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September, 2017
Volume 43, Number 3
  
25 February 2013
Greg Kandra




Pope Benedict XVI leads his final Angelus as pope from the window of his apartment overlooking St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on 24 February.
(photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)


Pope issues new rules for conclave (Vatican Radio) Pope Benedict XVI issued an Apostolic letter motu proprio on Monday, in which he introduced a series of modifications to the laws governing the period sede vacante and the election of a new Bishop of Rome...

Patriarch Bartholomew praises pope as friend of the Orthodox (Vatican Radio) Upon being informed on the way to his native island of Imvros of the imminent retirement of Pope Benedict XVI from the Petrine ministry, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew issued a formal declaration and personal statement to the media, responding with sadness to the news: “It is with regret that we have learned of the decision by His Holiness Pope Benedict to retire from his Throne, because with his wisdom and experience he could have provided much more to the Church and the world...”

Gregory III appeals: “The sending of arms to Syria must stop” (Fides) “We appeal to the whole world to stop arms from being sent to Syria.” This call was part of a statement sent to Fides by His Beatitude, Greek Catholic Melkite Patriarch Gregory III Laham, following explosions in a district of Damascus last week...

Copts protest elections scheduled at Easter (Fides) The decision taken by President Morsi to hold parliamentary elections in Egypt on a date which would coincide with Coptic Easter celebrations may be reconsidered, following a protest by Egyptian Christians...

Ethiopia’s underground churches (New Zealand Herald) Awe-struck visitors often call Lalibela’s underground churches the most impressive sight in all of Africa. They’re also arguably Africa’s most mysterious attraction....



Tags: Egypt Pope Benedict XVI Orthodox Coptic Christians Greek Catholic Church

22 February 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro




In this 16 September 2012 photo, some 300,000 people from all over the Middle East gather in Beirut for an open-air Mass to conclude Pope Benedict XVI’s historic visit to Lebanon. (photo: John E. Kozar)

Lebanon’s Christian population on the rise (MercatorNet) As the only Arab country where a substantial proportion of the population is Christian, Lebanon’s geopolitical importance is out of proportion to its size — four million people in a country the size of Jamaica. It has a vital role to play in struggles between the West and the Muslim world and in dialogue between Christianity and Islam. But a poll taken in January shows that two-thirds of Lebanese Christians feel that the very existence of their communities is under long-term threat in their country. They say that too many of their fellow Christians are emigrating, their share of the population is shrinking and their political leaders are consumed with factional infighting. This is a grim picture, but according to a new report on Lebanese demography, it may be false. According to this study, the clichés are wrong; the proportion of Christians in the country — which currently stands at about 34 percent — is slowly increasing. By 2030, it may reach 37 percent and by 2045 more than 39 percent. And because hundreds of thousands of overseas Lebanese are eligible to vote, the increase in registered voters is even more impressive…

Amid Damascus carnage, rumors of plan to strike papal nuncio (Fides) The papal nuncio to Syria, Archbishop Mario Zenari, is still shocked by reports and images of fresh violent attacks this morning in the center of Damascus, beginning with the attack in al Shahbandar Square. “It is a massacre. … We continue to walk on the dead. At this point, wherever you go in Damascus, you come to places where innocent blood has been shed: civilians, women and children. The number of 70,000 war victims is even more appalling when we think how these people die. … Their bodies are torn apart and it is difficult even to collect enough fragments for a funeral.” The archbishop also expresses surprise at rumors about a possible attack on his person which is said to be planned in Syrian military and intelligence circles, in retaliation for recent statements of his regarding the conflict: “I have no idea how much credibility is due to these rumors. Usually people planning an attack would not first leak the intent to the press. My appeals are prompted by what I see, the suffering the conflict inflicts on the Syrian people — suffering which is prolonged by the indifference of the greater part of the international community”…

Military barrier could separate West Bank Salesians from communities (CNS) Near where Father Ibrahim Shomali celebrated Mass on a recent Friday afternoon, is the Israeli settlement of Har Gilo. Nearby, across the Cremisan Valley, is Gilo, another Israeli settlement. It was built decades ago on land that was part of Beit Jala, a largely Christian Palestinian town six miles south of Jerusalem and three miles west of Bethlehem. Israelis consider Har Gilo and Gilo neighborhoods of Jerusalem. Between the two settlements, hidden behind trees, is a 150-year-old community of Salesians. The priests and brothers there run the West Bank’s only winery, the Cremisan Cellars. Not far away is the convent of the Salesian Sisters of Cremisan, who operate an elementary school and after-school programs for 400 children. As near as they are, the two religious communities may end up on opposite sides of an extension of the Israeli-Palestinian separation barrier. On 12 February, the Israeli Supreme Court heard Israel’s appeal to extend the separation barrier, effectively separating Beit Jala from the two Israeli settlements. The wall also will separate 57 Christian Palestinian families from their agricultural lands, the last green area left for expansion of the city, Father Shomali said. According to Israeli law, if agricultural land is not cultivated for a certain amount of time, the state can expropriate it…

Israeli forces, Palestinians clash throughout West Bank (Daily Star Lebanon) Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian protesters throughout the occupied West Bank on Friday, capping a week of violence amid a hunger strike by four Palestinians in Israeli jails. Tension and anticipation is rising in the West Bank a month before U.S. President Barack Obama is due to visit Jerusalem and Ramallah, though he has announced no concrete plans to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, stalled for three years. From the precincts of Jerusalem’s al Aqsa mosque, both one of Islam’s holiest sites and revered by Jews as the site of their Biblical temple, youths threw stones at Israeli police after Friday prayers. Dozens of Israeli officers briefly entered the politically sensitive compound. Witnesses said officers fired tear gas and threw percussion grenades at the demonstrators as bystanders and elderly worshippers ran for cover…



Tags: Lebanon Syrian Civil War Pope Benedict XVI Ecumenism Israeli-Palestinian conflict

21 February 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro




Syrian refugees rest after they crossed into Jordan with their families from Syria near al Mafraq on 18 February. Cardinal Robert Sarah, president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, praised the response of Catholic agencies to Syrian refugees flowing into Jordan in an address to aid workers on 20 February. (photo: CNS/Muhammad Hamed, Reuters)

Vatican officials arrive in Jordan to examine refugee crisis (EWTN) Cardinal Robert Sarah, president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, is visiting Jordan to take stock of the serious refugee situation created by the Syrian conflict and to assess how Catholic charities are responding. “The humanitarian situation in Syria, and throughout the region is unsustainable. Some estimates speak of a million refugees, more than two and a half million displaced persons, and almost one hundred thousand deaths directly attributable to violence,” an 18 February press release from Cor Unum says. Joining Cardinal Sarah on this trip is Monsignor Giampietro Dal Toso, who is the secretary of Cor Unum. The pair will take part in the regional conference of Caritas in the Middle East, North Africa and Horn of Africa, which is taking place in Jordan. The meeting will provide an opportunity to assess humanitarian aid provided by Catholic charities, including Caritas, to refugees and victims of the violence in Syria…

Car bomb kills more than 50 in central Damascus (Reuters) A car bomb killed 53 people and wounded 200 in central Damascus on Thursday when it blew up on a busy highway close to ruling Baath Party offices and the Russian Embassy, Syrian television said. TV footage showed charred and bloodied bodies strewn across the street after the blast, which state media said was the result of a suicide bombing by “terrorists” battling President Bashar al Assad. Central Damascus has been relatively insulated from almost two years of unrest and civil war in which around 70,000 people have been killed across the country, but the bloodshed has shattered suburbs around the capital. Rebels who control districts to the south and east of Damascus have attacked Assad’s power base for nearly a month and struck with devastating bombs over the last year. Activists said most of the victims of Thursday’s attack in the city’s Mazraa district were civilians, including children, possibly from a school behind the Baath building…

Election of 6th Ethiopian Orthodox Patriarch approaching (Ethioabay) The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church Patriarchate Head Office Electoral Committee announced that the 6th patriarchal election would be conducted 28 February 2013. The committee head, Jimma Exarchate Archbishop Abune Estifanos, said that among all potential candidates, only five would be selected to run in the election proper. Abune Estifanos added that the winner would be made official at 6 p.m. the same day. The enthronement will be held on 3 March 2013 at the Holy Trinity Cathedral. Abune Estifanos further indicated that the 800 voters who participate in the election would be drawn from archbishops, representatives of ancient monasteries and 53 dioceses as well as the faithful, Sunday schools and the clergy…

U.S. bishops reinforce need for protection of religious minorities in Asia (U.S.C.C.B.) “[The U.S.C.C.B. commends] H.R. 301, a bill to establish a Special Envoy to Promote Religious Freedom of Religious Minorities in the Near East and South Central Asia. The bishops have long been concerned over the plight of religious minorities, particularly Christian communities in countries such as Iraq, Syria, Egypt, India and Pakistan, many of whom have lived for centuries side by side with those of other faiths, but now find themselves coming under increased attack and harassment. Such attacks have led many to flee, becoming displaced within their own country or escaping across the borders to seek refugee status, uncertain as to what the future holds. These migrations have led to the decimation of historic communities who have contributed much to the cultural, political, economic and social life of their countries. … The Catholic Church views protection of religious freedom as a “cornerstone of the structure of human rights” since it is rooted in the dignity of the human person. … In keeping with this longstanding teaching, we commend you for introducing H.R. 301 and lend our support to passage of this legislation”…

Bulgarian government resigns amid protests (Various) Bulgaria’s government bowed to political pressure Wednesday morning, stepping down after violent demonstrations in the capital Sofia over high energy prices, low living standards and charges of government corruption. Clashes between protesters and police on Monday and Tuesday left 28 people injured and 25 arrested. “I did everything in my power to meet the people’s demands yesterday,” Prime Minister Boyko Borisov told parliament as he announced his resignation on Wednesday four months ahead of scheduled elections. “I won’t be part of a government in which the police is fighting with the people,” said Borisov, who has been in power since 2009. President Rosen Plevneliev asked parliament’s three biggest parties if they wished to form an interim government to rule until an election due in July, but the two main parties said they have no interest in participating in a caretaker cabinet. Analysts say that means Plevneliev could schedule an election by as early as April. This upheaval coincides with a period of transition in the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, in which the election of a new patriarch is in a dead heat. On 19 February, Varna Metropolitan Kiril, the acting head of the Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, said that the protests were “fully justified” and were supported by the church…



Tags: Syrian Civil War Ethiopian Orthodox Church Caritas Bulgarian Orthodox Church Bulgaria

20 February 2013
Greg Kandra




Guinean Cardinal Robert Sarah waves as he walks near St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on 18 February. Cardinal Sarah is expected to have a major voice in the deliberations when they cardinals gather next month in Rome to elect a new pope. He is now on a visit to Syria for a regional conference and to meet Jordanian refugees. (photo: CNS/Alessandro Bianchi, Reuters)

Pope may change rules on conclave (CNN) Pope Benedict XVI is considering changing the Vatican constitution to allow a vote for his successor to begin before March 15, Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said Wednesday...

Cardinal visits Syria (VIS) Cardinal Robert Sarah, president of the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum” and Msgr. Giampietro Dal Toso, secretary of that dicastery, are in Jordan from today until Thursday, 21 February, to participate in the regional conference of Caritas in the Middle East, North Africa, and Horn of Africa, which is taking place in that country. The forum is a very important opportunity to take stock of the humanitarian aid provided by Catholic charities, including Caritas, to refugees and victims of violent conflict in Syria since representatives of all the Caritas organizations of that region, as well as representatives of the local churches, will be present...

Reports of typhoid in parts of Syria (Vatican Radio) Typhoid has broken out in an opposition-held region of Syria due to people drinking contaminated water from the Euphrates River, the World Health Organization (WHO) has announced. An estimated 2,500 people in north-eastern Deir al-Zor province are infected with the contagious disease, which causes diarrhoea and can be fatal, the United Nations agency said. Meanwhile, both pro- and anti-government forces in Syria have become increasingly violent and reckless with human life, according to a report by the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Syria...

Thousands of Indian villages affected by drought (Fides) At least 12,000 villages affected by prolonged drought in the district of Marathwada, in the central Indian state of Maharashtra, now face severe famine due to massive damage to crops over the past 12 months...

Indian government considers armed protection for temples, churches (The New Indian Express) Earlier this week, the State Government said it was toying with a proposal for constituting a Temple Protection Force using retired armed forces personnel. A dedicated corps of ‘guardian angels’ would indeed prove a blessing to places of worship, since statistics reveal that they are having a hard time in God’s Own Country keeping burglars out...



Tags: Syria India Pope Benedict XVI Pope

19 February 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro




Pope Benedict XVI greets Rabbi Elio Toaff, the former chief rabbi of Rome, during a visit to the main synagogue in Rome in this 2010 file photo. (photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

Netanyahu thanks pope for deepening Christian-Jewish ties (Reuters) Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked outgoing Pope Benedict XVI on Monday for his efforts to shore up often troubled relations between the Roman Catholic Church and Jews, including with his 2009 visit to the Holy Land. That trip, in which the German-born Benedict paid respects at Israel’s main Holocaust memorial, was seen by many Jews as atoning for his lifting of the excommunication of a bishop who questioned the scale of the Nazi genocide. On other occasions he visited the Auschwitz death camp and the Cologne synagogue. The pontiff, who will abdicate on February 28, also changed a Latin prayer for Good Friday services by traditionalist Catholics in 2008, deleting a reference to Jews and their “blindness” but still calling for them to accept Jesus. “I thank you also for bravely defending the values of Judaism and Christianity during your papal term,” Netanyahu said…

Egyptian Christians institute national ecumenical council (Fides) In Egypt, representatives of several different Christian denominations met in St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral, in the capital’s al Abbasiy district, to sign the statutes of the country’s first National Council of Christian Churches. Leading members of five churches — Coptic Orthodox, Coptic Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Anglican and evangelical Protestant — attended the founding meeting, each heading a delegation of five representatives. Those present included Coptic Orthodox Patriarch Tawadros II, Coptic Catholic Patriarch Ibrahim Isaac Sidrak and Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theodoros II of Alexandria. “The new body,” said Coptic Catholic Bishop Kyrillos William of Assiut, “will help us proceed together along the path of ecumenism, and reveal our shared position regarding dialogue and peaceful cohabitation with non-Christians. It will also certainly provide opportunities for shared social and cultural initiatives.” Bishop Kyrillos underlined that the new Council “will have no strictly political profile and certainly no ability to exercise binding authority over the activity of the individual Churches.” However, its foundation is billed as critical to the future of Christian communities in Egypt, and confirms the ecumenical awareness of the new Coptic Orthodox patriarch, installed November last year…

U.N.: Both sides committing war crimes in Syria (Al Jazeera) Both government forces and armed rebels are committing war crimes, including killings and torture, spreading terror among civilians in a nearly two-year-old conflict, a United Nations panel said on Monday. The investigators’ latest report, covering the six months to mid-January, was based on 445 interviews conducted abroad with victims and witnesses, as they have not been allowed into Syria. The independent team, led by Brazilian Paulo Pinheiro, called on the U.N. Security Council to “act urgently to ensure accountability” for grave violations, possibly by referring the violators to the International Criminal Court for prosecution…

Coptic church attacked in Egypt (Vatican Radio) More than one year after the Arab Awakening, Christians in Egypt continue to suffer persecution. The latest attack happened Friday, when a mob of a few hundred people threw stones and set fire to St. Georgas Coptic Church in Sarsena. The village is located about 60 miles southwest of Cairo. A few parishioners and the pastor were slightly injured before a local Muslim family helped them to escape the scene. The attack was led by a local Muslim fringe group. The Salafist group claimed that the church was illegal and wanted it demolished because of its close location to a largely Muslim neighborhood. Embedded below is an audio file of the radio report…

Jesuit expert calls Pope Benedict XVI a ‘great reformer’ on sex abuse (National Catholic Reporter) Jesuit Father Hans Zollner, the academic vice-rector of the Jesuit-run Gregorian University in Rome and head of its Institute of Psychology, has studied the church’s rocky history on the issue of sex abuse at length, publishing the 2010 book Chiesa e pedofilia – Una ferita aperta: Un approccio psicologico-pastorale (“The Church and Pedophilia – An Open Wound: A Psychological and Pastoral Approach”), along with fellow Jesuit Father Giovanni Cucci. “Based on what I know personally, at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith he was the first person, and the most determined person, to take on what he called the ‘open wound’ in the body of the church, meaning the sexual abuse of minors by clergy. He came to know about a number of cases, and the intensity of the wounds inflicted on victims. He became aware of what priests had done to minors, and to vulnerable adults. As a result, he became more and more convinced that it has to be tackled, and at various levels he started to deal with it — the canonical level, the ecclesial, and the personal”…

Church and civic leaders attend ecumenical Divine Liturgy in Beirut (Naharnet) Greek Orthodox Patriarch Youhanna X of Antioch and All the East celebrated the Divine Liturgy at the St. Nicolas Cathedral in Beirut’s Ashrafiyeh district on Sunday in the presence of the country’s top political and spiritual leaders. President Michel Suleiman, Prime Minister Najib Miqati, Phalange leader Amin Gemayel and Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter were among those present. Diplomats, including Syrian and Russian ambassadors, also attended. The Divine Liturgy was held on the occasion of Patriarch Youhanna’s visit to Beirut. In his sermon, the Greek Orthodox leader stressed that Muslims are partners in the nation. “Our ties with them extend beyond coexistence. We share with them building the future,” he said…



Tags: Egypt Syrian Civil War Unity Ecumenism Christian-Muslim relations

15 February 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro




Clergy from the Diocese of Rome process into St. Peter’s Basilica for an audience with Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican on 14 February. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)

Pope warns of church divisions and infighting (Christian Science Monitor) With passing phrases and striking images, Pope Benedict XVI is assembling a last testament to his Roman Catholic Church, urging its leaders to put aside their rivalries and think only of the unity of the faith. The message, slipped into statements both before and after his shocking resignation announcement on Monday, reads like a veiled rebuke to leading cardinals jockeying for influence in the upcoming conclave and in the papacy that it will produce. The German pope urged the faithful on Wednesday to “show the face of the church and how that face is sometimes disfigured. ... I am thinking particularly about sins against the unity of the church, about divisions in the body of the church,” he said. “Overcoming individualism and rivalry is a humble sign,” he added during his last public Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica…

Church seeks contact with kidnappers of Syrian priests (Fides) Christians in Aleppo are seeking contact with the kidnappers of two priests: Armenian Catholic Father Michel Kayyal and Greek Orthodox Father Maher Mahfouz. On 9 February, a group of armed rebels captured them on the road that leads from Aleppo to Damascus. So far, attempts to open channels of negotiation to free the two priests have failed. Armenian Catholic Archbishop Boutros Marayati of Aleppo reported to Fides: “The so-called kidnappers phoned the brother of one of the two priests and said only: ‘They are with us.’ But they did not explain what is behind the ‘we,’ and have not asked for any demands. On our behalf, we have limited the area in which they are held hostage, and we are trying to open a channel of negotiation with the tribal leader of that area. So far our attempts have not had concrete effects. We do not know [the details of this] group of kidnappers, if we are dealing with rebels [or] bandits. … We wonder why this choice of kidnapping the two priests was made, among the many passengers of the bus attacked by the kidnappers”…

Violence against Egyptian street children on the rise (Fides) Walking the streets of Cairo, one can see many homeless, wandering victims of sexual violence and drug abuse. They live in poverty and danger. Although there are no official figures on how many there are, the latest estimates of the Centre for Egyptian Social and Criminal Research reported that 36 percent of street children have suffered sexual abuse, violence and other coercive practices such as prostitution. Some are lucky enough to end up in reception centers. One of these centers, run by the nongovernmental organization Hope Village, is in the district of Nasser where 20 children live eat, sleep, study and play in shared spaces. The N.G.O. is present in various cities of the country, and every year is able to assist an average of nearly 6,000 needy children — abandoned, orphaned or with families experiencing economic difficulties. Most of them have been victims of sexual violence and some need medical care due to physical and psychological trauma. The perpetrators tend to look for younger people because they think they have less chance of contracting diseases such as AIDS. The situation becomes more complicated when the young girls raped become pregnant…

U.N. estimates 40,000 have fled heavy fighting in eastern Syria (Daily Star Lebanon) Tens of thousands of people have fled a town in eastern Syria after three days of heavy fighting between government troops and rebels, the United Nations food agency said. Rebels seized al Shaddadeh in Syria’s oil-producing east on Thursday after the clashes which killed 30 of their fighters and 100 Syrian government troops, a monitoring group told Reuters. “A W.F.P. [World Food Program] team visited the area and estimated that around 40,000 people have fled al Shaddadeh to [the regional capital] al Hasakah,” the U.N. agency told journalists in Geneva on Friday. Northeastern Syria was hit by four years of drought before the revolt against President Bashar al-Assad started nearly two years ago, resulting in high rates of malnutrition among children, WFP spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs said. “The fighting and displacement only aggravates the misery of these people,” she said, adding the agency had sent extra rations to the area this week…

Armenia tries to help as Armenian Christians flee Syria (USA Today) Aleppo is home to more than 80% of Syria’s Armenian community, and those who are still there remain at the center of the battle for control of the country. The Armenian Christian community in Syria is relatively small — between 60,000 and 100,000 people, according to estimates — but its history has added to its unease. Armenians in Syria are descendants of people who fled to Syria after escaping genocide against Armenians in Ottoman Turkey in World War I. Many worry the same can happen in Syria, where the Christian Armenians are again at the mercy of Muslim factions at war, and they are desperate to get out. To date, the Ministry of Diaspora estimates that more than 7,000 of Syria’s Armenian Christian community have arrived in Armenia since the start of the conflict. Armenian authorities are trying to find ways to speed the exit from Syria and make the adjustment to life here easier. The authorities have simplified the visa process out of Syria. Elementary schools have been established that teach classes in the Arabic language that Syrian-Armenian children have grown up with, according to a familiar Syrian curriculum…



Tags: Egypt Refugees Syrian Civil War Violence against Christians Pope Benedict XVI

14 February 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro




St. Valentine is pictured in a stained-glass window at the Basilica of St. Valentine in Terni, Italy, on 10 February. While some details of St. Valentine’s life are lost to history, the local diocese believes he was the martyred 3rd-century bishop of Terni. A special Mass was celebrated at the basilica on 10 February for engaged couples in advance of Valentine's Day, which is celebrated today. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)

Pope Benedict XVI ‘close to these forgotten people’ of Syria (Fides) Ash Wednesday began the third Lent of suffering for Christians living in Syria: a time marked by anxiety and hope. Maronite Archbishop Samir Nassar of Damascus focuses on some recent events that have inspired mixed feelings among the baptized in Syria: the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, the visit to Damascus of the Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter and the exodus of the faithful of the Greek Orthodox church. The resignation of the Holy Father, Archbishop Nassar notes, touched in a very special way the Syrian Christians: prayer and appeals of Pope Benedict XVI for peace in Syria, along with his concrete acts of charity, “had made the Pope so close to these forgotten people.” The Maronite Archbishop hopes that we can proceed along the common path “in this time of Lent that he has chosen to continue his mission in a different way”…

Indian Catholics call for a moratorium on the death penalty (Fides) A few days after the execution of Afzal Guru, one of the terrorists responsible for the attack on the Indian Parliament in 2001, the Indian Catholic movements, while expressing solidarity and prayers to the families of the victims, call for a moratorium on the death penalty in the country. In a statement sent to Fides Agency, the “Catholic Secular Forum” (C.S.F.) movement of the Indian Catholic laity remembers that in a recent vote at the U.N. General Assembly, 110 countries called for the abolition of the death penalty, while India was among the 39 countries that sustained it. According to the U.N., about 150 countries have abolished the death penalty or have established a moratorium. The President of the C.S.F. says: “India should consider a moratorium against all executions, pending a … comprehensive review of the death penalty”…

Syrian rebels battle at military base near Aleppo airport (Christian Science Monitor) Syrian rebels fought pitched battles Wednesday against regime forces at a military base that protects a major airport in the country’s north in fighting that has left more than 40 government troops dead, opposition activists said. Rebels have been attacking the civilian airport in the city of Aleppo for weeks, and now appear to have overrun the main defenses around the facility. But the airport itself, which stopped handling any flights weeks ago because of the fighting, still remains in regime hands. Also Wednesday, Syria’s former Foreign Ministry spokesman made his first comments since disappearing in December, saying he left the country because “of the polarization and violence that left no place for moderation and diplomacy.” Jihad Makdissi, who was known for defending President Bashar Assad’s regime in fluent English, said in a statement sent to the Abu-Dhabi-based Sky News Arabia that he did not go to Europe or the U.S. after leaving Syria. He did not say where he currently is, adding that “I have no secrets that anyone would want.” In his statement Wednesday, Makdissi said the Syrian uprising has “legitimate demands”…

Russian Orthodox leaders respond to papal resignation (Russia Beyond the Headlines) Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, and chairman of the Department of External Church Relations, said that Pope Benedict’s decision was “a personal act of courage and humility. ... The news of his resignation was a surprise even for his closest collaborators,” he observed. “The Russian Orthodox Church is grateful to [the pope] for his work in understanding and solving problems that obstruct the relationships between Orthodox Christians and Catholics, especially in regions such as Ukraine.” Patriarch Kirill returned to the topic of relations between the two churches recently, stressing that he has by no means ruled out the possibility of an official meeting with the head of the Vatican. According to Kirill, the Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church have many opinions in common today, such as “matters regarding the family, marriage, children and safeguarding Christian values in Europe.” Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation, which will become effective on February 28, 2013, among other things, coincides with the arrival in Rome of the former Russian minister of culture, Aleksandr Avdeyev, now appointed Russian ambassador to the Vatican…

Syrian Greek Orthodox patriarch enthroned in Damascus (Huffington Post) Syria’s Greek Orthodox Church enthroned a new patriarch during a ceremonial mass in Damascus on Sunday amid civil war. Patriarch Youhanna X, 57, replaces Patriarch Ignatius IV, who died in December, as the Eastern Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and All the East. There are a number of mostly autonomous Orthodox churches in the Middle East and the region also has more than a half dozen patriarchs, including the Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the spiritual leader of world’s Orthodox Christians. Christians represent about 5 percent of the population in Syria, where rebels and forces loyal to President Bashar al Assad are locked in a civil war the U.N. says has killed more than 60,000 people…



Tags: Syrian Civil War Pope Benedict XVI Russian Orthodox Church Patriarchs Indian Catholics

13 February 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro




A child dressed as a Swiss Guard stands in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on 12 February. (photo: CNS/Max Rossi, Reuters)

Pope’s brother says pontiff pondered resignation for several months (AP) Speaking to reporters at his home in the southern German city of Regensburg, Monsignor Georg Ratzinger, who was ordained on the same day in 1951 as his brother Joseph, said he didn’t expect Benedict’s continued presence in the Vatican to intimidate the next pope. “It’s possible [the next pope] may ask for advice,” said Ratzinger. “I think it’s quite likely they will talk.” The 85-year-old Benedict shocked the world Monday by announcing that he planned to step down from the papacy at the end of the month. For his brother, however, the decision was no surprise. “He has been thinking about it for several months,” the elder Ratzinger said. “He concluded that his powers are falling victim to age.” He dismissed suggestions that the pope had been pushed to resign…

Syrian refugees face kidnapping, rape and human trafficking (Fides) The conflict in Syria deteriorates and affects all Syrian citizens, regardless of ethnicity or religion. But, as in any war, the situation of minorities is the worst: the Christian minorities have become an easy target for criminals and terrorists who use kidnapping and rape as tactics of fear and control, and organize the trafficking of refugees. This is what is said in a note sent to Fides Agency by the non-governmental organization “Minority Rights Group,” based in London, which each year draws up a detailed report on the condition of cultural, ethnic and religious minorities throughout the world. After an extensive survey conducted among refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Turkey, and talks with Syrian refugees who arrived in Europe, the organization also acknowledged the plight of the refugees of the Christian religion, giving voice “to a silent minority who tell harrowing stories of rapes, kidnappings and human trafficking.” According to the organization, the majority of refugees interviewed express a desire to leave the Middle East. To this end, there are even reports of refugees cooperating with gangs of human traffickers in order to flee…

Church never consented to new Israeli separation wall (Fides) “The lawyers of the Israeli army said the route of the separation wall in the Valley of Cremisan had received the consent of the church. But … there has never been any kind of approval, by the Salesians or the Vatican,” said Bishop William Shomali, patriarchal vicar of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, describing details of the hearing held yesterday in Tel Aviv on the new separation wall. This case sets Palestinian Christian families and the Salesian Sisters against the Israeli army on the route of the wall sought by the Israeli authorities in the Bethlehem area. At the hearing — which saw the presence of Bishop Shomali, along with several priests of the patriarchate — the legal representatives of the parties exhibited for the last time their arguments before three judges of Court of Justice in Tel Aviv. The lawyers of the 58 Palestinian families and of the Salesian Sisters, with the aid of maps and topographical material, documented that the route of the wall seriously damages their clients, offering an alternative route nearer to the 1967 border between Israel and the West Bank. In addition to the bishop and the priests, diplomatic representatives of France, Germany, Norway and the United Nations also attended the hearing…

Egypt floods Gaza tunnels, cuts Palestinian lifeline (Daily Star Lebanon) Egyptian forces have flooded tunnels under the border with the Palestinian-ruled Gaza Strip in a campaign to shut them down, Egyptian and Palestinian officials said. The network of tunnels is a vital lifeline for Gaza, bringing in an estimated 30 percent of all goods that reach the enclave and circumventing a blockade imposed by Israel for more than seven years. Reuters reporters saw one tunnel being used to bring in cement and gravel suddenly fill with water on Sunday, sending workers rushing for safety. Locals said two other tunnels were likewise flooded, with Egyptians deliberately pumping in water. “The Egyptians have opened the water to drown the tunnels,” said Abu Ghassan, who supervises the work of 30 men at one tunnel some 200 yards from the border fence. The move surprised and angered Gaza’s rulers, the Islamist group Hamas, which had hoped for much better ties with Cairo following the election last year of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi…



Tags: Egypt Syrian Civil War Palestine Pope Benedict XVI human trafficking

12 February 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro




Matt Lauer and New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan appear on NBC’s Today Show in New York in this handout photo taken on 11 February. The cardinal talked about Pope Benedict XVI’s announcement earlier that morning that he will resign as pope at the end of the month. (photo: CNS/Peter Kramer, NBC via Reuters)

Cardinal Dolan: Papacy of Pope Benedict XVI both pastoral and scholarly (U.S.C.C.B.) Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, issued this statement moments after learning of the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI on 11 February 2013: “The Holy Father brought the tender heart of a pastor, the incisive mind of a scholar and the confidence of a soul united with His God in all he did. His resignation is but another sign of his great care for the Church. We are sad that he will be resigning but grateful for his eight years of selfless leadership as successor of St. Peter. Though 78 when he elected pope in 2005, he set out to meet his people — and they were of all faiths — all over the world. He visited the religiously threatened — Jews, Christians and Muslims in the war-torn Middle East, the desperately poor in Africa, and the world’s youth gathered to meet him in Australia, Germany, and Spain. ... Pope Benedict often cited the significance of eternal truths and he warned of a dictatorship of relativism. Some values, such as human life, stand out above all others, he taught again and again. It is a message for eternity”…

E.U. to scrutinize products from Israeli settlements (Der Spiegel) Israeli settlers living in the Palestinian territories often deceptively give their products a “Made in Israel” label. The international community has never recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, the West Bank or other contested areas, and the Geneva Convention outlaws the establishment of settlements within occupied territories. Nevertheless, successive Israeli governments have allowed colonies to be built up within them and, today, some 650,000 Israeli settlers live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. This has prompted the European Union officials to move forward with planning that will put them on a confrontation course with Israel. At a meeting in December, the foreign ministers of the E.U.’s 27 member states reiterated their “commitment to ensure continued, full and effective implementation of existing European Union legislation and bilateral arrangements applicable to settlement products.” In other words, they intend to prohibit the sale of goods produced in the occupied territories — or at least as long as they are falsely labeled…

Palestinian landowners and Catholic convent challenge West Bank wall (Al Jazeera) A court in Israel is due to hear final arguments on the construction of a separation wall in a pristine valley in the West Bank. Lawyers representing Palestinian landowners and a convent say if the wall is built they will lose their land and the convent will be surrounded; over 50 families will be cut off from their property. In the embedded video, Al Jazeera’s Nicole Johnston reports from the Cremisan Valley in the Occupied West Bank. This news follows the announcement that Israel has approved 90 new settler homes in the West Bank…

Maronite patriarch prays for peace in Syria (Reuters) The head of Lebanon’s Maronite Church, Patriarch Bechara Peter, prayed in an old Damascus church on Saturday for an end to Syria’s civil war. The patriarch, whose church has 900,000 members in Lebanon — a quarter of the country’s population — is on the first visit to Syria by a Maronite patriarch since the independence of neighboring Lebanon in 1943. His visit comes at a time when Christians in the region feel under threat from the rise of political Islam. “[I pray] that the consciences of local, regional and international leaders are inspired to put an immediate end to the war in dear Syria ... and bring peace through dialogue,” he told dozens of worshippers inside the church. Lebanon’s Maronite leaders have had tense relations with Syria and led calls for an end to its military presence in Lebanon in 2005. But since the civil war flared, Christians have been uneasy about supporting rebels against Assad’s secular Baathists who ensured freedom of belief for minority faiths. Patriarch Bechara Peter himself has been careful not to be seen supporting either side in the Syrian conflict but has adopted a position close to Assad’s by saying reforms should not be imposed from outside…

Serbian patriarch prays that Serbs and Albanians will reconcile (b92) Serbian Orthodox Patriarch Irinej stated in Prizren on Thursday that he hopes that Serbs and Albanians “will reconcile soon and live together as brothers.” The patriarch celebrated the Divine Liturgy in the St. George Church in Prizren together with bishops and clergy of the Rasla-Prizren Diocese. The liturgy was attended by a few dozens of believers. Addressing them after the service, the Patriarch said that he came together with the bishops to encourage people to stay but also to get encouragement from them, as they were “brave people who remain and persevere in the territory of Kosovo and Metohija.” A regular session of the Serbian Orthodox Church Holy Synod and the Kosovo and Metohija Committee will be held in Prizren on Thursday, the Raska-Prizren Diocese released in a statement. This meeting will discuss the problems that the Church is facing in the territory of Kosovo and the measures that the Church should take in order to ensure better protection of people, holy sites and heritage…



Tags: Syrian Civil War Pope Benedict XVI Israeli-Palestinian conflict Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan

8 February 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro




Many churches in Ras al Ayn, Syria, have been vandalized as a result of the ongoing civil war. (photo: OCP Media Network)

Christian symbols under fire in Ras al Ayn, Syria (OCP) Seventy-five year old Constantine Junan, a native of Ras al Ayn, Syria, insisted he stay in his home even after ten weeks of intense fighting in the city. This week, he was finally forced out by rebels. The rebels came to him after midnight and threatened his life and the life of his son, Junan, who had stayed with his father as others fled the city. Constantine was convinced that the men were intending to kill him and his son unless he obeyed their orders. He asked them to allow him to stay until sunrise, promising to leave then. In the morning, Constantine and Junan went into the church to pray and to receive the blessings of St. Thomas from the icon there. They were very sad to see that many of the metal, wood and stone crosses inside the church were broken. Constantine knew that the rebels forced him to leave his hometown so that he would not be an eyewitness to what was to happen there in the coming period. Constantine left Ras al Ayn on 27th Sunday morning. The photos of churches were taken after the Kurdish forces were able to free the Street of Churches in Ras al Ayn from rebel control. These 38 attached photos express the current situation in the little town, and show the extent of damage done to Christian symbols at the hands of one group of rebels, namely the Suqoor Al-Sunna (which means “The Eagles of al Sunna”)…

Syria’s Druze minority increasingly supports opposition (Washington Post) Members of Syria’s Druze community, a small but significant religious minority, are joining the opposition in bigger numbers, ramping up pressure on the beleaguered government of President Bashar al Assad, according to opposition activists and rebel military commanders. As the Syrian conflict has devolved into a bloody sectarian war, with many Sunni Muslims backing the opposition, some of the country’s minorities, including the Druze and Christians, have largely sat on the sidelines. The Druze community in Syria only numbers around 700,000, out of a total population of some 21 million, and has a history of rebelling under authoritarian leaders, rising up during the rule of the Ottomans as well as the French. Although communities are scattered across the country, the bulk of the Druze, whose secretive religion is an offshoot of Islam, live in the mountainous region of southeast Syria. In the past couple of months, according to opposition activists, there have been more than half a dozen anti-government protests in Sweida province, the ancestral homeland of the Druze in the southeast that had remained relatively quiet since the uprising began nearly two years ago. And in mid-December, rebel fighters announced the formation of the first revolutionary military council for Sweida province. The council coordinated the most significant battle in the Druze region since the conflict began…

Maronite patriarch to celebrate St. Maroun Day in Tripoli (Daily Star Lebanon) Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter arrived Friday in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli to hold an afternoon Mass in celebration of St. Maroun’s Day. Upon the patriarch’s arrival around 3:30 p.m., church bells in the city tolled, welcoming the prelate as hundreds gathered to greet the head of the Maronite Church. Patriarch Bechara Peter, who was recently appointed cardinal by Pope Benedict XVI, held a private meeting with Tripoli’s bishops. The liturgy will be held at St. Maroun Church in the country’s second-largest city…

Cyprus gives Palestinians full diplomatic status (Daily Star Lebanon) Cyprus said on Friday it has upgraded its relations with the Palestinians to full diplomatic mission status, one of just eight European Union countries to do so. The decision was announced by Foreign Minister Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis during an official visit by Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al Malki. “I informed my Palestinian counterpart of the decision of the government to upgrade the status of the Palestinian diplomatic representation in Cyprus from that of a Diplomatic Mission to that of an Embassy of the State of Palestine,” Marcoullis told reporters. She said this “important decision” was in line with the recognition of the Palestinian State in 1988 by Cyprus, and follows seven other E.U. members that have recognized a Palestinian State — Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Malta, Poland, Romania and Slovakia…

Bombings across Iraq kill at least 26 (New York Times) A series of explosions across Iraq killed at least 26 people on Friday, continuing a spate of violence that has marked recent political turmoil and witnessed bombings now on seven consecutive Fridays. The bombings come amid worsening sectarian tensions, with Sunnis and others saying that Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al Maliki and his political bloc are seeking to monopolize power before provincial elections in April. In a bird market in Khadumiya north of Baghdad the Shiite majority city, twin car bombs exploded, killing 16 people killed and wounding 45 others, according to security and medical sources. That blasts fit the pattern of deadly attacks on markets on Fridays, when they are typically crowded with people…



Tags: Syria Iraq Syrian Civil War Violence against Christians Palestine





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