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December, 2018
Volume 44, Number 4
17 September 2013
Greg Kandra

A bishop captures a liturgy on his iPad. (photo: Pontifical Council for Social Communications)

Carol Glatz at Catholic News Service has put together what she calls the “Vatican Tweet Book,” with twitter handles for “Vatican V.I.P.’s” — and she’s included us!

We’re in some lofty company, beginning with Pope Francis himself (@Pontifex), whom Forbes magazine this week declared is nothing less than a “social media phenomenon.”

Visit the CNS link for more. While you’re there, bookmark the CNS blog, which is a daily treasure trove of Vatican news items.

And, if you haven’t already, be sure top follow us on Twitter and Facebook (for both ONE and CNEWA)

Tags: Pope Francis CNEWA Vatican Catholic

17 September 2013
Michael J.L. La Civita

In 2004, Father Elias Hanout greeted children in front of the now destroyed St. Elias Melkite Greek Catholic Church in the town of Ezraa, which sits in the Houran plain in southern Syria.(photo: Armineh Johannes)

Southern Syria is a fascinating place. When I visited there in 1998, Roman ruins in basalt littered the rural and village landscapes. Matriarchs hung their laundry from Corinthian capitals to carved posts. Ruined columns served as tables to hold platters of salads and grilled meats. Ancient churches, crude perhaps but ancient nevertheless, served their Melkite Greek Catholic and Orthodox parishioners as they had for 1,500 years. Attending a liturgy in Ezraa’s simple Melkite Greek Catholic church dedicated to the prophet Elias, I marveled at the cavernous vaults that sheltered Christians from the scorching sun and oppressive heat for more than a thousand years. Today, St. Elias is no more. The civil war in Syria is destroying people, villages, a way of life and humankind’s patrimony.

In an interview yesterday with our partners Aid to the Church in Need, Melkite Greek Catholic Bishop Nicholas Antiba of Basra and Houran noted that his flock were gathering around the center of his eparchy in Khabab, fleeing their villages — many of which developed in former camps of the Roman Legion — devastated by war. Sadly, the sixth-century basilica of St. Elias is one of them. Just nine years ago, ONE magazine visited Ezraa, reporting on its Christian community centered on its ancient Byzantine churches.

Lina Farah, 31, sits in the courtyard of her family home, which is made of black basalt and added to with concrete. The rooms all look onto the courtyard, which has a grape arbor.

“No house is ready to be lived in without being renovated in some way,” she says. Small-town life means “neighbors visit all the time. There’s no such thing as making an appointment. People just drop by.”

Ms. Farah helps out with catechism classes — this time on a Friday — next to Ezraa’s Melkite Greek Catholic church.

“People hold social gatherings like giving congratulations or condolences on Fridays, since people with jobs are busy during the week,” she says. Friday and Saturday make up the official weekend in Syria.

Satellite dishes rise above some old houses and women pace the roofs hanging laundry and chatting on cellular phones. …

Father Elias Hanout, of St. Elias Melkite Greek Catholic parish in Ezraa, points out the Greek inscriptions and religious symbols carved into the beige and dark gray stones of the church, which has withstood earthquakes and other disasters since it was built in the first part of the sixth century.

Today’s atmosphere of coexistence between different faith communities, he says, is buttressed by the hope that flight by Christians from Syria’s southern countryside might be tailing off.

Sadly, little did Father Hanout know that war would come to Ezraa, destroy his church and scatter his community. It is all but a memory now.

Pray for Syria. To learn how you can help, click here.

Tags: Syria Middle East Christians Cultural Identity Village life Melkite Greek Catholic Church

17 September 2013
Greg Kandra

A poster promotes the new IMAX film “Jerusalem,” due to be released later this month. (image: National Geographic)

National Geographic has produced a new film about the city sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims alike, and the preview video is a stunner:

Jerusalem is one of the world’s most important cities, held sacred by three religious traditions, and it’s now possible to virtually visit its holy places in an unprecedented way thanks to the vision and daring of the team behind “Jerusalem,’ a new IMAX film presented by National Geographic Entertainment.

Producers Taran Davies, George Duffield, and Daniel Ferguson faced huge challenges to gain access to sacred spaces as well as the airspace above the holy city, which is usually a no-fly zone. They stated in a press release, “Our goal is to look at the roots of the universal attachment to Jerusalem: Jewish, Christian and Muslim. We hope the juxtaposition of these different religions and cultures — all with profound spiritual and historical connections to the city — will reveal how much Jews, Christians and Muslims have in common and inspire all of us to better understand each other.”

But how to tell the story of Jerusalem without just focusing on politics? Enter three teenage girls from each faith: Farah Ammouri, a Muslim, Nadia Tadros, from a Greek Orthodox and Catholic family, and Revital Zacharie, a Jew.

Ferguson asked each of the girls to take him (separately) on a one-day tour of Jerusalem, which he filmed. “What was really amazing was that they would bring me to some of the same places in the city and tell me entirely different things. Revital would point out Jewish history, but when I asked her if she knew about the Christian or Muslim attachment to the same places, she didn’t. The same was true of the other girls.”

Benedict Cumberbatch narrates the film, and Dr. Jodi Magness of University of North Carolina Chapel Hill features as lead archaeologist.

National Geographic described it in a press release this way:

After years of working with various government ministries and religious and community leaders, the filmmakers were granted the exclusive permits necessary to capture aerial shots above the Old City of Jerusalem, and throughout the Holy Land. As a result, audiences are given a rare bird’s-eye view of the storied city as well as exclusive access to iconic holy sites and little-known parts of the region in one powerful, 45-minute giant screen film experience. Aside from the breathtaking scenery, “Jerusalem” also explores some of the surprising intersections between Judaism, Christianity and Islam, which come together in this sacred city.

The film is due in IMAX theaters later this month. In the meantime, check out the trailer below:

Tags: Jerusalem Holy Land Unity Interfaith Jewish-Christian-Muslim relations

17 September 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro

A Coptic Orthodox bishop prays with local residents at burnt and damaged church in Minya, Egypt, on 26 August. Egypt’s military and interim government have condemned all the attacks on Christian properties, calling them the “work of terrorists,” and blaming them on the Muslim Brotherhood and other groups supportive of ousted leader Mohammed Morsi. (photo: CNS/Louafi Larbi, Reuters)

In Islamist bastions of Egypt, army treads carefully, as do Christians (New York Times) In Cairo, where Islamists were always weakest, the security forces have ridden a wave of public approbation as they have moved quickly to impose a tight lockdown on street protests. Demonstrators opposing the new government are ever wary, fenced in by security forces, harried by hostile residents and fearful of attack. But in Minya, the provincial capital, the situation is so starkly inverted that a visitor might almost think that Mr. Morsi is still president…

Elections in Iraqi Kurdistan: patriarch appeals to Christian politicians (Fides) With elections scheduled for 21 September in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans Louis Raphael I appealed to the candidates of the Christian faith to commit themselves “to improving our towns and villages in terms of housing, services and infrastructure, creating jobs so that Christians do not emigrate.” In the message, sent to Fides Agency, the patriarch invites everyone to work for a full achievement of rights linked to citizenship…

Bulgarian patriarch says consumerism won’t make people happy (Novinite) The real needs of Bulgarians and people across the world relate to their daily toils and quest for harmony, argued Bulgaria’s Patriarch Neofit. “The needs of Bulgarians today do not differ from those of Bulgarians in the past, or from those of citizens of other countries. Those are universal needs,” said the head of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church in an interview for Patriarch Neofit added that contemporary consumer society imposes new needs upon people, which take up considerable time and energy…

Ethiopia’s religious leaders call for support for national development (AllAfrica) Ethiopia’s religious leaders have urged Ethiopians to uphold peace and support the country’s efforts in national development in their New Year messages for 2006 (Ethiopian Calendar). The leaders called on Ethiopians to respect and support each other, strengthen their unity within diversity, and together push the ongoing national development endeavors forward. The archbishop of the Ethiopian Catholic Church, Abune Birhaneyesus Surafel, called on the laity to contribute to fighting illicit human trafficking…

Syrian bishop speaks on country’s mass exodus of Christians (Aid to the Church in Need) A Syrian prelate, ordained a bishop only last month, has spoken of his dismay at the country’s mass exodus of Christians, but he is convinced that the future of one of the world’s oldest Church communities is assured. Melkite Greek Catholic Bishop Nicolas Antiba of Bosra and Hauran described how his faithful in southern Syria were fleeing in their hundreds to the area around his bishop’s house in Khabab following attacks which included the destruction of reportedly one of the country’s oldest churches, dating back to the 6th century. Bishop Antiba stressed the urgent need for help for displaced people arriving in Khabab and elsewhere, including food and shelter, a problem which he said will become more acute as the weather worsens. Amid reports that up to a third of the country’s Christian population is now internally displaced or living as refugees abroad, Bishop Antiba said, “I believe, I know, that persecution will not destroy the church…”

Tags: Syria Iraq Egypt Ethiopian Christianity Bulgarian Orthodox Church

16 September 2013
Greg Kandra

Anna Valavanal (left) and her sister, Irin, visit the Deivadan sisters and residents in Thankamany. (photo: Peter Lemieux)

In 2010, we paid a visit to the Deivadan Home in Kerala, to meet the remarkable sisters caring for the elderly. We discovered the residents sometimes get unexpected visitors:

Siji Valavanal and her two daughters visit the Deivadan Home in Thankamany, in the Idukki District, a few afternoons each week. Established four years ago, the home takes in abandoned elderly women. On those days, Mrs. Valavanal picks up her daughters, 5-year-old Anna and 12-year-old Irin, from school and takes them to the market, where they purchase sacks of rice, tapioca, vegetables and other staples. They then head over to the Deivadan Home, knock on the door and offer the groceries. But more important for Mrs. Valavanal, she and her daughters stay awhile and visit with some of the residents.

Anna, wearing a bright pink-checkered dress, and Irin, wearing a pretty green dress, approach the bedside of a reclining resident. The frail woman sits up, reaches her hands out and clutches Irin’s hands. Irin smiles. She then gently caresses Anna’s cheeks. Anna blushes. The elderly woman beams.

On any given day, visitors drop in unannounced. Some bring sacks of rice, while others offer financial support. Together, as a community, they keep afloat these homes for the abandoned elderly. Some, such as Mrs. Valavanal and her daughters, have adopted the residents as additional parents and grandparents and stop by regularly.

“We’re happy when we come here. We sit and enjoy their company, feel their pain and hear their problems,” explains Mrs. Valavanal.

“Nowadays, society is always looking at the top level, not the low levels. Most people want to make relations with those with status, not to serve those in need. I want to create in my daughters’ minds the desire to serve others,” she says, echoing the wisdom of Father Kaippenplackal’s mother. For that lesson, Mrs. Valavanal could not have found her daughters better teachers than the Deivadan Sisters.

Read more about women with Fearless Grace in the July 2010 issue of ONE.

Tags: India Sisters Caring for the Elderly Women in India

16 September 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro

A damaged Syriac Catholic Church is pictured in Homs, Syria, on 15 September. (photo: CNS/Yazen Homsy, Reuters)

Maaloula’s cathedral and churches empty of Christians amid fighting (The Telegraph) On Sunday thousands of Christians should have filled its streets for the festival of the Holy Cross. But instead, the streets of Maaloula are filled with soldiers and tanks, spent bullet casings and the noise of Syria’s latest front-line fight. Maaloula is a special place. It has been a safe haven for Christians for 2,000 years — until now. It was a place of refuge so secure in its rugged mountain isolation that a dialect of the language of Christ, Aramaic, is still spoken here. But now, its Christian community of 2,000 has fled. In the tight alleyways and streets that wind up the Maaloula’s mountainside their language has been replaced by the Arabic of two bitter enemies: rebels from three Islamist groups and the soldiers of President Bashar al Assad…

U.N. finds ‘clear and convincing evidence’ of Syria chemical attack (Los Angeles Times) United Nations inspectors say there is “clear and convincing evidence” that chemical weapons were used on a relatively large scale in an attack last month in Syria that killed hundreds of people. A report from the inspectors says “the environmental, chemical and medical samples we have collected provide clear and convincing evidence that surface-to-surface rockets containing the nerve agent sarin were used … in the Ghouta area of Damascus” on 21 August…

Despite chemical weapons talks, fighting in Syria escalated (Washington Post) As negotiations to avert a U.S. strike against Syria ramped up last week, so, too, did the action on the ground. Warplanes dropped bombs over far-flung Syrian towns that hadn’t seen airstrikes in weeks, government forces went on the attack in the hotly contested suburbs of Damascus, rebels launched an offensive in the south, and a historic Christian town changed hands at least four times…

Some wounded Syrians treated in Israel (NPR) The wounded arrive from Syrian clinics with day-old injuries, rudimentary stitches and amputations. Some are women and children; others are adult men, some thought to be rebel fighters. Israel has helped about 200 of the injured across the border for medical treatment. No matter their role in the fighting, the Syrians have come here at great risk: They could face arrest or worse if Syria ever found out they visited Israel. Most of the Syrian patients here are alone — no family or friends by their side. They don’t risk calling or emailing their families in Syria, either…

Chaldean patriarch to Church of the East: let us go back to full unity (Fides) The Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans Louis Raphael I sent a letter of congratulations to the Patriarch of the Church of the East Mar Dinkha IV on the occasion of his 78th birthday, celebrated on 15 September. In the congratulatory message, Patriarch Louis Raphael extended an eloquent official invitation to start a path of dialogue together to restore full ecclesial communion between the Chaldean community — together with the bishop of Rome — and the Church of the East. “I take this opportunity, to express the desire of the Chaldean Church to begin dialogue for unity, which is the desire of Jesus. The beginning of this dialogue is urgent today, in the face of great challenges that threaten our survival. Without unity, there is no future for us…”

Pope receives Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem (VIS) The pope held an audience with members of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem participating in a pilgrimage to Rome to mark the Year of Faith on Friday afternoon. “The Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem has a history dating back almost a thousand years; yours is one of the most ancient welfare and charitable Orders still active today,” said Pope Francis…

Meeting of the Latin bishops of the Arab world (Fides) On 17 September, the ordinary meeting of the representatives of the Conference of Latin Bishops in the Arab Regions — the body that brings together the Catholic bishops of the Latin Church in the Arab states of the Middle East, Egypt and Somalia — will begin in Rome. The meetings will focus on the latest initiatives planned for the Year of Faith and the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council. The liaison body of the bishops of the Latin Church in the Arab countries was established in 1967 to promote collegiality and communion among local churches…

Tags: Syrian Civil War Violence against Christians Ecumenism United Nations Christian Unity

13 September 2013
Greg Kandra

In Lebanon, strong coffee sweetened to taste is served in the traditional manner. (photo: Marilyn Raschka)

In 2002, we introduced readers to some of the customs surrounding food and dining in Lebanon:

Coffee is a household essential. It is served if a visitor has stopped by just to say hello and it is also served following a meal. The serving of coffee signals “time to leave” so gracious hosts delay serving it. And no guest would leave before receiving it.

At weddings, coffee is served sweet, but it is also served unsweetened at funerals to show grief.

When at home, guests are asked how they prefer their coffee — the answers reflect the amount of sugar to be added. For the sake of ease, the Lebanese will often serve a pot of unsweetened coffee and include a tiny sugar bowl on the tray as cups are passed around to the guests. With the last sip, guests will put down their cups and say, which is a very short version of the above proverb.

Excavations in Beirut have unearthed coffee cups that date to the 16th century. The Arabic has been westernized to coffee and the word comes from the Red Sea port of Mocka, in Yemen.

Coffee still plays an important role in trade and business in Lebanon. There is no such thing as a business meeting without coffee being served. The big brew in the little cup accompanies the exchange of pleasantries that kick off the meeting.

In times past, it was considered disrespectful to refuse a cup of coffee. It was like refusing a handshake. There are Lebanese who do not drink coffee, but it is still considered good manners to give an explanation for one’s refusal. There is no decaffeinated Lebanese coffee, so refusing coffee in the evening is acceptable.

Read more Food for Thought.

Tags: Lebanon Cultural Identity

13 September 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro

In this 26 August photograph, a Coptic Orthodox bishop surveys the damaged evangelical church in Minya. Egypt’s interim government condemns all the attacks on Christian properties, calling them the “work of terrorists,” and blaming them on the Muslim Brotherhood and other groups supportive of ousted leader Mohammed Morsi. (photo: CNS/Louafi Larbi, Reuters)

In Minya, Islamists hold a Protestant church as a mosque (AsiaNews) The Christian community of Monshaat Baddini in the province of Samalout report that Islamists have occupied a local Protestant church since 14 August. The police never intervened to stop them. For almost a month, no Christian has been allowed to enter. According to local sources, the Islamists have removed all sacred fixtures and icons. On the wall of the church an inscription reads: “mosque of martyrs.” In Delga city of the province of Minya, Islamists have created a kind of parallel state — to survive, Christians must pay “jizya,” a tax imposed upon non-Muslims…

Coptic refugee from Minya finds comfort in pope’s words (AsiaNews) “I saw the pope at the Astalli Center. Meeting him and listening to his words comforted me, especially now, after I escaped from Egypt. At the moment, I do not think I can go back. I have beautiful memories that will always stay with me, but there is no place for me in my land,” said George, a 27-year-old Copt who in August fled from Minya, Egypt, the region most affected by the violence unleashed by Islamists after the overthrow of Mohammed Morsi. On 10 August, Islamists blew up the supermarket owned by George and his family, threatening to kill him and his loved ones. After his escape, he spent the past month in Rome, waiting for his application for political asylum to be accepted by Italian authorities…

Egyptian Coptic emigrants adapt to life in U.S. (PBS Newshour) Mary, a 29-year-old Coptic Christian from Minya, Egypt, who asked to be identified by only her first name while she works to get permanent resident status, and her husband originally went to Saudi Arabia after leaving Egypt. But coming from Minya, which has one of Egypt’s largest Coptic Christian populations, they didn’t feel at home in Saudi Arabia, where they couldn’t find any Coptic churches. Instead, they traveled to the United States and connected with the growing Coptic community in the Washington, D.C., area. The growing Egyptian population has led to record attendance at St. Mark Coptic Orthodox Church in Fairfax, Virginia…

Commentary: The United States should welcome war refugees (Al Jazeera) In the American debate over whether President Obama should intervene militarily in Syria or adopt a Russian proposal to eliminate the country’s chemical weapons, there is one important group that has received little attention: Syria’s approximately 2 million refugees and 4.25 million internally displaced citizens. The United States has long offered sanctuary for those fleeing political persecution or humanitarian crises. Syrians fleeing the war, however, have not experienced such kindness…

Russian Orthodox Church seeks to heal centuries-old schism (RIA Novosti) Russia’s dominant Orthodox Church said Friday it would discuss a draft document that will “heal” a schism with some of the smaller Russian Christian denominations known collectively as Old Believers. An expert on religions in Russia hailed the document as a “timely” effort by the increasingly powerful Russian Orthodox Church, but some of the Old Believers are wary the initiative. The Old Believers split from the mainstream Russian Orthodox Church after a reform initiated by Moscow Patriarch Nikon in the 1650s. The reform sought to clarify service texts, the spelling of Jesus’ name in the Cyrillic alphabet and other rituals such as the number of fingers believers should use when crossing themselves…

Tags: Egypt Refugees Syrian Civil War United States Russian Orthodox Church

12 September 2013
Michael J.L. La Civita

(video: Rome Reports)

The Crusades, for better or worse, get a bad rap. Yet, there were some positive initiatives that surfaced — among them, the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. An ancient knighthood of the Catholic Church, its members are charged by the pope with supporting the apostolic activities of the church throughout the Middle East, especially the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem.

This week, the leadership of the order is gathering in Rome. This report from Rome highlights some of the discussions underway, including the broadening of its mandate to reach out to Iraq, Syria and Turkey.

Michael J.L. La Civita is CNEWA’s chief communications officer and a knight commander of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem.

Tags: Jerusalem Catholic Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem Rome

12 September 2013
Greg Kandra

Copts attend a liturgy at St. Simon the Tanner Church, carved out of a cave in Egypt. (photo: Dana Smillie)

The popular web site Amusing Planet this week paid a visit to one of the most unusual churches in the world, the “cave church” of the Zabbaleen in Egypt:

Egypt is a Muslim-majority country, but the Zabbaleen are mainly Coptic Christians. Christian communities are rare in Egypt, so the Zabbaleen prefer to stay in Mokattam within their own religious community, even though many of them can afford houses elsewhere.

The local Coptic Church in Mokattam Village was established in 1975. After the establishment of the church, the Zabbaleen felt more secure in their location and only then began to use more permanent building materials, such as stone and bricks, for their homes. Given their previous experience of eviction from Giza in 1970, the Zabbaleen had lived in temporary tin huts up till that point. In 1976, a large fire broke out in Manshiyat Nasir, which led to the beginning of the construction of the first church below the Mokattam mountain on a site of 1,000 square meters. Several more churches have been built into the caves found in Mokattam, of which the Monastery of St. Simon the Tanner is the largest, with a seating capacity of 20,000. In fact, the Cave Church of St. Simon in Mokattam is the largest church in the Middle East.

In our magazine, we profiled the life of the Zabbaleen last year:

The Nagib family lives in Manshiyat Naser — also known as Garbage City — an impoverished Coptic Christian neighborhood nestled in the jutting desert cliffs that rise above Cairo’s bustling streets. Called Zabbaleen, or “garbage people” in Arabic, most hail from the rural province of Assiut, 250 miles to the south. For generations, the Zabbaleen have served as Cairo’s de facto garbage collectors, earning a meager living hauling away city dwellers’ trash and recycling anything salvageable.

To spend time with the Nagib family is to witness in microcosm the struggles of an entire class of people — and to realize that they are struggling not just to salvage what others discard, but also to salvage dignity and a way of life.

Devout Christians, most residents in Manshiyat Naser attend services at St. Simon the Tanner, a Coptic church carved out of the face of a cliff dominating the neighborhood.

Though some parishioners wish the church could do more for the community, the parish offers relief. For instance, it provides material assistance to orphans, widows and disabled persons. And it runs a nursery school, which enrolls some 500 boys and girls from the neighborhood.

Read more about Salvaging Dignity in Cairo in the September 2012 issue of ONE.

Tags: Egypt Cultural Identity Village life Coptic Christians Copts

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