Meeting with Holocaust survivors — in living rooms

Holocaust survivor Eliezer Rozenman speaks to a class of middle school students in Tel Aviv April 15, the eve of Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day. The students met with Rozenman in the living room of a classmate, as part of the Zikaronbasalon (Memories at Home) project, which “offers the possibility to listen, think, talk, feel, and connect with the memories of survivors, as well as to ponder the challenges facing (students) today.” (CNS/Mary Knight)

Holocaust survivor Eliezer Rozenman speaks to a class of middle school students in Tel Aviv April 15, the eve of Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day. The students met with Rozenman in the living room of a classmate, as part of the Zikaronbasalon (Memories at Home) project, which “offers the possibility to listen, think, talk, feel, and connect with the memories of survivors, as well as to ponder the challenges facing (students) today.” (CNS/Mary Knight)

By Mary Knight

TEL AVIV — A variation on the serious theme of Holocaust testimony has brought survivors and young Israeli students together in living rooms to celebrate life while remembering atrocities.

Coordinated by Zikaronbasalon, Memories at Home, hundreds of small groups gathered in their living rooms to have meaningful and vibrant conversations on Holocaust Remembrance Day, April 15.

The average age of Holocaust survivors living in Israel is 83, and approximately 40 survivors die each day, according to a report just released by the Foundation for the Benefit of Holocaust Victims in Israel.

The soon-to-be absence of survivors, due to mortality rates, prompted founders Adi Altschuler and her husband Nadav Embon to reflect on the future and relevance of traditional Holocaust commemorations. Wanting to shape a social gathering around living memories, they began a discussion in their own living room, inviting friends and survivor Hannah Bergman. They didn’t know who would show, but in the end, so many friends came that they spilled out onto the balcony. Someone played music, others brought beer and bourekas (savory pastries), and all discussed life-after-pogrom.

On this year’s Hashoah, some 3,000 alternative Holocaust commemorations took place in Israel, among them, Zikaronbasalon. The get-togethers for students are organized into parts — the story of the Holocaust victim, songs and diversions, conversation and questions.

The gathering I attended was in the home of a therapist who has a seventh grader. Approximately 25 schoolchildren joined in, as lively and noisy as 12-year-olds can be. They listened to survivor Eli Rozenman, 73, who was 2 when his mother fled Poland during World War II and remained on the run throughout the forests of southeast Poland, finally settling in Armenia. He joked with the students, read some of his poems, asked for their impressions and showed them the only possession from his former life — a baby spoon.

At the end of the evening, he signed autographs and said he felt like a rock star.

Mary Knight, a former CNS staffer, now lives in Tel Aviv.

Pope Benedict XVI ate here

Omar Ramirez, a caretaker at a retreat house in the town of El Cobre, Cuba, fondly remembers Pope Benedict  XVI's visit. (CNS photo/ by Rhina Guidos)

Omar Ramirez, a caretaker at a retreat house in the town of El Cobre, Cuba, fondly remembers Pope Benedict XVI’s visit. (CNS photo/ by Rhina Guidos)

A few weeks ago, on a stop at El Cobre, Cuba, I heard a man talking about leftovers and retired Pope Benedict XVI. In a country where St. John Paul II dominates the memory of Cuban Catholics, I went over to meet Omar Ramirez, an admitted fan of the retired pope. He talked about the time Pope Benedict stopped by the retreat house in 2012, and privately met with him and his wife during a visit to the nearby Shrine of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre. The pope stayed at the retreat house where Ramirez is the caretaker.

No one but the pope, his entourage and the Ramirezes were allowed to stay on the property, which is next door to the shrine that is home to the patroness of Cuba.

Ramirez said he never imagined he’d one day see, much less meet, a pope. Since they were the only ones allowed in the retreat house, they cooked and served Pope Benedict’s meals, and Ramirez’s wife ended up ironing the pope’s alb.

The caretaker likes to tell visitors that the pope did not eat much and, when he was done with his food, Ramirez ate his leftovers. They keep a photo of the visit at the entrance to their home.

No doubt that today, on Pope Benedict’s 88th birthday, someone in Cuba is fondly thinking of him.

Petra: Of ancient history and context

The largest and most impressive of all the ruins in Petra, a funeral chamber known popularly known as "The Treasury." (CNS/Mark Pattison)

The largest and most impressive of all the ruins in Petra, a funeral chamber known popularly known as “The Treasury.” (CNS/Mark Pattison)

By Mark Pattison

PETRA, Jordan –- Imagine going to your parish’s mission to hear a guest preacher speak, but your parish is in the Holy Land.

That’s what it’s like when you tour an archaeological find like Petra – which was only reintroduced to Christians from the West about 200 years ago — and you have a tour guide who is a font of knowledge about the Bible and the ancient history of the region.

So it is with Ra-Ed Haddad, who has been guiding this Jordan Tourism Board-sponsored tour for religious media writers and bloggers. Any tour guide worth his salt –- and we’ll get to the salt part later -– will have his or her facts straight, although they may get jumbled in the mind of the listener. But the bonus comes from providing context. It’s like putting shredded coconut on top of the cake frosting.

A sandstone carving of the Nabatean goddess  in Petra. (CNS/Mark Pattison)

A sandstone carving of the Nabatean goddess in Petra. (CNS/Mark Pattison)

So, did the inhabitants of Petra in Jesus’ time just “give up” Petra to the Romans? Yes, but also no. The Bedouins, a nomadic people who still traverse the Jordanian countryside today, were realizing less and less income from Petra. So while there wasn’t a battle or a formal surrender, it was more of an abandonment, Haddad said, and the far richer Roman Empire could do with it what it wanted. The Romans ultimately restored the Silk Road, which ran partly through Jordan.

Just as most world religions have something analogous to what Christians recognize today as baptism, Haddad says, so, too, do most world religions have a great degree of discomfort with recognizing the pagan element in their worship. Think of Moses coming down from Mt. Sinai with the Ten Commandments only to find the Israelites worshiping a golden calf.

Such was also the case with the different groups who had control of Petra over the years.

Take the case of a sandstone carving of a woman in which all is obliterated except for her legs. The Nabateans likely made the carving, but some other civilization — the Romans, perhaps? — pulverized the image to such an extent you can’t even tell what she might have been the goddess of. Haddad pointed out several tributes to Dusharrah, the Nabatean god of wine, but few remain intact to this day, due to both the ravages of man and the ravages of time.

With so many vendors hawking camel rides in and around Petra, one could commandeer a fleet of Magi along the way. But even this is an occasion for a bit of catechesis from Haddad — a refresher lesson of sorts from earlier in the tour. Myrrh, for instance, one of the three gifts the Magi bore to the Christ child, was known for its medicinal purposes, particularly as an anesthetic. (Dentists of the time, working with crude instruments, used myrrh as a painkiller for their patients.) And, as Haddad sees it, it was not vinegar that was on the soaked sponge held up by a Roman soldier for Jesus to drink while on the cross, but myrrh.

“It was an act of mercy” by the soldier, he said, “to put this man out of his misery. But Jesus refused it; “he wanted to feel the pain to the last,” Haddad added.

Let’s get back to that salt. The biblical account holds that Lot’s wife was instructed by God, like the rest of Lot’s family, to not look back at Sodom and Gomorrah, which were being consumed by fire. But she looked back anyway and turned into a pillar of salt.

Haddad explains that pillars were regarded as phallic symbols in those days. Some people placed their hands on pillars; for some it was OK to do, for others it was definitely not OK.

But did Lot’s wife actually turn into a pillar of salt? People may never know, Haddad suggested. “The concept is, don’t look back and be a prisoner of your past,” he said. “The longer you carry a grudge in your heart, the heavier it gets.”

– – –

I will blog from time to time about things I’ve encountered on my Jordan journey. Also, look me up on Twitter at @MeMarkPattison for Jordan-related tweets. Others on this tour will use the same Hashtags: #holyjordan.

A man playing the one-stringed rababa for tips in Petra. (CNS/Mark Pattison)

A man playing the one-stringed rababa for tips in Petra. (CNS/Mark Pattison)

World Bank hopes power of faith will help end extreme poverty

Charity Dorelien stands with her grandchild outside her makeshift home in Canaan, a community on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Feb. 17.  (CNS/Bob Roller)

Charity Dorelien stands with her grandchild outside her makeshift home in Canaan, a community on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Feb. 17. (CNS/Bob Roller)

It’s not surprising that faith leaders consider worldwide poverty a scandal that each person must take responsibility for. Hardly anyone would expect them to say otherwise. There’s no news value there.

When the president of the World Bank agrees and has placed the institution on a path toward eliminating extreme poverty by 2030, it gets attention from a lot more people, including those with the resources to help.

Bring the two parties together and the promise of action on the causes of extreme poverty would seem likely to succeed.

Jim Yong Kim, World Bank president, hosted six faith leaders, including Carolyn Woo, president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services, in an hourlong discussion today on efforts to alleviate extreme poverty.

Extreme poverty is defined as having an income of $1.25 or less a day.

Kim said partners from the faith community are crucial to ending extreme poverty because of their connections deep inside local communities.

Woo said people acting on their faith will yield the results being sought. “It’s not just what we talk about. We have to act on our faith and show faith, action results.”

At the same time, it’s important for faith-based organizations to work with other organizations in government, business and civil society that share the same goals.

“It’s probably as controversial for me as for the Catholic Church to say we will work with the World Bank,” Woo said. “But we won’t be able to get anything done that is meaningful if we don’t collaborate, including (with) government and, of course, other faith groups and, of course, even the World Bank.”

Representatives of faith-based development organizations echoed Woo.

Vinya S. Ariyaratne, general secretary of the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement in Sri Lanka, urged steps that go beyond outcomes for the world’s 900 million people living in extreme poverty.

“You can’t just focus on poverty in order to eliminate poverty,” he said. “You have to also address affluence, extreme consumption. You don’t endorse extreme suffering or extreme poverty but at the same time you don’t endorse indulgence or consumption based on greed.”

Mohamed Ashmawey, president of Islamic Relief Worldwide, said all people of all faiths and even no faith are brothers and sisters together.

“The Lord says in the book, the Quran, that we bestowed dignity on the progeny of Adam. All of us have this given fact that we are all dignified by the Lord. How can one be dignified if they are spreading their hand every day asking for food?” he asked.

“We need to have the responsibility to work together hand-in-hand, faith based organizations. Rather than fighting, let’s put our hands together and let’s try to resolve the issues of the world. It’s unacceptable ethically, morally, and religiously to have one more person on earth in extreme poverty.”

Others joining the discussion were Ruth Messinger, president of American Jewish World Service, and Pujya Swamiji, co-founder of the Global Interfaith WASH Alliance based in India.

Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah of Sokoto, Nigeria, invited to the World Bank for the April 14 release of a report on development in his country, liked what he heard from the panel.

He said he has seen cooperation among Christians and Muslims in his diocese in the northern part of the country and that the Boko Haram insurgency has not reached the region.

“What is most powerful is the collaboration between the various faith communities,” he said. “The real challenge is when you place religion before faith. Then people get quite territorial. Whereas the issues of common concern like rampant poverty go beyond religion. I think in a pluralistic society like ours, with competing identities, religious differences and so on, one way to look at this is as a common cause, and I think poverty is one of those.”

 

In Jordan, an Easter Vigil for all Catholics

AMMAN, Jordan — When I was a student at the old Institute for Pastoral Liturgical Ministries operated by the Archdiocese of Detroit, one priest who taught a class looked askance at the practice of some Catholics to memorize the Mass schedules of nearby churches, then drive to each church and stay for the priest’s words of institution during the Eucharistic Prayer, at which point the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ, then scoot off to the next church to do the same, and repeat the process all Sunday. He dismissed their staying only for what he called “the gaze that saves.”

I hadn’t thought about that in years and years until I was on my way to Jordan to participate in a tour of holy and sacred biblical sites in the nation. Another trip participant had said before he left, “I’ll get to celebrate Easter twice this year!” This year, Eastern Catholic churches and churches in the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem — which includes Jordan — began celebrating Easter with the Orthodox, according to the Julian calendar.

A little girl stares at the candle held by her mother during the Easter Vigil at St. Peter Church in Amman, Jordan. (CNS/Mark Pattison)

A little girl stares at the candle held by her mother during the Easter Vigil at St. Peter Church in Amman, Jordan. (CNS/Mark Pattison)

I could see the participant’s point if one were ordained clergy or a liturgical minister who got the chance to “go civilian” and take in Easter as a member of the assembly. But I had argued to myself, wasn’t the 8 a.m. Mass I went to on Easter Sunday enough? And that reminded me of a second priest whose name I can’t remember who once said, “Every Sunday isn’t a ‘little Easter.’ Easter is a big Sunday!”

But our schedule dictated a visit to a Melkite Catholic church in Amman, Jordan’s capital and largest city, for the Easter Vigil. So I kept my consternation to myself and hopped in the van with everyone else.

The church was packed. My estimate is that the small church, even with extra chairs along the sides and in the front, held a standing-room-only crowd of 350.

I had gone to a Melkite Divine Liturgy last June while on assignment for Catholic News Service, but hardly an Easter Vigil. It was comforting to hear the melody of the Exultet, albeit in Arabic. I started in the back of the church, then worked my way to a comfortable leaning position against a side wall of the church halfway in so I could take better photos. After about 10 minutes, one of the clerics invited me and several of my tour companions to take seats in the front. What great luck!

We were there another 10 minutes or so when a representative of the Jordan Tourism Board whispered to us that we all had to leave. What? Why? What had we done? Had we violated some protocol — maybe using flash photography? If so, why were we invited to sit in front in the first place? I definitely had more questions than answers.

It turns out we were in the wrong church!

This had been a Latin-rite church where the van driver had taken us. That could account for the Exultet.

Melkite Father Nabil Haddad proclaims the Gospel during the Easter Vigil celebration at Sts. Peter and Paul Melkite Church in Amman, Jordan. (CNS/Mark Pattison)

Melkite Father Nabil Haddad proclaims the Gospel during the Easter Vigil celebration at Sts. Peter and Paul Melkite Catholic Church in Amman, Jordan. (CNS/Mark Pattison)

The Melkite Church of Sts. Peter and Paul was three minutes away by car. We got there late as well, it goes without saying. The church was also standing-room only, but far smaller than our first church that night; I estimate fewer than 100 were there, including us.

It was comforting, though, to see that the small-C catholic part of the Catholic Church held true regardless of rite: People don’t like to sit in the front pew! Here, too, there were empty seats right up front, and we were guided to them.

A Melkite liturgy is almost entirely sung and is quite dynamic: There is always motion or something going on, sometimes more than one thing at the same time. Also celebrated entirely in Arabic except for the Kyrie  I heard midway through, this liturgy was beautiful in its own way. Latin-rite Catholics owe it to themselves to take in a Divine Liturgy at least once in their life.

If you ask me if I have any regrets, I’d say my only regret is not being able to take part in a Sunday morning Chaldean-rite Easter Mass in Amman.

– – –

I will blog from time to time about things I’ve encountered on my Jordan journey. Also, look me up on Twitter at @MeMarkPattison for Jordan-related tweets. Others on this tour will use the same Hashtags: #holyjordan.

Pope: Mercy is “the beating heart of the Gospel”

Pope Francis preaches in St. Peter's Basilica, explaining why he's called a Holy Year.

Pope Francis preaches in St. Peter’s Basilica, explaining why he’s called a Holy Year. (Screen grab)

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis formally presented his official proclamation of the 2015-2016 extraordinary jubilee or Holy Year of Mercy this evening before celebrating vespers in St. Peter’s Basilica.

The proclamation, called a “bull of indiction,” is titled “Misericordiae Vultus” (“The Face of Mercy”) and explains how in Jesus Christ, in his words and actions, the mercy of God has been revealed.

Pope Francis said in the document that he wants the year, which will begin Dec. 8, to be a time for Catholics to contemplate just how merciful God has been to them and to understand better how they are called to be merciful to others in turn.

Mercy, the pope wrote, is “the beating heart of the Gospel.”

“How much I desire that the year to come will be steeped in mercy, so that we can go out to every man and woman, bringing the goodness and tenderness of God,” he wrote. “May the balm of mercy reach everyone, both believers and those far away, as a sign that the kingdom of God is already present in our midst.”

Nothing in the church’s preaching or witness, he said, can be lacking in mercy.

The Holy Door at St. Peter's Basilica decorated this evening. (Screen grab)

The Holy Door at St. Peter’s Basilica decorated this evening. (Screen grab)

Pope Francis asked that every diocese in the world designate a “Door of Mercy” at their cathedral or another special church or shrine, and that every diocese implement the “24 Hours for the Lord” initiative on the Friday and Saturday before the fourth week of Lent. In Rome the last two years, the pope has opened the celebration with a penance service in St. Peter’s Basilica and churches around the city were open for the next 24 hours for confessions and eucharistic adoration.

The pope said he will designate and send out “Missionaries of Mercy” to preach about mercy; they will be given special authority, he said, “to pardon even those sins reserved to the Holy See.” Under church law, those sins involve: a man who directly participated in an abortion and later wants to enter the priesthood; priests who have broken the seal of confession; priests who have offered sacramental absolution to their own sexual partners; desecrating the Eucharist; and making an attempt on the life of the pope. Usually, the Apostolic Penitentiary, a Vatican court, handles those cases.

Venerating the cross before vespers in St. Peter's Basilica.

Venerating the cross before vespers in St. Peter’s Basilica. (Screen grab)

And he urged all Catholics to spend more time practicing what traditionally have been called the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. The corporal works are: Feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick, visiting the imprisoned, giving drink to the thirsty and burying the dead. The spiritual works are: Converting sinners, instructing the ignorant, advising the doubtful, comforting the sorrowful, bearing wrongs patiently, forgiving injuries and praying for the living and dead.

Here is the Vatican’s translation of the prepared text of the pope’s brief homily this evening at first vespers for Divine Mercy Sunday:

                Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The greeting of the risen Christ to his disciples on the evening of Easter, “Peace be with you!” (Jn 20:19), continues to resound in us all. Peace, especially during this Easter season, remains the desire of so many people who suffer unprecedented violence of discrimination and death simply because they bear the name “Christian.” Our prayer is all the more intense and becomes a cry for help to the Father, who is rich in mercy, that he may sustain the faith of our many brothers and sisters who are in pain. At the same time, we ask for the grace of the conversion of our own hearts so as to move from indifference to compassion.

St. Paul reminds us that we have been saved through the mystery of the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. He is the reconciler, who is alive in our midst offering the way to reconciliation with God and with each other. The Apostle recalls that, notwithstanding the difficulties and the sufferings of life, the hope of salvation which Christ has sown in our hearts nonetheless continues to grow. The mercy of God is poured out upon us, making us just and giving us peace.

Many question in their hearts: Why a Jubilee of Mercy today? Simply because the church, in this time of great historical change, is called to offer more evident signs of God’s presence and closeness. This is not the time to be distracted; on the contrary, we need to be vigilant and to reawaken in ourselves the capacity to see what is essential. This is a time for the church to rediscover the meaning of the mission entrusted to her by the Lord on the day of Easter: to be a sign and an instrument of the Father’s mercy (cf. Jn 20:21-23). For this reason, the Holy Year must keep alive the desire to know how to welcome the numerous signs of the tenderness which God offers to the whole world and, above all, to those who suffer, who are alone and abandoned, without hope of being pardoned or feeling the Father’s love. A Holy Year to experience strongly within ourselves the joy of having been found by Jesus, the Good Shepherd who has come in search of us because we were lost. A Jubilee to receive the warmth of his love when he bears us upon his shoulders and brings us back to the Father’s house. A year in which to be touched by the Lord Jesus and to be transformed by his mercy, so that we may become witnesses to mercy. Here, then, is the reason for the Jubilee: because this is the time for mercy. It is the favorable time to heal wounds, a time not to be weary of meeting all those who are waiting to see and to touch with their hands the signs of the closeness of God, a time to offer everyone the way of forgiveness and reconciliation.

May the Mother of God open our eyes, so that we may comprehend the task to which we have been called; and may she obtain for us the grace to experience this Jubilee of Mercy as faithful and fruitful witnesses of Christ.

 

Proclaiming the Holy Year at the Holy Door

By Elliot Williams*

VATICAN CITY — Saturday evening, in front of the Holy Door in the atrium of St. Peter’s Basilica, Pope Francis’ will give the archpriests of the major basilicas of Rome copies of his “bull of indiction,” or formal proclamation, of the Holy Year of Mercy. An aide will read portions of it at the door before participants process into St. Peter’s for evening prayer.

The Holy Door at St. Peter's Basilica. (CNS/Paul Haring)

The Holy Door at St. Peter’s Basilica. (CNS/Paul Haring)

The site chosen for the brief rite was not made casually; the door symbolizes a passage or transition into a special year of evangelization and prayer.

Pope Francis will be back at the door Dec. 8 to formally open it and the Year of Mercy.

Popes typically announce a jubilee every 25 years, although extraordinary Holy Years have been proclaimed for special anniversaries — for example, a Holy Year was celebrated in 1983 to commemorate the 1,950th anniversary of Christ’s death and resurrection.

The Holy Door is opened to evoke the concept of forgiveness, which is the main focus of a Holy Year.

According to “Mondo Vaticano,” a mini-encyclopedia published by the Vatican, the designation of a Holy Door may trace back to the ancient Christian practice of public penitence when sinners were given public penances to perform before receiving absolution.

The penitents were not allowed to enter a church before completing the penance, but they were solemnly welcomed back in when their penance was fulfilled. Still today, Holy Year pilgrims enter the basilica through the Holy Door as a sign of their repentance and re-commitment to a life of faith.

Both the opening and closing of the Holy Door take place with formal ceremonies to mark “the period of time set aside for men and women to sanctify their souls,” the book says.

The ritual for opening the Holy Door at St. Peter’s Basilica goes back to 1499 when Pope Alexander VI opened the door on Christmas Eve to inaugurate the Holy Year 1500. This was when the door was wooden.

The bronze door panels that stand at St. Peter’s today, made by Vico Consorti, were consecrated and first opened Dec. 24, 1949, by Pius XII in proclamation of the 1950 Jubilee, a scene represented in the bottom right panel.

For centuries, the doors were opened with a silver hammer, not a key, “because the doors of justice and mercy give way only to the force of prayer and penance,” the encyclopedia says. Opening the Holy Year 2000, St. John Paul used neither a hammer, nor a key, but strongly pushed the door open.

St. John Paul II pushes open the Holy Door on Dec. 24, 1999. (CNS/Arturo Mari, Vatican)

St. John Paul II pushes open the Holy Door on Dec. 24, 1999. (CNS/Arturo Mari, Vatican)

The theme of human sin and God’s mercy is illustrated in 15 of the 16 bronze panels that make up the current door, with episodes from both the Old and New Testament, including the Fall of Adam and Eve, the Annunciation, and the Merciful Father (and Prodigal Son).

Between the panels on the door at St. Peter’s are little shields with the coats of arms of all the popes that opened it during the ordinary Holy Years, the last being St. John Paul. Pope Francis’ coat of arms will be etched onto one of the empty shields that remain for future jubilee years after he opens and closes the door.

Pope Francis will give the “bull of indiction” also to the archpriests of the Rome basilicas of St. John Lateran, St. Paul Outside the Walls and St. Mary Major, which also have Holy Doors that are opened during jubilee years. The only other Holy Doors in the world are at Quebec City’s Basilica of Notre-Dame de Quebec; the shrine of St. John Vianney in Ars, France; and at the Cathedral of St. James the Great in Santiago de Compostela, Spain.

Elliot Williams is a Communication major at Villanova University. He is originally from Abington, PA, and is studying abroad at Roma Tre University, while interning for Catholic News Service’s Rome bureau. Elliot is an avid Nutella fanatic.

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