2 October 2012
Shelling leaves a church in ruins in the Old City of Homs, Syria, on 30 September. (photo: CNS/Shaam News Network handout via Reuters)
Syrian Christian churches urge protection of heritage (Fides) Christian leaders of all denominations and communities have filed an appeal to UNESCO, the Congregation for the Oriental Churches and the Pontifical Council for Culture. “Religious buildings (synagogues, churches, mosques, monasteries and sanctuaries) are used for military purposes, which causes their progressive destruction. We implore the belligerents to save the protected areas and not to use them for military purposes.”
Franciscan monastery in Jerusalem vandalized (BBC) Vandals have spray-painted anti-Christian graffiti on the main door of a Franciscan monastery outside Jerusalem, Church officials have said. Photographs published online showed blue graffiti denigrating Jesus at the Convent of Saint Francis on Mount Zion. Also painted on the door were the words “price tag”; Jewish settlers and extremists have been carrying out so-called “price-tag” attacks in retaliation for Israeli government curbs on settlement growth.
Poll: most Jordanians oppose admitting more refugees (Christian Science Monitor) As Syria’s civil war drags on in bloody stalemate, Jordan has maintained an open-door policy for its refugees, allowing in tens of thousands of people. But with no end to the conflict in sight, the friendly relationship between Jordan and its “guests” is showing signs of strain. According to a nationwide poll by the Center for Strategic Studies at Jordan University, 65 percent of Jordanians oppose allowing more Syrians into the country, and more than 80 percent said the Syrians already present should be confined to camps.
Austerity measures may begin to target Greek Orthodox Church (Der Spiegel) The Greek Orthodox Church has managed to cling onto many of its economic privileges, despite austerity stinging nearly all other parts of the country’s society. Now, fueled by continued stagnation and growing popular resentment in the face of scandal, the Greek government has begun scaling back its financial support for the church.
On Palestinian right of return, Israel raises matter of Jewish refugees (Christian Science Monitor) Israel is demanding that the losses of displaced Arab Jews be acknowledged and compensed in some way. In doing so, the campaign touches one of Palestinians’ most sensitive wounds, harbored since Israel’s founding in 1948: their right to return to lands and homes left in 1948-49, when at least 750,000 either fled or were expelled by Israel. Though many Palestinians recognize at least some Arab Jews as refugees, they are concerned that Israel is trying to cancel its debt to them by putting the suffering of Arab Jews on the same international ledger.
1 October 2012
Tags: Syria Refugees Jerusalem Violence against Christians Jordan
In this November 2007 photo, Christians, including Catholic clergy and women religious, participate in a demonstration in New Delhi demanding an end to discrimination against dalit, or low-caste, Christians in India. (photo: CNS/Anto Akkara)
‘Untouchable’ no more (Al Jazeera) Despite a constitutional ban on India’s caste system in 1950, activists say discrimination based on social hierarchy continues. Activists are recording the stories of those deemed “untouchable” in the hopes of changing hearts and minds. Will the project work, or is caste no longer a problem?
Three days of prayer and fasting before selecting Coptic pope (OCP News Service) The Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria has announced fasting and prayer for three days in preparation for the selection of the new pope of Alexandria and patriarch the Holy See of St. Mark. The period will begin Monday, 1 October, and run through Wednesday, 3 October 2012.
Georgian Orthodox Church joins Muslim board in decrying anti-Islamic film (Interfax) The Georgian Orthodox Church and the Georgian office of the South Caucasus Muslim Board consider “unacceptable the public demonstration of the film Innocence of Muslims, which has insulted millions of people and caused justifiable outrage and protest worldwide.”
Iraq sees deadliest month in over two years (Al Jazeera) September was the deadliest month in Iraq in more than two years, with 365 people killed in violence that included waves of nationwide attacks, official figures show. It was the highest monthly toll given by the government since August 2010, when figures showed 426 people killed and 838 wounded in attacks.
Aleppo fighting “destroying cultural heritage” (Lebanon Daily Star) UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova said that, as a signatory to the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, Syria was obliged to safeguard its heritage from the ravages of war. “The human suffering caused by this situation is already extreme,” she said in a statement. “That the fighting is now destroying cultural heritage that bears witness to the country’s millenary history — valued and admired the world over — makes it even more tragic.”
28 September 2012
Tags: India Iraq Syrian Civil War Coptic Orthodox Church Aleppo
Smoke rises from buildings after a Syrian fighter jet launched missiles in Aleppo, Syria, on 4 September. (photo: CNS/Youssef Boudlal, Reuters)
In Syria: “The atmosphere is very tense” (Fides) “The atmosphere is very tense,” explained Fr. Jules Baghdassarians, Greek-Catholic priest in Aleppo and National Director of the Pontifical Mission Societies (PMS) in Syria, as opposition forces announced the beginning of the “final battle in Aleppo.” Fr. Baghdassarians said: “This morning armed rebel groups entered the neighborhood of Sheik Maqsoud, in Aleppo, home to many Kurds and Christians and there is intense fighting. In our Christian area in Suleimanye I counted 18 loud explosions. Groups of rebels entered in other Christian areas such as Jabrie and therefore life for the civilian population, in the crossfire, is in serious danger.”
Indian authorities say offensive scenes in Bollywood movie will be cut (Fides) The scenes considered “blasphemous” concerning people and symbols of the Christian faith in the Bollywood film “Kamaal Dhamaal Malamaal” will be eliminated before the movie is released in cinemas, according to the “Censor Board.”
Coptic Christians flee Sinai (Associated Press) Coptic Christian families have fled their homes in a town in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, fearing for their lives after receiving death threats from suspected Islamic militants, a local priest said Thursday. Father Youssef Sobhi said that Islamic militants dropped leaflets on the doorsteps of shops owned by Copts in the city of Rafah near the border with Gaza and Israel, ordering them to leave town within 48 hours and making an implicit warning of violence if they failed to do so. Two days later, masked militants on a motorcycle opened fire on one of the shops before speeding off, Sobhi said. No one was hurt in the shooting.
Patriarch Kirill defends ties to Kremlin (Reuters) The head of the Russian Orthodox Church on Friday rejected criticism of his increasingly strong relationship with President Vladimir Putin, saying that close ties between the church and state were good for society.
Christian-Muslim meeting in Istanbul this weekend (Vatican Radio) A two-day symposium on Muslim-Christian dialogue takes place in the Turkish capital of Istanbul this weekend, exploring the theme of “Being a foreigner and dialogue with the other.”
27 September 2012
Tags: Jerusalem Unity Health Care Multiculturalism
A damaged building is seen after heavy shelling in Aleppo, Syria, on 26 September.
Saving the lives of Syria’s refugees (Washington Post) If you need a measure of how desperate Syria’s refugees are, contemplate this: Many are fleeing to Iraq. It’s astonishing that Iraq, once the refugee equivalent of the Titanic, has become a lifeboat. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (U.N.H.C.R.) reports that there are 15,096 Syrian refugees in Iraq, and that they are among 100,000 Syrians who have fled to Jordan, Turkey, and beyond since Bashar al-Assad’s regime began fighting with opponents in March 2011. Who are these refugees? Children and families make up a huge number. At Jordan’s Za’atri refugee camp, according to a U.N.H.C.R. spokesperson, children accounted for 60 percent of new arrivals in one week. Syrian troops recently killed a 6-year-old boy fleeing to Jordan.
Jordan’s King warns against attempts to erase Jerusalem’s Muslim, Christian identity (Jordan Times) His Majesty King Abdullah warned against attempts to erase the Arab, Muslim, or Christian identity of Jerusalem or invade Al Aqsa Mosque. Delivering an address at the plenary session of the 67th U.N. General Assembly in New York on Tuesday, the king urged the international community to send a clear message that any such transgressions will not be tolerated. “We are extremely concerned by threats to Jerusalem and the sanctity of its Muslim and Christian holy sites,” he said, according to a transcript of the speech.
Coptic, Islamic scholars agree on new Egyptian constitution (Fides) Representatives of Egyptian political parties, Al-Azhar and the Coptic Church met at the Shura Council of Parliament to resolve disputes over eight articles in the new constitution. In particular, the participants agreed to keep Article Two as it was in the 1971 Constitution, which states: “Islam is the religion of the state, Arabic is its official language and the principles of Islamic Shari’a are a main source legislation.”
Church leaders blast Indian film as blasphemous (Fides) The Bollywood film “Kamaal Dhamaal Malamaal” (”Laugh, be happy”), to be released tomorrow, 28 September, “is blasphemous, an offense against Christian faith and the faithful’s feelings.” For this reason, Father Domic D’Abrio, spokesman for the Catholic Episcopal Conference of India, told Fides, “the Indian bishops are offended and saddened by the failure to report the competent bodies in charge of controlling films destined for the general public. … They deplore the producers’ irresponsible behavior [and ask civil authorities] to ensure full respect for the symbols and content of the Christian faith in India.”
Ethiopians celebrate Demera procession (ENA via Ethiopsorts) Demera, the bonfire traditionally burnt on eve of the Finding of the True Cross (Meskel) upon which Jesus Christ was crucified, was celebrated on Wednesday throughout the country. In the capital, the day was celebrated in the presence of tens of thousands of residents of the Addis Ababa City, members of the diplomatic community and foreign tourists, as well as senior government officials. Deacons, priests and students of Sunday schools garbed in white, traditional clothing played religious songs and hymns that added color to the holiday.
Muslim prayer room welcomed at Canadian Catholic school (Catholic Register) Concerns that the establishment of a prayer room, requested by Muslim students, at a London, Ontario, Catholic high school will water down the school’s Catholic faith are just plain wrong, says the school board’s education director. “First of all, it’s a prayer room; it’s not named after a particular faith,” said Wilma de Rond, director of education for the London District Catholic School Board (L.D.C.S.B.). “When a request comes from another faith there is no request for us to provide any sort of accommodation for them that in some way impacts our faith.”
Russian Patriarch calls for victory in sports (Voice of Russia Radio) Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, met with Russia’s best athletes on Wednesday. “A victory in sports is a real feat,” His Holiness said. “Among other components, a victory in sports has a strong spiritual component.”
26 September 2012
Tags: Egypt Refugees Syrian Civil War Jordan Christian-Muslim relations
Pope Benedict XVI greets Melkite Patriarch Gregorios III during his visit to St. Paul's Basilica in Harissa, Lebanon on 14 September. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Patriarch Gregorios III receives representatives of European Union (Byzcath.org) The day after Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Lebanon, which was a constantly reiterated call for peace, His Beatitude Gregorios III, patriarch of Antioch and All the East, of Alexandria and of Jerusalem, tenaciously pursued his efforts and appeals for a cessation of hostilities in Syria. On Thursday 20 September, the patriarch received representatives of Austria, Belgium, Czechia, France, Germany, Greece and Poland, as well as a representative of Canada, in the patriarchal residence of Rabweh, Lebanon.
Hostages released in Syria (Fides) Bells ring in celebration, hugs are shared among family members reunited, a Mass of Thanksgiving and a solemn interfaith ceremony of reconciliation are celebrated: this all happened yesterday in the village of Rableh, in the region of Homs, on the border with Lebanon. The joyous city commemorated the release of about 240 Christians, mostly Greek Catholic faithful, recently taken hostage by armed groups while working in the fields.
Christian, Muslim leaders reflect on pope’s Lebanon visit (Fides) Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Lebanon is increasingly shaping up to be the beginning of a new season for Lebanon. This is confirmed by the summit of the heads of the local religious communities and their representatives held yesterday at the headquarters of Maronite Catholic Patriarch Bechara in Bkerke.
Middle Eastern speakers in Rome denounce Western interference (Catholic News Service) Western nations need to respect the people of the Middle East and trust them to solve their own problems, said an Iraqi diplomat, an Iraqi archbishop and a Syrian-born representative of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church. The two religious leaders also called for an end to foreign military intervention and other interference in the region that they said only foment strife and hinder their citizens’ desire for peace. Their comments came during an event sponsored by the Iraqi Embassy to the Vatican on 24 September. Ali Nashmi, a Muslim professor and historian spoke on the contribution by Iraqi Christians throughout history to the preservation of both Eastern and Western cultures.
Russian lawmakers call for jail for “blasphemous acts” (Reuters) Russian lawmakers are calling for jail sentences for people guilty of offending religious feelings, in a move that could tighten the bonds between President Vladimir Putin and the resurgent Orthodox Church.
Hasidic Jews experience a slow rebirth in Russia (NPR) About a dozen men prayed recently at Darkei Shalom, a Hasidic Jewish synagogue in the working-class neighborhood of Otradnoye in northern Moscow. Except for the Star of David on its squat tower, the building is as plain and utilitarian as the linoleum on the floor. It sits — along with a Russian Orthodox church and a mosque — on a leafy stretch of land surrounded by towering apartment blocks. Dovid Karpov has been the rabbi here since the synagogue was built 15 years ago. He says he’s fairly typical of the people who form this community: Jews who grew up in Soviet times with little connection to their religious roots.
25 September 2012
Tags: Syria Lebanon Iraqi Christians Pope Benedict XVI Russian Orthodox Church
A boy sits in his home, damaged in shelling by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, near Homs on 31 August. (photo: CNS/Shaam News Network handout via Reuters)
Greek Catholics kidnapped in Syria (Fides) The kidnapping of 150 Greek Catholic faithful has shocked the Christian community in the village of Rableh, between the Lebanese border and the city of Qusayr, in the province of Homs. Victims include workers and farmers, men, youth and women who were just a few kilometers from the village, working in the fields for the apple harvest — a major livelihood for the local population.
Pope Benedict XVI and the road map of peace (L’Osservatore Romano) Benedict XVI pointed out the way to peace. It is now up to those who have the destiny of the Middle East in their hands to decide whether to take it — and thus put an end to the suffering of the peoples who dwell in that troubled region — or to continue to leave room for violence nurtured by the exploitation of religious convictions that have nothing to do with violence.
Catholics in India angry over depiction in new film (Times of India) Catholics have threatened to stop the screening of a forthcoming Hindi movie directed by Priyadarshan, “Kamaal Dhamaal Malamaal” if certain scenes making a “disrespectful portrayal” of the community and its priests are not deleted, an official said.
24 September 2012
Tags: Syria Violence against Christians Pope Benedict XVI Indian Catholics
Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, reports that responses to the pope's Lebanon trip have been overwhelmingly positive. This 9 September 2010 photo was taken prior to his elevation to cardinal that year. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Pope’s Lebanon trip promoted unity with the Christian Orthodox churches (L’Osservatore Romano) “A big step forward in achieving unity with the Christian Orthodox churches” — that’s the way that Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, described the most recent visit of Benedict XVI to Lebanon. The cardinal, who participated in the visit as member of the Holy Father’s entourage, analyzed the ecumenical meaning of the visit in an interview with L’Osservatore Romano.
Opposition leader tells pope the Syrian regime is a threat to Christians (Lebanon Daily Star) Syrian Christian opposition leader George Sabra told Pope Benedict XVI that the survival of the Damascus regime poses a threat to the country’s Christians, the Syrian National Council said Sunday. “The survival of the Assad regime is a danger to Christians and Muslims in Syria alike,” Sabra told the pontiff during a visit to the Vatican on Saturday.
Pope to pilgrims: “Continue to pray for Christians in the Middle East” (Fides) After the Angelus prayer at the Apostolic Palace of Castel Gandolfo yesterday, 23 September, the Holy Father addressed the French-speaking pilgrims with these words: “Dear French-speaking pilgrims, I thank you with all my heart for your prayers that accompanied the success of the apostolic trip to Lebanon and the whole Middle East. Continue to pray for Christians in the Middle East, for peace and for peaceful dialogue between religions.”
Orthodox leaders seek European help to stem anti-Christian violence (Byzcath.org) The Orthodox patriarchs of the Holy Land have appealed to the European Union for help in combating a rising tide of anti-Christian violence. In a statement issued this week, four Orthodox leaders remind their European counterparts that their Christian communities have survived for centuries with Muslim neighbors. “However, the recent increasing influence of extreme fundamentalist elements in the region directly jeopardizes the lives of Christians in their ancient cradles,” the statement says.
Consumer group wants Russian Orthodox patriarch defrocked (RT.com) The Society for Consumer Rights’ Protection has addressed the top board of the Russian Orthodox Church with a request to defrock Patriarch Kirill over alleged violations of the church canon.
Meet Bethlehem University’s first female vice president (Catholic News Service) Thirty-five years after the first class graduated from Bethlehem University, one of its members became the first woman and Palestinian to hold the Catholic school’s highest academic position. “No one ever imagined this position not being held by a [Christian] brother,” said Irene Hazou, newly appointed academic vice president.
21 September 2012
Tags: Syrian Civil War Violence against Christians Pope Benedict XVI Unity Ecumenism
Residents inspect the damage to buildings in Aleppo, Syria, after being heavily shelled by a jet air strike on 12 September. (photo: CNS photo/Zain Karam, Reuters)
Vicar delegate in Aleppo: Christian volunteers are helping care for refugees (Fides) “There are tens of thousands of displaced families in the metropolitan area of Aleppo, who fled from the neighborhoods where fighting occurs. They find shelter in schools, churches, mosques, public buildings. They must eat, drink, sleep, dress, look after themselves. Many volunteers in our communities are taking care of them, along with other Syrian volunteer groups.” This is what the Franciscan Father Georges Abou Khazen, OFM, Vicar Delegate of the Apostolic Vicariate of Aleppo for the Catholics of the Latin rite says to Fides.
Catholic official in Egypt says tensions remain high in Cairo (Fides) “The tension is high, because protest demonstrations are expected because of the caricatures which appeared on a French satirical newspaper that offended the Prophet Mohammed. The embassy, consulate and French schools in Cairo are closed for fear of accidents. Even the President of the Republic is heavily guarded by police and special forces,” says to Fides Agency Fr. Rafic Greiche, director of communications for the Catholic Church in Egypt.
Two Canadian activists fear for their lives after being wrongly linked to anti-Islam film (Toronto Star) Two Canadian human-rights activists say they fear for their lives after being wrongly linked to an anti-Muslim film that has sparked riots and protests around the world. Nader Fawzy and Jacques Attalla said Thursday they are among a number of Coptic Christians who Egypt has accused of being involved in the production, distribution or promotion of the film, Innocence of Muslims. Both men deny any link to the film. They told The Canadian Press they’d never heard of the amateurish movie until it began sparking violent protests across the Middle East last week.
Russian Orthodox bishop blesses North Pole (Alaska Dispatch) Crew members of Russia’s ongoing Arctic-2012 expedition assisted Orthodox Bishop lakov of Naryan-Mar in the send off a blessed capsule designed to sanctify the region. The capsule bore a plaque reading, “With the blessing of Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All of the Rus, the consecration of the North Pole marks the 1150 years of Russian Statehood.” The ceremony and dedication is considered by some to be part of Russia’s ambitious drive to lead the Arctic in occupation and development.
20 September 2012
Tags: Syria Egypt Muslim Russian Orthodox
Pope Benedict XVI talks with Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni, the chief rabbi of Rome, during his visit to Rome’s main synagogue on 17 January 2010. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Pope Greets Jewish Community of Rome (VIS) Pope Benedict XVI sent a telegram to Riccardo Di Segni, chief rabbi of Rome, for the Jewish festivities of Rosh Hashanah (New Year), Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) and Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles), which all fall in this period.
Controversial Film about Muhammad Spotlights Copts (Associated Press) The anti-Islamic movie trailer inflaming the Middle East opens with Muslims ransacking a Christian medical clinic and then segues into a flashback of Muhammad’s life. “Set the place on fire! We’ll burn out these forsaken Christians!” cries one Muslim character. The opening scene from “Innocence of Muslims,” although crude, resonates with some Egyptian Christians, who have suffered years of persecution and attacks by Islamic militants.
Vatican Condemns Attacks on Christian Holy Places in Israel (The Telegraph) Christian holy sites in Israel have been subjected to a series of organized attacks which the authorities have done nothing to prevent, a representative of the Vatican in the country has said. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, one of the church’s top officials in the Holy Land, said he is worried about relations between Jews and Christians in the Holy Land. “I think the main atmosphere is ignorance,” Father Pizzaballa said. “It’s important not just to condemn, but also to work, to take initiatives to stop this phenomenon.”
Ukrainian Culture on Display in Canada (Vancouver Sun) Black-and-white photos showing faces filled with hope and determination hang on the walls of the Ukrainian Museum of Canada. In front of the pictures are pieces of clothing, some with delicate beadwork from a region known as Bukovyna while others have detailed embroidery. There’s a wedding ensemble from the Hutsul region. And of course there are pysanky — better known as Easter eggs. “It’s a mixture, but it tells the story of people who came to Canada, who they were and why they decided to move,” says Krystyna Hudyma, the museum’s curatorial and programming assistant. Those are just some of the artifacts at the Saskatoon-based museum, the oldest Ukrainian museum in the country.
19 September 2012
Tags: Ukraine Violence against Christians Pope Benedict XVI Coptic Christians Jewish
Waving to the crowd, Pope Benedict XVI passes a Swiss guard while leaving his general audience in Paul VI Hall at the Vatican on 19 September. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Pope Reflects on Trip to Lebanon (Vatican Radio) On Wednesday, as is tradition, Pope Benedict XVI dedicated his Angelus reflections to his recent apostolic voyage to Lebanon: “Dear brothers and sisters, today I would like to briefly return, in my thoughts and heart, to those extraordinary days of my apostolic journey to Lebanon — a trip that I had strongly wanted, despite the difficult circumstances, considering that a father should always be near his children when they encounter grave problems. I was moved by a sincere desire to announce the peace that the risen Lord gave to his disciples and summarized in the words: ‘My peace I give to you.’ ”
Christians in Syria Form “Committees” to Prevent Violence (Fides) The Christian communities in Syria, after suffering at the hands of armed gangs — often jihadist groups — have begun to organize “popular dissuasive committees.” Formed by young armed Christians, these groups seek to prevent banditry and violence and defend their neighborhoods. Christian communities have suffered abuse, kidnapping, rape, murder, theft and violations of property in the Christian Valley of western Syria, in the center of Aleppo, in the part of Damascus known as Jaramana and in other villages such as Qusayr and Rableh, near Homs.
Egypt Issues Arrest Warrants over Anti-Islam Film (Associated Press) Egypt’s general prosecutor issued arrest warrants Tuesday for seven Egyptian Coptic Christians and a Florida-based American pastor and referred them to trial on charges linked to an anti-Islam film that has sparked riots across the Muslim world.
Ukrainian Bishops Close Synod in Canada (Catholic News Service) Ukrainian Catholic bishops from four continents gathered for a final celebration on 16 September as they closed their weeklong Synod of Bishops. One of their emphases was on the role of the laity, and the final “gala,” as it was billed, included the Hoosli Ukrainian Male Chorus, an honor guard and the Selo Ukrainian Dancers.
Orthodox, Anglicans to Attend Vatican II Celebration (Catholic News Service) The Orthodox ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople and the Anglican archbishop of Canterbury will join Pope Benedict XVI’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of the opening of Vatican II. Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople and Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury will attend the Mass that Pope Benedict XVI will celebrate at the Vatican to mark the anniversary of the 11 October 1962 opening of the council, Vatican officials said.
Tags: Syria Egypt Violence against Christians Pope Benedict XVI Palestinians