15 April 2019
Palestinians and tourists carry palm branches while walking the traditional path that Jesus took on his last entry into Jerusalem during the Palm Sunday Procession on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem on 14 April 2019. (photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)
12 April 2019
Pope Francis kisses the feet of South Sudan President Salva Kiir on 11 April 2019, at the conclusion of a two-day retreat at the Vatican for African nation’s political leaders. The pope begged the leaders to give peace a chance. At right is Vice President Riek Machar.
(photo: CNS/Vatican Media via Reuters)
At the end of a highly unusual spiritual retreat for the political leaders of warring factions, Pope Francis knelt at the feet of the leaders of South Sudan, begging them to give peace a chance and to be worthy “fathers of the nation.”
“As a brother, I ask you to remain in peace. I ask you from my heart, let’s go forward. There will be many problems, but do not be afraid,” he told the leaders, speaking without a text at the end of the meeting.
“You have begun a process, may it end well,” he said. “There will be disagreements among you, but may they take place ‘in the office’ while, in front of your people, you hold hands; in this way, you will be transformed from simple citizens to fathers of the nation.”
“The purpose of this retreat is for us to stand together before God and to discern his will,” he said in his formal remarks on 11 April, closing the two-day retreat in the Domus Sanctae Marthae, the Vatican guesthouse where he lives.
The retreat participants included South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and four of the nation’s five designated vice presidents: Riek Machar, James Wani Igga, Taban Deng Gai and Rebecca Nyandeng De Mabior. Under the terms of a peace agreement signed in September, the vice presidents were to take office together on 12 May, sharing power and ending the armed conflict between clans and among communities.
The retreat was the idea of Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury, spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion, who attended the final part of the gathering. He and Pope Francis have been supporting the peace efforts of the South Sudan Council of Churches and, the pope said again on 11 April, they hope to visit South Sudan together when there is peace.
Pope Francis told the politicians and members of the Council of Churches that “peace” was the first word Jesus said to his disciples after the resurrection.
“Peace is the first gift that the Lord brought us, and the first commitment that leaders of nations must pursue,” he told them. “Peace is the fundamental condition for ensuring the rights of each individual and the integral development of an entire people.”
When South Sudan gained its independence from Sudan in 2011 after years of war, the people were filled with hope, the pope said. Too many of them have died or been forced from their homes or face starvation because of five years of civil war.
After “so much death, hunger, hurt and tears,” the pope said, the retreat participants “have clearly heard the cry of the poor and the needy; it rises up to heaven, to the very heart of God our father, who desires to grant them justice and peace.”
“Peace is possible,” the pope told the leaders. They must tap into “a spirit that is noble, upright, strong and courageous to build peace through dialogue, negotiation and forgiveness.”
As leaders of a people, he said, those who govern will have to stand before God and give an account of their actions, especially what they did or didn’t do for the poor and the marginalized.
Pope Francis asked the leaders to linger a moment in the mood of the retreat and sense that “we stand before the gaze of the Lord, who is able to see the truth in us and to lead us fully to that truth.”
The leaders, he said, should recognize how God loves them, wants to forgive them and calls them to build a country at peace.
Jesus, he said, calls all believers to repentance. “We may well have made mistakes, some rather small, others much greater,” but Jesus always is ready to forgive those who repent and return to serving their people.
“Dear brothers and sisters,” he said, “Jesus is also gazing, here and now, upon each one of us. He looks at us with love, he asks something, he forgives something, and he gives us a mission. He has put great trust in us by choosing us to be his co-workers in the creation of a more just world.”
Pope Francis expressed his hope that “hostilities will finally cease -- please, may they cease -- that the armistice will be respected, and that political and ethnic divisions will be surmounted.”
Closing his prepared remarks with a prayer, he asked God “to touch with the power of the Spirit the depths of every human heart, so that enemies will be open to dialogue, adversaries will join hands and peoples will meet in harmony.”
“By your gift, Father, may the whole-hearted search for peace resolve disputes, may love conquer hatred and may revenge be disarmed by forgiveness, so that, relying solely on your mercy, we may find our way back to you,” he prayed.
11 April 2019
Tags: Pope Francis Interreligious Africa Interfaith
Pope Francis greets a child as he visits the Parish of St. Julius in Rome on Sunday. (photo:CNS/Remo Casilli, Reuters)
10 April 2019
Tags: Pope Francis
Children from Tbilisi and Gardabali attend dance classes at the Assyro-Chaldean parish complex. Learn more about life in Tbilisi in A Letter from Georgia in the current edition of ONE magazine.(photo: Zviad Rostiashvili)
9 April 2019
St. Vincent de Paul’s work varies, and includes addressing needs as obvious as medical care and as nuanced as safe places to play. (photo: CNEWA)
In the new edition of ONE magazine, Joseph Ahmar Dakno, the head of the Aleppo section of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, describes some of his organization’s efforts to help the embattled people of Syria — including children:
Four years ago, 6-year-old Roula was living in a small room, alone. Her parents, shell shocked, had locked her away to protect her from the constant barrage of shelling and stray gunfire. Alone, her fears intensified and she became a terrorized prisoner.
Having lost everything, her parents failed to enroll her in school. Members of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul learned of Roula and the situation of her parents and sought to intervene. They visited her parents twice a month and saw the extent of their own trauma. Little by little, they offered counsel and help, finally getting them the treatment they needed. The society also promised to cover the expenses for Roula’s schooling, including providing her with school supplies and clothes.
Today, Roula is living a healthy, normal life, grateful for the opportunities offered to her by the society. So many other children in Syria have never received the support and assistance they needed. Some still cannot read or write, and many are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorders. Their future is far less promising.
The sad reality is that there are many cases like Roula’s, but it is difficult to screen and reach them, especially those who are still living in dangerous areas. Changing a child’s future — especially by providing education and a secure home life — is critical to help build a better society and give hope.
Read the whole story here.
8 April 2019
A photo shows the father of Mousa Kamar, Youssef Kamar, right front, carrying the large wooden cross during the Good Friday procession on the Via Dolorosa in the Old City of Jerusalem.
(photo: CNS/courtesy Kamar family)
For four decades, Mousa Kamar has taken his place at the head of the heavy wooden cross used during the Franciscan Good Friday procession on the Via Dolorosa.
Kamar, 55, can be seen every year at the front left of the cross, the same position where his father used to carry the cross. His grandfather also helped carry the front of the cross. The scores of old black-and-white pictures, color photographs and magazine photos Kamar has collected and uploaded onto his Facebook page attest to the long-held family tradition.
“We do this not only because it is the tradition, but because we are religious and we truly believe in it,” said Kamar, looking over some of the photographs scattered on a coffee table as he sat in his mother’s living room in Jerusalem’s Old City, near the ninth station of the cross. This is the home where he grew up and where his paternal grandmother was born.
It takes about 20 men to carry the 3-meter (3.3-yard) cross on Good Friday, and traditionally each position on the cross was taken by a representative of a different family. Kamar is the only one who has continued with the tradition. As the older generation died off, the younger members of the other families did not continue with the tradition, he said.
The cross, though still large and heavy, is smaller than the one used generations ago, he said.
Even in the pushing and shoving of the procession, which sees local Catholics and pilgrims packing the cobblestone streets of the Old City as they make their way along the Via Dolorosa, Kamar said he is able to find a space within himself where he can reflect on the significance of the moment and on the life of Jesus.
“When I am carrying the cross I remember Jesus, how he died for us and how he walked all this way by himself,” said Kamar. “We are 20 people carrying it, and he carried it by himself. Especially as we stop at each station and it is mentioned where he fell (or other detail), it makes me feel like I am following the footsteps of Jesus.”
Kamar’s parents had run a family grocery store near the eighth station of the cross, and Graciella Matulleh Kamar, today 83, recalled the pride she felt as she would stand in the doorway of their shop on Good Friday and watch as her husband carried the cross during the procession. Her husband, Kamar’s father, was killed during the 1967 war in which Israel took over control of Jerusalem from the Jordanians.
“After he was killed, I couldn’t watch the procession anymore. It was too painful,” she said.
Only when Kamar, at age 15, stepped in to fill his father’s place was she able to once again watch the procession, she said.
Kamar was 5 when his father was killed.
“Especially on Good Fridays, my mother would tell me about how my father carried the cross and that one day I would carry it, too,” he said. “The first time I carried it I couldn’t sleep the night before, I was so excited about carrying the cross and filling that space my father had had.”
Several years ago, Kamar’s oldest son, Youssef, 20, also joined the group of men carrying the cross, but during the procession, he steps aside to let others take their turn. More recently, Kamar’s youngest son, Ramez, 15, began taking part in the carrying of the cross. One of the pictures shows a 13-year-old Ramez at the end of the cross, his head barely peeping over the top of the cross among the crowd of men surrounding it. With his dark curly hair and full cheeks he looks just like his father did in earlier pictures.
“It was very exciting to be able to carry the cross,” said Youssef Kamar. “In the future maybe I and my (future) sons will continue the family tradition. Although this is a tradition, it also helps me feel closer to Jesus and what he went through before being crucified.
“It is also a burden and an honor to do this,” he added. “Since I was young, I heard stories about this family tradition and, since my father, and his father and his grandfather have done this, I think it is important to keep the tradition and to keep our religion alive.”
In preparation for the procession, Mousa Kamar spends Holy Week in prayer, visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulchre every day after work and participating in the liturgical ceremonies, including the traditional veneration of the pillar of Jesus’ flagellation, the washing of the feet pilgrimage to the Cenacle, and holy hour on Holy Thursday at Gethsemane.
He said he uses the time to meditate and pray for Christian unity and a strengthening of Christian religious identity, which he feels is being lost.
“All week I am praying, preparing to carry the cross, linking how Jesus suffered for us to the Palestinian situation. He fought for us, sacrificed himself for us but, unfortunately, we are losing our Christianity. I always pray for that, that people will return to the foundations of Christianity,” he said noting that Christians in the Middle East are living a difficult reality with close to 50 percent of the Christian population having emigrated.
“We love Jesus and we feel we are a part of Jesus. Every corner, every stone in Jerusalem is directly about Jesus.”
5 April 2019
In this image from the March 2019 edition of ONE, altar servers enjoy a moment of prayer and contemplation at Mar Shemmon Bar Sabbae Church in Tbilisi, Georgia. (photo: Zvia Rostiashvili)
4 April 2019
Melkite Archbishop Issam Darwich of Zahle, Lebanon, distributes Communion to Syrian refugee families at the Melkite Catholic archeparchy in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley in this 2017 photo.
(photo: Raed Rafei)
Aside from humanitarian assistance for Syrian refugees and concrete efforts to help them return to their homeland, the international community should work toward eradicating the roots of wars and violence, an archbishop from Lebanon told members of a political party holding the largest number of seats in the European Parliament.
Melkite Catholic Archbishop Issam Darwich of Zahle, whose diocese is near Syria’s western border, addressed the plight of Christians in the Middle East and Syrian refugees on 3 April with the European People’s Party, a conservative and Christian democratic political party.
“Our situation is one of the deepest suffering and trauma,” said Archbishop Darwich, who was born in Syria.
“What is happening in the Middle East today is a chain of events against Christians, unfolding since 2011. All these actions send a message to Christians in the area that they don’t have a safe place anymore,” he said.
“The fact that they became minorities in these countries is not an excuse for anyone to neglect the critical situation they are passing through,” Archbishop Darwich said.
He stressed that Christians have always played a crucial role in the region and strive to foster peace, justice and democracy.
He also noted that Lebanon’s episcopal committee for Christian-Muslim dialogue, for which he serves as president, is “working hard so that religions would find new ways to present their respective creeds as partners allied and not as adversaries.”
“Religion must never be used to promote hatred or violence,” Archbishop Darwich stressed.
As for the refugee crisis, Archbishop Darwich underlined that eight years into the Syrian conflict, Lebanon remains the country hosting the largest number of refugees per capita and has the fourth-largest refugee population in the world.
More than 1.5 million Syrian refugees are living scattered throughout the tiny country among its existing population of about 4 million people. In addition, some 500,000 Palestinian refugees and thousands of Iraqi families dwell in Lebanon.
“The pressure of this situation on the Lebanese hosting community is felt in all sectors, including education, security, health, housing, water and electricity supply,” he said.
Archbishop Darwich noted that his diocese, located about 18 miles from the Syrian border, “had the leading role” in helping displaced Syrians.
“We supported and helped them since the beginning of their displacement to Lebanon till today, especially the Christian refugees, who were and still are invisible” to the international community because they do not live in camps, he emphasized. As a result, he added, the Christians “are always neglected from any support or help.”
However, the archbishop pointed out that the “tragedy of refugees is not restricted to a specific sect because all Syrians have suffered for almost eight years now of a new holocaust.”
Various Catholic agencies such as Caritas members, including Catholic Relief Services, Jesuit Refugee Services, Catholic Near East Welfare Association and Aid to the Church in Need have helped the Syrian refugees.
Archbishop Darwich’s diocese is in the Bekaa Valley and provides refugees with help that includes rent assistance, clothing, education, health care, social support and daily hot meals at the diocese’s St. John the Merciful Table.
While acknowledging the humanitarian role many European countries and international nongovernmental organizations have played “in reducing the impact of this long and ferocious war,” the archbishop pointed to the challenge of helping refugees return to their homeland.
Archbishop Darwich stressed that refugees’ return to Syria “cannot be realized unless the international community itself provides the means ... political and economic help in practical measures. Not only to put an end to their suffering, but also to assist them to contribute in the process of reconstruction.”
“I sincerely believe that the international community is expected to plan for eradicating the roots of wars and violence rather than dealing with their consequences, because great countries are known by great achievements and great deeds,” Archbishop Darwich said.
He added that the international community also must work toward putting an end to poverty, instability, occupation, oppression, fanaticism, fundamentalism and major wars.
“This is not wishful thinking,” the archbishop said. “This is a pure call for generalizing justice among the whole world, and for the implementation of U.N. resolutions. ... Otherwise, we will always have to encounter demand for financial and humanitarian aid, because cruelty produces cruelty, and suppression produces suppression in an endless circle of violence and injustice.”
3 April 2019
Tags: Syria Lebanon Refugees Melkite
Children greet visitors to a refugee camp in Zahleh, Lebanon. (photo: John E. Kozar/CNEWA)
In the current edition of ONE, CNEWA’s president, Msgr. John E. Kozar, reflects on the resiliency and faith of the people we serve:
During a number of my pastoral visits, not only have I witnessed firsthand the extreme sufferings of war, famine, natural disasters and the like, I have witnessed and been uplifted by the resilience of the human spirit. The survivors of these disasters not only survive, they thrive — oftentimes as a result of their profound faith and, among Christians, their support of the church. CNEWA is honored and humbled to witness this in our role of accompaniment of the local church.
I think of the large numbers of refugees of every age who had to flee the ravages of ISIS in Iraq and Syria. But I especially recall the courageous women who carried their babies and clutched the arms of their elderly mothers and grandparents as they fled persecution to an unknown land — and a very uncertain future. But, inspired by their faith and nurtured by the church, they carried with them an abundance of hope, which has led them to a new life. Even if “new life” has meant living in a refugee camp or a cramped apartment, they have maintained their hope and have joyfully expressed it in their prayers and liturgical celebrations. I have had the great joy of participating in some of these liturgical events and have come away uplifted and renewed in my own faith.
The prominence of the cross of Jesus has been visible everywhere: on the fronts of tents or humble shelters, worn around their necks, painted on the exteriors of gathering places or displayed in some other ways. It proudly proclaims their identity and their sense of hope.
Read it all and see more pictures in the March 2019 edition of the magazine.
2 April 2019
Zewdunesh Negese, Samrawit Tekle and Tsedale Mola discuss their Catholic faith. All are discovering ways to make marriages stronger. Read more about how they and other young Ethiopians are learning that Family Matters in the March 2019 edition of ONE. (photo: Petterik Wiggers)