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September, 2017
Volume 43, Number 3
  
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

7 February 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro




His Beatitude Louis Raphael I of Kirkuk, newly elected patriarch of the Chaldean Church, is seen during a liturgy in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican on 4 February.(photo: CNS/Paul Haring)

Chaldean patriarch interview: On forming a ‘bridge’ of interreligious dialogue (AsiaNews) The Chaldean Church must remain a “bridge” to promote and strengthen the dialogue between Christians and Muslims in Iraq, between citizens of different ethnic groups as well as between institutions and politics. This is Pope Benedict XVI’s invitation to the new Chaldean patriarch, as told in a lengthy interview with AsiaNews. Mar Louis Raphael I was appointed on 31 January to succeed Cardinal Emmanuel Delly III, who resigned for reasons of age. Patriarch Louis Raphael I confirms that his goals will be “unity and cooperation” between the Chaldean bishops, the necessary condition to find a point of contact and dialogue with Iraqi leaders, both religious and political…

Relations strained between Orthodox and Greek Catholics in Ukraine (InterFax) The Russian Orthodox Church does not entirely share the optimism of the Vatican’s representative to Russia, Archbishop Ivan Yurkovich, about improving relations between Orthodox believers and Eastern Catholics in Ukraine. “In many ways, we managed to overcome difficulties in relations between Orthodox and Greek-Catholics in Ukraine that existed in early 1990-s, but we have to accept that today we face new challenges,” said Archpriest Dimitry Sizonenko, secretary for inter-Christian relations of the Synodal Department for External Church Relations. According to the apostolic nuncio, “those difficulties of the early 90’s today have been overcome in many ways and today there are many contacts, especially of personal and informal character, between the two Churches.” The Moscow Patriarchate representative says that the primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church “is concerned with the attempts of the Greek Catholic Church to set up and develop its structures in regions where Orthodox believers make a majority”…

Egyptian opposition grows more radical with emergence of ‘Black Bloc’ (Der Spiegel) Protests against Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood are becoming increasingly violent. One factor behind this is the founding of the “Black Bloc,” a loosely organized group of activists that is not afraid to clash with the government. “The media represents us as thugs,” says one. “They say we’re killing policemen and setting the country on fire, but we are just defending ourselves. The real aggressor is sitting in the presidential palace.” Violence is increasing in the capital, but also in Alexandria, and everywhere else President Mohammed Morsi declared a state of emergency on Sunday of last week: Ismailia, Suez and Port Said. More than 60 people have been killed since 24 January, and hundreds have been injured. Supporters of the deposed regime of Hosni Mubarak have reportedly mixed in with the masked men, government officials claim. Others accuse the government itself of being behind the Black Bloc, using it as a tool to discredit the opposition. But many demonstrators say the organization is simply an answer to the violence exercised by the Muslim Brotherhood and its thugs…

Ecumenical leaders call for immigration reform (U.S.C.C.B.) Christian leaders representing the breadth of Christian churches and denominations in the United States issued a strong and urgent call on 1 February for fundamental immigration reform. The annual meeting of Christian Churches Together (C.C.T.) released this statement at the close of their four-day gathering in Austin, Texas. Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin hosted the meeting and presided over the opening worship service at Saint Mary’s Cathedral. The C.C.T. meeting, planned a year ago, focused on the challenge of immigration reform, hearing from a variety of immigrants and experts on immigration issues. Its statement comes as the nation’s political leadership has turned its attention to this challenge. “Each day in our congregations and communities, we bear witness to the effects of a system that continues the separation of families and the exploitation, abuse, and deaths of migrants. This suffering must end,” the statement said…

Report describes child sexual abuse in India ‘rampant’ (New York Times) Child sexual abuse continues to be “disturbingly common” in India, despite widespread awareness of the problem, because of “social stigma and negligence,” Human Rights Watch said in a report issued Thursday. In interviews with more than 100 people, including victims and their families, lawyers, counselors and police officials, the rights group found that the police, government officials and doctors were unprepared to deal with child sexual abuse cases, and in fact often made the situation worse. Most cases go unreported, and when children do report abuse, the government and police reaction is inadequate, the report said. “The process is so traumatic that in some cases the children are better off not reporting” abuse, Meenakshi Ganguly, the director of Human Rights Watch in South Asia, said in an interview. Only 3 percent of child abuse cases in India are reported to the police, a 2007 study found…

Egyptians protest against sexual violence (Al Jazeera) Thousands of men and women have marched in Egypt against the sexual harassment of female protesters. More than 20 women were sexually assaulted last month during the second anniversary of the so-called “Arab Spring” protests that led to the downfall of Hosni Mubarak, former president. But sexual violence is nothing new in Egypt, one study estimates that more than 80 percent of women have experienced it at least once…



Tags: India Egypt Ukraine Children Ecumenism

6 February 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro




In this November photo, Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria, patriarch of Egypt's Coptic Orthodox Church, conducts an interview at the Wadi Natrun Monastery in Cairo. (photo: CNS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany, Reuters)

Interview: Egypt’s Coptic pope criticizes Islamists (AP) Egypt’s Coptic patriarch delivered a cautious but unusually sharp criticism of the nation’s Islamist leadership in an interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday, dismissing the new constitution as discriminatory and rounds of national dialogues sponsored by the president as meaningless. Pope Tawadros II’s dive into politics came as he tried to energize the spiritual solidarity of a demoralized community with a visit to a historic monastery that no Coptic pontiff has been to in decades because of security tensions in southern Egypt. He joined the black-robed monks in a two-hour pre-dawn prayer at the ancient Virgin Mary chapel in the al Muharraq monastery, said to be on a site where the Virgin Mary took refuge with Jesus and her husband Joseph from Roman persecution. Tawadros has taken an unusually vocal political activist stance since being enthroned in November as the spiritual leader of the Copts, the main community of Egypt’s Christians…

Bulgaria stands by accusations that Hezbollah is behind bombing (Daily Star Lebanon) Bulgaria’s foreign minister defended himself Wednesday against accusations that Sofia lacked the proof to blame Hezbollah for a July bomb attack that killed five Israeli tourists and a Bulgarian. “If Bulgaria did not have enough arguments to announce yesterday that the traces in this attack lead to Hezbollah’s military wing, we would not have done it,” Nikolay Mladenov said on BNT television. Nearly seven months after the bombing of an Israeli tourist bus at the Black Sea airport of Burgas, Sofia on Tuesday had said two Canadian and Australia passport-holders with links to Hezbollah were to blame. This led to renewed calls from the United States, Israel and Canada on the European Union to designate Hezbollah as a “terrorist” organization…

Cairo activists fighting tear gas with tear gas (New York Times) As hundreds fled the advancing armored cars of riot police officers, Mohamed Mokbel ran forward. A veteran of two years of violent street protests, he pulled on his gas mask and charred protective gloves for another long night at his current vocation: throwing tear-gas canisters back at the riot police. “Whenever people lose hope, the clashes grow worse,” Mr. Mokbel, 30, said on a break from the fighting on Friday night outside the presidential palace. “But the people in power are still acting like there is no crisis, still firing more gas,” he said, “so I am going back in.” Two years after the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak, waves of increasingly violent street protests have decimated tourism, slashed foreign investment, increased poverty and dashed hopes of a return to stability. In the last two weeks, more than 50 people have died in the clashes…

Christians of Syria protest kidnappings (Fides) In the province of Jazira, in Syria, the exponential increase in kidnappings — side effect of the Syrian conflict — continues to flog the civilian population even in areas not affected by the fighting between rebels and government troops. Most recently, a Christian pharmacist was kidnapped last Sunday for a ransom of one million Syrian pounds (almost €11,000 euro, or $14,000 U.S. dollars). On Friday, dozens of Christians improvised a roadblock burning tires at an intersection in the city of Hassake to protest against the kidnapping of the rector of the Euphrates University, who was taken in broad daylight by gunmen and released after two hours. In his case, the kidnapping was not inspired by financial reasons, but issues related to the functioning of the university — indicating that now one resorts to criminal practice of kidnapping to resolve conflicts with the abuse of personal and social interest…

Syrian rebels fight close to heart of Damascus (Reuters) Syrian rebels battled Bashar al Assad’s forces on the edge of central Damascus on Wednesday, opposition activists said, seeking to break his grip over districts leading to the heart of the capital. Their offensive aims to break a stalemate in the city of two million people, where artillery and air strikes have prevented opposition fighters entrenched to the east from advancing despite their capture of army fortifications, the activists said. “We have moved the battle to Jobar,” said Captain Islam Alloush of the rebel Islam Brigade, referring to a district which links rebel strongholds in the eastern suburbs with the central Abbasid Square. “The heaviest fighting is taking place in Jobar because it is the key to the heart of Damascus.” Assad, battling to crush a 22-month-old uprising in which 60,000 people have died, has lost control of large parts of the country but his forces, backed by air power, have so far kept rebels on the fringes of the capital…



Tags: Syria Egypt Syrian Civil War Coptic Orthodox Church Bulgaria

5 February 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro




His Beatitude Mar Louis Raphael, newly elected patriarch of the Chaldean Church, left, accepts a document from Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, during a 4 February liturgy in St. Peter's Basilica confirming the patriarch's ecclesial communion with the pope. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)

Syrian bishop optimistic about new Chaldean patriarch (EWTN) A Syrian bishop is happy with the election of His Beatitude Mar Louis Raphael Sako I as patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church, as he believes his experience at building dialogue in Iraq could save the lives of many Christians. “He is young and involved in conversations with Muslims so we hope we can achieve this in Syria, too,” said Bishop Antoine Audo, the head of the Diocese of Aleppo in northern Syria. “He knows the situation very well because he was the Archbishop of the Iraqi town Kirkuk for 10 years,” Bishop Audo explained. “But here we will be in communion not just with Muslims, but with all other Christian denominations and everyone around us.” Patriarch Sako told Vatican Radio that Kirkuk does not have any problems with Muslims, and in several mosques imams speak well of Christians for their role in bridging the divide…

Bulgarian Orthodox Church will reveal new patriarch late this month (Novinite) The Bulgarian Orthodox Church will announce its new patriarch on 24 February, local clerics confirmed on Monday. An election of delegates who will elect the church’s new patriarch was held in January. The delegates will convene on 24 February to elect Bulgaria’s new patriarch, out of the three candidacies proposed by the Holy Synod one week ahead. Bulgarian Orthodox Church long-serving Patriarch Maxim passed away of old age on 6 November 2012…

Exploitation, abuse and hard labor for 50,000 children in Jordan (Fides) In Jordan, because of poverty, many children are forced to work to survive. According to the latest census, Jordan has a workforce of 1.2 million, including 33,000 children. Other figures say that there are more than 50,000 young workers. The reports by activists for the protection of human rights and trade unions reported physical, psychological and sexual abuse, as well as inhuman working conditions, such as very tiring and long, underpaid days. The National Center of Forensic Medicine does not officially confirm cases of child victims of abuse in the workplace or make public any figures related to the phenomenon. However, a study conducted by an international expert confirms that 15% of all cases of sexual abuse of children under 18 are connected with the sexual exploitation of children at work or prostitution of girls. Jordanian law is in conformity with international conventions on child labor, which include fines and imprisonment. However, in practice, these laws are often inadequately enforced…

Ethiopian journalist arrested for coverage of Muslim protests (Committee to Protect Journalists) Ethiopian security forces have detained for two weeks without charge the editor of a news magazine and accused him of incitement to terrorism, according to local journalists. The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on authorities to release Solomon Kebede immediately and halt their harassment of journalists affiliated with the weekly Ye Muslimoch Guday (”Muslim Affairs”). Police in Addis Ababa arrested Kebede on 17 January and took him to the Maekelawi federal detention center. Solomon’s health is in poor condition and he has been held without access to a lawyer, the journalists said. A court date has been set for 13 February. Local journalists told CPJ they believed the arrest was linked to Solomon’s columns that had criticized perceived government intrusion in religious affairs…

Combat flares up in Aleppo (Daily Star Lebanon) Fierce battles erupted Tuesday in the city of Aleppo, a northern Syria battleground for the past six months, as rebels fought troops near an army barracks and tanks shelled the area, activists said. In the countryside surrounding Aleppo, once Syria’s thriving commercial capital but now ravaged by war, troops also shelled the rebel-held towns of al Bab and Sfeira, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. “Battles pitting rebels against troops broke out at dawn Tuesday … near the Mahlab army barracks [in Aleppo] … while army tanks shelled the area. Both sides have sustained casualties,” said the Observatory, which relies on a broad network of activists, doctors and lawyers for its information. It gave no further details of the casualties…



Tags: Ethiopia Syrian Civil War Children Jordan Chaldean Church

4 February 2013
Greg Kandra




The bishops of the Chaldean Catholic Church have elected Archbishop Louis Sako of Kirkuk to be the new patriarch of the Iraq-based church. The election took place on 31 January and was welcomed by Pope Benedict XVI. Archbishop Sako, pictured in a 2010 file photo, succeeds Cardinal Emmanuel-Karim Delly of Baghdad as patriarch. (photo: CNS /Paul Haring)

Pope writes to new patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans (VIS) Benedict XVI has written a letter to His Beatitude Louis Raphael Sako, the new Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans, granting the “Ecclesiastica Communio” requested of him by the Patriarch. In the text the Pope asks the Lord to fill His Beatitude with “every grace and blessing” and that he be enlightened &lquo;in order to tirelessly proclaim the Gospel, following the living tradition that dates back to St. Thomas the Apostle”...

Putin: Russian Orthodox Church has a “significant voice” (Interfax) President Vladimir Putin has credited regular episcopal assemblies of the Russian Orthodox Church with an “invaluable role” in Russian history. “Bishops’ assemblies have always played a great, truly invaluable role in the development of Orthodoxy, and in the many centuries of Russian history. Their decisions and their wise advice and assessments are still significant both for church and for public life,” a statement from the president’s office quoted Putin as saying in a message to a bishops’ assembly that opened in Moscow on Saturday. “The Russian Orthodox Church has a significant voice in asserting ideals of humanism, virtue and mercy, and in bringing up younger generations on the basis of intransient moral values, patriotism and civil spirit,” Putin said...

More in France are converting to Islam (New York Times) The spacious and elegant modern building, in the heart of this middle-class suburb of Paris, is known as “the mosque of the converts.” Every year about 150 Muslim conversion ceremonies are performed in the snow-white structure of the Sahaba mosque in Créteil, with its intricate mosaics and a stunning 81-foot minaret, built in 2008 and a symbol of Islam’s growing presence in France. Among those who come here for Friday Prayer are numerous young former Roman Catholics, wearing the traditional Muslim prayer cap and long robe. While the number of converts remains relatively small in France, yearly conversions to Islam have doubled in the past 25 years, experts say, presenting a growing challenge for France, where government and public attitudes toward Islam are awkward and sometimes hostile...

Detroit Orthodox pastor reflects on turmoil in Syria (Detroit Free Press) Growing up as the youngest of seven children in the historic city of Hama in Syria, George Shalhoub led an idyllic life in which he says Muslims and Christians lived together peacefully. “We lived in a neighborhood that is called the Christian quarter, surrounded by Muslim neighborhoods,” recalled Shalhoub, 63, founder and pastor of St. Mary Antiochian Orthodox Church in Livonia. “We played in their mosques, and they played in the courtyard of our church. We were safe. We visited each other, and were part of each other’s lives. I never once felt discriminated against by the Muslims. “It was the happiest time of my life.” But over the last two years, the civil war has unraveled the threads that bind society in Hama and other places in Syria, leading to sectarian strife and bloodshed. Last month, Shalhoub learned that the daughter, son-in-law and grandson of his 95-year-old hometown priest, Rev. Rafael Basha, were killed. The discovery added another layer of sorrow for Shalhoub, who often prays for reconciliation in his native land. “No one is happy” about the war in Syria, Shalhoub said. “We’re all losing in this battle”...

Indian religious gather for conference (Fides) To be prophets and witnesses in society, but at the same time be “mystical” men and women of prayer: that is the challenge of the congregations and Indian communities that gathered in the “Conference of the Religious of India” on 3 February in Mangalore to celebrate the “World Day for Consecrated Life”...



Tags: Syria Iraq India Islam Russian Orthodox

1 February 2013
Greg Kandra




A Syrian man stands outside his tent at a refugee camp near the Syrian-Turkish border on 29 January. According to the U.N.’s refugee agency, more than 550,000 Syrians have crossed the borders and registered as refugees in neighboring countries. (photo: CNS /Muha mmad Najdet Qadour, Shaam News Network handout via Reuters)

Deadly explosion at U.S. embassy in Turkey (CBS News/AP) A suicide bomber detonated an explosive device at an entrance to the U.S. Embassy in the Turkish capital on Friday, killing himself and one other person, officials said...There was no claim of responsibility, but Kurdish rebels and Islamic militants are active in Turkey. Kurdish rebels, who are fighting for autonomy in the Kurdish-dominated southeast, have dramatically stepped up attacks in Turkey over the last year...

Archbishop Louis Sako elected patriarch of Chaldeans (Vatican Radio) Pope Benedict XVI has granted ecclesiastical communion, in accordance with Canon 76 § 2 of the code of canons of the Eastern Churches to His Beatitude Raphael I Louis Sako, canonically elected Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans in the Synod of Bishops of the Church, held in Rome on 28 January 2013...

Syrian Orthodox church and Christian school destroyed in eastern Syria (Fides) The Syrian Orthodox Church of St. Mary and the Christian school of Al-Wahda were destroyed in Deir Ezzor, a town in eastern Syria, at the center of fighting that has caused an exodus of the civilian population. This was reported to Fides Agency by the Syrian Orthodox Archbishop, Eustathius Matta Roham, Metropolitan of Jazirah and Euphrates, explaining that “it is a very sad day for me and for the whole community...”

Pope’s Lenten message: believing in charity calls forth charity (Vatican Radio) On Friday Pope Benedict XVI’s message for Lent 2013 was published at the Vatican. With less than two weeks to Ash Wednesday, the Holy Father has concentrated his reflections for the 40 days of prayer, penance and almsgiving to “the indissoluble interrelation” between faith and charity. The Pope writes “faith is a gift and response, it helps us know the truth of Christ as the incarnate and crucified Love, full and perfect obedience to the Father’s will and God’s infinite mercy towards others...charity helps us enter into the love of God manifest in Christ, and joins us in a personal and existential way to the total and unconditional self-giving of Jesus to the Father and to his brothers and sisters...”

Concern over 50% maternal mortality in Ethiopia (Fides) Every year, about 25,000 women die from complications during childbirth, and another 500 thousand suffer long-term disability due to pregnancy and birth complications. This is what emerges from the estimates of the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA). According to a study carried out in 2010, Ethiopia is one of the five countries in the world where there is 50% of maternal mortality. The African country in fact has a very precarious health system and for women this causes complications before, during and after childbirth...

Russian Orthodox Church helps rehabilitate drug addicts (Gazeta.ru) A derelict village located eight hours northeast of Moscow by car hosts one of the 60 rehabilitation centers for drug addicts that the Russian Orthodox Church has opened since the early 1990s...



Tags: Syria Ethiopia Pope Benedict XVI Orthodox Chaldeans

31 January 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro




Palestinian protesters throw rocks at an Israeli border police vehicle during clashes at a protest against the nearby Jewish settlement of Kdumim, in the West Bank village of Kfar Kadum, near Nablus, on 25 January. (photo: CNS/Abed Omar Qusini, Reuters)

U.N. inquiry says Israel must end settlements (Al Jazeera) Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank violate international law, and the country must “immediately” withdraw all settlers from such areas, United Nations human rights investigators have said. Israel has not co-operated with the inquiry, set up by the Human Rights Council (H.R.C.) last March to examine the impact of settlements in the territory, including East Jerusalem. “Israel must … cease all settlement activities without preconditions [and] must immediately initiate a process of withdrawal of all settlers” from the occupied territories, the fact-finding mission concluded in a report released on Thursday. The inquiry was led by French Judge Christine Chanet, and included Asma Jehangir of Pakistan and Unity Dow of Botswana as panel members. The settlements contravene the 1949 Geneva Conventions forbidding the transfer of civilian populations into the occupied territory, which could amount to war crimes that fall under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (I.C.C.), it said…

Islamists ally with Egypt’s liberals in favor of national unity government (Christian Science Monitor) A hardline Islamist party normally allied to Egypt’s president joined the liberal opposition in calling for a national unity government as part of a plan aimed at ending the eruption of political violence that has shaken the country and left more than 60 dead. On Wednesday, the Salafi al Nour Party joined the Salvation Front in an initiative calling for a national unity government — effectively eroding the Muslim Brotherhood’s grip on decision-making — and for the amending of contentious articles of the Islamist-backed constitution. For weeks, Morsi and the Brotherhood have ignored the Front’s repeated calls for a unity government. Salafis in general have strongly backed Morsi in the crisis and regularly denounced the liberal and secular opposition, accusing them of trying to reverse Islamists’ election victories and of trying to prevent Egypt from being ruled by Shari’a, or Islamic law. The party’s move may be aimed at distancing itself from Morsi’s Brotherhood ahead of the parliament elections…

Christians fleeing ‘unprecedented levels of horror’ in Syria (Christian Post) As the civil war in Syria has reached “unprecedented levels of horror,” according to the U.N., Christians are being forced to flee their homes as avoiding the violent conflict has become less of an option. “It’s a fight to the death [that] by definition involves killing. No one will win but those who fought from the start will create a desert and then call it victory,” Sky News said of the war raging between army forces loyal to President Bashar al Assad and rebels bent on taking down what they say is a tyrannical regime. The war has swept the entire nation, closing down infrastructure and businesses, and forcing many to choose a side or risk being caught in the crossfire. One of the worst attacks in the country occurred less than two weeks ago, when over 100 people were found slaughtered near the Christian-populated city of Homs. Witnesses blamed forces loyal to President Assad, who allegedly killed civilians they believed were harboring or aiding rebel soldiers…

Maronite patriarch denounces governments ‘inciting’ the civil war in Syria (Fides) Maronite Catholic Patriarch Bechara Peter has charged that the governments who are arming both sides in Syria’s civil war bear a moral responsibility for the bloodshed. The Lebanese prelate denounced the “evil work of incitement” being done by states that are providing military support for either the Syrian government or the country’s rebels. Both, he said, are complicit in the “crimes of murder, destruction, aggression and deportation of innocent citizens”…

Jordanian priest says sects jeopardize relations between Christians and Muslims (Fides) Jehovah’s Witnesses and the sects of American origin, with their propagandistic methods, create problems for the Middle East Christian communities of ancient tradition and their relations with the Muslim majority. Jordanian priest Rifat Bader, director of the Catholic Center for Studies and Media, based in Amman, says: “Recently, many families call me to point out the insistence with which Jehovah’s Witnesses ask to enter their houses to distribute propaganda materials. Those who … join them immediately began to publicly express their hostility towards the Christian community that they previously belonged to.” The priest recalled that in 2008, before the effects produced in Jordan by the activity of dozens of preachers, the leaders of the churches settled in the Hashemite Kingdom had expressed in a document their shared concern…

Malnutrition and childhood diseases high in Indian slums (Fides) Recent decades have seen a rapid and disorganized urbanization in India. The impact of childhood illnesses and malnutrition among people marginalized by this process remains difficult to quantify. A group of experts conducted a study on 176 children from four geographically adjacent slums, located on the western outskirts of Vellore, Tamil Nadu, to verify the safety of the water and the resulting intestinal infections. The results gave a total of 3932 episodes of illnesses, with an incidence of 12.5 per child per year. The common respiratory and gastrointestinal diseases detected can adversely affect children’s health and their development, as well as placing an additional burden for families who need to be treated and find resources…



Tags: India Egypt Syrian Civil War Children Jordan

30 January 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro




Palestinian students study on the campus of Bethlehem University in the West Bank on 13 September 2012. (photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)

Students discuss Bethlehem University (Vatican Radio) The only Catholic University in the West Bank is in Bethlehem. Veronica Scarisbrick recently visited the students there together with a delegation of bishops from Europe and North America, known as the 13th annual Holy Land Coordination. Founded following Pope Paul VI’s visit to the Holy Land in 1964, the university is supported by the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem and organizations like CNEWA, and run by the De La Salle Brothers. It is open to students of all faiths. And as Ms. Scarisbrick discovered, Christian students there are a minority. The embedded audio file contains her conversation with three students, one of whom is Muslim, as they highlight the bonds of friendship and understanding that develop amongst themselves, as well as their shared desire to live in the Holy Land despite their struggles…

Armenian Catholic archbishop: Syrians face ‘daily horror’ (Fides) “The effect of the condition in which we have been living for more than a year is that we are now addicted to horror everyday.” This is how the Armenian Catholic Archbishop Boutros Marayati of Aleppo describes the devastating situation experienced by the inhabitants of the Syrian metropolis, where yesterday dozens of corpses of young victims were found. “There is always new news of massacres, there is the constant noise of bombing, one lives in a state of tension and fear day and night and there is a struggle to survive in a daily life in which there is not even water to drink and fuel to heat homes. As we are overwhelmed by all this,” the Archbishop explained, “there is almost no time to become aware of the terrible things in which we are immersed. The massacre at [Aleppo] University a few days ago, where we lost poor Sister Rima, already seems a distant thing”…

Syria’s Aleppo University tries to carry on after mystery blasts (L.A. Times) Before the first explosion, Laila and fellow architecture students at Aleppo University in Syria had gathered by chance in a stairwell, which shielded them from flying glass and shrapnel. In an instant, the less fortunate lay dead and injured amid the scattered debris. A second blast a few minutes later hit a dormitory across the street, causing more casualties. The twin explosions two weeks ago that killed more than 80 people and wounded 150 also left Laila determined to return to the university as exams and normal class schedules resumed Tuesday for the first time since the blasts. “If we don’t continue attending classes, we will become a backward country,” said Laila, 22, who used her Red Crescent training to aid victims at the chaotic scene. The blasts, apparently caused by a pair of missiles, were among the deadliest and most stunning of Syria’s almost two-year civil conflict, spurring global revulsion at a frontal assault against one of the nation’s leading educational institutions…

Egypt shudders, with leadership nowhere in sight (Christian Science Monitor) “The continuation of this struggle between the different political forces ... could lead to the collapse of the state.” Those were the words of Egyptian Army chief Abdel Fatah al Sissi to military academy students, in a speech posted online today. When the Egyptian military warns of state collapse, it’s time to start worrying. Though a coup is unlikely, that’s always a subtext when senior officers start talking about those incompetent civilian politicians failing to safeguard the very state itself. And it’s worrying enough that he might even believe it. But the fact is that Egypt is now at yet another dangerously chaotic, polarized point, with at least 50 people dead from four days of clashes in Cairo and the main cities of the economically vital Canal Zone under a state of emergency, with soldiers on the streets. The formation of a national consensus about the future from the elections of the past two years? It never happened. Instead, Egypt today has a Muslim Brotherhood president and a Constitution bitterly opposed by the opposition…

CNEWA aiding refugees in Jordan (Vatican Radio) CNEWA is calling on the international community to help Amman meet the growing needs of Syrian refugees flooding over the border into Jordan. CNEWA regional director Ra’ed Bahou told Vatican Radio that some 300,000 Syrian refugees are in Jordan now but, given the current economic crisis, the government is unable to cover the costs alone. “The situation of refugees coming from Syria is ... they are in a very desperate situation,” says Bahou. “We have 300,000 Syrian people in Jordan. 60,000 in a camp called Zaatari camp, the majority are Muslims in these camps. The conditions in these camps are very difficult.” Rigid temperatures and beating rain has made much of this winter miserable for the refugees, huddled around stoves in makeshift tents - causing serious health and safety concerns. A small Catholic aid agency, CNEWA provides what help it can to the refugees, including distributing food, clothing and sanitary supplies; offering education, counselling and catechesis. Embedded at the bottom is an extended interview with Mr. Bahou…



Tags: Egypt Syrian Civil War Armenian Catholic Church Multiculturalism Bethlehem University

29 January 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro




Patriarch Emmanuel III of Baghdad attends Pope Benedict XVI’s general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican in this 14 March 2012 file photo. The 85-year-old prelate recently resigned for health reasons. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)

Chaldean leaders gather for election of new patriarch (Vatican Radio) The Synod of the Chaldean Catholic Church has convened in Rome to elect a new patriarch of Babylon. The 15 bishops of the Chaldean synod are meeting under the direction of Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, the prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches. After a spiritual retreat on Monday, 28 January, they will precede to discussing the future of the Chaldean Church, which is centered in Iraq, and the election of a successor for Patriarch Emmanuel III Delly, who resigned in December at the age of 85. Tuesday will see the first round of debate and discussion on the current situation of the Chaldean Church in the patriarchal territory and wider Diaspora. Wednesday will see the first elections take place according to the Code of Canons for the Eastern Churches…

March of solidarity for the hostages in Mesopotamia (Fides) Christians, Muslims, Kurds, nongovernmental organizations, public officials, churches leaders and leaders of mosques all assembled for a march of solidarity with victims of kidnappings. The 24 January initiative was held in Hassake, in eastern Syria, where the civilian population has faced considerable hardship and suffering. In the region a precarious balance between the opposing forces (including Islamist militias), the Kurdish forces, the Syrian army is lived, fighting each other. The population pays the price that took to the streets — more than three thousand were present — with banners and slogans to demand “a future of peace and hope for Mesopotamia.” The participants, who gave birth to the “Association of solidarity with the families of those kidnapped,” marched from the headquarters of the Syrian Orthodox Church to the city’s Palace of Justice, expressing their suffering and their demands. A memorandum was presented to the Public Prosecutor, asking him to carry out his tasks and asking the local government to provide protection to the innocent citizens…

Syria crisis: ‘Bodies of executed men’ found in Aleppo (BBC) The bodies of dozens of young men, all apparently summarily executed, have been found in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, rebels and activists say. At least 65 bodies were found on the banks of the Quwaiq River in the western district of Bustan al Qasr, the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported. Most had their hands tied behind their backs and gunshot wounds to the head. A captain in the rebel Free Syrian Army said some of those who had been killed were just teenagers. Few had means of identification. People were gathering at the bank to see if they could find their missing relatives, A.F.P. reported. “My brother disappeared weeks ago when he was crossing [through] the regime-held zone, and we don’t know where he is or what has become of him,” said Mohammed Abdul Aziz…

Ukrainian Orthodox metropolitan enthroned (Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the U.S.A.) His Eminence Metropolitan Antony was enthroned on 26 January 2013 as the fourth metropolitan of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the United States of America during a magnificent and traditional ceremony at St. Andrew the First Called Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral in Silver Spring, MD. The Enthronement services were attended by more than 500 faithful and about 70 clergymen of the Metropolia and many visitors from across the country from various Orthodox and Catholic jurisdictions…

Orthodox Church in America enthrones metropolitan of All America and Canada (O.C.A.) On Sunday, 27 January 2013, His Beatitude Tikhon, archbishop of Washington, metropolitan of All America and Canada, was enthroned at Saint Nicholas Cathedral in Washington, D.C. In attendance at the Enthronement were members of the Orthodox Church in America’s Holy Synod of Bishops and guests representing several Orthodox churches in North America and abroad. Metropolitan Tikhon was elected O.C.A. primate at the 17th All-American Council held in Parma, OH on Tuesday, 13 November 2012…

Israel gave birth control to Ethiopian Jews without their consent (The Independent) Israel has admitted for the first time that it has been giving Ethiopian Jewish immigrants birth-control injections, often without their knowledge or consent. The government had previously denied the practice but the Israeli Health Ministry’s director-general has now ordered gynecologists to stop administering the drugs. According a report in Haaretz, suspicions were first raised by an investigative journalist, Gal Gabbay, who interviewed more than 30 women from Ethiopia in an attempt to discover why birth rates in the community had fallen dramatically. One of the Ethiopian women is quoted as saying: “They [medical staff] told us they are inoculations. We took it every three months. We said we didn’t want to.” It is alleged that some of the women were forced or coerced to take the drug while in transit camps in Ethiopia…



Tags: Syrian Civil War Israel Chaldean Church Patriarchs Orthodox

28 January 2013
Greg Kandra




A Syrian boy stands in front of his family’s refugee camp in the Jordanian city of Mafraq, near the border with Syria, on 25 January. (photo: CNS/Muhammad Hamed/Reuters)

Al Quaeda-linked group claims responsibility for Syria blast (AP) An al-Qaeda-linked group fighting alongside Syrian rebels claimed responsibility Monday for a suicide car bombing that reportedly killed dozens of President Bashar Assad’s loyalists last week. Islamic militants have been the most organized fighters battling government troops in the 22-month-old conflict in which more than 60,000 people have been killed. Their growing prominence has fueled fears that Muslim radicals may try to hijack the revolt, and has contributed to the West’s hesitance to equip the opposition with sophisticated weapons...

Special collection in Lebanon for Syrian refugees (Fides) On Sunday, 27 January in convents, shrines and nearly 1,000 parishes of the Maronite Church, funds were collected for the activities supported by Caritas Lebanon in favor of Syrian refugees who have found precarious refuge in the Lebanese territory. The special day of solidarity was called by Cardinal Bechara Boutros Rai, Patriarch of Antioch of the Maronites, with an appeal to all members of the Church led by him...

Russian government wants to amend bill on “religious feeling” (Vatican Radio) The Russian government has asked parliament to amend a bill that would set jail terms for “offending religious feeling.” The measure was proposed by lawmakers after last year’s Pussy Riot protest at a Moscow cathedral. Critics have said it may harm Jews, Muslims and others outside the Russian Orthodox Church. But one of the lawmakers who sponsored the bill, said a phrase seen to favour the Russian Orthodox Church would be removed and the legislation would protect all religions operating legally in Russia...

Latin Patriarch in Jerusalem discusses Day of Prayer for Peace in Holy Land (Vatican Radio) The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, the leader of the Catholic Church in the Holy Land, says Christians of all denominations in Jerusalem are united in prayer, solidarity and communion during the week of Christian Unity and are grateful for the concern of fellow Christians around the world. Calling Jerusalem the “Mother Church” with a “world dimension,” Patriarch Fouad Twal says “the unique way to be grateful is to do our best to fulfil this mission (well because) the Church in the Holy Land (can constitute) a bridge between all the others...”

Ukrainian eparch reflects on the New Evangelization (Vatican Radio) The Catholic university contributes toward the New Evangelization when, in addition to offering quality education, it prays together, fosters the beauty of the liturgy and reaches out to the marginalized, said the new eparch of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in France...

Kerala court rules filmmakers will be charged with defamation (Eurasiareview.com) The makers of a comedy about two petty criminals who dress up as Catholic priests will be charged with defamation, a Kerala court ruled yesterday. Two actors, along with the director, the producer and the screenwriter of the local hit movie ”Romans,” which was released last week, are all named in the suit, brought by a Catholic youth leader in the Kottayam district of the state. “The movie has hurt the sentiments of the faithful,” said petitioner Boban T. Thekkel. “There is a limit to freedom of expression. I can’t tolerate such things...”

Toronto plans World Interfaith Harmony Week (Catholic Register) World Interfaith Harmony Week is coming to Toronto for the first time. The United Nations Initiative, which originated in 2010 and is meant to promote peace, love, tolerance and understanding among followers of all religions, will begin on 1 February at various Toronto locations. The theme for Toronto will be looking for ways to work together. “It’s an important thing, not only for Catholics, but for all Christians to be exposed to and to become more aware of the importance of other religions in the world,” said Fr. Damian MacPherson, director of the Office of Ecumenical and Interfaith Affairs for the archdiocese of Toronto. “In the absence of not knowing, generally suspicion arises...”



Tags: Syria Ukraine Jerusalem Russia Greek Catholic Church





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