We seek to keep you literally "updated" on movement in terms of truth and justice in the Middle East in general with a particular eye on Palestine. The links below will take you to various articles and websites that offer the perspective of leaders in the religious, NGO, and human rights communities. Additionally, Al-Bushra, ever vigilant, provides links to regular reporting as well as opinion pieces by journalists. The dates given here indicate when the link was posted; the most recent posting is at the top. Check the article itself for the date the information was released by the source.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Pope prays for South Sudan, Syria on first Christmas

Pope Francis gives his traditional Christmas "Urbi et Orbi" blessing from the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica on December 26, 2013 at the Vatican
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Vatican City (AFP) - Pope Francis on Wednesday called for humanitarian aid access in Syria and "social harmony" in South Sudan on his first Christmas in the Vatican after months of shaking up the papacy with his humble style and common touch.

Francis also pleaded for divine aid to rescue child soldiers "robbed of their childhood" and for peace in the conflict-torn Central African Republic which he said was "often forgotten and overlooked".

In a wide-ranging address known as the "Urbi et Orbi" (To the City and to the World) blessing that touched on many conflicts, the Argentine pope invited non-believers to join in a "desire" for peace in the world.

"Too many lives have been shattered in recent times by the conflict in Syria, fueling hatred and vengeance," the 77-year-old pope told a crowd of tens of thousands of faithful in St Peter's Square.

"Let us continue to ask the Lord to spare the beloved Syrian people further suffering, and to enable the parties in conflict to put an end to all violence and guarantee access to humanitarian aid," he said.
The conflict in Syria is estimated to have killed more than 126,000 people since it first started out as peaceful anti-regime protests in 2011 and the violence there has unsettled the Middle East as a whole.

A grim reminder of the tensions ravaging the region came on Wednesday when a car bomb outside a Baghdad church after a Christmas service left at least 14 people dead -- the latest in a string of daily attacks.

"Heal the wounds of the beloved country of Iraq," the pope said in his prayer.

In his weekly address, US President Barack Obama stressed this year marks the first time in years that many US troops and recent veterans have spent Christmas at home with their families.

"For many of our troops and newest veterans, this might be the first time in years that they've been with their families on Christmas," he said. "In fact, with the Iraq war over and the transition in Afghanistan, fewer of our men and women in uniform are deployed in harm's way than at any time in the last decade."
South Sudanese 'not alone'

The pope also highlighted the fighting raging between army and rebel forces in South Sudan, where thousands are believed to have been killed over the past week as the UN moves to boost its peacekeeping force to stave off a full civil war.

The first Latin American pope asked for "social harmony in South Sudan, where current tensions have already caused numerous victims and are threatening peaceful coexistence in that young state".

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also sent a Christmas message to the people of South Sudan that they were "not alone" in the face of ethnic attacks which are "a grave violation of human rights".

The pope also said Central Africa was being "torn apart by a spiral of violence and poverty", called for immigrants to be given "acceptance and assistance", urged an end to the scourge of human trafficking and prayed for typhoon victims in the Philippines.

The November typhoon left nearly 8,000 people dead or missing in the Philippines but survivors defiantly celebrated Christmas in their ruined communities, roasting hogs and filling churches to overflowing.

Francis has been riding a wave of popularity following his momentous election as leader of the world's Catholics in March and was "Person of the Year" by Time magazine and the US gay rights publication The Advocate due to his now-famous remark on gay people: "Who am I to judge?"

In his first Christmas Eve mass in the Vatican, the pontiff highlighted the role played by shepherds in the Nativity, returning to the theme of humility that has been the hallmark of his papacy.

The pope also called on Catholic believers to open their hearts and struggle against the "spirit of darkness."

"If our heart is closed, if we are dominated by pride, deceit, self-seeking, then darkness falls within us," Francis said at the service in Saint Peter's Basilica.

Time for 'quiet reflection'

In Britain, Queen Elizabeth II delivered her annual Christmas Day message calling for "quiet reflection" in 2014.

"We all need to get the balance right between action and reflection," said the 87-year-old monarch. "With so many distractions, it is easy to forget to pause and take stock."

The leader of the world's Anglicans, Justin Welby, in his first Christmas address as Archbishop of Canterbury highlighted the plight of Christians in the Middle East who are being "attacked and massacred" and driven into exile.

In the West Bank town of Bethlehem, the place where Christians believe Jesus was born, Jerusalem's Latin patriarch Fuad Twal celebrated a Christmas midnight mass attended by Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.

In his homily, Twal called for a "just and equitable solution" to the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Thousands of pilgrims and tourists made their way past Israel's controversial separation wall to reach the Palestinian hilltop town, where snow remains on the ground from a rare winter blizzard this month.

A giant Santa was set up in Manger Square, outside the centuries-old Church of the Nativity, where a candle-lit grotto marks the spot where Christians believe the Virgin Mary gave birth to Jesus.

Middle East Christians being 'massacred': Anglican leader

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby leads Sunday mass at the All Saints Cathedral in Nairobi October 20, 2013

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby leads Sunday Mass at the All Saints Cathedral in Nairobi October 20, 2013 (AFP Photo/Tony Karumba)

London (AFP) - Christians in the Middle East are being "attacked and massacred" and driven into exile, the leader of the world's Anglicans said Wednesday in his first Christmas sermon.

Justin Welby used his first Christmas Day address as Archbishop of Canterbury to remember those suffering for their faith in the cradle of Christianity.

"Today, singing of Bethlehem, we see injustices in Palestine and Israel, where land is taken or rockets are fired, and the innocent suffer," he told the congregation at Canterbury Cathedral in southeast England.

"We see injustice in the ever more seriously threatened Christian communities of the Middle East.

"They are attacked and massacred, driven into exile from a region in which their presence has always been essential.

"We see terrible news in South Sudan, where political ambitions have led towards ethnic conflict," he said.
Welby, the spiritual head of the Church of England, is the leader of the world's 80 million Anglicans. He was enthroned in Canterbury in March and visited Jerusalem in June.

Earlier on Christmas Day, a car bomb targeted a Baghdad church as worshippers left after mass, killing at least 14 people.

Iraq has seen its Christian population plunge in the years of bloody sectarian killings and other violence that followed the 2003 US-led invasion of the country.

Meanwhile Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols, the Roman Catholic leader in England and Wales, struck a similar chord in his midnight mass at Westminster Cathedral in London.

"Christians are the most widely persecuted religious group in the world today and this evening we think especially of the Middle East, especially of Egypt, Iraq and Syria," he said.

"As Prince Charles said last week: 'Christianity was literally born in the Middle East and we must not forget our Middle Eastern brothers and sisters'."

"We come to this Cathedral this evening freely and relatively easily, ready to give a simple act of witness to our faith. But for many going to church is an act of life-risking bravery. We thank them and seek to be inspired by their courageous faith."

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Fr. David Neuhaus, SJ: “In South Africa, I learned to rise against injustice”

davidneuhaus2 (1) 

JERUSALEM – Born in Johannesburg, in 1962, the Israeli Jesuit and Vicar of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem for the Hebrew speaking community and for migrants, Fr. David Neuhaus, grew up in South Africa and these days pleads for reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians.  An interview with the daily La Croix follows.

Being of Jewish origin and living in an Israeli milieu, you are very involved regarding Palestinians.  Were you somehow touched by your childhood in South Africa ?

Fr. David Neuhaus : No doubt, I was prepared for that. During my youth, in the 1970’s, Nelson Mandela was still in prison. It was not allowed to talk about him. In my family we mentioned his name in a low voice. It was at the moment of his release that we discovered the greatness of this man. My family, of German Jewish origin and having fled Nazism to come and settle in South Africa, was involved in the fight against apartheid. My mother refused to hire black persons. Our school, a private Jewish establishment, was also a venue of resistance against the system. I remember, when we had to complete a form for the State – surname, forename, race and, precisely, “white, black or mixed” –  our teachers would tell us to write simply “human”.

Was it the South African context that pushed your parents to send you to continue your studies in Israel at the age of 15 years?

Fr. N : Yes.  In 1976, hundreds of Black school children were killed during a demonstration.  A short time later, in 1977, the black fighter Steve Biko was assassinated. My parents thought there was no longer any future for this country.

Were you ever  imprisoned because of your convictions?…

Fr. N : During my military service in Israel, I refused to carry arms against men and women who have the same right as I do to live on this land. As a conscientious objector, I was detained for several weeks in a military prison. That was in 1988. Mandela was still in prison.  But compared with men like him, who had spent so many years behind bars because of their convictions, the price I paid was minimal. That means, I am convinced that my South African heritage has considerably influenced my choices in Israel and, more than my choices, sensitivity to injustice, the duty to resist.

Several encounters had left their effects on me upon my arrival: my conversion to Christ, first of all, and, almost at the same time, my meeting with a Palestinian nun and a young Palestinian who was to become my best friend. I knew Hebrew, I started to learn Arabic, to follow the saga of this family, becoming my second family, and to understand that over here there is a version of  facts I had never heard before. Also when I had to carry out military service, it was impossible for me to imagine carrying arms against my friends.

Are there – for you – any connections  between Apartheid and what you live in Israel ?

Fr. N : I don’t like to apply this phraseology, which can be fair from one country to another.  However, I see it as an intellectual laziness. The connection which I always try to establish is this: in South Africa, everything seemed black and yet the horizon was wide open.  Presently, in Israel, the situation seems hopeless, but I always say that God, who sent Mandela to South Africa, can open up doors. Apartheid was vanquished, and my great hope is that we too will be able to overcome the struggle between Israelis and Palestinians.

How does Nelson Mandela inspire your action ?

Fr. N : He used the language of reconciliation without any revengeful mark, despite his own and his people’s sufferings. We now need to realize at what point our language, here, is marked by contempt for the other, on both sides. Changing this discourse is for me the first condition of a genuine dialogue, without which it will remain superficial, leading to  nowhere. Nelson Mandela’s dream was to see South Africa as a place where man is not seen in terms of his skin colour. My hope is to convince people of this land not to judge a man whether he is Moslem, Jew, Israeli or Palestinian. Mandela could already see in his lifetime the realization of his dream.  Let us hope that we too…

The Separation Wall is as high between Israelis and Palestinians as it had been between Blacks and Whites.  Is it your duty to cross over?

Fr. N : It is not a duty but a privilege. As a man of church, I have the possibility to cross barriers. The division is part of our reality. But Christians should act as though barriers do  not exist. I am active full time inside Israeli society, as inside Palestinian society – I teach Bible at the seminary of Beit Jala. I cross this division every time, and as such I feel totally integrated. It is the role of the Church to be with, not against. To rise up against lies, injustice, racism, anti-Semitism, and use a language of respect towards everybody.

Céline Hoyeau

Source: http://en.lpj.org/2013/12/20/in-south-africa-i-learned-to-rise-against-injustice-f-neuhaus/

Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem: Excerpt from the Christmas Eve Homily

BETHLEHEM – Here below is an excerpt from the homily of His Beatitude Fouad Twal, during Mass on Christmas Eve, in the Basilica of the Nativity.

In the Holy Land, we are living a conflict that does not seem to have a solution in the short term and which weighs heavily on the inhabitants of the Holy Land.

This painful reality raises numerous questions concerning our future in this country and causes us much worry. We need the answer of faith. The answer lies neither in emigration nor in closing in on ourselves.  It consists in staying here and in living and dying here.  Our Land is holy and deserves our attachment to it, for our presence in this land is a divine vocation, a blessing and a privilege.  The flame of faith burns strongly here, like the star of the Magi, to guide us.  We need the comfort that comes from our absolute faith in the Providence of God: “who encourages us in our every affliction, so that we may be able to encourage those who are in any affliction with the encouragement with which we ourselves are encouraged by God.” (2 Cor 1:4)

The light of the faith can illuminate every aspect of our life, our present and our future.  Faith intensifies our vision, more deeply, more sublimely and more widely than the human eye can capture.  We see modestly, in a sense, as God Himself sees! Consequently, faith is a kind of wisdom that enables us to make the right decisions at the right time.  “Yet in the absence of light everything becomes confused; it is impossible to tell good from evil, or the road to our destination from other roads which take us in endless circles, going nowhere.” (Lumen Fidei,3).

That God is all-powerful, all-knowing, faithful he loves us, strengthens our faith. That is why, nothing should frighten us, neither the present, nor the future, nor the troubles that affect our Middle East.

Oh Holy Child, who experienced the flight into Egypt after the threat from Herod, who two thousand years ago killed the children of Bethlehem, have mercy on our children, and all the world’s children.  Have mercy on prisoners, on the poor, the marginalized, and the most vulnerable among us.  On this night, we pray for the bishops and religious abducted in Syria. We pray for their return and their dignity may be restored.

Remember them, Lord, together with all the refugees.  Give them a sign of hope for a better future, that they may return to their country and their homes.

Oh Holy Child, God of goodness and mercy, look with kindness on the Holy Land and on our people who live in Palestine, in Israel, in Jordan and all in the Middle East.  Grant them the gift of reconciliation so that they may all be brothers – sons of one God.

Oh Holy Child, we beg for peace through the intercession of your Mother the Holy Virgin Mary, daughter of our Land.

Merry Christmas and may the blessing of the Infant of Bethlehem be upon you.

+ Fouad Twal, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem

Read the complete Christmas Eve homily:  http://en.lpj.org/2013/12/24/2013-christmas-homily-of-the-latin-patriarch-of-jerusalem/

The Arab Spring That Never Was

Lebanon Prelate Eyes Syrian Peace Conference

New York, (Zenit.org)

Syrian-born Archbishop John Darwish heads the Melkite Archdiocese of Furzol, Zahle and Bekaa in Lebanon. With a population of 200,000 Christians, Zahle is the largest Christian city in the Middle East. His jurisdiction straddles the western border of Syria and is currently home to 800 Syrian Christian refugee families—a total of more than 6,000 people—who have fled their homeland where they were caught in the fighting between the Syrian regime and rebel forces, and where Islamist rebels have been increasingly targeting the Christian community.

There are a total of some 2,000 Syrian Christian refugee families in all of Lebanon. With a small number having left for the US, Europe or Australia, the majority of uprooted Syrian Christians, the archbishop points out, are displaced within their own country, many of them in Damascus and in Syria’s “Valley of the Christians.” Winter has arrived—refugees and displaced people throughout the region are beginning to suffer terrible hardships.

Archbishop Darwish is on a tour of the United States to raise funds that help the local Church to continue to provide support and humanitarian aid for the Syrian refugees; to call attention to the plight of Christian minorities throughout the Middle East, including Lebanon; and to raise funds for his organizations and projects in the Bekaa valley.

If outright persecution does not drive Christians out of their native countries, the prelate explains, poverty, a lack of educational and economic opportunities and very limited access to social services force many into permanent exile. To help Lebanese Christians, Archbishop Darwish has launched a new charity, with headquarters in both Lebanon and the US: Stream of Hope Mission (www.streamofhopemission.org). The organization supports a local non-profit hospital (Tel Chiha Hospital), a drug rehabilitation center (Emmanuel House for Drugs Rehabilitation) and a scholarship fund (CADA). Archbishop Darwish spoke with Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need on Dec. 18, 2013, during his visit to New York.

Q: What are the biggest needs of the Syrian families in your care? What are their living conditions?

Archbishop Darwish: For one thing, they do not live in tents, or in camps. They live in rented homes, sometimes with multiple families in a single home or a set of rooms. By contrast, there are at least 10,000 Syrian Muslim families living in refugee camps. Most of these Christian families, however, are in need of the very basics of daily life—food, educational opportunities for their children, medical care. We help the poorer Christian families pay their rent; we also try to find work for the young men and adults. There are many skilled laborers, for example plumbers and electricians.

We also have created a chaplaincy to minister to the refugees, the majority of whom came from the city of Homs and surroundings. Many of them are in bad shape, emotionally and materially—they left everything behind and came here with literally nothing. Jihadist rebels came to them at night and forced them to leave immediately—they are traumatized, because they were unable to mourn and pray for their dead. We try to support them emotionally and financially. For example, I did sent a request to the European Union to help my Church support those 800 families which will cost about $4 million per year.

Q: There have been reports that the Syrian Christians in your archdiocese are reluctant to register themselves with the UN and other aid organizations for fear they will be identified as Christians and subject to potential reprisals. What can you say about this situation?

Archbishop Darwish: I try to convince them to register and thus become eligible for benefits. They are afraid—they don’t want to be involved whatsoever in the war; they worry that their names will be given either to the Syrian government or the rebels. They feel more comfortable being helped by the Church. I don’t believe they have real reason to be afraid, however, and we have tried to help matters by organizing meetings between the families and representatives of the UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency. I encouraged the Agency to work with us directly. But officials apparently are not too eager to do so, but we are making some progress.

It is also a matter of perception—UN officials see Muslims living in tents, in the camps, while Christians are living in regular homes and do not seem to be in such need. There is some discrimination. But it is part of the mentality of the Christians, their particular sense of personal dignity which makes Christians avoid the camps. The situation makes it all the more important for me to reach out to Christians in the West and ask them to support our work.

Q: Are you disappointed by the relative silence on the part of Western governments and even religious communities with regard to the hardships of Christians in Syria and throughout the Middle East?

Archbishop Darwish:  Public opinion in the West is held hostage by the media. People don’t understand our real problems. What the media are missing is the reality of what is going on in Syria and elsewhere. They have missed the meaning of the so-called “Arab spring.” There is no Arab spring; there is no push for democracy—it is a push for theocracy, as we saw with the revolution in Egypt that brought the Muslim Brotherhood into power. Jihadists from all over the world are coming into the region—just consider the various radical factions in Syria, like Al Nusra. So far, the moderate opposition to the old regimes has been weak.

Also, Western governments cannot simply impose their form of democracy in the region. There is not one, single form of democracy. The Arab world must find its own form. For many Muslims today, there is simply no separation between religion and state. Arab society must become more mature in order to embrace the notion of a lay state. That will take a lot of time. But Christians have an important role to play in this process. What we can do is collaborate with moderate Muslims, here in Lebanon, in Syria, and in other countries of the region. Quietly, we have begun doing so, because there definitely are partners for dialogue within the Muslim community.

I chair the Christian-Muslim Dialogue Committee in Lebanon and my main focus is to help all faiths find common ground so that we can live together in peace in the Middle East. This was the effort Pope John Paul II called for when he visited Lebanon in 1997 and delivered his post-synodal exhortation following the conclusion of the Special Assembly for Lebanonof the Synodof Bishops.

Q: What would you like to see happen at the peace conference for Syria scheduled to be held in January 2014? Could you envision President Assad staying in power?

Archbishop Darwish: Until now, we have not been able to envision who could possibly replace him. We are afraid Jihadist forces could grab power and impose their ideology on all Christians and moderate Muslims. That would be very unwelcome also to most Syrian citizens. Ideally, there would be some accommodation between Assad and the secular opposition. What I would love to see happen in Geneva is a halt to the provision of weapons and money to all parties; support for Syria to rebuild what has been destroyed; an initiative that would force all parties to come together and find ways to reconcile and agree on the kind of reform that would fit all Syrians; and the granting of the fundamental freedom—in Syria, and throughout the Middle East—for Christian converts to register themselves as such, in a census for example. Only Lebanon respects this liberty today. In all other countries a convert to Christianity from Islam cannot register his marriage or his children, although he is allowed to worship. If the Churches were granted a place at the table in Geneva, this is what we would propose.
Aid to the Church in Need is an international Catholic charity under the guidance of the Holy See, providing assistance to the suffering and persecuted Church in more than 140 countries. www.churchinneed.org

Source:  http://www.zenit.org/en/articles/the-arab-spring-that-never-was

Iranian Ambassador to the Holy See Hopes For Peace Through Dialogue (Part 2)

In An Exclusive Interview with ZENIT, Mohammad Taher Rabbani, Iranian Ambassador to the Vatican, Talks about Inter-Religious Dialogue and Irans Agreement in Geneva on Its Nuclear Program



Rome, (Zenit.org)

Last November 24, the world breathed a sigh of relief. In the course of an impassioned night in Geneva, Iran and the countries of the Group 5+1 (the United States, Russia, China, France, Great Britain and Germany) reached an agreement on Tehran's nuclear program. Iran has committed itself to limit the enrichment of uranium within 5% and authorized the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to inspect its nuclear sites. In return, it received the assurance of the suspension of the sanctions for six months.

Of course, a negotiation of such importance is not exhausted with a, though significant, shaking of hands between Heads of State. However, the gesture and the signing of the Agreement already represents a step forward that removes the world from the disastrous hypothesis of aggression to Iran. Yet, up to a few months ago, distinguished analysts and political scientists upheld with certainty that a joint attack of the United States and Israel to the damage of Iran was an inevitable scenario, while describing the negotiations between Tehran and the Group 5 + 1 as “empty academic exercises of diplomacy.”

The facts have proven them wrong, demonstrating that dialogue can also smooth out crises that are apparently irresolvable and bring different cultures closer. The solid diplomatic relations that exist profitably between the Holy See and the Islamic Republic of Iran constitute a valid example in this sense, sublimated by the fact that the accredited Iranian diplomatic personnel beyond the Tiber is the second largest in terms of size.

ZENIT met in an exclusive interview with Ambassador Mohammad Taher Rabbani, who presented his Credential Letters last June. In the following interview we spoke with him about the Geneva Agreement and inter-religious dialogue.

Part 1 was published on Monday, December 23rd

* * *

ZENIT: What is the situation of Christians in the Islamic Republic of Iran? What rights are recognized to them and, beyond the juridical aspect, what is their relation with the Muslim population?

Ambassador Rabbani: In Iran, peaceful coexistence between Muslims and Christians is an example for the whole of the Middle East. Testimony of this also is the ancient relation with the Holy See, which goes back to the 13th century and which was realized in the constant political and diplomatic encounters with Congregations such as the Carmelites and the Dominicans. It is part of the teachings of our religion, on the other hand, to maintain friendly relations with the three religions of the Book. This tradition of hospitality is present in the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, which defends the rights of religions of the Book and guarantees them representatives in the Parliament. In fine, President Rohani’s program reinforces this political line.

ZENIT: Every two years there are bilateral meetings between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Holy See to foster inter-religious dialogue. There was a meeting recently between the Iranian President Hassan Rohani and Archbishop Leo Boccardi, new Apostolic Nuncio in Iran. What common objectives were established?

Ambassador Rabbani: Underscored during that meeting was the fact that today, more than ever, the dialogue between Islam and Christianity is important. Shiites and Catholics must know one another better, in order to identify points they have in common. Because many misunderstanding are born in fact from reciprocal ignorance. Terrorism and extremism are our common enemies. However, it is our common objective, instead, to make a contribution to peace and to combat poverty, beyond the religious confession and nationality of the poor.

ZENIT: In your opinion, what other misunderstanding are there which sometimes impede a peaceful relationship between the Muslim world and the Christian world?

Ambassador Rabbani: We believe that all the prophets had the same objective. Therefore, if all the prophets were to live together there would be no problem among them. In the last years there has been no clash between Islam and Christianity. The oppositions we witness in some regions of the planet are of an ethnic character more than religious. Sometimes, in fact, there are conflicts between persons of the same religion.

However, unfortunately there are some obstacles. The main one is due to the prejudices that a great number of believers have in opposing followers of the other religions, by way of mistaken behavior toward the other on the part of some Muslim and Christian rulers in the course of history. These negative events have a religious covering only in appearance, but they have equally caused disputes between some believers of these two religions. I, as diplomat and religious, am convinced, however, that religious heads at the world level can have an important role in attaining peace as opposed to discriminations and apartheid. A recent example in this connection comes to us from Nelson Mandela who, although he was not a religious figure, had an important role for peace in South Africa.

In fine, I recall that all the monotheistic religions invite peoples to believe and practice the mercy of God in society.

ZENIT: What, instead, are the challenges that Islam and Christianity can address today side by side?

Ambassador Rabbani: We could draw up a long list. However, the most important challenge is the dialogue to promote a culture of peace that can oppose war. In the absence of dialogue, however, there cannot be any sustainable and definitive development. Violence and extremism are wounds that must be healed as soon as possible. The religious heads of Islam and Christianity can work together for this objective.

For instance, the appeals of Pope Francis (for whom we have great respect) to pray for peace, as well as the role he had to prevent the military attack in Syria and reinforce a coalition of peace in the world, together with the appeal for world peace of Iranian President Rohani during the 68th UN General Assembly, in my opinion can create a front for peace to oppose the front that wants war. This collaboration, if it continues with common programs, involving many religious heads active in the field of global peace and justice, can build a global front of the great religions for peace. My proposal is that it be the Holy See and the Islamic Republic of Iran that build this front. The occasion to take an important step in this direction could be the ninth inter-religious meeting between these two States, which will take place in Teheran in 2014. Moreover, Iran can use her political potential in regard to the guidance of the Movement of non-aligned countries -- made up in greater part by Christian Catholic countries and Muslims – to create a Forum within it that welcomes the constructive collaboration of the Holy See.

Source: http://www.zenit.org/en/articles/iranian-ambassador-to-the-holy-see-hopes-for-peace-through-dialogue-part-2

To read Part 1 of the interview, go to :http://www.al-bushra-updates.blogspot.com/2013/12/iranian-ambassador-to-holy-see-hopes.html

Monday, December 23, 2013

Iranian Ambassador to the Holy See Hopes For Peace Through Dialogue (Part 1)

In An Exclusive Interview with ZENIT, Mohammad Taher Rabbani, Iranian Ambassador to the Vatican, Talks about Inter-Religious Dialogue and Irans Agreement in Geneva on Its Nuclear Program


Rome, (Zenit.org) Federico Cenci 

Last November 24, the world breathed a sigh of relief. In the course of an impassioned night in Geneva, Iran and the countries of the Group 5+1 (the United States, Russia, China, France, Great Britain and Germany) reached an agreement on Tehran's nuclear program. Iran has committed itself to limit the enrichment of uranium within 5% and authorized the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to inspect its nuclear sites. In return, it received the assurance of the suspension of the sanctions for six months.

Of course, a negotiation of such importance is not exhausted with a, though significant, shaking of hands between Heads of State. However, the gesture and the signing of the Agreement already represents a step forward that removes the world from the disastrous hypothesis of aggression to Iran. Yet, up to a few months ago, distinguished analysts and political scientists upheld with certainty that a joint attack of the United States and Israel to the damage of Iran was an inevitable scenario, while describing the negotiations between Tehran and the Group 5 + 1 as “empty academic exercises of diplomacy.”

The facts have proven them wrong, demonstrating that dialogue can also smooth out crises that are apparently irresolvable and bring different cultures closer. The solid diplomatic relations that exist profitably between the Holy See and the Islamic Republic of Iran constitute a valid example in this sense, sublimated by the fact that the accredited Iranian diplomatic personnel beyond the Tiber is the second largest in terms of size.

ZENIT met in an exclusive interview with Ambassador Mohammad Taher Rabbani, who presented his Credential Letters last June. In the following interview we spoke with him about the Geneva Agreement and inter-religious dialogue.

* * *

ZENIT: Your President, Hassan Rohani, said that “threats cannot bring any fruit,” and he signed an historic agreement on the nuclear program. What can you tell us regarding this? Can you explain to us what it is about?

Ambassador Rabbani: In the name of the clement and merciful God, I thank you for having come to us as a guest in this Christmas period. My wish is that next year will be a year of peace for the whole world.

As you know, Iran is one of the signatories of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty; consequently, it is a right of hers to make a peaceful use of nuclear energy. Moreover, this Treaty puts no limit on the peaceful use of nuclear energy as written expressly in Article 4. Therefore, Iran is acting on the basis of the rules of the International Atomic Energy Agency and – I add – on the basis of our religious teachings, which reject the use of nuclear arms. In this connection, it is useful to recall that, in 2012 our Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued a fatwa that prohibits the production, stocking and use of nuclear arms. This right was confirmed in the recent Geneva Agreement. Therefore, after ten years of meetings, the six world powers of the Group 5+1 have accepted and signed Iran’s right to continue to enrich uranium up to 5% in its territory.

From a political point of view, this Agreement is of enormous importance for Iran, because finally it made the logic of dialogue for peace prevail over the logic of violence and military intervention. This Agreement, then, provides for some of the banking sanctions to be suppressed, the difficulties regarding the insurance of oil vessels and the transfer of money from the sale of oil. Iran is committed for six months to suspend the activity of enrichment of uranium; our hope is that the West will make use of this period to give trust to Iran and renew relations. What happened in Geneva has demonstrated that agreements are established on the basis of mutual respect and not on the basis of sanctions.

ZENIT: What damages have the sanctions imposed on your country caused the population? To what degree do you foresee that they will be reduced at the end of six months of suspension of nuclear activity?

Ambassador Rabbani: I must say first of all that these iniquitous embargoes, if on one hand they have damaged us, on the other they offered us advantages. First among all was the reinforcement of the bond between the Government and the Iranian people. The great Iranian people responded forcefully to these illicit sanctions, even if they suffered enormous damages. I give an example that the West, which calls itself a defender of human rights, must always impede: some persons affected by grave illnesses are in need of receiving particular medicines that, however, because of the embargo, they could not receive. The great Iranian people has always been beaten, however, to affirm their right, there are the testimonies of many young scholars who were killed by mercenaries of enemy regimes. Episodes that did not discourage the Iranians, and this was seen during the last presidential elections, which saw the participation of the great majority of voters.

My expectation is that in future we will be able to come to a definitive agreement. These six months represent the right occasion to finally resolve the nuclear question. With the stipulation of the final and global agreement after the aforesaid six months, all the sanctions imposed by the United Nations Organization and the unilateral ones imposed by America and by the West will be eliminated.

ZENIT: In what way could the Holy See and Pope Francis help this peace process?

Ambassador Rabbani: Either the Holy See, as a religious institution that guides the Catholic Church, or His Holiness, Pope Francis, can propose a diplomacy geared to attaining peace. Justice, peace and development in the addresses of Pope Francis and in those of Ayatollah Khamenei illuminate our life to reach a collaboration that I would describe as multilateral religious diplomacy. On the other hand, during an address regarding true diplomacy in the teachings of the monotheist religions, Archbishop Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State, described diplomacy as “the art of hope.” In my opinion, this vision must be promoted in the world, because today we are living a critical situation which can only be resolved by a diplomacy that gives hope. This type of diplomacy also belongs to the political program of President Rohani.

Source:  http://www.zenit.org/en/articles/iranian-ambassador-to-the-holy-see-hopes-for-peace-through-dialogue-part-1

Saturday, December 21, 2013

United Methodist Church: “A microcosm of Israel – Palestine conflict”

The illegal Israeli settlement of Beitar Illit sits above the tiny Palestinian village of Wadi Foquin, whose farmlands are being affected by sewage runoff from above.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The United Methodist General Board of Church & Society was among sponsors of a congressional briefing last month to describe the plight of Wadi Foquin, a Palestinian farming village threatened with extinction. The briefing in the Capitol Visitors Center was attended by more than 100 persons representing 50 congressional offices.

The briefing was organized through the efforts of the Friends of Wadi Foquin, persons within the United Methodist California-Nevada Conference who have been working to protect the small Palestinian village they contend is a microcosm of the situation in the West Bank. According to them, Israel and an illegal settlement above Wadi Foquin are virtually conspiring to push the centuries-old village into extinction.
Wadi Foquin's economy has been strangled due to the theft of 94% of the village’s land.

“Wadi Foquin is a small West Bank Palestinian village of approximately 1,200 residents near Bethlehem,” said the Rev. Michael Yoshii, pastor of Buena Vista United Methodist Church in Alameda, Calif., and chair of Friends of Wadi Foquin. “Our church and a few others in the California-Nevada Conference have been in partnership with the village since August 2009.”

Wadi Foquin's economy has been strangled due to the theft of 94% of the village’s land under the occupation, according to Yoshii. The Buena Vista congregation and others in California-Nevada have stepped up to help develop alternative means economically for survival through efforts such as a beehive project. But the village’s sense of impending displacement exacerbated concern, leading to launch of an advocacy campaign in the spring of 2012.


The so-called separation wall

Proposed construction of the so-called separation wall threatens communities such as Wadi Foquin, whose residents not only lose more land, but find their movement restricted. Persons in Wadi Foquin find themselves cut off from neighboring villages, thus hindering commerce as well as access to jobs, schools and medical facilities.

The congressional briefing featured persons from the Palestinian village of Wadi Foquin and their Israeli neighbors in Tsur Hadassa. They described how their situation is unsustainable both for Israelis and Palestinians.
Speakers included the following:
  • Fahmi Manasra, director of Outreach, Wadi Foquin CDP
  • Ahmad Sukar, Wadi Foquin Village Council president
  • Raed Samara, West Bethlehem District coordinator of Mayors & Village Councils
  • Dr. Dudy Tzfati, genetics professor, Hebrew University & Resident of Israeli village of Tsur Hadassa
The delegation also met with U.S. State Dept. officials following the briefing.


Wastewater damage

Speakers emphasized that although peace talks between Israel and Palestine have resumed, members of Congress may be unaware of the daily struggles of those whose lives urgently depend upon a resolution to the conflict. Wadi Foquin’s residential and agricultural land is being increasingly expropriated for expanding settlement construction. Farmland has been damaged by wastewater from a nearby settlement, Beitar Illit, which sits above Wadi Foquin.

Tzfati, a resident of the Israeli village of Tsur Hadassa, said he is troubled by what is happening to Wadi Foquin. “It doesn’t seem right,” he said.

A lot of work needs to be done, according to Tzfati. He said he joined the delegation because education is an important part of the solution. “The United States has a Constitution,” he said. “We don’t need to teach Americans about human rights because there is a strong history in human-rights movements. It is important to let Americans know what is happening and that it’s not just Palestinians, but also Israelis who object.”


Microcosm of larger issue

Manasra pointed out that Israel depends on the United States more than any other country. “When Israel does bad things, people accuse the Americans for it as well,” he said. “Wadi Foquin is a microcosm of the larger issue, and the urgency to solve the problem is critical.”

The separation wall, which already surrounds Bethlehem, is planned for expansion around Wadi Foquin. “The village will be suffocated completely,” Manasra declared. “We always have hope the peace talks will work, but these conditions should not continue while people talk peace. We always pray and hope because what are the other options for our future.”

Samara said he wanted to come to find out how U.S. people think about his country, and “its just cause.” Samara explained that he works with agencies to find projects that will make life better for Palestinians.
“Things are getting worse in the West Bank,” Samara said, “and it negatively affects all aspects of life. This is a bad occupation that makes life unsupportable.”


Many obstacles

Many obstacles are being imposed by the Israeli authorities. For example, in addition to roads being closed, the Israelis manage Palestinian water supplies, according to him. “We have very little access to our own water resources,” he said. “It is managed by Israel, taken by Israel, and we have to buy the very little amount that they allow.”

Sukar, Wadi Foquin Village Council president, pleaded for help. “We have so many dreams,” he said. “We have the right to natural human rights. We have only dreams that are realities in other countries.”
As mayor, Sukar said he is always trying to make plans to develop the town’s infrastructure, but is thwarted by the occupation that prevents going forward.

“That’s why it’s mostly impossible to talk about development our country under the occupation,” Sukar said. “On a daily basis, our farmers — 50% of our population — just trying to reach their own fields are threatened by the settlers and the soldiers.”


Reputation harmed

Sukar said farmers are suffering because of the restrictions, renovation of building facilities discouraged, and periodically sewage from the settlement floods the farm land. “This contaminates our farm land and harms our good reputation in markets,” he said, adding that the sewage is supposed to be pumped to a treatment facility.

In 1948 when Israel was formed, Wadi Foquin consisted of 3,000 acres, according to Sukar. After the 1967 war, he said its boundaries shrunk to barely 900 acres.

The General Board of Church & Society was joined as sponsors of the briefing by Churches for Middle East Peace, Arab American Institute, Palestinian Christian Alliance for Peace and Americans for Peace Now.
Editor's note: Wadi Foquin is a community development site supported by the General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM). You can read about the village in “A Window of Hope in Wadi Foquin,” New World Outlook, (November/December 2013).

You can hear an audio recording of the Capitol Hill briefing at Mondoweiss.
Learn more about Friends of Wadi Foquin.

Source:  http://umc-gbcs.org/faith-in-action/a-microcosm-of-israel-palestine-conflict

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Christmas message of the Heads of Churches of Jerusalem


In Him was life, and the life was the light of all people.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1. 4,5)

We, the Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem, share with you the joy of this Christmas season of the Incarnation.   Our physical closeness to the town of Bethlehem where this took place is a constant reminder to us of its wonderful reality.  We praise God for the Word made flesh in the person of Jesus Christ from the pure blood of the Blessed Virgin Mary and for her willingness to co-operate with his divine plan.  We praise God for the Shepherds in the fields below Bethlehem – ordinary people of no rank or status who were chosen to be the first to hear the Good News of our Saviour’s birth.   We praise God for the Angels with their message of glory to God and peace to men and women.   We praise God for the Wise Men, kings from the East, through whom God’s Theophany was revealed to the nations.

It is sometimes easy to forget that the first Christmas took place in a context of considerable political instability.  The occupying Roman Empire was a powerful reality and here in the Land of the Holy One there was a wide range of groups with competing claims and differing loyalties.  The story of Herod’s retaliation against the children of Bethlehem reminds us that violence was common.  The world into which Jesus came was not altogether different from the current situation here in the Middle East where we find ourselves today.  Violence is seen as the only way to impose order and achieve security by some or as the only way to resist oppression and injustice by others.   We firmly believe that violence is not the way and that the Jesus as the Prince of Peace came to show us not only how to be reconciled to God, but how to be reconciled to one another.  Peace has to begin in the human heart as we recognize the common humanity which we share with every single person who has been created in God’s image.

In the first months of his life the child Jesus had to be taken by Mary and Joseph to Egypt as a refugee seeking a place of safety.  This brings to our minds the many hundreds of thousands of people in this region who have felt compelled to make similar journeys as refugees, leaving behind their homes and all that is familiar to them in search of a more secure future.  We invite you at this Christmas season to pray especially for them, for all the agencies of support which are sustaining them and for the leaders of our world as they seek to bring about a situation where the seeking of refuge will not be necessary.

In the midst of these sobering realities we rejoice that the light of Christ still shines – even in the very darkest places.   As the divine Word became flesh in the child of Bethlehem, so we pray that God’s word of love, joy and peace will continue to become flesh today as we open our hearts and lives to his divine presence among us.

From the heartland of the Christian faith we wish you a joyful Christmas in the name of the +Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

+Patriarch Theophilos III, Greek Orthodox Patriarchate

+Patriarch Fouad Twal, Latin Patriarchate

+Patriarch Norhan Manougian, Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Patriarchate

+Fr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, ofm, Custos of the Holy Land

+Archbishop Anba Abraham, Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate, Jerusalem

+Archbishop Swerios Malki Murad, Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate

+Archbishop Aba Daniel, Ethiopian Orthodox Patriarchate

+Archbishop Joseph-Jules Zerey, Greek-Melkite-Catholic Patriarchate

+Archbishop Mosa El-Hage, Maronite Patriarchal Exarchate

+Bishop Suheil Dawani, Episcopal Church of Jerusalem and the Middle East

+Bishop Munib Younan, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land

+Bishop Pierre Malki, Syrian Catholic Patriarchal Exarchate

+Msgr. Joseph Antoine Kelekian, Armenian Catholic Patriarchal Exarchate

(Christmas 2013)

Source: http://en.lpj.org/2013/12/20/the-christmas-message-of-the-heads-of-churches-of-jerusale/

Latin Patriarch Calls on Faithful Not to Forget Syria

Christmas Message Confirms Papal Visit to Holy Land in May 2014

Jerusalem, (Zenit.org)

In his Christmas message, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Archbishop Fouad Twal, has called on the faithful not to forget Syria, warned against Israeli settlement building, and confirmed rumours that Pope Francis will be visiting Israel, Palestine and Jordan next May.

“Christmas leads the eyes of the world to look towards Bethlehem,” the Patriarch said, adding that it is in “the midst of conflict and violence, tearing our Middle East apart,” that the mystery of Christmas “gently rises and spreads” throughout the world.

“At this time, we cannot forget the inhabitants of Syria, and among them the refugees in our neighboring countries, as well as all those around the world,” he continued. He also had a special thought for Filipino migrants in the region whose families have been “deeply affected” by the recent typhoon there.

The patriarch noted that the situation in the Middle East is becoming “more complex and dramatic” and warned that the instability affects everyone. He further highlighted the plight of the people of Gaza, suffering Israeli and Egyptian embargos.

To prevent further conflict, he called for an immediate and sustainable ceasefire in Syria. The Syrian problem cannot be resolved by the force of arms, he said, and called on all political leaders to assume the responsibility for finding a mutually acceptable political solution that will end “the senseless violence, and uphold respect for the dignity of people.”

Referring to the resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, the Latin Patriarch said efforts continued to be “hampered by the continuous building of Israeli settlements.” As long as this problem is not resolved, he said, “the people of our region will suffer.”

He added that the continuing construction of the separation wall as well as the demolition of a house of the Latin Patriarchate in East Jerusalem a few weeks ago, were “signs of a worsening situation” that do not in any way facilitate the peace process. But he pointed out that European Union pledges of "unprecedented" political, economic and security support if the peace process succeeds “is a good reason for hope.”

Patriarch Twal thanked “journalist-friends” for trying to ensure that what happens in the Holy Land is not forgotten. He fondly recalled Pope Francis’ election, saying he “cares about the Holy Land and the Middle East,” and confirmed that the Pontiff will be travelling first to Jordan and then to Israel and Palestine in May.

He said the economic agreement between Israel and the Holy See is “about to be concluded”. But he stressed that although the Ottoman Empire, Britain, Jordan and Israel respected the status quo, including tax exemptions for Churches, Israel now “wants to introduce changes.”

“Paying a little more or a little less is not the core of the issue,” he said, “What is the important thing is not to ‘touch’ East Jerusalem, as it is still on the negotiating table. We do not want these agreements to have a political implication that changes the status of East Jerusalem, which was occupied in 1967.”

Turning to the life of the Church, he thanked the Israeli authorities for their logistical support in helping the end of the Year of Faith celebrations take place. He recalled that Catholics of the Holy Land (with few exceptions) celebrated Easter together with the Orthodox this year. “Unification of the date of Easter is not easy, but it is a first step towards complete unity and this requires efforts from everyone,” he said.

He condemned “all forms of religious fundamentalism”, noting that there has been an increase in acts of vandalism carried out by extremists and some twenty holy places or places of worship have been targeted.

As for priorities in the coming year, Patriarch Twal said they were to build peace and to deal with the extremist currents with a prophetic spirit. And he highlighted the many schools the Church runs in Palestine, Israel and Jordan as well as a housing project run by the patriarchate in Beit Safafa.

As well as the papal visit, the Jordanian-born patriarch looked forward to a visit to “our Christians in the Diaspora in the United States” in July 2014, as well as the Extraordinary Synod on the Family to be held in Rome from October 5 to 19.

He closed by praying that Christians, Jews and Muslims “may find in their common spiritual heritage, their shared values in order to end injustice, oppression, ignorance and all evil acts that destroy God’s gift to us - the dignity of the human being.”

“May the Infant Jesus give peace to all peoples of the region,” he said. “Have a joyful Christmas.”

Source: http://www.zenit.org/en/articles/latin-patriarch-calls-on-faithful-not-to-forget-syria

Click here for full message: http://en.lpj.org/2013/12/18/patriarch-twals-christmas-message-2/

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Church of Jerusalem ordains five new deacons


BEIT JALA – Five new transitional deacons were ordained on Sunday December 8,  2013,  by Bishop William Shomali, Patriarchal Vicar for Jerusalem, at the Beit Jala Seminary. Upon ordination to the diaconate they were incardinated into the Diocese of Jerusalem. For the seminarians of the diocese, December 8 is the Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception, and also that of the Seminary. Traditionally, diaconal ordinations are held around this date, while priesthood take place  at the end of June.

In the heavily packed Church of the Latin Parish of Beit Jala, the Diocese of Jerusalem welcomed five new deacons coming from several parishes of the Diocese or abroad:  Bernard Poggi from USA, Baha Stephan, Ibrahim Naffa and Fares Siryani from Jordan, Bashar Fawadleh from Palestine.  They studied at the Patriarchal Seminary which has 34 major and 45 minor seminarians.

Several Bishops, many priests and delegations coming from USA and Italy supported the young ordinandi, encouraged further by prayers of faithful of the Diocese, from Galilee, Samaria, Jordan or the suburbs of Bethlehem. During his homily, Bishop Shomali expressed his joy, and underlined again the role of a deacon called “to live in simplicity”, to announce the Gospel,  to serve the Church through his love for mankind.   He focused on the importance and the difficulty of the relationship with society: “People look at what we are doing on the ground before listening to what we say…. we are expected to act  with a tender heart if we really care to put the image of Jesus Christ in the spirit of those to whom we minister.”

At the end of the celebration, after heartfelt thanks by the Rector of the Seminary,  Fr. Jamal Khader, the faithful proceeded to greet the five new deacons in a festive and musical mood, aided by music from the Scouts of Beit Jala and Bethlehem who were keen to be present at the ceremony.

The five deacons will remain in the Seminary to complete  their formation, until next June, when – God willing – they will be called by the Church to be priests of Mother Church of Jerusalem.

Pierre Loup de Raucourt. Source: http://en.lpj.org/2013/12/11/church-of-jerusalem-ordains-five-new-deacons/