11 January 2019
In this image from November, schoolchildren walk as U.S. troops patrol in Hassakeh, Syria. The U.S. announced it has begun troop withdrawals from Syria.(photo: CNS/Rodi Said, Reuters)
U.S. forces begin withdrawal from Syria (The New York Times) The United States has started withdrawing its troops from Syria, an American military spokesman said on Friday, further muddling the Trump administration’s plans for disengagement from one of the Middle East’s most complex battlefields…
Syro-Malabar Church to set up internal committees on ’Safe Environment Policy’ (UCANews.com) The Kerala-based Syro-Malabar Church has decided to set up internal committees at the diocesan level co-opting lay leaders to study complaints of sex abuse and financial mismanagements. The ongoing synod of the Syro-Malabar Archiespicoal Church Thursday decided to implement the “Safe Environment Policy” in order to create a “safe environment” for all, including children and vulnerable adults…
Syrian refugees wading through water in Lebanon camps (Al Jazeera) Tarima Ibrahim huddled together with her children to keep them warm as incessant rainfall, heavy winds and hail slapped their tarpaulin tent and lashed the refugee camp around it. ”We are freezing,” she said. “The tent is not heating up because it is flooded with ice-cold water.” Lebanon was hit by Storm Norma on 6 January, heavily impacting at least 360 informal refugee settlements and putting 850 others at risk…
Ukrainian Catholic leader says unity of Catholics and Orthodox is not utopian thinking (Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church) “Today the ecumenical movement at a universal scale is a fact,” he said. “It cannot be stopped anymore…”
Russia-Ukraine conflict enters its fifth year (Newsweek) As Ukraine marked the fifth anniversary of the start of its armed conflict with Russian-backed separatists, Kiev said there were multiple violations of its cease-fire agreement in the eastern part of the country known as the Donbas…
Are Armenian-Israeli relations warming up? (The Jerusalem Post) ”We identify strongly with the Jewish people,” says Armenian Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan. “We are very different from our neighbors. We have a long history, and have survived many wars and invasions. We know how to adapt to different cultures…”
10 January 2019
Tags: Syria Ukraine Armenia Syro-Malabar Catholic Church
Vested in silks and damask, Ethiopia's clergy mark Epiphany with a distinctive liturgy, a reminder of how different countries and cultures have adapted this feast as their own.
(photo: Asrat Habte Mariam)
The Christmas season is composed of several feasts which recount the beginnings of the life of Jesus and his ministry as an adult. Christmas recalls his birth; his baptism is celebrated at the end of the season.
But in the middle of the season is Epiphany. It was celebrated on the Christian calendar last Sunday, 6 January.
Epiphany is built around the account of the visit of the Magi which appears in the Gospel of Matthew and only the Gospel of Matthew. Matthew provides little or no information about this visit. We are told that wise men (magoi) came from the East. We are not told where in the East they came from or even how many there were; but since magoi is plural, Matthew indicates there were more than one. Different traditions count as many as 14, but the common number three is deduced from the gifts—no one came empty-handed.
The lack of details around this event makes it easy to attach popular traditions to it. And we see that in CNEWA’s world, where the celebrations of the Epiphany in the Middle East, in Ethiopia and in southern India are very different. While these traditions are celebrating the same event, they often do so in strikingly different and colorful ways.
The very diversity of the ways Epiphany is celebrated is a sign that Matthew has succeeded very well in what he attempted to do with his rather sparse account: he made the coming of Jesus an event with universal implications and applications. At its heart, this event, Epiphany, tells of an event that builds bridges and breaks down barriers.
It occurs against an interesting backdrop.
It is generally accepted that Matthew was writing for a community of Jews who had become followers of Jesus. As one would expect, they brought their Jewish traditions with them: the Torah, the notion of the chosen people, etc. As Christianity grew, tensions arose. Paul of Tarsus, in particular, attracted a large number of converts from paganism. While Matthew’s readers might expect the converts from paganism — for all practical purposes — to become observant Jews, that was not what Paul did. His converts to Christianity from paganism did not practice circumcision and did not follow the Law of Moses.
At the time of Jesus—and to some extent even today—religions tended to be culturally and linguistically specific. Even though the Greek and Roman cultures were very similar (even worshipping some of the same gods), the “Roman gods” had different names than the “Greek gods.” This reminds us that the major religions of the ancient world were both the source and result of the cultures in which they arose. Because of this, missionary endeavors were extremely rare, if not non-existent, in the pre-Christian world. It was simply assumed that one adhered to the religion of the culture into which they were born. Of course, there were borrowings and “cross pollination,” but the boundaries were clear and, for the most part, accepted.
The idea that a faith would not only be open to but would actively attract people from all cultures and nations was a new and strange one. It was an idea that many of Matthew’s readers would have found very hard to accept — and would have made Christianity difficult to embrace. But Matthew is the ideal teacher. His Gospel is a model of inclusion. If Jewish shepherds are the first to visit the newborn Jesus in Luke’s Gospel, it is the mysterious Magi who play the role of the first visitors in Matthew.
It is important also to note that in neither Gospel are we dealing with a mere visit, a social call. Whether it is the angels in Luke or the star and the dream in Matthew, these “visits” are also an epiphany, a “shining forth,” a revelation.
We know very, very little about the Magi. One thing, however, is certain: they were not Jews. They were foreigners. For Matthew, the first revelation is to the Gentiles. The Messiah was not born for a specific culture, a specific language, much less a specific nation. The Messiah is sent to all humanity.
Tribalism is a natural human characteristic. We tend to gather with those like us. God is “our God.” But the message of Matthew is clear. To see Jesus as the Messiah of any one group, one culture—to say nothing of one nation—is not to see Jesus at all, but merely to see a reflection of our own fears and prejudices.
We need to remember during this time of new beginnings, and the start of a new year, this salient truth: Epiphany means “to shine forth.” It is a movement outward not inward. The Epiphany is the rejection of all racial, cultural or national supremacy or chauvinism. It is a message of inclusion and, even, of hope.
Matthew helps underscore that point with his account of the epiphany. The writer of this Gospel makes sure that the Messiah is Emmanuel, Hebrew for “God-with-us,” and that the “us” in Emmanuel excludes no one of good will.
10 January 2019
Tags: Ethiopia Middle East
Sister Veronique administers the Franciscan Sisters’ School in Beni Suef, Egypt. In the current issue of ONE magazine, read more about how the sisters are bringing Signs of Hope to the region. (photo: Roger Anis)
10 January 2019
Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, greets an Iraqi religious man during a Christmas visit to Baghdad. In an interview after his return, the cardinal spoke of being touched by the deep faith of Iraqi Christians. (photo: CNS/courtesy Chaldean Catholic Patriarchate)
Cardinal touched by faith of Iraqi Christians (Vatican News) Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin described his 4-day Christmas visit to Iraq as one full of meaning to a Church that, amidst suffering and tribulation, bears witness to the joy and beauty of the Gospel. He expressed the hope of the Iraqi faithful for a visit by Pope Francis and underscored the importance of collaboration between Christians and Muslims for a peaceful future in the country…
Pope urges Indian Church to bear fruits of faith, charity (Vatican News) Pope Francis has sent his blessings to India’s Latin-rite bishops, wishing their plenary assembly bear much fruit in the service of their faithful, helping them to grow in faith and charity. “His Holiness sends fraternal greetings to you and your brother Bishops gathered on this occasion, and invites you ‘to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ... an openness to letting Him encounter [you]… unfailingly each day (Evangelii Gaudium, 3),” wrote Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin in a message sent on behalf of the Pope to the bishops…
India’s citizenship bill stirs fears of migrant invasion (UCANews.com) Widespread protests continue in northeast India after the government passed a controversial bill this week to grant citizenship to non-Muslim migrants from neighboring nations. Critics have blasted the move as being politically motivated in an election year — the general election is due in the coming months as the ruling party’s term ends in May — and say it violates the country’s secular values…
Turkey says it will launch offensive if U.S. delays pullout from Syria (The Guardian) Turkey will launch an offensive against Syrian Kurdish forces if the US delays the withdrawal of its troops from Syria, the foreign minister has said. ”If the [pullout] is put off with ridiculous excuses like Turks are massacring Kurds, which do not reflect the reality, we will implement this decision,” Mevlüt Çavusoglu told NTV television…
9 January 2019
Tags: India Iraqi Christians Turkey Indian Bishops
CNEWA donor Dr. Camille Salame provides medical examinations to Syrian women on a visit to the Karagheusian Center in Lebanon. (photo: Tamara Abdul Hadi)
The current edition of ONE features a profile of Lebanon’s Karagheusian Socio-Medical Center, a refuge for refugees that helps them adapt to their new surroundings. Writer Doreen Abi Raad has some additional impressions of her visit there:
It’s easy to get lost navigating the maze of tiny streets in the Beirut suburb of Bourj Hammoud. But ask anyone in the bustling neighborhood for directions to the Karagheusian Medico-Social Center, and it’s as though you are receiving a welcoming invitation to their home.
For nearly 100 years, the clinic has been a landmark. It began serving the Armenian community at the beginning of the 20th century, reaching out to refugees who settled in Bourj Hammoud after fleeing the Ottoman massacres.
Now Karagheusian also serves refugees from neighboring Syria. Since 2011, tiny Lebanon has absorbed more than one million people displaced from the Syrian conflict.
At the clinic, a team of 40 rotating doctors, plus a staff of 40, serves 4,000 patients a month. Of those, 3,000 are Syrian refugees and 1,000 are from the Lebanese host community. About two-thirds of the clinic’s current beneficiaries are Muslim.
On a typical morning, worn strollers are lined in a row outside near the entrance to the sunny yellow building that houses the center.
Inside, at the central reception desk a nurse named Vartouq, with an engaging smile, rocks an infant in her arms while the baby’s mother tends to her young son. “I love babies,” Vartouq says. ”I want to see them well and in good health.”
Soon after, Vartouq is comforting a toddler girl who is crying pitifully during her vaccination shot. “You’re my sweetheart and you’re brave,” Vartouq reassures, gently holding a tiny hand in her own.
“I like to help everybody. All are God’s children,” Vartouq says, as dozens of mothers with their children patiently wait their turn to meet with staff.
This is the spirit that permeates the busy Karagheusian Center. The misery that the refugees carry from their catastrophic experiences seems to vanish as they enter the center, where they are welcomed with open arms. I was so touched by the loving care and support they receive. It is as if a huge weight has been lifted from their shoulders.
Dr. Camille Salame, a neurosurgeon from Norwich, Connecticut, and a longtime contributor to CNEWA, likened the mission of the Karagheusian Center to that of Mother Teresa’s call to do ”small acts with great love.”
Some months earlier, Dr. Salame had contacted CNEWA, offering to provide any service he could during his visit to his native Lebanon.
That outreach led to Dr. Salame presenting a talk on back and neck pain for a group of some 150 Syrian Armenian Christian refugee women who gather each week as part of Karagheusian’s social service initiatives supported by CNEWA. After the talk, the doctor tirelessly met with 25 women for individual consultations.
Karagheusian’s social services arm, which includes a team of eight social workers, is aimed at providing support and encouragement, to help both refugees and vulnerable members of the host community to live a dignified life. Those initiatives include home visits, after school tutorial programs, a summer camp for children, trauma therapy sessions, vocational training for women to learn income-generating skills and women’s empowerment groups.
“I’m happy to see how much help the community is receiving,” said Dr. Salame of his visit to the Karagheusian center. “This is an oasis of hope.”
Read more about A Refuge in Lebanon in the December 2018 edition of ONE.
9 January 2019
Devaki, 76, awaits the visit of a mobile care unit, which helps her care for her disabled son.
(photo: Meenakshi Soman)
The current edition of ONE takes readers on a journey into some of the poorest parts of India, where a mobile clinic is bringing healing and hope:
“Some of these families live in remote and far out places. They live by themselves in jungles. Access is difficult. But we find a way,” Father Elambasseril says.
R. Vasudevan lies on the floor of a small room. He lives in a small hut in the Dalit village of Ittakaveli. The tropical humidity is at its peak this late October afternoon. Mosquitoes buzz around.
Vasudevan was 21 when he fell off his motorbike. People around him thought he was drunk; no one called for help. Because of the delay in medical attention, his paralysis from the waist down became permanent.
“I’ve been bedridden for the last 27 years now,” the 48-year-old says. “But I am mentally strong and have been able to survive this.” Despite his suffering, he radiates good cheer.
His mother, Devaki, 76, is his full-time caregiver. “I have three daughters,” she says. “They visit occasionally and help bathe him.”
Both Devaki and Vasudevan look forward to their weekly visit from the Mother Teresa care team. “The priest prays. The volunteers and the nurse make conversation. I have visitors,” Vasudevan says, smiling.
Read more about Healing the Forgotten in the December 2018 edition of ONE.
9 January 2019
The video above shows the dramatic impact of a winter storm that devastated refugee camps in Lebanon Monday. (video: Straits Times/YouTube)
Storm wrecks refugee camps in Lebanon (AFP) Heavy rains and snow wrecked several informal settlements housing Syrian refugees in Lebanon and left thousands in need of emergency assistance, aid workers said on Tuesday (8 Jan). Some of the worst affected were the refugees living in Arsal, a mountainous border area in northern Lebanon where the roofs of rudimentary shacks caved under the weight of the snow…
Christians concerned about religious freedom if Turkey enters Syria (CNS) Growing numbers of Christians in North America and Europe are joining Christians in Syria’s northeast in expressing concern for the future of religious minorities and Kurds in that region should the U.S. give Turkey the “green light” to take over the fight against Islamic State. ”News of any Turkish military involvement in northern Syria impacts us strongly and negatively,” Chaldean Catholic Father Samir Kanoon of Qamishli, Syria, told Catholic News Service…
Ethiopia-Eritrea border boom as peace takes hold (BBC) The reopening of the border between former enemies Ethiopia and Eritrea has dramatically changed the towns near the frontier, writes the BBC’s Emmanuel Igunza…
Russian Patriarch: Antichrist will use Internet to control people’s lives (The Moscow Times) The leader of the Russian Orthodox Church has said that humans’ dependence on modern technology will result in the coming of the Antichrist. In an interview with Russian state media, Patriarch Kirill explained he does not entirely oppose gadgets, but warned against “falling into slavery” to smartphones. Patriarch Kirill said that the collection of user data including “location, interests and fears” will make it possible for humans to be controlled by external forces…
8 January 2019
Tags: Lebanon Ethiopia Russian Orthodox Church Eritrea Refugee Camps
A boy prepares to receive Communion during a Divine Liturgy marking the feast of the Nativity at St. George Ukrainian Catholic Church in New York City on 7 January. The Ukrainian Catholic Church and other Eastern Catholic churches celebrate Christmas according to the Julian calendar.
(photo: CNS/Gregory A. Shemitz)
8 January 2019
Tags: Ukrainian Catholic Church
In the video above, an Egyptian bishop describes the tremendous faith of his people and how it has been strengthened by persecution and violent attacks in his country. The Vatican's Fides news agency reports 40 missionaries and pastoral workers around the world were killed in 2018.
(video: Rome Reports/YouTube)
Report: 40 missionaries killed around the world in 2018 (Vatican News) In the course of the year 2018, 40 “missionaries” and pastoral workers were killed around the world, almost double the previous year’s toll of 23, the Vatican’s Fides news agency reported. Until 2017, the Americas led the way for 8 consecutive years for the highest number of missionaries killed. In 2018, Africa topped the list…
Red Cross rescues hundreds of Syrians from flooded refugee camp (The Daily Star) The Lebanese Red Cross rescued more than 500 people from Akkar’s Semmaqieh refugee settlement Monday after their tents filled with floodwater as storm Norma battered Lebanon with fierce winds, heavy snow and rainfall…
Egypt policeman killed defusing bomb near Coptic church (BBC) A policeman has been killed trying to defuse a bomb outside a Coptic Christian church in Egypt, security officials say. Mustafa Abid was reportedly a specialist in mine clearance. The explosion injured two other officers and an onlooker…
Muslims slam India’s verbal divorce bill (UCANews.com) Opposition to India’s move to criminalize verbal divorce among Muslims continued in early January after the governing pro-Hindu party sought to push a bill through parliament last month that would outlaw the practice, which is still prevalent among Muslims…
For Orthodox churches in Ukraine and Russia, a politically charged Christmas (CNN) This Christmas, however, is a politically charged one for both Russia and Ukraine. On Saturday 5 January, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople signed a decree called a “tomos” that granted independence to the Orthodox Church in Ukraine. The decree furthers a push begun in October to recognize the establishment of an independent Orthodox Church in the country. And it has given Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko an important symbolic victory ahead of a presidential vote slated for the end of March…
Priest turns derelict land into ’Garden of Eden’ in Delhi (UCANews.com) The Delhi Archdiocese has set up an eco-spirituality center for meditation on the edge of the capital powered by renewable energy that features quake-proof cottages, an organic diet and farm animals. It is called Ish Vatika (the Garden of God) and is managed by Father Stanley Kozhichira, national president of the Catholic media organization Signis India...
7 January 2019
Tags: India Egypt Ukraine Orthodox Persecution
The Rev. Tyler Strand of Resurrection Byzantine Catholic Church in Smithtown, N.Y., holds a crucifix as he blesses the waters of the Nissequogue River in Smithtown during a prayer service on 6 January marking the feast of the Theophany. The feast, celebrated by Eastern churches, commemorates the revelation of the Holy Trinity through Christ's baptism in the Jordan River. (photo: CNS/Gregory A. Shemitz)