6 July 2016
A worker from the Piacenti restoration center works on a mosaic in the Church of the Nativity
on 5 July in Bethlehem. (photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)
An Italian team has completed restoration of Crusader-era mosaics in the Church of the Nativity, but the mosaics will only be unveiled publicly after work on lighting, electricity and the fire alarm system is also finished.
The work involved removing the layers of centuries-worth of soot and dirt — a result of the smoke of candles lit by pilgrims coming to venerate the site traditionally believed to be the birthplace of Jesus — from about 1.55 million tiny mosaic pieces that were reviewed and restored.
“I think all the churches want to save this church because here Jesus was born,” said Giammarco Piacenti, CEO of Piacenti restoration center, which began work on the church starting with the rotting wooden roof in April 2013. “It is important for all Christianity. For my professional life, this occasion is incredible.”
Only 1,400 square feet of mosaics remain from the original 21,528 square feet that adorned the wall, he noted. The others were destroyed by rain leaking through the roof, he said.
Made of stone, mother of pearl, and glass and gold leaf, the mosaics portray different scenes in the life of Jesus and the church, including the disbelief of Thomas, the Assumption and Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem on a donkey.
Piacenti said the mosaic of the disbelief of Thomas shows the date of 1155 and the names Ephraim and Basilius, presumably artisans who created the work. Some pieces of the mosaics remain missing and will not be replaced, he said, based on the theory of restoration that there should be a minimum of intervention on any piece.
“Really, it is only conservation,” he said.
One special moment came when restorers cleared away plaster from the wall bordering the roof in the main section of the church and discovered a seventh mosaic of a golden angel, in addition to the six they already knew existed. The angels’ arms gently direct pilgrims toward the grotto traditionally thought to be the site where Mary gave birth to Jesus.
During the Ottoman Empire, the angels’ faces were disfigured with gunshots to the nose and so here the missing pieces have been replaced, said Piacenti.
Both Islam and Judaism prohibit graven human images.
“They were shot in the nose to destroy, to kill them,” Piacenti said. Restoration gave them “a second life.”
The Church of the Nativity is shared by the Franciscans, and the Greek Orthodox and Armenian Orthodox churches. It is governed by the traditional Status Quo, the 1852 agreement that preserves the division of ownership and responsibilities of various Christian holy sites. In years past, the denominations have been known to jealously guard over their sections of the church, to the extent of fist fights breaking out over who could clean which part of the stone floor.
Relations among the churches have become progressively more cordial over the past decade, and the three churches were able to come together under the auspices of a special committee formed by the Palestinian National Authority. Through joint discussions they reached a working agreement permitting the much needed restorations on the Church of the Nativity to begin.
Once funds are raised, the next stage of the project will include restoration of the church’s 50 pillars and the study and restoration of the church floor and the mosaics underneath.
The different denominations have come to similar agreements in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, allowing for restoration projects to begin there as well.
5 July 2016
Suhaila Tarazi, left, meets with patients at the Al Ahli Arab Hospital. (photo: John E. Kozar)
The Summer edition of ONE features a powerful Letter From Gaza written by Suhaila Tarzai, director of the Al Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza. She describes the challenges of living in a land decimated by war:
The war has greatly harmed Gaza’s vulnerable health system, which had not functioned well beforehand. Many services and specialized treatments are not available to Palestinians inside Gaza. There is a lack of medicine for cancer treatment, drugs for cardiovascular diseases, life-saving antibiotics and kidney dialysis products.
Working in such dire conditions is too much for any human to cope with. Hundreds of the displaced were taking refuge in safer areas and we had our share of them at the hospital. They filled whatever little space we could find; they sat in the gardens and slept in the open. Our staff spared no effort in alleviating their suffering; I even hired extra help to give some staff a break. We offered them meals and water and blankets. (I have to record here my deepest gratitude to all of our donors, including CNEWA, for their support and generosity. Without them, we would not have succeeded.)
...A year and a half has elapsed since the war ended. And little of the money pledged from donor countries to rebuild Gaza has been received. The suffering in what many call the world’s largest open-air prison continues and it seems the rights of Gazans do not matter. According to several reports issued by the United Nations, Gaza will be “uninhabitable” by 2020.
For us Christians, all this suffering, depression, melancholy and despair should not sadden us, but render us more mature to confront the horror of the occupation and serve the needy. When I look into the eyes of our children wandering in the rubble, or when I see their stare on television screens, expressing their angry feelings to reporters, I know that nonetheless there is hope. Palestine will never be forgotten; it will remain deeply anchored in the conscience of the world. ... I pray that justice will eventually be done.
Read more of the Letter From Gaza. And check out the short video below, for another glimpse at life in the hospital.
1 July 2016
Faithful process to celebrate the liturgy in a camp for people displaced by war in Ain Kawa, northern Iraq. (photo: Paul Jeffrey)
The Summer 2016 edition of ONE features a riveting photo essay, chronicling the recent trip CNEWA’s chair, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, made to Iraq:
In the midst of evil, how does one offer love? Being with those in need is a start.
“I was raised with a high value on visiting people, especially when there was adversity,” wrote Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, upon his return from Iraqi Kurdistan in April. “A neighbor a block over had a fire; the next day we visited to see how they were doing and if they needed anything. Uncle Ed had eye surgery; we visited to make sure he was recovering. After my grandpa’s death, we visited my grandma a lot.”
The cardinal visited Iraqi Kurdistan “because,” he continued, “the Christian community there is family, a family in a lot of trouble, with much adversity, and to visit them is a very good thing.”
From 8 to 12 April, the cardinal, who chairs Catholic Near East Welfare Association, led a pastoral visit to Iraqi Kurdistan to be with the families displaced from their homes in northern Iraq’s Nineveh Plain since August 2014.
Read more and see additional pictures here. Below, photojournalist Paul Jeffrey, who covered the trip, describes some of what he saw and experienced.
30 June 2016
Nirmala Dasi Sister Lovely Kattumattam assists a resident at Ashraya, an elderly care center on the outskirts of Mumbai. To learn more about religious communities facing new challenges in India, read On a Mission from God in the Summer edition of ONE. (photo: Peter Lemieux)
29 June 2016
School food programs in Ethiopia provide students with nutritionally dense biscuits daily.
(photo: John E. Kozar)
In the Summer 2016 edition of ONE, CNEWA’s President Msgr. John E. Kozar reflects on a recent visit to drought-ridden Ethiopia:
Most of my visit was concentrated in the extreme northern reaches of the country bordering Eritrea. This is a vast mountainous area that has very challenging “roads” to reach remote villages; in many instances there are no roads at all, only dangerous mountain footpaths.
After a tortuous two-hour, nail-biting trip in a four-wheel-drive vehicle, our director of programs, Thomas Varghese, and I arrived in a remote village named Aiga, where we stopped at the humble parish school of St. Michael. There, the children warmly greeted us with songs and prayers and welcomed us lovingly into their classrooms, which have only the barest hint of outside natural light for the classes.
After visiting with each of the classes, we went outside the school, where they lined up to receive their “CNEWA” biscuits: a two-biscuit pack that would sustain them as the school day went on and would give them enough energy to walk home to their mountain dwellings. Most of the children walked over steep mountain trails for two or three hours each way to come to school. This simple nutritional supplement means the difference between these beautiful children coming to school or staying at home.
There were two very touching moments for me as they were enjoying their biscuits. The first came when I saw many children only eating one biscuit and wrapping up the other one to take home to be shared with others in their family; and the second was when a little girl offered me one of her biscuits. Tears came to my eyes at this gesture of kindness and generosity. What a demonstration of the Christian values that they learn in school and practice in their humble homes.
Read more in the magazine. And watch the video below for more of Msgr. Kozar’s impressions from that trip. If you’d like to support CNEWA’s work in Ethiopia, and help the hungry hold on to life, visit this giving page.
28 June 2016
Pope Francis greets retired Pope Benedict XVI during a 28 June ceremony at the Vatican marking the 65th anniversary of the retired pope’s priestly ordination. (photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano, handout)
Pope Francis had warm words for his predecessor today, marking marking the 65th anniversary of Benedict’s ordination to the priesthood. CNS has details:
In his first public address in almost a year, retired Pope Benedict XVI expressed his sincere gratefulness to Pope Francis, saying that his goodness “from the first moment of your election, in every moment of my life here, touches me deeply.”
“More than the beauty found in the Vatican Gardens, your goodness is the place where I live; I feel protected,” Pope Benedict said 28 June.
Pope Benedict also conveyed his hope that Pope Francis would continue to “lead us all on this path of divine mercy that shows the path of Jesus, to Jesus and to God.”
Pope Francis led a Vatican celebration for the 65th anniversary of Pope Benedict’s priestly ordination. The two were joined by the heads of Vatican offices and congregations and several guests, including a delegation from the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.
Those gathered gave Pope Benedict a standing ovation as he made his way into the Clementine Hall and took his seat to the right of the pope’s chair.
A few minutes later, Pope Francis entered the hall and made a beeline for his predecessor, who respectfully removed his zucchetto before greeting him. Pope Francis has made no secret of his admiration for the retired pontiff, often comparing him to a “wise grandfather at home.”
During his return flight to Rome from Armenia 26 June,, Pope Francis praised Pope Benedict for “protecting me and having my back with his prayers.”
For more, check out the CNS video of the event and the remarks below.
27 June 2016
Tags: Pope Francis Pope Benedict XVI
Children and their grandmother stand in their home in Beit Hanoun, Gaza, which suffered heavy damage in the 2014 war. To read a powerful and personal account of life in Gaza today, check out A Letter from Gaza in the Summer edition of ONE. (photo: Shareef Sarhan)
24 June 2016
Catholicos Karekin II, patriarch of the Armenian Apostolic Church, and Pope Francis arrive to visit the Armenian Apostolic Cathedral at Etchmiadzin in Vagharshapat, Armenia, 24 June.
(photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
A solid, sorrow-tested Christian faith gives believers the strength to overcome even the most horrific adversity, forgive one’s enemies and live in peace, Pope Francis said.
Arriving in Armenia 24 June, Pope Francis went straight to the twin concerns of his three-day visit: Promoting Christian unity and honoring the determined survival of Armenian Christianity despite a historic massacre and decades of Soviet domination.
The high profile of the pope’s ecumenical concern and the importance of faith in Armenian culture were highlighted by making the trip’s first official appointment a visit to the cathedral of the Armenian Apostolic Church at Etchmiadzin.
The arrival ceremony at the airport was defined as informal, but featured a review of the troops and a greeting by a young boy and a young girl, who offered Pope Francis the traditional gifts of bread and salt. His entrance into Holy Etchmiadzin, as it commonly is known, was heralded with the pealing of church bells. As the pope and patriarch processed down the aisle between crowds of flag-waving faithful, a deacon led them, swinging an incense burner.
For the first two events on the papal itinerary, the English translations of the speeches of the pope’s hosts — the Armenian Orthodox patriarch and the country’s president — repeatedly used the word “genocide” to describe the deaths of 1.5 million Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Turks between 1915 and 1918.
The pope’s prepared text for his speech in Italian used the Armenian term “Metz Yeghern” or its Italian equivalent, “the Great Evil.” However, when speaking, the pope added the Italian “genocidio.”
Turkey objects to the term “genocide” and recalled its Vatican ambassador for about a year after Pope Francis in April 2015 quoted St. John Paul II in describing the massacre as the first genocide of the 20th century.
Pope Francis, visiting the Orthodox cathedral at Etchmiadzin and addressing government officials later at the presidential palace, did not focus on the tragedy, but on the faith of the country’s 3 million people, the need for reconciliation and peace in the region and the role of Christians in showing the world that faith is a power for the good of humanity.
For both nights of his trip, Pope Francis was to be the houseguest of Catholicos Karekin II, patriarch of the Armenian Apostolic Church.
“This sign of love eloquently bespeaks, better than any words can do, the meaning of friendship and fraternal charity,” the pope said.
In a world “marked by divisions and conflicts, as well as by grave forms of material and spiritual poverty,” he said, people expect Christians to provide a witness and example of mutual esteem and close collaboration.
All examples of brotherly love and cooperation, despite real differences existing among Christians, the pope said, “radiate light in a dark night and a summons to experience even our differences in an attitude of charity and mutual understanding.”
Besides being an example of how dialogue is the only way to settle differences, he said, “it also prevents the exploitation and manipulation of faith, for it requires us to rediscover faith’s authentic roots,” defending and spreading truth with respect for the human dignity of all.
Catholicos Karekin echoed the pope’s emphasis on the importance of Christian cooperation “for keeping and cherishing Christian ethical values in the world (and) for strengthening love” which is the only path to true security and prosperity.
He told the pope, “after the destruction caused by the Armenian Genocide and the godless years of the Soviet era, our church is living a new spiritual awakening.” Nearly 90 percent of Armenia’s population belongs to the Armenian Apostolic Church; Catholics, mostly belonging to the Eastern-rite Armenian Catholic Church, make up almost 10 percent of the population.
At the presidential palace later, Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan praised Pope Francis for having used the word “genocide” a year ago. “We don’t look for culprits. We don’t spread accusations,” he said, according to the English text given to reporters. “We simply want things to be called by their names.”
While the pope and president were meeting privately, Armenian public television broadcast images from the Armenian memorial prayer service Pope Francis presided over at the Vatican last year. They included the clip of him using the word “genocide.”
Pope Francis told the president and government officials, “Sadly that tragedy, that genocide was the first of the deplorable series of catastrophes of the past century made possible by twisted racial, ideological or religious aims” that extended to “planning the annihilation of entire peoples.”
Unfortunately, he said, “the great international powers looked the other way.”
“Having seen the depths of evil unleashed by “hatred, prejudice and the untrammeled desire for dominion,” people must make renewed commitments to ensuring differences are resolved with dialogue, he said.
“In this regard, it is vitally important that all those who declare their faith in God join forces to isolate those who use religion to promote war, oppression and violent persecution, exploiting and manipulating the holy name of God,” Pope Francis said.
At a time when Christians are again experiencing discrimination and persecution, he said, it is essential that world leaders make their primary goal “the quest for peace, the defense and acceptance of victims of aggression and persecution, (and) the promotion of justice and sustainable development.”
23 June 2016
A child naps in a home between Saesa and Idaga Hamus in Ethiopia. To read about the recent visit of CNEWA President Msgr. John E. Kozar to Ethiopia, and see more dramatic pictures, check out his photo essay in the Summer 2016 edition of ONE. (photo: John E. Kozar)
22 June 2016
In Armenia, Tatyana Dilbaryan rears her three children alone. (photo: Nazik Armenakyan)
The Summer 2016 edition of ONE features a poignant glimpse at children in Armenia who are growing up without fathers:
Many men in the northern Armenian town of Tashir leave the country to work abroad; unemployment tops 50 percent in the region. Many who work in Russia provide the minimum means of subsistence for their families back home, but some never return. As a result, women are left behind to shoulder the burden of running households and rearing children on their own.
David’s 49-year-old mother, Tatyana Dilbaryan, wears a smile, but the lines on her brow mask the difficulties she endures. The question lingers: Why has it come to this?
“I don’t know the answer. Perhaps he saw that I managed to do everything myself,” she says of her husband. “I raised livestock, worked in the fields, did everything for my children,” says Tatyana, still smiling despite a welling of tears in her kind eyes.
“We are good. We’ll get through this, my children will grow up and everything will be alright.”
The church is working to help these families. Read on to learn how.