Christian exodus from Holy Land is an old story with new urgency

Pope Benedict XVI waves to journalists as he takes in the panoramic view from Mount Nebo In Madaba, Jordan, May 9.  (CNS/Greg Tarczynski)

Pope Benedict XVI waves to journalists as he takes in the panoramic view from Mount Nebo In Madaba, Jordan, May 9. (CNS/Greg Tarczynski)

During Pope Benedict XVI’s apostolic trip to the Holy Land earlier this month, the pope time and again encouraged the small communities of Christians living there to remain faithful to their ancient beliefs and to their homeland. Both are serious pleas, but the latter especially so in these times. The flight of Christians from the Middle East has been a serious problem for decades. Christians, who have shared the Levant with Jews, Muslims and Druze for centuries, and were once the majority religious group in Lebanon, are now a dwindling minority in every region of the Middle East. The phenomenon was a considerable part of the CNS coverage of the trip.

The cover story of this month’s National Geographic is on the exodus of Christians from the Holy Land. Don Belt, the senior editor for foreign affairs, teamed up with photojournalist Ed Kashi to tell a bittersweet story in words and images on the “Forgotten Faithful” in the Levant. Their work illustrates the turbulent history of Christianity in these lands and the hope — and sometimes hopelessness — that fill the lives of the Christian families.

35-3-cover-315x450The Catholic Near East Welfare Association is a pontifical agency founded early in the last century to assist the Eastern Catholic churches and their works, especially in the Middle East. In this month’s issue of CNEWA’s One magazine, writer Daoud Kuttab and photographer Nader Daoud take a look at how one community of Christians, St. Pius X parish in Madaba, Jordan, works for peace among all peoples in their country.

Madaba is an ancient town outside of the Jordanian capital of Amman which Jewish and Christian tradition holds as the site where Moses was buried. In his trip Pope Benedict visited the town and blessed the cornerstone of a new Catholic university, the first in Jordan, being built by the Latin Patriarchate with the support of King Abdullah and the Jordanian government.

Even as Christians depart the Middle East in record numbers, the work of the church goes on.

Saying a prayer for maritime workers

Today is the National Day of Prayer and Remembrance for Mariners and People of the Sea.

The day was established by the U.S. bishops in November 2005 to encourage U.S. Catholics to support, pray and remember those who work in the maritime world. Recent stories about piracy remind us all how dangerous that work can be.

Today’s observance also highlights the Catholic Church’s Apostleship of the Sea ministry. The apostleship is a worldwide Catholic ministry that provides spiritual help and practical assistance to seafarers, their families  and all people of the sea. According to the U.S. bishops’ conference, there are apostleship chaplains and their ministry teams in 49 dioceses in 61 maritime posts. 

Bishop J. Kevin Boland of Savannah, Ga.,  promoter of the apostleship, called on all dioceses to mark the special day of prayer “for the well-being and safety of maritime personnel, the vital role maritime workers play in the transport of goods by the waterways and the lives that have been lost at sea.”

The day of prayer falls on the National Maritime Day observance, which commemorates the first transatlantic crossing by the steamship Savannah in 1819.

2009 graduates ready for any storm

No one needed to give the 2009 graduating class from Xavier University of Louisiana and Loyola University New Orleans advice about weathering storms.

The students, who started their freshman year just days before Hurricane Katrina ripped through New Orleans, were scattered across the country as “The Big Easy” remained underwater and struggled to get back on its feet.

When classes finally resumed, many of the college students returned and now live to tell the tale of Katrina survival.

Xavier’s senior class aptly took the theme “From Storm to Stage” for their graduating year. At Loyola University’s May 9 graduation, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal told graduates to wear the moniker “Katrina class” with pride because it speaks of their determination, endurance and commitment.