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Current Issue
September, 2019
Volume 45, Number 3
  
19 September 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro




In this 2011 image, Cardinal Lubomyr Husar of Kiev-Halych, then-major archbishop of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, waves as he leaves a news conference in Kiev. (photo: CNS/Konstantin Chernichkin, Reuters)

Former church head lashes out in defense of international adoption (RISU) At this week’s session, for the eighth time the deputies will decide whether to ratify the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Cooperation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption. The convention is aimed at streamlining the mechanism for international adoption, which is often the last hope many older or less-healthy children have of joining a family. Cardinal Lubomyr Husar sharply criticized the fact that the deputies still do not support the Hague Adoption Convention: “I would take a whip and give them all a good beating, then maybe they would start to think straight. … Every child is vulnerable, but those poor children who are deprived of parental care and protection are particularly vulnerable…”

Pope Francis sends a letter to the imam of Al Azhar (Fides) Pope Francis sent a message to Ahmed al Tayyeb, the great imam of the Islamic university Al Azhar, the main cultural institution of Sunni Islam. The university reports that the Pope’s message expresses esteem and respect “for Islam and Muslims” and the hope that one tries to make an effort in the “understanding among Christians and Muslims in the world, to build peace and justice.” The personal letter from the Pope was delivered on Tuesday, 17 September, by the apostolic nuncio in Egypt, Archbishop Jean-Paul Gobel…

Sectarian violence reignites in an Iraqi town (New York Times) The archway at the entrance to this farming community welcomes visitors in “peace. For generations, Shiite and Sunni families worked the land, earning a living from their sheep and cows, their wheat fields and lemon trees. Recently, though, the only talk is of how to stop them from killing one another. The latest strategy: new concrete walls with separate entryways for the different sects. “So there’s a Sunni way in, and a Shiite way in,” Abu Jassim, a Sunni resident who recently fled his home after sectarian revenge killings by Shiite gunmen, explained to a local representative in Parliament. During the worst of Iraq’s carnage over the last decade, this area of Diyala Province, a mixed region where Shiites, Sunni Arabs and Kurds still compete for power, faced killings and displacement. But what is happening now, villagers say, is worse — what one Western diplomat described in an interview as “Balkans-style ethnic cleansing…”

Syrian Christians in limbo, fearing repeat of Iraq (Voice of America) From the earliest days of Christianity, Christians have lived and worshipped in Syria. But in less than three years, civil war has forced hundreds of thousands to flee their homes, and Christians worry there will be an even greater exodus. Their biggest concern is an eventual rebel victory. They point to what happened in neighboring Iraq where sectarian killings, persecution of Christians and an increasingly Islamist political culture, after the fall of Saddam Hussein, forced more than half of the Iraqi Christian population to flee…

A monk of the Holy Land: ‘No to confessionalism’ (Fides) “We need to separate religion and politics. Nothing is worse, in this situation, than a confessional approach. Syria is a country full of ethnic and religious diversity. Among Christians and non-Christians there are very different political views, even though today the majority of Syrians are forced into silence by violence,” says the Rev. Bahjat Karakach, O.F.M., of Aleppo. Father Bahjat adds that this majority “[does] not agree with the violence that is devastating the country…”

Egypt army storms village near Cairo (Al Jazeera) Egyptian troops and police clashed Thursday morning on the outskirts of Cairo after security forces launched an operation to arrest people accused of torching police stations and killing at least 11 police officers during July clashes. Egypt’s official news agency MENA said troops backed by helicopters had surrounded the town of Kerdassah, a known Islamist stronghold, after exchanging fire with suspected militants there…

A mysterious mass conversion from Islam to Christianity in Georgia (Mystagogy, translated from Oumma.com) In 1991, three out of four Adjarians in Georgia were Muslim. Today, 75 percent is Orthodox Christian. How can these conversions, apparently unique in the world, be explained? In a long interview published in December 2012, Metropolitan Dimitri of Batumi (the capital of Adjara) — nephew of Georgian Orthodox Patriarch Ilia II of Georgia — says he was appointed parish priest of St. Nicholas in Batumi in 1986. At that time, there was only one Orthodox church in Batumi. Dimitri states that “the metamorphosis of an entire region, this conversion from Islam to Orthodoxy, or rather the return to basics, to the faith of their ancestors,” took place before his eyes…



Tags: Iraq Egypt Syrian Civil War Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church Georgia

18 September 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro




In this 24 August photo, relatives of car bomb victims inspect the damaged cars at the explosion site in front of a mosque in Tripoli, Lebanon. Bombs hit two mosques the day before in the northern Lebanese port city, killing dozens of people and wounding hundreds. (photo: CNS/Jamal Saidi, Reuters)

‘Arab Spring’ degrades into sectarian counterrevolution (Global Research) The blind sectarian rampage wreaking havoc on mosques, churches and other religious sites has become a trademark phenomenon of the Arab world since the “Arab Spring” first blossomed in the streets. Swept away in the tides of conflict are cultural treasures of archeology and history, hitting hard the very foundations of the Arab and Islamic identity in the region — and, more importantly, tormenting the souls of the Arab Muslim and Christian believers who helplessly watch their havens being desecrated, looted and bombed…

The U.S. Pentagon to Egyptian general: Protect the Copts (Fides) In a telephone conversation on 17 September, U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel implored General Abdel Fattah al Sisi to make every effort to ensure the safety of the Coptic Christian community in Egypt, targeted in recent weeks by the violence of Islamist gangs following the deposition of President Mohamed Morsi. This was reported by Pentagon spokesman George Little in a statement, referring that general Sisi was also invited to take measures to “demonstrate the commitment of the transitional government” in favor of the process of democratic normalization…

Curfew in Delga, a Islamist-held town where Christians cannot live (AsiaNews) A small-scale civil war broke out yesterday in Delga, a town in upper Egypt following its takeover by Islamists over a month ago. According to local sources, the Egyptian military and police retook the town this morning from armed extremist militia, only thanks to the intervention of the air force. On 14 August, Islamists took advantage of the chaos that began when the authorities began clearing pro-Morsi camps in Cairo to occupy Delga and impose Sharia law on the entire population. After their takeover, members of the Muslim Brotherhood torched at least 62 homes and forced half of the Christian population to flee the Minya region. Coptic residents said that some Islamic leaders tried to negotiate with the Islamists to stop the destruction of homes. Youssef Alfi, a resident, said that extremists started to force Christians to pay the jizya — the ancient poll tax tolerated non-Muslim minorities have to pay if they want to live in Islamic territory…

Religious leaders and Syrian refugees meet in Lebanon (Huffington Post) During Ramadan this year, an Alawite Sheikh, a Sunni Mufti, a Greek Orthodox Metropolitan and a Maronite Monsignor, along with a group of over 100 Syrian refugees and 50 local Lebanese met to share a meal together. The unlikely group of diners gathered in front of a beautiful mountain top restaurant in the village of Miniara, near Halba for an iftar — a meal after a day of fasting — showing that religious leaders and their communities can live in peace together if they wish. The next interfaith event will take place on 22 September, gathering all four religious communities and their leaders for a joint walk to a nearby Christian sanctuary, followed by a children’s festival and a communal meal for hungry walkers…

Russia’s Orthodox awakening (Foreign Affairs) When the Russian Orthodox Church is in the news, which has been quite often of late, the image that comes to mind is of an army of archbishops and abbots, commanded by Patriarch Kirill I, operating in conspiracy with the country’s authoritarian rulers in the Kremlin. This is not without reason. The church’s conservative clerics have, in fact, given their support to the government’s most polarizing recent laws, including the jailing of three members of Pussy Riot for offending believers’ religious sensibilities, legislation proscribing “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations,” and the institution of a limit of three legal marriages per Russian, to discourage divorce. But to conclude that the Russian Orthodox Church is nothing more than a bastion of political and moral reactionaries is to miss the many ways that change is being forced upon it. In some sense, the church’s ultraconservatism is on the wane…

Besieged residents of Syria’s Homs plead for help (Daily Star Lebanon) Thousands trapped in rebel areas of the Syrian city of Homs are living in dismal conditions and suffering severe food and medical shortages, say activists, who appealed for help to evacuate civilians safely. “Nothing is allowed in or out of the besieged areas,” Homs-based activist Yazan said Wednesday, urging international agencies to help “save … the children, women and the elderly.” The appeal by Yazan, who did not give his full name for security reasons, comes 15 months into a suffocating army siege on rebel areas in the central city. “Most people are showing symptoms of malnutrition. There is no clean drinking water,” and diseases “are spreading”, he told AFP via the Internet…

Pope calls on Christians to continue prayers for peace (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis Wednesday during his weekly general audience called on Catholics together with other Christians to continue to pray for peace in the most troubled parts of the world. He made the appeal ahead of the International Day of Peace, celebrated on 21 September. Below is a Vatican Radio English translation of the pope’s words…

Patriarch Tikhon Choir nurtures sounds of the Orthodox Church (New York Times) The Patriarch Tikhon Choir, a mixed-voice professional ensemble of 35 American, Canadian and Russian singers, was formed recently to focus on Orthodox Christian sacred music, a tradition it hopes to nurture in the United States. A substantial audience that included many monks turned up to hear the ensemble — named for a missionary saint who helped expand Orthodoxy in early 20th-century America — give its debut concert on Monday evening at St. Malachy’s Roman Catholic Church (the Actors’ Chapel) in the theater district of New York…



Tags: Egypt Lebanon Refugees Syrian Civil War Arab Spring/Awakening

17 September 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro




A Coptic Orthodox bishop prays with local residents at burnt and damaged church in Minya, Egypt, on 26 August. Egypt’s military and interim government have condemned all the attacks on Christian properties, calling them the “work of terrorists,” and blaming them on the Muslim Brotherhood and other groups supportive of ousted leader Mohammed Morsi. (photo: CNS/Louafi Larbi, Reuters)

In Islamist bastions of Egypt, army treads carefully, as do Christians (New York Times) In Cairo, where Islamists were always weakest, the security forces have ridden a wave of public approbation as they have moved quickly to impose a tight lockdown on street protests. Demonstrators opposing the new government are ever wary, fenced in by security forces, harried by hostile residents and fearful of attack. But in Minya, the provincial capital, the situation is so starkly inverted that a visitor might almost think that Mr. Morsi is still president…

Elections in Iraqi Kurdistan: patriarch appeals to Christian politicians (Fides) With elections scheduled for 21 September in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans Louis Raphael I appealed to the candidates of the Christian faith to commit themselves “to improving our towns and villages in terms of housing, services and infrastructure, creating jobs so that Christians do not emigrate.” In the message, sent to Fides Agency, the patriarch invites everyone to work for a full achievement of rights linked to citizenship…

Bulgarian patriarch says consumerism won’t make people happy (Novinite) The real needs of Bulgarians and people across the world relate to their daily toils and quest for harmony, argued Bulgaria’s Patriarch Neofit. “The needs of Bulgarians today do not differ from those of Bulgarians in the past, or from those of citizens of other countries. Those are universal needs,” said the head of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church in an interview for Dnevnik.bg. Patriarch Neofit added that contemporary consumer society imposes new needs upon people, which take up considerable time and energy…

Ethiopia’s religious leaders call for support for national development (AllAfrica) Ethiopia’s religious leaders have urged Ethiopians to uphold peace and support the country’s efforts in national development in their New Year messages for 2006 (Ethiopian Calendar). The leaders called on Ethiopians to respect and support each other, strengthen their unity within diversity, and together push the ongoing national development endeavors forward. The archbishop of the Ethiopian Catholic Church, Abune Birhaneyesus Surafel, called on the laity to contribute to fighting illicit human trafficking…

Syrian bishop speaks on country’s mass exodus of Christians (Aid to the Church in Need) A Syrian prelate, ordained a bishop only last month, has spoken of his dismay at the country’s mass exodus of Christians, but he is convinced that the future of one of the world’s oldest Church communities is assured. Melkite Greek Catholic Bishop Nicolas Antiba of Bosra and Hauran described how his faithful in southern Syria were fleeing in their hundreds to the area around his bishop’s house in Khabab following attacks which included the destruction of reportedly one of the country’s oldest churches, dating back to the 6th century. Bishop Antiba stressed the urgent need for help for displaced people arriving in Khabab and elsewhere, including food and shelter, a problem which he said will become more acute as the weather worsens. Amid reports that up to a third of the country’s Christian population is now internally displaced or living as refugees abroad, Bishop Antiba said, “I believe, I know, that persecution will not destroy the church…”



Tags: Syria Iraq Egypt Ethiopian Christianity Bulgarian Orthodox Church

16 September 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro




A damaged Syriac Catholic Church is pictured in Homs, Syria, on 15 September. (photo: CNS/Yazen Homsy, Reuters)

Maaloula’s cathedral and churches empty of Christians amid fighting (The Telegraph) On Sunday thousands of Christians should have filled its streets for the festival of the Holy Cross. But instead, the streets of Maaloula are filled with soldiers and tanks, spent bullet casings and the noise of Syria’s latest front-line fight. Maaloula is a special place. It has been a safe haven for Christians for 2,000 years — until now. It was a place of refuge so secure in its rugged mountain isolation that a dialect of the language of Christ, Aramaic, is still spoken here. But now, its Christian community of 2,000 has fled. In the tight alleyways and streets that wind up the Maaloula’s mountainside their language has been replaced by the Arabic of two bitter enemies: rebels from three Islamist groups and the soldiers of President Bashar al Assad…

U.N. finds ‘clear and convincing evidence’ of Syria chemical attack (Los Angeles Times) United Nations inspectors say there is “clear and convincing evidence” that chemical weapons were used on a relatively large scale in an attack last month in Syria that killed hundreds of people. A report from the inspectors says “the environmental, chemical and medical samples we have collected provide clear and convincing evidence that surface-to-surface rockets containing the nerve agent sarin were used … in the Ghouta area of Damascus” on 21 August…

Despite chemical weapons talks, fighting in Syria escalated (Washington Post) As negotiations to avert a U.S. strike against Syria ramped up last week, so, too, did the action on the ground. Warplanes dropped bombs over far-flung Syrian towns that hadn’t seen airstrikes in weeks, government forces went on the attack in the hotly contested suburbs of Damascus, rebels launched an offensive in the south, and a historic Christian town changed hands at least four times…

Some wounded Syrians treated in Israel (NPR) The wounded arrive from Syrian clinics with day-old injuries, rudimentary stitches and amputations. Some are women and children; others are adult men, some thought to be rebel fighters. Israel has helped about 200 of the injured across the border for medical treatment. No matter their role in the fighting, the Syrians have come here at great risk: They could face arrest or worse if Syria ever found out they visited Israel. Most of the Syrian patients here are alone — no family or friends by their side. They don’t risk calling or emailing their families in Syria, either…

Chaldean patriarch to Church of the East: let us go back to full unity (Fides) The Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans Louis Raphael I sent a letter of congratulations to the Patriarch of the Church of the East Mar Dinkha IV on the occasion of his 78th birthday, celebrated on 15 September. In the congratulatory message, Patriarch Louis Raphael extended an eloquent official invitation to start a path of dialogue together to restore full ecclesial communion between the Chaldean community — together with the bishop of Rome — and the Church of the East. “I take this opportunity, to express the desire of the Chaldean Church to begin dialogue for unity, which is the desire of Jesus. The beginning of this dialogue is urgent today, in the face of great challenges that threaten our survival. Without unity, there is no future for us…”

Pope receives Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem (VIS) The pope held an audience with members of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem participating in a pilgrimage to Rome to mark the Year of Faith on Friday afternoon. “The Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem has a history dating back almost a thousand years; yours is one of the most ancient welfare and charitable Orders still active today,” said Pope Francis…

Meeting of the Latin bishops of the Arab world (Fides) On 17 September, the ordinary meeting of the representatives of the Conference of Latin Bishops in the Arab Regions — the body that brings together the Catholic bishops of the Latin Church in the Arab states of the Middle East, Egypt and Somalia — will begin in Rome. The meetings will focus on the latest initiatives planned for the Year of Faith and the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council. The liaison body of the bishops of the Latin Church in the Arab countries was established in 1967 to promote collegiality and communion among local churches…



Tags: Syrian Civil War Violence against Christians Ecumenism United Nations Christian Unity

13 September 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro




In this 26 August photograph, a Coptic Orthodox bishop surveys the damaged evangelical church in Minya. Egypt’s interim government condemns all the attacks on Christian properties, calling them the “work of terrorists,” and blaming them on the Muslim Brotherhood and other groups supportive of ousted leader Mohammed Morsi. (photo: CNS/Louafi Larbi, Reuters)

In Minya, Islamists hold a Protestant church as a mosque (AsiaNews) The Christian community of Monshaat Baddini in the province of Samalout report that Islamists have occupied a local Protestant church since 14 August. The police never intervened to stop them. For almost a month, no Christian has been allowed to enter. According to local sources, the Islamists have removed all sacred fixtures and icons. On the wall of the church an inscription reads: “mosque of martyrs.” In Delga city of the province of Minya, Islamists have created a kind of parallel state — to survive, Christians must pay “jizya,” a tax imposed upon non-Muslims…

Coptic refugee from Minya finds comfort in pope’s words (AsiaNews) “I saw the pope at the Astalli Center. Meeting him and listening to his words comforted me, especially now, after I escaped from Egypt. At the moment, I do not think I can go back. I have beautiful memories that will always stay with me, but there is no place for me in my land,” said George, a 27-year-old Copt who in August fled from Minya, Egypt, the region most affected by the violence unleashed by Islamists after the overthrow of Mohammed Morsi. On 10 August, Islamists blew up the supermarket owned by George and his family, threatening to kill him and his loved ones. After his escape, he spent the past month in Rome, waiting for his application for political asylum to be accepted by Italian authorities…

Egyptian Coptic emigrants adapt to life in U.S. (PBS Newshour) Mary, a 29-year-old Coptic Christian from Minya, Egypt, who asked to be identified by only her first name while she works to get permanent resident status, and her husband originally went to Saudi Arabia after leaving Egypt. But coming from Minya, which has one of Egypt’s largest Coptic Christian populations, they didn’t feel at home in Saudi Arabia, where they couldn’t find any Coptic churches. Instead, they traveled to the United States and connected with the growing Coptic community in the Washington, D.C., area. The growing Egyptian population has led to record attendance at St. Mark Coptic Orthodox Church in Fairfax, Virginia…

Commentary: The United States should welcome war refugees (Al Jazeera) In the American debate over whether President Obama should intervene militarily in Syria or adopt a Russian proposal to eliminate the country’s chemical weapons, there is one important group that has received little attention: Syria’s approximately 2 million refugees and 4.25 million internally displaced citizens. The United States has long offered sanctuary for those fleeing political persecution or humanitarian crises. Syrians fleeing the war, however, have not experienced such kindness…

Russian Orthodox Church seeks to heal centuries-old schism (RIA Novosti) Russia’s dominant Orthodox Church said Friday it would discuss a draft document that will “heal” a schism with some of the smaller Russian Christian denominations known collectively as Old Believers. An expert on religions in Russia hailed the document as a “timely” effort by the increasingly powerful Russian Orthodox Church, but some of the Old Believers are wary the initiative. The Old Believers split from the mainstream Russian Orthodox Church after a reform initiated by Moscow Patriarch Nikon in the 1650s. The reform sought to clarify service texts, the spelling of Jesus’ name in the Cyrillic alphabet and other rituals such as the number of fingers believers should use when crossing themselves…



Tags: Egypt Refugees Syrian Civil War Russian Orthodox Church United States

12 September 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro




Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theodoros II of Alexandria visits Coptic Pope Tawadros II on 4 September. To learn more about the respective churches they lead, see our profiles of the Orthodox Patriarchal Church of Alexandria and All Africa and the Coptic Orthodox Church. (photo: The Coptic Orthodox Church)

Pope Tawadros II resumes public catechesis (Fides) After suspending his public catechesis for ten weeks due to the clashes that rocked Egypt following Muhammad Morsi’s removal from the presidency, Coptic Pope Tawadros II yesterday returned to host the traditional Wednesday audience in the Coptic Orthodox Cathedral of St. Mark in Cairo. “The world is saved because it is in God’s hands, and Egypt has a special place in his heart,” he said. “Let us not allow hatred and hostility to penetrate our hearts…”

Iraq’s cold war leaves country on edge (Christian Science Monitor) During Iraq’s brutal civil war, which began in 2006 and dragged on for more than two years, Shiites and Sunnis squared off, leaving tens of thousands dead. The rival factions never completely reconciled. During last spring’s election, Shiite politician and cleric Muqtada al Sadr allied with Sunni political blocs to successfully challenge Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki’s ruling party — a brief glimmer of hope that Iraq was edging toward reconciliation. But several months later and after levels of violence not seen since 2008, most Iraqis say the political union was more of a statement about both groups’ dislike of Mr. Maliki than an actual desire to work with one another. Now, many Iraqis fear that their civil war never really ended — instead, it just morphed into a cold war that leaves the nation vulnerable to a renewal of sectarian violence. The Syrian war next door to Iraq has also helped to drudge up a number of dormant sectarian issues…

Battle for Syria Christian town of Maaloula continues (BBC) A BBC correspondent in Syria has said the battle for an ancient Christian town is continuing, despite reports that government forces had retaken it. Jeremy Bowen said that a heavy gunfight with rebels was continuing in Maaloula, with smoke rising into the sky. He added that he had not seen evidence confirming religious sites had been damaged by Al Qaeda-linked jihadists…

Syrian opposition fails to reassure Syrian Christians (Al Monitor) Syrian Christians as a whole have not thrown their support behind either side in the Syrian war. Nevertheless, Christians in Syria have been subjected to a lot of pressure by both the regime and the opposition, which failed to give them — or any religious or ethnic Syrian component — any assurances or support. Some armed groups have accused the church of supporting the regime. And many of the opposition’s statements and video clips do not reassure minorities that they will be participants in the new Syria…

First Syrian refugees land in Germany (Der Spiegel) Some are injured, some are traumatized, but all have been forced to flee. A million Syrians have left their country because of the civil war. Germany has agreed to offer temporary asylum to 5,000, and the first refugees took off for Hanover on Wednesday…

Maronite patriarch inaugurates church in Romania (Daily Star Lebanon) Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter will visit Romania Thursday for meetings with senior Romanian officials and the inauguration of St. Charbel Church, the first Maronite parish in Eastern Europe. Patriarch Bechara Peter is also to hold meetings with members of the Lebanese community…



Tags: Iraq Refugees Syrian Civil War Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II

11 September 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro




Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregory III, center right with red stole, celebrates the funeral liturgy of three men in Damascus, Syria, on 10 September. The men were killed during a raid by Syrian opposition fighters on the village of Maaloula northeast of Damascus on 7 September. (photo: CNS/Khaled al Hariri, Reuters)

Patriarch Gregory III: ‘Great leaders … know how to make peace’ (Fides) “The greatness of a leader is to seek peace and make peace, not to wage war and create destruction. A superpower is such if it is a power of peace,” says Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregory III. “The logic of violence is never the logic of wise people. … We call on all political leaders of the world to return to the Word of Jesus in the Gospel; this is enough to build a world of civilization, liberty, dignity, love and mercy…”

U.S.C.C.B. calls for negotiation, humanitarian assistance In Syria (U.S.C.C.B.) The Administrative Committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued an urgent call for a political solution to the crisis in Syria. The bishops issued the statement on the first day of their 10-11 September Administrative Committee meeting at the U.S.C.C.B. headquarters in Washington. The appeal followed a day of prayer and fasting for peace in Syria on September 7, which had been called for by Pope Francis. Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, U.S.C.C.B. president, and Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, U.S.C.C.B. International Justice and Peace chairman, wrote letters to President Obama and Congress, respectively, also urging that the United States not resort to military action…

Syria: Holy Land Bishop on fears of Christians in region (Vatican Radio) William Shomali, the auxiliary bishop of Jerusalem and the Palestinian territories, has been speaking out about possible foreign intervention in Syria. Bishop William says Christians across the Middle East do not want an international military strike on the regime of Bashar al Assad, fearing that regional chaos would ensue. Christians — and many Muslims, he suggests — are afraid fanatical elements within the rebel opposition would seek retaliation against those they see as supporters of the regime, while Christians have largely tried to stay neutral…

Patriarch Kirill: U.S. should heed unanimous religious leaders (Fides) On the eve of the 12th anniversary of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks, the Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill yesterday sent a message to President Barack Obama urging him to shelve plans for a military attack against Assad’s regime and to focus on diplomatic paths to stop the Syrian conflict, as has been suggested in recent days by leaders of all religious communities, starting with Pope Francis…

Syrian Christians pack passports fearing Islamist onslaught (Bloomberg) As the United States Congress debates a possible strike against Syrian President Bashar al Assad, Christians in and around Damascus say they face a double crisis. Like many other Damascenes, they fear an attack would lead to an escalation in the civil war rather than put an end to it, while they are also concerned about becoming a lightning rod for Muslim radicals. Salim Eid, a Christian who lives in an area of Homs under the control of Assad’s army, said the events in Maaloula reminded him of how his brother and other family members were forced by the rebels to vacate their homes and farms in Umm Sharshouh village in Homs Province earlier this year. Bishop George Abu Zakham said he was kicked out of his home in Homs last year along with about 85,000 Christians by extremist rebels. He said Christians in suburbs around Damascus were also displaced in the same way…

Arab world’s religious leaders urge common ground at Jordan conference (al-shorfa.com) Some 70 high-ranking church leaders and Muslim clerics from across the region and world met in Jordan last week to promote common ground among followers of the various religions and sects in the Middle East. Titled “Challenges facing Arab Christians,” the 3-4 September conference urged tolerance, peace and moderation and sought to address challenges facing Christians in the region as well as highlight their important contribution to Arab and Islamic civilizations. Participants included Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch of Antioch Gregory III — a Syrian national — who called for the organization of a global campaign to urge peace in Syria, and Patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church of Babylon Mar Louis Raphael I, who spoke to the current situation in Iraq…



Tags: Middle East Christians Syrian Civil War Patriarch Kirill Melkite Patriarch Gregory III of Antioch U.S.C.C.B.

10 September 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro




Syrian-American demonstrators march against U.S. military intervention in Syria in front of the White House in Washington, on 9 September. (photo: CNS/Jim Bourg, Reuters)

Syria ceding chemical arms may halt U.S. attack (New York Times) President Obama on Monday tentatively embraced a Russian diplomatic proposal to avert a United States military strike on Syria by having international monitors take control of the Syrian government’s chemical weapons. Sergey V. Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, said early Monday that Syria could avoid an attack by putting its chemical weapons in the hands of monitors and agreeing to ultimately eliminate its massive arsenal of poison gas. It was an idea that was quickly praised by top officials in Syria and some lawmakers in the United States. “It’s possible,” Mr. Obama said on CNN of the Russian proposal, “if it’s real.” Secretary of State John Kerry opened the door to the Russian idea when he told a reporter at a news conference earlier on Monday that President Bashar al Assad of Syria could avoid strikes by agreeing to give up his chemical weapons, although Mr. Kerry doubted the plan was feasible…

Syrian army moves to retake Maaloula (Daily Star Lebanon) Syrian troops launched an offensive Monday against rebel-held positions on hills overlooking a mainly Christian village as they moved to regain control of the ancient community near Damascus, activists said. The battle for Maaloula has stoked fears among Syrian Christians that the alternative to Assad’s regime — which is made up mostly of Alawites, followers of a variant of Shiite Islam — would not tolerate minority religions. Such concerns have helped Assad retain the support of large chunks of Syria’s minority communities, including Christians, Alawites, Druze and ethnic Kurds. Most of the rebels and their supporters are Sunni Muslims…

Christians, Muslims join Pope Francis in praying for peace in Syria (CNS) At the Church of All Nations at the Garden of Gethsemane, the stone that traditionally has represented Jesus’ agony was scattered with notes in different languages — all asking for peace in Syria. Christian leaders of the Holy Land gathered there on 7 September, as Christians and Muslims all over the world prayed with Pope Francis for Syria. In the West Bank and in Turkey, in Canada and the United States people gathered, responding to the papal call for prayer and fasting…

Pope to meet with refugees (Vatican Radio) Today, the Holy Father will make a private visit to the Centro Astalli in Rome, the Italian seat of the Jesuit Refugee Service. This center currently admits 700 refugees from different parts of the world, among whom there are some Syrian families forced to flee their homes due to the current conflict. Francis will meet with 300 refugees in the Church of Jesus in Rome, where he will visit the tomb of Father Pedro Arrupe, who founded the Jesuit Refugee Service in 1981. The Holy Father will then transfer to the dining hall of the center, where he will meet with another 400 refugees…

Islamists seize town in southern Egypt and attack Christians (New York Times) Dalga, a town of about 120,000 people, including 20,000 Christians, has been outside government control since hard-line Islamist supporters of Mr. Morsi drove out the police and occupied the police station on the day the Egyptian military removed Mr. Morsi. The Islamists’ actions were part of a wave of attacks in the province of Minya that targeted Christians, their homes and their businesses. Since then, the militants have imposed their grip on Dalga, twice driving off attempts by the army to send in armored personnel carriers, fending them off with gunfire. The takeover of Dalga has been disastrous for Christians in the town…

Malankara Orthodox Syrian leader urges peace (Catholicatenews.in) “War is not the answer,” said Baselios Marthoma Paulose II, primate of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, in a recent statement. He continued to say that the way forward is through diplomacy and dialogue rather than unilateral military actions, and that everyone should pray specially and wholeheartedly for peace to be re-established in disturbed regions such as Egypt and Syria…



Tags: Egypt Pope Francis Syrian Civil War United States Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church

9 September 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro




In this 2008 photo, a man writes on a board during class at the Aramaic Language Institute in Maaloula, Syria, where local residents can study the writing and grammar of their ancestral language. (photo: CNS/Brooke Anderson)

Syrian war makes sudden appearance at convent in iconic Christian town (Washington Post) High in the mountains above Damascus lies a town so remote that Syria’s war had passed it by, so untouched by time that its inhabitants still speak the language of Jesus. The violence ravaging the rest of Syria has finally caught up with Maaloula, renowned as the oldest Christian community in the world — and the last in which the same version of Aramaic that prevailed 2,000 years ago is the native tongue. On Sunday, Syrian rebels, including some affiliated with Al Qaeda, swept through Maaloula for the second time in four days, after an assault a few days earlier in which the last of its few thousand residents fled and the specter of unchecked violence threatened to convulse the iconic town…

Melkite patriarch issues appeal to save Maaloula (Fides) Melkite Patriarch Gregory III, lamenting what he calls “the great tragedy of this war,” has launched an urgent appeal “to the international community, to the conscience of the whole world, to save the small village of Maaloula, which is a very important Christian symbol in the history of Syria…”

A testimony from a Syrian monastery (L’Osservatore Romano) Sister Marta Luisa Fagnani, a member of a small community of Italian Trappist nuns in Syria, speaks to L’Osservatore Romano about remaining prayerful under the present conditions. “Prayer and fasting are like weapons to empty oneself of oneself and to try to be more reasonable, to make oneself listen to a deeper wisdom,” Sister Marta Luisa says. “Prayer is powerful, of that we are convinced. Otherwise, we would not have chosen this life…”

Christians and Hindus united in fasting and prayer for peace in Syria (Fides) Fasting and prayer for peace in Syria sees Christians and Hindus in India united. Bishop Felix Machado of Vasai, president of the Commission for Ecumenical and Interreligious Dialogue of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, told Fides: “The pope’s appeal for a special day for peace in Syria was welcomed with joy and enthusiasm by Christians in India, and now has spread to the leaders and the Hindu communities. Some Hindu leaders called me to express solidarity and to ensure fasting and prayer in the Hindu temples…”

Pope: Waging war against evil means discarding violence (VIS) Pope Francis, following yesterday’s fast and prayer vigil for peace in Syria, the Middle East and all over the world, returned to the theme of peace during the Angelus at midday today. He commented on today’s Gospel reading in which Jesus states the condition for his disciples: to put nothing before their love for God, carrying their cross, and following Jesus. “At this moment in time, when we are praying intensely for peace, this Word of the Lord affects us profoundly, and fundamentally it says: ‘There’s a deeper war we must fight, all of us!’ It is the strong and brave decision to renounce evil and its seductions, and to choose good, fully prepared to pay personally — that is, following Christ, and taking up our cross! It is a profound war against evil! What is the point of fighting wars, many wars, if you are not capable of fighting this deeper war against evil? There’s no point!” the pope said…

Ecumenical patriarch meets with president of Estonia (The Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople) On 5 September Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople visited President Toomas Hendrik Ilves of Estonia to express his gratitude for their support of the Apostolic Orthodox Church of Estonia, especially following the restoration of its status of autonomy by the Ecumenical Patriarchate in 1996. Afterward, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew responded to questions from the local media regarding the two Orthodox jurisdictions in Estonia, the situation in Syria, and other contemporary issues…



Tags: Pope Francis Syrian Civil War Violence against Christians Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I Estonia

6 September 2013
Greg Kandra




People walk near destroyed buildings and debris in Deir al-Zor, Syria, on 4 September.
(photo: CNS/Khalil Ashawi, Reuters)


U.S. orders diplomats out of Lebanon (AP) The State Department on Friday ordered nonessential U.S. diplomats to leave Lebanon due to security concerns as the Obama administration and Congress debate military strikes on neighboring Syria. In a new travel warning for Lebanon, the department said it had instructed nonessential staffers to leave Beirut and urged private American citizens to depart Lebanon. The step had been under consideration since last week when President Barack Obama said he was contemplating military action against the Syrian government for its alleged chemical weapons attack last month that the administration said killed more than 1,400 people near Damascus. “The potential in Lebanon for a spontaneous upsurge in violence remains,” the department said...

Divisons remain over Syria at G20 summit (Vatican Radio) World leaders are continuing their discussions on the final day of the G20 Summit in St Petersburg, Russia. Divisions still remain on what sort of action to take on Syria. President Barack Obama told G20 leaders the United States has high confidence that Syrian forces used chemical weapons and underlined the need to uphold an international ban on the use of such weapons.But Russia, China and the EU are still opposed to a military solution...

Vatican’s Foreign Secretary meets with diplomats to discuss Syria (Vatican Radio) The Vatican’s Secretary for Foreign Relations Archbishop Dominque Mamberti has met with world ambassadors accredited to the Holy See to discuss Pope Francis’ initiative calling for a day of prayer and fasting for peace in Syria on Saturday 7 September. In a briefing for journalists about Thursday’s meeting, Director of the Vatican Press Office, Fr. Federico Lombardi, denied “in the most complete manner” that Pope Francis had telephoned Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. Fr. Lombardi was responding to reports in Italian media which he described as “devoid of foundation”...

Cardinal McCarrick: no strikes in Syria; don’t repeat mistakes of Iraq (CNS) Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, retired archbishop of Washington, said he opposed U.S. military intervention in Syria, adding that he was “not in favor of going to war to make peace.” “We made the mistake in Iraq. I hope we don’t make the mistake again in Syria,” he told Catholic News Service 5 September after visiting some of the nearly half-million refugees who had fled to Jordan, Syria’s southern neighbor. When asked what was worst, either allow Syria to use chemical weapons and do nothing or go in with limited military strikes, he quickly responded: “Neither is the proper answer”...

Archbishop Pendergast heartened by aid projects in Ethiopia (Catholic Register) Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast returned from a recent visit to Ethiopia pleased with how money is being spent in projects being funded by Canadian Catholics. The Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace had launched campaigns to raise funds to avert food crises in both the Sahel Region and the Horn of Africa in recent years. Prendergast was part of the delegation formed so Canadian Catholics can see what is being done with their money. “Ethiopia was considered the safest option and, though (D&P) has had involvement there for many years, no one had visited,” he said...







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