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June, 2018
Volume 44, Number 2
  
6 March 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro




In this 28 February photo, U.S. Cardinals Timothy M. Dolan of New York and Sean P. O’Malley of Boston leave the Pontifical North American College in Rome on their way to a final meeting with Pope Benedict XVI. In the lead-up to the conclave, U.S. cardinals have canceled their popular daily press briefings. (photo: CNS/Gregory L. Tracy, The Pilot)

American cardinals cancel press briefings ahead of conclave (CBS News) The U.S. cardinals in Rome for the conclave to elect the next pope canceled their popular daily press briefings Wednesday after some details of the secret proceedings under way ahead of the election were purportedly leaked to Italian newspapers. The Vatican denies it had exerted any pressure on the American cardinals to keep quiet. But the Vatican spokesman, the Father Federico Lombardi, made clear that the Holy See considered this week’s pre-conclave meetings, in which cardinals are discussing the problems of the church, to be secret and part of a solemn process to choose a pope. “The college as a whole has decided to maintain a line of an increasing degree of reserve,” he said…

Maronite patriarch says ecumenical summit ahead (Fides) “We are preparing a meeting of all Orthodox and Catholic patriarchs of the Middle East, to promote unity among Christians and deal with the problems and suffering that we share in this difficult moment in history,” said Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter of Antioch, currently in Rome for the conclave. Patriarch Bechara Peter has been laying the groundwork for such ecumenical activities for some time: In early November, he had attended the enthronement of the new Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II; more recently, he was the only patriarch present at the enthronement of the new Greek Orthodox Patriarch Youhanna X of Antioch, held in Damascus on 10 February; and shortly before arriving in Rome for the conclave, the Maronite patriarch had been in meetings with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow. Though ecumenism is often an ideal professed and studied, Patriarch Bechara Peter seeks something more: “We are talking about concrete ecumenism, without much talking. It is ecumenism that many baptized are already living in their daily lives.”

Chaldean Church enthrones new patriarch (The Province) Iraq’s Chaldean Church enthroned a new patriarch during a ceremonial mass Wednesday that was held amid tight security in Baghdad. The mass at St. Joseph Chaldean Church in downtown Baghdad marked the final step as Patriarch Louis Raphael I, 64, replaced Emmanuel III Delly, who recently retired. The former archbishop of Kirkuk was elected patriarch last month, and Pope Benedict XVI approved the election shortly afterward. Ordained in 1974, Patriarch Louis Raphael earned two doctorates in Rome and Paris in the 1980s and then returned to Iraq. He has written books on church fathers. He speaks Arabic, Chaldean, English, French and Italian. During Wednesday’s ceremony, the new patriarch urged Christians not to emigrate from Iraq, and pledged to foster interfaith dialogue and understanding…

Orthodox Church in Syria provides aid to conflict victims (Ekklesia) The Department of Ecumenical Relations and Development (DERD) of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East, based in Damascus, has delivered around 75,000 humanitarian aid kits to an estimated 280,045 individuals in Syria amidst its ongoing conflict. According to recent reports issued by the United Nations, more than 60,000 people have been killed in Syria, while nearly a million have been displaced due to the armed conflict. The DERD has been distributing food and non-food essentials to the affected people around Damascus. It has been providing assistance in the areas of housing, health, nutrition, education and psychological support…

Ancient Palestinian village threatened by Israeli settlements (Al-Monitor) Less than ten miles outside the northern West Bank city of Nablus lies a sleepy town with an ancient and little-known history embedded in its ancient temple, tower and columns. Sebastia, according to Christian tradition, is where the body of John the Baptist was found, and during the Crusades, a cathedral was built over his tomb. Years later, Muslims returning to the area under the rule of Salah al Din transformed the cathedral into a mosque. The town also contains Roman, Herodian, medieval and Byzantine relics and ruins, which, peppered among the olive groves, makes it an ideal destination for Palestinian visitors and tourists alike. But according to residents, the town is becoming increasingly threatened by the nearby settlement of Shavei Shomron, whose residents are constantly uprooting olive trees and, more recently, pumping their sewage waste onto the Palestinian fields their settlement overlooks…



Tags: Vatican Israeli-Palestinian conflict Chaldean Church Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan

5 March 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro




Lebanese Cardinal Bechara Peter, patriarch of the Maronite Church, and Argentine Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, arrive for a general congregation meeting in the synod hall at the Vatican on 5 March. The world’s cardinals are meeting for several days in advance of the conclave to elect the new pope. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)

General congregations: five more cardinal electors swear oath (Vatican Radio) On Monday evening, the College of Cardinals gathered in the New Synod Hall for the second general congregation in preparation for conclave. With the addition of five more cardinal electors swearing the oath before the college, only eight cardinals have yet to arrive in Rome. The five new arrivals came from far and wide: from Lebanon, Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter; from Germany, Cardinal Woelki of Berlin and Cardinal Meissner of Cologne; from the Czech Republic, Cardinal Duka of Prague; and from Senegal, Cardinal Sarr of Dakar…

Conflict widens as Syrian soldiers massacred in Iraq (New York Times) More than 40 Syrian soldiers who had sought temporary safety in Iraq from rebel fighters along the border were killed on Monday in an attack by unidentified gunmen as the Iraqi military was transporting the soldiers back to Syria in a bus convoy, the Iraqi government said. At least seven Iraqis were also reported killed in the attack, which appeared to be the most serious spillover of violence into Iraq since the Syrian conflict began two years ago. The attack threatens to inflame the sectarian tensions that already divide Iraq, where a Sunni minority sympathizes with Syria’s overwhelmingly Sunni opposition…

Relief agencies struggle as Syrian refugee population nears 1 million (Washington Post) As a mass Syrian emigration spills into neighboring countries, relief organizations acknowledge that they can hardly keep up. The exodus is accelerating so quickly that the tally of need will almost certainly hit a grim milestone this week, when the number of Syrian refugees who have registered with the United Nations — or are on months-long waiting lists to do so — is expected to hit 1 million. Aid officials say Syrians fleeing violence are stepping into a growing humanitarian catastrophe, either in overcrowded camps with little to offer or, even more frequently, in urban areas that struggle to support them and where the welcome has worn thin. The crisis is compounded by a growing funding gap, which U.N. agencies say is forcing cutbacks on basic supplies and shelter…

Ethiopia: the first Christian nation? (International Business Times) For centuries, historians have widely accepted the argument that Armenia was the first Christian nation. This important claim has become a source of national pride for Armenians and has remained virtually undisputed for centuries — until now. A new book presents evidence that Ethiopia may have been the first nation to adopt Christianity as its official religion, drawing upon coinage and public records dating back most of two thousand years…



Tags: Iraq Ethiopia Syrian Civil War Vatican Ethiopian Christianity

4 March 2013
Greg Kandra




A Swiss Guard salutes as U.S. Cardinals Roger M. Mahony, retired archbishop of Los Angeles, Edward M. Egan, retired archbishop of New York, and Donald W. Wuerl of Washington arrive for the first general congregation meeting in the synod hall at the Vatican on 4 March.
(photo: CNS/Paul Haring)


Vatican says 12 cardinal electors still to arrive for conclave (Vatican Radio) 142 of the 207 Cardinals from the College of Cardinals were present Monday morning for the First General Congregation in preparation for the Conclave to elect the 265th Successor to St. Peter. Of those present Monday 103 are Cardinal electors, meaning that 12 Cardinal electors are still on their way to Rome...

Patriarch thanks Benedict for firmness, humility (Interfax) Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia has thanked Pope Benedict XVI, who has stepped down from his post, for his uncompromising position on faith issues and wished him strength, the patriarch’s press service reported. “In these days, which are special to you, I would like to express feelings of brotherly love in Christ and respect,” the patriarch said in his message to the pontiff...

Thousands demand tougher adoption laws in Russia (Vatican Radio) Pro-Kremlin activists have rallied in central Moscow to demand that the government extends a ban on American families adopting Russian children to all foreign nationals. Saturday’s protest of up to 20,000 people came a day after authorities in the U.S. State of Texas said the death in January of 3-year-old Max Shatto, was “an accident.” Protesters also demanded his brother to be returned to Russia...

Kidnapping ring in Eritrea reaches into the U.S. (Wall Street Journal) To the outside world, Eritrea is a little-known sliver of Red Sea coastline above the Horn of Africa. But refugees fleeing its single-party regime have become the primary victims of what human rights groups say is one the world’s more elusive and terrifying kidnapping rings. The refugees are typically captured as they cross Eritrea’s border, then trafficked into regions of Egypt’s Sinai peninsula that are virtually lawless, creating an open season for smugglers who hold victims while extorting family members in Africa, Europe and the U.S...

Syrian government urged to seize window of opportunity (Vatican Radio) United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon is urging the Syrian government to take up a proposal of opposition representatives for a meeting to discuss a resolution to the ongoing conflict, calling it a “small window of opportunity” that “may soon close.” Ban met Saturday with a senior group of UN advisers in order to discuss a possible resolution for the ongoing conflict in Syria...



Tags: Syria Pope Benedict XVI Russia Eritrea Orthodox

1 March 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro




Pope Benedict XVI leaves after appearing for the last time at the balcony of his summer residence in Castel Gandolfo, Italy, on 28 February. (photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

Pope Benedict XVI: from humble servant to simple pilgrim (CNS) Pope Benedict XVI, who began his papacy describing himself as a “humble servant in the Lord’s vineyard,” described his retirement in similar terms. “I am a simple pilgrim who begins the last stage of his pilgrimage on this earth,” he told the crowd outside of Castel Gandolfo. “But with all my heart, with all my love, with my prayers, with my reflection, with all my interior strength, I still want to work for the common good and the good of the church and humanity,” he told them. Pope Benedict thanked the people for their support and asked them to continue to pray and work for the good of the church, too…

Coptic Catholic Cardinal Naguib will attend conclave (Fides) Though health complications had cast doubt on his attendance, Cardinal Antonios Naguib, Coptic Catholic patriarch emeritus, confirmed his participation in the conclave. Hemorrhagic cerebral ischemia had struck on 31 December 2011, forcing him to resign from his patriarchal office the following January. But now his condition has improved, making it possible for him to travel to Rome. “I am delighted to be able to take part in this important moment in the life of the church. It was something that I did not dream of anymore. In the beginning I said that it was not possible for me to go to the Eternal City for the conclave. But then I reflected on the fact that the first duty of a cardinal is to participate in the choice of the Successor of Peter. And I changed my initial decision”…

Damascus in the grip of a tense stalemate (L.A. Times) After nearly two years of fighting in Syria that has mostly spared the capital, an uneasy stalemate reigns in Damascus. In recent days, the city has experienced mortar attacks and car bombings, while the military has responded in its usual fashion: withering bombardment of outlying rebel strongholds. Rebel forces have dug in to the north, east and south of Syria’s capital, occupying stretches of suburban and rural terrain and threatening to break through to the heart of Damascus. Government troops have largely pulled back to a well-defended core, including the city center and loyal bastions to the west. Residents of Damascus are edgy, fearing that the fighting is closing in. “I don’t go anywhere unless I have specific business,” said a woman in her early 50s who requested anonymity for safety’s sake. “No one does”…

As war stretches on, Syrians turn to self-governance (New York Times) With Syria’s two-year-old civil war showing signs of stalemate, scores of new local councils in rebel-held towns like Tilalyan are not only fighting deprivation but trying to set up courts, police forces and social services. Their efforts amount to Syria’s first experiments in self-government after decades of tyranny under President Bashar al Assad and his father, Hafez al Assad. They are struggling to outlast Mr. Assad in what is increasingly a war of attrition. But civilian leaders say the councils are also trying to pry power from the armed rebel brigades that are already staking out control of resources and territories in the vacuum left by the government’s retreat. Tilalyan’s council illustrates the challenge: it has been forced to depend entirely on the patronage of either the Western-sponsored opposition-in-exile or competing armed factions, including hard-line Islamists. Three months after it was formed, though, the council can claim two achievements: four hours a day of electricity and a daily ration of two pieces of flatbread for each adult and child. That in turn has brought credibility and legitimacy, even in the eyes of skeptical town elders…



Tags: Syria Egypt Syrian Civil War Pope Benedict XVI Coptic Catholic Church

28 February 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro




A helicopter carrying Pope Benedict XVI takes off from inside the Vatican on its way to the to the papal summer residence at Castel Gandolfo, Italy, on 28 February, the final day of his papacy. (photo: CNS/Stefano Rellandini, Reuters)

Pope Benedict XVI begins the last day of his pontificate (Vatican Radio) The Pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI will come to an end with the Sede Vacante (“Vacant See”) beginning at 8 p.m. Rome time (2 p.m. EST). Shortly before 5 p.m., the Pope bid farewell to the pontifical household and departed the Apostolic Palace by car from the San Damaso Courtyard. From there, he was driven to the Vatican heliport and seen off by the Dean of the College of Cardinals, Cardinal Angelo Sodano. After being flown to Castel Gandolfo, the Holy Father will then briefly greet the faithful of the Diocese of Albano from the central balcony of the Apostolic Palace. This will be the last public appearance of Pope Benedict XVI while in office. At 8 p.m, the reign of the 265th Pope, the 264th successor of St. Peter, will come to an end, having lasted 7 years, 10 months, and 9 days…

Pope pledges obedience to next pope (CNS) On 28 February, hours before resigning from the papacy, Pope Benedict XVI briefly addressed the College of Cardinals in Clementine Hall, calling for unity and harmony among the men who will choose his successor and pledging his “unconditional reverence and obedience” to the next pope. The pope addressed 144 cardinals, including many of the 115 under the age of 80 who are eligible and expected to vote in the upcoming conclave. “I will continue to be close to you in prayer, especially in the next few days, so that you may all be fully docile to the action of the Holy Spirit in the election of the new pope. May the Lord show you what is wanted of you”…

Ethiopian Orthodox patriarch elected (Global Post) The Ethiopian Orthodox Church has elected a new patriarch to replace the previous head who died in August, officials say. Archbishop Abune Matthias of Jerusalem was elected on Thursday, 28 February 2013, with about 500 out of 806 votes cast by members of the church living in Ethiopia and elsewhere. The patriarch-elect, 71, has lived abroad for over 30 years, initially fleeing Ethiopia following a military coup by Hailemariam Mengistu in 1974. He has since traveled throughout Europe and North America, and will now settle in Ethiopia to serve as the head of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church…

Flow of Syrian refugees into Jordan surges (Al Jazeera) Ten thousand Syrian refugees have arrived in Jordan in the last 72 hours, army sources at the border have told local Jordanian media. Jeffrey Feltman, United Nations under secretary-general, said on Tuesday that a record 150,000 people fled Syria this month to escape the worsening conflict now trapped in a “destructive military spiral.” He told the U.N. Security Council that abuses committed by President Bashar al Assad’s forces were “significantly” worse than those of the opposition, even though both could face war crimes charges. “The humanitarian situation is becoming worse in Syria,” Feltman said. There are now 413,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan, a number the U.N. expects to reach 500,000 as early as the end of next month. Four million people in the country now need humanitarian assistance. Of these, two million are internally displaced…



Tags: Syrian Civil War Jordan Pope Benedict XVI Vatican Ethiopian Orthodox Church

27 February 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro




Pope Benedict XVI waves as he leaves his final general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on 27 February. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)

Pope expresses gratitude, trust during final general audience (Vatican Radio) “During this Year of Faith, we have been called to renew our joyful trust in the Lord’s presence in our lives and in the life of the church. I am personally grateful for his unfailing love and guidance in the eight years since I accepted his call to serve as the Successor of Peter. I am also deeply grateful for the understanding, support and prayers of so many of you, not only here in Rome, but also throughout the world. The decision I have made, after much prayer, is the fruit of a serene trust in God’s will and a deep love of Christ’s church. I will continue to accompany the Church with my prayers, and I ask each of you to pray for me and for the new pope. In union with Mary and all the saints, let us entrust ourselves in faith and hope to God, who continues to watch over our lives and to guide the journey of the Church and our world along the paths of history…”

Conclave start date may not be known until next week (CNS) It is possible the world’s cardinals will not begin meeting at the Vatican until 4 March, and they cannot set a start date for the conclave until they have met, the Vatican spokesman said. Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals, will send out letters on 1 March formally informing the world’s cardinals that the papacy is vacant and calling them to meet at the Vatican. In addition, he said, while many cardinals were arriving in Rome before the papacy ended on 28 February, “the cardinals will not live at the Domus Sanctae Marthae” — the Vatican guesthouse used during the conclave — “until almost the eve of the conclave.” The rooms must be cleaned, the televisions and telephones disconnected and the place swept for listening devices, Father Lombardi said. “It’s completely normal”…

Cardinal Sandri pays tribute to Sts. Cyril and Methodius (L’Osservatore Romano) This week, a conference was held at the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome to commemorate the 1150th anniversary of the beginning of the mission of Sts. Cyril and Methodius among the Slavs. The brothers were “authentic precursors of ecumenism, for they labored in service of unity and of the multiform fullness of the church, as they made incarnate the spirit of the originally undivided church,” says Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches. “The great intuition of Cyril and Methodius aided the Slavic peoples, whom they had evangelized, to praise God in their own tongue and in respect for the their proper cultural characteristics, at the same time insisting on the unity between all Christians, of the East and of the West, in the sole and universal church of Christ. Their invitation remains today, for a dynamic vision of Catholicity as the symphony of the diverse liturgies in all the languages of the world, as a harmonious chorus of different voices and pitches.”…

Egypt opposition vows to boycott parliamentary elections (Christian Science Monitor) Egypt’s main opposition coalition announced today it intends to boycott upcoming parliamentary elections, deepening the political crisis in Egypt. The National Salvation Front (N.S.F.) coalition of leftist, liberal and socialist parties announced it would not take part in the elections, scheduled to begin in April, because the law governing the elections is unfair, and the president has not met their demands to change the cabinet or amend the new constitution. The vote will elect a new parliament to replace the one dissolved last year after a court found the law the elections were based on to be unconstitutional. The president’s office rescheduled the vote after a controversy erupted because the original schedule had them falling during the Coptic Orthodox Church’s celebration of Palm Sunday and Easter…



Tags: Egypt Pope Benedict XVI Vatican Saints Cardinal Leonardo Sandri

26 February 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro




In this 15 May 2012 photo, Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, leads a meeting with U.S. bishops from Eastern Catholic churches during their “ad limina” visits to the Vatican. U.S. bishops from the Armenian, Chaldean, Ruthenian, Maronite, Melkite, Romanian, Syriac and Ukrainian Catholic churches make ad limina visits to the Vatican to report on the status of their dioceses. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)

Cardinal expresses solidarity with Christians of the Holy Land (VIS) Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, has sent a letter to the bishops of the world concerning the traditional Good Friday collection for the Holy Land. The letter, which also bears the signature of Archbishop Cyril Vasil, S.J., secretary of the congregation, has the purpose of sensitizing the Catholic Church around the world with regard to the Holy Land, and of promoting initiatives of prayer and fraternal charity towards Christians of Jerusalem, Israel, Palestine and neighboring countries…

Bulgarian Orthodox Church selects new patriarch (ABC News) Patriarch Neofit of Ruse was elected Sunday as the new spiritual leader of Bulgaria’s Orthodox Christians amid social unrest threatening to throw the Balkan country in a serious political crisis. He is considered a compromise candidate after a power struggle within the church over who will succeed the late Patriarch Maxim. Maxim, highly popular among around 6 million Bulgarian Orthodox Church followers, died after a long illness on Nov. 6 aged 98. The enthronement ceremony for Patriarch Neofit was held at Sofia’s Alexander Nevski Cathedral Church. In attendance were church elders, state officials, representatives of other religious groups and dozens of believers…

Pope Benedict XVI will be ‘pope emeritus’ (VIS) Father Federico Lombardi, S.J., director of the Holy See Press Office, reported in a press conference that Pope Benedict XVI will become “pontiff emeritus” or “pope emeritus.” He will keep the name of “His Holiness, Benedict XVI” and will dress in a simple white cassock without the mozzetta (elbow-length cape)…

Syrian government offers to meet with opposition (Christian Science Monitor) Syria said Monday it is prepared to hold talks with armed rebels bent on overthrowing President Bashar al Assad, the clearest signal yet that the regime is growing increasingly nervous about its long-term prospects to hold onto power as opposition fighters make slow but persistent headway in the civil war. The Syrian talks offer, made by Foreign Minister Walid al Moallem during a visit to Moscow, came hours before residents of Damascus and state-run TV reported a huge explosion and a series of smaller blasts in the capital, followed by heavy gunfire…



Tags: Syrian Civil War Pope Benedict XVI Ecumenism Eastern Churches Bulgarian Orthodox Church

25 February 2013
Greg Kandra




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


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

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

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

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

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



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

22 February 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro




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

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

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

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

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



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

21 February 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro




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

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

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

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

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

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



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





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