4 September 2013
In this image from 2008, many buildings in Maaloula, Syria wear washes of blue paint in honor of the Virgin Mary. (photo: Mitchell Prothero)
The news from Syria is increasingly grim. From the Associated Press today:
Al-Qaida-linked rebels launched an assault on a regime-held Christian mountain village in the densely populated west of Syria and new clashes erupted near the capital, Damascus, on Wednesday — part of a brutal battle of attrition each side believes it can win despite more than two years of deadlock.
In the attack on the village of Maaloula, rebels commandeered a mountaintop hotel and nearby caves and shelled the community below, said a nun, speaking by phone from a convent in the village. She spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.
With the world focused on possible U.S. military action against Syria, there were new signs of fragmentation in rebel ranks, with a small group of jihadis from Russia announcing it has broken away from an umbrella group known as Jabhat al-Nusra.
The Syria conflict, which began with a popular uprising in March 2011, has been stalemated, and it's not clear if U.S. military strikes over the regime's alleged chemical weapons use would change that. President Barack Obama has said he seeks limited pinpoint action to deter future chemical attacks, not regime change.
Tragically, it’s not the Maaloula we remember. In 2008 we profiled the village, a place rich in religious history that we described as notable for “martyrdom and miracles”:
The sleepy Syrian town of Maaloula once seemed decades from the bustling city of Damascus, which lies some 30 miles away. Since the first century, when Christianity penetrated the barren mountains that shield Maaloula, its residents have commemorated the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and his martyred followers. Generations observed fasts and feasts, clung to traditions, passed on superstitions and developed new customs. And as the world around them changed — Muslim Arabs conquered Christian Syria in 634, making Damascus their capital in 661 — Maaloula’s sons and daughters remained steadfast in their Christian faith, maintaining even their distinctive language, Aramaic, which they shared with Jesus.
But Maaloula slumbers no more. Its churches and shrines, less than 45 minutes by car from the Syrian capital, host tens of thousands of tourists and pilgrims each year, swelling the small town of 2,000 residents.
Maaloula is synonymous with martyrdom and miracles. Scaling the cliffs that tightly contain it, Maaloula’s sacred and secular architectural wonders rise several stories, usually wearing a wash of blue distemper. Were it not for the vineyards and olive and apricot orchards that carpet the surrounding valley, a casual visitor might ponder how the townspeople have survived the mountains’ sun-dried, barren landscape for millennia.
Maaloula’s most distinctive feature, however, is the language its residents speak, the same dialect of Aramaic spoken by Jesus of Nazareth. Predating Arabic — the most widely used language in the region for more than a millennium — Aramaic originated more than 900 years before Christ and, in its many forms, was the Middle East’s lingua franca from around B.C. 1200 to A.D. 700.
4 September 2013
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Jewish worshippers pray at the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest site, in Jerusalem’s Old City, ahead of the Jewish new year, which begins tonight. (photo: CNS/Baz Ratner, Reuters)
4 September 2013
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Syrian refugees carry their belongings as they enter the Turkish Cilvegozu border gate on 4 September. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said there had been a near tenfold increase over the past 12 months in the number of refugees crossing Syria’s borders into Turkey, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon — to a daily average of nearly 5,000 people.
(photo: CNS/Umit Bektas, Reuters)
Pope Francis renews his appeal for peace (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis renewed his appeal for peace in Syria and throughout the world on Wednesday, once again inviting Christians of every denomination, believers of every religious tradition and all people of good will to take part in the worldwide fast and vigil of prayer and penance for peace, which he has called for 7 September, the vigil of the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lady, whom we venerate as Queen of Peace. Many local Churches have already organized their own initiatives to mark the day...
Syrians face psychological trauma (Vatican Radio) Syrians caught up in the civil war face lasting psychological trauma, as well as violence and deprivation. Caritas Internationalis talked about the situation in Syria, and about the situation of Syrian refugees in neighboring countries, in its annual report published last July. It also issued a statement last Friday calling for dialogue as the only possible solution to the Syrian crisis, and warning against military intervention...
Islam’s Grand Mufti of Syria welcomes pope’s call for prayer (Fides) In St. Peter’s Square or in the great Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, the Grand Mufti of Syria, Ahmad Badreddin Hassou, spiritual leader of Sunni Islam, welcomes the Pope’s appeal and will be there praying and fasting for peace in his country. The Mufti sent, through the Apostolic Nunciature in Damascus, an official letter to Pope Francis and is preparing to participate in the special pro-Syria day on 7 September, proposing to the Holy See to organize an interfaith meeting...
Rosh Hashana begins (Los Angeles Daily News) Sundown Wednesday signals the start of Rosh Hashana, the two-day holiday marking the Jewish New Year. Services ushering in the year 5774 on the Hebrew calendar will feature the blowing of the shofar, a ram’s horn. Rosh Hashana is a festive time when Jews gather with family members to reflect on the past year and the new one that is beginning. Celebrants also eat festive meals featuring apples dipped in honey, symbolic of the wishes for a sweet year. Rosh Hashana begins a 10-day period of penitence and contemplation leading to Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, Judaism’s most solemn and somber day. Jewish tradition holds that God records the fate of humankind in the Book of Life during the High Holy Days...
3 September 2013
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Roman’s Girls, a Catholic initiative in Addis Ababa, assists about 20 girls with school. Read more about it in An Uphill Battle from the May 2009 issue of ONE. (photo: Peter Lemieux)
3 September 2013
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In the video above from Sunday, Pope Francis asks during the Angelus for the international community to use all efforts to achieve peace in Syria. (video: Rome Reports)
Pope Francis calls for a day of fasting, prayer for Syria (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has called for a day of fasting and prayer for peace in Syria, in the entire Mideast region, and throughout the whole world to be held this coming Saturday, 7 September, 2013. Speaking ahead of the traditional Angelus prayer with pilgrims gathered in St Peter’s Square this Sunday, Pope Francis said, “On [Saturday] the 7th of September, here [in St Peter’s Square], from 7 PM until midnight, we will gather together in prayer, in a spirit of penitence, to ask from God this great gift [of peace] for the beloved Syrian nation and for all the situations of conflict and violence in the world.” The Holy Father also invited non-Catholic Christians and non-Christian believers to participate in ways they feel are appropriate...
Israel and U.S. carry out joint missile test (BBC) Israel has carried out a joint missile test with the U.S. in the Mediterranean, amid heightened tension over possible Western military strikes on Syria. The test came as the U.S. Congress prepared for its first public hearing on a possible military response to alleged chemical weapons use by Syria. Earlier, the UN confirmed that more than two million Syrians were now refugees from the 30-month conflict. More Syrians were now displaced than any other nationality, it said...
Pope names veteran diplomat as new Secretary of State (CNS) Although Pope Francis has not hesitated to break with convention during his brief pontificate, in appointing a seasoned member of the diplomatic corps as the top Vatican official, he resumed a long-standing tradition. The pope appointed Archbishop Pietro Parolin, 58, a longtime official in the Vatican secretariat of state and nuncio to Venezuela since 2009, to be his secretary of state. On 15 October, Archbishop Parolin will succeed Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, 78, who came to the post in 2006 after serving as archbishop of Genoa, Italy. The secretary of state is the pope’s highest-ranking collaborator, coordinating the work of the entire Roman Curia, overseeing the operation of the Vatican press office and newspaper, coordinating the preparation and publication of papal documents, and supervising the work of Vatican nuncios, in their relations with Catholic communities in individual countries and with national governments...
Orthodox synod calls for prayers for Egypt (OCA.org) On 30 August 2013, His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon and the members of the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America, issued a statement calling for prayers for all who are suffering in the crisis currently gripping Egypt, and especially that nation’s minority Christian community...
Pope Francis meets with Jewish leaders, wishes them a happy new year (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Monday wished Jews around the world a sweet and peaceful year 5774, called for increased dialogue among the world’s religious communities and opposed fundamentalism in any faith. During his first private audience with an international Jewish leader since being elected Catholic pontiff in March, Francis asked World Jewish Congress (WJC) President Ronald S. Lauder to convey his New Year message to Jewish communities world-wide and said he also needed a sweet year because of the important decisions lying ahead. Using the Hebrew words for ‘Happy New Year,’ Pope Francis wished a “Shana Tova” and asked the WJC to share that message with the Jewish people worldwide. Lauder presented the pope with a Kiddush cup and a honey cake.
Buddhists, Muslims, Christians attend ecumenical gathering in Ethiopia (Independent Catholic News) On Sunday 25 August, in Adigrat, in the northern region of Tigray, Ethiopia, 174 people — among them Buddhists, Muslims and Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant Christians, gathered in the main hall of Bruh Tesfa Youth Development Centre, a youth centre run by the Missionaries of Africa, as they do once a year, to break “injera” in an ecumenical ambiance to celebrate the numerous successes of the centre together. At the gathering in Tigray, some of the attendees were members of staff, students who had successfully completed their end of year exams, nine university graduates that Bruh Tesfa has supported in their studies, and a couple of missionaries of Africa. But the vast majority were Christian Orthodox priests and deacons; and on the high table an Imam, a representative of the Orthodox bishop, the Orthodox dean of the Nihibi-Dibla area of Adigrat and the Catholic bishop of the Diocese of Adigrat sat next to each other...
30 August 2013
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Flooded with Syrian Christian refugees, Al Qaa’s Greek Catholic church in Lebanon is often filled to capacity. (photo: Tamara Hadi)
As fear of a U.S. military attack mounts, more Syrians are seeking refuge outside the country. Earlier this year, we looked at Syrian refugees fleeing into Lebanon:
Although she has only moved a few miles down the road, Hayat Qarnous wakes up to a world vastly different from the one she knew just a few weeks ago. Back then, she was living in Rableh, a village on the Syrian side of the Syria-Lebanon border and once the center of a quiet farming community. But since the Syrian uprising started in March 2011, it has been anything but peaceful.
“War is like fire,” she says, sitting in her newfound refuge in Al Qaa, a Lebanese village just across the border from Rableh. “A fire eats everything before it. So does war. There is no peace anywhere.”
It is this lack of peace, and its consequences, that have pushed more than a million Syrians to flee their homeland since the beginning of the conflict.
About 320,000 Syrians have fled to neighboring Lebanon and registered with United Nations aid agencies there. But many observers believe equal numbers of Syrians have not registered with the authorities in Lebanon; among these are an estimated 10,000 Christians.
Read more about Crossing the Border in the Spring 2013 issue of ONE.
29 August 2013
Tags: Lebanon Syria Middle East Christians Syrian Civil War Refugees
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Israelis stand in line outside a gas mask distribution center in the northern city of Haifa on 29 August. Thousands of Israelis lined up at gas-mask distribution centers and communities bordering Syria as top government officials held emergency meetings amid fears of a possible Syrian attack on Israel. (photo: CNS/ Baz Ratner, Reuters)
The heightening tensions over a possible U.S. military attack on Syria were part of the discussion today in a meeting between Pope Francis and the king of Jordan.
Additional details, from CNS:
Dialogue and negotiations are “the only option for putting an end to the conflict and violence” in Syria, said Pope Francis and Jordan’s King Abdullah II.
As Western leaders expressed strong convictions that the Syrian government carried out a chemical weapons attack against its own citizens and vowed to take action, Pope Francis met at the Vatican 29 August with King Abdullah and Queen Rania.
Jordan borders Syria and hosts hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees who have fled the fighting that began in March 2011 in an attempt to oust President Bashar Assad.
The king and queen’s meeting with Pope Francis, who technically was still on vacation, was arranged hastily after tensions grew in the Middle East over the reported atrocities in Syria and the unrest in Egypt.
In a statement issued after the meeting, the Vatican said that the pope and king “reaffirmed that the path of dialogue and negotiation is the only option for putting an end to the conflict and violence that each day cause the loss of many human lives, especially among the unarmed population.”
Pope Francis, with an interpreter, spent 20 minutes speaking alone with King Abdullah and Queen Rania before meeting the seven members of the Jordanian delegation. The king and three aides then held a working meeting with Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican secretary of state, and Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, secretary for relations with states.
When the king arrived, Pope Francis greeted him in English, saying, “Welcome, Your Majesty.”
While reporters were present before the private meeting began, King Abdullah told the pope, “I have tremendous respect for what you are doing and for what the Catholic Church does.”
The Vatican statement said that during the meetings with the pope and with officials of the Vatican Secretariat of State, the two sides also discussed the problem of stability throughout the Middle East, Israeli-Palestinian relations and the question of the status of Jerusalem, a city sacred to Christians, Muslims and Jews.
The Vatican, the statement said, also expressed appreciation for the king’s commitment to promoting interreligious dialogue and his decision to convoke a conference in September about the challenges facing Christians in the Middle East.
Although the statement indicated a broad range of topics were touched upon, the meeting drew international attention because of the situation in Syria.
Read more at the CNS link.
29 August 2013
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Pope Francis greets the king of Jordan and his wife this morning at the Vatican.
Pope Francis meets with King of Jordan (News.va) Pope Francis received this morning in audience the King of Jordan, Abdullah II and his wife Rania. “Welcome Majesty” were the words of welcome by Pope Francis. King Abdullah in turn welcomed the Holy Father saying that it was a pleasure and an honor to meet him, and he conveyed the greetings from his family and all the people of Jordan.” “It is an immense honor to meet you,” said also Queen Rania. King Abdullah began the conversation while stressing “the immense respect he has for what the Pope does and also for the Catholic Church.” During the cordial meeting, several topics of mutual interest were discussed, especially the promotion of peace and stability in the Middle East, the resumption of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, and the question of Jerusalem. A special attention was paid to the plight faced by Syria. In this regard, it was reaffirmed that the voice of dialogue and negotiation between all components of Syrian society, with the support of the international community, is the only option for ending the conflict and the violence which every day cause the loss of so many lives, especially among the population which is defenseless...
Obama says he “has not made a decision” on Syria military strike (CBS News) President Obama has not yet decided on U.S. action in Syria, where he says his administration has “concluded” President Bashar al Assad used chemical weapons in an attack against civilians last week near Damascus. “I have gotten options with our military, had extensive conversations with my national security team,” the president said Wednesday in an interview with “PBS News Hour.” “If the Assad regime used chemical weapons on his own people, then that would change some of our calculations — and the reason has to do with not only international norms but America’s own self-interest”...
Patriarch Gregorios III says U.S. strike on Syria would be “criminal” (ByzCath.org) Speaking from Damascus, the leader of the Melkite Catholic Church has told the Asia News service that an American-led assault on Syria would be “a criminal act, which will only reap more victims.” Patriarch Gregory III Laham said that the US and other Western nations have done nothing to stop an influx of “Islamic extremists from all over the world are pouring into Syria with the sole intent to kill.” Today the country desperately needs stability, he said, and “an armed attack against the government really has no sense at all”...
Christians restrain anger after church attacks in Egypt (AFP) Coptic Christians in the Upper Egyptian city of Minya are managing to restrain their anger despite a wave of devastating attacks on their churches and institutions by enraged Islamists. Tensions are still running high more than two weeks after the attacks in the city some 250 kilometres (155 miles) south of Cairo but there have been no calls for vengeance, nor any fiery rhetoric. “I say to the Islamists who attacked us that we are not afraid of their violence and their desire to exterminate the Copts,” said Botros Fahim Awad Hanna, the archbishop of Minya. “If we are not hitting back, it is not because we are afraid, but because we are sensible,” he said...
Conference on religious tolerance begins in Ethiopia (Sudan Tribune) A national conference aimed at promoting peaceful co-existence and tolerance among religious groups in Ethiopia kicked off on Tuesday in the capital, Addis Ababa. The conference, organised by the ministry of federal affairs and the Ethiopian Inter-Religious Council is being attended by some 2,500 participants from across the country. The three-day conference is being held under the theme: “We shall strive to realise Ethiopia’s renaissance through strengthening the value of religious co-existence and respecting constitutional provisions”. In his opening speech, Ethiopian prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn called on the public to remain tolerant and to join hands in battling what he called acts of extremists...
28 August 2013
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United Nations chemical weapons experts inspect one of the sites of an alleged poison gas attack in the Damascus suburb of Mouadamiya on 26 August. The U.N. inspectors in Syria met and took samples from victims of an apparent poison gas attack in the rebel-held area. (photo: CNS/Abo Alnour Alhaji, Reuters)
Dread grips Damascus as United States mulls military strike (The Daily Star) A heavy sense of dread pervades Damascus, as Washington and its allies mull military action after alleged chemical weapons attacks by the Syrian regime outside the capital last week reportedly killed hundreds of people. Jihan is convinced the first United States strike on Syria would hit Mezzeh military airport near her Damascus home, and has already packed her family’s bags, ready to flee the capital. “They’ll hit Mezzeh, I’m sure; the target makes sense,” the young mother said of the facility, which President Bashar al Assad himself uses to travel within Syria…
Chaldean patriarch: Intervention against Syria would be a ‘disaster’ (Fides) The United States-led military intervention against Syria would be “a disaster,” according to Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans Louis Raphael I. “It would be like a volcano erupting with an explosion meant to destroy Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine. And maybe someone wants this.” The patriarch made his statement to Fides Agency with regards to his concern over the prospect of an outside attack, which seems to be imminent…
Russian Orthodox patriarchate expresses ‘strong concern’ about developments in Syria (Asia News) As a Western military intervention against the regime of Bashar al Assad appears increasingly likely, the Russian Orthodox Church expresses “strong concern” about possible developments of the crisis, this following United States charges that the regime used chemical weapons against civilians. “Once again, as was the case in Iraq, the United States is acting as an international executioner,” said Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, head of the Department for External Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate…
Last group of Ethiopian Jews set to arrive in Israel (Jerusalem Post) The Jewish Agency is to bring the last of Ethiopia’s Jews to Israel on Wednesday afternoon with a flight of 400 Falash Mura, bringing an end to a saga that has spanned decades and seen tens of thousands of men, women and children coming to the Jewish state. Ethiopian-Israelis are planning a protest outside of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s office at the same time that a plane representing the official end of Ethiopian aliya — the immigration of Jews to Israel — is scheduled to land at Ben-Gurion Airport…
27 August 2013
Tags: Syrian Civil War Israel Russian Orthodox Church Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael I
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A man prays during the Sunday liturgy at the Coptic Orthodox Church of the Virgin Mary in the Maadi suburb of Cairo on 25 August. (photo: CNS/Dana Smillie)
As the situation in Egypt grows more troubled by the hour, people in the country countinue to be sustained by faith. Catholic News Service reports this morning on the country’s long and deep Christian heritage:
The Coptic Orthodox Church of the Virgin Mary sits in a tiled courtyard a few miles outside Cairo, on the left bank of the Nile as the river bends south toward Upper Egypt.
The structure’s front doors overlook the famed river, which Egyptian Christians who pray and worship here are convinced transported Mary, Joseph and their small boy, Jesus, to safety from persecution back home.
“In those times, this was a dock area from where the boats took off for Upper Egypt. The Holy Family came here from Palestine and got on one,” explained one of the church’s five priests, from an office overlooking the water.
Like the priest, many Copts — the name for Egypt’s indigenous Christians — trace their religion all the way back to Jesus who, according to the Gospel of St. Matthew, sought refuge in their country from the wrath of Herod the Great 2,000 years ago.
Coptic tradition holds that Christ stayed in Egypt for three years and that later, around the year 42, St. Mark the Evangelist also came to evangelize in the Egyptian port city of Alexandria, before being martyred there.
Christianity continued to spread among the locals called “Copts,” a derivative from the Greek word for Egypt, and by the third century, Christianity was the country’s dominant religion. By the time the newer religion of Islam arrived in Egypt in the middle of the seventh century, Egyptian Christianity had already provided the church with some of the world’s major Christian saints and had introduced new forms of monastic life.
“The history of the Coptic Church is both glorious and tragic,” wrote Otto F.A. Meinardus in his authoritative book on Egyptian Christianity, “Christians in Egypt.” …
Tension between Egypt’s Copts and Muslims has long been a problem, but recently it has dangerously spiked, first since President Hosni Mubarak’s overthrow by popular revolt in 2011, and even more so since the military’s July 3 ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi.
Morsi was aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood, whose members the Egyptian military is now pursuing.
Violence has surged even further since 14 August, when security forces raided two pro-Morsi protest camps in Cairo, which killed hundreds of people, most of them protestors.
Church leaders and independent human rights groups have recorded attacks on dozens of churches, schools, buildings, homes and other institutions belonging to Christians. Some non-Christian institutions have also come under attack in the violence, including government and security offices.
And visit this page to learn how you can help CNEWA to help Egypt’s Christians.
Tags: Egypt Violence against Christians Coptic Orthodox Church Egypt's Christians
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