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September, 2019
Volume 45, Number 3
14 December 2015
Greg Kandra

Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Sako of Baghdad is pictured in a 2014 photo in Geneva.
(photo: CNS/Salvatore Di Nolfi, EPA)

Iraqi patriarch says Christian persecution has reached “critical, violent” point (CNS) The survival of Christianity in the Middle East has reached such a critical point that the chances of dialogue and reconciliation in the region are being threatened, said Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Sako of Baghdad. “The situation is very bad, very critical and always violent,” Sako told Catholic News Service on 10 December. “Last year in August, 120,000 Christian people were expelled from their homes, their villages and now they are living in some camps with nothing, but the Church is helping them.” Sako was among the keynote speakers at a 10-12 December international conference on Christian persecution in the world. He told CNS that the mass exodus of Christians in the region will only worsen the situation due to growing tensions between Sunni and Shiite Muslims who “are killing each other...”

Patriarch visits Egypt (Fides) Maronite Patriarch Boutros Bechara Peter Rai carried out a four-day visit to Egypt, which ended yesterday, Sunday 13 December and was characterized by a busy schedule, not only from a pastoral point of view. The occasion for the patriarchal visit was the inauguration of the church dedicated to St. Maron, which underwent major restoration in the Cairo district of Heliopolis. During the visit in Egypt, the Primate of the Maronite Church had high-level contacts and met among others the Coptic Orthodox Patriarch, Tawadros II, the Grand Imam of al-Azhar, Ahmad al Tayyeb, and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi...

Russia angry at Turkey’s military presence in Iraq (New Europe) The scale of Turkey’s military presence in northern Iraq cannot be justified by the tasks of training any local groups, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said on Sunday. “We think that Turkey’s actions in northern Iraq are illegal. It is an invasion into a neighboring state,” he said. “Moreover, the scale of these actions cannot be justified by any training-related argument.” Iraq appealed to the United Nations Security Council on Friday to demand an immediate and unconditional withdrawal of all Turkish troops from northern Iraq, calling Turkey’s military incursion a “flagrant violation” of international law...

Syrian refugees receive a primer on Canadian life (The Globe and Mail) As the new Syrian arrivals take in the mundane details of Canadian life like so many refugees before them, there are signs of the emotional toll of the past few years. There is also evidence of the network of support that is ready to help, the sponsors who have brought them here, the volunteers on hand to translate. With as many as 25,000 refugees expected in the coming months, this is a scene that will play out again and again across Canada...

Bhopal archbishop receives peace award (Vatican Radio) Archbishop Leo Cornelio SVD, of Bhopal on Thursday received the prestigious International Human Rights Award for the year 2015 at the India Islamic Centre, New Delhi in a glittering ceremony organized by All India Council of Human Rights, Liberties and Social Justice...

Hanukkah lights the darkness in Ukraine ( Since the crisis began two years ago, the Jewish community of Ukraine, numbering an estimated 300-350,000 Jews, has come together not just to provide much-needed aid, but also to celebrate the Jewish holidays with bravery and gusto unmatched under such circumstances. They have been joined in this massive undertaking by my organization, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, and other overseas Jewish and Christian aid groups — the Jewish Federations, Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, World Jewish Relief, and Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein and the International Fellowship of Christians & Jews — individual philanthropists, foundations, community leaders, and activists all seeking to ensure that life goes on even under duress...

11 December 2015
Elias D. Mallon, S.A., Ph.D.

Pope Francis is embraced by Argentine Rabbi Abraham Skorka after praying at the Western Wall in Jerusalem on 26 May 2014. On the right is Omar Abboud, Muslim leader from Argentina.
(photo: CNS/Paul Haring)

Fifty years ago, in October 1965, the Catholic Church published “The Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions.” This document, prepared by the Second Vatican Council, is also known by its Latin name Nostra Ætate, which translates as “in our times.” Two recent documents, one Catholic and the other Jewish, were just published that make us think that the document of the Second Vatican Council should be, in fact, “In Our Extraordinary Times.”

On 10 December 2015 the Commission for Religious Relations with Jews of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity published “The Gifts and Calling of God Are Irrevocable.” Continuing a trajectory that began with Nostra Ætate, the document is a “reflection...on current theological questions that have developed since the Second Vatican Council.” While the document does not break radically new ground, it makes important clarifications concerning Catholic relations with Jews.

Historically, the document clarifies, for example, that Nostra Ætate did not explicitly state that God’s covenant with the Jews was never invalidated. That position was stated by Pope John Paul II in his meeting with members of the Jewish community in Mainz, Germany, on 18 November 1980. The document also states with great clarity that the Letter to the Hebrews, often used to indicate that Judaism was “superseded” by Christianity, “has no intention of proving the promises of the Old Covenant to be false, but on the contrary treats them as valid.” Continuing this theme, the commission states that “the church does not replace the people of God of Israel,” rejects the notion that Jews “can no longer be considered the people of God” and adds “ does not in any way follow that Jews are excluded from God’s salvation because they do not believe in Jesus Christ as the Messiah of Israel and the Son of God.”

This theological position has clear practical implications that the Catholic Church recognizes and accepts: “The church is therefore obliged to view evangelization to Jews, who believe in the one God, in a different manner from that to people of other religions and world views. In concrete terms this means that the Catholic Church neither conducts nor supports any specific institutional mission work directed towards Jews.”

“The Gifts and Calling of God Are Irrevocable” is indeed itself a gift to the ongoing relationship between Catholics and Jews. It moves the relationship to a deeper level, clarifies many important theological points and courageously draws practical conclusions. However, as important as the document is, it is the continuation of a trajectory that is 50 years old. As such it is not radically new and it certainly does not indicate any change of direction.

Coincidentally — or perhaps not so coincidentally — on 3 December 2015 the Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation (CJCUC) published an “Orthodox Rabbinic Statement of Christianity.” This document is by any measure extraordinary. It states, “As did Maimonides and Yehuda Halevi [great Jewish thinkers of the 12th and 11th centuries respectively] we acknowledge that Christianity is neither an accident nor an error, but the willed divine outcome and gift to the nations” (Par. 3).

This statement is not merely generous and broad spirited, but also most remarkable given the history of Catholic-Orthodox Jewish relations. While “The Gifts and Calling of God Are Irrevocable” mentions that “dialogue with the Chief Rabbinate of Israel has to that extent enabled more open relations between Orthodox Judaism and the Catholic Church,” the recent statement of the Orthodox rabbis goes even further.

Although painful, it is not difficult for Christians to see the distrust that many Jews, especially Orthodox Jews, might feel toward Christianity. Centuries of discrimination, persecution and theological disdain (often referred to as supercessionism) had given Orthodox Jews, whose memory is equally as long as that of the Catholic Church, little reason to trust that Christians would ever see them other than “objects” of conversion.

However, there was a far more formidable obstacle of which most Catholics and Christians were and remain unaware. One of the greatest Jewish thinkers of the 20th century was Rabbi Joseph B. Solevetchik (1903-1993). A member of what has been referred to as the “Solevetchik rabbinical dynasty,” Rabbi Solevetchik belonged to a long family of Eastern European orthodox rabbis. He worked in the United States for most of his adult life and was renowned for his intelligence and knowledge. His writings were and continue to be very influential in the Orthodox Jewish community.

In 1964, the year before Nostra Ætate, Rabbi Solevetchik published “Confrontation” in the Spring-Summer edition of the Jewish journal, Tradition. This article has to a great extent determined the nature and parameter of Orthodox Jewish-Catholic relations for the past 50 years.

While Rabbi Solevetchik considered it essential for Orthodox Jews to work with Christians and others in the overall society, his attitude toward any type of religious or theological dialogue was at best pessimistic. In his article he refers often to Christianity as “the religion of the many.” Understandably, he is concerned about the uniqueness of Judaism. He states “...the divine imperatives and commandments to which a faith community is unreservedly committed must not be equated with the ritual and ethos of another community” (p. 18), noting that it “is futile to find common denominators” (p. 1).

His fears are rooted in a long, painful history. “We are not ready for a meeting with another faith community in which we shall become the object of observation...” (p.21). “Nor are we related to any other faith community as “brethren” even though “separated.” (ibid). For Rabbi Solevetchik, when speaking of faith, “the whole idea of a tradition of faiths and the continuum of revealed utterly absurd” (p.22).

Again and again he expresses his fear that Judaism will lose its uniqueness and identity. Although he never uses the term, Solevetchik dreads Judaism being reduced to a type of “Proto-Christianity,” lacking its own uniqueness and value. Fifty years after Nostra Ætate it is easy to forget that the rabbi’s fears were not groundless for almost all of our 2000-year common history.

Thus it is almost impossible to overestimate the importance of this recent “Orthodox Rabbinic Statement on Christianity.” Arriving at the present level of trust and understanding — while recognizing there are still many areas which need further reflection — is a monument to the vitality and faithfulness of both Judaism and Christianity. The Orthodox rabbis were able to overcome incredible historical, intellectual and theological obstacles to arrive at this point and at the same time to be faithful to their history and tradition.

Their statement is one of great courage and hope for the future. The Catholic Church for its part continues to refine, purify and, where necessary, correct attitudes that were theologically deficient and all too often destructive.

In a world racked by religiously inspired violence, the example of the Catholic-Jewish dialogue provides hope and perhaps even a paradigm for the overcoming of deep differences and painful histories even after 2000 years.

11 December 2015
Greg Kandra

Armenian archbishops from France, Ukraine, Russia and Nagorno-Karabakh concelebrate the blessing of chrism at Etchmiadzin in 1996. To learn more about Armenia’s spiritual core, read “Where God Descended” in the May 2008 edition of ONE. (photo: Armineh Johannes)

11 December 2015
Greg Kandra

An aerial view from an Indian relief helicopter shows flood affected areas of Chennai.
(photo: STR/AFP/Getty Images)

Some India Catholic churches to cancel Christmas celebrations after flooding (Vatican Radio) Catholic churches in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu are cancelling Christmas in order to divert funds to help victims of flooding in Chennai — the worst in more than a century that are being blamed on climate change. Dozens were killed and thousands were left homeless as Chennai — the fifth most populous city in India — suffered the worst November rainfall in more than 20 years and the wettest December day in over a century when more than 12 inches fell on 1 December...

Canada’s prime minister welcomes Syrian refugees (BBC) The first military plane carrying Syrian refugees to be resettled in Canada has arrived in the country. Welcoming the 163 refugees, new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his country was “showing the world how to open our hearts”. The newly elected Liberal government has pledged to take in 25,000 refugees by the end of February. Canada’s stance on the issue differs sharply to that of the US, which has been reluctant to take in migrants. Another plane is due in Montreal on Saturday...

Studying Hebrew in Gaza: Bridging two peoples (Haaretz) At the small mixed-gender training room of the Nafha center for Hebrew and Israeli studies, six students of various ages have gathered. “Me’ayin is the Hebrew word for ‘from where,’” the teacher, Ahmed Alfaleet, explains. Alfaleet, the head of the center, was once a prisoner in Israeli jails. The 42-year-old was one of the more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners exchanged for abducted soldier Gilad Shalit in 2011; after he was freed, he decided to take on the challenge of spreading the Hebrew language in Gaza...

Analysis: Jews and Catholics must implement new interfaith partnership (Vatican Radio) The new Vatican document on the Catholic Church’s changed relationship with the Jewish world will only be effective if it is shared “on the streets, in the pulpits, in the pews of our churches and synagogues”. That’s the view of Dr. Edward Kessler, founding director of the interfaith Woolf Institute in Cambridge and one of the two Jewish speakers at a press conference presenting the new Vatican document on Thursday...

Tags: Syria India Gaza Strip/West Bank Jews

10 December 2015
Michael J.L. La Civita

The frescoes adorning the Church of Saint Clement in Ohrid reveal the splendor of medieval Macedonia. (photo: Sean Sprague)

Except for a brief period some 1,000 years ago, the territory in the Balkan Peninsula now commonly known as Macedonia has always been subjected to land-grabbing by Bulgarians, Greeks, Serbs and Turks.

In 1991, the disintegration of Yugoslavia — an “experiment” of the Romantic era that united, among others, Macedonians, Croats, Serbs and Slovenes regardless of culture, history and religion — reignited Macedonian cultural and political aspirations for independence. This return of the “Macedonian Question,” which once haunted Europe’s crowned heads and ministers, has fueled new fears of instability in the Balkans — the “powder keg of Europe.”

Macedonian Orthodox await Easter in the Church of Saint Clement in Ohrid. (photo: Sean Sprague)

The preeminent faith community of the country, the Orthodox Church of Macedonia, is also engaged in an ongoing struggle for recognition. Historically, the various national Orthodox churches of the Balkans — Bulgarian, Greek, Montenegrin, Romanian and Serbian — have played leading roles in the development of their distinct nations, serving as cultural repositories and bastions of faith especially in times of peril. Macedonia’s Orthodox Christians, who account for nearly two-thirds of the populations, have taken that lead, but not without incurring isolation and scorn.

Led by its embattled head, Archbishop Stefan of Ohrid and Macedonia, the Orthodox Church of Macedonia works closely with the Macedonian state in developing and nurturing a distinct Macedonian Slav identity, in a nation that remains among Europe’s poorest.

Click here to read more.

10 December 2015
CNEWA staff

A sister leads the blessing before supper at the Santa Lucia Home in Alexandria, Egypt. CNEWA recently provided funds for some needed improvements to the facility. (photo: Holly Pickett)

Last year, our magazine ONE brought you the inspiring story of the Santa Lucia Home, a facility for blind children run by the Franciscan Sisters of the Cross in Alexandria, Egypt.

Just this month, we received the following report from our regional office, describing part of our involvement with the facility and recent work there:

In 2002, CNEWA built a three story building, adding new classrooms and increasing the educational level of the school from complementary to secondary. Now, 1,500 students are registered for the 2015-2016 academic year. The majority are Christian. A dispensary provides health care to around 12,500 patients a year, and attends to the medical needs of the 20 visually impaired children.

As part of the school’s curriculum and activities, it provides Christian formation for the primary school students and the boarding of visually impaired girls, as well as music and singing lessons. This activity eventually led to forming a student choir. Today the choir is famous among the Christian community of Alexandria. To improve their skills, and provide these marginalized children with a career and hope for a better future, the sisters requested to renovate and furnish two old rooms in the basement of their home to be used for the above activities.

On 1 June CNEWA/Pontifical Mission, through its funding donors, was able to provide necessary funds to perform the needed work on this center. In October 2015, we visited the Franciscan Sisters of the Cross pastoral center. The initial work estimate of this project was $26,000 for rehabilitation, furniture and equipment. During execution, CNEWA’s engineer was able to reduce the prices of some work items which were overpriced, and thus decreased the total cost repair work to $20,000. As for the furniture and equipment, they will be provided by the institution.

You can read more, including a list of the repairs, at this link.

Help us to help more of Egypt’s Christians through invaluable projects like the Santa Lucia Home. Visit this giving page to learn how. You will help these institutions and religious sisters know they are not forgotten, especially during this holy time of the year.

10 December 2015
Greg Kandra

An Indian boy puts his school books out to dry as floodwaters recede in Chennai on 7 December 2015. Residents in India’s southern Tamil Nadu state were grappling with the aftermath of devastating floods as authorities stepped up relief work following the worst deluge in decades that killed over 250 people. (photo: STR/AFP/Getty Images)

As India struggles to recover from devastating floods, the Catholic Church is stepping in to help:

The Catholic Church in India has expressed solidarity with the victims of Tamil Nadu floods and appealed to the people to come forward and make voluntary donations for the relief and rehabilitation of the affected.

“The need of the hour calls us to express solidarity with the flood affected suffering families and communities and to contribute our mite for their relief and rehabilitation,” Cardinal Baselios Cleemis, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) said in a statement.

Two days of heavy rains through 2 December brought double the normal rainfall the Tamil Nadu state capital normally receives during its entire two-month rainy season.

The deluge has affected Cuddalore, Kanchipuram, Tiruvallur, Villupuram and Tanjavur districts with the state capital Chennai being the worst hit.

Read more.

10 December 2015
Greg Kandra

People gather on 20 November outside the Washington State capitol in Olympia to urge the United States’ acceptance of Syrian refugees. (photo: CNS/David Ryder, Reuters)

25 Christian hostages freed in Syria (Fides) On Wednesday, 9 December the jihadists affiliated to the self-styled Islamic State released other 25 Assyrian Christians, who were part of the large group of hostages kidnapped by them on 23 February, when the jihadi militias had unleashed an offensive against the predominantly Christian Assyrian villages scattered along the valley of the river Khabur, in the northeastern Syrian province of Hassake. According to reports from local sources, and re-launched by the Assyrian International News Agengy , the group of hostages freed includes men, boys and two children under ten years of age, who after their release reached the town of Tel Tamar...

Faith leaders, senators say U.S. must not “pause” refugee resettlement (CNS) A coalition of religious leaders joined three U.S. senators on Capitol Hill 8 December to say “enough is enough” to those who want to bar Muslim refugees from Syria and other Middle East trouble spots from the U.S. after terrorist attacks in Paris and Southern California...

First planes of Syrian refugees set to arrive in Canada (Reuters) The first two government flights carrying Syrian refugees to Canada will arrive this week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Wednesday. His immigration minister noted with pride that Canada’s welcoming attitude contrasts with the wary stance of many in the United States. The first flight will arrive in Toronto on Thursday evening and another will land in Montreal on Saturday, Trudeau said in Parliament. The planes, both military aircraft, will carry a total of 300 Syrian refugees...

Orthodox rabbis urge partnership between Christians and Jews (The Jewish Press) A group of Orthodox Jewish rabbis are advocating for increased partnership between Christians and Jews. More than 25 Orthodox rabbis from Israel, the United States and Europe released the statement titled “To Do the Will of Our Father in Heaven: Toward a Partnership between Jews and Christians” on the Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation (CJCUC) website...

Vatican issues new document on Christian-Jewish dialogue (Vatican Radio) The Vatican’s Commission for Religious Relations with Jews has released a new document exploring the unresolved theological questions at the heart of Christian-Jewish dialogue. The new document, entitled ‘The Gifts and Calling of God are irrevocable’, marks the 50th anniversary of the ground-breaking declaration ‘Nostra Aetate’...

Archbishop: “The pope has profoundly marked the Muslim community” (Fides) “The Pope came as a pilgrim to invite us to peace. Now we must become pilgrims of peace in our own country”, says Dieudonné Nzapalainga, Archbishop of Bangui, capital of the Central African Republic, explaining his gesture to walk the Muslims’ PK5 neighborhood, after tensions in recent days due to the exclusion of former President Francois Bozize’s candidacy in the presidential elections...

9 December 2015
Melodie Gabriel

University students camp outside at Ryerson University in Toronto to raise awareness about refugees. (photo: Nansy Khanano/KnanoArt)

We want to highlight the amazing efforts of the Assyrian Chaldean Syriac Student Union (ACSSU) of Canada. This group is making a difference to help Iraqi and Syrian refugees — and doing it in a very dramatic and thought-provoking way.

From 16-19 November, in an event dubbed “Life of a Mesopotamian Refugee,” students in the greater Toronto area camped in tents for three nights on different university campuses. These young people wanted to raise awareness and be in solidarity with refugees from their homelands. They also collected donations, which will go towards CNEWA Canada’s efforts to assist refugees.

This student initiative was featured in a video on CityNews television in Toronto. It was also in newspapers, including an article in the Catholic Register.

You can still give to this fundraiser. Learn more by visiting their webpage here. You can also give today to Syrian refugees through CNEWA.

9 December 2015
Greg Kandra

Pope Francis presents a rose at an icon of Mary and the child Jesus — known as “Doors of Mercy” — as he begins his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on 9 December.
(photo: CNS/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis requested the ancient Ukrainian icon “Doors of Mercy” to be brought to the Vatican for the opening of the Jubilee Year of Mercy. Vatican Radio has details:

This icon, which combines both Western and Eastern traditions, is particularly symbolic and encourages all Christians to unity and peace for the sake of charity.

The Icon was met at the airport by the Ambassador of Ukraine to the Holy See, Tatyana Izhevska; and Ambassador of Poland to the Holy See, Piotr Nowina-Konopka; and representatives from the Vatican.

The image of the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ, which dates from the seventeenth century, comes from the cathedral of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in the Polish city of Jaroslaw. The icon, which takes its name from the Byzantine Lenten liturgical text, “Open the Doors of Mercy to me, O Mother of God.” is considered miraculous and was given a crown by St. John Paul II in 1996.

A copy of of the icon is also found in the Argentinian church belonging to Pope Francis’ former spiritual director, Ukrainian Catholic priest Father Stephan Chmil, who was later made a bishop.

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