15 January 2013
Father John Ariekal leads a congregation of Dalits in Pappala in prayer. (photo: Peter Lemieux)
In the current issue of the magazine, we visit India and meet the Christian Dalits, the “untouchable” caste facing discrimination and fighting for equality:
The highest caste, the Brahmin, traditionally pursued religious vocations and served as priests and spiritual leaders. They also made, upheld and taught the law. Ranked second is the Kshatriya caste, to which warriors and the military elite belonged. Next in rank is the Vaishya caste, which traditionally included cattle herders, merchants, traders and some artisans. Ranked fourth is the Shudra caste, made up of artisans, farmers and laborers.
At the very bottom of the caste system are the Dalits, below more than 3,000 sub-castes. Considered subhuman and “untouchable” until the 19th century, Dalits were treated as slaves to upper castes — denied even the most basic civil, political, economic and social rights.
The Dalits’ untouchable status dictated where they could live, work, worship, eat, collect water and even walk or sit in public places. They could only socialize and marry within their caste. They were prohibited from receiving an education, including learning to read and write. And for centuries, they were required to hide themselves in the event members of Brahmin caste approached, so as not to pollute their purity.
India gained independence from British rule in 1947, and in 1950 the Constitution of India took effect. The Constitution prohibits discrimination based on caste or tribe, specifically enumerating the groups historically oppressed, including Dalits, in the provisions “Scheduled Castes” and “Scheduled Tribes.” About a quarter of India’s 1.2 billion people belongs to one of these scheduled castes and tribes.
The Constitution also stipulates for “Reservation,” a system of affirmative action that sets aside a certain number of positions in government and enrollment slots in public universities for members of the scheduled castes and tribes. Yet despite legal protections and reservation, caste-based discrimination persists throughout the subcontinent.
“It’s very hard to be a Dalit,” says Dr. Simon John, chairman of the Backward People Development Corporation and a Christian who lives in Pathanamthitta, a predominantly non-Dalit area in the central Travancore region of Kerala. “I don’t face the first degree of untouchability as my father faced. They don’t ask me to step aside. Nowadays, they just ignore you. They don’t recognize your presence wherever you are. I face it at the higher levels, because of my family tradition, my education and where I live. But still my problem is the passive attitude, off-hand comments, non-recognition of my existence in my student days, my work days and even at present.
Read more about India’s Christian Untouchables in the November 2012 issue of ONE.
14 January 2013
Tags: India Indian Christians Syro-Malankara Catholic Church Indian Catholics
A Rosary sister greets a Bedouin child in the abandoned ruins of old Smakieh.
(photo: Tanya Habjouqa)
Last year, we visited the Christians of Jordan’s Kerak plateau, and found a resilient group of people held together by faith:
In the cramped living room of his house in the Jordanian village of Smakieh, 90-year-old Ghasan Hijazine sits among a small army of children, grandchildren and extended family, reminiscing about his childhood.
In those days, he says, people lived in byut sha’ar (literally “houses of hair” in Arabic), or tents made of camel hair, which were pitched on the dusty, wind-beaten hillsides surrounding the village.
“People lived off farming. If they grew something, they ate it. If not, they didn’t eat,” says the elderly man, who apparently does not remember that period with much affection.
Mr. Hijazine bears the scars of a troubled past: He has no hands and only one leg. He lost his limbs laying mines on the Israeli border in the 1960’s. His ice-blue eyes, however, are still bright and full of laughter.
The Hijazine clan is Christian, as are all residents of Smakieh and the nearby village of Hmoud. The two villages represent the last entirely Christian settlements in Jordan. Located on the Kerak plateau, one of Jordan’s poorest areas, neither area has enjoyed a golden age.
Life was hard, continues Mr. Hijazine. People were poor and often cold and hungry. They eked a meager existence from farming small plots of land and keeping livestock.
“I didn’t have a childhood,” adds his wife, Teresa.
Every few months, a priest from Kerak — the regional hub — would visit Smakieh. He would live, eat and pray with the people in their tents. The priest also served as their doctor and educator.
Those days, however, have long passed.
The Hijazines now live in a modern house of cinderblock and plaster. They also expect all their grandchildren to leave the village to attend university when the time comes.
Though Mrs. Hijazine dresses in a somewhat traditional manner, wearing a black headscarf over long, thick braids, she embraces modern- day conveniences, cooking time-honored recipes with a gas stove.
As do most Jordanians, the Christians of the Kerak area express pride about their tribal past. But nostalgia for the old days is hard to find on the Kerak plateau. For generations, these villagers have struggled to achieve a better life, a fight that often has meant leaving behind tribal customs. Now, young and old have their eyes fixed firmly on the future. They want to talk about the Internet, not about camels and sheep; about college degrees, not tents and traditions.
Read more about the Kerak plateau in A Bridge to Modern Life from the May 2012 issue of ONE.
9 January 2013
A Ukrainian Greek Catholic priest administers Communion outside the Basilian monastery in Krekhiv, north of Lviv. To learn about Ukrainian village life, read What's Next for Ukraine's Villages? from the March 2011 issue of ONE. (photo: Petro Didula)
8 January 2013
Tags: Ukraine Village life Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church Lviv
Two generations come together for a Chrism ceremony at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Paradise in São Paulo, Brazil. (photo: Izan Petterle)
Did you know that the largest Melkite Greek Catholic community in the world is in Brazil? We took readers to the cathedral in São Paolo two years ago:
Located in the Paraíso (Portuguese for paradise) neighborhood in the heart of South America’s largest city and steps from its busiest thoroughfare, Paulista Avenue, the imposing Byzantine–style cathedral seems an unlikely landmark.
Yet, the cathedral and the Arab parishioners who built it have defined Paraíso since the 1940’s when construction began. By then, many of São Paulo’s Arab Christian immigrant families were living in the working–class neighborhood. In subsequent decades, the Arab community steadily grew, at times in sudden bursts, when emigrants fled conflict in Lebanon, Syria or elsewhere in the Middle East in search of a better life in the New World. Hearing about the opportunities in Brazil — often from relatives or friends already in Paraíso — São Paulo quickly became a preferred destination.
Today, the cathedral serves as the seat of the bishop of Our Lady of Paradise in São Paulo, spiritual home to an estimated 400,000 people &mash; the largest Melkite Greek community not only in the Americas but in the world.
Though Paraíso remains the center of Brazil’s Melkite cultural and spiritual life, its demographics have changed dramatically in recent years. Social success and economic prosperity among first– and second–generation Melkite Arab–Brazilians have prompted most to choose more affluent residential communities in São Paulo and its sprawling suburbs.
Read more about Paradise in Brazil in the July 2011 issue of ONE.
7 January 2013
Tags: Melkite Brazil
Still a precious gift, frankincense and myrrh are packaged in gilded tins in the Middle East.
(photo: Ilene Perlman)
Christians yesterday marked the Solemnity of the Epiphany — or Christmas, in the Orthodox tradition—which among other things commemorates the visit of the magi to the Christ child, bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
In 2003, the magazine looked at the history behind those gifts, and where they originate today:
In the ancient world, particularly in the Middle East, beauty was as important as air. It was in the gardens the people designed, the houses they built, the words they wrote, the very bowls they used, the candlesticks they carried, the fabrics they wove and the gifts they gave.
So when Christians ponder the gifts of the Magi as commemorated in the West during the feast of the Epiphany, the precious gold and fragrant frankincense and myrrh do not seem unusual for that time and place.
What was unusual is that these gifts were presented to a child whose significance was yet to be understood.
St. Irenaeus in his “Adversus Haereses” claimed the gifts were symbolic. Jesus was presented with gold for a King’s wealth, frankincense as the fragrance offered to divinity and myrrh as the balm used to anoint the dead.
Although the identity of the Magi remains a mystery (they have been variously described as wise men, kings, priests or magicians), we know for certain that firmly established trade routes enabled the travelers to bring their offerings from remote areas to Palestine. The three gifts, including gold that in today’s market would cost about $325 per ounce, would have been a kingly offering.
Scents were believed to bring good will and good wishes. Frankincense and myrrh were used to perfume ceremonial oils. When burned, the smoke was thought to bring prayers to the heavens.
Even today, during liturgies of the Eastern and Western churches, incense is often burned.
Read more about Scents of Time and Place.
4 January 2013
Tags: Middle East Oman Epiphany
Students line up for morning prayer at St. Jean Baptiste De La Salle School in Addis Ababa.
(photo: Peter Lemieux)
The latest issue of the magazine features as its cover story a look at the success of Catholic schools in a country that is overwhelmingly non-Catholic, Ethiopia:
Catholics — Latin and Ge’ez combined — make up less than 1 percent of Ethiopia’s roughly 85 million people. Forty-three percent of the population is Ethiopian Orthodox; 32 percent, Muslim; and 19 percent, Protestant. The Catholic Church plays a disproportionately influential role in the lives of many Ethiopians, however, especially through its schools, clinics and other social service institutions.
More than 350 Catholic schools operate around the country, enrolling some 120,000 Ethiopian students each year.
“We’re educating the biggest number of children after the government. No denomination can claim that,” says Demisse W. Aregay, principal of the all-boys St. Joseph Catholic School in Addis Ababa, one of five schools in Ethiopia — including Bisrate Gabriel — run by the De La Salle Christian Brothers. The brothers’ five schools alone enroll 7,000 students.
“Go anywhere in the country and you’ll find Catholic schools that are flourishing,” he continues. “So that helps create a mentality that they are some of if not the best schools in the country.”
Read more about how Ethiopian children are Making the Grade in the November 2012 issue of ONE.
3 January 2013
Tags: Ethiopia Education
Children dressed as the Three Kings return to their seats after presenting offertory gifts to Pope Benedict XVI during Mass on the feast of Mary, Mother of God, in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican on 1 January. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
2 January 2013
Tags: Pope Benedict XVI Vatican
A mother and child and a sister and child stand in front of a picture of Christ at the Christina Center in Trichur, India. (photo: Sean Sprague)
As we turn the page on the calendar, here’s an image that captures the spirit of possibility and hope that greets every new year.
It comes from a profile we did a few years ago on the Christina Center in Trichur, India. The center is a home and refuge for unmarried mothers, often delinquent or vulnerable girls who find themselves pregnant, homeless and alone:
These women suffer the strongest of taboos: Not only are they outcasts, but the stigma also extends to their entire families. It is difficult for their sisters — and daughters — to marry.
At the Christina Center, young women and their babies are offered discreet refuge and quality care. In most cases the women are eventually separated from their babies, a difficult but necessary step to ensure safe and healthy futures for the young women and their children.
The toddlers live at the Center until they are five years old; then they move on to St. Anne’s or St. Savio’s. In this way the young mothers are freed from the stigma of bearing an illegitimate child and instead are given a chance to continue with their lives in a normal fashion.
The Christina Center, St. Anne’s and St. Savio’s care for needy children — from their prenatal stages right through to adulthood and even beyond — in the midst of a challenging cultural and political climate. With God’s love, the orphans of Trichur have every chance to succeed.
Read more about The Orphans of Trichur in the May-June 2000 issue of our magazine.
21 December 2012
Tags: India Children Orphans/Orphanages Women
A Christian pilgrim touches the star in the grotto of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem on 13 December. The church is the oldest in the Holy Land still used for regular worship. The silver star — parts worn smooth by the veneration of pilgrims — marks the site of Christ’s birth. This year, as is customary, CNEWA president Msgr. John Kozar will be celebrating Mass over this spot. Read his account of last year’s visit. (photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)
18 December 2012
The church at Saint George’s Monastery houses rare Arab icons. (photo: Sean Sprague)
This morning, some big news in the Orthodox world:
His Eminence, the Metropolitan Archbishop of Western and Central Europe, has been elected Patriarch of the Great City-of-God Antioch and all the East.
The Patriarch-elect Youhanna X [Yaziji] was elected by the members of the Holy Synod earlier today, 17 December 2012, during a special session held at the Balamand Patriarchal Monastery of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos.
Born in Syria in 1955, the Patriarch-elect received his primary, secondary and university education in Latakiya, Syria graduating with a degree in civil engineering. He earned a degree in theology in 1978 from the Saint John of Damascus School of Orthodox of Theology at the Balamand University and a doctorate in theology (emphases in liturgy and Byzantine music) in 1983 from the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece. He was tonsured a monk at the Athonite Monastery of Saint Paul on the Holy Mountain, was ordained to the holy diaconate in 1979 and to the holy priesthood in 1983, and in 1981 became professor of Liturgical Studies at the Saint John of Damascus School of Orthodox Theology at the Balamand University. He assumed the position of dean of that theological school from 1988-1991 and again from 2001-2005.
He was elected and consecrated to the sacred episcopacy in 1995 with the title Bishop of al-Hosn. He has served as superior of the Monastery of Saint George al-Humayrah in the Christian Valley (Wadi al-Nasara) in Syria, superior of the Our Lady of Balamand Monastery, and spiritual father to the Convent of the Dormition in Blemmana, Syria. In 2008 he was elected and enthroned as the Metropolitan of the Archdiocese of Western and Central Europe.
Last year, we took readers to the monastery where he served as superior:
In its heyday, the monastery was one of the region’s major theological centers. Scores of monks once lived, prayed, studied and worked there, and its seminary trained the region’s priests. But dwindling enrollment forced the monastery to close its doors not long ago. Father Andrew, a priest in the nearby village of Amre, studied at St. George’s.
“We are sad that St. George’s is no longer a seminary,” says the priest, adding, “there is talk to start it up again. There is a convent in the nearby village of Marmarita, where students can study theology for three years and then go on to Lebanon to finish their studies.” But only three monks remain at St. George’s, which has become a favorite stop for bus loads of pilgrims and tourists.
“We get up at 5 a.m. to pray in the chapel and then do various chores like cleaning or working in the library, until breakfast at 8:30,” says Mar Christo, the monastery’s energetic abbot. Cloaked in his traditional black cassock, his woolly hat outlining his pointed beard and laughing eyes, he says that soon after breakfast, “the tourist buses start to arrive, so we show them around.
“Our two big feast days are Saint George’s Day on 6 May and the Triumph of the Cross on 14 September — plus of course Christmas and Easter,” he continues. “On feast days, many pilgrims come to stay at the monastery. A big market is set up outside selling icons and food. On Sundays, the villagers come to the liturgy, but not so many.”
Read more about Syria’s Christian valley in the January 2011 issue of ONE.
Tags: Syria Christianity Monastery Syriac Orthodox Church