Current Issue
September, 2019
Volume 45, Number 3
17 October 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro

In this April 2010 image, Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregory III celebrates the Divine Liturgy at the ancient Monastery of Mar Thomas in Sednaya, Syria. (photo: CNEWA)

Patriarch Gregory III: Christians do not need Assad to survive (BBC) Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregory III told the BBC that more than 450,000 Christians out of a total population of 1.75 million — more than one quarter — had been displaced or left the country. However, he was adamant that the Christian community will survive. Syria’s minority Christian community has faced growing violence, but he said it is not dependent for its survival on President Bashar al Assad’s secular government. In fact, Patriarch Gregory believes Christians can in fact help bring the warring sides together. “We have to have a new vision, and that is our work as Christians, especially the Christian Arabs have to play this role to change the vision…”

Scattered by war, Syrian family struggles to start over (New York Times) Watering the plants on her balcony back home in Syria this spring, Wedad Sarhan took delight in how they were stirring to life after the winter months. A rocket exploded on the balcony minutes later. Ms. Sarhan was standing inside. Two of her granddaughters were wounded. Their father, Hasan, quickly carried one girl to a nearby clinic, unaware that the other lay more grievously wounded under a pile of clothes. That evening, the Sarhans fled Dara’a, their hometown in southwestern Syria, and crossed into Jordan, three generations of refugees. Their large clan, already torn apart by the Syrian civil war, was now scattered across Jordan and Syria. “Our family story is just one of many,” said Noman Sarhan, Ms. Sarhan’s eldest son. “You can find Syrian families who have had an easier time than we’ve had, and others whose stories are more horrific. But almost all Syrian families have these in common: a relative who’s been killed or wounded, who is detained or wanted. Every family has suffered…”

The historic scale of Syria’s refugee crisis (New York Times) The Syrian refugee crisis has exploded from about 270,000 people a year ago to today’s tally of more than two million who have fled the country. The pace of the diaspora has been characterized by the United Nations as the worst since the Rwandan genocide in 1994. In addition, an estimated 4.25 million Syrians have been displaced within their country, bringing the total number forced into flight to more than six million. According to the United Nations, the flood of Syrian refugees is comparable to the crises caused by the war and sectarian violence in Iraq and by the conflicts that accompanied the breakup of Yugoslavia…

France to accept Syrian refugees amid surge in anti-immigration politics (Al Jazeera) France is set to welcome 500 Syrian refugees, reports say, at a time when what many call an anti-immigrant, far-right National Front Party is making strides in local elections and popularity polls — a sign Arab and Muslim community advocates say has grim portents for France’s immigrants. Philippe Leclerc, the French representative for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, told French newspaper Le Figaro Wednesday that President Francois Hollande agreed to accept the Syrian immigrants, after requests from the United Nations that European nations help alleviate the toll massive inflows of refugees have taken on Syria’s Middle Eastern neighbors…

Egypt detaining, deporting Syrian refugees, rights group says (Los Angeles Times) Saying that Egypt is “failing abysmally” to meet international obligations, Amnesty International called Thursday for the country’s military-backed government to stop detaining and deporting Syrian war refugees. About 300,000 Syrians have fled to Egypt, where they were once welcomed. But as their numbers have swelled, public sentiment has shifted sharply. Official media outlets routinely revile the refugees as partisans of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist movement that propelled now-deposed president Muhammad Morsi to power, and they are accused by authorities of representing a threat to public order…

Amid new attacks, Egypt’s Copts preserve heritage (Yahoo! News) Locked inside a 6th-century church in a desert monastery are some of the jewels of early Christianity — ancient murals in vivid pinks, greens and reds depicting saints, angels and the Virgin Mary with a baby Jesus, hidden for centuries under a blanket of black soot. Italian and Egyptian restorers are meticulously uncovering the paintings, some of the earliest surviving and most complete examples of early Coptic Christian art. But the work, in the final stages more than a decade after it started, is done quietly to avoid drawing attention — and there’s no plan to try to attract visitors, at least not now. “This is our heritage and we must protect it,” said Father Antonius, abbot of the Red Monastery where the Anba Bishay Church is located. He takes it as a personal mission to protect it. The church’s heavy wooden door has only two keys. He keeps one and a young monk he trusts keeps the other…

Chaldean patriarch visits Iraqi prime minister (Chaldean Patriarchate) On Wednesday afternoon, 9 October 2013, Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael I visited Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki to congratulate him on the occasion of Eid al Adha. Patriarch Louis Raphael discussed the plight of Christians in Iraq, outlining points to encourage them to stay in their country, which the prime minister received with interest…

Tags: Refugees Syrian Civil War Violence against Christians Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael I Melkite Patriarch Gregory III of Antioch

16 October 2013
Greg Kandra

Pope Francis wears a firefighter’s helmet as he arrives to lead his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on 16 October. (photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

In his weekly general audience, Pope Francis today spoke of how the church is “apostolic”:

The church can describe itself as “apostolic” only if it shares the Gospel with the world, remaining faithful to the teaching of the apostles and living out Gospel values, Pope Francis said.

“A church closed in on itself and its past, a church concerned only with its little rules, customs and attitudes is a church that betrays its identity,” the pope told more than 70,000 people gathered in St. Peter’s Square on 16 October for his weekly general audience.

Continuing a series of audience talks about how the creed describes the church, Pope Francis said the adjective “apostolic” comes from the church’s connection to the 12 men Jesus chose as his closest companions and sent to share with the entire world what he had told and shown them.

The church, he said, has “the firm conviction of being sent,” and of having an obligation to “safeguard and transmit” the teaching of the apostles.

Pope Francis said he wanted to emphasize the connection between the church’s apostolic identity and its obligation to be missionary, “because Christ calls everyone to go out, to encounter others; he sends us, asks us to move in order to bring the joy of the Gospel.”

“Once again,” he said, “let’s ask ourselves: Are we missionaries with our words, but especially with our Christian lifestyles; are we witnesses? Or are we closed, both in our hearts and inside our churches? Are we ‘sacristy Christians,’ Christians in word only who live like pagans?”

The pope said he wasn’t trying to scold anyone. “I also ask myself: ‘How am I a Christian? With my witness?’ ”

Read the rest at CNS.

Tags: Pope Francis Catholic Evangelization

16 October 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro

Pope Francis speaks against the ‘scandal’ of hunger (Vatican Radio) October 16th is World Food Day and in a message to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization Pope Francis condemned the continuing scandal of hunger and malnutrition in today’s world and what he called a globalization of indifference towards it. In his message the pope criticized what he called “a growing tendency for us to close in on ourselves,” saying this leads to a certain indifference on “a personal, institutional and state level” towards hunger, as though “it were an inevitable fact…”

Archbishop Marayati: International community promotes Christian exodus (Fides) “There is a rumor that 17 countries have opened their doors to Syrian refugees. This news has reignited among Christians the impulse to leave Syria,” says Armenian Catholic Archbishop of Aleppo Boutros Marayati. He adds that the richest Christians have already left Syria, while for others “any attempt to leave the country remains dangerous and also very expensive. For now, this is not a mass exodus, but the phenomenon involves a growing number of families…”

Iraq war claimed half a million lives, study finds (Al Jazeera) The number of deaths caused by the Iraq war has been a source of intense controversy, as politics, inexact methodology and a clamor for public awareness have intersected in a heated debate of conflicting interests. The latest and perhaps most rigorous survey, released Tuesday, puts the figure at close to 500,000. The study included a survey of 2,000 Iraqi households in 100 geographic regions in Iraq…

Bedouin resist Israeli relocation plans (Al Monitor) Although not fierce in intensity, the struggle of the Bedouins has been protracted and tenacious. Their demand has become a slogan for the Negev region of southern Israel: recognition. Ever since the Palestinian exodus of 1948, Israel has not recognized the Bedouin villages of the Negev, and has only limited legal recognition of the towns that the government built and into which the population is being forcibly inserted. In 2003, however, the government made the unorthodox decision to recognize 13 villages. This has made little difference. Before, these villages were denied basic services such as water, electricity, medical clinics, schools, transportation, roads and sewers. The houses were continuously demolished and the land was confiscated. Those services are still denied today…

Security chief meets patriarch over kidnapped bishops (Daily Star Lebanon) General Abbas Ibrahim met Saturday with Greek Orthodox Patriarch Youhanna X of Antioch and discussed the ongoing efforts to secure the release of two Syrian bishops. According to the National News Agency, General Ibrahim informed the patriarch about recent developments in the case of the prelates, saying that the matter could be resolved in the near future…

Tags: Iraq Pope Francis Middle East Christians Hunger Bedouin

15 October 2013
Greg Kandra

A woman waits to board a boat as she returns to her village on 13 October after Cyclone Phailin hit the village of Sunapur in the eastern Indian state of Orissa. India had its biggest disaster relief operation in history, evacuating the region and successfully moving more than a million people out of harm’s way before Cyclone Phailin swept through Orissa and Andhra Pradesh, ravaging crops and infrastructure and flattening hundreds of thousands of houses. Learn more about CNEWA’s work in India at this link. (photo: CNS/Adnan Abidi, Reuters)

Tags: India Refugees Relief Homes/housing

15 October 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro

In this 2008 photo, a foreign aid volunteer helps to harvest olives in a valley east of Nablus, in the West Bank region. There were several reports of violent incidents when settlers residing in Jewish outposts overlooking the valley opposed the presence of Palestinian harvesters in the area. To learn more about life as a Palestinian olive farmer, read Olive Offerings, from the January 2009 issue of ONE. (photo: Ahikam Seri)

Palestinian olive season puts focus on Israeli settlements (Al Monitor) Members of various diplomatic missions to Palestine joined Palestinians in picking olives. The exercise was no simple picnic or act of volunteer work. Rather, it was another visible manifestation of the major problem of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict: the struggle for land. Olive trees have an important legal status. Since a large part of the West Bank is rural and often void of specific land deeds, authorities often rely on an old Ottoman ruling stating that any person who cultivates fruit-bearing trees can use this continuous relationship with the land to make claim for disputed lands. Palestinians complain that Israeli settlers cognizant of the social, legal and political importance of fruit-bearing trees have made destroying Palestinian olive trees their number one goal. Settler actions against Palestinian lands vary from cutting down olive trees, uprooting them or setting them ablaze…

Egyptians try to draft General Sisi for president (Washington Post) General Abdel Fatah al Sisi’s unofficial presidential campaign is hitting the streets with impressive momentum. Organizers claim that more than nine million people — over 10 percent of Egypt’s population — have already signed the petition calling for the man who orchestrated the July coup that overthrew Egypt’s first democratically elected leader to become this nation’s next elected president. For many Egyptians, the rise of a new military man is a comforting idea after nearly three years of political turmoil since the fall of President Hosni Mubarak. Already, Sisi mania has swept the nation in a pattern reminiscent of past strongmen — the general’s face has become ubiquitous in shop windows and even on cupcakes. He is celebrated in songs, poems and chants…

Egypt struggles for control of Sinai (Der Spiegel) The Sinai Peninsula is both a vacation paradise and a haven for jihadists and gangs of thugs. The military and the police are trying to regain control over the region. But a new class of haughty warlords and a resentful public mean the state’s chances are remote. Though the entire country has descended into violence since the military coup in July, nowhere in Egypt is the fight being waged as bitterly and violently as on the Sinai Peninsula, which is roughly the size of the Republic of Ireland…

A journey through Russia’s struggling heartland (New York Times) On the jarring, 12-hour drive from St. Petersburg to Moscow, another Russia comes into view — one where people struggle with problems that belong to past centuries…

Russia detains scores of migrants after riot (Al Jazeera) Russian police rounded up more than 1,600 immigrants in Moscow a day after rioting by nationalists over a fatal stabbing of a Russian that many residents blame on a man from the Caucasus region. Some 200 residents rallied in the Biryulyovo district on Monday to call for tougher policing of labor migrants. The riot on Sunday broke out with nationalist chants of “white power” and “Russia for Russians.” About 380 people were arrested after demonstrators smashed windows and set fire to shops…

Tags: Egypt Palestine Russia Israeli-Palestinian conflict Farming/Agriculture

11 October 2013
Greg Kandra

Clowns cheer as Pope Francis leads his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on 9 October. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)

In his remarks at his weekly general audience Wednesday, Pope Francis spoke of what it means to be “catholic.” As CNS reports:

Professing that the church is “catholic” means accepting its teachings, accepting the gifts it offers to help one grow in holiness and accepting the fact that it is composed of different people with different gifts and opinions, Pope Francis said.

“Let’s ask ourselves: Do we live in harmony in our communities? Or do we fight among ourselves?” the pope asked 9 October as he focused his weekly general audience talk on the meaning of the creed’s profession that the church is “catholic.”

“Is there gossip” in the parish or movement, do people “accept each other, accept that there is a correct variety” or “do we tend to try to make everything uniform?” Pope Francis asked the estimated 60,000 visitors and pilgrims who braved the rain to join him. Many in the square had umbrellas, but Pope Francis spent almost 30 minutes in the rain, riding among the crowd in an open popemobile.

“We are not all the same and we shouldn’t all be the same,” he said. Each person has his or her own gifts, qualities and character, which “is one of the beauties of the church — everyone brings what God has given him or her to enrich the others.”

“When we try to impose uniformity, we kill the gifts of the Holy Spirit,” the pope said. He asked people at the audience to pray that the Spirit would make all church members more “catholic.”

Read the rest.

Tags: Pope Francis Unity Catholic

11 October 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro

In this 2010 photo, Syrian Catholic Archbishop Jacques Behnan Hindo of Hassaké-Nisibis arrives for a session of the Synod of Bishops for the Middle East at the Vatican. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)

Syrian archbishop decries ‘Kurdish state’ in northern Syria (Fides) Recently, the Kurdish Democratic Party has declared ’’the intention of creating a Kurdish autonomous region in the Syrian province of Jazira.” Syrian Catholic Archbishop Jacques Behnan Hindo of Hassaké-Nisibis commented on the committee meetings, which brought together the heads of different ethnic and religious communities, saying: “We have already rejected the proposal to create … a popular assembly proclaiming the autonomy of the region. Not even the majority of the Kurds want to create an autonomous political entity where the leadership is exercised by the dominant ethnic or religious group. At most one can propose a confederation of local communities that will set new relations with the central government in Damascus…”

Deal could see release of two bishops in Syria (Daily Star Lebanon) A deal running in parallel with efforts to free the nine kidnapped Lebanese in Syria could see the release of two Greek Orthodox bishops who were kidnapped in Lebanon’s neighbor earlier this year, the head of the Syriac League told The Daily Star Friday. “There are positive signs over an imminent release of the two bishops,” said Habib Afram. Aleppo’s Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Paul Yazigi and Syriac Orthodox Metropolitan Youhanna Ibrahim were kidnapped on 22 April while en route to Aleppo from the Turkish border. They are reportedly being held by a small group of rebels in the Syrian town of Bshaqtin, about 12 miles northwest of Aleppo…

At border, Israelis watch Syria’s civil war through a fortified fence (Los Angeles Times) From the bunkers and watchtowers along this tense, fortified frontier, Israelis say they can do little more than view from afar the civil warfare raging across the border in Syria. And in a reminder of the helplessness and paralysis felt by the international community over what to do, Israel’s most visible strategy seems almost futile: It’s building a fence. With 20 feet of steel rebar, the structure is much taller and more imposing than the flimsy barbed wire coils and rusting posts that once separated Syria from Israeli-occupied Golan Heights…

In Karnataka, no end to violence against Christians (AsiaNews) Hindu ultra-nationalists continue their “brutal and relentless” violence against Christians and churches in the Indian state of Karnataka, according to Sajan George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians, who in a letter called on the state’s Chief Minister Siddaramiah to intervene. The seriousness of the situation is such that the central government acknowledged the situation, defining Karnataka as one of the six states in which extremist forces are targeting minorities for their own political end…

Pope Francis: Let anti-Semitism be banished from every heart (Vatican Radio) On Friday, Pope Francis met with members of Rome’s Jewish community to mark the 70th anniversary of the deportation of the city’s Jewish population during the Nazi occupation. Among those present were Dr. Riccardo Di Segni, chief rabbi of Rome; Dr. Riccardo Pacifici, president of the Jewish Community of Rome; and Dr. Renzo Gattegna, the president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities. “I’ve said it other times and I would like to repeat it now: It’s a contradiction that a Christian is anti-Semitic: His roots are Jewish,” said the Pope. “A Christian cannot be anti-Semitic! Let anti-Semitism be banished from the heart and life of every man and every woman…”

Bishop Shahé Panossian elected primate of Lebanon (Catholicosate of Cilicia) On Monday, 7 October 2013, the Armenian Apostolic Diocesan Council of Lebanon met at St. Nishan Church in Beirut to elect a new primate of Lebanon from a short list of three names, ultimately selecting Bishop Shahé Panossian. The bishop was ordained deacon in 1976 and priest in 1980. From 1982-2006 he served, variously, as pastor of the Prelacy of Thessaloniki, Greece, and in the prelacies of Florida, Chicago and New Jersey in the United States of America. The former primate, Archbishop Gegham Khacheryan, resigned on 2 October…

Tags: India Syrian Civil War Violence against Christians Armenian Apostolic Church Syrian Catholic

10 October 2013
Greg Kandra

In this 2005 photo, Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, talks with Rabbi David Rosen, president of the International Jewish Committee for Interfaith Consultations, during a conference in Rome on 25 September on “Nostra Aetate,” the Second Vatican Council’s declaration on interreligious dialogue. (photo: CNS/Alessia Giuliani, Catholic Press Photo)

A leading figure on interfaith dialogue and ecumenism spoke out recently on the challenges facing Christians in some parts of the world today:

Pope John XXIII’s encyclical “Pacem in Terris” contains key principles of religious freedom that continue to have relevance for interreligious relations today. That’s the view of Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, former nuncio to Egypt and former president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. Now based in Jerusalem, he was in Rome attending a recent conference marking the 50th anniversary of Pope John’s encyclical letter. …

In an interview, Archbishop Fitzgerald said: “There are principles of religious freedom, to practice one’s religion, not only in private but also in public, and freedom of conviction so that one can change one’s religion and this presents problems in the Islamic world in many countries. … There’s one country which doesn’t allow any churches or any public worship at all and that’s against fundamental human rights. I think the way forward is to found our dialogue on human rights and I think we can work together on that. …

“There have been some very encouraging signs,” Archbishop Fitzgerald said, including “an initiative taken by Al Azhar to bring priests and imams together.” He added: “If they can have an open attitude towards ministers of other religions, this will translate into common action and support — and there have been signs of support by Muslims for Christians who’ve been attacked.”

You can read more and hear the entire interview at the link.

You can find more of Archbishop Fitzgerald’s thoughts on interfaith dialogue in an essay he wrote for ONE in 2008, Islam’s Many Faces. He also sat down for an interview with us last year, marking the 50th anniversary of Vatican II and discussing the Middle East today.

Tags: Unity Interreligious Dialogue religious freedom Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald

10 October 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro

People enter the St. Simon Monastery 9 October to attend an event to commemorate the second anniversary of the clashes in Cairo’s Maspero Square, where 30 Christians were killed and more than 320 injured by security forces during a protest against discrimination. (photo: CNS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany, Reuters)

Two years after the massacre at Maspero, Copts still waiting for justice (Fides) On the second anniversary of the massacre of Maspero, which on 9 October 2011 saw dozens of Copts massacred by the departments of the Egyptian army, the Coptic community organized a vigil in Cairo with candles. The participants in the vigil yesterday showed photos of the victims and denounced again the perpetrators, pointing the finger at former General Marshal Hussein Tantawi and senior representatives of the army then. After the vigil, protesters tried to reach Tahrir Square in procession, but their attempt was prevented by army units that dispersed the demonstration by resorting to tear gas…

In Egypt, a campaign to promote an ‘Egyptian Islam’ (Washington Post) On a recent Friday, Egyptian officials dispatched an Islamic preacher named Mustafa Nawareg to a mosque full of angry people — distraught relatives and friends of demonstrators killed by security forces. It was a crowd used to hearing fiery sermons that called the dead “martyrs” and exhorted followers to take to the streets. But now the crowd would hear from Nawareg, who was sent there by the government to “correct the fallacies of extremist thought.” It took about five minutes for the shoes to start flying. “Come down from your stage, you infidel!” yelled a man as the crowd surged toward Nawareg. He felt hands clasp his neck before he managed to escape. Nawareg’s sermon was part of a campaign by Egypt’s military-backed government to “standardize religious discourse” and promote what authorities describe as the true “Egyptian Islam.” But critics say the effort could add fuel to a violent backlash that has included a suicide bombing in the heart of Cairo and regular attacks on security forces in the Sinai Peninsula…

Orthodox Coptic bishop addresses bishops at plenary (B.C. Catholic) Coptic Orthodox Archbishop Mina of the Eparchy of Mississauga, Vancouver, shared the plight of Copts and other Christians in Egypt with Canada’s Catholic Bishops on 23 September. “Living in Canada and experiencing freedom of religion is something people take for granted,” Mina told the more than 80 bishops gathered at the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (C.C.C.B.) annual plenary here. “It is my pleasure to clarify for your graces reality of events taking place in Egypt at this time…”

Christian graves in Jerusalem still being vandalized (Washington Post) Christian leaders in Israel are up in arms over what they say is a string of relentless attacks on church properties and religious sites — most recently the desecration of a historic Protestant cemetery where vandals toppled stone crosses from graves and bludgeoned them to pieces. The attack in the Protestant Cemetery of Mount Zion, one of Jerusalem’s most important historic graveyards, has struck a particularly sensitive nerve because some of the damaged graves belong to famous figures from the 19th and 20th centuries, a key period in Jerusalem’s history. Among them are a German diplomat, the founder of an orphanage who was a significant contributor to modernizing the city, and a relative of the owners of a prominent hotel…

Romanian Orthodox Patriarchate hosts theological conference (Basilica News Agency) On 3 October 2013, Romanian Orthodox Patriarch Daniel opened the International Theological Congress, an assembly joining representatives of state institutions, of hierarchs, and other participants from around the world. The conference will focus on the work of the late Rev. Dumitru Staniloae, a Romanian Orthodox priest, theologian and professor. “The role of the theologian is to emphasize spiritual virtues. I only want to underline the fact that Father Staniloae related the rationalist Occident to the contemplative Occident. Today, Father Staniloae is not only the famous Romanian theologian — he is a European who offers our country full European vocation and individualizes us as a nation,” said Victor Opaschi, Romania’s minister of religious affairs…

Tags: Egypt Jerusalem Violence against Christians Coptic Orthodox Church Romanian Orthodox Church

9 October 2013
Greg Kandra

In this image from 2010, sisters and patients gather for evening prayer at Grace Home, a home for HIV-infected children and patients in Trichur, India. Read more about the remarkable work at the home in Full of Grace. And to learn how you can help, visit our India giving page. (photo: Peter Lemieux)

Tags: India Children Sisters Health Care HIV/AIDS

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