27 June 2018
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.
5 March 2018
A man is helped out of a damaged building 22 February after attacks in Douma, Syria.
(photo: CNS/Bassam Khabieh, Reuters)
The patriarch of the Syriac Orthodox Church denounced a statement issued by the head of the World Council of Churches regarding the situation in Syria, in particular the rebel-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta near Damascus.
“We are deeply appalled by your statement on Syria,” Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II of Antioch wrote the Rev. Dr. Olav Fykse-Tveit, general-secretary of the World Council of Churches, regarding the 26 February statement.
“You mention 550 victims killed in Eastern Ghouta, including more than 130 children. However, you neglect to mention hundreds of civilians, including many children, killed by the mortars and missiles coming from Eastern Ghouta, especially when most of these mortars have long targeted areas populated by Christians from churches which are members of WCC,” the patriarch, a native of Qamishli, Syria, wrote in the 2 March letter.
“Targeting of civilians on all sides should be indeed condemned,” he stressed. However, the patriarch said Rev. Fykse-Tveit’s statement “clearly shows a biased position concerning what is happening in Syria in general, and in Damascus in particular.”
“As a council of churches representing its members, including those of us who live in Syria, your statement should have been apolitical, more pastoral and reflecting the position of the great majority of Christians in Syria,” he said. “It is obvious that your information on what is happening in Syria lacks accuracy and objectivity.”
The Syriac Orthodox patriarch warned that “such an unbalanced statement will be used as a political tool serving a political vision of Syria’s future that does not necessarily express the views of the majority of the Syrian people, including Christians.”
He expressed his hope that the WCC “once again becomes the voice of the suffering churches in Syria” and would “convey to the entire world the reality of what they are going through.”
2 February 2018
Archbishop Stefan Soroka of Philadelphia, metropolitan of U.S. Ukrainian Catholics, and Bishop Paul P. Chomnycky of Stamford, Connecticut, have placed a culinary wager on the outcome of this weekend’s Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis.
(photos: CNS/Jacqueline Dorme, Republican-Herald and Gregory A. Shemitz)
Two Ukrainian Catholic prelates have placed a culinary wager on the outcome of the 4 February Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis.
Archbishop Stefan Soroka of Philadelphia, metropolitan of U.S. Ukrainian Catholics, is rooting for the Philadelphia Eagles, in their first Super Bowl appearance since 2005. Bishop Paul P. Chomnycky of Stamford, Connecticut, is rooting for the New England Patriots — the returning Super Bowl champions and perennial powerhouse.
To show their confidence in their respective home teams, the bishops announced on 1 February they have placed a friendly wager on the ultimate outcome of the game. The beneficiaries will be either the chancery staff in Philadelphia or the chancery staff in Stamford.
“If the Eagles do not fly high on Sunday,” Archbishop Soroka said, “we will provide a luncheon for the Stamford chancery staff highlighted with Philadelphia cheesesteaks. However, I do not suspect I will have to do so.”
While Bishop Chomnycky and his chancery staff are looking forward to the Philly cheesesteak luncheon, the bishop stated that “if the Eagles fly high and the Patriots experience a rare defeat,” he will provide the Philadelphia chancery staff with a luncheon “with Boston cream pie as the dessert.”
The Ukrainian leaders’ wager came a day after one announced by another Eagles fan, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia, and another New England Patriots supporter, Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston. The two prelates, who are longtime friends and classmates from their seminary days as young Capuchin Franciscans, are wagering $100 donations to aid the poor in their archdioceses.
The Philly cheesesteak was developed in the early 20th century “by combining frizzled beef, onions and cheese in a small loaf of bread,” according to a 1987 exhibition catalog published by the Library Company of Philadelphia and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
Philadelphians Pat and Harry Olivieri are often credited with inventing the sandwich by serving chopped steak on an Italian roll in the early 1930’s.
According to the owners of the Parker House Hotel in Boston, the Boston cream pie was first created at the hotel by an Armenian-French chef, M. Sanzian, in 1856 and originally called a chocolate cream pie. While other custard cakes may have existed at the time, baking chocolate as a coating was a new process, making it unique and a popular choice on the menu.
The name “Boston cream pie” first appeared in the 1872 Methodist Almanac was declared the official dessert of Massachusetts on 12 December 1996.
While both bishops are rooting for their respective home teams, they said they see the big game as an American tradition that brings the nation together on Super Bowl Sunday.
“It is amazing how on this one Sunday, people throughout the nation, indeed throughout the world, come together to watch a game played by grown men. Families, neighbors and organizations have parties and socials to enjoy this American classic. It is a unifying event,” Archbishop Soroka said.
Bishop Chomnycky commented, “While we all hope for an exciting and competitive football game on Sunday, we also look forward to good sportsmanship and camaraderie among the players and fans both on and off the field. For a few hours, we are able to forget about the many problems throughout the world.”
5 December 2017
Residents carry their belongings as they evacuate their home on 2 December after flooding caused by Typhoon Ockhi in the coastal village of Chellanam in the southern state of Kerala, India. The storm claimed the lives of at least 32 poor Catholic fishermen who were at sea and 200 more were missing. (photo: CNS/Sivaram V, Reuters)
A typhoon that rapidly developed on the southern Indian coast claimed the lives of at least 32 poor Catholic fishermen who were at sea and another 200 more were missing.
Thousands of other coastal residents had relocated to relief camps by 4 December, ucanews.com reported.
The confirmed deaths were in Kerala and Tamil Nadu states, according to government sources.
All the dead are Catholic men who had gone out to sea, said Father V. Wilfred, a priest of Vizhinjam parish, a fishing village near Kerala’s capital, Thiruvananthapuram.
Antony Silvaster, a Catholic fisherman in the fishing village of Vizhinjam, said there was no warning of the storm. He said that with 200 fishermen missing, the community expected the death toll to rise.
Worst affected was the coastal area near India’s southern tip, a Catholic stronghold.
Gusty winds and heavy rains began to lash the coast in southern India 30 November after a depression near Sri Lanka rapidly developed into a typhoon, named Ockhi. The storm’s intensity declined by 4 December.
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India expressed solidarity with the fishing communities and offered prayers for the families affected by the storm.
“We offer our condolences to the families of all those who have lost their lives and we wish to comfort those who have been afflicted by pain and suffering caused by the devastating hurricane in the past few days,” Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, conference secretary general, said in a statement December.
The bishops’ conference also asked diocese throughout India to offer prayers during Masses 10 December.
Archbishop Soosa Pakiam of Trivandrum and local priests traveled to the devastated area and began arranging for the delivery of relief supplies.
The Kerala government had opened 29 camps for an estimated 3,000 people forced from their homes. About 200 houses were destroyed, state Fisheries Minister J. Mercykutty Amma told local media.
Father Justin Jude of Poonthura said people also lost boats and nets. He urged the government to provide adequate compensation so that fishing families could return to work as soon as possible.
Typhoons are rare on India’s west coast. The last major typhoon on the Kerala coast occurred in 1941, killing 62 people and destroying about 50,000 homes.
16 November 2017
An Indian Christian woman prays on 2 November, All Souls’ Day, at a cemetery in Bhopal. A Catholic bishop has sought protection for the Christian community in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh after Hindu nationalists marched through the streets waving burning torches and denouncing missionaries. (photo: CNS/Sanjeev Gupta, EPA)
A Catholic bishop has sought protection for the Christian community in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh after Hindu nationalists marched through the streets waving burning torches and denouncing missionaries.
The marchers on 10 November accused Sagar district authorities of not acting upon complaints they filed against missionaries for violating a law that restricts religious conversions. They said if the administration failed to act within two weeks, they would start an indefinite strike in front of a Catholic-run orphanage in the area.
Ucanews.com reported the trouble in Sagar started in September after government officials evicted a Catholic priest working in the orphanage and closed a 20-year-old mission following a dispute over the land title. Church leaders say the government action was instigated by Hindu groups.
The leaders of the fundamentalist religious awakening co-ordination committee, which organized the march, told media that the church's social services and work in education and health care are all a facade to convert gullible people to Christianity.
The protesters said they were working with the government for a national law against religious conversions and to check missionary activities. Madhya Pradesh and five other Indian states already have laws that make religious conversion through allurement and force illegal.
“We are under tremendous pressure,” said Bishop Anthony Chirayath of Sagar, who submitted a memorandum to district officials and the state chief minister and governor seeking their intervention for the protection of Christians.
Ucanews.com reported the bishop wanted the administration to take immediate steps to end this “false and malicious campaign” in the media that projects Christians as “out to convert Hindus, violating laws.”
The facts disproved the propaganda, he said. Sagar has some 300,000 people. But since its beginning in 1986, the diocese has only 1,000 Catholics.
“Our number has not grown in years. Still, we are accused of converting people,” he said.
The district has only 5,000 Christians among its 2.3 million people, 92 percent of whom are Hindus. In the predominantly Hindu state, Christians form less than 1 percent of the 72 million population.
Christian leaders say the state, run by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party, has been tacitly supporting violence against Christians orchestrated by Hindu nationalists, pushing to establish a Hindu-only nation in India.
Missionaries in the diocese say the campaign by hardline Hindu activists has made their work increasingly difficult as villagers view them as criminals.
13 November 2017
A woman mourns next to a dead body following an earthquake in Sarpol-e Zahab, Iran, on 13 November. The 12 November earthquake killed more than 400 people and injured more than 6,000 in Iran and Iraq. (photo: CNS/Tasnim News Agency via Reuters)
Pope Francis sent messages of condolence to people in Iran and Iraq after a magnitude 7.3 earthquake killed more than 400 people, mostly in Iran.
The pope “assures all affected by this tragedy of his prayerful solidarity,” said the nearly identical messages, released on 13 November.
“In expressing his sorrow to all who mourn the loss of their loved ones, he offers his prayers for the deceased and commends them to the mercy of the almighty,” said the telegrams, signed by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state.
As he often does in emergencies, Pope Francis also asked for the “blessings of consolation and strength” for first responders and civil authorities.
The U.S. Geological Survey said the 12 November quake was centered 19 miles outside Halabja, Iraq. It was felt as far west as the Mediterranean coast.
The hardest-hit area was Iran’s western Kermanshah province, which sits in the Zagros Mountains that divide Iran and Iraq. The Associated Press reported residents in the rural area rely mainly on farming to make a living.
Caritas MONA, the regional branch of the church’s charitable aid agency in the Middle East and North Africa, sent tweets asking people to join Caritas Iran and Caritas Iraq in prayers for those affected.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with our brothers & sisters in Iraq and Iran following yesterday’s devastating earthquake that hit the border region,” said another tweet.