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December, 2018
Volume 44, Number 4
19 December 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro

This 13 December photo depicts one of the flooded neighborhoods of Gaza. (photo: CNS/Mohammed Salem, Reuters)

Floods, rain threaten to make Christmas even more difficult in Gaza (CNS) The snowstorms and torrential rain that battered the Middle East in mid-December threatened to make this Christmas season an especially difficult one for Christians in Gaza. While the northern part of the Gaza Strip saw floods that left thousands of families homeless, 10,000 people evacuated from their homes and essential hospital personnel traveling to work by boat, most of the Gaza Strip’s tiny Christian community and its institutions are located in Gaza City itself and were saved from the worst of the storm, said Sami El-Yousef, CNEWA’s regional director for Palestine and Israel…

Interactive: Syria’s refugee children (Al Jazeera) More than 1.1 million Syrian children struggle to build a new life away from all they’ve ever known, confronting pain, isolation, separation and more…

Radical Islamist group gaining prominence in Syria (Der Spiegel) Once a branch of Al Qaeda, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) broke away from the successors of Osama bin Laden and now stands as a terrifying force in its own right. Infamous for its brutal tactics, ISIS is responsible for hundreds of kidnappings, with victims including activists, the chair of the city council of Raqqa, the heads of the civilian opposition, an Italian Jesuit and six European journalists. Anyone who opposes the ISIS fighters, or who is simply viewed as an infidel, disappears…

Ukrainian Orthodox Moscow Patriarchate disagrees with sister churches on protests ( A representative of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Patriarchate of Moscow has called upon the protesters in Maidan Square in Kiev to disperse. “Those who are now standing on Maidan are just ‘scoring points,’ ” said Metropolitan Paul of Vyshgorod and Chernobyl, abbot of the Kiev Caves Lavra. “Neither Europe nor Russia will help us, until we change ourselves. Moreover, talks on European integration are needed not by the people, but by those who are thirsting to rule over the people…”

Maronite patriarch reaches out to Middle East youth via Twitter (Fides) Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter posted his first tweet on Wednesday via his new account, @bkerkejeune. “Dear youth,” he said in his message, delivered in Arabic, “I see in you the hope and future of the church. I believe you have the power to rejuvenate the church and your communities.” This dispatch came as part of an evening meeting attended by Maronite youth…

Russian Orthodox patriarch voices solidarity with Catholic Church (Interfax) Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia has expressed support for many of Pope Francis’ views. “In the positions of the bishop of Rome and the patriarch of Moscow, there is a lot in common regarding issues that are sources of concern for many people,” he said. As examples of such concurrence, he cited the two churches’ positions on persecutions of Christians in the Middle East and family affairs. He said dialogue between the Orthodox and Catholic churches is essential today…

Iraq’s sectarian militias assume larger role (Al Monitor) Sunni and Shiite militias across Iraq maintain an iron fist over the daily affairs of Iraqi citizens. Militiamen in Iraq do not only carry weapons, they also wield religious, moral and economic power over their social environment. They play the role of neighborhood governors in times of peace and assassins in times of war. In the absence of the rule of law, residents are increasingly relying on such figures to provide security…

Tags: Ukraine Refugees Gaza Strip/West Bank Syrian Civil War Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter

18 December 2013
John E. Kozar

Worshipers pray in front of an image of Mary and the Christ child in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. (photo: CNS/Ammar Awad, Reuters)

Next week I leave for Bethlehem.

I’m going to celebrate Christmas Midnight Mass in the Church of the Nativity, the ancient church built over the very place where Jesus was born.

This Mass is my Christmas gift to you.

Please send me your prayer petitions before I go, so I can lift them up to Jesus on that holy night and in that holy place.

I’m thrilled to do this for you!

And in your goodness, can you please share some gold, frankincense and myrrh?

I’ll give your Christmas gift to Jesus, and see that it’s used for the mission of CNEWA — to heal the wounds and warm the hearts of the poor.

Remember, I leave for Bethlehem on December 23rd.

Send your special intentions with your gift right now, so I safely receive them before Christmas Midnight Mass.

Meantime, Merry Christmas!

18 December 2013
Greg Kandra

Britain’s Prince Charles speaks to religious leaders during a visit to a Syriac Orthodox Church in London on 17 December. The prince of Wales was accompanied by Jordan’s Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad bin Talal during the visit, celebrating Christian communities from the Middle East in Britain. (photo: CNS/Toby Melville, Reuters)

The prince of Wales spoke yesterday about the suffering of Christians in the Middle East:

Christians in parts of the Middle East are being deliberately targeted by Islamist militants in a campaign of persecution, Prince Charles has said.

The prince of Wales made his comments after visiting the British branches of churches based in the region.

The prince heard accounts of Christians being murdered and families forced from their homes.

Charles, accompanied by Prince Ghazi of Jordan, visited the Egyptian Coptic Church center in Stevenage and the Syriac Orthodox cathedral in west London.

The two royals met church members who had either suffered intimidation or family members whose safety they feared for.

Later at a reception at Clarence House, attended by the archbishop of Canterbury, archbishop of Westminster and the chief rabbi, Prince Charles said he felt deeply troubled by the plight of Christians.

“For 20 years I have tried to build bridges between Islam and Christianity to dispel ignorance and misunderstanding,” he told the audience. “The point though, surely, is that we have now reached a crisis where bridges are rapidly being deliberately destroyed by those with a vested interest in doing so. This is achieved through intimidation, false accusation and organised persecution including to the Christian communities in the Middle East at the present time.”

Read more.

To learn how you can help Christians in Syria, visit this page. And read more here about how to provide aid to Egypt’s Christians.

Tags: Middle East Christians Violence against Christians Interreligious Middle East Peace Process United Kingdom

18 December 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro

In this photo from Christmas Day, 2011, Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal of Jerusalem carries a figurine of the baby Jesus as he celebrates Christmas Mass at St. Catherine’s Church in the West Bank town of Bethlehem. (photo: CNS/Reuters)

Jerusalem patriarch says Settlement construction ‘hampers’ peace (Daily Star Lebanon) Middle East peace efforts are being “hampered” by Israeli settlement construction, the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem said Wednesday in his traditional Christmas message. “The Israeli-Palestinian talks resumed in late July, after three years of interruption, but the efforts are hampered by the continuous building of Israeli settlements,” said Patriarch Fouad Twal. “As long as this problem is not resolved, the people of our region will suffer…”

Archbishop Nassar: Syrian children envy the stable where Jesus was born (Fides) “In Syria, thousands of children who have lost their homes are living in poor tents just like the stable in Bethlehem,” says Maronite Archbishop Samir Nassar of Damascus. In a touching message of Christmas reflection, the archbishop expresses with strong images the feelings shared by many Syrian Christians in front of yet another Christmas of war approaching. “The Syrian children … dream of being in Jesus’ place, who always had his parents around him. … [Jesus] found a stable in which to be born and have shelter, while among these unfortunate children there are those who were born under the bombs…”

Turkish minister to Armenians: Return to Turkey (Fides) Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, in a recent meeting with a well-known Armenian political representative, suggested the possibility of opening the doors of Turkey to the descendants of Armenian families who fled from the Turkish territory after the anti-Armenian pogrom in 1915. Davutoglu also outlined a scenario in which Armenians whose family roots lie in the Anatolian region are also cleared for return…

Ukraine, Russia seal trade deal (Vatican Radio) Ukraine and Russia have signed a major economic trade deal, despite massive protests in Kiev for European Union integration. Moscow has promised massive financial assistance and cuts in natural gas prices. Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin signed an agreement that has slashed the cost of natural gas sold to Ukraine by one-third. Moscow has also pledged to buy billions of dollars’ worth of Ukrainian government bonds, as the country faces a major economic crisis…

As pressure builds, Egypt’s police feeling threatened (New York Times) Since the military ouster more than five months ago of President Muhammad Morsi, the interim leaders have leaned heavily on the police, sending them to stamp out dissent and stabilize the streets in a strategy that so far has come up empty. Over the last three years of revolt, protesters have refused to be silenced, even when the authorities use deadly force. And Egypt has also become far more dangerous for the authorities, with more than 150 police officers killed since mid-August alone. The attacks have affected police morale, officers said, and raised troubling questions about the government’s ability to secure the country in the face of increasingly frequent attacks by militants…

Tags: Ukraine Armenia Turkey Maronite Church Patriarch Fouad Twal

17 December 2013
Greg Kandra

Protesters warm themselves near a fire during a rally in Independence Square in Kiev, Ukraine, on 16 December. Bishops from Ukraine’s minority Latin-rite Catholic Church have called for prayers and fasting in an effort to end the current social unrest in the country. (photo: CNS/Gleb Garanich, Reuters)

The protests unfolding in Kiev have evidently sparked a backlash, directed against university students involved in the demonstrations. Bishop Ken Nowakowski forwarded to us the following communication from students, who issued an appeal to the world for support and solidarity:

Appeal of Ukrainian Catholic University Students

11 December 2013

For three weeks now the eyes of the world have been upon the events unfolding in Ukraine.

It is Ukrainian youth and Ukrainian students that have initiated this mass protest movement against the corrupt and secretive actions of their government. It is they who have taken to the squares in Kyiv, and other cities and towns of Ukraine, in hopes that the authorities would listen to the voice of the people. A million-strong wave of peaceful protesters has received significant international support, for which the Ukrainian people are extremely grateful. This support has helped us brave the cold and the attacks by the riot police.

Within hours of the new attack on the Maidan on 11 December, government structures opened a large number of court proceedings, and took steps to block the work of Ukrainian and international journalists, and introduce anxiety and fear into people’s hearts.

In spite of emphatic declarations of their peaceful intentions and desires to hear the voice of the people and participate in dialogue, the Ukrainian authorities started an active offensive not merely against opposition forces and journalists reporting on the events, but against the nation’s students — the initiators of this broad protest movement.

Among the methods of pressure and bullying that our university has encountered in recent days are phone calls and visits from representatives of the police, talks with our deans and vice rectors, attempts to inspect our students’ attendance records, searches for particular student activists, summons to the attorney’s office and opening of criminal cases against students and professors.

We are convinced that these and similar steps will only increase in magnitude. After the new nighttime crackdown on the Maidan, we have resolved along with our professors to withdraw our moral loyalty as citizens of Ukraine for Ukraine’s president and government.

Now, more than ever, we are in need of your solidarity and support. We appeal to you and ask that you disseminate information about the shameful state of affairs in Ukraine, the pressure on institutions of higher learning and their students, the violations of constitutional rights and democratic freedoms and the mockery of the dignity of people who are only calling for the good and prosperity of their country, and for a dignified, honest and democratic life.

Please help, support and protect the students of U.C.U. and other Ukrainian universities who stand firm for their and the fellow citizens’ freedom, human rights and dignity.

- Students of the Ukrainian Catholic University

Tags: Ukraine Education Unity Youth

17 December 2013
Greg Kandra

Pope Francis talks with three men on 17 December who live on the streets near the Vatican. As part of a low-key celebration of his 77th birthday, the pope celebrated morning Mass and had breakfast with the men. (photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

Pope Francis, in characteristic fashion, celebrated his birthday on Tuesday with some of Rome’s poor:

As part of a low-key celebration of his 77th birthday, Pope Francis celebrated morning Mass and had breakfast with three people who live on the streets near the Vatican. A small dog, belonging to one of the homeless men, was also on the guest list.

The pope requested that the daily morning Mass held in the chapel of the Domus Sanctae Marthae be attended by the staff of his Vatican residence “in order to create a particularly family atmosphere for the celebration,” the Vatican press office said in a written statement on 17 December.

Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, the papal almoner, also invited the three homeless men to the Domus for the Mass and to greet the pope. In addition, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals, represented the world’s cardinals at the Mass, and Archbishop Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, attended.

All those present sang “Happy Birthday” to the pope, the Vatican statement said, and then joined the pope for breakfast in the residence dining room.

Happy birthday, Holy Father!

Tags: Pope Francis Vatican Poor/Poverty Rome

17 December 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro

In this September photo, a Syrian boy sits beside his family’s belongings as they wait for a vehicle to pick them up after entering Turkey from the Turkish Cilvegozu border gate. (photo: CNS/Umit Bektas, Reuters)

Eighteen stories from the Syrian exodus (Washington Post) In October, Kevin Sullivan and Linda Davidson set off for Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon to report on the Syrian refugee crisis, one of the largest forced migrations since World War II. The pair’s goal was to document the size and complexity of the crisis, showing its effects on the lives of individual refugees as well as the lasting impacts on the countries hosting them. They broke the crisis down into 18 personal stories of a wide range of refugees…

Patriarch warns against shrinking Georgian government authority (Eurasianet) The powerful Georgian Orthodox Church again has revived a fierce debate over whether or not it should act, essentially, as Georgia’s fourth branch of government. This time around, Patriarch Ilia II, the church’s revered, 80-year-old leader, has weighed into the seemingly secular issue of regional self-governance with a warning that the government’s plans to grant greater autonomy to Georgia’s regions could lead to “the disintegration of Georgia.” In a 4 December remark, the patriarch cautioned that devolution of authority could encourage more separatism, a phenomenon that already haunts Georgia with Abkhazia and South Ossetia…

Winter storm causes humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza (Al Monitor) A wave of extreme low pressure hit Palestinian territories on 10 December, amid cold winds that continued for several days. Heavy rain caused a major humanitarian disaster in the Gaza Strip, flooding hundreds of houses in various provinces and neighborhoods, injuring dozens of people and closing a number of main and side streets. According to the Ministry of Information in Gaza, 4,000 families were forced to leave their homes due to the extreme cold, and the government has offered in-kind assistance for 3,000 families…

Pope Francis celebrates mass with 4 homeless men on his 77th birthday (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis turned 77 today, celebrating Mass with 4 homeless men, his closest collaborators and staff from the guesthouse, all of whom afterwards greeted him with a birthday song…

U.S.C.C.B. announces day of prayer for those affected by human trafficking (Vatican Radio) The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has announced that its Committee on Migration has designated 8 February as an annual day of prayer for survivors and victims of human trafficking. According to its statement, 8 February is the feast day of St. Josephine Bakhita, who was kidnapped as a child and sold into slavery in Sudan and Italy. Once Josephine was freed, she dedicated her life to sharing her testament of deliverance from slavery and comforting the poor and suffering…

Tags: Syria Pope Francis Refugees Georgian Orthodox Church U.S.C.C.B.

16 December 2013
Greg Kandra

The faithful pack into St. Mark Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in central Cairo for a funeral liturgy for slain Christian protesters. (photo: David Degner)

Sunday night, the American news magazine program “60 Minutes” on CBS broadcast a report on the plight of the Copts. The story throws a spotlight on the difficulties these Christians are having in Egypt, living as a tiny minority in a mostly Muslim country.

As the script for the report notes:

Copts have never had it easy there. They’ve been persecuted and discriminated against by the Muslim majority for centuries. They’d hoped the Egyptian revolution would change that. But it hasn’t. Instead, the last year has been one of their worst ever. Copts have been murdered by Islamic extremists. Dozens of their churches have been gutted...

Watch the report below, which includes an interview with the Coptic Pope Tawadros II. You can read more about the Copts and Faith Under Fire in the Autumn issue of ONE, and learn how to support them by visiting this page.

Tags: Egypt Copts Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II Coptic

16 December 2013
Greg Kandra

In this image from March 2013, Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, arrives for general congregation meetings at the Vatican. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)

Cardinal Koch to meet Russian Orthodox Patriarch (Vatican Radio) The president of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, Cardinal Kurt Koch, heads off to Russia on Saturday for a visit being seen as an important milestone on the road towards reconciliation between the Catholic and Russian Orthodox churches. The Swiss cardinal will spend five days in St. Petersburg and Moscow, celebrating with the small Catholic communities there, as well as meeting with Russian Orthodox bishops, priests and seminarians…

United Nations launches record appeal for Syria (BBC) The United Nations has announced its biggest ever appeal, seeking $6.5 billion for humanitarian aid to Syria. The U.N. estimates nearly three-quarters of Syria’s 22.4 million population will need humanitarian aid in 2014. The appeal coincides with a new study by the International Rescue Committee, which warns that starvation is now threatening the Syrian population. Bread prices have risen by 500 percent in some areas, according to the report. Four out of five Syrians said their greatest worry was that food would run out, the survey found…

Retired patriarch expresses sympathy for demonstrators in Ukraine ( The retired leader of the Ukrainian Catholic Church has said the Ukrainian government should be “dishonored for what it does.” Cardinal Lubomyr Husar expressed sympathy for anti-government demonstrators who have occupied some buildings in the nation’s capital, protesting moves to withdraw from the European community and ally more closely with Russia. The demonstrators have acted “very sensitively,” Cardinal Husar told an interviewer. “The government should thank God that the people behave as they do, because it could be worse…”

U.N. plans to resettle thousands of Ethiopian refugees (Sudan Tribune) The United Nations refugee agency said on Friday that it is planning to resettle over 3,800 refugees in Ethiopia to a third country. This follows record submissions for resettlement at the Tongo, Barahle and Bokolmanyo refugee camps, where resettlement has not not been previously conducted. “Notable this year was the first emergency resettlement to Sweden of a child-at-risk from Dollo Ado, as well as submissions of several highly vulnerable women and girls out of Barahle and Sherkole camps, including victims of female genital mutilation and other forms of sexual and gender based violence,” said Julia Zajkowski, the resettlement officer at UNHCR’s Ethiopia office. The plan to resettle 3,800 refugees exceeds the U.N. refugee agency’s 2013 resettlement target by over 20 percent…

Tags: Syria Ukraine Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church United Nations Cardinal Kurt Koch

13 December 2013
Greg Kandra

Italian Marcello Piacenti, project manager on the renovation of the roof of the Church of the Nativity, points to a mosaic from 1100, the Crusader period, in the West Bank town of Bethlehem. (photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)

As the world prepares for Christmas, the “little town of Bethlehem” is seeing one of its historic landmarks undergo a massive restoration project:

Helping restore the roof of the Church of the Nativity is like touching a piece of the beginning of Christian history, said an Italian restorer who is heading work on the first phase of the long-awaited repairs.

“I am not a practicing religious person, but working on this church is very emotional,” said Marcello Piacenti, 53, the on-site project manager and a restorer with his family’s company, Piacenti Spa, which began the work in September. “I have restored many old churches in the world, but when I arrived here I knew I had arrived to the center of everything.”

More than five years in the planning and researching, the restoration of the church’s wooden beams and lead roof and its 38 windows represents the beginning of an ambitious project, said engineer Imad Nasser, technical representative of the Palestinian Authority’s national committee for the restoration of the Church of the Nativity. Nasser said that, two years ago, it was estimated that the repairs would cost $15 million, not including the construction management fees.

Repairs are being done in several phases, as the funds become available, he said, with essential repairs such as the roof given priority. The next stage will include the completion of protection of the stone facade of the external walls once the funds are acquired, he said, noting that more than $2.7 million is still needed for that phase.

A member of the Franciscan order noted that members of the Catholic, Orthodox and Armenian churches, all of which have a presence at the Church of the Nativity, have agreed not to speak to the press in order to avoid any conflicts over sovereignty issues.

Though much care has been taken not to disturb the visitors and the church, Christmas pilgrims this year are being met with metal scaffolding, inside and outside, and protective wooden coverings around the marble columns inside the church.

Read more about the restoration.

Tags: Bethlehem West Bank Architecture Church Church of Nativity

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