12 September 2013
Copts attend a liturgy at St. Simon the Tanner Church, carved out of a cave in Egypt. (photo: Dana Smillie)
The popular web site Amusing Planet this week paid a visit to one of the most unusual churches in the world, the “cave church” of the Zabbaleen in Egypt:
Egypt is a Muslim-majority country, but the Zabbaleen are mainly Coptic Christians. Christian communities are rare in Egypt, so the Zabbaleen prefer to stay in Mokattam within their own religious community, even though many of them can afford houses elsewhere.
The local Coptic Church in Mokattam Village was established in 1975. After the establishment of the church, the Zabbaleen felt more secure in their location and only then began to use more permanent building materials, such as stone and bricks, for their homes. Given their previous experience of eviction from Giza in 1970, the Zabbaleen had lived in temporary tin huts up till that point. In 1976, a large fire broke out in Manshiyat Nasir, which led to the beginning of the construction of the first church below the Mokattam mountain on a site of 1,000 square meters. Several more churches have been built into the caves found in Mokattam, of which the Monastery of St. Simon the Tanner is the largest, with a seating capacity of 20,000. In fact, the Cave Church of St. Simon in Mokattam is the largest church in the Middle East.
In our magazine, we profiled the life of the Zabbaleen last year:
The Nagib family lives in Manshiyat Naser — also known as Garbage City — an impoverished Coptic Christian neighborhood nestled in the jutting desert cliffs that rise above Cairo’s bustling streets. Called Zabbaleen, or “garbage people” in Arabic, most hail from the rural province of Assiut, 250 miles to the south. For generations, the Zabbaleen have served as Cairo’s de facto garbage collectors, earning a meager living hauling away city dwellers’ trash and recycling anything salvageable.
To spend time with the Nagib family is to witness in microcosm the struggles of an entire class of people — and to realize that they are struggling not just to salvage what others discard, but also to salvage dignity and a way of life.
Devout Christians, most residents in Manshiyat Naser attend services at St. Simon the Tanner, a Coptic church carved out of the face of a cliff dominating the neighborhood.
Though some parishioners wish the church could do more for the community, the parish offers relief. For instance, it provides material assistance to orphans, widows and disabled persons. And it runs a nursery school, which enrolls some 500 boys and girls from the neighborhood.
Read more about Salvaging Dignity in Cairo in the September 2012 issue of ONE.
11 September 2013
Tags: Egypt Cultural Identity Village life Coptic Christians Copts
Young seminarians practice chanting in Ge’ez in Ziway. (photo: Peter Lemieux)
In 2009, we paid a visit to the town of Ziway, Ethiopia, for a look at the local Orthodox seminary at a time of transition in the country:
Life in Ziway carries on much as it has for centuries. At the monastery, signs of traditional life abound. One priest shovels sun-baked cow patties onto a horse-drawn cart. Adolescent deacons in training sit in pairs near the lake shore studying Scripture. And huddled on wooden benches beneath a small grove of shady trees, some 20 young seminarians practice chanting. Their drones drown out the chirping birds.
The seminarians are guided by debteras, a class of learned men unique to the Ethiopian and Eritrean Orthodox churches. Debteras command respect: They function as catechists and participate as cantors in the celebration of the Qeddase, the eucharistic liturgy.
The seminarians and debteras chant in Ge’ez — the ancient liturgical language of the Ethiopian and Eritrean churches — which few people know.
Little about an Ethiopian Orthodox priest’s formation and rural lifestyle has changed over the centuries — at least until recently. Most Orthodox priests receive an education almost identical to that of the generations of priests before them. And most lead lives with their families in the countryside, surviving on subsistence farming and their parishioners’ meager offerings.
But as traditional agrarian Ethiopia develops and its increasingly better educated people leave their villages for the cities, many within the Ethiopian Orthodox community worry that its priests will no longer be relevant to the faithful they serve.
Read more about these seminarians in As It Was, So Shall It Remain?, in the September 2009 issue of ONE.
10 September 2013
Tags: Ethiopia Priests Orthodox Ethiopian Orthodox Church Seminarians
Mustafa Abu Bekir, 23, is carried by a family member as they enter Turkey from the Turkish Cilvegozu border gate on 9 September. (photo: CNS/Umit Bektas, Reuters)
The crisis in Syria has raised more concerns about refugees, many of whom have fled to neighboring countries.
From Catholic News Service:
Tanil Kahiaian, a refugee from the Syrian city of Aleppo, said he is doing what he can for the others fleeing his country. He, his wife and two children escaped the Syrian war almost a year ago, and since he has watched “tens of thousands” pour into neighboring Turkey as he did.
“It is so difficult for me to see this, their poverty. I am donating clothes from my work,” Kahiaian told Catholic News Service 8 September from near his home in Istanbul’s Kumkapi district.
Kahiaian said he considered himself among the fortunate refugees here, because he came with money, was being lodged by Istanbul’s Armenian Orthodox community, and was able to quickly get a job with an Armenian clothing firm in Turkey because of his numerous languages.
“I speak Turkish and I am doing for them a lot of business in Turkish clothes with Arabic countries. But the people on the border have nothing,” he said. “If there are [air] strikes on Syria, their numbers will be more.”
The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees announced 3 September that more than 2 million Syrians have fled to neighboring countries in search of security since the conflict began in 2011. About a million are reportedly children.
Turkey’s government is providing basic needs and some education to an estimated 200,000 Syrians in 20 different humanitarian camps along its 560-mile border with Syria. But as many as 260,000 other Syrians are living in other areas in Turkey, including Istanbul, where they often depend mostly on help from private aid groups, according to the U.N.
“We are getting more and more [Syrians] by the day,” said a Christian aid group official in Istanbul, who requested anonymity due to Turkish laws that officially forbid — but tolerate — religious institutions from performing humanitarian work in the country.
Read more about the plight of Syrian refugees at this link.
And visit our Emergency: Syria page to learn how you can help.
9 September 2013
Tags: Refugees Syrian Civil War Emigration Refugee Camps Aleppo
Lebanese and Syrian Christian Maronites pray for peace in Syria at the Basilica of Our Lady of Lebanon in Harissa on 7 September. (photo: CNS/Hasan Shaaban, Reuters)
An estimated 100,000 people gathered in St. Peter’s Square Saturday for the historic Vigil of Prayer for Peace, led by Pope Francis. Countless more joined the bishop of Rome in prayer around the world.
Pope Francis concluded his homily with these words:
Is it possible to walk the path of peace? Can we get out of this spiral of sorrow and death? Can we learn once again to walk and live in the ways of peace? Invoking the help of God, under the maternal gaze of the Salus Populi Romani, Queen of Peace, I say: Yes, it is possible for everyone! From every corner of the world tonight, I would like to hear us cry out: Yes, it is possible for everyone! Or even better, I would like for each one of us, from the least to the greatest, including those called to govern nations, to respond: Yes, we want it! My Christian faith urges me to look to the Cross. How I wish that all men and women of good will would look to the Cross if only for a moment! There, we can see God’s reply: violence is not answered with violence, death is not answered with the language of death. In the silence of the Cross, the uproar of weapons ceases and the language of reconciliation, forgiveness, dialogue, and peace is spoken.
This evening, I ask the Lord that we Christians, and our brothers and sisters of other religions, and every man and woman of good will, cry out forcefully: violence and war are never the way to peace! Let everyone be moved to look into the depths of his or her conscience and listen to that word which says: Leave behind the self-interest that hardens your heart, overcome the indifference that makes your heart insensitive towards others, conquer your deadly reasoning, and open yourself to dialogue and reconciliation. Look upon your brother’s sorrow — I think of the children: look upon these … look at the sorrow of your brother, stay your hand and do not add to it, rebuild the harmony that has been shattered; and all this achieved not by conflict but by encounter! May the noise of weapons cease! War always marks the failure of peace, it is always a defeat for humanity. Let the words of Pope Paul VI resound again: “No more one against the other, no more, never! … Never again war!
“Peace expresses itself only in peace, a peace which is not separate from the demands of justice but which is fostered by personal sacrifice, clemency, mercy and love.” Brothers and Sisters, forgiveness, dialogue, reconciliation — these are the words of peace, in beloved Syria, in the Middle East, in all the world! Let us pray this evening for reconciliation and peace, let us work for reconciliation and peace, and let us all become, in every place, men and women of reconciliation and peace! So may it be.
Read the entire text of the homily at this link. You can watch an excerpt of the pope’s homily below.
6 September 2013
Tags: Pope Francis Vatican Middle East Peace Process Prayers/Hymns/Saints
Children at Our Lady of Armenia summer camp pose for the camera. (photo: Armineh Johannes)
In 2007, we paid a visit to central Armenia, and met children at a flourishing camp:
Diramayr is a refuge for Armenian orphans living in state orphanages as well as children invited by social workers and the Armenian Sisters of the Immaculate Conception, an Armenian Catholic community that sponsors the camp.
For Sister Arousiag, who returned to the land of her ancestors in the summer of 1990, the camp strengthens the emotional well-being of children scarred by abandonment and poverty and deepens their exposure to their Armenian culture and heritage.
“I like to think that here the children are camping with Christ,” Sister Arousiag said. “Many of the kids had never been to church before coming here.”
Religious devotions and catechism constitute a significant portion of the day at Diramayr. Days begin and end with prayer, while catechism class is a daily feature. Sunday mornings are reserved for the celebration of the Soorp Badarak, the Divine Liturgy.
Because few Armenians belong to the Armenian Catholic Church (just 220,000 of its 2.9 million citizens), most of those who attend the camp nominally belong to the Armenian Apostolic Church, the historic faith community of the Armenian people. The two churches share the same culture, liturgy and traditions (only full communion with the Church of Rome distinguishes Catholic from Armenian Apostolic Christians), thus sparing the camp from religious discord.
Sister Arousiag said she would not let a child’s religious background become an admissions factor. “How can I turn down a needy child just because they aren’t Catholic?”
Summer camp would not be summer camp if the campers had their heads stuck in their Bibles or catechisms all day. Children study languages (French or English), art and computers and also have plenty of time for sports and outdoor activities such as hiking and canoeing. They also take day trips to nearby Lake Sevan and visit the ancient historical monuments that dot Armenia’s countryside.
While most of the day is scheduled, the campers also have free time to horse around in the playground or chat with their friends.
Read more about the Kid’s Camps in the Caucasus from the November 2007 issue of ONE.
5 September 2013
Pope Francis exchanges a gift with Catholicos Baselios Mar Thoma Paulose II, head of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, during a private audience at the Vatican on 5 September.
(photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)
4 September 2013
Jewish worshippers pray at the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest site, in Jerusalem’s Old City, ahead of the Jewish new year, which begins tonight. (photo: CNS/Baz Ratner, Reuters)
3 September 2013
Roman’s Girls, a Catholic initiative in Addis Ababa, assists about 20 girls with school. Read more about it in An Uphill Battle from the May 2009 issue of ONE. (photo: Peter Lemieux)
30 August 2013
Flooded with Syrian Christian refugees, Al Qaa’s Greek Catholic church in Lebanon is often filled to capacity. (photo: Tamara Hadi)
As fear of a U.S. military attack mounts, more Syrians are seeking refuge outside the country. Earlier this year, we looked at Syrian refugees fleeing into Lebanon:
Although she has only moved a few miles down the road, Hayat Qarnous wakes up to a world vastly different from the one she knew just a few weeks ago. Back then, she was living in Rableh, a village on the Syrian side of the Syria-Lebanon border and once the center of a quiet farming community. But since the Syrian uprising started in March 2011, it has been anything but peaceful.
“War is like fire,” she says, sitting in her newfound refuge in Al Qaa, a Lebanese village just across the border from Rableh. “A fire eats everything before it. So does war. There is no peace anywhere.”
It is this lack of peace, and its consequences, that have pushed more than a million Syrians to flee their homeland since the beginning of the conflict.
About 320,000 Syrians have fled to neighboring Lebanon and registered with United Nations aid agencies there. But many observers believe equal numbers of Syrians have not registered with the authorities in Lebanon; among these are an estimated 10,000 Christians.
Read more about Crossing the Border in the Spring 2013 issue of ONE.
29 August 2013
Tags: Syria Lebanon Refugees Middle East Christians Syrian Civil War
Israelis stand in line outside a gas mask distribution center in the northern city of Haifa on 29 August. Thousands of Israelis lined up at gas-mask distribution centers and communities bordering Syria as top government officials held emergency meetings amid fears of a possible Syrian attack on Israel. (photo: CNS/ Baz Ratner, Reuters)
The heightening tensions over a possible U.S. military attack on Syria were part of the discussion today in a meeting between Pope Francis and the king of Jordan.
Additional details, from CNS:
Dialogue and negotiations are “the only option for putting an end to the conflict and violence” in Syria, said Pope Francis and Jordan’s King Abdullah II.
As Western leaders expressed strong convictions that the Syrian government carried out a chemical weapons attack against its own citizens and vowed to take action, Pope Francis met at the Vatican 29 August with King Abdullah and Queen Rania.
Jordan borders Syria and hosts hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees who have fled the fighting that began in March 2011 in an attempt to oust President Bashar Assad.
The king and queen’s meeting with Pope Francis, who technically was still on vacation, was arranged hastily after tensions grew in the Middle East over the reported atrocities in Syria and the unrest in Egypt.
In a statement issued after the meeting, the Vatican said that the pope and king “reaffirmed that the path of dialogue and negotiation is the only option for putting an end to the conflict and violence that each day cause the loss of many human lives, especially among the unarmed population.”
Pope Francis, with an interpreter, spent 20 minutes speaking alone with King Abdullah and Queen Rania before meeting the seven members of the Jordanian delegation. The king and three aides then held a working meeting with Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican secretary of state, and Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, secretary for relations with states.
When the king arrived, Pope Francis greeted him in English, saying, “Welcome, Your Majesty.”
While reporters were present before the private meeting began, King Abdullah told the pope, “I have tremendous respect for what you are doing and for what the Catholic Church does.”
The Vatican statement said that during the meetings with the pope and with officials of the Vatican Secretariat of State, the two sides also discussed the problem of stability throughout the Middle East, Israeli-Palestinian relations and the question of the status of Jerusalem, a city sacred to Christians, Muslims and Jews.
The Vatican, the statement said, also expressed appreciation for the king’s commitment to promoting interreligious dialogue and his decision to convoke a conference in September about the challenges facing Christians in the Middle East.
Although the statement indicated a broad range of topics were touched upon, the meeting drew international attention because of the situation in Syria.
Read more at the CNS link.