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Volume 44, Number 3
  
7 January 2013
Greg Kandra




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.



Tags: Middle East Oman Epiphany

4 January 2013
Greg Kandra




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.



Tags: Ethiopia Education

3 January 2013
Greg Kandra




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)



Tags: Pope Benedict XVI Vatican

2 January 2013
Greg Kandra




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.



Tags: India Children Orphans/Orphanages Women

21 December 2012
Greg Kandra




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)



Tags: Bethlehem

18 December 2012
Greg Kandra




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

17 December 2012
Greg Kandra




A Christmas tree decorates St. Peter’s Square after a lighting ceremony at the Vatican on 14 December. The 78-foot silver fir tree is from the Italian province of Isernia.
(photo: CNS/Paul Haring)




Tags: Vatican

14 December 2012
Greg Kandra




A woman visits the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem as the West Bank city marks Advent and gears up for the Christmas season. (photo: CNS/Marko Djurica, Reuters)

As Christmas nears, the little town of Bethlehem is approaching the busiest time of the year. In May of 2009, Pope Benedict XVI paid a visit and described the special appeal of this place Christians hold as sacred:

The message of Christ’s coming, brought from heaven by the voice of angels, continues to echo in this town, just as it echoes in families, homes and communities throughout the world. It is “good news”, the angels say “for all the people”. It proclaims that the Messiah, the Son of God and the Son of David, has been born “for you”: for you and me, and for men and women in every time and place. In God’s plan, Bethlehem, “least among the clans of Judah” (Mic 5:2), has become a place of undying glory: the place where, in the fullness of time, God chose to become man, to end the long reign of sin and death, and to bring new and abundant life to a world which had grown old, weary and oppressed by hopelessness.

For men and women everywhere, Bethlehem is associated with this joyful message of rebirth, renewal, light and freedom. Yet here, in our midst, how far this magnificent promise seems from being realized! How distant seems that Kingdom of wide dominion and peace, security, justice and integrity which the Prophet Isaiah heralded in the first reading (cf. Is 9:7), and which we proclaim as definitively established in the coming of Jesus Christ, Messiah and King!...

...Here in Bethlehem, a special perseverance is asked of Christ’s disciples: perseverance in faithful witness to God’s glory revealed here, in the birth of his Son, to the good news of his peace which came down from heaven to dwell upon the earth.

“Do not be afraid!” This is the message which the Successor of Saint Peter wishes to leave with you today, echoing the message of the angels and the charge which our beloved Pope John Paul II left with you in the year of the Great Jubilee of Christ’s birth. Count on the prayers and solidarity of your brothers and sisters in the universal Church, and work, with concrete initiatives, to consolidate your presence and to offer new possibilities to those tempted to leave. Be a bridge of dialogue and constructive cooperation in the building of a culture of peace to replace the present stalemate of fear, aggression and frustration. Build up your local Churches, making them workshops of dialogue, tolerance and hope, as well as solidarity and practical charity.

Read the rest of the Holy Father’s message here.



Tags: Bethlehem

13 December 2012
Annie Grunow




CNEWA President Msgr. John Kozar caught this charming smile during his visit to the Kidane Mehret Children’s Home in Ethiopia in April 2012. Established to provide shelter for abandoned children, the home is run by the Franciscan Sisters of the Heart of Jesus, an order of nuns from Malta, under the leadership of Sister Lutgarda Camilleri. You can read about Kidane Mehret in this article from the September 2001 issue of our magazine. The school underwent improvements, partly through the generosity of CNEWA's donors, in 2003 and 2009. (photo: Msgr. John Kozar)



Tags: Ethiopia CNEWA Children Sisters Msgr. John E. Kozar

12 December 2012
Greg Kandra




Pope Benedict XVI is assisted by Thaddeus Jones of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications as he sends his first Twitter message during his general audience in Paul VI Hall at the Vatican on 12 December. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)

To much fanfare, Pope Benedict XVI sent out his first message on Twitter today. CNS notes:

Pope Benedict XVI launched his very own Twitter account, sending a short inaugural message to his more than 1 million followers.

“Dear friends, I am pleased to get in touch with you through Twitter. Thank you for your generous response. I bless all of you from my heart,” it said.

His tweet -- 139 characters -- went viral as the number of followers of @Pontifex and its seven other extensions grew by more than 5,000 new people an hour, a Vatican official said. Tens of thousands of followers retweeted the messages in the short minutes after they were posted.

After the pope gave his catechesis and blessing to those gathered for the general audience in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall, an announcement came over the speakers saying the pope was about to make his first tweet.

Officials placed a small wooden desk in front of the pope, and staff from the Pontifical Council for Social Communications placed a small tablet computer on top.

The pope put on his glasses as Thaddeus Jones, a U.S. official at the council, showed him the screen that already had the message prepared and loaded. The pope, with a tap, sent the greeting, which in English was just one character shy of the site’s 140-character limit.

The moment was captured on video, below:



Tags: Pope Benedict XVI Vatican





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