Current Issue
September, 2019
Volume 45, Number 3
22 February 2013
Greg Kandra

In this image from 2009, Pope Benedict XVI prays inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher at the spot that marks the traditional site of the crucifixion at Golgotha. The church in the Old City of Jerusalem was one of the last places the pope visited during his weeklong pilgrimage to the Holy Land in May 2009. The text of the address he delivered inside the church can be found here. (photo: CNS/Yannis Behrakis, Reuters)

Tags: Jerusalem Holy Land Pope Benedict XVI Pilgrimage/pilgrims Church of the Holy Sepulchre

22 February 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro

In this 16 September 2012 photo, some 300,000 people from all over the Middle East gather in Beirut for an open-air Mass to conclude Pope Benedict XVI’s historic visit to Lebanon. (photo: John E. Kozar)

Lebanon’s Christian population on the rise (MercatorNet) As the only Arab country where a substantial proportion of the population is Christian, Lebanon’s geopolitical importance is out of proportion to its size — four million people in a country the size of Jamaica. It has a vital role to play in struggles between the West and the Muslim world and in dialogue between Christianity and Islam. But a poll taken in January shows that two-thirds of Lebanese Christians feel that the very existence of their communities is under long-term threat in their country. They say that too many of their fellow Christians are emigrating, their share of the population is shrinking and their political leaders are consumed with factional infighting. This is a grim picture, but according to a new report on Lebanese demography, it may be false. According to this study, the clichés are wrong; the proportion of Christians in the country — which currently stands at about 34 percent — is slowly increasing. By 2030, it may reach 37 percent and by 2045 more than 39 percent. And because hundreds of thousands of overseas Lebanese are eligible to vote, the increase in registered voters is even more impressive…

Amid Damascus carnage, rumors of plan to strike papal nuncio (Fides) The papal nuncio to Syria, Archbishop Mario Zenari, is still shocked by reports and images of fresh violent attacks this morning in the center of Damascus, beginning with the attack in al Shahbandar Square. “It is a massacre. … We continue to walk on the dead. At this point, wherever you go in Damascus, you come to places where innocent blood has been shed: civilians, women and children. The number of 70,000 war victims is even more appalling when we think how these people die. … Their bodies are torn apart and it is difficult even to collect enough fragments for a funeral.” The archbishop also expresses surprise at rumors about a possible attack on his person which is said to be planned in Syrian military and intelligence circles, in retaliation for recent statements of his regarding the conflict: “I have no idea how much credibility is due to these rumors. Usually people planning an attack would not first leak the intent to the press. My appeals are prompted by what I see, the suffering the conflict inflicts on the Syrian people — suffering which is prolonged by the indifference of the greater part of the international community”…

Military barrier could separate West Bank Salesians from communities (CNS) Near where Father Ibrahim Shomali celebrated Mass on a recent Friday afternoon, is the Israeli settlement of Har Gilo. Nearby, across the Cremisan Valley, is Gilo, another Israeli settlement. It was built decades ago on land that was part of Beit Jala, a largely Christian Palestinian town six miles south of Jerusalem and three miles west of Bethlehem. Israelis consider Har Gilo and Gilo neighborhoods of Jerusalem. Between the two settlements, hidden behind trees, is a 150-year-old community of Salesians. The priests and brothers there run the West Bank’s only winery, the Cremisan Cellars. Not far away is the convent of the Salesian Sisters of Cremisan, who operate an elementary school and after-school programs for 400 children. As near as they are, the two religious communities may end up on opposite sides of an extension of the Israeli-Palestinian separation barrier. On 12 February, the Israeli Supreme Court heard Israel’s appeal to extend the separation barrier, effectively separating Beit Jala from the two Israeli settlements. The wall also will separate 57 Christian Palestinian families from their agricultural lands, the last green area left for expansion of the city, Father Shomali said. According to Israeli law, if agricultural land is not cultivated for a certain amount of time, the state can expropriate it…

Israeli forces, Palestinians clash throughout West Bank (Daily Star Lebanon) Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian protesters throughout the occupied West Bank on Friday, capping a week of violence amid a hunger strike by four Palestinians in Israeli jails. Tension and anticipation is rising in the West Bank a month before U.S. President Barack Obama is due to visit Jerusalem and Ramallah, though he has announced no concrete plans to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, stalled for three years. From the precincts of Jerusalem’s al Aqsa mosque, both one of Islam’s holiest sites and revered by Jews as the site of their Biblical temple, youths threw stones at Israeli police after Friday prayers. Dozens of Israeli officers briefly entered the politically sensitive compound. Witnesses said officers fired tear gas and threw percussion grenades at the demonstrators as bystanders and elderly worshippers ran for cover…

Tags: Lebanon Syrian Civil War Pope Benedict XVI Ecumenism Israeli-Palestinian conflict

21 February 2013
Greg Kandra

Pope Benedict XVI presents a red hat to Syro-Malankara Cardinal Baselios Mar Cleemis of Trivandrum, India, during a consistory in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican on 24 November. The pope created six new cardinals from four different continents, representing the Latin rite as well as two Eastern Catholic churches. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)

Last fall, Pope Benedict XVI named as a cardinal Baselios Mar Cleemis of India — a man who is a longtime friend and collaborator with CNEWA. Just a few months before he became a cardinal, Mar Cleemis paid a visit to our offices in New York:

Accompanied by the exarch for Syro-Malankara Catholics in North America and Europe, Bishop Thomas Mar Eusebius, His Beatitude shared some of his thoughts about his country, its people and the vibrant faith they have brought to North America. During a wide-ranging conversation in our staff conference room, he spoke passionately and eloquently about “witnessing” to the faith — through acts of compassion, charity and simple piety.

“We do that,” he said, “through education, through health care, through caring for those with H.I.V. and leprosy. It has to do with human dignity. I am proud and happy of how our people give witness with how they live.”

The major archbishop also wanted to underscore the universality of the Catholic Church. “Catholicity,” he noted, “is not uniformity, but diversity.” And he said that the Syro-Malankara Church could make its own unique contribution to “bring a new dimension to the Catholic Church.”

“We promote the theology of communion,” he said. “In this country, we have a strong vocation of being an apostle of communion.”

We are not here, he said, “just to preserve our linguistic tradition, but to strengthen the existing Catholic community. The church is beyond ethnic and linguistic boundaries.

“A lot of people have deserted, have gone away from the church and I think we have a responsibility. ... We have a role to play, to bring people back to the fold,” he continued.

Read more about his visit.

And you can learn more about the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church here.

Tags: India Pope Benedict XVI Indian Christians Indian Catholics Eastern Catholics

21 February 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro

Syrian refugees rest after they crossed into Jordan with their families from Syria near al Mafraq on 18 February. Cardinal Robert Sarah, president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, praised the response of Catholic agencies to Syrian refugees flowing into Jordan in an address to aid workers on 20 February. (photo: CNS/Muhammad Hamed, Reuters)

Vatican officials arrive in Jordan to examine refugee crisis (EWTN) Cardinal Robert Sarah, president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, is visiting Jordan to take stock of the serious refugee situation created by the Syrian conflict and to assess how Catholic charities are responding. “The humanitarian situation in Syria, and throughout the region is unsustainable. Some estimates speak of a million refugees, more than two and a half million displaced persons, and almost one hundred thousand deaths directly attributable to violence,” an 18 February press release from Cor Unum says. Joining Cardinal Sarah on this trip is Monsignor Giampietro Dal Toso, who is the secretary of Cor Unum. The pair will take part in the regional conference of Caritas in the Middle East, North Africa and Horn of Africa, which is taking place in Jordan. The meeting will provide an opportunity to assess humanitarian aid provided by Catholic charities, including Caritas, to refugees and victims of the violence in Syria…

Car bomb kills more than 50 in central Damascus (Reuters) A car bomb killed 53 people and wounded 200 in central Damascus on Thursday when it blew up on a busy highway close to ruling Baath Party offices and the Russian Embassy, Syrian television said. TV footage showed charred and bloodied bodies strewn across the street after the blast, which state media said was the result of a suicide bombing by “terrorists” battling President Bashar al Assad. Central Damascus has been relatively insulated from almost two years of unrest and civil war in which around 70,000 people have been killed across the country, but the bloodshed has shattered suburbs around the capital. Rebels who control districts to the south and east of Damascus have attacked Assad’s power base for nearly a month and struck with devastating bombs over the last year. Activists said most of the victims of Thursday’s attack in the city’s Mazraa district were civilians, including children, possibly from a school behind the Baath building…

Election of 6th Ethiopian Orthodox Patriarch approaching (Ethioabay) The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church Patriarchate Head Office Electoral Committee announced that the 6th patriarchal election would be conducted 28 February 2013. The committee head, Jimma Exarchate Archbishop Abune Estifanos, said that among all potential candidates, only five would be selected to run in the election proper. Abune Estifanos added that the winner would be made official at 6 p.m. the same day. The enthronement will be held on 3 March 2013 at the Holy Trinity Cathedral. Abune Estifanos further indicated that the 800 voters who participate in the election would be drawn from archbishops, representatives of ancient monasteries and 53 dioceses as well as the faithful, Sunday schools and the clergy…

U.S. bishops reinforce need for protection of religious minorities in Asia (U.S.C.C.B.) “[The U.S.C.C.B. commends] H.R. 301, a bill to establish a Special Envoy to Promote Religious Freedom of Religious Minorities in the Near East and South Central Asia. The bishops have long been concerned over the plight of religious minorities, particularly Christian communities in countries such as Iraq, Syria, Egypt, India and Pakistan, many of whom have lived for centuries side by side with those of other faiths, but now find themselves coming under increased attack and harassment. Such attacks have led many to flee, becoming displaced within their own country or escaping across the borders to seek refugee status, uncertain as to what the future holds. These migrations have led to the decimation of historic communities who have contributed much to the cultural, political, economic and social life of their countries. … The Catholic Church views protection of religious freedom as a “cornerstone of the structure of human rights” since it is rooted in the dignity of the human person. … In keeping with this longstanding teaching, we commend you for introducing H.R. 301 and lend our support to passage of this legislation”…

Bulgarian government resigns amid protests (Various) Bulgaria’s government bowed to political pressure Wednesday morning, stepping down after violent demonstrations in the capital Sofia over high energy prices, low living standards and charges of government corruption. Clashes between protesters and police on Monday and Tuesday left 28 people injured and 25 arrested. “I did everything in my power to meet the people’s demands yesterday,” Prime Minister Boyko Borisov told parliament as he announced his resignation on Wednesday four months ahead of scheduled elections. “I won’t be part of a government in which the police is fighting with the people,” said Borisov, who has been in power since 2009. President Rosen Plevneliev asked parliament’s three biggest parties if they wished to form an interim government to rule until an election due in July, but the two main parties said they have no interest in participating in a caretaker cabinet. Analysts say that means Plevneliev could schedule an election by as early as April. This upheaval coincides with a period of transition in the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, in which the election of a new patriarch is in a dead heat. On 19 February, Varna Metropolitan Kiril, the acting head of the Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, said that the protests were “fully justified” and were supported by the church…

Tags: Syrian Civil War Ethiopian Orthodox Church Caritas Bulgarian Orthodox Church Bulgaria

20 February 2013
Bradley H. Kerr

In this image from last year, people participate in a traditional Lenten devotion, the outdoor Stations of the Cross at Our Lady of Providence Church in Crestwood, Missouri.
(photo: CNS/Lisa Johnston, St. Louis Review)

It’s one week after Ash Wednesday. How is your Lent going? When we asked our CNEWA family of supporters and donors to share what they are doing for this holy season, the responses started pouring in. Here are a few:

I am living on bread and water one day each week, and helping poor children go to Catholic school.
D.F. in Minnesota

I am fasting and using the money I save to protect Christians in Syria.
J.F. in Illinois

I am giving up nights and lunches out, so a young man can become a priest.
M.O. in California

I am giving up gossiping and criticizing, and giving a scholarship to Catholic school.
L.G. in New Jersey

I am giving up sweets for a day. (I need them, because I am hypoglycemic.) Plus, I am helping the church and its schools.
R.B. in Ohio

I am making sacrifices so that a young woman can become a sister.
J.C. in Pennsylvania

I am giving up thinking bad of others, and giving to the greatest needs in CNEWA’s world.
A.K. in Florida

I am giving up television to pray and read Scripture, and helping children go to Catholic school.
E.M. in New York

I am giving up TV shows and movies that are not Catholic, and helping wherever the need is greatest in CNEWA’s world.
G.I. in Michigan

I am giving up meat, not only on Fridays but every day, and using the money Isave to help a young man become a priest.
J.B. from Oregon

So...what are you doing for Lent? If you don’t have a plan yet, let CNEWA help. We have some wonderful and rewarding opportunities to enrich your spiritual life and, in the process, help others. Visit this page for details. And please share your story with us by writing to We always love to hear from you.

May Lent transform your life and spirit, and may all its blessings be yours!

Tags: CNEWA Sisters Seminarians

20 February 2013
Greg Kandra

In this image from 2010, Pope Benedict XVI visits Rome’s main synagogue on 17 January. During his visit the pope strongly reaffirmed the church’s commitment to dialogue with the Jews and its modern teachings against anti-Semitism. At left is German Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. From right is Rabbi Shear-Yashuv Cohen, the chief rabbi of Haifa, Israel, and Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni, the chief rabbi of Rome.
(photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

Tags: Pope Benedict XVI Christian Unity Jews Judaism

20 February 2013
Greg Kandra

Guinean Cardinal Robert Sarah waves as he walks near St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on 18 February. Cardinal Sarah is expected to have a major voice in the deliberations when they cardinals gather next month in Rome to elect a new pope. He is now on a visit to Syria for a regional conference and to meet Jordanian refugees. (photo: CNS/Alessandro Bianchi, Reuters)

Pope may change rules on conclave (CNN) Pope Benedict XVI is considering changing the Vatican constitution to allow a vote for his successor to begin before March 15, Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said Wednesday...

Cardinal visits Syria (VIS) Cardinal Robert Sarah, president of the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum” and Msgr. Giampietro Dal Toso, secretary of that dicastery, are in Jordan from today until Thursday, 21 February, to participate in the regional conference of Caritas in the Middle East, North Africa, and Horn of Africa, which is taking place in that country. The forum is a very important opportunity to take stock of the humanitarian aid provided by Catholic charities, including Caritas, to refugees and victims of violent conflict in Syria since representatives of all the Caritas organizations of that region, as well as representatives of the local churches, will be present...

Reports of typhoid in parts of Syria (Vatican Radio) Typhoid has broken out in an opposition-held region of Syria due to people drinking contaminated water from the Euphrates River, the World Health Organization (WHO) has announced. An estimated 2,500 people in north-eastern Deir al-Zor province are infected with the contagious disease, which causes diarrhoea and can be fatal, the United Nations agency said. Meanwhile, both pro- and anti-government forces in Syria have become increasingly violent and reckless with human life, according to a report by the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Syria...

Thousands of Indian villages affected by drought (Fides) At least 12,000 villages affected by prolonged drought in the district of Marathwada, in the central Indian state of Maharashtra, now face severe famine due to massive damage to crops over the past 12 months...

Indian government considers armed protection for temples, churches (The New Indian Express) Earlier this week, the State Government said it was toying with a proposal for constituting a Temple Protection Force using retired armed forces personnel. A dedicated corps of ‘guardian angels’ would indeed prove a blessing to places of worship, since statistics reveal that they are having a hard time in God’s Own Country keeping burglars out...

Tags: Syria India Pope Benedict XVI Pope

19 February 2013
Greg Kandra

Over the next several weeks, we’ll be hearing a lot of names and locations mentioned in connection with the conclave to elect the next pope.

This morning, Catholic News Service released the brief video below. It offers what the producer calls a “slow melodic” look at “faces and places” that will figure in this historic drama. It may even offer a peek at the next pope.

Take a look:

Tags: Pope Benedict XVI Vatican Pope Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan Cardinal Leonardo Sandri

19 February 2013
Greg Kandra

In this image from 2006, Pope Benedict XVI and Mustafa Cagrici, the grand mufti of Istanbul, pray in the Blue Mosque in Istanbul. In trying to help people understand how belief in God is a natural part of life and provides grounding for the values that protect human dignity and peaceful coexistence, Pope Benedict saw Muslims and Jews as natural allies. (photo: CNS/Patrick Hertzog, Pool via Reuters)

During his papacy, Pope Benedict XVI has encouraged Christian-Muslim dialogue. He mentioned that prominently in his apostolic exhortation, delivered during his trip to Lebanon last September:

“May this region demonstrate that coexistence is not a utopia, and that distrust and prejudice are not a foregone conclusion. Religions can join one another in service to the common good and contribute to the development of each person and the building of society. The Christians of the Middle East have experienced for centuries the dialogue between Islam and Christianity. For them it means the dialogue of and in daily life. They know its rich possibilities and its limitations.”

Tags: Pope Benedict XVI Unity Turkey Muslim Christian-Muslim relations

19 February 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro

Pope Benedict XVI greets Rabbi Elio Toaff, the former chief rabbi of Rome, during a visit to the main synagogue in Rome in this 2010 file photo. (photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

Netanyahu thanks pope for deepening Christian-Jewish ties (Reuters) Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked outgoing Pope Benedict XVI on Monday for his efforts to shore up often troubled relations between the Roman Catholic Church and Jews, including with his 2009 visit to the Holy Land. That trip, in which the German-born Benedict paid respects at Israel’s main Holocaust memorial, was seen by many Jews as atoning for his lifting of the excommunication of a bishop who questioned the scale of the Nazi genocide. On other occasions he visited the Auschwitz death camp and the Cologne synagogue. The pontiff, who will abdicate on February 28, also changed a Latin prayer for Good Friday services by traditionalist Catholics in 2008, deleting a reference to Jews and their “blindness” but still calling for them to accept Jesus. “I thank you also for bravely defending the values of Judaism and Christianity during your papal term,” Netanyahu said…

Egyptian Christians institute national ecumenical council (Fides) In Egypt, representatives of several different Christian denominations met in St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral, in the capital’s al Abbasiy district, to sign the statutes of the country’s first National Council of Christian Churches. Leading members of five churches — Coptic Orthodox, Coptic Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Anglican and evangelical Protestant — attended the founding meeting, each heading a delegation of five representatives. Those present included Coptic Orthodox Patriarch Tawadros II, Coptic Catholic Patriarch Ibrahim Isaac Sidrak and Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theodoros II of Alexandria. “The new body,” said Coptic Catholic Bishop Kyrillos William of Assiut, “will help us proceed together along the path of ecumenism, and reveal our shared position regarding dialogue and peaceful cohabitation with non-Christians. It will also certainly provide opportunities for shared social and cultural initiatives.” Bishop Kyrillos underlined that the new Council “will have no strictly political profile and certainly no ability to exercise binding authority over the activity of the individual Churches.” However, its foundation is billed as critical to the future of Christian communities in Egypt, and confirms the ecumenical awareness of the new Coptic Orthodox patriarch, installed November last year…

U.N.: Both sides committing war crimes in Syria (Al Jazeera) Both government forces and armed rebels are committing war crimes, including killings and torture, spreading terror among civilians in a nearly two-year-old conflict, a United Nations panel said on Monday. The investigators’ latest report, covering the six months to mid-January, was based on 445 interviews conducted abroad with victims and witnesses, as they have not been allowed into Syria. The independent team, led by Brazilian Paulo Pinheiro, called on the U.N. Security Council to “act urgently to ensure accountability” for grave violations, possibly by referring the violators to the International Criminal Court for prosecution…

Coptic church attacked in Egypt (Vatican Radio) More than one year after the Arab Awakening, Christians in Egypt continue to suffer persecution. The latest attack happened Friday, when a mob of a few hundred people threw stones and set fire to St. Georgas Coptic Church in Sarsena. The village is located about 60 miles southwest of Cairo. A few parishioners and the pastor were slightly injured before a local Muslim family helped them to escape the scene. The attack was led by a local Muslim fringe group. The Salafist group claimed that the church was illegal and wanted it demolished because of its close location to a largely Muslim neighborhood. Embedded below is an audio file of the radio report…

Jesuit expert calls Pope Benedict XVI a ‘great reformer’ on sex abuse (National Catholic Reporter) Jesuit Father Hans Zollner, the academic vice-rector of the Jesuit-run Gregorian University in Rome and head of its Institute of Psychology, has studied the church’s rocky history on the issue of sex abuse at length, publishing the 2010 book Chiesa e pedofilia – Una ferita aperta: Un approccio psicologico-pastorale (“The Church and Pedophilia – An Open Wound: A Psychological and Pastoral Approach”), along with fellow Jesuit Father Giovanni Cucci. “Based on what I know personally, at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith he was the first person, and the most determined person, to take on what he called the ‘open wound’ in the body of the church, meaning the sexual abuse of minors by clergy. He came to know about a number of cases, and the intensity of the wounds inflicted on victims. He became aware of what priests had done to minors, and to vulnerable adults. As a result, he became more and more convinced that it has to be tackled, and at various levels he started to deal with it — the canonical level, the ecclesial, and the personal”…

Church and civic leaders attend ecumenical Divine Liturgy in Beirut (Naharnet) Greek Orthodox Patriarch Youhanna X of Antioch and All the East celebrated the Divine Liturgy at the St. Nicolas Cathedral in Beirut’s Ashrafiyeh district on Sunday in the presence of the country’s top political and spiritual leaders. President Michel Suleiman, Prime Minister Najib Miqati, Phalange leader Amin Gemayel and Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter were among those present. Diplomats, including Syrian and Russian ambassadors, also attended. The Divine Liturgy was held on the occasion of Patriarch Youhanna’s visit to Beirut. In his sermon, the Greek Orthodox leader stressed that Muslims are partners in the nation. “Our ties with them extend beyond coexistence. We share with them building the future,” he said…

Tags: Egypt Syrian Civil War Unity Ecumenism Christian-Muslim relations

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