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Current Issue
March, 2018
Volume 44, Number 1
  
29 January 2018
Judith Sudilovsky, Catholic News Service




Bishop Felipe de Jesus Estevez of St. Augustine, Florida, holding cross, and Auxiliary Bishop Alberto Rojas of Chicago, right, watch a Palestinian worker make crosses made of olive wood on 27 January at the Holy Land Handicraft Cooperative Society in Beit Sahour, West Bank.
(photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)


Retired Bishop Placido Rodriguez of Lubbock, Texas, remembers the smell of woodworking and the feel of wood in his hands from when he was a child in his family furniture factory in Celaya, Mexico.

“Here they are working with olive wood; in Mexico we worked with cedar. We see the connection with our brothers here,” Bishop Rodriguez said as he walked through the small family-run Odeh Factory, which produces traditional olive wood statues and souvenirs to sell to pilgrims and tourists. “I see the effort that is needed, and the talent, (to do this work) as a way to support and feed their families. I can see this is the work of Christians. I don’t have to be told that, you can see it in their work.”

Bishop Rodriguez was among 10 bishops who participated in the 18-27 January USCCB Hispanic Bishops’ Pilgrimage for Peace in the Holy Land. They met with local Christians as well as with other Palestinians and Israelis to get a firsthand understanding of the situation and to advocate for “bridges not walls.” Many bishops said the pilgrimage gave them a better understanding of the Palestinian Christian reality in the Holy Land and gave them the opportunity to express their solidarity with the community, which makes up less than 2 percent of the Palestinian population.

On 27 January, Catholic Relief Services hosted the bishops in the traditionally Christian village of Beit Sahour, near Bethlehem, for a tour of the CRS Fair Trade Partner Holy Land Handicraft Cooperative Society, and a visit to one of the artisan workshops CRS recently helped renovate to improve working conditions.

“It has given me a special understanding of the reason why the number of Christians in the Holy Land is decreasing and the difficulty of living here because of the occupation,” said Bishop Felipe de Jesus Estevez of St. Augustine, Florida. “While I have felt a great sadness at their situation, I have also marveled at the resilience of the Holy Family Parish in Gaza.”

Bishop Nelson J. Perez of Cleveland described Gaza with its 2.3 million people as a “virtual human prison,” where residents cannot leave and others cannot enter. While there is a political aspect to the situation, the humanitarian side of it cannot be ignored, he said.

Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, touches a statue of Mary made out of olive wood at the Holy Land Handicraft Cooperative Society in Beit Sahour, West Bank.
(photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)


“People have the right to freedom of movement, right to life. I would hope that somehow, someday this will get resolved,” he said. “Both the Israelis and the Palestinians have their narrative, but (the situation must be dealt with) in a way which respects the dignity of the human person.”

He said although the students of Bethlehem University with whom they spoke gave him hope as they expressed desire for peace, their prospects for gainful employment were minimal, and many young Christian Palestinians emigrate because of lack of work.

“We can’t judge one side over the other but ... justice and peace must reign between these two communities living here,” said Auxiliary Bishop Alberto Rojas of Chicago. “This is possible only if each one recognizes the dignity of the other.”

“We have been exposed more to the reality of life here and have heard ... of the fear of Israelis near the Gaza border,” said Bishop Perez. “I could relate to the fear of being shot at. People have died. That was as disturbing as seeing the limitation of movement of people from Gaza.”

“There have been situations in the world where, in their moments, people felt there was no hope and there was nothing to be done,” he added. “But history has shown through God’s grace and intervention and goodness of people situations have changed.”



29 January 2018
Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service




Pope Francis and Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych, head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, release doves at the end of the pope’s meeting with the Ukrainian Catholic community at the Basilica of Santa Sophia in Rome on 28 January. (photo: CNS/Remo Casilli, Reuters)

Pope Francis’ visit to the Ukrainian Catholic Basilica of Santa Sophia in Rome combined elements of his parish visits with elements of his visits to centers for migrants and refugees.

While the basilica is a fully functioning parish, most of its members are migrant women working in Rome and sending money home to their families in Ukraine.

In his speech to the community gathered at Santa Sophia 28 January, Pope Francis offered his own reflection on “The Vibrant Parish: a Place to Encounter the Living Christ,” which is the theme of a multiyear renewal effort in Ukrainian Catholic parishes around the world.

“A vibrant parish is a place to encounter the living Christ,” he said. “I hope that you always will come here for the bread for your daily journey, the consolation of your hearts, the healing of your wounds.”

A vibrant parish, he said, also is the place to pass on the faith to the younger generations.

“Young people need to perceive this: that the church is not a museum, that the church is not a tomb,” the pope added. They need to see that “the church is alive, that the church gives life and that God is Jesus Christ, the living Christ, in the midst of the church.”

But Pope Francis also spoke about the loneliness of being a migrant, the hard work and low pay many Ukrainian women receive in caring for children or the elderly in Italy and, particularly, the worry and concern over the ongoing war in Eastern Ukraine.

The pope also used the visit as a way to underline the importance of remembering the past and honoring those who dedicated their lives to preserving and sharing the faith, including under the harshest conditions, when the Ukrainian Catholic Church was outlawed by the Soviet Union and its bishops and many of its priests were imprisoned.

The first person he honored was the late Cardinal Josyf Slipyj, who was exiled to Rome after 18 years in Soviet jails and gulags. The cardinal built the basilica as a cathedral for the Ukrainian Catholic Church, which was banned in its homeland.

Pope Francis said the cardinal wanted it “to shine like a prophetic sign of freedom in the years when access to many houses of worship was forbidden. But with the sufferings he endured and offered to the Lord, he contributed to building another temple, even grander and more beautiful, the edifice of living stones which is you,” the pope told the faithful.

Pope Francis attends a meeting with the Ukrainian Catholic community at the Basilica of Santa Sophia in Rome. (photo: CNS/Remo Casilli, Reuters)

Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, major archbishop of Kiev-Halych and head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, welcomed Pope Francis to the basilica. He said that while officially there are about 200,000 Ukrainians living in Italy, the number is probably double that. About 17,000 people attend the Divine Liturgy each week in one of 145 Ukrainian Catholic communities in Italy; they are served by 65 priests, the archbishop said.

The archbishop also said he hoped Pope Francis’ visit to the basilica would be just the first step toward a papal visit to Ukraine.

Pope Francis urged the community members to remember all those who suffered in Ukraine to preserve the faith and to hand it on, including mothers and grandmothers who baptized their children or grandchildren at great risk when Ukraine was under Soviet domination.

That same commitment to faith and desire to share it, he said, is seen today in the Ukrainian women who work for Italian families and become witnesses of faith to them.

“Behind each of you there is a mother, a grandmother who transmitted the faith,” the pope said. “Ukrainian women are heroic, thank the Lord.”

The war in Eastern Ukraine, which has been continuing for four years, also was on the minds and hearts of the pope and the Ukrainian faithful. Archbishop Shevchuk said that while “Russian aggression” continues, the international community has forgotten about the fighting.

Pope Francis told the Ukrainian community, “I know that while you are here, your hearts beat for your country and they beat not only with affection, but also with anguish, especially because of the scourge of war and the economic difficulties.

“I am here to tell you that I am close to you, close with my heart, close with my prayers, close when I celebrate the Eucharist,” the pope told them. “I beg the Prince of Peace to silence the weapons.”

Before leaving the basilica, Archbishop Shevchuk took Pope Francis down to the crypt to pray at the tomb of Bishop Stefan Chmil.

Earlier, Pope Francis told the people in the basilica that when he was 12 years old and then-Father Chmil, a Salesian, was ministering in Buenos Aires, he would serve Divine Liturgy for the priest.

Being an altar server three times a week, he said, he learned from Father Chmil “the beauty of your liturgy,” but also about what was happening in Ukraine under communism and “how the faith was tried and forged in the midst of the terrible atheistic persecutions of the last century.”

You can watch a video about his visit below.




29 January 2018
Greg Kandra




Religious sisters pray inside St. Thomas Church in Palakkad, India. Read about the priest who serves the parish in A Day in the Life of a Priest in Kerala in the December 2017 edition of ONE.
(photo: Don Duncan)




29 January 2018
Greg Kandra




Pope Francis embraces Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych, head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, during a meeting with the Ukrainian Catholic community at the Basilica of Santa Sophia in Rome on 28 January. (photo: CNS/Remo Casilli, Reuters)

Pope visits Ukrainian Basilica in Rome (Vatican Radio) On Sunday afternoon Pope Francis paid a visit to the Basilica of Santa Sofia, home to Rome’s Greek Catholic Community of Ukrainians. The Pope exchanged greetings with the Major Archbishop of Kiev, Sviatoslav Shevchuk, and in his address the Pontiff recalled the great models of Cardinal Josyp Slipyi, Salesian Ukrainian Bishop Stepan Czmil, and Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, former Major Archbishop of the Greek Catholic Church of Ukraine...

Jordan’s King: ‘Jordan will remain a protector of Jerusalem’s shrines’ (The Jordan Times) His Majesty King Abdullah on Sunday met with the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland Minister Derek Browning, a Royal Court statement said. During the meeting, attended by HRH Prince Ghazi, the King’s special adviser for religious and cultural affairs, the King and the minister stressed the importance of enhancing dialogue, tolerance and co-existence among followers of various religions...

New bishop for Ahmedabad, India (Vatican Radio) The Holy Father, Pope Francis has appointed The Rev. Athanasius Rethna Swamy Swamiadian, the new Bishop for the Diocese of Ahmedabad, India. Currently Father Athanasius was serving as the Rector of Vianney Vihar, the Interdiocesan Major Seminary in Baroda...

Gaza hospital forced to close over power crisis (Andalou Agency) A hospital in the northern Gaza Strip has shut down over an acute power shortage plaguing the Israeli-blockaded Palestinian enclave, the Palestinian Health Ministry said Monday. In a statement, the Ministry said the Beit Hanoun hospital had suspended health services over the shortage. “Patients will be transferred to other governmental hospitals,” it said...

Russian Orthodox leader criticizes bitcoin craze (RT) Bitcoin mania makes people lose their minds and lose everything they have, according to the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill. “People are losing their minds. Everyone says: What am I waiting for? I have to act, I have to buy these bitcoins. And then they are buying, pawning property, selling their homes. Then, bitcoin collapses within two weeks, and people understand that they did not win anything, but lost, they lost everything they had,” the patriarch said, speaking before Russia’s Federation Council...



26 January 2018
Greg Kandra




How can the church reach out to help children in families coping with alcoholism or abuse? Check out the video above to see what’s being done in Kerala, India. (video: by Don Duncan)

This Friday, we’re introducing a new feature on the blog, “Friday Film Festival.” It’s a chance for us to revisit some of our video reports from the last few years and introduce them to a new audience.

These videos, archived at our YouTube channel, offer a rich and varied glimpse into CNEWA’s world, with a chance to see and hear some of those we serve in a way that’s intimate — and sometimes surprising — but always inspiring.

To kick off our feature, we have a video from last year, produced by Don Duncan, showing efforts to save children from families tainted by alcoholism and abuse.

You can read more in our magazine about how the church is Breaking the Cycle among the young in Kerala.

Meantime, click on the video above and watch.



26 January 2018
CNEWA staff




Children at St. Rita School in Zahleh, Lebanon, gather for class. (photo: CNEWA)

Editor’s note: we’re pleased to share with you this update from Michel Constantin, our regional director in Beirut, describing how CNEWA’s support for a school in Lebanon is helping young refugee children from Syria recover from the trauma of war and look forward to a better future.

Being close to the Syrian border, Zahleh and the region were a safe destination for around 2,650 Syrian refugee families. Some 2,000 Syrian Muslim refugee families found shelter in tents and 650 Christian families rented small apartments. Out of the total number, around 500 were children — the main victims of the war in Syria.

Dozens of Syrian children were screened by the Greek Catholic Archbishopric Social Center to be out of schools in Zahle; they were at risk of becoming a lost generation, along with nearly 80 vulnerable Lebanese host community children. They had been enrolled in school but had learning weaknesses that made them at risk of dropping out of school.

For this reason, the Greek Catholic Archbishopric of Zahleh approached CNEWA for help. We were able to provide assistance during the academic year in remedial classes (Arabic, French, English and mathematics lessons), psychosocial support and summer school. Children were taken out on trips to discover new places in Lebanon, enjoying a more carefree time, with the hope of releasing the stress of their daily lives.

Initially, St. Rita School provided regular classes to Lebanese children in the morning shift. As the needs rose, it was decided to use the location to provide remedial classes in the afternoon shifts for the Syrians, along with tutorial classes to some Lebanese who were at risk of dropping out of school.

A student at St. Rita works on his classwork. (photo: CNEWA)

Below is the account of one student who benefited from this arrangement, sent to us by the school’s director, Zeina Aamoury:

Lea, a 10-year-old Syrian girl in the 5th grade, has been enrolled in Saint Rita School since 2016.

Ever since Lea was four-years-old, and still living in Syria, she would wake her mother up early in the mornings, wanting to go to school. Lea would literally cry when told by her mother to go back to sleep. The family circumstances were difficult; along with her mother, Lea lived with her father, who worked as a laborer in wall painting, and her brother Elias, who is three years younger, all sharing a tiny house with two rooms in Syria. Unfortunately her father spent his money on drinking and gambling.

Lea’s mother tried her best to ensure that her children lived peacefully. She wanted to create a nice family atmosphere for her husband and children, and never stopped praying to God to give her strength to endure this hardship. But it took a toll on her. Eventually, she became weary and got very sick. To add to her misery, in 2011 when the war broke out in Syria, the family had to flee the country seeking refuge in Lebanon.

But in Lebanon, life was still difficult. The father continued drinking and gambling.

Since the family became refugees in Zahleh, they received assistance from different social charity organizations. They lived in one room which was furnished by the mother’s relatives.

During the last academic year (2016-2017) when St. Rita School offered afternoon remedial classes for the Syrian children, Lea was the first student to register.

At the beginning, it was very difficult for her to adjust and to adapt to new methods of learning; in Syria all materials were taught in Arabic, while in Lebanon our core education is based on foreign languages. As school staff and teachers, we try our best to overcome all these obstacles to ensure that the refugee students attending the remedial classes are supported on both levels educationally and socially. We are fully aware of their hardships: losing all their belongings, having their houses completely demolished, living in a strange country and wondering all the time whether they will ever return to Syria.

But for Lea, the classes and supportive environment made a world of difference. Her life took a new turn. She amazed her teachers with her dedication and good work. She showed huge interest in her education and astonished all her teachers and administrators when she asked them to cover a two-year program in one year — and she completed her year successfully!

Lea is determined to study hard — to be part of the generation who will restore her beautiful homeland, Syria. She strongly believes that if it weren’t for the efforts exerted by all those who are helping her and hundreds other refugee children to study and follow their education in Lebanon, she would have lost her future for sure. Instead, she now has the chance to dream and hope.

For more on life among the refugees in Zahleh, read Hardship and Hospitality in the June 2017 edition of ONE.



26 January 2018
Judith Sudilovsky, Catholic News Service




Palestinian children play in the Al-Shati refugee camp in Gaza City on 15 January.
(photo: CNS/Mohammed Salem, Reuters)


The U.S. suspension of $65 million in aid to the U.N. agency that deals with Palestinian refugees alarmed advocates who work with Palestinians living in camps.

Hilary DuBose, country representative to the Palestinian territories for the U.S. bishops’ Catholic Relief Services, said her agency is “deeply concerned about the impact such a dramatic cut in aid will have.”

The agency, UNRWA, “is one of the major providers of critical, basic life-sustaining support services — including food assistance, education, health care, sanitation management — in the refugee camps. These needs exist.”

Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, said cutting the aid to refugee assistance would be inhumane.

“We have visited the refugee camps in Gaza and, even with the assistance they receive, they live very meager and undignified lives,” said Bishop Cantu, who was participating in the Hispanic Bishops’ Pilgrimage for Peace in the Holy Land. “The separation wall has already devastated their economy. Able-bodied Palestinians who would want to work and are trying to work can’t find sufficient work to support their families. It would be absolutely inhumane to cut the aid.”

He added that politicians must move away from taking offense at the words they say to one another and move toward thinking what is best for humanity.

U.S. President Donald Trump has expressed frustration with the lack of movement in Mideast peace. Early in January, Trump blamed the Palestinians and threatened to cut U.S. funding. Later, the U.S. government suspended a $65 million payment to UNRWA, which serves more than 5 million Palestinian refugees and their descendants scattered across the Middle East.

On 25 January, Trump said the Palestinians must return to peace talks to receive U.S. aid money. Sean Callahan, president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services, and Giulia McPherson, interim executive director of Jesuit Refugee Service/USA, were among advocates who signed a 24 January letter from humanitarian aid groups. The letter, spearheaded by Refugees International and Norwegian Refugee Council, objected to the withdrawal of U.S. funds. It was addressed to U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson; Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis; Nikki Haley, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations; and Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, national security adviser.

“We are deeply concerned by the humanitarian consequences of this decision on life-sustaining assistance to children, women and men in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the West Bank and Gaza Strip,” the groups said in their letter. “Whether it is emergency food aid, access to primary health care, access to primary education, or other critical support to vulnerable populations, there is no question that these cuts, if maintained, will have dire consequences.”

They said they were “particularly alarmed” that the decision — which will impact humanitarian aid to civilians — was not based on an assessment of need but rather “designed to both to punish Palestinian political leaders and to force political concessions from them.”

“This is simply unacceptable as a rationale for denying civilians humanitarian assistance and a dangerous and striking departure from U.S. policy on international humanitarian assistance,” they said.

They reminded the U.S. leaders that, in 1984, the Reagan administration justified its decision to provide humanitarian aid to famine-struck Ethiopia by declaring that “a hungry child knows no politics.”

In a statement at the United Nations 25 January, Archbishop Bernardito Auza, permanent observer of the Holy See to the U.N., noted that the Vatican “deplores the sufferings of millions in the Middle East due to armed conflicts.” He called on the Security Council to end the humanitarian crises in the region based on solutions in the U.N. Charter.

Speaking during the Security Council open debate on the situation in the Middle East, Archbishop Auza also emphasized the “urgent need” to resume negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians toward a negotiated two-state solution.



26 January 2018
Greg Kandra




In the video above, Pope Francis offers his prayers Thursday at the conclusion of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. (video: Rome Reports/YouTube)

Turkey’s Erdogan vows to fight Kurdish forces as far as Iraq (BBC) Turkey is prepared to take its fight against Kurdish forces in northern Syria as far east as Iraq, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said. Speaking in Ankara, Mr Erdogan reiterated that his forces will move against Kurdish-controlled Manbij, which risks confrontation with the US. US troops are based in the city, which was taken from the Islamic State group (ISIS) by Kurdish-led forces in 2016...

Russian Orthodox patriarch urges special status for multi-child families (RT.com) Russian Orthodox Church head Patriarch Kirill has urged senators to provide special status for multi-child families in Russia, questioning why this can’t be done when preferences are being given to sexual minorities in the West. “The Church has supported and will support any positive changes in legislation aimed at maintaining maternity and childhood and, especially, to overcome such a terrible phenomenon as orphanage with living parents,” the Patriarch said during an appearance at the Russia Federal Council on Thursday...

Christians turn down $10 million grant in India (UCANews.com) Christian leaders have rejected an offer from India’s tourism ministry of a US$10 million grant for the facelift and maintenance of churches in the Christian-majority state of Meghalaya. Catholic leaders in the state told ucanews.com on 23 January that they will not apply for or accept the funding of 613 million rupees (US $10 million) for illuminations, landscaping, construction of parking lots and toilets among other infrastructure work at 37 churches...

Pope offers prayers at conclusion of Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (CNS) When different Christian churches recognize the validity of one another’s baptisms, they are recognizing that God’s grace is at work in them, Pope Francis said. “Even when differences separate us, we recognize that we are part of the redeemed people, the same family of brothers and sisters loved by the one Father,” the pope said 25 January an ecumenical evening prayer service closing the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity...

Yazidis express gratitude for pope’s support (Vatican Radio) Serhat Ortac, President of the Society of Yazidi Academics was among those representing the Yazidi people during this week’s audience with the Pope. Ortac told Vatican News that a people the Yazidis are very grateful for the Pope’s invitation and they are very thankful for his support. “We hope to stay in contact with the Vatican to maintain the support and the attention of the world” on the fate of persecuted minorities in Iraq and across the globe, he said...

Unsung Catholic heroes of the Holocaust (Vatican Radio) An official at a Catholic Diocese in northern England said there are many hidden Catholic heroes of the Holocaust, the story of whose bravery needs to be brought to light. Simon Caldwell, Communications Officer at the Diocese of Shrewsbury, said these unsung Catholic heroes risked their lives to secretly shelter Jews from the Nazi persecution and some were put to death for their courageous actions. He was speaking to Susy Hodges just ahead of the International Holocaust Remembrance Day on 27 January that commemorates the more than 6 million people, mostly Jews, who were exterminated by the Nazis during World War II...



Tags: Iraq India Ecumenism Turkey Russian Orthodox

25 January 2018
CNEWA staff




Embed from Getty Images
In this image from 22 January, African migrants demonstrate against the Israeli government’s policy to forcibly deport African refugees and asylum seekers, outside the Rwanda embassy in the Israeli city of Herzliya. (photo: Getty Images)

Two years ago, writer Diane Handal reported in ONE magazine on the risks and challenges Christians were undertaking to leave Africa and resettle in Israel.

Now, thousands of these African asylum-seekers are at risk of deportation — and just today, survivors of the Holocaust spoke out on their behalf:

A group of Israeli Holocaust survivors has urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to stop the planned deportation of tens of thousands of African asylum seekers.

In a letter sent to the prime minister on Thursday, the 36 survivors called on the prime minister to make a “historic decision” and reverse the controversial deportation plan, according to the Haaretz daily.

“Under your leadership, Israel has set itself the goal of reminding the world of the lessons of the Holocaust. So we ask you: Stop this process! Only you have the authority to take the historic decision, and to show the world that the Jewish state will not allow suffering and torture of people under its protection.”

They added, “Do the Jewish thing, like [former premier] Menachem Begin, who accepted refugees from the Vietnam War, and gave those asylum seekers life.

“As Jews, whom the world turned its back on in our most difficult time, we have a special obligation not to remain indifferent, and to prevent the expulsion of asylum seekers,” they said. “The state must grant them a safe haven and not send them to their deaths in a foreign country.”

There are approximately 38,000 African migrants and asylum seekers in Israel, according to the Interior Ministry. About 72 percent are Eritrean and 20 percent are Sudanese, and the vast majority arrived between 2006 and 2012. Many live in south Tel Aviv, and some residents and activists blame them for rising crime rates and have lobbied the government for their deportation.

Last month, the Knesset approved an amendment to the so-called “Infiltrator’s Law” mandating the closure of the Holot detention facility and the forced deportations of Eritrean and Sudanese migrants and asylum seekers starting in March.

Read more.

Meantime, airline pilots are also taking action:

At least three El Al pilots recently published Facebook posts announcing their refusal to participate in the government’s mass deportation of African asylum seekers by not flying them to Rwanda or Uganda following the passing of controversial legislation sanctioning their expulsions.

Related: Surviving Without a Country in the Promised Land



Tags: Egypt Israel Africa

25 January 2018
Elias D. Mallon, S.A., Ph.D.




Pope Francis visits the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem in this 26 May 2014 file photo. The United Nations observes Holocaust Memorial Day this Saturday 27 January.
(photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano via EPA)


On 27 January every year, the UN observes Holocaust Memorial Day in memory of the millions of Jews who lost their lives in the Nazi attempt to exterminate the Jewish people in Europe. That singular event cast a long shadow over the 20th century and helped shape the very world that CNEWA serves. Significantly, it reminds us of our association’s work to uplift human dignity and aid those suffering from persecution of all kinds — part of our mission that continues in so many places today. Attention must be paid.

There are some things which non-Jews need to know about the UN observance. First, it is not the same as the Jewish , Yom Hashoah, “Day of the Holocaust,” which is observed every year on the 27th day of the Jewish month of Nisan (April/May), 13 days after the beginning of Passover. Because the Jewish calendar follows the moon, Yom Hashoah falls on a different day every year in the calendar used in the secular world. In 2018 Yom Hashoah falls on 12 April. The UN observance of Holocaust Memorial Day falls on the same day every year.

There needs to be another clarification for non-Jews. The Hebrew word , shô’ah, is commonly translated holocaust, which is derived from the Greek ὁλὁκαυστοç, holokaustos, which referred to a sacrifice which was completely burnt. The term appears in many translations of the Bible; see, for example Leviticus 17:9 “any man... among you who offers a holocaust or sacrifice....” The Hebrew word which “holocaust” is translating is , ‘olah — a sacrifice totally consumed by fire. Although the Hebrew words shô’ah and ‘olah are both translated into English as “holocaust,” the two should never be confused. ‘olah refers to a religious act; shô’ah means total, devastating destruction that has nothing to do with worshiping God.

The Shoah was a defining moment in the history of the West and, indeed, of the entire world. In Nazi Germany, the ideology of anti-Semitism was able to use modern technology in a demonically thorough way. Over six million Jews, an estimated two-thirds of the European Jewish community, were slaughtered in a Europe that considered itself “enlightened.” While many of the elements of the Shoah were and remain unique, the 20th century witnessed the invention of the word megadeath. In the 20th century millions of people were slaughtered because of who they were — Jews in Nazi Europe, Armenian and Assyrian Christians in the Ottoman Empire, opponents of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia and others.

As it unfolded, the 20th century came to be seen by many as a time of great progress. The Shoah and other genocidal actions shocked the world out of its often self-righteous complacency. It was learned to our horror that progress is a two-edged sword. It can be used to improve peoples’ lives — or used to kill with an efficiency only the modern world could muster.

Pope Francis kisses the hand of a Holocaust survivor during a ceremony in the Hall of Remembrance at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem. (photo: CNS/Abir Sultan, EPA)

The Shoah forced Europe and European Christians to face centuries of anti-Semitism in culture, politics and even religion. Major figures such as Anne Frank, Corrie ten Boom, Elie Wiesel, Jules Isaac and others aroused the world’s conscience. Angelo Roncalli, the future Pope John XXIII, helped Jews escape the Nazi’s while he was stationed in Istanbul. Later as pope, he had a crucial encounter with the Jewish philosopher Jules Isaac, who wrote about the “teaching of contempt,” which Christians had used to dehumanize Jews for centuries. The experience of the horror of the Shoah was certainly in the background when Pope John XXIII convoked the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). It was this council which produced the document Nostra Ætate (28 October 1965) which made it the official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church that “neither all Jews indiscriminately at that time {i.e. the death of Jesus}, nor Jews today can be charged with the crimes committed during his {i.e. Jesus’} passion” (par. 4). The age-old accusation that Jews were deicides, or “God killers,” was rejected by the Catholic Church. Other churches soon followed suit.

We humans have short memories, however, and ancient pathologies, prejudices and hatreds have a tendency to resurface as if we had learned nothing. Both the Jewish observance of Yom Hashoah and the UN observance of Holocaust Memorial Day are not merely observances of past history. They are potent reminders of the depths to which we humans can sink at any time, and powerful calls to vigilance against that murderous hatred and bigotry which can erupt when we become indifferent and forgetful of the past.







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