Current Issue
July, 2019
Volume 45, Number 2
11 June 2019
Mark Pattison, Catholic News Service

Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych, Ukraine, head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, center, poses for a photo with Mark Morozowich, dean of theology and religious studies at The Catholic University of America in Washington, left; John Garvey, president of The Catholic University of America; Bishop Basil H. Losten, former head of the Ukrainian Eparchy of Stamford, Connecticut; and Metropolitan-Archbishop Borys Gudziak, head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia. (photo: CNS/Tyler Orsburn)

Ukrainian Catholics in North America continue to struggle to develop ways to maintain their Ukrainian religious and ethnic identity amid a larger majority culture that beckons with the siren song of assimilation.

The answer may lie in young people, according to Metropolitan-Archbishop Borys Gudziak, the newly enthroned archbishop of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia, during a 6 June conference on the future of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in North America that he convoked at The Catholic University of America in Washington.

“It is time to give voice to our young people, to hear them,” Metropolitan Borys said in introductory remarks during the conference, which was part of an eight-day celebration of his 4 June enthronement in Philadelphia.

His words were echoed by Susan Timoney, an associate professor in the School of Theology and Religious Studies at Catholic University.

“Young people are fully invested members of our community today,” not at some point in the future, Timoney said.

One takeaway from last October’s Synod of Bishops on “young people, faith and vocational discernment” at the Vatican, was that “our parishes are rightly placed (with) exactly what our young people are searching for,” although “we don’t always use the same language,” she said, adding that “if Jesus were preaching and teaching today, we might think of him as that millennial hipster with some crazy ideas.”

Youth coming together to celebrate also is helpful, according to Timoney, who cited national, regional and local World Youth Day celebrations concurrent with the international World Youth Day as an example.

“Young people need help with discernment,” Timoney said. “They need help to make sense of who they are, and who God wants them to be.”

Assimilation into the larger culture is not limited to Ukrainians, said Mar Munoz-Visoso, executive director of the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat of Cultural Diversity in the Church.

“Among Hispanics, kids are speaking English,” Munoz-Visoso said. “They are subject to the same temptations and cultural influence as all of the other kids.” What is needed is “to reach out in a way that is meaningful to them,” she said.

But discipleship is not to be restricted to one’s own group, she added. “The church in Ukraine is missionary in its own identify,” she said. Evangelization should not be limited to just “the ones who speak like me, or look like me, or think like me, but all nations,” as Jesus decreed, she added.

The Rev. Peter Galadza, a Ukrainian Catholic priest and theologian, said the Ukrainian liturgical rites hold an appeal to some non-Ukrainians who have joined the Ukrainian church, which like all Eastern Catholic churches, are in communion with Rome. Still there are some Ukrainian Catholics who harbor resentment of non-Ukrainians worshipping with them.

“We will never allow anyone in our church to look at you and say, ‘What are you doing here? You’re not Ukrainian,’“ said the priest, who is director and professor of liturgy at the Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies at the University of St. Michael’s College, University of Toronto.

There are people who have “an inferiority complex about being Ukrainian,” he added, but “we see parishes who refused to even have a homily in English in 40-50 years, and they are suffering today.”

Unity is key, Father Galadza said, but without unity in the pursuit of truth, “your sense of mission is going to be skewed.”

A recurring theme of the “From Heart to Heart” conference struck Robin Darling Young, an associate professor of spirituality at Catholic University professor, as profound, noting it was the motto of Blessed John Henry Newman, the 19th-century Oxford don and Anglican who joined the Catholic Church, became a cardinal, and whose canonization is expected later this year.

Blessed Newman probably spotted “cor” -- Latin for “heart” -- in St. Augustine’s “Confessions,” Young said, not to mention several biblical passages that refer to the heart.

“Our hearts are not isolates,” Young said. “Our hearts are affected by others, and of course by the heart of the Lord.”

Tags: Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church

9 November 2018
Mark Pattison, Catholic News Service

Myroslav Marynovych, a Ukrainian who was jailed for being the founding member of a human rights group, gestures during an interview with a Catholic News Service reporter in Washington.
(photo: CNS/Bob Roller)

Few dissidents who were exiled to gulags, the labor camps run by the Soviet Union, would think of them as pleasant experiences.

But for Myroslav Marynovych, a Ukrainian who was jailed for being the founding member of a human rights group that operated above-ground, it gave him the opportunity of a lifetime.

In the camp, he said, “I became a Christian.” And it was from his becoming a Ukrainian-rite Catholic that he learned the social doctrine of the church that served as the underpinning for much of his life after he was freed.

“It was a change in the system of my world view,” said Marynovych, now the vice rector of Ukrainian Catholic University, a position that lets him lecture without having a PhD.

“I got my PhD in [the] gulag,” he said with a laugh.

“I understood the world cannot be imagined without God,” he said. Christian views, Marynovych added, “became a very important basis for the reconstitution of the society.”

He recalled growing up under the notion that “only the Soviet system took care of the simpler worker. Then I read ‘Rerum Novarum,’ the first social encyclical, by Pope Leo XIII. I thought, ‘Wow!’“

The Soviet system also presented each struggle as a win-lose proposition, Marynovych said. But from reading Catholic social teaching, he came to the discovery that “each side needs the other,” adding that the world’s wealthiest countries were “the ones where cooperation between businesses and workers takes place.”

Marynovych acknowledged there is still a way to go in those former Soviet republics, because Soviet-style communism was all they knew.

“That’s the interesting difficulty,” he told Catholic News Service during an interview on 8 November. “You may not accept the communistic system philosophically, but it is much easier to change your flag” than to change a political system wholesale.

The church has a place in society, he said, noting a one-time government threat to shut down the church “if it did not do things in a certain way” met with a response from Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk that “the church must stand with our flocks.”

Marynovych said ecumenical relations with the church’s Orthodox counterparts in Ukraine are halting at times but filled with goodwill. This is different from past times, when church leaders regarded the other as being part of “a clear zero-sum game,” he added. “There’s no zero-sum language anymore.” The situation may be different, though, between the Ukrainian Orthodox and their Russian Orthodox brethren. Recently, the Ukrainian Orthodox signaled their intent to cleave themselves from the Russian Orthodox, the largest single branch of Orthodoxy.

Marynovych said the Russian Orthodox had subsumed the Ukrainian Orthodox in 1686, and that the Ukrainian Orthodox want to recover their own symbols, lost over the centuries.

“I’m generally in favor of this new development,” he said, in spite of complications in connection with the ongoing hostilities between Ukraine and Russia.

Tags: Ukraine

13 November 2017
Mark Pattison, Catholic News Service

Franciscan Father Francesco Patton, custos of the Holy Land, says Catholic relations with the Orthodox in the Holy Land today are “very, very good.” (photo: CNS/Tyler Orsburn)

The metaphorical but impenetrable walls that separated Catholics, Greek Orthodox and Armenian Orthodox in the Holy Land are beginning to crumble.

What is formally called a “status quo,” but for generations had the effect of an excuse for inaction, is now being replaced by collaboration, said Franciscan Father Francesco Patton, custos of the Holy Land. Father Patton, elected and papally approved, is responsible for the region’s most sacred sites.

“The renovation of the (Church of the) Holy Sepulchre has been a great occasion for dialogue among the three communities,” said Father Patton. “Under the status quo, it is impossible to do something if the three communities are not together.”

“All the work was done on time,” said Father Patton. “We have to sign off (on) a new agreement for the second step,” which would put electrical systems underground, upgrade the sewage system and install humidity controls, he added.

Relations with the two Orthodox communities are now “very, very good,” Father Patton told Catholic News Service in a 10 November interview in Washington, where he visited the Franciscan monastery in the city — which also falls under the custos’ responsibilities — and met with patrons.

Members of the three churches “all know we are a minority,” Father Patton said. “We (Christians) are only 2 percent when we are together. When we are not together, each of us are less than 2 percent.” He said the different communities try to support each other on issues that affect just one of them.

Along the same lines, Father Patton said he saw unity and harmony among Christians, Muslims and Jews in the Holy Land. While some would prefer to reduce the role of religion in the region, “the meeting of the three Abrahamic communities” is essential, he added. “You can’t solve the problem excluding religion. You can solve it only by including religion.”

The Franciscans want to undertake further restoration initiatives at holy sites in Jerusalem, Nazareth, in the West Bank and elsewhere. He said they want to build housing for Christians who work at the holy sites so they will not have as far to travel to get to their jobs, including facing delays at Israeli checkpoints.

While there has been some success at preserving sacred sites as they were in antiquity, Father Patton does not begrudge residents’ businesses.

“If there are no jobs, there are no people,” he said.

Father Patton added that he expects tourism to be brisk, especially at Christmas.

“Last year was a good year,” he noted. “When there is no violence, there are pilgrims.”

“One-third of Israel’s tourists are coming to see the sacred places,” he added.

10 April 2017
Mark Pattison, Catholic News Service

The altar is seen 3 April at the destroyed Immaculate Conception Church in Qaraqosh, Iraq.
(photo: John E. Kozar)

The next few months will determine whether Iraqi Christians can return to their homes in areas where Islamic State had been routed, according to Msgr. John E. Kozar, international president of Catholic Near East Welfare Association.

Msgr. Kozar, who was in Iraq 31 March — 5 April, cited several daunting challenges for Iraqi Christians who return to their country: infrastructure woes, burned- and bombed-out buildings, desecrated churches and security issues.

“Three liberated villages outside of Dahuk (in northern Iraq) are being resettled as we speak,” Msgr. Kozar told Catholic News Service in 7 April telephone interview from CNEWA headquarters in New York.

“The reason people are very hesitant to go back there is the reason of security. They hold very close to them the reign of terror ISIS had produced. They’re looking for some reassurance from the Iraqi government and the Kurdish Peshmerga government,” the military force that has liberated areas previously under Islamic State control, Msgr. Kozar said.

“The second reason would be there’s no infrastructure. There’s no water, no electricity, no sewage,” he said. “Those would be the single most difficult challenges that need to be overcome. The next two, three months will tell the tale.”

One town, Batnaya, was 85 percent destroyed by aerial bombing, according to Msgr. Kozar. “That one, I don’t know what the future might be for that. It looked to me like something out of World War II,” he said. Another town, Baqova, he described as “more burned out — some aerial bombing but more internal bombing — but all burned out.”

A third, somewhat larger town of 25,000, Teleskov, was “only occupied for nine days by ISIS. It was liberated after nine days, but it was then used by the Peshmerga as a staging area until three or four weeks ago. They use the distinction, ‘It was liberated, but not free,’” Msgr. Kozar said. “People accepted that to drive out ISIS from other towns and build up a fortification line so it would not come back.”

All three towns had significant Chaldean Catholic populations. Chaldeans are one of the Eastern churches, made up primarily of Iraqi Catholics.

A nun walks through the hallway of the badly damaged convent of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena in Qaraqosh, Iraq. (photo: John E. Kozar)

Msgr. Kozar also visited Qaraqosh, one of the cities in northern Iraq with a significant percentage of Assyrian Catholics. He also visited with sisters who had a convent in the city.

Qaraqosh “is heavily damaged but not destroyed,” he said. “There are 4,000-5,000 homes burned out, but the structures — thanks be to God — are pretty fair, but totally looted ... including seven Catholic churches and one Orthodox church, burned internally, pillaged and defaced.”

Msgr. Kozar recalled the extent of destruction at Immaculate Conception Church in Qaraqosh. The church courtyard, he said, was “all filled with soot, and there’s a heap of ashes in the center” as Islamic State had taken all of the church’s sacramentals, piled them up at the courtyard, and burned them. “ISIS had used it for target practice,” he added. “I even brought back shell casings as a little memento of the tragedy there. There was so much target practice there that they shot out two pillars in the courtyard.

“They defaced it in Arabic and German. ISIS had written really vile things about Jesus and the church. The convent was burned and gutted. Everything was stolen. Anything holy in their mind was burned,” he said. “That town had 52,000 Catholics that fled. Almost no one has returned there yet, even though technically it’s under the control of the Iraqi military and, in some sense, under the control of the Kurdish Peshmerga militia.”

Most Iraqi Christian are not prepared to go back, he said.

“What will they do? It’s really a very difficult time. Even though, on the one hand, ISIS has been routed within most instances, there’s still pockets in Iraq where ISIS has control.”

On the other hand, staying in the refugee camps is not a good option. “Some of the ISIS fighters have shaved their beards and are trying to sneak into the (refugee) camps,” Msgr. Kozar said. “This is part of that reign of terror.”

10 February 2017
Mark Pattison, Catholic News Service

Aaron M. Butts, assistant professor of Semitic languages and literature at The Catholic University of America in Washington holds an Ethiopic manuscript containing the Gospel of John at Mullen Library. The university is the holder of the fifth largest collection of Ethiopian Christian manuscripts in the United States and the largest collection of Ethiopian Islamic manuscripts outside Ethiopia. (photo: CNS/Tyler Orsburn)

A massive donation of Ethiopian religious manuscripts to The Catholic University of America in Washington makes the school one of the largest holders of such texts outside Ethiopia.

The value of the donation, by Gerald and Barbara Weiner of Chicago, is estimated to be more than $1 million. The collection includes more than 215 Islamic manuscripts, 125 Christian manuscripts, and 350 so-called “magic” scrolls with prayers to protect the owner or reader from particular illnesses.

What makes the manuscripts valuable is that they’re handmade, according to Aaron Butts, an assistant professor of Semitic languages and literature at Catholic University. What makes them rare, he added, is that such texts are rarely seen outside Ethiopia, and that the East African nation's rainy season often renders the books and scrolls unusable or illegible after repeated use. That so many texts — most of which date back to the 18th and 19th centuries, with a few even older — still survive, and in a usable condition, he told Catholic News Service, is “amazing.”

“Every one of them is a treasure,” Butts said.

The donation makes Catholic University the holder of the fifth largest collection of Ethiopian Christian manuscripts in the United States, and the largest collection of Ethiopian Islamic manuscripts outside of Ethiopia.

Butts said Gerald Weiner had hoped to collect holy books from Ethiopian Judaism, but “when he realized how few were available, he started collecting books from Ethiopian Christianity and Islam.”

Although modern bookbinding techniques exist in Ethiopia, the nation’s religious leaders still greatly prefer to use handmade books. Their makers use the skins of sheep, goats and cattle to make the books; even the “parchment” pages come from these animal hides.

Each book’s contents also must be written by hand with ink. Frequently, there are illustrations in the books — and definitely on the scrolls — making the production of even one book a prolonged and relatively costly venture.

Butts explained that the scrolls are not regarded as official prayer texts by Ethiopian Christian leaders, “but the people who use them use them as prayers.” The prayers ask for divine help for any number of maladies, headaches among them, he said, but some focus on pains only experienced by women, such as they experience with menstruation and childbirth. “This may be why religious leaders have not thought of them as official,” he added.

The edges of some pages of the books are so dark they look like they had been burned. Rather, Butts said, “it’s dirt from the hands” of the user. Some books have “illuminated” illustrations that display their brilliance despite the passage of time, and contain writing underneath the illustration legible to a sharp reader.

Included in the donation were a trio of Ethiopian Christian liturgical texts featuring Gospel passages on one page, and homilies from saints on the next. The tomes are massive in size, each likely containing 200 or so pages with generous margins bordering each page “as a symbol of the wealth” of the religious figure who commissioned the three-volume set, Butts said, adding “Imagine how many animals, how much ink was used” to complete the set, with the writing of each book taking at least several months to complete.

Butts told CNS that the Weiners wanted to make sure the recipient of the gift would be able to provide access to the collection. Catholic University will be able to provide not only scholars and students with access, but also Washington’s Ethiopian-American community.

The Washington area is rivaled only by the much larger Los Angeles metropolitan area for the size of its Ethiopian community. There is a particular concentration of Ethiopian restaurants and shops — including an Ethiopian evangelical church — along the border of Washington with the suburb of Silver Spring, Maryland, and many Ethiopian-American men make their living as taxi drivers.

The donated books and scrolls are still being assessed for their relative durability after two or three centuries. When the assessment is complete, which Butts hopes will be sometime in the spring, Catholic University will invite the Weiners to attend a reception marking the donation.

Check out a video on this manuscripts from CNS below:

Tags: Ethiopia

13 January 2017
Mark Pattison, Catholic News Service

A woman prays during Christmas Mass at a church in Bashiqa, Iraq.
(photo: CNS/Khalid al Mousily, Reuters)

A wide variety of issues, both domestic and foreign, have been raised during the presidential transition. One that hasn’t received much notice is the situation of the beleaguered Christian community in the Middle East.

Given the interest in, and media coverage of, those other issues, it’s an open question as to just what the United States would do for the Middle East’s Christian minorities under the presidential administration of Donald J. Trump.

Rep. Chris Smith, R-New Jersey, said he would reintroduce a bill he first introduced in September that would ensure U.S. aid specifically reaches Christian refugees and internally displaced people in the region.

Another feature would be to allow genocide victims — “at least the persecuted Christians,” Smith said — to apply as a family and get asylum in the United States.

“It gives him the ability to get the interviews. It doesn’t guarantee that they will become an asylee in the United States, but it gives them the opportunity.”

Smith said he gave a copy of the bill on 4 January to Vice President-elect Mike Pence. “I told him that everything in this bill you could do administratively,” he added.

Stephen M. Colecchi, director of the Office of International Justice and Peace at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, was leaving for a mid-January fact-finding mission in the region, with the first stop being Erbil, Iraq, a Kurdish-controlled zone in the northern part of the country where many Iraqi Christians have fled.

Two of Colecchi’s traveling companions will be Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on International Justice and Peace, and Bill O’Keefe, vice president for government relations and advocacy at Catholic Relief Services.

“I imagine we will meet with a fair number of internally displaced Iraqi Christians. We will also be meeting with some Syrians who have fled to the Kurdish region because of the violence there,” Colecchi told Catholic News Service. Also on the itinerary are visits to CRS projects that assist all groups, including Yezidis and Shiite Muslims, “who have been affected by the terrible conflict,” he said.

The U.S. bishops’ stance on policy matters relies in large part on the experiences of the bishops in the affected region or country. “We look for situations where there is clear church teaching, guided by the local church,” Colecchi said. “We consult with the Holy See and make sure our positions are consistent with the Holy See. And we look for situations where the United States can make a difference. The United States is heavily involved in the region and needs to take leadership to help those who are suffering.”

“There’s lots of confusion” when it comes to consensus on solutions, said Michael La Civita, communications director for the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, a Vatican agency.

“There’s lots of folks advocating for their people to return to their native communities, the ones that have been freed or liberated. The problem is that 80 percent of these places have been destroyed. There’s a lot of rubble. In order for people to return to their villages and their towns, they need proper housing, and they need infrastructure and they need security — and guarantees that they’re not going to be exposed as they were a few years ago.”

“No one knows what the future will hold,” La Civita added. “Should we have safe havens? Christians are saying no,” he said. “‘How can we be Christian witnesses to the Gospel if we live in the Christians-only zones?’ Others are calling for the swift emigration of Christians out of the Middle East.

“Washington will talk and talk and talk, as Washington often does, but I can stay this: Unilateral action by the United States in that part of the world typically has had consequences for the vulnerable communities, often for the communities these unilateral actions are intended to help.”

The Department of State’s declaration of the Islamic State’s murderous sprees since 2014 as genocide “allowed the international community to come full circle and really realize the gravity of the situation. Communities were being wiped off the face of the earth. They were going extinct, basically,” said Philippe Nassif, executive director of In Defense of Christians.

Nassif said the fate of Christians will improve in some places, but likely not in others, citing “fundamentalism” in Egypt directed against the nation’s Coptic Christians.

In Defense of Christians has the creation of a Christian autonomous region in the Ninevah Plain of Iraq as one of its legislative priorities. Another is to have Congress recognize the genocide with aid money to relieve its effect. A third is to support the security and stability of Lebanon, which Nassif noted has “the most populous and stable Christian population" and which could serve as a model for political cooperation between Christians and the majority Muslim populations elsewhere in the region.

“To be honest, I find that politicians from both parties and the Congress seem to be very concerned about the crisis in the region,” Colecchi said. “I know there have been dramatic increases in U.S. assistance.” However, Smith complained to CNS about U.S. funds being sent to U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees camps, where very few Christians have gone.

Colecchi added, “What I’m fearful of is that political commitment will come up against fiscal challenges. It’s in our best interest that the fabric of those communities be re-knit. It will be interesting to see. Most Americans, if you ask them, are quite supportive of federal aid, and they think it’s about 20 percent of the federal budget.

When you ask them how much it should be, they think, not that much, about 10 percent.

When you tell them that it’s less than 1 percent of the budget, they’re shocked.”

CNEWA’s La Civita is grateful for the more than $9 million generated from a special collection in fall 2014 to help Middle East Christians. CNEWA received 25 percent of that, and CRS the other 75 percent. But absent stability, cash infusions are not a cure-all.

Regardless of whether the Christians are in Iraq, Syria or the Palestinian territories, he said, “If the prospects for peace and economic and political stability are grim, then so is their future.”

Tags: Syria Iraq Egypt Lebanon Middle East