23 April 2014
A restorer displays fragments of a recovered mosaic near the Jordan River (left) and a reproduction of a finished product. (photo: Christian Molidor, R.S.M.)
Several years ago, we visited the area around the Jordan where tradition holds that John baptized Jesus, and uncovered some remarkable archeological work:
Archeologist Dr. Muhammad Waheeb is the excavator of the most recently investigated major site associated with the life of Jesus. The two Gospel passages state that John the Baptist was baptizing at Bethany beyond the Jordan River, i.e., on the east side of the river, as seen from Jerusalem. This Bethany should not be confused with the home village of Mary, Martha and Lazarus on the Mount of Olives near Jerusalem.
For many centuries pilgrims have identified the location of the baptism of Jesus with a spot on the western bank of the Jordan River near Jericho. But over the past five years Dr. Waheeb has shown that for most Christians of the Byzantine period — the fourth through the seventh centuries — the activity of the Baptist was located at a site on the eastern bank known today in Arabic as Wadi el-Kharrar, about four and a half miles northeast of where the river empties into the Dead Sea.
The evidence of some pottery shards and other remains from the time of Jesus himself — what historians and archeologists call the Roman period in this region — is not yet sufficient to make an absolute identification of the site with the Gospel’s Bethany. And indeed it is difficult to “prove” archeologically the exact location of many, if not most, events of both the Old and New Testaments.
The earliest shrine-building efforts of newly free Christians, however, following the Romans’ issuing of an edict of religious tolerance in 311, as well as monastic settlements, bear witness to the attraction of particular sites to the faithful by at least the second quarter of the fourth century.
Read more about Bethany Beyond the Jordan in the January-February 2002 issue of our magazine.
22 April 2014
Pope Francis carries a candle as he arrives to celebrate the Easter Vigil in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican on 19 April. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
17 April 2014
Tags: Pope Francis Vatican Easter Rome
In this image from 2008, early morning sunshine fills St. Basil the Great Church in Krajné Cierno in Slovakia. The region is noted for its historic wooden churches. To learn more, read Rooted in Wood from the May 2008 issue of ONE. (photo: Andrej Bán)
16 April 2014
Tags: Cultural Identity Eastern Churches Architecture Church Slovakia
In this image from 2000, pilgrims follow the Way of the Cross along the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem. (photo: George Martin)
This time of year is especially busy in Jerusalem, when Passover coincides with Holy Week. Christian pilgrims in the city for Easter often follow the tradition of walking the Via Dolorosa, (or “Way of Sorrows”), the winding route through Jerusalem that is marked by the Stations of the Cross, the traditional path of Christ’s journey to Calvary.
Writer George Martin followed that journey for our magazine in 2000:
The Via Dolorosa begins in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem and winds its way through alleys that become progressively narrower and more crowded. Shops line the alleys, offering everything from tourist trinkets to shanks of lamb, from underwear to icons. Young boys hawk postcards; pickpockets and beggars ply their trades. Scattered between the shops are signs and bas-relief sculptures that identify the stations. At some spots one can enter chapels to pray; at others, Jesus’ passion must be commemorated on the street.
Pilgrimage groups stop to pray at a station and shops and passengers are blocked, at least partially. Those who must use the street push through: Hassidic Jews on their way to pray at the Western Wall; Muslim women carrying bundles on their heads; tourists with video cameras. The sights, the sounds and the smells are nothing like the quiet in which we pray the stations back home.
I always try to prepare the pilgrims by telling them we will follow the stations through a living city, like the Jerusalem of Jesus’ passion. Most of those living in Jerusalem at that time were neither his disciples nor his enemies; they were simply going about their lives as he was led to death. How many shopkeepers watched him pass, shook their heads at his misfortune and returned to selling their wares?
Crucifixion in ancient times was a public spectacle, a display of cruelty meant to subdue those harboring seditious thoughts. Jesus’ executioners did not have a religious event in mind. Although we meditate on some horrible scenes while praying the stations, we usually do so in the hushed surroundings of our churches, shielded from the reality of a man sentenced to death. Praying the stations in Jerusalem strips away some of that protective veil. The sacred and the profane collide on the Via Dolorosa.
Read more about walking In His Footsteps from the March-April 2000 issue of our magazine.
15 April 2014
In Ethiopia, cows and oxen are used to stomp on the harvested teff. To learn more about the country’s agricultural industry — and how it’s moving into the modern era — check out Farming a Brighter Future from the January 2010 issue of ONE. (photo: Peter Lemieux)
14 April 2014
With Passover beginning tonight, we offer once again the video below, first produced in 2013, in which CNEWA’s external affairs officer, Rev. Elias Mallon, S.A., Ph.D., discusses the significance of these two holidays and their proximity to one another:
14 April 2014
A Palestinian boy carries palm branches to sell to Christian pilgrims before the annual Palm Sunday procession on the Mount of Olives overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem 13 April. Christian pilgrims walked the path that Jesus took when he rode a donkey into Jerusalem.
(photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)
14 April 2014
In this image from Passover in 2009, Jewish worshipers are wrapped in prayer shawls as they take part in the Jewish priestly blessing at the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest prayer site, in the Old City of Jerusalem. (photo: CNS/Darren Whiteside, Reuters)
Drought could complicate food crisis in Syria (NPR) In March, the United Nations World Food Programme reported that a potential drought in the area could significantly hurt food production in Syria: “Large rainfall deficits in the 2013-2014 season will have a major impact on Syria’s next cereal harvest. With three quarters of the rainfall season gone, it is unlikely that there will be a significant recovery in this agricultural season.” That could also make a disastrous situation much worse. Dina El-Kassaby, a public information officer for the World Food Programme based in Amman, Jordan, says getting food to areas stuck in the middle of combat is already very difficult...
Israel prepares for Passover (Associated Press) Smoke wafted through the air in Jerusalem on Monday morning as Jews burned scraps of bread and added the final touches to weeks of meticulous preparations for Passover, the holiday in which the biblical story of the Exodus of the Jewish people from ancient Egypt is retold. This year, the holiday comes amid uncertainty over the future of the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, with the sides facing an end-of-April deadline to reach a preliminary deal or agree to an extension of negotiations...
Pope sends Passover greetings (CNS) Offering Passover greetings to Rome’s Jewish community, Pope Francis also asked for prayers for his upcoming trip to the Holy Land. With the approaching of the start of Passover at sundown on 14 April, the Pope said he wanted to offer his “best wishes for peace” to Rome’s chief Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni and the city’s Jewish community...
Catholics in Crimea isolated (ByzCath.org) Catholics living in the Crimea have been cut off from their co-religionists in Ukraine since Russia seized the province, a bishop serving in Crimea has reported to Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). Bishop Jacek Pyl, an auxiliary of the Odessa-Simferopol diocese, told ACN: “We only communicate by phone or email; even the aid packages are kept back at the border...”
Parishes prepare for annual Good Friday collection for Holy Land (Vatican Radio) Parishes around the world this week will be taking up the traditional annual Good Friday Collection for the Church in the Holy Land.The proceeds from the Good Friday Collection go to the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land. The Franciscans have been caring for the holy sites there since 1209. They also assist the poor, run schools, provide scholarships, and conduct pastoral ministries to keep Christianity alive in the land where it originated. In his appeal to Catholics to donate generously this Good Friday, Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, Prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, said “The Collection is still today the principal source which sustains the life and works of the region’s Christians...”
Catholic priest from Kerala appearing in major film (Deccan Chronicle) A Catholic priest in Kerala is all set to play a prominent role in a feature film. Father Thomas Chakkalamattath, who belongs to the Catholic order Carmelites of Mary Immaculate (CMI), is enacting the role of a priest in the movie titled ‘Christmas Cake’, which narrates the story of a bond between a clergyman and a visually impaired boy abandoned by parents. The film, shot in Kerala and Malaysia, will hit screens on 25 April after Easter. It is directed by Sajan Kurien, who has made several parallel films screened in festivals...
10 April 2014
Tags: India Pope Francis Ukraine Israel Kerala
Berthe Maalouly, at left, leads Holy Apostles College in Jounieh, north of Beirut.
(photo: Sarah Hunter)
Several years ago, we profiled Catholic schools that were making a difference in Lebanon:
Catholic schools can be found throughout Lebanon, in areas where there is little religious diversity or towns where Christians and Muslims live in segregated areas. In such places, the boundaries separating public school districts frequently coincide with community boundaries — thus reinforcing sectarianism.
Catholic schools, meanwhile, enroll students from all communities, whether adjacent, distant, Christian or Muslim. In many parts of Lebanon, they represent the last forum where Christian and Muslim youth meet and grow up knowing one another.
“Catholic schools are natural places where children can come together, sit next to each other and get to know the other person slowly but surely,” said Maronite Father Marwan Tabet, who heads Lebanon’s General Secretariat of Catholic Schools.
“It’s not like you have to shove it down the throats of people — and the kids grow to know each other, to love each other, to accept each other. That’s very important.”
Father Marwan believes the student body’s religious diversity ranks among the greatest strengths of the nation’s Catholic school system. These schools, he said, are a “place where there is no proselytism, where children are not converted to Christianity. On the contrary, they are open to the other culture. They are accepted and they are cared for with the best of means and possibilities.
“When our institutions are accepted in areas that are solely non-Christian,” he concluded, “that fortifies the Catholic school because it is still accepted by the others.”
Read more about the Pillars of Lebanon in the June 2008 issue of ONE.
9 April 2014
Tags: Lebanon Education
In this image from 2010, police limit access to the courtyard of the Holy Sepulchre, where thousands typically greet the procession. (photo: CNEWA, Jerusalem)
Some significant news out of Jerusalem today, from the Associated Press:
Palestinian Christians are awaiting a High Court of Justice ruling on a petition asking the state and the Israel Police to drop the heavy movement and security restrictions that have prevented worshipers from accessing holy sites in East Jerusalem on Holy Saturday during the past several years. Holy Saturday, which is the day before Easter, falls this year on 19 April.
The petition, filed in February by several East Jerusalem residents, argues that police roadblocks and barricades in and around the Old City on that day deter worshipers from even attempting to access the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and other sites for Holy Saturday celebrations. The petitioners have also asked that armed security personnel not be allowed to enter the church. The heads of the five Eastern Orthodox churches and the Franciscan Custos of the Holy Land also joined the petition.
Holy Saturday, also called the Saturday of Light by some of the eastern churches, is marked in East Jerusalem with a fire ceremony that symbolizes the resurrection of Christ. The custom for the past several hundred years is that the Greek Orthodox patriarch enters the holy sepulcher with an extinguished torch and prays. The tradition is that at 2 P.M., the torch lights up on its own, and its fire is passed on to the torches of other denominations and to the candles carried by thousands of believers waiting in the church and outside it.
According to the petitioners, between 1967 and 2005 Israel respected the Holy Saturday tradition and its character as a mass event. But in 2006, in a step that was never explained, the police started to erect barriers and screen worshipers before allowing them to enter. The petitioners’ attorney, Assad Masawi, said that in 2010, Palestinian Christian leaders began a dialogue with the authorities that resulted in somewhat improved access in 2011 and 2012. But in 2013 the situation deteriorated again, with reports of police roughing up worshipers and clergymen en route to the celebrations and refusing to allow access to various delegations whose visits had been coordinated in advance.
This is an issue CNEWA has been following for some time. In 2010, CNEWA’s Regional Director for Palestine and Israel, Sami el-Yousef, described the bittersweet atmosphere in Jerusalem during Holy Week:
For the past few years, Israeli authorities have closed the Old City and the area around the Church of the Holy Sepulchre during Holy Week, preventing local Christian and pilgrims from attending the Holy Fire celebration.
My 88-year-old father remembers when Jordan controlled East Jerusalem. During Holy Week, fleets of buses packed with pilgrims from Lebanon, Syria, Egypt and Iraq would park along the road to Jericho. The crowds of pilgrims would walk to the celebration in the Old City. Their numbers far exceeded today’s turnout at Easter time, yet the Old City never closed its gates and the streets inside were never blocked. Access was open to all.
A couple of years ago, Israeli authorities attempted to impose a permit system limiting the number of people who could attend the Holy Fire celebration. Incensed, local Christians demanded the government respect the church’s centuries-old Status Quo, which prohibits any restrictions on the faithful visiting the church. After all, pilgrims naturally want to get as close as possible to Christianity’s birthplace, especially during Holy Week.
This year, despite outcry from church leaders, members of civil society and the Christian community at large, Israeli authorities made it next to impossible to enter the Old City on Holy Saturday. In the early morning hours, police set up roadblocks at all the Old City’s gates and dozens of manned checkpoints along the streets and alleyways leading to the church. Authorities cooperated with church leaders only to the extent of allowing a limited number of local Christians access to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, provided that police escort them. Israeli authorities also detained a small group of locals at Saint Jacob’s Orthodox Church from early morning until just 15 minutes before the Holy Fire celebration began.
Since I live in the Old City, it was very strange to be escorted by Israeli police officers to my church. I felt ashamed to have capitulated to such treatment, but regretfully that was the only way to get to my destination. It was even stranger to witness St. Jacob’s Church — my parish — transformed into a holding cell, a detention center if you will, for hours.
Read more about Christian High Holy Days in the May 2010 issue of ONE.