27 June 2018
To continue their formation, the faithful gather for Saturday Mass in Gilgel Beles, Ethiopia.(photo: CNEWA)
Recently, we received the following update from Argaw Fantu, CNEWA's regional director in Addis Ababa:
The northwestern corner of Ethiopia bordering with Sudan is a vast low land area with very high temperature up to 50 degree Celsius (122 Fahrenheit!). This vast land surface is occupied by a tribe, the Gumuz people, one of the more than 85 ethnic groups in Ethiopia. These people are traditional worshipers of nature and very honest with their own strong ethical values — they don’t tolerate lies or stealing — but most of them have never encountered the Gospel or Christian teaching.
Now, that is beginning to change.
The area where they live is part of the vast pastoral territory of the new Bahir Dar-Dessie Eparchy. It a new area for evangelization, with very tough and challenging environment. It was the courageous Comboni Missionary Sisters who first set foot in the area called Mandura in 2000. They rented a house from an Orthodox priest and started visiting people — teaching reading and writing for kids under the shade of a large tree. They also taught hygiene to women and offered some simple advice on agriculture and farming. Slowly, they built rooms for kindergarten lessons. The Gumuz people at that time had no clue about the value of education. When the sisters started school for kids, they had to walk around in the villages to speak to parents and urge them to send their children to school.
A typical tukul, or mud hut home, of the Gumuz people. (photo: CNEWA)
Following in the footsteps of the sisters, the Comboni Missionary Fathers of the Heart of Jesus started a small mission station in Gilgel Beles in 2003; in 2011, they established an outstation of Gilgel Beles in Gublak.
Recently, I had the opportunity to visit Gilgel Beles and Gublak, part of an initiative supported by CNEWA. The Comboni Missionary Fathers are engaged in the pastoral activities in the areas. Most of the growing faithful are young people and women.
To support and encourage evangelization in the area, the missionaries have launched a strategy of ongoing training for catechists and coordinators. More than 100 catechists and coordinators were gathered recently in Gilgel Beles for a weekend of ongoing formation. They came from the chapels of Gilgel Beles and Gublak. The training involves a variety of participatory programs. They began the day with a rosary recited while walking around the church compound.
The weekend began by praying the rosary. (photo: CNEWA)
Lectures and classes filled the day Saturday, along with the celebration of the Eucharist. People took a break to escape the heat in the afternoon. Sunday included Mass, singing, teaching and a fraternal lunch. What a nice and creatively organized training program had it been!
The weekend of faith formation included classes taught by catechists. (photo: CNEWA)
I asked a group of young people to explain to me the difference between a catechist and a coordinator and what each does. They told me that a coordinator is the one who is able to convince people of the village to gather together for catechetical teaching, prayer and spiritual sharing. Once the coordinator does his job of gathering the community, the catechist comes in to teach catechumens — preparing them to receive sacraments — and leading the community in prayer and Bible sharing. I was amazed by how well the priests coordinated these activities.
Catechists and coordinators led discussions and shared insights with those who attended. (photo: CNEWA)
Father Isaiah, a Comboni Missionary from Kenya and a dynamic parish priest of Gublak, told me that villagers appreciate the regular visits of priests and sisters. Whenever a priest visits them in the villages and chats with them, they believe that he brings them good luck. What an amazing belief!
As a result of such enthusiastic and committed engagements of the missionaries — and their collaborative catechists and coordinators — Christian communities in the area are growing slowly but steadily. According to the recent figures, there are about 1,500 Catholics in Pawe, 1,500 in Gilgel Beles and Mandura, 1,000 in Gublak, 500 in Dibati. This makes a total of about 4,500 Catholic faithful in the area. The number of new catechumens is increasing, thanks to committed catechists and coordinators who accompany the dedicated missionary priests.
CNEWA, through its generous donors, participates in this precious evangelization mission of the church in this remote part of Ethiopia. In 2018, CNEWA committed to support formation training for youth leaders and catechists in Gilgel Beles and Gublak. How wonderful and rewarding it is to see the light of the Gospel being shared with these marginalized people!
With your support, we are able to make this happen. Thank you!
The faithful leave Mass at the close of the weekend. (photo: CNEWA)
27 June 2018
Syrian refugees wait outside their shelters in late January at Zaatari camp near Mafraq, Jordan. Jordan said Tuesday it is sealing its border and will not receive any new refugees from Syria. (photo: CNS/Muhammad Hamed, Reuters)
Jordan insists on sealing borders amid new wave of refugees (Albawaba.com) Jordan will not take in any more Syrian refugees and the border with Syria will not be reopened, officials reiterated Tuesday. ”The Kingdom will not receive any new refugees from Syria under any circumstances,” Prime Minister Omar Razzaz said Tuesday after a meeting with Lower House Speaker Atef Tarawneh and heads of the chamber’s committees…
UN: Torture is always unacceptable (Vatican News) The United Nations chief has called on the international community to end the “abominable and useless practice” of torture, saying it is “unacceptable and unjustified at all times, including during states of emergency, political instability, or even in a war…”
Syria’s Christians reckon with survival (Sojourners) Since 2011, Bashar al-Assad’s violent crackdown on dissent combined with ISIS’s aggressive expansion has dispossessed nearly one million Syrian Christians from their ancestral homeland. While Assad portrays himself as the vanguard of the country’s religious minorities, Christians have suffered considerably during the ongoing civil war. Up to 60 percent of the country’s churches have fallen as a result of the war, and many Christians — including human rights lawyer Khalil Maatouk and activist Bassel Shehadeh — have been detained or killed by the regime…
Ethiopia prime minister ready to open new chapter in Eritrea ties (Al Jazeera) Ethiopia’s prime minister said his country was ready to open a new chapter in their relations with long-time foe Eritrea following a high-level meeting with a delegation from Asmara. Abiy Ahmed received on Tuesday a delegation led by Eritrean Foreign Minister Osman Saleh and President Isaias Afwerki’s right-hand man, Yemane Gebreab…
War in eastern Ukraine seems a distant storm to Kiev (The Washington Post) The war between government forces and Kremlin-backed separatists — and, by all indications, actual Kremlin troops — in Eastern Ukraine is only a six-hour train ride from the country’s capital, but for some Ukrainians, it might as well be in another universe. Though it has entered its fifth year, with no end in sight, Europe’s only active conflict has dropped from the headlines, inside Ukraine and abroad. In Kiev, residents have other matters to occupy them, now that summer has finally arrived, the street cafes are overflowing, and life seems to become slower with each degree the temperature rises…
26 June 2018
Tags: Syria Ethiopia Jordan United Nations Eritrea
As a boy leans against an ancient khatchkar, or tablet, a choir rehearses in a church in Armenia. Read more about this country’s deep spiritual roots in Where God Descended in the May 2008 edition of ONE. (photo: Armineh Johannes)
26 June 2018
Pope makes changes within College of Cardinals (Vatican News) With a rescript dated 26 June 2018, Pope Francis has named four Cardinals to the Order of Bishops within the College of Cardinals. The rescript, signed by Cardinal-elect Angelo Becciu, the Substitute of the Secretariat of State, says the new Cardinal Bishops will be equal “in all respects to the Cardinals holding the title of a suburbicarian Church…”
Syria assault intensifies as thousands flee (Al Jazeera) Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad are intensifying their offensive over key rebel-held towns in the southern province of Deraa, as thousands of people continue to flee the area, witnesses tell Al Jazeera…
Is love a winning message in Ethiopia? (Christian Science Monitor) As Africa’s second most populous country and its fastest growing economy, Ethiopia is extraordinary in many ways. It weaves together 80 ethnic groups as well as Christians and Muslims. On a continent with the world’s youngest population, the median age of Ethiopia’s 102 million people is 18. Yet now add to this list a new prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, who took office in April as Africa’s youngest ruler with this extraordinary trait: He could be the only leader of any country who frequently tells people, “Love wins…”
25 June 2018
Tags: India Ethiopia Vatican Indian Bishops
Workers sharpen scissors inside a workshop in Kolkata, India, on 22 June. (photo: CNS/Rupak De Chowdhuri, Reuters)
25 June 2018
Pope Francis has just appointed Jesuit Bishop Felix Toppo of Jamshedpur to be the new archbishop of Ranchi in India. (photo: Diocese of Jamshedpur)
Pope appoints new archbishop in Ranchi, India (Vatican News) Pope Francis on Sunday appointed a new archbishop in Ranchi in the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand. He transferred Jesuit Bishop Felix Toppo of Jamshedpur to Ranchi as its new Archbishop. Bishop Felix takes over from 78-year old Cardinal Telesphore Toppo whose resignation the Holy Father has accepted. The cardinal reached the retirement age of 75 in 2014 as stipulated by the Code of Canon Law…
Grenade blast kills one, injures dozens at rally in Ethiopia (Vatican News) The Ethiopian Prime Minister has condemned a grenade blast that killed at least one person and injured at least 154 others at a rally in Addis Ababa. The explosion struck a rally by supporters of Ethiopia’s new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. He had just wrapped up delivering a speech, when the blast — thought to have been caused by a hand grenade — went off…
Five women from Jesuit school gang-raped in India (UCANews.com) Five women were abducted from a Jesuit-managed school and gang-raped in a forest near the Khunti area of India’s Jharkhand state, police said. Unidentified men on six motorcycles took away the women on the afternoon of 20 June while they were performing a play about social awareness, said A.V. Homkar, the area’s senior police official…
Jordan says it can’t accept more Syrian refugees (The Jordan Times) Jordan warned on Sunday that it cannot receive more Syrian refugees, saying it was intensifying talks with the US and Russia following air strikes on rebel-held towns in southern Syria. ”We have received enough numbers of Syrian refugees; we already have a large number and we simply cannot receive more,” Minister of State for Media Affairs Jumana Ghunaimat told The Jordan Times over the phone on Sunday…
Photo essay: the Syrian women and children waiting in the shadows of Lebanon’s camps (The Independent) There is real compassion and sympathy from landlords, employers and neighbors to what is perhaps the world’s greatest humanitarian crisis. Lebanese families have been known to take in refugees, also help set them up with furniture for their homes…
22 June 2018
Tags: India Ethiopia Jordan
The life-size icon of St. Ephrem, the patron saint of the Syriac Catholic Church, is seen in this undated photo. The icon features stanzas from the liturgy and prayers in Syriac text and notes. (photo: CNS/courtesy of Mothana Butres)
When Islamic State fighters overran Qaraqosh, Iraq, in the summer of 2014, Mothana Butres was able to grab only a single volume from his father’s collection of thousands of Syriac books and manuscripts.
The handwritten, 600-year-old book of Syriac hymns now inspires much of Butres’ work as an iconographer.
From a modest walk-up apartment in Zahle, Lebanon, a city not far from the Syrian border, the Syriac Catholic iconographer and refugee creates his sacred art in a sparsely furnished living room. As he works, he sings the hymns he has committed to memory from the sole book he managed to save.
Butres is the creator of the Our Lady of Aradin icon, a centerpiece of the first Catholic shrine dedicated to persecuted Christians. The shrine is housed in St. Michael’s Church in New York City and was dedicated on 12 June.
“The inspiration when I was working on Our Lady of Aradin was that it was the Virgin Mary who was protecting the Christians,” Butres told Catholic News Service.
He chose to present Mary in the traditional wedding dress of the Aradin area of Iraq “to represent that the Virgin Mary will always be a part of the Christians in Iraq and that she is the protector of Christians in Iraq and all the Middle East,” Butres said.
He said that when faced with an ultimatum by Islamic State fighters, Iraq’s Christians gave up their land but refused to give up their faith.
“The people who were persecuted, their blood is a stronger message than anything I could ever convey,” he said. But the recent persecution and the oppression suffered by his ancestors led him “to the way I think and the way I do my work.”
Butres said he believes his icons can be an instrument for intercessory prayer. The prayers of the people who visit the shrine in New York and pray before the icon of Our Lady of Aradin are joined with those of the persecuted Christians.
“Based on what Jesus told us, that ‘if two people are gathered in my name, I will be among them,’“ he said.
The Syriac book Butres treasures from his father’s library collection also awakened him to the lost practice of writing books by hand, especially in the Syriac language, which is spoken by Christians in certain areas of Syria and Iraq, including Qaraqosh. Syriac also is used in the liturgy of some Eastern churches, including the Syriac Catholic, Syriac Orthodox and Maronite Catholic churches. The language is related to Aramaic, the language of Jesus.
“I’m trying to revive the value of the handwritten texts. Books used to be handwritten,” Butres said.
As part of an ongoing personal project, Butres intends to write out the entire Bible in Syriac on a long scroll of leather just over a foot wide. In three months of work, the tiny, intricate text he has etched extends 16 feet in length and comprises the first five chapters of the Old Testament.
“I believe that in writing out the Bible, we can discover it in a new, deeper perspective, more than just reading it,” he said.
In his icons, Butres often incorporates streams of handwritten text related to the image, which contributes to preserving the Syriac language, heritage and spirituality. The icon of Our Lady of Aradin, for example, includes the Hail Mary in Syriac.
Butres’ introduction to iconography began at age 12; a deacon at his church in Qaraqosh taught him the ancient art as well as formulas for producing colors and varnishes from natural products, for example, using eggs and wine for shades of red, using beeswax for varnish and using deer musk to give the icon a scent.
Prayer and religious formation were part of Butres’ daily life growing up in a Syriac Catholic family as one of 16 children.
“We were very close to the church,” said. “Every day at dusk, we went to the church to pray,” he recalled, adding that for “anyone who didn’t participate, there was no dinner.” The same went for missing Sunday Mass: no lunch and dinner.
That pious upbringing fostered vocations, he said. One of Butres’ sisters became a Dominican nun. His brother, Nimatullah, is a priest serving the Syriac Catholic Diocese of Our Lady of Deliverance, which is based in Bayonne, New Jersey. Father Butres attended the dedication ceremony for the Our Lady of Aradin shrine in New York.
The artistic Butres became a deacon at age 20 and studied theology at Holy Spirit University in Lebanon, earning a bachelor’s degree.
Butres intended to complete his master’s degree in theology, carrying out his research in Qaraqosh, but had to abandon all he had accomplished there when Islamic State attacked his childhood home.
That home, overtaken, gutted and ruined by Islamic State, is under repair now. From Lebanon, Butres created the Our Lady of Qaraqosh icon as a gift for his family, intending it as “a protector of the house where she was always present.”
22 June 2018
Tags: Syria Iraq Icons
Pope Francis speaks about the plight of Christians in the Middle East, in an audience with members of ROACO. (photo: Vatican Media)
Pope: Middle East is a ‘crossroads of suffering’ (Vatican News) ”The Middle East today is a crossroads of difficult situations, suffering,” Pope Francis said on Friday, in unscripted remarks to representatives of ROACO, the Reunion of Aid Agencies to the Oriental Churches (Italian: “Riunione Opere Aiuto Chiese Orientali”). ROACO coordinates assistance and provides funding for initiatives that aid Eastern Catholic churches. In his extemporaneous comments, Pope Francis warned that there is the risk of “eliminating Christians” from the Middle East although he was careful to say that this did not mean this was anyone’s intention…
Report: Only ten Christian refugees from Iraq and Syria resettled in U.S. In 2018 (Christian Post) As the Trump administration has promised to help Christians and other religious minorities who faced genocide at the hands of the Islamic State, the U.S. government has resettled only ten Christian refugees from Iraq and Syria since the beginning of 2018…
Gaza border communities economically battered by kite fires (The Jerusalem Post) Gaza border communities are facing a new type of attack unlike rocket salvos from Hamas. Today, flaming kites and explosive condoms have scorched farmlands in nearby areas, backed-up highways as police sappers close roads to defuse incendiary devices, and led to a wave of canceled guests at local hotels and bed-and-breakfasts. While the burning kites have yet to kill or maim any Israeli civilians, they are increasingly inflicting an economic toll...
Syrian refugees creating items for IKEA (Mental Floss) After debuting the Tilltalande Collection at its Amman, Jordan location last year, IKEA is finally bringing it to the U.S. As Curbed reports, every item in the collection was created by women from Jordan and refugees from Syria. The new line is a collaboration between IKEA and the Jordan River Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to improving the lives of Jordanians, especially women and children…
Meet Maxim, the champion powerlifting Russian Orthodox priest (Metro.co.uk) This is Maxim Pastuhov. He’s a Russian Orthodox priest… and also a champion powerlifter. When he’s not tending to his flock in Belgorod Oblast, Russia, the 41-year-old is down the gym getting busy with dumbells and barbells. Despite only having started weight training seven years ago, he’s already gained the title of “master of sport” — a prestigious title across Russia and former Soviet countries. ‘Weightlifting is a sport and is just my way of life,’ Maxim says…
21 June 2018
Tags: Syria Pope Francis Vatican Russian Orthodox
Pope Francis attends an encounter at the World Council of Churches' ecumenical center in Geneva on 21 June. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Pope in Geneva: ‘Our differences must not be excuses’ (CNS) Not only God, but today’s broken, divided world is begging for unity among Christians, Pope Francis said on an ecumenical pilgrimage to Geneva. ”Our differences must not be excuses,” he said, because as Christ’s disciples, Christians can still pray together, evangelize and serve others…
Pope Francis flies to Geneva on ‘ecumenical pilgrimage’ (Vatican News) Pope Francis Thursday morning flew to Geneva to join the celebration of the 70th anniversary of the World Council of Churches (WCC), a 350 member-group that is present in more than 110 countries and territories, making it the largest umbrella group of Christian denominations in the world. The WCC represents over 500 million Christians and includes most of world’s Orthodox Churches, a large number of Anglican, Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist and Reformed Churches, as well as many United and Independent Churches…
Horrific details of chemical attack left out from U.N. report (The New York Times) At least twice this year, the Syrian military fired Iranian-made artillery shells filled with a chlorine-like substance that oozed poison slowly, giving victims just a few minutes to escape. In another attack, Syrian forces dropped a chemical bomb on the top-floor balcony of an apartment building, killing 49 people, including 11 children. Their skin turned blue. These details and others blaming Syria for atrocities in eastern Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus, were uncovered by a United Nations commission investigating and documenting possible war crimes in the seven-year-old conflict. But when the commission issued a report on Wednesday, the details were omitted…
Holy See: human trafficking is the ’largest manifestation of modern slavery (Vatican News) The Holy See says that human trafficking, the “largest manifestation of modern slavery”, can be defeated by “eliminating the culture of consumerism” and fostering a culture of encounter centered on respect for human dignity. Even as Pope Francis was visiting Geneva on Thursday, Archbishop Ivan Jurkovic, the Holy See’s Permanent Observer to the United Nations in Geneva made the statement at a Human Rights Council in the Swiss city during a session on trafficking in persons…
On the trail of the Ark of the Covenant in Ethiopia (The Independent) I arrived in Ethiopia as an unlikely Indiana Jones figure. My brother and I were tracing the watery route of the Ark of the Covenant, which was allegedly brought to Ethiopia in 400 BC and then proceeded to take a tour of the lakes for the next 800 years…
20 June 2018
Tags: Syria Pope Francis Ethiopia Ecumenism
The video above, produced by the Vatican, recently won an international prize for its treatment of issues affecting migrants and refugees. (video: Vatican News/YouTube)
Pope supports bishops’ criticism of ‘immoral’ immigration policy (CNS) Pope Francis said he stands with the U.S. bishops who recently condemned the Trump administration’s policy on immigration that has led to children being held in government shelters while their parents are sent to federal prisons. ”I am on the side of the bishops’ conference,” Pope Francis said in an interview with the Reuters news agency, published online 20 June. “Let it be clear that in these things, I respect (the position of) the bishops’ conference…”
Report on war crimes in eastern Ghouta (Euronews.com) United Nations investigators have accused both government and rebel forces of committing war crimes in the clashes around eastern Ghouta…
Vatican awarded international prize for video on migrants, refugees (Vatican News) A Vatican video campaign on migrants and refugees has become an internationally-recognized best practice in promoting positive change in society through social advertising. The International Social Advertising Festival or Publifestival awarded its “Best Strategy in Social Action” prize to a video made by the Section for Migrants and Refugees of the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Promotion. The video was produced by the agency La Machi Communication for Good Causes…
Church agencies rushing to help victims of monsoon in India (UCANews.com) Church agencies are rushing aid to thousands of people in northeast India after floods and landslides claimed at least 23 lives in the past week. The worst-hit villages are in the states of Assam, Manipur, Mizoram and Tripura, where floodwater caused by monsoon rains inundated homes and farmland in low-lying areas. Landslides have cut off roads in hilly areas while rivers are rising to dangerous levels, leaving hundreds of villages marooned…
Filmmaker looks at hidden Jews of Ethiopia (Canadian Jewish News) For hundreds of years, perhaps longer, Ethiopian Jews were known by their neighbors as Falashas, a pejorative term meaning “landless” or “wanderer” that made them out to be perpetual outsiders in the east African country, even though Jews have resided there for millennia. Facing discrimination, some converted to Christianity. Others did not and from the late 1970s through to the ‘90s, the community was brought to Israel in several airlifts, including Operation Moses and Operation Solomon. The Christian converts, known as Falash Mura, were brought to Israel later, although several thousand still remain in the capital, Addis Ababa, waiting to join their relatives in the Promised Land…
Tags: Syria Ethiopia Vatican