August 2021 #3 – Pope speaks in support of vaccination.

News in brief.

European church leaders call for prayers and support for people of Afghanistan. Churches in Europe have called for prayers and for concrete support for refugees fleeing the current situation in Afghanistan. The chairman of the German Catholic Bishops’ Conference, Bishop Georg Bätzing urged European countries to welcome refugees. Bishop Alan McGuckian, speaking on behalf of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference, called on wealthier countries, including Ireland to do more to help. The Anglican bishop in Europe, Robert Innes, said: “I believe the EU, its member states, and other key players should do all they can to support the people of Afghanistan who are imperilled at this time, and especially those who have made such huge sacrifices to promote freedom from oppression and violence, freedom of expression, education, justice and human rights, especially for women.”

Pope speaks in support of vaccination. In a video message this week, Pope Francis said it was “thanks to God’s grace and to the work of many, we now have vaccines to protect us from Covid-19”. Getting vaccinated, he said, is an “act of love”. 

Monks return to Solignac Abbey, France after 230 years. Benedictine monks will restore the Rule of St Benedict at Solignac Abbey, which monks had been forced to leave by anti-clerical revolutionaries in 1790. The Benedictines plan to develop a regional spiritual centre and work with agrarian students to produce products to sell. Whilst restoration of the abbey will continue for some years, the first mass will be held on 28 November.

Pope will attend COP26 Climate Conference. The Scottish Bishops’ Conference confirmed that Pope Francis will attend the COP26 Climate Conference being held in Glasgow in November. 

Spotlight photograph of the ancient city wall of Thessaloniki

Spotlight on Thessaloniki.

Church of the Rotunda (Pl. Agiou Georgiou Rotonta 5) is considered by some to be the oldest surviving Christian church in the world. It was built in around 300 AD as a tomb for Roman tetrarch Galerius, was developed by Emperor Theodosius I into a church, then it became a mosque during the period of Ottoman rule, before reverting to being a church; the church contains architectural elements reflecting all of these periods. 

Church of Saint Demetrius (Agiou Dimitriou). Built in the 4th century AD, the church is noted for its Byzantine mosaic panels. These mosaics depict St. Demetrius with officials responsible for the restoration of the church and with children. Beneath the church are the catacombs where St Demetrios, along with other Christians of the early Roman period, were martyred and buried. Saint Demetrius is the patron saint of Thessaloniki and on 26 October his relics are processed through the city.

Church of Agia Sophia (​​Agias Sofias). While the site had been home to a Christian church for hundreds of years, it was in the 7th century, following an earthquake, that the existing building was erected, based on the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople (Istanbul). The church contains impressive examples of Byzantine mosaic art, including an 8th century image of the Theotokos, and a mosaic in the 9th century dome depicting the twelve apostles, Mary and two angels. 

Church of the Acheiropoieitos (Agias Sofias 56) Built in around 450 AD, it acquired the name Acheiropoieitos because of the miraculous Hodegetria icon housed there. Like other churches in Thessalononiki, it contains striking Byzantine mosaics and frescoes. Unusually, the Church of the Acheiropoieitos has a wooden roof.

Saint of the week: Bernard of Clairvaux.

Engraving image of Saint Bernard, in front of a river.

On 20 August, the Catholic Church celebrates Bernard of Clairvaux. Bernard was an 11th-century Burgundian abbot, and prolific theological writer, who founded the abbey at Clairvaux and is remembered amongst other things for his emphasis on the spiritual practice of lectio divina. In his sermon series on Song of Songs, he offered a striking analogy on sacrifice and replenishment that has resonance today:  

“The man who is wise, therefore, will see his life as more like a reservoir than a canal. The canal simultaneously pours out what it receives; the reservoir retains the water till it is filled, then discharges the overflow without loss to itself … Today there are many in the Church who act like canals, the reservoirs are far too rare … You too must learn to await this fullness before pouring out your gifts, do not try to be more generous than God.” 

Looking ahead.

22 August marks the UN’s International Day commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief

On 28 August, Protestant and Roman Catholic churches in Germany as well as the churches affiliated to the Arbeitsgemeinschaft Christlicher Kirchen (Working Group of Christian Churches) will jointly remember the victims of the recent floods at a commemoration service at Aachen Cathedral.

Picture credits. Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, Wellcome Collection; Elena Theodoridou; graphic design by European Churches Chronicle.

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