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Catholic monks part of a secret mission to Islamic treasures

Posted by: Katie Loftus   🕔 Sunday 24, April 2016 Categories: Ecumenism,Church History,Scripture,Consecrated Life

The Benedictine Monks of St. John's Abbey in Collegeville, MN, led by Fr. Columba Steward, O.S.B. and the staff at the Hill Museum and Manuscript Libray, are helping to preserve precious Islamic literary works that were threatened with destruction by militants in Mali, reports The Economist.

The secret evacuations began at night. Ancient books were packed in small metal shoe-lockers and loaded three or four to a car to reduce the danger to the driver and minimise possible losses. The manuscript-traffickers passed through the checkpoints of their Islamist occupiers on the journey south across the desert from Timbuktu to Bamako. Later, when that road was blocked, they transported their cargo down the Niger river by canoe. 

The man behind the project was Abdel Kader Haidara. In 2013 he put out a request for help to digitize the more than 370,000 manuscripts, including Korans, Hadiths, and studies on grammar and rhetoric, that were brought to safe houses. He received an answer from a monastery on the other side of the world.

Father Columba sees digitizing these sacred texts as part of the Benedictine tradition of literary preservation dating from the sixth century when St. Benedict of Nursia set down his Rule. “We had scriptoria for very practical reasons,” referring to the “writing places” of medieval European monasteries. “You can’t do theology without philosophy,” he says, standing in his own 21st-century equivalent. “You can’t try to be a self-sustaining monastery if you can’t take science seriously.” So, as a policy, any relevant text was copied. Over one and a half millennia, knowledge has been a matter of survival for the Benedictines, allowing one collective to pick up where another left off, in low times and in high. Today, thanks to machines, the library is copying more efficiently.

“Benedictines are fundamentally optimistic about the human project, says Fr. Columba. "That’s why we’re not frightened by science or novelty. When people look at what we’re doing with Muslim communities, they say, why do you do this? I say, this is the time God has given us. We can’t pretend we live in the sixth century when Benedict wrote his rule, or the 13th, or the 1950s. We live now. And part of the reality is cultures which are threatened trying to figure out how to work together on this fragile planet.” 

And so, "guided by a Christian teacher from the sixth century, monks of the 21st century archive texts about an Arabian prophet from the seventh." 

Contemplative nuns subject of Oscar-nominated short film

Posted by: Siobhan O'Neill Meluso   🕔 Wednesday 24, February 2016 Categories: Catholic culture,Ecumenism

"Ave Maria" is one of five live-action short films nominated for the Academy Award this year and is getting great reviews from religious sisters, as well as from Jewish and Palestinian Arab and Christian audiences, according to The Global Sisters Report. This 14-minute comedy of errors combines the unlikely encounter between contemplative Carmelite nuns who live a vow of silence and a family of Jewish settlers whose car breaks down in front of the convent in the Palestinian West Bank. The Jewish settlers are struggling to adhere to the Sabbath laws while the sisters are attempting to help repair the car with no verbal communication.

Palestinian-British director Basil Khalil wanted to highlight in the film that sometimes "strict rules can be broken for the common good. ... It won't be the end of the world when you reach out to help someone in need, even though you might have to break a rule or two."

Learn more about the Carmelite order here.

Anjara, Jordan: a haven for pilgrims, poor, and religious co-existence

Posted by: Jennifer Tomshack   🕔 Thursday 05, November 2015 Categories: Ecumenism,Mission & Evangelization,Mary and the Saints,Consecrated Life

Jesus, his mother, and his disciples once passed through the ancient town of Anjara, located in Jordan in the hills east of the Jordan River Valley, and rested there in a cave, where now stands the Church of Our Lady of the Mount, a site of Christian pilgrimage and an example of community between Christians and Muslims in the area.

The pastor, Father Hugo Fabian, 46, is Argentinian but has lived in the Middle East for 18 years, including in Egypt and Syria. He is fluent in Arabic and has studied Islam. A priest of the Religious Family of the Incarnate Word (IVE), he has worked in Anjara for the past decade.

“Thank God we are able to help many families in Anjara because so many of them need help,” Father Fabian said.

Anjara, population 20,000, is a particularly poor town, even for the poor country of Jordan. The parish’s weekly collection is about $50. The church and its school and mission are largely supported by Arab Christians in the United States and by donations from pilgrims who visit the shrine. And the parish has much to support.

There are about 220 students at the school, about half are Christian and half are Muslim. As part of the comprehensive curriculum, classes in Islam are taught to the Muslim students and catechism is taught to the Christian students. All are taught religious tolerance.

Of the king of Jordan, Abdullah II, Father Fabian said, “Thank God we have this open-minded man,” who promotes religious acceptance of the minority Christian population in this predominantly Muslim country.

The parish also runs a mission that takes in children of all ages and religions, who are in need of refuge for a variety of reasons including poverty and problems at home, providing them with food, clothing, shelter, and education. The mission regularly has about 30 kids in its care. Additionally, the church ministers to prisoners and prostitutes. And it wants to do more, including housing and other support for Syrian refugees.

In this place that is a sign that love and unity is possible among all people, a miracle occurred. On May 6, 2010, the statue of Our Lady of the Mount wept tears of human blood. Many believe the tears showed her sorrowful solidarity with the poor of Anjara. "The Virgin Mary cries with us and for us,” Father Fabian said.

There are 250 families in the parish, served by three priests and seven sisters, who belong to the Religious Family of the Incarnate Word, founded in Argentina in 1984. The order has missionaries all over the world and began working in Jordan in 2004.

Pope to visit Sri Lanka and the Philippines

Posted by: Siobhan O'Neill Meluso   🕔 Monday 12, January 2015 Categories: Ecumenism,Mission & Evangelization
 Excitement builds for the pope's second trip to Asia.

For his second trip to Asia and his seventh apostolic journey, Pope Francis will visit Sri Lanka and the Philippines this week, according to news reports.

While in Sri Lanka, the pope will canonize Blessed Joseph Vaz, a 17th-century South Asian priest who established missions in Sri Lanka. In the Philippines, the pope's emphasis will be comforting the victims of natural disasters that have struck this area hard recently.

According to Reuters, Pope Francis' trip to Asia will focus on the pope's "concern for inter-religious dialogue, poverty, and the environment." In fact, "the Vatican says Francis, who is preparing an encyclical on the environment, will speak about the issue several times."

The Archdiocese of Colombo in Sri Lanka has posted the pope's full itinerary online and will live telecast the pope's visit there. is the official web site of Pope Francis' 2015 visit to the Philippines, which includes the full interary, resources, and press releases.

Religious leaders sign joint declaration to end slavery

Posted by: Siobhan O'Neill Meluso   🕔 Friday 05, December 2014 Categories: Ecumenism

On Dec. 2, the United Nations' Day for the Abolition of Slavery, Pope Francis and 11 leaders representing the Muslim, Jewish, Orthodox, Anglican, Buddhist, and Hindu faiths met and made a united commitment to help eradicate slavery worldwide.

According to Catholic News Service, the leaders signed the joint declaration at the headquarters of Pontifical Academy of Sciences in the Vatican Gardens. The signatories included Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury; Rabbi David Rosen, international director of interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Committee; Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi al-Modarresi, an influential Shiite scholar; and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople.

The declaration recognized that any action that fails to respect every person's freedom and dignity is a crime against humanity. "We pledge ourselves here today to do all in our power, within our faith communities and beyond, to work together for the freedom of all those who are enslaved and trafficked so that their future may be restored," it said.

"We cannot tolerate that the image of the living God [present in every human being] is subjected to this most abominable form of trafficking," Pope Francis said.

The pope asked that people of faith join together in the fight to end slavery and he called for the "steadfast support" of the world's governments, businesses, and people of good will to "join this movement."

Catholic priest protects Muslims in Africa

Posted by: Siobhan O'Neill Meluso   🕔 Monday 17, November 2014 Categories: Ecumenism

Camillian priest Fr. Bernard Kinvi, OSCAM, is saving the lives of Muslims by sheltering them in the Catholic mission hospital he directs in Bossemptele, Central African Republic (CAR), according to The Guardian.

Since March 2013, this former French colony has been experiencing what is described by one United Nations official as "a massive ethnic-religious cleansing."

“It wasn’t a decision; it was just something that happened,” Kinvi says. “As a priest, I cannot support the killing of a man. We’re all human: religion doesn’t come into it...I don’t care who you are or what you do with your life or what your religion is, you are a human being and I will treat you.”

Kinvi was called to serve the church as a 16-year-old in his native Togo. After nursing his father through a long illness, he decided to join the Camillians, who minister to the sick. “When I became a priest, I undertook to serve the sick, even if it meant putting my life in danger,” he says. “I said that, but I didn’t really know what it meant. But when the war came, I understood what it means to risk your life. Being a priest is about more than giving blessings; it’s about standing with those who have lost everything.”

Kinvi’s efforts to protect the Muslims of Bossemptele have been recognised by the international NGO Human Rights Watch, which recently bestowed on him its Alison Des Forges award, which honors “people of valour who have put their lives on the line to create a world free from abuse, discrimination and oppression."

“I thirst for peace in CAR,” Kinvi says. “I want to see people able to move around safely like in any other country. I want to see my Muslim brothers, who have lost everything, return to their homes. It’s their country and they need to be back home.”

Pope Francis heads to the Holy Land

Posted by: Siobhan O'Neill Meluso   🕔 Wednesday 21, May 2014 Categories: Ecumenism
POPE FRANCIS will visit the Holy Land
May 24-26, 2014.

I remember my sacred Holy Land trip from 2008 often. The day after Easter I was given the wonderful opportunity to embark on a pilgrimage as a Catholic educator with other instructors hosted by the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. Because of the beautiful interfaith discussions and subsequent friendships that blossomed, my trip to Israel still ranks number one. The overwhelming tug of my faith heart strings still feels fresh with each step through the plush green hills of the Galilee to the cobbled crowded arcades of the old city of Jerusalem.

I can't help but feel nostalgia as Pope Francis begins his journey to the Holy Land. The pilgrimage experience, particularly to the Holy Land, is something every Christian should experience once in their lifetime.

Read the official itinerary of Pope Francis' visit to the Holy Land here.

As NPR reports

In an unprecedented move, Francis asked two friends from Argentina to accompany him to the Holy Land, Rabbi Abraham Skorka and Islamic studies professor Omar Abboud.

Francis will pray with Syrian refugees in Jordan on Saturday. He'll then travel to Bethlehem, Jesus' birthplace in the Palestinian territories. Finally, he'll visit Jerusalem.

"He'll also commemorate the 50th anniversary of a historic rapprochement between the Catholic and Orthodox churches. And he'll appeal for an end to the Christian exodus from the Middle East, where more and more Christians are dying in recent conflicts.



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