2 January 2019
Pope Francis twirls a soccer ball presented by a member of CirCuba, the Cuban national circus, during his general audience in Paul VI hall at the Vatican on 2 January. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
21 December 2018
Tags: Pope Francis
Catholic faithful gather to celebrate the parish feast of Holy Savior Church in Addis Ababa. Read more about the challenges facing the Ethiopian Catholic Church in a letter from Abba Teshome Fikre Woldetensae published in the December 2018 edition of ONE. (photo: Petterik Wiggers)
20 December 2018
Tags: Ethiopia Ethiopian Christianity Ethiopian Catholic Church
Susanna Akram conducts a class in sign language organized by the Better Life ministry. To learn more about this program and other efforts by the Coptic Catholic Church to nourish faith and community in Egypt, read Signs of Hope in the December 2018 edition of ONE. (photo: Roger Anis)
19 December 2018
Tags: Egypt Education Disabilities Coptic Catholic Church
Palestinian girls wear Santa hats on a class trip to Manger Square outside of the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem, West Bank, on 17 December. (photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)
18 December 2018
A Palestinian woman walks by a mosaic of the Nativity in Bethlehem, West Bank, on 17 December. (photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)
17 December 2018
Pope Francis holds a baby on the eve of his 82nd birthday during a 16 December audience with children and families from the Santa Marta Dispensary, a Vatican charity that offers special help to mothers and children in need, at the Vatican. (photo: CNS/Giuseppe Lami, EPA)
If the Holy Family lived in Rome and the baby Jesus had a cold or flu, Mary and Joseph certainly would bring him to the Vatican pediatric clinic for help, Pope Francis said.
The Vatican’s St. Martha Dispensary was founded in 1922 and, staffed by volunteers, it provides medical care and basic necessities to any child in need; most of the clients are immigrants.
Dozens of children, their parents and the clinic volunteers anticipated Pope Francis’ 82nd birthday, singing for him and giving him a large cake on 16 December. His birthday was the next day.
“I wish you all a merry Christmas, a good holy Christmas, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for all that you do. Really,” the pope said. “And, I also hope that no one gets indigestion from a cake that big. Thank you!”
In brief comments to the women religious who run the clinic and to the doctors and others who volunteer there, Pope Francis said, “Working with children isn’t easy, but they teach us much.”
“They taught me something: to understand the reality of life, you must lower yourself, like you bend down to kiss a child. They teach us this,” he said. “The proud and haughty cannot understand life because they are not capable of lowering themselves.”
Everyone who works at the clinic gives children something, the pope said. “But they give us this proclamation, this teaching: bow down, be humble and you will learn to understand life and understand people.”
14 December 2018
Tags: Pope Francis
Angeline Fernando and Vangie Lapada, foreign workers from the Philippines, take a selfie wearing Santa hats at the Christmas market in the central bus station in Tel Aviv, Israel. The market offers an opportunity for foreigners to buy decorations for Christmas in the Jewish state.
(photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)
For foreign workers and other nonlocal Christians living in Israel, celebrating Christmas far from loved ones in a country where Christians are a minority can be a difficult time.
Used to a festive Christmas season back home in the Philippines, many of the Filipino caretakers who work with mainly Jewish families have learned to adjust their expectations.
“We are missing our families. We are used to seeing all the Christmas decorations everywhere,” said Vangie Lapada, 51, who has been working in Israel for five years. She is a caretaker in the Golan Heights in northern Israel, where there are few Christians.
But as Israel’s population has become more diverse to include foreign caretakers, migrant workers and asylum seekers -- many of whom are Christians living in cities where Jewish residents are the majority -- Jewish Israelis also have adjusted to a new reality. One of the changing points has also been the arrival of Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union where the New Year celebration, Novy God, uses many of the usual Christmas symbols for the nonreligious holiday.
On a mid-December Sunday, Lapada used her day off to travel to Tel Aviv with a friend. On the fourth floor of the cavernous Tel Aviv central bus station, they visited the pop-up Christmas market with its twinkling Christmas lights and festive Santa Claus apparel. A large banner in the center of the station announced the location of the market.
The stalls were set up several years ago by Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union wanting to openly celebrate the Novy God holiday. The market also has provided a place for Filipino foreign workers and others to enjoy some trappings of Christmas.
Novy God was the only nonpolitical holiday permitted by the communist regime in the former Soviet Union, which incorporated some customary Christmas symbols -- such as the tree -- into the celebration to placate people. The communist government also added parallel symbols from traditional folktales such as the Snow Maiden and Grandfather Winter. All religious celebrations were forbidden under the communist regime.
“This (market) makes me happy because it brings a bit of our tradition,” said Lapada as she and Angeline Fernando, 48, snapped selfies of themselves wearing Santa hats in front of a white plastic Christmas tree covered with decorations. English Christmas songs played from a stereo, adding to the atmosphere.
Lapada said that, in Israel, the main focus of their celebrations is the Filipino parishes in the larger cities and in the homes of friends who are not live-in caretakers, but she still misses the general atmosphere of Christmas in the Philippines.
“My employer is a religious Jew, so we don’t have a tree in the apartment. I come here to take pictures and feel the spirit of Christmas. These decorations are part of Christmas for us,” said Lapada.
Fernando, who works in Tel Aviv caring for a Jewish woman originally from France, said her employer enjoys the Christmas lights, and they combine Hanukkah and Christmas decorations in the apartment.
“Every day we have visitors, and they all say how beautiful the decorations are because of the colors. But I come here to see the trees, and I feel like I am in the Philippines,” Fernando said.
Because of its unique decorations made in Russia and other high-quality Christmas items, the market even sometimes attracts local Christians who live in areas where other Christmas decorations are sold.
“My mother wanted to buy the special glass decorations they have here instead of the plastic ornaments sold in Jerusalem,” said Rami, a Palestinian Christian from Jerusalem who declined to give his last name. His mother went from one stall to another, looking over delicate, hand-decorated ornaments nestled in boxes; larger ornaments made to look like snowflakes; and china Santa Claus/Grandfather Winter dolls.
Vasilisa Gorbichova, 9, who moved with her parents from Russia one-and-a-half years ago, helped her mother, Olga Alaeva, 35, decide which lights to buy. Alaeva is Christian and her husband is Jewish. For Vasilisa, the decorations were all about Novy God.
“I love the night of Novy God. I get presents from Grandfather Winter,” she said. “My favorite thing is to put up the decorations. My friends accept it, they know me and understand that I am Russian, and this is our tradition.”
Yulia, 28, a seller from Tel Aviv who moved to Israel from Russia three years ago, said the market runs a brisk business in the weeks leading up to Christmas and Novy God. Sellers have never experienced any negative response from Jewish Israelis walking by the market, she said.
“In Tel Aviv, there are a lot of people from different countries, so it is a very tolerant city,” she said. “This (market) is the best place to work on the holiday.”
Diana Giraldo, 28, a Colombian who moved to Israel this fall, was preparing for her first Christmas away from home.
“It is very hard and sad to celebrate Christmas without my family, so I am very happy to see this market, because I didn’t know where I was going to get my decorations from,” Giraldo said. She heard about the market through a Facebook page, she said.
“This is our tradition. This is what we are used to,” she said. “Now we can go home and put up our decorations.”
13 December 2018
Tags: Israel Tel Aviv
Austrian Scout Niklas Lehner poses with a Greek Orthodox priest in the Grotto of the Nativity in Bethlehem, West Bank, where Christ was born. Niklas had just kindled the flame that would be known as the Peace Light from Bethlehem and would be spread around the world.
(photo: CNS/courtesy ORF)
Brian Duane’s maroon Subaru had already covered about 1,800 miles when he pulled into the parking lot at the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Lafayette on 4 December.
It was Duane’s 18th stop in what would be a weeklong, cross-country journey for the resident of Pembroke, Massachusetts, and his car contained precious cargo with a radiance of goodwill.
This road trip was a mission from Bethlehem carrying a message of peace, contained in a glowing lantern.
This fire had originally been kindled at Christ’s birthplace, the Grotto of the Nativity in Bethlehem, West Bank. Duane is part of a national network of volunteers spreading this “Peace Light from Bethlehem” across the nation.
“It is symbolic of Christ’s love for us and of the Prince of Peace,” Duane told Catholic News Service. “It serves as a reminder to us.”
For more than a decade, volunteers like Duane have driven this flame from coast to coast, lighting hundreds of lanterns along the route.
The effort to spread the Peace Light is spearheaded by Scouts and Scouting advisers, most often associated with Catholic churches.
The goal is to kindle peace in all hearts by remembering Christ’s mission began in Bethlehem.
“It’s symbolic, but it’s the effort, the coming together, the dedication to peace and heading home and spreading the message, even at the family level,” said Bob McLear, who lives west of Chicago.
McLear planned to take the light from Lafayette back to his parish in Batavia, Illinois, and pass it off to another volunteer headed to Madison, Wisconsin.
The Peace Light’s journey can be traced back to a tradition in Austria. For the past 32 years, the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation ORF has sent a child to Bethlehem to kindle a flame from the oil lamps hanging above Christ’s birthplace.
The fire, stored in two explosion-proof miner’s lanterns, is then flown with a safety adviser back to Europe, where it is spread to more than 30 countries.
“The reaction of the people touched my heart,” said Wolfgang Kerndler, a security expert for Austrian Airlines, who has escorted the flame for about two decades.
“Even the crew is proud to be part of the operation,” Kerndler told CNS in an email. “It’s an honor.”
The Peace Light first arrived in the United States in the wake of the terrorist attacks on 9/11. The Austrian government and national Scouting association sent the flame with a VIP delegation to comfort the grieving nation.
“New York City really was devastated,” said Paul Stanton, the international representative for New York City with the Boy Scouts of America.
“It was a great sign of kindness from the people of the world,” he told CNS in a phone interview from New York City.
The light has been flown by Austrian Airlines to New York every year since. Stanton helps to organize the official reception at John F. Kennedy International Airport.
This year, about 150 adults and children gathered at the airport’s Our Lady of the Skies Chapel to welcome the light of peace and kindle their own flames.
“The youth are needing to know that there is hope, but they also need to know if there is going to be a better world, it will start with them,” Stanton said.
Duane was at the chapel to light his lanterns and begin his journey.
From New York, he drove as far west as Denver, before heading back to Massachusetts, logging more than 5,400 miles.
Along the way, Duane stopped at 26 locations to meet volunteers, participate in ceremonies and pass on the flame.
“I’ve walked into so many different places, a very liberal congregation, a very conservative congregation,” he said, “and yet we all agree on the need for peace and civility.”
Duane arrived in Indianapolis on 4 December, where more than 60 people, mostly children, gathered at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish to welcome him and spread the flame from Bethlehem. Lanterns and candles lined the altar.
“I think that it’s really beautiful and I’m really happy that we came,” said Eliza Frank, a student at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic School.
“We hear about Jesus being born in Bethlehem, but we never actually see anything from there or go there, so I thought that was really cool,” Frank said.
When Duane arrived at the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Lafayette later that evening, nearly 100 Scouts and parents were present to spread the light. Even the youngest were challenged to share the flame with at least three other people in their local community, spreading hope and peace in the process.
“To the people out there that don’t have a chance to get the peace light,” said John Niemann, an Eagle Scout and student at Purdue University, “you can still hold Christ’s peace in your heart throughout this Christmas season and really strive to have that, even though you can’t physically have the flame with you.”
The Peace Light was set to reach California by 13 December and is reported to burn in more than 30 states.
A Facebook page set up by volunteers mapped out the spread of the Peace Light and continues to field requests from individuals wishing to take the flame to their own communities.
In most cases, the lanterns lit by the Peace Light will illuminate congregations and homes through the Christmas season. Duane hopes that those lights serve as a constant reminder that small actions, like small lanterns, have the power to light a darkened world.
“We sometimes feel overwhelmed when there’s major conflicts going on in the Middle East or wherever it happens to be,” Duane said.
“Like, what can I do? Well, I can be kind and gentle to my family, my neighbors, the lady at the store, everybody else. Be a vehicle of peace, be a vessel of peace,” he said.
Check out the video about the Peace Light below, produced by Katie Rutter for CNS:
12 December 2018
Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem (l) is assisted by CNEWA's regional director for Jerusalem, Joseph Hazboun (r), in dedicating a new section of the Christ the King Bookstore devoted to sacred vessels and vestments.
(photo: Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem)
Tuesday, CNEWA’s regional director in Jerusalem, Joseph Hazboun, took part in the festivities to dedicate a new section of a major bookstore in Jerusalem.
Details, from Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem website:
On 11 December 2018, and under the patronage of Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, Christ the King Bookstore inaugurated a new section of “Sacrum Palestine”, for Liturgical Vestments and Vessels.
Invited by the Rev. Bashar Fawadleh, Director of Youth of Jesus’ Homeland, Palestine (YJHP) and responsible for the bookstore, the ceremony was attended by a number of Franciscan and Latin Patriarchate priests, the Rosary Sisters, the Verbo Incarnato Sisters, the youth groups, and the parishioners. Representatives of [CNEWA's operating agency in the Middle East] the Pontifical Mission were also there: Mr. Joseph Hazboun, its Regional Director and Mr. Rodolf Sa’adeh, the project manager, who contributed to this project that they believe it will serve the church of the Holy Land and enrich its heritage.
The Apostolic Administrator commended the services carried out by the bookstore in answering the needs of the Living Stones. He also emphasized its rich Arabic books and resources for Theology and Catechism and the pivotal role that the bookstore plays in making these books available, in spite of the difficulty it endures in importing them, especially from Lebanon.
Visit the LPJ website for more photos and information.
11 December 2018
Palestinians and foreign tourists take part in the Santa Run outside the Cremisan Monastery on 7 December in Beit Jala, West Bank. (photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)
Bethlehem and the neighboring towns of Beit Jala and Beit Sahour depend economically on tourism, but traditionally have struggled with keeping visitors in the area for more than half a day. Although the hotels are fully booked for Christmas this year, that does not necessarily mean it will translate into any business for the locals.
Most large tour and pilgrim groups are bused through the Israeli checkpoint straight to the Church of the Nativity and sometimes to the nearby Milk Grotto or Shepherds Field in Beit Sahour. Then tourists get back on their buses and go to one of a select few souvenir shops to spend their money. If the souvenir hawkers hovering in the area are lucky, they may be able to sell the tourists a few trinkets during their brief stay. But for the most part smaller businesses, including shops and cafes, rarely see any rainfall from visitors.
With the memories of the economic difficulties during the second intifada still fresh in their memories, private residents and the three municipalities are starting initiatives to entice visitors to stop, stroll through the towns, eat a local baklava sweet or take a city tour, much like they would in any other city they visit.
Janneke Stegeman, 38, a German theologian, has been to Bethlehem many times. But this time, arriving during the Christmas season, she took advantage of a two-hour Art Walk tour through the old city of Beit Sahour — one of Bethlehem’s sister towns in the Bethlehem “triangle” — to get to know some of the young artists in the area and hear about the work they are doing.
“For me, coming here as a pilgrim is having a deep connection to the context and people you are visiting,” she told Catholic News Service. “People come to the holy places without realizing where they are and who the people are who are living here.”
“This experience is really crucial to me … especially at Christmas,” Stegeman added. “It has to do with real people. I want to understand what is happening here, to talk to the people who are living here. To see how people keep their hope and perseverance in a context of a difficult reality.”
Just having a cup of coffee at a place like Singer Cafe affords a glimpse into the life of young Palestinians who opt to stay in their city and invigorate their town rather than emigrate, she said, sipping her coffee as she spoke.
“It is important for me that people understand that Palestinians deserve as much time as Israel. There is nothing to be afraid of if they come here. Come, see the Nativity Church, but then come meet the local Palestinians, have a chat with them. People come to see the Biblical stones and then forget to see the living stones,” she said.
Dutch expat Kristel Elayyan, 40, who runs the Singer Cafe with her husband, Tariq, started the Art Walk, so people get to know local artisans.
Social media is also taking a role in advertising the events and stirring up interest for both local and international visitors. The Bethlehem Christmas tree was lit to the delight of a crowd of thousands in Nativity Square, with live music and fireworks following. Similar tree-lightings took place a few days later in Beit Jala and Beit Sahour.
The Latin Patriarchate tweeted about the tree-lighting event in Bethlehem, and the municipal Facebook pages advertise in English the various events taking place in the area during the season: the Art Walk, Christmas markets featuring locally produced crafts and food, an Afro-Dabkeh dance workshop, a pre-Christmas gala dinner, a pub dance party and a Christmas “Santa Run” in Beit Jala, where St. Nicholas is the patron saint.
As rain drizzled, participants in the Santa Run gathered in the parking lot of the Beit Jala Latin seminary on 7 December, stretching their muscles, buying their red Santa shirts and taking selfies as they waited for the shuttle to take them to the Cremisan Monastery, where the run began.
“Five years ago, you could maybe go to a coffee place to smoke a water pipe and play some cards. Now there are bars for youth and places to meet up. There are a lot of places where you can spend your time here now,” said Musa Khatib, 26, a pharmacist from the nearby Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Safafa. “Because of social media you can follow the events, schedule your week. The spirit here is nice, the vibe is very positive, and you can see happy people.”
A representative from the Beit Jala municipality who declined to give his name told CNS: “Our vision is of strengthening the cultural side of Beit Jala. We want to note the connection between St. Nicholas and Santa Claus. It is about promoting tourism, and bringing it up to the international level is our dream,” he said as upbeat Christmas carols blared in English from a car with oversized loudspeakers.
In the end, some 80 locals and a few internationals took part in the run — some came just for the fun while others came intent on winning. The Santa Run Facebook page was updated continuously throughout the event.
“This is great,” said Elizabeth Purcell, 35, from Mt. Vernon, Illinois, whose husband works for the Baptist Church in Jerusalem. She was there with her three sons and two young friends visiting from the U.S. “If you just go to the church, you are not seeing what is really here. You don’t get to meet the people if you don’t go to something like this race or to a craft fair. You can see the energy here. It is energizing to see foreigners coming here. It is great for the Palestinian economy.”
Tags: Holy Land Pilgrimage/pilgrims Holy Land Christians West Bank