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December, 2017
Volume 43, Number 4
  
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

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





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