11 April 2016
Two young displaced Iraqis display determination and hope. (photo: Kevin Sullivan)
Today’s visit to the school for children displaced from Mosul was more celebratory with the presence of Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop Warda and Bishop Murphy. An assembly of more than 440 students gathered in the central square of the school accompanied by marching music. CNEWA’s head Msgr. Kozar made sure that the visitors experienced the uplifting spirit of the school that the Dominican Sisters infuse every day. The deeply spiritual atmosphere of the school is exemplified by the volunteer French catechist and her Iraqi translator who teach the children how to pray to Jesus. CNEWA support and spirit are essential to making the school so successful.
The visit to the convent of the Dominican Sisters provided a life lesson in the suffering and deaths caused by persecution and deviant religious actions. Some 74 sisters fled ISIS terrorism from the Mosul area in August 2015. When they first arrived, only some could live in the convent due to lack of space. Many lived in quickly arranged trailers on the convent grounds. Over the past year, 24 sisters have died of various causes from the effects of the trauma they suffered. Eight sisters are living in trailers. Contrary to secular expectations, this community that has experienced so much suffering and death is a strong source of life and hope not merely among themselves but for the tens of thousands they serve in schools, clinics and camps in the Erbil region.
The camp visited today is a place of both faith and frustration: strong faith in Jesus and strong frustration that the future seems indeterminate. The desire to return to the homes from which they have been displaced is frustrated by the uncertainty if and when this might be possible. There is the awareness that they must rebuild from the ground up as the houses and places of worship they left are no longer theirs — if any are even still standing. Accompanying this frustration and anger is also a vision of hope as one young women sees herself as a journalist telling the poignant stores of her people.
The day ended with a visit to a seminary and the 17 seminarians studying for the priesthood in this persecuted and war torn land. My cursory math (subject to correction upon further review) made me quickly estimate that percentage-wise there are more seminarians per total Catholics in Iraq than there are in New York. One was asked about his fear of persecution. His response was simple; that this is part of our Christian faith.
You can see more of Msgr. Sullivan’s pictures on his blog Just Love.
11 April 2016
A Greek priest walks past the Tomb of Christ inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Jerusalem’s Old City, on 23 March 2016. (photo: Thomas Coex/AFP/Getty Images)
Concerns about a possible collapse of the structure surrounding the tomb of Jesus in Jerusalem have prompted a generous response from Jordan’s King Abdullah II:
“His Majesty King Abdullah II has issued a Royal Benefaction (makruma) to provide for the restoration of Jesus’ Tomb in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, at His Majesty’s personal expense.” The news was announced by Jordanian press agency Petra, which says that the Hashemite Court sent an official letter to the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, Theophilos III. It will therefore be a Muslim sovereign and direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad who will foot part of the bill for the restoration of the niche in the Holy Sepulchre, the place of Jesus’ burial and resurrection in Jerusalem, which has, for centuries, been the most venerated Christian shrine in the world.
From Petra in Jordan:
His Beatitude Patriarch Theophilos III commended the generosity of His Majesty King Abdullah II. The Patriarch said that His Majesty has always been, and shall remain, the faithful Guardian and Custodian of the Christian and Muslim Holy Sites in Jerusalem. His Beatitude Patriarch Theophilos III also said that His Majesty King Abdullah embodies in deed, and not only in word, the shared living of Muslims and Christians all over the world and particularly in the Holy Land.
His Beatitude emphasized that the Royal Hashemite Family has always had a unique historic role in the preservation of both Christian and Muslim Holy Sites in Jerusalem and the Occupied Territories. Patriarch Theophilos also said that this continuing Jordanian Hashemite patronage has been an indelible source of support for all the churches in the Holy Land, and all the Christians in the East.
His Beatitude Patriarch Theophilos III further added that Jordan’s role in protecting Christian existence in the Holy Land is clear and undeniable. King Abdullah spearheads the efforts of all Jordanians to sow the seeds of love and brotherhood between Muslims and Christians, the Patriarch said. We are reaping the fruits of these efforts in this age when sectarian wars are burning entire countries as can plainly be seen, the Patriarch added.
His Beatitude stressed that King Abdullah presents the Palestinian cause as a top priority in all the international forums that His Majesty attends. He added that His Majesty constantly reiterates that Jerusalem’s Muslim and Christian Holy Sites are a red line, which Jordan will not permit to be crossed. Also, that Jordan continues to uphold its religious and historic responsibilities toward the entirety of Al-Haram Al-Sharif with the utmost commitment and seriousness. His Beatitude said that this Royal Benefaction (makruma) is just more proof of His Majesty King Abdullah’s commitment, in word and in deed, to the Holy Sites in Jerusalem, as has always been the case with the Hashemites and the Jordanian people.
Patriarch Theophilos III said: Our churches will continue to pray for the peace and security of Jordan, its army, its security agencies, its people, and its leader who justly and honestly continues the Pact of Omar. The Pact of Omar was instituted by the second successor of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), the Caliph Omar ibn Al-Khattab. Through this pact, the Christians of the Holy Land lived without fear for their lives, the lives of their families and their property.
It is to be noted that His Beatitude Patriarch Theophilos III signed an historic agreement with the President of the National Technical University of Athens (NTUA) in March 2016. The agreement was for the project to restore Jesus’ Tomb in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem in cooperation with the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem, and the Franciscan Missionaries Serving the Holy Land. The agreement followed a study that was undertaken by specialists at NTUA and presented to a number of Christian religious leaders, the Jordanian Ambassador to Athens, and Palestinian and Greek officials.
11 April 2016
CNEWA’s Chair, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, visits students displaced by war at the Al Bishara School run by the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena in Ankawa, Iraq, on 9 April. The cardinal got one little boy to try on his zucchetto for size. Read full reports of the cardinal’s trip at this link. (photo: CNS/Paul Jeffrey)
11 April 2016
In the video above, Pope Francis calls for the release of all hostages in war zones, in particular the Rev. Tom Uzhunnalil, a missionary priest from India kidnapped in Yemen.
(video: Rome Reports)
Vatican announces papal visits to Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan (Vatican Radio) The Holy See Press Office has announced that Pope Francis will visit Armenia in June of 2016, accepting the invitation of His Holiness, Karekin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenia; of the civil authorities; and of the Catholic Church in Armenia. The visit is scheduled for 24-26 of June...
Pope Francis appeals for release all people held captive (CNS) Pope Francis appealed for the release of all people being held captive in the world’s battle zones, including Salesian Father Thomas Uzhunnalil, who was abducted in Yemen. “I renew my appeal for the liberation of all people kidnapped in areas of armed conflict,” the pope said after praying the “Regina Coeli” with pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square 10 April. “In particular, I want to remember Salesian Father Tom Uzhunnalil, abducted in Aden in Yemen,” the pope said...
Ukraine’s Prime Minister resigns (Vatican Radio) Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk has announced his resignation on Sunday saying he would support the country’s parliamentary speaker to replace him after a public outcry over perceived slow reforms and rampant corruption. Speaking on national television, a visibly upset Yatsenyuk said he would step down for several reasons including what he called “the political crisis in the country...”
Cardinal Dolan to displaced Iraqis: you are not forgotten (CNA) On his second full day in Iraq, Cardinal Timothy Dolan traveled three hours to Dohuk, the city where the majority of those who fled Mosul, including the members of the minority Yazidi population, escaped to when ISIS overran the city. After the lengthy ride, Cardinal Dolan briefly visited a medical dispensary set up by CNEWA, where he greeted the staff and some refugees, most of whom come from Mosul...
Construction of wall in Cremisan valley continues (Fides) The construction of the separation wall in the Cremisan area at the beginning of the month of April 2016 has entered its operational phase. Teams have entered the area with bulldozers and cranes and are working to build, one after another, the eight-meter high concrete panels where once century-old olive trees were firmly planted...
Police hunt for suspects in India temple fire (AP) Medical teams on Monday tended to hundreds of people injured in a massive fire that killed at least 110 people, while authorities searched for those responsible for illegally putting on the fireworks display that caused the weekend blaze at a Hindu temple in southern India...
Pope sends condolences after deadly fire in India (CNA) Pope Francis has sent his condolences to the victims and relatives of a fireworks accident on Sunday that killed at least 100 people and injured hundreds of others in India’s Kerala state during celebrations of the local Hindu new year...
10 April 2016
Cardinal Timothy Dolan greets Iraqis in the village of Inishke before Mass on 10 April 2016.
(photo: Elise Harris/CNA)
Elise Harris of CNA continues her coverage of Cardinal Dolan’s pastoral visit to Iraq with CNEWA:
On his second full day in Iraq, Cardinal Timothy Dolan traveled three hours to Dohuk, the city where the majority of those who fled Mosul, including the members of the minority Yazidi population, escaped to when ISIS overran the city.
After the lengthy ride, Cardinal Dolan briefly visited a medical dispensary set up by CNEWA, where he greeted the staff and some refugees, most of whom come from Mosul.
He then traveled to the Inishke village in the upper region of Dohuk where he concelebrated Mass in the Chaldean rite in the presence of the local Christian community, a number of refugees, as well as representatives of the Yazidi and Muslim communities.
The principal celebrant for the Mass was Bishop Shlemom Wardoni, who is one of three auxiliary bishops serving under Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako. Members of other rites, including the Syriac-Catholic rite, were also present at the Mass, including a number of displaced priests.
Although Cardinal Dolan was not the main celebrant at Mass, he preached the homily, conveying the core message that he came to share with everyone: “We love you...You are not forgotten.”
10 April 2016
CNEWA’s Chair, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, is making a pastoral visit to displaced Iraqi Christians
in Erbil. (photo: CNA)
CNA’s Elise Harris, accompanying Cardinal Timothy Dolan and CNEWA’s team on the pastoral visit to Iraqi Kurdistan, filed a report this afternoon on the cardinal’s visit to a seminary in Iraq:
After spending his first full day in Erbil, Iraq, Cardinal Timothy Dolan gave a special message to men studying in Iraq’s only remaining seminary for diocesan priests.
“You, you will be the apostles. You will be the heralds. You will help convert the world,” Cardinal Dolan said 9 April.
He spoke to the nearly 30 seminarians currently studying at St. Peter Patriarchal Seminary for the Chaldean Patriarchate in Erbil after having toured different projects that help the internally displaced and listening to their stories of suffering.
While some might be tempted to say that the Church is dying in Iraq, and that it is more alive in other areas, “we say to you no. Here is where the Church is alive.”
“You are teaching us,” the cardinal said. “So please hear us say we love you, we need you, we cannot forget you.”
Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York, spoke to the seminarians on his first full day in Iraqi Kurdistan, where he is currently on a pastoral visit intended to offer support and solidarity to families, Church leaders, priests and religious who were displaced as a result of ISIS attacks in 2014.
He is traveling in his capacity as chair of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA) along with CNEWA board member Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre, CNEWA President Msgr. John Kozar, and the Executive Director of Catholic Charities for the Archdiocese of New York, Msgr. Kevin Sullivan. CNA is also part of the delegation.
The seminary is the only one left in Iraq that provides formation for diocesan priests in the country, and is one of the many structures and projects supported by CNEWA. First established in Baghdad, the seminary was later moved to Erbil for security reasons, and is headed by the Chaldean Archbishop of Erbil, Bashar Warda.
Read the rest.
9 April 2016
A mother and child greet visitors to the camp in Erbil. (photo: Kevin Sullivan)
In the morning, we visited one of the medical clinics and refugee camps in Erbil. The camp is overseen by one of the local priests and the Dominican Sisters are actively present. The clinic is supported by and was built with the assistance of CNEWA. More than 90 children are seen at the pediatric clinic each day. Hundreds of adults are seen and administered other medical services at the clinic.
The camp holds more than 1,200 families — most living in their own trailer. Some families are doubled up. About 50 families are living in single room containers in a large warehouse type building. While this is a refugee “camp,” it appears more like a makeshift “village.” Families try to make the best of the situation — redecorating and renovating their trailers to suit their individual family needs. Some small businesses have opened and are selling basic necessities. In the “village,” more than 400 young people are preparing for their First Communion.
In the afternoon and evening, we had the opportunity to meet with the local Archbishop and hear his understanding of the current situation. His report is both painful and hopeful. He tells of the cruelty that the Christians have faced in the past few years — often times at the hands of those who were their neighbors and friends. At the same time, he speaks of the courage and hope of the more than 80,000 Christians who fled from the Mosul area to Erbil. The suffering and persecution coupled with the courage and hope are essential parts of the story of the past few years as well as the present.
See more of Msgr. Sullivan’s pictures at his blog Just Love. And you can read his account of his first day visiting the region here.
9 April 2016
Students at the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena’s prefab school in Ainkawa, Erbil, on
7 April 2016. (photo: Elise Harris/CNA)
Elise Harris, with Catholic News Agency, is among those traveling with the CNEWA team and Cardinal Timothy Dolan to Iraqi Kurdistan this week. She filed this report:
Six hundred Christian children whose families fled ISIS violence in 2014 have lost their homes, schools, sometimes friends, sanitary living conditions and the stability of a normal life.
However, despite their many losses, there’s one thing they never left behind and which continues to grow stronger everyday: their faith.
When it comes to the question of how to persevere in the faith — and pass it on with terrorists just a few miles away — one woman named Carin has developed a unique form of catechesis that she is teaching to displaced Christian children in Iraq.
“I think that children have the capacity to worship Jesus, to contemplate,” Carin told CNA in a 7 April interview in Erbil.
Her classes aren’t intended to just teach the kids how to pray, but rather to provide them the opportunity “to meet with Jesus, to give and receive his love” on a personal level, she said.
A French native, Carin is a volunteer at a prefabricated school run by the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena in the Iraqi city of Erbil, which provides education to 600 displaced Christian children and is sustained by funding from charitable organizations such as Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) and Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA).
Most of the children attending the school are from either Mosul or Qaraqosh, the former Christian capitol of Iraqi Kurdistan, and are among the 120,000 families who fled Qaraqosh when ISIS attacked in August 2014.
9 April 2016
Shelters for internally displaced people in a camp in Iraqi Kurdistan are converted shipping containers. (photo: Tom Gallagher)
The National Catholic Reporter’s Tom Gallagher is traveling with the CNEWA team and Cardinal Timothy Dolan to Iraq. Late Friday, he filed this report for NCR on some of what he saw in the camps that are now home for displaced Iraqi Christians:
Our small delegation visited two camps, Ashty 1 and Ashty 2, located in Ainkawa, as well as a nearby health care clinic initially established by the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA).
More than 5,500 people, mostly Christian, reside at Ashty 1 camp. The camp has more men than women, more than 2,000 children, 107 widows, 75 orphans and 185 disabled people.
A grade school serves 750 students. The camp has a workshop where women create small handcrafted mosaics and it has a small factory where sesame seeds are ground to make pastes and dips. A basketball court and soccer field provide space for recreation.
The camp’s church, located under a large tent a year ago, is now located at a newly constructed building that seats 800.
Some enterprising camp residents have created small businesses fixing shoes, selling food and drink items, and selling snow cones.
The camp’s director described the daily challenges people face. The main problem is potable water. Gas generators and chlorination are used to create clean water. For every 10 families, a septic tank is installed. The Kurdish government removes trash.
The homes are converted shipping containers, sitting on cinderblocks. They are cramped, airless spaces with two windows and a front door. One window contains a boxy air conditioner. The camp’s streets are made of hard-packed mud and stone and dust is constant. Families hang their washed clothing to dry on lines tied to their buildings.
Another challenge for the camp is new marriages. Since there is no more living space available, young couples are forced to live with their parents after marriage, which leads to inevitable conflict.
Some families add space by attaching a thin frame with fencing or tarps to the containers. After two years, the camp’s temporary housing is taking on the feel of permanent housing. There is no place to go, no home to return to, as the Islamic State group either continues to occupy their towns or has booby-trapped the towns with explosives, or the region otherwise remains too dangerous to return.
“If we did not believe in Jesus, half of us would commit suicide,” said the camp director when asked to describe the mental health of those in camp.
As we meandered through the streets of Ashty 1, Msgr. John Kozar, president of the New York City-based CNEWA, greeted people warmly and reassured them that they are not forgotten, that they are loved and that, as Christians, they are our brothers and sisters.
Read on for more, including details of how CNEWA is supporting people in the camps.
CNEWA’s President Msgr. John E. Kozar meets some of the residents of Camp Ashty 1 in Ainkawa, Iraq. (photo: Tom Gallagher)
8 April 2016
Msgr. Kevin Sullivan visited an elementary school in Erbil — and made some new friends — on his first day in Kurdistan (photo: courtesy, Kevin Sullivan).
Msgr. Kevin Sullivan is Executive Director of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York and is traveling with Cardinal Dolan and the CNEWA team to Iraq this week. He posted the following on his blog Just Love.
On the first day of a mission with the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA) and Cardinal Dolan I had an opportunity to visit both an elementary school and a university in Erbil, Kurdistan, Iraq. Both were only built and opened within the past year to deal with the exodus of Christians fleeing the onslaught of ISIS around Mosul beginning in the summer of 2014.
These photos reflect the vibrancy of both sites as their very existence brings dignity and hope to those being educated at these schools. The Dominican Sisters operate the elementary school that is strongly supported by CNEWA and a number of other Catholic humanitarian and pastoral aid organizations. The University is a public university that CNEWA has provided assistance in the form of furnishings and a generator. It educates both Christian and Muslim students, men and women together for degrees in the humanities and business.
In addition, a festive gathering of prayer and theatre among hundreds of Christian youth — mostly Syriac Catholic — was held next to the university to open the Year of Mercy. It was led by the local Bishop who had fled with his people from Mosul. Msgr. Kozar, the head of CNEWA gave a very warm and inspiring talk to the youth.
View more of Msgr. Sullivan’s pictures from the trip at this link.