1 September 2015
Syriac Catholics, most of them Iraqi refugees, receive communion at a Divine Liturgy in a makeshift church in Amman, Jordan. (photo: Cory Eldridge)
As with most Christian communities of the Middle East, the Syriac Catholic Church has suffered severely as the region’s stability has deteriorated in the last 100 years or so. During Iraq’s civil war (2006-2007), thousands fled the violence in Baghdad and Mosul, where they had once enjoyed relative prosperity. The displaced found security in their remote ancestral villages near ancient Nineveh.
Now, these once proud centers of the church — the source of many of its vocations to the priesthood and religious life — have been lost, too, as Islamic extremists invaded the Nineveh Plain in August 2014, displacing more than 100,000 Christians, as well as Yazidis and other minorities. Civil war in Syria has uprooted thousands more, while economic stagnation and political uncertainty in Egypt and Lebanon have encouraged some Syriac Catholic families to emigrate to the West.
A small church, numbering about 207,000 people worldwide, the Syriac Catholic Church somehow endures, despite the repeated conflicts and cycles of persecution in the last 120 years.
Together with the much larger Syriac Orthodox Church (which numbers some 4.2 million people, including 3.7 million in India), the Syriac Catholic Church shares in the heritage of the Syrian city of Antioch, the political and socioeconomic center of the eastern Mediterranean in the ancient world. Though inhabited by a diverse population — Greeks and Macedonians, Romans and Jews, Syrians and Nabateans — Antioch was culturally Hellenic and its lingua franca, Greek. But those who lived in Syria’s rural interior spoke Syriac, a dialect of Aramaic nurtured in the city of Edessa.
Parishioners pray at Our Lady of Deliverance Church in central Baghdad on 7 November 2010. Just a week earlier, 46 worshipers were massacred during the celebration of the Liturgy. (photo: Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images)
In the seventh century, Syriac Christians generally welcomed the invading Muslim Arabs, who accepted them as “People of the Book.” Syriac Christianity flourished. Poets composed hymns that simplified complex ideas. Scholars translated ancient Greek texts and wrote biblical commentaries. Monks explored grammar, medicine, philosophy, rhetoric and science. Theologians and poets continued the tradition of creating liturgies, borrowing elements from the Byzantine and other traditions.
Arab Muslim leaders employed Syriac scholars, who were largely responsible for the Arab world’s familiarity with ancient Greek astronomy, chemistry, mathematics and philosophy — disciplines that eventually reached Europe via Arab Sicily and Spain.
In the 18th century, a renewed Catholic presence in the Middle East, bolstered by the presence of French and Italian missionaries, formed a Catholic community within the Syriac Orthodox Church. The growth of this new church ended, however, as the long and painful decline of the Ottoman Turkish Empire coincided with the rise of European colonial ambitions. Suspicious of collusion, the Ottomans murdered more than 25,000 Syriac Christians between 1895 and 1896.
During World War I, the Christian subjects of the Ottoman sultan were caught between two opposing cultures — their Sunni Muslim superiors and the Allied “Christian” powers of Great Britain, France and Russia, which encouraged separatist movements. The consequences were grave. Hundreds of thousands were killed, including some 50,000 Syriac Catholics and six of the church’s bishops. Survivors, including the patriarch, sought refuge in cities, especially Beirut, which remains the seat of the Syriac Catholic patriarchate.
Click here for a full account from the pages of ONE magazine.
1 September 2015
In this image from Ethiopia, farmers in the northern Tigray region have constructed retaining walls to protect the soil from erosion. Pope Francis has designated the first day of September as World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation. Learn how you can help those struggling to care for the earth and for each other in Ethiopia at this link. (photo: Petterik Wiggers)
1 September 2015
Migrants and refugees protest at the Keleti railway station in Budapest on 1 September 2015. Keleti, the biggest Hungarian railway station was closed today as police evacuated people trying to get on trains bound for Germany. (photo: Attila Kisbenedek/AFP/Getty Images)
Hungary shuts down largest train terminal to halt refugees (Al Jazeera) Hundreds of angry refugees demonstrated outside Budapest’s shuttered Eastern Railway Terminus on Tuesday, demanding that they be allowed to travel on to Germany, as a migration crisis put the European Union’s rules under unprecedented strain. Hungarian authorities closed the train station altogether, then reopened it but barred entry to the refugees. About 100 police wearing helmets and wielding batons guarded the station. Dozens of refugees who were inside were forced out...
Christian schools stage strikes in Israel (Fides) Christian schools in Israel will begin a number of strikes as of today, 1 September, just when the new school year begins in the country. Through the extreme measure of suspension of all school activities, they intend to protest against the policies of the Jewish State against them, considered “discriminatory.” This was reported by official sources of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, reconstructing the reasons and the various steps of the dispute that has long seen Christian schools and Israeli policies in contrast...
Russian Orthodox spokesman calls on faithful to replace political elite (The Moscow Times) A Russian Orthodox Church spokesman has called for Russia’s faithful to replace the current “tired, corrupt and cynical” political elite with devout leadership, news site Lenta.ru news portal reported on Sunday. “Today, [the faithful] need to take the place of tired, corrupt, cynical elites, to exercise their civil action at the level of a village, a city, a region, of the country as a whole and of the whole world,” church spokesman Vsevolod Chaplin was quoted as saying...
Israeli-Canadian woman who went to fight ISIS returns to iraq for charity work (The Jerusalem Post) An Israeli-Canadian woman who went to Kurdistan last year to join the fight against ISIS and spent years in jail in the US for her part in a multi-million dollar scam, has returned to Iraq with a group that works to free children and women taken captive by the Islamic State, the Jerusalem Post learned Monday...
Harvest festival gains prominence in Kerala churches (UCANews.com) For Christians, the traditional Onam harvest festival in the southern Indian state of Kerala has become more than just a celebration of culture. Church entrances are elaborately designed with floral carpets. Christian schools declare holidays for at least three days and parishes organize special lunches and competitions during this season. Some parishes also organize a special liturgy on the day. In Kerala, Onam is traditionally celebrated with special plays, joyful competitions and good food. Boat races and dances make the season special. Men, disguised as tigers, dance on the streets to the accompaniment of drums...
Ethiopia’s secret Jews see small gains in tolerance (Al Jazeera) Jews have a quiet but central presence in Ethiopia’s history. Their origins are disputed, but it is believed they arrived less than 3,000 years ago, around the time King Menelik I, the son of the queen of Sheba and King Solomon, traveled from Israel to the Horn of Africa. In Ethiopia, particularly in poorer rural areas outside the capital, Addis Ababa, their marginalization is a product of widespread belief that they are agents of evil. Common superstitions are that Jews shoot fire from their eyes, use Christian corpses to make their pottery and turn into hyenas at night. Al Jazeera spoke to more than a dozen Jewish Ethiopians, researchers and historians who described these lingering beliefs as well as occasional violence in the Amhara and Tigray regions where they have been historically concentrated...
31 August 2015
Tags: Syria Ethiopia Refugees Israel Russian Orthodox
In this image from 2007, a teacher leads a class at the Holy Trinity College in Addis Ababa.
(photo: Cody Christopulos)
With many heading back to school these days, some of those returning to the classroom are seminarians. In 2007, we looked at how one college in Ethiopia is preparing the next generation of priests:
The college hosts both full-time and part-time students (there are currently about 400 enrolled) and offers a bachelor’s degree in theology, a diploma of theology and a certificate in church management and administration. There are courses also found in secular institutions — foreign languages, statistics, philosophy and sociology — as well as classes in theology, liturgy and other areas of religious studies.
Many of the students have been educated previously in government schools. “From first to twelfth grade, I went to government schools,” said Mulugetta Dabi, a fifth-year student in his final year at Holy Trinity. By the time he was in sixth grade, he knew he wanted to be a priest in his hometown of Nazret, so he came to Holy Trinity.
In contrast, Sisay Wgayehu came to Holy Trinity only after his attempts to enroll at secular universities, including an Australian college, failed. “But once I came here, I was happy. When Addis Ababa University [later] offered me a spot, I turned them down.”
When they graduate, most students scatter across the country, often serving parishes in small villages. A few stay on and teach at Holy Trinity. The new generation of students will not only enliven the church at home, but will also help forge ties abroad, Mr. Dabi said.
Read more about Ethiopians moving “Into the Future” in the November 2007 edition of ONE.
31 August 2015
This image from 2014 shows carvings on a wall in the courtyard of the sanctury of Baal in the ancient oasis city of Palmyra. Reports indicate ISIS damaged part of these world-renowned ruins over the weekend. (photo: Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images)
Temple of Baal in Palmyra damaged by ISIS (The New York Times) Islamic State militants in Syria have damaged the Temple of Baal, one of the most important structures in the ancient city of Palmyra, their second attack on the world-renowned ruins in a week, according to local activists and residents...
Pope Francis issues appeal for persecuted Christians, migrants (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis issued a twofold appeal on Sunday: for persecuted Christians and for all persons forced to flee their homes in search of a peaceful and secure existence in foreign lands...
Islamic-Christian summit in Lebanon postponed (Fides) The Islamic-Christian summit scheduled for today, Monday, 31 August, to be held at the Maronite patriarchal see in Bkerké, has been postponed until a later date. This was reported by Lebanese official agencies, adding that, however, even today meetings continued with political representatives and Christian members at the patriarchal see in Bkerké...
Martyred Syrian bishop beatified (Catholic Herald) Bishop Michael Melki, a Syrian Catholic cleric martyred during the Assyrian Genocide of 1915 for refusing to convert to Islam, has been beatified. The bishop was beheaded by the Ottomans during the Sayfo — putting to the sword” — of Assyrians in 1915, a tragedy in which at least 250,000 Syriac-speaking Christians were murdered, alongside one million Armenians...
Kiev protest blast wounds 100 police (BBC) One hundred policemen protecting Ukraine’s parliament were wounded, 10 seriously, after MPs gave initial backing to reforms for more autonomy in the rebel-held east, officials say. As police were pelted with fire crackers and petrol bombs, an explosion was heard in front of parliament...
Russia probes smashing of “Mephistopheles” figure (AFP) Russia has launched a probe after a century-old figure of Mephistopheles was ripped down in Saint Petersburg, with Orthodox activists claiming responsibility amid fears of an increasing intolerance in the country. Police said on Friday they had found smashed fragments of the figure in rubbish sacks after it disappeared from the facade of a historic building in the centre of the northwestern city on Monday...
28 August 2015
Father Jos Kandathikudy greets some of his flock at St. Thomas Syro-Malabar Catholic Church
in the Bronx. (photo: Maria Bastone)
Several years ago, we took readers to a church in New York City where Catholics from India were quietly working to maintain their identity and their traditions:
Standing at the entrance of St. Thomas — a large neo-Gothic building — is a cheerful man. Children wave to him on their way into catechism classes. Men, in slacks and dress shirts, and women, some dressed no differently from American women and many others wearing silk, satin and chiffon saris, greet him with smiles and handshakes. “Good morning, Father. How are you?” they ask.
Father Jos Kandathikudy and the people greeting him made all the contributions that transformed the unused St. Valentine’s Roman Catholic Church into St. Thomas Church. The church was donated to the community by the Archbishop of New York, Edward Cardinal Egan.
In the eight years since his superiors in Kerala asked him to organize Syro-Malabar communities in the eastern U.S., Father Kandathikudy has established 21 missions. St. Thomas was founded as a parish last year and is the headquarters for Syro-Malabar Catholics in the New York area.
The Syro-Malabar Catholic Church is the largest Eastern Church in India with 3.75 million followers. The newly established St. Thomas Syro-Malabar Catholic Eparchy of Chicago, headed by Bishop Jacob Angadiath, shepherds some 113,000 Syro-Malabar Catholics in parishes, missions and schools in 12 states and the District of Columbia.
When Father Kandathikudy began his pastoral work in the United States, most of the Syro-Malabar Catholics he encountered “had no identity,” he said. “There was no one to tell them, ‘Keep up your identity.’ ”
Read more about “New World Children of St. Thomas” in the May-June 2003 edition of the magazine.
28 August 2015
In the video above, priests from Iraq and Syria describe what is happening in the Middle East
as genocide. (video: Rome Reports)
The lives of Syrian refugees who fled (BBC) Hundreds of thousands of people seeking to escape war, persecution and poverty have crossed into Europe this year. The vast majority are fleeing the conflict in Syria, and under international law are classed as refugees. Since the conflict began more than four years ago, about eight million people — or 40% of the population — have had to leave their homes...
Estonia plans Russian “border fence” (BBC) Estonia says it wants to build a fence along its eastern border with Russia to boost security and protect the EU's passport-free Schengen zone. Construction on the fence, planned to be about 110km (70 miles) long and 2.5m (8ft) high, is set to start in 2018. It is expected to cost about €71m (£52m; $80m), according to reports. The plans come amid heightened tensions between Russia and the West over the Ukraine conflict. Europe is also struggling with an influx of migrants...
Martyred Syrian bishop hailed as a model of holiness (Vatican Radio) On Saturday, 29 August, the venerable Servant of God, Flavyānus Mikhayil Melkī is to be beatified. Melkī was an Eastern Catholic prelate of the Brothers of Saint Ephrem, who became the Syrian Catholic eparch of Gazarta — or what is Cizre in modern-day Turkey, and was was killed in Gazarta during the sayfo or “putting to the sword” of Syrians in 1915, after he refused to convert to Islam. In an exclusive interview with Vatican Radio, the Prefect of the Congregations for the Causes of Saints, Cardinal Angelo Amato, said that the soon-to-be Blessed Flavyā nus Mikhayil Melkī is a model of holiness for our time, in which once again the Christian communities of very ancient standing face the threat of extinction...
Gaza victims still displaced a year later (The Daily Telegraph) It is a year this week since the homes and lives of Beit Hanoun families were levelled in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict that to this day sees more than 100,000 people in Gaza still displaced with no real homes or livelihood and many living in the rubble created during the intense seven-week war...
Coptic Christian jailed for handing out Bibles to Muslims (Christian Post) An Egyptian Christian who was arrested in early August for handing out Bibles to Muslims at a mall is likely to remain jailed indefinitely after a judge extended his sentence and charged him with blasphemy right before he was scheduled to be released...
27 August 2015
Near Alexandria, the Sisters of the Incarnate Word care for orphaned or disadvantaged children from Egypt’s large Coptic Christian community. (photo: Sean Sprague)
Egyptian Christians — known as Copts, a derivative of the Greek word Aigyptios, meaning Egyptian — are proud of their ancient roots. They received the Gospel from St. Mark the Evangelist, who brought the faith to the city of Alexandria, second only to Rome in the ancient Mediterranean world. There, he died a martyr’s death around the year 67.
The evangelist extended his activity beyond the city’s prosperous Jewish community. He called for the city’s populace, mainly Copts and Greeks, to adopt “the way,” the early Christian description for discipleship in Jesus Christ.
Mark sowed the Christian seed on fertile ground. Centuries before the Arab advent in the eastern Mediterranean, and with it the rise of Islam, Egyptian Christianity blossomed. It provided the church with the philosophical foundation and theological vocabulary responsible for its explosive expansion in the Greco-Roman world, introduced monastic life and peopled the universal church with some of its greatest saints and scholars, including Pantaenus, Clement, Origen, Anthony, Macarius, Didymus, Athanasius, Arius, Cyril and Dioscorus.
The Coptic Catholic Church offers a wide variety of assistance to people with special needs, including those with addictions. (photo: Shawn Baldwin)
The Copts today form the largest Christian community in the Middle East. Embracing an estimated 10 percent of Egypt’s population of 88.5 million, the Copts belong to three groups. The majority belongs to the Coptic Orthodox Church. This church developed independently, breaking communion with the churches of Rome and Constantinople, after the Council of Chalcedon (451) attempted to solve the Christological clashes of the early church. Despite centuries of relative isolation and on-again off-again discrimination or persecution, the Coptic Orthodox Church is experiencing a revival.
Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, European and North American missionaries — Catholic and reformed — competed for influence among the Orthodox Copts, especially after their evangelical efforts among Muslims failed. The goals of these missionaries — to educate the largely illiterate laity, bolster the formation of the clergy and work for the reunion of the churches — were well intended. But their efforts splintered the Coptic Orthodox Church, eventually forming Coptic Catholic and Coptic Evangelical communities.
In the first decades after Vatican II, the Coptic Catholic Church grew considerably. Much of this growth may be attributed to the many social service activities of the Coptic and Roman (Latin-rite) Catholic churches. These include schools (more than 100 parishes sponsor primary and secondary schools), orphanages, clinics and medical dispensaries. Most of these institutions are located in the poorest and remotest villages of the Nile Valley, which remains the center of Coptic Catholic life.
And while for decades relations between the Coptic Orthodox and Coptic Catholic churches had been frosty, the rise of militant Islam and its violent targeting of all Christians has now united all Copts, highlighting what they hold in common: their faith in Christ.
Click here for more on the Coptic Catholic Church from the pages of ONE magazine.
27 August 2015
Sally, Sister Laetetia Hanna, Rita, Mariam, Thikra and Sister Muntaha Marzena make up the happy family at Holy Family Orphanage in Ain Kawa, Erbil. (photo: Don Duncan)
In the Summer 2015 edition of ONE, Don Duncan describes revisiting Iraq a year after the invasion of ISIS. One of the places he visited is a local orphanage:
I must admit that I had certain preconceptions and received images that crossed my mind as I passed over the threshold of the Holy Family Orphanage in Ain Kawa, Erbil, a recently-opened home for children in need run by the Dominican Sisters of Saint Catherine of Siena to cater to the needs of Christians displaced by ISIS last August.
In the village I grew up in in the Irish midlands, there was a house known as “the orphanage” where kids from various backgrounds were taken care of by a mixture of nuns and state-employed social workers.
The children in this home were of various ages and so were in various classes of the village’s primary and high schools. They were cloaked in a sort of childhood mystery. Who are they really? Who are their real parents? Do they really feel like brothers and sisters? What is it like to have so many “parents?” There was also a sort of sadness, I remember, that we projected on them: a supposition that to be brought up by anyone but your biological parents can be nothing but a tragedy.
So this was the sort of vague, unprocessed baggage that brought with me as I crossed the threshold of the orphanage in Ain Kawa But from that moment, I was constantly surprised and enlightened. The Erbil orphanage reminded me not of the orphanage in my long-ago childhood village but rather it reminded me of my own childhood home and upbringing. Again and again.
The children in the orphanage: Sally (20), Rita (16), Mariam (13) and Thikra (10) had an age-spread not unlike my own family’s. And while my family consists of six siblings and theirs of four, I could immediately relate to the dynamics among the children: it is recognizable to anyone from a big family: alliances exist between various siblings, chores are shared out and one helps or hinders the other, there is a chain of surrogate care from the youngest to the eldest where gaps in over-stretched parental care are compensated for in an organic and spontaneous way.
That said, while I was struck by all the similarities between my childhood and those of the girls at the Holy Family Orphanage in Ain Kawa, it became clear during my interviews that there were some deep, indelible facts in their lives that make it such that I could never know their experience fully. Only one of the four girls is a “true orphan,” in that both of her parents have passed away. All the rest of the girls still have one parent alive, for example or are from broken homes or from families who are incapable of minding them and so were placed in the care of the nuns. That is to say that these girls once knew what it was to have biological family and to belong to a family bound by blood and not by various family misfortunes. The parallels, I eventually realized, only go so far.
The displacement of the Christians of the Nineveh Plain by ISIS in August 2014 constituted a second displacement for these girls: the first being the one from their biological families. That said, the displaced girls of this orphanage have come to find themselves in perhaps the best possible circumstance of refuge. While other families are reduced to sharing rooms with other families, while domestic problems flourish across the displaced community, while children exhibit behaviors concurrent with symptoms of trauma, the girls of the Holy Family Orphanage in Ain Kawa have found themselves consistently swaddled in the love and comfort of the two nuns who take direct care of them and of the larger family of some 40 Dominican Sisters in the convent just at the end of their street.
Read more in “Grace” from the Summer 2015 edition of ONE. And check out this profile of the Holy Family Orphanage in the same issue.
To support the Dominican Sisters and their work with displaced families in Iraq, please visit our giving page.
27 August 2015
Oseni Khalajian, a pensioner living in Eshtia, belongs to a community of Armenian Catholics descended from Armenians who fled to Georgia to escape the Turkish mass murder. Learn more about the the efforts of Armenians Catholics to retain identity and faith in “Staying Power” from the Autumn 2013 edition of ONE. (photo: Molly Corso)