4 June 2018
Children kick around a soccer ball near statue of the Virgin Mary at the refugee camp in Dbayeh, on the northern outskirts of Beirut, Lebanon. To learn more, read Defining Dbayeh, from the September 2007 edition of ONE. (photo: Dalia Khamissy)
4 June 2018
Tags: Lebanon Refugees Children Refugee Camps
Protesters wave flags near Jordanian security forces during a demonstration outside the prime minister's office in the capital Amman late on 3 June 2018. (photo: Khalil Mazraawi/AFP/Getty Images)
Jordan PM Hani Mulki quits after austerity protests (BBC) Jordan’s Prime Minister Hani Mulki has resigned after days of protests against tax rises and austerity measures. The recent demonstrations in the country, which is a key Western ally, are the biggest in years. Protesters have chanted anti-government slogans and clashed with police, who have fired tear gas and blocked roads…
Greek Catholic Annunciation Society targets youth dropout rate in Jerusalem through remedial education (Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem) For the past six years the Greek Catholic Annunciation Society in Jerusalem, has been working through its remedial education project to reduce the rate of youth dropout, as well as to offer the mothers of these young people awareness sessions and social activities. The project, which is funded by CNEWA and now by the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, aims to reduce the dropout rate among 200-300 students by providing them with support lessons and extra-curricular activities such as educational trips to museums and historical sites with certified tour guide…
Iraq’s water crisis traced upstream to Turkish, Iranian dams (AINA) The water crisis has spread in southern and central provinces of Iraq and the Kurdistan Region as dams built by Turkey and Iran, irrespective of international laws, slow the flow of rivers into Iraq to a trickle. There are growing fears up to seven million people will be displaced due to the dramatic fall in water resources…
Bethlehem: A Franciscan priest attacked for defending pilgrims (Fides) Franciscan priest, Father Fadi Shalufa was attacked on 1 June by one of the two young men who had previously harassed a group of pilgrims in visit to the birthplace of Jesus. The two attackers were arrested by the Palestinian police…
Thousands of Palestinians mourn ‘reprehensible’ killing of Gaza medic (TeleSUR) Thousands of Palestinians attended the funeral procession of Razan Najjar, the Palestinian medic who was killed while trying to save an injured protester at the Gaza-Israel border during a demonstration Friday. Various U.N. officials issued statements Saturday condemning Najjar’s killing. “The killing of a clearly identified medical staffer by security forces during a demonstration is particularly reprehensible,” said Jamie McGoldrick, the local U.N. humanitarian coordinator…
Patriarch Kirill confirms metropolitan of Estonian Orthodox Church (Err.ee) Patriarch Kirill on Sunday confirmed the election of Archbishop Yevgeny (Eugeni) of Vereya as the new metropolitan bishop of Tallinn and All Estonia and the head of the Estonian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate…
31 May 2018
Tags: Iraq Gaza Strip/West Bank Jerusalem Jordan Catholic education
This 18th-century icon of Mary by Pokrov Bogomateri hangs at the museum in Palekh, Russia. The Orthodox tradition reveres Mary, but never separates her from Christ. (photo: Sean Sprague)
Last week in our reflections on Mary, Mother of the Church, a new Marian feast initiated by Pope Francis, we looked at how Christians in the Western (Roman Catholic) church revere Mary. Today, we will look at how she is revered in the Eastern (primarily Byzantine Orthodox here) churches. These are churches that have a special relationship to CNEWA, for they are cornerstones of faith in many of the regions we serve. Understanding their devotion to the Mother of God helps us understand, as well, the piety of the people — many of whom draw strength and consolation from Mary.
Perhaps the best insight into the Eastern churches’ reverence for Mary can be found in “The Sanctity and Glory of the Mother of God: Orthodox Approaches” by Kallistos of Diokletia (The Way, Supplement 51, 1984), a scholar at Oxford and titular Metropolitan of Diokletia.
At the outset, Metropolitan Kallistos states that “she (Mary) is honored, revered, loved but not the subject of critical analysis. We have no developed ‘Mariology’; indeed, the very word, suggesting as it does an autonomous and systematically organized body of doctrine, has about it a non-orthodox flavor.” For Roman Catholics, accustomed to Marian devotion in the Catholic Church and (at best) Protestant discomfort with it, the Orthodox way is both interesting and important. The Orthodox approach to Mary shows that there is more than one way to approach reverence to the Mother of God and still be faithful to the church’s tradition.
Bishop Kallistos notes that — unlike in the west — there are only two titles of Mary which are fully recognized among all Orthodox: Theotokos (Mother of God) and Aeiparthenos (Ever Virgin). The primary title is Theotokos but — as the bishop correctly notes — the title speaks “not so much about the person of Mary as about the person of Christ.” Orthodox tradition never separates Mary from Christ. When Pope Paul VI in his Apostolic Exhortation ”Marialis cultus” (2 February 1974) wrote of “the indissoluble link and essential relationship of the Virgin to the Divine Savior; we reject any tendency to separate devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary from its necessary point of reference — Christ,” Orthodox theologians and believers could only approve.
Bishop Kallistos treats two recent points of divergence between Catholic and Orthodox understanding of Mary, namely the Immaculate Conception (proclaimed by Pope Pius IX in 1854) and the Assumption of Mary (Pius XII in 1952). It is not that the Orthodox reject these Catholic dogmas, although they sometimes understand them differently; rather, the Orthodox recognize that “the Mother of God was never a theme of the public preaching of the apostles,” while Christ was proclaimed to the whole world. With the traditional Orthodox sensitivity to the “ineffable” — or that which cannot be adequately expressed — Bishop Kallistos warns, “There is a danger of trying to say too much about the Mother of God. St. Basil’s warning is not to be forgotten: ‘Let things ineffable be honored in silence.’ “
The different ways of giving reverence to Mary reflect the different “theological cultures” of the Eastern and Western churches. While the West has a tendency to analyze, to define and to codify the “mysteries of the faith,” the Eastern churches have a tendency rather to contemplate in awe and silence. The same applies to a great extent to how the two traditions approach Mary in the church in the lives of believers.
We in the West might have something to learn from churches in the East. Not everything is best dissected, categorized and studied. Some things are best simply contemplated. While adding titles to the lengthy Litany of the Virgin Mary might be helpful to some Catholics, quietly entering into the deeply mystical relationship between Mary, Mother of God, and Christ her son might also be a useful thing.
31 May 2018
Tags: Eastern Christianity Eastern Churches Mary
Pope Francis met with a delegation of the Orthodox Patriarchate of Moscow and assured them he has no interest in meddling in the affairs of their church. (video: Rome Reports/YouTube)
Pope Francis assures Russian Orthodox he has ‘no desire whatsoever’ to interfere in their affairs (The Tablet) Pope Francis has assured leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church that he has “no desire whatsoever” to interfere in the affairs of their church. At a high-level meeting at the Vatican between the Pope and a delegation from the Russian Orthodox Church, Pope Francis’ emphasized the common ground between the churches, while telling Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk that the Vatican has no desire to interfere in internal Russian Orthodoxy…
Vote fraud allegations trigger recount in Iraq (Al Jazeera) Iraq’s electoral commission says it is canceling the results from more than 1,000 polling stations used in this month’s parliamentary vote. It says it has evidence of fraud at voting centers both in Iraq and for citizens living abroad. Iraqi MPs called for votes in the predominantly Sunni provinces of Anbar, Diyala, Salahuddin and Nineveh and all ballots cast by Iraqis living abroad to be manually recounted…
Assad raises prospect of U.S. clash in Syria (Reuters) The United States should learn the lesson of Iraq and leave Syria, President Bashar al-Assad said in an interview, responding to U.S. President Donald Trump’s description of him as an animal by saying “what you say is what you are…”
Ahead of elections, a risky battle for Ukraine’s soul (Reuters) Religious divisions deepened in 2014 after the annexation of Crimea by Russia and subsequent conflict between Ukrainian and Russian-backed separatist forces over the Donbass region in the east. Those tensions are back in focus after Petro Poroshenko, the pro-Western president who faces a tight election race next March, stepped up efforts to create an independent, or “autocephalous,” national church…
Israel’s love-hate relationship with Jerusalem (NPR) A short walk from the new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem is a stone apartment building on a leafy street that might as well be a metaphor for Israelis’ love-hate relationship with the city and its religious character…
Kerala’s Christians wary of new hard-line Hindu governor (UCANews.com) India’s pro-Hindu government has appointed Kummanam Rajasekharan, an active member of the ruling Bharatiya Janta Party, to serve as the 18th governor of Christian-majority Mizoram state. The federal government nominated Rajasekharan while he was serving as president of the party’s Kerala state unit, eliciting mixed reactions from Christian leaders on the fairness of slotting an ideologically biased politician into what is supposed to be an apolitical role…
30 May 2018
Tags: India Iraq Pope Francis Russian Orthodox Church
In the video above, Christians in Jerusalem explain why it is important to maintain a Christian presence in the Holy Land to “seek political peace in Jesus’ land.” (video: Rome Reports/YouTube)
Battle to stamp out ISIS in Syria gets new momentum, but threats remain (The New York Times) A return of Kurdish commanders has revived a stalled American-backed ground offensive to wipe out the last pockets of ISIS militants in eastern Syria. But the campaign may have only little more than six months to hunt down the few hundred fighters — not enough time to extinguish a threat that is quickly moving underground…
Israel and Palestinians trade fire on Gaza border (The Washington Post) Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip fired more rockets and mortars into Israel Wednesday morning, and Israeli jets retaliated by striking some 25 targets belonging to Hamas even as talk of a cease-fire surfaced. The restless night, with consistent rocket fire from Gaza on Israeli communities, followed a sharp escalation Tuesday as Palestinian militants in the besieged coastal enclave fired more than 100 rockets and mortars into Israel…
Chaldeans take step into the global spotlight with new cardinal (The Catholic Register) Roman Catholics are used to belonging to a global church, one that transcends borders, encompasses cultures and finds expression in all the languages of the world. But it’s a whole new ball game for Chaldeans, which is why appointing Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael to the College of Cardinals on 20 May is particularly significant, the Chaldean bishop of Canada told The Catholic Register…
Video shows Hindu leader calling on Christians to be thrown out of India (UCANews.com) A hardline Hindu group has called on Christians to be thrown out of India and stamped on images of Pope Francis while accusing him of promoting terrorism in a video being circulated on social media since 25 May. The video shows controversial Hindu leader Om Swami Maharaj with a group of about 20 people carrying placards and banners with pictures of Pope Francis not far from Sacred Heart Cathedral in New Delhi…
U.S. State Department issues annual report on religious freedom around the world (The Los Angeles Times) U.S. ally Saudi Arabia continued to torture, execute and discriminate against minority Shiite Muslims last year, according to the State Department, but the Trump administration followed the Obama administration and has granted the Sunni-ruled kingdom an exemption from sanctions normally placed on countries with bad records on religious freedom. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo unveiled the annual report on international religious liberty on Tuesday…
29 May 2018
Tags: Gaza Strip/West Bank Jerusalem ISIS Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael I
Melkite Catholic Patriarch Joseph Absi (in red) strolls through the ancient Mediterranean coastal city of Sidon in southern Lebanon on 26 May with Melkite Archbishop Elie Haddad of Sidon, left. The Melkite Eparchy of Sidon hosted an iftar banquet that day. The patriarch’s visit to Sidon was the first to southern Lebanon since becoming patriarch in June. (photo: CNS/courtesy National News Agency of Lebanon)
Christians and Muslims gathered in Sidon, Lebanon, for an iftar, the fast-breaking meal after sunset during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
“What a beautiful gathering we have on this memorable day of the holy month of Ramadan,” said Melkite Patriarch Joseph Absi to the more than 300 guests assembled for the 26 May banquet hosted by the Melkite Eparchy of Sidon, the ancient Mediterranean coastal city in southern Lebanon.
“And what is more beautiful is that we Christians and Muslims meet in the subject of our faith in God almighty,” he said.
Muslims abstain from eating and drinking from dawn to sunset during Ramadan.
The patriarch noted that for Muslims and Christians, their respective time of fasting — Lent for Christians and Ramadan for Muslims — has the same aim of “drawing closer to God.”
“What we are witnessing now in this gathering is the model that we believe in and we are holding on to … not just because it is our destiny but because the Bible scriptures teach us that Jesus put all his efforts and himself for the well-being of every human being.”
The patriarch praised Melkite Archbishop Elie Haddad of Sidon for his development and social projects for Christians and Muslims alike that “witness the message of Lebanon of living together in a rich and diverse environment.”
Guests dined at the grounds of Dar el Einayeh, an orphanage and school founded by the late Melkite Archbishop Georges Kwaiter of Sidon. The Sidon Eparchy has hosted an iftar annually since 2007.
The patriarch, pointing to the iftar gathering he attended with various faith leaders hosted by Lebanese President Michel Aoun, a Maronite Catholic, at the Presidential Palace noted that “the Ramadan tables in Lebanon are no longer an Islamic matter, but are of a national nature.”
“Ramadan tables are the tables of fraternity and affection,” the patriarch said.
It was Patriarch Absi’s first official visit to southern Lebanon since becoming patriarch in June. He is based in Damascus, Syria.
Sidon’s Shiite Mufti Mohammad Ousaylar told Catholic News Service that even apart from the iftar banquet “it was our duty to honor him and welcome him” to the city on his first visit to the south.
“Sidon has always been a model of coexistence, welcoming, respectful and loving to its guests,” he said.
He said that welcoming the patriarch and jointly celebrating the iftar, is “a message that the people — Christians and Muslims — love each other and coexist and that the people want to be all united together.”
Unity, he said, “is important to everyone.”
Of Lebanon’s approximate population of 4 million, not counting refugees from war-torn Syria, about 40 percent are Christian.
29 May 2018
Tags: Lebanon Melkite
Pope Francis greets Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople during a meeting in the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican on 26 May. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
Pope, patriarch call for ethical intervention in economy (CNS) Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople called on Christians to work together to build a culture of solidarity in the face of growing economic inequality and a lack of respect for the human dignity of the poor and of migrants. The two leaders met privately 26 May before addressing an international conference sponsored by the Centesimus Annus Pro Pontifice Foundation, which seeks to promote the teaching of St. John Paul II’s 1991 encyclical on social and economic justice…
‘Honor’ killing in Catholic family shocks Kerala (UCANews.com) The murder of a socially poor Dalit Catholic man who had married a woman belonging to an upper-caste Christian family has fueled protests across India’s southern state of Kerala. Kevin P. Joseph, 26, a member of Vijayapuram Diocese, was murdered on 28 May, five days after he married 20-year-old Neenu Chacko of an affluent Christian family in Kollam district against the wishes of her family…
Syria takes rotating presidency of U.N. conference in Geneva, U.S. protests (PressTV) Syria has taken the rotating presidency of the U.N.’s Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, prompting disruptive objection by the United States. The chairing of the Conference on Disarmament rotates alphabetically among the body’s 65 members every four weeks, and Syria’s turn came on Monday. The U.S. delegation briefly left the room in protest and returned shortly afterwards…
Palestinians risk losing Jerusalem ID over Israel loyalty law (Al Jazeera) On 29 April, Israel’s Interior Minister Aryeh Deri upheld the deportation of four parliamentarians, after Israel’s parliament passed a law in March granting the interior minister full power to revoke the Jerusalem residencies of Palestinians over allegations of “breaching allegiance” or “loyalty” to the Israeli state. Rights groups have raised serious concerns over the new law, noting that the legislation is a clear breach of international law and threatens the basic rights of Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem...
Ethiopian church hopes to grow in Halifax (The Chronicle Herald) In a tiny, white one-story house near an industrial area outside downtown Halifax, a small group of Ethiopian Orthodox Christians has been meeting quietly for three years. Now the congregation is making plans to create a larger, dedicated worship space…
25 May 2018
Tags: India Ethiopia Jerusalem Ecumenism
The Rev. Emanuel Youkhana, center, meets Iraqi Christians who have opened a mobile cellphone shop in the Ninevah Plain following the defeat of ISIS. (photo: CNS/courtesy CAPNI)
In the aftermath of Iraq’s elections, Christians want to see a government formed that is free from the sectarianism that has torn apart the country, and they want Iran’s influence to diminish. Both issues have played a huge role in politics since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
The Rev. Emanuel Youkhana, a priest of the Assyrian Church of the East, told Catholic News Service that although fiery Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr has gained the majority of parliament’s seats, Al Sadr’s uncompromising nationalism, stand against corruption and against foreign meddling seem to have struck a chord among ordinary Iraqis, who are fed up with what many call Baghdad’s broken political system.
“Iraq’s Shiite politicians, whose population forms the country’s majority, are of two streams: one pro-Iran and the other freer from Iranian influence, and Sadr is the leader of this latter group,” the priest explained.
“Al Sadr has called for a Cabinet of technocrats, not politicians. So far, he is more acceptable with the public because of his slogans. But can he realize forming a coalition government? In Iraq, it’s very complicated,” Father Youkhana said.
Father Youkhana runs the Christian Aid Program Northern Iraq or CAPNI, for displaced Iraqis around the city of Dohuk, partnering with CNEWA, in addition to rebuilding homes and restoring livelihoods in several towns in the Ninevah Plain following its destruction by Islamic State since 2014.
Iraq’s historic Christians and other religious minorities, such as the Yezidis, are also dismayed that the government has so far failed to address and counter the problems that led to the rise of the Islamic State in the first place. And it has not contributed to rebuilding efforts in their communities.
“Now in Germany or the U.S., if a situation happens two or three times, they call for a debate in Congress. But in Iraq, it’s now four years from what happened, and there has been no national debate on what took place, how it happened, and how to prevent it from reocurring,” the priest said.
Yet, Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Raphael, now also a Cardinal-designate, has repeatedly called for a serious national dialogue to combat sectarianism in his homeland. So far, those calls seem to have gone largely unheeded.
Iraq’s military and police abandoned Christians and Yezidis in the face of the brutal attacks by Islamic State in 2014 that saw thousands killed, kidnapped, turned into sex slaves, maimed and displaced. The United Nations deemed the Islamic State the perpetrator of a genocide against the Yezidis of Iraq.
These events have left Iraq’s rich cultural mosaic of religious minorities feeling that they are second-class citizens. They sense that Iraq’s political leaders do not represent their interests or concerns.
Iraq’s Christian population, believed to number up to 1.4 million in the late 1990’s, now is estimated to be fewer than 500,000. They have been victims of sectarian violence, driven out of their ancestral homeland. Almost two-thirds of Iraqi Christians belong to the Chaldean Catholic Church.
They worry that Shiite militias that fought Islamic State militants are staking claim to parts of the historic Christian Ninevah Plain, where they never before resided.
“Bartella is becoming a Shiite town,” said Father Youkhana. “Now when you enter Bartella, you see the photos of [Iran’s ayatollahs] Khomeini and Khamenei. This demographic change is protected and facilitated by the militias,” he said. “This is our concern.”
“The failure of the government goes beyond the material,” said Father Youkhana, referring to the Iraqi government’s lack of funding or efforts to rebuild the ancestral areas destroyed by the Islamic State militants where Christians, Yezidis and other religious minorities historically have lived.
Most of reconstruction of these areas have been undertaken by Western governments and various Christian agencies, such as CAPNI, Catholic Relief Services and Caritas.
“I would also partially blame the church for giving the impression that we can do it ourselves. But the reality is that the church single-handedly doesn’t have the resources for that,” the priest said.
“People have been hesitating to return [to their towns] unless the government provides safety guarantees, but so far it hasn’t, and I’m not sure if the new Cabinet will do so,” Father Youkhana said. “I call for a mini-Marshall Plan.”
CAPNI has rebuilt 28 schools and some 300 partially damaged houses in Qaraqosh, Bartella, Bashika and Bahzani. He said these partially damaged homes are the focus of rebuilding efforts by Christian aid groups and Western governments, such as Germany and Hungary, to reinstall electricity, doors, windows, etc. Health centers also are being rehabilitated.
Father Youkhana estimates that about 40 percent of such houses have been reconstructed. Others, which have been burned or completely destroyed, are not being rehabilitated by relief groups.
“Houses are being rehabilitated, but still people need to have livelihoods” if the towns are to be viable, he added.
So far, an estimated 25,000 people have returned to the area’s main town of Qaraqosh, which once housed 50,000 Christians.
Sura Jamiel Hanna, who heads CAPNI’s community development work, said the group provides loans and grants for income generating projects to revive some 20 livelihoods for Christians, Yezidis and Muslims in the towns such as beekeeping, sheep raising, carpentry and hairdressing.
CAPNI, in conjunction with Jesuit Worldwide Learning, also provides English language courses as well as 13 others such as management, math, and ethics for those who already possess proficient English skills.
Teaching of Kurdish to Arabic-speakers, music, sports and studies on Eastern Christianity are also offered.
“This is important for us as a matter of identity,” Father Youkhana said of the latter, adding that advocacy is now vital for Iraq’s minorities to realize their rights in both school curriculum and national and local legislation.
“This is the way to address the roots of the problem,” he said of Iraq’s troubling sectarianism. “We are fighting to keep the hope of our people alive.”
25 May 2018
Tags: Iraq Iraqi Christians
Palestinians wait in a bus to cross to Egypt following the opening of Rafah border gate in Khan Yunis, Gaza, on 18 May 2018. (photo: Abed Rahim Khatib/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
In Gaza, border opening brings relief and anxiety (AP) Egypt has opened Rafah for the duration of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, temporarily easing a border blockade of Gaza that it has enforced, along with Israel, for the past 11 years. But thousands of people hoping to travel are on a waiting list, a backlog created by long periods of closures, and Egyptian border officials are processing them at an excruciatingly slow pace…
Kerala monitoring spread of deadly virus (UCSNews.com) India’s Kerala state has imposed restrictions on public functions in four northern districts because of a virus spread by fruit bats that has killed 11 people, including a nurse who treated infected people. Health authorities on 24 May advised travelers to the region to guard against the Nipah virus. Senior official Rajeev Sadanandan told journalists that the infection was currently linked to only one family and people who came into direct contact with them. Lini Puthuserry, 32, the nurse who succumbed to the infection, had treated a member of the family in a hospital. The situation was described as being under control…
Syriac Christians hail return of churches, monasteries in Turkey (Daily Sabah) In 2014, ownership of churches, monasteries and cemeteries belonging to the ancient community were transferred to the state after Mardin, the southeastern city where they are located, was designated as the “greater city municipality.” The community fought for their return but faced bureaucratic red tape and a lengthy legal process. Finally, they were formally handed title deeds yesterday, crediting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for helping them to settle the issue…
Coptic Peace Association distributes food to poor for Ramadan (Egypt Today) In celebration of the holy month of Ramadan, the Coptic Peace Association distributed cartons of basic commodities to the poor people of Cairo’s Shubra district on Wednesday. The ceremony was held in the hall of Marjerjis Hospital in Shubra. Matta Sawiris, head of the association, said that this day is an extension of the 50-year march, adding, “We set up the first Iftar in the church in 1969 until we inaugurated it in 2004; Egypt is mentioned in the Gospel more than 500 times and five times in the Qur’an.” Sheikh Mohammed Qutb said that the Muslims and Christians are one blood, stressing that the distribution of such aid without distinction between Muslim and Christian is an important message and must appear in the public opinion…
CNEWA Canada launches Middle East campaign (Catholic Register) Under the banner “Christians Can’t Survive Without You,” the Catholic Near East Welfare Association in Canada has launched a year-long fundraising campaign to help Christians remain in the Middle East…
24 May 2018
Tags: Egypt Middle East Christians Gaza Strip/West Bank Turkey
Apparitions of Mary are a relatively recent phenomenon, occurring primarily in the West, but they have served to popularize devotion to the mother of Jesus. This stained glass window at St. Mary Church in Manhasset, N.Y., depicts Mary appearing to St. Bernadette Soubirous in Lourdes, France, in 1858. (photo: CNS/Gregory A. Shemitz)
In continuing our reflections on Mary, Mother of the Church, a new Marian feast initiated by Pope Francis, we will be comparing how Christians in the Western (Roman Catholic) and Eastern (primarily Byzantine Orthodox, here) churches revere Mary.
While CNEWA works closely with Eastern churches in much of the world we serve, our mission is also to help build bridges between East and West. Understanding Marian devotion can serve to add more planks to that bridge.
This week, let’s look to the West.
First, a little history: In the earliest days of Christianity, the role of Mary was primarily, if not exclusively, as the virgin mother of Jesus. She is mentioned in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke; never mentioned by name in John’s Gospel and never mentioned at all in the other books of the New Testament. This is not surprising since the kerygma — the Good News, the preaching and message of early Christians — was about Christ.
St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430), a Western Father of the Church, is one of the major theologians of the West in the first five centuries of Christianity. He produced a tremendous amount of letters, sermons, biblical commentaries and theological treatises. As A. D. Fitzgerald notes in “Augustine Through the Ages: An Encyclopedia,” Augustine never dedicated a separate treatise to Mary, “nor did he advocate a Marian devotion in any of his collected works.” Although Mary is the subject of intercessory prayer in Egypt as early as the second century, Augustine never addresses Mary as a subject of intercessory prayer.
Indeed, in the early centuries of the Western church, Mary’s role was secondary and subordinate to that of Christ. The Council of Ephesus in 431 declared that Christians could rightly call Mary theotokos, “Mother of God,” something that had been common among the Syriac-speaking Christians. However, in calling Mary theotokos, Ephesus was concerned more with saying something about Christ than about Mary. In calling Mary theotokos, ”Mother of God,” the Council was stating that in the person of Christ, humanity and divinity were so closely united that what was said of his humanity could also be said of his divinity and vice versa. Nevertheless, the title gave impetus to devotion to Mary in the church.
The Middle Ages gave rise to the troubadour tradition, which paid great and romantic honor to the “pure woman”; coupled with this was the rise of the mendicant orders, such as the Franciscans and Dominicans, which made devotion to Mary increasingly popular. Theologians and preachers from the 12th through 14th centuries — such as Sts. Bernard of Clairvaux, Francis of Assisi, Dominic, Bonaventure, Aquinas and Duns Scotus — all wrote and preached a great deal about devotion to Mary. As a result, during this time, Mary became a very important theme in theological treatises, sermons and, significantly, art. A new “theology of Mary” — Mariology — was developed which dealt with the person, titles, privileges and reverence due the mother of Jesus.
So intense — and, at times, extreme — was the Medieval reverence for Mary that the Protestant Reformation reacted to it negatively. Devotion to Mary was judged by the reformers to be unbiblical, diminishing the centrality of Christ, and was considered by some of the reformers to be idolatrous.
At the beginning of the modern era, a new Marian phenomenon began to emerge in the West — the apparition. The mystical suddenly became visible. Mostly, but not exclusively, in Western Europe, apparitions of Mary began to be reported. We find apparitions at Guadalupe (Mexico 1531), LaSallette (France 1846), Lourdes (France 1858), Knock (Ireland 1879), and Fatima (Portugal 1917), which gave rise to intense and widespread devotion to Mary. With most of these apparitions, the center of attention situated Mary in a particular geographic and cultural context.
As we noted last week, Vatican II (1962-1965) recognized the importance of reverence for Mary and also of correcting some of the exaggerations and at times abuses that had grown up around some Marian devotions. Also, by dedicating itself to ecumenism (i.e., the work for Christian unity), the Catholic Church took seriously some of the criticisms of the Reformation.
In our own day, the church thus situates reverence for Mary in the context of the saving work of God in Christ, which is always at the center of Christian faith and life. Recognizing the importance of local pilgrimage sites, the church underlines that Mary is the Mother — not just of a particular geographic locale or culture — of the entire church.
Pope Francis’ recent institution of a new Marian feast — Mary, Mother of the Church, observed the Monday after Pentecost (21 May this year) — is the fruit of the work of Vatican II, finally giving liturgical expression to an idea as old as Ambrose but as modern as Paul VI.
Next week, we will look at how devotion to Mary evolved in the traditions of Orthodoxy.
Hailing Mary, Part 1 — Mary, Mother of the Church
Tags: Catholic Church history Mary