6 December 2017
A woman lights a candle before a large icon of St. Nicholas in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior last May. A relic of the saint was sent from Bari, Italy, to Russia for veneration at the Moscow cathedral and at an Orthodox cathedral in St. Petersburg from late May to late July.
(photo: CNS/Robert Duncan)
Today marks the feast of St. Nicholas — the figure who would become immortalized in the popular imagination as Santa Claus.
As Michael J.L. La Civita noted a few years back:
According to tradition, Nicholas was born in the mid-third century to a wealthy Christian couple in Patara, a town near the southern shores of Asia Minor (modern Turkey). After the premature death of his parents, Nicholas gave up his wealth and entered a monastery, later traveling to Egypt and the Holy Land. He returned to his monastery, hoping to live quietly as a hermit. However, against his will, he was elected as Bishop of Myra, a small town near Patara.
Although little else is known about Nicholas, his popularity rests on his compassion for the poor and his passion for the faith.
“The reason for this special veneration of this special bishop, who left neither theological works nor other writings,” writes Leonid Ouspensky, a noted Russian theologian, “is evidently that the church sees in him a personification of a shepherd, of its defender and intercessor.”
The Byzantine Catholic Church website today offers this tribute to the beloved saint:
Most of the stories that come to us through history are of him living the Christian life — such as providing a dowry to three young women so they could marry and avoid slavery (the three bags of gold he threw through their windows landed in their stockings, and so today we hang our stockings by the chimney with care). All of the stories about St. Nicholas that come to us through history are about his love for people, especially the poor. St. Nicholas was good. So good that his goodness shines through history — and radiates even from the man in the red suit. Such goodness can only be found in one who dwells intimately with Lord — for He is the only good One (Mt 19:17).
O holy father,
The fruit of your good works enlightens and delights the hearts of the faithful.
Who cannot wonder at your measureless patience and humility?
At your tender care for the poor?
At your compassion for the afflicted?
O holy Nicholas,
You have divinely taught all things well,
Now wearing your unfading crown,
You intercede for our souls.
(From the Vespers of St. Nicholas)
St. Nicholas, pray for us!
1 December 2017
Pope Francis prays with Christian, Muslim and Buddhist religious leaders and Rohingya refugees from Myanmar during an interreligious and ecumenical meeting for peace in the garden of the archbishop’s residence in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on 1 December. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Each human being is created in the image and likeness of God, yet so often people desecrate that image with violence as seen in the treatment of Myanmar’s Rohingya minority, Pope Francis said.
“Today, the presence of God is also called ‘Rohingya,’” the pope said Dec. 1 after meeting, clasping hands with and listening intently to 16 Rohingya who have found shelter in Bangladesh.
“They, too, are images of the living God,” Pope Francis told a gathering of Christian, Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu leaders gathered in Dhaka for an interreligious meeting for peace.
“Dear brothers and sisters,” he told the crowd, “let us show the world what its selfishness is doing to the image of God.”
“Let’s keeping helping” the Rohingya, he said. “Let’s continue working so their rights are recognized. Let’s not close our hearts. Let’s not look away.”
The Rohingya, like all people, are created in God’s image, the pope insisted. “Each of us must respond.”
The refugees traveled to Dhaka from Cox’s Bazar, the southern Bangladeshi city hosting hundreds of thousands of refugees who have fled Myanmar. More than 620,000 Rohingya have crossed the border into Bangladesh since late August.
Speaking directly to them, Pope Francis said, “We are all close to you.”
In comparison to the suffering the Rohingya have endured, he said, the response of the people at the gathering actually is small. “But we make room for you in our hearts.”
“In the name of all those who have persecuted you and have done you harm, especially for the indifference of the world, I ask forgiveness,” he said.
Pope Francis’ remarks, which he made in Italian, were translated for the crowd and for the Rohingya. Many of them were in tears.
In his formal speech at the interreligious meeting, Pope Francis insisted “mere tolerance” for people of other religions or ethnic groups was not enough to create a society where everyone’s rights are respected and peace reigns.
Believers must “reach out to others in mutual trust and understanding,” not ignoring differences, but seeing them as “a potential source of enrichment and growth.”
The “openness of heart” to which believers of all faiths are called includes “the pursuit of goodness, justice and solidarity,” he said. “It leads to seeking the good of our neighbors.”
Pope Francis urged the people of Bangladesh to make openness, acceptance and cooperation the “beating heart” of their nation. Such attitudes, he said, are the only antidote to corruption, “destructive religious ideologies and the temptation to turn a blind eye to the needs of the poor, refugees, persecuted minorities and those who are most vulnerable.”
According to a Vatican translation, Farid Uddin Masud, speaking for the Muslim community, told the pope, “it is compassion and love which today’s world needs most. The only remedy and solution to the problem of malice, envy and fighting among nations, races and creeds lies in the compassionate love preached and practiced by the great men and women of the world.”
Masud, a famous prayer leader and advocate of dialogue and tolerance, is thought by some to have been the main target of a 2016 bombing at a major Muslim prayer service in Sholakia, Bangladesh. Four people were killed.
Praising the pope for speaking on behalf of “the oppressed, irrespective of religion, caste and nationality,” Masud particularly cited Pope Francis’ concern for the Rohingya. He said he hoped that the pope’s public support would strengthen international efforts to defend their rights.
Anisuzzaman, a famous professor of Bengali literature, told the gathering that in a world torn by strife, the pope’s message of encounter and dialogue takes on added importance.
“Those of us who are frustrated to find the forces of hatred and cruelty overtaking those of love and compassion can surely find solace in the pope’s message of peace and harmony and of fraternity and goodwill,” he said, according to the Vatican’s translation of his speech. “We note with great relief that the pope has, time and again, expressed his sympathy with the Rohingya from Myanmar, who have been forcibly ejected from their home and earth and subjected to violence and inhuman treatment.”
The pope arrived at the meeting in a rickshaw after a meeting with Bangladesh’s Catholic bishops. He had told the bishops that interreligious and ecumenical dialogue are essential part to the life of the church in Bangladesh.
“Yours is a nation where ethnic diversity is mirrored in a diversity of religious traditions,” he said. “Work unremittingly to build bridges and to foster dialogue, for these efforts not only facilitate communication between different religious groups, but also awaken the spiritual energies needed for the work of nation-building in unity, justice and peace.”
The Catholic Church’s preferential “option for the poor,” including the Rohingya refugees, is a sign of God’s love and mercy and must continue to shine forth in concrete acts of charity, Pope Francis told the bishops.
“The inspiration for your works of assistance to the needy must always be that pastoral charity which is quick to recognize human woundedness and to respond with generosity, one person at a time,” Pope Francis said.
30 November 2017
A Syrian refugee child greets a visitor at the community center in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. The center was founded by Sister Micheline Lattouff and is administered by the Sisters of the Good Shepherd. Read more about Sister Micheline here and discover her remarkable ministry to refugees in the Spring 2014 edition of ONE. (photo: John E. Kozar)
29 November 2017
Priests lead the community in prayer during a mountaintop funeral in Aiga, Ethiopia.
(photo: John E. Kozar)
Last year, CNEWA’s president, Msgr. John E. Kozar, paid a pastoral visit to Ethiopia, and shared some of his impressions in words and pictures in the magazine.
He described one particularly memorable moment:
The powerful faith of these suffering souls endures in these most difficult of times. Their participation in the faith life of the church in their remote villages was evident at liturgical celebrations. One such celebration was a mountaintop funeral liturgy in Aiga. Some 500 mountain dwellers from far and wide came to pray for the eternal reward of the departed. Not only did some of them walk over dangerous mountains footpaths — some traveling for up to seven hours each way — but they carried the body on their shoulders for about ten kilometers, or six miles.
I was also privileged to visit some of the poor in their mountain homes. With a gentle traditional greeting — kissing my hands — they warmly welcomed us into their homes and immediately offered us their provisions for the day: bread, goat’s milk and coffee. For them, it was an honor to have a priest visit them. For me, it was an honor to be in the presence of holy people. I noticed that the cross was prominent, both in their homes and around their necks.
Read more and see more pictures here.
28 November 2017
This little girl in Lebanon reminded us what generosity is all about — offering to share what little she had with a visitor. (photo: Philip W. Eubanks)
This #GivingTuesday is a special one for me. I spent some time this year reviewing our work on a pastoral visit in Lebanon and near the Syrian border. I saw firsthand the children we serve, many of whom — thanks to the local schools we support — are given not just an education and a safe place to better their future but also a warm meal they might not have had otherwise.
I wrote about one of these schools in particular in March:
“Run jointly by the Marist and Lasallian Brothers at the request of Pope Francis for congregations to join together to tackle the challenges facing refugees, [the Fratelli Association] hosts 270 Syrian students, both Muslim and Christian. We met the dynamic Brother Andres Gutierrez, who oversees the school along with Brother Miquel Cubeles, a Marist from Barcelona. [...] Brother Andres explained that he had rebuilt the school when he arrived, as the structure had sat abandoned for over 25 years prior to his arrival. The school has been open for just a year, and in that time they’ve completed several classrooms, a kitchen, a residence for the brothers and a computer lab. As it focuses on acclimating refugee students to the Lebanese curriculum, which is taught in French and English as opposed to the Arabic Syrian students are used to, the school will function as a remedial program of sorts, easing students into the Lebanese school system to improve their likelihood of success.”
As we visited during the lunch hour, the children were enjoying manoushe, a kind of Lebanese pizza, along with chips and a drink. One little girl, noticing I had nothing to eat, approached me and offered me one of her chips. I was caught entirely off-guard: a little girl who likely knew what it is to have nothing to eat wanted to make sure she shared what little she had.
As it says in the Gospel of Luke, “to whom much has been given, much will be required; and... to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.” What of those to whom almost nothing has been given, even those to whom much has been taken from them, and yet they still give eagerly the little they have? When I come into our office hoping to give back — to give of my time and from my heart — I do so with that little girl in mind.
So, this #GivingTuesday is, indeed, a special one for me, because I know how much every gift is appreciated and that what’s shared from your heart is shared also in the actions, prayers, witness, and love of all those children of God we serve.
Whether in Lebanon or elsewhere among CNEWA’s global family, we hope you’ll help us make this #GivingTuesday one of sharing, whether you’re sharing our blog, our #GivingTuesday video, sharing your prayers and intentions, or sharing from your pocketbook. Thank you for helping us #filltheirplates, hopefully to overflow in abundance.
To make a gift, visit this link. Thank you!
27 November 2017
Pope Francis meets with members of the Joint Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of the East at the Vatican on Friday 24 November. (photo: Vatican Radio/Facebook)
On Friday, Pope Francis meet with Catholic and Assyro-Chaldean theologians who are conducting an ongoing dialogue. Vatican Radio reports:
In greetings to the Commission, the pope thanked God “for today’s signing of the Joint Declaration.”
“We can now look to the future with even greater confidence and I ask the Lord that your continuing work may help bring about that blessed and long-awaited day when we will have the joy of celebrating, at the same altar, our full communion in Christ’s church,” he said.
Part of the pope’s message:
When we look at the cross, or make the sign of the cross, we are also invited to remember sacrifices endured in union with Jesus and to remain close to those who today bear a heavy cross upon their shoulders. The Assyrian Church of the East, along with other churches and many of our brothers and sisters in the region, is afflicted by persecution, and is a witness to brutal acts of violence perpetrated in the name of fundamentalist extremism. Situations of such tragic suffering take root more easily in contexts of great poverty, injustice and social exclusion, largely caused by instability, often fuelled by external interests, and by conflicts that have also led in recent times to situations of dire need, giving rise to real cultural and spiritual deserts, within which it becomes easy to manipulate people and incite them to hatred. Such suffering has recently been exacerbated by the tragedy of the violent earthquake on the border between Iraq, the homeland of your Church, and Iran, where your communities have also long been established, as well as in Syria, Lebanon and India.
Read it all.
And to learn more about the Church of the East, visit this link.
22 November 2017
Members of a local band of Roma take a break to enjoy the cuisine at a festival in Hungary. In 2005, we looked at how Hungarians use paprika to make meals “fiery, spicy and temperamental.” Read all about it here. And check out some of the recipes. There’s even a recipe for chicken paprikás. Maybe it can be adapted for turkey? (photo: Jacqueline Ruyak)
21 November 2017
Tags: Cultural Identity Hungary Cuisine Roma
A conservator cleans the surface of the Edicule, the traditional site of Jesus’ burial and resurrection, in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City of Jerusalem. (photo: CNS/Oded Balilty, National Geographic)
In the nation’s capital, a $15 museum ticket and pair of 3-D glasses is the passport Christian pilgrims and others need to experience what may be the holiest site in Christianity.
Employing state-of-the-art technology, the National Geographic Museum in Washington on 15 November opened an exhibit that virtually transports visitors to the streets of Jerusalem and through the doors of a small church that protects what is believed to be the site of Christ’s burial and, to Christians, the site of his resurrection.
“We put you in the Old City, we talk to you a little about the walls of the city, how they move over time and where the Gospels say that the Crucifixion took place, and try to give you the context,” said Kathryn Keane, vice president of exhibitions for National Geographic during an interview with Catholic News Service.
After an introductory video explaining some of the tumultuous history surrounding the tomb of Christ site, where structures above have been built and torn down repeatedly over the centuries, visitors walk toward a set where a virtual guide projected on a wall welcomes them to a courtyard just outside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.
It’s a visual appetizer to get them ready for the experience of, not just entering via 3-D through its doors, but also of flying over it and witnessing, from a bird’s eye view, a time-lapse of the structure’s physical history.
“We’re not only taking you in the church the way it looks today but we also go up above the church and we take you back through time,” said Keane. “It’s a bit of a time machine and we show you all the evolutions of the building, from the time that it was, under [Roman emperor] Hadrian, a pagan temple.”
“This is not what I would consider a traditional exhibit. It’s more an experience than it is an exhibit,” said National Geographic archaeologist Fred Hiebert, whose unique experience inside the church led to “Tomb of Christ: The Church of Holy Sepulchre Experience,” which runs at the Washington museum until August 2018.
Last year, Hiebert witnessed various stages of a nine-month-long, $3 million restoration of the small shrine within the Holy Sepulcher that protects the tomb of Christ. The shrine often is referred to as the Edicule, Latin for “little house.” During the process, the three religious groups with jurisdiction over the structure, and who had agreed on its restoration — the Armenians, the Franciscans and the Greek Orthodox — agreed to also allow restorers to put a moisture barrier around the the tomb itself.
The tomb likely had not been opened in centuries and, at some point, marble slabs were placed on top, perhaps to keep pilgrims from taking home parts of it. It has been venerated since the time of Constantine, the first Christian Roman Emperor who, in the fourth century, sent a team in search of the holy burial site. Soon after, they identified a quarry as that place and Constantine’s mother, Helena, had a shrine built around it.
The exhibit explains how the effects of weather, earthquakes and also great numbers of pilgrims, many of whom light candles that contribute to a buildup of soot, had brought the structure to the brink of collapse.
It also explains the dilemma religious leaders faced when they learned that by injecting liquid mortar into the shrine to reinforce it, it presented the possibility that it would seep into the tomb itself — defeating the purpose of protecting the most important part. They had to swiftly decide to shut down the shrine to allow the team to protect the tomb — and that meant briefly opening it.
“They said, ‘Do it, but don’t take more than 60 hours to do it,’“ said Hiebert.
When restorers temporarily shut down the site, Hiebert and other members of the National Geographic team were present to witness the opening of the tomb, which exposed the original limestone bed and the walls of the cave, which Christians believe witnessed Christ returning to life.
“To think that we, we were some of the few people who were locked in that church, got to see what people for hundreds and hundreds of years of Christianity hope to see, and we had a chance to see that. … If there’s anything that drove me to do a virtual exhibit, it was that guilt,” Hiebert said to an audience gathered at the museum on the opening night of the exhibit. “We have to tell the world about this.”
The National Geographic team scanned the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the smaller structure inside, the Edicule, in such detail, that visitors who stop by the exhibit can don a VR, or virtual reality, headset and enter the tiny shrine, navigate the small passage way that leads to the tomb, a space that accommodates no more than three or four people, and see an exact visual representation of the tomb, without the real-life inconveniences.
“As tourist, you get maybe 15 seconds in the tomb and then they move you out,” explained National Geographic engineer Corey Jaskolski at the opening night event. “Part of capturing this and being able to share it with the world through the National Geographic Museum is that we can let people spend as long as they want in the tomb. You can go in there and have your own personal experience and be able to see it in all its glory without the interruptions and bustle of the crowd around.”
The exhibit explains some of the technology the restoration team from the National Technical University of Athens used, as well as what National Geographic used to scan the images that made the visual aspect of the exhibit possible.
“We can tell a story about great science and there’s a certain great aspect of faith to it, too,” said Hiebert.
Keane said the project is an intersection of history, architecture, science, technology and faith.
“All of these things aren’t at odds with each other,” she said.
The exhibit displays the document that Greek Orthodox, Armenian and Franciscan leaders signed in 2016, which made the restoration possible, while also noting in a timeline that the groups had agreed in principle in 1959 that the “little house” needed the renovations.
Hiebert applauded the cooperation among the religious groups as a “brave” and said of their ability to agree, “That happens once in a lifetime with these guys.”
The project shows, Hiebert said, that there can be cooperation among different groups in the Middle East.
“Having reviewed the history of the [Holy Sepulcher] church, and realizing that it’s a contested space, in a contested area … here was a project that was bringing people together to do something that was positive,” he said. “That is a metaphor for optimism in the Middle East. In a place as difficult as Jerusalem, as complex as the Middle East, it’s still possible to do an optimistic idealistic project.”
Archaeologist Hiebert said the exhibit, as well as a TV show about the restoration of the tomb of Christ that National Geographic documented, will debut 3 December on its cable channel. The December cover story of National Geographic magazine also focuses on archaeology and what it reveals about the life of Christ. It shows that science and faith can go hand in hand, Hiebert said.
“When we look back on the history of exploration and even the history of National Geographic, we realize that this idea that science is divorced from faith is not true,” he said. “It seemed to me natural that National Geographic would be in a position of, here’s a site, which is sacred and historic, and we’re about to embark on an epic adventure.”
20 November 2017
Tags: Jerusalem Church of the Holy Sepulchre
A chef displays ingredients and Keralite specialties prepared by chefs at Naipunnya Institute of Management and Information Technology. (photo: Peter Lemieux)
In the United States, families are preparing for Thanksgiving this Thursday. But for another kind of feasting, check out this story from India:
If you enjoy food, you should come to Kerala!” said Father Sebastian Kalapurackal, a Syro-Malabar Catholic priest and director of Naipunya Institute of Management and Information Technology, which boasts one of the state’s top hotel management programs. Each year, the program graduates some 100 students, many of whom land jobs with five-star hotels, major cruise lines and airline companies.
Keralites unquestionably take great pride in their local cuisine — and for good reason. Its diversity and sophistication have earned the state worldwide fame.
What is more, it is unique. A narrow strip of coastland bounded to the east by the Western Ghats (mountains) and to the west by the Arabian Sea, Kerala has been largely disconnected from the rest of India for much of its history. Isolated from the prevailing trends of Indian cooking, Keralites developed a distinct culinary tradition unlike any other on the subcontinent.
The secret to Keralite cuisine is its special blend of produce and other indigenous ingredients: rice from the paddies; pepper, cardamom, coriander, turmeric and asafetida from the forests and fields; and fish caught off the coast or in one of the many freshwater rivers. However, what gives many Keralite dishes their signature flavor is coconut. Translated from the local language of Malayalam as “land (alam) of the coconut (kera),” Kerala produces a vast quantity of the fruit, which grows just about everywhere and is one of the state’s principal exports.
The essence and complexity of Keralite cuisine, however, should not be reduced to the sum of its ingredients. Religion and region have also played significant roles in the development of Kerala’s diverse menu of tasty entrees and treats. Christians, Hindus and Muslims approach food differently. And in Kerala, each faith community possesses its own variant culinary tradition.
“Ninety percent of what Muslims eat is meat, Hindus are 100 percent vegetarian and Christians eat everything, including pork,” said T.C. Noushad, a Muslim restaurateur who owns Royal Food Court, a chain of five establishments across Ernakulam.
“I serve everything and anything, just give me 15 minutes,” he added.
According to Father Kalapurackal, to Christians, taste matters most.
“That’s the problem with our people. They worry too much about their taste buds and not enough about their health. We should learn from the Hindus and eat less meat.”
Read more about what’s cooking in Kerala in the November 2008 edition of ONE.
And if you’re curious, try out some recipes, too.
17 November 2017
Tags: India Cultural Identity Cuisine
In this image from 2016, children prepare for first communion at a Catholic church in a displaced persons camp in Ain Kawa, near Erbil, Iraq. Now, a year later, some displaced Iraqis are returning to their homes. Read about that and more in the September 2017 edition of ONE. (photo: Paul Jeffrey)
Tags: Iraq Iraqi Christians