Standing room only at US sister’s Sunday Bible class

May 30, 2014 by  
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United States, May 26, 2014: Sr. Carol Perry loved to read as a child growing up in Kingston, N.Y. One book she didn’t crack, though, was the Bible.

Sister Carol PerryThough she continued reading as a Sister of St. Ursula, she didn’t read the Bible, despite teaching religion and English at John A. Coleman High School in Kingston, located about 100 miles north of New York City.

It’s an unlikely background for a woman who would one day break new ground as a resident Bible scholar in one of the most prominent Protestant churches in America.

“The Protestants had the Bible and the Catholics had the sacraments,” she says. “I was raw material.”

Sitting in her small 10th floor office overlooking Fifth Avenue in midtown Manhattan, Perry reflected on the journey that brought her to Marble Collegiate Church, where her ongoing Sunday morning Bible class is standing-room-only. (Marble Collegiate is the oldest place of worship of the Collegiate Reformed Protestant Church in New York City, organized in 1628 under the Dutch West India Company.)

“In the 1950s there was not a university in the world where a Catholic woman could study the Bible,” she said, explaining that although Mothers General bugged the seminary professors, Rome kept saying no.

Her chance came in 1957 when she joined about 60 other women from 32 countries to study sacred Scripture at Regina Mundi Pontifical Institute in Rome.

“It was a total revelation to me,” she said, a trace of awe in her voice. She discovered the book was “dealing with flesh and blood human beings. These are not just words, there are people here.”

Perry went on to receive a Master’s of Sacred Science degree from St. Mary’s at Notre Dame, Ind., and then shared her love of Scripture with her order’s novices and in occasional talks. A member of Marble’s congregation heard one of Perry’s talks and mentioned it to Florence Pert, one of the church’s ministers at the time.

Pert began to pursue Perry to teach a Sunday morning, pre-service adult Bible class. Perry declined several times. The class would start at 9 a.m., which meant she would have to spend Saturday night with sisters in the city, because Kingston was a two-hour bus ride away. She also thought, “This is a Protestant church, and I’m a Catholic nun.”

But Pert persisted. Eventually, Sr. Carol interviewed with Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, the senior minister. Perry talked with Peale, a famous Protestant preacher and best-selling author of The Power of Positive Thinking; they then decided to give it a try for six weeks.

That was 34 years ago.

“They were wonderfully open,” Perry said. “My approach to the Bible is that this is the word of God in the values of real people with real lives and hopes and fears, not the word of God as recorded by people. They are different views with the same end. They were a really hungry audience, which is what any teacher loves.”

The congregation contained few Catholics. Perry was the first nun most members had ever met. That has changed drastically now, with former Roman Catholics making up about 25 percent of the 2,300-member congregation.

Perry’s role also has changed. In 1997, Arthur Caliandro, then-senior minister, dreamt of having a full-time Biblical scholar, both for his congregation and for people in their places of business, throughout the city. Perry gave up high-school teaching and joined Marble full time, offering several on-site classes throughout the week, as well as noontime classes in rented spots around Manhattan.

Today, people around the world view her 10 a.m. Sunday Bible study class, live through the church’s website. A gifted storyteller, she makes the Bible’s ancient people seem like relatives remembered from childhood.

“They’re our ancestors,” she said.

Perry said these Bible classes are one reason Marble draws so many Catholics, either to join the church or just to partake of the studies.

“People are hungry for it,” she said. “It’s the greatest book ever written, a roadmap of life and adventure. Every soap opera ever written is in Genesis. These are real people.”

She does not, however, read the Bible literally.

“We read nothing literally except the stock market report. That comes from fear. The Bible wasn’t written in English. We’ve translated it through the years,” Perry said.

The meanings of words change as culture changes, she said, explaining that the word abomination in Hebrew means “a custom that foreigners have that we don’t.”

“That’s not what it means in English. Tattoos at that time were tied into the worship of pagan deities. That’s not true in 21st-century New York. You have to be careful with literal versus real.”

– global sisters report

Pastor beaten and returned to prison in Iran

May 30, 2014 by  
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Iran, May 28, 2014: Imprisoned pastor Saeed Abedini has been beaten and forcibly returned to jail from hospital in Iran, while another prisoner, Vahid Hakkani, has ended his hunger strike.

Pastor Saeed AbediniSaeed had spent two months in hospital, recovering from injuries sustained in past beatings. The Iranian-American pastor’s transfer back to Rajai Shahr prison came without warning, and his family in Iran have said that he was “severely beaten” during the move. Saeed’s wife, Naghmeh, said:

This is an extremely disappointing development – one that breaks my heart. Our family is deeply saddened and we continue to pray for Saeed – for his safety and his release.

When Saeed first arrived at the hospital, in March, he was shackled, and guards violently lashed out at him. His treatment later improved, however; his family were allowed to visit him, and he was provided with nutritious meals.

Saeed was transferred to Rajai Shahr, one of the deadliest prisons in the world, from Evin prison, another notorious institution, in November 2013. Saeed, who is serving an eight-year prison sentence for planting house churches, was initially confined to a ward for murderers but was later moved to one for political prisoners.


Meanwhile, Vahid Hakkani has ended his hunger strike following the conditional release of fellow Christian prisoner Mohammed-Reza Partoei, also known as Kourosh.

Vahid began the strike on 20 March to protest against the authorities’ refusal to grant him, Kourosh and their two Christian co-accused, Mojtaba Seyyed-Alaedin Hossein and Homayoun Shokouhi, conditional release. Before Kourosh was freed, Vahid refused to give in despite being put in solitary confinement and denied contact with his family. Vahid, who has previously suffered internal bleeding caused by a digestive system problem, was taken to the prison’s medical clinic in a critical condition.

The believers were jailed for three years and eight months for convictions relating to their Christian activities. Iranian law allows for those who have completed half their sentences to be conditionally released, but all four prisoners were initially denied this. Kourosh’s family pursued his case for four months prior to his release.

During their incarceration at Adel-Abad prison, the believers have been held in Ebrat (“Edification”) ward, the institution’s least-equipped ward.

It remains unclear what has happened to six other Christians who were rounded up at a house-church meeting on 18 April. Ehsan Sadeghi, Nazi Irani, Maryam Assadi, Ali Arfa’e, Vahid Safi and Amin Mazloomi still have not been charged, and a reason has not been given for their arrest. Their families have been told only that their loved ones are in the custody of the intelligence division of a military organisation. They were that they cannot contact the detainees until the investigation is complete, although Amin Mazloomi’s family were able briefly to speak with him.

During the raid on the meeting, plain-clothes officials intimidated those present and searched the property, confiscating Christian books and other educational material.

– barnabas team

Pope: “I ask for forgiveness for what we have done” to encourage divisions among Christians

May 30, 2014 by  
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Vatican City, May 28, 2014: At the general audience Francis retraces the steps of his journey to the Holy Land . Joining the Presidents of Israel and Palestine in prayer for peace. God bless the people of Jordan for their generous assistance to refugees . The Christian communities , “who are suffering so much”. “The gratitude of the whole Church for the presence of Christians in that area and throughout the Middle East”.

Pope Francis“Healing wounds that are still open” among Christians, “encouraging” the path of peace and “confirming the faith of the Christian communities, who suffer so much  and express the gratitude of the whole Church for the presence of Christians in that area and throughout the Middle East”.

Pope Francis dedicated his address to the 40 thousand people in St Peter’s Square for the general audience to his pilgrimage to Jordan , Palestine and Israel.  During the audience he renewed his appeal for “forgiveness for what we have done to encourage this division” between Christians and asked those present join in the prayer for peace with the presidents of Israel and Palestine.

The Pope, who yesterday had gone to the basilica of St. Mary Major yo thank Our Lady for the success of the pilgrimage, particularly asked faithful to join in prayer for peace in the Middle East, for which the presidents of Israel and Palestine will join the Pope at the Vatican. “Please – he said – I ask you not to leave us alone, pray, pray so that the Lord will give peace to this blessed land. I count on your prayers, pray, pray a lot”.

“The main purpose of this pilgrimage – he said earlier – was to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the historic meeting between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras. This was the first time a Successor of Peter visited the Holy Land: Pope Paul VI thus inaugurated,  during the Second Vatican Council, the foreign journeys outside Italy of Popes in the contemporary era. That prophetic gesture by the Bishop of Rome and the Patriarch of Constantinople set a milestone in the suffered journey towards the unity of all Christians, which has since taken significant steps. So my meeting with His Holiness Bartholomew, beloved brother in Christ, was the highlight of the visit. Together we prayed at the tomb of Jesus, and we were with the Greek- Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, Theophilos III, the Patriarch of the Armenian Apostolic Church Nourhan, as well as archbishops and bishops of different churches and communities, civil authorities and many of faithful”. And “this really hurts so much, it makes my heart sick. We are still divided. In that place where the announcement of the Resurrection rang out, where Jesus gives us life , we are still divided, but above all, in a celebration charged with mutual brotherhood, esteem and affection, we heard  the strong voice of the Good Shepherd,  of the Risen One who wants us to all be one, His own flock; We felt the desire to heal the wounds that are still open and resolutely keep on the path towards full communion”. “Once again, as previous Popes have done, I ask forgiveness for what we have done to encourage this division and ask the Holy Spirit to help us to heal the wounds that we have caused to others, our brothers. We are all brothers and sisters in Christ and with Patriarch Bartholomew we are friends, brothers, and we share the desire to walk together, to do everything we can do today: to pray together, work together for the flock of God, to seek peace, protect creation, so many things we have in common. And as brothers we must go forward”.

Another purpose of the trip was to bring encouragement “to journey towards peace ” that is, “at the same time God’s gift and the task of men”. “I did this in Jordan, Palestine, Israel. And I’ve always done this as a pilgrim, in the name of God and man, carrying a great compassion in my heart for the children of that land who for too long have had to coexist with war and have the right to finally know days of peace! This is why I urged Christians to allow themselves  be anointed by the Holy Spirit, to be ever more capable of gestures of humility, brotherhood and reconciliation” . “Humility, brotherhood, reconciliation”: the Spirit allows you to have these attitudes in everyday life, with people of different cultures and religions, and so to become artisans of peace”. Peace is hand made. There are no industries of peace, no. It is crafted by hand every day, with an open heart because it is the gift of God. This is why I have urged Christians to allow themselves be annointed”.

“In Jordan, I thanked the authorities and people for their efforts in hosting refugees from many war zones, a humanitarian effort that deserves and requires the continued support of the international community. I was struck by the generosity of the people of Jordan in their reception of refugees, the many fleeing war in that area. May the Lord bless this friendly people, bless them abundantly. And we must pray that the Lord bless this welcome and ask all international institutions help the people in their efforts to receive these refugees”.

“During the pilgrimage to other places, I also encouraged the authorities concerned to continue their efforts to ease tensions in the Middle East, especially in the troubled Syria, as well as to continue the search for an equitable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That’s why I invited the President of Israel and the President of Palestine, both men of peace and builders of peace, to come to the Vatican to pray with me for peace”. “And please, I ask you, do not leave us alone: pray, pray so that the Lord may give us peace, give us peace in that blessed land! I count on your prayers. Pray with great strength, pray, at this time, pray for peace”.

“This pilgrimage to the Holy Land was also an opportunity to confirm the faith of the Christian communities, who suffer so much, and express the gratitude of the whole Church for the presence of Christians in that area and throughout the Middle East. These brothers and sisters are courageous witnesses of hope and charity, ‘salt and light’ in that Land. With their life of faith and prayer, and appreciated educational and charitable activities, they operate in favor of reconciliation and forgiveness, contributing to the common good society”.

The trip was also a way to “bring a word of hope, but I also received as much in turn! I received from brothers and sisters who hope ‘against hope’ through so much suffering, like those of the many who have fled their country because of the conflict, such as those who, in different parts of the world, are despised and discriminated against because of their faith in Christ. Let us continue to stay close to them”. “We pray for them – concluded the pope – and for peace in the Holy Land and throughout the Middle East. The prayer of the whole Church also supports the path towards full unity among Christians, so that the world may believe in the love of God who in Jesus Christ has come to dwell among us”.

– asianews

How to change our meaningless life to meaningful life

May 30, 2014 by  
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This story is about a beautiful, expensively dressed lady who complained to her psychiatrist that she felt that her whole life was empty, it had no meaning.

seeking happinessSo, the lady went to visit a counselor to seek out happiness.
The counselor called over the old lady who cleaned the office floors.

The counselor then said to the rich lady
“I’m going to ask Mary here to tell you how she found happiness.
All I want you to do is listen to her.”

Sad LadySo the old lady put down her broom and sat on a chair and told her story:

“Well, my husband died of malaria and three months later my only son was killed by a car.

I had nobody… I had nothing left.
I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat,

I never smiled at anyone, I even thought of taking my own life.

Then one evening A LITTLE KITTEN FOLLOWED me home from work.

Somehow I felt sorry for that kitten.

kittenIt was cold outside, so I decided to let the kitten in.
I got it some milk, and the kitten licked the plate clean.
Then it purred and rubbed against my leg and for the first time in months, I smiled.

Then I stopped to think, if helping a little kitten could make me smile, maybe doing something for people could make me happy.

So the next day I baked some biscuits and took them to a neighbor who was sick in bed.
” Every day I tried to do something nice for someone.
It made me so happy to see them happy.

Today, I don’t know of anybody who sleeps and eats better than I do.
I’ve found happiness, by giving it to others “.

” When she heard that the rich lady cried.

She had everything that money could buy, but she had lost the things which money cannot buy.

making others happy“The beauty of life does not depend on how happy you are;

Rather it depends on how happy others can be because of you…”

Happiness keeps u Sweet,

Trials keep u Strong, Sorrow keeps u Human, Only Jesus keeps u Going “.

– fwd: valliamannil mathews

HJS organizes campaign to ban loudspeakers in mosques in Thane

May 29, 2014 by  
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Mumbai, May 28, 2014: It is only a week that Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) won the Lok Sabha election but the saffron organizations have already started to suppress the minorities living in the country. When there are reports of riots like situations created by saffron party supporters in Mangalore, Meerut and Ahmedabad there are incidences of provocation for disturbing the communal harmony continues in other parts of the country.

HJS organizes campaign to ban loudspeakers in mosques in Thane470 Hindu organizations in Karnataka have demanded to ban Loudspeakers in Mosques where as Hindu Janjagruti Samiti is campaigning for the same in Thane district of Maharashtra.

On 24th May 2014 Hindu Janjagruti Samiti organized a protest/campaign to ban use of loudspeakers in Mosques. For this purpose they prepared many big hoardings calling Hindus to unite for the cause of banning loudspeakers in Mosques and asked them to gather outside Thane (W) railway station on Saturday 24th May 2014 between 5pm to 7 pm. During the program they also obtained signatures from the attendees below a memorandum which they later on served to the district police official.

The program was attended not only by the Hindu Janjagruti Samiti members but also by the leaders & members of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bajrang Dal units of Thane who uninterruptedly provoked people against the religious rituals of Muslims.

Mr. Ajay Sambhavat, spokesperson of Hindu Janjagruti Samiti incited the feelings of Hindus by saying that why were they not allowed running loudspeakers after 10 pm during Ganpati and Navratri when Muslims are allowed its use in their daily morning prayer. He was furious on police department and said that police are always sympathetic towards Muslims. He threatened them to stop use of loudspeakers in mosques or his organization will continue to raise the issue.

The Muslims living in Thane and Mumbra area of New Mumbai are frightened due to the timings of holding of such a program which come only a week after BJP won the Lok Sabha elections and therefore are very cautious of their security under BJP government.

Mr. Siraj Dongre, Senior Municipal Corporator from Mumbra said that India is a democratic country where every person has a right to practice his own religion and that Adhan remains only for couple of minutes and hence cannot be supposed to be causing harm to people. He added that Hindu Janjagruti Samiti and other saffron parties seek for an opportunity to disturb peace and harmony prevailing in the society.

“When the Muslims don’t complain about the noise pollution created due to Hindus religious gatherings and programs then Hindus should also not make Muslim’s morning prayer adhan an issue”, said Mr. Ashraf Mulani , leader of Thane congress. He also added, “Such organizations who aim to disturb peace and harmony should be banned and not allowed to hold such programs which incite feelings of other community”.

It is pertinent to mention that the issue of nose pollution created due to religious programs came up many a times before high courts and supreme court but none of the court has expressly asked the police authority to ban use of loudspeakers for adhan proclamation from mosques but has only provided guidelines for maintenance of noise pollution emerging from religious places including mosques, temples, gurudwaras and churches.

– tcn

Letter to Modi – Amend Constitution to bring minority schools under RTE Act

May 29, 2014 by  
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Hon’ble Shri Narendra Modi

The Prime Minister

Subject:  Request for Amendment of the Constitution of India to bring Minority Schools within the ambit of RTE Act, 2009

Respected Sir,
We extend heartiest congratulations to you on assuming the prestigious office of the Prime Minister of India. As a collective of parents, we wield high hopes in you that you will shoulder the responsibility of shaping the future of this country by securing the children their educational rights in the most befitting manner. On this occasion, we wish to draw your attention towards an important issue concerning the right to education of students studying in minority schools across the country.

Shri Narendra ModiThe Hon’ble Supreme Court in its Judgment dated 12.04.2012 had held that Article 21-A of the Constitution of India does not apply to unaided minority schools and therefore, the provisions of Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 (The RTE Act, 2009) do not apply to Unaided Minority Schools. Thereafter, the Hon’ble Supreme Court in its latter judgment dated 06.05.2014 by a larger Bench has held that the Act is not applicable even to aided minority schools.

However, the Hon’ble Supreme Court had pointed out in its former judgment that  all minority schools can be brought within the purview of Article 21-A if an amendment is made in the Constitution of India to include the minority schools within the purview of Article 21-A of the Constitution of India.

It is submitted that keeping minority schools out of the purview of Article 21-A of the Constitution of India  has not only resulted in discrimination amongst the children but has also resulted in depriving the children attending such private schools of various valuable rights as incorporated in the RTE Act, 2009.

It has been noticed that after the aforesaid Judgment of the Hon’ble Supreme Court, many non-minority private schools are converting themselves into minority schools to avoid the obligation of admitting 25% children belonging to disadvantaged group/EWS and to grant them free ship.  In this manner, more and more schools are shutting their doors to the EWS and disadvantaged category of children and becoming exclusive schools.

Another facet of this exclusion of the minority schools from the ambit of the RTE Act is that various progressive provisions such as ban on corporal punishment, prohibition on screening and capitation fee, prohibition on holding back and expulsion till completion of elementary education and the norms and standards given in the Schedule to the Act have become inapplicable to these schools, exposing the students studying therein to the arbitrariness of the school-authorities. These provisions satisfy the test of reasonableness and do not in any manner dilute the minority character of these institutions. Therefore, these provisions should be made applicable to the minority schools.

It is therefore, necessary that the Constitution of India be amended to include aided and unaided minority schools within the purview of Article 21-A of the Constitution of India so that the provisions of RTE Act, 2009 become applicable to aided and unaided minority schools.

In the premise aforesaid, you are requested to take steps to bring an Amendment Bill in the Parliament to remove the Constitutional barrier upon applicability of the RTE Act, 2009 to aided and unaided minority schools in order to end the existing regime of unjustified immunity from the RTE Act, 2009being enjoyed by these schools.

With regards

Ashok Agarwal
National President
All India Parents Association

Syrian Christians urge Pope to work for peace, help them go home

May 29, 2014 by  
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Syria, May 26, 2014: Syrian Christians who fled a village near the border with Turkey after it was captured by Islamist rebels say they refuse to leave the country and urged Pope Francis to pray for them and help them return home.

Syrian ChristiansIn March, rebels including fighters from the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front captured the majority-Armenian village of Kasab in the coastal province of Latakia, a stronghold of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Thousands of people fled to the city of Latakia and accused hardline Sunni fighters of targeting Christians and desecrating holy sites. Rebels denied the accusations.

Christians interviewed by Reuters said they hoped Pope Francis, who visited Bethlehem on Sunday, the traditional birthplace of Jesus, would pray for peace in Syria.

“The Pope’s visit is a holy one, we wish for him to work for peace and pray for peace in Syria,” Father Miron Owadesyan said.

The Argentinean pope made an urgent appeal for an end to Syria’s war on Saturday at the start of his first trip to the Holy Land as pontiff.

In the first days of the attack on Kasab, more than 1,500 people sought refuge in the Armenian Greek Orthodox church of the Virgin Mary in Latakia city 30 miles (49 km) away.

Most of them have since moved and now only about 100 people are living in the 1,200-year-old-church, mainly surviving on donations and support from the government.

Narik Louisian, a priest from Kasab, said he hoped the Pope would use his influence to help Christians in the Middle East who have felt threatened by violence and political turmoil.

“(It is) our right as Christians to live in the East, the East is our land too,” he said. “We are an inseparable part of the Holy Land.”

Tamar Minoknian, a 40-year-old housewife, said she wanted Pope Francis to help Syria’s displaced Christians return to their villages. “We want him to help us return to our houses. We do not want aid, we just want to go back to our homes.”

Latakia and neighboring Tartous provinces together form the Mediterranean heartland of the Alawite faith – the Shi’ite-derived sect of which Assad is a member.

Many Alawites have remained loyal to the government throughout the three-year-old conflict which has killed at least 160,000 people.

Syria’s Christian community, about 10 percent of the population, is wary of the rising power of Islamist groups within the rebel movement, and only a small percentage of Christians have taken up arms.

“I cannot live outside Syria, we were born here and we will die here,” Nerneen Boinashikian, in her fifties, told Reuters while she was preparing lunch. “All that we want is to return to our homes. Enough destruction.”

– reuters


BJP revelry turns violent, communities clash in Bijapur

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Karnataka, May 27, 2014: A BJP sponsored revelry took an ugly turn yesterday in Karnataka’s Bijapur district, resulting in clashes between party supporters and members of the Muslim community. According to the police, over a dozen people sustained injuries, and an unconfirmed report claims that at least one man has succumbed to the clash.

BJP revelry turns violentAccording to a local source, who did not want to be named, the incident occurred on Monday late afternoon, when a ‘victory march’ led by former Karnataka Minister Basangouda Patil Yatnal, reached the Muslim dominated Gandhi Chowk Market, playing songs, which called for the construction of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya. The party workers were raising slogans of victory, and applying gulaal (coloured powder) on passers-by, and vendors in the market, when the coloured powder fell on some women belonging to the minority community.The enraged members of the community, the source said, retaliated by throwing fruits at the BJP workers, before both started throwing stones at each other.

The BJP party workers and supporters then went on a rampage damaging parked vehicles, and push cart stalls, forcing everyone in and around Gandhi Chowk, Shivaji Chowk and Basaveshwar Road to shut down all shops and business establishments.

BJP revelry turns violentAccording to our source, today a Muslim mob from the neighboring Solapur from Maharashtra entered the city with a clear intention of vitiating an already incensed environment. The police, we were told have taken control of the situation, and the mob has been dispersed. Prohibitory orders under section 144 (CrPC) have been imposed for three days.

District-in-charge minister M B Patil urged people to maintain peace, and not listen to any rumors. He also said he has instructed police to take action against people responsible for the clash.

– tcn

Pope Francis minces no words in his appeal for peace

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pope in jerusalemJerusalem, May 26, 2014: Pope Francis made a personal bid for peace on Sunday by inviting the Israeli and Palestinian presidents to the Vatican to pray for an end to their “increasingly unacceptable” conflict.

And he came face-to-face with daily Palestinian reality in Bethlehem when he made an unscheduled stop by the towering separation barrier Israel is building across the West Bank, and spent time talking with families and refugees.

But as he arrived in Jerusalem, the 77-year-old pontiff turned his attention to matters of faith, holding a landmark unity service with Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew I at Christianity’s most sacred shrine.

Entering the dimly-lit Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City, the two men, one in white, the other in black, knelt together to pray at the Stone of the Anointing where the body of Jesus was laid before burial, as a choir solemnly intoned a Greek chant.

The joint service on the 50th anniversary of a historic rapprochement between the Catholic and Orthodox worlds was billed by the Vatican as the main reason for Francis’ trip. The leaders also signed a declaration to further ease a centuries-long rift.

“There aren’t really significant theological differences between the Orthodox church and the Catholic, church today, it’s more about history and authority – issues which are not spiritual,” Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Custos of the Holy Land to AFP earlier this week.

Although the pope has said his three-day pilgrimage, which ends on Monday, has “purely religious” motives, his every gesture has come under close scrutiny, with Israel and the Palestinians keen to score a few political points.

After starting his journey in Jordan, where he appealed for an end to the bloodshed in Syria, Francis then began the Israeli-Palestinian leg of the trip by flying directly to Bethlehem, in what was seen as a nod to Palestinian aspirations for statehood.

There, he won further plaudits from the Palestinians with an unscheduled stop by the West Bank barrier.

Dressed in his white cassock and flanked by anxious Palestinian security guards, he walked over to the eight-metre (26-foot) concrete barrier and took a few moments to pray, his forehead and hand resting on the wall.

“Pope, we need someone to speak about justice” read one of the slogans where he stood.

It was a powerful show of support which was warmly welcomed by the Palestinians.

“It was an eloquent and clear message to the whole world, particularly to Israel, that we cannot reach peace while Israel continues to build racist separation walls between the Palestinian and Israeli peoples,” said Nimr Hammad, political adviser to Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.

Israel says the vast barrier, which it began building in 2002, is crucial for security. Palestinians see it as a land grab aimed at stealing territory they want for a future state.

As he rolled into Bethlehem’s Manger Square to celebrate mass, he won a raucous welcome from 10,000 pilgrims, as local Christians joined with the faithful from Europe, Africa and Asia to belt out hymns and carols.

“He’s unlike other popes in terms of his humanity, and I hope he can bring real change on the ground,” said Ibrahim Handal, a Bethlehem resident.

“Through faith, you can move mountains.”

The pope then shared his lunch with several Palestinian families, also meeting children at Dheishe refugee camp, before taking a short flight to Tel Aviv.

There, he was officially welcomed on the red carpet by President Shimon Peres as Israeli and Vatican flags snapped jauntily in the breeze.

In a speech at the airport, Francis diverged from his prepared remarks to call for an end to intolerance, saying he was “profoundly saddened” by a deadly shooting attack at the Jewish museum in Brussels that left four people dead, two of them Israelis.

“Let us promote an education… where there will be no place for anti-Semitism in any of its forms or for expressions of hostility, discrimination or intolerance towards any individual or people,” he said.

Later in Jerusalem, as his chopper touched down on a helipad near the Old City, the pope beamed as he was greeted by a group of Jewish, Christian and Muslim schoolchildren, who handed him a basket of fruit and another one of Holy Land earth.

Despite expectations he would steer clear of the thorny politics of the intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Argentine pontiff extended a personal invitation to Abbas and Peres to join him at the Vatican for a “heartfelt prayer” for peace.

“Building peace is difficult, but living without peace is a constant torment,” he said.

A senior Palestinian official confirmed Abbas had accepted and would visit the Vatican on June 6, but although Peres welcomed the invite, his office declined to say whether he would accept. AFP

– ucanews

What disturbs you most? What disturbed you the most?

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A lost soul in Hell, or a scratch on that car.
HelpYour missing the worship service or missing a day’s work.
churchThe Church not growing very fast or the garden not growing.
gardenYour Bible unopened, or a newspaper unread.
Bible and NewspaperThe contributions decreasing or your income decreasing.
contributionsYour children late to Bible study or late to public school.
LateYour church work neglected or your housework neglected.
neglectedTo miss Bible class or to miss your favorite TV program.
T.VLow attendance at worship or low attendance at a party.
emptyNow what are you going to do about it?

– fwd: samuel machado

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