22 May 2014
A Muslim family, currently headed by Adeeb Jawad Joudeh, has been entrusted with the keys to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem for almost 1,000 years. (video: Al Jazeera)
The 1,000-year-old schism Pope Francis seeks to heal (NPR) Pope Francis travels this weekend to the Middle East, the cradle of the three monotheistic religions, and will meet with Catholic, Jewish and Muslim leaders. But the official purpose of the visit is to commemorate the 50th anniversary of a historic rapprochement between Catholics and Orthodox and to try to restore Christian unity after nearly 1,000 years of estrangement. Meeting in Jerusalem in 1964, Pope Paul VI and Orthodox Patriarch Athenagoras set a milestone: They started the process of healing the schism between Eastern and Western Christianity of the year 1054…
Seeking balance on Middle East visit, pope pleases few (New York Times) Pope Francis plans to give a strong show of support for a sovereign Palestinian state when he makes his first visit to the Holy Land this weekend, becoming the first pontiff to travel directly into the occupied West Bank rather than passing through Israel. The pope’s decision to fly straight to Bethlehem from Jordan would be a symbolic lift to the Palestinians at any time. But its resonance is even greater given his tremendous popularity, his focus on the downtrodden, and his timing amid the recent collapse of peace talks and the Palestine Liberation Organization’s unity pact with the militant group Hamas. But in this region, any gesture can be viewed through different lenses. “We’re not very happy about it, but it’s a fact,” Oded Ben Hur, a former Israeli ambassador to the Vatican, said of the pope’s direct flight to Bethlehem from Amman, Jordan. “We wanted them to play it down, but we can understand the complaints…”
Legacy of Hamas-Fatah killings complicates Palestinian unity efforts (New York Times) The bloody six-day battle for control of the Gaza Strip in 2007 left 260 Fatah activists and 176 from Hamas dead. Following the signing of a 23 April pact, a committee is now charged with persuading their families to accept compensation — and raise the funds to pay it — rather than pursue the death penalty as outlined in Islamic law. This so-called social reconciliation is one of the complicated issues yet to be addressed, as President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority prepares to announce the promised new government as early as this week…
Ukraine crisis: Donetsk sees deadliest attack on troops (BBC) A dawn attack on a checkpoint in eastern Ukraine has left at least 14 soldiers dead, in the worst loss of life for government forces to date. Heavily armed militants attacked the checkpoint in the Volnovakha area, in one of four attacks reported overnight in eastern Ukraine…
U.N. official cites ‘worsening’ human rights situation in southern, eastern Ukraine (U.N. News Center) The southern and eastern regions of crisis-racked Ukraine are now awash in weapons and the scene of numerous cases of illegal detentions and abductions, a senior United Nations human rights official warned today, noting that he had discussed with the parties some rights-based and humanitarian de-escalation measures…
Solving the problem of avoidable blindness afflicting many Ethiopians (Fides) Trachoma is one of the most common visual disorders in Africa and, if not treated timely, leads to permanent blindness. Ethiopia is one of the African countries with the highest incidence of people with eye diseases. Out of a population of 75 million people, nearly 1 million Ethiopians are affected by blindness and 4 million are visually impaired…
During Syrian siege, siblings improvised survival (Los Angeles Times) Tales of survival are beginning to rise from Homs’ rubble in the aftermath of a deal that allowed about 2,000 remaining rebels to evacuate the Old City this month, and also opened the way for civilians to return. Longtime residents who fled have been streaming back, stunned by the scope of destruction and anguished by the damage to their homes, but relieved that they are no longer shut out…
21 May 2014
Tags: Pope Francis Ukraine Holy Land United Nations Christian Unity
A man holds a cardboard cutout of Pope Francis’ face as the pope leads his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on 21 May. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
At his general audience on Wednesday, Pope Francis spoke about his upcoming trip to the Holy Land:
Asking prayers for his 24-26 May trip to the Holy Land, Pope Francis said his visit to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories would be “strictly religious.”
At the end of his weekly general audience 21 May, Pope Francis told an estimated 50,000 people in St. Peter’s Square that he was about to make the trip.
The first reason for going, he said, “is to meet my brother, Bartholomew,” the Orthodox patriarch of Constantinople, to mark the 50th anniversary of the meeting between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople. The meeting launched a new era of ecumenical cooperation and dialogue.
“Peter and Andrew will meet once again, and this is very beautiful,” the pope said. Pope Francis is considered the successor of the apostle Peter and Patriarch Bartholomew the successor of his brother, the apostle Andrew.
The pope said the second reason for his trip is “to pray for peace in that land that suffers so much.”
He asked the people in the square to pray for the success of the trip.
21 May 2014
As the Holy Land prepares for the visit of Pope Francis, hate crimes leave Christians feeling vulnerable. (video: Al Jazeera)
Pope picks one of dueling baptism sites in visit to Holy Land (Washington Post) Christians believe that Jesus was immersed in the waters of the Jordan River by John the Baptist, who wore a cloak of camel’s hair and lived on locusts and honey in the desert wilderness. But the Gospels are not precise about which side of the river the baptism took place on — the east bank or the west. Although it might not matter much to a half-million annual visitors who come to the river for sightseeing or a renewal of faith, it matters very much to tourism officials in Israel and Jordan, who maintain dueling baptism sites, one smack-dab across from the other, with the shallow, narrow, muddy stream serving as international boundary. On Saturday, on his first papal trip to the Holy Land, Pope Francis will visit the baptism site at Bethany Beyond the Jordan — on the eastern, or Jordanian, side of the river…
Pope Francis prays for flood victims in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia (VIS) At the end of today’s general audience, the pope launched an appeal on behalf of those citizens who have lost their lives, for the many still missing and for those affected by the great damage caused by the serious floods which have occurred during recent days in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia. “Unfortunately the situation has worsened, and I therefore invite you all to join me in prayer for the victims and for all those afflicted by this disaster. May the solidarity and concrete support of the international community be forthcoming…”
Syrians return to rebuild lives in Homs’ war-ravaged Old City (Los Angeles Times) Wary of looters and anxious to get back home, the displaced residents of the war-battered Old City have been filing back into their bombed-out neighborhoods. They push baby strollers and drag suitcases to be used in an ongoing salvage operation. At times, it is hard to distinguish between ex-residents gathering what little is left of their belongings and those picking the ruins clean of others’ possessions…
Syrian refugees in Lebanon face health care crisis (BBC) Amnesty International says a shortfall in international support has left many Syrian refugees in Lebanon unable to access crucial medical care. A new report says some refugees have resorted to returning to Syria to receive the treatment they need. The U.N. says there are now 2.7 million registered Syrian refugees and the number is still rising…
20 May 2014
Tags: Syria Pope Francis Refugees Holy Land Christians Serbia
Archbishop Kundukulam greets the children at St. Christina’s Home in Trichur.
(photo: Sean Sprague)
Writer Jose Kavi reports on the legacy of India’s “Father of the Poor” in the spring edition of ONE magazine. But he notes here that he approached the assignment with skepticism.
Each writing assignment for CNEWA makes me think about the many blessings God has given me and my family. The assignment to study the legacy of a Catholic archbishop in Kerala was no exception. However, this time Jose Jacob, the photojournalist who takes pictures for the articles, also said the experience was profound—and I had my own epiphany, as well.
I knew the late Archbishop Joseph Kundukulam had done lots of philanthropic works in Trichur, his archdiocese in southern India. Several of his priests and former seminarians often told of incidents where the genial prelate went out of his way to help the poor and marginalized. I had also heard that he was a great orator who spoke for hours without boring his listeners. However, let me admit I was not a fan. I could not support a protest he led in 1986 against a drama that allegedly ridiculed Christ and his teachings; the drama was eventually banned, but I believed the artists have the right to freedom of expression. Also, the archbishop’s reported association with some political leaders of Kerala also did not go down well with me.
So, it was with a critical mind I went to see various institutions the archbishop had established during his 27 years in Trichur. I didn’t expect that the three days I spent observing the institutions and people working there would make me a die hard admirer of Archbishop Kundukulam. The first eye-opener was the visitor’s room of the Society of Nirmala Dasi Sisters, a congregation the archbishop set up to manage his institution. The small room doubled as the office of the superior general and included a dining table for visitors. Simplicity was writ large on every corner of the place.
Sister Kochumary Kuttikatt accompanied us on our tour. The first place we visited, Pope John Paul Peace Home, bowled us over. Jose and Bineesh, our driver, later shared the same insight: we never expected some 150 people there suffering various types of handicaps to be so content. Some have been there for more than a quarter century and still had no complaints. With all our limbs in proper order, we felt like cripples because we complain about little inconveniences in life. Bineesh, a Hindu, said he had run out crying from the hall where he was talking to a youth, who could not move his limbs. The young man was more interested in Bineesh’s welfare than his problems. Jose said he had a tough time holding the camera steady because he was so overwhelmed by emotions.
The place was spotlessly clean, no smell and no dirt, something remarkable for such a place in India where filth and squalor are common in institutions like this.
Adding to my surprise was the behavior of the nuns and their coworkers attending to the patients. They knew the names and histories of all residents and responded with love and kindness. “We come to them after Mass in the morning and we never know how the time passes,” said one of the sisters.
We concluded our visit in a slum near the Trichur railway station where two of the sisters are spending their lives serving the poorest of the poor. The stench was overwhelming; the huts there have no septic tanks or running water. But the smell and dirt hardly bothered Sister Elsy and Vimala who were all smiles as they served tea for us seated on a cement platform inside their one-room convent. The platform, we learned, also served as their sleeping place at night. The sisters joked about how they had spent several damp nights there in the last rainy season, water seeping down the walls and filling their “cots.” “We walked around carrying our sleeping mats,” they said.
After leaving the slum, we could breathe normally only after we reached the main road, where the belching smoke from the vehicles smelled much better than the air the nuns and their companions breathed round the clock.
What makes those nuns continue to stay there? Love for Christ and the poor can help you overcome any difficulties in life. That is what Archbishop Kundukulam taught and what the sisters now experience.
And I have had my epiphany in Trichur.
Read more about Remembering India’s “Father of the Poor” in ONE magazine. And if you’d like to learn more about supporting Archbishop Kundukulam’s legacy among the poorest of the poor, visit this page.
20 May 2014
Hired vans bus students home from the Good Shepherd Sisters’ community center in Lebanon. Read more about the inspiring work of the sisters with refugees in Syria, Shepherds and Sheep from the spring 2014 edition of ONE. (photo: Tamara Hadi)
20 May 2014
In this 2012 image, people gather at a mass burial for victims of an artillery barrage from Syrian forces in Houla, Syria. (photo: CNS/Shaam News Network handout via Reuters)
Nearly 60 states back referral of Syria conflict to International Criminal Court (BBC) Nearly 60 countries led by Switzerland have expressed support for a proposal to refer the conflict in Syria to the International Criminal Court. They are calling on the I.C.C. to investigate possible crimes against humanity and war crimes…
Some 10,000 people in Ukraine now affected by displacement, U.N. says (U.N. News Center) The United Nations refugee agency estimated today that 10,000 people, most ethnic Tatars, but also Ukrainians, Russians and mixed families, have fled Crimea and restive eastern Ukraine to other parts of the country, out of fear of insecurity or persecution…
Religious tensions deepen Ukraine splits (Reuters) Religious tensions are deepening dividing lines in Ukraine’s crisis, with rival churches taking political sides and Kiev slighting the Russian Orthodox Church, a senior official of the Moscow-based church said on Friday. Metropolitan Hilarion, head of the Russian church’s foreign relations department, said other churches had clearly lined up behind the Kiev government and he cited religious differences for its decision to refuse him entry to Ukraine last week…
Fears grow over Bulgaria’s Russian dependence (Der Spiegel) Concerns are growing within the German government that the European Union’s most impoverished member state, Bulgaria, could fall into the grips of Moscow’s influence. Internal reports, including those of the German foreign intelligence service, warn that Moscow may seek to expand its relations with the country in order to use Bulgaria as a political beachhead into the E.U., and then use that power to divide the block…
Pastoral visit to a detention facility in the Negev desert (Saint James Vicariate for Hebrew Speaking Catholics in Israel) Holot is an open detention facility in the Negev for Sudanese and Eritrean asylum seekers who have arrived in Israel. On Thursday, 15 May 2014, the Latin Patriarchate sent a group of thirteen priests and sisters — including the Latin patriarchal vicar, the Rev. David Neuhaus — to pay a visit to the facility. Many inmates expressed confusion over their internment, asking what crimes they had committed…
Pope hopes to strengthen interfaith relations in Jerusalem visit (Al Jazeera) Fifty years after the historic embrace between the heads of the Catholic and Christian Orthodox churches, Pope Francis will become the fourth pope to visit the Holy Land…
19 May 2014
Tags: Ukraine Syrian Civil War Ecumenism United Nations Migrants
An image of Pope Francis is displayed at a shop in Jerusalem’s Old City. The pope will visit Jordan, the Palestinian Territories and Israel during his 24-26 May trip, his first to
the region as pope. (photo: CNS/Amir Cohen, Reuters)
19 May 2014
Yesterday, Serbian Orthodox Patriarch Irinej visited Obrenovac, southwest of Belgrade, Serbia, and met with those providing aid to flood victims. (photo: Serbian Orthodox Church)
Worst deluge in a century inundates Serbia, Bosnia (Christian Science Monitor) Soldiers, police, and villagers battled to protect power plants in Serbia from rising floodwaters on Sunday as the death toll from the Balkan region’s worst rainfall in more than a century reached 37…
Caritas Serbia: situation still ‘chaotic’ (Vatican Radio) As large parts of the Balkan region remain under water, the coordinator for Caritas Serbia said people have begun to suffer from waterborne diseases. The situation is “still very chaotic” and it is “extremely difficult still to coordinate” aid, Darko Tot told Vatican Radio on Monday…
Unity is a difficult mission for Christians in Israel (NPR) Pope Francis visits the Middle East next week, including Israel, where Christians make up just 2 percent of the population. But since the last papal visit to the Holy Land five years ago, the number of Christians in Israel has increased, and the makeup of the Christian population has continued to shift…
Putin orders troops near Ukraine to return home (Al Jazeera) Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered troops deployed in regions near Ukraine to return to their home bases, the Kremlin said on Monday. The move appears to indicate Putin’s intention to de-escalate the crisis over Ukraine, the worst in Russia’s relations with the West since the end of the Cold War, although previous pledges to withdraw troops have gone unmet…
Russian church the absent player at pope-patriarch summit (Reuters) When Pope Francis meets the spiritual head of the world’s Orthodox Christians next week, the speeches and symbolism will focus on how these ancient wings of Christianity want to come closer together. After almost a millennium apart, however, the key to the elusive unity they seek does not lie in Jerusalem, where the Catholic pope and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew will embrace on 25 May. If anywhere, that key lies in Moscow. The Russian Orthodox Church, by far the largest church in the Orthodox world and increasingly influential at home and abroad, has long been wary of these closer ties…
16 May 2014
Tags: Ukraine Middle East Christians Christian Unity Holy Land Christians Serbia
This weekend, the Canadian Catholic TV station Salt + Light will air a documentary about the Middle East, focusing explicitly on the work of CNEWA. The documentary, “Living Stones: Walking Humbling in the Land We Call Holy,” draws from material gathered during a special pilgrimage to the Holy Land for journalists that CNEWA helped sponsor four years ago.
As the station notes:
We often forget the Holy Land is more than just a place of shrines and pilgrimages. This is a land where people live, and millions of them are Christian. In 2010, the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA) sponsored several trips to the Holy Land for journalists. It was a different kind of pilgrimage, one where they visited people, the living stones of this land we call holy. Join Deacon Pedro Guevara-Mann as he travels through Jordan, Palestine and Israel meeting Christians, learning about the work they do and sharing their stories.
Check out the trailer for the program above. It can be seen on Salt + Light Sunday 18 May at 9 pm ET / 6 pm PT. You can view it online at this link.
16 May 2014
At the Melkite Greek Catholic Church in Ader, Jordan, girls celebrate receiving their
First Communion. (photo: John E. Kozar)
CNS recently paid a visit to the site where Jesus was baptized—and where Pope Francis will visit later this month—and looked at efforts to preserve Christian identity in Jordan:
During a recent visit to Jordan Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York said strengthening support of the Christian community is one way to stop Christians from fleeing the region. He pointed to the work of organizations such as the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, for which he serves as chairman of the board, as vital to ensuring that the presence of Christians remains in the region.
“CNEWA can give a booster shot to the effort it has been doing for decades to support the Christian community in the Middle East,” he said during a break from observing CNEWA’s efforts.
“When you look at what the tiny Christian community is doing in terms of health care, education, feeding the poor, and keeping people together, you can see why Jesus said, ‘By their fruits, you shall know them,‘” he told CNS.
“Muslims have come to respect the magnificent and charitable work of the sisters and other Christians. So religious respect, friendship and dialogue is a result of that,” the cardinal said.
Msgr. John Kozar, CNEWA president, who accompanied Cardinal Dolan, agreed.
“Whenever we can work with the local church, that’s what CNEWA does, accompany the local church to be stronger, to cultivate people’s roots, to make them deeper and join in solidarity of prayer, that’s where we need to be,” he told CNS.
Tags: CNEWA Jordan Melkite