19 November 2018
Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan and Lebanese Cardinal Bechara Rai, patriarch of the Maronite Catholic Church, chat during the Assembly of Catholic Patriarchs and Bishops of Lebanon meeting in Bkerke, Lebanon.
(photo: CNS photo/courtesy Mychel Akl for the Maronite patriarchate)
Lebanon’s Catholic religious leaders appealed to the international community to stop the wars in the Middle East and to bring about a comprehensive and just peace.
In a statement following its 12 — 16 November annual meeting, the Assembly of Catholic Patriarchs and Bishops of Lebanon urged Catholics “to endure the grace of God in the hope of rebuilding their homelands with their Muslim brothers in equal and responsible citizenship.”
The prelates expressed their “anguish at the continuation of the wars in the Middle East, which continue to destabilize the peace, wreak havoc, destroy and displace citizens.” Reiterating their condemnation “of violence in all its forms,” they called for constructive dialogue among officials.
The patriarchs and bishops appealed to “the international community and concerned states” to stop wars in the region and “to bring about a comprehensive and just peace and to work seriously for the return of displaced persons, refugees, abductees and deportees to their countries, homes and properties.”
Lebanon continues to host more than 1 million Syrian refugees.
In their statement, the church leaders affirmed the principles that have been proclaimed by Pope Francis regarding the Middle East: that peace is a condition for Christians to remain in their homelands; that there is no Middle East without Christians, who are a factor of equilibrium and stability in it; and that citizens have the duty to defend the rights of individuals and minorities.
Turning with urgency to the continuing impasse in forming Lebanon’s government more than five months after parliamentary elections, the prelates said it is unacceptable that the government still does not exist.
They urged all the political parties concerned to facilitate the formation of the government, “today before tomorrow.” They pointed to “the loss of mutual trust, the absence of internal unity and the tyranny of private interests, as well as external interference” as reasons for the deadlock.
They applauded “with all the Lebanese -- at home and abroad -- the historic reconciliation” of two rival Maronite Catholic political leaders after more than four decades of enmity. Samir Geagea, leader of the Lebanese Forces political party, and Suleiman Frangieh Jr., head of the Marada party, have been foes since the early days of Lebanon’s 1975-1990 civil war.
Their formal reconciliation took place on 14 November under the patronage of Cardinal Bechara Rai at Bkerke, Maronite patriarch. The two Maronite leaders signed a document confirming their “joint will to turn the page of the past and move on toward new horizons” in their relations “at the human, social, political and national levels for the years to come.”
16 November 2018
Tags: Lebanon Middle East
Pope Francis greets a woman religious as he makes a surprise visit to a free health clinic for the needy in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican on 16 November. The clinic was open for a week in advance of the 18 November observance of World Day for the Poor.
(photo: CNS/Junno Arocho Esteves)
15 November 2018
Tags: Pope Francis
Pope Francis bids farewell to Israeli President Reuven Rivlin following a private audience at the Vatican on 15 November. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Pope Francis welcomed Israeli President Reuven Rivlin to the Vatican on 15 November for a private discussion that included the importance of building greater trust between Israelis and Palestinians.
During their 35-minute meeting, they spoke about the importance of mutual trust in negotiations “so as to reach an accord respecting the legitimate aspirations of both peoples,” the Vatican said in a statement.
“The hope was expressed that suitable agreements may be reached” also between Israeli authorities and local Catholic communities “in relation to some issues of common interest,” it said, adding that the Holy See and the State of Israel would soon celebrate the 25th anniversary of establishing diplomatic relations.
Aided by interpreters, the pope and president spoke about “the political and social situation in the region, marked by different conflicts and the consequent humanitarian crises. In this context, the parties highlighted the importance of dialogue between the various religious communities in order to guarantee peaceful coexistence and stability,” the statement said.
“Mention was made of the importance of building greater mutual trust in view of the resumption of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians so as to reach an accord respecting the legitimate aspirations of both peoples, and of the Jerusalem question, in its religious and human dimension for Jews, Christians and Muslims, as well as the importance of safeguarding its identity and vocation as City of Peace.”
Exchanging gifts, Rivlin gave Pope Francis a small bas relief replicating the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem.
According to pool reporters, the president told the pope that the image showed how one could divide the various parts of the city, but also unite it in new ways. The walled Old City is divided into the Jewish quarter, the Armenian quarter, the Christian quarter and the Muslim quarter.
“Jerusalem has been a holy city for the three monotheistic religions for centuries. For the Jewish people, Jerusalem has been the spiritual center since the days of the First Temple over 3,000 years ago, but it is also a microcosm of our ability to live together,” the president tweeted later, adding a photo of the two of them speaking during the gift exchange.
The Vatican consistently has called for a special status for Jerusalem, particularly its Old City, in order to protect and guarantee access to the holy sites of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
During the meeting, Pope Francis gave Rivlin a large medallion, which the pope described as representing wheat being able to grow in the desert. Pool reporters said the pope told the president he hoped this desert would be transformed from a desert of animosity into a land of friendship.
The Jerusalem Post reported that Rivlin thanked the pope for supporting the fight against anti-Semitism.
“Your absolute condemnation of acts of anti-Semitism and your definition of such acts as anti-Christian are a significant step in the ongoing fight to stamp it out,” Rivlin said.
Members of Rivlin’s entourage said they also talked about the controversy between Jerusalem’s city government and the Catholic Church concerning city property taxes.
In early February, the Jerusalem Municipality announced it would begin collecting $186.4 million in property taxes from some 887 church-owned properties that were not houses of prayer. Since then, the Israeli government set up a negotiating team to resolve the dispute.
14 November 2018
Tags: Pope Francis Israel Jews
In this image from 13 November, taxi drivers in Amman, Jordan, stage a protest against drivers from private hiring services. (photo: CNS/Andre Pain, EPA)
13 November 2018
Melkite Catholic bishops from around the world are seen on 7 November for their synod in Rabweh, Lebanon under the leadership of Patriarch Joseph Absi (seated center).
(photo: CNS/courtesy Melkite Catholic Synod)
Melkite Catholic bishops from around the world, meeting for their synod, criticized the deteriorating situation in the Palestinian territories and rejected Israel’s Nation State Law.
In a final statement following their 5-10 November synod in Rabweh, Lebanon, the bishops underscored “the seriousness of the oppression and the violation of the rights of innocent citizens” in the Palestinian territories and called upon “stakeholders to find the best ways to stop the tragedy of the Palestinian people.” The bishops appealed to the Palestinians “to unite their forces in the face of the new reality that is intended to be imposed on them.”
The bishops also rejected the Nation State Law passed by the Israeli Knesset on 19 July. The law limits the promotion and protection offered by the State of Israel to “Jewish citizens of the state of Israel.”
In their statement, the bishops said they support the position taken by Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land. That group’s 31 October statement said: “We must draw the attention of the authorities to a simple fact: Our faithful, the Christians, our fellow citizens, Muslim, Druze and Baha’i, all of us who are Arabs, are no less citizens of this country than our Jewish brothers and sisters.” That statement, signed by 25 prelates representing the Latin, Armenian, Melkite, Chaldean, Maronite and Syriac churches, called on Israel to rescind the law.
Addressing the general situation in the Middle East, the Melkite bishops voiced concern about “the deteriorating economic situation that makes most people suffer under the problem of poverty and need.”
They warned that such an atmosphere can be used “by those with influence and power to continue to control people in need.” The bishops appealed “to those concerned -- wherever they may be -- to work for the lifting of social injustice and the achievement of justice, in the interests of humanity and for the preservation of dignity.”
Regarding Lebanon, the Melkite bishops expressed their concern about the delay in the formation of a new government as the country’s rival political parties have yet to reach consensus since parliamentary elections in May. The bishops urged all parties “to put narrow interests aside and cooperate to speed up the formation of a government in order to mitigate the adverse negative effects of the delay at all levels.”
As for neighboring Syria, the bishops expressed their satisfaction “at the decline in fighting in most areas” in the country, the establishment of security and safety, the start of reconstruction and the return of refugees to their homes. They renewed their determination “to pursue the work of the church in order to alleviate the suffering of their children at all levels.”
9 November 2018
Tags: Lebanon Melkite
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.
8 November 2018
Youth of a Mishing community, an indigenous tribal group in India, put on a performance in their village. (photo: John E. Kozar)
7 November 2018
U.S. Cardinal Edwin F. O'Brien, grand master of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre, and Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, arrive for a press conference at the Vatican on 7 November. The Knights are preparing for a major meeting in Rome.
(photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
The 30,000 members of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem fund about 80 percent of the annual budget of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, ensuring that Catholic parishes and seminaries, schools and hospitals in Israel, Palestine and Jordan continue to function, said U.S. Cardinal Edwin F. O’Brien.
The cardinal, grand master of the Vatican-based order, said the knights and dames of the order come from 40 countries and pledge their prayers, their financial support and personal visits to the Holy Land to support the local Catholic communities there and to encourage ecumenical and interreligious dialogue and cooperation.
Every five years, leaders of the order from around the world gather for their general assembly, called a “consulta.” The meeting was scheduled for 13-16 November in Rome and was expected to include an audience with Pope Francis.
Meeting with reporters on 7 November, Cardinal O’Brien said the knights and dames “do not become involved in local government or political questions” in the Holy Land but offer support to the local Catholic Church there in cooperation with the Congregation for Eastern Churches.
Cardinal O’Brien said the order provides about $15 million each year in grants to Catholic projects in the Holy Land. Most are run by the Latin patriarchate, but the Maronite and Melkite Catholic churches also receive assistance.
The knights and dames of the Holy Sepulchre have given priority to education and formation programs, said Leonardo Visconti di Modrone, governor general of the order. By supporting 35 nursery schools and 41 elementary and high schools in Israel and Palestine, he said, the order’s members hope “to improve their quality and, through them, to make a fundamental contribution to the pacification of the region.”
About 57 percent of the 19,000 students in the schools are Christian, and most of the others are Muslim, he said. But all of them learn “our values of dialogue, tolerance and mutual respect,” which should help “overcome that violent confrontation that for years has martyred peaceful coexistence among people of different ethnic and religious groups.”
Cardinal O’Brien said each member of the equestrian order pledges to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land at least once in his or her lifetime, but most go regularly. The pilgrimage is built around prayer and visits to the holy sites, but always includes visits to schools, clinics, parishes and other projects funded by the knights and dames.
The funds are disbursed as grants, the cardinal said, and members of the grant-making committee visit the Holy Land three times a year to monitor the projects.
The order’s headquarters near the Vatican occupies a small part of the 15th-century Palazzo della Rovere; most of the order’s building was rented out to a company that ran it as the Hotel Columbus. The order’s contract with the hotel company expired years ago and, after a court-ordered eviction was issued in 2016, the hotel closed in May.
Visconti said the Italian government is insisting that restoration work be carried out on the hotel’s 15th- and 16th-century frescoes, and plumbing and other work is underway. But, he said, the knights and dames hope to have a new company renting the building and running it as a hotel soon, because the rental income covers the order’s administrative costs, allowing all donations to go directly to the Holy Land.
6 November 2018
Tags: Jerusalem Holy Sepulchre
Pope Francis greets a rabbi during an audience with a group of rabbis attending the World Congress of Mountain Jews, at the Vatican on 5 November. (photo: CNS/Vatican Media)
Sharing the same roots as their Jewish brothers and sisters, Christians cannot be anti-Semitic and must work to ensure anti-Semitism is banned from society, Pope Francis said.
Also, he said, “the Holocaust must be commemorated so that there will be a living memory of the past. Without a living memory, there will be no future, for if the darkest pages of history do not teach us to avoid the same errors, human dignity will remain a dead letter.”
The pope made his remarks during an audience on 5 November with a group of rabbis attending the World Congress of Mountain Jews.
Mountain Jews -- who are believed to be descendants of Persian Jews -- settled centuries ago in the Caucasus region, maintaining their own unique language and various customs. They were also targeted and exterminated by German troops during World War II.
Speaking to the delegates, the pope expressed his joy that their visit marked the first time their community visited a pope at the Vatican. Pope Francis had met with Mountain Jews during his 2016 visit to Azerbaijan.
The pope anticipated the commemoration 9 November of the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht when Jews, their property and places of worship were attacked throughout Nazi Germany. The attacks, he said, represented an intent to uproot “from the hearts of individuals and a people that which is absolutely inviolable: the presence of the Creator.”
“The attempt to replace the God of goodness with the idolatry of power and the ideology of hatred ended in the folly of exterminating creatures,” he added.
This is why, he said, “religious freedom is a supreme good to be safeguarded, a fundamental human right and a bulwark against the claims of totalitarianism.”
“Sadly, anti-Semitic attitudes are also present in our own times,” Pope Francis told his audience.
“As I have often repeated, a Christian cannot be an anti-Semite; we share the same roots. It would be a contradiction of faith and life,” he said. “Rather, we are called to commit ourselves to ensure anti-Semitism is banned from the human community.”
The pope emphasized the importance of friendship between Jews and Catholics, saying “we are called to promote and to expand interreligious dialogue for the sake of humanity.”
“I ask the Almighty to bless our journey of friendship and trust, so that we can dwell always in peace and be, wherever we find ourselves, artisans and builders of peace.”
5 November 2018
Tags: Pope Francis Jews
A woman mourns during a 3 November funeral liturgy at Prince Tadros Orthodox Church in Minya, Egypt, for a group of Christian pilgrims killed by gunmen as they headed to a monastery on 2 November. (photo: CNS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany, Reuters)
In the wake of a deadly attack against Coptic Orthodox Christians in Egypt, Pope Francis prayed for the victims, their families and the entire Christian community.
Seven Christians were killed and at least seven others -- including children -- were injured after armed gunmen attacked two buses near the Monastery of St. Samuel the Confessor in Minya province on 2 November. Another attack took place in the same area in 2017, which left 28 people dead.
The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the latest attack and Egypt’s interior ministry announced on 4 November that in a shootout, its security forces had killed 19 militants they accused of being behind the attack.
After praying the Angelus with people gathered in St. Peter’s Square on 4 November, the pope said he was saddened to hear about the terrorist attack against the Coptic Orthodox church.
“I pray for the victims, the pilgrims killed for the sole reason of being Christian,” he said. He asked that Mary, the Mother of God, would “console the families and the entire community,” and he led those gathered in the square in praying the Hail Mary.
Watch a video of the pope's remarks below, from CNS.