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Volume 43, Number 4
14 December 2011
Greg Kandra

Jan Mrug and his children play with a new pony at the family farm in Jakubany, Slovakia.
(photo: Andrej Bán)

In much of CNEWA’s world, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Two years ago, writer Jacqueline Ruyak wrote about an icy corner of Slovakia celebrating the season, and Greek Catholics holding fast to their heritage:

“The church is very much the center of the community here,” said Father Saraka. “It helps older people keep their traditions and younger people to understand them better.

“But we have a problem with people observing religion as they would a tradition. Traditions are not the purpose of faith: they should help people with their faith.

“When young people leave,” the priest said, “they often lose their faith as they lose their traditions. I want to help them realize the beauty of life lived in accord with Jesus.”

Jakubany has a rich cultural heritage, including distinctive folklore, music, dance and dress. Villagers developed traditions in relation to their deep, historical relationship with the forests, pastures and mountains that surround the community.

For more, read Those Who Remain Behind from the January 2009 issue of ONE.

Tags: Greek Catholic Church Slovakia

12 December 2011
Greg Kandra

A girl lights a candle in the original wooden church in Butovo. (photo: Julia Vishnevets)

From Moscow comes word that there is a new voice calling for changes in the Russian electoral system — and it’s coming from the pulpit.

The New York Times reports:

The Russian Orthodox Church added its influential voice over the weekend to calls for a just election process in Russia. The step followed demonstrations across the country that called for a recount or a fresh vote, and outpourings from individual members of the church’s clergy, who reflected popular anger at the flawed Dec. 4 election.

“It is evident that the secretive nature of certain elements of the electoral system concerns people, and there must be more public control over this system,” said Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, the most prominent spokesman for the church, in remarks to a widely followed Orthodox news Web site. “We must decide together how to do this through civilized public dialogue.”

The pronouncement by Father Chaplin, chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate’s synodal department of church and society relations, was especially significant because he is often criticized as an apologist for the Kremlin. He has made several conservative statements in the past year, including a call for an Orthodox dress code in Russia, that have stirred controversy.

In a telephone interview on Sunday night, Father Chaplin said that if the church obtained proven documentation of election violations from named sources, it would be ready to take it up with government officials.

“If there are proven facts, then of course we’re going to examine them, present them to the church hierarchy and discuss them with the Central Election Commission and other government bodies,” he said.

Father Chaplin’s remarks to the Web site appeared intended to get the church back out in front of individual clergy members’ condemnations of election rigging, a first for the post-Soviet Russian Orthodox Church. The comments might suggest the government is accommodating the critique of the political system, perhaps because it has become too widespread to stifle.

“It’s amazing that this awakening of civic consciousness has affected the church as well, and not just lay people but clergy, too,” Sergei Chapnin, editor of the Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate, said last week, on the sidelines of a seminar about Russia’s historical identity, before the new statement by Father Chaplin.

For years, Mr. Chapnin noted, many Orthodox were skeptical or indifferent toward electoral politics, though the church has regained influence since the fall of Communism and is publicly embraced by the Kremlin.

As recently as a few weeks ago, Mr. Chapnin said, “it would have been impossible to imagine” priests speaking out in such sympathy with public anger over election manipulation and fraud.

“I think society simply experienced such a shock,” he added. “We understand very well that elections have been falsified before, but now public consciousness has matured to the point of expressing its opinion or speaking out against it.”

You can read the rest at The Times's link.

The challenges of a changing Russia — and how that affects its Orthodox clergy — is a subject ONE explored just last year. In March of 2010, writer Victor Sonkin wrote in Orthodoxy Renewed:

As with everything in post-Soviet Russia, the revival of the Orthodox Church has provoked controversy. Hierarchs now participate in most important state functions. And the highest state officials, including President Dmitri Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, regularly attend major Orthodox celebrations, which air on all state-sponsored television stations.

Many observers fear the church’s return to favor has happened too quickly and its growing dependence on the state has gone too far. Some bishops and priests, anxious about accusations of corruption and xenophobic nationalism, have been marginalized for their criticism.

In the mid-1990’s, a dispute erupted involving several Orthodox bishops and the tobacco trade regarding tax exemptions. And recent plans to introduce the “basics of Orthodox culture” into the curriculum of state schools have fueled bitter public controversy.

Read the rest and view a slideshow here.

Tags: Russia Russian Orthodox Church Democracy

5 December 2011
Greg Kandra

CNEWA’s president, Msgr. John Kozar, meets with Ignatius Joseph III, Syriac Catholic
patriarch of Antioch.

Msgr. John Kozar, CNEWA’s president, began his pastoral visit to the Holy Land today. His first stop: Lebanon. He met with Syriac Catholic Patriarch of Antioch Ignatius Joseph III, who assured Msgr. Kozar of his continued prayers and support as he begins his first journey to the Holy Land. Late today, Msgr. Kozar e-mailed us his first impressions of his trip:

What a wonderful first day in Lebanon — hard to believe this is my first visit to this part of the world. I say this because everyone thus far has made me feel so much at home and as part of the Lebanese church.

I think Father Guido Gockel, Issam Bishara and I set a Guinness Record by visiting four patriarchs in one day.

We began by meeting the Syriac Catholic patriarch of Antioch, Ignatius Joseph III, who had spent many years in our region as a bishop in New Jersey. He warmly welcomed us and showed us some very poignant reminders of the ugly civil war that had gutted this small nation. This was evidenced by the remnants of shelled buildings standing in the shadows of newly constructed buildings. He told us how as a young priest he would run between the chancery and the cathedral, hoping not to be shot by snipers armed and ready to kill.

He also sends special greetings to all his many friends in the greater New York area.

On to a visit with the Armenian Catholic patriarch, Nerses Bedros XIX, who invited about a dozen chancery officials, clerical and lay, to share with us their roles in the administration of the Armenian Catholic Church. It was a good time for sharing and for me personally to continue to get a fuller picture of the political and religious realities in Lebanon.

On our next stop we visited with some religious women who represented congregations that are especially active in collaborating with CNEWA: These are the women on the “front lines” in offering help to the poor. The discussions were very open and frank, and I especially appreciated how they portrayed the significant and very frustrating challenges in giving service to the poor. The government does not have any public child care institutions and relies on the Catholic Church to fulfill this need, promising to reimburse it for her service. But there is no reimbursement. The need for assistance is most compelling, and this also applies to clinics and hospitals and services to special needs groups.

Our visit with Aram I, the Armenian Catholicos of Cilicia, was very warm. He is a graduate of Fordham University in New York and speaks glowingly of his time in New York. Father Guido and I each received copies of his recently authored books and he promised to visit us next October when he comes to the United States.

The crowning jewel of the day was a dinner with the Maronite patriarch of Antioch, Bechara Peter Rai. Before being greeted by His Beatitude, I was interviewed by members of the press. Afterward, we were taken to the chapel to greet the patriarch. There, we had a big surprise: With him was a line of special ecclesial dignitaries that included the patriarch emeritus, Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir; the bishop of Beirut; the patriarchal vicar general, Archbishop Paul Sayah, a good friend from the recent visit of the patriarch to New York and five other bishops.

We were all warmly escorted to the dining room to join the patriarch in a lovely dinner. The mood was totally upbeat and the patriarch was in rare form. After dinner, we retired to the formal receiving room for tea. The patriarch noted that in the very chair in which I was sitting he sat when he was called in to be told that he had been elected patriarch of the Maronite Church. Cardinal Sfeir was also in good humor and I made a point of brushing off his comment that he is now old and invited him to come to New York, where he would feel young again.

Considering Father Guido and I only arrived at 2:30 this morning, we certainly had a full day, and a very happy one. I already feel at home in Lebanon.

Tomorrow, I want you to join us as we go on a long trip to the countryside to meet some special farmers who are part of our CNEWA family.

*Editor’s Note: Msgr. Kozar is in the Holy Land as part of his first pastoral visit to the region as president of CNEWA. Traveling with him is CNEWA’s vice president for the Middle East, Father Guido Gockel.

In Lebanon, he is joined by CNEWA’s regional director for Lebanon and Syria, Issam Bishara. They will be joined by Ra’ed Bahou, our regional director for Jordan and Iraq, while in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. In Israel and Palestine, the team will be joined by our regional director there, Sami El-Yousef.

Also today, he met with the Pontifical Mission staff in Beirut, and with a number of sisters, lay people and religious who are carrying out CNEWA’s work. Below is a brief audio clip from the meeting in which he shared his enthusiasm and excitement:

Tags: CNEWA Middle East Msgr. John E. Kozar

23 November 2011
Greg Kandra

Earlier this week, our own Father Guido Gockel, Vice President for the Middle East and Europe, appeared on “Catholic Matters,” a program on the Guadalupe Radio Network, to talk about the prospects of peace in the Holy Land — a subject he discussed at length during a recent talk in Washington.

The audio of his interview appears below.

Tags: CNEWA Holy Land

14 November 2011
Greg Kandra

An after-school program in Khabab, Syria, led in 2008 by Archbishop Boulos Nassif Borkhoche, draws many village children. (photo: Mitchell Prothero)

Like so many places in the Middle East, parts of Syria are experiencing a Christian exodus. In 2008, Mitchell Prothero wrote about this phenomenon in ONE, and the efforts of one man to change that:

Since the 1950’s, economic stagnation, unemployment and a dearth of institutions of higher learning have taken their toll on the population, driving its most talented and motivated to Damascus, Aleppo, Beirut or abroad, particularly the states of the Persian Gulf. Emigration has affected Houran’s population as a whole, but its impact on the Christian minority has been particularly cruel.

Further diminishing their presence is a low birthrate – most Syrian Christian couples have only two children – as opposed to a much higher birthrate among the country’s various Islamic communities, which together form about 90 percent of the population.

Holding together the Christian community, keeping its faith alive and its cultural and spiritual traditions intact – even temporal concerns such as jobs – fall largely on the shoulders of Christian leaders such as the Melkite Greek Catholic Metropolitan of Bosra and Houran, 75-year-old Archbishop Boulos Nassif Borkhoche.

Archbishop Boulos works from a modest three-story rectory, located just outside Khabab. Though surrounded by vineyards and grazing land for cattle, the archbishop touches on the principal challenge facing him and his community – the absence of a sustainable economic future for the Houran. The associated problems are all too familiar in rural Syria: an insufficient water supply, a lack of modern agricultural equipment and a limited choice of crops that can thrive in the region’s lush volcanic soil but harsh climate.

The archbishop does what he can to invigorate the local economy, and has initiated a few projects to this end, but his resources are modest and the problems vast.

“The church provides assistance to the poor [and] money and medicine to the needy,” he explained. “I feel sorry that I can’t do more, because we cannot afford it.

“There are social problems too,” he continued. “For example, when the father in a family dies, there is no one in the family who can support the children or his widow. So, the church helps when it can, but too often there are not the necessary resources.”

Developing farming, the archbishop believes, is the key to stimulating the economy. And with the aid of various benefactors, including CNEWA and the Syrian Bank for Agriculture, he has progressed, albeit modestly.

Read more about the archbishop’s efforts in the story From Dust to Life.

Tags: Syria Middle East Christians Melkite Greek Catholic Church

10 November 2011
Greg Kandra

Students from different faith backgrounds — but predominately Muslim and Christian — perform modern and traditional dance at the Latin Convent school in the town of Nazareth, Israel.
(Photo: J. Carrier)

Tags: Israel Muslim Christian

9 November 2011
Greg Kandra

In this image, captured in December 2008, a woman waits in line to retrieve water at a roadside water point outside of Debre Zeit, Ethiopia. (Photo: Peter Lemieux)

For several months, the news has been filled with stories of hardship and hunger from the Horn of Africa, as the region wrestles with the consequences of a devastating drought. According to Caritas Internationalis, some 10 million people have been affected. Now, the region will be getting some high profile visitors — and, presumably, more attention. The Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, has announced plans to visit the area in hopes of easing what she called the “terrible crisis” there.

Someone who knows the region well is CNEWA’s regional director for Ethiopia, Gerald Jones. He dropped us an email the other day that helps to put this situation in context.

Among other things, he noted, the “sheer size, both in geography and population, of the Horn in Africa, and the diverse populations and circumstances, make it difficult to generalize about conditions” in the region. He also said that it’s not entirely accurate to describe the region as being stricken by a “famine.” Some places are suffering more than others, but the issue really is one of drought — and, he added, “the drought is, indeed, very bad in the eastern lowland regions.”

In Ethiopia, he wrote, “not everyone is in crisis.” About 45 million peasant farmers had good rains this year, and should have a good harvest. Both Kenya and Ethiopia, he explained, have famine early warning systems (FEWS) that worked and that have helped to mitigate the situation. Unfortunately, that’s not true for Somalia.

The chaos in that country, wrote Gerald, “exacerbates the situation.” In fact, he said, there are “several Somalias” — the strife-ridden Somalia we read about in the press; the independent Somaliland; the autonomous Puntland; the independent Republic of Djibouti; and the Somali regions of Ethiopia and northeast Kenya.

Far from Africa, meantime, Pope Benedict XVI recently offered his prayers for those hit hard by the drought.

Last summer, meantime, Gerald Jones offered us a more detailed glimpse of the chronic struggles of East Africa.

Tags: Ethiopia Eritrea Hunger Drought Horn of Africa

31 October 2011
Greg Kandra

A young woman touches an icon of the Virgin Mary and Jesus in Santa Maria Church
in Deir Azra, Egypt. (photo: Holly Pickett)

As the Latin Catholic Church marks All Saints Day on 1 November, it’s worth noting when and how the Eastern churches, especially the Catholic and Orthodox churches in the Byzantine tradition, honor all of the saints.

It doesn’t happen in the fall, but in the spring. The Byzantine Eastern churches celebrate the Sunday of All Saints, which takes place the first Sunday after Pentecost — and the timing has special significance, according to Russian Orthodox priest Father John McCuen:

“Now, the Holy Spirit has come; the church has been established, and is strengthened and guided by the Holy Spirit. Each one of us who has been baptized and chrismated [receiving the sacraments of initiation] in the Orthodox Church has received this same Spirit. So, today we celebrate the means by which we are sanctified, by which we may become saints.”

Father McCuen also looks at the meaning of the saints in Eastern Christianity:

“One of the reasons we have icons in our churches and icons in our homes is to remind ourselves that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses: the holy men and women who have shared our faith and way of life, and who, by their struggles and ascetic labors of prayer and fasting and worship and giving and forgiving and humility and service have shown us, in their words and deeds and lives the life of our Lord Jesus Christ, the same life given to each one of us in our baptism, empowered by the same Holy Spirit, who descended upon the disciples in the upper room. The holy men and women were no different than any of us. They are made of the same nature, the same “stuff” as we are; yet they did so well, they grew so close to God, that they left this world behind, and lived the life of the kingdom of heaven instead. We honor them for their example, and we ask them to pray on our behalf, trusting that the greatness of their love for God will be shared with us as well. The icons are a way to honor and remember them, and to be encouraged to follow their example.”

So how does someone become a saint in the Eastern churches? The Eastern Catholic churches follow the processes instituted by the Holy See. But, how does someone become an Orthodox saint? Father Joseph Frawley, a member of the Orthodox Church of America’s Canonization Commission, explains:

“The glorification of saints in the Orthodox Church is a recognition that God’s holiness is manifested in the church through these grace-filled men and women whose lives were pleasing to God. Very early on, the church recognized the righteous ancestors of Christ (forefathers), those who predicted his coming (prophets), and those who proclaimed the Gospel (apostles and evangelists). Then those who risked their lives and shed their blood to bear witness to Christ (martyrs and confessors) were also recognized by the church as saints. There was no special canonization process, but their relics were treasured and the annual anniversaries of their martyrdoms were celebrated.

“Later, the ascetics, who followed Christ through self-denial, were numbered among the saints. Bishops and priests who proclaimed the true faith and fought against heresy were added to the list. Finally, those in other walks of life who manifested holiness were recognized as saints.

“While the glorification of a saint may be initiated because of miracles, it is not an absolute necessity for canonization. The Roman Catholic Church requires three verified miracles in order to recognize someone as a saint; the Orthodox Church does not require this. There are some saints, including Saint Nicodemos of the Holy Mountain (commemorated 14 July) and Saint Innocent of Moscow (commemorated 31 March), who have not performed any miracles, as far as we know. What is required is a virtuous life of obvious holiness. And a saint’s writings and preaching must be ‘fully Orthodox,’ in agreement with the pure faith that we have received from Christ and the apostles and taught by the fathers and the ecumenical councils.

“Can the church ‘make’ a saint? The answer is no. Only God can do that. We glorify those whom God himself has glorified, seeing in their lives true love for God and their neighbors. The church merely recognizes that such a person has cooperated with God’s grace to the extent that his or her holiness is beyond doubt.

“Are saints ‘elected’ by special panels or by majority vote? Again, the answer is no. Long before an official inquiry into a person’s life is made, that person is venerated by the people where he or she lived and died. His or her memory is kept alive by the people who pray for his or her soul or who ask him or her for intercession. Sometimes people will visit his or her grave or have icons painted through their love for the person. Then a request is made, usually through the diocesan bishop, for the church to recognize that person as a saint. A committee, such as the Orthodox Church in America’s Canonization Commission, is formed to research the life of the person who is being considered for glorification and to submit a report to the holy synod stating its reasons why the person should or should not be recognized as a saint. Then the holy synod decides to number that person among the saints and have icons painted and liturgical services composed.

For more, check out The Orthodox Church of America website or read this essay by George Bebis, Ph.D., which explains more about the different categories of Orthodox saints.

Tags: Eastern Christianity Orthodox Church Eastern Churches Icons

26 October 2011
Greg Kandra

Top left: Major Archbishop George Alencherry of Ernakulam-Angamaly, head of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church; Thomas Varghese, CNEWA Vice President for India and Northeast Africa; and Monsignor John Kozar, CNEWA President, met yesterday morning.
(photo: Erin Edwards)

On Tuesday, CNEWA welcomed a man who made history earlier this year: Major Archbishop George Alencherry of Ernakulam-Angamaly, head of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, which is based in the southern Indian state of Kerala.

A native of Kerala, Archbishop George holds a unique place in the Catholic Church. He’s the first head of the Syro-Malabar Church to be elected by its synod of bishops — the result of a move by the Holy See in 2004 that granted full administrative powers to the church, including the power to elect bishops. Upon his election to lead the 3.8 million-strong church on 24 May, Pope Benedict XVI confirmed his election and extended communion the following day.

The engaging 66-year-old is visiting some of his 75,000-member flock in the United States — his next stop is Chicago — and stopped by to meet with CNEWA’s president, Monsignor John Kozar.

During his visit, Archbishop George spoke eloquently of his desire to “collaborate as one church” with different faiths and worried about continued discrimination toward newly baptized Christians in his homeland. But he also took pride in the great number of lay people who, despite many challenges, are involved in catechesis and pastoral work. In India, he noted, it’s a thriving vocation all its own, and one that’s continuing to grow.

Tags: India Unity Syro-Malabar Catholic Church Indian Bishops

21 October 2011
Greg Kandra

CNEWA President Msgr. John Kozar, left, and Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter Rai, right, listen to a reporter’s question during yesterday’s news conference at CNEWA’s New York headquarters. (Photo: Erin Edwards)

To end the week, we offer another glimpse at Patriarch Bechara Peter Rai’s visit to CNEWA yesterday.

It was his first trip to the United States from Lebanon since his election earlier this year. You can find a report about his visit to our offices at this link, along with the full text of his remarks.

And to view a slideshow from the press conference, just click on the image at the top of this post.

Tags: Unity Ecumenism Interreligious Maronite Church Maronite Catholic

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