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.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Senior churchman says Christians and Muslims need military permission to pray

Patriarch points out that access to holy places will be limited and in the control of the Israelis.Patriarch points out that access to holy places will be limited and in the control of the Israelis.

Friday, 22 March 2013 12:30 - The retired Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Archbishop Michal Sabbah, has pointed out that Christians and Muslims living in the Holy Land "have needed military permission to pray since 1993". Archbishop Sabbah was speaking in the context of another high-profile visitor to Israel - Barack Obama   who won’t make a difference to the conditions for Palestinians.

"All world leaders visit us," he told Italian news agency AKI, "they come and go, but our reality has not changed. We keep living in the same conditions."

In the run up to Easter Week, a very special time for Christians, the Patriarch pointed out that access to their holy places will be limited, difficult and in the control of the Israelis.

"It is impossible for any external pressure to change anything," he added. "Israel alone decides whether to go forward with peace or maintain the current deadlock. Even when we want to pray here, we cannot go directly to God; we have to pass through the Israeli army to get permission."

Source: http://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/5564-senior-churchman-says-christians-and-muslims-need-military-permission-to-pray

Friday, March 29, 2013

Holy Thursday Homily From Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem

"Here in the Middle East, to be a disciple of Christ is a vocation of the cross"

Jerusalem, (Zenit.org)Here is the text of the homily by Patriarch Fouad Twal of Jerusalem for today's Mass of the Lord's Supper.

* * *
Excellencies, dear Fathers and Sisters, dear Pilgrims, and to all our faithful: a Happy Feast.
On this Holy Thursday, we gather here in Jerusalem, just a few hundred metres from the Cenacle, with Christ and His disciples, at the moment chosen by Jesus to institute the sacraments of Holy Orders and the Eucharist.

As Saint John Vianney, the Cure of Ars said, “The priesthood is the love of the heart of Jesus.” This beautiful, clear expression helps us call to mind with affection and gratitude, the immense gift of the priesthood and the consecrated life, not only for the Church, but also for humanity “A good pastor, a pastor after the heart of God, is the greatest treasure which the good Lord can bestow on a parish, and is one of the most precious gifts of divine mercy.”

Now we are at the dawn of a new pontificate with Pope Francis, the Pope of the poor, who, following the example of the Master himself, began his pontificate with a beautiful gesture of humility and simplicity by asking the faithful to pray for him. We know how daunting his task is: the Vatican, the Church and priests have been the focus of media attention, because of divisions and scandals, and often also due to malicious intent. On this Holy Thursday, let us take to heart in our prayer, of asking God’s help to purify our Church, our hearts and our intentions.

In times gone by in the East, the washing of feet was common because of the dust from the roads. When a traveller returns from a trip, one was often presented with a basin of water to wash the feet or to be washed by the lowliest servant.  On the evening of Holy Thursday, when Jesus and his disciples arrive at the place for their meal, it is he, the Master and Lord, who acts as the lowliest of servants toward his disciples. Peter initially resists, but Jesus endows this “act” with a particular meaning. It is not simply an act of humility and devotion, but the symbol of spiritual purification, without which Peter would not take part in salvation (v.8).  Finally Peter understands this gesture better and asks to be “completely washed”.  Dear friends, there is a bit of Saint Peter in each one of us.  He had more confidence in his own thoughts and actions than to believe in God’s plan … and he was as ready to die for the Lord as he was to deny Him out of fear or shame.

Let us also pray for our Church, for our Holy Land and for the entire Middle East, that the Lord may wash us of all the dust of divisions, infidelity, injustice and the thirst for power.

“For I have set you an example, that you should also do as I have done to you” (v.  15).  Jesus instituted a practice to be regularly renewed.  He presses us to rediscover a deep and real humility in our lives, especially in this Year of Faith.

This faith that we share has its summit in the Eucharist. The washing of the feet and the institution of the Eucharist in the Cenacle are deeply bound together. In the Eucharist, Jesus puts himself at our service in an even greater way than washing our feet. He nourishes us with his own flesh and his own blood. He washes our interior and cleanses our souls.  He consoles us; he gives us strength to carry out our daily tasks and to follow him as one of his disciples. Here in the Middle East, to be a disciple of Christ is a vocation of the cross. Our hearts bleed to see Syria sink ever further into violence that can have no name other than the folly of men. Our Middle East is suffering cruelly in its innermost being. And I say, that politicians will continually fall short in bringing about democracy and justice while our Holy Land is in the state of conflict that is tearing it apart: peace in the Holy Land is the key to peace in the Middle East.

In the Middle East, we are a Church of Calvary whose hope is in the resurrection and whose strength lies in the Eucharist. Jesus gives us the strength to continue living in this “valley of tears.”  Abide in me as I in you” (Jn 15:4)  With him, and in communion with the many friends of the Holy Land, we are not alone. As pastor of the little flock of Christians who live in the Holy Land, who suffer in this Promised Land, who cannot even worship the Real Presence of our Lord in the holy places, including the Cenacle, I invite you to remember the first Christian community of Jerusalem, who was very modest, but who found courage, strength and hope only in the presence of Christ. We too can bring our worries, our fears and our sufferings in the Eucharist.

Dear brothers and sisters of the Holy Land, dear pilgrims of peace, “more than ever, our troubled world, which began the new Millennium with the spectre of terrorism and the tragedy of war, demands that Christians learn to experience the Eucharist as a great school of peace.” (Mane Vobiscum Domine, 27). Yes, the real help exists in prayer and the recognition of our Lord in the Eucharist.

I appeal to you, Christians of the Holy Land and pilgrims, to become true worshippers who partake regularly of the Eucharist, to have the force to build a just society for an enduring peace. The marvelous work of charity of the Christian communities, parishes and Caritas in Jordan in their aid of Syrian refugees already bear witness to what can be achieved.

During Pope Benedict’s visit to Lebanon and the signing of Apostolic Exhortation “Ecclesia in Medio Oriente” in Harissa on September 14, 2012,  he said: “Churches of the Middle East, fear not, for the Lord is truly with you, to the close of the age! Fear not, because the universal Church walks at your side and is humanly and spiritually close to you!”

I wish you that you all go with joy and humility to meet the Lord in the Holy Eucharist and to experience and live as He calls you with  His words: “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Mt 28:20).


+ Fouad Twal, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem

Source: http://www.zenit.org/en/articles/holy-thursday-homily-from-latin-patriarch-of-jerusalem?utm_campaign=dailyhtml&utm_medium=email&utm_source=dispatch

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Catholic Communities in Holy Land to Celebrate Easter in May

Unification of Easter Date with Orthodox Church Seen As Eloquent Step At An Ecumenical Level


Jerusalem, (Zenit.org)

Catholic communities in Israel, the Palestinian territories, Jordan and Cyprus are preparing to celebrate the liturgies of Holy Week in May rather than this Sunday, following the Julian Calendar followed by the Orthodox communities.

According to Fides News Agency, the unification of the Easter dates in most of the area is an application of the directive issued on October 15, 2012, by the Assembly of Ordinary Catholic bishops in Holy Land, where it was established that within two years all Catholics in the Diocese of Latin Rite and the various Eastern rites will celebrate Easter according to the Julian calendar, coinciding with the Easter liturgies celebrated in the Orthodox churches.

The adoption of the Easter date according to the Julian calendar (which in 2013 falls on May 5) comes into force ‘ad experimentum’ this year in the whole of the Holy Land, with the exception of the areas of Jerusalem and Bethlehem, where the Gregorian calendar will continue to be followed to respect the constraints imposed in the Holy City by the system of the "Status Quo" (which regulates the coexistence of the different Christian Churches in Holy Places).

It also takes into account the arrival of pilgrims from all over the world who come to celebrate Easter in Jerusalem and Bethlehem. "Even the community of foreign workers in Tel Aviv asked to celebrate Easter according to the Gregorian rite, so they can enjoy some days off to coincide with the Jewish Passover,” Bishop William Shomali, Patriarchal Vicar of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, told Fides.

The unification of the date with which Christians of different confessions celebrate Easter still raises some eyebrows among some Maronite bishops. It is however for Bishop Shomali an eloquent step at an ecumenical and testimonial level: "Members of the same family or the same village belong to different ecclesial realities," the Patriarchal Vicar noted.

"Now they can celebrate on the same days the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In order to also give a witness of unity with our non-Christian neighbors."
By 2015, the provision for a common Easter date should be confirmed or re-calibrated in accordance with the directions also given by the Holy See.


Source: http://www.zenit.org/en/articles/catholic-communities-in-holy-land-to-celebrate-easter-in-may?utm_campaign=dailyhtml&utm_medium=email&utm_source=dispatch

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Embattled Syrians hope Argentine pope can broker peace

  • Chaldean Bishop Antoine Audo of Aleppo, Syria (CNS/Paul Jeffrey)
 |  NCR Today
Catholics everywhere are holding their breath to see what Francis might do as pope, but arguably nowhere is the sense of expectation more intense than in Syria, where the country's small Christian minority is literally fighting for its life.

On Thursday, the Chaldean Catholic bishop of Aleppo floated the idea that perhaps a pope from Argentina, who isn't perceived as aligned with any of the major parties to the Syrian conflict, could be the one to cajole major powers such as the United States and Russia to get serious about peace.

"What we want is for the fighting to stop and reconciliation to begin, and if he can help us, it would be a great gift," said Bishop Antoine Audo in an interview with NCR.

On Wednesday, Patriarch Gregory III Laham of Antioch announced he'd written Francis to warn him that violence across the Middle East, especially in Syria, is putting the region's Christian minority at risk.

Few Catholic leaders are better positioned to understand that threat than the 67-year-old Audo. Aleppo lies smack in the middle of the conflict zone, and its Christian community has been especially devastated by the violence. Audo estimates that to date, roughly one-quarter of his faithful have fled the country.
According to U.N. estimates, 70,000 Syrians have lost their lives since the uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad began two years ago, which works out to 149 Syrians killed every day. On March 6, the number of Syrians who had applied for refugee status hit 1 million, while 2.5 million people are thought to be internally displaced.

Audo, who has led the church in Aleppo since 1992, is a Jesuit like Pope Francis. He's currently in Rome for meetings with Caritas Internationalis, the Vatican-based federation of Catholic charities, which has launched an appeal for $7.7 billion to support humanitarian programs in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.

On background, Vatican sources told NCR that Pope Francis may shortly dispatch a senior cardinal as his personal envoy to Syria, in part to promote a negotiated settlement among the warring parties and in part to reassure the local Catholic community of the pope's concern.

Audo is scheduled to take part in a Mass on Thursday night at the Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere to pray for peace in Syria. He sat down Thursday morning for an interview at the Vatican offices of Caritas Internationalis.
* * *
As a Jesuit, do you know Pope Francis personally?
I've heard about him over the years, but I've never met him personally.

What do you know about his background on the Middle East?
I think that he has some links with the Middle East through the presence of Middle Eastern Christians in Argentina. As archbishop of Buenos Aires, he was responsible for the Catholic Oriental churches there. He knows some bishops and priests, some families. Of course, you saw that bishops from the Middle East were with him for his inaugural Mass as he went down to the crypt of Peter. As a Jesuit, he also has an awareness of the Middle East because of the society. He knows there are Jesuits in Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, in the Holy Land and Iraq, and so on. Every Jesuit knows that.

Does this pope bring anything special in terms of an ability to help the Christians in the Middle East?
I hope that he will do something directly for us. Of course, every pope has his own personality, his own originality. This pope is very concerned for the poor; he's very simple; he's a man of peace. On the other hand, the Catholic church is more than a pope. It's a tradition, including the Second Vatican Council and its theology. The pope works inside this tradition, adding his own personality.

Today, what is the situation facing Christians in Syria?
Like all Syrians, we're facing the problem of massive insecurity. Every day there's fighting, bombing, kidnappings, car bombs and so on. It creates a situation of fear, and Christians face that as a minority and so they feel themselves to be very weak. We live in a tribal society, so when there's no state, no government to defend the principle of citizenship, the people organize themselves by family groups. Christians don't generally have that form of organization because they want to think of themselves as citizens. The result is that they're leaving, thinking about immigration. That's our biggest problem and source of sadness about the situation.

How many of your people have left?
I can give you some examples. There's a town in the northeast of Syria where we have a Chaldean parish with around 200 families. The parish priest told me a few days ago that 50 families have left the parish, which means roughly one-quarter of the people. That's probably a good percentage estimate for other places ... Aleppo, Damascus, everywhere, for all the Christians in Syria.

You've been quoted as saying that Christians are not being specifically targeted for attacks, but we read reports from Christians who say they do feel singled out for religious reasons. What's the reality?
We have to make a distinction. At a general level, Christians are not persecuted for the fact of being Christians. There are cases, however, when they do become targets. For instance, armed groups sometimes kidnap Christians because they think Christians have got money, and so they can demand ransom. One month ago, two young priests were kidnapped on the way from Aleppo to Beirut, and the kidnappers have asked for money to let them go. Right now, they're still being held.

Are these Catholic priests?
One is Orthodox and one is Armenian Catholic. This event has really troubled Christian society in Syria, because everybody knows that two priests have been kidnapped. There's another priest who was kidnapped in Horan, near Damascus, and I met him just two or three weeks ago after he was freed. He told me what happened ... his family paid something like U.S. $100,000 to get him back.

The kidnappers were factions within the rebel forces?
Yes, armed groups among the rebels. It's easy to target Christians for this sort of thing because Christians are not organized as fighting groups or tribes that will take revenge. They also think that Christians have a lot of money, that the church can ask for help from the outside. It's not really a war against Christians, but in this general situation of war and insecurity Christians [are] a weak people and can be exploited.

Another situation came up in Homs, where rebel forces took up positions in the Christian neighborhoods in the center of the city. The army launched an attack, and there was tremendous destruction. Something like 50,000 Christians in Homs and the surrounding region were obliged to flee. It was a catastrophe for these Christians and for the church. Is that fanaticism against Christians? Was it just a political or military decision? We can't say. As the church, we don't want to speak about persecution. We avoid this interpretation of events.

Because we want to stay. We don't want to give the impression that Muslims in Syria are persecuting Christians because that's not the tradition inside Syria. Perhaps there are influences from the outside promoting fanaticism, but that's not the general mentality of the Syrian people.

The rebels are made up of many different forces in addition to the Free Syrian Army.
There's al-Nusra, Al-Qaida, a lot of them.

Are Christians especially afraid of these other groups?
I can say that we want to live in peace with the Muslim people, and there's a long tradition of understanding and mutual respect. We don't want the fanaticism these groups promote. We're not used to it. Generally, Christians fear the domination of this kind of people. Our view is that they don't come from a Syrian tradition, but they're being exported here.

What's the solution?
It's got to be dialogue, a political solution. The two sides have to sit down together and to choose peace in Syria, not just the domination of one group over the other. It's the only way to reconciliation. At this stage, I think only the world's major powers -- Russia, the United States, China and Europe -- can broker a solution. They've got do it, however, by not acting just on the basis of their political and economic interests.

Can you envision peace in Syria if Assad remains in power?
For some people, the answer may be yes. It's still a possibility. Personally, I don't know. I don't defend any individual or any regime. I choose Syria, meaning reconciliation. We have to support the sense of citizenship, including freedom of religion, to resist this tribal mentality and hatred in the heart. That's the vocation of Christians in Syria.

What concrete can the church accomplish in Syria? Can you help bring about peace?
Honestly, we can't do a lot. We're a small minority and nobody really listens to us, although everybody wants to use us. What we can do is to give a good example, first of all in terms of citizenship, respect for everybody. All Syrians know this is the attitude of Christians, without personal interests. Also, we can give good information to the Holy See, the United Nations, for embassies when they ask us for objective information. In turn, we can ask them to do something for Syria.

What can the church outside Syria do to be of help to you?
The war is producing an economic crisis, which means that everybody is becoming poor. Support from the different organizations such as Caritas, Catholic Relief Services, the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, and Aid to the Church in Need is very important. Inside Syria, we coordinate this work to make our work precise and to support the poorest among the people.

So if a Catholic in the United States asks what he or she can do, the answer is to support one of these organizations?
I think so, yes, support these Catholic organizations. Also, it's important to have good information about what's really happening in Syria. One should avoid acting out of emotion and really seek the truth.

Where should we go for that information?
Ask the Syrian people, those inside the country.

Don't trust the media?

As a fellow Jesuit, have you thought about asking to see Pope Francis while you're in Rome to share these things with him?
As a Jesuit, I don't want to impose myself on him. Somebody told me yesterday I should ask to see him, because as Jesuit he would see me. I don't want to do that. If he wants, he'll ask me, and I'll certainly be ready anytime, but I don't want to pressure him. It's not in my nature ... as Jesuits, we respect each other.
I want to say that Benedict XVI did a lot when he went to Lebanon [last September]. He spoke three times about Syria: on the airplane, at the youth rally and during the Mass. I met him a week before his resignation in the Vatican, at the time of the election for our patriarchate. I thanked him for all he was doing for Syria, and he said: "Magari! Se poteva fare di più." ("Oh my! I wish more could have been done.")

Would you like to see Pope Francis come to Syria?
Yes, of course, but we have to wait and prepare. For a visit of the pope to be realistic, there has to be some reconciliation and some stability. I hope that one day it's possible.

Right now, what's more important is that the pope be very well informed about what's happening in Syria by the church itself, as well as his contacts with the Jesuits and the Father General, who knows the situation very well.

Beyond physically going to Syria, is there something else dramatic the pope could do right away to raise awareness?
If he speaks about peace in Syria, that would be a very big sign for us. In addition, he could invite the patriarchs of the Middle East or the bishops of Syria to a meeting to ask for our reflections, which could move something in the society. He could also send an important cardinal to represent him in Syria, to visit communities. It would help Christians to stay, to no longer feel that they're alone. That's very important.

Patriarch Gregory III said he's written to Pope Francis to say that Christians across the Middle East are at great risk. Are you glad he did that?
Yes, because if the insecurity continues, Christians will leave just as they have in Iraq.

Is it fair to say that Christians in the Middle East are waiting for Pope Francis to do something big?
What we want is for the fighting to stop and reconciliation to begin, and if he can help us, it would be a great gift. Of course, we're in a situation that depends heavily on political decisions, especially by the United States and Russia, with Israel in the middle.

Maybe an Argentine pope could be the one to bring these parties together?
I hope so.

Source: http://ncronline.org/node/48106

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

A History of Christianity in the Middle East & North Africa

by OBethlehem Editor
The history of the Christian Church in the Middle East and North Africa with its numerous internal disputes and external influences is complex and far too long to be included here. In this summary, The Reverend Canon Hugh Wybrew (JEMT Director) gives an overview of the major events of the past 20 centuries which have resulted in the multi-faceted Christian Church that exists today within the region.

Pictured Above: Church of the Holy Sepulchre visited by Christian pilgrims since 4th century and used as a place of worship today by 6 Churches: Greek Orthodox, Armenian and the Roman Catholic, the Syriac, Coptic and Ethiopian Orthodox

The Start and Spread of Christianity

Christianity began in the Middle East. From Jerusalem it spread rapidly in all directions, south into Egypt and North Africa, east into Syria, north into Asia Minor, and west into Cyprus, Greece, Italy and Southern Europe. Its early church centres were Alexandria, Antioch and Rome. They were joined in the fourth century by Constantinople, and in the fifth by Jerusalem. The bishops of these major cities in the Roman Empire came to be called patriarchs. Each patriarchate gradually extended its influence over the surrounding territory.

Disputes and Splits within the Church (4th & 5th Century)

Doctrinal disputes in the fourth and fifth centuries provoked splits in the Church. Fifth-century disagreements concerned how Jesus Christ should be understood as both human and divine. The third and fourth ecumenical councils, of Ephesus in 431 and Chalcedon in 451, attempted to resolve these doctrinal disputes. Their decisions were not acceptable to significant groups of Christians in the Middle East. One group refused to accept the Council of Ephesus’ ruling that Mary not only could but should be called Mother of God. Another found the decision of Council of Chalcedon that Jesus Christ was one Person in two natures unacceptable. The former became the Church of the East, strongest in East Syria and Persia, though present also in southern India. Its missions reached as far as China before it was decimated in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries by the Mongols. Those who refused to accept the Council of Chalcedon formed a family of Churches, in Syria, Armenia, Egypt, and Ethiopia, known today as Oriental Orthodox. Neither group is in communion with the Eastern Orthodox Church or with the Roman Catholic Church.

The largest of the Oriental Orthodox Churches at the present time is the Coptic Orthodox Church in Egypt. The great majority of Christians in Ethiopia belong to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, historically closely linked with the Copts. The Syriac Orthodox Church is to be found in Syria, Turkey, Iraq and other parts of the Middle East. The Armenian Orthodox Church is the historic church of the Armenian people. The Church of the East, sometimes known as the Assyrian Church, now has its headquarters in Chicago. Probably the majority of its members now live in the United States, while others survive in Iraq and elsewhere.

Muslim Conquest, Crusades and the Roman Catholic Church (7th -13th Century)

After the Arab Muslim conquest of the Middle East and North Africa in the seventh century, Christianity slowly declined in those regions. By the tenth century Christians constituted some ten percent of the population of the Islamic Empire. Into this situation at the end of the eleventh century came the Crusades, which brought with them the Roman Catholic Church. Dominant in the regions of the East Mediterranean where the crusaders established short-lived states, the Roman Catholic Church remained as a minority after the last Crusaders left at the end of the thirteenth century. During the crusader period, in the thirteenth century one group of Eastern Christians, the Maronites, entered in its entirety into communion with Rome. The Maronite Church is the largest Christian group in Lebanon.

Eastern Church members join with the Roman Catholic Church (17th - 18th Century)  

Later, at various times, some members of all the Eastern Churches entered into communion with Rome. In the early eighteenth century the Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch split. Those in communion with Rome in the Middle East are known as Greek Catholics or Melkites. Syrian Catholic, Armenian Catholic and Coptic Catholic Churches were formed from their corresponding Oriental Orthodox Churches, while from the Church of the East was formed the Chaldean Catholic Church, the largest Christian community in Iraq.

The Arrival of Western reformed traditions (19th Century) 

Western Churches of reformed tradition came into the Middle East in the nineteenth century. American Presbyterian missionaries worked in Egypt, Lebanon and other parts of the region. The Church of England and the Prussian Lutheran Church jointly set up a bishopric in Jerusalem in 1841. It came to an end in the early 1880s, and separate Anglican and Lutheran bishoprics were set up towards the end of the decade. The original purpose was to convert Jews to Christianity. In that aim it largely failed, but attracted a small number of existing Christians, mostly Orthodox or Greek Catholic, in what is now Israel, the Occupied Territories and Jordan.
Uncertain Future for Christianity in the Middle East (20th – 21st Century) 

All the Churches in the Middle East are losing members through emigration. There is growing hostility to Christians throughout the region, in part a consequence of the the rise of a more assertive form of Islam, in part a reaction to Western political influence in the Middle East. The West’s failure to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the American-led invasions of Iraq are widely perceived as instances of the Christian West’s hostility to Islam.  Large numbers of Christians fled from Iraq after the Second Gulf War, and a steady stream of Christian emigrants from all the churches raises fears that Christianity could become extinct in its original homelands, including Jerusalem itself.

All the Eastern Christian Churches and the major Western Churches are represented in Jerusalem, whose holy places have been the goal of Christian pilgrimage since the fourth century.  The largest communities are the Greek Orthodox, the Greek Catholics, and the Latins, as Roman Catholics are known. The Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land is responsible for the holy sites belonging to the Roman Catholic Church. Some of the other Eastern Churches have small communities in Jerusalem, while others are in effect diplomatic representations. There are small communities of Anglicans, Lutherans and other reformed traditions in the city.

Source: http://www.obethlehem.com/a-history-of-christianity-in-the-middle-east-north-africa

Solidarity with and Peace for Christians of the Holy Land

by Vatican Information Service 

Vatican City - Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, has sent a letter to the bishops of the world concerning the traditional Good Friday collection for the Holy Land. The letter, which also bears the signature of Archbishop Cyril Vasil S.J., secretary of the congregation, has the purpose of sensitising the Catholic Church around the world with regard to the Holy Land, and of promoting initiatives of prayer and fraternal charity towards Christians of Jerusalem, Israel, Palestine, and neighbouring countries.

"The Gospel message of compassion," the text reads, "illumines the need for the Good Friday Collection in support of our brothers and sisters in the places of Redemption. Together with their pastors, they live the mystery of Christ, Crucified and Risen for the salvation of mankind. On account of its ecclesial dimension, this ancient duty is an ever gratifying opportunity. As Easter approaches, it is all the more appropriate as an expression of the faith that the Church, under the guidance of Pope Benedict XVI, is intensely living, on the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council. That event opened her to the world, at the same time rooting her still more firmly in the tradition that departs from the Christian origins. Of these the Holy Land is the silent witness and living custodian, thanks to the Latin communities of the Patriarchal Diocese of Jerusalem and the Franciscan Custody, as also to the Melkite, Maronite, Syrian, Armenian, Copt, and Chaldean faithful active there. Lately, this region is also witness to the fact that entire peoples, hungering for dignity and justice, have given wings to the dream of a springtime, the fruits of which are desired at once, as if the great, longed-for transformation could be possible without a renewal of hearts and an acceptance of a common responsibility for the poor."

"Among the first fruits of the new awareness brought by the Council was the Encyclical 'Pacem in terris' of Blessed John XXIII, which raises in this Year of Faith a pressing call for peace, especially in Syria, whose tragic path represents a threat to the entire Near East."

"The situation in the Middle East would seem to demand what the Servant of God Paul VI proposes in the Encyclical 'Populorum progressio'. Following his denouncement of 'the material poverty of those who lack the bare necessities of life, and the moral poverty of those who are crushed under the weight of their own self-love' (n. 21), the Pope suggests not only 'a growing awareness of other people's dignity, a taste for the spirit of poverty, an active interest in the common good, and a desire for peace', but also affirms that 'then man can acknowledge the highest values and God Himself, their author and end' (ibid). Towards that goal, the Pope does not hesitate to hold up 'above all ... faith—God's gift to men of good will—and our loving unity in Christ'. With a vision born of faith, he chose the Land of Jesus to make, in 1964, the first of his great apostolic voyages. Following in his footsteps in the year 2000, Blessed John Paul II described his pilgrimage as 'a moment of brotherhood and peace, [to be remembered] as one of the most beautiful gifts of the whole Jubilee event' and expressed his 'deeply felt desire for a prompt and just solution to the still unresolved problems of the Holy Places, cherished by Jews, Christians and Muslims together' (Novo millenio ineunte, n. 13)."

"Pope Benedict also offers us an admirable example of this same compassionate outlook. Encouraging evidence is found in his Pastoral Visit of this past September to Lebanon for the publication of the Apostolic Exhortation 'Ecclesia in Medio Oriente'; the constant mention of the region's woes in the Angelus, in his audiences, and in his Messages to various people and institutions; as well as his prayer intention for January 2013, shared with the entire Church: 'that the Christian communities of the Middle East, often discriminated against, may receive from the Holy Spirit the strength of fidelity and perseverance'. Finally, for this coming Good Friday, he has invited two young Lebanese Maronites to write the text for the Via Crucis procession."

"In the widest sense, the Land of Jesus is composed of Israel and Palestine, Cyprus, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, and Egypt. The Christians living in all these countries must find in us the same attitude of solidarity in the faith."

"With grateful wonder we recognize how much the generous concern of Catholics around the world has already accomplished. This assistance maintains the Holy Sites, as well as the communities that dwell there. Together with institutes of men and women religious, the funds collected provide immediate relief to the catastrophic consequences of war and other emergencies. Through a qualified network of pastoral, educational, and health care specialists, these resources come to the aid of families, often saving lives that have been rejected: the old, the sick, and the disabled. In addition, aid is provided to those without work and to youth in search of a brighter future. In every case, the collection seeks to build up human rights, especially the right to religious liberty. To this one must add the praiseworthy ecumenical and inter-religious effort, which requires stemming the incessant exodus of Christian faithful from their motherland and the accompaniment of the displaced and the refugee. Taken as a whole, this constitutes the 'Christian characteristic', which makes the region, beyond all of its suffering, a Place where God is glorified, because humanity is blessed."

"With deep conviction the Congregation for Eastern Churches appeals to all to reconfirm their ecclesial charity in favour of the Holy Land. Together with the Pope, the Congregation thanks the pastors and faithful who, standing by the Cross of the Lord, offer their prayerful and fraternal embrace to those dwelling in the Holy Land. These have earned the gratitude of the Supreme Pastor of the Church and ours, too, for by their faithful witness in the midst of suffering, they remind the world of the consoling promise of the Risen One: 'These things I have spoken to you, so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full' (Jn. 15:11)."

Also made public today was a report prepared by the Custody of the Holy Land (a province of the Order of Friars Minor with responsibility for the Holy Places), listing the works carried out with the proceeds of the Good Friday collection of 2012. Restoration and maintenance has been carried out on numerous shrines, churches, and convents in the Holy Land including such places as Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Nazareth, Magdala, Capernaum, Mount Tabor, and Mt. Nebo. Other initiatives sought to improve welcome services for pilgrims.

A significant part of the proceeds was used to fund student scholarships, to help small business, and to build houses, schools and sports centres for children. Other recipients of aid included families, parish communities, the poor, and cultural institutions.

Source: http://www.obethlehem.com/solidarity-with-and-peace-for-christians-of-the-holy-land

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Video from Visitor to Bethlehem

Arlette Anastas (see her website at www.ArletteByTheWall.com) shares this video taken by a visitor to Bethlehem last Christmas.

"Nativity Church, Manger Square, and the streets of Bethlehem on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day...Bethlehem is the Birthplace of Jesus and King David (David & Goliath)...Bethlehem is located in Palestine, and the Palestinian people are Keepers of "The Christmas Spirit"...I offer them my most sincere gratitude for their giving hearts!...Thank You to three generations of the Anastas Family for teaching me the meaning of the word Bravery!!...Peace on Earth, and Good Will to Man, Woman"

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Patriarch Raï: The Conclave from a Middle Eastern perspective

The patriarch and cardinal Raï
The patriarch and cardinal Raï

The leader of Lebanon’s Maronite Church has said the College of Cardinals cannot ignore the suffering of Christian communities in the Middle East. And there is nothing to say the next Pope will not be American

Gianni Valente Rome

He was one of the last to land in Rome but he got to work immediately alongside the other cardinals. Yesterday, the Maronite Patriarch of Antioch, Cardinal Bechara Raï, handed cardinals with a dossier on the situation of Christians in the Middle East: “The universal Church and the next Pope must never forget that Christianity has its origins in the Middle East. And they should keep in mind what is happening to Christian communities in the Middle East. This is a priority that cannot be ignored,” the Lebanese cardinal told Vatican Insider.

Your Holiness, as leader of the Church in the Middle East, what would you say the region’s Christians expect from the Conclave?
I wouldn’t say everyone is thinking about what has happened over the past few years. A million and a half Christians have fled from post-Saddam Iraq. And at least 60% have left Aleppo. There is not one Christian left in Homs. The Coptic Church in Egypt is still strong. But with the new Sharia-based laws, things are going to get much harder. Then there are the problems in the Holy Land… Cardinals will also need to take this into consideration during the Conclave. If we only discuss the Church’s internal problems we risk being one-track minded. This is why I have handed out a dossier on the current condition of Christians in the Middle East to cardinals. Christians have been there for two thousand years. They have helped shape local civilization and culture. They have transmitted a sense of moderation to Islam. Real Islam is moderate. It is not that which is preached by fundamentalists whom Eastern and Western countries load up with arms and money out of political and economic interest.

How did Lebanon react to the news of Benedict XVI’s resignation?
Everyone saw it as an act of strong and humble faith and self-denial. A “Kenosis”. Muslims were full of admiration. Some of them asked themselves: what is Christianity? The man who holds the highest position in the Catholic Church voluntarily stepped down! It was also seen as an example by laymen: he showed that one’s responsibilities, whichever these may be, should be faced with an honest conscience.
Before you came to Rome for the Conclave you were in Moscow. What were the expectations expressed there?
I was invited by Moscow’s patriarch, Kirill. We spoke for hours about the situation faced by Christians in the Middle East and the possibility for collaboration on a cultural, religious and social level; we also talked about the promotion of unity between Catholic and Orthodox Churches in the Middle East for the good of the region and about how to create awareness of the Christian faith among Muslims. I was glad to see the Russian Orthodox Church is blossoming again: the Church has 184 dioceses across the world and the Patriarch ordained 60 bishops in the space of just a few years. I also met the Chairman of the State Duma, Sergej Naryshkin, and his advisors: what is happening in the Middle East today has nothing to do with the advent of democracy. The political interests of external powers are trying to destabilise the entire area, fomenting inter-confessional conflicts among Muslims. And when chaos breaks out, the Christians killed are often innocent victims.
You are one of the four leaders of Eastern Catholic Churches who will be taking part in the Conclave. What will your contribution be? Could one of you be elected Pope or are there any ecclesiological obstacles?
Our presence in the Catholic Church testifies the Church’s diversity and richness. Can one of us become Pope? The papacy is a divine vocation. The Lord chooses the person he wants. In as far as the cardinals are concerned, they must join together in prayer and discussion to identify through suffrage who God’s chosen one is.

Is there a legitimate and pastorally opportune way of taking geo-political factors into account when electing the Pope?
One always hopes that one of their own country’s candidates will be chosen; someone who knows and who is able to deal with problems and pastoral emergencies experienced in their own part of the world. But we cannot have a Pope for each country. What is important is that the General Congregation discussions give a truthful picture of the Church’s condition in all parts of the world so that the new Pope is aware of the new challenges and expectations that exist and is aided in exercising a ministry that is by nature universal.
But what would Middle Eastern Christians think if a U.S. Pope were to be elected?
They would see him as a Pope and that’s all. Both Christians and Muslims in the Middle East venerate the figure of the Pope, no matter who he is. Criticisms against him simply do not exist. The Pope is the Pope and it makes no difference to them whether he is American, Spanish, Italian or other.

Source: http://vaticaninsider.lastampa.it/en/inquiries-and-interviews/detail/articolo/conclave-22923/ 

Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL) in the WCC

From left: Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, WCC general secretary; Rev. Dr Margaretha Hendriks-Ririmasse, vice-moderator of the WCC Central Committee; Rev. Dr Walter Altmann, moderator of the WCC Central Committee; Bishop Dr Munib A. Younan; and Metropolitan Prof. Dr Gennadios of Sassima; vice-moderator of the WCC Central Committee, after the WCC Executive Committee vote.
The Executive Committee of the World Council of Churches (WCC) meeting near Geneva at the Ecumenical Institute at Bossey voted to approve the full membership of the Evangelical Lutheran

The approval ended a two-year process in which both the Executive Committee and Central Committee of the WCC considered the application of the ELCJHL. During this period, visits to the churches in Jerusalem and discussions with other member churches in the area took place.

"The ELCJHL widely identifies with ministries of the World Council of Churches," Bishop Dr Munib A. Younan of the ELCJHL, said in a brief speech to the Executive Committee after the vote, pointing to their support of the Jerusalem Inter-church Centre, the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel and the Palestine Israel Ecumenical Forum.

"We are honoured to serve God's will through the essential ministries of the World Council of Churches," Younan said. "The ELCJHL supports these ministries ... because they show our people in Jerusalem, The Holy Land, and Jordan that their Christian sisters and brothers around the world stand with them, accompanying them in their sorrows and in their joys."

Younan said, "in this age of globalization, we join with the churches in the world around us to be instruments of peace, harbingers of justice, initiators of dialogue."

"The ELCJHL is richly blessed by the accompaniment we have received through this ecumenical body, and we hope that we have returned some of that goodness to you," he said.

The ELCJHL, with its origins in 19th century missionary activity in the Holy Land, is made up of congregations in Amman, Jerusalem, Ramallah and the Bethlehem area. An updated count of WCC member churches will come after the WCC 10th Assembly being held in Busan, Republic of Korea, 30 October to 8 November, 2013. 

Source: http://www.oikoumene.org/en/news/news-management/eng/a/article/1634/church-in-jordan-and-the.html

High resolution photos can be requested via photos.oikoumene.org

Keep the Faith in Iraq

New Patriarch Appeals to Faithful Not to Flee
By John Pontifex

ROME, March 07, 2013 (Zenit.org) - THE new leader of the largest Church in Iraq has told his dwindling faithful to stop emigrating, warning them that Christianity in the Middle East risks becoming “a distant memory”.

Speaking yesterday (Wednesday, 6th March) at his installation as Chaldean Patriarch of Baghdad, Louis Raphael I Sako said Christians in Iraq should overcome their fears and work together to build a new future.
Raphael I, whose election as head of the Eastern-rite Catholic Church was confirmed by Benedict XVI on 1st February, called for a dialogue “of peaceful coexistence” with Muslim leaders at a time of increasing concern about extremism and violence.

In his address, a copy of which he sent to Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, the patriarch, 64, stressed the need to work for unity with Orthodox Christians in regions marked by ecumenical tensions in recent years.

In comments aimed specifically at Christians present at the service in Baghdad’s St Joseph’s Cathedral, the patriarch said: “Why are you so afraid today?

“Do not withdraw or emigrate in time of great pressure. This is your country and your land.

“If emigration continues God forbid, there will be no more Christians in the Middle East. [The Church] will be no more than a distant memory.”

The patriarch’s comments, given on the eve of the 10th anniversary of the Iraq War and the overthrow of President Saddam Hussein, come after a decade of massive emigration of Christians from the country.
In 1987, Christians in Iraq totalled 1.4 million according to the last census, but now there could be fewer than 250,000, with the greatest decline in numbers taking place after 2003.

Since 2003, fundamentalism and a breakdown in law and order have shaken the Church to its foundations.
More than 700 Christians had been killed (including 17 priests) in religious and politically motivated attacks and 71 churches attacked – 44 in Baghdad and 19 in Mosul.

The biggest crisis of confidence for Christians came after the 31st October 2010 attack on Baghdad’s Our Lady of Salvation Syrian Cathedral during Sunday evening Mass, when 45 people were killed (including two priests) and 100 were injured in a four-hour siege.

Asking Christians to draw a line under the past, Patriarch Raphael told them: “These past years have been full of events and dangers and still the shadow of fear, anxiety and death is hanging over our people.”

He told his faithful: “Change your view of yourselves and your identity.

“Look deeper into the reality we face today and understand the importance of your presence and witness.

“Live together and build a future for yourselves in your country.”

Patriarch Raphael, who was Archbishop of Kirkuk (2003-13) after being rector of St Peter’s Seminary, Baghdad, stressed the need for “renewal”.

He said: “… The world around us has changed and we must change. The Church should change.

“So we will renew our liturgy, our method of religious instruction and update our ecclesiastical structures with courage and clarity according to the Second Vatican Council.

“This renewal is aimed at helping the faithful’s understanding and participation in the Christian way of life and their attachment to Christ and his Church.”

John Pontifex is the UK Head of Press for Aid to the Church in Need. 

Source: http://www.zenit.org/en/articles/keep-the-faith-in-iraq?utm_campaign=dailyhtml&utm_medium=email&utm_source=dispatch

Old Catholic orders fade as monks and nuns age


BETHLEHEM, West Bank (AP) — The nuns of "La Crèche," the only orphanage in Bethlehem, have raised generations of children in this biblical town.

But only four aging nuns remain, down from a dozen 30 years ago, and the Roman Catholic church is struggling to replace them. In the meantime, they have hired a professional staff to do jobs once solely performed by nuns.

"I am happy for the life I have chosen," said Sister Elisabeth Noirot, 58, of the Company of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, one of the Holy Land's largest and oldest Catholic orders, which runs the orphanage. "But it is in the hands of God if others will follow."

Similar scenes are occurring across the Holy Land, where hospitals, schools and charities are feeling the effects of a dwindling population of monks and nuns to run them. In some cases, they have hired increasing numbers of lay people and professionals to cover the shortfall. In others, well-established orders have handed over emptied, coveted properties to newer Christian groups.

"We are going through a long period of passage, of transition," said the Rev. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, head of the Franciscan order in the Middle East and a top church official in the Holy Land. "We are changing in different ways. We have not to be desperate."

The shrinking numbers of apostolic orders, where nuns and monks undertake a charity or service, mirror a similar trend in the Christian population in the Holy Land and the broader Middle East.

Less than 2 percent of the population of Israel and the Palestinian territories today is Christian, down from more than 7 percent around the time of Israel's independence 65 years ago, according to Naim Ateek, director the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem, a leading Christian think tank.
Several factors are behind the decline, including higher birthrates of Jews and Muslims and an exodus driven by continued Israeli-Palestinian violence and better opportunities in the West. In some instances, particularly in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, Christians have been subject to intimidation by a minority of Muslims.

Before retiring, Pope Benedict XVI expressed deep concerns about Christians in the Middle East. On his final foreign trip, a visit to Lebanon last September, Benedict warned that a Middle East without Christians "would no longer be the Middle East." The plight of Catholics in the cradle of Christianity is sure to be a priority for the next pope.

Worldwide, the number of nuns has shrunk one-third over 40 years, from about 1 million in in 1970 to 721,935 in 2010, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, affiliated with Georgetown University in Washington. The number of monks and friars similarly dropped from about 80,000 in 1970 to 54,665 in 2010.

Even so, the church's struggles in the Holy Land are remarkable, given the area's importance to Christianity. According to Christian traditions, Jesus was born in Bethlehem, in the West Bank, spent much of his life in Nazareth and the northern Galilee region of Israel, and was crucified and resurrected in Jerusalem.

According to the Vatican, the number of nuns in Israel fell from 983 to 959 between 2006 and 2009, contrasting with a rise in priests and members of religious orders in places like Africa, where the church is growing, and follows the trend of dwindling priests and members of religious orders in Europe, according to the statistics.

The troubles for Catholicism's apostolic orders have affected prominent Christian sites.

The Sisters of Saint Therese, which runs a guest house in Jerusalem's Old City, not far from the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, on the site where Jesus is said to have been crucified and resurrected, has seen its numbers shrink from 120 to 90.

The Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Apparition, which operates a school in west Jerusalem, says just 30 of its 78 nuns are still working because most have retired or died.

The Franciscan order, the largest and oldest Catholic presence in the Holy Land, dating back to 1230, has seen its numbers cut in half in 60 years to 340 men with an average age of over 50, said Pizzaballa.

The orders have struggled to find replacements as Catholics from Europe — once the chief source of monks and nuns in the Holy Land — struggle to attract new members. While clergy say they can still draw on novices from Latin America, and Catholic strongholds in Asia and Africa, few come to the Holy Land.
The crisis was apparent on a recent day at "La Crèche," or "The Cradle," where paid staff and volunteers have mostly taken over the care of the orphanage's 32 children. As a gray-haired Italian nun coaxed a 3-year-old girl to eat, older Palestinian women rocked babies, including one found last month in a box on the doorstep.

The Franciscans, who oversee some of the church's most prized properties in the Holy Land, have handed over land and buildings worth millions of dollars over the decades. They include a property known as Domus Galilaeae perched over the Sea of Galilee, where Christian tradition holds that Jesus walked on water.
The property is now run by a growing, powerful Catholic lay community, the Neocatechumenal Way, which accepts singles and married people.

The Franciscans were barely clinging to other properties, Pizzaballa said, including a spot in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the Basilica in Nazareth, where Catholics believe an angel told Mary she would bear a child.

"We are struggling to keep these places open," Pizzaballa said.

The stern, gray monastery and seminary of the Neocatechumenal Way on Domus Galilaeae highlights the changing face of Catholicism. The 15-year-old institution's jewel is a seminary boasting a bronze, life-size statue of Jesus preaching to his disciples as he appears to be floating over the sea.

Water poured over the Ten Commandments, carved into high walls in Latin and Hebrew. A fresco of Jesus and his apostles in rich shades of red, gold, blue and green shone on a church wall. Some 60 people, teenagers, young men and women stood in a circle on a recent day, singing and praying with white-clad priests.

A rare area of growth has been orders in which members live in isolated silence and prayer, such as the Monastic Sisters of Bethlehem and of the Assumption of the Virgin, and of Saint Bruno.

The order has at least 60 nuns, most in their 30s, in three convents who spend their days in meditation and contemplation, said one member who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with the order's tradition.
To accommodate growing numbers, it recently took over the Deir Rafat Convent south of Jerusalem from another Italian order of nuns that didn't have enough women to keep operating the picturesque building.
The changes show how the Catholic church is evolving, rather than fading away, said the Rev. David Neuhaus, a senior church official in the Holy Land.

"The church produces new movements to serve new circumstances," he said.
Associated Press writers Nicole Winfield in Rome and Daniela Berretta in Deir Rafat, Israel and Bethlehem, West Bank contributed to this report. Follow Hadid on twitter.com/diaahadid.

Source: http://news.yahoo.com/old-catholic-orders-fade-monks-nuns-age-195920601.html

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Pope Benedict XVI and the Middle East

Pope Benedict XVI resigned Thursday, February 28 after eight years serving as the head of the Catholic Church. He is the first pope to resign in 600 years. Pope Benedict XVI flew to the papal summer residence on Thursday evening, beginning his retirement. He explained to the crowd of supporters that greeted him upon his arrival to the summer residence: "I am simply a pilgrim beginning the last leg of his pilgrimage on this earth.”

Pope Benedict made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in May 2009. During this eight-day trip, he visited many Christian sites such as the Church of the Holy Sepulcre and the Mount of Olives, as well as other sites, including Yad Vashem (the Holocaust memorial in Israel), the Western Wall, and the Dome of the Rock. Though Pope Benedict was critical of Israel’s policies regarding the wall and the status of Palestinian statehood, several Jewish people have acknowledged the work he did to dispel anti-Semitism.

 During a homily the Pope gave in Nazareth, he called to "Let everyone reject the destructive power of hatred and prejudice, which kills men's souls before it kills their bodies." Pope Benedict visited the Aida Refugee camp as well, where he gave a speech. He shared, “I continue to pray that all parties to the conflict in these lands will have the courage and imagination to pursue the challenging but indispensable path of reconciliation.” He has also commented on the wall, arguing again for peace; “With the continuation of political instability, separating Bethlehem from Jerusalem and the rest of the world, we cannot find peace."

Pope Benedict’s view of peace regarding the Holy Land manifested itself in the two-state solution. The Pope welcomed the Holy See’s ability to vote for the recognition of a Palestinian state by the United Nations in November 2012. The vote allowed the Palestinians to achieve the same status as the Vatican.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas extended his gratitude to Pope Benedict for this action on February 11.  An official Vatican statement referencing this recognition said that “it is hoped that this initiative will encourage the commitment of the international community to finding a fair and lasting solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In response to news of Pope Benedict’s resignation, Israeli President Shimon Peres stated “Under his leadership the Vatican has been a clear voice against racism and anti-Semitism and a clear voice for peace. Relations between Israel and the Vatican are the best they have ever been and the positive dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people is a testament to his belief in dialogue and cooperation.”

Source: Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP)