Current Issue
December, 2018
Volume 44, Number 4
28 December 2017
Greg Kandra

Chaldean Christians in Mosul, Iraq, attend Christmas Mass at St. Paul Cathedral on 24 December.
(photo: CNS/Amar Salih, EPA)

Pope appeals for peace in Holy Land (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis reaffirmed his commitment to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process on Monday, Christmas Day, 2017, and called for an end to war and injustice everywhere, in the name of Our Lord, “Prince of Peace” and reconciler of humanity to God the Father. The Pope made his remarks ahead of the urbi et orbi benediction — the traditional blessing given “the city and to the world” on Christmas Day and on other special days throughout the year...

Cardinal: victims of 2008 riot in India are ‘martyrs’ (Vatican Radio) The violence that lasted for nearly four months in 2008 against Christians in Kandhamal District of Odisha state resulted in the loss of 100 lives and left more than 56,000 people homeless. The survivors are facing continual denial of justice to them in the numerous cases pending before the law courts. But the Archdiocese of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar, to which the victims belonged to, is preparing to initiate the sainthood cause of those killed...

Critically ill children evacuated from Syria (Al Jazeera) Aid agencies are evacuating critically ill Syrians from Eastern Ghouta, an area home to around 400,000 people that has been under government siege since 2013. Children comprise around half of the population in one of the last rebel strongholds in the country, where medical supplies and food have been in short supply...

U.S.: ISIS down to fewer than 1,000 fighters in Iraq, Syria (Reuters) Fewer than 1,000 Islamic State fighters remain in Iraq and Syria, the United States-led international coalition fighting the hardline Sunni militant group said on Wednesday, a third of the estimated figure only three weeks ago...

Christians from Iraq celebrate Christmas in America (Chicago Tribune) A year ago, Milad Homo feared his family never would be able to celebrate Christmas in America. The Assyrian Christians had waited more than three years for a chance to emigrate from Turkey, where they had fled after Homo was threatened by a carload of men in black hoods as the family left a Baghdad church. Homo, his wife and two daughters had left all but a few possessions behind in Iraq, struggling to get by in a Turkish city packed with fellow refugees while praying they could someday join his mother, sisters and brothers in Chicago’s tight-knit Assyrian community...

Russian Orthodox biker priests pose for 2018 calendar (The Moscow Times) Russia’s Motorcycle Community of Orthodox Clergy has released a calendar marrying piety with a love for motorcycles in time for the holiday season. The 2018 calendar is titled “Thy Ways” and features priests posing next to their bikes...

22 December 2017
Greg Kandra

The Christmas tree is seen after a lighting ceremony in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican
on 7 December. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)

Earlier this month, Pope Francis made special mention of the Christmas tree standing in St. Peter’s Square and underscored its symbolic significance:

The centerpiece of the Vatican’s Christmas holiday decorations is the towering 92-foot spruce tree.

Measuring nearly 33 feet in diameter, the tree was donated by the Archdiocese of Elk, Poland, and transported to the Vatican on a flatbed truck traveling over 1,240 miles across central Europe.

Thanking the members of the Polish delegation, the pope said the tree’s soaring height “motivates us to reach out ‘toward the highest gifts’” and to rise above the clouds to experience “how beautiful and joyful it is to be immersed in the light of Christ.”

“The tree, which comes from Poland this year, is a sign of the faith of that people who, also with this gesture, wanted to express their fidelity to the see of Peter,” the pope said.

Read more.

22 December 2017
Greg Kandra

Embed from Getty Images
Iraqis shop for Christmas decorations in Baghdad on 16 December. Many Christians in northern Iraq are celebrating their first Christmas since the region’s liberation from ISIS.
(photo: Sabah Arar/AFP/Getty Images)

Protester killed during demonstration in Gaza (Times of Israel) A Palestinian protester was killed during a violent demonstration along the Gaza Strip’s security fence on Friday, as thousands more took part in riots in the coastal enclave and across the West Bank for the third straight week following US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital...

Christmas returns to Qaraqosh (The New York Times) For more than two years, 300 militia fighters waited to retake from the Islamic State the Iraqi city of Qaraqosh, the country’s largest Christian enclave. Then, in October of last year, the photographer Quentin Bruno accompanied these civilians turned soldiers as they approached the city that was once home to 50,000 people. He remembered their excitement, as well as the mortars that rained down upon them, a few days after the Iraqi Army had launched the Battle of Mosul...

Christians ready for Christmas in Iraq (National Catholic Register) In their villages on the Nineveh Plain, Iraq’s Christians are celebrating their first Christmas since the region’s liberation from the Islamic State (ISIS). In the little town of Qaraqosh (also known as Baghdida), there will be no flocks of sheep grazing, or cows lowing, as in years past, on the holy night of Christ’s birth — just the sound of Christians singing the Divine Liturgy at midnight in their burned churches...

In Syria this Christmas, churches demined but deserted (Times of Israel) Deminers are now giving the houses of worship one last sweep to make them safe, but they remain in a terrible state and church officials say they will not hold traditional Christmas services this year. The Armenian Catholic Church of the Martyrs in Raqqa’s city center is barely recognizable, the cross atop its clock tower destroyed by jihadists years ago...

Why Christians are feeling nervous this Christmas in India (The Indian Times) As the countdown to Christmas is underway, the last few days have seen some stray attacks against the festival from fringe right wing outfits in three north Indian states. The incidents have unnerved the minority community, prompting Cardinal Baselios Cleemis, President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), the apex decision making body of the Catholic Church in the country, to comment that the community was “losing confidence in the government”...

Moscow approves huge statue of patriarch (The Moscow Times) The head of the Russian Orthodox Church will be memorialized in a 4-meter (13-foot) statue in the center of Moscow along with 15 other church figures. Patriarch Kirill, a staunch supporter of President Vladimir Putin, has raised eyebrows during his eight-year tenure for sporting pricey watches, sanctioning Russia’s campaign in the Syrian war and allegedly dealing in alcohol and tobacco imports in the 1990s...

New book traces history of Bethlehem (The New York Times) Telling the story of a city is a bold undertaking — an act, depending on the city, that entails parsing myth and historical accounts, archaeological digs and theological teachings, to distill the very essence of a place. Nicholas Blincoe takes on this mission with verve in his new book, “Bethlehem,” unveiling the history of “the most famous little town in the world,” a place whose associations have long existed in the sociocultural zeitgeist. It is the supposed birthplace of Jesus; a town known for dissent in the face of invading forces; the site of much holiness and bloodshed...

21 December 2017
Greg Kandra

Children dressed in Santa Claus costumes sit and sleep inside a classroom before participating in Christmas celebrations on 20 December at a school in Chandigarh, India.
(photo: CNS/Ajay Verma, Reuters)

21 December 2017
Greg Kandra

A Palestinian throws a stone at Israeli forces near Ramallah, West Bank, during a 20 December protest against U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. English and Welsh bishops have expressed their solidarity to Christians in the Middle East following President Trump’s move. (photo: CNS/Goran Tomasevic, Reuters)

English and Welsh bishops appeal for action on Jerusalem (Vatican Radio) The Catholic Bishops of England and Wales have expressed their solidarity to local Churches in Jerusalem and to all Christians in the Middle East following the US President’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. In a letter signed by the Archbishop of Westminster the bishops say they “count themselves among those who ‘love Jerusalem’ and ‘have every will to work and make it a land and a city of peace, life and dignity for all its inhabitants’...”

UN urges cooperation to make migration safer (Vatican Radio) The chief of the United Nations has called for solidarity with migrants whose rights need to be protected and urged for cooperation in managing migration to ensure its benefits are most widely distributed...

Security increased in Egypt for Christmas services (The Christian Post) As many as 230,000 security forces are expected to guard Christmas celebrations around Egypt next week, given the massive church and mosque bombings the country suffered earlier this year. “Holidays and vacations were canceled for security personnel and officers at all security directorates across the country,” security sources told Middle East News Agency...

Christmas in Kerala (The Hindu) Over the years, Christmas has become the most widely accepted religious celebration after Onam in Kerala. Most families, whether or not they believed in the story of Christ, invariably brought home a star at the onset of December. And then the Christmas cake...

Ultra-Orthodox woman in Jerusalem gives birth to 20th child (Times of Israel) An expectant woman who arrived at Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem to give birth earlier this week astounded staff when she revealed that the baby would be her 20th child. The ultra-Orthodox woman, 42, was from the Mea Shearim neighborhood of Jerusalem, the hospital said in a statement Wednesday...

Gravity-defying villagers risk lives for Christmas trees in Georgia (National Geographic) The forested valleys of Racha could be where your Christmas tree comes from. Every year, hundreds of men, women, and children from the impoverished villages of this mountainous region risk their lives to climb more than a hundred feet into the crowns of Abies nordmanniana fir trees and collect the cones, which supply seeds to Christmas tree growers in Europe...

20 December 2017
Greg Kandra

People carry Christmas trees, handed out annually by the Jerusalem municipality, in Jerusalem’s
Old City. (photo: CNS/Amir Cohen, Reuters)

20 December 2017
Greg Kandra

Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, shown here in an image from 2016, says the status of Jerusalem should not be affected by “unilateral decisions.” (photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)

Archbishop: Israelis, Palestinians must agree before Jerusalem changes (CNS) The status quo of Jerusalem should remain as is until an agreement about the holy city is reached by Palestinians and Israelis, said Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. “The status quo affects the fragile life between the different communities. (It) should be changed only through dialogue,” he told journalists at the Latin Patriarchate on 20 December...

Six killed during protests in Iraqi Kurdistan (CNN) At least six people were killed and more than 70 injured Tuesday as anti-government protests erupted for a second straight day, said a provincial health director in Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region...

Report: More than 9,000 killed in battle for Mosul (AP) Between 9,000 and 11,000 people were killed in the nine-month battle to recapture the Iraqi city of Mosul from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant group (ISIS), an Associated Press (AP) investigation has found. The civilian casualty rate is nearly 10 times higher than that previously reported...

The German priest who celebrates Christmas in Jerusalem with Jews ( When Father Nikodemus opens the gate of his church on Mount Zion this Sunday, a huge line of people will be waiting for midnight mass. But it won’t be pilgrims approaching him then. “It’s a strange evening,” says Nikodemus, laughing. “I guess I’m the only priest in the world who celebrates Christmas with an almost entirely Jewish audience.” Ninety-five percent of the 1,000-plus visitors on this special night are Jewish Israelis, he estimates...

A Syrian Santa in Jordan (Huffington Post) It wasn’t long before Christmas in Amman, Jordan. I’d just overheard a stranger talking about a Muslim, Syrian refugee working as a Santa Claus actor in a mall on the outskirts of town. Using some creepy internet magic, I identified the mall and got in contact with him. He invited me to come and say hello. Two hours of arguing with security guards later, and I managed to secure a ten minute interview...

19 December 2017
Greg Kandra

Britain’s Prince Charles greets clergymen after attending a prayer service led by the Melkite Catholic community on 19 December at St. Barnabas Church in London. During the service, Prince Charles described the “barbaric persecution” of Christians as “even more perverse and dreadful” given the Quran’s spirit of reverence toward Jesus and Mary. (photo: CNS/Toby Melville, Reuters)

The Prince of Wales made some pointed remarks today during a visit to a Melkite church in London.

From The Tablet:

The Prince of Wales has described his profoundly shocked at the suffering endured by Catholics in Syria.

Addressing the Melkite Greek Catholic Community in London, along with their hosts from the Anglican Parish of St Barnabas in Pimlico, and friends from other churches, he said it was “a particular privilege” to be able to celebrate the birth of Christ with a community that traces its origins to the very earliest Christian communities in the Holy Land.

“As someone who, throughout my life, has tried, in whatever small way I can, to foster understanding between people of faith, and to build bridges between the great religions of the world, it is heartbreaking beyond words to see just how much pain and suffering is being endured by Christians, in this day and age, simply because of their faith,” he said.

“As Christians we remember, of course, how Our Lord called upon us to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute. But for those confronted with such hatred and oppression, I can only begin to imagine how incredibly hard it must be to follow Christ’s example.”

Read more.

Tags: Syria Middle East Christians

19 December 2017
Greg Kandra

Pope Francis greets Jordan’s King Abdullah II during a private meeting on 19 December at the Vatican. (photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano)

Pope receives King Abdullah of Jordan in audience (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Tuesday received King Abdullah II of Jordan in an audience at the Vatican. In a communiqué following the audience, the Holy See Press Office said the “cordial conversations focused above all on the theme of the promotion of peace and stability in the Mideast, with particular reference to the question of Jerusalem and the role of the Hashemite Sovereign as Custodian of the Holy Places…”

AP: Iraqi patriarch looks to life after ISIS (AP) As Iraq emerges from more than three years of war with the Islamic State group, battling an extremist “mentality” will be the key to peaceful coexistence among the country’s religious and ethnic groups, says a top Chaldean Catholic Church official…

Syria’s internally displaced in dire need of aid (Al Monitor) Displaced persons from various Syrian cities currently living in Aleppo’s northern countryside camps, especially in the vicinity of Azaz, are trying to survive the winter under the difficult humanitarian situation. There is no heating in these camps, as local and international humanitarian organizations are reluctant to provide assistance to displaced people in unorganized camps along the Syrian-Turkish border…

Israeli ambassador rededicates synagogues in India (The Jerusalem Post) Israeli Ambassador to India Daniel Carmon rededicated two of Kolkata’s oldest synagogues on Sunday after they were recently restored. “Remembering and preserving the glorious past of Jewish Kolkata, contributing to the fabric of the city of Kolkata in the present and looking at the future, two synagogues were rededicated today — in the most festive atmosphere of Hanukkah,” he wrote on Twitter…

Nativity message of Metropolitan Tikhon ( As we come to the end of the year, we reflect back on a period in which tragedy, acts of terrorism, shootings in public spaces, political confusion and sexual misconduct allegations dominate the news. The darkness which enshrouds the world adds to the burden of our personal and family struggles…

Tags: Syria India Iraq Pope Francis Jordan

18 December 2017
Greg Kandra

Women gather inside Sts. Peter and Paul the Apostles Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church in Kosmach, Ukraine, during the Christmas liturgy. (photo: Petro Didula)

With Christmas fast approaching, we were reminded of a report from Ukraine in 2004 which gave readers a wintry glimpse of life in the Carpathian Mountains:

“The Christian faith in the area is nuanced,” says Father Vasylii Hunchak, pastor of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox parish of Sts. Peter and Paul in Kosmach. “There is faith, but it is not exactly Christian, rather half-Christian, half-pagan ... a mystical faith. In the Carpathian Mountains, there are people who know about trees, plants, nature.” The Hutsuls are intimately connected to nature, the elements and to their dead.

“Before Christmas Eve supper, people visit cemeteries,” says longtime resident Mykhailo Didushytskyi. “They put candles on the graves of their relatives and invite them to come for supper. A place is then left at the table, with plate and utensils for a deceased relative, to show respect for the dead.”

Timing is important.

“When the cattle are fed and the first star appears, we sit down at the table, light candles and pray,” Mr. Didushytskyi continues. “The eldest takes the kuttia [porridge made of wheat, honey, nuts and poppy seeds] and throws it on the ceiling with a spoon.” If the porridge sticks, this means God has blessed the family with health, cattle and fertile fields. Caroling remains an important Christmas tradition. “According to legend, God gave gifts to all the countries,” says Father Hunchak, “Ukraine came late and God had nothing left to give except songs. Our Christmas carols are simply gifts from God.”

On Christmas Eve, grandchildren carol for their grandparents. On Christmas Day, older children carol. After that, however, only adult men who have permission from their pastors may carol. Proceeds from the singing — carolers receive “tips” — are donated to the parish.

Read more about Faith and Tradition in the November 2004 edition of ONE.

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