7 March 2012
In this photo taken in 2000, Armenian Catholics celebrate Divine Liturgy in a village near Gyumri, Armenia. (photo: Armineh Johannes)
Today, Pope Benedict XVI addressed Middle East Christians in his general audience, encouraging church leaders and faithful in the region to remain hopeful in these arduous times:
“I extend my prayerful thoughts to the regions in the Middle East, encouraging all the priests and faithful to persevere with hope through the serious suffering that afflicts these beloved people,” he said.
The pope made his remarks when he greeted Armenian Patriarch Nerses Bedros XIX Tarmouni of Beirut and Armenian bishops from around the world attending their synod in Rome.
At the end of the general audience March 7 in St. Peter’s Square, the pope expressed his “sincere gratitude” for Armenian Catholics’ fidelity to their heritage and traditions, and to the successor of St. Peter.
Such fidelity has always sustained the faithful throughout “the innumerable trials in history,” he said.
The majority of Catholics in the Middle East belong to Eastern Catholic churches — the Armenian, Chaldean, Coptic, Maronite or Melkite churches.
For more check out the full CNS story in the ‘News’ section of our website. To learn how you can support Middle East Christians, visit our website.
6 March 2012
Tags: Middle East Christians Pope Benedict XVI Armenia Armenian Catholic Church
Deacon Kassahun Teka, age 27, studies for the priesthood in his one-room, windowless dwelling in Meki, a rural town in southern Ethiopia. He belongs to St. Michael’s Church in Meki.
(photo: Peter Lemieux)
Yesterday, The Wall Street Journal reported on the evolution of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church’s role in encouraging those infected with H.I.V. to take their prescribed drugs while continuing to practice their faith rituals. Similarly, in the September 2009 issue of ONE, Peter Lemieux reported on how Ethiopian Orthodox clergy were adjusting to the many social and economical changes in Ethiopia. Among these changes being the general increase in public awareness of public health issues, including H.I.V./AIDS. These changes fueled adjustments to curriculum used in clergy training centers:
“When you see the potential that the members of the clergy have in such development activities, we have to get them engaged. We need to train them. The need is growing for our clergy to be more aware of what’s going on around the world rather than just limited to the Ethiopian situation.”
The program’s current curriculum already reflects this thinking.
“I’d say the curriculum is 60 percent development, 40 percent spiritual,” Dr. Legesse adds.
Participants learn about a number of issues, including alleviating poverty, gender equality, public health and environmental conservation. They also gain practical training in the latest agricultural techniques for the small-scale cultivation of fruits, vegetables, teff and beans. And they learn of the crucial importance of speaking openly with parishioners about traditionally taboo subjects, such as sexual behavior and H.I.V./ AIDS, as well as how to deal appropriately with individuals infected with the virus.
“In earlier times, a young girl went to a priest and told him she had H.I.V.,” recalls Abba Welde Gabriel of St. Michael’s Church in Meki, 12 miles from Ziway. “She asked for a blessing, and the priest said, ‘You’re too young for H.I.V. Go away.’ Now they’ve been trained to address that situation.”
The curriculum also aims to develop and strengthen the clergy’s interpersonal and communication skills. Traditional priestly formation emphasizes memorization, celebrating the liturgy, administering the sacraments, preaching and chanting. In general, this formation does not provide young clergy with the people skills required to lead a parish community in today’s fast-changing world.
“Some priests are born religious people and receive due respect, but others aren’t and don’t. They lack self-confidence,” says Abune Gregorius of Ziway. “You have to consider their position as role models for society. Priests have to live up to that requirement. The clergy training centers help them do that.”
Deacon Kassahun Teka, who serves St. Michael’s Church in Meki, recently completed the clergy training program. The 27-year-old credits it with having made him a more effective minister.
For more, read As It Was, So Shall It Remain?.
5 March 2012
Tags: Ethiopia Africa Ethiopian Orthodox Church HIV/AIDS
In this image from 2006, a sister and children play at Our Lady of Armenia Boghossian Educational Complex in Gyumri. (photo: by Armineh Johannes.)
In a country ravaged by wars and earthquakes, the nuns at the Our Lady of Armenia Boghossian Educational Complex have learned to keep their eyes on the ball — and even have some fun. One of those is Sister Arousiag Sajonian, who has done some remarkable work in a troubled corner of Armenia. She spoke with us about it during a recent visit to New York City. You can read part of that conversation in the January 2012 issue of ONE. (You can learn more about the work of the sisters here and here.)
Meantime, you can see more of the interview with Sister Arousiag in the video below.
2 March 2012
A man prays in a Coptic shrine behind the Tomb of Christ in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. (photo: Gabriel Delmonaco)
Last month, CNEWA’s Vice President for Development Gabriel Delmonaco, accompanied by our Vice President for the Middle East and Europe Father Guido Gockel, toured the Holy Land with a group of CNEWA benefactors. During their Jerusalem visit, they not only saw first-hand some important CNEWA projects, but they also were able to celebrate Mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the site of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion. Here is an excerpt from Gabriel’s final blog post from the field:
When the alarm clock went off at 5:30 a.m., I was already awake. The steady sound of the rain hitting the windows and the roofs of the cars woke me up. We all had to be ready by 6:30 to take advantage of the great opportunity to celebrate Mass at the Altar of the Crucifixion in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Most of us could not believe that, this place that had been so crowded with pilgrims yesterday, would belong entirely to us for 30 minutes today.
As we walked through the wet roads of the Old City, some of the shops opened their doors. The strong smell of Arabic coffee permeated the alleys. Jerusalem was slowly waking up to a new day that for us would bring many unexpected surprises.
We waited for Father Guido at the Altar of the Crucifixion and at 7 a.m. sharp he arrived, escorted by a Franciscan priest. This altar is cared for by the Franciscans. The Greek Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic and other Eastern churches care for other sections of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. During Mass, we remembered one of our faithful donors from Arizona who will undergo a complicated operation to remove a tumor. This is CNEWA — a family of concerned Christians who care for each other.
For more stories and notes from this trip, check out Gabriel’s blog posts from the field.
1 March 2012
Tags: Middle East Christians Middle East Jerusalem Holy Sepulchre Coptic Church
Mar Musa, named after St. Moses of Ethiopia, is an ancient Syriac monastery famous for its medieval frescoes. Today, the monastery draws tourists and Christians and Muslims committed to interreligious understanding. (photo: Armineh Johannes)
This morning we received word from our regional director in Beirut, Issam Bishara, that a monastery north of the Syrian capital of Damascus was ransacked by masked gunmen around 6 p.m. on 22 February.
Deir Mar Musa is home to religious men and women under the protection of Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III. The following is a press release from the monastery describing the events that transpired:
Events of Wednesday, 22 February 2012, at Deir Mar Musa el-Habashi
Wednesday evening at 6 p.m., the following happened:
Around 30 armed men — all, except their commander, had their face covered — stormed the monastery’s sheepfold, where some employees were dwelling. They turned the premises upside down, looking for weapons and money, and asking for the father in charge. One of the shepherds was forced to lead some of the armed persons to another part of the monastery. Four of the sisters, who were about to go to the prayer, were confined to a room under surveillance. Right after, some of the aggressors entered the church. The monastic community, gathered for meditation, reminded them that this was a place of prayer, and as such should be respected. The armed men forced the people present to assemble in a side aisle of the church. Then, they forcibly intercepted other persons at the monastery. They went on searching for weapons and money, but to no effect, destroying all means of communication they could find, but without causing any major damage.
During the aggression, the individual responsible for the group was taking photos with his mobile phone. After having permitted that the prayer goes on, he ordered the people present to remain in the church for an hour.
The superior of the monastery was in Damascus, and could not return before daybreak on Thursday.
It is noteworthy that those with authority among the armed persons declared straight away that they did not have the intention to harm the people present at the monastery, and in fact, they kept their word during the aggression.
Naturally, the question arises as to the identity of the armed group. At the moment, it seems impossible to give a definite answer. For sure, those men were familiar with weapons, seeking material interests. The reason why they were looking for weapons at a monastery that has been well known for years for its choice and promotion of nonviolence remains obscure.
We thank God for the protection of his angels, and we prayed during Mass for our aggressors and their families. In spite of these painful events, we did not lose our inner peace nor the desire to serve reconciliation.
Deir Mar Musa
29 February 2012
Tags: Syria Damascus Syriac Catholic Church Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III Younan
The Syro-Malabar Church in Palayur, Kerala, features the largest statue of St. Thomas in the world, and depicts the boat landing where he arrived in India. (photo: Sean Sprague)
Msgr. John Kozar, president of CNEWA, is beginning a pastoral visit to India “in the footsteps of St. Thomas.” He’ll be filing reports for this blog, along with pictures and video, over the next several days — introducing us to the many sisters, religious and lay people doing some remarkable work in that corner of the world.
It’s a corner regular readers of our magazine know well. Two years ago, writer Sean Sprague took a similar journey and described it in the pages of ONE:
“St. Thomas definitely landed on this very spot,” says Philomena Pappachan, caretaker of a chapel that marks where the doubting apostle arrived in southern India in the year A.D. 52. Located a few feet from the cemented banks of the Periyar River, the chapel is dwarfed by a grove of palm trees and a 30-foot cutout of the saint, who is depicted with a staff and an open book on which “my Lord and my God” is printed in English.
No archaeological evidence exists to substantiate or refute her claim. Yet for nearly two millennia, countless numbers of Christians and Hindus have believed “the holy man” journeyed through Syria, Mesopotamia, Persia and finally India, where Thomas died a martyr’s death in the year 72.
Based on oral tradition, the fathers of the church — notably Clement of Alexandria, Ephrem the Syrian, Gregory of Nazianzus, Ambrose of Milan, Jerome and Gregory of Tours — all write of his travels, deeds and faith.
In works such as the “Ramban Song,” an ancient lyrical poem, Indians remember Thomas’ miracles and the places where he preached, baptized and founded seven churches. Today, these shrines are major pilgrimage sites for Thomas’ spiritual heirs.
Read more in In the Footsteps of St. Thomas from the March 2010 issue of ONE.
And be sure to check One-to-One in the days ahead for updates from Msgr. Kozar.
28 February 2012
Tags: India Indian Christians Msgr. John E. Kozar Thomas Christians
In Syria, a group of men in the Christian village of Al Meshtayeh socialize over a board game. (photo: Sean Sprague)
As the conflict in Syria intensifies, Pope Benedict XVI has called on all involved to begin a process of dialogue, recently describing the situation there as “increasingly worrisome.”
Last week, a Vatican diplomat, Archbishop Michael L. Fitzgerald, the Holy See’s delegate to the Arab League, attended an international summit in Tunisia seeking to resolve the crisis.
Last year, writer Sean Sprague reported on Syria’s Christian Valley in the pages of ONE magazine:
Syria is a cradle of Christianity. The word Christian was first coined in the ancient Syrian city of Antioch — which has been a part of Turkey since the borders were redrawn in 1939. The apostles Peter and Paul settled there, nurturing a church that eventually emerged as the center of Christian thought in the eastern Mediterranean. Antiochene theologians, from both the Greek– and Syriac–speaking communities, played leading roles in the Christological controversies that eventually divided the early church, differences that are now understood as cultural and linguistic.
Even as masses of Arab Muslim troops invaded and conquered the Middle East in the seventh century, eventually receiving the majority of its population into Islam, Syrian Christians persevered, living peaceably with their Muslim neighbors.
Today, Christians make up about a tenth of Syria’s 22 million people. Half of these two million souls belong to the Orthodox Church of the Patriarchate of Antioch, the preeminent Christian institution in the country. As many as 500,000 people belong to the Syriac Orthodox Church, and another 125,000 belong to the Armenian Apostolic Church. Catholics number around 400,000 people and belong primarily to the Armenian and Melkite Greek Catholic churches.
The vast majority of the population of Wadi al Nasarah are Christian, 98 percent of whom belong to the Orthodox Church. The rest attend Melkite or Roman Catholic churches.
For this and more, read the January 2011 issue of ONE.
27 February 2012
Tags: Syria Middle East Christians Middle East Syriac Orthodox Church Antiochene church
Until eighth grade, an equal number of boys and girls attend the Catholic school in Meki, Ethiopia. (photo: Peter Lemieux)
Ethiopia is struggling to give both boys and girls equal opportunities for education — an issue journalist Peter Lemieux explored in the pages of ONE in 2009:
If growing up in Ethiopia these days were a race, these children would appear to be off to a good start. But a closer look reveals an unfair contest, one that favors the boys.
While Meki Catholic School makes every effort to maintain gender balance — an equal number of boys and girls make up its primary grades — the number of girls enrolled in the school’s secondary classes drops sharply. For the girls fortunate enough to remain in school, the harsh reality of Ethiopia’s tradition of gender disparity hits harder than a stiff headwind in a 50-yard dash.
Against a metal fence enclosing the school grounds, Messeret Yohannes, an 18-year-old senior, discusses the future with her girlfriends. All expect to go to college. And all hope to become professionals either in accounting, banking, education or medicine. Given the school’s outstanding achievements, high aspirations such as theirs are certainly realistic. From among the graduating class, 94 percent are expected to attend college, compared to 30 to 35 percent nationally.
“I want to be a lawyer or maybe go into business,” says Messeret, whose voice grows bolder and more confident as the boys move out of eavesdropping distance.
As with other students at the school, most of these girls hail from families who make their living from subsistence farming and small trade. When asked to explain why women make up less than 20 percent of their senior class, the girls begin talking all at once. Cutting through the chatter, Messeret takes the lead and speaks for the group. “That’s the economic part of it,” she asserts.
“The drop-off happens throughout the country at the high school level, not just at our school,” adds the school’s popular headmaster, Brother Betre Fisseha, F.S.C.
“It’s the legacy of the Ethiopian social and cultural tradition. Girls are burdened with a big part of the families’ work, especially in rural areas. If their parents need help fetching water, herding animals or taking care of younger siblings, the girls go home. This obstructs the continuity of their education, particularly following elementary school.”
Read more in An Uphill Battle.
23 February 2012
Tags: Ethiopia Education Africa Women (rights/issues) Catholic education
Father Francis Eluvathingal performs a wedding ceremony at the Jyotis Care Center in Navi Mumbai. (photo: Peter Lemieux)
For the January 2012 edition of ONE, Peter Lemieux reported on how migrants from Kerala, India have built a church community in Mumbai. Father Francis Eluvathingal, a principal leader in this community, spoke with us about his vocation via Skype. Check it out below.
22 February 2012
Tags: India Kerala Syro-Malabar Catholic Church Priests
A procession during Holy Week in Jerusalem taken in 1988. (photo: Paul Souders)
Today is Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of the Lenten season. It is a time of preparation for the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. It is also a time for reflection and sacrifice. What will you be doing this Lenten season?
CNEWA actually has a Lenten Giving Plan that may interest you. Check it out on our website.
Tags: Middle East Jerusalem Easter