7 April 2015
Catholic bishops visit the Cremisan Valley in January.
(photo: Catholic Bishop’s Conference of England and Wales)
In a victory for the Christian community in the Palestinian West Bank, the Society of St. Yves, a legal aid group of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, announced on 2 April that the Israeli Supreme Court had accepted the many petitions of Christian groups and rejected the plans to build an extension of the Israeli separation wall in the Cremisan Valley.
The barrier, which has been planned for many years, would have run down the Cremisan Valley near Bethlehem, severing some 50 Palestinian farming families from their farms, and separating the community of Salesian priests and brothers from that of the Salesian sisters. In addition, the 30-foot-high wall would have surrounded on three sides the school run by the sisters.
The St. Yves group noted: “The planned route was designed to confiscate a huge share of the privately owned lands of the people of Beit Jala in Cremisan as well as the Vatican church land owned by the two Salesian Monasteries. The planned route was to further separate both monasteries from each other and from the local population they serve.”
The issue of the separation wall has been an international concern for many. On 11 February 2015, Bishop Oscar Cantú, who chairs the Committee on International Justice and Peace of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, wrote to the chairs of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and the House Committee on Foreign Affairs expressing concern for the impact the wall would have not only on the Palestinians in the Cremisan, but also on the peace process.
Earlier, on 30 January 2014, Archbishop Paul-André Durocher, president of the Canadian Conference of Bishops, had written a letter expressing the deep concerns of the Canadian Catholic bishops regarding the separation wall. Archbishop Durocher’s letter was addressed to the Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs, with copies sent to the Israeli Ambassador to Canada, the Canadian Ambassador to Israel and Canada’s Ambassador for Religious Freedom.
Concerned about the impact of the proposed wall on the local community, including the works of the Salesians in the valley, Catholic Near East Welfare Association, as a non-governmental organization (NGO) accredited to the United Nations, took action. CNEWA provided an information packet on the Cremisan Valley to a coalition of more than 40 Catholic NGO’s at the United Nations on 30 April 2013. This resulted in many of those NGO’s writing letters against the building of the wall to the Israeli and United States ambassadors to the United Nations as well as to the U.S. Secretary of State.
“This is Holy Week and tomorrow is Good Friday and Easter,” said Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal at a news conference after the ruling was announced on 2 April. “This is an advance Resurrection. Even if tomorrow is Good Friday, we are very happy and can celebrate. We thank God for this.”
The patriarch acknowledged the important role played by the global church and the diplomatic community in advocating against construction of the wall.
This wall was illegal and justice has prevailed,” the patriarch said. According to Catholic News Service, the legal victory, the patriarch said, was the result of a joint effort among the Catholic Church, landowners, the three neighboring municipalities, and Israelis who supported their case. Some efforts were made openly, he said, while some were behind the scenes.
It is very good news that the rights of the people of the Cremisan Valley have been upheld by the Israeli Supreme Court. It’s a further sign that individuals and organizations can make a difference in the struggle for peace and justice in the Middle East.
7 April 2015
People light candles in front of a Catholic church during the Easter vigil in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk, Russia, on 4 April. (photo: CNS/Ilya Naymushin, Reuters)
7 April 2015
In the video above, Pope Francis during the Easter Monday Regina Coeli address condemns the persecution of Christians around the world. (video: Rome Reports)
Pope offers Urbi et Orbi message, calling for peace in Middle East (Vatican Radio) Tens of thousands of people gathered in Saint Peter’s Square on Sunday morning, despite the cold and the rain, to take part in Solemn Mass with Pope Francis in celebration of Easter. Following the Liturgy, the Holy Father gave the traditional Blessing Urbi et Orbi — to the City [of Rome] and to the World...
Ukraine’s president agrees on autonomy referendum (Vatican Radio) Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko has for the first time publicly lifted his objections to a referendum that could give more powers to regions controlled by pro-Russian separatists. Monday’s announcement came while nation faces its first anniversary of a year-long insurgency and more deaths...
Has the world “looked the other way” while Christians are killed? (The Washington Post) The atmosphere in the Vatican’s St. Peter’s Square turned from celebratory to somber as Pope Francis devoted his address Monday to the bleak subject that has occupied most of his recent remarks. “Our brothers and our sisters ... are persecuted, exiled, slain, beheaded, solely for being Christian,” he said, his expression tense, his cadence slow but deliberate. The persecution of Christians is a theme that ran through most of the pope’s speeches this weekend...
Jordan to host exhibition for companies to rebuild Gaza (Haaretz) Jordan will host about 300 companies supporting the Palestinian Authority’s efforts to rebuild the Gaza Strip at an exhibition in September, Jordan’s Petra news agency reported Monday. The International Exhibition for the Reconstruction of Gaza will include construction companies, producers of construction technology and building materials, contractors and architects, the report said...
Kerala Christians celebrate Easter (NewKerala.com) While some people went to churches for a pre-sunrise Easter Mass, others turned up after sunrise. The Easter service ends in most churches when the priest offers a piece of cake. At some places, a teaspoon of wine is first served. Starting from Palm Sunday last week, Christians, who form nearly a quarter of Kerala’s 33 million people, were busy with rituals and festivities associated with the Holy Week (also known as Passion Week), which ended with Sunday's morning Mass...
2 April 2015
Tags: India Ukraine Gaza Strip/West Bank Middle East Kerala
In this image from 2014, pilgrims hold candles lit from the Holy Fire at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. (photo by Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Images)
Five years ago, after Easter in 2010, I documented the Holy Fire celebrations in Jerusalem in the pages of ONE magazine.
Every year since then, I pull my treasured hard copy and re-read the story to compare it to the reality of the current Easter, only to find that the story hasn’t really changed. The same difficulties are encountered every year, as more restrictions are imposed and freedom of access to the holy sites seems to become more of a luxury rather than a right. With each passing year, our prayer is that the situation does not get worse. We have been accustomed to having more military and police officers with full gear in the church courtyard, roof, and inside the Holy Sepulchre itself; in fact, they outnumber the worshipers. That in itself is shameful. I do not believe there is any other place on earth where you see so many arms inside a church as is the case in our treasured Holy Sepulchre during the Holy Fire celebration on Holy Saturday. The saddest part of all is that all these measures have nothing to do with the security or public safety.
The situation in our larger Middle East is no more rosy, with the Arab Spring in many countries turning into an Arab nightmare, especially for most minority groups, including the Christians, among others. Where is all this leading is anyone’s guess. How many Christians will remain and how many will lose hope and decide to move on? How many will have the opportunity to move on and how many will be stuck? How many will be killed and how many persecuted? How many will become refugees? All are questions that remain unanswered, but given the trends of the past few years, it is hard to be optimistic.
Having presented a few thoughts for consideration as we mark Holy Week, I want to highlight the positive. We who are the indigenous Christians of the Holy Land and the larger Middle East are not here by chance. We have a long and proud history full of accomplishments and contributions. Our Christian institutions are our pride, as thousands of them throughout our region continue to provide quality services to all segments of society — especially in education, healthcare and social services. During wars and crisis, our institutions are the first responders and a model for coexistence, respect, care, love and support to those who in need.
The social service initiatives of the church never existed to support only Christians, and we never will. Our teachings mandate us to respect others and treat everyone equally, and demand a full life with dignity to all children of God. Thus, during this Easter season, we are reminded again of the dramatic events surrounding our Savior’s life, death and resurrection on the streets of Jerusalem over 2,000 years ago, and we are again reminded that the Master never really had an easy life himself. He taught us how to give rather than take, to be there for the weak and poor — very much the path followed by our Christian institutions. Over 2,000 years have passed, and the story is repeated again and again, and thus if we continue to face difficulties and hardships, if our life appears bleak at times, if we suffer for various reasons, we only need to look back and be reminded how blessed we are to call this Holy Land home and to continue to walk in in Christ’s footsteps.
Five years ago, I concluded my article in ONE with these words:
“Finally, I look forward to the day when my youngest son, Michael, grows strong enough to carry the banner, and I can pass onto him the honor of carrying it on Holy Saturday. My father passed the honor onto me, and I have already passed it onto my eldest son, Rami. When the days come that I no longer carry the banner, but my sons do so in my place, I will know I have done what I could to keep the tradition and faith alive. Maybe peace will have prevailed in the Holy Land and the celebration will return to how it should be — free.”
Well, five years since writing the article, peace has not prevailed. And the celebrations are not free. But my youngest son, Michael, is now 14, which was my age back in 1974, when my dad took me for the first time to attend the Holy Fire celebration, thus beginning my own journey to carry the cherished banner every year and be blessed with that honor. It is my intention to introduce Michael to this family tradition this year — in the hope that in another 40 years, he may in turn introduce his youngest child, and the tradition will go on!
Let us all keep the faith and hope alive. Happy Easter to all, far and near!
2 April 2015
In this image from 2014, Christians carry a cross during a procession along Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem's Old City on Good Friday. (photo: CNS photo/Ammar Awad, Reuters)
2 April 2015
In this image from November, Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople congratulate each other after signing joint declaration at patriarchal Church of
St. George in Istanbul. (photo: CNS/Grzegorz Galazka, pool)
Patriarch: “urgent need” for reconciliation with Catholic Church (CNS) Reconciliation between the Catholic and Orthodox churches is urgently needed, said Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople in an extensive interview with a prominent Jesuit journal. Due to great suffering and injustice around the world, “today, perhaps even more than 50 years ago, there is a greater and more urgent need for reconciliation,” he told Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro, editor of Civilta Cattolica. In the interview, which was available online 1 April, the patriarch suggested collaborating with Pope Francis in “common action” on social justice issues...
Church leaders say Easter offers hope amid violence (Vatican Radio) The leaders of Christian Churches in Jerusalem have issued a message for Easter, calling the Holy City a source of hope that “springs from the Resurrection” and urging “people everywhere not to fall into despair” over the recent violence threatening the region. The Church leaders express deep distress over the level of violence “still being falsely perpetrated in the name of religion in parts of the Middle East and elsewhere in recent times...”
UN: Syria and Iraq are “finishing schools” for extremists (The Guardian) Iraq and Syria have become “international finishing schools” for extremists according to a UN report which says the number of foreign fighters joining terrorist groups has spiked to more than 25,000 from more than 100 countries. The panel of experts monitoring UN sanctions against al-Qaida estimates the number of overseas terrorist fighters worldwide increased by 71% between mid-2014 and March 2015...
Kerala’s capital becoming “woman-friendly” (The Times of India) If all goes well, travel woes faced by solo women travellers to Trivandrum will be a thing of the past. In a first of its kind move in Kerala, Trivandrum Corporation is all set to launch a short stay home for women at Sreekandeshwaram by mid-April, which can be boarded up to three days while travelling, for a nominal rate. The authorities say that it is just the first, and one of the many steps towards making the capital a woman-friendly city...
1 April 2015
Tags: Syria Iraq Pope Francis Jerusalem Kerala
Catholic, Orthodox and Muslim religious leaders meet for an interfaith summit in Bkerke, Lebanon, on 30 March. They affirmed the “essential role” of the Christian presence in the Middle East and called for terrorism in the region to be confronted culturally,
educationally and politically. (photo: CNS/Mychel Akl)
A remarkable gathering took place this week in Lebanon:
Lebanon’s Catholic, Orthodox and Muslim religious leaders affirmed the “essential role” of the Christian presence in the Middle East and called for terrorism in the region to be confronted “culturally, educationally and politically.”
In a joint statement issued 30 March at the conclusion of an interfaith summit in Bkerke, the seat of the Maronite Catholic Church north of Beirut, the religious leaders emphasized that the Christian presence “plays an essential role” in the identity of the region “and predates Islam by several centuries.”
The leaders agreed to continue meeting quarterly to continue their discussions.
Cardinal Bechara Rai, Maronite Catholic patriarch, presided at the summit.
Terrorism, the religious leaders said, “must be fought through unifying the ranks of moderation” and “modernizing the religious rhetoric” with an emphasis on “reconciliation, tolerance and coexistence.”
“Eastern Christians are the first victims of the waves of violence in the region,” the leaders said, noting that Assyrians were the latest target as they cited the Islamic State invasion 23 February of about 30 Assyrian Christian villages in the Khabur region of Syria.
They called for the release of two Syrian bishops kidnapped in April 2013 — Syriac Orthodox Metropolitan Gregorios Yohanna of Aleppo and Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Paul of Aleppo.
“The wars in Syria and Iraq have been devastating,” the statement said. “As a result, 1.5 million Syrians have fled to Lebanon, in addition to thousands of Iraqis, not to mention (the presence of) half a million Palestinians.”
The number of Syrian refugees alone is equal to more than 25 percent of Lebanon’s population of about 4 million, putting Lebanon under great strain.
“The unorganized entry of Syrian refugees surpassed Lebanon’s coping capacity at several levels, from security to housing, labor, health, education, transport and food supply, which has depleted a treasury that is reeling under the burden of debt,” the leaders warned.
They also expressed a need to “prevent the temporary presence of refugees” from turning into a permanent presence, which they said would pose “a major threat to the unity and stability” of Lebanon.
The Christian and Muslim leaders said the dire circumstances of the refugees “require active international action and an increase in aid.”
“The international community must realize that Lebanon’s capacity is limited,” they stressed.
The leaders expressed “deep concern and disappointment” that the presidency of Lebanon remains vacant. The post is reserved for a Maronite Catholic under the country’s power-sharing system. The term of the previous president, Michel Suleiman, ended in May. Legislators have failed to agree on a successor.
“The election of a president must remain a critical and vital issue because the Maronite Christian president is the guarantee for coexistence,” the leaders said.
Regarding the crisis unfolding in Yemen, the leaders called on Arab states to “contain the escalation and protect the sovereignty, security and unity of all Arab countries.”
They applauded the feast of the Annunciation, 25 March — recognized by the Lebanese government in 2010 as an official national Christian-Muslim annual holiday — stressing that it enhances Lebanon’s message of coexistence to the world.
About 33 percent of Lebanon’s existing population is Christian, with the majority Maronites.
In addition to Cardinal Rai, attending the summit were: Melkite Catholic Patriarch Gregoire III Laham; Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignace Joseph III; Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II of Antioch; Chaldean Catholic Bishop Michel Kassarji of Beirut, representing Iraq's Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Sako; Armenian Catholic Patriarch Nerses Bedros XIX Tarmouni; Catholicos Aram of Cilicia, patriarch of the Armenian Apostolic Church; Greek Orthodox Archbishop Elias Audi of Beirut, representing Greek Orthodox Patriarch John X Yazigi; and the Vatican nuncio to Lebanon, Archbishop Gabriele Caccia.
Muslim representatives included Sunni Grand Mufti Abdel-Latif Derian; Abdel-Amir Qabalan, deputy head of the High Islamic Shiite Council; and Druze spiritual leader Naim Hassan.
1 April 2015
In this image from February, Ukrainian armed forces ride on armored personnel carriers near Debaltseve, Ukraine. (photo: CNS/Gleb Garanich, Reuters)
Children killed by landmines in Ukraine (Vatican Radio) The UN children’s charity UNICEF has said that at least 109 children are reported to have been injured and 42 killed by landmines and unexploded ordnance in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of eastern Ukraine since March 2014...
Iraq’s interior minister says Tikrit has been liberated (Reuters) Iraqi troops and Shi’ite paramilitary fighters were battling Islamic State on Wednesday in northern Tikrit, which officials described as the Sunni Muslim militant group’s last stronghold in the city. With officials touting victory in a month-long battle, state television said Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi was visiting the city, which the Islamist militants captured last June as they seized most of Iraq’s Sunni territories...
Helping amputees rebuild lives in Gaza (The Sydney Morning Herald) Mohamed al-Sillak was standing next to an ambulance outside a crowded marketplace in Gaza, holding the body of one of his children in his arms, when the second Israeli air strike hit. Seven months later he is standing in front of a ramp in a rehabilitation centre in Gaza, trying out his new leg. Next to him is Australian Greg Halford, an ortho-prosthetist from the International Committee of the Red Cross, who is three months into a 14-month assignment in the Gaza Strip...
Growing insecurity in India’s Christian community (BBC) Six people have been arrested in central India after a church was vandalised, allegedly by right-wing Hindu activists. It is the latest in a series of attacks on India’s small but influential Christian minority...
Ethiopia, a land where coffee meets tradition (CNN) Far from being just coffee exporters, Ethiopians are also major coffee lovers. Cafes densely line the streets of the capital Addis Ababa, and in 2013/14 3.6 million bags were consumed in the country, representing 71.6 percent of the total domestic consumption of Africa and 8 percent of all exporting countries. TO.MO.CA, with six branches in Ethiopia’s capital, is one of the most recognizable cafe brands. It has been owned by three generations of the same family for over 60 years, and now the company is opening its first international outpost in Tokyo, Japan, this May...
31 March 2015
Tags: India Iraq Ukraine Ethiopia Gaza Strip/West Bank
Syrian refugees are seen in Zaatari Camp in Jordan on 29 March.
(photo: CNS/Muhammad Hamed, Reuters)
Cardinal visits Iraqi refugees in Jordan (Fides) Cardinal Fernando Filoni, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, was sent by the Holy Father to Iraq to express the union of the Pope’s prayer with the many “Christian families and other groups of victims who were expelled from their homes and their villages, particularly in the city of Mosul and the Nineveh plain, many of whom had taken refuge in the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan”...
Refugees cling to hope so they can go home (CNS) Abu Bilal, a slender man in his 40s, is surrounded by cages of bright yellow canaries merrily twittering. Their melodious song injects a joyful energy into this otherwise drab, dusty refugee camp located on a desert plain in Jordan’s north near the border with Syria. Abu Bilal wishes his unusual pet shop in Zaatari Camp will cheer other Syrian refugees clinging to the last thread of hope to return home. As Syria’s civil war has entered its fifth year, refugees sheltering in Jordan’s largest camp expressed despair for the future, saying they never expected the conflict to have lasted so long or to have brought so much destruction to their beloved homeland...
U.S. Pledges aid to Syria (AP) The United States pledged $507 million in humanitarian aid at an international donors’ conference for Syria on Tuesday as the United Nations issued an appeal for $8.4 billion in commitments this year — the organization’s largest appeal yet for the war-ravaged country. Kuwait, which is hosting the third annual conference, pledged $500 million at the start of the meeting. The European Commission and EU member states pledged close to $1.2 billion total, double the overall EU pledge at last year’s conference...
Russian tanks enter eastern Ukraine (Newsweek) 22 Russian tanks crossed into Ukraine’s separatist-held eastern territories over the weekend, as pro-Moscow forces continue to seep into Ukraine’s war-stricken Donetsk and Luhansk regions, Donetsk’s local pro-government officials reported yesterday...
Kerala upholds liquor ban (Indian Express) A division bench of Kerala high court on Tuesday ratified the new liquor policy of the Congress government, paving the way for closure of all liquor bar hotels except those in the five- star classification...
Russian theater director suspended for offending Christians (The New York Times) The culture minister on Sunday fired the director of a Siberian theater who included a controversial interpretation of the life of Jesus in the Richard Wagner opera “Tannhauser.” The director, Boris Mezdrich, had failed to apologize and to take other steps to mitigate the outcry among the Orthodox faithful offended by various aspects of the production at the Novosibirsk State Academic Opera and Ballet Theater, said Vladimir Aristarkhov, the deputy minister of culture, according to Interfax. In 2013, a blasphemy law made it a criminal offense to perform public acts that offend believers, punishable by up to three years in prison...
30 March 2015
We were touched by a letter we received the other day, postmarked from Phoenix. It came from the Arizona State Department of Corrections.
Enclosed was a money order for five dollars. It came from a man in prison, and included this note:
“Please pray for the souls of my parents and brother. Also for my children, grandchildren, nephews and nieces, brothers and sister and myself, that we may be holy and that I will be with them soon. Thank you!!”
Who could fail to be moved by that spirit of generosity, and such a simple but profound act of faith?
During this time, the holiest week of the Christian calendar, we remember in a special way all our benefactors, and all who so earnestly and faithfully seek the face of Christ. Not only do we pray for our donors, but so do the poor — and their prayers are beloved by God, who hears their cries and offer to his children his tender mercies.
Thank you to all who are giving so much. Be assured of our continued gratitude and prayers — and know that every gift somehow works to uplift those most in need.
May your Holy Week be a blessed one!