15 January 2015
The altar, or Holy of Holies, is seldom revealed during the liturgy at Debra Zion.
(photo: Sean Sprague)
In 2005, we took readers inside one of the oldest active religious communities in Ethiopia, Debra Zion:
We climbed out of the boat and walked toward Debra Zion Church, atop a hill less than a mile away. We were soon joined by a group of islanders, each bowing to the archbishop and kissing the cross he carried in his right hand.
At the church, we met Abba (Father) Mariam Samuel, one of the island’s three monks. Wearing a flat cotton hat, black cassock and a bright yellow shawl, he looked younger than his 43 years.
“I have been a monk for 23 years, but I was assigned here just two years ago,” he said. The three monks live in community, subsisting on a $5-per-month stipend as well as small gifts from the community. There are also five priests on the island.
Joining Abba Mariam Samuel was Abba Gebre Mariam, 66, a priest native to Tullu Gudo. He is a balding man with a weak back and huge smile. Like the archbishop, Abba Gebre Mariam carries a wooden cross, always ready to bless a passerby.
The islanders are known as “Lak’i,” he said, descendants of the Aksumites and speak a language that dates to the old empire. Some 25,000 Lak’i live in the general area, many of whom abandoned the island at one point or another because of the harsh living conditions.
“There is dire poverty on the island,” said Abba Gebre Mariam, who is married and has eight children.
Poverty exists throughout Ethiopia, but it is indeed “dire” on this island. The Lak’i of Tullu Gudo live in round stone huts covered with thatch. There is no electricity or running water — drinking water is carried from wells. There are no roads or automobiles, though dirt paths abound.
Until recently, fishing was the main source of income. Lake Ziway was flush with tilapia, which the islanders would sell at mainland markets. Due to overfishing, the lake has been closed to commercial fishermen.
Farming is seasonal; there is no irrigation. My visit, in late autumn, marked the end of the rainy season. Fields of barley, wheat and maize, which grow on the island’s lowlands, were almost ready for harvest. The terraces I saw from the boat stand neglected, carved out of the hills when Tullu Gudo was more densely populated and more provisions were needed.
Some islanders also raise cows, goats and donkeys for transportation. Many households also have a few chickens. A traditional society, the men are responsible for fishing and farming while the women tend the home.
Tullu Gudo has had a primary school for 26 years, but there is not a single shop. Anything not produced on the island must be brought from the mainland.
“One change for the good has been the construction of our new church,” Abba Gebre Mariam said. “Here we live by our faith.”
Read more about Ethiopia’s Island Sanctuary in the January 2005 edition of ONE.
14 January 2015
Pope Francis shakes hands with Hindu Kurukkal SivaSri T. Mahadeva after receiving a robe from him during a meeting with religious leaders at the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on 13 January. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
13 January 2015
Tags: Pope Francis Interreligious Interfaith Hindu Hinduism
Sylvana Akiki and her husband work in the Lebanon bakery they started with a microcredit loan from CNEWA. The bakery has given them a new lease on life. The Akikis are able to sell what they bake to various schools and shops in their neighborhood, and can now support their family as a result. To learn more, check out this blog post. (photo: CNEWA)
12 January 2015
Iraqi refugee children pose outside the Syriac Catholic Church of Our Lady’s Assumption in Amman, Jordan, in late October. (photo: CNS/Barb Fraze)
Catholic News Service has an update on the situation among Iraqi refugees in Jordan:
A Catholic official warned that funding will soon run out to feed and house thousands of Iraqi Christians sheltering in Jordan after being made homeless by Islamic State militants.
Syriac Catholic Fr. Noor Alqasmosa, who is charged with helping the refugees, told Catholic News Service that the funding situation is desperate, as the chances for many to restart a new life now further dim.
The priest said many Iraqi Christians probably will not be able to seek resettlement in Western countries in 2015 because these countries appear to give priority to Syrians fleeing their nearly four-year conflict.
“I was shocked when I was told that neither the U.S. nor the EU would take in Iraqi Christians from Mosul and Ninevah for resettlement,” said Noor, as he prefers to be called.
“We had everything in Mosul and left with nothing,” the Iraqi priest said following recent talks with UN and foreign government officials in the Jordanian capital.
“We have Caritas funding lasting just until the end of February to help the 7,000 Iraqi Christians in Jordan,” the priest said, his voice lowering with concern and strain visible on his face. “There is no hope among the people. They believe the world has abandoned them and are leaving them to die.”
Read more. Keep the suffering people of Iraq in your prayers. And please visit this giving page to lend your support.
8 January 2015
Pope Francis greets Tahsin Said Ali Beg, a leader of the Yazidi people, and other members of the delegation during a private audience at the Vatican on 8 January. The delegation spoke about the good relations between Christians and Yazidis and their efforts to help one another.
(photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)
In his appeals for an end to the persecution of minorities in Syria and Iraq, Pope Francis often has mentioned both the Christians and the Yazidis attacked by Islamic State fighters. Today he met with representatives of the Yazidis.
For more than half an hour on 8 January, Pope Francis met with global leaders of the Yazidi ethnic and religious group, including their secular leader Tahsin Said Ali Beg and Sheikh Kato, who is their spiritual leader or “Baba Sheikh.”
Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said that in addition to the two leaders who live in Iraqi Kurdistan, other representatives of the community came from northern Iraq, Georgia and Germany, where many have fled.
Thanking Pope Francis for his support, one of the delegates referred to the Pope as “father of the poor,” Father Lombardi said.
The Yazidi are a Kurdish community with a monotheistic religion with Zoroastrian and other influences. When militants of the Islamic State proclaimed a caliphate in June 2014 and began their rampage through Syria and northeastern Iraq, they particularly targeted Christians and Yezidis. They tried to covert many to Islam, killed thousands and drove tens of thousands from their homes with almost no warning.
Thanking the Pope for his support “during this time of persecution and suffering,” the delegation informed the Pope about “the situation of about 5,000 Yezidi women reduced to slavery” by the Islamic State, Father Lombardi said.
Read more at the CNS link.
7 January 2015
In this image from 2012, Father John Cox of Dormition of the Theotokos Church in Norfolk, Virginia, throws a cross into the Chesapeake Bay on the Feast of the Epiphany. To learn more about the Orthodox Church in America read this profile from ONE magazine.
(photo: Stephen Katz)
To mark Epiphany, many members of the Orthodox Church take part in the blessing of water. The Orthodox Church of America website explains:
The main feature of the feast of the Epiphany is the Great Blessing of Water. It is prescribed to follow both the Divine Liturgy of the eve of the feast and the Divine Liturgy of the day itself. Usually it is done just once in parish churches at the time when most people can be present. It begins with the singing of special hymns and the censing of the water which has been placed in the center of the church building. Surrounded by candles and flowers, this water stands for the beautiful world of God’s original creation and ultimate glorification by Christ in the Kingdom of God. Sometimes this service of blessing is done out of doors at a place where the water is flowing naturally.
...After the epistle (1 Cor 1:10-14) and the gospel reading (Mk 1:9-11) the special great litany is chanted invoking the grace of the Holy Spirit upon the water and upon those who will partake of it. It ends with the great prayer of the cosmic glorification of God in which Christ is called upon to sanctify the water, and all men and all creation, by the manifestation of his saving and sanctifying divine presence by the indwelling of the Holy and Good and Life-creating Spirit.
As the troparion of the feast is sung, the celebrant immerses the Cross into the water three times and then proceeds to sprinkle the water in the four directions of the world. He then blesses the people and their homes with the sanctified water which stands for the salvation of all men and all creation which Christ has effected by his “epiphany” in the flesh for the life of the world.
Sometimes people think that the blessing of water and the practice of drinking it and sprinkling it over everyone and everything is a “paganism” which has falsely entered the Christian Church. We know, however, that this ritual was practiced by the People of God in the Old Testament, and that in the Christian Church it has a very special and important significance.
It is the faith of Christians that since the Son of God has taken human flesh and has been immersed in the streams of the Jordan, all matter is sanctified and made pure in him, purged of its death-dealing qualities inherited from the devil and the wickedness of men. In the Lord’s epiphany all creation becomes good again, indeed “very good,” the way that God himself made it and proclaimed it to be in the beginning when “the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters” (Gen 1:2) and when the “Breath of Life” was breathing in man and in everything that God made (Gen 1:30; 2:7).
6 January 2015
A frankincense farmer cuts the bark of a tree to release resin. (photo: Ilene Perlman)
Today marks the Solemnity of Epiphany, commemorating the visit of the magi to the Christ child, bringing him gold, frankincense and myrrh.
In 2003, we took a closer look at the history behind these legendary gifts, particularly frankincense:
The Egyptians embalmed their kings with frankincense and considered the fruit of the Boswellia or frankincense tree the perfume of the gods that, when collected and preserved correctly, ensured immortality. Pliny noted in the first century A.D. how control of the frankincense trade had made the southern Arabians the richest people in the world. It was said the trees were so valuable that snakes guarded them.
Today, in Oman’s southernmost region of Dhofar, which borders Saudi Arabia’s vast and empty Rub al-Khali desert to the north and west and the upper curve of southern Yemen to the south, the stubby, thorny trees live where little else will. The trees can only grow when a complex set of conditions has been met: limestone soil and a climate with high humidity in a desert that receives little rain.
In Oman, frankincense accounted for three-quarters of the country’s gross national product until the bottom fell out of what was once a thriving trade. The finest grades of frankincense are still used for high-end perfume manufacturing. But gums of all grades can be found in the local souqs, especially “frankincense alley” in the country’s southern port of Salalah and the perfume market at Mutrah Souq in Oman’s capital, Muscat. The people who buy are local, burning it for its antiseptic purposes, perfuming hair with the smoke, chewing it for digestion.
The frankincense trees release their aromatic amber for only a few weeks in late summer. Gathering the resin has been a family-run business for centuries. Then, as now, the harvesting skill has been passed from father to son.
Read the rest in Scents of Time and Place.
5 January 2015
In this image from October, Ethiopian Archbishop Berhaneyesus Demerew Souraphiel of Addis Ababa arrives for the opening session of the extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family at the Vatican. Archbishop Souraphiel, 66, was one of 20 new cardinals named by Pope Francis on 4 January. You can read more about the Ethiopian Catholic Church here. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
31 December 2014
Santa Clauses parade through the streets of Thrissur, India, on 27 December. The Archdiocese of Thrissur created a new Guinness World Record when they assembled 18,112 Santa Clauses on the streets and broke the existing record set by Londonerry, Northern Ireland, with 13,000. Read more about this event here. (photo: CNS/Anto Akkara)
30 December 2014
A sister of the Congregation of the Mother of Carmel, one of CNEWA’s partner organizations in India, feeds ducks in Aluva, India. (photo: Sean Sprague)
Tags: India Sisters Indian Catholics