Current Issue
September, 2019
Volume 45, Number 3
11 April 2018
Greg Kandra

Relatives of the victims of a school bus accident in India’s Himachal Pradesh mourn their dead. (photo: Vatican News via ANSA)

Indian bishops offer prayers, condolences following school bus accident (Vatican News) India’s Catholic bishops have expressed their condolence at a school bus accident in the Himalayan foothills in the north, in which at least 30 were killed, mostly children. The tragedy occurred about 200 miles from Shimla, the capital of Himachal Pradesh state, when a school bus carrying home some 40 students from their school in Nurpur in Kangra district, plunged some 60 meters into a gorge…

Trump promises strike on Syria (The New York Times) President Trump announced that missiles fired at Syria “will be coming, nice and new and ‘smart!’ ” After the threat, the president said in a separate tweet that relations between the United States and Russia are worse than ever…

Egypt sentences 36 to death for church bombings (The National) Thirty-six people were sentenced to death on Tuesday by an Egyptian military court for their role in a number of deadly church bombings and attacks on security personnel. Prosecutor-General Nabil Sadek referred the accused to an Alexandria military court last May after at least 80 people died in a series of shootings and bomb attacks on Coptic churches in Cairo, Alexandria and the Nile Delta city of Tanta between 2016 and 2017…

Jordan and Lebanon are going broke and Israel should worry (Haaretz) By Middle East standards, Jordan is a citadel of stability, and even though the threat of war with Hizbollah is ever-present, Lebanon has been a placid place since its own civil war ended in 1990. That may be about to change. Jordan and Lebanon have been living on borrowed time economically, which has left them saddled with unsustainably high levels of debt. Now they have little choice but to take unpopular measures like tax hikes and subsidy cuts…

Women religious share stories of being on the frontlines (Vatican News) Women religious, working in some of the world’s worst conflict zones, are sharing their stories on Wednesday at a seminar organized by the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See. Jointly sponsored by the International Union of Superiors General and Solidarity with South Sudan, the encounter will highlight the vital, yet often unseen, work of sisters serving in some of the most deprived communities in countries across the globe…

Vatican urges Buddhists and Christians to work together (Vatican News) The Vatican is inviting the world’s Buddhists and Christians to work together to combat and prevent the “heinous crime” of corruption by eradicating its underlying causes. The Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue made the call in a message released on Wednesday in view of the upcoming Buddhist festival of Vesakh…

The sweet traditions of Russian Orthodox Easter (NPR) Abby Slater is forming a dough of milk, sugar, yeast and flour. It’s Slater’s first time making Easter bread. She’s observed and helped her Aleut family make it many times before though. “My earliest memory of Easter bread was actually later in life, because we didn’t reconnect with my aunt until I was a little bit older,” Slater said. “She was the one who had the recipe for the Easter bread. My grandma died before I was born, my native grandma, my kukax. So she didn’t get to pass that along to us grandkids.” The recipe her aunt uses is the same the family has been using for generations…

Tags: Syria India Egypt Lebanon Jordan

10 April 2018
CNEWA staff

A wounded Syrian receives aid at a hospital 7 April in Damascus after a suspected chemical weapon attack in Douma. (photo: CNS/SANA via EPA)

On Sunday, Pope Francis condemned the use of chemical weapons following reports of a deadly attack in Syria:

“There is no good and bad war, and nothing, nothing can justify the use of such instruments of extermination against defenseless people and populations,” the pope said 8 April before concluding Divine Mercy Sunday Mass in St. Peter’s Square.

A suspected chemical weapon attack occurred late 7 April when Syrian army warplanes allegedly flew over and bombed the eastern town of Douma, located 15 miles north of the Syrian capital, Damascus, according to the Reuters news agency.

The Syrian American Medical Society Foundation reported 42 victims were killed in the attack while hundreds of people, “the majority of whom are women and children, were brought to local medical centers with symptoms indicative of exposure to a chemical agent.”

Pope Francis prayed “for all the dead, for the wounded, for the families who suffer” and called for world leaders to abandon the use of war as a means of gaining peace and stability.

“We pray that political and military leaders choose the other way: that of negotiation, the only one that can lead to a peace that is not that of death and destruction,” the pope said.

We join our prayers with the Holy Father’s — holding close in our hearts the suffering people of Syria, who have endured so much for so long. We recall the words of the Rev. Nidal Abdel Massih Thomas, patriarchal vicar for northeastern Syria, who wrote in our magazine last year:

Our faith always calls for peace, but politics and bad politicians are always setting fires and disturbing the situation. I try to stay away from political discussions. My mission is to take care of my parish, to help my parishioners and to try and enrich the parish with fruitful spiritual activities.

While Syria’s many Christian communities face many and varied challenges right now, there is only one thing we all truly need: peace.

During this Easter season, a time of renewal and hope, we pray to the Prince of Peace to uplift and console the Syrian people, and bring them the peace they so urgently desire.

To learn more, and offer your prayerful support, please visit this page. Thank you and God bless you.

Tags: Syria Syrian Conflict

10 April 2018
Greg Kandra

In the video above, Pope Francis blesses a statue of the Armenian St. Gregory of Narek in the Vatican Gardens. (video: Rome Reports/YouTube)

Trump pledges ‘forceful’ response following Syria attack (BBC) U.S. President Donald Trump has promised a “forceful” response to the alleged chemical attack in Syria, as Western leaders consider what action to take. “We have a lot of options militarily,” he told reporters. He added that a response would be decided “shortly”…

Iran-Israel conflict escalates in shadow of Syrian civil war (The New York Times) Israel on Monday appeared to have escalated its shadow war in Syria against Iran, with a predawn airstrike against a military base that coordinates Iranian-backed militias, killing four Iranian military advisers. The dead included a colonel who served as a senior officer in Iran’s drone program, according to Iranian news reports…

Residents of Jerusalem neighborhood petition high court against new embassy (Times of Israel) A group of residents whose homes overlook the American consulate in Jerusalem submitted a petition to the High Court on Sunday against plans to open the new U.S. Embassy there on 14 May…

Outcry as religious leaders become state ministers in India ( Muslim and Christian leaders in India have slammed Madhya Pradesh state government for according “minister of state” status to five Hindu religious leaders in what many called a deadly mix of religion and politics in an election year. The central state’s government, run by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (B.J.P.), last week gave minister status to the leaders even though they have not contested or won any election…

Indian faith leaders condemn exploitation of religion (Vatican News) Leaders of six major religions in India came together last week and called for an end to branding people as patriotic or unpatriotic based on religion, region or community, amid increasing attempts to exploit religious sentiments for political gains. Leaders of Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jain, Muslim and Sikh communities gathered on 5 April in Margao in the western state of Goa to express their dismay at communal tension building in states such as Bihar, West Bengal, Rajasthan and Odisha, ahead of crucial elections…

Pope blesses statue of Armenian saint (CNS) During a brief ceremony in the Vatican Gardens, Pope Francis blessed a new statue of a tenth-century Armenian monk he had declared a “doctor of the church” in 2015. Blessing the bronze statue of St. Gregory of Narek on 5 April capped off a series of morning meetings with Armenian political and religious dignitaries, beginning with Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan…

Tags: Syria India Jerusalem United States

9 April 2018
Greg Kandra

Sister Sana Samawi, left, hosts a group of women who meet regularly for study, prayer and discussion in Amman, Jordan. (photo: Nader Daoud)

After reporting on the inspiring work of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary in Jordan for the March 2018 edition of ONE, journalist Dale Gavlak here offers some additional impressions:

I was amazed to see how many Iraqi youth came out on a cold, dark night in the dead of winter to engage in worship and meaningful spiritual dialogue and teaching with two Lebanese religious sisters. One sister was perhaps just a few years older than the young people, yet greatly admired; the other was a now much-beloved mother figure.

They do this at least twice a month at the home of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary in the Jordanian capital, Amman.

There, they experience warm fellowship and the opportunity to express themselves freely as they grapple with the still-fresh wounds of being forced out of their ancestral home by ISIS militants.

They also have the opportunity to transform their pain and open their spirituality to God’s plan for their lives. They seek to grow by engaging in the spiritual formation and catechesis activities the Franciscans offer in a very natural atmosphere.

One of the young people, Ra’ed Omar says the program facilitated by the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary involves prayer, teaching, discussions, spiritual exercises, meditations and fun. At times, there may also be a Mass and a talk by a priest.

“They have influenced me a lot,” he says. “I’ve learned so much. It’s a great atmosphere. I was far away from the church in Iraq, but in Jordan I came closer to the church, to God and His people. It’s been a spiritual encounter providing an opportunity, too, to learn how to love others without expecting anything in return,” he says of this youth group’s outreach to Iraqi children, orphans and others in desperate situations.

That same conviviality is found among a group of young-to-middle-aged Jordanian women, many of whom are professionals, meeting every Tuesday at the sisters’ home for Bible study and a discussion of spiritual topics.

There, a Jordanian Franciscan religious sister oversees the activities while encouraging the women to engage actively in learning about God’s love and the tenets of the Christian faith that they hold so dear.

Sister Sana served with the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary in Syria’s trouble spots of Raqqa, Aleppo and Damascus before taking up her post in Amman last year.

“The goal for these women is to take responsibility for their discovery and learning along their spiritual walk. I want to see them following Jesus, enjoying a deep relationship with him in a profound way and understanding,” says Sister Sara. “This depth of spirituality will also impact and benefit the lives of their families and others they interact with and for whom they are responsible. At the end of the day, they should take hold of their spiritual growth because they, too, are the Church,” she says.

Read more about Inspiring the Faithful in Jordan in the March 2018 edition of ONE.

Tags: Refugees Jordan Sisters

9 April 2018
Greg Kandra

The Rev. Jaison Koonamplakkal leads the Mary Matha Major Seminary in India. Read about The New Priests in that country — and the challenges facing the seminaries — in the March 2018 edition of ONE. (photo: Meenakshi Soman)

Tags: India Priests Indian Catholics

9 April 2018
Greg Kandra

In this image from 2016, Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, greets people upon his arrival a vespers at the co-cathedral of the Latin Patriarchate in the Old City of Jerusalem. The archbishop has just created a “personal parish” for migrants and refugees in Jerusalem, which take effect canonically on 20 May. (photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)

Archbishop creates ‘personal parish’ for migrants and refugees in Jerusalem (Vatican News) A “personal parish” for migrants and refugees in Israel and an especially dedicated episcopal vicariate have been created by the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. The man behind the initiative is the Apostolic Administrator of Jerusalem, Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa who explained that in recent years a growing number of migrants and refugees have become an integral part of the community in Jerusalem and in other cities, highlighting the need for assistance and services that many traditional parishes are unable to offer…

Pope Francis appeals for peace in Syria (Vatican News) After praying the Regina Coeli with the faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square on Divine Mercy Sunday, Pope Francis made a special appeal on behalf of Syria. The Holy Father told those present that terrible news was arriving from Syria. Bombardments in Syria have claimed dozens of victims, many of them women and children, he said. In addition, there is news that the bombs contained chemical substances. “Let us pray for all the deceased, for the wounded, for the families who suffer,” Pope Francis said…

In Easter address, Russian Orthodox patriarch urges Christians to take a step toward Christ (TASS) The best way to spend the Easter holidays would be reading the Gospel, taking care of other people and making steps toward faith, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia said in his televised Easter address…

Grand imam visits Coptic pope to offer Easter greetings (Arab News) The grand imam of Egypt’s Al Azhar, the country’s top Islamic authority, offered greetings to Coptic Pope Tawadros II on the occasion of Easter. Imam Ahmad al Tayyeb met the pope on Sunday morning at the papal headquarters at the St. Mark Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Abbassiya, Cairo…

Ethiopian Orthodox mark Easter (Africa News) Thousands of Orthodox faithful across the East African country are celebrating Fasika, Orthodox Easter (8 April). It is the end of eight weeks of fasting from meat and dairy. On Easter Eve, Ethiopian Christians participated in an hours-long church service that ends around 3 a.m., after which they break their fast and celebrate the rising of Christ…

In new document, pope writes: ‘Do not be afraid of holiness’ (CNS) God calls all Christians to be saints — not plastic statues of saints, but real people who make time for prayer and who show loving care for others in the simplest gestures, Pope Francis said in his new document on holiness…

Tags: Egypt Pope Francis Jerusalem Saints

6 April 2018
Greg Kandra

Recent reports indicate the influx of refugees is having a dramatic impact on Lebanon. We’ve been exploring this phenomenon for several years, and in 2015 journalist Raed Rafei profiled Iraqi Christian refugees struggling to stay afloat while being In Limbo in Lebanon:

An estimated 1.5 million refugees, mainly from Syria, reside in Lebanon today, placing a tremendous strain on the country’s infrastructure, as well as its delicate social and political balances. A funding crisis among United Nations aid programs has led to a significant decrease in the level of assistance that refugees receive in the country. And recent popular unrest threatens to make living conditions even worse.

“It’s very hard for Iraqi refugees here,” says Michel Constantin, CNEWA’s regional director for Lebanon, Syria and Egypt. “Their options are very limited.”

Speaking from the organization’s Beirut office, Mr. Constantin says about 3,000 Iraqi Christian families, most from the Chaldean and Syriac communities, have come to Lebanon since August 2014. Most of these refugees now struggle with high costs of living, few opportunities and uncertain prospects.

Through these hardships, churches and church institutions have been a constant source of comfort and material aid, accompanying displaced families through the most difficult time of their lives.

For this Friday’s video, we offer you this dramatic glimpse at a handful of those thousands: an Iraqi Christian family trying to start over in Lebanon. Read the full story here.

Tags: Iraq Lebanon Refugees Iraqi Christians

6 April 2018
Greg Kandra

Two students take a break during class at St. Anne’s Secondary School in Boditi, Ethiopia. Discover more about their education — and the young religious sisters who are teaching them — in The Habit of Learning in the March 2018 edition of ONE. (photo: Don Duncan)

Tags: Ethiopia Children Education

6 April 2018
J.D. Conor Mauro

Medical staff treat a wounded Palestinian, injured during the 'Great March of Return' protest near the Israeli border, on 6 April. (photo: Abed Zagout/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Pope Francis meets with Armenian leaders (Vatican News) Pope Francis received Serzh Sargsyan, President of the Republic of Armenia in the Vatican on Thursday morning before meeting with the Catholicos of All Armenians Karekin II, and with Aram I, the Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia. Following the meetings, the Pope and the Armenian delegation participated in an inauguration ceremony and blessing of a statue of Saint Gregory of Narek in the Vatican gardens…

Gaza protests: Death toll rises to 22 (Washington Post) Palestinian protesters faced off against Israeli troops on Friday, creating a billowing smokescreen of burning tires on the Gaza side of the border with Israel in the latest show of anger a week after deadly confrontations along the heavily guarded dividing line. Israeli soldiers fired live ammunition and tear gas. The Gaza Health Ministry reported that at least two people were killed and scores were injured, five of them with critical injuries to the head and upper body. On Friday morning, a 30-year-old man was said to have died from injuries sustained during last Friday’s demonstration. The death of Thaer Rabaa, 30, brought the Palestinian death toll to 22 from last week’s clashes. The Gaza Health Ministry said more than 1,000 people were wounded by gunshots…

Assyrians in Syria celebrate traditions despite dangers (Christian Science Monitor) The Assyrian community, an ethnic minority in the Middle East, gathered to observe their New Year holiday and foster community pride. The group, whose numbers in the region are dwindling, have frequently been a target of ISIS…

Patriarch of Baghdad sees Chaldean martyrs as a source of peace and unity (AsiaNews) In a written statement commemorating the Day of the Chaldean Martyrs on 6 April, Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Raphael I refers to Iraqi martyrs as a “source of inspiration” embodying values of “hope, human dignity, tolerance and peace…”

Church in Goa, India, attacked with stones during Easter Vigil (Crux) An Easter vigil Mass was interrupted by people throwing stones in the Indian state of Goa. One woman was injured and two vehicles in the parking lot were damaged in the incident…

Tags: India Middle East Christians Gaza Strip/West Bank

5 April 2018
Elias D. Mallon, S.A., Ph.D.

Pope Francis blesses the faithful with holy water on Palm Sunday in St. Peter’s Square. Water has powerful religious and spiritual meaning in both Judaism and Christianity.
(photo: CNS/Tony Gentile, Reuters)

Among Christians of all denominations, the end of Lent and the beginning of the Easter Season involves the blessing of water. We saw an example of this vividly last weekend when, in the Easter Vigil, Catholics throughout the world blessed water and celebrated the sacrament of baptism.

It served to remind us that water has great significance and importance in both Judaism and Christianity. Although water can and is seen as something dangerous and wild, that refers mostly to the waters of the sea, which the Hebrews held in some dread. In ancient Mesopotamia, the deity Tiamat, “the Deep,” was seen as an all devouring dragon. Water — fresh water — on the other hand was clearly a source of life. The Second Creation Account (Gen. 2:5-3:24) starts off in a dry and lifeless desert: “as yet there was no grass or shrubbery that has sprung up because God had not caused it to rain...” (Gen 2:5) Creation begins when God causes moisture (Hebrew: ’ēd) to rise from the earth.

With moisture — water — life begins.

It carries other connotations, as well. In the ancient Near East, water is often connected with the goddess of wisdom. Wisdom brings life and order. The desert is a frightening place, a “howling desert” (Deut 32:10), “a land of horror” (Isa 21:1), filled with strange and dangerous animals. There is neither city nor civilization in the desert. But with water, the wild chaos of the desert gives way to life, order and civilization — the gifts of Wisdom. We see this in scripture; in the book of Proverbs, wisdom is often connected with water (Prov 18:4; 20:5). In the New Testament, something similar can be found in the Gospel of John, which frequently connects Jesus with the Wisdom of the Hebrew Bible. Scholars have long noticed that the Prologue of John’s Gospel (1:1-18) sounds very much like the poem about Wisdom in the Book of Proverbs (8:22-31). Later in the Gospel, Jesus calls those who thirst to come to him and drink (John 7:37-39). Echoing the encounter of Jesus with the Samaritan woman at the well, the water which Jesus offers — his teaching — is spirit and springs up to eternal life.

The cleansing properties of water were, of course, not lost on the people of the Bible. Ritual purity was very important for the priests who served in the Temple. Purity was also important for all — priest and non-priest — who would worship at the Temple. There were many things which could render a person impure or unfit to worship in the Temple — everything from touching a dead body to coming into contact with pork. The impure person was purified by washing with water. Even today among some Jews there is the ritual of the miqveh. A miqveh is a pool connected with running (“living”) water that is used for purification. Converts to Judaism — as well as Jewish men and women who have incurred ritual impurity — are required to immerse themselves in the waters of the miqveh in order to become ritually pure once again. The Jewish community at Qumran, who were the copiers of the so-called “Dead Sea Scrolls,” left behind extensive ruins. A very visible part of the ruins are ritual baths or miqveh. So important is the miqveh that Jewish religious authorities hold that new Jewish communities should build a miqveh even before they build a synagogue.

Clearly Christianity has taken over a great deal of the symbolism of water found in the Hebrew Bible and incorporated it into our own faith and ritual. We observed this recently, when those symbols played a central role in the observances of Holy Week. The washing of the feet at the Holy Thursday liturgy underlines the cleansing power of water but also stresses that it is a requirement to be with Jesus (John 13:9). The symbols found in the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday reflect the destructive power of water in recalling the destruction of the Egyptians at the Sea. The waters of baptism are also a symbol of Christ’s death (Rom 6:3). However, the life-giving and cleansing powers of water are also stressed in the waters of baptism which bring newness of life.

Throughout the Bible, in both Testaments, the powerful symbolism of water is a common theme. For Christians, the recent observance of Holy Week provided a call to reflect on the powerful role of water in the faith of Christians and Jews — and a bond we share that stretches back through the centuries.

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