2 August 2017
A Palestinian man, seen in January, is silhouetted on rubble of Palestinian houses destroyed during the Israeli War against Gaza. The man works for a company that turns the rubble into building materials. (photo: CNS/Mohammed Saber, EPA)
A heat wave in Israel and the Palestinian territories in July and near-record electricity usage — where it was available — are indications that, despite the continuous political tensions here, Christians, Muslims and Jews are facing a common enemy that needs to be confronted in a united manner.
“The level of the lake of Tiberias and of the Dead Sea is lower than 10 years ago, and the landscape is changing because of a continuous construction of houses,” Franciscan Father Francesco Patton, custos of the Holy Land, told Catholic News Service.
Father Patton and two other religious leaders spoke at a recent news conference organized by The Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development, a Jerusalem-based environmental organization. They spoke about the urgency of putting aside political and religious difference to face these challenges and the role religious leaders can take in increasing awareness of the issue.
Rabbi David Rosen, international director of interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Committee, told journalists the Jordan River Valley, another area of Biblical importance, is facing an environmental crisis. In a covenant signed by religious leaders four years ago, they noted that over the past 50 years, the lower Jordan River has had 96 percent of its flow diverted, and what little water remains is polluted with saline and liquid waste or sewage.
Father Patton told CNS that other pressing issues in the Holy Land include the increasing water shortage, improper waste disposal and growing air pollution in various regions.
While Israel has begun a garbage recycling program, the Palestinian Authority has yet to institute such an effort. Awareness of proper garbage disposal is also an issue among certain sectors of both populations, with many people still tossing garbage on the side of the road or outside their buildings, with little regard to garbage bins at their disposal. In certain places of East Jerusalem, garbage pickup by the municipality is either lacking or erratic, and Palestinian residents often burn their own garbage for lack of a better solution.
Recent internal political differences have caused electrical shortages in the Gaza Strip. This has affected the ability of the sewage system to function properly, which has caused raw sewage to flow into the Mediterranean Sea, which borders Egypt and Israel.
The northern industrial Israel port city of Haifa, though often lauded for its political tolerance, is also often sighted even by its own residents for the lack of the environmental controls over the chemical factories located on its seashore. In a position paper earlier this year, the Israeli Ministry of Health noted Haifa has a 15 percent higher rate of cancer than the rest of Israel and leads the country in asthma and breathing problems.
Father Patton, Rabbi Rosen and Kadi Iyad Zahalka, head judge of the Muslim Shariah courts in Israel, said religious leaders needed to unite in their efforts to educate and create a greater awareness about these environmental issues.
“We should offer values that can inspire the everyday life of people, and also recall the principles of our religious traditions that can inspire wise economic and political policies and decisions,” Father Patton told CNS.
He noted that the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, which is in charge of holy places, is working on a pilot project to include environmental education in its local schools curriculum for the coming school year.
The impact of climate change can be easily ignored if a person lives in an acclimatized environment with the air conditioning on in the summer and heating on in the winter, said Father Patton, the son of a farmer in northern Italy. He told CNS he has seen how the harvest seasons have changed over the past 10 years.
“This means something has changed ... climate change is something which touches our lives,” he said.
Referring to the papal encyclical “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home,” Father Patton noted the value of an interfaith strategy toward environmental issues in the Holy Land in the form of an “integral ecology.” He said the issue is not only one of “environmental ecology” but also of “cultural ecology,” which “connects the ecological issue to many fields in a reciprocal relationship.”
“In this place, it is particularly important to have a linked vision, to work on a connection ... between different cultures (and religions) of Judaism, Islam and Christianity. This is an integral vision of ecology in the encyclical of Pope Francis,” Father Patton told CNS. “He speaks of the importance of dialogue between religions of different faiths in this field. We can work as people of goodwill.”
At the news conference, the religious leaders discussed the common respect for the environment and nature inherent in their religious traditions and holy books, and the responsibility these teachings entrust to people.
Despite the continuing political violence and struggle to control land not only in Jerusalem and the whole Middle East, but also around the world, people need to start discussing the issues of real importance concerning climate change and environmental sustainability before there is no land left to fight over, said Zahalka.
“Our lives are more important than all these issues,” he said. The issue of environmental sustainability “gives us the opportunity to rethink all these (political) issues and put them into context ... to focus and invest in what is really important, which is life.”
Father Patton said the creation of an interfaith environmental dialogue could even serve as a confidence-building measure between Israelis and Palestinians and others in the region, which could enable future discussions on social, political and religious issues.
“We received the gift of creation and, first and foremost, we are part of creation, we are not over creation. We have a shared responsibility toward this generation,” he told journalists. “We can cooperate for something important for every human being in the present and in the future.”
1 August 2017
Slovak Bishop Milan Lach smiles alongside Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States, during a Divine Liturgy on 21 July at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Parma, Ohio. Bishop Lach was welcomed as the new apostolic administrator of the Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Parma. (photo: CNS/Laura Leraci, Horizons Newspaper)
31 July 2017
Many Iraqis living in settlement camps in Erbil have been displaced from home, community and even family for years. But reports today indicate some are finally beginning to return home. Read about their plight in the current edition of ONE. (photo: John E. Kozar)
28 July 2017
A Byzantine Catholic parish in Ohio is drawing on its tradition and faith to post messages on a local billboard. The billboard reads, “Life is tough. We are praying for you.”
(photo: CNS/courtesy of St. Nicholas Byzantine Catholic Parish)
A glance, a thought, a prayer are what St. Nicholas Byzantine Catholic Parish had
hoped to inspire in commuters when it launched its first billboard campaign in 2015.
Now the parish, situated in Barberton, Ohio, has launched its sixth billboard campaign, with the message: “Life is tough. We are praying for you.”
The parish wants to communicate its prayerful presence and solidarity with community members in the midst of their daily struggles, said the pastor, Father Miron Kerul-Kmec.
A banner that measures 8 feet by 14 feet was hoisted up onto the side of the church building in mid-May, and since early July, an 8-foot-by-20-foot billboard has graced a busy intersection nearby. It will have an eight-week run.
“A billboard with a Christian message, if done correctly, has power,” said the pastor. “The church’s message on a billboard is not a product like any other.”
He gave the example of a previous campaign, which featured the prayer, “Lord, have mercy.”
“If a small percentage of people who passed by were encouraged to say this short prayer, it’s great and the world became a better place for this,” he said. “It is something small that can change your thoughts and bring you to something better.”
The new billboard is the communications component of the parish’s yearlong pastoral program, which will include catechesis on the Byzantine Catholic Divine Liturgy and prayer.
“Prayers are a very powerful tool for how to change your life,” he said. “There is a need to refresh our understanding of prayer. We can use this prayer which is given to us, the Divine Liturgy. We want to remind our faithful how precious the Diving Liturgy is. We pray for the whole world there.”
The parish belongs to the Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Parma, Ohio, and the idea of using advertising first came up in discussions among parishioners about the eparchy-wide pastoral plan. They decided advertising would help meet one of the parish objectives of “bringing Christian thought to people,” said the pastor.
All of the billboards draw on the Byzantine Catholic tradition and practice of the faith.
Parishioners opted for billboards over other media because, unlike radio and television where one can change the channel, a billboard “is something you cannot avoid,” he told Horizons, the eparchy’s newspaper.
“You drive this way every day to work and every day it is a reminder,” he said.
Cost was another factor. Father Kerul-Kmec said he was surprised by the relatively low costs. A four-week campaign at a location that receives 8,000 looks per week was priced at $500; the parish has contracted for eight weeks for each campaign.
The billboards were designed pro bono by parishioner Kurt Valenta, creative director for Advance Ohio, the marketing arm for cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer, Cleveland’s daily newspaper.
“If you want to touch the community, what better way than to put a billboard in the heart of it,” said Valenta, who has worked in advertising for 33 years. He pointed to market research that indicates the efficacy of outdoor advertising.
Commuters may not pay much mind to the billboard the first few times they drive by, but eventually “the repetition makes people think,” he said. He added he would counsel parishes against online banner ads, which can be very expensive.
Father Kerul-Kmec said the response to the billboards has been “satisfying” to date.
He said a commuter called him one night at 11 p.m. to tell him that he was “deeply touched” by the Christmas billboard campaign. Father Kerul-Kmec has also received positive feedback from guests at the soup kitchen where he and parishioners serve lunch regularly. Others have said the billboards are “refreshing” and that “the road looks better now,” he added.
“If people would come to (our) church that would be great,” he said. “But the point is to bring the remembrance of God to people. If people were touched and went to their own church, it’s OK. It is not the intention to pull people to our parish, but just to send the Christian message to the world and to let people know that we are here.”
“Even if one person is touched by this, it is worth it,” he said.
Valenta said he believes participating in advertising presents “no ethical dilemma whatsoever” for the church.
“We are bombarded by messages every day... and the church needs to get the word out. You need to be proactive or you’re not a player,” he said. “We need to be there.”
27 July 2017
Kidist Kassahun studies in her room in Dubbo, Ethiopia, near her prayer corner. To learn about how Catholic schools there are succeeding, read Head of the Class in the current edition of ONE.
(photo: Petterik Wiggers)
26 July 2017
Boys play under an overflowing dam along Powai Lake in Mumbai, India, on 20 July. Young Indian Catholics are set to travel to Yogyakarta, Indonesia next month for Asian Youth Day.
(photo: CNS/Shailesh Andrade, Reuters)
Young Indian Catholics set to participate in the upcoming seventh Asian Youth Day in Indonesia are expecting the event to change their perspectives on faith, reported ucanews.com.
They will join about 3,000 young people from 26 Asian countries in the Indonesian city for the summit, with the theme “Joyful Asian Youth: Living the Gospel in Multicultural Asia.”
The Indian participants are mostly youth leaders and aware of “what is happening in the church, its structure, way of functioning,” said Father Thomas.
“Interacting with other youths about their role in the church and ways of working and their exchanging about these experiences will be helpful for their lives,” he said.
Delegation members come from different regions of India and were chosen by their dioceses. All will cover their own costs, Father Thomas said.
Leon Pereira, vice president of the Indian Catholic Youth Movement, said he is among 12 chosen from Vasai Diocese and is looking forward to meeting young Catholics from various nations.
“They are coming from different backgrounds — their role in the church, way of prayers, and cultures will be different,” said Pereira.
“Interacting with them, I’m sure will strengthen our faith, our prayer life and our role in society.&rduo;
The 24-year-old said he was looking to forward to understanding how Catholics from other countries practice their faith.
Jenny Joy, 26, of Delhi Archdiocese said meeting Indians from different regions will be “an experience” because “we are different in our food habit, culture and language.”
Joy said India’s diversity will make it a challenge for the delegation to tell its whole story.
“Life situations, culture and language of Christians from different regions of India vary vastly, making it almost difficult to generalize the situation of Indian Christians,” she said.
25 July 2017
A boy carries his belongings in Mosul, Iraq, on 23 July. Some Iraqi Christians who are making their slow return to ancestral lands say it will take time to rebuild their lives and trust of those who betrayed them. (photo: CNS/Thaier Al-Sudani, Reuters)
As some Iraqi Christians make a slow return to the region around Mosul following the defeat of the Islamic State group, many say it will take time to rebuild their lives and even longer to rebuild their trust of those who betrayed them.
“The war isn’t finished yet and neither is the Islamic State. There is no stability and there is still fighting in Mosul,” said Patriarch Louis Sako, head of Iraq’s Chaldean Catholic Church, who visited Mosul on 20 July, touring churches left badly damaged during the city’s three-year occupation by the extremists.
“How can Christians return when there are homes destroyed and there are no services? But most important is safety. The return of Christians needs time,” Patriarch Sako warned, in remarks carried by Radio Free Europe.
Although Iraqi forces declared victory over Islamic State fighters in Mosul early in July, the patriarch said the region remains unstable, leaving Christians uncertain about their future in their historic homeland.
“Trust must be rebuilt because the Christians of this region have endured such abuse and violence, leaving deep wounds,” Patriarch Sako said.
Father Emanuel Youkhana, an Iraqi priest, or archimandrite, of the Assyrian Church of the East, also warned that although Islamic State may be defeated militarily, “it doesn’t mean that its mentality, ideology or culture will be ended.”
Father Youkhana, who runs the Christian Aid Program Northern Iraq, a program for displaced Iraqis around the city of Dahuk, spoke to Catholic News Service via Skype.
“The mentality of Islamic State in terms of accepting or recognizing others who are different is still there among people. Although we are happy for the liberation of Mosul, in reality, no Christian or Yezidi will go back to Mosul. I say this with pain,” he emphasized.
“Now is the time to think about alternative places to set up public services, health care, businesses and economics in the region,” perhaps to establish these in “one of the Ninevah Plains towns, such as Telaskov, to serve Christians, Yezidis and Muslims,” he said.
Many see Telaskov as a prime location for the reconstruction and rebuilding of lives to start in earnest, because Islamic State militants spent less than two weeks occupying it, so damage is minimal.
Telaskov translates as “Bishop’s Hill” and, before the Islamic State takeover, was a thriving town of 11,000.
“Now, more than 600 families have returned to Telaskov; those formally from the town and nearby Batnaya because it is not possible to return to Batnaya due to huge damage,” Father Youkhana said.
“Life is regained, markets are open, the church is functioning and hoping the schools will be open there as well by the beginning of the school year,” he said.
Christians have expressed concerns that the current military line dividing the once predominantly Christian Ninevah Plains region will harden to become a de facto political/administrative line, dividing their numbers. In the north are towns like Telaskov and Batnaya, and the Kurdistan Regional Government and the Kurdish peshmerga fighters hold sway. Towns south of the line — where Qaraqosh, Bartella, and Bashiqa are found — are now under the control of the Iraqi army and Shiite militias.
Father Youkhana’s CAPNI organization has been able to rehabilitate more than 180 houses and properties and 17 schools north of the military line, where there is greater stability.
He expressed concerns especially for towns south of the military line, like Qaraqosh, once the biggest Christian town of 50,000 before the Islamic State takeover in August 2014.
“The Shiites are now trying to monopolize it and other towns. We have the challenge about how to keep them. We believe there will be a Christian town of Qaraqosh. The question is: Who will rule it? Questions also arise about the physical connectivity of Qaraqosh to other Christian towns in the Ninevah Plains given the different political and military sides that control the divided area.
Father Youkhana also shared a fear expressed by Christians that the victims of Islamic State extremists such as themselves, the Yezidis and other religious minorities will again become victims in the reconstruction process.
“Our people are concerned that Arab Sunni Muslims who hosted and joined Islamic State and helped the extremists against us will be given priority in reconstruction of Mosul, perhaps from the Iraqi government and the Arab Gulf states,” he said. “The victims will be ignored and neglected.”
Christians are calling on the international community, along with the Iraqi government, to help them and other citizens from religious minority backgrounds. Often, Father Youkhana said, there are unfair expectations that all the help will come from Christians themselves or the Western churches.
“It is the government and the international community that should commit to support these people,” he said.
“To rehabilitate a house is not enough to return. Beyond the politics, the security, there is the livelihood of how families can survive. When 30 families are coming to a neighborhood in Qaraqosh, they need a grocery, a bakery, jobs,” he said.
“We fled in one night from the Islamic State; we may take one or two years to return home,” he added.
24 July 2017
Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, celebrates Mass in Marj Al Haman, Jordan, 23 July. (photo: CNS/Dale Gavlak)
Mideast church leaders meeting in Jordan developed a two-pronged action plan to help Catholic families.
Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, told Catholic News Service the first step was to “change completely the preparation for the religious Catholic marriage.” Archbishop Pizzaballa explained that a revised teaching would entail “not just the immediate preparation to marriage that currently exists, but to start earlier the instruction with Catholic youth about what exactly marriage means.”
Secondly, he said the church sought to “create counseling offices in order to avoid couples immediately going to the courts” to deal with family problems that might arise.
In many Arab countries, where Islam and Islamic law predominate, there are no civil laws regarding marriage and divorce. That means that the state relies on religious bodies such as Catholic family law courts to certify marriages.
Often, civil divorce is impossible for Catholics in the Middle East, with many resorting to leaving the faith — becoming Orthodox or even Muslim — in order to find a tribunal that will allow them to escape their marriage.
With the Year of Mercy that began in late 2015, the church streamlined procedures for annulment cases, which have become a matter of urgency in many societies in the Middle East.
Archbishop Pizzaballa spoke to Catholic News Service 23 July after the conference’s closing Mass at Martyrs of Jordan Church. Delegations of clerics, judges and lawyers specializing in canon law from Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, the Palestinian territories, Israel and Jordan participated in conference, which discussed a number of legal issues relating to marriage and the family. The proceedings were chaired by Father Emil Salayta, president of the church court in Jerusalem.
Archbishop Pizzaballa told CNS it is important to enhance the training for young people to “explain the meaning of a Catholic marriage and all the mutual commitments involved and to let them understand, with time in advance, what a Catholic marriage truly is.”
He said the main purpose of the conference was to help priests and lawyers who work in courts understand new regulations following Pope Francis’ September document bringing the basic legal instruments that govern the Latin- and Eastern-rite Catholic churches more closely into accord on several issues involving baptism and marriage.
“The decision has just been taken. Now we need to sit down with the pastoral offices, people, and other concerned offices to see what to do in order to build this,” Archbishop Pizzaballa said.
“We cannot expect in one year to have everything ready, but to build it. We are aware of the problem and we have to find not-easy solutions,” he said.
Archbishop Pizzaballa said today’s youth often have a “completely different mentality” about commitment, and preparations are needed to help them to make lasting ones.
“In the past, the youth used to ask: ‘Why do this?’ Now they ask ‘Why not?’” he said.
The papal nuncio to Jordan and Iraq, Archbishop Alberto Ortega Martin, stressed that “Amoris Laetitia,” Pope Francis’ 2016 apostolic exhortation after two synods of bishops on the family, shows the importance of compassion that should be exercised by the church, especially on the subject of families.
He told conference participants that the Catholic courts should serve the law, demonstrate compassion and love through their judges and lawyers, and be witnesses to the greatness of marriage.
21 July 2017
The convent of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena in Qaraqosh sustained damage during the occupation. (photo: John E. Kozar/CNEWA)
In the current edition of ONE, CNEWA’s president Msgr. John E. Kozar reflects on the challenges facing the people of Iraq:
The overwhelming need for those who are still considering returning home is the need for security at several levels. They seek assurances of a national government that guarantees them protection and their basic human and religious rights; they also seek local governance that will provide basic services; and they especially want freedom to maintain their faith and to worship as they please.
The insecurities are deep and the trust is lacking, so many have decided to wait and see before they make their final decision to return or to move on, whatever that might mean.
Despite the uncertainties and all the misery that accompanies those who are displaced, they find in the church a source of comfort and hope. Through Christ’s sacramental presence in the Eucharist and in many good works of charity and mercy, the church represents for them a beacon of the light of Christ and a reason to endure. Nothing is certain for the refugees, except the love of God for all, especially as Jesus has shared with them on the cross.
Read more and see more pictures as this link.
20 July 2017
Men carry the casket of Israeli policeman Hail Sethawi 14 July who was killed in an attack at the Temple Mount compound in the Old City of Jerusalem. The heads of Jerusalem’s Christian churches have expressed “serious concern” over rising tensions and violence in the Old City.
(photo: CNS/Ancho Gosh, EPA)
The heads of Jerusalem’s Christian churches expressed “serious concern” over an escalation in tensions in Jerusalem’s Old City as hostilities remained high following the mid-July shooting deaths of two Israeli policemen and three gunmen on the Al-Aqsa mosque compound.
The church leaders said they were worried that any change to the status quo of the site could “easily lead to serious and unpredictable consequences.”
Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, and Franciscan Father Francesco Patton, custos of the Holy Land, were among the signatories of the 19 July statement.
Police believe the gunmen — three cousins, Arab citizens of Israel who were killed by Israel police — stashed their weapons inside the compound of the holy site for use in the 14 July attack.
“We express ... our grief for the loss of human life and strongly condemn any act of violence,” the Christian leaders said. “We are worried about any change to the historical situation in Al-Aqsa Mosque (Haram ash-Sharif) and its courtyard, and in the holy city of Jerusalem. ... We value the continued custody of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan on Al-Aqsa mosque and the holy places in Jerusalem and the Holy Land, which guarantees the right for all Muslims to free access and worship to Al-Aqsa according to the prevailing status quo.”
Israel, which maintains control to access the site and has set up metal detectors at the entrance of the compound, repeatedly has said it has no intentions of changing the status quo in the area. The Jordanian Waqf Islamic trust administers the inside of the compound. Non-Muslims are allowed to visit the site but cannot pray there.
The compound, known to Jews as the Temple Mount, is also considered a Jewish holy site as the historical location of the two Jewish biblical temples. Today, Jews pray at the Western Wall, a retaining wall of the platform, below the compound. Visitors to the Western Wall plaza must go through metal detectors to enter the site.
Jerusalem Muslim leaders have called on worshipers not to go through the metal detectors, and Muslims have been converging outside the Old City’s Lion’s Gate for prayers instead.
“We renew our call that the historical status quo governing these sites be fully respected, for the sake of peace and reconciliation to the whole community, and we pray for a just and lasting peace in the whole region and all its people,” the Jerusalem church leaders said.
On 14 July, the same day as the attack, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops condemned the incident as a “desecration.” The bishops said they mourned for those killed and deplored “the heightened tensions that such an attack can span.” They noted that the “path to peace, for which both Israelis and Palestinians yearn, cannot be paved with violence.”