17 October 2016
In this image from April, a woman prepares tea in a camp for internally displaced families in Ain Kawa, near Erbil, Iraq. Residents of the camp were displaced from Mosul and other communities in Iraq when ISIS swept through the area in 2014. On 17 October 2016, a battle began to retake Mosul from ISIS — sparking both hope and concern among displaced Iraqis.
(photo: CNS/Paul Jeffrey)
Iraqi Christians are cautiously welcoming the start of the battle for Mosul and the Ninevah Plain, their ancestral homeland of the past 14 centuries from which they were brutally driven out by the Islamic State group more than two years ago.
“They’ve been waiting for this day after being forced out in the summer of 2014, and many Christians have been living in very miserable conditions since. A number are eager to go back,” Father Emanuel Youkhana told the Catholic News Service. The archimandrite, a member of the Assyrian Church of the East, heads the Christian Aid Program Northern Iraq, CAPNI.
“Of course the military operation is just the first of several phases paving the way for their return. They will need security and other guarantees before they go back,” Father Youkhana said. “Also much reconstruction and rehabilitation of the region occupied the Islamic State militants will need to take place.”
This summer, the U.N. said that as the Mosul crisis evolves, up to 13 million people throughout Iraq may need humanitarian aid by the year’s end — far larger than the Syrian crisis. This would make the humanitarian operation in Mosul likely the single largest, most complex in the world in 2016.
Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Yousif Thomas Mirkis of Kirkuk, Iraq, told CNS Iraqi Christians view these operations “with hope and fear.”
“Everything is complicated. Still, we are waiting for what will happen after Daesh (the Arabic slang name for Islamic State), because maybe those criminals will be thrown out of Iraq, but the mentality remains in those who welcomed them,” Archbishop Mirkis said. “So how do we heal the country from this kind of fanaticism, which is very deep in society?”
The Kirkuk Archdiocese has taken in and ministered to hundreds of Iraqi Christians displaced by the brutal attacks of the Islamic State militants, who demanded Mosul residents leave their homes and businesses, convert to Islam or be killed.
Prior to the Iraqi military’s capitulation to a small group of Islamic State fighters in 2014, Mosul was inhabited by more than 2 million people. It’s believed that only about 1 million residents remain today. Some 130,000 have fled to other areas within Iraq, such as Kirkuk or Kurdistan. Thousands of others are being housed in neighboring countries, such as Jordan and Lebanon, while perhaps hundreds have been resettled or are awaiting resettlement in the U.S., Australia and Canada. Some live in cramped conditions in church basements. Caritas and other Catholic organizations have been working to help them.
International humanitarian organizations are warning that Iraqis, mainly Sunni Muslims, left in Mosul are “now in grave danger.” The Norwegian Refugee Council, Save the Children and others are urging the establishment of safe exit routes for civilians to flee the city.
“Unless safe routes to escape the fighting are established, many families will have no choice but to stay and risk being killed by crossfire or bombardment, trapped beyond the reach of humanitarian aid with little food or medical care,” said Aram Shakaram, Save the Children’s deputy country director in Iraq.
“Those that try to flee will be forced to navigate a city ringed with booby traps, snipers and hidden land mines. Without immediate action to ensure people can flee safely, we are likely to see bloodshed of civilians on a massive scale,” Shakaram warned.
The humanitarian groups criticize instructions from Iraq’s military urging inhabitants to hunker down inside their homes.
At best, this is impractical in a brutal urban conflict, the groups say. At worst, it risks civilian buildings being turned into military positions and families being used as human shields, they argue.
But even if people do manage to flee, they also face some uncertainty. Although aid agencies have been preparing for months, observers believe camps for the internally displaced are ready for perhaps some 60,000 people, and these camps could be overwhelmed within days.
The U.N. Office of the Coordinator for Humanitarian Affairs reported it is locating additional land for extra camps to be set up. It reported that construction of additional sites, with capacity for 250,000 people, is underway. Food rations for 220,000 families are ready for distribution, 143,000 sets of emergency household items are in stock; latrines and showers are being readied for dispatch and 240 tons of medication are available at distribution points. But funding toward a flash appeal has been insufficient to prepare fully for the worst-case scenario.
Even if the operation rids the area of Islamic State, Archbishop Mirkis said a number of Christians have serious concerns about returning home without iron-clad guarantees for their future safety.
“Who can give such assurances? Maybe the big countries. But those who suffered the most are the Yezidis. The Yezidis and all the minorities face the same problem. How can we have peace with neighbors who looted our houses?” he asked.
He also expressed concerned for civilians inside Mosul.
“All those children, elderly and civilians are caught like in a prison. We have to think about them too. We have to read the book of Jonah. It can explain many things to us,” the Catholic Chaldean leader said.
17 October 2016
Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighters deploy on the top of Mount Zardak, about 15 miles east of Mosul, as they take part in an operation against ISIS on 17 October 2016.
(photo: Safin Hamed/AFP/Getty Images)
Battle for Mosul begins (CNN) Iraq’s military says it has inflicted “heavy losses of life and equipment” on ISIS in a district southeast of Mosul, as Iraqi-led forces close in on the city in the long-awaited battle to recapture it from the terror group. Hours after Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the beginning of the offensive, Iraq’s military said it had inflicted losses and made advances in the Hamdaniya district...
UN fears 100,000 may flee Mosul for Syria, Turkey (Reuters) Up to 100,000 Iraqis may flee to Syria and Turkey to escape the Iraqi government’s military assault aimed at ousting Islamic State from the northern city of Mosul, the United Nations refugee agency said on Monday. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) issued an appeal for an additional $61 million to provide tents, camps, winter items and stoves for displaced inside Iraq and new refugees needing shelter in the two neighboring countries...
Egypt re-opens border crossing to Gaza (UPI) Egypt announced it temporarily reopened the Rafah crossing for two days to allow Palestinians to enter or leave the Gaza Strip, and plans to do so a second time later this week. The Egyptian government reopened the Rafah crossing on the south side of the Gaza Strip to allow students, people with work permits and humanitarian cases to enter or leave for two days and will do so for four more days later this week...
Finding refuge: Vetting refugees at a Jordanian camp (CBS News) A majority of U.S. governors have called for a halt to the refugee program too. The Syrians who are finding refuge in the U.S. now find themselves at the center of a heated debate, pitting our American tradition of altruism against our fear of terrorism. We wanted to see for ourselves who these refugees are, and what is the vetting process...
Patriarch Kirill consecrates cathedral in London (RT) Hundreds of people including the Archbishop of Canterbury and Prince Michael of Kent gathered in London’s Cathedral of the Dormition of the Mother of God and All Saints to attend a historic service conducted by the head of Russia’s Orthodox Church. Up to one thousand people attended the ceremonies on Sunday, according to the patriarch’s press service. The service included the consecration of London’s largest Orthodox Christian Cathedral, which had undergone a major refurbishment, and the Divine Liturgy, commemorating the 300th anniversary of the presence of the Russian Orthodox Church in the British Isles...
14 October 2016
The Very Rev. Brian F. Terry, S.A. presents CNEWA’s president, Msgr. John Kozar, with the Sharing Hope Award.
(photo: Franciscan Friars of the Atonement)
One week ago, in the storied ballroom of The Pierre in New York City, the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement honored Catholic Near East Welfare Association with The Graymoor Sharing Hope Award at the friars’ annual Sharing Hope Celebration Dinner. Hundreds of guests packed the room as the Very Rev. Brian F. Terry, S.A., minister general, cited CNEWA’s “outstanding and steadfast work in serving our Lord by helping suffering people throughout the Middle East, Northeast Africa, India and Eastern Europe. ...
“CNEWA provides an inspiration of hope echoing the friars’ charism ‘to unite what has fallen apart, and to bring home those who have lost their way.’ ”
After thanking the minister general for his thoughtful and generous gesture, CNEWA’s president, Msgr. John Kozar, reminded the guests that the friars and CNEWA “share the same DNA, as we together carry forward the legacy of Father Paul [Wattson], who shared in the founding of CNEWA some 90 years ago.”
It was a fitting occasion for the friars and the CNEWA family, as members of the church gathered together to honor the legacy of the servant of God, Father Paul of Graymoor, who was among the first to respond to help the sufferings of Christians in the Middle East in the early 20th century.
14 October 2016
Father Yousif Haddad collects medicine from a storage unit outside his parish church in Zakho. (photo: Raed Rafei)
The displaced people of Iraq are fortunate to have a a hero like the Rev. Yousif Jamil Haddad, who saw a particular problem and came up with a novel solution, a mobile clinic to serve thousands in far-flung villages in Iraqi Kurdistan:
Funded by CNEWA, the mobile clinic is an initiative of the Rev. Yousif Jamil Haddad, the pastor of the Virgin Mary Syriac Catholic Church in Zakho, a bustling city close to Turkey and a commercial hub for the export of oil from Kurdistan.
“Many refugees are staying in poor, remote villages where they have no access to medical care,” says Father Haddad, explaining the motivations behind the project that began its operations last June.
Today, the mobile clinic visits 22 villages scattered throughout the hilly northern edges of Kurdistan, serving a population of roughly 15,000 internally displaced Christian, Muslim and Yazidi families. Staffed by a doctor, a pharmacist, an administrator and a driver, the van departs from Zakho around 9 a.m., five days a week. Each morning, the van is loaded with supplies stored on the premises of the Syriac Catholic parish. It then makes its way to one or two villages where, typically, the clinic’s doctor provides medical consultation to some 140 patients.
This young priest is committed to his community and their struggles, as journalist Raed Rafei noted when he interviewed Father Haddad:
For four days, Father Haddad, the mastermind behind the mobile clinic that I was reporting on, invited me many times for meals and tea to meet with displaced Christians from his community and discuss practical matters pertaining to refugee life as well as historical information on the Christian presence in the region. I was touched to see that he shared the rectory with displaced families. He seemed happy to see the place buzzing with the voices of children playing. He told me that when the refugees first arrived, he had to accommodate the men inside the Church and the women and children in a hall annexed to it. This situation lasted for several days before families could be relocated to rented apartments.
After a year and a half of displacement, Father Haddad understood that what his community really needs is not just assistance with food and medicine but hope for the future.
The mobile clinic helps provide that hope. You can see a video the clinic in action below.
14 October 2016
Syro-Malabar faithful celebrate the conclusion of a spiritual retreat in the Archeparchy of Changanacherry. (photo: John E. Kozar)
In the current edition of ONE, CNEWA’s president Msgr. John E. Kozar reflects on a subject that is the focus of the Autumn edition of the magazine, the Catholic Eastern churches:
These Eastern churches are ancient and apostolic; they are challenged by poverty, hatred, oppression, persecution and “smallness,” but they are unique in their individual character and identity.
Rather than dictate to these individual churches how they might be more like “us,” CNEWA proudly walks with them to uplift them and fortify them in proclaiming their faith and their traditions.
More than anything else, each is a church full of faith, sometimes in a very heroic sense. Helping them maintain this faith is the single greatest act of accompaniment we can offer. Despite overwhelming odds, they endure and remain faithful to our Lord. And we are privileged to witness their daily professions of faith.
The little children radiate in their smiles how a loving Jesus brings joy to their hearts. With a simple signing of the cross, singing of a spiritual hymn, kissing an icon, or preparing to receive the Body of Christ in Communion, these little ones lovingly embrace their faith and invite our continuing expressions of support. They bring us honor as we walk with them.
People who are hungry or who have no shelter find comfort in the church. Although displaced and forced to flee from their home, they still have another “home” — the church. CNEWA reaches out to help nourish them, to bring them basic health care, to provide temporary housing — in short, to remind them they are not alone. While we assist them in their needs, they remind us that we are all members of God’s family. Our prayers for them are infinitely redounded by remembrance of us in their prayers.
There is much more at this link. And check out the Autumn 2016 edition of ONE for more on CNEWA’s unique partnership with the Eastern churches.
14 October 2016
A man reacts on the rubble of destroyed buildings on 11 October after losing relatives to an airstrike in Aleppo, Syria. The United States on Saturday plans to mount new efforts to pursue a cease fire for Aleppo. (photo: CNS/Abdalrhman Ismail, Reuters)
New diplomatic push for Syria cease fire (The New York Times) Secretary of State John Kerry will mount a fresh effort on Saturday to pursue a cease-fire for the besieged city of Aleppo by meeting with representatives from the regional powers most directly involved in the Syria conflict, American officials said on Wednesday. Just last week the Obama administration suspended talks with Russia on Syria after accusing the Russian military of conducting a bombing campaign so brutal that Mr. Kerry has urged that it be the subject of a war crimes investigation...
Britain’s first Syro-Malabar bishop ordained (Catholic Herald) Britain’s Syro-Malabar community has taken a major step forward with the ordination of its first bishop. In a ceremony attended by over 12,000 people, Cardinal George Alencherry, the Archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church, ordained Mar Joseph Srampickal...
Pope Francis: Christians are united by ‘blood’ ecumenism (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis said Christians are already united when they are persecuted by terrorists or world powers in what he called an ecumenism of the “blood.” He was speaking in an off-the-cuff address on Wednesday to participants at the Conference for Secretaries of the Christian World Communions, an international ecumenical organization...
Lviv unearths its tragic past (Al Jazeera) Far from the battlefields of eastern Ukraine, this charming city some 750 miles to the west is known for its cafes and cobblestone streets. Besides being a top tourist destination, Lviv is also touted as a model for transparency and good local governance. But under its architectural beauty and progressive streak lies a dark past — a fact Svyatoslav Sheremeta confronted last August, when his team of archaeologists dug up the remains of a dozen people they believe were murdered by the Soviet secret police during World War II...
Pope greets restorers of the Basilica of the Nativity (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Wednesday during his General Audience greeted the restorers of the Basilica of the Nativity in Jerusalem, accompanied by the vicar general of the Custody of the Holy Land, Fra Dobromir Jasztal, OFM...
12 October 2016
Pope Francis embraces Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople during an ecumenical prayer service with religious leaders in the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, Italy on 20 September. Pope Francis and retired Pope Benedict XVI joined a group of religious and civil leaders praising the patriarch in a new book, ahead of the 25th anniversary of the patriarch’s election. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Defending religious freedom, fighting indifference to attacks on human dignity and promoting care of creation are obligations that Orthodox and Catholics share and areas where Pope Francis said he and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople are in deep harmony.
In anticipation of the 2 November celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Orthodox patriarch’s election, Pope Francis and retired Pope Benedict XVI joined a group of religious and civic leaders in contributing to a book, “Bartholomew: Apostle and Visionary,” published by the U.S.-based Thomas Nelson.
The Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, published the texts written by Pope Francis and Pope Benedict 12 October.
In many meetings, Pope Francis wrote, the two “have not only strengthened our spiritual affinity, but above all have deepened our shared consciousness of the common pastoral responsibility we have at this point in history before the urgent challenges that Christians and the entire human family face today.”
At their first meeting, in March 2013, Pope Francis said he felt he was encountering someone “who in his person and his manner expresses all the profound human and spiritual experience of the Orthodox tradition.”
The relationship has grown and deepened both personally and on the level of their ministries, the pope said.
“The church of Rome and the church of Constantinople are united by a profound and longstanding bond, which not even centuries of silence and misunderstanding have been able to sever,” Pope Francis wrote. Building on the work of their predecessors, the two leaders have “the sacred task of tracing our way back along the path that paved the separation of our churches, healing the sources of our mutual alienation and moving toward the re-establishment of full communion in faith and love, mindful of our legitimate differences, just as it was in the first millennium.”
Pope Francis said he has learned much from Patriarch Bartholomew’s long study and teaching on the Christian obligation to care for the environment, and he said the two share a Gospel-based commitment to working for “a world that is more just and more respectful of every person’s fundamental dignity and freedoms, the most important of which is religious freedom.”
In working for a world where love and solidarity play a greater role, Pope Francis wrote, “we are both aware that the voices of our brothers and sisters, now to the point of extreme distress, compel us to proceed more rapidly along the path of reconciliation and communion between Catholics and Orthodox, precisely so that they may be able to proclaim credibly the Gospel of peace that comes from Christ.”
In his contribution to the book, retired Pope Benedict said he first met the patriarch in 2002 as they were traveling with St. John Paul II on a train to Assisi, Italy. “The patriarch had invited me to sit with him for a while in the same compartment and, in this way, to become personally closer.”
Meeting “along the way” was not accidental, the retired pope wrote.
With the patriarch’s knowledge of theology, cultures and languages, “his thought is a journey with others and toward others, which certainly does not degenerate into a lack of direction, in which ‘being on the road’ would simply lead nowhere.”
“Deep-rootedness in faith in Jesus Christ, the son of the living God and our redeemer, does not stand in the way of openness to the other, because Jesus Christ bears in himself all truth,” Pope Benedict wrote.
Referring to Patriarch Bartholomew as “this great man of the church of God,” Pope Benedict also praised “his love for creation and his advocacy that it be dealt with in accordance with this love, in matters big and small.”
Pope Benedict said he was pleased that even after he resigned in 2013, “the patriarch has remained ever close to me personally and has even visited me in my little cloister. In many places in my apartment can be found memorable items from him. These items are not only endearing signs of our personal friendship, but also signposts toward unity between Constantinople and Rome, signs of hope that we are heading toward unity.”
12 October 2016
Pope Francis speaks during his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, on 12 October. The pope called for an immediate cease-fire in Syria so that civilians can be rescued.
(photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Pope Francis calls for cease fire in Syria (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis renewed his appeal for peace in Syria on Wednesday. Addressing pilgrims and tourists gathered in St. Peter’s Square for the weekly General Audience, Pope Francis said, “I want to emphasize and reiterate my solidarity with all victims of inhuman conflict in Syria...”
Sviatoslav reminds Catholic bishops ‘the first victim of war is truth’ (ByzCath.org) On 6-9 October, Monaco hosted the Plenary Assembly of the Council of Episcopal Conferences of Europe. On Saturday, 8 October, the regular working meeting of the heads of Catholic Dioceses across Europe heard reports on pastoral challenges the Church faces in their communities. In his speech, His Beatitude Sviatoslav told his brothers-bishops about the third year of suffering afflicted to the Ukrainians by war. He stressed that despite diplomatic efforts and other activities of the international community, no lasting cease-fire has been achieved in Ukraine...
Warming Russia-Turkey relations sends chill through Ukraine (Christian Science Monitor) Leaders of Turkey and Russia signed a long-delayed deal Monday to build the TurkStream gas pipeline under the Black Sea to deliver Russian gas to Europe’s doorstep within three years. The rapid warming trend in Russo-Turkish relations holds deep implications for Syria’s immediate crisis, which dominated the talks and the subsequent headlines, but the fallout from that pipeline deal is a potentially crushing blow to struggling pro-Western Ukraine and may be rearranging strategic realities around the region for many years to come...
Offering mental health support to refugees in Lebanon (Huffington Post) For the more than one million refugees who have fled war in Syria and Iraq to Lebanon, mental health and psychosocial needs are many and complex. Unlike physical health issues, the lack of visible symptoms for mental health disorders often leads to them being overlooked. Many of the refugees who find safety in Lebanon have survived physical violence including torture, trauma, and have born witness to the atrocities of the unabated armed conflict...
Sister accuses media of bias in Syria coverage (CNS) A religious sister working with Christian families in Aleppo, Syria, has criticized Western media for their allegedly biased coverage of the six-year conflict. Sister Annie Demerjian, a member of the Sisters of Jesus and Mary, questioned why Western journalists focused on the plight of people in areas held by rebels and jihadis but seldom those in regions controlled by the government of Bashar Assad. “It is not fair,” she told Catholic News Service in a 10 October interview in Lancaster...
11 October 2016
Fadia Matti shows her family album, containing memories of life in Qaraqosh before ISIS forced her family to flee. (photo: Don Duncan)
Some of the most inspiring heroes we have met over the years are those who have remained devoted to their faith, in spite of almost unimaginable obstacles.
Most recently, that includes the men, women and children who have been displaced by ISIS in Iraq.
We profiled a number of them two years ago, including the Matti family:
Mother of four and wife to Saaed, Fadia Matti reaches often for a roll of toilet paper that sits next to her. She uses the roll for tissues for her coughing or crying. Since arriving in the basement of an unfinished building in Erbil, she has developed respiratory problems, and a broken heart.
“I don’t believe what has happened,” she says of her family’s displacement from Qaraqosh in northern Iraq. She sits on one of the foam mattresses of the family’s new shelter, a small quadrant defined by plastic sheeting. “I cry once I remember [our home in] Qaraqosh: the churches, Communion, having parties and how we would sit with our neighbors and wait for Christmas and Easter. I am sitting here, but my mind is in Qaraqosh.”
Around Fadia sit her children: her daughter Inas, the eldest; 16-year-old son Nibras; 13-year-old daughter Aras; and Diana, 10, the youngest. Her husband Saaed comes into the enclosure, removes his boots and sits next to her.
Around them lie the accouterments familiar to refugees and displaced people the world over: piles of foam mattresses, plastic containers, basic gas stoves, plastic sheeting and imperishable foodstuffs.
The Mattis have ended up in perhaps the worst living conditions that Erbil has to offer for the arriving Christians. While others are housed in tents in the grounds of St. Joseph’s Church or in temporary structures in social centers or on floors above where the Mattis now live, the Mattis’ own living space is in the poorly-lighted basement. The open sewer for the entire building is nearby. A constant smell of refuse and excrement lingers.
“My children get sick. I take them to the doctor. They get well. And then they get sick again,” says Fadia of the endless cycle of ill health that comes with living in such substandard conditions.
“I was comforting my kids, telling them that tomorrow would be better,” she says, “but now I am crying because I think of what we left behind: the churches especially, but also our memories, the childhoods of my children and everything we had.”
But her concluding comments speak poignantly of the deep and unwavering devotion these suffering Christians still carry in their hearts:
&lduqo;I love Qaraqosh. It’s my spirit. It’s my soul,” says Fadia. “We hope we will go back and that Christianity will remain in Iraq. My hope is in God and in Our Lady. It is impossible that Christianity will disappear.”
You can learn what has happened to Christians in Iraq since then by reading Grace in the Summer 2015 edition of ONE and United in Faith, Prayer and Love in the Summer 2016 edition, chronicling the pastoral visit of CNEWA’s chair, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, to Kurdistan.
The resilience of the Mattis and so many other heroic families continues to inspire the work we do around the world. If you’d like to learn how to help displaced families in Iraq, visit this page — and please, keep them in your prayers.
11 October 2016
In this image from last spring, children sing in a preschool for displaced children run by the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena in Ain Kawa, near Erbil, Iraq. To see more and learn more, read United in Faith, Prayer and Love in the Summer 2016 edition of ONE.
(photo: CNS/Paul Jeffrey)