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Volume 44, Number 4
12 September 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro

Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theodoros II of Alexandria visits Coptic Pope Tawadros II on 4 September. To learn more about the respective churches they lead, see our profiles of the Orthodox Patriarchal Church of Alexandria and All Africa and the Coptic Orthodox Church. (photo: The Coptic Orthodox Church)

Pope Tawadros II resumes public catechesis (Fides) After suspending his public catechesis for ten weeks due to the clashes that rocked Egypt following Muhammad Morsi’s removal from the presidency, Coptic Pope Tawadros II yesterday returned to host the traditional Wednesday audience in the Coptic Orthodox Cathedral of St. Mark in Cairo. “The world is saved because it is in God’s hands, and Egypt has a special place in his heart,” he said. “Let us not allow hatred and hostility to penetrate our hearts…”

Iraq’s cold war leaves country on edge (Christian Science Monitor) During Iraq’s brutal civil war, which began in 2006 and dragged on for more than two years, Shiites and Sunnis squared off, leaving tens of thousands dead. The rival factions never completely reconciled. During last spring’s election, Shiite politician and cleric Muqtada al Sadr allied with Sunni political blocs to successfully challenge Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki’s ruling party — a brief glimmer of hope that Iraq was edging toward reconciliation. But several months later and after levels of violence not seen since 2008, most Iraqis say the political union was more of a statement about both groups’ dislike of Mr. Maliki than an actual desire to work with one another. Now, many Iraqis fear that their civil war never really ended — instead, it just morphed into a cold war that leaves the nation vulnerable to a renewal of sectarian violence. The Syrian war next door to Iraq has also helped to drudge up a number of dormant sectarian issues…

Battle for Syria Christian town of Maaloula continues (BBC) A BBC correspondent in Syria has said the battle for an ancient Christian town is continuing, despite reports that government forces had retaken it. Jeremy Bowen said that a heavy gunfight with rebels was continuing in Maaloula, with smoke rising into the sky. He added that he had not seen evidence confirming religious sites had been damaged by Al Qaeda-linked jihadists…

Syrian opposition fails to reassure Syrian Christians (Al Monitor) Syrian Christians as a whole have not thrown their support behind either side in the Syrian war. Nevertheless, Christians in Syria have been subjected to a lot of pressure by both the regime and the opposition, which failed to give them — or any religious or ethnic Syrian component — any assurances or support. Some armed groups have accused the church of supporting the regime. And many of the opposition’s statements and video clips do not reassure minorities that they will be participants in the new Syria…

First Syrian refugees land in Germany (Der Spiegel) Some are injured, some are traumatized, but all have been forced to flee. A million Syrians have left their country because of the civil war. Germany has agreed to offer temporary asylum to 5,000, and the first refugees took off for Hanover on Wednesday…

Maronite patriarch inaugurates church in Romania (Daily Star Lebanon) Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter will visit Romania Thursday for meetings with senior Romanian officials and the inauguration of St. Charbel Church, the first Maronite parish in Eastern Europe. Patriarch Bechara Peter is also to hold meetings with members of the Lebanese community…

Tags: Iraq Refugees Syrian Civil War Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II

11 September 2013
Greg Kandra

Young seminarians practice chanting in Ge’ez in Ziway. (photo: Peter Lemieux)

In 2009, we paid a visit to the town of Ziway, Ethiopia, for a look at the local Orthodox seminary at a time of transition in the country:

Life in Ziway carries on much as it has for centuries. At the monastery, signs of traditional life abound. One priest shovels sun-baked cow patties onto a horse-drawn cart. Adolescent deacons in training sit in pairs near the lake shore studying Scripture. And huddled on wooden benches beneath a small grove of shady trees, some 20 young seminarians practice chanting. Their drones drown out the chirping birds.

The seminarians are guided by debteras, a class of learned men unique to the Ethiopian and Eritrean Orthodox churches. Debteras command respect: They function as catechists and participate as cantors in the celebration of the Qeddase, the eucharistic liturgy.

The seminarians and debteras chant in Ge’ez — the ancient liturgical language of the Ethiopian and Eritrean churches — which few people know.

Little about an Ethiopian Orthodox priest’s formation and rural lifestyle has changed over the centuries — at least until recently. Most Orthodox priests receive an education almost identical to that of the generations of priests before them. And most lead lives with their families in the countryside, surviving on subsistence farming and their parishioners’ meager offerings.

But as traditional agrarian Ethiopia develops and its increasingly better educated people leave their villages for the cities, many within the Ethiopian Orthodox community worry that its priests will no longer be relevant to the faithful they serve.

Read more about these seminarians in As It Was, So Shall It Remain?, in the September 2009 issue of ONE.

Tags: Ethiopia Priests Orthodox Ethiopian Orthodox Church Seminarians

11 September 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro

Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregory III, center right with red stole, celebrates the funeral liturgy of three men in Damascus, Syria, on 10 September. The men were killed during a raid by Syrian opposition fighters on the village of Maaloula northeast of Damascus on 7 September. (photo: CNS/Khaled al Hariri, Reuters)

Patriarch Gregory III: ‘Great leaders … know how to make peace’ (Fides) “The greatness of a leader is to seek peace and make peace, not to wage war and create destruction. A superpower is such if it is a power of peace,” says Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregory III. “The logic of violence is never the logic of wise people. … We call on all political leaders of the world to return to the Word of Jesus in the Gospel; this is enough to build a world of civilization, liberty, dignity, love and mercy…”

U.S.C.C.B. calls for negotiation, humanitarian assistance In Syria (U.S.C.C.B.) The Administrative Committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued an urgent call for a political solution to the crisis in Syria. The bishops issued the statement on the first day of their 10-11 September Administrative Committee meeting at the U.S.C.C.B. headquarters in Washington. The appeal followed a day of prayer and fasting for peace in Syria on September 7, which had been called for by Pope Francis. Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, U.S.C.C.B. president, and Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, U.S.C.C.B. International Justice and Peace chairman, wrote letters to President Obama and Congress, respectively, also urging that the United States not resort to military action…

Syria: Holy Land Bishop on fears of Christians in region (Vatican Radio) William Shomali, the auxiliary bishop of Jerusalem and the Palestinian territories, has been speaking out about possible foreign intervention in Syria. Bishop William says Christians across the Middle East do not want an international military strike on the regime of Bashar al Assad, fearing that regional chaos would ensue. Christians — and many Muslims, he suggests — are afraid fanatical elements within the rebel opposition would seek retaliation against those they see as supporters of the regime, while Christians have largely tried to stay neutral…

Patriarch Kirill: U.S. should heed unanimous religious leaders (Fides) On the eve of the 12th anniversary of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks, the Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill yesterday sent a message to President Barack Obama urging him to shelve plans for a military attack against Assad’s regime and to focus on diplomatic paths to stop the Syrian conflict, as has been suggested in recent days by leaders of all religious communities, starting with Pope Francis…

Syrian Christians pack passports fearing Islamist onslaught (Bloomberg) As the United States Congress debates a possible strike against Syrian President Bashar al Assad, Christians in and around Damascus say they face a double crisis. Like many other Damascenes, they fear an attack would lead to an escalation in the civil war rather than put an end to it, while they are also concerned about becoming a lightning rod for Muslim radicals. Salim Eid, a Christian who lives in an area of Homs under the control of Assad’s army, said the events in Maaloula reminded him of how his brother and other family members were forced by the rebels to vacate their homes and farms in Umm Sharshouh village in Homs Province earlier this year. Bishop George Abu Zakham said he was kicked out of his home in Homs last year along with about 85,000 Christians by extremist rebels. He said Christians in suburbs around Damascus were also displaced in the same way…

Arab world’s religious leaders urge common ground at Jordan conference ( Some 70 high-ranking church leaders and Muslim clerics from across the region and world met in Jordan last week to promote common ground among followers of the various religions and sects in the Middle East. Titled “Challenges facing Arab Christians,” the 3-4 September conference urged tolerance, peace and moderation and sought to address challenges facing Christians in the region as well as highlight their important contribution to Arab and Islamic civilizations. Participants included Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch of Antioch Gregory III — a Syrian national — who called for the organization of a global campaign to urge peace in Syria, and Patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church of Babylon Mar Louis Raphael I, who spoke to the current situation in Iraq…

Tags: Middle East Christians Syrian Civil War Patriarch Kirill Melkite Patriarch Gregory III of Antioch U.S.C.C.B.

10 September 2013
Greg Kandra

Mustafa Abu Bekir, 23, is carried by a family member as they enter Turkey from the Turkish Cilvegozu border gate on 9 September. (photo: CNS/Umit Bektas, Reuters)

The crisis in Syria has raised more concerns about refugees, many of whom have fled to neighboring countries.

From Catholic News Service:

Tanil Kahiaian, a refugee from the Syrian city of Aleppo, said he is doing what he can for the others fleeing his country. He, his wife and two children escaped the Syrian war almost a year ago, and since he has watched “tens of thousands” pour into neighboring Turkey as he did.

“It is so difficult for me to see this, their poverty. I am donating clothes from my work,” Kahiaian told Catholic News Service 8 September from near his home in Istanbul’s Kumkapi district.

Kahiaian said he considered himself among the fortunate refugees here, because he came with money, was being lodged by Istanbul’s Armenian Orthodox community, and was able to quickly get a job with an Armenian clothing firm in Turkey because of his numerous languages.

“I speak Turkish and I am doing for them a lot of business in Turkish clothes with Arabic countries. But the people on the border have nothing,” he said. “If there are [air] strikes on Syria, their numbers will be more.”

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees announced 3 September that more than 2 million Syrians have fled to neighboring countries in search of security since the conflict began in 2011. About a million are reportedly children.

Turkey’s government is providing basic needs and some education to an estimated 200,000 Syrians in 20 different humanitarian camps along its 560-mile border with Syria. But as many as 260,000 other Syrians are living in other areas in Turkey, including Istanbul, where they often depend mostly on help from private aid groups, according to the U.N.

“We are getting more and more [Syrians] by the day,” said a Christian aid group official in Istanbul, who requested anonymity due to Turkish laws that officially forbid — but tolerate — religious institutions from performing humanitarian work in the country.

Read more about the plight of Syrian refugees at this link.

And visit our Emergency: Syria page to learn how you can help.

Tags: Refugees Syrian Civil War Emigration Refugee Camps Aleppo

10 September 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro

Syrian-American demonstrators march against U.S. military intervention in Syria in front of the White House in Washington, on 9 September. (photo: CNS/Jim Bourg, Reuters)

Syria ceding chemical arms may halt U.S. attack (New York Times) President Obama on Monday tentatively embraced a Russian diplomatic proposal to avert a United States military strike on Syria by having international monitors take control of the Syrian government’s chemical weapons. Sergey V. Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, said early Monday that Syria could avoid an attack by putting its chemical weapons in the hands of monitors and agreeing to ultimately eliminate its massive arsenal of poison gas. It was an idea that was quickly praised by top officials in Syria and some lawmakers in the United States. “It’s possible,” Mr. Obama said on CNN of the Russian proposal, “if it’s real.” Secretary of State John Kerry opened the door to the Russian idea when he told a reporter at a news conference earlier on Monday that President Bashar al Assad of Syria could avoid strikes by agreeing to give up his chemical weapons, although Mr. Kerry doubted the plan was feasible…

Syrian army moves to retake Maaloula (Daily Star Lebanon) Syrian troops launched an offensive Monday against rebel-held positions on hills overlooking a mainly Christian village as they moved to regain control of the ancient community near Damascus, activists said. The battle for Maaloula has stoked fears among Syrian Christians that the alternative to Assad’s regime — which is made up mostly of Alawites, followers of a variant of Shiite Islam — would not tolerate minority religions. Such concerns have helped Assad retain the support of large chunks of Syria’s minority communities, including Christians, Alawites, Druze and ethnic Kurds. Most of the rebels and their supporters are Sunni Muslims…

Christians, Muslims join Pope Francis in praying for peace in Syria (CNS) At the Church of All Nations at the Garden of Gethsemane, the stone that traditionally has represented Jesus’ agony was scattered with notes in different languages — all asking for peace in Syria. Christian leaders of the Holy Land gathered there on 7 September, as Christians and Muslims all over the world prayed with Pope Francis for Syria. In the West Bank and in Turkey, in Canada and the United States people gathered, responding to the papal call for prayer and fasting…

Pope to meet with refugees (Vatican Radio) Today, the Holy Father will make a private visit to the Centro Astalli in Rome, the Italian seat of the Jesuit Refugee Service. This center currently admits 700 refugees from different parts of the world, among whom there are some Syrian families forced to flee their homes due to the current conflict. Francis will meet with 300 refugees in the Church of Jesus in Rome, where he will visit the tomb of Father Pedro Arrupe, who founded the Jesuit Refugee Service in 1981. The Holy Father will then transfer to the dining hall of the center, where he will meet with another 400 refugees…

Islamists seize town in southern Egypt and attack Christians (New York Times) Dalga, a town of about 120,000 people, including 20,000 Christians, has been outside government control since hard-line Islamist supporters of Mr. Morsi drove out the police and occupied the police station on the day the Egyptian military removed Mr. Morsi. The Islamists’ actions were part of a wave of attacks in the province of Minya that targeted Christians, their homes and their businesses. Since then, the militants have imposed their grip on Dalga, twice driving off attempts by the army to send in armored personnel carriers, fending them off with gunfire. The takeover of Dalga has been disastrous for Christians in the town…

Malankara Orthodox Syrian leader urges peace ( “War is not the answer,” said Baselios Marthoma Paulose II, primate of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, in a recent statement. He continued to say that the way forward is through diplomacy and dialogue rather than unilateral military actions, and that everyone should pray specially and wholeheartedly for peace to be re-established in disturbed regions such as Egypt and Syria…

Tags: Egypt Pope Francis Syrian Civil War United States Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church

9 September 2013
Greg Kandra

Lebanese and Syrian Christian Maronites pray for peace in Syria at the Basilica of Our Lady of Lebanon in Harissa on 7 September. (photo: CNS/Hasan Shaaban, Reuters)

An estimated 100,000 people gathered in St. Peter’s Square Saturday for the historic Vigil of Prayer for Peace, led by Pope Francis. Countless more joined the bishop of Rome in prayer around the world.

Pope Francis concluded his homily with these words:

Is it possible to walk the path of peace? Can we get out of this spiral of sorrow and death? Can we learn once again to walk and live in the ways of peace? Invoking the help of God, under the maternal gaze of the Salus Populi Romani, Queen of Peace, I say: Yes, it is possible for everyone! From every corner of the world tonight, I would like to hear us cry out: Yes, it is possible for everyone! Or even better, I would like for each one of us, from the least to the greatest, including those called to govern nations, to respond: Yes, we want it! My Christian faith urges me to look to the Cross. How I wish that all men and women of good will would look to the Cross if only for a moment! There, we can see God’s reply: violence is not answered with violence, death is not answered with the language of death. In the silence of the Cross, the uproar of weapons ceases and the language of reconciliation, forgiveness, dialogue, and peace is spoken.

This evening, I ask the Lord that we Christians, and our brothers and sisters of other religions, and every man and woman of good will, cry out forcefully: violence and war are never the way to peace! Let everyone be moved to look into the depths of his or her conscience and listen to that word which says: Leave behind the self-interest that hardens your heart, overcome the indifference that makes your heart insensitive towards others, conquer your deadly reasoning, and open yourself to dialogue and reconciliation. Look upon your brother’s sorrow — I think of the children: look upon these … look at the sorrow of your brother, stay your hand and do not add to it, rebuild the harmony that has been shattered; and all this achieved not by conflict but by encounter! May the noise of weapons cease! War always marks the failure of peace, it is always a defeat for humanity. Let the words of Pope Paul VI resound again: “No more one against the other, no more, never! … Never again war!

“Peace expresses itself only in peace, a peace which is not separate from the demands of justice but which is fostered by personal sacrifice, clemency, mercy and love.” Brothers and Sisters, forgiveness, dialogue, reconciliation — these are the words of peace, in beloved Syria, in the Middle East, in all the world! Let us pray this evening for reconciliation and peace, let us work for reconciliation and peace, and let us all become, in every place, men and women of reconciliation and peace! So may it be.

Read the entire text of the homily at this link. You can watch an excerpt of the pope’s homily below.

Tags: Pope Francis Vatican Middle East Peace Process Prayers/Hymns/Saints

9 September 2013
Melodie Gabriel

The Catholic Women’s League (C.W.L.) of Canada is generously supporting projects to aid poor Christian families in the Holy Land through CNEWA Canada. Members of this fine organization — including Velma Harasen, C.W.L.’s former national president — were able to visit these projects during our Holy Land Pilgrimage.

The video above highlights the good work of two of CNEWA’s partners in the Holy Land:

  • The Infant Welfare Center in Jerusalem assists teenagers with learning disabilities and helps them to stay in school, as well as providing support for their families and teachers.

  • The Shepherd’s Field Hospital in Beit Sahour (near Bethlehem) provides much-needed health care to pregnant women, new mothers and their babies — including many of the poorest in the region.

Click here if you’d like to contribute to “Velma’s Dream.”

Next year, from 29 June – 9 July 2014, CNEWA Canada will again extend to C.W.L. members the opportunity to join us on a pilgrimage. We will visit the holy places of the Bible, meet Holy Land Christians and witness the good works of our many partners in the region. If you are interested, visit the trip page for more info. You can also watch our Holy Land pilgrimage promo video.

Tags: Holy Land Pilgrimage/pilgrims Donors Holy Land Christians CNEWA Canada

9 September 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro

In this 2008 photo, a man writes on a board during class at the Aramaic Language Institute in Maaloula, Syria, where local residents can study the writing and grammar of their ancestral language. (photo: CNS/Brooke Anderson)

Syrian war makes sudden appearance at convent in iconic Christian town (Washington Post) High in the mountains above Damascus lies a town so remote that Syria’s war had passed it by, so untouched by time that its inhabitants still speak the language of Jesus. The violence ravaging the rest of Syria has finally caught up with Maaloula, renowned as the oldest Christian community in the world — and the last in which the same version of Aramaic that prevailed 2,000 years ago is the native tongue. On Sunday, Syrian rebels, including some affiliated with Al Qaeda, swept through Maaloula for the second time in four days, after an assault a few days earlier in which the last of its few thousand residents fled and the specter of unchecked violence threatened to convulse the iconic town…

Melkite patriarch issues appeal to save Maaloula (Fides) Melkite Patriarch Gregory III, lamenting what he calls “the great tragedy of this war,” has launched an urgent appeal “to the international community, to the conscience of the whole world, to save the small village of Maaloula, which is a very important Christian symbol in the history of Syria…”

A testimony from a Syrian monastery (L’Osservatore Romano) Sister Marta Luisa Fagnani, a member of a small community of Italian Trappist nuns in Syria, speaks to L’Osservatore Romano about remaining prayerful under the present conditions. “Prayer and fasting are like weapons to empty oneself of oneself and to try to be more reasonable, to make oneself listen to a deeper wisdom,” Sister Marta Luisa says. “Prayer is powerful, of that we are convinced. Otherwise, we would not have chosen this life…”

Christians and Hindus united in fasting and prayer for peace in Syria (Fides) Fasting and prayer for peace in Syria sees Christians and Hindus in India united. Bishop Felix Machado of Vasai, president of the Commission for Ecumenical and Interreligious Dialogue of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, told Fides: “The pope’s appeal for a special day for peace in Syria was welcomed with joy and enthusiasm by Christians in India, and now has spread to the leaders and the Hindu communities. Some Hindu leaders called me to express solidarity and to ensure fasting and prayer in the Hindu temples…”

Pope: Waging war against evil means discarding violence (VIS) Pope Francis, following yesterday’s fast and prayer vigil for peace in Syria, the Middle East and all over the world, returned to the theme of peace during the Angelus at midday today. He commented on today’s Gospel reading in which Jesus states the condition for his disciples: to put nothing before their love for God, carrying their cross, and following Jesus. “At this moment in time, when we are praying intensely for peace, this Word of the Lord affects us profoundly, and fundamentally it says: ‘There’s a deeper war we must fight, all of us!’ It is the strong and brave decision to renounce evil and its seductions, and to choose good, fully prepared to pay personally — that is, following Christ, and taking up our cross! It is a profound war against evil! What is the point of fighting wars, many wars, if you are not capable of fighting this deeper war against evil? There’s no point!” the pope said…

Ecumenical patriarch meets with president of Estonia (The Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople) On 5 September Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople visited President Toomas Hendrik Ilves of Estonia to express his gratitude for their support of the Apostolic Orthodox Church of Estonia, especially following the restoration of its status of autonomy by the Ecumenical Patriarchate in 1996. Afterward, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew responded to questions from the local media regarding the two Orthodox jurisdictions in Estonia, the situation in Syria, and other contemporary issues…

Tags: Pope Francis Syrian Civil War Violence against Christians Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I Estonia

6 September 2013
Greg Kandra

In this image from last fall, a refugee child from Syria stands outside a makeshift shelter in the village of Jeb Jennine, in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley (photo: CNS/Paul Jeffrey)

The Catholic News Service (CNS) has established a special page on its website devoted to news and information about the crisis in Syria.

Along with the latest headlines from the Middle East and the Vatican, the site also has video, interviews and resources that can guide readers thorugh the sometimes complicated details of this critically important story.

Visit the page, titled “Praying for Peace in Syria,” and check back often. It’s updated several times a day. Saturday, it will feature a livestream of the pope’s prayer vigil at this link.

6 September 2013
Greg Kandra

Children at Our Lady of Armenia summer camp pose for the camera. (photo: Armineh Johannes)

In 2007, we paid a visit to central Armenia, and met children at a flourishing camp:

Diramayr is a refuge for Armenian orphans living in state orphanages as well as children invited by social workers and the Armenian Sisters of the Immaculate Conception, an Armenian Catholic community that sponsors the camp.

For Sister Arousiag, who returned to the land of her ancestors in the summer of 1990, the camp strengthens the emotional well-being of children scarred by abandonment and poverty and deepens their exposure to their Armenian culture and heritage.

“I like to think that here the children are camping with Christ,” Sister Arousiag said. “Many of the kids had never been to church before coming here.”

Religious devotions and catechism constitute a significant portion of the day at Diramayr. Days begin and end with prayer, while catechism class is a daily feature. Sunday mornings are reserved for the celebration of the Soorp Badarak, the Divine Liturgy.

Because few Armenians belong to the Armenian Catholic Church (just 220,000 of its 2.9 million citizens), most of those who attend the camp nominally belong to the Armenian Apostolic Church, the historic faith community of the Armenian people. The two churches share the same culture, liturgy and traditions (only full communion with the Church of Rome distinguishes Catholic from Armenian Apostolic Christians), thus sparing the camp from religious discord.

Sister Arousiag said she would not let a child’s religious background become an admissions factor. “How can I turn down a needy child just because they aren’t Catholic?”

Summer camp would not be summer camp if the campers had their heads stuck in their Bibles or catechisms all day. Children study languages (French or English), art and computers and also have plenty of time for sports and outdoor activities such as hiking and canoeing. They also take day trips to nearby Lake Sevan and visit the ancient historical monuments that dot Armenia’s countryside.

While most of the day is scheduled, the campers also have free time to horse around in the playground or chat with their friends.

Read more about the Kid’s Camps in the Caucasus from the November 2007 issue of ONE.

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