18 December 2015
Jasan Zided of Hebron, West Bank, waits to sell Santa hats to tourists in an empty Manger Square on 15 December in Bethlehem, West Bank. (photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)
Middle East situation dampens Christmas in Bethlehem (Catholic Register) Though the Christmas tree was lit in Nativity Square in the traditional ceremony, and some traditional pre-Christmas parades have taken place, the Christmas spirit this year in Bethlehem has been dampened by the political situation, which, since October, has taken the lives of almost 100 Palestinians and 22 Israelis. Few pilgrims are visiting the holy sites — or the souvenir shops that line Manger Square — and there is none of the customary festive caroling at the square in the evenings leading up to Christmas Eve…
Israel and Turkey agree to restore diplomatic ties (The New York Times) Israel and Turkey have reached a preliminary agreement to begin restoring full diplomatic relations after years of deep freeze, Israeli officials said on Thursday. The two countries, once close regional allies, fell out after a deadly confrontation in 2010 between Israeli commandos and Turkish activists on a passenger vessel seeking to breach Israel’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip…
Syrian refugees snared in poverty (UNHCR) Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon are facing dire levels of poverty, with the situation expected to worsen in the near future, a study published today by the World Bank Group and the UN Refugee Agency revealed. Nearly 1.7 million Syrian refugees registered in Jordan and Lebanon live in miserable conditions, often unable to afford the very basics including sufficient food, clothes and medicine. The majority are women and children who live on the margins in urban and rural areas, often in substandard accommodation, rather than in refugee camps…
Mother Teresa to be declared a saint (Vatican Radio) Blessed Teresa of Calcutta is to be made a Saint. Pope Francis on Thursday authorized the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to promulgate a decree regarding a miracle attributed to the intercession of Blessed Teresa (née Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu)…
Coptic monasteries will not close over jihadist threats (Fides) Historical Coptic monasteries in the Wadi Natrun region will not suffer any closure for security reasons, after the jihadist threats aimed in particular against the monastery in Baramos, dedicated to the Virgin Mary…
Indian government assures justice for country’s Christians (UCANews.com) India’s government has assured the country’s Christian community of justice and protection against persecution. “We have always been with the Christian community and will always remain with them. There should be no confusion regarding this,” said Rajnath Singh, federal home minister, and second-in-command to India’s prime minister. Singh was speaking at a Christmas dinner organized by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India in New Delhi on 17 December...
17 December 2015
Tags: Refugees Israel Turkey Indian Christians Bethlehem
Pope Francis blows out the candle on a birthday cake presented by a young member of the Italian branch of Catholic Action during an audience with the group at the Vatican on 17 December. (photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano, handout)
Today marks the pope’s 79th birthday — and celebrating with him are young members of Catholic Action, a lay organization:
To follow a path toward Christ, one must follow the good path of forgiveness, peace and solidarity, and avoid following the evil path of vengeance, war and selfishness, Pope Francis told hundreds of Italian children.
The members of Catholic Action’s children’s section, parish-based groups of young people from 4 to 14 years of age, spent the year on various projects that aided migrants in the Italian diocese of Agrigento.
Upon the pope’s arrival, the youth sang “Happy Birthday” and presented him with a cake for his 79th birthday Dec. 17 during his traditional pre-Christmas audience with them.
The pope blessed and thanked the youth for their work with migrants, saying that they welcome in an exemplary way “so many brothers and sisters who arrive full of hope, but are also wounded and in desperate need of so much, including peace and bread.”
“You can offer a special contribution to this initiative with your enthusiasm and prayer, which I advise you to accompany with a small sacrifice, to share their essentials with others who do not have them,” he said.
Departing from his prepared speech, the pope asked the youth what would they do if they had two candies and their friend had none. “I’ll give him one,” a child responded.
“And if you have one candy and your friend has none, what do you do?” he asked. “Half!” another child exclaimed.
“Yes, half. Very good! Go forward this way,” the pope said.
After thanking the leaders of Catholic Action’s Italian branch, Pope Francis led the group in praying the “Hail Mary” and thanked them for their “commitment and dedication to Christian education.”
17 December 2015
Tags: Pope Francis Catholic Migrants Youth
During his annual Moscow press conference on 17 December, Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks on a number of topics, including the situation in Ukraine and the downing of a Russian combat jet by Turkey last month. (photo: Sasha Mordovets/Getty Images)
Putin: Russia did have people in Ukraine doing ‘certain military tasks’ (Reuters) Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that Russia did have personnel in eastern Ukraine who were carrying out certain military tasks but denied Moscow had deployed regular troops there. “We never said there were no people there who were carrying out certain tasks including in the military sphere,” Putin told an annual news conference. Putin said Russia was ready to persuade separatists in eastern Ukraine that a compromise was needed in order to achieve a political settlement of the conflict there…
Saudi Arabia’s new anti-terrorism coalition stirs questions and controversy (Los Angeles Times) In a region chock full of anti-terrorism coalitions, the newest alliance, founded by Saudi Arabia, has managed to raise the ire of countries left out — as well as eyebrows among some named as part of the club. Absent from the list of countries are Iraq and Syria, despite the coalition’s operations being aimed at fighting terrorism in those countries. Also missing is Saudi Arabia’s regional rival and Shiite powerhouse Iran, which is pitted against the Saudis in Syria, Iraq and Yemen…
Iraqi Christian refugees share their most treasured possessions (ABC News) Iraqi Christian Annosa Ishaa, poses for a photograph in her tented shelter erected in the grounds of Mazar Mar Elias Catholic Church in Erbil, Iraq. The church houses hundreds of Iraqi Christians who were forced to flee their homes — many with less than an hour to do so — as the Islamic State advanced last year. Asked, after her family what was the one thing she could not leave behind, the nurse from Qaraqosh said her passport…
Christians mark 40th anniversary of celebrating Christmas together in Jordan (Fides) This year marks the 40th anniversary of the unification of the date on which all the Churches and Christian communities in Jordan celebrate Christmas. In 1975, the heads of Christian churches agreed to celebrate Christmas on 25 December, according to the Gregorian calendar, while celebrating Easter according to the Julian calendar…
In India, Christmas in solidarity with flood victims (Fides) Churches in South India will experience a Christmas of solidarity and humanitarian aid, to help the victims of the flooding that occurred in recent days in the area of Chennai, in the state of Tamil Nadu. The effort of the churches will involve all the faithful pitching in time and resources; parishes, priests, religious communities, associations, lay people and families will donate money they would have spent on the celebrations Christmas in charity initiatives for families affected by the flood, estimated as “the worst in a hundred years…”
Why Jewish-Catholic reconciliation gives hope for the future (Vanity Fair) The church faithful have, for the most part, become the allies of the Jews, not only in their long-term war against anti-Semitism, but also and especially in the joint effort to repair the world and restore human universality…
The Oromo protests and Ethiopia’s political vulnerabilities (Tesfa News) At least 40 people have been killed, hundreds wounded, and thousands detained in more than three weeks of uprisings in Ethiopia’s Oromia state, the largest of nine linguistic-based states. The Oromo people make up close to 50 percent of Ethiopia’s population. Protesters primarily oppose a draft for a plan that, if implemented, will expand the jurisdiction of Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, into Oromia. The ongoing protests began last month in Ginci, a small town about 50 miles west of Addis Ababa. There, the demands were limited and benign, largely centering on the ownership transfer of a local stadium and the clearing of nearby forest for development by foreign investors. The master plan formed only one piece of their demands. Authorities responded using disproportionate force, triggering a widespread outrage…
16 December 2015
Tags: Ethiopia Middle East Iraqi Christians Christian-Jewish relations
Special Representative of the United Nations in Iraq Jan Kubis, left, meets with Kirkuk Governor Najm al-Din Karim on 14 December 2015 in Kirkuk. The governor has just announced that as a “sign of solidarity” with Christians, 24 December will be a public holiday.
(photo: Marwan Ibrahim/AFP/Getty Images)
Christmas Eve to be a public holiday as “sign of solidarity” in Kirkuk (Fides) This year, the birth of the Lord for the churches that follow the Gregorian calendar falls on a Friday, a public holiday for Muslims. This is why, as a sign of solidarity of the institutions and the whole society towards Christians, the governor of the province of Kirkuk, Kurdish Necmettin Karim, said that Thursday, 24 December, Christmas Eve, will be a public holiday...
Patriarch: “Mercy is a political act par excellence” (Fides) “Children of the world dream of a wonderful celebration with gifts, lights, decorated trees and crèches.” However, and I repeat the same words of Pope Francis, everything is distorted “because the world continues to make war.” This famous “third world war being fought in pieces,” which he speaks of so often, is unfolding before our eyes in our region.” This is what the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal writes in his traditional Christmas message, presented this morning at a press conference in Jerusalem, at the headquarters of the Latin Patriarchate...
Report describes “welfare of Syrian refugees” (The World Bank) Since the Syrian crisis began, nearly 1.7 million people have fled to neighboring Jordan and Lebanon. To better understand the profile and welfare of Syrian refugees living in Jordan and Lebanon, the World Bank Group and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) have worked closely together to produce The Welfare of Syrian Refugees: Evidence from Jordan and Lebanon. The report explores the socio-economic profile, poverty, and vulnerability of refugees, evaluates current policies and discusses prospects for policy reforms...
How the Arab Spring became the Arab cataclysm (The New Yorker) Five years later, the costs and consequences of the uprisings have stunned the world. “Perhaps we in the international community, and the people on the ground, were naïve and misled by how easy the Tunisians made it seem,” Sarah Leah Whitson, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, told me this week. “The Egyptians, too, got rid of a dictator. But we underestimated the forces against democracy and rights — and the way in which other forces of repression and destruction were able to fill the vacuums that the uprisings created...”
15 December 2015
Tags: Syria Iraq Egypt Arab Spring
An imam prays in a mosque. ISIS yesterday publicly beheaded three well-known imams in Mosul, Iraq. It’s the latest in a string of executions carried out by ISIS against Muslim religious leaders.
(photo: Tareq Salfur Rahman/Getty Images)
The news out of Mosul this morning is horrifying. From the Vatican news service Fides:
The self-styled Islamic State of jihadists beheaded three well-known Sunni imams in Mosul in the public square accused of not obeying orders that forced them to recruit young people for the Jihad.
The three imams, known by the local people for their profile of authentic men of God: Kazim Abdulkarim, Bilal al-Sheikh Agha and Abdullah al-Hayalli, had opposed to the atrocities committed by jihadists in the name of their bloody religious ideology. They were killed on Monday 14 December, in front of dozens of people gathered to witness the beheading. On the same day — report local sources to ARA Kurdish News Agency, also Ashwaq al-Nouaymi was murdered, a professor of Mosul who refused to give his students the teachings included in the new school curriculum imposed by Daesh.
Already in June 2014, a few days after having conquered Mosul, jihadists of Daesh had killed many Sunni imams of the city, including the Grand Imam, for refusing to swear allegiance to the Islamic Caliphate. The slaughter of the imam in Mosul was virtually ignored by the Western media. All Christians in the second Iraqi city managed to escape, and their houses were expropriated by jihadists.
ISIS has made headlines and shocked the world with its beheadings and executions of Christians and other minorities — most notoriously the mass killings of Coptic Christians on a Libyan beach last April.
But what may be less well-known is their practice of executing Muslims, particularly imams, who are the religious leaders of the community.
Last year, ISIS executed 12 imams in Mosul after they reportedly refused to swear loyalty to ISIS.
In January of this year, ISIS beheaded a Syrian imam for “insulting God.” According to AFP:
The Britain-based Observatory added that three of the man’s sons were ISIS fighters, and that it was the first time the jihadis executed a religious official for this reason.
The man was detained after watching a video on executions carried out by ISIS and cursing because God had permitted them, Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said.
A month later, ISIS executed two more Muslim clerics and beheaded four civilians in Mosul for condemning the burning of a Jordanian pilot alive.
These public executions are clearly designed to sow intimidation and terror — not just among Christians, but also among Muslims.
What happened yesterday in Mosul is just the latest example.
Tragically, if the past is any guide, it won’t be the last.
15 December 2015
Sister Liza Mundamattom plays with a child in a village in Bastar, India. To learn more about the courageous work these sisters are doing in a dangerous corner of India, read Serving in the Red in the Summer 2015 edition of ONE. (photo: Jose Jacob)
15 December 2015
Members of the Turkish Coast Guard near Izmir, Turkey, register Syrian migrants after capturing a boat carrying them on 10 December as they attempted to reach Greek island of Chios. Pope Francis spoke of the crisis facing refugees and migrants in his message for World Peace Day.
(photo: CNS/Tolga Bozoglu, EPA)
In Peace Day message, pope addresses death penalty, migrants (CNS) Pope Francis called for abolishing the death penalty worldwide, lifting the burden of debt on poor nations, global aid policies that respect life and revamped laws that welcome and integrate migrants. He urged individuals, communities and nations to not let indifference, information overload or pessimism discourage them from concrete efforts “to improve the world around us, beginning with our families, neighbors and places of employment.” Building peace, he said, is not accomplished by words alone, but through the grace of God, a conversion of heart, an attitude of compassion and the courage to act against despair. The pope’s multifaceted plea came in his message for World Peace Day, 1 January. The message, which was delivered to world leaders by Vatican ambassadors, was released at the Vatican on 15 December...
ISIS beheads three imams in Mosul (Fides) The self-styled Islamic State of jihadists beheaded three well-known Sunni imams in Mosul in the public square accused of not obeying orders that forced them to recruit young people for the Jihad. The three imams, known by the local people for their profile of authentic men of God: Kazim Abdulkarim, Bilal al-Sheikh Agha and Abdullah al-Hayalli, had opposed to the atrocities committed by jihadists in the name of their bloody religious ideology. They were killed on Monday, 14 December, in front of dozens of people gathered to witness the beheading...
Thousands rally to mark anniversary of Hamas (Al Bawaba.com) A thousands-strong rally in the Gaza Strip has marked the 28th anniversary of the foundation of the Palestinian resistance movement of Hamas, Press TV reports. The event was held in Gaza City on Monday, with attendees reaffirming their support for the movement. Since its establishment in December 1987, Hamas has refused to recognize Israel and adhered to resistance against the Israeli occupation, which it believes is the sole way of bringing about the liberation of occupied Palestinian territories. The movement says its goal is to liberate the entire historical Palestine...
Posters in Baghdad ask Christian women to wear the veil (Fides) There are posters on the walls of Baghdad, near the churches and in neighborhoods where there are still Christian communities asking women to wear the veil. The message is addressed directly to Christian women, since the poster portrays the image of the Virgin Mary and a text in which it is emphasized that even the Virgin Mary, docile to the teaching received, wore the veil. The same posters had appeared in some areas of the city in the month of November...
Letter of His Beatitude Gregorios III for the Feast of the Nativity (ByzCath.org) Glad tidings! Gospel! Great joy! Thus begins the Gospel of our Lord, God and Saviour Jesus Christ. Thus begins Christianity. Thus begins our holy Christian faith. This is the Feast of the Nativity. On this holy day, this year we hear anew the Christmas angel in the dark night, in the fields of Beit Sahur and Bethlehem, and in all parts of the world. We hear again the voice of the angel announcing to us all without exception, and particularly to all those receiving this letter, “I bring you glad tidings of great joy. I bring to you a Gospel, the Gospel of joy. This joy is Jesus himself, the Saviour...”
14 December 2015
Tags: Syria Iraq Pope Francis Refugees Gaza Strip/West Bank
Meron Getachew learns tailoring at a church-run training course in Ethiopia. To learn more about how the church is training young people to develop new skills, read “Bright Lights, Big Problems” in the Autumn edition of ONE. (photo: Petterik Wiggers)
14 December 2015
Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Sako of Baghdad is pictured in a 2014 photo in Geneva.
(photo: CNS/Salvatore Di Nolfi, EPA)
Iraqi patriarch says Christian persecution has reached “critical, violent” point (CNS) The survival of Christianity in the Middle East has reached such a critical point that the chances of dialogue and reconciliation in the region are being threatened, said Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Sako of Baghdad. “The situation is very bad, very critical and always violent,” Sako told Catholic News Service on 10 December. “Last year in August, 120,000 Christian people were expelled from their homes, their villages and now they are living in some camps with nothing, but the Church is helping them.” Sako was among the keynote speakers at a 10-12 December international conference on Christian persecution in the world. He told CNS that the mass exodus of Christians in the region will only worsen the situation due to growing tensions between Sunni and Shiite Muslims who “are killing each other...”
Patriarch visits Egypt (Fides) Maronite Patriarch Boutros Bechara Peter Rai carried out a four-day visit to Egypt, which ended yesterday, Sunday 13 December and was characterized by a busy schedule, not only from a pastoral point of view. The occasion for the patriarchal visit was the inauguration of the church dedicated to St. Maron, which underwent major restoration in the Cairo district of Heliopolis. During the visit in Egypt, the Primate of the Maronite Church had high-level contacts and met among others the Coptic Orthodox Patriarch, Tawadros II, the Grand Imam of al-Azhar, Ahmad al Tayyeb, and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi...
Russia angry at Turkey’s military presence in Iraq (New Europe) The scale of Turkey’s military presence in northern Iraq cannot be justified by the tasks of training any local groups, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said on Sunday. “We think that Turkey’s actions in northern Iraq are illegal. It is an invasion into a neighboring state,” he said. “Moreover, the scale of these actions cannot be justified by any training-related argument.” Iraq appealed to the United Nations Security Council on Friday to demand an immediate and unconditional withdrawal of all Turkish troops from northern Iraq, calling Turkey’s military incursion a “flagrant violation” of international law...
Syrian refugees receive a primer on Canadian life (The Globe and Mail) As the new Syrian arrivals take in the mundane details of Canadian life like so many refugees before them, there are signs of the emotional toll of the past few years. There is also evidence of the network of support that is ready to help, the sponsors who have brought them here, the volunteers on hand to translate. With as many as 25,000 refugees expected in the coming months, this is a scene that will play out again and again across Canada...
Bhopal archbishop receives peace award (Vatican Radio) Archbishop Leo Cornelio SVD, of Bhopal on Thursday received the prestigious International Human Rights Award for the year 2015 at the India Islamic Centre, New Delhi in a glittering ceremony organized by All India Council of Human Rights, Liberties and Social Justice...
Hanukkah lights the darkness in Ukraine (FoxNews.com) Since the crisis began two years ago, the Jewish community of Ukraine, numbering an estimated 300-350,000 Jews, has come together not just to provide much-needed aid, but also to celebrate the Jewish holidays with bravery and gusto unmatched under such circumstances. They have been joined in this massive undertaking by my organization, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, and other overseas Jewish and Christian aid groups — the Jewish Federations, Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, World Jewish Relief, and Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein and the International Fellowship of Christians & Jews — individual philanthropists, foundations, community leaders, and activists all seeking to ensure that life goes on even under duress...
11 December 2015
Armenian archbishops from France, Ukraine, Russia and Nagorno-Karabakh concelebrate the blessing of chrism at Etchmiadzin in 1996. To learn more about Armenia’s spiritual core, read “Where God Descended” in the May 2008 edition of ONE. (photo: Armineh Johannes)