14 December 2018
Angeline Fernando and Vangie Lapada, foreign workers from the Philippines, take a selfie wearing Santa hats at the Christmas market in the central bus station in Tel Aviv, Israel. The market offers an opportunity for foreigners to buy decorations for Christmas in the Jewish state.
(photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)
For foreign workers and other nonlocal Christians living in Israel, celebrating Christmas far from loved ones in a country where Christians are a minority can be a difficult time.
Used to a festive Christmas season back home in the Philippines, many of the Filipino caretakers who work with mainly Jewish families have learned to adjust their expectations.
“We are missing our families. We are used to seeing all the Christmas decorations everywhere,” said Vangie Lapada, 51, who has been working in Israel for five years. She is a caretaker in the Golan Heights in northern Israel, where there are few Christians.
But as Israel’s population has become more diverse to include foreign caretakers, migrant workers and asylum seekers -- many of whom are Christians living in cities where Jewish residents are the majority -- Jewish Israelis also have adjusted to a new reality. One of the changing points has also been the arrival of Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union where the New Year celebration, Novy God, uses many of the usual Christmas symbols for the nonreligious holiday.
On a mid-December Sunday, Lapada used her day off to travel to Tel Aviv with a friend. On the fourth floor of the cavernous Tel Aviv central bus station, they visited the pop-up Christmas market with its twinkling Christmas lights and festive Santa Claus apparel. A large banner in the center of the station announced the location of the market.
The stalls were set up several years ago by Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union wanting to openly celebrate the Novy God holiday. The market also has provided a place for Filipino foreign workers and others to enjoy some trappings of Christmas.
Novy God was the only nonpolitical holiday permitted by the communist regime in the former Soviet Union, which incorporated some customary Christmas symbols -- such as the tree -- into the celebration to placate people. The communist government also added parallel symbols from traditional folktales such as the Snow Maiden and Grandfather Winter. All religious celebrations were forbidden under the communist regime.
“This (market) makes me happy because it brings a bit of our tradition,” said Lapada as she and Angeline Fernando, 48, snapped selfies of themselves wearing Santa hats in front of a white plastic Christmas tree covered with decorations. English Christmas songs played from a stereo, adding to the atmosphere.
Lapada said that, in Israel, the main focus of their celebrations is the Filipino parishes in the larger cities and in the homes of friends who are not live-in caretakers, but she still misses the general atmosphere of Christmas in the Philippines.
“My employer is a religious Jew, so we don’t have a tree in the apartment. I come here to take pictures and feel the spirit of Christmas. These decorations are part of Christmas for us,” said Lapada.
Fernando, who works in Tel Aviv caring for a Jewish woman originally from France, said her employer enjoys the Christmas lights, and they combine Hanukkah and Christmas decorations in the apartment.
“Every day we have visitors, and they all say how beautiful the decorations are because of the colors. But I come here to see the trees, and I feel like I am in the Philippines,” Fernando said.
Because of its unique decorations made in Russia and other high-quality Christmas items, the market even sometimes attracts local Christians who live in areas where other Christmas decorations are sold.
“My mother wanted to buy the special glass decorations they have here instead of the plastic ornaments sold in Jerusalem,” said Rami, a Palestinian Christian from Jerusalem who declined to give his last name. His mother went from one stall to another, looking over delicate, hand-decorated ornaments nestled in boxes; larger ornaments made to look like snowflakes; and china Santa Claus/Grandfather Winter dolls.
Vasilisa Gorbichova, 9, who moved with her parents from Russia one-and-a-half years ago, helped her mother, Olga Alaeva, 35, decide which lights to buy. Alaeva is Christian and her husband is Jewish. For Vasilisa, the decorations were all about Novy God.
“I love the night of Novy God. I get presents from Grandfather Winter,” she said. “My favorite thing is to put up the decorations. My friends accept it, they know me and understand that I am Russian, and this is our tradition.”
Yulia, 28, a seller from Tel Aviv who moved to Israel from Russia three years ago, said the market runs a brisk business in the weeks leading up to Christmas and Novy God. Sellers have never experienced any negative response from Jewish Israelis walking by the market, she said.
“In Tel Aviv, there are a lot of people from different countries, so it is a very tolerant city,” she said. “This (market) is the best place to work on the holiday.”
Diana Giraldo, 28, a Colombian who moved to Israel this fall, was preparing for her first Christmas away from home.
“It is very hard and sad to celebrate Christmas without my family, so I am very happy to see this market, because I didn’t know where I was going to get my decorations from,” Giraldo said. She heard about the market through a Facebook page, she said.
“This is our tradition. This is what we are used to,” she said. “Now we can go home and put up our decorations.”
13 December 2018
Tags: Israel Tel Aviv
Austrian Scout Niklas Lehner poses with a Greek Orthodox priest in the Grotto of the Nativity in Bethlehem, West Bank, where Christ was born. Niklas had just kindled the flame that would be known as the Peace Light from Bethlehem and would be spread around the world.
(photo: CNS/courtesy ORF)
Brian Duane’s maroon Subaru had already covered about 1,800 miles when he pulled into the parking lot at the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Lafayette on 4 December.
It was Duane’s 18th stop in what would be a weeklong, cross-country journey for the resident of Pembroke, Massachusetts, and his car contained precious cargo with a radiance of goodwill.
This road trip was a mission from Bethlehem carrying a message of peace, contained in a glowing lantern.
This fire had originally been kindled at Christ’s birthplace, the Grotto of the Nativity in Bethlehem, West Bank. Duane is part of a national network of volunteers spreading this “Peace Light from Bethlehem” across the nation.
“It is symbolic of Christ’s love for us and of the Prince of Peace,” Duane told Catholic News Service. “It serves as a reminder to us.”
For more than a decade, volunteers like Duane have driven this flame from coast to coast, lighting hundreds of lanterns along the route.
The effort to spread the Peace Light is spearheaded by Scouts and Scouting advisers, most often associated with Catholic churches.
The goal is to kindle peace in all hearts by remembering Christ’s mission began in Bethlehem.
“It’s symbolic, but it’s the effort, the coming together, the dedication to peace and heading home and spreading the message, even at the family level,” said Bob McLear, who lives west of Chicago.
McLear planned to take the light from Lafayette back to his parish in Batavia, Illinois, and pass it off to another volunteer headed to Madison, Wisconsin.
The Peace Light’s journey can be traced back to a tradition in Austria. For the past 32 years, the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation ORF has sent a child to Bethlehem to kindle a flame from the oil lamps hanging above Christ’s birthplace.
The fire, stored in two explosion-proof miner’s lanterns, is then flown with a safety adviser back to Europe, where it is spread to more than 30 countries.
“The reaction of the people touched my heart,” said Wolfgang Kerndler, a security expert for Austrian Airlines, who has escorted the flame for about two decades.
“Even the crew is proud to be part of the operation,” Kerndler told CNS in an email. “It’s an honor.”
The Peace Light first arrived in the United States in the wake of the terrorist attacks on 9/11. The Austrian government and national Scouting association sent the flame with a VIP delegation to comfort the grieving nation.
“New York City really was devastated,” said Paul Stanton, the international representative for New York City with the Boy Scouts of America.
“It was a great sign of kindness from the people of the world,” he told CNS in a phone interview from New York City.
The light has been flown by Austrian Airlines to New York every year since. Stanton helps to organize the official reception at John F. Kennedy International Airport.
This year, about 150 adults and children gathered at the airport’s Our Lady of the Skies Chapel to welcome the light of peace and kindle their own flames.
“The youth are needing to know that there is hope, but they also need to know if there is going to be a better world, it will start with them,” Stanton said.
Duane was at the chapel to light his lanterns and begin his journey.
From New York, he drove as far west as Denver, before heading back to Massachusetts, logging more than 5,400 miles.
Along the way, Duane stopped at 26 locations to meet volunteers, participate in ceremonies and pass on the flame.
“I’ve walked into so many different places, a very liberal congregation, a very conservative congregation,” he said, “and yet we all agree on the need for peace and civility.”
Duane arrived in Indianapolis on 4 December, where more than 60 people, mostly children, gathered at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish to welcome him and spread the flame from Bethlehem. Lanterns and candles lined the altar.
“I think that it’s really beautiful and I’m really happy that we came,” said Eliza Frank, a student at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic School.
“We hear about Jesus being born in Bethlehem, but we never actually see anything from there or go there, so I thought that was really cool,” Frank said.
When Duane arrived at the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Lafayette later that evening, nearly 100 Scouts and parents were present to spread the light. Even the youngest were challenged to share the flame with at least three other people in their local community, spreading hope and peace in the process.
“To the people out there that don’t have a chance to get the peace light,” said John Niemann, an Eagle Scout and student at Purdue University, “you can still hold Christ’s peace in your heart throughout this Christmas season and really strive to have that, even though you can’t physically have the flame with you.”
The Peace Light was set to reach California by 13 December and is reported to burn in more than 30 states.
A Facebook page set up by volunteers mapped out the spread of the Peace Light and continues to field requests from individuals wishing to take the flame to their own communities.
In most cases, the lanterns lit by the Peace Light will illuminate congregations and homes through the Christmas season. Duane hopes that those lights serve as a constant reminder that small actions, like small lanterns, have the power to light a darkened world.
“We sometimes feel overwhelmed when there’s major conflicts going on in the Middle East or wherever it happens to be,” Duane said.
“Like, what can I do? Well, I can be kind and gentle to my family, my neighbors, the lady at the store, everybody else. Be a vehicle of peace, be a vessel of peace,” he said.
Check out the video about the Peace Light below, produced by Katie Rutter for CNS:
12 December 2018
Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem (l) is assisted by CNEWA's regional director for Jerusalem, Joseph Hazboun (r), in dedicating a new section of the Christ the King Bookstore devoted to sacred vessels and vestments.
(photo: Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem)
Tuesday, CNEWA’s regional director in Jerusalem, Joseph Hazboun, took part in the festivities to dedicate a new section of a major bookstore in Jerusalem.
Details, from Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem website:
On 11 December 2018, and under the patronage of Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, Christ the King Bookstore inaugurated a new section of “Sacrum Palestine”, for Liturgical Vestments and Vessels.
Invited by the Rev. Bashar Fawadleh, Director of Youth of Jesus’ Homeland, Palestine (YJHP) and responsible for the bookstore, the ceremony was attended by a number of Franciscan and Latin Patriarchate priests, the Rosary Sisters, the Verbo Incarnato Sisters, the youth groups, and the parishioners. Representatives of [CNEWA's operating agency in the Middle East] the Pontifical Mission were also there: Mr. Joseph Hazboun, its Regional Director and Mr. Rodolf Sa’adeh, the project manager, who contributed to this project that they believe it will serve the church of the Holy Land and enrich its heritage.
The Apostolic Administrator commended the services carried out by the bookstore in answering the needs of the Living Stones. He also emphasized its rich Arabic books and resources for Theology and Catechism and the pivotal role that the bookstore plays in making these books available, in spite of the difficulty it endures in importing them, especially from Lebanon.
Visit the LPJ website for more photos and information.
11 December 2018
Palestinians and foreign tourists take part in the Santa Run outside the Cremisan Monastery on 7 December in Beit Jala, West Bank. (photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)
Bethlehem and the neighboring towns of Beit Jala and Beit Sahour depend economically on tourism, but traditionally have struggled with keeping visitors in the area for more than half a day. Although the hotels are fully booked for Christmas this year, that does not necessarily mean it will translate into any business for the locals.
Most large tour and pilgrim groups are bused through the Israeli checkpoint straight to the Church of the Nativity and sometimes to the nearby Milk Grotto or Shepherds Field in Beit Sahour. Then tourists get back on their buses and go to one of a select few souvenir shops to spend their money. If the souvenir hawkers hovering in the area are lucky, they may be able to sell the tourists a few trinkets during their brief stay. But for the most part smaller businesses, including shops and cafes, rarely see any rainfall from visitors.
With the memories of the economic difficulties during the second intifada still fresh in their memories, private residents and the three municipalities are starting initiatives to entice visitors to stop, stroll through the towns, eat a local baklava sweet or take a city tour, much like they would in any other city they visit.
Janneke Stegeman, 38, a German theologian, has been to Bethlehem many times. But this time, arriving during the Christmas season, she took advantage of a two-hour Art Walk tour through the old city of Beit Sahour — one of Bethlehem’s sister towns in the Bethlehem “triangle” — to get to know some of the young artists in the area and hear about the work they are doing.
“For me, coming here as a pilgrim is having a deep connection to the context and people you are visiting,” she told Catholic News Service. “People come to the holy places without realizing where they are and who the people are who are living here.”
“This experience is really crucial to me … especially at Christmas,” Stegeman added. “It has to do with real people. I want to understand what is happening here, to talk to the people who are living here. To see how people keep their hope and perseverance in a context of a difficult reality.”
Just having a cup of coffee at a place like Singer Cafe affords a glimpse into the life of young Palestinians who opt to stay in their city and invigorate their town rather than emigrate, she said, sipping her coffee as she spoke.
“It is important for me that people understand that Palestinians deserve as much time as Israel. There is nothing to be afraid of if they come here. Come, see the Nativity Church, but then come meet the local Palestinians, have a chat with them. People come to see the Biblical stones and then forget to see the living stones,” she said.
Dutch expat Kristel Elayyan, 40, who runs the Singer Cafe with her husband, Tariq, started the Art Walk, so people get to know local artisans.
Social media is also taking a role in advertising the events and stirring up interest for both local and international visitors. The Bethlehem Christmas tree was lit to the delight of a crowd of thousands in Nativity Square, with live music and fireworks following. Similar tree-lightings took place a few days later in Beit Jala and Beit Sahour.
The Latin Patriarchate tweeted about the tree-lighting event in Bethlehem, and the municipal Facebook pages advertise in English the various events taking place in the area during the season: the Art Walk, Christmas markets featuring locally produced crafts and food, an Afro-Dabkeh dance workshop, a pre-Christmas gala dinner, a pub dance party and a Christmas “Santa Run” in Beit Jala, where St. Nicholas is the patron saint.
As rain drizzled, participants in the Santa Run gathered in the parking lot of the Beit Jala Latin seminary on 7 December, stretching their muscles, buying their red Santa shirts and taking selfies as they waited for the shuttle to take them to the Cremisan Monastery, where the run began.
“Five years ago, you could maybe go to a coffee place to smoke a water pipe and play some cards. Now there are bars for youth and places to meet up. There are a lot of places where you can spend your time here now,” said Musa Khatib, 26, a pharmacist from the nearby Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Safafa. “Because of social media you can follow the events, schedule your week. The spirit here is nice, the vibe is very positive, and you can see happy people.”
A representative from the Beit Jala municipality who declined to give his name told CNS: “Our vision is of strengthening the cultural side of Beit Jala. We want to note the connection between St. Nicholas and Santa Claus. It is about promoting tourism, and bringing it up to the international level is our dream,” he said as upbeat Christmas carols blared in English from a car with oversized loudspeakers.
In the end, some 80 locals and a few internationals took part in the run — some came just for the fun while others came intent on winning. The Santa Run Facebook page was updated continuously throughout the event.
“This is great,” said Elizabeth Purcell, 35, from Mt. Vernon, Illinois, whose husband works for the Baptist Church in Jerusalem. She was there with her three sons and two young friends visiting from the U.S. “If you just go to the church, you are not seeing what is really here. You don’t get to meet the people if you don’t go to something like this race or to a craft fair. You can see the energy here. It is energizing to see foreigners coming here. It is great for the Palestinian economy.”
10 December 2018
Tags: Holy Land Pilgrimage/pilgrims Holy Land Christians West Bank
Volunteer youth from the Knights of Malta Lebanon, a Catholic organization, and "Who is Hussein," a Muslim Shiite organization, as well as Girl Guides sponsored by the St. Vincent de Paul Society, gather on 8 December at the Malta health center in Beirut before heading out to decorate the homes of poor elderly. (photo: CNS/courtesy Order of Malta Lebanon)
On a gloomy, rainy Saturday morning in Beirut, 92-year-old Julia enthusiastically greeted her visitors, Christian and Muslim youth, who had come to set up a Christmas tree in her modest apartment.
“Welcome. I love you,” she said to her guests, who each greeted the beaming woman with kisses before breaking out in a chorus of “Jingle Bells.”
Julia, a Maronite Catholic, was one of 10 beneficiaries on 8 December of a Christmas tree decoration project for poor elderly that brought together Lebanese volunteers from the Knights of Malta, a Catholic organization, and “Who is Hussein,” a Muslim Shiite organization, as well as Girl Guides associated with the local St. Vincent de Paul.
Widowed for 40 years, Julia had spent her life as a homemaker. She lives with her 66-year-old unmarried son, Nicholas, who has difficulty finding work in his trade as a house painter.
There are no government-sponsored services for the needy in Lebanon. Julia is one of the beneficiaries of the Knights of Malta Lebanon’s Elderly Guardianship Program, in which the order’s youth volunteers visit the homes of elderly on a monthly basis.
And on this day, Julia was gleefully basking in the royal treatment, seated near her street-level balcony window, as her visitors enthusiastically demonstrated teamwork: assembling the tree, untangling and attaching lights and hanging brilliantly colored ornaments, singing “Gloria in Excelsis Deo.”
“Jesus Christ called us to bring joy to people, to help make their lives better,” 17-year-old Girl Guide Lea Chalhoub told Catholic News Service as she decorated Julia’s tree. “Lebanon is a country of Muslims and Christians living together, and so we need to work hand-in-hand to build a better society.”
“Jesus wants us to help people, especially at Christmas,” added Thea Rizkallah, age 8.
Switching to entertainment mode, some from the group danced to Christmas tunes streamed from a phone. Clapping and singing along, soon Julia could hardly contain herself, joining them for a little jig, her cane held out horizontally like a vaudeville star.
“My legs and arms are not so strong anymore,” Julia apologized, resuming her dance in a seated position, tapping her cane to the beat.
Then, choosing a shade from a mish-mash of items stored in a container beside her, Julia asked to have her nails painted. Malta volunteer Zahraa Omeiry applied the festive maroon color like a caress to each finger, as the singing continued. A neighbor, passing by on the street with groceries, stopped at the balcony window to peer in on the festivities, asking, “Is it your wedding day?” as Julia proudly showed off her nails.
Among Julia’s visitors, Zahraa and her cousin, Nour Omeiry, Shiite Muslims, recently joined the Malta group at Beirut’s Jesuit-run St. Joseph University, where they are both studying political science.
“It’s so important to help the less fortunate, to make people smile,” Nour Omeiry told Catholic News Service.
“We are all human and we have to live together,” she said of Muslim-Christian coexistence. “It’s great to bond with each other and to share something we all like to do,” she added. Like many Muslims in Lebanon, her family always observes Christmas with a small tree and a family dinner.
With a manger placed under its boughs, Julia’s tree was illuminated to great cheers, and together the young and old sang “Feliz Navidad.”
“Thanks be to God. You are better than gold,” Julia told her visitors.
Nicholas, who had quietly kept to himself on the balcony to allow his mother to solely relish in the attention, told CNS: “I’m so thankful that God has blessed us with this visit. I feel at peace when I see my mom so happy,” he added, his eyes filled with emotion.
The Knights of Malta manages a network of 30 different operations throughout Lebanon, including community health centers, mobile medical units and day care centers for the elderly.
The Lebanese chapter of “Who is Hussein” sponsors activities such as taking flowers to hospitals for the sick and poor and distributing food during the season of Ramadan and its “10 days of kindness” outreach during the feast of Ashura.
Young people from both groups also have collaborated by serving elderly poor the Iftar feast during Ramadan.
7 December 2018
Tags: Lebanon Muslim Interfaith
In this image from 2014, 80-year-old Marjik Harutyunyan was one of those struggling to get by, decades after the earthquake that devastated Armenia. To this day, countless others like her are still living in makeshift shacks erected in the aftermath of the quake. (photo: Nazik Armenakyan)
It was 30 years ago today that Armenia was hit by a catastrophic event — and the country’s people are still feeling the emotional and economic aftershocks:
Armenia’s second-largest city, Gyumri was flattened by a devastating earthquake in December 1988, taking the lives of 25,000 people, about 40 percent of whom were children. In the Western media, photographs of the ruined city — then known as Leninakan — became a source of humiliation for a crumbling Union of Soviet Socialist Republics; the quality of construction was so poor almost every building erected in Gyumri in the Soviet period was destroyed. A quarter century later, the city and its environs are shaken by a “different kind of quake.”
“This is an earthquake of life, of terrible social hardship and of moral values,” says Vahan Tumasian, who advocates for earthquake survivors’ housing rights and implements housing programs in northwestern Armenia. Even 25 years after the calamity, he adds, “poverty and homelessness are even more acute.”
…Since the earthquake, the population of Gyumri has dropped by about half. In 1988, some 220,000 people lived in the city. But by 2011 — due to the earthquake and the country’s economic collapse after it achieved independence from an unraveling Soviet Union — Gyumri’s population declined to 121,500. Many are convinced the actual number of people living in the city is less than 90,000.
According to the United Nations, Armenia is among the world’s “aging” nations. Pensioners constitute some 14 percent of the country’s 2.9 million people. In Gyumri, the average age is trending upward as more and more of the young and capable pursue employment abroad, usually Russia.
“Imagine how things stand with the frail elderly if men leave their children to go find jobs to earn their living, if unemployment is 40 percent in the city during the summer, and rises to 60 percent in the winter due to fewer seasonal jobs,” says Sister Arousiag Sajonian of the Armenian Sisters of the Immaculate Conception.
“If the young cannot survive, how can seniors?” asks Sister Arousiag, who arrived in northwestern Armenia soon after the earthquake. She later founded the Our Lady of Armenia Boghossian Educational Center in Gyumri, which since 2011 has also included a center to care for the elderly.
Observers say pensioners in northern Armenia are left alone with no caretakers for a variety of reasons. Some may have lost their children in the earthquake. Others lost their children to emigration. But alone in Gyumri exists the phenomenon of orphaned children brought by the Soviets to work in factories — orphans such as Ophelia Matevosian — who never married or created families and remain alone.
Though two of these factors find their roots in the past, one remains an ongoing concern.
“The growing migration of the young is aggravating the issue with pensioners,” says Theresa Grigorian, who heads the social affairs department of Gyumri’s municipal government. She says thousands of childless seniors now live in Gyumri, the majority of whom were orphans themselves. Between 300 and 400 have lost their children in the earthquake and more than 2,500 are now left without a caretaker because of the emigration of their surviving children.
CNEWA has been at the forefront of efforts to assist these broken men and women and give them a sense of possibility and hope.
CNEWA supports a variety of initiatives of Caritas Armenia, the Armenian Sisters of the Immaculate Conception and the Ordinariate for Armenian Catholics in Armenia. Among efforts to care for the elderly, CNEWA supports the “Warm Winter” program of Caritas, which provides heating fuel to 620 pensioners living in Gyumri and in remote villages farther north, where temperatures can dip as low as 20 degrees below zero.
Read more about the remarkable spirit of these people who have survived so much and CNEWA’s work among them below. And to support efforts to give them dignity and hope, visit this link. Meantime, please lift up these people in your prayers and remember them in a special way, especially during this cold and difficult time of year.
An Unshakable Faith
Armenia’s Children, Left Behind
Shaken by the Earthquake of Life
6 December 2018
People in Byblos, Lebanon, gather around a Christmas tree on 30 November.
(photo: CNS/Jamal Saidi, Reuters)
5 December 2018
Dominican Sister Luma Khudher of Iraq is pictured in an early October photo in Chester, England. At a 4 December ecumenical service at Westminster Abbey, Britain's Prince Charles spoke of how he was deeply moved by the testimony of Sister Luma, who fled ISIS but has returned to the Ninevah Plain to help re-establish the Christian presence. (photo: CNS/Simon Caldwell)
The heir to the British throne spoke of how he was deeply moved by the testimony of an Iraqi sister who fled Islamic State militants but has returned to the Ninevah Plain to help re-establish the Christian presence.
Charles, Prince of Wales, described the resilience of Sister Luma Khudher, a Dominican Sister of St. Catherine of Siena, and other Iraqi refugees as a testament to the “extraordinary power of faith.”
Speaking in Westminster Abbey at a 4 December ecumenical service “to celebrate the contribution of Christians in the Middle East,” the prince recalled his “great joy” of meeting Sister Luma in England in October.
He told a congregation of more than 1,000 people how, in 2014, as extremists advanced on the Christian town of Qaraqosh, Sister Luma “got behind the wheel of a minibus crammed full of her fellow Christians and drove the long and dangerous road to safety.”
“Like the 100,000 other Christians who were forced from the Ninevah Plains by Daesh that year, they left behind the ruins of their homes and churches and the shattered remnants of their communities,” he said.
“The sister told me, movingly, of her return to Ninevah with her fellow sisters three years later, and of their despair at the utter destruction they found there,” he said. “But like so many others, they put their faith in God, and today the tide has turned -- nearly half of those displaced having gone back to rebuild their homes and their communities.”
Prince Charles said the return of Christians to Iraq represented “the most wonderful testament to the resilience of humanity, and to the extraordinary power of faith to resist even the most brutal efforts to extinguish it.”
He said that in meeting people like Sister Luma, he was repeatedly “deeply humbled and profoundly moved by the extraordinary grace and capacity for forgiveness that I have seen in those who have suffered so much.”
“It is an act of supreme courage, of a refusal to be defined by the sin against you,” he said, “of determination that love will triumph over hate.”
Christians who face persecution, endure and overcome “are an inspiration to the whole church, and to all people of goodwill.”
Sister Luma visited the United Kingdom in October as a guest of the Aid to the Church in Need, a Catholic charity helping persecuted Christians.
She speaks English, having studied at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago and earning a doctorate in biblical studies at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, so she could describe her ordeal in detail during a private meeting with the prince.
In his address, Prince Charles also expressed his hope that Christians and Muslims will again live together in peace, saying that throughout history they have “shown that it is possible to live side by side as neighbors and friends.”
“Indeed, I know that in Lebanon, Muslims join Christians at the Shrine of our Lady of Lebanon to honor her together,” Prince Charles said. “And I know that there are Muslim faith leaders who have spoken out in defense of Christian communities and of their contribution to the region.”
“Co-existence and understanding are not just possible, therefore; they are confirmed by hundreds of years of shared experience,” he said. “Extremism and division are by no means inevitable.”
The Catholic Church was represented at the service by Archbishop Peter Smith of Southwark, vice president of the English and Welsh bishops’ conference; Dominican Father Timothy Radcliffe; and by U.S. Archbishop Edward J. Adams, papal nuncio to Great Britain. Christian leaders from the Middle East and North Africa also were in attendance.
Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury said that “to live in a country or in a society where a government, or an armed group, or even a minority of people consider that you should be consigned to oblivion because of your faith in Christ is an experience that is without parallel.”
“Obedience for Christians outside the Middle East and outside areas of persecution is to ensure that governments, that households, that societies welcome the afflicted, pray for the suffering, stand with those in torment, rejoice in liberation,” he said.
Read more about the remarkable work of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena in Iraq in ONE magazine:
4 December 2018
Tags: Iraq Dominican Sisters
The Conference of the Catholic Patriarchs of the East gathered for its annual meeting 26-30 November in Baghdad under the theme "Youth is a Sign of Hope in the Middle East Countries." (photo: CNS/courtesy Conference of the Catholic Patriarchs of the East)
Catholic leaders of the Middle East cautioned that the very existence of Christians in the region is threatened, but their faithful continue “to bear witness to the Lord Jesus amid a turbulent world interrupted by mighty waves.”
The Conference of the Catholic Patriarchs of the East reminded young people: “In light of the difficulties and challenges you face in the midst of the current situation in the Middle East, and in light of the bleak migration that threatens your future and the Christian presence in the East as a whole, we stand by you. As we share the same present pain, we look forward to a bright future with your presence, and we assure you that we will work together to provide the foundations of your steadfastness and steadfastness in your land.”
The patriarchs met in Baghdad 26-30 November with the theme, “Youth Is a Sign of Hope in the Middle East Countries.”
Cardinal Louis Sako, patriarch of Chaldean Catholics, opened the meeting and noted that emigration and religious extremism are pressing challenges.
At a 27 November liturgy at the Chaldean Cathedral of St. Joseph, overflowing with young people who shared their questions, concerns, fears and aspirations for their future with the prelates, Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan said: “We live in this terrible legacy that we have inherited in recent years. Today, many people want to leave because of the difficulties and pain created by takfiri terrorism and external interference.”
However, Patriarch Younan exhorted, “If we want to be faithful and faithful to our fathers and grandfathers, we must remain steadfast despite all the challenges.”
The patriarchs also concelebrated the liturgy on 26 November at the Syriac Cathedral of Our Lady of Deliverance in Baghdad, marking the attack there eight years ago in which two young priests and 45 believers were martyred.
In their final statement, the patriarchs called upon Iraq’s officials “to work hand in hand to renew the country and its development.”
The patriarchs also met with Iraqi President Barham Salih, who was received by Pope Francis at the Vatican on 24 November. The president told the prelates that he had invited the pope to visit Iraq.
Regarding Syria, the patriarchs expressed satisfaction “with the stability in most parts of the country, where life has returned to normal, hoping that this will include stability in all of Syria.” They appealed “to all decision-makers to work hard for the return” of displaced people and refugees, which they stressed “will have a profound impact” on maintaining national unity “so that Syria will remain the land of peace, freedom and dignity.”
In their statement, the Middle East patriarchs affirmed their solidarity with Palestine and its people “who still groan under the occupation and long for the dawn of salvation and independence.” They called upon the international community to “recognize the Palestinian state within the framework of the two states and the return of Palestinian refugees to their lands.”
They also urged respect for religious minorities, adding, “The truth, as Pope Benedict XVI warns us, is that ‘peace and justice in our world cannot be achieved if religious freedoms are not respected for all.’“
3 December 2018
Tags: Iraq Middle East
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas greets Pope Francis during a meeting at the Vatican on 3 December. (photo: CNS/Andrew Medichini, pool via Reuters)
Pope Francis and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas renewed their commitment to peace in the Holy Land and a two-state solution to resolve the conflict between Israel and Palestine, the Vatican said.
The pope welcomed President Abbas to the Vatican on 3 December and the two spoke privately for 20 minutes.
In a statement released after their meeting, the Vatican said the two leaders focused on “efforts to reactivate the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians, and to reach a two-state solution, hoping for a renewed commitment on the part of the international community to meet the legitimate aspirations of both peoples.”
Pope Francis and Abbas also discussed the status of Jerusalem and underlined “the importance of recognizing and preserving its identity and the universal value of the holy city for the three Abrahamic religions.”
Tensions over the city rose again in December 2017 after President Donald Trump announced his decision to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, fulfilling a promise he made during his presidential campaign.
The announcement sparked anti-U.S. protests throughout Asia and the Middle East and drew warnings from Middle Eastern and European leaders that overturning the United States’ long-standing policy would further complicate peace negotiations.
Abbas presented the pope with a painting of the Old City of Jerusalem and said, “This represents the spirit of the Old City of Jerusalem.”
He also gave the pope a book titled, “Two Lands of Holiness,” a historical book about the Holy Land and Vatican City as well as hand-carved wooden panel.
The pope gave the president a commemorative medallion depicting St. Peter’s Basilica in the 1600s and a copy of his 2018 message for the World Day of Peace.
“It is from this year and I signed it with today’s date,” the pope said as he gave him the message.
Taking his leave, Abbas warmly embraced the pope, who thanked the Palestinian president for visiting.
“I am happy about this meeting,” Abbas replied. “We are counting on you.”
Tags: Pope Francis Palestine