Current Issue
September, 2019
Volume 45, Number 3
6 December 2019
Carol Glatz, Catholic News Service

The Nativity scene is pictured during a Christmas tree lighting ceremony at the Vatican on 5 December 2019. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)

The Vatican unveiled the Nativity scene and lit the Christmas tree with energy-saving lights in St. Peter’s Square during a late afternoon ceremony on 5 December.

The 85-foot-tall spruce tree came from the forests of the Veneto region in northeast Italy and another 20 smaller trees were donated by communities in the region’s province of Vicenza.

It was adorned with silver and gold balls and “next generation” lights meant to have a reduced impact on the environment and use less energy.

The large Nativity scene in St. Peter’s Square was made entirely out of wood and replicates traditional northern Trentino-style buildings.

Some 23 life-size wooden figures -- all with handcarved heads -- fill the scene, representing life in a small rural village in the northern Province of Trento in the early 1900s. There is a lumberjack pulling wood with a sled and people making cheese and washing clothes. Some of the faces reproduce the faces of real Italian shepherds from the region, including a man who recently died in an accident. Some of the clothes are real outfits handed down through the generations or once worn by local shepherds.

The scene also features broken tree trunks and limbs salvaged from severe storms in the region in late 2018. About 40 trees will be replanted in the area that had been seriously damaged by hurricane-like winds and torrential rains.

A smaller Nativity scene, provided by the northern province of Treviso, was set up in the Vatican’s Paul VI audience hall; with its Gothic arches, it imitates an old style of barns and stables in the Lessinia mountains of the Veneto region.

Early in the day, Pope Francis met with delegations from the northern Italian regions responsible for the tree and Nativity scene.

Thanking the delegations for their gifts, the pope said he was happy to hear that new trees will be planted in the region to help reforest areas hit by last year’s storms.

“These alarming events are warning signs that creation sends us and that ask us to immediately make effective decisions to safeguard our common home,” he said.

The Christmas tree they donated represents “a sign of hope, especially for your forests, that they may be cleared (of debris) as soon as possible in order to begin the work of reforestation,” he said.

The pope reminded his audience of his recent letter on the meaning and importance of setting up Christmas cribs.

“It is a genuine way to transmit the Gospel in a world that sometimes seems to be afraid to remember what Christmas really is and erases Christian signs in order to keep only those of a trivial, commercial” nature, he said.

Pope Francis also asked people to pray for help in seeing Jesus in the face of those who suffer and in lending a hand to those in need.

Tags: Vatican

6 December 2019
Greg Kandra

In this image from 2017, Sheik Ahmad el-Tayeb, grand imam of al-Azhar University, greets Pope Francis at a conference on international peace in Cairo. The two religious leaders have just proposed a World Day of Fraternity to be observed at the United Nations.
(photo: CNS/L'Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

Pope, Grand Imam propose World Day of Fraternity (Vatican News) The request was delivered to the Secretary General of the United Nations, António Guterres, by the High Committee for Human Fraternity, established to promote the objectives of the Document on Human Fraternity. In addition to a World Day, the group also proposed a World Summit on Human Fraternity…

Filipino workers flock to leave Lebanon (Channel News Asia) Hundreds of Filipinos, most of them female domestic workers, flocked to their embassy in Lebanon on Thursday to sign up for free repatriation from the crisis-hit country. The embassy issued a statement linking its offer of a free ticket home to Lebanon’s free-falling economy...

Thousands protest Indian citizenship bill excluding Muslims (AP) More than 1,000 students marched Friday in India’s northeast against a bill approved by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to grant citizenship to non-Muslim migrants from India’s three Muslim-majority neighbors. The marchers took to the streets of Gauhati, the Assam state capital, carrying placards opposing the bill that’s likely to be introduced in Parliament next week for approval…

Refugees in Ethiopia grow impatient for right to work (VOA) Home to Africa’s third-largest refugee population, Ethiopia won praise in January for passing a law giving 700,000 registered refugees and asylum-seekers who have fled conflict, drought and persecution the right to live outside 26 camps where they are currently hosted. But 11 months after the Refugee Proclamation was announced — allowing refugees and asylum-seekers to work, open bank accounts, legally register births and marriages, and attend primary school — Ethiopia has yet to pass further legislation to bring it to life…

Children at Indian school run race for safety of women (Vatican News) In the wake of rising crimes against women across India, a group of children in a remote village of northeast India ran a race on Wednesday calling for awareness and action to ensure the safety of women in the country…

Tags: India Lebanon Ethiopia Refugees Muslim

5 December 2019
Greg Kandra

Visitors stand in line in the Church of the Nativity on 1 December 2019, in Bethlehem, West Bank. Because of a large number of visitors, the church, which is built on what is believed to be the site where Jesus was born, has extended its visiting hours. (photo: CNS/Debbie Hill

Tags: Bethlehem

5 December 2019
Greg Kandra

Protests continue in the streets of Lebanon, after the announcement of a new candidate for Prime Minister (video: France 24/YouTube)

Lebanon to begin talks on forming new government (Al Jazeera) Consultations to form a new government in Lebanon will formally begin on Monday, the presidency has announced, more than a month after a wave of protests led the prime minister, Saad Hariri, to resign. ”The presidency has set Monday as the date for the parliamentary consultations” for the designation of a new prime minister, the presidency announced in a short statement on social media on Wednesday…

Catholic leaders urge investigation of hate crimes (CNS) The Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land condemned vandalism attacks in two Arab villages and called on Israeli authorities to “investigate seriously” what they termed hate crimes. In addition to dozens of cars damaged and anti-Arab Hebrew graffiti spray painted on walls in the Arab town of Jaljulia in central Israel, graffiti was scrawled in Hebrew on a wall and a car was burned in the Palestinian town of Taybeh, east of Ramallah…

Turkish goods face boycott in northeast Syria (The Washington Post) A boycott of Turkish goods by Syrian Kurds was intended to express Kurdish anger with Turkey’s assault against their autonomous enclave — but has also revealed the extent of Kurds’ dependence on their bitterest foe…

India weighs religion-based citizenship bill for minorities (Reuters) India’s cabinet approved a bill on Wednesday to give citizenship to religious minorities persecuted in neighboring Muslim countries, the first time that the country is seeking to grant nationality on the basis of religion…

Coptic woman wins inheritance case in Egypt (The Brooklyn Tablet) Late last month, an Egyptian higher court granted a Coptic Christian woman equal inheritance with her brothers, overturning the rulings of two lower court judges. The verdict counters Sharia law, under which a woman receives only half the inheritance as male heirs do. Sharia law is the basis for much of Egyptian law, and so any ruling that upholds the rights of someone who belongs to a minority religion is potentially groundbreaking…

Tags: India Egypt Lebanon Arabs

4 December 2019
Doreen Abi Raad, Catholic News Service

Patriarchs and others attend a meeting in Cairo on 25-29 November 2019.
(photo: CNS/Syriac Catholic Patriarchate)

Amid deadly protests in Iraq, a people’s uprising in Lebanon and continued suffering in Syria, Catholic leaders of the Middle East called upon officials of their homelands to “ensure safety, peace and tranquility and stability for their citizens.”

Meeting in Cairo on 25-29 November, the Council of Catholic Patriarchs of the East addressed political, economic and social difficulties that many countries are suffering as a result of unrest, violence, extremism and terrorism as well as the situation of displaced people and the inevitability of returning to their villages and homes.

Massive demonstrations against the political ruling class have plagued Iraq and Lebanon since October.

Despite some confrontations with security forces and supporters of established parties, protesters in Lebanon have largely been spared the violent crackdown seen in Iraq. There, about 400 people have died and thousands have been wounded in protests.

In their final statement, the patriarchs called on the political authority in Iraq “to take courageous action to get the country out of this great crisis so that the bloodshed will stop and life will return to normal by building a strong state on sound foundations, in which true democracy, justice and human dignity prevails, combating corruption.” They also called for “revealing who killed and kidnapped peaceful demonstrators” and asked authorities to hand the killers “over to the judiciary.”

The patriarchs appealed to all to work to “uproot the terrorist ideology of the Islamic State.” While acknowledging the “adversity and tribulation” in Iraq, the patriarchs encouraged Iraqi Christians “to take root in their land and preserve the heritage” of their ancestors.

Turning to Lebanon, the patriarchs said they “support the demands of the Lebanese people in general and the youth in particular, in their movement,” expressing their hope that peace and patriotism be maintained.

The Middle Eastern patriarchs urged Lebanon’s political authority to expedite the formation of a new government “whose first task will be to respond with the popular movement to find radical solutions to the current situation, by transcending personal and factional interests and working to achieve the common good, and freeing the national will from all outside interference.” The patriarchs also stressed the need for the return of refugees and displaced persons to their homelands. Lebanon is host to some 1 million Syrian refugees.

While council members said they “are optimistic about the stability achieved in Syria in most of the country,” they expressed their pain regarding human suffering and damage caused by bombings.

The patriarchs called on “all components of the Syrian people to join hands” to rebuild what is destroyed and to promote the economy.

They also called on “global decision-makers to stop interfering” in Syrian affairs and to help “all the good Syrians to work hard to recover Syria from its long-standing ordeal.”

The council expressed “full support for the Palestinian people tormented by the occupation.”

“We reiterate our call on the international community to recognize the Palestinian state, with Jerusalem as its capital, within the framework of the two states, and the return of Palestinian refugees to their homes,” the patriarchs said.

As for Egypt, the Catholic leaders commended the Egyptian state’s achievements “that have contributed effectively to improving the situation of Egyptians” at all levels, including “practical steps” in consolidating the foundations of citizenship and society.

During the meeting, the patriarchs met with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi and urged him to work toward reconciliation and dialogue in the countries of the Middle East, especially in Lebanon, Iraq and Syria.

They also met with Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II.

Tags: Egypt Patriarchs

4 December 2019
Greg Kandra

In this undated photo, Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, the papal almoner, is shown meeting refugees in Lesbos. He will be bringing more refugees to the Vatican next week. (photo: Vatican Media)

At Pope’s request, more refugees coming to Italy from Lesbos (Vatican News) Cardinal Konrad Krajewski left for Lesbos on Monday. This new mission follows that of last May and comes after the visit of Pope Francis to Lesbos in 2016. The Apostolic Almoner will return next Wednesday with a group of 33 refugees. Another 10 will arrive by the end of the year. Assistance for all of them will be provided by the Holy See and the Sant’Egidio Community…

To make sense of Lebanon’s protests, follow the garbage (The New York Times) The government’s inability to provide basic services, including 24-hour electricity and garbage collection, is rooted in an agreement that ended Lebanon’s civil war nearly 30 years ago. The deal divided power between the nation’s 18 recognized religious sects, effectively institutionalizing corruption, with each group able to dole out government jobs, contracts, favors and social services to its followers. The Lebanese have finally had enough of a system that has enriched the political elite while failing to build a stable economy or provide basics like reliable running water or consistent waste management…

In Syria, health workers risk becoming ‘enemies of the state’ (The New York Times) On Wednesday, Physicians for Human Rights, a group that has documented the collapse of Syria’s health care system, released a study asserting that over the course of the war, President Bashar al-Assad has successfully made medical assistance to his enemies a crime…

Explaining Kerala’s connection to ISIS (Indian Express) Security agencies estimate that some 100-120 individuals from Kerala either joined, or tried to join, ISIS. Some of them moved to Syria or Afghanistan from the Middle East, where they were employed; others migrated from Kerala. Even in 2018, when ISIS was largely in retreat in Syria and Iraq, 10-odd people from Kerala made the journey…

In Ethiopia, church forests are withstanding environmental destruction — but just barely (The New York Times) I grew up attending churches surrounded by parking lots and populated by congregations that didn’t connect their spirituality to ecology. So when I first heard about the church forests of Ethiopia, I was intrigued…

Tags: Ethiopia Refugees Kerala ISIS

3 December 2019
CNEWA staff

Today marks #Giving Tuesday, an international day of charitable support.

For more than 90 years, CNEWA has been reaching out to those in need, working for, through and with the churches of the East. And with your participation, we will continue to support regional and local efforts — whether by parishes, men and women religious, or the dedicated lay communities — to uplift and strengthen the churches and peoples of the Middle East, Northeast Africa, India and Eastern Europe.


2 December 2019
Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service

A reliquary containing what is believed to be a small fragment of Jesus’ crib is seen on 1 December 2019, in the Franciscan Church of St. Catherine, adjacent to the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem, West Bank. Pope Francis gave the relic fragment to the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, which oversees the main churches and shrines associated with the birth, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus. (photo: CNS /Debbie Hill)

As Advent approached, Pope Francis gave a small fragment of Jesus’ crib back to Catholics in the Holy Land.

In Bethelehem, West Bank, Franciscan Father Rami Asakrieh of St. Catherine Church welcomed the relic’s return and called it “a great blessing.”

“This is more blessings for this place,” he said. “You can’t imagine the great joy to have this blessing.”

On 22 November, experts from the Vatican Museums extracted a small fragment from the relic of what has been venerated as Jesus’ manger. The relic, given to the Vatican in the seventh century, has been kept in a chapel under the basilica’s main altar.

Pope Francis gave the relic fragment to the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, which oversees the main churches and shrines associated with the birth, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus.

The relic arrived in Jerusalem on 29 November and was present during a Mass celebrated by the nuncio, Archbishop Leopoldo Girelli, in the chapel of Our Lady of Peace at the Notre Dame Center.

After the Mass and time for people to venerate the relic, the Franciscan friars carried it in procession to the Church of St. Saviour, where they recited vespers. The relic was transferred to Bethlehem on 30 November to be in place for beginning of Advent on 1 December.

“May the return to Bethlehem of this piece of holy wood arouse in us the profound desire to be bearers of God. Now it is our hearts that are a manger: the holy crib of God made man,” said Archbishop Leopoldo

Girelli, apostolic nuncio to Israel and Cyprus and apostolic delegate to Jerusalem and Palestine, at the handing-over ceremony to the Franciscan friars at Jerusalem’s Notre Dame Center.

Reading a letter sent by Cardinal Stanislaw Rylko, archpriest of the Basilica of St. Mary Major, Archbishop Girelli said, “Pope Francis accompanies this gift with his blessing and with the fervid wish that the veneration of this illustrious relic can open the hearts of many men and women, adults and youngsters, the elderly and children, to receive with a renewed fervor of faith and love the mystery that changed the course of history. The Holy Father wishes, in particular, that the message of peace announced by the angels on the night of Christmas to the men loved by God, which for 2,000 years has rung out from Bethlehem, brings the gift of peace and reconciliation which our world needs more and more.”

Franciscan Father Francesco Patton, custos of the Holy Land, said the relic would be used to “rekindle faith in Jesus between the different Christian communities of the Holy Land.”

Local Catholics in Bethlehem had the opportunity to venerate the relic at Mass at St. Catherine’s on 1 December before the relic was put away until a proper location and protocol for it can be arranged.

Meanwhile, as Christmas approached, the opening hours of the Church of the Nativity adjacent to St. Catherine had been extended by three hours to 8 p.m. to accommodate the influx of pilgrims who sometimes had to wait up to four hours to go down to the grotto where, according to Christian tradition, Jesus was born.

On the first day of Advent, the wait was only about one hour.

“We are going to wait as long as it takes to go in,” said David Williams, 67, of Texas as he waited in line with his tour group and a local guide. “It is very exciting. This is what you read, and when you read it again after having been here there will be new insight.”

Local guide Jaber Saadeh, said that as a Christian he was happy to see the large number of pilgrims coming to Bethlehem.

“I feel so proud and happy to welcome them. We are a peaceful country,” he said.

Coming out from the grotto, Claudia Haita, 44, of Romania, said the wait had not been an issue. Having the opportunity to visit the grotto and say a prayer there had been “good for my soul as a Christian” and strengthened her faith, she said.

Another pilgrim who identified herself only as Maria said she had been overwhelmed by the experience.

“I had an overwhelming feeling of tears of joy but also a feeling of sadness because of the hurting of humanity, of the suffering. It is time to let that go,” she said.

Contributing to this story was Judith Sudilovsky in Bethlehem, West Bank.

Tags: Pope Francis Bethlehem

2 December 2019
Greg Kandra

Iraqi demonstrators throw stones towards security forces during ongoing anti-government protests in Baghdad on 29 November 2019. Pope Francis said after the Angelus on 1 December he was concerned and saddened following two months of protests in Iraq that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of people. (photo: CNS/Khalid al-Mousily, Reuters)

Pope Francis laments violence against Iraqi protestors (Vatican News) At the Angelus prayer on Sunday, the Pope said he is following developments in Iraq “with concern.” ”I was saddened to learn that the protests in recent days have been dealt with harshly, leading to the death of dozens of victims,” he said. Pope Francis promised his prayers for the victims and his spiritual closeness to their families and all Iraqis. He also invoked “peace and harmony from God….”

Nearly 100 killed as fighting intensifies in Syria (The Telegraph) Regime forces and armed groups were locked in heavy clashes Monday on the edge of Syria’s last opposition bastion, with 96 fighters killed over two days, a war monitor said. The battles since Saturday on the edge of the jihadist-dominated Idlib region are the most deadly since a Russia-brokered ceasefire went into effect in late August, the Syrian Observatory for Human rights said…

Nearly $4 billion withdrawn from banks in Lebanon over unrest (Andalou Agency) Nearly $4 billion have been withdrawn from banks since September amid protests against economic woes, the country’s caretaker economy minister said. ” The bank withdrawals were prompted by fears of the confusing economic situation in the country,” Mansour Bteish told Al-Jadeed TV on Sunday...

Pope asks Catholics to set up, be enchanted by Nativity scene (CNS) A Nativity scene is a simple reminder of something astonishing: God became human to reveal the greatness of his love “by smiling and opening his arms to all,” Pope Francis said in a letter on the meaning and importance of setting up Christmas cribs. ”Wherever it is, and whatever form it takes, the Christmas creche speaks to us of the love of God, the God who became a child in order to make us know how close he is to every man, woman and child, regardless of their condition,” the pope wrote in his apostolic letter, “Admirabile Signum” (“Enchanting Image”)…

Tags: Iraq Pope Francis Lebanon