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Volume 45, Number 3
31 October 2011
Greg Kandra

A young woman touches an icon of the Virgin Mary and Jesus in Santa Maria Church
in Deir Azra, Egypt. (photo: Holly Pickett)

As the Latin Catholic Church marks All Saints Day on 1 November, it’s worth noting when and how the Eastern churches, especially the Catholic and Orthodox churches in the Byzantine tradition, honor all of the saints.

It doesn’t happen in the fall, but in the spring. The Byzantine Eastern churches celebrate the Sunday of All Saints, which takes place the first Sunday after Pentecost — and the timing has special significance, according to Russian Orthodox priest Father John McCuen:

“Now, the Holy Spirit has come; the church has been established, and is strengthened and guided by the Holy Spirit. Each one of us who has been baptized and chrismated [receiving the sacraments of initiation] in the Orthodox Church has received this same Spirit. So, today we celebrate the means by which we are sanctified, by which we may become saints.”

Father McCuen also looks at the meaning of the saints in Eastern Christianity:

“One of the reasons we have icons in our churches and icons in our homes is to remind ourselves that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses: the holy men and women who have shared our faith and way of life, and who, by their struggles and ascetic labors of prayer and fasting and worship and giving and forgiving and humility and service have shown us, in their words and deeds and lives the life of our Lord Jesus Christ, the same life given to each one of us in our baptism, empowered by the same Holy Spirit, who descended upon the disciples in the upper room. The holy men and women were no different than any of us. They are made of the same nature, the same “stuff” as we are; yet they did so well, they grew so close to God, that they left this world behind, and lived the life of the kingdom of heaven instead. We honor them for their example, and we ask them to pray on our behalf, trusting that the greatness of their love for God will be shared with us as well. The icons are a way to honor and remember them, and to be encouraged to follow their example.”

So how does someone become a saint in the Eastern churches? The Eastern Catholic churches follow the processes instituted by the Holy See. But, how does someone become an Orthodox saint? Father Joseph Frawley, a member of the Orthodox Church of America’s Canonization Commission, explains:

“The glorification of saints in the Orthodox Church is a recognition that God’s holiness is manifested in the church through these grace-filled men and women whose lives were pleasing to God. Very early on, the church recognized the righteous ancestors of Christ (forefathers), those who predicted his coming (prophets), and those who proclaimed the Gospel (apostles and evangelists). Then those who risked their lives and shed their blood to bear witness to Christ (martyrs and confessors) were also recognized by the church as saints. There was no special canonization process, but their relics were treasured and the annual anniversaries of their martyrdoms were celebrated.

“Later, the ascetics, who followed Christ through self-denial, were numbered among the saints. Bishops and priests who proclaimed the true faith and fought against heresy were added to the list. Finally, those in other walks of life who manifested holiness were recognized as saints.

“While the glorification of a saint may be initiated because of miracles, it is not an absolute necessity for canonization. The Roman Catholic Church requires three verified miracles in order to recognize someone as a saint; the Orthodox Church does not require this. There are some saints, including Saint Nicodemos of the Holy Mountain (commemorated 14 July) and Saint Innocent of Moscow (commemorated 31 March), who have not performed any miracles, as far as we know. What is required is a virtuous life of obvious holiness. And a saint’s writings and preaching must be ‘fully Orthodox,’ in agreement with the pure faith that we have received from Christ and the apostles and taught by the fathers and the ecumenical councils.

“Can the church ‘make’ a saint? The answer is no. Only God can do that. We glorify those whom God himself has glorified, seeing in their lives true love for God and their neighbors. The church merely recognizes that such a person has cooperated with God’s grace to the extent that his or her holiness is beyond doubt.

“Are saints ‘elected’ by special panels or by majority vote? Again, the answer is no. Long before an official inquiry into a person’s life is made, that person is venerated by the people where he or she lived and died. His or her memory is kept alive by the people who pray for his or her soul or who ask him or her for intercession. Sometimes people will visit his or her grave or have icons painted through their love for the person. Then a request is made, usually through the diocesan bishop, for the church to recognize that person as a saint. A committee, such as the Orthodox Church in America’s Canonization Commission, is formed to research the life of the person who is being considered for glorification and to submit a report to the holy synod stating its reasons why the person should or should not be recognized as a saint. Then the holy synod decides to number that person among the saints and have icons painted and liturgical services composed.

For more, check out The Orthodox Church of America website or read this essay by George Bebis, Ph.D., which explains more about the different categories of Orthodox saints.

Tags: Eastern Christianity Orthodox Church Eastern Churches Icons

31 October 2011
Erin Edwards

A nun reads a bible outside of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.
(photo: Paul Souders)

Today Palestine became a full member of UNESCO, the U.N. cultural and educational agency:

Huge cheers went up in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization after delegates approved the membership in a vote of 107-14 with 52 abstentions. Eighty-one votes were needed for approval in a hall with 173 UNESCO member delegations present.

“Long Live Palestine!” shouted one delegate, in French, at the unusually tense and dramatic meeting of UNESCO's General Conference.

While the vote has large symbolic meaning, the issue of borders of an eventual Palestinian state, security troubles and other disputes that have thwarted Middle East peace for decades remain unresolved.

For more from this story see, UN cultural agency grants full membership to Palestine.

Tags: Jerusalem Palestine Holy Sepulchre

28 October 2011
J.D. Conor Mauro

Religious leaders attend the gathering for peace outside the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi 27 Oct. Pictured from left are: Archbishop Norvan Zakarian of the Armenian Apostolic Church; Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury; Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople; Pope Benedict XVI; Rabbi David Rosen, representing the chief rabbinate of Israel; Wande Abimbola, representing the traditional religion of Nigeria's Yoruba people; Shrivatsa Goswami, a Hindu delegate; and Ja Seung, head of South Korea's Buddhist Jogye order. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) (27 October 2011)

On 27 October 1986, Pope John Paul II organized a summit of various religious leaders from around the world in Assisi, Italy. This World Day of Prayer for Peace was noteworthy for both its message - that all peoples yearn for world peace and must work to achieve it through mutual understanding - and its historical nature as a large-scale, pluralistic religious conference.

This year, commemorating the 25th anniversary of Pope John Paul II’s Day of Prayer, Pope Benedict XVI has made another pilgrimage to Assisi. Once again, the pope has called spiritual leaders of the world to speak and to listen, to join in a larger, ongoing dialogue of cooperation and to recapture both the passion for peace and the diversity underpinning the event a quarter-century ago.

It is all the more clear that Pope Benedict desired a synergy between the two events because they share another trait: their status as “historical” meetings. Indeed, this year’s pilgrimage is the first to extend its pluralistic mission to include even nonbelievers. For Catholic News Service, John Thavis reports:

[Julia] Kristeva, a Bulgarian-born philosopher and psychoanalyst, was one of four nonbelievers the pope invited to the Assisi interfaith meeting for peace. Their presence was an innovation that sparked questions and even criticism in some conservative quarters.

The program gave Kristeva and the pope the same podium and a global audience, and both spoke in bridge-building language. The pope said he invited the nonbelievers because he was convinced they were seekers who, by looking for truth, in effect are looking for God.

Kristeva said the world today needs to create forms of cooperation between Christian humanism and the humanism of the Enlightenment -- a risky path but one worth taking, she said. …

Certainly, the pope and Kristeva offered quite different perspectives. For the pope, God is the key to every possible human solution to problems of peace and injustice. Kristeva never mentioned God and described the task of renewing culture solely in terms of human efforts.

But they both appeared to agree that they need to talk to each other.

Regarding the decision to include non-religious perspectives, the pope maintains that “All their struggling and questioning is, in part, an appeal to believers to purify their faith so that God, the true God, becomes accessible.” CNS’s Cindy Wooden continues:

[Pope Benedict] said, many nonbelievers also are “pilgrims of truth, pilgrims of peace.”

“These people are seeking the truth, they are seeking the true God, whose image is frequently concealed in the religions because of the ways in which they are often practiced. Their inability to find God is partly the responsibility of believers with a limited or even falsified image of God,” he said.

“They challenge the followers of religions not to consider God as their own property, as if he belonged to them, in such a way that they feel vindicated in using force against others,” the pope said.

John Thavis extends further analysis of the issues informing the various talks:

A common thread ran through many of the speeches and invocations of this year’s “prayer for peace” encounter in Assisi: the uneasy sense that the world is facing not merely conflicts and wars, but a much broader crisis that affects social and cultural life in every country.

Environmental damage, the rich-poor divide, erosion of cultural traditions, terrorism and new threats to society’s weakest members were cited as increasingly worrisome developments by speakers at the interfaith gathering in the Italian pilgrimage town Oct. 27. …

The pope said [the world’s] discord has taken on “new and frightening guises,” and he singled out two forms: terrorism, including acts of violence that are religiously motivated; and the spiritual erosion that has occurred in highly secularized societies.

“The worship of Mammon, possessions and power is proving to be a counter-religion, in which it is no longer man who counts but only personal advantage,” he said. He cited the illegal drug trade and drug dependency to show how desire for happiness today can degenerate into “an unbridled, inhuman craving.” …

[A]t Assisi 2011, it seemed clearer than ever that building world peace will require much more than eliminating armed conflict.

This morning, the pope noted to delegates that the event was “a vivid expression of the fact that every day, throughout the world, people of different religious traditions live and work together in harmony.”

Transcripts of Pope Benedict XVI’s remarks can be found here. Catholic News Service video coverage can be found here.

Tags: Pope Benedict XVI Unity Interreligious Assisi Assisi Interreligious Meeting

28 October 2011
Erin Edwards

A boy plays near the construction site of a new facility at New Orthodox School in Madaba. (photo: Joseph Zakarian)

In our July 2010 cover story, journalist Nicholas Seeley reported on the revitalization of Orthodox schools in Jordan. In the story we learned that these schools also acted as a foundation for interfaith collaboration and tolerance:

“I’m in a Christian school, but I wear my Muslim veil, and nobody asks me, ‘Why are you wearing that?’ It’ normal,” says Tyba Hardan, an Iraqi-born sophomore in her first year at Amman’s Patriarch Diodoros I School.

Most teachers and students say that preventing sectarianism is not a concern and that the schools remain places where people of different faiths build trust and respect.

“That respect develops when you work with children from kindergarten through high school. They sit together, Christians and Muslims, and they grow up together. This is our contribution,” Archimandrite Innokentios says, “teaching them, guiding them into this way of accepting one another.”

For more see, Rebuilding a Sure Foundation.

Tags: Children Jordan

27 October 2011
Christopher Boland

Monsignor Robert L. Stern, president emeritus of CNEWA, right, helps to celebrate
major donor Anthony Abraham’s 100th birthday on February 25, 2011 at the
Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, FL. (photo: Meg Pukel)

Anthony Abraham, one of CNEWA’s most loyal friends, died on 21 October 2011 at Baptist Hospital in Miami, Florida, of natural causes.

Mr. Abraham’s association with CNEWA goes back some 50 years, beginning with his friendship with Archbishop Joseph T. Ryan, CNEWA’s national secretary from 1960 to 1965.

The son of Lebanese immigrants and a devout Maronite Catholic, Mr. Abraham selflessly and generously supported CNEWA’s mission over the years with his time, energy and financial resources.

Through his Anthony R. Abraham Foundation, he has supported numerous humanitarian institutions in his ancestral land, including two orphanages, St. Vincent Créche in Beirut and Our Lady of Lebanon in Batroun. Nearer to home, he helped St. Ann Maronite Church in Troy, New York, by renovating the church and building a parish hall and rectory.

His foundation has also donated millions of dollars to charitable organizations, such as Camillus House, Habitat for Humanity of Greater Miami, America’s Second Harvest, Miami Children’s Hospital, Jackson Memorial Hospital, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Miami Lighthouse for the Blind and Catholic Charities.

Born in Youngstown, Ohio, the self-made entrepreneur and philanthropist celebrated his 100th birthday on 25 February 2011.

As a child, he vowed, “If by the grace of God I ever could, I would feed the poor and help the sick.” He more than made good on that promise.

May God reward Anthony Abraham for his generosity and loving concern. May his memory be eternal.

An obituary for Mr. Abraham can be found here.

Tags: Lebanon Donors Maronite Catholic

27 October 2011
Sami El-Yousef

A camper learns to play the guitar at the Bethlehem Library run by the Teresian Association. (photo: Pontifical Mission )

Under the theme “From Memory to Commitment,” the Teresian Association is celebrating its first centenary in all 30 countries in which they have a vibrant presence. Founded by St. Pedro Poveda in the Spanish village of Covadonga in 1911, they began their work in the Holy Land in 1952. Shortly thereafter, they were asked by the Pontifical Mission to run the five Catholic public libraries that were opened to serve the youth in the Holy Land – specifically, in Nazareth, Ramallah, Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Amman. Today, the Teresians continue to efficiently run the two remaining libraries in Bethlehem and Amman.

As we all know, with the technological advances of recent years, the role of a traditional library has become obsolete. This is not so for the Teresians, who have transformed the concept of a public library to meet the needs of the local populations – especially the youth. The Bethlehem library has become a vibrant community center, holding summer camp programs, yearlong workshops and various other learning opportunities. The library extends its services not only to youths, but also to women, the elderly and others seeking involvement within the community. The unlimited dedication of the Teresians helps to make this possible.

As an example, recent summer camp programs at the Bethlehem library catered to over 112 youths, organized into four age groups. Participants took part in a wide variety of activities including interreligious and intercultural dialogue, computer education, guitar lessons, Palestinian traditional Dabke dancing, storytelling, the formation of values, reading appreciation, art and drawing lessons, personality development and much more. Though this summer camp session has concluded, many of these activities will still be offered throughout the year.

In addition to their work at the library, the Teresians work locally to make available language education programs and to provide support for Bethlehem University. Internationally, they are active in schools and universities, usually involved in pastoral work, mass media, health care and research.

During the centenary celebration in Jerusalem, a number of local Palestinians young and old gave personal testimonies highlighting how the Teresians have touched the hearts of so many with their contributions and their quiet humility. I for one could not help but stand up and thank the Teresians for opening up their home to the entire neighborhood in Jerusalem during the 1967 war, providing shelter and hospitality for over 50 people of all walks of life. Those six nights I slept on the floor in their warm home shall never be forgotten.

We at the Pontifical Mission are proud of our long-term partnership with the members of the Teresian Association and look forward to continued collaboration, especially through the Pontifical Mission libraries.

Tags: Jerusalem Palestine Holy Land Socioreligious programs

27 October 2011
Erin Edwards

Young girls celebrate one of Ethiopia’s holiest days, Mariam Zion or
Mary of Zion in Askum, Ethiopia. (photo: Sean Sprague)

Today, according to the Latin calendar, is the feast day for Saint Frumentius, who is considered one of the apostles of Ethiopia. The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church venerates Saint Frumentius, however, on August 1.

St. Frumentius is the first Abune — a title given to the head of the Ethiopian Church— and credited with the founding of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

In the May 2010 issue of ONE we profiled the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church and its origins:

The character of Aksum changed in the early fourth century when the emperor, Ezana, declared Christianity the official state religion. Influenced by his tutor, Frumentius, Ezana had embraced the Christian faith and later installed his former tutor as Aksum’s first bishop. Ordained to the episcopacy by Athanasius, the sainted patriarch of the Egyptian city of Alexandria, Frumentius established filial bonds with the Egyptian church that remained for centuries. Until the middle of the 20th century, a Coptic (derived from the Greek for “Egyptian”) metropolitan archbishop governed the Ethiopian church.

Ezana is also credited with obtaining the most important symbol of Ethiopian Christianity, the Ark of the Covenant. According to an ancient Ethiopian tradition, the Jews of Aksum guarded the Ark on an island refuge. It had been carried from Jerusalem to Aksum by Menelik, the son of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, a figure Ethiopians and Eritreans claim as their own.

To learn more about The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, read our profile in the May 2010 issue of our magazine.

Tags: Africa Ethiopian Orthodox Church

26 October 2011
Elias D. Mallon, S.A., Ph.D.

Archbishop Elias Chacour, the Melkite Greek Catholic Archbishop of Akko, Haifa, Nazareth and All Galilee addresses the audience at St. Paul’s University in Ottawa, Canada. (photo: Elias Mallon)

Anyone wondering about the future of Christianity in the Middle East could find some fascinating answers last weekend in Canada, where a symposium on that topic was held at St. Paul’s University in Ottawa. It was sponsored by the Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies and CNEWA — and I was invited to take part in a panel discussion.

The main speaker was Archbishop Elias Chacour, the Melkite Greek Catholic Archbishop of Akko, Haifa, Nazareth and All Galilee. Archbishop Chacour, the first native Palestinian Arab to be named a Melkite archbishop in Israel, refers to himself as “the other man from Galilee.” It is a title he deserves. He has worked for peace, justice and reconciliation between Christians, Jews and Muslims for decades. He is the author of several books, the most famous of which, Blood Brothers, has been translated into 20 languages.

Living for years in poverty in the small Israeli Palestinian Arab town of Ibilin, he worked to bring opportunities for education not only for his own Christian people, but also for Muslim and Jewish children in the area. His goal has been not only to educate the youth academically, but also to acquaint them with their Muslim and Jewish neighbors, defusing hatred and hopefully contributing to a just and lasting peace.

Nominated three times for the Nobel Peace Prize, Archbishop Chacour has worked tirelessly to make the world aware of the plight of Palestinians. In this he is not different from many others. What makes him stand out is that, while making the oppressed and unjust situation of the Palestinians clear to the world, he is at the same time very careful not to demonize Israeli Jews. Again and again, he warns his readers and his followers against the danger of contributing to a circle of hatred and violence that constantly threatens to engulf the region.

For years I have wanted to meet this other man from Galilee and was fortunate at the symposium to have several conversations with him. The encounters were not disappointing. He has a quick sense of humor. Being with him, you feel that he is somewhere between a prophet and a beloved uncle. In Arabic he is popularly known as abuna ilyas, “Father Elias,” which happens to be what I am called in Arabic, too. We joked about the presence of two “Eliases” at the symposium. He quickly puts people at ease and it is easy to overlook that you are in the presence of a truly great man.

At the symposium, Archbishop Chacour met with members of the Roman Catholic, Eastern Catholic and Orthodox churches. The future of Christianity is on the mind of these and of all Christians in the Middle East. Emigration, discrimination and outright persecution are factors that are reducing the presence of Christians in the very lands where Christianity was born. Archbishop Chacour’s comments to those who had suffered discrimination and even persecution because they were Christian were extraordinary. He understood their anger and pain; indeed he had experienced many of the same things. However, he reminded them all of the necessity to forgive and to work for reconciliation.

The symposium also included panels with scholars, clergy and the Honorable Jason Kenney, a member of the Canadian Parliament and a minister in the current government. There were lively and informed discussions on the complex problems facing all the peoples, but especially Christians in the Middle East. While no solutions were offered of course, the message of Archbishop Chacour gives us reason to believe that the situation is not hopeless.

Catholic News Service has more on Archbishop Chacour and his background at this link.

Tags: Middle East Christians Christianity Unity Christian-Muslim relations Middle East Peace Process

26 October 2011
Erin Edwards

Locals participate in a cultural dance at a banquet for ethnic diversity in Tbilisi, Georgia.
(photo: Justyna Mielnikiewicz)

In the November 2009 issue of the magazine, we interviewed renowned photographer Justyna Mielnikiewicz. She shared a little insight on some of the photos she's made over the years documenting the Caucasus region. She describes photos like the one above as reflecting “the spirit of Georgia.” Check out the interview in the media player below, or view it on our web site.

For more about the Caucasus region see, Where Europe Meets Asia.

Tags: Cultural Identity Georgia Caucasus Tbilisi

26 October 2011

Top left: Major Archbishop George Alencherry of Ernakulam-Angamaly, head of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church; Thomas Varghese, CNEWA Vice President for India and Northeast Africa; and Monsignor John Kozar, CNEWA President, met yesterday morning.
(photo: Erin Edwards)

On Tuesday, CNEWA welcomed a man who made history earlier this year: Major Archbishop George Alencherry of Ernakulam-Angamaly, head of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, which is based in the southern Indian state of Kerala.

A native of Kerala, Archbishop George holds a unique place in the Catholic Church. He’s the first head of the Syro-Malabar Church to be elected by its synod of bishops — the result of a move by the Holy See in 2004 that granted full administrative powers to the church, including the power to elect bishops. Upon his election to lead the 3.8 million-strong church on 24 May, Pope Benedict XVI confirmed his election and extended communion the following day.

The engaging 66-year-old is visiting some of his 75,000-member flock in the United States — his next stop is Chicago — and stopped by to meet with CNEWA’s president, Monsignor John Kozar.

During his visit, Archbishop George spoke eloquently of his desire to “collaborate as one church” with different faiths and worried about continued discrimination toward newly baptized Christians in his homeland. But he also took pride in the great number of lay people who, despite many challenges, are involved in catechesis and pastoral work. In India, he noted, it’s a thriving vocation all its own, and one that’s continuing to grow.

Tags: India Unity Syro-Malabar Catholic Church Indian Bishops

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