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September, 2019
Volume 45, Number 3
30 May 2014
Greg Kandra

A painting of the Virgin Mary hangs on the wall of Our Lady of Zion Church in Aksum, Ethiopia.
(photo: Sean Sprague)

As May draws to a close — the month devoted to the Virgin Mary — we get a glimpse at a colorful depiction of Mary from Ethiopia (above) and offer some insight into the place where it originated. From the March 2011 issue of ONE:

Located in Ethiopia’s far northern region of Tigray, Aksum is the former capital of an empire that dominated the Horn of Africa from the third century B.C. to the eighth century after Christ. Home of the fabled queen of Sheba, Aksum is best known as the cradle of Ethiopian Christianity, which became the faith of the empire when the Aksumite emperor, Ezana, embraced it in the early fourth century. Today, Ethiopia’s Christian majority is mostly Orthodox.

Since its earliest days, Aksum has been a center for sophisticated and distinctive decorative arts and crafts, especially metalwork, woodcarving and painting. Scholars believe that soon after Christianity took root in the city, artists began fashioning items utilized in the Qeddase (or Divine Liturgy), mainly ecclesiastical crowns, crosses, fans, icons and manuscripts. Geometric carvings, first utilized in pre-Christian era art of the area, predominated.

Not until the late 16th century, after Portuguese Jesuit missionaries arrived in Ethiopia and dazzled Aksum’s elite with their early Baroque artifacts, did local artists begin adding the finer flourishes that many now associate with traditional Ethiopian liturgical art. Manuscript cases, for example, became more intricate and featured figurative and geometric forms; manuscript pages contained delicate and colorful designs, as well as images of the saints, the Virgin Mary and Christ.

Read more about Ethiopia’s Vibrant Sacred Art from the March 2011 issue of ONE.

Tags: Ethiopia Orthodox

30 May 2014
Greg Kandra

Pope Francis greets Israeli President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem on 26 May.
(photo: CNS/ Tsafrir Abayov, EPA)

Encounter to pray for peace will take place on 8 June (Vatican Radio) The head of the Press Office of the Holy See, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi has confirmed that the invitation to pray together for peace in the Vatican, Pope Francis extended during his Apostolic Journey to the Holy Land to both the President of Israel, Shimon Peres, and of Palestine, Mahmoud Abbas, has been accepted and will take place in the afternoon of Sunday 8 June 2014...

Pope decries “globalization of indifference” (CNS) A “globalization of indifference” has taken hold of too many of the world’s people, numbing them to the horrifying reality faced by the people of Syria and other innocent victims of war and violence around the world, Pope Francis said. With the Syrian conflict continuing for more than three years, “there is a risk of becoming used to it” and forgetting that people are dying there each day, the pope said 30 May in a message to participants at a Vatican-hosted meeting for Catholic aid agencies. The Pontifical Council Cor Unum, which promotes and coordinates Catholic charitable activity, brought together two dozen Catholic relief and development agencies that are working in Syria or with Syrian refugees. The meeting was designed to help them work together more efficiently and reach more people in need...

Pope: Holy Land trip was a great grace (Vatican Radio) At the heart of Pope Francis’ address at his weekly General Audience on Wednesday was his recent visit to the Holy Land. The faithful gathered on a warm day in St Peter’s Square, listened as the Pope told them that this journey was great grace for him and for the whole Church. The Holy Father recalled this trip as one that commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of the meeting of Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras, and which marked a milestone along the path to Christian unity...

Kerala police rescue almost 600 children (India Today) Kerala Police and Palakkad district officials rescued almost 600 children being transported into the state from Bihar and Jharkhand on the pretext of sending them to orphanages. Officials, however, fear this to be a clear case of child trafficking. The authorities rescued the children following tips from Railway Police....

Russian Orthodox priest blesses Soyuz spacecraft (Daily Mail) A Russian Orthodox priest has prayed for the Soyuz spacecraft ahead of its blast off tomorrow to the International Space Station. The crew arrived at the Baikonur launch site in Kazakhstan two weeks before the launch to prepare themselves for the journey...

Tags: India Middle East Kerala Russian Orthodox

28 May 2014
Greg Kandra

In the video above, Pope Francis gently corrects Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on which language Jesus spoke. (source: Huffington Post)

A small controversy erupted Monday during a meeting between Pope Francis and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu:

As Netanyahu began speaking on the relationship between Christianity and Judaism, he mentioned Jesus Christ, saying via a translator, “Jesus lived here. He spoke Hebrew.”

Pope Francis interrupted, pointing out that Jesus spoke Aramaic.

“He spoke Aramaic, but he knew Hebrew,” Netanyahu responded after some chuckling arose from those seated around them.

Israeli linguistics professor Ghil’ad Zuckermann told Reuters that both men had a point.

“Jesus was a native Aramaic speaker,” he said. “But he would have also known Hebrew because there were extant religious writings in Hebrew.” Zuckermann went on to mention how Hebrew was spoken at the time by the lower class, the exact kind of people Jesus was said to have preached to.

CNEWA’s external affairs officer (and Middle East scholar) Elias Mallon offers this analysis:

The Huffington Post recounts that, during his visit to Israel, Pope Francis corrected Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. It seems that in his attempt to draw links between Christians and Jews, the prime minister stated that Jesus spoke Hebrew. Pope Francis is said to have interjected, “he spoke Aramaic.”

Although Jesus most definitely did not speak Ivrit, the Hebrew of the modern State of Israel, both the pope and prime minister are probably right. Aramaic was the language generally spoken at the time of Jesus and together with Greek was the lingua franca of the entire Middle East.

While closely related, Hebrew and Aramaic speakers could not understand each other. We know this from 2 Kings 18:26-37. When the leaders of Jerusalem are negotiating the cessation of hostilities with the ambassador of the Assyrian king, the ambassador speaks to them in “the Judean language” in the presence of the Jewish soldiers. But the Jewish negotiators ask him to speak in Aramaic not Hebrew. The clear implication is that the defenders of Jerusalem would not have understood the negotiations if they were carried on in Aramaic.

One often hears that Jesus came from the hinterland, where the uneducated people spoke Hebrew, the older language of the land. However, the image of Galilee as a backwater is no longer tenable. Excavations at Sepphoris, a wealthy city and trade center about three miles from Nazareth, indicate that there was a large Greek-speaking community near the home town of Jesus. Greek merchants would most likely have been familiar with Aramaic if they were doing business in the Middle East. And as a carpenter it would be likely that Jesus had contacts with Sepphoris. It is also possible that he spoke some Greek.

There is mention in John 12:20 of some “Greeks” (hellēnēs) who wished to see Jesus. In the Acts of the Apostles, when referring to Greek-speaking Jews, Luke calls them “Hellenists” (hellēnistos) and not “Greeks.” So it is not unreasonable to assume the people mentioned in John’s Gospel were Greek.

Matthew, Mark and Luke each recount the story of Jesus teaching in the synagogue in Nazareth. Matthew 13:55 and Mark 6:3 relate that the people were astounded at Jesus’ “wisdom” (sofia). Luke 4:16-19, on the other hand, recounts that Jesus was invited to read from the scroll in the synagogue. The reading was from the Book of Isaiah. It is highly unlikely that this reading would have been in any language other than Hebrew. So I would say it is fairly safe to assert that Jesus could speak and read Hebrew, Aramaic and perhaps Greek as well.

Of course in the contemporary Middle East, everything is politicized — demography, linguistics, even beverages. Coffee changes from “Arabic coffee” to “Turkish coffee” depending on where it is consumed. The good-hearted exchange between the prime minister and the pope, while an echo of stress lines in the Middle East, is also an example of how those stresses can be reduced through open exchange and respect.

28 May 2014
Greg Kandra

In Lebanon, young refugees at a community center run by the Good Shepherd Sisters smile
for a visitor. (photo: John E. Kozar)

Later this week, CNEWA will be taking part in an important gathering in Rome, focusing in large part on helping refugees like those shown in the picture above.

Vatican Radio has the details:

On Friday, 30 May, the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum” will host a coordination meeting between the Catholic charitable organizations that operate in the context of the Syrian crisis...

...Speakers will include Archbishop Mario Zenari, Apostolic Nuncio to Syria, and Bishop SE Antoine Audo, president of Caritas, Syria. Finally, the activities carried out at the information office in Beirut, set up last year to collect and distribute data on the work of Catholic organizations, will be presented. In the afternoon, the practical aspects of cooperation between the various parties in Syria and neighboring countries will be the focus of attention.

The objective of the meeting, in line with the path taken in the last two years by the Holy See, and as a result of the meeting of 4-5 June 2013, organized by the Pontifical Council, is to make an assessment of the work done so far by the Catholic charitable organizations in the context of the crisis, highlighting critical issues and identifying priorities for the future.

Michel Constantin, regional director for Lebanon, Syria and Egypt, will represent CNEWA.

Wondering how you can help kids like those in the picture? Click this link to find out.

28 May 2014
J.D. Conor Mauro

The authorities in Egypt have extended voting in the presidential election to a third day, following reports of an unexpectedly low turnout so far. Orla Guerin reports from Cairo. (video: BBC)

Egypt’s extended voting fails to turn out Sisi supporters (Los Angeles Times) Egypt’s election went into overtime on Wednesday as the government sought to drum up more votes for former military chief Abdel Fattah Sisi, but turnout again appeared lackluster on the hastily added third day of polling…

Syrians abroad vote in advance of national ballot (New York Times) Thousands of Syrians clogged approach roads and formed lines outside their embassy in Beirut on Wednesday as voting for expatriates began in an election that is expected to return President Bashar al Assad to power…

Patriarch Youhanna X calls for amity and optimism to reconstruct Homs (SANA) Greek Orthodox Patriarch Youhanna X of Antioch and All the East called on all people of Homs to embrace patience, optimism and amity in reconstructing what has been damaged, expressing confidence that the efforts exerted by the state will let everyone come back to their homes and neighborhoods…

Lebanon security forces suspect plot to assassinate patriarch (Daily Star Lebanon) Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces arrested a suspect who confessed to cooperating with a regional intelligence apparatus in a plot to assassinate Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter, security sources told the Daily Star…

Chaldean Synod to be held in Baghdad from 24-28 June (Chaldean Church) In one month, the leaders of the Chaldean Church will convene in their synodal meeting. In preparation, Patriarch Louis Raphael has asked that a prayer be read at the celebration of the Divine Liturgy in every Chaldean parish and monastery for each Sunday leading up to the event…

Tags: Syria Egypt Chaldean Church Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter Greek Orthodox Patriarch Youhanna X of Antioch

27 May 2014
Sami El-Yousef

A large crowd is seen as Pope Francis celebrates Mass in Manger Square outside the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, West Bank, on 25 May. (photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)

Pope Francis’s visit to the Holy Land ended up being a truly historic visit. On Sunday, shortly before 7 in the morning, I left my home in the Christian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem and started making my way to Bethlehem for what I knew would be the beginning of a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

I made it to the presidential complex in Bethlehem to witness the official welcome of the pope to the State of Palestine — the first-ever head of state to arrive in Palestine without first entering Israeli-controlled territory. Around 9:30, the pope arrived in a modest VW Jetta and was formally received by the Palestinian leadership. A few minutes later, I was one of eight Palestinian Christians scheduled to meet His Holiness and to speak about the Christian presence in the Holy Land, about our challenges, aspirations and our many contributions to society through our schools, health care programs and social service initiatives. His Holiness was very warm and wanted to learn more. But due to the limited time, we handed him a letter on behalf of the Palestinian Christian community, asking him to do what he can to help to improve our situation and lead to our freedom and independence.

After attending the press conference of Pope Francis and President Mahmoud Abbas, we were rushed to Manger Square through Bethlehem’s narrow back roads so as to make it in time before Mass. Little did we know that as we were being escorted, Pope Francis went through Bethlehem’s main roads and spontaneously stopped at the separation wall to pray.

A few minutes later he arrived at Manger Square in his open car, cheerfully waving at the crowds before stopping in front of the beautiful altar that was set up specifically for the occasion. The backdrop featured a large mural depicting the Christ Child in the manger, surrounded by several saints and the previous popes who have come to Bethlehem: Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Manger Square itself was filled with more than 10,000 people from all over the West Bank, Jerusalem, Gaza and the Galilee. The liturgy of the “Christmas Mass,” which emphasizes the needs of children, was memorable and the atmosphere was uplifting. As the Mass was ending, the midday Muslim prayers started from the mosque at Manger Square, reminding us of the diversity of our Holy Land. The sounds coming from the choir and the call of prayer from the mosque blended together in a display of the interfaith spirit we all wish to see strengthened.

Pope Francis celebrates Mass at Manger Square in Bethlehem, West Bank, 25 May.
(photo: CNS/Paul Haring)

Once the papal Mass ended, we headed to a special luncheon. Joseph Hazboun, who works in our Jerusalem office, and his family were among the five families to share a meal with Pope Francis and personally tell him about the challenges facing Palestinian Christians. As for me, I had lunch with President Abbas along with his top leadership and several other guests, including the Maronite patriarch of Antioch, Cardinal Peter Bishara; Coptic Catholic Patriarch Ibrahim; Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignatius; the Greek Orthodox patriarch of Jerusalem, Theophilos III; and the emeritus Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, Archbishop Michel Sabbah.

Once lunch was over, I rushed back to Jerusalem to make it to the next event, the ecumenical meeting at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre between Pope Francis and the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew. We had to congregate at 4:30 pm to make our way through the stringent Israeli security measures. Once inside the church, we were seated around Christ’s tomb in two main sections reserved for Catholics and Orthodox.

One could immediately feel the historic gravity of the event with so many cardinals, patriarchs, bishops, priests and many members of religious congregations. The speeches were uplifting and articulate; the call to Christian unity was sincere. A half century has passed since the historic gathering on the Mount of Olives between Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras in 1964, and we have advanced tremendously when it comes to Christian unity. But we are still far from it. My hope is that this historic visit will be the inspiration for the local church leaders to work for this unity on the ground, day in and day out.

Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople embrace during an ecumenical celebration in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem on 25 May.
(photo: CNS/Paul Haring)

As I was leaving the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, I was stuck at the same checkpoint in the Old City along with our guest from Lebanon, Cardinal Patriarch Peter Bishara. We were permitted up the ancient steps that lead toward the Christian Quarter road. There again, security had blocked the quarter and we were directed through the long way back through the Christian Quarter up through the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate road to Jaffa Gate, where he was residing at the Maronite complex. We strolled together for and I had the opportunity to talk with him about the Christian Quarter, the Old City, the daily hardships of life under occupation, the travel restrictions and access to our churches during Holy Week, and the general situation of Palestinian Christians. He was a compassionate listener whose heart is with the weak and marginalized as well. He is facing much criticism for visiting Jerusalem while it is under occupation. I encouraged him during this walk and he encouraged me. We both promised to pray for each other.

This was a day I shall never forget. I will be proud to tell my grandchildren that I was there to witness it all!

27 May 2014
Joseph Hazboun

Pope Francis listens as CNEWA’s Joseph Hazboun (in the foreground) describes life as a Palestinian Christian during a luncheon in Bethlehem. (photo: CNEWA)

Joseph Hazboun works in CNEWA’s Jerusalem office and was one of those invited to have lunch with Pope Francis during his visit to the Holy Land last weekend.

It was like a dream... I felt I was watching TV... the pope was sitting in front of me at the table surrounded by five families from the various areas representing the Holy Land’s indigenous Christian community as well as the hardships and difficulties we face under occupation.

I felt it was inappropriate to speak in his presence. But the extraordinary circumstances — and my wife’s elbow — brought me back to reality. Since I speak fluent Italian, I started by introducing the families present at the table to Pope Francis and gave the first opportunity to speak to a family from the village of Iqrit, which was destroyed after the 1948 Arab-Israeli War and its Catholic villagers were expelled when Iqrit became part of the state of Israel.

A family from the Cremisan Valley had their land confiscated for the construction of the Israeli Separation Wall. They spoke next. They were followed by a young lady from the Gaza Strip, who explained the hardships of living under siege and prohibited from visiting the holy sites until they are at least 35 years of age — and only once or twice per year if they are lucky. This was followed by an intervention from the mother of Khaled Halabi, who has been detained in Israeli prisons for more than 10 years, representing hundreds of detained Palestinian youth.

A young person from Jerusalem explained how he was caught up in the system and denied residency in Jerusalem and has no ID at all, although both his parents have Jerusalem IDs. His Beatitude, Fouad Twal, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, noted that this young person does not exist officially as he has no ID and no passport.

(photo: CNEWA)

After everyone had an opportunity to speak, I spoke to His Holiness about the hardships of the Christian community in Jerusalem. Seeing how affected he was at hearing all these tragic stories, pain and human suffering, I apologized to His Holiness and explained to him that being present as a representative of the Christian community of Jerusalem, I was obliged to complete the chain of personal stories about the sufferings and hardships of the Christian community. He was very touched by what he heard and expressed his interest in knowing the whole story. I explained to him the threats Christian families in Jerusalem face because of the family reunification law imposed by the Israeli Authorities, which prevents families from living together in their hometown of Jerusalem.

He was so tender, so loving, so compassionate. My wife expressed to His Holiness how much we love him, how honored we all were to dine with him; he smiled tenderly. I seized the opportunity to tell the pope that I was practically one of his employees. I could sense he wasn’t sure he actually understood what I said. So I explained to him that I work for CNEWA/Pontifical Mission for Palestine, a mission established in 1949 by Pope Pius XII to care for Palestinian refugees following the Israeli-Arab war and how we continue our services today because — unfortunately — the problem of the refugees has not yet been resolved.

27 May 2014
Greg Kandra

Pope Francis embraces Argentine Rabbi Abraham Skorka and Omar Abboud, Muslim leader from Argentina, after praying at the Western Wall in Jerusalem on 26 May. The pope's message left at the Wall contained the text of the Our Father and of the 122nd Psalm, traditionally prayed by Jewish pilgrims who travel to Jerusalem.(photo: CNS/Paul Haring)

Among the many memorable moments from the pope’s trip, a standout was the one shown above. CNS’s Cindy Wooden took note:

In a Holy Land pilgrimage filled with emotion, the embrace of Pope Francis, Rabbi Abraham Skorka and Omar Abboud this morning was powerful. Even at a distance of more than 1,400 miles, (thanks to the Vatican Television Center and Vatican Radio) viewers could read in that embrace a sense of “we are actually here; it really happened.”

The embrace, complete with tears, came after Pope Francis visited Jerusalem’s grand mufti and other Muslim leaders near the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque and then prayed at the Western Wall.

The two holy sites make up what is probably the most contested piece of real estate in the world because of its deep religious significance.

Muslims believe Muhammad was taken to the site in his famous “Night Journey” and from there transported to heaven and then back to Mecca.

The Esplanade of the Mosques sits above the sacred Jewish prayer space facing the Western Wall, which is all that remains of the wall that surrounded the Second Temple destroyed by the Romans in the year 70.

An interreligious pilgrimage to the site isn’t a daily occurrence, but Pope Francis wanted to go with his friends.

Read more about that emotional embrace at CNS’s blog.

And you can check out more stories, pictures and video from the trip at our special page, Apostles of Unity in the Holy Land.

27 May 2014
J.D. Conor Mauro

A rose is thrown towards the popemobile as Pope Francis arrives to celebrate Mass at Manger Square in Bethlehem, West Bank, on 25 May. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis sparks ecumenical and interfaith hope in the Holy Land (Vatican Radio) As Pope Francis’ three-day journey to the Holy Land — with stops in Jordan, Palestine and Israel — comes to an end. Philippa Hitchen brings us an overall picture of this visit in which she focuses on ecumenical and interfaith hope…

Ukraine and pro-Russian forces fight air battle in Donetsk (Christian Science Monitor) Ukrainian government warplanes carried out airstrikes against pro-Russian rebels who seized Donetsk international airport on Monday as both sides mounted an aggressive show of force following the election of a new Ukrainian president…

Egypt declares national holiday to encourage voter turnout (The Guardian) Egypt has declared a national holiday, in an apparent effort to encourage a higher turnout in the second and final day of its ongoing presidential election. Ex-army chief Abdel Fatah al Sisi is expected to easily win Tuesday’s election but he and his supporters are seeking a respectable turnout to prove he has the country’s overwhelming support…

Indian Church calls on Modi aid the poor and marginalized (AsiaNews) “The church in India is hopeful that Prime Minister Narendra Modi will collaborate with the mission of the Catholic Church to promote and work for social and economic justice as well as individual liberty and fundamental rights,” said Cardinal Oswald Gracias, archbishop of Mumbai and president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India…

Syria: U.N. condemns attack on warehouse during aid distribution (U.N. News Center) The United Nations humanitarian chief today expressed outrage at a deliberate attack on a humanitarian warehouse in the Damascus province of Syria, which occurred as aid workers were preparing to distribute urgently needed supplies to hundreds of families in the besieged city…

Cave presumably containing tomb of Queen Tamar found (Pravoslavie) Following a landslide, road workers in Ingushetia have discovered an ancient cave that may contain the tomb of the Georgian Queen Tamar, reported Umalat Gadiev, deputy director of Krupnov Archaeological Center. Holy Queen Tamar of Georgia’s late 12th-century reign was considered a “golden age” of Georgian culture, and she is considered one of the most venerated rulers of Georgia…

Tags: India Egypt Pope Francis Ukraine United Nations

23 May 2014
Greg Kandra

In this image from last year, Pope Francis burns incense before the icon of Mary “Salus Populi Romani” (health of the Roman people) after praying the rosary during a service at the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)

In what has become a custom before beginning an important trip, Pope Francis stopped by the Basilica of St. Mary Major this morning to offer a private prayer before an icon of Mary. The pontiff leaves for his historic pilgrimage to the Holy Land Saturday.

CNS has details:

Pope Francis entrusted his upcoming apostolic journey to the Holy Land to Our Lady when he visited a Marian icon at the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome this morning.

He brought roses and prayed in silence before the icon for about 15 minutes, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi told us today. The unannounced morning visit marks what has become a Pope Francis tradition: visiting the “Salus Populi Romani” (health of the Roman people) to pray for Mary’s protection and care before a major trip.

He did the same thing before heading to Brazil last year when he prayed that Mary protect and care for everyone attending World Youth Day and for all young people around the world.

He also visited the day after his election, at the start of his new journey as supreme pontiff.

The icon has special significance for the pope and he has visited it often on different occasions to pray. He has said that the Basilica of St. Mary Major was the first Marian shrine in the West where the image of the Mother of God — the “Theotokos” — was venerated.

According to tradition, this image of Mary embracing Jesus as a young boy was the work of the evangelist St. Luke, who painted it on a tabletop made by Jesus himself in St. Joseph’s carpentry shop. Many centuries later, Jesuit missionaries distributed reproductions of the image to promote Marian devotion around the world.

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