20 July 2012
In this image from 2006, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip attend prayers during the Islamic festival of Eid al-Fitr at the conclusion of Ramadan. (photo: CNS/Mohammed Salem, Reuters)
Today begins the official observance of Ramadan, the most important event of the year for Muslims — but what does that mean? Last year, Elias Mallon, CNEWA’s education and interreligious affairs officer, wrote an award-winning essay in ONE about Ramadan. Below, we have highlighted five interesting facts from his essay:
The date when Ramadan begins is not set in stone.
“The exact beginning of Ramadan depends on this sighting of the new moon, which occurs anytime within a two–day period. As a result it is never absolutely certain in any given year when Ramadan officially begins.
“Similarly, because the Muslim year is lunar, i.e., calculated by the moon, it is about 11 days shorter than the solar calendar, which is familiar to most people. As a result, every year Ramadan is about 11 days “earlier” than the year before.”
The United States Postal Service has issued several stamps related to Ramadan since 2001.
“Ramadan and Eid ul Fitr, the feast ending it, have become increasingly visible in Europe and North America in the past two decades. Immigration has increased the number of Muslims in the West and more and more people are becoming aware of the monthlong fast and celebration.
“In places where Muslims represent a religious minority, recognition of Ramadan and Eid ul Fitr increasingly symbolizes a degree of social acceptance by the majority. In the United States, for instance, the postal service [has] issued [several] postage stamp[s] [across several years] for Eid ul Fitr. And more and more often, shops sell greeting cards for the holiday, and many non–Muslims now send or give them to their Muslim friends and neighbors.”
While Ramadan has similarities to the Christian fasting season of Lent, it also has distinct differences.
“More important, unlike Lent, Ramadan is not generally understood as an act of penance. Muslims rather consider Ramadan as an exercise in self–discipline, as purification and as a reminder of the believer’s dependence on the bounty of God…
“One of the more striking aspects of Ramadan, particularly to Christians and Jews, is the joy with which Muslims anticipate and observe the month. Whereas Lent is a time of quiet, penitential reflection for Christians and Yom Kippur (or the Day of Atonement) is a solemn day for Jews, Ramadan is a time of spiritual and physical refreshment for Muslims. It is a time to put aside the burdens and cares of everyday life and to focus on what really matters. Whereas Christians created Fat Tuesday as the last celebration before Lent, Muslims see no need to “get it all in” before Ramadan. Ramadan is a celebration.”
Can you imagine fasting — no food, no water — for over 15 hours?
“Since the month of Ramadan moves “backward” through the solar year, it occurs at some point in every season of the year in any given location. In the summer in both northern and southern latitudes, days can be quite long and the fast can go on for more than 15 hours. If 15 hours without food is difficult, 15 hours in the summer without water is even more so.”
In some communities, Ramadan helps to encourage interfaith dialogue.
“A new and popular Ramadan tradition is for Muslims to invite their non–Muslims neighbors to take part in the iftar or Eid ul Fitr. In some communities in Europe and North America, where Muslims are a religious minority, the iftar has become an important interfaith celebration. What better way to promote interreligious understanding around the world than by sharing the joy of the iftar and Eid ul Fitr?”
Read more about the Muslim period of prayer and fasting in Ramadan Observed.
18 July 2012
Tags: Gaza Strip/West Bank Palestine Muslim Islam Ramadan
Sister Piera Carpenedo, director of the Ephpheta Paul VI Institute for Audio-Phonetic Rehabilitation, tells a story using a drawing. (photo: Steve Sabella)
Today, the Latin church celebrates the feast day of St. Frederick of Utrecht, a patron saint for the deaf. For many years, CNEWA has supported the Ephpheta Institute, a center for the deaf in Palestine. Back in May, Ephpheta celebrated an expansion, which we shared on this blog:
A few days ago, the Ephpheta Institute in Bethlehem — a program CNEWA has supported since its inception 40 years ago — celebrated the inauguration of a new expansion. The new three-story annex will host the 11th and 12th grades, in addition to a library, a new indoor play/educational room and additional storage facilities. The physical expansion of the school premises was a historic day for many reasons. Most significantly, the students at Ephpheta will no longer finish their education at 10th grade, but will complete a full educational cycle through the 12th grade, after which they will receive a high school diploma. Thus, there will be no graduation at the school this year; the 10th graders will proceed to 11th grade and will eventually graduate in 2014, much better equipped to either move on to a university education or to some other career track of their choosing. They will certainly be better equipped to meet life’s challenges with a high school diploma in hand.
For more, read “Ephpheta Expands.” You can learn more about Ephpheta in Msgr. John Kozar’s blog series from his pastoral visit to the Holy Land back in December. If you would like to support the work of Ephpheta, please visit our website.
17 July 2012
Tags: Palestine Disabilities
Archbishop Swerios Malki Murad of the Syriac Orthodox Church in the Holy Land.
(photo: John E. Kozar)
In supporting Eastern churches, their leaders and their faithful, CNEWA’s network of friends and benefactors enables more good to be done. Today, we have in our thoughts and prayers The Syriac Orthodox Church, which has roots in Syria, a country still very much in turmoil.
Just today, one prominent Catholic leader in Damascus renewed his pleas for peace in the region:
“In Damascus, the last three days have been very difficult” as the fighting moved to the city, Archbishop Mario Zenari, the [Vatican] nuncio, told Catholic News Service in a telephone interview from the capital July 17.
“The situation compared to a month ago clearly is more tense,” he said.
“The situation of the Christian community is the same as the situation for all Syrians. The Christians are not targeted, but they are under the same bombing and shelling the others face,” the archbishop said.
An uprising against President Bashar Assad’s government began in March 2011. Thousands of civilians have died in the fighting since then, and hundreds of thousands have been displaced. The U.N. refugee agency said July 17 that the number of Syrians seeking refuge outside the country has risen sharply in the past three months, with some 112,000 Syrian refugees now registered in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.
Archbishop Zenari said, “The international community must speak with one voice; otherwise the parties involved in the conflict won’t listen.” The nuncio said he was not lobbying for any specific international intervention, but “too much time has already passed. There are many ways to reach a consensus.”
Some Christian leaders in Syria have questioned the pro-democracy efforts to oust Assad, pointing out how religious liberty and the Christian communities have been protected under his leadership.
“The future is difficult to foresee,” the archbishop said. “Until now, there has been a good level of freedom of religion in Syria and good relations between Christians and Muslims. It could be difficult if that changed.”
We are still hard at work ensuring that Syrians who have fled the chaos are cared for. Learn more about our emergency Syria fund on our website.
12 July 2012
Tags: Syria Middle East Christians Middle East Syriac Orthodox Church Church
Bedouin men perform at a restaurant in Amman, Jordan. (photo: Greg Tarczynksi)
Yesterday, the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra played a concert in the Apostolic Palace of Castelgandolfo to celebrate the feast of St. Benedict, patron of Europe. Pope Benedict XVI spoke afterward, thanking the performers and reflecting on the unifying effect of music:
“Music,”, the pontiff continued, “is the harmony of differences … from the multiplicity of tones of the various instruments a symphony can arise. However, this doesn’t happen magically or automatically. It comes only from … a patient and laborious commitment, which requires time and sacrifices in the effort to listen to one another, avoiding excessive egoism and privileging the best success of the whole.”
Continuing, the Pope emphasized that the symphonies that were performed, Beethoven’s Fifth and Sixth, express two aspects of life: “drama and peace; humanity’s struggle against adversity and its enlightening immersion in a bucolic environment. The message I would like to draw from it for today is this: to achieve peace we must dedicate ourselves to dialogue with a personal and communal conversion, patiently seeking possible areas of understanding.”
For more, read Universal Language of Music, Hope for Peace from the Vatican News Service.
9 July 2012
Tags: Middle East Jordan Pope Benedict XVI Cultural Identity Amman
Parishioners gather outside the Immaculate Conception Church in Smakieh, Jordan.
(photo: John E. Kozar)
Back in December, Msgr. John Kozar made his first pastoral visit to the Holy Land as CNEWA’s president. While visiting with people and church leaders who are a part of the CNEWA family, he also gained a deeper understanding of the traditions and cultures that permeate this community of Christians. One stop included the village of Smakieh in Jordan, where he took part in an ordination:
A couple of impressive sights from the ceremony: Being welcomed outside the church as we arrived with the archbishop by all the men removing the agal, or cord, from their kaffiyeh, a traditional head covering. It was a sign of deepest respect given to us. The men were robust in their handshakes and in their welcoming.
After the ceremony, after all the elders and people of the parish had personally greeted the new deacon and given him a kiss on each cheek, a group of younger parishioners hoisted the deacon on their shoulders and began dancing to the beat of their chanting which created a most festive mood.
The village of Smakieh is entirely Christian, which is rare in this Muslim kingdom. There are only two families of Bedouin living in the village, the Latin Hijazine family and the Melkite Akasheh family. Between these two families they have offered 14 priests in service to the church. Added to this are the number of Catholic and Orthodox priests that have come from neighboring Bedouin towns, such as Raba and Ader, who basically supplied much of the entire presbyterate for Jordan and Israel and Palestine. God is good all the time and all the time God is good.
If you haven’t done so already, check out Msgr. Kozar’s blog series from his Holy Land visit,“Journey to the Holy Land.”
28 June 2012
Tags: Middle East Jordan Cultural Identity Bedouin
President-elect Mohammed Morsi, center, meets with Christian leaders from different denominations at the presidential palace in Cairo on 27 June.
(Photo: CNS/Egyptian presidency via Reuters)
Last weekend’s historic election in Egypt has prompted cautiously optimistic reactions from Christian leaders in the country. Gerard O’Connell of Vatican Insider has the details:
“We hope that he will fulfill his promises,” the Anglican bishop of Egypt said after Egypt’s first elected Islamic president, Mohammed Mursi, promised to be a president for all Egyptians, to appoint a prime minister who is not from the Muslim Brotherhood, and to appoint a Christian vice-president.
[Anglican] Bishop Mouneer Hanna Anis expressed this widely shared hope in a letter to his community and friends shortly after the election results were announced on Sunday evening, June 24.
Mursi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, gained 51.7 percent of the vote in the freest and most honest election to be held in the country since 1952. His opponent, Ahmed Shafiq, the last prime minister of the deposed President Hosni Mubarak’s administration, gained 48.3 percent.
The results have revealed a deeply divided country and much fear among Christians — who count for some 10 percent of the population, and among the secular and liberal sectors of the electorate. About 40 percent of the 50 million people entitled to vote actually did so.
Mursi’s election “may be the best thing for the moment, in order to avoid violence, but performance will be important,” a senior Catholic leader in Cairo, who wished to remain anonymous, told me.
The Coptic Catholic bishop of Luxor, Monsignor Youhannes Zakaria, told Fides that he considers Mursi’s victory “positive” and hopes “that now all work in a spirit of cooperation to renew the country.” He said the president’s first words “give peace,” in particular that he wants “to be President of all Egyptians, to improve economy and also to re-launch tourism.” Egyptian society is “tranquil,” he added, “but now after the words they want actions.”
Meanwhile, the acting head of the Coptic Catholic Church has sent a congratulatory letter to the new president:
The Coptic Catholic Church in Egypt has sent a letter of congratulations to the country’s first freely elected Islamic president and told him Catholics are praying that God may bless with success his work “for the realization of a civil, democratic, modern state that respects the rights and freedoms of all and can guarantee security, peace and social justice.”
The letter was signed by Monsignor Kyrillos William, the bishop of Assiut and acting head of the Coptic Catholic Church in Egypt, which has between about 200,000 members.
Writing in the name of the Coptic Catholics “in Egypt and in the countries of the diaspora,” the bishop congratulated Mohammed Mursi “for having gained the confidence of the people” in the mid-June presidential elections.
He said Coptic Catholics “are confident that with the aid of the Most High and All Powerful (God), and with your wisdom, you will be capable of leading the country and working for the superior interests of the nation and all its children, so that the cohesion of its fabric remains as it always has been.”
For more on the responses of Egyptian Christians to the election, click here. For more on Egypt’s Coptic Christians, check out the September 2011 issue of ONE magazine, where we explored the plight of Christian women in Egypt and profiled the challenges facing one woman reporter.
26 June 2012
Tags: Egypt Christian-Muslim relations Egypt's Christians Democracy
Israeli-Arab fourth-grade students pray in Aramaic during language class at Jish Elementary School in Jish, Israel, 20 June. (photo: CNS/Debbie Hil)
As reported by the Catholic News Service, a mostly Maronite Catholic community in Jish, Israel, is making an effort to revive the Aramaic language — the language spoken by Jesus. This revival has begun with language classes at the village’s elementary school:
Some 110 students are now studying the language at the elementary school as a result of years of effort by village resident Shadi Khalloul, 37, chairman of the Aramaic Christian nongovernmental organization in Israel.
“This is our Maronite Aramaic heritage,” he said on a recent visit to the school. “We are hoping to revive (Aramaic) as a spoken language. Hopefully the pupils will use it among themselves to communicate with each other. It is our forefather’s language. It is the language of Jesus, we should not forget that, especially the Aramaic Galilee dialect.”
Spoken Aramaic, the root language of all Semitic languages, is still preserved in parts of Syria, Iraq and Lebanon — and even by elderly Jews originating from a region of Kurdistan — but the spoken language has been virtually lost in Galilee, where about 10,000 Maronite Catholics use it solely for prayer. During their daily interactions, they speak Arabic.
For more, read Maronites in Israel Learn Aramaic.
20 June 2012
Tags: Children Israel Education Maronite Catholic Aramaic
A man makes an icon at the Immaculate Conception Church in Jordan, which is undergoing major restoration sponsored by CNEWA. (photo: John E. Kozar)
Back in December, Msgr. John E. Kozar, CNEWA’s president, made his first pastoral visit to the Holy Land. Along the way, he visited many people and projects vital to CNEWA’s mission, such as the Immaculate Conception Melkite Greek Catholic parish in Jordan:
From the hospital we went to visit the Melkite Greek Catholic pastor of Immaculate Conception Church, Abuna Boulos (or Father Paul), and were joined there by Archbishop Yasser Ayyash and some other priests. We had a delightful lunch, where I learned much about the Melkite Greek Catholic Church. When I entered the rectory, Father Boulos immediately introduced me to his wife, as it is the Melkite tradition for priests to marry before ordination. After a brief visit to the church, which is finishing up a major restoration project sponsored by CNEWA, we headed for the Bedouin village of Smakieh for the highlight of the day and the spiritual highlight of this pastoral visit thus far.
We were invited by the archbishop and Abuna Boulos to concelebrate at the ordination liturgy for a subdeacon and deacon. What an honor for Father Guido and myself. Not only did the archbishop make us feel welcome, he even vested us in the Melkite vestments used for their liturgy. It was a very proud moment for both of us.
For more, read Msgr. Kozar’s blog series “Journey to the Holy Land.”
15 June 2012
Tags: Middle East Christians CNEWA Middle East Jordan Melkite Greek Catholic Church
Armenian World War II veterans celebrate Victory Day in Yerevan, Armenia.
(photo: Justyna Mielnikiewicz)
In the November 2009 issue of ONE, Justyna Mielnikiewicz’s photographs and Annie Grunow’s words helped to paint a picture of the vast, diverse region referred to as the ‘Caucasus’:
While the Armenians, Georgians and Chechens may be most familiar, there are countless other peoples in the Caucasus who staunchly retain their own ethnic identities. Geographic names usually reflect a portion of an area’s ethnic population, but by no means can a geographic name be mistaken for ethnic homogeneity. Linguistic and religious differences also occur within a seemingly distinct ethnicity. Refugee and emigrant populations further confound the picture.
Abkhazians, Chechens and Ossetians are present in both Georgia and Russia; each group is struggling to gain some degree of autonomy. Abkhazians and Ossetians, which are distinct ethnic groups with their own languages, are largely Orthodox Christians.
For more, read Where Europe Meets Asia.
14 June 2012
Tags: Cultural Identity Armenia Caucasus
In this 2006 image, Father Douglas May stands in front of a Cairo plaza and mosque across the street from the Our Lady Queen of Peace Home for Mentally Handicapped Children.
(photo: Octavio Duran/Maryknoll Mission Archives)
Father Douglas May grew up in a small town near Buffalo, New York, but now serves as a Maryknoll missionary in Cairo. From time to time he will offer his insights and perspectives “on the ground” from Egypt. Here, he offers a brief introduction to the work he does.
After working with Maryknoll in Kenya for four years, I returned to Egypt in late January of 2012. As the only native-born American, English-speaking priest in Egypt, I provide pastoral services for several communities in the Cairo area. On occasion, I also say the Coptic Catholic Divine Liturgy in both Arabic and English, as the need arises.
In many ways, it’s been a kind of homecoming. I have spent 18 of the last 30 years working in Egypt and was part of the formation-education team at St. Leo the Great Coptic Catholic Seminary for ten of those years.
When I first returned, my original intention was to provide pastoral support for Catholics who speak English as a first, second or third language. It was also to be “Uncle Douglas” for many of my former seminarians who are now priests scattered throughout Egypt. But with the encouragement of the Holy See’s nuncio, Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, I applied for and got the position of “International Coordinator” for the Center for Intercultural Dialogue and Translation and the Center for Arab-West Understanding (a nongovernmental organization, or NGO).
The Center for Arab-West Understanding (CAWU) and its company, The Center for Intercultural Dialogue and Translation (C.I.D.T.) in Cairo, are some of the few “on-site” organizations fostering Muslim-Christian dialogue and sociopolitical pluralism in Egypt and in the Middle East. It supports forums and workshops among religious and political leaders; reviews and critiques media information on the internet, TV and in the press; runs an intern program for students from Arab and Western countries; provides an internet library; and offers translation services. The Arab-West Report is run by C.I.D.T. It is the largest English-language website in the world concerning Christian-Muslim relations and reviews Arab and Western media reports on TV, the internet and in the printed media. It has become a reliable source of information for many writers and reporters.
While my focus over my first four months has been finances and fundraising, I hope eventually to do some “on-site” work in villages where many of my former seminarians are now priests. I want to do whatever I can to help promote interreligious and interdenominational relations, along with sociopolitical and religious pluralism among Egyptians. Being a “foreigner,” I need the help of local leaders, at least on the Catholic side, to do this. Right now, we’re still in the planning stages. In the current environment, it is obvious that efforts have to be made or the sociopolitical and religious situation will only get worse.
Having a labor-relations background and some hotel management experience in the U.A.E. before becoming a priest, I hope that maybe a team approach can facilitate some positive change. I also worked for two years back in the late 80’s with the Palestine Red Crescent Society in Cairo, where I was the only Christian and only American teaching at a nursing school that was run by the society. Looking back on that experience, I realize I learned much more than I taught.
I hope to write occasionally for ONE-TO-ONE, as well as for the A.W.R. website. While I am not an academian nor an expert, I believe that my various experiences and contacts give me the ability to view things differently and offer personal reflections.
Tags: Egypt Unity Ecumenism Interreligious Christian-Muslim relations