6 December 2017
A woman lights a candle before a large icon of St. Nicholas in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior last May. A relic of the saint was sent from Bari, Italy, to Russia for veneration at the Moscow cathedral and at an Orthodox cathedral in St. Petersburg from late May to late July.
(photo: CNS/Robert Duncan)
Today marks the feast of St. Nicholas — the figure who would become immortalized in the popular imagination as Santa Claus.
As Michael J.L. La Civita noted a few years back:
According to tradition, Nicholas was born in the mid-third century to a wealthy Christian couple in Patara, a town near the southern shores of Asia Minor (modern Turkey). After the premature death of his parents, Nicholas gave up his wealth and entered a monastery, later traveling to Egypt and the Holy Land. He returned to his monastery, hoping to live quietly as a hermit. However, against his will, he was elected as Bishop of Myra, a small town near Patara.
Although little else is known about Nicholas, his popularity rests on his compassion for the poor and his passion for the faith.
“The reason for this special veneration of this special bishop, who left neither theological works nor other writings,” writes Leonid Ouspensky, a noted Russian theologian, “is evidently that the church sees in him a personification of a shepherd, of its defender and intercessor.”
The Byzantine Catholic Church website today offers this tribute to the beloved saint:
Most of the stories that come to us through history are of him living the Christian life — such as providing a dowry to three young women so they could marry and avoid slavery (the three bags of gold he threw through their windows landed in their stockings, and so today we hang our stockings by the chimney with care). All of the stories about St. Nicholas that come to us through history are about his love for people, especially the poor. St. Nicholas was good. So good that his goodness shines through history — and radiates even from the man in the red suit. Such goodness can only be found in one who dwells intimately with Lord — for He is the only good One (Mt 19:17).
O holy father,
The fruit of your good works enlightens and delights the hearts of the faithful.
Who cannot wonder at your measureless patience and humility?
At your tender care for the poor?
At your compassion for the afflicted?
O holy Nicholas,
You have divinely taught all things well,
Now wearing your unfading crown,
You intercede for our souls.
(From the Vespers of St. Nicholas)
St. Nicholas, pray for us!
6 December 2017
Pope Francis delivers an appeal for Jerusalem during his general audience in Paul VI hall at the Vatican on 6 December. The pope expressed concern following reports that U.S. President Donald Trump plans to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and recognize the city as the capital of Israel.
(photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
U.S. plan to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital raising alarm in Middle East (The New York Times) President Trump plans to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move the American Embassy there, upending nearly seven decades of American foreign policy and potentially destroying his efforts to broker peace between Israel and the Palestinians...
Pope appeals for wisdom, prudence to prevail over Jerusalem (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has appealed for respect for Jerusalem’s status quo according to the pertinent United Nations Resolutions regarding the city. Speaking after his catechesis to the crowds in the Paul VI Hall during the weekly General Audience, the Pope said “my thoughts go to Jerusalem and I cannot keep silent my deep concern for the situation that has been created in the past days”...
Pope greets Palestinian delegation at audience (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis before his General Audience on Wednesday, greeted a Palestinian delegation hosted by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue...
Protesters clash with police in Kiev (Radio Free Europe) Hundreds of anticorruption protesters clashed with police in Kiev, calling for the ouster of Ukaine’s president, as authorities launched a manhunt to find protest leader Mikheil Saakashvili after his dramatic escape from police custody. Ukrainian Prosecutor-General’s Office spokesman Andriy Lysenko said late on 5 December that the authorities ordered the manhunt for the former Georgian president after a chaotic scene in which Saakashvili’s supporters freed him from a police van after security forces stormed his apartment and detained him...
Indian archdiocese ready to gather evidence on Kandhamal martyrs (Vatican Radio) The Archdiocese of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar in eastern India’s Odisha state is preparing to initiate the sainthood cause of those who perished in the 2008 anti-Christian violence by Hindu extremists in Kandhamal district. In a December 3 letter, Archbishop John Barwa of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar appointed Father Purushottam Nayak to research and prepare a dossier containing documents for some 100 martyrs of Kandhamal, Mattersindia reported...
5 December 2017
Tags: India Ukraine Palestine Israel Jerusalem
Residents carry their belongings as they evacuate their home on 2 December after flooding caused by Typhoon Ockhi in the coastal village of Chellanam in the southern state of Kerala, India. The storm claimed the lives of at least 32 poor Catholic fishermen who were at sea and 200 more were missing. (photo: CNS/Sivaram V, Reuters)
A typhoon that rapidly developed on the southern Indian coast claimed the lives of at least 32 poor Catholic fishermen who were at sea and another 200 more were missing.
Thousands of other coastal residents had relocated to relief camps by 4 December, ucanews.com reported.
The confirmed deaths were in Kerala and Tamil Nadu states, according to government sources.
All the dead are Catholic men who had gone out to sea, said Father V. Wilfred, a priest of Vizhinjam parish, a fishing village near Kerala’s capital, Thiruvananthapuram.
Antony Silvaster, a Catholic fisherman in the fishing village of Vizhinjam, said there was no warning of the storm. He said that with 200 fishermen missing, the community expected the death toll to rise.
Worst affected was the coastal area near India’s southern tip, a Catholic stronghold.
Gusty winds and heavy rains began to lash the coast in southern India 30 November after a depression near Sri Lanka rapidly developed into a typhoon, named Ockhi. The storm’s intensity declined by 4 December.
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India expressed solidarity with the fishing communities and offered prayers for the families affected by the storm.
“We offer our condolences to the families of all those who have lost their lives and we wish to comfort those who have been afflicted by pain and suffering caused by the devastating hurricane in the past few days,” Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, conference secretary general, said in a statement December.
The bishops’ conference also asked diocese throughout India to offer prayers during Masses 10 December.
Archbishop Soosa Pakiam of Trivandrum and local priests traveled to the devastated area and began arranging for the delivery of relief supplies.
The Kerala government had opened 29 camps for an estimated 3,000 people forced from their homes. About 200 houses were destroyed, state Fisheries Minister J. Mercykutty Amma told local media.
Father Justin Jude of Poonthura said people also lost boats and nets. He urged the government to provide adequate compensation so that fishing families could return to work as soon as possible.
Typhoons are rare on India’s west coast. The last major typhoon on the Kerala coast occurred in 1941, killing 62 people and destroying about 50,000 homes.
5 December 2017
Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, shown here celebrating the Divine Liturgy last September, has vowed to continue providing financial assistance to Syria.
(photo: Robert Duncan/CNS)
Patriarch vows Russian Orthodox Church will continue to help Syria (TASS) The Russian Orthodox Church will continue to provide assistance to Syria, with fundraising campaigns being organized in churches, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia said at a meeting with Patriarch John X of Antioch on Tuesday...
Israel fires at Syrian military facility (Al Jazeera) Israel again fired missiles at a Syrian military facility near Damascus late on Monday, according to a war monitor, the second reported Israeli strike in Syria in the past week...
Lebanon’s prime minister rescinds resignation (Reuters) Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri rescinded his resignation on Tuesday and said all members of the government had agreed to stay out of conflicts in Arab countries. Hariri quit his job in a broadcast from Saudi Arabia a month ago but later said he might withdraw the resignation, providing all parties in Lebanon’s government agree to adhere to the state’s policy of “dissociation” from regional conflicts...
Coptic cathedral reopens after Palm Sunday bombing (World Watch Monitor) A Coptic cathedral has been restored and reopened eight months after a suicide bombing there on Palm Sunday killed 28 and injured 74 others. St George’s Cathedral in Tanta, north of Cairo, has been renamed the Cathedral of St George and the Martyrs, and its blood-splattered pillars have been left untouched as a reminder of what happened...
Gaza’s isolation takes toll on medical patients (CNN) CNN went to see what treatment for cancer patients is like in Gaza. Doctors describe a constant struggle to keep hospitals stocked with medicines and equipment...
1 December 2017
Pope Francis prays with Christian, Muslim and Buddhist religious leaders and Rohingya refugees from Myanmar during an interreligious and ecumenical meeting for peace in the garden of the archbishop’s residence in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on 1 December. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Each human being is created in the image and likeness of God, yet so often people desecrate that image with violence as seen in the treatment of Myanmar’s Rohingya minority, Pope Francis said.
“Today, the presence of God is also called ‘Rohingya,’” the pope said Dec. 1 after meeting, clasping hands with and listening intently to 16 Rohingya who have found shelter in Bangladesh.
“They, too, are images of the living God,” Pope Francis told a gathering of Christian, Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu leaders gathered in Dhaka for an interreligious meeting for peace.
“Dear brothers and sisters,” he told the crowd, “let us show the world what its selfishness is doing to the image of God.”
“Let’s keeping helping” the Rohingya, he said. “Let’s continue working so their rights are recognized. Let’s not close our hearts. Let’s not look away.”
The Rohingya, like all people, are created in God’s image, the pope insisted. “Each of us must respond.”
The refugees traveled to Dhaka from Cox’s Bazar, the southern Bangladeshi city hosting hundreds of thousands of refugees who have fled Myanmar. More than 620,000 Rohingya have crossed the border into Bangladesh since late August.
Speaking directly to them, Pope Francis said, “We are all close to you.”
In comparison to the suffering the Rohingya have endured, he said, the response of the people at the gathering actually is small. “But we make room for you in our hearts.”
“In the name of all those who have persecuted you and have done you harm, especially for the indifference of the world, I ask forgiveness,” he said.
Pope Francis’ remarks, which he made in Italian, were translated for the crowd and for the Rohingya. Many of them were in tears.
In his formal speech at the interreligious meeting, Pope Francis insisted “mere tolerance” for people of other religions or ethnic groups was not enough to create a society where everyone’s rights are respected and peace reigns.
Believers must “reach out to others in mutual trust and understanding,” not ignoring differences, but seeing them as “a potential source of enrichment and growth.”
The “openness of heart” to which believers of all faiths are called includes “the pursuit of goodness, justice and solidarity,” he said. “It leads to seeking the good of our neighbors.”
Pope Francis urged the people of Bangladesh to make openness, acceptance and cooperation the “beating heart” of their nation. Such attitudes, he said, are the only antidote to corruption, “destructive religious ideologies and the temptation to turn a blind eye to the needs of the poor, refugees, persecuted minorities and those who are most vulnerable.”
According to a Vatican translation, Farid Uddin Masud, speaking for the Muslim community, told the pope, “it is compassion and love which today’s world needs most. The only remedy and solution to the problem of malice, envy and fighting among nations, races and creeds lies in the compassionate love preached and practiced by the great men and women of the world.”
Masud, a famous prayer leader and advocate of dialogue and tolerance, is thought by some to have been the main target of a 2016 bombing at a major Muslim prayer service in Sholakia, Bangladesh. Four people were killed.
Praising the pope for speaking on behalf of “the oppressed, irrespective of religion, caste and nationality,” Masud particularly cited Pope Francis’ concern for the Rohingya. He said he hoped that the pope’s public support would strengthen international efforts to defend their rights.
Anisuzzaman, a famous professor of Bengali literature, told the gathering that in a world torn by strife, the pope’s message of encounter and dialogue takes on added importance.
“Those of us who are frustrated to find the forces of hatred and cruelty overtaking those of love and compassion can surely find solace in the pope’s message of peace and harmony and of fraternity and goodwill,” he said, according to the Vatican’s translation of his speech. “We note with great relief that the pope has, time and again, expressed his sympathy with the Rohingya from Myanmar, who have been forcibly ejected from their home and earth and subjected to violence and inhuman treatment.”
The pope arrived at the meeting in a rickshaw after a meeting with Bangladesh’s Catholic bishops. He had told the bishops that interreligious and ecumenical dialogue are essential part to the life of the church in Bangladesh.
“Yours is a nation where ethnic diversity is mirrored in a diversity of religious traditions,” he said. “Work unremittingly to build bridges and to foster dialogue, for these efforts not only facilitate communication between different religious groups, but also awaken the spiritual energies needed for the work of nation-building in unity, justice and peace.”
The Catholic Church’s preferential “option for the poor,” including the Rohingya refugees, is a sign of God’s love and mercy and must continue to shine forth in concrete acts of charity, Pope Francis told the bishops.
“The inspiration for your works of assistance to the needy must always be that pastoral charity which is quick to recognize human woundedness and to respond with generosity, one person at a time,” Pope Francis said.
1 December 2017
Patriarch Filaret of Kiev’s Ukrainian Orthodox Church, shown here during a visit to Chicago in 2012, has reached out to Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kiril and asked for forgiveness and an end to conflict.
Kiev’s Orthodox patriarch calls for dialogue, ‘forgiveness’ (AFP) The head of the Kiev-based Ukrainian Orthodox Church has called on Russian Patriarch Kirill to end “confrontation” between the two institutions for the sake of the faithful amid a rumbling conflict between Kiev and rebels...
Putin hopes Russian Orthodox Church will contribute to Syria’s reconstruction (TASS) Russian President Vladimir Putin has voiced the hope that the Russian Orthodox Church, which enjoys tangible international authority, will be able to promote the process of postwar reconstruction in Syria. “I do hope that the Russian Orthodox Church, with reliance on its authority in the world, will be able to promote concerted action by the international community for the sake of Syria’s revival, for providing humanitarian assistance to its citizens and for restoring its ruined cultural and spiritual centers,” Putin said...
Peace talks on Syria extended two weeks (United Nations) Previewing what he said will be “not just a normal round of talks,” Staffan de Mistura, the United Nations Special Envoy for Syria, insisted Thursday there should be no preconditions heading into the current round of discussions aimed at resolving the over six-year-long Syrian conflict that has resulted in immense human suffering...
Pope blesses Interreligious and Ecumenical Meeting for Peace (Vatican Radio) The meeting, which saw the participation of representatives of different faiths, took place on the second day of the Pope’s Apostolic Journey to Bangladesh. The 16 Rohingya — 12 men, two women and two young girls — traveled to Dhaka from Cox’s Bazar, the district bordering Myanmar where refugee camps are overflowing with more than 620,000 Rohingya who have fled violence in Myanmar. One by one, each one of the refugees approached the Pope at the end of the event and through the aid of an interpreter told him their stories and their experiences...
Syrian refugee uses musical talent (UNHCR) Three days a week, the bustle of daily life in one corner of Jordan’s remote Azraq refugee camp is drowned out by the driving beat of a traditional “doumbek” drum, loudly accompanied by two dozen singing and clapping children. Leading this joyful ensemble is 45-year-old Syrian refugee Ehsan Al Khalili, his hands a well-practiced blur of movement across the drum skin. His music class is aimed at children with disabilities living in the camp, but is open to all and hugely popular, judging by how quickly the plastic chairs in front of him fill up at the start of each session...
30 November 2017
An icon of apostles and brothers Sts. Peter and Andrew is pictured on a wall at the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity at the Vatican The icon was given by Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople to Pope Paul VI in 1964. Sts. Peter and Andrew are considered patrons of the Roman and Orthodox churches. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
When I worked for what is now known as the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, I often had to travel from Geneva, Switzerland, to Rome for meetings at the main office of the Secretariat. In the main meeting room, I could not help but notice the icon above, which hung on the wall. It always fascinated me. It shows the brothers, Sts. Peter and Andrew, embracing. There is a Greek inscription which reads: “The Holy Apostle Brothers.” Next to Peter are the words: Peter, the koryphaios (“leader, head”) and next to Andrew are the words: Andrew, the prtokltos (“first called”). Andrew is the “first called” because he was the first of the Apostles called by Jesus (John 1:40).
I later learned that the icon was a gift of Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople to Pope Paul VI as a remembrance of their meeting in the Holy Land in January 1964 — the first between a pope and a patriarch of Constantinople in well over a thousand years.
But the icon is more than merely a remembrance of the meeting. It has powerful symbolic importance — and it is especially significant today, the Feast of St. Andrew.
Peter is, of course, the patron saint of Rome. He and Paul were martyred in Rome and the bishop of Rome is the successor of St. Peter.
Andrew, however, is revered as the patron saint of Byzantium — and the patriarch of Constantinople is his successor. In a real sense, the icon represents not only Peter and Andrew embracing, nor even just Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras; it represents the hoped-for unity between the Eastern and Western Churches.
Although in the icon the apostles are embracing, the relationship between their successors has not always been so warm. In 1054 the bishop of Rome and the patriarch of Constantinople excommunicated each other and began the Great Schism which has divided the Eastern and Western churches for almost a thousand years.
The meeting of Paul VI and Athenagoros began a change in the relations between the churches. In 1965 each of the leaders revoked the anathemas (excommunications) of 1054. Peter and Andrew were beginning the road to reconciliation. Since that time there have been great advances toward unity between the two churches, although admittedly there are still problems to be solved.
One of the most beautiful outcomes of the initial encounter of pope and patriarch was an annual exchange of visits. On 29 June, the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, patrons of Rome, the Phanar, the seat of the Ecumenical Patriarch, sends a high level delegation to celebrate the feast with the Pope in Rome. I was privileged to be at the celebration at St. Peter’s Basilica in 1995 when the patriarch himself attended. Likewise, on 30 November, the feast of St. Andrew, patron of Byzantium, the Holy See sends a high-level delegation to the Phanar to join in the celebration. Thus, twice a year, on 29 June and 30 November, two churches — represented by the brothers Peter and Andrew — work together to restore the bonds of love and communion between them after over a thousand years of estrangement.
The Patriarchs of Constantinople have personally taken part in the celebrations in Rome at least three times (1995, 2004, 2008) while Pope John Paul II took part in the celebrations at the Phanar (1979), as did Pope Benedict XVI (2006) and Pope Francis (2014). When the pope or patriarch is unable to attend, a high-level delegation is sent.
Since the Feast of St. Andrew comes during a busy time in the West — during the season of Advent, when Catholic parishes and homes throughout the world have begun preparing for Christmas — it can be easy to overlook this day. But we shouldn’t. It speaks to a deep and prayerful yearning that goes back to the very words of Christ, “that all may be one.”
We at CNEWA collaborate closely with our brothers and sisters in the Orthodox Churches — supporting and celebrating any actions which can bring our two Churches closer together — and we join our prayers this day with all work diligently for Christian unity.
Pope Francis’s 2017 Message to Patriarch Bartholomew
30 November 2017
A Syrian refugee child greets a visitor at the community center in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. The center was founded by Sister Micheline Lattouff and is administered by the Sisters of the Good Shepherd. Read more about Sister Micheline here and discover her remarkable ministry to refugees in the Spring 2014 edition of ONE. (photo: John E. Kozar)
30 November 2017
Dramatic drone footage from October reveals the devastation of Raqqa, Syria. A new report states the U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria led to more than 800 civilian deaths over three years.
U.S.-led coalition has killed more than 800 in Syria, Iraq (Voice of America) The U.S.-led coalition targeting the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq said Thursday its airstrikes have killed 801 civilians since late 2014. The figures came in the coalition's latest monthly statement about its investigations into reports of possible civilian casualties resulting from the strikes...
Syrians on Jordan’s border trapped in power struggle (Al Monitor) Stranded along Jordan’s northeastern border with Syria at Rukban for nearly two years, Mohammad Khader al-Mahya lives in misery. Some 50,000 Syrians live in a 3-year-old desert encampment, hundreds of miles from the nearest city and cut off from international aid workers in a closed military zone...
Study: Ethiopia is an outlier of Orthodoxy (Pew Research Center) Ethiopia has the largest Orthodox Christian population outside Europe, and, by many measures, Orthodox Ethiopians have much higher levels of religious commitment than do Orthodox Christians in the faith’s heartland of Central and Eastern Europe...
Report: Armenia repeatedly violates ceasefire with Azerbaijan (APA) Armenia’s armed forces have 127 times violated the ceasefire along the line of contact between Azerbaijani and Armenian troops over the past 24 hours, the Azerbaijani Defence Ministry told APA on 30 November...
Pope’s message to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis is encouraging Catholics and Orthodox not only to further theological dialogue between them, but also to promote joint initiatives on issues such as caring for the environment, peaceful coexistence among peoples and the presence of Christians in the Middle East, without waiting for the day of full and visible communion...
29 November 2017
Priests lead the community in prayer during a mountaintop funeral in Aiga, Ethiopia.
(photo: John E. Kozar)
Last year, CNEWA’s president, Msgr. John E. Kozar, paid a pastoral visit to Ethiopia, and shared some of his impressions in words and pictures in the magazine.
He described one particularly memorable moment:
The powerful faith of these suffering souls endures in these most difficult of times. Their participation in the faith life of the church in their remote villages was evident at liturgical celebrations. One such celebration was a mountaintop funeral liturgy in Aiga. Some 500 mountain dwellers from far and wide came to pray for the eternal reward of the departed. Not only did some of them walk over dangerous mountains footpaths — some traveling for up to seven hours each way — but they carried the body on their shoulders for about ten kilometers, or six miles.
I was also privileged to visit some of the poor in their mountain homes. With a gentle traditional greeting — kissing my hands — they warmly welcomed us into their homes and immediately offered us their provisions for the day: bread, goat’s milk and coffee. For them, it was an honor to have a priest visit them. For me, it was an honor to be in the presence of holy people. I noticed that the cross was prominent, both in their homes and around their necks.
Read more and see more pictures here.