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Volume 45, Number 3
17 September 2013
Greg Kandra

A poster promotes the new IMAX film “Jerusalem,” due to be released later this month. (image: National Geographic)

National Geographic has produced a new film about the city sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims alike, and the preview video is a stunner:

Jerusalem is one of the world’s most important cities, held sacred by three religious traditions, and it’s now possible to virtually visit its holy places in an unprecedented way thanks to the vision and daring of the team behind “Jerusalem,’ a new IMAX film presented by National Geographic Entertainment.

Producers Taran Davies, George Duffield, and Daniel Ferguson faced huge challenges to gain access to sacred spaces as well as the airspace above the holy city, which is usually a no-fly zone. They stated in a press release, “Our goal is to look at the roots of the universal attachment to Jerusalem: Jewish, Christian and Muslim. We hope the juxtaposition of these different religions and cultures — all with profound spiritual and historical connections to the city — will reveal how much Jews, Christians and Muslims have in common and inspire all of us to better understand each other.”

But how to tell the story of Jerusalem without just focusing on politics? Enter three teenage girls from each faith: Farah Ammouri, a Muslim, Nadia Tadros, from a Greek Orthodox and Catholic family, and Revital Zacharie, a Jew.

Ferguson asked each of the girls to take him (separately) on a one-day tour of Jerusalem, which he filmed. “What was really amazing was that they would bring me to some of the same places in the city and tell me entirely different things. Revital would point out Jewish history, but when I asked her if she knew about the Christian or Muslim attachment to the same places, she didn’t. The same was true of the other girls.”

Benedict Cumberbatch narrates the film, and Dr. Jodi Magness of University of North Carolina Chapel Hill features as lead archaeologist.

National Geographic described it in a press release this way:

After years of working with various government ministries and religious and community leaders, the filmmakers were granted the exclusive permits necessary to capture aerial shots above the Old City of Jerusalem, and throughout the Holy Land. As a result, audiences are given a rare bird’s-eye view of the storied city as well as exclusive access to iconic holy sites and little-known parts of the region in one powerful, 45-minute giant screen film experience. Aside from the breathtaking scenery, “Jerusalem” also explores some of the surprising intersections between Judaism, Christianity and Islam, which come together in this sacred city.

The film is due in IMAX theaters later this month. In the meantime, check out the trailer below:

Tags: Jerusalem Holy Land Unity Interfaith Jewish-Christian-Muslim relations

12 September 2013
Michael J.L. La Civita

(video: Rome Reports)

The Crusades, for better or worse, get a bad rap. Yet, there were some positive initiatives that surfaced — among them, the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. An ancient knighthood of the Catholic Church, its members are charged by the pope with supporting the apostolic activities of the church throughout the Middle East, especially the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem.

This week, the leadership of the order is gathering in Rome. This report from Rome highlights some of the discussions underway, including the broadening of its mandate to reach out to Iraq, Syria and Turkey.

Michael J.L. La Civita is CNEWA’s chief communications officer and a knight commander of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem.

Tags: Jerusalem Catholic Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem Rome

15 October 2012
Judith Sudilovsky

Head cook Eva Soudah, left, and dietician Susan Coopersmith discuss the menu in the kitchen of Jerusalem's St. Louis Hospital. (photo: Debbie Hill)

Judith Sudilovsky, a freelance journalist based in Jerusalem, continues to share her experiences reporting on the St. Louis hospital for the September 2012 issue of ONE magazine:

“There’s borscht in the kitchen today!” dietician Susan Coopersmith called out gaily to a colleague as she swept through the wide halls of the 130-year-old Catholic St. Louis Hospital, located on the outskirts of Jerusalem’s Old City. “I hope the patients like it!”

It was not exactly the kind of announcement I would have expected at a Catholic hospital, but upon reflection, slipping in a bit of Jewish culinary tradition onto the menu of the 50-bed hospice and chronic care hospital run by the congregation of Sisters of St. Joseph of the Apparition fits right in with their mission to minister loving end-of-life care to all residents of the city — Jews, Christians and Muslims alike.

So, while the traditional Jewish-Russian beet soup may seem out of place in most Catholic institutions in the region, its inclusion in the lunch on that day should not have surprised me. After all, after having spent several days visiting I already knew that the most striking thing about St. Louis hospital was how effortlessly they meld so many different cultures, traditions and religions in everything thing do — not always an easy feat in a city so wrought with divisions.

But if in the halls of this hospital, ultra-orthodox Jewish women and Muslim women, with their hair covered in the distinctive style of their religion, walk side by side with habit-wearing nuns and secular Israelis in sleeveless blouses and jeans as they all visit ill or aged loved ones, then why shouldn’t borscht share center stage in the same kitchen with traditional Arabic dishes such as stuffed vegetables?

“We have people here from so many backgrounds it is important to give them foods they like and are familiar with,” explained Coopersmith, a recent Jewish immigrant to Israel from Chicago. Many of the patients in the hospice’s oncology ward are from Russia, she added.

“The food is almost as important as medicine, especially for cancer patients,” she told me. “With chemotherapy treatment they lost much of their sense of taste and can’t eat much. It is very hard to get them to eat.”

Over the past few months, Coopersmith and Palestinian Catholic head cook Eva Soudah, — who oversees the hospital’s kosher kitchen, following Jewish dietary restrictions such as not mixing milk with meat — have been working together along with the Palestinian Muslim assistant cooks to revamp the hospital menu and introduce some new dishes.

Some — stuffed vegetables, ratatouille and spaghetti with tomato sauce — passed the patient’s scrutiny with flying colors, Coopersmith noted. Sweet potatoes and turkey did not. But now it was time for the real test. Would their borscht pass the muster of the discerning Russian patients?

In typical St. Louis fashion, the creation of the soup was a joint collaborative effort involving Jews, Christians and Muslims. I found myself thinking: If only Israeli and Palestinians political leaders could also learn to cooperate just as well for the benefit of others!

The recipe for the soup was provided in Hebrew by the hospital’s Jewish activity director, originally from the Ukraine. Since Soudah speaks only a little bit of Hebrew, the hospital physiotherapist, Basel Baddour, a Greek Orthodox Palestinian who speaks Hebrew, translated the recipe for the Muslim kitchen staff.

I was just as eager as Soudah to see how the patients received her efforts, and I trailed behind Soudah as she brought the lunch cart to the hospice care ward.

“It was not very difficult to make the soup. Just something different,” Soudah smiled, pushing the cart. “There was meat, cabbage onions, carrots, tomato sauce. Now I want to see how the patients inside, the Russians, like it. I want to see if it passes their test.”

“Shalom,” Soudah greeted one of the patients in Hebrew. “How is the soup? We made borscht.”

Dutifully, the woman sipped a spoonful of the hot liquid.

But alas, it seems something got lost in the translation and the main ingredient, the hearty beet that gives the soup its distinctive ruby red color, was missing from the soup.

Still, the patient soothingly told Soudah as she took another taste of the soup: “This is good soup, it just isn’t borscht.”

Once Soudah understood what the missing ingredient was she said, “If you have a recipe you like, bring it to me.”

Undaunted, Soudah told me she will try again next week.

Tags: Jerusalem Unity Health Care Interreligious Multiculturalism

1 October 2012
Judith Sudilovsky

A volunteer jokes with a patient during a holiday party at St. Louis Hospital. (photo: Debbie Hill)

Judith Sudilovsky is a freelance journalist based in Jerusalem, covering events in the region for publishers including Catholic News Services and Ecumenical News International. We asked Ms. Sudilovsky to share her thoughts on writing for the September 2012 issue of ONE, and she had this to say:

It has been five years since last I stepped through the doors of the St. Louis Hospital, near the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City. But whenever I pass by the hospital doors on my way to one place or another, I recall my experience with this extraordinary place, which provides a haven for end-of-life care patients and their families; it was where my good friend Judy spent her last few months.

I learned about St. Louis Hospital when Judy, a bright, spunky, redheaded New York-born Jew, was hospitalized there toward the end of her battle with a brain tumor. When she wanted to continue working, the staff arranged for an internet connection to be set up in her room. When she missed seeing her dog, they arranged for me to be able to take her to visit him — today the hospital is one of the advanced facilities that allow therapy animals to come to the hospital and visit with the patients who enjoy spending time with them.

A year after Judy finally succumbed to the disease, a group of her friends took up a donation for this hospice and chronic care hospital, which has been run on a shoe-string budget by the congregation of Sisters of St. Joseph of the Apparition order since 1880.

When she received the checks that I had mailed to her, hospital director Sister Monika Dullmann invited me to come for a modest memorial ceremony she organized together with a few members of the staff who had been especially close to Judy. I was struck by the fact that even a year after her death, the staff that has accompanied so many people at the end of their lives, still sharply recalled Judy’s special optimistic spirit and her lovely sense of humor.

As we lit a memorial candle for Judy that day, I was humbled by the genuine affection I felt in the room for my friend, who had spent only a few short months there. I realized that for them Judy, like all the other countless patients who have passed through this place over the years, remained after her death a unique individual whose life had had worth and significance even in her dying moment.

Since then the hospital has occupied a special place in my heart.

I feel it is only fair to make a public disclaimer about my undeniable bias for the St. Louis Hospital and the staff who do the hardest work with love and respect. These dedicated people — Christians, Muslims and Jews, Palestinians, Israelis and foreign volunteers — who so lovingly cared for Judy, continue caring every day for all their 50 patients in the same fashion, regardless of their national origin, religion or financial status. This article is their story.

Tags: Jerusalem Unity Health Care Multiculturalism

11 September 2012
Greg Kandra

A worker cleans the entrance of the Trappist monastery in Latrun, near Jerusalem, defaced by vandals last week. (photo: CNS/Baz Ratner, Reuters)

Last week, we reported on the Trappist monastery near Jerusalem that was vandalized. John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter has some analysis and context:

Most people, most of the time, are fundamentally decent. Hence if they knew that there’s a minority facing an epidemic of persecution — a staggering total of 150,000 martyrs every year, meaning 17 deaths every hour — there would almost certainly be a groundswell of moral and political outrage.

There is such a minority in the world today, and it’s Christianity. The fact that there isn’t yet a broad-based movement to fight anti-Christian persecution suggests something is missing in public understanding.

In part, of course, the problem is that unquestionable acts of persecution, such as murder and imprisonment, are sometimes confused with a perceived cultural and legal “war on religion” in the West, a less clear-cut proposition. In part, too, it’s because of the antique prejudice that holds that Christianity is always the oppressor, never the oppressed.

Yet as with most things, politics also has a distorting effect, and a story out of Israel this week makes the point.

On Tuesday, the doors of a Trappist monastery in Latrun, near Jerusalem, were set ablaze, with provocative phrases in Hebrew spray-painted on the exteriors walls, such as “Jesus is a monkey.” The assault was attributed to extremist Jews unhappy with the recent dismantling of two settlements on nearby Palestinian land.

Founded in 1890 by French Trappists, the Latrun monastery is famed for its strict religious observance. Israelis call it minzar ha’shatkanim, meaning “the monastery of those who don’t speak.” Ironically, it’s known for fostering dialogue with Judaism, and welcomes hundreds of Jewish visitors every week.

Tuesday’s attack was not an isolated incident. In 2009, a Franciscan church near the Cenacle on Mount Zion, regarded by tradition as the site of Christ’s Last Supper, was defaced with a spray-painted Star of David and slogans such as “Christians Out!” and “We Killed Jesus!” According to reports, the vandals also urinated on the door and left a trail of urine leading to the church.

Last February, the Franciscan Custodian of the Holy Land wrote to Israeli authorities to appeal for better protection after another wave of vandalism struck a Baptist church, a Christian cemetery and a Greek Orthodox monastery. That time, slogans included “Death to Christianity,” “We will crucify you!” and “Mary is a whore.”

At the time, the custodian, Franciscan Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, complained that no arrests had been made in any of these cases.

Israeli observers say these assaults are part of what’s called the “price tag” campaign, meaning the vow by extremists that a price will be paid every time a settlement is dismantled — not just by those actually responsible for the demolition, but also by groups in Israeli society, such as the Christian minority, perceived to support the Palestinians and the ending of settlements. Frequent targets also include mosques, places of gathering for Arabs, and Israeli pacifists.

The assaults on Christian holy sites also reflect a nasty, if little-discussed, streak of broader anti-Christian animus in some Israeli circles. Local priests have reported that sometimes Yeshiva students chant insulting slogans at them, or even throw stones and spit in their direction.

The Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land released a statement in reaction to the latest attack.

”What is happening in Israeli society to the point that Christians are the sacrificial lambs of such violence?” they asked. “Those who left their hate-filled graffiti expressed outrage at the eviction of illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank. But why are they taking it out on Christians and their places of worship?”

There’s much more at the National Catholic Reporter.

Tags: Jerusalem Violence against Christians Monastery Trappist

5 September 2012
Sami El-Yousef

Surrounded by religious leaders, Archbishop Moussa El-Hage enters Jerusalem for the first time as Maronite patriarchal exarch. (photo: CTS/N. Asfour)

A festive mood charged this weekend as Archbishop Moussa El-Hage was received as the new Maronite patriarchal exarch in Jerusalem. Archbishop El-Hage replaced Archbishop Paul Sayyah, who assumed the duties of patriarchal vicar general in June 2011. The Patriarchal Exarchate in Jerusalem serves the Maronite community in Israel, Palestine and Jordan.

A number of heads of churches in Jerusalem, representatives of religious congregations and civic leaders lined up along with the small Maronite community at Jaffa Gate — the main entrance to the Christian Quarter of the Old City — to welcome Archbishop El-Hage and escort him to St. Maron Church. Boy scout troops led the colorful procession, which was followed by a Divine Liturgy of thanksgiving and a reception.

Earlier, a farewell reception took place at the Notre Dame Center for Archbishop Sayyah, who served in Jerusalem for 17 years until His Beatitude Patriarch Bechara requested he return to Lebanon to serve as vicar general. A number of speeches were delivered at the reception highlighting the many contributions Archbishop Sayyah made during his tenure in the Holy Land. Particular focus was given to his work as a member of the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries in the Holy Land and his continued attempts to foster better relations between the various churches through the Middle East Council of Churches.

As the regional director of CNEWA-Pontifical Mission, I was privileged to attend each of these celebrations — both to extend our thanks to Archbishop Sayyah and welcome Archbishop El-Hage to his new position.

Archbishop Moussa El-Hage, left, concelebrates a Divine Liturgy of thanksgiving with outgoing Archbishop Paul Sayyah, right. (photo: CTS/N. Asfour)

Tags: Middle East Christians Jerusalem Holy Land Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter Maronite

4 September 2012
Greg Kandra

A monk stands near Hebrew text sprayed on the entrance of a Trappist monastery outside Jerusalem, 4 September. (photo: CNS / Baz Ratner, Reuters)

It evidently happened early this morning. Catholic News Service has details:

Vandals burned the door of a Trappist monastery outside Jerusalem and spray-painted a wall with the names of illegal Israeli outposts, one of which had been evacuated two days earlier.

In addition to the names of the outposts — Jewish enclaves not approved by the Israeli government — the vandals scrawled slogans against Christianity including “Jesus is a monkey” on the walls on the Latrun monastery, best known for its contemplative monks and wine-making. The monastery, about 20 miles west of Jerusalem, sits on a hill overlooking the road linking Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

Trappist Father Louis Wehbee, who is responsible for the formation of novices at the monastery, said a monk heard a noise outside early Sept. 4 and went to investigate. He found the wooden door in flames and alerted the other monks. He was able to put out the flames with a fire extinguisher.

”We were very surprised and can’t understand why this has happened,” Father Wehbee told Catholic News Service in a phone interview. “Never in our 122-year history here has something like this happened to us. We are opened to all people, we have good relations with everybody. What makes us sad is the graffiti which they wrote against our faith. If there are political tensions, why are they taking it out against our religion?”

A day earlier, Israel authorities had evacuated residents from an unauthorized Jewish enclave in Migron, West Bank. Migron was one of the names spray painted on the wall.

Police said they had been preparing for such a so-called “price tag” attack against a Palestinian or Muslim target, which has been the recent modus operandi of a group of extremists following an outpost evacuation or other government action that they oppose.

Acting Jerusalem District Police Commander Meni Yitzhaki, who visited the monastery 4 Sept, said he had appointed a special investigator to look into the incident.

You can find more background and additional details at the link.

Tags: Jerusalem Violence against Christians Holy Land Monastery

4 June 2012
Laura Tarazi

Archbishop Antonio Franco (center) stands in front of the Jerusalem office of the Pontifical Mission. (photo: CNEWA)

Laura Tarazi works in the Jerusalem office of the Pontifical Mission, CNEWA's operating agency in the Middle East.

On 30 May 2012, the Jerusalem staff of the Pontifical Mission invited Archbishop Antonio Franco, apostolic nuncio in Israel and apostolic delegate in Jerusalem and Palestine, to an informal gathering at the Mission’s Jerusalem office. Bidding farewell to his excellency as he prepares for retirement, Sami El-Yousef, CNEWA’s regional director for Palestine and Israel, thanked him for years of cooperation and support for the Pontifical Mission and its work in the Holy Land.

The regional director highlighted several of the projects currently underway, including youth programs, job training initiatives and support for church institutions throughout Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. He also thanked the archbishop for his continuous support for the work of the Pontifical Mission Library and the Ephpheta Institute in Bethlehem, as well as the Near East Council of Churches’ (N.E.C.C.) Mother and Child clinics in the Gaza Strip.

Archbishop Franco, in turn, expressed his sincere gratitude for the the Pontifical Mission’s institutional solidarity with the apostolic delegate and for its historical presence and dedication to the church and its communities of the Holy Land.

The Pontifical Mission staff presented the archbishop with a hand-painted Armenian ceramic piece by a professional artisan from Sandrouni Armenian Art Center, beautifully illustrating Christian holy sites and scenes of Jerusalem.

Sami El-Yousef presents Archbishop Franco with a piece of Armenian ceramic artwork.
(photo: CNEWA)

Tags: Jerusalem Palestine Israel Holy Land Pontifical Mission for Palestine

30 May 2012
Sami El-Yousef

Archbishop Antonio Franco cuts the ribbon on the new wing of the Ephpheta Institute.
(photo: CNEWA)

Sami El-Yousef is CNEWA's regional director for Palestine-Israel and advises the Sisters of St. Dorothy, who run the institute.

A few days ago, the Ephpheta Institute in Bethlehem — a program CNEWA has supported since its inception 40 years ago — celebrated the inauguration of a new expansion. The new three-story annex will host the 11th and 12th grades, in addition to a library, a new indoor play/educational room and additional storage facilities. The physical expansion of the school premises was a historic day for many reasons. Most significantly, the students at Ephpheta will no longer finish their education at 10th grade, but will complete a full educational cycle through the 12th grade, after which they will receive a high school diploma. Thus, there will be no graduation at the school this year; the 10th graders will proceed to 11th grade and will eventually graduate in 2014, much better equipped to either move on to a university education or to some other career track of their choosing. They will certainly be better equipped to meet life’s challenges with a high school diploma in hand.

Another reason why this was a historic event is that the full funding for this expansion project (around $600,000) came from a Palestinian Christian family originally from Bethlehem that now lives in the United States. These benefactors wish to remain anonymous. The family clearly did well financially in the diaspora and decided to give something back — to support this leading Christian institution, providing hope and a first-class education to over 150 deaf children in Palestine. We hope this will be encouragement to other Palestinian families to do the same.

Present at the ceremony were many dignitaries, including the Apostolic Delegate to Palestine Archbishop Antonio Franco, the mayor of Bethlehem, the Italian consul general, and representatives from the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Education and the governor’s office. All were most pleased with this development, but the people happiest of all were the students and their parents.

Congratulations to Ephpheta on this important milestone!

To learn more about the work of the Ephpheta Institute, click here. Other recent milestones include the celebration of the institute's 40th anniversary and a pastoral visit as part of CNEWA President Msgr. John Kozar's journey to the Holy Land last year.

Sisters and teachers gather in the newly inaugurated wing. (photo: CNEWA)

Tags: Jerusalem Education Bethlehem Donors

11 May 2012
Greg Kandra

Next month, CNEWA Canada will co-sponsor the premiere of a new documentary on the troubles facing the Holy Land, as seen through the people at Bethlehem University. The Vancouver Sun offers a preview:

The population of Israel and the Palestinian Territories is less than 11 million. But ongoing violence and anger in the region continues to create global military tensions and tear holes in the hearts of billions of Christians, Muslims, Jews and non-religious people. Canadian Roman Catholics are offering their perspective on this land of what Vancouver Archbishop Michael Miller calls “intolerance” and “fear” in a new documentary, titled Across the Divide. It premieres in Vancouver on June 3, 2012. See the preview of Across the Divide, which captures the dramatic time when a Catholic University in Bethlehem is caught in a gut-churning crossfire between Israeli troops and Palestinian militants.

Shot on location in Israel and the Palestinian Territories, and edited in Canada, Across the Divide offers a glimmer of hope for the divided region through the heroic actions of staff and students at Bethlehem University, which has 3,000 students, most of whom are Christian (30 per cent) or Muslim (70 per cent). The film captures the drama of a campus that, like the lives of its students, bears the scars of what the Canadian Catholic leaders call the “intractable” Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“This film presents the story of Bethlehem University, caught in the middle of a sad reality of injustice, violence, intolerance and fear that dishonour the Holy Land, a land that should be a wellspring of hope and faith,” says Vancouver Archbishop J. Michael Miller, CSB.

“By watching this film, viewers will take a positive step toward building a future of political and religious peace and justice in the region,” adds Father Thomas Rosica, CSB, CEO of Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation and executive producer of the documentary.

Rosica adds: “Across the Divide tells the remarkable, provocative story of the first Catholic institution of higher learning in Palestine... Against all odds, Bethlehem University has become a school of justice and peace in the Holy Land, and a real bridge among many different groups of people: Arab and Israeli, Christian, Muslim and Jew. In a part of the world that has known so much conflict, animosity, monologue and despair, the Catholic Church’s presence through Bethlehem University has offered a model of peace, friendship, dialogue and hope for the world.”

To learn about the film and its premiere, check out this link. And for more on Bethlehem University, read The Perseverance of Bethlehem University from ONE magazine.

Tags: Holy Land Canada CNEWA Canada Bethlehem University Media

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