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June, 2018
Volume 44, Number 2
  
4 January 2018
Greg Kandra




A man prepares tea for customers on a cold morning on 2 January in New Delhi, India. Catholic bishops in the country have called on people to “preserve brotherhood, peace and harmony” in the new year. (photo: CNS/Rajat Gupta/EPA)

Indian bishops urge peace, harmony in 2018 (Vatican Radio) Catholic bishops of India are calling on the people of the country to “preserve the traditional brotherhood, peace and harmony” of the nation against what they described as an unacceptable “terrorism” of “false nationalism”. Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, secretary general of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (C.B.C.I.) has issued a press release on the occasion of the new year saying the bishops are “praying for the nation, political and spiritual leaders, and for every Indian, that 2018 may be a year of peace and harmony, of love and fraternity, of inclusive and integral development for all peoples…”

UN: more than half of Iraq’s displaced have returned home (Arab News) More than half of Iraqis displaced by recent conflicts to other parts of the country have now returned to their homes, the U.N.’s International Organization for Migration said on Thursday. At the end of December, more than 3.2 million displaced Iraqis had gone home while 2.6 million still lived away from home, the IOM said…

Syria prepares for return of refugees from Lebanon (Xinhua) Syria’s Minister of Reconciliation Ali Haidar said Wednesday that Syria is preparing for the return of refugees from Lebanon, according to state news agency SANA…

It’s still Christmas in Armenia (Smithsonian) The new year marks the end of the holiday season in the United States, but elsewhere it is just getting started; in Armenia, first comes the new year, then comes Christmas. New Year’s Eve kicks off two weeks of holidays during which Armenians celebrate Christ’s Nativity, his baptism and the Epiphany. From 31 December to 13 January, Armenian families visit family and friends, exchange gifts, and come together to drink and feast…



Tags: Syria India Iraq Armenia

3 January 2018
Greg Kandra




A clergyman reacts to the news of an attack on the Coptic Orthodox Church of Mar Mina in Helwan, Egypt, near Cairo. Bishop Joseph C. Bambera has called for prayers for “our Coptic brethren who are enduring martyrdom for the sake of Christ.” (photo: CNS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh, Reuters)

Palestinians condemn Trump threat as ‘blackmail’ (BBC) Palestinian officials have dismissed as “blackmail” Donald Trump’s threat to cut U.S. aid over what he called their unwillingness to negotiate with Israel. A spokesman for President Mahmoud Abbas insisted Jerusalem was “not for sale” — a reference to Mr Trump’s recognition of the city as the capital of Israel...

Nations look to Holy See for leadership on migration and refugees (Vatican Radio) In this year’s message for 1 January World Day of Peace, Pope Francis focused on migrants and refugees, highlighting the reasons why so many people are on the move and what our response should be. The Rev. Michael Czerny is undersecretary of the Migrants and Refugees office at the Vatican Dicastery for Integral Human Development. He talks about the importance of the 2018 Peace Day message — the first one to focus on this key area of international concern...

Bishop Bambera urges prayers for peace after attack on Coptic Christians (CNS) In the wake of a gunman’s attack on a Coptic Orthodox church and a Christian-owned shop near Cairo on 29 December, killing at least 12 people, a U.S. bishop urged Catholics to “pray for peace in Egypt and the Middle East and for all victims of religious and political hatred.” “I especially ask Catholics to renew their support, love and prayers for our Coptic brethren who are enduring martyrdom for the sake of Christ,” said Bishop Joseph C. Bambera of the Diocese of Scranton, Pennsylvania, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs...

W.H.O.: Gaza’s health system close to collapse (The Guardian) Hospitals in Gaza will face an almost total power blackout by the end of February unless funding is secured to keep emergency generators running, the World Health Organization has warned...

Kerala preserving DNA of storm victims (The Hindu) The Kerala government has started preserving the DNA samples of those killed in Cyclone Ockhi as samples of only 42 out of 76 bodies recovered so far have matched with those of their families. An official said that 144 people were still missing and preserving the DNA samples would help the government in extending financial benefits and compensation to the family members as there were chances of the money being cornered by touts and middlemen...



2 January 2018
Greg Kandra




Worshipers pray during Mass on New Year’s Eve at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Cairo. At least ten were killed in two attacks on the Coptic community Friday.
(photo: CNS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany, Reuters)


Pope expresses closeness to Coptic Christians after attack (Vatican Radio) At least 10 were killed in two separate attacks on the Coptic Christian community in Cairo last Friday. The so-called Islamic State claimed responsibility for both. After reciting the Angelus prayer in St Peter’s Square on Sunday, Pope Francis expressed his “closeness to the Coptic Orthodox” and prayed for the dead, the wounded and the whole community. He also prayed especially for the conversion of what he called “all violent hearts...”

For New Year, pope urges help for refugees, respect for life (CNS) Pope Francis began the New Year praying the world would demonstrate a marked increase in solidarity and welcome for migrants and refugees. “Let’s not extinguish the hope in their hearts; let’s not suffocate their hopes for peace,” the pope said on 1 January before reciting the Angelus with a crowd gathered in St. Peter’s Square...

Israeli bill strengthens East Jerusalem occupation (Al Jazeera) Israeli legislators have approved a bill that makes it more difficult to divide Jerusalem. The bill passed early on Tuesday and stipulates that two-thirds support is needed in the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, before Israel can relinquish control over any portion of the holy city to a foreign entity, according to local media...

Report: interfaith network of Muslims and Jews working to keep peace in Middle East (The Art Newspaper) A remarkable alliance of Israeli orthodox rabbis and Muslim religious leaders in the Middle East is mediating behind the scenes following the anger and violence sparked by President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital last month...

Pope prints postcard illustrating the horror of war (CNS) As 2017 was drawing to a close, the horrors of war and people’s yearnings for peace were on Pope Francis’ mind and in his prayers. In an unusual move late on 30 December, the pope had the Vatican press office and Vatican media distribute a copy of a famous photograph from the aftermath of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki...

Ancient artifact that could support the Bible found near the Western Wall in Jerusalem (Newsweek) A 2,700-year-old clay seal was discovered near the plaza of the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem five years after digging through the site started. The ancient find may have once belonged to the governor of the city. On Monday, Israeli archaeologists revealed the ancient artifact was discovered, saying the seal was inscribed with ancient Hebrew script as “belonging to the governor of the city,” reported Reuters...



29 December 2017
Greg Kandra




Embed from Getty Images
Egyptian security members and forensic police inspect the site of a gun attack outside a church south of Cairo on 29 December. (photo: Samer Abdallah/AFP/Getty Images)

Needs of migrants, refugees to be a focus for pope in 2018 (CNS) Foreign trips, a focus on the rights and needs of migrants and refugees and a Synod of Bishops dedicated to young people all are on the 2018 calendar for Pope Francis. His activities and the passions that drive them are familiar by now. In fact, 13 March will mark the fifth anniversary of his election as pope, succeeding retired Pope Benedict XVI. Pope Francis, newly 81, will begin 2018 with a focus on Mary and on migrants and refugees...

Gunmen launch deadly attack on Coptic church (BBC) Twelve people have died in twin attacks on Coptic Christians in the Helwan area south of Cairo, officials say. Ten people died when gunmen tried to storm a church south of Cairo, but were intercepted by police. About an hour later, a Coptic-owned shop in the same area was attacked, leaving two dead. More than 100 Christians have been killed in Egypt in the past year — most attacks claimed by the local branch of the so-called Islamic State group...

First Mass in Mosul after 30 months (ByzCath.org) Candle lights, fragrant of incense and sounds of bells brought back to life in the Chaldean Church of St. Paul in Mosul (Almajmoua’ Althaqafyia suburb)...

Ukraine, pro-Russian forces trade prisoners to mark new year (Voice of America) Ukraine and pro-Russian separatist rebels had the largest exchange of prisoners on Wednesday since the start of the conflict in 2014. The exchange allowed hundreds of former prisoners to return home ahead of the New Year and Orthodox Christmas...

Syrian refugees in Lebanon drop below one million (The Jordan Times) The number of registered Syrian refugees in Lebanon has dropped to below one million for the first time since 2014, the United Nations told AFP. As of the end of November, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) counted 997,905 Syrian refugees — a vast majority of them women and children — registered in Lebanon...



28 December 2017
Greg Kandra




Chaldean Christians in Mosul, Iraq, attend Christmas Mass at St. Paul Cathedral on 24 December.
(photo: CNS/Amar Salih, EPA)


Pope appeals for peace in Holy Land (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis reaffirmed his commitment to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process on Monday, Christmas Day, 2017, and called for an end to war and injustice everywhere, in the name of Our Lord, “Prince of Peace” and reconciler of humanity to God the Father. The Pope made his remarks ahead of the urbi et orbi benediction — the traditional blessing given “the city and to the world” on Christmas Day and on other special days throughout the year...

Cardinal: victims of 2008 riot in India are ‘martyrs’ (Vatican Radio) The violence that lasted for nearly four months in 2008 against Christians in Kandhamal District of Odisha state resulted in the loss of 100 lives and left more than 56,000 people homeless. The survivors are facing continual denial of justice to them in the numerous cases pending before the law courts. But the Archdiocese of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar, to which the victims belonged to, is preparing to initiate the sainthood cause of those killed...

Critically ill children evacuated from Syria (Al Jazeera) Aid agencies are evacuating critically ill Syrians from Eastern Ghouta, an area home to around 400,000 people that has been under government siege since 2013. Children comprise around half of the population in one of the last rebel strongholds in the country, where medical supplies and food have been in short supply...

U.S.: ISIS down to fewer than 1,000 fighters in Iraq, Syria (Reuters) Fewer than 1,000 Islamic State fighters remain in Iraq and Syria, the United States-led international coalition fighting the hardline Sunni militant group said on Wednesday, a third of the estimated figure only three weeks ago...

Christians from Iraq celebrate Christmas in America (Chicago Tribune) A year ago, Milad Homo feared his family never would be able to celebrate Christmas in America. The Assyrian Christians had waited more than three years for a chance to emigrate from Turkey, where they had fled after Homo was threatened by a carload of men in black hoods as the family left a Baghdad church. Homo, his wife and two daughters had left all but a few possessions behind in Iraq, struggling to get by in a Turkish city packed with fellow refugees while praying they could someday join his mother, sisters and brothers in Chicago’s tight-knit Assyrian community...

Russian Orthodox biker priests pose for 2018 calendar (The Moscow Times) Russia’s Motorcycle Community of Orthodox Clergy has released a calendar marrying piety with a love for motorcycles in time for the holiday season. The 2018 calendar is titled “Thy Ways” and features priests posing next to their bikes...



22 December 2017
Greg Kandra




Embed from Getty Images
Iraqis shop for Christmas decorations in Baghdad on 16 December. Many Christians in northern Iraq are celebrating their first Christmas since the region’s liberation from ISIS.
(photo: Sabah Arar/AFP/Getty Images)


Protester killed during demonstration in Gaza (Times of Israel) A Palestinian protester was killed during a violent demonstration along the Gaza Strip’s security fence on Friday, as thousands more took part in riots in the coastal enclave and across the West Bank for the third straight week following US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital...

Christmas returns to Qaraqosh (The New York Times) For more than two years, 300 militia fighters waited to retake from the Islamic State the Iraqi city of Qaraqosh, the country’s largest Christian enclave. Then, in October of last year, the photographer Quentin Bruno accompanied these civilians turned soldiers as they approached the city that was once home to 50,000 people. He remembered their excitement, as well as the mortars that rained down upon them, a few days after the Iraqi Army had launched the Battle of Mosul...

Christians ready for Christmas in Iraq (National Catholic Register) In their villages on the Nineveh Plain, Iraq’s Christians are celebrating their first Christmas since the region’s liberation from the Islamic State (ISIS). In the little town of Qaraqosh (also known as Baghdida), there will be no flocks of sheep grazing, or cows lowing, as in years past, on the holy night of Christ’s birth — just the sound of Christians singing the Divine Liturgy at midnight in their burned churches...

In Syria this Christmas, churches demined but deserted (Times of Israel) Deminers are now giving the houses of worship one last sweep to make them safe, but they remain in a terrible state and church officials say they will not hold traditional Christmas services this year. The Armenian Catholic Church of the Martyrs in Raqqa’s city center is barely recognizable, the cross atop its clock tower destroyed by jihadists years ago...

Why Christians are feeling nervous this Christmas in India (The Indian Times) As the countdown to Christmas is underway, the last few days have seen some stray attacks against the festival from fringe right wing outfits in three north Indian states. The incidents have unnerved the minority community, prompting Cardinal Baselios Cleemis, President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), the apex decision making body of the Catholic Church in the country, to comment that the community was “losing confidence in the government”...

Moscow approves huge statue of patriarch (The Moscow Times) The head of the Russian Orthodox Church will be memorialized in a 4-meter (13-foot) statue in the center of Moscow along with 15 other church figures. Patriarch Kirill, a staunch supporter of President Vladimir Putin, has raised eyebrows during his eight-year tenure for sporting pricey watches, sanctioning Russia’s campaign in the Syrian war and allegedly dealing in alcohol and tobacco imports in the 1990s...

New book traces history of Bethlehem (The New York Times) Telling the story of a city is a bold undertaking — an act, depending on the city, that entails parsing myth and historical accounts, archaeological digs and theological teachings, to distill the very essence of a place. Nicholas Blincoe takes on this mission with verve in his new book, “Bethlehem,” unveiling the history of “the most famous little town in the world,” a place whose associations have long existed in the sociocultural zeitgeist. It is the supposed birthplace of Jesus; a town known for dissent in the face of invading forces; the site of much holiness and bloodshed...



21 December 2017
Greg Kandra




A Palestinian throws a stone at Israeli forces near Ramallah, West Bank, during a 20 December protest against U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. English and Welsh bishops have expressed their solidarity to Christians in the Middle East following President Trump’s move. (photo: CNS/Goran Tomasevic, Reuters)

English and Welsh bishops appeal for action on Jerusalem (Vatican Radio) The Catholic Bishops of England and Wales have expressed their solidarity to local Churches in Jerusalem and to all Christians in the Middle East following the US President’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. In a letter signed by the Archbishop of Westminster the bishops say they “count themselves among those who ‘love Jerusalem’ and ‘have every will to work and make it a land and a city of peace, life and dignity for all its inhabitants’...”

UN urges cooperation to make migration safer (Vatican Radio) The chief of the United Nations has called for solidarity with migrants whose rights need to be protected and urged for cooperation in managing migration to ensure its benefits are most widely distributed...

Security increased in Egypt for Christmas services (The Christian Post) As many as 230,000 security forces are expected to guard Christmas celebrations around Egypt next week, given the massive church and mosque bombings the country suffered earlier this year. “Holidays and vacations were canceled for security personnel and officers at all security directorates across the country,” security sources told Middle East News Agency...

Christmas in Kerala (The Hindu) Over the years, Christmas has become the most widely accepted religious celebration after Onam in Kerala. Most families, whether or not they believed in the story of Christ, invariably brought home a star at the onset of December. And then the Christmas cake...

Ultra-Orthodox woman in Jerusalem gives birth to 20th child (Times of Israel) An expectant woman who arrived at Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem to give birth earlier this week astounded staff when she revealed that the baby would be her 20th child. The ultra-Orthodox woman, 42, was from the Mea Shearim neighborhood of Jerusalem, the hospital said in a statement Wednesday...

Gravity-defying villagers risk lives for Christmas trees in Georgia (National Geographic) The forested valleys of Racha could be where your Christmas tree comes from. Every year, hundreds of men, women, and children from the impoverished villages of this mountainous region risk their lives to climb more than a hundred feet into the crowns of Abies nordmanniana fir trees and collect the cones, which supply seeds to Christmas tree growers in Europe...



20 December 2017
Greg Kandra




Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, shown here in an image from 2016, says the status of Jerusalem should not be affected by “unilateral decisions.” (photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)

Archbishop: Israelis, Palestinians must agree before Jerusalem changes (CNS) The status quo of Jerusalem should remain as is until an agreement about the holy city is reached by Palestinians and Israelis, said Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. “The status quo affects the fragile life between the different communities. (It) should be changed only through dialogue,” he told journalists at the Latin Patriarchate on 20 December...

Six killed during protests in Iraqi Kurdistan (CNN) At least six people were killed and more than 70 injured Tuesday as anti-government protests erupted for a second straight day, said a provincial health director in Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region...

Report: More than 9,000 killed in battle for Mosul (AP) Between 9,000 and 11,000 people were killed in the nine-month battle to recapture the Iraqi city of Mosul from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant group (ISIS), an Associated Press (AP) investigation has found. The civilian casualty rate is nearly 10 times higher than that previously reported...

The German priest who celebrates Christmas in Jerusalem with Jews (Haaretz.com) When Father Nikodemus opens the gate of his church on Mount Zion this Sunday, a huge line of people will be waiting for midnight mass. But it won’t be pilgrims approaching him then. “It’s a strange evening,” says Nikodemus, laughing. “I guess I’m the only priest in the world who celebrates Christmas with an almost entirely Jewish audience.” Ninety-five percent of the 1,000-plus visitors on this special night are Jewish Israelis, he estimates...

A Syrian Santa in Jordan (Huffington Post) It wasn’t long before Christmas in Amman, Jordan. I’d just overheard a stranger talking about a Muslim, Syrian refugee working as a Santa Claus actor in a mall on the outskirts of town. Using some creepy internet magic, I identified the mall and got in contact with him. He invited me to come and say hello. Two hours of arguing with security guards later, and I managed to secure a ten minute interview...



19 December 2017
Greg Kandra




Pope Francis greets Jordan’s King Abdullah II during a private meeting on 19 December at the Vatican. (photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano)

Pope receives King Abdullah of Jordan in audience (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Tuesday received King Abdullah II of Jordan in an audience at the Vatican. In a communiqué following the audience, the Holy See Press Office said the “cordial conversations focused above all on the theme of the promotion of peace and stability in the Mideast, with particular reference to the question of Jerusalem and the role of the Hashemite Sovereign as Custodian of the Holy Places…”

AP: Iraqi patriarch looks to life after ISIS (AP) As Iraq emerges from more than three years of war with the Islamic State group, battling an extremist “mentality” will be the key to peaceful coexistence among the country’s religious and ethnic groups, says a top Chaldean Catholic Church official…

Syria’s internally displaced in dire need of aid (Al Monitor) Displaced persons from various Syrian cities currently living in Aleppo’s northern countryside camps, especially in the vicinity of Azaz, are trying to survive the winter under the difficult humanitarian situation. There is no heating in these camps, as local and international humanitarian organizations are reluctant to provide assistance to displaced people in unorganized camps along the Syrian-Turkish border…

Israeli ambassador rededicates synagogues in India (The Jerusalem Post) Israeli Ambassador to India Daniel Carmon rededicated two of Kolkata’s oldest synagogues on Sunday after they were recently restored. “Remembering and preserving the glorious past of Jewish Kolkata, contributing to the fabric of the city of Kolkata in the present and looking at the future, two synagogues were rededicated today — in the most festive atmosphere of Hanukkah,” he wrote on Twitter…

Nativity message of Metropolitan Tikhon (OCA.org) As we come to the end of the year, we reflect back on a period in which tragedy, acts of terrorism, shootings in public spaces, political confusion and sexual misconduct allegations dominate the news. The darkness which enshrouds the world adds to the burden of our personal and family struggles…



Tags: Syria India Iraq Pope Francis Jordan

18 December 2017
Greg Kandra




In the video above, children gather on Sunday to celebrate Pope Francis’s 81st birthday at the Vatican. (video: Rome Reports/YouTube)

Indian leader praises Christian contributions to country (Vatican Radio) India’s Vice President has commended the nation’s Christians for their service to the marginalized and for contributing to building a new India. “The Catholic community is peace-loving and it contributes immensely to nation building,” Vice President Venkaiah Naidu told a pre-Christmas gathering that the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) organized on 12 December in the capital, New Delhi...

In Jordan, Iraqi Christians dream of fresh start abroad (The Jordan Times) Some 10,000 Iraqi Christian refugees live in Jordan, according to Father Rifaat Badr, who heads a Catholic research centre. Many of them dream of new lives in Europe, Canada, Australia or in the United States. The church’s priest, Khalil Jaar, believes education is also key to the children remembering where they come from. “The saying goes, “If you want to destroy a people, erase their history and make their children ignorant’,” he said. “We need to work to ensure all these children are given their right to education and to life...”

Syrian refugees improve Armenia’s ‘social fabric’ (Al Jazeera) The presence of Syrian refugees in Armenia’s mono-ethnic society has been celebrated in the capital Yerevan through the personal initiative of an art curator and three photographers who have been documenting the migration since the eruption of the war in Syria in 2011. A documentary photo exhibition that opened on Friday was called Home to Home, to highlight the fact that the 20,000 new arrivals were descendants of Armenians who fled from Turkey to Syria during another war more than 100 years ago...

Kerala likely to get a holy tourism circuit (Hindustan Times) A group of pilgrims from Goa kneel before the tomb of St Alphonsa in Kerala’s Kottayam. After prayers, a priest guides them through the sprawling church complex, packed with pilgrims from across the country. The 20th century religious figure, who became the first woman of Indian origin to be canonized in 2008, is one of three Christian figures who are fast becoming a big draw in the state...

A tiny ‘powerhouse of prayer’ in Alaska (JuneauEmpire.com) The Rev. Steven McGuigan was installed in his position as the rector of St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church in August. He’s the first full-time priest the church has had in about seven years. The St. Nicholas parish had previously been served by a patchwork of deacons and priests with other duties. Most recently, Father David Alexander, a U.S. Coast Guard chaplain, served as the “attached priest” at St. Nicholas for about a year...







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