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Pope Urges End to Carnage in Syria, Calls for Reconciliation in Middle East

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Pope Francis delivers the Urbi et Orbi (to the city and to the world) blessing at the end of the Easter Sunday Mass in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Apr. 1, 2018. VOA
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In his Easter message, Pope Francis called for peace in a world marked by war and conflict. Addressing tens of thousands of pilgrims gathered in Saint Peter’s Square from the central balcony of the basilica, the pope called for an end to “carnage” in the long-suffering land of Syria and “reconciliation” in the Middle East.

Francis’ appeal for peace came in his Urbi et Orbi message after having celebrated Easter mass in Saint Peter’s Basilica. He said the message of the resurrection offers hope in a world “marked by so many acts of injustice and violence”.

The pope begged for peace for “the entire world, beginning with the beloved and long-suffering land of Syria, whose people are worn down by an apparently endless war.”

“This Easter,” the pope said, “may the light of the risen Christ illuminate the consciences of all political and military leaders, so that a swift end may be brought to the carnage”.

Francis demanded that aid be delivered to the needy in the war-torn country and called for “fitting conditions for the return of the displaced.”

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Pope Francis acknowledges pilgrims while delivering the Urbi et Orbi blessing at the end of the Easter Sunday Mass in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, April 1, 2018. VOA

The pope also urged reconciliation in Israel, a place “experiencing in these days the wounds of ongoing conflict that do not spare the defenseless.” His words followed the Friday deaths of 15 Palestinian protesters on the Israeli-Gaza border two days before Easter Sunday.

ALSO READ: Bangladesh gets its first Catholic Cardinal: Pope Francis names 17 Archbishops as new Cardinals

Turning his thoughts to Africa, the pope also called for peace in South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“Let us not forget the victims of that conflict”, the pope said, “especially the children! May there be no lack of solidarity with all those forced to abandon their native lands and lacking the bare essentials for living.”
The world’s first Latin American pope also urged international assistance for Venezuela, so that more people would not have to abandon their homeland because of the economic and political crisis.

Finally, Francis also expressed the hope that the “fruits of dialogue” would advance peace and harmony on the Korean peninsula, where the two sides are set to hold their first summit in more than a decade on April 27.

Easter is Christianity’s “moveable feast,” falling on a different date each year. Western Christian churches celebrate Easter on the first Sunday following the full moon after the vernal equinox.

This year, Eastern Orthodox Churches, which include Jewish Passover in their calculation of Easter dates, celebrate the holiday next Sunday, April 8. VOA

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Mary Magdalene’s Image Gets New Look in Modern Age

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A picture of a mosaic of Mary Magdalene and Jesus at the Magdala center, on the Sea of Galilee in Migdal, March 27, 2018. VOA

If there’s a feminist figure from the Bible for the #MeToo era, it could very well be Mary Magdalene.

The major character in the life of Jesus was long maligned in the West and portrayed as a reformed former prostitute. But scholars have adopted a different approach more recently, viewing her as a strong, independent woman who supported Jesus financially and spiritually.

The New Testament tells how Jesus cast demons out of her. She then accompanied Jesus in his ministry around the Galilee, before witnessing his crucifixion, burial and resurrection in Jerusalem, which is being commemorated by Christians this week and next. The Roman Catholic Church and Western Christian churches observe Easter on Sunday, Eastern Orthodox Christians a week later.

Pope Francis took the biggest step yet to rehabilitate Mary Magdalene’s image by declaring a major feast day in her honor, June 22. His 2016 decree put the woman who first proclaimed Jesus’ resurrection on par with the liturgical celebrations of the male apostles.

ALSO READ: Exploring Jesus Christ’s journey in India before he became missionary-martyr of Sanatana Dharma in the West 

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“By doing this, he established the absolute equality of Mary Magdalene to the apostles, something that has never been done before and is also a point of no return” for women in the church, said Lucetta Scarrafia, editor of the Vatican-published Women Church World monthly magazine. Pixabay

For centuries, Western Christianity depicted Mary Magdalene as a former prostitute, a narrative that began in the sixth century. Pope Gregory the Great conflated Magdalene with an anonymous sinful woman mentioned in the chapter before she’s introduced in the Gospel of Luke.

Only in 1969 did the Catholic Church roll back centuries of labeling Mary Magdalene as such, stating she was distinct from the sinful woman mentioned in Luke. Eastern Orthodox Christians never depicted her as a prostitute.

Mary Magdalene was from a thriving fishing village on the Sea of Galilee named Magdala, which has been excavated extensively by archaeologists in recent decades.

The site is home to the oldest known synagogue in the Galilee, where a stone bearing the likeness of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem was found, as well as a marketplace, ritual baths and fishing harbor. Marcela Zapata-Meza, the lead archaeologist at the site, has called it “the Israeli Pompeii.”

Modern scholars have adopted a different understanding of Mary Magdalene, and regard her as one of Jesus’ most prominent disciples, who stood by him to the end while his most devoted apostles did not.

ALSO READ: Jesus as Yogi: The art of deception and conversion by Christian missionaries in India

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Nonetheless, the image of Mary Magdalene as a licentious, sexualized woman has persisted in Western culture, including in “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “The Da Vinci Code.” Pixabay

“Historical tradition says she was a prostitute from Magdala,” said Jennifer Ristine, director of the Magdalena Institute at Magdala. “Reanalyzing that reputation that she had we can see she was probably a woman of greater social status, higher social status, a woman of wealth who accompanied Jesus as we see in Luke 8:2, helping Jesus and his disciples with her own resources.”

Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, the Vatican’s culture minister, said Mary Magdalene’s reputation was sullied by her depiction in art over the centuries.

“Art history made her become a prostitute, which is something that is not present in the Gospels,” he said, adding that she also has been portrayed as Jesus’ wife.

“It is important to find the real face of Mary Magdalene, who is a woman who represents the importance of the female aspect on the side of Christ,” he told The Associated Press at the Vatican.

The Gospel of Mary, an early Christian text, depicted her as a visionary who received secret revelations and knowledge from Jesus.

ALSO READ: Christmas: Birthday of Son of God or Sun God?

Claire Pfann, academic dean at the University of the Holy Land in Jerusalem, said Mary Magdalene must be seen for what she was: “An independent woman who has discretionary time and wealth from the city of Magdala, not identified by a father or a husband, whose life was dramatically restored, healed, changed by her encounter with this Jewish itinerant teacher and healer, Jesus of Nazareth.”

“It takes a long time for serious scholarship to trickle down to the popular level,” she added.

A new film on the life of Mary Magdalene, starring Rooney Mara in the title role, Joaquin Phoenix as Jesus and Chiwetel Ejiofor as Peter the Apostle, recasts her in that mold.

The film has been released in Europe and Australia. A release date for the United States has not been set, following the collapse of its original distributor, the Weinstein Co., after a series of sexual harassment and assault claims against founder Harvey Weinstein. The rash of allegations made against Weinstein spawned the global #MeToo movement.

Ristine said Mary Magdalene plays a critical role in the New Testament and carries an “essential pivotal message of Christianity.”

“Why is a woman there, giving testimony to that in a culture where woman are just not paid attention to, or not placed as witnesses?” Ristine asked. “Well, this speaks very strongly to women today, that the power of their witness, the power of their testimony to speak up for a truth, can have effects that ripple down through the centuries.” VOA