17 January 2019
Pope Francis speaks during his general audience in Paul VI hall at the Vatican on 16 January.
(photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Pope: Christian unity is not optional (Vatican News) Pope Francis has reminded the faithful that “Ecumenism is not something optional.” Speaking during the weekly General Audience, the Pope looked ahead to the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity that takes place from 18 to 25 January. He noted that the annual “Week of Prayer”, on the theme “Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue,” kicks off with the celebration of Vespers in the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls on Friday…
Bishops visit West Bank refugee camp (Vatican News) The camp is run by UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which is also aiding refugees in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, East Jerusalem and Gaza. Travelling with the Bishops on this annual trip to support the Christian community living in the Holy Land, is Sean Farrell, Head of International Development with Trócaire, Ireland’s Catholic Development agency…
Pope appoints new bishop in India (Vatican News) The Holy Father on 17 January appointed the Rev. Stephen Antony Pillai as the new Bishop of Tuticorin, who takes over from retired Bishop Yvon Ambroise…
Indian court rules in favor of Christian missionary (UCANews.com) Delhi High Court recently quashed an order to deport a Christian doctor, India-born U.S. citizen Christo Thomas Philip, by ruling he has the right to practice his faith and offer his services for free, even if that involves propagating his faith…
Report names worst places of Christian persecution (The Express) Christians around the world are facing increasing levels of persecution, shocking new research has revealed, with those in Asia most likely to risk imprisonment, torture and even death for practicing the faith…
16 January 2019
Tags: India Gaza Strip/West Bank Christian Unity
In this image from 2014, Rabbi Abraham Skorka of Buenos Aires and Pope Francis embrace after visiting the Western Wall in Jerusalem. The pope has written the introduction to an Italian book of Christian and Jewish commentaries on the first five books of the Bible. Rabbi Skorka wrote one of the commentaries. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
A few decades of respectful Catholic-Jewish dialogue pale in comparison to “19 centuries of Christian anti-Judaism,” Pope Francis said, so Catholics must continue to ask forgiveness and forge new bonds of respect and friendship with the Jewish community.
“We must work with greater intensity to ask pardon and repair the damage,” the pope said in an introduction to a new Italian book of Christian and Jewish commentaries on passages from the first five books of the Bible, which are known collectively as the Torah or Pentateuch.
Pope Francis said the volume of commentaries, “The Bible of Friendship,” is an important tool for helping Catholics recognize the Jewish roots of their faith and for promoting concrete Catholic-Jewish cooperation in helping others.
“It is of vital importance for Christians to discover and foster knowledge of the Jewish tradition in order to understand themselves more authentically,” the pope said, and studying the Bible is an essential part of that effort.
Reading the Hebrew Scriptures together, he said, helps people discover the richness of the word of God. “The common objective will be to witness together to the love of the Father throughout the world.”
“The values, traditions and great ideas that characterize Judaism and Christianity must be placed at the service of humanity without ever forgetting the sacredness and authenticity of friendship,” he said.
“For Jews as for Christians there is no doubt that love of God and love for one’s neighbor summarize all the commandments,” he said. “Therefore, Jews and Christians must feel like brothers and sisters, united by the same God and by a rich, common spiritual patrimony on which to base and continue to build the future.”
16 January 2019
Tags: Pope Francis Jewish-Catholic relations
Bishops from North America, Europe and South Africa visit the UNRWA camp and school in Jenin, West Bank. The visit was part of the annual Holy Land Coordination.
(photo: CNS/courtesy Marcin Mazur via catholicnews.org.uk)
Bishops see ‘incomprehensible complexity’ of Holy Land situation (CNS)Visiting with Christian communities in northern Israel and the northern Palestinian Territories has helped bishops participating in the annual Holy Land Coordination see “the great need” to promote an understanding between Israelis and Palestinians, said Bishop Noel Treanor of Down and Connor, Ireland...
Victims of anti-Christian violence in India still denied justice (Vatican News) The Catholic Church of eastern India’s Odisha state organized a meeting on Saturday to assess the state of justice and compensation with regard to the victims and survivors of the terrible anti-Christian violence in the state more than 10 years ago. About 3,000 survivors of the violence of Christmas 2007 and August 2008 and thereafter, together with Catholic Church authorities, lay leaders and rights activists gathered on 12 January in Raikia town of Odisha’s Kandhamal district that was the epicenter of the outrage…
Syrian Kurds reject Turkey-controlled security zone (Al Jazeera) Syria’s Kurds on Wednesday rejected a US proposal for a “security zone” under Turkish control along the Syrian side of the two countries’ border. Russia, meanwhile, said only its ally, the Syrian military, should police the war-torn country’s north…
Gaza health ministry warns of hospital shutdowns (The Jerusalem Post) Gaza hospitals are in danger of shutting down due to a fuel crisis, in particular the hospital in Beit Hanoun, the Gaza Health Ministry warned Tuesday in an English language post its Faceook page. ”In an unprecedented and rapid tragedy, the fuel crisis in hospitals and primary care centers continues to hit critical levels,” it said…
15 January 2019
Tags: Syria India Middle East Christians Gaza Strip/West Bank
The Rev Thomas Rosica interviews Tim McCarthy, who manages CNEWA’s digital assets, and Msgr. John E. Kozar, CNEWA’s president, for Canada’s Salt + Light Television. (photo: CNEWA)
We were delighted to welcome to the New York office this morning the Rev. Thomas Rosica, CSB, who is the CEO of Salt + Light Catholic Media Foundation and the guiding light behind Salt + Light TV, the booming Catholic television channel in Canada, which now streams online around the world.
Father Rosica is producing a segment on CNEWA for the channel. As part of the story, he interviewed our president, Msgr. Kozar, our digital assets manager, Tim McCarthy and multimedia editor Deacon Greg Kandra about the work we do and how we share that work through our magazine and online.
Msgr. Kozar and Tim McCarthy explain CNEWA’s mission during the interview with Father Rosica. (photo: CNEWA)
It was a privilege and a pleasure to host him and his production team. We look forward to being able to share our story with others through Salt + Light. Stay tuned!
Msgr. Kozar and Father Rosica. (photo: CNEWA)
15 January 2019
President Trump spoke with Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan yesterday and discussed the possibility of a ‘safe zone’ in Syria. (video: CBS News/YouTube)
Leaders discuss possible ‘security zone’ for Syria (Al Jazeera) Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his US counterpart, Donald Trump, have discussed the situation in northern Syria over the phone amid rising tensions over the fate of Kurdish fighters in the war-torn country…
Syrian refugees brave harsh weather (Al Jazeera) Some 574 settlement structures and more than 22,000 refugees across the country were affected by the time the “ruthless” storm subsided a few days ago, according to figures from the UN refugee agency (UNHCR). Lebanon is home to more than one million Syrian refugees, most of whom live in informal settlements made out of tarpaulin tents supported by wooden frames. A major issue faced in the camps during rainfalls is the overflowing septic tanks, which leads to the seeping of sewage water into the camp’s crammed tents…
Number of student suicides climbing in India (UCANews.com) Exam stress and students’ fear of disappointing their parents, who often have high expectations, have been suggested as the main reasons for the spiking number of suicides in the country at this time of year. ”One student kills self every hour in India,” ran the headline of a Times of India story last year, citing the latest available government data from 2016. It said 9,474 students committed suicide in 2016…
Protesters block priests from entering church in Ukraine (Radio Free Europe) There was a confrontation at a church in northern Ukraine, as residents prevented priests affiliated with the Moscow Patriarchate from entering on Sunday, 13 January. There has been tension in the Orthodox community since the Orthodox Church of Ukraine recently split from the Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate…
Orthodox Church has no plans to change date of Russian Christmas (The Moscow Times) The Russian Orthodox Church has said it has no plans to move the date Christmas to 25 December in line with other Christian churches. Orthodox Christians follow the Julian calendar, which celebrates the birth of Christ on 7 January. Some Russian officials, including the firebrand leader of the LDRP Vladimir Zhirinovsky, have previously called for Russians to celebrate Christmas on 25 December as dictated by the Gregorian calendar…
14 January 2019
Tags: Syria India Ukraine Russian Orthodox Church Refugee Camps
The Rev. D. Raed Badr holds an Iraqi infant during a baptism in Jordan on 11 January. The water used was from the River Jordan, at the site of Jesus’ baptism. Also pictured is the Rev. Simon Hijazin. Sunday 13 January marked the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord.
(photo: CNS/courtesy of the Catholic Center for Studies and Media)
14 January 2019
There are indications ISIS may be making its last stand in Syria, according to forces battling them. (video: BBC/YouTube)
U.S.-backed Syrian force: ISIS is in its ’final moments’ (Reuters) Islamic State militants are “living their final moments” in the last enclave they hold near the Iraqi border, where U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are attacking them, an SDF official said on Sunday…
India’s Latin-rite bishops create two commissions (Vatican News) The Conference of Catholic Bishops of India (CCBI) that brings together the Latin bishops of the country’s 132 dioceses, concluded its plenary assembly on Monday establishing two new commissions, a CCBI press release said. 143 bishops participating in CCBI’s 31st Plenary Assembly held in Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu state, from 7 to 14 January, voted in favour of establishing the new Commissions for Ecology and for Small Christian Communities (SCC)…
Mother sets herself and children on fire at Syrian refugee camp (Sydney Morning Herald) A Syrian mother has attempted to burn herself and her children to death at a refugee camp in eastern Syria after she failed to find food for her family for three straight days, a civil defense spokesman says…
New road divides Israelis and Palestinians (CNN) The newest road in the West Bank is sparking controversy. Designed to ease traffic between Jerusalem and nearby settlements, it looks and feels like any other road. Israeli officials call it Route 4370, but its detractors have another name for it: “apartheid road…”
Kiev military hospital joins new Orthodox Church of Ukraine (Kiev Post) The Church of the Intercession of the Holy Virgin at the Main Military Hospital in Kiev has become part of the newly created Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU). The hospital church has been subordinate to the then Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP) for over 20 years, Ukrainian TV Channel 5 reports…
11 January 2019
Tags: Syria India Ukraine Refugee Camps Indian Bishops
Young Catholics from around the world pray at a church in United Arab Emirates in this undated photo. Approximately one million Catholics reside in the UAE as expatriate workers, according to the Apostolic Vicariate of Southern Arabia. Pope Francis will visit Abu Dhabi, the UAE capital next month. (photo: CNS/Apostolic Vicariate of Southern Arabia)
Catholics from around the world living in the United Arab Emirates are waiting with great anticipation for Pope Francis’ 3-5 February visit, the first papal trip to the Arabian Peninsula.
“Pope Francis is the ambassador of peace, courageously crossing borders and fostering personal encounters with religious leaders, heads of states and humanitarian organizations in the Arab world,” said the Rev. Johnson Kadukkan, parish priest at St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Abu Dhabi, where Pope Francis will stop for a private visit on 5 February before celebrating Mass at Zayed Sports City Stadium.
There are eight Catholic churches throughout the seven emirates of the UAE, with a ninth church under construction. Each church offers an extensive schedule of “weekend” Masses, all of which are full. Since the UAE is an Islamic country and Friday is considered a day of prayer for Muslims, Catholics attend weekend Mass on Friday or Saturday; Sunday is a workday.
St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Abu Dhabi, for example, has about 90,000 parishioners, with eight priests celebrating nearly 20 Masses during the weekend in various languages: Arabic, English, Tagalog, Spanish, French, Italian, German, Korean, Polish, Ukrainian, Urdu, Sinhalese and the Indian languages of Konkani, Malayalam and Tamil.
“The rulers of the UAE have been benevolent and tolerant, allowing us to practice our faith in the places of worship, and for this we are very thankful,” Father Kadukkan said.
Reflecting on the significance of Pope Francis’ visit, Joseph Khadige, a Lebanese who has been working in the UAE since 1982, told Catholic News Service that Pope Francis’ visit is “a sign from God. It is something we never thought would happen in our lifetime, for a pope to visit the UAE. The world should understand: This is not a small thing.”
Some people in the West confuse the UAE with Saudi Arabia, Khadige noted.
“So, when we say that 70,000 people attend a single church, they might say ‘impossible,’“ he said, in reference to the approximate number of parishioners at his parish, St. Michael’s in Sharja, an emirate close to Dubai.
On the contrary, Khadige said, “Here in the UAE, we practice our faith in full.”
From his experience, Khadige, general manager for an Italian global firm, has noticed that many Christians from the West who are lukewarm or practically atheists when they first arrive in the UAE as expatriate workers eventually are influenced by their active Christian peers.
“They see a lot of staff in their companies and organizations are going to church.” Little by little, he said, they are inspired to return to the church.
“They are now believers, and they are calling the priests to bless their house, to bless their children. And they enroll their children in catechism classes to be more active,” Khadige said, noting that in every church, there are around 5,000 children enrolled in such classes.
“It’s not just about the numbers. It’s about what is happening in a Muslim country,” he said.
Ed Magbag of the Philippines, a project manager with a design and engineering firm who has worked in the UAE for 14 years, notes that the UAE “is like a home away from home for all Christians.”
Parishioners of St. Joseph’s Cathedral, he and his wife are active in Couples for Christ, a global lay ecclesial movement, which has about 15,000 active members in the UAE.
Pope Francis’ visit “will show the world that despite different cultures, races, religions and practices, there is respect, love and coexistence of all local people and expatriates in the UAE,” Magbag told CNS.
Magbag considers Pope Francis’ visit to the UAE as “the best gift,” that “rekindles the fire in the heart of the faithful,” who are expecting spiritual nourishment.
Like many fellow Catholics in the UAE, the Magbags cut short their vacation to their homeland to be present in the UAE for Pope Francis’ visit.
“This is one experience we must not miss,” he said. Many workers are asking for a day of leave for the Pope’s 5 February Mass at the stadium.
“Pope Francis symbolizes God’s presence on earth and so, when the Pope Francis is visiting the UAE, it is as if God is visiting his children in the Middle East, not only Christians, but our Muslim brethren as well,” Magbag added.
“Make Me a Channel of Your Peace” is the theme for this papal visit, taken from the opening words of the Prayer of Peace of St. Francis Assisi, from whom Pope Francis has taken his name. The logo of the visit is a dove bearing an olive branch.
“Pope Francis is building bridges and creating an environment for peaceful dialogue to achieve peace and harmony globally,” Father Kadukkan told CNS.
“The UAE government has made huge strides by inviting Pope Francis to the country, and this is a step in the right direction to achieve tolerance, both within the Emirates as well as within the region,” the Indian priest told CNS.
The UAE government is organizing the visit with support from the Catholic Church.
Additionally, Sheik Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE president, has declared 2019 as the Year of Tolerance.
Approximately 1 million Catholics reside in the UAE as foreign workers, according to the Apostolic Vicariate of Southern Arabia.
They come from the Middle East, Asia, Europe, Africa and the Americas, with the majority from India and the Philippines.
11 January 2019
Tags: Muslim Arabian Peninsula
In this image from November, schoolchildren walk as U.S. troops patrol in Hassakeh, Syria. The U.S. announced it has begun troop withdrawals from Syria.(photo: CNS/Rodi Said, Reuters)
U.S. forces begin withdrawal from Syria (The New York Times) The United States has started withdrawing its troops from Syria, an American military spokesman said on Friday, further muddling the Trump administration’s plans for disengagement from one of the Middle East’s most complex battlefields…
Syro-Malabar Church to set up internal committees on ’Safe Environment Policy’ (UCANews.com) The Kerala-based Syro-Malabar Church has decided to set up internal committees at the diocesan level co-opting lay leaders to study complaints of sex abuse and financial mismanagements. The ongoing synod of the Syro-Malabar Archiespicoal Church Thursday decided to implement the “Safe Environment Policy” in order to create a “safe environment” for all, including children and vulnerable adults…
Syrian refugees wading through water in Lebanon camps (Al Jazeera) Tarima Ibrahim huddled together with her children to keep them warm as incessant rainfall, heavy winds and hail slapped their tarpaulin tent and lashed the refugee camp around it. ”We are freezing,” she said. “The tent is not heating up because it is flooded with ice-cold water.” Lebanon was hit by Storm Norma on 6 January, heavily impacting at least 360 informal refugee settlements and putting 850 others at risk…
Ukrainian Catholic leader says unity of Catholics and Orthodox is not utopian thinking (Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church) “Today the ecumenical movement at a universal scale is a fact,” he said. “It cannot be stopped anymore…”
Russia-Ukraine conflict enters its fifth year (Newsweek) As Ukraine marked the fifth anniversary of the start of its armed conflict with Russian-backed separatists, Kiev said there were multiple violations of its cease-fire agreement in the eastern part of the country known as the Donbas…
Are Armenian-Israeli relations warming up? (The Jerusalem Post) ”We identify strongly with the Jewish people,” says Armenian Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan. “We are very different from our neighbors. We have a long history, and have survived many wars and invasions. We know how to adapt to different cultures…”
10 January 2019
Tags: Syria Ukraine Armenia Syro-Malabar Catholic Church
Vested in silks and damask, Ethiopia's clergy mark Epiphany with a distinctive liturgy, a reminder of how different countries and cultures have adapted this feast as their own.
(photo: Asrat Habte Mariam)
The Christmas season is composed of several feasts which recount the beginnings of the life of Jesus and his ministry as an adult. Christmas recalls his birth; his baptism is celebrated at the end of the season.
But in the middle of the season is Epiphany. It was celebrated on the Christian calendar last Sunday, 6 January.
Epiphany is built around the account of the visit of the Magi which appears in the Gospel of Matthew and only the Gospel of Matthew. Matthew provides little or no information about this visit. We are told that wise men (magoi) came from the East. We are not told where in the East they came from or even how many there were; but since magoi is plural, Matthew indicates there were more than one. Different traditions count as many as 14, but the common number three is deduced from the gifts—no one came empty-handed.
The lack of details around this event makes it easy to attach popular traditions to it. And we see that in CNEWA’s world, where the celebrations of the Epiphany in the Middle East, in Ethiopia and in southern India are very different. While these traditions are celebrating the same event, they often do so in strikingly different and colorful ways.
The very diversity of the ways Epiphany is celebrated is a sign that Matthew has succeeded very well in what he attempted to do with his rather sparse account: he made the coming of Jesus an event with universal implications and applications. At its heart, this event, Epiphany, tells of an event that builds bridges and breaks down barriers.
It occurs against an interesting backdrop.
It is generally accepted that Matthew was writing for a community of Jews who had become followers of Jesus. As one would expect, they brought their Jewish traditions with them: the Torah, the notion of the chosen people, etc. As Christianity grew, tensions arose. Paul of Tarsus, in particular, attracted a large number of converts from paganism. While Matthew’s readers might expect the converts from paganism — for all practical purposes — to become observant Jews, that was not what Paul did. His converts to Christianity from paganism did not practice circumcision and did not follow the Law of Moses.
At the time of Jesus—and to some extent even today—religions tended to be culturally and linguistically specific. Even though the Greek and Roman cultures were very similar (even worshipping some of the same gods), the “Roman gods” had different names than the “Greek gods.” This reminds us that the major religions of the ancient world were both the source and result of the cultures in which they arose. Because of this, missionary endeavors were extremely rare, if not non-existent, in the pre-Christian world. It was simply assumed that one adhered to the religion of the culture into which they were born. Of course, there were borrowings and “cross pollination,” but the boundaries were clear and, for the most part, accepted.
The idea that a faith would not only be open to but would actively attract people from all cultures and nations was a new and strange one. It was an idea that many of Matthew’s readers would have found very hard to accept — and would have made Christianity difficult to embrace. But Matthew is the ideal teacher. His Gospel is a model of inclusion. If Jewish shepherds are the first to visit the newborn Jesus in Luke’s Gospel, it is the mysterious Magi who play the role of the first visitors in Matthew.
It is important also to note that in neither Gospel are we dealing with a mere visit, a social call. Whether it is the angels in Luke or the star and the dream in Matthew, these “visits” are also an epiphany, a “shining forth,” a revelation.
We know very, very little about the Magi. One thing, however, is certain: they were not Jews. They were foreigners. For Matthew, the first revelation is to the Gentiles. The Messiah was not born for a specific culture, a specific language, much less a specific nation. The Messiah is sent to all humanity.
Tribalism is a natural human characteristic. We tend to gather with those like us. God is “our God.” But the message of Matthew is clear. To see Jesus as the Messiah of any one group, one culture—to say nothing of one nation—is not to see Jesus at all, but merely to see a reflection of our own fears and prejudices.
We need to remember during this time of new beginnings, and the start of a new year, this salient truth: Epiphany means “to shine forth.” It is a movement outward not inward. The Epiphany is the rejection of all racial, cultural or national supremacy or chauvinism. It is a message of inclusion and, even, of hope.
Matthew helps underscore that point with his account of the epiphany. The writer of this Gospel makes sure that the Messiah is Emmanuel, Hebrew for “God-with-us,” and that the “us” in Emmanuel excludes no one of good will.
Tags: Ethiopia Middle East