7 December 2016
Palestinians walk past a shop selling Christmas decorations on 5 December near Manger Square in Bethlehem, West Bank. After two Christmas seasons in which the political reality had overtaken holiday cheer, people seem primed to finally feel some merriment in Bethlehem.
(photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)
Even the Christmas decorations seem more cheerful this year in Bethlehem.
A new display of Santa’s reindeer and sleigh were about to alight at the main traffic circle on Manger Street, and a big white Christmas tree made of lights perched merrily next to them. The official Christmas tree in Nativity Square was a focus of great commotion as pilgrims and locals struck poses for photos and selfies on 5 December. A few days earlier, at the official tree lighting ceremony, the square was packed with hundreds of onlookers ready to welcome the Christmas season to the birthplace of Jesus.
After two Christmas seasons in which the political reality had overtaken holiday cheer, people seemed primed to finally feel some merriment in Bethlehem. In 2014, the summer Gaza war was still keeping away tourists, and last year a spate of stabbings and shootings overshadowed any hope of holiday cheer.
This year, the Israeli separation barrier construction continues to slowly creep around Bethlehem, creating an isolated enclave. There has been no real move toward a long-term peace agreement, nor any easing of travel restrictions or any significant improvement in the economic or political situations, but Palestinians are embracing what they can of the holiday spirit.
Storekeepers like Muslim Samer Laham, 37, whose front entrance displays rows of hanging Santa Claus hats, are putting out their Christmas wares and readying for the celebrations.
“People haven’t started buying the hats yet, but they will in a few more days,” said Laham confidently.
Ashraf and Shahad Natsheh, who are also Muslim, took the afternoon to come from Hebron, West Bank, to take pictures of their 10-month-old daughter Na’ara in front of the official Bethlehem Christmas tree with its life-sized creche and gold-colored ornaments.
“The atmosphere is definitely better than last year, the roads are open and there is more calm,” said Shahad Natsheh, 26. “We come to see the tree because it is beautiful.”
Ian Knowles, the British director of the Bethlehem Icon Centre on historic Star Street, which used to be the main thoroughfare into the city center, said although people are still a bit apprehensive about the general situation, “Christmas hope still flickers.”
Seeing the apparent defeat of Islamic State in several battles in Iraq and Syria has also brought a sense of optimism to the Christian community, which had harbored fears that they might be next if the militants were not stopped, he said.
“People here have family in Jordan and Lebanon, and they were feeling (that this) could happen to them,” said Knowles. “Now they are watching as Christians are slowly returning to their churches and celebrating Masses in the charred remains.”
Catholic tattoo artist Walid Ayash, 39, and his staff stayed up almost half the night cleaning his tattoo studio and barber shop and putting up Christmas decorations.
“Two days ago they lit up the Christmas tree in the city. Everybody is happy. The kids are happy. I have four kids and they are happy,” he said. “Last year it was very sad, the situation was bad, but we hope this year will be better than before.”
“I want to be happy with my family. I am very religious. I thank God I am in Bethlehem. We celebrate. My workers dress like Santa Claus and throw candy for the children. The kids will be here, the atmosphere will be happy. You know, it’s Christmas,” he said.
Cradling one of his white doves — “peace pigeons” as he has dubbed them — in his hands in their rooftop roost above Star Street, Anton Ayoub Mussalam, 75, who is Catholic, said everyone is waiting for Christmas.
From 1987 until 2015, he and his wife, Mary had not had permission to go to Jerusalem, where one of their daughters lives.
“Maybe there will be a happy Christmas,” Mussalam said. “We hope everyone will be happy. We hope there will be a small piece of peace. We need peace like we need food and water.”
6 December 2016
A gift from the Catholicos Patriarch llia II of the Orthodox Church of Georgia, this 18th-century Russian icon of St. Nicholas hangs in CNEWA’s New York offices.
Today, the universal church celebrates the feast of St. Nicholas. Several years ago, CNEWA’s Michael J.L. La Civita paid tribute to this beloved saint:
Nowhere is the universal nature of St. Nicholas’s popularity more apparent than in the southern Italian city of Bari. In early May I traveled to this bustling port, the capital of Puglia, an agricultural region hugging the Adriatic coast. While traveling through the region I observed bands of nomads, grasping decorated staffs and burdened with backpacks. When I mistook them for Albanian refugees, my traveling companion informed me that these travelers were making an annual pilgrimage to Bari. There, on 9 May, in an impressive medieval basilica that bears his name, the church celebrates the “translation” of the relics of St. Nicholas to Bari.
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.”
One of the most powerful stories reveals Nicholas’s compassion for the poor. There were three young girls whose father had lost his fortune and, consequently,
their dowries. Due to their poverty, the girls were ignored by all the eligible men. Moved by their plight, Nicholas, under the cover of darkness, went to the man’s home and dropped a bag of gold through an open window. Finding the gold the following morning, the man was overwhelmed and, thanking God, married off his eldest girl.
Several nights later, Nicholas secretly deposited a second bag of gold. Dumbfounded, the man used it for his second daughter’s dowry.
The man, however, was determined to identify his benefactor and waited for the unknown person’s appearance. Again, under the cover of darkness, Nicholas left yet another sum of gold. Hearing a thump, the man rose to his feet and caught up with his mysterious benefactor, whom he recognized immediately. Nicholas demanded silence, binding the man to an oath never to reveal his identity.
St. Nicholas’s generous spirit continues to inspire countless people around the world (where do you think we get the idea of Santa Claus?) and his compassion toward the poor and needy also animates our work here at CNEWA. May he continue to enliven our hearts during this special time of year — and always!
5 December 2016
In this image from Sunday, Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill consecrates a prominent new church in Paris, Saint Trinity, on the banks of the Seine. The complex containing the church is owned by the Russian government and includes a cultural center and a school.
Read more and see more images here.
(photo: Dominique Boutin/TASS via Getty Images)
2 December 2016
On 27 November, Bishop Lisane-Christos Matheos Semahun baptized 300 people in the Eparchy of Bhair Dar-Dessie, the newest jurisdiction in Ethiopia. (photo: Vatican Radio)
The bishop of the Ethiopian Catholic Eparchy of Bahir Dar-Dessie baptized 300 catechumens among the people of Gumuz, in Banshagul Gumuz Regional State, this week, on the Feast of the Miraculous Medal, 27 November. Many of the newly baptized converted from local traditional religions to Catholicism. Most of the catechumens are from a place known as Banush, a very remote area located 600 km (about 370 miles) from the capital, Addis Ababa.
At the the people’s request, Bishop Lisane-Christos Matheos Semahun, of the Eparch of Bahir Dar-Dessie, blessed and erected a cross and a bell on the future site of a church. Another cross was placed at the community’s cemetery as a sign of a new Christian community. The Bishop with the help of six priests then baptized the 300 new Christians who comprised old, young, men and women, as well as some infants.
In his homily, the bishop said that the day was a joyous one.
“God is Great, and God is a Father to all of us; we say the ‘Our Father’ prayer here and throughout the world and this proves that we are all children of one God, who created everyone equally and with the same human dignity. Today when you receive this great Sacrament of Baptism, you become sons and daughters of God, people of God and members of the Church. This brings great joy in heaven and great joy on earth for the entire Church,” said Bishop Lisane-Christos, congratulating the new followers of Christ.
The bishop also noted that the community was evangelized by a local young man named Takel. It was Takel who first brought the request of the village to the Church’s attention, asking the Church authorities to bring the light of Christ to his community in the remote area of Banush.
The Bishop stressed the importance of continued evangelization in the area saying there still many people who have not been as lucky as the Banush community.
“The testimony of one young believer and the diligent efforts of the pastoral agents of the Catholic Church have brought 300 more children of God home. However, there are still more of our brothers and sisters who have not yet received the Good News of the Lord, and with God’s grace we shall continue to shine the light of our Lord and spread the Good News,” the bishop said.
The newly baptized Christians celebrated by lighting candles as a sign of the light of Christ shining in them. They sang in the local language: “We know what we trust in.” The ceremony was attended by families of the baptized, the clergy, religious men and women, catechists and the faithful from different parishes of diocese.
The Eparch of Bahir Dar-Dessie is the youngest Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction of the Ethiopian Catholic Church. Currently, there are more than 500 catechumens in neighboring villages who are eagerly waiting to be baptized. The Catholic Church first went to the Gumuz people 15 years ago. Three Comboni sisters planted the first seed of faith: Sister Jamilety, Sister Tilda, and Sister Bertila. The sisters first arrived in Mandura district and begun the work of evangelization.
1 December 2016
This image from 2013 shows Nuhad George Ghazala, who left Baghdad in 2010 with her husband and four children. She’s among many who have tried to make a new start in Jordan. Read about them in Out of Iraq from the Spring 2013 edition of ONE. (photo: Cory Eldridge)
30 November 2016
In this picture from September, Pope Francis is greeted by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople during an interfaith peace gathering at the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, Italy. (photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano handout via Reuters)
Today, 30 November, marks the feast of St. Andrew, the man traditionally held to be the founder of the See of Byzantium, which later became the Patriarchate of Constantinople.
At the conclusion of his general audience today, Pope Francis sent special greetings to “the beloved Patriarch Bartholomew” — the successor of Peter extending his warm wishes to the successor of Peter’s brother and doing so, as he put it, “in a spirit of genuine fraternity.”
Vatican Radio notes:
Pope Francis expressed his desire to be united to the patriarch and to the Church of Constantinople, offering them his “best wishes for all possible goods, for all the blessings of the Lord, and a warm embrace.”
A delegation from the Holy See, bearing a message from Pope Francis, is in Istanbul for a visit to the patriarchate on the Apostle’s feast day. The customary visit is reciprocated each year on the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul in Rome.
The Holy See delegation was led by Cardinal Kurt Koch, the president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. Cardinal Koch was accompanied by the council’s secretary, Bishop Brian Farrell, and the under-secretary, Monsignor Andrea Palmieri. The delegation was joined in Constantinople by the apostolic nuncio in Turkey, Archbishop Paul Russell.
The delegation took part in the solemn Divine Liturgy offered by the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew, in the Patriarchal Church of St. George at the Phanar. They also met with the patriarch, as well as with the synodal commission on relations with the Catholic Church.
Following the Divine Liturgy, Cardinal Koch delivered an autograph message of Pope Francis to the ecumenical patriarch, accompanied by a gift.
In the message, Pope Francis said the annual exchange of delegations is “a visible sign of the profound bonds that already unite us” as well as “an expression of our yearning for ever deeper communion.” In the journey toward full communion, he said, “we are sustained by the intercession not only of our patron saints, but by the array of martyrs from every age.”
Pope Francis also noted “the strong commitment” to re-establishing Christian unity expressed by the Great and Holy Council held in Crete in June. The pope noted that relations between the churches have, at times, been marked by conflicts; “only prayer, common good works, and dialogue,” he said, “can enable us to overcome division and grow closer to one another.”
The Holy Father also wrote about the importance of theological dialogue, and especially the shared reflection on the relationship between synodality and primacy in the first millennium. This reflection, he said, “can offer a sure foundation for discerning ways in which primacy may be exercised in the church when all Christians of East and West are finally reconciled.”
Finally, Pope Francis fondly recalled his meeting with Patriarch Bartholomew and other Christian leaders and representatives of various world religions in Assisi. The Assisi gathering, he said, was a joyful opportunity to deepen our friendship, which finds expression in a shared vision regarding the great questions that affect the life of the church and of all society. He concluded his message with an assurance of prayer and best wishes for the ecumenical patriarch, and all those entrusted to his spiritual care.
You can read the full text of the pope’s message at this link.
28 November 2016
Tags: Pope Francis Ecumenism Christian Unity Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I
The Rev. Remzi Diril, also known as Father Adday, celebrates the liturgy at an apartment in Kirsehir, Turkey, on 10 November. (photo: CNS/Oscar Durand)
Holding a golden chalice and paten with a single hand, Father Remzi Diril slowly moved from one person to another, distributing the Eucharist. He reached for a consecrated host, dipped it in the chalice, and gave it to a woman in her 40s, whose head was covered with a veil.
With chants in the background and incense filling the air, the moment inspired reverence. Yet the liturgy was not in a church; it was in an apartment in Kirsehir, a small, conservative city in the heart of Turkey, a Muslim-majority country.
Being the only Chaldean Catholic priest in charge of pastoral work in Turkey, Father Adday, as he is known, has become a true itinerant priest, a road warrior who, each year, logs thousands of miles tending his flock, the community of Iraqi Christian refugees in Turkey. Their exact number is unknown, but it is estimated to be 40,000.
Since he was ordained two years ago, Father Adday, 34, has baptized more than 200 children, married more than 20 couples and administered the Anointing of the Sick to more than 30 people. He also is on his fifth suitcase.
“So far this year we have celebrated first Communion for more than 100 children. And last year it was more than 150,” he said.
On a recent hourlong flight from his base in Istanbul to Nevsehir, a city in central Turkey, Father Adday sat comfortably in the emergency exit row of a plane from a low-cost airline.
“There is more legroom here,” Father Adday said; his eyes locked on the airline’s magazine crossword.
The trip’s cost is an important factor considering that the church is not able to reimburse his expenses. That only happens when there is an official function or religious festival. More often it is the priest, or the families he visits, who pay for the trip.
“It is easier for them to help me with my travel expenses than to pay, for a family of 10, for a trip to Istanbul," Father Adday explained.
Once he arrives at his destination, the priest relies on a support network who connects him to the local community of Iraqi Christians.
From Nevsehir Father Adday took a 60-mile bus ride to Kirsehir, where he met Adnan Barbar and his wife, Faten Somo. This was the priest's eight time in the city.
“This is my family in Kirsehir. In every city, I have a family. Sometimes more than one,” he said.
The couple acts as Father Adday’s local liaison. After welcoming the priest to their apartment with the customary tea and sweets, Barbar and Somo got on their cellphones. They were familiar with the city’s 225 Iraqi Christian families, and they were assembling the priest’s itinerary.
This area of Turkey is a pivotal place in the history of Christianity. Early Christians came here escaping persecution in the Roman Empire. Remains of the churches they built can still be visited today. However, no Catholic churches function in this part of the country. And when Father Adday visits, Mass is celebrated in homes, as the early Christians also did.
Celebrating the liturgy in a public hall would allow more people to attend, but renting a hall costs about $900, which can be better spent traveling to visit more families.
On average, 10 families are invited to each Mass, and 30 people attend. This allows for an experience different from the one felt in a church.
“A Mass in a house is more like a family. Father and children sharing the glory of God,” Father Adday said. “I would say it is like watching a film in a movie theater versus watching it at home with your family.”
After the liturgy, the priest visited Marta Kiryakos, a woman from Bartella, Iraq, suffering from cancer. Her daughter, Nadira, opened the door of the bedroom, crying, worried about her mother's health. Kiryakos' condition is delicate, and the priest prayed for several minutes as he anointed her temples and forehead with oils.
Many of the people Father Adday visits have spent several years in Turkey, waiting for an answer to their asylum applications to countries such as Australia, Canada and the United States. The process is long, and this time in limbo has caused many people physical and psychological problems.
“People need spiritual help. They need a priest. They want the church with them. I can’t give them material things, but I can give them my time and give them hope,” the priest said.
Father Adday and the Iraqi refugees he serves are Assyrian, an ethnic group from the Middle East. Their language — Assyrian — is related to the language Jesus spoke, Aramaic.
But their connection is not only the ethnic group and language. When Father Adday was a child, his village in southeast Turkey was burned during the Kurdish-Turkish conflict. He and his family had to move to Istanbul.
That is another reason that keeps Father Adday on the road with the people.
“When you leave your sheep in the mountain, you don’t know what will happen to them. But when you are with them it is different. You can show them where the water is; where there is a good place to stay. They are like children waiting for their father,” he said.
After two intense days and one night in Kirsehir, Father Adday prepared to return to Istanbul. He celebrated five liturgies and visited multiple families, but he said he was not tired.
“I hope that my visits allow them to become more spiritual and in touch with the church, and to refresh their belief in Jesus. Every Christian needs to refresh his spiritual life,” he said.
“I also hope to give them hope and remind them ... that God makes miracles, and for that they need to believe. I tell them let God do the working for you. He is our Father and he wants the best for you,” Father Adday said.
23 November 2016
At St. Mary’s, a Byzantine Catholic church in Kingston, Pennsylvania, parishioners make peroghi. (photo: Cody Christopulos).
As families in the United States gather together for Thanksgiving Day — and abundant feasting — we’re reminded of other cultures that have their own celebrated food traditions. In 2005, we took a look at some Eastern European delicacies in a corner of Pennsylvania:
In the early 20th century many Ruthenian immigrants came from villages in Slovakia, Poland and Ukraine to work in the coal mines of Pennsylvania. St. Mary Protector, a Byzantine Catholic church in Kingston, near Wilkes-Barre, was founded to serve these immigrants, whose descendants have stayed in the area long after the mines shut down.
Four times a year St. Mary’s holds a peroghi sale, twice during the 40-day Filipovka fast before Christmas and twice during the 40-day Great Fast before Easter.
For each sale, about 30 volunteers spend two days making 4,000 potato peroghi. Church fund-raisers selling Ruthenian food are common in most parts of Pennsylvania, including my hometown of Bethlehem. (The regional popularity of peroghi is such that Pittsburgh is called the “peroghi capital of the world.”) The language and many of the traditions of the old country may fade, but its foods bind the generations together. Such is the American “melting pot.”
Read more from the January 2005 edition of ONE.
22 November 2016
Tags: Cultural Identity United States Eastern Europe Cuisine
A glimpse inside the wooden church in Ladomirova, Slovakia. To learn more about these remarkable churches, read Rooted in Wood from the May 2008 edition of ONE.
(photo: Andrej Bán )
21 November 2016
Children gather for religion class taught by the Rev. Androwas Bahus at St. Andrea the Apostle Melkite Catholic Church in Israel. To learn more, check out A Day in the Life of an Israeli Priest from the Winter 2015 edition of ONE. (photo: Ilene Perlman)