10 August 2017
St. John of Damascus, (John Damascene) is shown in this Arabic icon. The words on the scroll read, in part: “Blessed is the way of life of the people of piety, for they will arise forever in love.”
(photo: Wikipedia Commons)
This was a period of tremendous change in the region.
Within a hundred years after the Prophet Muhammad’s death (June 632), Muslim armies had driven the Christian Byzantine rulers out of the eastern Mediterranean, destroyed the Persian Sassanid Empire (651), conquered North Africa and were poised to attack Spain. The Christian Patriarchates of Jerusalem, Antioch and Alexandria in Egypt were under Muslim control, as were about half of the world’s Christians.
We are dealing here with a period of five centuries corresponding to: the Umayyad Caliphate (661-750) and the Abbasid Caliphate (750-1158).
So, what happened?
After disagreement and bloodshed among Muslims over who was to succeed the Prophet Muhammad, the Umayya family of Mecca was victorious. This began the Umayyad Caliphate, centered in Damascus. The Umayyads found themselves the unprepared rulers over a large, very developed and sophisticated part of the Middle East — and the overwhelming majority of their subjects were Christians. However, these Christians were often bitterly divided among themselves between those who followed the teachings of the Council of Chalcedon (451) and who formed the Church of the Byzantine Empire, and those who did not — primarily the Church of the East and the Monophysites Churches. Often this latter group found its situation better under Muslim overlords than under Byzantine Christians who considered them schismatic at best. In addition, Muslims at times actively discouraged Christians from converting to Islam.
The Umayyad Caliphate needed administrators and trained bureaucrats — and Christians fit the bill. Thus we find the grandfather and father of St. John Damascene (676-749) working at the Umayyad Court. Although they were dhimmy — i.e. protected but second class citizens — Christians played an important role in the caliphate as administrators and scholars. Christians, like John Damascene, were not sure what to make of Islam. John, for example, thought that it was a Christian heresy, having as it does so much in common with Christianity. As time went on, Christians realized that Islam was, in fact, another religion rooted in the Quran; Christians began to respond accordingly. Nonetheless, relations between the Christians and Muslims in the Umayyad Caliphate were generally not hostile.
The Umayyad Caliphate came to a violent end with the Abbasid revolt of 750. Many in the ruling Umayyad family were killed and a new caliphate set up in the new city of Baghdad.
Although Christians often rose to high positions in the government, and made up a majority, the Abbasids were not nearly as dependent on them for the administration of the caliphate. The Church of the East moved its Patriarchal See from Ctesiphon, the former Persian capital, to Baghdad, the new Abbasid capital.
This was a time of great intellectual activity and Christians played a major role. Syriac-speaking monks of the Church of the East had kept alive the traditions of the Greek philosophers such as Aristotle. The emerging Muslim intellectual class with its philosophers and theologians interacted with Christian scholars. Timothy I, Patriarch-Catholicos of the Church of the East, was a prominent scholar of Aristotle. (Caliph al-Mahdi even hired Timothy to translate Aristotle’s work The Topics for the caliph’s library.)
During this time, Muslims and Christians engaged in dialogues/debates on the respective strengths of their religions — and often these encounters were sponsored by the caliphs themselves. Texts of many of these debates still exist today — and you can see some important developments.
With time, the Christian critiques of Islam began to get harsher. One also gets the distinct feeling that these texts were directed more to Christians than Muslims. This indicates that by the end of the 8th century, Christians —for any number of reasons, force not being among them — were beginning to convert to Islam.
As the Abbasid Caliphate went into a long, slow decline, missionaries of the Church of the East remained active throughout Asia. Christianity was learning to express its faith using Arabic, the language of the Quran. It was a time of Christian-Muslim interaction, if not dialogue. Although Christians were not persecuted, one begins to note increasing social, cultural and financial motivations for Christians to convert to Islam.
But other forces were at work.After the Abbasids, Mongol invaders launched more than a century of widespread destruction that overwhelmed the Middle East, indirectly contributing to what became a centuries-long decline of Christianity in the region.
2,000 Years of Christianity in Syria and Mesopotamia — Part 1: In the Beginning
2,000 Years of Christianity in Syria and Mesopotamia: Introduction
10 August 2017
Children at a child care institution in Anjar, Lebanon gather for a picture. To learn more about Armenians making a new home in Lebanon, read about Little Armenia in the July-August 2002 edition of our magazine. (photo: Armineh Johannes)
10 August 2017
People cool off in shower systems at the streets during a hot summer in Baghdad, Iraq. The government has announced a mandator holiday as temperatures hit 123 degrees Fahrenheit. (photo: Haydar Hadi/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Iraq announces mandatory holiday due to heat wave (AP) The Iraqi government has announced a mandatory official holiday due to a heat wave. Wednesday's late night statement calling for a Thursday holiday came from the Iraqi Cabinet as temperatures hit 50 degrees Celsius (123 degrees Fahrenheit). It is the first heat advisory issued by the government this summer...
ISIS still a threat as people return to Mosul (Reuters) About 230,000 people cannot hope to return “anytime soon” as their homes in West Mosul were completely destroyed, the United Nation’s Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, said at a briefing in Geneva on Tuesday. The city had a pre-war population of more than two million...
Jordan issues first-of-its-kind work permit to Syrian refugees (Jordan Times) The General Federation of Jordanian Trade Unions (GFJTU) has begun issuing the Arab region’s first non-employer and non-position-specific work permits for Syrian refugees since the Syrian crisis erupted in 2011. The temporary permits are issued for a minimal fee directly to refugees working in Jordan’s construction sector, one of the sectors open to non-nationals according to Jordan’s Labour Law. Previously, such permits were tied to specific employers who applied on behalf of workers for specific positions...
Israel to speed up Gaza tunnel barrier (BBC) Israel is to accelerate the building of a huge barrier along its boundary with Gaza aimed at preventing militants from tunnelling under the border. The 64km (40-mile) long construction will reach a depth of 40m (131ft) below and 6m above ground, at a cost of 3bn shekels ($833m). An Israeli army commander said the barrier should be completed in 2019...
9 August 2017
Bishop Jacob Angadiath of St. Thomas Syro-Malabar Diocese of Chicago, center, prays at St. Mary’s Syro-Malabar Catholic Church in Charlotte, N.C., during the church’s dedication Mass on 22 July. Also pictured is Bishop Peter Jugis of the Diocese of Charlotte and the Rev. Johnykutty George Puleessery, eparchial chancellor. (photo: CNS/Patricia Guilfoyle, Catholic News Herald)
Hundreds of people filled a spacious, brightly lit building in south Charlotte in July for an occasion years in the making: the consecration of a permanent church for the Indian Catholic community in the Queen City.
St. Mary’s Syro-Malabar Catholic Church was dedicated 22 July by Bishop Jacob Angadiath during Holy Qurbana, or Mass, celebrated mostly in the Malayalam language.
It is the first permanent home for Charlotte’s Indian Catholic community — comprised of about 45 registered families and growing — and only the second Syro-Malabar Catholic church in North Carolina.
“We have consecrated this church for the public worship of God. It is a gift of God, and let us give thanks to God,” said Bishop Jacob, who shepherds the St. Thomas Syro-Malabar Catholic Eparchy, which is based in Chicago and encompasses all Syro-Malabar Catholics in the U.S.
Auxiliary Bishop Joy Alappatt, of the Chicago eparchy, and Bishop Peter J. Jugis, who heads the Latin-rite Diocese of Charlotte, concelebrated the four-hour liturgy, along with several other priests.
Bishop Jacob thanked local clergy including Bishop Jugis and Msgr. John McSweeney, retired pastor of St. Matthew Church in Charlotte and a concelebrant, for being a “great source of inspiration and help and support to our community.”
He also acknowledged the hard work of the faithful, as well as Father Paul Chalissery, pastor of the new church, and the other Indian priests who minister to the community, and the local Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul and Missionaries of Charity for their prayers and support.
“It’s not an easy task” to build a church, he said, smiling as he expressed gratitude to everyone from the building committee members to the choir. “Every eucharistic celebration is the greatest thanksgiving.”
“As we celebrate the Holy Qurbana, the Holy Mass, here in the church,” he continued, “we give the greatest thanksgiving to God Almighty for all the blessings we receive every day, and especially the wonderful gift of this particular church. So let us keep in our hearts this gratitude to God Almighty, with all our love, with all our gratitude.”
During the rite of consecration, Bishop Jacob blessed the walls of the church, marked by four small crosses, as well as everyone gathered for the Mass, with holy water and incense. He also anointed the crosses and the altars in the sanctuary with sacred chrism, and lit the flower-adorned paschal candle.
At the end of Mass, Bishop Jacob officially elevated St. Mary’s from its mission status to that of a parish, and he appointed Father Chalissery as pastor.
“The Syro-Malabar Catholic community by nature is a missionary community,” Father Chalissery noted. “The consecration is a fulfillment of our dream and our responsibility to hand down the Syro-Malabar Catholic tradition to our next generation and to the people of Charlotte.”
St. Matthew Church in Charlotte, under the leadership of its former pastor, Msgr. McSweeney, was instrumental in supporting the Indian Catholic community and building the church. Parishioners from the diocese’s largest parish were on hand for the celebration, and the parish’s new pastor, Father Pat Hoare, was among the concelebrants of the Mass.
Msgr. McSweeney recalled that plans for a Syro-Malabar church named in honor of St. Mary began 30 years ago, then said with a smile, “For the first time in western (North) Carolina today, we're all part of the establishment of St. Mary Syro-Malabar Parish, and this is truly a day for us to rejoice.”
Two years of planning, led by Father Chalissery and a 16-member building committee, went into the $1.4 million project, which included the purchase of five acres in south Charlotte as well as construction of the church.
The 10,000-square-foot church, which seats approximately 500 people, features a brightly-lit nave, or “haykla,” and spacious sanctuary, or “madbaha,” that contains the altar of sacrifice as well as a little altar and two elaborately carved wooden lecterns.
A striking apse mural frames a statue of Christ ascending to heaven, with Mary and St. Thomas among the witnesses watching him in amazement. Ginto Pottackal of Baltimore painted the scene from Chapter 1, Verses 6-11. The high altar features a carved wood diorama of the Last Supper.
The building also has 10 classrooms and other office facilities.
In his homily at the 22 July Mass, Bishop Jugis noted that just as the church is consecrated to God, the growing community of Indian Catholic faithful are similarly consecrated — and they must take what they receive in church out into the wider community.
“This new church is a sign of the amazing growth of our Catholic community in this area, and we give thanks to Almighty God for this blessing — this growth of the Catholic faithful — and the many opportunities that the Lord therefore gives us to serve Him as our community grows,” Bishop Jugis said.
Consecrating a church sets it apart from other places, dedicating it exclusively for the worship of God through the offering of the holy sacrifice of the Mass, he explained. Through worship and reception of the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, the faithful are “transformed by the power of God’s grace, to grow in holiness.”
That transformation does not end at the church door, he emphasized.
“This church is a center of evangelization. From this place we want Christ’s message to go out to the whole world. We want the love of Christ, which you celebrate here at this altar, to be taken beyond the confines of this physical building — into your homes, your neighborhoods, your workplaces, every place.”
The mission of every Catholic church around the world is to share the good news of the Gospel, which flows from the Eucharist and transforms and purifies the faithful so that they can bring that Gospel message to others, he said.
With about 4.6 million members, the Syro-Malabar Church is the second largest church among the 23 Eastern Catholic Churches in full communion with the pope. It is one of the two Eastern Catholic Churches from India, the other being the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church. Both Indian churches trace their roots to St. Thomas the Apostles arriving there in A.D. 52.
9 August 2017
Pope Francis has named Bishop Frank Kalabat of the Chaldean Catholic Eparchy of St. Thomas the Apostle, based near Detroit, as administrator of Eparchy of Addai of Toronto.
(photo: CNS/Bob Roller)
Pope appoints bishops to serve two Chaldean eparchies (CNS) Pope Francis has named Bishop Emmanuel Challita of the Chaldean Catholic Eparchy of Addai of Toronto as bishop of the Chaldean Eparchy of St. Peter to Apostle in San Diego. The pope also named Bishop Frank Kalabat of the Chaldean Catholic Eparchy of St. Thomas the Apostle, based near Detroit, as administrator of Eparchy of Addai of Toronto. The appointments were announced in Washington 9 August by Msgr. Walter Erbi, charge d’affaires at the apostolic nunciature in the United States...
Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy gets new auxiliary (CNS) Pope Francis has named Father Andriy Rabiy as auxiliary bishop of the Ukrainian Archeparchy of Philadelphia. Bishop-designate Rabiy, 41, currently serves as vicar general of the archeparchy and as pastor of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Catholic Parish in Reading, Pennsylvania...
Israel held secret talks with Russia, U.S. over Syria (Haaretz) Israel, the United States and Russia held a series of secret meetings early last month in Amman and in a European capital regarding the cease-fire in southern Syria. The parties focused in part on the establishment of “safe zones” on the Syrian-Israeli and Syrian-Jordanian borders, according to Israeli officials and Western diplomats...
Archeologists think they’ve unearthed hometown of three apostles (CNS) After decades of searching, Israeli archaeologists working on the shores of the Sea of Galilee believe they have uncovered the lost Roman city of Julias, home of the apostles Peter, Andrew and Philip...
Priest preserves Iraqi culture in historic manuscripts (CNA) As Iraq and surrounding areas face the destruction of many of the region’s archaeological treasures, one priest and his fellow Dominicans are preserving the area’s history and culture through an archive of Christian and other religious manuscripts...
Religious sister from India wins nursing award (UCANIndia) A Catholic religious sister from India has won a prestigious global award in HIV nursing from an international association. The Association of Nurses in AIDS Care (ANAC) selected Sister Lourdu Mary Nagothu for developing and implementing the world’s first masters’ curriculum in HIV/AIDS...
8 August 2017
Rachelle Beaini, a social worker at the Greek Catholic Archeparchy of Zahleh, plays with 2-year-old Michael, the Lebanese-Syrian son of Eli Yassin and Lina Barakat, during a visit at their home in Zahleh — a large Christian town in the Bekaa Valley. To learn more about how Lebanese citizens are living alongside Syrian refugees, read Hardship and Hospitality, from the June 2017 edition of ONE. (photo: Raed Rafei)
8 August 2017
Tags: Syria Lebanon Refugees
Amir, an Iraqi Christian craftsman, center, and his family pose in their house on 4 August in Qaraqosh, Iraq. The family, who fled ISIS occupation, has returned home to rebuild their house and their lives. (photo: CNS/AVSI Foundation)
With help from church groups, Iraqis begin return to Nineveh Plain (Crux) Although Iraqi forces recaptured Qaraqosh, about nine miles from the edge of Mosul, from ISIS last October, it took many months before Christians felt comfortable enough to return, and their numbers are not huge. So far, 200 houses have been rebuilt in Qaraqosh, with another 111 on the way. Qaraqosh once had 50,000 people…
Indian Christians alarmed over violence against minorities (Vatican Radio) More than 100 prominent Indian Christians have written an open letter to the heads of all churches and Christian communities, spurring them to action in support of civil society in its struggle to safeguard India’s secular credentials and cultural and religious diversity. In the letter released on 4 August, the signatories noted a dangerous shift in the country “from a pluralist, secular, democracy to a Hindu Rashtra…”
Israeli archaeologists think they found lost Roman city of Julias (CNS) After decades of searching, Israeli archaeologists working on the shores of the Sea of Galilee believe they have uncovered the lost Roman city of Julias, home of the apostles Peter, Andrew and Philip…
Tiny Arizona parish hosts leader of world’s Ukrainian Catholics (CNS) When Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych, Ukraine, the leader of more than 5 million Ukrainian Catholics around the globe, visited the parish of St. Michael Church in Tucson in July, “it was an amazing experience,” said the Rev. Andriy Chirovsky, 61, pastor of the 50-member parish…
Jordan’s king visits West Bank: A rare trip seen as message to Israel (Christian Science Monitor) Jordan’s king flew by helicopter to the West Bank on Monday — a rare and brief visit seen as a signal to Israel that he is closing ranks with the Palestinians on key issues, such as a contested Jerusalem shrine…
Egypt cuts cultivation of water-intensive crops (Al Monitor) In anticipation of a water crisis following the construction of the Renaissance Dam, Egypt’s government is preparing a draft law to impose harsher sanctions on the cultivation of water-intensive crops, but some say farmers must first be offered alternatives…
West Bank priests stress nonviolence as youths protest Israeli occupation (CNS) With tensions still high in the Old City following weeks of violence, Father Firas Aridah completed his work at the Latin Patriarchate early so he could leave Jerusalem for his West Bank parish before any possible violence began. For Father Aridah and other parish priests in the West Bank, the challenge is to emphasize the Christian tradition of nonviolence while supporting their young parishioners’ desire to oppose the Israeli occupation…
7 August 2017
Tags: India Iraq Egypt Jordan West Bank
In this image from last summer, Dominican Sister St. Elene kisses a 4-year-old headed to a church-run preschool in a camp for displaced Christians in Erbil. The sisters and some families have recently begun to return to Christian towns that have been liberated. (photo: Paul Jeffrey)
Editor’s note: Our partners in Iraq, the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, sent the following letter to their friends around the world on Sunday, the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord. It offers an update on recent developments in Iraq.
Dear brothers, sisters and friends,
It has been three years since we were displaced and you have been accompanying us through your prayers. During these years, we cried, screamed, wondered, questioned God and our faith and also laughed and found moments of hope, love and gratefulness to our Lord, the church and all individuals who supported us in so many different ways. On 6 August 2014, we entered a tunnel that we did not know when we would get out of it. In fact, some days we thought we would never see the light. Three years ago, we left our homes at night to the unknown. We started a journey of displacement, exile and questioning. But, to speak the truth, despite everything, we always dreamed of going back and finding our houses safe and sound, just as we left them. We strongly wished that we would return and kindle our candles for prayers, harvest our grapes, and read our books. We hoped even when we knew that it was our neighbors who betrayed us and did us harm even before ISIS did.
That was the case until the fall of 2016, when Iraqi forces started the military operations to liberate the Plain of Nineveh. God showered us with His graces as our towns were liberated one after the other; ISIS was defeated and the Plain of Nineveh seems to have been liberated.
When we first visited our Christian towns, we were so much stunned by the damage we saw. It was painful to see all that overwhelming destruction. We immediately realized that it was not the military forces or smart weapons that caused all that damage, but hate. Hate leaves both oppressed and oppressor deeply wounded. Only God knows how much love we need to heal these deep wounds.
Walking sluggishly in our Christian towns, we wandered remembering the word of God to prophet Ezekiel, “to endure the days of turmoil. ‘Son of man, can these bones live?’” and we found ourselves answering him “‘Sovereign Lord, you alone know.’” (Ezekiel 37:3) Inspired by the stories and experiences of Biblical characters, we believe that God is able to raise us again in a new way.
Today we see the marvelous work of God. There are some signs of hope. The rebuilding process, although slow, has started and some families have returned to their homes. In Batnaia, a town that was 90 percent destroyed, a process of cleaning has started. To Telskuf and Qaraqosh, Christian towns, some families have returned and there are families returning every week. There are over 600 families today in Telskuf and 450 in Qaraqush. Telskuf was much less destroyed than Qaraqosh. Although in Qaraqosh the amount of destruction is estimated to be 30 percent, rebuilding is not easy and the NGOs that have offered to help with rebuilding are not enough compared to the destruction. There are 7,000 homes in Qaraqosh and 2,400 of them are completely burned and another 4,400 are partly burned and destroyed. There are 116 houses completely destroyed. The hope is to repair as many houses as possible before the beginning of the school year in September but, of course, there is a problem with the funding. So far, only the church and some NGOs are doing the rebuilding.
Our sisters are back to Telskuf and we hope to find a place by the beginning of the year and will start a kindergarten. Soon also we will return to Qaraqosh. Since our convent in Qaraqosh is partially destroyed, we repaired a family home for us to live in until we move back to our convent. Also, the orphanage was totally burned but we found a place for the sisters and girls to move to in Qaraqosh.
As you probably already have heard, Mosul has been liberated, but the amount of destruction is overwhelming in every field. It will take years to be fixed, but there is nothing impossible with God. Of course, it is not easy to decide whether to go back to Mosul or not. Some people still try to understand what the will of God is — if ISIS is defeated that does not mean that the Plain of Nineveh is entirely cleansed from that mentality. However, we as community decided to return with our people; and pray and hope all people will have the courage to go back to their hometowns and be able to start from the beginning again. God is with us and will not leave us.
We thank you for all the support you have shown us. Please pray for us as we start this new phase of our lives. Know of our gratitude and prayers for you.
Dominican Sisters of St Catherine of Siena Erbil-Iraq
‘God Wants Me Here’: Christians Keep Hope Alive in Iraq
Grace: Meet the Sisters Bringing Hope to Displaced Iraqis
Remembrance: Iraq, Two Years After the Exodus
7 August 2017
Lara Yussif Zara made history last week, becoming the first Christian woman elected mayor in Iraq. She is pictured here with local leaders, including Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako. Read more about this historic election at this link. (photo: Twitter/iraqchristians)
7 August 2017
The synod of bishops of the Syro-Malankara Church has erected the Eparchy of Parassala, India, and with the assent of Pope Francis, has elected as the first bishop of the eparchy Bishop Thomas Eusebius Naickamparampil, who is currently serving Syro-Malankara Catholics in the U.S. and Canada. (photo: CNS/Mary Iapalucci, Long Island Catholic)
Syro-Malankara bishop from U.S. will head new eparchy in India (CNS) The synod of bishops of the Syro-Malankara Church has erected the Eparchy of Parassala, India, and with the assent of Pope Francis, has elected as the first bishop of the eparchy Bishop Thomas Eusebius Naickamparampil, who is currently serving Syro-Malankara Catholics in the U.S. and Canada...
For first time, Christian woman elected mayor of Iraqi town (Catholic Herald) A Catholic woman has been elected as the new mayor of Alqosh, a small town on the Nineveh Plain in Iraq. Lara Yussif Zara was the unanimous choice of the municipal council last Thursday, defeating another candidate. The first woman to be mayor of Alqosh, she replaces another Chaldean Christian, Abdul Micha, who was dismissed after charges of corruption...
How long can Gaza survive with no water? (Al Monitor) The water crisis caused by ongoing power outages of more than 20 hours a day has pushed Gaza Strip residents to dig unlicensed wells, disregarding the ensuing serious threats to the already scarce aquifer water stock...
India’s ‘Black Day’ for Dalit Christians (Vatican Radio) Dalit Christians and Muslims of India will once again observe ‘Black Day’ on 10 August this year to highlight the discrimination that low-caste Christians and Muslims have been facing for 67 years. India’s Catholic bishops want to remind the people that the country bears a constitution-based discrimination against Dalit Christians, i.e. Dalits who embrace Christianity...
Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox celebrate start of Virgin Mary fast (Xinhuanet.com) The Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church celebrated on Monday the start of the fast of the Virgin Mary that will end on 22 August, MENA news agency reported. This fast is 15 days long and precedes the feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary (Dormition of the Theotokos). The celebration will be held at the Monastery of the Virgin Mary in Drunka, Assuit...