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Volume 44, Number 1
30 August 2013
Greg Kandra

Flooded with Syrian Christian refugees, Al Qaa’s Greek Catholic church in Lebanon is often filled to capacity. (photo: Tamara Hadi)

As fear of a U.S. military attack mounts, more Syrians are seeking refuge outside the country. Earlier this year, we looked at Syrian refugees fleeing into Lebanon:

Although she has only moved a few miles down the road, Hayat Qarnous wakes up to a world vastly different from the one she knew just a few weeks ago. Back then, she was living in Rableh, a village on the Syrian side of the Syria-Lebanon border and once the center of a quiet farming community. But since the Syrian uprising started in March 2011, it has been anything but peaceful.

“War is like fire,” she says, sitting in her newfound refuge in Al Qaa, a Lebanese village just across the border from Rableh. “A fire eats everything before it. So does war. There is no peace anywhere.”

It is this lack of peace, and its consequences, that have pushed more than a million Syrians to flee their homeland since the beginning of the conflict.

About 320,000 Syrians have fled to neighboring Lebanon and registered with United Nations aid agencies there. But many observers believe equal numbers of Syrians have not registered with the authorities in Lebanon; among these are an estimated 10,000 Christians.

Read more about Crossing the Border in the Spring 2013 issue of ONE.

Tags: Syria Lebanon Refugees Middle East Christians Syrian Civil War

29 August 2013
Greg Kandra

Israelis stand in line outside a gas mask distribution center in the northern city of Haifa on 29 August. Thousands of Israelis lined up at gas-mask distribution centers and communities bordering Syria as top government officials held emergency meetings amid fears of a possible Syrian attack on Israel. (photo: CNS/ Baz Ratner, Reuters)

The heightening tensions over a possible U.S. military attack on Syria were part of the discussion today in a meeting between Pope Francis and the king of Jordan.

Additional details, from CNS:

Dialogue and negotiations are “the only option for putting an end to the conflict and violence” in Syria, said Pope Francis and Jordan’s King Abdullah II.

As Western leaders expressed strong convictions that the Syrian government carried out a chemical weapons attack against its own citizens and vowed to take action, Pope Francis met at the Vatican 29 August with King Abdullah and Queen Rania.

Jordan borders Syria and hosts hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees who have fled the fighting that began in March 2011 in an attempt to oust President Bashar Assad.

The king and queen’s meeting with Pope Francis, who technically was still on vacation, was arranged hastily after tensions grew in the Middle East over the reported atrocities in Syria and the unrest in Egypt.

In a statement issued after the meeting, the Vatican said that the pope and king “reaffirmed that the path of dialogue and negotiation is the only option for putting an end to the conflict and violence that each day cause the loss of many human lives, especially among the unarmed population.”

Pope Francis, with an interpreter, spent 20 minutes speaking alone with King Abdullah and Queen Rania before meeting the seven members of the Jordanian delegation. The king and three aides then held a working meeting with Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican secretary of state, and Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, secretary for relations with states.

When the king arrived, Pope Francis greeted him in English, saying, “Welcome, Your Majesty.”

While reporters were present before the private meeting began, King Abdullah told the pope, “I have tremendous respect for what you are doing and for what the Catholic Church does.”

The Vatican statement said that during the meetings with the pope and with officials of the Vatican Secretariat of State, the two sides also discussed the problem of stability throughout the Middle East, Israeli-Palestinian relations and the question of the status of Jerusalem, a city sacred to Christians, Muslims and Jews.

The Vatican, the statement said, also expressed appreciation for the king’s commitment to promoting interreligious dialogue and his decision to convoke a conference in September about the challenges facing Christians in the Middle East.

Although the statement indicated a broad range of topics were touched upon, the meeting drew international attention because of the situation in Syria.

Read more at the CNS link.

28 August 2013
John E. Kozar

Msgr. John E. Kozar, CNEWA’s president, celebrates Mass in our New York offices for the intentions of our donors. (photo: CNEWA)

This morning I offered Holy Mass in our New York office. I was joined in the celebration by my colleagues — and in spirit by our entire CNEWA family. Our purpose was to lift up the special intentions of our many generous benefactors.

I am deeply grateful to all of you who shared your prayer requests with me. Some of you asked me to pray for the soul of deceased loved ones, others for relief from an illness and still others for children who have fallen away from the church. Whatever you asked me to pray for, I carried your intention with me to altar and offered it up to the Lord.

My friends, I am thrilled to do this for you, because it is your generosity and your solidarity with the poor that makes it possible for CNEWA to fulfill the mission entrusted to us by our Holy Father.

It is a privilege to be able to join my prayers with yours during Mass, and I plan to continue doing this for your special intentions in the future. In the meantime, you are never far from my heart. Thank you for your continued generosity, your faith, and your prayerful support!

Tags: CNEWA Msgr. John E. Kozar Donors Prayers/Hymns/Saints

27 August 2013
Greg Kandra

A man prays during the Sunday liturgy at the Coptic Orthodox Church of the Virgin Mary in the Maadi suburb of Cairo on 25 August. (photo: CNS/Dana Smillie)

As the situation in Egypt grows more troubled by the hour, people in the country countinue to be sustained by faith. Catholic News Service reports this morning on the country’s long and deep Christian heritage:

The Coptic Orthodox Church of the Virgin Mary sits in a tiled courtyard a few miles outside Cairo, on the left bank of the Nile as the river bends south toward Upper Egypt.

The structure’s front doors overlook the famed river, which Egyptian Christians who pray and worship here are convinced transported Mary, Joseph and their small boy, Jesus, to safety from persecution back home.

“In those times, this was a dock area from where the boats took off for Upper Egypt. The Holy Family came here from Palestine and got on one,” explained one of the church’s five priests, from an office overlooking the water.

Like the priest, many Copts — the name for Egypt’s indigenous Christians — trace their religion all the way back to Jesus who, according to the Gospel of St. Matthew, sought refuge in their country from the wrath of Herod the Great 2,000 years ago.

Coptic tradition holds that Christ stayed in Egypt for three years and that later, around the year 42, St. Mark the Evangelist also came to evangelize in the Egyptian port city of Alexandria, before being martyred there.

Christianity continued to spread among the locals called “Copts,” a derivative from the Greek word for Egypt, and by the third century, Christianity was the country’s dominant religion. By the time the newer religion of Islam arrived in Egypt in the middle of the seventh century, Egyptian Christianity had already provided the church with some of the world’s major Christian saints and had introduced new forms of monastic life.

“The history of the Coptic Church is both glorious and tragic,” wrote Otto F.A. Meinardus in his authoritative book on Egyptian Christianity, “Christians in Egypt.” …

Tension between Egypt’s Copts and Muslims has long been a problem, but recently it has dangerously spiked, first since President Hosni Mubarak’s overthrow by popular revolt in 2011, and even more so since the military’s July 3 ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi.

Morsi was aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood, whose members the Egyptian military is now pursuing.

Violence has surged even further since 14 August, when security forces raided two pro-Morsi protest camps in Cairo, which killed hundreds of people, most of them protestors.

Church leaders and independent human rights groups have recorded attacks on dozens of churches, schools, buildings, homes and other institutions belonging to Christians. Some non-Christian institutions have also come under attack in the violence, including government and security offices.

Read more.

And visit this page to learn how you can help CNEWA to help Egypt’s Christians.

Tags: Egypt Violence against Christians Coptic Orthodox Church Egypt's Christians

26 August 2013
Greg Kandra

Iconographer Ian Knowles works on a new icon for the shrine of Our Lady of the Mountain, in Anjara, depicting the risen Christ surrounded by scenes from his life. (photo: Nicholas Seeley)

The Summer issue of ONE takes us back to school, to learn about the art and spirituality behind creating icons:

The instructor is patient, demonstrating the basics again and again — how to draw a line with a brush, how to mix the paint, how to find a face in a sheet of white. “Move the paper so it’s easier to draw,” he explains. “Work to your strengths, and know your weaknesses — which is a good spiritual principle! Because what you’re doing is learning spiritual life, really — in a very practical way.”

The teacher is Ian Knowles, a British iconographer who has been working in churches and convents in the Holy Land since 2008. As an artist, he creates extraordinary, vivid images. Though hewing fast to traditional styles and techniques, his pieces can feel strikingly modern, alive with spiritual purpose. It is this, as much as brushwork and technique, that he is attempting to pass along to his students.

“The purpose of the icon is prayer,” he says. “What you need as you paint Christ is to be with him, to experience him.”

Slowly, in a few places, the holy countenance begins to come to life on paper.

It is October 2012, and this is the first class of the Bethlehem Icon Center, an initiative to train students from Palestine in the ancient art of iconography. It is a project at once modest and ambitious. The classes are small and the curriculum, highly specific. But by helping students reach a high level of craftsmanship, the center’s founders hope to create something lasting and profound: not just the seed of a local craft industry, but an expression of the Holy Land’s ancient Christian culture and its role in the development of Christian art.

“Empowering local Christians, finding a way for them to rediscover their artistic, religious tradition in a very specific way — that’s exciting,” says the Rev. Timothy Lowe, a priest of the Orthodox Church in America and the rector of the Tantur Ecumenical Institute, which is a partner of the center, along with Mr. Knowles.

Read more about Prayers in Paint in the Summer issue of ONE.

Tags: Palestine Christianity Bethlehem ONE magazine Icons

23 August 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro

In a grove near the West Bank city of Nablus, women sort olives then remove stems and leaves. To learn more about the life of a Palestinian olive farmer, check out Olive Offerings, from the January 2009 issue of ONE. (photo: Ahikam Seri)

Tags: Palestine Farming/Agriculture Palestinians

22 August 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro

Father Dario Escobar prays in the Hermitage of St. Hawqa in Lebanon’s Qadisha Valley. To learn more about the life of a hermit in Lebanon, see Marilyn Raschka’s Heading for the Hills, from the January–February 2002 issue of our magazine. (photo: Armineh Johannes)

Tags: Lebanon Prayers/Hymns/Saints Priests Hermit

21 August 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro

Boys from the Malankara Boys’ Home decide not to let a little rain spoil a perfectly good game of soccer. To learn more about the Malankara Boys’ Home, read Reaching the Young ‘Untouchables’ from the Summer 2013 issue of ONE. (photo: Jose Jacob)

Tags: India Children Education Syro-Malankara Catholic Church Indian Catholics

20 August 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro

For those bemoaning the August heat: An elderly woman braves the harsh winter in Nyírascád, a village in Hungary of 4,400 people. To read more about life in Nyírascád, read Jacqueline Ruyak’s Holding on in Hungary, from the May 2006 issue of ONE. (photo: Balasz Gardi)

Tags: Cultural Identity Village life Hungary Greek Catholic Church Hungarian Greek Catholic

19 August 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro

CNEWA President Msgr. John E. Kozar plays with students at the Atse Tekla Ghiorgis School in Ethiopia. (photo: Thomas Varghese/CNEWA)

In his story on the Atse Tekle Ghiorgis School in Ethiopia, Don Duncan points out one of the key programs contributing to the institution’s success:

Part of the school’s ethos of instilling dignity and respect among the poor children is a policy of financial contribution. While it is the only school in Addis Ababa to target the poorest of the poor, offering virtually free education, the school does require an annual contribution of $5 — $3.50 for a uniform and $1.50 for tuition.

“These contributions change nothing for us financially,” says Sister Mary, “but what is important is that the families make some kind of contribution, for the dignity of the child and the dignity of the family. We don’t believe in hand-outs.”

In extreme cases of destitution, contributions can be waived. The school is also helping a handful of families with rent assistance, to coax them away from sending children out to work and encourage them instead to send them to school. Still, these gestures are always done in exchange for help in the school — a weekly chore of cleaning a classroom, for example, undertaken by a member of the beneficiary’s family.

The $1.50 contribution toward tuition covers a feature unique to this school: a free lunch for every student each day.

“It’s very important for most of the children,” says Sister Baleynesh Wolteji, an Ethiopian who took over from Sister Mary as principal in 2011. “Their parents are often beggars in the streets and most of these children come to school without having breakfast. So to get one meal a day is very good for them and, in addition, it enables them to concentrate on their studies.”

The menu is simple: rice on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday and injera, an Ethiopian flatbread, on Wednesday and Friday. Along with education and the clean and safe surroundings of the school, the daily meal contributes to the school’s high attendance rate.

It may also be a key to the students’ excellent academic record. In the past 10 years, only one of the students has failed the state exam required at the end of eighth grade. And Sister Mary explains that this “failure” had an excuse of sorts: The student was absent frequently to care for a handicapped sister.

To learn more, read ‘It’s Not Just Talk and Chalk,’ appearing in the Summer 2013 issue of ONE.

Tags: Ethiopia Children Education Poor/Poverty Catholic education

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