16 December 2015
People attend the lighting of the Christmas tree on Manger Square in Bethlehem, West Bank, 5 December. In a message released today, Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal urged a more spiritual celebration of Christmas this year and called for an end to the arms trade.
(photo: CNS/Abed Al Hashlamoun, EPA)
Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal urged moderate celebrations of Christmas this year because of the current political situation, but he also called for an end to the arms trade.
In his 16 December Christmas message, he urged a more spiritual holiday celebration and also encouraged all parishes to turn off the Christmas tree lights for five minutes in solidarity with all the victims of violence and terrorism. In Bethlehem, West Bank, the Christmas Mass will be offered for the victims and their families, he said, “that they take to heart the participation in the joy and peace of Christmas.”
At the local level, he urged Palestinian and Israeli leaders to have the courage to work toward a just peace, rather than war and violence.
“Enough of stalling, reluctance and false pretenses,” he admonished. “Respect international resolutions. Listen to the voice of your people who aspire for peace, act in their best interest. Each of the two peoples of the Holy Land, Israelis and Palestinians, have the right to dignity, to an independent state and sustainable security.”
“What suffering it is, to once again see our beloved Holy Land caught in the vicious cycle of bloody violence. What pain to see anew, hatred prevail over reason and dialogue. The anguish of the people of this land is ours, which we cannot ignore or disregard. Enough! We are tired of this conflict as we see the Holy Land sullied with blood,” he added.
He called for the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, and for the two to exist in “peace and tranquility.”
Without naming specific groups, he said the situation in the Holy Land is a reflection of what is happening around the world, which is “facing an unprecedented terrorist threat.”
He said that though recent attacks have taken place against France, Lebanon, Russia and the United States, people in Iraq and Syria have been suffering for years from the war. Syria is at the center of the crisis, he said.
“The future of the Middle East depends on the resolution of this conflict,” he said.
He also condemned and called for an end to the weapon trade, which he said is perpetuating the conflict. He blamed “several international powers” for the continuation of a situation of “total absurdity and duplicity.”
“On the one side, some speak of dialogue, justice and peace, while on the other hand promote the sale of arms to the belligerents,” he said in his message. “We call to conversion these unscrupulous arm dealers who may be without conscience, to make amends. Great is your responsibility in these devastating tragedies, and you will answer before God for the blood of your brothers.”
He urged world leaders to find the roots and cause of “this scourge.”
“We must combat poverty and injustice, which may constitute a breeding ground for terrorism. Similarly we must promote education on tolerance and acceptance of the other,” he said.
In response to a journalist’s question, the patriarch said that while he welcomed current international attention and solidarity with the plight of Christians in the Middle East in light of the fighting, he lamented that it is only when their own interests are affected that they have finally begun to take notice of the Christians of the Middle East.
“There have been thousands and thousands of Iraqis and Syrians who are suffering,” he said.
He noted the importance of the 50th anniversary of “Nostra Aetate,” the Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, and its role as the foundation for dialogue.
“Here in the Holy Land, this dialogue is of paramount importance where difficulties exist, but it is necessary to continue to hope all the more, to the viability of a Jewish-Christian-Muslim dialogue,” he said.
He invited pilgrims to continue visiting the Holy Land, despite the current tense situation, and said they would find three doors designated as Doors of Mercy during the Year of Mercy.
“The pilgrim route is safe and they (pilgrims) are respected and appreciate by all sectors in the Holy Land,” he said.
16 December 2015
Special Representative of the United Nations in Iraq Jan Kubis, left, meets with Kirkuk Governor Najm al-Din Karim on 14 December 2015 in Kirkuk. The governor has just announced that as a “sign of solidarity” with Christians, 24 December will be a public holiday.
(photo: Marwan Ibrahim/AFP/Getty Images)
Christmas Eve to be a public holiday as “sign of solidarity” in Kirkuk (Fides) This year, the birth of the Lord for the churches that follow the Gregorian calendar falls on a Friday, a public holiday for Muslims. This is why, as a sign of solidarity of the institutions and the whole society towards Christians, the governor of the province of Kirkuk, Kurdish Necmettin Karim, said that Thursday, 24 December, Christmas Eve, will be a public holiday...
Patriarch: “Mercy is a political act par excellence” (Fides) “Children of the world dream of a wonderful celebration with gifts, lights, decorated trees and crèches.” However, and I repeat the same words of Pope Francis, everything is distorted “because the world continues to make war.” This famous “third world war being fought in pieces,” which he speaks of so often, is unfolding before our eyes in our region.” This is what the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal writes in his traditional Christmas message, presented this morning at a press conference in Jerusalem, at the headquarters of the Latin Patriarchate...
Report describes “welfare of Syrian refugees” (The World Bank) Since the Syrian crisis began, nearly 1.7 million people have fled to neighboring Jordan and Lebanon. To better understand the profile and welfare of Syrian refugees living in Jordan and Lebanon, the World Bank Group and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) have worked closely together to produce The Welfare of Syrian Refugees: Evidence from Jordan and Lebanon. The report explores the socio-economic profile, poverty, and vulnerability of refugees, evaluates current policies and discusses prospects for policy reforms...
How the Arab Spring became the Arab cataclysm (The New Yorker) Five years later, the costs and consequences of the uprisings have stunned the world. “Perhaps we in the international community, and the people on the ground, were naïve and misled by how easy the Tunisians made it seem,” Sarah Leah Whitson, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, told me this week. “The Egyptians, too, got rid of a dictator. But we underestimated the forces against democracy and rights — and the way in which other forces of repression and destruction were able to fill the vacuums that the uprisings created...”
15 December 2015
Tags: Syria Iraq Egypt Arab Spring
An imam prays in a mosque. ISIS yesterday publicly beheaded three well-known imams in Mosul, Iraq. It’s the latest in a string of executions carried out by ISIS against Muslim religious leaders.
(photo: Tareq Salfur Rahman/Getty Images)
The news out of Mosul this morning is horrifying. From the Vatican news service Fides:
The self-styled Islamic State of jihadists beheaded three well-known Sunni imams in Mosul in the public square accused of not obeying orders that forced them to recruit young people for the Jihad.
The three imams, known by the local people for their profile of authentic men of God: Kazim Abdulkarim, Bilal al-Sheikh Agha and Abdullah al-Hayalli, had opposed to the atrocities committed by jihadists in the name of their bloody religious ideology. They were killed on Monday 14 December, in front of dozens of people gathered to witness the beheading. On the same day — report local sources to ARA Kurdish News Agency, also Ashwaq al-Nouaymi was murdered, a professor of Mosul who refused to give his students the teachings included in the new school curriculum imposed by Daesh.
Already in June 2014, a few days after having conquered Mosul, jihadists of Daesh had killed many Sunni imams of the city, including the Grand Imam, for refusing to swear allegiance to the Islamic Caliphate. The slaughter of the imam in Mosul was virtually ignored by the Western media. All Christians in the second Iraqi city managed to escape, and their houses were expropriated by jihadists.
ISIS has made headlines and shocked the world with its beheadings and executions of Christians and other minorities — most notoriously the mass killings of Coptic Christians on a Libyan beach last April.
But what may be less well-known is their practice of executing Muslims, particularly imams, who are the religious leaders of the community.
Last year, ISIS executed 12 imams in Mosul after they reportedly refused to swear loyalty to ISIS.
In January of this year, ISIS beheaded a Syrian imam for “insulting God.” According to AFP:
The Britain-based Observatory added that three of the man’s sons were ISIS fighters, and that it was the first time the jihadis executed a religious official for this reason.
The man was detained after watching a video on executions carried out by ISIS and cursing because God had permitted them, Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said.
A month later, ISIS executed two more Muslim clerics and beheaded four civilians in Mosul for condemning the burning of a Jordanian pilot alive.
These public executions are clearly designed to sow intimidation and terror — not just among Christians, but also among Muslims.
What happened yesterday in Mosul is just the latest example.
Tragically, if the past is any guide, it won’t be the last.
15 December 2015
Syro-Malankara Catholic seminarians take part in a service at St. Mary’s Major Seminary
in Kerala. (photo: John E. Kozar)
In the subcontinent of India, Christians have flourished since ancient times. Originally united in faith, customs and caste, they are called the son and daughters of St. Thomas. According to tradition, the apostle brought the Christian faith to the Malabar Coast of southwestern India after the ascension of Jesus. Today these Christians, all of whom belong to the Syriac Christian tradition, are fragmented into seven churches. The youngest of these distinct churches, the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church, is a dynamic community that commissions priests and religious to northern India, Europe and North America, even as it grows and flourishes in South India, its geographic heart.
The Syro-Malankara Catholic Church came into being in the early 20th century as a work of the “reunion movement” and one visionary: Gheevarghese Panicker, better known as Mar Ivanios.
As with his contemporaries, Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) and Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948) — whose writings inspired the young priest — Father Gheevarghese was preoccupied with the renewal of his Malankara Syriac Orthodox community. He envisioned a monastic community for men and women that would integrate the monasticism of his own Syriac tradition with the essence of Hindu spirituality, sunyasi, the process of leading an interior life. Deeply spiritual, he reasoned that a community dedicated to contemplation, social action and evangelization would spark renewal.
Father Gheevarghese founded such a community, Bethany, modeling it on the Gospel account of Bethany. In an interview with CNEWA in February 1997, one of the last surviving original members of the community, 94-year-old Father Raphael, described a “revolutionary” spirit at the monastery, which combined the asceticism of the Hindu monk with the social teachings of the church and a commitment to imitate Christ.
Boys at the Malankara Boys’ Home in Kerala pause on the lawn to pray before a statue of the Virgin Mary before going to school. (photo: Jose Jacob)
“Having taken the three vows of chastity, poverty and obedience,” he recalled, “we Christian sunyami [monks]... led a simple, spiritual life. All were vegetarian, slept on the floor, ate from simple earthen pots, had only two sets of clothes, observed virtual silence and were at prayer five times a day.” On Sundays, the monks went into the community, preaching, counseling and consoling.
The monks of Bethany stirred interest among the Malankara Syriac Orthodox faithful, who, according to observers, continuously sought the community’s counsel. As Bethany grew, so too did interest among the Thomas Christians in a “reunion movement,” which picked up steam particularly after Father Gheevarghese was consecrated bishop in May 1925.
Choosing the name Ivanios, the new bishop immediately challenged the catholicos, bishops, priests and people of the Malankara Syriac Orthodox Church to “bring all the Syrian Christians of Kerala, who formed one church formerly, into true union once again so that the biblical idea of ‘one fold and one pastor’ may become a reality.”
Charged by the synod of the church, Mar Ivanios contacted the Catholic Church in 1926 about re-establishing full communion between the two churches, provided the Holy See recognize the validity of Malankara Syriac Orthodox orders, preserve its administrative structures in India and the use of the Western Syriac liturgy.
To read a full account of the formation and activity of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church, click here.
15 December 2015
Sister Liza Mundamattom plays with a child in a village in Bastar, India. To learn more about the courageous work these sisters are doing in a dangerous corner of India, read Serving in the Red in the Summer 2015 edition of ONE. (photo: Jose Jacob)
15 December 2015
Members of the Turkish Coast Guard near Izmir, Turkey, register Syrian migrants after capturing a boat carrying them on 10 December as they attempted to reach Greek island of Chios. Pope Francis spoke of the crisis facing refugees and migrants in his message for World Peace Day.
(photo: CNS/Tolga Bozoglu, EPA)
In Peace Day message, pope addresses death penalty, migrants (CNS) Pope Francis called for abolishing the death penalty worldwide, lifting the burden of debt on poor nations, global aid policies that respect life and revamped laws that welcome and integrate migrants. He urged individuals, communities and nations to not let indifference, information overload or pessimism discourage them from concrete efforts “to improve the world around us, beginning with our families, neighbors and places of employment.” Building peace, he said, is not accomplished by words alone, but through the grace of God, a conversion of heart, an attitude of compassion and the courage to act against despair. The pope’s multifaceted plea came in his message for World Peace Day, 1 January. The message, which was delivered to world leaders by Vatican ambassadors, was released at the Vatican on 15 December...
ISIS beheads three imams in Mosul (Fides) The self-styled Islamic State of jihadists beheaded three well-known Sunni imams in Mosul in the public square accused of not obeying orders that forced them to recruit young people for the Jihad. The three imams, known by the local people for their profile of authentic men of God: Kazim Abdulkarim, Bilal al-Sheikh Agha and Abdullah al-Hayalli, had opposed to the atrocities committed by jihadists in the name of their bloody religious ideology. They were killed on Monday, 14 December, in front of dozens of people gathered to witness the beheading...
Thousands rally to mark anniversary of Hamas (Al Bawaba.com) A thousands-strong rally in the Gaza Strip has marked the 28th anniversary of the foundation of the Palestinian resistance movement of Hamas, Press TV reports. The event was held in Gaza City on Monday, with attendees reaffirming their support for the movement. Since its establishment in December 1987, Hamas has refused to recognize Israel and adhered to resistance against the Israeli occupation, which it believes is the sole way of bringing about the liberation of occupied Palestinian territories. The movement says its goal is to liberate the entire historical Palestine...
Posters in Baghdad ask Christian women to wear the veil (Fides) There are posters on the walls of Baghdad, near the churches and in neighborhoods where there are still Christian communities asking women to wear the veil. The message is addressed directly to Christian women, since the poster portrays the image of the Virgin Mary and a text in which it is emphasized that even the Virgin Mary, docile to the teaching received, wore the veil. The same posters had appeared in some areas of the city in the month of November...
Letter of His Beatitude Gregorios III for the Feast of the Nativity (ByzCath.org) Glad tidings! Gospel! Great joy! Thus begins the Gospel of our Lord, God and Saviour Jesus Christ. Thus begins Christianity. Thus begins our holy Christian faith. This is the Feast of the Nativity. On this holy day, this year we hear anew the Christmas angel in the dark night, in the fields of Beit Sahur and Bethlehem, and in all parts of the world. We hear again the voice of the angel announcing to us all without exception, and particularly to all those receiving this letter, “I bring you glad tidings of great joy. I bring to you a Gospel, the Gospel of joy. This joy is Jesus himself, the Saviour...”
14 December 2015
Tags: Syria Iraq Pope Francis Refugees Gaza Strip/West Bank
Meron Getachew learns tailoring at a church-run training course in Ethiopia. To learn more about how the church is training young people to develop new skills, read “Bright Lights, Big Problems” in the Autumn edition of ONE. (photo: Petterik Wiggers)
14 December 2015
Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Sako of Baghdad is pictured in a 2014 photo in Geneva.
(photo: CNS/Salvatore Di Nolfi, EPA)
Iraqi patriarch says Christian persecution has reached “critical, violent” point (CNS) The survival of Christianity in the Middle East has reached such a critical point that the chances of dialogue and reconciliation in the region are being threatened, said Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Sako of Baghdad. “The situation is very bad, very critical and always violent,” Sako told Catholic News Service on 10 December. “Last year in August, 120,000 Christian people were expelled from their homes, their villages and now they are living in some camps with nothing, but the Church is helping them.” Sako was among the keynote speakers at a 10-12 December international conference on Christian persecution in the world. He told CNS that the mass exodus of Christians in the region will only worsen the situation due to growing tensions between Sunni and Shiite Muslims who “are killing each other...”
Patriarch visits Egypt (Fides) Maronite Patriarch Boutros Bechara Peter Rai carried out a four-day visit to Egypt, which ended yesterday, Sunday 13 December and was characterized by a busy schedule, not only from a pastoral point of view. The occasion for the patriarchal visit was the inauguration of the church dedicated to St. Maron, which underwent major restoration in the Cairo district of Heliopolis. During the visit in Egypt, the Primate of the Maronite Church had high-level contacts and met among others the Coptic Orthodox Patriarch, Tawadros II, the Grand Imam of al-Azhar, Ahmad al Tayyeb, and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi...
Russia angry at Turkey’s military presence in Iraq (New Europe) The scale of Turkey’s military presence in northern Iraq cannot be justified by the tasks of training any local groups, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said on Sunday. “We think that Turkey’s actions in northern Iraq are illegal. It is an invasion into a neighboring state,” he said. “Moreover, the scale of these actions cannot be justified by any training-related argument.” Iraq appealed to the United Nations Security Council on Friday to demand an immediate and unconditional withdrawal of all Turkish troops from northern Iraq, calling Turkey’s military incursion a “flagrant violation” of international law...
Syrian refugees receive a primer on Canadian life (The Globe and Mail) As the new Syrian arrivals take in the mundane details of Canadian life like so many refugees before them, there are signs of the emotional toll of the past few years. There is also evidence of the network of support that is ready to help, the sponsors who have brought them here, the volunteers on hand to translate. With as many as 25,000 refugees expected in the coming months, this is a scene that will play out again and again across Canada...
Bhopal archbishop receives peace award (Vatican Radio) Archbishop Leo Cornelio SVD, of Bhopal on Thursday received the prestigious International Human Rights Award for the year 2015 at the India Islamic Centre, New Delhi in a glittering ceremony organized by All India Council of Human Rights, Liberties and Social Justice...
Hanukkah lights the darkness in Ukraine (FoxNews.com) Since the crisis began two years ago, the Jewish community of Ukraine, numbering an estimated 300-350,000 Jews, has come together not just to provide much-needed aid, but also to celebrate the Jewish holidays with bravery and gusto unmatched under such circumstances. They have been joined in this massive undertaking by my organization, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, and other overseas Jewish and Christian aid groups — the Jewish Federations, Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, World Jewish Relief, and Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein and the International Fellowship of Christians & Jews — individual philanthropists, foundations, community leaders, and activists all seeking to ensure that life goes on even under duress...
11 December 2015
Pope Francis is embraced by Argentine Rabbi Abraham Skorka after praying at the Western Wall in Jerusalem on 26 May 2014. On the right is Omar Abboud, Muslim leader from Argentina.
(photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Fifty years ago, in October 1965, the Catholic Church published “The Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions.” This document, prepared by the Second Vatican Council, is also known by its Latin name Nostra Ætate, which translates as “in our times.” Two recent documents, one Catholic and the other Jewish, were just published that make us think that the document of the Second Vatican Council should be, in fact, “In Our Extraordinary Times.”
On 10 December 2015 the Commission for Religious Relations with Jews of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity published “The Gifts and Calling of God Are Irrevocable.” Continuing a trajectory that began with Nostra Ætate, the document is a “reflection...on current theological questions that have developed since the Second Vatican Council.” While the document does not break radically new ground, it makes important clarifications concerning Catholic relations with Jews.
Historically, the document clarifies, for example, that Nostra Ætate did not explicitly state that God’s covenant with the Jews was never invalidated. That position was stated by Pope John Paul II in his meeting with members of the Jewish community in Mainz, Germany, on 18 November 1980. The document also states with great clarity that the Letter to the Hebrews, often used to indicate that Judaism was “superseded” by Christianity, “has no intention of proving the promises of the Old Covenant to be false, but on the contrary treats them as valid.” Continuing this theme, the commission states that “the church does not replace the people of God of Israel,” rejects the notion that Jews “can no longer be considered the people of God” and adds “...it does not in any way follow that Jews are excluded from God’s salvation because they do not believe in Jesus Christ as the Messiah of Israel and the Son of God.”
This theological position has clear practical implications that the Catholic Church recognizes and accepts: “The church is therefore obliged to view evangelization to Jews, who believe in the one God, in a different manner from that to people of other religions and world views. In concrete terms this means that the Catholic Church neither conducts nor supports any specific institutional mission work directed towards Jews.”
“The Gifts and Calling of God Are Irrevocable” is indeed itself a gift to the ongoing relationship between Catholics and Jews. It moves the relationship to a deeper level, clarifies many important theological points and courageously draws practical conclusions. However, as important as the document is, it is the continuation of a trajectory that is 50 years old. As such it is not radically new and it certainly does not indicate any change of direction.
Coincidentally — or perhaps not so coincidentally — on 3 December 2015 the Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation (CJCUC) published an “Orthodox Rabbinic Statement of Christianity.” This document is by any measure extraordinary. It states, “As did Maimonides and Yehuda Halevi [great Jewish thinkers of the 12th and 11th centuries respectively] we acknowledge that Christianity is neither an accident nor an error, but the willed divine outcome and gift to the nations” (Par. 3).
This statement is not merely generous and broad spirited, but also most remarkable given the history of Catholic-Orthodox Jewish relations. While “The Gifts and Calling of God Are Irrevocable” mentions that “dialogue with the Chief Rabbinate of Israel has to that extent enabled more open relations between Orthodox Judaism and the Catholic Church,” the recent statement of the Orthodox rabbis goes even further.
Although painful, it is not difficult for Christians to see the distrust that many Jews, especially Orthodox Jews, might feel toward Christianity. Centuries of discrimination, persecution and theological disdain (often referred to as supercessionism) had given Orthodox Jews, whose memory is equally as long as that of the Catholic Church, little reason to trust that Christians would ever see them other than “objects” of conversion.
However, there was a far more formidable obstacle of which most Catholics and Christians were and remain unaware. One of the greatest Jewish thinkers of the 20th century was Rabbi Joseph B. Solevetchik (1903-1993). A member of what has been referred to as the “Solevetchik rabbinical dynasty,” Rabbi Solevetchik belonged to a long family of Eastern European orthodox rabbis. He worked in the United States for most of his adult life and was renowned for his intelligence and knowledge. His writings were and continue to be very influential in the Orthodox Jewish community.
In 1964, the year before Nostra Ætate, Rabbi Solevetchik published “Confrontation” in the Spring-Summer edition of the Jewish journal, Tradition. This article has to a great extent determined the nature and parameter of Orthodox Jewish-Catholic relations for the past 50 years.
While Rabbi Solevetchik considered it essential for Orthodox Jews to work with Christians and others in the overall society, his attitude toward any type of religious or theological dialogue was at best pessimistic. In his article he refers often to Christianity as “the religion of the many.” Understandably, he is concerned about the uniqueness of Judaism. He states “...the divine imperatives and commandments to which a faith community is unreservedly committed must not be equated with the ritual and ethos of another community” (p. 18), noting that it “is futile to find common denominators” (p. 1).
His fears are rooted in a long, painful history. “We are not ready for a meeting with another faith community in which we shall become the object of observation...” (p.21). “Nor are we related to any other faith community as “brethren” even though “separated.” (ibid). For Rabbi Solevetchik, when speaking of faith, “the whole idea of a tradition of faiths and the continuum of revealed doctrines...is utterly absurd” (p.22).
Again and again he expresses his fear that Judaism will lose its uniqueness and identity. Although he never uses the term, Solevetchik dreads Judaism being reduced to a type of “Proto-Christianity,” lacking its own uniqueness and value. Fifty years after Nostra Ætate it is easy to forget that the rabbi’s fears were not groundless for almost all of our 2000-year common history.
Thus it is almost impossible to overestimate the importance of this recent “Orthodox Rabbinic Statement on Christianity.” Arriving at the present level of trust and understanding — while recognizing there are still many areas which need further reflection — is a monument to the vitality and faithfulness of both Judaism and Christianity. The Orthodox rabbis were able to overcome incredible historical, intellectual and theological obstacles to arrive at this point and at the same time to be faithful to their history and tradition.
Their statement is one of great courage and hope for the future. The Catholic Church for its part continues to refine, purify and, where necessary, correct
attitudes that were theologically deficient and all too often destructive.
In a world racked by religiously inspired violence, the example of the Catholic-Jewish dialogue provides hope and perhaps even a paradigm for the overcoming of deep differences and painful histories even after 2000 years.
11 December 2015
Armenian archbishops from France, Ukraine, Russia and Nagorno-Karabakh concelebrate the blessing of chrism at Etchmiadzin in 1996. To learn more about Armenia’s spiritual core, read “Where God Descended” in the May 2008 edition of ONE. (photo: Armineh Johannes)