23 November 2015
Pope Francis poses with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko during a meeting at the Vatican
on 20 November. (photo: CNS/Alessandra Tarantino, pool via Reuters)
On Friday, Pope Francis met with Ukraine’s president. Some details, from CNS:
Although the conflict between Ukraine and Russian-backed separatists continues, Pope Francis and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko still share hope that a political solution still can be found, the Vatican said.
Welcoming Poroshenko to the Vatican on November 20, the pope greeted him in Ukrainian. Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, explained that at the age of 11, the young Jorge Mario Bergoglio learned a few phrases of Ukrainian when he served as an altar boy for a Ukrainian Catholic priest in Buenos Aires.
Pope Francis and Poroshenko spoke privately for more than 20 minutes. The Vatican said that their conversation was “dedicated principally to matters connected with the situation of conflict in the country.”
“In this respect, the hope was shared that, with the commitment of all the interested parties, political solutions may be favored, starting with the full implementation of the Minsk Accords,” a cease-fire agreement signed in September 2014, the statement said.
Additionally, the two expressed their concerns regarding the difficulties in providing humanitarian relief, healthcare in areas of the country where the fighting continues.
The Ukrainian president gave the pope a glass sculpture of an angel, which represented “a messenger of God who brings peace to every home and reminds us of such principal values of life as God’s blessing, family, labor and peaceful skies overhead.”
Poroshenko told the pope he hoped “that with this you will remember Ukraine.”
20 November 2015
Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych, major archbishop of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, celebrates the Divine Liturgy at the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Philadelphia on 15 November. At right is Archbishop Stefan Soroka of Philadelphia. (photo: CNS/Sarah Webb)
In 2009, the Rev. Sviatoslav Shevchuk, a priest of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, was named a bishop and sent to Buenos Aires, Argentina, as an auxiliary bishop and administrator of the Eparchy of Santa Maria.
At that time he was just 38, the youngest Catholic bishop in the world.
Just two years later, despite his youth, his brother bishops meeting for a five-day synod in Lviv elected him major archbishop of Kiev-Halych, the head of the entire Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. The election was ratified by Pope Benedict XVI.
During his brief administration in Buenos Aires, his mentor was Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, then the archbishop of Buenos Aires, now Pope Francis. The two became friends.
“I think Pope Francis has deep religious spirituality,” Archbishop Shevchuk observed during a 13-15 November visit to Philadelphia. “His special gift is to discern and appreciate each gift from the Holy Spirit, and he was an outstanding father and adviser to me, he introduced me to the council of bishops in Argentina and helped me with my orientation.”
More recently he served on the preparatory commission for the October 2014 extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family and this October’s world Synod of Bishops on the family. He recalls the first time meeting the now-Pope Francis while he was there. He started to talk to the pontiff in Italian.
“He said to me, ‘Did you forget your Spanish?’ so we talked in Spanish,” Archbishop Shevchuk told CatholicPhilly.com, the news site of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
While in Philadelphia, Archbishop Shevchuk celebrated Divine Liturgy at the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception on 15 November. He blessed new mosaics honoring Blessed Josaphata Hordashevska, foundress of the Sisters Servants of Mary Immaculate and Major Archbishop Andrey Sheptytsky of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, who died in a Soviet prison in 1944. In July, Pope Francis signed a decree recognizing his heroic virtues and declaring him venerable.
The primary reason for Archbishop Shevchuk’s visit to the U.S. was to participate in the unveiling in Washington of the Holodomor-Forced Famine Monument, which honors the memory of millions of Ukrainians who starved to death in 1932-33 during forced collectivization instigated by the Stalin regime.
“We call it genocide,” Archbishop Shevchuk said. “In Ukrainian territory alone according to studies at least 5 million were killed.”
On 7 November, he blessed the monument, which was authorized by Congress in 2006.
Ukraine, which was ruled mostly by Russia and other neighboring countries for centuries, regained full independence in 1991 after the collapse of the Soviet Union but relations between the Russian Federation and Ukraine deteriorated with the annexation of Crimea by Russia and incursions in other nearby Ukrainian territory in 2014.
“The desire of the Ukrainian nation is not to move back to the Soviet Union but forward to democracy to autonomy,” Archbishop Shevchuk said. “Right now there is a fragile cease-fire but we are concerned about re-escalation.”
While in Washington, the Catholic archbishop and other Ukrainian religious leaders representing the Orthodox, Jewish, Lutheran, Muslim and evangelical Christian faiths, among others, held a news conference 9 November calling on President Barack Obama and Congress to greatly increase the level of humanitarian aid for those suffering in the midst of the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, especially as winter approaches.
In a nation of 45 million, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic population is about 4.5 million with an additional 2.5 million members abroad. “We are the largest Eastern Catholic Church in the world,” the archbishop said.
Although most other believers are Orthodox Christians along with Protestant, Jewish and Muslim communities, “Our (All-Ukrainian) Council of the Churches and Religious Organizations is our most powerful NGO, representing 85 percent of the people” Archbishop Shevchuk said. “The council enables us not only to listen to each other but to solve our problems. We not only coexist, we cooperate.”
To be part of the Ukrainian nation, one does not have to be ethnically Ukrainian, Archbishop Shevchuk explained, pointing to the large number of Poles, Jews, Russians and other nationalities, with a large part of the army being Russian speakers. “We are a free people, a country with European values and respect for human dignity, which lays the foundation to the nation.”
Just as Ukraine is multi-ethnic, so too is the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, which during communist rule was essentially an underground church, according to Archbishop Shevchuk.
“We are a global church,” he said “We are in the U.S., Canada, Argentina, Brazil, Australia, Western Europe, Siberia and even China. We pray in different languages. We are open to sharing our Eastern Catholic traditions, our spirituality, our liturgy with all.”
Although Ukrainian Greek Catholics are a minority both in the country of their origin and around the world, including the United States, the aim is always communion not conformity.
“We always learn to think as a minority, but our authority goes beyond being a small community,” Archbishop Shevchuk said. “We learn how to overcome our limits, to be flexible, to present our treasures in a practical way so that people will appreciate them.”
In his visit to the United States and the various Ukrainian Greek Catholic communities, Archbishop Shevchuk most desired to bring attention to the current situation in Ukraine. “We do need the help of the international community, not only to stop a war but to help those who have been injured by war,” he said. “I especially want to thank all Catholics in America who participate in the collection for Eastern churches. Right now, that is vital.”
19 November 2015
Tags: Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk
Nina Moshy, left, and Rosemary Yachouh stand in front of the Ryerson Student Centre in Toronto to spread awareness about the plight of Syrian refugees. (photo: Jean Ko Din/Catholic Register)
Students in Canada are showing solidarity with Syrian refugees — and raising funds for CNEWA.
From The Catholic Register:
Many members of the Assyrian Chaldean Syriac Student Union (ACSSU) have grown up in Canada watching from a distance as civil wars tear apart their homelands and force their relatives and friends to flee. As tensions rise and more people are displaced, ACSSU members believe they can make a difference.
From 16 to 19 November, ACSSU chapters at Toronto’s Ryerson and York Universities and the University of Toronto; McMaster in Hamilton, Ontario; and Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario, set up camp in front of their school’s student centers to raise awareness and money in support of refugees in Iraq and Syria. For three nights and four days, ACCSU members are experiencing the “Life of a Mesopotamian Refugee.”
“We’re here to raise awareness and money for people who are not here,” said Rosemary Yachouh, president of ACSSU Canada. “I’m just hoping to get the word out. … I want to make myself feel what people back home are feeling for the extent that I’m able to.”
About 12 students slept in tents for three nights without electronics and other conveniences. The students only ate food brought to them by others.
During the day, students handed out flyers and talked with passers-by about the plight of displaced peoples in Iraq and Syria. They also visited classrooms to talk to different student groups about donating money to send much needed food, shelter and clothing overseas.
ACSSU hopes to raise at least $25,000 for the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA).
Generally, Yachouh said people have been open to being engaged in conversation. Students want to know more about what’s going on?in the world. Many have passed by their tables and tents to share their thoughts and feelings about the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and Beirut.
“We’re not just about raising money. We also want to get people’s time. We want to tell them what’s happening,” said Yachouh. “So by having a physical presence and actually giving ourselves that experience of living like refugees, I think it shows the Canadian community that there is a bigger thing happening outside of this country.”
18 November 2015
Tags: Syria Iraq Refugees Middle East Iraqi Refugees
In this image from September, a laborer works to rebuild the 160-year old Mardin Protestant Church in Mardin, Turkey, one of the oldest Protestant churches in the Middle East. The first religious service in 60 years was held at the church on Sunday. Read more and see a picture of the completed work here. (photo: Don Duncan)
17 November 2015
Refugees from Afghanistan and Syria arrive in boats on the shores of Lesbos on 5 November 2015 near Skala Sikaminias, Greece. In the wake of last week’s terror attacks in Paris, U.S. bishops have underscored their support for refugees. To show your support for refugees, please visit this giving page. (photo: Etienne De Malglaive/Getty Images)
16 November 2015
In Paris on 16 November, a man weeps as people gather to observe a minute of silence at the Place de la Republique in memory of the victims of last Friday’s terror attacks.
(photo: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
13 November 2015
The Rev. Jacques Mourad poses for a photo on 11 November in the reception area at Our Lady of the Annunciation Church in Beirut, Lebanon. (photo: CNS/Doreen Abi Raad)
When a man dressed head-to-toe in black entered the room where the Rev. Jacques Mourad was being held by the Islamic State, the Syriac Catholic priest thought his time to become a martyr had come.
“That moment was really intense and difficult,” he recalled.
It was eight days after Father Mourad’s May abduction by Islamic State from Qaryatain, Syria, where he served as prior of the ancient Syriac Catholic Mar Elian monastery. The militants also kidnapped Boutros, a deacon. Together they spent 84 days in captivity.
To the two prisoners’ surprise, their would-be executioner did not treat them as though they were “infidels” (Christians), who are considered as impure and beneath fanatic Muslims: The man in black shook their hands, greeted them with “salam alaykoum” (peace be with you) and asked questions as if he would like to get acquainted.
When Father Mourad asked, “Why are we here?” the masked man told the priest to consider it as a “khaelwe,” which in Arabic means a time of spiritual reflection, a spiritual retreat.
“I needed this concept of a ‘spiritual retreat,’” the priest told Catholic News Service while visiting Lebanon on 11 November, a month after his escape. “I felt that the Lord was speaking through this masked Muslim. It gave me a push to keep going.”
Instead of the dreaded death sentence, the encounter turned out to be a turning point for Father Mourad. From that day, the priest said, his prayers had a whole new meaning, and he began to see his imprisonment as a way to carry and embrace the cross of Jesus.
In the 19-by-10-foot bathroom that served as their prison cell, Father Mourad and Boutros spent most of their time praying together.
“The prayer that really helped us, that was a source of strength, was the rosary,” the priest said. He added that they also relied on Scripture.
“I used to remember the verse from Matthew: ‘But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.‘”
As far as the two Christians knew, they were the only prisoners. From behind the locked bathroom door, sometimes they could hear the muffled voices of their captors, or their footsteps. Otherwise, they were completely cut off from the outside world.
There was no electricity in their cell. Daylight entered through a tiny window near the ceiling. Nights were dark, long and especially difficult, Father Mourad recalled. The two prisoners were given rice and water twice daily. Tea was added to that ration three times during their captivity.
Periodically, Father Mourad and Boutros were threatened with the ultimatum, “Either you become Muslim, or we cut your head off.”
One time Father Mourad was beaten. He distinctly remembers that it was on the 23rd day of imprisonment. Nothing in particular provoked the punishment, which was carried out with a plastic hose, functioning as a whip.
“It really hurts,” the priest calmly recalled of the scourging, which he said lasted about half an hour. “They thought maybe I would succumb and agree to become a Muslim.”
Yet Father Mourad said Boutros “was suffering because he was watching me.” Every so often, the priest said, he would turn his head and smile at Boutros to console him.
“Personally, despite the pain, I lived this half hour in peace,” the priest said. “I felt privileged that I was participating in Jesus’ suffering. But at the same time, I considered myself unworthy of it.”
Clever tricks of manipulation were also used, the priest told CNS. The day after the beating, one of the captors apologized for his colleague who carried out the assault on the priest.
“It’s like a psychological game,” Father Mourad explained. “They scourge you, and then they apologize, as if they want to show that Islam is merciful.”
He said he responded, “Don’t worry, I had already forgiven him.”
On 4 August, Islamic State captured and demolished Mar Elian monastery, where Father Mourad had served for 15 years. Aside from the extensive archaeological excavation and renovations he oversaw, the priest promoted dialogue and coexistence between Christians and Muslims.
“For many years he built bridges between the religions. This has now proved its value in the war,” Father Jihad Youssef, a fellow Syriac Catholic, told the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need after Father Mourad’s abduction.
Father Mourad also had been sheltering Christian and Muslim refugees at the monastery.
When asked by Catholic News Service how he sees his mission for the future, the priest shrugged his shoulders and responded: “After this happened to me, I have a bigger responsibility now, with Christian-Muslim dialogue. We can’t play with God’s will.”
12 November 2015
Abanoub Sherif carries a beekeeper’s hat to his father’s apiary near their home in
El Mahalla, Egypt. (photo: David Degner)
In 2014, we visited a school for visually impaired children in Egypt and met one student, Abanoub, hoping to attend a university:
Abanoub is a 17-year-old student from El Mahalla el Kubra, an industrial city in the Nile Delta about two hours’ drive from Cairo. When he first came to the home at the age of 5, he admits, he was terrified. “But then I got used to the place and I felt that I wanted to stay there forever. I built a new life for myself and made new friends,” he says. He is currently in his second year of high school and wants to attend college and major in psychology. He recently started learning the guitar.
But the transition from a school for the blind to a university can be a challenge. Sister Souad says they begin preparing children for the task from day one.
“We tell them, ‘One day, you will leave here and go to university with all kinds of people around.’ Since they are prepared, the transition is normal. We encourage them to take recorders to class, then listen again at home. They study normally.”
One of their students recently received a scholarship to study in the United States.
“I hope other blind children learn that going away from their family is not that difficult; it can be much better for their future,” Abanoub says.
“We teach them there is nothing they can’t do,” Sister Souad says proudly. “They are normal children. The only difference is they cannot see, but that doesn’t mean they can’t live a normal life.”
Read more about young people in Egypt journeying “Out of Darkness” in the Spring 2014 edition of ONE. And to help support the Christians of Egypt, please visit this giving page.
10 November 2015
Carpatho-Rusyn Greek Catholic Bishop Milan Sasik, C.M., looks out the window of his
office in Uzhorod. (photo: Oleg Grigoryev)
The Autumn edition of ONE features an online exclusive profile of Bishop Milan Sasik of Ukraine, who describes efforts to revive what had been, during the Soviet era, an underground church:
As Ukraine still struggled with nascent nation building, Bishop Milan encountered a community in a state of “spiritual hunger.”
Its shepherds, 128 priests, had been placed in Soviet prisons and sent to exile in Siberia, and 20 would never return alive. Some 40 churches had been destroyed by the Communist government, and 273 more were transferred to the Orthodox Church of Russia — the only church the Soviets had authorized, which operated under the strict control of the Kremlin.
In 1991, when Ukraine gained independence, the eparchy initially regained only 117 churches and four monasteries from Moscow. Of the more than 500 eparchial institutional buildings that were nationalized, the eparchy was left with 60.
As a result, Bishop Milan initially had nowhere to live.
“I joked that I would live in the cathedral tower, or in the crypt or even in the sacristy.”
The priority was clear: The bishop initiated numerous brick-and-mortar projects — most importantly, a seminary to meet the demand of the newly resurgent faithful.
Read more of the profile here.
And in the Autumn edition of ONE, learn more about the seminarians being formed in Ukraine, helping the church come “Out From Underground.”
9 November 2015
Three young men work on a site for the new light rail in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The country’s landscape is becoming more urbanized, and that is creating new challenges for both the people and the churches. Read more in “Bright Lights, Big Problems” in the Autumn 2015 edition of ONE.
(photo: Petterik Wiggers)