10 June 2015
Ukrainians attend Pope Francis’ general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on 10 June. The sign in Italian says, “Holy Father, Pray for Ukraine.” Ukrainians were calling attention to their country as Pope Francis was scheduled to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin at the
Vatican Wednesday. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Pope, Putin to meet today (NPR) Russian President Vladimir Putin and Pope Francis will meet for the second time on Wednesday. Russia Today, the English-language news outlet of the Russian government, reports that Putin will head to the Vatican for the meeting. RT reports: “The two men champion similar conservative values in a rapidly changing world, as well as concerns for emerging threats to Christianity. During their last meeting in 2013, Putin and the Pope discussed the danger Christians face in the Middle East at the hands of radical Islamists”...
Putin’s calculated revival of the Russian Orthodox Church (The Fiscal Times) Something remarkable, though little noticed outside Russia, happened during the massive Victory Day parade and celebration held in Moscow last month. With troops assembled in Red Square awaiting his inspection, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, standing in the back of an open car, was driven through the gate in the Spasskaya Tower. As the car passed beneath the tower’s giant icon of Jesus it slowed and Shoigu, with the portrait above him and the massive edifice of St. Basil’s Cathedral to his right, made the sign of the cross. This was remarkable because Shoigu, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, neither is an ethnic Russian nor is he even a Christian. Born in the Siberian region of Tuva, Shoigu is widely believed to be a Buddhist...
Holy See: Poor countries need better access to medicines (Vatican Radio) The Vatican has called for waivers for the Least Developed Countries from certain obligations of intellectual property treaties in order to give them better access to essential medicines and vaccines. Archbishop Silvano M. Tomasi, Permanent Representative of the Holy See to the United Nations and Other International Organizations in Geneva, said this particularly needed to help fight HIV/AIDS...
Chaldean Patriarch: only national reconciliation can save Iraq (Fides) On the first anniversary of what is called “the tragedy of Mosul” when the jihadists of ISIS conquered the second city of Iraq, the Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans, Louis Raphael I, turns to refugees forced to flee from their city with a message to express his closeness in prayer, along with the hope “that you can return home soon, in the land of your fathers”...
Lebanese will pray for their country before Mary (Fides) From 12 to 16 June, a series of liturgical celebrations and moments of Marian devotion will be held in various locations in Lebanon on the occasion of the second anniversary of the consecration of the Lebanese nation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary...
9 June 2015
Tags: Iraq Lebanon Ukraine Russia
This Romanian icon of St. Ephrem the Syrian was written in 2005. (photo: Wikipedia)
Today, 9 June, marks the feast of St. Ephrem in the Latin church (it’s celebrated on 28 January in the East). Often called the “Harp of the Holy Spirit,” Ephrem was born in Nisibis — then in the Roman province of Syria — now Nusaybin, Turkey in 306. He spent much of his life preaching and writing hymns and poems:
Ephrem had a complex and artistic personality marked by a strong tendency to be hot-tempered. But with tremendous self-control, he dominated his fiery nature and devoted his life to asceticism.
Ephrem taught in Nisibis until the city was ceded to the Persians and he was forced, with other Christians, to emigrate to Edessa (now Urfa, Turkey). There, Ephrem continued his teaching at the famous School of Edessa whose reknown, and even founding, has been attributed to him.
An aspect of Ephrem’s unusual personality is evident in the fact that, although ordained a deacon, he never became a priest — avoiding consecration by feigning madness. Although no certain explanation can be found for this behavior, some biographers believe it was due to a feeling of unworthiness.
St. Ephrem died in 373, at the age of 67.
A familiar prayer among the Eastern churches remains this brief invocation for Lent:
O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, despair, lust of power, and idle talk.
But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to Thy servant.
Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own transgressions, and not to judge my brother, for blessed art Thou, unto ages of ages. Amen.
At a time when the land so closely associated with St. Ephrem is facing increased turmoil and strife, let us pray that the saint will watch over Syria and Turkey, and help guide all who dwell there on the path to peace.
8 June 2015
Friends and family gather to celebrate an engagement between a young Coptic couple in Australia at Saint George’s Coptic Church in Melbourne. (photo: Sean Sprague)
In 2007, we paid a visit to Australia to report on a land rich in diversity of faith and culture:
I left the world of peroghi and stuffed cabbage in the back of a black Hyundai Sonata — bearing the customized license plate, “COPT 1” — for the Melbourne suburb of Preston. There, I joined Amba (or Bishop) Suriel, Coptic Orthodox Bishop of Melbourne, Canberra, Tasmania, South Australia, Western Australia and New Zealand, at St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Church to commemorate the miracle of the Wedding at Cana. After the Divine Liturgy, celebrated in Arabic and Coptic, we traveled further to celebrate the engagement of an Australian Coptic couple.
“We mix with the Anglo-Australian population, and I have Australian friends, though in many ways our lives are quite different from theirs,” said Nariman Eskander, 28, who at age 13 left her native Egypt, home to more than 8 million Coptic Orthodox Christians. Australia’s Copts tend to hang on to their traditional customs and culture, eschewing the drinking and frolicking found in mainstream Australian culture, she said.
The bishop, who is in his late 40’s, noted that parenting has had much to do with the maintenance of such customs among even young Copts.
“My parents had a great influence on me, teaching me to fear God and warning of the traps faced by youth living in Western society,” he said. “My parents realized we must live within God’s commandments in an upright way.”
But even Copts question whether or not their families will remain intact. “Three-quarters of us will probably marry another Copt,” said Ms. Eskander, “though in the future I imagine there will be more intermarriage, and perhaps we will slowly lose our culture.”
Read more about “Diversity Down Under” in the May 2007 edition of ONE.
8 June 2015
In the video above, Pope Francis speaks to the people of Sarajevo on Saturday about the importance of interfaith dialogue and the ability of many faiths and cultures in the country
to coexist. (video: CNS)
Pope says interfaith dialogue is a duty (Vatican Radio) Interreligious dialogue is “an indispensable condition for peace” and “a duty for all believers.” That was Pope Francis’ reminder to the people of Bosnia-Herzegovina on Saturday afternoon as he met with leaders of the Muslim, Orthodox, Catholic and Jewish communities gathered in a Franciscan youth centre in Sarajevo...
Eastern Catholic leaders express concern over Ukraine, discrimination (Vatican Radio) Eastern Catholic Church leaders of Europe meeting in Prague say the Family must be a priority in the pastoral work of their respective churches and are expressing their concern over the situation in Ukraine and what they see as borderline “discrimination” against the Church in South-East Europe...
G7 leaders agree to maintain sanctions against Russia (Vatican Radio) Leaders of the Group of Seven of developed economies have agreed to maintain sanctions against Russia until Russian President Vladimir Putin and Moscow-backed separatists fully implement the terms of a peace deal in Ukraine. The Ukraine conflict is dominating the G7 summit, which, among other issues, is also dealing with a long running debt standoff with Greece and trade deals with Asia and the European Union...
ISIS kidnaps Eritrean refugees in Libya (International Business Times) The Islamic State (ISIS) has kidnapped 86 Eritrean refugees in Libya, according to a Swedish-Eritrean activist. Meron Estefanos, human rights activist and co-founder of the International Commission on Eritrean Refugees in Stockholm, told IBTimes UK that the Eritrean refugees, including 12 women and children, were abducted two days ago (3 June) as they were travelling to Tripoli. Most of the kidnapped come from one city in Eritrea, Adi Keih, which is known for its opposition to the regime. “IS militants asked everyone who is Muslim or not and everybody started saying they are Muslims. But you have to know the Koran, and they didn’t,” Estefanos said, citing eyewitnesses who managed to escape...
Dozens die in government air strikes in Syria (BBC) At least 49 civilians, including six children, have been killed in air strikes by government forces in north-western Syria, activists say. The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that missiles had hit a public square in the rebel-held village of al-Janudiya. Many people had gathered there to go shopping, the group added. Al-Janudiya is situated in the west of Idlib province, which is now almost completely controlled by rebel forces...
Iraqi Knights of Columbus in Canada raise funds for refugees (Catholic Register) When the Islamic State attacked the city of Mosul in June 2014, members of Toronto’s Jesus the King Council of the Knights of Columbus knew they had to respond. “As the first Middle Eastern Christian (Knights’) council with many Iraqi members, we have a moral obligation to help no matter how small our council is,” said Hikmat Dandan in an e-mail to council members. “Remember big things are always started by one or two people...”
5 June 2015
In this image from 2008, Bat-El Shmueli plays with her daughter at their home in Haifa.
(photo: Ilene Perlman)
In 2008, we profiled a remarkable group of immigrants in Israel: Ethiopian Jews, some of whom were having difficulty adjusting to their new homeland:
The transition into modern Israeli society has been especially wrenching for older immigrants, said Bat-El Shmueli, E.N.P.’s feisty program coordinator in Haifa and Tirat Hacarmel.
In one of its many programs for Ethiopian adults, Ms. Shmueli helps Ethiopian adults ages 35 to 80 to “learn about life in Israel.”
She said that, for the most part, “they don’t know Hebrew, they don’t have good jobs and they feel distanced from their children who have grown up here and feel and act Israeli.”
Men “often feel powerless, useless, displaced. In Ethiopia they were kings of their homes, villages and communities. Here, everyone tells them what to do.”
According to a recent study by I.A.E.J., 32 percent of Ethiopian-Israeli fathers and 10 percent of mothers are employed; 70 percent of families earn no income, relying
entirely on public assistance. Many of those who work do not clear the poverty line.
The fact that more and more Ethiopian-Israeli children have an education and are finding good jobs “is a source of immense pride to their parents, but also a source of alienation,” Ms. Shmueli added.
Read more about “Challenges for a Land of Immigrants” in the November 2008 edition of ONE.
5 June 2015
Pope Francis leads Benediction outside the Basilica of St. Mary Major on the feast of Corpus Christi in Rome 4 June. In his homily, he issued a plea to remember persecuted Christians.
(photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
ISIS infiltrates Iraqi Kurdistan (Al Monitor) About two weeks ago, Iraqi Kurdish security forces (asayish) captured another ring of terrorists who were planning a deadly attack on Erbil city. Their ability to effectively obstruct this heinous plot, aided by the brother of one co-conspirer, saved lives and uncovered the identity of the perpetrators: Kurdish residents of Erbil who professed their loyalty to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and were linked together by a mosque and the Internet. The local roots of the plotters — as well as previous ones — indicates ISIS’ societal reach beyond the front-lines of Iraq’s disputed territories. The terrorist group has been able to feed off and radicalize Kurds not only through extreme Salafist ideology but deep grievances tied to economic and political conditions inside the Kurdistan Region of Iraq...
Celebrating Corpus Christi, pope honors persecuted Christians (CNS) The Eucharist is the seal of God’s covenant, uniting Christians and giving them the strength to bring God’s love to others, even when faith carries a high price, Pope Francis said. Celebrating the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ with an evening Mass outside Rome’s Basilica of St. John Lateran 4 June, Pope Francis said the church and its members will never cease being in awe of the Eucharist. As the sun began to set, the Mass was followed by a traditional Corpus Christi procession from St. John Lateran to the Basilica of St. Mary Major, one mile away. Pope Francis asked the faithful as they walked through the city with the Eucharist to remember “our many brothers and sisters who do not have the freedom to express their faith in the Lord Jesus”...
ISIS took their homes. What do they miss most? (CNN) Forced to flee their homes by ISIS’ advance, Iraqis living in a refugee camp in Baghdad’s Jamiaa neighborhood remember the items of daily life that used to bring them most joy...
High inflations makes Ukraine situation worse (The New York Times) While the rest of Europe tries desperately to shrug off low inflation, Ukraine has added rapidly rising prices to its long list of problems during its civil war with Russian-backed rebels. Official inflation figures showed that prices rose 61 percent in April compared with a year earlier. But many prices have doubled and tripled...
Putin to visit pope amid global tensions (RNS) Russian President Vladimir Putin will meet Pope Francis on 10 June, with pressure on the pontiff to speak up about the Kremlin’s role in the Ukraine conflict. The visit, which was confirmed on 4 June by the Holy See’s chief spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, will be Putin’s second meeting with Francis. The two leaders also met in the Vatican in November 2013. But the ground between Moscow and Rome has shifted significantly in the interim, with Russia annexing the Crimea Peninsula last year and being accused of fomenting the ongoing war in eastern Ukraine...
4 June 2015
Tags: Iraq Ukraine Middle East Russia
Young parishioners at Holy Cross Church take part in perpetual adoration in Purakkad, India. Read more about this serene corner of Kerala in “Purakkad’s Natural Harmony” from the
May 2009 edition of ONE. (photo: Peter Lemieux)
4 June 2015
This file image shows the dam over the Euphrates River near Ramadi. ISIS has closed off the dam to cut water supplies to towns downstream. (photo: Azhar Shallal/AFP/Getty Images)
ISIS cuts off water supplies in parts of Iraq (CNN) ISIS has closed off a dam to the north of the Iraqi city of Ramadi — seized by its forces last month — cutting water supplies to pro-government towns downstream and making it easier for its fighters to attack forces loyal to Baghdad, local officials and residents said...
Israel fears breakup of Syria (U.S. News & World Report) Israeli Deputy Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Yair Golan, who previously headed the Northern Command, addressed a Tel Aviv University conference 1 June to mark 30 years since the Israel Defense Forces’ establishment of the security zone in southern Lebanon. He said, “From a strategic perspective, our situation in the northern arena may be better than ever.” On the other hand, Golan added that Hezbollah now possesses formidable, unparalleled capabilities that no other terrorist organization ever had, and is capable of threatening all of Israel’s population centers. Oh, and that the Islamic State could develop into a “disturbing future threat”...
Ukraine’s president warns of possible “full-scale” invasion (BBC) President Petro Poroshenko has told MPs the military must prepare to defend against a possible “full-scale invasion” from Russia, amid a surge of violence in eastern Ukraine. Russia has denied that its military is involved in Ukraine, but Mr. Poroshenko said 9,000 of its troops were deployed. Clashes involving tanks took place in two areas west of Donetsk on Wednesday...
Grand Imam from Egypt to take part in interfaith conference (Vatican Radio) The Grand Imam of Al Azhar University in Cairo, Muhammad Al-Tayyeb, and other authorities of the Islamic world will be participating in an international conference in Florence, Italy next week to explore the theme “East and West–Dialogues of civilization”...
Eastern Catholic leaders meeting in Europe (Vatican Radio) The annual meeting of the Eastern Catholic hierarchs of Europe is taking place in Prague- Břevnov (Czech Republic), at the invitation of Mgr. Ladislav Hučko, Apostolic Exarch for Byzantine Rite Catholics resident in the Czech Republic. The meeting will take place at the Benedictine Archabbey of St. Adalbert and St. Margaret (Břevnov)...
3 June 2015
Tags: Syria Iraq Egypt Ukraine
In this image from late April, Syrian citizens clear streets after shelling in Aleppo. This week, ISIS claimed more territory in Aleppo province near the border with Turkey.
(photo: CNS/Syrian Arab News Agency handout via Reuters)
Violence flares in Ukraine (BBC) Fierce fighting is raging between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine, officials on both sides say. The clashes — said to involve heavy artillery and tanks — are taking place in Maryinka and Krasnohorivka, outside the rebel-held city of Donetsk. There were reports of multiple injuries in the towns held by Ukraine’s army...
ISIS seizes territory from rebels in Aleppo (Al Jazeera) The Islamic State group has seized more territory from Syrian rebels in Aleppo province near the border with Turkey. The advance by the armed group on Tuesday threatens to cut off supply lines used by Syrian rebel factions fighting both ISIS and the Syrian government. The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said rebel groups have sent reinforcements to ward off the offensive, which has seen four villages and a town previously held by the al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front fall to ISIS fighters...
Iraq allies pledge support in bid to regain Ramadi (AFP) Iraq’s allies pledged support for Baghdad’s plan to retake the city of Ramadi from Islamic State jihadists, whose advance Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi described as a “failure” for the global community. The US-led coalition, which has been carrying out air strikes against IS, also called for the “speedy launch” of efforts to resolve the Syrian crisis, which it said was crucial to tackle the group rampaging through Syria and Iraq...
Coptic homes attacked following charges of blasphemy (Christian Today) Coptic homes have been attacked and Christian families forced to flee from a village in Egypt after reports that Islam was insulted on Facebook. Some Muslims in the Beni Suef governate in Egypt tried to protect Copts from villagers angered over alleged “insults to Islam.” Ayman Youssef Tawfiq, from Kafr Darwish in Al-Fashn, denies he posted cartoons on Facebook that were insulting to the Prophet Muhammad. Nevertheless, Coptic homes in his village have been stoned and attacked with Molotov cocktails. A car has been destroyed and several homes set on fire...
Archbishop Fitzgerald on Vatican II’s legacy of interfaith relations (Vatican Radio) This year, 2015, marks the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council declaration, Nostra Aetate, which radically changed the Catholic Church’s relationship with people of other faiths. Issued on 28 October 1965, the document for the first time urged Catholics to recognize the truth present in other religions and to work together for the benefit of all of humanity. Over the past half century, the message of that document has been taken up by interfaith groups across the globe, often promoted and coordinated by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. The former president of that Council, Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, was a key speaker at a recent conference at Georgetown University In Washington DC. The encounter was organised by the Ecclesiological Investigations International Research Network to discuss the ecumenical and interfaith legacy of the Second Vatican Council...
2 June 2015
Tags: Syria Iraq Egypt Ukraine
Msgr. John E. Kozar welcomes Sister Diana Momeka to CNEWA’s New York office. (photo: CNEWA)
The first thing that struck me about the veiled woman in white standing in our reception area was: “She’s so little.” The petite Dominican sister with the piercing eyes and dark hair didn’t look like someone who would shake the world.
But I soon learned that her passion and her message are, in fact, earth shaking. Small wonder that this small wonder has made some of the most powerful people in world capitals sit up and take notice.
Sister Diana Momeka left Iraq a few weeks ago to visit the United States; one of her most important stops was Capitol Hill, where she spoke to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. Last night, she braved a thunderstorm to drive from Washington to New York, to visit with several of us this morning at the offices of CNEWA. Beyond a reunion between old friends and collaborators — CNEWA has sponsored the work of her congregation for many years — this meeting held a deeper and more poignant purpose. She wanted to share her message about the plight of thousands of Iraqi refugees — men, women and children, young and old, healthy and infirm — who fled their homes last year to escape ISIS, and settled in whatever housing they could find in the northern Iraqi city of Erbil.
It has been a harrowing time — and the Iraqi families aren’t the only ones suffering. Sister Diana and dozens of other Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena fled their convent and also settled in Erbil, where they are working tirelessly to help people who sometimes feel helpless.
“My main message,” she told those of us gathered in the board room, “is to get human dignity to people there, in Iraq.” Her words were measured and her focus, laser sharp.
“People,” she continued, “have been humiliated. They are living in slums. These people are human beings with great love, great faith. But when you lose your home, your heritage, your culture, you lose your dignity. When you live in a container, in a tent, you don’t have any privacy, this is not a real human life to live. My hope is to find a way to give dignity back.”
Sister Diana spoke of the great suffering the people are enduring — but also their great faith. She recalled a Mass last month celebrated by CNEWA’s president, Msgr. John Kozar, who made a pastoral visit to Erbil.
“At Mass,” she said, “at first, they weren’t smiling, but then Msgr. Kozar talked to them and spoke and gave a message of hope and said, ‘I’d like to see you smiling,’ and they smiled and he noticed there is faith there. They attended Mass because they are hungry for words of hope. They appreciate every movement, every step that is taken by the Western world to acknowledge their pain and persecution.”
Msgr. Kozar explained: “When you talk about the faith of these individuals, it is because of their faith that they continue to carry on. Their faith, their village, their church are all synonymous. It’s more than just going to a religious service. It’s everything you are.” He sighed. “And they’ve lost all of it.”
Sister Diana said they are working to rebuild the lives of the people, providing health care, education and a sense of hope. She told of opening a kindergarten to care for young children. “For the first two months,” she said, “we were just trying to get the children to smile, just to smile. They couldn’t smile.” They finally made some breakthroughs with painting and art therapy, but many challenges remain.
“We still feel it’s a nightmare,” she concluded.
She noted with gratitude that CNEWA had been a tremendous support to the sisters and their work — helping fund clinics, provide housing and give both material and spiritual comfort to the displaced Iraqis. “Through your help,” she said, “you have helped us give dignity to people. This is how you care for the Body of Christ that has been hurting.”
But she added, there is still much to do. Many Iraqi families still live in crowded storage containers that, in the heat of the summer, are “unbearable.” And then there are the storms. “We spend nights and nights not being able to sleep because you hear the rain hitting the containers,” Sister Diana said, “and the memory comes back of all the bombs we have heard before.”
And the small woman with the great message emphasized, once more, what she wanted the world to know:
“We need to get back our humanity, our human dignity.”
To support CNEWA’s work in Iraq and to help our suffering brothers and sisters, visit this link. And please keep Sister Diana and all the people of Iraq in your prayers.
Tags: Iraq Middle East Christians Iraqi Christians Sisters Iraqi Refugees