4 April 2013
Young Christian mothers look after their children at a home in the village of Deir Azra, Egypt. (photo: Holly Pickett)
As members of a religious minority, Coptic women in Egypt face discrimination and are subject to laws based on Islamic Sharia. Because of the difficulty of getting a divorce in the Coptic Orthodox Church, some Christian men and women convert to Islam in order to end their marriage — a decision that has far-reaching social and legal consequences for the family and sometimes the entire community.
In the September 2011 issue of ONE, Sarah Topol reported on these consequences:
Divorce on the grounds of conversion to Islam generally tears Christian families apart.
“Life was stable,” says 23-year-old Simone El Gohany about life a few years ago, before her father left her mother for a Muslim woman with whom he had been having an affair, converted to Islam and filed for divorce. “Now I feel like the family is fragmented: There is no family. Stability makes a huge difference.”
The divorce has devastated the lives of the young woman, her two younger sisters and of course her mother. Under Egyptian family law, the father receives custody of the children when he converts to Islam and files for divorce.
To keep her children, the mother sent each of her two youngest daughters to live with different relatives. She then moved to a cramped apartment in a low-income neighborhood in Cairo. As Simone El Gohany explains, Egyptian authorities can only remove children from their mother if they live in a residence belonging to one or both of the parents.
Since the divorce, the children’s father has made no attempt to contact the girls or his ex-wife. He does not pay child support, and Egyptian law does not require him to do so. Still, the children fear he will show up one day or another and demand the girls move in with him. As a result, the girls no longer attend school.
The father’s conversion has also stripped the two youngest daughters of their Christian identity. In the eyes of the Egyptian government, when a father converts to Islam, all his children under the age of 18 automatically “convert” as well. The girls’ government records have all been changed, identifying them as Muslim. Public schools require they attend classes on Islam. Now officially “Muslim,” they can never marry a Christian man since the church does not recognize mixed marriages.
Read more in Spotlight: Coptic Women.
3 April 2013
Tags: Egypt Islam Coptic Orthodox Church Coptic Christians Women (rights/issues)
Archbishop Francis Chullikatt speaks at an interfaith prayer service at Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Cathedral in Brooklyn on 2 April. (photo: CNEWA)
Last night, dozens of lay people and clergy — including CNEWA’s Msgr. John E. Kozar — gathered at Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Cathedral in Brooklyn for an interfaith service dedicated to praying for peace in the Middle East, especially Syria.
Representatives of several faith traditions were there: Muslims, Jews, Catholics and Protestants. The diversity was impressive and inspiring; a Druze cleric led the congregation in the Lord’s Prayer, and the service ended with “Immaculate Mary” sung in Arabic. Archbishop Francis Chullikatt (shown above), the permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, spoke eloquently of the urgent need for peace, and quoted both Pope Emeritus Benedict and his successor Pope Francis.
Among the prayers from the service was this, adapted from Maronite Evening Prayer:
O Lord, the night and the day are yours; you uphold the light and the sun. Through your power you direct the sequence of the seasons. You have brought the day to its close and called forth the night. Be for us that great day that never ends. In the evening, let your light shine in our hearts, and in the darkness of the night, enlighten us with the knowledge of your truth. And so, through all the days of our lives, we shall praise you, O God. To you be glory and may your mercy rest upon us, now and forever.
To learn more about the Maronite Church, click here.
2 April 2013
Tags: Syrian Civil War Unity Middle East Peace Process Prayers/Hymns/Saints Maronite
Pope Francis visits the excavated necropolis below St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican on 1 April. The necropolis is where St. Peter’s tomb has been venerated since early Christian times and where the first church dedicated to him was built. The tomb is two levels below the main altar of the modern basilica. (photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)
Yesterday, Pope Francis became the first pope to tour what is believed to be the burial site of St. Peter. CNS reports:
Kneeling before the tomb of St. Peter, Pope Francis repeated the three professions of faith the Gospels report the apostle making: “Lord, you are the Christ, the son of the living God,” “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life,” and “Lord, you know everything; you know I love you.”
Cardinal Angelo Comastri, archpriest of St. Peter’s Basilica, said Pope Francis made the three professions on 1 April while kneeling on the marble floor of the Clementine Chapel, facing a grill that allows visitors to see the back of what is believed to be St. Peter’s tomb.
“It was moving for us to hear the pope, who took these words of Peter and made them live again, because today it is his mission to continue the mission Jesus entrusted to Peter,” the cardinal told Vatican Radio.
Cardinal Comastri accompanied Pope Francis on a late-afternoon tour of the excavated necropolis where St. Peter is buried. Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said Pope Francis was the first pope to tour the site, walking the path between mostly second-century burial vaults to the tomb.
Read more at the CNS link.
28 March 2013
Tags: Pope Francis Vatican Saints
In this image from Holy Week in 2009, Christians in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem pray at the Stone of Unction, the place where the body of Jesus was prepared for burial. (photo: CNS/Yannis Behrakis, Reuters)
27 March 2013
Tags: Middle East Jerusalem Easter Christian Church of the Holy Sepulchre
A child prays during liturgy in Santhithadam, India. (photo: Sean Sprague)
Several years ago, we paid a visit to a valley in Kerala where some enterprising families had established a small community of Christians:
Santhithadam means “Valley of Peace” in Malayalam, the language of Kerala.
Located at the end of a nearly impassable dirt road, Santhithadam is indeed a peaceful valley hidden away in one of the most remote corners of Kerala, in southwest India. While much of Kerala is overcrowded, its many people competing for limited farmland, Santhithadam is an exception.
Not far from the border with Tamil Nadu and set on the high Attapaddy plateau, the area was thinly populated by scattered tribes for centuries. Then, about 30 years ago, 76 families settled in Santhithadam from the crowded south, including 40 Syro-Malabar Catholic families from Kottayam, Kerala’s Christian heartland.
The families who settled in Santhithadam were like pioneers arriving at a new frontier. These economic migrants had given up their former lives, knowing there would be no turning back. What tiny plots of land they had owned in Kottayam were sold and replaced in Santhithadam with larger plots, ripe for development and cultivation. But at the time, many of these hard-working people did not know what they were facing.
Read more about Kerala’s Brave New Frontier in the July 2003 issue of the magazine.
26 March 2013
Tags: India Kerala Syro-Malabar Catholic Church Indian Christians Farming/Agriculture
Jesus falls the first time, the third Station of the Cross, is depicted in the prayer book for the Way of the Cross service on Good Friday at Rome’s Colosseum. The Via Crucis prayer book is illustrated with works discovered in Bethlehem and attributed to an unknown 19th-century Palestinian Franciscan artist. (image: CNS)
The Vatican has released the text of the Way of the Cross that Pope Francis will pray on Good Friday — and it has some strong connections to the people of the Middle East and to the world of CNEWA.
Meditating on Christ’s passion and the ways people contribute to his suffering, Lebanese youths lamented the ongoing emigration from and violence in the Middle East, divisions among Christians, the abuse of women and children, and the promotion of abortion.
But despite the hardships, horrors and despair, Christians are called to walk with Christ because “suffering, embraced in faith, is transformed into the path to salvation,” the youths said in meditations for the 29 March Way of the Cross service at Rome’s Colosseum.
Christians can find hope in bearing their burdens because Christ is with them. However, acceptance does not mean putting an end to one’s dreams, to speaking out and fighting for freedom and the truth, the reflections said.
“God does not want suffering and does not accept evil,” the text said. In fact, people can carry the cross with joy and hope because Christians know Christ “triumphed over death for us.”
A group of Lebanese young people wrote the meditations at the request of retired Pope Benedict XVI; the Vatican released the published text with commentary and prayers on the 14 Stations of the Cross on 25 March.
Each year, the pope chooses a different person or group of people to write the series of prayers and reflections that are read aloud during the solemn, torch-lit ceremony.
The retired pope asked Lebanon’s Maronite Patriarch Bechara Rai to choose the youths and guide their preparation of the texts. The retired pope’s request was meant to recall his 2012 visit to Lebanon and invite the whole church to pray for the Middle East — its tensions and its beleaguered Christian community.
The task of composing the 14 meditations was divided equally among committees from the six rites of the Catholic Church represented in Lebanon: Latin, Maronite, Melkite, Armenian, Syriac and Chaldean. In addition, six Catholic youth groups, a special-needs group and a nongovernmental organization were randomly chosen and assigned a station to focus on.
Participants said they tried to show the biggest challenges facing young people in the Middle East and elsewhere while also showing the Christian vision of hope and resurrection.
Read more here. And you can find the full text at the Vatican website.
25 March 2013
Tags: Lebanon Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter Emigration Prayers/Hymns/Saints Easter
Matzo and drops of wine are seen on a plate at a Seder table. The Jewish ritual feast is celebrated during Passover, the commemoration of the deliverance of the Israelites from Egyptian slavery. (photo: CNS/Nancy Phelan Wiechec)
To mark the beginning of the feast of Passover tonight, Pope Francis has sent a message to Rome’s Jewish community:
”May the Almighty, who freed his people from slavery in Egypt to guide them to the Promised Land, continue to free you from every evil and accompany you with his blessing,” the pope said in the message delivered on 25 March.
Passover, the eight-day commemoration of God freeing the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt, was set to begin that evening.
Thanking Rabbi Riccardo di Segni, chief rabbi of Rome, for attending his inaugural Mass on 19 March and his meeting with religious leaders the next day, Pope Francis said, “I am particularly pleased to extend to you and the entire Rome community my most fervent wishes for the great Passover feast.
“I ask you to pray for me, while I assure you of my prayers for you, trusting that we can deepen the bonds of esteem and mutual respect,” the pope said.
On the website of Rome’s Jewish community, Rabbi di Segni said he appreciated the message and planned to respond with a message wishing the pope and Rome’s Christians a happy Easter.
22 March 2013
Tags: Pope Francis Catholic-Jewish relations Christian-Jewish relations Jewish Catholic-Jewish Dialogue
Ethiopian children gather on a rural hillside. (photo: Christian Molidor, R.S.M.)
Several years ago, we took readers to Ethiopia for a closer look at the diverse traditions of its peoples:
The peoples of Ethiopia have long experienced constant interaction through trade, warfare, religious activities, migration and intermarriage.
Although Christians and Muslims have often found themselves as antagonists in territorial disputes, the two faith communities share in many of the same observances.
Large numbers of Christians and Muslims attend an annual sacrifice at Lake Bishoftu, a fertility rite of pagan Oromo origins. Members of both faiths also participate in an annual pilgrimage to the Harege region to honor the archangel Gabriel.
Non-Christians also join Ethiopian Christians in their celebration of the Finding of the True Cross, a two-day festival known as Meskel, as well as the Christian celebration of Temqat, or the feast of the Epiphany.
No matter their religious or ethnic identities, Ethiopians also share a number of cultural traits. Belief in active spirits such as the evil eye, a ban on the consumption of pork, a ritual calendar, pilgrimages and monotheism are just some of the many beliefs and practices common to the great majority of the Amhara, Tigrinyans, Falasha, Kman, Oromo, Somali and Haddiya of every faith community.
Despite these similarities and the modernization and consolidation efforts of Ethiopian governments starting in the late 19th century, Ethiopia is not a single national society.
Sadly, poverty is probably the only characteristic common to most every Ethiopian. The country is overwhelmingly poor, with most of the population engaged in subsistence farming. Degraded lands, poor cultivation and frequent droughts have left the country periodically unable to feed its people.
Read more about the Ethiopian people in the July 2004 issue of ONE.
21 March 2013
Tags: Ethiopia Cultural Identity Christian-Muslim relations Farming/Agriculture Ethiopian Christianity
Pope Francis leads a meeting with religious leaders at the Vatican on 20 March. The pope met with the Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh and Jain delegations that had come to the Vatican for his inauguration. (photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)
Pope Francis had warm words for interfaith religious leaders who met with him yesterday:
For the good of all people, the care of the poor and the future of the Earth, religions must cooperate in reminding modern men and women that God exists and has a plan for their lives and their behavior, Pope Francis said.
“The Catholic Church knows the importance of promoting friendship and respect among men and women of different religious traditions,” he said, repeating the entire phrase twice for emphasis March 20 during a meeting with the Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh and Jain delegations that had come to the Vatican for his inauguration.
The Catholic Church, he said, “is equally aware of the responsibility that all have for this world, for creation — which we must love and protect — and we can do much good for those who are poor, weak and suffering, to favor justice, to promote reconciliation, to build peace.”
Below, you can watch a CNS video in which Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Tarasios of Buenos Aires discusses the man he knew as Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio:
20 March 2013
Tags: Pope Francis Unity Interreligious Interfaith Dialogue
Pope Francis blesses the camera of Argentine presidential photographer Victor Bugge before his meeting with Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner at the Vatican on 18 March.(photo: CNS/Argentine presidency handout via Reuters)
Tags: Pope Francis