7 September 2018
An icon of the Blessed Mother and the infant Jesus is seen as pilgrims walk in a procession to Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Catholic Church on 26 August. (photo: CNS/ Chris Heisey, The Catholic Witness)
The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Catholic Church in Centralia, seems an unlikely place for a pilgrimage.
Located on a lonely tree-filled hilltop, above a famous but mostly abandoned town, this church built in 1911 could have been forgotten. Instead, with its three onion-shaped domes, it stands as a testament to faith in tough times and places.
Centralia’s claim to fame isn’t the Ukrainian Catholic Church, but the fire burning in a network of mines underneath the town since 1962. That fire eventually sent poisonous gases into homes and businesses.
As a result, most residents moved out using money from a federal relocation program. Hundreds of buildings were demolished. Today, less than a dozen people live in Centralia, often called a ghost town.
The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church is the only church left of the seven once here. Among them was St. Ignatius Catholic Church, where Masses were celebrated just a year after the Diocese of Harrisburg was established in 1868. Once home to 3,000 members, a parochial school, convent and cemetery, St. Ignatius was directly affected by the fire in the early 1980s. The last Mass celebrated there was on 25 June 1995. St. Ignatius Church was razed in November 1997. Today, its cemetery is the only standing reminder of the once flourishing parish.
Still, people of faith continue to be drawn to the church on the hill and hundreds traveled there 26 August for the third annual Marian pilgrimage.
“We’re located on the side of a mountain, a place conducive to meditation and prayer,” said the Rev. Michael Hutsko, an archpriest who is pastor of the church. The church was declared a Ukrainian Catholic pilgrimage site in 2015.
Pilgrims came from Pennsylvania and nearby states for the day of prayer led by four bishops with three Catholic traditions: Ukrainian Catholic, Roman Catholic and Ruthenian Byzantine Catholic.
“It’s a time to place your heart, soul and mind in the hands of our Savior and ask him to heal all of us, bring us peace and strengthen our faith,” Father Hutsko said.
The day of prayer included a Divine Liturgy with responses sung by the choir of the Ukrainian Catholic National Shrine of the Holy Family in Washington, a living rosary and a procession to the church for the celebration of a “moleben,” which is a service asking for the mother of God’s intercession.
Pilgrims sang the traditional Akathist hymn to Mary, the mother of God.
In his homily, Bishop Andriy Rabiy, apostolic administrator of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia, thanked the pilgrims for journeying to this holy mountain, where “you can feel something special, the presence of God.” He was accompanied by Auxiliary Bishop John Bura of the archeparchy.
Bishop Ronald W. Gainer of the Latin-rite Diocese of Harrisburg urged the pilgrims to “take time and meditate on each prayer at each bead” when praying the rosary.
At the prayer service, Bishop Kurt Burnette of the Ruthenian Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Passaic, New Jersey, talked about forgiveness and “fresh beginnings.” When he had needed to forgive, he was given the strength to do so, he said. “I prayed in front of the icon of Mary and asked her to pray for someone. After a while, it worked. God softened the hardness of my heart.”
Assumption’s parishioners know all about challenges. Most lost their family homes due to the mine fires. They also worried about losing their church.
While they were relocating, there was talk about demolishing Assumption. That plan was dropped after a survey done under the church indicated that it was built on solid rock, not coal.
Although the vast majority of Assumption’s parishioners moved out of Centralia, 50 of them still faithfully attend Divine Liturgy every Sunday morning, Father Hutsko said.
“We have members whose families belonged to this church for generations,” he said. “We also have new members. We’re a prayerful church where faith is expressed in an open and real way.”
Joanne Panko, who relocated to nearby Numidia, is the third generation of her family to belong to Assumption. She is raising her children in that church too.
“My grandparents went to Assumption,” she said. “My parents were married there. I was baptized and married there. My parents were buried from there. My three children were baptized there. It’s a big part of my life.”
4 September 2018
Tags: Ukrainian Catholic Church
An overhead view taken with a drone in early June shows the clock tower of the rebel-held city of Idlib, Syria. Pope Francis appealed for peace and dialogue as the Syrian government and its allies prepare to launch strikes against the Idlib province.
(photo: CNS /Ammar Abdullah, Reuters)
Pope Francis appealed for peace and dialogue as the Syrian government and its allies prepare to launch strikes against the last major rebel stronghold in Idlib province in the country’s northwest.
Speaking to hundreds of pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square for his Sunday Angelus address on 2 September, the pope warned that “the winds of war continue to blow” in the already war-weary country.
An attack against the Syrian province’s nearly 3 million people, he said, would cause “a humanitarian catastrophe.”
“I renew my heartfelt appeal to the international community and to all the actors involved to make use of the instruments of diplomacy, dialogue and negotiations, in compliance with international humanitarian law and to safeguard the lives of civilians,” the pope said.
Several world leaders had expressed concern over the looming attack and the possible use of chemical weapons by Syrian forces.
Syrian army warplanes allegedly flew over and bombed the eastern town of Douma, 15 miles north of Damascus, in a suspected chemical-weapon attack 7 April. Despite the accounts of witnesses, the Syrian government denied involvement in the attack.
The pope’s appeal echoed the sentiments of the United Nations and the United States, who have expressed similar concerns and fears that Syria, led by President Bashir al-Assad, would use chemical weapons against innocent civilians.
Antonio Guterres, U.N. secretary-general, urged Syria and its allies, which include Russia, Turkey and Iran, “to exercise restraint and to prioritize the protection of civilians.”
“The secretary-general is deeply concerned about the growing risks of a humanitarian catastrophe in the event of a full-scale military operation in Idlib province in Syria. The secretary-general once again reaffirms that any use of chemical weapons is totally unacceptable,” a U.N. statement said on 29 August.
On the same day Pope Francis made his appeal, U.S. President Donald Trump warned President al-Assad to “not recklessly attack Idlib province” and said Syria and its allies would be “making a grave humanitarian mistake to take part in this potential human tragedy.”
“Hundreds of thousands of people could be killed. Don’t let that happen!” President Trump tweeted.
27 July 2018
Tags: Syria Pope Francis
Bishop Milan Lach holds up an icon of Blessed Theodore Romzha, the Ruthenian bishop of Mukachevo, Ukraine, who was killed by the communists in the 20th century. The icon was presented to him by Bishop Milan Sasik, right, the current bishop of Mukachevo. He attended Bishop Lach's Divine Liturgy of enthronement at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Parma, Ohio on 30 June. (photo: CNS/Reen Nemeth, Horizons)
At 44, Bishop Milan Lach is the fifth bishop of the Byzantine Ruthenian Eparchy of Parma and the youngest bishop to head a diocese in North America.
He also is the third-youngest Eastern Catholic bishop to head a diocese and the first foreign-born bishop for an eparchy that comprises 12 states in the Midwest.
A native of Slovakia, Bishop Lach is among about a dozen bishops from other countries that Pope Francis has appointed to the United States.
He was enthroned recently as Parma’s bishop during a Divine Liturgy at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, after having served as its apostolic administrator since 24 June 2017. He succeeds Bishop John M. Kudrick, who resigned in May 2016.
Bishop Lach, who is a Jesuit, has visited almost every parish and mission of the eparchy since his arrival to the United States last summer and has established pastoral priorities that include youth, evangelization, and parish reorganization.
Byzantine Catholic Bishop Milan Chautur of Kosice, Slovakia, who was present for the 30 June enthronement, said his “wish for all the faithful” in the United States is that they receive Bishop Lach “as a gift from the Slovak church.”
“After the fall of communism, we immediately turned to the Greek Catholic Church in America for material needs, to build churches again. We were liquidated for 18 years (under communism),” the 60-year-old prelate told Horizons, newspaper of the Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Parma.
But now, with the Slovak Eastern Catholic Church strongly re-established, there may be an opportunity to return the favor, he said.
“We sense that, compared with us, there is a certain crisis of vocations and in the spiritual life (in the United States),” he said. “So, just as we received material gifts after the fall of communism, now we can repay with spiritual gifts.”
Bishop Chautur, who is a Redemptorist, said he attended the enthronement because he realized the importance of maintaining a connection between the Byzantine Catholic churches in the United States and Europe.
“There are people who came (to the United States) 10 years ago or 100 years ago, and they still carry within them the Gospel they received from their forefathers,” he said.
At the same time, he acknowledged the mission of the Byzantine Catholic Church in the U.S. is to minister and to be open to the diversity in American society.
“It is important to understand the roots (of the church), but it has to be open to everybody, all races, everyone is welcome,” he said. “The church has to fulfill its missionary vocation.”
The early Christians “didn’t stay in the ethnic ghetto, but they went to the whole world,” he said. “It is good to understand where we come from, but to spring up new offshoots. This was the foundation we have received, and now we need to build a new church, with new growth, open to everyone.”
Bishop Chautur, who ordained Bishop Lach a deacon in 2000 and a priest a year later, was one of three European bishops at the enthronement.
The other concelebrating Catholic bishops included Bishop Kudrick; Bishop Kurt R. Burnette of the Byzantine Eparchy of Passaic, New Jersey; Bishop John S. Pazak of Byzantine Eparchy Phoenix, Bishop Bohdan Danylo of the Ukrainian Eparchy of St. Josaphat, also based in Parma; Bishop Nelson J. Perez of the Latin-rite Diocese of Cleveland; Auxiliary Bishop Neal J. Buckon of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services; Ruthenian Bishop Milan Sasik of Mukachevo, Ukraine; and Bishop Abel Socska of Nyiregyhaza, Hungary.
Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States, presided at the enthronement, attended by 400 people. The liturgy also was livestreamed. He read the letter of the pope appointing Bishop Lach to Parma, as well as a message from the prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Eastern Churches, Cardinal Leonardo Sandri.
Byzantine Archbishop William C. Skurla, metropolitan archbishop of Pittsburgh, was the main celebrant and homilist. He urged Bishop Lach in his homily to use his “energy to enliven the spiritual life of the church and protect it from the challenges of secularism and materialism which undermine the faith of our people.”
At the end of liturgy, Bishop Sasik presented Bishop Lach with an icon of Blessed Theodore Romzha, the Ruthenian bishop of Mukachevo who was martyred by the communists in the 20th century.
“I would like to express to the Holy Father my gratitude for his confidence in me as bishop of Parma. I will try my best to be the successor of the Apostles, to govern and serve,” Bishop Lach said at the end of the liturgy.
Bishop Lach told Horizons he intends to develop action plans in various areas of pastoral ministry and eparchial management to develop a more vibrant church.
“We are invited to be witnesses to the Gospel,” he said. “Our church must focus on evangelization, have a spirit of openness and prayer.”
His priorities include the “liturgy, the sacraments, especially the Eucharist and confession,” which are “part of our Eastern theology,” he said. He underlined the need to offer more catechesis and faith formation to the faithful, and to nurture priestly vocations.
Due to the current priest shortage in the eparchy, Bishop Lach has been inviting priests from Slovakia to come and minister. Two Slovak priests are currently undergoing the visa application process; one of them is expected to arrive this fall.
Bishop Lach said the recruitment of Slovak priests is a short-term measure to try to meet the urgent need for priests: Two priests retired this past year and at least another four are expected to retire in the next 12 months.
He said he hopes prospective vocations to the priesthood will be nurtured and there will be American candidates for seminary soon. The eparchy currently has two men in seminary formation and a third who will be ordained a subdeacon in August.
Bishop Lach recently created an eparchial youth commission to try to jump-start more youth ministry efforts.
The bishop also said he will consider reorganizing parishes to shift already limited resources, both pastoral and financial, to support the new missions and prayer communities that have developed in the western part of the eparchy.
“Perhaps we will have fewer parishes, but they will be more open (to welcoming others) and more vibrant,” he said.
He said there is an urgent need to get the eparchy in stronger financial shape, which includes reducing costs across the board, and he has already reached out to the neighboring Latin-rite Catholic dioceses of Cleveland and Youngstown, Ohio, to share resources.
In an interview with Horizons, Bishop Perez said it has been a “a great blessing” to share resources with the eparchy and to get to know Bishop Lach, whom he described as a “wonderful guy, young guy, very spiritual, very pastoral.”
“It’s a great celebration for all of us, Eastern rite and Latin rite,” he said of Bishop Lach’s enthronement. “We all gathered together in an incredible liturgy and a great moment of joy for the church.”
Read more about the Ruthenian Catholic Church at this link.
19 July 2018
Tags: Byzantine Catholic Church
An Orthodox woman holds a portrait of Czar Nicholas II during a 2012 gathering in Moscow. The secretary-general of the Russian bishops' conference urged Catholics to remember the 1918 murder of Nicholas II and his family with "penance and reflection," while suggesting Catholics could participate in future commemorations. (photo: CNS/Maxim Shemetov, Reuters)
The secretary-general of the Russian bishops’ conference urged Catholics to remember the 1918 murder of Czar Nicholas II and his family with “penance and reflection,” while suggesting Catholics could participate in future commemorations.
“The killing of this family was one of the first steps on a path of mass murder, forced labor, religious persecution and genocide which led on through the Stalinist period,” said Msgr. Igor Kovalevsky, secretary-general.
“Although not officially engaged in these centenary events, the Catholic Church must do something -- so the best is to reflect deeply, in a spirit of penance, on all those tragic times.”
The priest spoke after 100,000 people — led by Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill — attended a pilgrimage and religious observances in Yekaterinburg.
In a 19 July Catholic News Service interview, Msgr. Kovalevsky said the country’s million-strong Catholic Church had not been involved in past commemorations of the czar and his family, nor in their canonization by the Orthodox Church.
However, he added that Nicholas II’s murdered entourage had included at least one Catholic, the Latvian-born footman Alexei Yegorovich Trupp, and said he believed members of Yekaterinburg’s Catholic parish had taken part in the 12-17 July events.
“We should remember Nicholas II had voluntarily given up his throne the previous year, so it’s more historically accurate to mourn the killing of a family than the death of a czar,” Msgr. Kovalevsky said.
“We also follow quite different procedures when it comes to proclaiming saints, so the Orthodox Church’s approach to these matters is its own internal affair.”
Nicholas II, who abdicated in February 1917, was shot by Bolshevik captors in a basement while under house arrest at Yekaterinburg in the early hours of 17 July 1918. The empress and five children also were killed.
The victims, finished off with bayonets, were burned and doused with acid before being dumped in a pit at Ganina Yama, 14 miles from the city, where their presumed remains were exhumed in 1991.
All seven were later reinterred in St. Petersburg’s Sts. Peter and Paul Orthodox Cathedral and canonized as martyrs by the Russian Orthodox Church in August 2000.
An Orthodox church was dedicated in 2004 on the site of the Ipatiev House, where the killings took place.
11 July 2018
Tags: Russia Russian Orthodox Church
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, in back, and Eritrean President Isaias Afwerk embrace 9 July at the peace declaration signing in Asmara, Eritrea. Ethiopian Catholic Cardinal Berhaneyesus Souraphiel has commended the two governments for the peace pact. (photo: CNS/Ghideon Musa Aron VISAFRIC handout via Reuters)
Ethiopia’s Catholic Cardinal Berhaneyesus Souraphiel commended the Ethiopian and Eritrean governments for signing a peace accord.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki signed the peace pact in the Eritrean capital, Asmara, on 9 July.
Cardinal Souraphiel told Catholic News Service on 10 July: “This is a historic step taken by the prime minister of Ethiopia within the first 100 days since he took office. The joyous reception of Eritreans to the Ethiopian prime minister and his delegation shows that this has been the prayers of the people. It is very pleasing to the Catholic Church that the prayers of the people of both countries have been answered.”
For decades, the two countries have been at loggerheads on issues that include the border. An estimated 80,000 people are believed to have been killed between 1998-2000 over a fierce border conflict. However, after the two countries signed a U.N.-brokered border agreement in 2000, they failed to implement it.
Cardinal Souraphiel said the “steps taken so far by both governments prove that Africans have the wisdom to solve their problems themselves. The Catholic Church will continue to pray both for Ethiopia and Eritrea.”
On 26 June, speaking in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, as Eritrean government officials arrived in the country, Cardinal Souraphiel noted that Catholics had been praying for peace since the conflict started.
“Even though it was not easy, the Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Ethiopia and Eritrea continued to meet and exchange notes on the pastoral concerns of the two conflicting countries,” he said.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also praised the leaders on the signing of the peace pact.
The reconciliation was “illustrative of a new wind of hope blowing across Africa,” he told reporters in the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, stressing that sanctions imposed on Eritrea might become obsolete after the deal.
27 June 2018
Tags: Ethiopia Eritrea
In this image from 2017, Pope Francis greets Jordan's King Abdullah II during a private meeting at the Vatican. (photo: CNS/Max Rossi, Reuters)
King Abdullah II of Jordan has been chosen as the 2018 Templeton Prize Laureate.
He has “done more to seek religious harmony within Islam and between Islam and other religions than any other living political leader,” said a 27 June announcement on the award released by the John Templeton Foundation in West Conshohocken.
The Templeton Prize, established in 1972 by Sir John Templeton, aims to recognize someone “who has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery, or practical works.”
King Abdullah will be formally awarded the Templeton Prize at a ceremony in Washington on 13 November. The price has a monetary value of about $1.45 million.
Jordan’s leader was recognized for his work to promote a peaceful Islam and bring an end to religious violence in the Middle East.
After ascending to the throne of Jordan upon the 1999 death of his father, King Hussein, King Abdullah has aggressively prodded Islamic leaders toward a uniform message reflecting the moderate beliefs of the vast majority of Muslims, as an antidote to the Islamic extremism associated with terrorism.
In 2004, he launched the Amman Message, which brought together 200 Islamic scholars who issued a declaration the following year. The declaration, which recognized the legitimacy of all eight legal schools of Islam, forbid “takfir” (declarations of apostasy) between Muslims, and established when “fatwas” (a legal opinion) could be issued. The declaration has been widely accepted by Islamic scholars and institutions.
King Abdullah also has funded the “A Common Word Between Us and You” initiative, which aims to promote understanding between Christian and Muslim communities, and proposed a U.N. World Interfaith Harmony Week aimed at understanding the values of peace in all religions. The proposal was unanimously accepted by the U.N. General Assembly.
In addition to this work, King Abdullah also has protected some of the most important religious sites in Jerusalem. The dynasty of which he has been a part has been the custodian of the Temple Mount since 1924, and in 2016 the king used his own money to assist in restoring the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. He also has supported legislation to restore and develop the site of the baptism of Jesus and given various Christians blocks of land to build churches there.
In his videotaped acceptance of the Templeton Prize, King Abdullah said “Our world needs to confront challenges to our shared humanity and values. And this is why I feel it is so urgent to promote tolerance and mutual respect, support inclusion and hope, speak out against Islamophobia and other wrongs, and make our values a real force in the daily life of the modern world.”
Heather Templeton Dill, president of the John Templeton Foundation, noted in a statement that “Sir John created the Templeton Prize when he realized that many of his friends and colleagues thought of religion as uninteresting and old-fashioned, or perhaps even obsolete.”
“He decided that a prize to single out people who were responsible for, in his words, the ‘marvelous new things going on in religion,’ would help them become more well known, not so much for their own benefit, but for the benefit of people who might be inspired by them,” she added.
King Abdullah joins a group of 47 recipients of the Templeton Prize recipients including Mother Teresa, who received the inaugural award in 1973; the Dalai Lama, 2012; Archbishop Desmond Tutu, 2013; and Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche, 2015.
23 May 2018
People fish in Topapoli, India, on 10 April. Bollywood actor Aamir Khan has inspired thousands of young Indians to join a water conservation movement using methods originally advocated by Swiss Jesuit Father Hermann Bacher. (photo: CNS/Stringer, EPA)
Thousands of young Indians have joined a water conservation movement led by popular Bollywood actor-producer Aamir Khan to fight drought using methods originally advocated by a Swiss-born Jesuit.
Ucanews.com reported more than 150,000 college students from drought-prone western Indian cities joined Khan in early May to dig trenches ahead of monsoon rains in more than 100 villages across 24 drought-prone districts of western Maharashtra state.
Saurabh Vishal, a student from Symbiosis International University in Pune, said he was proud to be helping.
“It was like doing something for the nation, for the village and our people,” said Vishal, who assisted digging of trenches in Savargaon.
“I felt honored to join villagers in their hard work to make their village drought-free,” the 25-year-old told ucanews.com.
Khan, 53, said his movement originally planned to enroll 100,000 university students to offer free physical labor to help remote drought-prone villages. It’s all a part of the actor’s nonprofit Paani [water] Foundation, which he established in 2016.
Khan said it takes about 45 days to prepare a drought-prone village for water conservation. The method requires digging trenches to allow rainwater to collect and seep into the earth, where it will help replenish over-exploited ground water sources.
The work was to be completed in May, ahead of the June-September monsoon season. The water percolation and collection will make the village self-sufficient in water for the following summer.
The Paani Foundation works with the Watershed Organization Trust as its “knowledge partner.” The trust provides both technical support and training to the foundation, Khan said.
The actor-producer said he appreciated the pioneering water conservation work carried out by Swiss Jesuit Father Hermann Bacher who founded Watershed Organization Trust with Crispino Lobo, a former Jesuit priest, in 1993.
The trust was established to help villagers fight drought in arid regions and is now active in eight Indian states.
The idea of seeking free physical labor for water conservation “was conceived and implemented by Father Bacher in [the] 1980’s, which inspired the other volunteer groups to follow suit,” Lobo said.
Jesuit Father Joe D’Souza, director at Jesuit-run Social Center at Ahmednagar, which helps empower marginalized farmers, said Father Bacher “foresaw water crisis 50 years ago when he launched a drilling team in 1966 to dig wells” in Ahmednagar district to collect water.
In Maharashtra, more than half of its 43,665 villages were declared drought-stricken in 2016, reported ucanews.com.
“Our dream is to make Maharashtra drought-free in five years,” Khan said.
“We found that wherever the water issue had been solved,” he said, “the solution lay in people’s collective efforts and labor.”
14 May 2018
Tags: India Water
The Rev. Ragheed Aziz Ganni is among four Iraqi clergymen who will be investigated for possible sainthood. They were martyred outside their church in Mosul in 2007. (photo: AsiaNews)
The Vatican has given its permission for the opening of the sainthood cause of an Iraqi priest and three deacons who were murdered by armed gunmen in Mosul.
The Congregation for Saints’ Causes gave the “nihil obstat” (“no objection”), permitting a diocesan bishop to open a local inquiry into a candidate’s sanctity, according to Fides, the news agency of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, 14 May.
Fides confirmed that the Eparchy of St. Thomas the Apostle of Detroit would be handling the process because of the difficult conditions facing the church in Mosul.
Chaldean Father Ragheed Aziz Ganni, his cousin Deacon Basman Yousef Daud, and Deacons Wahid Hanna Isho and Gassan Isam Bidawed were killed on 3 June 2007, in front of the Holy Spirit Church in Mosul. Father Ganni had just finished celebrating Mass for the feast of Pentecost.
The three deacons had been accompanying Father Ganni because of increasing threats against him by militants. According to AsiaNews, armed gunman shot the four men and then booby-trapped their car with explosives to prevent others from safely recovering the bodies.
Father Ganni was born in Mosul in 1972. He graduated in engineering and studied theology from 1996 to 2003 at Rome’s Pontifical Irish College and the Pontifical University of Thomas Aquinas the “Angelicum,” where he received a license in ecumenical theology.
12 April 2018
Tags: Iraq Iraqi Christians Priests
A Syrian child evacuated from Douma reacts upon arrival 11 April in Aleppo, Syria. Lebanese Cardinal Rai appealed to world leaders to stop the war in Syria and to work for comprehensive peace through diplomatic means. (photo: CNS/Aref Tammawi, EPA)
Maronite Catholic Patriarch and Lebanese Cardinal Bechara Peter appealed to world leaders to stop the war in Syria and to work for comprehensive peace through diplomatic means.
“As the great powers are beating the drums of a new war against Syria, we regret the absence of a language of peace from the mouths of senior officials in our world today,” he said, in an address 12 April directed to the international community.
In reference to the stance of world leaders toward Syria, the cardinal said, “Most tragically, their hearts are devoid of the slightest human emotion toward the millions of innocent Syrians who have been forced to flee their land under the fire of war, its crimes, destruction, terror and violence.”
“We appeal to the conscience of the great powers and the international community to work to end the war and to bring about a just, comprehensive and lasting peace through political and diplomatic means — not military,” the church leader stressed.
“The people of the Middle East are entitled to live in peace and tranquility. The declaration of war is very weak,” he said, adding that peacebuilding is the ultimate in heroism. “Among the great powers, you will remember that we all know how to start wars, but we do not know how they end.”
Noting that Lebanon has hosted more than 1.1 million refugees, or nearly half of its population, “at a time when most European countries have closed their doors,” Patriarch Bechara Peter continued: “We ask today, did these countries which are beating the drums of war bear a fraction of the hardship due to the displacement of the Syrian population?”
The patriarch’s appeal came amid threats of military retaliation against Syria over the alleged use of chemical weapons against civilians in the Ghouta region.
U S. President Donald Trump has said that “missiles will be coming.” But on the morning of 12 April, Trump tweeted, “Never said when an attack on Syria would take place. Could be very soon or not so soon at all!”
Opponents of unilateral U.S. action schedule an emergency closed-door meeting of the U.N. Security Council 12 April, and Britain also scheduled an emergency Cabinet meeting, the Associated Press reported.
14 March 2018
Tags: Syria United States Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter Syrian Conflict
An Israeli flag on Mount of Olives flies near the city of Jerusalem on 13 February.
(photo: CNS/Jim Hollander, EPA)
U.S. Christian leaders, including the head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, wrote government and church leaders in the Holy Land to express opposition to Jerusalem’s plan to tax church properties not used for worship.
The religious leaders urged the Israeli government and the city of Jerusalem not to inhibit the churches’ work in and around Jerusalem. In a separate letter, they told Holy Land church leaders they would continue to press the Israeli government on these issues.
In early February, the Jerusalem Municipality announced it would begin collecting $186.4 million in property taxes from some 887 church-owned properties that were not houses of prayer. The proposal to levy taxes on some properties would run contrary to the unofficial historical tax-exempt status the churches have enjoyed for centuries.
Franciscan Father David Grenier, general secretary of the Custody of the Holy Land, which oversees Catholic religious sites, said bank accounts of some churches, such as the Anglicans and the Assyrians, were frozen in mid-February. He said some churches had been threatened with confiscation of property if the bills went unpaid, and churches were being charged retroactively for seven years.
After the Christian leaders closed the Church of the Holy Sepulcher for three days, the Israeli government set up a negotiating team to resolve the dispute.
A church source in the Holy Land told Catholic News Service 14 March that the committees for the talks had not yet been formed.
Besides Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, USCCB president, signers of the two letters included Bishop Elizabeth A. Eaton, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; Armenian Archbishop Vicken Aykazian, ecumenical director and legate of the Armenian Church of America; and Bishop Michael B. Curry, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church.
“We affirm your protest against the recent efforts to confiscate church lands or tax church properties whose function is integral to the churches’ mission,” the U.S. church leaders told Holy Land Christian leaders. Their letter was sent to Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III, Armenian Patriarch Nourhan Manougian and Franciscan Father Francesco Patton, custos of the Holy Land.
In their letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, the U.S. church leaders noted that the proposed tax measures “would have the effect of creating a situation that jeopardizes the very survival of the Christian community in the Holy Land.”
They said the different activities in which the Holy Land churches are involved — education, health care and pilgrimages — “are integral to the churches’ mission” and also benefit the Jerusalem community beyond the churches.