21 February 2018
A young man lies on a stretcher at a at a clinic on 20 February after bombings in the besieged town of Ghouta, Syria. At least 194 people were among those killed by Syrian regime shelling and airstrikes on the besieged Damascus suburb. Another 900 have been injured.
(photo: CNS/Bassam Khabieh, Reuters)
Syrian forces target rebel-held Eastern Ghouta (Vatican News) Air strikes, rocket fire and long-range artillery pounded several areas across Eastern Ghouta, leaving scores of people dead. The powerful and coordinated barrage targeted the last major opposition pocket near the capital and constitutes the most intense period of bombing seen in years. Rami Abdul Rahman from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told Vatican News that 194 people have been killed and 900 injured since Sunday...
Ukraine marks anniversary of Maidan bloodshed (Radio Free Europe) With paper angels, flowers, and fond words for the dead, Ukraine has marked the anniversary of a bloody crackdown on the Euromaidan protests that drove a Moscow-friendly president from power four years ago. The annual commemorations honor protesters who were killed in clashes with security forces in Kyiv on 20 February 2014 — a group of victims many Ukrainians call the Heavenly Hundred...
Muslims and Copts begin building a church together in Egypt (Egypt Independent) Muslims and Copts in the Kom al-Loufi Village of Samalut city in Minya have started to build a church by the name of “the virgin and the martyr Abanoub” after clashes erupted between Muslims and Copts that led to the damage of the old church building in April 2017. The village inhabitants stressed the unity, cooperation, and love of the nation during the challenges facing the country at the moment...
U.S. condemns crackdown in Ethiopia (AP) Ethiopia, a key U.S. ally in the fight against terrorism in North Africa, is again on the brink of chaos following the outbreak of large-scale protests that erupted last week. The demonstrations prompted the government to declare a state of emergency and Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn to submit his resignation amid the worst political crisis the country has faced in years...
Workers may have discovered ancient altar in Church of Holy Sepulchre (Aleteia) Greek workers and Israeli researchers may have discovered an ancient altar in Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre. And it has been “hiding in plain sight” for centuries. “Leaning against a wall in a shadowy corner of Jerusalem’s [Church of the] Holy Sepulchre, the big blank rock the size of a dining-room table invited scribbling by passing pilgrims and tourists,” said Smithsonian magazine, noting that the piece was known to tourists as the “graffiti stone”...
20 February 2018
The Snehalayam Boys Home in Kerala bears a sign, expressing gratitude to CNEWA.
Last week, we received this inspiring news from M.L. Thomas, our regional director in India, with an update on a project CNEWA has supported in Kerala:
In 2017, CNEWA supported a project for renovating a so-called “smart class room” — equipped with the latest computer technology — for the Snehalayam Boys Home at the remote village of Pattikkad in the district of Thrissur in Kerala.
This home is run by the Malabar Missionary Brothers, which was founded in 1948. Now there are 90 poor children and young people there, between ages of 5 and 20. The brothers are engaged in a variety of important ministries in the area: teaching catechism, taking care of orphan boys, caring for older men who are destitute, training and teaching mentally handicapped children, providing vocational training for the unemployed youth, offering health care in rural areas, among others.
The majority of the boys at the home come from broken families; some are orphans and a few are street boys. Their parents are daily wage workers and struggling hard to maintain the families. They are unable to provide sufficient nutritious food to the children and are not capable of meeting the expenses for education. Hence, they send the children to orphanages for a chance at a better life.
The home now has a “smart class room,” with the latest computer technology, to help teach the students. (photo: CNEWA)
At the home, there are 12 computers for training the children. The smart class room is equipped with these computers and an LED projector. One of the students, Amal Jose, with training and support from the Boys Home, is learning to excel in learning English and using computers. His parents are separated. For the last five years Amal Jose is staying in this Boys Home.
The home also provides the students opportunities for higher education, such as courses in hotel management and accounting. Some of our students are attending these vocational higher degree courses.
All these facilities receive assistance from CNEWA. We are grateful to all our donors for the generous contributions to the Snehalayam Boys Home!
Below is a brief video showing some of the home. It includes a personal message of gratitude from one of the boys.
20 February 2018
The video above, from the BBC, shows the incredible trek a Coptic priest makes every day in Ethiopia, to pray in an ancient church carved into the side of a mountain. (video: BBC)
20 February 2018
In this 2013 file photo, interreligious leaders gather in Beirut for a meeting of the Adyan Foundation. The foundation has been named the recipient of the Niwano Peace Prize.
(photo: CNS/courtesy Adyan Foundation)
Adyan, a Lebanese foundation for interreligious studies and spiritual solidarity, is the recipient of the 35th Niwano Peace Prize.
Lebanon now moves “a firm step further toward its recognition as a world center for dialogue between cultures and religions,” said the Rev. Fadi Daou, president of Adyan Foundation, in announcing the international award in Beirut on 19 February.
“Peace has a specific name in Lebanon, and that is ‘living-together,’ ” he added.
Maronite Father Daou is one of the five founders of Adyan (“religions” in Arabic), each of whom are followers of different denominations of Christianity and Islam.
Since its foundation in 2006, Adyan “has worked to take interreligious dialogue from apologetic debates and populist complacency, to a common commitment in what we call ‘religious social responsibility,’ ” Father Daou said.
The Tokyo-based Niwano Peace Foundation established the Niwano Peace Prize in 1983 to honor and encourage individuals and organizations that have contributed significantly to interreligious cooperation, thereby furthering the cause of world peace. It is named for Nikkyo Niwano, founder and first president of the lay Buddhist organization Rissho Kosei-kai.
The award’s selection committee commended Adyan for valuing “religious diversity in promoting peace and social justice” and cited Adyan as “a visible and committed actor for peace in Lebanon and the broader region.”
Past Niwano Peace Prize recipients include Brazilian Archbishop Helder Camara; Jordanian Prince El Hassan bin Talal; retired Archbishop Elias Chacour of Haifa, Israel; the late Bishop Samuel Ruiz Garcia of San Cristobal de Las Casas, Mexico; Father Hans Kung, a Swiss theologian; the World Muslim Congress; and the Sant’Egidio Community.
Father Daou recalled St. John Paul II’s declaration that “Lebanon is more than a country, it is a message” of coexistence for East and West.
“I really believe that this award, coming from Japan, is ‘another voice’ — now from the East — to remind us of what John Paul II said,” Father Daou said.
“Worldwide, peace today signifies justice and the liberation of oppressed people,” Father Daou said. “It also means stopping the implication of religion in political choices and ending linking religion to violence and extremism.”
While it is important to discover what is common among religions, Father Daou noted, even more important is “to discover the differences between religions and to educate people — especially the youth — to respect those differences, as an expression of our belief in freedom of conscience and our refusal of all forms of coercion and takfirism (considering others as infidels),” he said.
Father Daou said the “problematic reality” in the Middle East “pushes us to go a step further in order to promote interreligious solidarity in the combat of extremism and of injustice.”
Recent Adyan initiatives include offering interfaith mediation dialogue and peace education to vulnerable Syrian citizens, both in Lebanon and Syria. In Iraq, working with journalists and civil society activists, Adyan focuses on spreading the values of inclusive citizenship and interreligious solidarity, particularly to heal the society from the traumas of Islamic State.
Father Daou said that Adyan will continue on its path “for the adoption of pluralism as a social and political value in Arab countries.”
“It will also work for the promotion of resilience to all forms of extremism and for the development of social cohesion, spiritual solidarity, intercivilizational encounter and world stability,” he added.
By 2016, a decade after its foundation, Adyan had more than 3,000 members with some 35,000 direct beneficiaries in 29 countries.
The Niwano Peace Prize ceremony will take place in Tokyo on 9 May.
20 February 2018
In the video above, Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Bashar Warda of Iraq discusses the plight of Christians in his country at Georgetown University in Washington. (video: CNS/YouTube)
Chaldean archbishop: Time to be honest with Muslims (CNS) If Christians in the Middle East are going to be “honest” with their Muslim dialogue partners, said Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Warda of Irbil, Iraq, Muslims will have to acknowledge that the persecution of Christians in the region did not start with the Islamic State’s rise to power in 2014. “We experienced this not for the last four years, but 1,400 years,” Archbishop Warda said during a 15 February speech at Georgetown University in Washington, sponsored by the Religious Freedom Research Project of the university’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs...
Report: U.S. ambassador warns evacuation of settlements could start civil war (The Jerusalem Post) A forced evacuation of West Bank settlements could spark civil war in Israel, US Ambassador David Friedman told Jewish American leaders in Jerusalem, according to a report on Channel 10 News...
Patriarch urges faithful to eschew violence (The Hindu) Head of the Syrian Christian Church Patriarch Moran Mor Ignatius Aphrem II called on the faithful to eschew violence and to resort to passive resistance to obtain justice. He said India, a land of tolerance, had set an example through Mahatma Gandhi in peaceful protest. In a televised message to thousands of Jacobite Syrian Church members here on the Patriarchal Day celebrations on Sunday, the Patriarch said he was one with the sufferings of the people in the Malankara Church and reiterated the unbreakable link between the Malankara Church and the throne of Antioch...
Muslim leader: Church shooting had ‘nothing to do with Islam’ (Radio Free Europe) The mainstream Muslim leadership in Russia’s Daghestan region has condemned an attack that killed five people outside a Russian Orthodox church, saying that the suspect had “nothing to do with the true Islam.” In a 19 February statement, the office of the region’s chief mufti also extended condolences to the relatives and friends of the victims of the attack the previous day in the Daghestani town of Kizlyar...
Search continues for missing Iranian plane (Vatican News) The wreckage of the Aseman Airlines plane is thought to be in the Zagros Mountains, but blizzard like conditions have hindered efforts to pinpoint the exact site of the tragedy. The domestic flight vanished from radars an hour after leaving Tehran Airport for city of Yasuj on Sunday...
16 February 2018
A monk walks outside Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre in 2013.
(photo: CNS/Baz Ratner, Reuters)
The heads and patriarchs of Christian churches in Jerusalem strongly denounced the city of Jerusalem’s plan to force churches to pay property taxes.
The proposal to levy taxes on some properties would run contrary to unofficial historical tax-exempt status the churches have enjoyed for centuries, the leaders said in a 15 February statement.
“The civil authorities have always recognized and respected the great contribution of the Christian churches, which invest billions in building schools, hospitals, and homes, many for the elderly and disadvantaged, in the Holy Land,” the statement said.
The leaders called on city officials to retract their intention and to “ensure that the status quo, which was sanctioned by the sacred history, is maintained, and the character of the Holy City of Jerusalem is not violated.”
“We declare that such a measure both undermines the sacred character of Jerusalem, and jeopardizes the church’s ability to conduct its ministry in this land on behalf of its communities and the world-wide church,” they said. “We stand firm and united in our position to defend our presence and properties.”
Fines totaling millions of dollars were handed out by the Jerusalem municipality last week to properties owned by the United Nations and by churches, citing a new legal opinion that determined the properties are not legally defined as places of worship and therefore were not entitled to exemptions from property tax.
Some observers said the step appeared to be an escalation in a financial dispute between the municipality and the Israel’s Ministry of Finance, with Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat demanding the ministry provide his city with more funding. The threat to fine the churches seems to be another way the municipality is pressuring the ministry to release more funds to the city, which is one of the poorer larger cities in the country, observers said.
In late January, Barkat threatened to fire more than 2,000 municipal employees because, he said, Israeli Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon is preventing necessary funds from reaching the municipality. The announcement led to a citywide strike of municipal services, including garbage collection, which left trash and debris strewn throughout the city.
The Israel Hayom newspaper reported that the religious institution with the biggest tax bill was the Roman Catholic Church, owing more than $3.3 million.
Among the properties slated to be fined is the Notre Dame of Jerusalem hotel, restaurant and conference center across from the Old City, which is owned by the Vatican. The director of the complex declined to comment on the issue.
The Holy See and Israel have been in negotiations over the status of its Jerusalem holdings since 1993, when diplomatic relations were established.
16 February 2018
The video above shows how a daycare center in Georgia is helping give purpose to young lives through out. (video: Antonio di Vico)
This Friday, we visit Caritas Georgia, to see how art therapy is changing young lives at a daycare center.
When we published A Letter from Georgia two years ago, Anahit Mkhoyan, the director of the center, wrote:
I understood that change is one of the most important things in our lives. It helps us to stay humble in the continuous path of learning, it enriches us with knowledge and it makes us tolerant because we see that things can be at once good and bad in different ways and places.
So take a few moments, meet Anahit, and see how change is making a huge difference in some of the youngest people in that corner of the world.
16 February 2018
An Indian villager cradles her baby while she joins others in a multi-linguistic Lord’s Prayer. Read about how catechists and missionaries are Reaching the Unreached in India in the Winter 2014 edition of ONE. (photo: John E. Kozar)
16 February 2018
The video above offers a first look at the new church in Egypt dedicated to the Copts who were beheaded three years ago in Libya by ISIS. (video: World Watch Monitor/YouTube)
Church leaders in Jerusalem say no to taxation of church property (Vatican News) The Church leaders in Jerusalem have made a formal request to municipality of Jerusalem to withdraw their statement of imposing municipal taxes on Church properties. A statement released on Wednesday by the Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem states that the intention to impose municipal tax on Churches contradicts the historical position between Churches and civil authorities over the centuries. It further states that the civil authorities have always recognized and respected the great contribution of the Christian Churches, which invest billions in building schools, hospitals, and homes, many for the elderly and disadvantaged, in the Holy Land...
Pope to Maronites: Be a light for the people in your region (Vatican News) Pope Francis on Friday received staff and students from the Pontifical Maronite College here in Rome, telling them that these years of training were the foundation stone of their future as pastors in Lebanon and the whole of the Middle East. Greeting seminarians and staff on Friday, Pope Francis began by reflecting on the figure of St. Maron and invited them to follow the example of this Saint’s qualities of faith and love which, he said, were pure sources for today’s spiritually thirsty people...
Cardinal: don’t forget the suffering of Syria (Vatican News) The Vatican’s representative in Damascus, Cardinal Mario Zenari, has appealed to the international community not to forget the suffering people in Syria. In an interview with the Vatican Newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, the nuncio said there was a growing health emergency and food shortages in the country...
Egypt opens church dedicated to martyred Christians (Sight Magazine) It is a special day for the Coptic community of Minya province, Upper Egypt, as a new church was inaugurated this morning in Al-Our village in remembrance of 20 Egyptian Copts and one Ghanaian Christian beheaded by the so-called Islamic State on the Libyan coast three years ago on Thursday...
15 February 2018
This mosaic shows Satan tempting Christ while he is fasting in the desert — offering him stones to turn into bread. It comes from the Chora Church in Constantinople. Parts of the church date to the 11th century. (photo: Wikimedia Commons)
For the western church, yesterday — Ash Wednesday — marked the beginning of Lent, a penitential season in preparation for Easter. Basically patterned on the Gospel stories of Jesus’ fast and temptation in the desert (Mt. 4:1-11; Mk. 1:12-13 and Luke 4:1-13), Lent is usually counted as 40 days, sometimes with some creative calculations involved. For some of CNEWA’s partners who are Orthodox, the preparation for Easter this year does not begin until Monday 19 February, which is the beginning of the Great Fast.
Fasting is something common to almost all the religions of the world. It is connected often with asceticism — those practices which help the believer overcome the drives of the body and elevate the spirit to a higher reality. However, for members of monotheistic religions who believe in the one God — Judaism, Islam and Christianity — fasting plays a central and important role.
Again and again in the Hebrew Scriptures we find the Israelites proclaiming a fast to atone for some transgression or to avert some tragedy. The biblical book of the Prophet Joel revolves entirely around a period of fasting and repentance. It seems that a plague of locusts had attacked the land and was devastating the crops. Joel compares the locust to an army of countless warriors, devouring the land and hurling the people into a deadly famine. Joel exclaims “order a fast, proclaim a solemn assembly!” (1:13; 2:15) God calls the people to repent, “..come back to me with all your heart, fasting, weeping, mourning...” (2:12 ff.) Fasting and repentance are outward signs of an inner conversion to the justice which God demands (Isa 58:5-7). Fasting focuses the spirit and purifies prayer throughout the Hebrew Bible. The tradition continues to this day; for contemporary Jews the Holy Day of Yom Kippur, the Day of the Atonement, is a day of fasting, prayer and repentance.
For Muslims, fasting also plays a major role. The holy month of Ramadan is the month of fasting. For a lunar month, Muslims observe a total fast in which nothing enters the body. Whereas Christian fasting does not include water, Muslims go further; they abstain from food, water, smoking and sexual activity from sunrise to sunset during the month of Ramadan. Unlike the case with Judaism and Christianity, Muslim fasting during the month of Ramadan does not have a strong penitential element. For Muslims, the fast of Ramadan is rather a joyful thing — an act of self-control, to be sure, but also primarily an act of worship to God.
Finally, in the New Testament fasting plays an important role and is connected for Christians with penance and prayer. Fasting here understandably has roots deep in the Hebrew tradition. And it is mentioned with surprising frequency. We tend to overlook how often people in the New Testament are presented as “praying and fasting.” It is so common that it is almost self-evident and often mentioned merely in passing. In Luke, the prophetess Anna spends her time in the Temple with “prayer and fasting” (Lk 2:37). In 2 Corinthians, Paul reminds his readers of the times he has spent praying and fasting (2 Cor 6:5; 11:27). Simply assuming that his followers will fast, Jesus warns them against making an outward show of their fasting (Mt. 6 passim). Although it is often overlooked, fasting in both the Old and New Testaments is closely connected with acts of charity and justice (see especially Isa 58).
For Christians, then, the fasting of Lent has several levels of meaning deeply rooted in the Scriptures. Outwardly fasting is an act of self-denial and self-discipline. But it is far more than just self-discipline. It is an act of stripping away the non-essential and focusing on what is central. It focuses inward, as the believer focuses on God and the act of God in Jesus Christ. And focusing inwardly on the saving act of God in Christ, the Christian is impelled to focus externally to bring about the Kingdom of God proclaimed by Jesus — a kingdom of justice, peace and compassion.