20 May 2019
Cardinal Nasrallah P. Sfeir, Lebanon's retired Maronite Catholic patriarch, died on 12 May 2019. He is pictured in a 2010 photo. (photo: CNS/Nancy Wiechec)
Church bells could be heard ringing throughout Lebanon on 12 May mourning Cardinal Nasrallah P. Sfeir, the country’s retired Maronite Catholic patriarch known for defending his country’s sovereignty and independence.
Cardinal Sfeir would have been 99 on 15 May.
“The Maronite church is orphaned and Lebanon is in mourning,” said a statement from Bkerke, the Maronite patriarchate, announcing his death.
Cardinal Bechara Rai, Maronite patriarch since 2011, said in his Sunday homily at Bkerke a few hours later, “In this patriarchal chair, where 63 years of continuous life has lived a priest, bishop, patriarch and cardinal, we lose an icon, but we all have gained a patron in heaven.”
In a telegram of condolence released 14 May, Pope Francis said that as an “ardent defender of the sovereignty and independence of his country,” Cardinal Sfeir would “remain a great figure in the history of Lebanon.”
Governing the Maronite church with “gentleness and determination,” he was a “free and courageous man” on the public stage, wisely knowing how to bring people together in the name of peace and reconciliation, the pope said in the message to Cardinal Rai.
Cardinal Sfeir served as Maronite patriarch from 1986 to 2011. His last public appearance was at Easter Vigil Mass at Bkerke. He was hospitalized a few days later with a pulmonary infection, his condition later worsening.
The cardinal was considered a respected power broker during Lebanon’s 1975-1990 civil war, which saw bitter infighting between rival militias, including opposing Christian factions.
“The national arena will miss the presence of the patriarch, a man of solid faith in his national positions and in defending Lebanon’s sovereignty and independence at the most difficult stage,” said Lebanese President Michel Aoun.
“The Maronite Church lost one of the most prominent patriarchs who had fingerprints on church affairs, heritage and traditions,” added Aoun, a Maronite Catholic.
Cardinal Sfeir was “a very simple, humble person, always ready to listen,” said Maronite Archbishop Paul Sayah, patriarchal vicar for foreign affairs, of the prelate he had known for more than 30 years.
“He spoke very little and listened a great deal. If you asked him a question, he would answer with a few words, but always deep and down to the point,” the archbishop told Catholic News Service.
The cardinal was a man “who was always open to dialogue, a man of peace and reconciliation,” Archbishop Sayah said.
“He believed very deeply in the Christian-Muslim coexistence. On the other hand, he was very adamant about safeguarding freedom: freedom of conscience, freedom of religion, freedom of speech. One of his famous sayings was, ‘Lebanon could not exist unless it were free,’“ Archbishop Sayah said.
In September 2000 Cardinal Sfeir issued, with the Maronite bishops, an appeal for an end to the Syrian occupation of Lebanon, which began during the war in 1976 and lasted until 2005.
“No one dared at that time” to take such a step and “break the taboo” predominating in Lebanon to speak out against the Syrian hegemony, “but he had the courage, the foresight,” Archbishop Sayah said.
For this stand, Cardinal Sfeir was referred to as the father of Lebanon’s second independence.
As patriarch, Cardinal Sfeir often told the faithful that despite the difficulties of current times, their circumstances now were simpler than “the miseries and persecution that befell our people throughout the ages. Our church is a church struggling for excellence.”
He is credited with organizing the 2004 Maronite Synod of Bishops, the first full Maronite synod to take place in Lebanon in 150 years, and the first in which women participated. It resulted in an 800-page document, an extensive study of the identity of the Maronite Catholic Church and its mission in the world.
In his later years, still at the patriarchate, Cardinal Sfeir continued to participate in church activities. He spent his time in prayer, and also reading and writing.
“He had a fantastic habit of writing in his diary every day,” Archbishop Sayah noted, and could be found writing, revising on his laptop at his desk.
“His legacy will remain for a very long time,” Archbishop Sayah said.
“He had that beautiful smile, that really reflected a deep internal peace,” Archbishop Sayah noted, attributing it to the cardinal’s life of intense prayer and meditation. He was even smiling as he was going into the hospital, the archbishop recalled. “I saluted him.”
“We are sad, but we rejoice at the legacy he left us,” Archbishop Sayah said.
Sheikh Abdul Latif Daryan, grand mufti of Lebanon’s Sunni Muslims, described Cardinal Sfeir as “a role model for moderation, openness, wisdom, dialogue, love and coexistence between Muslims and Christians.”
Born in 1920 in Rayfoun, Lebanon, Nasrallah Pierre Sfeir was ordained a priest in 1950 and ordained bishop in 1961.
He was appointed cardinal by Pope John Paul II in 1994.
Cardinal Sfeir was fluent in Arabic, French, English, Italian and Latin, as well as Syriac, the historical spiritual language of the Maronites.
He served as president of the Assembly of the Catholic Patriarchs and Bishops in Lebanon and was a founding member of the Assembly of the Catholic Patriarchs in the East.
Pope Benedict XVI accepted his resignation in 2011.
His death leaves the College of Cardinals with 221 members, 120 of whom are under 80 and eligible to vote in a conclave.
10 May 2019
Tags: Lebanon Maronite Catholic
On 9 May 2019, nuns and priests pray at St. Sebastian Church in Negombo, Sri Lanka. It was the first Mass at the church since the Easter bomb attack by militants linked to ISIS.
(photo: CNS/Dinuka Liyanawatte, Reuters)
9 May 2019
Tags: ISIS Persecution
Marian devotion is especially widespread and popular during the month of May. In this photo from 2008, people attending a retreat in Purakkad, Kerala, pray at a shrine devoted to Mary.
(photo: Peter Lemieux)
8 May 2019
Tags: India Mary
People move through debris on a road last week, after Cyclone Fani hit Puri, India. The storm tore through India's eastern coast, lashing beaches with rain and winds gusting to 127 miles per hour and affecting weather as far away as Mount Everest. (photo: CNS/Reuters)
7 May 2019
Children ride with the statue of Our Lady of Carmel and the Christ Child during a procession outside the Church of St. Joseph in Haifa, Israel, on 5 May 2019. (photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)
Israel’s second largest annual Christian gathering became a vehicle to pray for peace as tensions between Israel and Palestinians living in Gaza intensified.
The 5 May observance of the centennial of the Our Lady of Carmel procession saw 10,000 local Christians join festivities that retrace the steps of the return of a statue of Mary from Haifa’s St. Joseph Church to the Discalced Carmelite Stella Maris monastery after the end of World War I.
The statue of Our Lady of Carmel left the hilltop monastery when the Carmelite monks were ordered to evacuate by Turkish soldiers in the war’s early months. The monks and the statue returned to the monastery on the first Sunday after Easter in 1919 in a festive procession, carried out in an act of thanksgiving to Our Lady of Carmel, who Haifa’s Christian residents believed protected the city during the war.
A flower-festooned float, the central piece of the procession, carried a replica of the statue. The scene attracted the attention of non-Christians as well.
This year’s celebration became all the more meaningful as cross-border attacks flared in early May between Gaza and Israel. The violence left four Israelis and 25 Palestinians dead. Many attending the procession prayed for a cessation of the fighting and for peace.
Although a cease-fire was put in place early on 6 May, Palestinian and Israeli politicians vowed that the battle was not over.
“We believe the Virgin Mary can protect everyone regardless of race, sex or religion,” said Marlene, 36, who asked that her last name not be used, as she hitched her 5-year-old daughter on her hip so she could see the float as it passed.
Marlene touched the float with her hand, brought it to her lips and then put her fingers on her daughter’s mouth as well as a symbol of a blessing. “This is a prayer for peace for all,” she said.
Parts of some of the city’s main thoroughfares were closed as the festive procession made its way to the upper city through cafe-lined streets as patrons watched from the comfort of shaded patios. Other people stood at the edge of the road to get a glimpse of the float that was pulled by rope by a dozen people; dozens more offered a hand.
Five children sat on the float, wearing white angel wings. A few looked a bit stunned by the surroundings as their parents walked alongside. Before the procession began, people climbed atop the float to place rosaries around the outstretched hands of the statue.
Leading the procession were Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, Archbishop Leopoldo Girelli, papal nuncio to Israel, the Rev. Saverio Cannistra, superior general of the Order of Discalced Carmelites, who came from Rome, and the Rev. Raymond Abdo, the provincial of the order, who traveled from Lebanon.
“I wait for this day the whole year,” said Sausan Musa, 55, of Gush Halav, Israel, as she staked her spot at the back of the float with seven other women. “I believe in the Virgin Mary. I come to pray for my family and for the whole country.”
Azar Chacour, 51, of Haifa, but whose family is among the internally displaced from the village of Biram, Israel, said he had been coming to the procession since he was an infant and now came with his daughter Dareen, 3.
“Jesus taught us to forgive and to pray for peace. Jesus taught us to ask for justice. People here can see Mary and how she is important for all people,” he said.
Samia Ashqar, who came from Nazareth, noted that the three-hour trek to the Carmelite monastery in the upper part of Haifa was not an easy one. She said people came out of devotion and a desire to pray for peace, as they are asked to do by Mary.
“We are sacrificing ourselves, our energy, our time,” she said. “It is to encourage us to continue. One hundred years means we are here, we continue to remember our history and nobody can forget our history here.”
But for some of the young people, such as Rogeh Shihadi, 16, and his Muslim friend May, 15, the procession was a chance to spend time with friends, grab an ice cream cone and share a laugh as they huddled over their cellphones.
“I am Muslim, I am not Christian, but I believe in Mary,” said May, who declined to give her last name. “I’ve been coming here for years. But I enjoy this also, so I can hang out with my friends.”
3 May 2019
Tags: Israel Mary
Msgr. John Kozar visits the Holy Family Church in Gaza in January 2016. (photo: CNEWA)
In the current edition of ONE, CNEWA’s president, Msgr. John E. Kozar, reflects on some of the places in CNEWA’s world where people are being renewed by a sense of promise and hope in some particularly challenging areas:
Religious men and women were especially courageous and often served as the only lifeline to those in remote or inaccessible areas. Some of these religious were themselves displaced and had lost everything in the floods, but they worked untiringly to serve those in need. The church was at its best, not just in providing material needs, but in sustaining the faith of the survivors and inspiring them to maintain their hope.
Holy Family Parish in the Gaza Strip is a beacon of hope and new life. Shortly after the last conflict between Hamas and Israel, in the midst of much suffering and destruction, Holy Family Parish opened its doors and its hearts to all — to the hungry, to the elderly, to people of every faith tradition. It was an oasis surrounded by a desert of despair and destruction.
The local pastor and his energetic parish team exuded a sense of hope and shared that with the thousands who sought comfort there. I was privileged to visit there and to experience the love that radiated within this small parish. When I celebrated Mass, I could not help but smile when I realized that tradition tells us that the Holy Family stopped here for comfort and refuge on their flight to Egypt. And today this holy place reverences that tradition through the ministry of giving refuge and by hosting so many who suffer and are in need — providing them with an environment of welcome and hope.
Read more in the March 2019 edition of ONE.
2 May 2019
Tags: Gaza Strip/West Bank
In this 2013 photo, people take an evening stroll down a street in Jerusalem’s Armenian quarter. You can read more about Armenian Christians in Jerusalem in ONE magazine’s Winter 2014 feature, ‘Living Here Is Complicated’ (photo: Ilene Perlman)
30 April 2019
Tags: Jerusalem Cultural Identity Armenian Apostolic Church Armenian Catholic Church
The Rev. Bryan Eyman poses with the icon of the Theotokos, the Inexhaustible Cup, Healer of Alcoholics, at St. Athanasius the Great Byzantine Catholic Parish in Indianapolis, where prayers of healing are offered for those struggling with alcoholism. (photo: CNS/Rev. John Russell via Horizons)
Numerous organizations, both private and public, seek to help those who struggle with substance abuse through programming and support services, but the Rev. Bryan Eyman has committed to a different approach: prayer.
Confident in the power of Jesus to satisfy every thirst, Father Eyman has been offering prayers for people struggling with alcoholism for the past 20 years.
Once a month, he celebrates an Eastern Christian Marian prayer service -- an akathist -- dedicated to the Mother of God, the Inexhaustible Cup, Healer of Alcoholics, at St. Athanasius the Great Byzantine Catholic Church in Indianapolis, where he is pastor. The most recent service was on 24 April.
April is Alcohol Awareness Month and, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 74 percent of the 19.7 million Americans who battle substance abuse are alcoholics. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism also reports that about 88,000 people die of alcohol-related causes in the United States each year, making it the third-leading cause of preventable death in the country, after tobacco and poor nutrition.
With the situation as grave as it is, the church has an important role to play in ministering to this marginalized group, said Father Eyman.
The Eastern Catholic priest attributes his commitment to prayer for the healing of alcoholics to his mother, Margaret Kelly Eyman.
“She was an employee in one of the first alcohol treatment centers in in the world,” he said.
His mother worked with Sister Mary Ignatia Gavin at Rosary Hall Solarium at St. Vincent Charity Medical Center in Cleveland. Sister Ignatia, along with Dr. Bob Smith, founded Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). The nun was a family friend, and Father Eyman recalled being an altar server at her funeral.
In 1988, while he was pastor at St. John the Baptist Byzantine Catholic Church in Minneapolis, Father Eyman began in this area of ministry by being available for people in the fourth and fifth steps of AA’s 12-step recovery program. These two steps consist of members telling another person about their addiction and seeking to make amends for the harm they might have caused, he said. He noted then, as now, the shortage of priests to help Catholics in the AA program.
Father Eyman continued in this capacity with AA when he was transferred to St. Andrew Byzantine Catholic Parish, now Holy Transfiguration Byzantine Catholic Parish, in Mentor-on-the-Lake, Ohio. There, he also welcomed a local AA group that was seeking a larger meeting space.
In the late 1990s, his ministry with alcoholics took an unexpected and more prayerful turn. It was the advent of the internet, and one of his first online searches produced a Russian icon of the Theotokos, the Inexhaustible Cup, Healer of Alcoholics. It came with the akathist prayer service that was translated from Russian into English.
He read about the miraculous healing associated with the icon. In late 19th-century Russia, a severe alcoholic, debilitated by his addiction, had a dream in which he was instructed to go to a particular monastery and ask for this icon. Upon praying before it, he was healed of his alcoholism, after which many other alcoholics were healed before the icon. This particular monastery was closed under communism, and a family hid the icon for safekeeping. The icon reemerged after communism, and the prayer service linked with this devotion restarted.
Moved by this story and sensing a call to action, Father Eyman began praying the akathist at St. Andrew Parish in 1999, before the AA meetings, and AA members were invited to participate.
He continued the prayer service when he was assigned to St. Mary Byzantine Catholic Church in Marblehead, Ohio, and then at St. Athanasius the Great, where he serves currently. Prayer services are held usually on the third Wednesday of each month, unless there is a scheduling conflict.
Attendance varies from month to month, from four people to 25 people, but swells to about 100 for the prayer service that marks the feast of the icon, 5 May, he said. The service includes praying for people struggling with alcoholism by name. Requests from people to include their loved ones continue to grow, he said.
“We get names from all over and we only use first names,” Father Eyman said. “For me, it’s not a matter of the number but the commitment to prayer to benefit people we may never meet. We just try to be faithful in doing it, with confidence that Christ will bring about the healing, if we are open to it,” through the intercession of Mary.
Father Eyman said some people have received complete healing from the prayer service.
“In at least four cases, they have lost the craving for alcohol,” he said. Others, even from different religions, have found the prayer “very moving and encouraging as they walked through the steps” of AA and began to seek healing from alcoholism from the Mother of God.
Father Eyman said the spiritual component to recovering from addiction “is very important for people to connect with, especially in the Catholic tradition, (where) there is forgiveness.”
“When we repent and decide to change and pour that reality out to another person, that’s when healing can begin,” he said.
“Our spiritual life and sacramental life as Catholics can be tied in with our physical well-being and (we can) help people make that connection and see that inner dependency,” he said. “It’s basically people in need of God.”
Father Eyman said he would encourage more priests to pray the service in their parishes. The impact of alcohol abuse on individuals and families is grave and “it runs the gamut,” from “prayerful priests to outright atheists,” he said.
29 April 2019
Tags: Byzantine Catholic Church
Orthodox Christians and Eastern Catholics around the world celebrated Easter this past weekend — and many decorated their homes with psyanky. Learn more about the rich tradition surrounding these eggs and how they are made in The Colors of Easter in the March 2012 edition of ONE. (photo: Erin Edwards)
26 April 2019
In this image from several years ago, Macedonian worshipers greet Easter with lighted candles at St. Nikolai Church in Ohrid on Holy Saturday — which many there will observe this weekend.
(photo: Sean Sprague)
Around the world, many Christians are still preparing to celebrate Easter this weekend. A few years ago, I posted this piece to help explain why:
At present the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches calculate the date of Easter differently than the Orthodox churches. This results in both sets of Christian churches often having different dates for Easter. The bishops believed that all Christians celebrating Easter on the same day would be a sign of Christian unity.
When I was asked to write on this, I thought that there were some deep theological differences involved. Research into the topic made me realize that I was in the exciting area of “things I thought I knew but didn’t.” To understand more, you have to start at the beginning — the very beginning.
I know that the Gospels are not in total agreement about the date of the Last Supper. The Synoptics (Matthew, Mark and Luke) see the Last Supper taking place on the first day of Passover, which began at sundown on Thursday. John, on the other hand, sees the Last Supper taking place on the evening before Passover, which according to John would have begun Friday at sunset. I was aware of a group of Christians in the early church called the “Quattuordecimans” (“Fourteeners”) who celebrated Easter on the 14th of Nisan, the same day Jews celebrated Passover. For the Quattuordecimans, Easter could fall on any day of the week. Most Christians, however, celebrated Easter on the Sunday after Passover. There were some controversies between the two groups. The Council of Nicea (325), however, settled the matter and decreed that Easter would be on the first Sunday after the first full moon of the spring equinox in the northern hemisphere. The date of the equinox, with some slight astronomical inaccuracy, was determined as 21 March.
It would seem, then, that the question was solved in 325. What was the problem? The problem was not based on a deep, theological or mystical difference. The problem was based on an astronomical calculation: the length of the calendar year.
Read on to understand more about why there are two dates for Easter.
And to our Eastern and Orthodox siblings: Have a blessed and happy Easter this Sunday!
Tags: Easter Eastern Catholic Churches