22 January 2013
Seniors play chess and backgammon in a Yerevan, Armenia, park. (photo: Armineh Johannes)
Four years ago, we took readers to Armenia, for a glimpse at some of the challenges facing many of the elderly:
The income gap in Armenia has widened and poverty remains widespread. Armenia’s most vulnerable citizens, children, the disabled and the elderly, have experienced a decline — at times dramatic — in the quality of their lives.
Most senior citizens depend on pensions to survive. And though the average pension has increased by $10 over the last five years, the cost of living has risen, mitigating the effectiveness of any increase. Today a typical pension pays a third of what is considered necessary for the average person to maintain the minimum standard of living in Armenia.
“The problem with raising pensions is quite difficult,” said Anahit Gevorgian, who heads the Elderly Issues Division in the Ministry of Labor and Social Issues. “Paying higher pensions is impossible in a country with widespread unemployment.
“Today there is just 0.9 worker for every pensioner, when there should be at least two workers to pay for one person’s pension.” About 11 percent of Armenia’s citizens are 65 or older.
Read more about Pensioners in Crisis in the January 2008 issue of ONE.
22 January 2013
Pope Benedict XVI has raised the church jurisdiction for Ukrainian Catholics in Great Britain to the level of an eparchy, or diocese, and named Bishop Hlib Lonchyna, 58, a native of Steubenville, Ohio, to be the eparchial bishop. Bishop Lonchyna is pictured in a 2004 photo.
(photo: CNS /Daniele Colarieti, Catholic Press Photo)
Pope creates two Ukrainian eparchies (Vatican Radio) Two papal appointments in the past two days have given Ukrainian Catholics in France and the UK a greater sense of pastoral presence and stability. Pope Benedict XVI elevated the Ukrainian Apostolic Exarchate in Great Britain to the rank of Eparchy on Friday. He followed up on Saturday with an announcement, elevating the exarchate in France to the same rank...
Russians leaving Syria cross into Lebanon
(Associated Press) Four buses carrying Russian citizens escaping the Syrian civil war crossed into Lebanon on Tuesday, in the first evacuation organized by Moscow since the start of the conflict nearly two years ago. About 80 people, mostly women and children, were on the buses, according to an official from the Russian Embassy in Beirut who was waiting for the group at the Masnaa border crossing in eastern Lebanon. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media...
Pope: Divisions among Christians disfigure the church (L’Osservatore Romano) One of the gravest sins “that disfigure the Church’s face” is the sin “against her visible unity,” and, in particular, “the historical divisions which separated Christians and which have not yet been surmounted.” The Holy Father said this at the Angelus on Sunday, 20 January, in St Peter’s Square, speaking of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity that is being celebrated from 18 to 25 January on the theme “What does the Lord require of us?,” from the words of the Prophet Micah...
Christian candidates attracting attention in Jordan election (Fides) There are more than 40 Christians who will present themselves as candidates in the parliamentary elections for the renewal of the Lower Chamber, scheduled for tomorrow in Jordan, according to Father Rifat Bader, director of the Catholic Centre for Studies and Media...
Georgian patriarch visits Russia, seeks stronger ties (Reuters) Georgia’s Patriarch Ilia, on a rare trip to Russia on Monday, said religion was the strongest tie still binding the two countries that fought a short war in 2008 and said he was optimistic about future relations of the two post-Soviet states. One of the most prominent Georgians to visit Russia since the war, the leader of the Georgian Orthodox Church received an award from his Russian Orthodox counterpart, Patriarch Kirill — a move analysts said used the politically powerful churches to help improve the countries’ ties. Ilya is due to meet President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday...
18 January 2013
Tags: Syria Lebanon Ukraine Jordan Russia
Left to right: Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, Cardinal Edwin F. O’Brien, Jesuit Archbishop Terrence T. Prendergast and Msgr. John E. Kozar hosted a reception in Rome to raise the Italian community’s awareness of the needs of the churches and people of the East. (photo: Carl Hétu)
This past Wednesday, in the frescoed reception rooms of the headquarters of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre, the Holy See’s Congregation for the Eastern Churches joined CNEWA in hosting a reception to introduce to the Italian community the needs of the Eastern churches.
The reception capped a flurry of public activities designed to better acquaint Italian Catholics with some of the issues challenging Christian families, especially in the Middle East. As in North America, the Italian media reports on the political and economic dimensions of the Middle East, but few raise the issue of the Christians who have been living there since the time of Christ.
Cardinal Leonardi Sandri, prefect of the Congregation of the Eastern Churches; Cardinal Edwin F. O’Brien, grand master of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre; Msgr. John E. Kozar, president of CNEWA; and Archbishop Terrence T. Prendergast, S.J., chair and treasurer of CNEWA Canada, welcomed more than 100 prominent Italians, including members of the political community and actor Giorgio Lupano.
“Almost every day, in an area of the world called the Middle East, people face forces far greater than the destruction of a hurricane,” Msgr. Kozar said in an address that referenced the hurricane that devastated parts of New York City and the surrounding regions last autumn.
“They face the storms of conflict, hostility, hatred, poverty, injustice and religious and political persecution. At times, there is little hope of survival, let alone the opportunity to rebuild and to live in peace with hope.”
CNEWA’s regional director for Lebanon, Syria and Egypt, Issam Bishara, reported on the current challenges and work being done for, through and with the Eastern churches in the midst of violent conflicts afflicting the region.
Comboni Missionary Sister Alessandra Fumagalli spoke about the work of her community in southern Jordan, where the sisters run the Italian Hospital in Kerak. “It’s really an emergency,” she said about the large numbers of people needing care from a 40-bed facility.
At his weekly audience the day before the event, the Holy Father thanked CNEWA and its benefactors, a few of whom joined Archbishop Prendergast and Msgr. Kozar in the audience hall, for all the work done on behalf of the church.
You, too, can join in these efforts of CNEWA to affirm human dignity, alleviate poverty, encourage dialogue and inspire hope. Click here to learn how.
18 January 2013
Tags: Syria CNEWA Middle East Christians Jordan Msgr. John E. Kozar
In this image from 2011, Italian Cardinal Francesco Monterisi, archpriest of the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, welcomes Christian prelates to an ecumenical evening prayer service with Pope Benedict XVI to mark the close of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
When you go to church this week, you might not see your pastor. He might be down the street at the Presbyterian church — and the Presbyterian minister might be delivering a sermon to you.
Such pulpit exchanges are common during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, a 105-year-old effort of the Catholic Church and the World Council of Churches to promote understanding and harmony among the followers of Jesus Christ. This year the Week of Prayer starts today.
Working toward Christian unity is a big part of CNEWA’s mission and ministry on behalf of the Holy Father. And so here are five quotes to get you thinking about and praying for your brothers and sisters in Christ.
The first is from Vatican II and its Decree on Ecumenism (“Unitatis Redintegratio”): “The restoration of unity among all Christians is one of the principle concern of the Second Vatican Council.” This decree made ecumenism central to the work of the Catholic Church.
Regarding other churches, the council stated:
“Moreover, some and even very many of the significant elements and endowments which together go to build up and give life to the church itself, can exist outside the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church...” and “the separated churches and communities as such, though we believe them to be deficient in some respects, have been by no means deprived of significance and importance in the mystery of salvation. For the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as means of salvation which derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the church.”
Blessed John Paul II, in his encyclical “Ut Unum Sint” (“That They May be One”), declared:
“Thus it is absolutely clear that ecumenism, the movement promoting Christian Unity, is not just some sort of ‘appendix’ [the Holy Father’s emphasis] which is added to the church’s traditional activity. Rather, ecumenism is an organic part of her life and work, and consequently must pervade all she is and does...”
Pope Benedict marked the Week of Prayer this year by inviting Christians “to pray, asking insistently to God, for the great gift of unity between all of the Lord’s disciples. May the Holy Spirit’s limitless strength arouse us to the sincere commitment to seek unity, so that we might all progress together that Jesus is the savior of the world.”
The last is a prayer written for this year’s observance. Please join your voice with your brother and sister Christians in asking for God’s help in uniting the church:
“Jesus Christ, we proclaim with joy our common identity in you, and we thank you for inviting us into a dialogue of love with you. Open our hearts to share more perfectly in your prayer to the Father that we may be one, so that as we journey together we may draw closer to each other. Give us the courage to bear witness to the truth together, and may our conversations embrace those who perpetuate disunity. Send your Spirit to empower us to challenge situations where dignity and compassion are lacking in our societies, nations, and the world. God of life, lead us to justice and peace. Amen.”
18 January 2013
Tags: Pope Benedict XVI Christianity Unity Ecumenism Christian Unity
Iconographer Eliseea Papacioc works on an icon in her studio in the village of Bradetu, Romania. (photo: Andreea Câmpeanu)
Last year, we visited Romania and met an extraordinary Romanian Orthodox nun whose specialty is iconography:
Iconography did not come easily to Sister Eliseea. In the beginning, she struggled with the authenticity of her writing. “Once I understood that these icons should only be made with never-ending prayer, I realized I could not write them, because I could not pray. And I was a nun,” she admits.
“Your prayer becomes the icon, and the icon becomes prayer again for the one who has it in his home and prays in front of it. It’s all mystery, a real and continuous link to God,” she explains, as she sits in her workroom’s red armchair and sips a cup of tea.
Now, when Sister Eliseea writes, she prays nonstop. She follows a simple daily routine, which begins and ends in prayer. Each morning, she wakes up at dawn and reads from the Psalms. “That’s where I get all my sap, all my spirit,” she says.
Read more about A Romanian Renaissance, and see examples of her work, in the January 2012 issue of ONE.
18 January 2013
Tags: Sisters Prayers/Hymns/Saints Icons Romania
In this 23 July 2011 photo, Cardinal Antonios Naguib, Coptic Catholic patriarch of Alexandria, Egypt, celebrates the Divine Liturgy at St. Patrick Church in Nashville, Tennessee, as part of a tour of Coptic Catholic communities across the United States. This week, Cardinal Naguib submitted his resignation for health reasons. (photo: CNS/Theresa Laurence, Tennessee Register)
New Coptic Catholic patriarch elected (Fides) The Synod of the Coptic Catholic Bishops, who gathered in Cairo from 12 to 16 January, received a letter of resignation for health reasons by Patriarch Cardinal Antonios Naguib and, after a day of spiritual retreat, proceeded to the election of his successor. On 15 January, the synod canonically elected the new patriarch of Alexandria of the Copts, His Beatitude Ibrahim Isaac Sidrak, who then received the Ecclesiastical Communio granted by His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI…
Catholic hospital in Jordan struggles to help Syrian refugees (Catholic News Agency) A Jordanian Catholic hospital is appealing for more money to help with the growing influx of Syrian refugees fleeing the conflict in their homeland. "What we're asking for is just to help us help others," said Sister Alessandra Fumagalli, at a Catholic Near East Welfare Association gathering on 16 January at the Vatican. Sister Fumagalli made her remarks at the headquarters of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, speaking alongside Cardinal Edwin O'Brien, Cardinal Leonardo Sandri and the archbishop of Ottawa, Terrence Prendergast. The hospital in the Jordanian town of Karak run by the Comboni sisters, known as "the Italian Hospital," has 40 beds, 30 consultant doctors and 5 resident doctors, but the space for patients remains limited. "We have 15 people coming in three times a day because we just don't have enough seats for them," she said. "We can't afford to buy medical equipment, so CNEWA is helping us a lot in these things," Sister Fumagalli explained. The Catholic charity organized the event where Sister Fumagalli spoke. It brought together over 120 participants, including the Italian actor Giorgio Lupano and Italian political representatives, hoping to tell Italians of the worsening situation for Christians in the Middle East. "The main purpose was to raise awareness in Italy of how much the Eastern Churches are in need, in order to support them," said Emanuelle Latini, the administrator of the association's office at the Vatican…
Jordan won’t accept new refugees if Syria falls (New York Times) In the latest sign of the intense pressures Syria’s war has placed on its neighbors, Jordan’s prime minister said Thursday that his country would not accept thousands of new refugees likely to flee Syria if President Bashar al Assad’s government collapsed. Jordan’s government would instead deploy special forces troops to create “secure safe havens” for the refugees inside Syrian territory. These comments underscored mounting fears in Jordan that it was being destabilized by the influx of more than 200,000 refugees — many living in miserable conditions in a camp near the border — and by the threat of a spreading militancy from the war. Despite such concerns, Jordanian officials on Thursday tried to soften the prime minister’s comments, which raised the possibility of both a Jordanian military incursion into Syrian territory and a new humanitarian crisis. A government spokesman, Samih Maytah, clarified: Jordan will continue receiving the refugees “as long as the flow continues at the same rate,” he said. But if tens or hundreds of thousands came across — “if the regime falls or chaos spreads” — Jordan will stop taking them in…
Pursuit of ‘ideal’ Georgian-Armenian relations includes focus on churches (Azatutyun.am) Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili pledged to help make Georgian-Armenian relations “ideal” during his first official visit to Yerevan on Thursday. He also announced an ambitious initiative to end a long-running dispute between the government-backed Armenian and Georgian churches after holding talks with President Serzh Sarkisian and Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian — specifically, the thorny issue of worship sites claimed by the Armenian Apostolic and Georgian Orthodox churches. The unresolved dispute centers on ownership of several formerly Armenian churches in Tbilisi as well as abandoned medieval monasteries in Armenia’s Lori province bordering Georgia. The supreme heads of the two churches failed to reach any agreements during almost one week of negotiations held in June 2011. Ivanishvili said he proposed that his private charity finance the renovation of all disputed churches “in both countries” pending a joint Georgian-Armenian study of their origin. “We could also do archaeological work there, which I’m also ready to finance through my fund,” he said…
Jordan’s Islamists, opposition rally against vote (Daily Star Lebanon) Hundreds of Jordanian Islamists, youth activists and other opposition groups are rallying in capital city Amman and calling for a boycott of next week’s parliament elections. Friday’s peaceful demonstration drew about 1,300 Muslim Brotherhood members and others, united in the election boycott and in demands that King Abdullah II cede some of his powers and give parliament more say in the country. The demonstration comes just five days before elections that will for the first time see a prime minister emerge from among the winning candidates, rather than by appointment by the king. The protesters say such reforms do not go far enough…
17 January 2013
Tags: Refugees Jordan Armenian Apostolic Church Coptic Catholic Church Georgian Orthodox Church
Violette Elias squeezes pomegranates to make molasses at her orchard in Kafarchakna, Lebanon. (photo: Dalia Khamissy)
Did you know that in some traditions the forbidden fruit in Eden wasn’t the apple, but the pomegranate?
We take a closer look at the fruit and its history in the current issue of ONE:
For Middle East Christians, pomegranates frequently appear as a motif in iconography and sacred art. Patterns woven in liturgical vestments as well as Christian metalwork often prominently feature the fruit.
According to tradition, the pomegranate — broken or bursting open — symbolizes the fullness of Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection. During Christmas, families in the Middle East decorate their homes with likenesses of bursting pomegranates.
Orthodox Christians often add pomegranate seeds to koliva, a dish of sweetened boiled wheat. Used primarily in memorial liturgies, koliva symbolizes the sweetness of the heavenly kingdom. And for some Eastern Christians, the pomegranate — not the apple — is the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden.
Muslims, too, believe pomegranates grow in the gardens of paradise, though they are not associated with evil. Pomegranates appear in the Quran on three occasions, as examples of the good things God creates.
For Jews, pomegranates, with their numerous seeds, symbolize fertility. According to tradition, each pomegranate contains 613 seeds — the same number of mitzvoth, or commandments of the Torah. It is also believed Moses received a pomegranate as proof of the Promised Land’s fertility. On Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, many families celebrate with pomegranates.
Inhabitants of the Middle East, the Balkans, the Caucasus and Persia have prized pomegranates for millennia. Ancient Egyptians regarded the pomegranate as a sign of ambition and prosperity. In ancient Persia, the fruit symbolized fertility.
In ancient Greek mythology, the pomegranate plays a key role in the explanation of the seasons. According to legend, Hades, the god of the underworld, kidnapped Persephone — the daughter of Zeus, the father of gods and men. He took her to the underworld, where she lived as his wife.
Fate dictated that anyone who consumed food or drink while in the underworld must spend eternity there. Knowing the laws of fate, Persephone declined all food and drink. But, Hades tricked her into eating four pomegranate seeds. As a result, when Zeus commanded Hades to return Persephone, she was forever condemned to spend four months out of every year in the underworld. Persephone’s mother, Demeter, goddess of the harvest, grieved over her daughter’s punishment and refused to allow any crops to grow during those four months, a period which became winter.
The use and importance of pomegranates in traditional cuisine varies widely in the Middle East and nearby regions.
Read more about Lebanon’s Fruitful Trade — and discover a recipe for using pomegranates — in the November 2012 issue of ONE.
17 January 2013
Tags: Lebanon Cultural Identity Farming/Agriculture
Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al Assad walk on the rubble of damaged buildings and shops in the old city of Aleppo on 3 January. (photo: CNS/George Ourfalian, Reuters)
Editor's note: You may have noticed our website was experiencing technical difficulties. We were down for most of the last 24 hours. But now, at last, we're back. Our apologies for any inconvenience.
Syria university explosion kills more than 80 (L.A. Times) Dozens of people died in two explosions minutes apart Tuesday at a university in the embattled northern city of Aleppo, a reminder of the Syrian conflict’s costly toll on ordinary citizens. At least 82 people, many on campus for midterm exams, were killed, according to separate accounts from rebels in Aleppo, government officials and a pro-opposition group. Videos posted on YouTube show students in winter clothes milling about minutes after the first blast occurred, when a second explosion sent a billowing, mushroom-like cloud into the sky. The explosions tore the facades off buildings, blew out windows, set cars ablaze and left bodies scattered across the grounds of Aleppo University, which has managed to stay open despite daily battles between the government and rebel forces since July. It was not known who was responsible for the blasts…
For those still in Syria, a daily struggle (N.P.R.) The situation for Syrian refugees is getting dire. Much has been reported about the worsening conditions for hundreds of thousands of Syrians taking up shelter just outside the country’s borders, but inside Syria, the numbers are even higher. The United Nations says some 2 million people have been displaced from their homes in Syria, and most of them end up squatting in mosques and schools. NPR’s Kelly McEvers spent a night in one of those schools, in Syria’s largest city, Aleppo, and filed this report on the daily lives of the people she encountered…
Serbian Orthodox Church reports mistreatment of Christians by Kosovo police (Interfax Religion) Information service of the Serbian Orthodox diocese of Ra?ka-Prizren reports that during Christmas celebration on 7 January 2013, Kosovar police executed a raid operation in the Gra?anica convent. The ruling hierarch, Bishop Teodosije of Raska-Prizren, was not notified. The worshippers’ confusion, fear and bewilderment over actions of the police were redoubled by the detention of Orthodox Christians who were in Gracanica to attend Christmas Divine Liturgy. Several Serbs were detained and brought to Pristina for interrogation without any indictment. According to one of them, they were beaten while in the detention unit. One sustained serious injuries and was admitted to the local hospital. The detention of Orthodox Christians on the day of the Nativity of Christ and mistreatment of the detainees has evoked indignation among the Serbian Orthodox and Russian Orthodox communities…
Combating human trafficking a priority in Orissa (Fides) A decisive fight against human trafficking — which mainly affects the poorest communities in Orissa, such as Christians — and initiatives to ensure food security for the population are the activities sponsored for the Year of Faith by a network formed by the religious congregations in the state of Orissa. The network includes other Christian denominations, non-governmental organizations, civic groups, students and diocesan teams of volunteers. The network has identified two emergencies in the society of Orissa state in eastern India, the scene of anti-Christian massacres in 2008. The first is human trafficking, which affects mostly women and children, and the second is food insecurity — households do not have the certainty of the minimum daily sustenance necessary for survival…
Court overturns life sentence against Hosni Mubarak; orders retrial (N.P.R.) An Egyptian court overturned a life sentence against ousted President Hosni Mubarak and ordered a retrial for the former autocrat. The decision to retry the strongman, who was serving a life sentence for failing to stop the killing of protesters, came as no surprise. When the judge overseeing the original case made his ruling last June, he criticized the prosecution for failing to produce concrete evidence against the leadership. Mubarak and his security chief Habib al Adly will be tried again on criminal charges related to the killing of some 1,000 demonstrators during the 2011 uprising that forced the president’s ouster. Adly’s six deputies, who held key positions and were all acquitted, will also be retried. The court also granted a request to overturn not-guilty verdicts on corruption charges against Mubarak, his two sons and a business associate, Hussein Salem…
15 January 2013
Tags: India Egypt Syrian Civil War human trafficking Kosovo
Father John Ariekal leads a congregation of Dalits in Pappala in prayer. (photo: Peter Lemieux)
In the current issue of the magazine, we visit India and meet the Christian Dalits, the “untouchable” caste facing discrimination and fighting for equality:
The highest caste, the Brahmin, traditionally pursued religious vocations and served as priests and spiritual leaders. They also made, upheld and taught the law. Ranked second is the Kshatriya caste, to which warriors and the military elite belonged. Next in rank is the Vaishya caste, which traditionally included cattle herders, merchants, traders and some artisans. Ranked fourth is the Shudra caste, made up of artisans, farmers and laborers.
At the very bottom of the caste system are the Dalits, below more than 3,000 sub-castes. Considered subhuman and “untouchable” until the 19th century, Dalits were treated as slaves to upper castes — denied even the most basic civil, political, economic and social rights.
The Dalits’ untouchable status dictated where they could live, work, worship, eat, collect water and even walk or sit in public places. They could only socialize and marry within their caste. They were prohibited from receiving an education, including learning to read and write. And for centuries, they were required to hide themselves in the event members of Brahmin caste approached, so as not to pollute their purity.
India gained independence from British rule in 1947, and in 1950 the Constitution of India took effect. The Constitution prohibits discrimination based on caste or tribe, specifically enumerating the groups historically oppressed, including Dalits, in the provisions “Scheduled Castes” and “Scheduled Tribes.” About a quarter of India’s 1.2 billion people belongs to one of these scheduled castes and tribes.
The Constitution also stipulates for “Reservation,” a system of affirmative action that sets aside a certain number of positions in government and enrollment slots in public universities for members of the scheduled castes and tribes. Yet despite legal protections and reservation, caste-based discrimination persists throughout the subcontinent.
“It’s very hard to be a Dalit,” says Dr. Simon John, chairman of the Backward People Development Corporation and a Christian who lives in Pathanamthitta, a predominantly non-Dalit area in the central Travancore region of Kerala. “I don’t face the first degree of untouchability as my father faced. They don’t ask me to step aside. Nowadays, they just ignore you. They don’t recognize your presence wherever you are. I face it at the higher levels, because of my family tradition, my education and where I live. But still my problem is the passive attitude, off-hand comments, non-recognition of my existence in my student days, my work days and even at present.
Read more about India’s Christian Untouchables in the November 2012 issue of ONE.
15 January 2013
Tags: India Indian Christians Indian Catholics Syro-Malankara Catholic Church
In this 2010 photograph, Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal of Jerusalem waves after celebrating Mass at the cathedral in Valparaiso, Chile, on 8 November. (photo: CNS/Eliseo Fernandez, Reuters)
Patriarch Twal urges democratic participation among Jordanians (Fides) Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal has sent a message to the “dear children” of Jordan in view of the upcoming parliamentary elections, scheduled for 23 January. In the message, the patriarch thanked King Abdullah II for ensuring that all citizens are able to exercise their electoral rights enshrined in the Constitution, and recalls the words addressed by the king to Pope Benedict XVI in May 2009, during the papal visit to Jordan: “The sons of our people, Muslims and Christians are equal citizens before the law, and all are involved in shaping the future of our country.” Patriarch Twal notes that country, after the worship due to the one God, occupies a position of first importance, since dedication towards one’s country precedes and guarantees the protection of the legitimate interests of individuals or groups. “There is no contradiction between the worship of God and belonging to one’s own country.”
Georgian Orthodox Patriarch Ilia II’s ‘star power’ (Eurasianet.org) Georgia’s two squabbling rulers, the prime minister and the president, both need love — the love of the country’s spiritual leader, the guardian of national unity, the primus inter pares, Georgian Orthodox Patriarch Ilia II. A recent, seemingly playful exchange in which the president and prime minister bickered over whom the patriarch loved more showed rather clearly that Georgia’s political system is not a diarchy, but a triumvirate, and that secular leaders need to vie for the holy graces of the chief of the Georgian Orthodox Church. Georgians’ infatuation with their political leaders is pretty much a one-night stand; they tend to lose interest the moment leaders take office. But the patriarch always tops the national love charts. And, so, well aware of the patriarch’s star power, the civic leaders turned up at the celebrations that marked Orthodox New Year, plus Ilia II’s 80th birthday and the anniversary of his 1977 enthronement — “a celebration of love,” as the church leader himself put it.
Rapes and bombings drive half a million refugees out of Syria (Christian Science Monitor) The flood of refugees from Syria, driven by rampant bombings and the widespread use of rape as an instrument of terror, threatens to destabilize the Middle East. The Syrian government bombed areas around Damascus on Monday as part of its push to keep rebel fighters out of the capital, leaving many children among the dozens killed, anti-regime activists said. An international aid organization cited such raids, along with rape and widespread destruction, as key factors in the exodus of more than a half-million Syrians to neighboring countries since the conflict began in March 2011. The International Rescue Committee said it could be “months, if not years” before the refugees can return home and warned that Syria’s civil war could enflame tensions in the Middle East.
Coptic Christians fleeing Egypt following Islamist takeover (The Telegraph) Tens of thousands of Egyptian Christians are leaving the country in the wake of the Egyptian revolution and subsequent Islamist takeover of politics, priests and community leaders say. Coptic Christian churches in the United States say they are having to expand to cope with new arrivals, as priests in cities like Cairo and Alexandria talk of a new climate of fear and uncertainty. “Most of our people are afraid,” said Father Mina Adel, a priest at the Church of Two Saints in Alexandria. “Not a few are leaving — for America, Canada and Australia. Dozens of families from this church alone are trying to go too.” Father Mina’s church has an important place in the history of the Arab Spring. It was struck by a car bomb on New Year’s Eve 2010, Egypt’s worst sectarian attack in recent decades, in which 23 people were killed. After the bombing, liberal Muslim groups staged protests in support of Christians, printing posters showing the cross and the crescent interlinked which then went on to be symbols of inter-faith unity during the Tahrir Square protests three weeks later. But the victory of the Muslim Brotherhood in parliamentary and presidential elections has changed the mood — particularly as the biggest opposition party is the even more hardline Salafist movement which wants strict Sharia law implemented.
Tags: Egypt Syrian Civil War Jordan Patriarch Fouad Twal Georgian Orthodox Church