Center, St. Anne’s and St. Savio’s care for needy children — from their prenatal stages right through to adulthood and even beyond — in the midst of a challenging cultural and political climate. With God’s love, the orphans of Trichur have every chance to succeed.

Read more about The Orphans of Trichur in the May-June 2000 issue of our magazine.

Tags: India Children Orphans/Orphanages Women

2 January 2013
Greg Kandra

A defaced religious painting is seen with the eyes and mouth scratched out in the old city of Aleppo, Syria, on 27 December. (photo: CNS/Muzaffar Salman, Reuters)

Bishops describe Christmas in besieged Syria (CNS) Because of ongoing fighting in the city, Catholic leaders in Aleppo, Syria, canceled their traditional Christmas visits to local government officials, but the local governor dropped in on a meeting of bishops and priests on 27 December to offer his best wishes, said Bishop Giuseppe Nazzaro. The bishop, who is the Latin-rite apostolic vicar of Aleppo, said Gov. Mohammad Vahid Akkad, an appointee of besieged President Bashar Assad, expressed his appreciation for Pope Benedict XVI’s Christmas appeals for peace in Syria. After praying for peace in Syria in his midnight Mass homily, Pope Benedict expressed his concern Christmas Day for the “deeply wounded and divided” Syrian people. He called for “an end to the bloodshed, easier access for the relief of refugees and the displaced, and dialogue in the pursuit of a political solution to the conflict”…

Pope sends greetings to new Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch (Vatican Radio) At a time when the Middle East is so unstable and prone to violence, “it is increasingly urgent that the disciples of Christ offer an authentic witness of their unity, so that the world may believe the Gospel message of love, peace and reconciliation.” These are the words of Pope Benedict XVI, in a message of fraternal greetings in Christ’s love, to Youhanna X, the new Greek Orthodox patriarch of Antioch and All the East…

Bishop of Udaipur resigns (Fides) On 21 December 2012, Pope Benedict XVI accepted the resignation of Msgr. Joseph Pathalil from the pastoral care of the Diocese of Udaipur, India, in accordance with the Code of Canon Law. The Holy Father appointed Bishop John Devprasad Ganawa of Jhabua as bishop of the Diocese of Udaipur. The same prelate was appointed apostolic administrator of the vacant et ad nutum Sanctae Sedis of the Diocese of Jhabua…

Russian Orthodox church favors law banning adoptions (AsiaNews) Despite a wave of criticism from civil society groups and members of the Russian government, the Russian Orthodox Church has backed the controversial ‘anti-Magnitsky bill’ that President Vladimir Putin signed into law last Friday. As of 1 January, the new law bans adoptions of Russian children by U.S. citizens…

Dozens of religious items stolen from Russian Orthodox church in Hollywood (Los Angeles Times) Los Angeles police continued their investigation Monday into the theft of nearly 40 religious artifacts from a Russian Orthodox church in Hollywood. Thirty-seven items were taken from an altar room at the Holy Transfiguration Russian Orthodox Cathedral the night of 22 December, Los Angeles police said. No arrests have been made in the case...

Tags: Syrian Civil War Pope Benedict XVI Russian Orthodox Church Patriarchs Indian Bishops

21 December 2012
Greg Kandra

We’ve just posted online the final issue of ONE for 2012. Check it out here.

Features include a look at Ethiopia’s thriving Catholic school system; a glimpse at life among the “untouchables,” the Christian Dalits of India; analysis of “Communion and Witness,” the apostolic exhortation to the churches of the Middle East; and the conclusion of Michael J.L. La Civita’s seven-year-long series profiling the Eastern churches.

His series was a massive undertaking, and one of the most ambitious in the history of the magazine. He talks about it in the video below.

We’ll see you in the new year! Until then, a blessed Christmas to all of you, from all of us at CNEWA!

Tags: Lebanon Ethiopia CNEWA Eastern Churches

21 December 2012
Greg Kandra

A Christian pilgrim touches the star in the grotto of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem on 13 December. The church is the oldest in the Holy Land still used for regular worship. The silver star — parts worn smooth by the veneration of pilgrims — marks the site of Christ’s birth. This year, as is customary, CNEWA president Msgr. John Kozar will be celebrating Mass over this spot. Read his account of last year’s visit. (photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)

Tags: Bethlehem

21 December 2012
Greg Kandra

A woman walks past a house destroyed in an airstrike in Azaz, Syria, on 18 December.
(photo: CNS/Ahmed Jadallah, Reuters)

Second refugee camp to open in Jordan (Fides) In the coming days a second UN camp for refugees fleeing from Syria will be opened in Jordan. This is confirmed to Fides Agency by the director of Caritas Jordan, Wael Suleiman. The new facility is located near Zarqa and can accommodate 45,000 people. Priority will be given to women and children...

Pope will turn attention to Iraq during new year (Vatican Radio) Pope Benedict XVI has convoked a Synod of bishops of the Chaldean Catholic Church for January, 2013. The aim of the Synod will be to elect a successor to His Beatitude Cardinal Emmanuel III Delly, Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans, whose resignation was accepted by the Holy Father on Wednesday...

Christian churches participating in national dialogue in Egypt (Fides) There were representatives of three Christian churches at the fourth session of the Egyptian national dialogue chaired by the Deputy President Mahmoud Mekky, which took place on 18 December...

Orthodox leaders discuss outreach at White House ( More than 80 representatives of the nation’s Orthodox Christian service organizations gathered at the White House here on Friday, December 14, 2012 to discuss strategic service alliances with the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. The White House Conference on Orthodox Christian Engagement was hosted by the White House Office of Public Engagement in conjunction with the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships and facilitated by International Orthodox Christian Charities[IOCC]...

Syrian Christians prepare for somber Christmas (Canada Free Press) “Silent night, Holy night, all is calm, all is bright...” Many Christians all over the world will sing this Christmas carol in the next few days. Millions look forward to Christmas. What about the Syrian Christians in the midst of a terrible civil war? Will they have the “heavenly peace” this Christmas classic speaks about?

Bartholomew seeks to reinvigorate dialogue with Catholics (National Herald) Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew is attempting to inaugurate a new path and new dynamics of rapprochement and reconciliation with the Roman Catholic Church in conjunction with the Theological Dialogue working towards the Eucharistic Union of the Churches...

Tags: Syria Iraq Egypt Refugees Orthodox

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