1 April 2015
Catholic, Orthodox and Muslim religious leaders meet for an interfaith summit in Bkerke, Lebanon, on 30 March. They affirmed the “essential role” of the Christian presence in the Middle East and called for terrorism in the region to be confronted culturally,
educationally and politically. (photo: CNS/Mychel Akl)
A remarkable gathering took place this week in Lebanon:
Lebanon’s Catholic, Orthodox and Muslim religious leaders affirmed the “essential role” of the Christian presence in the Middle East and called for terrorism in the region to be confronted “culturally, educationally and politically.”
In a joint statement issued 30 March at the conclusion of an interfaith summit in Bkerke, the seat of the Maronite Catholic Church north of Beirut, the religious leaders emphasized that the Christian presence “plays an essential role” in the identity of the region “and predates Islam by several centuries.”
The leaders agreed to continue meeting quarterly to continue their discussions.
Cardinal Bechara Rai, Maronite Catholic patriarch, presided at the summit.
Terrorism, the religious leaders said, “must be fought through unifying the ranks of moderation” and “modernizing the religious rhetoric” with an emphasis on “reconciliation, tolerance and coexistence.”
“Eastern Christians are the first victims of the waves of violence in the region,” the leaders said, noting that Assyrians were the latest target as they cited the Islamic State invasion 23 February of about 30 Assyrian Christian villages in the Khabur region of Syria.
They called for the release of two Syrian bishops kidnapped in April 2013 — Syriac Orthodox Metropolitan Gregorios Yohanna of Aleppo and Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Paul of Aleppo.
“The wars in Syria and Iraq have been devastating,” the statement said. “As a result, 1.5 million Syrians have fled to Lebanon, in addition to thousands of Iraqis, not to mention (the presence of) half a million Palestinians.”
The number of Syrian refugees alone is equal to more than 25 percent of Lebanon’s population of about 4 million, putting Lebanon under great strain.
“The unorganized entry of Syrian refugees surpassed Lebanon’s coping capacity at several levels, from security to housing, labor, health, education, transport and food supply, which has depleted a treasury that is reeling under the burden of debt,” the leaders warned.
They also expressed a need to “prevent the temporary presence of refugees” from turning into a permanent presence, which they said would pose “a major threat to the unity and stability” of Lebanon.
The Christian and Muslim leaders said the dire circumstances of the refugees “require active international action and an increase in aid.”
“The international community must realize that Lebanon’s capacity is limited,” they stressed.
The leaders expressed “deep concern and disappointment” that the presidency of Lebanon remains vacant. The post is reserved for a Maronite Catholic under the country’s power-sharing system. The term of the previous president, Michel Suleiman, ended in May. Legislators have failed to agree on a successor.
“The election of a president must remain a critical and vital issue because the Maronite Christian president is the guarantee for coexistence,” the leaders said.
Regarding the crisis unfolding in Yemen, the leaders called on Arab states to “contain the escalation and protect the sovereignty, security and unity of all Arab countries.”
They applauded the feast of the Annunciation, 25 March — recognized by the Lebanese government in 2010 as an official national Christian-Muslim annual holiday — stressing that it enhances Lebanon’s message of coexistence to the world.
About 33 percent of Lebanon’s existing population is Christian, with the majority Maronites.
In addition to Cardinal Rai, attending the summit were: Melkite Catholic Patriarch Gregoire III Laham; Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignace Joseph III; Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II of Antioch; Chaldean Catholic Bishop Michel Kassarji of Beirut, representing Iraq's Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Sako; Armenian Catholic Patriarch Nerses Bedros XIX Tarmouni; Catholicos Aram of Cilicia, patriarch of the Armenian Apostolic Church; Greek Orthodox Archbishop Elias Audi of Beirut, representing Greek Orthodox Patriarch John X Yazigi; and the Vatican nuncio to Lebanon, Archbishop Gabriele Caccia.
Muslim representatives included Sunni Grand Mufti Abdel-Latif Derian; Abdel-Amir Qabalan, deputy head of the High Islamic Shiite Council; and Druze spiritual leader Naim Hassan.
1 April 2015
In this image from February, Ukrainian armed forces ride on armored personnel carriers near Debaltseve, Ukraine. (photo: CNS/Gleb Garanich, Reuters)
Children killed by landmines in Ukraine (Vatican Radio) The UN children’s charity UNICEF has said that at least 109 children are reported to have been injured and 42 killed by landmines and unexploded ordnance in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of eastern Ukraine since March 2014...
Iraq’s interior minister says Tikrit has been liberated (Reuters) Iraqi troops and Shi’ite paramilitary fighters were battling Islamic State on Wednesday in northern Tikrit, which officials described as the Sunni Muslim militant group’s last stronghold in the city. With officials touting victory in a month-long battle, state television said Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi was visiting the city, which the Islamist militants captured last June as they seized most of Iraq’s Sunni territories...
Helping amputees rebuild lives in Gaza (The Sydney Morning Herald) Mohamed al-Sillak was standing next to an ambulance outside a crowded marketplace in Gaza, holding the body of one of his children in his arms, when the second Israeli air strike hit. Seven months later he is standing in front of a ramp in a rehabilitation centre in Gaza, trying out his new leg. Next to him is Australian Greg Halford, an ortho-prosthetist from the International Committee of the Red Cross, who is three months into a 14-month assignment in the Gaza Strip...
Growing insecurity in India’s Christian community (BBC) Six people have been arrested in central India after a church was vandalised, allegedly by right-wing Hindu activists. It is the latest in a series of attacks on India’s small but influential Christian minority...
Ethiopia, a land where coffee meets tradition (CNN) Far from being just coffee exporters, Ethiopians are also major coffee lovers. Cafes densely line the streets of the capital Addis Ababa, and in 2013/14 3.6 million bags were consumed in the country, representing 71.6 percent of the total domestic consumption of Africa and 8 percent of all exporting countries. TO.MO.CA, with six branches in Ethiopia’s capital, is one of the most recognizable cafe brands. It has been owned by three generations of the same family for over 60 years, and now the company is opening its first international outpost in Tokyo, Japan, this May...
31 March 2015
Tags: Iraq India Ukraine Ethiopia Gaza Strip/West Bank
Syrian refugees are seen in Zaatari Camp in Jordan on 29 March.
(photo: CNS/Muhammad Hamed, Reuters)
Cardinal visits Iraqi refugees in Jordan (Fides) Cardinal Fernando Filoni, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, was sent by the Holy Father to Iraq to express the union of the Pope’s prayer with the many “Christian families and other groups of victims who were expelled from their homes and their villages, particularly in the city of Mosul and the Nineveh plain, many of whom had taken refuge in the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan”...
Refugees cling to hope so they can go home (CNS) Abu Bilal, a slender man in his 40s, is surrounded by cages of bright yellow canaries merrily twittering. Their melodious song injects a joyful energy into this otherwise drab, dusty refugee camp located on a desert plain in Jordan’s north near the border with Syria. Abu Bilal wishes his unusual pet shop in Zaatari Camp will cheer other Syrian refugees clinging to the last thread of hope to return home. As Syria’s civil war has entered its fifth year, refugees sheltering in Jordan’s largest camp expressed despair for the future, saying they never expected the conflict to have lasted so long or to have brought so much destruction to their beloved homeland...
U.S. Pledges aid to Syria (AP) The United States pledged $507 million in humanitarian aid at an international donors’ conference for Syria on Tuesday as the United Nations issued an appeal for $8.4 billion in commitments this year — the organization’s largest appeal yet for the war-ravaged country. Kuwait, which is hosting the third annual conference, pledged $500 million at the start of the meeting. The European Commission and EU member states pledged close to $1.2 billion total, double the overall EU pledge at last year’s conference...
Russian tanks enter eastern Ukraine (Newsweek) 22 Russian tanks crossed into Ukraine’s separatist-held eastern territories over the weekend, as pro-Moscow forces continue to seep into Ukraine’s war-stricken Donetsk and Luhansk regions, Donetsk’s local pro-government officials reported yesterday...
Kerala upholds liquor ban (Indian Express) A division bench of Kerala high court on Tuesday ratified the new liquor policy of the Congress government, paving the way for closure of all liquor bar hotels except those in the five- star classification...
Russian theater director suspended for offending Christians (The New York Times) The culture minister on Sunday fired the director of a Siberian theater who included a controversial interpretation of the life of Jesus in the Richard Wagner opera “Tannhauser.” The director, Boris Mezdrich, had failed to apologize and to take other steps to mitigate the outcry among the Orthodox faithful offended by various aspects of the production at the Novosibirsk State Academic Opera and Ballet Theater, said Vladimir Aristarkhov, the deputy minister of culture, according to Interfax. In 2013, a blasphemy law made it a criminal offense to perform public acts that offend believers, punishable by up to three years in prison...
30 March 2015
Catholicos Dinkha IV, patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East, is greeted by Pope Benedict XVI in 2007. Patriarch Dinkha died 26 March at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.
(photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)
Sad news from Chicago:
Catholicos Dinkha IV, patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East, died March 26 at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. A virus infection and pneumonia were cited as the cause of death. He was 79.
In a message of condolence sent to the temporary head of the church, Pope Francis offered his prayers for the deceased patriarch and said, “The Christian world has lost an important spiritual leader, a courageous and wise pastor who faithfully served his community in extremely challenging times.”
Pope Francis said he knew from his conversation with the catholicos how he “suffered greatly because of the tragic situation in the Middle East, especially in Iraq and in Syria, resolutely calling attention to the plight of our Christian brothers and sisters and other religious minorities suffering daily persecution.”
Catholicos Dinkha was born Sept. 15, 1935, in Iraq. He was ordained a priest at age 21 and became a bishop just five years later. He was elected patriarch in 1976, at the age of 41, succeeding Catholicos Eshai Shimun XXIII, who was assassinated a year earlier. Catholicos Dinkha was the first patriarch to be elected; traditionally, succession was from uncle to nephew.
Because of political instability in Iraq, Catholicos Dinkha moved the patriarchal see in 1980 from its ancestral homeland in modern-day Iraq to suburban Chicago in the United States, where a growing diaspora community was located.
Religious leaders offered words of condolence on the patriarch’s death.
“We pray for his soul. We pray also that the fathers of the Assyrian Church of the East will elect a new shepherd who will lead the flock during this crucial time when Christians are persecuted in the Middle East and our Syriac-Chaldean-Assyrian people are being persecuted and forced to be displaced from their homelands,” Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II of Antioch said in a statement to Catholic News Service.
“With great hope, we look forward to working together with the Assyrian community for the good of our people and a brighter future for all, following the footsteps of the late patriarch,” he said.
Syrian Catholic Patriarch Ignatius Youssef III Younan told CNS in an email that he last met with the late patriarch in May at the Russian Patriarchate in Moscow.
“We then had the chance to discuss the tragic situation of Christians and other minorities in Iraq, as a sinister prelude of what will happen in Mosul on June 10 and in the Plain of Niniveh on the night of Aug. 6-7,” Patriarch Younan recalled, referring to the invasion of northern Iraq by Islamic State militants.
“He was equally concerned about the ongoing exodus of his church’s membership to the point to fear that a time would come when Iraq and Syria will be emptied of Christians,” Patriarch Younan added.
“Let us pray that the Lord inspire the Holy Synod of the sister church that they may elect a successor filled with wisdom, energy and charisma enabling him to defend the very survival of the Church of the East, either in the Middle East or in the diaspora,” he said.
Catholicos Dinkha has been credited with rebuilding the church and updating the liturgy, translating portions from classical to modern Assyrian. He was esteemed as a fatherly figure and as a strong promoter of ecumenism. The Assyrian Church of the East is not in communion with any other churches, either Catholic or Orthodox.
And you can learn more about the Assyrian Church of the East by reading “Against All Odds” and our profile of the Church.
Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him...
30 March 2015
Pope Francis carries palm fronds in procession at the start of Palm Sunday Mass in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on 29 March. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
On Palm Sunday, pope expresses solidarity with persecuted Christians (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis remembered the persecuted Christians in the world on Sunday — Palm Sunday — during Mass in St. Peter’s Square. Following the proclamation of the Passion according to St. Mark, Pope Francis delivered a homily, in which he reflected on the plight of all those who endure humiliation because of their faithfulness to the Gospel, all those who face discrimination and pay a personal price for their fidelity to Christ...
Pope sends assistance to displaced in Iraq (CNS) As Holy Week and Easter approached, Pope Francis wanted to show his ongoing concern for people persecuted and displaced by violence in Iraq and in northern Nigeria. Although not specifying the amount, the Vatican press office said 27 March that the pope was sending aid money to people seeking shelter in Iraq’s Kurdistan region and to the Nigerian bishops’ conference to assist families in the northern part of the country where the terrorist group Boko Haram has been on a rampage. In addition, the Vatican said, the people of the Diocese of Rome, “united with their bishop,” Pope Francis, held a special collection and will send “colomba” Easter cakes to the displaced in Iraq...
Pope sends condolences on death of patriarch (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has sent his condolences upon learning of the death of the Patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East, Mar Dinkha IV. “The Christian world has lost an important spiritual leader, a courageous and wise pastor who faithfully served his community in extremely challenging times,” Pope Francis writes...
Car bombings kill at least 11 in Baghdad (AP) A pair of car bombings in a Baghdad suburb on Monday killed at least 11 people and wounded dozens, officials said, hours after the arrival of the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, for talks with the Iraqi officials.
Shortly before noon, the two explosive-laden cars went off simultaneously in a commercial area of the Shiite-dominated Husseiniyah district in northeastern Baghdad, a police officer said. Two policemen were among the dead. At least 26 people were wounded in the attack, he added...
Turkey moves to close gates at border with Syria (The New York Times) After maintaining an open-door policy throughout the four-year conflict in neighboring Syria, Turkey has moved this month to close the two remaining border gates between the countries, shutting out displaced Syrian refugees amid fears of a potential terrorist attack...
Kerala Christians observe Palm Sunday (NDTV) Churches in Kerala on Sunday were crowded on the occasion of Palm Sunday. Palm Sunday is celebrated with a lot of reverence as churches distribute palm leaves, freshly cut from coconut trees, to commemorate Jesus Christ’s entry into Jerusalem, when palm branches were placed in his path, before his arrest and crucifixion on Good Friday...
27 March 2015
Tags: Syria Iraq India Pope Francis Middle East
Parishioners request a blessing after the celebration of the liturgy at a new church in Babogaya, an Ethiopian village. The story of how the church came to be can be found in “12 Years of Perseverance” in the September 2005 edition of ONE. (photo: Sean Sprague)
27 March 2015
In this image from January, Iraqi refugees who fled their homes due to the violence of armed groups led by Islamic State are shown at the Arbat refugee camp in Sulaymaniyah, Iraq. Pope Francis today expressed his concern for displaced Iraqis living as refugees.
(photo: Feriq Ferec/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Pope expresses concern for displaced Iraqis (Vatican Radio) A statement issued Friday by the Holy See’s Press Office says the Pope is particularly concerned about those from Mosul and the Nineveh Plains, many of whom have found refuge in Iraqi Kurdistan. The press statement further says the Holy Father is praying for the victims and hopes that they will soon be able to return to their former lives in their homeland where for centuries they have lived in good relations with their neighbors. In this coming Holy Week these families particularly share in the injustice and sufferings of Christ, and as a sign of unity, Cardinal Fernando Filoni, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, will return to Iraq to be with the expelled families and to pray with them during this time of suffering...
Patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East dies (Vatican Radio) The Patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East, His Holiness Mar Dinkha IV, died on Thursday at the age of 79. He assumed his office in 1976. The Assyrian Church of the East issued a statement saying: “His Holiness had dedicated his entire life, to serving our Lord and our Holy Church. All his life he worked hard to be a spiritual father to us all. Heaven has welcomed him today and may he rest in peace...”
Pope creates new eparchy in India (VIS) On 26 March, the Holy Father erected the eparchy of St. John Chrysostom of Gurgaon of the Syro-Malankars, India, appointing Bishop Jacob Mar Barnabas Aerath, OIC, as its first eparchal bishop. Bishop Aerath was previously apostolic visitor for the Syro-Malankars extra-territorial missions in India. The new eparchy extends along the northern part of India, covering 22 of the 29 states...
Christians and Muslims celebrate feast together in Lebanon (Fides) The Marian solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord, which Lebanon proclaimed a national holiday in 2010, has also seen this year celebrations in various parts of the country promoted by organizations of Christian-Muslim dialogue, starting from Ensemble Autour de Marie group. This year, in particular, Christians and Muslims gathered around Mary in the Shrine of Notre Dame de Nourieh and Notre Dame de Jamhour, for a liturgy of reflections and songs — some in Latin and Aramaic — and also saw the participation of Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, Archbishop of Lione, together with the Imam of the Mosque of Lione, Kamel Kabtane...
Chechnya threatens to arm Mexico if U.S. arms Ukraine (The Moscow Times) A Kremlin spokesman reminded Russia’s republic of Chechnya that it is illegal for Russian regions to send weapons abroad, after the Chechen parliament threatened to supply arms to Mexico for it to fight the United States. The Chechen parliament made the statement in response to a U.S. congressional resolution that called for sending lethal military aid to Ukraine...
26 March 2015
Bishop Jacob Mar Barnabas Aerath, of the Eparchy of St. John Chrysostom of Gurgaon of the Syro-Malankara Church, is surrounded by new Catholics he baptized recently in Punjab. To learn more about Catholic outreach in northern India, read Msgr. Kozar’s account of a recent visit there in the Winter edition of ONE. (photo: CNEWA)
26 March 2015
In this image from February, Ukrainian soldiers play football on the road leading to the embattled town of Debaltseve outside Artemivsk, Ukraine. The Holy See has urged the international community to work to ensure stability in Ukraine. (photo: Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)
U.S. strikes ISIS in Tikrit (The New York Times) American warplanes began airstrikes against Islamic State positions in Tikrit late Wednesday, finally joining a stalled offensive to retake the Iraqi city as American officials sought to seize the initiative from Iran, which had taken a major role in directing the operation. The decision to directly aid the offensive was made by President Obama on Wednesday, American officials said, and represented a significant shift in the Iraqi campaign. For more than three weeks, the Americans had stayed on the sideline of the battle for Tikrit, wary of being in the position of aiding an essentially Iranian-led operation. Senior Iranian officials had been on the scene, and allied Shiite militias had made up the bulk of the force...
Holy See: All parties need to work to implement Ukraine agreements (Vatican Radio) The Holy See reminded the international community of the need to “respect international legality regarding Ukraine’s territory and borders” as a “key element” for ensuring stability, both for Ukraine and the entire region. Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations and Other International Organizations in Geneva, on Thursday addressed the United Nations Human Rights Council about the situation in Ukraine...
Police in India make arrests in gang rape of nun (AP) Police arrested two suspects Thursday in the gang rape of an elderly nun in a Catholic missionary school this month in a crime that focused attention on the scourge of sexual violence in India despite tough anti-rape laws introduced two years ago. The suspects were arrested after a nationwide hunt, one of them was found hiding in the western city of Mumbai and the second from West Bengal state, said a police officer said who spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to talk to reporters...
Thousands of Copts to visit Jerusalem for Easter (The Cairo Post) About 5,000 Coptic Christians are planning to visit Jerusalem starting from April 2 to attend Easter celebrations, in violation of the Coptic Church’s policy, Youm7 reported. The church, under the late Pope Cyril VI, in 1968 established a policy of discouraging Copts from traveling to Palestine, after the 1967 annexation by Israel, as long as Egyptian Muslims would not be able to make the trip, Pastor Paulis Halim told Youm7...
Saving Gaza’s only grand piano (BBC) The only concert grand piano in war-ravaged Gaza has been rediscovered and brought back to life after years of neglect. It survived last year’s war with Israel — though only just — but was unplayable until a restorer arrived on a special mission from France, and paved the way for a rare concert...
25 March 2015
Tags: Iraq Egypt Ukraine Gaza Strip/West Bank Coptic
Lunch is served in the traditional Indian manner at St. Antony’s English Medium School. To learn more about this school, read “Education as a Common Goal” in the September-October 2003 edition of the magazine. (photo: Sean Sprague)