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Ecumenism a survival strategy in Middle East

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By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
Romet

In most parts of the world, ecumenism is seen by Christians either as a Gospel imperative or simply as a good cause, a way of healing historical wounds and reaching out to fellow believers.

In the Middle East, however, it’s a survival strategy –- a way for the region’s tiny Christianity minority to hang together, so they don’t end up hanging separately.

tCalls for concrete steps towards unity have been heard repeatedly throughout the Oct. 10-24 Synod of Bishops for the Middle East, which is now at the midway point. On Saturday, participants discussed a first draft of their final message, which will be amended and then presented for a final vote next week.

tA harrowing reminder of what the Christians are up against in some parts of the Middle East came from Archbishop Athanase Matti Shaba Matoka, the Syrian Catholic leader in Baghdad, Iraq. It was testimony that carries special resonance for Americans.

t“Since the year 2003, Christians are the victims of a killing situation, which has provoked great emigration from Iraq,” Matoka said. “Half the Christians have abandoned Iraq, and without a doubt there are only about 400,000 Christians left of the 800,000 that lived there.”

Spirituality in six words

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As a fun exercise in the lesson of "writing short," I ask my journalism students to write a "Six-Word Memoir," summarizing their life and philosophy in just a half dozen words. I stole the idea from Smith Magazine, who stole it from Ernest Hemingway, who (allegedly) won a bar bet by writing the best life story in six words: "For sale: baby shoes, never worn."

Now Killing the Buddha (a blog for "people made anxious by churches") has challenged people to write six-word spiritual memoirs. It's their response to PBS's call for spiritual memoirs in its "Faithbook" project connected to the documentary "God in America" (which unfortunately I haven't had a chance to watch yet).

But why write an essay, a paragraph or even a "monstrous 140-character Tweet," when you can do it in six words? It does force people to get creative. Here are some of my favorites:

* From knowing all to knowing nothing.
* Between Familial Tradition and Accidental Grace

ìGod was the 34th minerÖî

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That was one of the most memorable statements to come from one of the men trapped for 69 days in the bowels of the earth in Chile. I can only imagine how these miners coped with their confinement, especially during the first 17 days when they had no contact with the surface, and no assurance that anyone was even close to locating them.

Reports indicate that faith and prayer played a significant role for many of them and for their families.

The whole rescue highlighted the power of “resurrection” and why it is so central to the story of Christianity. Those of us who watched the capsule emerge from the earth, each time with a freed miner, were mesmerized and thankful. I know I asked friends for hours, “How many have been rescued now?” “Are they all out yet?” And I suddenly sensed what it might have been like for Martha and Mary watching Lazarus emerge from his tomb.

For Palestinian Christians, things 'not hopeless, yet not very promising'

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By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
Rome

For Arab Christians in Israel and the Palestinian Territories, the situation is “not hopeless, yet not very promising,” a prominent educator and member of the Palestinian Legislative Council for Jerusalem said today.

Bernard Sabella, associate professor of sociology at the Holy See's Bethlehem University, and a participant in the Synod of Bishops for the Middle East, offered the assessment during a press conference organized by the Catholic Near East Welfare Association and the Canadian media network “Salt and Light.”

Sabella also said that Palestinian Christians can and should make a critical contribution to their societies: Promoting the development of secular, democratic states in which all citizens are equal before the law.

Cozzens: Why priests remain silent

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Author Fr. Donald Cozzens, who in several book-length treatments has provided invaluable analysis of the clergy culture, wrote a disarmingly frank response to the question of why priests in Cleveland remain silent in the face of so much distress in the Catholic community there over the closing of parishes generally deemed spiritually and financially viable.

His op-ed piece appeared today in the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

In his response, Cozzens writes: “We priests have remained silent because it is our way of life...we have been educated and formed in a quasi-militaristic, quasi-feudal clerical society,” in which loyalty is the prime virtue and questioning authority is seen as disloyalty, “a capital sin” in both church and military.

Read the entire article here.

Know your farmer, know your food

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A new Web site, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, "Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food," aims to support local farmers, strengthen rural communities, promote healthy eating and protect natural resources.

"This is a USDA-wide effort to create new economic opportunities by better connecting consumers with local producers. It is also the start of a national conversation about the importance of understanding where your food comes from and how it gets to your plate. Today, there is too much distance between the average American and their farmer and we are marshalling resources from across USDA to help create the link between local production and local consumption."

Beyond a 'tea and cookies' dialogue with Islam

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ROME -- Given the setting of the Middle East, Christians are compelled to pursue dialogue with the vast Muslim majority; in fact, it would be virtually impossible to avoid.

Several participants at the Oct. 10-24 Synod of Bishops for the Middle East, however, seem eager to push that dialogue beyond a “tea and cookies” stage, where the point is merely being polite to one another, into blunt talk about religious freedom, democracy, and what one speaker described as “satanic plans by fundamental extremist groups” to extinguish Christianity in the region.

The Theology of the Tea Party

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There is a new poll out this week from the Public Religion Research Institute that shows that 47 percent of the Tea Partiers also identify as Christian Conservatives or members of the Religious Right.

The upshot? Tea Partiers are not the people sometimes described by the media as libertarians, political independents, voters interested primarily in economic issues. Rather, they are largely social conservatives who favor government intervention on issues like gay marriage and abortion. They are mostly Republican, and their interests stretch far beyond taxes and spending.

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August 28-September 10, 2015

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