Current Issue
September, 2019
Volume 45, Number 3
31 January 2019
Elias D. Mallon, S.A., Ph.D.

In this image from 2016, Pope Francis greets a Buddhist monk during a an audience with religious leaders at the Vatican. (photo: CNS/L'Osservatore Romano)

On Friday 1 February, the UN begins the observance of Interfaith Harmony Week. No one knows better than CNEWA how important interfaith harmony is and how difficult it is to achieve. Many of the places where we work are the scene of discrimination and outright persecution, not only of Christians but of other believers. In Iraq and parts of Syria Christians, Yazidis, Shabak and others have been massacred by the Islamic State. Egypt is the scene of ongoing sporadic violence against all types of Coptic Christians. In India there has been an increase in violence against Christians. There has, of course, been a long tradition of violence between Christians and Muslims in northern India.

Over the years, the Pew Research Center has documented persecution of and discrimination against all faith groups. The situation throughout the world is not getting better. One of the more disturbing findings is that most of the persecution and discrimination occurs in countries with some type of religious marker in their self-identification. Looked at in the broadest of terms, Pew’s record of religious persecution and discrimination is a record of one religious group behaving badly against another religious group.

It is very important to avoid two extremes here. One extreme would blame religion for all the persecution and conflict in the word. The other extreme is for religions to excuse themselves and to declare that their members who are acting violently against others are “politically” motivated and not really good believers. This is becoming increasingly untenable morally. Very few conflicts are purely political, purely economic or purely religious. Most often, they are a mixture of all three. However, it has been shown that conflicts that have a religious element tend to be more intractable and more difficult to solve than those lacking a religious element. Religions can provide powerful symbols which can demonize the other and rend compromise something akin to apostasy.

No religion is free of these tendencies to discriminate or even persecute. In Muslim majority countries, we find violence by Muslims against religious minorities. The Muslim Rohingyas of Burma are suffering greatly at the hand of Burmese Buddhists, a religion which supposedly values non-violence. In India Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and Christians are often involved in persecution and conflict. In Russia, non-Orthodox Christians are legally discriminated against by fellow Christians who are orthodox.

On 31 March 2005, at the opening of the Exhibit of the World’s Religions at Santa Clara University in California, the famous German theologian Hans Küng made a statement which has been repeated hundreds of times and which perfectly encapsulates the meaning and importance of World Interfaith Harmony Week: “There will be no peace among the nations without peace among the nations.”

This is a truth which CNEWA experiences every day in the places where we work. Interfaith dialogue leading to interfaith understanding, harmony and cooperation has also been a constant teaching of popes since the Second Vatican Council. St. John Paul II even made interfaith dialogue a key part of his very first encyclical, Redemptor Hominis, (The Redeemer of Man), when he wrote about the legacy of Vatican II in 1979:

“The Fathers of the Church rightly saw in the various religions as it were so many reflections of the one truth, ‘seeds of the Word,’ attesting that, though the routes taken may be different, there is but a single goal to which is directed the deepest aspiration of the human spirit as expressed in its quest for God and also in its quest, through its tending towards God, for the full dimension of its humanity, or in other words for the full meaning of human life. The Council gave particular attention to the Jewish religion, recalling the great spiritual heritage common to Christians and Jews. It also expressed its esteem for the believers of Islam, whose faith also looks to Abraham.”

We need to take these words to heart; they help remind us that working for interfaith harmony is part of what it means to be a Catholic in the 21st century.

Tags: Muslim Jews Interfaith

31 January 2019
Greg Kandra

Ethiopian Orthodox and Catholic Christians share the same Ga’ez liturgical traditions. Read about one priest’s experience ministering to the faithful in a diverse corner of his country in A Letter from Ethiopia in the current edition of ONE. (photo: Petterik Wiggers)

Tags: Ethiopia

31 January 2019
Greg Kandra

In this image from 2016, Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow greets Pope Francis at Jose Marti International Airport in Havana. Marking the 10th anniversary of his enthronement, the patriarch compared Kiev to Jerusalem for its significance to Christianity. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)

Patriarch compares Kiev to Jerusalem for its significance (TASS) Orthodoxy in Russia began with its Christianization by Prince Vladimir in Kiev, so for Russian believers that city is comparable in terms of its historic importance to the significance of Jerusalem for world Christianity, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia said at a meeting with delegations of Local Orthodox Churches that arrived in Moscow on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of his enthronement…

Many Syrian refugees in Jordan reluctant to return home (The National) Despite a warming of ties and reopening of borders between Jordan and Syria, security concerns and an absence of a political resolution to the civil war have prevented all but a few thousand Syrian refugees from returning home, raising questions over how long the community will remain in the economically struggling kingdom…

Places of worship for Egyptian Copts closed after protests (Al-Monitor) More disturbing episodes of intimidation against Coptic Christians took place this month in the village of Manshiyet Zaafarana in Minya governorate, 150 miles south of Cairo. On 11 January, Muslim hard-line residents of the village encircled a building used as the Copts’ place of worship, claiming Christians were seeking to turn it into a church without a permit. Subsequently, the place of worship was closed…

In Aleppo, a slow rebuild begins ( More than two years after the Syrian government won a long and deadly battle for Aleppo, sounds of demolition and construction have replaced the explosions and gunfire that used to echo through the city’s center…

Ethiopia: 3 million internally displaced ( With three million internally displaced people, Ethiopia is going through one of the most severe — and under-reported — humanitarian crises in the world. The topic of refugees and displaced people will head the agenda at the Africa Union summit in Addis Ababa next month…

India’s failing health system hits women hardest ( Recent surveys have highlighted how poor women are on the receiving end of pathetic state-run health services. The latest study was released on 22 January by Oxfam, a confederation of 20 independent charitable organizations focusing on the alleviation of global poverty. It claimed that the poor are denied health care, exposing them to greater risks of lethal diseases…

Vatican urges fight against stigma of leprosy (Vatican News) The Vatican is urging the international community not only to help eliminate Hansen’s disease but also to end the stigma, discrimination and prejudice attached to it by treating those hit by it with love, compassion and solidarity. Cardinal Peter Turkson, the Prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, made the call in a message on the occasion of 66th World Leprosy Day…

Tags: Syria Egypt Russian Orthodox Kiev

30 January 2019
Catholic News Service

Jesuit Father Paolo Dall’Oglio is pictured celebrating Mass 3 March 2008. Pope Francis met with family members of the Italian Jesuit, whose fate is still unknown after he was kidnapped in Syria in 2013. (photo: CNS/P. Razzo, CIRIC, via Catholic Press Photo)

Pope Francis met with family members of the Rev. Paolo Dall’Oglio, the Italian Jesuit whose fate is still unknown after he was kidnapped in Syria in 2013.

Alessandro Gisotti, interim director of the Vatican press office, told reporters on 30 January that the pope held the private audience at his residence, the Domus Sanctae Marthae.

The meeting took place in “a particularly cordial atmosphere,” Gisotti said, and included Father Dall’Oglio’s mother, four sisters and one brother.

“The audience represents the pope’s affection and proximity toward the family of the Italian Jesuit who was kidnapped in Syria in July of 2013.”

The pope met with family members on another occasion at the Jesuit headquarters in Rome in July 2014 — just a few days after the first anniversary of the priest’s disappearance.

The Italian missionary was a respected promoter of peace and Christian-Muslim dialogue in Syria.

Witnesses had reported that on the day the priest disappeared he was going to speak to leaders at the Islamic State headquarters in Raqqa, Syria, to try to persuade them to release several hostages being held there.

Tags: Syria Pope Francis

30 January 2019
Greg Kandra

A Muslim prays inside Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Pope Francis is scheduled to visit the mosque during his visit to the United Arab Emirates next month.
(photo: CNS/Ahmed Jadallah, Reuters)

Archbishop: Catholic-Muslim dialogue at heart of pope’s trip to UAE (Crux) Pope Francis will “encourage the Catholics throughout the world to continue to put into practice the teachings of the Church regarding dialogue with Muslims” when he visits the United Arab Emirates, according to one expert on interreligious dialogue. Francis will be the first pope to visit the Arabian Peninsula on his 3-5 February visit to Abu Dhabi, the capital of UAE. During his trip, the pontiff will meet with the international Muslim Council of Elders, participate in an interreligious meeting and celebrate Mass for the local Catholic population, mainly foreign workers…

Al-Qaida advances in northern Syria, threatening truce (Economic Times) It only took a few days for al-Qaida-linked militants to seize more than two dozen towns and villages in northern Syria from rival insurgents earlier this month, expanding and cementing their control over an area the size of neighboring Lebanon. The advance by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, or the Levant Liberation Committee, was the most serious blow yet to a September cease-fire brokered by Russia and Turkey that averted a major government offensive in Idlib province, the last main stronghold…

Russian Orthodox patriarch calls on religious leaders to help resolve conflict (TASS) Orthodox and Muslim representatives can help politicians to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia said at a meeting with Sheikh ul-Islam Allahshukur Pashazade, head of the Muslim Board for the Caucasus and co-chair of the CIS Interreligious Council, and Azerbaijan’s delegation…

Yoga guru charges discrimination in award given to Mother Teresa( Christian leaders have criticized yoga guru Baba Ramdev’s comments that Mother Teresa was awarded India’s highest civilian award because she was Christian. The Bharat Ratna (jewel of India) was awarded to the Catholic nun in 1980 for her humanitarian work among India’s poor. Albanian-born Mother Teresa, who died in 1997 aged 87, became St. Teresa of Kolkata when she was canonized in 2016. Speaking to the media on 26 January Prayag in Uttar Pradesh, Ramdev questioned the government for giving the prestigious award to actors and politicians but not to the seers of the Hindu religion…

Biodiversity thrives around Ethiopia’s church forests (Nature) If you see a forest in Ethiopia, you know there is very likely to be a church in the middle, says Alemayehu Wassie. Wassie, a forest ecologist, has spent the past decade on a mission: preserving, documenting and protecting the unique biodiversity in pockets of forest that surround Ethiopia’s orthodox churches…

Tags: Syria Pope Francis Muslim Orthodox Church

29 January 2019
Anubha George

On a home visit, Father Vinu Joseph and Sister Savari Arul administer medication to a patient. (photo: Meenakshi Soman)

In the current edition of ONE, journalist Anubha George reports on the inspiring work among the poor with a mobile clinic Healing the Forgotten in India. Here, she offers more details from her visit.

It is the end of October. The roads are winding. We’re driving up the hills. The Sun is at its scorching peak. The weather is humid. We in the Kanyakumari Social Service Society (K.K.S.S.S.) ambulance are sweaty and thirsty. But the morale in the team is at an all time high. It’s as if nothing can faze them. There is no urgency as the palliative care team visits one home after another. It’s as if serving the community is their one and only purpose.

That is the one thing I take away from them: that service is a calling. There are people in this world who go to absolutely any length to help others, without expecting anything in return.

K.K.S.S.S. was set up in 1972. It is the social development arm of the Diocese of Thuckalay in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. K.K.S.S.S. runs a mobile ambulance which provides palliative care for people who are very poor and have nowhere to turn to for help.

This morning, the Rev. Vinu Joseph is leading the team of a nurse and three volunteers. We go high up in the hills. It’s a tribal area. It’s an actual forest. Tigers and wild elephants can be spotted. Health services aren’t easily accessible to people here. We park the ambulance by the foothills and start to climb up. A two mile hike later, we’re at Vijay Kumar’s home. It’s a hut. He’s 52 and had a stroke a few years ago. Doctors said it was caused by high blood pressure. Vijay Kumar wasn’t even aware he had high BP. His daughter stands by the door with her two children. One is a toddler, the other an infant. There are big poisonous spiders weaving their webs all around. A dog guards the hut. There are some hens and chickens running around.

Vijay Kumar is bed ridden. He has been so since the stroke. His wife welcomes Father Vinu as he walks in. I’m too scared of the spiders to go in. Vijay Kumar puts his hand out. I hold his hand from outside the window. Members of the K.K.S.S.S. team have known the family a while. Father Vinu prays. The family are Hindus. But they’re glad that someone’s come to check up on them. They’re happy that someone prays for them. Vijay Kumar’s daughter tells me they appreciate the support and help.

It turns out that the K.K.S.S.S. team make this trek up the hills just to check Vijay Kumar’s blood pressure a couple of times a week. All that just to check up on one person? I ask Father Vinu if that’s worth it. His reply touches my heart.

“People like Vijay Kumar look after our forests. They guard nature. The least we can do is look after them,” he says. Then he adds: “The service of the poor is the service of Christ. Jesus gives us the strength to do what we do. And he alone shows us the way.”

Read more in the December 2018 edition of ONE.

Tags: India

29 January 2019
Greg Kandra

A religious sister walks through a construction site in Beni Suef, Egypt. The planned school under construction will allow students to continue studying with the sisters past grade school. Read more about this and other Signs of Hope in Egypt in the current edition of ONE. (photo: Roger Anis)

Tags: Egypt

29 January 2019
Greg Kandra

Vandals attacked and defaced a synagogue in Jerusalem Monday. (photo: Twitter)

Jerusalem synagogue defaced (Haaretz) A synagogue in Jerusalem was defaced Monday overnight as vandals broke in and damaged its Torah ark, facilities and books. Police has opened an investigation into the matter. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was “shocked” at the incident, writing on Twitter that “police must find those responsible immediately and ensure they are brought to justice…”

France planning to repatriate ISIS suspects (The Telegraph) France is reportedly planning to repatriate more than 100 French ISIS suspects from Syria amid fears they could lose track of them after US troops withdraw from the war-torn country. Some 130 Islamic State suspects being held in custody by Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in prisons across northern Syria are to be sent back within the next few weeks, according to French channel BFMTV. ”All those who will return to France will be entrusted to the judges. The judge will decide that it will be necessary to put them in prison,” Christophe Castaner, France’s Interior Minister, told BFMTV…

Ethiopia bans street begging by Syrians (AP) Ethiopia is banning street begging by Syrian nationals who have startled people by showing up in growing numbers in recent months. The deputy head of Ethiopia’s immigration office tells The Associated Press that “we have tolerated them for some time but we have now decided to ban the illegal practice...They are becoming a burden…”

Jordan Foreign Minister urges closure of refugee camp (The Jordan Times) Arrangements to deliver humanitarian aid to the Rukban camp are only temporary solutions that do not address the real issue, and the focus must be on the de-establishment of the camp and allowing refugees to return to their hometowns, Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi has said. ”The area in which Rukban exists has never sustained life. Humanitarian supplies are important, but now that the conditions of their return are met, with Daesh pushed out of them, I think all efforts should be focused on achieving that,” Safadi told Sputnik news agency in a recent interview…

Tags: Syria Ethiopia Jerusalem ISIS Jews

28 January 2019
Greg Kandra

The Kanya Kumari Social Service Society’s mobile clinic visits patients in remote regions of Tamil Nadu, India. Read more about the extraordinary mission of Healing the Forgotten in the December 2018 edition of ONE. (photo: Meenakshi Soman)

Tags: India

28 January 2019
Greg Kandra

The ‘caliphate’ of ISIS has been severely diminished in Syria, and the remnants are making a final stand in the desert. (video: ITV News/YouTube)

The ISIS ‘caliphate’ is reduced to a pair of villages in Syria (The Washington Post) A pair of dusty villages in the Syrian desert is all that remains of the vast expanse of territory the Islamic State once called its caliphate, and the complete territorial defeat of the militant group appears to be imminent, according to U.S. and Kurdish officials…

Asian bishops’ president issues statement for World Day of Sick in Calcutta (Vatican News) The Asian bishops’ president is urging believers in the continent to continue upholding the sacred duty and tradition of caring and respecting the elderly, the infirm and the helpless, saying it is a barometer of society’s health. Cardinal Charles Bo, the president of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC), made the exhortation in a message he released on Sunday in view of the upcoming international celebration of the Catholic Church’s World Day of the Sick…

Goa being hurt by exploitation ( The planeloads of foreign tourists and pleasure-seekers are no longer descending on the coastal state of Goa — a bastion of Christianity in India — with such regularity, lured by its palm-fringed beaches and hippie vibe. The lines of local tourists vying to try their hand at jet-skiing or paragliding have also shortened in this former Portuguese colony that sits on the country’s western coast. For the first time in years, hotel occupancy rates reportedly shot down to around 50 percent on average over Christmas and New Year, significantly lower than in previous peak seasons in this former tourism hot-spot…

Israel unearths a sacred Roman road in Jerusalem (The Washington Post) The main road winding through the densely built Arab neighborhood of Wadi Hilweh is like many others in Jerusalem, lined with convenience stores and often crammed with traffic. There’s little clue to what is happening just yards below the pavement and under the floors of surrounding houses and apartment blocks. For five years, Israeli archaeologists, supported by a nationalist Jewish organization, have been digging a tunnel here. Their aim is to uncover what they say was once an important thoroughfare used by worshipers some 2,000 years ago to reach the Jewish holy temple…

Tags: Syria India Jerusalem ISIS

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