21 January 2014
In this image from last March, Pope Francis walks with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople at the Vatican. (photo: CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano via Catholic Press Photo)
This week marks the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Pope Francis spoke about the subject on Friday:
Pope Francis said the evangelization of secular society requires focusing on the essentials of Christianity in collaboration with other Christian churches.
The pope made his remarks on 17 January at a meeting with representatives of the Lutheran Church in Finland, who were making their annual ecumenical pilgrimage to Rome on the feast of Finland’s patron, St. Henry. The meeting occurred one day before the start of the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
Pope Francis told the group that ecumenical relations lately have been undergoing “significant changes, owing above all to the fact that we find ourselves professing our faith in the context of societies and cultures every day more lacking in reference to God and all that recalls the transcendent dimension of life.”
“For this very reason, our witness must concentrate on the center of our faith, on the announcement of the love of God made manifest in Christ his son,” the pope said. “Here we find space to grow in communion and in unity, promoting spiritual ecumenism.”
Pope Francis quoted the Second Vatican Council’s decree on ecumenism, which described “spiritual ecumenism” as consisting of “conversion of heart and holiness of life, together with private and public prayer for Christian unity,” which form the “soul of the whole ecumenical movement.”
In the Summer issue of ONE, the Rev. Elias Mallon wrote about ecumenism:
It has been almost 50 years since the publication of the Decree on Ecumenism. It would be a mistake to underestimate the tremendous progress that has been made as Christians come to a deeper understanding of what we believe as we work toward the unity willed by Christ. That is not, however, a call to self-satisfaction.
As recently as the General Audience of 18 January 2012, the first day of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, Pope Benedict XVI said “the ecumenical task is a responsibility of the entire church and of all the baptized.”
He recognized that “since the birth of the ecumenical movement more than a century ago, there has always been a clear awareness that the lack of unity among Christians is an obstacle to a more effective proclamation of the Gospel.” But, the pope added: “The fundamental truths of the faith unite us more than they divide us.”
A long and challenging road lies ahead to complete Christian unity. But it is a road Pope Francis seems eager to travel. In addressing the delegation of the ecumenical patriarchate in Rome for the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul in late June, Pope Francis stressed that “the search for unity among Christians is an urgent task — you have said that ‘it is not a luxury, but an imperative’ — that, today more than ever, we cannot put aside.”
Read more on the issue of ecumenism in the Summer 2013 issue of ONE.
17 January 2014
Tags: Pope Francis Ecumenism Christian Unity Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I
Samples of raw coffee beans undergo a series of tests at a laboratory in Dire Dawa. Coffee is a vibrant and important part of Ethiopian culture. To learn more, read Brewed to Perfection from the November 2011 issue of ONE. (photo: Peter Lemieux)
16 January 2014
Tags: Ethiopia Cultural Identity Farming/Agriculture
An elderly refugee from Azerbaijan sits in an unsanitary government housing project. (photo: Armineh Johannes)
A few years ago, we took a close look at the hard lives of the elderly in Armenia:
Since settling in Armenia 17 years ago, Sonya Sargsian can only recall losses, hardships and heartbreaks.
“When we escaped Azerbaijan in 1988, the state gave us temporary asylum here with assurances we would receive an apartment later,” said the 80-year-old widow. “But they forgot about us,” she continued, repeatedly pressing her face into her open hands.
A “refugee,” Mrs. Sargsian is among the thousands of Armenians who fled their homes in neighboring Azerbaijan in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s.
“Who needs a life like this? I don’t want to live in these inhumane conditions,” she added, gesturing at her run-down studio apartment.
Sonya Sargsian resides in a dilapidated government-owned building housing impoverished pensioners and the homeless — one of three clustered in a forgotten suburb of Yerevan, the Armenian capital. Built as a student dormitory after World War II, the building has not been renovated since its construction. Residents share a common bathroom, which barely functions. Decrepit plumbing supplies water at irregular intervals.
“We can’t take a bath for months. We walk a district away to get water. Those unable to make the trip try to forget they have basic human needs,” Mrs. Sargsian said, pointing to the sewage leaking through the ceiling.
Complicating matters is the disappearance of her son and his family. “When the war began,” she said, “I sent my son and his children to his in-laws’ home in Chechnya. I had no idea they would escape one war only to find themselves in another.”
She has received no news of their whereabouts; attempts to contact them have not yielded any leads. “Their home has been shelled and ruined. Nobody lives there,” she concluded.
For many elderly Armenians such as Sonya Sargsian, a normal life is but a memory.
A small landlocked nation of 2.9 million people, Armenia has paid a high price for its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Once part of a mammoth state-controlled centralized economy, Armenia has had to go it alone. Soviet-organized trading patterns collapsed and state-subsidized industries decayed.
Read more about Pensioners in Crisis from the January 2008 issue of ONE.
And to learn how you can help, visit our giving page for Eastern Europe.
15 January 2014
Tags: Armenia Poor/Poverty Caring for the Elderly Caucasus Pensioners
In Alaska, pilgrims bring to the tomb of St. Herman their well-worn travel icons. (photo: Clark James Mishler)
Deep in the heart of Alaska, there’s a thriving community of Christians, members of the Orthodox Church in America. We visited the community a few years ago and saw first-hand their deep faith:
Deep in the old-growth forest of Alaska’s Spruce Island, 8-year-old Julian Griggs made the Sign of the Cross before dipping his plastic bottle into the cold spring water. “Umm,” he said after a sip. “That tastes sweet.”
Up the trail, Julian’s parents joined other adults for a three-hour liturgy near the Orthodox church that enshrines the tomb of St. Herman of Alaska. But here in the forest, beside a small wooden shelter of candles and icons, the children were partaking in another Orthodox tradition.
The spring water that Julian was drinking is considered holy. According to local tradition, the spring was discovered by the monk Herman, a starets (or spiritual father in Russian), who came to Alaska from Russia in 1794. Until his discovery of the spring, the island was thought to be without fresh water. Pilgrims credit the spring water with healing a number of medical and spiritual ills.
“It’s really good, even if it’s a little brown,” said Xenia Hoffman, 12. The spring, and all that surrounds it, drew her family to Alaska. They moved here from California last year “because of St. Herman,” she said. “We wanted to be closer to him.”
Each summer, the Orthodox Church in America’s Diocese of Alaska organizes a pilgrimage to Spruce Island, an hour’s boat ride from the fishing town of Kodiak. Most come from the Alaska Native villages in the Kodiak region, but some come from as far away as Eastern Europe.
St. Herman was not the first Russian to come to Alaska. Legend holds that Russian settlers first established a colony in 1648. And in the early 18th century, Russian explorers and merchants sailed to Alaska by way of a strait (later named for one such explorer, Vitus Bering, who was in fact a Dane in the employ of Peter the Great) separating Asia from North America. They returned with sea otter pelts, which proved very valuable.
Read more about Orthodox Alaska in the November 2006 issue of ONE. And you can learn more about the Orthodox Church of America in a profile from 2012.
14 January 2014
Tags: Cultural Identity United States Orthodox Church Pilgrimage/pilgrims
Alexander and Margarita Mamin prefer to work on icons with their religious themes rather than papier-mâché boxes and plates with secular motifs, which the Soviets had insisted upon. (photo: Sean Sprague)
Ten years ago, we paid a visit to Palekh, a village in Russia that was enjoying a kind of renaissance, with a resurgence of artists creating religious icons:
Under Soviet rule, Lenin, national achievements, cosmonauts, industrial workers and agricultural collectives were most often featured in the traditional style, with a touch of Socialist Realism — the Soviet standard for all art.
Examples are on display at the Palekh museum. To date, the village has resisted mass production; replicas remain forbidden. Most artists in Palekh paint boxes, but with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, many have reverted to icons.
Alexander and Margarita Mamin have been married 15 years and are both artists and graduates of the Palekh Art Academy. They live with their two children — both of whom want to be artists — in a log house surrounded by a vegetable garden.
“These days we paint everything from miniatures to big paintings in churches,” Mr. Mamin said. “For years we had worked on small boxes, but now we prefer to paint icons, especially large ones for iconostases.”
Palekh artists are doing more religious painting than before, especially the younger ones.
Read more in New Reality, Same Artists from the March-April 2004 issue of the magazine.
13 January 2014
Tags: Cultural Identity Russia Art Icons Soviet Union
Pope Francis greets members of the Catholic Committee for Cultural Collaboration, which promotes exchange between Orthodox churches and Oriental Orthodox churches, during the 50th anniversary of the committee at the Vatican on 11 January. (photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)
10 January 2014
Tags: Pope Francis Ecumenism Christian Unity
Men help a wounded boy who survived what activists say was an airstrike by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al Assad in Damascus on 7 January. (photo: CNS/Bassam Khabieh, Reuters)
Recent images, like the one here, remind us of the ongoing suffering of children in Syria. Last summer, Ziad Hilal, S.J. described efforts to save the children of war:
It is worth mentioning that the people most affected by the war in Syria are children with special needs; their situation has deteriorated substantially. The ravages of war have destroyed two centers for handicapped children located in downtown Homs. Both centers operated under the administration of the Jesuit Fathers and the Sisters of the Sacred Heart.
In response, we opened two centers in safe areas to shelter these vulnerable children. The first center has enrolled 30 children at St. Savior Convent. The second is located at the Maronite convent outside of Homs. Both centers provide the children with necessary supervision in addition to therapeutic sessions and a hot meal every day.
Our mission has not been easy. At first, we had planned to work on a limited scale and within a limited period of time not exceeding three months, after which we had hoped that the war would have ended and the displaced would return to their homes. However, the sheer magnitude of destruction and the increasing needs of those displaced have made such plans impossible.
Caring for more than 3,000 displaced families and providing support to 2,000 children who need continuous care on all levels is indescribably heavy. And until now, few organizations have assisted us with our mission. I still remember how CNEWA took the initiative at the beginning of the harsh winter and provided 1,000 families with winter kits to help the children in our schools survive the cold and the poor housing conditions.
We have had some difficult cases of children who have lost one or both of their parents. One such child is a 12-year-old whom I will call “Rita.” Her father was shot in the head and has been in a coma since last year; her mother had a nervous breakdown and is being treated in a specialized center. Rita is currently living with her aunt, who is also displaced. Rita refuses to go back to school and she isolates herself from the world. The Sisters of the Good Shepherd, along with a psychologist, are trying to support her morally and to assist her in her studies at home. However, she has thus far rejected these efforts to help her.
Maybe our efforts will not be enough to satisfy the huge needs of the displaced families and to relieve their sufferings. But what we are trying to do is simply shine a small spot of light on the shadow of violence.
Read more about the Children of War.
And to learn how you can help them, visit our Syria page.
9 January 2014
Tags: Syrian Civil War Children War Relief
Iraqi refugees celebrate the liturgy in Amman. (photo: Nader Daoud)
Some years back, we profiled the Chaldean Catholics of Iraq, fleeing the war and hoping to make a new start in Jordan. Like so many refugees we have encountered over the years, they found solace in their faith:
The refugees carry on with their lives as best as possible. Father Mousalli celebrates baptisms, eucharistic liturgies, marriages and eventually funerals for his refugee flock.
Churches in Amman and Beirut have organized informal schools for children to make up for time lost out of school. The church has also enrolled university students in English and computer courses.
But despite their great belief in God, Chaldean refugees are filled with despair. They did not want to leave their beloved homeland and nearly all want to return if the political situation changes.
Read more about what they endured in Waiting for the Future from the March-April 2003 issue of the magazine.
8 January 2014
Tags: Lebanon Refugees Iraqi Christians Chaldean Church Amman
A mother holds her newborn in the maternity ward of the Tiramayr Narek Hospital. (photo: Justyna Mielnikiewicz)
While much of North America copes this week with a “polar vortex” of near-zero temperatures, we were reminded of the hard winter others face in different parts of the world.
In 2009, we focused on Armenia, visiting a hospital that can be difficult to reach during winter:
Natives of Shirak often refer to the area as the Armenian Siberia and consider themselves exiled from much of the country’s cultural and economic life, especially the prosperity many compatriots in Yerevan, the nation’s capital, have been enjoying in recent years. Indeed, the gap between the socioeconomic development in Yerevan and the lethargy of Armenia’s rural, impoverished north widens by the day. Whereas newly constructed supermarkets, boutiques and luxury high-rise buildings illuminate Yerevan’s streets, the only signs of modern life in Ashotzk are the occasional car and Tiramayr Narek Hospital.
Ashotzk rises some 6,600 feet above sea level and is covered in three to five feet of snow six months out of the year. During the winter months, temperatures often drop to 40 degrees below zero and many of the roads are closed.
One road, known as the “life road,” is kept accessible throughout the winter and is used only in the case of medical emergencies. It extends 17 miles from the village of Berdashen, the neighboring community closest to Armenia’s northern border, directly to the hospital. Before the hospital commissioned the construction of the “life road,” residents had no way of reaching medical care in the winter months. To this day, residents still try to plan their pregnancies so that mothers give birth between the months of April and October.
“Getting to the medical center in Gyumri was impossible in winter before there was the hospital,” said Mariam Simonian, a nurse who lives in Berdashen.
Read more about the Armenian Winter in the March 2009 issue of ONE.
7 January 2014
Tags: Children Health Care Armenia Poor/Poverty
A woman dressed as a character from a Nativity scene puts a lamb around the neck of Pope Francis as he arrives to visit the Church of St. Alfonso Maria dei Liguori in Rome on 6 January. Read more about the pope’s visit at this link. (photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)
Tags: Pope Francis Catholic Rome