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Volume 45, Number 3
17 October 2011
Antin Sloboda

Participants in MASI’s 2011 Study Days, an academic and spiritual conference to enlighten and deepen the faith of Eastern and Western Christians alike.

As you may already know, this week CNEWA Canada and the Sheptytsky Institute are organizing a special symposium in Ottawa on the future of Christianity in the Middle East. Now, I would like to tell you more about The Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies (MASI) — a long-time collaborator of CNEWA that celebrates its 25th anniversary this weekend.

This Institute is named after the greatest leader of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky (1865-1944). Metropolitan Sheptytsky was a forerunner of Catholic-Orthodox ecumenism who made significant contributions to the enhancement of relations between the East and West.

The institute was established in 1986 at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago and in 1990 it moved to its present location at Saint Paul University in Ottawa. The Institute is the leading North American school specializing in Eastern Christian Studies. In the 25 years of its existence almost 100 students have graduated and many more have participated in the Institute's special programs. The Institute also publishes an award-winning theological review in three languages: English, French and Ukrainian.

Over the last few years CNEWA was able to help the Institute with scholarships to students from Ukraine. Because of this CNEWA/MASI cooperation, many young Ukrainian scholars received graduate degrees and participated in the Institute’s theological programs in the summer. I am also proud to share with you that one of these participants (Sheptytsky Institute’s 1995 Summer Intensive Program) was Father Sviatoslav Shevchuk, who this year was elected as the Head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.

To learn more about the Sheptytsky Institute and its programs, please visit its website.

Tags: Ecumenism Eastern Christianity CNEWA Canada

17 October 2011
Erin Edwards

In a grove near the West Bank city of Nablus a woman sorts olives. (photo: Ahikam Seri)

Yesterday, Israel announced the names of 477 Palestinian prisoners who will be released in exchange for a soldier held by Hamas. Many of the prisoners were convicted of violent and deadly crimes committed against Palestinians and Israelis:

They also noted that of the 6,000 or so remaining Palestinian prisoners in Israel, hundreds were being held without being charged while others were held under administrative detention for crimes amounting to political activism. And they said Israelis and others minimized the terrible toll on the families of people held for years, not knowing if or when they would be released.

“One of the reasons we want Palestine to be recognized as a state by the United Nations is so that our people being held by Israel will be recognized for what they are: prisoners of war under the Geneva Convention,” a top intelligence official in Ramallah said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not permitted to speak publicly.

All of this comes as Palestinian leaders continue to seek recognition of statehood from the United Nations, which some believe could finally lead to peace in the region. For some context on some of the challenges leaders will face in negotiations to define a Palestinian/Israeli border, check out the intensive multimedia package on the New York Times website, Challenges in Defining an Israeli-Palestinian Border.

Life in Palestine was the focus of a story in the January 2009 issue of ONE, when journalist Hanne Foighel reported on a small but significant part of Palestinian life and culture, the olive:

As Ms. Lavie picked olives, she became friendly with her Palestinian coworkers. One family told her about their youngest son who is in an Israeli prison and the father who used to work as a cook in Israel but no longer has a permit to enter the state. According to Ms. Lavie, the family longs for the time when Israelis and Palestinians can live and work together in peace.

“I am meeting people who really want peace and I feel that by being here with them I am helping the situation to be a little less violent.”

Looking out over his land, Nabeeh Aldeeb was moved by what he saw: Palestinians and Israelis picking olives together.

“I feel that the politicians are very far away from the people,” he said with a sigh as olives from a nearby tree dropped softly and the distinct smell of the fruit filled the early autumn air.

For more from this story see, Olive Offerings by Hanne Foighel.

Tags: Gaza Strip/West Bank Palestinians

14 October 2011
Carl Hétu

Carl Hétu, Archbishop Chacour and Sami El Yousef meet in Haifa, Israel, in February 2010.

I am very excited to report the visit of Most Rev. Elias Chacour, Melkite Catholic archbishop of Haifa, Nazareth and Galilee, who will be in Ottawa from 19 to 24 October. He will be our keynote speaker at a symposium at St. Paul’s University, which aims to raise awareness about the challenges facing Christian communities in the Middle East and their important role in promoting peace in the region. CNEWA and the Sheptytsky Institute are organizing and sponsoring the symposium.

I first met the archbishop in Haifa, Israel, in February 2010. I had heard of this colorful man, who is not afraid to speak his mind when confronted with injustice and intolerance. I had heard of his history and had read his first book, Blood Brothers, telling the story of his family evicted from their village the year Israel was created and his journey toward reconciliation and peace, refusing to condone violence or to keep silent. I was excited to meet this larger-than-life character and, indeed, he did not disappoint.

During our discussion, I asked him when he had last come to Canada. He replied that it was 20 years ago as a young priest. I said that was far too long ago for someone who travels all over the world and that he needed to pay Canada another visit. He then said to let him know a good time and he would come.

Then from 10 to 24 October 2010, the pope called a special synod gathering of Catholic bishops, priests, religious and lay to discuss the future of Christianity in the Middle East. I was in Rome for this event and, again, I briefly met with Archbishop Chacour. He asked me if I had the dates for his visit to Canada. I replied assuredly that sometime in the Fall 2011 would work. Well, to be honest, I wasn’t sure at all, but that sounded like a good time to me in the heat of the moment.

Ever since the synod, I thought we should organize a special event in Ottawa but I couldn’t see CNEWA Canada doing it alone. Then in March, I met with Father Stephen Wojcichowsky, director of the Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies in Ottawa, who wanted to organize a special event for the institute’s 25th anniversary. It didn’t take long to figure out that together we could also use the occasion to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the synod. The rest is history.

While in Ottawa, Archbishop Chacour will meet with members of parliament on 21 October, give media interviews and take part in two public events. We also hope to meet with the Honourable John Baird and his staff to discuss the newly established Office of Religious Minorities and with the Honourable Berverly Oda, minister for International Cooperation.

As the Arab Spring continues and a sense of uncertainty pervades the region, Christian minorities are worried as well as hopeful about their future. I believe Archbishop Chacour’s visit to Ottawa is crucial in helping us Canadians better understand and respond to the changing events in the Middle East.

To learn more about Archbishop Chacour’s time in Ottawa click here or here.

Tags: Middle East Christians Canada CNEWA Canada

14 October 2011
Erin Edwards

Aida Yassi, a resident of the Christian Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City, shows pictures of her creations from an album that spans her entire career. (photo: J Carrier)

The Good Samaritan Center in Jerusalem has been providing much needed assistance to elderly residents of the city’s Christian Quarter since 2000. In the November 2009 issue of ONE, Hanne Foighel shared the stories of the people, such as Aida Yassi pictured above, who depend on the center:

“Look,” she says, showing a picture of her work. Her remarkably long fingers delicately hold a small plastic-covered photo album.

“This is me, and I wasn’t even 14 years old when this picture was taken. I made the dress myself.”

All of the album’s pictures record the career of the now 72-year-old woman faded and worn images of the creator clothed in her dresses and gowns made at various stages of her professional life. She wants to show off her creations, but she gives up when she fails to locate her work in her crammed studio apartment.

Ms. Yassi lives in the Christian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. To reach her home, one passes through a green-painted iron gate — decorated with a cross — just off a tiny, narrow lane. She shares a courtyard with a number of neighbors, but they do not share in each other’s lives.

The room is dark: Slim beams of daylight slip through a small window carved into the wall in her “kitchen,” which is actually a shelf holding a cooking plate and a few utensils. Only when the door is left ajar does sunlight flood the tightly packed room, revealing pockmarked walls and peeling paint.

Aida Yassi has no family network. She visits the doctor on her own, walks unaided to the post office and manages other routine errands alone. Yet she needs help cooking her meals. She also depends on the regular care of a nurse, and she longs for comfort to help shut out the fear and loneliness that overcome her every so often. Fortunately, the Elderly Supportive Community Services Center, known locally as the Good Samaritan Center, provides such assistance.

To learn more about the work of the Good Samaritan Center, see Jerusalem’s Good Samaritans, by Hanne Foighel.

Tags: Jerusalem Caring for the Elderly Homes/housing

13 October 2011
Erin Edwards

In this unpublished photo from the story, A Wounded Land, a boy plays in the rice paddy field by Kuttanadu, Kerala. (photo: Peter Lemieux)

Last week the India Ink blog on the NY Times’ web site posed an interesting question about the state of India’s poor: Has Globalization Helped India’s Poor?

Like the dog that didn’t bark, the study’s principal finding is a non-result: there is no systematic relationship between trade liberalization and inequality in India. Rather, a whopping 90 percent of inequality reflects differences at the level of individual households within states or within urban vs. rural areas, rather than between these groupings. And widening the lens from the household to the community, more than 60 percent of total inequality is found at the local level, within urban blocks and rural villages.

These highly localized roots of inequality have little to do with inter-state or rural-urban differences, to say nothing of trade or other international factors. Rather, they stem from factors that labor economists have long understood to be the drivers of inequality: education, work experience, family background, and, crucially in the Indian case, caste and ethnic differences.

In the January 2011 issue of ONE Peter Lemieux explored the financial crisis affecting the agricultural industry in Kerala, and the Syro–Malabar Catholic Church’s efforts to assist those affected.

The seeds of Wayanad’s agricultural crisis were sowed in the early 1980’s, when local farmers began converting their traditional, more diversified rice paddy farms into fields of one or two perennial cash crops, such as coffee, pepper, tea, cardamom, rubber and areca palm. From 1982 to 1999, land used for traditional paddies shrank by about 75 percent. Today, cash crops cover more than 80 percent of all agricultural land in the district.

While the conversion has made some farmers relatively rich, the trade off has been disastrous for most as well as for the district’s entire agricultural sector. In 1999, the Indian government began to liberalize its trade policies, opening its markets to international competition. Almost overnight, farmers in Wayanad witnessed the prices of chief crops, such as pepper, coffee and tea, plummet as cheaper produce from other countries, particularly Vietnam, flooded the market. In that year alone, pepper, a crop grown by most farmers in Wayanad, suffered a price drop of 76 percent.

For more from this story see, A Wounded Land by Peter Lemieux.

Tags: India Kerala Syro-Malabar Catholic Church Farming/Agriculture Economic hardships

13 October 2011
Michael J.L. La Civita

Brother Donald Mansir (right) and Father Denis Madden review the progress of the restoration of the great dome at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. (photo: Joel Fishman)

An important member of the CNEWA family, Brother Donald Mansir, F.S.C., died early last Saturday in Walnut Creek, California. He was 62.

A brother of the De La Salle Brothers of the Christian Schools and a knight of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, Brother Donald joined CNEWA in 1989 as the field projects coordinator for the Pontifical Mission’s Jerusalem office. In 1990, he became its associate director, and later that year, he was named office director. As such, Brother Donald supervised the expansion of the agency’s programs and services in Palestine and Israel, earning respect for his balanced but strong advocacy for justice and peace issues throughout the Holy Land. In 1993, he succeeded Sister Maureen Grady, C.S.C., as chief operating officer and vice president of the Pontifical Mission.

Brother Donald was instrumental in the restoration of the dome of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. Working with CNEWA’s Msgr. Robert Stern and (then) Father Denis Madden, he brought together the shrine’s Armenian Apostolic, Greek Orthodox and Latin Catholic custodians with concerned donors in the United States anxious about the dome’s structural integrity. To learn more about this “Turning Point for Christendom,” read Brother Donald’s own account published in CNEWA’s magazine in 1996. A year later, Father Denis Madden (now an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Baltimore) reflected on this historic moment engineered by this agency of the Holy See.

Brother Donald was more than just an efficient colleague. He was a wise boss and a good friend. He counseled patience, urged clarity and oozed elegance. He was a “cool cat” who believed the church had responsibility for all the people of God, not just a selected few. May the Lord reward Donald for the souls he touched with dignity, grace, love — and wit.

12 October 2011
Erin Edwards

Parishioners head home after the Divine Liturgy at St. Michael the Archangel Church in Ladomirová, Slovakia. (photo: Andrej Bán)

The tiny country of Slovakia was in the news yesterday, with reports that it was holding up efforts to solve Europe’s economic crisis. We remembered that Slovakia also has a rich religious tradition, as we found when we reported on the country three years ago.

In the May 2008 issue of ONE, Jacqueline Ruyak reported on Slovakia’s Greek Catholic heritage and the historic wooden churches that remain a stronghold within the community:

In many ways, Ladomirová’s church dedicated to the Archangel Michael exemplifies Slovakia’s Rusyn Greek Catholic wooden churches. Built at the edge of the village, a split rail fence topped with shingles runs around the church. The wooden, roofed gate culminates in an onion dome crowned with an iron cross. And among the graves in the churchyard stands an old wooden bell, also shingled.

The church’s Baroque iconostasis, featuring intricate and colorful carvings and icons, shimmers in the church’s cool light.

For more, check out Rooted in Wood by Jacqueline Ruyak.

Tags: Greek Catholic Church Slovakia Ruysn

11 October 2011
Erin Edwards

A woman prays in a church in Deir Azra, a Christian village in Upper Egypt. (photo: Holly Pickett)

Sunday night in Cairo a demonstration turned deadly when military officials opened fire on a group of Christian demonstrators, killing some two dozen of them, the New York Times reported:

Coptic leaders issued an unusually pointed statement charging that the demonstrators were set up to take the blame for a crackdown. “Strangers got in the middle of our sons and committed mistakes to be blamed on our sons,” the statement said, claiming that acts of discrimination or aggression against Copts repeatedly “go unpunished.”

In a measure of their growing distrust of the military-led government, the families of the Copts killed in the violence decided they did not trust government-run facilities to perform autopsies, fearing the results might hide evidence of the violence by security forces. After hours of deliberation with priests, activists and human rights groups, they arranged to bring forensic teams to a Coptic hospital, causing the funeral to be called off.

Inside the hospital, Mariam Telmiz, 40, sat at the bedside of a brother-in-law who had been wounded by a bullet at the demonstration. Another brother-in-law had been killed by a bullet.

The military was ready to protect Egyptian Muslims who carried a Saudi flag or even pulled the Israeli flag off its embassy, she said, “but the one who holds his cross high gets humiliated.”

For more on this story read Copts Denounce Egyptian Government Over Killings in today’s New York Times or Copts Mourn Victims in Cairo Protest from the Catholic News Service.

In the current issue of ONE, Cairo-based journalist Sarah Topol reported on some of the difficulties faced by Christian women in Egypt in the story Spotlight: Coptic Women. In the video below, Sarah talks about what it’s like to be a woman journalist in Egypt during such a challenging time.

Tags: Egypt Africa Coptic Christians

11 October 2011
M.L. Thomas

Through the Holy Family Ashaniwas, Riya has received an education and now looks forward to her wedding day.

In a marvelous and blessed development, the Holy Family Ashaniwas Child Welfare Center of New Delhi is preparing to celebrate a wedding.

Riya was orphaned early in life and taken in by the Holy Family sisters at the age of 7. Now she has completed 10th grade and is attending a vocational training course. Ishwar Singh, her betrothed, works as a lead maintenance engineer in a city college and hails from a prominent family.

Sister Lilly Chirayath, the director of the center, has been busy making arrangements for the wedding. Customarily, the bride must be provided with household articles, so Sister Lilly has purchased furniture, dress materials, a sewing machine and crockery to present to Riya. This was made possible through the assistance of local benefactors determined to ensure that her child will not face the same conditions that she herself did.

Riya is the sixth girl to become married while in the care of the Holy Family Center. The other five girls will be attending Riya’s wedding with their families.

CNEWA proudly counts itself among those lending support to the Center.

To learn more about Holy Family Ashaniwas, visit their website.

Sister Lilly Chirayath sits with the children for whom the Center provides shelter and the opportunity for a better life.

Tags: India Education Orphans/Orphanages

7 October 2011
Erin Edwards

Yosef Hallegua blows the shofar in a synagogue in Cochin. (photo: Ellen Goldberg)

Today marks Yom Kippur, the holiest and most solemn day of the year for the Jewish community. It is also known as the Day of Atonement and is traditionally marked by a 25-hour period of fasting and praying. The shofar (pictured above) is blown in synagogues to mark the end of the fast at Yom Kippur.

In the July 2006 issue of ONE Nathan Katz reported on the dwindling Jewish community in Cochin, India:

Visiting Jews often are confounded by the unique liturgy of Cochin. As waves of immigrants came to Cochin from Persia, Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Turkey and even Poland and Italy, each left its imprint on Cochin’s prayer service. Some composed liturgical songs in fluent Hebrew, known as piyyutim. Scribes collated these songs and copied them into manuscript books, many of which remain in use to this day.

Midway through the prayer services in Cochin, worshipers will set down the Sephardic books from Israel and open these older songbooks. Most do not need to, however. They know the songs by heart.

Within the temple’s walls are the famous hand-painted floor tiles from China, Belgian chandeliers, prayer books from Israel and Torahs copied by local scribes. Atop one of the Torahs rests a magnificent 22-karat golden crown, given to the congregation by the Maharajah of Travancore in 1803.

The ancient copperplates, bequeathing autonomy at Cranganore, are stored in the synagogue’s ark along with Torahs and a huge shofar (ceremonial horn). Characteristic of Kerala’s unique synagogue architecture is the presence of a second bima (pulpit) upstairs in the women’s section, from which the Torah is read during prayer services.

For more about the Cochin Jewish community see The Last Jews of Cochin.

Learn more about the Jewish holy day, Yom Kippur, on the web site

Tags: India Jews

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