Catholic News in Africa – Middle East

Cairo, Egypt, Apr 28, 2017 / 12:56 pm (Church Pop).- During his two-day trip to Egypt, Pope Francis  met with Coptic Orthodox Patriarch Tawadros II, telling him their Churches are bonded by the blood of their martyrs, and are called to further cement this bond with acts of charity.

At their April 28 meeting, Francis and Tawadros II signed a joint declaration indicating their gratitude for the chance “to exchange a fraternal embrace and to join again in common prayer.”

Below is the full text of the statement:

1. We, Francis, Bishop of Rome and Pope of the Catholic Church, and Tawadros II, Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of Saint Mark, give thanks to God in the Holy Spirit for granting us the joyful opportunity to meet once more, to exchange a fraternal embrace and to join again in common prayer. We glorify the Almighty for the bonds of fraternity and friendship existing between the See of Saint Peter and the See of Saint Mark. The privilege of being together here in Egypt is a sign that the solidity of our relationship is increasing year by year, and that we are growing in closeness, faith and love of Christ our Lord. We give thanks to God for this beloved Egypt, the “homeland that lives inside us,” as His Holiness Pope Shenouda III used to say, the “people blessed by God” (cf. Is 19:25) with its ancient
Pharaonic civilization, the Greek and Roman heritage, the Coptic tradition and the Islamic presence. Egypt is the place where the Holy Family found refuge, a land of martyrs and saints.

2. Our deep bond of friendship and fraternity has its origin in the full communion that existed between our Churches in the first centuries and was expressed in many different ways through the early Ecumenical Councils, dating back to the Council of Nicaea in 325 and the contribution of the courageous Church Father Saint Athanasius, who earned the title “Protector of the Faith”. Our communion was expressed through prayer and similar liturgical practices, the veneration of the same martyrs and saints, and in the development and spread of monasticism, following the example of the great Saint Anthony, known as the Father of all monks. This common experience of communion before the time of separation has a special significance in our efforts to restore full communion today. Most of the relations which existed in the early centuries between the Catholic Church and the Coptic Orthodox Church have continued to the present day in spite of divisions, and have recently been revitalized. They challenge us to intensify our common efforts to persevere in the search for visible unity in diversity, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

3. We recall with gratitude the historic meeting forty-four years ago between our predecessors, Pope Paul VI and Pope Shenouda III, in an embrace of peace and fraternity, after many centuries when our mutual bonds of love were not able to find expression due to the distance that had arisen between us. The Common Declaration they signed on 10 May 1973 represented a milestone on the path of ecumenism, and served as a starting point for the Commission for Theological Dialogue between our two Churches, which has borne much fruit and opened the way to a broader dialogue between the Catholic Church and the whole family of Oriental Orthodox Churches. In that Declaration, our Churches acknowledged that, in line with the apostolic tradition, they profess “one faith in the One Triune God” and “the divinity of the Only-begotten Son of God ... perfect God with respect to his divinity, perfect man with respect to his humanity”. It was also acknowledged that “the divine life is given to us and is nourished in us through the seven sacraments” and that “we venerate the Virgin Mary, Mother of the True Light”, the “Theotokos”.

4. With deep gratitude we recall our own fraternal meeting in Rome on 10 May 2013, and the establishment of 10 May as the day when each year we deepen the friendship and brotherhood between our Churches. This renewed spirit of closeness has enabled us to discern once more that the bond uniting us was received from our one Lord on the day of our Baptism. For it is through Baptism that we become members of the one Body of Christ that is the Church (cf. 1 Cor 12:13). This common heritage is the basis of our pilgrimage together towards full communion, as we grow in love and reconciliation.

5. We are aware that we still have far to go on this pilgrimage, yet we recall how much has already been accomplished. In particular, we call to mind the meeting between Pope Shenouda III and Saint John Paul II, who came as a pilgrim to Egypt during the Great Jubilee of the year 2000. We are determined to follow in their footsteps, moved by the love of Christ the good Shepherd, in the profound conviction that by walking together, we grow in unity. May we draw our strength from God, the perfect source of communion and love.

6. This love finds its deepest expression in common prayer. When Christians pray together, they come to realize that what unites them is much greater than what divides them. Our longing for unity receives its inspiration from the prayer of Christ “that all may be one” (Jn 17:21). Let us deepen our shared roots in the one apostolic faith by praying together and by seeking common translations of the Lord’s Prayer and a common date for the celebration of Easter.

7. As we journey towards the blessed day when we will at last gather at the same Eucharistic table, we can cooperate in many areas and demonstrate in a tangible way the great richness which already unites us. We can bear witness together to fundamental values such as the sanctity and dignity of human life, the sacredness of marriage and the family, and respect for all of creation, entrusted to us by God. In the face of many contemporary challenges such as secularization and the globalization of indifference, we are called to offer a shared response based on the values of the Gospel and the treasures of our respective traditions. In this regard, we are encouraged to engage in a deeper study of the Oriental and Latin Fathers, and to promote a fruitful exchange in pastoral life, especially in catechesis, and in mutual spiritual enrichment between monastic and religious communities.

8. Our shared Christian witness is a grace-filled sign of reconciliation and hope for Egyptian society and its institutions, a seed planted to bear fruit in justice and peace. Since we believe that all human beings are created in the image of God, we strive for serenity and concord through a peaceful co-existence of Christians and Muslims, thus bearing witness to God’s desire for the unity and harmony of the entire human family and the equal dignity of each human being. We share a concern for the welfare and the future of Egypt. All members of society have the right and duty to participate fully in the life of the nation, enjoying full and equal citizenship and collaborating to build up their country. Religious freedom, including freedom of conscience, rooted in the dignity of the person, is the cornerstone of all other freedoms. It is a sacred and inalienable right.

9. Let us intensify our unceasing prayer for all Christians in Egypt and throughout the whole world, and especially in the Middle East. The tragic experiences and the blood shed by our faithful who were persecuted and killed for the sole reason of being Christian, remind us all the more that the ecumenism of martyrdom unites us and encourages us along the way to peace and reconciliation. For, as Saint Paul writes: “If one member suffers, all suffer together” (1 Cor 12:26).

10. The mystery of Jesus who died and rose out of love lies at the heart of our journey towards full unity. Once again, the martyrs are our guides. In the early Church the blood of the martyrs was the seed of new Christians. So too in our own day, may the blood of so many martyrs be the seed of unity among all Christ’s disciples, a sign and instrument of communion and peace for the world.

11. In obedience to the work of the Holy Spirit, who sanctifies the Church, keeps her throughout the ages, and leads her to full unity – that unity for which Jesus Christ prayed: Today we, Pope Francis and Pope Tawadros II, in order to please the heart of the Lord Jesus, as well as that of our sons and daughters in the faith, mutually declare that we, with one mind and heart, will seek sincerely not to repeat the baptism that has been administered in either of our Churches for any person who wishes to join the other. This we confess in obedience to the Holy Scriptures and the faith of the three Ecumenical Councils assembled in Nicaea, Constantinople and Ephesus. We ask God our Father to guide us, in the times and by the means that the Holy Spirit will choose, to full unity in the mystical Body of Christ.

12. Let us, then, be guided by the teachings and the example of the Apostle Paul, who writes: “[Make] every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you too were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Eph 4:3-6).

Posted: April 28, 2017, 6:56 pm

Cairo, Egypt, Apr 28, 2017 / 11:39 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis closed his first day in Egypt with a visit to Coptic Orthodox Patriarch Tawadros II, telling him their Churches are bonded by the blood of their martyrs, and are called to further cement this bond with acts of charity.

In his April 28 address to the patriarch, Francis said their ecumenical journey is sustained “in a mysterious and quite relevant way, by a genuine ecumenism of blood.”

Noting how Saint John the Evangelist wrote that Christ came “with water and blood,” Francis said this image serves as a symbol that “by living a new life in our common baptism, a life of love always and for all, even at the cost of the sacrifice of one’s life.”

“How many martyrs in this land, from the first centuries of Christianity, have lived their faith heroically to the end, shedding their blood rather than denying the Lord and yielding to the enticements of evil, or merely to the temptation of repaying evil with evil!”

The Pope noted that this has tragically been the case even in recent days, when “the innocent blood of defenseless Christians was cruelly shed.”

“Their innocent blood unites us,” Francis continued, telling the patriarch that just as the heavenly Jerusalem is one, “so too is our martyrology; your sufferings are also our sufferings.”

“Strengthened by this witness, let us strive to oppose violence by preaching and sowing goodness, fostering concord and preserving unity, praying that all these sacrifices may open the way to a future of full communion between us and of peace for all.”

Pope Francis spoke in an audience with Tawadros II, the Coptic Orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria, on his first day in Egypt. He is on an official April 28-29 visit to the country, aimed largely at interreligious and ecumenical dialogue.

After arriving at Cairo in the afternoon, Francis made his way to Egypt’s prestigious al-Azhar University and adjunct mosque, considered one of the highest authorities in Sunni Islam, where he met with Grand Imam Ahmed el-Tayyeb and addressed participants in the International Peace Conference.

He then met with the country’s authorities, including President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, before heading to the Coptic Orthodox Cathedral for his meeting with Tawadros, the last official appointment of the day.

Tawadros is head of the Coptic Orthodox Church, which is an Oriental Orthodox Church, meaning it rejected the 451 Council of Chalcedon, and its followers had historically been considered monophysites – those who believe Christ has only one nature – by Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox, though they are not considered so any longer.

Like the Bishop of Rome, the Coptic Orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria is known as “Pope” to his followers.

Francis’ words to the patriarch bear special significance considering his visit comes against the backdrop of recent attacks against Christians in the area, which are part of a general increase in the persecution of Egypt’s 9 million strong Coptic community.

The Islamic State and other Islamists have carried out a series of attacks on Egypt's Christians in recent years, including the beheading of 20 Coptic Orthodox faithful in Libya in 2015, and a series of church bombings.
However, in his speech Pope Francis noted that the “impressive history of holiness” in Egypt isn’t limited to the witness of the martyrs, because “no sooner had the ancient persecutions ended than a new and selfless form of life arose as a gift of the Lord: monasticism originated in the desert.”

“Thus, the great signs that God had once worked in Egypt and at the Red Sea were followed by the miracle of a new life that made the desert blossom with sanctity,” he said, explaining that given this shared patrimony, he comes to Egypt “as a pilgrim.”

Francis noted that while the two Churches haven’t always gotten along given both theological and non-theological differences, their 1973 joint declaration, signed by Blessed Paul VI and Patriarch Shenouda III, allowed them, “with God’s help, to acknowledge together that Christ is perfect God with respect to his divinity and perfect man with respect to his humanity.”

Equally important and timely, he said, “are the words that immediately precede this statement, in which we acknowledge Jesus Christ as our Lord and God and Savior and King.”

The strengthening of this bond between their Churches, Francis said, means they can no longer move forward with the idea that each can go their own way, because this would “betray” Christ's prayer that his disciples “all be one.”

While the journey isn’t always easy, the Lord exhorts them to persevere, he said, explaining that “we are not alone. We are accompanied by a great host of saints and martyrs who, already fully one, impel us here below to be a living image of the Jerusalem above.”

Quoting the Gospel of St. Mark, founder of the See of Alexandria, Pope Francis pointed out Christ's question to St. Peter: “who do you say that I am?”

Even today “many people cannot answer this question,” Francis said, noting that “there are even few people who can raise it, and above all few who can answer it with the joy of knowing Jesus, that same joy with which we have the grace of confessing him together.”

Because of this, Coptic Orthodox and Catholics are called to bear witness to Christ together and “to carry our faith to the world, especially in the way it is meant to be brought: by living it, so that Jesus’ presence can be communicated with life and speak the language of gratuitous and concrete love.”

As both Coptic Orthodox and Catholics, “we can always join in speaking this common language of charity,” he said, explaining that before completing some charitable task, “we would do well to ask if we can do it together with our brothers and sisters who share our faith in Jesus.”

“Thus, by building communion in the concreteness of a daily lived witness, the Spirit will surely open providential and unexpected paths to unity,” he said, praising the patriarch for his support of the Coptic Catholic Church in Egypt, particularly through his establishment of the National Council of Christian Churches.

Francis closed his speech praying that the two of them would be able to “set out together as pilgrims of communion and messengers of peace,” under the special care and guidance of Mary, the Mother of God.

At their meeting, Francis and Tawadros signed a joint declaration indicating their gratitude for the chance “to exchange a fraternal embrace and to join again in common prayer.”

Notably, they declared that they “will seek sincerely not  to repeat the baptism that has been administered in either of our Churches for any person who wishes to join the other. This we confess in obedience to the Holy Scriptures and the faith of the three Ecumenical Councils assembled in Nicaea, Constantinople and Ephesus.”

“We ask God our Father to guide us, in the times and by the means that the Holy Spirit will choose, to full unity in the mystical Body of Christ.”

Posted: April 28, 2017, 5:39 pm

Cairo, Egypt, Apr 28, 2017 / 10:14 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Shortly after landing in Egypt on Friday, Pope Francis denounced violent fundamentalism in his speech to civil authorities, telling them they have a special role in helping quell extremism.

“Thanks to its history and its particular geographical location, Egypt has a unique role to play in the Middle East and among those countries seeking solutions to pressing and complex problems that need to be faced now in order to avoid the spread of worse violence,” the Pope said April 28.

“I am speaking of the blind and brutal violence caused by different factors: sheer desire for power, the arms trade, grave social problems and that religious extremism which uses the Holy Name of God to carry out unprecedented atrocities and injustices.”

Pope Francis spoke to political and civil authorities, including Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, after landing in Cairo for his two-day trip to the country.

The visit will focus largely on interreligious and ecumenical dialogue in a bid to both strengthen Catholic-Muslim relations and support Egypt’s persecuted Coptic community.

After touching down around 2 p.m. local time, the Pope stopped by the prestigious al-Azhar University and adjunct mosque, considered one of the highest authorities in Sunni Islam. There he addressed participants in the International Peace Conference before heading to his meeting with authorities.

In his speech to Egypt’s leaders, Francis voiced his gratitude for the invitation to come, saying that due to the country’s rich cultural and religious history Egypt is the misr um al-dunya, or “mother of the world,” a phrase commonly known by Egyptians.

He commented on how the Holy Family went to Egypt in order to find “refuge and hospitality” after fleeing Herod. This same hospitality, he said, can be felt by the millions of refugees from surrounding countries, including Sudan, Eritrea, Syria, and Iraq, who arrive and integrate into Egyptian society.

“This destiny and role of Egypt are also the reason that led the people to call for an Egypt where no one lacks bread, freedom and social justice,” the Pope said.

Because of this, Egypt has “a singular task, namely, to strengthen and consolidate regional peace even as it is assaulted on its own soil by senseless acts of violence.”

“Such acts of violence have caused unjust suffering to so many families – some of them are present among us – who mourn their sons and daughters,” he said, recalling the many youth, police, and Coptic citizens who have become “nameless victims of various forms of terrorist extremism.”

Among these victims, he said, are those affected by recent violence and threats that have prompted a Christian exodus from northern Sinai, and the death some 45 people killed by bombings in Tanta and Alexandria April 9.

“To the members of their families, and to all of Egypt, I offer my heartfelt condolences and my prayers that the Lord will grant speedy healing to the injured,” he said.

Pope Francis then offered his praise for various national projects aimed at building peace both within Egypt and beyond its borders, saying development, prosperity and peace “are essential goods that merit every sacrifice.”

He also spoke on the importance of keeping one’s focus on the human being above all else, because they are “the heart of all development.”

Pointing to the “fragile and complex” state of today’s world, which he has frequently dubbed a “third world war fought piecemeal,” Francis said a firm condemnation of violence is needed.

“It needs to be clearly stated that no civilized society can be built without repudiating every ideology of evil, violence and extremism that presumes to suppress others and to annihilate diversity by manipulating and profaning the Sacred Name of God,” he said, thanking el-Sisi for clearly speaking out on this.

“All of us have the duty to teach coming generations that God, the Creator of heaven and earth, does not need to be protected by men; indeed, it is he who protects them,” the Pope said, adding that God “never desires the death of his children, but rather their life and happiness.”

“He can neither demand nor justify violence; indeed, he detests and rejects violence.” The true God, he said, “calls to unconditional love, gratuitous pardon, mercy, absolute respect for every life, and fraternity among his children, believers and nonbelievers alike.”

The Pope said it is the duty of everyone, regardless of nation or religion, to unite in proclaiming that “history does not forgive” hypocrites who preach justice but practice injustice, or who talk about equality and then discard others.

“It is our duty to unmask the peddlers of illusions about the afterlife, those who preach hatred in order to rob the simple of their present life and their right to live with dignity, and who exploit others by taking away their ability to choose freely and to believe responsibly.”

Francis stressed that we are bound “to dismantle deadly ideas and extremist ideologies, while upholding the incompatibility of true faith and violence, of God and acts of murder.”

Egypt, which once saved other peoples from famine, is called “to save this beloved region from a famine of love and fraternity,” he said, explaining that this means issuing a harsh condemnation of all violence and terrorism.

By simultaneously building peace and fighting terrorism, Egypt will give proof that al-din lillah wal watan liljami (religion belongs to God and the nation to all), he said, referring to the motto of the nation's 1952 revolution.

As the cradle of the three great monotheistic religions, the region, with the help of Egypt, the Pope said, “can and indeed will awake from the long night of tribulation, and once more radiate the supreme values of justice and fraternity that are the solid foundation and the necessary path to peace.”

“From great nations, one can expect no less!” he said, noting how this year marks the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Egypt.

Pope Francis voiced his hope that these relations will continue to be strengthened, particularly through his visit.

He closed with an appeal for peace, which he said is “a gift of God, but also the work of man” which must be “built up and protected.”

Offering his greetings to the various Christian groups present in Egypt, including Coptic Orthodox, Greek Byzantines, Armenian Orthodox, Protestants, and Catholics, the Pope prayed that St. Mark, who evangelized the region, would intercede for them in helping to establish unity.

“Your presence in this, your country, is not new or accidental, but ancient and an inseparable part of the history of Egypt,” he said. “You have shown, and continue to show, that it is possible to live together in mutual respect and fairness, finding in difference a source of richness and never a motive of conflict.”

Posted: April 28, 2017, 4:14 pm

Cairo, Egypt, Apr 28, 2017 / 09:22 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In his first speech in Egypt on Friday, Pope Francis denounced all forms of violence and hatred, saying that they are blasphemous when carried out in the name of God, or under the pretense of religion.

“Peace alone, therefore, is holy and no act of violence can be perpetrated in the name of God, for it would profane his Name.”

“Together, in the land where heaven and earth meet, this land of covenants between peoples and believers, let us say once more a firm and clear 'No!' to every form of violence, vengeance and hatred carried out in the name of religion or in the name of God,” he said April 28.

Pope Francis spoke to participants of an International Conference on Peace held at al-Azhar University as part of his April 28-29 visit to Cairo. The visit comes as the result of a recent thawing in relations between the Vatican and the university, which had been strained since 2011.

Grand Imam of the Mosque of al Azhar, Sheikh Ahmed Mohamed el-Tayyib, also spoke at the conference. He is considered by some Muslims to be the highest authority the 1.5-billion strong Sunni Muslim world and oversees Egypt’s al-Azhar Mosque and the University attached to it.

In his speech, Francis emphasized the role of religious leaders in ending violence and promoting peace, saying they are called “to unmask the violence that masquerades as purported sanctity” and is based not on “authentic openness” to God, but on selfishness.

“We have an obligation,” he continued, “to denounce violations of human dignity and human rights, to expose attempts to justify every form of hatred in the name of religion, and to condemn these attempts as idolatrous caricatures of God.”

The Pope explained that violence and faith, belief and hatred, are incompatible, asking those present to affirm this with him. “Together let us declare the sacredness of every human life against every form of violence, whether physical, social, educational or psychological,” he said.

Francis reflected on the historical value Egypt has placed on education, saying it is absolutely necessary for the future and the proper education of the next generations that they make decisions based on peace.

“To counter effectively the barbarity of those who foment hatred and violence, we need to accompany young people, helping them on the path to maturity and teaching them to respond to the incendiary logic of evil by patiently working for the growth of goodness,” he said.

In his speech, the Pope illustrated several points with symbolism taken from Mount Sinai, a mountain in Egypt believed to be the site of the biblical Mount Sinai.

Also called the “Mount of the Covenant,” Mount Sinai, he said, “reminds us above all that authentic covenants on earth cannot ignore heaven, that human beings cannot attempt to encounter one another in peace by eliminating God from the horizon, nor can they climb the mountain to appropriate God for themselves (cf. Ex 19:12).”

Mount Sinai is held to be the place where Moses received the Ten Commandments, according to both the Christian and Islamic traditions. At the center of these commandments, the Pope emphasized, “addressed to each individual and to people of all ages” is the command: “Thou shalt not kill.”

“Above all and especially in our day, religions are called to respect this imperative, since…it is essential that we reject any ‘absolutizing’ that would justify violence.  For violence is the negation of every authentic religious expression.”

Pope Francis also called out the increasing move toward secularism in society, saying that abandoning religion is not the answer to fundamentalism – religion itself holds the answer.

We are often caught between relegating religion to the private sphere or – on the other hand – not properly distinguishing between the religious and political. But religion is the antidote to a “banal and uninspired life” that has forgotten the existence of eternity, he said.

But religious faith must be “born of a sincere heart and authentic love towards the Merciful God,” otherwise it does not liberate mankind, but “crushes” it, he warned.

Continuing, Francis praised the cooperation between the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and the Committee of al-Azhar for Dialogue for their work as a “concrete and encouraging example” of dialogue and encounter between different religions and cultures.

“National leaders, institutions and the media are obliged to undertake this urgent and grave task. So too are all of us who play a leading role in culture; each in his or her own area, we are charged by God, by history and by the future to initiate processes of peace, seeking to lay a solid basis for agreements between peoples and states,” he said.

“It is my hope that this noble and beloved land of Egypt, with God’s help, may continue to respond to the calling it has received to be a land of civilization and covenant, and thus to contribute to the development of processes of peace for its beloved people and for the entire region of the Middle East.”

Posted: April 28, 2017, 3:22 pm

Cairo, Egypt, Apr 20, 2017 / 06:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Egyptian police on Sunday arrested 13 people who were planning attacks against Christians and public institutions in the country.

The April 16 arrests take on greater importance as Pope Francis prepares to visit Egypt at the end of the month.

According to Aid to the Church in Need, the arrests of these terrorists reveal “how these extremist groups continue to target the Christian community after the double attack against two churches in Tanta and Alexandria on Palm Sunday.”

The attacks of April 9 which caused the death of 44 Christians and injured more than 100, were claimed by the Islamic State, which led the authorities to implement security measures outside churches.

The attacks made the government decree a state of emergency for three months, to which was joined the decision by some Christians to celebrate discretely Easter Sunday .

Egypt has a population of 92 million people who are mostly Muslim. Christians are about 10 percent of the population, and have been victims of a number of recent attacks and assaults.

Posted: April 20, 2017, 12:08 pm

Cairo, Egypt, Apr 19, 2017 / 04:14 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Gunmen attacked a police checkpoint near an historic Orthodox Christian monastery in Egypt, killing one and wounding four.

The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility, the Associated Press reports.

St. Catherine's Monastery, located in a remote desert and mountainous area of the South Sinai governorate, was built in the sixth century at the foot of Mount Sinai. It is a UNESCO world heritage site and a popular destination for tourists and visitors to the Red Sea.

Militants ascended onto an elevated hilltop overlooking the police checkpoint several hundred meters outside the monastery. Then they opened fire.

Some of the gunmen were wounded when police returned fire, Egypt's Interior Ministry said.

The northern Sinai region is under a state of emergency, with near-daily Islamic State militant attacks on police and security forces. The militants are attacking other parts of Egypt and their tactics are believed likely to inflame sectarian tensions and embarrass President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.

The Islamic State group has vowed more attacks against Christians in Egypt, the Associated Press says.

Pope Francis will visit the country next week. The attacks have increased fears about security ahead of the visit.

Suicide bombers attacked two Egyptian churches on Palm Sunday, killing 45. The Sinai-based Islamic State affiliate claimed credits for the attacks.

In response, President el-Sissi declared a three-month state of emergency and deployed armed forces to help guard important installations and churches across Egypt.

Posted: April 19, 2017, 10:14 pm

Minya, Egypt, Apr 12, 2017 / 03:42 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- After two bomb attacks on worshippers at Coptic Orthodox churches on Sunday, the Coptic Orthodox Archdiocese of Minya has announced it will celebrate Easter without the typical festive accoutrements.

The observance of Easter in the Minya Coptic Orthodox archdiocese will be limited to liturgical services “without any festive manifestations” in mourning for the nearly 45 Coptic Orthodox faithful who were killed in attacks on Sunday, the AP reports.

Two Coptic Orthodox churches were the targets of Islamic State bombings on April 9, Palm Sunday. The attack on St. George's in Tanta, nearly 60 miles north of Cairo, killed 28. Shortly after, another bomb went off outside St. Mark's cathedral in Alexandria, killing 17.

The attacks came only weeks before Pope Francis plans to visit Egypt to promote peace and dialogue between Christians and Muslims in the country. Pope Francis, after celebrating Palm Sunday Mass at St. Peter’s Square, decried the violence and asked God to “convert the hearts of those who sow fear, violence and death, and those who make and traffic arms.” He also expressed solidarity with Tawardos II, the Coptic Orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria.

Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi declared a three-month state of emergency following the attacks.

Sunday’s atrocities follow a months-long spike in anti-Christian violence in Egypt, particularly in the country’s Sinai region.

In December 2016, 29 died in a bombing of a chapel next to St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox cathedral in Cairo, for which the Islamic State claimed responsibility.

Egyptian society was also profoundly shocked by the beheading in Libya of 20 Coptic Orthodox faithful and a companion by Islamic State militants in February 2015.

Posted: April 12, 2017, 9:42 pm

Grand-Bassam, Ivory Coast, Apr 11, 2017 / 05:08 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The regional conference of West African bishops has commended a regional economic union for its efforts to promote peaceful transfers of power, while also noting areas of concern, including religious intolerance and youth unemployment.

The bishops of the Regional Episcopal Conference of West Africa met March 28-31 in Ivory Coast to discuss their role in the prevention, mediation, resolution, and transformation of conflicts.

The conference includes the bishops of 15 countries, covering the Atlantic coast from Mauritania to Nigeria, as well as Cape Verde, Mali, and Burkina Faso.

The bishops sent a message to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) April 4 highlighting ways in which the two organizations can collaborate.

They noted positively the “democratic transfer of power in many of our countries and the relative peace we are witnessing in our region.”

Noting that economic growth has been a boon to their citizens, the bishops added that nevertheless, “we are at pains to observe some significant challenges within our region which need to be addressed.”

The bishops first listed political transition and instability as a concern; several of the nations in West Africa have experienced coups d'etat or civil war in recent years.

“Political transitions of power in some countries are characterised by the disregard for the rule of law, weak institutions, shrinking space for political participation by all, frequent human rights violations and tortures,” the bishops observed.

“We are also worried about political leaders who employ extra-democratic means to remain in power for life, we appeal to our political authorities to respect the democratic tenets of their countries.”

A dangerous level of unemployment for the youth has also raised concern from the bishops. They said a majority of youths in the region are unemployed “and therefore highly exposed to trafficking, drug abuse, violence and forced migrations. As long as they remain without jobs after their graduation and move about in our sub-region, they are easy preys to warlords and political criminals, who may recruit them for violent crimes and terrorism.”

They urged “putting in place appropriate measures and incentives to create gainful employment opportunities for our youth” to reverse this trend.

Turning to religious intolerance and extremism, the bishops stated that “the desire of religious extremist groups to forcefully 'islamise' countries in our region poses a serious threat to the right of every citizen to freely choose and practise the religion of his or her choice.”

Most of the nations in the West African bishops' conference have a majority- or plurality-Muslim population, and some governments or extremist groups have turned to persecution of Christians and other religious groups.

The bishops commended ECOWAS for its recent intervention in The Gambia, whose president of 22 years, Yahya Jammeh, refused to accept the results of a December 2016 election in which he was defeated.

This resulted in a constitutional crisis and a military intervention by ECOWAS to install the newly-elected president.

“We also wish to express our heartfelt gratitude for the efficiency with which you managed the situation in The Gambia,” the bishops wrote. “We congratulate you on the firm position you took … which led to the constitutional transfer of power to the rightfully elected President. With this, you sent a strong and clear signal to all political actors and leaders in our region.”

The bishops also noted that The Gambia had been declared an Islamic Republic by Jammeh in December 2015, but that the new president, Adama Barrow, had reversed this: “we are happy that this matter has been reversed with the current leadership,” they commented. “We strongly appeal that this situation should not be repeated in any country in our region.”

“Whenever government adopts a particular religion as a state religion, the rights of other citizens to freedom of conscience and worship is infringed upon,” the West African bishops wrote.

The bishops also expressed their concern over the herdsmen who have menaced local communities – particularly the Fulani in Nigeria.

“The recurrence of natural and man-made disasters such as floods, storms, desertification, food insecurity, forced migration, and other humanitarian crises related to climate change have become a serious threat to human and animal survival. Of particular concern is the environmental and social havocs wrecked by the herdsmen who move their cattle across communities and national borders in the region,” they wrote.

“These herdsmen, often armed with dangerous weapons, are associated with rape, murder, destruction of farms, kidnaping and conflicts. While there is freedom of movement of people and goods in our region, we appeal to our authorities to effectively address this particularly destructive activity.”

The bishops concluded by reminding ECOWAS that they are willing to mediate in “governance and political issues” that may arise in the region.

They have created liaison offices with national parliaments, and “monitor public policies and their implementation in order to promote good governance and the common good in public affairs.”


Posted: April 11, 2017, 11:08 pm

Juba, South Sudan, Apr 11, 2017 / 12:29 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The president of the Sudanese Catholic Bishops’ Conference called on leaders in South Sudan’s Bahr El Ghazal region to fight segregation and division, uniting to work for peace in the violence-ridden country.

Achieving peace, said Bishop Barani Eduardo Hiiboro Kussala of Tombura-Yambio, “demands of all of us that we act with real respect for human life. It demands that those who still sponsor anger, hate, segregation and violence against one another end such meaningless projects or ideas.”

On April 6, Bishop Kussala published “An Open Letter of Hope and Peace to the Elders of Greater Bahr El Ghazal.”

His letter marked one month since the death of Bishop Rudolf Deng Majak of the Catholic diocese of Wau, which is part of the Bahr El Ghazal region of South Sudan. The 76-year-old bishop died March 6 at a relative’s house in Siegburg, Germany, where he was awaiting an operation that had been scheduled for the following week.

“The wound inflicted by his death remains deep and raw and so, as we pray for him, we carry in prayer those for whom his death has left a painful void,” Bishop Kussala said.

He appealed to the elders of the greater Bahr El Ghazal area to work for peace and alleviate suffering in Bishop Deng’s memory.

“The best gift we can give him forever is being part of the reconstruction, reconciliation, and reintegration, regeneration of our country, ravaged by the war waged by us and against ourselves.”

Working to change the spiral of suffering, revenge killings, hatred and displacement is a difficult task, Bishop Kussala acknowledged.

“It demands new initiatives to move Greater Bahr El Ghazal and our country forward to freedom as quickly as possible. With this letter I am indeed consulting leaders of civil society, religious leaders, community organizations, business, cultural and other leaders in Greater Bahr El Ghazal to seize an opportunity on such initiatives.”

South Sudan has been embroiled in civil war since December 2013, when South Sudan's President Salva Kiir accused his former deputy, Riek Machar, of attempting a coup. The war has been fought between their supporters, largely along ethnic lines, and peace agreements have been short-lived.

The conflict has created more than 2.5 million refugees. At present some 4.5 million people face severe food insecurity, a number expected to rise one million by July.

“At the core of the crisis within South Sudan’s war-affected communities and regions is the desire to acquire power and secure resources for one group of elites or one ethno-national group at the expense of others,” Bishop Kussala said.

This has created tension and division, and “has undermined the social fabric of our society or nation,” even affecting neighboring countries as refugees seeking the escape the conflict flee to other nations.

“In all of these cases, violence has led to the breakdown of our beloved homes,” Bishop Kussala continued. “Human lives have been lost. Infrastructure has been destroyed, education and health services have suffered, and the environment has been damaged. The ties that link people together…have been broken, social solidarity has collapsed and political tension has been highly generated.”

These conflicts arise from self-interested elites who take advantage of past divisions, the bishop said. However, peace is possible, as evidence by the “relative peace, development and economic growth after our national independence shortly in 2011.”

In an efforts to restore this stability, Bishop Kussala called on the elders of Greater Bahr El Ghazal to “engage all stakeholders” in seeking peace, allowing for dialogue and supporting genuine efforts aimed at reconciliation and healing.

He urged the elders to publically and unequivocally condemn revenge killings, violence against civilians and the use of hate speech which fosters tribal division.

In addition, he said, they should “call urgently for immediate robust humanitarian intervention for the starving people in and outside Wau,” pushing for roads to be opened to aid workers delivering food for the hungry population.

Efforts are needed both to prevent further killings and to foster reconciliation and healing in society, the bishop said. He also recommended an independent investigation into atrocities against the community, in order to hold perpetrators accountable.

In solving these problems, it is important to remember the role of culture, Bishop Kussala said.

“People derive their sense of meaning from their culture…Cultural attitudes and values…provide the foundation for the social norms by which you as a people exist and live,” he noted. “Through internalizing and sharing these cultural attitudes and values with fellow community members, and by handing them down to future generations, societies can – and do – re-construct themselves on the basis of a particular cultural image.”

Achieving peace in Wau State will require an acknowledgement of wrongdoing, repentance and an offering of forgiveness, the bishop said. It will also require “a way for members of these communities to ‘re-inform’ themselves of their rich history of co-existence with a cultural logic that emphasizes sharing and equitable resource distribution.”

“The people of Greater Bahr El Ghazal should draw their strength from each other as one people,” he emphasized. “You have common humanity, heritage, history and you are socially interwoven.”

“For Wau State to live and prosper, we must come together!”



Posted: April 11, 2017, 6:29 am

Washington D.C., Apr 10, 2017 / 11:38 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Following the murder of Christians in Egypt through two bombings during Palm Sunday liturgies, bishops around the world joined Pope Francis in prayer.

“We also pray for our Coptic Orthodox sisters and brothers who continue to be resilient in the face of ongoing and escalating attacks, and who resist the urge to react vengefully or reciprocally,” said Bishop Angaelos, general bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom.

Two Egyptian Coptic Orthodox churches in Alexandria and Tanta, in the north of the country, were bombed during their Palm Sunday services. The attacks killed at least 44 and injured more than 100, Reuters reported. ISIS has claimed responsibility for the bombings.

In Tanta, an explosion rocked Mar Gerges Coptic Orthodox church during the Palm Sunday liturgy. A state investigation said it was a suicide bombing. A bomb had been found and disabled at the church a week before, a police official told Reuters.

Shortly afterward, a suicide bomber rushed the outside of the Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Alexandria where Tawadros II, Patriarch of the See of St. Mark, was celebrating the liturgy, and detonated his explosives. Security details had reportedly been placed outside of both churches.

The attacks came only weeks before Pope Francis plans to visit Egypt to promote peace and dialogue between Christians and Muslims in the country. Pope Francis, after celebrating Palm Sunday Mass at St. Peter’s Square, decried the violence and asked God to “convert the hearts of those who sow fear, violence and death, and those who make and traffic arms.” He also expressed solidarity with Tawardos II.

Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi declared a state of emergency in Egypt following the attacks. Sunday’s atrocities follow a months-long spike in anti-Christian violence in Egypt, particularly in the country’s Sinai region.

In December, 29 died in a bombing of a chapel next to St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox cathedral in Cairo, where ISIS took credit for the attack.

Then several Christians were attacked and killed in their homes and villages by ISIS affiliates in the Sinai region in the following months. Hundreds fled their homes as a result of the violence. In total, 40 were reported killed in the bombing and in the ensuing three months.

The advocacy group In Defense of Christians voiced their “solidarity with Egypt, particularly Egypt’s Christian community,” and senior advisor Andrew Doran stated that “we call on Egypt's government to use all necessary means to make places of worship in Egypt safe, especially those systematically targeted by terrorists.”

Bishops in the U.S. also condemned the bombings and declared their solidarity with Christians in Egypt.

“They were at Church. They were praying. And in the midst of what should be peace, horrible violence yet again,” Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Houston-Galveston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said Sunday.

“Our Holy Father has pointed out – and it’s something that the statisticians have pointed out in recent years – that there are more Christians dying for the faith today than ever happened under the Roman authorities at the time of the pagan empire,” Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C. said at the end of Palm Sunday Mass at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington.

Ultimately, the greatest thing Christians can do for their brothers and sisters in Egypt is pray, especially during Holy Week, the bishops said.

“May Our Lady, Queen of Peace, intercede for us as we pray for an end to all violence,” Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington reflected on Sunday.

“So I would ask you today, and during this Holy Week when you are lifting up your hearts in prayer, to remember them [the Coptic Christians],” Cardinal Wuerl emphasized.

“They have no voice. They have no one to speak for them. They have no one to stand up for them. But we can at least remember them as part of the Body of Christ being crucified in our day today. We pray for them.”

Cardinal DiNardo joined in Pope Francis’s prayers for the victims, the perpetrators, and those trafficking in weapons.

“I also pray for the nation of Egypt, that it may seek justice, find healing, and strengthen protection for Coptic Christians and other religious minorities who wish only to live in peace,” he said.

Bishop Angaelos viewed the suffering of Egypt’s Christians through the mysteries of Holy Week and Easter Sunday

“As we celebrate Palm Sunday today and Christ’s entry into Jerusalem, we now also mark the entry of those who have passed today into the heavenly Jerusalem,” he said of the bombings. “As we continue into the Holy Week of our Savior, we share in the pain and heartbreak of their families and of all those affected by today’s incidents.”

“As we celebrate the Feast of the glorious Resurrection at the end of this week, we are reminded that our life here on earth is a journey often filled with pain, at the end of which is a promised glorious and eternal life void of such suffering and evil.”


Posted: April 10, 2017, 5:38 pm

Pretoria, South Africa, Apr 10, 2017 / 10:39 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The bishops of South Africa have called on the country's embattled president, Jacob Zuma, to consider stepping down as part of an effort to fight corruption.

Marches protesting Zuma have been held across cities in South Africa after he reshuffled his cabinet, replacing a respected finance minister at the end of March, which resulted in the country's credit rating being cut to junk status by S&P.

The sacked minister, Pravin Gordhan, is regarded as an opponent of government corruption.

“We respectfully remind President Zuma that he has been elected to serve all South Africans,” read the April 4 letter from the South African bishops' conference, signed by Archbishop Stephen Brislin of Cape Town.

“It appears that he has lost the confidence of many of his own closest colleagues, as well as that of numerous civil society organisations. He should earnestly reconsider his position, and not be afraid to act with courage and humility in the nation’s best interests.”

However, the bishops' letter also noted that while they “noted and respect” the calls for Zuma to resign, “such as step would not in itself be a complete solution, as corruption at every level must to be rooted out.”

Zuma has been South Africa's president since 2009, and his term of office is not due to end until 2019. He is also leader of the African National Congress, which has ruled the country since 1994.

Though some elements in the ANC, as well as several of its allied parties, are calling on Zuma to resign, the party's National Working Committee has reiterated its support for him.

In their April 4 statement, the bishops wrote that “the leadership of the ANC must make serious and strenuous efforts to end corruption and patronage at all levels of governance.”

“In the present state of anxiety and uncertainty it is of utmost importance that Parliament be reconvened urgently. There is an enormous obligation on our public representatives … to exercise their duty of holding the Executive arm of government to account.”

“We hope that Membersof Parliament will be guided by the welfare of our country and its people, and not by narrow loyalties or factional interests,” they added.

The bishops concluded by stating: “We have confidence in the leaders of the two noble institutions, Parliament and the ANC, and we trust that they will rise to the occasion and give decisive, fearless and honest leadership.”

Posted: April 10, 2017, 4:39 pm

Bamako, Mali, Apr 7, 2017 / 06:14 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Four people have been arrested in Mali in connection with the February kidnapping of a nun who remains missing.

According to the Associated Press, a judge in the country charged four individuals this week.

Sister Cecilia Argoti Narvaez was originally from Colombia but worked in Mali until she was kidnapped earlier this year. Her fate is still unknown.

Armed men kidnapped Sr. Cecilia in the southern Mali city of Karangasso on February 7th. The men forced Sister Cecilia to hand over the keys to the community’s ambulance. The vehicle was later found abandoned. Three other sisters were present at their house but escaped.

A member of the Franciscan Sisters of Mary Immaculate, Sr. Cecilia had served in Mali for 12 years. Her community administers a large health center in the country, as well as a home where they care for some 30 orphans between one and two years of age.

The religious sisters teach literacy to some 700 Muslim women. They are working on a barn project for times of food shortages, as many mothers in the region die from malnutrition.

Earlier this month, the Catholic bishops of Mali asked the general public to help secure Sr. Cecilia’s release.

“We are exploring all possible paths to obtain Sister Cecilia’s release and are calling upon the faithful to keep praying for her,” said Father Edmond Dembele, secretary general of the Episcopal Conference of Mali, according to Fides news agency.

Fr. Dembele appealed to anyone with information about the kidnappers to contact authorities.

“Some people believe that bandits in the area kidnapped the sister in the hope of getting a ransom, and now do not know how to handle the situation,” he said. “Others believe jihadists kidnapped her.”

While jihadist groups like Al Qaida operate in the north of Mali, Karangasso is far removed from their typical area of operations.



Posted: April 7, 2017, 12:14 pm

Aleppo, Syria, Apr 6, 2017 / 02:53 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The attitude of Christians in Aleppo seems to have improved since Syrian government forces re-took the city, and they believe the prayers of Christians abroad have helped them, one religious sister reports.

Sister Maria Sponsa Iusti Ioseph, a native of Peru, told CNA that the Christians in Aleppo have received with love the words of Pope Francis.

When government forces took the city from rebels in December, the sisters told the faithful “that the Holy Father is praying for us and a lot of people in the world are too.”

“They really appreciate that and they feel protected by the prayers of Christians,” Sister Maria Sponsa said. “At the same time they feel very happy because they know that their suffering is not in vain, but it helps the people in the West. If they know that there are conversions because of that offering, that gives them a lot of strength to go on.”

The sister is a religious of the Institute of the Incarnate Word who lives in the city of Aleppo, which was taken from rebels in December 2016. She recounted how Christians have lived in the last four months.

The Christians in Aleppo attend Mass frequently. Before Mass, they pray a Rosary for peace.

“Once a month a Eucharist is celebrated for the deceased in the Cathedral of the Child Jesus,” Sister Maria Sponsa said. “Now thanks be to God, the Christian cemetery has been recovered—it was controlled by the rebels. Christians can visit their dead again and bring over bodies interred elsewhere for burial there.”

Sister María Sponsa said that the people’s attitude has improved since the government's capture of the city. This change was noticeable during Christmas.

“We saw that people were walking happily down the street. Their faces were completely changed,” she said. “Even though they are usually very cheerful, you could notice another kind of joy. It was like a respite.”

“Some of the window lights were lit up and the churches had also decorated their domes with lights. They even set up a Christmas tree in the street.”

During previous Christmases since the civil war began, “there were no lights in the windows, nor were there churches decorated with lights, nor was there any Christmas atmosphere.”

“When we visited the people we would ask them if they had set up a manger scene, but they didn't want to have one because it brought back memories for them,” Sister Maria Sponsa reported. “Before the war they lived so happily, they shared the holidays with their families. And so it was depressing for them to put out those things that represented those memories in the midst of a difficult situation.”

However, for the 2016 holidays some people put out their decorations again.

The religious sister also stressed that the suffering caused by shortages in the city, such as water, food and shelter, has resulted in Christian and Muslim neighbors working together to survive.

“Today we all share the same lot. Everyone is suffering because of this situation. They help each other out. The people of Aleppo are very respectful and very open, thanks be to God,” she said. “That makes it easier for good relationships among everyone.”

Sister María Sponsa said that the home of the Incarnate Word sisters in Aleppo is open to anyone who wants to visit them.

“People like to come to the house. And so we have little get-togethers, have a little coffee,” she said. “We even have coffee with the people after Sunday Mass. They enjoy it. They talk with us and get a little relief from the situation they're going through.”

For Sister Maria Sponsa, Syrians “express affection very differently from Latinos.”

“It seems to me they're much warmer,” she said. “For example after five minutes they say ‘I miss you.’ When they know you well they call you and ask how you're doing.”

“There, you hardly come into a house and they don’t ask you if you’re going to have coffee. They say, ‘with or without sugar?’  They talk with you for five minutes and then they give you the coffee,” she commented.

The Franciscans and the Salesians usually prepare the Christian children, youths and adults to receive the sacraments for the first time.

The religious  sister said that every Thursday the sisters get together with the young college students they welcome into their home.

“We talk, we give them a little doctrine, sometimes we watch movies and play board games,” she said. “For them it’s a time of fun and distraction. They’re always waiting for it to be Thursday so we can get together.”

They also organize a co-ed gathering once a month, since the men live with the priests of the same institute.

“When we can take a little walk, we go to the park, although it's not that safe. We watch movies with them or we invite them.”

The Syrian civil war began in March 2011 with demonstrations against the nation's president, Bashar al-Assad. The war has claimed the lives of more than 320,000 people, and forced 4.8 million to become refugees. Another 8 million Syrians are believed to have been internally displaced by the violence.

Posted: April 6, 2017, 8:53 pm

Bamako, Mali, Apr 2, 2017 / 04:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Catholic bishops of Mali are asking the general public to help secure the release of a nun who was kidnapped in the country February 7th.

Sister Cecilia Argoti Narvaez was originally from Colombia but worked in Mali until she was kidnapped earlier this year. Her fate is still unknown.

“We are exploring all possible paths to obtain Sister Cecilia’s release and are calling upon the faithful to keep praying for her,” said Father Edmond Dembele, secretary general of the Episcopal Conference of Mali, according to Fides news agency.

Sr. Cecilia, a member of the Franciscan Sisters of Mary Immaculate, has served in Mali for 12 years. Her community administers a large health center in the country, as well as a home where they care for some 30 orphans between one and two years of age.

Armed men kidnapped Sr. Cecilia in the southern Mali city of Karangasso. The men forced Sister Cecilia to hand over the keys to the community’s ambulance. The vehicle was later found abandoned. Three other sisters were present at their house but escaped.

Fr. Dembele appealed to anyone with information about the kidnappers to contact authorities.

“Some people believe that bandits in the area kidnapped the sister in the hope of getting a ransom, and now do not know how to handle the situation,” he said. “Others believe jihadists kidnapped her.”

While jihadist groups like Al Qaida operate in the north of Mali, Karangasso is far removed from their typical area of operations.

Fr. Dembele asked the public and the media to help make contact with her kidnappers. The Diocese of Karangasso is also seeking any intermediaries with the kidnappers.

Sr. Cecilia and her fellow sisters teach literacy to some 700 Muslim women. They were working on a barn project for times of food shortages, as many mothers in the region die from malnutrition.


Posted: April 2, 2017, 10:01 pm

Jerusalem, Mar 31, 2017 / 03:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Having just undergone an extensive restoration, the site of Jesus' tomb at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is at risk for significant structural failure if nothing is done to reinforce its foundations, scientists have said.

"When it fails, the failure will not be a slow process, but catastrophic," Antonia Moropoulou, chief scientific supervisor with the National Technical University of Athens, told National Geographic in an exclusive interview.

A team of scientists with NTUA just recently completed a year-long restoration of the site believed to be the tomb of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem. National Geographic has been extensively covering the restoration process.  

During the restoration process, the team of scientists determined that The Edicule (Latin for "little house"), a small shrine within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre that encloses Jesus’ tomb, was resting on an unstable foundation of tunnels, channels, rubble and crumbling foundation mortar.  

According to the Gospels, the body of Christ was laid in a new tomb hewn out of rock, in which no one had ever been buried. The Gospel of Mark details that the women who went to the tomb to anoint Christ's body instead found that he had risen.

Veneration of Christ's burial place dates back to St. Helena in the fourth century, who discovered and identified the tomb. St. Helena’s son, Emperor Constantine, built the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in 326 and enshrined the tomb.

The shelf on which Christ's body was laid is the central point of veneration, which has been encapsulated by a 3-by-5 foot marble structure - the Edicule - since at least 1555.

Part of the reason for the unstable foundation is because the site was built on the remains of a limestone quarry that was once used to house tombs of upper class Jews.

Throughout the early history of the Christian church, various shrines surrounding the tomb of Jesus were built and subsequently destroyed, depending on who was in power.

The Edicule and the surrounding rotunda of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, complete with massive 22-ton pillars, rests on this unstable foundation of rubble and tunnels today. The site sees nearly 4 million visitors a year.  

While the structural integrity of the site has been a concern for almost 100 years, National Geographic reports, disputes between the three main Christian groups that control the site - the Greek Orthodox and Armenian Patriarchates of Jerusalem and the Roman Catholic Franciscan Custos of the Holy Land - and a lack of funds prevented much restoration progress from being made.

Now, scientists are working with Church authorities to determine the best plan for restoration work on the foundation, which is estimated to cost 6 million euro and would take about 10 months.
Archeologists are also hoping to take advantage of the process, which would expose important archeological sites for the first time in centuries.

Scientists on the restoration team with NTUA are compiling the latest data into a report, which will be given to Church authorities of the three main Christian groups, who must reach an agreement before the process moves forward.

"This work is a collective work," Moropoulou said. "It doesn’t belong to us, it belongs to all humanity."

Posted: March 31, 2017, 9:02 am
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