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September, 2019
Volume 45, Number 3
  
17 January 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro




Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al Assad walk on the rubble of damaged buildings and shops in the old city of Aleppo on 3 January. (photo: CNS/George Ourfalian, Reuters)

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Syria university explosion kills more than 80 (L.A. Times) Dozens of people died in two explosions minutes apart Tuesday at a university in the embattled northern city of Aleppo, a reminder of the Syrian conflict’s costly toll on ordinary citizens. At least 82 people, many on campus for midterm exams, were killed, according to separate accounts from rebels in Aleppo, government officials and a pro-opposition group. Videos posted on YouTube show students in winter clothes milling about minutes after the first blast occurred, when a second explosion sent a billowing, mushroom-like cloud into the sky. The explosions tore the facades off buildings, blew out windows, set cars ablaze and left bodies scattered across the grounds of Aleppo University, which has managed to stay open despite daily battles between the government and rebel forces since July. It was not known who was responsible for the blasts…

For those still in Syria, a daily struggle (N.P.R.) The situation for Syrian refugees is getting dire. Much has been reported about the worsening conditions for hundreds of thousands of Syrians taking up shelter just outside the country’s borders, but inside Syria, the numbers are even higher. The United Nations says some 2 million people have been displaced from their homes in Syria, and most of them end up squatting in mosques and schools. NPR’s Kelly McEvers spent a night in one of those schools, in Syria’s largest city, Aleppo, and filed this report on the daily lives of the people she encountered…

Serbian Orthodox Church reports mistreatment of Christians by Kosovo police (Interfax Religion) Information service of the Serbian Orthodox diocese of Ra?ka-Prizren reports that during Christmas celebration on 7 January 2013, Kosovar police executed a raid operation in the Gra?anica convent. The ruling hierarch, Bishop Teodosije of Raska-Prizren, was not notified. The worshippers’ confusion, fear and bewilderment over actions of the police were redoubled by the detention of Orthodox Christians who were in Gracanica to attend Christmas Divine Liturgy. Several Serbs were detained and brought to Pristina for interrogation without any indictment. According to one of them, they were beaten while in the detention unit. One sustained serious injuries and was admitted to the local hospital. The detention of Orthodox Christians on the day of the Nativity of Christ and mistreatment of the detainees has evoked indignation among the Serbian Orthodox and Russian Orthodox communities…

Combating human trafficking a priority in Orissa (Fides) A decisive fight against human trafficking — which mainly affects the poorest communities in Orissa, such as Christians — and initiatives to ensure food security for the population are the activities sponsored for the Year of Faith by a network formed by the religious congregations in the state of Orissa. The network includes other Christian denominations, non-governmental organizations, civic groups, students and diocesan teams of volunteers. The network has identified two emergencies in the society of Orissa state in eastern India, the scene of anti-Christian massacres in 2008. The first is human trafficking, which affects mostly women and children, and the second is food insecurity — households do not have the certainty of the minimum daily sustenance necessary for survival…

Court overturns life sentence against Hosni Mubarak; orders retrial (N.P.R.) An Egyptian court overturned a life sentence against ousted President Hosni Mubarak and ordered a retrial for the former autocrat. The decision to retry the strongman, who was serving a life sentence for failing to stop the killing of protesters, came as no surprise. When the judge overseeing the original case made his ruling last June, he criticized the prosecution for failing to produce concrete evidence against the leadership. Mubarak and his security chief Habib al Adly will be tried again on criminal charges related to the killing of some 1,000 demonstrators during the 2011 uprising that forced the president’s ouster. Adly’s six deputies, who held key positions and were all acquitted, will also be retried. The court also granted a request to overturn not-guilty verdicts on corruption charges against Mubarak, his two sons and a business associate, Hussein Salem…



Tags: India Egypt Syrian Civil War human trafficking Kosovo

15 January 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro




In this 2010 photograph, Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal of Jerusalem waves after celebrating Mass at the cathedral in Valparaiso, Chile, on 8 November. (photo: CNS/Eliseo Fernandez, Reuters)

Patriarch Twal urges democratic participation among Jordanians (Fides) Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal has sent a message to the “dear children” of Jordan in view of the upcoming parliamentary elections, scheduled for 23 January. In the message, the patriarch thanked King Abdullah II for ensuring that all citizens are able to exercise their electoral rights enshrined in the Constitution, and recalls the words addressed by the king to Pope Benedict XVI in May 2009, during the papal visit to Jordan: “The sons of our people, Muslims and Christians are equal citizens before the law, and all are involved in shaping the future of our country.” Patriarch Twal notes that country, after the worship due to the one God, occupies a position of first importance, since dedication towards one’s country precedes and guarantees the protection of the legitimate interests of individuals or groups. “There is no contradiction between the worship of God and belonging to one’s own country.”

Georgian Orthodox Patriarch Ilia II’s ‘star power’ (Eurasianet.org) Georgia’s two squabbling rulers, the prime minister and the president, both need love — the love of the country’s spiritual leader, the guardian of national unity, the primus inter pares, Georgian Orthodox Patriarch Ilia II. A recent, seemingly playful exchange in which the president and prime minister bickered over whom the patriarch loved more showed rather clearly that Georgia’s political system is not a diarchy, but a triumvirate, and that secular leaders need to vie for the holy graces of the chief of the Georgian Orthodox Church. Georgians’ infatuation with their political leaders is pretty much a one-night stand; they tend to lose interest the moment leaders take office. But the patriarch always tops the national love charts. And, so, well aware of the patriarch’s star power, the civic leaders turned up at the celebrations that marked Orthodox New Year, plus Ilia II’s 80th birthday and the anniversary of his 1977 enthronement — “a celebration of love,” as the church leader himself put it.

Rapes and bombings drive half a million refugees out of Syria (Christian Science Monitor) The flood of refugees from Syria, driven by rampant bombings and the widespread use of rape as an instrument of terror, threatens to destabilize the Middle East. The Syrian government bombed areas around Damascus on Monday as part of its push to keep rebel fighters out of the capital, leaving many children among the dozens killed, anti-regime activists said. An international aid organization cited such raids, along with rape and widespread destruction, as key factors in the exodus of more than a half-million Syrians to neighboring countries since the conflict began in March 2011. The International Rescue Committee said it could be “months, if not years” before the refugees can return home and warned that Syria’s civil war could enflame tensions in the Middle East.

Coptic Christians fleeing Egypt following Islamist takeover (The Telegraph) Tens of thousands of Egyptian Christians are leaving the country in the wake of the Egyptian revolution and subsequent Islamist takeover of politics, priests and community leaders say. Coptic Christian churches in the United States say they are having to expand to cope with new arrivals, as priests in cities like Cairo and Alexandria talk of a new climate of fear and uncertainty. “Most of our people are afraid,” said Father Mina Adel, a priest at the Church of Two Saints in Alexandria. “Not a few are leaving — for America, Canada and Australia. Dozens of families from this church alone are trying to go too.” Father Mina’s church has an important place in the history of the Arab Spring. It was struck by a car bomb on New Year’s Eve 2010, Egypt’s worst sectarian attack in recent decades, in which 23 people were killed. After the bombing, liberal Muslim groups staged protests in support of Christians, printing posters showing the cross and the crescent interlinked which then went on to be symbols of inter-faith unity during the Tahrir Square protests three weeks later. But the victory of the Muslim Brotherhood in parliamentary and presidential elections has changed the mood — particularly as the biggest opposition party is the even more hardline Salafist movement which wants strict Sharia law implemented.



Tags: Egypt Syrian Civil War Jordan Patriarch Fouad Twal Georgian Orthodox Church

14 January 2013
Greg Kandra




Young Syrian refugees stand outside their tents after heavy rain on 10 January at the Zaatari refugee camp in the Jordanian border town of Mafraq. Snow, driving rain and howling winds in early January compounded the already desperate situation for Syrians.
(photo: CNS/Muhammad Hamed, Reuters)


Syrian government warplanes pound Damascus suburbs (CBS News) Syrian activists say a regime attack on Damascus’ rebellious suburbs has killed at least 45 people, including eight children. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Monday that 24 of the dead, including all eight children, were killed by government air strikes and artillery in eastern Ghouta district on Sunday...

Jordanian archbishop opens churches to welcome refugees (Fides) In front of the humanitarian catastrophe that looms over the refugee camp of Zaatari — where snowstorms and freezing rain in recent days have swept away hundreds of tents — Archbishop Maroun Laham, Patriarchal Vicar for Jordan of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, opens the doors of churches and parish complexes to accommodate Syrian refugees...

Indian bishops speak out against rape, support “dignity of women” (Fides) As another episode of gang rape shakes the nation — the victim, a 29 year-old a woman in Punjab, raped by six men in Amristar — the Bishops of India reaffirm “the sanctity of life and the necessity of an effort in the field of education, to combat this practice that degrades the dignity of women...”

CNEWA launches Rome event for Eastern Catholic churches (Vatican Radio) Many Catholics today are surprised when they hear that their Church is made up of a myriad of ancient rites and not just the Latin one. Many of these 22 rites stem directly from the lands where Jesus lived. The Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA) is trying to raise awareness among the faithful that the Church’s rich tapestry of eastern traditions is an historically important source of strength for the Universal Church. But, these ancient churches need our help. That’s why the President of CNEWA, Monsignor John Kozar is co-hosting with the Pontifical Congregation for Eastern Churches a special event and pilgrimage in Rome this week. He and Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, Prefect of the Congregation, are hoping to introduce Italians, mostly Catholics, to the reality of the eastern rite churches...

A Vatican artist from Russia (Kuwait Times) After Michelangelo and Raphael, the Vatican’s latest official painter is something of an unusual choice-an ebullient Russian woman with a pet owl who is a regular at the court of cardinals and popes. An Orthodox believer in the heart of Roman Catholicism, Natalia Tsarkova paints her classical-style portraits in a flat filled with Vatican memorabilia by the walls of the Holy See. “I like the atmosphere here, I feel needed,” Tsarkova told AFP in an interview in a studio with several unfinished works and back copies of the Vatican’s official newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano...



Tags: Syria India CNEWA Jordan Russian Orthodox

11 January 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro




CNEWA President Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York talks with Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, before a meeting of the Synod of Bishops on the new evangelization at the Vatican on 26 October. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)

Cardinal Sandri in Egypt: Guarantee profession of faith for all (Vatican News) Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, while visiting Egypt to celebrate the Year of Faith with the local church, met with those responsible for apostolic events in that country. “Doubtlessly,” he said in a 9 January address, “you are experiencing the desert of this very difficult present situation. Perhaps we must guard against letting the desert advance in our consciences and our hearts precisely while we are trying to advance the Gospel. Do not forget that the Son of God’s intense days were preceded and followed by an even more intense dialogue with the Father.” The cardinal went on to entrust the objectives of the Year of Faith, called by the Holy Father on 11 October 2012, to those responsible for apostolic events: “We are asked in grace to remain close to the life of the church and to participate directly in it. ... In this way, we may share the church’s mission to all peoples. We are expecting a renewed missionary impulse from the Year of Faith because throughout the world the most diverse religions are meeting and facing one another. And we are hoping for the confirmation of the church’s presence in the world, with its due support and the defense of Christians who are not granted religious freedom. The ability to profess one’s own creed must be guaranteed to everyone without exception, and thus also to Christians”…

Cardinal Dolan urges leadership from U.S. president for Israeli-Palestinian peace (U.S.C.C.B.) The United States is poised to make a real difference in the Arab-Israeli-Palestinian conflict and should provide tireless leadership to ensure a two-state solution in the Middle East, said two leaders of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (U.S.C.C.B.) in a 9 January letter to President Barack Obama. “We affirm your support of the two-state solution, promise our support for strong U.S. leadership for peace, and urge you even to consider appointing a high profile envoy in hopes that as in the past this might advance peace and justice in the region,” wrote Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, president of U.S.C.C.B., and Bishop Richard Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, chairman of the U.S.C.C.B. Committee on International Justice and Peace…

Rebels seize control of north Syrian airbase (BBC) Rebels are reported to have taken control of a strategic military airbase in northwestern Syria after days of fierce fighting with government forces. Opposition activists said the Free Syrian Army (F.S.A.) was in full control of Taftanaz airport. Videos purportedly showed fighters inside the facility. Helicopters based there have been used to attack rebel-held areas. “Many regime forces have been killed and most of the soldiers and officers fled at dawn,” Rami Abdul Rahman told the A.F.P. news agency. “This is the largest airbase to be seized since the revolt began”…

Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Visits Georgia (Civil.ge) Greek Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I visited Tbilisi on the occasion of 80th birthday of the Georgian Orthodox Church leader, Patriarch Ilia II, and of 35th anniversary of the Georgian patriarch’s enthronement. Serbian Orthodox Patriarch Irinej and interim leader of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church Metropolitan Cyril of Varna and Veliki Preslav are also attending. President Saakashvili received leaders of Orthodox churches on 10 January. He said that Patriarch Ilia II’s jubilee was a “celebration” for all of Georgia. Patriarch Bartholomew I is expected to meet PM Bidzina Ivanishvili on 11 January, according to the Georgian Patriarchate…

Coptic pope expresses strong desire for ecumenism (Fides) Pope Tawadros II, patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church, has been contributing to the new climate of dialogue and proximity among Christians since last November. On Tuesday, 8 January, the Coptic pope welcomed the visiting Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches. In December, during the Christmas holidays, the patriarch wanted to personally pay homage with a visit to all the heads of Christian churches in Egypt who follow the Gregorian calendar. “On that occasion,” says Botros Fahim Awad Hanna, auxiliary bishop of Alexandria of the Catholic Copts, “he expressed the desire to meet at least once a month. New Patriarch Tawadros is aware of the crucial importance of the ecumenical journey, and at the same time he reveals his profile as a pastor. He said: the doctrinal issues must be left to theologians. We, as pastors, have to express in front of all our fraternal love, in mutual love. It should be noted that his motto is the phrase of the first letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians: love will never have an end”…

Bishops warn of increasing polarization in the Holy Land (Vatican Radio) Bishops from North America and Europe have concluded their annual pilgrimage of solidarity to the Christians of the Holy Land with an appeal for prayers for peace. In their final statement the bishops note that the people in the region are living through dark and dramatic events, such as the conflict in Gaza and southern Israel; civil war in Syria, and increasing polarization within Israel and Palestine. These developments, they write, have caused profound anxiety for all but particularly for the dwindling Christian population…



Tags: Syrian Civil War United States Middle East Peace Process Patriarchs Coptic Orthodox Church

10 January 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro




Children pose with a snowman outside the Church of the Nativity in the West Bank town of Bethlehem on 9 January, during a rare cold spell. (photo: CNS/Marcin Mazur, Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales)

U.S. bishop says young Palestinians are beacon of hope (CNS) On 8 January, Bishop Kicanas of Tucson, Arizona, told Catholic News Service he was especially moved by the “daunting spirit” he found in the young people of Gaza. “While they have experienced trauma, disappointments and restrictions, they are advancing,” said the bishop, who was participating in the 13th annual Holy Land Coordination. “Their hopeful desire is to somehow, in the near future, be able to use the skills [they are gaining in their studies] to help their society. It even gives me hope.” Though the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains discouraging, with Israel expanding settlements and encroaching on Palestinian land, religious leaders must forge a sense of optimism, said Bishop Kicanas. “The situation is bleak and, yes, one of darkness but ... we continue to hear of light in the darkness, moments of hope,” he said…

Christian community trapped and exhausted in Aleppo (Fides) About a thousand Christians, mostly Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic, are trapped in the small village of Yaakoubieh in the north of Aleppo. They are completely worn out, with no food, no electricity and an acute lack of basic necessities, and find themselves in the midst of heavy fighting between loyalist forces and opposition groups. Unable to leave the village, they “are in terrible condition, where they risk extinction.” This is the alarm sounded through Fides Agency by the Franciscan friar Father Francois Kouseiffi, O.F.M., pastor of the church of San Francesco in Hamra, Beirut. Father Francois deals with the care and assistance of about 500 Syrian refugees. “The situation is very serious. The faithful are trapped. We are trying in every way to help them to come to Lebanon”…

High number of Syrian refugees creates tension in Lebanon (Fides) Granting hospitality to refugees fleeing from war-torn Syria is a meritorious act that must be encouraged. But with the relentless rise in the number of refugees, the dangers to political stability and social order also increase. Yesterday, in the usual monthly meeting convened at the patriarchal seat in Bkerke, the Synod of Maronite Bishops took note of the anxiety caused by both the economic crisis and the effects of the civil war in neighboring Syria. The Maronite bishops also expressed the hope that the political parties reach a profitable and widely shared agreement by launching a new electoral law. The final communiqué, sent to Fides Agency, reiterates the importance of peace in the Middle East, where “God chose to reveal the mystery of salvation and redemption.” The Bishops express concern “for the daily rise in the number of refugees, among them the presence of Palestinians”…

Indian Christians denied water and firewood after church attack (Worthy News) Impoverished Christian villagers in India’s western state of Maharashtra were refused water and firewood Tuesday, 8 January, after a Hindu attack on their local church injured some 30 believers, a chief investigator told Worthy News. Joseph Dias, secretary-general of Indian rights group Catholic-Christian Secular Forum (C.S.F.), said the incidents are part of an ongoing Hindu campaign to intimidate minority Christians in Maharashtra’s Thane Rural District…

Russian patriarch: punish desecration without limiting free speech (Catholic Culture) In the wake of a legislative proposal that would criminalize offenses against religious sensibilities, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church called upon the state to punish desecration without limiting freedom of speech. “A fine in an amount of several hundred rubles for blasphemous words written on churches, mosques, or synagogues indicates that society does not quite realize the importance of protecting believers’ religious feelings,” said Patriarch Kirill of Moscow…



Tags: Lebanon Refugees Syrian Civil War Violence against Christians Indian Christians

9 January 2013
Greg Kandra




Civilians and Free Syrian Army fighters gather at the site hit by a missile in Aleppo’s al Mashhad district on 7 January. (photo: CNS/Muzaffar Salman)

Apostolic Nuncio to Israel discusses property issues in Holy Land (Vatican Radio) The apostolic nuncio to Israel, Archbishop Giuseppe Lanzarotto, says the Holy See is hoping soon to reach a satisfactory conclusion to its ongoing talks with Israel on fiscal and property issues related to Catholic institutions in the Holy Land…

Jordanian refugee camp devastated by storm (Fides) The storms of snow, wind and freezing rain that struck the Hashemite Kingdom have had devastating effects on the refugee camp of Zaatari, in the Jordanian desert, where 50,000 refugees who fled from the Syrian civil war are crammed in an intolerable situation. “The storms,” reports to Fides Agency Wael Suleiman, director of Caritas Jordan, “have destroyed at least 500 tents in the camp”…

Report: violence in Syria may trigger mass exodus of Christians (Voice of Russia) Syria’s ongoing turmoil has turned the country into a dangerous place for Christians, says an international missionary organization called Open Doors. According to its World Watch List 2012, the situation in embattled Syria is getting worse for Christians. Syria has moved up to place 11 from 36 on Open Door’s list of least Christian-friendly states, since the conflict broke out more than a year ago. According to the report, many Syrian Christians are facing violence against them, many have been kidnapped or murdered, while churches have been severely damaged or demolished. The estimated Christian population in the country stands at around 10 percent…

Bishops’ pilgrimage to Holy Land nears end (Vatican Radio) The pilgrimage of solidarity by bishops from North America and Europe to Christian communities in the Holy Land is in its final stages…



Tags: Syria Refugees Syrian Civil War Violence against Christians Jordan

8 January 2013
Greg Kandra




Egyptian Muslims and Christians celebrate Coptic Christmas Eve in Cairo’s Tahrir Square on 6 January. (photo: CNS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany, Reuters)

Egypt’s Christians worried about rise of Islam (Washington Post) Christians were worried about their safety on Monday as they marked the first Christmas under Islamist rule, with Coptic Pope Tawadros II urging worshipers “not to be afraid” and some complaining that their lives had gone from bad to worse in the nearly two years since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak...

Bishop of Amman: peace a shared value for Christians and Muslims (Vatican Radio) “When you love you have to share. It’s not in terms of a Christian value but it’s in terms of Arab values. Sharing and being generous and opening the door to others is an Arab value and we are proud of it. The main thing that we share with our brother Muslims here is peace and security for Jordan. When we see what is happening in Syria and Iraq we pray to Almighty God to keep us safe and secure here.” This is the message of Bishop Maroun Elias Lahham, Bishop of Amman and Apostolic administrator of the diocese of Tunis, speaking with Vatican Radio’s Veronica Scarisbrick who is accompanying bishops from Europe and North America on their annual pilgrimage of solidarity with the Christians of the Holy Land...

Indian Christians encouraged to oppose death penalty and chemical castration for rapists (Fides) In a note sent to Fides Agency, the “Catholic Secular Forum” (CSF), a Catholic lay movement based in Mumbai, said that “death penalty and chemical castration are not the position of the Church.” In a memorandum sent to the Indian government, Christian movements urge the government to make sex education compulsory in public schools, in order to avoid the emergence of deviant sexual behavior in young people...

Syrian archbishop: “Palestinian refugees on exodus, just like the Holy Family” (Fides) During the Christmas period “it is not uncommon these days to see Palestinian families wandering the streets of Damascus. Parents carrying their children, followed by older children carrying parcels and bags. Tears to the eyes of women, anger in the eyes of men, the sadness of children’s eyes.” In a message sent to Fides Agency, the Archbishop of Damascus of the Maronites, Samir Nassar, outlined the double tragedy of the Palestinian refugees overwhelmed by the Syrian civil war, comparing their painful exodus to that lived by Jesus, Mary and Joseph...

PHOTO GALLERY: Theophany 2013 (OCA) On the first weekend of January 2013, parishes across the Orthodox Church in America celebrated the Great Feast of the Theophany of Our Lord by blessing water — outdoors as well as indoors — in commemoration of the Baptism of our Lord, Jesus Christ...



Tags: Syria Egypt Jordan Muslim Copts

7 January 2013
Greg Kandra




A Syrian refugee woman carries her child in late December at a refugee camp near the Turkish town of Kilis. (photo: CNS/Muzaffar Salman, Reuters)

Pope appeals for cease fire in Syria (Vatican Radio) Pope Benedict XVI has made an urgent appeal to civil and political authorities to work for peace. The Pope’s heartfelt cry came on Monday during his annual address to Members of the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See. Speaking to representatives of the 179 States that currently have full diplomatic relations with the Vatican, as well as members of numerous international organizations such as the EU, the Order of Malta and the PLO, Pope Benedict emphasized that world leaders have a grave responsibility to work for peace. They are the first — he said — called to resolve the numerous conflicts causing bloodshed in our human family. The Pope went on to list urgent areas of concern starting with Syria which he described as being “torn apart by endless slaughter and the scene of dreadful suffering among its civilian population”...

Patriarch: idea to divide Egypt is “irrational” (Fides) The members of the Coptic diaspora who launched the idea to divide Egypt to create a Coptic state are “irrational.” This is what Pope Tawadros II in person said, after two months at the helm of the largest Christian community in an Arab country. In an interview with Turkish Anadolu Agency on the occasion of Coptic Christmas, Pope Tawadros strongly affirmed that “the Church is an integral part of that Egypt that will not be divided, that has been united since the Pharaoh Menes and will remain so forever”...

Indian laity oppose youth festivals on Sundays (Times of India) The commission for laity of Syro-Malabar Church in Kerala has come out strongly against the education department for conducting the school youth festivals on Sunday, the day for religious rituals and teachings for the Catholic community...

Patriarch Kiril congratulates Orthodox on Christmas (Voice of Russia) Addressing Orthodox Christians before the start of a solemn service at Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill congratulated them on Christmas and wished them peace, prosperity and well-being. In line with tradition, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church conducts a festive Christmas service at Christ the Savior Cathedral. “I congratulate you on the great feast of Christmas. I wish peace, prosperity and well-being to all of historical Rus, to the Russian state, to each and every one of you. May the grace of the Savior touch us not only on this wonderful Christmas night, but on all the days of our lives,” said the Patriarch...



Tags: Syria Egypt Pope Benedict XVI Syro-Malabar Catholic Church Orthodox

4 January 2013
Greg Kandra




Two Iraqi boys hold candles as they pray for peace in Iraq and Syria during Mass at a Chaldean Catholic church in Amman, Jordan on 23 December (photo: CNS/Ali Jarekji, Reuters)

Bishops in solidarity with “suffering and vulnerable” in Holy Land (Vatican Radio) Bishops from across Europe and North America this week will be visiting Syrian refugees in Jordan along with other suffering and vulnerable people and communities in the Holy Land. In a press release, the Holy Land Co-ordination reports: The 13th meeting of the Coordination of Episcopal Conferences in Support of the Church of the Holy Land and the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land takes place from 5-10 January. The delegation will meet in Bethlehem, visit Jordan and then concluding the annual pastoral visit in Jerusalem...

Syrian archbishop appeals for aid (Vatican Radio) Food, medicine, electricity and fuel are increasingly scarce in Jazira, the river plain area of Mesopotamia which encompasses northwestern Iraq and northeastern Syria. With the influx of Syrians fleeing the conflict in their country, Jazira’s population of 1 and a half million has swelled to some 2 million and Church and humanitarian officials are raising the alarm, saying not enough is being done to help them...

In Gaza, children bear psychological scars of conflict (Washington Post) Gazans often talk about the inescapability of war, and the symptoms of their suffering. They cast Gaza as a prison — one physical and psychological, where Israeli bombardment comes every so often,and there is little to do but bear it. Indeed, there are few places in the Arab world where psychology and trauma are as openly discussed as they are in Gaza. But health professionals here argue that there are few places in the region that contain a population so traumatized, a youth so obsessed with conflict.

Campaign begins to regain relics of St. Nicholas of Myra (Fides) The Turkish archaeologist Nevzat Çelik, responsible for the excavations at the archaeological site of Mira-Andraike, re-launched during the Christmas holidays the request to return the relics of St. Nicholas of Myra to Turkey, at the moment venerated at the Basilica of San Nicola in Bari...

How media in Lebanon marked the Christian feast of Christmas (Fides) In Lebanon the Christmas period is marked by the unique media coverage dedicated to the Christian celebrations. On Christmas Day, 25 December, the Al-Nour radio paid tribute to the birth of Christ with a selection of hymns. The main TV channel linked to the Shiite political formation articulated its programming with a Christmas card addressed to Christians, while the information services devoted considerable space to the Christmas celebrations, highlighting the participation of Hezbollah’s representatives in official ceremonies and underlining the title of “prophet” recognized by Islam to “Jesus the son of Mary”...

Russians flock to Baltics for Orthodox Christmas (New Age) With the Eastern Orthodox Christmas just around the corner, three ex-Soviet Baltic states are facing a new invasion from the east as Russian tourists flood in for the holidays. In stark contrast to the Soviet takeover which saw Moscow subjugate Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania from World War II until 1990-91, despite frosty official relations the EU Baltic trio are now rolling out the red carpet for Russian tourists. In the three capitals, hotels with special packages for Russian visitors in the run-up to Orthodox Christmas Day on 7 January are nearly fully booked...



Tags: Syria Gaza Strip/West Bank Turkey Russian Orthodox

3 January 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro




A blind man walks past cars and buildings damaged in fighting in the old city of Aleppo, Syria, on 27 December. (photo: CNS/Ahmed Jadallah, Reuters)

Rebels and government forces clash at Syrian airports (BBC) Fierce battles are taking place at some northern Syrian airports, as rebels try to neutralise the government’s overwhelming air advantage. Rebels broke into the Taftanaz base in north-western Idlib province but were pushed back by the army, rebel sources and state media said. Reports said Aleppo airport was also under siege, and has been closed since Tuesday because of repeated attacks. The attacks come a day after a United Nations study said 60,000 people had died in Syria. Commissioned by U.N. human rights commissioner Navi Pillay, the study concluded that there had been 59,648 deaths between February 2011 and November 2012, and that figure would now have risen above 60,000…

Maronite patriarch excoriates Lebanese politicians (Daily Star Lebanon) Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter slammed Lebanon’s politicians Thursday, urging them to take part in national dialogue and address the issue of Syrian refugees coming to the country, the National News Agency reported. “Shame on you not to attend the dialogue table,” said the cardinal. “It is a shame on officials not to attend dialogue and address the Syrian refugee case, the biggest national and humanitarian issue we are facing today,” he added. Over 160,000 Syrian refugees have arrived in Lebanon since the start of violence in neighboring Syria…

Armenians concerned over rights in Holy Land (Hetq Online) Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem, a member of the triumvirate of Guardians of the Christian Holy Places, has voiced grave fears over the threat of the erosion of its historic and traditional rights in the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem. The rights and privileges that are the legacy of the Armenians are indelibly inscribed within the tenets of a Status Quo that has been in place since the Ottoman administration of the land. But recent developments in Bethlehem, involving its sister guardian, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate (with the Latin Custodia forming the third member of the triumvirate), are threatening to seriously impact on Armenian rights, church officials claim…

Romanian Patriarchate declares year for Saints Constantine and Helen (Basilica News Agency) Following the initiative of His Beatitude Patriarch Daniel, undertaken during the working session of 25 October 2011, the Holy Synod of the Romanian Orthodox Church approved that the year 2013 should be declared Solemn Year of Saint Emperors Constantine and Helen at the anniversary of 1700 years since the Edict of religious tolerance of Milan (313). The Holy Synod Office worked out a nation-wide program for implementing the liturgical, cultural and media program, emphasizing tolerance, freedom, and the social and religious politics of the canonized emperor and empress…

Israel nearly finished building Israel-Egypt border fence (L.A. Times) Two years after construction began, Israel has finished the bulk of the work on a fence along its border with Egypt. Closing off the rambling, 140-mile-long stretch of desert border will prevent the “unfettered flow of illegal infiltrators, the smuggling of drugs and weapons,” said a statement from the Defense Ministry, which oversaw the $400-million engineering project. Speaking at a ceremony marking the completion of the main section, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the effort to curb the illegal entry of migrants from Africa, reduced from more than 2,000 a month in January 2012 to fewer than 40 in December. Early last year, Netanyahu said Israel would build a similar fence along the desert border with Jordan…



Tags: Egypt Syrian Civil War Israel Holy Land Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter





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