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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

20 October 2011
Greg Kandra

Patriarch Bechara Peter Rai of Antioch speaking at press conference at CNEWA offices.
(photo: Erin Edwards)

The head of the world’s Maronite Catholics, Patriarch Bechara Peter Rai, held a press conference at CNEWA’s headquarters in New York City this morning as part of his first pastoral visit to the United States since his election in Lebanon last March.

During his hour-long briefing, the patriarch spoke of his desire to seek dialogue and consensus with other religions, and expressed his hope that the “Arab Spring” will be “a real spring … that will lead to greater freedom and democracy.”

In an opening statement, he also asked for the world to “remain vigilant” as change sweeps over the Middle East.

“The church abhors the use of violence to meet any goal,” he said. “Violence can never be justified. We want to see a Middle East renewed in its respect of human rights and dignity, especially for minorities. We want to see people electing democratic governments and holding them accountable. It is important to point out the role the Christians played in upholding democratic principles, freedoms and human rights in the Middle East. This is why a Christian presence there should be safeguarded and the role of Christians strengthened.”

You can read the full text of the patriarch’s remarks here, and watch the video below.

Tags: Unity Ecumenism Interreligious Maronite Church Maronite Catholic

30 September 2011
Greg Kandra

Msgr. John Kozar, President of CNEWA, enjoys a laugh with Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley,O.F.M. Cap.
(Photo: Erin Edwards)

Boston’s Archbishop, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, O.F.M. Cap., paid a visit to our New York offices this morning. Cardinal Sean is also a member of the CNEWA board, and was curious to meet some of the staff and see what we do. CNEWA President Msgr. John Kozar gave him a tour of our offices, introduced him to the staff, and clearly had a great time.


29 September 2011
Greg Kandra

M.L. Thomas, Regional Director for India; Thomas Varghese, Vice President for India and Northeast Africa; Bishop Joseph Kunnath, C.M.I.; and Msgr. John Kozar, President, CNEWA. (Photo: Deacon Greg Kandra)

Bishop Joseph Kunnath from Adilabad, India, dropped by the offices of CNEWA in New York Thursday afternoon. He was returning from a mission appeal to Lansing, Michigan, and stopped by to meet Msgr. John Kozar, CNEWA’s new president, and M.L. Thomas, the regional director for India.

Bishop Joseph was eager to share news of some remarkable developments in his homeland: the 15,000 new Catholics who live in his diocese, he said, have all made a commitment to become evangelists. “They will come with us to each new village,” he said, explaining that they will be venturing into a region of southern India that is not Christian.

Msgr. Kozar added, “When he says ‘new village,’ he means NEW. These towns were built from nothing.”

When asked what was attracting people to the faith, the bishop replied simply, “It is the Spirit.”

He explained: “They see us praying and they want to join us.” Bishop Joseph added that the people don’t ask for anything except faith.

Tags: India CNEWA

22 September 2011
Greg Kandra

Palestinians buy food from a vendor outside the Damascus Gate in the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, 1 Sept. In August, Israeli archaeologists completed restoration work on the Damascus Gate, the last stage in a project begun in 2007 to restore and conserve the city’s 2.5 miles of ancient walls. (photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)

Last week, we brought you some remarkable photographs by Sister Christian Molidor, including a striking image of an elderly woman in Jerusalem making her way to the Damascus Gate to do her shopping. This week, Catholic News Service had more about that historic entrance, what one observer called “the most important entryway into Jerusalem”:

From its monumental Roman base to the top of its newly restored Ottoman crown and its stones scarred by bullet holes, the city’s most elaborate gate has been witness to the comings and goings of centuries of conquering soldiers and rulers and remains the main gate into the Old City.

In August, Israeli archaeologists completed restoration work on the Damascus Gate, the last stage in a project begun in 2007 to restore and conserve the city’s 2.5 miles of ancient walls, said conservation architect Avi Mashiah of the Israel Antiquities Authority, who directed the work.

The Damascus Gate was the last of the gates to be restored not only because of its architectural complexity, but also because of its role as the social and commercial hub for the Old City in East Jerusalem, he said.

Read more about the Damascus Gate here.

Tags: Jerusalem Damascus Gate

22 September 2011
Greg Kandra

Last week, our own Rev. Elias Mallon offered some context and analysis on a communiqué by the leaders of Jerusalem’s Christian churches. Those leaders had expressed “the need to intensify our prayers and diplomatic efforts for peace between Palestinians and Israelis.” That statement came ahead of this week’s meetings of the United Nations General Assembly, where the issue of a separate state for Palestine was front and center.

Last night, Fr. Mallon offered additional perspective on “Currents,” the daily news show on New Evangelization Television (NET), the TV station of the Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn.

You can watch the interview below:

Tags: Middle East Palestine Israel United Nations

20 September 2011
Greg Kandra

Near Tibilisi, Georgia, Mother Ephemia plays with a dog belonging to the St. Tornike of Athos Monastery. (photo: Justyna Mielnikiewicz)

In 2007, journalist Paul Rimple visited the nuns carving out Alternative Lifestyles in Georgia:

Joining a monastery or convent is an arduous process, which discourages the casually interested or the naïve and gullible. “First a woman must agree to live by the monastery’s rules,” said Mother Ephemia, abbess of St. Tornike of Athos Monastery in Mtskheta. “She pledges obedience. Then she goes through a period of character evaluation.”

Each night, Mother Ephemia meets with members of the community in an examination of conscience that is “more of a dialogue and soul-sharing” experience, she said. The informal meeting “helps me know at what stage of development each sister is in.”

The process can take as little as five months or as long as 15 years — there is no set period. But three years is typical, Father Giorgi said.

“Generally, the better educated the woman and her family are, the easier the process is,” Mother Ephemia said. “But modesty in every aspect is absolutely necessary. There is no room for pride.”

But, as the picture shows, there is room for pets. Read more at this link.

Tags: Monastery Vocations (religious)

20 September 2011
Greg Kandra

Sister Maria Hanna and Father Guido Gockel, CNEWA’s vice president for the Middle East. (photo: Greg Kandra)

The plight of Christians in Iraq remains an ongoing concern. Last week, two leading Iraqi bishops met with the President of the Council of Europe in Brussels to discuss a wide range of issues — including religious freedom, education and the treatment of women.

We got some insight of our own several weeks ago, when we had a chance to talk with some nuns from Iraq, Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena. They were in the United States to meet with political and religious leaders around the country in an effort to raise awareness and raise funds for the remarkable work that they do.

Here’s part of our conversation:

Please tell us about your ministry in Iraq since the start of the war in 2003.

Sister Maria Hanna: When the bombs started falling in Baghdad and people started to flee, we opened our convents to families. We gave people a place to stay. Or we connected them with families who could shelter them for a night. We did not wait for people to come to us. We went to locations where people congregated and asked them if they needed anything that we could provide.

We gathered an organization of young adults who went door to door to beg for food and other things to help families in need. Our sisters baked bread every day so people at least had bread to survive.

When families lost someone to violence or kidnapping, the sisters stayed with them, accompanied them, let them know we were there for them.

Years ago, the government nationalized our Catholic schools. After the regime fell, the government gave the buildings back to us. We let displaced families stay in the schools, too. We made sure people had the necessities to live. Our pantries were always empty, because we always gave everything away.

Early in the crisis, especially in 2003 and 2004, most of Iraq’s hospitals closed down. We run Al-Hayat Hospital in Baghdad, and we stayed opened. We stayed open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We stayed open for the people.

From accompanying displaced families and seeing their needs, we saw that children had no place to go, so we opened kindergartens. We rented houses to give children a safe place to play.

We also have our orphanages. One used to be in Baghdad, in a very dangerous zone, so we moved it to a village nearby. It is called the Beatitude House. This year, we are planning to open a new orphanage for boys with the help of the American Embassy. One of our biggest hopes is to build another hospital, too.

You’re also working night and day to bolster the Christian presence in Iraq.

Sister Maria: Most of our work is pastoral — not schools and hospitals. Every year, we prepare about 1,600 boys and girls to receive Communion. Our sisters do this in remote areas where there is no priest. This week and last, 667 children received First Communion in one village, because of our pastoral ministry.

We also do Gospel sharing with families. We gather a few families together and we share the Gospel with one another. Our sisters teach Catechism, too. We also run activities with the Dominican Third Order, lay people. In one town, we have about 180 lay people of different ages who help the local parish with whatever is needed. So, you can tell we’re everywhere.

Your community lost its mother house to the violence.

Sister Diana Moneka: Yes, it was bombed several times. But God was with us. When they bombed our mother house the first time, the missile fell on a bedroom where four sisters were sleeping. It was 1:30 a.m. They couldn’t escape. Pressure from the fire prevented them from opening the door. A sister sleeping down the hall eventually got them out. The sisters were so shocked, but after a while they felt the presence of God. They realized, “We’re still alive because of God.”

To read more, visit this link.

And check out this page to learn how you can support the life-saving work in Iraq.

Tags: Iraqi Christians War Health Care Orphans/Orphanages Dominican Sisters

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