22 December 2017
The Christmas tree is seen after a lighting ceremony in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican
on 7 December. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Earlier this month, Pope Francis made special mention of the Christmas tree standing in St. Peter’s Square and underscored its symbolic significance:
The centerpiece of the Vatican’s Christmas holiday decorations is the towering 92-foot spruce tree.
Measuring nearly 33 feet in diameter, the tree was donated by the Archdiocese of Elk, Poland, and transported to the Vatican on a flatbed truck traveling over 1,240 miles across central Europe.
Thanking the members of the Polish delegation, the pope said the tree’s soaring height “motivates us to reach out ‘toward the highest gifts’” and to rise above the clouds to experience “how beautiful and joyful it is to be immersed in the light of Christ.”
“The tree, which comes from Poland this year, is a sign of the faith of that people who, also with this gesture, wanted to express their fidelity to the see of Peter,” the pope said.
21 December 2017
Children dressed in Santa Claus costumes sit and sleep inside a classroom before participating in Christmas celebrations on 20 December at a school in Chandigarh, India.
(photo: CNS/Ajay Verma, Reuters)
20 December 2017
People carry Christmas trees, handed out annually by the Jerusalem municipality, in Jerusalem’s
Old City. (photo: CNS/Amir Cohen, Reuters)
19 December 2017
Britain’s Prince Charles greets clergymen after attending a prayer service led by the Melkite Catholic community on 19 December at St. Barnabas Church in London. During the service, Prince Charles described the “barbaric persecution” of Christians as “even more perverse and dreadful” given the Quran’s spirit of reverence toward Jesus and Mary. (photo: CNS/Toby Melville, Reuters)
The Prince of Wales made some pointed remarks today during a visit to a Melkite church in London.
From The Tablet:
The Prince of Wales has described his profoundly shocked at the suffering endured by Catholics in Syria.
Addressing the Melkite Greek Catholic Community in London, along with their hosts from the Anglican Parish of St Barnabas in Pimlico, and friends from other churches, he said it was “a particular privilege” to be able to celebrate the birth of Christ with a community that traces its origins to the very earliest Christian communities in the Holy Land.
“As someone who, throughout my life, has tried, in whatever small way I can, to foster understanding between people of faith, and to build bridges between the great religions of the world, it is heartbreaking beyond words to see just how much pain and suffering is being endured by Christians, in this day and age, simply because of their faith,” he said.
“As Christians we remember, of course, how Our Lord called upon us to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute. But for those confronted with such hatred and oppression, I can only begin to imagine how incredibly hard it must be to follow Christ’s example.”
18 December 2017
Tags: Syria Middle East Christians
Women gather inside Sts. Peter and Paul the Apostles Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church in Kosmach, Ukraine, during the Christmas liturgy. (photo: Petro Didula)
With Christmas fast approaching, we were reminded of a report from Ukraine in 2004 which gave readers a wintry glimpse of life in the Carpathian Mountains:
“The Christian faith in the area is nuanced,” says Father Vasylii Hunchak, pastor of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox parish of Sts. Peter and Paul in Kosmach. “There is faith, but it is not exactly Christian, rather half-Christian, half-pagan ... a mystical faith. In the Carpathian Mountains, there are people who know about trees, plants, nature.” The Hutsuls are intimately connected to nature, the elements and to their dead.
“Before Christmas Eve supper, people visit cemeteries,” says longtime resident Mykhailo Didushytskyi. “They put candles on the graves of their relatives and invite them to come for supper. A place is then left at the table, with plate and utensils for a deceased relative, to show respect for the dead.”
Timing is important.
“When the cattle are fed and the first star appears, we sit down at the table, light candles and pray,” Mr. Didushytskyi continues. “The eldest takes the kuttia [porridge made of wheat, honey, nuts and poppy seeds] and throws it on the ceiling with a spoon.” If the porridge sticks, this means God has blessed the family with health, cattle and fertile fields.
Caroling remains an important Christmas tradition. “According to legend, God gave gifts to all the countries,” says Father Hunchak, “Ukraine came late and God had nothing left to give except songs. Our Christmas carols are simply gifts from God.”
On Christmas Eve, grandchildren carol for their grandparents. On Christmas Day, older children carol. After that, however, only adult men who have permission from their pastors may carol. Proceeds from the singing — carolers receive “tips” — are donated to the parish.
Read more about Faith and Tradition in the November 2004 edition of ONE.
15 December 2017
Christian and Muslim leaders in Lebanon gather on 14 December for an interreligious summit at Bkerke, the seat of Maronite Catholics, to discuss and put forth a unified position regarding the Trump administration’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Read more about the meeting and the group’s response here.
(photo: CNS/courtesy Mychel Akl, Maronite Catholic Patriarchate)
14 December 2017
Catholic and Orthodox leaders and 2,000 of their parishioners in Amman, Jordan, hold a silent candlelight march on 13 December. The event marked their rejection of the recent decision by President Trump to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and to move the
U.S. embassy there. (photo: CNS/courtesy Catholic Center for Studies and Media)
Lebanon’s Christian and Muslim leaders denounced the “unjust” decision of U.S. President Donald Trump to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and demanded that it be reversed.
In a 14 December statement at the end of an interreligious summit, the leaders said “that, in addition to violating the laws and international charters,” the decision ignores the fact that Jerusalem is a city holy to Christians, Muslims and Jews.
The previous evening, in Amman, Jordan, Christian leaders led about 2,000 parishioners in a candelit march to protest the U.S. decision.
“For us, Christian and Muslim Arabs, when we lose Jerusalem, we lose everything,” said Father Rifat Bader, director of the Catholic Center for Studies and Media, reading a statement. “We lose the core of our faith, because everything began in Jerusalem. We were all born in Jerusalem.”
The interreligious summit in Lebanon, led by Lebanese Cardinal Bechara Rai, Maronite Catholic patriarch, gathered Catholic and Orthodox patriarchs and representatives, as well as leaders of the nation’s Protestant churches and Sunni, Shiite and Druze communities.
Participants stressed that Jerusalem “has a privileged position in the consciences of believers of these faiths.”
“The U.S. president’s decision, based on special political calculations, is a challenge and a provocation for more than 3 billion people and touches on the depth of their faith,” the statement said.
They noted that the international community “has adhered to the resolutions of the United Nations, which consider Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank to be occupied territory,” so most countries have “refrained from establishing embassies in occupied Jerusalem.”
They appealed to the Arab and international communities “to pressure the U.S. administration to undo this decision, which lacks the wisdom that real peacemakers need.”
They also called for the American people and their civic and religious organizations to raise their voices and warn Trump and his administration “of the unjust decision that will certainly push the Middle East again into a new cycle of violence.”
In his opening address, Cardinal Rai said he did “not know if the American people agree with their president’s decision,” but he noted that the U.S. bishops have rejected moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem since 1984. He said he hoped for the bishops’ continued support.
He also said the interfaith leaders “categorically reject the Judaization of this holy city.”
In Jordan, Father Bader told Catholic News Service the 13 December march was a “condemnation of the decision” by Trump and a call to keep Jerusalem’s status quo. He said the Christian leaders also wanted to encourage diplomatic efforts by Jordan’s King Abdullah on Jerusalem. Jordan’s king is recognized as the custodian of Christian and Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem under its 1994 peace treaty with Israel.
Bishop William Shomali, patriarchal vicar of Jerusalem, retired Greek Melkite Catholic Archbishop Yaser Ayyash of Jordan and Jordanian Orthodox Metropolitan Benedict led the march, which ended outside St. Mary of Nazareth Catholic Church in Amman. Church bells rang as people gathered outside the church.
In his statement, Father Bader called Trump’s decision “unjust to the Palestinians and contrary to United Nations and other international resolutions.”
“Jerusalem is calling on people to stand with it,” he said, adding that Christians and Muslims stand in unity to face any act that endangers the Holy City.
King Abdullah has called Trump’s decision a “dangerous” move and a threat to peace, saying “there is no alternative to Jerusalem as the key to ending the historical conflict in the Middle East.”
“We have constantly warned of the danger of unilateral decisions on Jerusalem outside the framework of a comprehensive solution that fulfills all the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people to liberty and an independent state, with East Jerusalem as its capital,” he said.
“Moreover, attempts to Judaize Jerusalem and alter its Arab, Islamic, and Christian identity will unleash further violence and extremism; for the city is holy to the followers of the three monotheistic faiths,” King Abdullah said. “Our right, Muslims and Christians, to Jerusalem is eternal.”
13 December 2017
Palestinians walk past an inflatable Santa Claus on 12 December in Bethlehem, West Bank.
(photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)
Not far from where journalists lined up for positions outside the guard tower at Rachel’s Tomb in anticipation of confrontations between Israeli soldiers and Palestinians, life in Bethlehem continued. Trendy young Bethlehem residents and visitors were lunching on vegetarian pizza, quinoa and salmon salad, and sandwiches with names like Sexy Morning at the popular Zuwadeh Cafe.
“No benefit will come (of the demonstrations), but people are getting their frustrations out like they have the right to do. It’s the least they can do,” said Mahmoud Hamideh, 25.
“People go and throw stones, but then life goes back to normal,” agreed his cousin, Saleh al-Jundi, 31, who just moved back to Bethlehem from Abu Dhabi with his wife and 14-month-old son. “But this time I am not sure after what Trump said.”
Palestinians leaders called for three days of protests following U.S. President Donald Trump’s 6 December official recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and demonstrations have broken out in the West Bank, Jordan and other parts of the Muslim world.
Palestinians reported one killed and at least 35 injured in clashes in the Gaza Strip, with some 115 Palestinians injured in all protests 8 December. In Bethlehem, Israeli soldiers fired tear gas and rubber bullets at rock-throwing demonstrators.
Jerusalem is home to holy sites sacred to Christians, Muslims and Jews and is contested as the capital of Israel and a future Palestinian state. The city has been a key point of contention in Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, which have been on hold since 2014.
Palestinians say that with his declaration, Trump has removed the United States from the status of neutral mediator.
Though concerned that a continuation of the hostilities may affect the busy Christmas season, shopkeepers and others in the tourism industry in Bethlehem said on 8 December that, for now, pilgrims are not canceling reservations.
“But people will be afraid and will think we have a war here,” said 21-year-old Marianna Musallam, who is Greek Orthodox, as she arranged oversized rosaries meant to be hung on the wall. “But we are always in war. Nothing has changed. Trump’s speech was not for good. Jerusalem is for us Palestinians. It is not possible to share.”
Several guests were busy checking messages on their smartphones in the lobby of the Franciscan Casa Nova Guest House, just steps from the Church of the Nativity, and an older couple dropped off their keys on their way out.
“Until now everything is good,” said Issam Matar, who was staffing the reception desk. “But no one knows what will happen in the future.”
Restaurant manager Mahmoud Abu Hamad, 30, a Muslim, said the Catholic owner had told him to close on 7 December for a one-day strike called by Palestinian leaders. He said they were not concerned about losing customers over Christmas.
“What we have to lose is bigger than anything. (Jerusalem), the capital of Palestine, is bigger than anything,” he said. “In the end, Jerusalem will be the capital of Palestine. We don't care what (Trump) says.”
Others, like a Catholic shop owner and a Muslim in the tourism industry, both of whom did not want their names used, said the violence would not help the Palestinian situation.
“If people are smart they would not go out to the streets,” said the Muslim. “With a new conflict, we will lose more kids just because the leaders said to go out into the streets. They should send their own sons, not our sons, who don’t even know what they are fighting for.”
Inside the Church of the Nativity, a large part of which has been cordoned off due to ongoing restoration, pilgrims stood patiently in line, waiting to enter the creche that marks the traditional spot of Jesus’ birth.
Latvian pilgrim Janis Bulisi, 43, said he and his wife had disconnected from the internet since arriving in the Holy Land and had vaguely heard something about Trump’s announcement and the ensuing demonstrations.
“We are here on our pilgrimage. We have felt no tensions. We are just excited to be in the place where Jesus was born,” he said.
“Honestly, I did consider canceling the trip, but after thinking about it I saw the violence was more (in other areas), so I took the chance on still coming, though there is a lot of hesitation, nervousness and uncertainty,” said Daniele Coda, 34, of Italy.
Stella Korsah, 56, said though her group had seen some demonstrators on their way from Jericho to Jerusalem, they had not seen violence.
“I have been waiting for this (pilgrimage) for my entire life and I had the opportunity now,” said Korsah, who is a member of St. Catherine of Genoa Catholic Church in Brooklyn, New York. “I was nervous listening to the news ... but I hope for peace ... and remember my purpose for coming here. We serve a living God, and I know peace will prevail.”
In the courtyard outside the Church of St. Catherine, a Spanish group from the lay ecclesial movement Communion and Liberation prepared, in song, for their Mass.
“We are here on our pilgrimage. We were a bit worried, but our priest reassured us,” said Cristina Gallego, 53, who directed the singing. “We pray for peace. Christ is here. Here one comes to see, touch and feel their faith.”
12 December 2017
This icon of Our Lady of Guadalupe is in St. Mary Parish in Whiting, Indiana. It is the first parish in the Eparchy of Parma, Ohio, to commission an icon of Our Lady of Guadalupe. It was created last year by iconographer Christine Uveges. (photo: CNS/Laura Ieraci, Horizons)
Renowned for its reverence for ancient tradition, the Byzantine Catholic Church is rather unhurried to add new feasts to its liturgical calendar.
However, in the past 20 years, the Byzantine-Ruthenian Catholic Church in the United States has added at least four new feast days, namely for three 20th-century martyred bishops — Blesseds Paul Gojdich, 17 July, Basil Hopko, 23 July, and Theodore Romzha, 31 October — and one feast dedicated to the mother of God, Our Lady of Guadalupe, 12 December.
While Our Lady of Guadalupe has been on the Byzantine Catholic calendar since 1999, many Byzantine Catholics still are unaware that this feast, largely perceived as a devotion of Latin-American Roman Catholics, also is theirs to celebrate.
Mary appeared to St. Juan Diego at dawn on 9 December 1531, on Tepeyac Hill, in what is now northern Mexico City. She appeared to Juan Diego twice more, and the last time, on 12 December, filled his “tilma,” or cloak, with roses. When he emptied his cloak of the roses, he found that it bore her image. The cloak is enshrined in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City.
St. Mary Parish in Whiting, Indiana, has taken the lead in the Eparchy of Parma in promoting this Marian devotion. The parish commissioned a mural of Our Lady of Guadalupe last year.
The eparchy includes Byzantine-Ruthenian Catholic parishes in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin and most of Ohio.
The story that led to the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe being added to the Byzantine Catholic calendar is one of an American archbishop’s awakening to the need for the Byzantine Catholic Church to be engaged in the evangelizing mission of the church in North America.
During a pastoral visit to Mexico in January 1999, St. John Paul II named Our Lady of Guadalupe as the patroness of the Americas, and declared that 12 December would be celebrated as the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe in all the dioceses of the Americas.
Also, in this context, St. John Paul declared her the patroness of the new evangelization, calling the church in the Americas to a deeper commitment to proclaiming the Gospel and to the conversion of nonbelievers.
Archbishop Judson Procyk of Pittsburgh, then head of the Byzantine Catholic Church in the United States, traveled to Mexico for the pope’s visit and attended the papal Mass at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
One of the archbishop’s theological advisers later recounted that, upon Archbishop Procyk’s return from Mexico, he excitedly remarked, “The Guadalupana is ours.”
He added her feast day to the Byzantine Catholic calendar by circulating the related decree sent to all the bishops from the Congregation for Divine Worship.
Archbishop Procyk reportedly encountered something strangely familiar in Mexico City in the image on the tilma: In the mother of Americas, he found the mother of all Byzantine Catholics.
The mother of God appearing to St. Juan Diego has much in common with the Byzantine tradition of a miraculous icon comes to the lowly, such as the Icon Not Made by Human Hands — an icon of Christ — and the icon of Our Lady of Mariapoch.
In appearing as Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mary is with child — represented by her belt worn high on her abdomen. It is the only recognized Marian apparition in which she is pregnant. The detail is particularly significant in the Byzantine tradition, which emphasizes Mary’s maternity as “Theotokos,” a term which means “she who bore God.”
As devotions go hand-in-hand with liturgical expression in the Christian East, Father Maximos Davies of Holy Resurrection Monastery in St. Nazianz, Wisconsin, wrote a Byzantine Catholic office for Our Lady of Guadalupe, which draws heavily on Byzantine tradition to cast a new light on the miracle of Guadalupe.
For instance, one of the hymns in the “aposticha,” or set of hymns, for the feast takes up the traditional vespers reading for the mother of God, in Chapter 9, verses 1-11, of Proverbs, that depicts Mary as Lady Wisdom, calling all people to feast on her Son at the eucharistic liturgy.
At the same time, the office honors the particular message of hope that the mother of God conveys specifically to the people of the Americas:
“Know all my smallest and most humble children that I am the Virgin who gave birth to God,The Word through whom everything has the breath of life! He has given you to me as your mother, all you peoples of the Americas; I will hear all your weeping and your complaints; I will heal all your sorrows, hardships and sufferings. Repent and believe in the Gospel! And together we will worship the Lord and lover of mankind!”
Byzantine Catholics in North America, who have adopted this feast and include this devotion in their common life of prayer, can contemplate a timely question: How does this miraculous icon of Our Lady of Guadalupe call us to engage in the new evangelization on this continent?
The Ruthenian Catholic Churches
After the Boom
Byzantine Catholics in the Midwest
11 December 2017
Tags: Byzantine Catholic Church Ruthenians
Children pray at the start of the school day at St. Michael School in Aiga, Ethiopia. Read more about efforts to help children in Ethiopia — and see more poignant pictures — in the Summer 2016 edition of ONE. (photo: John E. Kozar)