Current Issue
December, 2017
Volume 43, Number 4
20 February 2018
CNEWA staff

The video above, from the BBC, shows the incredible trek a Coptic priest makes every day in Ethiopia, to pray in an ancient church carved into the side of a mountain. (video: BBC)

20 February 2018
Doreen Abi Raad, Catholic News Service

In this 2013 file photo, interreligious leaders gather in Beirut for a meeting of the Adyan Foundation. The foundation has been named the recipient of the Niwano Peace Prize.
(photo: CNS/courtesy Adyan Foundation)

Adyan, a Lebanese foundation for interreligious studies and spiritual solidarity, is the recipient of the 35th Niwano Peace Prize.

Lebanon now moves “a firm step further toward its recognition as a world center for dialogue between cultures and religions,” said the Rev. Fadi Daou, president of Adyan Foundation, in announcing the international award in Beirut on 19 February.

“Peace has a specific name in Lebanon, and that is ‘living-together,’ ” he added.

Maronite Father Daou is one of the five founders of Adyan (“religions” in Arabic), each of whom are followers of different denominations of Christianity and Islam.

Since its foundation in 2006, Adyan “has worked to take interreligious dialogue from apologetic debates and populist complacency, to a common commitment in what we call ‘religious social responsibility,’ ” Father Daou said.

The Tokyo-based Niwano Peace Foundation established the Niwano Peace Prize in 1983 to honor and encourage individuals and organizations that have contributed significantly to interreligious cooperation, thereby furthering the cause of world peace. It is named for Nikkyo Niwano, founder and first president of the lay Buddhist organization Rissho Kosei-kai.

The award’s selection committee commended Adyan for valuing “religious diversity in promoting peace and social justice” and cited Adyan as “a visible and committed actor for peace in Lebanon and the broader region.”

Past Niwano Peace Prize recipients include Brazilian Archbishop Helder Camara; Jordanian Prince El Hassan bin Talal; retired Archbishop Elias Chacour of Haifa, Israel; the late Bishop Samuel Ruiz Garcia of San Cristobal de Las Casas, Mexico; Father Hans Kung, a Swiss theologian; the World Muslim Congress; and the Sant’Egidio Community.

Father Daou recalled St. John Paul II’s declaration that “Lebanon is more than a country, it is a message” of coexistence for East and West.

“I really believe that this award, coming from Japan, is ‘another voice’ — now from the East — to remind us of what John Paul II said,” Father Daou said.

“Worldwide, peace today signifies justice and the liberation of oppressed people,” Father Daou said. “It also means stopping the implication of religion in political choices and ending linking religion to violence and extremism.”

While it is important to discover what is common among religions, Father Daou noted, even more important is “to discover the differences between religions and to educate people — especially the youth — to respect those differences, as an expression of our belief in freedom of conscience and our refusal of all forms of coercion and takfirism (considering others as infidels),” he said.

Father Daou said the “problematic reality” in the Middle East “pushes us to go a step further in order to promote interreligious solidarity in the combat of extremism and of injustice.”

Recent Adyan initiatives include offering interfaith mediation dialogue and peace education to vulnerable Syrian citizens, both in Lebanon and Syria. In Iraq, working with journalists and civil society activists, Adyan focuses on spreading the values of inclusive citizenship and interreligious solidarity, particularly to heal the society from the traumas of Islamic State.

Father Daou said that Adyan will continue on its path “for the adoption of pluralism as a social and political value in Arab countries.”

“It will also work for the promotion of resilience to all forms of extremism and for the development of social cohesion, spiritual solidarity, intercivilizational encounter and world stability,” he added.

By 2016, a decade after its foundation, Adyan had more than 3,000 members with some 35,000 direct beneficiaries in 29 countries.

The Niwano Peace Prize ceremony will take place in Tokyo on 9 May.

20 February 2018
Greg Kandra

In the video above, Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Bashar Warda of Iraq discusses the plight of Christians in his country at Georgetown University in Washington. (video: CNS/YouTube)

Chaldean archbishop: Time to be honest with Muslims (CNS) If Christians in the Middle East are going to be “honest” with their Muslim dialogue partners, said Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Warda of Irbil, Iraq, Muslims will have to acknowledge that the persecution of Christians in the region did not start with the Islamic State’s rise to power in 2014. “We experienced this not for the last four years, but 1,400 years,” Archbishop Warda said during a 15 February speech at Georgetown University in Washington, sponsored by the Religious Freedom Research Project of the university’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs...

Report: U.S. ambassador warns evacuation of settlements could start civil war (The Jerusalem Post) A forced evacuation of West Bank settlements could spark civil war in Israel, US Ambassador David Friedman told Jewish American leaders in Jerusalem, according to a report on Channel 10 News...

Patriarch urges faithful to eschew violence (The Hindu) Head of the Syrian Christian Church Patriarch Moran Mor Ignatius Aphrem II called on the faithful to eschew violence and to resort to passive resistance to obtain justice. He said India, a land of tolerance, had set an example through Mahatma Gandhi in peaceful protest. In a televised message to thousands of Jacobite Syrian Church members here on the Patriarchal Day celebrations on Sunday, the Patriarch said he was one with the sufferings of the people in the Malankara Church and reiterated the unbreakable link between the Malankara Church and the throne of Antioch...

Muslim leader: Church shooting had ‘nothing to do with Islam’ (Radio Free Europe) The mainstream Muslim leadership in Russia’s Daghestan region has condemned an attack that killed five people outside a Russian Orthodox church, saying that the suspect had “nothing to do with the true Islam.” In a 19 February statement, the office of the region’s chief mufti also extended condolences to the relatives and friends of the victims of the attack the previous day in the Daghestani town of Kizlyar...

Search continues for missing Iranian plane (Vatican News) The wreckage of the Aseman Airlines plane is thought to be in the Zagros Mountains, but blizzard like conditions have hindered efforts to pinpoint the exact site of the tragedy. The domestic flight vanished from radars an hour after leaving Tehran Airport for city of Yasuj on Sunday...

16 February 2018
Judith Sudilovsky, Catholic News Service

A monk walks outside Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre in 2013.
(photo: CNS/Baz Ratner, Reuters)

The heads and patriarchs of Christian churches in Jerusalem strongly denounced the city of Jerusalem’s plan to force churches to pay property taxes.

The proposal to levy taxes on some properties would run contrary to unofficial historical tax-exempt status the churches have enjoyed for centuries, the leaders said in a 15 February statement.

“The civil authorities have always recognized and respected the great contribution of the Christian churches, which invest billions in building schools, hospitals, and homes, many for the elderly and disadvantaged, in the Holy Land,” the statement said.

The leaders called on city officials to retract their intention and to “ensure that the status quo, which was sanctioned by the sacred history, is maintained, and the character of the Holy City of Jerusalem is not violated.”

“We declare that such a measure both undermines the sacred character of Jerusalem, and jeopardizes the church’s ability to conduct its ministry in this land on behalf of its communities and the world-wide church,” they said. “We stand firm and united in our position to defend our presence and properties.”

Fines totaling millions of dollars were handed out by the Jerusalem municipality last week to properties owned by the United Nations and by churches, citing a new legal opinion that determined the properties are not legally defined as places of worship and therefore were not entitled to exemptions from property tax.

Some observers said the step appeared to be an escalation in a financial dispute between the municipality and the Israel’s Ministry of Finance, with Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat demanding the ministry provide his city with more funding. The threat to fine the churches seems to be another way the municipality is pressuring the ministry to release more funds to the city, which is one of the poorer larger cities in the country, observers said.

In late January, Barkat threatened to fire more than 2,000 municipal employees because, he said, Israeli Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon is preventing necessary funds from reaching the municipality. The announcement led to a citywide strike of municipal services, including garbage collection, which left trash and debris strewn throughout the city.

The Israel Hayom newspaper reported that the religious institution with the biggest tax bill was the Roman Catholic Church, owing more than $3.3 million.

Among the properties slated to be fined is the Notre Dame of Jerusalem hotel, restaurant and conference center across from the Old City, which is owned by the Vatican. The director of the complex declined to comment on the issue.

The Holy See and Israel have been in negotiations over the status of its Jerusalem holdings since 1993, when diplomatic relations were established.

16 February 2018
Greg Kandra

The video above shows how a daycare center in Georgia is helping give purpose to young lives through out. (video: Antonio di Vico)

This Friday, we visit Caritas Georgia, to see how art therapy is changing young lives at a daycare center.

When we published A Letter from Georgia two years ago, Anahit Mkhoyan, the director of the center, wrote:

I understood that change is one of the most important things in our lives. It helps us to stay humble in the continuous path of learning, it enriches us with knowledge and it makes us tolerant because we see that things can be at once good and bad in different ways and places.

So take a few moments, meet Anahit, and see how change is making a huge difference in some of the youngest people in that corner of the world.

16 February 2018
Greg Kandra

An Indian villager cradles her baby while she joins others in a multi-linguistic Lord’s Prayer. Read about how catechists and missionaries are Reaching the Unreached in India in the Winter 2014 edition of ONE. (photo: John E. Kozar)

16 February 2018
Greg Kandra

The video above offers a first look at the new church in Egypt dedicated to the Copts who were beheaded three years ago in Libya by ISIS. (video: World Watch Monitor/YouTube)

Church leaders in Jerusalem say no to taxation of church property (Vatican News) The Church leaders in Jerusalem have made a formal request to municipality of Jerusalem to withdraw their statement of imposing municipal taxes on Church properties. A statement released on Wednesday by the Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem states that the intention to impose municipal tax on Churches contradicts the historical position between Churches and civil authorities over the centuries. It further states that the civil authorities have always recognized and respected the great contribution of the Christian Churches, which invest billions in building schools, hospitals, and homes, many for the elderly and disadvantaged, in the Holy Land...

Pope to Maronites: Be a light for the people in your region (Vatican News) Pope Francis on Friday received staff and students from the Pontifical Maronite College here in Rome, telling them that these years of training were the foundation stone of their future as pastors in Lebanon and the whole of the Middle East. Greeting seminarians and staff on Friday, Pope Francis began by reflecting on the figure of St. Maron and invited them to follow the example of this Saint’s qualities of faith and love which, he said, were pure sources for today’s spiritually thirsty people...

Cardinal: don’t forget the suffering of Syria (Vatican News) The Vatican’s representative in Damascus, Cardinal Mario Zenari, has appealed to the international community not to forget the suffering people in Syria. In an interview with the Vatican Newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, the nuncio said there was a growing health emergency and food shortages in the country...

Egypt opens church dedicated to martyred Christians (Sight Magazine) It is a special day for the Coptic community of Minya province, Upper Egypt, as a new church was inaugurated this morning in Al-Our village in remembrance of 20 Egyptian Copts and one Ghanaian Christian beheaded by the so-called Islamic State on the Libyan coast three years ago on Thursday...

15 February 2018
Elias D. Mallon, S.A., Ph.D.

This mosaic shows Satan tempting Christ while he is fasting in the desert — offering him stones to turn into bread. It comes from the Chora Church in Constantinople. Parts of the church date to the 11th century. (photo: Wikimedia Commons)

For the western church, yesterday — Ash Wednesday — marked the beginning of Lent, a penitential season in preparation for Easter. Basically patterned on the Gospel stories of Jesus’ fast and temptation in the desert (Mt. 4:1-11; Mk. 1:12-13 and Luke 4:1-13), Lent is usually counted as 40 days, sometimes with some creative calculations involved. For some of CNEWA’s partners who are Orthodox, the preparation for Easter this year does not begin until Monday 19 February, which is the beginning of the Great Fast.

Fasting is something common to almost all the religions of the world. It is connected often with asceticism — those practices which help the believer overcome the drives of the body and elevate the spirit to a higher reality. However, for members of monotheistic religions who believe in the one God — Judaism, Islam and Christianity — fasting plays a central and important role.

Again and again in the Hebrew Scriptures we find the Israelites proclaiming a fast to atone for some transgression or to avert some tragedy. The biblical book of the Prophet Joel revolves entirely around a period of fasting and repentance. It seems that a plague of locusts had attacked the land and was devastating the crops. Joel compares the locust to an army of countless warriors, devouring the land and hurling the people into a deadly famine. Joel exclaims “order a fast, proclaim a solemn assembly!” (1:13; 2:15) God calls the people to repent, “..come back to me with all your heart, fasting, weeping, mourning...” (2:12 ff.) Fasting and repentance are outward signs of an inner conversion to the justice which God demands (Isa 58:5-7). Fasting focuses the spirit and purifies prayer throughout the Hebrew Bible. The tradition continues to this day; for contemporary Jews the Holy Day of Yom Kippur, the Day of the Atonement, is a day of fasting, prayer and repentance.

For Muslims, fasting also plays a major role. The holy month of Ramadan is the month of fasting. For a lunar month, Muslims observe a total fast in which nothing enters the body. Whereas Christian fasting does not include water, Muslims go further; they abstain from food, water, smoking and sexual activity from sunrise to sunset during the month of Ramadan. Unlike the case with Judaism and Christianity, Muslim fasting during the month of Ramadan does not have a strong penitential element. For Muslims, the fast of Ramadan is rather a joyful thing — an act of self-control, to be sure, but also primarily an act of worship to God.

Finally, in the New Testament fasting plays an important role and is connected for Christians with penance and prayer. Fasting here understandably has roots deep in the Hebrew tradition. And it is mentioned with surprising frequency. We tend to overlook how often people in the New Testament are presented as “praying and fasting.” It is so common that it is almost self-evident and often mentioned merely in passing. In Luke, the prophetess Anna spends her time in the Temple with “prayer and fasting” (Lk 2:37). In 2 Corinthians, Paul reminds his readers of the times he has spent praying and fasting (2 Cor 6:5; 11:27). Simply assuming that his followers will fast, Jesus warns them against making an outward show of their fasting (Mt. 6 passim). Although it is often overlooked, fasting in both the Old and New Testaments is closely connected with acts of charity and justice (see especially Isa 58).

For Christians, then, the fasting of Lent has several levels of meaning deeply rooted in the Scriptures. Outwardly fasting is an act of self-denial and self-discipline. But it is far more than just self-discipline. It is an act of stripping away the non-essential and focusing on what is central. It focuses inward, as the believer focuses on God and the act of God in Jesus Christ. And focusing inwardly on the saving act of God in Christ, the Christian is impelled to focus externally to bring about the Kingdom of God proclaimed by Jesus — a kingdom of justice, peace and compassion.

15 February 2018
Greg Kandra

The Rev. Miguel Maria Cobo Guzman of Spain sprinkles ashes on a young Palestinian woman from the Latin Patriarchate School during Ash Wednesday Mass on 14 February at Annunciation Church in Beit Jala, West Bank. (photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)

15 February 2018
Greg Kandra

Embed from Getty Images
Staffan de Mistura United Nations and Arab League Envoy to Syria speaks during a Security Council meeting on the situation in Syria at the United Nations on 14 February 2018.
(photo: Andalou Agency/Getty Images)

UN envoy: Civilians killed ‘on a horrific scale’ in Syria (Al Jazeera) The UN special envoy for Syria has given warning that violence in the country is the worst he has seen since taking the job four years ago. Staffan de Mistura’s remarks on Wednesday came as the US and Russia again traded blame at the UN over the ongoing conflict. “Civilians have been killed on a horrific scale — reports suggest more than 1,000 civilians in the first week of February alone,” he told the UN Security Council...

Russian Orthodox leader criticizes Trump decision on Jerusalem (The Moscow Patriarchate) Answering questions from Romfea, a Greek church news agency, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, head of the Moscow Patriarchate department for external church relations (DECR), spoke on a number of issues concerning inter-Orthodox relations, the situation in the Middle East and the situation of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church...

Hindu party in India offers to send Christians to Jerusalem for free ( The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP), the ruling party of India, is trying to woo Indian Christians into voting for it by promising free pilgrimages to the holy sites in Jerusalem if the party breaks through further in upcoming elections...

Gaza’s only power plant shuts down over fuel shortage (The Times of Israel) The closure of the plant, which normally provides around a fifth of Gaza’s electricity, will exacerbate an already critical power shortage. Gaza’s two million residents receive only around four hours of electricity a day...

A ‘small miracle’ for Syrian refugees in Lebanon (Crux) Sana Samia is managing director of the Greek Melkite Catholic Archdiocese of Zahlé, Lebanon, but that’s a job title, not a description, of this 32-year-old married laywoman with a work ethic the size of Texas. What she really is, certainly in the eyes of the Syrian refugees she assists on a daily basis, is a miracle-worker...

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