Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Pope Benedict sent a Message to the bishops of Brazil for the start on Ash Wednesday of the annual Fraternity Campaign promoted by the Church in Brazil during Lent. The theme of the 2009 campaign is: "Peace is the fruit of justice." He referred to the final document of the 2007 meeting of Latin American bishops in Aparecida, Brazil, saying it described the "clear signs of the presence of the Kingdom of God, in the individual and community experience of the Beatitudes, in the evangelization of the poor, and in the struggle not to succumb to evil.

"Lent calls us to a lasting struggle to do good, said the Holy Father, precisely because we know how difficult it is for us, as human beings, to dedicate ourselves seriously to the practice of justice, a justice more than ever necessary for a coexistence based on peace and love and not on hatred and indifference. Yet we know, he said, that even if we achieve a reasonable distribution of wealth and a harmonious organization of society, nothing can remove the pain of sickness, misunderstanding, solitude, the death of people we love, or an awareness of our own limitations."

"Our Lord," wrote the Pope, "abhors injustice and condemns those who practice it; yet He respects individual liberty and for this reason allows it to exist, because it forms part of the human condition after original sin. Despite this, His heart, full of love for human beings, brought Him to shoulder all our torments: suffering, sadness, hunger and our thirst for justice. Let us ask him for the strength to bear witness to the same feelings of peace and reconciliation that inspired Him on the Sermon on the Mount, in order to achieve eternal Beatitude."


When the Chaldean Bishops of Iraq were in Rome in January for their ad limina visit, they spoke of the problems Christians face in the country as they become an ever dwindling presence, and suggested to Pope Benedict that a synod be held on the Middle East to find ways to encourage Christians to remain and "offer hope." Since 2003, an estimated 400,000 Christians, half the total, including 15 priests, have left Iraq. Five churches have closed in Baghdad, and 500 Christians have been killed, including Archbishop Faraj Rahho of Mosul, four priests and a deacon.

Archbishop Louis Sako of Kirkuk, who wrote the proposal for a synod for Christians in the Middle East, Wednesday told SIR, Italy's Religious Information Service, that the proposal has been sent to the Synod of Bishops, and now we have to wait. He said a synod might help open an Arab pastoral that would be shared by all the Churches of the Middle East. To do this, first and foremost we must change our language, making it more open, simple and understandable both by our faithful and by the Muslims with whom we dialogue.

Archbishop Sako said, we must urgently make them understand that we are not polytheists or infidels. We need new ways to speak with the Muslim world and give continuity to the Christian presence. He suggested, it might help to go back to the Arab language, as many Christian theologians did in the Middle Ages to explain the Christian doctrine. This can help our Churches that use the Chaldean, Syriac and Aramaic languages. He noted that The Protestant cults that have been spreading in Iraq since the time of the embargo, use a language that is easy to understand, and thats partly why people follow them.


Msgr. Fortunatus Nwachukwu, head of the protocol office in the Vaticans Secretariat of State, spoke Tuesday at a forum in Rome promoted by Harambee Africa International. In Kiswahili, Harambee means all for one and is the cry of fishermen as they drag their nets ashore. Harambee promotes educational programs in Africa and about Africa developmental projects on the sub-Saharan region and awareness-building activities designed to encourage a positive outlook on African culture. Msgr. Nwachukwu, who is from Nigeria, said the Catholic Church is an anchor of salvation and an occasion of redemption for the African continent. He said Africa needs above all to be loved: it needs to defeat the negative stereotypes that inexorably paint it as a goner, as incapable, or dying. The temptation to inertia or resignation must be resisted by taking a stand, like the Catholic Church does, in committing with determination to welcoming the signs of hope that come from the continent.

The head of protocol said Africa is spoken of more and more today, and has become fashionable. He said many public figures love to be photographed with African children, more for their own image than to really contribute to solving the problems that afflict those children. Msgr. Nwachukwu pointed out that the Church is called to promote reconciliation, justice and peace, the guidelines that allow for putting an end to conflicts, for reining in egoisms and defeating jealousies that cause real and true fratricides. He said, the military and politicians have failed soundly because they have paid more attention to their own personal and tribal interests, but Christian missionaries have not failed, they have brought hospitals, education and food. Many even paid with their own lives.


Yesterday I ended this column just as our group was starting the long and wonderful walk down Curetes Street in Ephesus on our way to the stunning Celsus Library and all points beyond, including the great amphitheatre and, eventually, the Church of Mary and the Basilica of St. John where the Council of Ephesus was held in 431 during which Mary was proclaimed Theotokos, Mother of God. There will be a third part to Ephesus tomorrow when we visit these last two places.

Curetes Street, named for the priests associated with the Temple of Artemis, the goddess against whom St. Paul preached in Ephesus, was once lined with shops, workshops and inns, and was both a main thoroughfare and an important processional route for worshippers of Artemis.

In the first photo we start our walk down Curetes Street.

In this picture, we are walking through the Hercules Gate, so named for the bas-relief of Hercules. This gate actually narrowed the street in such a way that vehicles I think we are talking chariots and animal-drawn carts could not pass.

And here you see the ruins of one of the many shops that lined Curetes Street. In the bottom half of the picture you can see the beautifully-preserved mosaic walkway that fronted the store. This was roped off for visitors and we could not approach the stores where this sidewalk existed.

Here are some bas-reliefs on Hadrians temple. The first shows Ephesus welcoming Alexander the Great and the second shows the head of Medusa, placed over the entrance to ward off demons and evil spirits. We occasionally saw a Medusa head on temples at other sites we visited. Our guide Alp told us that a Medusa head was often placed over temple entrances by the priests in order to keep people out and thus heighten the mystery of the cult and of the priests work in the temple. Alexander the Great entered Ephesus in 334 B.C., following which the city knew a long period of peace and prosperity. By the way, after his triumphal entry into Ephesus, Alexander saw that the Temple of Artemis had not been completed and he suggested that he finance the work and that the temple be given his name instead. The people refused, saying it was not fitting for a god to build a temple for another god.

And here is the breathtakingly grand Celsus Library. Our group gathered on the nine steps leading up to the entrance and rested as Gaby did another reading for us. This two-story building was built in 135 long after St. Paul had died - by the son of Tiberius Julius Celsus to honor his father who had been a popular consul in 92 A.D. and governor of Asia in 115 A.D. The library had recessed storage space for 12,000 scrolls and was also to serve as a tomb for Celsus this at a time when people were always buried outside the city limits.

A barge bearing Cleopatra to a rendezvous with Marc Antony arrived in Ephesus in 32 B.C. The port was much closer to the city then than it is now, and Cleopatra was brought to the city on the road that once lined the grassy area you see between the columns in this picture.

Here is a partial view of the remarkably preserved 25,000-seat amphitheatre in Ephesus, where Gaby did her third reading of the day.

Leaving the amphitheatre you walk down Harbor Street the street St. Paul walked when he left Ephesus by ship for Macedonia. I could not get that thought out of my mind as I walked about 100 feet of this broad and very ancient thoroughfare, trying to image the fearless, undaunted leader of Christians, as he was about to embark on another journey, travelling the highways and byways of Asia to bring the Good News to people everywhere.

And if you think about it, Paul arrived in Ephesus by ship and would have walked a mile or so to town and this would easily have been the first thing he saw.

February 17 Ephesus Library of Celsus: Ephesians 5:21 6:13

21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. 22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, people have never hated their own bodies, but they feed and care for them, just as Christ does the Church 30 for we are members of his body. 31 "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh." 32 This is a profound mysterybut I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. 1 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 "Honor your father and mother"which is the first commandment with a promise 3 "so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth." 4 Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. 5 Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. 6 Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. 7 Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, 8 because you know that the Lord will reward each one of you for whatever good you do, whether you are slave or free. 9 And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him. 10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.

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