18 December 2013
Britain’s Prince Charles speaks to religious leaders during a visit to a Syriac Orthodox Church in London on 17 December. The prince of Wales was accompanied by Jordan’s Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad bin Talal during the visit, celebrating Christian communities from the Middle East in Britain. (photo: CNS/Toby Melville, Reuters)
The prince of Wales spoke yesterday about the suffering of Christians in the Middle East:
Christians in parts of the Middle East are being deliberately targeted by Islamist militants in a campaign of persecution, Prince Charles has said.
The prince of Wales made his comments after visiting the British branches of churches based in the region.
The prince heard accounts of Christians being murdered and families forced from their homes.
Charles, accompanied by Prince Ghazi of Jordan, visited the Egyptian Coptic Church center in Stevenage and the Syriac Orthodox cathedral in west London.
The two royals met church members who had either suffered intimidation or family members whose safety they feared for.
Later at a reception at Clarence House, attended by the archbishop of Canterbury, archbishop of Westminster and the chief rabbi, Prince Charles said he felt deeply troubled by the plight of Christians.
“For 20 years I have tried to build bridges between Islam and Christianity to dispel ignorance and misunderstanding,” he told the audience. “The point though, surely, is that we have now reached a crisis where bridges are rapidly being deliberately destroyed by those with a vested interest in doing so. This is achieved through intimidation, false accusation and organised persecution including to the Christian communities in the Middle East at the present time.”
To learn how you can help Christians in Syria, visit this page. And read more here about how to provide aid to Egypt’s Christians.
18 December 2013
Tags: Middle East Christians Violence against Christians Interreligious Middle East Peace Process United Kingdom
In this photo from Christmas Day, 2011, Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal of Jerusalem carries a figurine of the baby Jesus as he celebrates Christmas Mass at St. Catherine’s Church in the West Bank town of Bethlehem. (photo: CNS/Reuters)
Jerusalem patriarch says Settlement construction ‘hampers’ peace (Daily Star Lebanon) Middle East peace efforts are being “hampered” by Israeli settlement construction, the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem said Wednesday in his traditional Christmas message. “The Israeli-Palestinian talks resumed in late July, after three years of interruption, but the efforts are hampered by the continuous building of Israeli settlements,” said Patriarch Fouad Twal. “As long as this problem is not resolved, the people of our region will suffer…”
Archbishop Nassar: Syrian children envy the stable where Jesus was born (Fides) “In Syria, thousands of children who have lost their homes are living in poor tents just like the stable in Bethlehem,” says Maronite Archbishop Samir Nassar of Damascus. In a touching message of Christmas reflection, the archbishop expresses with strong images the feelings shared by many Syrian Christians in front of yet another Christmas of war approaching. “The Syrian children … dream of being in Jesus’ place, who always had his parents around him. … [Jesus] found a stable in which to be born and have shelter, while among these unfortunate children there are those who were born under the bombs…”
Turkish minister to Armenians: Return to Turkey (Fides) Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, in a recent meeting with a well-known Armenian political representative, suggested the possibility of opening the doors of Turkey to the descendants of Armenian families who fled from the Turkish territory after the anti-Armenian pogrom in 1915. Davutoglu also outlined a scenario in which Armenians whose family roots lie in the Anatolian region are also cleared for return…
Ukraine, Russia seal trade deal (Vatican Radio) Ukraine and Russia have signed a major economic trade deal, despite massive protests in Kiev for European Union integration. Moscow has promised massive financial assistance and cuts in natural gas prices. Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin signed an agreement that has slashed the cost of natural gas sold to Ukraine by one-third. Moscow has also pledged to buy billions of dollars’ worth of Ukrainian government bonds, as the country faces a major economic crisis…
As pressure builds, Egypt’s police feeling threatened (New York Times) Since the military ouster more than five months ago of President Muhammad Morsi, the interim leaders have leaned heavily on the police, sending them to stamp out dissent and stabilize the streets in a strategy that so far has come up empty. Over the last three years of revolt, protesters have refused to be silenced, even when the authorities use deadly force. And Egypt has also become far more dangerous for the authorities, with more than 150 police officers killed since mid-August alone. The attacks have affected police morale, officers said, and raised troubling questions about the government’s ability to secure the country in the face of increasingly frequent attacks by militants…
17 December 2013
Tags: Ukraine Turkey Armenia Maronite Church Patriarch Fouad Twal
Protesters warm themselves near a fire during a rally in Independence Square in Kiev, Ukraine, on 16 December. Bishops from Ukraine’s minority Latin-rite Catholic Church have called for prayers and fasting in an effort to end the current social unrest in the country. (photo: CNS/Gleb Garanich, Reuters)
The protests unfolding in Kiev have evidently sparked a backlash, directed against university students involved in the demonstrations. Bishop Ken Nowakowski forwarded to us the following communication from students, who issued an appeal to the world for support and solidarity:
Appeal of Ukrainian Catholic University Students
11 December 2013
For three weeks now the eyes of the world have been upon the events unfolding in Ukraine.
It is Ukrainian youth and Ukrainian students that have initiated this mass protest movement against the corrupt and secretive actions of their government. It is they who have taken to the squares in Kyiv, and other cities and towns of Ukraine, in hopes that the authorities would listen to the voice of the people. A million-strong wave of peaceful protesters has received significant international support, for which the Ukrainian people are extremely grateful. This support has helped us brave the cold and the attacks by the riot police.
Within hours of the new attack on the Maidan on 11 December, government structures opened a large number of court proceedings, and took steps to block the work of Ukrainian and international journalists, and introduce anxiety and fear into people’s hearts.
In spite of emphatic declarations of their peaceful intentions and desires to hear the voice of the people and participate in dialogue, the Ukrainian authorities started an active offensive not merely against opposition forces and journalists reporting on the events, but against the nation’s students — the initiators of this broad protest movement.
Among the methods of pressure and bullying that our university has encountered in recent days are phone calls and visits from representatives of the police, talks with our deans and vice rectors, attempts to inspect our students’ attendance records, searches for particular student activists, summons to the attorney’s office and opening of criminal cases against students and professors.
We are convinced that these and similar steps will only increase in magnitude. After the new nighttime crackdown on the Maidan, we have resolved along with our professors to withdraw our moral loyalty as citizens of Ukraine for Ukraine’s president and government.
Now, more than ever, we are in need of your solidarity and support. We appeal to you and ask that you disseminate information about the shameful state of affairs in Ukraine, the pressure on institutions of higher learning and their students, the violations of constitutional rights and democratic freedoms and the mockery of the dignity of people who are only calling for the good and prosperity of their country, and for a dignified, honest and democratic life.
Please help, support and protect the students of U.C.U. and other Ukrainian universities who stand firm for their and the fellow citizens’ freedom, human rights and dignity.
- Students of the Ukrainian Catholic University
17 December 2013
Tags: Ukraine Education Unity Youth
Pope Francis talks with three men on 17 December who live on the streets near the Vatican. As part of a low-key celebration of his 77th birthday, the pope celebrated morning Mass and had breakfast with the men. (photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)
Pope Francis, in characteristic fashion, celebrated his birthday on Tuesday with some of Rome’s poor:
As part of a low-key celebration of his 77th birthday, Pope Francis celebrated morning Mass and had breakfast with three people who live on the streets near the Vatican. A small dog, belonging to one of the homeless men, was also on the guest list.
The pope requested that the daily morning Mass held in the chapel of the Domus Sanctae Marthae be attended by the staff of his Vatican residence “in order to create a particularly family atmosphere for the celebration,” the Vatican press office said in a written statement on 17 December.
Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, the papal almoner, also invited the three homeless men to the Domus for the Mass and to greet the pope. In addition, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals, represented the world’s cardinals at the Mass, and Archbishop Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, attended.
All those present sang “Happy Birthday” to the pope, the Vatican statement said, and then joined the pope for breakfast in the residence dining room.
Happy birthday, Holy Father!
17 December 2013
Tags: Pope Francis Vatican Poor/Poverty Rome
In this September photo, a Syrian boy sits beside his family’s belongings as they wait for a vehicle to pick them up after entering Turkey from the Turkish Cilvegozu border gate. (photo: CNS/Umit Bektas, Reuters)
Eighteen stories from the Syrian exodus (Washington Post) In October, Kevin Sullivan and Linda Davidson set off for Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon to report on the Syrian refugee crisis, one of the largest forced migrations since World War II. The pair’s goal was to document the size and complexity of the crisis, showing its effects on the lives of individual refugees as well as the lasting impacts on the countries hosting them. They broke the crisis down into 18 personal stories of a wide range of refugees…
Patriarch warns against shrinking Georgian government authority (Eurasianet) The powerful Georgian Orthodox Church again has revived a fierce debate over whether or not it should act, essentially, as Georgia’s fourth branch of government. This time around, Patriarch Ilia II, the church’s revered, 80-year-old leader, has weighed into the seemingly secular issue of regional self-governance with a warning that the government’s plans to grant greater autonomy to Georgia’s regions could lead to “the disintegration of Georgia.” In a 4 December remark, the patriarch cautioned that devolution of authority could encourage more separatism, a phenomenon that already haunts Georgia with Abkhazia and South Ossetia…
Winter storm causes humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza (Al Monitor) A wave of extreme low pressure hit Palestinian territories on 10 December, amid cold winds that continued for several days. Heavy rain caused a major humanitarian disaster in the Gaza Strip, flooding hundreds of houses in various provinces and neighborhoods, injuring dozens of people and closing a number of main and side streets. According to the Ministry of Information in Gaza, 4,000 families were forced to leave their homes due to the extreme cold, and the government has offered in-kind assistance for 3,000 families…
Pope Francis celebrates mass with 4 homeless men on his 77th birthday (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis turned 77 today, celebrating Mass with 4 homeless men, his closest collaborators and staff from the guesthouse, all of whom afterwards greeted him with a birthday song…
U.S.C.C.B. announces day of prayer for those affected by human trafficking (Vatican Radio) The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has announced that its Committee on Migration has designated 8 February as an annual day of prayer for survivors and victims of human trafficking. According to its statement, 8 February is the feast day of St. Josephine Bakhita, who was kidnapped as a child and sold into slavery in Sudan and Italy. Once Josephine was freed, she dedicated her life to sharing her testament of deliverance from slavery and comforting the poor and suffering…
16 December 2013
Tags: Syria Pope Francis Refugees Georgian Orthodox Church U.S.C.C.B.
The faithful pack into St. Mark Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in central Cairo for a funeral liturgy for slain Christian protesters. (photo: David Degner)
Sunday night, the American news magazine program “60 Minutes” on CBS broadcast a report on the plight of the Copts. The story throws a spotlight on the difficulties these Christians are having in Egypt, living as a tiny minority in a mostly Muslim country.
As the script for the report notes:
Copts have never had it easy there. They’ve been persecuted and discriminated against by the Muslim majority for centuries. They’d hoped the Egyptian revolution would change that. But it hasn’t. Instead, the last year has been one of their worst ever. Copts have been murdered by Islamic extremists. Dozens of their churches have been gutted...
Watch the report below, which includes an interview with the Coptic Pope Tawadros II. You can read more about the Copts and Faith Under Fire in the Autumn issue of ONE, and learn how to support them by visiting this page.
16 December 2013
Tags: Egypt Copts Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II Coptic
In this image from March 2013, Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, arrives for general congregation meetings at the Vatican. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Cardinal Koch to meet Russian Orthodox Patriarch (Vatican Radio) The president of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, Cardinal Kurt Koch, heads off to Russia on Saturday for a visit being seen as an important milestone on the road towards reconciliation between the Catholic and Russian Orthodox churches. The Swiss cardinal will spend five days in St. Petersburg and Moscow, celebrating with the small Catholic communities there, as well as meeting with Russian Orthodox bishops, priests and seminarians…
United Nations launches record appeal for Syria (BBC) The United Nations has announced its biggest ever appeal, seeking $6.5 billion for humanitarian aid to Syria. The U.N. estimates nearly three-quarters of Syria’s 22.4 million population will need humanitarian aid in 2014. The appeal coincides with a new study by the International Rescue Committee, which warns that starvation is now threatening the Syrian population. Bread prices have risen by 500 percent in some areas, according to the report. Four out of five Syrians said their greatest worry was that food would run out, the survey found…
Retired patriarch expresses sympathy for demonstrators in Ukraine (ByzCath.org) The retired leader of the Ukrainian Catholic Church has said the Ukrainian government should be “dishonored for what it does.” Cardinal Lubomyr Husar expressed sympathy for anti-government demonstrators who have occupied some buildings in the nation’s capital, protesting moves to withdraw from the European community and ally more closely with Russia. The demonstrators have acted “very sensitively,” Cardinal Husar told an interviewer. “The government should thank God that the people behave as they do, because it could be worse…”
U.N. plans to resettle thousands of Ethiopian refugees (Sudan Tribune) The United Nations refugee agency said on Friday that it is planning to resettle over 3,800 refugees in Ethiopia to a third country. This follows record submissions for resettlement at the Tongo, Barahle and Bokolmanyo refugee camps, where resettlement has not not been previously conducted. “Notable this year was the first emergency resettlement to Sweden of a child-at-risk from Dollo Ado, as well as submissions of several highly vulnerable women and girls out of Barahle and Sherkole camps, including victims of female genital mutilation and other forms of sexual and gender based violence,” said Julia Zajkowski, the resettlement officer at UNHCR’s Ethiopia office. The plan to resettle 3,800 refugees exceeds the U.N. refugee agency’s 2013 resettlement target by over 20 percent…
13 December 2013
Tags: Syria Ukraine Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church United Nations Cardinal Kurt Koch
Italian Marcello Piacenti, project manager on the renovation of the roof of the Church of the Nativity, points to a mosaic from 1100, the Crusader period, in the West Bank town of Bethlehem. (photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)
As the world prepares for Christmas, the “little town of Bethlehem” is seeing one of its historic landmarks undergo a massive restoration project:
Helping restore the roof of the Church of the Nativity is like touching a piece of the beginning of Christian history, said an Italian restorer who is heading work on the first phase of the long-awaited repairs.
“I am not a practicing religious person, but working on this church is very emotional,” said Marcello Piacenti, 53, the on-site project manager and a restorer with his family’s company, Piacenti Spa, which began the work in September. “I have restored many old churches in the world, but when I arrived here I knew I had arrived to the center of everything.”
More than five years in the planning and researching, the restoration of the church’s wooden beams and lead roof and its 38 windows represents the beginning of an ambitious project, said engineer Imad Nasser, technical representative of the Palestinian Authority’s national committee for the restoration of the Church of the Nativity. Nasser said that, two years ago, it was estimated that the repairs would cost $15 million, not including the construction management fees.
Repairs are being done in several phases, as the funds become available, he said, with essential repairs such as the roof given priority. The next stage will include the completion of protection of the stone facade of the external walls once the funds are acquired, he said, noting that more than $2.7 million is still needed for that phase.
A member of the Franciscan order noted that members of the Catholic, Orthodox and Armenian churches, all of which have a presence at the Church of the Nativity, have agreed not to speak to the press in order to avoid any conflicts over sovereignty issues.
Though much care has been taken not to disturb the visitors and the church, Christmas pilgrims this year are being met with metal scaffolding, inside and outside, and protective wooden coverings around the marble columns inside the church.
Read more about the restoration.
13 December 2013
Tags: Bethlehem Architecture West Bank Church Church of Nativity
Police surround Christian demonstrators during a march advocating for rights for low-caste Christians in New Delhi on 11 December. (photo: CNS/Anto Akkara)
Indian prime minister apologizes after Christian marchers beaten (Catholic Herald) Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh apologized to church leaders for the police beating of protesters — including priests and nuns — during a march advocating for rights for low-caste Christians…
Israel’s divided government scraps controversial Bedouin relocation plan (Al Jazeera) Israel is scrapping a controversial draft law that would have forced the relocation of tens of thousands of native Bedouin residents of the Negev desert, an official said Thursday. The move — which is known as the Prawer Plan and would have ordered the demolition of about 40 so-called unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev and the relocation of between 30,000 and 40,000 people — passed a preliminary ministerial vote in January. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel said Bedouin communities in the Negev face discrimination within Israeli society. More than 160,000 Bedouin live in unrecognized villages in the Negev, where the state does not provide basic services like water and electricity…
Orthodox bishop denies urging Christians to take up arms (Fides) Metropolitan Lukas al Koury of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch categorically denies inciting Syrian Christian youth to take up arms in the conflict that has bloodied the country, and asserts that the declarations attributed to him by the media “are false.” In a note sent to Fides, Metropolitan Lukas urges everyone to be wary of those newspapers manipulating stories for political ends…
Syrian extremist rebels target journalists (Der Spiegel) Radical Islamists embedded among the rebels in Syria are reportedly targeting foreign journalists for abduction. Instead of holding them for ransom, however, they use them as trump cards in their power struggles with more moderate rebel groups. On Tuesday, Ayman Mhanna, executive director of the Beirut-based SKeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom, said that 20 foreign journalists are being held captive in Syria. Some of the missing journalists are in the hands of the regime, he added, but the majority are captives of extremist groups…
Syria: U.S. and Britain call a halt to equipping rebels (AsiaNews) The United States and Britain have suspended the shipping of non-lethal supplies — armored vehicles, communications gear, etc. — to Syrian rebels, but will continue to send humanitarian aid. London and Washington have decided to sever ties with the rebels because of the continued growth of radical Islamist groups…
12 December 2013
Tags: Syrian Civil War Israel Indian Christians Bedouin Dalits
In this image from August, a Coptic Orthodox bishop surveys a damaged church in Minya, Egypt. (photo: CNS/Louafi Larbi, Reuters)
CNEWA’s external affairs officer, the Rev. Elias D. Mallon, S.A., Ph.D., appears in the pages of America magazine this week, writing about the struggle for democracy in Egypt — and how this is impacting Christians:
The situation of Christians in post-Morsi Egypt has grown rapidly and significantly worse. Pro-Morsi forces accuse the Coptic Christians of having staged a military coup against the democratically elected president. Although the number of Egyptian Christians is so small (estimates range between 5 percent and 15 percent of the population) that it would, practically speaking, be impossible for them to overthrow the government, nonetheless all over the country violent attacks on Christians and Christian institutions have reached an unprecedented level. On 17 August 2013, a list was published of 32 Christian institutions that had been attacked, looted or destroyed since Mr. Morsi’s removal. When the looting and destruction of Christian homes and businesses are also taken into account, the list is only the proverbial tip of the iceberg. The image of Patriarch Tawadros standing with General el-Sisi has become a rallying point for the pro-Morsi, anti-military demonstrators to focus attacks on Christians as the enemy.
Egypt is experiencing the worst of all possible situations; there is no clear good side and no clear bad side. The actions of the pro-Morsi supporters who attack Christians show quite clearly what their agenda may have been all along. Yet the military’s actions and the ferocity of its response to the pro-Morsi demonstrators make it very difficult to be sympathetic. In fact, that is a major problem: it is almost impossible to be completely sympathetic to either side. Each side has grievances and each side has committed atrocities. This has made it very difficult, if not impossible, for countries like the United States and the member states of the European Union to take a clear stand on what is happening and to support one group against the other.
The situation in Egypt highlights a very important fact that is crucial for the entire Middle East. Despite all the rhetoric, democracy alone is not and cannot be the answer. Since the advent of the Arab Spring, there has been a great deal of talk about democracy. Most of it has been shallow and naïve.
Read on to learn more.
Meanwhile, America’s editor, Matt Malone, S.J., draws a connection between this piece and one written six decades ago for the magazine by Senator John. F. Kennedy:
Nearly 60 years after J.F.K. wrote for these pages, America once again looks at a seemingly intractable problem in the Mediterranean region. Father Mallon’s analysis is, in fact, a faint echo of Senator Kennedy’s caution, especially when Father Mallon writes that “to expect democracy in the Middle East to emerge, develop democratic institutions and thrive in a decade or two is not only unrealistic; it is unfair.” Indeed, such a course would amount to something President Kennedy himself derided in a 1963 speech, an unsustainable “Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war.” Still, there are many in the foreign policy establishment today who argue for such a “historically naïve” form of progress, says Father Mallon: “For many in the United States, democracy means ‘just like us.’ ”
Tags: Egypt Violence against Christians Egypt's Christians Democracy Arab Spring/Awakening