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14 December 2012
Greg Kandra




A woman visits the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem as the West Bank city marks Advent and gears up for the Christmas season. (photo: CNS/Marko Djurica, Reuters)

As Christmas nears, the little town of Bethlehem is approaching the busiest time of the year. In May of 2009, Pope Benedict XVI paid a visit and described the special appeal of this place Christians hold as sacred:

The message of Christ’s coming, brought from heaven by the voice of angels, continues to echo in this town, just as it echoes in families, homes and communities throughout the world. It is “good news”, the angels say “for all the people”. It proclaims that the Messiah, the Son of God and the Son of David, has been born “for you”: for you and me, and for men and women in every time and place. In God’s plan, Bethlehem, “least among the clans of Judah” (Mic 5:2), has become a place of undying glory: the place where, in the fullness of time, God chose to become man, to end the long reign of sin and death, and to bring new and abundant life to a world which had grown old, weary and oppressed by hopelessness.

For men and women everywhere, Bethlehem is associated with this joyful message of rebirth, renewal, light and freedom. Yet here, in our midst, how far this magnificent promise seems from being realized! How distant seems that Kingdom of wide dominion and peace, security, justice and integrity which the Prophet Isaiah heralded in the first reading (cf. Is 9:7), and which we proclaim as definitively established in the coming of Jesus Christ, Messiah and King!...

...Here in Bethlehem, a special perseverance is asked of Christ’s disciples: perseverance in faithful witness to God’s glory revealed here, in the birth of his Son, to the good news of his peace which came down from heaven to dwell upon the earth.

“Do not be afraid!” This is the message which the Successor of Saint Peter wishes to leave with you today, echoing the message of the angels and the charge which our beloved Pope John Paul II left with you in the year of the Great Jubilee of Christ’s birth. Count on the prayers and solidarity of your brothers and sisters in the universal Church, and work, with concrete initiatives, to consolidate your presence and to offer new possibilities to those tempted to leave. Be a bridge of dialogue and constructive cooperation in the building of a culture of peace to replace the present stalemate of fear, aggression and frustration. Build up your local Churches, making them workshops of dialogue, tolerance and hope, as well as solidarity and practical charity.

Read the rest of the Holy Father’s message here.



Tags: Bethlehem

14 December 2012
Greg Kandra




Report: possible Russian-US joint ultimatum in Syria (Fides) Russia and the United States are getting ready to order a joint ultimatum to Syria’s President Bashar Assad through the special envoy of the UN and the Arab League, Lakhdar Brahimi, in order for Assad to leave power “with dignity.” According to the news, reported today by the French newspaper “Le Figaro,” Washington and Moscow seem to have “exchanged the names” of leaders who could appear in the transitional government...

Car bomb kills at least 16 in Syria (Vatican Radio) Russia today said Syrian rebels are gaining ground and might win, on a day which saw a car bomb kill at least 16 people in Qatana, a town 25 kilometres southwest of Damascus. “One must look the facts in the face,” Russia’s state-run RIA quoted Mikhail Bogdanov, Russia’s special envoy for Middle East affairs as saying. “Unfortunately, the victory of the Syrian opposition cannot be ruled out...”

Photo essay: Egyptian Copts gather to pray ahead of vote on constitution (AFP via NBC News) Thousands of Egyptian Copts attended a Mass in the Cave Cathedral, or St Sama’ans, in the Manshiet Nasser district of Cairo on 13 December 2012, where they prayed for Egypt ahead of the disputed referendum on the new draft constitution slated for Saturday...

Christmas shopping in India (The Telegraph) Cochin has the highest density of Christians in India, and is dotted with cathedrals and churches. In a parody of our high streets back home, the roads are rammed with fevered shoppers, their faces consumed with the business of Christmas. The crowd scoops me up and funnels me into an alley, where I bash my ankles on rough wooden nativity scenes strewn along the ground. We move into a wider street now, and I step back to avoid a rickshaw driver who is unable to see through the baby Jesuses and fir trees swinging from his sun visor. I push my way into a shop; it is Christmas-decoration heaven. A sharp-elbowed nun lunges for the perfect bauble, scattering boxes of glittering stars to the floor...



Tags: Syria India Egypt Coptic

13 December 2012
Annie Grunow




CNEWA President Msgr. John Kozar caught this charming smile during his visit to the Kidane Mehret Children’s Home in Ethiopia in April 2012. Established to provide shelter for abandoned children, the home is run by the Franciscan Sisters of the Heart of Jesus, an order of nuns from Malta, under the leadership of Sister Lutgarda Camilleri. You can read about Kidane Mehret in this article from the September 2001 issue of our magazine. The school underwent improvements, partly through the generosity of CNEWA's donors, in 2003 and 2009. (photo: Msgr. John Kozar)



Tags: CNEWA Ethiopia Children Sisters Msgr. John E. Kozar

13 December 2012
J.D. Conor Mauro




Following the latest act of settler-associated vandalism at the 11th-century Monastery of the Cross, Father Claudio remains unflappable: “The first time, I forgive; the second time, I forgive; the seventh time, I forgive; the 75th, the 77th time I forgive.” (video: Melanie Lidman)

Jerusalem Orthodox Christian monastery vandalized (Jerusalem Post) “Price-tag” vandals targeted sites in Jerusalem and near Ramallah overnight Tuesday, spraying extremist graffiti and puncturing car tires. The words “tag mahir” (“price tag”), painted on the site, have become affiliated with the extreme fringe of the settlement and right-wing movements. Father Claudio, the superior of the Monastery of the Cross, said he discovered the graffiti on Wednesday morning after morning prayers. “This person needs to write outside. Okay. But he needs to come inside the Monastery. Sit with me, drink one coffee, and I will explain to him why I believe in Jesus and why that is my freedom [to believe],” Father Claudio said. “He needs to come face to face. And I will tell him, ‘Welcome.’ ... Let’s sit, and speak. This is the heart of the religions. ... I say to these people, ‘Hanukkah Sameach’ [‘Happy Hanukkah’].” This is the fifth price-tag attack against a Christian site this year, including the previous vandalism at the Monastery of the Cross and incidents at the Latrun Monastery, the Baptist Church in west Jerusalem and the Dormition Abbey on Mount Zion...

Violence and terror in the ‘Valley of the Christians’ (Fides) About 150 thousand Christians live in fear in more than 40 villages in the so-called “Valley of the Christians” (“Wadi al Nasarah”) in western Syria. The valley, a historical stronghold of the Syrian Christians, received in recent months thousands of refugees from Homs and other cities and provinces. Today, Christians are under fire from Islamist militias who have settled in the Crusader fortress “Krak des Chevaliers,” built in the eleventh century by a Muslim emir, rebuilt by the Knights Hospitallers and today UNESCO world cultural heritage. From the hill on which the fortress stands, the militias have been firing for days at the villages below. Their targets are the barricades in the area erected by the Syrian army, but no thought is given to the Christian civilians in the line of fire...

Palestinian protesters and Israeli soldiers clash in Hebron (Al Jazeera) Five people have been injured in clashes between Palestinian youths and Israeli soldiers in the West Bank city of Hebron, after a Palestinian teenager was shot by Israeli soldiers on Wednesday. Dozens of Palestinian youths were reported to have thrown stones and bottles at the soldiers early on Thursday morning, while Associated Press news agency reported that the Israeli soldiers had responded by firing tear gas on the youths. Five Palestinians were hospitalized after the clashes, reported Ma’an News Agency. Thursday’s clashes came ahead of the funeral for 17-year-old Palestinian, Muhammad Ziad Awad Salaymah, who was shot dead by an Israeli policewoman at a checkpoint in the city on Wednesday, for allegedly carrying a gun which later turned out to be “fake”...

Muslim Brotherhood struggles to retain political power (Der Spiegel) Little is known about the inner workings of the Muslim Brotherhood, though that is now changing. More and more members are leaving the organization, and they are taking their criticism public. They include young members who reject the Brotherhood’s hierarchical structures as well as older supporters like Tharwat al Gharbawi, a well-known attorney, who says that the Brotherhood’s authoritarian ideology always becomes more prevalent when the organization comes under pressure. “As long as the guidance office of the Brotherhood is dominated by hardliners, a compromise isn’t to be expected,” says Gharbawi. Now, the group’s support seems to be crumbling. More than 30 buildings owned by the Muslim Brotherhood were set on fire in the last two weeks, and the protesters are now chanting the same words they chanted before Mubarak was overthrown: “Down with the regime.” Most importantly, opposition leaders have set aside differences to unite in their opposition to Morsi and the Brotherhood...



Tags: Syria Egypt Syrian Civil War Violence against Christians Jerusalem

12 December 2012
Greg Kandra




Pope Benedict XVI is assisted by Thaddeus Jones of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications as he sends his first Twitter message during his general audience in Paul VI Hall at the Vatican on 12 December. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)

To much fanfare, Pope Benedict XVI sent out his first message on Twitter today. CNS notes:

Pope Benedict XVI launched his very own Twitter account, sending a short inaugural message to his more than 1 million followers.

“Dear friends, I am pleased to get in touch with you through Twitter. Thank you for your generous response. I bless all of you from my heart,” it said.

His tweet -- 139 characters -- went viral as the number of followers of @Pontifex and its seven other extensions grew by more than 5,000 new people an hour, a Vatican official said. Tens of thousands of followers retweeted the messages in the short minutes after they were posted.

After the pope gave his catechesis and blessing to those gathered for the general audience in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall, an announcement came over the speakers saying the pope was about to make his first tweet.

Officials placed a small wooden desk in front of the pope, and staff from the Pontifical Council for Social Communications placed a small tablet computer on top.

The pope put on his glasses as Thaddeus Jones, a U.S. official at the council, showed him the screen that already had the message prepared and loaded. The pope, with a tap, sent the greeting, which in English was just one character shy of the site’s 140-character limit.

The moment was captured on video, below:



Tags: Pope Benedict XVI Vatican

12 December 2012
Greg Kandra




A protester opposed to President Mohammed Morsi holds the Quran, a cross and the Egyptian national flag on top of a wall in front of the presidential palace in Cairo on 11 December. At least nine people were hurt when gunmen fired at protesters camping in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, according to witnesses and the Egyptian media. (photo: CNS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh, Reuters)

Coptic pope declines invitation of Egyptian president to dialogue (Vatican Insider) Egyptian authorities strongly urged the Coptic Church to take part in the “national dialogue” which President Mohammed Morsi called for last Saturday. But the Coptic Pope Tawadros II declined the invitation, replying that the Church sees itself as a religious institution whose role it is to pray for Egypt. He added that political dialogue is up to parties and public officials…

US designates Syria rebel group a terrorist organization (Los Angeles Times) The Obama administration has formally designated one rebel group fighting in Syria as a terrorist organization in an effort to marginalize the Al Qaeda affiliate and reduce its chances of gaining power should the Syrian government fall. Blacklisting Al Nusra Front is one of several diplomatic moves planned by the administration to try to maneuver moderate opposition groups into position to shape a pro-Western government if President Bashar al Assad is ousted…

Armenians fleeing Syria (New York Times) At the newly opened Cilician School in Armenia, the textbooks are in Arabic, photocopied from a single set flown out of war-torn Syria. The curriculum is Syrian, the flag on the principal’s desk is Syrian, and the teachers and students are all Syrians. They are also ethnic Armenians, driven by Syria’s civil war to a notional motherland most barely know. “Those who are coming here clearly want to go back,” said the school’s principal, Noura Pilibosyan, who came from Aleppo, Syria, in the summer. “Armenian is our language, but our culture is Syrian. It is hard to come here”…

The church and the ‘untouchables’ of India (Fides) In the 250 million untouchables, the Dalits, who in India are considered “human waste,” there is “the moaning of the Spirit of God” that declares the dignity of every human being. Of the Dalits, 20 million are Christian, abused and doubly discriminated. In the Year of Faith, the church in India, on celebrating the “Day for the Liberation of the Dalits” (December 9), renewed its commitment to aid the poor, marginalized and those discriminated against…

Russia’s Hermitage Museum under investigation for blasphemy (Reuters) The head of Russia’s renowned Hermitage Museum accused Russian authorities on Monday of fostering “mob rule” in taking up complaints by Russian Orthodox Christians over a British exhibit they said injured religious feelings. The row coincides with a surge in religious, nationalist sentiment in Russia, with President Vladimir Putin moving closer to the Orthodox Church to consolidate his support after facing the biggest protests since he rose to power nearly 13 years ago…

Ecumenism is at heart of New Evangelization (Vatican Radio) “Christian Unity: illusion or promise? Ecumenical aspects of the Year of Faith”: That was the title of a lecture given at the Lateran University on Monday by Swiss theologian Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity…



Tags: India Egypt Syrian Civil War Russia Armenia

11 December 2012
Greg Kandra




An Ultra-Orthodox Jewish couple lights candles on the third night of the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, “The Festival of Lights” in Jerusalem on 10 December. In Israel, families gather each evening during the eight-day celebration to light a candle on the menorah, eat traditional foods and exchange gifts. (photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)

The Jewish celebration of Hanukkah began last Saturday night, and concludes this weekend. Last year, Catholic News Service offered an intriguing primer on this feast and its connection to Christianity:

While most Christians know that the Jews are celebrating Hanukkah this season, not all that many know the the story of the festival and the heroic deeds of the Maccabees, the Jewish martyrs who resisted Greek attempts to make them turn away from their ancient faith. Scripture holds that a mother and seven sons chose torture and death rather than renounce their faith. The Maccabees were regarded by the early church as proto-martyrs of the early Christians who died for their faith across the Roman Empire.

In fact, both the Catholic and Orthodox churches even today remember the Maccabean martyrs in their calendars of saints.

The Wall Street Journal noted:

To the martyrs, breaking faith with God is worse than death. In one version, their deaths are interpreted as “an atoning sacrifice” through which God sustained the Jewish people in their travail.

The tone here isn’t the lightheartedness of the Christmas season. The Christian parallels lie, instead, with Good Friday and the story of Jesus’s acceptance of his suffering and sacrificial death. In both the Jewish and the Christian stories, the death of the heroes, grievous though it is, is not the end: It is the prelude to a miraculous vindication and a glorious restoration.

The Roman Catholic tradition honors these Jewish martyrs as saints, and the Eastern Orthodox Church still celebrates 1 August as the Feast of the Holy Maccabees. By contrast, in the literature of the rabbis of the first several centuries of the common era, the story lost its connection to the Maccabean uprising, instead becoming associated with later persecutions by the Romans, which the rabbis experienced. If the change seems odd, recall that the compositions that first told of these events (the books of Maccabees) were not part of the scriptural canon of rabbinic Judaism. But they were canonical in the church (and remain so in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox communions).

And so we encounter another oddity of Hanukkah: Jews know the fuller history of the holiday because Christians preserved the books that the Jews themselves lost. In a further twist, Jews in the Middle Ages encountered the story of the martyred mother and her seven sons anew in Christian literature and once again placed it in the time of the Maccabees.

“Hanukkah” means “dedication.” Originally, the term referred to the rededication of the purified Temple after the Maccabees’ stunning military victory. But as the story of the martyrs shows, the victory was also associated with the heroic dedication of the Jewish traditionalists of the time to their God and his Torah. If Hanukkah celebrates freedom, it is a freedom to be bound to something higher than freedom itself.

Happy Hanukkah to our Jewish friends and neighbors!



Tags: Christian-Jewish relations Jewish Judaism

11 December 2012
J.D. Conor Mauro




Raghad Al-Hussein, a 30-year-old refugee from Syria, holds her newborn child inside their makeshift shelter in the village of Jeb Jennine, in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, on 22 November. (photo: CNS/Paul Jeffrey)

UNHCR: Syria Refugees number ‘more than 500,000’ (BBC) The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (U.N.H.C.R.) says it has accounted for 509,559 refugees so far, primarily in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, and that many more have yet to come forward. More than two million people are also thought to be internally displaced within Syria. Lebanon is playing host to most refugees, with 154,387 Syrian refugees either registered or in the process of being registered there. Jordan has received 142,664, while there are in 136,319 in Turkey, 64,449 in Iraq and 11,740 in North Africa, the agency says. “Syrian refugees arriving during recent bad weather reached Jordan with soaked clothing and mud-covered shoes due to heavy rainfall,” U.N.H.C.R. chief spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said. Since the beginning of November, 3,200 new Syrian refugees have been registered every day in the region, although some of these are thought to be people who had been in the host countries for some time but had not sought help…

Egypt opposition groups reject Morsi’s overture (Los Angeles Times) Egypt’s main opposition groups rejected President Mohammed Morsi’s weekend move to ease political tensions as the country braced for fresh protests and the military was given authority to arrest civilians ahead of this week’s referendum on an Islamist-drafted constitution. On Sunday, President Morsi rescinded most of the decree he issued last month that gave him near absolute authority by declaring his office free from judicial oversight. At the same time, he rebuffed key opposition demands to delay a constitutional referendum set for Saturday and to order the writing of a new charter that protects civil rights against the influence of Shari’a, or Islamic law. Holding a referendum now “risks pushing the country toward violent confrontation,” said a statement from the main opposition group, the National Salvation Front, which is led by Nobel Peace laureate Mohammed al Baradei and senior politicians. “We are against this process from start to finish”…

Syria rebels press forward in Aleppo (Al Jazeera) Syrian rebels have taken full control of a sprawling military base that they stormed two days ago in the country’s north, killing at least 35 government troops in the fighting, anti-government activists say. The U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said the battle for Sheik Suleiman base, near the city of Aleppo, ended on Tuesday after rebels took over the main compound and warehouses at the site. The rebels first entered the base on Sunday afternoon, after weeks of fighting with soldiers loyal to President Bashar al-Assad. SOHR said that 64 government troops were also injured in the assault…

Opponents describe abuse by Morsi’s supporters (New York Times) Islamist supporters of President Mohamed Morsi captured, detained and beat dozens of his political opponents last week, holding them for hours with their hands bound on the pavement outside the presidential palace while pressuring them to confess that they had accepted money to use violence in protests against him. “It was torment for us,” said Yehia Negm, 42, a former diplomat with a badly bruised face and rope marks on his wrists. He said he was among a group of about 50, including four minors, who were held on the pavement overnight. “I thought I would die.” To critics of Islamists, the episode on Wednesday recalled the tactics of the ousted president, Hosni Mubarak, who often saw a conspiracy of “hidden hands” behind his domestic opposition and deployed plainclothes thugs acting outside the law to punish those who challenged him. The difference is that the current enforcers are driven by the self-righteousness of their religious ideology, rather than money…

Iraq urges release of Palestinians in Israel jails (Daily Star Lebanon) Iraq’s prime minister has called on the international community to demand an immediate release of Palestinian and Arab prisoners held in Israeli jails. Nouri al Maliki’s statement on Tuesday came at the start of a two-day conference in Baghdad dedicated to the fate of Palestinian prisoners in Israel. Iraq agreed to host the event after holding an Arab League summit in March. Al-Maliki assailed what he called the international community’s double standards as it backed the region’s Arab Spring uprisings against “autocrats and tyrants” but ignored the issue of jailed Palestinians…

Russian government continues restoration of Kosovo holy sites (Russian Orthodox Church) In 2010-2011, the Russian government contributed $2 million U.S. dollars to UNESCO to finance the restoration of Orthodox holy sites in Kosovo, in compliance with the U.N. Security Council Resolution 1244 on Kosovo and within the UNESCO international action on humanitarian aid to the Republic of Serbia. Restoration efforts began in 2012 at four monuments of Orthodox architecture included in the UNESCO list of world heritage sites — the Decani Monastery, the Patriarchate of Pec Monastery, the Gracanica Monastery and the Church of Our Lady of Ljeviš in Prizren. The work is carried out according to operating schedule and should be completed in the first half of 2013…



Tags: Egypt Refugees Syrian Civil War Russia Kosovo

10 December 2012
Annie Grunow




Michael prepares a cup of flowers for the dinner table as his mother prepares lunch for the family in their small apartment in Amman. (photo: Bryan Denton)

George Jaqamon and Elham Hanania live with their two sons, Michael and Johnny, in the Jabal Webdeh neighborhood of Amman, Jordan. Both are of Palestinian origin. Elham was born and lived much of her life in Bethlehem. George, who was a barber, is unemployed. He works part time as a driver and takes tourists to places like the Dead Sea and Petra. His wife Elham works at the Terra Sancta School located just a few minutes from their house. Making ends meet for the young family is difficult, as the cost of living in Amman has increased dramatically.

Read their story and learn more about the Christians of Jordan in this report from the September 2006 issue of ONE.



Tags: Palestine Jordan

10 December 2012
Greg Kandra




Syrian priest welcomed into monastic community in Iraq (Fides) Following his expulsion from Syria, Father Paolo Dall’Oglio SJ, founder of the monastic community of Deir Mar Musa, was welcomed into the newly founded monastery of Deir Maryam el Adhra, which began a few months ago in Sulaymanya in Kurdistan Iraq...

Gaza residents in no mood to celebrate (Los Angeles Times) As tens of thousands of Gazans celebrated Hamas’ 25th anniversary Saturday, Mohamed Mustafa Abdallah huddled by a small fire in a cinder-block shed, assembled from scraps of wreckage from his bombed-out wholesale food business a few feet away. He said he was in no mood to party. His business, near the restive Jabaliya refugee camp where many Gaza Strip militants live, was destroyed by an Israeli airstrike Nov. 17, leaving nothing but broken concrete atop crates of crushed onions, garlic cloves and other goods. It was only a year ago that he finished repairing the damage caused to the building during Israel’s Gaza Strip offensive in 2009. “No one cares about us but God,” the father of eight said...

Former hostage Terry Waite returns to Lebanon to highlight the plight of Christians (The Telegraph) Terry Waite is convinced his meeting with the leadership of Hizbollah, the militant group accused of kidnapping and holding him for five years, will lead to “something positive”. The former hostage spoke for two hours to one of its most senior figures at their stronghold in Beirut, his first encounter with the organisation held responsible for masterminding his kidnapping 25 years ago. Accompanied by The Telegraph, he travelled to Lebanon to highlight the plight of Christians who have fled the Syrian civil war. Now on his return to Britain he denied “political naivety” and said that he was sure his trip achieved something.

Copts in US fear for the faith (Fox) It seems like every Sunday, there’s a new face sitting in the pews of the Church of Saint Verena and the Three Holy Youth in Orange, California. Most are young professionals or families with small children and some have been living in the United States for a just few weeks. “The first waves of immigration,” said Bishop Serapion of the Coptic Diocese of Los Angeles, Southern California and Hawaii...Since the Arab Spring began in early 2011, Department of Homeland Security figures show the number of Egyptians seeking asylum has doubled. Unofficial estimates are that 100,000 Egyptians have so far sought refuge in the U.S. Many of them are believed to be Copts but there are no official statistics on their numbers...

Kerala prepares for Christmas (IBN) The first sign that Christmas is around the corner in Kerala comes in early December, when the mercury dips slightly. That’s when the morning stroll becomes a pleasant experience. Churches and Christian homes begin to put up the traditional Christmas stars, in varying sizes and shapes. Cribs are put up in the second week of December. Now-a-days, these are often ready-made. Nearly 22 percent of the state’s population is Christian, an estimated 32 million people. “Times have changed, so have customs. Gone are the days when the entire family used to get together to make wine, pickles and other food items. These days, who has the time; and then, where are the people to do those things,” asks 75-year-old Santhamma Joseph, a grandmother in Kottayam.



Tags: Syria Iraq Lebanon Gaza Strip/West Bank Palestine





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