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Volume 44, Number 1
  
9 January 2014
J.D. Conor Mauro




Ukrainian demonstrators who favor joining the European Union receive hot food near Independence Square in Kiev on 27 December. Ukrainian opposition leaders urged supporters to stay in Kiev’s main square through the New Year, as street protests appeared to be losing momentum. (photo: CNS/Gleb Garanich, Reuters)

Battle of Orthodox patriarchs: Ukraine’s Filaret denounces Russia’s Kirill (Kiev Post) Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill has decried the Maidan Square demonstrations as a threat to the spiritual unity of Ukrainians and Russians. Patriarch Filaret of Kiev and all Rus-Ukraine disagrees. “If we take the idea that Kirill defends — Rusky Mir [“Russian World”] — it is not unity; it is empire wrapped in a nice package. In fact, it is about creating a new empire. The Customs Union is the beginning,” said Patriarch Filaret, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s revival of an economic and political union of former Soviet republics including Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus and Armenia. Putin also hopes to include Ukraine, the second-largest former Soviet republic, in the grouping. The patriarch added: “The truth is to practice the Orthodox faith, and each nation will have its own independent church, as required by the canons of the church…”

Sisi cheered at Coptic Christmas liturgy in Egypt (ANSAmed) Armed forces chief Abdel Fattah al Sisi scored a major victory at the Christmas liturgy in Cairo’s Abassaiya Orthodox Cathedral on Tuesday. Though absent for security reasons, the defense minister leading the country’s new phase received wild cheers after Pope Tawadros II mentioned his name among those who had sent messages of well wishes to Christians celebrating the festivity, Al Ahram online reported Tuesday…

In Egypt, many shrug as freedoms disappear (Washington Post) The charges are often vague. The evidence is elusive. Arrests occur swiftly, and the convictions follow. And there is little transparency in what analysts have called the harshest political crackdown in Egypt in decades. But many Egyptians say they are all right with that. There is a growing sense here in the Arab world’s largest country that the best path to stability — after three years of political turmoil — might be to do things the military’s way: crush the Islamists who made people angry enough to support a coup, silence dissent and ask very few questions…

Holy Land: in the footsteps of Paul VI (Vatican Radio) On Sunday, 5 January, Pope Francis specified how the main purpose of his forthcoming pilgrimage to the Holy Land from 24-26 May is to commemorate the historic meeting between Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I of Constantinople 50 years ago. Pope Paul VI, referred to as “pilgrim pope,” took many such steps to bring the papacy to the people — and, convinced that all roads no longer led to Rome, he became the first pope ever to board an airplane. Less than a year into his pontificate, Paul VI became the first pope to return to the Holy land after St. Peter himself…

Stretched thin, Syrian extremists are pressured (Washington Post) Just a week ago, Al Qaeda-linked rebels in Syria enjoyed an arc of dominance across the country’s north and east, ruling with brutality. But a series of stunning reversals in recent days has made clear that the militant group may be more vulnerable than it seemed, in part because its frequent kidnappings and attacks on fellow rebels have won it few allies. By Tuesday, the group, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, appeared increasingly desperate, with its fighters pushed out of some towns and turning to suicide bombings in a bid to hold on to pockets of Raqqa, the large north-central city that was its stronghold…



Tags: Egypt Pope Francis Middle East Christians Syrian Civil War Ukrainian Orthodox Church

8 January 2014
J.D. Conor Mauro




A Roma family sit in the living room of their house in Hodász, Hungary. Many homes in this neighborhood have no running water, leaving their residents to transport water from public water sources. (photo: Balazs Gardi)

The plight of the Roma: Europe’s unwanted people (Der Spiegel) Some 10 to 12 million Roma live in Europe — more than the population of Austria — and the roots of this population stretch back over 1,000 years. The Roma have also been ostracized, persecuted and suppressed as gypsies for centuries, including the murder of hundreds of thousands of Roma at the hands of the Nazis. The Roma are Europe’s biggest minority, and remain the continent’s unwanted people. Now, tens of thousands of them are fleeing westwards from poverty and discrimination in the countries of southeastern Europe. But European Union member states are failing to help them…

Ethiopian migrants expelled by Saudis remain in limbo back home (New York Times) For decades, rich Arab countries in the Middle East have been a major destination for migrant workers from developing nations. Deportations had happened before, but the scale of the recent expulsions from Saudi Arabia is virtually unheard of, the labor organization said. About 150,000 Ethiopians have been forced out of the country. Their expulsion puts the Ethiopian government under strain because the remittances they sent had greatly contributed to the country, which has one of the world’s fastest-growing economies but is still very poor…

The Syria effect: Lebanese Sunnis begin to strap on bombs (Christian Science Monitor) Lebanon’s moderate Sunni community is radicalizing, as shown by last week’s suicide bombing in Beirut. When Qutaiba Satem, a 19-year-old engineering student, drove an explosives-laden car into a Shiite suburb of Beirut last week and blew himself up, he became the first Lebanese Sunni to commit an apparently sectarian-driven suicide bombing against Shiite civilians in Lebanon…

ISIL: An Al-Qaeda challenge in Syria and Iraq (Al Jazeera) The common link between the upsurge of fighting this week in the western Iraqi cities of Fallujah and Ramadi, and also in rebel-held parts of northern Syria, is the Al Qaeda affiliate known by the acronym ISIL (or often, ISIS) — the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. And in a sign of the complexity of the violent power struggles in both countries, ISIL is being confronted not only by its prime enemy in each country — the regime of President Bashar al Assad in Syria, and the government of Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki — but also by rival anti-Assad and anti-Maliki forces…

Egypt’s Copts celebrate Christmas amid political uncertainty (Al Jazeera) Last year’s Coptic Christmas saw the Muslim Brotherhood in power and its political party send envoys to wish Egypt’s long-embattled Christian minority well. This year’s Christmas, on Tuesday, found worshipers raucously cheering General Abdel Fattah al Sisi, the military leader who overthrew the Brotherhood-backed President Mohamed Morsi in July. The Brotherhood has been smashed and Morsi is behind bars, a wave of anti-Christian violence has at least temporarily abated, a new constitution is being drafted, and the Coptic community is breathing a tentative sigh of relief…



Tags: Ethiopia Syrian Civil War Migrants Immigration Roma

7 January 2014
Greg Kandra




A boy in a live Nativity scene carries a dog as Pope Francis visits the display at the Church of St. Alfonso Maria dei Liguori in Rome on 6 January. Orthodox Christians who follow the Julian calendar are celebrating Christmas on 7 January. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)

Millions celebrate Orthodox Christmas (RT.com) Millions of Orthodox Christians across the globe are celebrating Christmas on Tuesday with one of the most revered Christian relics: the Gifts of the Wise Men, brought to Moscow after leaving Greece for the first time in more than 500 years. 7 January is Christmas Day for Russian Christians, the Jerusalem Orthodox Church, the Serbian Orthodox Church, the Georgian Orthodox Church, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, as well as for some Protestants who use the Julian calendar. According to the Julian calendar, the holidays come 13 days after the Christmas festivities in the Catholic Church. One of the most important Christian relics, the Gifts of the Wise Men to the newborn Jesus, were delivered from Thessaloniki to Moscow on the eve of the Orthodox Christmas. The holy Gifts have left the Agiou Pavlou (St. Paul’s) monastery on Mount Athos for the first time since the 15th Century. The sacred relics brought from Greece are to be displayed in the Russian capital until 13 January. At present they are drawing queues of five hours...

Latin Patriarch hopes pope’s visit will be a “cry for peace” (Catholic News Service) Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal of Jerusalem welcomed the announcement of Pope Francis’ May visit to the Holy Land and said he hopes the pilgrimage will be a “cry for peace,” particularly for Palestinians, Israelis, Syrians and others beset by conflict...

Russia ramps up security in Sochi (Vatican Radio) Russia says it has launched one of the biggest security operations in Olympic history, after two suicide attacks killed dozens of people. The announcement comes a month before the start of the Winter Olympic Games in the Black Sea resort of Sochi. Russian authorities say they are deploying more than 30,000 police and interior ministry troops and limiting access to the Black Sea resort of Sochi. Yet, protecting the expected thousands of athletes and spectators at a time of suicide bombings in the country has become a major challenge, officials acknowledged...

Syrian rebels battling for control of key city (Los Angeles Times) Syrian rebel groups battled one another Monday for control of a provincial capital, part of a vicious round of score settling targeting an Al Qaeda affiliate that gained stature fighting President Bashar Assad but alienated many by imposing strict Islamic law. Fighting for control of Raqqah followed several days of heavy clashes in rebel-held territory farther west in which disparate militias advanced against fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. In March, Raqqah was the first major Syrian city to fall completely to rebel forces, and it has been one of the main bases of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

Why Christians are crucial to the Middle East (National Catholic Register) Thomas Farr is the director of the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center and a visiting associate professor of religion and international affairs at Georgetown’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service. A former American diplomat, he is a leading authority on international religious freedom. In December, the Religious Freedom Project hosted a Rome-based conference titled “Christianity and Freedom: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives.” “From Cairo and Damascus to Tehran and Beijing, religious freedom is under siege. Ironically, it is Christianity — a faith that contributed decisively to the rise of religious liberty — that now finds itself increasingly persecuted around the world,” the conference organizers noted. On 30 December, Farr offered further reflections on the reasons for the sharp rise in anti-Christian violence in the Middle East and the West’s failure to intervene...



Tags: Pope Francis Middle East Christians Syrian Civil War Russia Patriarch Fouad Twal

6 January 2014
J.D. Conor Mauro




Syrian refugees drink tea as they sit in front of their tents at Zaatari refugee camp in Mafraq, Jordan, on 31 December. Pope Francis will dine with Syrian refugees during his 24 May visit to Jordan on a trip that also will include Israel and the Palestinian territories. (photo: CNS/Muhammad Hamed, Reuters)

Pope to visit Middle East, meet Orthodox leader (Voice of America) Pope Francis is to visit biblical sites in Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Territories in May, his first trip to the Christian Holy Land as pontiff and only the fourth by a pope since biblical times. The 24-26 May trip to Amman, Jerusalem and Bethlehem will mark the 50th anniversary of a historic trip to the region by Pope Paul VI. Pope John Paul II visited in 2000 and Pope Benedict XVI went in 2009. Apart from its significance for Catholic relations with Jews and Muslims, Pope Francis’ trip will hold major importance for relations among Christians because it will include a meeting in Jerusalem with the spiritual head of the world’s Orthodox Christians, as well as Anglican and Protestant leaders…

Bishop William Shomali on pope’s visit to Holy Land (Vatican Radio) The auxiliary bishop of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, William Shomali, told Vatican Radio that expectations are high for the pope’s planned visit. “Christians, Jews and Muslims [in the Holy Land] are counting on this visit to intensify the ecumenical and the interreligious relationships,” he said. You can listen to a recording of the bishop’s remarks at the bottom of the article…

Thousands march for refugee rights in Israel (Al Jazeera) Tens of thousands of African asylum seekers and their supporters continued a three-day protest Monday on the streets of Tel Aviv demanding that the Israeli government recognize their refugee status and end the policy of detention without trial. “More than 30,000 demonstrators marched peacefully,” police spokeswoman Lubra Samri said when the protest began on Sunday, which would make the action the largest such rally by migrants in Israel’s history. The protest comes after a December mass walkout from a detention facility by hundreds of asylum seekers who are detained there during the night and barred from seeking work during the day. Those caught breaking the strict rules risk arrest and confinement in a closed prison…

Fire of extremism devours decades-old library in Lebanon (Middle East Online) A decades-old library owned by a Greek Orthodox priest in north Lebanon’s majority Sunni city of Tripoli was torched late Friday, a day after a sectarian scuffle, a security source said. “Unknown assailants torched the Saeh Library in Tripoli, destroying two-thirds of some 80,000 books and manuscripts housed there,” said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The attack came a day after “a pamphlet was discovered inside one of the books at the library that was insulting to Islam and the prophet Mohammad,” said the source…

Egypt’s interim president visits Coptic pope (Independent) On Sunday, Egypt’s interim president on Sunday made a rare visit to see the pontiff of the nation’s Orthodox Christians at St. Mark’s Cathedral, the papal seat in central Cairo, according to a brief statement by the church. The highly symbolic visit to Pope Tawadros II by President Adly Mansour was made ahead of Coptic Christmas, which falls on Tuesday, 7 January. On his part, Pope Tawadros had taken the unusual step of publicly criticizing the president, rejecting an Islamist-tilted constitution adopted in 2012 that, in his view, was discriminatory and compromised the human rights of Egyptians…



Tags: Pope Francis Refugees Middle East Violence against Christians Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II

2 January 2014
J.D. Conor Mauro




Residents search for survivors after what activists said were air strikes by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad in Aleppo 28 December. (photo: CNS/Jalal Alhalabi, Reuters)

Missile strike kills at least 20 people in Aleppo (Los Angeles Times) At least 20 people were killed in Aleppo on Wednesday when a residential building was hit with a rocket from a warplane as the government’s daily bombardment of the northern Syria city continued, activists said. More than 500 people have been killed across Aleppo province in two weeks of a fierce government offensive with rockets and destructive barrel bombs, local doctors and human rights groups reported. Now approaching the end of its third year, the conflict in Syria has left more than 130,000 dead, reported the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a pro-opposition rights group, this week. Nearly 12,000 of those were women and children…

Melkite Greek Catholic archbishop speaks about Syrian Christians (Aid to the Church in Need) Syrian-born Archbishop John Darwish heads the Melkite Greek Catholic eparchies of Furzol, Zahle and Bekaa in Lebanon. With a population of 200,000 Christians, Zahle is the largest Christian city in the Middle East. His jurisdiction straddles the western border of Syria and is currently home to 800 Syrian Christian refugee families — a total of more than 6,000 people — who have fled their homeland where they were caught in the fighting between the Syrian regime and rebel forces, and where Islamist rebels have been increasingly targeting the Christian community. Archbishop Darwish spoke with Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need on 18 December, during his visit to New York…

Pope Tawadros cancels catechesis on day of constitutional referendum (Fides) As the people of Egypt are preparing for a referendum to express their opinions on the text of the new constitution, the patriarch of Alexandria of the Coptic Orthodox, Pope Tawadros II, decided to cancel the traditional Wednesday catechesis that was supposed to be held in conjunction with the referendum. The constitutional referendum is scheduled on 14-15 January…

Powerful explosion rocks Beirut (Al Jazeera) A powerful explosion has rocked southern Beirut, sending smoke rising from the stronghold of the armed Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah, according to local residents. Five people were killed and others wounded, according to the country’s Health Ministry. Thursday’s blast is the latest sign of heightened sectarian tensions in the country, already soaring because of the civil war in neighboring Syria…

Armenian Apostolic patriarch commemorates new year with message (Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin) Noting that 2013 was a year of progress, Patriarch Karekin II says: “There were also difficult times in the homeland as well as in the diaspora. We are facing deep-rooted problems such as making our country prosperous, defending our rights, reinforcing our statehood and improving our national and religious life. We are concerned with the predicament of the Armenian people living among the conflicts in the Middle East. We are hopeful that the children of Armenia will unite in the name of love for the homeland and nation. … On this New Year’s Day, I exhort our beloved people to fill their lives with spiritual healing and pilgrimage this year…”



Tags: Egypt Syrian Civil War Armenian Apostolic Church Beirut Aleppo

31 December 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro




Abune Mathias, patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, poses earlier this year with Msgr. John E. Kozar, CNEWA’s president; Argaw Fantu, regional director for Ethiopia; and Gerald Jones, former regional director for Ethiopia. (photo: Thomas Varghese)

Patriarch of Ethiopian Orthodox Church arrested temporarily (Zegabi) The patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tawahedo Church, Abune Mathias, was placed under house arrest temporarily, but has since been released, according to a report by the Ethiopian Review today. The move is reported to have been attributed to Tsegaye Behane, national security adviser to the prime minister, allegedly over the patriarch’s criticisms of the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Force. Abune Mathias was reportedly interrogated for 72 hours before his release…

Israel releases 26 more Palestinian prisoners (Los Angeles Times) Israel released 26 Palestinian prisoners early Tuesday, the third of four groups it promised to free as part of peace talks restarted during the summer. Most of the prisoners were from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ ruling Fatah faction and were serving long sentences for killing Israelis. Israel released the five Jerusalem prisoners at a checkpoint on the Mount of Olives where they were awaited by hundreds of family members, friends and officials carrying Palestinian flags and posters of the prisoners. Adnan Afandi of Bethlehem, one of the freed men, had served 21 years in prison. “I feel that we came out from the grave and into life once again,” he said…

Aleppo archbishop says church helps everyone, ‘without distinction’ (AsiaNews) “The church in Aleppo is standing steadfast despite the bombs, hunger and cold of recent weeks,” said Chaldean Archbishop Antoine Audo of Aleppo. “We want to live and have faith, and show our solidarity to everyone without distinction of religion or faction. This is our mission, our task.” Although the situation has improved in the past few days, the city is full of poor people, the archbishop noted. Still, the situation has not stopped Christians and the church from helping others and praying for peace in all of Syria…

Russia orders security crackdown after bombings (Vatican Radio) Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered new security measures across Russia following two suicide attacks killed dozens of people within two days in the southern city of Volgograd. Local residents remain concerned however after Monday’s attack on a trolley bus killed 15 people and Sunday’s blast at the main train station took at least 18 lives. Security forces are seen in Volgograd around what was once a blue and white trolley bus, powered by overhead electric cables. It is now reduced to a twisted, gutted carcass…



Tags: Syrian Civil War Russia Israeli-Palestinian conflict Ethiopian Orthodox Church Syrian Catholic

30 December 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro




Metropolitan Pavel, recently elected to serve as head of the Belarusian Orthodox Church, has previously led his church in the United States and Canada, as well as Vienna and Budapest. (photo: Belarusian Orthodox Church)

Belarusian Orthodox Church elects new leader (BelTA) Metropolitan Pavel of Ryazan and Mikhailov has been appointed Metropolitan of Minsk and Slutsk — the highest office in the Belarusian Orthodox Church. Metropolitan Filaret of Minsk and Slutsk, patriarchal exarch of All Belarus, retired upon reaching the age of 75…

What the pope can do about anti-Christian persecution (National Catholic Reporter) Pope Francis addressed anti-Christian persecution recently, following attacks on two Christian churches in Baghdad that left at least 38 dead. In the abstract, it’s tempting to ask what any pope can do to affect anti-Christian persecution beyond issuing a cri de coeur. Both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI raised the issue, and their rhetoric didn’t seem to put a dent in a scourge that claims somewhere between 9,000 and 100,000 lives every year. On the other hand, it was also once fashionable to ask what any pope could do about Communist persecution of Christians, until John Paul II played a key role in the collapse of the Soviet system across Eastern Europe. “For Christians this isn’t a surprise, because Jesus already announced [persecution] as a moment for offering witness,” Pope Francis said. “Nonetheless, on the civil plane, injustice ought to be denounced and eliminated.” Herewith are four things he could do to translate those words into action…

Russian Orthodox Church releases statement on events in Ukraine (Russian Orthodox Church) “We are aware that Ukrainian citizens have different views of the future of their country and we respect the right of the Ukrainian people to choose their own way. But it is very important that it should be precisely people’s choice, free and based on the awareness of all the pros and cons, not dictated by any external will. Let adherents to different versions of this choice speak with the people through peaceful and legitimate public processes and through a calm and responsible dialogue with each other. The church is ready to assist different social groups in this dialogue and in a search for right decisions…”

Second blast in two days hits Russia (New York Times) President Vladimir Putin ordered security to be tightened across Russia after a suicide bombing on a trolley bus in Volgograd killed at least 15 people and wounded dozens on Monday, the second bombing in the city in two days. The twin bombings appeared to be part of a deadly campaign of terror ahead of the Winter Olympics, which are scheduled to begin in six weeks in Sochi, a resort on the Black Sea only 400 miles away…

Palestinian Christians keep Christmas traditions alive (Haaretz) A Palestinian college student is one of the last keepers of a fading tradition — ringing the bells of Bethlehem. Twice a week, Khadir Jaraiseh climbs to the roof of the Church of the Nativity, built over the grotto where tradition says Jesus was born. He pulls the ropes of four bells in a rooftop tower for a total of 33 times to symbolize the number of years Jesus was believed to have lived. Jaraiseh rings the bells for prayer services of the Armenian Apostolic Church, one of three denominations that administer the basilica, one of Christianity’s holiest shrines. The Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox denominations at the Nativity church — each of which has its own set of bells — have switched to automatic bell ringing systems. But there’s something special about the traditional approach, said Jaraiseh, who uses both hands and a floor pedal to pull the ropes…

Egyptian bishop: Violence will not stop referendum on new constitution (CNS) A 26 December attack in Cairo and other violence will not keep Egypt from going ahead with its planned referendum on a new constitution, said Coptic Catholic Bishop Antonios Aziz Mina of Giza, Egypt. “These explosions will not prevent the mass mobilization for the referendum on the constitution. On the contrary, they increase our determination … to follow through with advancing the nation,” Bishop Mina told the Egyptian online newspaper, Al Youm al Sabea, after an explosion hit a Cairo bus, wounding five people…

Al Jazeera journalists arrested in Egypt (Al Jazeera) Egypt’s security forces have arrested four Al Jazeera journalists in Cairo. Correspondent Peter Greste, producers Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed as well as cameraman Mohamed Fawzy are being held in custody after arrested by security forces on Sunday evening. Human rights groups say conditions for journalists in Egypt have become difficult since former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi was removed in a coup on July 3, 2013…



Tags: Egypt Pope Francis Violence against Christians Russia Belarus

23 December 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro




Sister Adele Brambilla, C.M.S., directs the Italian Hospital in Kerak, Jordan, which provides affordable treatment to those most in need — including refugees from Syria and Iraq. To read more about this institution, read Overwhelming Mercy, from the Autumn issue of ONE. (photo: John E. Kozar)

Comboni sister sees hope in the eyes of Syrian refugees (AsiaNews) From the Italian Hospital in Kerak, Jordan, Comboni Missionary Sister Adele Brambilla describes the daily life of Syrian refugees. Thousands of families camp with nothing to keep them warm in the cold winter; treatable diseases are killing children. “Despite everything, hope is not dead,” Sister Adele says. “It is the refugees who are telling us that it is still alive. And those called to work together regardless of race, religion and beliefs are also holding it high so that human solidarity may still have a human face…”

Bulgaria, unready, is poor host to Syrians (New York Times) As the poorest member of the 28-nation European Union, Bulgaria has struggled to provide even rudimentary shelter to Syrian refugees, who began surging into the country from Turkey last summer after neighboring Greece, previously a popular entry point to Europe, built a fence along its border and beefed up controls…

L’Arche workshop uses Bethlehem commodity to provide work for members (CNS) The workshop Ma’an lil-Hayat is part of the international L’Arche network founded in 1964 by Canadian Catholic philosopher and theologian Jean Vanier for people with intellectual disabilities. This institution takes a local resource closely associated with the Christmas story but normally squandered — sheeps’ wool — and uses it to bring dignity and recognition to a population often overlooked and hidden in Palestinian society…

Brotherhood prisoners launch hunger strike in Egypt (Daily Star Lebanon) More than 450 imprisoned Muslim Brotherhood members launched a hunger strike Monday over their “inhuman treatment” after being jailed following the military’s overthrow of Egyptian president Mohammad Morsi, the group said…

Ukraine opposition forms political bloc, urges more protests (Al Jazeera) Seeking to consolidate their protest movement, leaders of major Ukrainian opposition parties demonstrating against the government of President Viktor Yanukovich said Sunday that they are establishing a nationwide political movement called Maidan (“Independence”), a reference to the square in Kiev that has been a major rallying area for the protests…

Still defiant, members of Russia’s Pussy Riot band go free (Los Angeles Times) Two members of the feminist punk-rock band Pussy Riot were freed from prison Monday after serving most of their two-year sentences for hooliganism, a charge that stemmed from the “punk prayer” they performed denouncing President Vladimir Putin in Moscow’s main Russian Orthodox cathedral in February 2012. The Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church expressed satisfaction with the amnesty and offered a gesture of conciliation. “We are happy they were released and although we denounced their blasphemous act, we never insisted that they should have been put in prison to begin with, but it is the way the law is,” Vladimir Vigilyansky, spokesman for the Moscow Patriarchate, said in an interview…



Tags: Ukraine Refugees Bulgaria Italian Hospital Comboni Sisters

20 December 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro




In this 2007 photo, a man sits in a hospital in Dahouk, Iraq, beside a victim of a suicide bombing targeting the ancient Yazidi religious sect in northwestern Iraq. (photo: CNS/Azad Lashkari, Reuters)

The Syrian refugees who know they can’t go home (Al Jazeera) Across the Middle East, Syrian refugees dream of returning to the homes they were forced from by war — but not 38-year-old Suleiman Rasho. Rasho is a Yazidi, a member of a small, ancient sect with roots in Iraq that has long been persecuted for a belief system far removed from other religions in the region. “It is impossible for Yazidis in the Middle East,” he said. “I do not think I will be able to go back to Syria.” In the Middle East, the Yazidis’ small numbers mean they have little command over their destiny and have to rely on others for protection. As extremist groups increase their hold on parts of war-torn Syria, and Iraq edges closer to a civil war of its own, many Yazidis find themselves in a familiar spot: trying to flee or waiting in fear…

Bishop Audo: Our Christmas under the bombs (Fides) For days, the rebel-controlled suburbs of Aleppo have endured bombing by the government air force. According to various sources, the military offensive has already caused more than 200 deaths. “In the meantime,” says Chaldean Jesuit Bishop Antoine Audo of Aleppo, “in the central areas of the city, mortar fire coming from the outlying areas in the hands of the rebels continue, and continue to cause casualties. Sometimes we hear from afar the thunder of the bombing of the army, but we do not have reliable information with regards to the effects of that offensive. The power shortages do not allow you to connect to the internet or watch television. And of course there are no newspapers…”

Patriarch: Amid crises, Christmas is the Middle East’s real hope (AsiaNews) On his first Christmas as patriarch, Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael will address the Christians of Iraq and the Middle East, discussing the situation in Iraq, on the suffering of the Christian community as well as the whole population. The message will call upon the faithful to welcome others through solidarity, unity and hope. An advance copy of the message is included below…

Homs bishop makes an appeal for release of Maaloula nuns (AsiaNews) Negotiations for the release of the Greek Orthodox nuns from Maaloula continue, following their abduction by Islamic extremists from the Ahrar al Qalamoun Brigade on 2 December. “Some contacts have been established with the kidnappers,” said Archbishop Mario Zenari, papal nuncio to Damascus, “but there are no reports at present about their possible release.” Syriac Orthodox Metropolitan Selwanos Boutros Alnemeh of Homs and Hama, made an appeal on 11 December for their release, slamming the serious crime. “We’ve now reached the point where even nuns are being abducted. What have they done wrong?” the prelate asked. In his view, “the abductors want to demonstrate that they show no mercy…”

Cardinal Koch: Reconciling churches in Ukraine calls for mutual recognition (RISU) The conflict between Greek Catholics and Orthodox in western Ukraine has to be resolved from both sides, said Cardinal Kurt Koch, head of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. “Only by recognizing this can we move together into the future,” he said on December 17, responding to journalists’ questions at a press conference in Moscow. “I agree with Metropolitan Hilarion: The situation in Ukraine is very serious. But from my point of view, it has two sides, and Metropolitan Hilarion willingly speaks only of one. I have visited many parishes in Western Ukraine and saw the suffering on both sides…”



Tags: Refugees Syrian Civil War Sisters Dialogue Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael I

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 (Pravoslavie.ru) 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 Syrian Civil War Gaza Strip/West Bank Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter





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