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December, 2017
Volume 43, Number 4
  
14 March 2013
Greg Kandra




Newly elected Pope Francis, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina, waves after praying at the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome on 14 March. At right is Cardinal Agostino Vallini, papal vicar for Rome. (photo: CNS/Alessandro Bianchi, Reuters)

Pope Francis makes visit to Marian basilica in Rome (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis, elected in the conclave Wednesday evening, made his first and officially unscheduled visit to the Rome Basilica of Saint Mary Major early Thursday, surprising residents and children on their way to a nearby school…

(You can watch a video of his visit below.)



Who is Jorge Mario Bergoglio? Read his official biography (VIS) Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, S.J., Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina, Ordinary for Eastern-rite faithful in Argentina who lack an Ordinary of their own rite, was born on 17 December 1936 in Buenos Aires. He studied as and holds a degree as a chemical technician, but then chose the priesthood and entered the seminary of Villa Devoto…

India welcomes Pope Francis as ‘a man of dialogue and charity’ (Fides) “All the people of India, Hindus and Christians, welcome with joy Pope Francis. We believe he will be a man of dialogue and charity,” says Msgr. Felix Machado, Bishop of Vasai, expressing the feelings of the Indian Church. The bishop says the received a large number of phone calls and messages of congratulations from Christian faithful, priests, and nuns. He also received messages from Hindus, he says, noting “The first to call and congratulate me was a well-known Hindu religious leader who said ‘We also prayed for the new pope, we are happy with you, he is also our pope’ ”…

Missionary world celebrates the election of a pope who is close to the poor (Fides) “Pope Francis is a man of great pastoral ability of strong faith, a man of prayer and very close to the priests, the elderly, the poor, and above all, a man who emphasized the missionary commitment of the Church in our community and in our city.” This is what the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires, Msgr. Joaquín Sucunza points out in a note sent to Fides Agency…

Russian Orthodox Church welcomes election of new pope (Voice of Russia) The Russian Orthodox Church welcomes the election of the new pontiff, Pope Francis. The 76-year-old Argentinean, Archbishop of Buenos Aires Jorge Mario Bergoglio, was elected by a Conclave of 115 voting cardinals after five ballots. The head of the press-service of the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill, Deacon Alexander Volkov said that “the Russian Orthodox Church welcomes the decision of the conclave of cardinals of the Roman Catholic church, and, as before, hopes that relations between the Orthodox and Catholic churches will develop in a positive spirit”…

Peres: New pope brings spirit of hope and peace (Jerusalem Post) President Shimon Peres on Thursday welcomed the announcement of the new pontiff, saying Pope Francis brings with him “a spirit of hope and peace.” Peres made his remarks to a delegation of 14 Polish bishops who are rounding up a weeklong spiritual renewal in Israel. “The new pope will be welcomed in the Holy Land with love and appreciation by Jews, Muslims and Christians as one,” Peres said…

Patriarch Sviatoslav on Pope Francis: ‘He knows our Tradition very well’ (Religious Information Service of Ukraine) RISU correspondent in Rome, Oksana Shkodziska, took the following comments of Ukrainian Greek Catholic Patriarch Sviatoslav Shevchuk about Pope Francis: “The newly-elected Pope Francis was mentored by one of our priests, Stepan Chmil who is now buried in the basilica of St. Sophia in Rome,” the patriarch said. “Today’s pope, during his time as a student of the Salesian school, awoke many hours before his classmates to concelebrate at our Divine Liturgy with Father Stepan. He knows our Tradition very well, as well as our Liturgy. The last time I had an opportunity to see him was as I was preparing to leave Argentina for Ukraine. I asked him to bear witness to the process of beatifying Father Stepan Chmil, to which, he gladly agreed. The Holy Father very well knows not only of our Church, but also our liturgy, our rites, and our spirituality…”

Report: Iran stepping up weapons lifeline to Syria (Reuters) Iran has significantly stepped up military support to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in recent months, solidifying its position alongside Russia as the government’s lifeline in an increasingly sectarian civil war, Western diplomats said. Iranian weapons continue to pour into Syria from Iraq but also increasingly along other routes, including via Turkey and Lebanon, in violation of a U.N. arms embargo on Iran, Western officials told Reuters on condition of anonymity. Iraqi and Turkish officials denied the allegations…

70,000 Indian children exploited in coal mines (Fides) From a bamboo ladder, children descend into humid wells up to 60 feet deep. They crouch to get into a hole and crawl in the mud before starting their long day of work in extracting coal. We are talking about children of the state of Meghalaya in northeast India who work as miners, that every day are faced with death and live in fear of that the place where they are forced to work in inhuman conditions might collapse and bury them alive…



Tags: India Pope Francis Vatican Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church Russian Orthodox Church

13 March 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro




Black smoke emits from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican shortly before noon on 13 March to signify that a new pope was not elected. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)

More black smoke on morning of conclave’s first full day (CNS) More black smoke poured from the chimney on the roof of the Sistine Chapel at 11:40 a.m. on 13 March, which seemed to indicate the 115 cardinal electors failed to elect a pope on their second and third ballots. The cardinals had voted once on 12 March without electing a pope. According to the schedule published before the conclave, the cardinals were to take two votes in the morning of their first full day in the Sistine Chapel and return to their residence at 1 p.m. for lunch if the voting was unsuccessful. Ballots are burned a maximum of twice a day: White smoke would pour out of the chimney at mid-morning or mid-afternoon if one candidate received the 77 votes needed to be elected pope; and black smoke would puff out at midday or late evening if the two morning or two evening ballots were unsuccessful…

Chaldean patriarch says church institutions must be fair and transparent (Fides) On Tuesday, 12 March, Patriarch Louis Raphael I — who celebrated his inaugural Mass on Wednesday, 6 March — issued a statement calling on all responsible institutions linked to the Chaldean Church to follow principles of fairness and transparency in the management of financial resources. He recommended everyone to follow the procedures laid down by the laws on accounting, setting aside discretionary practices. The intent of the provisions set out in the statement is to “preserve the reputation and credibility of the church”…

Gaza’s Orthodox church celebrates 1,606 years (Al Monitor) In the only Orthodox church in Gaza, surrounded by saints’ icons hanging on the walls, young and old churchgoers join Greek Orthodox Bishop Alexios in hymns, hold candles and burn incense, filling the place with an air of serenity. They pray in celebration of the 1,606th anniversary of the founding of St. Porphyrius Church in Gaza City, which was built in the year 407 A.D. While today Christians in the Gaza Strip number around 1,500 people — mostly Greek Orthodox — in the mid-1990s there were as many as 5,000 Christians…

U.N., Jordan to tackle crime in Syrian refugee camp (Daily Star Lebanon) The U.N. refugee chief says his agency is working with Jordan to bolster security at a camp for Syrian refugees where reports of drug trafficking, prostitution and other crimes have emerged. Antonio Guterres says the Zaatari camp near the Jordanian-Syrian border now is de facto Jordan’s fourth-largest city, with a “complex” environment. Jordan currently hosts 450,000 Syrian refugees…

Interfaith dialogue held in Cochin (New Indian Express) The Cochin-based International Interfaith Dialogue India (IIDI) held a seminar to discuss “Religion and Human Values” this weekend. “The aim of all religions is the striving for justice, peace and co-operation,” said Shri Prasanna Venkatachariar Chaturvedi Swamy, the founder of the Sri Ramanuja Mission Trust, Tamil Nadu. “Through one’s faith one should help the needy, irrespective of religious barriers.” The messages of Justice V. R. Krishna Iyer, the chief patron of the IIDI, and Cardinal Mar George Alencherry, the major archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, were presented via video…



Tags: Gaza Strip/West Bank Jordan Vatican Syro-Malabar Catholic Church Chaldean Church

12 March 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro




Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals, presides over the Mass for the election of the Roman pontiff in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican on 12 March. Concelebrating were some 170 cardinals, including 115 under 80 who were to enter the conclave in the Sistine Chapel that afternoon. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)

In pre-conclave sermon, Cardinal Sodano calls for unity (CNS) Hours before the start of the conclave that will choose the next pope, the dean of the College of Cardinals celebrated the papacy as a source of unity among Catholics and of evangelization and charitable service to the world. Christ “has established his apostles and among them Peter, who takes the lead, as the visible foundation of the unity of the church,” Cardinal Angelo Sodano said in his homily at St. Peter’s Basilica March 12. “Each of us is therefore called to cooperate with the successor of Peter, the visible foundation of such an ecclesial unity.” Cardinal Sodano’s homily included words of thanks for the “brilliant pontificate” of Pope Benedict XVI, which prompted more than 30 seconds of applause. The cardinal quoted the retired pope’s description of charity as a “constitutive element of the church’s mission and an indispensable expression of her being”…

Coptic Catholic leadership enthroned in Cairo, voting in Rome (Fides) After a period of spiritual retreat, His Beatitude Ibrahim Isaac Sidrak, elected Coptic Catholic patriarch of Alexandria on 15 January, has taken possession of his patriarchal see. The enthronement liturgy occurred today in the Coptic Catholic Cathedral of the Blessed Virgin, in Cairo. At the same time, in Rome, the Pro Eligendo Roman Pontiff Mass began at the Basilica of St. Peter, presided by Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals. The liturgy in Rome will also be attended by the Egyptian Cardinal Antonios Naguib, Coptic Catholic patriarch emeritus of Alexandria, who in January had to give up the exercise of his patriarchal ministry for health reasons…

Iraq’s new Sunni awakening (Al Monitor) Protesters in Iraq are calling for an end to sectarian discrimination by the Iraqi government and unfair treatment of Arab Sunnis. Osama al Nujaifi, the speaker of parliament and a leader of the largest government coalition, told Al Jazeera in an interview that Iraqi Sunnis are a majority in Iraq, denying the Shiite claims of the same. Ahmed Abu Risha, the former leader of the “Awakening group” that allied with the US army in the battle against al Qaeda in Anbar, maintained in another TV interview that Baghdad is a Sunni city. The protesters’ calls last February to “march on Baghdad” symbolized the emerging Sunni narrative in which Baghdad is presented as the “promised land” that must be redeemed by its original owners…

Islamists continue push for a puritanical Egypt (L.A. Times) The brother of al Qaeda leader Ayman Zawahiri is an unflinching man with a graying beard whose aim, as a Salafi, is to impose Islamic law on the divided country that has emerged since the overthrow of secular autocrat Hosni Mubarak two years ago. Seated at a rooftop cafe as dusk draped the Nile, traffic screeching and lights flickering in the ancient city below, he wagged a finger in the air and spoke of an “epic battle” to scour Egypt of corruption and immorality. “God’s teachings must be carried out,” said Mohammed Zawahiri, an engineer who was acquitted by a military court last year after being imprisoned for more than a decade on charges of attempting to overthrow the state. Once at the edges of Egypt’s political spectrum, puritanical Islamists known as Salafis have been emboldened by the nation’s revolution…



Tags: Iraq Egypt Vatican Coptic Catholic Church Papacy

11 March 2013
Greg Kandra




In this image from last December, a blind man walks past cars and buildings damaged in fighting in the old city of Aleppo, Syria. (photo: CNS/Ahmed Jadallah, Reuters)

Few civilian areas remain untouched by Syrian war (Reuters) Few civilian areas in Syria remain untouched by the country’s two-year civil war and more than 2.5 million people have been displaced internally, according to the United Nations Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria. Over the past two months, there has been a dramatic erosion of areas inside Syria where civilians are able to live unaffected by the violence and destruction caused by the conflict,” the panel told the Human Rights Council in Geneva today, according to an advance copy of its presentation. In its latest report, the commission said the collapse of Syria’s economy has crippled citizens’ access to basic economic and social rights...

UN: Syrian refugees top one million (Vatican Radio) The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) says number of Syrians who have fled the conflict to other countries has now reached the one million mark. The agency says about half of the refugees are children, the majority under the age of eleven...

Timetable announced for conclave (VIS) During the course of the briefing for journalists on Saturday in the Press Office of the Holy See, Fr. Federico Lombardi, SJ, outlined a timetable for the ceremonies and proceedings on the first days of the upcoming Conclave...

Egyptian Christian reportedly dies in Libyan custody (Associated Press) An Egyptian Foreign Ministry official says a man suspected of trying to spread Christianity in Libya has died in prison there. The diplomat says Ezzat Atallah, who suffered from diabetes and heart ailments, likely died of natural causes. He spoke anonymously Sunday in line with regulations. Atallah was among five Evangelical Christian Egyptians detained in Libya for allegedly proselytizing in the predominantly Muslim nation...



Tags: Syria Egypt Refugees Pope Benedict XVI Libya

8 March 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro




Bulgarian Orthodox Patriarch Neofit was elected and enthroned on Sunday, 24 February 2013, following the death of Patriarch Maxim on 6 November. (photo: Russian Orthodox Church)

Bulgarian Orthodox patriarch urges against further protester suicides (Sofia Globe) Bulgarian Orthodox Patriarch Neofit has called on protesters not to go to the extreme of committing suicide, an appeal made after three cases of self-immolation in the country in recent weeks. The death of Plamen Goranov, who died several days after setting himself on fire outside the Varna municipal offices after calling on mayor Kiril Yordanov to resign, was at the forefront of national attention and prompted the Cabinet to declare a day of national mourning on 6 March. The church leader said that the suicide was tragic, and whatever the motives and goals, they were in contradiction with Christian morality…

Cardinal Timothy Dolan shares a glimpse of the cardinals’ activities (Archdiocese of NY) “We cardinals sure are praying a lot. Every day we each begin with the most effective prayer of all, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. In our sessions we pray from the Divine Office, begin each meeting with the ancient prayer to the third Person of the Most Blessed Trinity, the Veni Sancte Spiritus, and we break at lunch with the beautiful words of the Angelus. Wednesday, we cardinals made a Holy Hour of adoration before Jesus, really and truly present in the Blessed Sacrament, at the Altar of the Chair in Saint Peter’s Basilica. We’re praying a lot; and, from what I hear, so are you. Thanks! … We spend most of our time discussing issues such as preaching; teaching the faith; celebrating the seven sacraments; inviting back those believers who have left; serving the sick and poor…”

Cardinals to vote on conclave date tonight (VIS) “The eighth General Congregation that will meet this evening will vote on the date to begin the conclave,” announced Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press Office. “It is likely,” he clarified, “that the Conclave will begin early next week: perhaps Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday. It definitely will not be tomorrow or Sunday. Tomorrow a General Congregation will only take place in the morning and on Sunday it is expected that the cardinals will visit their titular churches in the city to pray. They are under no obligation to do so, but it is likely that they will”…

Concerns over Islamic extremism bringing Eastern Christian churches closer (Al Monitor) Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter last month conducted a four-day visit to Moscow on the invitation of Patriarch Kirill I. The meeting is significant and constitutes an advanced step taken by the Maronite leader to bring Eastern churches of various doctrines into closer cooperation. The Kremlin and the Vatican have both expressed support for such endeavors seeking to protect the Christian minorities in the East, whose survival is being challenged by the dominance of Islamic forces over the Arab Spring movements. An inside source says the patriarchs discussed several topics related to preserving and fortifying the Christian presence in the Middle East — and the Maronite patriarchal edifice in Lebanon represents a strategic fulcrum in this regard. Lebanon is a rallying point for Christian presence in the region…

A mother inspires the fight for Palestinian rights (Al Monitor) On 8 March every year, thousands of events are held throughout the world to inspire women and celebrate their achievements for International Women’s Day. In the spirit of the day, lawyer-activist Shireen Issawi writes about how her mother inspired her and her brother, Samer Issawi, who has been on a hunger strike in an Israeli prison for some 222 days, to fight for Palestinian independence…



Tags: Vatican Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter Palestinians Patriarch Kirill Papacy

7 March 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro




In this 20 October 2011 photo, Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter listens to a reporter’s question during a news conference at CNEWA’s New York headquarters, with CNEWA President Msgr. John Kozar seated nearby. (photo: CNS/Gregory A. Shemitz)

Cardinal and patriarch discusses conclave from a Middle Eastern perspective (Vatican Insider) He was one of the last to land in Rome but he got to work immediately alongside the other cardinals. Yesterday, the Maronite patriarch of Antioch, Cardinal Bechara Peter, handed cardinals a dossier on the situation of Christians in the Middle East: “The universal church and the next pope must never forget that Christianity has its origins in the Middle East. And they should keep in mind what is happening to Christian communities in the Middle East. This is a priority that cannot be ignored,” the Lebanese cardinal told Vatican Insider in an exclusive interview…

Maronite patriarch selected as cardinal assistant (Daily Star Lebanon) Cardinal and Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter has been very busy; aside from advocating for Middle East Christians to the rest of the cardinals in Rome for the conclave (see above) and actively and vigorously pursuing ecumenical relations (see yesterday), now he has been selected as a cardinal assistant, one of the three charged with helping the Cardinal Camerlengo Tarcisio Bertone manage the day-to-day operations of the Vatican…

No conclave date, but cardinals develop ‘profile’ of new pope (CNS) Although the world’s cardinals have not set a date to begin the conclave to elect a new pope, they have begun discussing “the profile” required of the next pope to meet the needs of the church, the Vatican spokesman says. Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, like everyone in the hall for the cardinals’ meetings, has taken an oath of secrecy, although he is allowed to give the press an idea of the broad themes discussed. During the 6 March session, he said, 18 cardinals spoke and the principal themes were: “The church in the world today and the needs for the new evangelization; the Holy See, the Roman Curia and their relationship with the bishops; the expectations for and a profile of the future pope that result from these expectations of the world and the needs for the good governing of the church”…

Syrian rebels claim U.N. observers were rescued, not kidnapped (Washington Post) A Syrian rebel group that once claimed it had abducted a group of about 20 United Nations observers in the Golan Heights announced Thursday that it had in fact rescued them from fighting in the area and called on the U.N. to send a security convoy to pick them up. The announcement by the Yarmouk Martyrs’ Brigade was posted on the same Facebook page that was used to publicize the abduction Wednesday. A video in which the kidnappers warned that the observers would not be released until Syrian President Bashar al Assad withdrew troops from the area had been deleted. “With God’s help we managed to secure a group of U.N. members working in the border town of Jamleh after they were victims of the criminal shelling of Assad’s gangs,” the statement said. “We request from the United Nations to send us a security convoy so that we can deliver them to the organization. … We have nothing to do with any of the old statements before this one”…

Upcoming Egyptian elections cancelled (Turkish Weekly) The Egyptian Administrative Court on Wednesday cancelled President Mohammad Morsi’s four-stage elections planned for 21 April. The Court said the Egyptian Constitutional Court’s demand for changes in the elections laws were not implemented. Political experts expect the Egyptian Administrative Court’s decision to increase tension in the country…



Tags: Egypt Syrian Civil War Vatican Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter Papacy

6 March 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro




In this 28 February photo, U.S. Cardinals Timothy M. Dolan of New York and Sean P. O’Malley of Boston leave the Pontifical North American College in Rome on their way to a final meeting with Pope Benedict XVI. In the lead-up to the conclave, U.S. cardinals have canceled their popular daily press briefings. (photo: CNS/Gregory L. Tracy, The Pilot)

American cardinals cancel press briefings ahead of conclave (CBS News) The U.S. cardinals in Rome for the conclave to elect the next pope canceled their popular daily press briefings Wednesday after some details of the secret proceedings under way ahead of the election were purportedly leaked to Italian newspapers. The Vatican denies it had exerted any pressure on the American cardinals to keep quiet. But the Vatican spokesman, the Father Federico Lombardi, made clear that the Holy See considered this week’s pre-conclave meetings, in which cardinals are discussing the problems of the church, to be secret and part of a solemn process to choose a pope. “The college as a whole has decided to maintain a line of an increasing degree of reserve,” he said…

Maronite patriarch says ecumenical summit ahead (Fides) “We are preparing a meeting of all Orthodox and Catholic patriarchs of the Middle East, to promote unity among Christians and deal with the problems and suffering that we share in this difficult moment in history,” said Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter of Antioch, currently in Rome for the conclave. Patriarch Bechara Peter has been laying the groundwork for such ecumenical activities for some time: In early November, he had attended the enthronement of the new Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II; more recently, he was the only patriarch present at the enthronement of the new Greek Orthodox Patriarch Youhanna X of Antioch, held in Damascus on 10 February; and shortly before arriving in Rome for the conclave, the Maronite patriarch had been in meetings with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow. Though ecumenism is often an ideal professed and studied, Patriarch Bechara Peter seeks something more: “We are talking about concrete ecumenism, without much talking. It is ecumenism that many baptized are already living in their daily lives.”

Chaldean Church enthrones new patriarch (The Province) Iraq’s Chaldean Church enthroned a new patriarch during a ceremonial mass Wednesday that was held amid tight security in Baghdad. The mass at St. Joseph Chaldean Church in downtown Baghdad marked the final step as Patriarch Louis Raphael I, 64, replaced Emmanuel III Delly, who recently retired. The former archbishop of Kirkuk was elected patriarch last month, and Pope Benedict XVI approved the election shortly afterward. Ordained in 1974, Patriarch Louis Raphael earned two doctorates in Rome and Paris in the 1980s and then returned to Iraq. He has written books on church fathers. He speaks Arabic, Chaldean, English, French and Italian. During Wednesday’s ceremony, the new patriarch urged Christians not to emigrate from Iraq, and pledged to foster interfaith dialogue and understanding…

Orthodox Church in Syria provides aid to conflict victims (Ekklesia) The Department of Ecumenical Relations and Development (DERD) of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East, based in Damascus, has delivered around 75,000 humanitarian aid kits to an estimated 280,045 individuals in Syria amidst its ongoing conflict. According to recent reports issued by the United Nations, more than 60,000 people have been killed in Syria, while nearly a million have been displaced due to the armed conflict. The DERD has been distributing food and non-food essentials to the affected people around Damascus. It has been providing assistance in the areas of housing, health, nutrition, education and psychological support…

Ancient Palestinian village threatened by Israeli settlements (Al-Monitor) Less than ten miles outside the northern West Bank city of Nablus lies a sleepy town with an ancient and little-known history embedded in its ancient temple, tower and columns. Sebastia, according to Christian tradition, is where the body of John the Baptist was found, and during the Crusades, a cathedral was built over his tomb. Years later, Muslims returning to the area under the rule of Salah al Din transformed the cathedral into a mosque. The town also contains Roman, Herodian, medieval and Byzantine relics and ruins, which, peppered among the olive groves, makes it an ideal destination for Palestinian visitors and tourists alike. But according to residents, the town is becoming increasingly threatened by the nearby settlement of Shavei Shomron, whose residents are constantly uprooting olive trees and, more recently, pumping their sewage waste onto the Palestinian fields their settlement overlooks…



Tags: Vatican Israeli-Palestinian conflict Chaldean Church Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan

5 March 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro




Lebanese Cardinal Bechara Peter, patriarch of the Maronite Church, and Argentine Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, arrive for a general congregation meeting in the synod hall at the Vatican on 5 March. The world’s cardinals are meeting for several days in advance of the conclave to elect the new pope. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)

General congregations: five more cardinal electors swear oath (Vatican Radio) On Monday evening, the College of Cardinals gathered in the New Synod Hall for the second general congregation in preparation for conclave. With the addition of five more cardinal electors swearing the oath before the college, only eight cardinals have yet to arrive in Rome. The five new arrivals came from far and wide: from Lebanon, Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter; from Germany, Cardinal Woelki of Berlin and Cardinal Meissner of Cologne; from the Czech Republic, Cardinal Duka of Prague; and from Senegal, Cardinal Sarr of Dakar…

Conflict widens as Syrian soldiers massacred in Iraq (New York Times) More than 40 Syrian soldiers who had sought temporary safety in Iraq from rebel fighters along the border were killed on Monday in an attack by unidentified gunmen as the Iraqi military was transporting the soldiers back to Syria in a bus convoy, the Iraqi government said. At least seven Iraqis were also reported killed in the attack, which appeared to be the most serious spillover of violence into Iraq since the Syrian conflict began two years ago. The attack threatens to inflame the sectarian tensions that already divide Iraq, where a Sunni minority sympathizes with Syria’s overwhelmingly Sunni opposition…

Relief agencies struggle as Syrian refugee population nears 1 million (Washington Post) As a mass Syrian emigration spills into neighboring countries, relief organizations acknowledge that they can hardly keep up. The exodus is accelerating so quickly that the tally of need will almost certainly hit a grim milestone this week, when the number of Syrian refugees who have registered with the United Nations — or are on months-long waiting lists to do so — is expected to hit 1 million. Aid officials say Syrians fleeing violence are stepping into a growing humanitarian catastrophe, either in overcrowded camps with little to offer or, even more frequently, in urban areas that struggle to support them and where the welcome has worn thin. The crisis is compounded by a growing funding gap, which U.N. agencies say is forcing cutbacks on basic supplies and shelter…

Ethiopia: the first Christian nation? (International Business Times) For centuries, historians have widely accepted the argument that Armenia was the first Christian nation. This important claim has become a source of national pride for Armenians and has remained virtually undisputed for centuries — until now. A new book presents evidence that Ethiopia may have been the first nation to adopt Christianity as its official religion, drawing upon coinage and public records dating back most of two thousand years…



Tags: Iraq Ethiopia Syrian Civil War Vatican Ethiopian Christianity

4 March 2013
Greg Kandra




A Swiss Guard salutes as U.S. Cardinals Roger M. Mahony, retired archbishop of Los Angeles, Edward M. Egan, retired archbishop of New York, and Donald W. Wuerl of Washington arrive for the first general congregation meeting in the synod hall at the Vatican on 4 March.
(photo: CNS/Paul Haring)


Vatican says 12 cardinal electors still to arrive for conclave (Vatican Radio) 142 of the 207 Cardinals from the College of Cardinals were present Monday morning for the First General Congregation in preparation for the Conclave to elect the 265th Successor to St. Peter. Of those present Monday 103 are Cardinal electors, meaning that 12 Cardinal electors are still on their way to Rome...

Patriarch thanks Benedict for firmness, humility (Interfax) Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia has thanked Pope Benedict XVI, who has stepped down from his post, for his uncompromising position on faith issues and wished him strength, the patriarch’s press service reported. “In these days, which are special to you, I would like to express feelings of brotherly love in Christ and respect,” the patriarch said in his message to the pontiff...

Thousands demand tougher adoption laws in Russia (Vatican Radio) Pro-Kremlin activists have rallied in central Moscow to demand that the government extends a ban on American families adopting Russian children to all foreign nationals. Saturday’s protest of up to 20,000 people came a day after authorities in the U.S. State of Texas said the death in January of 3-year-old Max Shatto, was “an accident.” Protesters also demanded his brother to be returned to Russia...

Kidnapping ring in Eritrea reaches into the U.S. (Wall Street Journal) To the outside world, Eritrea is a little-known sliver of Red Sea coastline above the Horn of Africa. But refugees fleeing its single-party regime have become the primary victims of what human rights groups say is one the world’s more elusive and terrifying kidnapping rings. The refugees are typically captured as they cross Eritrea’s border, then trafficked into regions of Egypt’s Sinai peninsula that are virtually lawless, creating an open season for smugglers who hold victims while extorting family members in Africa, Europe and the U.S...

Syrian government urged to seize window of opportunity (Vatican Radio) United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon is urging the Syrian government to take up a proposal of opposition representatives for a meeting to discuss a resolution to the ongoing conflict, calling it a “small window of opportunity” that “may soon close.” Ban met Saturday with a senior group of UN advisers in order to discuss a possible resolution for the ongoing conflict in Syria...



Tags: Syria Pope Benedict XVI Russia Orthodox Eritrea

1 March 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro




Pope Benedict XVI leaves after appearing for the last time at the balcony of his summer residence in Castel Gandolfo, Italy, on 28 February. (photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

Pope Benedict XVI: from humble servant to simple pilgrim (CNS) Pope Benedict XVI, who began his papacy describing himself as a “humble servant in the Lord’s vineyard,” described his retirement in similar terms. “I am a simple pilgrim who begins the last stage of his pilgrimage on this earth,” he told the crowd outside of Castel Gandolfo. “But with all my heart, with all my love, with my prayers, with my reflection, with all my interior strength, I still want to work for the common good and the good of the church and humanity,” he told them. Pope Benedict thanked the people for their support and asked them to continue to pray and work for the good of the church, too…

Coptic Catholic Cardinal Naguib will attend conclave (Fides) Though health complications had cast doubt on his attendance, Cardinal Antonios Naguib, Coptic Catholic patriarch emeritus, confirmed his participation in the conclave. Hemorrhagic cerebral ischemia had struck on 31 December 2011, forcing him to resign from his patriarchal office the following January. But now his condition has improved, making it possible for him to travel to Rome. “I am delighted to be able to take part in this important moment in the life of the church. It was something that I did not dream of anymore. In the beginning I said that it was not possible for me to go to the Eternal City for the conclave. But then I reflected on the fact that the first duty of a cardinal is to participate in the choice of the Successor of Peter. And I changed my initial decision”…

Damascus in the grip of a tense stalemate (L.A. Times) After nearly two years of fighting in Syria that has mostly spared the capital, an uneasy stalemate reigns in Damascus. In recent days, the city has experienced mortar attacks and car bombings, while the military has responded in its usual fashion: withering bombardment of outlying rebel strongholds. Rebel forces have dug in to the north, east and south of Syria’s capital, occupying stretches of suburban and rural terrain and threatening to break through to the heart of Damascus. Government troops have largely pulled back to a well-defended core, including the city center and loyal bastions to the west. Residents of Damascus are edgy, fearing that the fighting is closing in. “I don’t go anywhere unless I have specific business,” said a woman in her early 50s who requested anonymity for safety’s sake. “No one does”…

As war stretches on, Syrians turn to self-governance (New York Times) With Syria’s two-year-old civil war showing signs of stalemate, scores of new local councils in rebel-held towns like Tilalyan are not only fighting deprivation but trying to set up courts, police forces and social services. Their efforts amount to Syria’s first experiments in self-government after decades of tyranny under President Bashar al Assad and his father, Hafez al Assad. They are struggling to outlast Mr. Assad in what is increasingly a war of attrition. But civilian leaders say the councils are also trying to pry power from the armed rebel brigades that are already staking out control of resources and territories in the vacuum left by the government’s retreat. Tilalyan’s council illustrates the challenge: it has been forced to depend entirely on the patronage of either the Western-sponsored opposition-in-exile or competing armed factions, including hard-line Islamists. Three months after it was formed, though, the council can claim two achievements: four hours a day of electricity and a daily ration of two pieces of flatbread for each adult and child. That in turn has brought credibility and legitimacy, even in the eyes of skeptical town elders…



Tags: Syria Egypt Syrian Civil War Pope Benedict XVI Coptic Catholic Church





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