30 September 2016
Pope Francis and Orthodox Patriarch Ilia II of Georgia arrive for a meeting at the patriarchal palace in Tbilisi, Georgia, on 30 September. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Subtly acknowledging Georgia’s ongoing territorial dispute with Russia, Pope Francis urged greater efforts to sow peace throughout the Caucasus region.
Shortly after arriving in Tbilisi at the start of his 16th foreign trip, the pope met privately with Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili 30 September and, with the president, he addressed a small gathering of civic leaders and members of the diplomatic corps outside the presidential palace.
In a nation where more than 230,000 people are still displaced by the ongoing Georgian-Russian dispute over control of South Ossetia, the pope said it was time to find a way for the displaced to return to their homes and for respect for the “sovereign rights” of each nation. Only Russia and a handful of other nations recognize the supposed independence of South Ossetia.
The theme the government and local church chose for the pope’s visit 30 September-1 October was “pax vobis,” “peace be with you.”
Margvelashvili was more blunt than the pope. Georgia, he said, “is still victim of a military aggression on the part of another state: 20 percent of our territory is occupied and 15 percent of the population is displaced. Their homes were taken only because they are ethnically Georgian!”
“Only 40 kilometers (about 25 miles) from here, there is barbed wire that prevents a peaceful population — neighbors and relatives — from having a relationship with each other,” the president said. “Only 40 kilometers from here, each day human beings witness violence, kidnappings, murders and offenses that deeply wound dignity.”
The return of displaced people is the government’s primary concern, he said. “Human beings should not have to suffer because of political situations and they have a right to return to their own homes.”
Pope Francis urged the people of the region to make concerted efforts to respect their cultural and ethnic differences, giving everyone a chance “to coexist peacefully in their homeland or freely to return to that land if, for some reason, they have been forced to leave it.”
“The peaceful coexistence among all peoples and states in the region is the indispensable and prior condition for such authentic and enduring progress,” the pope told the country’s leaders.
Georgia, which had been part of the Soviet Union, has been working for 25 years to build democracy and promote development. Pope Francis said he hoped the process would continue, increasingly involving all sectors of society to ensure “stability, justice and respect for the rule of law.”
Both the pope and the president emphasized Georgia’s “European” identity, but also it’s geographical location and historic role as a meeting place of Asia and Europe. Over Russian objections, Georgia has been trying to join the members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization; it has belonged to the Council of Europe since 1999.
The formal meetings took place after a brief airport welcoming ceremony. The president and patriarch were at the airport to welcome the pope, as were a boy and girl, who offered him a basket of grapes.
Pope Francis and Orthodox Patriarch Ilia II, bowed by age and Parkinson’s disease, stood next to each other as the Vatican and Georgian national anthems were played.
30 September 2016
In the video above, Pope Francis lands in Georgia and begins his trips to the Caucasus.
(video: Rome Reports)
Pope Francis arrives in Georgia to begin visit (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has arrived in Georgia at the start of a three day trip to the Caucasus which will also take him Sunday for a brief visit to Azerbaijan. On Friday, Georgian government, civil and religious leaders and members of the Catholic community turned out at Tbilisi’s international airport to greet the pontiff, whose plane touched down shortly before 3:00 pm local time...
Pope Francis calls for respect of international law (Reuters) Pope Francis called for respect for international law and the sovereign rights of nations as he arrived in Georgia on Friday, an implicit criticism of Russia, which keeps troops in two breakaway areas of the ex-Soviet state. But Francis measured his words carefully, in an apparent attempt not to hurt the Vatican’s increasingly warm ties with the Kremlin-backed Russian Orthodox Church...
Archbishop expresses hope over papal visit (Vatican Radio) Archbishop Raphael Minassian hopes that the Papal visit to Azerbaijan and Georgia will promote peace in the region. The small Catholic community in Georgia, which Pope Francis is visiting on Friday and Saturday, is made up of Latin, Chaldean and Armenian rites...
Syria military says it retook hospital, refugee camp in Aleppo (USA TODAY) Syrian government forces took control of a hospital in the besieged northern city of Aleppo on Friday, a day after seizing a Palestinian refugee camp in the city from rebels, according to Syria’s military. The military said its forces captured the Kindi hospital and were strengthening their positions in the Handarat refugee camp, the Associated Press reported...
U.S. surpasses Syrian refugee goal (The Washington Post) The United States has admitted 12,500 refugees from war-
ravaged Syria over the past year, surpassing President Obama’s target, and expects to admit even more next year, a State Department official said Tuesday...
29 September 2016
Sister Maureen Grady, C.S.C. worked for CNEWA in Beirut during a dangerous time in the 1980’s.
(photo: Christian Molidor, R.S.M.)
Some of our CNEWA heroes have witnessed remarkable moments of suffering, courage and grace. One who worked closely with us for many years even described her tenure in the Middle East as a time of “amazing grace.”
Sister Maureen Grady, a member of the Congregation of Sisters of the Holy Cross, served in Beirut as the chief operating officer of Pontifical Mission, CNEWA’s operating agency in the Middle East.
When she stepped down from that post in 1993, she wrote of her early days in Lebanon in the 1980’s:
Lebanon was in the midst of its own civil war, a war that witnessed the unlimited capacity of hatred, greed, corruption and the thirst for power. While emergency relief programs for displaced families and the handicapped were implemented, I fell in love with the people and country.
The hope of the young and the courage of the women religious inspired in me a passion for a people who were saddened and burdened by the destruction of their country by their own.
We Americans know the danger and extent of the power of hatred as it was unleashed in Lebanon. It was a very dangerous time. How I survived I do not know; and now that I think of it, I do not know why I took the risk. I know taking such a risk is something you only do once. However I made calculated decisions and took advice from those in the know.
I was protected. There are many incidents I could describe that illustrate this protection: lunching in a quiet restaurant that 30 minutes after I left became the scene of a bloodbath; boarding a ferry to travel from Cyprus to Beirut as I habitually did, only to change my mind and fly into Beirut instead — that ferry was bombed that night. It was God who invited me to begin this journey and it was God who sustained and protected me.
Not long after that, she began working with CNEWA and Pontifical Mission full time. She described meeting the agency’s chair, Cardinal John O'Connor:
[CNEWA’s National Secretary] Msgr. John Nolan arrived in Lebanon with Cardinal John O’Connor, president of the Pontifical Mission’s sister agency, Catholic Near East Welfare Association. The cardinal approached me and asked, “Could you handle this?” and I responded, “Yes.” Msgr. Nolan then formally asked me to accept the position of director.
Later at a gathering of Lebanon’s religious, male and female, the cardinal introduced me as his representative in Lebanon, saying, “remember, my last name is O’Connor, and hers, O’Grady!”
It was a perilous period. In 1989, her convent was shelled during heavy fighting in east Beirut. A report at the time noted that she spent the night in the convent basement after the windows were blown out. But she persisted:
The greatest resource of any organization is its people. I recruited a young, energetic and intelligent staff; a group of people who were interested in doing their part to bring peace to their country. And though they could profit from formation and guidance, their dynamism and energy strengthened our efforts to work with the poor. And unlike the majority of the populace, they were freer of the prejudices that have haunted their homeland.
For four years, the biggest decision each day was whether or not to call each person to the office. Every morning we communicated with one another via walkie talkie — the phone lines were almost always down. Usually we discussed the fighting in each individual’s neighborhood and whether it was relatively safe to leave the security of a stairwell or a bunker. I was responsible for the safety and lives of each staff member. Yet in those four years of fighting, we only missed two working days. In a nation that saw schools, businesses and basic social services disrupted 50 percent of the time, our staff’s desire to work was amazing and their accomplishments, astounding.
“Astounding” could well describe the heroic work of this tireless sister, whose tenacity and resourcefulness paid off — and her work reminds us still of the spirit that guides all who work among the poor and suffering of the world.
29 September 2016
Earlier this week, CNEWA’s president Msgr. John E. Kozar was in Onatario for the meeting of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, and to meet with CNEWA’s board in Canada. Along the way, he stopped by the offices of Salt + Light TV for an interview on their program “Perspectives.” Among other things, he touched on the ongoing crisis in Ethiopia. (His portion of the conversation begins at 8:10 in the video below).
Thanks to the generosity of our donors, CNEWA has responded to the debilitating drought in that corner of the world. Read this report to learn how.
But there is still so much more to be done. To find out what you can do for the suffering people in the Horn of Africa, visit this link.
29 September 2016
Families displaced by violence arrive in June at a temporary shelter in Kirkuk, Iraq. Chaldean Catholic bishops, meeting for their annual synod in Erbil, Iraq, pleaded for peace in the Middle East and for the liberation of areas seized by the Islamic State so that the displaced can return to their homes. (photo: CNS/EPA)
Chaldean Catholic bishops, meeting for their annual synod, pleaded for peace in the Middle East and for the liberation of areas seized by the Islamic State group so that the displaced can return to their homes.
Chaldeans were among the approximately 120,000 Christians who were uprooted when the Islamic State seized Mosul and the Ninevah Plain in Iraq during the summer of 2014.
In the final statement issued at the conclusion of the 22-27 September synod, the 20 bishops from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Lebanon, the United States, Canada and Australia also expressed their solidarity with Bishop Antoine Audo of Aleppo, Syria, one of the participants.
They called for officials to “stop the war in Syria and sit together in a constructive dialogue to find a peaceful political solution that preserves the country and the nation.”
Regarding the issue of priests and monks who left their dioceses and monasteries in Iraq without formal permission to emigrate, the bishops emphasized that such departures from the homeland “were raising doubts among faithful.” Consequently, the statement directed that those priests and monks must “leave their current dioceses (abroad) immediately.”
“We could accept them, on condition that one of the Chaldean bishops can accommodate them after a month or two of rehabilitation,” the statement continued. “Meanwhile, (those) priests should return to their bishops to regularize their status before commencing their pastoral mission.” They confirmed that Chaldean Father Noel Gorgis, who had emigrated without permission, had been ordered to leave the Eparchy of St. Peter the Apostle in San Diego.
The synod selected three candidates for bishop of the San Diego eparchy to be sent to Pope Francis. Bishop Shlemon Warduni has been serving as interim bishop of the eparchy since the retirement of Bishop Sarhad Jammo.
The statement said that the Chaldean Church will proceed with the cause for canonization of Catholics martyred in Iraq since 2003, including Archbishop Faraj Rahho, Father Father Ragheed Kani, four deacons and a nun.
29 September 2016
In the video above, the UN Special Envoy to Syria expresses his gratitude to Pope Francis for his efforts to bring peace to Syria. (video: Rome Reports)
Pope Francis speaks to Mideast aid agencies (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis received representatives from the various Catholic aid agencies and charitable organizations under the leadership of the Pontifical Council Cor unum working in Iraq, Syria, and other countries in the region affected by the ongoing conflicts in both Syria and Iraq. The Pontifical Council Cor unum is the Pope’s special instrument for carrying out humanitarian initiatives, promoting integral human development, coordinating the initiatives of Catholic Organizations, and encouraging the faithful to give concrete witness to the Gospel through charitable activity...
Russia rejects U.S. demands for resumption of Syrian cease-fire (The New York Times) The Russian government vowed on Thursday to press ahead with its operations in Syria, dismissing Secretary of State John Kerry’s threat to cut off talks if the bombardment of Aleppo continued. “We have more than once suggested 48-hour pauses in order to ensure humanitarian access,” Sergei A. Ryabkov, the deputy foreign minister of Russia, told reporters in Moscow on Thursday. “But our American colleagues are totally fixated on demands of a seven-day pause for reasons that only they know...”
Patriarch: Palestinian refugees have right to return to their homeland (Fides) The international recognition of the Palestinian State is an act which cannot be delayed if one really wants to favor the re-establishment of peace in the Middle East. And one must also support and ensure the return of all Palestinian refugees, still scattered in the Middle East, to their homeland, which is one of their “natural rights.” This is how Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Rai defined the prerogative claimed by the descendants of the Palestinian Arab populations who fled from Palestine after the birth of the State of Israel...
Baby born in jungle symbolizes suffering of India’s Christians (Crux) When Father Madan Singh was recently appointed the director of Jana Vikas, a grassroots organization based in the eastern Indian region of Kandhamal, the very first thing he did was to visit a young girl named “Jungle Rani,” whose mother gave birth to her in 2008 when tens of thousands of Christians took refuge in a forest during ferocious anti-Christian riots...
Vatican publishes theme for 2017 World Day for Social Communications (Vatican Radio) The theme for the Church’s 2017 World Day for Social Communications was published on Thursday. The theme or motto chosen for this event is: “Fear not, for I am with you” (Is 43.5). Communicating hope and trust in our time...
28 September 2016
Children help one another at the Our Lady of Armenia Education Center in Tashir, Armenia. For more about the spirit and perseverance of the Church of Armenia, check out An Unshakable Faith in the Autumn 2016 edition of ONE. (photo: Nazik Armenakyan)
28 September 2016
In this image from 2014, Pope Francis welcomes former Israeli President Shimon Peres during a meeting at the Vatican. Peres died Tuesday at the age of 93.
(photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano via EPA)
Pope Francis offers condolences on death of Shimon Peres (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has sent a telegram expressing his “heartfelt condolences” to the people of Israel upon learning of the death of their former President, Shimon Peres. He died on Tuesday at the age of 93. “I fondly recall my time with Mr Peres at the Vatican and renew my great appreciation for the late President’s tireless efforts in favor of peace,” Pope Francis said...
Children of Aleppo, trapped in a killing zone (The New York Times) Among the roughly 250,000 people trapped in the insurgent redoubt of the divided northern Syrian city are 100,000 children, the most vulnerable victims of intensified bombings by Syrian forces and their Russian allies. Though the world is jolted periodically by the suffering of children in the Syria conflict — the photographs of Alan Kurdi’s drowned body and Omran Daqneesh’s bloodied face are prime examples — dead and traumatized children are increasingly common...
Pope renews appeal for Aleppo (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has once again appealed for peace in Syria. At his General Audience on Wednesday, the Pope said, “dramatic news continues to reach me concerning the fate of the people of Aleppo, with whom, through prayer and spiritual closeness, I feel united in suffering...”
Among young Lebanese, only 25 percent are Christians (Fides) Today, Christians account for 34 percent of the Lebanese population registered in the civil Status register. But if the focus is placed on the Lebanese population up to 25 years of age, the percentage of Christians drops to 25 percent. This is the most eloquent demographic data on the current number of Christians in Lebanon, released by the vice president of the Maronite League Hiam Boustany at the Conference convened yesterday by the Movement for the Earth at the convent of Mar Yacoub, in the village of Karm Saddeh and dedicated to the sale of land belonging to Christian owners...
Russian implicated in shooting down Malaysia Airlines jet over Ukraine (The New York Times) A Dutch-led investigation has concluded that the powerful surface-to-air missile system that was used to shoot down a Malaysia Airlines plane over Ukraine two years ago, killing all 298 on board, was trucked in from Russia at the request of Russian-backed separatists and returned to Russia the same night. The report largely confirmed the already widely documented Russian government role not only in the deployment of the missile system, called a Buk, or SA-11, but the subsequent cover up, which continues to this day...
Patriarch Kirill signs petition urging Putin to ban abortion (AFP) Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill on Tuesday signed a petition calling for a legal ban on abortion, the Church said in a statement. The Patriarch met anti-abortion campaigners and signed a petition to be handed to President Vladimir Putin urging a ban on abortions. The Patriach’s signing of the petition apparently represents a hardening of the Church’s position as it has previously only called for a ban on state-provided abortions without a medical necessity...,/p>
Ethiopians mark Meskel (Reuters) Orthodox priests lit a bonfire in the heart of the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa on Monday evening to mark the eve of Meskel, a festival to mark the finding of the cross of Jesus. Tens of thousands of people, many holding up candles in the failing light as the sun set, crowded on terraces around the square where the ceremony was led by the head of Ethiopia’s Christian Orthodox church, Patriarch Abune Mathias...
27 September 2016
Archimandrite Emanuel Youkhana serves as the head of CAPNI, an organization dedicated to keeping hope alive for Christians in Iraq and Syria. (photo: European Parliament News)
More than two years ago, word reached us about the threat of ISIS to the northern Iraqi city of Mosul. Long the center of Iraq’s ancient Christian community, Mosul had seen a constant bleeding of its Christians since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. Once, Mosul sheltered more than 60,000 Christians, but only a few thousand remained by July 2014. But by the end of the month, the city’s remaining Christians had fled, as ISIS stormed the city and gave its Christian citizens the choice to pay an extortion tax, convert, flee or die. ISIS was less generous to Mosul’s Shiite and Yazidi minorities.
Through our regional director in Amman, we received up-to-date accounts from an archimandrite of the Church of the East, Abuna Emanuel Youkhana, who described the terror that followed, the fate of the city’s ancient churches and monasteries, and the unknown that awaited the Christians of all of northern Iraq. In one report, dated 23 July, Abuna Emanuel writes of the actions of ISIS:
“This reflects how deep the sectarian conflict is and how long it will take to recover — if any recovery is to come. ... The current situation reflects how the Iraqi structure was a fragile one. Is there really a common Iraqi people feeling that they are one people and one country?
“The situation is clearly a deep social and political crisis. ... The question and challenge is how to convince Christians that they have a future in Iraq. The nice words and sympathy statements are not enough. There should be deeds and practices.”
Last week, Abuna Emanuel traveled from Dohuk, Iraqi Kurdistan, to New York, where he addressed the United Nations about the plight of all minorities in Iraq and the Middle East. Before his historic visit to the august body, he visited with CNEWA’s president, Msgr. John Kozar for Archimandrite Emanuel is not just a bystander recording the travails of his people, but the head of CAPNI, an organization dedicated to keeping “the hope alive” for Assyro-Chaldean Christians, and now one of CNEWA’s primary partners in Iraqi Kurdistan. There, in Dohuk, next to the city’s parish of the Church of the East, CNEWA established a clinic with a committee of representatives of the area’s churches, serving some 500 patients a week.
CNEWA president Msgr. John E. Kozar, left, meets with Archimandrite Emanuel Youkhana, right, in New York on 23 September. (photo: CNEWA)
Asked about the strong bonds of friendship and cooperation among the committee’s different churches and their representatives, Abuna Emanuel laughed when asked to comment about such ecumenism in action.
“We don’t have the luxury to discuss this, and its theological implications. We do this practically, building bridges of hope, so as to survive.”
In addition to assisting with the management of the dispensary, which includes a laboratory and two operating rooms, the archimandrite has been interviewing displaced families, ascertaining information about their prospects and hopes as forces gather to take back the Nineveh Plain and the city of Mosul.
“Certain conditions, certain guarantees, have to be met to prevent this from happening again,” the priest said of those families considering returning to their homes should ISIS be pushed out and defeated.
“How do we restore coexistence and mutual trust?” he asked, adding that the post-Saddam Hussein Iraqi government had failed to bind the diverse nation together, ignoring the existence of Iraq’s considerable non-Islamic minorities even in children’s text books.
“The sense of loss is profound,” he said, noting that, overnight, Christian communities founded by the apostles on the soil stained with the blood of martyrs lost their shrines, their relics and their patrimony. Families were uprooted, perhaps forever.
“We share in the liturgy and in the sacraments,” he said of what binds all Iraqi Christians together, “we share all, as seeds of hope.”
27 September 2016
In this photograph from 2014, Pope Francis greets Skender Brucaj, head of Albania’s Muslim community, during a meeting with leaders of other religions in Tirana, Albania. Last Friday, CNEWA took part in a full-day program which, among other things, explored the pope’s thoughts on religious freedom and the common good. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
For 90 years, CNEWA has been engaged in regions where conflict and war have aggravated poverty and destroyed basic human rights — including and often especially religious freedom — of people living in the regions. Painfully aware of the relationship between peace, justice and development and freedom of religion, CNEWA works to bring about the integral human development which Pope Francis sees as making people the “dignified agents of their own destiny.”
Last week, CNEWA was invited to share some insights on all this at New York’s Fordham University. “Pope Francis’ Call for Escaping Poverty: Practical Examples and New Proposals” was the topic of a full-day program sponsored by CAPP-USA and Fordham University. CAPP, which stands for Centesimus Annus Pro Pontifice, is a lay-led papal organization composed of Catholic business, academic and professional leaders whose purpose is to promote the social teachings of the Catholic Church.
The conference was attended by leading economists, financiers and bankers who dealt with practical ways to respond to Pope Francis’ call to help the poor. Presentations were made to the gathering by Cardinals Pietro Parolin, the Vatican Secretary of State (who had to withdraw on short notice and had a priest present his paper), and Theodore McCarrick, as well as by Archbishop Bernardito Auza, the Apostolic Nuncio to the UN. Many CAPP members from Italy and Germany were present as participants and presenters.
As would be expected, a great deal of emphasis was placed on how one measures poverty, deals with alleviating it and then measures the effectiveness of programs. Scholars and economists spoke of the different metrics used in dealing with poverty and various ways to alleviate poverty. Both the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the UN as well as Fordham University’s sevenfold Pope Francis Global Poverty Index were compared, contrasted and studied at length.
I was invited to speak on religious freedom as one of Pope Francis’ indicators. Pulling together two rather broad topics, I indicated that Pope Francis’ understanding of religious freedom, based as it is on Dignitatis Humanae, Vatican II’s Declaration on Religious Freedom, is not “denominationally limited.” Rather, Pope Francis sees religious freedom as “a fundamental human right” of all people and that questions intrinsic to one’s intimate essence...are questions of religions and...require religious freedom.”
Combining both realism and practicality, Pope Francis sees religious freedom as intimately related to the need for a peaceful society and for the achievement of the common good. Religious freedom, therefore, is characterized by two attitudes. The first is universal — one regards every man and woman, even those of different religious traditions “not as rivals, less still enemies, but rather as brothers and sisters.” The second attitude is practical — religious freedom also impels believers (and non-believers) to “work done in the service of the common good” with “concern for the whole of society without making distinctions....”
I noted that Pope Francis’ universal and practical understanding of religious freedom helps to bridge the sometimes differently understood concepts of “the common good,” used by the Catholic Church and “the universal destination of goods,” used by the UN. The two expressions/concepts, while not identical, are not contradictory and can, in fact, complement each other.
You can read the full text of my talk here.