11 December 2017
The video above, from a French TV station in October, offers a brief tour of Qaraqosh and shows some of the damage to the Church of Al Tahira (the Immaculate Conception) and efforts to repair the building. (video: KTOTV/YouTube)
Over the weekend, we received this email with some uplifting news from CNEWA’s Michel Constantin in Beirut, with some details culled from a report by AFP:
Iraqi Christians celebrated the feast of the Immaculate Conception on Friday 8 December 2017 in the town of Qaraqosh for the first time since their displacement from Nineveh Valley that was previously occupied for three years by jihadists of ISIS.
The bell tower of the Church of the Immaculate Conception (Al Tahira) is still scarred by war, but its interior has been cleaned and signs of damage erased.
Some 300 faithful, mostly women and the elderly, attended Friday’s service.
Qaraqosh is about 18 miles from Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul. Before being taken by ISIS, it had some 50,000 residents.
Qaraqosh used to have the greatest concentration of Christians in the country, estimated at 52,000 people in 2014. However, only a small number (estimated at 30 percent) have returned after the town was retaken from the jihadists.
The first Mass in the town following its liberation was held on 30 October last year.
“This is our first celebration of Holy Mary after three years when we were displaced,” said Hanaa Qasha, a 48-year-old teacher.
11 December 2017
Smoke rises as Palestinians protest on 8 December in Bethlehem, West Bank, in response to U.S. President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
(photo: CNS photo/Debbie Hill)
Following days of violence and backlash after U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the Vatican appealed for “wisdom and prudence” to prevail.
The Holy See “reiterates its own conviction that only a negotiated solution between Israelis and Palestinians can bring a stable and lasting peace and guarantee the peaceful coexistence of two states within internationally recognized borders,” the Vatican said in a 10 December statement.
President Trump announced his decision on 6 December to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, fulfilling a promise he made during his presidential campaign.
The announcement sparked anti-U.S. protests throughout Asia and the Middle East, including a four-day protest in the Palestinian territories, Reuters reported. An Israeli security guard in Jerusalem, the report said, was in critical condition after he was stabbed by a Palestinian man at the city’s bus station.
Pope Francis expressed his “sorrow for the clashes in recent days” and called for world leaders to renew their commitment for peace in the Holy Land, the Vatican said.
The pope “raises fervent prayers so that the leaders of nations, in this time of special gravity, commit themselves to avert a new spiral of violence, responding with words and deeds to the desires of peace, justice and security for the populations of that battered land,” the Vatican said.
Trump’s decision also drew warnings from Middle Eastern and European leaders that overturning the United States’ long-standing policy would further complicate peace negotiations.
Former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush had made similar promises to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital during their presidential campaigns. However, once in office, they did not carry through with the move, citing its potential negative impact on Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
The Arab League, a regional organization consisting of 22 Arabic-speaking member states, held an emergency meeting in Cairo, Egypt, on 9 December to discuss Trump’s announcement, calling it “dangerous and unacceptable.”
Recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital goes “against international law and raises questions over American efforts to support peace,” said Ahmed Aboul Gheit, the Arab League's secretary-general.
Just hours before Trump had announced his decision, Pope Francis urged respect for “the status quo of the city in accordance with the relevant resolutions of the United Nations.”
In his appeal, Pope Francis said, “Jerusalem is a unique city, sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims who venerate the holy places of their respective religions, and has a special vocation to peace.”
The Vatican consistently has called for a special status for Jerusalem, particularly its Old City, in order to protect and guarantee access to the holy sites of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
“The Holy See is attentive to these concerns and, recalling the heartfelt words of Pope Francis, reiterates its well-known position concerning the singular character of the Holy City and the essential need for respecting the status quo, in conformity with the deliberations of the international community and the repeated requests of the hierarchies of the churches and Christian communities of the Holy Land,” said the Vatican’s 10 December statement.
11 December 2017
Children pray at the start of the school day at St. Michael School in Aiga, Ethiopia. Read more about efforts to help children in Ethiopia — and see more poignant pictures — in the Summer 2016 edition of ONE. (photo: John E. Kozar)
11 December 2017
Women and children sit in a relief camp on 2 December after they were evacuated following cyclone Ockhi in the coastal village of Chellanam in the southern state of Kerala, India. The storm claimed the lives of at least 32 poor Catholic fishermen who were at sea and 200 more were missing. The local church is now appealing for help for victims. (CNS/Sivaram V, Reuters)
India diocese appeals for help for people hit by cyclone (Vatican Radio) India’s Catholic dioceses in the coastal regions of Tamil Nadu and Kerala states are grappling with the “massive disaster” in the wake of the cyclone Okhi, that swept by Trivandrum and Kanyakumari districts on 29 November. Several hundred fishermen are feared missing, the Rev. Deepak Anto, executive secretary of the media commission of the Latin Archdiocese of Trivandrum, wrote in an email to the Vatican’s Secretariat for Communication urging for help...
Putin visits Syria airbase, orders start of pullout (BBC) President Vladimir Putin has ordered the partial withdrawal of Russian troops from Syria, during an unannounced visit there on Monday. Mr. Putin was met by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as he arrived at the Russian Hmeimim airbase, near Latakia...
Protests near U.S. embassy in Beirut after Trump’s Jerusalem decision (The New York Times) Lebanese security forces on Sunday fired tear gas and water cannons into crowds that had gathered near the United States Embassy, in a sign that protests against President Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel may be escalating...
Mosul picks up the pieces after the fall of ISIS (The New York Times) For three years, this metropolis of three million people, Iraq’s second-largest city, lived under the harsh rule of the Islamic State. When the militant group was finally ousted in July, it signaled the beginning of the end of its self-declared caliphate, which once occupied a third of the country and much of Syria. American-backed Iraqi forces swept across the country, officially declaring the job finished this weekend. But the battle for Mosul lasted nearly nine months, killing thousands of people, displacing nearly a million and leaving entire districts in smoldering heaps of rubble...
Netanyahu expects EU to follow US recognition of Jerusalem (BBC) Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu says he expects European countries to follow the US in recognizing Jerusalem as his country’s capital. He is in Brussels for talks — the first time an Israeli prime minister has visited the city in more than 20 years...
Nuns at Orthodox monastery evacuated as California fire spreads (OCA.org) The nuns of Saint Barbara Monastery here were evacuated, along with their neighbors, after an explosive brush fire broke out late Monday, 4 December 2017. As widely reported in the media, fires continue to spread and threaten the entire Los Angeles region. “I learned from Mother Victoria that the monastery buildings still stand, but are not out of danger,” reported His Eminence, Archbishop Benjamin of San Francisco and the West on Thursday morning, 7 December. “The hillside behind the monastery burned and the monastery lavender field charred. So, the fire has come very close...”
7 December 2017
In this image from 2015, Mandaeans take part in a religious ritual on the bank the Shat al-Arab river in the southern city of Basra, south of Baghdad.
(photo: Haidar Mohammed Ali/AFP/Getty Images)
The Middle East has always been a crossroad to soldiers of fortune, traders and missionaries. We should not be surprised, therefore, to find some of the most exotic religions in the world there. One of these would be the Mandaeans, whose name comes from the Aramaic (manda ‘ḥay, “teaching/knowledge of life.”)
Almost at the same time as Christianity appeared in the Middle East, gnostic (from Greek γνῶσις, gnosis, “knowledge”) religions began to appear. The gnostic religions are very different each other, yet show a remarkable ability to take over beliefs from Indian religions, Greco-Roman religions, Judaism and Christianity itself. For over 300 years, Christianity resisted incursions of gnostic religion into its faith. One of these, Manichaeism — a dualist, anti-body form of Gnosticism — provided a major threat to orthodox Christianity. In fact, Augustine of Hippo (354-430), the great theologian and saint, was a follower of Manichaeism before his conversion to Christianity.
The Mandaeans are within this large tradition of gnostic religions — one of many that interacted with Christianity in the region for centuries. It is estimated that Mandaeism took form in the 1st through 3rd centuries AD in Iraq, at the same time and place where Eastern Christianity was beginning to grow.
Traditionally, they were found in southern Iraq along the great rivers, which isn’t surprising. Water is very important for Mandaeans, since baptism is one of their major and frequently performed rituals. In fact, they are sometimes referred to as “baptizers.” Many years ago, I had an Arabic teacher from southern Iraq who told me she was a “Baptist.” I thought it strange because Baptists Christians are extremely rare in the Middle East, but one day I asked her if she was manda ‘ḥay. She lit up and said, “You know of us?” She was, of course, a Mandaean. While fascinated, I could not say I knew a lot about her faith.
As “baptizers,” Mandaeans hold John the Baptist in extremely high regard, though they do not consider him divine. They look upon Jesus as a false Messiah who corrupted the message of John the Baptist.
Mandaeans believe in a supreme deity from whom there are emanations into the created world. In their teaching, human beings were originally astral beings (stars) that have fallen to their present state. Such emanations from an original divine being are common in gnostic religions.Through observing the “Mysteries” — secret rituals — the believer is able to move through higher states of being until ultimate returning to his astral identity.
As is often the case in gnostic religions, there is a strict “caste” system. The “enlightened” are those who have achieved the teaching of life. Among the enlightened are the priests who hold the highest in rank. The majority of believers form the laity, whose task it is to purify themselves through repeated baptisms and to seek ever deeper awareness of the manda ‘ḥay until ultimately reaching enlightenment.
Most of the religious minorities we have dealt with in the past several weeks are secretive. For many of them, however, secrecy is a survival strategy, a way to protect themselves from the dominant religion in the region. Secrecy for gnostic religions, however, is an essential part of a faith which places great stress on the esoteric, i.e. secret, saving knowledge.
Time and history may have finally caught up with this religion, though. The Gulf War which began in 2003 forced many Mandaeans to flee. Living between Baghdad and the Persian Gulf along the two rivers, they found themselves in a battle zone. Already a tiny, minority faith, many Mandaeans fled to different places around the world — including the United States, where a small Mandean community of about 2,000 people resides in Worcester, Massachusetts.
At present it is estimated that they are between 60-70,000 Mandaeans in the entire world. Whether they will survive the 21st century is an open question.
Religious Minorities in the Middle East — Introduction
Religious Minorities in the Middle East, Part 1: The Yazidis
Religious Minorities in the Middle East, Part 2: The Shabak
Religious Minorities in the Middle East, Part 3: The ‘Alawi
7 December 2017
A Lebanese drummer fires up the crowd at a dance club in downtown Montréal. Read about the Lebanese immigrant population in the Canadian city in the September 2004 edition of ONE.
(photo: Cody Christopulos)
Several years ago, we took readers to Canada, to discover a thriving population of Lebanese immigrants:
You will find them bowed in churches, whispering praise to “Allah” (God).
You will find them animated in cafes and bars, smoking water pipes and exclaiming “haram” (it’s a shame) over the latest injustice in the Holy Land or some bad call during a European soccer match.
You will find them seated in restaurants before plates of lamb sausages and salads, pounding their fists on tables and crying “mish maouleh” (impossible) in response to some devilishly tall tale.
You will find them frenzied near altars, elbowing their way to capture the perfect photograph of a loved one exchanging marriage vows and begging “lazza choue” (pardon me).
You will find them bellies bared in dance clubs, twisting their torsos and asking “in jeid?” (really) over the reported affection of some member of the opposite sex.
They are everywhere. They are Lebanese and they have found a home in Montréal.
That the most distinct people of the Middle East have found refuge and new life in the most distinct of Canada’s great cities should come as no surprise. The urbane, gregarious and multilingual Lebanese seem a natural fit for Québec’s cosmopolitan center, whose denizens fiercely protect their Francophone patrimony.
7 December 2017
Palestinians protested President Trump’s announcement yesterday, in which he recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. (video: EuroNews/YouTube)
Protests over U.S. move on Jerusalem leave at least 16 injured (BBC) At least 16 Palestinians have been wounded in clashes in the occupied West Bank, during protests against US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Reports suggest the injuries are mostly from tear gas and rubber bullets, but at least one was hurt by live fire. Israel has deployed hundreds of extra troops in the West Bank. Mr Trump’s announcement — met with worldwide dismay — reversed decades of US policy on the sensitive issue. Palestinians in the both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip have gone on strike and taken to the streets in protest...
Russian military declares ISIS defeated in Syria (Reuters) Russia’s military said on Thursday it had accomplished its mission of defeating Islamic State in Syria, and there were no remaining settlements there under the group’s control. Russian bombers had used unprecedented force in the final stages to finish off the militant group, a senior Russian officer said...
Germany preparing to send refugees back to Syria (Foreign Policy) Later this week, the interior ministers of the German states will be discussing, and voting on, a proposal to be begin forcibly repatriating Syrian refugees once their asylum status lapses — as early as next June...
U.S. vows to keep sanctions on Russia over Ukraine (The Washington Post) U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Thursday that Ukraine was the sole sticking point keeping the United States and Russia from forging a closer relationship and that all other disputes were secondary. “The issue that stands in the way is Ukraine,” Tillerson said...
Can Putin get the Romanovs a Christian burial? (Newsweek) There is a political dimension to the story of the royal remains. It is widely believed, although not officially confirmed, that Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, would like to organize a symbolic ceremony that would bring closure to Russia’s divisive and bloody twentieth century. Such an event could involve a burial of the two members of the royal family, the czarevich Alexei and his sister Maria, who have never been put to rest, and a solemn church recognition of all other remains as belonging to the Romanovs, who were all inducted into sainthood but whose bodies, from the Russian Orthodox Church’s viewpoint, have never been recovered...
6 December 2017
Tags: Syria Palestine Jerusalem Israel Russia
The video above shows Muslims helping restore a church in Mosul, Iraq. (video: YouTube)
This video appeared on Facebook this week: it shows a group of Muslims pitching in to help rebuild and restore a Christian church in Mosul that was desecrated by ISIS.
Our external affairs officer, the Rev. Elias D. Mallon, S.A., Ph.D., translated the Arabic for us.
The title of the video is: “The Muslim people of Mosul return the cross to the church in the district of Tel Kaif.”
A sign in Syriac and Arabic reads: “Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.”
Over a picture of the church, the text announces that this was the office of Daesh (ISIS) and a shooting range.
Usama al-Sahir, president of a group called “Giving Without Borders,” narrates:
“Our response to this attack is to strengthen the bonds between Muslims and Christians. We begin with the people of Mosul. As Muslims, we work to strengthen bonds. There is no division between Christians and Muslims. We are beginning today to invite our people and our friends. We say to them: this is your place, return to it. May worship return, God willing. We do this task, which is an obligation...(unclear). God willing, Mosul gathers us together, all of us. We call our Christian brothers to return to Tel Kaif and to return to their churches and to return as before to their religious practices. Next week, we shall turn our efforts to cleaning the Church of the Resurrection.”
This isn’t the first time Muslims have volunteered to help repair a church destroyed by ISIS. A report from earlier this year described efforts to restore a Chaldean church dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
For more on displaced Christians returning to Mosul, read Hard Choices in the September 2017 edition of ONE.
6 December 2017
The gold-covered Dome of the Rock at the Temple Mount complex is seen in this overview of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives. Following reports that U.S. President Donald Trump planned to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, heads of local churches today wrote a letter to the president, pleading for him not to change the city’s status. (photo: CNS /Atef Safadi, EPA)
This morning, the patriarchs and heads of local churches in Jerusalem sent a letter to U.S. President Donald Trump, addressing concerns about the status of Jerusalem. The full text is below. You can find the original document on the website for the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem.
Dear Mr. President,
We are fully aware and appreciative of how you are dedicating special attention to the status of Jerusalem in these days. We are following with attentiveness and we see that it is our duty to address this letter to Your Excellency. On July 17, 2000, we addressed a similar letter to the leaders who met in Camp David to decide the status of Jerusalem. They kindly took our letter into consideration. Today, Mr. President, we are confident that you too will take our viewpoint into consideration on the very important status of Jerusalem.
Our land is called to be a land of peace. Jerusalem, the city of God, is a city of peace for us and for the world. Unfortunately, though, our holy land with Jerusalem the Holy city, is today a land of conflict.
Those who love Jerusalem have every will to work and make it a land and a city of peace, life and dignity for all its inhabitants. The prayers of all believers in it — the three religions and two peoples who belong to this city — rise to God and ask for peace, as the Psalmist says: “Return to us, God Almighty! Look down from heaven and see!” (80.14). Inspire our leaders, and fill their minds and hearts with justice and peace.
Mr. President, we have been following, with concern, the reports about the possibility of changing how the United States understands and deals with the status of Jerusalem. We are certain that such steps will yield increased hatred, conflict, violence and suffering in Jerusalem and the Holy Land, moving us farther from the goal of unity and deeper toward destructive division. We ask from you Mr. President to help us all walk towards more love and a definitive peace, which cannot be reached without Jerusalem being for all.
Our solemn advice and plea is for the United States to continue recognizing the present international status of Jerusalem. Any sudden changes would cause irreparable harm. We are confident that, with strong support from our friends, Israelis and Palestinians can work towards negotiating a sustainable and just peace, benefiting all who long for the Holy City of Jerusalem to fulfill its destiny. The Holy City can be shared and fully enjoyed once a political process helps liberate the hearts of all people, that live within it, from the conditions of conflict and destructiveness that they are experiencing.
Christmas is upon us soon. It is a feast of peace. The Angels have sung in our sky: Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth to the people of good will. In this coming Christmas, we plea for Jerusalem not to be deprived from peace, we ask you Mr. President to help us listen to the song of the angels. As the Christian leaders of Jerusalem, we invite you to walk with us in hope as we build a just, inclusive peace for all the peoples of this unique and Holy City.
With our best regards, and best wishes for a Merry Christmas.
Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem
+Patriarch Theophilos III, Greek Orthodox Patriarchate
+Patriarch Nourhan Manougian, Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Patriarchate
+Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Apostolic Administrator, Latin Patriarchate
+Fr. Francesco Patton, ofm, Custos of the Holy Land
+Archbishop Anba Antonious, Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate, Jerusalem
+Archbishop Swerios Malki Murad, Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate
+Archbishop Aba Embakob, Ethiopian Orthodox Patriarchate
+Archbishop Joseph-Jules Zerey, Greek-Melkite-Catholic Patriarchate
+Archbishop Mosa El-Hage, Maronite Patriarchal Exarchate
+Archbishop Suheil Dawani, Episcopal Church of Jerusalem and the Middle East
+Bishop Munib Younan, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land
+Bishop Pierre Malki, Syrian Catholic Patriarchal Exarchate
+Msgr. Georges Dankaye’, Armenian Catholic Patriarchal Exarchate
6 December 2017
A woman lights a candle before a large icon of St. Nicholas in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior last May. A relic of the saint was sent from Bari, Italy, to Russia for veneration at the Moscow cathedral and at an Orthodox cathedral in St. Petersburg from late May to late July.
(photo: CNS/Robert Duncan)
Today marks the feast of St. Nicholas — the figure who would become immortalized in the popular imagination as Santa Claus.
As Michael J.L. La Civita noted a few years back:
According to tradition, Nicholas was born in the mid-third century to a wealthy Christian couple in Patara, a town near the southern shores of Asia Minor (modern Turkey). After the premature death of his parents, Nicholas gave up his wealth and entered a monastery, later traveling to Egypt and the Holy Land. He returned to his monastery, hoping to live quietly as a hermit. However, against his will, he was elected as Bishop of Myra, a small town near Patara.
Although little else is known about Nicholas, his popularity rests on his compassion for the poor and his passion for the faith.
“The reason for this special veneration of this special bishop, who left neither theological works nor other writings,” writes Leonid Ouspensky, a noted Russian theologian, “is evidently that the church sees in him a personification of a shepherd, of its defender and intercessor.”
The Byzantine Catholic Church website today offers this tribute to the beloved saint:
Most of the stories that come to us through history are of him living the Christian life — such as providing a dowry to three young women so they could marry and avoid slavery (the three bags of gold he threw through their windows landed in their stockings, and so today we hang our stockings by the chimney with care). All of the stories about St. Nicholas that come to us through history are about his love for people, especially the poor. St. Nicholas was good. So good that his goodness shines through history — and radiates even from the man in the red suit. Such goodness can only be found in one who dwells intimately with Lord — for He is the only good One (Mt 19:17).
O holy father,
The fruit of your good works enlightens and delights the hearts of the faithful.
Who cannot wonder at your measureless patience and humility?
At your tender care for the poor?
At your compassion for the afflicted?
O holy Nicholas,
You have divinely taught all things well,
Now wearing your unfading crown,
You intercede for our souls.
(From the Vespers of St. Nicholas)
St. Nicholas, pray for us!