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September, 2019
Volume 45, Number 3
22 December 2015
Michael J.L. La Civita

In this image from 2008, some 20,000 Georgian Orthodox believers celebrate the 31st anniversary of Patriarch Ilia II’s installation as head of the church in Tbilisi.
(photo: Vano Shlamov/AFP/Getty Images)

High in the Caucasus Mountains, at the eastern end of the Black Sea, rests Georgia. Poised between the Arabic, Persian and Syriac cultures of Asia and the Greco-Roman world of the Mediterranean, Georgians have fashioned a unique civilization, integrating the some of the customs, ideas and traditions of these seemingly disparate societies with their own.

Christianity — which became the state religion in the eastern Georgian kingdom of Kartli by the fourth century — is as much responsible for the creation and survival of this distinctive nation as its unique language.

Strategically situated on this crossroads, tiny Georgia has repeatedly overcome far superior foes — Romans, Persians, Arabs, Mongols, Ottomans and Russians. And the Orthodox Church of Georgia, often described as the buttress of the nation, remains a formidable force in the lives of the country’s 4.7 million people, 84 percent of whom belong to the church.

A church choir performs a chant at Mama Davitis Church in Tbilisi. Chants play an integral role in Georgian Orthodox church liturgy. (photo: Molly Corso)

Byzantine and Coptic histories note that St. Matthias the Apostle first brought the Gospel to the Georgian kingdom of Kartli and died a martyr’s death there around the year A.D. 80. Other Christian sources credit the apostles Andrew, Bartholomew, Simon the Zealot and Thaddeus with forming Christians among Georgia’s Jewish communities in Kartli and Egrisi, the western Georgian kingdom known by the ancient Greeks as Colchis — the mythical land of Jason, Medea and the Golden Fleece.Modern archaeological evidence — the remains of second- and third-century Christian tombs as well as early fourth-century churches — indicates an early presence of the faith, particularly near the Black Sea coast. That Christianity was the official religion of Kartli by the year 337 is incontestable. Armenian, Byzantine, Georgian, Greek and Latin sources all indicate that, in circa 300, Nino, a woman from Cappadocia, left Jerusalem for Kartli in search of the robe from Christ’s crucifixion.

“Equal to the apostles,” as Georgians revere her today, St. Nino worked primarily among the kingdom’s Jews, who were her first disciples. Written about a century after her death, “The Life of St. Nino” records the close relationship that existed between Nino and the Jews of Mtskheta (the capital of Kartli) as well as between the churches of Georgia and Jerusalem. It also details the conversion of King Mirian III, his establishment of Christianity as the faith of the kingdom and the erection of a shrine in Mtskheta to house the robe of Christ, known as the cathedral of Svetitskhoveli, or the “life-giving pillar.”

The “life-giving pillar” still stands in the heart of the nation, the bells summoning the faithful from Georgia’s mountains and valleys. To read more, click here.

22 December 2015
CNEWA staff

We’re proud to announce that CNEWA has just received the coveted 4-star rating from Charity Navigator, America’s premier independent charity evaluator.

“CNEWA’s 4-star rating puts it in a very select group of high-performing charities,” said Michael Thatcher, President & CEO of Charity Navigator, in a statement. “Out of the thousands of nonprofits Charity Navigator evaluates, only one out of four earns 4 stars — a rating that demands rigor, responsibility and commitment to openness. CNEWA’s supporters should feel much more confident that their hard-earned dollars are being used efficiently and responsibly when it acquires such a high rating.”

CNEWA’s Director of Development Norma Intriago noted, “This is a clear endorsement of CNEWA’s sound fiscal management practices, commitment to accountability and transparency. We’re pleased to share this news with our donors — and grateful for all they are making possible for so many in need.”

You can learn more about Charity Navigator and its methodology at this website.

Meantime, if you’d like to share in the great work of a 4-star charity, check out our giving page. And thank you!

22 December 2015
Greg Kandra

In this image from 2004, four young carolers pose in their home-made costumes in front of Holy Trinity Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in Kosmach, Ukraine. To learn more about the seasonal traditions and history of Christians nestled in the Carpathian Mountains, read “Faith and Tradition” from the November 2004 edition of ONE. (photo: Petro Didula)

22 December 2015
Greg Kandra

Young displaced Iraqis try to dig a drainage trench after heavy rains in November at a camp
in Baghdad. (photo: CNS/Ahmed Jalil, EPA)

Patriarchs encourage hope amid suffering in Middle East (CNS) Catholic patriarchs from the Middle East encouraged their trouble people to find inner peace at Christmas and urged the world to remember them. “In Iraq, we will celebrate the birth of Christ who comes into our hearts in silence and tears,” said Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Sako of Baghdad. However, he said, “We remain sustained by (an) inner peace that perpetuates the joy of faith and hope that we will, despite the trials, work toward a fairer country and a better future...”

Two Christian villages bombarded by jihadists (Fides) At least two civilians were killed and another twenty injured by grenades on Monday 21 December by anti-regime jihadist fighters against the villages of Maharda and Sqelbyia, in the province of Hama. The two towns, currently controlled by the government army, are inhabited by Orthodox Christians...

Canada to double number of Syrian refugees in 2016 (Time) Canada announced it will double the amount of Syrian refugees it admits in 2016. The country had initially pledged to take in 25,000 refugees by the end of February, but John McCallum, the minister of immigration and citizenship, said that number would be upped to 50,000 by the end of 2016, the BBC reports...

Syriac Christians in Palestine keep hope alive (Middle East Eye) In an unassuming room off a quiet alleyway connecting the Armenian and Jewish quarters of Jerusalem’s Old City, the self-described mayor of this city’s tiny Syriac community holds court. A prominent local tailor, Sammy Barsoum has for decades campaigned for the recognition of the approximately 5,000 Syriac Christians that call Palestine home...

Report: Newly crowned “Miss Iraq” receives kidnapping threat from ISIS (Jerusalem Post) Iraq’s new beauty queen received a threatening phone call on Tuesday telling her to join the ranks of ISIS or she will be kidnapped, according to a report by the Kuwaiti daily al-Watan. Shayma Qassim, 20, won the first beauty pageant to be held in Iraq in 40 years on Saturday. According to the report, following her win, Qassim received a threatening phone call in which she was warned that if she refused to join the ranks of the Islamic State movement she would be kidnapped...

21 December 2015
Sami El-Yousef

Patriarch Fouad Twal greets the children of Gaza who held the first Christmas performance at the newly refurbished parish center funded by CNEWA–Pontifical Mission. (photo: CNEWA)

20 December 2015 will be one great day to remember.

It was the day of the Christmas celebration at the Holy Family Church in Gaza, celebrating with members of the heroic small Latin parish who call Gaza home.

Again I was fortunate to be one of the few people of my status, a Palestinian East Jerusalem “resident” of the State of Israel, to be granted a one day permit to go to Gaza, despite the ongoing ban. I accompanied the official delegation of his Beatitude Patriarch Fouad Twal, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem.

The St. Joseph scout troop was there to receive us upon arrival with traditional Palestinian and Christmas songs. The drums were louder than ever to announce the arrival of the delegation. Shortly after arrival, His Beatitude opened the Door of Mercy at the Latin Parish Church in Gaza before celebrating the Christmas Mass with the parish members and the clergy. He was assisted by Bishop Marcuzzo from Nazareth and some 10 priests from the Latin Patriarchate who all came specifically for the day. The Superior General of the Rosary Sisters accompanied the delegation as well as the Superior of the Order of the Fathers of the Incarnate Word, the President of the Christian Schools Commission in Palestine, the Rev. Faisal Hijazin, and the Rev. Raed Abu Sahlieh, Director of Caritas Jerusalem.

In his homily, the patriarch reflected on the Year of Mercy, as well as on his continued prayers for peace and justice in our region. He affirmed his continued support and that of the Catholic Church for the small Catholic community of Gaza. He stated that he continuously prays for them, especially for an end of the blockade of Gaza and for unity within the Palestinians so that the situation there will improve and they will live a better life in the near future. He asked the people to remain steadfast and reminded them that they are suffering on earth and truly living the life of our Lord Jesus Christ who did not have an easy life in this land. He assured them that their suffering will not go unnoticed and that their rewards will be in heaven.

As soon as Mass ended, the renovated areas of the Latin parish complex were visited and blessed by his Beatitude. This included the newly renovated and refurbished parish center which was completely funded by CNEWA–Pontifical Mission. The renovated center includes a new library fully stocked with a variety of Christian books for all ages, as well as a new gymnasium with state of the art equipment, a sitting area and a kitchen, renovated rest rooms, and a large parish hall. During our visit, the first formal performance took place: a Christmas play by the parish children. All the children perfected their roles, and the long hours of practice as part of the CNEWA–Pontifical Mission “Oratorio” program paid off.

Aside from the official celebrations, there was noticeable respect granted to the official delegation by both the Israeli authorities at the Erez Crossing, as well as by the Palestinian government officials in Gaza who came to visit with his Beatitude and bid him and the parish congratulations for Christmas. Also noticeable was the large number of local and international press representatives who all wanted to interview many people so that the voices of the Christian community of Gaza are heard both locally and internationally.

One of the important people in attendance was Elias Manneh, the former Chairman of the Board of our partners, the Near East Council of Churches (NECC) in Gaza, who is now in retirement. He reminded me of a conversation we had six years ago when I first met him and we were discussing the dwindling Christian presence in Gaza as emigration was on the rise.

He said then: “Despite our small number, we are a force to be reckoned with. We are respected by the government and the larger community. Quality and not quantity is what counts in Gaza.” Our wish for this small, but brave community is to enjoy the Christmas celebrations in Gaza, Many confided that although Israel issued permits for a full month (20 December 2015 through 20 January 2016) to hundreds of Christians from Gaza to enter the West Bank and Jerusalem (as was the case in previous years) it was rare that a complete family received the permits. The ban on youth aged 16-35 continues; none in this age group was granted a permit. The Rev. Mario da Silva, the parish priest at the Holy Family parish, will celebrate midnight Mass in his beautiful church. Undoubtedly the same prayers heard today will be repeated again for pace and jkustice for all in our Holy Land, especially for our suffering people in Gaza.

This was my shortest visit to Gaza. Despite the great joy of being able to be there for the day to show our solidarity with our brothers and sisters, I left with a heavy heart, knowing that most of them will not be able to join us in Bethlehem for the celebrations. Please keep the people of Gaza in your prayers and join me in wishing them a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

21 December 2015
Greg Kandra

As part of a pre-Christmas tradition, children bring figurines of the baby Jesus to be blessed in St. Peter’s Square as Pope Francis leads the Angelus on 20 December. (photo: Vatican Radio)

21 December 2015
Greg Kandra

A displaced Syrian woman holds her ten-day-old twin grandchildren in a town on the outskirts of Damascus where they have taken shelter on 20 December 2015.
(photo: AFP/Amer Almohibany/Getty Images)

Pope appeals for peace in Syria (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis appealed for peace in Syria on Sunday, calling on the international community to realize in concrete action and genuine fact the endorsement of a UN-sponsored roadmap toward peace in the war-torn nation...

Christians disappearing from Gaza (USA Today) Dim lighting and candles softly illuminate decorative tapestries as the smell of incense fills the air and the harmonic sound of hundreds singing in unison drifts onto a busy street next to an overflowing church on a wet and windy Sunday morning. Despite the packed pews at Gaza’s Church of St. Porphyrius just weeks before Christmas, Christianity is not booming here. Rather, the worshipers at the 1,600-year-old shrine believe they may be the last group of Christians in Gaza, where they have lived and prayed since the birth of Jesus. The ongoing Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip and the highest unemployment rate in the world are prompting Christians to leave the besieged area in droves, some using the holiday season to their advantage...

Pope prays for flood victims in India (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis prayed for the victims of massive flooding in India on Sunday. Speaking to the faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square after the traditional Angelus prayer, Pope Francis said. “My thoughts turn in this moment to the dear populations of India, recently stricken by a great flood.” The city of Chennai, capital of Tamil Nadu state in southeastern India, was overwhelmed earlier this month after a series of record-breaking rainfalls triggered the flooding, in which some three hundred people perished. Much of the city’s 4.8 million population remains exposed to the threat of disease outbreak as a result of the flooding. Meteorologists fear unusually intense weather patterns could bring more rain...

President Assad visits a Catholic church (Fides) Syrian President Bashar al-Assad visited the Melkite Catholic parish of Our Lady of Damascus, in the Damascene district of al Qussur, with his wife Asma. Of the presidential visit, which took place on Friday evening, 18 December, the official Syrian media released photos and video the next day...

Russia confirms food embargo against Ukraine (AFP) Russia will introduce a food embargo against Ukraine next month over Kiev’s trade deal with the EU, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said Monday, extending punitive measures already in place against Western countries. “These measures will be extended to Ukraine too,” Medvedev said at a government meeting. “I have just signed the relevant decree...”

Visiting a monastery in Ethiopia (Daily Mail) The rope being tied around my waist by a monk comprised lengths of scraggly old leather attached to each other by granny knots. I have a fear of heights, and as I looked up, the cliff seemed to topple towards me by degrees. But this was the only way to visit the 6th century monastery of Debre Damo, which perches on a plateau in northern Ethiopia, a true wilderness...

Tags: Syria India Pope Francis Ethiopia Gaza Strip/West Bank

18 December 2015
Sami El-Yousef

CNEWA’s regional director for Palestine and Israel, Sami El-Yousef, third from left, meets with recipients of a CNEWA scholarship who are now employed at Al Ahli hospital through its training and job creation program. (photo: CNEWA)

This was my first visit to Gaza since Israeli authorities placed a ban on East Jerusalem ID holders back in July 2015. Though the ban is still in effect, a limited number of permits were allowed, and I feel lucky to be one of the few approved.

Upon arrival in Gaza, there seemed to be a general feeling that life is gradually returning to “normal.” Traffic was busy and more people were on the streets; shops seemed sufficiently stocked with no lines at gas stations. There were also a limited number of construction projects and more workers doing odd jobs. People seemed more relaxed than in previous visits. The two main streets crossing Gaza from the north to the south — Salah Eddin Street and Beach Street — have been widened and paved with new street lamps and beautiful landscaping, and the promenade area has been totally refurbished.

However, when one digs deeper into the situation, it is clear that not much has really changed. Electricity is still on either 6- or 8-hour shifts; unemployment continues at an all-time high; the Rafah borders continue to be tightly closed, severely limiting travel; the fragile industrial base is still in ruins; prices of goods and services are through the roof; and most of the people who lost their homes during previous wars continue to face extreme temporary living conditions. The hoped for reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas continues to be a dream. Thus, for all practical purposes, not much has changed, except that the people of Gaza have become resigned to their current state of affairs and accustomed to living on much less than their counterparts in the West Bank, and certainly with much lower standards than their neighbors in Israel. For now, they seem content with what is available to them. There is a strange sense that life must go on regardless of the harsh reality on the ground.

What did we find? You can read a full report on the Gaza visit here.

Tags: Gaza Strip/West Bank Palestine Economic hardships

18 December 2015
Greg Kandra

The Rev. Francis Eluvathingal performs a wedding ceremony at the Jyotis Care Center in Navi Mumbai. To learn more about the growing church in Mumbai, read A Church of Their Own from the January 2012 edition of ONE. (photo: Peter Lemieux)

Tags: India Indian Christians Mumbai

18 December 2015
Greg Kandra

Jasan Zided of Hebron, West Bank, waits to sell Santa hats to tourists in an empty Manger Square on 15 December in Bethlehem, West Bank. (photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)

Middle East situation dampens Christmas in Bethlehem (Catholic Register) Though the Christmas tree was lit in Nativity Square in the traditional ceremony, and some traditional pre-Christmas parades have taken place, the Christmas spirit this year in Bethlehem has been dampened by the political situation, which, since October, has taken the lives of almost 100 Palestinians and 22 Israelis. Few pilgrims are visiting the holy sites — or the souvenir shops that line Manger Square — and there is none of the customary festive caroling at the square in the evenings leading up to Christmas Eve…

Israel and Turkey agree to restore diplomatic ties (The New York Times) Israel and Turkey have reached a preliminary agreement to begin restoring full diplomatic relations after years of deep freeze, Israeli officials said on Thursday. The two countries, once close regional allies, fell out after a deadly confrontation in 2010 between Israeli commandos and Turkish activists on a passenger vessel seeking to breach Israel’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip…

Syrian refugees snared in poverty (UNHCR) Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon are facing dire levels of poverty, with the situation expected to worsen in the near future, a study published today by the World Bank Group and the UN Refugee Agency revealed. Nearly 1.7 million Syrian refugees registered in Jordan and Lebanon live in miserable conditions, often unable to afford the very basics including sufficient food, clothes and medicine. The majority are women and children who live on the margins in urban and rural areas, often in substandard accommodation, rather than in refugee camps…

Mother Teresa to be declared a saint (Vatican Radio) Blessed Teresa of Calcutta is to be made a Saint. Pope Francis on Thursday authorized the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to promulgate a decree regarding a miracle attributed to the intercession of Blessed Teresa (née Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu)…

Coptic monasteries will not close over jihadist threats (Fides) Historical Coptic monasteries in the Wadi Natrun region will not suffer any closure for security reasons, after the jihadist threats aimed in particular against the monastery in Baramos, dedicated to the Virgin Mary…

Indian government assures justice for country’s Christians ( India’s government has assured the country’s Christian community of justice and protection against persecution. “We have always been with the Christian community and will always remain with them. There should be no confusion regarding this,” said Rajnath Singh, federal home minister, and second-in-command to India’s prime minister. Singh was speaking at a Christmas dinner organized by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India in New Delhi on 17 December...

Tags: Refugees Israel Turkey Bethlehem Indian Christians

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