2 October 2018
Some 500 members of the Fraternities of the Youth of Virgin Mary sing the group's anthem on 30 September at St. Joseph School in Cornet Chewan, Lebanon, during the annual commemoration of the Marian group. (photo: CNS/courtesy Congregation of the Youth of Mary)
Church youth groups provide an escape from life’s pressures and help in forming strong friendships, young Lebanese Catholics said at the annual meeting of their Marian group.
Under the theme, “Mary is Our Captain,” some 500 members of the Fraternities of the Youth of Virgin Mary met on 30 September at St. Joseph School in Cornet Chahwan, north of Beirut.
Celebrating Mass for the gathering, Maronite Bishop Michel Aoun of Jbeil urged the young people “to be like eagles,” to rise up above the world and to keep their eyes on Jesus.
“That’s how the Christian life should be,” he said.
“You were chosen by God to be a light. You can be a witness to others who don’t know Jesus,” Bishop Aoun said, noting the 3-28 October Synod of Bishops to discuss “young people, the faith and vocational discernment” at the Vatican.
After the Mass, Christine Zaghrini, 27, told Catholic News Service: “This group is my escape. It’s a place where I meet God.”
“With all the chaos and stress we face, it’s easy to ‘lose’ God. But I know that on the day we have our weekly meeting ... I can be refreshed in my faith,” said Zaghrini, who works in information technology.
“I feel the presence of the Lord when I’m with this group,” Zaghrini said. “The church listens to us. The church helps us,” and young people need its support, she said.
The Fraternities of the Youth of Virgin Mary has membership for young people, ages 20-35, in 17 regions throughout Lebanon, with around 1,200 members in 121 local groups. The organization also has groups for children, teens and adults over 35.
“I grew up in this group,” said Nassib Achkar, 25, a talent agent. “I have good friends here, and I found a special love and bond, like brothers and sisters.”
Working in the entertainment industry, Achkar often encounters atheists and people with little faith, he said.
“They are lost. Sometimes they make fun of me,” he said, noting that his faith is “something they can’t understand.”
“I feel I have a responsibility to be a witness. God put me in this profession for a reason, to help people to believe,” Achkar said.
Joe Allam, 26, in his first year as a seminarian, told CNS that the youth fraternities helped him to discover his vocation.
After all the spiritual retreats, “I could hear Jesus talking to me and inviting me to this road,” he said, noting that “when you are close to Jesus ... you become familiar with his voice.”
“Every young man and woman has to know that their church has a past, and the older generation should feel assured that the church has a future -- we are the future of the church,” Allam said.
Concelebrating the Mass with Bishop Aoun was the Rev. Marcellino Assaf, who was ordained in September and heard his calling to the priesthood as a member of the Fraternities of the Youth of Virgin Mary.
Bishop Aoun told the young people it is every Christian’s vocation “to be a message of life and love.”
Families and work “should be a means to gain the kingdom of God, so that God is the only constant in your life,” he said, noting that through Mary’s help, “everything you do can lead you to God.”
Especially with the synod happening in the same month, it is good to see Lebanese youth “gathering with such joy and enthusiasm,” Msgr. Ivan Santos, charge d’affaires of the Vatican Embassy in Lebanon, told Catholic News Service.
“They are the hope of Lebanon,” he said.
Msgr. Santos urged the young people to follow Pope Francis’ call to pray the rosary each day in October.
“Young people, you are the answer for the church and for your country,” he said.
2 October 2018
Tags: Lebanon Beirut
In this image from 2017, a Russian Orthodox woman lights a candle and prays in an Orthodox parish in St. Petersburg. Russian Catholics hope ties won't be affected by inter-Orthodox tensions.
(photo: CNS/Robert Duncan)
Russian Catholics hope ties won’t be affected by inter-Orthodox tensions (CNS) As plans to establish an independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church encounter complaints from Russia, Catholic leaders hope ecumenical ties will not be affected. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, who holds honorary primacy among the world’s 14 main Orthodox churches, plans to grant autocephaly, or independence, to Christians in Ukraine, many of whom have been linked to the Russian Orthodox Church’s Moscow Patriarchate…
An Indian anti-Christian hotspot (UCANews.com) Christians in a tiny northern Indian district suffered at least 12 attacks in September that community leaders say were instigated by false accusations against missioners over the conversion of Hindus. Pastors were beaten up, faithful arrested and Sunday services disrupted in continuing violence allegedly carried out by Hindu groups in Jaunpur district of Uttar Pradesh…
U.N. foreign workers pulled from Gaza over security concerns (Al Jazeera) The UN agency for Palestinian refugees said Monday it was temporarily withdrawing some foreign staff from the Gaza Strip following security concerns linked to job cuts in the coastal enclave. In a statement, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) said it has “decided to temporarily withdraw part of its international staff from Gaza following a series of worrying security incidents affecting its personnel in the strip…”
Autopsy on Coptic Christian monk shows signs of poisoning (BBC) An autopsy on a Coptic Christian monk found dead in central Egypt shows signs of poisoning, officials say. Zeinoun al-Maqari was one of six monks banished from a desert monastery after its abbot was found dead in a pool of blood in July…
Ultra-Orthodox Jews celebrate Simchat Torah holiday in Jerusalem (Channel NewsAsia) Orthodox Jewish men on Monday danced with scrolls of the Torah, celebrating the religious holiday of Simchat Torah (Rejoicing in the Torah) in one of Jerusalem’s oldest neighborhoods…?
1 October 2018
Tags: India Egypt Russian Orthodox Coptic
A sister cares for a young patient at Maison du Sacre Coeur, a Catholic institution that serves the needs of specially challenged children in Haifa. (photo: John E. Kozar)
In an address to the participants of the Seminar on Ethics in Health, Pope Francis stressed the importance of forming a bond of humanity between health care workers and their patients. The conference, from 1-5 October, is sponsored by the Pontifical Academy for Life and led by Auxiliary Bishop Alberto Bochatey of La Plata, Argentina, and the Health Consensus Foundation, an Argentina-based organization comprised of local and international health care providers, according to the conference website.
From Vatican Media:
Pope Francis based his speech around 3 key words: miracle, care and trust. These three words are very valuable in a world in which health in general “and particularly in Latin America, is living through an era marked by the economic crisis”, said the Pope.
With regards to the first word, “miracle,” the Pope said, “Those responsible for the institutions will tell me, and rightfully so, that we cannot perform miracles.” But, he explained, a miracle is not doing the impossible. A miracle is looking at an ill, helpless person and seeing a brother.
The Pope explained that, “we are called upon to recognize the immense value of every person’s dignity, as a human being, as a son of God.”
The second word: “care.” Because curing an ill person does not simply involve applying pharmaceuticals. “We know that when someone who is terminally ill is in serene, human company, they perceive this solidarity,” the pope said. “Even in these difficult cases, when the person can feel such love, respect and acceptance, the value of their being becomes their capability to give and receive love, not their productivity.”
The final word is “trust.” Pope Francis’ first example is “the trust the ill person has in themselves, that they will get better.” Of no less importance is the worker, who must be able to work in a serene atmosphere, in trusted surroundings. ”Placing yourself in the hands of someone else, especially when your life is at risk, is very difficult” said Pope Francis.
“We must fight to keep this deeply human bond whole” said Pope Francis. “No aid institution alone can take the place of a human heart, nor that of human compassion,” he said, quoting Pope Saint John Paul II.
1 October 2018
Tags: Health Care
The video above explains the background behind Iran's attack Monday morning on targets in Syria. (video: France 24/YouTube)
Iran fires missiles at Syria over parade attack (Reuters) Iran fired missiles on Monday at militants in Syria it blamed for an attack in southwestern Iran on 22 September, the Revolutionary Guards said, in what it called a sign of Tehran’s readiness to punish its enemies’ “wickedness…”
Ethnic clashes kill 20, displace thousands in western Ethiopia (Andalou Agency) At least 20 people were killed and 60,000 displaced in ethnic clashes flaring since last week in the western region of Benishangul-Gumuz. A government official said the clashes occurred in the areas of Kamashi zone. ”The number of the deceased could be much higher because some of the clashes occurred in far-off rural areas,” said Negeri Lencho, communication chief of Oromia state which borders the area of conflict, as quoted by Ethiopian Television in its late night bulletin…
Russian Orthodox Church threatens to sever ties with patriarch (Radio Free Europe) The Russian Orthodox Church is threatening to sever ties with the leader of the worldwide Orthodox community if he grants autonomy to Ukraine’s Orthodox Church. The move comes amid a deepening row in Orthodox Christianity over the Ukrainian Church’s bid to formally break away from Russia’s orbit. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I -- who is considered the “first among equals” of Eastern Orthodox clerics -- has sent two special bishops to Ukraine in what is widely viewed as a step toward declaring ecclesiastical independence for the main Ukrainian Orthodox church that is loyal to Kiev…
Syrian migrant dies in clash at migrant camp (Vatican News) One Syrian migrant was reported killed in what the Greek police called a brawl between Syrian and Afghan migrants in a holding camp near Athens. Several others were injured and taken to hospital. What triggered the fight remains unclear, but it’s almost certainly attributable to cramped and unsanitary conditions inside Greece’s holding camps that contain more than 50,000 refugees and migrants who are barred from going deeper into Europe…
Different religious traditions mark ‘an important part of pre-Synod experience’ (Vatican News) On Wednesday, the Synod of Bishops on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment begins. Brother Javier Hanson, a Brother of the Christian Schools, was chosen by the US Bishops to participate in the first-ever Pre-Synod Meeting in March, in Rome. Brother Javier was assigned to an interfaith group at this meeting and spoke about this experience during the Spring General Assembly of the US Bishops Conference in June…
28 September 2018
Tags: Syria Ethiopia Russian Orthodox Church Iran
A Bedouin family picks cherries in an orchard in Deir El Ahmar. (photo: Laura Boushnak)
In 2012, we visited a corner of Lebanon that was flourishing, thanks to a reservoir and irrigation system CNEWA helped to provide:
The presence of water gave us a means to stay here,” says 65-year-old Hana Habshi, a resident of the Maronite Catholic town of Deir El Ahmar. The once-bustling agricultural hub nestles on the slopes of the fertile Bekaa Valley, about 60 miles northeast of Beirut, where Mr. Habshi has lived and worked since the height of civil war in the 1980’s. But for the past decade, thanks to several irrigation projects, Mr. Habshi has returned to his hometown every summer to farm his family’s ancestral lands. “It helped us come back and live off the land again.”
Lebanon’s civil war — which ravaged the country from 1975 to 1990 — destroyed much of the nation’s infrastructure, including its irrigation systems, and sounded the death knell for the Bekaa Valley’s agricultural economy.
Without reliable sources of water, and subsequent erosion, farmers could no longer cultivate the land that formerly nourished lush fields and bountiful yields. Desperate for work, inhabitants moved to Lebanon’s major coastal cities, such as Beirut, Saida and Tripoli. Some left the country altogether. The few who remained scraped by as sustenance farmers, growing crops that require little water such as wheat, hay and, in some cases, hashish.
Deir El Ahmar, like most settlements in the area, remains but a shadow of its former self. Its many empty homes and crumbling public buildings remind locals and visitors of a more prosperous past. Though municipal authorities register some 10,000 residents, in reality half as many actually live there — and only then in the summer months. In winter, the town’s population plunges to little more than 3,000.
However, in the last ten years, Deir El Ahmar has been slowly but surely bucking the trend. Locals attribute this reversal to one thing — water. Since 1999, when the town installed its first irrigation system drawing on natural spring water, residents such as Mr. Habshi have been trickling back to town and reviving their parched properties and the Christian identity of the town.
“Before it was all just trees and shrubs, but look what happens when water comes,” says Mr. Habshi, pointing to the surrounding hillsides and valley below.
Read more about Springs of Hope in Lebanon in the January 2012 edition of ONE.
28 September 2018
Pope Francis addresses the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity. (photo: Vatican Media)
Pope: Holy Spirit shows path to Christian unity (Vatican News) Pope Francis spoke Friday to participants in the Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, inviting the Catholic Church to discern the Holy Spirit’s presence in charismatic movements. The theme for the Plenary Assembly was “Pentecostals, Charismatics, and Evangelicals: Impact on the Concept of Unity”. Pope Francis said the growth of these communities is “an important phenomenon, which cannot be overlooked.” He said, “We have the duty to discern and recognize the presence of the Holy Spirit in these communities, seeking to build bonds of authentic solidarity with them…”
Hundreds of refugees set to return to Syria from Lebanon on Saturday (The Daily Star) General Security announced Friday that “hundreds” of refugees will be returning to Syria from different Lebanese regions the next day, in the latest of voluntary returns organized in coordination with the Syrian government…
Relief group says number of Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia rising after border reopens (AfricaNews.com) Eritreans are taking advantage of reopening of border crossing to enter neighbouring Ethiopia. Some to visit relatives, others for trade but also others are there to stay. This is according to ReliefWeb, a leading humanitarian information source on global crises and disasters. It is a specialized digital service for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). ReliefWeb cited the Shire District administration in the northern Ethiopian Tigray regional state as stating that up to 15,000 Eritreans have arrived in the Ethiopia since borders reopened…
Kerala government to provide aid to those who lost their livelihoods in flood (The Statesman) The Kerala government on Thursday announced it will provide free ration for three months to those who lost their livelihood due to the devastating floods. ”The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act scheme will also be reworked to provide more number of working days to those who suffered due to the floods,” Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan told the media here. He also announced various committees headed by senior officials to formulate policies and to speed up rebuilding efforts in flood-hit state…
India strikes down adultery law (CNN) India’s top court has abolished a colonial-era law criminalizing extramarital sex, in a landmark ruling campaigners have hailed as a victory for women’s rights. Under the 158-year-old adultery law, known as Section 497, a man could be imprisoned for up to five years for engaging in sexual relations with a married woman without the consent of her husband. The Supreme Court struck down the law Thursday, ruling it retrograde and discriminatory toward women…
27 September 2018
Tags: India Pope Francis Ethiopia Christian Unity Eritrea
The lulav (palm fronds), a silver etrog box and the etrog (large lemon) are displayed during Sukkot, the last of the Jewish high holy days. (photo: Wikipedia)
CNEWA works in places with many different cultures, faiths and traditions — and during this time of year, we are reminded in a particular way of the rich religious and cultural traditions of the Jewish people.
In the fall — starting with Rosh Hashanah, moving through Yom Kippur and ending with Sukkot — Jews mark the ”high holidays” and issue in the New Year of their calendar with prayers and celebrations. This week, Jews throughout the world celebrate the feast of Sukkot, sometimes referred to in English as the Feast of Booths or Tabernacles, the latter from the Latin tabernaculum, “tent.”
Sukkot is one of the three great pilgrim festivals in the Old Testament: Passover, the Feast of Weeks or Pentecost and Sukkot. Long before the construction of the Temple in Jerusalem, Sukkot was an agricultural festival celebrating the end of the harvest. This is clear in Exodus 34:22 where it is called the Feast of the Ingathering (ha’asîf) at the end of the year and is paired with the Feast of Weeks, which is earlier in the year at the wheat harvest.
Sukkot runs for seven or eight days depending on whether one is in Israel or in the diaspora. The festival is outlined in detail in Leviticus 23:33-36, 39-43. It is to last seven days and the first and eighth (!) days are to be a “sacred assembly” on which no work is to be performed. It is a feast of celebration: “On the first day you shall take choice fruits, palm branches, boughs of leafy trees…and you shall rejoice in the presence of the Lord.” It is required that the people live in sukkot, “huts, shelters, booths,” made from branches of palm trees and other leafy trees. This is perhaps the most obvious practice that a non-Jew would notice. Jews throughout the world will build sukkot for the week. In major cities such as New York, it is not uncommon to see sukkot popping up on balconies of high rise apartments. For seven days, Jews will take their meals in the booths and some will even sleep in them. According to Leviticus, the booths are to remind the Israelites that their ancestors lived in shelters such as these during the Exodus.
During one of the central days of Sukkot, there is the ceremony of drawing water, reminiscent of the purification ceremonies at the Temple. This ceremony is specifically mentioned in the seventh chapter of John’s Gospel and may have provided the occasion for Jesus’ exclamation: “If anyone is thirsty, let them come to me! Let the one come and drink, who believes in me” because he is “living water” (John 7:37-38).
Also during Sukkot, Jews will display the etrog and the lulav. The etrog is a large citrus like a lemon but considerably larger, while the lulav is palm fronds which are often artfully woven in ways familiar to what some Christian cultures do with palms on Palm Sunday.
Depending upon where one lives—in Israel or the diaspora—there are two different endings to the week of Sukkot. The first is Shmini Atzeret, the “eighth assembly/congregation” which closes the festival. The second, for those in the diaspora, is the festival Simhat Torah, “the joy of the Torah.”
Perhaps most significantly, though, the ending of Sukkot signals, in fact, a beginning — the start for Jews of a new year, full of promise and possibility.
27 September 2018
Sister Ayelech Gebeyehu, left, attends 5:30 morning prayer in the chapel of her convent in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia. Read more about the life of this religious sister in A Letter from Ethiopia in the Spring 2015 edition of ONE. (photo: Petterik Wiggers)
27 September 2018
The video above shows how some Syrian refugees are coping with life in Lebanon. Cardinal Bechara Boutros Rai of Lebanon told Canadian bishops earlier this week that Canada needs to help the Syrian refugees and support their efforts to return home. (video: EuroNews/YouTube)
Indian activists seek unity to protect minority rights (UCANews.com) Rights activists in India have called for more united and coordinated work to ensure the rights of religious minorities, tribal and Dalit people. Activists, lawyers and civil society met in New Delhi to honor Soni Sori, a tribal activist who was chosen by Ireland-based rights organization Front Line Defenders for an award this year…
Patriarch: Canadians must help Syrian refugees who want to return home (Catholic Register) Western nations must support Syrian refugees in Lebanon who want to return home, Cardinal Béchara Boutros Raï told Canada’s Catholic bishops. Lebanon, a country of four million people, has received two million refugees since the Syrian civil war broke out seven years ago, said Raï of Lebanon, the Maronite Catholic Patriarch. He was speaking on 24 September to the annual gathering of more than 80 eparchs and bishops from across Canada...
Thousands gather in Jerusalem for blessing (Reuters) Tens of thousands of worshippers packed Jerusalem’s Western Wall plaza on Wednesday to receive a blessing from members of Judaism’s priestly caste. Holding prayers shawls above their heads and covering their faces, the priests, known as “Kohanim” in Hebrew, began chanting the blessing, which begins: “The Lord bless you and keep you”...
Ethiopians celebrate Meskel (Africa News) On the ground and online, orthodox Christians in Ethiopia and Eritrea are commemorating the Meskel festival, the founding of the true cross on which Jesus was crucified. Reports indicate that the Ethiopian Orthodow Tewahdo Church held a procession at the Meskel Square in Addis Ababa. The colourful and elaborate ceremony was attended by President Mulatu Teshome and deputy mayor of the capital, Takele Uma…
New York museum brings Armenia to the fore (The Art News) Armenia, on the far eastern border of the Western world, has long been overlooked in the history of Christian art. Now an ambitious show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York aims to rectify that with dazzling displays of illuminated manuscripts, carvings, reliquaries and textiles that testify to a culture’s dogged resilience. Almost all of the objects in the exhibition are on view in the U.S. for the first time…
26 September 2018
Tags: Syria Lebanon Ethiopia Armenia
Lebanon's Our Lady of Kaftoun (Deir Saydet Kaftoun) Monastery in Kaftoun is pictured in this 2013 photo. Now the land of the cedars is accessible virtually, via a free app in English -- called Holy Lebanon -- aimed at promoting religious tourism. (photo: CNS /courtesy Nour Farra Haddad)
From its high majestic mountains, picturesque villages and coastal towns to its bustling cities, Lebanon is rich in breathtaking scenery, cultural diversity and religious sites.
Now the land of the cedars mentioned in the Bible 96 times is accessible virtually, via a free app in English -- called Holy Lebanon -- aimed at promoting religious tourism.
“Even if you can’t come to Lebanon to visit, you can download the app and have an idea about different religious sites around the country,” Nour Farra Haddad, developer of the Holy Lebanon app, told Catholic News Service.
“Holy Lebanon,” introduced in June, was followed in July with an announcement from the Vatican that it will authorize official pilgrimage visits to Lebanon in 2019.
The multifaith app features 300 religious sites, representative of all of Lebanon’s 18 religious traditions, including Catholic, Orthodox and Muslim. The sites include churches, monasteries, convents, shrines and sanctuaries as well as mosques, many dating back centuries ago.
“It is just a beginning,” Farra Haddad said, noting that more sites will be added to the Holy Lebanon app in the future.
While the app took two years to develop, it is based on Farra Haddad’s 10 years of research as a religious anthropologist.
Lebanon, about two-thirds the size of Connecticut, is visibly steeped in religion.
“This is something that really surprises people: We have about 6,000 religious sites all around Lebanon,” Farra Haddad said, although she notes that no formal comprehensive survey of the exact number of sites has been compiled.
“Because Lebanon is considered an Arab country, sometimes people assume it’s a Muslim country only or that it’s related to the Islamic world, but Christianity was born in this area,” Farra Haddad said.
“I think people who have a curiosity about the Holy Land forget that South Lebanon is a part of the Holy Land where Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary walked,” Farra Haddad said, referring to Sidon and Tyre. “There is no doubt about that.”
In Lebanon, Christians account for approximately 40 percent of the population.
The country’s president is a Maronite Catholic, and half of the country’s 128 parliamentary seats are reserved for Christians.
Lebanon has approximately 900 religious sites dedicated to Mary, according to the app. That’s not counting informal shrines, thousands of which dot the country near buildings and roadsides.
Aside from the sites of Lebanon’s native saints -- Charbel, Rafka and Hardini -- which are visited by Christians and Muslims, St. George is the most popular saint, with 350 Christian sites and about 20 Muslim sites.
Western saints -- including Sts. Francis of Assisi, Rita, Bernadette of Lourdes and Therese of Lisieux -- also hold a special place in believers’ hearts, and churches and sanctuaries dedicated to them can be found throughout Lebanon.
By far the most popular pilgrimage site is the Our Lady of Lebanon shrine and basilica -- Harissa -- perched high above the Mediterranean Sea. Each year more the shrine receives than 2 million pilgrims, Muslims and Christians alike, as Mary is venerated by Muslims, and a full chapter is devoted to her in the Quran.
“It’s very important to let people around the world know that there are Christians in Lebanon,” the Rev. Khalil Alwan, vice rector of Harissa, told CNS.
Maronite Father Alwan said it is fitting that Muslim sites are included in the app.
“In Lebanon, Christians and Muslims coexist. This is the mission of Lebanon. That’s what John Paul II said,” he emphasized, referring to the saint’s quote: “Lebanon is more than a country. It is a message of freedom and an example of pluralism for East and West.”
“Lebanon is a holy land for Muslims and Christians,” Father Alwan added.
The Holy Lebanon app also happens to coincide with Harissa’s yearlong commemoration of the Marian shrine’s jubilee, 110 years since the shrine was inaugurated in 1908. Until 4 August 2019, pilgrims to the Marian shrine can receive an indulgence offered by the Vatican.
Farra Haddad pointed out that the Holy Lebanon app was designed for friendly navigation. “It’s not complicated, and the menu is easy,” she said, adding that elderly people have told her the app is simple to use.
From anywhere in the world, the Holy Lebanon app can be downloaded for free from the App Store or Google Play.
Navigating between the six sections of the app, users can access historical details about each of the 300 religious sites; background about the saint or holy figure; details about Christian and Muslim rituals; a calendar of feast days and celebrations; suggested itineraries for tours; and lodging possibilities at monasteries and convents.