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September, 2019
Volume 45, Number 3
30 September 2013
Greg Kandra

This image from 2007 shows an illuminated cross, part of the celebration of Meskel in Addis Ababa. (photo: Petterik Wiggers)

Ethiopians on Thursday night marked the Christian holiday of Meskel. Gerald Jones wrote about this dramatic celebration in 2011:

Meskel means “cross” in Amharic and it a major celebration (both religious and national) that commemorates the finding of the True Cross by the Empress Helena. Tradition holds that, praying for assistance, Empress Helena had a revelation; she was to light a bonfire, and the smoke would lead her to the resting place of the True Cross. …

The major celebrations occur on Meskel Eve. Around 6 pm, huge crowds gather in the Square where many priests assemble to chant in the Geez liturgical language and dance the measured steps of liturgical dance. These days, parish youth groups also gather and sing and dance, and it is wonderful to see young boys and girls actively involved in this traditional celebration.

The International Business Times has more details:

Legend has it that on this day circa 330, St. Helena — who is known as Nigist Eleni in Ethiopia and was the mother of Rome’s first Christian emperor, Constantine — found the cross on which Jesus had been crucified. In accordance with a revelation she’d had in a dream, Helena burned a giant pile of wood and frankincense. The smoke rose into the sky and then arced back down to earth, showing her the spot where the cross had been buried. Fragments of the cross were distributed to churches around the world, and one found its way to Ethiopia, where it is now said to be buried under the Gishen Mariam Church in the northeastern Wollo region. Ethiopia, which has one of the most devout Orthodox communities in the world, is the only country that celebrates the finding of the cross on a national level.

Tags: Ethiopia Cultural Identity Ethiopian Orthodox Church Ethiopian Christianity

30 September 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro

Pope Francis meets with cardinals at the Vatican on 30 September during the consistory in which he announced 27 April as the date for the canonization of Blesseds John XIII and John Paul II. The Polish pontiff who led the Catholic Church for 27 years and witnessed the fall of communism and Pope John XXIII, who called the Second Vatican Council, will be declared saints in a single ceremony on Divine Mercy Sunday. (photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

Pope to canonize Blessed John XXIII, John Paul II April 27 (CNS) Recognizing that Blessed John XXIII and John Paul II have widespread reputations for holiness and that years of studying their lives and actions have proven their exceptional virtue, Pope Francis announced he would declare his two predecessors saints at a single ceremony on 27 April. The pope made the announcement on 30 September at the end of an “ordinary public consistory,” a gathering of cardinals and promoters of the sainthood causes of the two late popes. The consistory took place in the context of a prayer service in Latin and included the reading of brief biographies of the two sainthood candidates…

Pope receives Greek Orthodox patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Monday received in audience in the Vatican His Beatitude Theodoros II, the Greek Orthodox pope and patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa. The patriarch’s enthronement took place on 24 October 2004 at the Holy Church of the Annunciation of the Theotokos in Alexandria, in the presence of many primates and representatives of all the churches, the cultural and political leaders of Greece and Egypt and thousands of Christians… [To learn more about the Orthodox Patriarchal Church of Alexandria and All Africa, see our profile.]

God is everywhere in Egypt (Los Angeles Times) In politically fractured Egypt, there’s one belief that almost every faction seems to hold in common: God is on our side. Egypt’s social and cultural mix is complex, comprising Islamists, progressives, conservatives, those marching in lock step with the powerful military and more. But in the Arab world’s most populous and influential country, the many guises of piety are rarely absent from discourse. Whether in fiery mosque sermons, slow-moving constitutional deliberations or triumphal military statements, the banner of heaven is being waved by all sides…

Bombings across Iraq now touch on formerly safe havens (Christian Science Monitor) A rash of car bombs killed dozens across Baghdad on Monday, the latest in a series of deadly bombings that have racked Iraq over the past several days. The violence has brought the country’s civilian death toll to its worst level since 2008. The Christian Science Monitor reported earlier this month that many Iraqis feel the civil war never really ended, and that the recent surge in violence is evidence of the sectarian divide still plaguing the country — as well as the government’s inability to unite Iraq’s Sunnis and Shiites…

Chaldean patriarch: Eastern Christians united against extremism (AsiaNews) In pastoral visit in Lebanon, Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael I denounced the discrimination to which Christians are subdued and defended the contribution that they have made together with the Muslims for the history, culture and human rights in the Middle East. Referring to Pope Benedict XVI’s apostolic exhortation “Ecclesia in Medio Oriente,” the patriarch has asked all Christians to “remain firm” in their roots by educating their children in the faith received and strengthening the ecumenical work of unity among Christian denominations: without unity, he stressed, “we have no future…”

Four students arrested for anti-Christian vandalism in Israel (Fides) On Sunday afternoon, 29 September, four young Israeli Jews were arrested after they had severely damaged at least fifteen Christian graves in the cemetery situated on Mt. Zion, near the Old City of Jerusalem. The four were students attending a Jewish religious school situated in the west of the Old City. According to Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld, at least two of them seem to be activists connected to extremist movements in support of Jewish settlements in the West Bank…

Tags: Iraq Egypt Pope Francis Violence against Christians Pope John Paul II

27 September 2013
Greg Kandra

Father Luis Montes, who directs St. Aloysius School in Alexandria, Egypt, spends some time with the students. Read more about the school’s remarkable work with the poor in City of Charity from the May 2009 issue of ONE. (photo: Sean Sprague)

Tags: Egypt Children Education Poor/Poverty

27 September 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro

In this 2012 photo, Anaadi Ahmad, a refugee from Homs, Syria, holds one of her children in a refugee camp in Al Four, at the foot of the mountains on Lebanon’s eastern border with Syria. (photo: CNS/Sam Tarling, Catholic Relief Services)

Lebanese official says Syrian refugees threaten Lebanon’s existence (Daily Star Lebanon) Energy Minister Gebran Bassil warned Friday the Syrian refugee crisis threatens the existence of Lebanon and said the country must stop receiving refugees. “The Syrian refugee crisis is the biggest crisis threatening the Lebanese entity,” Bassil told a news conference to address the surge in the number of Syrian refugees crossing into the country. “We should stop receiving refugees with the exception of those who need health care,” Bassil said. The United Nations is aiding over 750,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon, and there are hundreds of thousands more people who are uncounted. Lebanese officials say the country needs more international aid to cope with the huge numbers of refugees…

Syrian refugees in Lebanon set differences aside (Al Monitor) The Syrian conflict has affected Lebanon on many occasions, with attacks against Hezbollah occurring in recent months alongside sectarian fighting in Tripoli. Refugees in precarious conditions, however, seem to have put their political differences aside in the face of dire odds. Most refugees agree that tensions about Syrians, though they exist, are minor compared with those between Lebanese and Syrians. Organizations dealing with Syrian refugees in Lebanon such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Norwegian Refugee Council also report this finding. Dana Sleiman, an information officer for UNHCR, said that the organization has not observed “any form of political segregation” among Syrian refugees, but that “tensions appear mostly between Lebanese and Syrians, primarily on financial issues…”

Islamists torch statues, crosses in Syrian churches (AINA) Fighters linked to Al Qaeda set fire to statues and crosses inside churches in northern Syria on Thursday and destroyed a cross on a church clock tower, a watchdog said. Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) fighters entered the Greek Catholic Church of Our Lady of the Annunciation in the northern city of Raqa and torched the religious furnishings inside, the Syria Observatory for Human Rights said. They did the same at the Armenian Catholic Church of the Martyrs, and also destroyed a cross atop its clock tower, replacing it with the ISIL flag…

Orthodox patriarch shares pain of Syrian people with pope (Vatican Radio) The pain and suffering of Christians in Syria was at the heart of a meeting that Pope Francis had on Friday with Patriarch Youhanna X, head of the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch and All the East. On Sunday the patriarch will attend Mass in St. Peter’s Square, celebrated by the pope to mark the Day of Catechists. In his encounter with the Holy Father, the patriarch spoke about the difficulties facing the Christian community in Syria and the surrounding region. He also talked about the plight of his own brother who was kidnapped last April, together with the Syriac Orthodox bishop of Aleppo. The two leaders also shared their hopes for progress on the journey towards full Christian unity…

Keeping the Khachkars (OCP Media Network) The cross is arguably the most familiar symbol of Christianity, but nowhere is this iconography as crucial or culturally entrenched as it is in Armenia. Wherever you go, thousands of khachkars, or cross-stones, provide a rare glimpse into the art of spiritual expression. Starting from the 4th century, the conversion of Armenians, and the instatement of Christianity — and by extension, the Armenian Apostolic Church — as a state religion in 301 issued a new era of national consciousness. Upon initial inspection, the khachkar bears resemblance to other forms of Christian art, namely the Celtic high cross and the Lithuanian kryzdirbyste, but in order to understand how a medieval stone became so charged with the Armenian spirit, a brief lesson in iconology is needed…

Tags: Lebanon Refugees Syrian Civil War Cultural Identity Armenia

26 September 2013
Elias D. Mallon, S.A., Ph.D.

King Abdullah II speaks at the United Nations on 24 September. (photo: U.N./Marco Castro)

King Abdullah II, ruler of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, gave an extraordinary speech to the United Nations General Assembly on 24 September 2013. The king, a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad, and his family have long been engaged in dialogue with Christians and other religious faiths. Although the number of Christians in Jordan is small, they have enjoyed freedom to practice their faith under this king and his predecessors.

In his speech, King Abdullah spoke of what a modern Arab state needs to be: free, with freedom of opportunity and equality for all its citizens. However, the stability of Jordan is being put under tremendous pressure by the large number of refugees entering its borders, including Christians from Iraq and war refugees from Syria. The king noted that the number of refugees in Jordan equals 10 percent of the entire population — and that percentage could rise to 20 percent. No country can easily absorb that amount of refugees. As a comparison, if the United States were required to take the same percentage of refugees, the number would exceed the present populations of New York and New Jersey.

Put bluntly, Jordan needs all the help it can get. As one of the few areas of stability in the region, it is also one of the few places where Arab Christians are free to live their faith. It is developing democratic institutions and could in the future be one model for democracy in the region. The refugee problem threatens all of this. Jordan has shown typical Arab hospitality in welcoming refugees. However, the country’s economy cannot bear the strain that this brings. If Jordan is to survive, the international community needs to help it with feeding, housing and, if necessary, resettling the hundreds of thousands of refugees who have come there seeking safety.

You can read the full text of the king’s speech at this link.

Tags: Refugees Syrian Civil War Jordan Iraqi Refugees United Nations

26 September 2013
Greg Kandra

Recovering addicts attend a morning yoga class at the detoxification clinic in Kerala. (photo: Cody Christopulos)

In 2005, we turned a spotlight on a dark corner of Indian life, alcohol and drug addiction:

Not long ago, Vincent Njarekaden was driving on the back roads of Irinjalakuda. The rural district lies in the central Indian state of Kerala about 40 miles northwest of the port city of Cochin. Mr. Njarekaden is the camp coordinator of Navachaithanya, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center established in 1991 by the Syro-Malabar Catholic Eparchy of Irinjalakuda.

As he passed a toddy shop, Kerala’s version of the neighborhood bar, Mr. Njarekaden recognized a former patient, Antu, walking in its direction. Mr. Njarekaden pulled over and summoned Antu to the jeep. “Where are you going?” Mr. Njarekaden asked. The former patient gestured toward the toddy shop.

Economists often cite Kerala as a model of human development in India. The state has achieved a literacy rate, standard of health and women’s empowerment to a greater degree than the country at large.

But there is a dark side to this progress: Unemployment in Kerala stands at about 35 percent, the worst rate of any state in India, according to India’s Labor Ministry. Kerala’s crime rate nearly doubles the national rate, according to the Ministry of Home Affairs. A conference on suicide prevention, held in the state capital of Trivandrum in 2004, reported that there are more reported suicides in Kerala than in any other state.

But alcoholism is perhaps the state’s worst social malady.

“When there is high unemployment, it is not uncommon for many people to turn to alcohol,” said Dr. M. Prasanna Kumar, a health consultant in Trivandrum. …

Nearly every village has a toddy shop. They dot the rural byways like rest stops. The shops, typically dark wooden shacks, have good, cheap curries. But they are better known for their toddy, a pungent liquor made from coconut trees. Inside the shops, men — and only men — can be found sipping tall bottles after a day in the fields. Conversation is muted. The men drink purposefully. They are there to get drunk.

Six months ago, Antu attended a month-long detoxification camp at Navachaithanya. He had been sober for five months, he said, but had started drinking a month ago.

Antu recounted his story matter-of-factly; he did not seem ashamed of being caught by the camp administrator. He had spent the whole day climbing coconut trees, collecting fruit. And now he wanted a drink. Antu said he would probably drink four liter-bottles of toddy — which all told will cost him about two dollars, or half of his day’s pay — and then go home and pass out. He claimed he would not be hung over the following day when he woke up to climb more coconut trees. Scolded but undeterred, Antu resumed his walk toward the toddy shop.

Each month, about 50 men arrive at the center for the detoxification and rehabilitation camp. Most men come of their own will, Father Titus said. Others are referred by their families, employers or local police.

Read more about living One Day At a Time In Kerala from the July 2005 issue of ONE.

Tags: India Kerala Indian Catholics Alcoholism

26 September 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro

Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter I has expressed disappointment with the international response to the Syrian crisis, saying that only the pope has made a solid statement against war. He believes that the profitable weapons trade explains the silence of most countries. (video: Rome Reports)

Maronite patriarch helps pope with Mass, thanks him for peace call (Daily Star Lebanon) The Maronite patriarch of Antioch assisted Pope Francis during a Mass Wednesday at the Vatican and thanked the pontiff for his recent calls for peace in the Middle East. A cardinal of the Catholic Church, Patriarch Bechara Peter was accompanied by a number of Maronite bishops and heads of monastic orders during the morning ceremony, according to the National News Agency. At the conclusion of the Mass, the patriarch thanked Francis for his efforts to promote peace in the region, and also spoke about the dispersion of Maronites throughout the world…

Chaldean patriarch speaks out against emigration (Daily Star Lebanon) The Chaldean patriarch arrived in Lebanon for a rare visit Thursday and urged Christians to not leave their homeland. Patriarch Louis Raphael of Babylon made the comments at Rafik Hariri International Airport, before heading to the Beirut suburb of Hazmieh for the holding of religious services. “Christians, wherever they are, should not emigrate, because this is considered a withdrawal from the scene and a loss of identity,” he said. “In countries of emigration, they are refugees and emigres, but here, they have an identity, a role and a history…”

Daily suicide bombings keep Iraqis in state of shock (Al Monitor) As suicide bombings become a daily occurrence, Iraqis contemplate their lives. Ali Wajih, a young Iraqi poet, told Al Monitor, “I’m no longer intimidated by death. … I talk about death and laugh with my friends. Haven’t I told you that death has become trivial?” Some Iraqi intellectuals criticize media outlets for disregarding the human aspects of the victims of bombings and acts of violence, simply counting them on a daily basis and following up on the government’s reactions and stated measures. This picture has become a daily routine in Iraq. Iraqis go about their lives expecting a car bomb to explode next to them at any time. They say goodbye to their families in the morning, and deep down inside they do not rule out the idea that this could be their final goodbye.…

Largest Syrian rebel groups form Islamic alliance (Washington Post) American hopes of winning more influence over Syria’s fractious rebel movement faded Wednesday after 11 of the biggest armed factions repudiated the Western-backed opposition coalition and announced the formation of a new alliance dedicated to creating an Islamic state. The Al Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra, designated a terrorist organization by the United States, is the lead signatory of the new group, which will further complicate fledgling U.S. efforts to provide lethal aid to “moderate” rebels fighting to topple Syrian President Bashar al Assad. Others include the Tawheed Brigade, the biggest Free Syrian Army unit in the northern city of Aleppo; Liwa al Islam, the largest rebel group in the capital, Damascus; and Ahrar al Sham, the most successful nationwide franchise of mostly Syrian Salafist fighters. Collectively, the new front, which does not yet have a formal name but has been dubbed by its members the “Islamist Alliance,” claims to represent 75 percent of the rebels fighting to topple Assad…

In Kerala, ancient murals draw visitors (The Hindu) The murals in St. Mary’s Soonoro Church in Angamaly — a Malankara Jacobite Syrian Orthodox church — with its Biblical themes rendered in vibrant colors, continue to draw keen visitors. Though churches across Kerala have had a longstanding tradition of murals, the ones at Angamaly are particularly noted for their antiquity and the way they have weathered these years. The original church on this site is believed to have been consecrated in 409, though the present church was built in the 16th century… [Click to learn more about Jacobites or the larger Indian Orthodox Church to which they belong.]

Tags: Iraq Syrian Civil War Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael I Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church

25 September 2013
Greg Kandra

In this image from last month, people walk around a destroyed Protestant church in Mallawi, Egypt. Christians, making up 10 percent of Egypt’s 85 million people, have coexisted with the majority Sunni Muslims for centuries. Violence erupted periodically, but the attacks on churches and Christian properties in August were the worst in years. (photo: CNS/Reuters)

During his audience today, Pope Francis issued a call for Christian unity, and a plea to pray for those who are suffering:

The pope asked people to reflect upon whether they live out this unity or are they uninterested — preferring to be closed off from others, isolated within their own community, group of friends or nation.

“It’s sad to see a ‘privatized’ church because of egoism and this lack of faith,” he said.

It’s especially sad when there are so many fellow Christians in the world who are suffering or being persecuted because of their faith, he said.

“Am I indifferent or is it like someone in the family is suffering?” he asked.

He asked everyone to be honest with themselves and respond in their hearts: “How many of you pray for Christians who are persecuted” and for those who are in difficulty for professing and defending the faith?

“It’s important to look beyond one’s own fence, to feel oneself as church, one family of God,” he said.

But throughout history and even today, people within the church have not always lived this unity, he said.

“Sometimes misunderstandings, conflicts, tensions and divisions crop up that harm [unity], and so the church doesn’t have the face we would want, it doesn’t demonstrate love and what God wants.”

“And if we look at the divisions that still exist among Christians, Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants, we feel the hard work [needed] to make this unity fully visible.”

The world today needs unity, he said: “We need reconciliation, communion, and the church is the home of communion.”

Read the rest on CNS.

And, to learn how you can help Middle East Christians, visit this page.

Tags: Egypt Pope Francis Violence against Christians Christian Unity Egypt's Christians

25 September 2013
J.D. Conor Mauro

Catholicos Aram I of the Great House of Cilicia speaks at the opening ceremony of the Synod of Bishops of the Armenian Apostolic Church on 24 September. (photo: Catholicosate of Cilicia)

Synod of the Holy Armenian Apostolic Church commences (The Armenian Church) On 24 September in Etchmiadzin, Armenian Apostolic Catholicos Karekin II of All Armenians and Catholicos Aram I of Cilicia presided over the opening of the Synod of Bishops of the Armenian Apostolic Church. Present at the meeting were 62 archbishops and bishops from the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin and the Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia. Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan attended the opening ceremony…

Greek Catholic archbishop of Aleppo details the Syrian disaster (Fides) In a note sent to Fides Agency, Archbishop Jean-Clément Jeanbart, metropolitan of Aleppo of the Greek Catholics, has compiled a great deal quantitative data to lend an understanding of the scale of the disaster. According to the metropolitan archbishop, in Aleppo alone, “1,400 factories and shops were looted, demolished or burned, while across the country more than 2,000 schools have been devastated or put out of use…”

NGO documents violence against Copts (Daily News Egypt) The destruction of 30 houses of worship and over 60 Christian shops, homes and cars made August 2013 the “fiercest violent scene throughout Egypt’s contemporary history,” according to a new report by the Egyptian Centre for Public Policy Studies. The report found a systematic and organized surge in violence against Coptic Christians — mostly in Upper Egypt — since the 14 August dispersal of the pro-Morsi sit-ins at Rabaa al Adaweya and Nahda Square…

Maspero Coptic group proposes amendments to Egyptian constitution (Ahram Online) The Maspero Youth Union, a Coptic youth movement, met on Wednesday with the 50-member committee charged with amending the constitution, to propose several amendments to the charter. According to union member Bishoy Tamry, the group proposed amendments to articles related to religious rights and issues. The activist told Ahram Online that the group “is against any religious article including Article 2,” which states “Islam is the main source of legislation.” The group also proposes that an article is included that states Egypt is a “civil state…”

Egyptian minister postpones dissolution of the Muslim Brotherhood (Washington Post) An Egyptian minister said Tuesday that the government would “postpone” the court-ordered dissolution of the Muslim Brotherhood, according to the state-run Middle East News Agency. The statement comes after an obscure court issued a sweeping but legally questionable decision Monday to ban the Muslim Brotherhood and all related organizations and activities, which appears to grant the military-backed government expansive legal authority to go after the group’s finances and other assets and essentially criminalizes its political and social service work…

Interview with Patriarch Twal: Christians ‘go against the current’ (Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem) “We’re going against the current. It is a constant effort, but it requires the search for truth.” Archbishop Fouad Twal, Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, was in Amman for a meeting between the leaders and representatives of the churches of the East, convened by the king of Jordan to reflect on the challenges that Arab Christians face today and which are a matter of grave concern for King Abdullah II. “The major urgency now is to set straight the religious discourse of so many imams who, from within their mosques, preach violence against non-Muslims…”

Tags: Egypt Syrian Civil War Violence against Christians Armenian Apostolic Church Patriarch Fouad Twal

24 September 2013
Greg Kandra

A Bulgarian couple hold candles during their marriage ceremony at the Church of the Assumption in Sofia. For more on the Byzantine Catholics of Bulgaria, and how they are upholding their heritage, read Bearers of a Proud Legacy from the September 2004 issue of ONE. (photo: Sean Sprague)

Tags: ONE magazine Byzantine Catholic Church Bulgaria

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