15 February 2017
Missak Baghboudarian, conductor of the Syrian National Symphony Orchestra, stands with Italian Catholic cathedral organist Eugenio Maria Fagiani during a 9 February performance at the Damascus Opera House. (photo: CNS/Ghyath Haboub)
A famed Italian Catholic cathedral organist is believed to have been the first Western musician to perform in Syria since the start of the civil war nearly six years ago.
“It has been awesome. It was something unbelievable,” Eugenio Maria Fagiani told Catholic News Service by phone of his recent performances in the Syrian capital, Damascus.
“It has been a great privilege to make music with people so passionate, so full of life and joy,” Fagiani said of the camaraderie shared with members of the Syrian National Symphony Orchestra and its maestro, Missak Baghboudarian.
Together they performed Joseph Jongen’s “Symphonie Concertante” and Camille Saint-Saens “Symphony No. 3” at the Damascus Opera House 9 February.
“I chose these pieces (because) they make people feel really joyful,” Fagiani said, remarking of the 1,100-person packed audience. The concert was recorded and is expected to be broadcast in Syria.
“I was welcomed by these colleagues with such a warm feeling that I will never forget,” the organist said of the experience. “This moment will be forever part of my heart.”
The following day, Fagiani played at St. Anthony’s Latin Church in Damascus, at the invitation of Cardinal Mario Zenari and the parish priest, Father Fadi. Both concerts initiated the first Syrian Pipe Organ Festival, sponsored by the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land.
A native of the northern Italian town of Bergamo, Fagiani is formidable in the world of international sacred organ music and is recognized for his composition and improvisation.
In Italy, he collaborates with the Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi and is also the cathedral organist in the town of Arezzo, especially playing services during which a bishop or archbishop presides. He regularly performs in Europe, the U.S. and Canada.
Initially, Fagiani was concerned about traveling to Syria, especially with its security situation as reported in the media. For that reason, he said, he did not inform his loved ones about the trip. But he soon discovered Damascus to be calm and quite tolerant, he told CNS. When he slipped into a large mosque for a visit, “nobody looked at me strangely,” he said.
“I walked easily in Damascus without any problems or danger. There are a lot of checkpoints, a lot control, but you feel safe in that way,” he added.
However, in other parts of Syria, government troops and rebel forces of various political stripes are engaged in heavy battles for the country’s future. The United Nations said the conflict has killed more than 300,000 people and displaced almost half of the Syrian population. The U.N. said another 600,000 people remain under siege by both by the Syrian military and rebel and jihadist groups.
Fagiani said he found that the devaluation of the Syrian currency coupled with high prices for fuel and other goods as well as electricity shortages have made life even for Syrians living in Damascus more difficult.
“This mission is bigger than us,” Fagiani said of the need to try to restore normalcy to ordinary Syrians. “The culture minister provided us with an extra two hours of electricity to ensure the concert at the church could happen.”
The concerts were co-sponsored by Syrian Culture Minister Mohammed Al-Ahmed, the Damascus Opera House and the Higher Institute of Music in Damascus.
Fagiani has also performed at various church-organized organ festivals, including in Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan. Last October, he played at the reopening and dedication of the Memorial of Moses at Mount Nebo, Jordan, the site where Moses is believed to have seen the Promised Land and died.
“The culture minister and Cardinal Zenari told me that the concerts were a big gift for them,” Fagiani said. “They’ve opened doors. I hope that others will follow in my steps.”
14 February 2017
Two young men take a break in the wood workshop of Caritas Georgia. To learn more about the skills being developed at Caritas, read A Letter from Georgia in the current edition of ONE.
(photo: Antonio di Vico)
13 February 2017
German Cardinal Rainer Woelki of Cologne celebrates Mass on 12 February at the Church of Loaves and Fishes in Tabgha, Israel. Twenty months after having suffered serious damage from an arson attack, the atrium of the Benedictine church was reopened.
(photo: CNS/Atef Safadi, EPA)
Twenty months after having suffered serious damage from an arson attack, the atrium of the Benedictine Church of the Loaves and Fishes was reopened on 12 February. German Cardinal Rainer Woelki of Cologne, president of the German Association of the Holy Land, celebrating a Mass to mark the event.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, who visited the church in Tabgha immediately following the attack in June 2015, was also among the official guests after the Mass.
“We are bound together. We are all equal before God, and equal before the law,” Rivlin said. “The state of Israel is ... deeply committed to the freedom of religion and of worship for all religions and believers. We stand up for religious freedom because, as a people, we know very well what it means to suffer religious persecution. And we stand up for religious freedom because we are a democratic state.
“The last time I was here, we stood together and looked at the burned walls and the terrible graffiti,” the president said. “Today, I visit here again, and see the renewal of this historic, special, and holy place. I want to thank all the people who worked hard to restore this place, and to say clearly; that hate cannot win.”
“Today is a time of great joy and friendship,” said Cardinal Woelki. “It was very warming to hear from the local people how, after the arson attack, so many people across many religions in the Holy Land came to show their solidarity.”
Noting the importance of preventing such attacks in the future, the guests spoke of the need to create connections among people of different faiths and to learn about one another.
A clergyman stands inside the Church of Loaves and Fishes following a 2015 fire
in Tabgha, Israel. (photo:CNS/Atef Safadi, EPA)
Two suspects have been held under administrative detention since July 2015 for involvement in the arson, which police are treating as a hate crime.
Also known as the Church of the Multiplication, the church located on the shore of the Sea of Galilee is traditionally believed to be the site of Jesus’ miracle of the fish and loaves, where he was able to feed a multitude of people with only five loaves of bread and two fish.
Although the Israeli government had made promises of funding to help restore the structure, the actual amount received for the restoration following yearlong negotiations was less than had been initially stated, according to Heinz Thiel, secretary-general of the German Association of the Holy Land. Israel contributed $394,000 toward the reconstruction of the church.
Ultimately the work was completed through the help of private donations from both institutions and individuals, Thiel said.
The total cost of the reconstruction, including loss of earnings and goods from their gift shop and the new security measures that had to be installed, was $1.38 million, said Benedictine Father Basilius Schiel, prior of the Tabgha monastery.
10 February 2017
Aaron M. Butts, assistant professor of Semitic languages and literature at The Catholic University of America in Washington holds an Ethiopic manuscript containing the Gospel of John at Mullen Library. The university is the holder of the fifth largest collection of Ethiopian Christian manuscripts in the United States and the largest collection of Ethiopian Islamic manuscripts outside Ethiopia. (photo: CNS/Tyler Orsburn)
A massive donation of Ethiopian religious manuscripts to The Catholic University of America in Washington makes the school one of the largest holders of such texts outside Ethiopia.
The value of the donation, by Gerald and Barbara Weiner of Chicago, is estimated to be more than $1 million. The collection includes more than 215 Islamic manuscripts, 125 Christian manuscripts, and 350 so-called “magic” scrolls with prayers to protect the owner or reader from particular illnesses.
What makes the manuscripts valuable is that they’re handmade, according to Aaron Butts, an assistant professor of Semitic languages and literature at Catholic University. What makes them rare, he added, is that such texts are rarely seen outside Ethiopia, and that the East African nation's rainy season often renders the books and scrolls unusable or illegible after repeated use. That so many texts — most of which date back to the 18th and 19th centuries, with a few even older — still survive, and in a usable condition, he told Catholic News Service, is “amazing.”
“Every one of them is a treasure,” Butts said.
The donation makes Catholic University the holder of the fifth largest collection of Ethiopian Christian manuscripts in the United States, and the largest collection of Ethiopian Islamic manuscripts outside of Ethiopia.
Butts said Gerald Weiner had hoped to collect holy books from Ethiopian Judaism, but “when he realized how few were available, he started collecting books from Ethiopian Christianity and Islam.”
Although modern bookbinding techniques exist in Ethiopia, the nation’s religious leaders still greatly prefer to use handmade books. Their makers use the skins of sheep, goats and cattle to make the books; even the “parchment” pages come from these animal hides.
Each book’s contents also must be written by hand with ink. Frequently, there are illustrations in the books — and definitely on the scrolls — making the production of even one book a prolonged and relatively costly venture.
Butts explained that the scrolls are not regarded as official prayer texts by Ethiopian Christian leaders, “but the people who use them use them as prayers.” The prayers ask for divine help for any number of maladies, headaches among them, he said, but some focus on pains only experienced by women, such as they experience with menstruation and childbirth. “This may be why religious leaders have not thought of them as official,” he added.
The edges of some pages of the books are so dark they look like they had been burned. Rather, Butts said, “it’s dirt from the hands” of the user. Some books have “illuminated” illustrations that display their brilliance despite the passage of time, and contain writing underneath the illustration legible to a sharp reader.
Included in the donation were a trio of Ethiopian Christian liturgical texts featuring Gospel passages on one page, and homilies from saints on the next. The tomes are massive in size, each likely containing 200 or so pages with generous margins bordering each page “as a symbol of the wealth” of the religious figure who commissioned the three-volume set, Butts said, adding “Imagine how many animals, how much ink was used” to complete the set, with the writing of each book taking at least several months to complete.
Butts told CNS that the Weiners wanted to make sure the recipient of the gift would be able to provide access to the collection. Catholic University will be able to provide not only scholars and students with access, but also Washington’s Ethiopian-American community.
The Washington area is rivaled only by the much larger Los Angeles metropolitan area for the size of its Ethiopian community. There is a particular concentration of Ethiopian restaurants and shops — including an Ethiopian evangelical church — along the border of Washington with the suburb of Silver Spring, Maryland, and many Ethiopian-American men make their living as taxi drivers.
The donated books and scrolls are still being assessed for their relative durability after two or three centuries. When the assessment is complete, which Butts hopes will be sometime in the spring, Catholic University will invite the Weiners to attend a reception marking the donation.
Check out a video on this manuscripts from CNS below:
8 February 2017
Sister Seraphina of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary visits with a refugee family from Iraq now living in Jordan. To learn more about how the sisters are Welcoming the Stranger in Jordan, check out the current edition of ONE. (photo: Tamara Abdul Hadi)
7 February 2017
These young people greeted CNEWA’s president Msgr. John E. Kozar during his trip to the Divine Renewal Retreat Center in Margherita, India. You can learn more about his recent visit here.
(photo: John E. Kozar)
6 February 2017
University student Rebecca Sisay attends a catechetical program to promote lay formation and leadership in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia. Learn more about efforts to inspire the future leaders of Ethiopia’s sacramental Christian communities in Ethiopia’s Sleeping Giant, featured in the Winter 2016 edition of ONE. For more on the city, Mumbai Mirror published a short profile of Bahir Dar yesterday. (photo: James Jeffrey)
3 February 2017
Tags: Ethiopia Catholic Ethiopian Christianity Youth
Ivlita Kuchaidze relaxes at the Caritas Georgia Harmony Day Center and shares pictures from her past. The center serves the elderly in Tbilisi. Read about their work in the current edition of ONE.
(photo: Antonio Di Vico)
2 February 2017
Students perform at The Infant Jesus School in Dwaraka, India. CNEWA’s president Msgr. John E. Kozar visited the region in December. You can learn more and check out a video describing the trip here. (photo: John E. Kozar)
1 February 2017
Christians celebrate a Marian feast in the northern region of Tigray in Ethiopia. Catechists are being trained to help spread the faith. Learn more about why this movement might be
considered Ethiopia’s Sleeping Giant in the current edition of ONE.
(photo: Minasse Wondimu Hailu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)