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Current Issue
September, 2018
Volume 44, Number 3
  
17 January 2014
J.D. Conor Mauro




Jewish settlers who lost land to Israeli army bulldozers reportedly take out their anger on Palestinians in West Bank. (video: Al Jazeera)

Coordination of Bishops Conferences’ voices support for Holy Land churches (Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem) “As Bishops from Europe, South Africa and North America we came to the Holy Land to pray with and support the Christian community and the cause of peace. In Gaza, we witnessed the deep poverty of the people, and the courageous presence of the small and vulnerable Christian communities there. Gaza is a man-made disaster, a shocking scandal, an injustice that cries out to the human community for a resolution. We call upon political leaders to improve the humanitarian situation of the people in Gaza, assuring access to the basic necessities for a dignified human life, the possibilities for economic development, and freedom of movement…”

Israel troops open fire on Gaza protesters (Daily Star Lebanon) The Israeli army fired live rounds and tear gas at protesters near the border fence in the Gaza Strip on Friday, wounding two Palestinians, medics and an AFP correspondent said.. Troops fired at some 300 demonstrators who were protesting against Israel’s destruction of farmland for its 300-yard buffer zone, the correspondent said. Two protesters were moderately wounded and taken to hospital, Gaza’s Hamas health ministry spokesman Ashraf al Qudra told AFP. Israel’s army was “unaware of the incident,” a spokeswoman said…

Syria proposes cease-fire in Aleppo (New York Times) The Syrian government on Friday proposed a cease-fire with rebel forces in the city of Aleppo and said it was willing to exchange detainee lists with the opposition to pave the way for a possible prisoner exchange. The proposals, which Walid al Moallem, the Syrian foreign minister, said he had given to Russia, appeared to be an effort by the government to show good faith days before an international peace conference is to be convened in Switzerland aimed at ending Syria’s civil war…

Egypt Islamists, police clash ahead of vote results (Daily Star Lebanon) At least one person was killed in clashes between Egyptian police and Islamists on Friday, as the country awaited results of a constitutional referendum billed as an endorsement of President Muhammad Morsi’s overthrow. Clashes between Mr. Morsi’s Islamist supporters and police armed with tear gas were reported in several cities, security officials said. One person was killed in fighting in Fayoum, a city southwest of Cairo, police said. His identity was not immediately clear…

Harsh anti-protest laws in Ukraine spur anger (Washington Post) Anger swept through the Ukrainian opposition Friday after a package of laws that would prohibit almost any type of street protest was rushed through parliament. The laws appear to borrow heavily from existing Russian legislation and seem to belie Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s declarations that he wants his country to build stronger ties with the European Union. Under the new laws, any organization receiving money from abroad — which, in Ukraine’s case, includes a huge number of groups including the Greek Catholic Church — must register as “foreign agents,” just as they must in Russia…

Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church web site hit by cyber attacks (RISU) The spokesman for the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, the Rev. Ihor Yatsiv, announced that the church’s official web site was hit by direct denial of service (DDoS) attacks. All attacks, as reported in the church’s Department of Information come from Rostelecom — the national telecommunications company in Russia.



Tags: Egypt Ukraine Syrian Civil War Holy Land Israeli-Palestinian conflict

16 January 2014
J.D. Conor Mauro




Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II casts his vote in Egypt’s constitutional referendum. (photo: The Coptic Orthodox Church)

Egypt approves new constitution, early results show (Christian Science Monitor) Egyptians who voted in a referendum overwhelmingly approved a new constitution, official sources said, citing early results of a ballot that could set the stage for army chief General Abdel Fattah al Sisi to declare his candidacy for president. About 90 percent of voters approved the constitution, the state news agency and a government official said…

Palestinians strive to keep hope alive in Holy Land (Vatican Radio) Fouad Twal, the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, told a visiting delegation of Catholic bishops from Europe, North America and South Africa that their pilgrimage to the Holy Land helps the local Church not to feel abandoned or forgotten by the international community. The Bishops conclude their five-day annual pilgrimage later on Thursday. On a visit to the Cremisan Valley, near Bethlehem, they met Palestinian families struggling to save their land from the separation wall threatening to upend their entire way of life…

Patriarch Gregory III appeals for a global campaign of prayer for peace in Syria (AsiaNews) Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregory III of Antioch has called on the faithful to pray for the success of the Geneva II Conference on peace in Syria, set to start in Montreux, Switzerland, on 22 January. In his appeal, the patriarch urged everyone to set aside a daily moment of prayer in churches, homes, and pastoral gatherings. “Let us pray for true reconciliation in Geneva II, among Syrians — and not just on security arrangements and humanitarian aid. Certainly, we greatly need this, but the key to the success of Geneva II is faith-based, human, cordial, national and truly Syrian reconciliation. As we thank the countries working for peace in Syria, we want their efforts to be so focused that peace be a Syrian peace…”

International donors pledge billions for war-ravaged Syria (Al Jazeera) International donors meeting in Kuwait pledged $2.4 billion in humanitarian aid for victims of the Syrian war, which the chief of the United Nations said Wednesday had left half the population in need of urgent help. Millions of Syrians have been driven from their homes as a result of the crisis, now in its third year. Getting aid to many of those in need remains a challenge because they are trapped in communities besieged by the fighting…

Chaldean Patriarchate opens clinic for Christians and Muslims in Baghdad (AsiaNews) Speaking about the spirit that led to the establishment of a medical clinic in Baghdad, Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael I said: “These projects and initiatives in the humanitarian field help spread a spirit of cooperation among all citizens. They also make it clear that Christians are true members of this country, who want to do good for everyone.” The clinic is open to Christians, Muslims and members of other religious faiths, without distinction or discrimination…



Tags: Egypt Holy Land Patriarch Fouad Twal Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael I Melkite Patriarch Gregory III of Antioch

15 January 2014
J.D. Conor Mauro




In this 7 January photo, a carries a wounded girl who survived what activists say was an airstrike by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al Assad in Damascus. (photo: CNS/Bassam Khabieh, Reuters)

Appeal for an immediate ceasefire in Syria (VIS) The Pontifical Academy for Sciences held a workshop in the Vatican yesterday on the civil war in Syria, in which an appeal was made for an immediate end to violence and the commencement of reconstruction and dialogue between the various communities within the country. Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, led the meeting, which took place a week before the upcoming Geneva Peace Conference…

Syria conflict: Half population urgently needs aid (BBC) United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon says that half of Syria’s population, some 9.3 million people, now “urgently need humanitarian aid.” About 6.5 million people are now displaced inside Syria. More than 2.3 million have registered as refugees across the region, many living in camps, barely coping…

Palestinians rally for besieged brethren in Syria’s Yarmouk camp (Christian Science Monitor) The death of at least 28 starving Palestinians in Syria’s Yarmouk refugee camp has sparked protests across the Middle East. Fellow Palestinians are calling on the international community and the Palestine Liberation Organization to help end a siege imposed by the Syrian army last summer, after the camp became a hub for rebel fighters from the Free Syrian Army and extremist Islamist groups. Before the Syrian war began, Yarmouk was home to some 150,000 registered Palestinian refugees, making it the largest Palestinian camp in Syria. Very little food or other aid has been permitted in Yarmouk since the siege began in July…

Bishops at Bethlehem University: An oasis of peace (Vatican Radio) Visiting Bethlehem University as part of their pilgrimage to the Holy Land, bishops from North America, Europe and South Africa encountered hope and enthusiasm for Pope Francis’ upcoming visit from students at Bethlehem University…

Egyptian constitutional referendum goes into second day (Washington Post) Egyptians headed to the polls Wednesday for a second day of voting in a referendum on a new army-backed constitution, despite deadly violence on the first day of polling Tuesday, in which 11 people were killed and a Cairo-area courthouse was damaged in an early-morning bomb attack…

Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church will remain faithful to mission despite threats (Vatican Radio) The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church has released the full text, in English, of Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk’s response to the letter from the Ministry of Culture of Ukraine “concerning possible grounds for terminating the activity of the religious organizations of the U.G.C.C.” The letter from the Ministry of Culture involved a threat to rescind the church’s legal status, alleging that Ukrainian Greek Catholic priests had violated the law by taking part in the demonstrations in Maidan Square in Kiev…



Tags: Egypt Syrian Civil War Refugee Camps Bethlehem University Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk

14 January 2014
J.D. Conor Mauro




Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych, leader of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, center, celebrates the Divine Liturgy at Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ in Kiev on 8 December during the beginning of the Ukrainian Synod of Bishops. (photo: CNS/courtesy Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church)

Ukrainian major archbishop responds to government threat (Vatican Radio) The head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych, responded on Monday to a letter from the government threatening to rescind the legal status of the U.G.C.C. The government’s threat appears to be an attempt to pressure the church because of its pastoral support of Ukrainians taking part in protests against the government. In a press conference, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav said that the church is not directly involved in the political process. He insisted, though, that it cannot stand aside when its faithful ask for spiritual care…

Pope Francis establishes diocese for Australia’s Indian Catholics (The Tablet) Pope Francis has established a diocese in Australia for the country’s 35,000 Syro-Malabar Catholics. Indian-born Bishop Bosco Puthur, who also has been named apostolic visitor for Syro-Malabar Catholics in New Zealand, will lead the eparchy. The Eparchy of St. Thomas the Apostle of Melbourne is Australia’s fifth Eastern-rite Catholic eparchy. Others have been established in Australia to serve Ukrainians, Maronites, who hail from Lebanon, the Damascus-based Melkites, and Chaldeans, whose patriarch is based in Baghdad…

Holy Land: uncertain future for migrants and refugees (Vatican Radio) The second day of a pilgrimage to the Holy Land by a delegation of Catholic bishops from Europe, North America and South Africa saw them celebrating Mass in Gaza, talking with Western embassy officials in Tel Aviv and meeting religious sisters involved in pastoral care of Christian migrants and asylum seekers. The bishops tour the Holy Land every January to show solidarity with Christians living in the land where Jesus was born, carried out his ministry and met his death. “Even a modern city like Tel Aviv has its hidden underbelly of poverty and deprivation,” reports Susy Hodges with Vatican Radio, “and a sizeable proportion of those living in these poorer neighborhoods are migrants or asylum seekers. Many of these people come from the Horn of Africa area, the Philippines, India and Sri Lanka and they include many Christians…”

Syria food crisis worsens as clashes continue (Al Jazeera) The United Nations’ World Food Program delivered rations to a record 3.8 million people in Syria in December, but civilians in eastern provinces and besieged towns near the capital remain out of reach, a spokeswoman said Tuesday. The W.F.P. expressed concern at reports of malnutrition in areas where fighting between government forces and rebel groups has entrapped civilians. The agency said children were especially vulnerable to starvation as the country’s three-year-old civil war drags on…

Syrian women demand voice at peace talks (Al Jazeera) A proper democracy cannot be established without the participation of women. Such is the message of Syrian women’s rights activists who concluded a two-day conference in Geneva on Monday to demand equal involvement in their country’s peace-building process, which has so far mostly included men. The activists on Monday asked the United Nations, which is brokering peace talks set to begin in Geneva on 22 January, to allow them to send women representatives. They also asked the international body to appoint a gender adviser to defend women’s voices at the negotiating table…

Egypt fears Ethiopia Renaissance Dam threatens water supply (Al Monitor) Each year on 9 January, Egyptians celebrate the anniversary of the 1960 construction of the Aswan Dam, during the reign of late President Gamal Abdel Nasser. But this year’s 54th anniversary was quite different, tinged with fear about the dangerous effects that the Ethiopian Renaissance Dam — slated for construction on the Blue Nile — would have on the operations of the Aswan. The latter might be put out of commission for up to two years. The various warnings by experts about the dangers of the new Ethiopian dam have begun to cause panic among Egyptians, to the point that many believe the Aswan Dam will collapse once the Renaissance is completed…



Tags: Syria Syro-Malabar Catholic Church Migrants Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk Australia

13 January 2014
J.D. Conor Mauro




Syrian residents sit along a road near Damascus after fleeing their homes following clashes between opposition fighters and government forces on 30 December. (photo CNS/SANA via Reuters)

Syriac Orthodox priest: Young Christians flee Qamishli (Fides) “The exodus from the city is in full swing. Every day individuals and families in our community flee, especially young people, who are our hope and our future,” says the Rev. Yousef Abdulmasih. “Our town,” he said, referring to Qamishli, in the northeastern Syrian province of Jazira, “will become a city of old people…”

Pope’s Holy Land trip said to encounter political challenges (ANSAmed) Problems are emerging concerning the trip Pope Francis is scheduled to take to the Holy Land in May, according to a Palestinian official. Israeli media had recently criticized the fact that the pontiff’s visit to Israel was short and that the main ceremony, the final mass, has been scheduled in Bethlehem, in Palestinian territory. And the Custodian of the Holy Land, Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, had stressed after the announcement of the pontiff’s visit that “preparations will start with many discussions on protocol…”

Pope to diplomats: create a culture of dialogue and encounter (Vatican Radio) Dialogue, diplomacy and respect for human dignity must be the key to resolving national and international conflicts, the pope stressed in a speech delivered to the more than 180 ambassadors accredited to the Holy See, who gathered on Monday for the traditional New Year greetings to the diplomatic corps…

New pro-E.U. protests in Ukraine (Vatican Radio) Witnesses say at least 50,000 opponents of Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovich and his government rallied in central Kiev on Sunday, following earlier violent confrontations with riot police. The latest rally was an attempt to revive the pro-European Union protest movement after a Christmas and New Year break. Ukrainians continued the massive street protests in Kiev’s Maidan Square…

He bled for Egypt’s revolution, but now says ‘it’s over’ (Christian Science Monitor) Abdalla Kamal, who stood up to Hosni Mubark and to the military, and took a bullet for the revolution, says he’s done with political activism. Three years since the Mubarak dictatorship fell, the great hopes of the revolutionary moment have been dashed. What was seen as the first step toward democracy in the Arab world’s largest country has instead led toward military coup, political chaos, and extreme polarization…

A Muslim Sister determined to struggle on (Christian Science Monitor) Revolution has permeated Layla’s life since she sat down for the entrance exam that secured her a place at Al Azhar University. That was on 25 January 2011, the day protests against Mubarak broke out. In the three years since, the 19-year-old has become entangled in politics while studying at the ancient Islamic university. Today, she’s a central figure in the pro-Morsi protests on campus. She has lost 10 friends to violence since Egypt’s coup in July 2013. Most of them died on 14 August, when soldiers and riot police killed nearly a thousand Morsi supporters at Cairo’s Rabaa al Adaweya Square. But she is determined to carry on. “I know that this is a fight we can win. Otherwise, I’d never have started in the first place…”



Tags: Egypt Pope Francis Ukraine Syrian Civil War Youth

10 January 2014
J.D. Conor Mauro




A Syrian refugee carries boxes of aid at Zaatari refugee camp in Mafraq, Jordan, on 31 December. (photo: CNS/Muhammad Hamed, Reuters)

Israeli youths help Syrians fight winter chills (Christian Science Monitor) After an unusually severe winter storm moved through the Middle East last month, leading to the deaths of 27 Syrian children, Israeli youths decided to extend a hand. Teens from one of the country’s largest youth movements have mobilized in 650 communities to collect blankets, coats and sleeping bags for their shivering Syrian neighbors, despite the political tensions between the two countries. Gal Lusky of Israel Flying Aid, a veteran humanitarian worker who helped organize the campaign, says it’s the most inspiring effort in which she’s participated…

Israel plans 1,400 new settlements: A blow to peace talks? (Christian Science Monitor) Israel on Friday announced plans to build 1,400 new homes in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, days after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visited the region to push peace talks in which settlements represent a major hurdle. Although widely expected, the announcement angered some of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s own coalition partners and infuriated the Palestinians, who accused Israel of seeking to derail the peace negotiations…

U.S. considers resuming nonlethal aid to Syrian opposition (New York Times) The Obama administration is considering the resumption of nonlethal military aid to Syria’s moderate opposition, senior administration officials said on Thursday, even if some of it ends up going to the Islamist groups that are allied with the moderates. The United States suspended the shipments last month after warehouses of equipment were seized by the Islamic Front, a coalition of Islamist fighters that broke with the American-backed Free Syrian Army and has become an increasingly vital force in the nearly three-year-old uprising against President Bashar al Assad. But as a result of the rapidly shifting alliances within Syria’s fractured opposition, some of the Islamists fought alongside the Free Syrian Army in a battle against a major rebel group affiliated with Al Qaeda, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria…

Ayatollah al Sistani: Violence against Christians threatens the whole country (Fides) The spiritual leader of Iraqi Shiites has expressed full solidarity with Iraqi Christians, stating that violence against Christians in Iraq represents a loss for the entire country. The ayatollah insisted that it is essential to preserve the presence of the indigenous Christian communities in Iraq…

Syriac and Armenian recognized as official languages of Iraq (Fides) The Iraqi government has recognized Syriac and Armenian among the official languages of the country, along with the language spoken by the Turkmens. The House of Representatives passed the Official Languages Act on Tuesday, 7 January. It is the fruit of ten years’ effort, finally enshrined as a basic right guaranteed by the constitution. To date, the only official languages recognized were Arabic and Kurdish…



Tags: Iraq Refugees Syrian Civil War Iraqi Christians Israeli-Palestinian conflict

9 January 2014
J.D. Conor Mauro




Ukrainian demonstrators who favor joining the European Union receive hot food near Independence Square in Kiev on 27 December. Ukrainian opposition leaders urged supporters to stay in Kiev’s main square through the New Year, as street protests appeared to be losing momentum. (photo: CNS/Gleb Garanich, Reuters)

Battle of Orthodox patriarchs: Ukraine’s Filaret denounces Russia’s Kirill (Kiev Post) Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill has decried the Maidan Square demonstrations as a threat to the spiritual unity of Ukrainians and Russians. Patriarch Filaret of Kiev and all Rus-Ukraine disagrees. “If we take the idea that Kirill defends — Rusky Mir [“Russian World”] — it is not unity; it is empire wrapped in a nice package. In fact, it is about creating a new empire. The Customs Union is the beginning,” said Patriarch Filaret, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s revival of an economic and political union of former Soviet republics including Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus and Armenia. Putin also hopes to include Ukraine, the second-largest former Soviet republic, in the grouping. The patriarch added: “The truth is to practice the Orthodox faith, and each nation will have its own independent church, as required by the canons of the church…”

Sisi cheered at Coptic Christmas liturgy in Egypt (ANSAmed) Armed forces chief Abdel Fattah al Sisi scored a major victory at the Christmas liturgy in Cairo’s Abassaiya Orthodox Cathedral on Tuesday. Though absent for security reasons, the defense minister leading the country’s new phase received wild cheers after Pope Tawadros II mentioned his name among those who had sent messages of well wishes to Christians celebrating the festivity, Al Ahram online reported Tuesday…

In Egypt, many shrug as freedoms disappear (Washington Post) The charges are often vague. The evidence is elusive. Arrests occur swiftly, and the convictions follow. And there is little transparency in what analysts have called the harshest political crackdown in Egypt in decades. But many Egyptians say they are all right with that. There is a growing sense here in the Arab world’s largest country that the best path to stability — after three years of political turmoil — might be to do things the military’s way: crush the Islamists who made people angry enough to support a coup, silence dissent and ask very few questions…

Holy Land: in the footsteps of Paul VI (Vatican Radio) On Sunday, 5 January, Pope Francis specified how the main purpose of his forthcoming pilgrimage to the Holy Land from 24-26 May is to commemorate the historic meeting between Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I of Constantinople 50 years ago. Pope Paul VI, referred to as “pilgrim pope,” took many such steps to bring the papacy to the people — and, convinced that all roads no longer led to Rome, he became the first pope ever to board an airplane. Less than a year into his pontificate, Paul VI became the first pope to return to the Holy land after St. Peter himself…

Stretched thin, Syrian extremists are pressured (Washington Post) Just a week ago, Al Qaeda-linked rebels in Syria enjoyed an arc of dominance across the country’s north and east, ruling with brutality. But a series of stunning reversals in recent days has made clear that the militant group may be more vulnerable than it seemed, in part because its frequent kidnappings and attacks on fellow rebels have won it few allies. By Tuesday, the group, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, appeared increasingly desperate, with its fighters pushed out of some towns and turning to suicide bombings in a bid to hold on to pockets of Raqqa, the large north-central city that was its stronghold…



Tags: Egypt Pope Francis Middle East Christians Syrian Civil War Ukrainian Orthodox Church

8 January 2014
J.D. Conor Mauro




A Roma family sit in the living room of their house in Hodász, Hungary. Many homes in this neighborhood have no running water, leaving their residents to transport water from public water sources. (photo: Balazs Gardi)

The plight of the Roma: Europe’s unwanted people (Der Spiegel) Some 10 to 12 million Roma live in Europe — more than the population of Austria — and the roots of this population stretch back over 1,000 years. The Roma have also been ostracized, persecuted and suppressed as gypsies for centuries, including the murder of hundreds of thousands of Roma at the hands of the Nazis. The Roma are Europe’s biggest minority, and remain the continent’s unwanted people. Now, tens of thousands of them are fleeing westwards from poverty and discrimination in the countries of southeastern Europe. But European Union member states are failing to help them…

Ethiopian migrants expelled by Saudis remain in limbo back home (New York Times) For decades, rich Arab countries in the Middle East have been a major destination for migrant workers from developing nations. Deportations had happened before, but the scale of the recent expulsions from Saudi Arabia is virtually unheard of, the labor organization said. About 150,000 Ethiopians have been forced out of the country. Their expulsion puts the Ethiopian government under strain because the remittances they sent had greatly contributed to the country, which has one of the world’s fastest-growing economies but is still very poor…

The Syria effect: Lebanese Sunnis begin to strap on bombs (Christian Science Monitor) Lebanon’s moderate Sunni community is radicalizing, as shown by last week’s suicide bombing in Beirut. When Qutaiba Satem, a 19-year-old engineering student, drove an explosives-laden car into a Shiite suburb of Beirut last week and blew himself up, he became the first Lebanese Sunni to commit an apparently sectarian-driven suicide bombing against Shiite civilians in Lebanon…

ISIL: An Al-Qaeda challenge in Syria and Iraq (Al Jazeera) The common link between the upsurge of fighting this week in the western Iraqi cities of Fallujah and Ramadi, and also in rebel-held parts of northern Syria, is the Al Qaeda affiliate known by the acronym ISIL (or often, ISIS) — the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. And in a sign of the complexity of the violent power struggles in both countries, ISIL is being confronted not only by its prime enemy in each country — the regime of President Bashar al Assad in Syria, and the government of Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki — but also by rival anti-Assad and anti-Maliki forces…

Egypt’s Copts celebrate Christmas amid political uncertainty (Al Jazeera) Last year’s Coptic Christmas saw the Muslim Brotherhood in power and its political party send envoys to wish Egypt’s long-embattled Christian minority well. This year’s Christmas, on Tuesday, found worshipers raucously cheering General Abdel Fattah al Sisi, the military leader who overthrew the Brotherhood-backed President Mohamed Morsi in July. The Brotherhood has been smashed and Morsi is behind bars, a wave of anti-Christian violence has at least temporarily abated, a new constitution is being drafted, and the Coptic community is breathing a tentative sigh of relief…



Tags: Ethiopia Syrian Civil War Migrants Immigration Roma

7 January 2014
Greg Kandra




A boy in a live Nativity scene carries a dog as Pope Francis visits the display at the Church of St. Alfonso Maria dei Liguori in Rome on 6 January. Orthodox Christians who follow the Julian calendar are celebrating Christmas on 7 January. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)

Millions celebrate Orthodox Christmas (RT.com) Millions of Orthodox Christians across the globe are celebrating Christmas on Tuesday with one of the most revered Christian relics: the Gifts of the Wise Men, brought to Moscow after leaving Greece for the first time in more than 500 years. 7 January is Christmas Day for Russian Christians, the Jerusalem Orthodox Church, the Serbian Orthodox Church, the Georgian Orthodox Church, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, as well as for some Protestants who use the Julian calendar. According to the Julian calendar, the holidays come 13 days after the Christmas festivities in the Catholic Church. One of the most important Christian relics, the Gifts of the Wise Men to the newborn Jesus, were delivered from Thessaloniki to Moscow on the eve of the Orthodox Christmas. The holy Gifts have left the Agiou Pavlou (St. Paul’s) monastery on Mount Athos for the first time since the 15th Century. The sacred relics brought from Greece are to be displayed in the Russian capital until 13 January. At present they are drawing queues of five hours...

Latin Patriarch hopes pope’s visit will be a “cry for peace” (Catholic News Service) Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal of Jerusalem welcomed the announcement of Pope Francis’ May visit to the Holy Land and said he hopes the pilgrimage will be a “cry for peace,” particularly for Palestinians, Israelis, Syrians and others beset by conflict...

Russia ramps up security in Sochi (Vatican Radio) Russia says it has launched one of the biggest security operations in Olympic history, after two suicide attacks killed dozens of people. The announcement comes a month before the start of the Winter Olympic Games in the Black Sea resort of Sochi. Russian authorities say they are deploying more than 30,000 police and interior ministry troops and limiting access to the Black Sea resort of Sochi. Yet, protecting the expected thousands of athletes and spectators at a time of suicide bombings in the country has become a major challenge, officials acknowledged...

Syrian rebels battling for control of key city (Los Angeles Times) Syrian rebel groups battled one another Monday for control of a provincial capital, part of a vicious round of score settling targeting an Al Qaeda affiliate that gained stature fighting President Bashar Assad but alienated many by imposing strict Islamic law. Fighting for control of Raqqah followed several days of heavy clashes in rebel-held territory farther west in which disparate militias advanced against fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. In March, Raqqah was the first major Syrian city to fall completely to rebel forces, and it has been one of the main bases of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

Why Christians are crucial to the Middle East (National Catholic Register) Thomas Farr is the director of the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center and a visiting associate professor of religion and international affairs at Georgetown’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service. A former American diplomat, he is a leading authority on international religious freedom. In December, the Religious Freedom Project hosted a Rome-based conference titled “Christianity and Freedom: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives.” “From Cairo and Damascus to Tehran and Beijing, religious freedom is under siege. Ironically, it is Christianity — a faith that contributed decisively to the rise of religious liberty — that now finds itself increasingly persecuted around the world,” the conference organizers noted. On 30 December, Farr offered further reflections on the reasons for the sharp rise in anti-Christian violence in the Middle East and the West’s failure to intervene...



Tags: Pope Francis Middle East Christians Syrian Civil War Russia Patriarch Fouad Twal

6 January 2014
J.D. Conor Mauro




Syrian refugees drink tea as they sit in front of their tents at Zaatari refugee camp in Mafraq, Jordan, on 31 December. Pope Francis will dine with Syrian refugees during his 24 May visit to Jordan on a trip that also will include Israel and the Palestinian territories. (photo: CNS/Muhammad Hamed, Reuters)

Pope to visit Middle East, meet Orthodox leader (Voice of America) Pope Francis is to visit biblical sites in Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Territories in May, his first trip to the Christian Holy Land as pontiff and only the fourth by a pope since biblical times. The 24-26 May trip to Amman, Jerusalem and Bethlehem will mark the 50th anniversary of a historic trip to the region by Pope Paul VI. Pope John Paul II visited in 2000 and Pope Benedict XVI went in 2009. Apart from its significance for Catholic relations with Jews and Muslims, Pope Francis’ trip will hold major importance for relations among Christians because it will include a meeting in Jerusalem with the spiritual head of the world’s Orthodox Christians, as well as Anglican and Protestant leaders…

Bishop William Shomali on pope’s visit to Holy Land (Vatican Radio) The auxiliary bishop of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, William Shomali, told Vatican Radio that expectations are high for the pope’s planned visit. “Christians, Jews and Muslims [in the Holy Land] are counting on this visit to intensify the ecumenical and the interreligious relationships,” he said. You can listen to a recording of the bishop’s remarks at the bottom of the article…

Thousands march for refugee rights in Israel (Al Jazeera) Tens of thousands of African asylum seekers and their supporters continued a three-day protest Monday on the streets of Tel Aviv demanding that the Israeli government recognize their refugee status and end the policy of detention without trial. “More than 30,000 demonstrators marched peacefully,” police spokeswoman Lubra Samri said when the protest began on Sunday, which would make the action the largest such rally by migrants in Israel’s history. The protest comes after a December mass walkout from a detention facility by hundreds of asylum seekers who are detained there during the night and barred from seeking work during the day. Those caught breaking the strict rules risk arrest and confinement in a closed prison…

Fire of extremism devours decades-old library in Lebanon (Middle East Online) A decades-old library owned by a Greek Orthodox priest in north Lebanon’s majority Sunni city of Tripoli was torched late Friday, a day after a sectarian scuffle, a security source said. “Unknown assailants torched the Saeh Library in Tripoli, destroying two-thirds of some 80,000 books and manuscripts housed there,” said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The attack came a day after “a pamphlet was discovered inside one of the books at the library that was insulting to Islam and the prophet Mohammad,” said the source…

Egypt’s interim president visits Coptic pope (Independent) On Sunday, Egypt’s interim president on Sunday made a rare visit to see the pontiff of the nation’s Orthodox Christians at St. Mark’s Cathedral, the papal seat in central Cairo, according to a brief statement by the church. The highly symbolic visit to Pope Tawadros II by President Adly Mansour was made ahead of Coptic Christmas, which falls on Tuesday, 7 January. On his part, Pope Tawadros had taken the unusual step of publicly criticizing the president, rejecting an Islamist-tilted constitution adopted in 2012 that, in his view, was discriminatory and compromised the human rights of Egyptians…



Tags: Pope Francis Refugees Middle East Violence against Christians Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II





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