4 August 2014
In this photo taken on Friday, Pope Francis meets the four sisters and three brothers of Jesuit Father Paolo Dall’Oglio, missing since last year and presumed kidnapped in northern Syria. The pope met the family at the Jesuit headquarters in Rome, where they all joined the Jesuit community for lunch. (photo via CNS, courtesy Infosj, Rome)
1 August 2014
Tags: Syria Pope Francis Priests Syrian Catholic
In this image from 2007, a child greets visitors to the ancient Muslim city of Harar in Ethiopia. (photo: Cody Christopulos)
In 2007, we paid a visit to a remarkable corner of Ethiopia:
Imagine our surprise when, as we approached the outer walls of this, one of the holiest cities in the Islamic world, we were greeted by a booming call to prayer — from an Orthodox church. Famously, there are more than 90 mosques and shrines in this walled city, which occupies an area less than a square mile. But there are churches, too. …
For much of its history, Harar was a world center of commerce and Islamic culture. Though eclipsed on the world stage long ago, Harar remains a vibrant, multicultural city.
Christianity came to Ethiopia early: In the year 330 — 29 years after Armenia, and some 60 years before Rome — the Ethiopian king of Aksum declared Christianity the official religion of the state. Ethiopia’s distinctive form of Christianity, particularly its links with Judaism, has helped forge a unique culture that has survived intact for more than 1,800 years.
Read more about Ethiopia’s Forbidden City in the July 2007 edition of ONE.
31 July 2014
Tags: Ethiopia Cultural Identity Christian-Muslim relations Islam Ethiopian Christianity
In this image from 2006, Metropolitan Jonah Lwanga presides over the Sunday liturgy at St. Nicholas Church in Kampala, Uganda. To learn more about Orthodoxy’s growth in Uganda, read Orthodox Africa in the March 2006 edition of ONE. (photo: Tugela Ridley)
30 July 2014
Tags: Africa Orthodox Church Patriarchate of Alexandria
Father Adris Hanna celebrates the Eucharist at greater Stockholm’s Syriac Catholic Church. (photo: Magnus Aronson)
With the news these days full of stories of refugees, we were reminded of a story in ONE from three years ago, about refugees from the Middle East who had settled in Sweden:
On an early December morning, 33-year-old Ramiz Toma stops his taxi in front of a home in one of Stockholm’s posh residential neighborhoods. Mr. Toma waits a few minutes until his client, a well-dressed businessman, approaches the car and swiftly takes a seat in the back. Mr. Toma then drives off down the street, still white from the night’s snowfall, and heads to the airport.
After a short while, the man glances at Mr. Toma’s identity badge on the dashboard and breaks the silence. “Where are you from?,” he asks.
“I am an Iraqi Christian,” responds the driver.
“Christian?” replies the man with surprise.
Mr. Toma nods with a faint smile.
“I didn’t know there were Christians in Iraq,” the man continues.
Mr. Toma catches the man’s regard through the rearview mirror. He politely but briefly tells him that, though a minority, Christians have always lived in Iraq. The man says nothing. After a few moments, Mr. Toma turns up the radio and drives on.
Mr. Toma knows his employer, the largest taxi company in Stockholm, discourages its drivers from chatting at length with clients, especially about politics and religion.
After dropping off the client at the airport, Mr. Toma admits he had wanted to say much more about Iraq’s Christians — their ancient history, different denominations, the suffering they have endured since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, even the recent memorial service he attended at his church in Stockholm honoring a Christian woman brutally murdered in her home in Baghdad.
Mr. Toma first came to Sweden in 2000, when the country’s policy toward Iraqi refugees still ranked as the most generous in the world. Believing Sweden a promised land, thousands of Iraqis clamored for asylum at its embassy in Baghdad.
With support from his family, the 23-year-old managed to travel to Sweden and obtain refugee status. However, as do most refugees, the young man struggled at first to adjust to life in Sweden, facing the usual challenges of language and culture.
However, a much larger and more complex problem afflicts Sweden’s Iraqi population: an alarmingly high unemployment rate. According to a recent study, among Iraqis living in Sweden for ten or more years, 73 percent of women and 60 percent of men are unemployed. Some experts attribute the high unemployment rate to the fact that Iraqis in Sweden, particularly Christians, are often well educated. Many had once belonged to Iraq’s affluent middle class. As a result, they have difficulty either landing or settling for one of the mostly unskilled jobs available to them. …
“My faith is the foundation for everything that matters in my life. Just as Jesus showed us his love, we learn to view other people with love when we go to church and listen to his words,” he says.
Mr. Toma’s parents still live in Iraq. And during his first few years in Sweden, he thought for certain he would one day return there and reunite with them. But as the years passed, he planted roots and now considers Sweden home. To his surprise, he even feels more comfortable now among Swedes than he does among his compatriots back in Iraq.
“When I go to Iraq to visit my family, I can’t stand being there for more than a week. It’s not the same people,” he explains. “Everything has changed. Here in Sweden, maybe I haven’t yet been accepted as a Swede. But I feel accepted in Swedish society. And for that I am grateful.”
Today, more than 170,000 Iraqis or persons of Iraqi descent live in Sweden. Iraqis first began coming to Sweden in the early 1980’s during the Iran-Iraq war. Immigration, however, reached its peak in 2007, when Swedish authorities granted asylum to 85 percent of the 20,000 Iraqis who requested it.
Read more about A Nordic Refuge No More from the May 2011 issue of ONE.
29 July 2014
Tags: Iraqi Christians Cultural Identity Iraqi Refugees Sweden
Catholic sisters light candles spelling “peace” in Arabic in front of the altar during Mass in the Church of St. Catherine in Bethlehem, West Bank, on 27 July. Parishes throughout the West Bank celebrated special Masses for Gaza, Iraq and Syria. (photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)
28 July 2014
Tags: Gaza Strip/West Bank Sisters Israeli-Palestinian conflict Catholic Middle East Peace Process
Pope Francis issues new appeals for peace (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Sunday made another urgent appeal for an end to the conflicts in the Middle East, in Iraq and in Ukraine. Speaking after his regular Angelus address to thousands of people gathered in a hot and sunny St. Peter’s Square, the pope spoke of the victims of war, in particular the children who die or are injured and orphaned by the violence…
Chaldean patriarch: ‘The situation is dire’ in Iraq (Vatican Radio) Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael I says the situation in Iraq continues to deteriorate quickly. He said the country has suffered tremendously at the hands of the ISIS militant group, also known as Islamic State — extremist Muslim rebels, who one month ago declared a caliphate on the border with Syria and Iraq. With ISIS pledging to expand its control over the region, there is very little relief from the attacks in sight…
Palestinian sources: Israeli airstrike hits Gaza hospital (CBS News) The Gaza police operations room and a Palestinian health official say separate Israeli airstrikes hit the compound of Gaza City’s main hospital and a nearby park, causing casualties. The Israeli military had no immediate comment. Camera crews were prevented from filming the area of impact at Shifa Hospital. Health official Ayman Sahabani says several people were wounded in the strikes…
United Nations calls for cease fire in Gaza (Associated Press) Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reinforced the Security Council’s call for “an immediate and unconditional humanitarian cease-fire” in the Gaza war on Monday and demanded that Israel andHamas end the violence &ldquoin the name of humanity.” The U.N. chief accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal of being irresponsible and “morally wrong” for letting their people get killed in the conflict. He urged them to demonstrate “political will” and “compassionate leadership” to end the suffering of war-weary citizens. “Gaza is in critical condition” after pummeling by Israeli forces that has killed helpless civilians and raised “serious questions about proportionality,” he told reporters…
India’s largest Ramadan gathering held in Kerala (Arab News) Hundreds of thousands of believers gathered at the Swalath Nagar in the Muslim-dominated Malappuram district in the southern Indian state of Kerala overnight Thursday in what is claimed as the the world’s third largest Ramadan congregation. Organizers say some half a million people attended the annual prayer meet in the past two years and they expect similar or increased numbers this year…
25 July 2014
Tags: Israel Holy Land Kerala Chaldeans
Pope Francis eats with Vatican workers during a surprise visit to the Vatican cafeteria on 25 July. (photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)
Workers at the Vatican got a surprise visitor today at lunch:
Taking the chef completely by surprise, Pope Francis unexpectedly showed up to eat with the Vatican’s blue collar workers at their cafeteria in the tiny city-state’s “industrial park.”
“He showed up, got his tray, silverware, he stood in line and we served him,” the cafeteria’s chef, Franco Paini, told Vatican Radio on 25 July.
He acted “normally, like the humblest of the workers,” Paini said, his voice still trembling from the thrill. “Please forgive me, I’m still excited, you know?”
Wearing his white cassock and zucchetto, the pope grabbed an orange plastic tray and chose what he wanted from the array of prepared foods.
He got a plate of pasta without sauce; a portion of cod; a whole wheat roll; some “au gratin” vegetables; a few French fries; an apple; and a bottle of spring water -- but not the fizzy, bubbly kind, witnessed reported.
“I didn’t have the courage to give him the bill,” said Claudia Di Giacomo, who was sitting behind the cash register.
Paini said the pope made everyone feel at ease. “We introduced ourselves, he asked how we were, what it was like working there, he paid us compliments; it was really nice.”
The cafeteria in the Vatican’s “industrial area” serves employees who work as technicians, electricians, plumbers, metalworkers, craftsmen, but also employees of the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano.
The pope sat down to eat at a table with workers from the Vatican pharmacy’s warehouse. Wearing dark blue uniform polo shirts, the men spoke to the pope about their jobs and the pope talked about his Italian heritage.
Table talk also included soccer and the economy, the Vatican newspaper reported.
CNS has more.
24 July 2014
Tags: Pope Francis Vatican Cuisine Rome
Looking for the latest news and insight on the Middle East? CNEWA’s Communications Director Michael J.L. La Civita will be on Relevant Radio later today to discuss the worsening crisis for Christians in the region.
You can hear him on “A Closer Look” with Sheila Liaugminas at 6:30 EST.
To find a station near you, visit this page. Or click this link to listen to the program online.
24 July 2014
Tags: Middle East Christians Middle East Violence against Christians Iraqi Christians Holy Land Christians
Israeli soldiers stand atop tanks outside the northern Gaza Strip on 22 July. (photo: CNS/Baz Ratner, Reuters)
This week in Our Sunday Visitor, CNEWA’s Communications Director Michael J.L. La Civita offers some thoughts on the explosive crisis of the Middle East:
The artificial geopolitical construct that is the Middle East — with its national borders drawn arbitrarily by the Western Allied powers after World War I — is collapsing. In an article for the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, a French seminarian working with the patriarchate writes that a number of factors have contributed to the latest conflicts.
“Recently we witnessed the end and the failure of peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine, in particular because of the refusal of Palestine to recognize Israel as a ‘Jewish state’ and the continued construction of illegal Israeli settlements, which led to a new wave of pessimism and despair,” Pierre Loup de Raucourt wrote. “The discovery of the three dead Israeli teenagers and the revenge that followed, leading to the horrific death of a young Palestinian, were sufficient to ignite a wick. And one does not know how big the powder keg is to which this wick is attached.”
That powder keg is huge.
In Iraq and Syria — by far the largest states created from the smoldering remains of the Ottoman Turkish Empire — the powder kegs have exploded, unleashing violent forces so extreme even al Qaeda has repudiated the bloodletting.
Iraq, once awash in cash thanks to its oil reserves, has collapsed — its people exhausted by more than 30 years of constant war. Syria, once the bedrock of regional stability, has disintegrated — its people maimed and displaced. Meanwhile, extremist militias have overrun vast swaths of devastated territory and proclaimed an Islamist caliphate, an empire akin to those that dominated the region for centuries.
In Israel and Palestine, (as of this writing) leaders on both sides remain unyielding.
Read more in the current edition of Our Sunday Visitor.
24 July 2014
Tags: Syria Iraq Middle East Israeli-Palestinian conflict Middle East Peace Process
Pope Francis blesses Meriam Ibrahim of Sudan during a private meeting at the Vatican on 24 July. (photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)
In a dramatic encounter at the Vatican, an Ethiopian-born woman who faced a death sentence for refusing to renounce her Christian faith had a meeting this morning with Pope Francis:
Meeting a Sudanese woman who risked execution for not renouncing her Catholic faith, Pope Francis thanked Meriam Ibrahim for her steadfast witness to Christ.
The pope spent 30 minutes with Ibrahim, her husband and two small children on 24 July, just hours after she had arrived safely in Italy following a brutal ordeal of imprisonment and a death sentence for apostasy in Sudan.
Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, told journalists that the encounter in the pope’s residence was marked by “affection” and “great serenity and joy.”
They had “a beautiful conversation,” during which the pope thanked Ibrahim for “her steadfast witness of faith,” the priest said.
Ibrahim thanked the pope for the church’s prayers and support during her plight, Father Lombardi said.
The Vatican spokesman said the meeting was a sign of the pope’s “closeness, solidarity and presence with all those who suffer for their faith,” adding that Ibrahim’s ordeal has come to represent the serious challenges many people face in living out their faith.
The informal conversation also touched upon the family’s plans now that Ibrahim is free, he said. The pope gave the family a few small gifts, including papal rosaries.
Ibrahim, a 26-year-old Catholic woman originally sentenced to death for marrying a Christian, had been released from prison in Sudan 23 June after intense international pressure. But she was apprehended again the next day at the Khartoum airport with her husband, who is a U.S. citizen, and their nearly 2-year-old son and 2-month-old daughter, who was born in prison just after Ibrahim’s death sentence.
Charged with possessing fake travel documents, Ibrahim was not allowed to leave Sudan, but she was released into the custody of the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum, where she then spent the following month.
Italy’s foreign ministry led negotiations with Khartoum for her to be allowed to leave Sudan for Italy.
Read more at the CNS link.
Tags: Pope Francis Violence against Christians Sudan