9 October 2019
In this image from June, Ukrainian Catholic Bishop Paul P. Chomnycky of Stamford, Connecticut, in front of altar with book, concelebrates the Divine Liturgy at the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Philadelphia. (photo: CNS/Bob Roller)
Leaders of the Ukrainian Catholic Church in the United States have appealed to seminarians to identify candidates for the priesthood who can be “true missionaries and pastors.”
The appeal came in a September letter from the six bishops of the Metropolia of Philadelphia, which covers much of the U.S. It discussed some of the challenges and opportunities facing the Ukrainian Catholic Church and outlined the “spiritual and pastoral expectations of candidates to the priesthood.”
The bishops said parishes throughout the metropolia “will need a substantial replenishment of its clergy over the coming years.”
As an example, they cited the Philadelphia Archeparchy’s needs: 15 new priests in the next five years “to serve its faithful adequately and respond to their needs.”
“We are not looking for workers to simply accomplish a task or fulfill a plan, but for true missionaries and pastors who will care for the faithful with a willingness even to sacrifice their lives for them, from love of God and neighbor,” the bishops wrote.
The Metropolia of Philadelphia includes the Archeparchy of Philadelphia and the eparchies of Stamford, Connecticut, St. Josaphat in Parma, Ohio, and St. Nicholas in Chicago.
Signing the letter were Metropolitan-Archbishop Borys Gudziak and Auxiliary Bishops John Bura and Andriy Rabiy of the Philadelphia Archeparchy; Bishop Paul P. Chomnycky of Stamford; Bishop Bohdan J. Danylo of the St. Josaphat Eparchy; and Bishop Venedykt Aleksiychuk of the St. Nicholas Eparchy.
In the archeparchy and three eparchies, 185 active priests serve in ministry, according to a church spokesman. That includes 48 priests in Philadelphia, 59 in Stamford, 37 in Parma and 41 in Chicago.
The bishops said they remain committed to serving the faithful in the Ukrainian Catholic Church despite dwindling numbers. The letter cited how the number of parishioners has declined from more than 250,000 in the 1960s to 25,000 today.
The letter called for a widespread effort to rebuild the Ukrainian Catholic Church “one person at a time.”
“We need pastors who are ready to heal, inspire and rejuvenate, who, through their sermons and example, will give clear guidance to the conflicted postmodern person and will proclaim ‘the message of reconciliation,’“ the bishops wrote, citing St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians.
The leaders said the church’s priorities will focus on spreading the word of God, evangelization and catechization. Special emphasis will be made to appeal to youth and young adults through “creativity from the pastor and the ability to address -- persuasively but serenely -- deep and difficult questions of the present day.”
“Answering the appeal of Pope Francis, we should and will go outside the gates of our church buildings. A shepherd should follow the scent of his sheep, even those who are now outside the fold,” the letter said, citing the “millions” of people within the territory of the metropolia who are “unchurched, do not know God, do not enjoy the support of community.”
The bishops called for “team-based” ministry to carry out the important work ahead.
In appealing for priest candidates, the bishops said they were not seeking people “to improve their material status” nor those “with personal or family motivations, rather than the priority of evangelization.”
The task facing future priests will be difficult, the bishops wrote.
“A commitment to serve in our church must be a commitment for the long haul,” they said. “It is not for those who are quickly discouraged or disillusioned. True service to the flock entrusted to a pastor requires dedication and endurance -- an understanding the realities of the community you serve, in all their unvarnished truth.”
26 August 2019
Tags: Vocations (religious) Ukrainian Catholic Church
In this image from February, Pope Francis and Sheik Ahmad el-Tayeb, grand imam of Egypt’s Al Azhar mosque and university, are seen in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Pope Francis welcomed Abu Dhabi’s formation of an international committee to implement the "Document for Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together," which he and Sheik el-Tayeb signed in the country in February. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
At a time when conflict and division dominate the world’s headlines, people need to know there are a growing number of important initiatives to promote interreligious dialogue and understanding, Pope Francis said.
The pope welcomed the Abu Dhabi government’s formation of an international committee to implement the document on “human fraternity,” which he and Sheik Ahmad el-Tayeb, grand imam of Egypt’s al-Azhar mosque and university, signed in Abu Dhabi in February.
“Although sadly evil, hatred and division often make news,” the pope said, “there is a hidden sea of goodness that is growing and leads us to hope in dialogue, reciprocal knowledge and the possibility of building, together with the followers of other religions and all men and women of goodwill, a world of fraternity and peace.”
The Vatican press office published the pope’s remarks on 26 August, a week after Abu Dhabi’s crown prince, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, announced the initiative to promote meetings of religious leaders, academic study of the document and support legislation to broaden religious liberty and tolerance.
Spanish Bishop Miguel Angel Ayuso Guixot, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, was named a member of the committee.
In an interview with Vatican News, Bishop Ayuso said the document is an appeal to build a “civilization of love,” and should not lead to a fear that Catholics will stop believing that the fullness of salvation lies in Christ.
“I think fear is the number one enemy of interreligious dialogue,” he said. “The Catholic Church remembers the value of its own identity, the courage of otherness and the sincerity of intentions” of those who engage in dialogue.
“It is not about creating a ‘melting pot’ in which all religions are considered equal,” he said, “but that all believers -- those who seek God and all people of good will without religious affiliation -- are equal in dignity.”
22 August 2019
Tags: Muslim Interreligious Abu Dhabi
In this image from 2018, the Rev. John Szada, chaplain of the Carmel of Jesus, Mary and Joseph in Elysburg, Pennsylvania, distributes Communion during an annual Marian pilgrimage at Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Catholic Church. This year’s pilgrimage will be held on Sunday. (photo: CNS/Chris Heisey, The Catholic Witness)
With the mass shootings that have taken place in this country in recent weeks and “the state of our society in our big cities and small towns,” this is a time “when we all need to turn to God,” said the pastor of a historic Ukrainian Catholic church in Pennsylvania.
The Rev. Michael Hutsko, pastor of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Catholic Church in Centralia, made the comments in an interview with SSPTV of Hazelton, Pennsylvania, ahead of the annual Call to Prayer Marian Pilgrimage set to take place at the church on 25 August.
The white church, with its distinctive three onion-shaped blue domes, sits on a hill to the north of the town, which has been almost entirely condemned as a result of underground mine fires that have undermined the stability of the ground.
“People are coming from all over the East Coast (to) make their way here to pray,” Father Hutsko said. “It truly is a day of prayer and we try to keep the property as peaceful and calm as possible, not to turn it into a reunion or a picnic. It’s a place to experience to God and this mountain is conducive to that.”
The fact the church sits high above the town, escaping the underground mine fires is “something providential, “ the priest added. “Only God knew it would be a place to call people and remind people of his presence.”
Today, while the town is a memory, the church still serves a thriving parish family, with congregants driving to the hilltop on Sundays and holy days from communities throughout the area.
This year’s annual Marian pilgrimage will feature five bishops who will concelebrate the Divine Liturgy: Metropolitan-Archbishop Borys Gudziak of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia; Bishop Paul P. Chomnycky of the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Stamford, Connecticut; Bishop Ronald W. Gainer of the Latin-rite Diocese of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Bishop Alfred A. Schlert of the Latin-rite Diocese of Allentown, Pennsylvania; and Auxiliary Bishop John Bura of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia.
Metropolitan-Archbishop Gudziak will be the homilist. Father Deacon Paul Spotts will serve as deacon. Responses to the Divine Liturgy will be congregational singing led by Dennis Hardock, cantors from local parishes, members of St. Nicholas Choir in Minersville, Pennsylvania, and Holy Family Ukrainian National Shrine Choir in Washington.
After the Divine Liturgy, a procession from the church will take the Icon of Our Lady of Pochaiv to the outside chapel where the icon will be placed for veneration.
Priests will be available for much of the day offering the sacrament of reconciliation for pilgrims at various locations on the church grounds.
A living rosary will be prayed in the afternoon before the Icon of Our Lady of Pochaiv. Afterward the Akafist Prayer to the Dormition (Assumption) of Mary will be sung.
The schedule also will include a 5 p.m. a candlelight procession with the icon from the Pochaiv Chapel to the church for the celebration of a “moleben,” or prayer of (prayer of supplication) to the Mother of God. At the conclusion of the moleben, prayers for healing and the anointing with holy oils for the healing of soul and body will take place.
“During this Marian pilgrimage, as we are called to prayer,” Father Hutsko said, to ask that Mary “extend her mantle of protection over us and lead our nation toward a spiritual conversion of mind, heart and soul.”
The first pilgrimage to the Centralia church was held in 2016 and the story of this unique pilgrimage site has been told throughout the world. It was the cover story for the Christmas 2018 edition of Reader’s Digest and BBC News did a feature story in February 2018.
During a 2015 visit, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kyiv-Halych, Ukraine, the head of the worldwide Ukrainian Catholic Church, marveled at the continuing presence of the church in Centralia. He also noted how this coal region parish fostered vocations of four men to the priesthood and three sisters to religious life.
With the visit of Major Archbishop Shevchuk and the encouragement of now-retired Metropolitan-Archbishop Stefan Soroka of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia, the place was designated a holy site of pilgrimage.
21 August 2019
Tags: Ukrainian Catholic Church
A statue of Our Lady of Consolation is surrounded by pilgrims during a candlelight procession and vigil Mass outside the Basilica and National Shrine of Our Lady of Consolation in Carey, Ohio on 14 August 2019. (photo: CNS/Katie Rutter)
With its one stoplight and surrounding cornfields, the small Ohio village of Carey seems an unlikely travel destination. Yet, once a year, an estimated 5,000 visitors swell the town population to more than double.
For nine days, climaxing on the evening of 14 August, scores of charter buses drop off pilgrims, most of whom are Iraqi Christians. Hundreds of families fill a five-acre plot with tents, recreational vehicles, Middle Eastern food and music.
“We feel that we’re like in our old village back home. Like when I walk around I know a lot of people,” said Khalid Markos, who is now a resident of Sterling Heights, Michigan, but was born in Alanish, Iraq.
His family, like most of the pilgrims, fled from war and persecution in their home country. Now exiled refugees, they have found consolation by celebrating their faith and traditions at the aptly named Basilica and National Shrine of Our Lady of Consolation in Carey.
“We love our faith a lot and as you may know, we left our country because we didn’t want to deny our faith,” Conventual Franciscan Friar Raad Eshoo told Catholic News Service, “and it’s sad that we see a lot of people here and in Iraq there are few Christians, Chaldean Christians.”
The Chaldean Catholic Church, based in Iraq, is one of the 22 Eastern Catholic churches in full communion with Rome. Chaldean Catholics trace their faith back to the second century and still speak Aramaic, the language of Jesus.
In recent decades, however, war and terrorism has caused hundreds of thousands of these Christians to flee their homeland.
The Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce estimates that 160,000 Chaldeans now reside in the Detroit metropolitan area.
“My mother says, ‘Even if someone paid me a million dollars, I wouldn’t go back,’” said Martha Yousif, niece of Markos, whose parents fled Iraq in 1997.
“You can’t guarantee (you will) come back safe,” she related.
“Many things I faced -- bombing. In front of my clinic, even,” said Syrian Orthodox Christian Nawar Awbawyvalsheikh, a physician and native of Mosul, Iraq.
“Terrorists. They came to our building to kill us and American soldiers saved us,” she recalled.
These exiled Christians began traveling two hours from Detroit to the Carey shrine about two decades ago. Many were drawn by stories of miraculous healings, others by a devotion to Mary. All are reliving an Iraqi tradition of visiting shrines and holy sites for pious practices and celebration.
“We have a lot of feasts we call them ‘shera,’ (with) a lot of people camping, music, dancing, food, and we end it with Mass and procession,” said Friar Raad, who was born in Mosul.
“When I’m here, I feel like home,” he said.
The nine days of celebration in Carey are marked by a constant line for confessions, regular blessings by clergy and several Masses daily, often in Aramaic.
At dusk on 14 August, the pilgrims carried candles and processed with a statue of Our Lady of Consolation from the basilica to an open field, called Shrine Park. There Bishop Daniel E. Thomas of Toledo presided over an outdoor Mass for the vigil of the feast of the Assumption.
“It breathes a lot of new life into me and I think the friars that come here love to do this,” said the Rev. Father Thomas Merrill, a Conventual Franciscan, the shrine’s rector. He was joined by dozens of fellow Conventual Franciscans to help care for the spiritual needs of the pilgrims.
“The people are so hungry for anything that is faith-based and so hungry to practice their Catholic faith and receive the sacraments,” Father Thomas said.
The National Shrine of Our Lady of Consolation was established in 1875 by a priest from Luxembourg and has welcomed regular waves of pilgrims, often immigrants.
The lower church contains three display cases full of crutches and mementos left by those healed or those who want to thank Our Lady of Consolation for a favor received.
“(The Chaldean people have) suffered a lot. They go through a lot of problems. God and the Virgin Mary saved them to come over here and live peacefully,” Markos told CNS.
“Anytime you’re in need of something, you ask for it, she always (provides), especially here,” said Rafa Kattoula, whose family has made a pilgrimage to the shrine for over 40 years.
Expressing gratitude for Mary’s intercession, Kattoula concluded: “We’ve asked and we come and we receive from her.”
Watch a video of the procession below.
Thousands of Iraqi Chaldean Catholics and other pilgrims converge on the National Shrine of Our Lady of Consolation in Carey, Ohio, for a vigil and procession to honor Mary.
(video: Katie Rutter/CNS/YouTube)
5 June 2019
Tags: Iraqi Christians Chaldeans
In this image from 2017, a Dominican sister visits the Church of Sts. Behnam and Sarah in Qaraqosh, Iraq, heavily damaged by ISIS. The United Nations has established 22 August as the Day to Commemorate Victims of Violence Based on Religion. (photo: Raed Rafei)
On 28 May, the U.N. General Assembly adopted a resolution establishing 22 August as the Day to Commemorate Victims of Violence Based on Religion.
The resolution invites all member states, relevant organizations, civil society, individuals and the private sector to observe the international day and show appropriate support for victims of religiously motivated violence.
In the wake of recent religiously motivated terrorist attacks, the resolution notes a serious concern for “continuing acts of intolerance and violence based on religion or belief against individuals, including against persons belonging to religious communities and religious minorities around the world, and at the increasing number and intensity of such incidents.”
Poland initiated work toward the commemorative day, but united with Brazil, Canada, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Nigeria, Pakistan, Poland, and the United States to co-draft the resolution.
Ultimately, 88 U.N. member states voted to co-sponsor the resolution.
“The right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, which is commonly referred to as the right to freedom of religion or belief, is a universal right of every human being and the cornerstone of many other rights,” Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs Jacek Czaputowicz said in his keynote speech before the vote.
In response, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom in Washington issued a statement praising the resolution.
“We applaud the U.N. General Assembly for adopting this resolution, which acknowledges and honors victims of violence based on religion or belief around the world,” said Tenzin Dorjee, chair of the commission. “But we must not stop at condemnation. Like-minded governments must also increasingly work together to hold perpetrators accountable, whether they are state or nonstate actors responsible for the abuses.”
The Vatican, too, commented on the resolution after its adoption in a statement released by its Permanent Observer Mission to the U.N. The statement recalled the recent religiously motivated violence in Sri Lanka, New Zealand, California and Burkina Faso.
“This resolution and the international day it establishes is an opportunity for the international community to focus on the victims and to strengthen efforts to eradicate such violence and acts of terrorism targeting persons because of their religion or belief,” it said.
The Vatican also reminded the U.N. that religion and belief cannot be blamed for these acts. They are, rather, deviations from religious practices and must be condemned.
31 May 2019
Tags: Iraq Iraqi Christians United Nations
In this image from March, Metropolitan-Archbishop Borys Gudziak is pictured in the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Philadelphia.
(photo: CNS/courtesy Archeparchy of Philadelphia)
In what promises to be one of the most impressive liturgical ceremonies in recent Philadelphia memory, an estimated 50 bishops will be present 4 June in Philadelphia for the enthronement of Metropolitan-Archbishop Borys Gudziak as head of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia.
The Divine Liturgy and enthronement ceremony for the prelate will take place at the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. He will be the seventh metropolitan-archbishop of the archeparchy and as such, he will be the spiritual leader of the Ukrainian Catholic Church in the United States.
He succeeds Metropolitan-Archbishop Stefan Soroka who resigned for health reasons in April 2018. Since then, the archeparchy has been led by Bishop Andriy Rabiy, an auxiliary of the archeparchy, as apostolic administrator.
The appointment of Archbishop Gudziak, the 58-year-old native of Syracuse, New York, by Pope Francis was announced 18 February following the recommendation by a synod of Ukrainian Catholic bishops held in September 2018.
The Ukrainian Catholic Church worldwide is the largest of the Eastern Catholic churches that have distinctly different liturgies than the Latin Catholic Church but are nevertheless in full communion with Rome.
The enthronement and the inauguration of Archbishop Gudziak’s ministry is really the centerpiece of a weeklong celebration, according to the Rev. John Fields, an archpriest of the archeparchy who is its communications director.
The celebration begins 2 June and centers on the theme “From Heart to Heart.” Participants will include clergy, religious and lay faithful and young people from the Philadelphia archeparchy and other U.S. and international eparchies.
Among the events is the opening that first day of an art exhibit titled “Icons on Ammo Boxes” at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. That evening, also at the cathedral, well-known book author, columnist and commentator George Weigel delivers a lecture “Twentieth and Twenty-First Century Mission: Eastern Catholics and the Universal Church.”
On 4 June. there will be a 10 a.m. liturgical procession, which will include bishops from the Ukrainian Catholic Church, other Eastern Catholic churches, the Latin Catholic Church and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, as well as 125 priests, 11 deacons and 70 members of religious orders.
In the cathedral, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, patriarch of the Ukrainian Catholic Church worldwide will preside at the Divine Liturgy, along with Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the papal nuncio to the United States.
Archbishop Pierre will also present greetings from the Holy Father and present the papal bull, the document confirming Archbishop Gudziak’s appointment.
Among the concelebrants of the liturgy will be Archbishop Gudziak, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, Archbishop Soroka and other archbishops and bishops.
Archbishop Gudziak, who is the son of immigrants to the United States from Ukraine, received his bachelor’s degree from Syracuse University in 1980 with further studies at the Pontifical Urban University in Rome, at Harvard University and the Pontifical Oriental Institute. He returned to Ukraine, his ancestral homeland, in 1992 where he served in various position, mostly in the field of theological education and he is credited as the founder of the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1998.
He was ordained to the episcopacy in December 2012, and the following month appointed bishop for a newly formed eparchy covering France, Switzerland and Benelux, which is a region that includes Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg.
His work especially in his Ukraine years did not go unnoticed in the wider world. In early May, the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, announced that Archbishop Gudziak will receive its prestigious Notre Dame Award at a ceremony in Lviv on 29 June.
He joins such other distinguished past recipients as former U.S. President Jimmy Carter with his wife, Rosalyn, St. Teresa of Kolkata and John Hume of Northern Ireland.
“In the face of innumerable challenges, Archbishop Gudziak has made the Ukrainian Catholic University a center for cultural thought, Christian witness and the formation of a Ukrainian society based on human dignity,” said Holy Cross Father John Jenkins, Notre Dame’s president, at the time of the announcement.
4 April 2019
Tags: Ukrainian Catholic Church
Melkite Archbishop Issam Darwich of Zahle, Lebanon, distributes Communion to Syrian refugee families at the Melkite Catholic archeparchy in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley in this 2017 photo.
(photo: Raed Rafei)
Aside from humanitarian assistance for Syrian refugees and concrete efforts to help them return to their homeland, the international community should work toward eradicating the roots of wars and violence, an archbishop from Lebanon told members of a political party holding the largest number of seats in the European Parliament.
Melkite Catholic Archbishop Issam Darwich of Zahle, whose diocese is near Syria’s western border, addressed the plight of Christians in the Middle East and Syrian refugees on 3 April with the European People’s Party, a conservative and Christian democratic political party.
“Our situation is one of the deepest suffering and trauma,” said Archbishop Darwich, who was born in Syria.
“What is happening in the Middle East today is a chain of events against Christians, unfolding since 2011. All these actions send a message to Christians in the area that they don’t have a safe place anymore,” he said.
“The fact that they became minorities in these countries is not an excuse for anyone to neglect the critical situation they are passing through,” Archbishop Darwich said.
He stressed that Christians have always played a crucial role in the region and strive to foster peace, justice and democracy.
He also noted that Lebanon’s episcopal committee for Christian-Muslim dialogue, for which he serves as president, is “working hard so that religions would find new ways to present their respective creeds as partners allied and not as adversaries.”
“Religion must never be used to promote hatred or violence,” Archbishop Darwich stressed.
As for the refugee crisis, Archbishop Darwich underlined that eight years into the Syrian conflict, Lebanon remains the country hosting the largest number of refugees per capita and has the fourth-largest refugee population in the world.
More than 1.5 million Syrian refugees are living scattered throughout the tiny country among its existing population of about 4 million people. In addition, some 500,000 Palestinian refugees and thousands of Iraqi families dwell in Lebanon.
“The pressure of this situation on the Lebanese hosting community is felt in all sectors, including education, security, health, housing, water and electricity supply,” he said.
Archbishop Darwich noted that his diocese, located about 18 miles from the Syrian border, “had the leading role” in helping displaced Syrians.
“We supported and helped them since the beginning of their displacement to Lebanon till today, especially the Christian refugees, who were and still are invisible” to the international community because they do not live in camps, he emphasized. As a result, he added, the Christians “are always neglected from any support or help.”
However, the archbishop pointed out that the “tragedy of refugees is not restricted to a specific sect because all Syrians have suffered for almost eight years now of a new holocaust.”
Various Catholic agencies such as Caritas members, including Catholic Relief Services, Jesuit Refugee Services, Catholic Near East Welfare Association and Aid to the Church in Need have helped the Syrian refugees.
Archbishop Darwich’s diocese is in the Bekaa Valley and provides refugees with help that includes rent assistance, clothing, education, health care, social support and daily hot meals at the diocese’s St. John the Merciful Table.
While acknowledging the humanitarian role many European countries and international nongovernmental organizations have played “in reducing the impact of this long and ferocious war,” the archbishop pointed to the challenge of helping refugees return to their homeland.
Archbishop Darwich stressed that refugees’ return to Syria “cannot be realized unless the international community itself provides the means ... political and economic help in practical measures. Not only to put an end to their suffering, but also to assist them to contribute in the process of reconstruction.”
“I sincerely believe that the international community is expected to plan for eradicating the roots of wars and violence rather than dealing with their consequences, because great countries are known by great achievements and great deeds,” Archbishop Darwich said.
He added that the international community also must work toward putting an end to poverty, instability, occupation, oppression, fanaticism, fundamentalism and major wars.
“This is not wishful thinking,” the archbishop said. “This is a pure call for generalizing justice among the whole world, and for the implementation of U.N. resolutions. ... Otherwise, we will always have to encounter demand for financial and humanitarian aid, because cruelty produces cruelty, and suppression produces suppression in an endless circle of violence and injustice.”
27 March 2019
Tags: Syria Lebanon Refugees Melkite
Young adults are seen during a workshop in a Beirut church at the 2019 International Ecumenical Youth Meeting organized and sponsored by the Churches of Lebanon, the Middle East Council of Churches and the monastic Community of Taize. (photo: CNS/Middle East Council of Churches)
Amid all the violence of the world, religions must be factors of peace, Brother Alois Leser, prior of the Taize community, told Christian and Muslim young adults from 43 countries.
More than 1,600 Muslims and Christians gathered in Beirut to celebrate the feast of the Annunciation on 25 March in a ceremony punctuated by songs, prayers, reflections and speeches. They were encouraged to respect others to foster genuine interreligious dialogue.
The Beirut gathering was part of the 22-26 March International Ecumenical Youth Meeting, organized and sponsored by the churches of Lebanon, the Middle East Council of Churches and the monastic Community of Taize. For the Annunciation encounter -- at which participants observed a minute of silence for victims of violence around the world -- the young people were joined by various Muslim religious officials and clerics; Lebanese government representatives; the papal nuncio; Christian and Orthodox prelates and religious; and brothers from the French-based Taize ecumenical community.
Lebanon has observed the Marian solemnity of the Annunciation as a joint Christian-Muslim feast and a national holiday since 2010.
Brother Alois noted that for Christians and Muslims, “Mary is an example of a believer. With confidence, Mary surrendered herself to the will of God.”
He also told them, “At this time when our world is often shaken by violent events, it is fundamental to do everything to express that religions do not want violence, but seek to be factors of peace, friendship and fraternity among all human beings.”
He said that, in the Gospel, “Jesus went beyond the cultural, social and religious barriers of his time to enter into relationships with people who were not his people, who did not share his faith.”
“Allowing fraternity and friendship to grow implies respecting others in their difference,” he stressed. “In any genuine interreligious dialogue, an attitude of respect should keep us from wanting to force the other person to think as we do.”
Brother Alois’ speech was followed by a Muslim girls’ chorus singing about the Annunciation.
Sabine Adrien, a 28-year-old Catholic who participated in the meeting with seven other young adults from Lyon, France, told Catholic News Service: “I loved the gathering, especially the prayer between Christians and Muslims. It was very simple and beautiful, all of us praying together around Mary.
“It was especially touching to be in Lebanon to experience this because it’s a country of contrasts and coexistence,” Adrien said, observing that it is “sometimes (a) difficult coexistence between religions and between sects within each religion.”
Workshops and sessions at the ecumenical meeting -- at the main seaside event venue as well as in various churches in Beirut -- focused on issues related to coexistence and interfaith dialogue, as well as rituals and traditions of the Eastern churches.
Speaking to participants during a 23 March evening prayer service, Soraya Bechealany, secretary-general of the Middle East Council of Churches, said: “This gathering proves to you that the Christian presence is an integral part of the Middle East. Young people of the Middle East, you are involved in the preservation of human freedom and its dignity.”
That evening, Brother Alois told participants that “Lebanon can be a gateway of understanding between East and West.”
The relations between the Taize community and Lebanon date back to the early 1980s, when the late Brother Roger Schutz -- who founded the monastic community in 1940 -- visited the country as its civil war was still raging.
“We believe and see that the power of peace in this country is stronger than anything else,” Brother Alois said.
18 March 2019
Tags: Lebanon Muslim Interfaith
Members of the Chaldean Catholic community in Papatoetoe, New Zealand, placed flowers and a tribute outside Ayesha Mosque after the 15 March 2019, attacks on two mosques in Christchurch. The message reads in part: "Please accept our prayer and condolences in this terrible, painful time. God have mercy on the people and we pray for the injured ones. Your brothers, St. Addai Catholic Church, New Zealand." (photo: CNS/courtesy NZ Catholic)
The St. Addai Chaldean Catholic community in suburban Auckland felt the impact of the Christchurch mosque killings with a special poignancy, because many members have experienced the sufferings inflicted by terrorism.
“There is a lady in my community -- they beheaded her son in front of her,” the Rev. Douglas Al-Bazi, a Chaldean priest, told NZ Catholic. “Another man, they killed his parents in front of him.”
Father Al-Bazi, who was kidnapped for nine days by Islamic militants in 2006 in Iraq, suffering serious injuries -- including being shot in the leg by an assailant wielding an AK-47 -- said that when he heard of the events in Christchurch, he was “really angry.”
“There were thousands of questions in my head, and also for my people,” he said.
He said he told his parishioners that “we fully understand as Iraqi people, especially Christian, we really understand” the pain, “because we are survivors of genocide, systematic genocide.”
“I am still shocked, me and my people, how this could happen here in New Zealand,” he added.
Father Al-Bazi said people at his church have said they are scared in the wake of the events in Christchurch, fearful of revenge attacks.
“I told them, no, this is not the time to be scared. It is the time to be united. So, show your happiness, show we are brave, and we have to tell the people how to be calm. Because already, we have had that experience. So, we have to guide people to tell them.”
Parishioners placed a floral tribute with a message of support in Arabic outside a local mosque the day after the shootings.
Father Al-Bazi said most of his community came to New Zealand seeking a safe place, and the violence that happened in Christchurch is unacceptable.
“I don’t know what we can do for those survivors, for those relatives, the only thing we can do is pray for them and say, ‘This is not New Zealand.’“
At the end of Mass on 18 March, everyone at St. Addai Church sang the national anthem, “God Defend New Zealand” in Maori and in English.
Police were stationed outside the church and told Father Al-Bazi, “It is for your protection.” The priest said he asked the officers to park a little down the road, so as not to alarm Massgoers.
15 March 2019
Tags: Muslim Chaldean Church
Nathalie Piraino, right, embraces Atli Moges, a financial technical adviser at Catholic Relief Services headquarters in Baltimore, following a 14 March 2019, memorial Mass honoring their four colleagues who died in the 10 March crash of Ethiopian Airlines flight 302. Moges spent three years working in Ethiopia, and knew the four. (photo: CNS/Kevin J. Parks, Catholic Review)
Approximately 480 men and women work at the Baltimore headquarters of Catholic Relief Services, the overseas aid and development agency of U.S. Catholics.
None were more affected than Yishak “Isaac” Affin and Atli Moges by the 10 March Ethiopian Airlines crash that took the lives of all 157 on board -- including four who were not just colleagues, but their fellow countrymen and women.
Affin and Moges were part of the standing-room-only gathering at the CRS chapel 14 March, when Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori offered a memorial Mass. His concelebrants included a majority of the 14 bishops who serve on the CRS board of directors, in town for meetings.
Like the four who perished, Moges and Affin are natives of Ethiopia, which has approximately 100 million residents. Almost half lack access to clean water.
Trying to better themselves so that they could better their country, the four CRS administrators were en route to a training session in Nairobi, Kenya, when their flight crashed minutes after takeoff from Addis Ababa, the capital of the east African nation that sits in a region wracked by famine.
“They do their work from their hearts,” Moges told the Catholic Review, Baltimore’s archdiocesan news outlet. “They were the kind of people who stayed in the office until midnight or worked Saturday if that was necessary.”
She speaks from experience.
A senior adviser for CRS in financial technical support, Moges came to Baltimore in 1988, but from August 2015 to March 2018 served in Ethiopia as the deputy country representative for operations.
Managing administration, finance, human resources and IT for a staff of approximately 200 during her time in Ethiopia, Moges said she worked with the four deceased staffers “very closely.”
They were typical of the 7,000 people employed by CRS, which prioritizes hiring and training local people in the nations it serves.
Moges said that Mulusew Alemu, a senior finance officer, was devoted to his Ethiopian Orthodox faith and “a delightful person, very respectful and hard-working.”
Despite his low-key demeanor, she said, Sintayehu Aymeku had “wonderful leadership skills.” A procurement manager who had lived for a time in the United States, Aymeku left behind a wife and three daughters.
“I had high hopes for him,” Moges said.
Sara Chalachew, who once spent three weeks in Baltimore on temporary duty, was promoted last December to senior project officer for grants. Moges said she was always smiling, and “got along with everyone on staff.”
Getnet Alemayehu was a senior procurement officer, known for being patient and persistent while navigating shipments.
Before Affin, a senior accountant, came to Baltimore in 2003, he worked as an auditor in Addis Ababa, where he knew Alemayehu as a driver, albeit one “studying at university.”
As Moges got emotional remembering the four after the Mass, Affin placed his right hand on her left shoulder.
The Mass included a choir comprised of CRS staff based in Baltimore.
Bishop Gregory J. Mansour of the Eparchy of St. Maron of Brooklyn, New York, who is chairman of the CRS board of directors, welcomed Archbishop Lori, who had made a short walk from the Catholic Center, headquarters of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, to CRS.
“Sorrow shared,” Bishop Mansour said, “is sorrow lessened.”
“Why were such good colleagues taken from us?” Archbishop Lori said in his homily. “A tragic moment such as this, and the season of Lent itself, tests and probes the depth of our faith,” he said.
“It highlights the kind of faith, hope and love -- coupled with courage -- that undergirds the many risks you and your colleagues take each day to advance the kingdom of justice, peace and love in this world.”
Archbishop Lori said the four employees “died in pursuit of their mission to bring a measure of food security to regions of the world that are habitually plagued by famine. They met the Lord as they were dedicating themselves and their lives to the golden rule.”