Reuters blog archive
The 1996 murder of seven French Catholic monks in Algeria, called the Martyrs of Atlas because of the Atlas mountains where their monastery was located, was not the work of Islamist militants as officially stated at the time, according to testimony by a retired French general to an inquiry into the killings. (Photo: Lyon Cardinal Philippe Barbarin -- with red sash -- visits monks' graces, 20 Feb 2007/Larbi Louafi)
In fact, he told a closed-door inquiry in Paris, Algerian troops in a helicopter inadvertently gunned down the Trappists when they strafed an isolated camp they believed belonged to the radical Armed Islamic Group (GIA) that was battling the Algerian state at the time. When they landed to inspect the scene, the troops found the bullet-ridden bodies of the monks who had been kidnapped two months beforehand. Algeria then concocted the story that the Islamists had slit the monks' throats to hide their fatal blunder.
The inquiry also heard from a Trappist who went to Algeria to identify the bodies. He said he had to insist on having the sealed coffins opened so he could identify the bodies. When his wish was finally granted, he found the coffins contained only the men's heads and was urged by the French embassy not to divulge this. He told the inquiry he suspected the bodies were disposed of to hide the evidence they had been gunned down.
Here is our news story on this.
The monks have been honoured as Christian victims of Islamist militancy. They were clearly victims of the bloody war between the GIA and the state. The GIA has a sordid part in this story, as they apparently abducted the monks after the Trappists had been kidnapped by Algerian agents in a complicated plot. But if these testimonies are correct, the monks did not die at the hands of Islamists who slit their throats, as the official Algerian explanation has it.
DECANI, Kosovo - A visit by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden to one of the best known monasteries in Kosovo has again revealed a deep split in the church. A veteran of Balkan complexities from his U.S. Senate activism against Serbian aggression during the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s, Biden visited the 14th century Decani monastery on Thursday afternoon to highlight the importance protecting the Serbian minority in Kosovo. (Photo: Fr. Janjic with U.S. Vice President Biden at Decani monastery, 21 May 2009/Adam Tanner)
Father Sava Janjic, sometimes called Decani's "cyber monk" because of his embrace of the Internet, warmly welcomed the vice president, who had first visited there in 2001. "This is his second visit to this monastery which is one of the most important Serbian Orthodox sites in Kosovo," Fr. Sava told Reuters in fluent English. "We sincerely believe his visit will help the preservation of Serbian Orthodox heritage in Kosovo and generally help the position of the Serbian people in Kosovo."
Dressed in black robes and headcaps, the monks at the ancient Syriac Christian Orthodox monastery of Mor Gabriel in southeast Turkey sat gravely for dinner one recent cold night. Led by their bishop, they said their prayers in Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus, and ate their meal of meat and rice in sepulchral silence, the clinking of forks and spoons resonating in the bare white room.
On the face of it, little has changed in a life of meditation and prayer at the Mor Gabriel Monastery since it was built in AD 397; but the monks feel the cares of a changing Turkey, beyond their walls, weighing upon them. A land dispute between neighbouring villages and Mor Gabriel is threatening the future of one of the world's oldest monasteries, and a Reuters multimedia team had travelled to the remote monastery to cover the row.
The death of Russian Orthodox Patriach Alexiy II and talk about his possible successor got Aleksandras Budrys, a correspondent in our Moscow bureau, to reminiscing about how he covered Alexiy's election in 1990 for the official news agency TASS. Here's his account of reporting on religion near the end of communism in Russia: (Photo: Patriarch Alexiy II, 30 April 2000/Vladimir Suvorov)
As a TASS correspondent for religious issues, I was the first to report the election of Patriarch Alexiy II in early June 1990. The scoop was made possible because I was allowed to stay in monk's cells at the monastery where the vote took place while all the other journalists were sent away.
Last month I visited Mount Athos, a self- governing monastic state in northern Greece where some 1,500 monks live according to rules which have changed little in the last millennium. Athos’ 20 monasteries are considered by the world’s 300 million Orthodox as perhaps the second most holy site of their faith, after Jerusalem. They are home to breathtaking religious art and thousands of manuscripts dating back to the Byzantine empire, as well as priceless relics, like fragments of the True Cross, believed by the Orthodox faithful to have performed countless miracles. (Photo:Simomos Petras monastery at Mount Athos/Daniel Flynn)
For many Orthodox it is the fulfilment of a long-held dream to visit the rugged Holy Mountain -- but not if you a woman. Women are completely banned from the 300 sq kilometre peninsula and any breach of this strict rule is a criminal offence in Greece punishable by up to two years in prison.
The all-male Greek Orthodox monastic community of Mount Athos, a favourite stop for top Greek and foreign dignitaries such as Prince Charles but completely close to women, has long been a haven for those forsaking earthly pleasures to seek God.
You can imagine the shock, then, when Greeks learned that one of its main monasteries, the Vatopedi monastery dating back to the late 10th century, was conducting suspect land-swap deals with the Greek state.
The separistist movements at the heart of the Georgian crisis have split the Georgian Orthodox Church as well. As our correspondent Oliver Bullough reports from Abkhazia, the monks at the Novy Afon monastery have declared independence from the Georgian church and now work more closely with fellow Orthodox from Russia.
"Are we supposed to be Georgians? We have nothing in common with them," Father Vissarion, the head of the rebel state's church, told him.
Monks at what is considered by many to be the world's oldest active Christian monastery still rise before dawn to chant and pray just as their predecessors did for more than 1,500 years.
from Changing China:
You'll never guess who I met at Base Camp.
After a quick stop to watch the monks and nuns at the Rongpo monastery at prayer this morning, we finally got up to Base Camp proper this afternoon.
It was pretty bleak. Basically, a cluster of tents on an exposed rocky flat. It made us feel almost grateful for our humble cabins back at the media centre.