28 June 2018
Hundreds of elderly Armenians who cannot afford to heat their homes during the harsh winters are being helped, thanks to CNEWA’s donors and Caritas Armenia. (photo: Nazik Armenakyan)
With the summer months bringing warmer weather, we were reminded recently of how some of those we serve struggle to survive the coldest of winters—and how CNEWA’s donors are making a dramatic difference in their lives.
We received a report from Gagik Tarasyan, executive director of Caritas Armenia, who wrote about one project that is literally saving lives among the most vulnerable, the poor and elderly. It is a winterization project, helping to provide shelter, warmth and health care. The needs are basic but urgent—the kind of things most of us take for granted—but the impact has been significant:
With this project we could assist the most vulnerable families ( 630 families, about 2,800 people) through paying their gas or electric bills; urgent provision of firewood to families who cannot afford electric or gas heating; provision of medication to sick people; emergency assistance in basic food and hygienic items for the most vulnerable families living in temporary shelters.
And he shared this profile of one elderly woman this project has helped:
Arevhat Oustjan was born in 1935 in Kirovakan. She was 20 years old when she married and moved to Russia with her husband. They were happy together but they didn’t have children. She was only 39 when her husband died. And she again moved to her native town after that. For 44 years, she has lived alone in her one room apartment. She grew old and developed a number of illnesses that don’t permit her to go outdoors. She has poor eyesight and her limbs are aching and swollen.
Her meager pension and welfare amount to just over $100 a month jointly. But she has many financial obligations. Her niece was battling breast cancer and she had taken a loan from the bank for the operation. Sadly, her niece died, but Arevhat must continue to pay off the debt and very little remains for her daily bread. She is so thankful to the project that supports her to make ends meet. She relies only on Caritas’ support for her daily living.
That includes keeping her home warm. Arevhat heats her house with gas heater. ”I suffered terrible winter colds at home,” she told us. ”Nothing was helpful against colds except heating. Especially in old age, heating is so necessary.”
The windows of the apartment are in poor condition, and the wind blows through them. Arevhat has to cover them with cotton cloths to keep the house warm. It was never enough. But the Warm Winter Project is now to heat her house. “Never mind that I can’t buy new windows,” she said. ”The main thing is that I don’t need to pay for heating. It’s a great help for me. The frosty and horrible winter is already in the past; I do not even want to remember the situation I had endured before. I was always jealous of the elderly who lived in warm houses in winter time, surrounded by the warmth and companionship of their children and their relatives. I am quite alone and I don’t have any of them. Now I have at least a warm apartment, for which I am very grateful to Caritas and the supporters who treat us with all their care,” she said.
Thank you to all who are making it possible for us to spread light and warmth to so many like Arevhat who have known only darkness and cold.
To learn more about CNEWA’s efforts to help the elderly and poor in Armenia, read ‘This Is the Only Light’ in the June 2017 edition of ONE.
28 June 2018
Pope Francis met with members of the Delegation of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople on Thursday. (photo: Vatican Media)
Pope Francis meets with delegation representing Ecumenical Patriarch (Vatican News) Pope Francis on Thursday received members of a delegation representing the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew I, the primus inter pares (first among equals) of the heads of the autocephalous churches the make up the Eastern Orthodox Church. At the audience, Pope Francis welcomed the delegation as a “a sign of the growth of communion between the Catholic Church and the Ecumenical Patriarch,” while also recalling “the common roots of our sister Churches…”
Syrian refugees begin returning from Lebanon (Reuters) Nearly 400 refugees began leaving the Lebanese border town of Arsal to cross into Syria on Thursday, a rare case of returns which Lebanon’s government wants to encourage…
Home as a hospital: Gaza families struggle to care for wounded (Al Jazeera) Hospitals, overwhelmed by a series of injured people, have already reached the limit of their capacity. Medical staff are constantly faced with the dilemma of either discharging patients early, or having no space to receive new ones. The burden that hospitals could not handle fell on the shoulders of the families, adding emotional, financial and logistical stress to already difficult lives…
Pope creates 14 new cardinals Thursday (Vatican News) Pope Francis will create 14 new cardinal from 11 countries during the Ordinary Public Consistory in Rome’s St. Peter’s Basilica Thursday evening, 28 June…
Copts mark 50th anniversary of cathedral dedication (Ahram.org) ”The Coptic Church is an ancient pride of the Egyptian nation that deserves a modern glory like its old ones.” This is how Taha Hussein, a towering figure in modern Arab literature, described in his book “The Future of Egyptian Culture” the project to establish a new headquarters for the Coptic Church. This week, 50 years have passed since the inauguration of the Coptic Church headquarters in Cairo’s Abbaseya district, opened by late Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser…
Unseen Armenia: the Surb Sargis Monastery in Ushi (Asbarez.com) Ushi, roughly 17 miles northwest of Yerevan, is on the west side of the Kasakh river valley. The road to Ushi is good — travel time from Yerevan is about 40 minutes. Cab fare is affordable, but it’s best to first negotiate an approximate fare with the taxi driver. The Surb Sargis Monastery complex, dating from the 5th—18th centuries is on the west edge of the village. On a small rise next to the monastery are the remnants of a late Bronze Age to early Iron Age settlement, dated to the 2nd to 1st millennium B.C. The monastery is spectacular…
27 June 2018
Tags: Syria Lebanon Pope Francis Refugees Patriarchs
In this image from 2017, Pope Francis greets Jordan's King Abdullah II during a private meeting at the Vatican. (photo: CNS/Max Rossi, Reuters)
King Abdullah II of Jordan has been chosen as the 2018 Templeton Prize Laureate.
He has “done more to seek religious harmony within Islam and between Islam and other religions than any other living political leader,” said a 27 June announcement on the award released by the John Templeton Foundation in West Conshohocken.
The Templeton Prize, established in 1972 by Sir John Templeton, aims to recognize someone “who has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery, or practical works.”
King Abdullah will be formally awarded the Templeton Prize at a ceremony in Washington on 13 November. The price has a monetary value of about $1.45 million.
Jordan’s leader was recognized for his work to promote a peaceful Islam and bring an end to religious violence in the Middle East.
After ascending to the throne of Jordan upon the 1999 death of his father, King Hussein, King Abdullah has aggressively prodded Islamic leaders toward a uniform message reflecting the moderate beliefs of the vast majority of Muslims, as an antidote to the Islamic extremism associated with terrorism.
In 2004, he launched the Amman Message, which brought together 200 Islamic scholars who issued a declaration the following year. The declaration, which recognized the legitimacy of all eight legal schools of Islam, forbid “takfir” (declarations of apostasy) between Muslims, and established when “fatwas” (a legal opinion) could be issued. The declaration has been widely accepted by Islamic scholars and institutions.
King Abdullah also has funded the “A Common Word Between Us and You” initiative, which aims to promote understanding between Christian and Muslim communities, and proposed a U.N. World Interfaith Harmony Week aimed at understanding the values of peace in all religions. The proposal was unanimously accepted by the U.N. General Assembly.
In addition to this work, King Abdullah also has protected some of the most important religious sites in Jerusalem. The dynasty of which he has been a part has been the custodian of the Temple Mount since 1924, and in 2016 the king used his own money to assist in restoring the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. He also has supported legislation to restore and develop the site of the baptism of Jesus and given various Christians blocks of land to build churches there.
In his videotaped acceptance of the Templeton Prize, King Abdullah said “Our world needs to confront challenges to our shared humanity and values. And this is why I feel it is so urgent to promote tolerance and mutual respect, support inclusion and hope, speak out against Islamophobia and other wrongs, and make our values a real force in the daily life of the modern world.”
Heather Templeton Dill, president of the John Templeton Foundation, noted in a statement that “Sir John created the Templeton Prize when he realized that many of his friends and colleagues thought of religion as uninteresting and old-fashioned, or perhaps even obsolete.”
“He decided that a prize to single out people who were responsible for, in his words, the ‘marvelous new things going on in religion,’ would help them become more well known, not so much for their own benefit, but for the benefit of people who might be inspired by them,” she added.
King Abdullah joins a group of 47 recipients of the Templeton Prize recipients including Mother Teresa, who received the inaugural award in 1973; the Dalai Lama, 2012; Archbishop Desmond Tutu, 2013; and Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche, 2015.
27 June 2018
To continue their formation, the faithful gather for Saturday Mass in Gilgel Beles, Ethiopia.(photo: CNEWA)
Recently, we received the following update from Argaw Fantu, CNEWA's regional director in Addis Ababa:
The northwestern corner of Ethiopia bordering with Sudan is a vast low land area with very high temperature up to 50 degree Celsius (122 Fahrenheit!). This vast land surface is occupied by a tribe, the Gumuz people, one of the more than 85 ethnic groups in Ethiopia. These people are traditional worshipers of nature and very honest with their own strong ethical values — they don’t tolerate lies or stealing — but most of them have never encountered the Gospel or Christian teaching.
Now, that is beginning to change.
The area where they live is part of the vast pastoral territory of the new Bahir Dar-Dessie Eparchy. It a new area for evangelization, with very tough and challenging environment. It was the courageous Comboni Missionary Sisters who first set foot in the area called Mandura in 2000. They rented a house from an Orthodox priest and started visiting people — teaching reading and writing for kids under the shade of a large tree. They also taught hygiene to women and offered some simple advice on agriculture and farming. Slowly, they built rooms for kindergarten lessons. The Gumuz people at that time had no clue about the value of education. When the sisters started school for kids, they had to walk around in the villages to speak to parents and urge them to send their children to school.
A typical tukul, or mud hut home, of the Gumuz people. (photo: CNEWA)
Following in the footsteps of the sisters, the Comboni Missionary Fathers of the Heart of Jesus started a small mission station in Gilgel Beles in 2003; in 2011, they established an outstation of Gilgel Beles in Gublak.
Recently, I had the opportunity to visit Gilgel Beles and Gublak, part of an initiative supported by CNEWA. The Comboni Missionary Fathers are engaged in the pastoral activities in the areas. Most of the growing faithful are young people and women.
To support and encourage evangelization in the area, the missionaries have launched a strategy of ongoing training for catechists and coordinators. More than 100 catechists and coordinators were gathered recently in Gilgel Beles for a weekend of ongoing formation. They came from the chapels of Gilgel Beles and Gublak. The training involves a variety of participatory programs. They began the day with a rosary recited while walking around the church compound.
The weekend began by praying the rosary. (photo: CNEWA)
Lectures and classes filled the day Saturday, along with the celebration of the Eucharist. People took a break to escape the heat in the afternoon. Sunday included Mass, singing, teaching and a fraternal lunch. What a nice and creatively organized training program had it been!
The weekend of faith formation included classes taught by catechists. (photo: CNEWA)
I asked a group of young people to explain to me the difference between a catechist and a coordinator and what each does. They told me that a coordinator is the one who is able to convince people of the village to gather together for catechetical teaching, prayer and spiritual sharing. Once the coordinator does his job of gathering the community, the catechist comes in to teach catechumens — preparing them to receive sacraments — and leading the community in prayer and Bible sharing. I was amazed by how well the priests coordinated these activities.
Catechists and coordinators led discussions and shared insights with those who attended. (photo: CNEWA)
Father Isaiah, a Comboni Missionary from Kenya and a dynamic parish priest of Gublak, told me that villagers appreciate the regular visits of priests and sisters. Whenever a priest visits them in the villages and chats with them, they believe that he brings them good luck. What an amazing belief!
As a result of such enthusiastic and committed engagements of the missionaries — and their collaborative catechists and coordinators — Christian communities in the area are growing slowly but steadily. According to the recent figures, there are about 1,500 Catholics in Pawe, 1,500 in Gilgel Beles and Mandura, 1,000 in Gublak, 500 in Dibati. This makes a total of about 4,500 Catholic faithful in the area. The number of new catechumens is increasing, thanks to committed catechists and coordinators who accompany the dedicated missionary priests.
CNEWA, through its generous donors, participates in this precious evangelization mission of the church in this remote part of Ethiopia. In 2018, CNEWA committed to support formation training for youth leaders and catechists in Gilgel Beles and Gublak. How wonderful and rewarding it is to see the light of the Gospel being shared with these marginalized people!
With your support, we are able to make this happen. Thank you!
The faithful leave Mass at the close of the weekend. (photo: CNEWA)
27 June 2018
Syrian refugees wait outside their shelters in late January at Zaatari camp near Mafraq, Jordan. Jordan said Tuesday it is sealing its border and will not receive any new refugees from Syria. (photo: CNS/Muhammad Hamed, Reuters)
Jordan insists on sealing borders amid new wave of refugees (Albawaba.com) Jordan will not take in any more Syrian refugees and the border with Syria will not be reopened, officials reiterated Tuesday. ”The Kingdom will not receive any new refugees from Syria under any circumstances,” Prime Minister Omar Razzaz said Tuesday after a meeting with Lower House Speaker Atef Tarawneh and heads of the chamber’s committees…
UN: Torture is always unacceptable (Vatican News) The United Nations chief has called on the international community to end the “abominable and useless practice” of torture, saying it is “unacceptable and unjustified at all times, including during states of emergency, political instability, or even in a war…”
Syria’s Christians reckon with survival (Sojourners) Since 2011, Bashar al-Assad’s violent crackdown on dissent combined with ISIS’s aggressive expansion has dispossessed nearly one million Syrian Christians from their ancestral homeland. While Assad portrays himself as the vanguard of the country’s religious minorities, Christians have suffered considerably during the ongoing civil war. Up to 60 percent of the country’s churches have fallen as a result of the war, and many Christians — including human rights lawyer Khalil Maatouk and activist Bassel Shehadeh — have been detained or killed by the regime…
Ethiopia prime minister ready to open new chapter in Eritrea ties (Al Jazeera) Ethiopia’s prime minister said his country was ready to open a new chapter in their relations with long-time foe Eritrea following a high-level meeting with a delegation from Asmara. Abiy Ahmed received on Tuesday a delegation led by Eritrean Foreign Minister Osman Saleh and President Isaias Afwerki’s right-hand man, Yemane Gebreab…
War in eastern Ukraine seems a distant storm to Kiev (The Washington Post) The war between government forces and Kremlin-backed separatists — and, by all indications, actual Kremlin troops — in Eastern Ukraine is only a six-hour train ride from the country’s capital, but for some Ukrainians, it might as well be in another universe. Though it has entered its fifth year, with no end in sight, Europe’s only active conflict has dropped from the headlines, inside Ukraine and abroad. In Kiev, residents have other matters to occupy them, now that summer has finally arrived, the street cafes are overflowing, and life seems to become slower with each degree the temperature rises…
26 June 2018
Tags: Syria Ethiopia Jordan United Nations Eritrea
As a boy leans against an ancient khatchkar, or tablet, a choir rehearses in a church in Armenia. Read more about this country’s deep spiritual roots in Where God Descended in the May 2008 edition of ONE. (photo: Armineh Johannes)
26 June 2018
Pope makes changes within College of Cardinals (Vatican News) With a rescript dated 26 June 2018, Pope Francis has named four Cardinals to the Order of Bishops within the College of Cardinals. The rescript, signed by Cardinal-elect Angelo Becciu, the Substitute of the Secretariat of State, says the new Cardinal Bishops will be equal “in all respects to the Cardinals holding the title of a suburbicarian Church…”
Syria assault intensifies as thousands flee (Al Jazeera) Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad are intensifying their offensive over key rebel-held towns in the southern province of Deraa, as thousands of people continue to flee the area, witnesses tell Al Jazeera…
Is love a winning message in Ethiopia? (Christian Science Monitor) As Africa’s second most populous country and its fastest growing economy, Ethiopia is extraordinary in many ways. It weaves together 80 ethnic groups as well as Christians and Muslims. On a continent with the world’s youngest population, the median age of Ethiopia’s 102 million people is 18. Yet now add to this list a new prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, who took office in April as Africa’s youngest ruler with this extraordinary trait: He could be the only leader of any country who frequently tells people, “Love wins…”
25 June 2018
Tags: India Ethiopia Vatican Indian Bishops
Workers sharpen scissors inside a workshop in Kolkata, India, on 22 June. (photo: CNS/Rupak De Chowdhuri, Reuters)
25 June 2018
Pope Francis has just appointed Jesuit Bishop Felix Toppo of Jamshedpur to be the new archbishop of Ranchi in India. (photo: Diocese of Jamshedpur)
Pope appoints new archbishop in Ranchi, India (Vatican News) Pope Francis on Sunday appointed a new archbishop in Ranchi in the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand. He transferred Jesuit Bishop Felix Toppo of Jamshedpur to Ranchi as its new Archbishop. Bishop Felix takes over from 78-year old Cardinal Telesphore Toppo whose resignation the Holy Father has accepted. The cardinal reached the retirement age of 75 in 2014 as stipulated by the Code of Canon Law…
Grenade blast kills one, injures dozens at rally in Ethiopia (Vatican News) The Ethiopian Prime Minister has condemned a grenade blast that killed at least one person and injured at least 154 others at a rally in Addis Ababa. The explosion struck a rally by supporters of Ethiopia’s new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. He had just wrapped up delivering a speech, when the blast — thought to have been caused by a hand grenade — went off…
Five women from Jesuit school gang-raped in India (UCANews.com) Five women were abducted from a Jesuit-managed school and gang-raped in a forest near the Khunti area of India’s Jharkhand state, police said. Unidentified men on six motorcycles took away the women on the afternoon of 20 June while they were performing a play about social awareness, said A.V. Homkar, the area’s senior police official…
Jordan says it can’t accept more Syrian refugees (The Jordan Times) Jordan warned on Sunday that it cannot receive more Syrian refugees, saying it was intensifying talks with the US and Russia following air strikes on rebel-held towns in southern Syria. ”We have received enough numbers of Syrian refugees; we already have a large number and we simply cannot receive more,” Minister of State for Media Affairs Jumana Ghunaimat told The Jordan Times over the phone on Sunday…
Photo essay: the Syrian women and children waiting in the shadows of Lebanon’s camps (The Independent) There is real compassion and sympathy from landlords, employers and neighbors to what is perhaps the world’s greatest humanitarian crisis. Lebanese families have been known to take in refugees, also help set them up with furniture for their homes…
22 June 2018
Tags: India Ethiopia Jordan
The life-size icon of St. Ephrem, the patron saint of the Syriac Catholic Church, is seen in this undated photo. The icon features stanzas from the liturgy and prayers in Syriac text and notes. (photo: CNS/courtesy of Mothana Butres)
When Islamic State fighters overran Qaraqosh, Iraq, in the summer of 2014, Mothana Butres was able to grab only a single volume from his father’s collection of thousands of Syriac books and manuscripts.
The handwritten, 600-year-old book of Syriac hymns now inspires much of Butres’ work as an iconographer.
From a modest walk-up apartment in Zahle, Lebanon, a city not far from the Syrian border, the Syriac Catholic iconographer and refugee creates his sacred art in a sparsely furnished living room. As he works, he sings the hymns he has committed to memory from the sole book he managed to save.
Butres is the creator of the Our Lady of Aradin icon, a centerpiece of the first Catholic shrine dedicated to persecuted Christians. The shrine is housed in St. Michael’s Church in New York City and was dedicated on 12 June.
“The inspiration when I was working on Our Lady of Aradin was that it was the Virgin Mary who was protecting the Christians,” Butres told Catholic News Service.
He chose to present Mary in the traditional wedding dress of the Aradin area of Iraq “to represent that the Virgin Mary will always be a part of the Christians in Iraq and that she is the protector of Christians in Iraq and all the Middle East,” Butres said.
He said that when faced with an ultimatum by Islamic State fighters, Iraq’s Christians gave up their land but refused to give up their faith.
“The people who were persecuted, their blood is a stronger message than anything I could ever convey,” he said. But the recent persecution and the oppression suffered by his ancestors led him “to the way I think and the way I do my work.”
Butres said he believes his icons can be an instrument for intercessory prayer. The prayers of the people who visit the shrine in New York and pray before the icon of Our Lady of Aradin are joined with those of the persecuted Christians.
“Based on what Jesus told us, that ‘if two people are gathered in my name, I will be among them,’“ he said.
The Syriac book Butres treasures from his father’s library collection also awakened him to the lost practice of writing books by hand, especially in the Syriac language, which is spoken by Christians in certain areas of Syria and Iraq, including Qaraqosh. Syriac also is used in the liturgy of some Eastern churches, including the Syriac Catholic, Syriac Orthodox and Maronite Catholic churches. The language is related to Aramaic, the language of Jesus.
“I’m trying to revive the value of the handwritten texts. Books used to be handwritten,” Butres said.
As part of an ongoing personal project, Butres intends to write out the entire Bible in Syriac on a long scroll of leather just over a foot wide. In three months of work, the tiny, intricate text he has etched extends 16 feet in length and comprises the first five chapters of the Old Testament.
“I believe that in writing out the Bible, we can discover it in a new, deeper perspective, more than just reading it,” he said.
In his icons, Butres often incorporates streams of handwritten text related to the image, which contributes to preserving the Syriac language, heritage and spirituality. The icon of Our Lady of Aradin, for example, includes the Hail Mary in Syriac.
Butres’ introduction to iconography began at age 12; a deacon at his church in Qaraqosh taught him the ancient art as well as formulas for producing colors and varnishes from natural products, for example, using eggs and wine for shades of red, using beeswax for varnish and using deer musk to give the icon a scent.
Prayer and religious formation were part of Butres’ daily life growing up in a Syriac Catholic family as one of 16 children.
“We were very close to the church,” said. “Every day at dusk, we went to the church to pray,” he recalled, adding that for “anyone who didn’t participate, there was no dinner.” The same went for missing Sunday Mass: no lunch and dinner.
That pious upbringing fostered vocations, he said. One of Butres’ sisters became a Dominican nun. His brother, Nimatullah, is a priest serving the Syriac Catholic Diocese of Our Lady of Deliverance, which is based in Bayonne, New Jersey. Father Butres attended the dedication ceremony for the Our Lady of Aradin shrine in New York.
The artistic Butres became a deacon at age 20 and studied theology at Holy Spirit University in Lebanon, earning a bachelor’s degree.
Butres intended to complete his master’s degree in theology, carrying out his research in Qaraqosh, but had to abandon all he had accomplished there when Islamic State attacked his childhood home.
That home, overtaken, gutted and ruined by Islamic State, is under repair now. From Lebanon, Butres created the Our Lady of Qaraqosh icon as a gift for his family, intending it as “a protector of the house where she was always present.”
Tags: Syria Iraq Icons