Tuesday, March 22, 2011



Fr. Aurelio Mulè Stagno SDB
SThD, B.A. (Hons.), L.R.S.M. (perf.), Dipl. Comp. (Frosinone Cons.)

Imploring Our Definitive Redemption Through Song,
Between Anamnesis, Firm Faith and Sure Hope
With Particular Reference to Liturgical Celebration in English and Italian

Thursday 22 December 2011 at 7.30 P.M.

The Salesian Theological Institute/Ratisbonne, Rh Shmuel Hanagid 26

Aurelio Mulè Stagno started learning piano and music theory in his native Malta at the age of 6 and continued in Ireland where, in his early years as a Salesian of Don Bosco, he obtained the L.R.S.M. (Licentiate of the Royal Schools of Music) in piano performing and a B.A. (Hons.) in Philosophy and Music from Maynooth University. In preparation for the priesthood he pursued his theological studies at the Salesian Pontifical University in Rome, where in the year 2000 he defended his doctoral thesis (Christus cantor Patris et Ecclesiae) on the theological and liturgical implications of musical imagery used in «Mediator Dei», the 1947 encyclical on the liturgy. At the same time he furthered his musical studies in organ and composition through private tuition, leading up to a Diploma in Composition awarded by the “Licinio Refice” State Conservatory of Frosinone in 2003.

While in Rome he gained some experience as piano accompanist, organist, choral conductor, composer and arranger both within the Salesian University itself and in a parish context on the outskirts of the city, as well as on special occasions in St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.

Since September 2000 he has joined the Salesian Centre of Theological Studies, initially in Cremisan and from 2004 in Ratisbonne-Jerusalem, as professor of Liturgy, Music Director and Registrar.

Tea, coffee and biscuits will be available from 7.00 P.M. on.

YouTube Video Clip

Christian Friends of Yad Vashem International Relations Division has just released a new video clip. ETRFI's General Secretary, Rev. Dr. Heldt is one of the interviewees. See it on YouTube:

Persecution of Christians in the Middle East: Two Articles by Lela Gilbert

1. "Iranian Christians Sentenced for Crimes Against the Islamic Order."  Lela Gilbert (Originally published in the National Review Online: March 11, 2011, published here with the author's permission).

In recent weeks, a series of abuses against Christians has swept across the Muslim world. There has been a murder in Pakistan, attacks on churches in Ethiopia, an attempted assassination of the Ecumenical Patriarch in Turkey, and repeated pogroms against the Copts in Egypt.
Now, rights groups are reporting new developments in Iran’s anti-Christian crackdown, which has swept up nearly 300 Christian believers since June 2010.
In late January 2011, Elam Ministries released a detailed briefing document announcing a “severe intensification of arrests and imprisonment of Christians in Iran.”
Two days ago, on March 9, Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) reported that five Iranian Christians had been sentenced to one year’s imprisonment for “Crimes against the Islamic Order.”
Pastor Behrouz Sadegh-Khandjani, Mehdi Furutan, Mohammad Beliad, Parviz Khalaj and Nazly Beliad, all members of the Church of Iran, a Jesus-Only Pentecostal denomination, were found guilty by the Revolutionary Court in Shiraz. They have 20 days to appeal the sentence.
CSW also confirms that 282 Christians have been arrested in 34 cities since June 2010: “At least 15 of these Christians remain in prison, while others have been released, generally after posting large amounts of bail.” According to Elam’s report, Yousef Nadarkhani, pastor of a church in Gilan province, has been sentenced to death. He was arrested in October 2009 and is being held in Lakan prison while his case is appealed.
An earlier (August 2010) report from Elam describes Iranian clerics’ hostility to the country’s Christian population. It quotes Ayatollah Seyed Hosseini Bousherhri, who calls house churches the work of the “enemy”: “Today the global aggressors have accurately planned and invested resources for these purposes. This why in our country there is a strong inclination towards Christianity.”

Lela Gilbert is an adjunct fellow of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom.

2. Living on a prayer (originally published in the Jerusalem Post on March 17, 2011, published here with the author's permission). By Lela Gilbert.

After Mubarak's resignation and the increase of violent religious persecution, Copts fear the repercussions of an Islamic state.
Those who venture into Jerusalem’s Old City often encounter Christian clergy in various robes and head coverings. Coptic monks, who serve at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, are particularly recognizable because of their distinctive black hoods.

These koulla (Coptic), or kalansuwa (Arabic) hoods are decorated with 12 small crosses and one large one, meant to remind the monks that they must leave everything earthly behind and look only to God. In today’s troubled times, more and more members of the Coptic Christian community in Egypt are facing that very choice.

Thus far, 2011 has not been kind to the Copts, who face everincreasing threats, persecution and violence. Their ancient community, which according to tradition was founded in Alexandria during the first century CE by the 
Apostle Mark, comprises between 8 percent and 10% of Egypt’s 83 million population. There are small communities of other Christians in Egypt as well, including Greek and Syrian Orthodox, Armenian, Chaldean, Greek, Melkite, Roman and Syrian Catholics, Maronites and 16 small Protestant denominations.

The Copts’ bloodlines are even more ancient than their Christian faith, dating back to the pharaohs, centuries before the Arab invasions in the seventh century. Their liturgical language, Coptic, is the closest existing language to that of ancient Egypt. As a religious minority in a Muslim majority state, the Copts have long faced discrimination under the dhimmi status spelled out in Islamic law. In recent years, they have suffered escalating attacks, as Islamist extremists have specifically targeted them.

The abuses Copts endure – incidents of forced marriage, rape, honor killing, extortion and murder – are rarely reported by Western media. Such dangers have now multiplied, beginning late last year. During a terrorist attack on worshipers in Iraq, at Baghdad’s Syriac Catholic Church of Our Lady of Salvation on November 1, masked assailants demanded the release of two Muslim women, allegedly held by Egyptian Coptic Christians (a charge that had begun to circulate in September).

Al-Qaida in Mesopotamia was quick to take credit for the 57 dead in the Baghdad massacre, while in the days that followed, it made continuing threats against the Copts. On satellite TV and on the Web, there were ongoing accusations against Coptic churches, but also the targeting of specific Coptic leaders even in the West, whose names and addresses were published online. In a fatwa emanating from Shumukh al-Islam, a radical Islamist website with links to al-Qaida, more than 200 specific Copts were targeted for death.

These were not idle threats. Two months later, on New Year’s Day, 23 were killed and 100 wounded in a bombing at All Saints Church in Alexandria, Egypt.

The New York Times reported, “Analysts said the weekend bombing was in a sense the culmination of a long escalation of violence against Egypt’s Coptic Christians...

But at the same time the blast’s planning and scale – a suicide bomber evidently detonated a locally made explosive device packed with nails and other shrapnel, the authorities said Sunday – were a break with the smaller episodes of intra-communal violence that have marked Muslim-Christian relations for the past decade.”

Then came something unexpected and startling – the upheaval in the “Arab street” that seized the world’s attention, first in Tunisia, but far more dramatically in Egypt. A global audience was transfixed as hundreds of thousands of protesters – seemingly representing all sectors of the community, including some Copts – demanded that 
Hosni Mubarak step down after three decades as president.

The demonstrations against Mubarak – infamous as a fierce ruler with an iron fist – were applauded around the world. Only a few cautious observers voiced concern, and among them were members of the Coptic community. Their sensible question, “What kind of regime will come next?” was drowned out by enthusiastic applause for “freedom and democracy.”

IN THE midst the euphoric international outpouring, the Copts were attacked again. According to the Assyrian International News Service, following allegations of an affair between a Copt and a Muslim, “a massacre took place on Sunday, January 30 at 3 p.m. in the village of Sharona near Maghagha, Minya province. Two Islamist groups, aided by the Muslim neighbors, descended on the roofs of houses owned by Copts. The two families were staying in their homes with their doors locked when suddenly the Islamists descended on them, killing 11, including children, and leaving for dead four other family members. In addition, they looted everything that was in the two Coptic houses, including money, furniture and electrical equipment. They also looted livestock and grain.”

For obvious reasons, this new violence magnified Coptic caution about the ongoing political revolution.

Veteran reporter Arne Fjeldstad, in daily contact with Egypt’s Christians, noted, “They are very uncertain about the future. As the crisis develops, their uncertainty is predominantly related to the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood and other even more radical Islamic groups. Of course there were Coptic Christian youth among the masses demonstrating both in Alexandria and Cairo as well as other cities. But so far this popular uprising has been dominated by the Muslim majority.”

On February 23, Compass Direct, a Christian news agency, reported that one monk and six church workers had been shot when the Egyptian army attacked the Coptic Orthodox Anba Bishoy Monastery in Wadi al-Natroun, 110 kilometers northwest of Cairo. The attack was meant to destroy an “illegal” wall that the monks had built to protect the monastery from mobs during the weeks of protests against the government; they had built it hurriedly, and without a permit. In a similar incident, the army also attacked the Anba Makarious Al Sakandarie Monastery in Al-Fayoum, 130 km. south of Cairo.

Under an Egyptian law carried over from Ottoman times, state permission is required to build or repair church property and such permits are rarely issued.

Why the enforcement of this edict required live ammunition to be used on monks remains unclear, but alarming YouTube videos bear witness to the incidents.

On March 4, Copts in Egypt appealed for armed forces protection when a mob of several thousand Muslims attacked their church in the village of Soul, about 30 km. from Cairo. The Church of St. Mina and St.

George was set alight; the local fire department and security forces failed to respond to Coptic calls for help during the arson attack. According to a report from the Washington-based Coptic American Friendship Association, the mob, chanting “Allahu akbar,” pulled down the church’s cross and blew up gas cylinders inside the building. The fire destroyed the church and everything inside, including ancient sacred relics. The motivation was said to be a forbidden romantic relationship between a Christian man and a Muslim woman. This was aggravated, in the eyes of Islamist radicals, by the failure of the woman’s father to restore the community’s “honor” by killing his daughter.

On March 9, Muslim rioters attacked Coptic Christians in Moqatta, one of Cairo’s poorest neighborhoods, where the primary industry is garbage collection and recycling. There were 13 deaths and 140 injuries. 
The Financial Times quoted a Christian protester named Samia: “‘We were staging a peaceful demonstration for the church, but they attacked us with firearms, stones and Molotov cocktails... The tanks made way for the thugs to come in... there was shooting until two o’clock in the morning.

After that they burned the houses and stole from them. They broke whatever they could not carry away. No fire engines or ambulances came. We had to take the injured to hospital in garbage trucks.’” Many of the bullets extracted from the victims of this incident were Army issued, and are being kept as evidence.

NINA SHEA, who directs Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom and serves on the US Commission for International Religious Freedom, writes, “There are growing concerns that Egypt’s 10 million or so Coptic Christians are being targeted under the cloak of political chaos during these uncertain times... local Egyptian police have abandoned their posts in the provinces and thus many churches no longer have armed guards protecting them as they did following the al-Qaida-inspired church bombing of New Year’s Day in Alexandria.”

Paul Marshall, Shea’s Hudson colleague, has kept a summary of Copt incidents since 2003. “It is too soon yet to speak of a trend, but in the four weeks since Mubarak resigned, the rate of attacks on Copts has increased. Some of this is due to security breakdowns, but it also includes attacks by the armed forces, on some occasions using live ammunition.”

Regarding media coverage of the anti- Copt attacks Marshall added, “The term ‘sectarian clashes’ should be banned.

These are pogroms.”

Israel is paying close attention to the ongoing strife in Egypt. For one thing, most observers believe that if a Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated party takes power, the peace treaty negotiated at Camp David in 1979 could be rendered null and void. The security status of its southern border is already threatened by the new instability, as is the likelihood of increased arms smuggling into Gaza.

But there are also more personal reactions.

For some Israelis, watching the abuses suffered by Coptic Christians stirs a feeling of déjà vu. According to historian Martin Gilbert, following the 1948 War of Independence, hundreds of Egyptian Jews were jailed; riots in Jewish quarters led to beatings and looting. Police broke into homes on unexplained “searches” and authorities confiscated vast amounts of wealth. Family members and friends disappeared, never to be seen again. Between 1948 and 1968, nearly 30,000 Jews fled of Egypt in fear of their lives.
Rachel Lipkin and her family escaped Egypt in 1969, when her father was released from prison, after being forced to sign away all the family assets to the government.

During her father’s three-year imprisonment (thousands of Jews were locked up after the 1967 Six Day War), Lipkin still remembers the kindness of Coptic neighbors who regularly brought eggs, milk and bread to her mother. “I was just 11 years old at the time, but I clearly remember what they said. ‘They are coming after you Jews,’ they told my mother, ‘and once they have driven you out of the country, then they will come after us Christians. We know this.’” Lipkin, whose work involves monitoring Arabic-language radio and television broadcasts, has followed this story closely and does not anticipate a good outcome for Egypt’s beleaguered Christians. Others share her view, “I haven’t seen the Copts as afraid as they are these days. They think that the military itself is penetrated by the Muslim Brotherhood,” said Marianne Samuel, 33, a teacher who works in Bahrain and who returned to Egypt to take part in the revolution, speaking to Al Masry Al Yom. After Mubarak’s resignation and the release of countless Islamist prisoners, Copts fear becoming second-class citizens – or worse – under an Islamic state.

Like the Jews before them, the pressure against the Copts is steadily increasing.

Following the example of their monks, who have taken a vow of poverty, this ancient Christian community may be forced to leave everything earthly behind, and to look only to God. 

The writer has authored or coauthored many books. She writes primarily in the field of ecumenical nonfiction, and her work includes the award-winning Blind Spot: When Journalists Don’t Get Religion (Oxford University Press, 2008). She also serves as an editorial consultant and an adjunct fellow at Hudson Institute.