2 November 2015
In this image from 1986, Pope John Paul II greets Rabbi Elio Toaff at Rome’s main synagogue.
(photo: CNS/Arturo Mari, L'Osservatore Romano)
Fifty years ago, on 28 October 1965, Vatican II promulgated “The Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions.” It is also known by the Latin title Nostra Ætate from the opening lines of the declaration: “In our time...” From the very outset, it was clear this was no ordinary declaration. It begins by recognizing that religions ponder the deepest questions about human existence and their meaning. Using Hinduism and Buddhism as examples of how these questions are treated differently by different religions, the declaration makes a statement that for the time was astounding:
The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men (Par. 2).
For centuries, the church regarded other religions of the world as, at best, competitors and, at worst, repositories of error and even evil. When attempts were made to understand other religions, it was to refute them. While there were a few open spirits, such as the Rev. Matteo Ricci, S.J., the Rev. Louis Massignon and others, who tried to understand other religions as they were experienced by the believers of those religions, this was the exception and not the rule. The declaration, Nostra Ætate, however, completely transformed the atmosphere between the Catholic Church and other world religions from one of distrust and even disdain to one of respect and dialogue. The declaration makes the challenge: “The Church, therefore, exhorts her sons, that through dialogue and collaboration with the followers of other religions, carried out with prudence and love and in witness to the Christian faith and life, they recognize, preserve and promote the good things, spiritual and moral, as well as the socio-cultural values found among these men.”
Although often mistakenly referred to as the “Church’s Decree on Jews,” the changes that the declaration brought about between Christians and Jews were probably the most visible ones for people in the Western world. For centuries, Christians had looked down on Judaism as a religion that had become overcome. Supercessionism, as it is called, saw the advent of Christianity as rendering Judaism empty and without value. Throughout more than a thousand years Jews suffered — often with violent consequences — under the accusation of deicide. That is to say, Jews were held to be responsible for having killed God in Jesus. The Catholic Church repudiated this forever in Nostra Ætate: “... what happened in His [i.e., Christ’s] passion cannot be charged against all the Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today. Although the Church is the new people of God, the Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God, as if this followed from the Holy Scriptures” (Par. 4).
The declaration also spoke at length about Muslims and the importance of dialogue with this, the second largest religion in the world, a religion whose members were often in bloody conflict with Christians over the centuries.
Fifty years after Nostra Ætate, there remains a great deal to be done. Catholic Near East Welfare Association knows all too well that conflicts with elements of religious motivation still rage throughout our world. And, in places like the Middle East, it seems to have worsened. Much of CNEWA’s work is geared to relieving the suffering of people who are victims of these conflicts. There are also still far too many places in the world where Christians and other peoples of faith suffer for what they believe, often at the hands of other believers. Nonetheless, the trajectory set by the declaration has been nothing short of incredible. The Catholic Church — as well as other Christian communities around the world — has set up dialogues with the major religions of the world. Programs of education have made what was once strange and exotic better understood and familiar. In an almost prophetic way, Nostra Ætate prepared the way spiritually for the huge movement and displacement of peoples that would take place in the second half of the 20th and the beginning of the 21st centuries.
In the next year, there will be many events commemorating and celebrating the promulgation of Nostra Ætate. It is indeed something very worthy of commemorating, celebrating, studying anew and handing on to generations to come. As people from the different world religions increasingly come together in our world as immigrants and refugees, Nostra Ætate can provide a type of manual as to how Christians can accept these people with at one and the same time love, respect and faithfulness.
2 November 2015
Priests of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church hear confessions outdoors in Zarvanytsia, Ukraine. Learn more about the life of priests in Ukraine — many of whom are married with families to support — in “A Letter from Ukraine” in the Autumn 2015 edition of ONE. (photo: John E. Kozar)
2 November 2015
In St. Petersburg, Russia, a woman brings a photo of one of the victims of the crash as people mourn at the Palace Square on 1 November 2015. (photo: Alexander Aksakov/Getty Images)
Russia mourns victims of plane crash (AP) In a massive outpouring of grief, thousands of people flocked to St. Petersburg’s airport Sunday, laying flowers, soft toys and paper planes next to the pictures of the victims of the crash of a passenger jet in Egypt that killed all 224 on board in Russia’s deadliest air crash to date. “I can’t remain indifferent, there were so many people from St. Petersburg on the plane,” said Yelena Vikhareva, a 48-year old sales clerk who came to the airport with her son. “The pain is piercing the heart...”
Countries warned of dangers flying over Sinai (AP)The United States, Germany and Britain all had overflight warnings in place for Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, where a Russian passenger plane went down killing all 224 people on board...
Pope Francis sends condolences to Russian people (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has sent condolences to the Russian President and to the people following the crash of Russian Airbus A321 in Egypt in which 224 people were killed...
ISIS advances in Homs, Syria (BBC) Islamic State (IS) fighters have reportedly captured the Syrian town of Maheen, in central Homs Province, from government forces. They launched the offensive with two suicide car blasts late on Saturday, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says. Clashes were also taking place in nearby Sadad, a mostly Christian town...
Indian scientist returns award in protest (Vatican Radio) A leading Indian scientist and writer has decided to return the Padma Bhushan award in protest against the climate of “religious intolerance” that has spread in the country. The decision of Dr. Pushpa Mittra Bhargava, the founder and director of the Center for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) in Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, came after 107 senior scientists signed an online statement on Wednesday to join the chorus of protests by other scientists, artists and writers. About 135 scientists had signed an online petition addressed to the President on Tuesday protesting intolerance and violence unleashed by Hindu fundamentalists in India...
All Souls Day fosters ecumenism in India (UCANews.com) In major cities in South Asia, the commemoration of All Souls’ Day is a tribute to ecumenism when Protestants and Catholics, a religious minority on the subcontinent, come together at centuries-old British-built cemeteries. On 2 November, the day Catholics and Protestants pray for the deceased, thousands of people in major cities in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka flock to common cemeteries...
Serbian Orthodox iconographer creates icon of 21 Coptic Christians beheaded by ISIS (Aleteia) The images released of their beheadings on the Mediterranean Coast of North Africa shocked the world. It deeply affected a Serbian Orthodox iconographer living in Germany, and now the icon he has written — that is, painted — is being auctioned off so the proceeds can help the families of the 21 victims. Nikola Sarić also says he hopes that through viewing the icon, titled “Holy Martyrs of Libya,” people will pray for the conversion of the terrorists...
30 October 2015
Tags: Syria India Egypt Pope Francis Russia
Demonstrators in Bangladesh protest anti-Christian assaults throughout the Indian subcontinent. (photo: Zakir Hossain Chowdhury/ZUMA Wire/Corbis)
In the Autumn edition of ONE, writer Jose Kavi writes on the persecution of Christians in India. Here, he reflects on his experience of reporting on anti-Christian violence in the country for more than 30 years.
Christians in India seem to be jittery these days. They feel helpless amid unprecedented attacks they have been facing for some time now.
Reporting these attacks now has given me a feeling of déjà vu.
I started reporting persecution of Christians in 1982, the year I joined South Religious Asian News, a news agency, as an in-service trainee.
That year Christians and Hindus clashed in Kanniyakumari, the southernmost district of India. Police firing on clashing groups had led to several deaths. The news agency ran stories for months about sectarian clashes involving both Christians and Hindus. Hindus then formed 49 percent of the district’s population and Christians 46 percent. The rest were Muslims.
Several probes by government and independent bodies blamed a group, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (R.S.S., “national volunteer organization”), for dividing people on the religious lines.
R.S.S. was formed in 1925 as a charitable, educational, volunteer, Hindu nationalist non-governmental organization. However, its main agenda is to create a Hindu theocratic state in India. It has now become the umbrella organization for all rightwing Hindu groups in India. Its political arm, the Bharatiya Janata Party (B.J.P., “Indian people’s party”) now heads the federal coalition government.
Attacks on Christians and other minority religious groups in India have happened in proportion to the growth of R.S.S. and its affiliates in the country.
Most reported incidents of violence against Christians in 1998 occurred in Gujarat; it was the same year that the B.J.P. came to power in the state. The year began with an unprecedented hate campaign by groups espousing Hindutva (the ideology of Hindu nationalism). It culminated with ten days of nonstop violence against Christian tribal people and the destruction of churches and Christian institutions in the southeastern districts at the year’s end. Human Rights Watch investigated these attacks in the Dangs district in southeastern Gujarat. The events were preceded by escalating violence throughout the state in which many police and state officials were implicated.
Ten years later, Kandhamal district in Odisha, an eastern Indian state, witnessed much worse violence against Christians. Violence erupted upon the impoverished Christian minority in August 2008. A series of riots led by radical Hindus left roughly 100 people dead, thousands injured, 300 churches and 6,000 homes destroyed, and 50,000 people displaced — many forced to hide in nearby forests, where more died of hunger and snake bites.
The violence was carried out by mobs adorned with saffron headbands, a sign of right-wing Hindu militancy, and shouting slogans such as “Jai shri ram!” (victory to the Hindu god Ram) and “Jai bajrang bali!” (a tribute to another Hindu deity). Attackers wielded rods, tridents, swords, firearms, kerosene and even acid.
The same year, as many as 24 churches, including the chapel of cloistered convent, were damaged and several Christians were attacked in Karnataka, a southern Indian state.
All these incidents occurred away from New Delhi, India’s political capital. However, this ancient city also faced an unprecedented anti-Christian violence six months after the B.J.P. took over the national government. Over three months, at least five churches and a school were vandalized and the blame went to R.S.S. and its affiliates.
The Delhi incidents put the government in a bad light internationally. The attacks stopped suddenly and all churches in the capital were given police protection.
However, attacks now continue in villages far away from Delhi — giving me no respite from reporting on anti-Christian violence.
Read Jose Kavi’s report, ‘There Will Be More Martyrs’, in the Autumn 2015 edition of ONE.
30 October 2015
Tags: India Violence against Christians Indian Christians Indian Catholics
Culinary students speak and sign to one another at the Women’s Promotion Center in Addis Ababa. To learn more about how the church in Ethiopia is responding to the challenges of urbanization, read Bright Lights, Big Problems from the Autumn 2015 edition of ONE. (photo: Petterik Wiggers)
30 October 2015
Tags: Ethiopia Education Disabilities Urbanization
A Jordanian boy looks on during a protest in solidarity with Palestinian demonstrators following Friday prayers in Amman on 30 October. (photo: Khalil Mazraawi/AFP/Getty Images)
Pilgrims visit Holy Land, despite the violence (Fides) Pilgrimages continue to take place in Holy Land, despite the violence in recent weeks across the territory, according to the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. “A pilgrimage in difficult times is a real pilgrimage,” wrote Bishop William Shomali in a note thanking visitors and inviting groups to pray for peace in Holy Land…
Coptic Christians targeted for kidnappings in Egypt (Christian Today) Police complacency toward the kidnapping of Coptic Christians in Egypt has fostered a climate of impunity, according to a Christian persecution charity. The phenomenon of kidnapping Coptic Christians for ransom has spread in the Minya province, the latest of which occurred last week…
Project for women and vulnerable children in the Somali region (Fides) The Catholic Church in the Somali region of Ethiopia is engaged in a project assisting women and vulnerable children. The idea, says a local source, was born following the meeting of missionary volunteers with underserved local residents. Most of these vulnerable people live with H.I.V. and other serious health problems…
Photos: 150 rescued from sinking boat off Lesbos (Al Jazeera) Photos of the rescue effort: The craft was one of many to encounter trouble making the crossing from Turkey as waters turn treacherous…
Patriarch Kirill believes in improvement of Russian-U.S. relations (Interfax) Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia believes that problems in Russian-U.S. relations will become history. “I think there is a special need for closer contact when problems arise in the relations between our countries,” the patriarch said in a meeting with U.S. Ambassador John Tefft in Moscow on Friday…
29 October 2015
Tags: Egypt Ethiopia Refugees Holy Land Patriarch Kirill
Easter is celebrated in the Italo-Albanian Catholic village of Piana degli Albanesi, Sicily.
(photo: Marco Di Lauro/Getty Images)
Not all Italian Catholics are Roman Catholics.
In the south of Italy, in the regions of Abruzzo, Basilicata, Calabria and Puglia, the island of Sicily, and even just outside the walls of Rome, there are Italians who follow the Christian rites and traditions of the Byzantine East.
These “Italo-Greeks” or “Italo-Albanians” form a small Catholic church that comprises two eparchies and a monastery, numbering fewer than 65,000 faithful. Although small, “the history of this 1,500-year-old church — with its highs and lows — offers insights into possible models for church unity between the Catholic West and the Orthodox East,” writes Chorbishop John D. Faris in his short history of the church.
To read the full account of this fascinating story of survival, click here.
29 October 2015
Iraqi youth attend summer camp in the mountain village of Qartaba, Lebanon. Iraqis who have fled ISIS are facing new challenges in Lebanon. Read “In Limbo in Lebanon” in the
Autumn 2015 edition of ONE. (photo: Tamara Abdul Hadi)
29 October 2015
A picture taken on 29 October 2015 shows Syrians inspecting damaged buildings following a reported air strike by Syrian government forces in the rebel-held area of Douma, east of the capital Damascus. (photo: Sameer Al-DoumyAFP/Getty Images)
Kerry seeks end to Syrian civil war “hell” (BBC) The US is intensifying diplomatic efforts to end the “hell” of Syria’s civil war even as it increases support for moderate rebels, US Secretary of State John Kerry has said. Mr. Kerry is travelling to Vienna for talks with foreign ministers on ending the four-and-a-half year conflict...
Cardinal: Only peace will save the Christians of Mesopotamia (Fides) In Iraq and Syria, “without peace, there is no hope for anyone,” and only the end of sectarian conflicts can ensure the survival of the indigenous Christian communities in Mesopotamia. This is how Cardinal Fernando Filoni, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, highlighted the dangers that threaten the present and the future of Christians in vast areas of the Middle East...
Bishop: talks underway about possible meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kiril (Tass) The Russian Orthodox Church and the Vatican are in talks over the possible meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, said Bishop Tikhon (Shevkunov) of Yegoryevsk... “The relations [between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church] have varied over the past 20-30 years, at times they were tense. However, it is a different period now — of benevolent attention to each other. The negotiations over such a meeting [between the Pope and the Patriarch] are underway, and it is quite possible that we will learn something specific in the near future,” he said answering a question from a TASS correspondent...
Istanbul churches issue “Basic Principles of Christianity” book (TodaysZaman.com) For the first time after 1,700 years in the Christian world, the leaders of the Greek Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic, Syriac Orthodox, Catholic and Evangelical churches in Turkey came together at the Fener Greek Patriarchate in the Balat neighborhood of Istanbul to release the book “Basic Principles of Christianity” written by a council consisting of members from the churches...
Rastafarians return to Ethiopia (CNN) Two hundred and fifty kilometers from Addis Ababa, Shashamene’s Rastafarians live in 200 hectares of land bequeathed by former Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I, the country’s leader from 1930 to 1974. A modernizer, he was a strong supporter of pan-Africanism and brought the country into the League of Nations, United Nations and made the capital Addis Ababa the center of the Organization of African Unity — the precursor for the African Union. But for many Rastafarians he was more than just the head of state. In fact the erstwhile duke (“Ras”) Tafari Makonnen gave his name to an entire religion...
28 October 2015
In this image from 2014, Sister Marie-Claude Naddaf, in the blue habit, meets refugees
during a visit to Erbil, Iraq. (photo: CNEWA)
Name: Sister Marie-Claude Naddaf
Order: The Good Shepherd Sisters
Facility: The Provincial Home of the Good Shepherd Sisters
Location: Ain Áar, Metn, Lebanon
During times of peace as well as war, the abuse of wives and daughters is often condoned in many communities across the Middle East. Sister Marie-Claude Naddaf knows she can’t end such widespread, deeply ingrained practices. But at the Provincial Home in Lebanon, she’s having a positive effect on women’s lives just the same.
Like her fellow Good Shepherd Sisters, she views the group home they’ve established for those at-risk as an oasis of compassion. “Our mission is to support women and girls living in violence in their homes,” Sister Marie-Claude explains. “We receive women who have marital problems and they’re sometimes pregnant. We give them food and shelter. We also help children between 2 and 7 years old, and have a boarding home for girls 4 to 18 years old.
Many refugee families now living in Lebanon are also receiving help, either at the Provincial Home or at other facilities run by the greater community of Good Shepherd Sisters.
As Sister Marie Claude points out, “We provide shelter, rehabilitation, education and professional training for young people, women and refugees. There is also an emergency food and hygiene program, a legal support program for women, and psychosocial support for children who have suffered trauma from the war.”
Among the children they’ve assisted is Syrian girl named Hamide. As Sister Marie-Claude explains, “At the age 12, Hamide was taken by a group of terrorists. She was raped several times, but managed to escape and was found in a public garden in Damascus.”
Once she was brought to the Provincial Home, “Hamide became another person. She studied hard and she is now in her complementary level. Hamide is very loving and very sensitive, especially when the sisters receive a new person in our home.”
If Sister Marie-Claude has one frustration, it’s that the Provincial Home is so understaffed, “we are not able to help the sick refugees. We do not have enough time to listen to so many people. We are only three sisters and there are so many requests for help.”
With no solution in sight, Sister Marie Claude admits she’ll simply continue working, as hard as she possibly can. But with so many desperate people to comfort, the sisters need more than dedication to continue their work. It’s why they need your support.
Thousands of sisters. Millions of small miracles.
To support the good work of sisters throughout CNEWA’s world, click here.
Also, for a limited time, you can make your gift go twice as far. A generous benefactor is matching every donation to support the sisters between now and 1 November, All Saints’ Day. Learn more about this great gift here.