The latest circular from the Synod Office looks at the Biblical sources of the Synod. Read the whole document here. See the opening paragraphs below. (Did I once express the hope that there would not be too much technical language or long sentences? Perhaps I was dreaming.) One article which is more accessible comes from Burkina Faso, where they have great problems in getting together because of terrorist attacks.
How are you? We come with new information and a theme that is inspiring and fundamental: The Word of God in the synodal journey. We are in a process of listening, in which we must be attentive to the Word like Mary. This Word will encourage and guide us in our journey as a pilgrim Church.
Synodality and the Word of God
The Biblical Subgroup of the Spirituality Commission of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops has prepared a resource entitled “Biblical Resources for Synodality,” which highlights how Scripture is at the heart of the synodal journey.
The week of prayer for Christian Unity 2022 will last from 18 -25 January. this year the prayers and reflections are led by the Churches of the Middle East. In these three days leading to the Week of Prayer, we offer extracts from the Introduction to this important time.
The story of the Magi visiting the Holy Family in Bethlehem is one very familiar to us. Indeed, we have recently celebrated Christmas; the Feast of Incarnation and Epiphany. The Magi have sometimes been seen as a symbol of the world’s diversity – different religions and cultures – that comes to pay homage to the Christ-child. The story might therefore represent the unity of all created that God desires. The Magi travel from far-off countries, and represent diverse cultures, yet they are driven by the same hunger to see and know the new-born king and are gathered into the little house in Bethlehem in the simple act of giving homage.
In this we can find a metaphor for Christian unity: that is, of different Christian peoples drawn together in their common search to recognise Christ, to know him and to worship him and witnessing to wider need for unity and to overcome injustice.
This text has been chosen by the churches of the Middle East, the history of which was, and still is, characterised by conflict and strife, tainted with blood and darkened by injustice and oppression. Since the Palestinian Nakba (the exodus of Palestine’s Arab population during the 1948 war) the region has seen a series of bloody wars and revolutions and the rise of Islamic extremism. The story of the Magi also contains many dark elements, most particularly Herod’s despotic orders to massacre all the children around Bethlehem who were two years old or under (Matt 2:16-18). The cruelty of these narratives resonates with the long history and difficult present of the Middle East.
It was in the Middle East that the Word of God took root and bore fruit: thirty and sixty and one hundredfold. And it was from this East that the apostles set out to preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). The Middle East has given thousands of Christian witnesses and thousands of Christian martyrs.
And yet now, the very existence of the small Christian community is threatened as many are driven to seek a more secure and prosperous life elsewhere. Like the light which is the child Jesus, the light of Middle Eastern Christianity is increasingly threatened in these difficult times.
We pray for all those suffering from religious discrimination and persecution; may their own rights and dignity be recognised, which originate from being brothers and sisters in the human family.
We first showed this picture in May 2018. It shows an installation then in Canterbury Cathedral: ‘Suspended’.
The garments hanging above the congregation came from refugees on the Isle of Lesbos or the camps around Calais; clothes they were glad to discard when they were offered a clean change. I hope they found something they liked to wear! Their lives have been suspended between their old homes, destroyed or stolen, and who knows what future.
There the clothes hang, reminding us that these refugees are sisters and brothers of ours, thrown on very hard times, as were others – including perhaps their grandparents – seventy years ago, after the Second World War and the establishment of Israel. Often their religion – Christian, the ‘wrong’ sort of Muslim – has made life very dangerous for them, and they need asylum, begrudged by many of us.
Let us pray for peace, and support those who support the refugees; our sisters and brothers.
Dormition Abbey – covered in anti-Christian graffiti on several occasions
Source: Archbishop of Canterbury
The Archbishop of Canterbury writes on his Facebook page today: This Christmas, let’s not romanticise the Holy Land. Instead let’s hear the cry of Palestinian Christians who are facing a historic tragedy unfolding in real time. Christians have been a continuous presence in the Holy Land for 2,000 years. Today, they face attempts by fringe, radical groups to drive them away. The Anglican Archbishop in Jerusalem and I make this urgent appeal in today’s Sunday Times:
Christmas is a time when we think about the land of the Bible. We hear readings and sing carols that name Jerusalem, Nazareth and Bethlehem. These are places that are familiar to billions of Christians, whether they have visited them or not. But we should not romanticise them – and especially not this Christmas.
Last week, leaders of churches in Jerusalem raised an unprecedented and urgent alarm call. In a joint statement, they said Christians throughout the Holy Land have become the target of frequent and sustained attacks by fringe radical groups.
In a joint statement they described “countless incidents” of physical and verbal assaults against priests and other clergy, and attacks on Christian churches. They spoke of holy sites regularly vandalized and desecrated, and ongoing intimidation of local Christians as they go about their worship and daily lives.
The Romanian Orthodox monastery in Jerusalem was vandalized during Lent in March this year, the fourth attack on that holy place in a single month. During Advent last December, someone lit a fire in the Church of All Nations in the Garden of Gethsamene, the place where Jesus prayed the night before he was crucified. Usually a place of pilgrimage for Christians from around the world, it’s thought the vandal took advantage of the lack of visitors due to the pandemic.
These tactics are being used by such radical groups “in a systematic attempt to drive the Christian community out of Jerusalem and other parts of the Holy Land”, the Jerusalem church leaders said in their statement.
It is for this reason that when you speak with Palestinian Christians in Jerusalem today you will often hear this cry: “In fifteen years’ time, there’ll be none of us left!”
This crisis takes place against a century-long decline in the Christian population in the Holy Land. In 1922, at the end of the Ottoman Era, Christians in the Holy Land were estimated to number 73,000; about 10% of the population. In 2019, Christians constituted less than 2% of the population of the Holy Land: a massive drop in just 100 years.
In Israel, there is some increase in the overall numbers of Christians. The imminent reopening of St Peter’s Anglican Church in Jaffa, which has been closed for over 70 years, is encouraging.
But in East Jerusalem, the central place for pilgrimage and the site of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre – where Christ is believed to have been crucified – there is steady decline. Church leaders believe that there are now fewer than 2,000 Christians left in the Old City of Jerusalem.
This is the land that 2.5 billion Christians worldwide recognise as the birthplace of the church. Yet Christians, who have been a continuous presence there for over 2,000 years, are too often obscured and even forgotten beneath the competing perceptions of the geopolitics of the Middle East. The Christian presence punches above the weight of its numbers.
A recent study by the University of Birmingham estimates that the tourism industry generated by the Christian heritage of the Holy Land brings over $3 billion into the region’s economy. The Palestinian Christian population is a highly educated population that contributes beyond its numbers to high-tech industries, hospitals and church-based schools. Christians are good news for the region!
Christians in Israel enjoy democratic and religious freedoms that are a beacon in the region. But the escalation of physical and verbal abuse of Christian clergy, and vandalism of holy sites by fringe, radical groups, are a concerted attempt to intimidate and drive them away.
Meanwhile the growth of settler communities, and travel restrictions brought about by the Separation Wall, have deepened the isolation of Christian villages and curtailed economic and social possibilities. All of these factors have contributed to a steady stream of Palestinian Christians leaving the Holy Land to seek lives and livelihoods elsewhere – a historic tragedy unfolding in real time.
It does not have to be this way. This trend can be reversed – but action must be taken fast. We encourage governments and authorities in the region to listen to church leaders in their midst: To engage in the practical conversations that will lead to vital Christian culture and heritage being guarded and sustained. The time for action is now!
Over the Advent period, it’s tempting to be seduced by cosy visions of the Christmas story – twinkling stars, exotic visitors, a painless birth of a baby who doesn’t cry. The reality would have been much different: this is a story of God’s embrace of humanity in all its messiness.
The first Christmas tells us of God coming into our world among ordinary lives of human struggle. It foregrounds a refugee family, against the backdrop of a genocide of infants. There’s not much about lullabies and cuddly farm animals.
So let’s get real this Christmas. When we sing “O Little Town of Bethlehem”, or “Once in Royal David’s City”, let’s hear the voice of the church of the Holy Land – and thank them for their gift to all of us. Let’s pray for their flourishing and their future: a future intertwined with the future prosperity and common good of all communities.
Woven through the first Christian story is a message of hope and of good news for all people – a small light that can never be put out. Whatever your religion or belief, may you know the peace and joy of the Christ-child this Christmas.
The Most Revd Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury
The Most Revd Hosam Naoum, Anglican Archbishop in Jerusalem
Please remember in your prayers this Sunday our sisters and brothers in the Eastern Churches. Many of them face hardship and persecution, as they did in the earliest days of Christianity, which unfolded in the Middle East. This post from FACE tells us about the day of prayer and is followed by a letter from Cardinal Michael Fitzgerald, former Papal Ambassador or Nuncio to Egypt.
Day of Prayer for Eastern Christians – 9th May 2021
What is the Day of Prayer for Eastern Christians?
The Day of Prayer for Eastern Christians is an annual day of prayer which enables Eastern and Western Christians to come together in communion through prayer. The event unites Latin rite dioceses of the Roman Catholic Church in Europe with dioceses of the Eastern Catholic Churches in union with the Bishop of Rome.
When is the Day of Prayer for Eastern Christians?
The Day of Prayer for Eastern Christians will take place on the Sixth Sunday of Easter, 9th May 2021, with the participation of Christians from all over Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, the Horn of Africa and India.
Why is the Day of Prayer for Eastern Christians on the Sixth Sunday of Easter?
Sunday after Sunday, during the Easter celebrations, Eastern and Western Christians hear the Acts of the Apostles which witness to the first preaching of the Gospel. These readings remind us of the origin of the Eastern Churches and the history of the first Eastern Christians, who brought the Gospel to us. Nowadays, many of these Eastern Christians are oppressed and persecuted, and struggle to survive and to pass on our faith to their children, in their own lands where Christianity was born and first spread.
A day of communion through prayer.
On the Sixth Sunday of Easter, we invite Western Christians to recite the following bidding prayer for Eastern Christians:
Let us pray for peace in the world, especially in the Middle East. May the Christians in these lands be strengthened in their faith so that they may continue courageously to give witness to Jesus Christ.
How to celebrate this day?
We ask you to say the prayer as part of the International Day of Prayer for Eastern Christians
We ask you to share this intention and the prayer with your family and friends
We suggest that parishes include the intention of Eastern Christians in the Prayers of the Faithful during Mass on the Sixth Sunday of Easter.
Who are the Eastern Christians?
The Eastern Christians in the Middle East and the Horn of Africa are direct descendants of the Early Christians and trace their roots back to apostolic times. There are more than 26 million Eastern Christians living in the Middle East and surrounding regions. For Western Christians, they provide a direct link to the Apostolic Church, leading us to the roots of Christianity and showing us, through their tradition and witness, a living faith in Christ.
How can you help Eastern Christians?
Pray for Eastern Christians. You can use our prayer for Eastern Christians (above) or join our prayer group to receive a monthly prayer, a reflection and information on an Eastern saint. Please do sign up to our prayer group: https://facecharity.org/prayergroup/
Engage with Eastern Catholic Churches. There are several Eastern Churches in the United Kingdom. You are welcome to participate in their liturgies and share your common origins. You will receive a warm welcome.
Support Eastern Christians through our projects in education, healthcare, pastoral support and inter-religious dialogue, which are organised under the patronage of the bishops and religious communities of the Eastern Catholic Churches. You may support these projects here: https://facecharity.org/give/
Letter from Cardinal Fitzgerald
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
The Day of Prayer for Eastern Christians is fast approaching. It will take place on the Sixth Sunday of Easter (Sunday, 9th May 2021), with the participation of Christians from all over Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, the Horn of Africa and India.
This Day of Prayer – promoted in the UK by Fellowship and Aid to the Christians of the East (FACE) in partnership with the Congregation for Oriental Churches – will offer Eastern and Western Christians an opportunity to be united in prayer during the time of Easter.
It will offer us in the West an opportunity to think of the Eastern Churches and to give thanks to God for all that we owe them: the first preaching of the Gospel, the origins of the monastic tradition, the early Church Fathers, and above all the witness of the Eastern Christians down the centuries, which has been, and still is, an inspiration to our faith. This Day could also be an occasion to give thanks for the recent pilgrimage of Pope Francis to Iraq and to draw inspiration from its message of solidarity, fraternity and hope.
The Eastern Christians were the first evangelisers without whom Christianity would never have spread to the UK. Today, the Eastern Christians, many of whom are suffering from the effects of war and from discrimination, now face the added crisis of the Covid epidemic, with its threat to their livelihood, health and well-being. This is a crisis within an already existing crisis! They deserve our prayerful support.
In commending this Day of Prayer to you, may I suggest that you bring it to the attention of your family and friends, perhaps sharing with them the following prayer:
Heavenly Father, we pray today for peace in the world, especially in the Middle East. By your heavenly grace, strengthen the faith and hope of Eastern Christians. May they be blessed with peace and prosperity in their countries. May we be inspired by their devotion and witness to the Gospel, by their love and compassion for all in their communities, and by their courage, their endurance and self-sacrifice. Through their charity, tolerance and friendship, bring peace and reconciliation to those troubled lands, where Christianity was born and first spread. This we ask of you through Christ our Lord. Amen.
I trust that this Day of Prayer, despite the restrictions caused by the current pandemic, will bring comfort and assurance to Eastern Christians. In our solidarity and communion, may we all be renewed by the hope we place in the Risen Christ.
With the assurance of my prayers and with my warmest wishes for a joyful Eastertide,
We ought by now to have included a few more posts from St Thomas’ church as well as from St Mildred’s! So here is Canon Anthony’s thought for today, fresh from his retreat at home. We’ll include a few more as time goes by. Will T.
My Thoughts on 20/03/2021
I have finished my 5 day retreat and would like thank you for all your prayers and good wished. It was organised by the Jesuit Spirituality Team for Catholic Clergy. Although it was not the same as going away, I found it a great blessing and hopefully prepared me for the coming Holy Week.
In today’s gospel the chief priest and the Pharisees wanted Jesus arrested. They didn’t like what he was saying and doing. They wanted to arrest him and certainly refused to consider him a prophet.”Go into the matter, and see for yourself : prophets do not come out of Galilee.”
This reminds me of the report in the Guardian newspaper in January about the persecution of Christians face today in many parts of the world.
“More than 340 million Christians – one in eight – face high levels of persecution and discrimination because of their faith, according to the 2021 World Watch List compiled by the Christian advocacy group Open Doors. It says there was a 60% increase over the previous year in the number of Christians killed for their faith. More than nine out of 10 of the global total of 4,761 deaths were in Africa.”
Here in the UK we are blessed to have the freedom to express our belief freely and unhindered. Let us pray for all those who at this time are persecuted and suffer imprisonments torture and even death for being followers of Jesus Christ.
Tomáš Halík: From the Underground Church to Freedom, University of Notre Dame Press,Notre Dame, Indiana, 2019.Available through Waterstone’s or online.
Tomáš Halík is a Czech Catholic priest who has lived under repressive Communism, even coming to the Faith in an officially atheist country, a process he unfolds for the reader in one of the chapters of this autobiography. An interest in history, including the career of the ‘heretic’ Jan Huss; reading about psychoanalysis as a schoolboy, and a growing awareness of politics and that life under an oppressive regime was not the inevitable fate of his country; all these had him asking questions, and finding the ready-made answers of the atheist regime lacking.
But he had ‘absolutely no experience of the living church.’ How true is that of many of our neighbours? It was during a solitary pilgrimage he made one holiday that he assented to belief in God; from there to attending a church with good music, gradually moving closer to the altar, week by week; thence to a church frequented by students where the pastor’s homilies were challenging.
The journey to the priesthood had begun but had to continue underground, and his ordination was held behind closed doors in Erfurt, East Germany.
That sets the scene for a ministry conducted in secret but also in plain view as a psychotherapist and university teacher; often feeling the eye of the secret police upon him. Many of the generation of priests before him had been imprisoned; there were almost parallel churches; some priests ministering as best they might at the churches that were permitted to remain open, others, like Fr Halík, in closely guarded secrecy, until the regime collapsed like those in neighbouring countries.
It was time to unite the Catholic Church. The official church had been deprived of international links and scholarship; the priests were tired and ‘the onset of freedom caught them very much unawares.’ Thirty years have not healed all the wounds inflicted before 1990.
Openness to the universal Church, the re-establishment of church structures, the initial and ongoing formation of pastors and people, freedom from fear: these things take time, and hard work, and grace. At 70, Fr Halík feels he may not have much more time, but he has been the means of grace. This book will inspire the reader to believe in the action of the Holy Spirit. And perhaps nudge us to ask what we can share with those around us with ‘absolutely no experience of the living church.’
For this month of March, Pope Francis asks us to pray for the Church in China.
We pray that the Church in China may persevere in its faithfulness to the Gospel and grow in unity.
Although Christianity has existed in China since the first Millennium, it was The Jesuit Matteo Ricci who most famously began missionary work in Imperial Beijing in the 16th and 17th Centuries. Other missionaries followed, including the Columbans who were among those deported by the Communist regime in 1949. They now have new links with the country which you can read about in their Far East Magazine.
I was looking for inspiration for Saint Stephen’s day, a martyrdom straight after the birth of baby Jesus. I also had an eye open for frankincense, because Abel is to play Caspar the Wise Man or King in the school Nativity play. Siesta is the obvious shop for such things in Canterbury and they did not disappoint: half a dozen sticks of frankincense, or so they claim were soon found and in my bag.
It was on my way out that I saw the card, the bright red was hard to ignore. The message on the front read, ‘What’s sobriety got to do with Christmas’, which reminded me of the ancient card or cracker joke: ‘be like the early Christians this Christmas, get stoned.’ Which brings us back to Saint Stephen, shown here with a pile of the stones people used to kill him. The statue is above the main door of his Church in Canterbury.
Already on Pentecost Day the Apostles had been accused of drunkenness because of their proclamation of the Good News (Acts 2:15). A few weeks later Stephen was arrested, and his words sound like a drunken illusion (Acts 7:56-60).
Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.
Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, and cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul. And they stoned Stephen, [who was] calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.
Even when stone-cold sober, people can act irrationally and sinfully; a sobering message indeed.
Let us pray for all our Christian sisters and brothers who are trying to live out their vocation as members of a minority, sometimes suspected of treason, open to accusations of blasphemy, and liable to suffer violence and murder.
If there is to be no distinction between Jew and Gentile, this means more than the emancipation of Christians from Jewish ritual laws. There can be no prejudice exercised against Jews, no persecution on account of religion or race. If we see any of this we know that the signs of the Messianic times are not being realised, and the Gospel is not being lived. The Nazi holocaust and the silence of Christian nations in the face of it proclaimed to the Jews that Messianic times are not yet. Because the Jewish community continues to be faithful, God is faithful to them.
Because the case of Judaism is unique, theologians have had to ask what about other religions? What should be the Christian reaction? From the beginning it was always seen as apostasy for Christians to take part in worship of pagan gods, to offer incense before idols, even before the statue of the Emperor. No distinction was made between the use of incense in a ceremony that symbolised civil obedience and loyalty, and the use of incense in what is strictly worship. On account of such a lack, many Christians died.
Anthropology came to our aid by distinguishing between what is actually religious ritual, and what is merely a civic ritual. In modern times this distinction was made in China and Japan so that Christians could take part in honouring ancestors.
It is interesting to see that Christians did not see these things as so terrible when done by pagans, as when done by those enlightened by Christ. Saint Justin Martyr (died 165 AD) saw pagan philosophies and religions as ways that were leading people forward and would eventually converge on Christ, bringing everyone to worship the Father. This understanding faded in time due to a general distrust of foreign people and cultures – which led to Western Crusaders even killing Eastern Christians! With such a background we can see how the view of non-Christian religion as inherently evil arose.